Disclosure: I obtained the paperback edition of this book at a Friends of the Library sale. I had originally read it approximately 30 years ago. I do not know the author beyond mutual following on Twitter; we chat online there but have never met. I have never discussed this book or any of her others with her. I am an author of historical and contemporary romance novels.
Okay, that's out of the way. I'm so glad I finished this, because I was beginning to think I would never finish anything!
The Isle of Glass is the first book in a trilogy. I'll be starting the second book, The Golden Horn, probably tonight.
The main character is Brother Alfred, a monk/priest at the Abbey of St. Ruan in a semi-mythical England (Anglia) of the late twelfth century. (Tarr has a PhD in Medieval Studies from Yale University.) Unlike his fellow monks who are all quite human, Brother Alf is apparently one of the Fair Folk, an elf. Though he is nearly 70 years old, he hasn't physically aged beyond his late teens or early twenties. He has some elven magic skills, but he does his best not to use them. He is more than just ashamed of his otherness; he believes it means he has no soul.
The complexity of Alf's character is the outstanding strength of this novel. I actually lost track of the plot at times and had to set the book aside to figure out exactly what was going on and who the different characters were. Tarr provides no map or dramatis personae to tell the players and teams, and though I sorted them out by the latter part of the story, I reached the end with a few details not quite clear.
Alf would just as soon stay in the safe confines of his Abbey for the rest of his unnaturally long life - even forever, if it came to that - but worldly politics sends him out on an errand to try to avoid a war. Once out in the world, he also becomes prey in the ecclesiastical wars of rival monkish orders where priests vie for secular power. But he also becomes prey of another kind, as both mortals and Fair Folk seek romantic, or at least sexual, engagements with him. Part of that issue is resolved in this first volume of the trilogy, but there is much more challenge to come for Alf as the saga continues.
That's where I really pulled off the half star from the rating.
I said in a previous status report that this work reminded me in some ways of Jennifer Roberson's Sword series, which was begun just about the same time as Tarr's - mid- to late 1980s. But Roberson's first volume, Sword Dancer, ended cleanly so that it could if necessary stand alone. There was, of course, a sequel and then several more, but Sword Dancer was complete.
In contrast, The Isle of Glass ended with the lead-in to the next volume, The Golden Horn, very clear. Unfortunately, I felt it was contrived, in a kind of, "Oh, yes, we've wound up this dilemma so neatly that we ought to go on and find some more adventures!"
This same problem, I felt, plagued William Morris's The Well at the World's End. There just wasn't enough drama, enough motivation from outside the character's existence to propel the story. The Isle of Glass had all that drama and motivation at the beginning but the lead-in to the next volume doesn't, at least not yet. Maybe the opening will be stronger, but we'll see.
Tarr's writing is splendid, however, but those of us who have been conditioned by years of POV conventions in romance may have some difficulty dealing with multiple viewpoints that shift on a dime. It doesn't bother me at all, because I began reading long before the strictures went into place, but others should be forewarned. Still, she evokes the wintry landscape and the stark medieval interiors with consummate skill.
The other similarity between Tarr and Roberson is that they employ male main characters. And though there's virtually no similarity between Brother Alf and Tiger, the sword dancer, it's very intriguing to me to read how the two authors get into the mind of the "other" gender.
I know you all think I have all these "currently reading" books and I'm not actually reading any of them. Ha! I am, I really am! Just not very quickly. Because life, y'know.
When I went to bed at 10:00 last night I was really tired and expected to read maybe 20 pages at the most. By the time I finally gave up because my eyes were getting dry and gunky, it was a few minutes past midnight.
It's been well over 20 years since I last read this, and frankly I don't remember very much of it, so this is really a fresh read. The beginning was a bit confusing, but as I got further into the story I realized that the confusion came from being far too accustomed to the info dumps that more recent writers seem to employ.
Instead, Tarr lets the story unfold and allows the characters to tell their own story through the action and narrative. It's a complex story, with complex characters.
Brother Alfred is a priest in the Abbey of St. Ruan in a semi-mythical England of the twelfth century. The Lionheart is King, there are rebellious barons and earls, and the Church is trying to flex its muscles, not only to root out human heresies but to destroy the Fair Folk, the elvenkind. Alf becomes a target of their suspicions.
