Monday, 23 November 2020

The Flame Within by Liz Harris

Shortlisted for Book of the Month


Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon AU
Goodreads
Linford series #2

Fictional drama
1923
London

Linford Trilogy #2

"Alice Linford stands on the pavement and stares up at the large Victorian house set back from the road—the house that is to be her new home. But it isn’t her house. It belongs to someone else—to a Mrs Violet Osborne. A woman who was no more than a name at the end of an advertisement for a companion that had caught her eye three weeks earlier. More precisely, it wasn’t Mrs Osborne’s name that had caught her eye—it was seeing that Mrs Osborne lived in Belsize Park, a short distance only from Kentish Town. Kentish Town, the place where Alice had lived when she’d been Mrs Thomas Linford. Thomas Linford—the man she still loves, but through her own stupidity, has lost. The man for whom she’s left the small Lancashire town in which she was born to come down to London again. The man she’s determined to fight for."

It is often with a certain amount of trepidation that a reader opens the second instalment of a series – will it be as engrossing, as enjoyable? Will the characters and the events of their lives be as believable as the previous novel? No worries about any of that with book two of the Linford Trilogy – The Flame Within. Actually, I would go as far as saying it was even a tad better than Book One because I had already met the characters – but this one could just as easily be a stand-alone story for anyone who has not yet read Book One.

Slightly different to the usual run of a series, this second book runs parallel to the first, a simultaneous telling of the story as it unfolds, rather than running onward as a consecutive ‘what happened next’. The drama, from the different point of view of the characters is very cleverly done.

Back in 1918 Alice fell in love with Thomas Linford while he was recovering from injuries received during WWI. In 1923, she is his wife, but things are going wrong for Alice. Thomas is finding it hard to adjust to his disabilities and he is in the depth of feeling sorry for himself, enhanced by his resentment that his brothers did not go to war and are not suffering like he is. Divorce in the 1920s was not really an option, and so, inevitably, Alice starts an affair. Which is when the problems get worse for Alice. No spoilers about what happens next, except Alice has the courage to pick herself up and turn her face to the future. I really liked Alice and several times felt like muttering, ‘You go girl! Good for you!” She is ambitious, determined and brave, but perhaps too trusting of those who lie, betray or try to manipulate her.

Alice herself is a delightful character, Thomas, and his family – successful London builders – the sort you automatically despise. And then there is Alice’s family ... all of them are characters that grab hold and cling on to the reader’s interest because they come across as so believably real. Some of them we like, some we don’t. Some we cheer for, some we hiss and boo.

Ms Harris’s research is impeccable, both of life in London during the Great War, and its aftermath, and in the poorer communities of Lancashire. Her style is eloquent and passionate from the first, opening line to the last.

If I had to compare this novel to something from popular fiction I would immediately cite Catherine Cookson... although with the caveat that I think Liz Harris is even better than ‘Our Kate’.


Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Helen Hollick
 e-version reviewed

(there will be a short story about the Linfords in our December StorySong series - read the story, guess the song)


<previous   next >

You will find several items of interest on the sidebar

Friday, 20 November 2020

A Discovering Diamonds review of Age Of Druids by Christy Nicholas


A Discovering Diamonds Review of Age of Druids by Christy Nicholas


Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon AU
Goodreads

Historical fantasy
Approx. 5th century
Ireland

Age of Druids is the ninth and final book in Christy Nicholas’s Druid’s Brooch series. In this instalment, readers are taken to early Christian Ireland, roughly 5th century, where Cliodhna struggles to come to terms with the new religion that is invading and pushing out her beloved old belief. She is accustomed to welcoming the day with the sun, feeling the spirit and energy of living things, and communicating with the Fae who live in the woods near her roundhouse. To her dismay, not only does the new religion have no place for the things she loves, but her two eldest children, nearly grown themselves, are drawn to this new faith and are changing because of it. On top of that, Cliodhna’s husband has been missing for months, adding a layer of suspicion through which the zealous abbot, Padraic, views her.

