Books Review – Board Book Roundup

My method for picking out children’s books is to walk around the library and look for books on display that seem interesting/cute, randomly flip to a couple pages and see just how much text there is and to check out the artwork (I can’t tell you how many books I’ve put back because the illustrations are awful!), and then read them to a ridiculously smart almost three year old.  Anyway, I decided to combine several in this review.


TITLE: Harold’s ABC
AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATOR: Crockett Johnson
FORMAT: Board Book
PUBLISHED: Originally 1963. This edition – 2016? 2015? (New book/doesn’t say)

The book is kinda cool.  Harold and his trusty purple crayon (yes, that Harold) go out on an adventure through the alphabet.  This isn’t a typical ABC book.  There’s no A is for apple, turn the page, B is for Banana, etc… Instead, what you get is a story interrupted by that… “To go on any kind of trip, you have to leave home. He started with A for Attic…”  And as Harold is going through this, you see illustrations where the letter is front and center to something they’re talking about (In A’s case, the A makes up the top of the house. Q forms the Queen’s head.)

It isn’t bad, but this book is *small* – like maybe 4 inches or so.  I wish it had been just a little bit larger and the letters had been a little bit bolder.  I’m guessing with a kid a little older who already knows his letters that this story would go over better, but in this case, the toddler knows *most* of his letters and it was a little difficult to get him to pick out the letters and he got bored with it.  [Note: This paragraph brought to you by the phrase “little bit”]

A few of the letters were weak (X is for X-out), and Z was for snore “Zzzl” – um.. since when is there an l in the middle of a snore?  But most of them were good.

I’ll give it a 3/5.  Nothing overly wrong with it, but nothing exceptional about it either.


TITLE: Dig
BOOK BY:  National Geographic Kids
FORMAT: Board Book
PUBLISHED: 2015

So, Dig looked cute.  There’s a photo of large excavating equipment on the front, and when I opened it up randomly, I opened it to a larger photo of the same piece of equipment.  So I sort of assumed that it was about big equipment, which excited me.

Apparently, I should have looked at more pages, because it’s about all kinds of things that dig – people, dogs, whatever.  I was a bit disappointed.  Also, the toddler didn’t really care that mommy and daddy could dig in a garden.  He wanted the big equipment too.

This is an issue I have with board books.  Nothing about the book on the back cover, just a sales pitch for the rest of the series.

Anyway, really disappointed. The book was done well enough, but it isn’t what either of us wanted. And some kid apparently snacked on the library copy, so it tastes good enough.

Still, I’ll give it a tentative 4/5.  I was disappointed in it because it wasn’t what I thought it was (and really, what are the odds that I’d open randomly to the one page of equipment and not any of the other 10 pages of mammals?), but it wasn’t a bad book.


 

Robert Bloch’s Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper by Joe R. and John L. Lansdale

Title: Robert Bloch’s Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper

Authors/Creators: Adapted by Joe R. Lansdale and John L. Lansdale from the original story by Robert Bloch

Format: Trade Paperback Collected Comic Series, IDW

Published: 2010

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Some stories, those collections of words and punctuation that becomes pages of sentences and paragraphs, should simply remain prose. Others lend themselves to adaptations into other forms, from television series to movies and so on.  Upon my first reading of Robert Bloch’s Yours Truly, Jack The Ripper, a tale first printed in the pulps in 1943, I can remember thinking how cool it would be see this play out on the comic page.  Bloch’s descriptions in the story lent themselves to a visual medium such as comics, the rapid pace of sequential storytelling seemingly a perfect match for his writing style.

IDW’s adaptation, Robert Bloch’s Yours Truly, Jack The Ripper by Joe and John Lansdale both proved my long held opinion right…and wrong.

