Sharon E. Cathcart

Books by award-winning, internationally published author Sharon E. Cathcart provide discerning readers of essays fiction and non-fiction with a powerful, truthful literary experience.  Sharon's primary focus is creating fiction featuring atypical characters.

Disappointing attempt to get on the steampunk bandwagon

Stalking Jack the Ripper - Kerri Maniscalco

I so wanted to love this book. I really, really did.


What I found was a story of Audrey Rose, a 17-year-old Victorian-era girl who behaves far too much like a modern woman, running around in riding breeches all the time and apprenticing as a forensic pathologist with her eccentric uncle ... while tracking Jack the Ripper. The book was littered with Americanisms (e.g., characters saying "okay" instead of "all right"), which pulled me right out of the story. Furthermore, the author seems not to know the difference between an Edwardian tea gown (which slips over the head and ties in the back) and a Victorian one, which still buttons up the back. To make matters worse, she has Audrey Rose talk about how she can't wait to receive callers in said tea gown -- a dress designed to be worn without a corset and which was only worn in the company of close family members during the period. (I looked it up to verify; I don't know why the author couldn't have bothered).


As soon as gears started showing up at all the Ripper murder case scenes, I knew where the author was going: time to now cash in on the steampunk trend. And, frankly, it was a ham-handed attempt. The result was that I saw the "whodunnit" coming for miles, and the reason ... and I was just plain disappointed.


In other words: not the book I expected or hoped for at all. I'll give points for character development, and a plot line that had great potential, but that's it.

Facts from My Fiction: Nuncheon

Clytie's Caller - Sharon E. Cathcart

When I first released Clytie's Caller, I found myself surprised by a review that said I repeatedly misspelled the same word. I looked and looked, running spell checker, reading the manuscript back to front ... all of the usual things. It took me a while, but I finally figured out that the reviewer was referring to this word: nuncheon.

Believe it or not, we didn't always call the noon meal lunch or luncheon. During the Regency period, during which I set the book, the meal was referred to as nuncheon. It comes from the word none, meaning mid-day, or (you guessed it) noon. The word "lunch" was considered vulgar at the time; it was something only workmen would have said. It was only over time that nuncheon was replaced with luncheon, or what we now call lunch -- at least on the West Coast of the United States. My East Coast family members still refer to breakfast, dinner (the noon meal), and supper.

One of the things I enjoy most in my research is learning how people would have spoken and what words they would have used. This example is a favorite.

Self-love is far less a sin than self-neglect (paraphrasing Shakespeare)

Radical Self Love: A Guide to Loving Yourself and Living Your Dream - Gala Darling

There are some books out there that I genuinely believe should be read by everyone.

This book is one of them.

Gala Darling doesn't just talk about self-esteem ... she talks about the importance of self-love. This is the ultimate in self-care, and she just just talk platitudes. Darling provides practical "homework assignments" to get readers thinking about how they talk to themselves, treat themselves, etc. Short version: most of us aren't very good at it. Darling starts with her own experiences and how she went from living with an eating disorder to becoming a guru of radical self-love, and brings us along on the journey.

The primary message is one that should be self-evident, but really isn't: we must love ourselves first, in the same way (if not better) than we love our friends, in order to truly love anyone else. The message is brought through clearly in an entertaining, charming, and yes ... loving fashion. Delightful.

July eBook Promotion Metrics

First of all, thanks to everyone who participated in the promotion over at Smashwords All of my titles were listed; some of them free and the others heavily discounted. None of the paid titles were selected by readers during the promotion, but the following free title "sales" were noted:

Clytie's Caller - 21
His Beloved Infidel - 5
Through the Opera Glass - 4
Les Pensees Dangereuses - 3
The Rock Star in the Mirror - 3
2010 Hindsight: A Year of Personal Growth, In Spite of Myself - 1

It looks like there are a lot of Regency readers out there! Thanks again for selecting my titles. I look forward to reading your reviews.

Sold Down the River - Barbara Hambly

Even though I finished it in a single day (because it was fascinating on many levels), the premise of this book bugged the hell out of me. In this title, free man of color Benjamin January is guilted by his mother into going undercover as a field slave on his former master's plantation in order to find out who is fomenting rebellion among the slaves there.

