Saturday, December 27, 2014

Long Time No Leola by Carter Brown

The Carter Brown books were all written by Alan G. Yates. These paperbacks were reprinted multiple times, often with new covers, but the covers always featured some luscious dame. Long Time No Leola features titillating cover art by the legendary Robert McGinnis. The Carter Brown books included multiple series characters. This is one of the Rick Holman mysteries. Holman is a Hollywood private eye, and this time he’s hired to find a movie star named Leola. He finds her fairly quickly, because she really wasn’t hiding, nor was she kidnapped. Instead, Holman uncovers a complex scheme involving loyalty, sex and even murder. There’s a great deal of talking, some fast action, quick sex and very little suspense. What makes any Carter Brown paperback entertaining is the playfulness regarding sex. The sex isn’t explicit, but frankly, Yates is great at describing the allure a woman has over the men she encounters. In books like this a dame doesn’t climb out of a swimming pool, instead you’ll get lines like: “A dripping sea nymph emerged from the water...” or stuff like: “Her flower print bikini revealed a voluptuous tanned body, whose curves jutted with an insolent disregard for mortality. She was maybe nineteen, I figured.” I’ve always wondered if Yates meant to use the word morality with that line. In any event, it’s all 1967 style swinging fun, and while it may be labeled a mystery I never really felt it was suspenseful. It doesn’t need to be, because it’s a stylistic pulp paperback tale told in eleven fast chapters. Fun to read and with alluring covers, the Carter Brown paperbacks are always a sure bet.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The 12 Screams of Christmas by R. L. Stine

I can’t resist a Goosebumps book by R. L. Stine at Christmas any more than I can at Halloween. The 12 Screams of Christmas is a fright fest of fearful fun and horrific Holiday creepiness in traditional Stine fashion. It all begins in 1882 when little Flora falls into a well. She almost makes it out, but when the rope breaks she splashes down into that deep, dark pit to meet her fate. The story picks up again this year and Kate Welles has a real problem. She’s been seeing ghosts, and nobody believes her. To make it worse, she’s competing with her friend Courtney for the lead role in the school play. That’s when their teacher decides they need to rehearse away from school and she chooses this creepy old house where it’s rumored a girl drowned in the well. Flora the ghost and Kate become friends, and Kate meets Flora’s family, which complicates matters. Flora didn’t like being left in that well for over a hundred years, and her family isn’t all that nice to Kate. Ghosts can be like that. Stine’s imagination is in full jitterbug swing with this highly entertaining shocker that adds new meaning to the term “Christmas Spirit.” All of Stine’s Goosebumps books have been reprinted, and he still writes a few new ones every year. The 12 Screams of Christmas is part of the new “Goosebumps: Most Wanted” series and should be read out loud at the table during your Christmas dinner. It will add a delicious flavor to the festivities.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Once Upon a Winter’s Night by Dennis L. McKiernan

This 2002 paperback published by ROC was the first book I read by McKiernan. Afterward, I sought out various volumes of his famous Mithgar series and enjoyed them all. McKiernan admits to being influenced by J. R.R. Tolkien and certainly Lord of the Rings fans will take pleasure from any fantasy published by McKiernan. He is quite the storyteller, perhaps the last of the so-called Old School fantasists, but I believe that his stories are timeless. Once Upon a Winter’s Night is a perfect example of why I enjoy McKiernan’s books. It is a Fairy Tale in the traditional sense, re-imagining classical elements from folktales and forging something new. In the world of Faery there are lands that are always autumn, spring, summer and winter, separated by a strange wall of twilight. This tales begins once upon a winter’s night when Camille is betrothed to Prince Alain, who refuses to reveal to her his unmasked face. Alain’s secret involves a curse, a bear and a Troll; and as circumstances unfold Camille is devastated when she gazes upon his true features and thus loses everything. Thus begins Camille’s journey, fraught with peril, facing Trolls and Goblins; swept aboard a Dragonship, making friends and encountering enemies, Once Upon a Winter’s Night is a sprawling epic blending heroic fantasy with folktales into a rich tapestry of adventure. McKiernan sets each scene and offers up his characters as fully realized images that nearly jump off the page. The action is realistic. I mention this because while Once Upon a Winter’s Night is a “Fairy Tale” McKiernan doesn’t gloss over his scenes. There are some riveting, brutal circumstances that befall Camille, and McKiernan holds nothing back. A beautifully written book and a true “page turner,” I recommend Once Upon a Winter’s Night not only for lovers of heroic fantasy, but also for readers familiar with Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm. Other books in McKiernan’s "Once Upon a Time" series include Once Upon a Summer's Day, Once Upon a Spring Morn, Once Upon an Autumn Eve, and Once Upon a Dreadful Time.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Redemption Series by James Reasoner

