alt.Sherlock.Holmes: New Visions of The Great Detective by Gini Koch, Glen Mehn, and Jamie Wyman

Sherlock Holmes and her partner Dr. John Watson have barely set up as consulting detectives in LA before Tinsel Town’s finest come calling.

Joey Jackson and Tony Antonelli are in trouble: their partner, Cliff Camden, has disappeared without a trace on the eve of filming for a new show. The LAPD don’t care and Watson has his own reasons for wanting to stay out of it, but Holmes takes the case. But as she gets to work amidst the neurotic actors, grumbling film crews and low-level sleaze that permeates LA, a fresh murder turns everything on its head…

Winter, and the Soggiorno Brothers’ Traveling Wonder Show has pulled into its berth in Peru, Indiana. Sanford “Crash” Haus, proprietor and genius, and his friend, the retired soldier-turned-surgeon Jim “Dandy” Walker, are looking forward to a quiet few months. By happy coincidence, just as the Strong Man and the Tattooed Lady announce their betrothal, the Wonder Show’s old manager Professor Sylvestri – a minister, no less – rolls into town, with his ward in tow. Preparations for the happy day begin, but violence and misfortune attend on them…

Glen Mehn’s novella is a drug-fuelled descent into the experimental world of Warhol’s Factory. Holmes and Watson are faced with a mystery unlike any other, set against the backdrop of social, cultural and racial issues that rocked society and brought about the fierce (and sometimes violent) changes at the end of the swinging sixties… (via Goodreads)

Trigger Warningalt.Sherlock.Holmes contains subject matter and language that some might find disturbing/offensive. While the language and sentiments expressed are appropriate for their respective time periods, there are some who might find it bothersome. As the stories themselves do not come with any kind of warning, I thought it necessary to put one up myself.

Three different authors, three different versions of one of the most well known literary characters. That is the gift we are given in the book alt.Sherlock.Holmes.

Jamie Wyman is first, giving us a Holmes and Watson (though neither by that name) that sees the two working in a carnival setting in the 1930’s. Watson – known in this story as Walker – is an African American man whose leg was taken by the war. He is a Pinkerton agent when he first meets Holmes – known as Haus here – and subsequently joins the circus.

Personally, this was my favorite of the three stories. Not only with the story line but with how the characters felt when compared to their original counterparts. Haus very much felt like a slightly updated version of Doyle’s Holmes with his penchant for drawing people to him regardless of how they might be viewed by outside society. Seeing him in a carnival setting seems quite natural given his penchant for the dramatic. The same can be said for Walker; a dedicated and knowledgeable doctor who still carries traces of the warrior and fighter he used to be.

My only complaint was how the story ended because it left me desperately wanting more. I can only hope Wyman writes more stories of these two in this particular universe.

Second is Gini Koch with an offering that has been seen before – a female Sherlock Holmes. Set in the modern day, Ms. Holmes meets up with Dr. Watson when she is brought in to consult on a case. She eventually decides to stay in the States where she continues to solve cases.

This particular version of Holmes and Watson, though not unique in setting it in modern day, is unique in how it handles other aspects of the characters. Holmes has a bad habit – something that is not new – it is the habit itself that is. Holmes is addicted to reality TV and she is well versed in all of the different kinds that grace TV screens today.

It is also implied (at least this is how I interpret it) that Watson is bi. It is mentioned that he goes out with a male acquaintance for drinks but his head can also be turned by a pretty lady. It is even hinted that he has a crush on Holmes and she in turn possibly likes him. That these feelings were hinted at and not acted upon is lovely to see and adds a touch of realism to the story.

Lastly, comes Glen Mehn taking Holmes and Watson to 1960’s New York City. Both Holmes and Watson are part of the underground scene of the time. Holmes’ reasons are hazy at best but with Watson we come to understand that his serving in the Korean War has left him disillusioned and he now uses his doctor’s degree to make and sell drugs.

I will be honest dear reader and say that this last version was my least favorite of the three. I found it to be too dark and downright depressing at times. Not to mention the fact that BOTH John and Sherlock and junkies. Also, to try and add realism, Mehn sprinkles in well known people and events from the time – such as Andy Warhol. However, much of this feels forced and I found it detracted from the story instead of adding to it.

