A MelanieM Review : The Jackal’s House (Lancaster’s Luck #2) by Anna Butler

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Sequel to The Gilded Scarab

Lancaster’s Luck: Book II

Something is stalking the Aegyptian night and endangering the archaeologists excavating the mysterious temple ruins in Abydos. But is it a vengeful ancient spirit or a very modern conspiracy….

Rafe Lancaster’s relationship with Gallowglass First Heir, Ned Winter, flourishes over the summer of 1900, and when Rafe’s House encourages him to join Ned’s next archaeological expedition, he sees a chance for it to deepen further. Since all the Houses of the Britannic Imperium, Rafe’s included, view assassination as a convenient solution to most problems, he packs his aether pistol—just in case.

Trouble finds them in Abydos. Rafe and Ned begin to wonder if they’re facing opposition to the Temple of Seti being disturbed. What begins as tricks and pranks escalates to attacks and death, while the figure of the Dog—the jackal-headed god, Anubis, ruler of death—casts a long shadow over the desert sands. Destruction follows in his wake as he returns to reclaim his place in Abydos. Can Rafe and Ned stand against both the god and House plots when the life of Ned’s son is on the line?

Let me say right from the start The Jackal’s House by Anna Butler is just outstanding entertainment and a grand read!  If you love suspense, mystery, romance, and a story full of intrigue and great world building, well, this is the one for you.

There are several things I’d like to dispense with immediately.  Yes, The Jackal’s House is a sequel to The Gilded Scarab, the first Lancaster’s Luck story, however, I don’t feel it’s necessary to read that one in order to get the full enjoyment out of this tale.  Anna Butler gives you the details you need (enough to make you want to read that one) and then moves you into the events unfolding here.  Rafe and Ned are  a newly established couple (as much as they can be in this universe) and are still working out exactly what that means to their lives in all their complicated aspects.

The next is that this is a steampunk world which envisions a universe using a different type of energy and having more elements in their scientific table.  There is a comprehensive glossary in the back of the story just in case you need it.  You might want to look it over first, but I didn’t really find it necessary.  Why?  Because the vivid descriptions which create such marvelously complete pictures in your mind give this author’s world vision flight!  Just like the magnificent  machine that will carry Rafe, Ned, Harry, Molly and the lot all the way to Aegypt.   Butler makes this world hum and glow with aether!  Even if you never thought you’d like a steampunk story before, trust me, you’ll love this one.

Why?  Because of all the incredible layers.  It’s not just the romance, which is touching, real, and believable.  I loved Rafe and Ned, pulling towards one another against everything,  including the politics of the day.  No it’s their families, the  whole complicated political structure Butler has created with tightly involved families (reflecting the English houses where politics and family could not be separated), and the hierarchy in which  Ned and Rafe are both caught up in.

In The Jackal’s House, the characterization is superb, the  plots tights and deeply layered and the suspense off the charts.   And the love and romance matches it all.     I want so much more!

So grab up The Jackal’s House (Lancaster’s Luck #2) by Anna Butler and prepare to fall deeply in love.  I suspect you’ll find yourself heading back to pick up The Gilded Scarab like I will.  If our luck holds, there will be more of the Lancasters and Ned and Rafe.  And scarabs of course.   They seem to go hand in hand.

Cover Design: Reese Dante  is just terrific.  Works with all the elements of the storyline and character.

Sales Link

 Amazon US | Amazon UK

Dreamspinner Press ebook  |  Dreamspinner Press paperback

Book Details:

ebook, Dreamspinner Press, 310 pages
Published October 30th 2017
Original TitleThe Jackal’s House
ISBN139781635339444
Edition LanguageEnglish
SeriesLancaster’s Luck #2

Review Tour for Anna Butler’s The Jackal’s House (excerpt and giveaway)

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Length: 114,000 words approx. 
 
 
Cover Design: Reese Dante 
 
Lancaster’s Luck Series
 
The Gilded Scarab (Book #1) Amazon US | Amazon UK 
 
About The Series


Lancaster’s Luck is set in a steampunk world where, at the turn of the 20th century, the eight powerful Convocation Houses are the de facto rulers of the Britannic Imperium. In this world of politics and assassins, a world powered by luminiferous aether and phlogiston and where aeroships fill the skies, Captain Rafe Lancaster, late of Her Majesty’s Imperial Aero Corps, buys a coffee house in one of the little streets near the Britannic Museum in Bloomsbury.


So begins the romantic steampunk adventures which have Rafe, a member of Minor House Stravaigor, scrambling over Londinium’s rooftops on a sultry summer night or facing dire peril in the pitch dark of an Aegyptian night. And all the while, sharing the danger is the man he loves: Ned Winter, First Heir of Convocation House Gallowglass, the most powerful House in the entire Imperium.


Blurb


Something is stalking the Aegyptian night and endangering the archaeologists excavating the mysterious temple ruins in Abydos. But is it a vengeful ancient spirit or a very modern conspiracy….


Rafe Lancaster’s relationship with Gallowglass First Heir, Ned Winter, flourishes over the summer of 1900, and when Rafe’s House encourages him to join Ned’s next archaeological expedition, he sees a chance for it to deepen further. Since all the Houses of the Britannic Imperium, Rafe’s included, view assassination as a convenient solution to most problems, he packs his aether pistol—just in case. 


Trouble finds them in Abydos. Rafe and Ned begin to wonder if they’re facing opposition to the Temple of Seti being disturbed. What begins as tricks and pranks escalates to attacks and death, while the figure of the Dog—the jackal-headed god, Anubis, ruler of death—casts a long shadow over the desert sands. Destruction follows in his wake as he returns to reclaim his place in Abydos. Can Rafe and Ned stand against both the god and House plots when the life of Ned’s son is on the line?


Excerpt

I like kissing.


Like Ned, I’d spent years in hiding. His constraint had been matrimony and the sense of honor and duty that would never have allowed him to be unfaithful to the mother of his sons. Only her untimely death had released those bonds. Mine had been less noble: I had no desire for a court-martial and a dishonorable discharge from Her Imperial Majesty’s Aero Corps. Most of my encounters over the years had been quick and furtive, but I’d taken every chance I could to practice my technique.


I not only liked kissing, I was good at it.


Fast little kisses to start with, kisses that barely made contact with the skin of Ned’s throat, kisses meant to tease. He tilted his head back to let me in, closing his eyes. His mouth opened on a soft sigh. I hoped he was giving himself up to the pleasure, losing himself in it, that nothing mattered to him at that moment except the feel of my mouth on his throat and lips. I hoped so. I wanted to please him.


I kissed and licked the delicate skin under his ear until he choked with laughter at the tickling. He tightened his grip on my hands and tugged at them until I raised my head. Ha! He’d lulled me into trusting him there and took full advantage of it. He swooped to capture my mouth with his, cutting off breath and thought, bringing a dizzying warmth with his hot tongue, and making me moan.


Of course, they were very manly moans.

 

ns.

For Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words 5 star review, visit here.

 

October 30 – Love Bytes
November 1 – Nerdy, Dirty & Flirty
November 3 – Scattered Thoughts & Rogue Words, The Novel Approach
November 6 – RJ Scott 
November 7 – Gay Book Reviews
November 8 – MM Good Book Reviews, My Fiction Nook, Jim’s Reading Room
November 9 – Alpha Book Club
November 10 – Drops of Ink, Bayou Book Junkie, Padme’s Library

Anna was a communications specialist for many years, working in various UK government departments on everything from marketing employment schemes to organizing conferences for 10,000 civil servants to running an internal TV service. These days, though, she is writing full time. She recently moved out of the ethnic and cultural melting pot of East London to the rather slower environs of a quiet village tucked deep in the Nottinghamshire countryside, where she lives with her husband and the Deputy Editor, aka Molly the cockerpoo. 



