HNS Conference “Off-the-Beaten-Path Panel”

BEA has now passed- 2013 will be a stellar year for historical fiction; I mailed two full boxes of books home, and my shoulders were killing me from carrying all that around the exhibit hall. The best thing I did, though, was attend the Speed Dating session for Book Groups, where one could hear about the upcoming releases targeted to this market face-to-face with publicists from more than 20 publishing houses. Here is the link to the slide show that accompanied the session; I hope you will find it helpful, too: http://readinggroupguides.com/features/BEA_Speed_Dating_Slides_2013.pdf

Now, on to the swiftly upcoming HNS Conference in Florida. The dates are June 21-23. I will be on a panel on Saturday with the lovely Julie Rose (http://www.juliekrose.com/), Audra Friend (http://unabridged-expression.blogspot.com/), and Heather Domin (http://www.heatherdomin.com/) discussing why readers should consider off-the-beaten path hf, along with giving recommendations of our favorite reads and upcoming titles that might be of interest.

What do we mean by “off-the-beaten-path”?

“There’s nothing wrong with popularity! But with so many books out there and only so much time and space for promotion, the most popular themes naturally get the most attention, while others remain out of the spotlight. In this panel we will explore current themes and trends in historical fiction and take a look at some books that veer off these paths. Our goal is to show readers the wide variety of historical fiction available to them, and to show writers that there is an audience for every story. If you’ve ever asked, ‘Doesn’t anyone write (…)?’ this panel is for you.”

“In this panel, ‘mainstream’ refers to the most well-known settings, eras, characters, and/or styles in current historical fiction.”
 
“What our definition of mainstream is NOT:
 – A method of publishing
 – A list of targeted topics
 – Overdone (aka ‘popular = bad’)”

 

If you are attending the conference and are interested to learn what type of books are out there for those with a wandering imaginations, please join us! I look forward to meeting you.

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Another one of my authors won an IPPY Gold award!

I have recently heard that Richard Sharpe’s e-book version of The Duke Don’t Dance won the Independent Publishers (IPPY) Gold Medal for best adult fiction e-book. Congratulations, Richard! See my review  https://thequeensquillreview.com/2012/05/22/review-the-duke-dont-dance-by-richard-sharp  for the reasons why I highly recommend this novel.  I’m gratified to know that the IPPY committee and I are in agreement about the quality of this book!

time-is-the-oven-smI will be posting a review in the next few weeks of Mr. Sharpe’s Time is the Oven, following the odyssey of a young man in the wake of the Civil War, inspired by Shakespeare’s The Winter Tale. This is to be my ipad train-ride read to BEA : )  I will also be reviewing Godiva (a book about chocolate??? Yippee…oh, not that Godiva…) by Nicole Galland (William Morrow Paperbacks), set in Angelo-Saxon England, for the August issue of the Historical Novels Review, which I shall post here as well.

BEA is coming up fast. If anyone is attending and would like to meet in person, just send me an e-mail. I’d love to meet other readers, writers, and bloggers!

 

Historical fiction at Book Expo this month…

It’s Book Expo America season once again, and I’ll be heading to NYC in less than two weeks. A copious amount of historical fiction will be offered this year and I am looking forward to meeting with publicists of some of the independent presses I work with, attending a few educational sessions, especially one called “All’s Fair? Book Reviewing and the Missing Code of Ethics.” Ethical and intelligent book reviewing on blogs just happens to be one of my interests…LOL. And then there’s the speed dating for book clubs session, which I find very helpful for locating historical novels that are targeted for a more specific audience. As always, I’ll bring my rolling suitcase and will pay out extraordinary amounts of money to ship home all of these books…

