31 May 2018

Cover and Book of the Month from our May Reviews



designer Cathy Helms of www.avalongraphics.org
with fellow designer Tamian Wood of www.beyonddesigninternational.com
 select our 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)

WINNER

HONOURABLE MENTION RUNNERS UP


selected by Helen Hollick as my personal choice

 Runner Up  
Thoroughly engrossing and enjoyable:
read the review

Book of the Month Winner
I'm not particularly keen on war stories, especially Hitler, the Third Reich etc - but I do like a good 'who done it', something a bit different and an easy, enjoyable read (not that brutal murder is enjoyable! *laugh*.)  Zugzwang fited the bill and ticked all the boxes, so it is my wining selection for this month.n

read the review
For last month's selections see main menu bar

30 May 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of Family Business by R.V. deGroot

AMAZON UK £4.00 £10.97
AMAZON US $5.62 $18.00
AMAZON CA $2.99 $22.92

Family Drama
Holland
WWII

Family Business follows the fortunes of the Meijers, a family living in Holland in the years leading up to and during World War II, and as such, takes us into a world rarely covered by historical fiction novels. In the midst of more familiar stories about the French resistance, or English fighter pilots, the fate of lesser known countries and families is often overlooked, which is a great shame. Ms deGroot remedies this by bringing this time and place vividly to life, through the eyes of Andre and Johan Meijer, and their mother Agatha, the matriarch of the family.

Opening when the brothers are teenagers, we follow their simple daily routines of school, soccer - and a first girlfriend. Almost immediately, we are introduced to the dark and prevailing will of Agatha, who rules the small family and its precious business with an iron fist. Dominating the narrative throughout the novel, Agatha is the protagonist to all good hopes and dreams. Although one has a reluctant admiration for her strength of character, her grim determination to let no outside influence deter the course she has charted for her boys sets up a series of shattered dreams for the young men. When, finally, through the catalyst of their girlfriends and wives they challenge Agatha’s grasp, she is unable to find pride in their independence, and quickly moves to sever their happiness.

The narrative is fluid, with clear dialogue and a mounting tension facing the inevitability of the German invasion. By the time war does come, we are seriously vested in the lives of Andre and Johan and their wives and families. The inevitable heroism and tragedy of war is no less harrowing because of its predictability, and Ms deGroot handles our emotions tenderly and still offers hope for the future.

Reading the afterword, I wonder if Family Business is based on circumstances within Ms deGroot’s family, or on events told first hand by survivors of the war and their children, which makes the story even more fascinating. Although at times the characters are a little black and white (I would have loved to have known more about Agatha, and the events in her life that turned her into such an unlikeable creature), I found the descriptions of their lives compelling, and obviously very well researched. The book is a little slow to start, but the pace picks up, and soon we are facing triumph and adversity side by side with the Meijar family.

A very well-written character-driven historical fiction novel, and one that I am really glad I read. I cheered, I cried, and I felt I became part of the Meijar family, and was reluctant to put the book down at its ending. I hope Ms deGroot may write a sequel, for surely the period of post-war challenges holds many opportunities for more of her compelling family stories.

© Elizabeth St John



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29 May 2018

The Battle of Crecy: A Casebook ed. Michael Livingstone and Kelly DeVries

AMAZON UK £25.00
AMAZON US $ 29.02
AMAZON CA $N/A

Non-fiction
1346
France / Crecy

Despite the title of the book, this volume has value well beyond those with an interest in this one battle, as fascinating as the battle undeniably is.

At five hundred pages of large format softback, this is not a book for the faint-hearted, or weak-wristed; it is far larger than you expect. But it is a treasury of information. This is the most comprehensive collection of sources for the Battle of Crecy ever drawn together in one place, and in full translation with the original text on the opposite page. Letters and chronicles from England, France, Italy and Bohemia, reveal the very many viewpoints and opinions on the one action, and essays at the back explain further and reveal new thinking on the site of the battle, the various combatants and their role as well as general tactics and background to the battle.

This volume serves many purposes. Most obvious is its value as the book on the battle that took place in northern France on 26th June 1346, but it has immense interest beyond that. 

It is an instruction in sources, how to read them and assess the bias, each piece of text being a tutorial in evaluating source material. Who is writing, for whom and why? What are they trying to say? With what authority? Why does it differ to other sources?

The letters are perfect examples of how the great addressed others, those subservient to them, each other. Some begin quite abruptly, others with more flowery language. These are an instruction to all historians and writers of history of the era and those years around how the great and good referred to themselves.

And the other less obvious but very, very useful purpose this volume can be put to - to improve knowledge of the languages of the era - medieval French, Flemish, Latin. With the original text alongside the translation, it is easy to follow the original work and begin to feel more comfortable with a language that may have otherwise been beyond the reader.

