Holiday Picks from The Queen’s Quill

I am finally finishing The Cross and the Dragon. I do apologize for taking so long. I hope to have a review up by the end of this week.

Since it’s the holiday season, and books are always a good gift (if you are part of the gift-giving crowd), here is a roundup of my favorite Indie review books from 2012. Honestly, the books I am listing were all engaging and engrossing reads–and the narratives and settings were so varied–that I simply cannot chose just one to recommend as an overall best book. This was a great year for Indie reading!

Spirit of Lost Angels-Liza Perrat

Vivaldi’s Muse-Sarah Bruce Kelly

Burning Silk- Destiny Kinal

Sea Witch-Helen Hollick

Oleanna-Julie K. Rose

The Afflicted Girls-Suzy Witten

Happy Holidays and I will see you at the end of the week for the next review.

Interview as Helen Hollick’s “Guest of the Day”

Thanks to Helen for giving me the opportunity to tell my story. It was fun to write this interview, but I was absolutely stumped by the dinner guest question (pressure to perform in front of all the conference attendees) and Helen picked me up and dusted me off, thank goodness! Enjoy!

http://helen-myguests.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/hns-london-2012-conference.html

On another note, I am way behind in the Battle of the Book Review Blogs and voting closes on Monday, September 3…if you’d care to vote, please go to http://www.undergroundbookreviews.com/3/post/2012/08/battle-of-the-book-review-blogs.html.

Thank you to those readers who have voted for The Queen’s Quill; you’ve made my day!

Review schedule for the rest of 2012

The review schedule for the remainder of 2012 has changed a bit, thus:

August: Vivaldi’s Muse by Sarah Bruce Kelly (also further commentary on the August HNS review of Oleanna by Julie K. Rose)

September: Spirit of Lost Angels by Liza Perrat

October: The Concubine’s Gift by K. Ford K.  and Blomqvist by Michael Hickens

November: Saving Gerda by Lilian Darcy, and Unbidden by Jill Hughey

December: The Other Alexander by Andrew Levkoff

I will work in these other books that I have committed to (due to a lack of willpower and being way too intrigued by the content to turn down!) during this year as well; my time is becoming more manageable now, so I will be able to review more than a single book per month.

-the next two novels in the Sea Witch series by Helen Hollick

-Loud, Disorderly, and Boisterous by Adam M. Johnson

-Wanting Rita by Elyse Douglas

-Andy Leelu by B.L. Gautam

Requiem by Bill Kitson

On the list for next year are more intriguing titles:

-Malinalli of the Fifth Sun by Helen Heightsman Gordon

-Absolom Rex by K.L. Coones

*********************************************************************************

I was just looking around the Indie B.R.A.G site to see what was new and I came across these gems that I am adding to my review list for 2013:

Ashford by Melanie Rose: Seventeen year old Anna is a naive American orphan, delighted to find herself on a tour of Europe in the spring of 1939. A feeling of camaraderie with all mankind thrills her as she mingles with throngs of foreigners, but her joy is short-lived. WWII shatters the world.

As fathers and sons, husbands and brothers dive grimly into the trenches, Anna is left stranded in England, disillusioned and afraid. However, this worldwide catastrophe may be the perfect catalyst to mature Anna into the brave young woman she longs to be. Even as the world is shadowed with disaster, Anna finds friends in the kindly Bertram family.

In the midst of all that threatens to tear her world apart, will she find a place to truly belong?

After the Rising by Orna Ross: When Jo Devereux returns to Ireland after an absence of 20 years, the last thing she expects is to end up writing a family history. Growing up in Mucknamore in the 1970s, with her village riven by the divides of a previous time, Jo found family pride brought her nothing but heartbreak and loss. Now, unearthing seventy-year old secrets of love and revenge in a time of war, and a killing that has haunted three generations, she begins to understand why.

In revealing astonishing truths about her mother and grandmother, Jo is brought face-to-face with her own past and her intense relationship with Rory O’Donovan, who still lives in Mucknamore.

Add to that list the Montfort series by Katherine Ashe. How can a person be expected to keep up with all the quality novels out there???

A Focused Chat with Author Helen Hollick: Let’s Get the Story Out: Mainstream and Indie Publishing

Helen Hollick’s story and publishing history have strongly influenced my thinking about Indie books. It is one of the reasons why I believe so fervently that HIGH-QUALITY (because yes, sadly, many Indie books are still not high quality) Indie novels can be the equal of any mainstream book out there.

