18 February 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of Assassination in Al Qahira James Boschert


"This third Book of Talon is a spine-tingling, edge-of-your seat thriller ."

#3 of a series

Fictional saga / thriller
13th century

Forced from his home in France and on his way to Palestine, Talon de Giles senses something is amiss after fourteen days at sea. The tempest overhead pounds the vessel and excess water on board does not bode well. He wakes his fellow Templars, but they can do little. The vessel strikes razor-sharp rocks and the four men are tossed into the turbulent froth. Only Talon, Max, and Montague wash ashore with their lives and the clothes on their backs. With no idea where they are or which direction to go, they make do as best they can until opportunity presents itself.

Months later a caravan on its way to Al Iskandrîyah stops for the night near where the Templars camp. Talon’s training as a kidnapped child of the Assassini serves him well and he steals camels, weapons, food, and silver without anyone being the wiser. He also discovers that Alexandria is not far, so the three unkempt, bearded, scarecrow-like men head to the Egyptian city to arrange passage to the Holy Land. But the Templars are betrayed, Montague is slain, and Talon and Max are imprisoned on accusations of being Christian spies. Rather than reveal his true identity, Talon adopts the name of Suleiman and spins a tale that keeps them alive. For now. Emir Abbas Abdur Rahman ibn Athir Faysal, the man in charge of the prison, distrusts Suleiman and his story, so until he discovers the truth, Talon and Max will remain prisoners.

To remain in their cell means certain death, so the two friends watch, wait, and plan until the day arrives when they can escape…

This third Book of Talon is a spine-tingling, edge-of-your seat thriller that centers around a man who covets another man’s wife and property and will do whatever he must to rid himself of his enemy. Interwoven into this tale are exotic locales, palace intrigue, assassination, betrayal, and a fascinating look into the underground world of Al Qahira (Cairo). Throughout the story there are scenes where the tension runs high and you forget to breathe. They culminate in a heart-thumping final battle on the Nile. As always Boschert drops readers into the midst of the action, spinning an intricate tale that snatches your imagination and doesn’t let go until the book ends. Even then, he leaves us with a tantalizing twist of what is to come in Talon’s next adventure.

© Cindy Vallar

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16 February 2019

Browsing the Blogs : February 16-17th

Twitter: #DDRevsBrowsingBlogs
interested in having your blog post listed?

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Lauren Gilbert : Who Was Queen Victoria's Cook?
The English Historical Fiction Authors Blog

"I have been enjoying the series Victoria on PBS. (It was so exciting that series 3 premiered in the U.S. BEFORE showing in the UK!) One character I particularly like is Mr. Francatelli, the chef in the palace. While it is true that Queen Victoria’s household did include a cook named Francatelli, there is a big difference between the way he is depicted in the television series and the known facts about him."

Alice Poon : On this day (January 27) in 1688, a pivotal historical figure from the Qing Dynasty passed away....

"On this day (January 27) in 1688, a pivotal historical figure from the Qing Dynasty passed away. This person was a Mongolian princess named Borjigit Bumbutai, better known as Empress Dowager Xiaozhuang, who was the progenitor of all subsequent Qing Emperors. She is the protagonist of my novel The Green Phoenix.

The life and deeds of this Mongolian princess were critical to Chinese history in that she was directly responsible for preventing disintegration of the fledgling Qing Empire in its early days......"

John F. Millar: Small State Big History (Rhode Island blog) The founding of a pirate republic in Madagascar pirates William Mayes and Thomas Tew . Contrary to the popular image of Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow character as an amiable buffoon, pirates in their day were usually cruel thugs, petty criminals, and international terrorists. Pirates had an easy relationship with colonial Rhode Island because the colony’s elected governor would frequently grant privateering commissions in exchange for large fees paid personally to the governor, with few questions asked.

Newport House is just outside Colonial Williamsburg, 
(highly recommended!)

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15 February 2019

Mid-MonthExtra - February

Next in our  mid-month series 
about novels that come as a series

by Richard Tearle

Richard Sharpe. There can't be many who don't get an immediate visual image of Sean Bean in torn uniform, dark powder marks on his cheeks and then stopping to look behind him as he rides from one victory and on to another adventure.

