Friday, July 12, 2019

Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files - Brief Cases

Ah, Harry Dresden, Wizard Extraordinaire - oh, how I miss thee! It's been way too long since Jim Butcher gave us a full length novel. He's allowed a few comic book mini-series from Dynamite Entertainment to be published, and he's written a short story here and there over the past few years. Thankfully, his recent short stories have been collected into a large volume titled Brief Cases, and it has sustained my love for the character and need for more stories!

With 12 stories, Brief Cases covered a lot of different times (at various points in Dresden's history - between books, during books, and even after the last book). This provides fans with the opportunity to see the characters at various points in their history. And I specifically say "characters" because Butcher treats us to stories of not just Dresden, but also tales from the point of view of Molly Carpenter (Dresden's apprentice) and Marcone (the mob boss) and, my personal favorite, Waldo Butters (the coroner). In addition, the final story, which, quite frankly, was the least of my favorite of the 12 short tales, features not one, not two, but three different view points...but more on that later.

First, let's discuss those three tales with bigfoot. As Butcher indicates in his introduction to the first tale, bigfoot is a character he never has touched upon in the ongoing series, so it was a nice change of pace to see him integrate the character into Dresden's world. It was also fun to see that bigfoot was not only NOT a villain by any means, but that he had an offspring by a rather imposing woman - an offspring that Dresden finds himself helping not once, not twice, but on three separate occasions throughout the young bigfoot's life. All three stories are unique and stand on their own, but when taken together, they create an amazing tale of parental love, sacrifice, and reunion. Of all the stories in this anthology, I would have to say that these three are my favorite Dresden tales.

With regard to Molly - when her character was first introduced into the series, I wasn't overly impressed. She seemed to be the stereotypical rebellious teenager. No big deal. But then she started using magic. And then she got in trouble - big time trouble! Then Dresden bailed her out and took her on as his apprentice. And then ... well, for those who may not have read all the books in the series yet, I won't spoil it. But she does manage to get two stories in this book, and both of them are quite powerful. Once is set just after Changes, when everyone is mourning Dresden's death. The other deals with Molly's new role following the unspoken change to her life mentioned (or rather, not mentioned) above. In both stories, she proves herself to be a true protege of Harry Dresden, acting just like him in so many ways. The second story, however, is a very tough pill to swallow, as Molly learns a lesson the hard way, at the cost of quite a few lives...

The story about John Marcone was interesting - we've never really seen anything from his point of view before. And to see how he deals with supernatural threats ... how he uses what he has learned from Dresden over the years ... and how he is able to discern the truth from subterfuge within the supernatural community ... well, it shows just how devious, conniving, and downright dirty he can be.

Now, my favorite of all the stories in this book has to be the story about Waldo Butters. Butcher admits in the preface to the story that Butters was originally just a throw-away character. But over the years, he has grown into something much more than that - a likable geek who has been thrown into a world he doesn't truly understand, yet one that he accepts and willingly throws himself into whenever someone is in need. And now, as the chosen keep of the Sword of Faith, he has even more responsibility than ever. In this story, Butters gets his first "call," and his faith is put to the test when he goes toe-to-toe with a deadly supernatural creature. He must have faith in himself, in his calling, and in his righteous mission in order to defeat the creature and save the soul of the man he and Michael found on the bench...

And the last story. Dresden takes a trip to the zoo. With his daughter. And his dog. And what should be an uneventful family outing turns into three separate battles! Dresden takes on a warlock with newfound powers - - Maggie takes on some ghouls in children's clothing - - and Mouse takes on a shadowy villain.  The same story, told from three different perspectives, fighting three different villains totally unbeknownst to the other two. Truly an ingenious idea, and while it was cute, it just did not have the Dresden feel that the other stories did. Maybe it was too light-hearted, or maybe it was too family oriented, I'm not sure. But, while it wasn't bad, it was not the best either.  Then again, when you have a book of 12 stories, they can't all be the best, can they?

Overall, the book is another win for Butcher in his Dresden universe and satiates the Dresden craving we fans have until he finally gets around to writing and publishing the next novel.

RATING:  10 giant oyster shell bombs out of 10 for feeding the Dresden fix for all of us fans going into withdrawals!

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Modesty Blaise, Cartoon Adventures - Book 1 of 2: In the Beginning

Okay, I will be totally honest. I have heard of Modesty Blaise many times over the years, but I've never actually read any books or stories starring the sexy spy. I just assumed she was something similar to Emma Peel from the British television show, The Avengers. So, when I happened across two books (technically graphic novels, as they are comic strip stories) at a comic convention last year, I picked them up, figuring I would give her a try.  I finally got around to reading the first book, In the Beginning, which collects two stories: "La Machine" and "The Long Lever." And quite frankly, I liked it.

Now, fair warning - there is no "origin story" for Modesty Blaise. The first story, "La Machine," jumps right into things. Modesty Blaise is on the verge of retiring - or so she hopes. But when agents of the foreign office come to her penthouse, asking for help, she has no choice but to offer her services, along with that of her partner, Willie Garvin.  It's just like old times for the dangerous pair, as they set out to infiltrate and take down the organization known as La Machine. By the end of the tale, Modesty and Garvin have faced down some very dastardly villains, Modesty is kidnapped and tortured, and Garvin is nearly killed. But, they save the day in the end, take down La Machine, and Modesty comes to the realization that retirement is simply not an option for her...

Which takes us directly into the second tale, "The Long Lever." Now, this title makes absolutely no sense to me, as it does not seem to have any connection to the story at all. In this tale, Modesty and Garvin are called upon to find a Hungarian refugee scientist who has been experimenting with a laser ray. The Hungarian government has been fighting to get him back, and it appears they might have succeeded. Modesty and Garvin must once again go undercover on the yacht of Hungarian agents, where they believe Dr. Kossuth is being held prisoner while he is being delivered to Hungary. This assignment is anything but usual, though, as Modesty soon finds out. Nothing is quite what it seems, and when she manages to get some one-on-one time with the refugee scientist, she discovers that she may not be working for the right side!

The writing is stellar, and the art is absolutely beautiful. Modesty manages to come across as both deadly and seductive, and the detail in the locales, vehicles, and weapons is amazing.  I'm not familiar with Peter O'Donnell, but after reading this, I'll have to look him up and see what other work he has done. The only complaint I have (and this has nothing to do with O'Donnell, but more to do with the publisher) is that with the mass-market paperback format, the comic panel sizes are so small, the words are extremely small and it takes a real effort to read it.  That being said, it's worth the effort, as the stories are so engaging. She is not female version of James Bond - she is a masterpiece all on her own.

I'm likely to put off reading book two for a while, as I know once I've read it, there won't be any more in my collection at this time to read...

RATING:  10 twenty-two caliber pen-guns out of 10 for making the spy business about more than just action and adventure but about character and style a well!


Wednesday, July 3, 2019

DC Comics Secret Hero Society, Book 4 - Science Fair Crisis

DC's world of young super heroes in the Secret Hero Society continues to expand with the fourth book in this children's series.  Part prose, part comic, part notes and journals, these books have been a lot of fun to read, and it's nice to see DC actually allowing their characters to be used for stories that are all dark and gloomy.  Since I've already seen that a fifth book is forthcoming, I am hoping this means the sales have been good, and DC will continue publishing the books for young readers!

Science Fair Crisis finds the students returning to Justice Preparatory Academy for an all new year of school under the new principal, James Gordon. As fate would have it, the return to school also means a new mystery for the secret hero society to solve - who is causing all of the accidents throughout the school that threaten to affect the upcoming science fair sponsored by S.T.A.R. Labs?  The book features the return of Bruce Wayne, Diana Prince, Clark Kent, Barry Allen, Oliver Queen, and Victor Stone, and introduces readers to the newest member of the SHS, Arthur Curry (better known as Aquaman!).

The story is pretty creative, as someone sabotages the science fair projects, and poor Arthur gets blamed for the damage done to the school. Arthur is forced to leave the school, and his thought-to-be-a-sure-fire-winner science project is withdrawn from the S.T.A.R. Labs contest.  While Bruce (Batman) is quick to believe Arthur is the blame, the other children (heroes) are not so quick to agree. They believe Arthur was set up, so they decide to investigate on their own - after all, isn't that what friends (and heroes) do?

It's fun to watch the kids use their own special talents to try and uncover clues that will lead them to the real culprit - and along the way, readers will meet Lois Lane, who runs the school newspaper; see Clark become a "reporter" for the school newspaper; see Diana use her lasso of truth to try and get to the bottom of things; see Ms. Waller come on board as the new guidance counselor and truancy officer; see Barry (the Flash) get some special tutoring from Professor Zoom; and see the Secret Hero Society work together to uncover the true villain behind the caper (and it's not at all who you will be expecting - quite frankly, even I didn't see this one coming, although the clues were there!).

