Book Review: ‘A Confabulated Compendium of Anecdotes’ by Melissa H North

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This collection of intriguing and mysterious Steampunk-style speculative short stories offers a good variety of settings and situations in which the reader is immersed as the tales develop. 

The writing is evocative and richly textured. Some of these stories are full of brooding darkness and  macabre imagery, creating a powerful contrast with the ironic humour and hopeful adventure that pervades the final story.

These stories are just the right size to enjoy one at a time during breaks in a busy day, and varied enough to maintain the reader’s interest when read in one sitting. 

There is some adult content, so this is not a suitable book for younger readers, but it is a most enjoyable and diverting read for grownups.

Book Review: ‘Webley and the World Machine’ by Zachary Chopchinski

The byline of ‘Webley and the World Machine’  promises “a steampunk adventure full of sass and snark” which is a very good indication of what the reader will experience in this book. The adventures of Adal and Arija make for a highly original and entertaining read. 

Adal and Arija are typical teens, each with passions and interests that motivate them, both unfailingly loyal and committed to one another as best friends. The story takes them on a journey that challenges their resilience and their individual understandings of life as they have always known it and, at the same time, strengthens and transforms their friendship. They are people that young adult readers will relate to in many ways, including their experiences of life and of other people who are not so easy to get along with, the priorities they hold, and the way they speak and interact with one another. 

The intricate and multi-textured world building in this novel is testament to the immense imagination and creativity of the author and adds a lot of interesting sensory detail to the story. The settings, characters and creatures are brought to life vividly, and the story is very well paced. 

In short, there is absolutely nothing that is boring or mundane about this book. 

Book Review: ‘The Last Temptations of Iago Wick’ by Jennifer Rainey

This is the first of two books thus far in the ‘Wick and Lovelace’ steampunk/gaslamp fiction series, although both Iago Wick and Dante Lovelace both also appear in ‘Iago Wick and the Vampire Queen’.

Similar to life for a tempter such as Iago Wick, this book is never dull. Mystery, adventure, temptation and danger combine to provide a well paced, very entertaining read that hooks the reader early and proceeds to charm them into feeling far more empathy for a demon than most would be willing to consider wise. 

Iago and Dante are delightfully devilish, giving the reader an insight into how demons might go about distracting and tempting humans while at the same time being thoroughly charming and polite. 

The writing is fluent and witty, vividly bringing to life the Victorian-esque city of Marlowe, Massachusetts, and the spectrum of characters who live there. This is a story laced with dark humour and keen insight into what makes people tick, making it both very readable and deeply fascinating. 

Overall, it’s a fabulously wicked and highly recommended read.

Book Review: ‘The Adventures of Viola Stewart: Three Short Stories’ by Karen J Carlisle

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This book presents three Victorian-style short stoeies featuring Viola Stewart at different phases of her life – one as a child, two as an adult. Throughout, she is clever, vivacious and scientifically minded, creating a sense of positive connection and admiration in the reader’s mind. It is easy to see how the young girl with a toy dirigible grew into the optician with a scientist’s eye for detail. 

The second and third stories explore mysterious circumstances that occur, with the investigations falling to Viola and her friend, Dr Henry Collins. 

The stories are interesting and entertaining, leaving the reader keen to know more of Viola Stewart. 

Book Review: ‘The Perilous In-Between’ by Cortney Pearson

This is an intriguing steampunk mystery novel which immerses the readers in the world of Chuzzlewit and embeds them in the lives of its residents. 

It begins as a story of adventure and danger, and develops into a personal quest for the characters to solve the mystery behind the monster that holds their very existence in its hands. It explores the ways in which different people respond to adversity and conflict, and questions how those in a position of power use and abuse it. 

The story is very well written and very entertaining. The world building is more complex and thought-provoking than it first appears to be, and the nature of the Monster known as the Kreak is fascinating. 

The town of Chuzzlewit is populated with a varied cast of engaging and interesting characters, and the central characters are relatable in their motivations, responses and interactions with one another. Victoria, as the lead character, is an independent thinker, a problem solver, and stands up for what is right over what is easy. Her dilemmas are complex and the difficult choices she has to make remind the reader that it is the right of each individual to choose their path and shape their own reality from the choices offered to them in life, but also that those choices cannot be made in isolation from one’s responsibility to others or the society in which they live.

Book Review: ‘Out of the Shadows’ by Dana Fraedrich

I have incredibly strong, yet mixed, feelings about this book. 

The story is excellent and very well told. Tthe characters are wonderful, and the world building is great. The central character is vivacious and intelligent, and her position as someone who is highly individual in a world where conformity is prized is highly relatable for many in this day and age. Through the characters and events of the story, the reader is challenged to consider the complexities of life, loyalty, overcoming prejudice and being true to ones own identity and values. 

There is nothing not to love about this book, except the ending. There is no resolution to the questions and complications of the story. It’s not a well-executed cliffhanger. 

It .
Just.
Stops. 

To be reading a brilliant story and then just have it stop dead in its tracks is most disappointing, to say the least.  It’s fair to say that my disappointment at the end of the book overwhelmed and outweighed all the enjoyment I had derived from it, and left me feeling quite resentful and angry. 

It was clearly designed for readers to progress straight to the next book, as one sometimes does with a series, and if readers chose to do so, then the nature of the ending probably doesn’t matter so much. The story is certainly interesting and engaging enough that readers might want to do that. 

The problem is that many readers don’t read a series sequentially like that. I prefer to vary my reading across genres and styles, and I know I am not by any means the only one who does so. 

When I buy a book, it’s with the understanding that I’m going to get a complete story with some closure and a proper ending. It’s actually enough to put me off buying the next book, even though I really want to know what happens, simply because I  believe the same thing will happen again. 

If you are a reader who is willing to move straight into the sequel, then by all means consider this to be a Gold Acorn review. Read this book and make sure you’ve got the next one ready to go at the end of it.

If you are a reader who will be frustrated by the absence of any decent ending or resolution, then no matter how good the story is, this is not the book for you. 

There have been one or two occasions on which I have contemplated creating a Black Acorn. Today, I have actually done it.

Related post: Well, That Ended Badly…

Book Review: ‘Pretty Waiter Girls’ by Greg Alldredge

An excellent steampunk fantasy mystery novel, ‘Pretty Waiter Girls’ is a captivating story set in San Francisco, 1899, where mystery, magic, science, inventions, petty crime and serial murderers exist uneasily alongside one another. 

Helena Brandywine is a charming heroine – young, feisty, smart, good-natured, and keen to rescue others from danger. While she aspires to become like Sherlock Holmes, Helena is more empathetic and less aloof than her hero. The detective, Doyle, and Helena’s companions and employees Sigmund and Lane are all effective foils for her youth and impulsiveness.  As they investigate the disappearance of a young socialite and the death of another young woman from very different circumstances, each of the central characters turns out to be as complex and challenging as the mysteries they seek to solve.  This sets up a dynamic between them that is both enjoyable and fascinating.

The narrative is interesting and exciting, and very well constructed. The story is as full of action and adventure as it is of mystery and intrigue. The writing has a positive, adventurous tone that really suits the genre and style of the story and keeps the reader hooked on the action of the story as the mysteries and challenges that face Helena unfold. The mysteries are well constructed, made more fascinating by their relation to questions relating to Helena’s family, and by their apparent connections to the shadowy beings that frequent the city in the dark. 

A most enjoyable read, ‘Pretty Waiter Girls’ has been awarded a Gold Acorn. 

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