14 October 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of The Love of Geli Raubal by Brenda Squires

The Love of Geli Raubal
"A very good depiction of how strong, almost blind adherence to seductive, yet irrational political ideology can divide families in desperate straits."


AMAZON UK
AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA


Mystery / fictional drama
1930s
Berlin

"Berlin, October 1933. Max Dienst has returned to the city he last knew as a student. He has been asked to cover the elections to the Reichstag. A colleague on the paper mentions the case of Geli Raubal, a young singer from Vienna who died in mysterious circumstances in the flat of her uncle. There is a botched death certificate but is it a hidden murder? Max thinks he may have a story, her uncle is the leader of a growing political party, a man who seeking to change Germany and Europe. Her uncle is Adolf Hitler. Berlin is also the city of his youth when he was in love with a young Russian communist and embroiled in all the new ideas of change and idealism. Ten years later Max is married to Rhiannon and a journalist for a respected newspaper. Rhiannon works at the British Embassy. She is approached by the mysterious Sid Khan, he may have information that would be useful to her husband. Max was a member of the communist party in his youth. Max wants to find the truth in a time when everyone has their own version, but are there secrets that are best forgotten?"


A very good depiction of how strong, almost blind adherence to seductive, yet irrational political ideology of both left and right can divide families in desperate straits and undermine friendships.

A polarised country with little history of democracy and rule by consent, 1930s Germany was disintegrating amidst economic and social breakdown, the pull of Prussian conservatism and the rise of ideologues. The author’s research is impeccable in this respect; she shows us the day-to-day tension and insecurity very well. Poverty, soup kitchens, high unemployment, casual violence and shortages contrast with people trying to do their best to keep some sense of normality in an environment when freedom and civilised values are in retreat.

Investigative reporter Max is thoughtful and persistent, but rather naive, given that he grew up in a capital city after the cataclysm of the First World War and the instability that followed it. He’s also swum in the shark-infested political waters of London in the 1920s and 30s. I would have thought his sense of self-preservation would have been higher especially as he now has a wife to care for. Rhiannon herself is sympathetically drawn, but we don’t see much character development through the book, which is a pity.

The most interesting character, a very clever stroke by the author, is the introduction of Sid Khan, an Indian working in Berlin for the Foreign Office in an intelligence-gathering capacity. His story must be worth a book alone as he develops from a loyal subject to a doubting one who obviously has a personal and political journey to go on.

The pace ratchets up nicely rising to the crisis point we know is coming. Action scenes are well-crafted; I was swallowing hard at several places.

I was drawn to the title of this book as the death of Geli Raubal is one of those rich side-mysteries of the Third Reich; the influence of Hitler’s half-niece and his fascination for her could well have changed history if she had lived. However, I was disappointed that the first mention of Geli didn’t appear until Chapter 18! This is a significant failing of what would otherwise be a first-class novel of the period. A thriller really requires some solid clue to the central mystery within the first chapter, or possibly two. For my money, I would have cut a considerable number of the earlier chapters and gone straight to the mystery.

However, I did enjoy this well-researched novel very much and once it got to the heart of the story, it caused me some late-night reading.

© Jessica Brown







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11 October 2019

The Tale of Hill Top Farm by Susan Wittig Albert

The Tale of Hill Top Farm (The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, #1)

"This is an utterly charming cosy mystery!"

AMAZON UK
AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA


mystery
Victorian
England

The first in Albert’s Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter series, The Tale of Hill Top Farm focuses on Beatrix Potter’s move to Sawrey, purchase of Hill Top Farm, becoming acquainted with the townsfolk, and witnessing several mishaps and mysteries. The town is thrown into disarray when one of their own, Miss Toliver, dies unexpectedly. Naturally, the death being so unexpected, everyone wonders whether Miss Toliver had been poisoned, and by whom. Then it is discovered that the church register has been stolen, followed by the disappearance of a rare painting from Miss Toliver’s house, cash funds to repair the local school’s roof, and the question of who would inherit Miss Toliver’s cottage. The town devoutly hopes it does not go to her disagreeable nephew. All are surprised when, upon the reading of Miss Toliver’s will, the cottage goes to a Miss Sarah Berwick, a complete stranger. Further shocks come when the village learns why the register and roof repair funds have gone missing, as well as the true fate of Miss Toliver.