I want to share her story with readers who self- or subsidy-publish because, through her journey, she gives us important insights on the publishing world in general and how to succeed even without the backing of an agent or a mainstream publishing house.

Thank you, Helen, for sharing your story with us. If you are an author who has been previously published by a mainstream house and now self-publishes and would like to share your story with readers, please contact me. I would love to run a series on this topic.

How were you originally picked up by Heinemann (UK) and Sourcebooks (US)? Did you seek out an agent or did a publisher find you? Can you describe the process you went through?

I was very, very, lucky.

I had the good fortune to become friends with the wonderful Sharon Penman. I had written to her (back in the days of real letters on real paper) saying how much I had enjoyed Here be Dragons. I mentioned that I was attempting to write a book, but I doubted it would be anywhere near as good as hers. Some while later I received a reply from her saying “If you can make a four page letter as interesting as yours, I can’t wait to read the book!”

I was then lucky enough to meet with Sharon for a coffee when she was next in London – and it was so delightful to talk to an accomplished writer about history and writing. Generously she offered to read my first two chapters and, bless her, she pointed out all the technical errors, such as over-long sentences, point of view changes, author’s voice.

I took on board all she had said, finished the book and sent it to her agent (with a covering note from Sharon.) The agent took me on.

Some short while later, Heinemann approached the agent hoping to tempt Sharon to their lists, but she was contracted for several more books to her own publisher.

“I have her protégé though,” said the agent.

That was it, I was signed.

The result was The Kingmaking, Pendragon’s Banner and Shadow of the KingThe Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy.

I was picked up much later by Sourcebooks (read on….)

On your website, you say that in 2005 you had a disagreement with your agent—can you expand on this? Is what happened to you a common problem between authors and agents these days?

 If you notice above I didn’t mention the agent’s name. Unfortunately, yes, we had a major disagreement – although I had lost faith in her quite a while before 2005. I had not felt that she was “on my side” for quite a while. Several ideas that I had sent her for possible novels had either been ignored, or come back as “not worth bothering with”; nor had there been any marketing for my fifth novel, A Hollow Crown – or any apparent enthusiasm for my published books. I trusted her though, assumed she was doing her best for me.

I was wrong. She had lost interest.

I realised this when I had poured my heart and soul into a new project –  Sea Witch. The agent wanted me to write something different, Pirates, because Johnny Depp and Jack Sparrow were all the rage. Nautical novels abounded, but most were Patrick O’Brian, C.S. Forrester type novels, aimed at a male readership; there was very little – to none at all – fiction of a similar nature to the Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Certainly nothing for us adult Jack Sparrow fans who wanted some swashbuckling adventure, with a bit of fantasy and a very drool-able hero. I looked for books to have a “pirate fix,” couldn’t find any, so wrote my own. Sea Witch just poured out of me. I was in love with Captain Jesamiah Acorne, the moment I met him.

Unfortunately, the agent did not have the same crush on Johnny Depp and was not interested in rogue pirates. She wanted me to write Treasure Island for teenage boys. I wanted to write Frenchman’s Creek with a touch of supernatural for adventure loving grownups. I was told the manuscript I had submitted was rubbish (it came back with red lines scrawled across it, and words such as “This is so-o boring, yawn” written over it.

On the telephone she told me she couldn’t bear to read that nonsense again, so I had better find myself another agent – and by the way, Heinemann were not going to reprint my backlist, wished me luck for the future, and put the phone down on me.

I was utterly shattered. That cliché of “felt like she had been kicked in the stomach” -  I assure you, it really does feel like that.

I spent two weeks sobbing, completely devastated. Then picked myself up and decided I did not need her. What had she done for me the past few years anyway? Absolutely nothing. What did I have to lose to try and start again?

I have since come across several other authors who were similarly “dropped” by agents who, to put it bluntly, could not be bothered with mid-list authors and their backlist and out-of-print books.

If you have a good agent who backs you to the hilt, is there to encourage and assist because he or she knows you are a darn good writer with a lot of untapped potential – then support that literary guardian angel to the best of your ability. A good agent is an absolute treasure! A bad one is about as useful as a chocolate teapot.

 I, along with many other readers, loved Sea Witch, and you have a proven track record of marketable writing, so I’ve got to ask why isn’t the series being mainstream published?

