23 March 2018

The Money Ship by Joan Druett

Shortlisted for Book of the Month

AMAZON US $10.85 

Nautical adventure / fictional saga
Various locations

Money ships were wrecks of treasure-galleons belched up from the bottom of the sea after tremendous storms, yielding doubloons and all kinds of precious treasure ... gold bars and bullion, chests of brilliant gems. Oriental adventurer Captain Rochester spun an entrancing tale to Jerusha, seafaring daughter of Captain Michael Gardiner — a story of a money ship, hidden in the turquoise waters of the South China Sea, which was nothing less than the lost trove of the pirate Hochman. As Jerusha was to find, though, the clues that pointed the way to fabled riches were strange indeed — a haunted islet on an estuary in Borneo, an obelisk with a carving of a rampant dragon, a legend of kings and native priests at war, and of magically triggered tempests that swept warriors upriver. And even if the clues were solved, the route to riches was tortuous, involving treachery, adultery, murder, labyrinthine Malayan politics … and, ultimately, Jerusha’s own arranged marriage.”

Joan Druett is a Master Mariner of her craft – the craft of writing maritime history and fiction, that is. This highly entertaining – and absorbing – nautical tale is one of those novels that keeps you turning the pages anxious to know what happens next. Descriptions, dialogue, aboard and ashore scenes are filled with incredible believability so much so that you feel you are a fly on the wall watching real people perform, not fictional made-up characters. You can feel the ship moving, hear the wind in the rigging, the crash or gurgle of the waves. Feel the spray on your face and smell the smells. Intrigue and adventure takes us with the Captain and crew to different ports and harbours on different voyages  over a period of years and all the while we grow to know the characters well and try to puzzle out the mystery that is deepening about Turtle Island and its lure of treasure.

There are distant lands and their native peoples, shipwrecks, pirates, clement weather and storms. A superb tale of adventure populated with nice, likeable characters and boo-hiss baddies.

Loved the entire series!

© Helen Hollick

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22 March 2018

A Discovered Diamond review of A Corner Of My Heart By Mark Seaman

AMAZON UK £2.99 £9.99
AMAZON US $4.18 $18.36 

Family Drama
1940 – mid/late 1970s.
England /  Germany

Let me say first of all that this a very emotional story and for a number of different reasons. It deals with two women, mother Ruth and daughter Mary who have never met. Mary was adopted at the age of seven weeks and has accepted her kind and loving foster parents as her own. She has never had any interest in finding her birth mother until her own daughter, Jenny, aged five, asks about her.

All her life (Mary is now twenty-eight) she has refused to think about her mother, assuming she had been cruelly and heartlessly given away by a woman who could not  or would not love and care for her. The women tell us their stories in alternate chapters, Ruth's story being the longest. She tells in a matter of fact manner of how, as a young child, she endured and eventually survived, the death camps of Nazi Germany, returned to England and found employment as a nanny, but with unfortunate consequences.

I had a couple of niggles: the 'present day' is not defined and it took me a little time to establish that it most probably took place in the latter part of the 1970s. I felt there was some repetition when Ruth is arguing with her employers and trying to defend her actions. There were also a (very) few typos.

Those issues apart, it is a book about the sheer horrors the Jewish people faced at the hands of the Nazis, the attitudes of post war life towards unmarried mothers, the actions of a refuge for 'girls in trouble'  run by Catholic nuns, a mother who regrets her own actions and a daughter who condemns her mother without knowing anything about her. The ending is simple but none the less emotional.

© Richard Tearle

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21 March 2018

Time and Regret By M.K. Tod

shortlisted for Book of the Month 

AMAZON UK £3.48 £4.99
AMAZON US $4.93 $7.99
AMAZON CA $4.92 $15.71

Family Drama
New York / France

An unforgettable tale of loss, love and redemption.

Time and Regret is a beautifully written novel that combines two compelling characters, vivid scenery and an intriguing mystery that propels the story at a perfect pace. This is one of my favorite novels of World War I (and there are many to choose from). For readers who really want to understand the haunting brutality of war and the healing powers of redemption, Time and Regret gets it right, over and over again.

