Review: The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis

mechanical by ian tregillisFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: science fiction, alternate history
Series: Alchemy Wars #1
Length: 440 pages
Publisher: Orbit Books
Date Released: March 10, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

My name is Jax.

That is the name granted to me by my human masters.

I am a clakker: a mechanical man, powered by alchemy. Armies of my kind have conquered the world – and made the Brasswork Throne the sole superpower.

I am a faithful servant. I am the ultimate fighting machine. I am endowed with great strength and boundless stamina.

But I am beholden to the wishes of my human masters.

I am a slave. But I shall be free.

My Review:

There were two things running through my head as I read The Mechanical. The first was that the institution of slavery, any kind of slavery, in its desire to dehumanize the slaves, mostly succeeds in dehumanizing the masters.

This is certainly true in this story, even through the “slaves” in this particular alternate history are clockwork machines. If their owners thought that the assemblages of metal and gears and alchemy were things rather than people, it could almost be excusable. The clakkers really are just animated collections of things. They also happen to be people, as long as your definition of “people” encompasses the possession of free will rather than simply an origin in biological instead of mechanical processes.

Although the question of what is free will definitely comes into play here, with catastrophic results.

But this world that the author has created, an alternate 1926 in which the Dutch rule the world because they possess the alchemical secrets to make and bind clakkers, reminds me also of the future that Captain Picard posited in the Star Trek Next Gen episode The Measure of a Man. For those not familiar, this is the episode where a scientist tries to take possession of Lieutenant Commander Data by asserting that Data is just a machine, and therefore the property of Starfleet to do with as it wills, including disassemble him to see what makes him tick. Picard successfully defends Data’s personhood, in a moving speech where he raises the possibility of an army of slave-Data’s doing all of Starfleet’s dirty work, unwillingly condemned to centuries of servitude.

The Mechanical in effect puts that future in a much earlier time frame, but the arguments are the same. It is the mechanical man, the clakker Jax who demonstrates the full depth of humanity’s inhumanity to this new form of sentient life.

This story is an alternative history, and an action/adventure type quest that starts out in an attempt to save the clakker’s, and to preserve the French government in exile, who are effectively the Rebel Alliance fighting a long defeat.

Not a single one of the obvious to me antecedents kept me from enjoying the book in front of me. Then again, I love the antecedents.

The Mechanical is the first book in the author’s Alchemy Wars, so a chunk of this story is setting up the background for those wars, as seen through the eyes of the clakker Jax, the French intelligence agent Berenice, and the poor, unfortunate former French spy and eventual Dutch assassin, Visser.

We see the world in 1926, more than a century after scientist Christiaan Huygens melded alchemy to clockwork and created the first Clakker. Due to clakker-power, the Dutch control the world.

There is also a strong resemblance between the clakkers and golems, legendary creatures of Jewish folklore who are created out of clay and alchemy.

But the world created by the invention of the clakkers is a very different 1926 than the one we know. In ways that made this reader wonder if a later theme of the series will be that the creation of a permanent underclass to do all the hard work has not been good for the creativity and advancement of humankind. But we’re not there yet.

Instead, we see the setup of a great world-spanning war, as the Dutch are on the brink of expanding their control over the entirety of North America, and the French intelligence service is working in secret to stay alive, even if it means creating or suborning a clakker service of their very own.

And in the middle of it all is Jax, one lone servitor clakker who has accidentally found his free will, and is willing to do anything to keep it, even allying with the French and inserting himself into his very own heart of darkness.

Escape Rating A: This is a big book, and I suspect it is just the opening salvo in what will become a very big series. It takes a lot of set up to get this universe going, but it feels like all the setup is absolutely crucial for understanding how this world came about and the herculean effort it will take to push it into a different track.