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Giveaway

Anna Butler Scarabs, Inspiration and her latest release The Jackal’s House ( Lancaster’s Luck #2) (guest post, excerpt, and giveaway)

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The Jackal’s House ( Lancaster’s Luck#2) by Anna Butler
Dreamspinner Press

Publication Date: 30 October 2017
Cover Artist: Reese Dante,Illustrator (Map): Margaret Warner

Buy Links

Dreamspinner Press ebook  |  Dreamspinner Press paperback

Amazon.com  |  Amazon.co.uk  |  Kobo  | Apple iBooks

Kobo 

B&N  

Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is  happy to have Anna Butler here today on her tour for The Jackal’s House. Welcome, Anna.

✒︎

The Tickle Of Scarabs’ Feet by Anna Butler

You might have thought I got scarabs out of my system with the first Rafe and Ned book, The Gilded Scarab, but no, not quite. I couldn’t see how to set a book in Aegypt and not include the most mystical beetle of all somewhere. Scarabs are so quintessentially Egyptian, Rafe himself remarks, “I was fated to be haunted by the damned things.” So in The Jackal’s House I gave him a couple of experiences of my own where scarabs are concerned. One was rather sad, when my first ever live scarab ended up as a lizard’s lunch, so we won’t revisit that here. That’s rather too strong a reminder of how death is the prevailing characteristic of Ancient Egypt!

Instead, here’s something more heartwarming.

Years ago, in Sakkara, after walking around Djoser’s step pyramid and laying my hand on five thousand years given physical shape, after the cool of the Serapeum where bulls were once feted as gods and mummified like pharaohs, there was a tomb on the desert fringe. I don’t remember now whose tomb it was. Some Old Kingdom noble whose coloured statue still sat in the niche, the serdab, where once his family laid offerings of food and wine. In the doorway to his tomb, in a shallow depression in the sand, the scarabs ran and scuttled. They’re big and black. I was the only member of our group who picked one up and let it sit there, filling the palm of my hand. I’ll admit right now I was a little bit worried that it would bite—those beetles have big jaws. But it didn’t. It just sat there, quite patiently, waiting for me to be done playing. And when I set it down again, and tilted my hand to let it run off back onto the sand. I laughed. Maybe slightly from relief at being unbitten, but mostly because its legs and feet tickled the skin of my palm as it went.

I love beetles. They’re the gems of the insect world, their bodies showing an astonishing range of colour and pattern, often in rich,

jewel colours: ruby red, sapphire, a glorious emerald green. Admittedly, the dull black sacred scarabs of Egypt don’t quite fall into that category, but they have deserts and pyramids on their side instead. They’re emblematic of sand, the Nile, and skies that are the colour of beaten copper at noon—mysterious, a symbol of the romance of ancient Egypt. I can forgive them for being a little dull to look at.

I’m in poetic mood today, for some reason. My husband and I visited Egypt for our first wedding anniversary and now I’ve been writing about archaeological expeditions there, I’ve been thinking a lot about that trip to Egypt. So much of it is in my heart and memory, and certainly one highlight was a big black beetle that consented to sit on my hand for a moment.

You know, I’m not surprised that so much of my writing has a scarab running through it. Scarabs symbolise rebirth and new chances and starting again. Scarabs are about never giving in and how each morning the scarab lifts the disc of the sun up on its wide wings to signal the start of a new day.

That’s not a bad philosophy to live by. Or to write by.

And their feet tickle. You can’t ask better than that.

About The Book

Something is stalking the Aegyptian night and endangering the archaeologists excavating the mysterious temple ruins in Abydos. But is it a vengeful ancient spirit or a very modern conspiracy…

Rafe Lancaster’s relationship with Gallowglass First Heir, Ned Winter, flourishes over the summer of 1900, and when Rafe’s House encourages him to join Ned’s next archaeological expedition, he sees a chance for it to deepen further. Since all the Houses of the Britannic Imperium, Rafe’s included, view assassination as a convenient solution to most problems, he packs his aether pistol—just in case.

Trouble finds them in Abydos. Rafe and Ned begin to wonder if they’re facing opposition to the Temple of Seti being disturbed. What begins as tricks and pranks escalates to attacks and death, while the figure of the Dog—the jackal-headed god Anubis, ruler of death—casts a long shadow over the desert sands. Destruction follows in his wake as he returns to reclaim his place in Abydos. Can Rafe and Ned stand against both the god and House plots when the life of Ned’s son is on the line?

Genre: Steampunk adventure m/m romance
Wordcount: c111,600
Sequel to The Gilded Scarab

About The Series

The Gilded Scarab

The Jackal’s House

Lancaster’s Luck is set in a steampunk world where, at the turn of the 20th century, the eight powerful Convocation Houses are the de facto rulers of the Britannic Imperium. In this world of politics and assassins, a world powered by luminiferous aether and phlogiston and where aeroships fill the skies, Captain Rafe Lancaster, late of Her Majesty’s Imperial Aero Corps, buys a coffee house in one of the little streets near the Britannic Museum in Bloomsbury.

So begins the romantic steampunk adventures which have Rafe, a member of Minor House Stravaigor, scrambling over Londinium’s rooftops on a sultry summer night or facing dire peril in the pitch dark of an Aegyptian night. And all the while, sharing the danger is the man he loves: Ned Winter, First Heir of Convocation House Gallowglass, the most powerful House in the entire Imperium.

Find out more about the Lancaster’s Luck books and the world of Rafe and Ned

Excerpt

We didn’t stay up late. It was barely ten when we headed up to our rooms on the second floor, trailed by Sam and Hugh. Todd was out at the aerodrome, keeping watch with his men over the Brunel.

“I’ll be glad to get back to the dig tomorrow,” Ned said. “Come and have a cigar and some brandy, Rafe.”

Which invitation I was quick to accept, as you might imagine. Hugh gave me a knowing grin and went off to his own room with nary a backward glance. Ned’s room, beside mine, overlooked the Ezbekieh Gardens. Sam had left the floor-to-ceiling windows open when we went down to dinner, the billowing muslin curtains filtering the sounds and smells of the Cairo night. The faint scent of woodsmoke and tarry aether rolled in as an autocar went by on its way to the Abdeen Palace where the Khedive held court.

Sam was suddenly the perfect servant. He brought Ned and me glasses of a fine champagne cognac and a box of fragrant cigars before moving on silent feet to close the window shutters against the night and light the lamp on a small table near the bed. The little screw-valve at the side of the globe squeaked as he turned it clockwise to open the pipe, the luminiferous aether hissing louder than a snake at the zoo when someone taps the glass sides of its terrarium. Sam adjusted each lamp to a warm glow inside the big glass globe by passing his hand over it. The lightning in the globe sprang into life, crackling and spitting as it followed his palm. He was careful not to make the room too bright, leaving thick dark shadows inhabiting the corners.

“I’ve locked the outer door, and I’ll sleep in there.” He nodded to a sort of anteroom that led to the main corridor. “I’ll close the door, but keep the noise down. I don’t want to hear nothing. G’night.”

It was difficult not to laugh. Dear Sam. I felt really quite mellow toward him, a sentiment he’d no doubt resent intensely. Ned grinned at me as soon as the door closed behind Sam, and dear Lord, but I just had to kiss him. Couldn’t help myself.

We took our time getting down to our skin. It wasn’t something to be rushed. Aesop’s tortoise had it almost right: less haste, more pleasure.

