21 May 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of In a Time Never Known by Kat Michels

AMAZON UK £3.60 £7.10
AMAZON US $8.00 

Family Drama
American Civil War

In a Time Never Known is a fictional account of different people’s lives during the American Civil War. Author Kat Michels presents the reader with characters from differing walks of life and with differing attitudes to the war and its outcome. Woven within their stories is a web of espionage: within this web are complex threads of conflicting loyalties and romantic love. The story begins in a somewhat light manner, but then, as characters develop the story deepens and broadens.

Anna, a young woman from the North, is married against her will to a plantation owner, Andrew Bell. He is the stereotypical white Southern male of the period; he abuses his slaves and his wife, and shows no affection for anyone or anything save his spoilt daughter Kady, who grows into a crinoline princess of the worst kind. Anna, however, finds a meaning for her life when the man with whom she is secretly (very dangerously) conducting an affair recruits her into a spy ring for the North. The novel wobbles a little here, for Anna seems oblivious to the risks she is running and when her daughter insists she too become a spy there are long and loud conversations about it in Bell’s house. But from this point on the story becomes more convincing. We see Kady’s growth, firstly into a reckless do-gooder, then a brave woman risking her life to get messages to Union generals, as a means of ending the tragedy of this war.

The story is not just about Anna and Kady, however, it is also about Kady’s two husbands (no explanation here for it would be a spoiler), especially Thomas Henry, who is a complex Southern soldier, tormented by the deaths he has caused. We also follow Emma, who sees Thomas Henry saving her baby brother and initially believes him to be a hero. When she learns it was he who killed her family she sets out to get revenge.

Along with these characters there are numerous others, all of whom have inter-connected stories. In this respect, Michels’ novel is compelling reading, but it does get a little confusing at times and a list of characters at the beginning would have helped. Confusion is also caused by similar sounding names, and a slightly random use of first and second names: Thomas Henry is called both Thomas and Henry by his wife, and he has a companion called Tom; at another point I mixed up Anna and Emma, too.

Nevertheless, this is an intriguing account of the lives slaves and plantation owners, unexpected spies and long-suffering, always hungry, soldiers. Ultimately, one hopes there will be a happy ending for them but Michels has stuck to real events and the regrettable outcome of all wars, and while there is closure and a better future for some, nobody escapes unscathed.

In a time Never Known is a well-written, well-researched historical novel and I recommend it to anyone interested in the American Civil War, and those who enjoy a family saga. This novel is not set against the panoramic background of Gone With the Wind – indeed, a lot of the action occurs in the Dismal Swamp, which is crawling with all manner of venomous snakes – but it is a ‘big book’ and a satisfying, albeit not always easy read. Kat Michels is an author to follow.

© J.G. Harlond 

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19 May 2018

It is the Weekend

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

The May Mid-Month Extra with Joan Fallon

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18 May 2018

Syncopation: A Novel of Adèle Hugo by Elizabeth Caulfield Felt

Syncopation is published by Cornerstone Press and is available through their 
online ordering $13.90

Family Drama
19th century
France, Nova Scotia, Barbados

Syncopation according to Webster: (music) to shift the regular accent (in a composition) to a normally unaccented beat.

Adèle is born into a perfect family: beautiful mother, two handsome brothers, a sister who is the epitome of a generous spirit and of course a famous father. For the first few chapters, we watch Adèle growing and interacting with her family until the unthinkable happens: the tragic death of a beloved member of the family. A half-beat has been missed; the harmony has been interrupted and can never be the same again.

Adèle emerges from the tragedy with a determination never to marry and to live life as she chooses. She comes to resent her domineering father, and she does not respect her mother’s imperatives. No longer is she the darling of the perfect family. While being treated as a pariah by her family, she enjoys a delicious and illicit sex life. Eventually, she escapes the clutches of convention by following a lover to Canada.

Adèle is the kind of spunky, liberated woman we admire so much in our heroines. No matter how desperate her circumstances become, she refuses to live the kind of life her family and society try to impose on her. Yet the author doesn’t attempt to hide her warts. As for Victor Hugo, I expected a more progressive man but he is as rigid in his views about women as his daughter is non-conforming.

This is an engrossing story, flawlessly told and with characters that come to life and fill our imaginations to the brim. 

