YA Romance

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thrall

Thrall
Published: June 1, 2012
Author's Twitter: @jennq
When 16-year old Braedyn learns she’s a descendent of Lilith–the mother of all demons—she is swept into an ancient war with no easy answers.   Welcome to Braedyn Murphy’s life. She’s a typical—if shy—sophomore navigating the slings and arrows of high school life with her two best friends, Royal and Cassie. Then a new boy, Lucas, moves into the house next door, and Braedyn finds herself falling in love for the first time. But Braedyn’s normal life comes crashing down around her ears when she learns she’s a descendent of Lilith, the mother of all demons – and that she might play a critical role in an ancient war between the Sons of Adam and the Daughters of Lilith. Turns out the right answers aren’t always clear or easy. And as for “good” and “evil” – it all depends on how you choose to act. Inspired by the ancient Mesopotamian myths of Lilith and her offspring, Thrall explores first love, strong friendships, and taking on adult responsibilities against the backdrop of powerful supernatural forces and life-and-death stakes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tomorrow Is A Long Time

Tomorrow Is A Long Time
Author:
Published: November 23, 2014
Author's Twitter: @TabithaVohn
Tomorrow Is A Long Time is an intertwining of two stories, both exploring the boundaries of romantic love and the consequences of pushing those boundaries. It tests preconceived notions of age, fidelity, and sacrifices made for love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Mirror

The Mirror
Published: March 1, 2014
Author's Twitter: @johnheldt
On September 11, 2020, Ginny and Katie Smith celebrate their nineteenth birthday at a country fair near Seattle. Ignoring the warnings of a fortune-teller, they enter a house of mirrors and exit in May 1964. Armed with the knowledge they need to return to their time, they try to make the most of what they believe will be a four-month vacation. But their sixties adventure becomes complicated when they meet a revered great-grandmother and fall in love with local boys. In The Mirror, the continuation of The Mine and The Show, the sisters find happiness and heartbreak as they confront unexpected challenges and gut-wrenching choices in the age of civil rights, the Beatles, and Vietnam.

Reviewed by Awesome Indies

5 Stars

A Charming Story

 

On September 11, 2020, twins Ginny and Katie Smith go to the Cedar River County Fair to celebrate their 19thbirthdays. They’ve been going to the same fair for eight years, but this is the first time they go without their parents. Bored, they visit Marta the Magnificent, who warns them that they’re about to embark on a ‘strange and dangerous’ journey. What they don’t realize until it’s too late, though, is that the journey they will take is not to ‘where’ but ‘when.’

When Katie steps through a mirror in the House of Mirrors, and Ginny goes after her, they find themselves in Seattle on May 2, 1964, unsure if they can ever find their way back home to their own time.

The Mirror by John A. Heldt is a story that seems on the surface to be science fiction – after all, it is about time travel – but, is in fact about culture shock and growing up. Ginny and Katie face the kind of dilemma that ancient travelers from developed cultures must have faced when encountering less developed societies for the first time. How much are you allowed to interfere based upon greater knowledge? The two intrepid time travelers also learn a lot about themselves and their family as they deal with smoking in restaurants, the lack of plastic bags in grocery stores, the war in Vietnam, and race relations in the U.S. in the 1960s.

I hesitate to call this a ‘charming’ story, because that seems dismissive, but it is in fact, charming. It is also profound, in that it addresses issues that are with us in 2015, only slightly changed from the 1960s, but does so in a way that allows us to assess them dispassionately as remote observers. The characters are believable, and the picture the author paints of the era absolutely authentic. The Mirror explores human relations and the human condition with a measure of humor mixed with seriousness that will keep you reading, and leave you thinking.

Without hesitation I give this book five stars.