On the whole, I found alt.Sherlock.Holmes to be fairly enjoyable. If any of my readers are considering picking up this book in either paperback or e-book edition, my advice is to read and enjoy the first two and skip the third. Have fun!

Blood Persuasion (Immortal Jane Austen #2) by Janet Mullany

It is 1810, and the Damned are out of favor–banished from polite society.

Jane Austen’s old un-dead friends have become new neighbors, raising hell in her tranquil village just in time to interrupt Jane’s work on what will be her masterpiece.

Suddenly Jane’s niece is flirting dangerously with vampires, and a formerly respectable spinster friend has discovered the forbidden joys of intimate congress with the Damned (and is borrowing Jane’s precious silk stockings for her assignations). Writing is simply impossible now, with murderous creatures prowling the village’s once-peaceful lanes. And with the return of her vampire characteristics, a civil war looming between factions of the Damned, and a former lover who intends to spend eternity blaming her for his broken heart, Jane is facing a very busy year indeed.

Blood Persuasion is the second book in the Immortal Jane Austen series and is the sequel to Jane and the Damned. It picks up approximately 13 years after the events in the first book. Jane has returned to the simple and quiet life with her family; she has even resumed her writing. Another quiet summer is planned and that is when things go awry.

When I originally reviewed Jane and the Damned, I lauded it for its unique take on a well known trope. And while many of the characters introduced in the first book return in the second, sadly they do not have the same impact as they did before. Fitzwilliam (now known as Fitzpatrick) was an interesting character in the first book and in the second he is quite a bore. My real problem was with the characterization of Jane herself; more than once she came across as shrill and irritating. At one point she even berates her vampire lover Luke, screaming “I thought you loved me!” even while knowing herself that vampires are fickle and take numerous partners.

As far as the overall plot, that is something I can’t comment on simply because there really wasn’t one. There were numerous little plots, such as Jane’s niece being seduced by one of the vampires or the business with the feuding vampire families, but aside from where things took place and the characters involved there was little to tie everything together. The epilogue, while bittersweet, also left much to be desired.

Sadly, Blood Persuasion must join the list of books I simply cannot recommend. As much as I enjoyed the first book, the second one let me down. Read and enjoy the first book – Jane and the Damned – dear readers. And stay far far away from this one.

Provided for Review: Populace by A.M. Wilson

This book was provided for review from the folks at Netgalley. Thank you!

America 2151. New York. Washington. Chicago. Los Angeles. All wiped out from nuclear blasts.

The New United States of America is centered in Omaha, where the Leviathan Corporation provides a muted, controlled existence for its populace. Synthetic drugs keep them sane. The people are safe – for now – from the threats on the outside.

Summoned to the president’s office, unlikely hero Thomas Ignatius Stout receives an extraordinary mission: Hunt down and return, dead or alive, the vicious killer responsible for destroying the lives of millions and millions of Americans, Joe Ikowski, who remains a thorn in the government’s side.

Tom accepts his burden and leads an expedition past Omaha’s protective barrier and into the great unknown. That’s when Tom’s journey really begins.

Taking him from Kentucky to Arizona to Mexicali and the Rocky Mountains, Tom finds far more than he is searching for – and starts to learn the deeply complicated, disturbing truths of his own identity and a world in which he had only before scratched the surface. In this poignant page-turner, a novel that blends elements of science fiction, political thrillers and an Orwellian-style future, rising novelist AM Wilson takes readers on a wild ride inside what could become the future of the United States, if we ruin ourselves from the inside. It’s a novel that will make you think, no matter what you think of America.  (from Goodreads)

Much like the blurb provided by Goodreads says, Populace starts with a distinct Orwellian type future.

A series of unknown events leads to the major cities of the United States being wiped out in a series of nuclear blasts. With those cities and the surrounding areas unlivable, a new capital is created – in Omaha, Nebraska. Those who reside inside the walls are cared for to an extent; food, shelter, and entertainment are all provided for by the Leviathan Corporation. Drugs are also provided in untold quantities to keep the population calm and therefore controllable. The people of Omaha do not question their lot in life, they simply exist, living moment to moment.

