25 July 2017

A Discovering Diamonds review of: Wrath of the Furies by Steven Saylor



AmazonUK £5.99 £15.90
AmazonUS $7.63 $15.30
AmazonCA $28.00

Fictional saga / military
88BC
Rome

Series: Roma Sub Rosa Book 15

As often as I say 'I don't like novels about the Ancient World', whenever I do pick one up, I love it. And that is true also of this novel.

This is the next in a series of novels about Gordianus, the son of the The Finder of Rome who is on his own adventures. He is living in Alexandria in 88BC, having found himself there after an adventure in a previous volume. He receives a mysterious message from Ephesus which compels him to sail for that city despite it being probably the least safe place he could go as a Roman. Ephesus has been taken into Greek hands from the Romans by King Mithridates, King of Kings, who wishes to wreak vengeance on Rome and all things, and people, Roman.

Probably because this is book 15 of a series, this novel takes a lot of scene setting and a lot of backstory to get to the point where the story gets interesting, probably more ponderous for me as I did not know the characters and so was trying to get a sense for them as the story unfolded. However, once everything is established, events start to move fast and furiously to its inevitable conclusion. I would, therefore, suggest starting at the beginning of the series with Roman Blood)

Gordianus is realistic, a young man who has grown up around some of the greats of history and become a small part of the story of the Ancient World. He is likeable, down to earth, and just the right side of inconstant to be true-to-life and yet still attractive as a person. 

The cast of characters around him are rather like caricatures, but good ones, larger than life and overly done, similar to well-rendered puppets with excellent actors doing the voices - you know they are a touch O.T.T., but you still love them.

Despite this being very mainstream and generally very well presented, I must comment on the cover design *. The volume I have possesses a cover image that is completely misleading, as if the artist was told 'It's Roman' and did what he or she felt was appropriate without ever being told any more about the content of the book. It isn't about gladiators, so if you do pick this up, ignore the image.

All in all this was a great read, a different read as at the height of Roman power (just before the time of Christ and before the fall of Egypt) the Romans are not in the ascendancy. The all-powerful might of Rome is being challenged and successfully. The question this novel poses is: What can one young Roman do about it?

© Nicky Galliers
*Not applicable to Canada: Cover for Canada is different from UK and US

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24 July 2017

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue



Amazon UK £5.22 £12.99
Amazon US $6.65 $16.10
Amazon CA $24.28

Family Drama
19th Century
Ireland

Emma Donoghue's novel is set in a small community in the midlands of Ireland in August 1859. It is claimed that a child has eaten nothing since her eleventh birthday, four months previously. Lib, a nurse who has worked in the Crimea under Florence Nightingale, is one of two appointed to watch the girl night and day for two weeks in order to establish the veracity of the claim.

Lib is sceptical; about the claim, about the motives of everyone involved and especially the beliefs and rituals of Roman Catholic religion as practiced in this part of Ireland. How her opinions mature and evolve over the two weeks forms the substance of this powerful novel. The relationship that develops between Lib and the child is beautifully drawn. Is she being exploited by her parents, by the local priest, or by the doctor who hopes to be able to publish the details of the case as evidence of a medical breakthrough? Perhaps by all three. Perhaps something even more sinister lies behind the child's behaviour.

And what of the journalist who comes in search of a scoop for his London newspaper? Is he just another carpetbagger or might he hold the key to releasing the child from the clutches of those whose motives she questions?

The Wonder is a cleverly constructed novel that explores the human desire to seek solace in the miraculous when faced with suffering. Set just a few years after the famine that accompanied the failure of the potato crop in Ireland for seven consecutive years, it also analyses the impact of starvation on the bodies and minds of those affected as well as on the minds of those who observe.

There is more to ponder, too, about the nature of exploitation. What about those who come to gawp, hoping that witnessing this new “wonder” will somehow enrich their lives, or the many who are encouraged to believe that touching some article that may once have been touched by a saint can cure their ills?

As the tension built I found it difficult to put the book down. I will not spoil the ending for potential readers by giving it away, but I have to admit that I did find the resolution just a bit too pat for an otherwise excellent novel.

© Frank Parker

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22 July 2017

The fourth Weekend

As there are five weekends this month 
(Reader's Voice will be next week) 
so I thought maybe a few amusing cartoons for those of us
 who love reading books would be... 
well, amusing!













and my two favourites: 




Feel free to borrow - after all, I originally found all these on Facebook. If anyone wants to claim ownership, please let me know and I will delete ... but these are all so superb they really should be shared!

Enjoy your weekend folks!
Helen



21 July 2017

The du Lac Chronicles by Mary Anne Yarde



Amazon UK £2.99 £9.99
Amazon US $3.81 £14.99
Amazon CA $20.19

Romance / Arthurian / Fictional Saga
c. 500AD

The Du Lac Chronicles, by Mary Anne Yard, is set in a post-Roman, post-Arthurian Britain, in which waves of Saxon invaders are well on the way towards overrunning the remaining British regions. Arthur is dead, along with most of his followers, and the remaining few are scattered, lurking in separate pockets to avoid discovery. It is time for a new generation to see what sort of land they can fashion. This is the first in a series of novels and shorter pieces of writing, but it reaches a clear and logical end as a work in itself. The book, and the series as a whole, blends historical insight together with the poetry and legend surrounding Arthur and his followers.

The story circles around the children of Launcelot, and the ambivalent legacy he has left them. Their lands in Cornwall have just been lost to the Saxons of Wessex, and the survival of their line is in doubt. Alliances are uncertain and shifting, and old loyalties cannot necessarily be relied upon. The new Saxon invaders are eager to enforce their rule on the existing leaders, but are themselves split by rivalry. The book opens with the formation of an unexpected alliance, blending mutual support, political astuteness, and genuine affection. This central love affair is threatened by ally and enemy alike, and its progress from cautious overture through consummation to commitment drives the plot.

