Monday, 10 August 2020

A Discovering Diamonds Review of Rags of Time by Michael Ward



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 mystery
17th century
London

Rags of Time opens in the crowded, bustling city of London in 1639. Thomas Tallant, son of a well-to-do merchant Sir Ralph Tallant, has returned from India with a cargo of valuable spices. There is no shore leave for Thomas, however. These are turbulent, dangerous times and before he can even get his land legs, Thomas is thrown into a murder inquiry, supposedly due to his knowledge of falconry. This death is followed by another wealthy merchant tumbling headlong down a flight of stairs claiming he was being attacked by demons. Then Thomas finds himself under suspicion of murder.

The crimes at the centre of this story are cleverly woven into the zeitgeist of the moment along with the problems facing city merchants, all of which relates back to the strife between King and Parliament, between the Old Religion, Protestantism and the rise of Puritanism.

The murder mystery is ingenious, but it has to be said that the author uses some rather long-winded, laden dialogue to convey the historical background. Michael Ward knows his epoch inside out and is anxious to share its detail: it is a complex period, nothing at the time was as clear cut as the manner in which the later Civil War is often presented. Having said that, Ward’s evocative description of the city and its inhabitants, the sights and smells of the teeming Thames basin brings the story to life. The inclusion of some famous and infamous real people such as the herbalist Thomas Culpeper and Henry Jermyn, Queen Henrietta Maria’s confidant, is an additional bonus.

Running alongside the mystery and intrigue, the political ins and outs, there is a plausible and charming love story as Thomas becomes enthralled by a highly intelligent, pipe-smoking young woman, who is also addicted to gambling. Can her smart thinking and mathematical mind solve the mystery and save Thomas from the gallows, though?

Rags of Time is a worthwhile and enjoyable read, and the ‘who-dunnit’ element should keep you guessing to the end. This is the first in a historical crime series and I look forward to reading the next.


Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© John Darling
 e-version reviewed




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Sunday, 9 August 2020

Guest Spot - Karen Heenan



Karen Heenan

Songbird



Henry VIII. Tyrant. Husband. Music Lover?

Ten-year-old Bess has the voice of an angel - or so King Henry declares when he buys her from her father. 

As a member of the royal minstrels, Bess comes of age in the decadent Tudor court, where one false note could send her back to her old life of poverty.

In a world where the stakes are always high, where politics, heartbreak, and disease threaten everyone from the king to the lowliest musician, Bess has one constant: Tom, her first and dearest friend. But when she strains against the restrictions of court life, will she find that constancy has its limits?  


About Karen:
Karen Heenan was born and raised in Philadelphia. She fell in love with books and stories before she could read, and has wanted to write for nearly as long. After far too many years in a cubicle, she set herself free to follow her dreams – which include gardening, sewing, traveling and, of course, lots of writing.

She lives in Lansdowne, PA, not far from Philadelphia, with two cats and a very patient husband. Her second Tudor book, A Wider World, will be published in April, 2021, and she is currently hard at work on the next book.  

New cover due out in September

Website: karenheenan.com

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Friday, 7 August 2020

Prisoner of Penang by Clare Flynn

shortlisted for Book of the Month




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Fictional Saga
WWII 195os - 1940s
Malaysia
Sequel to Pearl of Penanag

Mary Helston is a young woman when World War II overspills into Singapore and the women and children are forced to evacuate. As we hear of the recent death of her fiance – a pilot shot down by the Japanese – we also learn that Mary's first fiance had committed suicide following an affair with Veronica Langton, one of the circle of sophisticated ladies that comprise Society in Singapore.

Mary and her mother are part of a crowded ship that is to take them to safety, but it is attacked by the Japanese navy and the captain surrenders. From there, the women are taken to a makeshift camp and their nightmares begin.

The book is divided into two parts. The first of these comprises Mary's memoirs written after the war and is in the past tense. It tells of the conditions, sufferings, diseases, maltreatment, torture and, sadly, death amongst the prisoners. It is not written in graphic detail, but it doesn't need to be for the author puts over all these inhumanities with such a skilful pen that we don't have to imagine how horrific it must have been for the real women who endured those terrible times.

I would have liked to see a little more dialogue as Ms Flynn handles those very well, especially a particularly poignant scene between Mary and Veronica – bitter enemies but each earning the respect of the other. However, I can see that as a purported memoir 'Tell' rather than 'Show' is probably more appropriate.

