Friday, 31 January 2020

A Discovering Diamonds Review of State Of Treason by Paul Walker reviewed by Anne Holt

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"This was a fascinating novel, the alchemy of the combined astronomical and medical detail worked well for a thriller that oozed Tudor espionage"
#DDRevs Historical Fiction Reviews 

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Fictional Saga / Thriller
Tudor  1570s
London

"London 1578 - a cauldron of conspiracy, intrigue and torture. The might of Spain and the growing influence of the Catholic League in France all threaten the stability of Queen Elizabeth and her state. William Constable, a physician and astrologer, is summoned to the presence of the Queen’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham. He is charged to assist a renowned Puritan, John Foxe, in uncovering the secrets of a mysterious cabinet containing an astrological chart and coded message. Together, these claim Elizabeth has a hidden, illegitimate child (an “unknowing maid”) who will be declared to the masses and serve as the focus for an invasion. Constable must uncover the identity of the plotters, unaware that he is also under suspicion. A connection to his estranged mentor, Doctor Dee, comes under scrutiny. Pressured into taking up a position as a court physician, Constable becomes a reluctant spy. Do the stars and cipher speak true, or is there some other malign intent in the complex web of scheming? Constable becomes an unwitting pawn, in a complex game of thrones and power."

Scheming and intrigue, plots and counter-plots, spies and traitors - and an interesting protagonist. All ingredients for a good read. 

This was a fascinating novel; the alchemy of the combined astronomical and medical detail worked well for a thriller that oozed Tudor espionage and the exposure of traitors all fuelled by the beliefs of religion, greed for power and personal ambition.

The research seems well done, with the end notes giving an interesting account of the factual side of events of the period, and the protagonist himself, William Constable, proving to be a likeable and interesting character. A good start to what promises to be a good series.

Not all readers will take to this novel, though, as it is written first-person present tense which is often off-putting for some. However, if Hilary Mantel went down well for you, this one will be equally as appreciated.

© Anne Holt
e-version reviewed





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Thursday, 30 January 2020

A Discovering Diamonds Review of Her Vanquished Land by Diane Scott Lewis Reviewed by: Mary Chapple

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"Are there already enough novels of a feisty woman who dresses in male apparel? Maybe, yes, but when you come across something that is  engrossing -  who cares?"
#DDRevs Historical Fiction Reviews 

Note: we try our best to leave a 4 or 5 star comment on Amazon.co.uk and .com - alas Amazon is often not as openly supportive to authors :-( 
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Fictional drama
1780s
USA

“In 1780, Loyalist Rowena Marsh insists on spying for the British during the American Revolution. As a girl, she must dress as a boy, plus endure devastation and murder as she decodes messages for a mysterious Welshman. The tide has turned in the rebels’ favor. General George Washington appears to be winning. The loyalists are bombarded by threats and lost battles. Rowena stays determined to aid the British cause and preserve her family as they’re chased from their Pennsylvania home. She struggles with possible defeat and permanent exile, plus her growing love for the Welshman who may have little need for affection. Will the war destroy both their lives?”

A novel of adventure and survival – and romance  during a time of disunity and war, with some treachery and heartache, and trust and honour thrown in for good measure.

Are there already enough novels of a young, bold and feisty woman fed up with being left behind, so dresses in male apparel to go of to do her bit? Maybe, yes there are but, when you come across something that is engrossing, who cares how many authors have done something similar before? This novel was a little different from the usual US v UK struggle for independence as the usual familiar tale of conflict is told from the loyalist’s to King George III point of view, rather than that of the American Patriot.

A good story with good characters.

© Mary Chapple
e-version reviewed






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Wednesday, 29 January 2020

A Discovering Diamonds Review of The King's Sisters by Sarah Kennedy Reviewed by Anne Holt


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"It was refreshing to read a Tudor novel that was a little different to the usual run of books about Henry VIII's various (usually tragic) wives."

