18 March 2017

A Discovering Diamonds Review of GODWINE KINGMAKER by Mercedes Rochelle


Amazon UK £4.74  £11.99
Amazon US $5.94 $12.93
Amazon CA $13.55

Saga
11th Century
England

This is part one of a series about the last Saxon Lords of England – the Godwine family, the most famous of whom was Harold Godwineson, King Harold II of 1066 fame. This first episode, however, is the tale of Godwine, the ‘founder’ of the dynasty, Harold II’s father.

We follow Godwine through his youth, his rise to power and downfall into exile. As a Saxon shepherd with no prospects he gives aid to the invading Danish, seizing an unexpected opportunity to make something better of himself. Wise choice, because Canute of Denmark became King of England and Godwine is duly rewarded by being granted the Earldom of Wessex and a Danish lady of rank as his wife.

Through the untimely death of Canute, the troublesome times of Harold Harefoot and Harthacnut, to the eventual reign of Edward the Confessor, we tread with Godwine, sometimes on firm, but most times on treacherous ground. His fall from power is as spectacular as his previous rise.

The story was a little slow to get going, but soon picked up pace. I was a little confused by some of the story – Godwine, I thought was the son of a seafarer, not a shepherd, but then, this is fiction and Godwine’s early life is very hazy when it comes to factual history. I would have liked a little more depth to the character himself particularly in understanding his political motivations and the modern American English occasionally jarred a little (i.e ‘gotten lost’)  which may be an issue for UK readers, although not for US.

However, the author has obviously taken a lot of trouble with the research required for the customs and life in general during these early to mid 11th Century England is brought very vividly to life.

© Anne Holt


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17 March 2017

The FINE POINT of HIS SOUL by Julie Bozza

Amazon UK £8.50
AmazonUS $12.50 $3.72
AmazonCA $15.92

Mystery
1820
Italy

 “He was the shameful cause of his sister Elena's death and he stole state papers from England, yet Adrian Hart is feted by the best of society in Rome, and boldly dubs himself 'Iago'. Determined to avenge Elena, his unrequited love, Lieutenant Andrew Sullivan asks the advice of poet and Shakespearian John Keats, and his artist friend Severn. Soon Percy and Mary Shelley join them, then Lord Byron and his servant Fletcher. But how can the seven of them work against this man, when they can't even agree what he is? The atheist Shelley insists that Hart is an ordinary man, while Byron becomes convinced he's the Devil incarnate, and Keats flirts with the idea that he's Dionysius... As death and despair follow in Hart's wake, Sullivan knows he must do something to stop Hart before even Sullivan himself succumbs - but what...?”

At 156 pages The Fine Point Of His Soul is not a big book, but it is an excellent read.

Naval lieutenant Andrew Sullivan is ordered by his captain to find and regain important State papers which were stolen by the mysterious Adrian Hart. Sullivan finds himself in  quarantine, however, with  none other than the sickly poet John Keats, and artist Joseph Severn. When he discovers that they are all on a similar mission, once freed from their temporary enforced  isolation, the men also enlist the services of Percy Bysshe Shelley, his wife Mary, Lord Byron and his servant, Fletcher. The result is not exactly a romp, but the action moves along at a good pace, the dialogue is suitable for the  'romantic' poets and the plot and settings authentic. Keats and Severn were, indeed, quarantined.

My copy had a few minor typographical errors, but nothing to distract from the pleasure of reading, and personally I wonder if rather than the anonymous 'Portrait of a Young Man'  as a choice of  cover, whether a portrait of Keats by Severn himself would have been more appropriate? That aside, this was an intriguing mystery and  very well told to boot!

© Richard Tearle

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16 March 2017

The SECOND BLAST of the TRUMPET by Marie Macpherson



Amazon UK £9.99 (e-book)
Amazon US $12.15 (e-book) 
Amazon CA $n/a

Saga / Romance /Inspirational
16th century
Various locations

Writing a book about John Knox comes with its own particular challenges—principally that of creating some sympathy for a man mostly remembered as a harsh and uncompromising reformer of the Church. Fortunately, Ms Macpherson is adept at scratching beneath the surface, thereby presenting us with a zealous and, at times, bigoted preacher, who still manages to inspire tenderness because he is also very much a man, battling fevers and anguish, love-sickness and uncertainties.

