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."

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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."

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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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20 August 2019

Him Or You by N L Collier

Shortlisted for Book of the Month


Him or You (The Flowers of the Grass Book 3)

"
What this book does so wonderfully well is to place the reader into the squadron alongside these men. Through Franz's narration, we watch as they all struggle to cope with the pressures by drinking heavily when weather precludes any flying or they have finished for the day."

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Military / Fictional Saga
1916
Belgium, the Western Front

This is Book 3 in a series and I would say from the outset that it is very advisable to read the first two in the series as I have. The reason being that this carries on directly from Book 2 (Below Us The Front) which in turn follows Book 1, Home Before the Leaves Fall and it would be very helpful to know the main characters.

Franz and Kurt, together with Kurt's brother Johnny, have been friends for years. Franz and Kurt had both served in the trenches before becoming flyers. And this is where we pick the story up in this volume. Their job is simple – shoot down as many 'Tommies' as they can and especially the Observer planes, which are always accompanied by at least two fighters.

What this book does so wonderfully well is to place the reader into the squadron alongside these men. Through Franz's narration, we watch as they all struggle to cope with the pressures by drinking heavily when weather precludes any flying or they have finished for the day. They drink (and utilise the local brothel) because they know they may not see another day. The turnover of pilots is rapid and each one of them knows their days are numbered. Both Karl and Franz suffer from nightmares of their times in the trenches, but they are not the only ones. Watching their fellows die becomes a regular occurrence and their biggest fear is from burning; this haunts Franz particularly.

Karl is a hotshot and is soon an 'Ace' – one who has shot down five enemy aircraft – and this causes traces of jealousy from his elder brother Johnny. Karl is calm, a fatalist; Franz is steady without being spectacular. And for the first time, the author explores the relationship between the two …

I found it impossible not to be moved by the characters – even the minor ones – and although the passage of each day is pretty much the same for them all, the author handles this extremely well without ever making the reader feel bored. 

Books on the horrors of World War I are plentiful, though very few deal with the state of the war in the air. This one takes on the task and succeeds magnificently. 

Very highly recommended by this reviewer

© Richard Tearle




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19 August 2019

Rubicon: short stories by Various Authors

Nick Brown, Gordon Doherty, Ruth Downie, Richard Foreman, Alison Morton, Anthony Riches, Antonia Senior, Peter Tonkin, L.J. Trafford, S.J. Turney

shortlisted for Book of the Month


Rubicon: A HWA Short Story Collection

"There is something here to satisfy a whole host of readers with different tastes."


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"Ten acclaimed authors. Ten gripping stories. Immerse yourself in Ancient Rome through a collection of thrilling narratives, featuring soldiers, statesmen and spies. Read about some of your favourite characters from established series, or be introduced to new writers in the genre. The stories in Rubicon are, like Rome, diverse and intriguing - involving savage battles, espionage, political intrigue and the lives of ordinary - and extraordinary - Romans, such as Ovid, Marcus Agrippa and a young Julius Caesar."

Nick Brown - Maker of Gold
Gordon Doherty - Eagles in the Desert
Ruth Downie - Alter Ego
Richard Foreman - A Brief Affair
Alison Morton - Mystery of Victory
Anthony Riches - The Invitation
Antonia Senior - Exiles
Peter Tonkin - The Roman
L.J. Trafford - The Wedding

S.J. Turney - The Praetorian

Although there seems to be a recent trend for publishing short story collections written by a variety of authors - presumably with the intention of introducing new authors to new readers - this collection of ten tales is another addition to the trend, but what a delightful addition it is!

Some of the authors I knew: Ruth Downie, Alison Morton, Nick Brown, Gordon Doherty, the others I did not, but for many of them I will be seeking out their novels.

Inevitably where there is a difference of writing style between authors there were some stories that held an edge over others, but there was plenty to keep a reader eagerly turning the pages, and the reader does not need to be a Roman fan to appreciate them. This collection will adequately satisfy any reader who enjoys historical fiction in general, for there is an engrossing mix of style, pace and subject: political, warfare, greed, sacrifice, alternative, mischief, humour... 

We meet statesmen, soldiers, pirates, spies and ordinary people who lived way back then when Rome  expanded, became great and  then faded away, (discounting Morton's alternative Roma Nova series of thrillers which portray the idea of Rome surviving to this day.) 

We meet names we know: Marcus Agrippa, Julius Caesar, Ovid - and many we may not have heard of, or know little about. There is something here to satisfy a whole host of readers with different tastes.

