Camden’s Follies | Book Review

A riveting steampunk British Indiana Jones space opera with an unwanted harem.

Dear Readers,

I hope this installment finds you well.

This week I’m sharing my review of Camden’s Follies: From the diaries of Doctor James Camden, Lunar Physician and Pirate (Book 1, Part 1) by J. Nathanial Corres.

To describe this story succinctly – it’s like a steampunk British Indiana Jones space opera with an unwanted harem. Let me explain: it’s set in the early 1900s and uses a mix of industrial revolution era technology with reproductions of ancient tech from translations from the Mayans, who were gifted the tech by a species that may have had ulterior motives.

What better opportunity to use this GIF?

History Channel’s “Ancient Aliens” producer, Giorgio Tsoukalos, saying, “It was aliens!”

It has that swashbuckling feel of Indiana Jones. Their main vessel is a dirigible, though that feels like a generous description given its space-faring modifications.

Dr. Camden thought he was headed to “central Africa” (no particular country/region mentioned) to study forensics and become a medical examiner, but it turns out he’s been recruited for a secret mission on an experimental vessel.

He has two women fighting over him – thus, the unwanted harem trope.

First, I’ll give you my usual breakdown of the characters, settings, and emotional payoff. Then I’ll close with some thoughts about this book, about literary citizenship, and reviewing in general.

Characters

James Camden is probably an accurate portrayal of a military doctor from that time as far as backstory, clothing, & vernacular go. At the same time, personality wise … I’m not sure he’s healthy. I think it was a common trait, especially post-war, to have a rather brusque bedside manner. He doesn’t fixate on his soldiering life, but I wonder if he’s fully dealt with it.

Actor Max Greenfield as “Dewey Denouement” from Netflix’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events”

Source: Netflix’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events” via Snicket.Fandom

Please note: the author says this is not a good inspiration picture for Dr. Camden: the mustache is lacking. I, however, imagine him looking this way, so I’m including it based off my imaginings of the book.

Here’s my evidence that Dr. Camden may be a little cold, or perhaps having burnout, or a slight touch of sociopathy – in the beginning of the book he states this:

Quote: “I wasn’t really up to patients, but it was either that or listen to the sounds of wailing and screams.”
A screenshot I took from the Kindle App

At first I took it that it was … perhaps he is suffering from physician burnout, a very real thing. I mean, he was wanting to work on forensic medicine instead of living people. Perhaps he knew he was at his limit for bedside pleasantries. Coupled with his lack of empathy and what seems to be a brusque bedside manner, it seems to go beyond a stiff upper lip or fatigue, though.

There’s also … the difference of modern medicine. In Camden’s day, someone who had PTSD would be called “shell-shocked” and dealt with callously. In America’s Civil War, ridicule was considered a treatment for this disease. Surgery was very painful, not as successful, and anesthetics were not as advanced – they were basically chloroform and ether. In Darwin’s day, not that long before, it would have almost taken someone being a sociopath to handle being a surgeon: a level of detachment and composure that many would not be able to maintain. In the historical fantasy The Witch’s Daughter, Liza deals with gruesome failed surgeries. Darwin himself in real life pursued natural history because he could not stomach medicine. Camden mentions Darwin in passing, and this is by my guess about 40 years after.

Back to Camden’s sometimes chilly demeanor: When someone expresses a healthy fear of a large predatory species (that nearly killed one member and severely wounded Camden himself), he as a doctor reacts in this way:

Quote: REDACTED on the other hand nearly fainted. Good thing REDACTED was nearby to see to him!
Screenshot from Kindle App

Um, you’re the doctor? Shouldn’t you see to him?

Actor Benedict Cumberbatch as “Sherlock” when he states he is a sociopath.
Source: Sherlock via GIPHY

He’s in good company, though: Sherlock himself claims to be a “high functioning sociopath” (though I’ve read psychologists disagree). Imperfect characters are often more interesting if not more relatable than perfect ones. In writing Mary Sues (or Gary Stus) are something to be avoided. Camden’s not perfect (me either), and sometimes a little aloof. That makes him a more likable character, though.