Thomas Stout is one of these individuals. Working for Leviathan in one of their countless buildings, he is little more than a face in the crowd. He begins to question his place in and purpose in Leviathan, but unlike the protagonist in Orwell’s 1984, Thomas is not tortured but is instead given a seemingly random mission. He is sent in to the wild unknown beyond the walls around Omaha; his mission to capture Public Enemy Number One, Joe Ikowski.

Populace is an odd book. There are portions that feel very probable, as if they could possibly happen in the future, while others seem completely random. The beginning of the book, before Thomas leaves Omaha, is well written. Nicely paced, the prose gives a feeling of the drabness that certainly surrounds the characters on a daily basis.

Once Thomas leaves the city though, the story tends to go off the rails. The writing becomes disjointed and at times I found it difficult to keep track of who was where and doing what. Also, Wilson does not always provide full details on the characters, what their motivation is, etc. and doing this left gaps in the story. And while certain revelations at the end supposedly fill in those gaps, I found it rather unsatisfactory.

On the whole, Populace was a good idea with maybe not the best execution. Fans of dystopian type futures could enjoy it but this book definitely isn’t for everyone.

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss

Following the death of her mother, Mary Jekyll is now alone and near penniless. Curious about the secrets surrounding her father’s mysterious past and subsequent death, she begins a search for any information about the man who died when she was a small child. One clue in particular hints that Edward Hyde, her father’s friend and research partner, may be nearby. Hyde is wanted for murder and there is a reward for information that leads to his capture. Money that Mary knows could solve many of her immediate financial problems.

Mary’s hunt however, leads her to Hyde’s daughter, Diana. A troubled child, she has been abandoned by her father and orphaned by her mother, and is now left to be raised by nuns. Eager to leave the company of the nuns, Diana joins Mary in the search for Edward Hyde. The two women soon enlist the great Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, and with their help find other women like them – women who seem to have been created through terrifying experimentation: Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherin Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein.

When the investigations point to a secret society of immoral and power hungry scientists, each young woman wonders if the past has finally caught up with her.

As a fan of novels set during the Victorian era, I will admit I was a bit cautious in my initial approach to The Strange Case… In the past I have learned that the writing in these kinds of books can be rather hit or miss. When the writer “hits the bulls eye” with their writing, they capture the feel of Victorian England and draw the reader in to the described realm completely. When the writer misses…sadly, they tend to miss completely.

For me, Goss has done an excellent job and while she doesn’t completely hit the bulls-eye, she is not terribly far off either. In combing through the rich treasure trove of stories of the time, she has taken well known characters and combined them with new and unique ones. As these ladies are the daughters of numerous well known “mad scientists”, their simple existence is completely plausible. That they all exist in the same world, while not probable, is equally plausible. Who is to say?

If there is one thing about the book that I don’t particularly like, it would have to be the occasional “interruptions” from the characters as the story goes along. Having the characters interject with commentary – some before we have even met them – while not detracting from the story as a whole, was something I found distracting. At times it pulled me completely out of the story.

On the whole, The Strange Case… is a decent read. Readers who enjoy some of the more gothic classics, like myself, will likely enjoy this first book in the series. Personally, I will be keeping an eye out for the second book, and hopefully one day a third and a fourth.

 

Kiss of the Spindle (Steampunk Proper Romance #2) by Nancy Campbell Allen

Doctor Isla Cooper is cursed – literally. Every night, at the stroke of midnight, she falls in to a death like slumber. A sleep that she cannot be wakened from for six hours. To add further insult to injury, the curse has an expiration date. After one whole year the curse becomes permanent and Isla sleeps forever – and the year is almost up.

Desperate to find the witch who cursed her, Isla blackmails her way on to a private airship headed for the Caribbean; the last place she heard the witch was residing. It is only when the ship is underway does she discover she’s travelling with three illegal shapeshifters and one government official determined to hunt and exterminate every shifter in England. And he is willing to travel to the ends of the Earth to do it.

Isla must now juggle her duties to Queen and country by protecting the shifters and keeping their secret while keeping her own curse hidden. All while trying to come to terms to her developing feelings for the handsome airship captain.

Kiss of the Spindle is a unique twist on the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale. Inspired by the Disney version of the story, it takes the well known movie characters and gives them a slight twist. This is certainly not a bad thing, in fact I believe it makes for a better story.

