30 August 2018

Cover and Book of the Month - AUGUST

 


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 AUGUST
(selected at the end of the month)
WINNER

Read our review HERE 
Cover designed by publisher SEVERN HOUSE

Honourable Mention Runners Up

read our review HERE
Read our review HERE
read our review HERE 

From our AUGUST REVIEWS


Runner Up - Chosen because I enjoyed the adventure 
- great fun (and terrific writing!)
Read our review HERE

And my selected Book of the Month is...

read our review HERE
Thoroughly enjoyed this one as well, but it squeezed into top place because I adore novels about the past of old houses. (Which is why I love living in my own old  Devon farmhouse built circa 1769 - I often wonder who lived here, what they did, were they happy or sad? The house has a happy atmosphere, though, so mostly the former I think.) The novel was a little difficult to get into for the first couple of pages because the opening narrative hops between past and present but 'hopping' never really bothers me (probably because I have a continuously hopping-about mind anyway!) and once you get the idea of what the author is doing the novel becomes an absorbing page-turner.

I know just what the lead character, Freya, meant when she said it felt like her house 'hugged her' when she first entered through the front door. Exactly the same happened to me when I first walked into the old part of our house. Maybe the romance side of the story was predictable - but that's the way romances are meant to be.

I loved the scenes from the past - expertly done (I have several 'ghost's' who remain with us here in my Devon house as welcome guests!)

My only criticism is that I think the cover could be more eye-catching, the present one doesn't give a feel of what the story is about. Such a delightful story deserves a gorgeous cover I think. And why not a hare on the cover given that a hare is almost a lead character?
Apart from that one tiny miff I loved this novel!

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For last month's selections see main menu bar

A Plague On Mr Pepys by Deborah Swift

Shortlisted for Book of the Month



Biographical Fiction
17th Century
London

Never before have I encountered two characters whose heads I really wanted to bang together! Bess Bagwell is a social climber; husband Will is a skilled carpenter but lacks gumption. Bess tries hard to push Will forward; Will is content to wait for work at the dockyards. Rearing an ugly head is Jack Sutherland, Will's cousin, a wastrel and con man with a dozen get-rich-quick schemes behind him, all failures. Not only does Jack wheedle Will's savings out of him for yet another new scheme, he also foists his three young sons on Bess to look after whenever he is 'busy'. Jack is a widower and the boys are very fond of their aunt and uncle.

In order to try to get Will some work, Bess, through a mutual friend, approaches Samuel Pepys for help, which he readily agrees to. After all, Bess is an attractive young woman and Mr Pepys is well known for his 'dalliances'. And in the background is Agatha, Bess' mother, a woman whom Bess despises for her past.

An explosive cocktail of dominant, manipulating personalities leads to tension and then outright conflict between Bess and Will as they lie to each other, withhold truths and struggle for every penny to pay the loan on their new house. They get even deeper into debt, Jack takes more and more liberties and Pepys pursues his lusts. Things might have got better when Pepys secures Will a position on board ship, but Navy pay is always delayed and Bess is left to fend for herself for months on end.  It is at this point that I wanted to shout, 'For goodness sake, sit down and talk to each other!'

Which rather goes to show just how well Ms Swift has painted her characters, both major and minor. They stumble from disaster to disaster, one step away from ruin whilst Jack, amazingly, flourishes. The atmosphere of post-Restoration London is very well captured and the constant turn of events will make the reader reluctant to finish any session. Quite who is the villain of the piece is hard to determine: in a way, they all are.

It isn't quite perfect: my version had a few formatting and typographical errors (no blame to the author on that) and I did  have a couple of continuity issues – did Mr Hertford's card table ever get made? This appears to be the second of a short series but can be read totally independently.

The author has kindly added some notes at the back. The Bagwells were real people and a Mrs Bagwell was certainly one of Pepys' mistresses as his diaries reveal.

Oh – did I mention the Plague? Do watch out for the Plague, it can be quite brutal …

Warmly recommended for lovers of this period and especially those interested in Mr Pepys.

© Richard Tearle




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29 August 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of The Corsican Widow by Vanessa Couchman



Family Drama
1900s
Corsica

Truth and lies, shame and honour, a death penalty and misguided revenge, and an entire island’s future in the balance . . . The interwoven elements of this story make for a heady mix, yet it is all kept under control in a sad story about a girl who is the victim of her social circumstances and the prevailing morals of her time.

