24 May 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of The Way of Glory by Patricia J. Boomsma

The Way of Glory


"The author has taken on a huge task to chart a crusade and even if some parts don't quite work there are passage of real beauty that demonstrate how Ms Boomsma has genuine potential as a writer."


AMAZON UK

AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA

Cate lives in a town in the east of England with her family. The story opens with a death, an unexplained death that the zealous townsfolk blame on a local wealthy Jew. This sets the religious scene for the novel, one that charts the progress of the town's inhabitants who choose to go on crusade to the Holy Land, via Spain and Portugal. Women are needed hence the presence of Cate and her aunt Mary among the company, women to cook for and care for the men, using their knowledge of herbal medicines. But the way to the Holy Land is not smooth going, and their enemies are not just the Saracens.


This is the author's first full length work and for that it is reasonably accomplished. In places the writing is naive with a preponderance of tell rather than show, 'he did this because so-and-so said that', and some basic novice errors in the terminology, inaccurate clothing, crusaders stopping for lunch, that kind of thing. I'm not too sure of her use of 'Brycgstow' for Bristol, Domesday Book has it as 'Bristou' some sixty years earlier. 


But the author has taken on a huge task to chart a crusade and even if some parts don't quite work there are passages of real beauty that demonstrate how Ms Boomsma has genuine potential as a writer. A little more attention to detail and sticking to what she does best will assure her of more success in the future. I would also suggest she finds a very good technical editor to help her iron out the wrinkles, for then we could expect some very good novels indeed. However, a pleasant enough read that does accomplish what the author intended. 


© Louise Adam


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23 May 2019

A Rip in the Veil by Anna Belfrage

Shortlisted for Book of the Month



"The story is easy-flowing and exciting, the difference between the two lead characters - Alex is a very forthright twenty-first-century woman, Matthew a very down to earth seventeenth-century man - is superbly handled."


AMAZON UK

AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA
(The Graham Saga Book 1) 

fictional saga /fantasy / time slip /romance

1600s
Scotland

"On a muggy August day in 2002 Alex Lind disappears without a trace. On an equally stifling August day in 1658, Matthew Graham finds her on an empty Scottish moor. Life will never be the same for Alex – or for Matthew. Due to a series of rare occurrences, Alexandra Lind is thrown three centuries backwards in time. She lands at the feet of Matthew Graham – an escaped convict making his way home to Scotland in this the year of our Lord, 1658. Matthew doesn’t quite know what to make of this concussed and injured woman who has seemingly fallen from the skies- what is she, a witch? Alex gawks at this tall, gaunt man with hazel eyes, dressed in what to her mostly looks like rags. At first, she thinks he might be some sort of hermit, an oddball, but she quickly realises the odd one out is she, not he. Catapulted from a life of modern comfort, Alex grapples with this new existence, further complicated by the dawning realization that someone from her time has followed her here – and not exactly to extend a helping hand. Potential compensation for this brutal shift in fate comes in the shape of Matthew – a man she should never have met, not when she was born three centuries after him. But for all that Matthew quickly proves himself a willing and most capable protector he comes with baggage of his own, and on occasion, it seems his past will see him killed. At times Alex finds it all excessively exciting, longing for the structured life she used to have. How will she ever get back? And more importantly, does she want to?"


I love a good time-slip novel and A Rip In The Veil, the first of a stunning series, is very definitely, good. 


Alexandra - Alex - is to fall in love with Matthew Graham. Nothing odd about that in a novel of historical fiction, except Matthew existed and lived several hundred years before Alex was born, and they were to meet (and fall in love) after Alex falls through - literally - a rip in the veil of time. 


The story is easy-flowing and exciting, the difference between the two lead characters - Alex is a very forthright twenty-first-century woman, Matthew a very down to earth seventeenth-century man - is superbly handled. The factual history of the period and the upheaval and unrest in 1658 Scotland between the English and the Scots is also superbly done, with the fictional elements, the magical fantasy bits all seamlessly entwined with the very real sense of era and location that Ms Belfrage has created.


