Archive for Book Report

A review of Dot and Tot of Merryland (1901) by L Frank Baum

Posted in books, Frank Baum, reviews with tags , , , , , on December 8, 2016 by Paxton

Baum Readalong

It’s been a while since I’ve done a Baum review, so let’s do this.

The illustrator of the first Oz book was WW Denslow.  If you recall, he illustrated only the very first Oz book before John Neill took over in book two and illustrated over 30 Oz books in his career.  Denslow and Baum had a falling out in 1902 over royalties from the first Wizard of Oz musical.  However, before that happened, Denslow had also illustrated Baum’s books By the Candelabra Glare, Father Goose: His Book and another children’s fantasy story called Dot and Tot of Merryland.

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Dot and Tot of Merryland was published in 1901, the very next year after The Wonderful Wizard of Oz although it was actually written around the same time.  As I mentioned, the book is a children’s fantasy book written in the same style as Wizard.  Child protagonists visit a magical fairy land and must find their way back home when they become trapped there.

Yes, that sounds awfully familiar but it’s Baum style, it’s straight up in his wheelhouse.  He managed to make this concept work for like four or five of his Oz books, so I’m not too worried he’ll make it work here.

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The story begins with Dot who is a bit of a sickly child. She’s sent to live in her father’s palatial mansion in the outskirts of town. While there she has the run of the estate. She starts playing with the gardener’s little boy, Tot. They are having a picnic out by the stream that runs through the back yard and they are swept away in a rowboat which takes them through a tunnel in the mountains where they emerge in a fairy land called Merryland.  They meet a crazy cast of characters including a guy with long whiskers called the “Watchdog” that oversees the entrance to Merryland and they meet the ruler of the land who is a walking, talking wax doll.  Dot and Tot are adopted by the queen and go with her to tour the seven valleys of Merryland.

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AWESOME-tober-fest 2016: Jason X movie novelization by Pat Cadigan

Posted in books, Friday the 13th, Genres, horror, Jason Vorhees, movies, nostalgia, pop culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 27, 2016 by Paxton

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Back when I did Movie Maniacs in 2012, I reviewed several 80s horror movie novelizations.  They are pretty rare out there in the wild, so it was a treat to be able to cover several of them.  If you’re curious, check out my reviews of Nightmares on Elm Street (Parts 1-3), Friday the 13th Part III and Friday the 13th Part VI.

While I’m a fan of both Freddy and Jason franchises, I probably gravitate towards Jason as my favorite overall. And being a fan of Friday the 13th, I’m telling you that Jason X is a very polarizing entry in the franchise.  Many people hate it.  I’m not one of them. I see some potential in this movie. It goes mostly unfulfilled, but there’s potential there.

Anyway, in 2005, about 5 years after the movie was released, during the media blitz for Freddy vs Jason, Black Flame books got the license to print Friday the 13th novels.  They would do two series, one of them being in the original timeline and another series in the Jason X timeline.  There would eventually be about five books in the Jason X series and it started off with a novelization of the movie by Pat Cadigan.

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Picking up this book I should tell you it’s hefty for a slasher movie novelization.  The general rule for movie books is about 1 page per 1 minute of action.  So a 90 minute movie would generally be about a 90 page book if it was a straight translation.  Give or take some flourishes by the author.  Well, this book is over 400 pages long.  Jason X the movie is 92 minutes long.  So there may be one or two flourishes by the author.

I have lots of hopes for this extra 300+ pages of content.  I want the futuristic world fleshed out. They barely mention what the future world is like aside from “the Earth has become uninhabitable”.  And who are the members of the crew that find Jason?  Are they scientists?  Explorers?  Archeologists?  What?  It’s not really explained in the movie.  And lastly, I’m hoping I get more action and murder with Uber Jason.

