15 July 2017

On the Blog Today

July 2017

by Nicky Galliers

Photograph © Karolina Webb
Barbara Erskine
A historian by training, Barbara Erskine is the author of many bestselling novels that demonstrate her interest in both history and the supernatural, plus three collections of short stories. Her books have appeared in at least twenty-six languages. Her first novel, Lady of Hay, has sold over two million copies worldwide. She lives with her family in an ancient manor house near Colchester and in a cottage near Hay-on-Wye.

14 July 2017

The Boy Who Wanted Wings by James Conroyd Martin

Amazon UK £2.35 £23.05
Amazon US $2.99 $26.80
Amazon CA $33.52

17th Century

This is a very well researched and authentic-feeling novel set in 17th century Europe. A unique perspective comes via the hero, Aleksy, being of Tartar descent but having been raised with a Polish family. As the Turks lay siege to Vienna (culminating in the battle of September 11 1683) he finds his military and amorous wings. 

The author impressed me with the detailed depiction of warfare, military operations and equipment, class, culture and societal norms. While such details can be distracting in other novels, here they were spot on and served their purpose well. I learned a lot about the era, about Poland, the Tartars and the siege of Vienna.

The characters with their unique situations, individual ambitions and the obstacles they need to overcome provide a solid base for the plot: Love at first sight, lovers against the obstacles, political turmoil and war - it sounds like a stereotype but all feels real and comes together perfectly in a gripping, educational and enjoyable novel. 

© Christoph Fischer

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13 July 2017

The Thief's Daughter by Victoria Cornwall

 AmazonUK £0.99 £7.99
Amazon US $1.26
Amazon CA n/a

Romance / Adventure / Family Drama
18th Century

They meet at a hanging.
Jenna Cartwright is the daughter of a thief and Jack Penhale is a thief taker, a man who seeks out those who break the law and sees them brought to justice.

The Cornish setting alone draws the reader into this absorbing novel that is about the different aspects of love and the injustices against those who were poor in the eighteenth century. The author has created the heroine, Jenna, though a fictional character, as very much a ‘real’ person who is striving to survive through the dark times and events that she encounters. The hardships of the time, and the struggles of the people are also very real – eighteenth century Cornwall was no easy life for those who were not wealthy, but this is, essentially, a romance between two superbly portrayed, delightful characters, and from the outset I found myself rooting for Jenna and Jack to win through and reach a happy ending together.

Elegantly written, filled with derring-do, excitement, adventure, danger and betrayal, this debut novel bowls along from start to finish, magnificently incorporating smugglers, nice ‘goodies’, nasty ‘baddies’, and stunningly described scenery.

Readers who enjoy Poldark – whether the new TV drama series, the original series, or Winston Graham’s books, and Daphne du Maurier’s Cornish-set tales (Frenchman’s Creek, Jamaica Inn…) should enjoy this novel. I look forward to encountering more of Ms Cornwall’s talent as a gifted writer.

© Helen Hollick
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12 July 2017

Golden Dragon by V.E. Ulett

Amazon UK £3.84 £9.99
Amazon US $4.89 $9.99
Amazon CA  $13.48

Alternate history / steampunk

Early 19th century

Golden Dragon, by V.E. Ulett, is an alternate history story, set in what in our world would be the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars. Familiar characters like Sir Edward Pellew jostle alongside a steampunk setting where a handful of ships can leave the ocean's surface and set out in flight. It's a curiously compelling vision - the technical advances are handled with a light touch rather than overwhelming the story, and the end result is close enough to this world that one can easily imagine that the events are in fact real. The author has previously written naval stories set in broadly the same era, but without the steampunk additions.

The book is focused predominantly on the characters. The plot moves along at a fair pace, and there are never serious doubts about the outcome. What draws the reader in is the interplay between the small group of protagonists, in particular the central couple. A wide variety of culture and background is stirred into the mix, from both posh and not-so-posh England via the Islamic world, across to the Far East. These are appropriately loaded with opportunities for both synergy and misunderstanding: for me this was a continual source of pleasure.

Technically the book has been well produced. I would have preferred a bit more depth to the story, and felt that there was easily enough imaginative core here to warrant more exploration of the material. For example, the central crisis was over surprisingly quickly, and the story seemed to flit too rapidly from build-up to end-game. In this particular case, perhaps the section could only have been extended by including a level of cruelty and brutality which the author wished to avoid. In the book generally, however, I would have appreciated a bit more development and complexity, and I am sure that this could have been done without losing any pace.

But Golden Dragon is an enjoyable book, with an absorbing vision of an alternate technology that seems credible, and characters with whom one can readily identify. The novel ends with a half-promise of more stories to come, even though this particular investigation is neatly closed off. I for one would be very happy to read more about this world.

