Guest Post by Author Brooke Johnson: More Steampunk + Giveaway

If you can’t get enough steampunk after reading today’s featured book, The Brass Giant, author Brooke Johnson has a few more series that will keep you in the steampunk mood until we can discover Petra and Emmerich’s next adventures. And this reader would also include Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, starting with Cinder. Read my review of The Brass Giant to see why.

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Young Adult Steampunk Series You Absolutely Must Read
According to Brooke Johnson

 
The Leviathan Trilogy (Leviathan, Behemoth, Goliath)
          By Scott Westerfeld
leviathan trilogy by scott westerfieldWesterfeld’s Leviathan trilogy is a page-turning adventure set in an alternate timeline where science has evolved in two distinct ways: mechanical inventions and guided biological evolution, divided between the Clankers and the Darwinists, respectively. The science is at times fantastic and alien, but it is seamlessly entwined into the setting, creating this multifaceted world that almost seems like a completely different reality, not just an alteration of our own. The whole series is rife with conflict, science, and mayhem, and filled with a number of colorful characters: Deryn, the brash young airman in disguise; Alek, son of Archduke Ferdinand; and the brilliant Dr. Nora Barlow, female scientist and the granddaughter of Charles Darwin himself, easily my favorite character in the series, hands down. Nikola Tesla even makes an appearance in the third and final book of the series. It’s a must read for anyone who loves steampunk, biopunk, historical science fiction, and military-focused novels.

The Infernal Devices (Clockwork Angel, Clockwork Prince, Clockwork Princess)
          By Cassandra Clare
infernal devices by cassandra clareThe Infernal Devices trilogy falls under the gaslamp fantasy subgenre of steampunk, focusing less on the science—much of the steampunk elements are brought together with magic—and more on the paranormal Victorian setting, but it still delivers a wonderfully engaging story. The trilogy follows Tessa, a girl with the power to transform into others—a power others would kill to possess—and her time with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the world of demons. There is romance aplenty as Tessa is drawn toward and torn between boorish, blue-eyed Will and fragile, silver-haired Jem, and there is plenty of teen angst to go along with the save-the-world plot. I enjoyed the series  immensely, and each book is better than the one before. Definitely recommended for anyone who is looking for something dark, romantic, tragic, and magical set in a surreal Victorian London.

The Finishing School Series (Etiquette & Espionage, Curtsies & Conspiracies, Waistcoats & Weaponry, Manners & Mutiny)
          By Gail Carriger
etiquette and espionageSophronia is a kick-ass heroine with an unfathomable sense of adventure, and I immediately fell in love with the characters and setting the moment I started reading. I mean, this is a story that takes place in a flying school for assassin ladies. What’s not to love? This series relies on an equal measure of fantastic and mechanical throughout the books, instead of heavily erring on the side of magic like many other paranormal steampunk fantasy novels. I haven’t read Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, but Sophronia’s adventures are set in the same alternate version of Victorian England as those books. It’s extraordinarily silly and a lot of fun to read. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to read more books with  tomboy heroines, assassins, mad scientists, unusual schools, and a lot of humor.

Brooke JohnsonAbout Brooke: Brooke is a stay-at-home mom, amateur seamstress, RPG enthusiast, and art hobbyist, in addition to all that book writing. As the jack-of-all-trades bard of the family, she adventures through life with her fiercely-bearded paladin of a husband, their daughter the sticky-fingered rogue, and their cowardly wizard of a dog, with only a sleep spell in his spellbook.
They currently reside in Northwest Arkansas, but once they earn enough loot and experience, they’ll build a proper castle somewhere and defend against all manner of dragons and goblins, and whatever else dares take them on.
For More Information
Visit Brooke at her website, or on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+

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Review: The Brass Giant by Brooke Johnson

brass giant by brooke johnsonFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: ebook
Genre: steampunk
Series: Chroniker City #1
Length: 236 pages
Publisher: Harper Voyager Impulse
Date Released: May 5, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

Sometimes, even the most unlikely person can change the world

Seventeen-year-old Petra Wade, self-taught clockwork engineer, wants nothing more than to become a certified member of the Guild, an impossible dream for a lowly shop girl. Still, she refuses to give up, tinkering with any machine she can get her hands on, in between working and babysitting her foster siblings.

When Emmerich Goss—handsome, privileged, and newly recruited into the Guild—needs help designing a new clockwork system for a top-secret automaton, it seems Petra has finally found the opportunity she’s been waiting for. But if her involvement on the project is discovered, Emmerich will be marked for treason, and a far more dire fate would await Petra.

