Sunday, September 30, 2018

Nancy Drew Diaries, Special - A Nancy Drew Christmas

This book took me completely by surprise for so many reasons. First, this was advertised late, and it was solicited as the 18th book in the series, but somehow it suddenly was pushed for publication prior to the 17th book. Everyone was wondering how this would work out - until the book hit the shelves and we discovered a number of things...

First, there is no number for this book; rather, it appears to be a special, sort of like the Super Mysteries were for the Girl Detective series.

Second, the book has red endpapers with snowflakes, and the green boards for the book also have the snowflake designs.

Third, the cover to the book has raised lettering, as well as silver sparkles on the tree for the snow.

Fourth, and probably the most surprising, the book has 341 pages of story.  Yes, you heard that right. Three hundred and forty pages of actual story in a Nancy Drew Diaries book! For Nancy Drew fans, this is quite an accomplishment for Simon & Schuster, for the Diaries, as well as its precursor the Nancy Drew, Girl Detective series, have averaged 115 to 140 pages in length, with very few exceptions getting near or going over the 200 pages count.  And with the large font, it makes the actual story page count even less.  But with large font, 341 pages would still be approximately 250 or so pages of story - which means, the author actually has plenty of time to flesh out a decent story, provide some characterization, and simply put - tell a good story!

And A Nancy Drew Christmas does just that. It tells a good story, with plenty of characters who are more than just cookie-cutter stereotypes, and in my opinion, the story has a very Alfred Hitchcock Rear Window feel to it - with Nancy stuck in a wheelchair due to a skiing accident her very first day at the resort! It definitely goes to the author's creativity and Nancy's skill as a detective to be able to solve a mystery while crippled by an accident. In addition to all of this, the Hardy Boys make a guest appearance in the book, and there is even a Tom Swift reference (but I won't spoil it by telling you how he is referenced...)

As for the mystery, that is the one thing that I wish could have been changed a bit. Sabotage is the key here, yet again, and this is a tired trope that S&S cannot get away from. Throughout the Girl Detective series, and now within the Diaries series, it seems 90%, if not more, of theirs mysteries center around sabotage. In this instance, someone is sabotaging the grand opening weekend of the Grand Sky Lodge ski resort on the border of Montana/Wyoming, which promotes itself as being the most-green resort to exist. Its two owners have even lured a famous chef to run the resort's restaurant with locally grown food. Nancy is a guest of one of the owners, for whom she helped her father win a big case. But, from the moment Nancy arrives, things begin to happen.

Nancy is asked to fill in for the chef on a beginner's slope for the opening ceremony - but something goes wrong, and Nancy ends up wiping out on a patch of ice, injuring her ankle and hip.  Someone moved the warning flags, causing the accident. With a cast on her leg and stuck in a wheelchair, Nancy is afraid her entire week's vacation will be ruined. But when she witnesses someone snooping in one of the owner's cabin, and then overhears concerns regarding the big oil company that is trying to bully the resort into selling part of its land to allow a pipeline to run through town, Nancy smells a mystery.

A red pepper scare in the dining room, some malfunctioning electric menorahs, a dangerously-placed bear trap, moved warning flags on a dangerous slope, and a runaway sleigh (not to mention an avalanche, a fierce snowstorm, and a deadly chase through a maze with men bearing chainsaws!) all  place Nancy, Joe, and Frank in terrible danger. But, this being a Nancy Drew mystery, she simply has to follow the clues: an impression left on a message pad, a hidden passage behind a bookcase, and an item left on a staircase lead to a climactic confrontation with the culprit that leaves Nancy hanging (literally) on for dear life!

Plenty of characters (I, for one, thoroughly loved the chef!), lots of action, and more mystery and suspense than all of the Diaries books to date make this special mystery well worth the purchase and read.  For those who have never picked up one of the Diaries books - trust me, this is one you don't want to pass!

RATING:  9 crocks of rotten sauerkraut out of 10 for finally providing Nancy Drew fans with a book that is deserving of the Nancy Drew name!

