31 August 2019

Book and Cover of the Month for books reviewed during August

click here for the 2017 - 2018 Archive

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

2019

Cover of the Month 
WINNER


Designer unknown
Read our review
Honourable Mention Runners Up 

MORGARTEN: The Forest Knights: Book 2
Designer unknown
Read our review
Mira's Way (The Miramonde Series Book 2)
Cover design by Design for Writers
Read our review
The Traitor of Treasure Island: The truth at last
Designer unknown
Read our review
The following two designs are by avalongraphics.org
and are therefore exempt from judging

Read our review
Read our review
click here for the 2017 - 2018 Archive

2019
runner-up

Interesting to read something different about this intriguing lady
read our review
*
Book of the Month 
a plain simple, and highly enjoyable Regency romance 
- with a little twist of difference


30 August 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of The Traitor of Treasure Island by John Drake

The Traitor of Treasure Island: The truth at last

"
This is an excellent read. The characters are complex and adult, making them in every way more convincing than the original book."

AMAZON UK
AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA


Nautical
18th Century
The Caribbean / England


The Amazon blurb for this novel begins: “Buried for nearly three hundred years and now brought triumphantly to light by Dr Livesey, this is, at last, the true story of what happened on the fateful Treasure Island…” And it is such a well-written and enjoyable book, I really wanted this to be a true story. It isn’t, unfortunately, it’s a re-told version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island – notwithstanding, this spin-off makes excellent reading. 

Told using extracts from Dr Livesay’s journal, with some chapters told from the point of view of Long John Silver and his stunning wife Selena, we learn the supposed truth about Jim Hawkins, the fabled pirate treasure and the death of Captain Flint.

It is a good while since I last read Stevenson’s classic, but I do clearly remember the dramatic opening with Blind Pew arriving at the Admiral Benbow pub to give Billy Bones his Black Spot. To re-write such an opening takes courage, but author John Drake made it just as compelling, if not more so because we see behind the scenes and are introduced to the idea that Jim Hawkins is a devious little viper. Knowing this changes everything. From this point on the story becomes Drake’s until we get to the island itself, when he uses Stevenson’s basic storyline told from different points of view.

This is an excellent read. The characters are complex and adult, making them in every way more convincing than the original book. Squire Trelawney is a gullible buffoon, but a fine marksman, which saves him from stereotype; Long John Silver is a likeable rogue, anxious to protect his gorgeous ex-slave wife, who is herself a force to be reckoned with; Dr Livesay a perceptive, more worldly-wise man – who sees right through the nasty little turn-coat, Jim Hawkins. And Captain Flint . . . Captain Flint is seriously scary. He is elegant, an excellent seaman, charismatic, and a sadist through and through.

My only quibble is that with the post-script about what happens to those who return to England the story loses its dramatic ending and becomes a tad over-long. It is also a bit deceiving in that it implies the characters were indeed real people. But if you’re looking for an action-packed pirate story put this one on your list. I’m looking forward to reading John Drake’s next book.


© J.G. Harlond



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29 August 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of The Turn of the Tide by Philip K Allan

The Turn of the Tide (Alexander Clay Series  Book 6)

"
The Turn Of The Tide is a cracking good read, blending historical fact with clever writer's imagination and real historical figures with fictional ones. "

AMAZON UK
AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA

Book 6 of a series

Nautical
1800s
France


"Freshly back from a year in the Indian Ocean, it is not long before Alexander Clay and the crew of the Titan are in action once more. This time they are sent on a secret mission across the Channel. Amongst the forests and marshes of Southern Brittany, a Royalist rebellion is building and the Government at home is keen to support it. But as the uprising grows, Clay finds himself being drawn into a world of deception, intrigue and treachery. Who is the charismatic rebel leader, Count D’Arzon, and what is the secretive Major Fraser really up to? Meanwhile, the settled community of the frigate’s lower deck is disturbed by the arrival of a new recruit who appears to have strange mystical powers."

