Wednesday, March 20, 2019

DISCO


DISCO
By Mike Baron
A Liberty Island Book
332 pg

Donnie Waits and his single mother, Kate, have moved to a different town three times in the past three years. Now, in their newest home, Kate has landed good job at a meat-packing plant while Donnie has it a whole lot tougher. He’s about to start his senior of high school as the dreaded “new kid in town.” Having settled in during the last few weeks of summer, Donnie has made friends with Nate, a black Vietnam veteran who lives by himself and operates a rundown bait shop by the river.

One day, Donnie borrows Nate’s skiff for a leisurely row. As the boat is moving under an overpass, Donnie is startled when a car above him comes to a sudden stop and then a small black bag is dumped off the bridge to land at his feet. As the unseen auto speeds away, Donnie opens the bag to find a small, black puppy. And from that moment on, Donnie’s life is changed forever.

Whatever typical feelings of teenage angst and loneliness he harbored are soon dispelled with his having to care for the orphaned dog. At first his mother is reluctant to let him keep the furry mutt, but soon she too is swayed by its natural charm. When school begins, Donnie, soon finds himself embroiled in as yet another alien landscape through which he must traverse. Like every other high school, this one comes equipped with jocks, elitist popular kids, nerds and the usual coterie of brutish, cruel bullies. Malcom, an overweight sci-fi fanatic becomes one of his first allies and then he meets Goth girl, Neely, who begins to stir his awakening manhood.

There are also the Barnes brothers, the bullies, whose sole purpose in life is to make it miserable for everyone else they meet.

And as if all that wasn’t enough to keep a teenage boy occupied, he discovers his mother has started dating her boss, an amiable fellow named Frank who owns the company; Werner Meats. Sadly, the outfit is on the verge of going under due to steadily falling sales.

The dog, which undergoes several different names, eventually displays an overly enthusiastic ability to jump high on command. Having discovered the sport of Disc Dogs; organized contest wherein dogs must run and jump, while performing amazing gymnastic moves, to catch a thrown Frisbee. Donnie christens the black four-legged flier, Disco and starts training him to compete.

Known for his action packed comics and gripping horror novels, writer Mike Baron reveals a new side to his fabulous imagination with “Disco.” While reading it, we couldn’t help but marvel at how deftly he captured the world of today’s high school students as they struggle to leave behind the innocence of childhood and deal with the burdens and responsibilities of adulthood. There are dark moments in this story and they are handled with true insight and compassion. This is a coming of age tale filled with believable, wonderful characters both noble and evil. It deserves a huge audience as it has all the earmarks of a true American classic. Do not miss it.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

GIRL MOST LIKELY


GIRL MOST LIKELY
By Max Allan Collins
Thomas & Mercer
287 pgs
Available April 1st, 2019

Books by one’s favorite writers are always a welcome treat for any reviewer. Whereas we’ve enjoyed Max Allan Collins work over the years, we always do our best to be honest and truthful with these reviews. Have no worries, dear readers, Collins once again delivers a resounding homerun knocking the ball way-way out of the park with “Girl Most Likely.” In it are all the elements that make up the majority of his work; suspense, likeable characters, skillful pacing and a liberal dose of humor.

Krista Larson is the police chief of the Midwest tourist town known as Galena. At twenty-eight, she also has the distinction of being the youngest chief in the country. We soon learn that she followed in her father’s footsteps. Nntil his retirement, Keith Larson, was a detective in nearby Dubuque. With the passing of his wife from cancer, Keith  accepts his daughter invention to “move back home” and so as the book begins he is awkwardly getting settled into the house where he and his late wife raised their only child.

Meanwhile, Krista is making preparations for her tenth high school reunion to be held at a nearby lodge. Like most sane people, she is ambivalent about attending and having to see people now part of her past. Oh, there are friends she hopes to reconnect with, plus those students who remained in Galena. She maintained close relationships with several of these. It’s pretty much the “out-of-towners” that she’s concerned about. One such is Astrid Lund, “the girl most likely to succeed” as labeled in the senior yearbook. She went on to become a celebrity journalist for a Chicago television station. Astrid’s appearance at the reunion has the entire community abuzz.