For a while I was content with kisses, Ned’s face so close that drowning in those hazel eyes was a real possibility. The touch of Ned’s tongue against mine had me making rather embarrassingly soft noises in the back of my throat. You know, getting lost for all eternity in those kisses, in the feel of Ned’s body pressed against mine… I couldn’t think of anything finer.

Our jackets were on the floor somewhere, long abandoned. Now all my attention was on tugging Ned’s shirt out from his trousers and running my hands up underneath it and over the heated skin beneath. Ned moaned and bucked his hips so hard that, laughing, I pulled my mouth from his. “Ah, you liked that, did you?”

Ned moistened his lips and pulled me in closer. “It wasn’t entirely disagreeable.”

Pfft!

Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

https://widget-prime.rafflecopter.com/launch.js

Enter the Rafflecoptor draw for

1st prize—$25 or equivalent Amazon gift card

2nd prize—a signed paperback of the first Lancaster’s Luck book, the Gilded Scarab.

Raffelcoptor code: Raffelcoptor link if can’t embed code: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/a6cd54479/?

About Anna

Anna was a communications specialist for many years, working in various UK government departments on everything from marketing employment schemes to organizing conferences for 10,000 civil servants to running an internal TV service. These days, though, she is writing full time. She recently moved out of the ethnic and cultural melting pot of East London to the rather slower environs of a quiet village tucked deep in the Nottinghamshire countryside, where she lives with her husband and the Deputy Editor, aka Molly the cockerpoo.

Barb, A Zany Old Lady Review: Clockwork Tangerine by Rhys Ford ~ Audiobook narrated by Greg Tremblay

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Clockwork TangerineWhen Marcus Stenhill, Viscount of Westwood, set out to purchase a specialty tea for his mother, he had no idea his life was about to change. Walking along the streets of St. Francisco, a major city rivaling London during Queen Victoria’s reign, he encounters a group of thugs beating up a young man and immediately stops them before they kill him.

When he discovers that the person he saved is Robin Harris, the man who invented the mechanical stinger that killed his father, he’s taken aback. The man is much younger, and much more handsome, than he would have thought. In fact, Robin must have only been a child during the uprising in which his father was killed. The battle between those who believe in science and those who believe in the arcane was waging strong at that time. Now, all Marcus wants to do is take the young man someplace safe where he can get him treatment for his wounds. As far as Marcus is concerned, the past is the past.

He discovers that Robin has found a way to combine the use of arcane and mechanical elements to provide artificial limbs and eyes to those in need. In fact, Robin was returning from fitting artificial legs on a young boy when he was attacked. Though it takes a while, Marcus is finally able to convince Robin that he is friend, not foe. In fact, one of the unexpected supporters in Marcus’s case is his mother, who not only can forgive Robin for his inadvertent role in her husband’s death, but embraces his abilities and becomes a staunch supporter of his efforts.

This is a very short audiobook. Too short—I wanted more, more, more of this couple and their world. Maybe we’ll be lucky and Rhys Ford will revisit it someday, expanding on this little tidbit of goodness. Narrated by Greg Tremblay, the story unfolds magically. Between Rhys Ford’s inimitable writing style, and Greg Tremblay’s beautiful and varied vocalizations, this audiobook was a real treat.

The characters were wonderfully described, including the secondary characters. The dowager was actually my favorite of all. What a great woman she was! The romance between Marcus and Robin built slowly, or as slowly as it could in a novella. When they finally got to the point where Marcus made love to Robin, the scene was romantic and brought new joy to Robin’s life in a way he had never anticipated.