Pamela Lovas and Shane Clester take over the art chores for this fourth volume in the series. Not sure what happened to Dustin Nguyen or why he didn't illustrate this one - but Pamela and Shane do a great job, and the variation in style really is not that noticeable.  The story flows as smoothly as previous ones did, and the characters maintain their look (making them easily distinguishable and identifiable even without their iconic costumes).

These stories are the perfect introduction for young readers who enjoy super heroes, allowing them to read about their favorite characters without having to face the continuity-heavy, down-trodden, darkness-filled stories that over-saturate the comic book market today.  Fun, simple stories that are truly enjoyable to read - even as an adult!

RATING:  10 mysterious text messages out of 10 for making super hero school fun to read!

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Murder by the Book - the first Beyond the Page Bookstore Mystery

Vacations and work and other things have made it difficult of late to keep up with the review for the books I've been reading, and the stack is growing - but ne'er fear, the next review is here!

Now, I have never been a big fan of "cozy" mysteries; however, once in a while, something does catch my eye and I have to pick it up.  Such is the case with the first Beyond the Page Bookstore mystery. It doesn't involve psychics or the supernatural.  It doesn't have any superheroes or comic book references. It doesn't even really appear to have a "hook" that so many cozy mysteries seem to have in this day and age. No, what caught my attention for this series is the author's bio on the inside back cover. "Lauren Elliott grew up devouring Nancy Drew..." As soon as I read that one line, I knew I had to pick up this series.

(Now, before you go getting all concerned, I don't believe she actually sat down and physically ate Nancy Drew for lunch or dinner - - I have no doubt the "devoured" means that she read one Nancy Drew book after another and couldn't get enough, so sought out as many of the books as she could find to read!)

So, did Murder by the Book meet my expectations?  Without a shadow of a doubt, yes, it did!  The protagonist, Addie Greyborne (love the name!) leaves the big city after the death of her fiance for a small New England town to take title to Greyborne Manor, the Dark Shadows-esque mansion at the top of the hill overlooking the harbor. Having inherited the manor from an aunt she never knew, Addie finds life in this small town to be a bit daunting at times - particularly when it seems that everyone knows her family name, whereas she knew absolutely nothing about this aunt or her connection to the town! But the inheritance offers her a chance at a new beginning - a fresh start after the loss of her father and and fiance.

Yet, as any reader of mystery novels knows, the secrets in this town will come back to haunt her!

Elliott provides a well-written mystery that doesn't exactly keep you guessing (although there are some surprising twists), but it does make you fall in love with the characters. Addie is every book lover's dream - someone who has the opportunity to open her own bookstore and solve a mystery!  Addie's first friend in town, Serena, who owns the tea shop next door, is the fun-loving friend that everyone wants to have. Serena's brother Mark, who is also the towns police chief, is the "Ned Nickerson" of the series - Addie has an attraction to him, but solving the mystery of who murdered the local merchant and tried to pin it on Serena definitely comes first. Martha is the curmudgeonly old woman who owns the bakery next door, who is bound to cause trouble for Addie at every turn.

Of course, two of my favorites are the lawyer - Raymond James! - and the British curator who offers Addie a job - Roger Moore! Clearly, Elliott is having a bit of fun with names in the series, since Raymond James is a financial services company, and Roger Moore is, of course, the British actor who portrayed James Bond in a number of films. I would be curious to know how many people reading the book actually picked up on those names...

Plus, we get a mysterious key, a box hidden in a secret compartment of an old desk, and plenty of other Gothic tropes that play out during the course of the mystery.

Needless to say, Addie gets into the thick of things, despite being told countless times by Police Chief Marc to stay out of it, and she ultimately finds herself at gunpoint, nearly run down, and facing danger over and over. And, as with any good Nancy Drew mystery, the suspicions she has surrounding the death of her father and her fiance are resolved, when they are revealed to be connected to the current murder mystery, and by the end of the book, Addie (as well as the reader!) gets resolution to all of it, providing Addie with a true brand new start to her life.  At least, until the second book comes out, sure to bring with it yet another murder for Addie to solve!

RATING:  9 first printings of Alice in Wonderland out of 10 for writing a cozy mystery that is well worth the read, with a strong protagonist worthy of a Nancy Drew shout out!

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Cemetery Girl, Book 3 - Haunted

And so the story of the Cemetery Girl has reached its conclusion with this third volume of the graphic novel series by Charlene Harris and Christopher Golden (and beautifully drawn by Geraldo Borges).  Calexa Rose Dunhill has been through quite a bit since she first woke up in that cemetery, and now her story comes to an end as her past is revealed and the identity of the person(s) who is trying to kill her comes to light.

Haunted is the perfect title for this book (graphic novel), as Calexa has been haunted not only by the past she can't remember, but by the death and violence that lay in her wake as she tries to escape from the unknown villains who are after her.  After the revelation in the last book that she had inherited the home of Lucinda Cameron and now has a place to live.  She has also made friends with Kelner and his son Mason, who are about the only individuals she trusts.  Which is probably wise on her part, as it appears that it's not just one, but two different factions that are searching for her...

Harris and Golden open up Calexa's past as readers discover that her father has been searching for her, but someone has been hindering his private eye every step of the way.  Someone does not want Calexa ... or Charlotte, as we discover her is her birth name ... found, and will go to any length to ensure that she stays away - even if that means killing her and anyone who gets in their way!  The mystery that has been building over the past two books now reaches its culmination, and all the secrets in Calexa's past are laid bare.  But the question is - once she learns the truth, will she go back to being the Charlotte she doesn't remember, or will she stay in her current life as Calexa?

This final volume provides a very satisfying conclusion, wrapping up the story nicely, answering all the questions, and even opening the door for Calexa (Charlotte) to find a little love and happiness in her life.  No easy cop-outs, no sudden revelations, no thread left untangled.

The art, by Borges, only adds to the life of the story, and it keeps pace with the prose, moving the reader from panel to panel, and page to page, with the ease of watching a television show or movie. This speaks volumes as to Borges' talent not just as an artist, but also as a storyteller, that his panels flow and give moment, and in no way seem two-dimensional.

It's almost a shame that this is the end of Cemetery Girl. On the one hand, it is nice to have a complete story; but at the same time, I want to see where Calexa and Mason will go from here, and what happens next!

RATING: 10 chocolate-filled donuts out of 10 for revealing the truth about a haunted girl without a past - and providing a superb and very satisfying conclusion to a terrific story!

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Virginia Mysteries, Book 7 - Spies at Mount Vernon

Those mystery-solving brothers, Sam and Derek, are back doing what they do best - delving into our country's history to solve another mystery! Author Steven K. Smith takes the young brothers a bit out of their element in this seventh installment of The Virginia Mysteries, as they, along with Sam's friend and classmate, Caitlin, take a trip to Washington, D.C., where they get to explore the nation's capital (while Sam and Caitlin have fun pretending to be spies, watching every man and woman very carefully). But what happens when a man they watch begins to act very shady? And what happens when he leaves behind a very suspicious clue at the Lincoln Memorial? And what happens when the three kids unscramble the code to figure out that something is going down at the historic Mount Vernon?

Well, I think the title, Spies at Mount Vernon, says it all!  See, it turns out the man Sam and Caitlin were shadowing really is a spy - and there is something that is going to take place at Mount Vernon. As fate would have it, Mount Vernon also happens to be the site of a presidential appearance, where the President of the United States will be meeting foreign dignitaries.  It is an important occasion, and it is clear something bad is going to happen.

Enter: Federal Marshal Drake! Remember him from the prior book, when Sam, Derek and Caitlin helped stop some poachers?  Well, he's back and in the nation's capital. So, when Sam, Derek and Caitlin find themselves in a tight spot with national security, it's Marshal Drake who steps in - not only to help free them from any trouble they might be facing, but also to ask their help in identifying the spy they saw and his co-conspirator.  So, from Washington, D.C. down to Virginia, the kids travel back to their home state, where they find themselves facing greater danger than ever before. Plus, they get to meet the President of the United States!

Smith once again manages to seamlessly interweave historical facts about Virginia, and this time our nation's capital, into the mystery, so it is a learning experience for both Sam and the reader. And he also ups the ante for the kids, as they must face down the danger of real spies, who are not afraid to harm others! The climactic chase, both on land and water, is well worth the read, and Smith creates some very tense moments there near the end! Yet, with all this seriousness, Smith makes sure that Sam, Derek and Caitlin still act like and talk like the kids they are. Caitlin only has eyes for the President's son. Derek gets thoroughly engrossed with a famous sports star who is at the Mount Vernon gathering. And Sam? Well, Sam continues to second-guess himself, but he isn't afraid to do what needs to be done, and he keeps his eye on the mystery all the time, no matter what is happening around him.

It is great to see this series continue, in a day and time when mystery series for children do not seem to fare well.  It's a shame Smith's books are not being carried by some of the bigger chains, such as Barnes & Noble and/or Books-A-Million - but hopefully his sales on Amazon and other websites are sufficient to keep the series going and that an eighth book will be forthcoming!