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So, I’ve read the book, did it meet any of my expectations? Was it any good?  The easy answer is yes, it was good.  If not great.  As a fan of the movie, I also enjoyed the book.  Unfortunately, the page count is due to the author fleshing out existing scenes with more exposition and not creating brand new scenes or subplots not in the movie. Well, the main character, Rowan, is given a definite romantic interest with Brodski who has a larger part in the book.  But, it ultimately goes nowhere because he meets the same fate in the book as he does in the movie.

So what new stuff is there?  Well, the author does add some very interesting content in the form of character backstories and many ruminations on the nature of Jason Voorhees.  We also get a good description of what the universe is like 4.5 centuries in the future which we don’t get in the movie.

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Per the book, after Rowan and Jason were frozen together, the Army did go to the facility to help, but found the entire complex on lockdown and decided to leave it alone as they finally had Jason contained and the world was starting to have bigger issues like food riots and global warming.  Things got so bad martial law was declared.  One hundred years after Jason is frozen the Earth starts to burn starting at the equator.  Surviving humanity escape to biospheres in orbit and we eventually contact alien life and trade them for the blueprints to a “hyper drive”.  Rowan and Jason were left on Earth, cryogenically frozen and forgotten for the next 3 centuries.  And I guess the power grid stayed “hot” for that long as well since the system stayed on lockdown and frozen for that long.  Eventually, using the alien “hyper drives”, humans settled on an Earth II.  Earth I would be studied in colleges as history and one college, New Harvard, would send field trips back to the original Earth led by Professor Lowe who is considered the foremost authority on Earth I.  It is one of these field trips, populated by the Professor, a team of military escorts and a group of students that discover the frozen and forgotten Jason and Rowan.

So the group that discovers Jason is just a class field trip?  I did not pick up on that.  Anyway, the other new things Cadigan adds includes lots of insight into the nature of Jason.  We learn that Jason’s existence is elemental.  He’s not evil per se, but anti-life.  An anti-life elemental.  Living things had many purposes but the basic one is life itself.  By contrast anti-life had one purpose.  Cancel out life.  KILL.  We also get a kind of explanation to why bawdy teenagers set Jason off.  Life stimulates survival instinct in many ways, one of which is sex.  Sex makes humans feel more alive and it helps create more life.  This is what Jason, as an entity of anti-life, is drawn to.  This is why Jason’s urge to kill becomes more apparent when these things are happening.  I like how this book is trying to explain some of the nature of Jason’s existence.  It doesn’t go too far, it goes just far enough.  I like it.  Cadigan also describes Jason’s senses and how he hunts his victims.  He has a “life radar”.  He can sense the life around him.  Once someone gets on his “radar” he can track them.  Again, I like these types of explanations.

Another thing I like about this book is it deals with Jason being captured and studied scientifically.  It makes sense the government of course wants to figure out how Jason does what he does.  And it makes sense the government would want to weaponize those talents.  This movie sort of touches on those ideas.  We see Jason being tested in the beginning but we also see lots of cell testing on the space ship Grendel after he’s been taken out of cryo-freeze.  I don’t want the government to figure anything out, I want them to think they have everything under control, see results of their “tests”, get confused and then Jason “unexpectedly” comes alive and ruins all their plans by killing everybody.  That’s what I want.  And we get that here.

So, yes, the book delivers as a solid adaptation of the movie itself.  It fills in some holes and adds some interesting back story to many of the characters.  If I have to say anything against it, it does feel a bit long.  Four hundred pages is a lot for a slasher novel and it kind of feels long.  But I was rarely bored.

Like I said, this novelization was the beginning of a series of novels based in the Jason X universe. The novels sound interesting, but all of them are around 400 pages which is a little too long for a Jason Voorhees novel. However, Pat Cadigan did followup the Jason X novelization with the next book in the series, Jason X: The Experiment.

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The gist of the plot involves the government using skin grafts from Jason to create a super soldier who then goes rogue. It sounds kind of cool having Uber Jason vs a super soldier. It seems the other four books in the series also deal with the government’s attempts to weaponize the unnatural abilities of Jason Voorhees.  I liked this novelization enough that I would consider reading Cadigan’s followup book.

