review

Forgotten Horror: THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST

1945 was a banner year for classic horror fans: Universal Studios released THE HOUSE OF DRACULA starring Lon Chaney Jr., John Carradine and Glenn Strange as the Wolf Man, Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster. RKO Pictures release ISLE OF THE DEAD with Boris Karloff as well as THE BODY SNATCHER with Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Horror fans of all ages where squirming in their seats as they prepared to be scared by some of the greatest names in horror. Even the legendary Rondo Hatton had a movie out, JUNGLE CAPTIVE. It was a high time for horror fans, as all of these movies are now considered classics of the genre with actors who have their name whispered in reverence.

It was bound that a gem or two would slip between the cracks.

One of those gems was THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST, released by Republic Pictures in 1945 on a double bill with THE PHANTOM SPEAKS. Although now known primarily for matinee serials and westerns, Republic released a number of “horror” based films and this is one of the great, if forgotten, ones.

THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST is set in the small African village of Bakunda where a rash of murders has caused the native drums to beat continually in warning. Bodies have been found nearly drained of blood with two small puncture wounds to their necks. The workers of the Liberty Rubber Company’s M’Ktuba Plantation have been refusing to work, causing plantation owner Roy Hendrick (Charles Gordon) no small amount of concern. We are introduced to Roy and his fiancée, Julie Vance (Peggy Stewart) shortly after she returns from aid work in a nearby hospital. Quickly rounding out the troupe are Julie’s father, Tom Vance (Emmett Vogan) and Father Gilchrist (Grant Withers.) After some discussion on the fact that the natives believe the murders are the work of a vampire, Roy decides that it may be a good idea to speak with a local bar owner named Webb Fallon (John Abbott.) Despite Fallon’s short time in the area he has learned much of the local underworld, and Roy believes he may have some knowledge of the situation among the natives. With that, we are set off on an adventure which rivals the classic Universal Monster movies: vampirism, curses, voodoo and religion are showcased as the stars try to vanquish the vampire and restore order to the region.

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     THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST was directed by Lesley Selander, who was better known for his plethora of westerns than for his few horror and science fiction movies. In fact, out of one hundred and twenty-seven films, one hundred and seven of them were westerns.

Selander’s western roots are easily visible in THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST. Like many westerns of the day, there is gambling at the local watering hole, accusations of cheating, a bar fight, a jealous dancing girl, and even a trek to the neighboring Indian reservation, sorry, native village, which ends up in an ambush. Once you are aware of Selander’s body of work, seeing the re-occurring themes and obligatory plot points which define classic westerns stand out all the more. However, rather than harming the film, those beats make the foreign setting more familiar.

Father Gilchrist comforts the Vampire

Father Gilchrist comforts the Vampire

One of the major positive points that Selander had to work with was a script by John K. Butler and Leigh Brackett.

John K. Butler had gotten his start in the early twenties as a script reader at Universal Studios during Carl Laemmle’s tenure at that famous studio. He eventually became known as a writer for a multitude of westerns and contributed many scripts to the pulp magazines of the day, including Detective Fiction Weekly, Dime Detective, Black Mask and Double Detective. His career stretched past the silver screen and into America’s living rooms as a television writer for series such as The Gene Autry Show, Casey Jones, 77 Sunset Strip and many others.

His collaborator on THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST was a novelist and pulp writer by the name of Leigh Brackett. Brackett had started making a name for herself as a writer of fantastic science fiction and solid detective stories when she worked with Butler to adapt her original story, THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST, to the screen. It was far from her last time writing for the screen, as she later was hired to work on William Faulkner’s script for THE BIG SLEEP, which lead to writing scripts for several major John Wayne films, including RIO BRAVO, EL DORADO, and HATARI. During the seventies, Leigh Brackett was approached by a young George Lucas, fresh off the success of STAR WARS, to write the script for THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. Sadly, she died of cancer shortly after turning in the script and today Brackett’s contribution to Empire has been questioned. Some say that Lucas hated the direction she was going in and hired Lawrence Kasdan to rewrite the whole thing. Others say that the descriptions of The Force and the scenes involving Yoda are classic Brackett, and contributed to the success of the sequel. Either way, she received a writing credit beside Kasdan. Brackett’s original script has never been officially released, and it is said that the only place it can be read is at the Lucasfilm Archives and at Eastern New Mexico University. It is not available for check out or copying.

