Arranged Marriage.

I had more fun writing this novel, Arranged Marriage, than writing any other and still enjoy reading it back – trying hard not to edit because it’s all too late.

Although it’s a stand-alone novel it does follow on from the two girl’s parents story to be found in A Boy For Two Witch Girls which, if you read this post between 11th and 17th February 2021, is only 99c on Amazon but thereafter jumps up to the staggering $2.99 which is still a bargain read.

Monique sees herself as always second place to her cousin Skye. Neither feel comfortable hiding witch powers in a human world. Both seek love and affection but can see no way to attain it.

Then Silas, a combined witch and vampire, turns up at their door and explains to them that their destiny is to bring together the witch world with a vampire world that lies behind a gateway. Skye will be the main force with Monique advising and, once again, believing herself inferior. Both are destined for arranged marriages.

Marriage to two princes sounds exciting to the girls but they have no idea that the princes are not alike in temperament. Arranged marriage, it seems, suits some young women but not others and a lot will depend on the man chosen.

Will Skye fulfil her dreams? Will Monique finally outdo her cousin any aspect of her life and are the rumours she has read about, regarding a vampire’s destiny of fulfilling his bride’s passions, turn out to be true?

A stand-alone novel of love, hate, forced marriage and marriage jumped into. Skye is the daughter of Janice from “A Boy For Two Witch Girls” and Monique is the daughter of Shelagh from the same novel. Read this novel then delve into the history of how two witch families ended up living in the same remote cottage.

Early readers have described this novel as YA with adult themes, NA with a retrospective look back at youth and also as a love story for any age group.

Part three is my work in progress and will involve one of the girls settling down into domestic bliss in the human world while trying to sort out the various problems of her neighbourly lady friends.

Read Arranged Marriage now. This novel and all my previous novels can be previewed at StephensonHolt.com

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A Discovery Of Witches (novel and tv series)

Firstly, a warning. Some trilogies have a start and a finish to each of the novels, with the heroes going on a single quest in each book. This is not such a trilogy and you shouldn’t read the first book expecting resolution at the end, or even a conclusion to the main story. It leaves you hanging and you either read books two and three or you leave disappointed. (Series one of the TV shows do the same thing.)


I read this novel after the TV series aired but hadn’t watched it. Then, as with all read then watch, felt surprised the characters were not the ones in my head, although the aunties came pretty close. I am presently watching series 2 before deciding whether or not to read book 2.


I loved this book, got deeply involved with the characters, their development throughout the novel and the story itself. It might have appeared in my bookshelf of top ten novels, certainly would have reached a top twenty list, but for a few personal gripes that knocked it to a four star review.
 
My Timeline:- started watching episode one of the tv series, turned it off and decided to read the book instead, got half way through the novel and read some reviews, couldn’t understand some of the comments in the reviews, finished the novel.
 
My suspense of belief, of the novel’s world, was complete while reading. I took for granted that the incredible amount of research by the author into historical facts was accurate (who am I to argue) and everything said about the relationship between witches, vampires and daemons seemed logical. The fact that they could all become friends, and because of their friendship, attract enemies, seemed to work completely. I found the novel a page turner, so why only four stars?
 
Someone reviewed this novel after hearing the audio version and commented that the accents of the characters were well portrayed by the reader. I can completely understand this but, as I found, time and again while reading, I didn’t know who was speaking and the voice of a narrator would have helped enormously. Three-way telephone conversations were confusing, a host of people in the same room even more so. Far too often a paragraph of speech is completed by ‘said Matthew’ for instance, shocking you into changing the voice you just read in, or even going back in the story. There are even instances of a character thinking, acting, speaking, but then you find out that the speech is by someone else. It would be interesting to find out how the narrator in the audio version coped and whether they had to re-read parts and change the character voice on the second read.


Some reviews that I read mentioned an editor being needed and I agree. The film running in the author’s head is clear to her with regard to who is speaking, but that needs to be conveyed to the reader. I thought this all the way through the book and was shocked at the end, on reading the acknowledgements, that not only was an initial editor thanked but also a second editor ‘to polish things up.’
 
Something that would be brushed over by most readers (I guess) but added grit to my reading enjoyment, was the fact that practically the whole novel is written in first person past tense, which is fine, but the odd two or three chapters jump into third-person omniscient past tense when Diana is away from Matthew and we hear Matthew’s story. Probably me and, as stated, most won’t find it a problem but I would have preferred those parts to have been in Matthew’s voice.
 
