Positioning Seldom Come By

4 books fan


As an indie author when it comes to marketing you have to use ‘all the weapons at your disposal’. For me that meant being very clear on who I was targetting with Seldom Come By:  fans of Outlander, Into the Wilderness and The Bronze Horseman series.

There were some common elements: young love battling adversity; an intensity of feelings – not just passion but the full spectrum of human emotions; a stunning, unusual location as the backdrop; characters you could care deeply about…the list goes on.

People have been sceptical – understandably. I get that.

Did I think twice about adding these elements to my marketing:

“If Jamie and Claire

Nathaniel and Elizabeth

Alexander and Tatiana

mean something to you”


“Reminiscent of The Bronze Horseman”

Absolutely. Butterflies were in formation that’s for sure.

Did I word that extraordinarily carefully and get some trusted people to review it?  You bet.

Did I do that in complete isolation?  No.

This, from one of my early beta readers, Su:

“Their intense love for each other and the love scenes reminded me of Tatiana and Alexander.”

Was I far from the mark?

This, from Sarah who emailed me just a few weeks ago:

“I have read The Bronze Horseman, it is one of my all-time favourites, and Seldom Come By definitely gets to the same level.”

What I strove to do with this positioning was to pull my book from virtual obscurity and get it on to the consideration list. That is one of the biggest parts of the battle.

I’ve learnt long ago how true the cliché is: you can’t please all of the people all of the time. Writing like any artform is highly subjective.

But my aim is for part of the reading public to fall in love with my characters and what happens to them. If I’m honest, for enough of the reading public,  so I can write full time and provide more memorable, heart-wrenching books for people to read.

And so I want to say a special Thank You to Karen Scott from Ontario, Canada, for voicing what I’m sure a lot of people have thought when they’ve approached Seldom Come By.

I really appreciate you, Karen, telling it like it was for you. And I hope you don’t mind me reprinting your Goodreads review in full here:

I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

4.5 stars

I was a little daunted by the size of this book and the fact that it was part of a trilogy. Used to books that were half this size, I wondered if my attention would last the full book (it did–in fact it grew as I continued to read!) Then, there was the summary that the author provided where she mentioned Tatiana and Alexander and Jamie and Claire. Okay, you got my attention, but can you really pull that off?? These are some literary power couples and those names should not be tossed around lightly. I’ll admit–I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder after that. Above all this, I had the encouragement from Hildy, my book boss, telling me to give this book a try and I try to listen to her suggestions. 🙂

This book was a real treat to read. Caulfield’s writing was refreshing in that if she’s writing about a scene, it’s valuable to the story. There are no wasted scenes or superfluous descriptions in this prose. (Though I love her, Diana Gabaldon might take note. *cough* Echo in the Bone *cough*) Caulfield gives you only what you need to understand and feel the characters–and feel you do! By 30% in this book, I was completely invested in the characters. I was excited to get back to reading and postponed lunch dates because I needed to return to Newfoundland! 

Are Rebecca and Samuel the Canadian Tatiana and Alexander? I wouldn’t go that far. I liked how reading this book *reminded* me of The Bronze Horseman (because I like being reminded of that book), but Seldom Come By is not a rewrite of TBH, not by a long shot. The strength, passion and adversity that the couple has to endure are reminiscent of TBH, but beyond that, Rebecca and Samuel find their own way of handling things.

I have already found myself recommending this book to others that have loved The Bronze Horseman. I do believe that if you enjoy an epic love story, this will make a fine reading suggestion.

Bellagrand – Can it be as beautiful and as grand as The Bronze Horseman?

The Bronze Horseman by Russian born, American author, Paullina Simons is my favourite teenage love story; the trilogy, one of my favourite series of all times. And so it was in late 2012 when a prequel was released telling how Alexander Barrington’s parents met and fell in love in Boston in the early 20th century the book could have been called Great Expectations, such was the antipation for this novel.

I carved out a few days to read Children of Liberty and then afterwards I was in a total slump, not because I had a book hang-over but because I had a book blah. Despite the wonderful prose, I could not feel the love between the main characters. I could not understand the attraction. I could not put fingers to keyboard to write about it. So I picked up other books, continued with my own writing, while I waited and hoped that the next one would move me like her other breathtaking books.

I’m pleased to say Bellagrand has – but not for the reasons you might expect. And even though this book did not make me fall in love with Gina and Harry, even though it did not break my heart over them it certainly made me FEEL – which for me is paramount – and what I felt most was the heartbreak of a lone sister. Esther.