Robert Bloch’s Yours Truly, Jack The Ripper opens at the scene of a horrific murder in 1940s Chicago.  Jenny, a female newspaper reporter/owner and Dr. Carmody, a psychiatrist are present at the scene, one that is rather horrific, and the most recent in a series of prostitute murders.  Sir Guy Hollis of London, a rather wealthy and influential man, inserts himself into the investigation, stating that he is certain that the killer is somehow the infamous 19th Century murderer, Jack the Ripper.  Although Carmody is skeptical, Sir Guy and Jenny began gathering clues and eventually encounter a being that, the Ripper or not, is indeed a monster.  The story winds through grim revelations, dark alleys, and sinister supernatural doings, revealing that the Ripper indeed may be stalking Chicago in the 1940s…and no one may be able to stop him.

The original Bloch story was almost more character study than actual full tale and the Lansdales expanded on Bloch’s work quite a bit.  Although several liberties were taken in this adaptation, the adaptation holds to Bloch’s style, delivering both simple, straightforward storytelling as well as digging beneath the surface and finding the twists and turns within characters more than relying on the gore and audacity of the actual murders.  The true essence of this adaptation, like its source material, is what makes a person do what they do and how fickle control of that actually may be.

Where this adaptation falls short, however, is in an area that really matters in any comic book-the art. Kevin Colden, the artist, definitely works in a stylized manner within the book, relying essentially on jagged line work, reminiscent of rough pencils with splashes of red throughout.  Although atmospheric at various points and even a time or two evocative in a horrific way, the art overall is a distraction and slows down the storytelling.  If not for the strong narrative established by the Lansdales in the dialogue, the art would have crippled this story.  Because the actual adaptation and the expansion of Bloch’s work is so solid, the art can’t really do more than make this an overall average experience.

Robert Bloch’s Yours Truly, Jack The Ripper is a three out of five page read, just barely.  The art is really an issue with this adaptation, but the story itself is actually set up well and makes this worth the read.

The IDW collections earns 3 out of 6 bullets. It’s an average read when taken as the whole package because of the negative impact the rather and quite literally sketchy art has on the tale.

 

Book Review: The Complete Casebook of Cardigan: Volume 1: 1931-32 by Frederick Nebel

Title: The Complete Casebook of Cardigan: Volume 1: 1931-32 by Frederick Nebel

Authors/Creators: Frederick Nebel, with Introduction by Will Murray

Format: Trade Paperback, Altus Press

Published: 2012

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It is no secret that I am a fan of private detective stories. Nor is it classified information that I am not only a writer and publisher of New Pulp, but I am an avid reader of Classic Pulp.  Fortunately, both of those things often combine into the wonderful privilege to read Private Eye tales that were first published in Classic Pulp magazines.  Now, even though this is something I thoroughly enjoy doing, that does not mean that I like everything I read of that type. As a matter of fact, and this may be unfair to say, I may at times be a bit harder on mystery stories from the Pulp magazines simply because I do love the good ones so much when I find them.

Fortunately, Altus Press’ The Complete Casebook of Cardigan: Volume 1: 1931-32 is one I don’t have to be hard on at all.

First appearing in Dime Detective Magazine in Novemer, 1931, Cardigan, as written by Pulp great Frederick Nebel, is as hard boiled as they come.  Even though there are others who set the mold and the standard, Cardigan hits every point to be called a tough as nails, two fisted private dick and even, in some ways, raises the standard.

Cardigan is an operative for the Cosmos Detective Agency, headed up by George Hammerhorn.  He’s not liked by most cops, but does run across one or two that don’t mind him so much.   Cardigan definitely has a set of rules he plays by and, for the most part, his rules are defined by what he feels is right and what case he is working on.  Not to say that he’s not got a bit of the capitalist in him, as he is often making sure that he and those working with him will likely come out in the black financially.  He’s a fighter, both of the street and the strategic variety. Putting on dumb often, Cardigan has a mind that often sees around the next corner, puts the pieces in place just waiting for his fists to knock them in.