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Supergirl, Book 2 - Curse of the Ancients

Supergirl soars back into action in this second young adult novel based on CW's television show. And quite frankly, this book was much, MUCH more enjoyable than the first book, and it definitely had a stronger feeling of the show. While it is written by the same author, J.D. Whittemore, the overall characterization and storytelling was far more on point, and I was smiling pretty much the entire time I read the book.  It was like watching an episode of the show, but in word format!

Curse of the Ancients is not a continuation of the previous story, but rather, an entirely new disaster that introduces readers to the female Doctor Light (which I was glad to see happen from the moment they introduced Dr. Hoshi in the first chapter!) and brings in a surprising villain from the comics. Plus, Winn really gets to shine in this one, with some awesome Dr. Who references that brought a smile to my face.  Mon-El, Alex, J'onn, and even Lena have a part to play, and they literally lept off the page and visually into my mind - I could see the actors actually playing out the parts exactly as written.

So, what happens when a comet comes close enough to Earth that it is not only visible to the naked eye, but it shoots down a blinding flash of light that literally changes everything?  Well, for one thing, you get a city that is suddenly thrust back into ancient Rome, filled with people who are slowly reverting to that time. You also get some aliens who must try and make sense of what is happening around them, as well as a techie and a guardian who find themselves stuck on the outside, looking in. Plus, you get a brand new hero and a surprise villain (who, honestly, I didn't even realize was the character from the comics until I looked it up later - I had completely forgotten that this villain was known by a completely different name during the Peter David run of Supergirl in the comics...).

The story is fun, but with a serious side - Supergirl only has four days within which to find a way to end the curse over National City, or it will forever remain in the ancient Roman state, and its people will completely revert to citizens of that period.  Supergirl and J'onn are completely unaffected, as they are alien to this world, which turns out to be a saving grace, since the DEO just happens to have quite the stash of alien technology.  And knowing that Winn and Jimmy are outside of the dome separating the city from the rest of the world gives them hope that they will find a way inside.  And, well, Winn being who he is, does manage to come up with some great ideas - but it is ultimately Supergirl who finds a way to get Winn and Jimmy inside.

Oh, and did I mention that a certain Jason Blood is in this story?  If you are a fan of DC Comics, then you'll know who that is, and you know that is pretty much a guarantee that a certain other character is bound to appear at some point in the story!d  Between Madame Xanadu's appearances in the Flash books and now Blood's appearance here, it makes me wonder if there isn't some kind of supernatural crossover planned for the books?  (Although, from what I have been told, these two series are only trilogies, which would kind of kill that idea - a shame, though, as I would love to see these as ongoing series...)

Guess it's another game of wait and see!

RATING:  9 domes of doom out of 10 for keeping Supergirl super-fun to read, super-faithful to the character and show, and super-easy to recommend to every fan of the TV show and comic!

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Lilly Long Mysteries, Book 3 - Murder Will Speak

In 1880s Chicago, Shakespearean actress turned Pinkerton detective Lilly Long must play the part of a soiled dove to find a missing friend...

With a tagline like that, how could you not pick up this mystery? Well, I, for one, picked it up because it is the third book in a series with which I am already in love, and also because it takes two of my favorite pastimes - theater and mysteries - and merges them into a great series of novels! Lilly Long is a former actress who, out of necessity, has become a detective with the Pinkerton Agency in the late 1800s. She has been paired with Cade McShane, a somewhat jaded, tough-as-nails detective who has slowly, over the past two books, been warming to his partner's unique perspective on things. They have solved a couple of difficult cases, but now they are facing one that hits way too close to home for both of them.

Author Penny Richards opens up the doors to McShane's past and personal life in Murder Will Speak, and readers also learn more about Lilly's friend, Nora Nash, who ran off to become a mail-order bride and begin a new life out west. As is the case in most murder mystery books, nothing is ever quite what it seems. When Lilly and McShane are called into the Pinkerton offices, they expect to be given their next case - instead, Lilly is handed a letter from her old friend and is aghast at what she reads. Nora's dreams of a husband and new life are gone, and in their place is a nightmare world of "soiled doves" and tortured children.  (And in case you're wondering, a "soiled dove" is a polite way of saying "prostitute"!) It seems Nora was tricked into going out west, where she was immediate sold to a house of ill repute and has been forced into a life of selling her body for the profit of her madam. To make matters worse, she has discovered that the same people who are forcing her into this life are also doing the same for children!