One of the fascinating parts of the story is that the clakker Jax is much more human than the human intelligence officer Berenice. In spite of the terrible things that happen to her, Berenice is an unsympathetic character and her people are often disgusting. The only redeeming thing about the French court-in-exile is that it exists in opposition to the Dutch, who are even worse. (Back to my comment at the beginning about slave holding removing the humanity of the masters more than that of the slaves.)

Just as in Star Trek Next Gen, there are times when Jax is the most compassionately and understandably human of all the focus characters. He certainly feels more guilt than they do when he makes a mistake.

While the movement and counter-movement of empires is the force behind the big events in the story, it is Jax’ description of the intense pain of conflicting orders, or geasa, and the ways in which his people have found solidarity amidst their suffering that both warms the soul and chills the heart. It makes them fully “people” in a story where the humans so often are not. We can see that this is exactly what would happen. And we fear that it is all too much like what did happen in our real history.

rising by ian tregillisBook 2 of this series, The Rising, can’t come soon enough for this reader. I await it eagerly with anticipatory chills.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Stacking the Shelves (126)

Stacking the Shelves

220px-10.12.12TerryPratchettByLuigiNovi1For anyone who hasn’t seen the news, this is the second week in a row where the science fiction and fantasy world has lost someone near and dear. On Thursday, Sir Terry Pratchett, author of the Discworld series, died of complications from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. He was 66, which is much, much too young. He left behind a legacy of fascinating, bizarre and humorous views of our world, as told through the lens of his Discworld series. His last tweets tell a story of Death from the Discworld coming for him. And of course Death came for him personally, because in the Discworld, Death always comes in person to escort wizards to whatever is beyond.

Sir Terry Pratchett was a wizard.

For Review:
Cold Iron (Malorum Gates #1) by Stina Leicht
Dead Wake by Erik Larson
The Deepest Poison (Clockwork Dagger #0.5) by Beth Cato
Eeny Meeny (Helen Grace #1) by M.J. Arlidge
The Marriage Season (Brides of Bliss County #3) by Linda Lael Miller
The Race for Paris by Meg Waite Clayton
Tin Men by Christopher Golden
To the Stars by George Takei
The Virgin’s Daughter (Tudor Legacy #4) by Laura Andersen

Purchased from Amazon:
Among the Mad (Maisie Dobbs #6) by Jacqueline Winspear
Birds of a Feather (Maisie Dobbs #2) by Jacqueline Winspear
Cranky Ladies of History edited by Tansy Rayner Roberts and Tehani Wessely
An Elegy for Eddie (Maisie Dobbs #9) by Jacqueline Winspear
An Incomplete Revenge (Maisie Dobbs #5) by Jacqueline Winspear
A Lesson in Secrets (Maisie Dobbs #8) by Jacqueline Winspear
The Mapping of Love and Death (Maisie Dobbs #7) by Jacqueline Winspear
Messenger of Truth (Maisie Dobbs #4) by Jacqueline Winspear
Pardonable Lies (Maisie Dobbs #3) by Jacqueline Winspear

Borrowed from the Library:
The Cutting Season by Attica Locke

Review: Ghost Phoenix by Corrina Lawson

ghost phoenix by corrina lawsonFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: science fiction romance
Series: Phoenix Institute #3
Length: 277 pages
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Date Released: October 7, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, KoboAll Romance

Richard Plantagenet, self-exiled prince of an immortal court, is content living the uncomplicated life of a California surfer. Until his brother’s sudden death and his Queen’s wasting illness wrest him from his ocean-side solitude for one last quest.

The Queen needs a cure. To get it, Richard needs assistance from someone with a singular—and slightly illegal—talent.

As the latest of a long line of ghost-walkers, Marian Doyle can, literally, walk through walls—bringing objects with her. Her gift comes in handy for her family’s shady antiquities business, but Marian’s had it with breaking the law. She wants a life of her own choosing.

Instead, she gets Richard.

Their mission seems simple: Find the body of Gregori Rasputin and procure a small sample of his DNA. But when they discover the Mad Monk of Russia is very much alive, the prince and the phantom must form a bond to battle a man who desires to remake the world in fire.

