31 March 2017

TRIUMPH OF THE RED DRAGON by N.S. Rose


Amazon UK £4.64
Amazon US $5.70
Amazon CA $16.79

Family Saga / Coming of Age 
15th Century / Wars of the Roses

Bearnshaw Series #2

In the sequel to Bearnshaw: Legend of the Whyte Doe, author Natalie Rose departs from the story of Sibyl Bearnshaw to create a new character, her son, Edmund. Edmund never knew his mother, but he knows his father – Edward Plantagenet, now King Edward IV of England. In recognition of his son, Edward assigns Edmund to serve as a page to his brother, Richard of Gloucester, who is also to oversee his education.

Even though only nine years old at the start of the book, we watch as Edmund grows to be a man – we see his first loves, his loyalty to his family, his growing importance and his new-found determination to establish the truth behind the rumours about his mother and, slowly, he learns from people who knew her, and is presented with one of her prized possessions.

The beauty of this tale is its ability to detach itself from the main events of  the turbulent times following Edward's death in order to pursue the changes in Edmund's life, whilst not losing the momentum as events accelerate threatening Richard III, the country and, as he soon realises, his own safety. For he is a Plantagenet and, following a failed assassination attempt, he is high on Henry Tudor's list of those who must be eliminated.

Ms Rose does not offer us her version of the fate of the Princes in the Tower, merely a hint or two, and she skillfully presents Richard's reasoning behind his decisions.

I enjoyed this book immensely.

© Richard Tearle


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30 March 2017

A Discovered Diamond review of DEFENDER of JERUSALEM by Helena P. Schrader

Amazon UK £7.18 £18.99
Amazon US $8.95 $26.95
Amazon CA $35.17


Biographical Fiction /  military
12th Century Crusades
Book#2 of a trilogy

This is the second volume of a series set during the Crusades, depicting the life of Balian d’Ibelin who was, in book one, an impoverished knight but good friend to the leper king of Jerusalem, Baldwin IV.

He is now a baron, married to the dowager queen, and deeply involved with court politics while dealing with the trials of family life. Crisis follows crisis in Christian-held Jerusalem. Baldwin is dying – a successor must be chosen, and Jerusalem is under siege by Saladin. Events occur almost as if watching a fast-paced movie as the political events unravel. 

Mentioning a movie: because of the in-depth historical detail I did find myself wondering (at those times when I wanted more story and less author's knowledge) whether the idea behind this series was as a counterblast to Kingdom of Heaven's somewhat poor historical portrayal of a character who Ms Schrader clearly loves, and knows a lot about. The author concentrates more on the historical detail - in a little too much depth in places - rather than the story, which I felt caused the character development to suffer a little. So large on history for those who know and love this period, lacking in fiction for readers seeking a straightforward adventure story. I do wonder if the covers could also be slightly better designed  for this series, a little more sophisticated rather than a somewhat obvious spin-off from Scott's movie? Also, maybe a little pricey for a kindle version?


Having said that, for lovers of historical detail about the Crusades this is probably a must - it can be read as a stand-alone, but I recommend starting at the beginning with Knight of Jerusalem.

© Anne Holt
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29 March 2017

A Discovering Diamonds Review of: The EYE of the FALCON by Joan Fallon


AmazonUK £3.99 £11.99
AmazonUS £4.94 $13.99
AmazonCA $18.30

Family Saga
10th Century
Spain

The al-Andalus series Book# 2

Set in Muslim Spain The Eye of the Falcon is the second in a series, but can be read as a stand-alone (although I suggest starting at the beginning with The Shining City because the series is very much worth following in sequence for maximum enjoyment.)

Eleven-year-old Khalifa’s father is dead and he is to rule the domain of al-Andalus, but all is not well, for ruling as regent is a ruthless, scheming, malicious mother who wants control for herself, in the young Caliph’s name. The trouble she creates is to lead to the downfall of the dynasty.

This is a story as rich and as vast as the land itself, the writing is as evocative as the scenery, while the characters are written with believable empathy. I did feel the ending could have been a little more of a ‘cliff-hanger’ to lead the reader into the next in the series, but that really is a minor nit-pick on my part.