Valeria Peretti’s family have very little: a house, a patch of land, and their self-respect. Respect or ‘honour’ is the only thing a poor family can boast in this harsh Corsican environment; it is Valeria’s mother’s single proud possession. This reputation, and the fact that Valeria is tall, strong and healthy, leads to her being chosen as a second wife by a wealthy widower. The loss of it, when after her husband’s early death Valeria seeks a few moments passion with an impossibly charismatic shepherd, means her death. A neighbour accuses Valeria of poisoning her husband (Valeria was giving him herbal infusions to help his stomach pains); the village elders learn of her affair with the shepherd, if one can even call it that, and Valeria is condemned to die – by poison. Her mother insists on giving her the fatal potion. Saying what happens next would be an unforgivable spoiler, suffice it to say Valeria escapes to Marseilles, a vast, heartless city, where she enters another desperate struggle for survival – and the life of her unborn child.

This should have been a gripping tale, but if I wasn't gripped quite as much as I could have been it is because despite the emotional intensity of Valeria’s tale and the tensions on the island the narrative is rather one-paced. As with her previous novel about Corsica the author’s passion for her subject is evident; the description of the island is beautiful, the account of Valeria’s hard life is convincing, but dialogue lacks natural rhythm and spontaneity, and a few too many passages tell the reader what to think. This makes it an easier, more accessible read, but it meant that while I had a great deal of sympathy for Valeria I could not truly engage in her plight or rejoice in her rescue.

Nevertheless, this is a good story, and well worth reading – especially if you are familiar with Mediterranean islands or its coastline. As Couchman points out in her Author’s Note, the condemnation of Valeria by the town elders is based on a recorded event. What happens in 18th century Corsica may seem extreme by modern standards, but the concept of respectability and the social constraints placed on young women – right into the 20th century – are spot on. It is also, in the best historical novel tradition, a meaningful way of learning more about Corsica’s troubled history.

© J.G Harlond

 


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28 August 2018

All The Winding World by Kate Innes

Shortlisted for Book of the Month



Amazon US
Amazon CA

Fictional Saga
13th Century
England and Acquitaine

Serving a king must have been a trial in the olden days, especially when that king was Edward I. Sir Richard Burnel, cousin to the recently deceased Robert Burnel, the King's Chancellor, is ordered to go to Aquitaine to fight in the on-off wars against France. This despite the fact that Richard has a crippled leg and only one eye. Not that Edward will be there; he has troubles with the Welsh. And, to a lesser extent at this point, the Scots.

Inept leadership leads to the surrender of two cities and Richard is captured and held for ransom. But he is an impoverished knight – the family fortune having being frittered away before Richard ever set eye on any of it – and cannot afford the ransom.

And where does this leave poor Illesa, his wife and their two children? Begging favours for the money which is not forthcoming. There are two possibilities: Richard could turn traitor or Illesa could recover a special treasure to use to get her husband back. With her cousin Azalais of Dax and Gaspar a travelling player, they hatch a plan fraught with danger. But can they get Richard released before he is tempted to betray his king?

The novel moves along at a good pace and certainly at times I found myself reluctant to put it down for even such mundane things as life. Many might recognise this as the sequel to The Errant Hours and will welcome it, I'm sure. But here comes my only real criticism: I would have liked a little more of the back story incorporated into the narrative or dialogue; we do not know, for example, just how Richard got his injuries. The author does give a little piece of their history in a note prior to the beginning of the first chapter, but I did not feel it was enough to acquaint any new reader of the full details and therefore I would strongly recommend reading the first volume.

Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed this and it will take its place on my 'keepers' shelf. The ending isn't quite conclusive (what will happen next?) which I hope leaves it open for a third in the series.

© Richard Tearle



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27 August 2018

The Deepest Grave by Jeri Westerson



#Crispin Guest Series

Mystery
14th Century
London

In this latest installment of Westerson’s Crispin Guest medieval noir series, the timeline skips ahead about a year from the previous novel, Season of Blood. The Deepest Grave opens (haha, see what I did there?) with one Father Bulthius coming to Crispin, seeking answers to the mystery of revenants - corpses rising from the grave and walking at night - in the small church of St. Modwen. Naturally, Crispin is skeptical but he takes the case. While he is out, a person from his past comes calling for aid. Philippa Walcote, Crispin’s former lover, comes begging for help, for her young son stands accused of murdering a neighboring fabric merchant and competitor to his father’s business. Crispin is reluctant to become entrenched with Philippa again in any way, but as his apprentice Jack Tucker reminds him, a client is a client, and the Walcotes are wealthy clients indeed.

