31 May 2017

The Autumn Throne by Elizabeth Chadwick


AmazonUK £8.99 £14.88
Amazon US $11.64 $11.55
Amazon CA $29.69

Biographical Fiction
1176
England

Imprisoned by her husband, King Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen of England, refuses to let her powerful husband bully her into submission, even as he forces her away from her children and her birthright. Freed only by Henry's death, Eleanor becomes dowager Queen of England. But the competition for land and power that Henry stirred up among his sons has intensified to a dangerous rivalry.
Eleanor will need every ounce of courage and fortitude as she crosses the Alps in winter to bring Richard his bride, and travels medieval Europe to ransom her beloved son. But even her indomitable spirit will be tested to its limits as she attempts to keep the peace between her warring sons, and find a place in the centres of power for her daughters.”

The third in a trilogy, but easily read as a stand-alone (although I heartily suggest reading the other two, The Summer Queen and The Winter Crown) – who can go wrong with an Elizabeth Chadwick?

Ms Chadwick refers to one of the three most well-known queens (the other two being Elizabeth I and Victoria) Eleanor of Aquitaine as Alienor, which would have been the style of her name during her lifetime. Probably ranked as history’s most formidable and admired queen, this wonderful trilogy follows her fascinating, courageous, and at times tragic and violent, life from the budding of womanhood to old age – via two husbands, the King of France and the King of England, her volatile sons and her used-as-alliance daughters.

The Autumn Throne covers the final thirty years of her long, incredible, life and in this trilogy – this volume included – we have seen these real characters of history who had major roles in her life through a very different perspective. How on earth did this remarkable woman survive all that was thrown at her?

Ms Chadwick’s writing, as always is fluid, entertaining, engrossing and a delight to read. Above all, though, you know that the facts are facts – and given Ms Chadwick’s wonderful skill it is virtually impossible to know what scenes are the facts and what are the imagined fiction, a sure sign of a top-class historical novel.

Definitely a Diamond Read – in my opinion a Koh-i-Noor!

© Anne Holt


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30 May 2017

A Discovering Diamonds review of: Broken Faces by Deborah Carr


Amazon UK £1.99 £9.99
Amazon US £2.15 $15.43
Amazon CA $20.31

Family Drama
WWI
Channel Isles (Jersey)

November 1914 to September 1918: The setting moves between the privileged home of the Baldwyns, the Chevaliers’ farm on Jersey, London, and the Front.

The prologue, dated 1918, tells of the work done by an American sculptress in Paris in helping soldiers to hide their horrific facial injuries by making masks, in copper or tin, to replace the parts blown away.  The soldier with the broken face is, like the artist, not named.
The plot deals with a love tangle set against the backdrop of the First World War. When Meredith Sutton finds her fiancé, Charles Baldwyn, in flagrante with his mistress, she breaks the engagement and refuses to have any contact with him. Some months later, still distraught, she turns up on Jersey, at the home of Charles’s best friend, Freddie Chevalier, in search of comfort and a refuge. While out riding, they share a passionate embrace, but Meri stops it from going any further. She leaves early next day.

In spite of his own betrayal of Meri, when Charles believes that Freddie and she have slept together – even though Freddie denies it – he breaks off the friendship. A letter suggestive of betrayal forms the basis of the plot, but Charles reads into it what he wants to see.

This is a novel about women picking up the mess that men make.  They do this practically – nursing and driving ambulances; medically – the person remodelling the shattered faces of the soldiers is a woman; socially – breaking down the barriers between classes; and, in its early form, politically – women of higher classes asserting their right to work and proving their abilities to be more than the fragile lady at home to be protected from reality. The simple act of cutting their long hair to a more practical bob is symbolic: initially shocking but ultimately accepted as necessary. 