The dual narrators, Grace Hansen and her grandfather Martin Devlin, weave two threads of the plot together in an effortless tapestry of love and loss. Taking us on vivid journey between 1990s New York and the bloody Great War battlefields of France, the chapters unfold beautifully between the two settings, at times crossing over, and at others providing insights and clues to the mystery at the heart of the novel. 

As Grace begins to unravel the family secrets and pursue the puzzle she found in her grandfather’s diary, we accompany her to France. Here, another beautiful element of the novel joins the story, as Ms Tod’s evocative descriptions vividly bring to life the French countryside, food, wine and art. But still the land is haunted by the scars of the battlefields, and Time and Regret brings us closer to Martin’s sorrows as the tension builds. A romantic element for the recently divorced Grade adds a touch of flair to the plot, and as she makes the connections and understands Martin’s terrible experience, we share her heartrending discovery.

By the time we reach the climax of the novel, we have a new understanding of the horrors of Ypres and the Somme, and an appreciation of the acts of bravery that must not be forgotten. And, with Grace as a perfect counterweight to her grandfather’s emotional journey, we celebrate her victory over her own personal battles.

I thoroughly enjoyed  this novel, and it is definitely on my keeper shelf, to be relished more than once. Beautifully layered and sensitively written, I would not hesitate to say this is one of the best World War I historical fiction novels.

 © Elizabeth St John

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20 March 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of Lucia’s Renaissance by C. L. R. Peterson

Lucia's Renaissance: A Novel of 16th-century Italy

AMAZON US $4.13 

Family Drama

For most of us, the word Inquisition conjures up Medieval Spain and Portugal. However, during the waning decades of the Italian Renaissance and after the pope had returned to Rome, Catholic zeal to combat the Reformation of Martin Luther struck terror for enlightened Italians. Many of them died under the torture from the Grand Inquisitor and his zealot henchmen.

The author begins the story of young Lucia Locatelli and her family in 1571 in Verona. An extremely bright child, Lucia discovers Martin Luther’s hidden doctrines in her father’s study. Fired up by her thirst for learning and unfettered young idealism, her fervor sends her family on a terror-stricken path. Her physician father is branded a heretic and imprisoned. To atone, he is sent to the pestilence-ridden Venice. Eventually, Lucia follows him there in hopes of a new beginning.

Lucia’s Renaissance is told in first-person from the few main protagonists. A relatively uncomplicated read, the novel’s subject is nevertheless terrifying, and I kept reading in hopes of a better outcome for the Locatellis. Wisely, the author did not romanticize those terrible times when a careless word could spell death.

This is C. L. R. Peterson’s debut novel. Hopefully, she will write a more intricate tapestry of those times to showcase her talent and extensive research. As an aside, I did find the extremely large dropped caps irritating on my Kindle. I was also surprised that the one German sentence was mangled. A quick Google search would have given her the perfect “Wer sind Sie?” Other than that, the book was perfectly edited.

© Inge H. Borg

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19 March 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of: Bright Sword by Christine Hancock

AMAZON US $5.58 

Historical fiction / Coming of Age / Military / 
10th Century AD
Settings: England

Book 1: The Byrhtnoth Chronicles

Everyone who knows their pre-Conquest history will have heard of Byrhtnoth. Christine Hancock undertakes to give us a series of books about his remarkable life and Bright Sword kicks off with the young Byrhtnoth being sent away from his village to be trained as a soldier of  King Edmund. As he grows into his mid-teens, it is obvious that he is charismatic, a good fighter and an intelligent leader. Because of these qualities he makes both friends and enemies amongst his peers.

One thing drives Byrhtnoth: his mother was sent away when he was a child and he does not know the name of his father. The man who could tell him, the lord of his village, dies before he can reveal the name. Byrhtnoth finds himself named as the new lord and heir to a tantalising sword which he cannot yet claim as his own.

