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.

Book Review: 27 Days to Midnight by Kristine Kruppa

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Title: 27 Days to Midnight
Author: Kristine Kruppa
Publisher: Giant Squid Books
Publication Date: May 3, 2016
Genres: Steampunk, Adventure, Young Adult

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27 Days to Midnight27 Days to Midnight
Kristine Kruppa
Giant Squid Books, May 2016
ISBN 978-0692658956
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Everyone in Dahlia’s world knows when they’re going to die. Except her.

Her father has never shown her the pocket watch counting down the days she has left to live. When he sacrifices himself to save her from her scheduled death, Dahlia abandons her comfortable home and sets off after his murderer to uncover the secrets her father died to protect…and the time research that could bring him back to life.

Then she meets Farren Reed. She should hate him. He’s an enemy soldier, a cowardly deserter, and the most insufferable man Dahlia’s ever met. Still, she needs all the help she can get, and Farren is the only chance she has to find the man who murdered her father. But Farren has only twenty-seven days left on his watch.

In that time, Dahlia must recover her father’s time research, foil a psychotic general’s plot, and learn to survive in a world that will never be the same. But the research holds secrets more dangerous than she had ever imagined. She will have to choose what is most important: revenge, Farren’s life, or her own. And time is running out. 

I was not an early convert to today’s steampunk world, probably caving in finally about two years after its resurgence began. I don’t really know why I resisted it—I guess I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind—but I’m glad I finally started reading it. I’ve found a lot to enjoy in this subgenre including the Victorianesque settings, the flight-of-fancy technology and steam power, and the frequent blending of multiple genres such as science fiction and mystery. Most of all, I’ve enjoyed the adventures that are such an integral part of steampunk.

27 Days to Midnight struck me as having all those delightful attributes except that its tone is more serious than the usual steampunk, meaning it isn’t as lighthearted. That’s not a bad thing, just a difference, and I kind of felt as though this could be labeled as somewhat dystopian because of the thing with the watches. The watches, and the rules that go with them, also took me back to my earlier days when I was a Girl Scout troop leader, back before time was invented ;-). We took a week-long trip every June and we leaders made the girls turn over all timepieces to us. They weren’t allowed to ask when we were going to do something, reason being, we wanted them to have a true vacation away from the pressures we normally let time put on us (and it relieved us from the endless nagging about when we were going to dinner or the beach or the lighthouse, etc., etc., etc.)

Ms. Kruppa not only came up with a new and different idea; she also created a number of lively characters that I came to care for a lot along with a plot that jumps off the page from the very beginning and rarely lets you catch your breath. Dahlia is a young lady who has lived a life of some privilege and is understandably in a state of shock when the first awful things happen but she’s resilient and soon begins to learn how to look after herself and pursue her goals. Farren is equally appealing but largely because he really shouldn’t be and I truly appreciated the way the author allows their relationship to very slowly develop, warts and all.

When all is said and done, Ms. Kruppa has given us a story well worth the investment of reading time and, while it’s self-contained, I do hope the author will bring us more adventures with these wonderful characters.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2016.

About the Author

Kristine KruppaKristine Kruppa is a mechanical engineer, writer, and world traveler. Her days are spent designing cool new car parts, but her evenings are filled with writing and cats. She has traveled solo to seventeen countries on five continents. Her other hobbies include hunting for the perfect cup of coffee, exploring used book stores, and accidentally climbing mountains. To keep up with her adventures, follow Kristine on Twitter @kskruppa.

(Author photo credit: Sunny Wong)

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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.

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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: Escapement by Ciara Knight

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Title: Escapement
Series: The Neumarian Chronicles #1
Author: Ciara Knight
Genres: Dystopia, Science Fiction, Young Adult

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EscapementEscapement
The Neumarian Chronicles #1
Ciara Knight
Ciara Knight, February 2013
ISBN 978-1939081018
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Ten years after the great war of 2185 the queen’s reign is threatened by uprisings and fear. In celebration of my sixteenth birthday it is my duty as princess to sacrifice a slave to be initiated into the ruling council, solidifying my mother’s empire. When my own erratic powers surface I’m captured and tried for treason. Slaves hate me, my mother wants me executed, and my only chance of survival rests in the hands of a young man, Ryder Arteres, whose sister I sentenced to death.
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I would surely be hard pressed to come up with an opening chapter that is more intense than that in Escapement and, more than 200 pages later, it still gives me chills. The evil that one person can direct at another is chilling and it’s so much worse that a mother could behave in such a manner towards her own daughter. Add in that this young girl feels completely helpless and that her mother’s power is so all-encompassing and you have an amazing story in the making.

