Ashes and Alchemy by Cindy Spencer Pape [BookBlitz + Giveaway]

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Ashes & Alchemy

The Gaslight Chronicles

Book 6
Cindy Spencer Pape

Genre: Steampunk

Publisher: Carina Press

Date of Publication:  Jan 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-14268-9771-9

Number of pages: 119

Word Count: 30K

Amazon     BN    ARe    Carina

Steampunk

 

Blurb

London, 1860

Police inspector Sebastian Brown served Queen and country in India before returning to England to investigate supernatural crimes alongside the Order of the Round Table. If his wifeless, childless life feels a little empty sometimes, that’s not too great a price to pay in the name of duty.

Minerva Shaw is desperately seeking a doctor when she mistakenly lands on Sebastian’s doorstep. Her daughter Ivy has fallen gravely ill with a mysterious illness—the same illness, it seems, that’s responsible for taking the lives of many of Ivy’s classmates.

Seb sniffs a case, and taking in Minnie and Ivy seems the only way to protect them while he solves it. But as mother and daughter work their way into his heart and Seb uses every magical and technological resource he can muster to uncover the source of the deadly plague, it’s he who will need protecting—from emotions he’d thought buried long ago.

Excerpt

Police Inspector Sebastian Brown stirred the coals in his study’s small iron grate. The clock on the wall chimed quarter past two. Another night with no sleep, then. Bloody hell, this insomnia was getting to be a habit. Perhaps he should ask his superior to move him to the graveyard shift. If he was going to be awake all night, maybe he’d be able to rest during the day. It was better than what he was doing now, getting no sleep at all. At forty, he was too old to keep that up indefinitely. He eyed the half-empty decanter of brandy on his desk but shook his head. He’d tried that for the last couple of nights, and all it had earned him was a headache to go along with his fatigue. That, he could do without. It was bad enough that the British winter made his hip hurt like hell—except he knew from experience that hell was hot and dry, not frigid and damp.

An odd thump at the front door, only a couple of yards from his study window, caught his attention. There were disadvantages to having excellent hearing—most would likely have not noticed the small disturbance over the crackling of the fire, the ticking of the clock and all the other sounds of a house at night. Outside, the wind howled mightily. Most likely some debris had been flung up onto his stoop. Still, he had nothing better with which to occupy himself than to go clear it off. His housekeeper and majordomo were away for the weekend, leaving Seb to his own devices. He tightened the belt on his dressing gown and limped his way through the foyer to the front entrance.

A gust of wind nearly ripped the heavy wooden door from his hands as he opened it. Seb looked down to the stoop and confirmed his assumption. A large, dark bundle of something had been deposited against the door.

“Doctor?” The bundle stirred and murmured the word so softly, Seb nearly didn’t hear—and his hearing was above and beyond that of most humans. He reached down to help the woman to her feet. Before his brain even registered the action, he’d drawn her slight, shivering form into the house, out of the wind and fog. Wide blue eyes blinked up at him, their lashes crusted with frost. Her face was thin, and too drawn with cold to tell if she was fifteen or forty. Tendrils of wet brown hair had escaped her sodden hat.

“Are you insane?” She didn’t even wear a breathing mask. With the coal smoke polluting the London air, that was tantamount to a death sentence, if the vampyres or criminals didn’t get to her first. “What are you doing out on a night like this? It’s suicide.”

She stiffened under his hands and glared up at him. “Doctor,” she gritted through chattering teeth. “Are you Dr. Grant?”

Seb cursed himself mentally. Of course it was a medical emergency—the one rational reason for being out in the frigid pea-souper. He grabbed his own cloak off the hall tree where he’d left it. “Next door. Come on, I’ll walk you over.”

She narrowed her eyes, likely trying to see if he was trustworthy. Then she sighed and turned back toward the door. “Th-thank you.”

He nodded curtly at the back of her head. Once out in the elements, he did his best to keep her smaller body sheltered by his. About halfway to the next doorstep, he realized he was still in his house slippers. Fortunately there wasn’t much ice on the ground yet, so he managed to avoid falling on his face. He shepherded her up to the doctor’s door and rang the bell without incident. He hadn’t bothered with a mask, so he held his breath as best he could.

Moments later, Mrs. Parrish, the doctor’s housekeeper, answered the door. The usually immaculate woman was mussed. Blood and filth streaked her white apron. “Mr. Brown. Come in. Did the Yard send you for something?” Behind her, a variety of voices sounded, some stern, some moaning. Rapid footsteps and the normal clinks and clacks of a working clinic seemed more hurried than usual.

“No. What’s the matter?” He gently shoved the mystery woman in ahead of him and closed the door behind them.

“Steam car accident, two streets over. They brought all three young men here. Two just need sewing up, but the third will be lucky to make it through the night.” Mrs. Parrish caught her breath and eyed the shivering woman still leaning on Seb. “Who have we here, Mr. Brown?”

