Friday, 15 January 2021

A Discovering Diamonds review of The Bend Of The River by Edward Rickford



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Fictional saga / military
1500s
Mexico

One of the benefits of reading good historical fiction is that it transports you through time as effectively as a Tardis. Mr Rickford is evidently extremely knowledgeable about the events he describes, but he adds depth to the narrative by painting the landscape, the architecture, the food and the culture of the people whose destruction he depicts. The Bend of the River is a eulogy over the Mexica, the ruthless and powerful Native American people we usually call the Aztecs.

It is 1520 or so and the ambitious and greedy Hernán Cortés is marching towards Tenochtitlán, the capital of the Mexica empire. Along the way, he uses a combination of intimidation and bribery to make allies out of other native people, entering Tenochtitlán at the head of an army numbering more than 6,000 men. The Spanish are few—no more than a couple of hundred or so—but they have two fearsome weapons: horses and firearms. Still: it would be an easy matter for the Mexica to vanquish them, but for some reason the Mexica emperor, Moctecuhzoma, chooses instead to treat Cortés as a guest—at least initially. By the time he realises his mistake, it is too late—for the Mexica people, for their empire and for Moctecuhzoma himself.

Why Moctecuhzoma  chose not to annihilate Cortés and his men is one of those historical mysteries that have fostered much speculation. Mr Rickford gives a feasible explanation for Moctecuhzoma’s actions, presenting the Mexica emperor as a reflective and intelligent man. The author does not shy away from the bloodier aspects of the Mexica culture, but if we’re going to be honest, the Spanish aren’t much better, so driven by their hunger for gold they happily wade through bodies to get it. 

Mr Rickford delivers a gripping read, populated by a vibrant cast of characters. Standing head and shoulders above the supporting cast are Hernán Cortés, an intriguing mix of greed, curiosity, determination and faith, and the ultimately fallible Moctecuhzoma. 

For those who enjoy fast-paced action firmly grounded in historical facts, this is an excellent read, with the one caveat that it is best to read the first book in the series first, (The Serpent And The Eagle) as The Bend of The River starts off rather abruptly, taking off from where the previous book ended.

Still: as something of an aficionado of Latin American history, I can but doff my cap to Mr Rickford and thank him for bringing all this turmoil into such vivid life! 

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Anna Belfrage
 e-version reviewed


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Wednesday, 13 January 2021

A Discovering Diamonds Review of A Painter in Penang by Clare Flynn


Family Saga
1940s
Malaysia

It is 1948 and the world is recovering from WWII. In some places, the consequences of the war are irreversible. The colonial world is crumbling, and for those who have spent their entire lives living abroad as representatives of the British Empire, the transformation will not be easy. Jasmine Barrington is sixteen and after years away from the place she considers home, she is finally allowed to return to Penang, an island off the Malay peninsula. 

Jasmine returns to a changed world. Yes, the British still rule what will one day be the independent nation of  Malaysia, but there is substantial unrest. The old world order is no longer valid, and while the rubber plantations remain owned by white planters, the Malays, the Chinese and the Indians want their share of the future. Communist insurgents spread violence and fear, and tensions rise when white planters are murdered by the rebels.

In the midst of all this turbulence, Jasmine is leaving childhood behind. The girl is becoming a woman, and like all teenagers, she is at times self-centred and naïve. She is afflicted by emotions she doesn’t want to have, is frustrated by the fact that men—especially one young man—dance attendance, is just as frustrated when said young man ignores her. And then, of course, there’s her friendship with the Malay driver, which in one scintillating moment becomes so much more—or so Jasmine feels. All of this is beautifully depicted by Ms Flynn and elegantly woven into the volatile political situation.

Over a period of several months, Jasmine will experience everything from first love to betrayal. She emerges somewhat wiser, somewhat bruised. But that, after all, is what growing up entails. 

