Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Archie Gets Married

I’m behind the times. The Archie Wedding comic came out in 2010, but I just had a chance to read it this week. The story starts with the high school graduation of the Riverdale kids. Now we know that this will be a traumatic event because the comics have always covered the kids as teens in high school. What would happen if the teens actually became adults? Well, we get to find that out in Archie Wedding. Before the high school graduation ceremony, Archie goes for a walk, and he comes upon Memory Lane. In the past, Archie always walked down Memory Lane, which is the phrase people use when they remember the past. This time, Archie decides to walk up Memory Lane. As he walks, he comes upon a fork in the road. Archie takes one branch and finds himself in the future at his high school graduation. In this future, Archie marries Veronica, and Betty becomes a fashion seller in New York City. Mr. Lodge gives Archie a job at Lodge Enterprises, and Archie and Veronica have twins. Then one night, Archie goes for another walk, finds himself at Memory Lane, and this time he takes the other fork in the road. Archie’s back at his college graduation, and this time, he marries Betty. You get the feeling that Archie would have preferred to marry Veronica, but he realizes that he really doesn’t fit into her life style. Betty gets a job in New York, and she and Archie move there. That doesn’t work out, and they find themselves back in Riverdale, with both Betty and Archie teaching at Riverdale High. Archie is the music teacher. In this reality, Jughead marries Midge, Moose is into anger management, and Reggie is a car salesman. Archie and Betty have twins in this reality; the writer must have a thing about Archie having twins even though twins don’t seem to run in his, Veronica’s, or Betty’s families. Veronica winds up marrying Reggie. This time, when Archie goes for a late night walk, he walks down Memory Lane and returns to his current life. Archie has some memories of marrying Betty and Veronica, but no one believes his story about the future. Meanwhile, life is pretty much as always, with Archie getting into by arranging dates with Betty and Veronica on the same night. We do hear that Dilton Doyle, Riverdale’s resident genius, is missing after discovering parallel universes. That ties into the Life with Archie comics that play out the two future realities with this evil character who is trying to manipulate things for his own gain.

I’m not sure how I feel about looking at Archie’s future. I’m perfectly happy with the comic book life cycle. Archie has been a teen since the 1940s, and as far as I’m concerned, he can stay there. I don’t want my comic book characters to grow up and have real life experiences. The thing I love about comics is that I can use them as an escape from the realism of real life. If I had to choose, which girl would I have Archie marry? Well, I think that I would bring in a third girl. That would create some tension and cause Betty and Veronica to team up against the third girl. Would Archie marry her? Maybe. I just think real life situations would intrude on the fun too much.

Who do I like better? Betty or Veronica? Both of them annoy me for different reasons. Betty is just too wishy-washy, and Veronica is too spoiled. If I had to choose, I guess I would say that Jughead is my favorite character. There are hidden depths to Juggie.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Archie Americana Series: Best of the Fifties

Not only do I love mysteries, but I love comics. One of my favorite comics from when I was a kid to today is Archie comics. Even today, I’ll still pick up Archie comics from the comic book store or library. In the past few years, the Archie comics folks released a series of books that look at Archie over the decades. The series is called the Archie Americana Series. Since Archie has been around since the 1940s, they had a few volumes in the series. I just finished reading the Best of the Fifties. The characters in this volume look a lot more like the characters that I’m used to. There have been changes over the years, and I have to admit that I didn’t really recognize the 1940s Archie. Archie is that same as ever, stringing along both Betty and Veronica. Jughead, although appearing to be a slow-witted clod, really has much more on the ball than the other kids. What I loved about the book the most is that it reminded me of the simplicity of my childhood. Even though I wasn’t around in the 50s, I felt that I could understand the time just from reading the comics. Which character do I like the best? I think Betty is my favorite, and Reggie is my least favorite. I can’t think of a better way to spend a slow moving afternoon than with an Archie comic. Some people may think that comics are only for kids, but in my opinion, if it has a good story and if it entertains me, that’s all I want. The Archie Americana Series series does that and gives us an historical look at teen society from the 1940s to the present day.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Dirty Duck by Martha Grimes