So if the intent is to introduce different authors to different readers via the entertainment of providing deliciously engrossing short stories, well, job done!

© Anne Holt

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16 August 2019

A Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay

A Brightness Long Ago

"The pseudo-Renaissance Italian land of Batiara is richly described with a deep history of its own. The land and settings are life-like and made me feel as though I’d fallen through the pages into the scene directly...Every character, no matter how minor they first seem, is fully developed and identifiable."

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Fantasy / Alternate
15th century
Batiara (quasi-Italy)

In Kay’s newest historical fantasy set in a quasi-Renaissance version of Italy, themes of memory and fate are woven throughout the tale in the memories of Guidanio Cerra. Cerra recalls his life, starting with the day he helped the highborn Lady Adria di Ripoli get away after assassinating a tyrant. From there, his life brings him into contact with Folco Cino and Teobaldo Monticola, both mercenary leaders and bitter rivals. They all revolve around one another’s lives, orbiting around the shared sphere of power, dominance, and subtle machinations of politics and war, through the lens of distant memory. Most of the events are viewed from Cerra’s point of view as his life touches Cino’s, Monticola’s, and Adria’s, along with some more minor characters such as the healer Jelena or a young cleric.

The pseudo-Renaissance Italian land of Batiara is richly described with a deep history of its own. The land and settings are life-like and made me feel as though I’d fallen through the pages into the scene directly; I could see and smell and feel everything he described as though I was really there. Every character, no matter how minor they first seem, is fully developed and identifiable. I love the way Kay takes these minor characters and later shows their connection to the main events, or has them come back in unexpected ways. He provides an interesting discussion on the concept of fate and choice, and how even seemingly small choices can have a dramatic impact on the course of one’s life. Everything is connected and has a purpose in his writing, and Kay is a master at teasing out every bit of detail from a scene. Kay can transport a reader into his carefully crafted world, full of a multitude of characters, without confusion or disrupting the narrative flow. He uses language alternately to soothe and to jar the reader into a deeper reflection of the overarching themes in his works. His ability to do so with singular skill is rare, and an utter delight to read.

This works as a standalone novel, though it would be excellent to read along with Kay’s Sarantium Mosaic since they are connected. 

Very highly recommended.



© Kristen McQuinn 


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15 August 2019

The Official Guide to the Sam Plank Mysteries: A guide to the series by Susan Grossey


"
Ms Grossey so easily slips the slang terminology of the period into the narration and dialogue. In so many novels the language of the period can jolt the reader out of the story because it seems false or out of context, (or just plain incomprehensible!). Not so for Constable Plank!"

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"This free guide is the official introduction to the Sam Plank Mysteries by Susan Grossey. In the guide are short descriptions of each of the Sam Plank books, the first chapter of each book, and a glossary of Regency slang as used in the books. The books included are: "Fatal Forgery"; "The Man in the Canary Waistcoat"; "Worm in the Blossom"; "Portraits of Pretence"; and "Faith, Hope and Trickery". You will receive an update to this guide when a new Sam Plank book is published, as long as you have the Update function enabled on your device or app."

So explains the blurb on Amazon for this interesting little freebie e-book. 

The novels themselves are 'who-dun-it' mysteries set in the early 1800s, when the London police force was changing from the original Bow Street Runners into the Metropolitan Police (formed in 1829). The law was enforced by Magistrates and Constables - like Constable Sam Plank, and the delight of these novels goes much further than the excellently detailed research the author has undertaken for this interesting Regency period of London's history.

Her characters - goodies and baddies - are believably real. Sam himself has his faults and weaknesses, he makes errors but does his best to be a decent, fair-minded Constable. I also particularly like his wife, Martha, she is an absolute gem. 

One of the other 'likes' for these novels is the way that Ms Grossey so easily slips the slang terminology of the period into the narration and dialogue. In so many novels the language of the period can jolt the reader out of the story because it seems false or out of context, (or just plain incomprehensible)! Not so for Constable Plank - the occasional unfamiliar word makes perfect sense, and this particular little extra, The Official Guide to the Sam Plank Mysteries, is the icing on the cake as tit-bits of interesting terminology for reader or writer alike.

The idea itself, an easy to read little guide to a popular fiction series, is an excellent one and I can predict several indie authors of historical or alternative history series 'borrowing' the idea (myself among them)!

An ideal 'taster' for Ms Grossey's series, and an engrossing read, especially for lovers of Regency England and London, but suitable for any avid historical fiction fan. It's free, what have you got to lose?