Ms Flynn delivers an excellent period piece where the geographic, historical and political setting are constantly present without ever becoming over-bearing. At times, the pace lags a little, and at times, Jasmine’s behaviour is enervating—but what teenager isn’t like this? All in all, A Painter in Penang is an enjoyable and very educational read, shedding light on an era that lies so close to our time but is already sinking into the mists of history. 


Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Anna Belfrage
 e-version reviewed


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Monday, 11 January 2021

A Discovering Diamonds review of Dishonour and Obey by Graham Brack

A Discovei

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Mystery
1600s
Netherlands / England

After a two-year break, back at the University of Leiden, Master Mercurius is sent on an international diplomacy mission to the court of Charles II in London. His brief is to ensure Princess Mary is a suitable bride for the Dutch Stadhouder, William of Orange, and help along the negotiations for the matrimony.

Dishonour and Obey is the third historical murder investigation in the Master Mercurius Mystery series. Mercurius, a Leiden academic, is relating his memoirs to a scribe. It is a process that includes a certain amount of pondering introspection on matters of religion, ethics and the tensions created by being both an ordained Catholic priest and a Protestant minister, but this aspect of Brack’s novels is often amusing, and by no means pedantic or pointless because it explains much of Mercurius’ personal observations and actions.  

In this outing, self-deprecating Mercurius finds himself involved in a murder inquiry at the behest of the merry monarch Charles II. One of the visiting Dutch party is murdered before they have got their land legs, and this threatens to undermine the king’s negotiations with Prince William, if not discredit his royal hospitality. The motives for the crime are a complicated affair and the king’s advisers appear to be hindering the investigation in an attempt to protect the identity of a British spy. Little by little, however, through dogged sleuthing Mercurius whittles down the suspects and motives, and with a master stroke of common sense he unmasks the culprits and their convoluted crime.

Graham Brack once again gives us a gripping story and a chuckle or two, wrapped up in some serious historical detail, which, given the complexity of the European battles for supremacy between France, the Netherlands and England, is achieved with skilful economy. I occasionally had to flip back to check who was who, but I particularly enjoyed the portrayal of Charles II, a larger than life figure in height and appearance with a short attention span but a deceptively cunning mind.

Apart from being a devious whodunnit, this is a novel worth reading for its convincing exposé of Restoration court life and the political intrigue behind royal marriages. The princess, of course, has no say in the matter – that is how it was in those days. History, on the other hand, tells us she prevailed and possibly even enjoyed the last laugh. 

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© J.G. Harlond
 e-version reviewed


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Sunday, 10 January 2021

SundayGuest Spot - Featuring Tony Riches

Continuing our Sunday Series
of taking a look at some fabulous authors!



Hello Tony...

Q. Would you like to tell us a little bit about yourself....

A. I’m a full-time historical novelist, following the stories of the Tudors from the first meeting of Owen Tudor and Queen Catherine of Valois to the death of Queen Elizabeth I.

Q. Where do you live?

A. In beautiful Pembrokeshire, West Wales UK – birthplace of King Henry VII, the first Tudor king.

Q. If you had a choice to live anywhere – where would it be?

A. Hampton Court Palace – or if it’s not available, Windsor Caste would do.

Q. Modern house, old cottage, castle or something else?

A.  Modern – a short drive from the sea and the River Cleddau

Q. Cat, dog or budgie?

A. We had a (high maintenance) Samoyed, (Siberian husky)  

Q. Are you a ‘dining room for dinner’, or a ‘tray on your lap in front of the TV’ person?

A. Standards have to be maintained.

Q. TV preferences – documentary, drama, comedy, soap or thriller?

A. Love well-researched historical documentaries

Q. What was your first published novel about?

A. Queen Sacrifice is set in ancient Wales. Two kings battle for their lives. The queen of the northern tribes has a new son and the king of the south has a young Saxon bride. At the heart of the conflict are the bishops, who are torn between their faith and their duty. Powerful knights and warlords see the opportunity to grow rich but know there the loser will pay a heavy price. The narrative faithfully follows EVERY move in the queen sacrifice game, known as "The Game of the Century" between Donald Byrne and Bobby Fischer in New York City on October 17th, 1956.

