Mechanized Masterpieces: A Steampunk Anthology Features Our Man Fred by A.F. Stewart

Mechanized Masterpieces: A Steampunk AnthologyBOOK PREVIEW

Mechanized Masterpieces: A Steampunk Anthology

Synopsis

Amid a cacophony of cranking sprockets and cogs, in chuffs of steam and soot, comes the expansion of classic literature into alternative Steampunk masterpieces. Follow nine skilled authors as they lead old friends and new acquaintances through Jamaica, Singapore, Cape Town, Denmark, Paris, London, and Geneva on a phantasmagorical Steampunk World Tour.

Tropic of Cancer: Edward Rochester battles the elements and Bertha Mason to save his brother and his own soul.

Sense and Cyborgs: Privateer Margaret Dashwood makes port at Singapore to get her husband back on his feet.

Micawber and Copperfield: Wilkins Micawber and David Copperfield create a legacy of loyalty in the Royal Dirigible Corps.

Little Boiler Girl: Power has a price, and one city unwittingly demands an enslaved child pay it.

The Clockwork Ballet: At the Palais Garnier, the Phantom trips the light fantastic with Meg Giry, the prima ballerina of his mechanical troupe.

His Frozen Heart: Jacob Marley saves Ebenezer Scrooge from robbing his wife’s grave and selling his soul.

Our Man Fred: Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, and his fiancé, Mary, protect the Empire from mechanized malfeasance.

Lavenza, or the Modern Galatea: Victor Frankenstein’s bride discovers more than his horrific experiments on her wedding day.

Book Links:

Xchyler Publishing:  http://www.xchylerpublishing.com/

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00CFT5658/

Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/mechanized-masterpieces-anika-arrington/1115181302 (you can read the book’s Forward and a part of a sample story, Tropic of Cancer by Neve Talbot here.)

A Quote from Our Man Fred:

“As they walked, it seemed almost every building had some similar contrivance as decoration, adorning the street in a cacophony of clangs, bangs and whirs. The street’s surroundings danced with steam and smoke, the scent of oil and grease its perfume.”

Bio:

A. F. Stewart was born and raised in Nova Scotia, Canada, and still calls it home.  The youngest in a family of seven children, she has always had an overly creative mind and an active imagination. She is fond of good books (especially science fiction/fantasy), action movies, sword collecting, and oil painting as a hobby.

Ms. Stewart is an indie author with several published novellas and story collections in the dark fantasy or horror genres, with a few side trips into poetry and non-fiction. She has a great interest in history and mythology, often working those themes into her books and stories.

Learn more about A.F. Stewart at http://afstewartblog.blogspot.ca/

Three Graves Full by Jamie Mason

Book Review
Title: Three Graves Full
Author: Jamie Mason
Publisher: Gallery Books
Released: February 12, 2013
Pages: 320
ISBN-10: 1451685033
ISBN-13: 978-1451685039
Stars: 4.0


“There is very little peace for a man with a body buried in his backyard.”  This is the first line of North Carolina author Jamie Mason’s debut novel, Three Graves Full.  The first chapter is so compelling that you can’t help but keep reading this delightfully macabre tale, laced with black humour and tied up with suspense.

Every event is boxed in by a set of facts; the truth as it were.  There’s the what and the when of a deed; there’s where it happened and how it was done.  But it’s at the why that the liar’s margin begins.  It’s from this border that we launch the justifications for everything we do, and for all that we allow to be done to us.  Only our distance from the hard truth and the direction of our push – toward or away from it – is the measure of our virtue.

The protagonist, Jason Getty, is a meek and insecure widower living alone in his little house on Old Green Valley Road in suburban Stillwater, MI.  Well, he’s not entirely alone…as those who live with a deep, dark secret know.  He’s a murderer.  But like Dexter, he’s a killer that we can empathize with as we begin to understand the circumstances surrounding the fateful night that has left his conscience in agony seventeen months later.  He doesn’t eat and doesn’t sleep, but somnambulates through his boring life as an office clerk, rationalizing that “no worry has ever been invented that the mind cannot bully down into mere background noise.”