The damage of all kinds is done by men. Charles’ double standards are inherited, and ruin more lives than merely his own, and Hamilton-Browne cashes in on this to destroy a long-held friendship. Lord Baldwyn’s own hypocrisy and the aftermath could destroy his wife, and may shatter other dreams. The scenes of battle, trench and hospital are well written. While many will die from their wounds, it is interesting to discover how much attention was paid to those who survived in order to help them to face the world with their own broken faces. Was this just for officers, as it is shown here? It’s not clear.

Facial reconstruction itself is not at the heart of the story; it’s peripheral, allowing certain movements and character revelations. But it is a metaphor; it’s not just the broken faces of the soldiers which must be seen as mended, but the facade of gentility and the patriarchal society that causes such horror.


The young women are strong and generous, and courageous too, as the excellent cover suggests. Charles is unfortunately not a likeable character, and Freddie could be stronger in the face of his friend’s obduracy. The book would benefit from closer editing to remove several errors and some inconsistencies, but as a novel about women at war, it is eminently readable.

© Lorraine Swoboda 




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29 May 2017

A Discovering Diamond review of: The Domesday Book (No Not That One) by Howard of Warwick




AmazonUK £2.99 £4.36
Amazon US $3.83 $8.88 
Amazon CA $13.88

Alternative / Humour
1066
England

Duke William has conquered England in 1066, but he has a bit of a problem. He cannot prove his claim. The body of his opponent, King Harold II, is missing so the new Norman King sends an extremely pedantic Saxon off to find him, using the ruse of compiling an enormous book listing the dwelling places and possessions of all the people of England. While he is doing that, some Vikings and the village idiot, set out on their own secret mission… Inevitably their paths are to cross…

Comedy is not always easy to write, it has to be humorous (of course) but not over-the-top silly. The characters here are, by necessity exaggerated, as you would find in any pantomime-type comedy: William for instance is portrayed as a wonderful ‘baddy’. To be truthful, the comedy was not always consistent and perhaps in places the ‘jokes’ were a little repetitive, but all the same this was a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining read and it kept me chuckling, so job done!

© Anne Holt


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27 May 2017

It's the Fourth Weekend in May

No reviews on a Weekend
but today is your day for our

Reader's Voice Page
where you, the reader can have your 3pennyworth of views



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26 May 2017

A Discovering Diamonds Review of THE WOLF OF DALRIADA by Elizabeth Gates


Amazon UK $8.99
Amazon CA n/a

Family Drama / Adventure
1793
France / Scotland

It is 1793... As Europe watches the French Revolution’s bloody progress, uneasy Scottish landowners struggle to secure their wealth and power. And, in Dalriada – the ancient Kingdom of Scotland – fractured truths, torn loyalties and bloody atrocities are rife. Can anyone ride the maelstrom of these dangerous times? Only, it seems, Malcolm Craig Lowrie – the legendary Wolf of Dalriada.

In remote Argyll, people cry out to the young laird for protection against the evil of the Clearances. And there is also a beautiful Frenchwoman – staked as a child on the turn of a card – now living in thrall to her debauched captor, Sir William Robinson. But can the Wolf of Dalriada safeguard his people? Can the Wolf defeat enemies who, like the spirit of Argyll’s Corryvrecken Whirlpool, threaten to engulf them all?”

Part political intrigue, part romance, part mysticism, this debut novel, The Wolf of Dalriada, explores the upheaval of the period of the French Revolution and it is refreshing to see life in this era from the different perspective of Scotland rather than the more usual London/Paris Scarlet Pimpernel-type romantic adventure.

Perhaps a little clichéd in places with the baddies being bad and the goodies being good, and the occasional stumble with the flow of the writing where intrigue is key over action, but some of the scenery and ‘backdrop’ to the story is very nicely described so lovers of Scotland will appreciate this aspect. There could be some polishing to this debut novel, but the author has talent and a good technical editor could help bring out that talent to make Ms Gates an author to definitely watch in the future.

An entertaining tale.

