Monthly Archives: September 2013

Pat O’Malley Historical Steampunk Mystery Trilogy: Three Novels: 1. Forevermore 2. Disappearance at Mount Sinai 3. Jane the Grabber by Jim Musgrave

Pat O'Malley Historical Steampunk Mystery Trilogy: Three Novels: 1. Forevermore 2. Disappearance at Mount Sinai 3. Jane the GrabberPat O’Malley Historical Steampunk Mystery Trilogy: Three Novels: 1. Forevermore 2. Disappearance at Mount Sinai 3. Jane the Grabber by Jim Musgrave

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As usual, I received this book because somebody gave it to me for free. In this case, the author approached me directly with a copy. Despite this kind consideration, I give my candid opinions below, as will quickly become evident.

Firstly, this collection describes itself as Historical Steampunk but I’d posit that the strength of it lies primarily in its history. The Steampunk aspects are rather an afterthought since few aspects of that genre appear anywhere before the last 30 pages of a 512 page book.

Positively speaking, Musgrave makes wonderful use of history in this series. In the course of three books he touches on all the major social issues of the mid 1860s from race relations to women’s rights and describes them in vivid and memorable detail. The works are also obviously meticulously researched and 99% accurate in their historical contexts which is a major accomplishment and a rare one in this genre. The author also has a way of crafting an engaging story in the midst of all the education.

The negative aspects of the series are primarily technical in nature. A surprising number of typographical errors have made their way into the text and the dialog is sometimes rather weak and plastic. Descriptions of events are often too brief and implausible and generally lacking editorial polish. It’s evident what the author is trying to build up to in the series but it just doesn’t hang together very well and seems rather forced.

In summary, I feel educated after these novels and at times was entertained but not overwhelmingly impressed. There’s great potential in the stories and the history but the execution is too slippery to be entirely ignored.

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Jane the Grabber: A Pat O’Malley Historical Mystery by Jim Musgrave

Jane the Grabber: A Pat O'Malley Historical MysteryJane the Grabber: A Pat O’Malley Historical Mystery by Jim Musgrave

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As usual, I received this book because somebody gave it to me for free. In this case, the author approached me directly with a copy of the whole trilogy as one volume. Despite this kind consideration, I give my candid opinions below, as will quickly become obvious.

To the positive side, it’s worth noting that the history covered in novel is the real meat of the matter. Musgrave describes a period of history and society that we just don’t think about much. For most, history is about the wars and conflicts that punctuate time but this book describes a society in detail from the viewpoint of the common and everyday person. Each of his novels has a moralistic theme and this one delves at length into women’s and children’s sexual rights. With only one exception that I could find, Musgrave’s history is accurate and well portrayed. As an educational tool, this book really shines.

To the negative, like the author’s other titles in this series, the writing comes up a bit short. Climactic moments seem to pass by with hardly a whit of description and at times come across as rather nonsensical. Also, the narrative thread of this novel takes a violent and perplexing turn in the last fifth of the book that seems weakly supported. The series to which this book belongs describes itself as ‘Steampunk’ but we see no hint of the genre until the last 30 pages of this 200 page volume. Personally, I think the book would stand better as straight historical fiction rather than trying to veer so fundamentally at the last minute.

In summary, Jane the Grabber is a great slice of history but it tries to go off and be something else. The strength of the series is in its portrayal of the common man, not the “wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey” time travel bits, as Dr. Who might put it.

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Disappearance at Mount Sinai by Jim Musgrave

Disappearance at Mount SinaiDisappearance at Mount Sinai by Jim Musgrave

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As usual, I didn’t pay for this book but it came to me through the grace and generosity of the author. Despite this kind consideration, I share my candid feelings on the book below.

Our protagonist is a Civil War vet turned private detective and he navigates a world filled with deep intrigue and diverse characters. Potential readers are warned that the language in this book could be offensive to some as the book deals very honestly with matters of race and Eugenics in the post-war American South. Personally I find this unsanitized rendering of the time and place to be refreshing but the easily offended should make note before purchasing.

To the positive side of the ledger, Musgrave delves honestly and in detail into the oft-forgotten episode of American history in which it was considered a good idea by many to sanitize the human race of anyone who wasn’t white. Those who point with disgust at 1930s Germany are herein reminded that those Germans didn’t invent anti-semitism and Eugenics. Musgrave displays to us through his work that hatred has much deeper roots. In addition to his larger history lesson, the author provides us with hoards of other amusing historical tidbits and isn’t afraid to sprinkle them liberally throughout the narrative and even takes time to explain them in most cases.

