Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Book and Cover of the Month - JULY

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

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From our JULY reviews
(selected at the end of the month)

Read Our Review
Published by 
Courante Publishing
designed by 


Read our review
Published by Matador
Read our Review
Published by The Funny Book Company


My Runner up choice is...

I love Ms Harlond's descriptive writing

And my selected Book of the Month is...
This debut novel needed some editing - but the author has realised her 'errors', and despite the novice 'bloopers' I thoroughly enjoyed this novel - an author to watch I think!

Read our review

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For last month's selections see main menu bar

Monday, 30 July 2018

Dangerous to Know: Jane Austen's Rakes & Gentlemen Rogues by Various authors :

by Joana Starnes, Katie Oliver, Karen M Cox, Jenetta James, Beau North, J. Marie Croft, Christina Morland, Lona Manning, A. D'Orazio, Christina Boyd  (Editor)
shortlisted for Book of the Month

AMAZON US $4.90 

Jane Austen fan-fiction

‘ “One has all the goodness, and the other all the appearance of it.” Jane Austen. Jane Austen’s masterpieces are littered with unsuitable gentlemen—Willoughby, Wickham, Churchill, Crawford, Tilney, Elliot, et al.—adding color and depth to her plots but often barely sketched. Have you never wondered about the pasts of her rakes, rattles, and gentlemen rogues? Surely, there's more than one side to their stories. It is a universal truth, we are captivated by smoldering looks, daring charms ... a happy-go-lucky, cool confidence. All the while, our loyal confidants are shouting on deaf ears: “He is a cad—a brute—all wrong!” But is that not how tender hearts are broken...by loving the undeserving? How did they become the men Jane Austen created? In this romance anthology, eleven Austenesque authors expose the histories of Austen’s anti-heroes. "Dangerous to Know: Jane Austen’s Rakes & Gentlemen Rogues" is a titillating collection of Georgian era short stories—a backstory or parallel tale off-stage of canon—whilst remaining steadfast to the characters we recognize in Austen’s great works. What say you? Everyone may be attracted to a bad boy…even temporarily...but heaven help us if we marry one.’

To dip in and out of short stories is a blessing sometimes after a busy day, or on a journey, when it is not always desirable to become engrossed in a two-or-three-hundred page novel. This Jane Austen spin-off is a delight. I guess all of us who are familiar with Austen’s novels have often wondered more about the background lives of the important sub-characters: Willoughby, Wickham, Colonel Fitzwilliam, Thomas Bertram et al, as these authors obviously have – and their ‘wonderings’ have paid off nicely.

Some stories are tongue-in-cheek, some somewhat sad, some intriguing, some imaginative: yes some are better than others, but that is a matter of personal taste for they are all well- and cleverly-written with well-portrayed characters and lovely touches of witty humour, or tear-jerking episodes of sadness. I could, at times, almost expect to hear Ms Austen gulping back a tear or chuckling quietly to herself whilst browsing through the lives of these scoundrels, rakes and rogues.

Most excellent about this compilation of stories is how the individual authors have skilfully retained the feel of Austen’s original novels, through attention to detail, dialogue and a very good research of  the period.

Perhaps it is not original (I think I have heard this as a joke elsewhere) but one line which made me laugh out loud was ‘'I'd have married her if it wasn't for something she said... she said no.”

Good stuff.

© Ellen Hill

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Saturday, 28 July 2018

The weekend - 28th July

No reviews over the weekend but...

... did you miss

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

Friday, 27 July 2018

An Inception of Piracy by Michael Calpino

AMAZON UK £2.39 £10.50
AMAZON US $3.37 $16.99

18th century

In the midst of the War of the Spanish Succession, Giovanni Bartolli sails as his father’s emissary to England to negotiate a trade deal with the Royal Navy. Although he has often accompanied his father on prior missions, this is the first opportunity in which success rides on Giovanni’s shoulders, and he’s determined not to disappoint his father. But England is a foreign place and bad advice leads him astray.
The Blue Pearl is not an accommodation for a reputable businessman, especially for one as inexperienced as him. Carousing with the inn’s patrons leads to overindulgence, which befuddles his brain. When he ventures outside, he is attacked and robbed of money and clothes – anything of value. Upon waking, he encounters a press gang that cares little about who he is and why he’s in England. All that matters is he’s young, able to work, and has no impediments.

