The Map of the Sky

The Map of the SkyThe Map of the Sky
by: Felix J. Palma

(Victorian/Science Fiction)

591 pages [Hardcover]

H.G. Wells is once again pulled into all manner of danger and adventure when the events in his novel, The War of the Worlds, begin happening around him.

I’m really becoming a fan of Felix J. Palma. The Map of Time was pretty awesome and The Map of the Sky is just as good. While his novels can feel a little long and drawn out at times, the payoff at the end makes it all worthwhile.

This time, I was prepared and read The War of the Worlds beforehand. With The Map of Time, not much of H.G. Wells’ novel factored into the story, other than the subject of time travel, and the machine itself. With The Map of the Sky, having The War of the Worlds fresh in your memory will make the story that much more fun. I won’t tell you how, exactly, but I think it’s worth it.

I was pleasantly surprised to see characters from The Map of Time show up in this novel. It was nice to spend some more time with them and watch as they faced the horrors of alien invasion. There is also something wonderfully fun about H.G. Wells being an unlikely hero. There were some surprising twists and turns, which I have come to expect from Mr. Palma, and the way it all turned out, in the end, wrapped things up well but left me thinking. I love it when a book leaves you with a little nugget of something to ponder over. I’m very much looking forward to The Map of Chaos, and I’ll be reading The Invisible Man first in preparation. Until next time…

Happy Reading!

Comments on Classics: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

Comments on Classics posts often contain spoilers,
so go read the book first and then come back. It’s ok, I’ll wait.

Comments on Classics

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – 1865 – Lewis Carroll
Through the Looking-Glass – 1871 – Lewis Carroll

In a nutshell:
A little girl has a remarkable imagination.

Curiouser and curiouser…

Everything is an adaptation of a classic these days, especially Alice. In the recent years there has been a SyFi channel mini-series, Disney movies, and a TV show, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland (even if it only lasted one season). There’s an Alice-based video game and Otherland’s Eight Squared. These two children’s stories have been referenced in so many ways and inspired so many new creations that I felt like it was time for me to experience the original. Long story short, I liked it.

Alice is a wildly imaginative, if somewhat bossy, little girl. Her journeys in Wonderland are the subject of two separate stories, one where she travels down the rabbit hole and the other through the looking glass. The Cheshire Cat features in the first while the connection to chess is in the second. I’m sure quite a few things went right over my head since the stories are very historically British, but it was still enjoyable. However, both the Bandersnatch and the Jabberwocky barely show up at all. In fact, they are only mentioned briefly in a poem, which was a little disappointing. Those characters have been featured so prominently in the 2010 Disney version of Alice that I thought they would show up more in the original stories.

With so much strangeness I can see why Alice’s adventures have spawned so many adaptations. There is just so much to expand upon. I can also understand why there are so many suggestions of madness among them.

While I liked both stories, I feel I’ve been a bit spoiled by all these flashy new versions of the story. In comparison, it can seem a little lacking.

But Alice is only the beginning because I also have all the rest of Lewis Carroll’s works in my pretty pink book. Someday I’ll share my thoughts on those too. Until next time…

Happy Reading!

Comments on Classics: The Chronic Argonauts

Comments on Classics posts often contain spoilers,
so go read the book first and then come back. It’s ok, I’ll wait.

Comments on Classics

The Chronic Argonauts – 1888 – H.G. Wells – Short Story

In a nutshell:
A mad scientist builds a time machine in a rural Welsh village.

Before he wrote The Time Machine, H.G. Wells penned The Chronic Argonauts, another time-traveling tale. I only became aware of this story because it was briefly mentioned in Felix J. Palma’s The Map of Time. Naturally, I looked it up to see if it was real. It’s actually a pretty good story, but sadly there is very little time travel in it. The story mostly focuses on the build up of the strange Doctor Nebogipfel (great name by the way) and his occupation of a house with a violent history. Within this house, he performs strange experiments that involve odd lights and noises which frighten the locals and ultimately cause them to turn on him.

