30 October 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of The Snow Bride by Lindsay Townsend

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"A tale of love and trust, honour and courage."

AMAZON UK
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Romance
12th century
England

"England, winter, 1131 Elfrida, spirited, caring and beautiful, is also alone. She is the witch of the woods and no man dares to ask for her hand in marriage until a beast comes stalking brides and steals away her sister. Desperate, the lovely Elfrida offers herself as a sacrifice, as bridal bait, and she is seized by a man with fearful scars. Is he the beast? In the depths of a frozen midwinter, in the heart of the woodland, Sir Magnus, battle-hardened knight of the Crusades, searches ceaselessly for three missing brides, pitting his wits and weapons against a nameless stalker of the snowy forest. Disfigured and hideously scarred, Magnus has finished with love, he thinks, until he rescues a fourth 'bride', the beautiful, red-haired Elfrida, whose innocent touch ignites in him a fierce passion that satisfies his deepest yearnings and darkest desires."

Probably an ideal read for a hot summer afternoon on a baking beach - I say this because the story is set in winter, and the author is very good at making her readers feel the cold! 

A romance, yes, ticking all the boxes, but not your usual knights in armour chivalry; this is a story about women used for what they are often seen as in this period (and, alas, other periods, even today) - for sexual pleasure. It is also a tale of love and trust, honour and courage.

Elfrida, our main character is a wise-woman, a woman of learning. Through her we notice the plants that make herbal remedies. We see her too, as others see her - a witch. Magnus makes a wonderful hero, again not the normal handsome hunk, but a battle-hardened, scarred man who has seen the world and the horrors it can deliver. The passion between the two is as realistic and believable as the author's detail of the landscape. 

A Beauty and the Beast type story, and book one of a series. Some of the contemporary-style dialogue were perhaps a little too modernistic for the 1100s, I found the italics used for thoughts a bit of a sideways nudge to the flow, and maybe some 'adult' scenes will not endear it to all readers... but I thoroughly enjoyed the romantic escapism!

© Mary Chapple






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Cover and Book of the Month  selections 
for books reviewed during October 
will be revealed on 
Sunday 3rd November

28 October 2019

No Hero's Welcome by Jeffrey K. Walker

shortlisted for Book of the Month

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"The historical aspect of the period and the rise of the IRA was spot on for interest; not overdone with the detail, and as far as I am aware, accurate. "

AMAZON UK
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(Sweet Wine of Youth Book 3)

Fictional Saga
1800s
Ireland

"The horrors of the First World War devastated many a Dublin family and the Brannigans weren’t spared. Struggling to get past their heartache, the family finds itself divided by both the rebellion against British rule and the wide Atlantic. Devoted matriarch Eda Brannigan witnesses her family unraveling. Sean and Molly make startling choices with potentially lethal consequences. Francis steeps in a drunken angry stupor. Young Brandon is so eerily quiet. Eda desperately wishes her beloved firstborn, Deirdre, wasn’t living so far away. But with a determined resolve, Eda soldiers on in her bustling pub, The Gallant Fusilier, where tragedy, triumph and even love unfold. Can this family endure the violence and intrigue of the Easter Rising, the bloody struggle for independence, and a bitter civil war?"

I had not read the first two in the trilogy - my misfortune (and one that will be remedied) for this was a superb read, even without the pleasure of the other two novels, None of us the Same and Truly Are the Free.

WWI and the Irish uprising is the setting for the Brannigan family and their heartbreaking struggles. These were fictional characters but Mr Walker made every one of the characters who populated his novel so very, very real: their thoughts, their motivations, their hopes, dreams, fears, triumphs, disasters - their lives. Eda, the mother I was especially drawn to, but Sean and Molly were just as captivating. The entire cast were people I came to know and care about, just as I would with real-life neighbours and friends. I was there with them in the pub, The Gallant Fusilier, sitting quietly in the background with my drink almost forgotten as I eavesdropped on the conversations and the unfolding drama of a tale superbly told. 

