Series Review – Gaslight Mysteries Volumes 7 – 10

Gaslight Mysteries
by Victoria Thompson
Berkeley

I was hankering to read me some Gaslight Mysteries, so I spent the last week and a half gobbling up a bunch. Here are my impressions.


Murder on Lenox Hill

This volume was a great choice to restart the series after a half-year lapse. In it, Ms. Thompson takes on something other than a murder mystery for most of the novel. A mentally handicapped girl has turned up pregnant and cannot name the father. There is no murder at all until well into the book, and most of the mystery surrounds the girl, the pastor of the family church, a gang of boys who idolize the pastor, and the web of lies they are all involved in.

As far as the relationship between Sarah and Malloy goes, it continues to grow almost imperceptibly. Sarah is now busy with her foster-daughter and now has a homelife. In fact, her homelife is beginning to hamper her ability to solve murders.

This volume was excellent, but I wish it had not cut off so soon at the end, when Sarah and Frank were beginning to enjoy a tender moment, it it is not referred to again in subsequent volumes.

~*~


Murder in Little Italy

Unfortunately, I was not as happy with this volume. It was still a quick read, but it was entirely too plot-driven, and the ever-romance between Malloy and Sarah hardly progressed a nudge.

This is a fairly standard murder mystery. A new Irish mom has turned up dead in Little Italy, and a war between the Irish and the Italians is about to break out. Malloy is under a lot of pressure to solve this case. The members of the Italian family are prime suspects, and they don’t like either Sarah or Frank poking around. You get a taste of the predecessors of gangsters in this novel.

It was during this volume that Sarah’s fostering of a little girl, which took place in an earlier volume, starts to seriously hamper the plots of this and subsequent novels. While it was touching for Sarah to take the girl in, I think it would help the plot if a pair of loving parents turned up out of the blue to take her away. Sarah was funner when she was independent. The mysteries are becoming more and more Frank’s concern, and while I love Frank, I read these books for Sarah.

~*~


Murder in Chinatown

Unfortunately (and I’m using that word a lot, I know), I think Murder in Chinatown is Murder in Little Italy, remixed with Chinese instead of Italians.

In Chinatown, a lot of Chinese men have Irish wives. It seems that a lot of Irish girls have determined that Chinese men make better husbands than Irish men, which are in short supply anyway. In a comfortable, middle-class Chinese-Irish household, a teenage girl goes missing. Then, she turns up dead.

Unlike Murder in Little Italy, it is the Irish wife who keeps getting Sarah involved in the mystery, despite the fact that this makes Frank very cranky. It was a bit refreshing that Sarah didn’t have to be a busybody here, but it still seems that Frank is taking over all the investigations now that Sarah has a child to be responsible for.

This novel is almost entirely plot-driven. I hate to say it of a series I love, but you could skip this one and miss almost nothing of the over-arching story.

~*~


Murder on Bank Street

The title here is misleading — the murder didn’t take place on Bank Street, but since Sarah lives on Bank Street and this is the mystery about her husband’s murder, you know right away that this novel takes on his case at last.

The novel begins with a prologue, so right away you get the sense that this story is going to be different. And it is. Sarah is mostly on the sidelines in this story, which is fine because she could never been a good investigator into her husband’s death. Maeve, the nursemaid for her foster child, becomes a point-of-view character, and as such we get to learn a bit about her. Which is good because this series really needed some additional characters. (I still would like to see a friend for Sarah who is her own age.)

A good possibility might be a female private detective employed by the Pinkerton Agency, who helps Frank with this case. I really enjoyed reading about the Pinks and I hope they show up in future volumes.

One thing I object to is the way it ended. After ten books, we readers deserve a kiss between Malloy and Sarah. Surely Ms. Thompson doesn’t think that just because they kiss, we will lose interest in the novel. In fact, the opposite is true. If Ms. Thompson persists in the glacial pace of the romance, she will lose me.

Otherwise, I’m glad the Dr. Brandt storyline is over, and that it resolved so satisfactorily. Ms. Thompson got her groove back with this novel, and I’m looking forward to the next one.

New Feature! Publisher Reviews – Small Beer Press

An email from Kimber An has inspired a new feature: Publisher Reviews!

When someone asks me to review a book that is through a publishing house I never heard of (not that Kimber did this), I have distinct criteria. I decided to go public with these criteria in the form of Publisher Reviews. I will review two types of publishers here: Small Presses and E-Publishers. (I will not be reviewing my own publisher, Carina Press.)

Rather than tell you how I’m going to do this, I’ll illustrate it with my first victim: Small Beer Press.