Adela Mara dances as Lisa in THE VAMPIRE'S GHOST

Adela Mara dances as Lisa in THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST

The actors involved in THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST are a mixed bag. Charles Gordon, who plays the “hero” Roy Hendrick, seems to be overwhelmed much of the time, coming off somewhere between a spoiled frat boy and a spineless coward. His leading lady, Peggy Stewart, is portrayed with more compassion and fire as Julie Vance. In fact it is just over halfway through the movie that Julie finally has a break out moment as she unknowingly stands up for the villain before quickly succumbing to him. Roy, on the other hand, never seems to progress past a plot tool. Even his realization that the vampire does not have as much a hold over him as he thought was done off screen, and that struggle and realization is something that we are sadly deprived of seeing. Equally, Emmett Vogan, with his long and varied career, is completely forgettable as Tom Vance, and seems to only serve the purpose of playing host for dinner parties and as an ineffectual chaperone to his daughter, Julia.

At first viewing Father Gilchrist seems to have been intended to be the essential “Van Helsing” of the film, however, it is a role he does not quiet fill. He is not as knowledgeable as others in the film in regards to vampirism, but states that he does know evil. He is the one character that seems to give our vampire pause and seems to uncover a chink in his immortal armor. Sadly, his only real contribution is giving Roy’s character that vital boost that makes him almost rise to hero status. I say almost, because he seems to be helpless even after he breaks the vampire’s hold and his fiancée is kidnapped. He requires the assistance of Father Gilchrist, Tom Vance, and Simon Peter.

Simon Peter is native on the side of the angels in our movie. Played by African-American actor Martin Wilkins, Simon Peter seems at first to be rather stiff. Sadly, in that day, no one expected the minority actors to be a major part of the movie. THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST, intentionally or not, bucks that trend. Yes, the stilted speech is there as is the muted emotion, but Simon Peter rises beyond the expectations of 1945 audiences. While I stated earlier that Father Gilchrist may have been intended to fulfill the “Van Helsing” role, Simon Peter is the one who actually succeeds in the role. It is Simon Peter who, after the vampire causes a mirror to shatter in the Vance home, to plainly state that evil was the cause. He and his fellow native determine the identity of the vampire with a deduction that escapes the “hero” despite the incident happening right beside him. And it is Simon Peter who, relying on ancient lore, takes the first steps and actually strikes the vampire down. Unfortunately, the witless Roy undoes all of his work and falls under the vampire’s thrall moments later. Later in the film, Simon Peter comes back to hold the hands of the colonials and take the major actions to save the day. Martin Wilkins had parts in over around forty different films and television series from the 1930s to the 1960s. He is probably best known for his roles in several Bomba the Jungle Boy films, but was uncredited in many works, including AFRICA SCREAMS with Abbott and Costello and several Tarzan movies.

With such a sparsely inspiring heroic cast, you may be asking why to take the time to watch this film and why I start off referring to it as a forgotten gem. The answer is simple: Adela Mara and John Abbott.

John Abbot as Webb Fallon

John Abbot as Webb Fallon

Adela Mara was an actress and entertainer who started in show business at the age of fifteen with the Xavier Cugat and His Orchestra as a singer and dancer. She was eventually spotted by talent scouts and signed on to make movies. Her role in THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST is not a big one, but it is memorable. As Lisa, the dancer in the vampire’s bar, she performs what at the time would have been considered a highly erotic dance. The producers wisely use her dancing skills and exotic beauty to enhance the foreign aspect of the movie. You get a strong sense that she has some plans on the vampire owner of the bar, but it quickly becomes clear that she is looking out for herself when she teams with a vengeful ship’s captain, played by Roy Barcroft. Her death at the hands of the vampire is practically a given after such a betrayal.