Unfortunately, this book series is pretty hard to find. Actually, all of the Friday the 13th books are pretty hard to find.  I got lucky when I found this particular book on PaperbackSwap.com several years ago. I’ve only ever seen one other book in the series in the wild. It was the third book, Jason X: Planet of the Beast by Nancy Kilpatrick.  I found it in an old used bookstore in Auburn, AL back in early 2010.  But I’m always on the lookout and hopefully someday I’ll find that second Pat Cadigan Jason X book.


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AWESOME-tober-fest 2016: Lot 249 (1892) – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Posted in books, Classic literature, monsters, mummy with tags , , , , , , , , on October 10, 2016 by Paxton

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Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story, Lot 249, was originally presented in a collection of medical stories called Round the Red Lamp.

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Published in 1892, this collection of short stories created a scandal when first released. Doyle’s fans were expecting more Sherlock Holmes-type detective and crime stories but this collection featured mostly harrowing medical stories about disease and amputation.

The story I read is called Lot 249 and is about an Oxford college student whose downstairs neighbor may or may not have reanimated an ancient Egyptian mummy through some type of dark magic.  This story was written during a late 19th-Century fascination with Egyptology and was the very first to use a reanimated mummy as the antagonist and would influence horror stories for years afterward.

It’s a short, quick read.  It reminded me a lot of Lovecraft’s Herbert West story in style, which wouldn’t be published for another thirty years.  Lot 249 is mostly three characters interacting over the course of a few days.  We get the details of the events through dialogue after the fact.  We don’t really see any of the mummy attacks.  We actually don’t really even get to see the mummy walking around.  There are a few quick glimpses in the coffin, but that’s about it.  And surprisingly enough, the story is wrapped up completely with no “will the mummy actually come alive again” type cliffhanger ending.  You could almost argue that there’s no definitive proof that the mummy did in fact come alive and start killing people.  Like I said, a lot of the eyewitness testimony is coincidental and hearsay.  Doyle leaves it up to the reader to fill in the blanks however he wants.

It’s an interesting story to read from the perspective of that this will influence the “creeping mummy” horror genre for so many years to come.  I’m glad I included it here, even if it isn’t the most exciting story I’ve ever read.  I’m a fan of Doyle and was glad to be able to include him in this year’s AWESOME-tober-fest.

In 1990, Lot 249 would be adapted as one of the chapters in the Tales from the Darkside: The Movie.  The adaptation in that movie would be written by Michael McDowell who also wrote the movie Beetlejuice and the movie novelization for Clue: The Movie.  It would star a very young Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore and Christian Slater.


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Also, check out the blog Countdown to Halloween for more Halloween-y, bloggy AWESOMEness.

AWESOME-tober-fest 2016: The Ring of Thoth (1890) – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Posted in books, Classic literature, Halloween, holiday, monsters, mummy with tags , , , , , , , , on October 3, 2016 by Paxton

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Here we are! Day 1 of AWESOME-tober-fest! Welcome to my daily celebration of all things spooky. As you can tell, my theme this month is “mummies”! So I’ll be looking at books, comics, movies and TV shows that feature mummies. It should be a lot of fun. Today, we’ll start with a short story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

In 1890, Cornhill Magazine published a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle short story called The Ring of Thoth.

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While this story has a mummy in it, it isn’t technically a “mummy story” like you’d expect. However, it has elements in the story that will clearly influence mummy movies in the many years to come afterwards.

The story is about an Egyptology student who falls asleep in The Louve and winds up locked in overnight and witnesses a bizarre sight.  The overnight caretaker unwraps one of the mummies from the collection, embraces and kisses it, then rummages through some of the jewelry in the Egyptian collection clearly looking for something.  The student is discovered in hiding and the strange looking caretaker reveals his story about living in ancient Egypt, discovering a long living chemical serum and losing the love of his life to a plague.