Sean Bean may be the man who is most associated with the character, but Bernard Cornwall is the man who created him. Set during the Napoleonic wars, Sharpe is a soldier, a rifleman, a sniper and skirmisher in a time when muskets were the preferred weapons and therefore Sharpe is at the very front of the battle.

It's formula writing at its very best: at some point in every book Cornwall has to give a brief explanation of the relationship between Sharpe and his comrades, how he got promoted or his beginnings in the rookeries of London. But more of that bit later. 

Every book produces a bitter enemy, mostly in the opposing camp, such as Guy Loup or Phillipe Leroux, but he has equally deadly foes much closer to home, most notably in the form of Obadiah Hakeswill and Sir Henry Simmerson. And there is always Ducos, the French Intelligence officer.

Almost by accident, Sharpe comes to the notice of Wellington himself (in fact, Sharpe saves his life) and is promoted 'in the field': “You did me a good turn, Sharpe, and now I'm going to do you a damn bad one.” For rising from the ranks was almost unheard of and Sharpe experiences enmity and jealousy from almost all: the officers despise him because he is not 'a gentleman' and the common soldiers because Sharpe is clearly 'above his station'. He is assigned to command a small company of men of the 95th Rifles – a fictional company which is later attached to the equally fictional South Essex Regiment commanded by Simmerson.

The books cover the years 1793 to 1821, enabling Cornwall to place Sharpe at every major battle or event during that period, including both Trafalgar and Waterloo! I believe there is a precedent here, which makes Sharpe one of possibly only two men to have been present at both battles. The books, however, were not written in chronological order – a deliberate decision by the author – yet each one can be read independently without making the reader wonder about the past. Each novel of the 24 (so far) has a snappy two word title of which one of the two words is always 'Sharpe's …'

With the intent of only writing about eight or nine Sharpe stories, enter Sean Bean. There can be no doubt about Bean's ability to play the part: a man's man, tough, ruthless and single-minded. Yet something was wrong! As previously noted, Richard Sharpe was a Londoner, a cockney Londoner in all probability and Sean Bean a confirmed and proud Yorkshireman. I doubt few of us fans would have cared too much about this anomaly, but not so Mr Cornwall: in view of the success of the TV programmes he relocated Richard Sharpe to Yorkshire at the age of about 15. That, I think, illustrates the esteem in which he holds the actor.

So far I have hardly touched on the regular characters n the books. Always beside Sharpe is Patrick Harper. Despite a bad start, the two soon become inseparable and Sharpe presents Harper with his signature six-barrelled Navy gun. Members of Sharpe's company come and go – Isiah Tongue, a bible sprouting man with no known background; Daniel Hagman, ex-poacher from Cheshire, musician and purveyor of home remedies, “Paraffin oil and Best brown paper...” Former teacher, drunk and debtor Harris is the brains of the company – he can  not only read, but read and speak French as well! Young Ben Perkins was a drummer boy, but became a Chosen Man when he shot the man attempting to shoot Sharpe. But one of my favourites is Francis Cooper whose former occupation was 'dealing in other people's  property'. Cooper  has a dry, cynical wit and an answer for everything, but he also delivers one of the best lines in this or any other series: “It's hard to trust a man who wants to borrow your pick-locks ...”

Of course, being the strong, handsome, no nonsense hero that Sharpe is, there is no shortage of women for him. From the feckless and faithless Jane Gibbons to the love of his life, Teresa Moreno, Sharpe's tally of bedpost notches mounts up, including the beautiful Lucille who was the fancy of his friend, the battle scarred 'Sweet' William Frederickson.

The Sharpe stories are not just random adventure tales: the situations may be contrived, but the action is very real, excellently researched and wonderfully told. We really do get the feel of Badajoz, Salamanca and the horrors of Waterloo. Nor are any of the characters weak. Not one of them. Every man and woman has their place, their role to play whether that be to help and support Sharpe or to hinder him and try to engineer his demise. There are far too many to mention in this short appraisal, but amongst the more memorable are Lennox, the inspiration for Sharpe's Eagle, Ross, Nairn and Hogan (Wellington's spy masters who invariably involve Sharpe in their schemes),   William Lawford and so on. Cornwall follows the expected route of incompetent, foppish officers and low life soldiers: “Our army is composed of the scum of the earth...” Yet not all officers are so drawn by the author, nor all common soldiers either. Many, more often in the former category, are portrayed as brave and loyal men, real men with sympathies and passions, a clear sense of duty despite the orders of those who should know better.