© Richard Abbott

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11 July 2017

Traitor's Knot by Cryssa Bazos

two reviews submitted:
Amazon UK £2.99 £9.99
Amazon US $3.83 $11.99

Adventure : Family Drama ; Romance
17th Century 
Any novel set in the 17th century has a tendency to grab my attention, and while I am anything but a fan of Charles I and his disastrous approach to the religious and political conflicts that ultimately led to the English Civil War, there is always something very attractive about heroes who stick to their convictions, no matter what. One such hero is James Hart, a man who fought for the king during the war and who now, in 1650, is making his living as an ostler at an inn.
However, James Hart has a lucrative if illegal side-line, taking great pleasure in dressing up as a highwayman and robbing whatever rich Parliamentarian worthies come his way. On one such occasion, the party he holds up includes a young woman, Elizabeth Seton. She is on her way to join her aunt, fleeing the silent opprobrium of her neighbours in Weymouth where she is more or less universally shunned due to the fact that her father died for the king.
Ms Bazos does an excellent job of developing her two protagonists – and especially their growing feelings for each other. Initially, Elizabeth does her best to deny what she feels for James, but our hero is nothing if not persistent, and soon enough it is them against the world – a world in which a certain Constable Hammond looms uncomfortably large.
It is evident in everything just how well Ms Bazos knows her period. Clothes, food, one herbal remedy after the other, jostle for space with the political drama of the time. The very young new king Charles II (well, he’s plain Charles Stuart to the Parliamentarian rulers of England) lands in Scotland, and soon enough he has mustered an army, determined to march south and reclaim the kingdom his father lost. Ms Bazos is a more than capable guide through all this upheaval, all the way down to Worcester and the battle that officially ended the English Civil War.
It is also evident that Ms Bazos has her heart firmly with the royalists. At times, her depictions of the Parliamentarians are a bit too black and white, with Puritans portrayed as emotionless monsters. Fortunately, she balances this by adding a handful or so of decent Parliamentarians, even if two of these have now thrown their lot with the new king.
Ms Bazos delivers a fluid prose. Her characters come to life as does the setting, and frankly, what more can one want from a historical novel? All in all, Traitor’s Knot is an entertaining read, and I look forward to hearing more from this author.

© Anna Belfrage

# review 2

Ms Bazos's debut has received quite some attention, and rightly so. It is accomplished and well-written, and there is, it appears, more to come, which will please her growing readership.

The novel is set in the aftermath of the fall of Charles I, concentrating on the Royalists who lost everything after Naseby, their loved-ones in the battle, their standing in their communities, their livelihoods. It is set in a world that has changed suddenly and everyone is coming to terms with it, the winners as well as the losers.

James fought at Naseby for the king and now lives with fellow sympathisers in Warwick. To Warwick comes the orphaned Elizabeth from Dorset, escaping her sister's grasping Parliamentarian husband only to be thrown into the sphere of the equally grasping and even more evangelical Parliamentarian Lieutenant Hammond. James and Elizabeth inevitably meet and fall in love, but their lives cannot be settled under the rule of Parliament while the king in waiting, Charles Stuart, bides his time in Scotland.

In some respects this novel unfolds as you would expect - boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, boy and girl are separated. What is less expected in a rather predictable (of course it is, handsome man meets beautiful girl, I mean, what else would happen?) love story, is the gradual build up of the evil Hammond. An enthusiastic army officer descends into religious zealotry and then into madness. And it is this character who lifts this novel into something more than the run-of the-mill romance. He sends shivers down your spine, then, just when you think you have the measure of the writer, she surprises you.

The other single element that lifts this into something more than usual is a small cameo towards the end where Ms Bazos pulls off a wonderful twist perfectly. Beautifully weighted, it works like a dream. To say more would serve only to spoil the story, so read it for yourself.

A very good debut, I look forward to more from this author.

© Nicky Galliers

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10 July 2017

A Discovering Diamonds review of The Orange Autumn by Judith Thomson

Amazon UK £3.99

Late 17th Century
England, France, Holland and Egypt

Giles Fairfield is the main protagonist in this story about the invasion of William of Orange. A man who fought for Monmouth in the rebellion against James II, Giles was wounded but escaped from the field of Sedgemoor only to find a price on his head. He flees to France and then to Egypt where he becomes a slave trader.

Meanwhile, his brother-in-law, Philip Earl of Southwick, plots once again to place William on the throne and sends his servant to find Giles, intending him to be the bearer of an important document that will convince William to invade and Giles finds himself embroiled in the intrigue he so much wanted to avoid.

A well paced novel, with some interesting cameos from Samuel Pepys and Judge Jeffreys amongst others. I thought the plot had one or two 'holes' and there was a little over-use of exclamation marks, but overall well written, and the passages of when Giles was a slave trader were quite impressive.

Recommended for those who have an interest in this era of English history which, I feel is under-subscribed: Ms Thomson has made a good start in filling that gap.

© Richard Tearle

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