Friday, July 20, 2012

Darlene Williams HF Reviews New Home

I am pleased to announce I'm in the process of completing the finishing touches on Darlene Elizabeth Williams Author website.  I will not be posting any further reviews on blogspot.

I'm very excited about this next step in my writing career.  When I have the new website ready for you, I'll post the link.

Saturday, July 14, 2012


Today's blog is a short blurb about indie and self-published authors.  There is a lot of discussion and consternation within the writing community that these authors are hurting authors' credibility.  The honest truth - some of them are.

The most common drawbacks are horrific editing and just plain bad writing.   I've received the excuse that the author can't afford a professional editor more times than I care to recall.  My attitude is, if you spent the time to write the darn thing, then invest in an editor.  Eat KD if you have to.  Yes, yes, I know, the Big 6 publishers have errors in their books too.  Just not every paragraph.

In my view, series such as The Twilight Saga and 50 Shades of Grey have definitely not inspired authors to put out their best work.  Vampires and sex sell.  Apparently, decent writing does not have to accompany ghouls and erotica.  Many wanna-be writers jumped on these bandwagons and rushed to self-publish their "piece of work" as fast as possible in hopes of being the next writer to strike it rich.  Pipe dreams.  It's a tough world out there.

However, there are gems amongst the rocks.  The trick is knowing how to separate the wheat from the chaff.  Virtually every ebook sold on Amazon, Barnes & Nobles and Smashwords, just to name a few of the big self-publishing venues, enables you to read a sample.

I learned the hard way to always read the sample before I agree to review an indie or self-published author.  Unless reviews posted on these sites give the reviewer's full name, I would advise you disregard them.  There are authors who will beg anyone and everyone - their mother, father, siblings, four times removed cousins - to give them a 5 star review.  My jaw has dropped at some of the novels receiving 5 star reviews completely undeserving of even 1 star.

If a review is posted by a legitimate reviewer who uses their own name, the odds are it's a genuine review.  I, for one, am not willing to risk my reputation as a reviewer by dropping 5 star reviews indiscriminately.  When I post a review, I write it under Darlene Williams.   A simple Google search is enough to discover I blog reviews.  The same holds true for other reputable bloggers.

Another little trick which seems to be making the rounds is asking other authors to write a review so those authors can insert a little plug for their own novel in the review.  A "I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine" scenario.  Originally permitted by Amazon, I believe this might now be forbidden.  If you should chance upon one of these types of reviews, it is likely best to dismiss it.

Now, back to the gems.  They do exist.  The reading community benefits by obtaining good reads for a nominal purchase amount.  I note on my home page that I support indie and new authors.  And, I do.  I might very well be one of them within the next year (right after I've hired a professional editor).

To prove quality writing by indie and self-published authors is available, my next review will focus on one of the gems I found.  I'm about half-way through another 2 self-published authors who have released solid work.

Well, I've come to the end of my not-so-short mean post.  Stay tuned for Prue Batten's "Gisborne:  Book of Pawns".

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The QUEEN'S VOW, A Novel of Isabella of Castile by C.W. Gortner - HISTORICAL FICTION NOVEL REVIEW

Published 2012, Ballantine Books (a division of Random House), ISBN: 978-0-345-52396-9, ebook ISBN: 978-0-345-52398-3, 382 pages

C.W. Gortner's The Queen's Vow - A Novel of Isabella of Castile opens with a quote from Isabella I of Castile:

"I have come to this land and I certainly do not intend to leave it to flee or shirk my work; nor shall I give such glory to my enemies or such pain to my subjects."

It is a most appropriate quote for Gortner's depiction of Isabella.  Isabella's father died when she was 3 years old and she, her younger brother, Alfonso, her mother (Juan II's second wife) and a small entourage were swiftly whisked away within hours to Arevalo in Avila by the Archbishop Carrillo of Toledo to live in penury for a decade.

Their removal was necessary as Juan II had sired a son, Enrique, during his first marriage who would claim the throne of Castile.  Alfonso was Enrique's heir at law until Enrique himself produced a child.  Sanctuary was necessary to protect the children of Juan II's reviled second wife from separation from their mother.

During their exile, the children experienced a certain amount of freedom, but their mother suffered many "spells".  Isabella was especially adroit at calming her mother.  Recalled to Court by Enrique, Isabella and Alfonso depart for Segovia.

Enrique proves to be a weak ruler, as was his father, and is controlled by the nobles.  His queen, Juana, has just borne a girl child, although there is no affection evident between the couple.  In fact, the parentage of the child is questioned, leaving open the option of Alfonso as heir to Castile.