 


Q. What was your last novel about?

A. Drake – Tudor Corsair is the first book of my new Elizabethan series, and follows Devon sailor Francis Drake as he sets out on a journey of adventure and discovery, sailing around the world and becoming an unlikely favourite of Queen Elizabeth I and one of the richest men in England.


Q. Do you write in one genre or several?

A. I have several non-fiction books, but I’m best known for my Tudor historical fiction.

Q. Have you ever considered exploring a totally different genre?

A.  Yes, I’ve written one contemporary thriller, The Shell, inspired after my wife and I faced the danger of kidnap on a beach in Mombasa. 


Q. If you could, which two of your characters would you like to invite to spend an afternoon with you?

A. I’d love to meet Henry VIII’s best friend, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk – and his last wife, the intriguing Katherine Willoughby, who both feature in my book, Katherine – Tudor Duchess.

 

Q. Where would you go / what would you do?

A. It would be fun to take them to present-day London and see what they think of it.

Q. How do you prefer to travel? Plane, boat, car?

A. The Tudors have bought me an ocean-going yacht (which has been in the boatyard throughout the pandemic) so I’d prefer to travel by sea.

Q. You are out for a walk. You see a chap sitting on a wall, looking right fed up – but there’s something odd about him... What? And what do you do?

A.  I would keep two metres distance, smile and say, ‘good morning’.

We have a long-running Radio programme here in the UK called Desert Island Discs on which celebrities talk about their life and select eight of their favourite discs... so changing that slightly...

Q. If you were shipwrecked on a desert island, what eight books would you want to find left in an abandoned hut? (There’s already a Bible, the Quran, and the complete works of Shakespeare)

1. Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel

2. Far from the Madding Crowd, by Thomas Hardy

3. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King

4. Out of Africa, by Isak Dinesen

5. Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage, by Alfred Lansing

6. A Promised Land, by Barack Obama

7. Revelation, by C. J. Sansom

8. Boatbuilding: A Complete Handbook of Wooden Boat Construction

9. Boatbuilding: A Complete Handbook of Wooden Boat Construction, by Howard I Chapelle

Q. What sort of island would you prefer, and why? (e.g. Desert Island... Hebridian Island...)

A.Tropical island with plenty of fresh water.

Q. And you would be allowed one luxury item – what would you want it to be? (a boat or something to escape on isn’t allowed.)

A. A solar powered MacBook Pro with 2TB hard disk and Word.

 




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Friday, 8 January 2021

A Discovering Diamonds Review of A Walk in Wolf Wood by Mary Stewart


A good read revisited

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Young Adult / Timeslip
14th Century
Bavaria

John and Margaret are on holiday with their parents on a sleepy, summer afternoon in Bavaria, having a picnic in a wood, when a strange-looking man walks past crying. He's dressed as a re-enactor, or so they think, but the costume is just too good. So, they follow him, and find the gold medallion they had seen him wearing dropped in the grass. They determine that they have to return it and eventually find a small cottage where, having looked through the windows and seen the same clothes piled on a bed, the strange man must live. They are about to leave when they are confronted by a wolf, but, even though John throws the medallion at it to scare it, the children realise it was already turning away. Why is the wolf afraid of them, who is the stranger, and how will they return the medallion to its rightful owner?

I first read this book when I was a young teenager, and it had been a favourite. Returning to it as an adult with a vast amount more knowledge of the historical era it is set in (not giving too much away, this is a time slip novel) which is 1342, I did wonder if it could ever stand up to my childhood memories of it. And, to give the novel and Mary Stewart credit, it did, pretty well.

It is not a complicated story and as children's books have to, the plot and good characters are essential. Being a 1980s novel with a much more old fashioned tone, the children are rather sketchy and simple, but all Ms Stewart's talents go into the character of the stranger, a young lord called Mardian. He is beautifully drawn. The castle setting is vivid and lively, accurate enough for me, and avoids most pitfalls of a historical novel. 