© Helen Hollick


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14 August 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of De Bohun's Destiny by Carolyn Hughes

De Bohun's Destiny: The Third Meonbridge Chronicle (The Meonbridge Chronicles Book 3)

"This is a novel of classic good versus evil with no doubt at all left as to which is which."


AMAZON UK
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the third Meonbridge Chronicle 

Fictional Saga
1300s
England

"How can you uphold a lie when you know it might destroy your family? It is 1356, seven years since the Black Death ravaged Meonbridge, turning society upside down. Margaret, Lady de Bohun, is horrified when her husband lies about their grandson Dickon's entitlement to inherit Meonbridge. She knows that Richard lied for the very best of reasons - to safeguard his family and its future - but lying is a sin. Yet she has no option but to maintain her husband's falsehood... Margaret's companion, Matilda Fletcher, decides that the truth about young Dickon's birth really must be told, if only to Thorkell Boune, the man she's set her heart on winning. But Matilda's "honesty" serves only her own interests, and she's oblivious to the potential for disaster. For Thorkell won't scruple to pursue exactly what he wants, by whatever means are necessary, no matter who or what gets in his way..."

The de Bohun estates hang in the balance as Richard de Bohun has no heir of his line when his son (of dubious moral character) is murdered. The official heir is a man by the name of Morys Boune, a distant cousin who is more criminal than lord and no one in Meonbridge wants him and his equally distasteful sons to inherit. But what to do? Promote the illegitimate grandson to legitimacy, by claiming his mother was the long dead wife of the deceased son. But too many people know it for a lie and it is only a matter of time before it is discovered.

This is a novel of classic good versus evil with no doubt at all left as to which is which. The Bounes are so shockingly dreadful that although their portrayal dips into caricature, it doesn’t really matter. Lady de Bohun is rather prematurely old, one needs to be reminded she’s supposed to be mid-forties because her rendition reads more like someone  older. Yes, it was a different time, but the king was still personally engaging in battle at the same age.

I do question the finer points of historical detail for the period which I feel goes slightly awry in a couple of places regarding land tenure and the judicial system, but this is a nit-pick as the author's exuberant style of writing lends an unexpected air of authenticity to the entire tale.


Possibly, the pace and plot of the novel is a little ponderous, with a lot of words and hand-wringing from the characters, but, taken as interesting fiction for the portrayal of the fourteenth century, this is a pleasing read, doubly so as this often neglected era deserves more exposure as far as enjoyable fiction is concerned.  

© Nicky Galliers




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13 August 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of Mira's Way by Amy Maroney

Mira's Way (The Miramonde Series Book 2)

"I read Book One of the Miramonde Series and enjoyed it immensely. I love Amy Maroney's writing and have got completely caught up in the world she has created. "

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"Book 2 of The Miramonde Series, continues the mesmerizing tale of a Renaissance-era female artist and the modern-day art scholar who risks everything to learn her secret.
1504: Artist Mira wants nothing more than a peaceful life by the sea, painting portraits of wealthy merchants. But when she and her new husband try to help a friend, they are catapulted into a series of dangerous adventures that leave them scrambling to survive.
2015: Art scholar Zari races through France, working feverishly to connect Mira with a series of masterful unsigned portraits. Meanwhile, an academic rival peddles his theory that the works were made by a famous male artist. Will Mira be lost to history forever?"

I read Book One of the Miramonde Series and enjoyed it immensely. I love Amy Maroney's writing and have got completely caught up in the world she has created. Mira is a very believable character, shaped by her experiences and she is talented, determined, but real, rather than feisty. The accompanying cast of characters are equally well-drawn and I really feel that I've come to know them all. The modern-day story of Zari's struggles with the snobbish academic world are equally well written and I really sympathised with her frustration as she continued to try to prove that Mira was the real artist of the paintings. It is a plus point that Zari's story is not just about the paintings and the past, but includes her on-off relationship with Wil, the charismatic Dutchman. The path of true love never did run smooth and Wil seems determined to prove the adage.

Much of the back story is explained but I do feel readers would benefit from having read The Girl from Oto first, as it added a greater depth of understanding for me having met all these characters before. This is a classic tale, by which I mean that the characters are on a physical journey and these journeys are punctuated by drama; new characters appear who move the story along, or tie up certain parts of the plot, and there is always a sense that all these separate strands will be pulled together. Reading this, as I did with Book One, I felt like I was in good hands and that the author knew exactly where we were going.

I only had two very tiny niggles. The first is the use in the early fifteenth century of the word 'gobsmacked' which is a word that has only come into use in Britain in my lifetime and it sort of jumped off the page a bit. The other is the ending. I won't give away any spoilers but I wished the book could have ended in a different way, or a slightly different place, but this is a measure of how much I enjoyed the book. (You'll understand, once you read it.)