Little by little Jason finds himself relaxing and able to think about normal things.  Worried about what his neighbours will think of his unkempt property, he hires a landscaping crew to clean it up.  However, on the second day of the job they discover two graves in his backyard that Jason didn’t dig.  Although terrified, he’s forced to call the police to deal with the grisly discovery, all the while praying that they don’t find the third grave.

Next, we meet Leah Tamblin, the grieving girlfriend of the missing young man (Reid) found buried in Jason’s backyard, whom as it turns out, was cheating on her with the married woman (Katielynn Montgomery) found buried beside him.  It seems that Boyd Montgomery, a hardened redneck who named his dogs after The Beatles, didn’t take kindly to discovering that his wife was screwing another man, and from this point on, in a horrifying comedy of errors, action ensues as the plot thickens.

Detectives Tim Bayard and Ford Watts (who I envisioned as actor David Morse), accompanied by his devoted and very intelligent dog Tessa, round out the main cast of characters. After all, someone has to solve this mystery!  I loved that Mason made Tessa a main character and gave her a voice (frequently written from a first person/canine viewpoint) that this dog owner could easily identify with.  Chocked full of hilarious one-liners and unusually well-written and fully realized characters, Three Graves Full will make an excellent screenplay that’ll be a joy to cast, and with just the right cool soundtrack, could end up being a celluloid cult classic.

Mason’s narrative is fast-paced, sharp and scathingly witty.  Her innovative story takes us on a ride not unlike the one we experience when watching a Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths), Quentin Tarantino or Coen brothers’ film.  Her development of Jason’s internal conflict and the inevitability of his having to face the consequences of his actions is superb. You’ll laugh and squirm at the same time as you viscerally experience the unhinging of his sanity.

Simon & Schuster were wise to buy her manuscript as Jamie Mason’s clever, unique voice and piercing prose is so much better than the average pulp fiction.  When this book is released on February 12, 2013, I urge you to buy it.

The Time In Between by Maria Dueñas

BOOK REVIEW
Title: The Time In Between
Author: Maria Dueñas
Publisher: Atria Books
Released: November 2011
Pages: 624
ISBN-10: 1451616880
ISBN-13: 9781451616880
Stars: 3.0

A book could have all the rave reviews in the world from prestigious sources (as this one does); it could have a beautiful, stylish jacket, an author who is a PhD, and be set in countries that you have an interest in, and still not be what you expected it to be.  This is the case for me with The Time In Between by Maria DueñasSimon & Schuster Canada generously gifted me with an advanced reader’s copy of this bulky, literary spy novel because after I read its synopsis, I really wanted to read it.

The Time In Between by Maria Duenas is an international bestseller that spans the Spanish Civil War to World War II. This beautifully spun novel tells the story of a seamstress who rises to become the most sought after couturier and an undercover spy who passes information about the Nazi regime to the British Secret Service through a secret code stitched into the hems of her dresses.

The Time In Between is one of those rare, richly textured novels that, down to the last page, has you hoping it won’t end. Written in splendid prose, it moves at an unstoppable pace. An exceptional debut, it is a thrilling adventure through ateliers of haute couture, the glamorous elite, political conspiracies and obscure secret service missions blended with the unhinged power of love.”

The fact that it took me over two months to read and I seldom found myself wanting to make time to finish it is definitely not a good sign.  I’m trying to figure out why I feel this way about the book because it certainly has an interesting storyline and I enjoyed the section that was set in the Spanish Protectorate of Morocco (Tetouan) very much.  However, I just didn’t really connect with the main character, Sira Quiroga, because she felt quite restrained and lacking in passion for life and love and that’s not how I expected to feel.  She evolves from a being an uneducated young woman who is foolish in love, to a self-doubting, fearful entrepreneur, to a confident, globetrotting secret agent.  I pictured her as Angelina Jolie: someone who is beautiful to look at, interesting for a while, capable of acting fragile or tough, and then you just get sick of her.  Perhaps some of her character traits didn’t translate well from the original Spanish (Daniel Hahn translated), but I found it hard to really empathize with her or understand why she would decide to become a spy for the British when she didn’t seem to have any real understanding of what was going on in her own homeland of Spain nor in England during World War II at the time that she became a spy.