I highly recommend this one, especially to those who enjoy steampunk. A delicious afternoon treat—and no calories!

~~~

Cover art by Reese Notley depicts the inner workings of a clock with a young man superimposed in the forefront, looking up at a mechanical insect. The artwork creatively depicts all the main points of the story.

Sales Links:   Dreamspinner Press | Amazon

Audiobook Details:

Audible Audio, 3 pages, 2 hrs 10 mins
Published May 12th 2016 by Dreamspinner Press LLC (first published February 18th 2014)
Original TitleClockwork Tangerine
ASINB01FIA7N4C
Edition LanguageEnglish

Cornelia Grey Sharing Pinspiration and More About ‘The Empty Hourglass’ by Cornelia Grey (giveaway and guest blog)

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The Empty Hourglass

The Empty Hourglass (Deal with a Devil) by Cornelia Grey
R
iptide Publishing
Cover Art by Jay Aheer

 

 

Hello! I’m Cornelia Grey—welcome to the Empty Hourglass blog tour! At various tour stops, I’ll be sharing some secrets about my writing process, sources of inspiration and future projects!

Comment on each stop to be entered in a drawing for a $15 Riptide Publishing gift card and the two previous titles in the Deal with a Devil series— Devil at the Crossroads and The Circus of the Damned—in an e-book format of your choice. Thank you for joining me on the tour!

Pin-spiration!

Authors are often asked where they find inspiration. Among various sources, I find what works best for me is visual inspiration… I studied fine arts and history of arts for several years, so I’m very fond of paintings, incisions, photography, digital art and comics—and I find they do wonders to fire up ideas and storylines in my brain!

On some occasions, seeing a single image has been enough to spark a chain reaction that ended up in an entire plot somehow pouring out of my brain. Other times, a picture of a potential character intrigues me enough that I start wondering who they might be, what their story could be like, and end up with a protagonist on my hands in need of an adventure.

One of my current favorite sources of visual inspiration is Pinterest—I used to scour the internet and save tons of pictures on my hard drive, neatly divided in settings, characters, props, various historical eras… but, unfortunately, they ended up getting lost in the mix when the folders became too big and it was time-consuming to keep them all properly organized.

With Pinterest, I find the feature allowing to mimic a corkboard ‘pinning’ the pictures and having them all available at a glance much more convenient. So when I started working on The Empty Hourglass, I spent some time browsing through the website looking for inspiration for the characters, the setting and the general atmosphere of the story (Just a word of caution… gotta be careful that a bit of browsing for inspiration doesn’t accidentally turn in hours of procrastination 😉 )

So, allow me to introduce you to a few of The Empty Hourglass’s characters!

If you have read the previous installments in the Deal with a Devil series, you might have noticed that our resident devil, Farfarello, looks different in each one. Discovering what he’s going to look like in the current story is always one of my favorite aspects when working on this series. And usually, I come across a particular image that just strikes me—you know, the ‘there! That’s him!’ feeling! And this is what he looks like in The Empty Hourglass:

Pinspiration1

As for our protagonist, toymaker Thomas Escott, who grew up on the streets of the capital, I was rather charmed by this fellow:

Pinspiration2

Our reclusive inventor, Jethro Hastings, was instead inspired by Algerian actor Tahar Rahim—please notice the curly inventor hair!

Pinspiration3

This lovely lady and her spiders were the inspiration for Dragana, the blind inventress, although my character ended up looking fairly different, with dark hair and skin:

Pinspiration4

And as for Mina, the little ghost girl inhabiting Jethro’s garden, I found this picture absolutely lovely for her:

Pinspiration5

I hope you enjoyed this little introduction to The Empty Hourglass’s characters! If you’d like to see more pictures—of Jethro’s mansion and laboratory, for example, or of his prosthetics and, of course, the devil’s hourglass, please feel free to have a look at the Pinterest board for this novel!
https://it.pinterest.com/corneliagrey1/the-empty-hourglass/

About  The Empty Hourglass

Thomas Escott has always wanted to be a toymaker, yet just as he achieves his dream, an accident claims his right hand. He’s certain his life is over—until he hears about groundbreaking prosthetics being made by a reclusive inventor.

Jethro Hastings is perfectly content to live alone up in the mountains working on a secret masterpiece: a humanoid automaton that will change the scientific community forever. He’s behind schedule, and the date of the unveiling is fast approaching, so when Thomas shows up on his doorstep offering help in exchange for a mechanical hand, Jethro agrees. Time, after all, is running out on another deal he’s made: one with the devil.

The devil gives Jethro’s inventions life, but he can just as quickly take life away—Jethro’s, to be exact. As the sand in the devil’s hourglass falls, marking the time until the end of the deal, inventions go haywire, people get hurt, and Thomas realizes he needs Jethro just as much as his prosthetic. Now he must find a way to save Jethro’s soul, but negotiating with a devil is just as difficult as it sounds.

About Cornelia Grey

Cornelia Grey is a creative writing student fresh out of university, with a penchant for fine arts and the blues. Born and raised in the hills of Northern Italy, where she collected her share of poetry and narrative prizes, Cornelia moved to London to pursue her studies.

After graduating with top grades, she is now busy with internships: literary agencies, publishing houses, and creative departments handling book series, among others. She also works as a freelance translator.

She likes cats, knitting, performing in theatre, going to museums, collecting mugs, and hanging out with her grandma. When writing, she favors curious, surreal stories, steampunk, and mixed-genre fiction. Her heroes are always underdogs, and she loves them for it.

Connect with Cornelia:

Giveaway

To celebrate the release of The Empty Hourglass, Cornelia is giving away the two previous titles in the Deal with a Devil series—  Devil at the Crossroads and  The Circus of the Damned—in an e-book format of your choice, plus $15 in Riptide credit. Leave a comment to enter the contest. Entries close at midnight, Eastern time, on April 16, 2016. Contest is NOT restricted to U.S. entries. Thanks for following  the tour, and don’t forget to leave your contact info!

Love A Steampunk Romance? Check out Project Ordell by Susanna Hays (author guest post and exclusive excerpt)

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ProjectOrdellFS

Project Ordell by Susanna Hays
Dreamspinner Press

Cover Artist Stef Masciandaro
Release Date: February 5, 2016

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press eBook & Paperback

Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to have Susanna Hays here today to talk  about her latest story, Project Ordell and the excerpt she brought with her to share with our readers.  Welcome, Susanna.

******

One thing that I liked about this excerpt is the bit of conflict Ordell faces, especially with a few scenes that happen later on with the story. He isn’t happy that his father is selling automatons that he helped create and see as family as mindless pleasure slaves. He certainly isn’t happy that a man wants a pleasure slave that looks exactly like him either.

What I liked most about writing this scene is the tension that begins with Ordell and his father. He has spent his life viewing himself as Octavio’s son, so to hear the words that he is a “creation” hurts him.

With Ordell’s character, I planned on him to be stubborn, selfish, and naive when it comes to the outside world. This plays a bigger role later in the story and gets Ordell into trouble.

 Read the excerpt after the blurb.

About Project Ordell

Ordell Rutledge lives in the small town of Blackwick where he helps in his father’s modest automaton shop. While he enjoys interacting with the few people who grace his father’s business, he feels isolated because he can’t relate to them. For ten years, life’s been quaint and peaceful, but Ordell has a secret: he is an automaton, sentient enough to pass as human.

Ordell’s life is upended when the person he trusts most betrays him. Heartbroken, he sets off for Linnesse, a city that accepts automatons as people and is booming with the latest technology. With another sentient automaton, Elias Griffith, at his side, they overcome obstacles and uncover the strange truth behind Ordell’s past. But sometimes the past is best left in the dark.

Genres: Steampunk
Tags: Novels, steampunk,gay fiction, romance

Exclusive Excerpt

During that workday his father’s words swam around in Ordell’s head. He knew Octavio only said them out of frustration, but it hurt to hear that come from him. To call his siblings stupid pieces of metal.
“You remind me so much of my son,” Mr. Stokes said, icing one of the cakes. “Both of you went off in your own little world. He was such a sweet boy, but refused to stay in reality for more than five minutes.” He chuckled and shook his head. “Drove my wife insane, he did! She wanted him to do this, and he was too busy skipping off to the pier.”
“I would’ve loved to meet him,” Ordell said with a small smile.
“Me too.” His voice grew low. “I wish I could talk to him again. Hear those little rambles as he talked about that world of his.” Mr. Stokes cleared his throat and looked back up at Ordell. “Why don’t you take the rest of the day off? I’m sure your father would love to have some help around the shop.”
“Are you sure, Mr. Stokes?”
