Review: Iron Guns, Blazing Hearts by Heather Massey

Format read: ebook provided by the author
Formats available: ebook
Genre: steampunk romance
Length: 163 pages
Publisher: Lyrical Press
Date Released: February 4, 2013
Purchasing Info:Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, The Galaxy Express

The West just got a whole lot wilder.

A woman on a mission… Scientific achievement isn’t enough for Violet Whitcomb. Life working alongside her renowned scientist father is filled with intellectual challenges, but what she truly craves is love and adventure. She’s resigned to a fate of academic pursuits…until a fateful trip across the American frontier changes everything. A rogue inventor known as the Iron Scorpion kidnaps Violet’s father and she alone is left to plan his rescue.

A man with a secret… Logan McCoy knows firsthand going up against the Iron Scorpion is suicide, but he can’t let Violet waltz into the villain’s lair alone. She may be a stranger, but she’s also the most compelling woman he’s ever known.

A perilous quest… Their attraction is undeniable, but their alliance turns contentious when Violet insists on including a third partner on their mission: her father’s latest invention and the world’s most advanced automaton, Arthur. The reason for Logan’s resistance isn’t clear until Violet comes face-to-face with the Iron Scorpion’s diabolical devices, and by then, it’s far too late.

CONTENT WARNING: An irresistibly dangerous alpha hero, a heroine whose most prized accessory is her steam gun, an automaton gunslinger…and a villain whose lust for power drives him to evils beyond the scope of humanity.

My Review:

Something about Heather Massey’s Iron Guns, Blazing Hearts evoked some very fond memories of Saturday mornings watching Dudley Do-Right cartoons. In a good way.

Partly it was the serial melodrama.  Violet Whitcomb yearns for adventure, so she reads about it in weekly magazines that provide it for her, one chapter at a time–always ending with the heroine in yet another dreadful scrape, seemingly doomed. (Did you ever wonder where the term “cliffhanger ending” came from?)

Violet is a bluestocking, an educated and intellectual woman, but her father sees her as just another tool to assist him in the creation of his amazing inventions. He has buried his grief at the loss of his wife (and Violet’s mother) in more and yet more work. But he’s prevented Violet from having any life at all. She’s in her mid-twenties, she’s happy to assist her father, but she also wants to have a chance at a family of her own. He doesn’t hear or see her as anything but an extension of himself and his work. He’s not mean, he’s just a workaholic.

On a trans-continental railway journey, Violet discovers the truth of the old adage “be careful what you wish for, you might get it”. A few moments of connection with a dangerous man on the train, a man she nearly throws herself at in her naivete, and then, without warning, the train is set upon by mechanical monsters.

Her father is kidnapped by one of those monsters. Violet’s dangerous and attractive fantasy man becomes her only hope for rescuing her father.

In all innocence, Violet assumes that this man on whom she has pinned all her hopes must be a Pinkerton agent. From her reading of adventure stories, that’s the romantic notion that makes sense to her imagination.

He calls himself Logan, and he reveals very little about his background. What he does say is that her father has been kidnapped by the Iron Scorpion. A man who has perverted the very ground on which he has made his base camp. The man who murdered Logan’s family.

They hammer out an agreement for Logan to guide Violet to free her father from the Iron Scorpion’s evil clutches only once they figure out that Violet’s father is exactly what the Scorpion has been searching for, a man who invents sophisticated automatons. The Scorpion has so fouled his own lands that humans are unable to work for him for very long.

Then Violet insists on bringing another partner. Her father’s finest creation, a fully-functional automaton that she calls “Arthur”.  (If the descriptions of Arthur don’t eventually make you think of Star Trek TNG‘s Data, especially from the episode A Fistful of Datas, I’ll eat my sombrero, or yours)

From the point where Logan, Violet and Arthur take up the trail to the Iron Scorpion’s lair, the story is adventure melodrama at its cheesy, gooey best.

The laconic Western hero with the mysterious past and the concealed motives who is doing the right thing for reasons of his own, but you just know they are not the reasons that they heroine thinks they are.

The naive heroine who has woven a beautiful fantasy about the hero that is doomed to go to smash sooner or later (probably sooner) and who is just so plucky that you hope she gets some of her happy ending. But you also want to shake some sense into her!

And the silent sidekick, who in this case is really, really silent!