Now we come to the vampire, Webb Fallon, played by John Abbot. He was not exactly the dashing figure that we think of now when we think vampire and he was more along the lines of Rick from CASABLANCA than Dracula. He possessed the foreign accent and the dapper clothing, but his relationship to the Dracula vein of vampires is remote. He ends a barroom brawl in his establishment by mesmerizing the previously mentioned ship’s captain, but due to unfortunate camera angles, the result is slightly comical. Other than that, Webb Fallon is a more fully developed character than nearly any other vampire up to that point, save Countess Marya Zeleska of DRACULA’S DAUGHTER.

Webb Fallon also has something which was usually lacking in vampire stories at that time, an origin story. Nothing is explicitly stated, but you are given the following framework: Originally a ship’s captain in service to Queen Elizabeth, he fights the Spanish Armada and is rewarded. At some point, presumably in Africa, it is implied he causes the death of a young woman and is “doomed to roam the earth due to a great evil committed in life, forced to live off the blood of the living.” His current mission in his accursed afterlife is to break up the romance and love of Roy and Julia.

John Abbot manages to convey a duality to Webb Fallon that at first is a little odd. On one hand, you have the bar owner who seems world weary and jaded, and on the other, you have the vampire who is determined to survive and indulge in his own base desires. This duality is part of the reason you can almost forgive the majority of the characters from not realizing he is evil. You find yourself feeling for Webb Fallon, even as you realize that he is plotting to kill everyone.

The Vampire is Foiled

The Vampire is Foiled

Overall the film is head and shoulders above other b-movies of the time. It walks a fine line with its mishmash of genres, but the directing of Selander combined with the script by Butler and Brackett, as well as the acting of Abbott, create a memorable movie which you will enjoy right up to the blazing end.

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     There is so much attention paid to the Universal Monster movies that it is often easy to forget that other studios were out there making horror movies. If you take a little time, and give a little chance, you would be surprised at what you could find. THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST is such a find, and I would highly recommend it.

REVIEW: DEATHSTROKE Vol. 1 – Gods of War

TITLE: 9781401254711_p0_v2_s260x420                Deathstroke Vol. 1: Gods of Wars

WRITTEN BY:    Tony S. Daniel

COVERS BY:      Tony S. Daniel, Sandu Florea,

PENCILS BY:      Tony S. Daniel

INKS BY:             Sandu Florea

PUBLISHER:       DC Comics

OFFICIAL BLURB taken form the DC Comics website…

In these tales from issues #1-6 of the hot new series, Slade Wilson’s entire life is turned upside down after he learns that his involvement in a top-secret mission was wiped from his memory. Now, a new, mysterious enemy known as Odysseus has targeted Deathstroke and everyone involved in the decade-old mission. But Slade’s journey into his past takes an unexpected turn, leading him to Gotham City – and into conflict with both Batman and Harley Quinn!

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Deathstroke.

In the worlds of DC Comics, he is the most dangerous mercenary to ever  raise a hand in violence. He has been a henchman, an instigator, a mastermind, and a pawn. He has been a foil to everyone from the Teen Titans to Batman to Green Arrow. He is the man, and few in the DCU have ever matched him in ability, until now.

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Deathstroke Vol. 1: Gods of Wars, sends a rejuvenated Slade Wilson up against a threat that is more dangerous than any weapon, his family. Collecting the first six issues of the latest series to bear his name, we start out seeing a veteran Deathstroke preparing for his latest mission; minimum people, no electronic exposure. The mission takes Deathstroke to Russia where he cuts a bloody swath across the land of the Iron Curtain, only to find that he has been set up by one of the few people he thought was on his side. Glorious two-page spread battles ensue, only to find him laid low just when he can afford it the least.  After he awakens, he finds himself in a completely new situation with no money, limited abilities, and no friends. Even his own body betrays him as he attempts to find out who is responsible for the new paradigm he finds himself trapped in.

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Writer Tony S. Daniels (SUPERMAN/WONDER WOMAN, BATMAN) is the architect of this globe-spanning adventure which takes Deathstroke from the dirty streets of Moscow, to the mean streets of Gotham City. Along the way he uncovers a new backstory for the man known as Slade, one filled with family betrayal and more. Appearances from everyone from Batman to Lady Shiva to Harley Quinn add to the story as it builds toward an explosive conclusion which sets up Deathstroke in his new surroundings.

