Toru: Wayfarer Returns

Toru: Wayfarer Returns
Published: February 16, 2016
A Japan that might have been... Revolutionary young samurai take on the West in this alternate history technofantasy set in 1850s samurai-era Japan. In Japan of 1852, the peace imposed by the Tokugawa Shoguns has lasted 250 years. Peace has turned to stagnation, however, as the commoners grow impoverished and their lords restless. Swords rust. Martial values decay. Foreign barbarians circle the island nation’s closed borders like vultures. Tōru, a shipwrecked young fisherman rescued by traders and taken to America, defies the Shogun’s ban on returning to Japan, determined to save his homeland from foreign invasion. Can he rouse his countrymen in time? Or will the cruel Shogun carry out his vow to execute all who set foot in Japan after traveling abroad? Armed only with his will, a few books, dirigible plans and dangerous ideas, Tōru must transform the Emperor’s realm before the Black Ships come. Tōru: Wayfarer Returns is the first book in the Sakura Steam Series, an alternate history of the tumultuous period from the opening of Japan in 1853 to the Meiji Restoration in 1868. This volume covers the year prior to the American Commodore Perry’s arrival in Japan and follows the hero and his young allies as they lead Japan through a massively compressed industrial revolution, dramatically altering that pivotal moment in history. While Tōru and his dirigibles are fictional, the story unfolds against the backdrop of the "real" Japan of that period, with historical figures and their political environment woven into the tale, staying true to their motivations and agendas even as the alternate history warps their actions, history and a few laws of physics. Underpinning the adventure plot is a young man's yearning for his father's approval and an honorable place in his world. Readers who enjoy steampunk alternate histories more typically set in Victorian England or the American Wild West may enjoy this steampunk story made fresh by the Japanese samurai setting, as well as readers who enjoy historical fiction set in Japan.


5 Stars

In Ecclesiastes 1:9 it is written that there is nothing new under the sun. That is a mostly true statement, and the meaning is evident to anyone who has noticed that most mediums of artistic expression (notably cinema) have struggled to come up with fresh ideas in the modern era. For every new or semi-new concept, there are a hundred carbon copies of existing work. For every A New Hope there is a Star Wars: Episode VII. For every debut album there are a hundred reunion tours. For every successful film franchise, there is a television adaptation. There really is nothing new under the sun.

Now that I have truly brought the mood down, let me try to bring it back up again by saying that Toru is one of those novel, original stories set in a fantastic land that for once doesn’t seem like a charcoal etching of another realm. Toru is a steampunk story set in the far east. Disciplined samurai ride into battle aboard bustling locomotives and the paths of sword and steam cross brilliantly. About halfway through this novel, I had to stop and look to see if this kind’ve thing had been done before. To my surprise, it has, and if you’re interested in samurai steampunk stories, there are one or two others out there, though I would be very surprised (and pleasantly) if they carried the depth and attention to detail of this one.

If there is anything to nitpick about the story, it might be the capabilities of the main character of Toru. In many ways, this book is a coming of age tale, or a bildingsroman if you squint, but there is little room for growth for this character. Toru can do it all, knows just about all there is to know, displays few (if any) character flaws and is basically an infallible force in the world. It would be interesting to see Toru grow and change more than what we’re given, but much like Star Wars or the bible, we are dealing with very powerful, legendary characters and there is clearly more story to tell beyond this first entry so this is forgivable. Also, as I mentioned, this a nitpicky thing and one that doesn’t distract from an otherwise remarkably well-written and well-edited read, nor does it warrant the subtraction of even half of a star. This is easily a 5 star novel that I think most readers will find approachable and satisfying.




The Locksmith’s Secret

The Locksmith’s Secret
Published: April 8, 2016
Author's Twitter: @TahliaNewland
Ella’s boyfriend Jamie seems to be her perfect match until a death in the family calls him back to England and it becomes clear that he’s hiding something. Can their relationship survive the revelation of something so astounding that it completely changes Ella’s perception of him and his place in her world? While Jamie struggles with family responsibilities, Ella’s steampunk murder mystery develops a life of its own, raising disturbing memories of her time as a striptease artist and a past life as a sexually abused Italian nun. She also dreams of an ephemeral city, where she seeks to unravel the locksmith’s secret and find the key that opens a door to other realities. All these, together with a lost brother, a desperate mother, a demanding cat, and a struggle to live up to Buddhist ideals, weave together in a rich tapestry that creates an extraordinary work of genre-bending treansrealist fiction    

Reviewed by Amy Spahn

5 Stars

Worlds Within Worlds was one of the most unique novels I’ve ever read. The story of Prunella Smith continues in The Locksmith’s Secret, and while not as unique as the first book, this novel adds a new depth of Ella’s character while exploring themes of trauma, womanhood, and the need to confront evil.

While reading Worlds Within Worlds will help readers to understand this book (and I highly recommend it), The Locksmith’s Secret can be read on its own. You’ll still enjoy the rich tapestry of interconnecting narratives weaving together to form a multifaceted whole. This time the fantasy element comes in the form of a steampunk novel Ella is writing. We also explore her past as a stripper, her past lives, and the mysterious background of her boyfriend, Jamie, who might be too good to be true.