The novel begins in Madrid at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War with a young, naïve Sira about to marry a “modest government clerk” after knowing him for only a few weeks.  She works as a seamstress with her mother in a local dressmaker’s shop that services a distinguished clientele.   As she is considered a girl with no professional expectations, it makes sense to her to marry Ignacio and become a wife and perhaps later, a mother.  But she doesn’t really love him and it doesn’t take long for her to be completely swept off her feet by a smooth-talking, tall, dark and handsome typewriter salesman named Ramiro who she meets when Ignacio convinces her that she should learn how to type and takes her shopping for a typewriter.  Sira quickly breaks Ignacio’s heart when she leaves him for Ramiro.

Sira’s mother, who had raised her as an only child on her own, introduces Sira to her father, a wealthy engineer and foundry owner named Gonzalo Alvarado, who is married and has two sons from whom he is estranged.  Gonzalo is worried about the state their country is in under Franco’s dictatorship and fears for his life so he decides to put his affairs in order and acknowledge his daughter by giving her an inheritance consisting of boxes of family jewels.  He convinces Sira that she must leave Madrid for Morocco where it will be safe and although her mother refuses to join her, Ramiro goes willingly to Tangiers, and later, unsurprisingly, deceives Sira by leaving her and stealing her family jewels.

Alone and unable to pay her hotel bill, Sira flees to Tetouan with next to nothing, only to be apprehended by Commissioner Claudio Vázquez who then decides to help her get back on her feet so that she can repay her debt, by putting her in the care of a street smart boardinghouse owner named Candelaria.  Candelaria the Matutera (the Smuggler) is one of my favourite characters in the book because she has a large, fearless personality to go with her heart of gold.  She doesn’t always operate on the right side of the law, but she’s a survivor who is willing to help those who are less fortunate and will do whatever it takes to keep food on her table and the authorities off her case.  It’s not long before Candelaria and Sira embark on a dangerous, exciting adventure that leads to Sira being able to set up her own dressmaker’s shop where she suddenly finds herself making clothes for wealthy Nazi’s wives and meets a mysterious blonde British waif named Rosalinda Fox.  Rosalinda is involved in an extramarital affair with Spain’s high commissioner in Morocco, Lieutenant Colonel Juan Luis Beigbeder and they (who were in fact real people) are responsible for recruiting Sira for a life of espionage.

I was quite transfixed with the story up until this critical juncture.  Sira’s friendship with Rosalinda presents a pivotal turning point in her life.  Dueñas’ narrative prose is exceptional and historical research thorough.  The story moves quite quickly in Part One and is still captivating in Part Two (Tangiers in the 1930s) where we meet another interesting character named Félix who becomes a good friend to Sira.  However, as the plot becomes more about politics and espionage, the characters who are introduced are unsympathetic and tedious, with the exception of Marcus Logan, but even he isn’t allowed to be truly remarkable until the very end and by then I just didn’t care.

A lot more occurs in The Time In Between, but I won’t give away the entire plot.  It’s full of twists, turns and individuals whose lives later intersect.  By Part Three, Dueñas started to lose me and from there on it took me a long time to finish reading the book.  In Part Four, Sira, now using the name of Arish and pretending to be Moroccan, departs for Lisbon to try to infiltrate a textile distributor named Manuel Da Silva who is in business with the Third Reich.

So in contradiction of Simon & Schuster’s synopsis, I found myself wishing the book would end because it moved from the second half on at a sluggish pace and I didn’t find much emphasis was put on the power of love at all.  This is not a love story but rather the story of a gifted seamstress who discovers that she has what it takes to be a great spy, in spite of the people she cares about.  This is just my opinion.  A Nobel Prize Laureate loved it so I think you’ll have to decide for yourself.