I found most of the characters to be well thought out and well written, especially the character of Isla. Fans of the original Disney movie will recall that she had almost a minor role in the story. However, in this story, she is not a background character; she even has a hand in saving herself and breaking the curse. And while she did have help in the end, she was still the one to take the first steps towards a cure.

Reading the book, I had a great deal of fun finding the little parallels between this story and the Disney version. The three shapeshifters on the ship take Isla under their proverbial wings, much like the three fairy godmothers do for Aurora. The handsome Prince Phillip with his trusty steed Samson in the story is now handsome Captain Daniel Pickett with his faithful automaton friend also named Samson. Then there is the evil witch Malette, who like Maleficent carries a staff and turns in to a dragon.

Much like the first book in the Steampunk Proper Romance series – Beauty and the Clockwork Beast – the actual steampunk elements takes a back seat to the prose itself. Yes, there are mentions of airships, Tesla lamps, automatons, and the like, but they are not crucial to the story. Remove those elements, replace them with their actual Victorian counterparts, and the story remains strong.

The same can be said for the romance elements as well, they too take a back seat to the main story. Yes, the two main characters do kiss and there is a bit of petting, but it goes no further. Any mention of a more physical relationship is hinted at, but again it is not described in any detail.

On the whole, I enjoyed reading Kiss of the Spindle. The action and likable characters will appeal to most readers. The hints of romance, the slow build of feelings between two characters, will appeal to more. This is a lovely addition to the Proper Romance series and I am looking forward to seeing more.

A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising by Raymond A. Villareal

The mystery starts simply enough: a young woman is found in a ditch just outside of a small Arizona border town. The young woman is presumed to be an illegal alien and likely was met with foul play trying to cross the border. Before any clues can be found as to who brought the girl harm, her body disappears from the morgue.

To the young CDC operative called in to consult the local police, it is a bizarre medical mystery. And it is only the tip of the iceberg when more individuals start showing up in local morgues and disappearing overnight. What was seen as isolated cases of a strange virus is soon deduced to be something that no one was ready to take on.

I admit, dear reader, that I was looking forward to reading this book. With its eye catching cover and overall creepy title, I thought I would be in for an exciting thrill ride from page one.

Sadly, that was not the case.

Have you ever read a book and with every page you are just waiting – waiting – for the plot to get good? For what was teased on the cover to happen? To become so engrossed in the story itself that you forget what time it is or that you have other obligations like work and family?

While there have been several books that I have read that have been just like that, A People’s History… is sadly not one of them. There is no vampire uprising, at times there’s barely even a conflict between the humans and the vampires (who prefer to be called “gloamings”). Yes, there are minor conflicts; especially when one decides to run for public office, but on the whole there wasn’t much.

At times, reading this was almost akin to watching paint dry.

Reading about the author, it is no surprise to find that Mr. Villareal is an attorney. There is quite a bit of “lawyer speak” scattered throughout the book and there is an entire chapter devoted to the subject. What it has to do in relation to the subject of the book as a whole, I have no idea.

Unfortunately, I found A People’s History… to be bland and boring. Aside from a handful of actions scenes, there was very little to sink my teeth in to. Pardon the pun. If this is to be made in to a movie, which I have read that the story has been optioned by 20th Century Fox, then I hope they take the title and basic premise and leave the rest behind.

Don’t waste your time with this one dear readers. There are better books out there.

Hater (Hater #1) by David Moody

The world has gone mad.

A strange and sudden increase in the number of violent assaults on individuals has rocked society. The assaults are brutal and extreme; within mere seconds, normally rational people become frenzied killers. They strike without warning and kill all who cross their path. Christened ‘Haters’ by the media, there are no links between those who attack and those who are attacked.

Danny McCoyne is one such man. An average working class man, he must contend with this new world of terror. Eventually, his only choice is seek shelter, secure his family, and watch as the world outside crumbles. But when any person has the potential to become a Hater; when McCoyne locks the door, is he shutting the danger out or locking it in?

Hater is a unique novel with an interesting premise. That, sadly, is about all I can give it.

I am guessing that we, the readers, are supposed to somehow empathize with the main character Danny McCoyne. As the novel is told from his point of view, this would make sense. We connect with him in some way, and through his eyes we see the story unfold. A good idea, if only Danny weren’t such an immensely unlikable individual.