One last word about Dr. James Camden – he seems to suffer from a bit of insecurity. I make this observation because his narration demonstrates near constant criticism for other men. Again, this flaw makes an interesting character. At the same time, though, I’m not sure I would like him in person. I’ve talked about this at length with my husband and … we’ve decided that some of the best storytelling features unlikable protagonists – from Preacher to It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Enjoying a story is different than hanging out with someone. Flaws that might be charming, interesting even, while enjoying a story could be quickly grating in person.

Reptilian mademoiselle with a bright red drink. Source: Reptile Woman by Mario Clemente, Deviant Art

Cafea – The Tedarian female claims dibs on Dr. Camden almost immediately after she meets him, despite being frustratingly picky with men, and despite Camden being frequently mistaken for female (or perhaps because of what by some alien sensibilities passes for as feminine). She bridges the alien pirate crew of the War Dragon Fire and that of the humans’ Bernoulli. Without her, Camden would not succeed. She is fiercely loyal and knowledgeable.

Please note, this picture is again my imagination, and is not an accurate description. She is described as being an attractive reptilian humanoid female with green skin, a hint of scales, purple hair hiding a hint of black, and black irises and pupils.

Jane from Tarzan in a pith hat.
Source: Disney’s “Tarzan” via GIPHY

Cynthia Belle-Anderson – Described as being a deceivingly delicate widow who frequently dons pith hats, Cynthia is a former spy. It’s revealed that she encouraged the selection of Dr. Camden for this experimental mission, and she’s been attracted to him from afar.

He later observed that she’s more worldly than originally guessed due to her demure demeanor and that some of the interactions between Cafea and Cynthia make him consider French women. I’m linking to Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal because it was a scandalous book that feautures, among other things, women attracted to women. Le Fleurs du Mal was written in the mid 1800s and features gorgeous imagery and mostly melancholic themes. It was not received well in polite French society at the time, but given the apparent setting of this book would have had enough time to become as infamous as The Room and to possibly have become more acceptable. It’s a space opera, aka a space fantasy. The author may do whatever he likes.

I enjoyed this character – I expected her to be a bland British woman of that era, but she was a real go-getter when it came down to it. She’s fierce. Some might even say savage. The dichotomy between the exotic and intense Cafea and the girl-next-door vibes of Cynthia is intriguing, especially when coupled with their similarities. They are two sides of the same coin.

Let’s be honest: this is escapism, and a common fantasy for many men is passion between two attractive women.

Again, the picture is just my imagination! I think she’s supposed to be more looking strawberry-blonde than Tarzan’s Jane.

Bechdel Test – This book does not pass the Bechdel test, and I don’t think the future parts will either. Being from a single male perspective, we only experience what James does. Since he doesn’t eavesdrop really, we don’t experience what Cafea and Cynthia, or any of the other women, talk about together. It’s apparent that Cafea and Cynthia have verbal spats and resolutions off screen, but those appear to be regarding James.

Does every book have to pass the Bechdel Test? No. I bring it up frequently because of how lacking representation is in media and how focused on the male gaze things are. This book is written by a man (a very kind one if I do say so), and it has an authentically male POV.

Setting

The Bernoulli is caught in interstellar disputes between the Garinthians and the Dragon Helm Pirate clan. We see various close range battles, several shipboard combat scenes, and romps on alien worlds with big game hunting. It feels very time appropriate in its observations to the doctor- the author was careful to avoid anachronisms.

For me the clearest scenes were in the engine room and the scenes with the big game. I’m not going to spoil them for you: they’re quite exciting.

Emotional Payoff

This is a quote (sans context) from this book.

Conflict makes for good storytelling, so, dear doctor, I don’t believe you will.

This story was very clean in regards to the intimate scenes. Perhaps the author was thinking a gentleman wouldn’t kiss and tell, but I think he could have been a little more graphic. This detracted from the emotional payoff a bit.

Otherwise, it plugged along at a decent pace. Sometimes being interrupted and having to pick it back up made for me needing to re-read a bit before to know what was going on if i was interrupted during a tense scene, but alas – that is my life.

Final Thoughts

Camden’s Folly shows at once time appropriate sentiments and observations along with more modern themes- diversity, atypical romantic formats (aka polyamory), and with it provides interesting observations of modern heteronormativity and mores.

