Book Review: ‘Lady Gwendolyn’

J.M. Aucoin

Lady Gwendolyn by Magnolia BelleWhile on my way to Salem for a little sailing adventure, I finally wrapped up reading Lady Gwendolyn by Magnolia Belle.

As one might expect, Lady Gwendolyn takes place during the Middle Ages, specifically in Northern England and Scotland. The book starts with Lady Gwendolyn off to Scotland to wed the son of Lord Dewar. But on their way, the caravan is attacked. Gwendolyn’s maid, Madeleine, switches cloaks with her. Gwendolyn escapes, though seriously injured by an arrow, and the bandits take Madeleine as their prisoner, thinking she’s Lady Gwendolyn. From there, the novel soldiers on with plenty of plot twists, suspense, and adventure.

Really, Lady Gwendolyn is a novel written in that classic historical fiction manner. It has action, adventure, romance, suspense, murder, betrayal… and none of it feels forced. It’s all tied together nicely. The cast of characters range from poor kitchen maids, heroic knights, old women, powerful…

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“Loyalty Divided” by Francine Howarth

England is divided by civil war (1642 –1649), the Parliamentarians against the king.  The nobility living at Axebury Hall are also divided, Lord William Gantry against his son Morton.  Against this backdrop, Anna Maitcliffe, orphan of rank, and ward of Lord Gantry, in 1642, is all of 15 years old.  She is, at that age, typically spoiled, naive, self-centered and unable to know the truth when she hears it.  She would prefer to storm off in a pet of wounded pride than stay and work out problems.

Anna sets her eyes on Morton, but is convinced he loves another, Catherine Thornton.  When he joins the Parliamentarians after being banished from his home, Anna hears nothing from him in two years.  Lord William Gantry is determined to marry her to another man and, in her rejection of that person, throws herself at Lord Gantry, in spite of loving his son. Lord Gantry is more than happy to oblige her advances, since he has been widowed for two years, even though she is only 17 and he 41.

Through subterfuge, miscommunication, jealousy and war, these characters’ lives weave around each other, trying to find lasting love, both familial and romantic.

Francine Howarth is an intelligent author who writes with rich vocabulary and an appreciable understanding of that period in history.  I highly recommend this book if you like escaping to another place, another time for great adventure and steamy romance.

 Find the book at

Typos – Gah!!

I received an email from Amazon Kindle several days ago saying that a reader had reported “T’on Ma” for a typo.  Would I please correct it.

What?  I mean…what??

Being reported for spewing racial hatred, or depraved sexual content, or even for being lethally boring – sure.  But a typo?

What was the typo, one might wonder.  Guilelessly was spelled “guilessly”.   After several read-throughs by my editor and myself, we both missed it.

At a book fair years ago, I had one author tell me he spent an inordinate amount of time hunting those little buggers down.  He even read the sentences backwards so what he meant to say wouldn’t cloud what was actually typed.  Sure enough, when he got his first order of paperbacks in, what was the first thing his wife saw?  A *#*^@ typo.

I discussed this problem with my best friend shortly after the release of my western “Tascosa”.  She  commiserated with me and said, “I know what you mean.  In your book, the first thing I saw was that you had typed ‘road’ when you meant ‘rode’.”  I think I whimpered.

This leads me to a firm belief rooted in years of experience and observation.  Editors and proofreaders are like a powerful disinfectant.  They can kill 99.9% of typos and homonym hiccups, but there will be a stubborn remnant that WILL get through.

Now, to the readers who find these rare gems in our tomes, please understand the amount of work it takes to get a book to press.  The attention to detail is enormous and time-consuming.  When you discover a typo, it shouldn’t reduce our  work by two stars. It doesn’t make the book “horribly written,” (as I had one reviewer complain).

Please understand – typos happen.

Let me introduce myself

I thought perhaps I should introduce my ‘author’ self.  Here is something I sent to fellow blogger Chris Graham today.

