23 June 2017

The Sisters of St Croix by Diney Costloe



Amazon UK £3.85 / £15.90
Amazon US $4.70 / $5.96
Amazon CA $0.99 / $4.27

family drama 
WWII
France

Occupied France. A group of nuns assist the resistance to smuggle Jews and British Airmen out of France, mindful of the power and menace of the Nazis.

There is a background of secrets and spies running through this tale of wartime good v evil. There is tension and excitement, deceptions and collaborations – perhaps not a unique plot, certainly not a new idea but so what? This is a gripping story of courage and determination in the face of adversity and cruelty. A story to become engrossed in while on that long holiday flight, or sunning on the beach.

© Ellen Hill

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22 June 2017

Fire and Sword by Harry Sidebottom

Throne of the Caesars: Book 3


Amazon UK £5.99 / £5.99 /£14.03
Amazon US $6.05 / $18.27
Amazon CA $20.69

Military
238 AD
Ancient Rome

series

The Roman Empire has fallen into chaos. The Emperor and his son are dead, and former Emperor, Maximinus Thrax, hopes to reclaim his rightful position, but the Senators are more interested in saving their own skins should Maximus succeed.

This was a violent and bloody period of Rome’s history, a period and situation which is reflected in this novel, which is impeccably researched. 

As the third in a series, although a stand-alone novel, I would suggest you start at the beginning to maximise enjoyment of this author’s wonderful talent as a writer, and involvement as a reader with the well portrayed characters and events.

A definite for Roman History lovers!

© Anne Holt

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21 June 2017

The Body in the Ice by A J MacKenzie


Amazon UK £6.47 / £18.95
Amazon US $8.31 / $23.95
Amazon CA $9.99 / $31.95

Mystery / Thriller
1796
Romney Marsh, Kent

(A Hardcastle and Chaytor Mystery)

The marsh village of Hope had once been a thriving community, but plague has devastated its existence. All that is left is a ruined church – and now at Christrmas-tide, a dead body found in the frozen ice - murdered by a blow to the head. Flickering lanterns illuminate a pool of blood, the jewelled buttons on the corpse’s waistcoat and his expensive watch fob. Found by a boy, was the corpse killed at the old church, or does his death have something to do with the Romney Marsh smugglers?

Justice of the peace for St Mary in the Marsh, the Reverend Hardcastle, has to investigate what is obviously a callous murder, but it seems he has an impossible task ahead of him. His friend, Amelia Chaytor, is there to help him solve the riddle, and along with a new arrival, Captain Edward Austen, it soon becomes apparent that there is more here to solve than was first thought...

The plot of this gripping tale thickens with an American family desperate to take possession of their ancestral home, a French spy, and secrets and revenge all adding to this intriguing and page-turning mystery.
To say more will spoil a riveting and most exciting read - but be warned, this promises to be an excellent series... I promptly whizzed over to Amazon and added the first one to the top of my T.B.R.list.

© Anne Holt

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20 June 2017

The Shadow Queen by Anne O'Brien


Amazon UK £6.99 / £8.16
Amazon US $9.81 / $14.39
Amazon CA $19.59

Biographical fiction
14th century
England

This is a story of love, loyalty, and of families grasping at anything for the gain of power, no matter what stands in the way. It is also the story, so very well written, of the mother of Richard II, a beautiful girl who pays the price of high ambition.

Joan of Kent, a minor royal, is little known outside of those who study this period of history, I had no idea of anything about her. Her love for a minor knight was doomed from the outset – for the reader, a train-crash waiting to happen. Her life in this excellent novel is beautifully written with impeccable research and true feeling. The story and the characters come vividly alive as a romance, as an adventure and as the plotting and scheming that enshrined nearly every era of royal intrigue.

Joan, here, knows her own mind. She is the feisty heroine, the shrewd woman who refuses to be controlled.

The book is hard to put down, it takes you to the world of knights and jousts and to a woman who really ought to be far more well known in history and historical fiction!