I truly wish this was a TV series so more people could enjoy the story. I think it would lend well to other formats – the sign of a truly good story.

This is an indie published book. As far as I can tell, it did not have a professional editor. There are typographical errors throughout – misplaced homonyms, extra or missing commas, and some issues with capitalization and consistency.

I once read that the average traditionally published book has about ten typographical errors in it. This has quite a number more, but please remember that there was not a team of people working on this story: just one writer. I hope that you can overlook those ink marks to enjoy this story. As a reviewer, I want you to know that I aim to help both the author have their book be promoted and the reader in selecting worthwhile pieces. I hope this review will accomplish both these tasks. It’s truly an enjoyable story and I look forward to the future installments.

Camden’s Follies: From the diaries of Doctor James Camden, Lunar Physician and Pirate (Book 1, Part 1) is available on Amazon.

This post was not sponsored. I will say that J. Nathanial Corres is such a wonderful example of a writer supporting other writers. I am so pleased to have made his online acquaintance. He is a pure example of literary citizenship.

In the words of Corres, and Camden: Geronimo!


Image note: screenshots are from the Kindle App of the book, and a few are from TV/movies with a note regarding where I found them. Also, the reptilian artwork is linked back to the original source on Deviant Art, and of course if the artist does not want me using the picture I will punctually comply in removing it.

Unless otherwise noted pictures on my blog are ones I personally took or from a CC0 source like Pixhere or Pixabay.

Lost Magic | Book Review

🇨🇦 🔮 🕶 Think The Dresden Files meets Anita Blake but with a snarky Canadian Woman of Color

With Egyptian and Métis/Native American* roots, this sorceress has a long life span, souped up powers, and a big attitude

In a world where witches, wizards, and vampires have all been integrated (though painfully) into modern society, Irelynne – a sorcerer – must hide her unusual magic while investigating a series of murders that only she will be able to solve.

Black cat laughing maniacally.
Source: “Sabrina the Teenage Witch”, original, via GIPHY

Ire is funny, relatable, and very competent. Zoro the “cat” is very sassy.

There were fresh takes on common tropes, but with a sense of modernity and respect that can sometimes be lacking in fantasy.

I look forward to the next book (due out in 2020).

Canadian cityscape reflecting on water at night

Continue reading “Lost Magic | Book Review”

Ghost of the Gaelic Moon | Review

👻☘️🌝If Hallmark had a modern Jane Eyre in Ireland with Supernatural’s Rowena as the Villain. 👻☘️🌝

What comes to mind when you think of Ireland? Maybe it’s the Blarney Stone or leprechauns. Maybe it’s St. Patrick or druids.

After reading Ghost of the Gaelic Moon, I think this book will come to mind for me. This was a lighthearted paranormal romp through Dublin and beyond. Ireland is on my travel bucket list, so maybe one day I can experience this magic myself.

Here is my (hopefully) spoiler free review covering the characters, setting, and emotional payoff.

Continue reading “Ghost of the Gaelic Moon | Review”

4 Things to Love About “The House with a Clock in its Walls”

Norman Rockwell meets Harry Potter with a Touch of Campy Horror Tropes

A few weeks ago we saw “A House with a Clock in its Walls” – an adaption of the 1973 MG chapter-book. The movie stars Cate Blanchett and Jack Black.

Movie Image source: Wikipedia Movie Image source: Wikipedia

It was adorable, though … I think it would have given me nightmares as a child. Night terrors run in my family and to this day, I quite easily have them – though I try to limit the fuel for them right before I go to sleep. (See the P.S. if you have nightmares!)

1 – Nostalgic Setting

The setting in the late 50s (maybe early 60s) makes me wonder if this was what my dad’s childhood was like. Plaid shirts, parted hair, black and white movies, fantastic cars, and quaint architecture scream mid 20th century. It feels like Norman Rockwell meets Harry Potter with a touch of campy horror tropes, though the book was written long before Harry Potter.

It also takes me back to my childhood. I read other books by this author but nothing in this series.