This is an utterly charming cosy mystery! While many of the plot details are, of course, pure fiction, the location and events of Beatrix Potter’s life are historically documented and reflected in the story. She did live in Sawrey for many years, and she did travel with a menagerie of pets like hedgehogs, bunnies, and mice. The animals are point-of-view characters throughout the book, and they are the ones who solve all the mysteries well before the humans ever do.

I enjoyed, too, the Victorian manners and etiquette the characters adhere to. I am so glad I am not a Victorian, but it is fun to read all the same.

I definitely plan to read the rest of this series. Highly recommended!


© Kristen McQuinn




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9 October 2019

Writing Prompts for Romance Writers by Jane Holland

non-fiction
Paperback

"One of those useful little books for  writers, be it for anyone setting out to write a first novel or those who have several titles under their belt. "
AMAZON UK
AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA
non-fiction
Perfect bound with spiral cover effect 
paperback
6 x 9  £5.99
126 pages

"This is a book for writers by a professional writer with 25 years’ experience, someone who knows what it’s like to get up in the morning and stare at a blank sheet of paper without knowing where to start. Regardless of where you are in your writing career – just starting out, published a few, bestseller, returning after a break – we’re all writers, and we all know the perennial obstacles to writing."

I offered to read, and review, this little 'note-book' style aid for writers because we have many romantic historical fiction submissions to Discovering Diamonds. As with thrillers, the typical murder mystery 'Who Done It' genre, Historical Romance is very popular and tends to follow a specific guideline formula for the creation of a good, entertaining read.


Miss Holland's Writing Prompts for Romance Writers is one of those useful little books for  writers, be it for anyone setting out to write a first novel or those who have several titles under their belt, but would welcome a little encouragement, or to refresh the imagination and enthusiasm - the writer's equivalent of a strengthening wind to sail with confidence out of the Doldrums. 

Included are interesting thoughts on writing and publishing in general, and prompts to keep you on track with your plot and characters.

This is not just a 'how-to' book though, (there are plenty of those), what I especially liked is that it is a practical workbook. There are lined blank pages for you to jot down your own ideas, or to 'sprint write' a scene, with suggestions to get you started. 

Reading through, as a writer myself, my imagination was already whirring with possible plots, not as a romance but suitably adapted for my own genre of writing (historical fiction and nautical adventure). I particularly liked this Writing Prompt: "Write a novel-opening scene in which a woman has been scorned and is doing something hellish about it." I enjoyed ten minutes of doing just that, and who knows the exercise might turn up as a scene in one of my future Sea Witch Voyages!

Another titbit of advice worth remembering is: “The first line is an invitation to the reader, to enter the magical territory of the story. So try to make it sound like your novel is worth the journey.”

Is Writing Prompts for Romance Writers worth the journey, and the cost? Buy a notebook from any stationers and it will cost you two or three pounds or dollars, and all you get is a book with lined, blank pages. With Ms Holland's book, you get those as well, but in addition, several stimulating suggestions to boost your planned plots or get your mind working. So the answer is a definite yes!

In fact, Writing Prompts for Romance Writers, or it's twin, Writing Prompts for Thriller Writers would make ideal Christmas or birthday presents for friends or family who are writers, or who want try their hand at getting that first novel written.

Well recommended.

© Helen Hollick





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7 October 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of The Serpent and the Eagle by Edward Rickford

The Serpent and the Eagle (Tenochtitlan Trilogy)

"This is the story of how one man and his determination to enrich himself led him to take on a vastly superior enemy in an unfamiliar world. "

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA

Fictional Drama
1500s
South America

I spent most of my childhood in Latin America. I grew up with the stories of “La Conquista”, the Spanish conquest of the former so impressive pre-Columbian empires, the Inca in Peru, the Aztecs – or Mexica, as Mr Rickford prefers to call them—in Mexico. Add to this that I had a history teacher who had two major passions in life—England in the 14th century and the pre-conquest history of Mexico—and I count myself as something of an amateur expert on the campaigns led by Pizarro in Perú and Cortés in Mexico.

