Friday, March 30, 2007

I Found A New Mystery Series To Enjoy!

Mystery novels remain some of my standard fare. There’s nothing like kicking back and testing an author—especially a new one or a favored old one—to see if they can slip one by me.

I’d heard a lot about Laura Lippman and her series detective Tess Monaghan. I’d even picked up a few books. But I hadn’t gotten around to reading her. Then the latest Tess Monaghan book came out in paperback with a great, captivating cover and I just had to pick it up.

I’m glad I did. Although the mystery wasn’t as mysterious as I would have thought, the characters were nothing short of living, breathing people. Tess’s boyfriend, Crow, takes center stage to a degree in this book. Tess is all about business and being responsible (within her own rules and limitations, of course) and Edgar “Crow” Ransome leans in favor of a more relaxed approach. They play off each other splendidly.

The way Lippman handled the introduction of the characters was well done. I liked the opening narration by Crow, which set up the closing narration as well, because I actually go the chance to decide that I liked the characters because of who they were rather than what trouble they got into or what action they took.

The gentle way the author took us into the mystery/drama was well done too. Crow meets Lloyd, a streetwise young black teen, when Lloyd is part of a two-man operation to boost a few bucks out of people’s pockets. Lloyd’s partner punctures a person’s tire, and Lloyd just happens by with a jack and a tire wrench. Crow berates Lloyd and convinces him to let him take him out for lunch rather than pay him cash. With all the bad weather coming on, Crow invites Lloyd to Tess’s house where Crow is living. If I hadn’t already gotten to know the characters, I don’t know that I would have believed that plot. But this is what Crow is all about.

Things start to get complicated almost at once. Crow really wants to domesticate Lloyd, but Lloyd has simply pulled a Trojan Horse maneuver on Crow to get into the house so he can still stuff. That part was exceptionally well done as well. Everything bad grew out of that kindness, out of that one good deed that Crow tried to work.

After Lloyd slips away in the middle of the night, he runs Crow’s car into someone else and starts off a chain of events that lead Crow and Tess into the confrontations with killers that threatens to tear their whole world apart. Before long, state and federal investigators approach Tess and start making her life a living hell after she arranges to have testimony fall into the hands of a newspaper she wanted to do business with.

Lippman delivers the goods on her villains, making them hard as nails and arranging it so they have an assortment of weapons to throw onto Tess in an effort to get her to knuckle under to their demands.

The decision to separate Crow and Tess for most of the book’s action was an interesting one, but i works and pays off well. While Tess wrangles with the official pressure and Crow is off gallivanting around staying hidden, he also steps up to be something of a surrogate father for Lloyd. I found Crow’s choice of reading and viewing matter extremely interesting as well. Evidently Crow and I (and doubtless Laura Lippman) treasure books and movies by the same people. Some of Crow’s favorites are also my favorites. Read closely and you may find some of yours.

After reading No Good Deeds, I realized that what I was reading wasn’t truly a mystery story. Lippman is so good at building characters and crafting a plot that the book feels like a introduction to two different but equally good characters.

The dialogue is good. There’s a lot of it and it does more work than just advance the plot. People talk and exchange plot points and information, but it adds layers to the characters and to the Baltimore world on stage.

The plot is somewhat reminiscent of Robert B. Parker’s Early Autumn, but that’s more a tip of the hat than anything else. Parker’s book is one of those that get mentioned during the course of the novel.

In addition to the Tess Monaghan series, Laura Lippman is—like so many of the current mystery series authors out there—writing stand-alone suspense thrillers. They are generating a lot of good reviews from critics as well as casual readers. I’ll be picking those books up as well because I’m convinced I’ve found a new favorite author. The lady can write. She knows her way around plots and characters. No Good Deeds is a great read that will keep you entertained from beginning to end whether you’re a regular mystery fan or suspense reader.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Are Back And Rockin' The House!

The Turtles have been around in one incarnation or another for more than a generation now. They started out as a black-and-white comic by Eastman and Laird, who have gone on to other things but have never grown beyond this one HUGE splash they made in comics and kids cartoons.

The original Turtles weren't for kids. The action in the comics was gritty and bloody. They originally didn't sell well. In their first incarnation, they were like a parody of the white-hot X-Men at the time.

Then someone out in television production land looked at the idea and thought the Turtles would be an excellent addition to the kids market that the X-Men cartoons had opened up. And we soon had Turtles everywhere. Cartoons, comics, movies, and action figures soon blossomed everywhere.

Now we have TMNT, which is most likely the relaunch of the movie franchise. Thankfully we're not treated to a rehash of Turtle history and the origin story. Unless you've been living in some far-off shell, you know the story of the four turtles and the rat that were exposed to radioactive slime and became Leonardo, Donatello, Michaelangelo, Raphael, and Master Splinter. April O'Neil and Casey Jones are also up to bat in this one (sorry, I couldn't resist).