The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma

Book Review
Title: The Map Of Time
Author:  Felix J. Palma
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Canada
Released: June 27, 2011
Pages: 624
ISBN-10: 1439167397
ISBN-13: 978-1439167397
Stars:  4.0

I recall that The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma was a very fun Sci-Fi/Adventure read, filled with fascinating concepts, but to be honest I’m so behind in my book reviews that I have read six other books since this one, so I will do my best to reiterate my opinion of Palma’s now.

Originally, Felix J. Palma’s novel was printed in Spanish as he is a celebrated and critically acclaimed author in Spain.  Simon & Schuster Canada graciously provided me with an advanced reading copy of the translated edition and I must apologize to them for not writing a review of it in a timely fashion.  Life and work do often get in the way of hobbies.

Felix J. Palma was inspired to write this novel when he re-read The Time Machine by one of his favourite writers, H.G. Wells, and so great was his inspiration that he made Wells a character in The Map of Time, along with authors Bram Stoker and Henry James.  He set the story in 19th century Victorian London (at the time the largest city on earth) beginning with the horrific reign of Jack the Ripper who is also a character, and also included an interlude with Joseph (a.k.a. John) Merrick, the Elephant Man.  This is one of the main reasons why I found the book so intriguing.  It is set during a time in history that I find very interesting as so much new technology was being born during the Industrial Revolution and some of the greatest scientific thinkers of all time were inventing their greatest and most life-changing inventions.

Palma managed to get into the head of H.G. Wells and wrote a multi-dimensional character in him that rings entirely true within the context of a fictional story that deals with love, predestination, greed, jealousy and revenge, and also speaks to the very nature of time.

The Map of Time is presented by a narrator (who I envision as a man not unlike the narrator in The Rocky Horror Picture Show) who speaks directly to the reader and makes an appearance from time to time, including at the beginning of each part of the novel (of which there are three), to do a little narrative juggling and make sure that we understand the author’s intentions for his storyline.

The story begins with the introduction of young noble Andrew Harrington who is still reeling, eight years later, from the murder of his beloved prostitute girlfriend Marie Kelly, at the hands of Jack the Ripper in Whitechapel.  Andrew wants to die but his cousin Charles decides he must intervene and give Andrew a reason to keep living.  Charles gives Andrew a copy of The Time Machine by H.G. Wells which he doesn’t read and then later introduces him to the sinister Gilliam Murray, the creator of Murray’s Time Travel, a business that has become a hit with London’s upper class as it professes to transport its patrons to the year 2000 where they can watch a re-enactment of the cataclysmic battle between the brave Captain Derek Shackleton and the evil automaton Solomon that has taken over the world.  Charles is convinced that if he can get Murray to send Andrew back in time to the exact night of his beloved’s murder that he will be able to prevent Jack the Ripper from killing her.

Murray deflates the Harringtons’ balloons by explaining that his time machine can only travel to the year 2000 and he cannot help them.  So Charles decides to seek out H.G. Wells, who must have invented a time machine that could travel to any year, to see if he can.

Part Two introduces Claire Haggerty, a young woman of means who yearns for love and adventure and who is not content with her lot in life, but rather wishes that she was born in another era.  Claire and her friend Lucy have decided to take Murray’s Time Travel trip and while Claire is in the year 2000, she accidentally meets the forbidden Captain Derek Shackleton who she falls in love with at first sight.  This, of course, causes serious problems for both of them.

In Part Three, Inspector Colin Garrett of Scotland Yard (imagine Johnny Depp’s character in Sleepy Hollow) battles with his weak stomach to try to find the killer of a corpse found in Marylebone – a corpse which just happens to sport a ghastly wound that could have only been inflicted by the weapon he had seen Captain Derek Shackleton wielding in the year 2000 during his visit there.