The pen name “Magnolia Belle” came from a dream of one day owning a riverboat that offered dinner, sultry jazz and hot R&B while floating down the Mississippi. Realizing I didn’t have the millions it’d take to get that dream off the ground, I took the name to write under. I figured it’d be one hard to forget. Plus, it’s as southern as I am.

I grew up in a military family and have lived in several U.S. states as well as the Orient. I graduated in 1978 from Tarleton State University, where, as editor of the University paper, I won first place in the Texas Intercollegiate Press Association Editorial competition in 1977. I am also a member of “Who’s Who Among Colleges and Universities” in 1977-78. A singer/songwriter and guitarist, I played with a band in the 1980s that made three albums. I currently lives in Texas with my husband.

Since 2005, I have written and coauthored several books.

The coauthored books are “Miko and Lil Onda Bus” and “Miko and Lil Onda Bus Again”, inspired by the lives of the three brothers in the Grammy winning band, Los Lonely Boys.  On the first day of starting a new tour, the Garzas find they have a talking mouse, Miko, living on their tour bus.  Miko finds his girlfriend Lil, moves her onto the bus with him, and teaches her to speak human.  Mayhem and hilarity ensue when ‘mousenappers’ want those talking mice! It was with Henry, Jo Jo and Ringo Garzas’ permission that the books were published.  All sales go to a SIDs charity.

The first series I wrote, “Black Wolf” involves the story of four Lakota brothers living in Austin, TX.  They have a rock band and have just signed with a national label when the series beings.  Through the four novels, readers see how their world explodes and how they try to keep their equilibrium.  The novels are “Black Wolf: Lakota Man”, “Black Wolf at Rosebud,” “Black Wolf on Tour” and “Black Wolf: Loco Lobo”.

The second series, “T’on Ma”, is historical fiction set along the Texas/Oklahoma border in beginning in 1850.  The Cooper family homesteads land about an hour north of what is now Abilene, TX.  When a Kiowa warrior and an Army lieutenant both fall in love with Lana Cooper, a story unfolds that carries them through the Indian and Civil wars. The three novels are “T’on Ma”, “Kuy Syan Joshua” and “Little Wolf Ranch.”

The first stand alone novel, “Tascosa” is a western set in what is now a ghost town in the panhandle of Texas.  It describes the life and adventures of a young woman, Amanda Clark, who moves to the lawless town without knowing anyone.  She manages to carve a successful business for herself, but not without facing heartbreak.

The second stand alone  novel, “Lady Gwendolyn” has just been released.  It’s also historical fiction, but instead of Texas, it is placed in 12th century England and Scotland.  Bandits beset a caravan taking Lady Gwendolyn Hampton of England to marry Angus Dewar in Scotland.  In the confusion, she escapes, while the bandits think her maid, Madeleine, is her.  From one peril to another, Madeleine must keep the ruse in order to stay alive.

All books are available in paperback at major online stores such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  They are also available in all e-reader formats from  Autographed copies can be purchased through the author’s website,

Here is the book trailer for “Lady Gwendolyn”…

“A Pirate’s Honor” by J.M. Aucoin

Justin brings his characters to life with just a few words.  They and their surroundings are easy to visualize.  He knows and loves his genre and it shows.  In this short story, pirate captain Jake Hawking moors his ship in the port town of Kingston and is immediately confronted by strange stares and whispers behind hands.  He’s familiar with Kingston; its residents are familiar with him.  So why this odd, standoffish reception?

When he discovers the reason, the murder of an old friend for which he is accused, he is faced with how to handle a situation that is meant to bring his death.  There is a lot of action in this well written story. as well as a twist at the end.  I highly recommend it for those who love tales of the sea.

Book Review Swaps

So, you’ve heard that getting massive reviews on your book helps it sell.  Okay, sounds good.  But how do you get those massive reviews?  Your mom, Aunt Becky, and your best friend since 3rd grade only make three.  Hardly massive.