This is part of the issue which some readers may have with Deathstroke Vol. 1: Gods of Wars; the new surroundings. The story is good, solid, and entertaining, but there is a major aspect of it which may make longtime fans of Slade feel it was included less for the good of the story than to make the viewers of a successful television show more comfortable. I read through the book several times, and each time felt that it would have been just as strong without this particular plot line. I have not read the subsequent issues following this trade, so I do not know if this twist was just temporary or if it is permanent. Regardless, on the whole, it is an exciting adventure worth a read.

Pulling double duty, Tony S. Daniels also delivers the artwork for the series, with inks by Sandu Florea (SUPERMAN, BATMAN). They are gorgeous, acrobatic pages. There are one and two page splashes where Deathstroke battles various enemies which simply sing with a fluidity of motion which many artist would sign over their good right hand to achieve. Daniels pencils, fleshed out with spectacular inks by Florea, sing with action.

With exception of the hiccup in the set-up, the story is an exciting one which every fan of Deathstroke should read.

Deathstroke Vol. 1: Gods of Wars is a solid book with wonderful art. Thumbs up!

Deathstroke Vol. 1: Gods of Wars, collects issues 1-6 of the regular series from write/artist Tony S. Daniels (SUPERMAN/WONDER WOMAN, BATMAN) and artist Sandu Florea (SUPERMAN, BATMAN)

REVIEW: GOTHAM ACADEMY Vol. 1 – Welcome to Gotham Academy

Gotham_Academy_Vol_1_1

 TITLE:   Gotham Academy Vol. 1: Welcome to Gotham Academy

WRITTEN BY:  Becky Cloonan, Brendan Fletcher

COVER BY:      Karl Kerschel

ART BY:           Karl Kerschel

PUBLISHER:    DC Comics

OFFICIAL BLURB taken form the DC Comics website…

Gotham City’s most prestigious prep school is a very strange place. It’s got a spooky campus, oddball teachers, and rich benefactors always dropping by…like that weirdo Bruce Wayne. But nothing is as strange as the students! Like, what’s up with Olive Silverlock? Is she crazy or what? Where did she go last summer? And what’s the deal with her creepy mom? And how come that freshman Maps is always following her around? And is she still going out with Kyle? P.S. Did you hear the rumor about the ghost in the North Hall?! It’s all here in these tales from issues #1-6 of the new series! 

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When the New 52 was announced, many gave it a pass. To different, too radical, too much too soon, was how many of the longtime fans have felt about it. It did not help that the titles were shuffled around and inconsistencies sprung up with every issue. If it had a history in the DCU before, chances are that there were going to be some growing  pains.

Luckily, there was also new titles which had no such history and had no true issues with inter-title continuity. Gotham Academy was one of those.

Gotham Academy Vol. 1: Welcome to Gotham Academy is a different look at the much used Gotham City setting and the Batman mythos. We are first introduced to the protagonist Olive Silverlock as she and new student Mia “Maps” Mizoguchi are awaiting a meeting with the Headmaster of Gotham Academy, a tall and foreboding man named Hammer. It seems that Olive had been caught calling the headmaster “Hammer Head”. From there, the book takes you at a pleasant clip as it introduces the various other characters and the pecking order at the school.

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My standard disclaimer: Despite this being a collection of already published issues, I am not in the business of spoiling anything. If you, like me, have a tendency to “wait for the trade” then you also deserve the chance to read the story as it unfolds and with no prior knowledge.

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Collecting the first six issues of the monthly series, we are taken on a mystery trip with the feel of a gothic novel; I refer to the classic literature genre, not the modern interpretation.  Olive Silverlock is cut from the classic Gothic mold of a young girl placed in a situation which she feels she cannot reveal to anyone. She walks the halls of the Academy and reflects on her problems and how since last summer, everything has changed, she is different, and no one understands. At first read, it comes off as a very teenager sort of angst, but as the book progresses, you find that Olive has real reason to worry about how her fellow students and friends see her. It is just one of the many mysteries which are touched on as the story progresses. Olive becomes a deeper character than expected, in fact, a deeper character than you would find in many other comics.

