Saturday, December 26, 2015


By Don Elliot
Stark House
257 pages

Robert Silverberg is best known for his science fiction titles but during his early days as a writer, he produced hundreds of racy sex pulps under very pseudonym.  In this volume, Stark House reprints two he did under his Don Elliot by-line. The book’s real bonus is Silverberg’s introductory essay in which he details those years between the 50s and 70s when such “risqué” paperbacks flooded the drugstore spinner racks and push the boundaries of sexual acceptance. There is humor in how restrictive the writing had to be to adhere to the more of the time; the so-called sexual revolution hadn’t fully infiltrated the public with its anything goes philosophy.  And so writers had to be inventive with their choice of words in describing the amorous antics of their characters.

In the first tale, “Lust Queen,” a New York mystery writer named Joey Baldwin is given the assignment of ghost writing an autobiography of a popular Hollywood star named Mona Thorne. To do this he has to leave his young, nubile young fiancée for several months; something he is definitely not happy about. Then, upon his arrival in L.A., he discovers that Mona Thorne is an aging sexpot wishing to make him her new love interest and she quickly seduces. Joey doesn’t mind the sex, but Mona is a real she-bitch who demands complete obedience.  Although formulaic in its set-up, “Lust Queen” in interesting in that creating a writer as his protagonist, Silverberg authentically details the publishing world as it existed in those post World War II days gives us an intimate look at the life of a professional pulp scribe.

With “Lust Victim,” the tableau involves a happily married suburban couple, Dave and Moira Lamson.  Dave owns his own business in the city and is doing quite well, and with young boys, Moira is a busy, content mother and housewife. What is clear at the offset is that they still enjoy sex a great deal. Then one night, a burglar breaks into their house, ties Dave up and rapes Moira in front of him. It is a brutal act compounded by the fact that the attacker strongly resembles Dave. After the rapist has fled with what little jewelry he stole, Moira is so emotionally shocked that she makes Dave promise not to tell the police about the rape, only the robbery. He capitulates but soon comes to regret that action when in the succeeding days he slowly discovers just how changed his wife has become.

Rape is always a traumatic experience but when reading “Lust Victim,” it is easy to see that people’s attitudes and reaction to it back in the 60s was far more ignorant than today. Initially Dave naïve believes all Moira needs is time and that she’ll eventually return to her former self and they can merely get on with their happy lives. When this doesn’t happen and she begins to push him off from any physical contact, he is not so much understanding as angry and frustrated. Enough so that he falls prey to the temptations of his flirtatious secretary. And of course his dalliance doesn’t stop there. The more annoyed he becomes with Moira, the more he excuses his cheating habits with the rational that if his wife cannot meet his sexual needs than he has no choice but to go to bed with other women. It’s a convoluted logic, but if one is writing a “sex” book, then one has to have x number of sex scenes to titillate the readers.  Eventually Dave forces Moira to get counseling and this leads to uncovering a very dark secret regarding the night of the rape. A secret, when revealed, leads to dramatic climax, exposed the rapist and ends with Dave and Moira once again happy bed partners…just like that. Once has to wonder if Dave will ever get around to telling Moira about all his escapades while she was going through her personal ordeal?

Reading these books today without knowing their history most likely elicit unfair critiques. Despite one’s thoughts on the field of 60s adult paperbacks, what no reviewer can argue is the competency in which Elliot/Silverberg wrote. His fiction is always precise and enticing, regardless of the plot, his skill as a writer is what is always on display and for that reason alone, picking up this volume is well worth it. Hey, even the best authors had to make a buck.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


By David Barnett
Tor Books
379 pages

I am by no means a fanatical fan of steampunk, though the little of it I’ve read in the past few years has entertained me a great deal.  None more than David Barnett’s series starring Gideon Smith as the Hero of the British Empire.  Books one, “Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl,” and two, “Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon,” were thrilling, colorful adventures set in this fascinating alternate history and populated by some of the most imaginative characters I’ve ever encountered in fiction.

Thus you have to know how thrilled I was when this latest volume arrived in the mail. I couldn’t wait to open it to the first chapter and learn what new perils would befall the stalwart Gideon, his sweetheart automaton, Maria, the daring Belle of the Airways, Rowena Fanshawe and the humorous, tubby journalist, Mr. Aloysius Bent. And to my utter delight, writer Barnett waste not a single paragraph in launching this new tale in which our heroes must deal with a bizarre version of Jack the Ripper, Rowena framed for murder and put on trial while Gideon has his memory stolen by an evil hypnotist who is hunting Maria for nefarious ends.