© Anne Holt




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28 March 2017

CIRCLING the SUN by Paula McLain


Amazon UK £3.99 £13.48
Amazon US $4.97 $9.52
Amazon CA $26.98

Adventure /Biographical Fiction
20th Cent (pre WWII)
Africa
In 1936, aged thirty-four, Beryl Markham set out to be the first woman to fly single-handed across the Atlantic. This is where the book begins and ends, but in between it tells of what went into the making of a remarkable woman.
The voice is Beryl’s, as Paula McLain imagines it. Everything is therefore immediate; we see Kenya and the people who adopt it as their home only as they impact upon her. We have to decide if we can trust the narrator; and from the beginning, when her mother abandons her and she turns to Lady Delamere for female guidance, she seems almost incapable of being dishonest.
Her chaotic upbringing by her father teaches her everything about horses, and not much about anything else. She runs free with the tribal children, learning how to hunt with them, until, as a female, she is no longer permitted to do so - an exclusion that is hard for her to accept.
She is a child who does not fit comfortably into either the colonial or the native world, but she knows where she wants to be. At 16, when the First World War causes her father to fall into financial difficulties which force him to leave the farm, she marries a neighbour rather than give up the land where she feels most at home.
She embarks upon a series of affairs amongst a set of people to whom morals only apply if one is caught out. As an expert horse trainer, her skills are much in demand, but even that will not save her from ostracism if she goes too far.
Beryl learns not to try to fit in, but to make her own way in the ex-pat world of the Happy Valley set. She is who she is, and her mistakes are her own. She finds love, but that is also a betrayal. A mould-breaker but still a product of her time, perhaps she could only have existed at that point in history, in that country. Kenya made her, and broke her, and made her again.
The novelisation of a life is a balancing act; there are no photographs of the real characters – Beryl, Karen Blixen of Out of Africa fame, Denys Finch-Hatton, Prince Harry, the Delameres – perhaps because, however accurate the facts, this is not an biography, but a sketch of a snapshot of a moment in time. 
Beautifully and at times lyrically written, the book left me wanting to know more, and to go in search of those photographs, as though to see them would help me to better understand how it could all have happened. They didn’t. Photographs are posed, and distancing, and therefore less honest than Beryl appears through the words ascribed to her.
Paula McLain used Beryl’s own writings as a first-hand resource for what is a well-researched, engaging read, sympathetic to a subject who never courted sympathy. I recommend it.
© Lorraine Swoboda

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27 March 2017

BLESSOP'S WIFE by Barbara Gaskell Denvil

(Published in Australia as The King's Shadow)

Amazon UK £3.59 £11.99
Amazon US $3.48 $17.99
Amazon CA $23.51

 Mystery / Romance /Adventure
15th Century
England

It is 15th century England and King Edward IV wears the crown, but no king rules unchallenged. Often it is those closest to him who are the unexpected danger. When the king dies suddenly without clear cause, rumour replaces fact – and Andrew Cobham is working behind the scenes.

Tyballis was forced into marriage with her abusive neighbour. When she escapes, she meets Andrew and an uneasy alliance forms with a motley gathering of thieves, informers, prostitutes and children eventually joining the game.

And as the country is brought to the brink of war, Andrew and Tyballis discover something neither thought was possible. Their friendship takes them in unusual directions as Tyballis becomes embroiled in Andrew’s work and the danger which surrounds him.’

From line one, page one, of this entertaining novel, we are treated to action, romance and a story-line that I found exceptionally convincing in this tale of conflict between York and Lancaster.  The sights, the smells, the tastes, the sounds – the descriptive writing brings the period vividly alive. There is violence and squalor, poverty and hardship, but also loyalty, steadfastness, a will to survive and, eventually, respect and love. 

Richard III is only a background character here, which is refreshing as it makes a nice change to not read about him but concentrate on ordinary 15th century people instead.

The main 'goodie' characters are very three-dimensional, highly believable and likeable. Mind you, our heroine goes through the wringer with assaults, attempted rapes imprisonments and such, but is that not what makes a heroine into a heroine? Her ability to survive whatever horrors are thrown at her?  The hero is equally as fascinating, a man of many surprises.