I mentioned her other classmates. While it is important, and refreshing, to realize that while they too fit in the stereotypical molds of teenage school stories, they grow as well. You have Mia “Maps” Mizoguchi, the young new student at the Academy to whom Olive has been assigned as a mentor/guide to acclimate her to the school. “Maps” is a full on RPG nerd, right down to the role-playing references and referring to their various adventures in RPG terms. It is a refreshing change from the awkward male teen geek who would normally fill this role. She is the propellant that thrust Olive into several of the situation they find themselves in, and in many aspects seems to be the glue that will hold this burgeoning band of junior detectives together. Did I mention that she is also the kid sister of Kyle Mizochugi, tennis star, popular kid, and boyfriend of Olive…maybe? Pomeline Fitch starts out as a sort of enemy to Olive, but over the course moves more to a frienemy status. She’s dark, with a fascination for ghost and magic and she fits right in to the feel of the Academy. Her boyfriend is a rather unremarkable kid named Heathcliff, but the name alone gives him a pass in this neo-gothic setting. Then we have the school bad boy, a young hood named Colton Rivera, he’s into fireworks, hacking, lock picking, and trouble. Now, the question is, do any of Olive’s fellow students have connections with the Dark Knight, or other famous Gothamites?

The students are not the only interesting characters, the faculty surprises as well. Fans of the BATMAN ’66 comic or the classic Adam West Batman television series are sure to be delighted with the various characters who pop-up. Have fun identifying them all!

But, what Gotham based title would be complete without an appearance by the cities Dark Knight. Olive is tied to Batman in surprising ways, ways even she does not remember fully, and that is one of the suspenseful storylines in the book; what connection would a young teenage girl have with the Guardian of Gotham? Find out, and be ready for a special guest start toward the end, it’s worth it, and sets up a whole new slew of possibilities for future issues.

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Co-writers Becky Cloonan (AMERICAN VIRGIN, Southern Cross) and Brendan Fletcher (BATGIRL, ASSASSINS CREED: BRAHMAN) really have opened up a unique tale of teen angst, self-discovery, and dark rituals. The voices of the characters all sing true to their selves and add a layer that some comics are missing. It would have been easy to shot for a straight for a “super hero” school, or a Hogwarts, but with the nods to classic gothic stories, it feels… more, even if it might escape some readers.

The artwork by Karl Kerschel (MAJESTIC, TEEN TITANS: YEAR ONE) shines as well. There is a near anime feel that helps soften the dark setting, and allows for more expression of the characters. The backgrounds are detailed, and draw you in. Beautiful work.

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Overall, Gotham Academy Vol. 1: Welcome to Gotham Academy, is a book that does not disappoint. You have ghosts, mysterious stalkers, strange afflictions, hidden passages, and hilarious role-playing references all in one book. It is a genre bending story that has something for everyone, from the indie fan to the union suit hard case. From pre-teen to forty-something, readers of all ages can find something to like here.

Gotham Academy Vol. 1: Welcome to Gotham Academy, gets listed as a must buy. I give it an enthusiastic thumbs up!

Gotham Academy Vol. 1: Welcome to Gotham Academy, collects issues 1-6 of the regular series from writers Brendan Fletcher (BATGIRL, WEDNESDAY COMICS: THE FLASH) and Becky Cloonan (AMERICAN VIRGIN) with art by Karl Kerschel (MAJESTIC, TEEN TITANS: YEAR ONE). It can currently be found in your local comic shop, bookstore, online,and other fine retailers of quality.

 

REVIEW: BATGIRL Vol. 1 – The Batgirl of Burnside

REVIEW:Batgirl Vol. 1: The Batgirl of Burnside

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 TITLE: Batgirl Vol. 1: The Batgirl of Burnside

WRITTEN BY:  Brendan Fletcher, Cameron Stewart

COVER BY:  Cameron Stewart

ART BY:  Babs Tarr

PUBLISHER:  DC Comics

OFFICIAL BLURB *taken form the DC Comics website…

Barbara Gordon is no stranger to dusting herself off when disaster strikes, so when a fire destroys everything she owns, she spots the opportunity for a new lease on life – and seizes it! Following the rest of Gotham City’s young adults to the hip border district of Burnside, Barbara sets about building an all-new Batgirl…and discovers new threats preying on her peers! As the new hero of Burnside, Batgirl gets started by facing twin sister assassins on motorcycles! Collects BATGIRL #35-40.

