8 April 2017

The FLAME BEARER by Bernard Cornwell

Amazon UK £8.99 £9.50
Amazon US $13.99 $10.99
Amazon CA $20.69

Military /adventure / biographical fiction
10th Century
Northumbria, England

Last Kingdom Series book #10

Bernard Cornwell is one of those few authors where the word 'unputdownable' is a true one. Each new release is eagerly awaited and snapped up the moment it hits the shelves and this, the tenth in the Last Kingdom series (formerly The Warlord series), will not disappoint.

England is at peace for a change, but Uhtred is not: his ambition to recapture his beloved Bebbanburg eats at him and he knows the time is right to make a do-or-die attempt to take it back. With his son and faithful friend Finan, Uhtred marches north. Fully recovered from his wounds, Uhtred is acutely aware that he is growing older and more than at any time in his life, death in battle is likely. But he has lost none of his cunning and uses his talent to confuse his enemies – not that his ideas always work out for him.

Uhtred is a masterful creation, he is a man of his time and he has survived nine books so far. Will he survive to the end of this one and recapture his home? As he so often says, ‘Fate Is Inexorable’. Joining in with this tale, we meet kings, a future king, Uhtred's lover, Aethelflaed and a mad bishop. All good, exciting and absorbing stuff.

There can be no better praise than to say that this is one of the best of an absolutely excellent and always gripping series. Definitely a diamond!

© Richard Tearle

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7 April 2017

BELOVED BESIEGED by April Munday


Amazon UK £2.99
Amazon US $3.68
Amazon CA $n/a

Romance
1400s / Hundred Years War
France

Beloved Besieged is a romantic novel set in southern France during the Hundred Years War coinciding with a period of turbulence when France started to regain lost ground, especially around the duchy of Gascony, ruled by Edward, the Prince of Wales, later to be known as The Black Prince.

Ms Munday has done her research and the scenes involving army life are the best. She captures the experience of a soldier at war and the camaraderie between soldiers very well. It feels honest, not at all dramatic, and very pleasing.

I was mostly attracted to this novel by the promise of a portrayal of the aforementioned Black Prince and it delivered on its promise. We probably hear about him more than we see him, but we see enough of him to know him and understand him, and again the research is spot on and that made me smile.

The main characters are generally engaging and likeable, the villains are villainous and we are rooting for the right people and feel the right amount of fear for them and indignation on their behalf. Joscelin is a soldier first and foremost and he thinks like a soldier and a landowner and lord of an estate. 

Elaine is the daughter of a wealthy stonemason but the plot hole is how a humble stonemason amassed riches of any kind. It is never quite satisfactorily explained although his wealth is necessary to the plot. The events that lead to her being with Joscelin are well documented and quite credible, as is the reaction of everyone to that union. All very good.

However, I don't feel that the romance is as credible as the rest; it doesn't really ring true. Joscelin's behaviour is a bit odd, on many occasions, but love is blind and if Elaine is fine with it, then so will the reader be. It is their story after all. The fight scenes are not quite brutal or descriptive enough (although some readers prefer a lack of detail). Maybe Ms Munday needs to read some early Bernard Cornwell, borrow some ruthlessness and pump up the siege of Limoges to more than a passing phrase. But she doesn't shy from them and that is in itself admirable. A touch of editing to reduce a little repetitiveness that renders the prose a touch naive in places wouldn't go amiss either. 

But overall, a fine read, a worthy addition to the, thankfully, growing corps of work that finally tackles the Hundred Years War, and with a super, evocative cover, I would happily read this again.

© Nicky Galliers

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6 April 2017

Discovering Diamonds review of ENVOY of JERUSALEM by Helena P. Schrader



Amazon UK £6.38 £15.99
Amazon US $7.81 $22.95
Amazon CA $28.79

The Jerusalem Trilogy.
    Knight of Jerusalem
      Defender of Jerusalem
        Envoy of Jerusalem

‘Balian has survived the devastating defeat on the Horns of Hattin, and walked away a free man after the surrender of Jerusalem, but he is baron of nothing in a kingdom that no longer exists. Haunted by the tens of thousands of Christians now enslaved by Saladin, he is determined to regain what has been lost. The arrival of a vast crusading army under the soon-to-be-legendary Richard the Lionheart offers hope - but also conflict, as natives and crusaders clash and French and English quarrel.’
  
This novel, third of a trilogy,  is written in an alternative style that is not usual for a novel, in that the point of view frequently interchanges, sometimes seeing a scene from the view of several protagonists at the same time, like a scene from a movie where the goodie frowns as the baddie grins and the love interest gasps. If this style is OK for you – and judging by Amazon reviews Ms Schrader has a following of readers who are OK with it – then you'll love this novel.

