Book Review: The Transatlantic Conspiracy by G. D. Falksen

the-transatlantic-conspiracyThe Transatlantic Conspiracy
G. D. Falksen
Soho Teen, June 2016
ISBN 978-1-61695-417-8
Hardcover

Oh, I do love a story about bad girls and The Transatlantic Conspiracy is quintessential.  Rosalind’s own words best define her when she explains to Alix, “I drive motorcars and I’m a suffragist, so my reputation is already a bit uncertain.”  Their mutual friend Cecily not only tinkers with clocks, but has been known to write “strongly worded letters” to express her displeasure or disappointment.  Embarking on the maiden voyage of the underwater railway, Alix is quick to confirm that her traveling companions both know “how to give a swift quick and a good stab” (with a hatpin).

Perhaps I should mention that this steampunk story begins on May 25, 1908.  My first book from this fantastical, science-fiction subgenre complete with advanced machines and modern technology.  It did not disappoint.

Rosalind is quite accustomed to traveling alone, despite being female and seventeen years old.  She has every confidence in her father’s perpetually advancing railways, whether it be traveling above water on an impossibly long bridge or seven days underneath, riding a train through the ocean from Germany to New York.   She may not cherish her reluctant role as a “pawn in her father’s advertising campaign”, but she has never felt afraid.  Until now.

From the beginning, with Cecily and sibling Charles unexpectedly announcing plans to accompany Rosalind to America, to feeling inexplicably unnerved at the station, Rosalind is overcome with unease as she boards.  A strange skepticism settles; people seem to smile around secrets tucked safely away.  Charles disappears.  Two passengers are murdered.  It is only the second day.

Fully engaging with twists and turns, sneaky surprises, loyal friendships and levity, The Transatlantic Conspiracy was a fascinating foray into steampunk.

Reviewed by jv poore, May 2016.

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Book Review: The Marvels by Brian Selznik

The MarvelsThe Marvels
Brian Selznick
Scholastic Press, September 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-44868-0
Hardcover

I believe that, right before blowing out every single candle on the cake, a young reader somewhere made a spectacular wish for a book filled with gorgeous illustrations and a fabulous, fanciful story rich with quirky characters, adventure and mystery.  Mr. Selznick fulfilled this wish in grand fashion.

To open The Marvels is to be immediately immersed in a harrowing adventure at sea.  In the blink of an eye….or to be precise, the turn of several pages, invested in the story of a shipwreck with spunky survivors.  Illustrations that seem to float above the pages “tell” a compelling, heart-tugging tale.  Delightful drawings seem to reach out and wrap around the reader, securing you in the story well before Mr. Selznick weaves his word magic.

When Mr. Selznick does put his pen to paper to write rather than draw, the result is no less stunning.  His young, out-of-place-and-underfoot main character, Joseph, embodies awkward instances we’ve all endured.  In his earnest desire to genuinely bond, to actually belong…he easily elicits empathy.

When the sweet, stubborn boy tracks down his eclectic, enigmatic uncle in London, Joseph is sure he’s off to a terrible start.  Genuine curiosity, compassionate neighbors and most importantly, time, make the reunion more palatable and the untold story of Joseph’s past is slowly revealed.

In a sly, subtle shift, Mr. Selznick spins two separate, yet supporting stories in one brilliant book.  Both with breathtaking backdrops: The Marvel family in the theatre and Joseph’s in his uncle’s frozen-in-time home.   In the end, it seemed that I was moved by two different families.  I was close, but not correct.

My very favorite parts of the book occurred to me days after I’d finished the story.  Mr. Selznick managed to encompass serious social issues such as loss, suddenly and inexplicably; alongside of loss that is excruciating slow, as two men deeply in love are both infected with AIDS.  Intrigued and impressed, I finished the book by reading the Afterword, where Mr. Selznick sprung one more surprise.  A large part of this fantasy is based loosely on the lives of two very real people.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2016.