To try to hold on to her way of life, Cliodhna begins lessons with Adhna, a man of the Fae. He teaches her how to draw upon earth energy to revitalize plants and animals as well as to protect herself. Cliodhna soon finds herself drawn into Adhna’s world more deeply than she ever imagined possible. She will be forced to make a choice between the mortal world, full of strange new ideas and shifting loyalties, and the Fae world, utterly foreign and frightening.

It was interesting to see how the various threads from the other books in this series were entwined throughout this novel. We at last learn how the brooch was created and how and why it was gifted to Cliodhna’s family line to begin with. Learning how her family became connected to the Faerie realm was satisfying after so many books preceding it that hinted but never confirmed. 

I have read many of Nicholas’s books and, while I greatly enjoyed this one, there were a few places, in particular scenes set in the Faerie realm, that I felt I had read before, although maybe it was just a function of having read the others and that Nicholas’s writing style has become so familiar. That is not in itself a bad thing.

The descriptions were all top notch, both in the mortal realm and in Faerie. I liked the diversity of characters and how they changed over time. The Christian monks in general, and the abbot in particular, were described in a negative way since they were seen primarily from Cliodhna’s point of view. This negativity was explained in a later part of the plot, but devout readers may be a little put off by this. The villagers had a few bright spots in terms of character development as well. Ita in particular was an interesting figure and I wish there had been more scenes with her. She added a nice counterpoint to Cliodhna, a good balance.
 
The ending felt a little abrupt, but it makes sense because now the timeline  of the plot has reached where it starts to move forward, rather than backward. Readers could enjoy the series in the reverse order of publication if they really wanted to and get a different view of this sweeping epic. I really loved the way the entire series moved backward through time to get to the genesis of the brooch that was central to the lives of the characters.

Overall, this novel is nicely done and provides a satisfactory end to the entire series. Definitely recommended for fans of historical fantasy and Irish culture.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Kristen McQuinn

 e-version reviewed



You will find several items of interest on the sidebar

Wednesday, 18 November 2020

REVIEW... Betrayal by various authors...

an independent review ... Shortlisted for Book of the Month


Alison Morton, Amy Maroney, Anna Belfrage, Annie Whitehead, 
Charlene Newcomb, Cryssa Bazos, Derek Birks, Elizabeth St John,  
Helen Hollick, Judith Arnopp,  Mercedes Rochelle, Tony Riches

e-book only - Free to download

Amazon UK
Amazon US (note this book should be free - Amazon needs to re-adjust)
Amazon CA
Amazon AU
Goodreads

short stories
various centuries
various locations

Betrayal, treachery, treason, deceit, perfidy’ . . . so begins the introduction to twelve very different short stories on the theme of the ‘calculated violation of trust’. Twelve stories by twelve skilled historical fiction authors, each set in a specific epoch, running chronologically from post-Roman Britain to a 21st century alternative history of a Roman colony.

The stories vary from imaginary accounts of betrayal by lovers, loved ones, friends and parents to retellings of significant acts of treachery and deceit by historical and legendary figures such as Mortimer and Richard III, and pirates Calico Jack and Anne Bonny. Told from a variety of perspectives, domestic and political, each story illustrates the multiple wounding effects of injustice and deceit.

I read this anthology from start to finish in a matter of days. Each story is gripping in its own way; each contains a shocking, saddening or maddening act of treachery, where the reader can empathise with the victim or the unwitting culprit, and feel outraged anger that such behaviour not only occurred but went unpunished.

What these stories also show is that the past is a complicated place. People did things differently there – or so we would like to think. But actually, no, the rotters, the perpetrators, were all subject to complex pressures in their own way, and no amount of toppling statues and monuments is going to rectify that. One needs to stand back and think about why their acts of betrayal occurred and what led up to each situation. Social perspectives, expectations and values differ according to the given period, gender and social class, but the universal truths of self-preservation, love and loss prevail.

One of the very good things about this anthology is how the various authors tell their tales. Some are more entertaining than others in terms of humour and irony, but each provides insight into a tortuous human dilemma or predicament such as why a parent found it necessary to sell a daughter; how, in trying to do the right thing a good person leads a royal child into a deadly trap; or why a noblewoman would risk exile or death to secure her son’s future.