Highly recommended

© Ellen Hill

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19 June 2017

Eva's Secret by Emily Cotton



Amazon UK £11.85
Amazon US $3.12
Amazon CA $3.94

Family Drama (slight fantasy element)
16th Century
Spain

I must admit that initially, I was somewhat hesitant to this book – having a cat as a POV character was not something I felt entirely comfortable with. Likewise, the formatting and editing could do with a brush-up and in the first few chapters the here and now was interrupted by flashbacks that could have been woven more seamlessly into the narrative.

But by then, of course, I was already hooked by the story of Eva de Paiza, her cat Tabita and the complexities of surviving in early 16th century Granada when your father has just been dragged off by the Inquisition.

Rarely have I read a book that so utterly transports me back to the time depicted. Clothes, furnishings, food, medicinal treatments – all has been so meticulously researched, all is so elegantly inserted in the narrative. Granada is just a few decades away from its recent Moorish past, and the city is a polyglot mix of Saracens and Jews (albeit that all of them officially are Catholic), good loyal Spanish Christians and the odd smattering of others. Arabic is still spoken, those that work in trade are generally bilingual, and even the various faiths have rubbed along—albeit uneasily—until the Inquisition decides enough is enough: false converts must be punished. 

Add to this Eva’s own sad story: her father is a brute, her mother fled the home when Eva was eight or so, and now, as a consequence of her father’s imprisonment, Eva is lured into a house where she finds herself reduced to being a slave, a chattel for sale. 

All of this drama could have resulted in a sturm-unt-drang pastiche, but Eva’s own personality—mild, meek and somewhat naïve—keeps the narrative firmly on the ground. Eva is no feisty heroine intent on kicking off the traces of her slavery. No, Eva is a very young woman who bears things and makes the best of what she has, praying that God will see her safe. 

Eva’s Secret is a love story, and accordingly there is not one protagonist, but two (plus the cat). Baseel is the Saracen in charge of managing the day-to-day business of the merchant who has enslaved Eva. He is a devout Muslim, disfigured by childhood disease, and alternates between being harsh and aloof and warm and caring—although this latter side he reserves for Eva only. Not that Eva notices—at least not initially. Her childhood experiences have made her wary of all men, and besides, Baseel is a Muslim, while Eva’s dream has always been to become a nun. Not the most auspicious of circumstances, one could say…

Two wonderfully depicted characters in a vibrant historical setting makes Eva’s Secret a delightful read. Even Tabita the cat grows on me, albeit that I did have some problems with this feline’s spiritual experiences. No matter: all in all, Ms Cotton has delivered an engaging story set in a tumultuous time and a somewhat exotic setting. 
Warmly recommended!

© Anna Belfrage

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16 June 2017

Red Horse by M J Logue

Red Horse by M J Logue 


Amazon UK  £2.40  £7.99
Amazon US $2.95 / $12.99
Amazon CA $3.98 / $16.79

Military
English Civil War

It is 1642, and England is hovering on the brink of civil war. As yet, no major battles have been fought, but the armies are drawn up, the King has raised his colours and called to arms. The Parliamentarian Army under the Earl of Essex is a motley lot, an uneasy partnering of men who burn for the cause and a rabble of mercenaries, most of them veterans of the Thirty Years' War.

Hollie Babbitt is one such veteran. Uncouth and bedraggled, this red-haired captain does not at all live up to Lucifer Petitt's expectations of an officer, and this young man can't help but wonder why his uncle the Earl of Essex has chosen to place him under Babbitt’s command. Some sort of punishment?

Babbitt wonders the same: why has he been saddled with Luce and what exactly is that prat Essex playing at?

So opens a story of soldiers and war, of understated bravery and loyalty among friends. All of this against the murky political waters of the times, at times utterly incomprehensible to those taxed with navigating through them. 

After the battle of Edgehill, things change. Where before the men in the Parliamentarian Army were there just as much by chance as by conviction, the carnage of Edgehill hardens them. Babbitt loses his best friend at Edgehill. From that moment on, the war becomes personal – on the surface, Captain Babbitt fights for money, but within he screams for vengeance. 