This is the second time I've read this novel (and yes I have read the entire series) and I enjoyed it even more second time around. I will go on and read the rest of the series now, for Alex and Matthew and the joys, sadnesses, horrors and delights that await them in the next books beckons with pleasurable anticipation. I must also add that I am most impressed by the cover design of this book, and the entire series. 


Invariably, the Graham Saga series will be compared to the Outlander books by Diana Gabaldon. Personal opinion, but I think these are better.


My only comment would be: more please Ms Belfrage. More.


© Anne Holt





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22 May 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of Sealed Orders by Alaric Bond

Kindle Edition

"I enjoy a good nautical adventure, especially when they are written as well as Sealed Orders."


AMAZON UK

AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA
(The Fighting Sail Series) 

Nautical

1800s

"With news of victory at Trafalgar still fresh, HMS Hare arrives in England carrying details of yet another British naval success although the prospects for her captain, Thomas King, are less encouraging. Hare's hull requires attention and dockyard facilities are already overstretched while, if she were sent for refit, he would be unlikely to retain her command. Then a face from the past brings hope and King finds himself despatched on an urgent deep-sea mission so secret only sealed orders will reveal the final objective. Facing enemies that range from French privateers to powerful battle fleets, extremes of weather and the unpredictable behaviour of their Commander-in-Chief, the men of HMS Hare learn as much about themselves as any distant adversary and discover who their friends truly are."


I confess I came across this novel while browsing in a charity shop, so my apologies to the author as he'll receive no royalties from the purchase but... I discovered that this is the eleventh of a series, and enjoyed it so I promptly bought a couple more of the series for my Kindle, so a fair trade I think.


I enjoy a good nautical adventure, especially when they are written as well as Sealed Orders. The start, the set-up for the story, was a little somnolent, but not annoyingly so and the action soon steps up the pace. It is 1806 and the British have recaptured the Cape of Good Hope (known back then as Cape Colony). As this was the first time I had met the characters I did not know who were 'old timers' or 'newcomers' but I very quickly found my favourites. The narrative is believable, the research seems immaculate, as is the sailing detail and all very nicely written. The tension of action is superbly balanced with the everyday 'life' of the characters.


Whether it is a good idea to start at the beginning of the series would be up to personal choice, but I had no difficulty diving in at book eleven!



© Ellen Hill






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21 May 2019

Designs Of A Gentleman by Judith Thomson

shortlisted for Book of the Month


Designs of a Gentleman : The Darker Years



"Philip Devalle is an unusual – and enjoyable – creation. At first, he seems to have few redeeming features, being extremely vain[but] he does not lack courage or skill."

AMAZON UK

AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA


 Fictional drama
17th C – Charles II
England and France

Designs of a Gentleman is a prequel to a series of books based on the adventures of Philip Devalle in a time when relations with France and Holland are in a precarious state.


Philip had a miserable childhood, beaten heavily and often by his older – and slightly insane – brother, Henry. His father, Earl Southwick, was not much help either, always deferring to his heir's excuses. Seeing no great future for himself, Philip, saw no other recourse than to try and find himself a patron at court. He also finds that his good looks – inherited from his French mother - attract a great number of ladies, especially Barbara Palmer, Countess of Castlemaine.


We watch Philip thrive at court, following all the trends set by the rich – fashion, gambling and, of course, women. He survives both fire and plague and even keeps his rash promise of introducing Nell to King Charles. With Buckingham, he finds himself in France, adored by the Duc d'Orleans – Monsieur – and also a confidant of King Louis. He is also made a major in the French army due to his French mother.


Philip Devalle is an unusual – and enjoyable – creation. At first, he seems to have few redeeming features, being extremely vain; he is handsome, he knows it and uses his looks unashamedly to advance in both courts. Yet he does have a kind streak for those less fortunate than himself and he does not lack courage or skill. He makes friends and enemies just as easily. 


As a prequel, this can easily be read as a stand-alone novel, though I hope, like me, the reader will be wanting more.