My Review:

I read The Phoenix Institute series all in one giant binge, and I’ll admit that Ghost Phoenix is the point where it almost jumped the shark. But the romance between the hero and heroine was so much delicious fun that it pretty much jumped back.

phoenix legacy by corrina lawsonThe evil dude in the previous book, Phoenix Legacy, went by the name Edward P. Genet V. At the end of the story we discover that his real name is Edward Plantagenet, briefly King Edward V of England. Back in the late 1400s.

If the name rings any bells at all, it’s because Edward V was also one of the famous Princes in the Tower. Shakespeare claimed that Edward and his brother Richard were killed by their uncle, the recently discovered Richard III. (Contrarians say that the Princes were murdered by their sister’s husband, King Henry VII. We may never know)

But it turns out that the people that the Phoenix Institute has discovered are not the only folks out there with special gifts. The Plantagenets have a strain of self-healing in their DNA, making some of them effectively immortal. Edward was one such, as was his brother Richard. In this scenario, they weren’t killed after all – they disappeared into the shadow court of their immortal queen, who turns out to be Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Eleanor is wasting away of some unknown malady that is preventing her from accessing her healing talents. Edward’s pursuit of Delilah and Drake’s genetically engineered baby was all part of his plan to create someone with the talent to heal others. However, messing with Drake’s family was a guaranteed way of getting killed. A sword through the heart will kill anyone. Even a self-healer can’t heal around a big honking piece of sharp metal in a truly vital organ.

Grigori Rasputin
Grigori Rasputin

Richard is forced back to court by his duty to his brother, and to his queen. He never approved of Edward’s methods, but now he has to find out what truly happened to his brother, and find a cure for the queen. Since Drake and Delilah’s baby is now out of reach, the court has discovered another possible method – studying the corpse of the mad Russian monk Rasputin, who was also had the power to heal others – as well as being a charismatic and nuttier than a fruitcake. Legend has it that Rasputin was poisoned, shot and drowned, so it is assumed that one or all of those methods overcame his self-healing ability.

Richard thinks he’s looking for a valuable corpse. So he hires Doyle Antiquities, especially Marian Doyle, to dig up (if necessary literally) the body of Rasputin. The Doyle family is known for possessing a rare psychic gift – the ability to turn to mist and go through walls. Marian is the only member of the family in this generation to possess the gift – as well as a talent for researching where lost treasures might be found.

Richard discovers that Marian is the most pleasantly surprising person he has met in centuries. She is intelligent, beautiful and talented, and always manages to do the unexpected. As they hunt what they think is an artifact, they discover that in spite of the centuries, they belong together. If they can survive the mess they have gotten themselves into.

Rasputin is still alive, and his followers are every bit as fanatical in the early 21st century as they were in the early 20th.

Escape Rating B+: The combination of the immortal Plantagenet court with Rasputin went really too close to the “believe three impossible things before breakfast” idea. In a world where multiple people have some kind of psychic/telekinetic talent without having had the equivalent of a mutated spider bite them in a lab, it is logical that there would be others with some talent.

There are so many stories about Rasputin, that it isn’t a stretch to believe he had some real power. He and his followers certainly thought he did. But adding the Plantagenet court into the mix almost went over the top.

But Richard Plantagenet is surprisingly empathetic as the surfer dude who could be king. He has rejected much of the isolation of the court and become a surfer in California. He may love the queen, but his attachment is to contemporary life. Watching him straddle both worlds makes him more human. He is still an autocrat at times, but he also knows how to value the short-lived human lives around him – and he knows there are lines that can’t be crossed, a lesson his brother never learned.

Richard meets with the Institute and Philip Drake, yet everyone walks away with their organs intact. He mourns his brother, but acknowledges that Drake’s actions were more than justified. He would protect himself and his to that same extreme – he can’t fault Drake for doing the same.