On the surface of things, Red Horse is a novel about the dirty and sordid matter of war. Men die, men are wounded; the rain pours down in buckets leaving everyone dirtier and muddier and sick and with festering wounds and with holes in their stockings and lice in their hair – in general, not the chirpiest of settings. The men are often cold and hungry, just as often scared and angry, and more or less constantly confused. 

Not only does M J Logue present us with a detailed and tangible setting, she also parades quite the cast of characters before the reader, first and foremost Hollie Babbitt and his troop of scruffy, battle-hardened men, troopers who mostly don’t care who wins as long as they survive.

Many people have written books about war, about comrades-in-arms who stick together through thick and thin. What makes Red Horse so universally appealing is the other story, the one hidden within, so to say. That story is about loneliness, about the abject despair of having no family, no home, no-one who truly cares if you live or die. It is about being utterly alone despite the press of men around you, of living in an emotional vacuum that is so unbearable you no longer feel as if you exist. Hollie Babbitt is one such damaged man, and the way in which M J Logue depicts his situation is all the more effective for being so unsentimental. As I turn the pages, Hollie Babbitt not only takes on shape and colour, but he also becomes a person I develop strong protective feelings for – which he hates, just as he has problems accepting Luce’s compassion and genuine concern for him. 

My only gripe with this book is the recurring head-hopping – it distracts from the story and is an unnecessary beauty spot on this otherwise excellent read. Still, M J Logue’s writing is somewhat addictive, which is why the next books in the series are already on my Kindle! 

© Anna Belfrage

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15 June 2017

The Witchfinder's Sister by Beth Underdown


Amazon UK £7.99 /£10.49
Amazon US $ 17.36
Amazon CA $ 27.99 / $12.99

Fictional Drama / Witchcraft
1645

Alice Hopkins is the sister to Matthew Hopkins, who lives in the small Essex village of Manningtree. When her husband dies, pregnant and penniless she returns to live with Matthew, but he has changed and there are rumours of witchcraft abroad. He is amassing the names of suspected women in a book that he is diligently keeping…

This is a beautifully written story which sheds light on the many different faces of human nature, particularly where the superstition of witchcraft is involved. Matthew is certain that what he is doing – exposing the evilness of witches – is the right thing to do, yet there is also the horror of innocent women being victimised through his manic obsession.

The novel includes the unsavoury side of exposing witches, their interrogation and torture, the terror that lonely old women were forced to endure.

I admit that I found the novel unsettling, but this is because it is so well, and vividly, written. The gloom of the era, Matthew’s obsession and the horror these poor women suffered is so completely believably written that I felt like a fly on the wall witnessing their suffering.

England was still in the grip of Civil War, suspicion and superstition was rife, distrust and hostility ruled, with blame for things that went wrong all too easily laid at the feet of others. A sad, sorry period of our past, the novel expertly portrays the fear, the anxiety, the malice and the downright cruelty – but it all happened, even if it was, to our eyes now, shameful and abhorrent. But for all that, read the novel; we owe it to those women to remember them as it was, not as the modern hook-nosed broomstick-riding women cackling beneath a black pointy hat and a spider dangling from her chin.

© Helen Hollick

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14 June 2017

Local Resistance by J.G.Harlond



Amazon UK £4.51 $15.00
Amazon US $5.54 $18.50
Amazon CA $20.35

Mystery
WWII
Cornwall, England

I'm not drawn to World War II stories, but I did very much enjoy this one. The story is set in a sleepy Cornish fishing village where the locals have long memories and resent intruders into their world. They know the war is happening around them and they are thankful that its effects on them are far less severe than other places nearby. For them it is rationing and the transferal of the village's big house into a school into that are the most noticeable alterations, but a stoic lot, they manage, looking after each other.

And then things start to go wrong. A local man goes inexplicably missing without a trace and an odd little spinster moves in to a house that everyone is sure would never be sold out of the family or even loaned. The outsider who enforces the rationing rules is viewed with deep suspicion by some, sheer hatred by others. And a foreign young man is found in a wood.