The “Map of Time” ponders the ways our minds can create our own truths, denying what we don’t want to know or see, believing what we most wish to be true. And by making Wells the fulcrum, the book also becomes a wonderful meta-fiction, commenting on the act of writing itself, and how fiction can shape and alter our lives. ~ Sarah Willis

This is extremely satisfying storytelling even though it does go on a bit in places (the novel is over 600 pages).  Palma deftly weaves the tales of all of his remarkable characters in a seamless plot line that will keep you turning page after page long into the night when you should have turned out the lights.  Palma’s writing is so good that H.G. Wells, himself, would have been proud.

One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson

Book Review
Title: One Good Turn
Author: Kate Atkinson
Publisher: Back Bay Books
Released: 2007
Pages: 418
ISBN-10: 9780316012829
ISBN-13: 978-0316012829
Stars: 4.0

I don’t usually choose crime novels when selecting fictitious fare, although I have read my fair share of them in the past (John Grisham, Stuart Woods, Mario Puzo, John le Carré). However, One Good Turn by Edinburgh-based, bestselling author Kate Atkinson was a welcome change of pace and a literary mystery novel that unravels several crimes slowly and with great intrigue as well as humour. Atkinson’s characterizations are so detailed and the plot so complex that I really don’t know what to say about it that will do it any more justice than all the professional, critically acclaimed media reviews that have come before. It was an absolute delight to read and one helluva gripping page turner!

One Good Turn is set in contemporary Edinburgh during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival which for me, made for an interesting backdrop because I’m such an Arts lover and I’ve always wanted to attend the Festival. I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t as much detail about it as I’d hoped but it didn’t put me off the rest of the story and it does include a has-been stand-up comedian named Richard Mott to lend authenticity. Although the book reintroduces former police inspector turned man-of-leisure millionaire Jackson Brodie and his aloof actress girlfriend Julia (who I didn’t like one bit but has a play running at the Festival which is why Brodie’s in Edinburgh) from Atkinson’s previous novel, Case Histories, you don’t have to have read it to enjoy the suspenseful One Good Turn.

The plot revolves around the participants in and witnesses of a fender bender that’s immediately followed by a brutal road rage attack. This action sets the stage for a series of exciting and complicated events that are all interrelated but we don’t know exactly how until the end of the story, which concludes in a matter of four days, in one of those whopping A-HA moments!

The narration oscillates between the main characters which include an asexual, diffident but thriving crime novelist named Martin Canning (a.k.a. Alex Blake who writes about a 1940s English female detective named Nina Riley and is vaguely reminiscent of Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote) who witnesses the baseball bat beating by thug Terrence Smith of unsuspecting motorist Paul Bradley. Martin reacts by throwing his laptop at Smith which knocks him off of Bradley just in time for the police to step in and then Martin finds himself accompanying Bradley to the hospital and strangeness ensues.

The incident is also witnessed by Jackson Brodie (who additionally discovers a female floater in the bay which sets up an equally interesting subplot), Archie Monroe and Gloria Hatter, a middle-aged, wealthy woman with a penchant for following rules, who is ironically married to criminal construction tycoon Graham of Hatter Homes – Real Homes For Real People – and stands as the moral center of the story.

Meanwhile, Chief Inspector Louise Monroe is struggling with a 24/7 career that leaves little time for her to keep an eye on her 14-year-old son Archie, who goaded on by his buddy Hamish, may or may not be sinking into dark waters that are too deep for him to tread…or is that Brodie who is falling deeper and deeper into the mystifying peripheral events of the story?

One Good Turn embodies really great storytelling and even the secondary characters will keep the reader enthralled.

The novel also includes a conversation with the author at the back of the book, questions and topics for discussion if chosen by a book club, and the first chapter of Atkinson’s subsequent novel, When Will There Be Good News?, which gives One Good Turn’s Chief Inspector Louise Monroe and Jackson Brodie another mystery to solve.