It was interesting how that came about. The story is largely told from Gina’s point of view, with only the briefest snippets from Alexander’s as bookends and just a sliver of Esther’s. But that was all it took. In a café in Casuarina, heavy tears coursed down my cheeks as I read her last agonising conversation with her nephew, Alexander.

If you have read The Bronze Horseman you will understand everything. If you have not, then I’m not sure how much you will enjoy this book. Earlier this week I spoke to a friend, also a TBH fan, who was half way through Bellagrand. Her words: ‘Man it’s depressing. Does it get any better? I know they have to go through all this stuff to get to Russia but sheesh!’

That’s it in a nushell. If you haven’t read Bellagrand and want to, then leave this page now. Shoo! Go! <g>

If you have read Bellagrand, please tell me what you thought. I’d love to hear and chat. Here’s my in-depth, spoiler-filled summation.

Bellagrand copy

There was many a time when I was reading Bellagrand when I wanted it to be about a different Gina from Sicily and a different Barrington boy from Boston – not one destined for the depressing, dire mire that was Russia in the 1930s. The reason for this: Gina’s husband, Alexander’s father, Harry, was such a selfish, deceitful character that I wanted to punch his lights out on so many occasions and throw my book at the wall. One of the major downsides – I have since discovered – to having an eReader.

In the opening chapters when we discover that Gina has supported Harry for seven years – seven years! – while they lived in her mother’s meagre home in Lawrence, while he fluffed about ideologising and doing God knows what, I found myself struggling to relate to this woman and this man. I could not relate to how that situation had not worn her down into a resentful, loveless woman who had little, if any, respect for her husband. I could not understand how Harry did not feel the tiniest bit emasculated by their situation, emasculated enough to get off his posterior so his wife did not have to work so tirelessly at three jobs.

The story started to get interesting when Gina falls pregnant for the first time, only to miscarry her baby due to being caught in an industrial riot. At which point Harry finallly finds his caring, protective muscle in a backhanded sort of way – telling her:  “I told you to stay away.”

There are lots of political, union and socialist discussions as well as current event updates throughout the novel that I waded through at times. I understand why they were there. I understand what those people were fighting for and how their struggle has meant better working conditions for almost everyone I know. [Yet sadly, is a struggle still taking place right now in many countries like Cambodia.] I understand how these were core to Harry’s beliefs and dreams for a new world order but I found them a bit dragging. That said, as an Australian who has not studied 20th century American history, the story did send me googling people, places and events and I think how these figures, such as Big Bill Haywood and Anna LoPizzo, were woven into the story was commendable. I just would have preferred less.

Respite comes when Harry is serving one of his longer jail terms and his best friend, Ben, returns from a decade in Panama where he has been building the ground-breaking (pun intended) canal. And in that disheartened world that Gina is living, she finds a new Eden, and Ben’s unrequited feelings for this once-spirited Sicilian beauty become no longer unrequited. Oh, the vicarious thrill of their Christmas lights and their iceskating lake and and their sleepless Saturday nights. Finally, someone who really cherishes her! What I wouldn’t have given to be inside Ben’s head and to read what this must have been like to pine after a woman for 15 years before finally consummating that relationship. Ever since the early days of Children of Liberty when we first met Ben I’ve found him to be the more spirited, interesting character with visionary ideas of his own that were life affirming and exotic.

However in the limbo of their bliss Harry is released from prison and Gina decides to return to him.

He gave up everything to marry me,” she tells Ben.

“Maybe he didn’t value what he had,” Ben said cooly, “Did you ever think of that? Does he value you?” 

Exactly. Ben saw it all.

Harry loved his ideals more than he loved Gina – despite his words arguing to the contrary. And argue they did, not about Harry’s beliefs as much as his irresponsibility, until one brief pause when they make love and their flailing union renders Gina pregnant for the seventh time, as the Spanish Flu arrives and does its best to assail her and half the people around her.

Being ill, unable to work, with Harry back in jail, and anxious of losing her baby, Gina does what Harry has been unable to do. She drags herself out of her sickbed and trains to Barrington to beg for help, for Harry’s baby. Miraculously, the Barringtons do not turn her out. Hermann even admires her. And, despite everything, Esther finds a common cause to side with Gina: new life, a child that she could never bear herself. And, bizarrely, there is clemency for Harry in exchange for house detention in a grand house in Florida bequeathed to him by his mother, which was bequeathed to her by none other than a flamboyant discarding lover.

