Book Review: Steeplejack

Amazon Cover

Steeplejack by A.J. Hartley


Thoughtfully imaginative and action-packed, Steeplejack is New York Times bestselling A. J. Hartley’s YA debut set in a 19th-century South African fantasy world

Seventeen-year-old Anglet Sutonga lives and works as a steeplejack in Bar-Selehm, a sprawling city known for its great towers, spires, and smokestacks – and even greater social disparities across race and class.

Ang’s world is turned upside-down when her new apprentice Berrit is murdered the same night that the city’s landmark jewel is stolen. Her search for answers behind his death exposes unrest in the streets and powerful enemies. But she also finds help from unexpected friends: a kindhearted savannah herder, a politician’s haughty sister, and a savvy newspaper girl. As troubles mount in Bar-Selehm, Ang must discover the truth behind both murder and theft soon – or else watch the city descend into chaos.



The opening is a mesmerizing account of climbing a chimney to repair it, perfectly explaining the main character, the city, and the culture in a single moment. The moment when our main character realizes the Beacon is missing.

The story then unfolds in this alternate universe without magic or weird-science, from the era of steampunk without being steampunk. Part murder mystery, part political thriller. Our seventeen-year-old protagonist, whose skin color bars her entry to everything with power and money, discovers herself in the middle of power and money.

All she wants is justice for a boy no one cared about. A hidden murder of a throw-away child in a throw-away occupation; steeplejacks fall all the time. To solve his murder, Ang will have to climb high in the city’s political soot and ash, and risk falling even further. If she falls, she will be just another steeplejack crumpled by the city’s harsh cobblestones. 

But if she doesn’t fall, she just might ignite a war.

Flash: A Single Rose

Image courtesy of Pixomar at

“Score!” Rashawn pumped his fists in the air upon seeing the Valentine’s Day candy had been marked down by half. One rose bud and several rose petals fell onto the cement floor. Horror quickly followed the initial triumph as all three guys stared at the strewn red.

“Um, I better take them.”

Rashawn quickly handed over the surviving flowers to Bobby. “Yeah, … thanks.”

The red hearts covered in silk, cellophane, and cardboard presented limited options, but enough to bring the boys to a standstill. “Maybe…” “Nah, doesn’t she like…?” “Stupid diet vegan …”

Bobby plucked the smallest heart available, offering only four pieces but each containing dark chocolate, coconut, or both. “I think with the bear, I can do this and a single rose.” He looked over the sorry bouquet one more time. “That will leave five good roses.”

He smiled widely at Doug, his eyes sparkling. “One for each year you have been dating Stephanie.”

“And if I pick up something from the Jewelry aisle…” The wide reciever’s eyes went unfocused.

“Something real small like earrings, but will match another piece for her birthday next month after your next paycheck. You can put it aside on layaway.” Bobby dropped his head further down. “Aquamarine, I think that is the birthstone. Get her something with an elephant or aquamarine gem of some sort. Oh, and write a poem down. By hand, not that card crap.”

Doug’s green eyes grew round. “Eiffel, you are going in my speed dial when I’m at college.”

“Frigging absolutely amazing.” Rashawn lifted the largest heart off the shelf. “How did you not get a girlfriend before now, bud?”

Bobby shrugged his response before putting a hand on Rashawn’s choice. “These are dark chocolates, Ami likes milk chocolates.” He kicked a foot at the lowest shelf. “This one, idiot.”

“Jerk, I knew that.” Dropping his initial choice, Rashawn reached for the slightly smaller and cheaper option. “I knew that.”

“You did not” Douglas ragged him.

“Shut up.” Rashawn frowned angerly at them, before breaking out laughing. “Yeah, you’re right Second String. Not a clue.”

Heading to the jewelry counter for the last purchase, Rashawn turned around and walked backward to talk to Bobby. “So how come you know my girl wants better than me boyo?”

Bobby rolled his eyes behind the bangs half-hiding his face. “Turn right.” Rashawn quickly glanced over his shoulder before turning right to follow Douglas.

“Well?” Rashawn raised an eyebrow.

“Dude, crew party.” Ami was a fixture in high school drama and musicals, often dragging Rashawn in as an extra. Bobby worked sets, mostly the construction and painting which could be done after sport practices; anything to delay going home a little longer. Closing night parties involved cake, chips, hot dogs, candy of all sorts and some drinks, none officially alcoholic.