© Susan Appleyard

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17 May 2018

Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar by Olga Wotjas

shortlisted for Book of the Month

Amazon UK £8.99  £4.99
AMAZON US $6.61 $20.67
AMAZON CA $8.09 $15.24

humour / time travel
19th Century
Russia/modern Scotland 

Olga Wotjas is a former work colleague who remains a friend, so of course I wanted to like her first novel. But, while allowing for that bias, this book would have been enjoyable if presented in proof form, with the author un-named. It is smart, funny and engaging, drawing on a considerable range of reference and allusion, but without ever taking them, or itself, too seriously.

Among those references, timely in Muriel Spark’s centenary year, is the Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which protagonist Shona McMonagle dislikes so much that, in her day job as an Edinburgh librarian, she spirits copies off the shelves and hides them. Herself (like the author) a former member of the ‘crème de la crème’, she is confronted by school founder Marcia Blaine, a time traveller who despatches former pupils on time-bending missions to right wrongs.

Which is how Shona finds herself in nineteenth-century Russia. That she is not wholly sure of the exact nature of her assignment typifies the confusion and incomprehension which run through this story and its humour.

Not least of these is a fine running gag about the year in which she has landed. Shona, while clearly historically literate, is persistently thwarted as she asks to be told, or tries to work out, which it is. The guessing game this creates should keep many readers as happy as Shona is exasperated.

She is sufficiently exotic and baffling to her Russian hosts that a combination of bluff and luck gets her admitted to the high levels of an extremely hierarchical society. But much of that incomprehension is mutual, as she continues to grasp the wrong end of the stick and – given her expertise in martial arts – to contemplate hitting people with it.

Among those she meets, it is particularly easy to warm to Old Vatrushkin -  a family retainer whose Chekhovian nomenclature belies his true age, an educated and intelligent serf who is nevertheless acutely deferential and lives in terror of the possibility of emancipation - and Tresorka, a lap-cum-attack dog first encountered as ‘an animated floormop’.

Linda Cracknell, in a back-cover quote, was put in mind of ‘Anna Karenina written by PG Wodehouse’. And Old Vatrushkin’s intellect has something of Jeeves about it, while the author – who thanks Tolstoy along with Muriel Spark in her acknowledgements –  has a fine ear for wordplay and the telling simile.

But a more contemporary comparison might envisage Boris Akunin’s Erast Fandorin stories, which combine historic Russian settings with wit, crossed with the warmth, humour and lightness of touch of Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street stories.

All good writers also read, and inevitably take on some influences from their reading. But good writing is also always sui generis. Echoes rarely resound. If they did, Jacqueline Wilson would presumably still be writing the highly competent Patricia Highsmith pastiches of her early days rather than having become a wholly original children’s writer.

There are echoes here, but so too is a distinctive and engaging voice. An author’s note happily hints at ‘future missions’ for Shona. While the challenge will be finding another setting as rich in possibilities as Tsarist Russia, there is little doubt that both Shona and her creator are up to it.

© Huw Richards 
(Guest Reviewer)

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16 May 2018

The Seven Year Dress Paulette Mahurin

shortlisted for Book of the Month

AMAZON UK £3.19 £10.29

AMAZON US $ 4.95 $14.95
AMAZON CA $5.72 $17.95

Family Drama
1938 / WWII / Present day

There are many eras in history where one stops and thinks: could I have survived in those days, had I been born Jewish, lived in Berlin during the rise of Hitler and ended up in Auschwitz? Paulette Mahurin has pretty much convinced me that I would not have. Fortunately, Helen Stein, the book's main character, did.

Based on a true person, Helen tells her story to a young student nurse to whom she rents a room and who has noticed the damning tattoo on her forearm. Prior to the war, Helen leads a comfortable enough life, until her father, who works for the German Government, is dismissed, simply for being Jewish. Life becomes more and more difficult. Helen has a friend, though, in the Nazi Youth, Max, who only joins because he is homosexual and feels that this course of action is the best way to hide his 'frailties'. When the hatred escalates, Max aids Helen and her brother Ben to escape at great danger to himself and hides them in a derelict farm belonging to his family. For four years they live there in fear that one day they will be discovered. That day arrives and they are transported to Auschwitz.

This a most powerful and compelling novel; the violence is never graphic, but the horror and threat of it as well as the implied violence will remain with the reader long after the last page has been reached. The author has not held back in any way and deals sensitively yet matter-of-factly with the atrocities and the sheer spirit of those who had the will and the almost superman-type strength to survive.