RATING:  9 crab cake sandwiches out of 10 for keeping the mysteries fun and engaging, as well as educational - for readers of all ages!

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Secrets in the Mist - a Gothic Myths Novel

Ever since I was introduced to the Gothic worlds of Wuthering Heights and Dark Shadows, I have loved good Gothic mysteries. Even the Nancy Drew series has a number of Gothic elements to help build the suspense and keep the reader engaged. Dark rooms, foggy nights, ghostly cries, sinister shadows. So, when I stumbled across a book called Secrets in the Mist, labeled as "A Gothic Myths Novel," well...let's just say, I was intrigued.

I had seen the author's name before - Anna Lee Huber writes historic mysteries; but, I had never read any of her books before this one. As such, I was not sure what to expect. But the cover, with the girl in white holding a lantern in the dark and misty night, and the description of the story, about a mythical lantern man, a secret held by the local villagers, and a twisted trail of deceptions, were enough to hook me.  So, buy it, I did, and now that I've read it, I would say it was worth the price I paid.

Secrets in the Mist is the story of Ella Winterton. Her mother died some time ago; her brother died in the war; and her father has basically given up, living his like out of one bottle after the other. The only people Ella has that she can depend on are her housekeeper, Mrs. Brittle, and her best friend, Kate (even if Kate's brother jilted Ella many years ago, running off to marry a woman that clearly had no interest in him). Set in England in 1812, in a small England village, Ella has resigned herself to the fact that she will likely never get married and never rise above the financial state she is in. One by one, she has been forced to sell off all of her valuables to keep her father out of prison (his drink of choice has been banned, as it is produced by the French, with whom England is at war), and she truly doesn't have much left.

Until she meets the Lantern Man...

What I first thought was going to be a mystery involving the legend of the Lantern Man, the mysterious shadowy figure who haunted the marshes outside of the Winterton homestead, instead turned out to be a mystery involving smugglers, thieves, blackmailers, and murderers. Ella, our Gothic damsel in distress, soon finds herself involved on all of these things, and the very people she had thought she could depend on to help her turn out to be involved themselves! But not everyone is who they seem to be, and as with any good Gothic tale of mystery and romance, Ella finds her hero and is ultimately able to solve the mystery and see the villains face the consequences of their actions ... but not without a cost to those Ella holds dear.

Huber does write a good tale, and she gave me a couple of surprises along the way; however, there is not a whole lot of suspense to the tale, even though Ella ventures out into the marshes numerous times, the mists swirling around her and the shadowy Lantern Man appearing without warning. Ella is a likable character, but honestly, I found I loved Mrs. Brittle even more and wish I had seen more of her in the story.  Some of the plot points were a bit predictable, but it was fun to follow Ella as she uncovered the clues that led to some shocking revelations for her (although not so much for the reader).

When I picked this up, I had assumed that the "A Gothic Myths Novel" meant there were others or some to be forthcoming; but, as of the writing of this post, there have been no other offerings under this umbrella, leaving me to believe that Secrets in the Mist is, and will be, the only Gothic Myths novel - a one-hit-wonder, so to speak.

Is it worth the read?  If you like mysteries with a light-touch of Gothic, then yes, I'd suggest it; but if you are expecting the dark and borderline-supernatural elements present in most Gothic stories, then you may not find this to your liking.

RATING:  7 cherished pianofortes out of 10 for a good mystery, sprinkled with a bit of romance and a hint of Gothic.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Dakota North Investigations - a Marvel Trade Paperback Collection

I have always, ALWAYS been a fan of comics with female leads. Wonder Woman. Batgirl. Ms. Marvel (back in the day - now Captain Marvel). She-Hulk (Savage, Sensational, and any others). Black Diamond. Ms. Tree. And, back in 1986, Marvel introduced a brand new title that caught my attention, and which I immediately picked up.

Dakota North Investigations.

Dakota North is a private investigator. She's tough as nails, with brains and beauty to match. In a lot of ways, she reminds me of Ms. Tree, the Max Allan Collins creation from the '80s - and, perhaps, Dakota North is Marvel's homage to Collins' book.  But, unlike Ms. Tree, Dakota North does not have a vibrant supporting cast. Other than her younger brother, the rest of Dakota's supporting cast only make brief appearances here and there and do not take an active role in her investigations as Ms. Tree's did.

In any event, the original series, which sadly lasted only five issues, introduces readers to Dakota, her younger brother Ricky, her father, her assistant Mad Dog, her somewhat love interest Amos, and the enigmatic Cleo. What begins as a simple bodyguard job for fashion designer Luke Jacobson turns into an international investigation, when Ricky becomes the unwitting pawn in an attempt to hide an experimental nerve gas from enemies who want to use it for nefarious purposes. When Ricky is kidnapped, Dakota chases down his kidnappers to Europe, and in a surprising turn of events, once the whole matter is resolved, it turns out her own father may very well have a connection to the woman manipulating events behind the scenes...

The art in the original series was a bit rough about the edges (Tony Salmons, who I was unfamiliar with at the time, and still am today...), but it worked with the story, keeping the fashion completely on the cutting edge (no pun intended). But, apparently readers in the late '80s just weren't ready for this kind of title, and after five short issues, the series came to end.  Personally, I thought this was end of Dakota. So, when Marvel Comics recently offered a trade paperback with way more pages than just five issues could account for, I had to check it out.  Having now read the further adventures of his hard-hitting private eye, I'm glad I did!  It seems Ms. North made the rounds throughout the Marvel universe after the demise of her own series.

From helping Spider-Man save Mary Jane from a killer targeting models in Web of Spider-Man, to lending some aid to the Power Pack children in tracking down a criminal who stole a hidden treasure. A brief appearance in a Wasp story didn't really amount to much, but a four-part story in Daredevil definitely caught my interest. Quite honestly, that four-part story, which involves Dakota trying to help prove that a man on death row is actually innocent. A heart-felt story, well-written, colored in reds and shadows to keep the mood very somber, and filled with several surprising twists (one of which includes Dakota's dear old dad!). It is this last story in the trade that makes me realize Dakota is still a very viable character and could easily make it in the market today (if Marvel would ever realize that not every book needs to be an X-Men, Spider-Man, or Avengers title).

All in all, this trade paperback was a book well-worth reading, and maybe someday Marvel will collect the other stories of Dakota North (because, of course, I went online and discovered Dakota made quite a few appearances throughout Marvel titles over the years) - I, for one, will definitely but it if they did!

RATING:  10 king-size red bulls out of 10 for reviving my interest in this lesser-known character and (hopefully) generating some new readers that could bring her back to life!

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Flash - the YA Novel Book 3 - The Tornado Twins

So, with this book, we reach the end of the trilogy of Flash young adult novels written by Barry Lyga.  It has been a fun run (pun fully intended), and I love the way author Barry Lyga has incorporated not just characters from the TV show, but also characters from the DC Universe that have yet to appear in the show (such as Madame Xanadu, as well as others).  With this book, we get the conclusion to all of the threads that have been woven up to now - but the story only left me with one real question...

Why call the book The Tornado Twins?

There are definite spoilers ahead, so if you haven't read the book and don't want to be spoiled about what happens in the book, then stop reading now.  But for those of you who have read the book, or who simply don't mind having plot elements spoiled, then by all means - read on!

The Tornado Twins, Don and Dawn (last names conveniently not revealed for the sake of the story, but comic fans know exactly who they are...), greet Barry as he works to get to the year 6345 - but sadly only makes it to the 30th century. Now, with the book being titled The Tornado Twins, any reasonable reader would expect Don and Dawn to stick around, or at the very least, help Barry in his battle against Abra Kadabra, Hocus Pocus, and the other wannabe magicians. But no - the twins only appear in four chapters of the entire book, and that is simply to help Barry get from 2935 to 6345.  Seriously, that's it.  They serve no greater purpose than as a plot device to help Barry get into the far-flung future so he can defeat the villains.  So, explain to me how that warrants naming the book after them?

Aside from that, the story was the usual fun-fan-fare that is the world of the CW's The Flash.  Cisco creating tech. Team Flash taking down the bad guy (in this instance, Earthworm in the present). The Flash running to save the day, whether it be in the present or the distant future. Lots of fun references to comic fandom (the Cosmic Treadmill, which has yet to make its appearance in the TV show, as well as a cameo by Chuck Taine, who comic book fans know better as Bouncing Boy from the Legion of Super-Heroes!). And, of course, a huge climactic battle that seems unbeatable, until Barry slows down long enough to think it through and comes up with the perfect way to use the magicians' own powers against them, saving both the 64th century and the 21st century!

One interesting tidbit I discovered in this book, that I had not realized from the previous two books (or maybe I did and just forgot between readings) was that these stories are set in the original Flash timeline - in other words, this is the reality that would have existed had Barry not gone back in time and tried to save his mother (thus, creating the Flashpoint timeline). So, in this time, Caitlin is not Killer Frost (at least, not yet - she still could be, though); Cisco's brother is still alive; and all of the events following Flashpoint, such as Savatar, have never occurred. At first, I was a bit annoyed at this, but once I thought about it, I rather liked this divergence, as it allows Lyga to tell plenty of stories without worrying about whether or not it fits into the continuity of the ongoing television show.  Which means anything could happen, and anyone could appear!