As with all series, to get the best reading experience, and to really get to know the characters - and the author, come to that - it is always wise to start at the beginning with Book One. However, Philip K. Allan's writing is crafted well enough for any reader to start anywhere, as each nautical adventure is a stand-alone, with this addition being no exception. (Although I do advise  you to start at the beginning - it's worth it!)

The Turn Of The Tide is a cracking good read, blending historical fact with clever writer's imagination and real historical figures with fictional ones. For readers who enjoy the Napoleonic era of warfare at sea via novels by authors such as Patrick O'Brian, Julien Stockwin, Alaric Bond and, of course, C.S.Forrester, the Alexander Clay series is a must.

What I particularly like about Mr Allan's series is the diversity of characters and settings - the novels are not just about the officers on the quarterdeck or accomplishing derring-do achievements, these stories include the below-deck world of the ordinary seaman which results in an overall picture of what life was really like at sea. 

Well written. Well researched. Well enjoyed.

© Anne Holt



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28 August 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of War King by Eric Schumacher

War King (Hakon's Saga)

"Hakon took the kingdom into his own hands after the death of the previous ruler and exiled his sons instead of killing them as he was urged to do. (Maybe that was why he was called The Good)."

AMAZON UK
AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA

Fictional Saga
Viking 10th century 
Norway

"It is 954 A.D. and a tempest is brewing in the North. Twenty summers before, Hakon Haraldsson wrested Norway’s throne from his murderous brother, Erik Bloodaxe, but he failed to rid himself of Erik’s family. Now the sons of Erik have come to reclaim Erik’s realm and avenge the wrong done to their father and their kin. They do not come alone. With them marches an army of sword-Danes sent by the Danish King, Harald Bluetooth, whose desire to expand his realm is as powerful as the lust for vengeance that pulses in the veins of Erik’s brood. Like storm-driven waves, the opposing forces collide in War King, the action-packed sequel to God’s Hammer and Raven’s Feast. "

This is the third book in the saga of Hakon the Good. I haven’t read the first two, but I had no difficulty reading this one and understanding what went before. Hakon took the kingdom into his own hands after the death of the previous ruler and exiled his sons instead of killing them as he was urged to do. (Maybe that was why he was called The Good). There was a price to be paid for such clemency. Battle scenes dominate as Hakon fights to maintain his position against the dispossessed sons supported by the Danes. Descriptions of wounds inflicted by various weapons in various ways are not for the faint-hearted. 

Hakon is a Christian with his own priest and has to walk a careful path between his own beliefs and those of his pagan followers. Juxtaposed against gory battle scenes is a later-life love affair that blooms between him and Deidre, the daughter of one of his chiefs.

The book doesn’t spare us the violence of those days but I would have liked to see a little more detail about Viking ‘life’. However, it will appeal to those interested in Norse sagas and war in general.


© Susan Appleyard



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27 August 2019

Moon Water by Pam Webber

shortlisted for Book of the Month


"This is a sweet coming of age novel that packs a bigger punch than at first you'd expect."

AMAZON UK
AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA

Family drama / Coming of Age 

1969
USA

"Set in the Blue Ridge Mountains during the summer of 1969, Moon Water follows Nettie, a gritty sixteen-year-old who is reeling from sucker punches coming from all directions. Her boyfriend since grade school wants to break up just as they were beginning to figure out the sex thing, her life-long nemesis is jabbing her with perfectly polished nails, and her hell’s fire and brimstone preacher refuses to baptize her. In the middle of this turmoil, an old medicine woman for the Monacan Indians gives her a cryptic message about a coming darkness: a blood moon whose veiled danger threatens Nettie and those she loves. To survive, Nettie and her best friend, Win, have to build a mysterious dreamcatcher–one that requires them to scour the perilous mountains for Nature’s ancient but perfect elements."


Nettie is living in Virginia in 1969 and is embarking on her first relationship break-up as the summer vacation begins. Visiting Nibi with her best friend, Win, Nibi's granddaughter, provides a distraction, as does a project that Nibi sets both girls - to make a dream catcher, a task that is harder than either girl at first imagines. Neither girl understands why Nibi is so insistent, but they accept her wisdom and do everything she says, with only a little complaining.