Crispin and Jack embark on a quest to solve the case of wandering corpses, save a child from the hangman’s noose, and figure out why the relic of St. Modwen herself keeps following Crispin around, to his supreme consternation.

This was probably my second favorite novel in the Crispin Guest series. My favorite remains Blood Lance. But this novel is full of fast-paced narration and interesting character developments. One development in particular was especially nice, though there is absolutely no way to mention it without major spoilers. But it is bittersweet and lovely and I loved that it happened. It shows Crispin really growing and changing as a man. Jack is now a grown man, too, though still very young and inexperienced. He is married to his sweetheart Isabel, whom readers know as the niece of Eleanor and Gilbert of the Boar’s Tusk ale house, and they are about to become parents. For readers such as myself who have been with Crispin and Jack since the beginning of the series, that’s a real bit of cognitive dissonance right there, because isn’t Jack still just ten years old? He can’t possibly be old enough to be a father yet! But it is wonderful to see him growing into a fine young man with a great deal of potential and so aptly learning a vocation that will sustain him and his family.

I loved the recurring theme of family throughout this novel. The characters in this series are as real to me as actual people I know in my own life, and I feel for them, and I sorrow with them, and rejoice with them, and I am always delighted when we get a new story about them.
          
© Kristen McQuinn.
 


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25 August 2018

It's the Weekend...

No reviews over the weekend but...


especially on Amazon AND Goodreads!
Thank you for supporting an author




... did you miss



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


24 August 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of Shanghai Story by Alexa Kang


Book One of a series

Fictional Saga/ Mystery
WWII
Shanghai / China

Set in Shanghai of 1936 this is as much an informative and well-researched historical novel as it is an intriguing murder mystery. We follow two characters mainly: Clark, who has just returned from studying in the US, and Eden who is a Jewish refugee from Berlin and stateless by law. Her father, a doctor, successfully treated Clark’s father. Despite a mutual attraction between Clark and Eden, circumstances are complicated and stand in their way. Eden starts work for a newspaper and when a friend is brutally murdered she takes on the police force to find out the truth, with help from Clark and his connections.

The novel took a while to get going with the setting up of the characters and their background, but I enjoyed the urgency of the second half, once the murder mystery fully took over and the other elements come together. I’ve learned a lot of details along the way and look forward to the next parts in the series.

© Christoph Fischer



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23 August 2018

Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile by Jennifer Wilson

Shortlisted for Book of the Month



Ghost Story
Present Day
Edinburgh

We tend to think of Mary, Queen of Scots as an irresponsible, scheming woman who probably got her just desserts. But here in Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile, she is quite a fun loving, conscientious and caring person. Or, rather, her ghost is.

Mary and her entourage descend upon Edinburgh's Royal Mile just in time for the annual Tattoo and ensuing Fringe performances, staying through the glorious times of Hallowe'en, Christmas, Hogmanay and even Burns' night, enjoying the celebrations and even taking part in them. But it is not all fun and frolics for Mary; there is her concern for her almost reclusive father, King James V, the lost ghost Boy, hiding in the tunnels beneath the city streets, some troublesome Covenanters, and a burgeoning romance between her lady-in-waiting, Janet Douglas, Lady Glamis with loyal Sir William Kircaldy. And Darnley. The bane of her living life continues to plague her in their afterlife.

This book is absolute fun and, although part of a series, completely stand alone. There are cameo appearances from the likes of John Knox and William McGonagall and even Greyfriars Bobby and his owner, John Gray. The modern language and phrases they use do not grate as they might in a 'proper' historical novel – and I just loved the idea of Mary deliberately 'photobombing' tourists taking selfies! Great atmospheric descriptions of one of the best known streets in the world as well as some histories of the people and places.

Recommended as light-hearted relief and a darn good read to boot!

© Richard Tearle

 

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22 August 2018

The Barefoot Road by Vivienne Vermes



Family Drama
Transylvania

This was a very difficult book for me to categorise: set in Transylvania, there is no time period mentioned at any point. It is a story of a small village and its inhabitants – no Kings, Queens, Dukes or whatever. No heroes and certainly no superheroes. And no Dracula either, as it happens. But none of these characters, real or fictional, are needed.

Paraschiva is an old woman, her son, Pavel, is a mute. She is something of a healer and there are those in the village who believe she might be a witch. So she lives a little way out and rarely visits the village. Her only real friend is a younger married man called Ioan Trifoi, who helps her out and brings her provisions. They live a peaceful life, enduring the ravages of winter and the heat of summer. Until Pavel brings home a young girl, half dead from exposure and the effects of a still birth out on the mountain.