So, at the end of the day, we have a massive series of books which can be read individually or in chronological order. We have heroes and villains, rivalries and friendships, great deeds and cowardly acts, love and hatred. Above all we have history and a wonderful insight into what life in the British army was probably like in the very early part of the 19th Century.

And, if we have seen the TV series or the ensuing DVDs, we have John Tams beautiful rendition of an old folk song with its simple but telling line: 

“King George commands and we obey, Over the hills and far away...” 

Mid-Month Extra Previous : Susan Grossey's Constable Sam Plank series

14 February 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of Her Wild Irish Rogue by Saralee Etter

We must have a romance for Valentine's Day! 

"an enjoyable, not-too-predictable historical romance along the lines of a classic Hollywood movie featuring the dashing Errol Flynn. Best read with a sumptuous box of chocolates."


In the months following the end of the Napoleonic War, Emma, her sister Fiona, and their father Lord Forgall, are living in Paris. Emma is a talented cryptographer working for her father, who is a spy-master. Emma is proud of her code-breaking abilities, but rather too happy to discuss this supposedly secret skill in public, a fact that leads both her and her father into a dangerous situation. Fortunately, Captain Stephen Killian is on hand to save them. Killian is the wild Irish rogue; a gifted, fearless swordsman, whose combat skills bring him to the notice of Emma’s father. Unfortunately, Killian is also hot-headed and not very subtle with his use of language either – two characteristics that hinder his progress when he’s sent to learn spycraft from Emma.

Emma and Killian make an attractive couple, perfect creations for an action-packed romp. There’s a dual in an opera box, a stolen gem and murdered aristocrat, a missing secret code-book and a kidnap. Exciting stuff, as this extract suggests:

‘Time slowed down and each movement gained a crystalline nightmarish clarity. Von Hentzow’s angry face loomed large. She was trapped . . .’

As a page-turner the novel is not to be taken too seriously perhaps, but one knows this from the opening scene, where Killian meets Emma after he has single-handedly crossed swords with four Prussians on a bridge, and been observed doing so by Field Marshall Gebhard von Blücher, the Duke of Wellington and the French minister Talleyrand, plus Emma and her misguided parent. The Tsar of Russia arrives on the scene on the next page.  

The novel is well-written and engaging, but a final proof-reading would have been beneficial for the edition I reviewed - which might have been a review copy, where errors often occur. (There were a few minor errors including shifting tenses and mixed points of view; Roman numerals need adjusting to clarify which King Louis had a long and glorious reign, and which a short and tragic life, and which of them was married to Marie Antoinette.)

All in all, however, this is an enjoyable, not-too-predictable historical romance along the lines of a classic Hollywood movie featuring the dashing Errol Flynn. 

Best read with a sumptuous box of chocolates to hand!

© J.G. Harlond

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13 February 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of The Notorious Black Bart 1883 – The Journey Back A.E. Wasserman

"...a loving recreation of the good old dime novel. Ms Wasserman breathes life into the genre and delivers a fun little read complete with a hero, a bad guy, onomatopoetic expressions such as Bang! and Ping!, and an uncomplicated plot where the ending is not really in doubt, it’s the how that has the reader turning the page."



adventure / novella

19th Century

Some time in the last few decades of the 19th century, someone had the bright idea of printing affordable books for a broader readership, specifically targeting those people who might be intimidated by the notion of picking up a brick by Dickens or who were simply unaccustomed to reading as a pastime.

Such books were labelled dime novels in the US, for the simple reason that they cost a dime to buy. In general, these were fast-paced adventure stories, often set in the Wild West and featuring well-known heroes and villains of the day. Not necessarily the most literary of books, dime novels did not aspire to do more than two things: entertain and create a growing demand for more reading matter of the same kind.

The Notorious Black Bart is a loving recreation of the good old dime novel. Ms Wasserman breathes life into the genre and delivers a fun little read complete with a hero, a bad guy, onomatopoetic expressions such as Bang! and Ping!, and an uncomplicated plot where the ending is not really in doubt; it’s the how that has the reader turning the page.