Working together in secret, they build the clockwork giant, but as the deadline for its completion nears, Petra discovers a sinister conspiracy from within the Guild council … and their automaton is just the beginning.

My Review:

The story outline is a familiar one, but the steampunk setting changes up some of the elements in some very interesting ways.

The plot is simple – underprivileged girl with big dreams meets highly privileged guy who will help her realize her dreams, but only if she helps him with super-secret project. This is a society where no one believes that women have intelligence or capability, so no one important will suspect she is really helping him. And of course they fall in love, and get caught, not necessarily in that order, and discover that the entire enterprise is much more serious, and much, much more dangerous, than they ever imagined.

Add in one final element – that underprivileged girl is an orphan, who turns out to be the heir of someone very, very special.

The steampunk setting gives us somewhat of a time and place reference. Chroniker City is definitely in England (that turns out to be important later) and it is a university town like Oxford or Cambridge. It isn’t London, because London is referred to as the capitol far away.

As steampunk, The Brass Giant is set in a quasi-Victorian era. There is a queen on the throne, and some of the historical worthies who have their portraits in the great hall are familiar, most notably Charles Babbage, inventor of the difference engine that evolved into computers in our world.

In the late Victorian era, England was playing what has been called “The Great Game”, an undercover war of diplomacy and proxies. In the Chroniker City world, their main rival seems to be France instead of Russia. But then again, Britain and France were perpetual rivals, from the point where Henry II and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine ruled England in 1154 until well after the end of the Napoleonic Wars of the early 1800s. This was a conflict that never seemed to end.

Petra Wade is an orphan. She works as a shop girl in a pawnshop, and has learned how to be a fantastically good practical engineer with the help of the clockmaker who co-owns the shop. More than anything else, she wants to become a Guild Engineer, but that dream is forbidden. Guild Engineers must graduate from the University, and women are allowed in neither the University nor the Guild.

But Petra wants more than her life is mapped out to be. In spite of constant humiliation, she pursues her dream, even attempting to enter the University pretending to be male. All she faces is more and more embarrassment.

Until one young Guild Engineer, Emmerich Goss, discovers her talent. He needs her help to build a giant automaton. It’s a top secret project for the Guild, and he can’t enlist the aid of anyone they might suspect. The project is so secret that it is treason for Emmerich to reveal it. So of course he does.

Petra is good at clockworks, and Emmerich has invented a remote control mechanism. Together, they create a marvel. Only to discover that someone plans to use their great invention to start a war. And that Emmerich is forced to save Petra’s life by condemning her as a traitor.

They say you always hurt the one you love. Emmerich finds that true in more ways than one.

Escape Rating B: This is fun steampunk. While there is a romance between Petra and Emmerich, it is very sweet and almost innocent for most of the book. Petra falls in love for the first time because Emmerich both shares her interests and treats her as an equal. Emmerich loves her brilliance and her dedication. They are good together.

One of the plot twists in the story is that the orphaned Petra is the daughter of the city’s founder and first engineer, Lady Adelaide Chroniker. Which both makes Petra kind of a secret princess and puts the lie to the current Guild malarkey that only men can become engineers.

The way that Petra and Emmerich find each other, and all the political secrets they get stuck dealing with, along with Petra’s lineage, reminded me more than a bit of Marissa Meyer’s Cinder. (The original version of The Brass Giant came out before Cinder was published, so this is an interesting coincidence that just shows that great plots can come out of the same seed with no knowledge of each other).

While I like Petra as the heroine a lot, she is also an example of the plucky heroine who always “knows” that she doesn’t belong in the place where tragedy has dropped her.

On that other hand, one of the characters who seemed a bit too bad to be true was her childhood friend Tolly. Although they were clearly playmates as little children, when they grew up Tolly became an overbearing bully who spouted the same filth and degradation about women as his father, and then blamed Petra for not choosing him over Emmerich. The scene where Tolly attempts to beat and rape Petra into compliance, blaming her for his thuggery, came out a bit too much like a modern-day Men’s Rights Activist. He’ll give Petra everything she ought to want if she’ll just give in, and he’ll beat her until she admits that he’s right and it’s all her fault he has to beat her.

The plot that Petra and Emmerich find themselves caught in the middle of is suitably politically underhanded. Someone wants to start a war, and is looking for plausible causes and convenient scapegoats. The way that Petra and Emmerich try to either escape the evil clutches or foil the plot has many hair-raising moments, but is ultimately unsuccessful in the main. The small victories give Petra and Emmerich (and their readers) hope for the future..

They will live to fight another day. I’m looking forward to reading their further adventures.

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***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.