© Richard Tearle




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20 May 2019

The Girl Puzzle: A story of Nellie Bly by Kate Braithwaite

shortlisted for Book of the Month


https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51SEdwOjnwL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

"Sophisticated and accomplished story-telling"


AMAZON UK
AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA


Biographical fiction
19th century
USA 


The cover and title of this novel are worth thinking about before one opens the book itself. The author is telling us that at one level it is historical fiction, a tale told about a past epoch and how people lived then; at another, it is a story of someone’s life but not a biography. It is a story: the author’s interpretation of what happened to Nellie Bly. Who in turn was not only Nellie Bly but Elizabeth Cochrane, a young woman shaped by the lamentable circumstances of her parents’ life – which she is determined to overcome. The puzzle starts here but is quickly forgotten because the author’s lucid prose and excellent characterisation means that one falls into the events of Nellie Bly’s life as if they were happening for the first time now. 


Braithwaite has chosen to write about a woman whose published autobiographical work is relatively well known in the USA. This story is told, however, on a dual timeline. Readers new to Nellie Bly’s life know from the start that yes, she overcame the shame and poverty of her childhood, and yes, she became the most celebrated woman in journalism of early twentieth century – and yet they can read each page anxious to know what happened next. This is sophisticated storytelling.


Nellie Bly, now a wealthy woman journalist in late middle age, is living in a New York hotel suite. While she continues with her popular newspaper social commentaries, she is also writing her memoirs. Handwritten chapters are given to Beatrice, one of her secretaries, to type up. In this way, we see Nellie’s first-person account of her life, and also learn what a younger woman thinks about her employer. 


Elizabeth/Nellie’s story begins when she is a twenty-year-old anxious to find a job on a New York newspaper and make a name for herself. Down to her last borrowed dime, she accepts a frightening challenge as the condition for obtaining a job: to become an inmate of a mental institution and report on conditions from first-hand experience. Elizabeth Cochrane/Nellie Bly then becomes Nellie Brown, a poor befuddled young woman who has lost her luggage, her family, her home, and her memory. The act is convincing enough to get her into Blackwell’s Island Lunatic Asylum.


Nellie becomes trapped in the vicious treatment regime of a late nineteenth-century mental institution. She is demeaned, ill-treated and controlled day and night by some appallingly cruel nurses. Readers also meet some of the other inmates: gentle but dangerous Tilly Maynard, sad and apparently quite sane Anne, and a number of other rowdier, nastier women who are also subject to the asylum’s institutionalised torture. It makes chilling reading, and I was most disappointed that the one ‘good doctor’ who could have made their lives so much more tolerable turned out to be weak-willed, and ultimately no match for our brave heroine. (More on that would be a spoiler.)


Running alongside this narrative is Beatrice’s observations on Nellie Bly’s informal adoption agency and how the woman becomes besotted with a small girl who has also been the victim of tragic family circumstances. Beatrice is fascinated by her employer, but wise enough to see her flaws – which is how the reader is left to form his/her own judgment. 


As I say, this is sophisticated and accomplished story-telling. It is also a timely novel, for while it shows how one determined woman achieved success in what was then in every way a man’s world, that woman was not without her own weaknesses and blinkered vision. 


This novel is indeed a Discovered Diamond.


© J.G. Harlond





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18 May 2019

The Weekend

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17 May 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of Children of the Chieftain: Bound for Home by Michael E Wills

Children of the Chieftain: Bound for Home

"This has been an absorbing series, packed with action and adventure. Ideal for young adults"

AMAZON UK
AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA


Fictional Saga / Young Adult

Viking


"After three years in the service of the emperor of the Greeks, Ahl and his Viking friends have become very rich. Now the crew longs to return home with their wealth, their problem is that the emperor will not permit them to leave. They make a daring plan to escape. The route home is perilous as they navigate uncharted seas. They must overcome robbers, storms and hostile strangers as they seek their way back to the Northlands with the riches which they have earned."

Continuing the saga of this most enjoyable series written for young adults. 


