22 September 2017

A Discovering Diamonds review of: Echo in the Wind by Regan Walker




 Amazon UK £3.11 £9.83
Amazon US $4.04 $12.68
 Amazon CA $17.08

Romance /Nautical adventure
1800s
England / France

Unlike many of women of the ton, Lady Joanna West has vowed to never marry, even though at twenty-five, her brother the earl believes it is high time she wed. She also refuses to stand idly by why the villagers of Chichester starve from lack of work and the inability to pay high taxes. To that end she begins delivering food baskets to the poor, but now oversees the delivery of smuggled tea and brandy and makes sure the goods reach their proper destinations without alerting the revenue agents.

One night in April 1784, her men row her out to meet a new partner, a stranger who could be a free trader or a spy.

Captain Jean Donet silently watches from the shadows as his new partner inspects the merchandise and haggles with his quartermaster. Before the Englishman departs, Jean suspects the stranger is actually a woman in disguise. But that possibility intrigues, rather than discourages him, for he, too, is more than he appears to be. Disowned by his father, he is a French spy, was a privateer for Benjamin Franklin during the American Revolution, and is now a successful smuggler with a fleet of vessels. He is also the comte de Saintonge, a title inherited after the untimely death of his father and older brother. He must finally return to the estate he left years ago, but first he must attend several events leading up to the christening of his new grandson.

Since her brother has yet to marry, Joanna serves as his hostess at a party honouring the new prime minister, who is determined to put an end to the smuggling that plagues England. Two other gentlemen in attendance also catch her attention, but for different reasons. One commands the sloop of war responsible for hunting down vessels engaged in this illegal trade. The other is a forty-year-old Frenchman who seems taken with her younger sister, who has just come of age. Joanna will do whatever is necessary to keep Tillie from becoming a sacrificial lamb… 

Echo in the Wind is the second book in the Donet Trilogy and takes place five years before the storming of the Bastille and the start of the French Revolution. As in the previous title, To Tame the Wind, Walker opens with a list of “Characters of Note” so readers can acquaint themselves with who’s who before the story begins. Aside from Chichester and London, she whisks readers back to eighteenth-century Lorient, Saintonge, and Paris to experience first hand the discontent of the people and the callow disregard of the nobility. Walker also includes an author’s note where she discusses the history behind the novel.
Chapter one places readers in the midst of the action and shows great promise of suspense, but the pace slows thereafter and doesn’t pick up again until after page 100. Those pages focus more on character development, with only minor hints of possible adventure and misadventure. Yet stalwart readers who brave the trials and tribulations that they and the characters experience will be richly rewarded with a wonderful love story.

© 2017 Cindy Vallar



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21 September 2017

A Discovering Diamonds Review of Acre's Bastard by Wayne Turmel

Part One of the Lucca le Pou Stories


Amazon UK £4.07 / £11.99
Amazon US $5.27 / $14.26
Amazon CA £20.22

Fictional Saga / Young adult
Crusades
Middle East  

Salah-adin is poised to conquer the Kingdom of Jerusalem. For ten-year-old Lucca "the Louse," it's life as normal. The streets of Acre - the wickedest city in the world - are his playground. But when a violent act of betrayal leaves him homeless and alone, he is drawn into a terrifying web of violence, espionage, and holy war.

Acre’s Bastard is written in the first person from the viewpoint of a streetwise child. Lucca tells the story of how he survives as a defenceless boy on the streets of one of the most dangerous cities of the 12th century. I loved the way Lucca interacts with other characters. His relationships with the adults work really well, and there are some tender moments that remind you that he is a vulnerable child, despite being able to take care of himself. But his vulnerability makes it easy for him to fall prey to wickedness. 

It would have been good to have seen more depth to the other characters, perhaps in their interactions with Lucca, on the other hand, we are seeing events through the eyes of a child and he sees the characters as a child would see them, without really knowing who they are. The people that populate Lucca’s world are superficial.

Acre’s Bastard endeared itself to me in the way that books did in my childhood. 
The author brings a lot of dry humour into the telling of the story. Lucca’s sense of the ridiculous is highlighted in the narrative. And Lucca’s self-deprecation at times had me chuckling to myself. I’m looking forward to finding out what will happen to Lucca and his friends in the next book.

It has been my pleasure to review this book and am grateful for the opportunity and wholly recommend it.

© Paula Lofting.



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20 September 2017

COMETH THE HOUR by Annie Whitehead


Amazon UK £1.99 £7.99
Amazon US £2.58 $14.95
Amazon CA $18.08

Biographical Fiction /Family Drama / Military
early to mid 7th Century
Settings: England

The story of Penda of Mercia is retold here by a wonderful writer, Annie Whitehead. But it is not just Penda's story, but also of the many kings who vied for supremacy during the turbulent 7th Century.

I don't intend to say much of the plot here, for it is quite well known to those who like this period and details of Penda's life and works are easily found on the internet for those who don't. Ms Whitehead has not only recounted - very well - the true story but she has also captured perfectly the feel of the times, the hatred between brothers, the perfidy of kings and, most impressively, she manages to convey that even the ones you want to hate had their reasons for acting the way they did.