For anyone who approaches history, this is as close to the action that you get - these are, in many cases, eye-witnesses and these are their words. For all that this is a big book, such sources so easily obtained is rare and this is to be treasured.

© Nicky Galliers





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28 May 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of The Viper Amulet by Martha Marks


AMAZON UK £3.70 / £12.60
AMAZON US $4.99  / $16.95
AMAZON CA $6.32 / $21.18

Fictional saga
1st century/Early Roman empire
Greece/Euboea/Jerusalem

I definitely recommend this novel. I also feel it needs a ‘trigger warning’ for rape and child harm. If it has a theme, it is suffering, all the time, because it is rare that there is a time when at least one of the characters isn’t in some kind of pain. That isn’t preventing me from highly anticipating the final installment of the series, though!

The second novel in Marks’s early Roman Empire trilogy takes up very shortly after the end of the first. Theodosia Varro has escaped Rome along with Alexander, Stefan, and Lycos, her former slaves. They eventually land on the island of Euboea, off the eastern coast of Greece. Stefan and Alexander had previously befriended a farmer there, while Theodosia had still been in prison in the previous book, and it was to his farm that they fled.

Alexander had also gone searching for his wife, who he learned had died some years previously, but he was able to use rubies that Theodosia had given him to secure a letter of manumission for his son Nikolaos. He brings the boy back with him to the farm, where Stefan has married the farmer’s daughter, and they are starting to make a grand life for themselves. Alexander takes Theodosia, who had given him a new baby son, Doros, and Nikolaos, to the city of Eretria to start a new life for his family. As the years pass, Alexander builds a large shipping business, becoming a respected member of Eretrian society. However, Nikolaos’s rage towards Theodosia and Doros for replacing his own dead mother cause familial rifts that will have devastating repercussions.

Overall, this was another excellent novel by Marks. It picked up almost immediately after the end of the previous, which is appealing. This novel covers a lot more time than the previous, which took place over a handful of years. The Viper Amulet covers close to fifteen years. The sense of time is handled well, with children being born and growing but not with jarring gaps or jumps ahead in time. The characters each develop in their own ways, but in others they may take a step back. It was interesting to see how Theodosia reacted to life as a Greek woman, which was more limited than that of a Roman woman.

My favorite character was Myrene, Theodosia’s slave. She had an awful time in so many ways, but she was the strongest woman in the book and deserves all the credit for most of the good things that happened because of sheer force of will. Yes, things happened for Theodosia, but often because she played on her family’s name, not really any other reason. Myrene is the lady who gets stuff done, often while pregnant, just post-delivery, or just after any number of tragedies and traumas. She is a woman to be reckoned with and respected.

My only real quibble was with Nikolaos. Some animosity towards Theodosia and Doros when he was a child would have been understandable, at least if he had bonded with Alexander once he had been freed from his own slavery. However, it was never really made apparent that such a deep bond had occurred. If father/son bonding took place, it must have happened off the page. Then as Nikolaos aged, he should have outgrown his animosity. Possibly Alexander could have had an adult conversation with him rather than just commanding him to knock it off. If Alexander had decided to disown him in favor of Doros, for example, that would have given Nikolaos an understandable motive for his anger. The rage and hatred he harbors toward Theodosia and Doros is the catalyst for several plot points, so it is necessary, but the way it manifested - basically out of thin air and with no real explanation - got kind of stale after a while.

A very good read.

© Kristen McQuinn




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26 May 2018

It is the Weekend

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





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where you will find all sorts of interesting things
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25 May 2018

Circumstantial Enemy by John Bell


AMAZON UK £2.99 £8.99   
AMAZON US $4.19 $9.99 
AMAZON CA $3.99

Mystery / Thriller
WWII
Croatia/ Germany / Italy /USA

“When Croatia becomes a Nazi puppet state, carefree young pilot Tony Babic finds himself forcibly aligned with Hitler’s Luftwaffe. Unbeknownst to Tony, his sweetheart Katarina and best friend Goran have taken the side of the opposing communist partisans. The threesome are soon to discover that love and friendship will not circumvent this war’s ideals. Downed by the Allies in the Adriatic Sea, Tony survives a harrowing convalescence in deplorable Italian hospitals and North African detention stockades. His next destination is Camp Graham in Illinois, one of four hundred prisoner of war camps on American soil. But with the demise of the Third Reich, repatriation presents a new challenge. What kind of life awaits Tony under communist rule? Will he be persecuted as an enemy of the state for taking the side of Hitler? And then there is Katarina; in letters she confesses her love, but not her deceit… Does her heart still belong to him?”

