Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Class - from the Universe of Doctor Who: The Stone House

Class has been an unexpected surprise for me.  The television show was announced some time ago, back when Clara was the companion of Doctor Who, but it never seemed to see the light of day.  Well, apparently it aired overseas last year, but it never made it to America until just recently.  In the meanwhile, I've heard reports that BBC is not picking up the show for a second season, which is truly sad - despite how dark it can be sometimes, the show has some really good stories, some very strong characters (both likable and not-so-likable), and a fantastic underlying thread of a subplots.

Then along comes The Stone House, the first novel based on the Class television show published here in the States.

Not exactly sure where this tale fits in with the television timeline, but the author, A.K. Benedict, manages to capture the essence of these characters pretty much dead-on.  Miss Quill, Charlie, Matteusz, April, Ram, and Tanya all read exactly as they act on the show.  While the whole "present tense" thing was a bit annoying (is this the next up-and-coming thing for writers to do?  write in the present tense, rather than past? it is not something I enjoy reading, but just like the switch to first person tales, I suppose it is something I will get used to as more and more authors do it), the story itself overcame that obstacle.

The stone house at the end of the street sits quietly.  No one has really noticed it.  Until the day Tanya finds herself walking past it.  And sees the face in the window. The face of a girl.  A girl crying out for help.  Who is she?  And why is it that Tanya feels a need - no, make that a NEED - to go back to the house?  To go into the house and help that girl.  A girl who doesn't seem to be there.

Miss Quill and her friends are somewhat skeptic of Tanya's request that they help her investigate the house.  But as with anything set in the Doctor Who universe, nothing is quite what it seems.  The house seems to bring nightmares to life.  Whether's it's Tanya's fear of never having her mother's approval, or Charlie's fear of being thrust back into the war that devastated his planet - the house seems to give those fears form and make them real.  But what's worse is what isn't seen.  Tanya knows there is a girl in that house.  Is it Alice, the former owner, who died at a ripe old age?  Is it a kidnapped young girl being held against her will?  Or is it something else?

There is plenty of mystery in this book, as well as good ol' sci-fi jumps and scares as the classmates realize that Tanya is on to something, and the danger this house represents could be a danger to the world at large - and only they can stop it.  But can they stop it before the developer who has purchased the property comes in and demolishes the old stone house?  And just what happened to Tanya...?

Benedict gives a bit of a lengthy build-up, but it's well worth the payoff in the end.  And while the overall mystery does have resolution, there is a subplot that is left unanswered, giving it some real-world feel (since, let's face it, every mystery in the real world doesn't get a clean-cut resolution, does it?).

Fans of the Class television show will enjoy this novel, and since it doesn't appear we'll be getting any more seasons from BBC, this and the next two books will have to serve to quench our thirst for more stories of these characters.

RATING:  7 white bone spiders out of 10 for expanding the Class universe, even if just a tiny bit.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen - Awesome Female Characters from Comic Book History

I have always, always, ALWAYS been a huge fan and follower of female superhero characters in the comics.  From Wonder Woman to Supergirl to Batgirl to the original Ms. Marvel to Squirrel Girl to Patsy Walker, Hellcat to Ms. Tree to Whisper to Miss Fury.  For whatever reason, I enjoy reading the adventures and sagas of these strong, liberated, independent, intelligent women who have made their mark in comic book history.  And now, author Hope Nicholson, has written a book that compiles some of these characters that have made their mark in history!

The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen is a truly fantastic look at not only how women have been portrayed throughout comic history (from the 1930s to the present day), but also looks at some of the female creators who have managed to make their way into what was once a totally male-dominated industry.  Now, I will admit, most times when I buy any kind of a reference book (like those DK books that give us an encyclopedia of Marvel or DC, or the various Who's Who titles that the different comic companies have done throughout the years), I just sort of flip through them and them put them up on a shelf (or in a comic box, whichever is more appropriate).  With this book, however, I actually felt compelled to sit down and read it and learn more about some of these comics, characters, and creators, many of which I had never heard of before!

