20 October 2017

The Confessions of Socrates by R. L. Prendergast

Amazon UK £0.99 £19.95
Amazon US $1.28 $27.95
Amazon CA $27.22

Biographical Fiction
Ancient Greece

While The Confessions of Socrates was categorized under “Biographical,” of course it is fiction; but what brilliant and well-researched Historical Fiction it is.

Socrates languishes in a stinking prison cell awaiting execution: death by drinking hemlock. Having been given a twenty-eight-day reprieve (not by his vile accusers or the Council of Five Hundred, but due to the observation of a festival period), he scribbles an account of his life on scrolls smuggled in by a kind jailer. In it, he reveals himself to his sons (and to the reader) not as the haughty Greek philosopher we have come to believe he was, but as a fallible human being. His humble beginnings as a stonemason surprised me (bringing into focus the book’s cover: even a hard block of stone cannot suppress new life sprouting from it). I never knew he was drafted for several military campaigns – albeit without much enthusiasm on his part. He is an outwardly gruff sort of man, but his long internal struggles with himself and toward his family, friends and foes at last expose him as quite vulnerable and deeply caring; not that he admitted this to anyone until the end of his life.

The author injects conversations and philosophical arguments as they might have taken place during those heady days of Athenian dominance; not an easy read, mind you, but so well executed I never skipped even a paragraph. What a joy to read such brilliant and intelligent use of language. While this novel is a literary gem, it is by no means devoid of action, intrigue, and surprises with plenty human fallacies and insights.

I also appreciated the appended glossary of Greek names, places and gods. It made me realize those times were real, as were most of the people, their beliefs, continual wars and personal struggles. While I am ashamed to say that the little I knew about Ancient Greece I had almost forgotten, I am now inspired to re-acquaint myself with another great ancient civilization, brought to its knees by Man’s forever impetus to wage war.

The Confessions of Socrates is indeed a Discovered Diamond and I am giving it a sparkling and well-deserved place on this Review Site.

© Inge H. Borg

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19 October 2017

The Pirate's Debt by Katherine Bone

Amazon UK £3.04 £10.63
Amazon US $12.99 $3.99
Amazon CA $16.90

Romance / Nautical adventure

Book 2 The Regent’s Revenge

The guise of the Black Regent offers Basil Halford, Earl of Markwick, a chance to right his father’s wrongs and restore the reputations and incomes of the dead marquess’s victims. But prowling the seas around the coast of South West England as the masked smuggler and pirate necessitates that he separate himself from his few remaining friends. One of those men is Pierce Walsingham, a revenue agent who has vowed to hunt down and destroy this so-called “Robin Hood.”

Reality weighs on Markwick like an anchor around his neck. The hangman’s noose awaits him if he’s caught, and even a lifetime spent redressing the destructive deeds of his father may never pay for that man’s sins. Nor is he as adept in this role as his predecessor, the Duke of Blackmoor. But in July 1809, news arrives that Lady Chloe Walsingham has gone missing. He must rescue his friend’s sister before her curiosity ruins her reputation or puts her in harm’s way. Doing so, though, puts him in danger. She could well see through his disguise and, inevitably, he will cross paths with her brother who also searches for her.

Constant reading of her favourite novel convinces Chloe Walsingham that she must find the man she loves, but locating Markwick proves challenging. Only her love can redeem him from the depths of his despair over his father’s scandalous greed. When whispers of Markwick’s whereabouts surface, she and her maid board the Mohegan bound for Penzance. Besides, her brother has taught her how to defend herself, so what trouble can she get into?

The Pirate’s Debt is the second book in The Regent’s Revenge series. Sufficient background information from the first book, a novella, is included within The Pirate’s Debt, that readers new to this series will readily understand the events leading up to Markwick’s assumption of his alter ego. The only flaw in this otherwise gripping historical romance is a tendency to repeat character motivations and feelings, which at times dissolves the tension. The scenes involving the wreckers, Chloe’s rescue, the sea battle, and the confrontation with the black ship’s captain are nail-biting, riveting pages.

Bone is adept at snaring the reader’s attention and not releasing it until the story concludes. Her well-drawn characters easily come to life. Even the villain – Captain Carnage, a man whose mantra is “Dead men tell no tales” – is depraved yet stirs the reader’s sympathy.

Those who dare to venture within the covers of this book won’t be disappointed.