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The Cross and the Crown Series Book 3

Fictional Saga
Tudor 1500s
England

"The King’s Sisters continues the story of Catherine Havens. It’s now 1542, and another queen, Catherine Howard, has been beheaded for adultery. Although young Prince Edward is growing, and the line of Tudor succession seems secure, the king falls into a deep melancholy and questions the faith and loyalty of those around him. Catherine has found herself in a unique position as a married former nun. Now she is a wealthy widow. She has two children, a boy who has successfully joined the young prince’s household and a daughter who lives with her at Richmond Palace, home to Henry’s cast-off fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, now designated 'The King’s Beloved Sister.' Catherine also enjoys the attentions of widower Benjamin Davies, and in the festive court atmosphere, she has furtively indulged her passion for him. But England has changed again. Anne of Cleves hopes for reinstatement as queen—until questions arise about the finances of the houses she keeps. Catherine, as one of the king’s 'reformed sisters,' is singled out, just as she realizes that she is carrying a third child."

It was refreshing to read a Tudor novel that was a little different to the usual run of books about Henry VIII's various (usually tragic) wives. Yes, this one involves Anne of Cleves, but it is not she who is the central character, and even so, Ms Kennedy has explored an unexpected angle to this set-aside wife. I have always assumed that Anne of Cleves thought herself a lucky woman to have escaped Henry's clutches and the probability of a future axe man - but what if she had wanted her marriage to be re-instated, to be Henry's wife again, not his 'beloved sister'?

This is primarily Catherine's story though, and through her eyes - and her hopes and fears - we (carefully) tread the corridors of Tudor palaces and meet royals, servants and ordinary people going about their daily lives -- and meet them well, for Ms Kennedy's research seems as expertly done as her writing ability.

Henry himself is in his later years, and he has the son he always craved, but the court is yet again in turmoil following the scandal and subsequent beheading of the young Catherine Howard. But Henry's court is still, very much, a dangerous place to be, for there is political intrigue, scheming, treachery and betrayals by the royal throne-load.

I have not read the previous two books, but picked up Catherine's continuing tale quite easily, thanks to the author's skill of including adequate back story.

A recommended read - especial for fans of the Tudor period.

© Anne Holt
e-version reviewed




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Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Lady of the Seven Suns by Tinney S Heath Reviewed by: Anna Belfrage

Shortlisted for Book of the Month



"Giacoma is a wonderful character. Despite the centuries that separate her life from ours, she is totally relatable."

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Fictional Drama / Religious
1200s
Rome

Rome at the beginning of the thirteenth century: a beautiful place, filled with ruins and palazzos, with marble that dazzles in the sun, with well-dressed nobles and merchants that sport reds and blues and greens, drape themselves in impeccable linen and heavy, shining velvet. This is the Rome in which Giacoma dei Settesoli belongs—by birth and by marriage.

Her husband, Graziano of the Frangipane clan is not only rich and chivalrous, he is also handsome and generous and more than proud to have a wife who does her part for the other Rome, the Rome of beggars and stinking gutters, of abandoned orphans and people who have nowhere to go, nothing to eat.

Giacoma gives alms. She feeds the beggars in her home. And one day, when she is at St Peter to give alms and check on “her” beggars, she sees a young man, a man dressed in rich garb who ostentatiously throws every penny he has in St Peter’s grave. Giacoma is more amused than impressed, but when she encounters the young man some time later, this time dressed in rags while the beggar beside him beams in his new clothes, Giacoma realises this young man is more than a popinjay, that he genuinely wants to shed his riches and embrace the life of the poor. The young man’s name? Francesco de Assisi.

A while later, Giacoma loses her husband. She is sunk in black, black despair, and only the surprise visit from Francesco stops her from committing the ultimate sin, she hovering on the precipice of suicide when the young, barefooted man of God somehow bridges the abyss of darkness that surrounds her and gives her back purpose, a reason to live—primarily her two young sons.

And so begins a beautifully depicted friendship, a relationship that starts as equals but soon becomes that of disciple and master, because Giacoma can never aspire to be as good, as tolerant, as devout as Francesco. He breathes life into the gospel, he speaks of a God that rejoices in the little ones, be they children or animals or the poor, he preaches a life of simplicity and prayer, and Giacoma finds it all quite seductive. To give it all up, to be rid of responsibilities and expectations—there are days when this young widow finds that concept very tempting.

