Wednesday, October 16, 2019

DC Super Hero Girls, Graphic Novel No. 8 - Spaced Out

And thus we come to the final (at least, for me) DC Super Hero Girls graphic novel. It's been a good run, more or less, and while not every one of the eight graphic novels were exceptional, I'd say that more were good than were not.  It has been fun reading stories that were not continuity heavy, they weren't all doom and gloom, and the heroes, while less than perfect, were still - - well, heroes! With these young women (and the few young men), they may have doubted themselves and their abilities, but there was never any question of what was right and wrong.  The stories were lighthearted, the adventures time- and universe-spanning, and the villains ultimately vanquished as they should be in any good superhero comic.  But, alas, for reasons unknown to me, DC decided that these well-drawn characters and good-natured stories were just not good enough - so, they redesigned the Super Hero Girls (with art that I absolutely hate!) and changed the tone of the stories (from what was light-hearted and fun to what comes across as silly and childish) and introduced a whole new DC Super Hero Girls...but more on that later...

"Spaced Out" introduces Jessica Cruz Green Lantern to the DC Super Hero Girls universe.  As in the DC Universe proper, this Jessica Cruz is fearful and not overly confident with her power ring.  The story opens in Coach Wildcat's training class, where Jessica backs away from a fight with a monkey. Of course, she becomes even more afraid when Principal Waller informs her she must go to Oa, the planet of the Green Lanterns, for her official induction ceremony.  Of course, she's not going alone - Big Barda, Star Sapphire, and Supergirl are going with her (along with a stowaway, but I won't spoil that surprise!).  Thus, the girls' space adventure begins!

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Wonder Woman is supposed to be watching Krypto. But when Krypto takes off after Catwoman's cat, then gets loose in Metropolis and finds a stray dog with her litter, it takes Wonder Woman, Batgirl (along with Ace, the Bathound), Flash, and the whole DC Super Hero Girls crew to track down the missing dog.  As such, readers are treated to two adventures within this one graphic novel!

It is fun to watch Jessica Cruz not only learn more about herself and her power ring through this adventure, but to see how she grows in courage with the help of her friends.  The use of Zod, Non, and Faora as the villains was perfect, as it gave some simple conflict with Supergirl's desire to reconnect with people from her homeworld, while at the same time, utilizing villains with strength far above that of the other heroes - meaning that they have to work together to overcome the Kryptonian criminals.  Writer Shea Fontana provides a very satisfying story (or should I say stories), and Agnes Garbowska provides art that blends seamlessly into the series (kind of a shame this is the last one, as her art was beautiful).

The book does at least acknowledge it's finality in the series, as writer Sholly Fisch and artist Marcelo DiChiara provide a mini-back-up story that has Zatanna showing the Super Hero Girls an alternate reality, where Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, and Catwoman are criminals, the girls all have secret identities, and instead of Super Hero High, they are attending Metropolis High.  It is an introduction to the new art style for the series, as well as a first look at the changes in the characters.  I'm not a fan of this new direction, so rather than collecting it simply for the sake of completing a series, I've decided that this graphic novel will end my DC Super Hero Girls collection.  And such a shame, as it has been a real jewel in the DC Comics world, and it's a shame that DC felt the need to change it.

So, goodbye DC Super Hero Girls - it was  true pleasure reading your stories and sharing in your adventures, and know that this fan will miss the fun-loving stories that you've had along the way!

RATING:  9 bowls of Slurp-O-Slop ice cream out of 10 for giving the girls two fantastic stories as a fun-tabulous send off!

Sunday, October 13, 2019

A Ted Wilford Mystery, no. 6 - The Counterfeit Mystery

This sixth Ted Wilford mystery was not overly exciting - however, it was definitely a product of its time!  Of course, the entire series is a product of its time (no cell phones, no computers, etc.), so when reading the books, I have to remind myself of that fact.  However, just because it is a story out of time does not mean that it can't be exciting, or that it shouldn't be enjoyable from the first page.  But I have discovered that these Ted Wilford mysteries are sort of hit and miss - some are really good, while some are not quite that good (and the mystery not overly engaging).  Sadly, this one falls into the latter category.