The book covers the period 1549 to 1559. It starts with John Knox finally being freed from his miserable existence as a galley slave, and as eager as ever to return home to spread the word of God as he sees it. As this book sort of continues on from Ms Macpherson’s first book, The First Blast of the Trumpet, I recommend reading them in order – certain aspects regarding John Knox’s past might otherwise seem too unclear.

I suspect what Ms Macpherson does not know about Knox would fit on the back of a stamp, and as a consequence, this is a book that heaves with life, the 16th century recreated for the readers in all its magnificence and squalor. Men such as John Dudley and William Cecil flit across the pages, as does an ailing Edward VI and a most unsympathetic Dr Calvin. Candles splutter, gutters reek, men parade in rich velvets and matching hats – or hasten by in worn hose and leaky shoes.

After his release from the French galleys, Knox is invited to become a preacher within the Church of England. Soon enough, this voluble proponent of an austere Protestantism is invited to become part of King Edward VI’s household, where Knox’s total disregard for diplomacy has him collecting enemies in high places as a lump of sugar attracts flies. The king, however, is fond of his Scottish preacher, and as long as Edward is around, Knox is relatively safe. Unfortunately, Edward is a sick young man. As we all know, once he dies, his sister, Mary, becomes queen. A very Catholic queen. Knox has no option but to flee the country. After a short stay in Scotland, where he finds the ground too hot for comfort, he end up in the somewhat more welcoming Geneva.

Had this book been only about John Knox’s efforts to promote his religious doctrine, it could quickly have become boring. Luckily, there is an unfolding romance within, with Knox being struck with Cupid’s arrow the first time he ever claps eyes on little Marjory Bowes. Not that Marjory reciprocates his feelings – not initially – but over the years she too develops a special fondness for this bearded and passionate man. As does Marjory’s mother. Ms Macpherson handles the resulting tensions with aplomb and a certain tongue-in-cheek, resulting in a very colourful Mrs Bowes.

Ms Macpherson is an accomplished writer. Other than her protagonists, she introduces us to a varied cast of vivid characters, all the way from Knox’s godmother Abbess Elizabeth to the ailing Marie de Guise. The prose is fluid, the historical details elegantly inserted, the descriptions vivid. All in all, this is an engaging read, my only quibble being the rather abrupt ending. I am looking forward to reading the next instalment in the Knox Saga!


© Anna Belfrage


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15 March 2017

A Discovering Diamonds Review of: THE WAR BABY by Andrée Rushton


Amazon UK £8.99 4.49
Amazon US $4.90 $6.77 
Amazon CA $N/A 

Romance
WWII
England

Florence is serving in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force, and is passionately in love with Bill, who is a Royal Air Force sergeant. When he is reported missing after the Normandy landings, he is presumed dead. Florence, meanwhile, realises that she is pregnant. Unmarried,  heartbroken and in a bit of a fix, she is discharged from the WAAF. Her troubles do not end there, but I’ll not give away any spoilers, apart from she has the child adopted, and in later years the child decides to find his birth parents, which, unknown to him can cause a tidal wave of repercussions.

This is a moving story of searching for answers, that perhaps sometimes were best not asked in the first place; it is thoughtfully written and is all the more poignant for there must have been many women in Florence’s wartime predicament.

© Ellen Hill

14 March 2017

A Discovering Diamonds Review of PANCHO by Don Eric Carroll


Amazon UK £9.99 
Amazon US $9.54  
Amazon CA $9.84 

Uncategorised
1950s
Mexico

“Pancho portrays the unsophisticated, simple, country-wise folk of a world that no longer exists.”

I am not certain that this is a historical novel, as such, although it does tell of interesting characters and is set in the 1950s. There is no plot, no start, middle or end. Instead the not far off 500 pages of this book are made up of vignettes depicting life of six horse-wranglers in the ‘50s on a Mexican ranch.