Giacoma is a wonderful character. Despite the centuries that separate her life from ours, she is totally relatable. To a large extent this is helped along by Ms Heath’s approach to dialogue – no stilted attempt at having Giacoma speak some sort of thirteenth century lingo, no Giacoma speaks and thinks like we do, and frankly, her concerns are very much like ours as well. Giacoma is well-educated and can therefore offer an insightful commentary on the unfolding events, and as she is Roman, she is also witty and somewhat scathing in her comments. Being extremely wealthy, Giacoma has a fortune to manage—a full-time job in itself. She has children to raise, a household to rule and also desires to find time for spiritual contemplation. Herein lies the fundamental difference between Giacoma’s world and ours: in her life, God is a constant presence—as is Francesco, even when he is nowhere close to her.

I know from past experience that Ms Heath knows medieval Italy. In her last book, it was Florence that sprang to life; here it is Rome. The vibrant descriptions of processions, of feuding families, of Church politics, of rituals and customs has the novel twisting with life, even more so as Ms Heath peppers the text with tongue-in-cheeks. Sentences like “So it was under the protection of numerous armed guards and a holy finger that I would travel to Assisi,” make this reviewer smile. There is an absolutely wonderful scene involving Francesco, a lamb (subsequently named Lotario) and Giacoma’s entire household that has me laughing out loud. And then there are the other scenes, heart wrenching descriptions of human tragedies, of death and loss, that leave me short of breath.

Francesco of Assisi comes alive in this book: a mild and devout man who wants to offer help to those that have nothing, his personal attempt at rectifying the injustices in his world. He burns from within, all too aware that life is short and there is so much to do, so little time in which to do it. His closest companions do what they can to give him the support he needs, but men like Francesco are like a candle: the flame burns fierce and hot, and one day there is simply no wax left. Ms Heath’s Francesco is an idealist. He believes in the inner good in all men and leads by example. His is a life of humility and service, of helping others no matter the cost to himself. And the cost is high—having the Holy Spirit setting you alight comes at a cost.


Other than Francesco and Giacoma, Ms Heath has populated the story with an impressive cast of supporting characters, among which I just have to mention Brother Elias, Francesco’s closest supporter and Giacoma’s very good friend. Without Elias, Francesco would never have achieved as much as he did. Without the presence of Lucia and Amata, the chatterbox and wannabe religious recluse Prassede, the reformed (well…) thief Lapo, Giacoma’s two young sons and her steward Massimo, this novel would have been so much poorer. As it is, we are enveloped in a Roman famiglia, complete with warmth and chaos and squabbles, tears and laughter. And over it all soars the beautifully depicted, utterly chaste, love story between Giacoma and her spiritual mentor, San Francesco. It is a love that burns and hurts, that demands and gives, but it is foremost a wonderful, wonderful thing—even when experienced at a once remove as one does in this absolutely excellent and evocative novel!


© Anna Belfrage
e-version reviewed





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Monday, 27 January 2020

A Discovering Diamonds Review of Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders: A Writer’s (& Editor’s) Guide to Keeping Historical Fiction Free of Common Anachronisms, Errors, & Myths by Susanne Alleyn reviewed by Helen Hollick

Non-Fiction   


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"The blurb says it all for this fascinating non-fiction book. It is a must for all writers of historical fiction."

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"If you love history and you’re hard at work writing your first historical novel, but you’re wondering if your medieval Irishmen would live on potatoes, if your 17th-century pirate would use a revolver, or if your hero would be able to offer Marie-Antoinette a box of chocolate bonbons ... (The answer to all these is “Absolutely not!”) ... then Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders is the book for you. Medieval Underpants will guide you through the factual mistakes that writers of historical fiction—both beginners and seasoned professionals—often make, and show you how to avoid them. From fictional characters crossing streets that wouldn’t exist for another sixty (or two thousand) years, to 1990s slang in the mouths of 1940s characters, to South American foods on ancient Roman plates, acclaimed historical novelist Susanne Alleyn exposes the often hilarious, always painful goofs that turn up most frequently in fiction set in the past. Alleyn stresses the hazards to writers of assuming too much about details of life in past centuries, providing numerous examples of mistakes that could easily have been avoided. She also explores commonly-confused topics such as the important difference between pistols and revolvers, and between the British titles “Lord John Smith” and “John, Lord Smith” and why they’re not interchangeable, and provides simple guidelines for getting them right. In a wide assortment of chapters including Food and Plants; Travel; Guns; Money; Hygiene; Dialogue; Attitudes; Research; and, of course, Underpants, she offers tips on how to avoid errors and anachronisms while continually reminding writers of the necessity of meticulous historical research."