Thank you, several top authors have said they think my Sea Witch Voyages are probably my best work (although other readers prefer the straight historicals – I suppose it all comes down to preference, doesn’t it?) I put my heart into writing Sea Witch – I even wrote on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day, taking a break only on Christmas Day itself. The words literally poured from me, I don’t remember writing half of it, as the story wrote itself.

After being dumped by ex-agent and Heinemann, I touted my backlist and Sea Witch round a few publishers. No one wanted to know. Two reasons: sales figures for my historical fiction were poor, because beyond the first book, Kingmaking, and a little for my 1066 novel Harold the King (US title, I Am the Chosen King), there had been no marketing. No marketing = no sales. And who wants to take on a has-been author?

I received some positive appraisal for Sea Witch, but again and again I received back, “We like this, but it does not fit our publication list – it is not easily marketable.”

I soon realised that I wasn’t being snapped up because I was considered a “failed” author – and because publishers like easy-to-market genres. Square pegs in square holes. Sea Witch is cross-genre, it is historical adventure fantasy – not quite one, not quite the other.

And mainstream publishers do not like taking a punt on the unknown. Nor on dumped authors. That was not going to stop me though.

Sea Witch was going to be launched – I was determined to prove that ex-agent, and all those publishers, wrong.

In the end, you decided to self-publish (SP). Can you talk a bit about what you found in the self-publishing world when you first began your search for an appropriate outlet?

I realised that my only choice was to self-publish. It was a risk, but I figured even if I only sold one book a month it would be selling more than no books at all – and I couldn’t live without sharing my characters with other people, I couldn’t just let them “die,” to not be in print and “live.”

So I found a small independent company – who had an even smaller mainstream imprint. I did pay towards Sea Witch being published – basic set-up costs – but soon after publication I was moved to their miniscule mainstream offer, which meant they covered the cost of production. It was not ideal because the company was very small, they had staffing problems, and as it turned out, financial problems as well, but all my books were in print, including Sea Witch and two more “Voyages,” Pirate Code and Bring It Close.

The company was in trouble, so with new office premises, new, enthusiastic staff who knew what they were doing, it re-launched under a different name, with good intentions and high aspirations. I was happy to back them because having been let down by the “big boys,” I wanted the Indie side to do well. Things were not smooth though, and a lot of their clients, including myself, were eventually seriously let down by the managing director when the company went broke. All the staff, I must add here, were lovely – absolute gems. They were stung as much by the company owner as much as us authors.

Being honest? The quality of my books published by Discovered Authors/Callio Press was less than acceptable. But the few years that I was with them tied me over, kept me in print (and not at my own expense) and perhaps more useful, I had a very sharp learning curve about the dos and don’ts of independent publishing.

The one big thing that assured me that I was doing the right thing (even with a company that was not as good as it should be) was that I was approached by Sourcebooks, Inc of the USA. The M.D. had always loved my Arthurian books and approached me for the American rights. I had full control over my books, so I signed up.

And God Bless my American readers, thank you, I am doing really well with my straight historical fiction!

As with other publishers, though, Sourcebooks is not interested in the cross-genre Sea Witch series.

If I ever figure out why publishers do not want good books I’ll let you know.

Why did you choose your current SP company, SilverWood Books?

I had met with Helen Hart, the director of publishing and owner of SilverWood, at the London Book Fair. I instantly liked her, her vision, and her honesty. When I realised that Callio was about to go belly-up, I contacted her again, asking for more information about going with her company – assisted publishing. I briefly considered literally going self-publish, doing it all myself, but I have very limited technical skills, and being frank, I’d had enough of my books looking unprofessional. I wanted them produced to a quality standard.

It was expensive – nothing worthwhile is cheap, but I’d had a small legacy from my mother’s estate, and decided to use that for my books.

Best thing I ever did!

Have the conditions surrounding the SP market improved or deteriorated since you began your search?

I think improved, as far as hard copy books are concerned. Although there is a long, long way to go, and reaching that position of “respectability” is up to self-published authors.

More recognised mainstream traditional authors are turning to self- and assisted-publishing for their out-of-print backlists. The big publishing houses are often not interested in old backlists, so authors are becoming empowered to “do it yourself.” As I said above, even one book a month is better than none at all.

Also, there are a lot of talented writers out there who, for various reasons, cannot get published in the conventional way – maybe because their plot is, like my Sea Witch Voyages, “outside the box.”

The development of Kindle and e-books has completely opened another market for Indie writers. It is quick, easy, and cheap to upload an e-book.