Paraschiva nurses her back to health and knows that the girl, Mariuca, is from another village with a different language, one that had been formed when the inhabitants had been driven out of Paraschiva's village because they were 'different'.

Mariuca, accepted with suspicion by the villagers, teaches Ioan's daughter and her friend songs and dances from her own village, but then she is blamed for the sudden bad weather and plague of rats which follow a celebration. She is branded as evil and, led by the leader of the village committee, the locals are determined to be rid of her. Meanwhile, she is keeping a terrible secret …

The prose and attention to detail is magnificent. The descriptions are vivid and authentic. Each character is well drawn and very human. But what really makes this story is the build-up of tension as the villagers are whipped into a murderous mob by each new event, all of  which leads to a terrible and violent climax. The author is also a poet and runs a writing class in Paris; all this shows through in her writing and a very impressive first novel.

Though the potential audience might be limited, I have no hesitation in recommending this book.

© Richard Tearle


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21 August 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of The Snow Foresters by David Phelps



Ghost/Supernatural
England

Twenty short stories based on 'true' folk tales in the area of Herefordshire, England. Mostly of ghosts, the tales range in timespan from medieval to present day adaptations of old stories. We have friendly ghosts, unfriendly ghosts, vengeful  ghosts, tales of love and fateful elopements, hauntings by or to both rich and poor. Some of them have a little update at the end in the 'those who have a romantic disposition or a hankering for danger are welcome to visit it (the church)' sort of thing.

It is a highly commendable attempt by the author to keep these old stories alive in a form that can be read by young and old alike and will certainly be of interest to residents or visitors to Herefordshire, yet beyond that I worry about the audience that a book of this sort might reach. It certainly wouldn't be out of place in local libraries or available for sale in Information Centres. The cover is, to be honest, rather dull in that the author's name is barely visible. A shame; authors should be applauded for their work, not hidden away.

All in all, a decent compilation.

© Richard Tearle


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20 August 2018

Loch Garman by James L. Nelson

Shortlisted for Book of the Month


#7 in the Norseman Saga

Fictional Saga / Nautical
9th Century
Ireland

Thorgrim Night Wolf has one desire – to return home to Norway – but again the gods demonstrate that the time has not yet arrived. Such is definitely the case in this seventh book in The Norsemen Saga, for he and his men have but three damaged longboats with no sails. Rather than fight and pillage to gain what they need, Thorgrim barters with the Irish. His decision is of no import to Starri Deathless, the berserker, “[b]cause every time you say such a thing, there ends up being more fighting than a man could wish for, so I’m not concerned.”

Treasure attracts more than the heathens who plague Ireland. One among the many rĂ­ tuath wishes to gain the rumored Treasure of St. Aiden for himself, which is why Airtre mac Domhnall and a hundred men have gathered outside the gates of the monastery at Ferns. Failure to return home without it will just result in censure from his wife, and Airtre would much rather confront an army of Northmen than face her empty-handed. But Abbot Column denies that such a treasure exists, for he will protect the secret of Ferns any way he can. He succeeds in thwarting Airtre this time, but knows his success is temporary. Sooner or later Airtre will return.

While some of the Northmen begin repairing the ships and setting up a temporary camp on the shores of Loch Garman, Thorgrim sends his son to retrieve two longships he lent to the enslaved Irish who had been helped to freedom, but things do not go as planned.

Loch Garman is an excellent example of circumstances making strange bedfellows, for such are rife throughout this wonderful tale. While the majority of it takes place on land, there are a few river scenes. Subtle shifts begin to emerge in relations between the Irish and Northmen that will eventually lead to a more peaceful coexistence. There is plenty of action as Starri foretells, but this intricately woven tapestry is far more than just adventure. It also showcases how warriors think, gauge their opponents, understand potential trickery before it unfolds, and find ways to counteract overwhelming odds to prevail without losing sight of the original goal. Nelson possesses the gift of a true storyteller; his words easily spin visual pictures in our minds without inserting passages that allow us to stray from unfolding events.

There are elements within this book – perhaps the best offering in the series so far – that readers will identify with no matter their age. For me, these include sly touches of dry humor, the rationalizing of internal conflicts, and the wisdom and frailties that come with getting older. Regardless of what attracts you, you will not be disappointed. From the opening confrontation to the heart-stopping climax, Loch Garman is a riveting tale that brings to life a bygone era of Irish history.

© Cindy Vallar


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