Disclaimer! I have already agreed to review novels through Small Beer Press. I was familiar with them when I accepted the review copies, and I was familiar with the editor. I didn’t vet them like I would an unknown. Therefore, I am going to put them through the process now. However, my initial impression is already highly favorable.

Here are the criteria I look for:

  • Website geared toward writers or readers? My answer: Readers.

If it looks like the website is trying to attract writers instead of readers, then that’s a big red flag because it could mean that their customers are writers instead of readers. If they’re just launching, that’s different. But once they have a product to show, I expect it to be front and center.

  • Visibility of submissions link? My answer: Nonexistent. Submissions link is buried in the About page. Furthermore, no submissions are accepted — writers must query by mail.
  • Submissions – terms, exclusivity, rights purchased, etc? My answer: Unknown. Publishers usually don’t make all this available, but sometimes they have a FAQ. I don’t see one here.

The harder a publisher is to submit to, the more impressed I am. This tells me that they get lots of submissions, so they must make the writers jump through some hoops in order to submit. Of course as a writer, I find this irksome, but as a reader, it impresses me, and in this case, I must act as the reader.

  • Does it look like a serious business venture?  My answer: Yes. This is definitely a professionally designed webpage, and a lot of thought went into it. Also, the fact that they also run a well-respected magazine — Lady Churchhill’s Rosebud Wristlet — is highly in their favor.
  • How well are they publicizing their author’s work? My answer: Could use improvement. They pack a lot of information on the page, including a bunch of blog posts. The three most recent releases are at the top, followed by a blog posts, and then a lot more books. I almost overlooked those books on the bottom.  However, there is a Books link at the top of the page, and I didn’t miss that. I would be happier to see another row of books along the top. They appear to be trying to cram too much “above the scroll”.

Also, in this case, the editor contacted me about reviews. This is an automatic plus, because the bad publishers would never do this.

  • Covers – Professional or Amateur? My answer: Professional. It looks on par with literary books by major publishers. Were I one of their authors, I would be pleased with their artwork.
  • Availability of books online – On Amazon and elsewhere? My answer: Readily available.

Books should be available in more places than just the publisher’s website.

  • Price of books – my answer: Typical to a bargain.

Lots of POD novels are overpriced. Small Beer Press had some excellent prices for trade paperback and hardcovers.

  • Is an excerpt available? My answer: Occasionally.

If a publisher is unwilling to put any excerpts online, then I tend to conclude that there’s a good reason for this — they don’t want you seeing it until it’s too late.

  • Is the excerpt professionally written and presented? My answer: Well written, but presentation unknown. The two books I have now have crisp black text that is easy to read. However, I cannot get a sense of the typography and layout from the website alone.

This is not necessarily a red flag, I’m mainly looking at the quality of the writing, here.

  • Random Impressions: I think the link to Kelly Link’s site on the front page ought to be removed. It looks out of context here, and it’s also available in the About page.

Rating

I’m going to be rating publishers on a five point scale:

Highly Approved – I would review one of these books.

Approved – site meets my stringent requirements.

Cautious – has red flags, but nothing onerous.

Disapproved – You don’t want to associate yourself with these guys.

Avoid – I don’t even want to send web traffic to these guys, they’re so bad.

With Caveats – This will enable me to give a higher score to a publisher, but to add a caveat. For example, I might rate a publisher Approved, With Caveats.

My rating of Small Beer Press:

~*~ Highly Approved ~*~

(Now I need to make graphics for these ratings.)

I had a great opinion of Small Beer Press from my first contact with them, and my scrutiny of them for this post has not changed that initial impression. You could be proud to have your book published by them, and I would be willing to bet that they put out some well-written, thought-provoking novels and nonfiction books. In fact, you’ll know for sure next month, when I post my first review.

They also have an imprint for children’s books (age 10 and up) called Big Mouth House.

~*~

Publisher Reviews will be an irregular feature, but when I get a few of them done, they will appear automagically on the sidebar. My next review will be coming quite soon, and it won’t be nearly this favorable.

Check them out: Small Beer Press

Changes, both Voluntary and Forced

Due to changes to our “Social Media” policy at work, I am no longer able to pop in throughout the day and add comments. My site is not specifically blocked, but I’d rather not run afoul of this policy. Before, personal Internet use was permitted “within reason”, a policy that I was careful to not overuse. But apparently, others were not so careful.

Therefore, rather than posting at 6:AM, I will be scheduling all posts to go up at 3:00 PM. This way, I don’t have to watch conversations take place all day long (all comments go to my email, which show up in my phone) without taking part in them.