In the introduction, Alison Morton tells us we will be reading about events that shock, cause disbelief, despair and a profound desire for revenge, and she is absolutely right. I would also add that the authors take us right into the past and help us see what it was really like there.

'Betrayal’ is definitely a Discovered Diamond. Very highly recommended.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds

©  J.G. Harlond

 e-version reviewed



You will find several items of interest on the sidebar


Monday, 16 November 2020

A Discovering Diamonds Review of Captain Kempton's Christmas by Jayne Davis

1800s
England

"Lieutenant Philip Kempton and Anna Tremayne fall in love during one idyllic summer fortnight. When he’s summoned to rejoin his ship, Anna promises to wait for him. While he’s at sea, she marries someone else. Now she's widowed and he's Captain Kempton. When they meet again, can they put aside betrayal and rekindle their love?"


Not looking forward to the Christmas festivities, Captain Philip Kempton is heading for his Aunt Beth’s for the duration. Unknown to the Captain, she has  also invited Anna.  Four years ago, Anna said she would wait for him – but promptly wed someone else the moment he went to sea. Now a widow, Anna discovers how much she hurt Philip, but the guests are arriving and the couple of misplaced lovers must struggle to control their feelings while in the company of others, all of whom are supposed to be having a good time.

This is a sweet, predictable romance, but for all that it is a charming and enjoyable read. We know everything will be fine in the end, but it is entertaining to discover how we get to that point with these two delightful people. The family and guests also create an enjoyable background to a somewhat typical Christmas where not everyone is as congenial as perhaps they should be.

The Christmas setting was well done – ideal for a comfortable, cosy Yule Tide read. The paperback would make an ideal stocking filler for readers who enjoy a quick-read romantic tale.


Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Mary Chapple

 e-version reviewed



You will find several items of interest on the sidebar

Friday, 13 November 2020

Kindred by Octavia Butler

A Good Read Revisited


Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon AU
Goodreads

Timeslip
Late 20th/ Early 18th century
LA and Antebellum Maryland USA

I recently decided to reread Kindred by Octavia Butler. I had read it many years ago but forgot everything about it, so when it was selected as the next read for one of my book clubs, it was like reading this novel for the first time. Reading it was an interesting experience because, even though the book is more than forty years old, it remains relevant to our contemporary society. I am not sure if that is a sad comment or not, though I think it is. Either way, I maintain that genres like sci-fi or timeslip, as Kindred is, are excellent ways to discuss social issues and Butler’s novel is yet another example of that.

In Kindred, Dana is a modern (the novel is initially set in 1976) young black woman, married to a white man, Kevin, and they are both writers. 

They have recently purchased their first real home together and are in the middle of unpacking when Dana feels dizzy and falls to the ground. When the dizziness passes, she finds herself outside and hears a child yelling for help. Since Dana is a good and moral person, she rushes to help and ends up saving a young boy named Rufus from drowning. The boy’s father comes across them and, thinking Dana is trying to harm his son, aims a rifle at her. Dana is then transported back to her home, soaking wet and covered in mud from her rescue efforts.

Over the next few weeks, Dana finds herself inexplicably called back to what she learns is 1819 in the antebellum South, to a plantation with slaves. Somehow, anytime Rufus is in mortal danger, he pulls her back in time to him, completely unintentionally. Dana learns that Rufus is one of her ancestors and she has to keep saving him until he is able to father the child who is her direct ancestor. Each time Dana goes back, she stays longer and the period spent in the past is more dangerous for her. She eventually figures out that when she herself fears for her life, she is able to return to her own time, which is moving more slowly than the past.

Dana spends hours, days, and months in the past and yet her own time period only moves forward by a few minutes or days regardless of how long she was in the past. She has to learn how to survive in a harsh time period, retain Rufus’s trust enough that he doesn’t harm her just because he can, and keep her husband Kevin safe during her travels as well. 

This story was a difficult and yet un-put-downable read. Difficult because of the subject matter but a very fast and engaging read. Even though it was written in 1979, there was not much reference to technology so it didn’t feel dated. In fact, it could have been written this year and would have been hailed as a timely discussion on race relations and equality, given the ongoing protests in the US surrounding police brutality towards black people.