Seb sighed. “Another patient, I’m afraid. She landed on my doorstep in the fog. Will the doctor be able to spare a moment?”

Mrs. Parrish shrugged. “You know him. He’ll find a way.” She cast a concerned eye over the patient. “Meanwhile, dearie, I can at least help you get warm and dry.”

The woman shook her head and swallowed a sob. “No. It’s not me who’s sick. It’s my daughter. She’s only four and she has an awful fever. I’ve tried half a dozen different doctors and none of them will come see her, not on a night like this.”

“Son of a—” Seb broke off the curse at a sharp glance from the housekeeper. “There’s no way he’ll be free for a house call, is there?” The idea of a helpless child lying ill—it was the kind of thing Seb would never be able to forget about Lucknow—the hellhole in India that still haunted his nightmares.

Mrs. Parrish took the younger woman’s hands and rubbed them between hers. “No. I’m sorry. If we could get the little one here…”

The woman sniffled and sagged into Seb. Now that they stood in the light, he could tell she was younger than he, but a woman, not a girl. Tiny lines bracketed her eyes, while her cheeks were smooth. Her face would be attractive when she smiled, although she looked in need of a hearty meal and a long night’s sleep. “Is there any other doctor who might come? I don’t have money for a cab and she’s too big for me to carry all this way.”

“Where’s the girl’s father?” Seb growled at the idea of any man who let his woman out in this weather.

“Dead,” she said with a sniffle, though she lifted her chin. “It’s just me and Ivy. There’s no one else. Now, is there another doctor—one who will take a patient on credit?”

Seb felt like a cad for barking at a destitute young widow.

“Well, there’s Doc Witherspoon, around the corner, but he isn’t much for house calls.” Mrs. Parrish curled her lip. “And he’s not known for generosity either, like dear Dr. Grant.”

“Never mind.” Seb cleared his throat. “I’m hale enough to carry a little girl, and I have a steam car. If we go slowly, the roads should be safe enough.” He looked down the hall, hearing more groaning from the surgery rooms.

Mrs. Parrish snorted. “Especially since you’re not three sheets to the wind, like those idiots.” She gave the other woman a bracing smile. “Never you worry, dear. Mr. Brown will have you and your little one back here before you know it. Though he might want his boots and hat first.”

 Author Bio

Cindy Spencer Pape firmly believes in happily-ever-after and brings that to her writing. Award-winning author of 18 novels and more than 30 shorter works, Cindy lives in southeast Michigan with her husband, two sons and a houseful cindyof pets. When not hard at work writing she can be found dressing up for steampunk parties and Renaissance fairs, or with her nose buried in a book.

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Giveaway

 Winner’s choice of a custom-beaded necklace featuring choice of available hand-painted cameos, or a pocket watch and chain, with choice of available watch fob, from http://www.etsy.com/shop/SpectraNova

Estimated value, $50.00 – open to US Shipping

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The League of Skull & Bones by MJ Fletcher [BookBlitz]


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Date Published: 10/15/2013
New Adult Paranormal / Steampunk

The League of Skull & Bones, Book 1 of The Grimm Chronicles

Blurb

Jess Grimm has the ability to travel to any dimension in the multiverse. There’s only one problem… it’s killing her.
Jess is in a race against time to find a device that can slow the progression of the power inside her, but she isn’t alone. Others want her power, and they don’t care how they get it, or if she is dead or alive when they do.
The only person willing to help her is the mysterious Ronan Sparrow a member of the League of Skull & Bones, one of the very groups that want her power. But what does Ronan want in return? Can Jess trust him or will she find herself alone with enemies on all sides?