Rashawn pictured Ami carefully peeling a Kiss before popping it in her mouth, staring at him with intent and invitation. He stumbled a bit. “I’m an idiot.”

“I said that. And stop.”

Rashawn stopped, then turned around to watch Douglas venture into the glass and metal area, the tired lady behind the counter perking up when he made a beeline to the pricier section with the good pieces. “Better him than me.”

“Amen.” Bobby affirmed.

Series – Lonely Teddy Bear

  1. Lonely Teddy Bear (2/16/2020)
  2. A Single Rose (3/1/2020)

(words 545; first published 3/1/2020)

Flash: Lonely Teddy Bear

Image courtesy of AEyZRiO at

“One teddy bear and a sad bunch of roses.”

The three friends looked at each other, Bobby holding the drooping roses as Douglas took the stuffed toy off the otherwise barren shelf. Only glitter and lost ribbons from other toys remained.

“It’s our own fault waiting until Valentine’s Day to go shopping.” Rashawn shook his head. Not that they really had a choice between writing the English papers due Monday and studying for the big Science test Tuesday which they couldn’t fail or they would be kicked off the team. The snowstorm rolling in Tuesday night and buried everything Wednesday under eight inches of wet icy slush, including their rides, put the final nail in the coffin.

Douglas spoke again. “We got three girlfriends and two gifts.”

“One gift.” Bobby pointed out, his shoulders drooping further than normal. He towered over the other two by more than six inches and was uncomfortable with how people constantly stepped back since his growth spurt two years ago. “These roses ain’t worth anything without something else. And I’m not talking just chocolates.”

“I don’t got money for no chocolates. Not enough to make Ami happy.” Spreading his hands wide, Rashawn took a step back. “You guys can duke it out.”

“Nah, I got it.” Douglas’ dad and mom owned their own company, and Doug worked weekends for them. “But fifty bucks isn’t going to go far.”

“Not with Ami and Stephanie in the picture.” Bobby muttered. “I got twenty which will cover the roses.”

“Okay, huddle.” Douglas grabbed Rashawn with his offhand, pulling him back into the conversation. “Which of the girls are we going to keep? Because this is make it or break it time.”

“Stephanie has been dating you forever Doug. She won’t drop you over a lousy V-Day.” Rashawn considered. “Probably.”

“Right.” Doug rolled his eyes like he already could hear her tirade.

“Maybe you could scrap her off this time.” Bobby shifted his feet. “If you want to.”

Switching the bear to his left hand, Douglas pressed his right to his chest and rubbed it a bit. “Scrapping off the Barnacle. Hmmm. But we are already on for the Senior Prom…”

“You’re going to different colleges.” Rashawn pointed out. “It’s not going to last. And it isn’t like you want to get glued to the bitc…girl.”

The bear’s big black eyes had no answers when Douglas looked down.

“Eve is okay, but I guess I can take one for the team.”

“Shut your pie hole Bobby, she is the only one with a car.”

Bobby reared back at Douglas’ quick reaction. He had only started dating Eve over Christmas break, after the other two arranged to go out for pizza with him and ditched him with her.

“She stays.” Douglas decided.

Rashawn nodded. “Yeah. Who needs a girl who will put out anyway?”

“Ms. Palm is much less hassle than DramaQueen.” Doug agreed. “And cheaper than the Barnacle.”

“But…but you guys have been dating Steph and Ami forever.”

“And you’ve been mooning over Eve since middle school.” Douglas pointed out. “And she, you.”

Bobby blinked. “Wait, what?”

“Yep, totally Romeo-Juliet window scene.” Rashawn smirked, his head bobbing agreement. “So sweet, it’s frigging sick.”

“If any of us has a keeper, it’s you, Eiffel.”

“But, wait…”

“Chocolates?” Douglas asked.

Rashawn took the roses from Bobby’s limp hands. “Chocolates!”

The two took off toward the grocery section of the store with their excessively tall friend stumbling behind.

Series – Lonely Teddy Bear

    1. Lonely Teddy Bear (2/16/2020)
    2. A Single Rose (3/1/2020)

(words 576; first published 2/16/2020)

Flash: I Am Prophecy – Part 5

Caught with her hand on the door, nearly fully recovered from time lost at the closet, Vixen shoulders slumped and she turned.

“Up, up.” Her mother directed as she stood and made her way over.

Two minutes play room before a DNA test would be required.

