30 April 2018

APRIL Cover and Book of the Month selecti



designer Cathy Helms of www.avalongraphics.org
with fellow designer Tamian Wood of www.beyonddesigninternational.com
will select the Cover of the Month
with all winners going forward for Cover of the Year in December 2018
(and honourable mentions going forward for Honourable Mention Runner-up)
Note: where UK and US covers differ only one version will be selected

* * *
Novels Reviewed During APRIL
(selected at the end of the month)
WINNER



HONOURABLE MENTION RUNNERS UP

by designer Kit Foster
  
(Unknown designer)


From our APRIL  REVIEWS
I thoroughly enjoyed all novels on my 'shortlisted selection' this month, but I've selected Truly are the Free by Jeffrey K Walker as my runner-up because it was a pleasure to read, and enjoy, something different.
read the review
And my selected Book of the Month is...
Yes - I'm matching our Cover of the Month: a superb book outside and inside! 

Read the review HERE

For last month's selections see main menu bar

28 April 2018

It is the weekend


No reviews over the weekend 
but did you miss...





WHY DO WE WRITE? 
by Barbara Gaskell Denvil



click here to go to page

and 



The Bad Boy Hero

 by Helen Hollick






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* * *
and have you seen our


where you will find all sorts of interesting things
 to amuse, entertain and inform!













27 April 2018

1885 Crossings by A. E. Wasserman



AMAZON UK £4.99 £8.95
 AMAZON US $ 6.99 $11.95 
AMAZON CA $5.99

Book three the Langford Series

Fictional Saga
1800s
US / England

Anna’s hand holding the letter trembled as her vision rocked, going in and out of focus. She felt as though she was falling backward and at the same time rolling forward, expecting to land face first on the floor. She put her hand on the table to brace herself. She no longer heard the songbirds in the buckeye tree outside the window, or the hoofbeats on the cobblestones passing the front door, or any sound at all. The world around her ceased to exist, only the paper with Henry’s written words: his own account of what happened during the past year. The entire time, she’d known he wasn’t telling her everything but this … she could never have imagined any of it. The hard fact was, Henry will never escape the truth.’

The interesting thing about this series, apart, of course from being a set of engrossing tales and an absorbing series, is that we see the main characters, Henry, Anna and Langsford, in a different light in each story. And each story leaves you wondering about them – which in turn leads to surprises in the next instalment. The narrative is engrossing, the political and mystery elements  twist and turn equally so, and all I can say, without giving away any spoilers, is 'expect the unexpected' because Ms Wasserman, in addition to being a superb writer, is very adept at pulling surprises out of the bag.

1885 sees Anna and Henry in London, under difficult circumstances, the narrative running on from 1884 No Boundaries, (not yet reviewed by #DDRevs) and then continuing  in  1886 TiesThat BindMs Wasserman is a very talented writer, and certainly seems to know her detail, especially where London in the late 1880s is concerned, but not just the city itself, its streets and its sights and smells, its elegant thoroughfares and its dark, cobbled streets, but its inhabitants as well, all coming vividly to life beneath the author’s skilled hands. The narrative ebbs and flows between hope and trouble, just as in real life, with the characters facing each step along the way just as real people do.

A worthy read – but start with 1884 to gain the full appreciation of Ms Wasserman’s excellent tales!

© Ellen Hill


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26 April 2018

Truly Are The Free by Jeffrey Walker

Volume Two of the Sweet Wine of Youth series
shortlisted for Book of the Month



Amazon UK £3.99 £11.99  
 Amazon US $5.40 $14.62 
 Amazon Ca $5.18 $18.89

Fictional Saga / military
WWI  
France, Ireland, US

Boston native Ned Tobin, having previously survived the Somme, falls in love with Adèle Chéreaux. Soon after, Ned is called home and Adèle flees the final German advance of the war. Harlem lawyer Chester Dawkins joins a regiment and is anxious to fight the deep-seated racism that follows. His sister, Lena, is left behind to deal with crippling family debt. Chester and Ned wind up in the same regiment, each battling to overcome their prejudices and work toward a common purpose. All the while, Ned wonders if he will ever find Adèle again.”