The Counterfeit Mystery is set during the summer following his graduation from high school and just before he is ready to leave for college. He doesn't have much work at the newspaper, and just when he thinks he will have a lot of free time the last few weeks of his summer vacation, he gets a call from Mr. Dobson, the editor at the town newspaper.  Along with newcomer Nancy Lindell (who happens to be he niece of the newspaper's secretary), Ted is brought into the editor's office to meet Mr. Woodring - a salesman set to introduce a whole new concept to Forestdale - trading stamps!  I had to smile when I read this, as I realized that most people I know today would have no idea what trading stamps are (and no, it doesn't mean collecting postal stamps and trading them as you would baseball cards or comics!).

For those who don't know, trading stamps were stamps that a person could collect every time they went shopping.  For every dollar you spent, you earned a certain amount of stamps.  You collected the stamps in books, and when you had a certain number of books, you could redeem them for various things - from dishes, to utensils, to pots and pans, to toys, to any number of items.  The more an item was worth, the more books of stamps were required to be redeemed to get it.  Additionally, you could purchase an item using both stamps and money - for instance, if you wanted a bicycle, and it cost you 250 books of stamps, but you didn't want to wait that long - sometimes, there was a special offer, and you could get the bicycle by redeeming 100 books of stamps plus $100 (that's just an example, so don't go trying to go search and see if that is accurate).  I can remember back in the day when I was a kid, my mom collected Green Stamps, but I don't remember if she ever had enough to redeem them for anything (she probably did, and I just never paid attention, as I was too worried about toys and Nancy Drew books LOL!).

In any event, Ted doesn't seem thrilled with the whole concept, but Mr. Woodring convinces the paper's editor, who agrees to endorse it.  Plus, Mr. Dobson has volunteered Ted's services to act as his assistant while he is in town trying to drum up business for the stamp sales. Ted chooses to use the opportunity to keep an eye on Mr. Woodring and make sure the entire thing is on the up-and-up.  It ultimately pays off, since the stamps that start showing up are a purple shade, while the original stamps that Mr. Woodring showed Ted and the others in Mr. Dobson's office were blue! Is Mr. Woodring counterfeiting the stamps, or is something else going on?

In the meantime, Ted gets to know more about Nancy and discovers that she has come to town for an ulterior motive. It seems her grandmother makes mention in some of her letters of a town named Freeport in the state, but it seems no one has ever heard of it!  Neither Ted nor Nancy can find any mention of it in the newspapers or other books in the local library, and even some of the older townsfolks have never heard of it.  How could a whole town disappear?

 The counterfeit stamps part of the mystery is rather tame, and the clues to that pretty much fall into Ted's lap without him actually having to look for them (except for when Mr. Woodring disappears, then Ted has to take action to actually hunt the man down).  His and Nancy's efforts to locate the ever elusive Freeport seems to find them doing active clue-hunting, but to no avail.  And, like pretty much every children's mystery story written, the two mysteries are eventually determined to have a connection, and solving one leads to the solution of the other.

The one element of this story I did find somewhat interesting was Ted and Nelson's trip to Hobotown, an area of the city where the hobos tended to congregate and set up temporary "homes." They are looking for Mr. Woodring, and the clues lead them to this community of hobos, and it was rather intriguing to see how author Norvin Pallas portrayed the people. Pallas wrote them as a tight-knit group of men who looked out for one another, had a code of honor, and did not tolerate outsiders; yet, the do decide to help Ted in his mystery, providing a very important clue to help him solve the case.

I only have two more books from the series - books 7 and 11.  While 8 of the books in the series have been reprinted in paperback editions, for whatever reason, the remaining 7 books are only available on e-readers, which I refuse to get.  So, once I read those last two books, then my reading of Ted Wilford mysteries will have reached its end...

RATING:  7 purple cows out of 10 for bringing back memories of my youth and my Mom with an outdated program that I hadn't thought of in years!

Thursday, October 10, 2019

A Blake Harte Mystery, Book 4 - Reach

With this fourth novel in the Blake Harte mystery series, author Robert Innes has without a doubt secured his place as one of my all-time favorite mystery authors.  Innes' ability to write a well-crafted murder mystery with endearing characters that will keep you guessing right up until the very end (or, for seasoned readers, at least until the half-way point!) shines through in each of his books, and this latest one I've read is a shining example.

Reach continues the ongoing threads of Detective Sergeant Blake Harte's growing relationship with young Harrison (as they take the next big step in this book), as well as his varied relationships with his superior and co-workers in the Harmschapel police department.  Readers also gain a bit of insight into Harte's past, as a criminal that he helped put away seven years ago comes back to haunt him in the worst possible way.  Thomas Frost was a serial killer who Harte captured just as he was about to claim his sixth victim. Kerry Nightingale is the one who "got away," so to speak.  But now, seven years later and from behind bars, Frost taunts Harte by claiming that he will finally finish what he started all those years ago.  "Before the end of the week," he threatens, "Kerry Nightingale will die!"