However, it is Richard’s relationship with Marian that grounds him and makes him human enough to feel for. He needs to win her love and approval, and she keeps him on the relatively human straight and narrow.

It is also her talents that discover the truth about the Queen’s illness. He needs her, and she needs him to boost her confidence so she can break away from the family that uses her and takes her for granted. In the early scenes, where Richard puts her overbearing grandfather in his place, that makes the reader first see him as “one of us” and not “one of them”..

sci fi romance quarterlyOriginally published at Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly


***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Stacking the Shelves (115)

Stacking the Shelves

This may be my shortest stack in recorded history. I would say it’s because nothing is published this time of year, which is true, but I think it’s because the publishers who put up ARCs on NetGalley and Edelweiss are aware that most people are too busy to check. And it’s not that I don’t have plenty to read, but…oooh new book…shiny!

Happy Holidays and Seasons Greetings to every one!

For Review:
Mantle of Malice (Tudor Enigma #3) by April Taylor
Obsession in Death (In Death #40) by J.D. Robb
Tales from the Nightside by Simon R. Green

Stacking the Shelves (113)

Stacking the Shelves

I’ve decided not to make this any worse and shift anything not currently on the list to next week. Where I’ll hopefully have my double-screens back and be in our new home. Or at least have ended this journey.

Today (and last night and tomorrow morning) we’re in Silver City NM with Cass and her adorable kittens Ripley and Vasquez. Our cats are very confused, but as glad as we are not to be on the road.

They don’t know that their holiday present is going to be a Katris just like the one Cass’ kitties have. It’s awesome.

For Review:
The Awakened Kingdom (Inheritance Trilogy #4) by N.K. Jemisin
Blood Moon (Moon #3) by Lisa Kessler
Bring On the Dusk (Night Stalkers #6) by M.L. Buchman
Cannonbridge by Jonathan Barnes
Clash of Eagles by Alan Smale
Ghost Killer (Ghost Seer #3) by Robin D. Owens
Give it All (Desert Dogs #2) by Cara McKenna
The Inheritance Trilogy Omnibus by N.K. Jemisin
Of Silk and Steam (London Steampunk #5) by Bec McMaster
Pirate’s Alley (Sentinels of New Orleans #4) by Suzanne Johnson
Romantic Road by Blair McDowell
Shadow Study (Soulfinders #1) by Maria V. Snyder
Vacant (Mindspace Investigations #4) by Alex Hughes


Review: Phoenix Rising by Philippa Ballantine and Tee Morris

phoenix rising by ballantine and morrisFormat read: ebook purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback ebook
Genre: steampunk
Series: Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences #1
Length: 402 pages
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Date Released: April 26, 2011
Purchasing Info: Pip Ballantine’s Website, Tee Morris’ Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

In Victorian England, Londoners wash up dead on Thames, drained of blood and bone. Clandestine Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences is forbidden to investigate. But Eliza Braun, with bulletproof corset, fondness for dynamite, remarkable devices, drags along timorous new partner Wellington Books, of encyclopedic brain, against Phoenix intent on enslaving Britons.

My Review:

I read this by accident. Lucky for me, it was a good accident. If you’re wondering how to read a book by accident, it’s pretty simple. Just get on an airplane. Even with an ereader, all you’ve got is what you’ve already downloaded. Then hunt for a book by title, and forget to check the author. It also helps to have multiple books with the same title.

If you’re keeping score, I intended to read Phoenix Rising by Corrina Lawson, because it’s in my queue for Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly. Instead, I started Phoenix Rising by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris. Obviously, I intended to read it at some point, or it wouldn’t have been on my iPad. And now that I have read it, I’m moving the rest of the series way up my TBR list.