The Dirty Duck is Martha Grimes' fourth entry in the Richard Jury series. I've been trying to read the series in order, and as I finish up a pair, I order replacements from the library. I'm very lucky to have such a good library system, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. In The Dirty Duck, Richard Jury is on vacation in Stratford-upon-Avon. Jury is hoping that he can meet Lady Jenny Kennington, whom he met in The Anodyne Necklace. Lady Kennington moved to Stratford-upon-Avon at the end of the last book. Melrose Plant is there too, with his Aunt Agatha and her American relations. There are also some other American tourists in Stratford-upon-Avon, touring with the Honeycut Tours. Of course, where Jury and Plant are, murder follows. First, Gwendolyn Bracegirdle gets herself slashed and stashed in a public toilet. She's found with a few lines of poetry written on a Shakespeare playbill. But it doesn't stop there. Little Jimmy Carlton goes missing. Then his step-sister is murdered, and as the tour moves to London, his step-mother is murdered in the same grizzly fashion. Both also have additional lines from the same stanza of poetry that's found on Ms. Bracegirdle. Is there a psycho killing folks, or is there a connection to the Honeycut Tours? Where's little Jimmy? Can Jury and Plant find the killer before anyone else is murdered?

So far, as I've been reading through the series, I find myself like the latest book better than the ones that preceded it. The Dirty Duck is the best of the four so far. Granted, the murders are fairly horrifying. The victims have their throats slit, and then are slit open to the waist. Of course, Grimes doesn't go into gross detail, but it's enough to set up some mental pictures. Again, we have the strong child character. This time, it's Jimmy, who finds himself kidnapped and not knowing what is going on. Of course, I don't want to give away the ending, but Jimmy shows a great deal of resourcefulness for a nine-year old. The only negative comment I have to make is that Jury and Plant have the worst luck of any characters I know in mystery literature. Lady Kennington, Jenny, leaves Stratford-upon-Avon before Jury can start a relationship with her, and Vivian Rivington, Plant's Ardry End neighbor, comes back from an extended stay in Italy with an Italian fiancĂ©. Of course, she just happens to show up in Stratford-upon-Avon. Jury and Plant are in their 40s, attractive, and unable to get women? Really? Of course, they get the ones they don't want. Jury likes Vivian who likes Plant. What a tangled web! I am enjoying the Jury/Plant series, and if you like mysteries, you should definitely give them a try. I think they should be read in order because the characters and relationships appear to develop over the books.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Anodyne Necklace

Everyone needs a break, and I’m mixing in some mysteries with the romantic suspense. One author that I haven’t read before is Martha Grimes. Grimes is an American who writes British mysteries, and if there’s one thing I like, it’s the classic British mystery. So I’ve been working my way through her Inspector Jury/Melrose Plant series. Inspector Jury is from Scotland Yard, and finds himself getting called in to investigate various murders around the country. Melrose Plant is a Lord who gave up his title because he wasn’t interested in the whole aristocracy/House of Lords bit. In the first book in the series,The Man with a Load of Mischief a murder happens near Plant’s family home, and Jury is called in to investigate. The pair become buddies, and as Jury goes to investigate other murders, Plant motors out to help his pal. I just finished reading the third book in the series, The Anodyne Necklace. In this book, Jury is called out to investigate the murder of young woman in the Horndean Woods in the little village of Littlebourne. The woman is a stranger to the village and was found with the fingers of one hand chopped off. Jury has to figure out who the woman is and if the murder ties in with the other disparate things that seem to be going on: a young girl from the village who had her head bashed in while busking in the Underground in London, a jewelry robbery from one of the local landed gentry, and the accidental death of the person suspected of committing the robbery. Of course, Jury ties up all the loose ends and finds the murderer.