What happens when a writer combines historical fact with historical fiction – and makes a very good job of it? The answer: an absorbing and interesting, beautifully written  read. Mr Walker has obviously done his research and incorporated his extensive knowledge into a novel that not only brought to life some very vivid characters, but had a narrative that kept me turning the pages. The opening poem was truly spellbinding. Do read it twice, or three times or...

This is the second part of a trilogy, and I regret not reading the first part first (None Of Us The Same ) Not because this instalment did not ‘stand-alone’ but because I realised that I had missed out on a very good novel. The stories of the characters - vignettes of various lives - bring home the profound effects of war, and its aftermath on ordinary people: those fighting in it, those separated by it and those surviving it, one way or another, and those who come home from it, not always in one piece or the same person.

This is an American story of what we Brits tend to think of as a British War (often forgetting, I think to our shame, that ‘WW’ stands for ‘World War’) which I found to be refreshingly different: a different view, a different perspective of familiar events such as the trenches of the Somme  and such. Things also not usually covered (especially in ’British’ versions of the war and its consequences) were so very well incorporated by the author, matters such as racism, sexuality and social prejudices.

The cast too, is enthralling and entertaining: not just soldiers slogging their way through the mud and keeping their heads down from the bombardment of German shells. We meet musicians, farmers, gangsters, all ordinary people caught up in the extraordinary circumstances of war.

I look forward to the third part with great enjoyment.
Highly Recommended 


© Helen Hollick



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25 April 2018

The Gathering Storm by Julia Brannan


Book Three: The Jacobite Chronicles
 Shortlisted for Book of the Month


Amazon UK £1.99 £8.04
Amazon US $2.75 $9.99  
 Amazon CA $3.82 $12.99

Fictional Saga /Romance
1700s
France, Britain

The year is 1744, and Prince Charles Edward Stuart is stranded in France, his hopes temporarily frustrated, as the planned French invasion to restore his father to the British throne has had to be abandoned. The prince, frustrated beyond endurance, makes an impulsive decision that will change not only the lives of the MacGregor family, but the history of Britain, forever.

Those of us who enjoy history, be it fact or fiction, all know of the Jacobites and Bonny Prince Charlie, even though we may not know the details or the players involved. Ms Brannan certainly does know the detail – and the players, and superbly brings them all to life with drama, romance, adventure, dangerous, sometimes even violent events, and a nice little touch of humour in places, all of which create that essential role of believability.

Beth and Alex are our main characters, the latter now struggling to maintain the secrecy of his spying for Prince Charles, while Beth discovers the intricacies of living as a Scots Highlander – but even the secondary characters are interesting in this third part of such an absorbing tale of conflict, love, hopes and dreams.

I thoroughly enjoyed Part Three, and look forward to Part Four, but I do wonder if new readers would be better to start at the beginning with Mask of Duplicity? The background history included in the Gathering Storm is stand-alone, but to get to know the characters, what they are doing and why, starting in the middle is perhaps not recommended. But then, all good things should be started at the beginning, not half-way through!

I dislike comparing one novel to those written by other authors, for each writer has a style and ideas of their own, but followers of Outlander (and, although an earlier period, Ms Belfrage’s timeslip Graham Saga) should enjoy Ms Brannan’s enthralling Jacobite series of adventures.

© Anne Holt







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24 April 2018

Floats the Dark Shadow By Yves Fey


AMAZON UK £3.76
AMAZON US $5.16
AMAZON CA $5.50

Occult / Suspense-thriller
19th Century
Paris

How does one describe a book that so vividly paints another time, another place? Maybe we should start where it all occurs, Paris in the last few years of the 19th century. The city is a hub of creativity – after all, we’re talking about Paris, right? Poets, painters, musicians, they all converge on the French capital, eager to create art and revel in life and sin. The city is brought to magnificent life by the author, testament to hours and hours of diligent research. However, Paris of La Belle Epoque is not a kind city, it is a city where the dark stands side by side with the light, evil jostling for space with good.

Central to the plot is the macabre if fascinating story of Joan of Arc and one of her most flamboyant captains, Gilles de Rais. This ancient story forms an essential background to the sinister events that unfold during two brief months in the decadent Paris of the late 19th century, and to further spice things up, we have Satanists and dabblers in the occult, we have an angry seething city, with anarchists and revolutionaries calling for death to the bourgeoisie.