Meanwhile, the king has been assassinated and, charged with looking for anything suspicious, Byrhtnoth is distracted and fails to stop the deed. He is distraught and believes that he was responsible and runs away. He is injured in a great forest and likely to die, but is rescued and taken to a nearby abbey. Here he meets an nun called Edith, and Byrhtnoth's life changes …..

There is a lot of pace to this book, short chapters that compel you to read 'just one more' and great descriptions of locations, mostly in the east of the country around Ely. One underlying theme is the way women were looked upon and treated; no preaching, just stating what was most probably so in those times.

There are few answers to Byrhtnoth's problems in this, the first of the series, but no doubt these will come in the volumes to follow; if you enjoy this book as much as I did, you will be looking out for the publication of Byrhtnoth's further adventures.

The cover by www.avalongraphics.org  is beautifully simple yet immediately eye-catching.

© Richard Tearle

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17 March 2018

It's the Weekend

No reviews over the weekend 
but did you miss...

'A Gang of Doctors Killed Me'
a look at Roman doctors and medicine by Ruth Downie


How we Discover our Diamonds - a look at how the system works.

* * *
Have you seen our

where you will find all sorts of interesting things
 to amuse, entertain and inform?

16 March 2018

Sheriff and Priest by Nicky Moxey

AMAZON UK £3.99 / £9.99
AMAZON US $4.99  / $12.99
AMAZON CA $4.99 / $16.40

Historical fiction
12th century

In 12th-century England, times are turbulent. Tensions between the lower class Saxon English and ruling class Norman nobles simmer, and The Anarchy is at its peak. This debut historical novel opens in the middle of these times, in a small town with a young boy, Wimer. He is a bright boy but, as a Saxon peasant, has few opportunities. His luck changes when he comes to the notice of the local priest, who sponsors his attendance at a school in Norwich. From there, Wimer has the option of becoming a monk or a chaplain. He decides to become a chaplain and go out into the world. He makes a name for himself in the service of Hugh Bigod, and is able to leave that house and work directly for Henry II as the High Sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk. In the course of discharging his duties, he runs afoul of Thomas Becket and is excommunicated, twice by Becket and once by the Pope. He also has a doomed love for Ida de Toscny, Henry’s ward. Eventually, Wimer is reinstated into the Church but in order to feel truly free of his mortal sins, both from his rifts with his religious superiors and because of his love for Ida, Wimer decides he needs to return to a life devoted to the Church and make an act of spectacular penitence.

Sheriff and Priest was a delightful novel. There are several novels available which tell the tale of The Anarchy, all told from the perspective of Henry II or Eleanor of Aquitaine, or perhaps from various other nobles. Getting the perspective of a man who began life as a Saxon peasant is a unique take, and a refreshing change. Wimer is a complex and sympathetic figure. He overthinks just about everything and makes life a lot harder for himself in many ways, which is a very believable character trait. Some of the secondary characters could have been fleshed out a little more, but the people readers encountered the most were not flat and were developed enough for the purpose. The only thing that was a little jarring was the reference to Thomas a’Becket. He wasn’t referred to as such during his life, and not until at least the Post-Reformation. Nitpicky thing, yes, but noticeable. Overall, though, this novel was full of wonderful medieval detail and flowed swiftly across the page. Highly recommended.

© Kristen McQuinn

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15 March 2018

The March Mid-Month Extra: 'A Gang of Doctors Killed Me' by Ruth Downie

Researching MEMENTO MORI, the latest mystery novel in the MEDICUS series, left Ruth Downie relieved that she lives in the 21st century not back in the 1st  …

“There is,” thundered Pliny the Elder, “no greater reason for the decay of morals than medicine.”

It wasn’t just the sight of Roman tombstones bearing the epitaph, “A gang of doctors killed me” that upset him. It wasn’t just the rumours that doctors deliberately poisoned their patients and sought to benefit from their wills. Nor was it only the way doctors had—he said—convinced people that the only good medicine was a costly and complicated one, nor even that they had the nerve to expect payment for their services.  It wasn’t just the way they argued with each other, nor the way they changed their minds: one day prescribing cold baths, the next day insisting baths should be so hot that the enfeebled bathers were lucky not to be carried out feet first.