A solid follow-up to an exceptional novel.


Reviewed by Charles Ray

5 Stars

Editor-Author Prunella Smith seems to be getting her life back together. She feels that things are going well with her boyfriend, Jamie, until the death of his older brother in England draws him back home and into the clutches of a demanding, manipulative mother. While coping with this unexpected separation, Prunella is drawn into writing a steampunk novel about Nell, an intrepid investigative reporter on the trail of a vicious killer who also happens to be an esteemed member of the upper class, and enmeshed in the ‘dream’ life of Daniela, a young woman about to become a nun, who is caught between trying to get away from her abusive past and the decidedly earthly feelings she has for the convent gardener. While all this is happening, Prunella is also experiencing waking dreams about a mysterious locksmith who seems to hold the key to everything she needs to understand to get her world back into balance.
The Locksmith’s Secret by Tahlia Newland is, to use a word coined by Prunella, a multi-genre story that combines all the best traits of sci-fi, thriller, steampunk, and a few other genres in a tale that grabs your imagination in a vice-like grip and refuses to let go until you breathlessly reach the last page. This is an exploration of the mind that takes up where the author’s World Within Worlds left off, but stands on its own as a story that will make you question everything you thought you knew about the universe. Most importantly, though, it will entertain you in the way that well-told stories are meant to entertain.
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review.


Reviewed by Mary Maddox

5 stars

A Rich Narrative Tapestry
By Dream Beast VINE VOICE on April 8, 2016
In The Locksmith’s Secret, Tahlia Newland has woven several narratives into a complex story about the joys and pitfalls of love and the enduring power of the imagination.

Writer Prunella Smith, whom readers may remember from Newland’s last book, Worlds Within Worlds, has found love with Jamie Claypole, an English transplant to Australia. The two are happy together, but Ella knows little about Jamie’s past. The gaps in her knowledge become apparent when Jamie is summoned home after his brother’s sudden death. All at once he becomes secretive about his family and where they live and how long he intends to stay with them.

The other narratives reiterate in various ways the problem Ella faces: whether to pursue Jamie and uncover his secrets or to reclaim the solitude she lost when he came to live with her.

Memories of unhappy past experience with a lover who abandoned her overshadow Ella’s hope for happiness with Jamie. Ella had been a ballerina with a promising career until a back injury forced her to give up ballet. Her lover, who was also her onstage partner, promptly discarded her once they could no longer dance together.

A Buddhist, Ella mediates regularly, and during meditation she’s transported into the world of Daniela, an Italian nun. On the brink of taking her final vows, Daniela finds herself attracted to the man who tends the nunnery’s garden. Like Ella, she faces an unexpected choice about the direction her life will take.

In addition, Ella has a recurring dream featuring a locksmith who may or may not be Jamie and who holds the secret to unlocking doors into countless other worlds, a metaphor for the creative and spiritual freedom that she seeks. She pursues the locksmith, but he seems always just out of reach.

Although troubled by Jamie’s secretiveness, Ella keeps writing fiction. Woven into The Lockman’s Secret is a steampunk novel that has taken hold of her imagination. The chapters appear as she writes them, and the story of intrepid reporter Nell and her efforts to uncover the villainy of Lord Burnett generates as much suspense as the main narrative. Like Ella, Nell values her independence and strives to prove her worth in the professional world. She worries that marriage to her employer’s son will mean the end of her career.

Newland interweaves all of these threads with consummate skill. Not once do they get tangled. Not once does the suspense flag, which is especially impressive in a contemplative novel like The Locksmith’s Secret. The credit goes to Newland’s mastery of narrative structure, to her concise and transparent prose that is eloquent without ever drawing attention to itself, and to her wonderfully varied and complex characters.
The worlds of Prunella Smith have a clarity and power that you won’t soon forget.


Reviewed by Simon Townley

5 Stars

Tahlia Newland writes with beautiful simplicity – making this book a joy to read. Never do you feel lost, or wondering who is who or what is going in. Which is quite an achievement – because there are at least four completely separate stories in here, interwoven yet happening in different times, places and even realities.

The core story is set in our world, our times and is a good old-fashioned romance – with twists for sure and interesting interplay between cultures and value systems. It revolves around a man and a woman making choices about where and how to live their lives, who to share them with, and what can and should be compromised. If you love a place and you love a person and the two don’t necessarily mesh – how hard is it to choose? It’s a dilemma many of us have faced or will face at some point in our lives.

The other stories possess interesting parallels to the main tale – for example, the medieval nun wondering whether to stay in her order, or forsake it for the love of the local gardener. She too has to choose between one life and another and never does Newland make the choices look or feel easy.

The interweaving of these stories is accomplished with great skill and even humour. I’m sure there’s much more to come from these characters, and l look forward to reading more of the series.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.