Though cut from the same cloth as other loners, Cardigan plays well enough with others when they follow his orders.  Patricia Seaward, another Cosmos operative, shows up in a few of the stories in this volume and she’s definitely a welcome feature.  A definite dame from top to bottom, Pat is also something else that wasn’t as common in the classic Pulps.  Not that she doesn’t get into trouble sometimes, but she’s definitely no ill equipped fainting frail in distress. Cardigan watches out for and worries for her, but he gives her assignments that most other Pulp heroes wouldn’t even think of having a lady handle.  And for the most part, boy, does she handle them.

Cardigan Volume 1 is most definitely a five page read.  If You’re a fan at all of really well done, classic hard boiled fiction that actually knows how to deliver emotion and humor in the right way for such a story, this is your collection.

This also gets a fully loaded six out six bullets by my scale. The Will Murray introduction sets the eleven stories in the volume up well and Mr. Nebel’s writing doesn’t not only not disappoint, but comes packed with a few wow moments.

 

Book Review: Ghost Rider: Hell Bent and Heaven Bound

Title: Ghost Rider: Hell Bent and Heaven Bound

Authors/Creators: Jason Aaron, Roland Boschi, Dan Brown, Tan Eng Huat, Jose Villarrubia, et al.

Format: Trade Paperback Graphic Collection, Marvel Comics

Published: 2008

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There are two types of comic book type things I will review.  Graphic novels, which are essentially one story self contained in a singular illustrated volume and Collections, which take issues of a series and collect them together into one trade paperback volume.  Ghost Rider: Hell Bent and Heaven Bound is the latter, the actual fifth collection of the Ghost Rider series produced in the late 2000s by Marvel Comics.

To go into all the continuity that would have to be explained for someone not familiar with Ghost Rider would take volumes, so we’re going to do this quickly.  The Ghost Rider in this collection is Johnny Blaze, a motorcycle stuntman who sold his soul to the Devil in order to save someone.  The someone didn’t get saved, but Johnny was forced to work off his bargain anyway, becoming The Spirit of Vengeance, The Ghost Rider.

It was only later that Johnny learned the truth behind his curse.  Instead of his being the Ghost Rider being the fault of the Devil, it was actually the doing of an angel, Zadkiel, who cut  a deal with Johnny’s girlfriend at the time to circumvent the Devil’s deal.  Hell Bent and Heaven Bound opens with Johnny, now having the knowledge of his true origins, literally looking for a way to get into Heaven and take Zadkiel on face-to-face.

After trying several ways to get to Heaven, Johnny learns that a man who recently died, but was revived and scared to death to die again and return to Heaven was in a small town in Idaho.  Johnny visits this man, who knows who he is and relates that he wants to stay alive because going to Hell would be better than going to Heaven, as Zadkiel has lain siege to it.  Johnny, thinking this man is his ticket to the Pearly Gates, takes him out of the hospital, which basically causes the nurses, who are in fact agents of Zadkiel, to tear out after him with machine guns and motorcycles.  Throw in a highway haunted by cannibal ghosts that are still hungry, a town full of Zadkiel disciples, and a crooked deputy coming face to face with a live cannibal, and you have some sense of the road The Ghost Rider is traveling.

A second story, ‘God Don’t Live On Cell Block D’, has Johnny continuing his quest to break into Heaven, this time going to talk to a priest in prison for machine gunning his entire congregation, saying the angels made him do it.  This story does little to progress the overall arc, but is a fun bit about the Ghost Rider having to fight his way out of a prison, which includes quite literally a die hard disciple of Zadkiel and a whole lot of prisoners worthy of vengeance.

Overall, Ghost Rider: Hell Bent and Heaven Bound is a fun little read and ride.  The art isn’t consistent throughout either two issue story collected in the volume, so that’s a takeaway, although the art in the second story is superior to that in the first.   Johnny’s quest to get into Heaven by any means necessary is a neat concept that is as single minded as fans of classic Ghost Rider tales will remember the Spirit of Vengeance being, so that was enjoyable.  The first story seemed overly full, too much going on, too many hints trying to be dropped.  This made the second collected arc actually seem weaker, like enough wasn’t happening.