The blurb says it all for this fascinating non-fiction book. It is a must for all writers of historical fiction for, apart from the useful reminders of what is or is not OK to use in an historical setting novel, it is a joy to read for parts of it are hilariously funny.

A novel can be ruined by an enormous blunder (Romans eating rabbit and potato stew  on Hadrian's Wall for instance - that is an error I found in a novel many years ago. I was so jerked out of the feeling of believability that I stopped reading it. A pity, because otherwise it was a good novel, but once that atmosphere of reality has been shattered it is difficult to repair it.)

Despite the title, this is not a reference book: it is meant as a reminder for writers to do their research and  to corroborate the facts. Nor is it for the Medieval period alone, it covers several periods and a variety of topics in a light-hearted, entertaining and informative way, exploring common errors and assumptions that many writers make, either inadvertently or because it doesn't dawn on them to check.

The book is a little bit 'mix-and-match' in places and the author admits that she is using her own hotch-potch of thoughts and observations, but outside of that very minor criticism Medieval Underpants is great fun and very useful.

© Helen Hollick



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Saturday, 25 January 2020

It's the weekend

No reviews at the weekend


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last week's reviews
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Friday, 24 January 2020

The Pearl of Penang by Clare Flynn : reviewed by J.J Toner

Shortlisted for Book Of The Month


The Pearl of Penang by [Flynn, Clare]

"
Storytelling at its best.

One of the best stories I’ve read this year. "

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Family Drama / Romance
1939 / WWII
Penang, Malaya

' "Following the death of my wife, I am in need of support and companionship. I am prepared to make you an offer of marriage." 'Evie Fraser, paid companion to a crotchety spinster, seems destined for a lonely life. Then out of the blue, a marriage proposal arrives by post. She met the handsome Douglas Barrington just once – at his wedding – but never forgot him. Now widowed, plantation-owner Douglas offers her a new life on the lush, exotic island of Penang. How can Evie resist? But what are Barrington’s motives in marrying Evie when he barely knows her, and why is he so hostile and moody? Evie soon finds herself pitched against Douglas on the one hand and the shallow, often spiteful world of the expatriate British on the other. Has she made the biggest mistake of her life? Flynn’s tenth novel explores love, marriage, the impact of war and the challenges of displacement – this time in a tropical paradise as the threat of the Japanese empire looms closer. '

Storytelling at its best.
One of the best stories I’ve read this year. Evie (twenty-seven) flies to Penang, Malaya in 1939 after receiving a proposal of marriage in the mail from Doug (thirty-nine). She met and danced with Doug at his first wedding twelve years earlier. What an interesting premise this is, full of potential, which Ms Flynn exploits to the hilt. 

Doug is the owner of two rubber plantations on the British colony. The early months are hard for Evie. The climate is challenging and Doug is not easy to get on with; his only interest in the marriage is his desire for a son and heir. Doug has a seven-year-old daughter called Jasmine whom Evie takes under her wing. Then she gets pregnant. 

When Evie meets Arthur, Doug’s closest friend and Veronica, Arthur’s obnoxious, interfering wife, the adventure starts in earnest. The war breaks out in Europe, and not long after the attack on Pearl Harbour, in 1941, the Japanese invade Malaya. The European population is evacuated to Singapore. From there, the women with children are shipped to Australia. Those left behind are interned in Japanese camps. 

This story is such a smooth, easy read by an accomplished author. 

Highly recommended. 

© J J Toner
e-version reviewed




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Thursday, 23 January 2020

A Discovering Diamonds Review of The Wolf of Wessex by Matthew Harffy reviewed by Nicky Galliers


"Matthew Harffy has triumphed again with this novel, a stand alone that works brilliantly."

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Fictional drama
9th century /Saxon
England

"AD 838. Deep in the forests of Wessex, Dunston's solitary existence is shattered when he stumbles on a mutilated corpse. Accused of the murder, Dunston must clear his name and keep the dead man's daughter alive in the face of savage pursuers desperate to prevent a terrible secret from being revealed. Rushing headlong through Wessex, Dunston will need to use all the skills of survival garnered from a lifetime in the wilderness. And if he has any hope of victory against the implacable enemies on their trail, he must confront his long-buried past – becoming the man he once was and embracing traits he had promised he would never return to. The Wolf of Wessex must hunt again; honour and duty demand it."