It’s turned out to be a happy accident. It reminded me that a very long time ago, I read a book by Tee Morris and Lisa Lee titled Morevi, and utterly loved it. (If you love epic fantasy and can find a copy, it’s very worth it)

This Phoenix Rising takes place in a very steampunk version of London, and centers around two agents of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. The agents are, of course, chalk and cheese, as the British would say. Wellington Books is the Ministry archivist; he spends most of his time in the subbasement, organizing the very dangerous artifacts and sometimes dull case files that are sent down by field agents after they complete their assignments – or by their colleagues if the agent doesn’t come back.

Eliza Braun is a field agent with an insubordinate streak a mile wide. She’s looked down upon both as a female agent and as a representative from the far-flung colonies – she’s proud to be the only Kiwi (New Zealander) in the London office of the Ministry.

Books and Braun are thrown together when she is sent to make sure he doesn’t spill any Ministry secrets while in the torturing hands of the House of Usher. Thinking fast on her feet, or being insubordinate as usual, Eliza rescues Books instead of eliminating him as instructed. She was sure that he hadn’t broken yet, and she was right.

Not that they both don’t get punished for her actions and his gullibility at being taken in the first place. The head of the Ministry assigns Eliza to the archives as Books’ apprentice, taking her out of the field and giving him an assistant who upsets his sense of order at every turn.

Partially to keep from driving each other crazy, and partially because Eliza can’t stand being out of the field, and Books has now developed a taste for it, they take up a cold case from the archives. It’s not really all that cold, at least to Eliza – it’s the case that got her last partner sent to Bedlam.

She wants to finish what he started. Books wants to keep his new partner reasonably safe.

The Phoenix wants to create a country of pure-blooded Britons, and enslave the rest. But it will take all of Braun’s ingenuity as well as the dangerous side that Books keeps firmly in check in order to figure out who their real enemy is, and stop them before it gets any later.

The ride is wild and the stakes are high. The depths of the conspiracies will require extensive plumbing. Getting out alive is not just optional, but downright iffy. And it’s a blast!

Escape Rating B+: This story is an absolute blast, and not just because Eliza likes playing with explosives. A lot.

The setting reminded me of the TV series, The Wild Wild West (not that gawdawful movie), except of course this is London and not the American West. But the sensibilities of the thing, where the agents have access to a ton of cutting edge (bleeding edge) toys and there’s a hint that either the good guys, the bad guys, or everyone, is playing with stuff on the limits of rational and scientific theory. Sometimes, things slip over into the paranormal, but it’s a slip rather than a full-fledged paranormal setting. The sense that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy, to paraphrase Shakespeare.

A big chunk of the story is Books and Braun managing to become real partners. I mean this is the working sense and not the romantic sense. There is some chemistry, but these are people who first need to find a way to trust each other to guard their backs. Partially because they constantly get themselves into situations where their backs need guarding, and partially because they both have negative experiences in trusting other people. If these two are intended to be romantic partners at some point, that point is a long way off at the end of this story.

This entry in the annals of the Ministry also serves as an introduction to this construction of Victorian England and the author’s particular version of the political skullduggery as well. An underlying subplot in the story is that there are wheels within wheels within wheels, and not just in the Ministry. The Phoenix may be the primary enemy in this story, but the notorious House of Usher looms in the background as an evil rival to both the Phoenix and the Ministry. And in the tradition of nasty politics everywhere, the Ministry and its chief Doctor Small have enemies within the government who either want to bring them down, or steal their funding.

The sense of urgency and adventure in Phoenix Rising rests on the characters of the two agents. Also on their mutual discovery of each other’s hidden depths. Neither of them are exactly what the personas they have adopted represent, and it is fun to see them figure out that the other is not what they believed. They fit, but not in the way that either of them expects.

If you like steampunk adventure, Phoenix Rising is the start of a tremendously fun adventure.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 6-8-14

Sunday Post

You have four more days to get in on the Covergasm Blog Hop. I’m giving away a $10 Gift Card, and the grand prizes for the hop are a $100 Amazon gift card and a $30 Amazon gift card. Check it out!