Ms Wasserman knows her setting, both geographically and historically. Stage coaches thunder by with lathered horses, people travel by steamboat and train, drop by livery stables for a horse. San Francisco is thriving as a consequence of the gold rush, men of all kinds converge on California to make their fortune, and one of them ends up robbing stage coaches for a living. Well, for revenge, Black Bart would insist, but that I leave to future readers to find out for themselves.

Black Bart’s nemesis, Special Agent James Hume is based on a real agent—just as Bart is based on a real criminal. As in all dime novels, characterisation is achieved through swift pen strokes rather than in-depth  portrayal, but Ms Wasserman ensures her protagonists have their fair share of quirks and also gives Black Bart a back story that somehow mitigates his crimes. To a point.

I enjoyed this quick read but dime novels were never sophisticated reading matter and today’s reader may therefore find the story a tad too straightforward? Perhaps, also, the price of this short novella-type read of 124 pages is perhaps a little high? I also found the framing—The Notorious Black Bart is read aloud by an English lord to his two servants—somewhat unnecessary. Despite this, I applaud Ms Wasserman for bringing to life the type of novel that served as a portal to reading for those who had neither the benefit of a thorough education or the money to spend on “real” books.

© Anna Belfrage

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12 February 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of: The Reversible Mask by Loretta Goldberg.

"There is a great deal to like in this book. The author’s knowledge of war, weapons and deployment is sufficient to lend authenticity. "


6th century / Tudor

Sir Edward Latham, middle-grade courtier, is torn between his adherence to his faith (Catholic) and his loyalty to Queen Elizabeth (Protestant). His answer to this dilemma is to accept his cousin Lord Darnley’s invitation to go to Scotland and serve his wife Mary, Queen of Scots (Catholic). After the murder of her husband, Mary sends him to the Duc de Guise in France to raise funds for her. Latham becomes a liaison between Guise and the Spanish Ambassador, and eventually ends up in Spanish service as a spy. This career takes him to other countries, the most interesting of which is a glimpse into the Divine Porte, where he takes a Turkish lover (Islamic) and learns that different faiths can live in harmony.

The best of the supporting characters are his Turkish lover and his sidekick/agent in Lisbon, both of whom are interesting and unique. The author does a creditable job of capturing the two queens, Elizabeth and Mary, in cameos. As for Latham himself, he is a fully-fleshed character, (the author allows him to tremble in fear) but I just couldn’t warm to him. I’m not sure why, perhaps only because of his way of over-analysing things – even his love affairs – which is natural enough in a spy, I suppose.

Throughout the book, Latham struggles with his divided loyalties. After a number of spying assignments, he decides to return to England and offer his services as a double agent and hope that in the near future, Catholics will be granted the right to worship openly.

There is a great deal to like in this book. The author’s knowledge of war, weapons and deployment is sufficient to lend authenticity. I particularly enjoyed reading about ‘Hellburners’. I suspected they were a fiction of the author, but a Google search informed me that they were real and used as the author described. It’s not all derring-do. It’s a story well-told and the dialogue (although a little confusing at times) has a particular ‘zing’ to it.

Recommended for those who like stories of war and the religious turmoil of the 16th century.

© Susan Appleyard

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11 February 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield

"This is a very accomplished novel filled with fascinating characters that are multi-layered and are never quite what they seem. "


Historical Fantasy/ Fairy Tales

Once Upon A River is an adult fairy story set along the banks of the Thames from Oxford east towards Buscot. The scene is set in the Swan Inn in Radcot where the locals take enormous pride in being talented storytellers, and take great delight in telling stories in myriad ways, and in helping their fellows with their use of language and description. So far so genteel, but as with all good fairy stories, darkness is never far away, and the shadow of evil enters the inn in the form of a man, drenched, carrying the lifeless body of a child.

This is a very accomplished novel filled with fascinating characters that are multi-layered and are never quite what they seem. All of them have a story to tell, and as we progress through the events of the novel, they tell them, some with great enthusiasm, others with equal reluctance. In the tradition of Hans Christian Andersen, there is not always a happy ending for everyone and disaster and evil are never far away.

And yet it is not so dark that one leaves the novel disheartened. Very much the moral of the story is that good things will happen if good people put themselves forward. 

Is this novel fantasy or history? It is a bit of both. We learn a great deal of the workings of early photography, and yet it is unashamedly a fantasy with ghosts, apparitions and strange happenings, people who may or may not exist and a river that may also not be real.