Nicholson starts her study of these superwomen with the 1930s, and she opens each decade with a two-page history lesson about the particular decade and what it meant for comics, for superwomen, and for female creators in the industry.  From the birth of an industry, through the golden age, the comics code crackdown, the rise of underground comix, the black-and-white boom, and the age of web and digital comics, Nicholson covers more than 80 years of comic book history; but, with only 231 pages within which to put forth this wondrous world of women, it is, sadly, limited.  With each character and book covered, Nicholson provides not only first appearances, where you can find them now, and information about the character, but also gives readers insight into how the comic impacted the comics of its time, how its creators were influenced, and whether the comic/character has had any ongoing influence on comics through the years.  She gives some very insightful and poignant opinions on each of the subjects as well.

Nicholson manages to cover most of the "big-name" characters that pretty much anyone would recognize: Wonder Woman, Supergirl, and Batgirl.  She also hits on characters that pretty much any comic book fan these days would know: the current Captain Marvel, the current Ms. Marvel, Witchblade, Squirrel Girl, Dazzler, Amanda Waller, Vampirella, and Miss Fury.  In addition, she includes lesser-known characters that probably only around 25% of comic fans would know, such as Ms. Tree, Fashion in Action, Dakota North, Martha Washington, Silk Spectre, DC's original Starfire, and Vanity. Then, there are characters and comics that probably very few are truly aware of: the Magician from Mars, Maureen Marine, Man-Huntin' Minnie of Delta Pu, Pudge - Girl Blimp, Bitchy Bitch (and Bitchy Butch), just to name a few.

Overall, the book opened my eyes to just how much diversity there is out there, and for just how long women have been struggling to make their mark in the comic industry (both on the page and behind the pages).  I actually found several books and characters that I intend to hunt down and add to my comic collection (such as Sally the Sleuth from Spicy Detective Stories, as well as Gail Porter, Girl Photographer from Blue Circle Comics, Gail Ford, Girl Friday from Super Detective magazine, along with some others).  Some obscure characters I already have the pleasure of owning, such as Starr Flagg, Undercover Girl, Gold Key's comic The Close Shaves of Pauline Peril, and Harvey Comics' Black Cat series.

What I will say surprised and somewhat disappointed me is the fact that several female characters who did make a pretty strong mark in the comic world were not covered, nor even mentioned.  The first one that comes to mind is Whisper, a ninja-style character first published by Capital Comics, then later picked up by First Comics for an impressive independent run of more than 30 issues of her own ongoing series.  And what about Huntress and Power-Girl from DC Comics, both of whom have been around since the '70s, and both of whom have had various mini-series, ongoing series, and appearances in a number of comics over the years?  Was it because they were alternate versions of the already covered Batgirl and Supergirl?  Then there's Evangeline, who went from Comico to First Comics.  And what about Somerset Holmes from Eclipse?  Or Ninja from Eternity Comics?  Or Media Starr from Innovation Comics?  Or Kelly Green, by Stan Drake and Leonard Starr?  Obviously, with the limited space, I realize not every single female character and comic could be covered - but I do wonder what Nicholson's criteria was for determining which characters and books would make the cut, and which ones would simply have to be left unmentioned...

Despite some of my favorite characters not making the cut, I did thoroughly enjoy and appreciate this book.  It offers a lot of great information about women in comics, is a great resource for a lot of lesser-known and possibly even unheard of characters and comics, and brings some attention and notice to a lot of creators who deserve some recognition for the work they have done and the impact they have made for women in the comics industry.  A must have for any fan of females in comics!

RATING:  8 determined, no-nonsense female superstars out of 10 for providing great reference material for those of us who love women in comics!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency, No. 3 - The Case of the Counterfeit Criminals

Young Ada Byron and Mary Godwin are back with another mystery to solve in Jordan Stratford's latest book in The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency mystery series!

