16 June 2017

Red Horse by M J Logue

Red Horse by M J Logue 

Amazon UK  £2.40  £7.99
Amazon US $2.95 / $12.99
Amazon CA $3.98 / $16.79

English Civil War

It is 1642, and England is hovering on the brink of civil war. As yet, no major battles have been fought, but the armies are drawn up, the King has raised his colours and called to arms. The Parliamentarian Army under the Earl of Essex is a motley lot, an uneasy partnering of men who burn for the cause and a rabble of mercenaries, most of them veterans of the Thirty Years' War.

Hollie Babbitt is one such veteran. Uncouth and bedraggled, this red-haired captain does not at all live up to Lucifer Petitt's expectations of an officer, and this young man can't help but wonder why his uncle the Earl of Essex has chosen to place him under Babbitt’s command. Some sort of punishment?

Babbitt wonders the same: why has he been saddled with Luce and what exactly is that prat Essex playing at?

So opens a story of soldiers and war, of understated bravery and loyalty among friends. All of this against the murky political waters of the times, at times utterly incomprehensible to those taxed with navigating through them. 

After the battle of Edgehill, things change. Where before the men in the Parliamentarian Army were there just as much by chance as by conviction, the carnage of Edgehill hardens them. Babbitt loses his best friend at Edgehill. From that moment on, the war becomes personal – on the surface, Captain Babbitt fights for money, but within he screams for vengeance. 

On the surface of things, Red Horse is a novel about the dirty and sordid matter of war. Men die, men are wounded; the rain pours down in buckets leaving everyone dirtier and muddier and sick and with festering wounds and with holes in their stockings and lice in their hair – in general, not the chirpiest of settings. The men are often cold and hungry, just as often scared and angry, and more or less constantly confused. 

Not only does M J Logue present us with a detailed and tangible setting, she also parades quite the cast of characters before the reader, first and foremost Hollie Babbitt and his troop of scruffy, battle-hardened men, troopers who mostly don’t care who wins as long as they survive.

Many people have written books about war, about comrades-in-arms who stick together through thick and thin. What makes Red Horse so universally appealing is the other story, the one hidden within, so to say. That story is about loneliness, about the abject despair of having no family, no home, no-one who truly cares if you live or die. It is about being utterly alone despite the press of men around you, of living in an emotional vacuum that is so unbearable you no longer feel as if you exist. Hollie Babbitt is one such damaged man, and the way in which M J Logue depicts his situation is all the more effective for being so unsentimental. As I turn the pages, Hollie Babbitt not only takes on shape and colour, but he also becomes a person I develop strong protective feelings for – which he hates, just as he has problems accepting Luce’s compassion and genuine concern for him. 

My only gripe with this book is the recurring head-hopping – it distracts from the story and is an unnecessary beauty spot on this otherwise excellent read. Still, M J Logue’s writing is somewhat addictive, which is why the next books in the series are already on my Kindle! 

© Anna Belfrage

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15 June 2017

The Witchfinder's Sister by Beth Underdown

Amazon UK £7.99 /£10.49
Amazon US $ 17.36
Amazon CA $ 27.99 / $12.99

Fictional Drama / Witchcraft

Alice Hopkins is the sister to Matthew Hopkins, who lives in the small Essex village of Manningtree. When her husband dies, pregnant and penniless she returns to live with Matthew, but he has changed and there are rumours of witchcraft abroad. He is amassing the names of suspected women in a book that he is diligently keeping…

This is a beautifully written story which sheds light on the many different faces of human nature, particularly where the superstition of witchcraft is involved. Matthew is certain that what he is doing – exposing the evilness of witches – is the right thing to do, yet there is also the horror of innocent women being victimised through his manic obsession.

The novel includes the unsavoury side of exposing witches, their interrogation and torture, the terror that lonely old women were forced to endure.

I admit that I found the novel unsettling, but this is because it is so well, and vividly, written. The gloom of the era, Matthew’s obsession and the horror these poor women suffered is so completely believably written that I felt like a fly on the wall witnessing their suffering.

England was still in the grip of Civil War, suspicion and superstition was rife, distrust and hostility ruled, with blame for things that went wrong all too easily laid at the feet of others. A sad, sorry period of our past, the novel expertly portrays the fear, the anxiety, the malice and the downright cruelty – but it all happened, even if it was, to our eyes now, shameful and abhorrent. But for all that, read the novel; we owe it to those women to remember them as it was, not as the modern hook-nosed broomstick-riding women cackling beneath a black pointy hat and a spider dangling from her chin.

© Helen Hollick

Cover selected for Cover of the Month

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14 June 2017

Local Resistance by J.G.Harlond

Amazon UK £4.51 $15.00
Amazon US $5.54 $18.50
Amazon CA $20.35

Cornwall, England

I'm not drawn to World War II stories, but I did very much enjoy this one. The story is set in a sleepy Cornish fishing village where the locals have long memories and resent intruders into their world. They know the war is happening around them and they are thankful that its effects on them are far less severe than other places nearby. For them it is rationing and the transferal of the village's big house into a school that are the most noticeable alterations, but a stoic lot, they manage, looking after each other.

And then things start to go wrong. A local man goes inexplicably missing without a trace and an odd little spinster moves in to a house that everyone is sure would never be sold out of the family or even rented. The outsider who enforces the rationing rules is viewed with deep suspicion by some, sheer hatred by others. And a foreign young man is found in a wood.

Bob Robbins comes out of retirement to join the police force and is assigned the task of finding out what happened to the missing man, Stan Hawkins. Along the way he trips over conspiracies and things that don't add up, people withholding information more than they would usually for a small community wary of outsiders. What does Hawkin's disappearance have to do with missing vegetables and stolen water, an assault on a local woman and two murders?