That Ben doesn't tell Livia to stick it is a puzzle to me, because he has horrific memories of what life was like as a little boy owned by Simon Fourchet ... but he agrees to the plan. Thus, the free surgeon and musician is working as a slave during the roulaison: cane-cutting time. And a lot of stuff is going down, to say the least.

This book gives us a clear look at the life slaves endured: what kind of "master" a person had was entirely up to fate, and Fourchet was of the worst sort. We see beatings, rapes, and yes, murders. Ben starts looking deeper into what's going on at the plantation ... and soon finds himself literally running for his life.

The whodunnit did come as a surprise to me, as did a few other revelations in the tale. I literally stayed up late to finish the book because I wanted to know what happened. But I just couldn't get over my disgust at how Ben was manipulated into the entire situation.

A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter - William Deresiewicz

First things first: I love Jane Austen's novels. They are clever, often biting in their social commentary, and give us a picture of everyday life during the Regency era.

So, I was a little surprised when author William Deresiewicz started off the book by telling us how much he hated Jane Austen when he was forced to read Emma. After all, this book was about what he learned from Austen's work, right?

Well, it turned out that it was. Deresiewicz eventually becomes such a huge admirer of Austen's work that he decides to write his dissertation about the books -- after he realizes that he can see lessons in them about his own life.

And that, Reader, is what the book hinges on. Six novels, six important lessons about what was really important in life.

What I loved most about this book is the moments when Deresiewicz' observations made me think about something in a new light myself: the former co-worker whom I hadn't liked because she didn't seem smart enough about the things that mattered to me at the time, but whom I now know as a friend and realize that she is savvy about things that matter to the entire world, for example. It was my own Pride and Prejudice moment, as mirrored in something Deresiewicz saw in himself.

This book is intelligent, entertaining, and thought-provoking. Highly recommended.

Gods of New Orleans - AJ Sikes, Eloise J. Knapp

This is the first dieselpunk novel I've read. Not sure what that is? Think Chicago Gangland, 1920s -- Frank Nitti, Al Capone ... you know the deal, right? Now, throw in airships, paranormal stuff with gods and monsters -- and you've got this book!

"Gods of New Orleans" is AJ Sikes' second novel (the first is Gods of Chicago). While this book is technically a sequel, it stands alone. Emma Farnsworth, her saxophone-playing boyfriend Eddie Collins, and the Conroy family have escaped from Chicago City and are going to start life again in New Orleans. However, everything they think they know about New Orleans is turned on its ear. People of color are in charge. White people are expected to keep their eyes averted, refer to people of color as "sir" or "ma'am" ... and mixed ethnicity couples like Emma and Eddie are eyed askance. White people are also expected to carry a little tin badge with them if they're "working out" -- which is what slaves who were allowed to "sleep out" in New Orleans during the 19th C. were required to do.

In short: Sikes has turned the typical examination of racism on its ear with this book. He's created a tale people with relatable characters like Aiden Conroy, who is sold to a brothel as their houseboy ... and is putting his money aside to try to get him and his mother out of New Orleans after his father drinks himself to death and becomes one of the Mud Men ... monsters from another world who want to drag everyone down with them. We have Mitchell Brand, former newspaper boss and now Mud Man who is trying to get messages to the gods and monsters that are inside some of the characters; I found him to be one of the most sympathetic characters in the book. And, of course, we have airship pilot Emma Farnsworth ... who starts to smell a rat about what's *really* happening in a house called (you guessed it) the Rising Sun.

This is a great adventure in jazz-age New Orleans that will make you think and keep you turning pages.

Graveyard Dust - Barbara Hambly

I'm working my way through the entire Benjamin January series; this is the third one.

In this book, January's sister, Olympe, stands accused of murder. A free woman of color's husband has disappeared, and the whispers are that Olympe was paid to poison him. Because she's a voodooienne, the populace is willing to believe it despite any evidence to the contrary.

January and his unlikely compatriot, American police lieutenant Abishag Shaw, decide that they are going to look deeper into the matter. In the meanwhile, Olympe waits in the jail at the Cabildo ... and more people are dying or disappearing. When Marie Laveau makes it clear that she can assist in the investigation, January knows there is more to it than meets the eye.

This series of historical mysteries is quite well-researched, giving the readers a look at Jacksonian-era New Orleans that no other fiction writer I've found has provided. The class distinctions are dealt with frankly, and even the fashion notes are spot-on (like Benjamin January, I think the fashion in ladies' sleeves at the time is horrid).