Review: Palmetto Moon by Kim Boykin

palmetto moon by kim boykinFormat read: paperback provided by the author
Formats available: ebook, paperback
Genre: women’s fiction
Series: Lowcountry
Length: 320 pages
Publisher: Berkley
Date Released: August 5, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

June, 1947. Charleston is poised to celebrate the biggest wedding in high-society history, the joining of two of the oldest families in the city. Except the bride is nowhere to be found…

Unlike the rest of the debs she grew up with, Vada Hadley doesn’t see marrying Justin McLeod as a blessing—she sees it as a life sentence. So when she finds herself one day away from a wedding she doesn’t want, she’s left with no choice but to run away from the future her parents have so carefully planned for her.

In Round O, South Carolina, Vada finds independence in the unexpected friendships she forms at the boarding house where she stays, and a quiet yet fulfilling courtship with the local diner owner, Frank Darling. For the first time in her life, she finally feels like she’s where she’s meant to be. But when her dear friend Darby hunts her down, needing help, Vada will have to confront the life she gave up—and decide where her heart truly belongs.

My Review:

Palmetto Moon is a sweet, gentle and slow-building story about a young woman who seizes her life with her own two hands, no matter what it will cost her.

Vada Hadley’s transformation from obedient society child takes both courage and time; she is a child of extreme privilege in 1947. A young Southern woman in the years after World War II, a time when women in general were supposed to give up their jobs and independence and return to subservience to the men in their lives.

Vada has returned from college at Radcliffe College (Harvard’s college for women) with the idea that she should have some say in her own life. When her wealthy parents arrange her marriage to a young man in their class who philanders now, and plans to go right on doing it after their marriage, Vada rebels.

She doesn’t love Justin, and isn’t willing to be the kind of obedient wife and social ornament that her mother has been. She wants more. It takes her almost all the time she has, until the night before her misbegotten wedding, to pluck up her courage and run.

There’s a teaching position waiting for her in the small town of Round O, if she can just get there. The parents of her heart, her parents’ servants Rosa Lee and Desmond, risk their own jobs to help her get away.

In the little town of Round O, she hides who she is. Vada just plain hides from her previous life and hopes that no one will find her or betray the secret that she refuses to tell. It’s difficult to put ourselves in her shoes; the status of women has changed a lot since those post-war years. It’s not just that her father will track her down and force her to marry Justin, but that he has the legal right to threaten Rosa Lee and Desmond with the loss of their jobs and the threat that he will make sure his friends never employ them either. As a black couple, they have no practical recourse, especially in the South.

So Vada hides, and her father sends agents out to find her. Meanwhile, Vada makes a life of her own, a life that she finds precious and an independence that is rewarding. She makes friends, and finally falls in love.

But her would-be lover doesn’t know her truth, and makes serious mistakes in trying to do the best for her, whether it is a best that she wants or not. Frank Darling loves Vada so much that he has a difficult time letting Vada make her own mistakes. And in his attempt to fix things, he unintentionally takes away some of her agency.

All the secrets come out in one nasty confrontation, when Vada’s father and her erstwhile fiance roll into Round O to show off their wealth and privilege, and to expose Frank’s good-intentioned attempts to manipulate Vada.
Not that they are not manipulating her as well, but as they both say, they’ve never lied about it.

Vada is faced with a horrible choice; to return to her life of privilege out of spite and fear, or to take up the life that she has made for herself in Round O, with Frank.

Escape Rating B: Palmetto Moon is a slowly unwinding story. It takes place in the sweltering heat of a Lowcountry summer, and meanders into Vada and Frank’s life just like the sticky heat that surrounds Round O.

Although Vada (and Frank) do find true love, the story feels like it is about Vada’s search for independence and self-determination. At first, she is running away, from her parents, from society’s expectations, and also from herself.

While there are practical reasons for Vada’s desire to keep her background secret, her embracing of that secrecy feels like another version of running away. She is over 21, and while it would be difficult for her to separate completely from her parents, she can if she is willing to pay the price in loss of money, status and privilege.

Vada’s life is more “real” in Round O, but it is also based on a lie of omission. It isn’t until all the secrets come out that she has a chance at determining her own destiny.

The example of the awful choices that face her new friend Claire serve to point out just what she is giving up. Claire is a very young war widow with three small children, and her life choices consist of living in a boarding house and taking in mending; marrying one of the old bachelor boarders who has a pension but is an asshole; or finding a job as a menial with three children in tow. All her choices initially suck. That she gets lucky in the end doesn’t take away the initial suckage.

The way that Vada takes her life into her own hands was the perfect ending to the story. Although Frank wants to rescue her from the consequences of her own (and his) bad choices, he simply doesn’t need to. Vada rescues herself; as she should.

