22 July 2017

The fourth Weekend

As there are five weekends this month 
(Reader's Voice will be next week) 
so I thought maybe a few amusing cartoons for those of us
 who love reading books would be... 
well, amusing!













and my two favourites: 




Feel free to borrow - after all, I originally found all these on Facebook. If anyone wants to claim ownership, please let me know and I will delete ... but these are all so superb they really should be shared!

Enjoy your weekend folks!
Helen



21 July 2017

The du Lac Chronicles by Mary Anne Yarde



Amazon UK £2.99 £9.99
Amazon US $3.81 £14.99
Amazon CA $20.19

Romance / Arthurian / Fictional Saga
c. 500AD

The Du Lac Chronicles, by Mary Anne Yard, is set in a post-Roman, post-Arthurian Britain, in which waves of Saxon invaders are well on the way towards overrunning the remaining British regions. Arthur is dead, along with most of his followers, and the remaining few are scattered, lurking in separate pockets to avoid discovery. It is time for a new generation to see what sort of land they can fashion. This is the first in a series of novels and shorter pieces of writing, but it reaches a clear and logical end as a work in itself. The book, and the series as a whole, blends historical insight together with the poetry and legend surrounding Arthur and his followers.

The story circles around the children of Launcelot, and the ambivalent legacy he has left them. Their lands in Cornwall have just been lost to the Saxons of Wessex, and the survival of their line is in doubt. Alliances are uncertain and shifting, and old loyalties cannot necessarily be relied upon. The new Saxon invaders are eager to enforce their rule on the existing leaders, but are themselves split by rivalry. The book opens with the formation of an unexpected alliance, blending mutual support, political astuteness, and genuine affection. This central love affair is threatened by ally and enemy alike, and its progress from cautious overture through consummation to commitment drives the plot.

I would have liked a map to help orient myself in the presumed Arthurian locations. As a Brit, it is easy to place the various Saxon kingdoms. Of course, the exact geography of key regions and castles in the tales of Arthur remains obscure. However, Mary Anne has obviously made some suppositions in order to plan out the journeys of her characters, and it would have been helpful to see this laid out visually as well as in a brief author's note at the end.

Personally I am more swayed now by arguments for Arthurian settings in the north of England than the south, whereas this book is solidly southern in perspective. However, the choices here are well laid out and consistent. Along with that, the diversity of language and culture of the age is compellingly presented, with all its opportunities for both cross-fertilisation and misunderstanding.

All in all a vivid and readable imagining of this stage of British history, with a blend of remembered grandeur and the cruel oppression of invasion. Now that I have discovered it, this is a series that I shall continue to dip into.

© Richard Abbott
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20 July 2017

A Discovering Diamonds review of: The Survivor & Other Tales of Old San Francisco by Steve Bartholomew



Amazon UK £3.42 £6.20
Amazon US $4.39 $7.98
Amazon CA $10.54

Short stories / family drama
American Old West

This 141-page selection of short stories about the Old San Francisco (first called Yerba Buena) is an easy read.

In a conversational style, Bartholomew’s main character tells the reader interesting aspects about the growing pains and tragedies of this great American city. His often self-effacing accounts about his own success and life in the emerging West are interlaced with dry wit and a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor.

It makes for a pleasant read and whether or not there are a few liberties with the facts is irrelevant. Each of these entertaining short stories can stand alone, but the recurring characters of Hiram Courtenay and his wife Lisbeth provide continuity, and I grew quite fond of the intrepid pair as they endured fires, loss and social upheaval around them. Indeed Hiram, although a successful businessman, can be found reaching out to those less fortunate, providing them not only with counsel but a helping hand. He owns warehouses along the docks and sees first-hand those huddled and befuddled immigrants being disgorged from the bowels of arriving clipper ships. He and his wife are quick to ask them to their home and to provide a meal.

I came away with several observations:

1) Grateful I didn’t live then and there.

