Team Reviews


Reviews of  novels written by our Main Review Team
 All qualify for the Discovered Diamond Logo 
and our Special Award
(and yes, my own books as well!) 



Note: these books are not eligible for Book of the Month






In Alphabetical order by Surname


ANNA BELFRAGE - DAYS OF SUN AND GLORY
Amazon UK £2.99 / £11.99
Amazon US  $2.99 / $15.99

adventure / saga 
14th Century
England

'Days of Sun and Glory is the second in Anna Belfrage’s series, The
King’s Greatest Enemy, the story of a man torn apart by his loyalties to his lord, his king, and his wife.'

It is 1321 and there is rebellion in England. Adam de Guirande has survived Roger Mortimer’s attempted coup, but those who served Mortimer are now seen by King Edward II to be traitors. When Mortimer escapes imprisonment from the Tower of London and flees to France Adam has to find the resources to keep himself and his family safe, relying on allies such as his wife, Kit, and  Queen Isabella.

A thoroughly enjoyable story written by a superb story-teller. One that includes love, hatred and intrigue all immersed in a desperate fight to survive during one of England’s most highly troubled periods.

The research and the detail is impeccable, the characters are thoroughly believable and the plots as breathtaking as they must have been in real life. This is a real page-turner of a novel, and can be read without the first in the series, but I would suggest starting at the beginning to gain the maximum reading experience pleasure.
©Anne Holt  Discovering Diamonds

***
INGE H BORG - KHAMSIN
Amazon UK  £3.94 / £12.32
Amazon US $4.93 / $16.05

Adventure
Ancient Egypt

The ‘devil wind’ burst through ancient Egypt for about fifty days at the time when King Aha ruled from 3080 B.C. before the pyramids were constructed, or even thought of, and long before the period most of us are familiar with and fond of, but the Ms Borg skilfully takes us back into this glorious past to show that human behaviour hasn’t changed much during the many, many centuries between then and now. They were,it seems, just as passionate – whether for good or ill, love or hate.

The character list is vast, somewhat like a block-buster movie, but the novel is so deftly written with the turbulence created by the wind echoing in the breathtaking events that unravel as each page is turned (eagerly, to find out what happens next). The plots and intrigues, fights and the need to survive, by commoner, priest, king or queen hook you into Egypt's past.

Readers interested in the events of Ancient Egypt will find this to be a must read.

©Anne Holt  Discovering Diamonds

***
HELEN HOLLICK - ON THE ACCOUNT
Amazon Universal    £10.99 / £3.99    $14.49 / $5.99

Nautical / Adventure / Saga
18th Century 
England / Other

In March 1719, Tiola Oldstagh treks through the English countryside at night. She’s unable to contact Jesamiah and, fearing for his life, she heads for the only man who might help save her husband. But she senses someone follows – Maha’dun, a Night-Walker she once saved from death. He claims to seek the same man, but he’s really tracking a bone-box, in hopes that it will lead him one step closer to The Carver, the man who crafted several such caskets from the bones of slain Night-Walkers. Legend says those who possess one become powerful, and Maha’dun follows Tiola because he thinks she knows where one is. When they reach their destination, the man they seek isn’t at home. Knowing time is running out for her husband, Tiola retraces her steps only to fall and injure herself. While she suffers alone on the moor, Cara’mina, a High-born Night-Walker, blames Tiola for the death of her lover, and her need for vengeance puts her sanity in question. She wants the bone-box Tiola possesses, but all Tiola actually has is a pendant given her by a woman who once owned a box. When Cara’mina insists on learning who and where the woman is, all Tiola says is “Francesca Escudero” and “Bristol” before she passes out.

