Book Review: Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond by Jayne Barnard—and a Giveaway!

Maddie Hatter and the Deadly DiamondMaddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond
Jayne Barnard
Tyche Books, September 2015
ISBN 978-1-928025-33-7
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Miss Maddie Hatter, renegade daughter of a powerful Steamlord, is scraping a precarious living as a fashion reporter when the story of a lifetime falls into her lace-gloved hands.

Baron Bodmin, an adventurer with more failed quests than fingernails, has vanished in circumstances that are odd even for him.

While he is supposedly hunting the fabled Eye of Africa diamond in the Nubian desert, his expeditionary airship is found adrift off the coast of England. Maddie was the last reporter to see the potty peer alive. If she can locate the baron or the Eye of Africa, her career will be made.

Outraged investors and false friends complicate her quest, and a fiendish figure lurks in the shadows, ready to snatch the prize . . . at any price.

I stopped reading steampunk a while back, mainly because I got tired of it and I felt as though each one was pretty much the same as the last. Then, one fine day, Jayne Barnard offered me a copy of this book for review and I was immediately drawn in by the title and by this oh-so-wonderful cover. Is that not one of the best covers you’ve seen in a while? And, OMG, the bird! Tweetle-D aka TD is one of the most charming birds I’ve ever come across even if he is made of brass and, quite frankly, Maddie’s snooping would have gotten  nowhere without this very special little sparrow.

Like any intelligent, forward-thinking young woman of her day, Maddie has no intention of writing about fashion for the rest of her career but she needs a miracle to propel her into something more exciting. That miracle kind of falls into her lap when the eccentric Baron Bodmin disappears during his expedition to Egypt in search of a fabulous jewel and his airship is found floating aimlessly without its pilot. Maddie is literally on the spot in Cairo and this is her chance but she has to be very circumspect in her investigations lest her society parents catch wind of her decidedly improper activities.

Keeping the proper rules of conduct in mind as much as possible but allowing for a few daring “missteps”, Maddie and her wonderful TD set off to get the scoop and solve the mystery while they’re at it. How could she possibly predict the twists and turns this inquiry will bring about as a missing person case becomes murder?

Egypt was another lure that enticed me to read Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond. Years ago, many more than I like to think about, I spent a week in Egypt and was completely captivated by the country and its people and it’s one of a handful of foreign lands I really want to visit again. In today’s climate of unrest and violence, that’s not likely to happen, so I enjoy Egypt vicariously through books such as those written by Elizabeth Peters. That love of Egypt was only one of the reasons I wanted to read this book, though, and Ms. Barnard reeled me in with one of the most delightful tales I’ve read in a while. It’s a lovely mix of mystery, science fiction, humor, froth and adventure that can be found in the best steampunk and I can’t wait to read Maddie’s next exploits, Write faster, please, Ms. Barnard!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2015.


To enter the drawing for a print copy of
Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond
by Jayne Barnard, leave a comment
below. The winning name will be drawn
Thursday evening, November 26th.
This drawing is open to residents
of the US and Canada.

Book Review: The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness and A Little in Love by Susan Fletcher

The Rest of Us Just Live HereThe Rest of Us Just Live Here
Patrick Ness
HarperTeen, October 2015
ISBN: 978-0-06-240316-2

Surviving high school is a challenge even when you’re normal and as well adjusted as a teen can be, but what happens when you feel like you’re the least important in your circle of friends? What about when your mom is an elected official running for national office, your dad is an alcoholic afterthought and you have poorly controlled OCD? Dealing with all that might be overwhelming, you think, but what if the situation was a lot crazier and scarier than even that? Suppose your town and your school are ground zero for a cosmic battle, a repeat of one that wiped out the high school less than ten years ago? Now imagine that your best friend has powers beyond anything you could explain to a stranger and is worshiped by mountain lions. Add in the possibility that the ‘indie’ kids at school are supposed to save mankind and you have quite the situation.

This is what high school senior Mickey faces. He’s in serious like with biracial friend Henna, scared that his sister Mel, who almost died (she did briefly, but was brought back to life) from an eating disorder, will relapse and he’s distressed by the flare-up of his OCD. At the same time, he’s convinced that everyone tolerates him because, as he puts it, “I’m the least.”