2) Some of my “aha-moments” were spoiled by every story ending in “The End.” If I were the author, I would take those out, especially since the formatting plasters this unnecessary statement up against the last line. Centered and down-spaced asterisks (* * *) are less intrusive leaving the reader to enjoy “what-if” or “wow” moments without the abruptness of “The End” tearing him or her out of any lingering feeling about what they had just read.

3) The cover could be improved by larger lettering, and the thumb-print might be resized to fit in with the author’s other titles.

4) In the title, the words “other tales,” I feel, should be capitalized. Further, these days an author’s name customarily is no longer preceded with “by.”

These are just my nitpicks. However, I feel they would shift these delightful short stories into a more professional realm.

Definitely worth a read for those interested in life in the Old West, and San Francisco in particular.

© Inge H. Borg
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19 July 2017

Until the Curtain Falls by David Ebsworth



Amazon UK £3.49 £10.99
Amazon US $4.52 $13.99
Amazon CA $20.70

Adventure / Fictional Saga
1938
Spanish Civil War

Jack Telford, an English journalist, is in a spot of bother. Franco's soldiers want him, the Russians want him and even the British want him. And all because he killed a colleague and, instead of sticking to the story that he has made up he decides to go on the run and with one aim in mind – to assassinate General Franco.

Of course we know that this idea is doomed to failure, but what follows takes us through the reality of the Spanish Civil War – the lies and the truths, the duplicity of politicians, the patriotism of the nationals, the cruelty of the new regime as well as the deprivation of the people and the horrors of prison camps.

I discovered, by chance, that this book is a sequel to an earlier volume entitled The Assassin's Mark and that did help to explain some confusion at the beginning because I was wondering just why Jack Telford pursued his particular path of action. Having said that, the back story is explained and I see no reason why this cannot be read as a standalone, although I would recommend reading the first story before the sequel.

Because David Ebsworth has an excellent way of telling a tale: his descriptions of both people and locations make you feel as if you know them, his prose often comprises of short sharp  sentences, sometimes just one word sentences even, that add to the tension or the thoughts of the character or, where this occurs, the urgency within the dialogue. The creation of his characters – the fictional ones – have great depth and believability and are easy to warm to – or to fear.

Once into the story, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it through to the dramatic conclusion. Highly recommended as a well crafted, top class novel about a rarely written episode of world history.

© Richard Tearle

* * * 
#2

When I read   The Assassin's Mark, I didn't think the excellent finale with its unexpected twist could be continued with a second book. Well, David Ebsworth has proved me wrong. There are more loose ends to tie up than I had thought of, and new plot ideas, as well as a lot more to tell about the Spanish Civil War. I love it when sequels don't repeat a formula but dare to take different directions.

While book one took place in a very brief period of time in 1938, this novel takes its time, literally, and captures a wider spectrum of historical events and politics. Hero Telford finds himself in a hot spot following the finale in Book One and needs to get out of it soon.

This takes us on a journey through war torn Spain from 1938 until the end of the war. He tries to escape to safety through a minefield of dangers and enemies, travelling across the country and on the way giving us insights into the situation in various locations, all of which provide yet another perspective on the war: areas occupied, besieged and captured, scenes of destruction and violence.

New characters bring further perspectives on the war while the suspense and drama provide a gripping and engaging storyline. This is truly excellent, as a sequel, as a stand alone and as a portrait of the war.

Historically astute and well researched: highly recommended.

© Christoph Fischer

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18 July 2017

After Whorl: Donning Double Cloaks by Nancy Jardine



Amazon UK £1.99 £7.99
Amazon US $2.49 $3.67

Fictional Saga / Military / Romance
1st Century Roman Britain

#3 in the Celts and Romans series

After King Venutius’ defeat, Brennus of Garrigill – known as Bran – maintains a spy network monitoring Roman activity in Brigantia. Relative peace reigns till AD 78 when Roman Governor Agricola marches his legions to the far north. Brennus is always one step ahead of the Roman Army as he seeks the Caledon Celt who will lead all tribes in battle against Rome.
Ineda of Marske treks northwards with her master, Tribune Valerius, who is responsible for supplying Agricola’s northern campaigns. At Inchtuthil Roman Fort Ineda flees seeking fellow Brigantes congregating on the foothills of Beinn na Ciche.
Will the battle against the Romans bring Ineda and Brennus together again?”