(And, thankfully, I just discovered that this is not the end of the series - merely the end of the first trilogy!  The next book comes out in September of this year, and it is a crossover with Arrow!  I am definitely excited for that!)

RATING:  10 mysterious playing cards out of 10 for a more than satisfying conclusion to all the storylines started with book one and for keeping The Flash fun, light-hearted, and enjoyable.


Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Boystown, Season Three

And the drama continues with season three of Jake Biondi's Boystown...

Last season (or book, if you prefer) ended with Derek's secret love for Cole being played out for everyone to see ... Joyelle running out, Derek hot on her heels. Cole chasing after Derek. And Michael rushing to ensure nothing happens. But something did happen. The car Joyelle was getting ready to get into exploded! Who survived? Who made it away unscathed? And whose lives will be forever changed? And thus begins season three...

The Mancini/Ciancino feud grows worse as an investigation begins into who put a bomb inside of the car that nearly killed four not-so-innocent lives and did kill two innocent people. Derek and Joyelle find their lives forever changed with an unspeakable loss. But with Joyelle's memory of that night gone, will Derek be able to patch up his marriage and start again? And what about his relationship with Cole? Of course, how far will Tyler go to get his chance to be with Joyelle?

They are not the only ones affected by the car explosion. Keith is distraught about almost losing Michael - but that is nothing compared to the threat that looms in the form of Rachel Carson. She knows his deepest secret, and unless he does exactly what she says, he runs the risk of losing Michael anyway. But is keeping Michael worth the price?

Meanwhile, Emmett and Max are thrilled at the prospect of opening a restaurant together. And when Emmett's father dies, he has no interest whatsoever in being a part of the family business that has cost his family so much - but Derek and Justin are determined to keep their business out of the hands of the Ciacinos. The only problem is, Justin can't keep his hands off of Gino Ciacino. But can their Romeo/Juliet romance be enough to keep the two families from killing each other?

At the same time, Logan and Jacqueline must come to terms with the sight that they walked in on - Jesse and Ben in bed together. But who was playing who in that scenario? Logan turns to the bottle again and Jacqueline simply shuts everyone out. But Ben knows Jacqueline's secret - he knows who Jesse's father is. If she doesn't stay with him, he will reveal her secret, which will change the lives of her son and the man who sired him!

And let's not leave out Gino and Marco, and the secret that their aunt holds regarding the fourth Mancini brother - one who has a connection with their own mother! But, what happens when Marco intercepts a private message meant for Gino and discovers not only the identity of that fourth brother, but also the fact that he is right there under their very noses?!

Then, there's the introduction of Jensen Stone and Dustin Alexander, a new waiter and a new manager for Emmett and Max's new restaurant. Each of them has his own secret, and those secrets will no doubt come into play in coming books...

Mysteries abound! Who is the Mancini brother? Who is Jesse's father? And who is so determined to seek revenge that he will set up Emmett and Max's new restaurant to explode during a pre-opening benefit for Cole's mother and others fighting cancer?  Season three definitely has one heck of an explosive cliffhanger (pun fully intended!), for which I cannot wait for Season Four!

Biondi is by far a talented writer, and he has the perfect feel and format for a nighttime soap opera - there simply has to be a way to either get him writing a night soap, or turn this series into a soap opera!

RATING: 10 poisoned cups of coffee out of 10 for escalating the drama, resolving some stories, starting others, and keeping me wanting for more!

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Doctor Who - The Secret in Vault 13

It's funny - I was never a fan of Doctor Who back in the '70s, when some American channels ran reruns of the Tom Baker episodes. I thought, even back then, they were cheesy and boring. So, I was surprised when the series returned in 2005 and I found that I liked it.  Although I still don't like the pre-Eccleston years, I have enjoyed the various series and incarnations of the Doctor since then. This newest Doctor, Jodi Whittaker, has really taken the Doctor and the show to entirely new ground, and the books that have come out recently about this 13th Doctor and her companions have been just as enjoyable as the show.

The Secret in Vault 13 is the first Doctor Who novel I have seen that is specifically aimed at a younger reading audience. What surprises me about this book, however, is not just that author David Solomons has captured the personality of each of the characters - no, what surprises me is that truly, there is no difference between this book for young adults and the regular books that come out for adults to read.  The story has the same amount of sci-fi wonder, the same amount of humor interjected throughout, and the same danger, evil villains, and high energy rescues that you find in the regular Doctor Who adventures.

Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed the story. The adventure centers around the Genesis seed (which reminded me very much of the whole Genesis project from the second Star Trek movie...) and the planet where it is being held for safekeeping, along with the seeds of pretty much every other plant life that has ever existed. Just, in case, you know, some evil villain decides to wipe out all life in existence - then someone can use these seeds to recreate life. Of course, the fact that someone knows where this place is makes it dangerous. And danger is what the Doctor and her companions do best!

Solomons sends the Doctor and her companions on a fun quest to find the necessary keys that will unlock the door to the container where the Genesis seed is hidden. To a school where graduation means death. And to a garden in London where when you are invited to dinner, you are actually invited to BE dinner! Of course, the Doctor, Graham, Yaz, and Ryan are up for the challenge as they face a lying artificial intelligence and a giant mole who demands a sacrifice, as well as ... a potted plant?  Yes, I said that right - a potted plant who is out for revenge against Graham! I mean, let's face it: where else could you possibly read a story like this, except in Doctor Who?

By the time I finished this book, I felt like I had watched a fantastic episode of Doctor Who. Characterization was spot-on, the dangers and challenges were faced with bravery and logic, and the Doctor, in her usual style, outwitted the bad guys with her own special style of ingenuity. I know there are some fans out there who are not pleased with the idea that the Doctor has swapped genders and is now a woman, but quite frankly it's not the gender that makes the Doctor - it's the heart(s) that make the Doctor who and what (s)he is. And Solomons has without a doubt provided a story of the Doctor that will please just about any fan of the series.

Hope there are more books like this for young adults - I'll definitely read them!

RATING:  10 strands of unstoppable noughtweed out of 10 for branching out the world of Doctor Who for younger audiences!


Monday, May 6, 2019

Final Shadows - a Bishop Files Novel

I have been reading Kay Hooper's Bishop novels since 2000, when the first novels appeared in the bookstores (the "Shadow" trilogy). From the first book, I was hooked. I mean, seriously, what is there not to love about this series? A group of federal agents who happen to have psychic powers traveling the country to fight psychic killers and helping and recruiting other psychics, whether born that way or who develop powers after a traumatic incident. Most of the trilogies have been the Bishop Special Crime Unit series, but recently she has written and published a three-book series under the "Bishop Files" umbrella - basically, a series about some psychics who are not a part of Bishop's SCU team, nor are they a part of the Haven initiative; rather, they are their own group fighting a shadowy team of psychics with an unknown objective. Until now...

Final Shadows is the final book in this first Bishop Files trilogy. The main characters from the two previous books in this series (Sarah Gallagher and Tucker Mackenzie from The First Prophet, and John Brodie and Tasha Solomon from A Deadly Web) are brought together, along with Bishop and Miranda, as well as Murphy and the very interesting and very unique Pendragon (not going to spoil that one - you'll have to read it for yourself to believe it!). The time has come to bring the war to the shadow organization that has been manipulating things for years - an organization that has been kidnapping and experimenting on psychics. Men and woman around the country have been planning, and the time has finally arrived to take the fight to them.  To these - - dare I say it?

SPOILER ALERT!

SPOILER ALERT!

SPOILER ALERT!

SPOILER ALERT!

Aliens!?!?!

Yes, you read that right.  And yes, that's a huge spoiler if you haven't read the book, but quite frankly, I was thrown for a loop when the beings behind the shadow organization were revealed. For years, I've been enjoying these psychic mysteries, and while this Bishop Files trilogy is set apart from the regular SCU books, it is still in the same world and still has the connection to Bishop and his group. Thus, their entire world is now opened to the prospect that there are aliens living among them - aliens who look like people, act like people, talk like people, and who have been hard at work for decades, trying to figure out how psychic powers work so that they can create their own psychics to go back home and fight against an enemy that is destroying their home planet.

No, I am not making this up.  I wish I were.  This did not in any way feel like a logical conclusion for this trilogy, and the whole alien aspect came totally out of left field.  While I do enjoy some sci-fi series (the old Star Wars, pre-Disney; comic books; an occasional Star Trek), I much prefer more grounded reality mysteries, even those with a psychic twist. But throwing aliens into the mix for this concluding chapter just took me out of the story and kept me wondering what Hooper was thinking when she wrote this.  Heck, I can accept Pendragon much sooner than I can the whole alien abduction story.

