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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15 September 2017

The MID-MONTH SPECIAL

Today, for your interest and entertainment we have our GUEST SPOT and READER'S VOICE


A Thank You to Sharon K. Penman
by Annie Whitehead

Have Your Say! What Do You, The Reader Think?
      
An interesting topic to be discussed or pondered over 


Those Troublesome Typos 
(and rotten reviewers!)
by 
Helen Hollick

click here to read the article


reviews resume tomorrow





14 September 2017

A Discovering Diamonds review of Ella Wood by Michelle Isenhoff



Amazon UK £0.99 £10.50
Amazon US $1.28 $13.99
Amazon CA $18.87

YA / Fictional Saga
1800s / early US Civil War
South Carolina

Book 1 of Ella Wood Series

Life is good for Emily Preston, privileged daughter of a plantation owner in South Carolina. She is protected, but allowed her freedom within certain societal bounds. She has time to ride and to socialise, and to go into town and meet her friends. At the age of sixteen, however, she is deemed to be of marriageable age, and what was permissible for her as a child is no longer so. The friends she has made among the slaves throughout her childhood are now to be viewed as chattels and servants. Her dreams of using her unique artistic talents as some sort of career are shattered by a domineering father who demands that she adhere to the rules governing female behaviour, and  that a good and acceptable marriage and children should be her only goal.

Emily Preston has already known the wrath of her father when she was sent away to Detroit to stay with an uncle because of her behaviour (events that are not covered by this book). There she learned rather more than he ever intended  about the nature of free will, and the possibilities for women’s lives, and though she has kept it hidden from him, she has developed strengths based upon that knowledge which will be called into play as he tries to push her away from her desires and towards the goals he has set for her.

Understanding at last the reality of the slaves’ existence, she is shattered by what that reveals about her father and his friends and equals. Floggings, family separations, and unfair judgements all grate upon her, whereas he barely acknowledges them. Those who mistreat their slaves can extend that brutality towards their wives, but it is hushed up, even by other women who have seen the results. Rebellion drives her father to violence, and she realises that it is the act of a weak man, betraying all that she had believed him to be.

Determined not to allow herself to be pushed into the empty life that has become the lot of one of her newly-married friends, Emily begins to involve herself in dangerous matters, made all the more so by the rumblings of war against the anti-slavery north.  For her own sake, and for that of her friends, she is determined to act, and in doing so to risk all for them and for herself.

The author mixes real and imaginary characters in this novel, giving it a voice of authenticity. Emily Preston has appeared in an earlier work aimed at a younger audience, and it should be said that although this is described as a standalone novel, there is reference made to a pivotal episode in her past which needs further clarification here because it explains an important part of her intellectual development.

 It should also be noted that ‘Ella Wood’ is not a character per se, but the plantation itself – a little confusing. Overall, though, this is a good, involving and well-constructed read, covering  a broad range of issues for women and for Southern society on the brink of massive change.

© Lorraine Swoboda

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13 September 2017

Whirligig by Richard Buxton


AmazonUK £3.99 £10.99
AmazonUS $5.14 $14.99
AmazonCA $19.30

Fictional Saga / Romance / Military
1800s
England / USA

#Book 1: Shire’s Union Series

“Shire leaves his home and his life in Victorian England for the sake of a childhood promise, a promise that pulls him into the bleeding heart of the American Civil War. Lost in the bloody battlefields of the West, he discovers a second home for his loyalty.

Clara believes she has escaped from a predictable future of obligation and privilege, but her new life in the Appalachian Hills of Tennessee is decaying around her. In the mansion of Comrie, long hidden secrets are being slowly exhumed by a war that creeps ever closer.”


This sweeping saga set during the American Civil War, is set in the Gone With the Wind era, but with more depth, more detail of the War itself and the soldiers who fought and died in it. It is a novel about the politics that caused the war, the battle for Tennessee, America fighting brother against brother, north against south, slavery and freedom. But it is also about selfishness, betrayal, hatred and love. Add to all that, it is a very good debut novel!