© 2017 Cindy Vallar

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18 October 2017

The King's Daughter by Stephanie Churchill

Amazon UK £3.89 £11.81
Amazon US $5.01 $14.99
Amazon CA $18.71

shortlisted for the October Book of the Month

Fantasy /Alternate / Fictional Saga

The King's Daughter is one of those novels that is not strictly Historical Fiction but is worthy of the attention of this site. It does contain nods to real history with brushes with a culture and language that is entirely Roman, hinting that this mythical land might actually exist alongside the known Ancient World. That thought is tantalising, even if the make-up of Prille and Corium, places in the novel, is at a different stage of cultural development.

Irisa has always wondered at the education her father gave her, at the words he spoke to her, the stories he told, but nothing fits until she discovers that rather than being the daughter of an impoverished scribe who went missing three years before, she is the daughter of a dispossessed king. She is wanted by opposing factions to serve their needs and the desires for different claimants to replace the ailing monarch on his throne. Irisa has to survive at court, pulled in different directions, following advice from those who only serve themselves, and fighting against falling in love with the man she is to marry.

This second novel is less dramatic than the first but that is not to say there is not tension or danger; there is, but danger does not always come at the point of a sword. Sometimes it is hidden behind words, a look, a withholding of the truth.

Another accomplished novel from Ms Churchill. You might not like fantasy as a genre, but this novel is perfect for lovers of the Wars of the Roses, and if you are feeling the loss of Game of Thrones, this will feed those hunger pangs.

© Nicky Galliers

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17 October 2017

The Chalky Sea by Clare Flynn

Amazon UK £2.99 £9.99
Amazon US $3.85 $15.87
Amazon CA $20.40

This title is shortlisted for the October Book of the Month

Family drama

When I bought A Greater World by Clare Flynn, I didn’t know what to expect. Within a few pages I was captured not only by the writing and immersion into the historical period, but by the fine development of Flynn’s heroine over the years. When I was offered the opportunity to review The Chalky Sea for Discovering Diamonds, I leapt at the chance.

The Chalky Sea does not disappoint. The author knows Eastbourne, on England’s south coast, and has researched its history in detail, but she uses it deftly to illustrate her story and never allows it to cloy or bore as we see in some historical fiction. The detail is cleverly woven into the essential story of two people from different backgrounds, ages and character. One is intensely proper, emotionally defensive, an outsider in many ways, yet yearning for something undefined; the other, unsophisticated, even innocent, and wounded by betrayal.

War and its circumstances, give release to both; Gwen grows to recognise her emotions, to enjoy herself and express her feelings, Jim hardens up and achieves balance. Both step out of their previous worlds to cope with horror; we are with them not only in the harshness of the barrack room or battlefield, and the body count after a Luftwaffe raid, but also in the new friendships and sense of purpose in a period of violent change.

This is a stylish, unusual and well-written Second World War story which I heartily recommend.

© Jessica Brown

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16 October 2017

Across the Mekong River by Elaine Russell

Amazon UK £3.81 £8.27
Amazon US $4.90 $10.50
Amazon CA $13.31

Family drama
US / Laos 

By strict DDRevs definition this may not be Historical fiction, but…
Set mostly in the 1970s, which is not yet at our ‘pre-1950s’ rule, but with small parts before then and parts between 1978 - 1990, it is definitely a good read, and we are amicable to bending the rules occasionally if a novel has some form of historical-setting connection.

"In a California courtroom, seventeen-year-old Nou Lee reels with what she is about to do. What she must do to survive. She reflects on the splintered path that led to this moment, beginning twelve years ago in 1978, when her Hmong family escaped from Laos after the Communist takeover. The story follows the Lees from a squalid refugee camp in Thailand to a new life in Minnesota and eventually California. Family members struggle to survive in a strange foreign land, haunted by the scars of war and loss of family. Across the Mekong River paints a vivid picture of the Hmong immigrant experience, exploring family love, sacrifice, and the resiliency of the human spirit to overcome tragic circumstances."

Across the Mekong by Elaine Russell was a most enjoyable and rewarding read. After a gripping prologue, the main narrative starts with a courtroom scene in California in 1990 where a daughter and father fight each other. This is interspersed with strands telling the story of this Hmong family from their time in Laos in the 1970s until then.