Vixen raised her chin and squared her shoulders, thrusting forward her newly formed chest. Her breasts came out even further than she expected after months of hiding them in binding. She was going to have to be careful not to hit things with them, like she did with her suddenly too long arms and legs. Being clumsy was frustrating.

“Spin, there is a love.” Her mother’s first wrinkles stood out when she smiled. “My girl is all grown up. Not even the uniform can hide your beauty.”  She tapped the belt on her designer outfit, considering. “I’m going to see if a closet update is possible; the tailoring on that blouse isn’t quite right.”

Her mother always had appreciated appearance over brains even though Tamatha’s ability to memorize every script in a single read proved her brains outweighed even her famous beauty. Father would not have contracted a fool, no matter how beautiful or famous, though he admitted once he was still fairly infatuated with Tamatha despite their contact being dissolved for years.

Vixen returned the smile, forcing her face to react as it would have yesterday. Before she knew, before she understood. An aging starlet getting fewer and fewer parts every year, no matter how skilled an actress she was, would become depressed. Unfortunately her brains and acting ability would let her hide her mental state from the monitors until it was too late. The question was who would die first, the daughter by cleansing or the mother by suicide.

“Air kisses mom?” Inside the carefully constructed bored and indifferent but not quite indifferent exterior a teenager would have – acting was much harder than it looked – Vixen searched the future for paths to help her mother.

The hologram leaned in and kissed the air either side of the half-helm before whispering, “Tell Osantos you are not allowed to watch any more rated entertainment at his place.”

Dashing out the door sadly gratified by another day won with her mother, Vixen realized she hadn’t needed to use her Unnatural abilities at all. Lesson learned: physic abilities are not always needed.

Mental puzzles entertained the actress. Searching out information real-time without being obvious to her daughter had challenged her, not knowing Vixen could see exactly what she had done as soon as Tamatha had finished it. Maybe mom would even change the program for the kitchen. Vixen could not see the action clearly, her mother was less predictable than the wind. But today her parent will live; the poison purchased would stay in its box.

The question was, would Vixen? Would she survive the next hour, let alone the next day?

(words 486; first published 11/10/2019)

Flash: I Am Prophecy – Part 4

“Hey mom … pops.” Vixen hurried past her parental holograms on the way to the breakfast her mother had programmed. She frowned at the biscuit, soft boiled egg and clumps of tricolor berries. The breakfast hadn’t varied in four days. Past, present, future blinked. The countertop grounded her in the now until her timeline realigned.

Oh, momma, is it really that bad?

“Is that anyway to greet your mother?”

Taking the plate and eating utensils to the table from the nutrition dispenser, Vixen baited the woman on the other side of the world before sitting at the one real chair at the table. “You didn’t complain when Gina did it.”

Foxhole’s premiere female fatale of Length stories, one-shot entertainment video narratives between two and three hours often shown in group situations like the old movies of Earth, pulled out a chair and sat, the hologram program overlay transposing whatever milieu she was in to the kitchen in the personal module where Vixen lived. “Really, Environmental Fail? When did you manage to get past the age protections on that? … And Gina was killed in the next scene for not respecting her parents’ instructions.”

“Mom, it is only restricted from the concrete thinkers. I’ve been rated abstract for over five years.” Vixen shoveled food in, trying to make up for lost time.

Father’s hologram lacked interaction since he was still on circuit. He left a placeholder with a half-eaten plate of food in front of him, distracted from eating by the fan twisted open with whatever news or laws he was reviewing. Not far from how he would be if he was really there, though he would be demanding the half-helm be removed. “People need to see you more than you need to be connected,” he would say. Still, he was one to talk since he was never without a fan, snapping it open and close constantly to study esoteric laws from hundreds of worlds and outposts as his brain danced from one problem to another.

“It’s restricted to parental review for the non-citizen. And I know I have made certain all of the fictional parental review programs are locked, even if you father unlocked all the non-fiction.”

“Yeah mom, you need to talk to him about that. I stumbled over the Coord Outpost Full Recreate yesterday studying for today’s test.” Vixen shuttered dramatically while returning the plate for disposal. “Cannibalism, and other ick. Really didn’t need that in my head in vivid smell and space-time color. What the heck rating did that have? You were in it, so I know you got to know.”

“Citizen only, with verified mental stability of three or above.”  Tamatha sighed. “I am not going to win that argument, and neither are you. Not with your father. Now, let me see.”

Caught with her hand on the door, nearly fully recovered from time lost at the closet, Vixen shoulders slumped and she turned.

(words 488; first published 11/3/2019)