I hope that this is the last time that any reference will be made to these aliens, and that Hooper will not be carrying over any elements from this trilogy into any of her future books.  I still have her third book in the "Dark" trilogy to read, so my fingers are crossed that maintains the regular psychic villains that have made her books work so well and be such enjoyable reads to date.

I guess after nearly 20 years, with just as many books in the series, I can't complain too much if one book out of the bunch isn't exactly up to part with the rest. And, ignoring the whole alien element, I did enjoy the interaction of the psychics, and I loved seeing Tasha and Brodie grow closer (and Brodie coming into his powers was a moment to cheer!).  The characterization in the book was definitely standard Hooper fare, so that was one saving grace for the book.

The book and the trilogy are now behind me, so time to move on to bigger and better things!

RATING:  5 screaming babies crying out in terror out of 10 for throwing a huge twist in the works, not just with the alien element, but with Pendragon as well!

Friday, May 3, 2019

Redlands, Volume One: Sisters by Blood

Sometimes I pick something up for no other reason that to support local artists, and other times because the subject matter or locale of the story hits home with me.  In the case of the first volume of Redlands, it is because the story is set in Florida (where I live), as well as the fact I purchased it at a locally owned bookstore in Key West (which happens to be owned by Judy Blume - yes, THAT Judy Blume). Plus, it didn't hurt that the story involved a coven of witches and a bit of horror...

That being said, it has taken me nearly a year to finally get around to reading the graphic novel, and I have to say - I could have waited longer. The story was not overly exciting, and quite frankly, although this first graphic novel collects issues 1 through 6, in those six issues, I don't feel like I really got to know any of the characters, or even feel any empathy with any of them. Which is a shame, because I really wanted to like this.

The premise of the book is that a group of witches, back in 1977, took over the town of Redlands, Florida, killing a number of people in the process. Flashforward to the present, where the town has pretty much become adjusted to the witches who run it - except for the maniacal killer who is painting the town red - literally! The writer tries to integrate some love interests into the story, as well as a young protege who is being protected by one of the witches. And, of course, with any group project, there is one who is no longer thrilled with the choices being made. Yet, the drama in the story feels forced and contrived, and it didn't feel natural. Plus, the several sex scenes throughout the book came across as very gratuitous and unnecessary to the story.

There's not really a whole lot else I can say about this one, without giving away what are meant to be major plot points. The art by Vanesa Del Rey is dark and moody, and while not exactly to my taste, I will say it definitely fits the tone of the story. There is definitely blood, gore, violence, sex, and full nudity (both female and male), so by far, this is not a graphic novel for children. And, since the book ends on a cliffhanger moment, I'm assuming there may be additional volumes in the series out there. I, though, will not be looking for them.

I suppose you can't win them all, and while I have been fortunate over the years to have lucked upon some great stories in the independent graphic novels and comics that I have picked up, sooner or later that luck runs out, and it clearly did with this one.  Ah, well, you never know until you try, eh?  Besides, some other readers may enjoy the story more than I did.

RATING:  3 burning houses out of 10 for taking a chance with a non-super-hero, non-male-centric comic story.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Samantha Wolf Mysteries, Book Five - The Haunting of Eagle Creek Middle School

It's been almost a year since I read the last Samantha Wolf mystery, so figured it was about time to delve into her next big adventure. Despite the author's use of present tense rather than the standard past tense used in fiction writing, I have grown rather fond of this series. It is almost a modern-day take on Nancy Drew, with a bit of Trixie Belden thrown in for good measure. Samantha ("Sam") is a typical teenager, with chores and problems at school, but she and her friends are never one to shy away from a good mystery, even if it means they could get in trouble with their parents.  Sound familiar?

The Haunting of Eagle Creek Middle School is set right before Halloween, and author Tara Ellis provides her protagonist with the perfect setting for a good mystery - a haunted house! Or rather, a haunted school! It seems that the school where Sam, Ally, and Cassy now attend has its own resident ghost story. None of them believe it, of course, because there is no such thing as ghosts, right? But when their school club decides to host a haunted house to raise funds for charity, in the hopes of helping a local afterschool program that is struggling, Sam and her friends find that secrets abound everywhere...

What really happened to the husband of Mrs. Potts, the benefactor of the afterschool program?

How much truth is there to the story of the ghost of a former janitor who supposedly died at the school?

And just what part does a local politician, Gregory Kingsman, have in all of this?

The book certainly has all the right elements for a good, old-fashioned mystery, and it is fun to follow Sam, Ally, and Cassy as they stumble across clues and slowly put together the pieces of the puzzle. Their determination to help Mrs. Potts, the afterschool program, and the secret that Mrs. Potts is keeping is admirable indeed, and Ellis manages to build just the right amount of suspense to keep the story moving at a pretty good pace. And the real danger faced by all three girls when they uncover the identity of the person behind everything and actually get kidnapped by the villain reads like a true Nancy Drew mystery!

And while the mystery is a stand-alone story, there are elements that continue to build from previous books (although you don't need to read them to understand what is going on - Ellis provides enough explanation to make it easy to catch up) and clearly story-points that will be resolved or built upon in future mysteries.  Ellis has created a believable world of characters and settings with the right amount of danger and mystery to make it a fresh and enjoyable read.  I definitely recommend this series to those who enjoy children's and young adult mystery series.

RATING:  8 pieces of unique and unbreakable wood out of 10 for proving that an ongoing mystery series for children and young adults can still survive in today's market!

Sunday, April 21, 2019

A Nicky & Noah Mystery, No. 2 - Drama Muscle

Nick and Nora were the crime solving husband and wife team from The Thin Man films back in the day. But, in today's world, crime solving duos come in all forms and fashions - and author Joe Cosentino has given the world a humorous, theatrical duo in his "Drama" series of mysteries starring two college theater professors - Nicky Abbondanza and Noah Oliver (get it?  Nick and Nora is now Nicky and Noah!). In the first mystery, Drama Queen, Nicky and Noah had to figure out who was killing people on campus before their entire department was put six-feet under! Now, they are back in this second mystery, only this time, someone is killing off the competitors in a muscleman competition.

Drama Muscle finds Nicky and Noah taking a break from their own theater and helping the physical education department put on a true show for their muscleman competition. But it doesn't take long before the bodies in this competition start piling up, and Nicky and Noah find themselves smack dab in the middle of another murder mystery.  As with the first book, there are plenty of characters, plenty of suspects, and plenty of victims. Thankfully, Cosentino provides a cast of characters in the front of the book (just before the first chapter), which acts as a program for the story (I mean, hey, this is a book about theater people, after all).

Brick Strong is the department head of bodybuilding who is helping his some of his students in more ways than he should. Van Granite is the professor of bodybuilding who would do just about anything to become department head (and to get into Noah Oliver's pants!). Tim and Kim Sim are twin brothers competing in the competition, and who are fighting over an inheritance they will receive when their father dies. Maria Ruiz is another competitor who has her own very shocking secret that she will do just about anything to keep from coming out. Jimmy Saline is a theater student who has been helping out in the physical education department to get close to one of its students - but what would he be willing to do to see his secret crush win?  Jillian Flowers is yet one more competitor who has her own issues that could spell disaster. Then, of course, there is Cheryl Stryker, another professor of bodybuilding, whose secrets could threaten not one, but two of the people involved with the competition. And, of course, this is all just the beginning...

Cosentino writes a fast-moving, always humorous murder mystery with fun, sometimes over-the-top characters and with a main character (the story is told from Nicky's point of view) who always has just the right quip or snarky response to make the reader smile. But he's far from the perfect detective - he has his own insecurities about his relationship with Noah, as well as his own prowess as a crime-solving sleuth. But, as he stumbles across one body after another, he soon realizes he has no choice but to figure out who the murderer is before he gets tied up to the weight-lifting equipment and his own life placed on the line!  (Oh, wait - that does happen!)

Admittedly, it wasn't hard to spot the killer pretty early on (I think I've read way too many murder mysteries at this point to make them overly difficult to figure out), but it is not so much the whodunnit as it is the how-are-Nicky-and-Noah-going-to-figure-it-out? The journey is what is so much fun, and Cosentino's writing makes it well worth the read. Already have the next book on my stack, ready to read - can't wait!

RATING:  9 china cups of hot cocoa out of 10 for combining mystery with humor for a truly enjoyable read!

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Courtney Crumrin, Volume Seven - Tales of a Warlock

And so we reach the end of the Courtney Crumrin saga - only, her story technically ended with Volume Six. With Volume Seven, Ted Naifeh, creator of this quirkly little magical series, takes a step back in time and gives readers a look at Courtney's Uncle Aloysius back when he was just a young man. What made him into the man that Courtney knew? Well, Tales of a Warlock answers that question...