Dual Domination

Dual Domination
Categories: ,
Published: November 18, 2014
Author's Twitter: @PavartiKTyler
Caitrin’s a Dominatrix at the high class brothel The Sugar House, and an elegant burlesque performer with leagues of men and women falling at her feet. The Sugar House is her home, her hunting ground, but she’s never felt like she belonged. Only with her childhood friends and fellow deviants, Donovan and Raef, has she found her place. Donovan prefers his women on the submissive side, and likes to create erotic art out of rope and the female form. When a crisis at The Sugar House puts a friend in trouble, he must confront his deeper feelings for the one woman he’s told himself he can’t have – Caitrin. With their friendship in turmoil and The Sugar House on the verge of collapse, can these two friends find their way to each other?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Protecting Portia

Protecting Portia
Categories: ,
Published: May 3, 2014
Author's Twitter: @PavartiKTyler
Jackson Grady met the love of his life. Unfortunately, he was running drugs for a pimp named Sasha at the time, who asked him to keep an eye on their new acquisition from Russia, the bedraggled beauty named Portia. She touched his heart and forced him to confront the kind of man he’d become. Now, Portia and Jackson both work at The Sugar House. He continuously looks out for her, and longs for her with his every breath, but knows he is unworthy of such an angel. What will Portia do to win not only the heart, but also the body, of the man she loves? Welcome to the world of The Sugar House, and the men and women who will fulfill your every fantasy. But can they find a way to fulfill their own?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Off the Beaten Track

Off the Beaten Track
Categories: ,
Author:
Published: October 23, 2014
Author's Twitter: @Wussyboy
My Crazy Year in Asia In 1989, Frank Kusy found himself the unwilling love slave of a booted and bodiced Boadicea on a Harley low rider. Then he fell in love with someone else, and it got a lot worse. Trapped in a small bedsit in London, with strange foreign curses coming through the door, he jumped at the chance to write a travel book on South East Asia. There followed the craziest year of his life: he got married in a Balinese village, attacked by giant spiders in Australia, and bombed on the Cambodian border. Not to mention starting a new business in India, nearly killing the King of Thailand and receiving the death penalty in Malaysia. Oh, how Frank wished he’d never met that crazy Polish biker chick… …a really enjoyable, rollicking, true adventure set in the non-touristy parts of Asia…

December 5, 2014

An engaging Memoir

Off the Beaten Track is a memoir of long time travel writer Frank Kusy, author of the AIA Seal of Excellence winner Rupee Millionaire. Kusy’s experience as a writer shows in the fluid, vibrant prose he uses to describe his travels in Asia in the seventies. This is an engaging story full of anecdotes that have you smiling and shaking your head at the antics of the young Kusy.

The difficulty in memoir writing is to find a thread that unifies the story in the way that the plot does in fiction. Generally, real life isn’t as dramatic as fiction, and in unskilled hands, it’s easy to lose a reader if the account of a person’s life wanders aimlessly. This would be particularly easy to do in a travel memoir, but Kusy has worked skilfully with his material and used the thread of his efforts to both secure and avoid getting a wife in the same way that a fiction writer would use a plot. Though the various anecdotes are interesting in themselves, without this emphasis, they would not provide such a satisfying whole. We want to read to the end to see how young Frank’s bumbling efforts at romance turn out. Frank is an endearing character and his perspective on the world and efforts to live as a Buddhist add another layer of interest to the memoir.

The other theme, as the title suggests, is his desire to get off the beaten track, and the events that thwart his attempts to really experience Asia without a whiff of tourists provide further interest beyond a mere account of his travels. Though not as dramatic as Rupee Millionaires, it’s still a great read, especially for anyone interested in travel in Asia. Highly recommended.

The editing is excellent. My only misgiving was that I would have liked the author to have gone more deeply into some aspects of his journey; for example, the ceremony when the Joju Gohonzon was enshrined in the main temple in Jakarta. No doubt the author has his reasons for staying clear of it, but I felt it was a missed opportunity to go deeper into the culture.

All up Kusy is a very talented memoir writer and this book should be enjoyed by a wide variety of people.