Shire is a village schoolmaster who has a secret and a promise he has made to Clara, a duke’s daughter. They are both proud, stubborn and brave people, and both are determined to follow what they believe in. When Clara finds herself trapped into a marriage with a plantation owner she has to face the reality of civil war and a husband who has no qualms about keeping slaves. Shire, meanwhile, is to face the reality of what is to become a bloody and bitter war with American fighting American, while all the while, determined to honour his childhood promise to Clara.

The author very obviously knows his subject well: the history blends seamlessly with the fiction and the detail is superb but never overpowering. Some authors try to show how much they know of a period by including too much unnecessary detail – there is not a single unnecessary sentence in this engrossing novel. 

I have only one niggle. The American spelling of English words. Fair enough, the novel is mostly set in the US about US matters, but English English tends to use an 'e' and "u" in words, whereas American English doesn't. I therefore feel that Ridgmont, in Bedfordshire should have been spelt either Ridgemont or Ridgemount. A small niggle, but a very niggling one from a Brit reader's point of view. Some of the scenes set in England also felt somewhat 'American' rather than 'English'.

That said (and I admit a very picky 'that said!') for an insight into what this tragic war and period was really like (without the tedium of the feel of a history lecture) read this novel.

© Helen Hollick

Note from the author: "Ridgmont is based on the Duke of Bedford's Estate at Woburn where my father worked as boy with the horses as Shire did. I wanted to make the place fictitious to have a free hand and so got up a map of Bedfordshire and picked a local village called Ridgmont which is in fact spelled that way. However, for the entire time I was writing the book, and even today, I always put an 'e' in there. I cant help it."
So -  fair enough re my comment above about spelling - I stand corrected! US v UK spelling is always an author's dilemma of course. Perhaps we'll do a Reader's Voice Topic on the subject HH.


(shortlisted for DDRevs September Book of the Month.)

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12 September 2017

A Promise to Keep by Loretta Livingstone

Book Two in the Out of Time series



Amazon UK £2.99 / £10.00
Amazon US $3.80
Amazon CA $22.76

Timeslip
Contemporary / 1200s
England

There is an introduction which gives a resume of what happens in Book One, then a one-page prologue, both of which concern Marian Hart. Chapter One begins with Shannon Hart, her daughter, the heroine of the book. Thinking a quick trip to the 12th century will be an adventure, Shannon disobeys her mother’s instructions and steps through the beech tree into the past and promptly sprains her ankle.

The next two chapters concern Giles and his wife Isabella who are genuine medieval characters with complicated and dangerous lives. For me this proved a very mixed beginning and by the time I reached Chapter Four I had almost forgotten Shannon.

However, we and the characters remain in the 12th century where Shannon adopts the name Rohese, suggested by her aunt Hildegarde, the local Abbess. She too is a traveller from the future. If you are a fan of time- slip ploys, then you will thoroughly enjoy this story as Rohese, full of 2012 bounce, collides with the not-so-gentle gentlemen of 1197.

The mix of medieval speech patterns with modern slang is fun or mildly disorientating, depending on your point of view, but the medieval world is nicely described, well researched and the characters, especially the abbess, are entirely believable. If you want an enjoyable romp with a modern take on medieval life, then read A Promise to Keep. It will not let you down.

© Jen Black

(shortlisted for DDRevs  September Book of the Month.)


Loretta Livingstone: a guest on Let's Talk of Many Things Blog talking about those embarrassing book signings.