The historical aspect of the period and the rise of the IRA was spot on for interest; not overdone with the detail, and as far as I am aware, accurate. I clearly remember the  IRA bombings of London (very nearly got caught up in one myself: I left earlier than intended and was safe on the underground: ten minutes later I may well not have been here to read this book or write this review). Reading this novel helped me understand the Irish Troubles, an understanding that many of us Brits simply do not, or cannot, grasp. I would actually go as far as to say that this trilogy should be compulsory reading for all UK students studying this period of conflict.

Add to all that, the story was absorbing and the writing was superb.  

© Anne Holt




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25 October 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of The Unlikely Occultist by Isobel Blackthorn


"While this book is interesting, it’s not for everyone. Like its subject it is erudite and deep. But it did something for me few other books have done."

AMAZON UK
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 Biographical Fiction/ Family drama
modern/early-mid twentieth century
England/U.S./others

Alice Bailey was an aristocrat and an evangelical Christian. As a young woman she did missionary work in soldiers’ homes in Ireland and India. Marriage to a violent man produced three daughters. When he abandoned them, Alice was destitute. She worked for several years packing sardines in a canning factory in order to feed herself and her children. But she was a purposeful and ambitious woman determined to rise above these appalling conditions. Seeking some intellectual stimulation, she attended a meeting of theosophists and found her calling. 

Heather is an archivist, who has a hundred boxes of a late professor’s work on Bailey dumped on her, including many of Bailey’s books. Heather is soon engaged, and we see Bailey’s life and work through her sensitive and sympathetic eyes. She has her own issues: a recently dead and beloved aunt and a domineering mother.

This was not an easy read and I found myself having to read parts again. Bailey was not only an occultist and an esoteric, but her teachings also encompassed metaphysics, spirituality, and cosmology among other arcane subjects, all of which are on the very periphery of my core of knowledge. She was called by some the Mother of the Aquarian New Age, and she was certainly an important influencer. Others denigrated her as a disciple of the Antichrist. 

As Heather digs deeper, she embarks on a quest to discover why Bailey was loved and revered by some, reviled by others and largely ignored by eminent historians and academics. The answer may surprise. Despite all, Bailey’s teachings and the organisations she founded have endured.

Not all of Bailey’s writings are her own. She transcribed telepathic messages from an entity she called the Tibetan whose purpose was to found a new world order, with one government, one people, peace and harmony. The nearest we have come is the United Nations.

While this book is interesting, it’s not for everyone. Like its subject it is erudite and deep. But it did something for me few other books have done by opening a whole world of new thoughts and ideas.


© Susan Appleyard







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23 October 2019

Entertaining Mr Pepys by Deborah Swift

shortlisted for Book of the Month


Entertaining Mr Pepys (The Women of Pepys' Diary Book 3)

"A
 brilliant finale of an excellent series."


AMAZON UK

AMAZON US 

Fictional Saga
1600s
England

Entertaining Mr. Pepys is the final instalment in Deborah Swift’s Pepys standalone series, each book featuring a different woman mentioned in Samuel Pepys’s famous diary. The stories are unique and focus on a different aspect of Restoration London. Entertaining Mr. Pepys is a brilliant finale of an excellent series.


Bird has a beautiful voice. She is the only daughter of a well-to-do London lawyer with a reasonably secure and comfortable life—until her doting father begins to dote more on his second wife. Bird’s father decides that it’s time to marry off his daughter without any consideration to finding a fitting match for her. Knepp, the chosen bridegroom, is a dour and bitter businessman with a struggling horse hire service who agrees to marry Bird for her considerable dowry and for the prospect of getting unpaid labour in the form of a wife. Bird’s new husband works her harder than he does his paid stable hands, and she is expected to not only to help them in their stable work, but also keep her husband’s house and cook for everyone on a shoe-string budget. The contrast between Bird’s well-appointed home and the dirty, dingy and mean accommodations of her husband’s house is heartbreaking. All her attempts to make the best of her marriage and her new home more palatable are cruelly rebuffed. 


There is a chilling authenticity to Bird’s situation where women had very few rights and were entirely at the mercy of either their fathers or husbands. Swift balances her portrayal of Bird, ensuring she is a character of her age while giving her enough gumption to demonstrate her strength. She does this by giving her moments where she can get away and be herself. This is how she discovers the theatre and recognizes a hunger inside herself for being a player on the stage. From that moment on, Bird uses her wits and her wiles to secure herself a place in the King’s company.  