Logan is much more competent than Dudley Do-Right ever hoped to be, but also much less on the right side of things. Violet is also more competent than Nell (she not only knows which is the man and which is the horse, she know how to operate a steam engine!)

But Snidely Whiplash was not half as villainous as the Iron Scorpion. Our heroes needed to be a lot more competent than their cartoon counterparts.

Will that be enough to save the day from a very evil inventor? Or will they need a more scientific boost?

Escape Rating B: There is more steampunk than romance in this steampunk romance. That’s okay, they were busy!

Having each chapter prefaced with a quote from one of Violet’s “adventure stories” was adorable. It showed where she was coming from as a character, and made the idea that she kept on believing that Logan was a Pinkerton agent a bit easier to swallow. She had led a rather sheltered life!

Arthur’s growth as a character and as a “person” definitely paralleled Data. Also Logan’s reaction to him. Logan first treats him as a “thing”, and finally at the end, treats him as an asset and acknowledges that they wouldn’t have succeeded without him. It’s a big leap.

I do hope that author does tell Arthur’s future adventures. Data was “fully-functional” after all.

This was fun and froth. It read as if it were one of Violet’s adventure stories come to life, which I think was the author’s intention. If there are more monsters out in this author’s version of the weird West, I’d be happy to read her tales of their vanquishing!

***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 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 Vitual) Nightstand? 2-10-13

Just like yesterday’s Stacking the Shelves post, this particular Sunday Post is going to be on the short and hopefully sweet side.

I’ve got strep throat, and I pretty much feel like crap on toast. The only people happy about this development are the cats. I make a much better heat source with a fever of 102°.

(Yes, I’ve been to a doctor, it really is strep, I’m taking antibiotics, and the fever is coming down. I’ll be back in the office, no longer contagious and mostly human on Tuesday. Meanwhile, I’m sick as the proverbial canine. And why is it dogs in that idiom, anyway?)

But what happened this week that was much more fun?

There’s still plenty of time to take a ride on The Great Steampunk Romance Airship Tour, sponsored by The Galaxy Express. The Tour stopped here at Reading Reality on February 5, but do check out the tour schedule at TGE to discover all the marvelous places you can go and climb aboard.

The full (very full in fact) schedule for last week:

A- Review: Silent Vows by Catherine Bybee
Guest Post by Author Catherine Bybee + Giveaway
Guest post: The Great Steampunk Romance Airship Tour + Giveaway
B Review: Redeeming Vows by Catherine Bybee
B+ Review: Treacherous Temptations by Victoria Vane + Giveaway
Guest Post by Victoria Vane + Giveaway
B+ Review: The Slayer by Theresa Meyers
Stacking the Shelves (33)

And all the giveaways are still open except Catherine Bybee’s. So you still have time to get in the running for some terrific books!

Speaking of getting in on the ground floor for some fantastic books, what about this week? I have two events scheduled this week.

Monday, February 11, will be the first day of the Celebrating Saint Valentine Blog Hop, sponsored by Reading Romances. Since this hop is celebrating Valentine’s Day, it will run through the Valentine’s Day weekend. Reading Reality will be giving a $10 Amazon Gift Card as a prize (pick your own fantastic books) But there are over 60 authors and bloggers participating. LOTS of fantastic books and prizes to chose from!

On Tuesday, I’ll be reviewing Lady in Deed by Ann Montclair as part of a tour from Goddess Fish. Interesting historical romance from the Henry VIII period, not one that often gets used in historical romance, so it was a nice change-of-pace. There is a tourwide giveaway with this one.

And for the rest of the week, a couple of surprises. I did want to review one of the steampunk books from The Great Steampunk Romance Airship Tour before the tour ended, so I’ll be reviewing Heather Massey’s own Iron Guns, Blazing Hearts.

I also treated myself this weekend. I re-read an old favorite in honor of the determination that those bones they discovered under a Leicester car-park really do belong to Richard III. I was more than pleased to discover that Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time still holds up to the bright spot it has kept in my memory.

Guest post: The Great Steampunk Romance Airship Tour + Giveaway

Today I’d like to welcome one of the co-conspirators behind the absolutely fabulous SFR Galaxy Awards. Heather Massey is here to announce the Great Steampunk Romance Airship Tour and discuss…

Analysis Of A Steampunk Romance Cover

by Heather Massey

With steampunk romance gaining more visibility over the past few years, I thought it’d be useful to tease out the elements one can expect from a steampunk romance cover. These covers have evolved quickly and I’d wager it’s because the steampunk aesthetic is unique and lends itself to a visual medium. Also, whether covers feature original designs or stock images, steampunk elements are fairly accessible.