But sadly, cheap is the word….

You are an advocate of high-quality self-published books that adhere to the standards of mainstream publishers. Can you tell readers why you believe adhering to these standards is crucial?

Cheap, amateur, unprofessional, poor quality. These are the words usually – and sadly, often correctly – associated with self-published/Indie books.

Indie authors only have themselves to blame because too many do not take care in the production of their work, and what is more alarming, too few fail to realise why quality, professional production is important.

As UK editor for reviewing Indie published novels for the Historical Novel Society, I have found some absolute gems – novels that I cannot understand why mainstream did not grab them. But, oh dear, I have also been sent some sad, sorry books to review. Not from the writing point of view – I never even got that far because the layout and presentation was incorrect.

You do not see mainstream, traditionally published books with double spacing between paragraphs, or the text aligned to the left (and therefore with a ragged right margin). Nor do you find novels published by the big publishing houses dotted on every page with obvious errors – or with one word (called “orphans”) or one line (called “widows”) stuck all on their own on a page.

What amazes me are the number of authors who complain about a rejection on these grounds – look at it this way, if you go to buy a new dress, would you be happy, on getting home, to discover that the hem was not sewn up, and the buttons were uneven? If you buy a new tyre for your car, would you accept it with a bald patch, or a slow puncture? No, you would not.

If you pay good money for something you expect to get your $’s worth.

So why do Indie authors expect readers to buy, and read, a book that is incorrectly and somewhat shoddily produced?

To be fair, not all authors realise these errors, some who I have contacted and explained the incorrect layout, etc, to have responded with grateful thanks, gone away, reprinted, and ended with a fabulous book, well worthy of boasting to be every bit as good as a mainstream novel.

Isn’t that what authors want?  For their pride and joy to be as good as – if not better than, other books?

E-books are often badly set, because authors have discovered that they can upload to Amazon themselves for a cheap outlay. But without learning how the technical side of publishing a book should be done, all that is happening is that e-books are now getting the reputation of being cheap, shoddy, and poorly produced.

I can see the time rapidly approaching when serious Indie authors who care enough to produce their books properly (see below) will be the ones paying to have their books printed as “book” books, while those who are not so bothered about ragged right margins, who do not see the importance of a professional editor and cover designer, and are quite happy with comic sans as a font, will be content with Kindle.

Fair enough, at least then we will all know where we stand.

If you could give aspiring SP authors advice on how to be successful in self-publishing, what are three crucial points you would want them to know?

 1. Use a professional editor – full edit, copy edit, and proof read. Yes, I know it’s expensive, but if it is worth doing, it is worth doing it properly.

2. Either get professional assistance or learn how to publish your book professionally. Sorry, but double spacing, comic sans font, and left justified text is not a professional appearance. If it is worth doing, it is worth doing it properly.

3. Get a professional cover designer. Your cover is not just an image plonked on the front to make the book look pretty – it is the shop window to what is inside. You can, and we do, judge a book by its cover.

If it is worth doing, it is worth doing it properly.

****************************************************************************************************

Helen Hollick also has a number of blogs that readers can enjoy: http://www.helenhollick.net/ (where you can find links to other sub-blogs) and http://ofhistoryandkings.blogspot.com. To view the a list of her books, including her latest guide for self-publishing, Discovering the Diamond, please see the home page of helenhollick.net.

*The title of this interview is a play on one of her blog titles.

Our Summer Reading Journey Begins…

I am grateful and thrilled to have been offered so many intriguing books to review, and I regret that I cannot set aside the time to review them all this summer! If I haven’t responded back to your query yet, I will; please be patient.

This summer we will journey from WW2 Argentina to post-WW2 Europe; from the world of classical music in 18th-century Venice to a family tale set in early  20th-century Norway; from late 18-century France and the heart of the Revolution to  the exciting and treacherous  world of pirates, and from a rebellious king’s daughter’s adventure in chaotic medieval Europe back to the present with a contemporary love story set in small-town Pennsylvania.

*Please be aware that if I feel I cannot do the book justice after 50 pages, I will be sure to let the author know of my decision and update the schedule. All plot descriptions are borrowed from amazon.com.