He soon finds himself aboard HMS Vitol, where insubordination is not tolerated and he feels the sting of the 'cat' across his back. It matters not that he is innocent of the charge; the boatswain dislikes impressed men and Giovanni in particular. A brief respite from the persecution comes when the ship founders during a storm. Giovanni and some of the friends he has among the other pressed men survive, but so does the boatswain and his mates. Another English warship rescues them and, for a brief time, Giovanni sees a different side of the navy since this captain treats men fairly and runs a happy vessel. All goes reasonably well until an accident kills one well-liked seaman and maims another. The men from the Vitol are shunned and the tension thickens. Only the fortuitous appearance of an enemy ship resolves the problem; the English win and the Vitols board the prize and sail for home.

Another chance encounter with the enemy results in the destruction of the prize. Giovanni fashions a raft from among the debris littering the ocean. He also rescues two friends, one of whom is badly wounded. After days at sea, a merchant ship is sighted. A small lie is soon uncovered, leading to charges of desertion and mutiny against Giovanni. The moment the vessel docks in Virginia, the captain vows he will turn Giovanni over to the authorities and see justice at the end of a noose visited upon him.

An Inception of Piracy opens with hope and opportunity that is sabotaged by an unfortunate misstep with unexpected and dire consequences that forever change one’s future path. Each inciting incident intensifies the downward spiral into piracy, yet as anger rises, hope restrains. Calpino vividly recreates the time period and his knowledge of the past paints a realistic backdrop in which the story unfolds and the characters come to life. This historical novel is a gripping portrayal spiced with deep friendships, unexpected romance, and one man’s psychological struggle to comprehend the impossible.

© Cindy Vallar

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Thursday, 26 July 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of The Lockwoods of Clonakilty by Mark Bois

AMAZON UK £3.57 £5.84
AMAZON US $4.98 $18.50 
AMAZON CA $7.26 $24.23
#2 of a series

Fictional Saga
19th century

According to the doctors, he should be dead, but God and Lieutenant James Lockwood have other plans. Wounded at Waterloo, he returns to Clonakilty, Ireland to begin the slow road to recovery. His beloved wife, Brigid, and his five children, as well as their housekeeper, tend to his needs and get reacquainted with him after his long absence fighting the French. But the Ireland he left is not the same, and the peace he so desperately seeks is elusive. Rebels violently interrupt a dinner party at his father’s house and taunting letters threaten his family.

Charles Barr, once a captain in the British army, has been court-martialed and dismissed from service. He blames Lockwood for his disgrace – an added layer to the enmity he already feels for the lieutenant who married Brigid, the woman Barr wanted for his own. His jealousy and hatred intermingle with the syphilis attacking his body and he soon begins a downward spiral into violent madness. He sets in motion a vindictive plan to destroy not only James and Brigid, but their children as well.

Horrific accusations are made that threaten James’s career and his marriage. To avoid scandal, he is offered a position in India with the East India Company. Accepting the offer means permanent exile. To refuse means not only his arrest, but that of his wife as well. Cissy, his daughter, remains in Clonakilty to take care of their ailing housekeeper – a decision that puts her in grave danger because she’s the only one still accessible to Charles Barr.

The Lockwoods of Clonakilty is the second book in a series, but easily works as a stand-alone volume that transports you back to Ireland before the Great Famine. Bois’s three-dimensional characters sweep you into their lives, and he deftly guides them to a riveting climax filled with interesting twists. Like the seanachaís of his ancestors, Bois spins a tale that draws you into an inescapable web where unraveling the mystery and hate-filled vengeance of a madman becomes as vital as food and drink.