2 – Diverse Characters

I was so happy to see a beautiful, smart pan-Asian girl (Rose Rita Pottinger played by Vanessa Anne Williams). I expected an all white cast, and was happily surprised to find people who weren’t White Anglo-Saxon Protestants. There are also older characters in this film – Jack Black plays his uncle (Jonathan Barnavelt) with a complex relationship to the all gray Mrs. Zimmerman (played by Cate Blanchett). The characters are all dealt with positively in my opinion. I despise children’s narratives that cast adults supporting roles as being incompetent, aloof, or unkind. These characters were not like that.

3 – Strong Message

Most people want to be liked. This is part of our inherent quest for happiness. Unfortunately, the main character, Lewis, goes too far in his effort to impress someone and unleashed an evil that could wipe out the world.

He faces up to his mistake and works to save the day. Not only does he right his wrong, but he learns about real friends along the way.

4 – Humor

While there was plenty of Halloween themed creepy elements- jack o’ lanterns & creepy dolls – there are also plenty of jokes to bring levity and lighten the mood.

It’s child appropriate humor, but … that’s great because it’s a movie for kids. Sometimes I’ve heard parents complain about innuendo in movies for kids – they hear people laugh, don’t understand why it’s funny, and then children repeat the jokes.

In conclusion: This was a cute, lighthearted movie that I enjoyed more than I thought I would.

Is it a replacement for Harry Potter? No. Where the Harry Potter series is an epic that spans from his pre-pubescence to adolescence, I have the feeling these books stay at the MG level. At least other books I read by John Bellairs were all MG chapter books.

At the same time, I hope they’ll adapt additional books from this series for the big screen.


P. S.

If you suffer from nightmares, know that there actually is a medication for this: prazosin. This is not its original use (hypertension), but in a very low dose it suppresses you waking from nightmares, which means that while they’re still there, you don’t remember them.

I don’t know how many doctors I mentioned my nightmares to over the years. They were generally treated as a symptom of insomnia. A few years ago, when I wasn’t a new mother and had excellent sleep hygiene, I mentioned this to a nurse practitioner who said, “Oh, you have sleep maintenance insomnia – you can’t stay asleep because… nightmares. We’ll fix you up.”

Before that I had no idea there was anything that could be done for nightmares. If you have nightmares, maybe this would work for you. Also … it’s an older medication and the generic is very inexpensive. It might be worth the try.

I was worried that this would make me feel like a different person or less creative, but it didn’t. I just slept better. I can’t take it now because I’m lactating, but look forward to the day I can resume it.

Either way, sweet dreams!

4 Reasons Why I Binged “The Good Place”

I wanted something low key to watch while pumping milk. Stressful shows make it difficult to have a letdown reflex*. This show is funny, thought-provoking, and I found it completely binge worthy. These are the reasons I was hooked.

1 – Diversity

One of the first things you’ll notice about the show is the diverse cast. The Brainy Bunch in this group includes:

  • a blonde, self-proclaimed “dirtbag” from Arizona
  • a Senegalese moral philosophy professor
  • a Pakistani-British heiress
  • a Philipino-American DJ from Florida
  • an elderly white “American” demon
  • an immortal, excessively powered being with all the knowledge in the universe in a pleasant, non-threatening form

This is what Jameela Jamil (Tahani) has to say about the show:

There was one episode in which there was me and two other South Asian actresses on the show — none of whom were playing South Asian people with South Asian accents, we were just playing people. We constantly talk about this whenever we’re on screen together, that it’s so nice to have more than one [of us] on set at a time, and also for that not to be the staple part of our character. It is really quite sad how remarkable it is, but I hope more people kind of see that we haven’t bombed because there are brown people on television, and they will follow suit.

2 – Complex Social Commentary

Especially with the character Eleanor, moral questions are presented. They don’t pretend to know the answers or push a particular religion. In fact they purport that only one person came remotely close, and that enlightenment was facilitated by recreational drugs.

Some of the classic philosophers and moral dilemmas are presented in a comical, thought provoking way that is accessible and also touches on modern problems: global warming, poverty, human trafficking and more.

This show is not heavy or depressing (at least not from where I’m sitting) despite these themes.

3 – Relatable Characters

Absurdities abound, especially in the first season. The characters are larger than life. Their flaws are over the top, but relatable.