Excerpt

Prologue

I wasn’t alone in the dark.
Snarls and growls surrounded me, running my blood cold. I moved my head from side to side, scrunching my eyes, trying desperately to catch sight of the beasts before they reached me. My crimson swords weighed so heavily in my hands that I felt as if I’d been fighting for what seemed like eternity.
Claws and fangs suddenly slashed out from the darkness and I did my best to defend myself, though in my heart I knew it was a losing battle. The beasts were overpowering me and soon I wouldn’t be able to stop them. No one was coming to save me. I was alone.
Talons slashed across my back and warm blood trickled down as pain shot across my spine. I stumbled and the beasts—I was sure—tasted victory. They moved in at me in waves. I spun my blades trying to battle the never-ending tide, trying to survive.
It was hopeless. For every monster I took down, another two took its place. I wanted to live, I wanted to fight, but the agonizing pain of my flesh being torn and sliced was too great to bear. I couldn’t go on. The jaws of one of the beasts clamped on my wrist, and I lost my grip on one of my swords. It fell from my hand and clattered to the ground and with it went my last vestige of hope.
Blood drained from my body and my vision faded. I would soon black out, and then the beasts would feast on me. A scream bubbled in my throat and my mouth fell open, but no sounds came out. I closed my eyes, not wanting to see my own death and hoped that darkness would take me before the beasts did.
I bolted out of bed, my mouth still open in a silent scream, and my sheets tangled around me soaked with sweat. I stood at the foot of my bed, my breathing coming in ragged gasps.
The nightmares came almost every night. I couldn’t escape them no matter how hard I tried. I yanked at the sheets, dragging them off me and tossing them back onto the bed.
I’d worn only an old t-shirt to bed, though now I wished I had worn more. I didn’t want to see my scars, didn’t want to be reminded yet again, but I couldn’t stop my fingers from tracing over the ugly scars that marked my arms and upper torso.
I walked from the top floor of my loft, down the stainless steel steps to the kitchen area. I yanked open the fridge and grabbed the container of milk and took a gulp. I placed it back in the fridge and slammed the door closed. I slipped down onto the couch that faced the large windows dotting the walls of my loft and sighed at the breathtaking view of Paris. It always calmed me.
My fingers mindlessly drifted over the scars on my arms. They were a reminder of the very real night I had been trapped in a nearly unwinnable fight. Monsters had surrounded me and had almost killed me. If it hadn’t been for my friends, I would have died.
But I hadn’t died, or had I? I was far from the girl I had once been. Once I was the prettiest girl in school, and the girl who had hit every club and had had a blast when she had moved to Paris. But after the vicious attack everything had changed, most of all me.
My fingers suddenly stopped, settling on the edges of identical tattoos on both my forearms. I glanced down at the image of a Skeleton Key. My scars refused to cross paths with the tattoos, as if they knew that they dared not go near them.
I slid my finger over the tattoo, and felt a buzz of power run through me. These unwanted tattoos were another reminder of something else entirely. But unlike my scar, I had chosen these.
The monsters may not have gotten me, but these tattoos were a different matter. They marked me for death.
I pulled my knees up into my chest and took a deep breath. Maybe I would wait here until dawn. Then I wouldn’t have to worry about any more nightmares or death that constantly stalked me.
I sat alone in the dark looking out on the City of Lights, awaiting the dawn and praying that I could keep death at bay and that I wouldn’t hear the sound of monsters.

 

Author Bio

MJ Fletcher was born in New Jersey and now lives by the beach with his beautiful wife and daughter. He has been writing since he first stapled pages together as a child and called them a book. He finally realized his ambitions when his comic book series Adam Zero The Last Man of Earth was published by Ronin Studios. His other comic book work includes Digital Webbing Presents and The Hero Initiative. His first novel The Doorknob Society released in 2012 was nominated for a Cybil award in the young adult category. He has continued writing the Doorknob Society Saga his rollicking steampunk adventure series as well as working on numerous other writing projects.

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Chasing the Star Garden by Melanie Karsak [BookBlitz+Giveaway]

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Chasing the Star Garden
The Airship Racing Chronicles

Book I

Melanie Karsak

Genre: Alternative History/Gaslamp-Steampunk

Publisher: Clockpunk Press

Date of Publication: December 4th, 2013

ISBN: 978-0615878775

ISBN-10: 0615878776

Number of pages: 325

Word Count:  70,000

Cover Artist: Damonza

Blurb

An opium-addicted beauty.

An infamous poet living in self-imposed exile.

An ancient treasure about to fall into the wrong hands.

Melanie Karsak’s “Chasing the Star Garden” takes the reader on an exciting adventure from the gritty opium dens of gaslamp London to the gem-colored waters of the ancient world, introducing us Lily Stargazer, a loveable but reckless airship racer with a famous lover and a shattered past.

Lily Stargazer is having a bad day. She just lost the London leg of the 1823 Airship Grand Prix. To top it off, a harlequin fleeing from constables shoved a kaleidoscope down her pants, told her to fly to Venice, then threw himself from her airship tower.

What’s a girl to do? For Lily, the answer is easy: drink absinthe and smoke opium.

Lily’s lover, Lord Byron, encourages her to make the trip to Venice. Lily soon finds herself at the heart of an ancient mystery which has her running from her past and chasing true love and the stars along the way.

 

 

Excerpt   

Chapter 1

 I was going to lose-again. I gripped the brass handles on the wheel hard and turned the airship sharply port. The tiller vibrated in protest making the wheel shake and my wrist bones ache. Bracing my knees against the spokes, I tore off my brown leather gloves to get a better feel. The metal handgrips were smooth and cold. My fingers tingled from the chill.

“Easy,” I whispered to the Stargazer. I looked up from my position at the wheelstand, past the ropes, burner basket, and balloon, toward the clouds. They were drifting slowly left in a periwinkle blue sky. There would be an updraft as we passed over the green brown waters of the canal near Buckingham House. I locked the wheel and jumped from the wheelstand onto the deck of the gondola and looked over the rail. The canal waters were about a hundred feet away. I ran back to the wheel and steadied the ship. If I caught the updraft, it would propel me up and forward, giving me an edge.