The book was a good deal of fun. I read through it very quickly, but I did have some problems with it. In The Anodyne Necklace, as well as with the second book in the series, The Old Fox Deceiv’d, an independent child has a key role in the mystery and the solution. The child in question this time is a girl, Emily Louise Perk. I don’t know about you, but I don’t know that many 10-year-old kids who are as enterprising and self-reliant as the kids in Grimes’ books. Emily Louise’s mother is nowhere to be found. The girl totally controls the whole village with her strong personality. No one from child services shows up to wonder what the girl is doing working or wandering the town late at night. The situations and characters are starting to feel very formulaic. I would hope that Grimes finds some way to change things up. The mystery is a good one. At first, I couldn’t think of any way Jury could tie all the crimes together, but he did. This book had a decidedly dark element with the attack on young Katie O’Brien, who was left in a life threatening coma, and a threat to Emily Louise. The characters in the village are interesting, especially Polly Praed, a mystery writer who plots the murders of the annoying Bodenheim family, the leading family of Littlebourne. I did sort of suspect whodunit, but started to doubt myself as the story continued. I’ve just started the next book in the series,The Dirty Duck, so the formulaic bits of Grimes’ style aren’t annoying me yet!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Houses of Stone by Barbara Michaels

As I continue my journal through the works of Barbara Michaels, I admit that I haven’t been taking a systematic journal. I didn’t start at the first book and continue through in order of publication. I wonder if doing that would have changed my experience. I just finished Houses of Stone, which was published in 1993. Barbara Mertz started publishing the books with the Barbara Michaels pseudonym in 1966. That’s when the more woo-woo of the books came out. Ammie Come Home was published in 1968. The Sea King’s Daughter, another of my recent reads, was published in 1975. I really liked The Sea King’s Daughter. I’m a bit more ambivalent about Houses of Stone, and I do wonder if Michaels started to change her style as time went on. It’s something that I’ll have to look out for with future books.

Houses of Stone tells us the story of Karen Holloway, an English literature professor, who found some fame in publishing a poem by an unknown author named Ismene. Karen found the poem in a tattered, old publication, and she got it republished with commentary. You know, the sort of thing that professors specializing in literature do. Karen suspects that Ismene was a woman writing in the late 1700s/early 1800s, and when Karen hears from her friend Simon, a book seller, that he found an unpublished manuscript that Simon thinks was written by Ismene. Karen agrees, and the battle for the manuscript and publication begins. The manuscript isn’t complete; the first few pages are missing. Simon offers the manuscript to the highest bidder, but gives Karen the option of preferred bidder. That means that Karen gets the option to outbid the highest bidder. With the financial help of her friend and colleague, Peggy, Karen is able to obtain the manuscript. The action begins then. Karen wants to figure out who Ismene really is. If she can give her a name, it would make the manuscript that much more valuable, financially and academically. Karen finds out that Cameron Cartwright sold the manuscript to Simon, as part of the estate of his uncle. Karen goes to the Virginia backwater town to investigate the family home/location to see if she can figure out if Ismene is part of the distant family tree. Peggy goes along to provide historical research. Meanwhile, rivals Bill and Dorothea also show up to try to beat Karen to the punch, and perhaps to steal the manuscript. Even though Karen is working from a copy, if the copy is stolen, Bill or Dorothea could beat Karen to publication. Karen’s apartment is broken into, and the manuscript is almost stolen from her by the burglar. Then Karen is almost run over by a car, and rescued at the last minute by Bill. Then a fire breaks out in the garage under Karen’s apartment. Karen narrowly escapes. Meanwhile, when Karen investigates Ismene’s house and grounds, she experiences cold waves, feels evil, and hears ghostly screams. There are so many questions: who is Ismene? Is the gothic manuscript autobiographical? Who is trying to hurt Karen? Who is the romantic interest: Bill or Cameron? What the heck is going on?