Semara is indeed “just” a young girl but her idealism has not been wiped out quite yet…and then things get even worse. Her mother sees the irrefutable proof of Semara’s one instance of defiance and, at the same time, a strange power within Semara shows itself and dooms her to a slave’s existence or, worse, horrific implants to make her compliant. The only person who cares about her at all is a worker named Bendar, or so she thinks, but then a young man named Ryder comes into her life.

Characterization and plot are equally strong in this first in the series. I felt a real empathy with Semara and especially appreciated the friendship between her and Raeth, a friendship that survived incredible odds. At the same time, my natural antipathy for the queen and her general increased exponentially every time one or the other came on the scene while my liking for Ryder, and the attachment between him and Semara, grew as naturally as any reader could want .

The world drawn by Ms. Knight is dismal but rife with questions about just how the aftermath of the war became so despotic and unforgiving and what might lie ahead. The queen’s determination to have complete control and cause such pain to others, her callous indifference, is frightening in its intensity and gave me a good sense of what a true sociopath is. Resistance would seem to be impossible but, as always seems to be the case with humanity, there are those who would see an end to the tyranny. Semara, Raeth and Ryder will discover that they do indeed have reason to hope.

Ms. Knight has pulled me in 100% and I plan to read the rest of the series as soon as I can—I really need to know what will happen next.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2014.

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PendulumBook #2
Pendulum
Haunting memories.
Terrifying dreams.
Crippling lies.

Trapped in a world of deception, my sanity rests with the love of Ryder Arteres and our renegade friends. Six months of scouring the ocean floor in a rebel ship fleeing our homeland, delivers us to a possible alliance with the opportunistic European Council. Our only hope is to utilize our forbidden gifts to free our people from slavery, proving our worth. But when a trusted ally turns traitor and a new breed of the queen’s weaponry is revealed, I’m forced to face the terror of my past to save our crumbling future.

 

BalanceBook #3
Balance
Life on a war-ravaged Earth is a dying experience. Finally, after years of tyranny, the rebellion rises. Once I rescue my fiancé Ryder Arteres, I, and the rebel general, will fight to free our people. In a war where alliances shift and friends betray one another, will the final battle prove the truth of the prophecy the queen has so feared—her death—or will I lose everyone I love?

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About the Author

Ciara KnightCiara Knight writes to ‘Defy the Dark’ with her young adult speculative fiction books. Her most recent Amazon best-seller, Escapement, book I of The Neuamrian Chronicles, released to acclaimed reviews securing a Night Owl Top Pick and five stars from InD’Tale Magazine.

When not writing, she enjoys reading all types of fiction. Some great literary influences in her life include Edgar Allen Poe, Shakespeare, Francine Rivers and J K Rowling.

Her first love, besides her family, reading, and writing, is travel. She’s backpacked through Europe, visited orphanages in China, and landed in a helicopter on a glacier in Alaska.

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Book Review: The Girl and the Clockwork Cat by Nikki McCormack

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Title: The Girl and the Clockwork Cat
Author: Nikki McCormack
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Release Date: 09/02/14
Genres: Steampunk, Mystery, Romance, Young Adult

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The Girl and the Clockwork CatThe Girl and the Clockwork Cat
Nikki McCormack
Entangled Teen, September 2014
ISBN 978-1-63375-069-2
Ebook

From the publisher—

Feisty teenage thief Maeko and her maybe-more-than-friend Chaff have scraped out an existence in Victorian London’s gritty streets, but after a near-disastrous heist leads her to a mysterious clockwork cat and two dead bodies, she’s thrust into a murder mystery that may cost her everything she holds dear.

Her only allies are Chaff, the cat, and Ash, the son of the only murder suspect, who offers her enough money to finally get off the streets if she’ll help him find the real killer.

What starts as a simple search ultimately reveals a conspiracy stretching across the entire city. And as Maeko and Chaff discover feelings for each other neither was prepared to admit, she’s forced to choose whether she’ll stay with him or finally escape the life of a street rat. But with danger closing in around them, the only way any of them will get out of this alive is if all of them work together.