Throughout this series, Aloysius Crumrin has been harsh, a bit stodgy, sometimes rather cranky, and every once-in-a-while protective. So, it's quite interesting to see Aloysius as a young man, cocky and free-spirited, yet at the same time, a man with a mission who is not afraid to use anything and anyone at his disposal to accomplish his goal. In this instance, his goal is to stop the misuse of magic, not only by the witches and warlocks in his own community, but by those outside of the community. Hence, his sudden appearance at the Anti-Sorcery Society (let's now discuss what the acronym for that would be...) and his willingness to help them out.

Or so it would seem...but as long-time readers will already know, there's more to Aloysius Crumrin than meets the eye. Naifeh provides his usual unique art style with this last book, and quite honestly, when I first started flipping through the pages, I thought Alice Crisp was a grown-up Courtney (which would have been interesting to see) - but alas, Alice is the daughter of the leader of the Anti-Sorcery Society, as well as the one person who catches Aloysius' eye. Only, he has his own agenda, and Alice is merely a means to an end. Or is she?

Naifeh continues with his brilliant writing, keeping the reader on his or her toes all the time. Nothing and no one is really what they seem to be, and even Aloysius finds that you can't control your feelings - but at what cost is the real question. Magic abounds in the story, as does evil and greed and jealousy and power - everything that makes us human, only amplified with the magical realm. Needless to say, by the end of the story, readers will learn a bit more about the magic of Hillsborough, as well as a bit of why Aloysius is the way he is in the present day.

And now the Courtney Crumrin saga has come to an end, and overall, I am completely satisfied. There was no huge cliffhanger or unresolved story, and this final chapter provided a great bookend to give us some history of Aloysius and Hillsborough. Kudos to Ted Naifeh for a story well-told, well-drawn, and well-crafted (and, for that matter, well-packaged!).

RATING:  9 field agents turned into ducks out of 10 for wrapping up this series in true style!

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Scarlet and Ivy, Book Three - The Dance in the Dark

I'm a bit behind in posting my reads - not for lack of reading though!  I just have had a number of things come up in the past month that have taken my focus ... but I'm back, and hopefully can get back on a regular schedule here.

Now, for poor Scarlet and Ivy Gray, it seems there are always more secrets lurking just around the corner. First, Ivy was forced to impersonate her dead sister, Scarlet, at the private school where her sister attended - only to discover that her sister never died, but was locked away in an insane asylum by the school's headmistress! And just when she got her sister back and a new headmaster took over the school, they discovered that he was behind the death of a young student twenty years ago - only to find that the student he killed had the name their late mother had used! So, now, that begs the question - just who is their mother, and why did she lie about who she was?

Thus begins the third mystery in the Scarlet and Ivy series, The Dance in the Dark. Scarlet and Ivy are back at school, but without their friend Ariadne. Things seem calm, Mrs. Knight has taken temporary charge of the school, and their beloved ballet teacher, Miss Finch, has announced that the ballet class will be performing Sleeping Beauty this year. Scarlet is determined to get the lead part, but she, of course, faces competition from her nemesis, Penny, believes she is perfect for the part. And then Ariadne returns to school! Before the competition can begin, however, Miss Finch disappears! Without warning, without so much as a good-bye, she is gone, and in her place is their new ballet teacher, Madame Zelda. No big deal, right? Wrong!

The horses are suddenly released from the stables. A note is intercepted that reveals what the girls believe to be a cry for help from their former teacher. The school lunch is poisoned, making most everyone in the school sick. A student is pushed from a second floor window. The danger keeps escalating, and parents begin pulling their students from the school. Scarlet believes the new ballet teacher is behind the recent events, but Ivy is not so sure. She fears it may be worse than that. Could it be...the return of...Miss Fox? Something is definitely going on, and Scarlet and Ivy (and Ariadne!) are determined to get to the bottom of it before the production of Sleeping Beauty puts everyone to sleep - permanently!

A very strong entry into this series, author Sophie Cleverly (still love that last name!) keeps the mystery fresh, the characters engaging, and the story fun. The underlying storyline regarding the girls' mother continues in this book as well, with more of the secrets revealed, and a surprising revelation that leads to Scarlet and Ivy finding a new relative - someone who might actually care about them. Cleverly reaches into the psyches of both Scarlet and Ivy in this book, and readers will get to see the characters mature in a number of ways as they deal with both the mystery at the school and the mystery of their own mother.

As we get a number of questions answered and most of the mysteries resolved with this third book, the only question that remains is what happens next? As Ivy so aptly puts it on the final page, "Anything could happen. But that doesn't matter. Because we are together..."

RATING:  9 blood-encrusted walking sticks out of 10 for keeping the Gothic elements of stately old estates, dark attics, and even darker secrets in young adult mysteries!

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Heroine's Journey - "Should Haves"

Heroine Complex, Book 3
Heroine's Journey
Publisher:  DAW
Publication Date (July 2018)
ISBN 10 - 075641445
ISBN 13 - 978-0756414412
373 pages of story

For a book that I never thought would have one sequel, let alone two, I am amazed at the journey these characters have taken (no pun intended). Heroine Complex saw the rise of Evie Tanaka as a superhero. Heroine Worship saw the humbling of Aveda Jupiter. Now, in this third book of the series, Evie's younger sister, Beatrice ("Bea") takes the spotlight as she begins her own journey into becoming a superhero - if she can only figure out how to get out of her own head...

Each of these books has been from a different point of view. The first was Evie's, the second was Aveda's, and now with Heroine's Journey, readers get an inside look at the thoughts of Bea Tanaka, who is still finding the limits to her power of emotional projection. As the back of the book says, Bea's life is full of "should haves." She should have been taken seriously as a powerful hero. She should have been allowed to come on missions with Evie and Aveda. She should have been free to use her powers to save others on a daily basis. But, in Bea's eyes, she is being held back.

So, when a strange new creature nearly takes out Evie and Aveda, and Bea steps in to save the day, she thinks this is the turning point in her life. Evie has finally agreed to let her become a part of the super team on a trial basis. Bea also discovers that she not only can project emotions, but she is able to actually implant thoughts into other's minds, in effect, "suggesting" what they should say or do. But even more important than all of that - the mother she thought had died of cancer years ago could quite possibly be alive, trapped in a demon dimension, calling out to her for help. What else should a super hero do, but help those in need? Right?

While I have to say, the first third of this book is a bit difficult to get through (I mean, Bea's incessant whining about not being allowed to be a full super hero, not being given more freedom, blah, blah, blah) gets a little tired of reading over and over. But starting with the second/third of the book, author Sarah Kuhn picks up the pace, and the story, and it begins to draw you in - particularly as you realize that Bea is developing new aspects to her power, and using those new abilities could very well lead her down a path that will put her at odds with her own sister. And just how far would she be willing to go in order to bring her mother back? That's a tough question, because anyone who has lost a parent will know that you'd do pretty much anything just to have another chance to be with him or her!

Once again, while there are definite heroics and some pretty funny epic battles, at the heart of this book (as with the previous books) is soul-searching and growth, and Bea definitely does a lot of both. And, as with the previous books, there is romance that blossoms, as Bea finds a man of her own in this book - meaning all three heroes now have their very own sweethearts (and it's interesting to note that it is the women who are the strong heroic ones, while the men play more of a supporting, Lois Lane-type role). Kuhn definitely flips the table on the typical hero/love interest story.

I see on Amazon that a fourth book in the series is forthcoming, so I now have something else to look forward to!

RATING:  8 amusement park rides that come to life out of 10 for sharing the human side of heroics, along with the temptations these heroes face to use their powers for selfish gain!

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Daisy Blackwood, Pilot for Hire - Vol. 1 - The Cursed Island

Daisy Blackwood, Pilot for Hire
The Cursed Island
Publisher: Soaring Penguin Press
Publication Date (September 2018)
ISBN 10 - 1908030305
ISBN 13 - 978-1908030306
90 pages of story and art

Remember back in the day when stories were about carefree adventure, when heroes were faced with dangerous cliffhangers (sometimes literally!), and you sat on the edge of you seat, breathlessly waiting to see how he or she would escape? Well, creator, writer, and artist Ryan Howe has once again captured that somewhat pulp-feel of adventure, heroism, and just plain-ol' good storytelling with his comic hero, Daisy Blackwood, Pilot for Hire.

The Cursed Island is the first collected story from Howe's website, www.daisyblackwood.com, where there are regular updates of the Daisy Blackwood stories. The story opens with an unexplained prologue of a group of men are coring samples somewhere, when they stumble across a rather unusual item...flash forward, and Daisy is asked to make a delivery to one of the western islands. Reluctant at first, she gives in and takes off just in time - for someone is after the cargo on that plane. As Daisy quickly discovers, there is more than just cargo on the plane; there is also a man with a gun, who is looking to have Daisy take him to a different island. It seems he has a box, and whatever is inside that box is singing to him, coercing him to do things he doesn't want to do, as it has many men before him.  He wants to return the box before anyone else can be cursed by it.