This affects my next planned Writer Wednesday, and I have emailed the author and offered him the possibility of either confining Writer Wednesday to Wednesday afternoon and evening (I can work an early shift to facilitate this) or make it Writing Weekend instead. What do YOU think?

Also, because of my new work policy, I’ll be blogging more on the weekends. I have more time on the weekends anyway, but historically my web traffic has been low on the weekends and I’ve arranged my posting around the best days. From now on, I’ll be posting without regard to web traffic. It’s funner that way, anyway. Oh, and I’ll simply post whenever I want to. I only use scheduled posting on weekdays.

~*~

Since I’m to be an ebook author, it seems only reasonable that I start reading ebooks. Therefore, I have decided to buy the Kobo ebook reader when it becomes available in this country in a few weeks. Once I have the reader, I will start reviewing ebooks from selected publishers in the same genres that I currently read:

  • Fantasy
  • Science Fiction
  • Mystery
  • Historical
  • Christian
  • Literary

I don’t mind a little spice in my reading, but I am not an appropriate reviewer for erotica. The publishers I select will be ones who make their books from a wide variety of ebooksellers, like Fictionwise, Amazon Kindle and Kobo. I’m not sure if this is a reasonable policy or not, so it will probably morph over time. Let me know if you have any input.

My Novella to be Published!

I’ve made some changes around my site to reflect some thrilling news that came my way this week — Carina Press has offered to publish my novella, The Sevenfold Spell. Carina Press is an imprint of Harlequin, and they publish ebooks.

Needless to say, I’ve been so excited about this that I’ve had more time to blog, because I keep waking up at 3:30 in the morning.

I got The Call on Tuesday, just after a field trip with my husband and daughter. We were in a parking lot, ready to go into The Loop for some lunch when my cellphone rang. Since this is an unusual occurrence when I’m with my husband (who is the only one who calls that number 90% of the time), I took the call. I thought it was possible that it was someone in publishing, but it was more likely that it was that insurance company that mistakenly keeps wanting to put me through Medical Underwriting. The connection was bad, so I couldn’t really hear what the caller said until I heard the words, The Sevenfold Spell.

Yikes!

After several callbacks and more bad phone connections than I’ve suffered in months (it always happens!), I got the story. They want to publish it this fall!

Review: The Alchemy of Stone


The Alchemy of Stone

by Ekaterina Sedia
Prime Books
Trade Paperback – $14.95

Reviewed by Superwench83

The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia introduces us to a world where the class lines are set in stone–in some cases literally. There are the Alchemists, whose draughts can heal and hurt; the Mechanics, whose engineering feats perform countless tasks and propel the city dwellers through the streets; and there are the gargoyles, who brought the city into being long ago and are in danger of becoming one with those buildings as their bodies become unmoving stone. The gargoyles believe that Mattie, an automaton and an Alchemist, can help them thrive once again. And there are others in the city’s shadows and hidden places who seek Mattie’s help as well.

As an automaton, Mattie had never belonged to a social class until she was freed and joined the Alchemists’ ranks. Unlike other automatons, Mattie can think and feel. Her maker, Loharri, has given her the ability to perceive both pleasure and pain, and he is often the cause of both. Imbued with such humanity but not part of that race, Mattie’s life is full of longing, of unfulfilled dreams, and of knowing she will never truly belong. Her one true aspiration is to win complete freedom from Lohari, who controls whether she lives or dies with the key to her clockwork heart. When a mysterious aquaintance of Loharri’s hires Mattie to mix her a potion, she sees this as an opportunity to take the key from Loharri and finally control her own destiny.

Ekaterina Sedia does a good job of making Mattie seem human, of displaying the many ways in which she is human despite her metal form. Mattie has all the emotions and desires of any other woman. She even has a woman’s sensibilities, show in one scene where she has to hold her skirts up to hurry after someone, and is self-conscious about the scandal of exposing her legs. A sympathetic and endearing character, Mattie experiences a range of emotions which many of the humans in her life seem to be without.

The Alchemy of Stone has a beautiful literary style and a plot full of intricacies. It’s an intriguing read, and it manages to make fresh the story of a robot who is human at heart. Reading scenes detailing Mattie’s scant romantic encounters with humans is a little strange, but these scenes further demonstrate how Mattie’s desires will never be in communion with her body of metal and porcelain and springs.

The Alchemy of Stone is a little…melancholy for my tastes, but a worthwhile read nonetheless, and I think a number of you would enjoy it. A well-written steampunk novel, this book will appeal to those who like a literary style in their genre fiction and who don’t mind endings which are bittersweet.