It does have scope to be a much longer, more complex story, and it does even satisfy the more recent taste for fantasy, but if you are looking for a good shortish story to introduce the genre to a young person, or an old person, this is an excellent place to start.


Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Nicky Galliers
 e-version reviewed



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Wednesday, 6 January 2021

A Discovering Diamonds review of The Diplomat of Florence by Anthony R. Wildman


fictional biography
1400/1500 / Italian Renaissance
Italy / Florence

Niccolò Machiavelli is a name best known for the adjective created from it: Machiavellian – deceitful and unscrupulous in the pursuit of power. “Never attempt to win by force what can be won by deception,” he wrote in what is probably his best-known book, The Prince. In The Diplomat of Florence, Anthony Wildman gives us a fictionalized biography of a man working tirelessly in the complex, changing allegiances of Renaissance Italy, not for himself or for one leader, but for the benefit of his city and republic, Florence.

The politics of the Italian Peninsula in the years of Machiavelli’s life are intricate. ‘Italy’ as a country doesn’t exist. The peninsula is divided among 12 powers: kingdoms, duchies, republics and the papal states, and powers from outside the peninsula, notably Spain and France, are influential in supporting (or not) various city-states. In Florence itself, two families – the Medici and the Borgias – vie for power. In this fluid, dangerous political situation, Niccolò Machiavelli, a man born into a minor landed family, rises from a junior clerk to a leading diplomat: one whose ideas and policies shaped Florentine history, but also led to his own exile.

For a good portion of his life in diplomacy, Machiavelli must negotiate with a brilliant but dangerous man: Cesare Borgia, bent, with the support of his father Pope Alexander VI,  on ruling much of the peninsula. Machiavelli admires Borgia’s devious military mind, even when he doesn’t agree with him or his purposes, and Wildman suggests the reluctant and reflective appreciation Niccolò has for Cesare as an impetus for his own development as a master of subtle intrigue. 

As war and its enormous cost drain its coffers and occupy the minds of its leaders, Florence emerges as a crucible of art and science and thought, and names we know are intertwined with Machiavelli’s: Leonardo da Vinci, both as artist and military engineer; Michelangelo; even, briefly, Thomas Cromwell. None of this seems forced: Wildman’s recreation of Florentine society rings true, as does the details of the city and its customs. Machiavelli adds to this: over his life, he wrote not only the political and military treatises he is known for, but poetry and drama. 

Wildman gives us a sympathetic and nuanced look into the life, personality, and mind of a Renaissance man whose influence extended, and continues to extend, well beyond his time. Placed in the context of the politics of the time, explained clearly but naturally within the narrative, Niccolò Machiavelli emerges as a very human man, working for the greater good of his republic, but also, in his role as observer and influencer, analysing how power can best be used to lead. 

This is a well-told fictionalized biography, which maybe could have had a little more 'sparkle' to the narrative, but the history and personality of Machiavelli were written well enough to keep me reading; I learned a lot and would recommend it to anyone interested in an overview of the politics and disputes of Renaissance Italy, especially Machiavelli as both the man and the diplomat. 

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Marian Thorpe
 e-version reviewed



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Monday, 4 January 2021

The Heart of a Hussar by Griffin Brady


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Military / Romance / Family saga
17th century
Poland

One of the reasons why I read historical fiction is to slip away to far off places and explore different worlds. The Heart of a Hussar took me back to early 17-century Poland with its Winged Hussars, an elite cavalry unit that was the backbone of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. I was not familiar with this history or the Winged Hussars, but with the author’s impressive research and meticulous world building, I was transported to the past.

Jacek Dabrowski is a lieutenant of the Hussars, in service of a great lord, and he has a reputation for being one of the finest warriors. His men would do anything for him and women try to catch his interest. To acquire the land he needs to secure his future, he relies on the support and commendation of his superiors; unfortunately, his direct superior, a jealous, petty captain, belittles him at every turn and threatens to crush him. This forces him to work harder to prove himself in battle strategy and leadership and rise above the numerous traps laid out by his captain.