The story was okay. I enjoyed the book, and I read it quickly. I suppose those are good things. However, I just felt that the story was dragging at points. I was expecting more build-up with the romance angle, but it just sort of happens at the end. All the loose ends get tied up, but I’m not sure that the journey was as much fun as it was in the older books. As with other Michaels books, Karen is a feminist. She gets herself into and out scrapes. However, there’s still the element of the strong man in the background who really helps out. I would recommend the book, but with reservations that I don’t think that it’s the best of Michaels’ work.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Be Buried in the Rain by Barbara Michaels

If there's one thing I love, it's snuggling up in a warm robe with cookies and a hot drink while I read a romantic suspense book. One of my favorite authors is Barbara Mertz, whether she is writing as Elizabeth Peters or Barbara Michaels. When Mertz writes as Michaels, she includes a supernatural element. There's a mystery to solve, which the heroine does with the help of some ghostly guidance. I've been in the mood for something woo-wooish, so I've started to work my way through the Michaels books. This evening, I finished reading Be Buried in the Rain.

Julie Newcomb is a medical student whose grandmother has suffered a stroke. The relationship between Julie and her grandmother has been strained, basically because the grandmother, Martha, is a mean, old woman. What you might call a real bitch. Julie spent a few years of her childhood with her grandmother when Julie's mother was trying to get herself on her feet. The story starts with the discovery of some bones on a back road runn
ing by Martha's land. The discovery leads to Martha having a stroke. Now that Martha is incapacitated because of the stroke, cousin Matt talks Julie into spending the summer helping care for her grandmother. Of course, Martha lives in a huge old plantation style house in Virginia, so there's lots of room for action. Another wrench in the works is the inclusion of Alan, a former flame of Julie's who is doing some archaeological investigations on Martha's land. In the past, Martha caused a break-up between Alan and Julie, to give us the romantic tension in the book. So we have the perfect setup for some woo-woo thrills: the discovery of bones, a big, mysterious house, and romantic tension between the protagonists. Whose bones were in the road? Was it the mythical Lady Jocelyn, virginal maiden from the 1700s, or is it someone from more recent times?

The tension builds as Julie tries to figure out what is going on in the house and with Martha. The evil Joe Danner, resident handyman, and his down-trodden wife, Rosie, are suspects, especially after Rosie tries to poison Julie's adopted stray dog. Who can Julie trust? Cousin Matt,
 Alan? Is one of them trying to hurt her?

Michaels does an excellent job of building the tension, both mysterious and romantic. Of course, in the end, Julie solves it all with some psychic and romantic help. I really enjoyed the mystery and the romance in the book. I would highly recommend Be Buried in the Rain to anyone who likes a little bit of woo-woo and romance in their mystery.

The Marching Season by Daniel Silva

I just finished reading The Marching Season by Daniel Silva. It's the second, and unfortunately last, book in the Michael Osbourne series. Silva is known for his spy books, especially the Gabriel Allon series. Allon is the Israeli spy who keeps Israel and the world safe by killing terrorists. Michael Osbourne is a different kettle of fish. He's a CIA operative, and definitely doesn't feel easy about killing others. The action preys on his soul. The first book in the Osbourne series was The Mark of the Assassin. In that book, we are introduced to a secret organization that is trying to influence events in the world by creating terror. In that book, an airliner is blown out of the sky so a US businessman can sell his Star Wars type security system to the US people and government. The assassin is a man code-named October, Jean Paul Delaroche, who killed Osbourne's love many years ago. In Mark of the Assassin, October came after Osbourne and his wife Elizabeth.

In The Marching Season, we join Osbourne a year after Mark of the Assassin. Osbourne is now retired from the CIA, and he and Elizabeth are the happy parent of twins. Osbourne is feeling the strain of retirement and isn't as happy as he was when he worked for the CIA. But things are about to change! Elizabeth's father, former Senator Douglas Cannon, is offered the post of US ambassador to England after a series of terrorist acts in the UK, which were meant to spoil the peace in Northern Ireland. Considering that the book was published in 1999, it's not such an unlikely scenario. Osbourne gets pulled back into the CIA to protect his father-in-law from possible assassination, and October gets pulled back into his role as assassin by the Society, who believes that killing Osbourne and his father-in-law would really disrupt peace, and eliminate Osbourne, who has become a real pain in the neck.