I’m in the middle of a Zoë Archer reading binge. I’m part of a joint review of the latest book in her Nemesis, Unlimited series at The Book Pushers this week, so naturally I had to read the rest of the series. Yummy!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card in the Covergasm Blog Hop

artemis awakening by Jane lindskoldBlog Recap:

B+ Dual Review: Artemis Awakening by Jane Lindskold
B Review: Silver Mirrors by A.A. Aguirre
B+ Review: Court of Conspiracy by April Taylor
B Review: Sweet Revenge by Zoë Archer
Covergasm Blog Hop
Stacking the Shelves (92)



allegiance by susannah sandlinComing Next Week:

Winter’s Heat by Zoë Archer (review)
The Marriage Pact by Linda Lael Miller (blog tour review)
Dangerous Seduction by Zoë Archer (review)
Stone Song by D.L. McDermott (review)
Allegiance by Susannah Sandlin (review + guest post + giveaway)

The Sunday Post AKA What’s On My (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 1-26-14

Sunday Post

As you read this, I am in Philadelphia, trying not to freeze. The American Library Association Midwinter Conference is in Philly. Why, oh why couldn’t they have picked someplace warm this year?

Oh, that’s right, they saved the hot spot for the SUMMER conference. The June conference this year is in Las Vegas! (Yes, I know, it’s a DRY heat)

Current Giveaways:

Late Last Night by Lilian Darcy (ebook)
Tourwide Giveaway from Susannah Sandlin: $25 Amazon Gift Card, $10 Amazon Gift Card and Author Swag Pack

deeper by robin yorkBlog Recap:

A Review: Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone
B+ Review: Forward to Camelot 50th Anniversary Edition by Susan Sloate and Kevin Finn
Guest Post by Susan Sloate on Writing About the Kennedy Assassination
B+ Review: Late Last Night by Lilian Darcy + Giveaway
A+ Review: Deeper by Robin York
B Review: Chenoire by Susannah Sandlin + Giveaway
Stacking the Shelves (75)

Coming Next Week:

share the love giveaway hopThe Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker (blog tour review)
Jewel of the East by Victoria Vane (blog tour review, guest post + giveaway)
The Warrior & the Flower by Camille Picott (blog tour review + giveaway)
Prince of Tricks by Jane Kindred (blog tour review, guest post + giveaway)
The Traitor’s Wife by Allison Pataki (blog tour review, author interview + giveaway)
Share the Love Giveaway Hop

Guest Post by Susan Sloate on Writing about the Kennedy Assassination

forward to camelot by susan sloateToday’s guest post is from Susan Sloate, one of the authors of today’s featured review book, Forward to Camelot: 50th Anniversary Edition. Her topic is the continued fascination with the Kennedy Assassination, an event that took place over 50 years ago.

Like the author, I was also in the first grade when JFK was assassinated. Unlike most children my age, I was home that week, sick with tonsillitis, so I don’t have that clear-cut memory of a school announcement. But the world still changed that day.

And without that one shattering moment, other equally heart-breaking events probably might not have taken place; the 1968 assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy.

Many authors have gone back and imagined the different course that history would have taken if JFK had lived, because those moments in Dallas feel like a turning point that overshadows history.

Why Write about the Kennedy Assassination?
By Susan Sloate

     Why write about an event that took six seconds to occur, and that is, in the words of one reviewer, ‘probably the most written-about crime in history’? Why add yet another book to the cartloads of books appearing on the 50th anniversary? Why, in other words, bring it up yet again? What does it matter?

You don’t realize, especially when you’re very young, when an event cuts straight through  your heart. I realized on 9/11 that something enormous and heart-breaking was occurring—and as I wept I knew I would remember it always, and forever after, it would hurt. But I was at that point in my 40’s and a mother of two small children. The impact—on them and me—was so clear. And I’d been through national tragedies before.