© Cindy Vallar

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Wednesday, 25 July 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of Bayou Fire by Sharon E. Cathcart

AMAZON US $4.45 

Present day / 1830s
New Orleans

“Diana Corbett’s childhood was plagued by unceasing dreams of smoke and flames. The nightmares went away, until the noted travel writer’s first night on assignment in Louisiana … when they returned with a vengeance. Could the handsome Cajun, Amos Boudreaux, be the key to unlocking the secret of Bayou Fire?”

Blending two love stories together the author neatly, and cleverly, combines the past with the present to create a novel that is a little different from the normal idea of romantic fiction. I enjoyed the difference.

The author has drawn a very vivid picture of New Orleans and its turbulent history, and she has obviously devoted herself to her research. But do not think that this tale of adventure is all ‘fact, fact, fact’ for it is actually a bit of everything from an action romp to absorbing romance, from irresistible  supernatural to intriguing suspense. New Orleans is an emotive place, especially for those of us who have never been there, its presence brought to our attention in particular during those awful days of the  hurricane which caused such devastation to property and life, so it was very interesting to read about a different side to this steeped-in-history city.

I did spot a couple of minor typo errors, but nothing too serious, and the glossary of Creole terms was interesting, although on a Kindle version it is never easy to make good use of glossaries while reading the actual story – this is where real books come into their own!

The characters were well-drawn and believable, as were the paranormal elements.  A must for lovers of romantic adventure with a twist of the supernatural.

© Mary Chapple

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Tuesday, 24 July 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of Forsaking All Other by Catherine Meyrick

AMAZON UK £2/17 £9.95
AMAZON US $2.94 $13.95 
AMAZON CA $3.84 $18.09


This is essentially a romance set in England in 1585, but it is an exceptionally thoughtful romance. Bess Stoughton is the heroine, a young widow whose father threatens her with a second marriage to an elderly gentleman with a dubious reputation for liking young girls – a plan not to her liking at all. She decides she will find her own husband and within a year, too.

The plot has two main strands that become entwined and cause joy for one young woman and grievous harm to another. The day to day activities of gently reared young ladies seemed to consist of endless sewing interspersed with the odd gathering where the gentlemen add a certain jollity to life, but mixed in with that normality is the danger of life at the time. England is at war against the Spanish, and men died horrible deaths in the Low Countries. Papists in Protestant England were also under severe threat and the author writes very well of the fear that can grip a household when accusations begin to fly.

The author takes the view that Josephine Tey was right when she claimed that if characters “did not sound quaint to each other, then they have no right to sound quaint to us.” She has avoided very modern terminology and only those contractions that Shakespeare used, plus a scattering of 16th century terms, have been allowed to flavour the whole work. The main characters come off the page very well, though I did find the hero a little flawed, or a little weak; I have trouble believing that a man who does well at war can be overruled by his mother.

I found the beginning a little slow and Meyrick’s writing style alternately charming and a tad over-written in places, with some confusion about flashbacks for this reader... although I stayed up late to read the happy ending I had little doubt was sure to come. 1585/6 is about forty years later than the Tudor period I know best, but the exposition is adequate and keeps the reader on course.

 I recommend this book to anyone interested in romantic historical fiction.

© Jen Black

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Monday, 23 July 2018

AN ACCIDENTAL MUSICIAN by Judy Dyble and Dave Thompson

AMAZON US $13.30 

1960s to Present Day

Judy Dyble (rhymes with 'libel' not 'scribble' – as she explains) is not exactly a household name and yet she was there at the beginning of one of Britain's finest bands: Fairport Convention.

From her early days in the Wood Green / Bounds Green suburbs of North London, she takes us on an honest journey through the folkscene of the late 1960's in a refreshing and understated style. She explains how Fairport were really just a bunch of friends with like-minded ideas who got together, leaving their own bands to do so. (Judy was at that time performing semi-regularly as Judy and the Folk Men). The boys in the band were not, at that time, confident of their own singing and so Judy was enlisted.

Yet Judy is much more than a folk singer - a chick in a band – for, after being disappointingly asked to leave the band, she recorded with Giles, Giles and Fripp (the forerunner of King Crimson), Jackie McAuley (formerly of  Van Morrison's Them) and penned and sang lyrics for Marc Swordfish of Astralasia amongst others.