“Cutter caught it, Lily,” Jessup yelled down from the burner basket below the balloon opening. “Up he goes,” he added, looking out through his spyglass. The gold polish on the spyglass reflected the fire from the burner.

“Dammit!” I snapped down my binocular lense. I saw Hank Cutter’s red and white striped balloon rise upward. At the top, he pitched forward with great momentum, catching a horizontal wind. I could just make out Cutter at the wheel. His blond hair blew wildly around him. He turned and waved to me. Wanker.

I was not as lucky. Just as the bow of the Stargazer reached the water, a stray wind came in and blew me leeward. The balloon jiggled violently in the turbulent air. I missed the air pocket altogether.

“No! No, no, no!” I cursed and steadied the ship. I had chased Cutter from Edinburgh across the Scottish and English countryside. He had been off his game all day. I’d had him by half a mile the entire race. With the bottom feeders lingering somewhere in the distance behind us, I’d thought the London leg of the 1823 Airship Grand Prix would be mine. That was until St. Albans, where Cutter caught a random breeze that pushed him slightly in front of me. Cutter had a knack for catching favorable winds; it was not a talent I shared.

“We’re coming up on Westminster,” Jessup called from the basket. “Lily, drop altitude. Cutter is too high. Come in low and fast, and you might overtake him.”

The airship towers sat at the pier near the Palace of Westminster along the Thames. A carnival atmosphere had overtaken the city as it always does on race day. There were colorful tents set up everywhere. Vendors hawked their wares to the excited Londoners and international visitors. Even from this distance, I could hear the merchants barking from their tents. I even fancied I could smell roasted peanuts in the wind.

I jumped down from the wheelstand, ran across the deck, and pulled the valve cord, opening the flap at the top of the balloon. Hot air released with a hiss. I kept one eye on the balloon and another eye on Tinkers’ Tower. At this time of day, the heat coming off of the Palace of Westminster and Tinkers’ Tower would give you a bump. I looked up. Cutter had started preparing his descent. It would be close.

I ran back to the wheel.

“Angus, I need more speed,” I yelled down to the gear galley, rapping on the wooden hatch that led to the rods, belts, and propeller parts below.

Angus slapped open the hatch and stuck out his bald head. His face was covered in grease, and his blue-lense monocle glimmered in the sunlight. He looked up at the clouds and back at me.

“Let’s giddyup,” I called to him.

“You trying the Tower sling?” he yelled back.

“You got it.”

He laughed wildly. “That’s my lassie,” he yelled and dropped back down, pulling the wood hatch closed with a clap. I heard the gears grind and the propeller, which had been turning nice and steady, hummed loudly. The ship pitched forward. Within moments, we were coming up on Tinkers’ Tower. The airship towers were just a stone’s throw away.

I aimed the ship directly toward Tinkers’ Tower. Just as the bowsprit neared the clock, I yanked the wheel. The warm air caught us.

“Whoa!” Jessup yelled as the balloon moved within arm’s length of the tower.

The sound of “Ohhs!” echoed from the crowd below.

A mix of warm air and propulsion gave us some go, and seconds later we were slingshotting around Tinkers’ Tower toward the airship platforms. Gliding in on warm air and momentum, we flew fast and low.

Cutter had kept it high, but now he was dropping like a stone toward his own tower. Damned American. I didn’t blame him; I would have used the same move. His balloon was releasing so much air that I wondered if he would be able to slow down in time, not that I wouldn’t mind seeing him smash to the ground in a million pieces.

“It’s going to be close,” Jessup yelled as he adjusted the heat pan.

I guided the helm. The Stargazer was temperamental, but we understood one another. A shake of the wheel warned me I was pushing too hard. “Almost there,” I whispered to the ship.

The Grand Prix Marshalls were standing on the platform. Cutter and I had the end towers. I was going to make it.

“Cut propulsion,” I yelled toward the gear galley. On the floor near the wheelstand was a rope attached to a bell in the galley. I rang it twice. The propeller switched off.

A soft, sweet wind blew in from the port side. It ruffled my hair around my shoulders. I closed my eyes and turned the wheel slightly starboard, guiding the ship in. As the bowsprit scooped into the opening of the tower, I heard a jubilant cheer erupt from the American side and an explosion from the firework cannon signaling the winner had been declared.

My eyes popped open. I tore off my goggles and looked starboard. Cutter’s balloon was parked. I threw the goggles onto the deck and set my forehead against the wheel.