London, the setting for this tale, is as much a character as are the people who populate the city and the story. We see it as it was back in the 1400s: squalid, smelly, dirty, depressing and poverty-riddled. I am (was) a Londoner and I thought I knew a lot about its history – I know even more now, although the narrative here is so well written you don’t realise that you are picking up information as you go along.

I was satisfied at enjoying a good story when I reached the last page, but sorry, too, to have to say farewell to such a motley crew of interesting characters. I'll certainly be reading more of Barbara Gaskell Denvil's novels.

© Helen Hollick




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26 March 2017

It is the last Sunday of March which means...

No reviews on a Sunday 
but today is your day for our
Reader's Voice Page
where you, the reader can have your 4pennyworth of views



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C overs? Are they important? Yes or No?
by Anna Belfrage

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25 March 2017

The SHINING CITY by Joan Fallon


Amazon UK £4.49 £11.99
Amazon US $5.57 $15.82
Amazon CA $20.94

Family Saga
10th Century
Spain

The Al-Andalus Series Book #1
The Shining City is a wonderful story of tenth-century southern Spain, and of the city of Madinat al Zahra which for such a brief time did indeed, shine, becoming a rival to the capital, Cordoba.
Exploring the rise of the Caliph and Moorish rule, the novel incorporates a wonderful feel of this exotic period of history, skilfully bringing in the culture, history, and religion as well as beautifully written descriptions of every-day life.

The research was obviously undertaken with great affection and 'fact' is seamlessly interwoven into the fictional narrative. The characters are likeable and believable, with their hopes, dreams, fears and ambitions becoming as important to the reader as they are for them. We experience their loves and tragedies with perfect pacing, the story as a whole is most atmospheric – get out your sun-tan lotion for the authenticity feels so real you may need it!
© Mary Chapple


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24 March 2017

PORTRAITS OF PRETENCE by Susan Grossey


Amazon UK £4.83  £8.99
Amazon US $5.98  $12.55
Amazon CA $16.51

Mystery / Crime
1827
London

Sam Plank Mysteries Book #4

Portraits of Pretence is the fourth in a series of novels about Samuel Plank, a Constable in the service of Magistrate Conant. In this adventure, a French artist is found dead in his rooms clutching a miniature portrait of a young girl. As the investigation continues, Sam and his trusty junior Constable, William Wilson, find themselves embroiled in forgery and fraud, smuggling and a secret group that threatens the fabric of Regency Society.

I enjoyed this very much – the writing is good and the characters well defined. The plot moves along nicely and plausibly. I was also impressed that the crime was not solved in a matter of days, as is so often the case,  but over the course of a few months, which is a much more realistic timeline and I applaud the author for that.

Sam Plank is a recognisable character, logical and methodical, encouraging to his protégée and clearly in love with his wife, Martha. He is amiable too – and perhaps if I was to criticise anything it would be that he is perhaps too amiable.

There were a couple of loose ends although the probable outcome was clearly hinted at and the reader must assume that those hints did, indeed come to fruition – though I really would have liked to have known the fate of the former highwayman! (Although as this is a series I wonder if those loose ends will be tied in a future novel?)

A nice cover hinting at the subjects of the miniatures in general and a useful glossary at the end for some of the typical phrases in use at the time. All in all, a nice crime story that has a lot of appeal.

© Richard Tearle
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23 March 2017

FALLING POMEGRANATE SEEDS: the Duty of Daughters by Wendy J Dunn


Amazon UK £11.99 £3.99
Amazon US $5 $14.99
Amazon CA $19,92

Biographical fiction / family saga / historical drama
Tudor 16th century
Spain

Katherine of Aragon Story #Book1

Falling Pomegranate Seeds, is the first in what promises to be a magnificent series depicting the wives of Henry VIII. This one is Katherine of Aragon’s story of her younger days and her early life before she becomes embroiled in her two marriages to the Tudor Princes (or one annulled, and one legitimate, then illegitimate marriage, depending on how you look at it.)