There’s a diverse cast of characters who are wonderfully nuanced, from the African-Dutch maid to the actor who has been replaced by female performers, and even to Bird’s severe husband. A lesser author would have kept Knepp as a two-dimensional villain; instead, Swift reveals surprising layers in his character as the story progresses. 



The author’s attention to historical detail make this period come alive. Entertaining Mr. Pepys takes us to the drudgery of Restoration London, the dazzle of the stage and the fury of the Great Fire of London finishing on a satisfying note when the curtain descends. This is historical fiction at its best. Highly recommended! 


© Cryssa Bazos




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21 October 2019

Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss

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Amazon UK
Amazon US
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audiobook version reviewed: Narrator: Christine Hewett

family drama
contemporary
England

Ghost Wall is the story of Silvie and the two weeks in which her father, an amateur ancient historian, drags her and her mother into the woods of north England to live as ancient Britons. They join a group of anthropology students who are also there to reenact living the lives of simpler times and try to understand how the “bog bodies” came to be so. The group forages for food, hunts and fishes, all using Bronze Age tools. When they erect a “ghost wall”, the spiritual barrier made of stakes topped with ancestral skulls intended to ward off enemies, the group taps into a deep-seated, primal connection to their distant ancestors as well as a desire to deeply understand their motivations. What follows is a deeply unsettling narrative of abuse and sacrifice. 

This slim novel (or rather, in my case, short audiobook) highlights how taut prose can tell just as good a story as any giant epic doorstopper of a novel any day. This was an excellent read. Told from the point of view of Sylvie, the young woman whose father, Bill, is the amateur historian, we learn fragments of life about ancient Britons based on what she has learned in turn from her father. More importantly, we learn that her father is abusive  and has convinced her that people only hit the things they care about. Sylvie has a quick wit and salty attitude, which we only see in her internal dialogue; she never really says what she’s thinking for fear of what her father will do to her if she does. However, once they join up with the students and professor of the anthropology group, she begins to envision a different life for herself which includes going to university, having her own money, making her own decisions, living away from home and even away from England. She is afraid, however, to voice her interests since she has learned they will probably be thwarted. 

The anthropology students are an interesting group, ranging from barely engaged in the reenactment to ready to go back in time and embrace prehistoric life. Jim Slade, The Prof, as their instructor is called, leads the group overall, though Sylvie’s dad is the unacknowledged ruler since everyone tip toes around him. The students - Dan, Pete, and Molly - are by turns helpful and dismissive, indifferent and supportive. Molly in particular shines here and is a great example of a strong woman and role model. 

Sylvie’s father uses his love of history as a justification to abuse his family as well as to try to go back to some ephemeral time of British purity. Anyone who actually knows history knows there is no such thing for really any culture, let alone British culture. He names his daughter after a goddess - Sulevia - claiming she is a British goddess when in reality she is Roman in origin. You can’t “take back” a country when it was never pure or yours to begin with. There is a lot to unpack here with regard to cultural or racial purity, cultural and historical ignorance, and the ways in which humans have used history and a connection to past events, imperfectly understood, to justify and rationalize current cruelty and brutality.

I think this book makes a terrific argument for why we need to study and understand history. Yes, there is the old wheeze about people who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. More than that, though, is the message that those who imperfectly understand history (not that there is really a perfect way to understand it) can twist it to do awful things on both large and small scales. Bill uses history to justify abusing his wife and daughter; politicians use it as a way to whip up their base with the idea of “making XXX country great again” - ahem - the implication being that it wasn’t just fine the way it was before, with all the people from all different places living there. Racism. 

It also touches on the vital issue of domestic abuse, shame, and fear associated with it. Sylvie is ashamed and afraid because her dad beats her with his belt. Her mother is useless in protecting her, and while I tend not to understand that mentality - I think I’d kill anyone who hurt my daughter - I am also not a long-time victim of abuse. I don’t know how it must wear you down and make you think it is normal. That is important to try to understand. 

In short, I loved this book. It was deceptively nuanced and complex. Highly recommended.