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***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.

Review: The Tea Shop on Lavender Lane by Sheila Roberts

tea shop on lavender lane by sheila robertsFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook, mass market paperback
Genre: Contemporary romance
Series: Life in Icicle Falls, #5
Length: 352 pages
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Date Released: July 1, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

When it comes to men, sisters don’t share!

After a fake food poisoning incident in L.A., Bailey Sterling’s dreams of becoming a caterer to the stars collapse faster than a soufflé. Now Bailey’s face is in all the gossip rags and her business is in ruins. But the Sterling women close ranks and bring her back to Icicle Falls, where she’ll stay with her sister Cecily.

All goes well between the sisters until Bailey comes up with a new business idea—a tea shop on a charming street called Lavender Lane. She’s going into partnership with Todd Black, who—it turns out—is the man Cecily’s started dating. It looks to Cecily as if there’s more than tea brewing in that cute little shop. And she’s not pleased.

Wait! Isn’t Cecily seeing Luke Goodman? He’s a widower with an adorable little girl, and yes, Cecily does care about him. But Todd’s the one who sends her zing-o-meter off the charts. So now what? Should you have to choose between your sister and the man you love (or think you love)?

My Review:

I always enjoy visiting Icicle Falls, no matter who is being romanced. This small-town feels like a great place to visit, and the town it’s based on, Leavenworth, Washington, is not just real but really close to Seattle.

In addition to the chance to go back to Icicle Falls, The Tea Shop on Lavender Lane also provides the opportunity to catch up with the Sterling women. Samantha Sterling and the Sweet Dreams Chocolate Factory got their HEA in Better Than Chocolate (reviewed here), but now it’s her younger sisters Cecily and Bailey’s turns to find their own happiness.

Better than Chocolate by Sheila RobertsCecily has been working at Sweet Dreams since the first story; she’s found her niche as head of the marketing department. Her successful campaigns have helped to put Sweet Dreams and Icicle Falls back on the map, and into the black, in spite of the recession.

The one part of her life that Cecily hasn’t found a plan for is her love life. She’s attracted to two eligible men in town, Luke Goodman and Todd Black. Luke really is a good man, he’s the factory manager at Sweet Dreams and a loving single father. His first marriage was a success, but enough time has passed since his wife’s death that he is ready to try again, and he wants to try again with Cecily.

But as much as Cecily likes Luke, she can’t help but be attracted to bad-boy Todd Black, owner of the testosterone soaked local bar, the Man Cave. Todd’s been chasing Cecily ever since he hit town, and he’s decided that it’s time to make his move.

Cecily (and Samantha’s) younger sister Bailey throws a spanner into everyone’s plans. Bailey returns to Icicle Falls with her tail between her legs, after her attempt to run a catering company in LA is wrecked by one starlet’s food-poisoning publicity stunt.

Bailey needs a job. She needs more than that, she needs a way to get her confidence back. And she needs to work with food again, to get back on the horse that threw her.

It just so happens that Todd Black is much more of an entrepreneur than anyone, especially Cecily, gives him credit for. And he just so happens to own a property in central Icicle Falls that would be perfect for a Tea Room, with just a bit of sweat equity and repair.

Todd has just what Bailey needs. Except that Cecily has decided that he has just what she needs, admittedly in a much more personal way. So while Todd and Cecily are trying to take their relationship to the next level, Todd and Bailey are discovering just how much fun they can have building a business together.

Meanwhile, Luke Goodman is watching from the sidelines, hoping for his chance to convince Cecily that they belong together after all.

Escape Rating B: As is usual in the Icicle Falls series, the romance (or romances) take a backseat to the small town/family story.

We have more than a love triangle in this one, we have a love quadrangle. Luke loves Cecily. Cecily can’t make up her mind between Luke and Todd, to the point where everyone in town is confused about which one she’s dating. Then Todd starts falling for Bailey, and vice-versa.

Part of Cecily’s romantic confusion is that Luke is the steady and sensible man she should want, while Todd is the bad-boy that every girl wants to reform. Or at least that’s Cecily’s perception.

The reality is that Todd isn’t nearly as bad a boy as he seems. That Cecily can’t figure that out is proof positive that they aren’t meant for each other. However, Todd and Bailey’s mutual attraction brings out the possessive bitch in Cecily. Cecily has so many insecurities, particularly about Bailey, that she doomed the relationship before it had a chance to begin. Which it shouldn’t have.

The fallout makes the town choose sides, and causes a family rift. It isn’t until Luke finally sweeps Cecily off her feet that the sisters are able to make peace. The romance in this one is very messy.