Jesamiah Acorne awaits trial in Bristol. His friend, Henry Jennings, has offered to help, but Jesamiah neither wants nor needs his kind of help. His schemes and plots are what got Jesamiah into his present predicament – arrested on charges of smuggling and his ship, the Sea Witch, wrecked. Adding to his misery is the possibility that his wife no longer loves him, because ever since his incarceration, he’s been unable to mentally communicate with her. Not that Tiola doesn’t have every right to be angry with him. After all, he did bed another woman and get her with child, even though Francesca denies it’s his. But in spite of this infidelity, he loves Tiola and needs to find her.

Maha’dun finds Tiola on the moor and takes her to her home, where her friends care for her. Being a White Witch, she could heal herself, but only Jesamiah and Maha’dun know what she is. Her one wish is for Maha’dun to go to Bristol and keep Jesamiah safe.

During Jesamiah’s trial, Francesca sweeps into the courtroom and claims to bring a letter from King George for the judge. The contents result in the suspension of the trial, and Jesamiah and his men are released. While he is walking through town with Francesca, she’s murdered by an assassin. Only Jesamiah thinks the blade was actually meant for him – a fact that is reinforced by the discovery of a dead man in Jesamiah’s bed at the inn where he had taken a room.

Maha’dun accompanies Jesamiah on his journey back to Tiola, but it turns out to be more perilous than either man expects. Even after their reunion, Jesamiah and Tiola aren’t safe. Cara’mina still wants vengeance and doesn’t care who dies in the process. Then there are those who seek the power of the bone-box and who wish to manipulate Jesamiah into doing their bidding. Instead, he and Tiola set sail for Spain to find Francesca’s young son– a dying plea from Francesca because Leondro’s name appears on a killing list. But even Spain proves unsafe, for Barbary pirates are raiding coastal towns in search of children to sell into slavery, and Tiola vanishes.

While I like Jesamiah and Tiola, I found Maha’dun the more intriguing character in this tale. I don’t necessarily like everything he does, but he often seems to steal the limelight (so to speak). His character has so much depth and grows so much. In spite of his fears, he ventures into realms that terrorize him and becomes a stronger and far more fascinating character as he does so.

On the Account is the fifth voyage in the Cpt. Jesamiah Acorne series, and it is a complex tale of magic, intrigue, and true love. Hollick has included a map, a diagram of the sails and masts of a square-rigged ship, and a glossary to help readers unfamiliar with ships and sailing. Some people may find several scenes too brutal and a few physical relationships may not be to everyone’s taste, but Hollick weaves a spine-tingling story that compels readers to keep turning pages rather than putting the book aside. Readers experience a whirlwind of emotions, from devastating sadness to bright hopefulness. Final farewells are said to characters who have been part of Jesamiah’s life for several books. But that is part of real life, which makes even the unbelievable possible as you read On the Account.

©2016 Cindy Vallar
(Genuine independent review)

***
ALISON MORTON - AURELIA
Amazon UK  £8.99 / £2.99
Amazon US   $13.49 / $3.66

Alternative / Roman
20th century

Late 1960s Roma Nova, the last Roman colony that has survived into the 20th century Aurelia Mitela is alone – forced to give up her beloved career as a Praetorian officer. But her country needs her unique skills. Somebody is smuggling silver – Roma Nova’s lifeblood – on an industrial scale.”

The Roma Nova series of excellent alternate history books is an enormous pleasure to read as exciting 'what if' thriller-adventures.

Roma Nova in the 1960s, and this is Aurelia Mitela’s story. She is the grandmother of the heroine from the previous books of the series, but this novel is very much a stand-alone read (although I heartily recommend the others!) Aurelia is a young woman going through the trauma of devastating loss. Her future career in the Praetorian Guard appears to be at an end, but she is sent to Berlin in order to find those responsible for stealing Roma Nova’s precious silver reserves. In this fabulous novel, prepare to enter an expertly imagined world of alternative history written so thoroughly believable that it is almost impossible to understand how the Roman Empire did not survive into the modern world.

Alison Morton’s writing skill is professional, consistent, entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable. Her characters are as believable as her plots, her research is impeccable and every book she produces is a delight to read. 
More please Ms Morton - keep them coming!