To the negative side, the aforementioned tidbits of history, while informative, can at times seem non sequiturs and can go on for several sentences interrupting the narrative flow. Language too is sometimes a problem as characters of various dialects repeat the same characteristic words or phrases over and over in an exaggerated verbal stereotype of a particular demographic. This can get a bit grating, me boy-o! Lastly, the dialog is at times melodramatic with characters proclaiming that they’ll do “something” if it’s “the last thing they’ll ever do!” or phrase of similar hyperbole. One is reminded rather more of Adam West as Batman than a 19th century private investigator. Luckily these occurrences are fairly rare but when they do occur they do tend to stick out. Holy verbal protuberances, oh faithful readers!

In summary, Sinai is an improvement over Musgrave’s previous work. Like its predecessor, it is firmly rooted in real events and expounds upon them in a logical and believable manner. Musgrave’s work is exceptionally well conceived but simply lacks a bit of editorial spit and polish. The occurrence of typographical problems in this book is also less than its predecessor and I have higher hopes still for the third volume in the series.

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Forevermore by Jim Musgrave

ForevermoreForevermore by Jim Musgrave

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As usual, I received this book because somebody gave it to me for free. In this case, the author approached me directly with a copy of the whole trilogy as one volume. Despite this kind consideration, I give my candid opinions below, as will quickly become self-evident.

Firstly, a few general comments and a readers recommendation. It is suggested that you read this book in the following manner: read the first chapter and allow the oddness of it to roll around in your head for a few moments. Then sally you forth unto Wikipedia and read the real events as recorded by history. Smirk bemusedly at yourself for a few seconds and then continue to read the rest of the novel. Anything less enigmatic than that is left as exercise to the reader.

On the positive side, our author has picked an fascinating episode of history for his target. Saying more than that will spoil the fun but it is my considered opinion that historical fiction is best when it starts out with some reality that is abundantly screwball in its own right and expands upon it in a realistic way. I won’t go so far as to say that this book is a potential truth of the matter, but the thread of the tale has a pleasant glow of vague plausibility to it that fits well with the genre. Furthermore, the book is easy and accessible but still endeavors to expand the reader’s knowledge of history (and vocabulary) without any significant missteps. The author has done his homework, despite what other reviewers may say to the contrary.

On the negative side, the novel does suffer from some fairly significant editorial woes. At times it’s difficult to tell who the narrator of a given passage is and transitions in time and place are sometimes hard to pick up on. The text is rife with historical references but at times so rife that they feel rather forced. I appreciate the author’s research but one doesn’t have to stuff everything he knows about 19th century life into one book. Lastly, during our dramatic climax the book reads more like an Abbott and Costello routine than a serious mystery novel. As a reader I’m happy to accept either but it is generally preferred if the author picks one or the other and sticks with it.

In summary, this is a very well conceived novel but it must be remembered that readers of the mystery genre especially are punctilious beasts that will pick apart every detail of every sentence you write. They have to because they must find the answer before the end arrives. That’s rather the point of reading a mystery novel. So while this novel is generally good, it’s not quite up to the standards of its chosen genre. As a first novel it’s a brilliant initial step though and I look forward to the next two in the series.

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The Biology of Luck by Jacob M. Appel – Release Date October 7, 2013

The Biology of LuckThe Biology of Luck by Jacob M. Appel

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As usual I received this book free of charge; specifically, through the grace of a LibraryThing monthly giveaway. Despite that kind and frequent consideration, I give my candid opinions below.

“Biology” is an enigmatic little tale of an ugly and unfortunate man. The chapters alternate between the narrative of his real life and chapters from the book he’s written, named somewhat concentrically, “The Biology of Luck.” His real life is a rather frustrated tale of a man looking for love while book he’s written is a highly optimized and optimistic view on the same events.

On the positive side, this book is highly surreal and captures the dichotomy between our real lives and what we would wish them to be. Our main character builds up his book-within-a-book around the life of his prospective lover and an unlikely series of events that it is hoped will bring her ultimately to his arms for good and all. Other reviewers have called this book “funny” but personally I didn’t find it funny at all but rather dark and far too easy to relate to. The protagonist is a sad little man who makes one big wish and releases it into the world in book form.