The reader doesn’t get to see much of his experimentation or the construction of the time machine and I wish there was a lot more there. I’d love to follow Nebogipfel’s struggle, being a man ahead of his time, unlocking the secrets of time travel.

The actual time travel in the story is brief and related by a secondary character after the fact, and there is very little detail there either. It seems the most interesting parts of the story were glossed over rather quickly. I want to know more about what happened in the years 4003, 17, 901 and 2. Mention of the abduction of a ward and assaults on public officials is hardly enough information in my opinion. Although, then it wouldn’t be a short story anymore. I feel like there is an opportunity here for an experienced author to fill in the blanks of this lesser-known story. If done well, it could be really awesome.

The final thing that struck me, as I was re-reading a bit before writing this post, was how much, by the end, Dr. Nebogipfel reminded me of Doctor Who. He seemed lonely and even suggested the reverend be his companion on his travels. Something about that had that lonely Doctor vibe to me.

If you have an interest in H.G. Wells, an interest in Victorian science fiction, or you are simply curious about this story, you can read it here for free. Until next time…

Happy Reading!

The Paradox

The ParadoxThe Paradox by Charlie Fletcher


386 pages [Trade Paperback]

“When they fall, so do we all.” The last hand of the Oversight struggles to hold together while two of their most prominent members are lost to the mirrors. Nefarious plots abound while tragic discoveries are made.

It took nearly the entire first book of this series for me to get close to the characters, but it was well worth the effort. I enjoyed The Paradox so much more, especially because I felt I understood it better.

I love the characters now and the strange family they make. Fictional misfit families are one of my favorite things, next to animal companions and powerful worldbuilding. Some of the coolest aspects of these characters hadn’t shown up until the end of the previous book, so at the time, I didn’t know enough about them to see why they were so great. Here, knowing all of that, I really enjoyed spending time with them.

The mirrors, the awful truth behind The Disaster, multilayered bad guys, and the ever-increasing peril kept the pages turning. The mirrors were fascinating in how they affect those within, as well as what happens when blood is spilled upon them. The revelations about The Disaster were tragic. There were also some intriguing side plots with other characters outside of the Oversight, which seem to be leading in some very interesting directions. I do find these books to be just a little bit confusing at times, since there is so much going on, and with multiple threats to the Oversight, it was sometimes difficult to keep track of which was which. I felt like I should read both books over again in order to fully grasp what was going on, but let’s face it, I’m not going to do that. Given infinite time, I would gladly do so, but until I invent a time-machine, or manage to clone myself, once will just  have to be enough.

To put it simply, I was really happy with this one, minor confusions and all. Can’t wait to read The Reddest Hand! Until next time…

Happy Reading!

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

The Watchmaker of Filigree StreetThe Watchmaker of Filigree Street
by: Natasha Pulley


318 pages [Hardcover]

Six months after a gold pocket watch finds its way into Thaniel Steepleton’s possession, it saves his life, leading him to the enigmatic watchmaker Keita Mori.

Victorian, Steampunk, Japanese, and an amazing cover…this was a book I could not resist when I happened upon it at my local library, even though I already had enough to read at the time. Given the subject matter I loved the first half, but then…

First, let me start out with what I loved about the story before I start complaining. The clockwork is amazing! It was everything I could have wanted in a steampunk story. Often it seems the larger steam-powered inventions get all the attention, but here, the delicate clockwork got to shine. Katsu was probably my favorite thing about the story, but I can’t tell you much about him without ruining his awesomeness. Just trust me. I also really enjoyed the use of scientific theories of the time. I don’t love steampunk just for the gadgets and awesome costume opportunities, but for the way people thought in Victorian times. Sure, there were plenty of short-sighted ideas at the time, and boundless sexism, but when it came to science and discovery the Victorians seemed to be more open-minded in their attitudes toward discovery and thinking outside the box. There was so much that was unknown and so much progress, in a short time, that anything could be possible. I wish we felt more like that today. In a lot of ways, I think we’ve decided that we already know everything worth knowing. Where are the inventors and the mad scientists to keep us on our toes?