This story is short, obviously, and very concise with much of the backstory filled in by exposition from the museum’s overnight caretaker.  However, the way the story is written you feel a sense of wonder at the caretaker’s tale as well as a sense of urgency at what he plans to do that very evening.  These two things make the story breeze by.  It’s also interesting and it keeps you reading along with its fantastical story ideas.  Plus, as I mentioned, there are elements within the story that have clearly influenced many successor mummy movies but also the original Karloff Mummy movie.

First of all, the strange looking caretaker, Sosra, is described as being a very tanned and overly wrinkled person.  Someone with much wisdom and experience in his eyes.  From the description, I immediately got an image of Karloff in his Ardath Bey disguise from The Mummy.  There’s even a scene in which Sosra threatens the protagonist with a knife, much like in the picture below.

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Second, the trinket that Sosra is looking for is the title bearing The Ring of Thoth. Thoth is the God of Knowledge in ancient Egyptian culture. His name would be used in countless mummy movies, however, this story would be one of the first. Universal’s The Mummy used it as well in describing, not a ring, but a scroll.

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Like I said, while this story doesn’t necessarily involve a reanimated mummy it does carry several things that would influence mummy stories and movies in the years to come. Including a story Doyle would write just two years later called Lot 249.

Overall, this is a really enjoyable, short read.  The timeline is very compact and you feel like there is some urgency in the main characters.  It keeps the action moving along despite that the majority of the story involves backstory exposition.  This is definitely a recommend.


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Also, check out the blog Countdown to Halloween for more Halloween-y, bloggy AWESOMEness.

High Fantasy Month is back with a magical kingdom for sale and a crippled midget

Posted in books, pop culture, reviews with tags , , , , on March 7, 2016 by Paxton

High Fantasy Month

Click the above banner to see my other High Fantasy Month reviews.  I had recently picked up a new omnibus of a fantasy series and read the first book, so I thought I’d follow it up with a few more fantasy books and knock out another High Fantasy Month.

It’s interesting, the collection of books this month are all sort of similarly themed.  I really didn’t even plan it out that way.  Each of the books in this months collection are novels mostly set in a fantasy world, but have some twist to the story.  They aren’t straight up fantasy, they have a little something extra.  It’s an interesting mix this month.

Here are the reviews:


Magic Kingdom for Sale–Sold! (Landover Book 1) (1986) – Terry BrooksThe Magical Kingdom of Landover is a series, written by the great Terry Brooks, that has, currently, about 5 books.  I’ve read only one other Brooks novel and that’s the Star Wars Episode I novelization.  But it’s good, it really is and it made me want to read more Brooks.  I thought I was going to start reading Brooks’ other magnum opus, which sort of spawned this whole idea of High Fantasy Month, The Sword of Shannara, however, I found the first three books of the Landover series in an omnibus for super cheap so I snapped it up and started reading without much thought.  The basic premise is that a lawyer, disappointed with his life after his wife dies, finds an ad in a catalog to buy a magical fantasy land called Landover for $1 million.  Spontaneously he decides to do it, but it doesn’t turn out to be exactly what he expects.  Initially, that premise spoke “satire” to me. I fully expected a massively tongue-in-cheek parody of fantasy novels.  What I got was surprising.  The novel takes a while to really get started, but once it does, it’s really good.  It takes the premise honestly and earnestly.  It’s not a satire or a parody.  It plays the entire plot straight and is a better novel for it.  I liked it much more than I thought considering my expectations were completely wrong and the first 80 pages or so were kind of slow to get through.  I’m definitely looking forward to the next book in the series.


Fool: A Novel (2009) – Christopher Moore – I have read two other Christopher Moore books and thought they were okay (A Dirty Job, Lamb).  He has interesting premises, but sometimes he’s a little too droll for my tastes.  Like the other Moore books I read, the premise of this book sounded pretty great.  A satire of William Shakespeare’s King Lear told from the point of view of the fool.  It has lots of mad kings, backstabbing daughters, witches, lusty maidens and, of course, a ghost (there’s always a damn ghost).  After years of wanting it I finally grabbed the eBook for cheap a year or so ago but just couldn’t get myself to start it until this month.  What did I think?  Similar to Moore’s other books.  Well written, very dry, sarcastic, British humor.  This feels like a BBC mini-series.  I wasn’t laughing out loud but I chuckled a lot and enjoyed the ride.  For the most part.  And now I can pretty much say I’ve read Shakespeare’s King Lear.