When we meet Dunston, he is living as a woodsman and blacksmith in a forest in Somerset but a chance encounter changes the course of his life. Aedwen has been travelling with her itinerant pedlar father after the death of her mother. She is forced to run and hide when her father is ambushed in the forest. She hears his screams and remains hidden long after those cries quieten. Dunston and Aedwen embark on an adventure neither expected and neither wanted - Aedwen wishing her father never decided to travel, and Dunston wishing he'd never left his house the morning he discovered the pedlar's body.

As the story progresses we discover that maybe this is not such a departure from the norm for Dunston as he proves to Aedwen that he is no normal man but one she can rely on to keep her safe. Aedwen discovers unknown depths in herself and a resilience that surprised her.

Matthew Harffy has triumphed again with this novel, a stand alone that works brilliantly. As he has written so much, I wasn't sure it was a stand alone until I read the perhaps lengthy author's note at the end as it could so easily slot into a series, and yet there are no info dumps and the blend of the past setting and the present events is seamless. Despite its being based on real events, this story does leave the door wide open for a prequel giving us the full history of Dunston and his life. Tempting, obviously, but maybe Dunston is best left in peace.

Harffy is, of course, a man, and can be forgiven for being able to develop Dunston more than Aedwen - he has no experience of being a fifteen year old girl, after all, (they don't weep quite as much as he would have us believe) but one can forgive him because the novel is otherwise perfectly constructed and excellently executed.

This novel, more than the series, proves Harffy's talent as a writer.

© Nicky Galliers









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Wednesday, 22 January 2020

A Discovering Diamonds Review of The Whistle Stop Canteen by Barb Warner Deane reviewed by Mary Chapple

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"there was a double pleasure in becoming engrossed in a charmingly told romance and learning something at the same time."

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Romance
WWII
USA

"After losing her fiancé in WWI, Margaret Parker settled into a quiet, lonely life as the town librarian in North Platte, Nebraska. After the US enters WWII, Margaret volunteers as the historian for the Servicemen’s Canteen organized by the women of North Platte. When Captain Tom Carver strolls into the Canteen, he’s immediately drawn to Maggie and works hard to woo her, via letters, as he heads off to war. While reluctantly falling in love long-distance, Maggie also opens her heart to the teenaged girl she supervises and the townswomen working beside her, while fearing for the lives of the servicemen and women she meets at the Canteen. When Tom springs a surprise on her, and then winds up MIA, Maggie must come to grips with her fear of another loss. Relying on her new family and friends, she must take a chance on love, if she wants to make a life for herself after the war is over. "

I enjoyed this novel because it was something a little different - US based instead of British, for one thing. I had no idea that these 'Whistle Stop Canteens' existed, so there was a double pleasure in becoming engrossed in a charmingly told romance and learning something at the same time.

The characters were all engaging, with scenes of happiness and joy balanced by the tragedies of sadness that occur because of war. I particularly liked reading about 'the folks back home' as opposed to the detail of soldiers in the thick of fighting (which I do not enjoy as much - I prefer the romance of war, not the reality.) 

What I found particularly poignant was the agony of the women waiting for letters to arrive from the men who were away fighting. That never knowing what might be the content of the next letter received...

A satisfying read. Recommended. 

© Mary Chapple
e-version reviewed





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Tuesday, 21 January 2020

Fortune's Child by James Conroyd Martin Reviewed by: Richard Tearle

shortlisted for Book of the Month

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"This a very cleverly composed book ... Right from the start the reader is gripped by the style of writing."

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Biographical Fiction
6th century
Constantinople / Byzantine Empire

"From a very young age, Theodora, daughter of a circus bearkeeper in Constantinople, sets her sights well above her station in life. Her exquisite beauty sets her apart on stages and in the eyes of men.
Stephen, a Syrian lad of striking good looks, is sold by his parents to a Persian wizard, who teaches him a skill in languages that will serve him well.
By the time Destiny brings them together in Antioch, Theodora has undergone heart-rending trials and a transformation, while Stephen has been sold again . . . and castrated."

A man is unexpectedly taken from the prison cell he has occupied for five years. Wondering his fate – freedom or death?  he is taken to the palace of Empress Theodora, the woman who had been his friend and confidante for many years. She was also the woman who imprisoned him.