Highly recommended for intelligent, well-developed mysteries and more than a smattering of historical information.

Haunted Destiny (Krewe of Hunters) - Heather Graham

The latest Krewe of Hunters story brings the unit back to New Orleans, where they began. This time, they're tracking a serial killer -- and agents Jackson Crow and Jude McCoy think they're following him onto a cruise ship, the Destiny. They're right -- but not in the way they think.

Enter piano bar entertainer Alexi Cromwell, who can see and talk to the Destiny's many ghosts. Alexi and Jude are immediately attracted to each other, and they both have things to learn that only the other can teach them. However, as the serial killer's modus operandi is explored, it soon becomes apparent that Alexi is a target.

This book was an entertaining summer read, with the right combination of romance and paranormal to make it fun. I enjoy this series quite a lot and highly recommend the tales. They can stand alone as individual stories, but getting to know the characters over the course of the series is fun, too.

The Betrayed - Heather Graham
As much as I usually enjoy this series, this one is just not a favorite. It was well-written, so I gave it four stars instead of three -- but I just didn't love it.

This time, the Krewe goes to Sleepy Hollow, in upstate New York. Maureen "Mo" Deauville and her dog Rollo are search-and-rescue volunteers -- and Mo can see the dead. She has two ghosts living in her house, for example.

Because it's Sleepy Hollow, and around Halloween time, there are Headless Horseman displays all over town -- and suddenly heads start showing up on them. Enter the Krewe -- and new Agent Aidan Mahoney, who grew up in the area.

Of course, there's a set-up for romance between Mo and Aidan ... but I really didn't feel the chemistry between them. Add to that that I figured out the "whodunnit" halfway through the book, and I just can't help feeling "well, now *that's* done" now that I've finished the book.

I'm not giving up on the series, but I am not crazy about this particular entry.
Mad Madame Lalaurie: New Orleans's Most Famous Murderess Revealed (True Crime) - Lorelei  Shannon, Victoria Cosner Love

This slim volume (144 pages) claims to reveal the complete truth about Delphine McCarty Lalaurie, one of the most infamous women in New Orleans' colorful history. Never mind that this seems unlikely in such a slim volume ... the fact is that the authors reach a number of conclusions that may or may not be accurate, and never bother to tell us how they got there.

Delphine Lalaurie was notorious in New Orleans for how badly her slaves were treated -- such that when seven of them are rescued from the Lalaurie house during a fire, their condition is so poor that even slave-holders are appalled.

Anyway, the information in this book is somewhat scanty, although there are translations of extant correspondence the authors saw in the Williams Research Center in New Orleans. The problem, as I see it, is that the authors set out with a conclusion in mind and only looked at evidence to support it. They cite works of fiction among their references, which is a little shocking ... and numerous secondary sources to boot. Much of what they write is contradicted by Madame Lalaurie, Mistress of the Haunted House -- a book that is *not* included in their bibliography, and which contains far more primary source research than the authors employed (e.g., photographic reproductions of documents like slave inventories, etc., that demonstrate that many of the Lalaurie slaves simply disappeared from the record).

No one will ever really know what happened to the majority of the disappearing slaves, but we do know that seven of them were in horrid condition, and that at least one of them (Benjamin) survived starvation and was subsequently sold again. Delphine Lalaurie lived in exile in Paris (she essentially escaped New Orleans ahead of a mob), and her remains are interred in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1.

The authors of this slim volume have not really done much but add their own twist to a legend and not shown how they got there at all. The writing was entertaining, and the photographs and illustrations they chose were well-curated But "complete truth" or "revelation"? Not so much.

Frenchmen, Desire, Good Children: . . . and Other Streets of New Orleans! - John Churchill Chase

This book was recommended by a friend, as it would be useful in my research for a novel I'm writing. She was correct.

John Churchill Chase started out studying the history of New Orleans street names in order to use the information in speeches at his local Toastmasters Club in the 1940s. He subsequently became known as such an expert that he was offered a book contract, resulting in the 1949 first edition of this book. The current edition was published in 1959, with an additional chapter updating the book with corrections and new information. That is the book currently in print.