Pancho is their leader, an elderly man with a wealth of experience, his colleagues are Candido, Emilio, Jose, Gerardo, in modern terms, ‘special needs’ Julian and Juan, son of the ‘next door’ farmer.

Uneducated, but full of  wisdom, humour and compassion, this big-hearted group of men go about their daily chores which we see through Pancho's philosophy of his own life. The 1950s were a time of change, post-war and on the brink of modernisation when air-travel was becoming possible and the horse was giving way to the motor car, when movies started to be made in colour and TV was about to become the norm. Some of the ‘scenes’ are short, in places only two pages, but we experience the heat of the mid-day sun, the long nights, the tough work, and share the humour, emotion and the camaraderie of this interesting group.

I have no idea what Mexico, or beyond my TV memories of Rawhide, Bonanza or the High Chaparral what a Mexican ranch or a wrangler’s life was like, but assuming this novel has accuracy, these pages gave me some insight. Despite it being a somewhat hefty tome, Pancho is a warm-hearted read.

© Ellen Hill



13 March 2017

A Discovering Diamonds review of:THE BEAUTY SHOP by Suzy Henderson


Amazon UK £2.99 £9.99 
Amazon US $3.75 $12.58
Amazon CA $N/A 

Romance
WWII
England

‘England, 1942. After three years of WWII, Britain is showing the scars. But in this darkest of days, three lives intertwine, changing their destinies and those of many more. Dr Archibald McIndoe, a New Zealand plastic surgeon with unorthodox methods, is on a mission to treat and rehabilitate badly burned airmen – their bodies and souls. With the camaraderie and support of the Guinea Pig Club, his boys battle to overcome disfigurement, pain, and prejudice to learn to live again.
John ‘Mac’ Mackenzie of the US Air Force is aware of the odds. He has one chance in five of surviving the war. Flying bombing missions through hell and back, he’s fighting more than the Luftwaffe. Fear and doubt stalk him on the ground and in the air, and he’s torn between his duty and his conscience.
Shy, decent and sensible Stella Charlton’s future seems certain until war breaks out. As a new recruit to the WAAF, she meets an American pilot on New Year’s Eve. After just one dance, she falls head over heels for the handsome airman. But when he survives a crash, she realises her own battle has only just begun.”

This World War II story is a blend of fact and fiction, and where the author is dealing with real events the writing is excellent. The opening scene in a somewhat unconventional burns unit of a hospital conveys that special hush of a ward at night; the following chapter about the pilot and crew of an American bomber takes you right into the terrifying action of airborne combat. The narrative here is faultless: I was actually holding my breath as if watching the scene in a film. But then comes a ‘he-loves-me-he-loves-me not’ romance featuring an over-contrived love triangle of an English landed-gentry rotter, the muscular American hero Mac (who’s from Montana but has an attractive southern drawl), and a rather too ‘nice’ heroine called Stella, who does find herself before the end of the story but takes rather too long about it.

The other character of note is the real life hero, Archie McIndoe, a plastic surgeon whose innovative procedures and relaxed recovery unit (with a gramophone, on-tap beer and wheel-chair gymkhanas) enabled burns victims to not only return to health but regain their self-confidence after suffering life-changing injuries.

This is a novel for those who enjoy wartime romances. Period details and social attitudes are spot on, and the dialogue comes close to British films of the forties. The text has been expertly proofread, but better editing would have eliminated the superfluous walk-on characters, and repetitive phrases and images. Stella, Mac and Archie McIndoe indulge in repetitious agonising, and the romance chapters need tightening up to give the novel a sharper, page-turner pace, which a wartime story – where daily survival is genuinely threatened – requires. Having said that, Suzy Henderson is a good writer but maybe in need of a more experienced editor to give that little bit extra polish.

All the same, this is a good book for detail – and an author to watch!

© J.G. Harlond
This book may appear incorrectly formatted on some e-reader devices 

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12 March 2017

The Second Sunday of March which means...

No reviews on a Sunday 



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