The Stargazer settled into her tower. Jessup set the balloon on hover and, grabbing a rope, swung down to the deck. He then threw the lead lines and anchors onto the platform. The beautifully dressed crowd, gentlemen in suits and top hats and fancy ladies in a rainbow of satin gowns and parasols, rushed toward the American end of the platform to congratulate the winner.

I was, once again, a national disgrace. Lily the loser. Lily second place. Perhaps I would never be anything more than a ferrywoman, a cheap air jockey.

“Good job, Lily. Second place!” Jessup said joining me. He patted me on the shoulder.

I sighed deeply and unbuttoned my vest. The tension had me sweating; I could feel it dripping down from my neck, between my breasts, into my corset.

“You did great,” I told Jessup. “Sorry I let you down.”

“Ah, Lily,” he sighed.

Angus emerged from below wiping sweat from his head with a greasy rag. He pulled off his monocle. He frowned toward the American side. “Well, we beat the French,” he said with a shrug and kissed me on the cheek, smearing grease on me.

 “Good job, Angus. Thank you,” I said taking him by the chin and giving him a little shake as I wrinkled my nose and smiled at him.

Angus laughed and dropped his arm around Jessup’s shoulders. They grinned happily at one another.

“You stink, brother,” Jessup told him.

“It’s a wee bit toasty down there. Besides, I pedaled this ship across the entire fucking country while ya were up here looking at the birds. That, my friend, is the smell of success.”

I laughed.

“You pedaled the ship?” Jessup said mockingly. “Like Lil and I were just up here playing cards? If I didn’t keep the balloon aloft, your ass would be kissing the ground.”

“Now wait a minute. Are ya saying your job is more important that mine?” Angus retorted.

I could see where this was going. “Gents.”

“More important? Now why would I say that? Just because I’m the one . . .” Jessup started and then his mouth ran.

“Gents.”

“ . . . and another thing . . .” Jessup went on.

“Gentlemen! Our audience awaits,” I said cutting them both off, motioning to the well-shod crowd who waited for us on the loading platform outside the Stargazer.

I grinned at my crew. “Come on. Let’s go.”

I patted the rail of the Stargazer. “Thanks,” I whispered to her, and we exited onto the platform.

A reporter from the London Times and several race officials stood waiting for me.

“Well done, Lily! Well done!” the British race official congratulated me with a pat on the back. “Second place! King George will be so proud. One of these days you’ll have it, by God.”

I was pretty sure that the last thing I needed was the attention of George IV, the extravagant, unpopular lush. But I bit my tongue and smiled politely.

“Lily, how did Cutter beat you? You led the entire race,” the reporter, a round woman wearing a very thick black lace collar which looked like it was choking her, asked me. Her heavy purple walking dress looked hot under the late afternoon summer sun. The brim of her black satin cap barely shaded her nose. I noticed then, however, that she had a small clockwork fan pin attached to her chest. The fan wagged cool air toward her face.

I pulled off my cap, mopped my forehead, and thought about the question. “Luck,” I replied.

“Lily, that was some move around Tinkers’ Tower. How did you learn to do that?” another reporter asked.

“My father,” I lied.

“Make way, make way,” one of the race officials called, ushering a Marshall forward.

The Marshall looked like someone who lingered an hour too long at supper. The gold buttons on his marigold satin vest would take an eye out if they popped. His overly tall top hat was adorned with a ring of flowers that matched his striking orange colored dress coat.

“Miss Stargazer, congratulations,” he said, shaking my hand. “The Spanish airship is coming in now. Will you please join Mr. Cutter at the winners’ podium?” he asked politely as he guided me forward by the hand.

From below there was a commotion. A man dressed in an unusual costume was rushing up the stairs. What looked like a full squadron of the Bow Street Runners, the London constables, were chasing him. When he got to the loading platform, the man pushed through a crowd of well-dressed ladies and gentlemen, many of whom were gentry. It was then I could see he was dressed as a harlequin. He wore the traditional red and black checked outfit and a black mask. He scanned the towers and caught sight of me. He jumped, landing on the tower railing, and ran toward me. A woman in the crowd screamed. Moments later the constables appeared on the platform. The race Marshalls pointed toward the harlequin who was making a beeline for me.

I let go of the Marshall’s hand and stepped back toward the ship.

“Lily,” Jessup warned, moving protectively toward me.

Angus reached over the deck of the Stargazer and grabbed a very large wrench.

Was it an assassin? Christ, would someone murder me for winning second place? I turned then and ran toward the Stargazer. A moment later, the harlequin flipped from the rail, grabbed one of the Stargazer’s ropes, and swinging over the others, landed on the platform directly in front of me. Any second now, I would be dead.

“Lily?” he asked from behind the mask.

“Stop that man! Stop him!” a constable yelled.

“Get out of my way!” Angus roared at the crowd that had thronged in between us.

The masked man grabbed me, tugged on the front of my trousers, and leaned into my ear. The long nose of the mask tickled my face. “Go to Venice,” he whispered as he stuffed something down the front of my pants.