I believe there is a prequel to these books and I am keen to read it. I really didn't want to leave this world and that's testament to the power of Ms Maroney's skill as a storyteller.

© Annie Whitehead
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12 August 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of Infants of the Brush by A.M. Watson

Infants of the Brush: A Chimney Sweep's Story

"
The author has a talent for painting the dreariness and squalor of the life led by 18th-century “climbing boys” like Egan. It is a uniformly awful existence where only the slightest glimmers of hope survive." 3.5 stars awarded

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1700s
England

A lawyer myself, I’m a sucker for historical novels based on actual cases. Author A.M. Watson has lifted a classic from law school first-year casebooks, the 18th century King’s Bench case of Armory v Delarmirie, and spun out a fully fleshed fictional backstory to the brief official summary of this landmark decision. A small boy, Egan, inherits an ash sack from a deceased predecessor after having been sold by his destitute mother to a violent and drunken chimney sweep, Master Armory. After learning the trade from Pitt, a more experienced boy whom he befriends, Egan removes what he believes to be a stone from the ash sack upon which he’d become accustomed to sleeping. Cleaning off the stone, he discovers a valuable jeweled brooch which he is certain he can sell to raise the five guineas needed to buy his freedom from his abusive master. After an unscrupulous goldsmiths apprentice takes the stones from the brooch and leaves Egan with only the setting, the boy confesses to his master. Seeing an opportunity for a substantial windfall, Master Armory hires a lawyer and the case then unfolds along the lines of the historical record.


The author has a talent for painting the dreariness and squalor of the life led by 18th-century “climbing boys” like Egan. It is a uniformly awful existence where only the slightest glimmers of hope survive. The dangerous scenes she creates, with almost Dickensian precision, of crumbling chimneys and red-hot flues are both graphic and terrifying. The band of long-suffering but intrepid boys is artfully drawn in all their rivalries and tendernesses, loyalties and shared deprivations. 


However, with the denouement rather evident from the earliest chapters, the storyline loses pace as the author stretches material that would make for a taught novella into a near 300-page novel. In addition, the author’s research of the period is patchy, with lapses in historical accuracy and a few too many anachronisms:  these include a shaky knowledge of 18th-century undergarments - poor people did not wear them (even many better of souls did not!) She has a shaky knowledge of pence, shillings and guineas ("I'll do it fer a fourpence" a denomination that never existed - unless this is a typo and should read 'I'll do it fer fourpence"?) As an American lawyer she commits the error of having a solicitor argue a case before the King's Bench. Tut tut. The word "git" is 20th century and lower class Londoners of 1722 would not have used the word 'wee'. 


Infants of the Brush could have done with a few more passes of the editorial brush; however, this is a writer with promise, who exhibits substantial craft and with a good, knowledgeable,  editor could well be one to watch.


© Jeffrey K. Walker





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9 August 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of Plague By Jonathan Forth

Plague

"
Recommended to anyone who likes a laugh and a break from figuring out the problems of real history."

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 Humour

14th C
London and Paris

And now for something completely different! Humour is a very personal thing; what makes one person guffaw will leave another shaking their head and saying, “I don't get it”. I have to say at the outset that I laughed a lot, though if the reader is a purist, they may not, as here we have constant anachronisms – especially in dialogue – murderous Popes, revolting peasants with names such as Darren and Clive, noble buffoons, inept angels, a female assassin, a man with the largest codpiece ever and a plot and cast of characters that owe as much to history as does Carry On Cleo. Not to mention a couple of rallying calls such as 'Fake News' and 'Make The Church Great Again'.


But that is the point. Now and again we need to step back from the seriousness of two millennia of world changing events and have a laugh at ourselves.


The plot is quite simple; plague has crossed the channel  by virtue of two rats hiding on a cart containing French Cheese; the Pope (the one in Rome, not France) wants war between the two nations as people are deserting the Church,  (and what better way to bring this about is, of course, to assassinate King Phillipe whilst on a state visit to England) and Sir Walter (he of the impressive codpiece) is charged by King Edward to quell one and prevent the other. Throw in the release of three of the Four Horseman (whilst God was on her holidays) and we have a chortle-filled read, though not suitable for children!


Recommended to anyone who likes a laugh and a break from figuring out the problems of real history. You may even ponder that perhaps, just perhaps, the plague and the Hundred Years War might have actually started the way described here.



© Richard Tearle






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