As the craziness surrounding the possibility that zombies, ghosts and creatures affected by the ubiquitous blue lights may be about to defeat the ‘indie’ kids, teen readers will find the challenges Mickey, his sister Mel, Henna and best friend Jared are dealing with as graduation approaches are ones they can easily relate to. And the second layer of supernatural happenings is a nice counterpart to the sort of angst each of the main characters face as they begin to realize just how much life will change soon, no matter what else happens. This is a fun, quirky and emotional story about growing up and the insanity that accompanies that experience.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, October 2015.


A Little in LoveA Little in Love
Eponine’s Story from Les Misérables
Susan Fletcher
Chicken House, September 2015
ISBN: 978-0-545-82960-1
Trade Paperback

How do you think your life might turn out if you were born in a field, your father gambled away every cent and as a result, you were raised to hate and steal? Meet Eponine, one of the characters in Les Misérables. This is her story from the time she’s born to the day she’s lying in her own blood at age seventeen after a final selfless act. You know how the story ends because it’s in the first sentence in the book, an entry from June 5th, 1832.

When the book begins, Eponine is looking back to what her mother told her about when she was born. Her father was away at the battle of Waterloo, but spent more time robbing his fellow soldiers as they were dying than fighting. She describes him thusly: “His eyes were quick like a rat’s—quick and cunning and black”. He came home rich and bought an inn that was in terrible shape. He lied about the inn, about the war and pretty much everything.

No matter how successful the inn was, he found a way to make money, food and clothing disappear, so when Eponine and her younger sister Azelma became old enough, they were trained to steal from drunken patrons and then from the townspeople.

When she’s four, a woman appears at the inn with her daughter Cosette and offers to pay for the family to care for her because the mom can’t work and take care of Cosette at the same time. Instead, the girl is treated like a slave, starved, verbally and physically abused, as well as forced to do the most demeaning chores, sometimes multiple times. While Eponine feels uncomfortable treating the new girl abusively, she has little choice.

Eight years later, a man appears and ransoms Colette for 1500 francs, informing the family that her mother had died and asked him to find and care for her daughter. Of course, Eponine’s father gambles the money away and in desperation to keep the inn, commits a terrible crime. The family, which now includes a younger brother aged six and unwanted by the parents, flees for Paris under cover of darkness. The journey is arduous and leaves everyone hardened and on the edge of starvation. When her little brother is abandoned as the family boards a barely functional rowboat, Eponine’s heart shrinks painfully.

It’s this event that starts her looking inward and wondering whether there might be a better way to live than one of constant theft and cruelty. In Paris, the family live with a gang of thieves until they steal enough to get their own place. Eponine meets Marius, a young man who rents the room next to theirs. It is this meeting that really turns her heart around and even though she doesn’t stop doing bad things right away, she is able to figure out what she needs to do to have a sense of worth and purpose. How she gets to that point is sad, but understandable.

I have not read Les Misérables nor have I seen the movie. That didn’t stop me from enjoying this book and I doubt it will diminish the level of satisfaction when teens, particularly those who like stories of tough times or historical tales, read the book.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, October 2015.

Book Review: The Forgers by Bradford Morrow

The ForgersThe Forgers
Bradford Morrow
The Mysterious Press, November 2014
ISBN: 978-0-8021-2321-3

From the publisher (a succinct plot summary without spoilers]:

The bibliophile community is stunned when a reclusive rare book collector, Adam Diehl, is found on the floor of his Montauk home: hands severed, surrounded by valuable inscribed books and manuscripts that have been vandalized beyond repair.  In the weeks following his death, Adam’s sister, Meghan, and her lover – – a sometime literary forger who specializes in the handwriting of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – – struggle to come to terms with the murder.  The police fail to identify a suspect, and the case quickly turns cold.  Soon, Meghan’s lover begins to receive threatening handwritten letters, ostensibly penned by long-dead authors but really from someone who seems to have disturbing insights into Adam’s death.  And he quickly realizes that this mystery letter writer will stop at nothing to get what he wants.


