Double Book Review Wednesday – The Pinocchio Factor and Black Crow’s Blessing

Double Book Review – The Pinocchio Factor

Amazon Book Description:

Oliver Twist takes up the tale of the company’s adventures after “the Battle of the Bronze Cascade”. Can he trust Spring-heeled Jack when so many strange things happen each time he comes around? Costume balls conceal more than the faces of the wealthy and powerful. Trevor Newsome disappears just days before the election but they can’t search for him from the London Lockup. When the trip to Switzerland finally becomes a reality, it’s for a funeral, not for a wedding.They begin to learn about quests for power and immortality. In Switzerland they see different kinds of worship of very different kinds of men with terrifying and tragic consequences. And when Long John Silver arrives, Oliver has to do some fast thinking to protect more than just his own life from the pirate who says he only cares about rescuing his daughter.”Twist! Look out!” I spun and swung wildly as the crack of a Colt revolver split the air. Sluefoot Sue had both her firearms out and was shooting at something below me. To my astonishment tentacles rose out of the Thames and wrapped themselves around the Catfish. Each time one of Sue’s bullets struck them they disappeared under the water again, but when she paused to reload they re-emerged and began to reach for me, climbing the Catfish sub. I hastily winched myself over toward the dock but a tentacle grabbed hold of my leg just as I started to set myself down. It flung me down on the dock and started dragging me to the edge.”Hey, boss lady!” Dobbs, Sue’s assistant, hollered out from inside the workshop. I was just able to see a pump-action shotgun cartwheel through the air and land in Sue’s gloved hands. Just before it began to blast me deaf, I realized that it was in fact no ordinary shotgun, rather had some sort of gattling action, and a bit more. I hoped I would get a better look at it rather than end up 20,000 leagues under in some sea monster’s maw.

Steampunk is an iffy genre for me, but thanks to the plot twist at the end of the first book in this series, I had The Pinocchio Factor on my To Read shelf since this summer.

Plot – Grade A-

This book actually backs up a little to the end of Book One, now retold from Oliver Twist’s POV. I didn’t mind that piece but then the next two chapters had so much rehashing of past events that I confess I did skim to get to something truly new. At first the plot held together well, unraveling some mysteries while adding new ones, although a couple of them were extremely easy to figure out and made me wonder why Twist the lauded genius couldn’t fit the pieces of the puzzle together faster. This, however, is partially explained away by Twist being more of an absent-minded genius type. However, towards the end the flow didn’t work quite so well and it felt rushed. The plot plants for the next book in the series were a tiny bit contrived but not to the point of being intolerable. And sometimes there just isn’t a better way to do things as a writer.

Content – Grade B

Continuing from Book One, this book addresses sodomy. If it weren’t Twist narrating, I would be more inclined to officially say that too much time was spent on the subject. It got to the point where it felt that every character was bringing up the horrible crime that happened over and over to the point that I was quite ready to move on. The sodomy associated with human trafficking is also addressed with two young boys asking who was going to be their “Pederast,” I have no idea what that word actually means since no one bothers to clarify in story and I still haven’t looked it up, but based on Twist’s reaction that it is a “horrible word” and given the context, I’m assuming it is only related to sodomy. And then again the word is used to describe the villain Polidori’s treatment of Jack Dawkins prior to the books. I suppose not understanding the meaning that provided the horror of the word slightly lessened the impact of this question  but the reactions did make up for it. As with Book One, some Christians may appreciate the bluntness and emphasis on the horror of these actions but others like myself might feel that the bluntness was perilously close to harping.

There is violence in this book. For the most part it takes place off-screen or is only lightly touched on. There is one creepy scene where a character with an apparatus needed to help him live has tubes ripped loose and “ichor” drips loose. The giant squid was a neat touch, even though I was disappointed in my sudden hope that Captain Nemo would put in an appearance. We get Long John Silver instead. Language was once again hinted at but avoided.