Innes then tells one of those "locked-room" stories that he is so good at.  Harte is determined to protect Nightingale at any cost, even if that means sitting outsider her apartment all night long with a security guard right next to him.  In a high rise building, there is no other way in or out - and yet, the next morning, Harte and the guard hear a crash inside, and when they rush inside, they find Nightingale on the floor, choking out the last bit of life she has left.  There are marks where she had been strangled, just like Frost had done to all of his previous victims.  But Frost is still behind bars ... so how in the world did Kerry Nightingale die?

All signs seem to point to the apartment building's other security guard, who was an ex-boyfriend of Nightingale.  As Harte investigates, it seems everyone has secrets, including Nightingale herself!  But even if that other security guard did kill her, how did he get in it and out of there without Harte and the first guard seeing him?  And how did he escape?  And to make matters worse, the prison where Frost is being held has footage of Frost from the morning when Nightingale dies - and at the time of her death, he can be seen with his hands out in front of him, as if he is choking the thin air!  Harte knows it is impossible for Frost to have killed her from behind bars, but there seems to be no rational explanation.

Then Harte learns that Frost had a son...and that Nightingale wasn't the only victim...and the ex-boyfriend's roommate can't provide a secure alibi for his roommate's whereabouts on the morning of the murder.  When a second body turns up and the ex-boyfriend goes on the run, Harte thinks the case is all wrapped up. But something is off about the whole thing, and when he finally confronts the ex-boyfriend, suddenly all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place!

Once again, Innes throws some nice little twists into the story, and while I had figured out a few of the aspects to the crime, the actual murderer didn't actually become clear until nearly the end.  At 160 pages, it is not a lengthy read, nor is it excessively heavy reading - but it is thoroughly enjoyable reading that you won't be able to put down.  Factor into that the background characters (Mattison and Patil's budding relationship; Sergeant Gardiner's bitterness about being passed on for Harte's position; and the unexpected death of one of the supporting cast that will shake everything up going forward!), and you've got the makings of a fantastic tale!

Can't wait to see what Innes has in store for the next novel!

RATING:  10 abortion clinic pamphlets out of 10 for keeping the mysteries fresh, unique, engaging, fast-paced, and utterly captivating!

Monday, October 7, 2019

The House of Mystery - Book #1

Back in the late '70s and early '80s, when I was first getting into comic books, I was buying pretty much everything off the rack (DC and Marvel - never really fancied Archie comics). That included a number of horror anthology titles by DC, including books like Ghosts, Unexpected, Secrets of Haunted House, and, of course, House of Mystery.  As my tastes in comics evolved, I eventually stopped reading the horror anthologies, and apparently I wasn't the only one, as they all seemed to disappear by the mid-'80s or so.  Thus, I never really gave them another thought...

Flash-forward 30 plus years, and this year, while at a comic convention, I was looking through a box of comic-related items and came across this novel of The House of Mystery, written by Jack Olsek and illustrated by the mega-talented Berni Wrightson!  I assumed it was a paperback novel-sized comic in book form, but no! When I opened it up, it was an anthology of eight prose tales of horror and suspense!  Obviously, I wasn't going to pass it up - I mean, a throwback to be sure, published back in 1973, and now that I've read it, it certainly brought back a lot of memories of those horror comics and their chilling tales of irony and the unexpected.

The book gets off to a great start with probably the most recognizable horror staple - the vampire!  In "Chamber of Horrors," a young man who seems to never have any luck happens to meet the perfect girl who - surprise surprise! - is actually interested in him. But when he drops her off that night at her house, he sees two people carrying what appears to be a coffin into the house.  No one will believe him, so he investigates on his own, only to discover that the girl and her parents are vampires! But, are they?  The police investigate, but find nothing out of the ordinary. The girl has a logical explanation for everything. Is he simply going mad, or do vampires really exist...?

"Nightmare" is one of those tales where the protagonist is someone you can't wait to see get what's coming to him. Kelso (what a name!) is a bitter man who is not happy about anything - certainly not about the trip to England that his wife forced upon him, nor about their excursion to see Stonehenge. He is belligerent to the tour guide and other people on the tour, he is downright nasty to his wife, and when he storms away from Stonehenge in the heat of the day to find some shade, he finally gets the peace and quiet he's been looking for. But what if those stories the tour guide was saying are true? What is Stonehenge is the place of ritual sacrifices? Kelso is about to find out...!