Bellagrand, their mansion by the sea.

Bellagrand view


One of the hallmark’s of Paullina’s writing that I adore is her lyrical alliteration. We saw it in The Bronze Horseman: Luga, Ladoga, Leningrad, Lazarevo. And in this one too: Belagrand, Belpasso, Boston, Ben.

Bellagrand: their short-lived, sedate version of the roaring twenties; their overdue Lazarevo. And as a curtain raiser, Harry’s lovesick letter to Gina penned before they even married. Now we are finally reading how he truly felt for her way back when.

“I want nothing in my life as much as you…You are the muse to my every insipid utterance.”

I get why Harry loved her. I just wanted to hear him tell us why. He loved her because she was unique, like Susan Sarandon walking down the street. She was his angel who kept house, cooked divine meals, provided for them and was a sex goddess at night. Yet, did he love her enough?

What did she see in him? I kept on searching the pages for the answers. I rationalised that she loved him because he was a passionate and original thinker, highly intelligent, her partner in repartee. She loved his sacrifice, what he gave up for her, she loved that he loved her and, it would appear, that he was a good lover, he certainly made her hit the higher octaves. And I think she loved him because he still had a father, like she had once had a father whom she adored, and what she longed for was the perfect family of three generations of men together.

Certainly Hermann’s coming to Bellagrand was monumental, the happiest of times – aside from the infuriating conversations with Harry, like the widget one where Harry could not concede a single valid opposing point.

But too soon afterwards Hermann dies in Boston and Harry does not attend the funeral. Gina goes as their sole representative. And during the wake, which Ben attends with his new Panamanian wife, Esther at long last perceives Gina and Ben’s secret affair. That night, Esther accuses her sister-in-law of thrice ruining any chance of happiness she could have had with Ben, despite her affections being unreturned. Esther understood exactly what had happened each time, but she did not understand Gina’s motivations, falsely accusing her of being manipulative and plunderous, all the while Gina sat stone-faced, unable to defend herself without incriminating herself.

Gina returns south, to the magnificent comfortable, carefree life she enjoys with her husband and son, except with Harry’s release from house arrest, he wants out. “I want to go back to Boston – to be closer to Esther – she’s the only family I’ve got!”

True, true true, but lies, lies lies. And what about Gina’s brother, Salvo, who had moved across country for them?

Gina from Bellagrand painting

I hated Harry’s deceipt, his lies by omission. Back in Boston I wanted Harry to be trampled in some union riot. I wanted Ben’s innocent wife to be caught up in some Panamanian landslide so Gina and Ben could be united and Alexander would still have a ‘father’ to look up to, a builder and engineer extraordinaire.

Because from thereon their life in Boston starts to dissipate and fracture as Harry’s appalling deceptions slowly surface. It really goes down the sewer and there are a few minor details in this section that don’t entirely synch with The Bronze Horseman series – their citizenship situation being the case in point which really is the penultimate punch in the gut. 

“She was too proud to let him see the heartbreak in her humbled spine.”

As we near the novel’s end Gina makes the irreversible decision to stick with Harry and go to Russia with him and for me it was like the end of the movie Breaking the Waves. In this film, Bess, a young, simple woman (played by a young Emily Watson), returns to a masochistic, torturous sex house – all to please her husband. She ventures into her own death – as does Gina.

At this point I wanted to slap Gina. I wanted to lock Harry far far away on that island in Russia – the one they kept on talking about.

But what did Gina do? She went to bed with him in the middle of the day – sorry? – what?  – that noise you are hearing is the needle scratching across the record.

“Unfed, unquenched, unresolved, Harry and Gina undressed and in bed tried to feed and quench and resolve themselves. They always had that to fall back on, the white rumpled sheets of their mutual ardor.”

I could not get my head round that. Not the day time sex, but the anytime sex. I don’t know how she lay down with him ever again.

Esther had said earlier: “Your charms didn’t work on my brother.”  But his obviously worked on her, and still I could not see it…was it just his whispering to her in Italian? Did she put up with all his crap for that?!

Bellagrand is Gina’s story… We never get inside Harry’s head enough to love him. In The Bronze Horseman we were inside Alexander’s head at various points and those were powerful – Shura washing the blood off Tatiana at Luga, his arrival in Lazarevo, his chats with Dimitri. And then there was The Bridge to Holy Cross. In this book there are no sections that I recall from Harry’s point of view and I think perhaps this was a deliberate move so we were always closer to Gina, always on her side.