I must say that I am impressed that Stratford is able to write some well-crafted mysteries that do not only stand on their own, but also include elements of some ongoing subplots - such as Ada's absent mother, the mysterious tattoo of the "S." on the villain's arms, Charles' difficulties with his employer, and so on.  There is even a greater development on a comment that was made in the last book about Ada being the "second-cleverest" girl in London (and readers will know that Ada will not sit still for being second best!).

The Case of the Counterfeit Criminals picks up shortly after the last book - with Ada at home sick in bed due to her excursion with Mary out in the rain at the end of the last mystery. It is nice that the author maintains continuity within the books, and that actions and even what appears to be half-hearted remarks can come back to play something important in a later book.  Stratford remains faithful to the time period in which the books are set, as the doctor treating poor Ada is using leeches to remove the "bad blood" that is causing her fever.  As those of us now know, these loss of blood leaves her in a weakened state.

While the first several chapters deal more with Ada fighting off the fever and trying to gain strength so she can get back to doing what she does best - plus, the problematic appearance of her grandmother showing up at the Byron house to see that Ada is properly taken care of - which, needless to say, makes it even more difficult for Ada to find a mystery.  Of course, this book is the Wollstonecraft Detective Agency so it wouldn't be much of a mystery without one to solve.  Stratford is sneaky enough to start it off with a simple enough case - a missing dog.  But if the last two books are any indication, it's clear that the case will be more than just that.

And it is!  Much more!

There's a lost dog - but the lost dog is connected to an intact ichthyosaur skeleton that could potentially be faked - with a possible connection to the Sons of Bavaria, that might just be related to that mysterious "S" tattoo that Mary and Ada saw in the previous mystery, all of whom seem to be tethered to a certain Nora Radel - Ada's presumed arch-nemesis who may or may not exist.  Then there are the secret codes, the anagrams, the counterfeit messages, and just who or what in the world are the two human size puppets that appear and disappear in the blink of an eye?  Do they relate to the missing dog and the fake sea monster?

Once the mystery gets moving, it really moves - and with Kelly Murphy's wonderful illustrations, this book is another real winner in the realm of children's mystery series.  A fourth book is given a sneak peak at the end, yet no title is given, and I can't find any reference to a title or release date on the author's website, Amazon, or anywhere else.

RATING:  9 pieces of corpolite out of 10 for taking small bits of reality and once again creating a wondrous fictional tale!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Gotham Academy, Volume 3 - Yearbook

I have thoroughly enjoyed the previous two Gotham Academy collections, but I have to admit - this third volume did not exactly hit the mark.  While the previous stories certainly had some fun and games within them, they were still tales of mystery, monsters, and mayhem with a touch of gothic suspense mixed in.  This collection of "yearbook" tales, however, not only lacked in any mystery elements (save for the last issue in the collection), but the rotating artists were less then stellar.

Gotham Academy: Yearbook collects issues 13 through 18 of the ongoing series, in which Mia and Olive take a trip down memory lane, reminiscing about various events that have occurred at the school (but which stories have not been previously told).  Perhaps to give the regular artists a break, or maybe simply to give each of these tales their own special feel, DC had a rotating cast of artists drawing each of these flashback tales, and quite frankly, most of the art was childish and not at all to my liking - which, sadly, distracted me and pulled me out of the story.  I am not a big fan of these recent trend of artists to draw like 5 and 6 year old children, where the people do not look like people, but like caricatures of people.  I've always preferred good, solid art where people and backgrounds resembled real people and backgrounds - Curt Swan, George Perez, Phil Jimenez, Stephen Sadowski, Jerry Ordway, and others.  Even some with their own style, such as Jim Aparo and Alan Davis, still retained a realistic look to their art.  But this nonsense, child-like art that seems to be growing in the comic community just turns me off completely.