The more I read, the more I'm fascinated by Alf's character. He is both cynic and optimist, with those two sides of his psyche at constant war with each other.
There are certain similarities with Jennifer Roberson's Sword series, which I should also re-read.
When my copy arrived from Thrift Books yesterday and it was EXACTLY what I had been looking for, I burst into tears. I haven't completely stopped crying yet. It's so beautiful!
As I went through it later last night, I did find a few small pencil marks which I think I can safely remove. And as I went through it later last night, I also went through several more tissues. Yeah, it's that kind of story.
How much of the Godolphin Arabian's story as told by Marguerite Henry is true and how much is story, I don't know. At least part is true, of course, because he was a real horse and the history of his descendants is well known and documented. But all the stuff before that, from his birth in Morocco through his trials in Paris and London, who knows?
Like most little girls, I was fascinated by horses. When my grandparents moved from Edison Park, IL, to Roselle, where they had a couple of acres of land "out in the country," all I could think of was having a horse out there.
Of course, that never happened. Once in a while when we visited I'd see a horse that someone else in the neighborhood owned, but I never got one. The drive from our house to theirs, however, wound through the stable area of Arlington Park Racetrack, and when we went there during the summer I would literally hang my head out the window of our '53 Chevy to smell the horses. If by some chance I actually happened to see one, well, that was even more terrific.
Oddly, even though we lived barely a mile from the track, I don't think I went there more than a dozen times in fifteen years.
I never became a huge racing aficionado, filling my head with pedigrees and times of various horses who became famous in those growing-up years of the 1950s and '60s. A few stuck in my imagination, though, and none more than Round Table, the "little brown horse" who was so famous he warranted a visit from Queen Elizabeth.
Not long after I moved to Arizona, I struck up a friendship with a woman whose husband was very much a horse racing fan. I was at their home one day in the summer of 1987 when I happened to flip through one of his racing magazines and learned that Round Table had recently died, and I burst into tears. Yeah, the feels, for a horse I never knew.
Round Table was a turf horse, claimed to be the greatest ever, and for 40 years or so even had a race at Arlington named after him.
King of the Wind begins with Man O' War, who was descended from the Godolphin Arabian, as are most Thoroughbreds. I learned from Marguerite Henry's Album of Horses that there were three foundational sires of the breed: the Byerley Turk, the Darley Arabian, and the Godolphin Arabian. From other reading - I devoured books about horses, too - I knew that Man O' War's dam (mother) was Mahubah, described as "a Rock Sand mare."
Man O' War, like Secretariat, was a big red horse, not at all like Round Table. But the little brown horse was also descended from Rock Sand, and through him the line goes back to the Godolphin Arabian.
All. The. Feels.
And all this was in my mind even before the book arrived yesterday. As I read it last night, yes, there were details that I had forgotten, because after all it's been close to half a century since I last saw it. But one thing struck me more than anything else, and it had nothing to do with all the feels about Sham the horse and Agba the stableboy and Grimalkin the cat and Lady Roxana the mare and the other things I did remember. In fact, it wasn't even really a detail about the story itself.
Agba is a stableboy in the vast complex of the Sultan of Morocco (even though the horse is believed to have actually come from Yemen). Unable to speak, Agba nonetheless is devoted to the horses in his charge, especially a pregnant broodmare. It is the holy month of Ramadan, and the Sultan has decreed that the horses shall abstain from food from sunrise to sunset along with their human caretakers. Agba is able to ignore the temptations of food all around him, but he is very conscious of the strain this puts on the pregnant mare.
I don't know if Agba ever existed or not. Maybe there are notes in the life of the Earl of Godolphin, who acquired the stallion, that tell of the boy who could not speak. I don't know. But what I do know is that I learned two things from the fictional character: that Ramadan was a holy month of a respected religion and that a person with what most people think of as a handicap can still be a hero.
My maternal grandmother's family is Jewish, so even though I grew up in a nice, white, christian suburb, I knew about prejudice, and I knew about the Holocaust when few of my schoolmates did. I didn't know, at the age I got my copy of King of the Wind, about anti-Islam bigotry, though it wouldn't be much longer. But what Marguerite Henry did, even if she did it unintentionally, was to give this one reader a portrait of someone very different from myself yet who I could see as a kind of role model.