He waved his hand. “It’s been a slow day. You should enjoy the weather while it’s still nice. Here.” He put a few pieces of bread in a small brown package. “A little treat for you and your father.”
Ordell patted Mr. Stokes’s shoulder. “Thank you so much. Would you like me to help open up tomorrow?”
“Sounds like a plan.”When Ordell got to the shop, he could feel the heavy tension around the room.
“I brought home some rolls,” he called out. “They’re freshly baked.”
Ordell took a few more steps until he reached the door to Octavio’s shop. He took a deep breath and turned the doorknob.
“Father! What happened in here?”
Papers were scattered around the shop, blueprints torn and metal tossed around. Ordell found his father hunched over the workstation with his beefy fingers threaded through his peppered hair.
He raced over to his father and grabbed his shoulders. “Father! Are you all right? What happened?”
“I can’t find the damn blueprints! That bitch must have them!”
“What blueprints?”
“The ones for the—” Octavio sighed and pushed his hands through his hair again. “Forget it. I don’t need another argument with you.”
“You said you wouldn’t!” Ordell narrowed his eyes. “I can take on another job! I can—”
“I need the money, Ordell!” he snapped. “The shop needs this! How can you not understand this?”
“You said you wouldn’t do this,” Ordell said again, punctuating his words slowly. “You promised.”
“I won’t be bullied by my own creation!”
“Now I’m just your creation?” He swallowed hard. “I thought I was your son.”
“Ordell—”
“Just forget it.” He took a step back. “Do what you want. They’re your creations, right? Don’t let me stop you from earning a quick profit.” He turned on his heel and stormed out of the shop.
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About the Author

Susanna Hays has been writing ever since she can remember. She first started out with ghost stories that she would tell to her cousins and best friend. She has always been off in her own little world and spent her time at recess writing stories in her notebook. She is a huge animal lover and adores cats– especially the big fluffy ones! She loves talking to others and enjoys making friends on Goodreads and reading books.
 
She loves to create characters who have a story to tell. She creates protagonists who must overcome their weaknesses and find their true selves.
 
Other Links:

My website
My blog
My goodreads account
My twitter

 

A Lila Review: Clockwork Heart (Clockwork Love #1) by Heidi Cullinan

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Rate: 3.75 out of 5 stars
Clockwork HeartThe story starts in 1910, France. Giving us an idea a Cornelius’s lifestyle and troubles with his father. His first meeting with Johann takes place within the first pages of the story, and we can see through his dedication to his work, how important his clockwork was to Conny and how much Johann would mean to him in the end.
We spend the majority of the time getting to know Conny and Johann– liking them, and falling in love. By the time trouble knocks at their door, their relationship is one based on need and the beginnings of trust. We get introduced to the crew of The Brass Farthing and we start the journey to liberate France from Cornelius’s father.
Lust, love, intrigue, torture, and inventions filled the rest of the story, together with an interesting plot and many important friendships. The story has enough of a resolution to work as a stand-alone, but the seeds for future books were well-planted too.
Clockwork Heart is my first MM Steampunk. I have read several books by this author, and as always, she delivered an interesting story. The world build was carefully crafted, with enough historical events to give it credibility and a sense of place. The alternated events meshed perfectly, creating a unique canvas for a well-developed story.
Each character had a purpose, even when mentioned quickly. The cast is vast, but not enough to overwhelm the reader. The descriptions included all senses and created a unique representation of the author’s vision for a different European Nation.
I had to use a French to English translator for certain parts, but nothing to take me out of the story for too long. And the passages were worth reading. The last part of the book was not as detail as the beginning; feeling rush and unimportant. At least, it worked as a whole since the start was brilliant.
My main problem with this story was the sex. The relationship between the MCs developed slow, but it was significant for both of them. Since they first met, the attraction was present, even when they weren’t able to communicate freely. I understood Conny’s needs, but I was as upset as Johann about his requests. I think the author worked the first hurdle well, and everything moved forward smoothly. Unfortunately, Conny gets his wish, but I think it happened too soon and with a third that was irrelevant at that particular moment. Perhaps, it would make more sense in the next installment, but it did not work, for me, in this book.
Overall, a good story with a missed opportunity for a lovely romance.
The cover, by Kanaxa, works great with the story itself. But, Conny’s depiction seems to modern for the era.
Sale Links: Samhain | ARe | Amazon | Buy It Here
Book Details:
ebook, 248 pages
Published: February 2, 2016, by Samhain Publishing
ISBN: 1619227231 (ISBN13: 9781619227231)
Edition Language: English

Heidi Cullinan’s Talks Airship Pirates, Inspiration and ‘Clockwork Heart’ (guest blog, excerpt, and giveaway

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CH blog tour horizontal

Clockwork Heart (Clockwork Love #1) by Heidi Cullinan
Samhain Publishing
Cover Artist Kanaxa

RELEASE DATE: Feb 2, 2016
Book Page (with buy links) • Goodreads

Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to have Heidi Cullinan hear to talk about her latest novel, Clockwork Heart and a major inspiration behind the story, airship pirates. Welcome, Heidi.

 AIRSHIP PIRATES by Heidi Cullinan

When I began writing Clockwork Heart, I honestly thought it would only be a quick short story, a sort of steampunk Romeo and Juliet cast with a soldier and a tinker. What the story quickly became, however, was about pirates. Airship pirates, to be exact.

I blame, as I do so many things, Neil Gaiman, because I went through a serious Stardust binge, both book and movie, before I wrote this book. He has airship pirates in that story as well, men who sail through storms catching lightning to store in barrels for sale. He also put the burr in my consciousness about how pirates must always have two faces, the tough shell for boarding and maintaining control, and the truth beneath, the human who simply ended up in the role through a quirk of fate.

In the world of Clockwork Heart, airships are the preferred mode of transportation, but because the world is ruled by an endless war, armies and pirates rule the skies alongside a few shuttlers of goods and passengers. Pirates are always symbols of freedom and independence; in the world of Clockwork Heart they have an extra element of escape as they sail through the air. Not bound by land or sea, they go wherever the aether in their balloon will take them.

The thing I hadn’t counted on in writing my airship pirates was how quickly they would become a family. Working closely on a ship means relying on people, knowing and trusting them. I’d meant to only have this one book be the story, but as I wrote the airship pirates, I couldn’t resist their lure to ride off on The Brass Farthing and tell another tale. And another. And another.

I hope you enjoy your trip on my airship in Clockwork Heart, your ride over the Alps, through Calais in a daring attempt to save a life, in a desperate castle rescue. And of course, off into the sunset to the next adventure.

* * *Clockwork Heart

About Clockwork Heart

Love, adventure and a steaming good time.

As the French army leader’s bastard son, Cornelius Stevens enjoys a great deal of latitude. But when he saves an enemy soldier using clockwork parts, he’s well aware he risks hanging for treason. That doesn’t worry him half as much, however, as the realization he’s falling for his patient.

Johann Berger never expected to survive his regiment’s suicide attack on Calais, much less wake up with mechanical parts. To avoid discovery, he’s forced to hide in plain sight as Cornelius’s lover—a role Johann finds himself taking to surprisingly well.

When a threat is made on Cornelius’s life, Johann learns the secret of the device implanted in his chest—a mythical weapon both warring countries would kill to obtain. Caught up in a political frenzy, in league with pirates, dodging rogue spies, mobsters and princesses with deadly parasols, Cornelius and Johann have no time to contemplate how they ended up in this mess. All they know is, the only way out is together—or not at all.

Warning: Contains tinkers, excessive clockwork appendages, and a cloud-sweeping tour of Europe. A little absinthe, a little theft, a little exhibitionism. Men who love men, women who love women, and some who aren’t particular.

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Buy it here from Samhain | ARe | Amazon

Excerpt from Clockwork Heart

March, 1910

Calais, France

Though Cornelius Stevens had thumbed his nose at his father’s international conflicts since he was old enough to understand what the word war meant, the night he rescued the Austrian soldier from a pile of dead bodies was the first time his disobedience had gone as far as treason.