The third story, "Collector's Item," shows the lengths a man will go to when shown the ultimate collector's item - but at what cost?  "Born Loser," is yet another tale of a married man in an unhappy marriage. When he finds romance with a woman at work, he decides to summon a demon to get rid of his wife - but with witchcraft, there is always a price to pay! Then, in the fifth story, "Tomorrow, the World," a man in the psych ward is accused of killing a woman, but he insists he is innocent, that she was the victim of a satanic cult.  A new psychiatrist is hoping to help the man - but is the man's story a figment of his imagination, or is there something to his conspiracy theory?

"The Haunting" is a nice little twist on the haunted house tale, very much in the vein of The Sixth Sense.  The next story after that, "You Only Die Once," is another unhappy marriage tale (there seem to be a lot of those, don't there?) where a greedy husband is tired of waiting for his wife to die, so he sets a plan in motion to get rid of her before she can give away her fortune, leaving him penniless.  Of course, she's not going down without a fight!

The eighth and final story, "Act of Grace," is the perfect tale to end this one - it is one of irony, of sadness, of hopelessness, and of facing reality.  A young boy is sent to an orphanage - but he doesn't mind, as he has his Happy Place that he can go to any time he wants. No one believes it exists, until the other boys at the orphanage who have been bullying him watch him disappear into a stone wall! A successful psychiatrist is brought in to help him - but what will happen when they severe the boy's connection with his Happy Place?  Tragedy, in no simple terms....

Each story is introduced by a beautiful pen and ink drawing by the master of horror himself, Berni Wrightson.  And the stories are beautifully told so that it is very easy to imagine each one on the comic page - my mind vividly displayed each story, panel by panel, as I read the pages, leaving me to wonder if these were ever adapted into the comic book series published by DC Comics.  Regardless, the horror fan in me thoroughly enjoyed the read, and I am going to have to track down the second book that was published by Warner Brothers.

RATING:  10 mushroom filled boxes in the basement out of 10 for living up to the tagline on the back of the book:  "For the Connoisseur of Terror"!

Friday, October 4, 2019

Nancy Drew Diaries, No. 18 - The Stolen Show

When a character has been around for 90 years (wow! that's hard to believe, seeing it in writing like that!), I can imagine it becomes difficult to come up with new stories to tell.  In the beginning, Nancy Drew solved mysteries involving lost wills, missing relatives, swindlers, haunted houses, and the like.  Somewhere along the line, however, the writers (more so after Simon & Schuster took over ownership of the property) seemed to fall back on one particular type of mystery: sabotage.  With the now defunct Girl Detective series and the current Diaries series, sabotage seems to be the only kind of story that the writers know how to tell.  We may get an occasional surprise story once in a while, but for the most part, you can pretty much count on a Nancy Drew mystery involving sabotage.

So, when I picked up The Stolen Show and started to read it, I sighed when it became apparent that this mystery was centered around someone sabotaging the contestants at a dog show.  A drugged dog, gum stuck in the hair of a dog, and the threat of more attacks has Nancy searching for a dog owner who will do just about anything to guarantee his or her dog wins the biggest dog show of the year!  The only thing is - Nancy (and the reader!) are in for a real surprise when she stumbles (literally!) upon an entirely different mystery - one that makes the doggie sabotage seem like kibbles and bits.

Yes, that's right - the big mystery in The Stolen Show isn't about the dogs at all.  Surprise! If you don't want any spoilers, then I suggest you stop reading this review right now, go read the book, and then come back.  Go ahead.  I'll wait....

Okay, I waited long enough!  You see, Nancy goes chasing after one of the suspects, thinking she is hot on the trail of solving the sabotage mystery, only to discover that her suspect is actually an officer of the law - Interpol, to be exact.  You see, the dog show circuit is being used by some criminal masterminds to smuggle rare and stolen jewels across borders. The international police have been trying to catch these crooks for some time, and they even have their own agent who infiltrated the dog shows in order to sniff out the culprit (see what I did there?).  But, to no avail.  The crooks keep evading them at every turn.

Well, it's a good thing they ran into Nancy Drew, because faithful fans of the teenage sleuth know that there's no mystery she can't solve!