What they don’t know is the dark secret Ms Lund is harboring and how it is one of the primary reasons for her return. When Astrid is brutally murdered hours after the reunion dance, Krista Larson is handed her very first murder case. Even though she is confident in her own abilities and those of her small staff, she wisely recruits her father to act as an unofficial consultant on the case. With his assistance, and her own natural “cop” instincts, the two soon suspect the murderer is in fact a member of the Class of 09 and the motive lies with Astrid’s long-kept secret.

As always, Collins’ attention to details is magnificent. Although police procedure is for the most part universal, there are obvious differences in approach. A big city homicide division has a great deal more resources available to it than those of a small town police department. It is this realistic view of Krista and her team’s operations that wins our applause. The mystery unfolds at the perfect pacing and in doing so builds each layer of suspense until the reader is unable to put the book down.

Now the finale, while fitting, left us a wee bit unsatisfied. The end comes and the stage curtain drops…wham. Whereas we’d just spent a few hundred pages with Krista and her dad, an epilogue would have been welcomed here. Still, that is a minor quibble and indicative of the fact we’d very much like this to become as yet another Collins series. Please, Max, more.

Monday, March 04, 2019

KARILYNE - Heart Cold As Ice


KARILYNE
Heart Cold As Ice
By Van Allen Plexico
White Rocket Books
333 pgs.

Hell hath no fury like an Ice Goddess tricked. Here’s hoping you’ll forgive my twising the Bard’s famous phrase to kick off this review of Van Allen Plexico’s latest entry in his grand space saga. Karilyne is the beautiful goddess of ice and steel who enjoys her solitude. When a fellow god, Cevelar, accompanied by a human, General Vostok, come to her for help, she unwittingly falls for their lies and soon finds herself imprisoned in a foreign castle and her mighty battle axe stolen.

Through the assistance of a strange little techno mage, Karilyne and her human aid, Mirana, escape only to learn Cevelar and Vostok are seeking six cosmic weapons of incredible power with which they hope to resurrect a dead god of chaos. Karilyne’s axe is one of the six artifacts required. But she knows their insane plan will ultimately bring about the destruction of the entire universe. They must be stopped and she will have her revenge.

Soon they are joined by two female Templar knights and a giant gray warrior, all agreeing to serve Karilyne for the duration of her mission. The group begins to travel the varied dimenions of the Three Levels upon which reside gods, humans and aliens. When Solonis, a whimsical god possessing a time traveling machine, joins them, the action kicks into high gear. Soon our heroes are flung from one reality to another. They even witness the all consuming future entropy; if Cevelar and Vostok are successful.

Once again, Plexico creates memorable characters, each distinct and original. He then drops them into wondrous settings rich with imagination.  His world building is clever and mesmerizing, pulling the reader into these myriad realms effortlessly. If you’ve read his earlier books in this saga, you already know what fun awaits you. If you are just now discovering the series, do not wait another minute before opening this book; what awaits inside will blow your mind!!

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

THE TIME ROADS


THE TIME ROADS
By Beth Bernobich
Tor Books
302 pgs.

Two of science fictions’ most often used plots revolve around time travel and alternate worlds. Whereas this book merges the two conceits in a twisty, compelling story that is nothing short of brilliant.

The tale opens in the early 1900 hundreds in a world where the Irish Empire rules, Anglia is subservient, there is no America but rather the Mexica republics and the rumors of war are a constant threat around the globe. Aine Lasairfona Devereaux, the Queen of Eire, desires peace but is incapable of devising a practical strategy to insure it. Then Breandan O Cuilinn, a genius scientist, comes to her saying he has discovered the existence “time fractures.” These anomalies could lead to time travel if examined carefully. Such journeys to the future could be the means of avoiding the coming international conflicts.

Then, before he can successfully prove his theory, O Cuilinn disappears in an experiment gone awry. Queen Aine suspects he has trapped himself in the future and once again she finds herself beset by plots and conspiracies. At this juncture in the narrative, Bernobich shifts our attentions to Simon and Gwen Madoc, two sibling mathematicians who may have come across the “time fractures,” much to their detriment. Their discovery proves to have disastrous effects on their immediate surroundings. Gwen is institutionalized with a mental breakdown and a mysterious serial killer begins murdering Simon’s fellow students.