Howe has mastered visual storytelling in a way most comics are unable to do in today's market - Howe does not use any narrative captions; rather, he relies solely on the dialogue and the actual action in each panel to tell the story. And let me tell you, he does a perfect job of it! I got so caught up in the story, it wasn't until I was re-reading it that I realized there was absolutely no exposition. To me, that tells the mark of a really great storyteller.

For comic fans and adventure fans, this has it all. And I will be up front about this - the story doesn't necessarily answer every question you may have. Some things are left up to the reader to decide or figure out, and that's okay. Because, while this tale is a story in and of itself, I know that there are more stories to come, and I have no doubt that Howe is setting up things for future stories.

This is definitely a must-read!

RATING:  10 mutated underground dwellers out of 10 for good, old-fashioned pulp-style, cliffhanger storytelling that is exceptionally enjoyable!

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Backstagers and the Ghost Light (Backstagers Book One)

The Backstagers (Book 1)
The Backstagers and the Ghost Light
Publisher:  Amulet Books
Publication Date (September 2018)
ISBN 10 - 1419731204
ISBN 13 - 978-1419731204
208 Pages

Theater and Mystery - the perfect combination for a great book. Throw in an author who is actually an actor who portrayed the Pied Piper in CW's television series, The Flash, and it makes the attraction even stronger. Now, on top of that, base the book on a successful comic book series, and there is no way in the world that I could not pick this up! Thus explains why I bought this first book in a new series of novels by Andy Mientus based on the Boom! Studios comic book series, The Backstagers.

Now, the first thing I realized after getting several chapters into The Backstagers and the Ghost Light is that this series is definitely intended for readers who are already familiar with the comic book series. While the characters are given fairly decent introductions that gives you an idea of who they are, there are so many references to past adventures and experiences, this feels like a sequel of sorts to the comic book series.  I began to feel like I had missed out on a huge chunk of the story that brought these characters to where they are now, that I started to wonder if this was an intentional marketing ploy to try and lead people who have never read the comic to rush out and buy the comic and find out what the characters are talking about (as they mention past adventures and situations, but don't provide any details, leaving new readers in the dark to a certain extent....)

Nevertheless, I trudged on with the book, and I did find the story to be rather enjoyable. Five backstagers in their school theater - Sasha, Becket, Hunter, Jory, and Aziz - are prepping finishing up the run on their current production and getting ready for the next one, when a ghostly mystery presents itself. All theater geeks know that every theater leaves a single light on every night - a "ghost light" - to keep away any ghosts and spirits who may want to haunt the theater.  It's a tradition. So what happens when the Backstagers' ghost light goes out? Why, it opens the door for a ghost who suddenly creates havoc for the upcoming show, starting with a ruined audition due to a falling light fixture ... and culminating in a supernatural portal opening backstage that lets in one of the most dangerous creatures of another realm this world has ever not seen! And the Backstagers' only hope is the young girl who was cast as the lead in the new production - and who just so happens to have her own secret reason for being in that very theater!

It's obvious Mientus is familiar with the theater life, as not only does he use the proper lingo, but he also captures the true feel of the theater, from the director, to the actors, to the stage hands and stage managers.  It was almost like being part of a production (albeit with a supernatural twist) again as I read the book. And the ending definitely sets the stage (no pun intended!) for the next book in the series.

RATING:  6 cans of Diet Coke out of 10 for mixing theater and mystery with a dash of comic fun!

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Psychic Detective Mysteries, Volume 2 - Shadow's Return

Psychic Detective Mysteries #2
Shadow's Return
Publisher: CreateSpace Ind. Pub. Platform
Publication Date (March 2018)
ISBN 10 - 1986518477
ISBN 13 - 978-1986518475
258 pages of story

Now here's a sequel that I never expected to happen. When I read the first book in this series, Shadow's Edge, I did not expect there to be any further books about psychic detective Liam Baker and his police detective boyfriend, Kimball Thompson. The first book was pretty intriguing, and the psychic battle between Liam and the crazed psychic psychopath, Steven Pine, was powerful and kept me turning page after page. So, when I discovered this second book on Amazon, I couldn't wait to read it.

Shadow's Return takes place some months after Baker and Thompson captured Pine and put him away. They are beginning to build their relationship, but Baker begins to question things just as a new case comes up - a young college student is murdered, her body found strangled to death in the college gym. All the doors were locked, so it's clear that only someone with a key could have done it. It all appears straightforward, until Baker begins to "see" the murder. And then the victim comes back - - and all it takes is one word, "Pine," for Baker to grow worried that perhaps even behind bars, Steven Pine can still be a threat!

Another murdered college student, a cold-case murder of a prostitute, a college campus grief-share group, and a cheating boyfriend and best friend send Baker and Thompson in circles, as they slowly discover that everyone is hiding something. Wynne provides another intricate mystery, where Baker is forced to question everything he sees and Thompson is put in the position of doubting his partner's abilities. Wynne is careful to never give away too much too soon, and the characters are never black-and-white or stereotypical. In these mysteries, everyone is a shade of gray, and what each person is hiding could lead Baker and Thompson to a surprising revelation.

The mystery is well-paced, with Baker and Thompson following clue after clue, interviewing witness after witness, and trying to make sense of the various things that Baker sees. I like the fact that Wynne introduces a new element to Baker's abilities in this book, when the ghost of the murdered prostitute appears to him more than once in different places. It would actually be kind of cool if Baker were to have a permanent "spirit guide," so to speak, that helps him with future mysteries (and I am hoping there will be more books in this series!).

As a fan of psychic detective murder mysteries, this is a series I would certainly recommend!

RATING:  7 lemon drop martinis out of 10 for creating an evil, dark villain without making the mystery itself too overwhelmingly dark.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

G.F.F.s (Ghost Friends Forever), Volume Two - Witches Get Things Done

G.F.F. (Ghost Friends Forever)
"Witches Get Things Done"
Publisher: Charmz (division of Papercutz)
Publication Date (October 2018)
ISBN 10 - 1545801517
ISBN 13 - 978-1545801512
70 pages of story & art

It's time to return to Spectreville in this second graphic novel about Sophia Greene-Campos and her family of ghost hunters. In the last graphic novel, Sophia met and ultimately freed the ghost girl, Whitney, from being stuck haunting a bridge - but that freedom was short-lived, when Whitney was pulled away during a ritual gone wrong (to rid their school of a teacher who was not everything she seemed to be).

Now, in "Witches Get Things Done," writer Monica Gallagher and artist Kata Kane, introduce a new player in Sophia's world, the daughter of a tarot-card reader, Charlotte. Sophia is anxious to learn more about spells, like her father, so she can find a way to bring Whitney back from wherever she is. Her parents are not overly pleased with her brother's antics at the end of the last book, so they are unwilling to teach her just yet ... but Sophia has other plans! Charlotte is a willing accomplice, and the two (along with the help of Sophia's brother) set out to cast a spell that will bring back the ghost that Sophia likes.

But what about Jake, the boy that likes Sophia and that she claims she doesn't have an interest in? What happens when Charlotte expresses an interest? And who is that red-haired boy that Whitney finds down in the caverns of who-knows where? And what exactly is Sophia's father up to with Charlotte's mother? And just what is up with that two-headed ghost that keeps haunting the dreams of Sophia's family? And just what are their plans for that poor red-headed boy?

This second volume is chock full of mysteries, and while a few of them get answered, a few are just harbingers of things yet to come. Gallagher does a very good job of weaving all of the stories in and out of each other, and in true soap opera fashion, manages to resolve some stories, while introducing others and building on others still. This is not a series of done-in-one mystery stories, but an entire world of supernatural mysteries with a strong-willed, yet inexperienced female protagonist. And the ending sets up what appears to be an interesting trip for Sophia...

While this series appears to be aimed at teens, I am impressed with the fact that Gallagher has created a protagonist that likes other girls, but does not force the issue or make it into any kind of political book; rather, she simply writes the story about a girl who likes girls and makes no big deal about it. I give her kudos for keeping the book more about the mysteries and the relationships, and not at all about her orientation. As far as the art goes, I do admit, it seems a little less refined in this book than it did in the first, but it is cute, and Kane seems to be developing a good grasp of facial expressions.

This is a book I would recommend to any age - no cussing, no sex, no nudity, no adult situations, no extreme violence - just good story-telling and well-written mysteries.

RATING:  8 back-to-back creature features out of 10 for providing an all-ages book that is not dumbed-down or overly cartoony.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Hardy Boys Adventures, Book 18 - The Disappearance

Hardy Boys Adventures (Book 18)
The Disappearance
Publisher:  Aladdin
Publication Date (February 2019)
ISBN 10 - 1534414886
ISBN 13 - 978-1534414884
148 Pages of Story

The most recent Hardy Boys book is unique for a number of reasons. First, the book was originally to be titled The Vanishing Room, but somewhere along the line, that changed. Further, the plot of the book completely changed as well - when it was first advertised as The Vanishing Room, the plot involved the cousin of their school's principal, who noticed that people entered the apartment next to hers, but they never left! "...every person that has stayed in apartment B3 has never returned home. What' worse-most of them have left a trail of debt or angry partners behind them. There are almost too many suspects to count!"