Cover designers routinely use certain elements to tip off readers about steampunk romance content. Color is a main one. Steampunk romance covers trend toward warm, earthy color schemes—reds, browns, orange, yellow. The sepia-like tone evokes the Victorian-era time period (especially if that’s the story setting). Another reason for this color scheme is that it pairs well with metallic objects that are made of brass, bronze, and copper.

Other elements are more specific in nature. Below are a few additional steampunk romance cover clues along with examples.


Airships are one of the most popular steampunk romance cover elements. And no wonder—they’re frequently present in the stories. Plus, they’re really cool!



Many steampunk and clockpunk devices are made with gears and so many covers reflect that aesthetic. Gears also provide clues about the time period and setting.


Steampunk romances feature a number of intriguing gadgets from handheld devices to transportation vehicles. The presence of a gadget is also an indication that a story is likely to contain action-adventure elements. The covers below proudly display a type of gadget.


 Goggles & Clothing

Many steampunk romance characters wear goggles at some point. One of the most popular accessories, they’re handy for eye protection when one is creating an invention. They also prevent bugs from smashing into the eyes of heroes and heroines during travel. You’ll encounter them in many covers because they make the characters really pop.

Steampunk romance covers are also a great excuse to showcase fabulous Victorian-era fashion, or any alternative version thereof.


 Prosthetic devices

Characters who wear prosthetic devices are fairly common in steampunk romance. And for good reason—the devices are fascinating and often serve an interesting purpose within the story. Prosthetic limbs lend themselves to the exploration of important themes and it’s always a thrill when a cover represents them.

Now that we’ve had fun dissecting steampunk romance covers, it’s time for a giveaway!

Leave a comment for this post and you’ll be entered for a chance to win the following ebook:

The Iron Heart – Leslie Dicken (winner’s choice PDF, ePUB, or .mobi)

And there’s more! Everyone who leaves a comment at any of the stops on The Great Steampunk Romance Airship Tour will be entered for a chance to win the Grand Prize:

$100 e-gift card (winner’s choice Amazon or B&N)

75$ e-gift certificate to Clockwork Couture

1 digital copy of IRON GUNS, BLAZING HEARTS (winner’s choice PDF, ePub, or .mobi)

Please include your email address. The deadline to enter all of the giveaways will be midnight PST on February 14. On Friday, February 15, check back here to see if you’ve won the ebook prize.

The grand prize winner will be announced on February 15 at The Galaxy Express.

About the authorHeather Massey is a lifelong fan of science fiction romance. She searches for sci-fi romance adventures aboard her blog, The Galaxy Express. She’s also an author in the subgenre. To learn more about her published work, visit

Iron Guns, Blazing Hearts

(February 2013; Lyrical Press)

The West just got a whole lot wilder.

A woman on a mission… Scientific achievement isn’t enough for Violet Whitcomb. Life working alongside her renowned scientist father is filled with intellectual challenges, but what she truly craves is love and adventure. She’s resigned to a fate of academic pursuits–until a fateful trip across the American frontier changes everything. A rogue inventor known as the Iron Scorpion kidnaps Violet’s father and she alone is left to plan his rescue.

A man with a secret… Logan McCoy knows firsthand going up against the Iron Scorpion is suicide, but he can’t let Violet waltz into the villain’s lair alone. She may be a stranger, but she’s also the most compelling woman he’s ever known.

A perilous quest… Their attraction is undeniable, but their alliance turns contentious when Violet insists on including a third partner on their mission: her father’s latest invention and the world’s most advanced automaton, Arthur. The reason for Logan’s resistance isn’t clear until Violet comes face-to-face with the Iron Scorpion’s diabolical devices, and by then, it’s far too late.

Ebook Review Central, Hexapub, June 2012

This is the Creepy Crawly edition of Ebook Review Central.

Why Creepy Crawly? Six publishers, six legs. Spider-post. (Yes, we saw Spider-Man last week. Not bad, not bad at all.)

