30 April 2019

Cover and Book of the Month April

2019
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 2019
(and honourable mentions going forward for Honourable Mention Runner-up)
Note: where UK and US covers differ only one version will be selected
APRIL Cover of the Month

WINNER

Read our review
Cover illustration by Greg Ruth
Cover Layout/Design by Katie Anderson

Honourable Mention Runners Up 

Read Our Review
2019

From our APRIL Reviews
                              
Book of the Month 
Thoroughly enjoyed this one

Command the Raven (An Uncivil War Book 2)

read our review

29 April 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of The Moon Field by Judith Allnatt

Good Reads Revisited
The Moon Field

"We are sharply reminded of the tragedy of young men joining up for what at the time seemed like good reasons, but were perhaps trivial in hindsight."


AMAZON UK
AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA

Fictional Drama
1914
England

"No man’s land is a place in the heart: pitted, cratered and empty as the moon…


Hidden in a soldier’s tin box are a painting, a pocket watch, and a dance card – keepsakes of three lives.


It is 1914. George Farrell cycles through the tranquil Cumberland fells to deliver a letter, unaware that it will change his life. George has fallen for the rich and beautiful daughter at the Manor House, Miss Violet, but when she lets slip the contents of the letter George is heartbroken to find that she is already promised to another man. George escapes his heartbreak by joining the patriotic rush to war, but his past is not so easily avoided. His rite of passage into adulthood leaves him believing that no woman will be able to love the man he has become."


I'm often drawn to books like this, which examine the brutal contrast between life before and after the 'Great War'. The 'before' scenes are all the more poignant to the reader because of course, we know what is coming, whereas the characters don't. Cumbrian village life in the early months of the war is beautifully described (although I'd question the time it took George to cycle from Keswick to Carlisle) and the author lingers on the calm before the storm just long enough for us to note how valued that life will be in retrospect. The war scenes are portrayed realistically - I assume - and the sense of brotherhood between soldiers comes across well. 


We are sharply reminded of the tragedy of young men joining up for what at the time seemed like good reasons, but were perhaps trivial in hindsight. Need some extra money? Join up. Had your heart broken? Sign here and take the shilling. The buoyant mood of these young men, well boys, really, soon evaporates. Equally striking is the effect on those they've left behind, from the prosaic - who will do the post-round now? - to the more emotional aspects, particularly for those who parted on bad terms. 


I had a few niggles, though. There is a fair amount of 'head-hopping' where the point of view in a scene changes, sometimes several times. Violet's father's animosity towards his family was set up as if it was going to be a major plot point, but actually fizzled out and became a bit of a non-story. And throughout, I felt a 'disconnect' between me and the characters and I didn't find myself caring about them as much as I might have done. George's story is the most compelling, but Violet's, although tragic, was less engaging, somehow.


For all that, a good read


© Annie Whitehead



Good Reads Revisited
Have you an 'old favourite' historical novel? 
Send #DDRevs a review and we'll post it!
email Helen on author@helenhollick.net

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27 April 2019

It's The Weekend

No reviews at the weekend
 but why not browse back through 
our previous reviews?

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26 April 2019

Beyond the Bay by Rebecca Burns




"I found this an absorbing read, both from the perspective of the two sisters and the background tale of the struggle for women's suffrage."

Amazon UK

Amazon US
Amazon CA

Family Drama

19th Century / 1890s
New Zealand

"Auckland at the turn of the century. A city on the cusp of change. Isobel, a settler of ten years, waits for her sister to cross the ocean to join her. Separated by distance, disappointments and secrets, the women reunite in a land where the rules of home do not apply. Women push for the vote and the land offers opportunity and a future for those brave enough to take it. But some secrets run too deep, some changes too shocking to embrace. Against this backdrop of uncertainty and promise, Isobel and Esther have to determine what – and who – means most"



It was, perhaps, particularly poignant that I was reading this novel at the time of the awful murder of fifty Muslims while they were at prayer in Christchurch, New Zealand.


The story is of two sisters, Isobel and Esther, their lives and their problems, the first of which is Isobel - Bella - who emigrated to New Zealand with her husband, Brendan. Ten years later, Esther, is to join her, only to discover that things are not as her sister has implied in her letters home. The elegant townhouse, for a start, is nothing but a tumbledown shack set between a carpenter shop and the slaughterhouse. Worse than the wallpaper made from newspaper stuck on the wall and furniture made from packing crates, is that Bella's previously apparent dashing husband is nothing but abusive and a drunk. But that is the way it is for the many who struggle to survive in this new land. They gather at the waterpump each day to gossip, to share experiences and to look to the future.


