Indie Fever Reading Challenge!

Indie Fever

Thanks to Darlene Elizabeth Williams of http://darleneelizabethwilliamsauthor.com/, I found out about the 2013 “Indie Fever” Reading Challenge. Not only will participation force me to read faster than I otherwise might have, but here is another chance to spread the word about quality Indie fiction. I wish I had more time to read, because I would have entered at the “fanatic” level (28 or more Indie books), but as my current situation prevents fanaticism, I have entered at the “lover” level, hoping to rise perhaps to the “expert.” This will be grand fun! You can find a link to other participants’ blogs at http://b00kr3vi3ws.blogspot.in/2013/01/IndieFever.html.

THEREFORE, the next book up for review is Requiem, by crime author Bill Kitson’s HF-writing alter ego, William Gordon. It seems that Mr. Kitson has chosen a publishing route similar to that of Joan Druett, who was interviewed back in July: simultaneously self-publishing and working with a mainstream house (Hale). I would like to continue our series “From Mainstream to Indie” with an interview with Mr. Kitson, if he is amenable, at some point.

This looks to be a rags-to-riches (and perhaps back again) family saga–the first in the Byland Crescent series–following the fortunes of the wealthy entrepreneur, Albert Cowgill, and his family. The drama takes place in Northern Yorkshire in England from 1878 through the First World War. Appropriately, with the next season of Downton Abbey having just begun on Sunday, Requiem looks to be another sweeping family saga for book lovers to indulge in–we shall see. Mr. Kitson has a personal blog at http://billkitsonblog.wordpress.com/

Next Up for Review: The Concubine’s Gift

concubineThe next book up for review is The Concubine’s Gift by K. Ford K. This may not qualify as a strictly traditional historical fiction novel, as most of the action occurs in a contemporary setting,  so I’m moving out of my comfort zone a bit. The premise mixes a number of unusual elements: a famous brothel, a conservative little Nevada town,  an antique makeup case containing an almost magical powder, a sexually inhibited resident who becomes drawn into the world of a famous Chinese concubine…It’s probably difficult so see how the plot falls together, but I’m only 50 pages in so my description is purposely vague. So far, I’m finding the text to be easy and quick to read, and the author has me caught up in the explicit but tasteful plot already…

The novel isn’t very long–a little over two hundred pages–and I should have a review up right after Christmas.

Until then, Happy Holidays!

Review: The Cross and the Dragon by Kim Rendfeld

crossKim Rendfeld’s The Cross and the Dragon is “a tale of love in an era of war and blood feuds” set in eighth-century Europe during the reign of Charlemagne.  I dove right into this book before understanding the background and historical context—as the plot is so absorbing—and the further I read, the more familiar the plot seemed to me . . . at first I thought to myself that the “recognition” was from reading too many medieval romances this year . . . but no, there was much more to it. I have since discovered that The Cross and the Dragon was inspired by the romantic legend of Roland (The Song of Roland, an epic poem based on the Battle of Roncevaux in 778). That is why I was getting vague flashbacks of a similar plot! I read this epic poem as an undergraduate and remember feeling rather untouched by it, and that was a shame. Had I been assigned this historical novel alongside the epic poem, I would have been emotionally affected and inspired to read on… I would have learned the difference between fact and fiction during that era and appreciated the impact of the poem. Historical fiction could be such a boost to classroom learning…

Simply put, I enjoyed this book. The reasons? Engaging narrative. Steady pace. Strong, living characters. Evocative sense of place and time.  A comforting return to the world of chivalry and morality, with defined heroes and villains.  Obvious careful attention to research and detail. A touch of the spiritual.  And a couple of chewy historical tidbits, one of which is the idea of a woman’s “plumpness” symbolizing femininity, attractiveness, and contentment during this time in history—modern readers may find this difficult to comprehend, given our twenty-first century obsession for attaining the near-anorexic body.

From an editorial perspective, the book has been well-edited—I don’t think I found a single typo! But Fireship Press is a small, independent, professional mainstream operation (and one of the small presses I work with in my new position), so one would expect quality editing. I also recall being among the numerous voters on facebook for this piece of cover art, so. . .

My only quibble–and it’s a minor one–is that I would have enjoyed if the relationships between characters had been delved into more deeply, but this is simply a personal preference. Given the historical context, the author’s choice of allowing the plot to take the driver’s seat is entirely appropriate.

If I have one constructive criticism I’d like to share, it is that, at times, the prose read a bit stiffly. The use of a string of simple sentences beginning with an article (a, an, the) in short portions of the narrative could become monotonous and temporarily distance the reader.  More variation in the sentence structure could improve the reading flow. However, this did not lessen my enjoyment of the book. Not at all.