It was a horrifying read as well because it explores topics such as slavery, which is to be expected from the book’s premise. What was worse, though, was Dana’s thoughts on how easy it can be to become accustomed to injustice. The discussion of racism was deep and explored some of the ways in which it has become institutionalized in America even today. 

Some scenes reminded me of part of Angie Thomas’s novel The Hate U Give where Starr and her brothers received “the talk” from their parents. Not the sex talk, but the talk about what to do and how to act if and when they are stopped by a police officer. The fact that such talks are considered a necessary part of parenting for so many people is heartbreaking, and Butler’s novel shows readers partly why that has come to be. 

Dana adapted fairly quickly to her new environment, not because she was somehow weak or didn’t resist hard enough, but because she had to - or die. Part of the discussion on how quickly Dana had to adapt to slavery conditions was also the sense of mutual obligation between many of the characters. They all tried to look out for each other and take everyone’s well being into consideration, even if it was sometimes to their own detriment.

But parents, for example, would do whatever was necessary to spare their children and to keep them with them rather than being sold to different places far away. I can understand that; there is nothing I wouldn’t do to keep my daughter safe with me. Despite Dana’s ability to adapt quickly to her new circumstances, she was not spared from being on the receiving end of some awful abuse, and she lived in constant fear of being sold to a plantation further south that was notorious for its truly brutal conditions.

Part of the discussion on adapting is, I think, the ways Dana and the other black characters view Tom Weylin and Rufus. Tom initially appears to be brutal, every bit the stereotypical slave owner. As the novel progresses, how he is viewed doesn’t change into liking him so much as to seeing how he is more or less a fair man operating within the social constructs of his time period. He is a hard man and sometimes does cruel things, but he is doing what is allowed for him to do and doesn’t step out of those bounds, as disgusting as they are to our modern sensibilities. 

Similarly, with Rufus, he seems to grow up to take after his father in most ways, except that he is in love with Alice, and his father never would have loved a slave.

Dana is able to forgive Rufus for so many wrongs, but in many ways, he is a pitiable character, largely lacking in understanding, empathy, or willpower. 

Normally, I don’t care much for first-person perspective in novels. But I think first-person is the only way this novel could be as powerful as it was. The title itself is a stark reminder that being related to a person doesn’t always mean they are your family. There’s a big difference between relatives and family. Rufus and Dana have a sense of mutual obligation to each other, but they are in no way family as I would define it. Similarly, her marriage to Kevin is illegal in the past and, I would imagine, is seen as at least odd in 1976. I don’t think interracial marriages were very well tolerated at the time in the USA.

This was a terrific read, if difficult at times because of the things that happened to people. I definitely recommend Kindred to any fans of timeslip, sci-fi, magical realism, or antebellum history. 

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Kristen McQuinn 
 e-version reviewed



You will find several items of interest on the sidebar

Wednesday, 11 November 2020

A Discovering Diamonds Review of The Fear of Ravens by Wendy Percival


Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon AU
Goodreads
(Esme Quentin Mystery Book 4) 

cosy mystery
19th / 21st century
England

"When Esme Quentin is engaged to research the history of an ancient mill owned by her client, Anna Brannock, she stumbles upon a bitter family feud, tales of witchcraft and a century-old allegation of murder.
As Esme digs deeper, the past begins to converge on the present, when Anna becomes the target of a disturbing campaign, echoing menacing events from many years before. Can a 19th century curse still wield its formidable power? What connects Anna with the 24 year-old mystery concerning the whereabouts of the charismatic Ellen Tucker? Esme must uncover the truth to save Anna from becoming a 21st century victim, in a cruel repetition of her ancestor’s merciless fate."

This book fits into the Cosy Mystery slot with its numerous mentions of witches and murder but without the gory detail that usually accompanies the more full-blooded crime thriller.