But we’re talking publishers, and not necessarily superheroes, although there might be a superhero book in the bunch. You’ll have to check the database. Take a look at the Amber Quill Press, Astraea Press, Curiosity Quills, Liquid Silver Books, Red Sage Publishing, and Riptide Publishing lists for June 2012. Maybe somebody published a superhero book this month.

Even if they didn’t, you’ll have fun seeing what they did publish, and what reviewers had to say about it.

What usually strikes me about the multi-publisher issue of ERC is that there are generally a lot of titles, but not a lot of reviews. There’s been a lot of discussion recently about the “epidemic of niceness” in online reviewing. If you haven’t seen the original article, it was  posted in Slate.

Unlike the New York Times Book Review, bloggers are not paid to write reviews. So, as a group, we may only spend our time writing reviews of books we like. Also, as Barbara Hoffert pointed out in an essay at Library Journal titled F. Scott Fitzgerald, Best-Selling Ebooks, and the Problem with Online Book Talk, bloggers are “out there” in terms of protection from legal repercussions if an author doesn’t like what we say. Library Journal has over a century of history behind it. It has a business structure. Most importantly, it has lawyers to defend its employees.

So, some of that epidemic of niceness may be a case of the old adage, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”. In which case, a ton of good reviews probably means that a book is at least a decent read (Think of how Rotten Tomatoes crowdsources movie ratings). But if no one is reviewing a book, it means something else. It might mean that the book hasn’t found its audience.

And it might mean that no one has anything good to say, so everyone is keeping their keyboards disengaged.

But there were books this week that generated plenty of reviews. Let’s talk about the featured titles for this week.

Clanking into third place this week is The Blacksmith’s Lover by Heather Massey. This is the second book in her Clockpunk Trilogy, after The Watchmaker’s Lady. It’s a short, intense, erotic story of Sarah, a young woman who escapes abuse at the hands of her employer to find refuge with a rather unusual blacksmith outside West Boylston, Massachusetts in 1840. Viktor doesn’t just make horseshoes. In his hidden workshop, he makes clockwork animals, steam-powered clockwork animals, and all manner of fascinating devices. Keeping the secret of his special crafting out of the wrong hands is the reason Viktor fled his native Russia. But once Sarah and Viktor start an affair, he uses his mechanical skills to defend her, even against a rival clockworker employed by her insane former employer. This steampunk story is hotter than the blacksmith’s forge!

Number two for this week wafts in on a puff of pipe smoke. Kissing Sherlock Holmes by T.D. McKinney and Terry Wylis is a new Sherlock Holmes case with one difference. Instead of Holmes being indifferent to his emotions, Holmes both gets engaged to a headstrong young woman AND embarks on a passionate affair with his friend Dr. John Watson. Oh yes, there’s a mystery to be solved, a tiny little thing about a sadistic blackmailer threatening to undermine the government. The idea that Holmes and Watson are in a relationship has been around forever. BBC’s Sherlock lampshades it at every opportunity. Most of the reviewers say that Kissing Sherlock Holmes does a reasonable job treating the relationship as a real possibility, with a couple of minor quibbles. Everyone seems to have solved the mystery too quickly. For a very funny, and snarky, opposing view of the book, read Julie’s review at Word Weary, it’s a scream.

It seems like it’s inevitable. The number one book this week is from Riptide Publishing. This week’s selection is Awakening by Cat Grant and Rachel Haimowitz, the latest entry in their Power Play series. This one is definitely not for the faint of heart. The Power Play series makes no apologies about playing with all four letters of BDSM; the two characters of this series, Jonathan and Brandon are in a consensual Dom/sub relationship, and in this second book of the series, Brandon has entered into a new phase of his relationship with Jonathan for a $3 million payout. It was the only way he could get Jonathan back. But to do it, he has to prove that he’s every bit the masochist that dominant and sadist Jonathan wants and needs. Because Brandon loves him that much. But it takes them both a lot of pain to get there. And not all of that pain, not by any stretch of the imagination, is physical.

Now it’s time for the spider to climb back to the center of her web until the next hexapost. Ebook Review Central will be back next week, when we’ll turn our gaze to the Carina Press July titles. I’ve found a Monster in My Closet, but no superheroes so far. Guess I’ll just have to keep looking.