No. What really annoyed Pliny was the way those cunning Greek medics had seduced formerly tough Romans into pampering themselves with treatments like “wrestlers’ ointment,” while all that lolling about in hot water sapped the moral fibre of the city.

Medics were an accepted part of the Roman military scene (thank goodness, because I write about one) and the emperor Augustus approved of doctors enough to exempt them from paying taxes, but the only good thing the acerbic Pliny could find to say about having so many medical sharks preying on innocent civilians was that the competition kept prices down.

For six hundred years, said Pliny, the people of Rome had managed to administer their own remedies. But now their good habits had slipped. He wasn’t alone: Celsus, who wrote extensively on medicine, agreed that doctors were only necessary because Romans had fallen into indolence and luxury.

I can’t help thinking that the pair of them would feel nicely at home listening to our modern concerns about processed foods, lack of exercise and obesity.

Pliny, whilst exaggerating wildly, did have a point. While the best doctors of his day could perform great feats of surgery—even cataract operations—they had no idea about bacteria, nor about the circulation of the blood. Without x-rays, scans or even microscopes, they were largely working blind. Little wonder that they sometimes got things very wrong.

Faced with the risk of consulting a doctor or trying Pliny’s pull-yourself-together-and-eat-cabbage approach to healthcare, it’s hardly surprising that plenty of sick people in the ancient world turned to religion. After all, the causes of disease were largely a mystery—so why not invoke some supernatural help? Here in Britannia, they could have sought that help at our very own shrine over the hot springs of Aquae Sulis, in the city we now call Bath.

We know that people believed in the power of Sulis Minerva, goddess of the shrine, because we still have some of the curses that they threw into her spring. The curses are written on scraps of lead by victims of petty crime who are demanding justice. Thousands of coins were flung into the waters too, perhaps in the hope of good luck. We don’t have any record of healings, but there are altars giving thanks for answered prayers. If the requests were anything like the testimonies that have turned up elsewhere, people had high expectations.

The traditional way for a sick person to seek a miracle was to sleep, and try to dream of a cure, in the presence of the god or goddess. There would often be sacred snakes or dogs around to help with the healing (although the presence of snakes might not have helped much with the sleeping). A hopeful candidate might drop off while reading encouraging accounts of former patients on the walls.

Ancient Greek inscriptions tell the story of Cleo, who was delivered of a son after a five-year pregnancy. Of a mute boy who was suddenly able to announce that he would bring an offering to the god if he were cured. Of a man called Pandarus who had birthmarks removed from his forehead. Of Lyson, a blind boy, who had his sight restored “by one of the dogs”. Agameda was cured of infertility, and Daietus’ paralysed knees were cured when he dreamed he was trampled by the god’s horses.

Not everything went right first time: Aristagora was cured of worms, but the god Asclepius had to correct his sons’ overenthusiastic treatment by reattaching the patient’s head before performing worm-removing surgery.

We don’t know how much of this sort of thing went on at Bath. The layout is that of a healing shrine but the best clue we have is much smaller: a block of ivory roughly carved into the shape of human shoulders and chest with breasts. It looks like one of the ‘votives’ that were offered to gods to show exactly which part of the body needed help. It would have been old-fashioned even when the Romans were here, but there’s a fine display of them from elsewhere in the Wellcome collection in London.

Votives in the Wellcome collectio
The problem for a modern writer with using these sort of tales is that while they’re a great insight into how people’s minds worked, they’re very distracting. It’s easy to lose sight of your murder mystery while you chase explanations for miracles. So it’s a relief to find that even in the ancient world, people had doubts. Several writers bemoan the fact that the supply of miracles seems to be drying up these days, and Cicero was utterly unimpressed. If it was true, he said, that people could learn medical remedies in dreams, why couldn’t dreams teach anyone how to read and write?

The gods, or their earthly assistants, had answers. There are several accounts of people who scoffed at the inscriptions and then had to eat their words when they walked out of the temple the next morning fully cured. Telling lies to the god was a bad idea, too. There’s a post-script to the story of Pandarus’s birthmarks: shortly afterwards, a man called Echedorus tried to cheat the god out of a donation.
He left the temple with Pandarus’s marks transferred to his own forehead. 