There are many strands to the story. Instead of one heroine we have three: Anna, Esme and Maddy, each with their own personal story. There’s also an old cottage where a witch, who mysteriously disappeared, was once reputed to have lived. When Anna decides to renovate the decrepit old mill, she opens the door on a great deal of unsavoury history of two families who carry old hatreds into the current century. 

There are many family members and I must confess I had trouble remembering the relationships between them. Not that all were known; some were secret relationships. Esme is curious when a private investigator seeking the owner of the cottage dies by drowning and, using her genealogical knowledge, starts tracking people down and thereby uncovering their secrets. 

The book has a bit of a slow start, but the second half moved faster, and I read through to the end very quickly. The whole is well written, the dialogue is natural and entertaining though often does not progress the story. 

If you like your mysteries with engaging snippets of characters’ lives and hobbies, and/or especially enjoy research into genealogy, you will love this author. Though I prefer a sharper style this did not prevent me from enjoying the story as it unfolded. The genealogical aspect was interesting, but I fear not every search is going to prove so productive - but then, this is fiction, and a 'cosy mystery' where everything gets solved in the end!

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Jen Black
 e-version reviewed


<previous   next >

You will find several items of interest on the sidebar

Monday, 9 November 2020

At The Stroke Of Nine O'Clock by Jane Davis

shortlisted for Book of the Month


Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon AU
Goodreads

Fictional Drama
1949-55
London 

"Like most working-class daughters, Caroline Wilby is expected to help support her family. Alone in a strange city, she must grab any opportunity that comes her way. Even if that means putting herself in danger. Star of the silver screen, Ursula Delancy, has just been abandoned by the man she left her husband for. Already hounded by the press, it won’t be long before she’s making headlines for all the wrong reasons. Patrice Hawtree was once the most photographed debutante of her generation. Now childless and trapped in a loveless marriage, her plans to secure the future of her ancient family home are about to be jeopardised by her husband's gambling addiction. Each believes she has already lost in life, not knowing how far she still has to fall. Six years later, one cause will reunite them: when a young woman commits a crime of passion and is condemned to hang, remaining silent isn’t an option."

There are, oddly, three protagonists in this book, three disparate women with different background and lifestyles. Each is facing a crisis in her life. All three are distinct characters with their own voices.

Caroline is a naïve seventeen-year-old, fresh off the bus from Sussex and alone in London. With the death of her father, her mother is counting on her to make a living and send money home. She manages to get a job as a hostess in a gentlemen’s club, which entails persuading the members to buy food and drinks – lots of drinks. Anything beyond that is entirely up to her, but the owner wants a cut. 

Ursula is a popular movie star returned to London after a time in Hollywood. She has left her husband and is pregnant and about to marry the father, a Hollywood director, when she learns he has spent the night with his ex-wife who delights in telling her that she too is pregnant. Alone and pursued by a gossip-hungry press, Ursula struggles to form a relationship with the daughter, ten years old, whom she left behind in order to pursue her career. 

Patrice is a socialite, married to a duke who is both difficult and a drunk. It is a marriage of money and title. The duke is also a gambler and makes fraudulent use of Patrice’s signature, putting at risk her beloved ancestral home and her entire future.  

By accident the three come together at the club where Caroline works and form a compassionate friendship. As they struggle with their own crises, they become involved in the real life story of Ruth Ellis, who is sentenced to death for the slaying of a brutal boyfriend. There are contemporary issues here relating to the death penalty, women’s rights, spousal abuse, and a harassing press, and we can see that the answer to the problems these characters encountered are still eluding us today.   

The author is really good at creating and developing characters. With their individual personalities, even the lesser characters refuse to sit in the background. From Caroline in the smoky gentleman’s club, to the glamorous actress, to the wealthy duchess, and the people they interact with, we see life in the post-war years on many levels. I thoroughly enjoyed this well-told story of the struggles of women to survive, to surmount the obstacles placed in their path, of endurance, and of friendship between women who on the face of it have nothing in common, but who come together to help each other and to try to save another who none of them know.

Excellent read. Highly recommended. 

I realise it is a cliché but I’m going to write it anyway. I think this book would make a good movie. 


Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Susan Appleyard
 e-version reviewed
<previous   next >

You will find several items of interest on the sidebar

Friday, 6 November 2020

To The Great Army by N L Collier

shortlisted for Book of the Month


Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon AU
Goodreads  (not found)

Fictional Saga
1918 WW1
Belgium and Germany


This is the fifth and final book in N L Collier's epic saga of the first World War. As with the other novels in the series, our narrator throughout is Franz Becker who is now an ace fighter pilot. His great friend, Karl von Leussow, lies in hospital and the relationship that was developed in Book Four comes to a temporary end. 

So, let's get the first health warning out of the way: only the first book in the series can be deemed as a stand-alone. Each successive volume continues directly on from the previous. References to previous events and comrades will be lost on new readers.

This book follows the same format as the previous ones: the men fly, they get drunk, they use the local brothel, they swear, they die and they attend the funerals of their dead colleagues. And they have nightmares.

If that all sounds rather boring, believe me it is not. There is much action in the air, the dialogue is sharp throughout and there are constant reminders of just how horrific war really is.

Second health warning: if you dislike bad language, then this book will not be for you. This is also constant throughout. But we can forgive these young men; every day may be their last. However, sex scenes and graphic violence, though very much part of the action, are not told in great description.

Having said all that, this book differs from the others. The war in the air intensifies and Franz is badly wounded. Suddenly the war ends and he has to face the future, his family and his past. We clearly see how the mental effects of the war have changed him and, in all honesty, it makes us wonder how these young men managed to survive and what they had to cope with once peace was declared. Peace from the reality of war, but not the mental fallout.

This volume, perhaps, is not a stand-alone; I would recommend starting at the beginning, but I have had the pleasure of reviewing all five volumes of this saga and I have been impressed throughout by the way the writer has held the reader's attention. Bravo.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Richard Tearle





You will find several items of interest on the sidebar


Wednesday, 4 November 2020

A Discovering Diamonds review of Rise Of A Champion by Stuart Rudge


Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon AU
Goodreads

Fictional Saga
11th century
Spain

In a medieval castle in Asturias, the young Antonio Perez is doing his daily work-out, bashing a post with a practise sword. He is fifteen, the younger son of Pedro Valdez, a famous knight and war-hero. Problem is, Antonio doesn’t want to be a knight, he dreams of being a priest—well, except when his heart sort of leaps at the sight of the fair Jimena, daughter to the count of Oviedo.

What Antonio may or may not want out of life becomes irrelevant when his father and uncle are framed for treason. Suddenly, there is no home, no family, no wealth. Instead, there is only a terrified boy fleeing the destruction of everything he once took for granted. With Antonio are his older brother Inigo and a cousin. Together, the three boys swear revenge and decide to make their way towards Palencia, there to kill the man they hold responsible for their fathers’ brutal deaths. 

Obviously, things are not that straightforward, and soon enough Antonio finds himself entirely alone in the world and accused of having murdered pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago. As his punishment, he is made a slave and turned over to Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, the man history mostly knows as El Cid.

Mr Rudge has obviously expended a lot of time on research. He presents a divided Christianity fighting an equally divided collection of Moorish kingdoms. The powerful king Fernando is growing old and has already decided he will divide his realm of Castile-Leon among his two eldest sons, and the young princes, Sancho and Alfonso, do not exactly drip with brotherly love. It is a time of upheaval, of a heady blend of cultures. It is also a time where a man of courage and fighting skills can carve a place for himself—which is what Antonio does.

In many ways, Rise of a Champion reads like a coming of age story. The Antonio we first meet as a boy of fifteen has transformed into a young man of eighteen by the end of the story.

Rise of a Champion could have done with a more thorough edit. I, personally, would also have liked a Historical Note, a clarification of which characters are fictional and which are not. At times, the prose is rushed, sometimes a character pops up by name without an introduction, but this is forgiven by the sheer passion Mr Rudge pours into his story. It is evident he loves his period, his characters, and when I turn the final pages of Rise of a Champion I find myself fully invested in Antonio, more than curious to know what happens next. 


Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Anna Belfrage
 e-version reviewed




You will find several items of interest on the sidebar