Alarmed by these murders at one of the country’s most prestigious universities, Queen Anne sends her personal bodyguard, Commander Aidrean O Deaghaidh, to investigate. All too soon he too is caught up in the flux of changing timelines, which leads to his questioning his own sanity.

And that’s only the first half of the book.  “The Time Roads” is a complex, enthralling tale filled with amazing characters all struggling to find their places in an ever changing cosmos. Despite the uncertainty of each new future that challenges them, they learn to rely on the inner strength that is their true, immutable constant. That human love and loyalty, despite their many failings, will in the end triumph. A tip of the pulp fedora to Beth Bernobich for a truly unforgettable adventure.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

THE KNIFE SLIPPED


THE KNIFE SLIPPED
The Lost Cool & Lam Mystery
By Erle Stanley Gardner
Writing as A.A. Fair
Had Case Crime
218 pgs

There is no specific reason we’ve never read an Erle Stanley Gardner book before. Truth be told, we were never impressed with the highly popular Perry Mason TV series starring Raymond Burr; though Mom and Dad watched it faithfully. Most likely that particular disdain was behind our lack of interest in Mr. Gardner. Oh, we were well aware that he was one of the few writers who began his career in the pulps and successfully achieved the goal of becoming a bestselling author. 

At the same time Gardner, himself a lawyer, was pumping out his Perry Mason cases, he was also writing detective yarns featuring a really odd pair, overweight private investigator Bertha Cool and her operative, Donal Lam. These he penned under the pseudonym of A.A. Fair. Thus you can imagine the excitement when Hard Case Crime, a stellar publishing house devoted to classic mysteries, uncovered this lost Cool & Lam novel. In his wonderful afterword, writer Russell Atwood explains the history of the book which was originally intended to be the second in the series. There’s no need to repeat his essay except to say it’s a nice bonus to this first ever printing.

The plot is convoluted. A woman, and her overbearing mother, hire Bertha Cool to follow her husband who she suspects of cheating. Bertha assigns Lam to shadow the supposed cheating spouse and learn the truth. Her main concern established immediately in the first chapter is earning a generous fee from their client. Lam, a disbarred lawyer, is still new to the private eye game and Bertha sees it as her responsibility to tutor him properly. When Lam discovers the wayward husband is involved with a lucrative government scandal, things start to get very delicate. Bertha’s survival instincts kick in fast. Any further involvement could see them entangled not only with corrupt cops, but some rather deadly local mobsters. She warns Lam to be wary.

Alas that warning comes hours too late when the subject of their surveillance is murdered. Soon various parties begin pointing to Lam as their patsy. “The Knife Slipped” is a solid mystery with two of the most intriguing characters you’ll ever encounter. Gardner plays fair, pun intended, in setting out the clues and by the book’s final we were both applauding the big reveal and laughing out loud. We may never desire to pick up a Perry Mason title, but we’re open to encountering Bertha and Donal again. Thanks Hard Case Crime.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

TOMMY ONE and the APOCALYPSE GUN


TOMMY ONE and the APOCOLYPSE GUN
By John Simcoe
Pre Se Press
205 pgs

Comics and pulps, they are literary cousins. They have been from the 20s and 30s on to today’s paperbacks and Marvel & DC offerings. As long as it has colorful heroes, dastardly villains and tons of action and adventure, we readers can rely on a jolly fun ride. Nothing enhances that experience more then a new subgenre created in the past thirty years; that of the prose superhero novel. In other words a pulp tale about a superhero.

That’s what “Tommy One and the Apocalypse Gun” is in it’s the purest form. It is jam packed with everything that makes pulps so much fun. Set in Norfolk, VA shortly after Second World War, Tommy One is the town’s superhero protector. Whenever a threat arises, the blonde haired, affable teenager is on the scene battling to save his fair city. What the citizens of Norfolk do not realize is that Tommy One is a clone created by a German born scientist named Weitmurch. Prior to the war, Hitler charged the professor with finding a way to build a super soldier. Happily for mankind, the good professor despised the Nazis and fled his homeland to settle in America; offering the USA the fruits of his amazing research.