Whatever you believed, it was clearly wise to treat the gods with respect. My Roman doctor, has no intention of picking a fight with anything that gives hope to his patients.  Even though, as the famous physician Galen pointed out, people tend to follow any advice they’re given by the gods, while they ignore exactly the same advice from their doctor.

Temple pediment at Bath
When he’s summoned urgently to Aquae Sulis, my protagonist, Ruso, is keen to see the healing shrine in action. He does manage to spend a night in the temple, but fortunately for those of us who aren’t sure what to say about miracles, he’s too busy trying to defend his friend from a murder charge to conduct a full investigation into the watery offerings of the goddess. 

I’m pleased to say the same cannot be said for his author, who toured the Roman remains and then spent a very happy couple of hours in the nearby Thermae spa, telling herself she was doing research. In reply to Pliny, I can confirm that lolling about in hot water may not be morally improving but it certainly does make you feel good. Pass over some of that Wrestlers’ Ointment, will you?

© Ruth Downie

Book One
Read our review HERE

About Ruth:

I was lucky enough to be born in the West Country, in beautiful North Devon. Some people know from a very early age that they are going to be writers: I wasn’t one of them. I fear this will upset some readers, but I left university with an English degree and a plan to get married and live happily ever after. Perhaps it was all that Jane Austen.

Some of my earliest ventures into creative writing were attempts to type up my indecipherable shorthand in such a way that the boss wouldn’t realise I was making it up. As secretaries were replaced with computers, and my higher-flying contemporaries discovered to their horror that they were expected to type their own letters, there were fewer and fewer outlets for creativity in the office. Finally I took the plunge and started working on my own material.

And then came the Romans. I wasn’t looking for them: we only went to Hadrian’s Wall because we thought our children should do something educational on holiday. Sheltering from the rain in a museum, I read, “Roman soldiers were allowed to have relationships with local women, but they were not allowed to marry them.” Obviously, here was a terrific story waiting to be told. All I had to do was find out everything there was to know about Roman Britain, invent things to fill the gaps, and work out how to put it all together in a novel…

When I’m not researching or writing the Ruso novels, I spend the occasional joyous week grovelling in mud with an archaeological trowel, because Roman Britain is still there. Underneath our feet.

Find out more:
Hardback ISBN 978-1-62040-961-9 Available in ebook and audio

The audio buying link is http://mytitles.net/ruth-downie-memento-mori-audio-cd?uid=2749 – I know that’s a bit of a bizarre link to offer but  it’s the only one that will (hopefully) lead you to the right place both in the US and UK!

14 March 2018

Memento Mori by Ruth Downie

Shortlisted for Book of the Month

UK cover
US Cover

Amazon UK £5.99
Amazon US $17.70
Mystery / Fictional Saga
Roman Britain

“Much of what Legionary medicus Ruso has been told about Britannia isn’t true. Unfortunately much of what he’s told by his local expert – the enigmatic and independent-minded Tilla – may not be true either.”

In the eighth instalment of this delightful series, our hero Ruso and his wife, Tilla, have another murder to investigate. This time, a fire destroys a tavern with several lives being lost in the blaze, while across the road the body of a woman, who happens to be the wife of Medicus Ruso's friend, is found floating in the sacred waters of the hot spring at Aquae Sulis (better known to us modern non-Romans as the Roman Baths at Bath,) which, of course, has the unpleasant possibility of causing a scandal and getting all sorts of the wrong people in trouble. Not to mention the additional concern of angering the local goddess, Sulis Minerva herself, and, more important, devastating the tourist trade. So all-in-all the temple and town officials are keen to keep the murder as quiet as they can. Unfortunately for them, the dead woman's father is determined to make as much noise as he can.

Meanwhile, the husband, Ruso's mate, Valens,  could face execution if found guilty, but even he is not much help to Ruso and Tilla who want to uncover the truth of what really happened, even though it looks, very much, that Valens is guilty after all...

