Category Archives: Book Review

Karen Carlisle: Steampunk Goddess

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Even among the high quality of Australian Steampunk Authors. Karen Carlisle is a standout. She is an expert cosplayer, Steampunk crafter, Vlogger, as well as an author. She is currently having a blog tour, and this blog is part of her tour.

All of the Viola Stewart narratives are excellent, but I wanted to review the first in the series, Doctor Jack. This is the story that intoduces the series protagonist, Viola, and when what an introduction it is. Viola is not your typical Victorian woman. She like cars and wants one of her own. She breaks off her relationship with an abusive beau – though his behaviour would not have been considered out of place in the era. Best of all, she is active and curious without being ‘feisty’, and a woman of science with a medical background. She is also disabled, because she is missing an eye, but she never lets that slow her down.

The antagonist is her ex-beau, Doctor Jack, a cad and a bounder, and a member of the Men In Grey (I can’t say anymore in case of spoilers). Her actual romantic interest is Doctor Collins, who is rather dashing and interesting, but personally I think Viola could do better. It isn’t that Collins isn’t lovely. But Viola would lose so many of her rights if she ever got married.

The actual story for this book is excellent … a mystery and a thriller. Viola has a talent for finding trouble. It isn’t that she is a meddling busybody. Her active lifestyle means that she knows a lot of interesting people and attends many events, and things happen. She doesn’t faint at the thought of danger and her skills set as a detective means that she is often the best person to investigate the occurrence. Men often try to protect her – both literally and figuratively – but she is quite cabable of looking after herself and rescuing the men, if needs be.

However, she is sensible enough to accpet help when she needs it.

Viola grabbed the door handle. It jiggled/rattled in her hand, refusing to turn. That would have been too easy.

Doctor Collins joined her on the low step. He motioned, with a quick flick of his head. “Keep watch.”

Viola turned, then scanned the street. The sun was almost directly above them, shrinking the long shadows. Only fine wisps of mist lingered now. The street was deserted.

The handle rattled behind her. There was a loud click. Viola turned to face her friend. He stood in the open doorway.

Viola stared at him. “How did you…?”

“With all of your detectiving, I had to find a way to keep up with you.” He raised his eyebrows and grinned.

That is one of the reasons I like Viola Stewart. She gives credit when credit is due. She doesn’t need to be in charge, but she isn’t scared of taking charge if she has to. She gets things done without making a big fuss. However, if a big fuss is needed, she is quite ready and capable of kicking one up.

I would recommend Karen’s books to anyone who enjoys reading in the Steampunk genre, but I think they would appeal to any keen reader.

 

Viola has gone on to have further adventures. They are available here for purchase:

The Viola Books

Karen Carlisle does more than write. She is a keen cosplayer and an active member of the Steampunk Community in Adelaide. She is a keen vlogger, see Karen J Carlisle on Youtube

Karen J Carlisle is an imagineer and writer of steampunk, Victorian mysteries and fantasy. She was short-listed in Australian Literature Review’s 2013 Murder/Mystery Short Story Competition and published her first novella, Doctor Jack & Other Tales, in 2015. Her short story, Hunted, featured in the Adelaide Fringe exhibition, ‘A Trail of Tales’.

Karen lives in Adelaide with her family and the ghost of her ancient Devon Rex cat.

She’s always loved dark chocolate and rarely refuses a cup of tea. She has a compeition running every day this week, so visit her website after reading this article!

 Where to find Karen:

Web: www.karenjcarlisle.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/kjcarlisle

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KarenJCarlisle/

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/KarenJCarlisle

For info on where to buy Karen’s books: www.karenjcarlisle.com/shop

 

KJCarlisleicon2S (002)As an added bonus – an excerpt from the novella, ‘From the Depths’

© 2017 Karen J Carlisle

 

A shriek pierced the air. Viola flinched. Brine filled her mouth and rushed up her nostrils. She spluttered, thrust her legs downward into the deep chilly water and kicked to keep her head above water.

Men shouted, their cries unintelligible through water-logged eardrums. The other bathing machine thundered into life. Chains rattled, the engine strained. Frenzied splashes of water accompanied its retreat.

The water trembled around her, pounding on her chest. Viola gasped for air. A new undercurrent tugged at her legs. She rubbed the salt from her eyes and searched the surrounding water. Nothing.

Bubbles tickled her body and erupted on the surface. Something solid grazed her calf. Viola’s heart jumped. The Lurker? Goosebumps crawled over her skin.

There’s no such thing as monsters.

Water rumbled and churned. Waves sloshed against her torso. She jerked her knees up to her chest, struggling to untangle her limbs from the snarl of the heavy woollen skirt of her bathing costume.