Now for what I didn’t love so much. The story began to get a little odd and melancholy for the last third of the book or so. Thaniel’s relationship with Mori seemed a little off, especially considering how events might have been manipulated by Mori himself. I felt like I couldn’t trust him. He seemed likable enough on the outside, quiet and unassuming, but something about him bothered me after a while. He even came across as a little possessive. I just didn’t like how that all played out. While the ending of the story mostly made up for these things, I couldn’t really warm up to Mori. I’m not sure if that was intentional on the author’s part or not.

Ultimately, I got my hopes up with this one, and it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. Awesome steampunk cover art will do that to a person…or me anyway. Until next time…

Happy Reading!

Bellman & Black

Bellman & BlackBellman & Black by: Diane Setterfield

(Historical Fiction)

325 pages [Hardcover]

After killing a rook in a moment of youthful folly, William Bellman’s adult life begins to take a slowly devastating turn. Rooks never forget. In order to save the only precious person left to him, he makes a deal with a mysterious stranger.

Victorian? Check.

Mysterious? Check.

Slightly misleading book jacket description?…check.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a good book, and I’m happy to have it in my collection (even if I did get it from the bargain shelf), but the “decidedly macabre business” that Bellman and Black found isn’t nearly the nefarious sort of business I imagined. I won’t give away what it actually is, but it is a rather regular sort of business. When I read that description I was anticipating shadowy alleyways, murder, and other dastardly deeds. That is not what this story is.

In actuality, this book is an atmospheric kind of story, with something always lurking just out of sight, making you want to read more in hopes of glimpsing it. The story is largely just the tale of William Bellman’s life, how he kills a rook, finds happiness, loses it, and how he copes, partially with a little assistance from the mysterious Mr. Black. If it were only a story of Bellman’s life, it might have been less enjoyable, but the feeling and tone of the story made so many mundane things strangely fascinating.

It also helps that I have a fascination with Victorian/Edwardian department stores, so the details about everything from the mills that made the fabric to the function of the stores themselves was extremely interesting to me. Something about how they did things a hundred or more years ago seems so much more authentic somehow compared to how we do things today.

The theme of rooks and crows throughout the book helped to provide that eerie quality to the story, much like a foggy evening. Fog isn’t inherently dangerous or malicious, but you can’t help but feel like there’s something frightening lurking within it. That last page was awesome. I will forever view crows in a different light.

This story has a kind of poetic simplicity, which after reading complex tales of magic and politics is a nice break. Despite it not being quite what I expected, I found it thoroughly engrossing. Something about it drew me in. Until next time…

Happy Reading!

The Oversight

The OversightThe Oversight

By: Charlie Fletcher


434 pages (Trade Paperback)


An organization known as The Oversight polices the line between the normal and the supernatural, but only a few remain. “When they fall so do we all.”

*   *   *

It is a curious thing, how novels written in Victorian or pseudo-Victorian time periods are so often written at a higher writing level than your average book. Sentences are crafted a bit more artfully and there are more than a few big words for me to look up, like horripilant and crepuscular. I’d like to point out that my spell check doesn’t even think horripilant is a word, but that may be because this is more of a British usage.

My biggest problem with this kind of writing is that it slows me down. In this case the story wasn’t difficult to follow, it just took a little more time to digest all the verbiage. There are plenty of books out there that are written far more elaborately than this. Personally, I prefer clear writing to fancy writing, not to say that fancy writing can’t be clear on occasion. I don’t want to break up the story to look up words I don’t know, I just want to jump in and immerse myself in it. For me, the more advanced the writing the more distance I feel between me and the story, and it’s more difficult for me to get into it and bond with the characters.

Now to solve this problem authors either need to write more simply, or I just need to become smarter. Hmmm…I’ll work on that.