Whereas I’d love to urge all of you to go out and buy this entertaining book, honesty compels me to dissuade those of you who have yet to read the first two volumes. Of course Barnett does provide background exposition on what has gone before as he pulls as along this new adventure.  But the truth remains that he has invented way too many wonderful characters to believe these brief glimpses into their individual histories will suffice to clarify what is going on here.  That is a fallacy as “Gideon Smith and the Mask of the Ripper” is a continuation of what has gone before and the evolution of each principle character as each of them face life altering threats to their lives and to those they have come to love and protect.

The prime example in this deft evolution is Maria the Mechanical Girl. At this juncture of her story, we see her come to grips with being able to accept her solitary uniqueness and what it will mean to her relationship with Gideon.  Can an automaton love and be loved, in all its aspects, both spiritually and physically?  Whereas Rowena Fanshawe finds her own life tossed about on the vagaries of soulless political interests willing to sacrifice her rather then expose the government’s own sins.  Heady stuff for a steampunk thriller, but just another complex element that weaves through a dazzling fun adventure I couldn’t put down. It is perhaps the best book in the series thus far and ends on dramatic finale that suggests possible future plot avenues. 

Now comes the hard part; waiting for that next installment.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015


Edited by Jennifer L.Holm,  Matthew Holm
& Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Random House Children’s Books
Available Jan 2016
136 pages

We discovered cartoons in the daily and Sunday newspapers as a child learning how to read.  Today’s generation of youngsters may not be all that familiar with actual newspaper strips but thanks to the wonderful world of the internet, there are hundreds of new cartoons to be found on-line. This little square book, the second in a series, brings together some of the finest cartoon creators working today.  The theme is lunch room adventures and the style and humor is a broad and eclectic as any ink stroke.

All the stories in this collection are both fun and educational. From Cece Bell’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Lunch” to Nathan Hale’s historical “Lunch Bomb 1943,” there is something for everyone; including a brand new Snoopy adventure called “Lunchtime Beagle.”  The imagination in each tale is tremendous and these are the kinds of strips parents will want to read along with their children.

All in all, “Comics Squad – Lunch” is a cartoon treasure for all the little readers in your family and a truly marvelous introduction to some of today’s most creative comic strips.
We can’t wait to see what the Comics Squad comes up with next.

Friday, December 04, 2015


By Paul Bishop
Pro Se Press
272 pages

On average, we read approximately fifty books a year. The bulk of those are fairly decent whereas a small number are amateurish and difficult to get through while an equally small number are truly exceptional; what we call great reads. Finding the latter is always too rare an event, which makes reviewing them that much more of a challenge.  You see, we really want you to know just how superb these books truly are.

“Lie Catchers” by Paul Bishop is one of those gems.  In fact we have no qualms in saying it is among the top five great reads of our year. Obviously it’s a crime thriller, that much the title and back cover text will tell you. What they don’t give away is just how different a cop mystery it is.  Rather than focusing on the usual detective action of investigating the crime and chasing down the unknown perpetrators, “Lie Catchers” takes us into the world of expert interrogators; highly skilled, and trained, men and women whose job it is to question suspects and ferret out the truth from the mountain of lies it is usually buried beneath.  It is this crucial aspect of police work that is examined in a truly fascinating narrative that had us flipping pages late into the night.

Not to say the other cop-book tropes aren’t employed.  Two young children from two different families have been kidnapped.  When the police are called in there seems to be no apparent connection between the two cases.  Leading the investigation is detective Ray Pagan, considered one of the finest interrogators on the force, and his new partner, Calamity Jane Randall, recently returned to active duty after having been wounded on her previous case.  Part of the charm of this story is the relationship evolution between them; Randall, who is hiding a very special secret, and Pagan, an odd-duck personality with an obsessive passion for the truth.  Randall had heard stories about Pagan, most of which she’d thought to be exaggerated bullcrap.  But once partnered with him, she soon learns the eccentric detective is far more colorful than his fabricated exploits.

Together each possesses a unique ability and it is their eventual coming to grips with those talents that ultimately molds them into a cohesive partnership with one single goal, to find the bad guys and uncover the truth.  “Lie Catchers” is a brilliant treatise on the realities all of us grapple with every day and the fantasies we often surround ourselves with to survive.  Heaven forbid, we call them lies.  In the end “Lie Catchers” is a remarkable reading experience you will not soon forget, and that my friends, is whole truth…so help me God.