That being said, some of the flashback tales themselves (referring to the story, not the art), were somewhat entertaining.  The story of Ham (the dog) was adorable, and the tale of Professor Milo was interesting.  "Serpents & Secrets" and "Talent Show" were both a bit touching, in that they dealt with the kids' friendships and their growing reliance and love for one another.  The final issue in the collection, though, "Broken Hearts," brought the series back to its roots, with a story of a vampire, a glowing skeleton, a beating heart, and believe it or not, time travel.  With this issue, we get back to the kids being what they should be - a group of young detectives exploring and investigating the inexplicable events that keep happening at the school.  We also finally learn just what Olive's nightmares about the grandfather clock and the arrow mean, and watch as the kids argue, divide up, and ultimately band together to stop not one, but two potentially dangerous menaces to the school and the world itself! And Colton's attraction for Kyle becomes a bit more apparent in this issue, leaving one to wonder if that story will ever be realized.

And with this volume, the first semester of Gotham Academy ends.  As with so many comics in today's market, Gotham Academy gets a re-boot and re-numbering as the second semester begins with an all-new issue number one - making me guess that the next graphic novel that will collect the first six issues of the second semester will likely go back to Volume 1 (because God-forbid any comic book series these days actually continue past issue 50 or more!).

RATING:  5 wool-wearing pranksters out of 10 for giving readers at least one really good tale out of six that is in keeping with Gotham Academy's gothic fun.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Isabel Feeney, Star Reporter

I went back and forth for quite a while before I ever made the decision to buy this book.  Anyone who knows me and my reading habits knows that I love series books - whether it is children's mysteries, young adult mysteries, super-hero related, adult mysteries, psychic novels - so long as it is a series, I am pretty sure to give it a try at some point.  So, what made me give this one-offer a shot?

I had a coupon.  Plain and simple.  I hate letting a Barnes & Noble coupon go to waste, and when I couldn't find any new books in any of my current series that I am reading, nor could I find any new series that seemed interesting - I ultimately settled on this.  A young newsgirl working in 1920s Chicago is witness to a murder, and now it's up to her to prove that the victim's pretty young fiance was not the killer.

Isabel Feeney, Star Reporter is a bit of a deceptive title,  Isabel is not a reporter - at least not yet.  She does work for the Chicago Tribune, though - selling newspapers on the street corner to help her mother, who works nights at the hospital to make just enough money to keep a roof over their head and food on their table.  Isabel's father died in the war, leaving Isabel and her mother to fend for themselves in a cruel world where women had not yet gained the equality in the job market.  Isabel is determined to change that.  She wants to be just like Maude Collier, one of the very few female beat reporters, and while she may not \go to school any more, Isabel can read and write, and she's got a lot of spunk.

I mean, a LOT of spunk!

Beth Fantaskey's protagonist may be young, and in some ways naive, she is determined, she is outspoken, and she never backs down from a fight.  So when she hears a gunshot one night just after one of her regular customers - the pretty department store clerk, Colette Giddings - went down that alley with her fiance, Isabel runs down to see what happens.  Although she sees Miss Giddins kneeling over the body, blood on her coat and the gun lying right next to her, Isabel is certain she is innocent.  The police may think she's guilty...her idol, Maude Collier may think she's guilty...heck, everyone in Chicago may think she's guilty.  But Isabel knows in her heart that she's innocent, and she will do anything to prove it.

Fantaskey takes readers back in time to a period with no internet, no cell phones, no computers, and no instant communications.  She writes some very believable characters in very believable situations and isn't afraid, even in a middle-school book, to show Chicago for the way that it was back then.  Bootleggers, mobsters, hard-nosed police detectives, and adults who barely give a poor young girl a second glance find that they underestimate this one - for Isabel Feeney is on the case, and she won't let anyone get in her way.