For me though I felt very much that, without the consistent insight from a single character's point of view per scene, the focus was lost and I couldn't get to know anyone with the depth I wanted and usually expect from a novel. Even in a film, if all you get is reaction and counter reaction, it slips into melodrama. You need to sit inside or alongside a character to get to know them, but being constantly ripped from one to another rather spoilt that comfortable feeling of intimacy.

This is a pity because  Ms Schrader has researched a great deal, possibly too much as she occasionally adds footnotes which rarely sit well in novels, and can come across as over-information, rather than letting the narrative flow naturally and then add an Author's Note for the history behind the fiction. The author clearly knows her stuff, but authors of historical fiction, where the history tends to take precedence over the fiction, must be careful of not coming across as over-confident with their wish to show how much they know. Facts of knowledge gained belong in non-fiction, the entertainment of the story belongs in fiction.

All this detracts from what Ms Schrader really excels at - descriptive prose. The passages that are classic literature are glorious and vivid, detailed so highly that you are put right into the places she writes about. The Holy Land and the complex politics become accessible to those who have not studied it, and despite this being the third part of a series there is plenty to allow you to read this as a stand alone novel; you are given enough to interpret what is going on, but you feel like you are observing someone else's drama.

I compare this novel to films a few times as I get the impression that this is a corrective novel to counter the inaccuracies and not-very-goodness of Kingdom Of Heaven, even down to the cover which is a somewhat poor representation of Orlando Bloom. Does this also, perhaps, explain the ‘cinematic treatment’ of the novel? A retaliation to the movie by setting the history straight? A fine enough reason, but perhaps at the expense of the fictional prose?

To summarise, Ms Schrader has a unique and compelling talent. However the framework is somewhat askew. As an indie writer she has done well but if she were to employ the services of an experienced editor who knows this era, who was able to bring out the best in the novel, sort out the point of view changes and enhance the author’s skills, well, the sky's the limit…

© Louise Adam
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5 April 2017

A Discovering Diamonds review of: COLOUR SERGEANT CHESNEY VC by Steven Baker


Amazon UK £8.99 £3.99
Amazon US $4.97 $7.94
Amazon CA $7.07

Military
1890s
England and India

‘At the outset of the Boer War, two former soldiers meet by chance at a London dockside.    One of the soldiers is Harry Chesney, a former Colour Sergeant and Victoria Cross winner. Together they recount the captivating events of their lives in the regiment in India.’

Harry Chesney was a workhouse boy who found his true self in the British army. He was popular and respected and distinguished himself in battle by winning the Victoria Cross. But then came an attack during an uprising in north west India: Harry and a newspaper reporter are the only survivors and Harry's story of the events is questioned, resulting in a court martial. To add to his problems of life, Harry has also promised to look after the illegitimate son of a former colleague and friend who had died in the troubles.

This is a nice gentle book which, for the most part, concentrates more on the relationships between soldiers rather than any military action, which are recalled in a series of flashbacks. I would have liked to have learned more of the events that led to Harry being awarded the VC, and perhaps a little more detail of his life immediately after leaving the army, for the book is rather short and there is plenty of opportunity for expansion of the protagonist and indeed, other characters. It took me a little time to get into the story but once there, I quite enjoyed meeting Harry and sharing a little of his interesting fictional life.


© Richard Tearle
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4 April 2017

SATCHFILD HALL by Pauline Barclay

 

Amazon UK £1.99 £8.90
Amazon US $2.40 $3.12
Amazon CA $17.31

Family Drama
1942 
England


Satchfield Hall opens with a classic funeral scene: mourners gathered around an old man’s grave. But we are not going to read about this man’s life alone, the main character in this story, the main victim if you will, is not the body in the coffin but his daughter Celia Bryant-Smythe, whowas not dressed in sombre clothing, nor was she weeping. For her, it was not a day to mourn; she had done that years earlier. Wept at the loss of the man she once believed had cared for her. He had, but not in the way she had hoped. Like everything in Henry Bryant-Smythe’s life, he had viewed her as an asset, an investment, and when she had deprived him of what he believed was his insurance with a healthy dividend, he had made her pay, the price had been high; very high.”

So begins the sad tale of a young mother’s search for the son taken from her at birth on her father’s orders. This is 1942 and the child is illegitimate, reason enough to send the baby for adoption, but Celia’s father’s action is far more than a paternal concern for appearances; his daughter’s disgrace enables him to cover up an embarrassing situation with a servant also in the family way. Although this detail is never quite clarified for we rarely see the evil-minded Bryant-Smythe in action and only learn second-hand what he has done and continues to do from other characters and the narrator. While most of the story is told in ‘look back in anger’ mode from Celia’s point of view there is an omniscient narrator privy to each character’s thoughts and motives to explain exactly what is happening and why.