That's a pretty powerful thing. To this day, I tend to judge people on the basis of what they do, not on the basis of what they are.
When I worked at the public library and when I was a grocery store cashier, we had two customers no one wanted to wait on. At the library she was a quiet woman who almost never spoke, but came in frequently and checked out lots of books. One of my fellow librarians called her "creepy" because she was always staring at people. It didn't take me long to figure out this patron was severely hearing impaired. She stared because she was trying to read our lips. Most of the librarians turned away from her, making the experience even worse for her. I spoke directly to her, and we got along fine. I never did learn ASL, and she still spoke very little, but she smiled.
The same with the man at the grocery store. He tried to teach me to sign, but it's hard when there's a whole line of impatient people behind you. He learned to look for me when he came into the store so he would have a better experience checking out.
Had I learned that from Agba? From Marguerite Henry? Maybe. Maybe from Sham, the Sultan's horse who endured so much and never gave up.
King of the Wind is a beautiful book. I'm glad I posted here about my frustration with the first order that ended up being a flimsy paperback, and I'm doubly, triply glad that Chris found this copy at Thrift Books. It seems like $7 shouldn't be a strain on a budget, but at the moment it really is for me, but I'll do without something else along the way because this was definitely a book I needed.
The paperback will be donated somewhere, and I still have another copy on order from Better World. I'll probably donate that one, too. But this one, with its slightly tattered corner, is a keeper.
This arrived from Thrift Books today. I was hoping, hoping, for the dust jacket but it was still a bonus. I don't think there's a single mark inside.
Clearly brimming with confidence, her long legs strode into the room wearing a velvet knee-length gown while smoking a cigarette.
Scott, Catherine. The Westward Bride (Kindle Locations 1768-1769). Catherine Scott. Kindle Edition.
The book is no longer available on Amazon. This is from one of the MANY stuffed stories added to the main title.
It was so bad, so glaringly bad, I just couldn't help snipping it out to share with all my BookLikes friends.
To be perfectly honest with you, I have spent far too much time the past few days going through my Kindle library in search of "stuffed" books. I've taken screen shots of Amazon listings of stuffed books. I've reported them to Amazon for being in breach of the Terms of Service.
The worst side effect of this is the trauma of having to read even small portions of some of the stuffed material. It's horrible. It's horribly written. It's horribly formatted. The punctuation sucks. The syntax is shattered. The research is almost non-existent.
Almost nothing irritates me more than historical romance writers who can't be bothered to research the English peerage so they get the titles and forms of address correct. (Dukes are not addressed as Lord First-name, and I think if I see that one more time I will scream until I break my vocal chords.)
But those are the little things, the details. Then there's the big thing.
Or should I say the fucking?
Because it's not even sex any more, it's just fucking.
So call it that. "This is a book with a whole lotta fucking in it. Big cocks go into wet pussies and there's lots of cum all over the place. The end."
Story? You want a story? You want feelings and emotions and tenderness and desire and longing? Fuggeddaboudit.
Plot? Plot???? What's that?
Character arc? Are you kidding?
If this is what passes for New Adult Romance, blech.
These are authors whose books appear to be somewhat padded with material that may violate Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing guidelines for inclusion in the Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Owners Lending Library programs. I have not confirmed all of them. Some may have already been removed as of 8 June 2018; some may have brought their books into compliance with current Amazon Terms of Service.
Most of the books in my personal collection are historical romance, with some of the stuffed books/stories being paranormal and/or contemporary. Some of the most notorious "stuffers" appear to be writers* of contemporary "new adult" romances. (*It's believed that many of the filler stories are written by ghost writers from fiverr and other sites.)
Alexis Angel (aka Lana Hartley)
LA Books (publisher? author? not sure)
Chance Carter (3 June 2018, some books may have been pulled from Amazon; 4 June 2018, appear to have been reinstated. 8 June 2018 appears to have been removed completely)
Annabel Hunter (may also be Alexa/Annabel Blair)
Christine M. Styles (aka North Andrews. Sarah Marquez)
Keith Taylor, aka Aya Fukunishi
I'm going to be writing and updating this post throughout the week-end.
*Sunday morning update at the end.