I didn’t realize the impact when I heard the announcement in my first-grade classroom, though I never forgot it. I don’t remember having much reaction at all. Two years before, when my nursery-school bus driver drove us home, he entertained us with the story of Lincoln’s assassination. God knows why you’d tell this to four-year-olds, but I was very interested and filed it away in my mind. (And grew up to write a book about Lincoln—everything is potential fodder!)

So when the news came from our principal, Mr. Kahan, that President Kennedy had been shot and killed in Dallas that afternoon, I don’t remember any of my classmates reacting as their older brothers and sisters did—with shock and grief and anger. We were children. We didn’t realize what it all meant. (And in my case, having heard about Lincoln so recently, I just figured that was how presidents got out of office.) I remember my twenty-something teacher announcing at once that we were going to lay aside our work and instead, each write a letter to Mrs. Kennedy, telling her how sorry we were for her family. It was what you did in 1963. Mrs. Kennedy, apparently, received millions of these notes from all over the world, in a massive outpouring of grief.

jfk in rotunda aerial viewI do remember looking at my parents’ copies of Life and Look magazines. I remember in particular the aerial photo of the President’s casket, draped with the flag, as it lay in state at the Capitol. Its imprint sank deep into my memory. The photo strip of the Zapruder film reproduced in Life—I saw that too, and it touched something deep inside me.

Several years later—I was twelve or so—I would come home from school to find my mother baking bread. The clearest image of that is the log-shaped loaf she would set on the counter to rise, covering it with a clean kitchen towel—thin colored stripes on a white background. Every time I saw it, it reminded me again of that flag-draped casket.

I grew up and read a few books about the assassination and found them interesting. But I didn’t realize how much the event had clutched me to its heart until 1992, when I saw Oliver Stone’s brilliant film JFK.

     I took a long meditative walk and asked myself, with all the people who knew it was going to happen, why didn’t the right people find out in time to stop it? And I began to imagine what I would do if suddenly, I could travel miraculously back to that vanished world and interfere with the history that was.

With writers, it’s just a step from daydreaming to planning—and before I knew it, I was sitting down to type some pages. None of them remain in the finished novel, which became Forward to Camelot. It would be years before I’d pull in my friend Kevin Finn as my co-author, and more years before we’d even figure out a way through the maze of information. But I knew that what I was going to do was fix what went wrong in November 1963. I was going to make things turn out differently for the President and the country.

The urge to ‘fix it’, to make the bad things go away, is a motivation for many writers, I think. It’s certainly mine: to take something bad and using the alchemy of structure, plot and character, turn it into something beautiful.

So why write again about the most written-about crime in history? Because this time, through a brave heroine and against impossible odds, Kevin and I unraveled the threads of history and set them right. And when I hear from readers, “How I wish this was true”, I know that our mission succeeded, in their dreams and in ours.

SUSAN SLOATE is the author of 20 previous books, including the recent bestseller Stealing Fire and Realizing You (with Ron Doades), for which she invented a new genre: the self-help novel. The original 2003 edition of Forward to Camelot became a #6 Amazon bestseller, took honors in three literary competitions and was optioned by a Hollywood company for film production.
Susan has also written young-adult fiction and non-fiction, including the children’s biography Ray Charles: Find Another Way!, which won the silver medal in the 2007 Children’s Moonbeam Awards. Mysteries Unwrapped: The Secrets of Alcatraz led to her 2009 appearance on the TV series MysteryQuest on The History Channel. Amelia Earhart: Challenging the Skies is a perennial young-adult Amazon bestseller. She has also been a sportswriter and a screenwriter, managed two recent political campaigns and founded an author’s festival in her hometown outside Charleston, SC.