The only drawback to this marvellously written novel is that it is very long.  I found that I wanted to read to the end because I couldn't see how it was going to conclude, but it took a long time. Was it worth it? Yes, it was, because the last twenty percent of the novel is where it really comes alive and answers are revealed to questions that have confounded the riverside communities. Persevere, it is worth it, but set aside around ten hours for it.

© Nicky Galliers

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9 February 2019

Browsing The Blogs

Twitter: #DDRevsBrowsingBlogs
some suggested Browsing!

made in 1938 blogathon banner

"The year 1938 was an interesting one in America. The nation started to ease out of the Great Depression around the time President Franklin D. Roosevelt began implementing his New Deal initiatives in 1933 and by the end of the decade, financially, things were looking up for many Americans. At the same time as American were starting to get their feet back on the ground, tensions were mounting in Europe with the rise of the Nazi party that would explode into World War II in 1939." 

Gnarled Bones And Other Stories

"Every movie lately seems to come out with “The Making of ...” clips. Well, here is a little insight into The Making of my historical novel of Ancient Egypt (3080 BC).

How much research should (or must) a writer do on his or her chosen era? My answer: A lot. Next, how much “real history” should be incorporated into a novel. I say, a lot less than the writer gleaned through research. After all, it’s fiction. But when citing historical facts, they do need to be, well, factual. And that's when it gets tricky ...

Sheila Williams  : The Lost Town...

Today’s tale, an extract from my book 'Close to the Edge - Tales from the Holderness Coast'  is of the 13th/14th century lost town of Ravenser Odd, now lying under the North Sea, off the Humber estuary in East Yorkshire.

By and large they were a bad lot in Ravenser Odd:
The town of Ravenser Odd was an extremely famous borough, devoted to merchandise with many fisheries and the most abundantly provided with ships and burgesses of all the boroughs of that coast. But yet, by all its wicked deeds and especially wrong-doings on the sea, and by its evil actions and predations, it provoked the vengeance of God upon itself beyond measure.”

Susan Grossey : Sam's On The Shortlist!

What a day!  I have received notification that “Faith, Hope and Trickery” has been shortlisted for the inaugural Selfies Award, which I entered back in December.  It’s one of eight books in the running and the winner will be announced at the London Book Fair on 12 March 2019.  I had already booked my ticket for that day, as I’ve never been to the LBF before (I want to walk around with “Author” on my ID badge), and I wanted to support the Selfies even if I was not personally involved.  But now I will be – great excitement!


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Want to share the link to it 
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  • I will share a maximum of four posts per weekend (not including the 15th of the month if it falls on a weekend)
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8 February 2019

A KING UNDER SIEGE by Mercedes Rochelle

A Discovered Diamond
Shortlisted for Book of the Month

"I am thoroughly looking forward to the next instalment"

Biographical Fiction
14th Century

Richard II has been rather overlooked as a monarch – most people only really know that he quelled the Peasants' Revolt when he was about fourteen, that he was usurped by Henry Bolinbroke and that  he (probably) starved to death ignominiously in Pontefract Castle.

In the first of this new trilogy, Mercedes Rochelle looks at the early part of his life starting with Wat Tyler's insurgence. Thanks to the author's research and writing, gone are the visions of this child bravely riding out, speaking to Tyler and everyone goes home happy! The violence (nothing too graphic) is brought home to the reader with so many impromptu executions and general destruction in London.

But more than this comes from the author's pen. Although the event dominates the bulk of this book, there is so much more. One really feels sorry for Richard: he is young, dominated by his uncles and is haunted by his inability to match his illustrious forbears. In other words, he is no warrior and he knows it. Added to that is that the country is broke due to failed campaigns against the French and the taxes on the poor  - hence the riots. Richard is frustrated; the lords simply will not listen to him and they attempt to separate him from the few people he can trust – most notably Robert de Vere, after he was raised to be Duke of Ireland. The one happy thing in his life is his marriage to Anne of Bohemia.

I have to highlight the fact that my copy had a few errors, but I must also add that this copy was a pre-publication ARC version and that I believe that some, if not all, of those errors have been addressed.

However, these in no way detract from the overall delight I had in reading this story and I am thoroughly looking forward to the next instalment.

© Richard Tearle

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