I do not want to mince words, dear reader, so I will be blunt and say Danny McCoyne is a schlub. In his own words he admits to being “a lazy bastard”, and “I know I should try harder but I just can’t be bothered.” He admits to being bounced from department to department in the three and a half years he has been with his job. He refers to his supervisor as “…sour-faced, slave-driving, unforgiving bitch…”. He either yells at or ignores his children, at times he ignores his wife. In general he is a very self centered man, caring only about himself and how unfolding events affect him.

Looking past the main character, which admittedly is difficult to do, the actual premise is an interesting one. An unknown illness, passed from person to person by unknown means, is turning ordinary people in to rampaging killers. The afflicted person suddenly and without warning becomes ultra violent, attacking whomever is near – be they a stranger or a loved one. Those who are not accosted by the ill individual describe the person’s expression as one of great fear. This is a likely explanation for the suddenness of the attacks; if the person is struck by an overwhelming fear then they are likely to lash out.

Throughout the story small hints as to the illness’ origin are dropped. Some believe it to be a kind of government experiment gone awry and the few clues given seem to point in that direction. We are of course not given the answer just yet as this is only the first part of the story. I am sure the cause behind the epidemic will be revealed in subsequent books.

As I said above, Hater is a book with a unique take on the whole “zombie” epidemic. The execution however is poor. If one can get over how irritating the main character is, they could very well enjoy this book. Pick this one up with that in mind if you feel brave.

The Ship by Antonia Honeywell

Young, naive, and very sheltered, Lalage Page has grown up in near-isolation in her parents’ flat. She is sheltered from the chaos of the collapsing civilization. People are killing one another over crusts of bread and the police are detaining anyone without an identification card. With things getting more dangerous outside, Lalla’s father decides it is time to use their escape route – a ship he has built for them and the five hundred people it can hold.

Once they get underway, Lalla realizes the utopia her father has created isn’t everything it seems. There is more food than anyone can eat but no way to grow more; there are more clothes than any one can wear but no way to mend them. And no one can tell her – or is willing to tell her – where they are going.

Going by just the premise alone, one would think The Ship would be a fascinating and nail-biting read. Even the little blurbs on the cover made me think this and so I was quite eager to begin reading this book. I was hoping for something dark, something that would keep me up at night reading despite the fact that I had to work the next day. Something that I could really sink my teeth in to.

What I ended up with was just over 300 pages of a whiny, self-absorbed teenager and her ‘poor me!’ attitude.

Lalage Page is the main character of The Ship and everything is told from her perspective. She is sixteen years old and has apparently spent the majority of her life confined to the four walls of her parents’ flat in London. The only times she leaves the safety of the flat is when she goes out with her mother; either to the National Museum or out on some errand for food or something. What interaction she has with the outside world is through her screen, which is likely akin to an iPad or other similar device. The little interaction she has with actual people is with the homeless living in the National Museum, and even then she bemoans this as boring and as taking her mother’s attention away from her.

This isolation causes Lalage to be somewhat stunted emotionally. She is very naive, to the point that she does not understand that food spoils and she attempts to eat a fake apple, believing it to be real. She has trouble relating to the other people on the ship, even ones that are relatively close to her age. When her mother dies, Lalla mourns but really only in a “How could she do this to me?” kind of way. She gives little thought to how the death affects her father or to any one else on the ship.

This does not mean that the others on the ship are without their own problems. Lalla’s father, Michael, seems to develop a kind of Messiah complex over the occupants on the ship. Even before they set sail he sees himself as their savior, the shepherd leading his flock to a new life. Some of the speeches he gives can even be viewed as proselytizing. He urges the people of the ship to give up their old lives and not speak of the time before, he tells them the ship is their new home for now and for always.

And the people of the ship follow him, almost blindly it seems. At his encouragement they seem more than happy to discard the few memories of their loved ones, tossing them over the side of the ship and in to the water. When Lalla questions them, wondering why they could simply throw items once considered precious away, each claims they are happier without them.