The ghostwriter of this particular book manages to tell a pretty good mystery, and there is some great suspense with the kidnapping of Bess, a chase in a blinding snowstorm, and the ultimate showdown between Nancy and the jewel smuggler.  The camaraderie among the girls reads natural, and Bess and George's willingness to step up and help Nancy in any way possible doesn't feel overdone or forced.  I was a bit disappointed, however, that Nancy does not really hunt down or follow-up on clues to eventually solve the mystery; rather, it seems one event after another happens, until Nancy suddenly connects the dots and in an Agatha Christie-style reveal (all the suspects gathered in one room as Nancy rattles off the various things that led her to uncovering the culprit's identity, with a couple of misleads along the way), she unmasks the jewel thief.  I miss the days of Nancy finding one clue, that leads to another, and then she stumbles across another, and then begins to piece them all together to solve the mystery.  These days, it seems Nancy is pretty much "given" the solution, rather than working hard to find it.   Perhaps that is the problem with all the technology we have these days - it makes solving mysteries way too easy!

In any event, that one drawback did not at all ruin my enjoyment of the book.  This is definitely one of the better Nancy Drew Diaries, and if this is the direction that they are going with the series, then I hope they stick with it!

RATING:  8 plates of poutine out of 10 for making Nancy Drew mysteries enjoyable to read again!

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Hunting Prince Dracula - the second Audrey Rose Wadsworth novel

After ending the reign of terror of Jack the Ripper, one would think Audrey Rose Wadsworth would want to shy away from murders and horror-filled mysteries.  Perhaps that is what she thought possible when she heads off to Romania with Thomas Cresswell to study at the Academy of Forensic Medicine and Science.  There are only two spots available for the school, and a number of students are vying for those spots.  Audrey and Thomas will have to utilize all their skill and focus to beat all the other students and gain a spot in this prestigious school under the tutelage of Headmaster Wadim Moldoveanu.

But that focus gets derailed when a series of murders occur, beginning with a man staked through the heart just outside of their cabin on the train to Bucharest...

Author Kerri Maniscalco draws on another of history's blood-thirsty villains for this second mystery in the Audrey Rose Wadsworth series, Hunting Prince Dracula.  A man staked through the heart on the train to Romania, a clove of garlic in his mouth.  They arrive at the very castle that was owned by Vlad the Impaler, now turned into a college for the study of the forensic sciences, where shortly after their arrival, one of the students is found dead in the nearby town, his body completely drained of blood - - and two teeth punctures in his neck!  A young woman from town has been missing, and one of the maids at the castle is discovered dead.  When Audrey and Thomas find a body in the tunnels under the castle, being viciously attacked by bats, they reach the inescapable conclusion - someone is desperately trying to bring the myth of Count Dracula to life!

Without a doubt, Maniscalco picked the perfect Gothic setting for this mystery - an old, chilly castle filled with shadows, underground tunnels, secret passages, and a cold, stern headmaster who seems less alive than the castle itself.  Audrey quickly befriends the maid who is waiting on her, as well as the headmaster's own daughter who is defying her father by sitting in on classes of her choosing.  Audrey also learns more about Thomas when his sister unexpectedly shows up at the castle to visit her brother - as well as, Audrey discovers rather inadvertently, his sister's secret love.  And speaking of love, that festering romance between Audrey and Thomas definitely builds in this mystery, as Audrey has to weigh her growing feelings for her friend against his inept and interfering attempts to protect her.

In some ways, this mystery felt like the season two opening episodes from the 1970s Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries, "The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Meet Dracula."  In that two-part story, the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew had to find the missing Mr. Hardy, all the while dealing with the unexplained deaths of people who appear to have been attacked by a vampire.  In this mystery, Audrey and Thomas are trying to track down a killer who is making it appear that either a vampire or a vampire killer (or both!) is at work, all the while searching for Thomas' missing sister and Audrey's missing maid.  Plus, there's the little matter of the Order of the Dragon that may hold the clues to unraveling the mystery and revealing the identity of the killer (killers?).

I'm not going to lie - at 424 pages, Hunting Prince Dracula is a pretty hefty read.  But it is definitely well worth it.  The story is engaging, the characters are so much fun (I particularly love the banter and biting sarcasm between Audrey and Thomas), there is plenty of action and suspense, and the Gothic elements will keep the reader turning page after page - they did me, that's for sure!  As with the last book, the end of this mystery sets the stage for book three, which, of course, just came out in paperback ... so it's off the bookstore I go!

RATING:  10 long plain boxes tied with twine out of 10 for showing the world that dark, spooky castles still make the perfect setting for a good mystery!