It's so obvious that Silva used the Osbourne books as a springboard for the Allon books. Adrian Carter, Graham Seymour, and Shamron are cross-over characters in both series. Delaroche/October has some of the physical and personality characteristics of Gabriel Allon, including being an artist. The Marching Season is a very good book, full of thrills. I found myself quickly moving through the pages when I had time to read, which wasn't much over the past week or so. Silva made Delaroche/October into a sympathetic character. Although I didn't want him to succeed in killing Osbourne, I did want Delaroche to survive and some how find happiness. In The Marching Season, I did get the sense of closure for both Osbourne and Delaroche, and I was very happy. I wish that there were more Michael Osbourne books, but I guess that I will just have to satisfy myself with the Gabriel Allon series.

The Big Four by Agatha Christie

I'm a huge fan of Agatha Christie, and I've read almost all of her books more than once. I love Miss Marple and Tommy and Tuppence. Hercule Poirot is okay, but he can be annoying. I say that I've read almost all of her books because I don't remember reading The Big Four. This is a book copyrighted from 1927, but it's actually a collection of 12 short stories that were published in The Sketch magazine. Hercule Poirot learns of a criminal organization called the Big Four. The four are a Chinese man, a French scientist, an American millionaire, and a mysterious British man. Hercule Poirot figures out who the first three members of the Big Four are and spends most of the book trying to figure out who is the mysterious fourth member. Of course, the Big Four do everything they can to remove Poirot from their trail.

So what did I think of the book? It was interesting. Agatha Christie was good at making a connection between a collection of short stories. She did it with The Thirteen ProblemsThe Labors of Hercules, and Partners in Crime. The individual mysterious were intriguing and quite puzzling. Captain Hastings is back to help Poirot with the mystery. The book is a very quick, short read, although it wasn't very easy to find. My library only had a few copies; so if you can find it, give it a try.

The Old Fox Deceiv'd by Martha Grimes

I just finished reading The Old Fox Deceiv'd by Martha Grimes. The book is the second in the Richard Jury serie
s, and as with the other books in the series, the title comes from the name of a pub that slightly features in the book. In fact, in this book, the action is very slight indeed. CID Inspector, Richard Jury is called up to a small town in the North of England to investigate the murder of Gemma Temple, murdered in costume on Twelfth Night. The question, though, was if Gemma Temple was in fact Dillys March, long-lost ward of Sir Titus Crael, wealthy, local landowner. Melrose Plant, wealthy former Lord Ardry,   is visiting the Craels and gets to join in the detection fun as he did in the first book. It would seem to me that as the series progresses, it will become more difficult to get Plant involved in Jury's investigations, but that's how fictional mysteries are.

The mystery in this book was a good one, and I enjoyed figuring out whodunit (and no, I didn't guess it this time). My favorite character was a young boy, Bertie Makepeace who has been left to fend for himself by a mother who is more interested in herself. Fortunately, Bertie has a level head on his shoulders, and a super-intelligent dog named Arnold. Jury and Plant travel to London to gather information on Gemma Temple, and in the search, find out something about Sir Titus' family, deceased Lady Margaret and the deceased elder son Rolfe, and younger son, Julian. The Crael family has many hidden skeletons in the closet, and all comes out under Jury's investigation. We learn that Julian's adamant hatred of Dillys would be more aptly described as great love.

The book was an entertaining read. I like the interactions between Plant and Jury. The human side of both come out in the case of Bertie Makepeace. The mystery was a good one. I do wonder if I just happened to miss the piece that lead to the solution. I think that I might have read it, but not picked up on it. There were suggestions throughout the book, but because I missed the initial puzzle piece, the suggestions did nothing for me. Overall, the book is a good read, and I have plans to read more in the series. 