Enter our protagonist, Theo. She is a young American woman who has come to Paris to paint. Through her French cousin, Averill, Theo has become a member of an avant-garde group that calls themselves Les Revenants. Young and driven by passion to change the world, Theo’s companions live right on the edge, drinking absinthe and attending some rather odd events, such as a concert in the catacombs of Paris, the living audience complemented by the thousands upon thousands of skulls that adorn the surrounding walls. (Very evocative, let me tell you.)

And then, the children start disappearing.  Quite often children no one will miss – or with parents too poor to demand the attention of the police. One of these children is a boy Theo knows. Another of these children is the protégé of one of Paris’ foremost mobsters, and he does have the clout to get the police moving, which is when Michel Devaux enters the scene. Yet another child Theo knows disappears. And another. One of these children – a blind little girl – is discovered gruesomely murdered, and the only link Inspector Devaux finds is that all the children, in one way or the other, have had contact with one or more of Les Revenants.

Floats the Dark Shadow is told mainly from the POV of Theo and Michel. One is a young woman besotted with her cousin, who now and then worries her absinthe-addicted cousin may be the culprit, the other is a determined officer of the law, a man combating demons of his own. As the book progresses, Theo and Michel grow into complete human beings – especially Michel, a man whose character has been tempered through terrible loss and staggering guilt. Theo is less complex, but this is in keeping with her youth, so it never jars.
Fey’s villain is a tormented and complicated soul. His atrocious deeds make us shudder, the despair in his actions is evident, eliciting an odd mix of disgust and compassion from the reader. The reader is kept guessing as to the villain’s identity right to the end, one elegant layer after the other being added to the complex plot. How the book ends, I will not reveal, but by the time those two terrible months are over, Theo is no longer the young woman she was, her innocence and belief in the essential goodness of her fellow man gone for good. Sad? Yes—but very “real”. Fortunately, Theo is young enough to embrace the future and chalk up recent events on her experience account.

Floats the Dark Shadow can be a demanding read. The prose is not of the fast-paced variety and it took some chapters before this reader was fully hooked. It is also full of literary references – a delight for those among us who have stumbled upon them before, perhaps a challenge to others. But for those that persevere beyond the first few pages, Yves Fey offers quite the insight into the long-gone Paris of the Belle Epoque. The language is sensuous and rich, it weaves a tapestry of sound and scents, of events and emotions, which transports the reader to those brief weeks a long gone May, when the trees rained cherry blossom from above, while in the darker recesses of the city, evil prowled.

© Anna Belfrage


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How we Discover our Diamonds - a look at how the system works.

23 April 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of Two Journeys Home by Kevin O’Connell

A Novel of Eighteenth Century Europe


Amazon UK £4.54 £11.86
Amazon US $6.28 $15.99
Amazon CA $7.69 $21.68

Fictional Saga
1700s
Europe

Starting to read a series with a sequel can be tricky business, though many authors routinely employ the technique of briefly filling in, whether via a quickie paragraph to bring readers up to speed, or a few details scattered here and there. In most instances this works out and all is well. Kevin O’Connell in Two Journeys Home takes it all a bit further by embedding details within the lead character’s reflections, as well as third-person narrative, and it does more than merely work. Because the information is so well paced, the author is able to choose carefully where he places it, and the natural feel within the acquisition of details of Eileen O’Connell’s life in The Derrynane Saga’s first installment, Beyond Derrynane, makes her story so much more readable and enticing.

Two Journeys Home tells Eileen’s story in between the two titular voyages, once upon arriving home to Ireland following several years spent at the Austrian court of Empress Maria Theresa, the second after her return there following a marriage attempt forbidden by her family in the interest of protecting the illegal import business that created their wealth. Readers follow her relationship with her young charge Antoine, the empress’s last daughter, who has a future role in perpetuating alliances via marriage.  The author explores Eileen’s memories and rapport with the girl, so close that she privately addresses her Irish caretaker as Mama.

O’Connell’s prose really is quite vivid and sensory, with lavish and lovely descriptions painting images not only of breathtaking scenery, but also, if it could be said, of interaction between characters and how they experience various moments within their journeys through life. Their inner landscape is given due attention and it is not rare to feel almost a sense of delight in response to some passages, owing to a sensation of being able to both practically hear the individual’s lines as well as relate to the perspective from which they utter them. Too, we are introduced to other connections, including some of Eileen’s relations in the Irish regiments of the Austrian and French armies, who contribute to the story as a richly related family drama in addition to fantastic and revealing historical fiction.