The Prodigal Son

The Prodigal Son
Publisher:
Published: May 27, 2017
Author's Twitter: @Anna_Belfrage
1665: Scottish Ayrshire is torn asunder by religious strife, Presbyterian ministers persecuted by English soldiers. Matthew Graham is honour-bound to help – no matter the cost to himself and his family. ‘The Prodigal Son’ is the third in The Graham Saga, Anna Belfrage’s time slip series featuring time traveller Alexandra Lind and her seventeenth century husband, Matthew Graham. Safely returned from an involuntary stay in Virginia, Matthew Graham finds the Scottish Lowlands torn asunder by religious strife. His Restored Majesty, Charles II, requires all his subjects to swear fealty to him and the Church of England, riding roughshod over any opposition. In Ayrshire, people close ranks around their evicted Presbyterian ministers. But disobedience comes at a high price, and Alex becomes increasingly nervous as to what her Matthew is risking by his support of the clandestine ministers – foremost amongst them the charismatic Sandy Peden. Privately, Alex considers Sandy an enervating fanatic and all this religious fervour is incomprehensible to her. So when Matthew repeatedly sets his faith and ministers before his own safety, he puts their marriage under severe strain. The situation is further complicated by the presence of Ian, the son Matthew was cruelly duped into disowning several years ago. Now Matthew wants Ian back and Alex isn’t entirely sure this is a good thing. Things are brought to a head when Matthew places all their lives in the balance to save his dear preacher from the dragoons. How much is Matthew willing to risk? How much will he ultimately lose?

4 Stars

Time travel, religious persecution, murder, and fraternal hatred make for an irresistible mix in this novel.

The Prodigal Son is the third book by Anna Belfrage in her Graham Saga but it easily stands alone. The author refers briefly to previous key incidents in the series bringing new readers up to speed without dragging them into the past. I haven’t read the previous books.

Back in 2002, Alex time-travelled into the second half of the seventeenth century. In this story, seven years later, she is now married with three children and living in Scotland. Her husband Matthew divorced his former wife for adultery with his brother, and both brothers regard the son of that previous marriage as theirs.

The son is one source of tension between Alex and her husband Matthew, but the greater problem is Matthew’s insistence on aiding outlawed Presbyterian ministers and attending forbidden services on Sundays in secret venues.

Alex fears for her husband’s life and the impact on her children if he is caught for his crimes, the most likely penalty being his death and the rest of the family being sold into slavery in America. Matthew is torn between his love for his wife and family, and his total faith in his religion and his desire to help his religious brethren and to offer food and shelter to ministers on the run from the law.

The tension and the strain on the family is palpable, and added to Alex’s stress, is the problem that being an emancipated 21st century woman, she isn’t ideally cast in the role of a subjugated 17th century wife. It’s easy to empathise with Alex, and in her, the author has created a vivid character, strong, principled, independent, yet, loving her new life because of her husband and family.

Matthew is equally strong, but his upbringing and principles are very different to those of his wife, and yet, he kills for her and for his religion.

It’s a complex and interesting novel with a finely-tuned plot and credible characters. There are some sad and emotive moments which avoid falling into sentimentality. The story ends plausibly, but with a question in the air of possible change for the next book in the series (extract included afterwards).

The moral and ethical dilemmas are fascinating. The story gives a good insight into religious fervour and how far men will take it. Do you turn your back on political lawbreakers? Or do you risk your life and that of your family to help them? No easy answers.

 

I don’t usually choose historical fiction but I thought this book sounded interesting, so I would recommend it, not just to those who normally read historical novels but, to anyone who wants a good read. The author adds a useful historical note at the end, setting the events in context.

It gets a deserved four stars based on the interesting plot, strong characters, the pacing of the story, and the overall professional finish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Lydia Bennet’s Blog: the real story of Pride and Prejudice:
Categories: , ,
Author:
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…