Monday, 31 July 2017

Satin Cinnabar by Barbara Gaskell Denvil

Amazon UK £3.20  £10.99
Amazon US $4.01 $16.99

This title was shortlisted for the July Book of the Month

mystery / romance
15th Century

"15th century England, the aftermath of the Battle of Bosworth when the first Tudor King Henry VII took the throne from Richard III, the plots and sub-plots interweave, held together by the strong atmospheric medieval backgrounds and the depth of characterisation. With all the inevitable power struggle, politics and turmoil accompanying the beginning of the new Tudor dynasty.
On his escape from the abandoned battlefield, Alex, younger son of a slain lord, throws off his armour which would mark him as a knight of the defeated Yorkists. The Lady Katherine, having heard tales of marauding soldiers both vanquished and victorious, is dressed for safety as a boy. She and Alex, both in disguise, meet in unusual circumstances. 
Now the lords once loyal to King Richard are in danger of losing their titles, their property and their heads. Law and order seem under threat so Alex quickly goes into hiding. Taking refuge in the kitchens of old friends, he impersonates a servant. During his unorthodox sojourn in the kitchens, Alex encounters Katherine once again. Given in an arranged marriage, the lady is now reluctantly wedded to the new lord of the house. Alex and Katherine come face to face for the second time and begin a most unorthodox courtship..."

Thus is set the scene for what turns out to be a highly entertaining and skilfully written combination of romance and mystery. Alex is working 'under cover' as a servant - the minder of spices, a job which he knows nothing about but gives him adequate opportunity to be out of the house and off on his own (unusual for servants) whenever he chooses. Naturally, he is not spending all his time searching the London streets for expensive and exotic spices for the household cook to use in order to disguise his poor attempts at cooking! Oh no, Alex has far more important things to be doing...

But then there is a murder, and another one, interspersed with a death by natural causes, but gets mixed in with the other two - and Alex is accused of all three, with a charge of abduction and seduction thrown in to boot. 

The real murderer was fairly easy to spot, so Satin Cinnabar isn't really a 'who-dun-it' as such, and yes, you know there will be a happy ending, but that isn't the point. The intrigue and adventure of this entertaining read comes with who else was involved, and why, how Alex gets himself out of predicaments, what was the motive behind it all, and just how is the happy ending reached? All that is as much a part of enjoying a darn good romp of a read as unravelling who the murderer could be, and Satin Cinnabar is a darn good romp of a read. Barbara Gaskell Denvil tells a very good story, with enjoyable, believable characters all wrapped up in marvellous descriptive detail which made me sincerely grateful that I do not live in the squalor and stink of 1400s London. 

From the battlefield of Bosworth to Newgate Gaol via the exotic spice shops of London, I can confidently say that for the portrayal of detail of life in early Tudor London, Ms Denvil is among the very best of writers.

© Helen Hollick

Media preview

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Saturday, 29 July 2017

When characters invade your life

Have Your Say! What Do You, The Reader Think?

An interesting topic to be discussed or pondered over 

* * * 
When Characters Invade Your Life
by Helen Hollick

There are, I have discovered, several authors out there (and I am one of them) who firmly believe that the characters we write about are real. I’m not talking about real people as in those who lived in the past – King Harold II, Queen Elizabeth I and such, I’m talking about imagined, invented characters. Figures who pop into an author’s mind along with the plot and story as a whole.

It is the fault of these characters I’m afraid. They take over our lives, our souls, our very being – and when we’ve finished writing about them, haunt us through day and night, whispering in our subconscious to ‘write something else about me’.

When I wrote my Arthurian Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy (over twenty years ago now!) I fell in love with Arthur; after all, for over ten years I had worked on what was eventually to become The Kingmaking, the first book in the series. I knew that man better than I knew myself! He was a friend, a confidante, an inspiration – almost a virtual lover at times. He was also irritating, annoying and a darn nuisance, especially when I had run out of steam and hadn’t a clue what to write next, or the confidence to do so.

But he would be there nagging away in my right ear. ‘Write. Write more. Keep writing,’ and the image of a scene would come into my mind – almost like watching a movie, then I’d write furiously until I had the scene right.

and maybe leave your own thoughts 
and comments?