 

Steampunk fiction has been around for years but began to be really popular about 10-15 years ago. I had read a few pieces before then but I really fell into it with authors like Gail Carriger, S.M. Stirling and Cherie Priest. I gravitate towards fiction that is a mishmash of subgenres and steampunk does that very well, frequently being a blend of science fiction, mystery, dark fantasy, alternate history, maybe even post-apocalyptic and a few other elements. i liked it so much that, after a while, I sort of ran out of, er…steam (pun intended)…and I haven’t read much of it in several years.

Still, I hadn’t given up on it so I was really happy to get the chance to dive into this world again with The Girl and the Clockwork Cat, hoping I would find it as entertaining as ever. I’m happy to say Ms. McCormack didn’t let me down  🙂

This author has two particular strengths. One is her worldbuilding and setting. Ms. McCormack’s descriptive abilities bring her idea of Victorian London to life and is solid enough to also evoke the settings of some of the best Victorian-era mysteries by such authors as Anne Perry and Will Thomas.  It also doesn’t hurt that Maeko finds herself right smack in the middle of an intense mystery that really engages her intelligence as well as street smarts.

The author’s other main strength is in her characters who are vivid and engaging, even those who can’t be considered likeable. Maeko is a heroine anyone can admire and feel an attachment to and the two guys in her life, Chaff and Ash, will stick in my mind for quite a while. They’re not perfect by any means, thank heavens, and there are times when Maeko is leaps and bounds ahead of them, but I do like them a lot.

Then there is Macak, a very unique cat with a mechanical leg. Macak is a delight, a kitty with some unique qualities, and he can hold his own when he needs to, not to mention lend a comforting purr from time to time. He is now one of my favorite fictional cats and, if nothing else would draw me back to a possible sequel, he would. I do hope there will be more of Maeko and Macak and their pals. Please, Ms. McCormack, bring them back to us!

Oh, and by the way, if you love cats and pictures of cats as much as I do, you really have to check out her website  ;-)))

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2014.

About the Author

Nikki McCormackNikki started writing her first novel at the age of 12, which she still has tucked in a briefcase in her home office, waiting for the right moment. Despite a successful short story publication with Cricket Magazine in 2007, she continued to treat her writing addiction as a hobby until a drop in the economy presented her with an abundance of free time that she used to focus on making it her career.

Nikki lives in the magnificent Pacific Northwest tending to her husband and three cats suffering varying stages of neurosis. She feeds her imagination by sitting on the ocean in her kayak gazing out across the never-ending water or hanging from a rope in a cave, embraced by darkness and the sound of dripping water. She finds peace through practicing iaido or shooting her longbow.


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Book Reviews: The Osiris Curse by Paul Crilley and Assignment: Nepal by J.A. Squires

The Osiris CurseThe Osiris Curse
A Tweed & Nightingale Adventure
Paul Crilley
Pyr, October 2013.
ISBN 978-1-61614-857-7
Hardcover

Sebastian Tweed, seventeen-year-old reformed con artist, has dedicated his phenomenal brainpower to foiling the schemes of mysterious evildoers. Octavia Nightingale, Tweed’s best (and only) friend, is an intrepid newspaper reporter, intent on finding her kidnapped mother. Together, Tweed and Nightingale roam the streets of early 20th-century London. It’s the London of an alternate universe, though, featuring sentient automatons, invisibility devices, and “Tesla guns” that shoot electrical rays.

Over the course of The Osiris Curse, the second Tweed and Nightingale Adventure by Paul Crilley, our heroes stow away on a massive airship to Egypt, visit The Great Pyramid (which has been hollowed out and turned into a hotel for the enjoyment of the rich), and discover a hidden civilization inhabited by a (sort-of) alien race. This is the kind of book where Nicola Tesla is murdered by Osiris-worshipping cultists in the first chapter and that’s not even the novel’s big mystery.

You would be forgiven for thinking that Crilley has simply cobbled together every trendy cliché he could think of from neo-Victorian steampunk sci-fi, and . . . truthfully, that seems pretty accurate. Yet this ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ approach is responsible for much of The Osiris Curse‘s considerable charm. If Crilley stuck to one or two familiar tropes, Tweed and Nightingale might get lost in the crowd of similar stories. Instead, the author throws high concepts together with such maniacal glee, it’s hard to avoid being swept along.