Jason is ambitious, though oblivious. He’s not intentionally bad. Many of his bad deeds stem from amorality rather than malevolence. He probably thinks of himself as a good person. He’s orderly neutral – he plays by a set of rules, but it’s a different game than everyone else. We’ve probably all been guilty of being inconsiderate regarding the effects of our actions.

Eleanor knows she’s not a great person. She skirts the edge of being bad without jumping into that abyss. She looks out for numero uno no matter the consequences. Her actions she justifies by a difficult past. She’s chaotic neutral. The most predictable element of her character before she begins developing is that she is all about self-preservation. Later in the series, a character tells Eleanor that while most people struggle with Us versus Them, her struggle is more basic: me versus us. Eleanor doesn’t belong. We can all find a way to justify our selfish behavior on our past: life is hard for everyone in various and sundry ways. Hard is hard. It isn’t a competition.

We’ve probably all been guilty of justifying selfish actions.

Chidi is a good person. Chidi tries very hard, too hard even. He’s a moral philosophy professor, for crying out loud.

His indecision, though, is crippling and makes him actually sick to his stomach. He is orderly good. We can probably all relate to the fear that motivates him. He wants so badly to do the right thing that he ends up doing nothing.

Tahani has done many good deeds. She’s a philanthropist! Her motivation, however, is selfish: she seeks approval. She’s chaotic good. We can probably all relate to wanting others to like us. That’s why peer pressure is a thing!

Michael and Janet have relatable traits as well, but their development isn’t as intrinsic to the show.

4 – Incredible Balance of Central Conflict

So many shows write themselves into a corner. There’s a term for this: jumping the shark. It’s a reference to when Fonzie in “Happy Days” jumped over a shark while wearing water skis.

“Arrested Development” poked fun at this when Harry Winkler, the actor who played The Fonz, hopped over a tiny shark.

I wasn’t sure how “The Good Place” could have a decent second season. I wasn’t sure how they could fulfill the franchise by delivering “the same thing, but different”. They did, though! Now I’m enjoying the third season (May they keep on coming).

A show that lost me due to not maintaining its central conflict was “Castle”. Once Castle and Kate Beckett’s unrequited love became caused by Beckett’s blatant choice to “not remember ” his confession of love, I quickly lost interest.

The central conflict – the over-arching problem in the premise of the show- has been maintained in “The Good Place” to my surprise and delight.

Thanks for reading! What makes a show binge worthy for you? Please comment and let me know. 💕


The letdown reflex is also called the milk ejection reflex. Cortisol, the stress hormone, blocks this process.

While most mothers don’t have to be exclusive pumpers like me, I do want to talk about this normal biological process that is misunderstood. If you’re interested in learning more, please click here.

The Dark World 

Set in the 1700s-1800s this tale is an intriguing take on vampire myths. 

It follows Xavier Delacroix, the heir to the King of All Creatures: Dracula. Dracula’ grandaughter, a human woman, is being hunted by Lycans– Xavier’s brother Christian almost died trying to save her. Eleanor Black, a past flame, dies mysteriously in front of Xavier and he is reeling from grief. Will he be able to protect the human? What role does she have to play? Secrets abound. 

The setting was unclear at first. There are no mentions of time and no identifying technology.  It could be the 1600s for all I know. London is a sprawling town. The only identifying detail for time is I believe someone mentions a newspaper but I might be remembering that incorrectly. They could have just asked if the other was familiar with the stories about the murders. 

Time aside, it was well written and visual. 

There were few female characters and few people of color, which surprised me since the author is an African-American woman. 

This book does not pass the Bechdel Test. There are two women who are POV characters- Lillith and Mara. Lillith, Princess of the Vampires, was a disappointing character. She is important to the plot, and yet a weak Mary Sue. We are not in Mara’s head very much. Xavier’s brother, Christian, could have been a Christina and this would have made the character more interesting and might have made a few things make more sense. 

I do look forward to reading the future books.  

Rise of the Seven

Frey’s memories have been returned to her but reconciling her past self to who she became without her memories is a challenge. Not to mention there are even more attempts on her life and her kingdom is in turmoil. Will she risk war with the Fairies? And what shall she do about the mounting tension between her and Chevelle? Her guard of seven will be instrumental in keeping the peace. 

