25 March 2017

The SHINING CITY by Joan Fallon

Amazon UK £4.49 £11.99
Amazon US $5.57 $15.82
Amazon CA $20.94

Family Saga
10th Century

The Al-Andalus Series Book #1
The Shining City is a wonderful story of tenth-century southern Spain, and of the city of Madinat al Zahra which for such a brief time did indeed, shine, becoming a rival to the capital, Cordoba.
Exploring the rise of the Caliph and Moorish rule, the novel incorporates a wonderful feel of this exotic period of history, skilfully bringing in the culture, history, and religion as well as beautifully written descriptions of every-day life.

The research was obviously undertaken with great affection and 'fact' is seamlessly interwoven into the fictional narrative. The characters are likeable and believable, with their hopes, dreams, fears and ambitions becoming as important to the reader as they are for them. We experience their loves and tragedies with perfect pacing, the story as a whole is most atmospheric – get out your sun-tan lotion for the authenticity feels so real you may need it!
© Mary Chapple

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24 March 2017


Amazon UK £4.83  £8.99
Amazon US $5.98  $12.55
Amazon CA $16.51

Mystery / Crime

Sam Plank Mysteries Book #4

Portraits of Pretence is the fourth in a series of novels about Samuel Plank, a Constable in the service of Magistrate Conant. In this adventure, a French artist is found dead in his rooms clutching a miniature portrait of a young girl. As the investigation continues, Sam and his trusty junior Constable, William Wilson, find themselves embroiled in forgery and fraud, smuggling and a secret group that threatens the fabric of Regency Society.

I enjoyed this very much – the writing is good and the characters well defined. The plot moves along nicely and plausibly. I was also impressed that the crime was not solved in a matter of days, as is so often the case,  but over the course of a few months, which is a much more realistic timeline and I applaud the author for that.

Sam Plank is a recognisable character, logical and methodical, encouraging to his protégée and clearly in love with his wife, Martha. He is amiable too – and perhaps if I was to criticise anything it would be that he is perhaps too amiable.

There were a couple of loose ends although the probable outcome was clearly hinted at and the reader must assume that those hints did, indeed come to fruition – though I really would have liked to have known the fate of the former highwayman! (Although as this is a series I wonder if those loose ends will be tied in a future novel?)

A nice cover hinting at the subjects of the miniatures in general and a useful glossary at the end for some of the typical phrases in use at the time. All in all, a nice crime story that has a lot of appeal.

© Richard Tearle
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23 March 2017

FALLING POMEGRANATE SEEDS: the Duty of Daughters by Wendy J Dunn

Amazon UK £11.99 £3.99
Amazon US $5 $14.99
Amazon CA $19,92

Biographical fiction / family saga / historical drama
Tudor 16th century

Katherine of Aragon Story #Book1

Falling Pomegranate Seeds, is the first in what promises to be a magnificent series depicting the wives of Henry VIII. This one is Katherine of Aragon’s story of her younger days and her early life before she becomes embroiled in her two marriages to the Tudor Princes (or one annulled, and one legitimate, then illegitimate marriage, depending on how you look at it.)

The story is told through the eyes and voice of Beatriz Galindo, her tutor, and Maria de Salinas her friend. With them, we enter the Courts of Castile and Aragon, where Katherine (or Catalina) is beneath the watch of her most formidable parents, particularly her mother, Queen Isabella. She is eager to learn and to be educated in her reading and writing, in religion and also to learn the ways of life, love, social upheaval and war. But there are lighter moments when we are reminded, through Ms Dunn’s superb style of writing, that Catalina is a young girl, on the cusp of womanhood. Her life is not all education and looking towards a future of the need to know how to rule, for there is a lot of girlish laughter, mischievous pranks and fun, which brings such charm to the story for it makes the characters so utterly believable – and likeable.

Ms Dunn’s novel is a joy to read, a fascinating insight into Spain in this era, the religious beliefs, the racism and expulsion of the Jews. I found it as interesting to explore the unfolding events as much as following the characters’ own journey through life.

© Anne Holt

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22 March 2017

AND I DARKEN Kiersten White

 Amazon UK £4.99 £7.99
 Amazon US $6.25 $11.16
Amazon CA $13.21

YA / Alternative
15th Century
Ottoman Empire

Book One of a series

This young adult novel is of a quality that it is a great read for adults as well, and one that will not disappoint. It does not feel particularly ‘young’ and is gritty enough to keep an older, more experienced reader entertained.

The novel traces the early life of Lada, a Romanian noble, daughter of Vlad Dracul (no, not that one) who is sent into the heart of the Ottoman Empire with her brother Radu as surety for the behaviour of their father. There they both meet Mehmet, son of Murad, the Ottoman Emperor and find an unlikely friend in a world where they are for the most part ignored, and are only alive as long as their father does as he is told.