Part Two is written in the present tense as Mary, back in Singapore after the war's end, struggles with her life, her memories and a future that she views as pointless. But a chance meeting changes all that which, without wishing to get into the realm of spoilers, the reader will find very emotional.

If you remember and watched the TV series Tenko, then you will thoroughly enjoy this novel as I did

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

©  Richard Tearle
 e-version reviewed






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Wednesday, 5 August 2020

A Discovering Diamonds Review of The Blood Hound by Jan Needle



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crime / biographical fiction
1800s
England


"A happy little girl called Emily is skipping home to have her tea. She has won a prize at school, and tonight the annual fair starts. Life is perfect. Across the road, her neighbour calls out for her to buy him some tobacco from a local shop. Emily – just seven years old – is delighted at the grown-up errand. But half an hour later she is dead. The crime is savage beyond belief. The tiny little girl has been raped most viciously, then beheaded. Her limbs have been hacked off. The year is 1876, the town is Blackburn, a place of cotton mills, steam and poverty. It is bursting at the seams for the jollities, with roustabouts, costermongers, pickpockets – and many, many Irish labourers who ‘can't hardly even speak our language’. Within hours there are vigilante bands wandering the streets, and 'suspects' are being herded into jails. And then two little girls, friends of Emily, point out the real culprit to the police. They have seen him give her money. He's a tramp they know as Smelly Bob. The townspeople have their scapegoat. There can be no doubt at all. Except that the local detective, John Holden, refuses to believe it. Against all the odds, and using the first bloodhound to ever hunt a murderer in England, Holden moves in to prevent a lynching. But someone - anyone - has to hang."

This brutal little book of murder is the narration of real events, as far as anyone can know them all, which took place in Blackburn,  England, in 1876, on the eve of Fair Week. The author has fleshed out the characters, given what is known of them, and to that extent this is fiction; but the basic facts are a matter of record. The unique Blackburn accent is used to give a true flavour of the time and place, but it also lends an air of almost childlike innocence, confined as it is to the less educated members of society.

Emily Holland, aged seven, goes to school dressed in her Sunday best. She is to receive a prize, and her parents are proud of her. She comes home wearing a purple and white sash over her smart clothes, which she rightly wants to show off. Some of the other children are jealous; pride in achievement is for adults.

Someone she knows by sight asks her to run an errand, to fetch him some tobacco while he minds his shop, and when she obliges, he offers her a treat. Her parents know him, so she trusts him.

The who, what, where and when of the following crime are no mystery; they're described to us in all their horror along with the bloody aftermath and the calm way the murderer goes about hiding the evidence. He has the right tools for the job, and is certain he will never be caught. After all, the town is crawling with all types of strangers and travellers; why would anyone look at him? This is not a 'who-dun-it' msytery novel, the readers knows the culprit, but the interest is in the aftermath of murder.

The Superintendent of Police is condescending, certain there has been no crime, just a child wandering where she shouldn't after school. The parents are fussing over nothing, and he sees no need for a search. A poster is made offering a token reward of £1, because Emily will turn up of her own accord.

The hours pass, and there is no sighting of her. Vigilante groups take time off work to look for the supposed culprit as described by two of her friends. Newspapers and balladeers take up the story and pressure mounts upon the police to solve the crime – or at least to be seen to do so.

The author states at the beginning that this was the first case of a bloodhound being employed by police. In fact two dogs prove to be the murderer's undoing, along with the persistence of Detectives Holden and Livesey, local men who follow their instincts and the clues as they arise. Newspapers play their part too, though not perhaps as their editors would wish.

The rape, murder, and disposal of a small child are described in detail, but unemotionally, as seen through the eyes of the perpetrator. The execution is similarly bereft of feeling. This is not a book for the squeamish; it's an examination of the human actions and reactions behind an appalling murder, historical fact and newspaper sensationalism, with the veil of assumed decency removed.

Not an 'entertaining' read, but of possible interest to those who read, write or research historical crime.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Lorraine Swoboda
 e-version reviewed




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Monday, 3 August 2020

A Discovering Diamonds Review of Bonfire of the Perfect by Susan Appleyard



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Fictional Drama
13th Century
France

"Prompted by the murder of his legate, in 1209 Pope Innocent III launches a crusade – not against the infidels of the East, but against fellow Christians living peaceably in the south of France. They are the Cathars, regarded as heretics by the Roman Church, and the sect is flourishing. Thousands of knights, landless younger sons, mercenaries and assorted riff-raff pour south with Christian zeal to exterminate men, women and children of the same country. A dilemma soon arose: How to tell a Cathar from an orthodox Catholic? Lovers Bräida and Jourdan are torn apart when Carcassonne falls to the crusaders. Jourdan joins the resistance while Bräida flees with her family to the relative safety of the Pyrenees, neither knowing if they will see one another again. But Bräida is not safe in her mountain retreat, because the Church has found an answer to its dilemma – the creation of the Inquisition. No one can escape its diabolical clutches. This is a story of faith, endurance and the love of liberty in a time of unimaginable cruelty."