Research, as I said above, seems to be thorough. So why did the following grate so much in my head? Early on in the story, while in the Bodleian Library, in Oxford, England, a discarded newspaper Diana reads, refers to deaths in London and refers to ‘the Fall of 2007’. Fall? Autumn over here folks. British people never use the term Fall and a newspaper certainly wouldn’t. Worse, the reference ‘A quick check revealed that my body was naked and tucked tightly under layers of quilts, like a patient in a British intensive-care ward.’ What?
 
So, a few gripes but still a 4star review. Will I watch the TV series? – Yes, eventually. I tried the first episode for a second time and realised that the term ‘based on’ had been applied only loosely but then carried on regardless and got to the end of the series. Series 2 is now on Catchup TV and I am catching up slowly when in the mood. Guess what though – I expect a cliff hanger at the end of the series to make me watch series 3.
 
Will I read the second and third in the trilogy? Yes and they are on my ‘to read’ list. The gripes that I have, are worth it for being immersed in this world, away from reality.

First Draft completed in November

Then came the revelation that  webpage titles have difficulty with apostrophes as do search engines. Sometimes the name would come out as Skye s other times as Skyes. A change was needed.

All the way through the first draft of this novel, the working title has been ‘Skye’s Limit’ – well it started off as ‘Sky’s Limit’ but as I read back and edited I kept on reading ‘Sky ‘as ‘She’ so changed her name to Skye.

One of these girls, Skye, is the daughter of Janice, the hero of A Boy For Two Witch Girls and the other, Monique is the daughter of Shelagh who also appears in that novel. Arranged marriage works out for one but not the other. You’ll have to read the novel to find out which.

Looking back at the total story line, without plot or sub-plot, we have two late-teenage witch girls being given to (via arranged marriage) two vampire men. The premise is that it will make both realms stronger.

A stand alone novel that is actually a sequel to Janice and Shelagh’s story, the ending has prompted a book three in extreme draft form only (messing about with a first chapter) but that is usually how things go.

Editing of this first draft is proceeding slowly, while trying to reduce the 102,000 word count and then it will go out to Beta readers. If you have read the above and fancy receiving a free copy to Beta Read before it goes to an agent, then please get in touch via the contact sheet on my website at StephensonHolt.com

Tai Chi Book or DVD?

The book is small, shiny cover, elastic place holder in orange, as everyone agrees, a lovely little book and reminiscent, to me, of a missal. We are told not to judge a book by its cover but there is some useful information in here, for me. Not all info was used by me though – I shall explain.

I wanted to learn Tai Chi and the local class ( that had clashed with a course, recently completed) was no longer. This book seemed to be the answer. Chapters one  through three are divided into a number of sections dealing with body, mind and spirit which I found really useful and will read over and over again. Chapters four through seven concern place, warming up, basic stance etc and that is where I finally got to.

On a course, years ago, a lecturer explained the difference between reading how to do something and being shown how to do it. “Imagine,” he said, “you want to play Monopoly. You were shown by someone who had already played it. Have you ever read the complicated rules on how to play?” None of us had. So it is with this book.

The chapters on actual Postures are written instructions that would be difficult to perform while reading. For this reason I bought the DVD called “Tai Chi Sun Style 73 Forms” (see below). This DVD takes you through each of the 73 forms, one by one, a couple of times each, with Dr. Paul Lam and his assistant, one facing you the other not. The complete 73 forms can then be watched and copied with him either front face or back to you, depending on your preference. The DVD has nothing on breathing, mind, spirit etc.

For all the above reasons I believe the book and the DVD are invaluable together and less than half as good apart. I would recommend both.

Dr. Paul Lam takes you through the whole thing, stage by stage, fraction by fraction of each stage. He continually talks to you in a soft voice and is easy to follow.

Having explained a procedure, front-on, with his assistant, he then turns his back to do it again but without you imagining that you are looking into a mirror.

It is extremely useful to see front and rear view at the same time and this is extended into the final chapter where the whole routine is performed. You then have the choice of watching someone facing you, or you can choose to have him with his back to you so that you can copy moves as if you were in a group and you were following the person in front of you.

My Poor Car

Well, a difficult October and that’s ignoring Covvid-19 and its implications to normal life.  While laying in bed, early one morning, we heard a loud bang, looked out the window to see an unknown car having ploughed into my car and watched him drive off as if nothing had happened. My car was later written off as unrepairable.

Luckily we have a fantastic Neighbourhood Watch system with cameras everywhere (3 on our house) and a Number Plate Recognition camera at the end of the street.

Long story short, the police contacted the driver, suggested he may wish to return to the scene and offer his insurance documents and we have a new car arriving this Friday.