“We got you now,” a constable said, grabbing him, raising his club.

The man shook him off, took two steps backward, and with a jump, leapt off the tower.

Several people in the crowd screamed.

I rushed to the side of the tower to see the harlequin lying at its base. His body was twisted oddly. Blood began pooling around him.

“Miss Stargazer, are you all right?” a constable asked.

“A man just killed himself in front of me. No, I am not all right.”

“I mean, are you harmed? Did he hurt you?”

I shook my head and looked down at the mangled body whose twisted form made the shape of a three-sided triskelion. It was the same symbol that was painted on the balloon of the Stargazer.

Melanie Karsak Author Pic by Orange Moon Studios

Author Bio

Melanie Karsak grew up in rural northwestern Pennsylvania where there was an abysmal lack of entertainment, so she turned to reading and hiking. Apparently, rambling around the woods with a head full of fantasy worlds and characters will inspire you to become an author. Be warned. Melanie wrote her first novel, a gripping piece about a 1920s stage actress, when she was 12. A steampunk connoisseur, white elephant collector, and caffeine junkie, the author now resides in Florida with her husband and two children. Melanie is an Instructor of English at Eastern Florida State College.

 

 

 

 

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Giveaway

1) Grand prize is a Kindle Fire HDX Table and an autographed copy of Chasing the Star Garden

2) Second place, an autographed copy of Chasing the Star Garden (5 winners)

3) Third place, 20 ebook copies of Chasing the Star Garden (20 winners)

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Chasing the Star Garden by Melanie Karsak [Cover Reveal + Giveaway]

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Chasing the Star Garden_Melanie Karsak_D3

Chasing the Star Garden
The Airship Racing Chronicles

Book I

Melanie Karsak

Genre: Alternative History/Gaslamp-Steampunk

Publisher: Clockpunk Press

Date of Publication: December 4th, 2013

ISBN: 978-0615878775

ISBN-10: 0615878776

Number of pages: 325

Word Count:  70,000

Cover Artist: Damonza

Book Description:

An opium-addicted beauty.

An infamous poet living in self-imposed exile.

An ancient treasure about to fall into the wrong hands.

Melanie Karsak’s “Chasing the Star Garden” takes the reader on an exciting adventure from the gritty opium dens of gaslamp London to the gem-colored waters of the ancient world, introducing us Lily Stargazer, a loveable but reckless airship racer with a famous lover and a shattered past.

Lily Stargazer is having a bad day. She just lost the London leg of the 1823 Airship Grand Prix. To top it off, a harlequin fleeing from constables shoved a kaleidoscope down her pants, told her to fly to Venice, then threw himself from her airship tower.

What’s a girl to do? For Lily, the answer is easy: drink absinthe and smoke opium.

Lily’s lover, Lord Byron, encourages her to make the trip to Venice. Lily soon finds herself at the heart of an ancient mystery which has her running from her past and chasing true love and the stars along the way.

 