Esther also has her problems. Under the illusion that her sister would be able to aid her financially, she soon discovers that this is not so. Between them are jealousies, skeletons in the cupboards and matters to come to terms with - none of which I will mention because of spoilers.

I found this an absorbing read, both from the perspective of the two sisters whose secrets, hopes, dreams and the dawning of the reality of life is superbly explored, and the background tale of the struggle for women's suffrage - the Vote is wonderfully explored and portrayed. I think we, here in England, tend to forget that the Suffragette movement was not confined to our shores alone, but other countries around the wold as well.

Skilfully written, a superb read.

© Anne Holt




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25 April 2019

RINGSIDE AT THE CIRCUS OF THE FALLEN by Roy M. Griffis

By the Hands of Men, Book Six:  Ringside at the Circus of the Fallen


"Mr Griffis is a highly accomplished writer indeed; he is able to convey thoughts and personalities very well and hold the reader's attention. "


Amazon UK

Amazon US
Amazon CA
(Book 6 of 'By The Hands of Men')

Epic / Fictional Saga 

1924 - 1938
Wyoming and Hollywood, United States

First an explanation; when I first met the characters Robert Fitzgerald and Charlotte Braninov it was in the first two books of a trilogy under the umbrella title of 'By the Hands of Men'. That was about two years ago and since then, the author has 're-branded' the series and split the original two books into five. They are, however, essentially the same, and this is the final volume of whichever version of the series you choose to read. And I do urge you to read the previous volumes, for this one doesn't sit too well as a standalone individual tale. Any back story supplied by the author in this volume is fairly sparse and may be a little confusing in places to the new reader as a place to start the series.


So, a very brief 'catch up'. Robert Fitzgerald was a young Lieutenant at the trenches in WWI, Charlotte Braninov nursed him back to health after he was wounded, they fell in love. But Robert was sent back to England, found himself assigned to Singapore and made his way to Africa where he became a veterinary surgeon; Charlotte also went to England, but returned to her native Russia where she suffered greatly at the hands of the Bolsheviks. She eventually escaped, along with a young child, Zlata.


At the beginning of this final volume, Robert is preparing to leave Africa with his friends Orlando and Deidre Pyle, Their intention is to take up an old offer of employment from Marion Hurst, daughter of William Randolph Hearst. But they are unable to make contact and, stranded in Hollywood, they take odd jobs where they can, Robert finding himself helping out at a failing zoo that supplies animals for motion pictures. Along the way he becomes friends with David Niven and, principally, Errol Flynn.


Meanwhile, Charlotte and Zlata have also come to America, by virtue of Charlotte's continued friendship with one of her nursing colleagues, Kathleen, who has married her American farmer boyfriend, Hector. There they stay for a few years before poor harvests and the Depression see them moving to Hollywood where Zlata has become a stunt rider for one of the major studios. Robert and Charlotte meet for the first time in a couple of decades on the set of The Charge of the Light Brigade.


Mr Griffis is a highly accomplished writer indeed; he is able to convey thoughts and personalities very well and hold the reader's attention. I was particularly impressed with the way he handled that very awkward first meeting proper between Robert and Charlotte.  Some readers may find his frequent habit of using parentheses a little off-putting, but I found them to fit in well with his conversational style and, in some cases, almost conspiratorial.


This is a large book and it is almost inevitable that some typographical errors would creep in. There were rather a few more than I would have liked to have seen and some of those occurred in the italicised sections where an 'a' seems to have been inserted instead of a 'd' on a few occasions.  This should not reflect on the author, but perhaps on either the editor or the typesetter.


I have no hesitation in recommending this book but with the proviso that it is advisable to read the previous volumes first.



© Richard Tearle






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24 April 2019

The Garden of Earthly Delights by Robert Dodds


"Dodds’ writing is exceptional: he draws in his reader gently, almost subtly, and I found myself reading on long after I should have put the book down each evening."

Amazon UK

Amazon US
Amazon CA

Biographical Fiction

15th century


In the year 1490, Brother Jacomo of Seville is sent to Brabant as a Papal Inquisitor. He loses no time in condemning a man to be burned alive in the main square of Den Bosch. It is a public warning: be sure your sins will find you out. But who is without sin in Den Bosch? Not the local abbess, nor the local artist, Jerome (known to us as Hieronymus Bosch), nor his wife and best friend, who share a mortal sin, nor his serving maid. Nor, as it turns out, the Inquisitor himself, who takes far too much pleasure in devising hideous torture devices, which he insists the local blacksmith makes against his will.

