14 August 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of The Inquisitor by David Penny

Thomas Berrington Series #5

Fictional Saga / mystery
Seville, Spain

This is the second novel about Thomas Berrington, physician by profession and a sleuth by virtue of a rabid curiosity. The setting is Spain in the reigns of Ferdinand and Isabella. Thomas arrives in Seville to treat the queen who is pregnant and bleeding. Within the first hours, he meets old friends and enemies and some who could be either one. He is also caught up in the mystery surrounding a terrifying figure called The Ghost, who kills his victims by opening their chests and taking out their hearts. Thomas’s fiancĂ© arrives with some other interesting characters, I presume from the first book. Oh, and plague is on the rise in the city. There is more than enough to keep Thomas occupied and the reader interested.

Aside from these elements, the new characters flesh out the story with a love affair and a kidnapping. This is not a standard who-done-it. Why The Ghost has committed such bizarre murders and when he will be caught provide the suspense. I particularly enjoyed the banter between Thomas and his friend Jorge, who is, apparently, an incorrigible and gifted lover of women.

The plot was simple and easy to follow and the sub-plots were interesting, however, I had some, perhaps nit-pick, issues: first, the title. None of the characters was an Inquisitor, nor was the Inquisition involved except peripherally, or perhaps I missed something? There was some unnecessary dialogue that neither advanced the story nor said anything about the character: without it the book would have been shorter and I think a bit snappier. Was the  ‘twist’ at the end entirely credible? I'm not sure, but then, this is fiction.

That said, a most entertaining read, and something a little different to the usual mystery tales.

© Susan Appleyard

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13 August 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of Somewhere Still by Denitta Ward


Family Drama / Romance
USA Kansas City

The Roaring Twenties. Kansas City. One woman's transformative journey of love, betrayal, and redemption. From the day Jean Ball lands a job at the elegant Empire hotel, she quickly learns the secrets of the entitled class. Dazzled by a Roaring Twenties society on the cusp of radical change, this naive and innocent young woman finds herself dancing, bobbing her hair, and falling for Elden Whitcomb, the handsome son of the wealthy hotel owner. The stakes rise when the Whitcombs’ powerful secrets are revealed and loving Elden comes at a price – one that may be too high for Jean to pay. Shattered and alone, Jean's in the battle of her life in a city alive with romance, smoky Speakeasies, jazz music and scandal, but divided by race and class. With the help and encouragement of influential women, Jean may find what she has always needed, though her choices could echo through generations. But will the man she trusted and so fiercely loves redeem himself?’

I found the culture and the historical identity of Kansas City in the ‘20s fascinating – not least because in my naievity as a Brit I had always thought of Kansas as the place where the Yellow Brick Road led to Oz and tornadoes swept the land leaving everything flattened, (such is the fictional influence of the movies!) I did not even realise that Kansas City is on the border of Missouri and Kansas (I had to look at Google Maps.) But that is one of the delights of reviewing a novel I perhaps would not have otherwise picked up –discovering a new and unfamiliar location was an utter delight!

Added to the welcome and interesting personal geography lesson, was a superb story of a young woman’s journey from almost childlike innocence to full womanhood. We journeyed with her through the start of the jazz age, prohibition, the imbalance of poverty and wealth, prejudice, and the enormous changes that occurred during the years of the ‘20s. Jean, the lead character, falls in love, is betrayed and struggles, but survives. This is a story of the hopes, dreams and traumas we all face, the author skilfully brings her fictional character’s experiences vividly to life, creating a very believable and enjoyable tale. What’s more, this is a debut novel – so an author to watch, I think

© Ellen Hill

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12 August 2018

It's Been An Interesting Voyage Round The Blogs by Helen Hollick


 I don't usually promote myself or my own books but I hope visitors 
to Discovering Diamonds will forgive a little self-indulgence for one day? 
* * *
I started a sixteen-day on-line 'virtual' book tour on July 30th, Voyaging Around the Blogs with the paperback release of Pirates Truth And Tales, and my Sea Witch Voyages series of nautical pirate-based adventures. With only two more harbours left in which to 'drop anchor' I thought I would take advantage of the #DDRevs Weekend Spot to not just do a bit of trumpet tootling, but to explore a few thoughts about Blog Hops, Tours, Chains and such. Are they worth the effort?

Basically, 'hops', 'tours', 'chains' are the same thing: authors post a series of articles either written by themselves or other authors/guests, on their own Blog or via 'hopping' from one Blog to the next with links to the next post. It is hard work, especially for the author concerned but also for the Blog Host. Well it is hard work if done properly.