 Chapter 1

I was going to lose-again. I gripped the brass handles on the wheel hard and turned the airship sharply port. The tiller vibrated in protest making the wheel shake and my wrist bones ache. Bracing my knees against the spokes, I tore off my brown leather gloves to get a better feel. The metal handgrips were smooth and cold. My fingers tingled from the chill.
“Easy,” I whispered to the Stargazer. I looked up from my position at the wheelstand, past the ropes, burner basket, and balloon, toward the clouds. They were drifting slowly left in a periwinkle blue sky. There would be an updraft as we passed over the green brown waters of the canal near Buckingham House. I locked the wheel and jumped from the wheelstand onto the deck of the gondola and looked over the rail. The canal waters were about a hundred feet away. I ran back to the wheel and steadied the ship. If I caught the updraft, it would propel me up and forward, giving me an edge.
“Cutter caught it, Lily,” Jessup yelled down from the burner basket below the balloon opening. “Up he goes,” he added, looking out through his spyglass. The gold polish on the spyglass reflected the fire from the burner.
“Dammit!” I snapped down my binocular lense. I saw Hank Cutter’s red and white striped balloon rise upward. At the top, he pitched forward with great momentum, catching a horizontal wind. I could just make out Cutter at the wheel. His blond hair blew wildly around him. He turned and waved to me. Wanker.
I was not as lucky. Just as the bow of the Stargazer reached the water, a stray wind came in and blew me leeward. The balloon jiggled violently in the turbulent air. I missed the air pocket altogether.
“No! No, no, no!” I cursed and steadied the ship. I had chased Cutter from Edinburgh across the Scottish and English countryside. He had been off his game all day. I’d had him by half a mile the entire race. With the bottom feeders lingering somewhere in the distance behind us, I’d thought the London leg of the 1823 Airship Grand Prix would be mine. That was until St. Albans, where Cutter caught a random breeze that pushed him slightly in front of me. Cutter had a knack for catching favorable winds; it was not a talent I shared.
“We’re coming up on Westminster,” Jessup called from the basket. “Lily, drop altitude. Cutter is too high. Come in low and fast, and you might overtake him.”
The airship towers sat at the pier near the Palace of Westminster along the Thames. A carnival atmosphere had overtaken the city as it always does on race day. There were colorful tents set up everywhere. Vendors hawked their wares to the excited Londoners and international visitors. Even from this distance, I could hear the merchants barking from their tents. I even fancied I could smell roasted peanuts in the wind.
I jumped down from the wheelstand, ran across the deck, and pulled the valve cord, opening the flap at the top of the balloon. Hot air released with a hiss. I kept one eye on the balloon and another eye on Tinkers’ Tower. At this time of day, the heat coming off of the Palace of Westminster and Tinkers’ Tower would give you a bump. I looked up. Cutter had started preparing his descent. It would be close.
I ran back to the wheel.
“Angus, I need more speed,” I yelled down to the gear galley, rapping on the wooden hatch that led to the rods, belts, and propeller parts below.
Angus slapped open the hatch and stuck out his bald head. His face was covered in grease, and his blue-lense monocle glimmered in the sunlight. He looked up at the clouds and back at me.
“Let’s giddyup,” I called to him.
“You trying the Tower sling?” he yelled back.
“You got it.”
He laughed wildly. “That’s my lassie,” he yelled and dropped back down, pulling the wood hatch closed with a clap. I heard the gears grind and the propeller, which had been turning nice and steady, hummed loudly. The ship pitched forward. Within moments, we were coming up on Tinkers’ Tower. The airship towers were just a stone’s throw away.
I aimed the ship directly toward Tinkers’ Tower. Just as the bowsprit neared the clock, I yanked the wheel. The warm air caught us.
“Whoa!” Jessup yelled as the balloon moved within arm’s length of the tower.
The sound of “Ohhs!” echoed from the crowd below.
A mix of warm air and propulsion gave us some go, and seconds later we were slingshotting around Tinkers’ Tower toward the airship platforms. Gliding in on warm air and momentum, we flew fast and low.
Cutter had kept it high, but now he was dropping like a stone toward his own tower. Damned American. I didn’t blame him; I would have used the same move. His balloon was releasing so much air that I wondered if he would be able to slow down in time, not that I wouldn’t mind seeing him smash to the ground in a million pieces.
“It’s going to be close,” Jessup yelled as he adjusted the heat pan.
I guided the helm. The Stargazer was temperamental, but we understood one another. A shake of the wheel warned me I was pushing too hard. “Almost there,” I whispered to the ship.
The Grand Prix Marshalls were standing on the platform. Cutter and I had the end towers. I was going to make it.
“Cut propulsion,” I yelled toward the gear galley. On the floor near the wheelstand was a rope attached to a bell in the galley. I rang it twice. The propeller switched off.
A soft, sweet wind blew in from the port side. It ruffled my hair around my shoulders. I closed my eyes and turned the wheel slightly starboard, guiding the ship in. As the bowsprit scooped into the opening of the tower, I heard a jubilant cheer erupt from the American side and an explosion from the firework cannon signaling the winner had been declared.
My eyes popped open. I tore off my goggles and looked starboard. Cutter’s balloon was parked. I threw the goggles onto the deck and set my forehead against the wheel.
The Stargazer settled into her tower. Jessup set the balloon on hover and, grabbing a rope, swung down to the deck. He then threw the lead lines and anchors onto the platform. The beautifully dressed crowd, gentlemen in suits and top hats and fancy ladies in a rainbow of satin gowns and parasols, rushed toward the American end of the platform to congratulate the winner.
I was, once again, a national disgrace. Lily the loser. Lily second place. Perhaps I would never be anything more than a ferrywoman, a cheap air jockey.