I enjoyed this book. Ruby continued to be one of my favorite characters. Steed and Chevelle finally have a showdown. 

The development of the risk of war with the Fairies was intriguing. 

Again this book passes the Bechdel Test

There’s more action in this book than in the second and less sleeping. 

Chevelle becomes more developed in this book. One reviewer said she liked Chevelle in the second book because he is perfect.  I like characters to have more complexity than that. Granted we see everything from Frey’s perspective, so perhaps she overlooks his flaws. Love is blind and all. 

I look forward to the fourth book, Venom and Steel, set to come out this year. 

Pieces of Eight

Not about Spanish currency of antiquity. 


The second book in the Frey Saga is an entertaining quest to restore an elf maiden’s fractured identity. 

There is less action in this book than the first. It is, however, an intriguing jaunt through another world. 

I enjoyed it very much.  It also had the challenge of the first book of hypersexualized male characters. I have to say I enjoy Steed’s flirtations with her more in this book. Chevelle, the male lead, is underdeveloped. He is dark and brooding but otherwise almost flawless (he does have a jealous streak when it comes to Steed). 
Being that it was written by a woman I took it for granted in the first book that it passes the Bechdel Test. This book also passes the test and Ruby remains one of my favorite characters. The current book I’m reading does not so far and it was also written by a woman. 

I enjoy being in Frey’s head, though she is very different than me. 

One criticism I read in another review of this book is that Frey is frequently sleeping. This is true , but I didn’t find it boring and it served the plot. She evolves through the book. 

One quote I particularly enjoyed:

Somewhere, in the mess of my mind, I’d understood that acquiring the magic and memories would not release me from the difficulties of my life. 

Pieces of Eight was a diverting, easy read.  I highly recommend it. 

Frey

Frey felt life was unfair as an elf who has no magic until one day she finds herself accidentally practicing dark magic. Things get worse from there. A dark and handsome stranger appears and her world is soon thrown off kilter. Will her mother’s diary hold the answer to her fractured memories? Will she find any magic that is not dark? 


This story was appealing because it focuses on a strong female lead who fights against the odds. We can probably all identify with feeling out of place from time to time.  

In this world the genders feel pretty equal, though two of the male characters are hypersexualised. Although one of the elves, Steed, is quite comical with his forwardness. His personality reminds me of a married man that used to hit on me. I didn’t think it was so funny at the time. 

The story seems to follow more of a Freytag model than a traditional three act structure.  That’s okay; my book, Threads of Fate, follows this model and is based off Blake Snyder’s beat sheet.  

Ruby was one of my favorite characters. She is strong and mischievous, so a little unpredictable. She definitely has agency. This book passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors. 

There were a few moments that felt unrealistic. Chevelle is particularly brooding and in one spot does not speak to Frey for an entire day. I can’t imagine traveling with someone for a full 24 hours and not breaking the silence. 

I wish there was a little more description about things like the colors of the horses. I can’t recall what color her horse was and those kinds of details draw me in being a visual person. 

The book was an easy read and I’ve already read the next one, Pieces of Eight

Surprising from the start


Silent Hall was a well executed novel. What I found surprising about the start is that I felt that the opening image did not “save the cat“. That is to say, the character was engaging but not endearing.

There were diverse characters throughout the story. Not only were the five main characters darker skinned islanders in contrast to the lighter skinned continentals but there was variety among the regions of the continentals as well, which showed thought and realism. Handicaps were also addressed along with age, again showing care and adding depth to the world. Gender inequality and slavery were also addressed briefly in this world.

I’m not sure if it’s enough to warrant a trigger warning, but there were moments of domestic violence in this book in the context of three different perspectives—Galanea, Criton, and Bandu. It will be interesting to see where Mr. Dolkart goes with this theme with the next books in his Godserfs series or if all has been resolved.

The theology was impressive though dry at times. The pacing kept me engaged though the direction was not always clear. I kept looking to the back cover and wondering how we would make it to the dragon and the primordial monster, but by the end the cover had more than delivered.   It was a diverting read and I’ve enjoyed it this past week.   I had pre-ordered this book, but I just now got around to reading it and I’m glad I did. I highly recommend it.