The parts set in Laos are the most gripping, with excellent suspense and compelling characters. The thoughtful and well-written portrayal of the complexity of the political situation and the inclusion of plenty historic details made this very addictive reading for me.

Once the family enters the US, the mood and pace of the novel change. The second part is equally well written and illustrates the immigration experience from multiple viewpoints, although I missed the urgency of the first part a little.

I would thoroughly recommend this book to all who would like to dig a bit deeper into this era of not-too-distant world history. 

© Christoph Fischer

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15 October 2017


Today: our 

 ‘The historical novelists’ historical novelist’ . . .
A Tribute to Dorothy Dunnett (1923–2001)
By J.G. Harlond

There are two sets of Dorothy Dunnett historical novel series on my bookshelves, plus two copies of King Hereafter: a few are hardbacks the rest are now dry, cracked-spine paperbacks, whose pages are so yellow and print so small that I struggle to read them – but I still do. I’ve bought a few replacements over the past forty years, but somehow can’t bring myself to throw or even give away the originals. The other curious thing about these old books is something very modern. Without strapping any box to my head or standing in any man-made cubicle they produce a form of virtual reality. Just by looking at a title I can see scenes. Stills and moving images hang in the air: a joyous youth riding an ostrich, the same man now older rides a silken-hide camel; a little boy with sturdy legs runs through apricots drying on a rooftop; a vast eagle swoops across a snowy waste onto an arm; a mad, brave youth runs across moving oars and marries a woman with ‘spawn-like’ eyes . . . 

If you recognise any of these scenes you probably qualify as a Dorothy Dunnett fan, and are very likely a ‘historical fiction junkie’. That’s what I was told Dunnett fans were a few years ago. There are currently three Facebook groups for Dunnett fans that I know of. I dip in now and again and am always rewarded by some insight into a bit of history or details on one of the many locations. The news on one, as I write this, is from a student in Australia who is writing her MA dissertation on Dunnett.

for Dorothy Dunnett


14 October 2017

1066 Turned Upside Down by Nine Authors

The Battle of Hastings 14th October 1066

Amazon Universal   special offer $0.99 £0.99 this weekend only
   (usually) £1.98  / $2.45

11 stories by nine authors: Joanna Courtney, Helen Hollick, Anniw Whitehead, Alison Morton,Anna Belfrage, Richard Dee, Carol McGrath, G.K. Holloway, Eliza Redgold

alternative / 'what if?'
England / Normandy/ Denmark

'Ever wondered what might have happened if William the Conqueror had been beaten at Hastings? Or if Harald Hardrada had won at Stamford Bridge? Or if Edward the Confessor had died with an heir ready to take his place? Then here is the perfect set of stories for you. ‘1066 Turned Upside Down’ explores a variety of ways in which the momentous year of 1066 could have played out differently. 

Written by nine well-known authors to celebrate the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, the stories will take you on a journey through the wonderful ‘what ifs’ of England’s most famous year in history.'

There are brief historical notes to guide the reader who is unfamiliar with this period, and a few suggested 'follow-on' questions for schools, reader groups - or just your own entertainment. 
The e-book remained in Amazon's UK top ten best seller ranking list for four months, and is still in the top twenty-five.

This interesting alternative history of England’s tumultuous year 1066 is a collaboration of nine authors, each a successful writer of his/her own historical fiction novels: Joanna Courtney, Helen Hollick, Anna Belfrage, Richard Dee, G.K. Holloway, Carol McGrath, Alison Morton, Eliza Redgold, and Annie Whitehead.

In 1066 Turned Upside Down, each writer envisions a fascinating “what if” version about that fateful year in England's history. And with each outcome, modern man would have inherited a much different world, in some instances giving rise to my notion of “too bad it didn’t happen that way.”

I must confess to not knowing much about this time in England’s long history. However, having read James M. Hockey’s excellent “Edith Fair as a Swan: Tales of Bowdyn 3” (an excellent series, by the way), I was at least familiar with King Harold’s common-law wife Edith.

Because of this, and the excellent Foreword by C. C. Humphreys, I enjoyed the “what if” scenario in 1066 even more.