Thus begins Isabella's dance of words and actions to appease Enrique and demonstrate her innocence; a waltz destined to continue until she became Queen of Castile.  During this time she fends off several marriage betrothals and secretly marries Fernando of Aragon.

Isabella was an extremely devote Catholic.  Much of her reign is marred by wars and controversial actions, which were likely influenced by religious beliefs standard in the 16th century.  Gortner portrays a woman who abhors violence but, with the Church's collusion and her own strict convictions, nonetheless acts in what she believes to be the best interests of her people and their eternal souls.

Yet, Isabella was a visionary and worked tirelessly towards goverance reformation, crime reduction, restoration of Church properties, furtherance of education (especially for women), replenishment of a bankrupt treasury and funded Columbus's explorations.

Gortner does not attempt to persuade the reader to either agree or disagree with Isabella's decisions, but presents more of an unbiased portrait, without embellishment of her finer points or effacement of her warts.  The Queen's Vow is simply an effort to illustrate, not interpret, this complex woman who forged the nation of Spain.

Gortner is successful in remaining faithful to the social mores and values of the day without permitting those of today to creep into his accounting.  And, that, is what historical fiction is about: a view into the past.

C.W. Gortner - in my books (pun intended) - has joined the ranks of today's preeminent historical fiction authors.  The Queen's Vow is testimony to the quality and substance of his novels.

My rating:  **** 4 Stars  (Excellent)

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


Published 2012, Doubleday (a division of Random House), ISBN 978-0-385-53558-8

Tess Collins is a maidservant desperate to escape the narrow class boundaries of 1912 England in Kate Alcott's historical fiction novel The Dressmaker.  Tess knows there is no future as a maidservant to women who treat her disdainfully, especially with sons with roving hands.

Her plan is to find a job aboard a ship sailing to the United States where she might have an opportunity to fulfill her dream as a seamstress.  Tess has talent, developed during childhood, while she spent endless hours with her mother who taught her excellence.

By fortunate chance, the Titanic is readying to set sail for New York.  By even more fortuitous happenstance, Lady Lucile Duff Gordon and her husband, Cosmo, are passengers on the Titanic travelling to New York, where Lady Duff Gordon will showcase her exclusive designer dresses.  On impulse, Lady Duff Gordon hires Tess as a personal maid for the voyage.

Tess meets a sailor, who she dismisses as a "village boy", and a Chicago business tycoon who show interest in her on board the Titanic.

We all know the Titanic's fate, so this is not a spoiler.  The Titanic sinks and the Duff Gordons, first class passengers, survive by being privileged travellers who are put into a lifeboat.  Tess, manages to jump into the last lifeboat lowered.

In due course, the survivors are picked up by the Carpathia and transported to New York. 
On the Carpathia, Tess once against meets up with the sailor and feels a bond, but fights it.  She wants more than a village boy.  The tycoon, initially presumed dead, is later identified as one of the injured on the Carpathia.

Senator Smith determines an inquiry into the sinking of the Titanic and loss of life will begin as soon as the Carpathia docks.  Mysteries and questions abound regarding the chaos as the Titanic went down.  The Senator is determined to discover what actually happened during those horrific minutes and hours.

Lady Duff Gordon keeps Tess on, but not as a personal maidservant.  She puts Tess to work on her designer dressmaking floor.  Tess is delighted but soon discovers Lady Duff Gordon is a rather mercurial character, one moment mentoring and the next disparaging.

Pinky Wade, daughter of a news reporter, is one of the few women reporters in the business.  She is assigned to the Titanic hearings.  Her instinct and contradictory witness reports drive her to investigate the last moments on the Titanic.  Rumors Lady Duff Gordon left others to die to save herself circulate.

Tess feels bound by loyalty to Lady Duff Gordon, but her sailor friend plants suspicions in her mind about Lady Duff Gordon's actions.   Meanwhile, Duff Gordon throws tantalizing tidbits Tess's way so Tess will remain in her employ.  This is one situation where I had difficulty with this novel.  Why was Duff Gordon intent on retaining Tess?  The answer, when it arrives, is trite.  It seems the author threw in the explanation without much thought to giving this nagging question depth.

Then there is the overused menage a toi.  Both the tycoon and sailor vie for Tess's heart.  Who will she choose?

Overall, I found The Dressmaker a lightweight and predictable novel.  I read it in practically one day which, for me, signals a lack of substance.  If you're looking for a fast beach read, The Dressmaker may satisfy.

For these reasons, I give The Dressmaker:

My rating:  *** 3 Stars (Good)