Circumstantial Enemy is a classic war drama of the “caught-between-the-devil-and-the-blue-sea”-type: political convictions, ideology, love and loyalty bringing heartache and forcing inner turmoil.

Twenty-year-old Tony Babic already has two years’ experience as a pilot under his belt. After previously fighting the Nazis under Serbian command, in 1941 Croatia becomes an independent state under Germany’s influence and Tony is interviewed to join the Croatian air force and fight against the Communist thread.

His training takes place in Germany, subsequent hospitalisation in Italy and eventual imprisonment in Illinois. All the while he corresponds with the woman who owns his heart: Katarina, whose political convictions are strongly against the Nazis.

The book offers plenty of perspective and reflection on choices, options and the course of history. Knowing that this is based on true events makes the story more poignant. An interesting insight into lesser known parts of WW II history and a very enjoyable read.

© Christoph Fischer




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24 May 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of Renaissance: The Fall and Rise of a King by Marla Skidmore


AMAZON UK £2.99 £6.99
AMAZON US $4.19 $10.00
AMAZON CA $5.22 $12.88

Alternative/Fantasy History
Wars of the Roses 1483-5 / Present Day

England

King Richard III lies dead on the battlefield at Redemore Plain, his body stripped and thrown on the back of a horse ready for an unceremonious burial. And then he wakes up on the battlefield. Found and mentored by the mysterious monk, Gilbert, he learns that he is in Purgatory and must account for the past deeds of his life. This is done in a series of episodes covering all the controversial incidents of his short reign.

Naturally, the problem of the fate of the princes arises and the author does not put forward some over-imaginative and previously unthought-of personal theory but sticks with one that is universally recognised as a possibility and makes a good case for its likelihood. In doing so, Ms Skidmore may well elicit some sympathetic reactions towards the character and actions of her Richard.

Yet this is a little more than just another retelling of Richard's story: it proposes the possibility of reincarnation, of a spell in Purgatory where tests and trials are made to determine whether the 'candidate' is ready to enter the Kingdom, and also one man's struggle for redemption when faced with the decisions he made whilst in his earthly life.

I have only two quibbles: the 'tests and trials' are not gone into at all and I was left wondering as to what they might have been – physical, mental, spiritual? The other concern is that the book is only 170 pages, too long for a novella, but very much too short for a novel. Which is a shame because the writing is lovely, well-characterised without being stereotypical and has an ending which is both emotional and thought provoking. The cover is attractive, too: the White King fallen at the feet of its victorious nemesis.

Despite these quibbles, I thoroughly enjoyed this slightly new take on an oft-written about subject.

© Richard Tearle



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23 May 2018

The Mrs MacKinnons by Jayne Davis

Shortlisted for Book of the Month

AMAZON UK £2.99 £11.99 
AMAZON US $4.19  
AMAZON CA $5.32



Family Drama
1799

England

“Major Matthew Southam returns from India, hoping to put the trauma of war behind him and forget his past. Instead, he finds a derelict estate and a family who wish he'd died abroad. Charlotte MacKinnon married without love to avoid her father’s unpleasant choice of husband. Now a widow with a young son, she lives in a small Cotswold village with only the money she earns by her writing. Matthew is haunted by his past, and Charlotte is fearful of her father’s renewed meddling in her future. After a disastrous first meeting, can they help each other find happiness at last?”

Major Matthew Southam, Private Webb and ship’s carpenter Deacon return from war damaged men. Each struggles in his own way and chance brings them, and the starving dog who adopts Matthew, together at Birchanger Hall. The house is neglected and unlived-in since the death of the last owner; it is barely habitable. Someone has stolen the furniture, too.

Much to my surprise I found the way the hall was brought back to life quite as absorbing as the way the men fight their disabilities, interact and integrate with the abandoned estate workers and slowly reach out to others in the village.

Widow Charlotte MacKinnon and her son Davie are instrumental in this transformation, as is Charlotte’s widowed companion, Mary MacKinnon. Well-established in the village of Edgecombe, their lives slowly intertwine with the newcomers in spite of grasping relatives, abusive fathers, thieving labourers, kidnap attempts and not least the hidden dangers of the mantraps installed without permission in the surrounding woods.

There are no Regency balls, no froth and frills in Birchanger; the story is concerned with kindness and getting on with life after seemingly impossible setbacks. The writing is so clean I never really noticed it and the book is long enough at nearly 600 pages for the reader to be truly absorbed in the story and the characters. I particularly liked the character of the small boy, Davie, and how he related to the Major. The idea of learning mathematics by mapping the estate, which he loves doing, is a good one.