Book Review: The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook

The Mystery Writers of America CookbookThe Mystery Writers of America Cookbook
Wickedly Good Recipes -From Many Favorite Writers
Edited by Kate White
Quirk Books, March 2015
ISBN 978-1-59474-757-1
Hardcover

This cookbook contains more than 100 recipes, from breakfast to cocktails, great photography and commentary from legendary authors and fun mystery facts. This book will make a wonderful gift for some lucky friend if you can bring yourself to let go. You might as well just order two because once you see this recipe book you won’t want to let go of it.

The introduction includes a reminder of the murder weapon used in Roald Dahl’s 1953 short story “Lamb to the Slaughter”.

The proceeds of the sale of this cookbook go to MWA, an organization founded in 1945 and dedicated to promoting higher regard for crime writing and recognition and respect for those who write within the genre. MWA sponsors the annual Edgar Awards named for Edgar Allan Poe and considered the Academy Awards of mystery writers.

Breakfast includes recipes ranging from Ellie Hatcher’s Rum-Soaked Nutella French Toast to Max Allan Collins’ and Barbara Collins’ Holiday Eggs. Richard Castle gives us his recipe for Morning-After Hotcakes.

For the Appetizer section Nelson DeMille has contributed Male Chauvinist Pigs in the Blanket. This is followed up by Kate White’s A Very Sneaky Bean Dip. There are a number of excellent sounding appetizers to choose from.

The Soup and Salad section contains several recipes that I would like to try right now.

Kate White gives the reader a very good definition of “What Exactly Is A Red Herring?” This refers to a Red Herring in a mystery and not in a recipe.

There is a large section of entrees headed up by David Morrrell’s Thomas De Quincey’s Pasta -Less Pasta. I won’t tell you what takes the place of the pasta so you will need to get the book. I am sure everyone will want Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone’s Famous Peanut Butter and Pickle Sandwich.

The book contains a chapter on Side Dishes, Desserts and Cocktails. The book contains Metric Conversions which is a very helpful addition. I haven’t named many of the authors in this review but there are so many I know every reader will find at least one favorite author.

Lee Child presents very exact instructions for making Coffee, Pot of One. The recipe even includes the type of coffee and mug to use.

You can’t go wrong with this cookbook. There is a little bit of everything included and some insight into the likes of many of your favorite authors.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, April 2015.

Book Review: The Gigantic Book of Sailing Stories edited by Stephen Brennan

The Gigantic Book of Sailing StoriesThe Gigantic Book of Sailing Stories
Compiled and edited by Stephen Brennan
Skyhorse Publishing, April 2008
ISBN: 978-1-60239-209-0
Hardcover

Nearly 75% percent of the earth’s surface will not support human beings. Nor are the oceans drinkable. Yet has the sea been a fascination for human millennia, as well as a source of sustenance and a means of travel to the farflung edges of our planet.

The sea and its ineffable rhythms have long intrigued human kind, from poets and scholars to the roughest of working stiffs who shipped aboard to avoid past debts or family strife, who went to war and who went into the commerce of the time. Now comes a man so apparently obsessed with the sea and its tales that he has compiled a truly gigantic collection of sailing stories and poetry. Hardly a significant writer from Twain to Coleridge to Wilkie Collins is here not referenced. The tome, nearly 800 pages in length, is nicely illustrated with black and white art. It spans the ages, from Homer to Dickens to Melville and Byron. All the stories are truthful tales, and all offer flights of fantasy. Readers will choose which facts to accept and which to ignore.

The entire work is well-designed, blest by outstanding writing, nicely illustrated, and is the sort of volume one would expect to find residing on a dark and possibly dusty shelf in the back corner of a nineteenth-century library, a part of the collection by some obscure industrial titan.

It is the kind of literary work that fills an important function by bringing together and preserving an important and emotional element of humankind’s history and literary traditions. One hopes it resides in the collection of every library across the world.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2014.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

 

Book Reviews: Rutherford Park by Elizabeth Cooke, Jambalaya Justice by Holly Castillo, and “The President Has Been Shot” by James L. Swanson

Rutherford ParkRutherford Park
Elizabeth Cooke
Berkley Books, July 2013
ISBN 978-0-425-26258-0
Trade Paperback

Shades of everyone’s favorite, Downton Abbey, with a bit of Warhorse thrown in for seasoning. Not that this is a bad thing, since Rutherford Park will prove every bit as addictive as those two. A reader can’t help but become involved in the lives of characters great and small, highest society and lowest servant.