Bob Robbins comes out of retirement to join the police force and is assigned the task of finding out what happened to the missing man, Stan Hawkins. Along the way he trips over conspiracies and things that don't add up, people withholding information more than they would usually for a small community wary of outsiders. What does Hawkin's disappearance have to do with missing vegetables and stolen water, an assault on a local woman and two murders?

I wasn't convinced that I would enjoy this novel as WWII is just not my era but I really did. It is an involving story with some great characters. Bob Robbins is a wonderful policeman who knows his job, but has several dimensions that gradually come out to add nuances to him and his actions, his thoughts and his interactions with others. He is not a parody or a cardboard cut-out detective. He is very likeable, and of course you are willing him on from the start.

The story itself is well crafted and details never go astray. So well crafted that even at the end you just don't quite know what is going on and some mysteries will just never be solved. That it is based on a series of actual happenings makes it all the more eye-opening. It is a grand portrayal of small village life, the goings-on of generations ago that still affect the living as if they happened yesterday, the closing ranks, everyone knowing everyone's business, and strong sense of a community that manages quite well without interference, thank you very much. 

Down to earth and sensible, no hysterics, few dramatics, and a delightful old biddy who you just can't bring yourself to condemn. A very good read.


Five stars. Can't criticise a single thing.

© Nicky Galliers



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13 June 2017

A Discovering Diamonds review of: The Persecution of Mildred Dunlop by Paulette Mauhurin



Amazon UK £9.57 £2.32
Amazon US $3.00 $14.95
Amazon CA $20.14

LGBT / Family Drama
1895
US

"The year 1895 was filled with memorable historical events: the Dreyfus Affair divided France; Booker T. Washington gave his Atlanta address; the United States expanded the effects of the Monroe Doctrine to cover South America; and Oscar Wilde was tried and convicted for gross indecency under Britain's recently passed law that made sex between males a criminal offense. When news of Wilde's conviction went out over telegraphs worldwide, it threw a small Nevada town into chaos. This is the story of what happened when the lives of its citizens were impacted by the news of Oscar Wilde's imprisonment. It is a chronicle of hatred and prejudice with all its unintended and devastating consequences, and how love and friendship bring strength and healing."

What a good concept - a female Brokeback Mountain and all merged in with the news of the Oscar Wilde Trial. Original. Clever. 

Mildred is a landowner in the mid-west and quietly wealthy, kind to her community and living with a girl who everyone assumes is her companion. But Mildred is strange and strange isn't good in a small town - and then she is rich - so she is disliked and raises hackles. The Wilde scandal raises her fears and she looks to marry a man and put the town off her trail but it only makes matters worse as jealously and spite arise - and so now Mildred lives in fear of being torched-out. Will she run? Will she stay? There's a touch of Joan Crawford in Johnny Guitar about this - only perhaps without the pace. 

A different book - with everything going for it - only the women's affair is revealed very early and we could have a slower build-up so the lack of pace. And do we believe that a town would get so full of hate over a marriage? Much opportunity for tension is lost and where we expect a march on the house - well, no spoilers. There is also a lot of political correctness here - down to Dreyfuss getting a mention and would a small town really have been that aware? May well be wrong and stand corrected. 

This might do well in a LGBT bookstore as it has such potential but the mechanics of the plot do lose a bit of impetus to keep the reader engaged. 

For all that, an interesting read.

© Jeffrey Manton





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12 June 2017

Catfish Pearl by Ruth Francisco




Amazon UK £2.31 £9.62
Amazon US $2.98 $11.99

Coming of Age / American Settlement / Nautical
17th century
North America

Savagely taken from her mother’s womb during a 1665 Apalachee raid in La Florida, Luisa grows up more like her adopted brothers than a female of the tribe. At twelve years of age, her tomboyish stunts and aptitude for numbers convince Fray Tomás that she should learn the ways of the Spaniards, to be a proper lady. Her latest stunt, revealed by her jealous cousin, goes too far beyond the proprieties of the Apalachee, and her father sends her away from the tribe to do the bidding of a vicious Spanish woman. Forbidden to use her Indian name, Luisa equates her punishment to slavery.