Along the way, Isabel meets Miss Gidding's son Robert, who is still struggling after a bout of polio.  She also meets the victim's daughter, Flora Bessemer, who is a bit of a braggart and a lot uppity.  This unlikely trio ultimately have to figure out who really killed Flora's father.  Was it Miss Gidding's sister, who was jealous of her beauty and relationship with Flora's father?  Was it Robert's father, who wanted nothing to do with a weak, crippled son, but who couldn't stand to see the mother of his child with another man?  Or was it one of the many mobsters in Chicago's underworld who was making Flora's father pay for some unknown crime?  And just how do a smashed piece of gum, some footprints outside of an abandoned building, and a scent that Isabel just can't put her finger on all figure into it?

On the front cover of the book is a blurb that reads "...a satisfying mystery with a daring female heroine."  I certainly would agree.  Fantaskey gives readers a mystery that could easily be enjoyed by adults as by middle-schoolers, and in some ways, is probably better plotted that some of the adult mysteries I have read.  It's a real shame this isn't an on-going series of mysteries, as I could definitely see Isabel Feeney stumbling on more mysteries to solve, and I would most definitely pick them up and read them!

RATING:  10 jars of Vick's Vapor Rub out of 10 for creating a lovable little detective (a la reporter) who reminds us of those perky children's detectives of yesteryear!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Boxcar Children: Great Adventure 1 - Journey on a Runaway Train

Growing up, I can remember reading "The Boxcar Children" series of books from my school library.  Back then, there were only 19 books in the series, all written by the series creator, Gertrude Chandler Warner. I enjoyed reading the stories about Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny, four children whose parents died and who found themselves on their own.  They discovered an abandoned boxcar, which they quickly turned into their home.  Eventually, they found their grandfather, and he brought the boxcar to his property, so that the four Alden children could always have it as a memory of their first adventure on their own.

Fast forward to 2015, when I stumbled across an animated version of the first book, simply titled The Boxcar Children.  Having fond memories of the series, I picked it up and enjoyed it immensely.  At my local Barnes and Noble recently, I found that, like so many other ongoing series), the publisher has rebooted The Boxcar Children.  After 145 mysteries (there being a 15-year gap between Warner's last book #19 - Benny Uncovers a Mystery and the first of many books written by unnamed ghostwriters), Albert Whitman & Company has now brought The Boxcar Children back to #1 with a new "Great Adventure" 5-part series.  I figured, what the heck - I loved them as a kid, let's see what they are like now.

Journey on a Runaway Train, written by Dee Garretson and JM Lee, reconnects the children with their love of trains.  It's funny to note that just like Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, the four Alden children have not aged a bit - Henry is still 14, his sister Jessie is still 12, their younger sister Violet is still 10, and the youngest, Benny is still 6.  (However, when I did a quick search online about the series, I discovered that in the original series, Henry did age and go off to college in the eighth book, The Lighthouse Mystery - I didn't remember that at all).  Garretson and Lee provide readers with a pretty good set up for the mystery - a stranger shows up at the house with a flyer advertising an antique store, but the children and their grandfather soon discover that the stranger had an ulterior motive!  The antique trunk that stores the children's passports and other important papers has an odd new addition - a tiny painted ceramic turtle.  The family soon discovers that not everything is what it seems, and the children realize that there's a mystery to be solved.

The mystery quickly becomes an adventure, as the children are introduced to the Silverton family, who are involved in a very unique business - locating historical and ancient items that have been stolen and discreetly returning them to their original owners.  Where the story suddenly becomes out of the realm of reality is when the matriarch of the Silverton family asks the Alden children to basically become her agents and deliver a group of boxed items to a contact in New Mexico so that they can be returned to their rightful owners.  While I could find plausibility if this were a Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew mystery, where the teen detectives were in their upper teens and used to traveling around the world solving mysteries on their own, I find it highly unlikely and extremely unbelievable that such an important and most likely very dangerous task would be given to four children, three of whom aren't even teenagers yet!