There are at least three forgers on the pages of this novel by Bradford Morrow, which provides a glimpse into the mind and the “art” of the forger’s work, providing intriguing nuances of the trade.  The lyrical prose and poetic writing distinguish this novel, and it is wonderfully entertaining, even as it exposes criminal behavior little suspected by lovers of antiquarian books.

The book opens with a murder, and there is a good deal of suspense leading to the stunning ending.  But it is the world of rare books and original manuscripts, of which I knew almost nothing, which is so fascinating.  There are insights provided throughout on a whole range of book-related things:  “Bookshops were, are, and always shall be chancy, quixotic enterprises at best – – easier to raise snow leopards in one’s living room than keep an independent bookstore afloat.”  An awareness difficult to avoid these days.  And “Book collecting is an act of faith.  It’s all about the preservation of culture, custodianship.”  The act of forgery is described as producing feelings of nothing less than lightheartedness and rapture.

A definite change of pace from the usual fare, the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, July 2015.

Book Reviews: A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny and A Bullet Apiece by John Joseph Ryan

A Night in the Lonesome OctoberA Night in the Lonesome October
Roger Zelazny
Chicago Review Press, October 2014
ISBN 978-1-55652-560-5
Trade Paperback

A quirky blend of horror, mystery, the story is narrated by Snuff, a dog. Jack the Ripper’s dog, although Jack is never quite identified. Nevertheless, he’s easily recognizable in a cast that somehow includes Sherlock Holmes, Dr Frankenstein, and Dracula, among others. Forgive me, but I’m not certain who “Jill” is, beyond an “opener.” Openers and closers being two supernatural factions who, during the month of October, gather creepy stuff to aid them in opening–or closing–the gates into the underworld.

Each of these characters has an animal companion. Jill has a cat, there’s a snake, a raven, a pack rat who’s a bit of a loose cannon. And they all speak. There are also monsters and “things” kept in mirrors and jars and old steamer trunks. Snuff is in charge of keeping them all safely corralled until the big night of October 31. Halloween.

Day-by-day, the tension mounts as the people go about collecting items needed for the opening–or closing–ceremony. Some people are friends, some dire enemies. Ditto their animal familiars. And once a night, Snuff is able to speak out loud to Jack, and so the story progresses.

As one might imagine, the finale is enough to make you shiver although, not to worry, the good guys win. Or do they? Since when is Jack the Ripper a good guy?

Since Roger Zelazny, in his last book, created this highly innovative story, which is complete with illustrations by Gahan Wilson. A perfect read for the month of October (or any month).

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, August 2015.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.


A Bullet ApieceA Bullet Apiece
Saint Louis Noir #1
John Joseph Ryan
Blank Slate Press, July 2015
ISBN: 978-1-943075-01-0
Trade Paperback

The novel is a comfort read. That is, if you are an inveterate reader of crime fiction, you can be comforted knowing that every joke, every bon mot, just about every cliché of the genre finds its way into the pages of this book. The dialogue ain’t far off, either.

Ed Darvis is a St. Louis PI with a main-floor office in a seedy part of town. The period is sometime after the end of the second world war. Across the road-I suspect it’s a paved street-is a charter school of some kind and while Mr. Darvis is currently idle, he spends time smoking cigarettes, observing the kiddies and ogling the teachers. And some of the parents.

One day, a leggy, seductive woman who drives a late-model Caddy coupe bursts from the school door in what our astute PI deduces is intense fear, “radiating off her like heat waves.” She roars off in a cloud of exhaust leaving one of the teachers, clearly agitated, standing at the schoolroom door. What we have is clearly a case of child abduction. Enter PI Ed Darvis, cigarette dangling, loaded .38 in his belt, ready and willing to find the child and bed either comely teacher or luscious mother, not necessarily in that order.