Ghost Rider: Hell Bent and Heaven Bound gets three out of five pages.  If You’re a die hard fan of ol’ Bonehead and his blazing bike, there’s enough in here for you to like, including the return of someone Johnny won’t be glad to see eventually.  If you’re looking for something that will make You pick up more Ghost Rider, this might be it, but might not be.  Overall average storytelling with up and down art.

This is a solid three out of six bullets by my scale.  Not something I’d seek out again, but a read that I enjoyed the first time through.  I found myself smirking at hints to Ghost Rider fans that were dropped only slightly more than I groaned at some of the poor art and sequential storytelling that plagued this book.

 

 

 

Book Review: The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Ectoplasmic Man by Daniel Stashower

Title: The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Ectoplasmic Man

Author: Daniel Stashower

Format: Paperback, Titan Books

Published: 2009

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A few years back, Titan Books turned out a line of books entitled The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. This series was exactly what it sounds like, adventures of Holmes post Doyle written by a variety of writers. I have read and previously reviewed one of these elsewhere and called it, paraphrasing here, one of the worst reading experiences I’ve ever had. I attempted to read a second and couldn’t finish for fear that I would have to revise that prior statement if I did. So, it’s safe to say that my experience with Titan’s foray into tales of the World’s Greatest Consulting Detective was anything but positive.

I can say that that has changed, at least somewhat, due to one of the books in the imprint.

The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Ectoplasmic Man by Daniel Stashower finds Holmes in the later years of his career involved in a case of international intrigue involving the theft of letters written between the soon to be George V and a German countess. These letters are stolen in such a way that the only possible suspect, both for Scotland Yard’s Lestrade and Holmes brother, Mycroft, is the performer for the dignitaries at the mansion the night the letters are stolen. That performer is none other than Harry Houdini.

What follows is nothing short of a Victorian Roller Coaster Ride, involving jailing Houdini and binding him head to toe in chains and straitjackets, an impenetrable vault, gunplay, a mysterious figure in a red muffler and hat, and even airplanes! And all the while, Stashower not only writes Holmes and Watson in a pitch perfect way, he capitalizes on the characteristics of the pair as they interplay with Houdini that make this more than just two great icons coming together. It’s a true buddy flick cast in the gaslights of a London long lost, two geniuses in their own fields who clash and bash into each other, only to find they complement each other perfectly to resolve the mystery and have one hell of an adventure while doing it. This isn’t an easy alliance and that makes it all that much more engaging.

Crafting this as a lost tale penned by Watson, Stashower captures every nuance of Holmes in a way I’ve seen almost no one else do. He is just as skillful with Houdini, but the reason for that is grounded in his penning of The Harry Houdini Mysteries, three books featuring Houdini at the start of his career solving mysteries with his wife, Bess, and brother, Dash (I’ll be reviewing them soon, but take my word for it, three of the best mysteries I’ve ever read). The characters are real, stepping off the page into the reader’s mind and snatching said reader back into the text with them.

This book also contains a fair bit of physical action and daring do in it, largely due to Houdini’s presence. I know some people have issue with this in their Holmes’ tales because there wasn’t a proliferation of it in Doyle’s work, but what Stashower does in this story not only fits, but it stays within the acceptable parameters of action that Holmes and Watson would engage in and offers enough surprises to leave you on the edge of the page, eager to turn to the next one to see what happens.

If there were more than five pages to give for The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Ectoplasmic Man.  Every mark that Stashower had to hit to make this both a great Holmes book and a wonderful Houdini tale, he hit with amazing accuracy.

is definitely one of the big guns, getting six out of six bullets.  This book is a success in every sense of the word, from nailing Doyle’s voice to wonderfully reconstructing Houdini and Holmes and all who accompany them to delivering a level of action that definitely thrilled and fit into the expectations of a Holmes tale. You should read this volume if You’re a Holmes fan, a Houdini follower, a reader of mysteries, a lover of Victorian work, or simply someone who can just read words. By far the best modern non Doyle Holmes story I’ve ever read, and made even better because of Houdini.

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