Chase's illustrations at the beginning of each chapter give a humorous look at some of the historic figures he talks about, and how their names came to be applied to various streets in New Orleans. There have been some additional street name changes since 1959 ... for obvious reasons, they are not included here. Still, it's an entertaining look at Louisiana's history through the streets of the Crescent City ... and helpful if you need to know (for instance) that Governor Nicholls Street used to be Hospital Street for obvious reasons, and part of Burgundy Street used to be Craps Street because of Bernard Marigny's fascination with the dice game.

A Free Man of Color - Barbara Hambly
I discovered this series by accident, picking up somewhere in the middle of it. Luckily, the books are able to stand on their own without starting at the beginning!

Anyway, this book introduces Benjamin Janvier, a free man of color in Jacksonian New Orleans. He is a musician by trade, although he studied in Paris to be a surgeon. He is the pianist at a quadroon ball where one of the demimonde's most sought after plaçees (a free woman of color who is a white man's mistress) is murdered ... and because he is so quickly on the scene to examine the body, suspicion falls immediately upon him rather than blame a white man. Luckily for Janvier, the white American sheriff, Abishag Shaw, is a little deeper than he initially seems ... and allows Benjamin an opportunity to clear his name.

The book is peopled with real historical figures like Marie Laveau and Delphine Lalaurie, and gives an interesting look at life for both people of color and white Creoles during the time period. Furthermore, there were some surprising twists and turns in the mystery that took me by surprise (hard to do, because I read a lot of "whodunnits"), and did so in a very satisfying way.

I highly recommend this series.
Asking for It: Slut-shaming, Victim-blaming, and How We Can Change America's Rape Culture - Kate Harding

Every once in a while, I come across a book that I think should be mandatory reading for everyone in the USA.

This is one of those books.

Reading it, as I did, in the wake of Brock Turner's absurdly brief sentence in county jail for raping an unconscious woman (the same judge sentenced a Salvadoran man to three years in prison for the identical crime) ... and John Enoch's even more ridiculous sentence of *one day* in jail for raping two women in Indiana, I couldn't help but be both surprised and impressed by the information Harding presents about how deeply ingrained our culture is when it comes to blaming victims instead of rapists.

Harding examines rape culture not only where it applies to actual rape cases, but societal attitudes, police attitudes -- and even the so-called men's rights activist and Gamergate movements and their role in the problem.

The fact is, we live in a society where women are still seen as prizes to be won -- and where we are told to police our own behavior so that men don't have to police theirs. It's an absurd thing, especially given that men are also sexually assaulted -- but it is the truth, and it must be combated.

This book is an excellent start.  Read it.

Heart of Evil - Heather Graham

I am ridiculously fond of the Krewe of Hunters series. The first one I read was The Night Is Forever, which is in the middle of the series, and I was hooked on these paranormal mysteries. I'm now going back and catching the ones I've missed.

This particular book takes place in New Orleans, and in the bayou country on the fictional Donegal plantation. After a Civil War reenactment, one of the participants disappears. Ashley Donegal, daughter of the plantation owner, knows something is wrong -- but police won't listen ... until the man turns up dead. More deaths, of course, ensue.

The Krewe of Hunters, a special FBI behavioral analysis unit, are brought in because plantation owner Frazier Donegal is friends with their director ... but the ghosts only want to talk to krewe member Jake Mallory. And he's Ashley's ex-boyfriend.

The twists and turns in the tale are many, and the whodunnit took me by surprise (that's a rarity). It was a bonus to see characters in the books walking NOLA streets that I love.

Quite an entertaining read.

Another Ripping Good Yarn by T.E. MacArthur

The Volcano Lady: Vol. 4 - The Lidenbrock Manifesto (Volume 4) - T.E. MacArthur

Disclosure up front: author T.E. MacArthur and I co-chair the author programming at a local convention.

There. Now, that's out of the way.

In this the fourth volume of MacArthur's Volcano Lady series, the star-crossed Tom Turner and titular Professor Lettie Gantry are both after the same man: the one the English newspapers call the Earthshaker. He claims to have created a weapon that creates earthquakes on demand, and plans to sell it to the Prussians. Tom and Lettie are working separately, unknown to the other, to stop the madman.

Throw in an homage to Jules Verne's "Journey to the Center of the Earth" in the person of Professor Otto von Lidenbrock, and you've got the basis for quite an adventure.

Taking place in England and Iceland (where MacArthur has traveled extensively for research purposes), the adventure tale examines political science, geology, geography, and yes -- even the nature of love.

This book is simply delightful.