Lilly must go and help her friend, but the Pinkerton Agency cannot provide services for free. Lilly is determined to go on her own, unpaid, but Mr. Pinkerton has other plans. Nora sent a small sum of money, which could be used for a short time to fund the trip - if McShane will go with her. And, of course, they will need a cover story to get into Hell's Half Acre, which means utilizing the services of McShane's younger sister - who happens to know all about prostitution!

Long-buried secrets, not only about McShane's family, but also about his relationship with his sister, what happened to his wife all those years ago, and the part his sister played in that death all come to light. Lilly's own faith and resolve are put to the test when they reach Hell's Half Acre, where she discovers that men are not the only ones willing to use women for their own profit.  One woman has already been found murdered, and Lilly and McShane discover another has been killed.  Someone is desperate to keep "business" as usual in Hell's Half Acre, and they don't take too kindly to strangers sticking their nose where it doesn't belong.

Richards' previous two books were fantastic, perfectly paced, with satisfying conclusions.  The story and characterization in this one were definitely on par - up until the conclusion, that is. The resolution to the story and the revelation as to the killer and the mastermind behind the murders was somewhat anticlimactic, with no real discovery, but rather a dramatic capture of a henchman who simply reveals who the killer is. No big revelations, no big stand-off, no big last-minute save. Richards' writing and storytelling was so engaging up to that point, I'm surprise she concluded the story this way.

No word on Amazon or other sites about a next book (which I hope there will be!); however, the author's bio in the back of the book states that she lives in Arizona "where she is hard at work on the next Lilly Long mystery."  So, there is hope!

RATING:  7 slices of buttered bread wrapped around peaches out of 10 for writing a murder mystery about prostitutes and child slavery, yet keeping it clean and enjoyable.

Monday, September 17, 2018

The Virginia Mysteries, Book 6 - Shadows at Jamestown

This series has really grown on me.  I was a bit hesitant at first, when I picked up this series, as I'm not a huge fan of boys' mystery series, as they tend to be more about adventure and less about mystery. Plus, the historical aspect about the series was something I thought would border on the boring side of things. I'm not embarrassed to admit that I was completely wrong! Author Steven K. Smith, with his Virginia Mysteries series, has created some very well-rounded characters, placed them in some very interesting and often dangerous situations, and provided readers with well-plotted and engaging mysteries.

Shadows at Jamestown is the sixth book in the series, which, in and of itself, is a huge accomplishment, since so many series on the market today rarely make it past three or four books. In this mystery, Sam and his older brother, Derek, along with their friend Caitlin, head off to Jamestown at the invitation of Professor Evanshade to join an archaeological dig for a week at the Jamestown Field School. For Derek, it's a time to pretend like he's a college student and perhaps have some college girls fall madly in love with him. For Caitlin, it's an opportunity to study and learn more about the history of the site. For Sam, though, it's a chance to show he's no longer a child - he can handle being away from home and can take on the responsibility associated with an important historical dig like this.

This is a mystery series, so before the kids even have a chance to start digging for treasures, they overhear Professor Evanshade on an angry phone call; however, when they ask him about it, he tells them it's nothing to worry about, just school business. But these kids are smart, and even they notice the concerned looks on the faces of Toby and Grace, the two college students who will chaperoning the kids to the dig site. There is no time to look into it, though, as Sam, Derek, and Caitlin are shown their dorm rooms then taken to the "West Wall," where the group of professors, teachers, and college students are digging carefully or artifacts.

Smith's own experience raising three sons clearly shows his knowledge and understanding of children, as his writing of the characters is natural and believable. Sam, Derek, and Caitlin each have their own unique personalities, and as the series progresses, so do they. They have begun to mature, they have learned from their experiences, and they have even begun to develop a bond that only siblings and their friends can do. And they use that to not only tease each other, but to work together to solve the mystery surrounding the Jamestown dig.  An artifact sent to the Smithsonian has been determined to be a fake, much to the surprise of the Professor and his assistants. If they cannot figure out what happened, the Professor's reputations, and the entire Jamestown dig could be on the line! Away from their parents and with more freedom than they expected, Sam, Derek, and Caitlin put their sleuthing skills to the test to figure out what is going on.