The pace fairly zips along and it is full of strong and thoroughly believable characters – led by Penda himself and closely followed by Edwin, Oswald and Oswii – backed up with good, solid research, atmospheric locations and with battle scenes which, though shorter than in similar books, are on an equal footing with Cornwell and Harffy together, with a love story between Penda and Derwena that put me in mind of Penman's Llewelyn the Great and Joanna. In this volume, too, the women are strong - especially Edwin's daughter, Hild - even when they have to accept their position in life.

It is a good idea to study the map and extremely helpful 'family trees' at the beginning of the book as relationships can get complicated and the cover, simplistic yet still one that stands out, would grace any bookshop and readers' shelves.

Ms Whitehead's previous two books, To Be A Queen and Alvar the Kingmaker are both award winners within the genre and I fully expect that Cometh The Hour will join them.

Very, very highly recommended.

© Richard Tearle



shortlisted for Book of the Month


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19 September 2017

The Pirate's Duchess by Katherine Bone

well - it's Talk Like A Pirate Day - so we must have a pirate novel!



Amazon UK £2.32 £5.72
Amazon US $2.99 $6.99
Amazon CA $9.09

Romance /Nautical adventure
1800s
England

Book 1 The Regent’s Revenge

A suicide in 1806, a vow to his father, and an assassin’s attempt on his own life in 1807 compel Tobias Denzell, the sixth Duke of Blackmoor, to abandon his beloved wife Prudence and assume a false identity. The Black Regent, a notorious smuggler and pirate, allows him to protect his wife, assist those who have suffered devastating losses at the hands of a greedy swindler, and helps out-of-work miners in Exeter, England. His sole aim is to bring about the downfall of the Marquess of Underwood, a curmudgeon obsessed with wealth who will do whatever is necessary to acquire others’ inheritances.

For two years Tobias attacks Underwood’s ships until he is on the verge of bankruptcy. But then his wife decides to marry Underwood’s son and shows her future father-in-law a survey map of the Blackmoor estate. It shows the location of a rich vein of copper – a fact that puts Prudence in grave danger. Once Underwood gets his hands on her dowry, her worth will be nil. The only way to save her life is for Tobias to come back from the dead, but she may never forgive him for betraying their love. Not to mention that his sudden reappearance will endanger his life since Underwood will assuredly attempt to murder him again, and someone may connect him to the Black Regent, which will earn him the hangman’s noose. The lynchpin in his plan to finally bring about his nemesis’s downfall and keep Prudence safe requires the help of Underwood’s son, but Tobias is no longer certain he can trust his longtime friend…


This historical romance novella is the first volume in a new series, Regent’s Revenge. Bone’s imagery is vivid and readily transports readers back to the 19th century, and her characters are memorably drawn. It is a short, fast-paced read with only a small portion of it taking place on a ship, but it adeptly sets the stage for future adventures.

© 2017 Cindy Vallar




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18 September 2017

Dark Spirit: Ludwig II the ‘Mad’ King of Bavaria by Susan Appleyard




Amazon UK £2.38
Amazon US $3.08
Amazon CA n/a

Biographical Fiction
1800s
Bavaria

In her author’s note Susan Appleyard tells us of her love of English history and how telling true stories through fiction comes naturally to her - I agree. In this small historical novel she tells the story of a king I’d heard a little about here and there, and most everybody knows his iconic Neuschwanstein Castle - a major tourist destination in Bavaria. But Ludwig II reportedly told a servant as he left for the last time to preserve it as a shrine, not to fling open the doors to tourists.

That proud privacy is part of what led to his downfall, to his diagnosis of madness and his being deposed from the throne. I wonder whether modernity rushing in just could not countenance an old-fashioned, quirky king and had to be rid of him in a sanitary way? An expert psychiatrist called in on the case concluded that he need not examine the king - the testimony of servants and the government officials who will benefit from Ludwig losing the throne was enough.

Susan Appleyard tells the story of the last year of Ludwig’s life, skillfully throwing just enough doubt on his case that we wonder whether he really was mad . . . or not. He is a recluse with very expensive tastes, perfectly willing to incur debt to govern thrones to finance yet another castle, or patronage of the likes of Wagner. As one character says, “A great part of what is taken for madness is the free expression of absolute power.” What is a king to do?

A couple of key characters - particularly the servant Hornig - reveal their regard and even affection for the king. “When he had first met Ludwig [Hornig] had thought him . . . beautiful and spiritual.” Appleyard helps us see the man’s complexity in a deep way, so that we, too, develop affection for him and want to take his part against those so eager to have him put away.

The action does slow down a little in the middle where functionaries skitter around gathering evidence against the king, and as Ludwig goes his tiresome way living in conspicuous consumption. But then Appleyard brings us back to the characters behind the names. She opens the novel with a telling scene of the deposed king taking a walk in a drizzle of rain with the now-famous psychiatrist who has diagnosed and committed him, then backtracks to months earlier when events began to unfold, finishing with what happens directly afterward.

The ending is inconclusive, as all good history is - and that is the beauty in this fascinating little novel.

Cindy Rinaman Marsch


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