In my review of Book One, I noted that I found Lady Phoebe Moore-Campbell as the most annoying character and perilously close to becoming a “Mary Sue.” In this book, she officially became a “Mary Sue” in my opinion and was most aggravating. Phoebe is always referred to as beautiful and perfect by all of the male characters. If a character doesn’t like her, they are most likely a bad guy and/or female. I could tolerate the former Prince of Bohemia using flowery language to describe Perfectly Perfect Phoebe but it pushes the envelope of belief too far when even the rougher men fall at her feet, singing her praises. Springheeled Jack refers to her talking as listening to an angel. I could accept her being described as singing like an angel but TALKING like an angel made me roll my eyes in exasperation. The fawning by the men especially bothered me because Phoebe is married and several of these men either have wives or are supposed to be in love with other characters yet they come across as infatuated with Phoebe. She is also only wrong once and that’s because the girl who is also a bad guy doesn’t fall in to Phoebe’s trap. Even to the point that the sole time she indulges in a near rant because she doesn’t approve of Twist’s suggestion to help his friend in a financial manner, Twist immediately concedes to her. However, perhaps what vexes me most about Perfectly Perfect Phoebe is that she is once again the source of all spiritual wisdom even when Edward the minister is present and then they leave him to do what he does for the boys but by then Phoebe had taken care of practically everything. She is also dragged into the ocean by a sea monster, rescued, and then while dripping wet and not even stopping for breath as told by Twist she is rushing about saving all these passengers who might become victims too and Springheeled Jack the giant, burly man rescues two children. It was getting perilously close to the point of why does Phoebe need these people except to fawn over her, which sadly is complete and utter “Mary Sue” territory. I had hoped that she would be rounded out in this book and rescued from the brush of “Mary Sue” in the last book but I found myself barely able to keep reading whenever Perfectly Perfect Phoebe was on scene. That was disappointing since I feel she could be a strong woman without straying into “Mary Sue” territory  with just a few adjustments in how her character is executed.

The evangelism is once again VERY heavy. There are several sermons (none given by the minister). This includes a recounting where Twist’s speech seems almost alien to his normal narrative voice so that threw me off a bit. I actually liked that this time we had two people who remained uncertain and one guy who has currently refused the gospel message because that felt more realistic and balanced out the five conversions that DID occur.

There is barely any romance in this book in spite of three couples becoming engaged and marrying at the end of the book. I rather wished Twist and Tati’s relationship had been explored further especially with Twist abruptly requesting Tati and her father move into Nancy House in order to stave off character assassination by gossip that he is a sodomite. It seemed to suck a ton of the cute romance out of their relationship even though he does tell her that he loves her because it had the unpleasant side effect of making Twist seem slightly mercenary in his desire to marry Tati, as if to save his reputation alone even though that’s not true.

Technical – Grade B-

This book did improve on Book One’s habit of jumping narrators by sticking with Twist, which I liked. However, there were typos and punctuation errors littered throughout the book. The biggest gaff is when Fata Blu’s real name is used the page before she is asked what her real name is, but that kind of slip is both easy to make and easy to miss when editing. Once again I had extreme difficulty with deciphering Sluefoot Sue’s western/southern accent and the cockney accents. I gave up trying to figure out what Sue said in a couple areas because her accent so butchered the words, I couldn’t make heads or tails of them. Although I have been told by the author that the degree to which these accents are written out is adjusted in upcoming books, which should help improve the readability for these characters.

Final Grade – B or 4 stars

Overall, the book was okay. It didn’t blow me away and I was vexed by Perfectly Perfect Phoebe to the point I don’t care to read about her anymore. However, I really liked the plot when I wasn’t distracted by my annoyance at one character. There is an interesting set up at the end with a hint of an upcoming adventure in Algeria. Will I read the third novel? Maybe. And how annoying a character is varies by the reader, I am certain there are many readers who might find Phoebe enjoyable or at least more palatable than I did. I would recommend this book for mature Christians and advise parents to be ready to discuss the topics raised in this book with their older teens if they read the book. I would also recommend this book for fans of Steampunk who are looking for books with a strong Christian bent. Recommended for ages 17 and up.

The Pinocchio Factor is available through Kindle and Paperback.

(I’ve combined my second review with the first because they are written by the same author.)

