Tuesday, 5 July 2022

A Perfect copy by Derville Murphy

Reviewer's Choice

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon AU

Dual-time mystery
19th / 21st centuries
Dublin, Ukraine, Vienna, London

At an auction, Daisy and Ben discover that they own paintings that appear to be exact duplicates. One is signed, the other is not. Curiously, Daisy looks something like the lady in the painting. This sets them on a search to find out why two copies were made of the same painting and if both are authentic.

The earlier part of the story begins with a family of Russian Jews. Two sisters, Rosa and Lena, are concerned about their future marriages. One day, when Rosa goes to the riverbank to do laundry, she is assaulted by a Russian soldier, and saved from certain rape by her beloved fiancĂ©, Isaac. Beautiful Lena doesn’t want to marry the man her parents have chosen for her, and convinces Isaac that he would be unwise to marry her sister, who might be carrying the child of a Russian soldier. Isaac is captivated and chooses her, leaving kind Rosa broken hearted.

Sometime into the marriage, Isaac decides to have his wife’s portrait painted. Only the artist knows the secret of the two paintings and he is long gone. Meanwhile, back in Ireland, the two amateur sleuths are getting answers which lead to other questions and at the same time coming to realise that their present partners are not very satisfactory and getting chummy with each other.

The lives of ordinary Jews in Russia at that time, the way they dealt with marriage, divorce and the taint of scandal, were aspects of the story that the author wove in  with finesse. And the story itself was intriguing, in the sense of – I can’t wait to find out what happens next. As the Dublin pair globe-trot to Vienna and London, leads are revealed to them in a timely fashion, so that nothing is given away until the climax when the secret is revealed ... (no spoilers!)

Characters are wonderfully drawn with very human frailties and strengths that shine, particularly the Jews, and the pages are filled with emotion that kept me wanting to read more right to the very satisfactory ending.

There is one little blemish I must add. It was a huge coincidence that both paintings were in the same auction on the same day, and that their owners were a young male and a young female, both in unsatisfactory relationships. All very understandable in the creation of the plot. Acknowledging this in no way spoilt my enjoyment of this thoroughly engrossing story, and I highly recommend it.

(The book is a steal at the pricc, but maybe the cover, while nicely designed, doesn’t do it justice?)

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Susan Appleyard
 e-version reviewed

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Monday, 4 July 2022

A Discovering Diamonds Review of The Governor's Man: A Quintus Valerius Mystery by Jacquie Rogers

Roman Britain.

"When silver from the Emperor’s mines goes missing, Roman Imperial Investigator Quintus Valerius returns to Britannia. The province where his brother died in front of him, and his career in the Praetorian Guard abruptly ended. It is one of the last places in the Empire the investigator wishes to be posted. With his assistant Tiro, a native Briton, Valerius uncovers a conspiracy of fraud and rebellion. The plot involves a resurgence in Druid activity — and potential witnesses are murdered.
Trust is a commodity that’s scarcer than silver. Even the investigator’s former lover, Lady Julia, seems connected to the crimes.
Valerius begins to piece together clues that reveal a shocking truth — and cast a terrible light on his own past.
The two soldiers now have a frantic race across country with a handful of allies, in a final battle to prevent the loss of more than just silver.
The fate of Britannia is at stake."

This is a debut novel, most excellently researched and one which should satisfy readers who enjoy a compelling historical novel with a complex protagonist who has personal obstacles to overcome, along with a task that rapidly spirals into something more than the poor guy bargained for. Maybe Quintus Valerius is not necessarily the stoic, stiff-upper-lipped Roman that we usually tend to think of, but this was why I liked him. He seemed believable and human.

Most of the other characters were also interesting - the women as well as the men, the good guys and the bad guys, although perhaps there were some stereotypical characters, and one or two coincidences included to move the plot along? But isn't that the nature of fiction? And I must be honest, the stereotypes did not bother me at all, nor spoil any of the entertainment that Ms Rogers has created. Had this been a Regency Romance, these inclusions would, in fact, have almost been expected.

There is some chopping about where location and plot is concerned, and the mystery element does drift a little in places, so a more in-depth technical edit would have been of benefit to tidy up those few cliched holes and some of the dialogue - common new-writer errors - but this was an enjoyable read and Ms Rogers shows promise for future books in this series, so worth a read and an author to watch I think.   

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Anne Holt
 e-version reviewed

Sunday, 3 July 2022

A Discovering Diamonds review of The Angel of Goliad by Jean M. Roberts

Fictional Drama / Dual timeline
1800s / present day
Mexico /Texas

"Imaginary friends are not real—or are they?
A freak accident, a mysterious portrait and an imaginary friendship take Magda O’Toole on a journey of self-discovery. Her search for answers leads her to Toluca, Mexico, where she meets a handsome Professor, Miguel Villatoro, and encounters the ghostly apparition of a woman long dead.
Her desire to reconnect with a childhood friend pulls Magda into the past—it’s 1836 and the Texas Revolution gathers momentum. Trapped and unable to return home, she travels with the Mexican Army deep into enemy territory, witnessing the events of the war.
With only a tenuous hold on her old life, Magda must find a way to return to Miguel and her time. As she struggles to survive, Magda learns the true meaning of friendship, love and courage."

Magda O’Toole has been in a coma for four months. Upon awakening, she is hardly able to move. She asks for her friend, Francita and claims a Spanish or Mexican woman visited her often during her coma and told her stories and taught her Spanish, which she can now speak fluently.

Back in 1818, a young girl named Francita plays with a friend her mother can’t see who disappears in a shimmer of light.

When she recovers, Megan determines to go on the hunt for ‘Francita’ who has deserted her. In this effort, she has the help of Miguel Villatoro, with whom she falls in love. Eventually, she succeeds in going back to the past and reuniting with her friend. The problem is that she has gone too far and doesn’t know how to return to the present so she finds herself embroiled in Texas’s struggle for independence.

The dual timeline has been overdone, in my opinion, but I enjoyed this book. It is an interesting story of enduring friendship, our ties to the past, and comes with different perspectives: Mexican/American/modern woman who experiences and sympathises with both sides.

The only objection I have is to a serial-killer part. I understood why the author included it, but to me it was superfluous. I would have enjoyed the story just as much without it. All the same, a good four star read.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Susan Appleyard
 e-version reviewed