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Review: Forward to Camelot 50th Anniversary Edition by Susan Sloate and Kevin Finn

forward to camelot by susan sloateFormat read: ebook provided by the author
Formats available: ebook, paperback
Genre: time travel, alternate history
Length: 384 pages
Publisher: Drake Valley Press
Date Released: August 29, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

WHERE WERE YOU THE DAY KENNEDY WAS SAVED? On the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination comes a new edition of the extraordinary time-travel thriller first published in 2003 with a new Afterword from the authors. On November 22, 1963, just hours after President Kennedy’s assassination, Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as President aboard Air Force One using JFK’s own Bible. Immediately afterward, the Bible disappeared. It has never been recovered. Today, its value would be beyond price. In the year 2000, actress Cady Cuyler is recruited to return to 1963 for this Bible-while also discovering why her father disappeared in the same city, on the same tragic day. Finding frightening links between them will lead Cady to a far more perilous mission: to somehow prevent the President’s murder, with one unlikely ally: an ex-Marine named Lee Harvey Oswald. Forward to Camelot: 50th Anniversary Edition brings together an unlikely trio: a gallant president, the young patriot who risks his own life to save him, and the woman who knows their future, who is desperate to save them both. History CAN be altered …

My Review:

One of the historic events that alternate history writers LOVE to play with is the Kennedy Assassination. What if John F. Kennedy had not been killed on November 22, 1963? What if that brief period of bright hope was not extinguished so tragically? Would the U.S., would the world, be a brighter place now? Or does the tragedy make JFK seem nobler than he was, or would have been?

Forward to Camelot is the story of one attempt to change that history, but rather than attempt to focus on the broad sweep of the last 50 years, the authors have chosen to view the change through the lens of one person’s life. There is also more than a bit of science fiction “hand-wavium” regarding the method of time travel.

And it doesn’t matter. It’s the story of that brief period in November 1963 that compels. Using the point of view of a woman from the year 2000 makes it just that much easier for us to be swept along by the events.

The story pulls us along because we get set up right along with the main character. Cady Cuyler is sent back to 1963 to retrieve a priceless artifact, not to change history–or so she thinks. As an actress, she feels that she is being prepped to play a role, the part of a 20-something woman in Dallas in 1963. The world she is stepping into is both familiar and different.

While her employers want her to retrieve the Bible used to swear in President Johnson, Cady is willing to do this crazy thing in the hopes of saving her father. He also disappeared on November 22, 1963. Her mother has never recovered.

By inserting Cady into the past a few days before the assassination, we get immersed with her. She meets her father, and discovers that he’s not quite the loving, caring husband her mother portrayed. But while he’s hitting on her, he offers her a job as a temporary switchboard operator at his import/export business.

The more Cady sees, the more she realizes that things are not the way she was told they were. Not just because her father is no knight in shining armor, but because there is something terrible going on and he is in it up to his neck.

Her father has damned himself in a way that Cady can’t forgive. He is part of the conspiracy to kill President Kennedy. The only person who might be able to help her save the President is the person she least expects to be on her side, Lee Harvey Oswald.

But then, nothing in 1963 is what she thought it would be. Her father is trying to kill the President and Oswald is helping to save him. Cady might never get back to her own time, but if she can save JFK, it doesn’t matter.

Escape Rating B+: This is one of those stories that absolutely shouldn’t work, but it definitely does. I kept carrying it around, wanting to get just a few more pages read.

This book is a conspiracy theorist’s dream. Not just that Oswald was set up by the CIA and FBI, but that there was a separate conspiracy planning to assassinate Kennedy in order to send troops back to Cuba to fight Castro. It sounds wild now, but it makes sense in the historical context. Even more fascinating, the type of coverup outlined in the book has a basis in evidence released in the 1980s and 1990s due to Freedom of Information Act requests. While the coverup may not have been quite as dramatic as written, that one occurred is pretty easy to believe, especially post-Watergate.

But it’s Cady’s story that kept this reader glued to the story. The way that she takes the information that she finds and keeps running with it, despite the odds and the insane things that keep happening. Would someone try to save JFK? Yes, quite probably. But the story, her story, is all in how she does it. She starts out not having a lot of confidence, thinking that real life happens to other people. Going back to the past she grows up, she finds her courage, she saves the President because she saves herself first. The cool thing is that she does it twice.

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