There’s an intended message here, that men may or may not stick around, but sisters are forever. I think there was a second one about listening to that little voice that tells you something is not a good idea. Cecily knows that Todd isn’t right for her, but she can’t resist the lure. At the same time, she won’t let herself move the relationship forward, because there are just so many things about him she wants to change.

Bailey likes Todd just as he is. It helps that she sees all of him, the entrepreneur and the hard worker, and not just the bad boy image he projects. Which may be another message about falling in love with the real person, and not thinking you’re going to change them.

It was great to see the Sterling sisters get their own HEAs, and it’s always a treat to visit Icicle Falls. I can’t wait to go back in The Lodge on Holly Road!

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***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.

Review: Don’t Blackmail the Vampire by Tiffany Allee + Giveaway

dont blackmail the vampire by tiffany alleeFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: paranormal romance
Series: Sons of Kane #2
Length: 156 pages
Publisher: Entangled Covet
Date Released: April 28, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, All Romance

Rachel Davis will do anything to get her sister out of a bad relationship with her fiancé. Even if it involves a few fibs, a little breaking-and-entering, and blackmailing the fiancé’s potential boss, Charles, for his help. So what if the handsome Charles happens to be a vampire?

Charles Wright has found the perfect way to trap the man threatening his brother’s wife: cozy up to him, get invited along on the skiing trip, and then search for incriminating evidence. How much better that audacious but gorgeous Rachel is just as eager to nail the bastard. As far as he’s concerned, there’s nothing wrong with a little blackmail between two consenting adults. Especially when it’s time for Rachel to pay up.

My Review:

Don't Bite the Bridesmaid by Tiffany AlleeDon’t Blackmail the Vampire is the sequel to Don’t Bite the Bridesmaid (reviewed here). As the titles indicate, this series is a fairly lighthearted take on vampires and paranormal romance.

Not that there isn’t some skullduggery involved, but it’s the good old-fashioned human kind. We’re just as capable as vampires of being rotten, with or without sharp fangs.

The fun thing about this series is that the existence of vampires may be a general secret, but it’s not specifically secret–the heroines in both books know perfectly well that vamps exist, because they know someone who nearly married one.

But I said this is a sequel, because the characters in this story were all introduced in the first book, and the story directly follows the last one. Or it appears to.

In Don’t Bite the Bridesmaid, Alice asks her hunky neighbor to be her pity date at her sister’s wedding. He’s taking pity on her because her sister is marrying her ex’ brother, and said ex is a slimy arse who she caught cheating on her with her ex-best friend.

Her neighbor Noah is the vampire in this equation, and the pity date turns out to be true love after all.

But all is not well; someone is threatening Alice by phone and email, and with specific knowledge of vampires. Everyone suspects her ex, because he’s just that slimy.

And that’s where this story comes in, because someone needs to get to the bottom of the death-threats, and Noah’s brother Charles elects himself as the charmer to charm the slime. But Charles isn’t the only one who wants to nail Brant for his sliminess, so he joins forces with Rachel, the sister of Brant’s new girlfriend, who just so happens to be that ex-best friend of Alice’s that he cheated with.

Everything follows from the first story. Except for Charles and Rachel. Rachel knows Brant is sleazy and slimy, but can’t convince her sister. So she “coerces” Charles to help her, by threatening to reveal his vampiric nature. Actually, threatening to reveal his plans to out Brant would have been more of a threat.

Charles goes along because Rachel is the first truly “interesting” woman he’s met in decades. He’s met beautiful, but really interesting and fun to be with have been in much shorter supply. She’s refreshing as well as beautiful.

Rachel, of course, thinks he’s too gorgeous to be remotely in her league, but she needs his help.

And it turns out that he needs hers, more than he thought possible.

Escape Rating B+: This series is tremendously fun. It’s an absolute blast because the people involved are not just easy to empathize with, but also people you’d like to sit down and have a drink with, or be friends with, in real life. (At least the good ones, Brant is definitely a slime ball).

Charles is not your typical dark and brooding vampire. He was a charming people person before he was “turned” and being a vampire has not changed his basic nature. He’s in this initially because he truly wants to help his brother and desperately wants to save his almost-sister-in-law.

So naturally he gets caught up in wanting to help Rachel too.

There’s a bit of the “fake relationship” story in here as well, and it works because it’s turned on it’s head and upside down. Rachel and Charles fake a relationship and then fake him being a selfish ass so that Rachel’s sister can see the same thing happening to her. But the fake relationship turns real, and the fake breakup only proves it to both Charles and Rachel, even though they both think they don’t have a chance long-term.