“Good job, Lily. Second place!” Jessup said joining me. He patted me on the shoulder.
I sighed deeply and unbuttoned my vest. The tension had me sweating; I could feel it dripping down from my neck, between my breasts, into my corset.
“You did great,” I told Jessup. “Sorry I let you down.”
“Ah, Lily,” he sighed.
Angus emerged from below wiping sweat from his head with a greasy rag. He pulled off his monocle. He frowned toward the American side. “Well, we beat the French,” he said with a shrug and kissed me on the cheek, smearing grease on me.
“Good job, Angus. Thank you,” I said taking him by the chin and giving him a little shake as I wrinkled my nose and smiled at him.
Angus laughed and dropped his arm around Jessup’s shoulders. They grinned happily at one another.
“You stink, brother,” Jessup told him.
“It’s a wee bit toasty down there. Besides, I pedaled this ship across the entire fucking country while ya were up here looking at the birds. That, my friend, is the smell of success.”
I laughed.
“You pedaled the ship?” Jessup said mockingly. “Like Lil and I were just up here playing cards? If I didn’t keep the balloon aloft, your ass would be kissing the ground.”
“Now wait a minute. Are ya saying your job is more important that mine?” Angus retorted.
I could see where this was going. “Gents.”
“More important? Now why would I say that? Just because I’m the one . . .” Jessup started and then his mouth ran.
“Gents.”
“ . . . and another thing . . .” Jessup went on.
“Gentlemen! Our audience awaits,” I said cutting them both off, motioning to the well-shod crowd who waited for us on the loading platform outside the Stargazer.
I grinned at my crew. “Come on. Let’s go.”
I patted the rail of the Stargazer. “Thanks,” I whispered to her, and we exited onto the platform.
A reporter from the London Times and several race officials stood waiting for me.
“Well done, Lily! Well done!” the British race official congratulated me with a pat on the back. “Second place! King George will be so proud. One of these days you’ll have it, by God.”
I was pretty sure that the last thing I needed was the attention of George IV, the extravagant, unpopular lush. But I bit my tongue and smiled politely.
“Lily, how did Cutter beat you? You led the entire race,” the reporter, a round woman wearing a very thick black lace collar which looked like it was choking her, asked me. Her heavy purple walking dress looked hot under the late afternoon summer sun. The brim of her black satin cap barely shaded her nose. I noticed then, however, that she had a small clockwork fan pin attached to her chest. The fan wagged cool air toward her face.
I pulled off my cap, mopped my forehead, and thought about the question. “Luck,” I replied.
“Lily, that was some move around Tinkers’ Tower. How did you learn to do that?” another reporter asked.
“My father,” I lied.
“Make way, make way,” one of the race officials called, ushering a Marshall forward.
The Marshall looked like someone who lingered an hour too long at supper. The gold buttons on his marigold satin vest would take an eye out if they popped. His overly tall top hat was adorned with a ring of flowers that matched his striking orange colored dress coat.
“Miss Stargazer, congratulations,” he said, shaking my hand. “The Spanish airship is coming in now. Will you please join Mr. Cutter at the winners’ podium?” he asked politely as he guided me forward by the hand.
From below there was a commotion. A man dressed in an unusual costume was rushing up the stairs. What looked like a full squadron of the Bow Street Runners, the London constables, were chasing him. When he got to the loading platform, the man pushed through a crowd of well-dressed ladies and gentlemen, many of whom were gentry. It was then I could see he was dressed as a harlequin. He wore the traditional red and black checked outfit and a black mask. He scanned the towers and caught sight of me. He jumped, landing on the tower railing, and ran toward me. A woman in the crowd screamed. Moments later the constables appeared on the platform. The race Marshalls pointed toward the harlequin who was making a beeline for me.
I let go of the Marshall’s hand and stepped back toward the ship.
“Lily,” Jessup warned, moving protectively toward me.
Angus reached over the deck of the Stargazer and grabbed a very large wrench.
Was it an assassin? Christ, would someone murder me for winning second place? I turned then and ran toward the Stargazer. A moment later, the harlequin flipped from the rail, grabbed one of the Stargazer’s ropes, and swinging over the others, landed on the platform directly in front of me. Any second now, I would be dead.
“Lily?” he asked from behind the mask.
“Stop that man! Stop him!” a constable yelled.
“Get out of my way!” Angus roared at the crowd that had thronged in between us.
The masked man grabbed me, tugged on the front of my trousers, and leaned into my ear. The long nose of the mask tickled my face. “Go to Venice,” he whispered as he stuffed something down the front of my pants.
“We got you now,” a constable said, grabbing him, raising his club.
The man shook him off, took two steps backward, and with a jump, leapt off the tower.
Several people in the crowd screamed.
I rushed to the side of the tower to see the harlequin lying at its base. His body was twisted oddly. Blood began pooling around him.
“Miss Stargazer, are you all right?” a constable asked.
“A man just killed himself in front of me. No, I am not all right.”
“I mean, are you harmed? Did he hurt you?”
I shook my head and looked down at the mangled body whose twisted form made the shape of a three-sided triskelion. It was the same symbol that was painted on the balloon of the Stargazer.

 

 

About Melanie

Melanie Karsak grew up in rural northwestern Pennsylvania where there was an abysmaMelanie Karsak Author Pic by Orange Moon Studiosl lack of entertainment, so she turned to reading and hiking. Apparently, rambling around the woods with a head full of fantasy worlds and characters will inspire you to become an author. Be warned. Melanie wrote her first novel, a gripping piece about a 1920s stage actress, when she was 12. A steampunk connoisseur, white elephant collector, and caffeine junkie, the author now resides in Florida with her husband and two children. Melanie is an Instructor of English at Eastern Florida State College.

 

 

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