Timing for the story puts us on the cusp of World War One–the Great War. William Cavendish, owner of the massive Rutherford Park estate, is preoccupied with the politics of preventing a war. Octavia, his wife, whom he married nineteen years ago for her money, is stuck at home worrying not only about her children, but about William’s coldness toward her. It is in the midst of a snowy Christmas that Octavia sees her husband kissing another woman, rending her heart. Then her son denies the housemaid he’s gotten with child, and the girl dies. With the Cavendishs so divided, one wonders if the family can survive.

Aside from fortune hunting and matrimonial concerns, manners and the avoidance of scandal—although not always scandalous behavior—preoccupy the upper class. Secrets abound. However, their servants know everything, and in their way, class strictures are as hidebound for them as for their betters. What a world. What a fascinating world!

Excellently written, the prose flows smoothly, the settings scintillate, the history teaches without effort as the characters come alive.

Rutherford Park includes a reader’s guide, handy for book clubs.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, November 2013.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

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Jambalaya JusticeJambalaya Justice
Crescent City Mystery #2
Holly Castillo
Oak Tree Press, August 2011
ISBN 978-1-61009-020-9
Trade Paperback

The Big Easy heats up in Holly Castillo‘s latest mystery thriller. It’s a novel of the cops and the courts and it wouldn’t be New Orleans without some hot romance thrown into the mix. It’s undercover chills, bedroom thrills, and even a judge who insists on jokes in his courtroom. What else is included in Jambalaya Justice? Too much to list here and too much fun to spoil it.

Ryan Murphy, an assistant DA in New Orleans, involves herself in the death of a hooker, the latest in a serial killer’s string of victims. This while also dealing with other cases that include a trial of a slick fancy-dressing mobster, domestic abuse, and the robbery of a French Quarter strip club. Shep Chapetti, her boyfriend and an SID detective, is working the disappearance and apparent death of a prosecutor. One problem with the case is the supposed victim has a background that doesn’t add up but may have family ties to Murphy. The other problem is Shep is teamed up with an annoying ex-girlfriend, another attorney in the DA’s office.

The connections between the individuals in the cases and the characters would need a large chalkboard to figure out. I envy Castillo for keeping everything straight and by dishing out teasers. This kept me guessing and surprised by each revelation. Not everybody is who they claim to be, but you can believe this: Castillo brings a fantastic story to the forefront of mystery fiction. When it comes to writing about New Orleans, an author has to make it big and flashy and exciting. Castillo doesn’t disappoint and I’ll be keeping an eye out for her next novel.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, August 2013.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.

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The President Has Been Shot“The President Has Been Shot!”
The Assassination of John F. Kennedy

James L. Swanson
Scholastic Press, October 2013
ISBN 0-545-49007-8
Hardcover

James L. Swanson is not a new author.  You may recognize his name from his New York Times bestseller The 12-Day Hunt for Lincoln’s Killer.

There are many, many things I like about this book.  The level of detail is amazing.  Rarely, are we treated to such a meticulous account in a non-fiction work.  I believe that these little nuggets of awesome play a large part in making this appealing to younger audiences.  Actually, this adult reader was genuinely surprised by some remarkably interesting points that I had not been aware of, despite learning about Kennedy in history classes.  Jackie slipping her wedding band into Jack’s hand when she realized that he was gone was one of the most endearing things ever.  The explanations as to why it appeared to viewers that Kennedy won the first televised debate, while the radio listeners felt that Nixon was the winner, were very intriguing.  I would be remiss; however, if I did not state that, while this level of detail was greatly appreciated throughout most of the book, the description of the impact and damage caused by Oswald’s bullet felt very gruesome, to me.  Anything less would have detracted from the integrity of the book, I realize and appreciate that; I just think it is worthy of mention for readers with a delicate stomach.

The brief history provided really allows the reader to know Jack Kennedy, the person.  The Bay of Pigs, Cuban Missile Crisis and The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty were all very important events that no longer seem prominent in history classes today.  I appreciate the refreshers, and I am certain that young readers will welcome this knowledge.

