21 March 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of Berlin Butterfly: Ensnare by Leah Moyes



"National and world events are shown through Ella’s eyes and like most ordinary people at that time, they hardly touch her except for the tension expressed by her employers and colleagues. The atmosphere is realistically and very deftly evoked. "


AMAZON UK

family drama

1960s *
East Berlin

1960s East Berlin was a tense and dangerous place. And Leah Moyes draws this very well indeed. Her protagonist, teenager Ella, has had a rough start in life and doesn’t expect much. However, she has the rock-solid anchors of her best friend Anton and younger brother Josef and her love for her adoptive father until the infamous barrier which became the Berlin Wall went up in 1961. But Ella is conflicted. Does she take a chance to escape with Anton and Stefan – a decision she must make in minutes – or does she stay to care for her dying father? Her inner strength shows us her answer as well as the resilience in the way she makes the best of the stressful consequences. But Ella is no ‘Mary Sue’; she is emotionally and socially constrained because of her early life, unable to relate to others except to Anton and Josef. She longs to escape in every way as signified by her artistic expression in the form of the butterfly pictures she produces.


Moyes cleverly demonstrates the privilege, yet the fragile position, of the nomenklatura, the party rulers of East Germany as well as the restricted and harsh life of the majority of the population. Her research and world building are thorough. National and world events are shown through Ella’s eyes and like most ordinary people at that time, they hardly touch her except for the tension expressed by her employers and colleagues. The atmosphere is realistically and very deftly evoked. 


The plot unfolds naturally at a smooth pace, neither slow nor rushed. We follow Ella as she unfolds like a butterfly from a chrysalis, wondering at her own emotional flowering. But she is all too aware of crossing the iron boundaries separating the new classes in the DDR when she starts to experience very deep feelings for a member of the elite.


This is an entrancing story well told and with a very engaging protagonist. As a German-speaker I enjoyed the little drips of language which enhanced the setting, but many readers will appreciate the comprehensive glossary the author has provided. Only one thing, well, possibly two things detract: I read the Kindle version and was disappointed to find a proportion of the formatting was haywire; something to check given that Amazon is the world’s biggest ebook retailer. The other is that a very enjoyable read has been negatively affected by a lack of editing. At one point I wondered if the author was a non-native English speaker. Once edited professionally, this book would have nothing to stop it flying high.



© Jessica Brown

* we review novels  set post 1953 at our discretion


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20 March 2019

THE DISTANT OCEAN by Philip K Allan

shortlisted for Book of the Month

"...excellent seafaring descriptions... Mr Allan knows his stuff!"

AMAZON UK
Book 5 of a series

Nautical

18th/early 19th Century - Napoleonic Wars
Indian Ocean

Fresh from victory under Nelson at the Battle of the Nile, Captain Alexander Clay - every inch our handsome, dashing hero – is honoured by King George III by the gifting of a magnificent sword. He has been told by his wife, Lydia, that they are soon to become parents and is waiting for his next posting. Though that comes quicker than he would have liked, he is delighted to be joined by his close friend, John Sutton. Not so welcome is the presence of Nicholas Windham, for there is bad blood between the three of them. Worse is that the commander of the expedition is the fastidious Sir George Montague, Windham's sponsor.


The mission is simple: to protect the ships of the East India Company (John Company) that are being harried and taken by the French. When they arrive and discover a French frigate anchored off a small island, Clay devises a plan to flush it out and destroy it. But the plan relies on Sutton and Windham working together ... 


This is Book 5 of the Alexander Clay series and although, as always, it is recommended to read any series in order, this is completely stand alone and does not suffer for that. Mr Allan has created a decent cast of characters and, I think, deliberately panders to our desires for certain 'types' to be present: rough, tough but loyal seamen; eccentric and/or incompetent high ranking officers. As such, this is an easy read, conflict and action to the fore, casualties but no gore and some excellent seafaring descriptions. In all these, Mr Allan knows his stuff! 


Easily and heartily recommended for those who enjoy the period, good writing and an escape to exotic locations and times past.


© Richard Tearle





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19 March 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of A Greater God by Brian Stoddart



"This is a complex story, but Stoddart’s writing is so convincing I felt I was not only watching what was happening, I was involved. "


AMAZON UK

mystery / crime

1920s / India Independence partition
India

Using the medium of historical crime fiction, Brian Stoddart’s Superintendent Le Fanu novels relate a critical time in the decline and fall of the British Raj in India. This book in particular highlights the circumstances and type of events leading up to Independence and the awful tragedy of ‘Partition’. 


A Greater God is Book 4 in the series and set in 1920s Madras. There is mounting tension between Hindus and Muslims, but the Raj is too busy keeping up appearances to investigate the sources of the trouble effectively or prevent further outrages. Le Fanu has returned from a stint in the Straits Settlements to be met with problems and opposition on multiple fronts: there are increasingly violent confrontations between Muslims and Hindus, which in turn are exacerbated by the attitude of the ‘authorities’, represented by a bloated Blimp of an Englishman called Jepson, who epitomises the very worst aspects of the Raj. Jepson’s mental health clearly demonstrates he needs to be replaced, but his superiors are reluctant to act, not least because they passively agree with his appalling arrogance and racism. 


Adding to Le Fanu’s troubles is his dilemma over which woman he wants to spend the rest of his life with: Roisin McPhedren, to whom he was nearly, or unofficially engaged, but who now lies gravely ill in hospital, or his new love, the Chinese Jenlin Koh, who is apparently on her way to Madras to join him – although there are serious complications here, too.


This is a complex story, but Stoddart’s writing is so convincing I felt I was not only watching what was happening, I was involved. If I have a criticism it is that we only see events through Le Fanu’s eyes, meaning we cannot appreciate how others might see him or what is happening, and there are very few moments of light relief. But this is quality fiction not light reading, an intense story told in a serious manner that should appeal to anyone interested in the final years of the Raj and Swaraj.



© J.G. Harlond




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