Meanwhile, Nettie is called on by her neighbour to help her out with her grandsons who are staying for the summer while their parents bicker over an affair in California. Ethan and Cal turn out to be somewhat older than expected, and better still, Ethan has the keys to his grandmother's car.


As summer progresses and the dream catcher takes shape, Nettie must choose between Andy, her former boyfriend and Ethan, and puzzle out the meaning of Nibi's visions and pronouncements, because they may just save her life.


This is a sweet coming of age novel that packs a bigger punch than at first you'd expect. What begins as teen angst goes on to examine the Monacan community, its continuity, the gentle maintenance of the old ways in a modern world. We also see how friendships can make a difference, and how some never get going. 


An easy read but not a simple one, this novel is certainly thought-provoking. It could be serious and wallow in itself, but it doesn't, with delightful moments of comedy that isn't forced, shocking moments you don't see coming, and a satisfying conclusion.


© Nicky Galliers

pre-publication ARC edition provided for review


Note from admin: strictly speaking, this novel is outside our remit of what constitutes 'historical', but every so often a book comes along that is a fabulous read and will be of interest to all our visitors - and we do like to be flexible when a Good Read deserves a good review! 



Read more about this author on her Book Tour Guest Post




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26 August 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of Time Tourist Outfitters, Ltd. by Christy Nicholas

  Time Tourist Outfitters, Ltd.  

"
The quest rolls along nicely, with elements not only of time travel but of an alternative world which is well-constructed but never imposes. "

AMAZON UK
AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA


Alternative / Fantasy/ Time Travel

Retired Temporal Agent Wilda Firestone just wants to run her Toronto shop, clothe time tourists and send them on their merry way into the past. She's content with her cat, sarcasm, and whisky. All of that changes when a near-death time-traveller falls at her doorstep, setting off a chain reaction which forces her to return to the job she ran from decades before. 

The Agency sends her with assistant, Mattea, back into three dangerous historical eras to find the disease threatening the life of every time-traveller. They search a teeming desert bazaar in the luxurious court of Mansa Musa. They explore the dark forests of pre-Columbian North America. They become entangled in the convoluted politics of twelfth-century Norse-ruled Orkney. 

But if Wilda can't return in time with the right pathogen, modern scientists won't be able to synthesise a cure before all time-travellers die.

What a terrific line in snark Wilda has! Occasionally overdone, but it’s highly effective and meets its target every time. But she isn’t just a fifty-odd year old kickass; inside she’s seared by the loss of her son and small child while on a time mission years ago. We see her courage, her weakness, her care for her colleagues and her policy of ‘take no prisoners’ all fighting it out in one persona. The secondary characters are nicely drawn, one or two over the top like Lady Xanthippe, but it’s the type of book that reminds you of Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair, so a little exaggeration is allowed.

The quest rolls along nicely, with elements not only of time-travel but of an alternative world which is well-constructed but never imposes. Worldbuilding in an alternative or fantasy world is hard, but the author has pulled it off well by keeping the details sparse and her characters living perfectly naturally in that world. When one character does have to explain something to another character, it’s relevant to the story and generally done smoothly with nothing of the deadly info-dump. 

The three historical locations are vividly but succinctly drawn; I could see them all in my mind’s eye. The occasional linguistic blip jolts you, but never throws you out of a well-paced story. One strength of this book is the snappy dialogue and the distinct change in voice with each character.

Fans of history, time-travel and alternative history will love this. I hope we see more of Wilda Firestone.

© Alison Morton



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24 August 2019

It's The Weekend

No reviews posted at the weekends

Start here for our previous reviews
  Click here to browse back

Forsaken Vows


* * * 



from September we will be posting
three reviews a week on
Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays




23 August 2019

Forsaken Vows by Katherine Pym

Forsaken Vows

"It must be said right from the start: Ms Pym delivers a rollicking read."