© Ellen Hill


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25 May 2017

SWEARING ALLEGIANCE by Jana Petken


Amazon UK £2.79 £12.00
Amazon US  $3.45 $16.99
Amazon CA $22.64

Military
WWI / Irish Uprising
England and Ireland

This is a thoroughly researched novel that begins with the Irish rebellion in Dubin in 1916 and moves to the front lines of World War I. It is the first of The Carmody Saga, a fictional family, but the events with which they become entangled are all too real. The week long “rising” in April 1916 and its aftermath, is followed by imprisonment in Frongoch, in North Wales, for young Danny.

Danny's father is shot whilst collecting important research papers from the College of Surgeons and the family moves to his mother-in-law's home in Greenwich. Danny's older brother, Patrick, training to become a surgeon like his late father, joins a hospital ship. Their sister, Jenny, is injured in a Zeppelin raid. Meanwhile a close family friend, also a medic, treats injured soldiers.

Later Danny becomes a reluctant recruit to the British army. The depictions of the horrors of war are graphic. The rivalries and romances of the family members drawn with conviction. The many twists and turns of fate and fortune that afflict each member, and the way each responds, kept me turning the pages. This powerfully written novel provides moments of pleasure and pain, drama and horror that never fails to excite.

Given this is book one, and occupies two very turbulent years in Irish and British history, it is hard to imagine how Ms Petken will match the excitement as the family leaves the war behind. Of course, there is the violence of the guerrilla warfare that preceded Irish independence, and the brief but bloody civil war that followed. Danny, the passionate believer in Irish Independence, will surely have a part to play in these events that formed the Irish nation. What, though, of the other family members with their careers in medicine? Perhaps you can see that I am completely hooked, and desperate to read the next instalment.


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© Frank Parker

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24 May 2017

A Discovering Diamonds review of Rosette by Cindy Rinaman Marsch


 Amazon UK  £9.66 £3.07
Amazon US $3.10 $13.99
Amazon CA $18.32

Fictional Biography
US Settlement
1888

"Almost-spinster schoolteacher Rosette Cordelia Ramsdell married Otis Churchill on a Michigan farm in 1857. Her real-life journal recounts two years of homesteading, history hints at the next six decades, and the novel explores the truth. We meet Rosette in 1888 as she revises the wedding-day page of her journal. In lush detail, in the voices of Rosette and others, the novel traces how we both choose and suffer our destiny, how hopes come to naught and sometimes rise from the wreckage."

All novels are a labour of love, especially independently published novels, and this one takes that a little further being the story of the author's ancestor, derived from diaries and other records found by the family.

Rosette's story is one that must have played out hundreds of times to hundreds of girls, a story of growing up and living in the 'wild west' on land that was newly reclaimed from nature in small, close-knit communities that had to cooperate to survive. Drama was breaking a cart and helping each other was a matter of course. Laura Ingalls Wilder would recognise this world and feel at home here.

Although this is a story that is far from unique, what we have here is a valuable piece of social history in that is has survived to be re-told. Ingalls Wilder wrote her own story, and so did Rosette, but not for the consumption of anyone other than her own family, and as such, she didn't explain the everyday terms and words that she uses, which is why the author does that for us.

The style that this novel is written in reflects the style of that diary, it is not a 'he said, she said' scene by scene tale of adventure or derring-do with a plot building chapter by chapter, but this is a more re-telling style, recounting life as seen through the eyes of the characters. Because of that you never really get into the head of each character, but you do get a good sense of how the main protagonists are viewed by those around them.

A gentle story of family life in an era where life was hard and yet simple pleasures mean everything. A wonderful snapshot into a lost world.