Stephen is the man in question and the task he is given is to chronicle the life of the empress, the reason being twofold: he knows more about her than almost anyone and a rival scribe is believed to be planning a biography that will be far from complimentary to Theodora.

This a very cleverly composed book. Stephen's tough and brutal life is told at the same time as Theodora's own rather dubious past. Right from the start the reader is gripped by the style of writing; Stephen's portions are written in the present tense as he recalls and relives his life from the time his parents sold him into slavery while Theodora's story is told in true biographical style. Descriptions of Constantinople and other places in the Byzantine Empire are convincing and the secondary characters are treated well by the author.

Stephen, obviously, is fictional, but Theodora was not. Her amazing life actually happened – from 'actress' to empress – and the author's research and clear admiration for her shine through. Theodora was a strong woman who achieved even more than the heights of her youthful ambitions. Yet she never comes over as overbearing or mercenary. She tells her story to Stephen with neither embellishment nor apology.

The cover is the painting La Emperatriz Theodora by Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant which inspired this telling of Theodora's fascinating story.

Very highly recommended

© Richard Tearle









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Monday, 20 January 2020

New York Orphan by Rosemary J. Kind reviewed b J.J. Toner

Shortlisted for Book Of The Month


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"If Dickens was writing today, he would have a worthy competitor in Rosemary Kind"

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 (Tales of Flynn and Reilly Book 1)

Fictional Saga
1800s
Ireland/USA

"From fleeing the Irish Potato Famine, to losing his parents on the ship to New York, seven-year-old Daniel Flynn knows about adversity. As Daniel sings the songs of home to earn pennies for food, pick-pocket Thomas Reilly becomes his ally and friend, until he too is cast out onto the street.
A destitute refugee in a foreign land, Daniel, together with Thomas and his sister Molly, are swept up by the Orphan Train Movement to find better lives with families across America. For Daniel will the dream prove elusive?"

The tale is of Daniel, an orphan, who flees the Great Irish Famine, arriving in New York, penniless and alone. His only asset, his singing voice, earns him a few coins and a friend – another orphan with light fingers. And so the saga starts. The book chronicles the lives of three youngsters, taking us on a heartrending journey, via the Orphan Trains, through brutal slavery to a tense court scene and a hard-fought happy ending.

The villain is as cruel and hard-hearted as any you might encounter, the womenfolk downtrodden but defiant. The inclusion of snippets from Irish folk songs is a clever device, and I couldn’t fault the quality of the dialogue, both Irish and American. There is much in this book to admire and enjoy and to remind the reader of the work of Charles Dickens, and Oliver Twist in particular. If Dickens was writing today, he would write like this and he would have a worthy competitor in Rosemary Kind. 

© J.J. Toner

e-version reviewed






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Saturday, 18 January 2020

It is the weekend...

No reviews at the weekend


Why not browse back through 
last week's reviews
in case you missed a good read?

(scroll down for yesterday's review
then follow the < previous  links)

or 


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during December?

Start here for a real treat!


Friday, 17 January 2020

A Discovering Diamonds Review of Necessary Sins by Elizabeth Bell reviewed by Anne Holt

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"Ms Bell has tackled what could be a difficult subject with integrity and convincing research"


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 (Lazare Family Saga Book 1)


Fictional Saga

1700s / 1800s
USA

"In antebellum Charleston, a Catholic priest grapples with doubt, his family's secret African ancestry, and his love for a slave owner's wife. Joseph Lazare and his two sisters grow up believing their black hair and olive skin come from a Spanish grandmother—until the summer they learn she was an African slave. While his sisters make very different choices, Joseph struggles to transcend the flesh by becoming a celibate priest. Then young Father Joseph meets Tessa Conley, a devout Irish immigrant who shares his passions for music and botany. Joseph must conceal his true feelings as Tessa marries another man—a plantation owner who treats her like property. Acting on their love for each other will ruin Joseph and Tessa in this world and damn them in the next. Or will it?"


Joseph Lazare is devout to his Christian Faith, but also bears the burden of a complex, guilty conscience. He sacrifices much for his religion, putting his belief before the object of his desire - Tessa.


Tessa is intelligent, warm-hearted and pretty. She also finds herself committed to a difficult marriage. Between them lies passion but tempered by challenges caused by the restrictions of belief in sin, but at least Joseph has a supportive family, even though they, at times, must tolerate his religious obsessions. 