June’s book is the second in Sam Baty’s  adventure-thriller series, Darkness into Light:

Even though the ferocious battles of World War II have concluded, the world is unfortunately not a safer place. The iron curtain has dropped in front of Eastern Europe, Josef Stalin is focused on world domination, and United States Army nurse Jennifer Haraldsson is on a mission to find her former patient and foe, German POW Otto Bruner. Once attracted to Otto until wartime secrets divided them, Jennifer must know the truth. Does she love him or not? After Otto is transferred to a detention camp in West Germany, he remains devastated by the loss of Jennifer and witnessing the post-war destruction of his beloved Germany only makes it worse. Desperate to win Jennifer back, Otto summons his friend Ernst Peiper to help, but they soon discover they are being targeted by a group of Nazi extremists and must be transferred to another camp. But Otto is ready to risk everything for love and escapes off the transporter truck into the dark of the night. In a last-ditch effort to rendezvous, Otto and Jennifer throw caution to the wind and cross into the other’s territory, never realizing that their unsettled world is much more complicated than they ever imagined.

July: Eucalyptus and Green Parrots by Lori Eaton:

Virginia Reed has followed her husband, Clem, to Argentina, trading in her mother’s Texas poultry factory for an apartment in Buenos Aires and a cocktail-bright social life among American expatriates. But it is 1943. The Nazis have overrun Europe, Japan dominates the Pacific, and Allied and Axis agents are fighting a secret war for control of Argentina. When Clem’s clandestine activities put her family at risk, Virginia is shaken from her comfortable life and forced to take control of her family’s destiny. As Virginia navigates the political undercurrents of a country struggling to remain neutral in a war that is consuming the world, she finds friends in unlikely places and enemies frighteningly close to home. In the face of conflicting loyalties and desires, Virginia uncovers a hidden strength and a dormant thirst for independence.

August: Vivald’s Muse by Sarah Bruce Kelly:

Vivaldi’s Muse explores the life of Annina Girò, Antonio Vivaldi’s longtime protégée. Annina first falls under the spell of the fiery and intriguing prete rosso (red-haired priest) at a young age, when Vivaldi is resident composer at the court of Mantua, her hometown. Stifled by the problems of her dysfunctional family, she has long dreamed of pursuing operatic stardom, and her attraction to the enchanting Venetian maestro soon becomes inseparable from that dream.

One review for August issue of HNS Indie Reviews: Julie K. Rose’s Oleanna:

Set during the separation of Norway from Sweden in 1905, this richly detailed novel of love and loss was inspired by the life of the author’s great-great-aunts. Oleanna and her sister Elisabeth are the last of their family working their farm deep in the western fjordland. A new century has begun, and the world outside is changing, but in the Sunnfjord, their world is as small and secluded as the verdant banks of a high mountain lake. The arrival of Anders, a cotter living just across the farm’s border, unsettles Oleanna’s peaceful but isolated existence. Sharing a common bond of loneliness and grief, Anders stirs within her the wildness and wanderlust she has worked so hard to tame. When she is confronted with another crippling loss, Oleanna must decide once and for all how to face her past, claim her future, and find her place in a wide new world.

September:  Spirit of Lost Angels by Liza Perrat:

Her mother executed for witchcraft, her father dead at the hand of a noble, Victoire Charpentier vows to rise above her poor peasant roots. Forced to leave her village of Lucie-sur-Vionne for domestic work in Paris, Victoire suffers gruesome abuse under the ancien régime. Can she muster the bravery and skill to join the revolutionary force gripping France, and overthrow the corrupt, diabolical aristocracy?

Spirit of Lost Angels traces the journey of a bone angel talisman passed down through generations. The women of L’Auberge des Anges face tragedy and betrayal in a world where their gift can be their curse.

Amidst the tumult of revolutionary France, this is a story of courage, hope and love.

In between these intriguing books, I am chomping at the bit to dive into the next two books in Helen Hollick‘s fantastic Sea Witch Series: the second voyage of Captain Jesamiah Acorne, Pirate Code; and the third, Bring it Close: “meticulously researched, full-blooded adventures full of heart-stopping action, evil villains, treasure, and romance.” I would also like to do an interview about her publishing experiences of going from mainstream to Indie.

I am also trying to squeeze in two e-books, the first, Wanting Rita by *Elyse Douglas (which looks to be an intriguing contemporary novel–I think–not my normal type of reading selection):

When his high school sweetheart experiences a devastating tragedy, Dr. Alan Lincoln reluctantly returns to his Pennsylvania hometown to see her. It’s been 15 years. Rita was a small town beauty queen—his first love whom he has never forgotten. He was a nerd from a wealthy family. Her family was poor. They formed a strong connection during their senior year, but Rita married someone else, and the marriage ended tragically.