(There were a  few formatting errors and minor typos on the e-file that was submitted for review,  but these versions are not always the final published edition, and in this instance were very minor.)

I thoroughly recommend this book, despite its harrowing nature, to anyone interested in this shameful period of human history and to ensure that such atrocities are kept as reminders to ensure they never happen again.

© Richard Tearle

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15 May 2018

The May Mid-Month Extra with Joan Fallon


Joan Fallon
 One of the nicest things about the internet is that you meet people through social media that you would never normally come across. A while ago I received a contact message through my webpage, from a John D Cressler. He is Schlumberger Chair Professor in Electronics at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. He didn’t want to discuss electronics with me, thankfully, but to tell me that he is also a writer of historical fiction. Not only that, but he too was attracted to Moorish Spain and his trilogy is entitled Anthems of al-Andalus.

read our review

I have to admit, I felt both intrigued and annoyed that someone else had written about the historical period I’d carved out as my “own”—many writers have written about Granada but not Córdoba’s Golden Age. In fact, in his second book in the series, ‘Shadows in the Shining City’ he covers the period I write about in all three of my books: ‘The Shining City,’ ‘The Eye of the Falcon’ and ‘The Ring of Flames.’ But as I read it, I felt I was reading something quite new. This is the beauty of historical fiction, it is all down to a combination of interpretation and imagination.

Read our review
Although 10th century Córdoba was the cultural and educational centre of Europe and at the time its libraries and universities contained 400,000 books, almost all of those have been destroyed and there is very little in the way of written evidence. So interpretation of the remaining facts and a lively imagination to fill in the gaps can be crucial to the resulting story. And that is what has happened with Cressler’s view of 10th century al-Andalus and mine. We are viewing the same historical facts through different eyes.

I remember some time ago that a friend of my husband’s came over to paint the view from our terrace. They both painted the identical view but my husband’s painting was totally different from his friend’s. As in history, the facts were there—the mountains, the sea, the scrubby Spanish countryside—but one painter had emphasised one aspect of the scene and the other something else. The result? Two completely different versions of the same scene. This is what can also happen with historical fiction.

There are certain real characters who by necessity, appear in both Cressler’s book and in mine: the caliph al-Hakem II, his son al-Hisham, his wife Subh and the arch villain, al-Mansur. The names are the same but his version of their personalities is quite distinct to mine and those differences lead to different actions and conclusions. I admit that while reading Cressler’s book I kept muttering to myself: ‘She wouldn’t do that.’ or ‘But he died of natural causes.’ or ‘He wasn’t like that,’ as though I knew these people personally. Of course they have all been dead for over a thousand years, but I feel that I do know them—after all I gave them a new lease of life in my novels. However the truth is that my version of al-Mansur’s rise to power has probably no more truth in it than Cressler’s. I invented a back story for the Queen Subh which was plausible but ultimately stemmed from my imagination. I felt sorry for the boy caliph, al-Hisham II and so made him a more sympathetic character—I wanted my readers to empathise with him not hate him.

When writing a history book, one must keep 100% to the facts—although even there historians are allowed their interpretation of events and motives—but in historical fiction the writer has more scope. Yes, be as accurate as your research will allow, but remember that primarily novelists write to entertain and their characters need to come alive so that the reader can relate to them. We may find reams of information about a historical person or—as in 10th century Spain,—hardly anything at all, but the nature of the protagonist’s character will always be open to interpretation. That’s what makes historical fiction so exciting to read and to write.

About Joan

Joan Fallon lives in the south of Spain. She writes both contemporary and historical fiction. Two aspects of Joan's life particularly influence her writing. The first is being a woman who grew up during the sixties and seventies—at a time when it was harder for a woman to gain recognition in a man’s world—consequently almost all her books have a strong female protagonist. The second influence is the fact that she has lived in Spain for the last twenty years. Spanish history and culture fascinate her and have provided some of the exotic settings in her historical novels.

About The Shining City by Joan Fallon

Set in 10th century Spain, in the time of the Moorish occupation, The Shining City is a story of love and honour. Qasim has a secret that only his wife knows. But when his youngest son falls in love with the Caliph’s concubine, he sets off a train of unimaginable consequences and puts all his family in danger. Qasim’s secret past is about to be revealed and all he has worked for destroyed.