The book that was published, however, The Disappearance, involves only one missing person - - a young woman that Frank, Joe, and Frank's new girlfriend Jones meet at a comic convention in Atlantic City. While, as an adult reader, the solution to this mystery was pretty easy to figure out from the get-go, I can easily see that a young reader (at whom this series is aimed) might be stumped, right along with Frank and Joe. Her hot-headed boyfriend seems to be suspect number one, but in an interesting turn of events, the local police suspect that somehow Frank and Joe are involved when security footage appears showing two hooded individuals - who have the same height and body type as the Hardys - in a video of what appears to be them forcefully taking Harper (the missing friend) from her apartment! So, not only do they have to figure out what really happened to Harper, but they also have to clear their names.

There are a lot of pop-culture references in this book, thanks to the comic book convention theme, including Doctor Who, Wonder Woman, Black Panther, Poison Ivy, among others. It is rather fun to see that Frank is a real comic book aficionado, and that he has found a girlfriend who shares the same interests - for once, Joe is the one feeling left out (which is actually addressed by the author in some of the Joe-centric chapters). The writer clearly knows his or her comic book and sci-fi fandom. Also, there is also a pretty tense scene when the Hardys attempt to get information from Harper's aunt, but she turns on them, afraid that they are some of the less-than-respectable people to whom Harper owes money, and threatens them with a knife if they don't leave her alone.

One other note of interest is the cover - the scene finds Frank and Joe out on a ledge, while a shadowy figure appears in the window of a fourth floor apartment. Unlike all of the previous HB Adventures books, this scene does not appear anywhere in the book, nor even a close facsimile of this scene. It makes me wonder if perhaps the scene was going to appear in the originally scheduled story, but despite the change in plot and overall story, the publisher did not feel the need to change the cover (perhaps they were simply too cheap to pay an artist for a totally new cover art?). It definitely provides a edge-of-your-seat image, but since it doesn't appear in the book, it feels a bit like false advertising.

With the next book titled Dungeons & Detectives, it begs the question - has S&S chosen a ghostwriter (or writers) who love the whole geek fandom thing?  Guess when book 20 is solicited, we'll find out!

RATING:  8 strands of chewy saltwater taffy out of 10 for mixing mystery, comic conventions, and geekdom into a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Murder on the Moor – the Fifth Drew Farthering Mystery

Drew Farthering Mysteries
Murder on the Moor
Publisher - Bethany House
Publication Date (January 2017)
ISBN 10 - 076421828X
ISBN 13 - 978-0764218286
319 pages of story

It's always fun to return to merry ol' England with Drew Fartherington and his American bride, Madeline. With Julianna Deering's books, it's always a guaranteed good mystery with some really intriguing characters, a bit of danger, and a nice little twist at the end. And in this one, Deering (or, DeAnna Julie Dodson as she is known in real life - never have figured out why these authors bother with pen names, if their bio in the back is going to reveal their true name anyway) adds in some wonderful Gothic elements and Sherlockian lore that adds to the mystique of the story.

Murder on the Moor takes Mr. and Mrs. Fartherington to the Yorkshire moors to help an old school friend of Drew's. It seems 'Beaky' Bloodworth is having difficulty with the large estate that he inherited. His new bride, Sabrina, claims to be hearing strange sounds coming from the closed-off wing . . . and she can't explain the feeling she gets that someone is following her when she is out on the moor. Readers will definitely get the Sherlock Holmes feel, with the foggy moor, the strange animal footprints, the one-too-many suspects. Of course, the more important reason Drew has been called to the small town of Bunting's Nest is to solve the murder of the town vicar. Everyone loved him, he only did good for the community; yet, someone took a large stone and bashed in his head on the front steps of his church. And, as with any good mystery, one murder is not enough. Not long after the Fartheringtons arrive, there is a second murder, this one much closer to home for Beaky and his wife.

It's off to the races as Drew and Madeline try to figure out who did it, why he or she did it, and exactly how that person is getting away with it. Is Sabrina trying to hide something from her past? Or is the Bloodworths' neighbor seeking a way out of a loveless marriage? Or is it the poacher out on the moor, who seems to avoid any conviction for the poaching he does? And what about the Bloodworth's former chauffeur, who, after serving in the military, has been locked away in a psychiatric hospital for years? Then, of course, there's the devilishly handsome gameskeeper, who seems to attract the attention of the ladies. Everywhere Drew and Madeline turn, there is another suspect.

A Gothic mansion with ghostly sounds. An isolated English countryside with swirling mists and a wild dog on the loose.  A timid landowner with a beautiful wife far out of his league. A roguish gameskeeper.  The blind daughter of the local poacher.  The bitter feud with the neighbor.  So many great elements to this mystery, that even though there is a bit of a slow start, once it gets going, it's difficult to put down. Without a doubt, this is the best Drew Fartherington mystery to date. And after finishing this book, one thing I realized I love about this series is that the title character actually has a happy, stable relationship! It seems most detective series, the main character either is divorced, or can't maintain a steady relationship for one reason or another - there is always drama. But for the Fartheringtons, their marriage is not only strong, but they actually work well together in solving the crimes!

Can't wait to see what Deering (Dodson) has in store for the next book!

RATING:  10 clouds of lavender wool out of 10 for honoring the mysteries of times past, and keeping it clean, fresh, and engaging.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Newbury & Hobbes: The Undying - a Titan Comics mini-series

Newbury & Hobbes
"The Undying"
Publisher: Titan Comics
Publication Date (Sept. 2018 - Dec. 2018)
ISBN - 9781782760399**
**For Trade Paperback, Release Date April 2019
96 pages of story and arg

For those who remember the old Crossgen comic book series, Ruse, well, let me tell you - this is the series for you! And what surprised me about this series was that, while this is the first comic book mini-series about these characters, it is by far not the first story about them! Apparently author George Mann has used this opportunity to bring his fictional characters to life in comic form - but prior to this, Sir Maurice Newbury and Veronica Hobbes have been solving crime in the steampunk world in five different novels! So, if this small taste of their world isn't enough, you can go to B&N, Books-A-Million, or Amazon and find more of their adventures...

Newbury is a single-minded detective in a steampunk London, while Hobbes is his capable, beautiful, and patient assistant who is anything but a damsel in distress. Where Newbury goes, Hobbes goes, even if that means right into the heart of danger. "The Undying" opens with Newbury and Hobbes fighting a group of men wearing skull masks; but, upon defeating them, they discover the villains are not fully men - they are cyborgs, part-man and part-machine. Leaving the killing machines to the police, Newbury and Hobbes return home to discover a new case awaits them.

Chief Inspector Charles Bainbridge, one of Newbury's dearest friends, is waiting for them. It seems one Professor Archibald Angelchrist has discovered a rather unusual cadaver that requires Newbury's expertise. And thus begins this latest adventure for the daring duo, who find that the cadaver is a monstrous experiment of the late Dr. Aubrey Knox - a villain that Newbury and Hobbes have faced before, but eventually saw his demise. Or did they?

The men(?) in skull masks who sit silently in their jail cell suddenly start ticking, and within seconds, they explode, taking about a portion of the prison, as well as the prisoners and policemen therein.  Meanwhile, Newbury, Hobbes, Bainbridge, and the rest find a secret laboratory belonging to Knox that not only leads them to discover that the one cadaver was not his only experiment, but to find an entire village of those creatures living in the bowels of the sewer system and tunnels beneath London!

The story begins to pick up speed at this point, as Newbury is taken to a meeting with the Queen, who is not only aware of Knox's vile experiments, but it turns out she was a part of the scheme. And now, her involvement is threatened to be exposed, so she demands that Newbury find Knox, if he's still alive, and put an end to his plans once and for all before the truth is revealed. Having no choice, Newbury and Hobbes set out to locate Knox - and when a group of people throughout London suddenly re-appear with bombs embedded in their chests, the race against time (literally!) begins.

Mann knows how to write a really good mystery, and artist Dan Boultwood's art definitely compliments the story. The characters are unique and fun, the villain dastardly, and the supporting cast anything but stereotypical. The world in which these characters are set is not overly mechanical (as some steampunk tales seem to go), and while it is dark and seedy (what with vile doctors conducting horrific experiments on people, monster living under the streets, half-man / half-mechanical henchmen, and a queen who is not quite as innocent as she should be), Mann manages to interject enough natural humor into the characters' dialogue and situations that it keeps the tale from becoming brooding.

I bought the series because of its clear comparison with Crossgen's Ruse, and because I love a good mystery; however, the writing and the characters definitely have me interested in checking out some of Mann's novels the next time I'm at Barnes & Noble. I hope Titan Comics and Mann have plans to offer up more mini-series with these characters, as I will be first in line to buy them if they do!

RATING:  10 boarded-up theaters out of 10 for piquing, then keeping, my interest with a steampunk mystery that is well-written and perfectly drawn.