It was therefore with some trepidation I approached this book. After all, these are complicated events and the main characters are just as complex, and the temptation to simplify must be difficult to overcome. Mr Rickford does not simplify—not beyond what he must to make the story comprehensive to the more uninitiated. He presents us with an excellent portrayal of Hernán Cortés, this ambitious, greedy, driven man who had the temerity to set out to conquer an empire with less than a thousand men. Cortés is not a nice man. But he is brave and resourceful; now and then he even shows a glimmer of piety. 

Opposing Cortés is Motecuhzoma, the Mexica emperor. Here Mr Rickford presents us with a man who feels in his bones that the pale people are bad news but who prevaricates, not knowing for sure how to handle this new threat. This is a cultured man, surrounded by his equally cultured generals and advisors who enjoy high-quality alcohol, collect ceramics, precious works of art in jade—all of this in stark contrast to the bloodier side of their culture: the daily human sacrifices to appease the gods. 

The Mexica did not come to dominate their world through their enjoyment of art, but rather because they excelled at warfare. At times, I felt the brutal aspects of the Mexica were too downplayed. In The Serpent and the Eagle, the aggressors are the violent, barbaric Spanish—but it is important to remember that other native people allied with the Spanish because they had experienced the equally violent and barbaric qualities of the Mexica in full conquering mode. 

Mr Rickford tells his story through various POVs, among which are Malintze/Doña Marina and Solomon. Solomon is an old Moorish slave with little love for the Christians who have enslaved him. His POV adds depth and reflection to the unfolding narrative as well as an element of determinism: Solomon fears that the tribes that flock so eagerly to ally themselves with Cortés will one day wake up to discover that their partnership with the Spanish was never one between equals, and that once the Mexica are defeated, the Spanish will subdue all the native peoples. 

Malintze is the single female voice in the story, a young woman sold as a slave by the Mexica who now has an opportunity to get her own back. Intelligent and endowed with an ear for languages she soon becomes indispensable to Cortés, acting as his interpreter. He frees her and treats her with respect and for the first time in her short life, Malintze tastes the intoxicating brew named “power”—and finds she likes it. 

The grandeur and complexity of the Mexica culture is brought to vivid life by Mr Rickford. The vicious greenery of the jungle, the colours of the native birds, the harshness of the wilderness—all of it is vibrantly depicted, usually through the POV of the Spanish newcomers, who are both entranced and intimidated. 

Ultimately, though, this is the story of how one man and his determination to enrich himself led him to take on a vastly superior enemy in an unfamiliar world. Cortés plays the political game as a chess master dominates the chequered board, both against those among his fellow Spaniards who question him and against the native tribes he encounters. Inevitably, the Mexica will march towards destruction—but The Serpent and the Eagle ends before the final confrontation takes place, making me assume there will be a continuation. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. What is more, I know that my old teacher would have done so as well!  

© Anna Belfrage

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6 October 2019

Book and Cover of the month September Reviews

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 for September
WINNER


designer unknown
read our review
Honourable Mention Runners Up 


Blood's Game: In the court of Charles II fortune favours the bold . . . But one false step could prove fatal (Holcroft Blood 1)
Designer unknown
read our review
Click here for the 2017 - 2018 Archive

2019
From our  September Reviews
I'm probably going to get moaned at for my  selections
 this month because I hold my hand up
tknowing these authors.
Yes, they are friends... BUT...
I make my selections regardless of who wrote a book or who published it.
My criteria is:
* Did I thoroughly enjoy this story?
* Would I read it again?
* Is it a 'keeper'

Now I thoroughly enjoyed all the books on my shortlisted list
 but the three below were extra favourites because,
well, being honest again,
 I love the books written by these three ladies.
(and well, yes, that's why they are my friends!)
So there you are.

Anyway, no winners or runners up - they are ALL...

4 October 2019

A King's Ransom by Sharon Kay Penman

A Good Read Revisited

A King's Ransom

"I doubt that Ms Penman could tell a boring story to save her life!"

AMAZON UK

AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA

Biographical / Saga / Richard the Lionheart
13th Century
England / France

One of the things I love so much about Penman’s books is that they aren't over in a day. I feel cheated when I read a good book and get through it in twenty-four hours. No worry of that with hers, as this one came in around 700 pages. Love that!