Alan’s marriage of three years is disintegrating, and he sees in Rita the chance to begin again with the true love of his life. Rita has been mentally and emotionally shattered, but she reaches out to Alan and fights to build a new life with him. During a passionate summer, however, the past and present converge and threaten their rekindled love, as Alan and Rita must struggle with old ghosts and new secrets.

*Elyse Douglas is the pen name for the husband and wife writing team of Elyse Parmentier and Douglas Pennington

And the second,  Loud, Disorderly, and Boisterous by Adam M. Johnson:

Imagine for a moment that you are a dangerously clever, thoroughly over-educated sixteen year old, who feels wholly disconnected from her current station in life and hates her father. Imagine also that you have the further misfortune to find yourself alive during the 13th Century, that your father is the philistine king of a small Central European country, and that he does not approve of the fact that you can quote Aristotle more expertly than you can curtsy. Finally, to top everything off, imagine that you have just learned that you are to be married off to a German nobleman who believes that you will make an excellent pawn in an ongoing struggle to become Holy Roman Emperor…

What do you do?

If your name is Aletheia––first and only daughter of his Royal Highness Edward IX, and most indubitably born in the wrong century––you proceed to flee. If your name is Aletheia, you also find yourself embarking on a bizarre and comic odyssey across perilously chaotic medieval Europe. During her journey our heroine will encounter cross dressing Romanians, bamboozle criminally incompetent highwaymen, crush spherically odious tutors (using only the power of pure logic), and, in at least one desperate instance, impersonate the Virgin Mary, all in the hopes of reaching a final destination that is about to be sacked by an army of waylaid Crusaders…

**************************************************************************************************

So many wonderful authors have sent me requests for intriguing Indie titles that I wish I didn’t have a full-time job so I could accept everything! I am rather booked up for the summer at this point, but if you can wait a little longer for a review (until the fall), I’m happy to accept queries.

Thank you so much to everyone who has been visiting and requesting reviews!

Review: Sea Witch by Helen Hollick

I have to admit, I am not generally a fan of nautical adventures. I have never particularly desired to read, for example, Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander or Julian Stockwin’s Kydd adventures series (but did, come to think of it, enjoy Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped, hmm…), so I was a rather skeptical of my ability to become engrossed in Sea Witch. However, knowing the author is a writer of enjoyable historical fiction, I was open to giving this a try.

In all honesty, I have to say this is the best Indie book I’ve read to date. In fact, this is one of the best novels I have read in a very long time.

Sea Witch is set in the golden age of piracy, 1716, in the “pirate round” from Africa to the Caribbean. This is the story of Jesamiah Acorne, who is forced to leave his home by an abusive half-brother and fend for himself at age 15. He becomes a pirate, one of the few options open to men in this circumstance, and this is the story of his first adventure: a tale of revenge, love, and struggle, all entwined with his passion for the sea. There are four books so far in this series, I believe, and you can find all of Helen Hollick’s books on her website: Helen Hollick’s website

Everything that an avid reader and reviewer looks for in a novel is here: strong character development, multidimensional portrayal (one of the biggest strengths of the book), a superbly plotted story with excellent tempo and a tight narrative, gripping and fluid language, vivid description, and tension and release at just the right moments.

This is a pirate adventure with wide appeal; there is something for everyone. I have been skittish about nautical adventures because to me, the subject seems geared toward masculine tastes (and having not read many, I could be completely wrong about that!). Here, we have a pirate who is internally tormented and struggling with a sense of vulnerability; a character who may appeal to a more emotional sensibility.  On the other hand, our hero is not “soft”; he is a hardened pirate through-and-through, who takes pride in his work and is very good at it. He is a complex man, fighting his past, making the most of his present circumstances, and trying to avoid terrible possibilities that lurk in the future. He gets into scrapes and makes quite human mistakes: a multidimensional rogue of sorts.

A deeply moving, but not overly sentimental, love story is also well done in Sea Witch.  Tiola Oldstagh herself has been injured deeply and is the one woman who could possibly break down Jesamiah’s tough barrier. The two must exercise extraordinary patience and faith during times of great despair, and we don’t know until the conclusion if they will make it—the punches keep on coming at the end, one after the other after the other, and I couldn’t sleep until I turned the final page.

