Tuesday, July 26, 2016


Following this weekend’s Monsterfest Mania, my next appearance will be at the Euclid Public Library, 631 East 222nd Street in Euclid, Ohio on Wednesday, August 3, at 6:30 pm. I’ll be speaking to that library’s comic book club, talking about my life-long love of and 44-year career in comics, as well as answering questions on comics and related subjects.

Long-time readers of my writings, both here and in Comics Buyer’s Guide, know I’m a big fan of libraries and librarians. Such public institutions and the good people who work in them are often on the front lines when the backwards forces of repression try to restrict your access to and right to read what you deem fit for yourself and your children. Librarians are true heroes and libraries are their halls of justice!


I continue to make good use of my local Medina library and the vast ClevNet organization of which it is a part. For those of you who’ve not yet heard me gush about this system, here’s out it works:

ClevNet is a organization of around a hundred area libraries. If I want a book or a movie, I can go to my online account, check if the item is available and, if it is available, request it. The item is then sent to my local library, which calls me to let me know it’s waiting for me and that I have a five days to come and get it. This easy system allows me to read and watch hundreds of books and DVDs every year. Many of the items I review here and elsewhere came from my local library.

Borrowing books and movies from the library saves me money, but it also costs me money...beyond supporting the library with my taxes. A few dozen times a year, after I’ve read a book or watched a DVD, I’ve decided to purchase a copy of same for my home library.

Among the most recent library items I’ve read have been a police procedural mystery, a non-fiction book about a nearly forgotten branch of mass market paperback publishing of the 1960s and the second volume of a very strange manga series.

Cue the reviews...

Among the Wicked by Linda Castillo [Minotaur Books; $26.99] is the latest novel in her Kate Burkholder series. Burkholder, who was once a member of an Amish community in Ohio, is now Chief of Police of the Painters Mill township. Over the course of several books, she has been able to reestablish ties with members of her family and find love with State Agent John Tomasetti, a fellow cop. She’s happy in her life, but she’s always a cop. When her background makes her the perfect person for an undercover mission in New York, she accepts the assignment despite Tomasetti’s objection.

The death of a young Amish teenager and the mysterious nature of the very reclusive Amish community in which she lived concerns the sheriff’s department of a rural upstate New York area. Burkholder agrees to pose as an Amish widow who has relocated to the community after the death of her husband. Both her and her imaginary spouse were unhappy with the lax ways of their community in Ohio. She has come to this area looking for a new start and to return to the more stringent observance of her faith. She draws on her own background to make her cover story believable.

It doesn’t take long for Kate to become part of the community, to ask some inappropriate questions and to quickly learn the dangerous consequences of such questions. What follows is a mix of kindnesses and brutalities with surprises around every chapter. As the secrets of the community come to light, the novel leaps forward at a pace nothing short of breathtaking. It’s a book that will give you cause to think, even as it excites you and carries you to its satisfying conclusion.

If anyone else in my family had my interest in mystery and police novels set in Cleveland or other parts of Ohio, the Kate Burkholder series would be in my personal library. If you share my interest in thrillers like this, you should definitely check out the series via your local library. It’s terrific.

ISBN 978-1-250-06157-7

I’d read an earlier edition of Sin-a-Rama: Sleaze Sex Paperbacks of the Sixties [Feral House; $25.95] but this is an expanded edition. Edited by B. Astrid Daley and Adam Parfrey, this just-published new edition adds the former’s articles on "Occult Sleaze," "Swinging Sleaze," and the books of the 1970s, and additional cover designs to accompany those new profiles.

Having worked as a professional writer for 44 years, I’m fascinated by this branch of paperback publishing of which I was dimly aware at best. I knew many of these books were pseudonymously written by authors - Robert Silverberg and Donald E. Westlake, to name but two - who would distinguish themselves in other more recognized genres. I knew many of them boasted incredible covers by Gene Bilbrew, Bill Ward, Robert Bonfils and other unsung artists. But I didn’t know the publishers or the stories behind how these books were created and distributed. This 328-page exploration satisfied my curiosity while entertaining me. If you have a similar curiosity about these books, I think you’ll enjoy Sin-a-Rama as much as I did.

Sidebar. When I picked up the book at my library, I was surprised to see it wrapped in a plain white sheet of paper. I was amused as well because the cover, while certainly featuring women with ample bosoms that seemed likely to pop out of their dresses at a moment’s notice, didn’t seem appreciably more salacious than the covers of some movies I’ve borrowed from the library. This “cover up” struck me as humorously excessive, especially given that the book was on a shelf in the library’s “pick up” room, well away from the casual browser.

Sidebar the second. Part of my interest in the subject manner stems from my wanting to someday write a novel of this nature using the formula described by the esteemed Silverberg in his lively article on his work in the field. Said novel will almost certainly feature super-heroes and super-villains.

ISBN 978-1-62731-028-4                                                                          

I’m also reading, though I’m not 100% certain why, Richi Ueshiba’s Mysterious Girlfriend X, Volume 2 [Vertical Comics; $15.95]. This manga series is sort of hard to explain, so I’m going with the back  cover come-on from the first book:

Mikoto Urabe is a new transfer student in Akira Tsubaki’s high school class. One day, Akira happens to find Mikoto passed out asleep on her desk after classes have ended. He wakes her and tells her it’s time to go home, and discovers that she has drooled on her desk. He spontaneously reaches out to touch and taste it… and then things start getting really strange

Urabe’s drool has the power to convey emotions and even memories to Tsubaki. So, in every story, she sticks her finger in her month and then sticks her finger in her new boyfriend’s mouth. She does this with a girlfriend as well. I’m thinking this must be some kind of sexual fetish. But I’ve never researched this because I’m already creeped out by it. I don’t want to know if it’s a real thing.

Getting past the drool thing, the mysterious Urabe and the devoted Tsubaki are interesting characters. The stories are well told and likewise interesting. The art is first-rate and some pages are just plain beautiful. Which I guess is why I’m reading it.

Mysterious Girlfriend X has also been adapted into an anime series. A third volume of the manga series is due in September. If you’re a fan of such relationship series, you might want to give this one a look.

Mysterious Girlfriend X, Volume 1:

ISBN 978-1-942993-45-2

Mysterious Girlfriend X, Volume 2:
ISBN 978-1-942993-46-9

Mysterious Girlfriend X, Volume 3:

ISBN 978-1-942993-70-4

That’s all for now. I’ll be back tomorrow with a new installment of our high-riding “Rawhide Kid Wednesday.” See you then.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

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