He’d gone out, as it happened, to spite his father, who had ordered Conny to attend the local magistrate’s dinner party. “A good friend of mine will be there and is looking forward to meeting you,” his letter had said, and then it had gone on to promise Cornelius a hefty raise of his allowance and the set of Italian tools he’d been coveting in exchange for his presence at the event. Normally that would have been enough to lure Conny into even the most dull official gathering, but the letter had arrived with the evening paper, whose headline celebrated the archduke’s victorious conquest of Switzerland in the name of France. Cornelius had been put off his breakfast at the thought of how many innocent people had died so his father could supply the worthless, lazy emperor in Paris with cheap aether, and he’d burned the letter from his father in his brazier, vowing he’d join the Austrian Army himself before he’d attend a dinner party where he’d hear nothing but the glories of the French forces.

Cornelius was not his father. He saved lives instead of taking them. He was a tinker-surgeon, apprenticed to the best tinker in France. He was a master of clockwork. He saw at least three veterans of his father’s horrible war each week, and he gave them surgeries for free and clockwork for cost, or for whatever the soldiers could afford. He was his father’s son, but he was a bastard son, in blood and in spirit. He would never celebrate the Empire’s appetite for war. He donned his white armband for peace with pride. He wouldn’t attend a dinner party where he knew they’d be celebrating more death.

So that evening Conny dined with friends and drank wine, enough to make him glib about the sirens’ warning of an invasion on his walk home, chalking it up to more hokum from his father. Until half a kilometer from his flat he heard the shelling.

Calais, the city that never saw much more than a dust-up between sailors on leave, was being invaded. Uncertain how to respond, Cornelius moved into alleys and side streets to complete his journey. He climbed barrels and stumbled over cats, sobering with every step as he made his way home through fog tinged with the tang of gunpowder. He wove his way into an industrial area, following the path of a service canal—and that was where he found the raft of dead Austrian soldiers.

At first he thought he was hallucinating. It happened more often than he cared to admit, if he worked too long without stopping to eat. But he’d eaten both lunch and dinner, and it had only been one bottle of wine, no absinthe. Also, he’d never hallucinated smells before. Gunpowder. Sea muck. Sweat. Blood.

Death.

As a tinker-surgeon, Cornelius knew the scent of life recently ended all too well. The small barge heaved with a stack of dead soldiers, almost six feet high. Each wore the same green-gray uniform with the Austrian insignia, now caked with blood and mud. Some stared sightlessly at the sky, some twisted to their side, gazing at a distant eternity. No one living rode along to shepherd the dead. They simply drifted along with the rest of the night garbage waiting to be disposed of downstream at the city incinerator. No need to guard dead enemies. No need to afford them courtesy.

It was the most horrific, inhuman spectacle Cornelius had ever seen.

This is the work of my father. This is the fruit of Archduke Francis Cornielle Guillory’s terrible, endless war.

Cornelius swallowed the lump in his throat. He’d spent the day erasing the poor Swiss invasion victims from his imagination only to stumble upon barges full of fuel enough for a lifetime of nightmares. Hundreds of men, dead at his father’s hand. It didn’t matter how many lives Cornelius saved in surgery, how many wounded soldiers he gave new life to with surgical clockwork. He realized, standing on the bank of the canal, his entire life was but a pebble in his father’s ocean of blood.

Shutting his eyes, Cornelius put a hand to his mouth and fought the urge to retch. A watery cough made him open his eyes again, and he saw a hand raise and lower feebly on the top of one of the piles of corpses.

One of the soldiers was still alive.

With a cry, Cornelius sprinted across the street, hopped over the rail and vaulted onto the barge.

He climbed the dead men, the soft squish of their faces and necks and creak-cracks of their bones making him shiver as he scaled the heap. Another cough from above spurred him on, and then, at last, when he grasped an arm for purchase, it tensed and flinched under his grip.

Life. I have found you.

“It’s all right. I’m here.” So much blood. The soldier’s legs were broken at odd angles, and the right one had a seeping stain that told Conny it was bleeding out. Shrapnel protruded from the man’s belly and chest, and one great piece of metal appeared to have gone through his left arm entirely. His left eye was a scarred, mangled mess—it wasn’t missing, but it had been highly damaged. If he could see at all out of that side, it wasn’t much. Though that wound wasn’t fresh. However he’d partially lost his sight, it wasn’t from this battle.

The soldier murmured something in slurred German and tried, weakly, to push Cornelius away.

Cornelius stilled him with one hand as the other continued his examination. “You’re badly injured. But everything here is treatable, I think. Certainly I could give you a new eye without any trouble. Your left arm must go, and I can’t promise good things for your right leg, but…well, you floated by the right one for the job.”

The man gasped in pain and tried again to shove Conny. This effort was even weaker, though, and when Cornelius’s hand brushed his, the soldier’s fingers tightened around his own.

Cornelius threaded their fingers together. “I’m so sorry this has happened to you. This is wrong. This war is wrong, this barge is wrong—you shouldn’t be here if you’re alive. You should be at a prisoner-of-war camp, and you should be accorded respect.” He swallowed a bubble of bitterness. “You should be at home. If you came to Calais, it should be for a holiday.”

The man opened his good eye and gazed at Cornelius through a haze of pain. Though he spoke in German, no translation was necessary for the look on the soldier’s face.

I’m going to die, and I’m afraid.

Cornelius drew the man’s hand to his mouth and kissed the bloody, dirty knuckles. “You aren’t going to die. I’m going to save your life.”

Letting go of the soldier, Conny hurried down the corpses and up the bank with his blood pumping as his mind raced through potential plans. When he spotted a small surgery on the corner down the way, he dashed to it, picked the lock and burst inside. Needles, medicine, antibiotic went into his bag, as well as three rolls of bandages. The surgeons had a gurney as well, bless them. Leaving a hefty pile of bank notes on the counter by way of apology, he dragged the gurney outside and toward the barge, which had by now drifted almost out of sight.

His lungs burned as he climbed up a second time, and he feared he would find the man dead after all—but no, the soldier babbled slurred, panicked German as Cornelius arrived.

Calmez-vous.” Cornelius wished he could offer reassurances the man would understand. He gave him an injection of painkiller, another of antibiotic, and then, to make things easier, he dosed the man with just the faintest bit of aether.

He was glad for it, because even with the gas, the soldier cried out as Cornelius tried to set his limbs. Unfortunately, Conny quickly realized all the soldier’s extremities were crushed except for his right hand. Cornelius bound the wounds as best he could, devised splints out of bits of the ferry rail, and then, with great effort, rolled the man onto the gurney pallet and strapped him in, hoping against hope the shifting didn’t incur too much additional damage.

Getting the pallet off the heap nearly sent them both into the canal. The soldier was broad and tall, and Cornelius was not. Essentially the only way to transport him was to slide the poor man on the pallet as if it were a sled. Clamoring after, Cornelius hoisted the pallet back onto the gurney, unlocked the wheels and rattled into the alley toward his apartments above Master Félix’s shop.

Only God knew what Cornelius would have said if he’d run into anyone on the streets—but he didn’t. Everyone hunkered in cellars, praying they weren’t set upon by soldiers. There were no soldiers on the streets, however, save the one Conny wheeled into the night. Once back at the shop, he found Master Félix wasn’t at home, and the maid was long gone for the night, so Cornelius simply rolled the gurney into the elevator in the back, primed the crank and rode with his patient past the first-floor general tinker shop into the second-floor surgery.

As an apprentice to the most celebrated tinker-surgeon in all of France, Cornelius had seen his share of dire patients, but he’d never faced anything as intense and critical as this soldier, and he’d never done such an intensive treatment alone. He did his best to push his nerves aside as he washed his hands, donned his surgical apron and dosed the soldier with so much aether he wouldn’t feel any pain well into the next week. Once that was done, he stripped the patient down and cleaned him head to toe.

So many wounds. Shrapnel in his belly and chest—some had gone into a lung, Conny was certain of it. The legs did have to go. Both of them, sadly, though the left leg only to mid-calf. The left arm too. For a moment, Cornelius wondered if he shouldn’t help the man cross over, instead of yanking him back to life. Then he remembered the look of naked terror on the man’s face, and resolve gripped him like a vise.

No. I am a healer, a fixer. I hate war and weep for all humans in pain. I will save this soldier. Whatever it takes. And I will give him clockwork so grand he won’t miss the flesh he’s lost.

Amputating and cauterizing the man’s mangled legs stopped the worst of the bleeding, though Cornelius did transfuse some blood into his patient to be certain he hadn’t lost too much. Perhaps it had been a bit of fancy to use his own blood from the stored pints, but he was a universal donor, was he not? Cornelius got rid of the soldier’s burned, crushed arm and sealed up that stump too. He wrapped the belly, then shifted his focus to the collapsed lung.

That was when he saw the bit of metal sticking out of the soldier’s chest, right above his heart. It was so low he’d missed it the first time, tangled in the man’s thick pelt of chest hair. But there was no missing it now.