The plot centers around a billionaire CEO named Max Winters who's been alive for 3000 years thanks to a spell that introduced 13 monsters into the world. The planets only line up in a certain way every 3000 years to provide the energy to open a doorway to another world (you'd think they'd find a better power source!). Winters also had four generals who served him that were turned to stone. They've recently returned to life and are now looking for the 13 monsters to power up the sorcerous spell again. Mix in the Foot Clan who are working for Winters and you've got a return to greatness.

The characterizations for the Turtles, Splinter, April O'Neil (voiced by Sarah Michelle Geller), and Casey Jones are spot-on. April comes across a little to Tomb Raiderish for me, but it works overall.

However, Leonardo has been gone from the group for the last year and doesn't really want to return. When he does, it's just in time and there's a world to save and a family to reclaim.

TMNT is beautifully rendered in computer generated artwork. Although it does admittedly look like a cartoon and you're never really pulled into the this-is-real mindset even the three live-action movies of the 1980s achieved to a somewhat limited dgeree, the world is big and vibrant. The musical score compliments the action and the moods really well. The fight between Raphael and one of the demons to the rollicking licks of "Black Betty" have to be seen to be believed.

My nine-year-old was in heaven. There were plenty of funny bits, actions as well as one-liners, that kept him in stitches. Even though some of the movie is predicatable for the adult mind, I still had a blast and found myself chuckling along with my kid. Even my 17-year-old son and 21-year-old daughter, who I thought would never want to see this movie, had a great time when they decided to join us.

The martial arts moves, the mad dashes across the rooftops, and the larger-than-life creatures in combat on the screen looked terrific. You're not going to get this kind of experience in live-action, and the cartoons simply don't have this kind of budget for CGI.

The movie treks along familiar themes and doesn't really go anywhere new, but it is a fantastic treatment of material that has become part of a generation's heritage. Hopefully there will be more new movies. We'll be looking forward to them.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

My Newest Book in the ROVER Series Is Out!
Pick it up at any bookstore or order online At Amazon!
I love this world and these characters, and I think this is one of my best books.

Monday, March 19, 2007

I Need Votes!

Yep, it's me. Begging for votes again. I checked my stats. I hit 1300 today. The lowest I've ever been. I'm still trying to hit that coveted TOP 1000 reviewer button. So if you have time, please drop by my Amazon reviews (located over to the right for easy access) and vote me up!


Thursday, March 15, 2007

Baseball Season Is Here!
We've got a new name this year, but we're back in action. I love coaching Little League baseball and basketball.

This is my son. He picked his number this year. The only reason he picked #99 is because I wouldn't let him have #100. *sigh* Now I'm stuck wearing the same dumb number all season.

If you're in the Moore Ballpark some weekend, look for us. We might be there!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Great Kids' SF Novel With Touches of Robert A. Heinlein
Science fiction novels these days are an odd mix. Most of them tend to be tied into television or movie properties. A few have roots in video games. Others have science so ingrained and specialized that weaving a story through all the information overload can be tough.

I grew up on science fiction novels by Robert A. Heinlein and Andre Norton that were inventive, inviting, and a lot of fun. Heinlein’s juveniles often stayed within the known solar system while Norton ventured far, far away.

As a result, few children’s science fiction novels are being published these days. Thankfully, some authors and publishers are holding the line and producing new material.

Michael Daley’s Shanghaied to the Moon is a fun romp that’s often reminiscent of early Heinlein and Norton. Thirteen-year-old Stewart Hale wants to be a space pilot like his mom, who died in a fiery crash. Since that time, he’s been in the care of a virtual counselor that has been controlling his academic performance and actually keeping him from achieving that goal.

Stewart has started suspecting that something is going on that no one talks about. He’s become convinced that there’s a big secret the school, the virtual counselor, and his dad are keeping from him. With his older brother’s help, he discovers that the virtual counselor has altered his grads and is actually preventing him from remembering some events in his life and is keeping him from getting qualified for the Space Academy. I love conspiracy story, and I really didn’t know there was one in this book until I landed squarely in the middle of it.

At the same time, Stewart’s dreams of those forgotten events start surfacing in dreams. Daley weaves a mystery about everything that happened to Stewart after his mother died. Although the book is crammed with action and interesting tidbits about the history of space travel and fictional exploits regarding the same, I found myself turning the pages faster and faster not only to see how things turned out, but to find out what the big secret was.

Even as Stewart’s dreams begin again and his curiosity propels him to solve that mystery, he meets a washed-up spacer who offers him a chance to go to the moon. Knowing that there’s a conspiracy to keep him out of space and wanting to go more than anything else in the world, Stewart takes the guy up on his offer and blasts off.

However, the spacer has an ulterior motive that Stewart hasn’t been able to guess at. I was constantly kept on my toes trying to figure out what was going to happen next and what was truly going on. The adventure takes some really interesting twists and turns along the way.