© Inge H. Borg, 

13 October 2017

Kitty's Story by Fenella Forster

Amazon UK £4.99 £12.95
Amazon US $6.50 $16.99
Family Drama
England, Cairo and Rome

Shortlisted for the October Book of the Month

Katherine Bishop is seventeen years old and she has two dreams: to sing and to 'do her bit' for the war effort. Against her father's wishes, she runs away from her home in Kings Lynn, Norfolk, to London hoping to fulfil at least one of those dreams. Eventually she passes an audition to join ENSA, despite being just too young, and is posted to Egypt. Unfortunately, there are always petty jealousies and Katherine (now known as Kitty Townsend,) falls foul of the leading act, messes up on her début and is almost sent home before she has even started. But she has friends and thanks to the intervention of an Italian officer who is a prisoner of war, she is kept on and begins the difficult climb to success. Needless to say, she falls in love with the Italian, but when she is ordered to spy on him to establish his loyalties, a disaster is inevitable.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book with some plot twists that will have you gasping 'I didn't see that coming'! Kitty is very likeable and very well portrayed as she transforms from naïve dreamer to experienced realist.

The cover is most distinctive and extremely eye catching, depicting Kitty as she first sets out on her journey. Superbly designed, except there is an error in it - and to criticise it is to be very picky in the extreme, as only ‘anoraks’ like myself would spot it, so it's no big deal! (But for those with an enquiring mind… see below.)

Although part of a trilogy called The Voyagers, this volume is eminently readable as a stand alone and it is not necessary to have read any of the others as they deal with different generations. On the evidence of this story, I would recommend the others purely on the skilful plot and excellent writing.

© Richard Tearle

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(Kitty would have taken the Great Eastern Line from Norfolk to Liverpool Street in London. The locomotive pictured is an LMS [London Midlands] loco.)

12 October 2017

A Discovering Diamonds review of Angel Heart by Marie Laval

Amazon UK £2.99 £9.99
Amazon US $3.85 $14.99
Amazon CA $25.67

Regency Romance

Marie Ange lives in Devon, waiting for the return of her husband, lost when his ship was wrecked during the Napoleonic War with France. She is convinced that Christopher still lives despite having no proof beyond the knowledge of her own heart. A letter arrives from a distant French relative offering a bequest that will pay for much-needed renovations to her house and with enough to pay for her brother-in-law to attend Naval College. A soldier sails to fetch her and from then on nothing goes to plan.

This Regency Romance is different if only because it takes place almost entirely in France where we are exposed to pro-Napoleonic sentiments and witness the class divisions that re-emerged after Napoleon's first deposition. You can't but feel sympathy for such feelings.

The story draws on legends from the days of the Knights Templar, adding an other-worldly tang and a heavy dose of mystery and danger. Marie Ange finds herself in constant peril and has a fair go at getting herself out of it. She is feminine enough to make a proper Regency Heroine, and yet is robust enough to avoid being annoying.

As a nit-pick, the ending was rather contrived and, to be honest, was unnecessary. There is a natural ending to the plot and story, and maybe the author should have appreciated that and not tried to do too much, less is best sometimes. But this is a Regency Romance and so it is forgivable.

But what actually lifts this novel above similar offerings is the author herself. It isn't perfect, the language is a touch off in places, but Ms Laval is not a native English speaker or writer – she's French, making this novel a rather impressive undertaking. That she has written this well in a language not her own makes me wish my French was good enough to enjoy to the full anything she may have written in her own language. 

With a good team behind her Ms Laval would be a  perfectly satisfying read. I found this story difficult to put down, desperate to discover what would happen next.

Absolutely worth reading and I feel there is more to come from this author.

© Nicky Galliers

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11 October 2017

A Discovering Diamonds review of: The Portsmouth Alarm & Chelsea Creek to Bunker Hill by Terri A. DeMitchell

Amazon UK £6.43 £9.00
Amazon US $8.34 $16.95
Amazon CA $15.47

Chelsea Creek to Bunker Hill
Amazon UK £3.32 £9.00
Amazon US $4.30 $12.95
Amazon CA $15.28

Young Adult (10-16)
American War of Independence

Being a Brit, I admit to never really having been interested in this period of history. I have heard of the Boston Tea Party and a guy called Paul Revere. And that's about it. So when the first two books of a series arrived on my doorstep, I wasn't too enthusiastic. However, I was more than pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoying the adventures of Andrew Beckett, Jack Cochran and Joseph Reed in these two stories, both of which can be read as stand alone, but obviously better read in order of sequence.