It was the mortal wound. Conny skimmed his hand over the man’s thigh, scanning his patient’s body with new eyes, taking in the wounds old and new. It was the metal in the man’s heart killing him. Cornelius had healed everything else. If he healed that too, and fixed the lung, the man wouldn’t die.

Cornelius drew his bottom lip into his mouth as he stared at the stub of iron.

Seeing to that wasn’t simply cleaning him up. It was surgery. Clockwork surgery. And to finish the job, Conny would need to give the man a clockwork heart assist. That would be improving. Organ upgrades barely allowed to the gentry, given to an enemy soldier.

That would be treason.

Cornelius sucked his lip deeper into his mouth, biting nervously on the soft flesh.

Going any further than what he’d done was too much. He should give the man an overdose of aether and send him sweetly into death. He should do his duty, then find a pretty thing in a dockside bar or a stalwart sailor willing to let him cry on his shoulder before making him forget the shadows of war.

Cornelius let his gaze rest on the soldier’s big, battered body, his surprisingly pretty countenance beneath the scars, so innocent in sleep. Conny remembered the look of terror on his face and those whispered pleas. The weariness only war could bring. He thought of the dead Swiss men and women and children, who had done nothing but live in a country rich with aether the archduke needed to fuel his war.

He couldn’t save those victims. But he knew, if he let himself cross the line, he could save this one.

Probably he’ll die in surgery, Cornelius told himself as he washed his hands and sterilized his kit. He’ll die, and I can say I tried. Treason with no witness or lasting effect.

Except Cornelius did more than simply try.

Putting the Austrian on the Lazarus machine when the surgery went south was wrong. Siphoning off another pint of his own blood was foolish, because it made him woozy. Setting a tiny assistant pumping mechanism into a dying man’s chest was pointless—careless, even, since he’d end up burying thousands of dollars’ worth of intricate machinery if the man died, which he was highly likely to do.

But breaking into Master Félix’s vault to steal the clockwork heart once the pumping gear wouldn’t turn—that was certainly the most terrible thing Cornelius had ever done.

The clockwork heart was Félix’s masterpiece. He’d only shown it to Cornelius a month ago, after an evening of too much wine. “This is my masterwork, Conny, not that anyone can ever know about it. A clockwork heart. Not an assisting device but a fully clockwork organ, the first and only of its kind. Completely replaces an organ made of flesh, and very possibly functions better than the pump God gave us. It would run forever, until the body gave out. It might well make a body perform better than a flesh heart could. It could change the world.”

“But that’s wonderful!” Conny had touched the clockwork heart reverently, imagining all the good it could do. “It could save so many lives. You should make more of them.”

“I will never make another one as long as I live, and no one will ever use this infernal machine. I only have it here because it was no longer safe where it had been hiding. Soon I must move it again. Unless I can work up the courage to destroy it.” Félix turned to Conny, sodden with wine but burning with intensity. “You must never tell anyone about this. Not a single soul. Not ever.”

Cornelius hadn’t told anyone. Not even Valentin, his longest, dearest friend. But he knew the heart hadn’t yet moved on to wherever Félix intended to hide it next, and he hadn’t destroyed it. As the Austrian soldier lay dying, his heart of flesh too damaged to beat on its own, all Conny could think of was the perfect substitute locked away downstairs, lying useless with its owner vowing never to let it see the light of day.

Surely the safest place to hide the heart was inside of someone. A man who would not live without it.

Cornelius set the clockwork heart next to the mechanical pump, coaxed it into working independently before sewing it up inside the thin gold cavity he made in the man’s chest. He made a flesh-seal and tucked the access port under the man’s right arm, sealing it up with a cap that could pass for a mole to anyone who didn’t get close enough to see this mole had a tiny hinge. He stood over his patient, his own still-human heart thumping madly as he realized what he’d done.

Then it occurred to Conny, since he’d crossed one line, there was nothing stopping him from breaking as many rules as he needed to not only save his soldier but give him every advantage in whatever the next chapter of life brought him.

And that is precisely what Conny did.

 

* * * * *

 

Johann Berger was fairly certain he should have been dead.

He couldn’t yet be sure he wasn’t dead, though that he had a headache and ached all over seemed a good indication he was probably still alive. Death seemed like it would either not hurt at all or hurt a hell of a lot more, to pardon the pun. But Johann’s aches felt muted. Annoying, but tolerable. His left arm and his legs felt very odd. His mouth tasted like ash, and his chest felt…strange. He was warm, however. He lay in something soft and fragrant. Inhaling, he caught hints of lavender, sage and the lemon tang of a cleanser. He could not, for the life of him, imagine where he was or how he got there. Hoping for visual cues, he opened his eyes.

After drawing in a sharp breath, he closed them again. Tight.

When he opened them once more, his pulse beat hard against the back of his throat. He could see. Out of both eyes. Not a blurry haze out of his left which his right eye had to ignore. He saw, with crystal clarity, though his left eye saw everything with a sharp-edged tinge of yellow-brown.

He raised his hands to his face. Through the amber edging, he could see his right hand looking normal, his arm bare and scarred and marked with service tattoos. He also saw his left hand, which did not look like a hand at all. In any kind of light.

Oh, there were five fingers, true enough. But they were made of copper casings, not flesh. Tiny wheels held every joint in place and larger gears made up what he could only call a wrist. More wire and more clockwork comprised a forearm he could, technically, see through. What should have been his left arm was now a delicate machine. But even stranger than his new appendage was the discovery that when his brain told his left arm to move, his left wrist to turn, the fingers of his left hand to curl—they responded in kind. He let out a shaking breath and touched his left hand with his right. The clockwork arm didn’t register sensation in the way his right hand did. It felt like a slight fuzzing on his brain, an odd tickle that resonated more in his elbow than in his substitute fingers. He noticed, too, that his movements weren’t as smooth or dexterous with the mechanical arm as with his real one.

This was clockwork. Incredible clockwork. He’d seen some clumsy versions on a few officers who’d lost limbs, and once his unit had been stationed near Italy, where Johann saw a nobleman wearing gears on his flesh arm, but the kind of clockwork fused to Johann was like nothing he had known could possibly exist.

How had this happened? He tried to recall his last memory, but everything felt blurred and confused in his head. Had he ended up back with Crawley? He couldn’t see how. The pirates had left him, the commander had found him, and they’d put him straight onto the front lines. Onto a special assignment, the regiment sent to storm Calais.

A suicide mission. He remembered now. A distraction so the English airships full of Austrian troops could land on the eastern shores. Something about destroying a weapon. Or finding it. Or something. Nothing to do with him—his job was to be cannon fodder for the French.

So how had he ended up in a nice-smelling, soft bed with a yellow eyeball and a clockwork arm?

His belly curdled as he remembered the rumors, the warnings the sergeants had taunted them with at camp. The French are turning their war prisoners into automatons. Don’t let them catch you alive, or they’ll make it so you can never die and can’t do anything but fight for Archduke Guillory.

Terror brought back missing pieces of Johann’s memory. It had been fear of that story that had made him fake death and swallow his cry of pain as the French soldiers had tossed him onto the corpse barge. He remembered lying cold and trembling in the foggy night, waiting for death, knowing being burned alive would be better than the future they had in store for him as a prisoner of war.

And then a pretty young man had climbed the corpse heap, touched his face and whispered in French.

The curtains around Johann’s bed parted, and the pretty Frenchman from his recollection smiled down at him, head backlit by gaslight, his features outlined in a strange amber hue in Johann’s left eye.

Voilà, vous êtes réveillé enfin.

The Frenchman sat on the edge of the bed and smiled kindly down at Johann. As he spoke more lyrical words Johann had no hope of comprehending, he touched Johann everywhere. His face. His neck. He laid a hand over Johann’s chest, pressing gently—it was then Johann realized that flesh was slightly numb.

They have captured me and turned me into their slave. That is why I have the clockwork arm and God knows what else. I am an automaton. He began to panic.

The pretty man shushed him, petting his shoulders and entreating Johann once more in French. He didn’t sound like an enemy doctor intent on hacking men into reusable pieces. In fact, Johann hadn’t heard anyone speak with this much tenderness since he’d left his mother.

It was a little drugging. He decided he would gladly fight for Guillory’s army, if it meant this man would croon to him at the end of every battle.