Twitter: @HelenHollick
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Friday, 28 July 2017

Fatal Coin by Lucienne Boyce

Amazon UK £0.99
AmazonUS $1.27
AmazonCA  n/a

This title was shortlisted for the July Book of the Month

Novella / Mystery
London / Staffordshire
 e-book only

Missing treasure. Murder. One ruthless criminal. And one Bow Street Runner determined to stop him.
In the winter of 1794 Bow Street Runner and amateur pugilist Dan Foster is assigned to guard a Royal Mail coach. The mission ends in tragedy when a young constable is shot dead by a highwayman calling himself Colonel Pepper. Dan is determined to bring Pepper to justice, but the trail runs cold.
Four months later Dan is sent to Staffordshire to recover a recently excavated hoard of Roman gold which has gone missing. Here he unexpectedly encounters Colonel Pepper again. The hunt is back on, and this time Dan will risk his life to bring down Pepper and his gang.”

Written specifically as a short novella-style prequel to Ms Boyce’s most excellent first Bloodie Bones novel about Dan Foster (and indeed, a planned series) I absolutely thoroughly enjoyed this superb tale.

Lucienne Boyce has a talented gift as a writer, producing stories that hook you straight in and refuse to let you go until you’ve turned the last page, and even then, leave you pondering on the plot and characters – and eager for a next adventure!

She creates believable characters, detailed settings and engrossing plots none of which outshine the other, or read like a history lesson. On the other hand, I have learnt more about Georgian London, the Bow Street Runners and how dismal life for the poor could be in the late 1700s than ever before. Highwaymen have always been romanticised, the anti-establishment bad-boy heroes of their time, Fatal Coin shows them in a different light as extremely dangerous risks to innocent travellers.

In addition to the main story we are treated to a sub-plot glimpse of Dan’s early life, his roots and background. The whole story, indeed the entire series, is like delving into a rich, satisfying and gloriously indulgent box of hand-made luxury chocolates.

Whether Fatal Coin is your first encounter with Dan Foster, or a venture into discovering more about him, this is a most excellent read, highly enjoyable and most highly recommended.

© Mary Chapple
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Thursday, 27 July 2017

A Discovering Diamonds review of: The House on the Beach by Joan Fallon

AmazonUK £2.92 £10.99
AmazonUS $3.64 $12.99

Family Drama

Rocio and Inma meet as children and promise to be life-long friends. Set in Spain, in the years after the Civil War, their unlikely friendship faces many challenges. It is a time when women have few rights and are controlled not only by a dictatorial State but also by an ever-watchful Church.
The girls come from different strata of society, one is poor and the other rich. But they each have their problems. When Inma saves Rocio from disgrace and the inevitable expulsion from the family home, Rocio believes their friendship will hold for ever. But she has overestimated Inma’s loyalty and her subsequent betrayal is hard to accept.”

Joan Fallon has a talent for writing realism about Spain and the events that happened to form the diverse eras of this wonderful country’s rich and varied history. I know little of the Spanish Civil War regrading accuracy and detail, but to my mind this delightful – if somewhat sad in places – novel is well researched.

It is not always easy for a writer to create a believable story where the two lead characters are so very different, in lifestyle, attitude and outlook, but Ms Fallon has pulled this off very well as a light and entertaining read. These two young women catch the imagination and you feel yourself involved with their triumphs and disasters, their happiness and their tears from chapter one and throughout.

Spain itself is as much a character – I would heartily recommend this read for a light, sun-based holiday read: ideal form when you are stretched out on a comfortable lounger beside the pool or on the beach, glass of wine to hand…

© Ellen Hill
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Wednesday, 26 July 2017

The Betrothed Sister by Carol McGrath

AmazonUK £2.63 £7.99
AmazonUS $3.35 $11.99
AmazonCA $15.88

Fictional saga
11th Century
Denmark / Kiev (Russia)

Daughters of Hastings series#3

This is the third in the collection of stories about the women of King Harold II's family after he perished at the Battle of Hastings. This concerns Thea, the eldest daughter of Harold.

Thea escapes England to go into exile with her grandmother and the brothers that remain to her. While in the court of the Danish king, she overshadows the Danish princesses and secures for herself a brilliant marriage when she is betrothed, to a prince of Kiev.

As with the previous two novels in this series, The Betrothed Sister is written in a gentle style that still has enough sharpness, and even a touch of cattiness between the ladies, to be engaging and keep the reader engrossed. The world of medieval Central Europe tends to pass by the average student of history. We know of Peter the Great and the Russian involvement with Napoleon, but little more. This novel reveals a rich and vibrant culture that was as sophisticated as any western European kingdom.

Ms McGrath has now revealed the fate of the family of Harold Godwinson, and she is turning her attention to a different age. With her distinctive serene style whatever she turns her hand, and pen, to will be eagerly awaited by her dedicated readers.

© Nicky Galliers

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Tuesday, 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

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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Monday, 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

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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Saturday, 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!

Friday, 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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Thursday, 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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Wednesday, 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

This title was shortlisted for the July Book of the Month

Adventure / Fictional Saga
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

* * * 

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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