One difficulty I did have with O’Connell’s prose is his overuse of rather long and somewhat arduous insertions requiring frequent re-reads that take away from the passages’ fluidity. Fortunately, after about the novel’s first third, these ease up and we can once more immerse ourselves in a fascinating journey through rarely-glimpsed perspective, that of an Irish experience in Catholic Europe as well as a senior servant within the Hapsburg dominion.

Though the greatest part of outright conflict appears in the book’s first half, and the second doesn’t necessarily address the “mélange of political, relational and religious upheaval” Eileen faces, as referenced in the book’s own blurb, there is real allure with the cast of characters, how they relate to one another and the contexts within which they are placed. Moreover, a tension does indeed build as Antoine’s marriage looms and a growing sense of unease develops as readers begin to detect a familiarity with this tale and how Eileen, despite her final assessment of her own, “smaller” life back in Ireland as preferable to Antoine’s luxurious future role, has no way to know how it all will play out. It is as if we are impotent in the face of future danger and maligning forces; we witness it through the veil of time and the players we see cannot hear our warnings as each goes off to their futures and final destinations and we can only watch.

Two Journeys Home concludes before going into the greater part of that future, with Eileen’s connections to her past still very intact, and a sequel approached without previous knowledge of the story becomes one we are drawn to follow to the saga’s very end.

© Lisl Zlitni


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21 April 2018

It is the weekend...


No reviews over the weekend 
but did you miss...





WHY DO WE WRITE? 
by Barbara Gaskell Denvil



* * *
and have you seen our


where you will find all sorts of interesting things
 to amuse, entertain and inform!
















20 April 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of The Cry of the Heron by Dick Allan

A tale of love and envy on eighteenth century England's waterways



AMAZON UK £9.99  
AMAZON US $3.19 
AMAZON CA $3.90

Family drama / nautical
1700s
England

George Cartwright’s father dies after an altercation with Billy, the son of his rival, Nathaniel Cryer. A heart attack was the cause, but Billy finds himself accused of murder and is sentenced to transportation, but is apparently drowned during the sea voyage.

The feud between the two families expands as the Cartwrights do well for themselves while the Cryers’ desire for vengeance grows  darker.

Set in the harsh world of the bargemen of the late eighteenth century, the descriptions of river and canal life seem well-researched, depicting the trade and daily life of these water-world highways that were essential to the expanding trade of the industrial revolution.  

The story is perhaps a little ‘tell’ not ‘show’ in style, and there were a few clichés and oft-used phrases (‘mind’s-eye’, ‘smouldered with rage’) which are a shame, as I think the author has the ability to be more imaginative with his words, as shown by his delightful descriptions of the rivers, canals, boats and wildlife. And perhaps a run-through by an editor would have picked up the inconsistencies of using fourteen-year-old but 12th Century (twelfth century would have been better).

However, as something a bit different, and for lovers of all things boats, this is a tale worth reading – especially if you happen to be taking a vacation along the backwaters of the English canals.

© Anne Holt




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19 April 2018

Queen’s Courier by Jen Black


AMAZON UK £1.20 £8.99
AMAZON US $1.66 $14.53
AMAZON CA $1.95

Fictional saga
1500s Tudor
Scotland

Jen Black’s novels are a delight to read, not merely because of the enjoyment of ‘romance’ but because she is adept at diversifying from one period to another with apparent ease. This one is set in that troubling Tudor era where England and Scotland do not see eye-to-eye. Here, the future Mary Queen of Scots has her life mapped out by her mother, Mary of Guise and the English monarch, Henry VIII. But not all maps are reliable or pre-ordained, nor do the map-makers necessarily agree with each others’ marks on the charts they hope to produce.

The Queen’s Courier is a sequel to Abduction of the Scots Queen, where Matho Spirston had kidnapped Mary, an infant, and given her into the care of Margaret Douglas - Meg - the daughter of the Earl of Angus and Henry VIII’s sister, with Meg then being blamed for the deed. But it is not necessary to read this first novel (although I would recommend it!)  