As for the story, even though I felt like the writing overshadowed it a little bit, it was good. The perilousness of being the last people secretly holding everything together, keeping the things that go bump in the night in check, added a great sense of urgency. The characters were ultimately great, but it took me most of the book to warm up to them. By the end I really liked them, which would have been more of a problem if it were a standalone novel, but since it’s a trilogy (from what I can tell) nothing is wasted. The magic was grounded in folklore which made it feel more plausible, and the idea of getting lost in a maze of mirrors for all eternity is especially cool.

Sophisticated writing aside, it was an interesting story, and I’ll be adding the sequels to my reading list. I guess I’ll just have to start reading the dictionary in preparation for the next one. But hey, being smarter is never a bad thing right? Until next time…

Happy Reading!

A Great and Terrible Beauty

A Great and Terrible BeautyA Great and Terrible Beauty

By: Libba Bray


403 pages (Hardcover)

Sixteen year old Gemma Doyle discovers her own magical abilities after the mysterious death of her mother.

*   *   *

Boy was this book disappointing! I’m really surprised at just how bad it was. Maybe that was too harsh? I hate writing reviews about books I didn’t like. I wish I loved every single thing that I read, but I suppose I can’t like everything.

I picked up book three in this trilogy at the last book sale. The cover was so pretty I couldn’t resist, plus what’s not to like about Victorian boarding schools and magical powers? Sure it’s a young adult novel, but it can’t be that bad…right?

The biggest problem with this novel, in my opinion, is that it could have used some serious fleshing out. The basic outline of something good is there, but the author didn’t really fill in the details. For example, the secret order of women with the ability to use magic is just known as “The Order”. Really? That’s a bit generic, and since this order seems to have only female members, why not a sisterhood of something at least. Gemma is instructed not to use her magic, but never given any reason why, so naturally she uses it anyway. There are realms, but we only see two of them, and their existence isn’t really explained. Are there more of them? Why are they important? There are no rules to the magic, obtaining it only requires touching a crystal, and there are no real consequences, until the very end, that is, when they pile on all at once.

The characters in this book are mostly horrible, bratty children. At first I thought that Gemma befriending the mean girls was an interesting twist, that she would defeat them from the inside, but instead she essentially becomes one of them, while still largely opposing what they do. She never chooses a side and most of her actions don’t seem to have any real substance behind them. Then we are expected to believe that these people are her closest friends sharing a deep bond, but in reality, everyone was only pursuing their own selfish ends.

That brings me to Kartik. Involving a handsome and mysterious Indian boy in all of this is really a no-brainer given this is YA historical fantasy, but he’s just so awful. He stalks and threatens Gemma, telling her not to use her abilities without giving any reason, and in spite of this she’s rather obsessed with him. What makes it worse, is a lot of the story focuses on how sexist Victorian society was and how these poor girls would just be married off to the first suitable husband their parents could dig up. Gemma thinks that’s horrible, but she’s going to chase after a guy who stalks and threatens her?

Between her mean-girl friends and her slightly disturbing interest in Kartik, this story provides a horrible example of what relationships can be, glorifying the most superficial aspects of both friendship and romantic relationships. I really wish these novels would stray from the blueprint Twilight created, and instead, entertain young adults with stories of deep friendship and loyalty, not the mysterious, but abusive, hot guy. Just because he’s hot, doesn’t make it ok.

And to top it all off, it took the main character so much time to come to basic realizations. When she noticed that the class photo of the year the mysterious fire happened was missing, it took her nearly the entire book to check behind the photo of the previous year to find it. A lot of the supposedly interesting plot points were extremely predictable and cliche. However, there was a bit of a twist at the end that was a little interesting, but it was really far too little too late.

The only thing I can’t complain about is the writing, that part of the story was perfectly fine. I just wish the author had taken more time in crafting the story behind it. Maybe I’m just too old for a book like this, maybe I’m being too critical, but I don’t think that’s the case. I’m usually pretty forgiving, especially if I really want to like the book. A lot of people really love this series (almost 4 stars on goodreads), and they’re even planning on making it into a movie, just like every other moderately successful YA series these days. I wish I could have liked it, but I just can’t get over how disappointing it was. Until next time…

Happy Reading!