I shan’t reveal how Celia regains her son – although we know this from the start for he appears in the prologue – because this family saga, very much a fictional drama, relates Celia’s personal journey from being an outcast teenage mother, to a loving wife and mother again. It also tells how Celia’s mother, Muriel, goes from tearful hand-wringing despair at ‘the situation’ to finding the courage to act on her own; and how her mother-in-law, Mrs Gillespie, a typical upper middle-class housewife of the epoch accustomed to turning a blind eye to what her men folk are up to, also develops the strength to bring about vital changes.

The other women featuring in the story are the nasty house-keeper Mrs Jenkins, who makes Mrs Danvers look benign; the middle-aged, thoroughly maternal woman hired to act as midwife, Gladys Thrift, who stays on to become Celia’s very caring carer, and a timorous servant with the wonderful name of Lizzie Rainbow, who later becomes Celia’s friend.

Satchfield Hall is a combination of a family saga and a ‘great house, upstairs-downstairs’ story, which may appeal particularly to older women readers who remember their own parents’ ‘old-fashioned’ attitudes. A novel to read by a warm fire during a chilly weekend.


© Jane G Harlond

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3 April 2017

FAITHFUL TRAITOR by Samantha Wilcoxson


Amazon UK £3,49 £10.95
Amazon US $4.34 $13.95
Amazon CA $18.33

Fictional Biography
16th Century / Tudor
England

There are many tragic women in medieval and Tudor times and Margaret Pole was one of the shrewdest, for she managed to live through much of the intrigue and danger that faced many at the court of Henry VIII. You did not have to be one of Henry’s wives to take the wrong turning, or let the wrong words fall from your mouth, or associate with the wrong person to find yourself in the Tower. Nor did you have to be guilty of anything but an opinion; however, Margaret was a survivor, who navigated the very troubled waters that flowed throughout the reign of the second Henry Tudor.

Margaret Pole was the daughter of George of Clarence, who supposedly died immersed in a barrel of Malmsey on the orders of his brother King Edward IV. Margaret was married to Richard Pole and gave him four boys and a girl. In her life she would encounter tragic circumstances that if happened to us, today, without the resilience that one must have built up to avoid falling totally apart in these dangerous times, would surely break us.

Thirty-eight-year-old Margaret becomes the matriarch of her family as the book opens when her beloved husband, Richard, is sadly taken from her through illness. It is not her first tragic milestone, for she has already lost her father, and her brother, Edward, who is locked in the tower, eventually beheaded for treason by Henry VII. When the handsome and gregarious son of the late Henry VII ascends to the throne, he decides that he wants to draw his mother’s Yorkist family closer to him and invites Margaret to court and gives places to her children, restoring her as the Countess of Salisbury. As the head of her family, Margaret shows her ability to network and sets out planning her children’s future, and along the way, she falls by accident into schemes that will one day set the ball rolling for her eventual downfall.

Wilcoxson’s Margaret Pole is a resilient woman, who believes in her principles and when the King does the inevitable and has an affair and eventually weds the vivacious Anne Boleyn, Margaret is devastated for her friend, the Queen, and her friend’s headstrong daughter, the Princess Mary. The author shows Margaret’s strength and courage, but also her weaknesses. We see her grow throughout the years, and we are shown the events of Henry’s reign through Margaret’s eyes.

Margaret is regularly visited by various messengers and given news of the notable events that happen at court. This is where I would have preferred to have witnessed these scenes as there is rather a lot of ‘telling’ in the story which disappointed me, because I felt the book could have benefited from a more rounded view of what was going on around Margaret. The book’s strengths lie in the prose, which is thoughtfully and very well written. Ms Wilcoxson has an excellent command of language and the dialogue is congruent with the place and time. It felt like a ‘Tudor’ book, and Ms Wilcoxson’s ability to create mood and tension:

‘The statement hung in the air as he reclined into the cushions piled into his chair and continued to examine her. Margaret stood unwavering, knowing that the slightest expression of doubt would be jumped upon. She would not reduce her dignity by denying a vague accusation of a crime she had not committed.’

Faithful Traitor walks us through the life of this Yorkist daughter at an even pace, the tone is set at a dignified level and only rises when the dramatic tension increases. This is a tale that leaves you drawing in breath at the end, wondering, if the fates had been spun differently, what this likeable family of York would have achieved had they been given that chance. The characters I enjoyed most were the Princess Mary, and Margaret herself, and the one I disliked (a preconception not disappointed) was Henry, who comes across as a self-centred fool who desired everyone’s love and couldn’t cope when it was not freely given.

All in all a book I would recommend to Tudor lovers, especially those who like learning about the characters outside the usual conventions of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII etc. They will love this book.

© Paula Lofting
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2 April 2017

The First Sunday of April

No reviews on a Sunday but...
Today we Reveal our Selected Cover of the Month



To see the Cover Winner For March
click here

Our Head Judge is
Cathy Helms of


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