The pretty man explained the mechanical arm, with slow French and pantomime. Johann got the idea the man had installed it, or designed it, or something, because he was intensely proud and could explain how to work it even without a shared language. “Nerf,” he kept saying, tracing a line from Johann’s elbow to his brain. He said nerf as he touched Johann’s left eye too, putting Johann’s right hand up there to feel the strange metal socket placed over the hollow where his mangled eye should have been.

He had Johann sit up, which was when Johann saw his legs.

The Frenchman hushed him once more when he cried out at the sight of his lower half—his right leg was entirely machine, steel and copper skeleton rising almost to his hip. His left leg was natural to his calf, where he had something which looked much like the foot version of his left arm. It was more intricate than the right side by far.

He had no legs. No feet. He was more clockwork than man.

Though Johann wanted to panic, it was difficult to remain upset with his doctor soothing him in what tonight had to be the prettiest language on Earth. The man hugged Johann’s shoulders and spoke quietly into his ear, his lips gently brushing the skin and wresting Johann’s attention away from his artificial limbs.

Tout ira bien, mon chéri. Croyez-moi. Je vous soignerai.

Johann shut his eyes, wondering how that worked when one was basically a copper lens. It did shut, though, when he told it to. In fact, all the clockwork parts seemed to respond to his most casual thought.His, not the Frenchman’s. The question was, would it remain that way?

Would he care, if it meant this man would continue to be so kind to him?

“I don’t know what you’re saying or what you’ve done to me, but…” He leaned helplessly into the man. “Please…don’t stop talking. Or touching me.”

With a soft French coo, the man prattled on, his tone even gentler and sweeter now. “Je m’appelle Cornelius. Quel est votre nom?

Name, Johann’s rusty brain offered up in translation. He wants to know your name. “Johann Berger. Of the Austrian Army’s 51st regiment.”

A shiver ran down his skin as the man—Cornelius—threaded fingers into Johann’s hair. Johann decided he liked it, but it was strange. His mother always said the French had odd ways. He hadn’t realized they were such touchy ways.

Probably he’d have run away to France when he’d first deserted the army, if he’d known.

Bienvenue, Johann Berger. Sur mon honneur, je jure que je vous protégerai.”

Johann felt a kiss on his hairline, and he curled his mechanical hand instinctively at the touch.

As he lay in the embrace of the Frenchman, Johann recalled his mother. Her gentle hands on his face, her tears as she said goodbye. They’d both known it would be the last time they saw one another. Johann wondered if she had put him out of her heart the way he’d sealed off her and the rest of his family, his life in Stallenwald. It hurt too much to remember a time when life had been good.

In the Frenchman’s arms, Johann broke the seal. He let himself feel the ache of loss, let himself acknowledge how much he missed love and light in his life. A sense of purpose that wasn’t futile. A future filled with hope, not despair. It was a fever, no doubt, that let him turn the incomprehensible French coos into something to latch on to. He had no idea to what purpose this man meant to assign him now that he was a clockwork man, but in that moment he didn’t care. However it happened, whether or not it was real, right now he felt safe and peaceful.

He’d been a son, a soldier, a pirate, a human sacrifice. If it meant he could keep feeling like this, he’d be whatever the Frenchman wanted him to be.

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Heidi Cullinan head shot (1)

About the Author

Heidi Cullinan has always enjoyed a good love story, provided it has a happy ending. Proud to be from the first Midwestern state with full marriage equality, Heidi is a vocal advocate for LGBT rights. She writes positive-outcome romances for LGBT characters struggling against insurmountable odds because she believes there’s no such thing as too much happy ever after. When Heidi isn’t writing, she enjoys cooking, reading, playing with her cats, and watching television with her family. Find out more about Heidi at heidicullinan.com.

Contact/follow the author at:

Twitter,  Facebook Author Profile,  Facebook Fan Page,  Goodreads, Spotify,  and Website

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A Stella Review: Alchemy Ever After by Raine O’Tierney and Siôn O’Tierney

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Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Alchemy Ever After CoverThe city of New Alexandria is filled with powerful magicians-in-training and mechanical follies, the world’s largest library, and marvels beyond compare. The allure of this modern metropolis draws young people from all over the world, but Idrian has come instead for the opportunity to learn the new art of alchemy.

He’s been taken as an apprentice by Maketh, a scholar experimenting with new ways to combine technology and the ancient mystic arts. Together they’ve animated a living ice sculpture. Idrian cannot wait to unveil the sculpture alongside the other wonders at the annual Spring Festival.

After witnessing his master in a passionate embrace with another student, Idrian’s mind drifts to things beyond alchemy. And when a warm touch accidentally awakens the consciousness within the living sculpture, Idrian learns firsthand about physicality and the magic of passion.

“Idrian stepped into the room he had visited so many, many times since beginning his apprenticeship. His eyes went immediately to the creature Master Maketh was animating for the annual Spring Festival. It lay naked, in the middle of the room, covered only by a thin sheet that did nothing to hide its form. Not only was it a thing of great beauty, it was a poetic creation too. It would “live,” moving and breathing, for only a few days before melting to nothing on the last day of the festival.”

Alchemy Ever After is a lovely short story, not exactly fantasy, at least not just fantasy, with some elements of steampunk, I honestly can’t quite place it. Still, the setting was interesting even if I’d have liked to know a little more about the world they are living in. The plot was well developed, I liked how the story evolved and most of all how the characters interacted with each other. For being so short, just a little more of fifty pages, I felt it a complete book. Having read Somebody Nice and Sweet Giordan, Please Remember by Raine, I already knew she could write sweet but solid stories.

It was an interesting and most of all different read, definitely not my usual. I admit I struggled a little at the start, I couldn’t understand where it was going. But when I discovered in Idrian not just an innocent young man, but a strong character, firm in his feelings and choice of working, I was captured. I liked him a little more every page I read. And the ending was simply perfect. Just what I was hoping to get.

Cover art by Catt Ford. Well done, I like the colors a lot. Really eye catching.

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press –  All Romance (ARe)Amazon    Buy It Here

Book Details:

ebook,56 pages
Published January 28th 2015 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN13 9781632163011
Edition Language English

 

A Sammy Review: The Mechanical Chrysanthemums by Felicitas Ivey

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Rating: 3.25 stars out of 5

Mechanical Chrysanthemums coverHachisuka Narihiro is the nephew to the shogun and the squad leader of the Tokugawa Chrysanthemum, a group of men who run machines known as musha. He is also one of the few men who speaks not only his countries native language, but also English and Dutch. Perfect to help when it comes to gaining information from the impending Americans.

With the Americans comes as Pennsylvania Dutch man named Maarten Zook. Unlike the other Americans, he is courteous to cultural traditions and has a certain allure that Hiro just can’t seem to turn away. But it’s a volatile time in the country, and with tension between the Americans and Nippon, getting close to an American is dangerous.

He had fallen in love with Maarten, but Kiyoshi was right, it was a love as unreal and pure as the northern snow. They had treated one another as if they were made out of glass. It could have grown to the love men had for one another, aware, very aware of the lust and life that such a relationship would have.

This story mixes aspects of steampunk with alternative history. Being a fan of such things myself, I was excited to give it a try, and unfortunately it missed a few notes for me.

To be perfectly clear, the story is well written and I think the author had the start of some very good world building, but as is the case in many short stories, it was just not the right length to provide the story that the author was giving. Most of the story concerned the details of life in Nippon, as well as political problems that were occurring between two countries. The relationship was truly secondary, and oddly enough, it felt a bit out of place to me in the entire thing. I felt like I was reading about the problems between America and Nippon, not reading a romance between two men. There’s steam at the end, but beyond that, it’s really not what I would consider a romance.

In the end, it just wasn’t right for me, but it may be for someone else.

The cover art by Anne Cain is fitting for the story. There are elements of mechanical parts, a figure that is likely a musha, and of course two men. I do think that it could’ve used some more care when it comes to blending, but as far as fitting the story goes, it works.

Sales Links:   Dreamspinner Press    All Romance      Amazon     Buy it here

Book Details:

ebook, 90 pages
Published January 14th 2015 by Dreamspinner Press LLC
ISBN139781632164933
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.dreamspinnerpress.com