The Cross and the Dragon is an absorbing medieval treat.

The Cross and the Dragon by Kim Rendfeld. Published by Fireship Press, July 2012, as both an e-book and paperback. Visit the author’s website at http://kimrendfeld.wordpress.com/ or http://kimrendfeld.com/

Disclaimer: The author provided me with a print copy of her novel in exchange for a review

Jean Gill’s Song of Dawn

Jean Gill’s Song at Dawn, a Global Ebook Awards winner, is on my review list. Although I haven’t reviewed it yet, I do want to share a promotion for this book, in case anyone would like to read it before I get a chance (which may be quite a while). Feel free to post your opinions here if you do!

The promotion is for a free e-book version of the novel. You can read an extract from chapter 7 to get an idea of the author’s writing style before plunging in or just get the coupon code at http://sooozsaysstuff.blogspot.co.uk/. Redeem your coupon at   https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/98166.

Synopsis from website:

winner jacket1150 in Provence, where love and marriage are as divided as Christian and Muslim. A historical thriller/romance set in Narbonne just after the Second Crusade.

On the run from abuse, Estela wakes in a ditch with only her lute, her amazing voice, and a dagger hidden in her petticoats. Her talent finds a patron in Alienor of Aquitaine and more than a music tutor in the Queen’s finest troubadour and Commander of the Guard, Dragonetz los Pros. Weary of war, Dragonetz uses Jewish money and Moorish expertise to build that most modern of inventions, a papermill, arousing the wrath of the Church. Their enemies gather, ready to light the political and religious powder-keg of medieval Narbonne.

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.

Welcome to The Queen’s Quill, Steve Donoghue!

I am overwhelmed and gratified by the number of review requests The Queen’s Quill has been receiving. I am also conscious that my reviews and posts have been few and far between, and I would like to keep readers satisfied by increasing the quantity of reviews, without sacrificing the quality.  I have pondered the idea of taking on another reviewer, but I wouldn’t embrace just anyone–she or he must approach his or her craft thoughtfully and judiciously, have an interest in Indie books, and take a clear but tactful approach to reviewing. In other words, see eye-to-eye with me.

Well, I needed look no further than my Indie co-editor at the HNS, Steve Donoghue. He writes intelligent, witty,  honest reviews. He will bring a polished professionalism to this blog and will be an excellent critic* for the Indie community. And, crucially, he reads a tremendous amount of text in a very short amount of time–opposite of the sluggish approach I am currently limited to.

Steve is managing editor of Open Letters Monthly, an art and literature review site whose aim is to (from the site itself, slightly altered by me)  “write reviews . . .  that combine an informed, accessible examination of its quarry with gamesome, intelligent, and even funny commentary.”  And I like this even more: “Here you’ll find opinions based on our belief that there’s no room in the world for either pretension or pandering.” That’s the goal of The Queen’s Quill as well. So it’s a match made in heaven.

Steve is particularly interested in novels that are set, in his words in “late Medieval and back,” with a special interest in books set in ancient Rome, ancient Egypt, or Bronze-age England.

Do check out http://www.openlettersmonthly.com/ and Steve’s personal reading blog, http://www.openlettersmonthly.com/stevereads/, to get a taste of his literary style.

*I use critic in the textbook manner, meaning “one who engages often professionally in the analysis, evaluation, or appreciation of works of art or artistic performances.” Merriam-Webster

Changes as the New Year approaches…

There have also been many changes since the last time I posted. The most significant is that I will be stepping down from the position of managing editor of HNS Indie Reviews in mid-November. I have been working hard at this job for the past three years, and I am exhausted. It is a labor-intensive and time-consuming position and I think editors get burned out after a few years. I will still be running this blog and reviewing Indie books-that won’t change. I love what I do here.

I will be taking on a position of reviews editor for a couple of mainstream presses for the HNS, such as Europa Books and Overlook Press. These smaller, independent presses are of interest to me because, much like Indie books, they reside outside of the big playing field-that of Harper Collins, Random House, and Simon and Schuster, for example-and seem to be freer to experiment with their acquisitions. Their selections are (to me at least) a little off the beaten path…which is right up my alley : )

In terms of review books for this blog, going forward, I must accept for review only those novels whose themes are congruent with my interests. I have taken on most types of books because I enjoy helping authors, but one person’s energy and enthusiasm can only go so far. I have a backlog of the following novels, which I will go through as quickly as I can. However, I can only accept one book here and there well into the New Year.