Mr. Swanson painstakingly chose photographs to accompany this telling, again helping the reader to know and appreciate President and Jackie Kennedy.  Also included are diagrams of the motorcade and The Texas School Book Depository’s sixth floor.  Speculation and questions as to why Lee Harvey Oswald decided to assassinate the president are presented in thought-provoking way, rather than just laying out the facts as we know them.

This is a fascinating account of a 50 year old tragedy that we still do not understand.  I hope to see this book in many a Middle-School and High-School library, and I strongly recommend this to History teachers everywhere.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2013.

Book Reviews: If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth, Dr. Frankenstein’s Daughters by Suzanne Weyn, and Chillers Book Two by Daniel Boyd, creator

If I Ever Get Out of HereIf I Ever Get Out of Here
Eric Gansworth
Arthur A. Levine Books, August 2013
ISBN 978-0-545-41730-3
Hardcover

This Middle-Grade novel comes out this month (August 2013).  The timing is serendipitous, as the book begins with an “Indian” (Native American) entering Jr. High.  While, on the surface, his trials and tribulations appear to be based on ethnicity and, in turn, poverty, the facts are that many students entering Jr. High (or Middle School) this year will experience the same taunting, teasing and bullying that Lewis tolerates.  Maybe a student will be singled out due to ethnicity, body shape, hair color, name or wardrobe.  The results are the same, which is why I strongly recommend this book.  Although a work of fiction, the core issues are very, very real and kids need to know that they are not alone.

It is so easy to recognize exclusion and to immediately attribute it to race, ethnicity, size or social class, when maybe that is not exactly the case.  The old chicken or egg.  Yes, maybe Lewis was ostracized, at first, because of his red skin and low socioeconomic standing.  Maybe, that initial reaction caused him to be defensive and to toughen up.  But, what about the next year?  Is it possible that he carries the defensiveness with him?  If so, maybe people are turned off, not by the color of his skin, but by the prickliness in his personality.

Another aspect of this book that I truly love: friendship.  As Lewis leaves behind the kids he has grown up with to attend a “White” school, he begins to learn the difference between true friendship and friendship by default.  He sees that although he has grown up with and hung out with someone almost every day of his life, that person may not actually be a true friend; whereas a new guy, free with unsolicited advice, may turn out to be the best friend he’s ever had.  This is the most realistic portrayal of a true friendship between boys that I have ever seen.  The strength and loyalty become clear based on actions and secrets kept hidden, rather than articulated enthusiastically as tends to be the case with girls.

This story, set in 1977 and filled with Beatles and Paul McCartney references, is remarkably well-written.  The prose is not flowery or lyrical; rather, it is a bit raw—exactly as it should be for the subject matter.  The simplicity is deceiving.  Mr. Gansworth manages to say more, with fewer words.   I experienced many emotions while reading this book.  I felt sad for the nastiness Lewis is constantly faced with, I felt frustrated with him for not trying a bit harder—for seeming to be too stubborn.  The random acts of kindness filled me with joy, and the show of true friendship renewed my hope.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2013.

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Dr. Frankenstein's DaughtersDr. Frankenstein’s Daughters
Suzanne Weyn
Scholastic Press, January 2013
ISBN 0-545-42533-9
Hardcover

Imagine being orphaned at birth, knowing nothing of your mother or father, only to find out 17 years later, that your father was on the run and considered a lunatic.  Despite this, the mysterious man owned a castle and had managed to amass a huge amount of money, which he left for the daughters he never knew.  Oh, and he happens to be Dr. Frankenstein.

Okay, that part is really a bigger deal to the reader than to the main characters.  No one knew what Dr. Frankenstein had accomplished.  The name did not bring to mind a flat-headed, greenish/gray man that walked like a robot with his arms outstretched.  None of the characters in the book compulsively shout out “It’s aliiiive!” at the mention of Frankenstein’s name.

The discovery of their father’s name, along with the receipt of a gargantuan inheritance, begins the story of twin girls, Giselle and Ingrid.  Although identical, Giselle is considered “the beauty” as she is quite fond of her looks and spends a great deal of time primping.  She wants to entertain the world.  Ingrid is absorbed with the practice of medicine.  The book is set in the early 1800s;  women were forbidden to obtain an education.  Ingrid had to do her studies behind closed doors or dressed as a man.