Oliwia is a distraction that could destroy everything Jacek has been working toward. Over the course of the story, she blossoms from a fifteen-year-old war orphan to an eighteen-year-old woman who has entwined herself within Jacek’s professional heart. Theirs is a slow-building romance that catches Jacek by surprise in the latter part of the book. Unbeknownst to him, she has cared for him since he rescued her from a burning village. But Jacek is focused on his career and the pursuit of his dreams, and what can he offer a young woman except his heart? Jacek must decide between Oliwia and his future.

This is the first book of a duology, and the story ends with a cliffhanger and so many things left in a tangle. Fortunately, the conclusion was due for release in November 2020 (I read this first novel during October).

The Heart of a Hussar has action/adventure, a budding romance and offers a unique history set in a unique setting

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Cryssa Bazos




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Sunday, 3 January 2021

Sunday Guest Spot: featuring Richard Dee

Starting a new Sunday Series
of taking a look at some fabulous authors!



Hello Richard, welcome to our Discovering Diamonds Guest Spot. Along with my readers and visitors I love to hear from authors who write wonderful stories. There’s nothing better on these long, cold winter evenings, than curling up with a good book in front of a cosy fire, box of chocs and glass of wine to hand. (Unless you’re in the southern hemisphere, in which case it’s still the wine, but a platter of cheese, crackers and grapes to hand, while stretched out in a deckchair in the garden on a warm, sunny, evening...)

Q. Would you like to tell us a little bit about yourself....
A. Hello everyone. I’m Richard Dee and I write Science Fiction and Steampunk adventures. I also chronicle the exploits of Andorra Pett, a reluctant amateur detective. I spent forty years in shipping, first as Navigator and Master Mariner on merchant vessels, latterly as a ships pilot on the River Thames, guiding ships of all sizes through the estuary, the Thames Barrier and Tower Bridge. 

Q. Where do you live?
A. Glorious South Devon.

Q. If you had a choice to live anywhere – where would it be?
A. See above. I’ve travelled the world yet there is nowhere else I liked as much.

Q. Modern house, old cottage, castle or something else?
A.  My house is modern, my last was old, there were too many ghosts.

Q. Cat,  dog or budgie?
A. We used to train guide dogs and had several Labradors of our own, now all sadly at Rainbow Bridge.

Q. Are you a ‘dining room for dinner’, or a ‘tray on your lap in front of the TV’ person?
A. It depends, no rules here.

Q. TV preferences – documentary, drama, comedy, soap or thriller?
A. I do love a good documentary. As for fiction, anything that blurs the line between what is and what could be.

Q. What was your first published novel about?
A. A trader with a past (not autobiographical), this one was not sailing the seas, but the galaxy.

Q. What was your last novel about?
A. It was a space-based crime mystery, starring Andorra Pett, the aforementioned amateur detective.


Q. Do you write in one genre or several?
A. Sci-fi is such a broad church. Everything so far is set either in the future or (like my Steampunk adventures) an alternative, quasi-Victorian now. 

Q. Have you ever considered exploring a totally different genre?
A.  For this years NaNoWriMo project, I wrote the first draft of a fantasy adventure, with magic, flying creatures and all sorts of new ideas.

Q. If you could, which two of your characters would you like to invite to spend an afternoon with you?
A. My Steampunk hero Jackson Thwaite and amateur detective Andorra Pett.

Q. Where would you go / what would you do?
A. We’d sit in a bar and swap stories about life in a country powered by steam and clockwork, how to commit the perfect crime and talk about our adventures. Hopefully, I’d get some great new material.