The Varangian Vikings have served the Greek Emperor for more than three years, and now it is time to go home. But it is not as simple as that. They must risk great danger to break free of their masters, a danger that is worth facing with the reward of home at the end of it - if they can survive and get as far as that reward in one piece!


This has been an absorbing series, packed with action and adventure. Ideal for young adults, for the author does not use too much detailed information which could slow the story down. His characters are realistic and engaging and the plot is well set with just enough description to bring the story alive without impeding a younger reader's attention span. There is enough to interest a reluctant young reader, more than enough to absorb an avid older reader. 


Although perhaps best read in sequence, this is not necessary as the book is sufficient of a stand-alone to be read with enjoyment.


Especially suitable for the intended readership of a younger audience (10 - 13-year-old).




@Ellen Hill



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16 May 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of The Red Gene by Barbara Lamplugh

The Red Gene

"This is an evocative story of survival during the post-Franco period of Spain’s turbulent history. It is a story of the aftermath of war, and how ordinary people coped with that aftermath."



Family drama/romance
1900s / Spanish Civil War
Spain

 “When Rose, a young English nurse with humanitarian ideals, decides to volunteer in the Spanish Civil War, she is little prepared for the experiences that await her. Working on one front after another, witness to all the horrors of war, she falls in love with a Republican fighter, Miguel. In 1939 as defeat becomes inevitable, Rose is faced with a decision that will change her life and leave her with lasting scars. Interspersed with Rose's story is that of Consuelo, a girl growing up in a staunchly Catholic family on the other side of the ideological divide. Never quite belonging, treated unkindly, she discovers at a young age that she was adopted but her attempts to learn more about her origins are largely thwarted. It falls to the third generation, to Consuelo's daughter Marisol, born in the year of Franco's death and growing up in a rapidly changing Spain, to investigate the dark secrets of her family and find the answers that have until now eluded her mother.”

Rose gets caught up in the horror and the violence of the Spanish Civil War, with the narrative featuring several generations of two families, English and Spanish, with their lives mingling together through circumstance and Rose herself.

This is an evocative story of survival during the post-Franco period of Spain’s turbulent history. It is a story of the aftermath of war, and how ordinary people coped with that aftermath. We meet romance, tragedy, love and fear, loyalty and betrayal. Ms Lamplugh’s writing is as evocative as the cast of characters that are set against this broad, even epic, sweep of time and place. But more than that, this is a tale of motherhood and family, action, yes, adventure, yes but overall the importance of family.


© Mary Chapple


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15 May 2019

Imperial Passions by Eileen Stephenson

Imperial Passions: The Porta Aurea

"Ms Stephenson writes a fast-paced and gripping narrative. "

AMAZON UK
AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA


Family Drama
11th century
Byzantine Empire

I knew long before I started reading Imperial Passions that I was in the hands of an expert on Byzantine history. Ms Stephenson keeps up a varied and entertaining Twitter feed chock-full of references to long-dead emperors and empresses, complete with pictures of artefacts and surviving Byzantine buildings.


However, knowing your period is not enough. For a novel to grab and hold the reader’s attention, the passionate researcher must be capable of breathing life into the characters, make them relevant to us, no matter that close to ten centuries separate us from the events depicted. It helps, of course, if the main character is something out of the ordinary, and Ms Stephenson’s protagonist definitely qualifies as a one-of-a-kind lady. Anna Dalassena is one of the most forceful medieval ladies around. Ambitious, intelligent and determined, she forged the Comnenus dynasty, a strong presence behind the throne of her son, Alexios.


Imperial Passions does not tell the story of the mature Anna. Instead, Ms Stephenson presents us with a young girl, a member of a family presently living under something of a cloud. The politics of the Byzantine Empire in the 11th century is a quicksand, a complicated, twisting thing where various families vie for power. All of this is deliciously brought to life by Ms Stephenson. Her knowledge and passion for the Byzantine period is apparent throughout the book, with elegant descriptions of everything from clothing to furnishing and food. She is also adept at casually including some of the more morbid aspects of this cultured world, like the tradition to blind potential rivals for the imperial thrones—and recently deposed emperors. It is a dangerous, turbulent period, the throne resembling something of a catapult seat. 