The girls quickly relocate to the castle.  As Giselle spends day and night cleaning and decorating the castle, Ingrid obsesses over her new treasure, her father’s journals.  Giselle is planning a huge party to fill the castle.  Ingrid couldn’t care less about the party, aside from coaxing Giselle to invite prominent doctors and researchers so that she could discuss her new theories about limb regeneration.  As life goes on, Ingrid becomes quite taken with an injured man in a small cottage near the castle, Giselle continues working feverishly, and the town becomes nervous as men begin to go missing.

The initial premise of the book is intriguing enough for anyone to grab it off of a bookshelf.  Once in hand, the story quietly snares the reader and draws him in.  On one hand, the readers see a bit of romance begin to bloom. It is sweet, but clearly complicated. Will love prevail or will the fear of heartache keep it dormant?  Worse, will a slow, painful and untimely death rip them apart?

On the other hand, the reader begins to sense mystery and danger slowly surrounding Giselle, like a fog creeping in.  Men are disappearing.  Some are later found, as mangled corpses.    Who is doing this?  The reader (having the advantage of knowing about Dr. Frankenstein’s creation) may believe that the monster is exacting revenge on the unsuspecting and totally unaware girls.  But that seems a bit too pat, so surely, it is someone else, right?

I won’t tell, but I promise that if you read the book, the answers to these questions will surprise you.

Reviewed by jv poore, April 2013.

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Chillers Book TwoChillers: Book Two
Daniel Boyd, creator
Transfuzion Publishing, March 2013
ISBN 978-0-9857493-6-1
Trade Paperback—Graphic Novel

I’ve always been a spooky little girl.  Growing up in West Virginia, I was surrounded by “True Ghost Stories”.  I could tell them all by the time I was 8 years old.  A couple of years later, a teacher called my mom to tell her that I was reading “inappropriate books” by John Saul and Stephen King.  To which my mother replied, “Yep.”  I’ve seen every episode of The Twilight Zone…..multiple times.  I love “scary”; the creepier the better.  I long for the blood in my veins to turn to ice, to feel the tiny hairs on the back of my neck stand up, the feeling that I must look over my shoulder…..several times.  I continue to seek this out in books.  Yet, I have been missing something: The Graphic Novel.  Well, specifically Chillers, followed by Chillers: Book Two.

I believe Mr. Boyd explains the “Graphic Novel” best as an “…accommodating venue for short story telling of the fantastic.”  To me, graphic novels are overlooked by self-limiting.  People who happily plough through horror novels may turn up their noses at the suggestion of a graphic novel.  It is embarrassing to admit, but I was one of those people.  I was wrong.

The common theme throughout Chillers: Book Two is “da bus” to Hell, driven by Peterr Jesus.  Someone always gets on the bus, but it is certainly not always the person the reader expects.  While I appreciated the common eerie factor shared in each story, I delighted in the uniqueness as well.  A welcome surprise was my immediate appreciation of the illustrations.  The artwork is simply amazing and always succeeds in setting the absolute perfect background for each tale.

Mr. Boyd’s “Sin Flowers” shows that sometimes, revenge is the only answer….even if it means boarding Peterr’s bus.  Although this is quite the chilling little tale, there is also love, survival, but maybe one too many disappointments.

As a perfect wrap-up to ‘Shark Week’, Mr. Bitner’s “Live Bait” introduces a cantankerous, flippant old man with complete disregard to human life.  Well, until it is his own life at stake.

Another tale includes tracking and devouring cryptids, such as the Yeti.   One story demonstrates how, sometimes, promises must be broken in order to bring closure and justice.  A personal favourite of mine features a money-grubbing, nasty broad getting her comeuppance in a grizzly, yet oddly comical way.  First time I’ve caught myself wincing and chuckling at the same time.  Yet another creeped me out so much that I never want to see a painting of myself, or, quite frankly, anyone or anyplace I care about.  Still get chills thinking of that freakshow.

I relished each and every macabre adventure in this book, and I highly recommend it to all fans of horror.  Read it.  If you dare.

Reviewed by jv poore, August 2013.