Though not in time to be employed during the war, Weitmurch eventually perfected cloning through immersion in a miraculous pool of his invention called the Cistern. When floating in this pool, the subject’s consciousness is able assimilate the thoughts of people around the world. Thus when activated, the clone becomes the primary called Tommy One. At the same time, dozens of other “Tommies” were made and were kept busy as a support team for the primary. The real genius of Weitmurch work is that all his clones are mentally connected and the second one dies in action, the next in line immediately becomes aware of all the knowledge his predecessor possessed. Thus the next Tommy One simply went into action without any delay.

Since only government officials are aware of the Tommy One Infinity Project, the public at large believes he is only one person. This has echoes of Lee Falks’ classic strip hero, The Phantom. And the way new Tommy Ones pop-up throughout the story, it was easy to recall Wally Wood’s own No-Man from the comic Thunder Agents. Simcoe has taken his inspiration from some very good sources and shaped them into his own unique and original hero.

The crux of the book’s plot is the villain, Captain Blackeye, attack on the city using his powerful Apocalypse Gun at the same time his legion of Blood Pirates loot and rob. Complicating Tommy One’s attempts to stop him are two new elements to their long fought history.  One, seeing Tommy One die time and time again only to supposedly return resurrected has begun to affect Blackeye’s mental stability. Secondly, a lovely teenage girl name Imogene Throne has stumbled on Tommy One’s home and managed to cajole her way into accompanying him on his mission. Thus, for the first time in Tommy One’s long chain of experiences, he finds himself hampered with having to protect someone else, other than himself. It is a new feeling and one that confuses the young man coming at a most inopportune time.

“Tommy One and the Apocalypse Gun,” is well written and Simcoe’s prose flows across the page effortlessly. The story itself is intriguing and this reader found himself quickly turning pages. This is a terrific read with likeable characters we very much would love to see lots more of. Till then, comics and pulps lovers, find this book and enjoy.

Sunday, February 03, 2019

THE FURTHER ADV OF SHERLOCK HOLMES - THE RIPPER LEGACY


HE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES
THE RIPPER LEGACY
By David Stuart Davies
Titan Books
234 pgs

As someone who publishes Sherlock Holmes anthologies, we are obviously fans of Conan Doyle’s wonderful characters. We are also naturally curious as to what other publishers have done or are presently doing with them. Thus we decided to look at the Titan Books series, “The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” that have been released in the past few years. Titan is an excellent outfit with a stellar track record of producing some of the finest genre titles on the market today. We hoped this quality would extend to the Holmes books when picking up “The Ripper Legacy” by David Stuart Davies.

We needn’t have worried.

In “The Ripper Legacy,” Holmes and Watson are called upon by a distraught young couple whose eight year old son has been kidnapped. As the family is not wealthy, there appears to be no logical reason for the abduction, which perplexes Holmes. Ultimately he uncovers a lie which then sets him on a course that will connect with the earlier crimes of the infamous Jack the Ripper. Who is this child that he important to a criminal genius and what possible threat could the boy pose to the British Crown? Saying any more would be spoiling the fun of this twisting mystery that unravels at a quick pace one Holmes discovers that one loose thread. Then he and Watson are on the hunt.

The book has plenty of suspence and action as our heroes are never at rest, though the murderous villain they battle has the uncanny ability to stay one step ahead of them throughtout the entire adventure. Another vital aspect of any Sherlock Holmes tale is how well the writer captures the essences of these beloved figures. Again, Davies is truly wonderful in his portrayals. These are Doyle’s character as we’ve all come to know and love them.  “The Ripper Legacy” is a damn good read. Don’t miss it.

Friday, January 25, 2019

THE MISSING MEDIUM



THE MISSING MEDIUM
Book Two in the Utgarda Trilogy
By Joab Stieglitz
Available at Amazon
177 pgs

A while back we reviewed the first entry in this trilogy, “The Old Man’s Request” and we told you how much we enjoyed it.  An old college professor had dappled in arcane arts and somehow made a connection with another dimension in which resided fiends of all kinds. When one such beast, Utgarda, attempted to cross over into our realm, the old teacher sought the aid of three associates; Doctor Harold Lamd, Prof. Anna Kykov and Catholic priest, Father Sean O’Malley. 