©Mary Chapple  Discovering Diamonds

***
ANNIE WHITEHEAD ALVAR THE KINGMAKER

Amazon UK £2.30 / £9.99
Amazon US $2.99 / £15.75

Anglo-Saxon / 10th Century 
England
'Alvar the Kingmaker is a tale of politics, intrigue, deceit and murder set in tenth-century England. Nobleman Alvar knows that securing the throne for the young and worthy King Edgar will brand him as an oath-breaker. As a fighting man, he is indispensable to the new sovereign, but his success and power gain him deadly, murderous enemies amongst those who seek favour, and who point the finger of suspicion when Edgar’s brother, the previous king, dies in mysterious circumstances.'

I thoroughly enjoyed Ms Whitehead's first novel, To Be A Queen, so I was eagerly looking forward to her second novel of Saxon England, and to my delight I was not disappointed! The characters travel through the pages with realism, excitement, readability and entertainment. The pace does not falter, the plot sweeps you along and the story itself is superbly aided by the meticulous research that the author undertakes. You can almost use this novel as a textbook with additional imagined bits.

Ms Whitehead is one very talented writer, and here's hoping there are many more novels by her to come.

©Mary Chapple

***
Pirates Truth & Tales by Helen Hollick  (Non-Fiction)


Amazon: myBook.to/PIRATESTruthTale £20 RRP

One might ask why we need another book that focuses on the ‘Golden Age’ of piracy – you know the one that takes place mostly in the Caribbean between 1713 and 1730 – but Hollick’s examination is far more than simply about those swashbuckling scoundrels. She sets the stage in her foreword, summarizing several key points:
a. real pirates versus their fictional counterparts;
b. society’s changing attitudes toward them, as well as its fascination with them; 
c. definitions for all the various terms that denote pirates;
d. piracy through the ages; and
e. reality vs romanticism.
To emphasize these points her first chapter discusses “What We Think We Know about Pirates,” while the second focuses on “What We Ought to Know” and includes the caveat “(Skip This Chapter If You Don’t Want To Be Disillusioned).”

Within the 328 pages, she introduces us to a wide array of pirates, including some who rarely show up in other history books. Aside from the usual suspects (in no particular order) – Henry Jennings, Charles Vane, Samuel Bellamy, William Dampier, Bartholomew Roberts, Blackbeard, Jack Rackham, and William Kidd to name only a few – we also meet Daniel Montbars, Jan Baert, and Ignatius Pell (only a sampling). In addition, you’ll find a handful of governors, including Thomas Modyford, Alexander Spotswood, and Woodes Rogers. There are chapters on the 1715 wreck of the Spanish treasure fleet, medicine, ships, weaponry, clothing, and safe havens, not to mention interesting tidbits like the pirate plunder that funded a college.

Don’t fear though! Women get a fair shake, too. In addition to Anne Bonny and Mary Read, you’ll learn about Jeanne de Clisson, Elise Eskilsdotter, Ladies Mary and Elizabeth Killigrew, Jacquotte Delahaye, Anne Dieu-le-Veut, Jeanne Baret, Rachel Wall, and Grace O’Malley. What you might not expect are the other women who went to sea, such as Jeanne Baret, Hannah Snell, and Mary Lacy. Or the fact that a number of sea-songs concern females who donned male attire, joined the Royal Navy, and then were unmasked.

Nor is piracy the only topic explored within this book, although these are all related in some way. Since many pirates began life either as naval personnel or merchant marines, and because they rarely left behind detailed notes on the mundane details of their daily lives, Hollick discusses the tobacco and slave trades, indenture, fidelity, tattooing, shipboard life and navigation, and superstitions.