I wasn't convinced that I would enjoy this novel as WWII is just not my era but I really did. It is an involving story with some great characters. Bob Robbins is a wonderful policeman who knows his job, but has several dimensions that gradually come out to add nuances to him and his actions, his thoughts and his interactions with others. He is not a parody or a cardboard cut-out detective. He is very likeable, and of course you are willing him on from the start.

The story itself is well crafted and details never go astray. So well crafted that even at the end you just don't quite know what is going on and some mysteries will just never be solved. That it is based on a series of actual happenings makes the story all the more eye-opening. It is a grand portrayal of small village life, the goings-on of generations ago that still affect the living as if they happened yesterday, the closing ranks, everyone knowing everyone's business, and strong sense of a community that manages quite well without interference, thank you very much. 

Down to earth and sensible, no hysterics, few dramatics, and a delightful old biddy who you just can't bring yourself to condemn. A very good read.

Five stars. Can't criticise a single thing.

© Nicky Galliers

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13 June 2017

A Discovering Diamonds review of: The Persecution of Mildred Dunlop by Paulette Mauhurin

Amazon UK £9.57 £2.32
Amazon US $3.00 $14.95
Amazon CA $20.14

LGBT / Family Drama

"The year 1895 was filled with memorable historical events: the Dreyfus Affair divided France; Booker T. Washington gave his Atlanta address; the United States expanded the effects of the Monroe Doctrine to cover South America; and Oscar Wilde was tried and convicted for gross indecency under Britain's recently passed law that made sex between males a criminal offense. When news of Wilde's conviction went out over telegraphs worldwide, it threw a small Nevada town into chaos. This is the story of what happened when the lives of its citizens were impacted by the news of Oscar Wilde's imprisonment. It is a chronicle of hatred and prejudice with all its unintended and devastating consequences, and how love and friendship bring strength and healing."

What a good concept - a female Brokeback Mountain and all merged in with the news of the Oscar Wilde Trial. Original. Clever. 

Mildred is a landowner in the mid-west and quietly wealthy, kind to her community and living with a girl who everyone assumes is her companion. But Mildred is strange and strange isn't good in a small town - and then she is rich - so she is disliked and raises hackles. The Wilde scandal raises her fears and she looks to marry a man and put the town off her trail but it only makes matters worse as jealously and spite arise - and so now Mildred lives in fear of being torched-out. Will she run? Will she stay? There's a touch of Joan Crawford in Johnny Guitar about this - only perhaps without the pace. 

A different book - with everything going for it - only the women's affair is revealed very early and we could have a slower build-up so the lack of pace. And do we believe that a town would get so full of hate over a marriage? Much opportunity for tension is lost and where we expect a march on the house - well, no spoilers. There is also a lot of political correctness here - down to Dreyfuss getting a mention and would a small town really have been that aware? May well be wrong and stand corrected. 

This might do well in a LGBT bookstore as it has such potential but the mechanics of the plot do lose a bit of impetus to keep the reader engaged. 

For all that, an interesting read.

© Jeffrey Manton

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12 June 2017

Catfish Pearl by Ruth Francisco

Amazon UK £2.31 £9.62
Amazon US $2.98 $11.99

Coming of Age / American Settlement / Nautical
17th century
North America

Savagely taken from her mother’s womb during a 1665 Apalachee raid in La Florida, Luisa grows up more like her adopted brothers than a female of the tribe. At twelve years of age, her tomboyish stunts and aptitude for numbers convince Fray Tomás that she should learn the ways of the Spaniards, to be a proper lady. Her latest stunt, revealed by her jealous cousin, goes too far beyond the proprieties of the Apalachee, and her father sends her away from the tribe to do the bidding of a vicious Spanish woman. Forbidden to use her Indian name, Luisa equates her punishment to slavery.

When news arrives of her favorite brother’s impending nuptials, Luisa secures permission to attend. She arrives too late to travel with her family and must make her own way to the bride’s village. A third tribe attacks, her father and many others are killed, and she is among the captives who are traded to an Englishman for weapons.

Taken to the Carolinas, Luisa is sold into slavery. During the auction a bidding war pits her new master against another man, who wants to sell her to a Jamaican brothel. Luisa’s only hope is to escape, but her family is gone. She has no village to return to. The troubles between the various tribes, inflamed by both the English and the Spanish, make La Florida a dangerous destination. And the loser of the slave auction is a determined man, who will do whatever he must to own her, no matter how long it takes.

The multiple points of view and numerous subplots – some of which are left unresolved because they will be dealt with in future stories about Luisa – make this a long book, but the author’s purpose is to show Luisa’s natural progression from being raised among the Apalachee to becoming a pirate. She admirably achieves this goal, although a few switches of perspective are a bit jarring and some storylines could have waited until later books. There are a few formatting issues, such as extra spaces within words, but Luisa is a compelling character and the story engages the reader, rarely loosening its grip until the last page is turned.

Told from a variety of perspectives – principally those of Luisa, Fray Tomás (a Franciscan missionary), and Henry Woodard (an English surgeon turned trader) – Catfish Pearl is a story of greed, ambition, faith, jealousy, treachery, growing up, and adapting to what life throws at you.

Set during a brutal period when Spain and England use the native peoples to gain footholds in the New World. While the language is at times raunchy and character actions shock modern sensitivities, Francisco portrays them realistically in a vividly recreated period in Florida’s history.


Review Copyrighted ©2017 by Cindy Vallar

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