No spoiler here, but being as it is their mystery series, it's a given that the three kids do end up solving the mystery, putting themselves in danger, and worrying the heck out of their parents! But Smith provides a logical resolution, and at no time does he have any of the children do anything that ordinary pre-teens wouldn't do. In fact, it's fun to read Sam's concerns with their decisions, Caitlin's determination to be cautious, and Derek's carefree attitude of "jump right in and worry about the consequences later." But, in the end, each of them shine in their own way, making the book a fun read.  Glad to know there is already another book out there, with more on the way!

RATING:  8 small worthless pieces of iron out of 10 for proving a children's mystery series can be continuing without losing, but rather, with gaining quality!

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Gotham Academy, Second Semester - Volume 2 - The Ballad of Olive Silverlock

Yet another series comes to a close with this second, and final, volume of Gotham Academy: Second Semester. I never would have believed I would like this series so much, and I likely would never have even picked it up had my friend, Kevin, not encouraged (well, strongly urged and pushed would be more like it!) me to give the series a try.  After the first graphic novel collection, I was hooked.  A cross between the Dana Girls, Batman, and a little bit of Dark Shadows thrown in for good measure, and you've got Gotham Academy.

"The Ballad of Olive Silverlock" starts off with a one-issue tale about a haunted circus that leads their rather grumpy headmaster to some closure from his past. It is a touching tale that is a bit out of the standard norm for Gotham Academy, yet, at the same time, allows each of the characters to grow just a bit.

After that, however, comes the four-part tale that brings to a fiery conclusion the tale of young Olive Silverlock and her internal struggle with the spirit of Amity Arkham, who has been slowly taking the girl over in order to exact her revenge, not only on those who wronged her, but on all of Gotham!  It's up to Maps, Pomeline, Colton, and Kyle to figure out a way to save her from herself.  But what happens when Olive (really Amity) puts Kyle in the hospital?  Can Maps separate Amity's actions from Olive and still help save her friend, or will she let Olive fall prey to the evil spirit within her as punishment for hurting her brother?  It takes a break-in into Wayne Manor and a run-in with Damien Wayne (a/k/a Robin) to help Maps realize what is really important.

There are secret societies, masks, bat-lines, ancient incantations, deadly fires - - all this, plus Two-Face and Penguin, as well!  (Just in case you forgot this was a bat-related title.)  Plenty of mystery, plenty of mayhem, and plenty of suspense to keep you wondering whether Olive is going to make it out the other side unscathed...

Brendan Fletcher, Karl Kerschl, and Becky Cloonan definitely take this series out with a bang and provide readers with a very satisfying conclusion to a story that has been building since the very first issue of the first series.  Readers finally get the final showdown between Amity Arkham and the Detective Club, and while every subplot the series has been building does not get resolved, the major story that has headlined this book from the beginning does, and I think readers will read to the final page and feel like they've read a complete novel.  I know I did!

The question now is - what will DC do with any of these characters, if anything at all?  It seems a real shame that with the series over, we will not be seeing any more of Olive, Maps, Pomeline, Kyle, or Colton any more.  These were actually very likable characters, who were fleshed out and developed nicely over the 20 or so issues of these two Gotham Academy series.  But, I guess in an age where dark, brooding superheroes are the "in" thing, a series about a group of children in a haunted academy just isn't a bestseller (sigh).  It seems it's always the series that I really enjoy that get the boot, while DC adds 12 more Batman titles every other month.  (Hey - this was Batman-ish-related, so why not give it another shot????)

Anyway, to anyone on the border about Gotham Academy - pick them all up, as they are WELL worth the read!

RATING:  9 400-year old breathing sticks out of 10 for wrapping up this beloved series so nicely!