An ambitions and epic tale set during the Albigensian Crusade of the 13th Century, Bonfire of the Perfect relates the horrifying persecution of the Cathars, as seen through the eyes of the narrator, BräidaThe novel opens with Catholics and Cathars living peacefully together; Bräida’s best friend, Beatrice, is a Cathar. But in 1208, Pierre de Castelnau, Pope Innocent III’s legate, is murdered, and the lives of Bräida and Beatrice and thousands of others change forever. Castlenau’s murderer was believed to be in the pay of Raymond of Toulouse, not himself a Cathar, but neither an enemy of them. For the Pope, already angered by the increasing rejection of the Catholic Church in southern France, this was the perfect excuse to raise the stakes in his campaign to eradicate the Cathar heresy.

There is a great deal of history to encompass in a single volume of less than three-hundred pages, as the crusade changes from targeted persecution of Cathar believers to a wider-spread campaign against the landholders of Languedoc. The author frequently shows us events – and their impact – on Bräida and her family, choosing key events in the long crusade and its aftermath for these scenes. But, inevitably with this much complicated history, much of it occurring away from where Bräida is living, there are also parts of the story where the events are told to us in summary. Bonfire of the Perfect opens with the mature Bräida writing a book about the events of her life. Scenes in this timeline occur several times throughout the story, and the sections where events are recapped are generally framed as Bräida’s recollections.

An enormous amount of research has gone into Bonfire of the Perfect, and I learned a lot about both the Cathar heresy and the appalling history of the crusade to eliminate it. The author does not shy away from showing us the horrors innocent people were subjected to in the name of the Catholic Church. Recommended for anyone who wants to know more about the Albigensian Crusade and its effect on the people and culture of southern France.


Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Marian L Thorpe
 e-version reviewed



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Sunday, 2 August 2020

Guest Spot - Eva Seyler




About Eva Seyler: 

Eva was born in Jacksonville, Florida. She left that humidity pit at the age of three and spent the next twenty-one years in California, Idaho, Kentucky, and Washington before ending up in Oregon, where she now lives on a homestead in the western foothills with her husband and five children, two of whom are human.

Eva cannot remember a time when she couldn’t read, and has spent her life devouring books. In her early childhood years, she read and re-read The Boxcar Children, The Trumpet of the Swan, anything by Johanna Spyri or A A Milne, and any issues of National Geographic with illustrated articles about mummified, skeletonised, and otherwise no-longer-viable people.

As a teenager she was a huge fan of Louisa May Alcott and Jane Eyre.

As an adult she enjoys primarily historical fiction (adult or YA) and nonfiction on a wide range of topics, including, but not limited to, history, disaster, survival, dead people, and the reasons people become dead. Audiobooks are her jam, and the era of World War One is her historical pet.

Eva began writing stories when very young and wrote almost constantly until she was 25, after which she took a years-long break before coming back to pursue her old dream of becoming a published author for real. She loves crafting historical fiction that brings humanity to real times and events that otherwise might seem impersonal and distant, and making doodles to go with them.

When Eva is not writing, she is teaching her human children, eating chocolate, cooking or baking, wasting time on Twitter, and making weird shrieky noises every time she sees her non-human children. 


About The War in Our Hearts:

France, 1916: Estelle Graham faces a nightmare. Expecting to meet her beloved husband and bring their newly adopted daughter home to Scotland, she instead finds him gravely injured and unconscious in a casualty station. As she fights for his care, she takes solace in his journals and letters.

In a farmhouse in Somme, Captain Jamie Graham is forever changed when he meets young Aveline Perrault. Both of them broken and walled off from the cruel and cold world around them—made even crueler and colder by the Great War—the pair form an unlikely bond. She finds in him the father she never had, and with her love, he faces the pain from his own childhood.

Discover the depth of love and faith in the face of brutality and neglect as they learn to live while surviving World War I.

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