This novel focuses on the last few years of Richard the Lionheart’s life. It picks up right where the previous novel, Lionheart, left off. Richard is in captivity, where he remained for over a year. He had to do a political balancing act with his captors, buying time for his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, to raise the astronomical ransom fee demanded by Heinrich. Eleanor herself also had to play politics to get her son out, raise the ransom, retain his duchy and kingdom, and somehow manage to maintain her composure and hope throughout. It is wonderful to see, too, how fiercely loyal his men were to him. It goes to show the depth of love they had for their king and commander and adds that much more complexity to the Lionheart’s already rich and vivid life.

I was gutted by Richard's death, even though I knew when and how it was coming. I got all attached - again - and then it made me cry. And made me angry, honestly, because really, what on earth possessed him to go out into a battlefield without all his protective gear? And to be shot in the armpit by a crazy peasant who was using a frying pan as a shield? He was always depicted as reckless in battle, always at the front of every charge, right in the thick of it with his men. That is admirable and respectable. But the day he received his fatal injury, he wasn’t just reckless. He was stupid. And that’s really tough to swallow regarding a man who could have had a long and glorious reign otherwise.

As always, Penman’s research is impeccable. Her portrayal of the characters involved, her skill in weaving together multiple points of view, and her deep knowledge of medieval European history is put to excellent use in this lovely, poignant novel. I am always amazed at how much history she works into her books without weighing them down or becoming dry. Pedantry must be hard to avoid with historical fiction, and many authors can’t manage it, but Penman always does. She teaches her readers as she tells us a story, and it is her obvious love of her topic that keeps her tomes from becoming pedantic or boring. I doubt that Ms Penman could tell a boring story to save her life!

I simply can't recommend Penman’s books highly enough.

© Kristen McQuinn




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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


2 October 2019

The Giver of Stars by JoJo Moyes

shortlisted for Book of the Month


The Giver of Stars

"Wow. Just wow. What a book."

AMAZON UK

AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA


Family drama
1930s
USA

Wow. Just wow. What a book.


JoJo Moyes usually writes heart-rending tales that leave you brightened and yet destroyed inside but this one is different.


Alice has married an American she met in England and being in a somewhat uncomfortable situation at home, smothered by her parent's disapproval, the exotic, handsome Bennett Van Cleve doesn't have to do much to win her heart. But Alice realises very quickly that things are a little - odd. They share a cabin with his father on the voyage back across the Atlantic, and the house she is to call her new home is a mausoleum a shrine to Bennett's dear, departed mother, a woman, who to listen to the two menfolk, was little short of a saint. She has swapped one stifling house for another.


But Alice finds something to do - she joins a new initiative started by Eleanor Roosevelt to lift the populace following the Great Depression and becomes a travelling librarian, delivering books through the locality of her Kentucky home, in mountains and valleys, on horseback. 


With five other women, Margery, Beth, Izzy, Kathleen and Sophia, they run the library with the help of local man Fred Guisler in whose outbuilding the library is based, and gradually win over an isolated, ultra-conservative population. Until, that is, Alice's marital problems spill into the wider community, the local mine causes a major flood that wipes out several valleys, and Mr Van Cleve declares war on the library.


Set in the 1930s, it is clear how, at this time, the UK was a very different place to Kentucky and the USA as a whole. Reading this, if it were not for the references to movies and cars, this could be set in any era up to a hundred years earlier. The attitudes towards women and blacks didn't change until after the 1960s in the USA: segregation and blacks-only libraries, laws forcing blacks to use separate resources, and any woman who did not conform to the ideal -  expected to stay at home to be a wife and mother, doing as she was told and seeing nothing wrong when her husband used his fists to keep her in line - was viewed with deep suspicion and shunned. It is shocking to a modern woman; it was shocking to Alice.


As much as this is a history lesson, in the life of conservative Kentucky, of the travelling libraries, it is also a story of female friendship. The women are the stars in this story, the men merely allow them to shine. When Alice needs comfort, it is the women who shield her, when Margery is in deep trouble, it is the women who act. The men aren't all bad - Bennett has his moments, Fred and Sven are the epitome of alpha male, movie star perfection - and if they slip into caricature, who cares? 



I loved this book.

© Nicky Galliers





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