This is a world where ambition and ruthlessness can lead you right to the top—or crush the life out of you. It is a world in which the wise man (and woman) watches her step, each move as carefully considered as when one is playing chess with a master. 


Despite her youth, Anna Dalassena excels at chess. Ms Stephenson presents us with a vibrant character, a strong-willed and accomplished young woman who, to Ms Stephenson’s credit, still lives within the constraints imposed on the women of her time. Unfortunately for Anna, her family has somehow displeased the Emperor, which is why Anna, together with her grandparents, is sent off to the east, there to be adequately forgotten. Not that anyone perceives Anna as a threat, but her grandfather was once a very powerful man. 


Fortunately for Anna, her exile is not entirely without benefits, principally the presence of a young man named John Comnenus, her future husband. Yet again, Ms Stephenson gives us an engaging character, elegantly managing the challenge of making John a “modern” man in that he recognises Anna’s strength and capacity, while still being very much a Byzantine Pater Familias, a man who takes it for granted that in his household his word is law. 


Ms Stephenson writes a fast-paced and gripping narrative. Her characters speak very much like we do, a modern dialogue that may jar in the ears of some readers. To me, it does not, rather adding to the vibrancy of Ms Stephenson’s cast of characters. 


All in all, Imperial Passions is an engaging read, allowing us to peep into a period and culture that is not depicted that often in historical fiction. Ms Stephenson is an excellent guide through the complicated Byzantine history and as one book does not suffice to tell the fascinating story of Anna Dalassena, I hope Ms Stephenson will be kind enough to furnish us with a sequel. Soon! 


© Anna Belfrage




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14 May 2019

Black Death by MJ Trow

Pre - release ARC copy reviewd 

"... A short, quick read and like other MJ Trow novels, it is a fun and witty tale. The plot is full of twists and turns and not all is as it appears."


AMAZON UK 
AMAZON US 
AMAZON C


Mystery
16th Century
Elizabethan London

Robert Green and Christopher Marlowe are not friends. But when Green believes someone is trying to kill him, he sends a desperate letter to Marlowe, begging for his help. When Green is found dead, Kit believes it is his duty to discover who murdered Green and so undertakes the investigation. At the same time, stage manager Ned Sledd is wrongly taken to Bedlam in lieu of an escaped inmate just days before the opening of one of Marlowe’s new plays. Marlowe has to find the connection between all these events and help his friend. And also, the Spymaster, Robert Cecil, is taking an inordinate interest in things. And there’s plague. What could go wrong?

This is a short, quick read and like other MJ Trow novels I’ve read, it is a fun and witty tale. The plot is full of twists and turns and not all is as it appears. The characters, especially Marlowe, are all multidimensional. I really love the little digs at William Shakespeare (spelled here as Shaxper) throughout and the subtle shade thrown on the authorship of his works. There are many literary gems hidden in these pages that appeal to any Anglophile.

The descriptions of Elizabethan London are also vivid and gritty. So much of that period is romanticized but here, we get the more realistic portrayal of what it might have actually been like - dirty, smelly, and depressing. Oh, and don’t forget the plague! 

A fun and fast read, highly recommended for any lovers of Marlowe, Shaxper :-), or Elizabethan English history in general. 

© Kristen McQuinn




13 May 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of At the Far End of Nowhere Christine Davis Merriman

At the Far End of Nowhere

"A good read for anyone, but especially ideal for American readers."