Daley has produced a book that’s a lot of fun to read. The first-person narration is first-rate and given more immediacy by the present tense spin. In addition to the adventures and dangers, the author also provides a lot of interesting details about the space program that got the United States to the moon in the first place. The rapid pacing guarantees readers will stay with the book, and the mysteries will solidly hook them.

Shanghaied to the Moon is a great read, and it’s a book elementary school and junior high school librarians should put on the shelves. Fantasy stories still dominate that market at present, but there’s plenty of room for science fiction adventures like this one.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

A Fun, Exciting Story for Parents Who Read to Kids

Although the historical novel for the juvenile and YA crowd seems to be going the way of the dodo (I expect mainly because the world has become so urbanized and suburbanized that kids can’t imagine what small town living was like in the 1950s—or earlier as in this novel), I still find the occasional novel to share with my nine-year-old that really rings true.

Darleen Bailey Beard’s Operation Clean Sweep is one of those books. It has the honest and wholesome goodness of The Andy Griffith Show but still manages to play out the push and shove of real emotions over real problems for youngsters.

I settled down to read this one to my son because it’s on the Oklahoma Sequoyah list this year, and I’m surprised I hadn’t found it earlier. It originally debuted in 2004.

Cornelius, "Corn" to his friends, is a welcome and genuine narrator in this story based on real political events early in the 20th century. It’s 1916 and women haven’t get been given the vote nationally, but a few states and territories have allowed them to vote. The world is all ready changing far faster than anyone at that time realizes.

Corn's dad is the town mayor, but he doesn't know that the women in town are tired of dragging their dresses through chicken poop in the streets and stepping over holes in the wooden sidewalks. Bailey paints a picturesque image of the town and the citizens. All of it feels real. Unknown to anyone in town (except the women), a secret coup takes shape among the women as they intend to run for office. Corn is astounded to learn that. But even worse is the fact hat his mom is going to run against his dad for mayor.

The writing is tight and clean. It lends itself to being read aloud to young listeners. Corn's troubles are the kind that every kid goes through, and he relates them in a matter-of-fact kind of way that's endearing. His infatuation with Birdine is warm and funny, and progresses naturally. The conversations Corn has with his mom and dad are good, full of values without being preachy.

The friendship between Corn and Oatmeal (Otis) is a riot. Oatmeal has fallen in love with his tape measure and is constantly measuring things or poking people with it. They hang out at the gravestone of a town founder who was buried in the middle of the street. The grave wasn’t intended to be there, but the town just kept growing and that’s where it ended up. The boy humor is just as real as the historical setting.

I read this one aloud to my nine-year-old and he cracked up a lot at the jokes, the stunts, and the whacky way the characters had of solving their problems. Such as Oatmeal’s advice that Corn imagine girls with a million boogers in their noses so they don’t seem so perfect.

In addition to the political war at home, Corn's problems with Birdine, and struggling to write his essay on the Great War (World War I), Corn also has to deal with Sticky Fingers Fred, the worst pickpocket in the area at the time. Although that part of the plot is predictable, it’s shoehorned right into the middle of the action at the election to pump up the excitement.

Darleen Bailey Beard has written one of those timeless books that school libraries should have on their shelves and parents should enjoy with their children.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Equal Parts History, Lunacy, and Adventure!

Mike Mignola doesn't invent your typical run-of-the-mill hero. Nor does he set their adventures in the everyday world or even a world most readers accept as everyday. Instead, he gifts his fans with side treks through strange and unknown places.

Most everyone knows about Hellboy, his premiere creation. The comic has done well and continues, and has even spun off sequels. The movie franchise is gearing up for a second movie.
THE AMAZING SCREW-ON HEAD is a prequel of sorts to Hellboy. Taking place in the 1860s, the story provides something of a history for the action in the pages of the Hellboy comics and movies.

The artwork of the 22-minute feature shows Mignola style. Heavily inked, edgy characters, and with some of the color drained away to make the artwork look more severe and stark, THE AMAZING SCREW-ON HEAD looks as though it exploded right out of the pages of a comic.

The dialogue is a hoot. Fabulously twisted, anchored in today's world with tongue firmly in cheek, the characters speak and act in a mix of 19th and 21st century actions. The strange machinations take root and spread across the screen, offering a visual treat at every turn. A case in point is when President Lincoln refers to a man who was kidnapped by "two old women and a monkey." Of course, one of those old women also turned out to be a werewolf.

Since there is only the 22-minute episode and special features that almost double the viewing time on the disc, THE AMAZING SCREW-ON HEAD may seem pricy to some. But Mignola fans and people who have heard about the show are going to step up and pay it anyway.

I had a blast with the episode. So did my 9-year-old, who loved the jokes and repartee. Buy this one out of love, not economics. I promise, you'll watch it more than once. And if you do, you've already doubled your return on your initial investment!