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.