Throughout the book there is a tension built from the precarious situation of the two main characters, their real fear that they could at any time be executed and that beyond keeping their father in check, they are worthless. Their status is equivocal, and their survival relies at times solely on their friendship with Mehmet. Where Lada kicks and struggles and fights her captors at every step, wishing to join the ranks of the palace guard despite being a girl, her brother Radu is quiet and perfect. But he is not stupid, and uses his apparent acquiescence to their overlords to gather intelligence and inveigle himself into the higher levels of court, something that Lada cannot understand.

Strictly speaking this novel is alternative history. Anyone who knows this era will have picked up on this by now – the character ‘Lada’ was not a girl, and when she rides back to Romania to take her father’s place, she is in fact Vlad Dracul, better known to history as Vlad the Impaler, a method of execution he learned from the Ottomans and made very much his own. For all that it is not a faithful re-telling of the history, altering the gender of the main character explains the Ottoman’s hold on Vlad, something that has confused historians.

This is a tale of two people, two very different characters – one who accepts a new reality and strives to make the most of it, and one who refuses to give in. Which is correct, well, that is for the reader to decide.

© Nicky Galliers

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21 March 2017

A Discovering Diamonds Review of UNRELENTING by Marion Kummerow

... Love and Resistance in Pre-War Germany

Amazon UK £3.05 £8.27
Amazon US $3.80 $10.95
Amazon CA $14.33

Love and Resistance in WW2 Germany series

Biograpical Fictional / Romance / Family Saga-Drama

Marion Kummerow has written an intriguing trilogy of novels based on the real lives of her grandparents during the Nazi regime in Germany. Unrelenting: Love and Resistance in Pre-War Germany is the first of the series, and it's remarkable as a family story, but not quite as remarkable as a novel. She weaves the chapters together nicely as Hilde and Q live their separate lives and then meet and become a couple in Berlin, the novel culminating the night before their marriage.

Kummerow conveys the suspense of living in Berlin at this important time, showing us real people's lives in the midst of historic events. Her German perspective gives a new view for British and American readers, showing what the developing storm was like for those who lived in it. The couple work, develop their romance, and deal with everyday family troubles as well as frightening denunciation and espionage. Of particular interest is Q’s scientific enterprise—he altruistically wants to serve all mankind, but he perhaps naively believes that communists and therefore “Russia” (the Soviet Union) best embodies that universal ideal. One character patronizingly scoffs at Q’s idealism, so perhaps that line will develop over the trilogy . . .

The weakness comes mainly in Kummerow's language. The German native writes quite competently in English but with numerous quirks that show she is not completely immersed in the nuances of English idioms. For example, Q jokes with a friend, "Welcome in my modest exile," and something gives a character "some pause for concern." In the same way some modern phrasings like "That sucks" and "bigger and badder" appear, as does "biodiversity" (possible origin in 1968?) and television cameras at the 1936 Olympics. The overall style is more told than shown, though Kummerow convincingly conveys the tentative interplay of feelings and actions in young people falling in love.

Another pass by a proofreader and/or a technical editor would help polish this strong story. However, I left Unrelenting wondering what will happen next, and that's just what a first-in-trilogy should do for a reader!
© Cindy Rinaman Marsch
Author and Editor
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20 March 2017

A Discovering Diamonds review of: The SONS of GODWINE by Mercedes Rochelle

Amazon UK £2.80 £9.21
Amazon US $3.61 $12.95
Amazon CA $16.94

11th Century

The Last Great Saxon Earls, Part Two

‘Emerging from the long shadow cast by his formidable father, Harold Godwineson showed himself to be a worthy successor to the Earldom of Wessex. In the following twelve years, he became the King's most trusted advisor, practically taking the reins of government into his own hands. And on Edward the Confessor's death, Harold Godwineson mounted the throne—the first king of England not of royal blood. Yet Harold was only a man, and his rise in fortune was not blameless. Like any person aspiring to power, he made choices he wasn't particularly proud of. Unfortunately, those closest to him sometimes paid the price of his fame.’

This is the second volume of Mercedes Rochelle’s Last Great Saxon Earls series. I had read the first, Godwine Kingmaker, and enjoying this period of extreme change for English History, went on to read this second instalment.

This episode of 11th Century history focuses on two sons of Godwine, Earl of Wessex. Harold, known for the 1066 Battle of Hastings, and Tostig, known for treachery at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire, shortly before that other, most famous battle.

Tostig is awarded the Earldom of effectively, all of Northern England. Harold is Edward the Confessor’s right-hand-man in the South. The two brothers are bitter rivals.

Mercedes Rochelle uses separate segments for each brother to tell his view-point, and as the reader we can never be certain whether they are telling the truth or not, particularly relevant when William of Normandy makes his entrance.

© Mary Chapple

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19 March 2017

The THIRD Sunday of March: which means...

No reviews on a Sunday 
but today is our Guest Spot

Today: A Tribute to  R.A. MacAvoy and her Damiano Trilogy
by Annie Whitehead

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  • Cover of Month announced on the FIRST Sunday of the month
  • Book of the Month announced on the SECOND Sunday in the month
  • Guest Spot - posted on the THIRD Sunday in the month
  • Reader's Voice - posted on the LAST Sunday in the month  
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