Find out More

The Shining City by Joan Fallon http://amzn.eu/di9Uzcw
The Eye of the Falcon by Joan Fallon http://amzn.eu/1zconca
The Ring of Flames by Joan Fallon http://a.co/2vY7Bs1

Shadows in the Shining City by John D Cressler  http://a.co/4wPoUe5

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14 May 2018

Grimm’s Fairy Tales

New Edition  Knickerbocker Classics : Flexibound

Amazon US $12.39 pb
Amazon UK £7.74 pb
Amazon Canada $24.31 hb  


For two centuries these dark tales from Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm have been retold, revised and adapted to make them less frightening for children, including happy endings that do not exist in the originals. Unlike the common diluted, Disney version of these tales, this book delivers stories that are closer to the originals, reflecting the dark side of humanity and sociocultural norms of the time. The stories also offer absurd and comedic outcomes and actions that allow the underdog to triumph over the bully, usually by quick witted, and often violent means.

This edition includes a selection of the most popular and well-known stories from the Brothers Grimm, such as Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and Little Frog King, but also a selection of stories that are lesser known, such as The Nixie in the Pond and The Girl without Hands.

This collection of beloved Brothers Grimm Fairy tales is beautifully illustrated by internationally recognized illustrator, Yann Legendre. The illustrations within are darker, edgier, and more contemporary, reminiscent of graphic novel art. These classic fairy tales have been re-imagined through illustration returning to the roots of the original stories. Evocative drawings lend to the depth and detail of the stories as they were intended to be read with each graphic depiction drawing inspiration from the story, and in turn gives depth to the words.

© Stephanie Neuhring

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12 May 2018

It's the Weekend!

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

from 2017
Covers Uncovered by Tamian Wood


Read the review HERE
* * * 

What If....? by Richard Tearle

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where you will find all sorts of interesting things
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11 May 2018

Persuasion by Jane Austen

New Edition  Knickerbocker Classics : Flexibound

AmazonUK £10.99
Amazon.com $16.99
Amazon.Ca $16.88

Austen’s final story, Persuasion, is true to form, taking the reader on the journey of Anne Elliot, the middle daughter of English aristocrat Sir Walter Elliot. Anne, already an old maid by 18th century standards at 27 years old, is persuaded to reject the interests of a handsome young naval officer. As the story progresses we see Anne’s circumstance change and her heart and mind return to the man she rejected against her heart’s wishes.

The story, though somewhat predictable, partly because of its familiarity to modern audiences, is beautifully written, engaging the audience through complex character development and interesting plotline twists. Follow Anne as she faces the challenges of love and life.

This charmingly clothbound softcover edition of Jane Austen’s Persuasion is reminiscent of a ladies journal from years past; the perfect size for travel as it will easily fit into a small bag without taking up much space. A textured cover with a coordinated elastic bookmark makes this an attractive addition to any book collection.

This edition includes a detailed introduction to the author, interesting facts of her life and writings, as well as the intersection of Austen’s life with that of the character Anne. Austen was considered an 'old maid' in her time, having received and turned down several proposals. However, they diverge in that Austen was very content with her life as a single woman. She demonstrated very progressive thoughts and attitudes about women’s rights for her time, as they are detailed in this thorough and interesting introduction to this new edition. '

This should be a pleasing addition to any Austen fan’s library.

© Stephanie Neuhring

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10 May 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of Kindred Spirits: The Tower of London by Jennifer Wilson

AMAZON UK £1.99 £6.99
AMAZON US $2.75 $8.99 
AMAZON CA $2.99 $11.52

Supernatural / ghost story

Tower of London 
various eras

This is not the usual historical fiction that we review but it is charming and does involve historical personages, hence its inclusion by us.

This novel follows the afterlives of the ghosts of the Tower of London, mostly Tudor, but not all. They are all there because something keeps them in the realm of the living, the white light not yet come, or if it has, a choice has been made to remain. Our main protagonists are Richard III and Anne Boleyn surrounded by a motley group of other outcasts of Henry VIII and a few from earlier eras such as Richard's brother George.

This is a delightful tale that is very gentle and quite innocent, and as such it is hard to pin it down to a particular audience. Knowledgeable teens will find as much to enchant as adults. Nothing violent of graphic happens and the pace of the novel is such that it skims along quite quickly and never gets bogged down.

The interplay between Richard and Anne and the way other characters from other eras find friendships is tantalising in the 'what if' of it all, what if Richard and Anne could have met - would they have found a kindred spirit in each other?