Review: The Blacksmith’s Lover by Heather Massey

Format Read: ebook from author
Number of Pages: 100 p.
Release Date: June 1, 2012
Publisher: Red Sage Publishing
Series: The Clockpunk Trilogy #2
Genre: Steampunk
Formats Available: ebook
Purchasing Info: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Book Depository US | Book Depository (UK)

Book Blurb:

The year is 1840. On the run after being caught in a scandalous incident, scullery maid Sarah Bailey must find refuge before her vengeful former mistress has her killed. When she stumbles upon a blacksmith’s shop in need of an apprentice in West Boylston, Massachusetts, she applies for the position.

Viktor is a brawny, reclusive blacksmith who creates strange clockwork and steam-powered devices. The gruff man makes it clear that Sarah’s plight is no concern of his, but ghosts from his past dictate otherwise. Viktor agrees to protect the spunky maid, but only until her trail of henchmen runs cold.

Sarah quickly discovers that the fire of this blacksmith’s forge runs volcanic hot. Unable to resist one another, she and Viktor begin a lust-filled affair. But how long will their idyllic arrangement last before Sarah’s former mistress destroys it?

My Thoughts:

This was originally posted at Book Lovers Inc.

There aren’t a lot of romances with working-class heroes. In historic romances, everyone’s a nobleman. In contemporary romances, everyone is either a white-collar worker, military, or police.

That’s a broad generalization, but maybe not too far off.

In an early scene in The Blacksmith’s Lover, the heroine, Sarah, sees Viktor, the Blacksmith, bathing nude, and it does kind of make you wonder why there aren’t more blacksmith-heroes, at least in erotica.

While you’re fanning yourself, think about it.

However, that’s not the point of the story. There’s plenty of steam in this steampunk, but it doesn’t get there until later. There’s also not a lot of steampunk, or clockpunk, in this story at the beginning. It sort of eases its way in, too.

What we have throughout is the subversive story of two people who rescue each other. Viktor and Sarah are really equals. It just takes them a good chunk of the story to figure that out.

It works as a story. Viktor’s no nobleman, although he is very noble in his own way. And Sarah’s no simpering miss, either. They are both strong. Not just strong -willed, but physically strong. He needs her as much as she needs him. And not just for sex, although that turns out to be a big part of what happens.

They also have one heck of a lot of secrets, and they are keeping way too many of those secrets from each other to have a happily ever after. It almost costs them everything.

One big secret involves the steampunk/clockpunk element. Viktor learned some really cool stuff back in Russia. He learned to make mechanical marvels. He wants to train an apprentice, to pass his secrets on. Instead of getting an apprentice blacksmith, he gets Sarah.

She wants a refuge. And finds a protector. Together, they make a formidable team. It’s all a matter of learning to trust.

It made sense that Viktor was keeping the more “outlandish” aspects of his blacksmithing a secret from the general populace. Trust does not come easy to him. Neither does communication. He’s used to working with his hands, not talking. Yet he needs to find someone to train. It’s a very real problem.

This story begins because Sarah is being hounded by her previous employer, Mrs. Reynolds. The issue with Mrs. Reynolds does have to be resolved before this story can come to an end, and it does involve Viktor’s clockworks and steamworks. All does get revealed.

But I’m glad we don’t really see much of Mrs. Reynolds. I found her motivations completely unbelievable, even in fiction.

The Blacksmith’s Lover is a more “traditional” steampunk romance than The Watchmaker’s Lady. Both the lovers are fully human, and the reader doesn’t find themselves wondering if the hero is out of his mind.  Without that challenge, the story is not quite as haunting.

Which makes it very steamy steampunk with a down-to-earth hero and a heroine who is his equal. For that, I give The Blacksmith’s Lover 4 stars.

***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 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.

Birthday Giveaway of Queenie’s Brigade

Today is my birthday. Not Reading Reality’s blogoversary, but my actual birthday.

I’ve been referring to this celebration as a hobbit’s birthday. For anyone who has not read J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpieces, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, hobbits give presents to other people on their birthdays.

Reading, and re-reading The Hobbit and LOTR gave me my love of fantasy, and led to my lifelong adventures in genre fiction. From that introduction, I followed the primrose and circuit-strewn path to science fiction, and thus became a geek girl forever.

The biggest argument I had with Tolkien, then and now, is that there were almost no strong female characters. My current favorites generally don’t have that problem.