For those who have heard Judy sing, they will know that she has a voice that is pure and clear, full of perfect diction and Englishness; like running your finger around the rim of a wettened wine glass producing a perfect tone. And so it is with this autobiography. She tells of the highs and the lows in a matter-of-fact style; no regrets, no glorification of her part in the revolutions occurring in the music scene. She explains how the industry soured for her to the point that she retired for over thirty years, and deals well with the tragic death of her husband. She dispels the rumours that Sandy Denny was lined up to replace her and tells us that they met only the once over 'a nice cup of tea'. And she confirms that the story of her sitting on the edge of the stage knitting, whilst Richard Thompson and Jimi Hendrix traded licks in an impromptu jam is no urban myth.

Each chapter is headed by extracts from her (modern day) diary – amusing, entertaining and full of wonderful examples of her unique penchant for 'making-words-upness', tales of woodlice, scruffy-eyed blackbirds and her beloved greyhounds.

Today, Judy has been persuaded out of retirement and has performed often at Cropredy (the annual festival organised by Fairport Convention in the village of the same name), reunion gigs with Jackie McAuley under their original name of Trader Horne and a number of gigs with her own Band of Perfect Strangers.

There is one word that I have not yet used, but will do so now: Delightful.

Highly recommended for those interested in Fairport Convention and the late 1960s music scene.

© Richard Tearle

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Saturday, 21 July 2018

The Weekend ...21st July

No reviews over the weekend but...

... did you miss

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

Friday, 20 July 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of Echoes from the Alum Chine by Cynthia Strauff

AMAZON UK £1.19 £12.47
AMAZON US $1.60 $15.00
AMAZON CA $2.55 $18.61

Family drama

On March 7, 1913, the steamer Alum Chine explodes in the Baltimore harbor. Charles Sherwood, the founder of the company that insures the steamer, is among the first to hear the blast. As he struggles to keep calm, Charles suspects that if it is the Alum Chine that has been decimated, he is now in the midst of a nightmare. While he attempts to cope with the consequences that include his son’s diffidence to the calamity, the disaster touches two other families. Helen Aylesforth is the imperious matriarch of her family whose stern demeanor belies her love for those around her, including her daughter, Cantata, who is married to Nicholas Sherwood. The Corporals have served the Aylesforths for generations. Among their six-member family is Lillian Gish, Helen’s shy, forgotten, and observant granddaughter who must somehow find her place in the world, despite the chaos around her.”

This is not an action, page-turner of a novel, except for the explosion of the ship nothing much actually happens … but … this is a story of ordinary people coping with extraordinary consequences. The story is of two families, of how they lived life in Baltimore in the early years of the twentieth century, and had to get on with that life even though enormous things were happening all around and to them.

The description of the period and of Baltimore itself is very well written – as a social history this is an excellent novel, but as character development or an action novel, maybe it doesn’t quite hit the mark?

However, do you need constant action to make a novel an interesting one? Echoes From The Alum Chine has a gentle and sedate rhythm to it, the relationships between the two families is interesting, how they cope is interesting ... as a depiction of family drama in the pre-World War One era of American life, this is an interesting read.

© Ellen Hill

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Thursday, 19 July 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of Echoes Down the Line by David J. Boulton

AMAZON UK £5.99 £9.99
AMAZON US $8.00 $7.78
AMAZON CA $8.21 $11.08

Murder mystery /
19th century
England and Ireland

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the author is a former railway man. His knowledge of railway jargon and the workings of trains and railway procedures is phenomenal. Of course, it is possible that he spent a lot of time on research.

The story opens in Ireland with two brothers who are forced to flee after being involved in an attempted theft of grain that went wrong. Many years later, one of the brothers dies. On the day of his funeral, a dead body is found in the railway yard, which turns out to be the son of the other brother fresh off the boat from Canada. At the same time boxes of dynamite are discovered missing from a rail car.