The Osiris Curse, like its prequel The Lazarus Machine, is marketed to young adults, and it might be particularly enjoyable to readers encountering some of its sci-fi concepts for the first time. However, this series should also appeal to seasoned fans of steampunk, Doctor Who, or any of the recent Sherlock Holmes retellings. In fact, the novel’s characters share a connection to Holmes himself. (Holmes and Moriarty are real people in this universe, just as H.G. Wells is really a time traveler.) I don’t want to give the connection away in this review, though, for the sake of anyone who wants to read The Lazarus Machine first; it’s a plot point in that novel, and it’s far too good to spoil.

If you’ve been reading too many novels lately where it seems like nothing happens, this book’s breakneck pace might be just what you need in your life. It’s not all about mindless fun, though. Crilley takes time to address the moral quandaries that the plot raises in a way that manages to be thoughtful without stopping the story dead. The Osiris Curse doesn’t claim to solve all the dilemmas it raises, but that’s another nod to the narrative’s complexity. I’d be glad to see the consequences unfold in future Tweed and Nightingale books.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Caroline Pruett, November 2013.

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Assignment NepalAssignment:Nepal
An Irene Adler Mystery
J.A. Squires
Echelon Press, October 2011
ISBN 978-1-59080-854-2
Ebook

Readers of this review should be aware that this press has published some of my crime fiction and I am acquainted with the publisher, though not with the two authors writing under a single pseudonym.

The protagonist is named Irene Adler. Not the woman who beat Sherlock Holmes at his own game, her modern namesake, a Doctor of Philosophy in Anthropology at Boston University. Adler has a demi-cynical outlook on life and it turns out she supplements her income by playing poker; specifically Texas Holdem in the gambling parlors around the New England area. Irene Adler is a bright, smart, single woman, an endearing protagonist.

Her former advisor, a fellow faculty member, prevails on Ms. Adler to travel to Nepal to inquire into the life and times of a former fellow undergraduate student of Irene’s, a Margot Smith, who’s in Nepal doing research on one of that country’s goddesses, one Chwwaassa Dyo. The problem is that there appears to something awry with Margot and her physician husband and Adler is supposed to sort things out. What needs sorting turns out to be only part of the story. Irene agrees to go half-way around the world to see a woman she barely knows. From this most unlikely beginning, the plot drives poor Adler into one complexity after another.

Her assignment clearly has unstated dimensions about which neither we readers nor Irene Adler herself are clear. Now, Nepal is an exotic nation from which assaults on Mount Everest are mounted and the ubiquitous Sherpa play a  important part, as do digital cameras, former Cold War adversaries, political unrest in the country, and a whole series of meddlesome individuals who seem to still show up on the fringes of the former English Empire.

The novel winds its way through a variety of conflicts among wanderers, a boorish American tourist couple, and murder and bomb blasts. At times the narrative suffers from a pedestrian pace and some lapses of editing discipline over the point of view. Still, the story is interesting, Irene is definitely a character to build a series around, the exotic setting in and around Katmandu is, well, exotic, and a satisfactory conclusion is fashioned. I think four stars in too strong a rating, but the novel is more enjoyable than three stars would indicate. Sample the novel and make your own judgment.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, July 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

Book Review: The Lazarus Machine by Paul Crilley

The Lazarus MachineThe Lazarus Machine
A Tweed & Nightingale Adventure
Paul Crilley
Pyr, November 2012
ISBN 978-1-61614-688-7
Hardcover

I really enjoyed The Lazarus Machine.  It is not the type of book I normally read, but I’m a fan of good writing and this certainly fit the bill.  The main characters, “Tweed” and “Octavia” make a great pair and work well together.  The book grew on me and kept me reading, which is a big plus.

“Tweed” and “Octavia,” as well as a few other key characters, work toward stopping a sinister man intent on ruling the world.  The dialogue and scenes are interesting.  I felt like the author did a great job of showing instead of telling.

The Lazarus Machine is well worth the read.  The ending was great and I did not see it coming.

Reviewed by Chris Swinney, June 2013.
Author of the upcoming Gray Ghost.