In a way, I'm writing this for myself, in an effort to understand exactly what happened, when, and how. Maybe no one else will care, but I do, for very selfish reasons. I want to be able to write and publish what I write and make enough money from it to continue.
This issue is pretty complex, and I know I've written about it before but I don't have links handy to all my posts and comments. (Will add links to my previous posts when I have time to find them.) Apparently, however, Amazon is finally trying to do something about it. This seems like a good time, therefore, to examine the whole situation. Maybe nothing can actually be done, maybe the scams will just continue, but at least we'll know what's going on.
My prior posts, related as well as sort-of related, added as I locate them:
Here's a link to David Gaughran's blog that has some of the other background information, too, on both the trademark issues going around Romancelandia and the Kindle stuffing.
If you are on Twitter, you should be able to find this thread, which gives a lot of information and has some links also. I followed Tymber and am now getting more information from others. There is also a lot of information being compiled under #GETLOUD.
Here are the stats on this book:
This is a screenshot of the "Look Inside" Table of Contents.
The TOC occupies several pages of the Look Inside preview, ending with this:
What this apparently means is that "Elizabeth" is the first "story" in this collection. The 15,000 word title story, "Sold," doesn't show up until the third or so page of the TOC, depending on your screen magnification. Yes, it's linked on the first page of the TOC, but that means the link takes you further into the book, which equates to more pages "read" for the Kindle Unlimited author.
So let's go to the background information, some of which I've shared before.
Kindle Unlimited is an Amazon subscription program. You pay a set fee each month and are allowed to read as many KU titles as you like. When you stop paying the subscription fee, you lose any/all KU titles. I think there's a limit to how many you can have out at a time, so when you've read one, you return it and can check out another, just like at the library.
KU books are enrolled by the authors/publishers. One requirement is that they be exclusive to Amazon, so you won't find many traditionally published ebooks on KU. Mostly it's author-published material, like my novels. As I've explained before, I never sold enough on the other platforms to bother with them; I'm happy to be just on Amazon.
When a KU book is downloaded to the subscriber's device, it shows up on the author's data as 1 page read. As the reader progresses through the book, the pages mount up. The author can keep track of her KU "sales" in almost real time. As far as I know -- and according to the screenshot further down -- the author is only paid for the first KU read by that account; you can't have Aunt Sophie read it over and over and keep getting paid, any more than you can get paid for re-reads of other books, either physical or digital.
Amazon determined that the fair way to pay authors for KU reads was to calculate a standard "page" -- called the KENPC, or Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count. They are currently on Version 3.0. This is important.
My most recently published novel, The Looking-Glass Portrait, was listed on Amazon in July 2016. It went directly to Kindle Unlimited and has never been listed anywhere else. Other than fixing a handful of typos -- think we found five altogether -- LGP has not been edited or revised in any way since July 2016.
The data hasn't changed either.
It's listed at 366 print pages; the actual trade-size print-on-demand paperback edition is 364 pages. But the critical number is the KENPC pages, which according to the publication data provided to me as the author is 637.
Previously, whether under KENP v. 2.0 or before, it was 827.
To be perfectly honest with you, there's probably a notification in one of the Kindle Direct Publishing newsletters I've received over the past year that explains this, but I haven't read them. At any rate, the current payment schedule is about $0.005 -- half a cent -- per KENPC actually read by the Kindle device. The reader herself may be just flipping pages or even using a link to get to the end of the book, but it's all about what the device records and sends back to Amazon as the furthest page read. That's how the author gets paid.
Again, to be honest with you, I earn about $2.00 for every Kindle edition of LGP sold. I earn about $3.00 for every KU edition read. As I posted on Twitter a couple of days ago, I keep the Kindle price low for those who aren't KU subscribers; I have no control over the KU price or payment. (Anything below $2.99 only earns a 35% royalty; at $2.99 I earn 70%, minus a small fee based on file size.) These numbers are set by Amazon, so they're the same for all self-publishing Kindle authors and Kindle Unlimited enrollees.
Please note the comparison:
LGP with a file size of 1985kb generates 366 print pages. Davinski's Sold is shown as 1850kb, but 1947 pages. What I don't know, obviously, is the KENPC on Davinski's book. As far as I know, that information is only available to the author/publisher. Here's the information on LGP, which shows that the KU rate is paid "the first time" the subscriber reads it.