One of my favorite books from 2011 is Queenie’s Brigade, by Heather Massey. Queenie is a very strong woman, the leader of a prison colony at the edge of known space. This ebook science fiction romance was on my Best Ebook Romances of 2011 column at Library Journal. I could only pick 5 books, but Queenie’s Brigade had to be one of those five. Read my review and you’ll understand why it made my top 5.

Heather Massey, in addition to being an SFR author, also follows science fiction romance as the pilot of The Galaxy Express blog. Interested readers and fellow travelers should climb aboard The Galaxy Express. It’s a fantastic ride.

But about Queenie. Queenie is an alpha heroine leading a fight against overwhelming odds. Queenie’s Brigade has been called The Dirty Dozen in space. Why? Because Queenie joins the freed inmates of her prison colony to the crew of the last spaceship escaping from a doomed Earth Federation. Queenie and the captain of the spaceship team up to turn the prisoners into soldiers.

I called it great science fiction with hot romance. And thanks to Heather Massey, I get to giveaway a copy of Queenie’s Brigade to one reader of Reading Reality for my birthday.

(If Queenie’s Brigade sounds good, take a look at the review of Heather’s latest erotic clockpunk romance, The Watchmaker’s Lady. There’s still plenty of time to get in on that giveaway.)

To have an ebook copy of Queenie’s Brigade for your very own (PDF, EPUB or .mobi) , here’s all you have to do. Leave a comment that answers the following question: if you were in command of a ragtag fleet of barely repaired ships, which evil science fiction empire would you rather be up against? And also let me know which format you want you ebook in if you are the lucky winner.

The deadline to enter the giveaway is 12:01 a.m. EDT on the morning of April 8, 2012. I will announce the winner on April 9th.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The Watchmaker’s Lady

First there was steampunk, and now there’s clockpunk. And is it ever cool.

In the hands of an author like Heather Massey, it is also very, very hot. Hot enough to melt anyone’s circuits.

In Massey’s latest novella, The Watchmaker’s Lady, the “lady” in question is a combination of clockwork bits, metal parts, and a lifelike porcelain head. Or is she?

As the story begins, Matthew Goddard is one lonely watchmaker in the midst of New England in 1840. In our terms, he’d be a geek or a nerd. He enjoys fiddling with clocks and watches, and while he would like to marry and have some female companionship, he’s not interested in someone who wouldn’t provide interesting intellectual conversation as well as stimulating sexual escapades.

But Matthew is nothing if not resourceful. On one of his regular parts-buying expeditions to the local general store, he spies a mannequin’s head in a scrap heap. To Matthew, that dusty and bedraggled bisque face represents the woman of his dreams. Possibly literally.

Matthew acts as if “Isabel” requests that he take her home with him. He bargains with the shopkeeper for her head, and returns to his home in a lather of expectation. He lavishes care on the life-size and eventually life-like porcelain head, holding long conversations with “Isabel” as he washes her face and combs out the tangles in her long dark hair.

Matthew treats her as his lover, even as his wife, to the point of fashioning a body for the head. In fact, increasingly complex and complicated bodies, first from straw, and later from brass and clockwork mechanical parts.

However, Matthew Goddard is only a clockmaker; he works for his living. Creating Isabel’s body out of brass and parts is expensive. And in their intimate conversations, Isabel tells Matthew that she wants clothing as well. As a single man, Matthew has no socially acceptable method of purchasing female clothing, not to mention ladies’ “unmentionables”!

But Matthew is adept at creating small mechanical objects, clockworks in other words. And in that time and place, many ladies suffered from what was then called “hysteria”, an imbalance of the so-called “female humors”. Matthew creates a secret business in vibrators, which he demonstrates to a select clientele. His clients pay him in articles of clothing, which he uses to dress Isabel.

Everything is fine, until one of his clients wants more from Matthew than he is willing to give. She spills the beans to her husband, selectively edited, of course. The townsfolk head for the store with fire and pitchforks.

Matthew’s only desire is to save Isabel at all costs. Their love was worth everything to him. But is Isobel real? Or only a clockwork?

Escape Rating A-: This was wild, and there were some parts of the wild that were a little bit true!

As I read the story, a part of me kept wondering if Isabel was real, or if the whole thing was in Matthew’s head. It is very, very easy to get taken along with his delusion, or illusion, that Isabel is a real person, and not a clockwork, especially when he’s making love with her.

You’re also never totally sure how far he’s gotten with making her into an automata or android as we would think of it, either. Does Isabel become self-aware? We never know.