By the end of that first book, the trio successfully thwarted the foul beast and thus granted the dying man’s final request. But at the same time Father O’Malley believed there was still more for them to do. One such unfinished agenda was to locate a well known medium, Brian Teplow, who had gone missing to learn his connection with this alternate world. As book two opens, Father O’Malley is in Rome reporting the past events and his role in them, while Harold and Anna venture into New York City to begin their hunt for Teplow.

Instead of finding Teplow, Anna and Harold find a vagrant claiming to know them from their adventures in that “other” world. He tells them he is a warrior/scout and together they fought the demonic creatures in that strange dimension. Our protagonists are not all that trusting of these claims until, while searching the missing medium’s room, they discover a drawing of the three of them, along with others, dressed in Dungeons & Dragons type clothing and supposedly posing in that weird world. The biggest shock of all comes when Teplow’s mother tells them the picture is ten years old.

At the same time Anna and Harold, now accompanied by Ganon, are chasing down these clues, Father O’Malley has returned stateside only to battle a demon in the apartment of Teplow’s booking agent. Then Anna finds herself in a crossfire between two criminal gangs and is kidnapped by one of them. As in his previous novel, Stieglitz never once lets up on the action. “The Missing Medium” is really a fun read and totally sustains the suspense and mystery set forth in the first chapter.  Stay tuned, loyal readers, the final book is now on my To-Read Stack and a review will soon be coming your way.  In the meatime go find these first two, you’ll be happy you did.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

POLLEN'S ACTION


POLLEN’S ACTION
The Art of Samson Pollen
Edited by Robert Deis & Wyatt Doyle
# New Texture books
134 pgs

Most pulp historians believe that of the hundreds of thousands of covers and illustrations produced for the pulp magazines of the 30s and 40s, only ten percent or less survived. At the time they were done, no one realized their cultural significance to the history of American art and all these amazing drawings and painters for trashed after publication. Today that small percentatge that miraculously avoided the dumpsters remains in the hands of private collectors. It is a shame there was no Robert Deis or Wyatt Doyle around in those days.

With the advent of World War II the original pulps were severely curtailed by paper shortages and by the war’s end many of them had vanished. It looked like the age of populist literature was coming to an end. Happily that was not the case as several enterprising publishers brought about a new pulp evolution by creating magazines geared primarily towards the millions of returning veterans. Thus the small pulps of old morphed into the Men’s Adventure Magazines (MAMs) of the late 40s, 50s and 60s. 

Of course many of the old pulp creators hopped aboard this new literary format, but for the most part MAMs saw the infusion of many new writers and artists. These talented people were only too happy to continue the tradition of fast paced action-adventure storytelling. And just like the old pulps, they were lavished with beautiful and exciting artwork geared to get the reader’s blood pumping. Here were two-fisted men daring any challenge as they traveled the globe seeking adventure.  Of course along the way they always encountered buxom, leggy women in torn garments emperiled by various nasty villains all too eager to ravish and destroy them. This being post-war, those monsters were often Japanese or German torturers.

The covers were garish, outlandish and beautiful. While the interior illustrations just as exciting and skillfully laid out. Samson Pollen was one of the premier artists of the MAMs and his work graced most of the more popular titles over several decades. Which is where Robert Deis and Wyatt Doyle enter the story. Both recognized the importance of the MAMs years ago and thus dedicated themselves to preserve as much of it as was humanly possible. They launched the Men's Adventure Library to release these marvelous collections.