Sir Apropos of Nothing (2001) – Peter David – I love Peter David’s novels and for years I tried to read everything he’d written.  I originally read this book back in 2005 when I randomly found it on eBay.  I loved it.  The story is a parody of fantasy books in general.  It uses a lot of the tropes and has fun with them.  Peter David is great at humorous dialogue and he doesn’t disappoint here.  Essentially, it’s your traditional epic hero fantasy, except, instead of focusing on the hero, the story focuses on one of the side characters.  And that side character is well aware he’s in a hero’s tale and that he’s not the hero.  In fact, he prefers it.  Lots of fun with the fantasy genre.  Also, I’m surprised at how similar this book was to Moore’s Fool.  I guess it’s sort of the same idea, except David’s idea goes a little more broad with the concept.  And, honestly, I think it’s a better book.

Year End Book Report: The Best Books I Read in 2015

Posted in Batman, books, comic books, movies, pop culture, Star Wars with tags , , , , on January 11, 2016 by Paxton

Year End Badass Book Report

And here we are again, my year end wrap up articles.

Queue Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration”.

I say it every year, how did we get here already? The year just flies by. Anyway, the particulars: If you’ve read this year end round up before, you know I keep my book logs online in a Google Spreadsheet. I’ve been doing it since around 2009.  Only “new to me” reads in 2015 are eligible, no re-reads.

This past year was an interesting year for my book/comics list.  I really had an off year for books.  It was really hard to get a good list of 5 books that I really enjoyed.  This year as I combed through my list of books I realized I had been in a slump of “didn’t like” and “meh” books that I just didn’t feel comfortable forcing into this year’s “best” list.

Conversely, this was a phenomenal year for comics.  I had SO MANY comics I read that I just LOVED that it became very hard for me to pare it down to only five.  So, I think this year I’m going to cut the book list to maybe three and increase the comic list to 8.  This would be a better representation of the good stuff I’ve read this year.

Looking at the log I see I read around 106 books and comics over the course of the year.  That total includes books/comics I’ve read for the first time as well as any re-reads I did this year which I’ll do from time to time.  Also, I see, after two years of reading 4 books released in the current year, I uptick to 5 books I read this year that were current releases.  Wow.  And none of them are going to make this list.  One of them almost did, but, in the end, I decided no.

Here’s the list!

Books


Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1987) by H. F. Saint – I read and reviewed this book for AWESOME-tober-fest this year.  See my full review there.  But this hands down makes my best of year list and looking at my book log, it’s probably the best book I read all year.


Troll Mountain (2014) by Matthew Reilly – Matthew Reilly is no stranger to my “best of” books list.  His Scarecrow and James West Jr novels have both made it on here.  I read this fantasy novel back in February for the second installment of High Fantasy Month.  It was a serial novel in three parts, each part about 55 pages long.  And it’s junior fantasy, aimed at a younger audience.  But like I said in my review, I really enjoyed it.  The story reminded me of L Frank Baum.  Lots of fun and adventure, full of hope, believing in yourself and believing that good will triumph over evil.  Definitely worth a read.


Mistborn: The Final Empire (Book 1) (2006) – Brandon Sanderson – I really had trouble picking this final spot.  A few things could’ve gone here.  Rick Riordan’s tenth Percy Jackson book, The Force Awakens novelization, Stephen King’s Needful Things or Brad Meltzer’s The Inner Circle.  And I liked all of these choices but I didn’t love them.  So, I flipped a coin and the first book in Sanderson’s fantasy series gets the nod.  It’s a great piece of fantasy world building with a cleverly different system of magic.  Like Troll Mountain, I reviewed it for the second High Fantasy Month back in February.  I just felt that this book runs a little long.  But I liked it and I plan on reading the second book, even if I’m hearing that the second book is even longer.  And unnecessarily so.