Comments on Classics: Dracula

Comments on Classics

Dracula – 1897 – Bram Stoker – 418 pages

In a nutshell:

Vampire hires lawyer to help him move to England,
danger ensues.

Welcome to my first ever classics review! I wanted to start with Dracula because it was the very first classical fiction novel I read entirely of my own volition. Why did I start with Dracula? I chose it for the obvious reasons. While it was written in the 19th century, it was about vampires after all, so how bad could it be? Of all the books I could have chosen, this seemed the safest bet as far as holding my interest. It’s been over a decade since then, so my memory of the book is a little sketchy at best, but I wanted to start my classical reviews with my first classical read, so I’ll do my best.

I think I was definitely right in choosing this as my first. While I assume most teenage girls would have chosen something more like Jane Austen, I think this was a better fit for me at the time. I was still really picky and impatient with books that didn’t grab my attention right away, and Dracula was better at keeping me focused. It was a challenge though. Being written over a hundred years ago, there was quite a bit of vocabulary to look up, especially names of things we don’t use anymore, like types of vehicles and objects. I was a complete nerd about it however, and kept a notebook where I wrote them all down and looked them up later. I still have all the words and definitions around here somewhere…I should really throw things out more often.

Now, about the story. The thing you have to take into account with Victorian literature is that what was exciting then, is nothing compared to what is considered exciting now. This doesn’t mean a Victorian novel is inherently dull or boring, but it is usually good to temper one’s expectations accordingly in order to appreciate it. What helped keep my interest in Dracula was that the entire story was written as a series of journal entries and letters, which made it more personal, and helped to break things up a bit. There was plenty of horror, danger, and adventure, more than I would have expected. I liked the characters and was surprised at the ending, which I thought would be horribly tragic.

If you’re looking to start reading some classical literature but you want something with a little more punch, this is a great place to start. With Vampires being so popular these days, it’s nice to read where it all began. For the record, Dracula didn’t sparkle. Until next time…

Happy Reading!

And Only to Deceive

And Only to DeceiveAnd Only to Deceive

By: Tasha Alexander

(Victorian Mystery)

310 pages

This is the first book in the Lady Emily series of Victorian mysteries, and since I was in a historical fiction kind of mood, it seemed appropriate. This series had actually been on my book list for quite a while, and I had picked up the second book in the series at a book sale somewhere along the way, so I thought it was about time I started it.

The most important thing in a book like this is to like the main character, especially since it’s written in the first person. Fortunately I did. She was the right combination of independent and confident, while still being believable, and faltering from time to time. She wasn’t too strong or too weak. The characters surrounding her complimented her nicely, and presented plenty of suspicious options as to who the culprit really was.

While the story was intriguing in a “who done it” sort of way and with its connections to antiquities and Greek history, I felt like something was missing. By the time I finished the book I realized what it was, danger. Lady Emily, despite poking her nose into some slightly dangerous plots, was never in any real danger. There was no running about London, or wandering its seedy underbelly. It was all a very proper kind of danger. However, after reading the author’s explanation in the back of the book, I understood this lack of real, action packed, danger.

The author explains that she didn’t want to take a modern girl with modern, freethinking sensibilities, and stick her in period costume. The idea was to make a character that was dangerous and shocking for her time, and with that she succeeded. After thinking about it, I realized I was just expecting something that has become a bit of a cliche, and in a way, I rather like this idea of a heroine who is a little ahead of her time, without fully removing herself from the society she is a part of.

I think I’ll definitely be reading more of this series. I like variety, and I’ve been a little lacking in the historical fiction department lately. I’ve only read a couple mysteries in the past, and I find that placing them in a historical setting makes them a lot more fun. Until next time…

Happy Reading!