I would have liked a map to help orient myself in the presumed Arthurian locations. As a Brit, it is easy to place the various Saxon kingdoms. Of course, the exact geography of key regions and castles in the tales of Arthur remains obscure. However, Mary Anne has obviously made some suppositions in order to plan out the journeys of her characters, and it would have been helpful to see this laid out visually as well as in a brief author's note at the end.

Personally I am more swayed now by arguments for Arthurian settings in the north of England than the south, whereas this book is solidly southern in perspective. However, the choices here are well laid out and consistent. Along with that, the diversity of language and culture of the age is compellingly presented, with all its opportunities for both cross-fertilisation and misunderstanding.

All in all a vivid and readable imagining of this stage of British history, with a blend of remembered grandeur and the cruel oppression of invasion. Now that I have discovered it, this is a series that I shall continue to dip into.

© Richard Abbott
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20 July 2017

A Discovering Diamonds review of: The Survivor & Other Tales of Old San Francisco by Steve Bartholomew



Amazon UK £3.42 £6.20
Amazon US $4.39 $7.98
Amazon CA $10.54

Short stories / family drama
American Old West

This 141-page selection of short stories about the Old San Francisco (first called Yerba Buena) is an easy read.

In a conversational style, Bartholomew’s main character tells the reader interesting aspects about the growing pains and tragedies of this great American city. His often self-effacing accounts about his own success and life in the emerging West are interlaced with dry wit and a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor.

It makes for a pleasant read and whether or not there are a few liberties with the facts is irrelevant. Each of these entertaining short stories can stand alone, but the recurring characters of Hiram Courtenay and his wife Lisbeth provide continuity, and I grew quite fond of the intrepid pair as they endured fires, loss and social upheaval around them. Indeed Hiram, although a successful businessman, can be found reaching out to those less fortunate, providing them not only with counsel but a helping hand. He owns warehouses along the docks and sees first-hand those huddled and befuddled immigrants being disgorged from the bowels of arriving clipper ships. He and his wife are quick to ask them to their home and to provide a meal.

I came away with several observations:

1) Grateful I didn’t live then and there.

2) Some of my “aha-moments” were spoiled by every story ending in “The End.” If I were the author, I would take those out, especially since the formatting plasters this unnecessary statement up against the last line. Centered and down-spaced asterisks (* * *) are less intrusive leaving the reader to enjoy “what-if” or “wow” moments without the abruptness of “The End” tearing him or her out of any lingering feeling about what they had just read.

3) The cover could be improved by larger lettering, and the thumb-print might be resized to fit in with the author’s other titles.

4) In the title, the words “other tales,” I feel, should be capitalized. Further, these days an author’s name customarily is no longer preceded with “by.”

These are just my nitpicks. However, I feel they would shift these delightful short stories into a more professional realm.

Definitely worth a read for those interested in life in the Old West, and San Francisco in particular.

© Inge H. Borg
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19 July 2017

Until the Curtain Falls by David Ebsworth



Amazon UK £3.49 £10.99
Amazon US $4.52 $13.99
Amazon CA $20.70

Adventure / Fictional Saga
1938
Spanish Civil War

Jack Telford, an English journalist, is in a spot of bother. Franco's soldiers want him, the Russians want him and even the British want him. And all because he killed a colleague and, instead of sticking to the story that he has made up he decides to go on the run and with one aim in mind – to assassinate General Franco.

Of course we know that this idea is doomed to failure, but what follows takes us through the reality of the Spanish Civil War – the lies and the truths, the duplicity of politicians, the patriotism of the nationals, the cruelty of the new regime as well as the deprivation of the people and the horrors of prison camps.

I discovered, by chance, that this book is a sequel to an earlier volume entitled The Assassin's Mark and that did help to explain some confusion at the beginning because I was wondering just why Jack Telford pursued his particular path of action. Having said that, the back story is explained and I see no reason why this cannot be read as a standalone, although I would recommend reading the first story before the sequel.

Because David Ebsworth has an excellent way of telling a tale: his descriptions of both people and locations make you feel as if you know them, his prose often comprises of short sharp  sentences, sometimes just one word sentences even, that add to the tension or the thoughts of the character or, where this occurs, the urgency within the dialogue. The creation of his characters – the fictional ones – have great depth and believability and are easy to warm to – or to fear.

Once into the story, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it through to the dramatic conclusion. Highly recommended as a well crafted, top class novel about a rarely written episode of world history.

© Richard Tearle

* * * 
#2

When I read   The Assassin's Mark, I didn't think the excellent finale with its unexpected twist could be continued with a second book. Well, David Ebsworth has proved me wrong. There are more loose ends to tie up than I had thought of, and new plot ideas, as well as a lot more to tell about the Spanish Civil War. I love it when sequels don't repeat a formula but dare to take different directions.

While book one took place in a very brief period of time in 1938, this novel takes its time, literally, and captures a wider spectrum of historical events and politics. Hero Telford finds himself in a hot spot following the finale in Book One and needs to get out of it soon.

This takes us on a journey through war torn Spain from 1938 until the end of the war. He tries to escape to safety through a minefield of dangers and enemies, travelling across the country and on the way giving us insights into the situation in various locations, all of which provide yet another perspective on the war: areas occupied, besieged and captured, scenes of destruction and violence.

New characters bring further perspectives on the war while the suspense and drama provide a gripping and engaging storyline. This is truly excellent, as a sequel, as a stand alone and as a portrait of the war.

Historically astute and well researched: highly recommended.

© Christoph Fischer

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