© Nicky Galliers



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23 May 2017

Nȧȧpiikoan Winter by Alethea Williams



AmazonUK £5.62 £13.67
Amazon US $7.00 $19.95
Amazon CA $26.08

Family Drama
19th century
American Settlement /Native American

Based on the memoirs of a Hudson Bay Company fur trader, this novel centres around two people, Buffalo Stone Woman, a captured slave to a Native tribe, and Donald Thomas who is seventeen years old and who is sent, because of his linguistic skills, to live among the Native Pikani tribe in the Rocky Mountains in order to develop trade. There, he discovers Isobel, a Mexican landowner’s daughter who was captured many years previously by the tribe – and known now as Buffalo Stone Woman. Inevitably, a relationship grows between the two of them, which creates difficulties for the trade partnership which he is supposed to be seeking and encouraging.

Some of the scenes are graphic and unsettling, the Native names can be difficult to get your head around (I merely skipped over them) but Ms Williams writes with great skill, confidence and what appears to be highly detailed research. Her understanding of the differences between the two cultures is handled with dexterity, and makes this a recommended, very enjoyable read.

© Ellen Hill





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22 May 2017

A Discovering Diamonds Review of The House at Zaronza by Vanessa Couchman


 AmazonUK £1.99 £8.99
Amazon US $2.55 $11.99
Amazon CA $16.06

Romance / Family Drama
1914 - 18
Corsica

It is delightful when one of the main characters is a place, not a person, when the scenery is described in as much detail and as vividly as the lead protagonist and the plot.

In the present day, Rachel Swift goes to Corsica, the place where her mother was born, with the intention of researching her family history. She finds some letters, which are anonymous but passionate and written to ‘Maria’. Gradually she uncovers the desperate love between the couple, the mountains they must climb to be together and the heartbreak they must endure.

Maria becomes a nurse when war breaks out – but more than this I am not saying, because it will spoil the story.

The House at Zaronza is an emotional, absorbing and powerful read, a story of betrayal, misunderstanding and a love story, all wrapped in the tragedy that these can, so often bring, especially when war is the main background.

The story is of the island during these turbulent years, and of the people – local inhabitants, invaders and who had to live, die, and survive.

This is a debut novel, and although written with passion and skill it could perhaps, as with all new authors, have benefitted from an additional structural edit, for the pace ebbs and flows a little, especially at the beginning. But do persevere – even if only for the delight of the descriptive scenery. Vanessa Couchman has a huge potential talent, and will be an author to watch, I think.

© Mary Chapple





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20 May 2017

Its the Third Weekend in May


This weekend please welcome

A TRIBUTE TO RICHARD ZIMLER 
by Christoph Fischer

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Richard Zimler




PAST PRESENT AND FUTURE

JANUARY    :  A Tribute to Rosemary Sutcliff by Helen Hollick


   
APRIL           :  A Tribute to Harriet Doerr by Inge H. Borg

MAY              :  A Tribute to Richard Zimler by Christoph Fischer

JUNE            :   A Tribute to Ellis Peters


WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR!
  • Cover of Month announced on the FIRST weekend of the month
  • Book of the Month announced on the SECOND weekend in the month
  • Guest Spot - posted on the THIRD weekend in the month
  • Reader's Voice - posted on the LAST weekend in the month  

19 May 2017

A Discovering Diamonds review of ROMA AMOR Sherry Christie

 

 AmazonUK £2.39 £18.53
AmazonUS $3.06 $22.96
Amazon CA n/a

Family Drama / Romance / Adventure
Rome 37 AD

Headstrong and hot-tempered, Marcus would rather prove his courage by leading legions against Rome's enemies. Yet when his father calls him home from the frontier, he has no choice but to befriend Caligula - the man he blames for not saving his brother.
Caught in a web of deceit, conspiracy, and betrayal reaching from Palatine mansions to the city's grimy, teeming streets, he will uncover a dark secret that threatens his family, the woman he desires, even his life... and may bring chaos to the young Roman Empire.”

Rome at the time of Caligula, we are all familiar with the ‘Fiddling while Rome burns’ character, and to a certain extent have we had enough novels about this period and character? I think not, because each vividly written story brings a new and different angle to this period of history when life was cheap, and the chap in charge of it, the Emperor was more volatile than Vesuvius!