On the writing front, my work in progress is getting complicated and I have to keep going back to a huge spreadsheet to see who knew what and when. “Skye’s Limit” is a follow up to “A  Boy For Two  Witch Girls” and involves Skye and Monique  (witches) having arranged marriages with two vampire princes and the way they manage that in completely different ways.

The novel is becoming political and looks at Vampire standards towards women and how that may not be that different to the human or witch world. I will update on progress as and when.

More blog notes, reviews and details of novels written at www.StephensonHolt.com

Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons – A Review.

When I first read this novel, some twenty-five years ago, I found it fascinating and, at that time, it was a bit of a cult novel. Families who had all read the book, talked to each other by using quotes from the book. Nobody bought it then, it was passed from person to person as a dog-eared paperback. Thus it was a surprise for me to go into the Amazon reviews to find it was rated two and a half crowns out of five. On further investigation, one reviewer had loved it and scored it 5, two others had hated it and scored it one (this was 25 years ago). I note now that it is a Penguin Classic!

I was careful not to watch the film as I was sure that it would destroy the mental images built up in my mind. Such as the following;-

“A little later, as she (Flora) sat peacefully sewing, Adam came in from the yard. He wore, as a protection from the rain, a hat which had lost – in who knows what dim hintermath of time – the usual attributes of shape, colour and size, and those more subtle race-memory associations which identify hats as hats, and now resembled some obscure natural growth, some moss or sponge or fungus, which has attached itself to a host.”

The above makes me smile, I find it cute and enjoyable and warm. It is not belly-laughing material and doesn’t pretend to be – so why the publishers describe the novel as a comic classic is a mystery to some and an annoyance to others. In these days of fast TV comedy, more is expected. This book was first published in 1932 and is therefore capable of slowing you down to the speed of the day, much as, say V.S. Naipaul’s Mystic Masseur, written in 1957, would do.

The relatively sophisticated Flora is farmed out to her country cousins who smack of in-breeding and tribalism, right down to family structure with a chief at its head. There are questions continually thrown at the reader who somehow knows that the answers will never be found. It is not giving anything away to tell you that months after reading this book you will talk to yourself while walking down the street “I wonder what Great Aunt Ada Doom did see in the woodshed that was so nasty.”

This review and many more, along with novels written by the reviewer, at http://www.StephensonHolt.com

The Girl Under The Olive Tree – A Review

A must read novel for anyone interested in or sitting on a beach anywhere in Greece or elsewhere in the Med, enjoying sunshine and bright colours but unaware of the C20th history of Greece. I will explain why below.

A novel suggested by my wife – we each have a Kindle on the same account so can share books – we love Greece and have experienced many of the smaller islands and she thought this novel set on the large island of Crete would interest me.
On starting I read through the index and to my horror there were lots of dates jumping around everywhere. I screamed “You know I’m an idiot that can’t follow a book that leaps about in time” but she assured me I would be okay. I was okay. It bounces between present day (well 2001) and the pre- war and war years. Present day is narrated by an old main character in the first person with her reminiscence sometimes going into third person. The forties are all in third person and if I could follow that then anyone can.

Something personal to me and my reading-mind perhaps is the fact that when reading a wartime Greek book (there have been a couple) my head is always in a space where we are on a family holiday in sunny summer Greece with all its bright and vibrant colours and then visit one of the many small war museums where photographs are in black and white, drained of colour and that beach that you sat on earlier in the day is shown covered in rolls of barbed wire. Difficult to believe that it is the same place and this novel had the same effect on me. My comment at the top of this piece about it being a must read is because this novel fills in all the gaps between the bright colours and the black and white photos. It makes it real; it makes you understand what it was like to be on Crete at that time like no history book could. Leah Fleming captures the time, the characters and the place and makes you believe you are there.

There is nothing unusual perhaps about a rich girl striking out on her own, defying parents and moving to Athens. We know from the start which way the story will go as the opening prologue-ish chapter is the very end of the story where she is on Crete during the war. I detected a love story theme going on throughout (I am perceptive for a bloke) so I dived onto Goodreads at that point to see if most of the reviews were by women to find that the vast majority are. They shouldn’t be. This is a novel to suit all. If you read this novel and enjoy it and are female then you could pass it to any male friend and explain that it is a war story with a slight love angle (sorry about the gender stereotyping.)

One thing I did enjoy over other novels of similar time span (Captain Corelli’s Mandolin?) was the fact that there was no ‘this is how nice it was before the war and now here we are in the war’ and instead we have a build up towards hostilities and learn how tensions increased and the wait for hostilities was a long one in some parts of Europe.