The plot is hard to find but when it does reveal itself, is poignant and one can easily see how this novel attempts to continue the rehabilitation of Richard that began with Josephine Tey in her novel, and the subsequent discovery of the king in Leicester.

There are, however two criticisms that can be levelled, and these would only be noticed by some. The first is that in her attempts to avoid massive info-dumps (the bane of the historical author) we are left with far too little information on our characters. We all know the history of Richard III, but the part played by others such as William Hastings are far less well-known and without this knowledge the interactions between him and Richard make no sense. You have to be expert in both Wars of the Roses and Henry VIII to fully appreciate the characters. Yes, once you reach the end there is a useful list of who is who and what happened to them, but this is too late as you need it at the beginning. Of course it would have been nice to have these details woven into the story.

The other criticism is along similar lines but refers to the Tower itself. The descriptions are detailed and show an in-depth knowledge by the author, but unless you have the same familiarity with the complex of the Tower of London, it is hard to piece together the geography. A map, again at the front, would have be so useful.

This is a series and I certainly have not been put off reading the others, if only to see which disparate personages Ms Wilson chooses to throw together and find out what happens. A fascinating idea executed well.

©  Nicky Galliers

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9 May 2018

Zugzwang by JJ Toner

Shortlisted for book of the month 


mystery / short story / novella

This is a something between a short story and a novella, taking around an hour to read, no more. It tells the story of a German police detective in the early years of Nazi Germany as Hitler is gradually gaining power, the Brownshirts are acting outside the official law and the SS personnel still possess membership numbers in single figures.

Police Kommissar Saxon (equivalent to Inspector) is asked to take over an investigation after a second murder victim is found with injuries matching the first. Saxon soon discovers after a third is found that this is a poisoned chalice of a case and whatever he does will be the wrong thing.

Short but powerful, this little story flows beautifully. It is well crafted and you always feel you know what is going on, as much as Saxon, anyway. The ending is never going to be good for everyone but that is the nature of the SS and the Nazi party.

J.J. Toner has written another short story about Saxon, but I feel there is plenty here to produce a full length work. My only comment for Zugzwang would be that although very much worth £2.20 / $3.05. the author might be wiser to price this, because of its short length, at £0.99/$0.99

© Nicky Galliers

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8 May 2018

The Butcher's Daughter by Victoria Glendinning

Shortlisted for book of the month 
(This novel is to be released on May 17th, now available for pre-order)

AMAZON UK £5.69 £16.99
AMAZON US $28.95 
AMAZON CA $19.24

Family Drama


The Butcher's Daughter is a thought-provoking novel written as a memoir by the eponymous character, Agnes Peppin, the daughter of a butcher from Bruton in Somerset. Agnes falls pregnant by a local lad and is not allowed to keep the baby. She is then shuffled off to a convent care of her mother's heretofore unacknowledged family connections. Sent to Shaftsbury, Agnes has to find her way among the nuns and discern friend from foe. When the traumatic events of the dissolution of the monasteries overtake the community, Agnes has to find herself again.

This is not a sentimental, comfortable read. It is stark and ruthless. To start with it is written in a first person narrative that flits between the past, present, and at times, future. The tunnel vision of the narrator, a well-educated girl for her time but in the great scheme of things, ignorant of much, can be frustrating and the narrative flow can be deliberately choppy which challenges the reader.

Then there is the subject matter - a young nun who is witness to an act of unforgivable vandalism on an epic scale. The language used, religious houses 'surrendering', is that of war, and it becomes apparent that what Henry VIII did was not merely break with Rome but wage war on the Catholic church and his own people through no fault or blame of theirs. The innocent victims were not some bloated, wealthy abbots and bishops, but the ordinary nuns, like Agnes and her sisters, who were left homeless, unprotected and with no way to earn a living. Anyone who is a fan of Henry VIII’s policies  after reading this is a bit weird.

This is a compelling volume that packs a might punch. Literary rather than chic-lit, it is not an easy read, but it is worth it. Ms Glendinning's research is exhaustive, her description of life in a Tudor convent is detailed and blunt, her portrayal of Agnes, brutal and honest. You have to like her, her lack of sentimentality in recounting events of deep emotion are heartbreaking in themselves, and you have to admire her tenacity and bullishness. A fine novel.

© Nicky Galliers

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