Black Crow’s Blessing by Sophronia Belle Lyon

Amazon Book Description:

Pecos Bill and Sluefoot Sue watch their youngest daughter’s honeymoon train leave the station and realize they have never had a honeymoon themselves. They are a little surprised to encounter Edward S. O’Reilly selling his books, and to hear how writers can sometimes come up with odd interpretation of people’s lives and adventures. A chance encounter with a horse thief at a hot spring in the Northern California mountains changes their lives forever. Desperation takes them to the village of the People of the Crack, where Sue discovers the people’s startling forgotten lore and helps them reclaim their ancient gear and steam technology. A shaman claims only he knows the true identity of the Father of the People and can decide the fate of these strangers. Sue tries to mine the secrets that might set the People of the Crack free from an ancient evil while protecting the innocent child who seems to hold a key to making the People of the Crack remember who they are. But will they claim their true father or once more fall into the shaman’s secret power?

A novella set in the Alexander Legacy steampunk universe. I picked this book up with a mix of trepidation and curiosity because it is narrated by Sluefoot Sue. I was surprised by what I read.

Plot – Grade B

This novella is both a prequel to the entire series and to the third novel. While I am accustomed to novellas being shorter and sub-plots only being hinted at when they show up, I felt this plot suffered a bit due to the time jump. I would have enjoyed it more if the plot had stayed with Little Crow and the People of the Crack instead of jumping back to the end of Twist’s book halfway through or had started with a prologue recounting the initial meeting and then spent more time focusing on Little Crow (and Sue and Bill) going back to her people.  I can see why it was written the way it was due to some crucial information being needed for the next novel, but I was still left wanting and not very satisfied with the way this book concluded.

Content – Grade A-

There is some sensuality/romance present in this book since it is dealing with Sue and Bill. But it’s nothing explicit and is actually quite short with it mainly being contained in a scene where Sue and Bill are attempting to have a honeymoon before things go terribly wrong. There is some violence present but it is mainly implied with only the aftermath being written. The most gruesome deaths are only relayed to the main characters during a heated conversation, which was more than enough to make the point without being grotesque.

Like its predecessors, Black Crow’s Blessing has a VERY heavy spiritual emphasis. The battle between good and evil is becoming more literal as well. This time we have the shaman, Runs Far, and his demon-enhanced ability and Sue and the others battling him and his followers. The idea of the truth being revealed to this tribe years earlier was certainly intriguing but I was left wondering how it happened and was it tied to missionaries teaching the tribe before they retreated from the outside world or something else entirely, which I can accept if this is addressed in the next book. However, like its predecessors and especially when reading Book 2 and this novella back to back, I couldn’t help feeling a bit like I was surrounded by people pounding me with Bibles. While dramatic, it feels so in your face that it sort of stole the poignancy from the ending confrontation. However, this might be because I read the books back to back. I also had a bit of a pause at the way Lady Phoebe justifies trying to keep Sue from leaving the Company even to check on her daughter. Given what happened in the last book, it probably would have worked if Sue hadn’t been a woman. But, I was surprised by the justification that as women, Phoebe and Sue, must be the helpers to the men of the Company just as Eve was Adam’s helper BECAUSE I immediately thought “Their wives are their suitable helpers.” I kind of wished a different biblical example had been used to make Phoebe’s point because I’m most accustomed to Eve was created as Adam’s helpmate/helper in the context of man and wife.

Technical – Grade A-

I must admit that I was relieved that Sluefoot Sue’s exaggerated, written out accent was severely curtailed in this book. “I” instead of “Ah” definitely made it so much easier to read than the last time we had an account by Sue. Or even had her talk. The readability was much improved where Sue was concerned with the reliance on her old west phrases and idioms instead of the written out accent. However, there were quite a few punctuation and typo errors. For example, the first word of new sentences would not be capitalized in several places even though the sentences before and after them would be properly capitalized.

Final Grade – B+ or 4.5 Stars

Overall, I liked this book. It’s not perfect but I don’t hate it. I must confess I haven’t been inspired to rush out and buy Book Three as soon as it’s available, partially because I am beginning to believe that Steampunk is not a genre I truly enjoy reading and partially because the series plot has begun to lose my interest. However, I would still recommend this book to fans of Steampunk who are looking for a strong Christian bent to the material. Recommended for ages 17 and up.

Black Crow’s Blessing is available through Kindle.

Next Week – Storm Siren  by Mary Weber

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