Recently -- though I don't know exactly how recently -- Amazon decided to try to put a stop to this book "stuffing," which is the bundling together of various texts into a huge file, selling it at a low price but offering it on KU to get the payment for page reads. (Screen shot doesn't capture it all, so I'm doing just a text cut and paste.)
Bonus ContentIf you choose to include bonus content (e.g., other stories, or previews of other books that are not part of your book’s title), it should be relevant to the customer and should not disrupt the reading experience. To meet these guidelines, we require placing additional content at the end of the book, and listing the bonus content in your book's table of contents.
To provide an optimal customer experience, bonus content should make up no more than around 10% of your book. If you would like to include multiple stories within your book, consider creating a collection of works. When selecting your book’s title, always make sure to follow the Metadata Guidelines.
Primary and bonus content must meet all program guidelines (e.g., bonus content in KDP Select titles must be exclusive). Translated content must be high quality and not machine generated. Disruptive links and promises of gifts or rewards are never allowed.
I've read this at least three times, maybe more, with the most recent reread about a year ago when I was reading all of the Barbara Michaels gothics that I have.
That particular reread was with a specific purpose: I had started writing another contemporary romantic-suspense-with-ghosts and I wanted to get good handle on how Michaels had structured hers. I already knew Ammie, Come Home had serious plot and detail problems. Be Buried in the Rain was written about twenty years later, so I was hoping she had improved her technique.
Be Buried in the Rain was also one of my favorites of the Michaels gothics, along with Houses of Stone and The Walker in Shadows. Even though I read all three books last year, I still had some issues with both Houses and Be Buried. So although I'm already involved in several other reading projects, this afternoon I picked up the latter to see if I could finally figure out the solution to my problem with it . . . or accept that maybe Michaels had left a major thread dangling.
And I think I did it. In the process, I gained a grand new respect for the writer Michaels/Mertz/Peters became after the almost laughable errors in Ammie.
No spoiler posted here, and maybe everyone else who has read Be Buried in the Rain picked up on this detail the first time through and I'm just the dullard who missed it until the (at least) fourth read. But I feel more confident tonight about my own writing.
And now, back to my own ghosts!
Just to give you some ideas of what things look like.
1. One of the few large slices of petrified wood I have. It's thicker than usual, and the pattern isn't the best, but this is a nice, typical red color. The sun was so bright that I couldn't keep the slabs wet long enough to take photos; as soon as I sprayed them, they immediately started to dry.
This one is about five inches across.
2. Brazilian agate with natural red outer rings, and crystal center. This is fairly small, about 3 1/2 inches, and very thin. Again, the sun was so bright and hot that I couldn't keep the stone wet to bring out the details.
This is a piece of jewelry made from another slice of this same material. It shows the details a little better.
3. Brazilian agate slice, undyed, pale lavender This one is about 2 1/2 inches by the longest dimension.
4. Brazilian agate, undyed, about 4 inches by longest dimension.
5. Brazilian agate, undyed, about 2 1/2 inches by longest dimension.
Pendant made from another slice of the same stone.
6. Green Moss agate, from India. I love this stuff! I have way more than I will ever be able to use, but I still love it. It's plentiful and very inexpensive. A five or six-inch slice can be purchased for $!5 or less.
Again, I couldn't get good photos because the sun evaporated the water as soon as I sprayed it, but you can easily find lots of pics online. The green is much darker in person; the sun just bleached the photo.
And a pendant from similar material.
Alf and Jehan are traveling cross country, just as Ralph and Ursula did in Well at the World's End. Tarr's writing is so much more fluid, more evocative! than Morris's.
The book came up in a Twitter discussion a week or so ago, and it hit me hard that I didn't have my copy of the book I'd read more times than any other as a young reader.
My budget is horribly strained. I'm literally watching every penny, usually watching them fly out of my purse and bank account. And when I saw that copies were selling for $25 and more on Amazon, my heart ached. I wanted that book.
Fortunately, Judith Tarr recommended Abe Books as an alternative source, and there I found it for under $4. It's in transit now. I don't have it yet, but I will . . . . soon.