Pushing that unbelievability factor aside for the moment, the plot does have some great moments.  There's an unexpected visitor on the train who tries to steal the items the children are supposed to be safeguarding.  There's some good, old-fashioned sleuthing in the library that hearkens back to days before cell phones and laptops that was enjoyable to read.  There's an intense chase at the airport and a sudden, unexpected take-off that leaves the children wondering if they've been kidnapped.  And readers will definitely enjoy following along with the children as they endeavor to unlock the clues they find.

I do give props to Garretson and Lee for writing the four children so appropriately for their ages.  The dialogue, the interaction, the reactions - everything about Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny coincides appropriately with their ages, so that none of them are out of character at any time (despite being thrust into a situation that is so totally inappropriate for four children of these ages).  The book ends with a set-up for the next in this "Great Adventure" series, a hook to hopefully entice readers to buy the next book in the series (which, I'll admit, I've already bought...we'll see how well it holds up against this one).

RATING:  7 pirates-turned-delivery-men out of 10 for reviving a love for a childhood series of books and remaining somewhat faithful to the original author's creations.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Amanda Lester and the Orange Crystal Crisis (Amanda Lester Mysteries No. 2)

Paula Berinstein returns to the world of Legatum Continuatum, that famed school that serves only the descendants of the world's greatest detectives. This second novel in the mystery series finds Amanda Lester and her fellow detectives-in-training returning to school after the break, only to be thrust into the middle of another crisis.

The Orange Crystal Crisis begins right after the school break, as Amanda Lester and her fellow classmates at Legatum return for the new semester. Berinstein throws her young detective right into the thick of things from page one, when Amanda overhears the teachers discussing the fact that something is missing from the school - something that could spell disaster for the school and everyone in it! Needless to say, Amanda confides in her friends - Simon, Ivy, and Amphora - and they realize the semester has yet to start, and they already have a new mystery to solve!  After stopping the Moriarty clan from spreading their poisonous pink sugar in the last book, you'd think these kids would want a break.  But, as the saying goes, there is no rest for the weary!

With 404 pages of story, Berinstein provides readers with not one, but multiple mysteries that somehow fall into the laps of Amanda and her friends - while the mystery of the missing whatzit seems to be of most importance to the school, there is also that skeleton that they stumble upon after an earthquake reveals a hidden room under the school grounds. Who is it, how did he or she die, and how did he or she wind up under the school?  And just what are those glowing orange crystals surrounding the skeleton?  And just where is Editta - no one has seen or heard from her, and she is never late for anything! Plus, there is the matter of the countless drawers down in the tunnels beneath the school - why are they there and what secrets could they hold?

And if that weren't enough - Amanda comes face to face with Scapulus Holmes!  If you thought their ancestors were always at odds, you ain't seen nothing yet. Amanda takes an immediate dislike to the Holmes boy, even though he is nothing but friendly and courteous to her. When the headmaster gives the two of them a project that they must complete together, Amanda doesn't know how she will survive it. However, all of her pride gets swallowed when she and her friends discover something unexpected about the crystals - they are alive (in a way), and the only way they can ensure they don't fall into the wrong hands is with the help of - - yup, you guessed it - - Scapulus Holmes.

Despite the length of the book, the story is constantly moving, and Berinstein weaves back and forth among the numerous mysteries without losing the reader.  We are introduced to a number of new students (new to us, not necessarily the school), as well as new teachers (again, new to us, not the school), and we get to see a lot more interaction among Amanda's friends, fleshing out their personalities.  However, I do think the author went just a bit far with Amanda's dislike of Holmes.  I realize the characters are barely teenagers, but Amanda's constant whining about Holmes and her dislike of him began to grow old after a while - and the sudden change that takes place about 2/3 of the way through the story happened so quickly, with no gradual build up, that it felt forced (and sadly, did not last).  I did, however, enjoy the inclusion of Clive into this little group of mystery-solvers.  He makes an excellent edition, and I certainly hope Berinstein continues to utilize him in future books.