Walker in Shadows by Barbara Michaels

I love a good romantic suspense book, especially if there are some gothic elements thrown in for good luck. That's one of the reasons why I love the Barbara Michaels' books. She writes the type of books that I love to read, and if I were an author, the type of books that I would want to write. Last night, I finished Walker in Shadows, one of Michaels' best woo-woo books. In this book, we have Pat Robbins, recently widowed mother of 19 year-old Mark. She lives in one of those huge, gothic type houses that you just know would be haunted. Next-door is a mirror image house. The pair of houses was built in the 1800s for a pair of twin sisters. Well, Josef Fredericks, recently divorced, moves into the next-door house with his 17 year-old daughter, Kathy. Tensions develop between the families when Mark falls for Kathy, who is forbidden to see Mark by her dad. Then Josef makes a remark about Pat that comes off as making her sound as if Pat is out to hook him. One night, when Pat is coming home from an evening out with a friend, she hears screams from the Fredericks' house. When she gets there, she finds Josef struggling with his screaming daughter. Nope, Josef isn't an abusive dad. A ghost in the house has traumatized Kathy. Pat and Mark get sucked into the horror because the entity is in search of Kathy, even if it means finding her in the Robbins' house. Of course, by the end, the problems are resolved, because that's what people want in their romantic suspense, a happy conclusion.

One of the things that I loved about the book was the absence of a typical gothic heroine. Pat Robbins is in her forties, a working mom, widowed, and not your typical beauty. As I get older, I love to see characters that are more realistic as the main character of books. Michaels is great at putting atypical people into romantic leads. Walker in Shadows kept me on the edge of my seat and turning the pages of the book late into the night. Not only did I want to know what was behind all of the horrifying situations, but I also wanted to know what would happen with Pat and Josef. I have to admit that I thought the romance bit happened a bit quickly between the two of them. It seemed forced, but it was still enjoyable. I have more of Michaels on my TBR list, and if they are as good as Walker in Shadows, I'll be happy.

The Sea King's Daughter by Barbara Michaels

I have been in the mood for romantic suspense for the past few months now, and in particular, I have been focusing on Barbara Michaels. I haven't read her books in a long time, and I thought I would re-read them to see if they were as good as I remember. So far, I haven't been disappointed! I just finished reading The Sea King's Daughter, which is slightly different than the other woo-woo books published under the Michaels pseudonym. 

The Sea King's Daughter is more in the style of Elizabeth Peters. Sandy Bishop is the heroine. She lives with her mother and step-father and really has no interaction with or knowledge of her father. Once as a younger child, she received a package addressed to Ariadne Frederick, Sandy's birth name, with a ancient Greek statue of Ariadne. Frederick is the last name of Sandy's biological father, an archaeologist. Sandy's mom left him when Sandy was a baby because Frederick loved his job more than his family. When the story really starts, Sandy is trying to figure out what to do with herself because she hasn't excelled in academics, but has excelled in athletics, especially swimming. Sandy wants the excitement that she had the previous summer when she and her step-dad found a submerged galleon off the Florida coast. The find got Sandy in National Geographic, and it caught Frederick's eye. Frederick comes to Florida to convince Sandy to help him search for submerged treasure in Greece. Sandy takes little convincing, and after her graduation from university, Sandy tells her parents that she is going to tour Europe. Yep, Sandy lies. Once Sandy gets to Greece, she starts to experience some feelings of deja vu, wondering if the feeling has some tie to her name Ariadne. Things don't start out well for Sandy on the island of Thera where Frederick is doing his archaeological work. Frederick is distant and uncaring. No one should swim or dive alone, and he leaves her un-watched as she swims. Sandy is starting to rethink her decision when she meets Jim in the village. Of course, the pair fall in love. Things get complicated when Jim's boss, Sir Christopher turns out to be a former cohort of Frederick's. Then Keller, a former German WW II officer, and his mistress, Kore, turn out to be living in a villa on the island. The foursome have a past history with Jim's uncle, who was killed during WWII. Earthquakes, volcanic action, and female deity worship add more spice to the story. 

I really did enjoy the story. If you read Peters and Michaels, both pseudonyms for Barbara Mertz, you know that the books have a very similar feel to them. The Sea King's Daughter provided plenty of thrills, archaeology, and mystery for me. Yes, I guess you could say that the relationship between Sandy and Jim seems rushed, but it's fiction, people! The book gave me what I wanted: some romance, some suspense, and a break from the harsh reality of the real world. I was on the edge of my seat wondering how Sandy and Jim would untangle all the clues and figure out who the bad guy was. As Sandy mentions in the end, she learns that no one is all good or all bad. Definitely a winner!