 

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Batgirl Vol. 1: The Batgirl of Burnside takes the character of Barbara Gordon and puts her in a radically different situation than we had seen her for the first few years of her New 52 title. Barbara has let Gotham City proper and relocated in the Burnside district, a small, youth oriented borough where she has gone back to school to work on her PhD and moved into an apartment with, HOLY SECRET IDENTITY DANGER!, roommates. We are introduced to this new situation quickly as the current status quo and some future direction is set up rather neatly. Before you know it, you’re cheering for this “new” Batgirl, and waiting to see what happens next.

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Despite this being a collection of already published issues, I am not in the business of spoiling anything. If you, like me, have a tendency to “wait for the trade” then you also deserve the chance to read the story as it unfolds and with no prior knowledge.

Through the course of six + one issues, we follow Barbara as she navigates her new life pretty much how we all did that first real time away from home in a new place, by making a bunch of mistakes. She learns to adapt to the new dynamic of sharing an apartment with people who don’t know her secret identify and have no connection with the superhero business. This is actually one of the first thing that grabs you. Traditionally, a heroine or hero would live alone, or with other heroes, or at least with confidants; but that’s not the case here. Barbara is thrown full into the reality of dealing with people who have no idea why she acts so strange or has such a bizarre schedule, or has such odd friends. As in life, it doesn’t take long for aspects of the old to clash with the new. When Dinah Lance (Black Canary) arrives on Barbara’s new doorstep and announces that she has lost everything in a fire, it sets up a series of events that allows Barbara to transform herself into a Batgirl with a new costume and less resources, but a more exuberant outlook. As we watch her navigate her new world, it quickly becomes evident that the transformation into the Batgirl of Burnside may come at the cost of old friends, and maybe even her secret identity.

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Fletcher and Stewart have taken the idea of modernizing a hero to a new extreme, peppering Barbara’s life with modern internet references, pop culture images instant messaging and more. Instead of existing only behind the mask, they allow her to step out and be a young woman who is learning how to live in her new surroundings and situations. She makes mistakes, and has to deal with those mistakes. We are introduced to new villains as well; from a pair of twin anime-inspired motorcyclist, to an artist who seems to be a commentary on the clash of the art world with the virtual world, to a mysterious entity that seems to know everything about Barbara that they shouldn’t. These new villains all are skewed with a technological and youthful eye that makes them seem appropriate for the new direction the book has taken.

And the whole issue of Oracle and Barbara being in a wheelchair? It’s covered, rather well in fact.

The art work by Babs Tarr is a true visual treat, and fits the new youthful and bright feel of the book. Her use of original panel layouts, ghost images, and illustrated internal dialogue give you a feeling that you are experiencing the book on multiple levels. The depiction of the characters throughout the book is refreshing as well. No overblown cleavage and broke-back poses here, these are real body types that the reader sees in the mirror and on their way for their venti mocha frap with no whip.

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Overall, is it a good to pick up? Well, seeing as how attempts to re-invigorate books with a more modern and unique bend without being beholden to decades of continuity is now referred to as “Batgirl-ing”, I would give that a definite yes. Younger readers will appreciate the exuberance and attention that makes the book relevant to the current generation, while old-time readers will get to experience a book that opens up new doors to storytelling.  It is a great book if you are a fan and a spectacular book to give that non-comic reader friend/significant other to draw them in. Even if the fluid treatment of continuity that is currently in vogue turns you off, it is a book that deserves a read. Also, if you are even remotely interested in the new BLACK CANARY series, this is worth the pick up

Batgirl Vol. 1: The Batgirl of Burnside, gets enthusiastic thumbs up!