For me the most powerful scenes in the book were Esther’s: her venting after her father’s funeral; her plea to Harry and Gina not to leave America, begging for Gina to stay behind with Alexander. Breathtaking!

“Gina I’ve reconsidered all my previous positions. Imagine what a shifting of the sands this is for me. Please forget everything hurtful or hostile I’ve ever said to you, and forgive me. But please – don’t do this. Your son is your ladder to the stars. He deserves better than this.”

(Your son is your ladder to the stars = my favourite line of the entire book!)

Her silent plea to her brother:

You are the only family I have left. You, your wife, my beloved boy. Once you leave, I will have nothing. You’re going to a dreadful place, yes, but your also leaving me and that feels so wrong. How can you not understand that? Do I have to even say it? She didn’t. She couldn’t.

And her final conversation with Alexander in the park across the road:

“Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night, nor for the arrow that flieth by day, nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness, nor for the destruction that wasteth by noonday, a thousand shall fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand, but it shall not come near thee.”

Heartbreaking!  At least we know he memorised it like she asked him to. Bittersweet. I would have liked to have seen more of  just Alexander and Esther.

Even though the last few chapters build to an absorbing climax Bellagrand is not an uplifting story and, I admit, I like a happy ending, or at least an ending that has some degree of implied hope and promise. And I also like my antagonists to redeem themselves in some way.

So although I did not love this book – I did love a lot of the secondary characters and Gina too for most of the time. I hated her agreeing to go to Russia. Yet without that, there would be no Bronze Horseman. Such a bind. Ultimately, I think Bellagrand made me love the TBH series and Alexander even more, because of his mother’s sacrifice. I’m glad he got to live the American dream, because for his rudderless mother it was tragically too short.

Artists Come Alive in Set Me Free

Emma Sheldrake

Above painting and thumbnail by Brisbane artist, Emma Sheldrake 

I have always been enthralled with art – in fact drawings, sculptures, paintings and poetry feature prominently throughout my novel, Seldom Come By, and there’s more to come in The Iceberg Trilogy! <g>

And so it was that while reading Set Me Free, the story of  a young female art gallery owner in Brisbane’s West End fighting a determined and suave property developer, I was also devouring Beautiful Bizarre Magazine’s December issue and came across the striking portraits of Brisbane artist, Emma Sheldrake. And before I knew it, the three became entwined, which made for an enchanting read.

In Set Me Free, Brisbane author Jennifer Collin‘s debut novel, we meet Charlotte Evans who some years earlier moved from Melbourne to Brisbane to manage an art gallery to champion her younger sister, Emily, and other local artists. Emily’s paintings tend to be muted cityscapes that have a singular bright focal object – a bike, an umbrella, a geranium pot plant – that draws your eyes in. Emma’s artwork is the opposite, but equally magnetic: stylised colourful portraits yet with pale faces that lure you in due to the intensity of the model’s eyes. (See image above whose eyes incidentally remind me of my heroine’s Rebecca’s)

7090fdd401422e93d17eeffd8d69c9ff07005acb-thumbThe book opens with Charlotte returning from a holiday in Italy and on her first jetlagged night home has – what she hopes will not be – a one night stand with a man who comes into her art gallery just before closing.

The next day she discovers through her best friend, Ben, and Emily that a developer has bought the strip of buildings which houses her gallery, Ben’s coffee shop and their favourite Vietnamese restaurant and intends to tear the lot down to put up a soulless homogenous shopping cum residential block. And the developer in question is none other than Craig Carmichael: one night her ardent lover, the next her guilty, standoffish, silver-tongued enemy. Charlotte’s cringing and regret were palpable and quite a poignant lesson for us all. Would that she had prescience!

Setting this story up so the main characters were intimate before their conflict made for an interesting twist on this developer versus local community narrative which has also been covered by Australian authors, Helene Young, in Halfmoon Bay, and Di Morrissey, in The Plantation, in recent years.Fifties Dress

Charlotte also had a penchant for dancing, ala Dancing with The Stars style, and a love of all things 50s including her wardrobe. Who doesn’t love those fashions? A girlfriend, Andrea, who recently shared this pic said: “I wish I lived in the 50s instead of being about to enter my 50s.”

This was a light, easy read that will dovetail nicely into the sequel which I suspect will focus on Emily’s romance. If you like your local art scene and chick lit romances, give this book a go.