The story is told through the eyes and voice of Beatriz Galindo, her tutor, and Maria de Salinas her friend. With them, we enter the Courts of Castile and Aragon, where Katherine (or Catalina) is beneath the watch of her most formidable parents, particularly her mother, Queen Isabella. She is eager to learn and to be educated in her reading and writing, in religion and also to learn the ways of life, love, social upheaval and war. But there are lighter moments when we are reminded, through Ms Dunn’s superb style of writing, that Catalina is a young girl, on the cusp of womanhood. Her life is not all education and looking towards a future of the need to know how to rule, for there is a lot of girlish laughter, mischievous pranks and fun, which brings such charm to the story for it makes the characters so utterly believable – and likeable.

Ms Dunn’s novel is a joy to read, a fascinating insight into Spain in this era, the religious beliefs, the racism and expulsion of the Jews. I found it as interesting to explore the unfolding events as much as following the characters’ own journey through life.

© Anne Holt

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22 March 2017

AND I DARKEN Kiersten White


 Amazon UK £4.99 £7.99
 Amazon US $6.25 $11.16
Amazon CA $13.21

YA / Alternative
15th Century
Ottoman Empire

Book One of a series

This young adult novel is of a quality that it is a great read for adults as well, and one that will not disappoint. It does not feel particularly ‘young’ and is gritty enough to keep an older, more experienced reader entertained.

The novel traces the early life of Lada, a Romanian noble, daughter of Vlad Dracul (no, not that one) who is sent into the heart of the Ottoman Empire with her brother Radu as surety for the behaviour of their father. There they both meet Mehmet, son of Murad, the Ottoman Emperor and find an unlikely friend in a world where they are for the most part ignored, and are only alive as long as their father does as he is told.

Throughout the book there is a tension built from the precarious situation of the two main characters, their real fear that they could at any time be executed and that beyond keeping their father in check, they are worthless. Their status is equivocal, and their survival relies at times solely on their friendship with Mehmet. Where Lada kicks and struggles and fights her captors at every step, wishing to join the ranks of the palace guard despite being a girl, her brother Radu is quiet and perfect. But he is not stupid, and uses his apparent acquiescence to their overlords to gather intelligence and inveigle himself into the higher levels of court, something that Lada cannot understand.

Strictly speaking this novel is alternative history. Anyone who knows this era will have picked up on this by now – the character ‘Lada’ was not a girl, and when she rides back to Romania to take her father’s place, she is in fact Vlad Dracul, better known to history as Vlad the Impaler, a method of execution he learned from the Ottomans and made very much his own. For all that it is not a faithful re-telling of the history, altering the gender of the main character explains the Ottoman’s hold on Vlad, something that has confused historians.

This is a tale of two people, two very different characters – one who accepts a new reality and strives to make the most of it, and one who refuses to give in. Which is correct, well, that is for the reader to decide.

© Nicky Galliers



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21 March 2017

A Discovering Diamonds Review of UNRELENTING by Marion Kummerow

... Love and Resistance in Pre-War Germany


Amazon UK £3.05 £8.27
Amazon US $3.80 $10.95
Amazon CA $14.33

Love and Resistance in WW2 Germany series

Biograpical Fictional / Romance / Family Saga-Drama
WWII
Germany

Marion Kummerow has written an intriguing trilogy of novels based on the real lives of her grandparents during the Nazi regime in Germany. Unrelenting: Love and Resistance in Pre-War Germany is the first of the series, and it's remarkable as a family story, but not quite as remarkable as a novel. She weaves the chapters together nicely as Hilde and Q live their separate lives and then meet and become a couple in Berlin, the novel culminating the night before their marriage.

Kummerow conveys the suspense of living in Berlin at this important time, showing us real people's lives in the midst of historic events. Her German perspective gives a new view for British and American readers, showing what the developing storm was like for those who lived in it. The couple work, develop their romance, and deal with everyday family troubles as well as frightening denunciation and espionage. Of particular interest is Q’s scientific enterprise—he altruistically wants to serve all mankind, but he perhaps naively believes that communists and therefore “Russia” (the Soviet Union) best embodies that universal ideal. One character patronizingly scoffs at Q’s idealism, so perhaps that line will develop over the trilogy . . .