Writing in the present tense, Robert Dodds has taken the creation of a triptych depicting Man’s Fall from Grace for his canvas and created in turn a compelling read. Each character is real, each has his or her good points and weaknesses. Even the foul-minded Inquisitor has a backstory to suggest how and why he has become the man to disrupt and ruin forever the convivial peace of a provincial town.

The setting is Hieronymus Bosch’s home town, but it could be any small town in Northern Europe, for this is the late 15th century when ordinary folk believe utterly in heaven and hell, and that they must do all they can to lighten their burden for the Day of Judgement. The story opens and unfolds in a quiet fashion befitting the location, yet it is a page-turner, and by no means predictable. The artist’s wife and friend and servant share a not uncommon secret, but even that does not play out as one might expect. 

Dodds’ writing is exceptional: he draws in his reader gently, almost subtly, and I found myself reading on long after I should have put the book down each evening.


The Garden of Earthly Delights is skilfully crafted, well-written, informative and enjoyable: it is in every way a Discovered Diamond.



© J.G. Harlond



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23 April 2019

Gates of Stone by Angus Macallan





"The story is told from the points of view of several characters and builds until they all start to brush against each other, and then the fun begins."

Amazon UK

Amazon US
Amazon CA

fantasy / alternative


This is one of the rare books we review that isn't historical but is just a step or two away, and will be of interest to readers who enjoy novels set in the Far East. It is somewhere between fantasy and alternative history as it is set in a land that is very familiar if you know south-east Asia. 


The Gates of Stone referred to in the title of the book are two fortresses opposite each other across a strait which allows access to the Laut Besar, an area of land and a wide sea that is approximately where south-east Asia is today. The northern-most fortress sits at the tip of Manchatka, or the Malay Peninsula, and the southern fort is on what would be Sumatra, or Sumbu in Macallan's world. Yawa to the south is Java, with Taman being Bali, more Indonesian islands and Borneo. You get the picture, and if you don't, Macallan supplies a useful map.


The story is told from the points of view of several characters and builds until they all start to brush against each other, and then the fun begins.


Katerina is a dispossessed, ambitious queen who is seeking to regain her Ice Bear throne by taking over the Laut Besar. Farhan is aboard a ship captained by his friend doing as he's told in return for a reward that will pay off his vast debts. Mangku seeks the Seven Keys in an attempt to re-establish the native people of the Laut Besar and destroy the interlopers, who have been there for centuries. And Jun just wants to return to the home that was destroyed when the sorcerer Mangku stole his father's magic sword. None of their plans goes quite as they expected and each faces challenges they could never have imagined.


This is a triumph of a novel. It is fast-paced and perfectly judged, the kind that pits someone you can't like against someone worse and then messes with your sympathies. There are characters you want to disdain but can't and moments you want to shout 'Yes!' even if to yourself on public transport. 


Macallan has created a world of myths and legend, religions that seem familiar and others that are strange, a fantasy with one foot in the real world, a world where guns and swords overlap and blades are far from obsolete. Fresh and different because of the setting and the blending of Japanese, Malay, Chinese and Indonesian cultures into something new, this novel is very definitely a novel and without the set boundaries of history, the author is flying.



© Nicky Galliers



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22 April 2019

Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History by Roy Adkins and Lesley Adkins

non-fiction


"Would a book about a siege of a small rocky promontory of land, of little more than a handful of habitable acres, really be interesting? Quick, simple answer: yes."


Amazon.UK
Amazon. US
Amazon.CA

non-fiction


"For over three and a half years, from 1779 to 1783, the tiny territory of Gibraltar was besieged and blockaded, on land and at sea, by the overwhelming forces of Spain and France. It became the longest siege in British history, and the obsession with saving Gibraltar was blamed for the loss of the American colonies in the War of Independence. Located between the Mediterranean and Atlantic, on the very edge of Europe, Gibraltar was a place of varied nationalities, languages, religions and social classes. During the siege, thousands of soldiers, civilians and their families withstood terrifying bombardments, starvation and diseases. Very ordinary people lived through extraordinary events, from shipwrecks and naval battles to an attempted invasion of England and a daring sortie out of Gibraltar into Spain. Deadly innovations included red-hot shot, shrapnel shells and a barrage from immense floating batteries."


Would a book about a siege of a small rocky promontory of land, of little more than a handful of habitable acres, really be interesting? Even when that promontory is Gibraltar? 

Quick, simple answer: yes. 

Right from page one I was engrossed in this page-turner ( a rare description for a non-fiction book!) Also right from the start I found myself reaching for a box of tissues - the welling tears all the more emotional because this book is fact, not fiction. These were real people.