As Charles reveals more and more vampire secrets, he discovers that they do belong together, and that he needs her to solve the mystery he started with. Rachel just needs to trust in her feelings, and that’s damn hard for her to do. When she finally figures it out, it’s an ending that makes you smile.

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***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.

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-SloateABOUT SUSAN SLOATE
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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***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.

Guest Post by Author Stephanie Osborn on Tidbits They Don’t Tell You In Author’s School

Today I’d like to welcome Stephanie Osborn, the author of the utterly lovely Sherlock Holmes pastiche Displaced Detective series. (If you like Holmes’ adaptations, take a look at my review of the first book in the series; these are terrific!) She’s here to talk about…

Tidbits They Don’t Tell You In Author’s School
by Stephanie Osborn

I’m a pretty decent writer. And well before I decided to submit a novel manuscript for publication, I did my homework. I knew about query letters, slush piles, and house formats. I knew some publishing houses don’t take unagented submissions and some do. I knew how to find the correct name and address for a submission, and to address the query letter TO that person. I knew how to make my query letter POP.

The Case of the Displaced Detective - The Arrival by Stephanie OsbornBut once I got into the industry (translated – I had a manuscript under contract), I discovered that there are a few little details they don’t tell you in author’s school.

Sub-tidbit: Everybody knows not to trust spelling and grammar checkers, right? They don’t know there from they’re from their… (finish the statement on your own). Good. ‘Nuff said. On to the serious stuff.

Tidbit One: Different publishers have different definitions of what constitutes novel length. For some, it’s anything over forty thousand words. For others, it’s sixty, and for most in my genre (science fiction and mystery, often combined) it’s around one hundred thousand. This is a rough rule of thumb, and generally the bigger the number, the more leeway you have, plus or minus, in your word count. But make sure you know what the definition is for your genre, and MAKE IT LONG ENOUGH, or you could run into problems.

Tidbit Two: It IS possible to have a novel that’s TOO LONG. You see, there’s a bit of alchemy mixed into publishing. There’s some arcane formula publishers use to transmute word count into page count. Page count, in turn, converts to shelf space. Use up too much shelf space on one book, and the publisher suddenly can’t display as many books. So your wonderful, two hundred thousand plus word count book that spewed out of you like water from a fire hose probably isn’t usable, unless you can find a way to cut it down into two or three books.

Tidbit Three: There is a pecking order among authors, and it is not entirely determined by tenure, sales figures and awards. Who published you? How big was your last advance? (This is, not coincidentally, often determined by the size of the publishing house.) The bigger the publishing house, the larger your advance, the higher up the pecking order you are – at least in the minds of some. Be prepared to experience resentment from those below you, and disdain from those above. Some of us view the playing field as level – but not all.

Tidbit Four: The old adage, “You can’t get published without an agent, and you can’t get an agent without being published,” isn’t true – but it isn’t far from it. Many of the big publishers won’t even look at anything that isn’t handed to them by an agent. With some of them, it’s impossible to even find contact information for the budding author. Contrariwise, most agents won’t look at anyone who isn’t published. But there are some good publishing houses out there that DO accept unagented submissions. The trick to these is that, unless you know somebody, your submission goes into a “slush pile” and will remain there for some time. Slush pile submissions are read in the order received, so your baby will be there for however long it takes for the company’s readers to dig down to it. So be prepared to be patient.

Tidbit Five: A mentor helps. He or she should be someone already experienced in the business, and willing to take on a protégé. HE is the “somebody you know,” your entrée into the business. He can act as your reviewer, your advisor, your agent, your friend, and your shoulder to cry on when an editor says your beloved baby is a pile of horse manure.

Tidbit Five-A: Editors do sometimes say this. Or words to that effect.

Your mentor can point you in new directions, and tell you if and when someone is trying to take advantage of you. Sometimes he even becomes a co-author, and then it’s really fun.

Tidbit Six: Getting a contract in hand is NOT the end of the job. It’s the beginning. Or maybe the middle.

Because now you get to work with one or more editors, copy editors, and proofreaders. Multiple times. Read: for as many iterations as it takes to get the book into the condition that the publishers consider ready for publication.

The Case of the Displaced Detective - At Speed by Stephanie OsbornTidbit Six-A: Be aware that you are NOT required to do everything, or even anything, the editors say. But you better really be confident you’ve done it exactly right, because these guys are more experienced than you are and know what they’re doing.

So you have the book edited, it’s in gorgeous shape; the cover art has come down and it’s beautiful. You’re done, right? Nope. Now you get the e-ARC, the electronic Advanced Review Copy. You get to review that, make corrections, and send the corrections back.