The details of the ship’s workings, the descriptions of the crew’s behavior and pirate culture throughout the book are impressive. The author has a tight grasp on nautical details (the parts of a ship, sailors’ language, the lifestyle—as far as a novice such as I can tell) and a way of writing about them that makes this book an entertaining education on top of all else.

My favorite aspect of the story, and one of the reasons, I’ve heard, that this book was rejected by mainstream publishers, is the mystical, supernatural element. The subtle, overarching theme is the epic battle for Jesamiah’s body and soul between the living, immortal “soul of the sea, spirit of the waves” Tethys and Tiola, the young healer, Jesamiah’s soul mate, who turns out to be a “White Witch,” who uses her power of “The Craft” only for good. This epic battle is a powerful element of the story. It adds a depth and a spiritual texture that is beautiful and convincing, even carrying over to the terrifying aspects of Tethys herself. There is much veneration of nature, of beauty, and of the unknowable in this theme. Let yourself float off into this element of the story, without judgment or skepticism, and your enjoyment of the book will only increase.

I appreciated the short length of the chapters—I find that short, effective chapters don’t challenge my concentration and do allow me time to digest what I’ve read. The language flows beautifully, with at least one literary reference that brought a smile to my face:

(In his first meeting with a man who would eventually come to play an important role in his future, Jesamiah is listening to Captain Woodes Rogers blathering on…)

My good friend DeFoe, back in England, so his prattling letters mention, cannot wait to meet Selkirk here. He intends to write his experiences down as an adventure story. Says he’ll call it Robinson Crusoe to protect the innocent involved in the tale. Absurd, eh? Haha!  (p. 45)

How interesting to read the opinion of a rather self-indulgent traveler of the sea about a future classic of literature when it was just a thought in the author’s mind! This is the kind of intelligent detail you will find in this novel.

The author has included a map, an illustration of a square-rigged ship with parts identified, as well as a glossary of seafaring terms at the back of the book, so readers can follow along with the  “sailor-speak” (which, gratefully, does not interfere with the reading flow).

My criticisms are miniscule compared with the overall quality of this book: more than a few typos and missing words; perhaps the dependent clause-technique was overused a bit too much for the comfort of my editorially trained ear; and a cover that is a little dark for my personal taste, but does describe the atmosphere of the book. Overall, the publication is professionally laid out and pleasing to look at.

Shame on mainstream publishers for rejecting a book of this quality. Historical fiction with an infusion of fantasy is not an uncommon or unpleasant combination in a novel! I think Sea Witch would sell quite well if it were to be aggressively marketed. This is the work of a professional, experienced author, not a novice.

I absolutely loved Sea Witch and highly recommend it whether you are a fan of pirating/seafaring adventures or not—and I will be reading the next book in the series as soon as I can get my hands on it!

Sea Witch, by Helen Hollick. Published by Silverwood Books, 2011. ISBN: 9781906236601. Price US paperback $18.50, Kindle edition $3.99; UK paperback £10.99, UK Kindle edition £3.20.

DISCLAIMER: The author and I work on the HNS Indie Reviews team together, however, this review is an unbiased opinion piece of my own, with no influence from the author. She sent me a published copy of this novel for an independent review.

The Summer Line Up

I will soon be completing Helen Hollick’s Sea Witch, and will post a review as soon as I am able. The line up for the next few months is as follows:

May review:The Duke Don’t Dance by Richard Sharp  (All summaries from Amazon.com):

Compressed between the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boom were those who became known to some by the ill-chosen name of the Silent Generation. They were those born too late to share in the triumph of the great victory, too early to know only the privilege of the American empire and in too few numbers to assure themselves a proper identity and proper legacy. Despite those attributes, they invented rock and roll, filled the streets in the struggle for racial equality, bled in the heated precipitates of the cold war and opened the doors to the sexual revolution and feminism, her serious-minded sister. Their triumph lay not in their completion of these transitions, but in their survival through them. The Duke Don’t Dance follows the adult lives of men and women who made that journey.

This book may not fall under the category of historical fiction exactly, but it comes close.