As an avid reader, I find that I enjoy a book more when I can relate to the main character in some way. Even if it is something small, even if it is that I simply like how a character acts, I am more likely to enjoy reading about that person. Unfortunately, such was not the case with Lalla. I found her to be irritating and at times downright annoying. I found her to be whiny and self absorbed. If her internal character had started like this and changed over the course of the story, that would be understandable and even enjoyable. Since this was not the case, I could not relate to her in any form.

With such an interesting premise, The Ship had a great deal of promise to be a riveting read. Sadly, such was not the case. Skip this one, dear readers. You’ll thank me for it.

 

El and Onine by K.P. Ambroziak

When a civil war on Venus causes it’s people to seek refuge on Earth, they must quickly acclimate to their new surroundings. When the ruling council decides to adopt the planet as their own, the idea of an interspecies union seems the best way to ensure the survival of both species. This is a problem though as even the smallest touch brings death to one or both individuals.

El and Onine was one of those books I had placed on my To Be Read list back when I started this blog and before I discovered what a wonderful author K.P. Ambroziak was. This was also before I learned what a very nice person she is, as I added this book to my list before we had spoken even one work to each other.

El and Onine is the story of two very different races of people coming to rely on one another. As a civil war erupts on the planet Venus, it’s people – referred to as Kyprians – travel to Earth. Due to their fiery nature, the arrival of the Kyprians is devastating to Earth and its inhabitants; those that survive are soon put to work serving their new masters.

Like with her other books, Ambroziak has built an entire new world for her book El and Onine. We are introduced to it slowly, the history of the place and the people who inhabit it told as flashbacks and memories. This makes it easier to take in the wealth of information given, a welcome change from the “data dump” some authors rely on to fill their readers in.

The only negative thing I have to say about this particular book is how short it is. At just under 200 pages, while it is a quick read it also isn’t enough for us to become totally invested in the characters. The story could have easily gone on for longer to give us more insight and background.

I enjoyed reading El and Onine and will very likely read it again. It is a layered tale that really should be enjoyed over and over. I recommend this one to my readers, as well as anything else by this wondrous author.

A Curious Beginning (Veronica Speedwell #1) by Deanna Raybourne

London, 1887. After burying her spinster aunt, orphaned Veronica Speedwell is free to resume her world travels in pursuit of scientific inquiry—and the occasional romantic dalliance. As familiar with hunting butterflies as with fending off admirers, Veronica intends to embark upon the journey of a lifetime.

But fate has other plans when Veronica thwarts her own attempted abduction with the help of an enigmatic German baron, who offers her sanctuary in the care of his friend Stoker, a reclusive and bad-tempered natural historian. But before the baron can reveal what he knows of the plot against her, he is found murdered—leaving Veronica and Stoker on the run from an elusive assailant as wary partners in search of the villainous truth.

I discovered the Veronica Speedwell series quite by accident in my local book store. While perusing the new books, I came across A Perilous Undertaking and it sounded quite interesting. Unfortunately, I saw it was number two in a series and since I almost never start a series in the middle, I sought out the first book; which is being reviewed here.

A Curious Beginning introduces us to the character of Veronica Speedwell. Raised by two spinster aunts, she has traveled quite extensively – both as a child by moving from town to town, and as an adult in the pursuit of the passion of butterflies. She is an intelligent and head strong young woman, a trait that she uses many times to her advantage. She is also incredibly astute, noticing things about her and about the people around her that many would overlook. At times she reminded me of a beloved character – Sherlock Holmes; yet she also reminded me of another beloved character – Amelia Peabody.

In many ways, Veronica Speedwell is much like Amelia Peabody. Both women are brilliant in their respective fields and more often than not are looked down upon by their male counterparts simply because of their supposed weaker gender. Yet while there are times they must “play by the rules” of society, they are more than content to do things their own way.

One thing I thoroughly enjoyed – and hope Ms. Raybourn continues to play with in subsequent books – is the relationship between Veronica Speedwell and Stoker Templeton-Vane. There is a chemistry between the two characters that is difficult to deny and yet it seems they each treasure the other’s friendship too much to risk ruination with a more physical relationship. There are times they get on as well as cats and dogs, but in the end each is more than content to come to the aid of the other when needed.

Overall, I enjoyed the first book in the Veronica Speedwell series, A Curious Beginning. Readers who have previously enjoyed the Amelia Peabody series or any other series with a strong female character, should give this one a try.