The dialogue is snappy and often cute, the action is rousing and predictable and the plot becomes surprisingly tangled. Whether the whole thing is a tongue-in-cheek put-on or a serious attempt at a novel is for readers to determine. This reviewer is persuaded the author invested a considerable effort to produce this story and it has its moments.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, November 2015.
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Blitz: Before the Dawn by Lindsey Fairleigh and Lindsey Pogue

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Cover Reveal: Exit Wound by Alexandra Moore

Exit Wound


Title: Exit Wound
Author: Alexandra Moore
Publisher: Limitless Publishing
Publication Date: December 8, 2015
Genres: Mystery, Thriller



Being crowned as royalty in Rosewood Academy’s
secret society wasn’t in Bea Morrison’s plans…

A senior in high school, Bea’s life changed forever when a
tragic car crash claimed her best friend’s life, leaving her
devastated and alone. Now at Rosewood Academy of the Arts,
Bea owes a debt. With her best friend no longer queen,
it’s up to Bea to be fulfill the role until graduation.

There is nothing money can’t buy,
including Crosley’s king status…

When Bea accepts her place as queen, the arrogant Crosley
is quick to remind her of her royal duties. Obsessed with
the era of the Tudors, Crosley insists they must consummate
their relationship—but spousal duties aren’t what Bea
signed up for. When she rejects Crosley’s proposal,
his expectations twist into absolute obsession.

A sadistic mind makes for an expert stalker…

After graduation, Bea thinks the nightmare of Rosewood
Academy is over. She’s pleasantly surprised to reconnect
with the gorgeous Everett Thompson, a drummer for her
brother’s band. As feelings from their past fling resurface,
Bea hopes for a fresh start with the guy who got away.

Bea’s hopes are shattered when she receives threatening
texts from Crosley, who is still determined to collect his
debt. And as Crosley continues to pursue her, a terrible
tragedy proves he is even more dangerous than she feared.

If Bea has learned one thing, it’s that life is too
fragile, and it’s anybody’s guess who will
make it out of this nightmare alive.



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Book Reviews: Wickedpedia by Chris Van Etten and Deadout by Jon McGoran

Chris Van Etten
Point Horror, July 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-41587-3
Trade Paperback


Cole Redeker is a straight A student, a champ on the debate team, and works at perfecting his pie crust recipe. Such a perfect son that his parents learn to accept his friend Gavin, a slacker who plays bass in an awful garage band. Gavin’s two favorite phrases are “It’ll be fun. I promise.” And “Told you so.”

Cole’s auburn haired girlfriend, Winnie, choir soloist and tennis player, dumps him for Josh, the school’s star soccer player. When Cole discovers that Josh has been copying his history essays from Wikipedia, he and Gavin hatch a plan. History teacher Mr. Drick frowns on sloppy and lazy research, and knowing that Josh is writing a paper on serial killers, Cole plants false Wikipedia articles full of ridiculous facts. When Josh is caught, he is put on academic probation and suspended from the team.

When Josh’s best friend and teammate is discovered dead in the gymnasium, Gavin discovers a Wikipedia entry that foretold his particularly gruesome death. When another friend is partially blinded and burned by poisoned eye drops, Cole realizes that someone is after the students and wonders who will be next.

A good portion of the story is told by Instant Messages among the various students. While the deaths are horrible, the details are not lingered on. Still, not a book for the easily upset.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, September 2015.


Carrick & Watkins #2
Jon McGoran
Forge, June 2015
ISBN 978-0-7653-7008-2
Mass Market Paperback

A three-day visit to Martha’s Vineyard to visit an old friend who is working there, keeping track of bees needed to pollinate crops, turns out to be more than Philadelphia detective Doyle Carrick and his girlfriend, Nola, probably bargained for.  They discover the bee population is fast disappearing and the cause is a mystery.  Nola gets a job manually pollinating plants on a farm and Doyle ends up hanging around, then becoming embroiled in helping to solve the situation.

A lesser plot is the love interest: Doyle and Nola’s hot-and-cold relationship; her association with the young, handsome employer, making Doyle jealous; and his relationship with a beautiful female scientist, raising an equal emotion in Nola.  Of course, both these other characters play a vital role in the main plot.

The action is fast and furious, and the plot moves forward at a rapid pace.  And to boot, there are additional facets to complicate the reader’s progress, including high stakes corporate machinations.  (And we probably learn more about bees and genetics than we ever wished.)


Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2015.