NOW you’re done? No. Now you get the galley prints. These are unbound first run prints of your book. Again, review for errors and send back the corrections.

Meanwhile, you and your publisher are working on the public relations and publicity campaign. Start making appearances before the book is released if you want to build buzz. Build a website. Blog. Tweet. Face. Space. Link. Plus. Pin. Good. Net. Ning. Tag. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you need to find out.) If you can find a way to get your name out there, and to get your book’s name out there, do it.

After the book comes out come the interviews, talks, and book signings.

Somewhere in there, you start writing your next book.

Tidbit Seven: You NEVER really get done.

Tidbit Eight: Once you’ve realized Tidbits One through Seven, you are now an experienced, professional author.

Stephanie OsbornAbout Stephanie OsbornFew can claim the varied background of Stephanie Osborn, the Interstellar Woman of Mystery.Veteran of more than 20 years in the civilian space program, as well as various military space defense programs, she worked on numerous space shuttle flights and the International Space Station, and counts the training of astronauts on her resumé. Her space experience also includes Spacelab and ISS operations, variable star astrophysics, Martian aeolian geophysics, radiation physics, and nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons effects.

Now retired from space work, Stephanie has trained her sights on writing. She has authored, co-authored, or contributed to more than 20 books, including the celebrated science-fiction mystery, Burnout: The mystery of Space Shuttle STS-281. She is the co-author of the “Cresperian Saga,” book series, and currently writes the critically acclaimed “Displaced Detective” series, described as “Sherlock Holmes meets The X-Files.” She recently released the paranormal/horror novella El Vengador, based on a true story, as an ebook.

In addition to her writing work, the Interstellar Woman of Mystery now happily “pays it forward,” teaching math and science through numerous media including radio, podcasting and public speaking, as well as working with SIGMA, the science-fiction think tank.

The Mystery continues.

To learn more about Stephanie, visit her website or follow her on Twitter.

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Review: The Case of the Displaced Detective: The Arrival by Stephanie Osborn

The Case of the Displaced Detective - The Arrival by Stephanie OsbornFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher
Formats available: ebook, paperback
Genre: Science fiction; mystery
Series: The Displaced Detective, #1
Length: 332 pages
Publisher: Twilight Times Books
Date Released: November 5, 2011
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Displaced Detective is a science fiction mystery in which brilliant hyperspatial physicist, Dr. Skye Chadwick, discovers there are alternate realities, often populated by those we consider only literary characters. Her pet research, Project: Tesseract, hidden deep under Schriever AFB, finds Continuum 114, where Sherlock Holmes was to have died along with Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls. Knee-jerking, Skye rescues Holmes, who inadvertently flies through the wormhole to our universe, while his enemy plunges to his death. Unable to go back without causing devastating continuum collapse, Holmes must stay in our world and adapt.

Meanwhile, the Schriever AFB Dept of Security discovers a spy ring working to dig out the details of – and possibly sabotage – Project: Tesseract.

Can Chadwick help Holmes come up to speed in modern investigative techniques in time to stop the spies? Will Holmes be able to thrive in our modern world? Is Chadwick now Holmes’ new “Watson” – or more?

My Review:

I’ll admit to being an absolute sucker for Sherlock Holmes pastiches, so what drew me into the concept of Stephanie Osborn’s Displaced Detective series was seeing whether her concept of pulling the “Great Detective” into the 21st century worked reasonably well.

It doesn’t just work, she figured out a brilliant way of handling the transformation of Holmes from literary character to flesh-and-blood human. And managed to give a nod to possibly everyone’s gateway SF author into the bargain.

The story begins with physicist Skye Chadwick and the top secret Project: Tesseract. Anyone who remembers Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time will not only smile, but find the reference totally apt. Dr. Chadwick’s project does travel through the variations in universes by jumping between “wrinkles”. In other words, the shortest distances are to universes most similar to our, or her, own.

Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls by Sidney Paget
Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls by Sidney Paget

Chadwick is a Holmes aficionado, like so many of us. She has not only found a universe where, unlike ours, Watson and Holmes were real people and not just fictional characters, but she is using that universe as a final test to determine whether her “Tesseract” is fully functional. She and her team picked Holmes’ solution to his problem with Moriarty at Reichenbach as a place where they could observe without contaminating the scene, because of its remote location.

But Skye could not stop herself from jumping out of the tesseract and rescuing Holmes in the very last second. He should have fallen to his death, but he didn’t. She pulled him from the 19th century to the 21st. A time and place he had no business to be.

There was no way to put him back. In his own time he was meant to fall. Returning him to his own universe would change what should have been, and cause serious ripple effects. Not just his universe, but neighboring continuums could collapse.