Enter Sergeant Sam Spray and Constable William Archer. Love interest is in the person of Lizzie Oldroyd who provides lodging and food for the two cops and worries about Sam. Nothing hot and heavy here which suits the period and the story. The most likeable character, however, is an enterprising eleven-year-old boy named Jimmy Allcroft who manages to get in on the sleuthing. Sam loses a few points because of his impatience with Jimmy.

The mystery is put together cleverly and involves Fenians and royalty, and kept me guessing to the end, but it was a little slow moving, and there was just a little too much ‘railway’ in it for my liking. Perhaps inevitably given that the sleuths belong to the railway police, but some rather lengthy descriptions of the movement of trains tended to interfere with my enjoyment of the story.

I do wonder why the cover depicts a horse, as magnificent as he is, pulling a canal barge though. Something railway connected would surely be more suitable? I also feel that maybe the price of the e-book is a little high?

Despite the above, railway enthusiasts will enjoy this story for its detail.

© Susan Appleyard

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Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Barnabas Tew And The Case Of The Missing Scarab by Columbkill Noonan

AMAZON UK £1.99 £6.99
AMAZON US $2.65 $10.99 
AMAZON CA $2.99 $14.23

Victorian / Egyptology
YA  / Fantasy / Humour

When you've been strangled by a mummified Egyptian God, things cannot get any worse. Can they?

Influenced by the adventures of a certain Mr Holmes, Barnabas Tew has set himself up as a private detective, but with very little success. Even in the handful of cases he has solved, his erstwhile client has succumbed in unfortunate circumstances. Unknown to Barnabas and his slightly more intelligent assistant, Wilfred, one of those (dead) clients has recommended him to Anubis because Anubis has a problem: the dung beetle that pushes the sun across the heavens has been kidnapped. Transported by death to Egypt's afterlife, Barnabas and Wilfred set out to interrogate various gods and minor gods, most of whom sport animal heads of differing varieties. Unfortunately, more accidental deaths occur as a result of their investigations.

To say Barnabas is bumbling is paying him a compliment; he is clueless, full of self-importance and arrogant – but all in a 'nice' way so you can't help but like him. Wilfred is little better but tries valiantly to keep his employer out of even more trouble. Needless to say they triumph but for all the wrong reasons.

It doesn't say anywhere that this book is aimed at Young Adults, but I feel that this is its best audience - yet it is eminently readable by us older folk in the same way as, say, Alice's Adventures In Wonderland. There were a few minor typos and perhaps a very small hole in the plot but certainly not a disastrous one. Even a very few modern words or expressions did not seem out of place; this is, after all, a mixture of comedy and fantasy. And we are left with a perfect set up for further adventures with Barnabas Tew.

Entertaining, light- hearted and humorous, excellent for a quick read.

© Richard Tearle

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Tuesday, 17 July 2018

The Blood and the Barley by Angela Macrae Shanks

AMAZON UK £3.99 £10.00
AMAZON US $5.31 $12.99 
AMAZON CA $5.12 $16.82

The Strathavon Saga #1

Fictional Saga

It is the late eighteenth century in the North-Eastern Highlands of Scotland. The Jacobite cause is lost, but local government officials still seek to crush the least hint of rebellion by local crofters, and in the process stamp out illicit whisky-making. In Strathavon, as in most glens of the region, crofters risk losing their homes and even their lives by converting barley into whisky and transporting it on ponies down to the Lowlands because it is their only means of finding the rent to remain on their native land. In the Highlands, land and kinship mean everything.

This is the background to the life of Morven MacRae, the feisty daughter of a notorious smuggler. Morven is an apprentice healer. Her teacher and friend is Rowena Forbes, who the local exciseman is convinced is a witch. The man, McBeath, known locally as the Black Gauger for his appalling ways, believes he is possessed by her, but he is also obsessed by her in other ways: he desperately wants her as a woman, and that means as his wife. This involves eliminating her husband and threatening to have her turned out of the glen if she refuses him. Which she does, for McBeath is corrupt in mind and body. Fortunately, Rowena has a young kinsman, Jamie Innes, who comes to her aid.