Rather than a fast-paced drama, the novel is more about human nature set against the unquestioning belief of religion and what we now consider as blatant racism, ideals that were typical of  the past. The author has very well achieved the antipathy of the period towards black slaves. 


Throughout the narrative the author uses quotations from various sources, which fitted well with the story but I must confess as a non-religious Brit I did feel somewhat preached-to at times. I also felt the weight of Joseph's ongoing personal doubts and trials were occasionally depressing; his obsessions with his belief in his unworthiness and sin was a little too relentless for my taste. It is a long book, covering a long period (1789-1843) and there were areas where I felt the dialogue was a little mis-matched and some scenes were 'told' not 'shown', but for all that, Ms Bell has tackled what could be a difficult subject with integrity and convincing research into the real events of Carolina in the late 1700s.


Possibly a read more suited to the American market though?


© Anne Holt
e-version reviewed


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Thursday, 16 January 2020

A Sister's Courage by Molly Green Reviewed by: Mary Chapple

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"I pounced on this book when I realised it was up for selection on Discovering Diamonds. I knew I was in for a treat - and what a treat it was!"

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fictional drama / romance
WWII
England

"In the midst of war, she knew her place was not at home… The most ambitious of three sisters, Lorraine ‘Raine’ Linfoot always dreamed of becoming a pilot. As a spirited seventeen-year-old, she persuades her hero Doug Williams to teach her to fly. When war breaks out in 1939, Raine is determined to put her skills to good use. She enlists in the Air Transport Auxiliary, becoming one of a handful of brave female pilots flying fighter planes to the men on the front line. Raine embraces the challenges of the job, despite its perils. But when Doug is reported missing after his Spitfire is shot down, she realises the war could tear apart not only her country, but also her heart…"

I pounced on this book when I realised it was up for selection on Discovering Diamonds. I knew I was in for a treat - and what a treat it was!

Lorraine - Raine - had an ambition to become a pilot. Naturally (this was the 1939) her French mother disapproved the ambition, deeming it inappropriate for a young lady. But with the onset of war, women were taking on many 'inappropriate' jobs, and with the support of her father Raine joins the ATA. Romance follows, and heartbreak - exciting scenes, dangerous scenes - scenes where you just have to read on to find out what happens... (even if it is the early hours!)

Ms Green has a talent for writing believable and likeable characters - it is a typical romance set in a war-time era, not an action-packed in-depth detail adventure, so may not appeal to every reader, but for those of us who like a human story about relationships, it is a must!


© Mary Chapple






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Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Written in their Stars by Elizabeth St John Reviewed by Cryssa Bazos

shortlisted for Book of the Month



"Historical fiction at it’s finest. Elizabeth St. John’s writing is flawless, and she captures the essence of 17th century England in all its highs and lows."

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Lydiard Chronicles #3

biographical fiction / fictional saga
1600s
London

"London, 1649. Horrified eyewitnesses to King Charles’s bloody execution, Royalists Nan Wilmot and Frances Apsley plot to return the king’s exiled son to England’s throne, while their radical cousin Luce, the wife of king-killer John Hutchinson, rejoices in the new republic’s triumph. Nan exploits her high-ranking position as Countess of Rochester to manipulate England’s great divide, flouting Cromwell and establishing a Royalist spy network; while Frances and her husband Allen join the destitute prince in Paris’s Louvre Palace to support his restoration. As the women work from the shadows to topple Cromwell’s regime, their husbands fight openly for the throne on England’s bloody battlefields.
But will the return of the king be a victory, or destroy them all? Separated by loyalty and bound by love, Luce, Nan and Frances hold the fate of England—and their family—in their hands.
A true story based on surviving memoirs of Elizabeth St.John's family."

Historical fiction as it’s finest. Elizabeth St. John’s writing is flawless, and she captures the essence of 17th century England in all its highs and lows.

In the latest instalment to the Lydiard Chronicles, Elizabeth St. John faithfully captures the dark years of the Interregnum, when exiled Royalists are plotting to restore the monarchy while Parliament’s victory is tarnished by Cromwell’s ambition. The St. John family of Lydiard once again find themselves in the center of political events and struggle to balance their convictions against their loyalties to their family. The story is told through the experiences of three women bound by kinship...