Is Sherlock Holmes a great enough detective to detect a new life for himself over a century after he should have died? Are his detection skills up to the task of ferreting out an espionage ring determined to sabotage the project that brought him to this strange new future?

Escape Rating A-: The Case of the Displaced Detective: The Arrival is so damn much fun that I couldn’t stop reading the series. I swept right on through the first three books one right after the other. I only stopped because I want to savor the last one.

The author’s solution for slight variations in Holmes’ personality is sheer genius. There are differences. He is still the brilliant and calculatingly observant detective of the stories. That shines through every time he is on the page. But he also evolves past the “thinking machine” of Conan Doyle’s fiction. Partly, that’s because Ms. Osborn expressly made her Holmes a living person from the beginning, and partly because her Holmes is from a different universe and is similar but not exactly the same as the literary figure in our universe. She gave herself license for him to be different. It works for me.

Holmes wouldn’t be Holmes without a case to be solved. Here, there are effectively two. One is simply Holmes studying how to adapt to the place and time he finds himself. His universe has changed a lot from London in the 1890s to 21st century Colorado. On the other hand, human nature hasn’t evolved a bit, and the tesseract has way too much potential as a weapon or for nefarious gain. When a plot to sabotage the tesseract is discovered, it seems natural that Holmes becomes part of the team to thwart that sabotage.

Of course, Holmes must have a “Watson”. In this story, that Watson is Dr. Skye Chadwick. That they gravitate towards each other seems inevitable, but Skye is a good choice. Unlike Watson, Skye is a mirror for Holmes, both are brilliant, but each in their own sphere. And both have tragedy in their pasts, even if Holmes’ tragedy is seemingly of Skye’s making; she pulled him out of his own time, but if she hadn’t, he’d be dead.

There’s an inevitable comparison to Laurie R. King’s Holmes/Russell series, starting with A Beekeeper’s Apprentice. King made her Holmes both a living person and started her series after the final Conan Doyle story, so she didn’t conflict with the Canon. Different approach, and I adore those too. If you like Mary Russell, give Skye Chadwick a try.

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***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.

Guest Post: A Day in the Life of Kathryn Leigh Scott

Today I’m very happy to welcome Kathryn Leigh Scott, who recently published Down and Out in Beverly Heels (see my review here). Kathryn not only starred in one of my favorite shows, the classic Dark Shadows, but she also had a very memorable guest appearance on Star Trek Next Gen in the episode Who Watches the Watchers.  Down and Out in Beverly Heels (great title and lovely story) is a combination cozy mystery, women’s fiction novel with just a touch of romantic suspense.

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A Day in the Life of Kathryn Leigh Scott

I rise early and my day always begins with a cup of English tea (P & G Tips) and a walk in my garden. I grew up a farm girl and remember my dad walking out the kitchen door in the morning with a cup of coffee to look out across the fields before starting the day.

My work as a writer is so much like farming was for my dad: sowing seed, cultivating through the long, hot growing season, harvesting and then going to market. My dad would stand on the kitchen steps drinking coffee, planning his day, just as I walk through my garden sipping tea and formulating the turns my story will take.

I’m usually at my desk around 7 am with my second cup of tea reading over my pages from the day before. I find it hard to continue unless I’m satisfied with the writing. I edit and rework before moving on to the day’s fresh output. I work from a synopsis and an outline, but I find that by chapter 6 or 7, the characters are guiding the story. I keep them in check, but still give them a lot of freedom. Somehow, everything usually ends much the way I conceived it.

I write seven days a week with a goal of 1000 words a day. There are times when it’s a struggle and I just can’t meet my goal… so I stop and give myself a break. After all, there were days on the farm when we had to stop work because of bad weather, but the sun always came out again. I’m usually finished by early afternoon when I either swim or take a long walk.

I love to cook and garden, and that’s what I turn to when my work is done. I love having friends for dinner, and flowers on the table are just as important to me as the meal. I absolutely cannot write after the sun goes down unless I’m at the tail end of my book… then I could write until dawn!

Kathryn Leigh ScottAbout Kathryn Leigh ScottKathryn Leigh Scott is an actress, probably best known for creating the roles of Josette DuPres and Maggie Evans, the love interests of vampire Barnabas Collins in the cult classic TV show “Dark Shadows.” Down and Out in Beverly Heels is her second work of fiction. Scott wrote Dark Passages, a paranormal romance, with more than a passing nod to the ‘60s soap and she appeared in the Johnny Depp/Tim Burton film Dark Shadows last year.

Scott is currently at work on a sequel to Down and Out in Beverly Heels.

To learn more about Kathyrn, please visit her website or connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.