Jamie’s family were evicted from Strathavon when he was small boy by the Black Gauger. Jamie is tall and strong, and just about everything a young hero should be except for the fact that he is a little too naïve and credulous. But that can be attributed to his youth and lack of real-life experience, and we hope he will ‘grow’ during the course of the story. Naturally, when Jamie appears in the glen and immediately saves Morven’s life we can sense where the story will end. But it’s not that simple for either of them: their fate is tied to what is happening to Rowena Forbes. This in turn leads to numerous misunderstandings and unforeseen complications.

But this is far more than a boy meets girl story. It is also a portrayal of what kinship, loyalty and land means to Highlanders and the author’s description of the Highlands is so evocative one can almost feel the texture of the heather. Macrae conjures a mystical land of crags and burns, where belief in the old ways still hold and are made plausible by its isolation from what Wordsworth described as the ‘getting and spending’ of everyday life. Macrae also uses the local dialect in dialogue so well I didn’t bother to check the meaning of words in her glossary: it all made sense to me in context. What mars the story, however, is the persistent ‘head-hopping’. In trying to create the community of the area, from the humble crofters to the land-owning duke, the author gives us necessary backstory and explains kinship links but goes a little too far in providing the reader with every character’s mood and motivation. The crofters walk off the page as real people, but their jostling motivations cause unnecessary confusion and often slow the action, especially when we get multiple points of view on a single page.

In this respect, Macrae could trust her readers a little more. For example, the type of reader who enjoys this sort of novel will recognise and relate to Sarah, Rowena’s adolescent daughter, whose identity crisis brought on by jealousy of her mother’s young friend, Morven, is exacerbated by the loss of her father and the arrival of a very handsome cousin. Showing us what Sarah does would have been sufficient, thus avoiding confusion as to who says what and why in scenes where she is eavesdropping on her mother, and where we already have two points of view from the people conversing in secret. Similarly, Morven’s parents, who are beautifully portrayed with the tensions of their marital bond and struggle to provide for their family, also intervene with their private hopes, fears and anxieties in key scenes relating to Morven and Jamie. Constantly shifting point of view and giving us multiple inner-dialogues slows the action in crucial moments, and to my mind, hindered the exciting, and otherwise satisfying end. This is a first novel and this is definitely an author to watch – I suggest a stricter technical editor, however, for her future novels.

Nevertheless, this is a well-told tale, and I’d love it to become a saga along Poldark lines. Morven has the makings of an excellent Demelza. The community of the glen, their whisky stills and smuggling born out of necessity make for a convincing backdrop and I look forward to reading more about Strathavon. I recommend The Blood and the Barley to anyone who enjoys family sagas.

© J.G. Harlond

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Monday, 16 July 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of The Tapestry of Death by Howard of Warwick


The Chronicles of Brother Hermitage Book 3

Humour / Mystery
1066 era

This is my first encounter with the work of Howard of Warwick. It won’t be my last. This book is outright humorous. I am reluctant to express an opinion on the humour, because I know from personal experience that nothing turns a reader off a humorous book faster than being told how funny it is. Humour is a strange, individual quality. We have to discover it ourselves. Let me just say that the humour is very British, and I felt compelled to read snippets to my wife as I read the book.

The book is set in 1067, just after the battle of Hastings, and concerns pornographic tapestries. The Normans have arrived and are routinely oppressing the local Saxons. The plot is interesting and well-constructed and contains several surprises. The two main characters are a monk, called Brother Hermitage, who is the king’s Investigator, and Wat the Weaver. I think the weaver is the sidekick, although he seems to play a much more active role than the monk in this book. The overall effect is like a cross between Ellis Peters and Tom Sharpe. This is the third in a series of eleven that feature this monk.

I would have been happier if the book had been better edited; punctuation is not Howard’s strong suit, so a re-edit would be advised as the lack of editing took the edge off it, somewhat.

The cover is splendid, and in keeping with the rest of the series and the tone of the work.

 Recommended, despite the editing errors.

© JJ Toner

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