Q. How do you prefer to travel? Plane, boat, car?
A. I love to travel on water, failing that a good walk on the cliffs can’t be beaten

Q. You are out for a walk. You see a chap sitting on a wall, looking right fed up – but there’s something odd about him... What? And what  do you do?
A. His clothes looked wrong, not fashionable or even retro, just; different. He was fiddling with a small box, “I want to go back but I can’t make it work,” he said. 
“Go back where?” I asked. He looked up, seeing me for the first time. “Oh, that complicates things, I thought I was alone. Now you’ll have to come back with me.” Before I could ask him what he was talking about, he grabbed my hand and pressed at a button on the box. 
My world dissolved….


We have a long-running Radio programme here in the UK called Desert Island Discs on which celebrities talk about their life and select eight of their favourite discs... so changing that slightly...

Q. If you were shipwrecked on a desert island, what eight books would you want to find left in an abandoned hut? (There’s already a Bible, the Quran, and the complete works of Shakespeare)
A. 
1. On Writing, by Stephen King
2. Extraterrestrial Civilisations by Isaac Asimov
3. All last year’s copies of Focus magazine (great for research) 
4. The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury
5. Shogun by James Clavell
6. The day of the Jackal by Fredrick Forsyth
7. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
8. Whatever I’m currently reading, so I could finish it.

Q. What sort of island would you prefer, and why? (e.g. Desert Island... Hebridian Island...)
A. Somewhere not too hot, I’ve grown to dislike intense heat.  

Q. And you would be allowed one luxury item – what would you want it to be? (a boat or something to escape on isn’t allowed.)
A. The abandoned hut should contain the ruins of a well-stocked bar. Fortunately, the stock has escaped destruction.


You can keep up with my writing and find out more about me on my website at richarddeescifi.co.uk. Head over there to see what I get up to, click  the PORTFOLIO tab to get all the details about my work and join my newsletter for a free novella.

I’m on Facebook at RichardDeeAuthor  and Twitter at Richard Dee Sci-Fi




Friday, 1 January 2021

Sons of Rome by Simon Turney and Gordon Doherty


Happy New Year to all our 
visitors, readers, authors & reviewers. 

* * * 
shortlisted for Book of the Month



We start the New Year off 
with a Highly Recommended 
'Discovered Diamond'...

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Fictional Saga
Rome
400s / 3rd Century AD

If you read historical fiction set in Ancient Rome, this will be the book not to miss. If you can only afford to buy one book in this genre, spend your pennies on this one. 

Many of us will recognise the name of Constantine, known later as ‘the Great’ and the emperor who made Christianity the Roman Empire’s established religion. Maxentius is a much lesser known figure – the sources are very sparse – yet was an important player in the late third century AD. Systematically vilified over time as a cruel, bloodthirsty and incompetent tyrant, Maxentius was deemed to have been hostile to Christianity as well. But we know how official propaganda works…

A more extensive use and analysis of non-literary sources such as coins and inscriptions have led to a more balanced image. Maxentius was a prolific builder, whose achievements were overshadowed by Constantine's issue of a damnatio  memoriae against him. Many buildings in Rome commonly associated with Constantine, such as the great basilica in the Forum Romanum, were in fact built by Maxentius. 

Back to our book. Doherty and Turney are two established authors who write fluently and authoritatively in their genre, each with an impressive body of work to date. Together they have brought their talents to this clever book. Doherty as Constantine and Turney as Maxentius means that each protagonist has a clear voice and personality. The authors have avoided the mess and muddle that collaborative works can become caught in when switching scenes and characters. They have added a detailed and perceptive historical note to complement the story.  

We see Constantine and Maxentius, both sons of emperors, grow more complex as they become young men and adults. Yet they are constrained by their personalities, their elders and sometimes their invidious position as perceived threats to the status quo merely by their existence. Their personal trials in a time of the empire tearing itself apart through the machinations of ruthless power players are interwoven with their political ones which eventually come to mean a matter of survival. 

Although Sons of Rome is only Book 1 in The Rise of the Emperors series, the story is so well-crafted it finishes conclusively. I can’t wait for Book 2 – Masters of Rome!

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Alison Morton


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