Starting wherebook two left off, this exciting adventure continues – it is a stand-alone, but I urge you to start at the beginning with The Beltane Choice because the read is well worth it.

The story follows the paths of Bran and Ineda as they pursue their vow of revenge against Rome.

Ineda is now a slave to a Roman Tribune, while Bran joins his brother, Lorcan, hoping to find a leader strong enough to rebel against the Roman victors. This is a thoroughly exciting and enjoyably absorbing read, wonderfully researched and elegantly written giving a vividly compelling view of life as it may have been after Rome had swept into Britannia and taken everything for their own gain – except they never managed to conquer the hearts and minds of the Celtic people they conquered.

The story is about the might of military Rome, the political events and upheavals, but primarily it is the story of ordinary people surviving through extraordinary times, of the struggles of dealing with conquest and oppression – of making it through from dawn till dusk day after day, week after week. It is a story of survival and determination and hope. Of enduring brutality and absorbing kindness. To say more will reveal spoilers, but the entire series is set firmly among the very best of early Romano British novels.

© Helen Hollick



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17 July 2017

After Whorl, Bran Reborn by Nancy Jardine


Amazon UK £1.99 £5.99
Amazon US $2.49 $10.89
Amazon CA $14.57

Fictional Saga / Military / Romance
1st Century Roman Britain

Book #2 in the Celts and Romans series

I suppose all of us have seen those rather devastating pictures of the German tanks mowing down the Polish cavalry at the beginning of the Second World War. Superior technology and superior discipline met passion and courage and left a trail of carnage behind. In Ms Jardine’s book, it is the Brigantes – a British tribe – that represent the Polish cavalry, facing up to what must have been the most impressive military force of their time, the Roman Legions.

When the legionaries clash with the brave British warriors, they, just like those German tanks, cut a swathe through the proud Brigantian fighters, leaving very many dead and just as many badly wounded. One of the wounded is Brennus, a young man who figures on the fringes of Ms Jardine’s previous novel, The Beltane Choice (which, BTW, I can most warmly recommend).

Brennus returns to life permanently damaged and disfigured. The former champion of his tribe is reduced to a man who has little purpose in life – apart from wanting to make the Romans pay. To mark his new inferior status, Brennus renames himself Bran, a man with no past and little interest in his future. Fortunately for Bran – and the reader – some of his grim outlook on life is affected by the young female firebrand Ineda, a Brigante just like him, as devoted to making the Romans pay as he is.

Where Bran is introspection and bitterness, Ineda is passion and hope, an unquenchable force who refuses to believe the Romans can’t be beaten. Bran is somewhat more sanguine – and besides, what use is he in a battle? – but Ineda’s enthusiasm is very contagious, and Bran starts to see that he can fill a purpose in the ongoing fighting between his people and the hated invaders, despite being crippled.

Ms Jardine also gives us a budding romance between the damaged Bran, who, in his own opinion, has little to offer Ineda – and the inexperienced Ineda, too young to understand Bran’s reticence. She is hurt, he is hurt, and things don’t at all develop as they should, causing as much frustration for Bran as for Ineda. But when, at last, things start to improve, calamity strikes – again.

So as to balance her story, Ms Jardine has also given voice to one of the Roman oppressors. Tribune Valerius has his own baggage, his own issues, and while he is not necessarily a compassionate man, neither is he cruel or heartless. Valerius is a nice addition, in my opinion, highlighting just how complicated the politics of the day were.

The historical background is obviously well-researched, brought to vivid life in descriptions of everything from clothes to utensils and beliefs. Add to this the fact that Ms Jardine is an accomplished writer and you have a delightful and most satisfying read!

© Anna Belfrage

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