Outside of those who have a specific interest in Gibraltar's history, or this particular era, this incredible piece of British history is relatively unknown, which is one reason why this book is fascinating... because it is relatively unknown fact of history. The impeccable research and absorbing drama is skilfully related, not just as an explanation of a military and naval exercise, but taking us into the lives of the people involved - and not made-up characters in an historical novel setting, but real people: the sailors, the soldiers, the civilians, the priests, the prisoners, the shopkeepers, the men, the women - everyone who became involved in this incredible struggle to survive. The detail of courage, endurance, hope, despair, grief, bravery, betrayal, greed - the entire spectrum of human emotion and motivation is here, portrayed through eyewitness accounts, impeccable research and skilful writing.

Whether you are specifically interested in the late eighteenth century or not, if you are interested in history in general - military or naval - read this book. For readers it is a fascinating account, for writers it is an invaluable source of research into the past and how people survive. I am surprised that no one (as far as I'm aware) has written a novel about this remarkable event. What a story that could be!


Excellent. Historical non-fiction at its very best


© Helen Hollick






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20 April 2019

The Weekend

No reviews at the weekend
 but why not browse back through 
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Start here for our APRIL reviews
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19 April 2019

Command the Raven by M. J. Logue

shortlisted for Book of the Month


Command the Raven (An Uncivil War Book 2)

"I love this series. I guess this is because I tend towards colourful rogues as main characters and no-nonsense women as their counterpart. But, in this instance, it is also because of the wonderful descriptive writing, and the totally believable characters - indeed I was somewhat shocked to discover that Ms Logue had completely made up Hollie, Luce, Het, Thankful Russell and the motley troop of ruffians. They are far too lifelike to not have been real people!"


Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
(An Uncivil War Book 2)

Military / Fictional Saga

17th Century / English Civil Wars
England

"February 1643. The beginning of the English Civil War and for once Captain Hollie Babbitt thinks his luck's turned. After a typically daredevil assault on Prince Rupert's elite cavalry troop, he's presently in favour with the Army of Parliament's commander. He's also personally in favour with Luce Pettitt's fragrant Auntie Het. And although they haven't managed to break Luce of the poeting habit, he's turning into a competent and capable officer. But what seems on the surface to be a minor promotion to a quiet backwater posting, sees Hollie forced to confront the demons of his past...."


I love this series. I guess this is because I tend towards colourful rogues as main characters and no-nonsense women as their counterpart. But, in this instance, it is also because of the wonderful descriptive writing, and the totally believable characters - indeed I was somewhat shocked to discover that Ms Logue had completely made up Hollie, Luce, Het, Thankful Russell and the motley troop of ruffians. They are far too lifelike to not have been real people!


But while the characters are made up, the events are not. The battles are graphic (as is some of the language), the hardship, the fear, the doubts, the sheer weariness of the hard slog of  enduring the dreariness of a siege, the mud and filth of being on the march with the army,  or the aftermath of battle with the inevitable result of losing dear friends to the sorrow of death, or the pain and discomfort of recovering from dreadful wounds. All of it brought vividly to life within these page-turning pages - but don't get me wrong, this is not a gruesome or difficult read, it is merely realistic, and in places extremely funny, for the characters populating this novel - this series - are ordinary men and women involved in extraordinary circumstances.


From where I live in North Devon my eighteenth-century farmhouse overlooks the Taw Valley and the main road from Exeter to Barnstaple and Torrington, where on the 16th February 1646, a decisive battle of the south-western campaign of the First English Civil War was fought, the outcome marking the end of Royalist cause in the West Country. I am a little disappointed that Babbit and his troop were situated in the North, Midlands and Essex area, I would have liked to imagine them making their way along 'my' bit of the valley!


Aside from the addictive charm of the leading characters, the delight of this series is that because of the meticulous research you do not realise that, as you read, you are taking in the bare-bone little facts of the history of the English Civil War, the where and the how, but not the political machinations of the why... the answer to that is often a mystery to even the soldiers involved. They are there to do a job, they are soldiers fighting on the Puritan side, not for the Royalist Cavaliers. These are men on the 'other' side... and that makes Babbit and co., refreshingly different to the majority of English Civil War novels which write of dashing cavaliers and loyalty at all cost to King Charles I. I've never really considered the buff-coated men of Cromwell's New Model Army as 'heroes', always believing myself to be a Royalist supporter.  I hope Ms Logue will be delighted to learn that she has totally converted me. 


I am now eagerly delving into book three... and four ... and five...


© Helen Hollick 

(note: these novels contain explicit language)




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