A couple of historical fiction novels have caught my eye as either having the perfect elements of an absorbing tale to sweep readers away, or by falling into the category of being “outside the mainstream” themes…

hild-beaWith its stunning teal cover, Hild looks to be a good old-fashioned HF prototype; just the perfect mix of biography, history, and fiction in a popular historical place and time, Anglo-Saxon England. (literary biographical novel of St. Hilda of Whitby in 7th-century England, from a multi-award winning writer.  To be released in November)

kent-bea

 

 

Iceland is not a location I have seen portrayed  in HF-mainstream or Indie-and I am intrigued by the premise of Burial Rites,  about a woman accused of murder in 1829 Iceland, based on a true story. It is one of the books I may talk about during the panel “Off the Beaten Path: Reading and Writing Outside of the HF Mainstream” at the U.S. HNS conference coming up in June. I’ll write more about that later.

 

tan-beaAmy Tan’s new offering, The Valley of Amazement, follows three generations of women from 19th-century San Francisco to turn-of-the-century Shanghai and after, and looks to be a familiar and comfy treat for historical family saga fans.

 

 

 

 

The Mountain of Light, an epic novel about diamond hunters in Victorian India, piques my interest, too, as I amsundaresan drawn to stories set during the time of the British Raj. This locale and period seems to have dropped off the popularity scales lately–it might be that this older trend is now attempting to revive itself…

 

For details on publishers’ booth locations and signing schedules, see Sarah Johnson’s annual BEA post at http://readingthepast.blogspot.com/2013/05/historical-fiction-picks-at-bea-2013.html (book descriptions borrowed from this post).

Sadly…

I have been reconsidering my ability to continue reviewing on a regular basis. I already review fewer than one book a month, and that is not fair to the authors to whom I have made commitments. My collaboration with Steve, sadly, did not work out either.

My passion for reading has diminished lately, mostly because I am burnt out.  I have been writing reviews generally for over ten years, and the non-fiction editing I do full-time has increased in amount and intensity.  I promised myself long ago that when I lose my enthusiasm and energy for reviewing, when it becomes a chore rather than  a pleasure, I would stop, at least until the passion returns. It is unfair to authors to offer a review that has been forced; I want to do it well or not do it at all. It has been too tempting to accept offers for SP novels that appeal to my reading tastes, however, I simply cannot do it any longer. I cannot even promise to complete the books I have already received, and I hope you can accept my deepest apologies.  For the many patient and kind authors who have sent me their novels, I am happy to return them at my own expense.

I will still be writing here occasionally–thoughts about intriguing books I may read on my own at times–and all past reviews and posts will remain.

I am sorry I must make this announcement. If doing this as a paid profession were an option, I would immediately quit my day job (the main source of my burnout) : ) For now, I need to shift my focus to other matters so that I can recover.

Thank you to bloggers who have promoted The Queen’s Quill, authors and publicists who have requested reviews, and subscribers and readers.

My best wishes to you all.

Andrea, The Queen’s Quill

 

Europa Editions

ImageI don’t only review Indie books here- I also expand my horizons to the small and independent presses in the mainstream. My particular favorite right now is Europa Editions. This amazing small publisher brings “quality English editions of international literature” to the American reader. The majority of these books are translated from their native languages, but don’t shy away from that. The translations are done beautifully. The books’ presentation is unique, attractive, and appealing with bold colors and deceptively simple and elegant designs (Europa claims they incorporate both European and American jacket designs). I’ve only seen trade paperbacks with inner folded flaps (called “French flaps” I believe) from Europa, but they are so pleasing to hold in one’s hands, I wouldn’t want them any other way. The novel I’m currently reading, published by Europa, is You Are Not Like Other Mothers by Angelika Schrobsdorff (translated from German), a massive, captivating story initially set in Berlin, engulfing the periods of the first and second world wars.  I’m only 200 pages (out of over 500) into  this memoir of an “unconventional” Jewish woman and her bohemian lifestyle, but I am astonished by the sophisticated prose, strong imagery, and imaginative pull of this book. I couldn’t get any deeper into a character’s head if I tried! But I will write a full review when I am done.