A Modern Country Girl’s Teenage Yearning

Tamworth Billboard Smaller

When I wrote about my Aunty Joan recently I mentioned reading Michelle D Argyle’s coming of age novel, Out of Tune. I  confess I don’t read much in the YA genre – the Twilight series comes to mind but that was also paranormal, however I completely related to the heroine’s creative dreams and desire to pursue them.

Out of Tune took me inside the world of American country music seen through the eyes of a young woman at a crossroads in her life. Twenty year old Maggie Roads has spent years touring the circuit, living under her parents shadow, depressed by her inability to sustain a song, yet so desperately wanting for music to be front and centre of her life.  And into that turmoil comes more hurdles and setbacks and temptations and the realisation that her parents could have been considerably more supportive.

michelle_d_argyle_out_of_tuneWhat I loved about this book is the original storyline and the surprises that kept on coming. I had no idea how the love triangle was going to work itself out – I still would like to read more anon on this Michelle –  if you are reading this <g>.

But ultimately this is a story about a very modern girl who could have made some bad choices for herself but didn’t. The way she was her own best-friend, honest and considered rather than inpulsive and regretful was a wonderful example for others who might be tempted to dive into relationships, ignoring all the waming bells and confusion of their heart. And through testing the waters and being honest with herself, she found her true north along with her true love.

“Nathan you can call me Mags” – just love the acceptance of this line.

And wouldn’t you know it, when I headed south for my Aunty’s funeral last week, on the outskirts of Tamworth, Australia’s country music capital, was the above billboard. Michelle said it took a week to dye her hair!

From Gone Girl to The Silent Wife

The Silent Wife, a novel about a disintegrating marriage, just optioned by Nicole Kidman, has been billed as this year’s Gone Girl, a breakway publishing hit of 2012.

I haven’t read The Silent Wife as yet — Harrison’s road to publishing is not unike Stieg Larsson — tragically she died whilst it was doing the rounds with prospective agents and publishers. It’s on my To Be Read List. However I did read Gone Girl on the strength of some people saying they simply could not put it down. It is a bit of a pressure cooker, and surprisingly a difficult novel to write about without giving it away. I’ll do my best.

We join Nick and Amy Dunne on the day they are about to celebrate their 5th wedding anniversary in Mississippi where they have been living for the last two years. In the opening chapter as Nick enters the bar he co-owns with his sister he has a sense he is being watched by a man half-hidden across the road. Soon after Nick receives a phone call from a neighbour reporting that his front door is open and the cat is outside. Nick returns home to find the house disturbed and his wife missing under what looks like suspicious circumstances.

Then we meet Amy five years earlier who in alternative chapters retells the story of her life and her relationship with Nick starting when they first met in New York. As we travel through five years with Amy we walk beside Nick through the minutes, hours and days he spends with the police and in secret uncovering one clue that leads to another and another, surrounding Amy’s disappearance.

See right there I may have given it away with the word “in secret”.

Through both characters Flynn reveals interesting observations on familial duty, coupledom and individuality post the cathectic stage that Scott M Peck writes about in The Road Less Travelled.

Midway through the book, Amy’s chapters, revealed through her diary entries, catch up to the present day.

On the surface, Flynn has created two very real, ordinary, imperfect and likeable characters and then she takes you on a journey into a much darker world, one which will evoke strong emotional responses – and not of the usual variety. On page 35 after Nick has had his first interview with the police he discloses to us, the reader, that he had just told 5 lies to the police. I’m not sure if this was a deliberate technique, but by his simple act of admission I warmed to Nick and never really left his camp after that. I sure wanted to know what those 5 lies were. And there’s another BUT – unfortunately at this point I thought the whodunit factor of the book was given away – and I was right – dang, I don’t like it when that happens.

Despite that, Gone Girl is quite the page turner with prose that occasionally gives you reason to pause – a coathanger collarbone – isn’t that simple, beautiful? What really takes this read up a notch is the way you, the reader, become omnipresent in the story and how frustrated you become in your powerlessness to change the situation. Telling the story in two first person points of view added to the drama and tension in this book. Jodie Picoult often uses this technique for all her characters and it doesn’t work for me. I find it confusing and disorientating, constantly having to work out which character’s head I am in. Here it is used to stunning effect. My partner read this book as soon as I had finished it as I was desperate to talk to someone about it. The perfect way to read Gone Girl would be together, chapter by chapter. It’s like an episode of The Mentalist – you want to chat about what just happened during the commercial break.

So have you read it? What did you think? And what about The Silent Wife?

Rating / 5 :  3.5