Monday, September 10, 2018

Jackaby, the Third Novel - Ghostly Echoes

It finally dawned on me while I was reading this third book in the Jackaby series what it is about these stories and characters that seem so familiar to me - Jackaby is a supernatural version of Doctor Who! While Doctor Who traverses time and space with his companions helping people along the way, Jackaby and his companion, Abigail Rook, traverse the early American countryside saving people from supernatural terrors.  Like the Doctor's companions, Abigail Rook keeps Jackaby grounded and helps him see things from a more human perspective.  And like the Doctor, Jackaby is a bit of a mystery - he is human in appearance, but he is so much more than that. So, that explains why I love this series so much!

There has been an ongoing subplot throughout these books involving Jenny Cavanaugh, the ghost in whose home Jackaby has made his office and living quarters. Jenny is unable to remember how she died, who killed her, or why she was killed. But in this third novel, Ghostly Echoes, all is finally revealed. Abigail has been working with Jenny to slowly bring her memories back, but an unexpected meeting with a deadly vampire, as well as the deaths of local scientists and their wives, suddenly open the floodgates, and Jenny literally explodes with memories of what happened!

Author William Ritter does an excellent job at building suspense within the story, and he interjects just the right amount of humor to keep the story light (despite its dark, supernatural nature) without making it over-the-top or too comical. His characterization has been exceptional, as all three of the main characters - Jackaby, Abigail Rook, and Jenny Cavanaugh - have all grown considerably in these first three books, the reader finding out more and more about each of them as the series progresses. I would love to have seen more of Charlie (Abigail's werewolf boyfriend), but alas, I guess we can't have everything...

The story in this book centers around a murder in New Fiddleham - a woman found dead in her home, a struggle apparent with clothing torn around the neck and the cause of dead is a single deep laceration to the chest. The deceased was the wife of a scientist working on a project for the city. Jackaby's interest in the case is immediately clear to Abigail - the details are identical to Jenny's murder! Their involvement becomes more imperative when another scientist's body is discovered by two boys, and Jackaby fears his wife may be the next victim!

Jackaby is convinced all of these crimes are linked, and he is determined to save Cordelia Hoole (the late scientist's wife) and find out why these crimes are identical to Jenny's murder. In the meanwhile, Jenny has begun to remember details about her own death, which could help solve the crimes in the present. Unfortunately, everyone has secrets, and those secrets could very well spell trouble for everyone involved. Everything leads to a crossing of realms and a dangerous journey with the Greek ferryman to the land of the dead, where Abigail hopes to find Lawrence Hoole, but instead finds someone else entirely - not the person she was searching for, but definitely the person she needed to find!

Everything is staged for the final battle, with the fate of humankind in the balance. While I can't wait to see what the fourth and final book has in store for Jackaby, Abigail, and Jenny, I am somewhat reluctant to pick up that fourth book, as I know it is the last one, and once read, my times with these characters will have reached an end. Why is it that all good things must come to an end?'

RATING:  10 petrified strings made of sheep's gut out of 10 for drawing me into a world that I never want to leave!

Friday, September 7, 2018

The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency, No. 4 - The Case of the Perilous Palace

Ada Byron and Mary Shelley may not have known each other in real life, but in the fictional world of The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency, they not only make the best of friends, they also make the best detectives!  This is another series (yeah, yeah, I know - I read what seems like hundreds of series books) that I have been thoroughly enjoying, and it is with much sorrow that this appears to be the last book in the series.  I have gone to the publisher's website, to Amazon, and even to the author's page, and there is nothing to indicate that there are any more books forthcoming in the series, which is a real shame. It seems like most publishers do not want an ongoing series any more, particularly for young readers and young adults.  Everything has to be finite, not continuing.  (sigh)

Regardless, that did not dampen my enjoyment of The Case of the Perilous Palace one bit! Of course, as this book opens, it seems as if the Wollstonecraft Detective Agency may be no more! Ada's grandmother has put an end to the detecting, sending Ada's maid away, firing her tutor, and forbidding Mary to set foot in the house ever again. She even has Ada's hot air balloon disconnected from the roof of the great house, much to Ada's despair. Gran has put her foot down and ended Ada's days as a detective once and for all. Of course, fate has other plans...