And not to be nit-picky (but these next items were too glaring to not be noticed), but there were two major continuity issues that literally jumped off the page when I read them.  On page 157, when deciding how best to search the tunnels under the school, the kids decide to flip a coin - - only problem is, no one had a coin, so Simon used a virtual coin.  Then, just two pages later while they are still in the tunnels, Ivy fines Amphora for insulting Simon (an on-going thing throughout the book as Ivy tries to get Simon and Amphora to stop fighting) and Amphora easily produces a fifty p coin!  Now, just where was that coin two pages earlier when they needed to flip one?  Later in the book, as Amanda and her friends are in the common room discussing the mysteries, on page 326 it states, "Meanwhile, Editta and Amphora left and Amanda and Simon turned the subject back to the crystals."  Just three paragraphs later, at the top of page 327, when Amanda makes it clear her feelings for Nick are gone (after what he did in the previous book), the author writes, "Simon and Amphora looked at each other."  If Amphora left with Editta, how did she and Simon look at each other?  Obviously, neither of these ruined the enjoyment of the book, nor did they completely take me out of the story when I read them - but they were pretty obvious errors that I'm surprised ended up getting past the editing stage and into the final printed version.

Surprisingly, the resolutions in this mystery are not quite as clear cut as they were in the first - yes, we do find out what the missing item is, who has it, and what ultimately happens to it.  Yes, we find out exactly what the crystals are and how they do what they do.  But the remaining mysteries are not neatly wrapped up, leaving elements unanswered (perhaps to be resolved in future mysteries, as this book makes it clear that the Moriarty family is going to be an ongoing threat to the school and its students, and that there may even be a bigger threat orchestrating behind the scenes!).

Oh, and lest we forget, Amanda's passion for film-making is not overlooked.  There are some interesting developments with her continued communications with the director, Darius Plover.

Overall, this was a great read, well-plotted and perfectly paced.  Am definitely curious to see what Purple Rainbow Puzzle holds in store for Amanda and her friends.

RATING:  8 surprise birthday parties out of 10 for showing readers that being a Lestrade can sometimes be better than being a Holmes!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Peepland - a Hard Case Crime Comic

And they lived happily ever after...NOT!

Christa Faust is no stranger to hard-hitting stories. When I first saw Peepland advertised in the Titans Comics section of Previews, I immediately recognize Faust, as she had authored several horror books that I have read (including a Friday the 13th novel, a Nightmare on Elm Street novel, and the movie novelization of Final Destination 3). Thus, I not only knew she was a great writer, but I knew she wasn't afraid to tell a killer story!

Published under the "Hard Case Crime" imprint, Peepland tells the story of New York City at the end of 1986 - back when Times Square was still filled with dirty bookstores, porn-film theaters, and live peepshows.  It's the underbelly of New York and the people who lived and worked there.  Faust takes us not just into the adult-side of things, but also into these girls' homes and their regular lives filed with heartache and misery.

Roxy, one of the performers, is the main characters - and her story begins when a regular customer bursts into her booth, hides a video tape on the inside of the cushioned chair, and tells Roxy to leave it there until he comes back for it.  Which, naturally, he never does, because he is killed by two goons who push him in front of an oncoming subway.  Roxy knows something is up, so she takes the tape and passes it on to her fellow co-worker and friend, Aiesha, to hide for her.  It goes without saying that this tape holds something very important - something worth killing for - and soon enough, Roxy and her on-again, off-again boyfriend, Nick, discovery what that something is - a murder, caught on tape!

While there's never any mystery as to who the killer is, the stakes are high in this roller coaster ride of a tale, with unexpected twists every time you turn around.  No one is exactly who they seem, and some people will do just about anything to cover-up the truth of the murder.  And when Aiesha's son, Lorenzo, is accused of the crime, Aiesha's girlfriend convinces her brothers to pull off a high-stakes robbery to get enough money for Aiesha to hire a lawyer to save her son.  Of course, there's also the witness to the crime, who comes forward to tell what she knows and ask the police for protection - problem is, the detective she asks happens to be on the payroll of the one man who wants this murder covered-up - at any cost!