The idea is to attract new readers for our books, Blogs, Websites, Facebook Page, Twitter Account - well to us as authors. It is all very well having a presence on social media and have our books listed on Amazon, but one person (especially indie writers) can be a mere tadpole in an ocean of millions of other authors. Only the very top writers are 'whales in a pond' status (J.K.Rowling, George R. Martin...) and have no need to tout their wares. The rest of us do. 

Ideally to make a Blog Tour (or one of its variations) a success the host needs to market/advertise as well - and not just 'their' day of hosting an article, review or whatever, but the other ports of call as well - in other words networking, one link linking to the the next which links to the next and so on. In practice, this rarely happens because individual authors are too busy promoting their own books (understandably) and keeping themselves afloat and in the public eye. Do remember, though, if you promote other authors by sharing, re-tweeting etc., they are likely to promote you in return. The opposite also applies!

I wrote sixteen different articles for my tour, all of them related one way or another to my book Pirates Truth And Tales (OK, a few did overlap a little.) 

Articles ranged from a pirate who declared himself a Roman Emperor, via Were Vikings Pirates Or Raiders? Medieval pirates. Female pirates. The noose - the inevitable end for pirates. Why do readers love pirates and Governor Woodes Rogers of Nassau, 'the man who knew about pirates'. 

I enjoyed writing them, as I also enjoyed writing the book. I did have doubts about writing non-fiction when Amberley first approached me, but then I figured that I had been writing non-fiction articles for various blogs for several years, so why not take the research notes I had amassed for the background information needed for the Sea Witch Voyages and turn them into a book? Why not take a look at the truth about pirates and add in the Hollywood version and the romantic fictional side as well? I was delighted with the result, although disappointed that the publisher managed to print the hardback edition from an uncorrected version of the files I submitted, resulting in too many typo errors. (An error corrected for this new paperback edition, although, inevitably, a couple of very minor missed typos remain.)

The errors served a huge purpose, however, by proving that us indie writers who use POD (Print on Demand) have several huge advantages over traditional mainstream writers:
  • We take as much care as we can to ensure the edition that 'goes live' is correctly formatted and are the correct files to be published.
  • We edit, edit, edit, edit - unlike mainstream publishers who seem to be cutting financial cost corners as much as  they can.
  • If we blunder we can very quickly re-edit and re-publish. 
  • WE are in control!
But as for Book Tours... are they worth it? From a sales perspective, alas, probably not. For networking and reaching a wider audience probably yes. Note the word 'probably'.

For enjoyment and meeting new people - definitely.

Two disappointments for me: very few people leave comments beneath posts (the same applies here on Discovering Diamonds) but that may, in part, be a problem with Blogger/Google and WordPress especially, I've noticed, now that GDPR has come into play. Comments are just not getting through... in my case I think pirates are plundering them.

I am also a little disappointed that I have not had many new subscribers to my newsletter. We are told that sending out newsletters is vitally important...but is it? That's a different subject though - maybe one for a future weekend here on Discovering Diamonds?

Journey Back Through My Voyages 
and visit the 'harbours' where I 
'dropped anchor'

Two (totally independent!) Reviews 
Pirates Truth & Tales by Helen Hollick  (Non-Fiction)

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

* * *

Helen Hollick's latest release,  Pirates: Truth and Tales is a clever concept, as she uses a non-fiction book to show how her extensive research has led to the success of her popular fiction. This fun exploration of the history and legends of the world of pirates is packed with interesting facts and fascinating details. Hollywood has, as usual, done it's best to mislead us about what it might have been like to live the life of a pirate.

The truth is much more complicated, as an amazingly wide range of seafarers might be termed pirates - but there are plenty of stories which are supported by historical evidence. Improved technology means that long-lost 'pirate' ships are being discovered, so our knowledge of how the real pirates lived continues to develop.

I was particularly interested in Helen's exploration of the lives of some famous seafaring writers, such as Daniel Defoe, who I knew little about. I enjoyed reading Robinson Crusoe as a child but hadn't realised Defoe is among the founders of the English novel.

We learn it was the Pirates of the Caribbean series that inspired Helen's Sea Witch series, and we sail with her as she looks at the difference between a buccaneer and a corsair, a brigantine and a caravel.

Complete with excerpts from Helen's novels and the words of sea-shanties to sing along to, this is a great book to dip in to - and like any pirate ship has treasure in the hold. Highly recommended.

© Tony Riches

Available in paperback or kindle from an Amazon near you
(including in Italian for the first four Sea Witch Voyages!)

Paperback from Amazon
The Sea WitchVoyages
of Captain Jesamiah Acorne
Voyage One
Voyage Two
Voyage Three
Voyage Four
Voyage Five
A Novella Prequel -
How Jesamiah became a Pirate