Enter: Baroness Lehzen, governess to Her Royal Highness, Princess Alexandrina Victoria. The Baroness has specifically sought out Ada and her detective agency to help the princess with a very delicate and confidential matter. Ada, of course, has to turn her down. I mean, her Gran did put an end to the detective agency, sent away her partner-in-detecting, and basically locked her in her room.  So how could she possibly help the princess?  Gran, however, is willing to make concessions if it will provide her granddaughter with such a high connection in society. Even if it means that once the case is solved, she will remove herself from the house and allow Ada to resume her life as it had been prior to Gran coming to stay with her.

Thus begins Ada and Mary's latest case. The only problem is, they aren't really sure what it is. The princess is watched literally every second of the day. Every word she writes, every things she says, every moves she makes is monitored, read, heard, and seen. So, how can she possibly tell Ada and Mary what it is she needs help with? And that, my friends, is exactly what makes this series so enjoyable to read. Ada's observational skills and understanding what is not said, while Mary's interpretation skills and understanding of the real world and society's expectations make these two the perfect pairing. Not only do they quickly figure out what the princess needs them to find, but they manage to find a way to get past the guards and break back into the grand palace to find it!

There's everything one needs to make a good mystery - hidden passages, secret codes, sinister villains, unexpected revelations, and perhaps the most surprising turn of events when a criminal mastermind from Ada's past re-appears to taunt the young detective. The only problem is - if there are no more books, how will we ever know if Ada and Mary finally locate their nemesis and put an end to her criminal machinations?  Surely author Jordan Stratford can find it within himself to write at least one more story, so that Ada and Mary can have a satisfying conclusion!  Or, perhaps Stratford leaves it this way so that we, the readers, can imagine our own endings to the detective careers of Ada Byron and Mary Shelley - or keep the stories going if we don't ever want them to end!

In any event, this fourth tale was just as fun and engaging as the prior three, and the series will be sorely missed.  There are so few really good young adult mystery series on the market today, and quite frankly, I find that depressing.  Whatever happened to the days when Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Dana Girls, Trixie Belden, Happy Hollisters, Tom Swift, Ken Holt, Judy Bolton, Cherry Ames, and so many others lined the shelves?  I guess mysteries just aren't the "in" thing with young readers today - I just hope that one day, it cycles back around and we see shelves and shelves of mystery series again!  The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency would certainly be at the head of the pack if it ever did!

RATING:  9 red-furred orangutans out of 10 for yet another great mystery to read and showing publishers that the mystery genre is still viable!

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

DC Super Hero Girls, Graphic Novel No. 6 - Out of the Bottle

The girls of the DC Universe return for their sixth graphic novel, still written by Shea Fontana - however, the art this time is by not one, not two, but THREE different artists - Marcelo DiChiara, Agens Garbowska, and Mirka Andolfo (none of whom I recognize). And if you're wondering why there are different artists for one graphic novel, well, it all has to do with the story...

This time around, the Super Hero Girls find themselves in art class, under the tutelage of June Moon, and they are each creating their very own comic. It is actually rather cute to see the different comic creations the girls come up with - Katana, of course, writes herself as the shining star of swordshmanship; Supergirl writes the innocent tale of best super-friends Supergirl and Batgirl; Wonder Woman has a difficult time with her story about herself splitting into different versions to save the day; and Harley Quinn - - well, poor Harley just comes up with the most bizarre version of herself that she can think of - H.Q. as a villain!  (Yeah, not quite the surprise for readers.)

Nothing too exciting about any of that, eh? Well, when Harley accidentally uses some of Ms. Moon's magic pain, suddenly all of their comic creations come to life, and the two-dimensional pests are out to create as much havoc as they can on the real world! Harley, Supergirl, Wonder Woman, and Katana must stop these dopplegangers before they do too much damage to Metropolis.  Meanwhile, Ms. Moon does everything in her power to keep her cool, but eventually, she can't control her temper, and when she loses it - well, enter: the Enchantress!

It's a somewhat simple, straight-forward tale of mayhem and magic, and the girls get help from Cyborg, Beast Boy, Bumblebee, Starfire, Poison Ivy, Killer Frost, and even Black Canary makes an appearance! But ultimately, it is up to Harley Quinn, who created the havoc, to find a way to send the paper pests back into the comics where they belong (and, I'll admit, the solution was rather cute).