Reviewed by Pete Trewin

4 Stars

This was an interesting book for me. Well-written and pacy, I read it at a fair lick yet I wasn’t always sure exactly what was going on. The core story is a classic romance. The main character, Australian author Prunella Smith, has an English boyfriend. Things are going well; he is kind and attentive and the sex is great. Then he is called home when his brother dies to sort out the ancestral home and deal with a difficult, domineering mother. The question is, will he come back?
So far, so good. But three other stories, spread over time and other worlds, are inter-woven with the main plot. Prunella is writing a steampunk novel about Nell, a reporter investigating murders in a Victorian Australian city. Daniela, a novice nun in medieval times, is torn between her ambition to escape an abusive past and become a nun and her attraction for the convent gardener. Prunella is a Buddhist and, during her meditations, she has waking dreams in which she wanders through an empty city in search of a mysterious locksmith, who she glimpses but cannot reach. These dreams are quite disturbing, almost Freudian.
Despite this complexity, all the stories inter-weave and work with each other to create a satisfying novel.
Personally, I would have liked the characters in the main story to be playing for higher stakes but then that’s probably just me.
This book will appeal to fans of steampunk, romance, magic realism and fantasy. That’s a few genres to be going on with!







The Misadventures of Martin Hathaway

The Misadventures of Martin Hathaway
Published: December 20, 2016
Author's Twitter: @KathrynCGlen
In this lighthearted adventure, hapless history teacher Martin Hathaway falls through Space and Time to land upon Airship Captain Daisy Fitzgerald McNamara’s coffee table and into the middle of an adventure larger than he could ever dream.   In the first installment of the Misadventures Trilogy, hapless history teacher Martin Hathaway falls through Space and Time to land upon Airship Captain Daisy Fitzgerald McNamara’s coffee table and into the middle of an adventure larger than he could ever dream. Martin Hathaway awakens to discover that he is the center of a battle between the Free People of the Lost Valley and the Clockwork Men of Anatamenwar. Together with the eccentric crew of the A.S. Nephthys, Martin must explore the world of Arnica to discover his origins and ultimate destiny, all while reminding himself not to fall in love with the beautiful but deadly Captain McNamara. His journey is a lighthearted, humorous romp through time-honored fantasy conventions, proving that nothing, drama included, should be taken too seriously.









Lydia Bennet’s Blog: the real story of Pride and Prejudice:

Lydia Bennet’s Blog: the real story of Pride and Prejudice:
Categories: , ,
Published: February 19, 2012
Author's Twitter: @ValerieLaws
Jane Austen’s Lydia Bennet is a modern teen in Regency times. She’s funny, shameless, fashion and boy mad and determined to get money and her man. Find out what really happened in Pride and Prejudice…








Disturbing Clockwork

Disturbing Clockwork
Categories: ,
Published: April 20, 2013
Not so long ago, on a planet not too far away, a quirky inventor washes up on a desert island and discovers devices that defy belief. They appear to be clockwork automatons, but he has never seen their like, and, brilliant as he is, he cannot imagine how they can do the things they do—which is pretty much anything asked of them. Such amazing technology! Where did they come from? How do they work? Benkin, a lifelong student of natural philosophy, sees them as a key to unlock scientific secrets and the wonders of the universe. Snyde, a dangerous fugitive from the king’s justice, sees them as a means to power.

Reviewed by Awesome Indies

August 15, 2013

David Morese knows how to write a good story. His plots and pacing are always excellent, carrying you smoothly from beginning to end without you ever being quite sure where he’s going to take you next. This novel, though very enjoyable, didn’t involve me emotionally. It’s an entertaining light fantasy with charming characters, told from the viewpoint of an omniscient narrator, and it has no sex and little violence, making it suitable for the whole family.

Although the novel stands alone, the world is the same one used in the Warden Threat and the Warden War. Trixie and Kwestor are the main characters this time, with Prince Donald making an appearance near the end. Mo, the android dog also has an important role. Trixie is a gutsy young lady and an endearing character, and Kwestor is … unique. I really like his dry observations on the nature of humankind.

The antagonist in the story is a sly creepy character who aims to find riches and a place for himself by manipulating the head of one of the Groves – a kind of borough within a Kingdom – and encouraging him in his bid to challenge the King’s power. He kidnaps a  scientist who found some very unusual and baffling machines that look like mechanical crabs and are capable of great destruction when directed by the wrong sort of person. Trixie, escorted by Kwestor, is carrying a message from Prince Donald to the scientist. She finds him gone and his friends don’t know where he is or what has happened. So begins their quest to unravel the mystery. At the same time, mechanical giant bugs are wrecking havoc in the town, and though there seems no logical reason for it, Kwestor wonders if the events are related.

The previous books in this series are sometimes listed as science fiction, but I consider them more fantasy, because the science fiction aspect of the world is hidden from most of the characters, and it rarely impinges on the story. The world we are presented with is definitely a medieval society. Although this book has some similarities with steampunk in so far as it has a spunky girl heroine and some wonderful machines, it  isn’t truly steampunk, because books of that genre are set in our world in an alternate Victorian era where steam power and clockwork have become highly refined.  Like much independently published fiction, this book crosses genre boundaries and, I think, is more interesting because of it.

Well worth a read if you want a light fantasy.