I recommend the novel and would suggest it would be good background reading for anyone studying 20th century history. Obviously not fact but gives a flavour.

This review and many more (along with books written by Stephenson Holt) at www.StephensonHolt.com

The Deep Voice of Garrison Keilor.

A long time ago, (2003) we fancied a week’s holiday, but somewhere diffent, so we travelled to Norfolk, England for the first time ever, from our home in Wales, on the other side of the country. we stayed bed and breakfast at the Old Custom House in Wells-Next The Sea.  One over-riding memory of the place, in 2003, is that only one restaurant took credit cards so we had to get cash-back at the local Co-op in order to eat out each night.

Things may have changed but, back at that time, brakfast was around one long table and the proprietor explained that it was to get people to talk to other guests, rather then the normal ‘good mornings’ and then chat to whoever is sat with you.

We were amongst seven or eight people, all chatting and it became clear that two couples were either American or Canadian (Brits are always getting into trouble over picking the wrong one) and conversation turned to guessing where they were from/

My guess was close to the border – this raised eyebrows – then, pinning it down more, the middle of America, away from the coasts and in a state on the border of Canada. The two ladies were impressed, one of their husbands asked why I had come to that conclusion.

I explained. “You may not have heard of him but I have an author I read a lot called Garrison Keilor. He writes about local life and was recently on BBC Radio 4 doing readings from his Lake Wobegone novel. You men have similar voices to Mr. Keillor and I know the area I described is where he is from.”

The two couples looked at each other, somewhat stunned until one of the men spoke. “We are all from the same town as Garrison and I tour with him when he does his readings. If he needs a break in the middle of readings, to rest his voice and have a drink of water, then I take over for him because our voices are so similar.”

Is that a chance in a million? They asked Canada or USA and I pinned it to the town.

Two Women – Martina Cole – A Review

Susan Dalston, the prologue tells us, has murdered her husband, is in prison and is being transferred between prisons pending an appeal against her sentence. This is an appeal that she doesn’t intend to go through with, it’s just a means of getting closer to her family for a few weeks to make visits easier.

As is quite usual with Martina Cole novels, we find out the ending, or near ending, in the prologue and the rest of the novel takes us from an early point, through a desparately hard life to the point where we meet the prologue again.

In this case, Susan as a child, is unloved by her mother, disparaged by her gran and abused by her father. On marrying her childhood sweetheart (not giving anything away here as the marriage is mentioned in the prologue) life goes from bad to worse. There are disturbing and black scenes in this novel, to my mind the blackest of Cole’s novels that I have read so far. Women reading this book will relate to Susan and will feel for her from start to finish. Men reading this novel will look for the lovable rogue, or the bad son that still looks after his family – but will be disappointed as no such character exists. There are no nice men or partly nice men with any major role in this novel, perhaps a deliberate ploy on Cole’s part to make the reader, male or female, relate to Susan and nobody else. Choosing a typical passage is difficult without giving the plot away so, from the prologue we have……….

Matilda left the cell and came back with two large mugs of tea. She opened a packet of digestives and placed a few on the bunk beside Susan.

“Did you really hit your old man…….”

Susan interrupted her acidly “One hundred and fifty two times with a claw hammer? Yes, I did, I counted the blows, it gave me something to focus on.”

I don’t think I could read two Martina Cole’s novels in succession and after “Two Women” had to have a break from reading completely, such was the power of the novel, leaving the reader shocked in most chapters.

This review and many more at www.StephensonHolt.com

The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks – A Review

Later and better books by Banks have, in their inside cover, the words “Iain Banks came to controversial public notice with the publication of his first novel The Wasp Factory in 1984. Since then…..”

The many professional reviews added to the front of The Wasp Factory, by the publishers, show that this is not a book to be “liked”. It will be either loved or hated. If you have not read Iain Banks then this, his first novel, is not the place to start.

I would suggest that the possibility of you not enjoying this book and therefore abandoning Iain Banks as an author, is too great. As an introduction, why not try Espedair Street or The Bridge and come back to this novel later as a curiosity item. You will then find out about two brothers with no idea of the effect that they have, on other people, or death. This is banks getting into the head of someone who is isolated geographically and mentally, hence the not understanding the effect on others.

“I looked round the Bunker. The severed heads of gulls, rabbits, crows, mice, owls, moles and small lizards looked down on me. They hung drying on short loops of black thread suspended from lengths of string stretched across the walls from corner to corner, and dim shadows turned slowly on the walls behind them.”

My personal opinion is that this is a first novel, meant to shock and get the author noticed, which it did, successfully.

This review and many more at http://www.StephensonHolt.com