Through a series of beautifully designed books, Deis and Doyle have collected both the stories and the art of the MAM era. Last year they released their first volume dedicated to Samson Pollen; “Pollen’s Women,” and focused on the artist’s work in capturing the female form in all kinds of dire straits. Now we have this sequel book wherein the spotlight is on verve and energy Pollen gave his action drawings. Each is a master’s study in how to capture motion full tilt. Here is tense drama, nail biting suspence and over-the-top violence captured in a single breathless image for all time. The book is a veritable treasure to any young art student or fan of the pulps. We cannot recommend loudly enough and are damn happy to have it added to our own library.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

ANNO DRACULA - JOHNNY ALUCARD



ANNO DRACULA
JOHNNY ALUCARD
By Kim Newman
Titan Books
411 pages

Every now and then, we read a book and find ourselves cruelly aware of the fact that we simply cannot read everything out there. We do enjoy other life sustaining habits such as eating, sleeping, spending time with friends and occasionally watching a TV show or going to the movies. And yet that in no way stymies our frustration when realizing we’ve just picked up a book that is in fact the latest of a series that, up until now, we knew nothing about.  Often times, if there is no appeal attached to the subject matter, we’ll put the title aside and simply move on to the next book. Whereas we have always been fascinated with the fictional character of Dracula and several colleagues recommended these books in the past, we opted to simply jump in and see what’s what.

The basic foundation for the series is that Dracula actually existed and Bram Stoker wrote a highly fictionalized book about him. In the end, the Master of the Undead became a political force and brought about an acceptance of vampires to the living people of the world. This particular entry gets rolling in the mid 1950s where movie making genius Francis Coppolla is in Romania to film his own “Dracula” starring Marlo Brando. Cameos by well known personages abound in this tale and one soon begins to understand just how interwoven modern culture is to Newman’s saga. He totally skewers many of our superficial mores with deadly accuracy. One of Coppolla’s technical staff is Katherine Reed, a vampire elder, who is a philosophical obersever of all things living and dead. During the course of the shoot, she encounters and befriends an orphan vampire lad unaware that he carries within him the true essence of Dracula. Through her intervention, the boy is hired as one of the director’s assistant and ultimately returns to American with the film crew when their work is completed.

Once in the states, the boy continues to mature and assumes the persona of one Johnny Pop, a hip-cat socialite who befriends the then King of New York, Andy Warhol. Pop’s ultimate scheme is to create a powerful new addictive drug made from vampire blood and through his new connections among the city’s elite, spread it to millions. He does so with the skill of a surgeon and then moves on to Hollywood where his true goal is revealed. Via the movie industry, he iniates a global rock concert to be held in Transylvania where he will at long last allow the Dracula part of his being to be revealed on the world stage and inuagarate the beginning of a new age of Vampirsm.

Along the way, the Prince of Cats, encounters old foes. Chief among these are Katherine Reed, Genevieve Dieudorme and Penelope Churhward. If one if familiar with Stoker’s original novel, they easily come across as Dracula’s Brides. He also makes some truly bizarre and horrific allies. The novel, happily for its size, moves along at a good pace and has it share of powerful action sequences. In the end, we found the book exceptional and may just have to start digging up some of those earlier chapters. “Anno Dracula – Johnny Alucard” is really a whole lot of blood-curdling fun.

Monday, January 07, 2019

BROTHERS AT BAT


BROTHERS AT BAT
Written by Audrey Vernick
Illustrated by Steven Salerno
Clarion Books
40 pgs

Every now and then we’ll stretch the “fiction” umbrella of this column to include a true story. And we also love baseball and children’s books. So you can then imagine our delight in finding this particular title while surfing the internet one night.

During the days of the Great Depression, the Acerra family of New Jersey had 16 children, 12 boys and 4 girls. The boys, including their father, all loved baseball and played it all the time. Eventually they formed their own team and entered various local and county leagues. Imagine having enough boys to not only field a 9 man roster, but still have another 4 players on the bench. The Acerras were good and soon their reputation spread throughout the North East region.

When World War II came along, six of the brothers enlistd and went off to fight for their country. By God’s graces, and no doubt a mother’s constant prayers, all six came home. With peace time they soon returned to the sport they all loved. In the history of baseball there have only been 29 all brother teams.  The Acerras hold the record for having played the longest.

Writer Audrey Vernick does a superb job in not only capturing the historical facts of this amazing story, but she also imbues it with heart. While artist Steven Salerno is wonderful in his brash, cartoon styling that perfectly captures an era so vividly. If you like baseball, or simply a great human story, “Brothers at Bat” deserves your enthusiastic support.