The weakness comes mainly in Kummerow's language. The German native writes quite competently in English but with numerous quirks that show she is not completely immersed in the nuances of English idioms. For example, Q jokes with a friend, "Welcome in my modest exile," and something gives a character "some pause for concern." In the same way some modern phrasings like "That sucks" and "bigger and badder" appear, as does "biodiversity" (possible origin in 1968?) and television cameras at the 1936 Olympics. The overall style is more told than shown, though Kummerow convincingly conveys the tentative interplay of feelings and actions in young people falling in love.

Another pass by a proofreader and/or a technical editor would help polish this strong story. However, I left Unrelenting wondering what will happen next, and that's just what a first-in-trilogy should do for a reader!
                                           
© Cindy Rinaman Marsch
Author and Editor
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20 March 2017

A Discovering Diamonds review of: The SONS of GODWINE by Mercedes Rochelle



Amazon UK £2.80 £9.21
Amazon US $3.61 $12.95
Amazon CA $16.94

Saga
11th Century
England

The Last Great Saxon Earls, Part Two

‘Emerging from the long shadow cast by his formidable father, Harold Godwineson showed himself to be a worthy successor to the Earldom of Wessex. In the following twelve years, he became the King's most trusted advisor, practically taking the reins of government into his own hands. And on Edward the Confessor's death, Harold Godwineson mounted the throne—the first king of England not of royal blood. Yet Harold was only a man, and his rise in fortune was not blameless. Like any person aspiring to power, he made choices he wasn't particularly proud of. Unfortunately, those closest to him sometimes paid the price of his fame.’

This is the second volume of Mercedes Rochelle’s Last Great Saxon Earls series. I had read the first, Godwine Kingmaker, and enjoying this period of extreme change for English History, went on to read this second instalment.

This episode of 11th Century history focuses on two sons of Godwine, Earl of Wessex. Harold, known for the 1066 Battle of Hastings, and Tostig, known for treachery at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire, shortly before that other, most famous battle.

Tostig is awarded the Earldom of effectively, all of Northern England. Harold is Edward the Confessor’s right-hand-man in the South. The two brothers are bitter rivals.

Mercedes Rochelle uses separate segments for each brother to tell his view-point, and as the reader we can never be certain whether they are telling the truth or not, particularly relevant when William of Normandy makes his entrance.

© Mary Chapple


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19 March 2017

The THIRD Sunday of March: which means...

No reviews on a Sunday 
but today is our Guest Spot


Today: A Tribute to  R.A. MacAvoy and her Damiano Trilogy
by Annie Whitehead

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18 March 2017

A Discovering Diamonds Review of GODWINE KINGMAKER by Mercedes Rochelle


Amazon UK £4.74  £11.99
Amazon US $5.94 $12.93
Amazon CA $13.55

Saga
11th Century
England

This is part one of a series about the last Saxon Lords of England – the Godwine family, the most famous of whom was Harold Godwineson, King Harold II of 1066 fame. This first episode, however, is the tale of Godwine, the ‘founder’ of the dynasty, Harold II’s father.

We follow Godwine through his youth, his rise to power and downfall into exile. As a Saxon shepherd with no prospects he gives aid to the invading Danish, seizing an unexpected opportunity to make something better of himself. Wise choice, because Canute of Denmark became King of England and Godwine is duly rewarded by being granted the Earldom of Wessex and a Danish lady of rank as his wife.

Through the untimely death of Canute, the troublesome times of Harold Harefoot and Harthacnut, to the eventual reign of Edward the Confessor, we tread with Godwine, sometimes on firm, but most times on treacherous ground. His fall from power is as spectacular as his previous rise.

The story was a little slow to get going, but soon picked up pace. I was a little confused by some of the story – Godwine, I thought was the son of a seafarer, not a shepherd, but then, this is fiction and Godwine’s early life is very hazy when it comes to factual history. I would have liked a little more depth to the character himself particularly in understanding his political motivations and the modern American English occasionally jarred a little (i.e ‘gotten lost’)  which may be an issue for UK readers, although not for US.

However, the author has obviously taken a lot of trouble with the research required for the customs and life in general during these early to mid 11th Century England is brought very vividly to life.

© Anne Holt


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