Being a highly motivated individual, you search the internet for ideas.  People offer to review your book for a (small) fee.  People tell you to search out reviewers of your genre by sending requests, crossing your fingers and hoping that they’ll say yes.

People tell you to go on a virtual book tour, setting up a string of bloggers to promote your book on certain days.  Some might review the book, some might not.  But do you know bloggers interested in your particular genre?  Enough bloggers to make an effective ‘tour’?  If not, you need to hire a tour host who has all those magical contacts in their address list.  It costs a few shekels, though, and you’ve only got $14.37 in the bank after buying your own paperback copies.

And then you stumble across a review exchange group.  You don’t have to buy each other’s books.  You can send PDF or Word files.  (If you’ve joined KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing), you can’t sell on any other venue for a period of time, but that doesn’t prevent you from setting up your book on Smashwords and offering a free coupon to reviewers.)

a-HA!  The answer.  No money required, no hoping a busy reviewer will agree.  No need for a tour host.  So you find a book in the group that looks interesting to you and set up a swap.

Hold up there, buckaroo.  There are a few things you need to know.

1) Not everyone is as trustworthy as you.

2) Not everyone is as timely as you.

3) Not  everyone is good at reviewing.

There are solutions to these problems—easy solutions.  You just need to stick to your guns.

For the first two of these situations, insist that you won’t post your review of their work until you see their review of yours.  (I’m not suggesting that you try to get them to change their review, but to simply see it to know it’s been written.) That way, you’re not left dangling in the wind, waiting for a reciprocal review that eventually (if ever) shows up.  Then post at the same time.

For the third, exchange reviews before they’re posted, as before.  If you write a 500 word, in-depth review and they write a short, uninformative review based on the book blurb, you can refuse to swap.

What about tit-for-tat reviews?  What if you give this a 3-star review and they get mad?  What if they change their review to a 2-star rating?  It’s happened to me.

One solution might be to have three people involved.  Ms. A reviews Mr. B who reviews Ms. C, who reviews Ms. A.  It allows everyone to give an honest review without fear of reprisal, and to keep their reviewer reputation intact.  A little more coordination is required to get everyone at the same  place at the same time, but it’s do-able.

Now, finally, everything is in place.  You’ve found a book you’d like to review.   You’ve got everyone agreeing to the same system.  You’ve carved out a quiet Sunday afternoon to read it and…and…it stinks on ice.  Cardboard characters, cliché plot, stilted dialogue, and grammar that creates a whole new level of awful are just the first things you notice.  By the third chapter, you’re white-knuckling it every time you have to turn the page.  By the fifth, you’re eyeballing the whiskey bottle on the shelf across the room.  By the eighth, you slam the book shut and make an appointment for a root-canal.  It’s less painful.

How on earth do you review that kind of mess?

The terrible truth is that the literary world is full of authors who are simply not ready to publish.  They have no clue about structure or voice or POV.  Their mom said it was good, and that was good enough for them.  And now you’re committed to reading/reviewing it.  My advice…


Email the author and explain you can’t review it because it has too many errors for you to write a review that would help push sales.  Be tactfully truthful.  In my opinion, it’s best not to leave a one or two star review.  Those will show up from others.  Walk away and set up another swap.

What if YOU are the one the other can’t review?  You are the one who published too soon?  Get mad.  Be offended.  Throw a fit.  Hold your breath until you turn blue.  And then calm down.  Consider the possibility that they’re doing you a kindness by telling you the truth.  You would want someone to tell you your skirt was caught in your pantyhose, and you were exposing your backside to half of New York, wouldn’t you?

It’s the same thing.  Work on perfecting your craft.  Join writers groups for knowledge, critique and feedback.  Take a class online, or join a local writers group.  Whatever you choose to do, open yourself up to learning.  Chances are you’re a natural storyteller.  You just need to learn the tools.  Don’t give up.  But don’t be impatient to publish, either.

And now you have my 2¢ for the day. Take what makes sense and ignore the rest.  Hope it helps!