© Kristen McQuinn

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18 October 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey

River of Teeth

"This book was so much fun! I love historical history, but not so much alternative history...unless it is one like this."

AMAZON UK
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Alternative History
1890s
Louisiana Bayous

Sarah Gailey’s novella, River of Teeth, finds its origins in a little known yet true bill Congress had considered passing in the 1800s. This bill would have imported hippos to the Louisiana bayous to breed as an alternate meat source to cattle. As the publisher’s blurb says, this was a terrible idea. Lucky for us, it clearly didn’t happen. In this alternate history, though, it did, and now things are going sideways. Some hippos in the novella’s past had escaped their farms and bred and expanded indiscriminately throughout the area. These feral hippos are tremendously dangerous and like to eat people. (Trying real hard here not to make a comment about how hungry the hippos were since I’m sure it’s been said many times. They were hungry...hungry hippos.)

Former hippo farmer and mercenary hippo wrangler, Winslow Houndstooth, is hired to herd these feral hippos out of the bayou and into a safer, contained region. If they are successful, he and his crew will make a fortune and Houndstooth will get revenge for a past wrong done to him. 

This book was so much fun! I love historical history, but not so much alternative history...unless it is one like this. Gailey pulled off an engaging, boisterous tale with complex characters, complete with their own motives, skills, and backgrounds. Houndstooth was the primary character, but the others were extremely well developed, particularly given that the story was so short. Houndstooth was haunted, driven by the injustices of his past, and yet he grows beyond that and is a good person at heart. Hero, Archie, Adelia, and Cal all play off each other well and the dynamic of the team is by turns playful and deadly. It is a well-rounded and potent group of mercenaries, killers, and explosive specialists, to be sure!

One thing I really loved was how diverse the cast of characters was, especially considering that it is set in the 1890s South not long after the Civil War. Men and women work alongside each other nicely (mostly), there are characters of color, nonbinary characters, LGBTQ characters, and a woman who is about to become a single mother by choice. So many different people are represented and I loved it!
Definitely recommended for anyone looking for a fast, fun, diverse read.

© Kristen McQuinn


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16 October 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of Past Storm and Fire by Christy Nicholas

Past Storm and Fire

"Nicholas is a master at providing her readers with stories laced in Icelandic cultural history that touch the souls of her readers."


AMAZON UK
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Historical romance
12th century/ 20th century
Iceland/ Miami

How often do we find that it takes a crisis or a disaster to realize that the life we are living should be more than the life we feel fated to live? After surviving a horrible hurricane that washes away almost everything that is a part of who she is, Val Masterson begins to question her life and marriage to Karl. Through the encouragement of her best friend, Jorge, she decides to attend a Society for Creative Anachronisms (SCA) event. When Val joins Jorge, she soon discovers a world that unlocks the door to a past where Val comes to realize the life she truly desires to live with the people she holds dearest in her heart. 

In this dual timeline novel, Nicholas tells the story of Vigdis from 12th century Iceland to help 20th century Val discover her own destiny in the present. She is a master at providing her readers with stories laced in Icelandic cultural history that touch the souls of her readers. In Past Storm and Fire, Nicholas creates the dual characters of Val and Vigdis by interlacing the paths of the two women into one story connected through common passions and desires. Nicholas imaginatively uses the skills that Val learns through the SCA and research to move her novel smoothly between two time periods. 

Based on her experiences of living through Hurricane Andrew and her passion for Icelandic history, Past Storm and Fire may at first sound similar to other time travel novels; however, Nicholas presents the story in a unique style that helps readers follow two women whose destinies are connected by fate. Unhappy with her life in the 20th century, Val writes the story of Vigdis and the world she, Vigdis, has had to learn to adapt to in order to find her everlasting happiness. By escaping to this past, Val comes to find the answers she seeks to discover her own hidden desires about her future.

Although this is a story of anguish and pain, it is also a story of hope and happiness. Nicholas does an excellent job capturing the strength of women who, when presented with danger, find the resources to overcome their troubles. In the end, readers will come to love and respect both Val and Vigdis for their courage, their endurance, and their ability to capture the dreams that eventually come to define them. 

© Cathy Smith



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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
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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!"

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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
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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
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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...