AMAZON UK
AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA


1660s
London / Mediterranean

It must be said right from the start: Ms Pym delivers a rollicking read, throwing the reader from Restoration London to the Mediterranean, peppering her story with everything from Moorish pirates, abusive husbands and false lawyers. Throw in a disgruntled former Puritan, a handful of closet Catholics and the resulting brew is not only quite heady, but also distinctively seventeenth century. 

Forsaken Vows is the story of Edgar and Emmathene, unfortunate enough to be born twins and therefore automatically branded bastards in these superstitious times. Well, at least one of them has to be a bastard, as everyone back then knew that a father could not sire two babes at the same time. I must admit I have a bit of a problem with this premise: twins have been around for as long as man has walked the earth, and while undoubtedly there were those who truly believed a man could only sire one babe at the time, I am of the opinion many more did not. Especially not an experienced midwife, who would reasonably have known the woman she was helping through her pregnancy was carrying more than one child.

Still: despite this quibble, I found Ms Pym's story most enjoyable—and very gripping. At times, she threw me a tad too abruptly from one sequence of events to the other, like when she leaves us hanging at Emmy’s disastrous bedding and instead dedicates the coming chapter to Edgar’s amorous woes. Huh: Edgar’s sister is in a disastrous, terrible marriage and he (and the author) scamper back to London? I have not forgiven him for that—but it is indicative of how invested I became in the story that I still think someone needs to wallop Edgar hard for not having stood up for his sister.

Ms Pym brings to life a not-so-pleasant seventeenth-century London. Things are murky and slippery, they smell of rot and mildew. Alleys are dark and narrow, doors swing on leather hinges (except for the sheriff’s door: he has iron hinges, as behoves a man of law who does not want thieves breaking into his home) ships creak and jostle in the London harbour. People die of consumption, in childbed, of hunger—at one end of the scale a harsh existence, while at the other the king and his courtiers flit about in a gilded reality.

Emmy, Edgar and their family are Catholics. After their mother fled her husband at the birth of her children, they live with their maternal uncle, Robert, who is a successful London merchant. He is also determined to ensure neither his nephew nor his niece risk eternal hellfire which is why he arranges for Emmy’s marriage with a Catholic gentleman farmer. However: Uncle Robert did not do his homework and so poor Emmy is sent off to marry a man who already has eight children (and one more on its way). I will not say more about this scoundrel as I think every reader should discover for themselves just what a worm he is. 

Ironically, once he has arranged this marriage for his niece, Robert decides the whole family must become Anglicans as he wishes to put his name up for the position of alderman. Throughout the narrative, the issue of faith recurs, highlighting just how difficult life was in the England of the 1660s if one did not belong to the Protestant church.  

Newly converted, Edgar is sent off by his uncle to sail with one of his trading ships. In yet another ironic twist, he and his crew end up marooned for some months in Málaga, where the local population is very distrustful of these heretic Englishmen. Edgar is not exactly in a position to reveal himself as a papist—nor does he want to. No, Edgar wants to become rich and successful, and such dreams are easier to realise as an Anglican than as a papist.

In conclusion, Ms Pym delivers a convoluted plot, two interesting characters and a well-researched setting—what more can one want as a reader? 


© Anna Belfrage




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22 August 2019

Traitor’s Codex by Jeri Westerson

Traitor's Codex (A Crispin Guest Mystery Book 11)


"Throughout this novel, themes of loyalty oaths taken, and re-evaluating what we thought we knew take the lead. Crispin and Jack both are forced to closely analyze the things they had always taken for, well, gospel truth."