Faust pulls absolutely no punches with this story, and there are several unexpected and rather heart-breaking deaths throughout the tale.  Just when you start to feel for these characters, when you think you know who will survive, who will not, BAM!  Faust gives readers a hard core, hard crime story that will leave you breathless, yet wanting for more.

And Andrea Camerini's art is so perfectly fitting for the story - the characters are harrowed and flawed, the backgrounds are dirty and shadowed, and you can literally feel the Times Square grit as the story flows from panel to panel.  Kudos to Titan Comics for selecting the perfectly fitted artist for this tale.

This is one story that I would HIGHLY RECOMMEND to anyone who enjoys a good noir detective / murder mystery tale - it's gripping, it's fast-paced, it's engaging, and it will keep you hoping then dash them all  up until that very last panel.  Because, just like real life, there is no happy ending in the world of Peepland.

RATING:  10 live nude peep shows out of 10 for giving readers a crime noir story that kicks you in the gut, but leaves you 100% satisfied.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Dark Shadows Audio Book 46 - The Curse of Shurafa

At long last we find out exactly what happened on Barnabas' jaunt to Cairo with Dr. Julia Hoffman and Professor Stokes.  This story has been hinted at in past audios, and finally we learn exactly what happened. With Andrew Collins reprising his role as Barnabas Collins (and yes, the fact that the actor is a "Collins" himself is not lost on me), Stephanie Ellyne continues voicing Amy Jennings Cunningham, while Scott Haran plays her son, Harry (as he did in the Bloodlust mni-series).

The Curse of Shurafa is told as a flashback, as Barnabas sits at the table with Harry, following the events in the Bloodlust story.  Barnabas tells Harry about the trip he took with Professor Stokes and Dr. Hoffman to Cairo, where they visited the famed City of the Dead cemetery.  Only, their visit quickly turns to horror when zombie-like creatures infested with flies appear and seem to be chasing after a young woman - a woman they soon discover is the last in a bloodline that is keeping a cursed Egyptian noble from coming back to life!

Author Bob Morris weaves a captivating tale of horror, friendship, love, family, evil, and sacrifice, as Barnabas quickly discovers that Dr. Hoffman has been infected by the spirit of Shurafa - and the only way to save her is to kill the young woman who can end his curse and free him to come back to life and reign terror on the earth!  What length will Barnabas go to in order to save his friend, the woman who has stood by his side for so many years and has done everything in her power to save him?  How can he not do anything he needs to in order to save her life?

As Harry listens, fully attentive to every word, Barnabas reveals the cost required to save Dr. Hoffman - and their ultimate battle to keep Shufara from every being freed from the curse that keeps him bound in his sarcophagus.  But did they truly defeat him?  For, before this story is finished, one final shock is revealed - one that will test the limits of family loyalty and love and prove, once and for all, that the Collins' family will always stick together and they will always win.

While Andrew Collins provides the voice of Barnabas, he also does the voices of Professor Stokes and Dr. Hoffman as he relates the events that occurred in Egypt.  What's funny is that there are moments where he manages to capture Thayer David's unique voice, and there are a couple of instances where it sounds like they used some footage from the original Dark Shadows with Grayson Hall's one-of-a-kind moans and cries of "Nooooo!"  There is also a reference to Professor Stokes helping Amy fight some zombies, which Amy also mentioned in an earlier audio drama, The Happier Dead.  This again shows the strengths of the writers and editors of these DS audios, as they keep the continuity flowing nicely, and even with stories that have never actually been told, the references are dropped now and again to keep it all the more real.

RATING:  9 fly-filled corpses out of 10 for honoring Thayer David, Grayson Hall, and Jonathan Frid with a great little story about the characters they so vividly brought to life on screen.