Previously I had reviewed James Reasoner’s Redemption, Kansas, the first of a new trilogy. After reading the next two books I was also struck by their imminent collectable value. I have written extensively on this blog about collectable paperbacks of the past, but what about the paperbacks today? I think Reasoner’s Redemption series is a great example of modern collectable westerns. James Reasoner has written three outstanding stories and Berkley does such a better job than either Signet or Pinnacle with their covers. All three of the Redemption books feature covers by Dennis Lyall. I hope my scans here do these wonderful covers justice. What we have here are three great westerns written by a pro and packaged with stunning cover artwork. Just like the old days. This is the stuff people like myself will hunt down decades hence. Here’s a recap of all three books:
Redemption: Kansas - is a textbook example of what makes for an entertaining western. Injured in a stampede on a cattle drive, young Bill Harvey is forced to stay in Redemption, Kansas while his leg heals. Problem is, the local lawmen don’t like Texans or cattlemen. To complicate matters, young Bill is tended to by the lovely Eden Monroe, apparently the only person in Redemption that likes him. There’s plenty of suspense, blazing six-shooters and galloping horses.
Redemption: Hunters - This one picks up where Redemption: Kansas left off. Texas cowboy Bill Harvey is now marshal of Redemption, Kansas and things heat up when some buffalo hunters get into trouble with some local Indians. Angry Indians means a possible range war is brewing and the town of Redemption, Kansas is in the way. Add to the mix a bank robbery and Bill Harvey has his hands full just staying alive.
Redemption: Trackdown – This title actually turned out to be my favorite in the trilogy. Bill Harvey is confronted by a hothead Texan named Jesse Overstreet, but when Caleb Tatum and his gang come to town and kidnap Bill’s beautiful wife, everything that he loves and believes in is about to be destroyed. James Reasoner is not capable of writing an uninteresting book and all three Redemption titles are tomorrow’s collectables. But why wait until tomorrow? I hope I don’t sound like I’m preaching, but I want to make the point again there are still some very fine writers of westerns publishing with mainstream New York firms. James Reasoner is one of them. Add these to your Christmas list. Kudos!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Endless Shadow by John Brunner and The Arsenal of Miracles by Gardner F. Fox

Endless Shadow was an 1964 Ace Double, paired with The Arsenal of Miracles by Gardner F. Fox. Endless Shadow is a tale of two worlds – Azrael and Ipewell – where Jorgen Thorkild, director of the Bridge System that connects forty worlds among the stars, fears that he is losing his hold on sanity. Thorkild’s responsibility not only includes the machines that bridge the interstellar space between planets, but he must prevent any rebellions that might upset the balance of commerce and industry. Factions on Ipewell and Azrael alike are at odds with the bridge system, and most of the book details plot mechanizations and the actions of several characters. The two worlds in conflict, Azrael where murder is commonplace; and Ipewell where motherhood is honored among all things, have distinctively different reasons for rejecting the bridge teleportation device, but I soon realized that perhaps these characters were not that different. Characters with opposing viewpoints often have something in common, although they may be unaware of the similarities. Endless Shadow moves a little quicker than it should, but the characters, such as Alida of Ipewell, are interesting. There is a snake handler who becomes a nuisance, and a society where people lack incentive to go on living, and a murder at the onset. The writing is creative, varying between viewpoints, and occasionally slipping into an omniscient world-view. For example, the books begins in the first person: “There are machines to move, that do move, half a million people a day from world to world as expeditiously as postal packages and with them mill tons of freight like entries in a ledger, balancing, and I am Jorgen Thorkild walking.” However, most of the remainder is written in the third person omniscient viewpoint. The flip side of this Ace Double is The Arsenal of Miracles by Gardner F. Fox. I might never have heard of Fox if not for the by-line he was given on those Flash comics back in the Sixties. Fox wrote some great comic books in his time. The Arsenal of Miracles is Space Opera stuff, and entertaining as hell. Let’s face it, a book that begins with the line: “It was Bran the Wanderer who found death.” has got you hooked. According to legend, Bran Magannon, High Admiral of Space and one of earth’s interstellar hot-shots, suddenly found the empire under attack by the Lyanir, and during these events fell in love with Lyanirn queen, Peganna. Branded a traitor, Bran becomes an outcast; a brooding wanderer. With the return of the silver-haired queen Peganna, he learns of a secret cache of weapons that Peganna wishes to have for her people. The weapons had belonged to the long dead race of the Crenn Lir, and naturally Bran determines to find these weapons. But there’s some duplicity involved, as you might expect, and Bran encounters obstacles and mysteries on his quest for a life. The Arsenal of Miracles is great science fiction and the real highlight of this Ace Double.