The next book up for review is The Cross and the Dragon by Kim Rendfeld (who kindly sent me a paper copy of this e-book to review)…and then in the following order:

The Concubine’s Gift by K. Ford K: a story of sexual awakening

Requiem by William Gordon (who kindly sent me a paper copy when he read that I will no longer be taking e-books- thank you for that!): Family saga set at the beginning of WW1

The Other Alexander by Andrew Levkoff: Roman history

The Possession of Sarah Winchester by Jim Duggins: nineteenth-century suspense

Blooomqvist by Michael Higgens: VIKINGS!!!

Unbidden by Jill Hughey: Romance set during  Charlemagne’s Empire

Chasing Sylvia Beach by Cynthia Morris: Romantic time-slip novel set in Paris

A Rip in the Veil by Anna Belfrage: Time-slip back to the seventeenth century

Celestine: The House on Rue du Maine by F.J. Wilson: Set in 1789 New Orleans, drama

The Promise by Kate Worth: Victorian romantic mystery (I believe)

and

Village Teacher by Neihtn: Story revolving around the French colonization of Vietnam, and Vietnamese transition to the new age

Review: Spirit of Lost Angels by Liza Perrat

Liza Perrat’s Spirit of Lost Angels is a tale to lose oneself in… a sparkling example of an Indie publication. The cover is gorgeous and attention grabbing. The layout and text are indistinguishable from mainstream-published books. And the content…

Victoire Charpentier guides the reader into her world of Revolutionary France…and  this is no one else’s world—it is uniquely a product of her station in life and forces that shape her future.  Hers is a humble, yet strong and powerful, voice, a feminist voice in a time of revolution and female suppression. It is a story of betrayal and loss; suffering and anguish, yet also good fortune and reunion—a bittersweet, multilayered tale that will touch your heart.

Born of humble peasant roots in Lucie-sur-Vionne, Victoire’s innocence was shattered when her father is carelessly and recklessly killed by an uncaring nobleman…when she is sent into domestic work in another nobleman’s house, she is vilely used and forced to abandon her own beating heart. The tragedies continue to accumulate until she is arrested and forced into the notorious La Salpêtrière asylum for “insane and incurable women” (Invention of Hysteria, Georges Didi-Huberman).

The book vividly depicts the violent and inhumane methods doctors used to “treat” mental illness in women (or simply melancholia, perhaps not even mental illnesses at all) at Salpêtrière. To me, this was perhaps the most fascinating portion of the story- descriptions of the appalling conditions under which the women were kept, the rivalries that developed among cell mates, the rules one had to learn in order to survive this prison. The narrative was stark and believable and, believe it or not, educational. Since I’ve finished the book, I’ve been looking up the history of the Salpêtrière Hospital, intrigued at how low mental health care and the care of women had deteriorated at that time. Introducing an urge to learn more, dear readers, is the mark of excellent historical fiction.

There she meets Jeanne de Valois-Saint-Rémy—author of the infamous Necklace Affair that brought down Queen Marie Antoinette. Victoire is intimately involved in the by-products of this affair, and her fortunes finally begin to look up. In her new life outside the asylum, she becomes actively involved in the politics of the Revolution and is swept up in the hysteria of the Bastille storming of 1789.

Liza Perrat persuasively combines fact and fiction in this engrossing novel. The peasants’ fury, the passion building up to the Bastille storming, and the sense of political explosion are just a few of the vivid illustrations of this in Spirit of Lost Angels. Although immersing oneself in Victoire’s tragedies can at times be unsettling, don’t miss this book. It is an impressive example of well-crafted historical fiction as well as being a professionally published Indie novel. Very impressive indeed. Highly recommended.

Liza Perrat, Spirit of Lost Angels, Triskele Books, 2012, 978-2-9541681-1-1, $15.50 pb/$4.38 Kindle edition

DISCLAIMER: I received a review copy of Spirit of Lost Angels from the author, in exchange for an honest and fair review.

Oleanna Re-Issued

Julie K. Rose, author  of Oleanna, has re-released her book with new formatting inside (it’s easier to read now) and a professional back cover. She graciously sent me a copy of the new book and it looks wonderful- now I can’t tell if it was mainstream or self-published! I’m afraid I don’t yet have a photo of the back cover, but if you haven’t bought a copy yet and enjoy family sagas set in nineteenth-century Northern Europe, I highly recommend Oleanna. The book looks as pleasing as the story inside.

Executive decision

I have made a decision that may limit my choices of review books offered, but it is one I must make. I am no longer accepting e-books.

Yes, I know, e-books are the wave of the future, but I’m an old-fashioned reader who simply enjoys the feel of a paper book in her hands. Since I run this review site on my own time, with my own energy, I should be reading in a format that I find pleasurable. I work on the computer all day during the week, and I would rather not stare at a screen on my off hours.

My apologies to those who would like me to review their e-books.

Sincerely,

Andrea