Marcus Licinius Carinna has been fighting on the edges of the Empire, but is called back to Rome by his father who is one of Caligula’s advisors, and his recently deceased brother was a close friend to Caligula. Marcus is to take his brother’s place as Caligula’s friend. And then the plot thickens, to coin a phrase.

Ms Christie’s characters are well portrayed, with the everyday life in Rome equally as intriguing, from slave to Emperor. The streets, the homes, the palaces are all well drawn and feel believable. There are some exciting descriptions and scenes, some romance, some fighting, some adventure… enough to please most readers who enjoy novels about Rome.

I enjoyed the novel, it was absorbing and very good entertainment.


© Ellen Hill



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18 May 2017

Darcy by Any Other Name by Laura Hile



Amazon UK £4.00 £15.59
Amazon US $5.12 $22.58
Amazon CA $29.69

Fantasy
'Jane Austen' Regency 
England

The delightful Mr Darcy and insufferable Mr Collins exchange words in Netherfield gardens when a storm breaks and both men are struck by lightning. When they wake each man finds himself in the body of the other. With only tuppence to his name, Darcy can find only one good thing in the bizarre drama – as Collins, he is living at Longbourn with Elizabeth and her family.

If you can accept this body swap twist, then reading the book is both interesting and entertaining. If Darcy soon realises his misfortune, Mr Collins takes a little longer to see himself as the master of Pemberley. With no immediate way of resolving the situation, neither of them chooses to reveal what has happened.

The language is suited to the time period, though there are one or two Americanisms which do not sit well in a Regency tale, and a few typos – but they do not detract from the story. The book is very long, over 600 pages, and would perhaps have been better if the middle section had been tighter and shorter.

The moral quotes in the folly inform the reader, if not Mr Collins, that each man was intended to appreciate and learn from the other’s situation in life. Darcy’s attempts to woo Elizabeth while looking like Collins showed much more clearly how one can fall in love with the spirit of a man rather than his appearance. It is doubtful if Mr Collins learned anything at all from the experience and I wished that Mr Bingley had been more perceptive to the changes in his friend.

Most enjoyable and entertaining.

© Jen Black


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17 May 2017

DARK WHISKY ROAD by Jen Black



Amazon UK £1.20
Amazon US $1.50
Amazon CA n/a

Romance
Victorian
England

“For an ex-duchess, obeying orders proves difficult. But Melanie has little choice. Scarred and cheated out of her widow's entitlement, she accepts a post as housekeeper in remote Gavington House where widowed Lord Jarrow rears his young daughter. He has secrets, and Mel's curiosity will not let her rest until she has discovered what it is that occupies both him and his friend Mangerton. Soon she is embroiled in lying to the Excise men, and wondering if she dare risk falling in love again.”

Maybe Dark Whisky Road is a little melodramatic, and reminiscent of Jane Eyre in places, but what the heck? This is a thoroughly enjoyable true-to-the-genre romance.

I confess I initially selected the book because of the lovely piebald horse on the cover, which shows that cover content is as important as the narrative, but soon found myself engrossed in the struggles and doubts of our wonderful heroine, Melanie Grey. Forced to leave her wealthy life as a duchess, Melanie finds a position as a governess and housekeeper for a widower and his daughter. And so the plot continues from there, leading to the Excise Men and other such nasty baddies.

There are fascinating and well-created characters in this story, most of them with secrets or struggles to overcome, and of course there is an anxious budding of love. We meet the typical-genre necessity of brooding heroes, unsure heroines, dastardly anti-heroes, remote settings and misunderstandings

Jen Black writes with a crisp, refreshing style and elegant descriptions which take her reader right into the scenes she is creating. Her characters are equally well written, Melanie in particular is not the typical feisty beauty who has it all – she is vulnerable has her fears and none of the modern feminist views we often come to expect in novels. In this story she is ordinary – and I very much liked her, and Ms Black, for it!


© Helen Hollick




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