I love this blurb about the publisher: “You could consider Europa Editions, the  sprightly new publishing venture [Kent Carroll] has just started in New York, as a kind of book club for Americans who thirst after exciting foreign fiction.”—LA Weekly

I picked up a poster at Europa’s booth at BEA three years ago that I have framed and hung in a place of honor in my office: “I read, therefore I am.” We dedicated readers live and breathe through our books and Europa Editions has filled a necessary gap in the American publishing field–a simple and direct focus on great literature from all over the world. Peruse the publisher’s website at http://www.europaeditions.com/index.php

 

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/

Review: The Concubine’s Gift by K. Ford K.

The Concubine’s Gift is a gift indeed.

Concubine's giftBernice Babbitt is a model citizen of Valentine, a conservative small town in Nevada—whose economy ironically revolves around a brothel. Bernice may be the conservative, inhibited, and self-critical daughter of a reverend on the outside, but she is curious, perhaps even a little obsessed by the idea of sex. She is an avid collector of erotic female memorabilia, fascinated by anything of a sexual nature. Her dueling natures surface when she discovers a forgotten jar of make up powder in her newest acquisition, a lacquered make up case, once the possession of Blissful Night, the most famous concubine in Hong Kong (Blissful Night’s story is the “historical” element in the book). Bernice, of course, cannot resist trying on the powder, and she finds that she begins having visions of other people’s sex lives.

The content of The Concubine’s Gift may be explicit, but is never inappropriate. In fact, the novel portrays the most respectful approach to sexuality I have seen in the media in a very long time. It is a story, ultimately, about the power of sexuality when used to heal, not wound; but it is also a cautionary tale of the dangers of living ones’ fantasies, the consequences of treading where one should never have stepped….It comments on the risks of bringing what one may learn about others into the light. Some recipients of Bernice’s advice are given new life, new breath, a freshness to deadened lives, and creativity, and some discover the black depths of addiction, the searing pain of loss…delving into the unknown is a risky business…

The underlying element of fantasy that pervades the story—the powder’s magical qualities and its origin— is a wonderful mystical touch that gives the reader a sense of Eastern spirituality without plunging her or him into disbelief.  The premise is well done—it flows, it works, and it keeps the reader engaged.

I love the wise and witty tone of this book; it is sarcastic while serious. Funny and earnest. Flamboyant yet down-to-earth. And the language is very accessible. And what an eclectic crew of characters inhabit the town of Valentine: Trinket, a café owner with an insatiable love for men . . . Mrs. Lin, the antiques dealer who sells Bernice most of the contents of her “collection” and firmly believes she is a reincarnated European countess . . . the love-obsessed and emotional homosexual Harold . . . the hypocritical, bullying leader of the bordello’s opposition, described as “a bulky man, who likes to walk into rooms sideways . . . ” (the humor in this book is a bit Monty Python-esque, with it’s unexpected juxtapositions) . . .

As for the packaging, the book was well edited, although I found four or five typos. My only suggestion would be to change the cover design. The bright orange cover may be eye-catching, but not in a positive way, in this reader’s opinion. An image of the beautiful antique make up case instead of the current image of the concubine might portray the theme of the book more accurately and add an air of allure for reader.

I flew through the pages—as you can see by my prompt review! I truly loved it. I can see why it had to be self-published, as the content and topic is definitely off the beaten path of the mainstream, and would likely be perceived as controversial (a conception I would disagree with, as the theme is so tastefully handled). The Concubine’s Gift is yet another example of the best of Indie publishing. If the theme is to your taste, I highly recommend this novel.

The author’s website is http://kfordk.com/, where you can read her thoughtful blog posts and find updates about her upcoming works.

The Concubine’s Gift by K. CreateSpace,  2011, 230pp, pb $9.99, ISBN 978-1466287570

DISCLAIMER: The author sent me an autographed copy in exchange for an objective review.

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.