Thursday, February 27, 2020

Grimm, Grit, and Gasoline: Dieselpunk & Decopunk Fairy Tales, Anthology edited by Rhonda Parrish. World Weaver Press, 2019

The time of “Dieselpunk’ and “Decopunk” runs from the start of WW 1 to the end of WW 2. Like Steampunk, they refer to an alternate world history, one in which the mechanics of the world are futuristic- ray guns, robots (sometimes sentient ones), rockets, and, sometimes, magic. Some of the tales I think I’d call noir punk. This collection takes fairy tales and sets them in this D-punk world, mostly with good effect. Sleeping Beauty, Pinocchio. Rapunzel, the Little Mermaid, and more. I was happy to see many female heroes, and pretty good queer representation. All the authors were new to me, but there were NO duds in this anthology- which I find unusual; most times, I don’t like half the stories in an anthology. Five stars!

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Elizabeth of Bohemia: The Winter Queen, by David Elias.

In 1596, Elizabeth Stuart was born to James IV of Scotland (soon to be James I of England when Queen Elizabeth I died) and Anne of Denmark. In 1616 she was married to Frederic V, the Elector Palatine of the Rhine (part of the Holy Roman Empire). On his part, it was a love marriage (and they married on Valentine’s Day); she was far less enthusiastic but found him tolerable. She is ambitious; he is not.

They lived happily in Heidelberg for a while; Elizabeth had 13 children. When the Bohemians overthrew their king, Ferdinand, Frederic was elected to that post. But his rule only lasted a few months before Ferdinand regained his throne and Frederic and Elizabeth had to flee. The Princes of Orange at the Hague took them in and supported hem. But they were not supported in the style to which they were accustomed, and this grated Elizabeth to no end. She conducted an incessant letter writing campaign, seeking aid from Parliament, her brother Charles (who was now King of England), and the English ambassadors.

It’s an interesting story, and we get to see it from the POV of a largely ignored character in history. But the story drags at times; there is just not enough of Elizabeth’s life that is interesting for a book of this size. I found myself really wishing at times that the author hadn’t made it so detailed, although I did enjoy the parts about Elizabeth and Walter Raleigh, and Descartes.

Elias does a good job of recreating the language of the era. Elizabeth is an important figure in that her descendants went on to become kings and queens of England. Elizabeth just does not come off as a compelling character; her scheming and complaining get very tiring after a while. The death of her beloved brother Henry left her shattered, and perhaps unable to love again. It’s the only explanation for her disregard for her children and husband.

Monday, February 17, 2020

The Palmer Entity: Asylum Series Book 2, by David Longhorn. Scare Street, 2019

This is the second book in the Asylum Series, and it picks up a year after the first one ends. Paul and Mike are drawn back into goings on at the asylum. The young girl who was involved in the first book is still being tormented by the spirits, and her mother asks for help. A “true hauntings” TV shown sends their team into the asylum (note: I screwed up; in my review of the first book in this series I had this TV team in it; I had read both books some time before I wrote the reviews and got them mixed up), stirring up trouble. And a new entity besides Palmer and the inmates of the asylum has risen, one far older than the asylum itself.

Paul and Mike seek out advice from one of Mike’s old professors, a specialist in myth and folklore. They find out the history of the site the asylum was built on, and realize there may be more than Palmer to deal with; the old entity doesn’t like to be disturbed and Palmer has disrupted his land.

I really enjoyed the old professor; he seemed rather Tolkien-esque. Paul and Mike get their characters filled out more. The TV team was enjoyable- as I said in my review of Rookwood Asylum, the psychic was amusing. The rest of the crew were likable people, and reacted to the mayhem as one would expect people to do. The story is suspenseful- is anything ever going to stop this thing?!?! And is anyone safe from it?!?

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Rookwood Asylum: Asylum Series Book 1, by David Longhorn. Scare Street, 2019

When Paul Mahan’s marriage ends, he moves into a unit in the old mental asylum that’s being developed into flats. He doesn’t pay much attention to the fact that the place is considered haunted; his career as a history professor has his attention now. But there is no peace and quiet to be found; no sooner has he moved in than supernatural events start taking place, most of which center on the one wing that hasn’t been finished yet; the wing where Dr. Palmer conducted his tortuous experiments on the asylum residents. He was trying to bring psychic talents to life in them; in one, he succeeded far better than he ever intended. That section of the asylum was destroyed, and everyone was killed.

When deaths occur and messages are scrawled on the walls, the tenants hire a TV psychic to investigate, things get dramatically worse.

I liked the main characters of Paul and his friend Mike, as well as the site supervisor Declan. There isn’t a whole lot of character development, but they are good enough. The premise was pretty good; the backstory was a little different from most haunted asylum stories. The TV psychic was amusing (I couldn’t help but picture him as William Shatner, in Denny Crane mode) in a way. The human used in the story was something I really liked and found rather unusual for a bloody horror story. The story is a page turner; four stars.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Madame Koska & the Imperial Brooch, by Ilil Arbel. Open Window, 2015

This is a mystery set in the years after the first World War; it is the first in a series. Madame Koska, supposedly Russian royalty who has fled from the revolution, is opening a couture house. She seems to have money, or money behind her. In the middle of opening the shop and creating a whole new line to display, she gets involved in solving the theft of a brooch that belonged to the Romanovs. No one seems to be who they claim to be, so who is telling the truth, and who has the jewels?

It wasn’t bad for a first in a series; it was short and fluffy but the plot seemed sound. Being a fashion/beading/sewing/vintage nut, I loved the descriptions of the clothing and the work the seamstresses and beaders were doing. There were a lot of characters, though, and they were very lightly touched on and I found myself getting confused as to who was who. I assume that Koska and her crew will get some character development as the series goes on. Most ‘origin stories’ are rather clumsy, being short of depth and an interesting plot, and this book does better than average.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Disasterama! By Alvin Orloff. Three Rooms Press, 2019

Orloff’s memoir takes us through the late 70s, 80s and 90s club scene in San Francisco. In 1977 he took a bus to Polk Street, and his adventure began. While much of the first part of the story is about relentlessly cruising for sex, whether it be in bars, parks, or bathrooms, there is more to it. There is endless dancing (it was, after all, the disco era), a lot of humor, parties, fashion (both high and vintage), a deep knowledge of old movies, Broardway, and Art Deco, and, above all, irony. While he was a very shy person, he performed with the Popstitutes and Klubstitute before becoming a deejay. He is open about his time spent as a sex worker and as a stripper. He comes across as a genuinely kind person. Then AIDS hit. No one knew where it came from, or what it would do. People were dying, right and left. Friends and lovers were lost. A way of life came to a close as the landscape became grim. This part of the story is difficult to read, but the author is so easy to read that I was engaged just as much as in the times that were more fun. The book is absorbing and humorous; I stayed up nights reading it. There are some marvelous photos and posters from the club years, too.