June review: The second in Sam Baty’s thriller series, Darkness into Light:

Even though the ferocious battles of World War II have concluded, the world is unfortunately not a safer place. The iron curtain has dropped in front of Eastern Europe, Josef Stalin is focused on world domination, and United States Army nurse Jennifer Haraldsson is on a mission to find her former patient and foe, German POW Otto Bruner. Once attracted to Otto until wartime secrets divided them, Jennifer must know the truth. Does she love him or not? After Otto is transferred to a detention camp in West Germany, he remains devastated by the loss of Jennifer and witnessing the post-war destruction of his beloved Germany only makes it worse. Desperate to win Jennifer back, Otto summons his friend Ernst Peiper to help, but they soon discover they are being targeted by a group of Nazi extremists and must be transferred to another camp. But Otto is ready to risk everything for love and escapes off the transporter truck into the dark of the night. In a last-ditch effort to rendezvous, Otto and Jennifer throw caution to the wind and cross into the other’s territory, never realizing that their unsettled world is much more complicated than they ever imagined.

July review: Eucalyptus and Green Parrots by Lori Eaton:

Virginia Reed has followed her husband, Clem, to Argentina, trading in her mother’s Texas poultry factory for an apartment in Buenos Aires and a cocktail-bright social life among American expatriates. But it is 1943. The Nazis have overrun Europe, Japan dominates the Pacific, and Allied and Axis agents are fighting a secret war for control of Argentina. When Clem’s clandestine activities put her family at risk, Virginia is shaken from her comfortable life and forced to take control of her family’s destiny. As Virginia navigates the political undercurrents of a country struggling to remain neutral in a war that is consuming the world, she finds friends in unlikely places and enemies frighteningly close to home. In the face of conflicting loyalties and desires, Virginia uncovers a hidden strength and a dormant thirst for independence.

I’d like to review Sarah Bruce Kelly’s Vivaldi’s Muse at some point, as it looks like a splendid read, as well as Before the Fall by Orna Ross and The Silk Weaver’s Daughter by Elizabeth Kales. For the August edition of the HNS Indie Reviews, I will be reviewing Oleanna by Julie K. Rose (and will also post comments about the book here). What a wonderful summer of reading ahead!!

 

Burning Silk really will be reviewed, I promise…

I realize I am now officially late with a review for Burning Silk. I, being the overcommitted book lover that I am, committed to write a review of Susanna Kearsley’s Mariana for the next issue of the Historical Novels Review. There are times when I tire of sifting for a diamond and am drawn to the pile of shiny jewels already stacked on the shelves…

Image

I am looking forward to the fall (yes, it’s quite a while away) when I will board a plane for London and have nothing to do except READ! And not the Kindle…. I plan to bring at least two books with me, and I know I will return home with a suitcase full of fantastic historical fiction. For anyone planning to attend the 2012 HNS Conference in London, I will see you there! Helen Hollick and her UK team will have a table and will be prepared to discuss self-publishing to anyone interested. Here is her piece on the conference website: http://www.hns-conference.org.uk/self-publish-think-quality-not-quantity/

Mandatory reading for those considering self-publishing

Helen Hollick alerted me to these fantastic pieces that, in my opinion,  should be required reading for any author who considers self-publishing (or subsidy-publishing).

The first is a blog piece in which a self-published author comes around to accepting that (1) publishing your own book is a lengthy process that entails professional help (in the form of a good editor); (2) it can’t be done quickly or thoughtlessly; and (3) attention to detail–grammar, punctuation, and design, for example–is the quality that differentiates a good SP book from an excellent one, one that looks as if it came from a mainstream publishing house.  http://catherineryanhoward.com/2012/02/27/could-your-self-published-book-pass-this-test/#comment-8202

The second is the blog where Catherine Howard’s self-published book was reviewed. The reviewer has stringent criteria, and I completely agree with her. If an author won’t put the time and effort into producing a professional, error-free publication, why should a reviewer put the time and effort into reviewing it? “Jane Smith” is a brutally honest reviewer, which I admire, for she doesn’t sugarcoat any shortcomings. These are her criteria:

I’m an editor, and I expect published books to be well-written and polished. I’m going to count all the spelling, punctuation and grammar errors I find and when I reach fifteen I’m going to stop reading. Clunky writing will count against you. I’ll read no more than five pages of boring prose before I give up. And I’ll tell the world how many pages I read for every book I review here.

http://theselfpublishingreview.wordpress.com/

Now that I’ve been alerted to these valuable resources, I am considering changing my reviewing criteria as well.

Upcoming reviews

I wanted to get Footsteps to Forever completed first, as I had promised the author a review. I am now back on schedule. The next review will be Burning Silk by Destiny Kinal, which I will hopefully be able to present by the end of February. And March’s review will be Helen Hollick’s Sea Witch. Looks like some exciting reading ahead!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 390 other followers