Jackson Brodie also stars in her latest novel, Started Early, Took My Dog and according to Atkinson’s website he will soon be appearing in a six-part television series adapted from Case Histories, One Good Turn and When Will There Be Good News? for BBC One. Now, I’ll have to go back and read all of these books because I know they’ll make for some terrific television! But who will play Jackson Brodie?! (I think Colin Firth or Eric Bana might be a good choice!)

My Favourite Books: Boy’s Life by Robert R. McCammon

Book Review
Title: Boy’s Life
Author: Robert R. McCammon
Publisher: Pocket Books
Released: 1992
Pages: 608
ISBN-10: 0671743058
ISBN-13: 978-0671743055
Stars: 5.0

Recently, I have been asked more than once, “What are some of your favourite books of all time?” This got me to thinking because it’s not always an easy question to answer if you read a lot, but the one that always springs to mind first is Boy’s Life by Robert R. McCammon.

Back in 1991, I was seeing a psychotherapist and she recommended the book to me for sheer pleasure reading as I was reading a lot of psychological and self-help books at the time. I bought it right away and read it and she was right! It’s one of the most beautifully written, magical, compelling stories I have ever read. I really want to read it again, soon, as soon as I can find the time!

Robert R. McCammon, who now simply goes by Robert McCammon and recently wrote The Queen of Bedlam and Speaks The Nightbird, is from Birmingham, Alabama and is known for his horror writings but that’s not the only genre Mr. McCammon writes in. Boy’s Life won the honor of Literary Guild Book Clubs Selection, Winner of the 1991 Bram Stoker Award and Winner of the 1992 World Fantasy Award.

From the back cover of the original edition:

Robert R. McCammon captivated millions of readers with his storytelling power in such bestsellers as Mine, Swan Song and Stinger. Now he has created this tour de force: BOY’S LIFE, a masterpiece of magic and mystery, of the splendors of growing up in a small town, and the wonders beyond. Narrated by one of the most engaging young voices in modern fiction, BOY’S LIFE takes us back to our own childhoods, when bicycles were enchanted steeds and anything was possible…

Zephyr, Alabama, has been an idyllic home for eleven-year-old Cory Mackenson…a place where monsters swim in the belly of the river, and friends are forever. Then, on a cold spring morning in 1964, as Cory accompanies his father on his milk route, they see a car plunge into a lake some say is bottomless. A desperate rescue attempt brings Cory’s father face-to-face with a vision that will haunt him: a murdered man, naked and beaten, handcuffed to the steering wheel, a copper wire knotted around his neck. As Cory struggles to understand the forces of good and evil at work in his hometown, from an ancient woman called the Lady who conjures snakes and hears the voices of the dead, to a violent clan of moonshiners, he realizes that not only his life but his father’s sanity may hang in the balance…”

Reviews for Boy’s Life:

“Incredibly moving – boyhood as it should have been, recollected in genuine and generous detail…Boy’s Life is just really gorgeous. It’s McCammon’s The Prince of Tides…incredibly moving.” – Peter Straub

“This superbly told tale combines the sensibilities of Mark Twain, Flannery O’Connor, and Steven Spielberg…a solid coming-of-age story and a fine mystery…Devour this beautiful book.” – New York Newsday

“A wonderful story of powerful emotions, marvelous images, and inventive narrative…Filled with enough adventure, joy, discovery, and heartache for a dozen boys’ lifetimes.” – Houston Chronicle

“McCammon captures the joys and fears of late childhood with sure strokes, ably conveying his love for the time, the place…The novel works exceedingly well.” – San Francisco Chronicle

“Boy’s Life is a wonderful book. It recaptures the magic of being a child in a world of possibilities and promise. It is about being born with ‘with whirlwinds, forest fires and comets inside us.’ And it reminds us of a magical time before the magic was ‘churched out, spanked out, washed out, and combed out.’ Boy’s Life is for the boys – and girls – in all of us.” – Atlanta Journal-Constitution

If you are interested in reading more from Robert McCammon, I would also recommend Gone South and Speaks The Nightbird.