Luce Hutchinson, the rebel, is a staunch advocate of Parliament’s ideologies and encouraged her husband to sign King Charles’s death warrant. Not only does this put her at odds with her brother, who is an equally staunch supporter of the monarchy, but over time, Cromwell’s ambition and paranoia threatens her principled husband. 

Frances Apsley, the courtier, follows her husband to the exiled court in France and has to maneuver the machinations of an impoverished court while keeping her family together. Frances was one of my favourite characters from By Love Divided, so it was wonderful to see her grit and resilience in this story. 

And finally, the star of the story, Nan Wilmot, the spymistress. Nan is the wife of Henry Wilmot, daring cavalier and close friend of the exiled King. While her husband works abroad to support the king’s restoration, Nan is left behind to navigate precarious waters, keeping her estates from seizure while acting as a conduit of information between England and the exiled court in France. The rare moments that Nan has with her husband Henry are tender and incredibly touching. 

Elizabeth St. John breathes life to these real-life people and impresses on us how grim this period of English history was. I loved reading about the spy network and the techniques used to encrypt letters, and the raw descriptions of the exiled court are unparalleled. I could see and smell the squalor and desperation.

A well-researched and elegantly written biographical historical novel. Highly recommended.

© Cryssa Bazos
e-version reviewed





Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Kit's Hill by Jean Stubbs Reviewed by: Mary Chapple

Shortlisted for Book of the Month



"What Poldark did for Cornish tin-mining, Kit's  Hill does for Lancashire farming."

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fictional saga
1760s
England / Lancashire 
#Book One of the Howarth Saga

"As a genteel woman with an education but no dowry, Dorcas Wilde has resigned herself to a life as the companion of her spinster aunt. However, when she receives a proposal from Ned Howarth — a kind yeoman farmer — she puts aside her prejudices and agrees to become his wife. The couple’s family and friends all disapprove of the match. And as the mistress of Ned’s farm, Kit’s Hill, Dorcas feels isolated and unwelcome. But as she learns more about the land and the household, she begins to find ways to put her shrewdness and education to good use… Can Dorcas find her place at Kit’s Hill? Will she and Ned find true happiness together? Or will they come to regret their hasty marriage?"

The late 1700s were not a good time to be a woman: if you had a good marriage you were lucky, if you survived childbirth you were lucky, if you decided to take an almost stranger as a husband because the alternative was being an unpaid skivvy to a crotchety old bat - and despite the odds and the disapprovals - soon realised that you had made the right choice, then you were very lucky indeed. I also thought myself very lucky to  read this excellent novel!

Apart from learning a lot about Lancashire farming in the mid-Georgian era, and about those early days of the Industrial Revolution, I enjoyed the novel because I immediately warmed to the characters (even the grumpy old Aunt) and eagerly read on to see what happened next - to discover whether Dorcas  had made the right decision when she accepted Ned's proposal.

This is not a romance in the sense of heaving bosoms and semi-naked men with six-pack abs,  the girl meets boy, falls in love despite difficulties, the love at first sight Mills and Boon story with (all too often) poor historical accuracy. Nor is it a fast-paced page-turner.But it is a delightful amble through the seasons and the last decades of the eighteenth century. From laundry day to market day, from sowing the turnips to harvesting the hay, we share the daily life of people who lived and worked, loved and survived the harshness of the time - and the Pennines. What Poldark did for Cornish tin-mining, Kit's  Hill does for Lancashire farming.

Perhaps in places it was a little 'author's voice', for you could hear the author's added 'asides' rather than seeing and hearing everything from the characters' points of view, but that is the nature of the story, and apart from a couple of 'spoilers' that were slipped in (which is a shame), I'm not bothered about that. The last chapters were a little disappointing. These suddenly skipped about a decade in order to round up what happened and I wish the author had not done so for it felt somewhat rushed. Far better to have kept Kit's Hill for Mr and Mrs Ned Howarth and incorporated these chapters in a completely separate novel. There is a Book Two (The Ironmaster), which I assume continues the lives of the Howarths into the era of the Industrial Revolution; maybe a trilogy would have been more suitable?

Having said that, the characters were brilliantly brought to life, the detail of everyday life intriguing, the authentic flavour of the dialogue absorbing and nicely done, enough to give a feel of a Lancashire accent without over-egging the pudding..

A most enjoyable read.

© Mary Chapple
e-version reviewed


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