There’s no such thing as monsters. There’s no such thing as monsters.

Viola shivered. She had drifted further from the bathing machine than she had thought; the candy-striped change box was nearly eighty yards away, the shore even more distant.

A crowd was gathering on the shoreline, waving their arms and shouting.

“Get out of the water!”

Two men swam toward her. Another bathing machine trundled in their wake. The sea hissed. Too close.

Spurts of water burst from the surface. A large shadow lurked beneath her.

Viola’s heart raced, her breathing shallow. She wanted to run, to flee, to swim to the safety of the change box, but her arms refused to move.

There’s no such thing as monsters.

The shadow turned and glided southward towards the headland. A trace of bubbles marked its course, fading as the shadow disappeared into deeper waters.

The two men splashed closer. Uncomfortably close. Their bare arms glowed white against the dark water.

“Get out of the water!”

Viola spun to face them. The weight of her water-logged pantaloons dragged her downward, slowing her movement. Her skirt swirled up in the current, floating up around her thighs. Balloons of fabric surfaced on the water, leaving her legs exposed…

Viola pulled the skirt below the water, yanking low to cover her legs and cursed under her breath. Big mistake; salty water caught in her throat. She sputtered and caught her breath and swam hastily back to the bathing machine. She dove headlong onto the steps and dragged herself into the change box. The skirt clung to her legs; her loose hair wrapped around her neck like tentacles.

The splashing outside stopped. The walls shook with a thud. Viola jumped, skidded in the growing puddle on the floor. She grabbed the hook, draped with her stockings.

“Are you all right, Miss?” The voice was deep, and close to the doorway.

Viola steadied herself. “Yes, I am well.” Her voice was a bit shakier than expected.

“You’re not injured?”

“No.”

“Did you see it?” asked a second, reedier voice.

“See what?”

“The Lurker? It was right under you.” There was a pause. “Did you see the monster, Miss?”

“Shut it, William,” replied the deep voice. “We don’t want to scare the lassie any more.”

There was a shadow on the step.

Viola snatched her robe and flung it around her shoulders. “What monster?” she asked, as she peeked through the doorway.

A tall redheaded man stared back at her. Deep furrows etched his forehead. A sandy-haired man appeared at the bottom step. His eyes widened. His gaze lingered on Viola, tracked down a drenched tendril of hair, fell to the puddle at her stockingless feet, and flicked back to the dark water surrounding the change box. His cheeks reddened.

Viola pulled her robe tight.

“You’re a long way from shore, Miss,” said the sandy-headed man. “Do you not know of the legend of The Lurker?”

“Willam!” The redheaded man’s deep voice echoed through the change box.

“There’s no such thing as monsters.” Viola cleared her throat. “It’s just a story to titillate the tourists.”

“If you say so, Miss.” William scoffed. “Come on, Mr Fraser. We know when we’re not wanted.”

Fraser nudged William and lowered his voice. “Perhaps it is time to return to shore, Miss?”

Viola stared down at the water. Ripples formed a few hundred yards away. Something glinted just above the surface. A dark hump broke the waterline, turned seaward and slipped back under the surface.

Viola nodded.

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The Book Club by Alan Baxter – a book review

The Book Club by Alan Baxter

As soon as I read the first paragraph, I knew that Mr Baxter wasn’t going to pull any punches in his novella The Book Club. Without giving too much away, this is the story of man whose wife disappears on the way home from her weekly book club meeting, written from his perspective. It could be classed as a horror, or a paranormal thriller, but the main character isn’t hard-bitten or cynical or a terrified teenager as you might expect, instead he is a husband and father caught up in the nightmare of not knowing what has happened – or might be happening – to be wife.

I liked Jason, the protagonist, immediately. He wasn’t too perfect, but his love of his family shone through everything he said or did. He did a few dumb things, but why he did them was believable. Unlike other books I’ve read in this genre, at no point did I feel like yelling at Jason for doing something obviously insane or against his motivations. Nothing annoys me more than a character who is doing things because the author wants the plot to move along.

The secondary characters also had more depth than the average thriller. Alan Baxter made sure than all his ‘cast’ were ambiguous in some way. The police helping him hunt for his wife weren’t angels in blue and weren’t heartless drones. The crew of antagonists weren’t even mildly evil, though they did do some morally and ethically bad acts to protect their reputations. The one person who was poison mean and deliberately cruel was also given believable motivations, even if they were twisted and strange.