AMAZON UK
AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA

Mystery
14th century
London

In 1394 London, Crispin Guest, self-styled Tracker of London, and his apprentice Jack Tucker are making ends meet with small jobs here and there. But their world gets turned upside down when a mysterious man drops a package in Crispin’s lap and disappears. Inside is a book written in a language Crispin has never seen. Making use of his varied contacts throughout the city, he learns that the book is written in Coptic and contains a secret gospel, the Gospel of Judas, which claims that Judas was the most beloved apostle and that salvation can come from within a person, not through Christ’s sacrifice. Knowledge of this gospel would overturn the Church’s authority and lead to a dangerous heresy, something even sceptical Crispin isn’t willing to allow. When people who have helped him start getting murdered, Crispin finds himself in the middle of a race to get the book to a safe place. In the meanwhile, someone in London is impersonating Crispin and wreaking havoc on his reputation… 

Throughout this novel, themes of loyalty, oaths taken, and re-evaluating what we thought we knew take the lead. Crispin and Jack both are forced to closely analyze the things they had always taken for, well, gospel truth, and both come away from their adventure changed in some fundamental ways. I think it was a good, if hard, lesson for Crispin to learn that Jews are people who have a great deal to contribute to his society and he realises he was not very good to them, or not as good as he could have been, only after two of his Jewish friends are killed. 

The subplot with Crispin’s copycat was amusing, and the way he handled it was very inventive. I liked how it came full circle in the end and Crispin used the man the way he did. It made that subplot more meaningful, rather than just a nuisance to Crispin that had no other purpose. 

The concept of loyalty also comes into play a lot throughout this novel. It was good to see Crispin evaluating his past role in the rebellion to place John of Gaunt on the throne and to understand the impact it had on others in ways he had never considered. Assessing one’s own thoughts and actions is an indication of a well-rounded adult and Crispin has really learned a lot about himself throughout the novels, and in this one especially. 

I am looking forward to the next book in the series with both excitement and bittersweetness, knowing it will be one of the last. But also - Excalibur! YES! I am also really, really curious to see how Crispin’s tale will end. I know *I* have my own ideas and hopes for how it will end and what will become of Crispin, Jack, and the rest. But it will be interesting to see if any of those align with Westerson’s plan for our favorite intrepid, disgraced knight. 

© Kristen McQuinn



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21 August 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of No Stone Unturned by Pam Lecky


"In addition to the lively writing, the Victorian scenes set in London and Yorkshire were perfectly painted, the realistic dialogue and the actual plot moved along apace and I revelled in all the characters."

AMAZON UK 
AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA 

Mystery 
188os
London / Yorkshire


"London October 1886: Trapped in a troubled marriage, Lucy Lawrence is ripe for an adventure. But when she meets the enigmatic Phineas Stone, over the body of her husband in the mortuary, her world begins to fall apart. When her late husband’s secrets spill from the grave, and her life is threatened by the leader of London’s most notorious gang, Lucy must find the strength to rise to the challenge. But who can she trust and how is she to stay out of the murderous clutches of London’s most dangerous criminal?"


It always a pleasure to meet a new character created by a familiar author, and making the acquaintance of Lucy Lawrence was no exception. I enjoyed Ms Lecky's The Bowes Inheritance, and her various short stories, and thoroughly enjoyed this first of a planned series of murder mysteries. I hope there will be several!

In addition to the lively writing, the Victorian scenes set in London and Yorkshire were perfectly painted, the realistic dialogue and the actual plot moved along apace and I revelled in all the characters; Lucy herself, investigator Mr Stone, Mary the maid and the various 'baddies' were all so splendidly drawn they leapt to life on every page. I even liked the cat, Horace!  

From the opening chapter, I felt empathy with Lucy; her boredom, her resignation to a loveless marriage, her sheer frustration of not being able to do anything of true use or to stretch her mind - beyond charity work or visiting museums. This, above all else, rather brought home the monotony of daily life for the Victorian wife who did not have to work for a living. But then, for Lucy, her world was to change when she suddenly becomes a widow. 

No spoilers, but my heart went out to the poor woman during those first few days of bewilderment and confusion. I found myself wanting to give her a hug, and then bit my lip and worried about her as the story unfolded -  and cheered as well for her stout-heartedness

Oh well done Ms Lecky! 

© Mary Chappell 



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