When news arrives of her favorite brother’s impending nuptials, Luisa secures permission to attend. She arrives too late to travel with her family and must make her own way to the bride’s village. A third tribe attacks, her father and many others are killed, and she is among the captives who are traded to an Englishman for weapons.

Taken to the Carolinas, Luisa is sold into slavery. During the auction a bidding war pits her new master against another man, who wants to sell her to a Jamaican brothel. Luisa’s only hope is to escape, but her family is gone. She has no village to return to. The troubles between the various tribes, inflamed by both the English and the Spanish, make La Florida a dangerous destination. And the loser of the slave auction is a determined man, who will do whatever he must to own her, no matter how long it takes.

The multiple points of view and numerous subplots – some of which are left unresolved because they will be dealt with in future stories about Luisa – make this a long book, but the author’s purpose is to show Luisa’s natural progression from being raised among the Apalachee to becoming a pirate. She admirably achieves this goal, although a few switches of perspective are a bit jarring and some storylines could have waited until later books. There are a few formatting issues, such as extra spaces within words, but Luisa is a compelling character and the story engages the reader, rarely loosening its grip until the last page is turned.

Told from a variety of perspectives – principally those of Luisa, Fray Tomás (a Franciscan missionary), and Henry Woodard (an English surgeon turned trader) – Catfish Pearl is a story of greed, ambition, faith, jealousy, treachery, growing up, and adapting to what life throws at you.

Set during a brutal period when Spain and England use the native peoples to gain footholds in the New World. While the language is at times raunchy and character actions shock modern sensitivities, Francisco portrays them realistically in a vividly recreated period in Florida’s history.

 


Review Copyrighted ©2017 by Cindy Vallar

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10 June 2017

It's the Second Weekend in June

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9 June 2017

1886 Ties That Bind... by A.E. Wasserman

...A Story of Politics, Graft, and Greed



Amazon UK £15.95
Amazon US  $5.14 $30.83
Amazon CA n/a

Mystery / Romance / Family Drama (and much more!)
1886
California / Washington

A refreshing and hugely enjoyable story set in California and Washington of 1886. Opening with an attention-grabbing scene that hits you like an unexpected train, the story settles nicely into the set-up of its characters: Lord Langford and Sally Baxter.

The chemistry between them is wonderful and they work well together as an unlikely couple – a farmer’s daughter and a Lord. Their bond grows deeper while they are investigating the murder of her brother on a train. Encountering nothing but bureaucracy and evasiveness, they pull out all the stops to get to the bottom of the murder.

I would have happily enjoyed this as historical romance, being so authentic in dialogue and settings. However, the author has woven a complex net of intrigue and background to the murder that makes the entire book so much more than just a mystery. As the title appropriately states, this deals with issues of politics, corruption and greed in a very accomplished way.

One of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Highly recommended.

© Christoph Fischer


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8 June 2017

Patrick's Journey by Roy T. Humphreys


Amazon UK £7.71
Amazon US $3.15 $12.33
Amazon CA n/a

Coming of age
1790
Ireland

This is a very pleasant and engaging read about a seventeen-year-old man from Ireland in 1790. Naive and youthful, Patrick soon finds himself out of his depth as he gets involved with the Irish resistance. The consequences are far-reaching and take him on a literal and personal journey.

It is fascinating that this story is based on a real person. Authentic and with a great amount of character depth and development, the novel is a rewarding reading experience. He meets many people who have an influence on his attitude towards life and his lot. There is also romance, which adds positively to the sense of tragedy and tension.

Only one small niggle, the ship on the cover appears to be of a 16th century Spanish Galleon type; while an impressive graphic, historically accurate it isn't. (Ships by the late 1700s were very different to this style - a comparison would be assuming an early 1908 Ford Model T was a popular car in 2017)

Sometimes the change of perspective is confusing and the historical detail can feel secondary to the metaphor of the journey, but these are minor distractions in an otherwise excellent novel that I would definitely recommend. 