I had several of the Marguerite Henry books when I was a kid. Somehow I managed to hang onto my Album of Horses, but all the others vanished. Brighty of the Grand Canyon, Gaudenzia Pride of the Palio, and King of the Wind. I never owned Born to Trot, and the Misty series wasn't one of my favorites. The absolute favorite was King of the Wind.
Where did they go? The same place so many of my possessions went: my mother's garage sales. After I left home, almost everything I had owned went out with the junk. (Some things didn't; I know where they went and I can't talk about it.) The books were the worst of the losses; she knew how much I loved my books, but . . . she didn't care.
I got my love of books from my dad and his side of the family, not my mother's, and I think she resented that to a certain extent. He's been gone since 2008, and she's now fading. So I feel bad, I feel guilty for my own resentment, but it's there. I miss those favorite books.
As I've mentioned here in some previous, personal posts, I've tried over the years to replace some of those books. It's not an attempt to reclaim a lost childhood, but it is an attempt to reclaim lost comfort.
I don't have a support system here. I feel awkward even writing that much, and I won't go much further. But my books, my rocks, my online engagements, these are what I rely on. My kids have busy lives on either sides of the continent thousands of miles away. I'm not a social butterfly. I'm essentially estranged from all my family, who are in the Midwest.
Two weeks ago my already precarious budget got a gut punch with the forced purchase of a new water heater and water softener. I gathered my resources and figured out a way to manage. It wasn't easy, but it was doable. Today I got hit with a big fat auto repair bill. I've known it was coming, and I've tried to prepare both mentally and financially, but it was bigger than anticipated. Replacing the car is not an option, at least not now. BF says it's not worth pouring more money into this vehicle, but I really don't have any choice.
King of the Wind is about the little horse that could, but no one knew it. It's a feel good story, about overcoming seemingly impossible odds. For a young reader it was exciting and dramatic and suspenseful. For an adult facing real-life challenges -- some of them pretty darn scary -- it's a comfort read. It's gorgeous pictures. It's horses, horses, horses.
I'll let you know when it gets here.
I'm going to be entering a few books this afternoon. My collection is just plain ridiculous.
There are bits and pieces in various threads on Twitter, but I haven't been able to put the whole puzzle together.
Part of it has to do with "stuffing" Kindle Unlimited books so the authors get more page reads than the book deserves. I've detailed a few examples I found before I even know "stuffing" was a thing. The author publishes a novel or novella or even a short story, but pads the document with other material, which may be previously published stories or even junk filler like recipes and scrapings from the internet. A link at the beginning of the book similar to "Click here for bonus material and special offers!" takes the reader to the end of the book and grants the author full Kindle Edition Normalized Pages ("KENP") credit for pages read. If a 200-page novel is expanded to 500 pages -- or more -- the author gets an enhanced payout. KU is currently paying just about $0.005 (half a cent) per KENP, so stuffing can mean the difference between a $1.00 profit and $2.50 per book. If the book is crap and would not ordinarily even have been read, that profit to the author goes up from maybe $.10 (for 20 pages read).
Apparently there's a crackdown on "stuffing." Apparently Amazon has changed review policies, at least on products other than books. I can't confirm that, though, because I pay so little attention to Amazon reviews. I don't look at mine and can't post reviews, so the whole issue is moot as far as I'm concerned.
I have five novels published with Kindle Direct Publishing, and all are enrolled in Kindle Unlimited. I know this hurts readers who would like to avoid the behemoth, but I have to be realistic. When my books were listed with Smashwords, the sales were infinitessimal. Through Amazon sales and Kindle Unlimited reads, I've made way more than I could ever have made through other outlets. That income is what enables me to keep writing.
My books aren't padded. I don't have any stupid trademarks pending. I write under my own name -- Linda Hilton -- and that's the name I use to post online. The authors who game the system, whether it's through fake reviews, stuffing their books, or other shenanigans, are not my colleagues; they are my adversaries.
They are not friends of readers, either. Who would cheat their "friends" by making them pay, even with their time if not their money, for crap? The ill-gotten KU payments that go to book stuffers are funds taken literally out of the earnings of legitimate authors, those who are writing the books readers actually want to read.
I don't know what exactly Amazon is doing about this, but apparently they're doing . . . something. Whatever it is, I hope it works.