AMAZON UK

AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA

family drama/coming of age

1950s - 1970s
USA

"In this hauntingly unconventional novel, young Lissa Power challenges the imagination and captures the heart as she struggles to grow up under the guidance of her father, Stouten a watchmaker, inventor, and mechanical wizard who is easily old enough to be her grandfather. When Lissa is twelve, her mother dies from breast cancer, and the reclusive old watchmaker, now 84 years old, must oversee his daughter's coming of age. Faced with the loneliness of celibacy, the vulnerability of old age, and the responsibility of supporting two young children, Stouten remains determined to protect his beloved daughter from all harm. As Lissa matures, Stouten's authority becomes increasingly restrictive. Immersed in Stouten's old-fashioned and eccentric world view, Lissa becomes her father's close companion, the mother of the house, and eventually her ageing father's caregiver. Enmeshed in a powerful bond, father and daughter fall back on obsessive-compulsive behaviour to cope with sexual trauma, sickness, poverty, old age, and death. Against a backdrop of tumultuous events in the 1950s, '60s, and '70s the Cold War, political assassinations, the Vietnam War, peace protests, the Civil Rights movement, the moon landing, and the women's liberation movement Stouten uses storytelling to transport Lissa back with him to the time of his childhood much quieter time, but not an idyllic one, when horses and oxen ploughed the fields and folks moved more slowly, with the rhythm of nature. Here At the Far End of Nowhere, father and daughter weave fact with fiction and merge reality with fantasy to reveal a broader truth."



Lissa Power has a somewhat unique family and lifestyle, an elderly father and a mother who dies when Lissa and her brother are young. And her death means difficulty for the family, it will not be easy for a somewhat set in his ways, elderly man to bring up young children during the turbulent events that form the history of the 1950s through to the 1970s.

Then there is the matter of prejudice, women's rights, equality... And when her father dies, the challenge for Lissa is to face the world, one in which she has, throughout her childhood, viewed from what seems like a cocooned existence.


This was an enjoyable read, bringing back and stirring my own memories of the years of my younger age, (I was in my late teens during the '60s). My only comment is that these were American memories and American events, and as a Brit, I felt a little cheated that there was not much about this period and events that happened on this side of the Pond, But then, to be fair, Lissa would not have known any more of what was going on in Britain than we did about the US - outside of the big issues of the Cuban Missile Crisis,  JFK's murder, the Moon Landings and Watergate.


A good read for anyone, but especially ideal for American readers.


© Mary Chapell 






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11 May 2019

The Weekend

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10 May 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of The House Between Tides by Sarah Maine

The House Between Tides: WATERSTONES SCOTTISH BOOK OF THE YEAR 2018

"The author captures the different manners, morals and customs between the two time periods very well"


AMAZON UK

AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA

family drama /mystery

Scotland 
1910 / 2010

This, according to the blurb, is Ms Maine’s first novel and was previously published as Bhalla Strand. The writing is accomplished, and the story follows the tradition of two tales a century apart, linked by a place and various descendants. It is not, however, a time-slip novel.


Muirlan House is situated on an island, close to shore but cut off by the tide twice a day. The description of landscape and wildlife attracted me almost more than the characters, for it brought back many happy memories of my own visits to Lewis and Harris.


The modern day (2010) heroine inherits Muirlan House from a cousin and plans to turn it into a hotel. On her first visit, Hettie learns it is now a ruin. Recent storm damage to the walls has revealed a skeleton buried beneath the conservatory. Discovering the identity of that person is the hook that runs through the whole book as we meet the characters who once lived and loved there in 1910 when Theo Blake, a successful artist, takes his bride, Beatrice, to live in their new house among poverty-stricken crofters. She loves the island, but her husband seems to withdraw from her and becomes cold and unloving. She does not know why. We are told this part of the story through Beatrice’s eyes, and I feared that the bones would prove to be hers. Had her husband murdered her? 


The first chapters are slightly slow, and it is tempting to rush through them, which probably accounts for some of my confusion. The author captures the different manners, morals and customs between the two time periods very well; but I confess that I resented being dragged from one century into the other. I easily identified with Beatrice, but Hettie seemed a rather flat character even though she had her own problems in 2010 with property developers and antagonistic crofters. For me, the focus of the novel was in 1910 and if some way of solving the mystery of the bones could have been devised, the 2010 section could have been let go or at least, not been so prominent.


 But having said that - a good read!



© Jen Black






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