© Christoph Fischer


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7 June 2017

To the Devil His Due by Paul Bernardi

To the Devil His Due by Paul Bernardi



Amazon UK £7.98 £3.64
Amazon US  $4.66 $12.50
Amazon CA $16.48

Military
WWII

Reading To the Devil His Due, by Paul Bernardi, was like going back in time to books I used to enjoy some years ago, and it was fun to be reminded of that. The story is set in the Second World War, and uses many of the appropriate tropes. Senior British officers are formal and reserved, but highly talented and dedicated to carrying the conflict to the enemy. Their juniors are keen, if rough and ragged round the edges. Schemes and plans are daring, but risky, calling for considerable personal valour.

The plot of the book, indeed, bears some loose similarity to Where Eagles Dare. It follows the exploits of a small elite team carrying out commando style raids deep into Nazi Germany territory. There are night parachute drops into the target zone, frequent guard patrols, a handy tavern in sight of key locations, and a secretive approach to the target.

However, it is not at all a clone of that book, but focuses the reader's attention on rather different issues. For one thing, the build-up of the team training and early missions is told in much more detail, giving a sense of the demands made of people in this branch of military service. For another, we learn far more of the central character's back-story and motivation for the fight. And finally, the considerable wartime role of European nationals displaced by Nazi occupation is in the foreground, rather than presenting a purely English and American response.

The book had been well prepared and presented, though there were a few places where descriptions of places or people were repeated in close proximity. Another editing sweep would have caught these. Without wanting to give the plot away, the biggest mental leap was when the perspective suddenly changes away from the person we have followed throughout. This happens near to the end of the book, and the reader is not given any opportunity to adjust to the change.

The story - quite deliberately - ends with a question, which for me worked well. In passing, and alongside the overt plot development, a number of moral and pragmatic questions are raised concerning how war is waged. Paul has no intention of solving these, but prefers leaving them for the reader to ponder.

All in all, an interesting twist on the typical book of this kind. To the Devil His Due is narrow in focus, and sees the bigger issues of war through the conflicted eyes of a single man. Given that, it is an interesting and thoughtful addition to Second World War fiction.


© Richard Abbott


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6 June 2017

The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker



Amazon UK £3.99 £11.44
Amazon US $17.15
Amazon CA $5.99

Fantasy
1900
New York

The Golem and the Djinni, by Helene Wecker, has a thoroughly developed historical setting in New York around the year 1900. At that time, much of the city was divided into small zones each housing a particular cultural or ethnic group - the two which are most in view here are ones which house Jewish and Syrian immigrants. Every so often the characters make forays into more affluent regions.

However, as you would gather from the title, the story blends fantasy elements into that basic setting. These are introduced by mythical beings representing each of those two cultures. If you like, the immigrants have brought their own fantasies with them.

The golem, a manufactured creature derived from Jewish thought, is female in form, and was originally constructed to be wife to an Eastern European immigrant. He dies on board ship while heading towards America, leaving the golem Chava to find her own way through life. Her nature compels her to want to obey the spoken or unspoken wishes of the people around. This is a constant source of difficulty, as she tries to reconcile the conflicting demands of great numbers of people.

The djinni Ahmad - a creature of fire, and many centuries old - represents the Syrian area. He was bound long ago into human form by the work of a magician, and is trying to find out how to unravel the binding. His other struggle is how to avoid boredom without his true nature being discovered.

Inevitably the two come into contact, and try to resolve their opposite problems. One has been built for obedience and conformity, but now has to make her own choices. The other craves a wild and unrestrained life, but has to cope with limitation. Around that basic dilemma a collection of interesting human characters orbit, and the exploration of cross-cultural New York is itself fascinating.

One particular character - perhaps the only one with a truly malignant agenda, and at times a little cartòonish in comparison with other people - comes to dominate the plot line in the later stages, as the main protagonists each decide how to cope with his influence.

All in all a most enjoyable book, which I thoroughly recommend. It could appeal to anyone who likes some fantasy stirred in with their history.

© Richard Abbott


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