All three are boys of around fifteen or sixteen, all students at a Latin School in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. All three have different perspectives: Jack is the son of the commander of the British fort, Joseph is a passionate supporter of the 'rebels' and Andrew – well poor Andrew doesn't know where he stands. Thus it is Andrew who is the main character here and all he really wants is to pass his entrant's exam to Harvard University.

The events portrayed actually happened – with the usual disclaimer that some events may have been manipulated slightly to fit in with the story – and are told in a style which is eminently suitable for the age group that it is aimed at.

There were one or two examples of repetition which might grate on the older reader, and I would have liked to have seen a map in the first book – fortunately one does appear in the second. Because of the subject matter, I don't think it will appeal to many here in the UK, but for youngsters starting to learn about the period in the US (or anywhere else) I can thoroughly recommend the easy style, likeable characters and the human dilemmas that face Andrew.

© Richard Tearle

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10 October 2017

The Birth of Gossip by Pamela Mann

Amazon UK £1.99 £8.99
Amazon US $2.58 $11.19
Amazon CA n/a

This title is shortlisted for the October Book of the Month

Family Drama  / Witchcraft
Elizabeth I
Hertfordshire, England

Marjory is going through a bad time. As a midwife in rural Hertfordshire she has never lost either baby or mother. Two other older midwives in the area, jealous of her being appointed by the Lord of the Manor to tend his pregnant wife cite her previous unblemished record, an adopted black cat and a mole on her arm as proof that she must be a witch. Meanwhile, Marjory loses three babies and a mother, and is blamed for the death of the father of one of them in quick succession. Included in the death toll is the miscarriage of the Lord's wife. Charges are brought against Marjory but she is cleared and advised to return to her own manor, which, following the desertion of her husband, has fallen on hard times.

When a former servant appears unexpectedly, the novel goes into permanent flashback, telling Marjory's story, her parents' execution for heresy and how she met – and captured – her faithless husband. But in this section we see a different Marjory. A younger woman, conscience of her position in society, selfish and somewhat manipulating.

This is a complex story, well handled by the author, and I wish to avoid any more spoilers, but the ending will leave you wondering and I thoroughly recommend this captivating tale.

One thing I feel I should point out- and this is very much as constructive advice for new writers, not for this excellent author herself. In the edition sent to be reviewed there is a slight discrepancy in correct punctuation... (and I must point out that the edition I received may well have been a pre-proofread copy, so not a final one!)

There are a number of incidences where dialogue lasts through two, or even more, paragraphs. Usual practice would be to break these long structures up with something like:
(new line) She shrugged, unable to continue for a moment. “….text.”

 or to put no closing speech marks at the end of the paragraph, but to add opening marks at the beginning of the next e.g:
“……. text… (end para no closing ")
(new line) “…text…”

I am surprised that an editor or proof-reader did not pick this up, but as I mentioned, this could have been a pre-published edition, and anyway, it is a very small point, and does not detract in the slightest from the overall appearance, content or enjoyment of this very good novel.

© Richard Tearle
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9 October 2017

A Discovering Diamonds review of: Cries From the Frozen North by Colin Beazley

Amazon UK £2.32 £7.99
Amazon US $3.02

1960s / Present
Iceland, Greenland, Denmark

Based on true events, Colin Beazley has pieced together a novel of the Cold War, of cover-ups, lost nuclear weapons and possible government skulduggery. The action is set in the immediate recent past – 2001/2 – and deals with events that took place at the USAF air base at Thule, Greenland, during the latter part of the 1960s when the threat of nuclear war – and especially one caused 'by accident' – was very relevant.

The way that the main protagonist gets into the story was, for me, a little speculative: the book starts in Iceland with Professor Nathan Trent being knocked down by a car driven by a young woman, Eva, who visits him every day in hospital until he is better, and then offers to put him up. She then introduces Nathan to her father who has a secret to get off his chest and Nathan agrees to look into it – a decision that takes him to Greenland and ultimately to Denmark to meet an investigative journalist who has been studying the situation for years.

However, we have a well written story which explores not only the facts, but also the fragility of Nathan (who has not yet recovered from the death of his wife from cancer a few years before), the strange relationship he has with Eva and, at times, the sheer desolation of that part of Greenland where the initial accident too place.

All in all, not a bad read at all and will appeal to those who like reading about conspiracy theories, Cold War confrontations or simple investigative style novels.

© Richard Tearle
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