Shea Fontana tells another fun tale, and with six graphic novels under her belt now, she has a pretty firm grasp on all of the characters.  There is consistency and a bit of growth with them, as they learn from each experience, and it actually makes me smile to thing that DC is willing to put out light-hearted stories that, in some ways, remind me of the enjoyment I had reading Super Friends back in the '70s and early '80s. Which goes to prove that comic books do not have to be all dark and gritty for adults and super-dumbed down for kids - there is a happy medium!

Despite the regular artist, Yancey Labat, being absent from the book, the art is pretty spot on. Whichever artist did the main art for the story maintained the look for the characters and backgrounds. This is a pleasant surprise, as often when titles have fill-in or new artists, the artists will have a very different art style that can sometimes be jarring to the story, to see the characters drawn so differently.  DC made the right choice this time.

I hope this series is selling well enough to keep it going for a while - I think it is the type of comic the market needs, as some people like to actually smile when they are reading their comics!

RATING:  8 manifesting mights of maximum friendship out of 10 for good, clean, family fun!

Sunday, September 2, 2018

A Blake Harte Mystery, Book 2 - Confessional

Okay, the first book gave readers a locked-room mystery to rival Agatha Christie.  This second book tries so hard to top that one (no pun intended) with a unique mystery that seems almost unsolvable.  I mean, let's face it - three elderly people die of heart attacks while giving a confession in Harmschapel's small church, and a fourth person is discovered dead in that very same confessional, apparently from a heart attack.  But how does a healthy 17-year old die of a heart attack?  That is what Detective Sergeant Blake Harte is going to find out!

Confessional is not only the title of the book, but it also appears to be the weapon whereby someone is murdering the citizens of Harmschapel.  The priest seems to think someone is purposely killing the people, but D.S. Harte is reluctant to jump to that conclusion - until a teenager turns up dead, at which point he has no choice but to start an investigation.  But there doesn't seem to be any connection between the victims.  One was a beloved janitor at the local college, two of them were bitter old women, and the fourth was a teenage jock.  Who would want them dead?

As with the first book, author Robert Innes slowly reveals the truth as Harte investigates into the lives of not only the four victims, but also into the people connected to them.  The priest was with three of them when they died.  The new priest, a young lesbian, seems to have an ax to grind with the two bitter old women.  The teenager, though, seems to be the odd one out, for which no connection can be found.  There are no hidden entrances to the confessional, no holes through which anyone could push a needle or blow in gas, and there are no marks on the victims' bodies to indicate foul play whatsoever.  Which, of course, begs the question - if they did not die naturally of heart attacks, what could have induced them?

Now, I'll be honest here - I pretty much figured out who did it and how that person did it from the very beginning.  The only thing I was not sure about was the why?  When it was ultimately revealed (and I was right!), the reason behind the murders all made sense.  And figuring it out pretty early did not ruin the enjoyment of the book at all - in fact, it made me enjoy it all the more, as I was anxious to learn the reason why.  And I don't think Innes made it easy to solve; I think it's more the fact that I have read so many mysteries and watched so many mystery shows that, at some point, some of these murders become easier to solve.

I also enjoy the continuing subplots of Harte's feelings for Harrison Baxter, the young man he helped save in the first mystery, as well as the emerging relationship between Officers Patil and Mattison.  Plus, in this book, we get more insight into Officer Gardiner's private life and why he's always so cantankerous, and there is a surprise revelation that I did not see coming (but did make sense, in a soap opera kind of way).  And, it must be mentioned, that I am so thankful that we have an author of a gay mystery series who keeps the focus on the mystery and doesn't feel the need to throw in overly graphic sexual encounters just the keep the reader interested.  The story was well-written on its own, with engaging characters and a well-plotted mystery, that nothing else was needed to keep my attention.

Looking forward to reading the next one in this series.  Definitely recommend this for any and all mystery fans!

RATING:  10 love bites out of 10 for keeping the story grounded and reminding readers that not every story has a happy ending.