There is a Pygmalion aspect as well. Matthew creates the woman he wishes existed, and then she falls in love with him. Pygmalion is one of the great myths, and it’s been told and re-played multiple times, George Bernard Shaw wrote one famous version of Pygmalion, which in turn inspired My Fair Lady. Of course, the creation doesn’t always fall in love with her creator!

The business about the vibrator business, that part is from history. If you want to read a hilarious account this plus some of the other even weirder things that went on in the name of health, try The Road to Wellville by T. C. Boyle (never judge a book by its movie).

The Watchmaker’s Lady is a terrific steampunk/clockpunk erotic story with a delicious surprise at the end. A surprise that you notice I am not spoiling for you.

As one of my Blogo-Birthday giveaways, one lucky reader will get their very own digital copy of The Watchmaker’s Lady (PDF, EPUB or .mobi) and find out what the surprise twist is for themself. (If you don’t win, I highly recommend buying your own copy. It’s definitely worth it!)

The deadline to enter the giveaway is 12:01 a.m. EDT on the morning of April 8, 2012. I will announce the winner on April 9th.  To enter, leave a comment that answers the following question: If you could build an automaton of any kind (robot, android, etc.,) what would you build it to be? or do?  Also, please let me know what format (PDF, EPUB, or .mobi) you want the book in if you win.

Continue reading “The Watchmaker’s Lady”

Selecting the best romance ebooks of 2011

Last week I volunteered to select the best romance ebooks of 2011 for Library Journal. The article that resulted from the endeavor was posted at LJ this morning under the title: Librarian’s Best Books of 2011: Ebook Romance, with my picture and everything. Yes, I’m rather chuffed about the whole thing, as the Brits would say.

How did this come about? I review ebook romances for Library Journal. I am a librarian, and I asked to be a reviewer when they started their ebook romance review program this summer. LJ has, like every book review source, been posting their “best of 2011” lists this month. They’ve also been posting “Librarian’s best” guest posts. Since they have only been reviewing ebooks since August, they didn’t have a full year of ebook romance reviewing to work with. When I volunteered to write one for them, they were happy.

But about the books, and the selecting of them. They had to be ebooks, they had to be romances, and I could only pick five. And they had to be 2011 books. I stretched a couple of those definitions just a tad. There was no requirement that they be books reviewed in LJ. Actually, that was the point. LJ wanted me to go through my archives and find stuff I knew about that they didn’t, because I cover more of the ebook “waterfront” with Ebook Review Central, and I’ve been reviewing ebooks longer.

I chose the books in order by time, earliest to latest, plus the one I snuck in and hoped it would stick, which it did. It’s not generally thought of as a romance, but well, some of us think it is.

1. Goddess with a Blade by Lauren Dane, published by Carina Press. Reviewed on June 20, 2011. Urban Fantasy. Escape Rating A.

Goddess was one of the first books I reviewed for NetGalley. And I remembered it in detail six months later.  Every time my editor at LJ asked me if there would ever be a starred review of an ebook (before Serenity Woods’ White-Hot Christmas finally got one) Goddess with a Blade was always my example. Absolutely terrific kick-ass heroine, and great urban fantasy world-building. I hope there are more.

2. Turn it Up by Inez Kelley, also published by Carina Press. Reviewed on August 10, 2011. Contemporary Romance. Escape Rating A.

I reviewed a similar book for LJ, but Turn it Up was just so much better that I cited Turn it Up in my review as the one people should read instead! This was a marvelous “friends-into-lovers” story. And very, very funny.

3. Queenie’s Brigade by Heather Massey, published by Red Sage Publishing. Reviewed on October 10, 2011. Science Fiction Romance. Escape Rating A.

Queenie’s Brigade is terrific science fiction romance. When I wrote my review, I got sucked into reading it a second time, and I’d just finished it! The last rebel spaceship escapes to the last prison planet to try to turn convicts into soldiers. Sort of like the Dirty Dozen in space. Except nowhere near that easy. If you like science fiction romance, get this book.

4. Divide & Conquer (Cut & Run book 4) by Abigail Roux and Madeleine Urban, published by Dreamspinner Press. M/M Romance, Mystery/Suspense. Featured on Ebook Review Central, Dreamspinner October Books, November 28, 2011. Ratings from 4/5 to 5/5 at 8 reviewers.