But wait! If you think that’s all, there’s still more. After all, the subtitle of this book is “Truth and Tales.” Not only does Hollick examine fictional pirates in print and film, she talks about writing from her own perspective as the author of the Sea Witch adventures, which star Captain Jesamiah Acorne, and she treats us to excerpts from some of his piratical adventures, as well as from Celia Reese’s Pirates! and James L. Nelson’s The Only Life That Mattered. Among the pirates of fiction you’ll find Captains Hook and Sparrow, Long John Silver, and Black Sails. As for Pirates of the Caribbean, she also shares the impact this series of movies has had on people’s lives. While she shares what books and movies get right and wrong, she also makes a great observation:
The limitless realm of the imagination when telling stories or writing fiction gives us leave to plunder reality as blatantly as those rascal scallywags plundered treasure. (29)
In addition to all this information, the book also includes a timeline that begins in 1492 with Columbus’s “discovery” of the Caribbean and Americas, and ends with the death of Governor Spotswood in 1740. There are a Glossary of Terms – more varied than often seen in nautical books – and Nautical Measurements, which come before the bibliography. There is no index, but scattered throughout the book are color photographs with interesting captions.

Another item that Hollick addresses pertains to an often-asked question: What about a pirate named so-and-so? To reinforce the fact that the majority of pirates are simply unknown or merely names in a document, she lists the crews of Stede Bonnet, Blackbeard, Edward Lowe, George Lowther, and Charles Vane. Most simply provide the person’s name and the trial’s outcome – all that is known about them. Only a few include additional information.

The book consists of fifty-three chapters, each two to thirteen pages long with the majority falling somewhere in between. Her explanation of the War of the Spanish Succession is concise and easy to understand, one of the best I’ve encountered. Much of the information on sea shanties and tattooing, which predominantly covers the time period after the Golden Age, pertains to sailors in general. The same is true about prisons and punishments, but all four subjects are enlightening. On occasion it’s difficult to distinguish what’s more myth than fact – good examples being Blackbeard’s many wives and pirate flags – since there are no footnotes or endnotes and myths are one topic she doesn’t cover.

The statement that the skill of smuggling led to the Revolutionary War and American Independence is an oversimplification. Gory details are explicit, but the book is geared toward adults and mature readers, just like her Jesamiah Acorne stories. There are enough misspelled words – not including the differences in spelling between British and American English – and missing words that readers will notice. But there is far more to recommend this book than these minor problems.

There are also two chapters that deserve special mention. The first is highly helpful for those who wish to mimic the way pirates spoke on Talk Like a Pirate Day. Hollick lives in the West Country, the region where many seamen and pirates hailed from in the past, so she offers her expertise so you can learn some Devonish and speak it with a West Country accent.

At least for me, the most intriguing chapter concerns the real identity of Captain Charles Johnson, the mysterious author who wrote A General History of the Pyrates. She talks about the two current likely candidates – Nathaniel Mist and Daniel Defoe – and provides plausible reasons why neither choice is convincing. She puts forth her own contender– and no, I cannot even be tortured into sharing who that person is – which makes perfect sense, even if there’s no hard evidence to support this possibility. Even the reason for using the pseudonym of Charles Johnson works.

Don’t be fooled. This pirate book is unlike any other one. It resembles a scavenger hunt, and you’re never quite certain where the trail will lead next. Yet Pirates is entertaining and enlightening, with a good mix of facts and fiction. At times tongue-in-cheek, Hollick’s narrative holds your interest and keeps the pages turning. The inclusion of details outside the narrower scope of piracy provides a global perspective, rather than simply viewing the Golden Age marauders in isolation. Two additional strengths are the inclusion of lesser-known facts and general information that can’t be found in other piratical volumes. The questions she poses make you think and question what you’ve read in other books on piracy.

But this book may not be for everyone. Those who seek serious pirate history will probably want to look elsewhere. Pirates is geared toward readers seeking general information spiced with an entertaining cornucopia of fact and fiction that makes the book a tremendous resource for a pirate trivia game.

© Cindy Vallar 2017

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