To the negative, I would only warn readers that this is not a typical happy go lucky romance novel. This is very deep, patient and thought provoking work and those looking for fluffy romance or a grand payoff at the end will be disappointed. Read this book when you want to spend a day in contemplation, not for an afternoon by the side of the pool. For some this will be a warning and others a recommendation. I leave it to you to decide which category you fall into.

In summary, this novel is a highly literary and complex tale of love, lust and human desire. It also has a lot to tell us about how we perceive others and exhibits the great talent of the human mind for taking tiny shreds of information about people and weaving them into exorbitant narratives that generally have no relationship whatsoever to reality. Just the sort of book you could read three times and get more and more and more from it on each reading.

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The Gilded Mirror: Constantinople by Jocelyn Murray

The Gilded Mirror: Constantinople (#3)The Gilded Mirror: Constantinople by Jocelyn Murray

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As is usual, I received this book through some mechanism by which I didn’t actually have to pay for it. The author approached me for a review and true to that desire I give my honest opinions below.

The plot of this little novel is fairly standard escapist juvenile literature. A young girl finds a mirror and uses it to travel to another time and place and thereupon has adventures of an educational variety as she witnesses an the fall of Constantinople.

Since this is youth literature, I judge it by two basic criteria. The first centers around what age group of children would actually wish to read it and find it engaging. The second amounts to whether I would want my own children to be exposed to the content.

On the first criterion, like the other books in this series, it was a bit of a tough sell. My 8 and 14-year-old have been somewhat dubious. The elder seems to reject it on the basis that it is rather a standard formula that many previous books have followed. The younger takes far too many cues from the elder and has never heard of Constantinople so it’s hard for it to get its hooks into her properly. These books have the curious property that they’re written for teens but because of the subject matter tend to appeal more directly to adults who have some sense of the history involved.

As to the second stated criterion, the content is exactly the sort of thing you’d want out of children’s literature. It’s extraordinarily educational and devoid of sex, drugs and so much of what corrupts teen novels these days. It does have a fair amount of violence but again, we’re talking about a war, so it cannot be completely sanitized.

In summary, Murray takes us on yet another educational romp through history. This is one that I’d like the kids to read but just can’t seem to make that happen no matter my best efforts. As always, she touches on an important episode from history and is so kind as to remind us that the other side of the world has history too.

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The Gilded Mirror: Corfe Castle by Jocelyn Murray

The Gilded Mirror: Corfe Castle (#1)The Gilded Mirror: Corfe Castle by Jocelyn Murray

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As is usual, I received this book through some mechanism by which I didn’t actually have to pay for it. The author approached me for a review and true to that desire I give my honest opinions below.

The plot of this little novel is fairly standard escapist juvenile literature. A young girl finds a mirror and uses it to travel to another time and place and thereupon has adventures of an educational variety as she witnesses an episode from the English Civil War.

Since this is youth literature, I judge it by two basic criteria. The first centers around what age group of children would actually wish to read it and find it engaging. The second amounts to whether I would want my own children to be exposed to the content.

On the first account, this book is rather a tough sell. I have an 8 and a 14-year-old and they both turned up their noses and there wasn’t much I could say to engage their interest. Having read the book myself, it does go into some interesting tidbits of history but does take a considerable amount of time to get started. Any real action begins at page 80 of 200 leaving the text before that simply as background and local color. While this is educational, it doesn’t grab the reader from the beginning so younger perusers will likely find this initially tedious unless they have a keen interest in life during this time period.

In the area of content, this book is delightfully devoid of sex, drugs and other negative influences. There is some brief violence as a few soldiers die but this is, after all, a war we’re talking about. Educationally speaking, this book is meticulous in its coverage of a section of history we just don’t hear much about on this side of the pond. In a genre usually dominated by domestic history, it is refreshing to read from an author who remembers that the rest of the world has history too.

To summarize, like other titles by this author, Corfe Castle is delightfully educational and does dual duty as both entertainment and erudition. She brings a level of sophistication to the juvenile literature genre that’s atypical and refreshing. Unfortunately, in this case, I see a potential problem with engagement of the audience. They’ll be entertained if they hang in there long enough and learn something along the way but they’ll have get there first and that will take some doing.

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