Matthew, Earl of Lennox, champions Meg but he is greedy for power, and as the niece to the English King, Meg herself  is obliged to retain her virginity and follow the King’s permission for marriage. As for the future Mary Queen of Scots, Henry wants her as wife to his son, Edward. Her mother has different plans.

The author, in addition to being able to write delightful novels, is skilled at taking the reader right into the feel of time and place, by painting visual pictures within her narrative. Her research is well done, as is her depiction of the unsettled politics of the period, with all the upheaval of war, intrigue, scandal, plot after counter-plot and the dangers of being an appointed spy where messages had to be taken in utmost secrecy between Scotland, London and France.

Jen Black’s characters are believable, the diplomacy, the scheming, the hopes, dreams, nightmares and dangers all zip along at a good page-turning pace. The only regret I had is knowing the eventual fate of Mary Queen of Scots!

© Ellen Hill


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18 April 2018

A Discovering Diamonds Review of Whippoorwill by R L Bartram




AMAZON UK £3.99 £7.84   
AMAZON CA $6.71

Family drama
1800s / American Civil war
US

Cecile ('Ceci') Prejean is a fourteen year old tomboy, much to the annoyance of her plantation owner father. He assigns his Creole slave Hecubah to teach her the ways of a lady. This she achieves and a ball is held for Ceci's eighteenth birthday, where she meets – or, rather, re-meets – handsome Trent Sinclaire, a graduate from West Point. The inevitable happens and just a few weeks before their wedding, civil war breaks out and Trent is recalled to take his place as Lieutenant in the Union army.

When Ceci's widower father and her sister are killed accidentally in New Orleans, she is approached by Henry Doucet, spy-master to the Confederate army. Ceci and three other girls are trained and given the names of birds as their call signs: Ceci's is Whippoorwill.

This fast-paced story deals well with the use of female spies by both sides and Ceci's transformation from tomboy to efficient spy is interesting. For me, Hecubah is the outstanding character – world weary, wise and funny.

The cover cleverly shows Ceci both in 'Southern Belle' and Southern spy mode with an additional image of her and Trent. I found, however, that my imagination was stretched somewhat with Hecubah's sudden and dramatic reappearance into the story, and there were one or two minor niggles for this Brit reader, particularly with the use of American South-type dialogue, but nevertheless this will be of interest to the many fans of the American Civil War and romance of the ‘Gone With the Wind’ era genre.

© Richard Tearle



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17 April 2018

The Light in the Labyrinth by Wendy J Dunn



 Amazon UK £3.67, £12.99
Amazon US $5.08
Amazon CA $6.01 $21.95

Family drama
1500s / Tudor
England

That winter of 1535, fourteen-year-old Katherine Carey idolises her father, hates her step-father and desperately wants to leave home and join her aunt at court. Her mother is Mary Boleyn, the aunt in question Anne Boleyn, approaching what will be the last six months of her life. The court belongs to Henry Tudor. Thanks to her step-father, Katherine finally joins her aunt and immediately discovers that court is not the happy place she expected it to be.

Secrets and plots abound. One of them concerns Katherine directly, and turns her life on its head; others centre on bringing down the Boleyn Queen. This book is directed at Young Adult readers, a fact I did not appreciate until I had finished it and read some reviews. Though Katherine did seem young in the first few pages, her perception of her aunt’s sufferings, the need to keep secrets and keep herself safe from harm all seem to belong to someone much older than fourteen. Her awareness that she has met the man she will love forever also seems far removed from the usual fourteen-year-old crushes of today. Her character is well portrayed, as is that of her aunt, but other characters are given less attention. Distinguishing one lady-in-waiting from another was difficult and Henry himself comes across as a figurehead.

The writing is smoothly executed, and the pace is adequate, though a tad slow in places. I enjoyed the book of poems conceit and have read of something similar in reference to Lady Margaret Douglas, who was some six years older than Katherine. Whether the writings match Katherine’s inner thoughts I leave to each reader to decide. In many ways she reaches adulthood in those fateful six months and certainly comes to terms with her step-father, which was rather sweet.

Katherine’s loyalty to her aunt means the ending was not an anti-climax - though of course we all know how the Boleyn Queen’s life had to end. The book is a good read for any age and I would recommend it to those who enjoy the period.

© Jen Black

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