The only unexplained phenomena are the supernatural elements. In the context of the story, this makes sense and is even utilised as a major plot point. The supernatural elements don’t dominate the plot; the story is about Jason’s journey and we only see those elements that relate directly to him and his missing wife. My one real problem with The Book Club is that this supernatural element isn’t explored more. I came away with a feeling that the events pertaining to the supernatural elements hadn’t been ‘tidied away’. This might have been a deliberate move by Alan Baxter to heighten the horror, but I still would have liked to have seen more repercussions from Jason’s encounters with the weird and dangerous.

Alan Baxter tends to write dark urban fantasy. In his books I have read, his protagonists have been tough and confident men and women who know how to handle themselves in a rough situation. The Book Club surprised me with both his flawed human protagonist and with the unusual plot twists that the novella took. I would recommend it to the same people who read and enjoy Charles De Lint and Angela Slatter.

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Lisa Mantchev Book Review

I will start out by saying that this isn’t usually the type of novel that I would pick to read. For starters, the very first chapter really bored me and made it to where I kept putting it off. Secondly, I can’t get a good feel on what genre this novel would/could be classified as. […]

via Ticker By Lisa Mantchev — Blackhearted Book Reviews

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Dead Magic – a book review by Chris Pavesic

Dead Magic is the fourth novel in Jorgensen’s Ingenious Mechanical Devices series and is the second novel to feature the characters of Emmeline and Immanuel. Although Dead Magic is a sequel, it is not necessary to read The Winter Garden first. (Although you absolutely should read all of the novels in this series! They are excellent.) Jorgensen provides enough details in the narrative to catch a reader up to the plot line of the new novel.

via Dead Magic by Kara Jorgensen — chrispavesic

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A Book Review by the Jane & Bex Book Blog

brian-stablefordI have one slight confusion over this book – the title. And it isn’t for the usual reasons since the book itself explains the origins of the phrase ‘scientific romance’ very clearly. No, I’m just confused that when I searched for it on various websites it didn’t appear under that title but had been expanded […]

via Scientific Romance – Brian Stableford (ed) — Jane & Bex book blog

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‘Vigil’ by Angela Slatter: A Book Review

Vigil

Now, I am going to come right out and say that I am a fan of Angela Slatter’s work and so I may be a tad biased in this review. However, I will also try to capture some of the magic and wonder that she traps withing her prose, so that you will appreciate why I am such a fan. To make things easier to express myself, I will dedicate my opinions to the successes or failures of her setting, her characters, her plot, her themes, and her style. I will also try very hard not give away any spoilers.

Brisbane_Map_20150813_wide

Setting: Brisvegas, better known as Brisbane, is one of the stars of this narrative. Angela Slatter lives and works in Brisbane, and it shows in the authenticity of her descriptions of various locations used in her book. She has turned our city – as I have lived and worked in inner Brisbane myself and still live in a satellite city – into a place where the phantasmagorical creatures of myths and legends mix with the Normals (the non-magical humans, the muggles) of the city. She evokes the atmosphere of each of her locations with a fine eye for detail, inserting just enough fantasy to transform the real-life locations into something new and strange. Her love poem to the Shingle Inn was worth the ticket money alone.

Someplace_to_Be_Flying_(Newford_-8)_by_Charles_de_Lint.jpg

Her use of an ordinary city reminded me of the work of Charles de Lint, and in particular his Newford book cycle. He sets many of his books in the urban setting of his generic North American/Canadian city of Newford, and – like Slatter – peoples the city with the Fey and the Fantastic. By setting her narrative within the restrictions of a real and familiar city, Angela Slatter is able to increase the verisimilitude of her characters and action; she also manages to make Brisbane seem exotic to a local like myself.

Characters: I fell in love with the main protagonist right from the start, as she is supernaturally strong, while remaining very human in her basic nature. Verity is also impulsive and has a well-tuned shit-detector, which gets Verity into and out of trouble. My only nit-pick is that her romantic interest is just a little too perfect. He needs a flaw or two, because I tend to suspect such a lovely person of having a hidden agenda.

sirenes

All the human and supernatural characters are well delineated, even though some the supernatural folk had dreadful-to-pronounce traditional names. I admired the way the personalities of the mythological folk actually suited their legendary roles … I believe I can mention that the sirens are flighty without giving anything away. Angela Slatter uses their traditional roles as major plot points withing the narrative, so you have to stay alert. You can’t compare her characterisations to anyone else, because she uses such an original voice. The closest I could suggest would be Diana Wynne Jones; Verity reminds me of a grown-up version of Sophie Hatter from Howl’s Moving Castle; they both have a can-do attitude while working with such secretive friends and enemies.