Ms Downie writes thoroughly entertaining novels which keep you guessing as to 'who done it'. Her research is accurate and she skilfully creates a rich air of vivid reality of time, place and events. Her characters are an absolute delight to know - even the 'baddies', while poor old Ruso still hasn't quite figured out how to handle Tilla, who remains just as much a delightful law unto herself here in Book Eight as she was in Book One.

The mystery in the plots for every book in the series are well-rounded and absorbing, the medical aspects are interesting (and accurate), the action is entertaining and the bits in between keep you turning the pages, eager to know what is to happen next. Oh, and there are some wonderful chuckles scattered here and there along the way, guaranteed to make you laugh. Start where you like within the series, each adventure is a well-written stand-alone, but if you haven't yet met Ruso and Tilla, start at the beginning and enjoy the pleasure of working your way through Ruso and co's adventures.

From cover to cover, this is one of the most entertaining historical-based mystery series going. Each one a Diamond of a Read recommended. 

© Helen Hollick

Ruth is our guest tomorrow for the March Mid-Month extra  
... find out what ancient Romans
 thought of their doctors! 

13 March 2018

The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

US cover

UK Cover

AMAZON US $16.99
AMAZON CA $13.99

Fantasy / Islam culture

Nahri is a young woman alone in 18th century Cairo, a place where young women should not be alone. To survive, she has established a reputation for herself as a healer and woman who can help with supernatural problems, such as banishing unwanted djinns from inhabiting a person. In reality, she is a con artist, using her reputation to find her next mark. She doesn’t actually believe in magic or djinns, despite the fact that she has an unnatural ability to heal people, and she can understand any language after hearing it just once. During a ritual to exorcise a young girl from demons, Nahri inadvertently summons a real djinn, Dara.

This has the side effect of attracting the attention of several other wicked creatures who set out to find Nahri. Dara takes her with him on a journey to the city of Daevabad, the mythic home of all the djinn tribes. There, Nahri meets the royal family, including the younger prince Ali, who is a rebel and idealist struggling to find peace and equality for all the tribes as well as the shafit, the djinn-human mixed race people who are treated as second-class citizens.

Nahri learns that she is the long-lost daughter of the last of a great tribe of djinn healers and is welcomed almost as a goddess. She has to learn how to navigate palace politics as well as learn new rules of healing with magic. In an effort to unite the tribes and put a halt to escalating violence in the city, the king decides that a marriage between Nahri and his eldest son is in order. Nahri is devastated to learn that Dara has a vicious history in the city and is known as the Scourge of Daevabad for his actions in a war 1400 years ago. She must decide whether to believe him when he has never been forthcoming with her before, trust her increasing friendship with Ali, or trust her own instincts which are telling her that nothing is what it seems.

This debut novel was rich with Middle Eastern mythology and culture, strong world building, and stronger characters. And it is an #Ownvoices story, which is awesome. I’ve never read a Muslim fantasy before and let me tell you, it was so cool to read about a culture that is not familiar to me. I loved it.

Chakraborty weaves a vibrant, rich tapestry for her readers and does a beautiful job painting a picture of life not only in her fantasy world, but also how elements of Islam are interwoven throughout seamlessly. I loved how descriptive the writing was. I could smell the spices in the air at the bazaar, and feel the heat of the desert air rising up from the dunes. The colors and sounds and scents were immersive, practically a virtual reality experience leaping out of the pages.

The characters are all flawed and deeply human and even the ones you aren’t really supposed to like, you still find yourself caring about in some way or another. That is a rare thing for me as a reader. I don’t often care about all the characters, but this book made me love Nahri and Ali, made me frustrated with Dara, made me suspect the king but in a way that didn’t make me hate him. Every character had well defined personalities and behaved within the scope of them. It is always annoying when characters have their personalities violated by their own authors; that never happened here. Everything the characters did, even if it was a surprise, was never ‘out of character’.

I absolutely loved this book and cannot wait for the next in the trilogy.

© Kristen McQuinn

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