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11 September 2017

My White Dahlia by C M Blackwood


AmazonUK £2.35
Amazon US $3.03

Family drama / LGBT
1950s

World War II is over, and life is slowly returning to normal. For Adette Salazar, normal means finding a job with which to support herself and her ailing Uncle Harold, and she is therefore delighted when she is offered the position as assistant to famous writer Dahlia Frobisher. Well, delighted is not really an emotion Adette is familiar with: this is a woman who exercises control in all things, an observer rather than a participant in life. There are reasons for this, of course, and C.M. Blackwood skilfully inserts bits and pieces of Adette’s backstory, thereby increasing the intrigue that surrounds this beautiful and dark-skinned woman.
Where Adette is dark and reserved, Dahlia Frobisher is all sun and light — on the outside. Yet another complicated character, Dahlia carries her own secrets, her own burdens of guilt. At times, blonde and elegant Dahlia comes across as a female version of the enigmatic Great Gatsby. Ms Blackwood even succeeds in creating the illusion that this book will be about Dahlia’s secrets, when in fact it is Adette’s past, her physical and mental scars, that will shape the story.
Two strong and lonely women meet. A tentative friendship blossoms into something more. Adette has spent most of her life shying away from any truly serious relationship, realising that permanent intimacy will at some point require her to share the truth — a truth she prefers not to think about. So when friendship becomes love, Adette is incapable of handling the resulting emotions and flees. Whether Dahlia finds it in her to go after her is up to each reader to find out for themselves.
Ms Blackwood weaves a gripping story set against a time when women are beginning to come into their own. Neither Dahlia nor Adette are dependent on a man for their survival, but in the big, big world a man’s word still carries much more weight than that of a mere woman, no matter how obnoxious the man may be. Dahlia understands the rules of the game and conforms — to a point. Adette has moments when she doesn’t.
Ms Blackwood is an accomplished writer. Her prose flows beautifully throughout, her characters grow out of the page and the historical background is brought to elegant life. The end result is an engrossing read, warmly recommended to all who enjoy romance with depth and a dash of darkness. 

© Anna Belfrage

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8 September 2017

A Discovering Diamonds Review of The Serpent's Egg by J.J. Toner

Amazon UK £3.19 £12.99
Amazon US $4.11 $14.99
Amazon CA  $20.06

Espionage / Family drama
WWII
Germany

Max and Anna are in love and want to get married. But this is Germany, 1938. Their union is against Nazi laws, as Anna is part-Jewish. A Gestapo officer agrees to authorize the marriage, but only if Max infiltrates and betrays a Marxist resistance cell, the Red Orchestra. This is not an assignment that Max can refuse. If he succeeds, Anna will get the wedding she longs for, but many brave resistance fighters will die…”

This is a novel worth reading for it offers insight into Hitler’s Germany from a German perspective. The plot is intricate and very well handled in a modern thriller (Lee Child-like) style. The story follows a year in the life of Max-Christian and Anna, a perfectly ordinary couple who want to get married in pre-World War II Berlin. Max is a clerk, Anna works in a department store, there is no opposition from parents and they are financially secure, but the requisite marriage licence is unobtainable because one of Anna’s grandparents had Jewish blood. Max’s attempts to obtain the licence lead him into very deep waters: firstly with the Communist ‘Red Orchestra’ spreading anti-Nazi propaganda then with Hitler’s men who demand he supply them with information about the Communists. It is no spoiler to say that Max becomes a humble double-agent, but it would ruin the story to say how. 

This novel conveys the pressures and tensions of the late 1930s in Berlin extremely well and we meet various real ‘players’ from the period as J.J. Toner weaves real events and people into his narrative. After an excellent opening, however, the novel becomes rather one-paced. Although I feared for the young couple it became increasingly difficult to empathise with them because their characters remain undeveloped. Almost no back-story explains their choices and actions, and Anna is presented as selfish and petty until the final section where she agrees to help a Jewish family, meaning this reader began to lose interest in her early on. Secondary and minor characters tend to speak in the same manner, with the exception of Max’s mother, whose strange behaviour was an ironic touch of normality. Characters also constantly address each other by name, which is something we rarely do in conversation and must have been downright unwise given the clandestine and dangerous nature of what they were telling each other.

The author sets up scenes well as Max reluctantly goes about his intelligence-gathering, but terrific opportunities to build tension in key moments, such as when he is first challenged to produce false papers in the guise of a pastor while on a ‘run’ to Belgium, are lost. An SS officer pushes his way into their home and rapes Anna, but the author only tells us what happens and Anna’s feelings are conspicuously absent. In this regard, while the writer’s chosen style conveys what is happening among decision-makers in London very well, it fails to relay the tensions and constant fear implicit in trying to live a normal life when very abnormal things are happening, when loyalties are so tested and relationships so fragile. The text, however, is faultless and the proofreader is to be commended.

Ultimately, like the curate’s egg, this book is very good in parts: a story well worth reading and an author to look out for.


© J.G. Harlond
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