Plot: This is a whodunnit, with the protagonist and her team trying to juggle several cases at once.  It reminded  of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, with all the multiple story-lines kept apart and creating tension with the various mysteries running parallel to each other.  There is plenty of action and excitement, while at the same time we explore Verity’s unique position as a Halfling who works within the fractures between the supernatural and the ‘Normal’ worlds. ( I read the book in a day, by simply not doing anything else.)

gaiman with angel

Themes: Surprisingly, the main theme I took away from this book is how your family and friends are what makes you who you are. I wasn’t expecting a whodunnit to have such a profound underlying discourse, but then, Angela Slatter never works on just one level.

Style: Angela’s prose is always quite lyrical, but in this, her first novel, she has toned down the poet without losing her ability to toss away clever, clever sentences. I tend to grunt with approval whenever I read something clever, and my family must have thought I had a major gut ache with the amount of grunting I did while reading this book. One or two sentences made me punch the air and then quietly howl because I want to be that clever. I am not using the word ‘clever’ in the trite sense either, but in the sense that Angela Slatter is a mistress of the written word and it shows.

I can recommend this book to anyone who loves a gripping story with or without supernatural creatures to leaven the story.

 

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Suffrajitsu: Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons, Issue One – a book review

Suffrajitsu review

The cover of the first issue, and an actual illustration from the era. Someone has really done their homework!

As anyone who has read this blog will know, I am a huge fan of the suffragette movement of the Victorian and Edwardian eras. I have been looking forward with anticipation to the graphic novel, Suffrajitsu, written by Tony Wolf (originally from New Zealand, go the Antipodes) and illustrated by João Viera. It is with great delight I can write a review about Issue One of the trilogy, as published by Jet City Comics.

Before we go any further, let’s address the elephant in the room … yes, a man has written a graphic novel about the suffragettes. I write about male historical characters. It is what writers do, and I personally think Tony Wolf has one an amazing job in recreating the pressures and problems the suffragettes faced historically, while still writing an alternative history adventure. This just isn’t a historical retelling of the suffragette movement … it is an alternative history, a might have been.

This is a Steampunk narrative because it had several the major genre markers. The Steampunk literary genre embraces the use of alternative histories, and often uses historical people as characters … but the characters in the fiction are only inspired by these real people. The Steampunk genre includes anachronistic technology, such as the train the Amazons use to travel to Glasgow; this train is a “suspension railway” monorail.  The technology for that type of transportation did exist in 1914, but there were no actual cross-country suspension railway lines at that time.

The suffragettes are using innovative techniques to defend themselves, breaking the stereotype of the frail, helpless and hysterical Victorian female, and replacing her with intelligent and determined women who know how to handle the physical assault of an assailant. This type of woman did show up from time to time, but she was an exception rather than the rule in most Victorian and Edwardian media.

Image from the Illustrated Police News.

The illustrator, Viera, has made each character quite distinct. He uses a rich pallet of colours, which is an excellent choice. Popular culture tends to believe that the Victorian era was dull thanks to the B&W photos of the era. The bright colours are much more realistic, as the Victorian actually were quite lavish in their use of colour. Viera adds historically authentic details to his artwork, such as the violet, green and white ribbons and sashes used by the suffragettes. The action scenes are realistic. I’ve read a lot of graphic novels, and getting the artwork to match the writing seamlessly is a hard slog. The text and the illustrations are working together and not pulling in different directions, with the writer and illustrator well matched.

Main character is Persephone Wright: her uncle is Edward W. Barton-Wright, and she is a master of Bartitsu, the martial art that he developed and taught. She is a staunch supporter of Mrs Pankhurst and her daughter, Christabel. Her characterisation is complex, as she is also a bit of a ‘wild child’, enjoying tobacco and cocaine – in an era when both were freely available. She reminds me slightly of Doctor Grace from Murdoch Mysteries, intelligent, determined, and not afraid to try new things.

The secondary characters haven’t been left as two dimensional personalities and have their own distinct styles. I like that Flossie is from New Zealand, as New Zealand and Australia certainly had their own contingent of suffragettes. These real life touches give the whole story its verisimilitude. The forced feeding of suffragettes is mentioned. The suffragette movement is forced to use ‘amazons’ to protect the speakers at rallies. The ‘amazons’ are highly trained, but they don’t rely on brute force alone.

In this first issue, we get few hints as to the identities of the true villains of this narrative. But – rest assured – there is plenty of conflict and action provided by the clashes between the suffragettes and constabulary, and between the suffragettes and the establishment. I recommend this graphic novel to fellow Steampunk enthusiasts, feminists, and anyone who enjoys a finely made story.

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