It is worth investing some time in this book; it repays handsomely. I was waiting for the villain to be found caught in the one missing mantrap, but.. well no spoilers!.

© Jen Black


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22 May 2018

For Our Liberty by Rob Griffith

Shortlisted for Book of the Month


AMAZON UK £0.99 £6.99
AMAZON US $1.39 $13.00  
AMAZON CA $1.34 $16.45

The Ben Blackthorne Papers #1

Fictional Saga
1800s


France



This has to be one of the best books I have read for Discovering Diamonds, one that stays in the mind. It is an excellent story written in the compelling style of a rather irreverent memoir, with plenty of vibrant narrative and nice little direct addresses to the reader, bringing you right into the action. 

Ben Blackthorne, the bastard son of an English aristocrat and former lieutenant in His Majesty's Army, is in self-imposed exile in Paris in 1803 when war breaks out once again between England and the old enemy France, a country more and more under the control of Napoleon Bonaparte. Ben is not overly concerned about this, until a fellow military man entrusts him with a packet of paper that has to be taken to England. With the help of Royalists, a beautiful woman called Dominique, and those who just don't like Bonaparte, he is smuggled out of France back to safety in England where he delivers the papers and thinks that is an end to the matter. However, the pull of Dominique is too much and against his better judgement, Ben decides to go back into the lion's den.

Ben is an arresting character; we watch him develop and grow into himself, a hero-in-training, not the finished article, but close to it by the time we leave him. He is filled with self-doubts and a huge black cloud looms large over him, but he finds a way to dispel that as he also finds a use for himself.

Dominique is not a typical female lead, not at all soft or useless; strong, powerful, independent, very modern and real. You have to like her.

To nit-pick - and with books this good you desperately want them to be perfect - the denouement is possibly a bit rushed and lacks the emotional power of other passages. Otherwise the plot works, the structure of the story is good, the characters well drawn and compelling, and the style is wonderful.

© Nicky Galliers



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21 May 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of In a Time Never Known by Kat Michels



AMAZON UK £3.60 £7.10
AMAZON US $8.00 
AMAZON CA $6.39

Family Drama
American Civil War

In a Time Never Known is a fictional account of different people’s lives during the American Civil War. Author Kat Michels presents the reader with characters from differing walks of life and with differing attitudes to the war and its outcome. Woven within their stories is a web of espionage: within this web are complex threads of conflicting loyalties and romantic love. The story begins in a somewhat light manner, but then, as characters develop the story deepens and broadens.

Anna, a young woman from the North, is married against her will to a plantation owner, Andrew Bell. He is the stereotypical white Southern male of the period; he abuses his slaves and his wife, and shows no affection for anyone or anything save his spoilt daughter Kady, who grows into a crinoline princess of the worst kind. Anna, however, finds a meaning for her life when the man with whom she is secretly (very dangerously) conducting an affair recruits her into a spy ring for the North. The novel wobbles a little here, for Anna seems oblivious to the risks she is running and when her daughter insists she too become a spy there are long and loud conversations about it in Bell’s house. But from this point on the story becomes more convincing. We see Kady’s growth, firstly into a reckless do-gooder, then a brave woman risking her life to get messages to Union generals, as a means of ending the tragedy of this war.

The story is not just about Anna and Kady, however, it is also about Kady’s two husbands (no explanation here for it would be a spoiler), especially Thomas Henry, who is a complex Southern soldier, tormented by the deaths he has caused. We also follow Emma, who sees Thomas Henry saving her baby brother and initially believes him to be a hero. When she learns it was he who killed her family she sets out to get revenge.

Along with these characters there are numerous others, all of whom have inter-connected stories. In this respect, Michels’ novel is compelling reading, but it does get a little confusing at times and a list of characters at the beginning would have helped. Confusion is also caused by similar sounding names, and a slightly random use of first and second names: Thomas Henry is called both Thomas and Henry by his wife, and he has a companion called Tom; at another point I mixed up Anna and Emma, too.

Nevertheless, this is an intriguing account of the lives slaves and plantation owners, unexpected spies and long-suffering, always hungry, soldiers. Ultimately, one hopes there will be a happy ending for them but Michels has stuck to real events and the regrettable outcome of all wars, and while there is closure and a better future for some, nobody escapes unscathed.

In a time Never Known is a well-written, well-researched historical novel and I recommend it to anyone interested in the American Civil War, and those who enjoy a family saga. This novel is not set against the panoramic background of Gone With the Wind – indeed, a lot of the action occurs in the Dismal Swamp, which is crawling with all manner of venomous snakes – but it is a ‘big book’ and a satisfying, albeit not always easy read. Kat Michels is an author to follow.

© J.G. Harlond 


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