Now, let’s move on to the comics I read this year that I LOVED.  And there are lots of them.

Comic Books/Graphic Novels


Aquaman (The New 52) by Geoff Johns and Jeff Parker – I’m including all six of the currently released collections of this title.  This first entry was probably the most relevatory comic I read all year. I’ve never been an Aquaman fan, even with the Peter David series and the hook hand/long hair iterations. I just didn’t like the character. However, I heard such good things about this take on Aquaman that I decided to read the first trade.  The next thing I know, I’ve read all six of the trade paperback collections encompassing the first 40 issues or so plus annuals.  Geoff Johns writes the first four collections and Jeff Parker takes over for the next two.  And they are AWESOME.  All of a sudden, I’m an Aquaman fan.  I even dove into and read the entire side series, Aquaman and the Others, which is not as good, but still enjoyable to read.  I can’t recommend this title enough.  I think Cullen Bunn has taken over the writing from Jeff Parker as of issue 40 or so.  I look forward to more adventures with the King of Atlantis.


Avengers vs. X-Men (2012) – This is the 12 issue maxi-series Marvel event from 2012.  It launched the Marvel NOW! line of comics.  It’s written by a murder’s row of my favorite comic writers; Matt Fraction, Brian Michael Bendis, Johnathan Hickman, Ed Brubaker and Jason Aaron with lots of awesome art by John Romita Jr and Adam Kubert.  The story is epic, it’s awesome, it’s everything you want in an Avengers vs X-men title.  I loved it.  And the conclusion of this entry leads directly into…

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AWESOME-tober-fest 2015: Smoke (1995) – Donald Westlake

Posted in books, Halloween, holiday, monsters, movies, pop culture with tags , , , , , , , , on October 22, 2015 by Paxton

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Donald Westlake is a famous crime novelist probably most known for his series of novels about relentless professional thief, Parker, written under the pseudonym Richard Stark.  Westlake is also well known for his comic heist novels about charming master thief John Dortmunder.  Parker debuted in The Hunter in 1962 and Dortmunder debuted in The Hot Rock in 1970.

In 1995, Westlake took a break from straight up crime novels and wrote a comedic crime novel with sci-fi elements called Smoke.

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I was aware of Westlake before I discovered Smoke when researching “invisible man novels” for this Halloween. I’d seen the movies based on Westlake’s “Parker” character (Payback in 1999 and Parker in 2013) and I’ve had my eye on the first Dortmunder novel, The Hot Rock, for a few years now.  So, I thought Smoke would be a great opportunity to read Westlake to see if I like his style before committing to either the Parker or Dortmunder novels.

The gist of the story is that Freddie Noon, a small time thief burgles a research lab late one night and is caught by the two research scientists that live there. They are testing two melanoma formulas and they blackmail him into testing one of them. Freddie mistakenly takes both formulas and then escapes the research lab and makes off with a bunch of the doctors’ equipment. Later, Freddie discovers that the formula has turned him completely invisible. Freddie, along with his girlfriend Peg, has to get used to him being invisible, attempt to continue stealing and fencing goods in his new condition and stay one step ahead of the shady organization that had employed the research lab in the first place who want nothing but to exploit Freddie for their own gain.

This book is sort of a spiritual cousin to HF Saint’s Memoirs of an Invisible Man which was published about 7 years prior to this.  Similar plot lines, only a few details are different, but the tone of the books are completely different.  Saint’s book is a taut suspense thriller from beginning to end.  Westlake’s book is a comic caper with a very light, humorous tone.  The characters are funny and interesting for the most part, but I prefer Saint’s edge of your seat thrill ride to Westlake’s easy going pace.

I’d mostly recommend this book, but if I’m picking my favorite, HF Saint’s Memoirs is a much more satisfying read.


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Also, check out the blog Countdown to Halloween for more Halloween-y, bloggy AWESOMEness.