I crowdsourced this selection to Ebook Review Central. The reviews weren’t just positive, they were glowing. And not just for this book, but for the whole series. It made me put the first book in the series, Cut & Run, on my TBR list. There are paperbacks available for this series, so I was stretching the ebook-only definition just a bit, but no one minded.

5. Beekeeping for Beginners by Laurie R. King, published by Bantam. Mystery. Discussed in the post The Beekeeper and his Apprentice on July 6, 2011.

This was the one that was the sneak. Technically, this isn’t a romance. But the Sherlock Holmes/Mary Russell concept definitely is. And anyone who can read what he did for her and say he hadn’t already started to love her, even if he didn’t know it himself, doesn’t have a romantic bone in their body.

I loved creating this list for LJ, but because they had to be all ebooks, there were lots of things that I read and loved this year that were ineligible. Why?  Because they were really “p as in print” books. Or they were older books I finally got around to this year (hello, Elantra!) So later this month I’ll do a personal “best of 2011” list.

Queenie’s Brigade

Rooting for the underdog can make for a fantastic story. When it’s the last space ship left to lead the Rebellion, it’s the stuff of great space opera. Throw in a forgotten prison colony and enough sexual tension to power the ship by itself, and you’ve got that best of all possible universes–science fiction romance. Queenie’s Brigade by Heather Massey is just that, a terrific science fiction romance. Something there just isn’t enough of these days.

Michael Drake is the captain of the UFE Relentless. And his ship is that last survivor. Being the captain, he knows in his bones that duty must come first. And his duty is not to go down with his ship. His ship is equipped with technology that was “adopted” from a captured enemy vessel. Drake’s duty is to take his ship and crew out of certain death and equip other ships with the new tech, then come back and kick the Calithian Empire’s ass out of Earth space.

But the hyperspace jump that took Relentless out of the battle did not put her into friendly space. Or even neutral space. That hybrid tech was not precisely reliable. Or totally aimable. Relentless and her crew found themselves at the equivalent of the ass end of nowhere, orbiting the worst penal planet in Earth’s jurisdiction, desperately in need of repairs and out of options.

Only one problem. The penal planet had been taken over. The inmates were running the jail. The most hardened criminals that Earth needed to incarcerate. And those convicts outnumbered the crew of the Relentless. Something Captain Michael Drake was all too aware of–after the new “overseers” of Hades Station had him and his crew firmly in their clutches.

Drake had hoped to use the convicts as military manpower to help drive back Earth’s invaders. After seeing them in action, he was even more impressed with their potential, even though it was turned against him and his crew. But their leader, Queenie, truly captivated him–in every possible way.

Escape Rating A: I read this in one sitting. When I picked it up to write the review, I got sucked into it again. It’s that good.

The beginning of the story is from Drake’s point of view, but after that, it alternates between Drake and Queenie. Queenie is a fascinating character, having been raised to be “tough as nails” in order to become the leader of the prison gangs, but not ever being allowed to lower her guard with anyone. Drake is the first person who treats her as an equal.

There have been a lot of comparisons between Queenie’s Brigade and the book/movie The Dirty Dozen, because of the whole “recruit convicts to become soldiers” aspect. Since the Dirty Dozen already were soldiers, after all, they were in the military stockade when they were recruited for that specific mission, I didn’t see that link so much as a couple of other things.

One that caught my attention was the issue of the hereditary penal colony. Drake assumes Queenie must have been convicted of some crime, and is shocked to discover that she was born on Hades. Earth has successfully buried the secret that a sentence to Hades is forever. It reminded me of Heinlein’s Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Or the warrior women in Kate Douglass’ DemonSlayer (Demonfire, Hellfire, Starfire) series, where the Atlantean society has forgotten that warrior women even existed, let alone that they were imprisoned, and that their daughters are still imprisoned.

Then there’s the relationship between Queenie and Drake that eventually leads to romance. At first, it’s a struggle for the two leaders to find a way for their groups to work together. They need to each maintain leadership of their own crew, and Queenie has to be seen as in control, or she will lose control of the prison gangs that run Hades. But they have to find a way to eventually meld the groups, or they’ll never get off Hades! Queenie and Drake made me think of Janeway and Chakotay on Star Trek Voyager, except that the roles were reversed, and Heather Massey did right by them. Thanks Heather!