 

Stacy Baugher

on Twitter: @stacybaugher

 

Batgirl Vol. 1: The Batgirl of Burnside, collects issue 35 thru 40 from new writers Brendan Fletcher (GOTHAM ACADEMY, WEDNESDAY COMICS: THE FLASH) and Cameron Stewart (SEAGUY, BATMAN AND ROBIN) as well as SECRET ORIGINS #10. Babs Tarr provides art for the six issue arc, and Irene Koh provides art for the SECRET ORIGINS story. It is currently out in hardback and paperback.

Stacy

 

 

CHILDREN’S BOOK REVIEW: Three Bears in a Boat

TITLE: Three Bears In A Boat
AUTHOR: David Soman
PUBLISHER: Dial Books
ISBN: 978-0803739932
DOP: May 20th, 2014 (hardback)
AGE RANGE: 3-5 years,

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As a father of two young, bright children ages three and six, I am always on the lookout for books that appeal to them as well as myself. For my daughter, the older, that is chapter books that tell of adventure and mystery and occasionally a little age appropriate horror. My son, the younger, wants books that appeal to his great loves: trains, bears, boats and Godzilla. The book Three Bears in a Boat combines two of his great loves, and was a surprise hit with my daughter as well.


The story is excellent. Three bear siblings, Charlie, Theo and Dash, accidentally break a memento of their mother’s. Rather than explain to her what happened and take punishment, they decide that they must go forth and procure her another one. To that end, they board their little boat and go in search of a replacement item, only to find that what they were looking for was a lot closer that they originally thought.


David Soman is the co-creator of Ladybug Girl, a series of children’s books he illustrates with his wife Jacky Davis. Here he takes on writing duties as well as art, and I must say that he handles it wonderfully. The illustrations are beautiful and imaginative. They capture the child’s attention and there is enough story to keep that attention and inspire a positive reaction. The bear children all have different attitudes and personalities, and it comes across well, as my children actually commented on instances when they themselves had acted or reacted in much the same way as the bears, especially during the storm portion of the story. They identified with it and saw a little of themselves and others they knew within the books pages. The story teaches a subtle lesson even while it captures their imagination and entertains them. If all children’s books did this as well as Three Bears in a Boat, we would have a whole generation of children reading to simply be entertained.

But fear not, there are things for parents to discover and share with their children as well, little Easter Eggs that the astute among us should pick up on. Here’s a hint: Look at the names of the boats. Explaining the names to my daughter opened up a whole new venue of interest for her.

One of the best things that can be said about a children’s book is that the child enjoyed it. After having read it for several nights to my son, I discovered that the book had disappeared. After a quick search I found my daughter under the covers of her bed with a flashlight reading it to herself. She had managed to sneak it out of her brother’s room and hide it all day, and stated that it was around the fourth time she had read it that night. Now we have a time-sharing agreement on the book and joint bedtime reading session to satisfy all involved.


Choosing a children’s book for your child can be hard. You want one that will keep their interest as well as is enjoyable to read for the parent. Three Bears in a Boat is one of those books. The art is wonderful, the lessons subtle, and a joy to read to your child. If it doesn’t win at least one award inthe upcoming season, I’ll be sorley disappointed.

I highly recommend it for your child or for friends with children.

Here is a link to check it out on Amazon, buy it now and you can be the one to introduce it to your friends and their children.

Three Bears in a Boat

BOOK REVIEW: Throne of the Crescent Moon, by Saladin Ahmed

TITLE: Throne of the Crescent Moon
AUTHOR: Saladin Ahmed
PUBLISHER: DAW Books
ISBN: 978-0756407117
DOP: February 7th, 2012 (hardback)
AWARDS: 2013 Hugo Award nominee for best novel
2012 Nebula Award nominee for best novel
2013 Locus Award winner for the best first novel

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I am not sure where I first heard about Saladin Ahmed’s book, Throne of the Crescent Moon. I know it wasn’t from any of my friends, and something tells me it was one of those happy little coincidences that crop up occasionally. I actually believe I was researching lycanthropy for a multi-media project and came across a reference to a “girl who takes the lion shape.” I do remember I ended up on Mr. Ahmed’s website reading the first chapter of the book and being completely enthralled by it. Regardless of the fact that, at that time, the paperback was coming out in a few months I tracked down a copy of the hardback because, well, I enjoy hardbacks.

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