Tuesday, 31 August 2021

The London Monster by Donna Scott

Given that Discovering Diamonds is now becoming very popular (and is establishing a favourable reputation!) our list of books to be reviewed has increased - which means we can now post a review every weekday instead of only three times a week. Thank you to all our enthusiastic supporters, readers, writers and reviewers who have made this site such a success!

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon AU
Historical mystery
18th century/ Late Georgian period

(some content of a sexual nature)
In Late Georgian London, a man dubbed as “The London Monster” was attacking women, assaulting first their ears and sensibilities with terribly vulgar come-ons and, when those inevitably failed to win the lady’s affection, he stabbed at her with a dagger. Most of the women only had their dresses torn, though a few were cut on their hips and fortunately, none of them died. It is unlikely that the correct man was ever arrested, though one man did serve time in Newgate as the Monster. Author Donna Scott takes this historical figure out for a ride in her new novel, The London Monster.

Sophie Carlisle, daughter of a minor noble, wants nothing more than to become a journalist. Unfortunately, not only is that a profession forbidden to women, she is also betrothed to Cuthbert “Bertie” Needham, her childhood friend. To attempt to get her articles written and published, Sophie goes around London dressed as a boy, researching and following leads. In the course of her journalistic adventures, Sophie meets and befriends Maeve, an Irish prostitute. Tom Hayes, meanwhile, is the son of a filthy rich merchant with aspirations of a seat in the House of Commons. Tom is haunted by his mother’s murder, which he witnessed when he was ten. To atone for his past helplessness, Tom now is a pugilist and vigilante, determined to catch the Monster before he can hurt any more women. Their paths intersect in so many ways, some entirely unexpected. 

I loved this book. I read it in one sitting. I found the writing to be highly descriptive and engaging, the characters complex, and tone perfectly balanced to reflect a variety of tensions. Sophie is a charming and irrepressible figure. Tom appears to be one of those mythical creatures - a man who is handsome, intelligent, and genuinely kind all rolled into one. Maeve is salty and pragmatic yet still retains a deep sense of hope despite life having taught her not to bother. Each one of these characters is flawed in some way, but it serves to highlight the strengths of their personalities rather than their weaknesses. 

Speaking of weaknesses. Bertie. Bertie, Bertie, Bertie. He had great potential as a man but he’s just so gross and frankly, pathetic. I don’t think readers are supposed to like him, and certainly I did not. If he had even a little more self-awareness and consideration for others, he might have been a sympathetic character. As it was, he came off as more of a self-centered whiner who tried to make Sophie love him even while thinking about how marrying her would solve his family’s debt crisis. Not sure you can truly love a person if you want them for their money, no matter how hard he tries. And perhaps he really did love her, but it always seemed tinged with a variety of desperation. 

I’m not sure if the author wrote about certain themes intentionally or if I am imposing my own interpretation upon the story. However, I picked up some strong themes of consent and safety throughout this book. There was obviously no consent at all in the Monster’s attacks on his victims; they all roundly rejected him and he forced violence upon them anyway. Maeve occupies a liminal space of consent - she is a prostitute so her consent is implied through her vocation, but she hates it and is ashamed, so her consent is grudging at best. Sophie wants to help catch the Monster in part because of a frightening experience she had at a party several years earlier when a gentleman she flirted with tried to rape her. At one point, she also tells Tom that she wants the Monster to be caught and imprisoned because she wants him and all men to know that they can’t make women feel they can’t be kind or polite without risking assault, so a modern woman’s continuing issue!

Linked, Sophie feels ashamed of the incident at the party, despite the fact that it was not her fault - again, still an issue today. I can only imagine how much worse it would have been in the 1780s. And, as explained in the Author’s Note, while there were more than fifty reported cases of women being attacked by the Monster, the true figure is unknown. Shame is carried out further in Maeve’s character. She is a prostitute and she does what she does to survive and to provide money to her young daughter, in the care of another family. But she doesn’t want to be a prostitute and, despite some very frank language about sex from her and other sex workers in the book, Maeve is deeply ashamed of what she does and dreams of a day when she might save enough money to pay off her debts to her madame and leave to do other work instead. 

I also felt there was a strong theme of Otherness and acceptance of others.

Overall, I devoured this book and can’t wait to read more by Donna Scott. Highly recommended!

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Kristen McQuinn
 e-version reviewed

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Monday, 30 August 2021

Cover and Book of the Month - August

designer Cathy Helms of www.avalongraphics.org
with fellow designer Tamian Wood of www.beyonddesigninternational.com
select their chosen Cover of the Month
with all winners going forward for 
Cover of the Year in December 2021
(honourable mentions for the Runner-up)

Runner UP #1

Read Our Review
Apollo Publishers - designer unknown

Read Our Review 
cover designed by Tim Barber


cover designer unknown at Quire Books

* * *
exempt as designed by Avalon Graphics
read our review

Book of the Month

I am at the point of regretting starting my 'book of the month' personal selections because the choices are getting so hard to decide! Anna Belfrage's Whirlpools Of Time and Deborah Swift's The Poison Keeper were super reads. The Hour Glass sounded a superb book, alas I don't do audible and I struggle to read paperbacks but at the time of writing this (July)  it doesn't seem to be available on Kindle. Then there was Annie Whitehead's Sins Of The Father - continuing the story of Anglo-Saxon England which she began in her superb novel Cometh The Hour... I'd not hesitate to select Annie or Anna's books but as both are very close friends (and two of Discovering Diamonds' top reviewers!) it would be a little awkward to choose them - so just a special mention instead:

read our review

read our review

So my choice is something very different. This one might not be a read suitable for everyone - it is very adult with explicit language, and as it is about the whores in a Pompeii brothel - well, it obviously has adult content. Even the first-person present I found easy to read (most unusual for me!) It did get a little slow in a few places BUT... I've chosen it (and enjoyed it) because I think it takes a remarkable talent to write an entire novel about sex - with virtually no actual sex in it. 'The Act' was very firmly left at the bedroom door, or in this case the brothel's cubicle curtains. We hear what is going on, be it faked enjoyment or the terror of rape, but anything explicit is not mentioned. The writing was so good I felt as if I were truly walking through those Pompeii streets with the 'girls' - and there was no flowery nicety about the awfulness of being a slave forced into prostitution. The author brought home just how bad it was to be unfree, to be owned and to have no choice - in anything

The horror of slavery of the past isn't just confined to the cotton and sugar plantations of Colonial America - slavery was a staple of the Roman Empire, and boy did this novel make me realise that fact!

Highly recommended, but probably not for all tastes.

Read Our Review


Sunday, 29 August 2021

The Sins Of The Father by Annie Whitehead

Book of the Month runner-up

Historical Drama
7th Century
Anglo-Saxon England

"A father’s legacy can be a blessing or a curse...
AD658: The sons of Penda of Mercia have come of age. Ethelred, the youngest, recalls little of past wars while Wulf is determined to emulate their father, whose quest to avenge his betrayed kinswomen drew him to battle three successive Northumbrian kings.
Ecgfrith of Northumbria is more hostile towards the Mercians than his father was. His sister Ositha, thwarted in her marriage plans, seeks to make her mark in other ways, but can she, when called upon, do her brother’s murderous bidding?
Ethelred finds love with a woman who is not involved in the feud, but fate intervenes. Wulf’s actions against Northumbria mean Ethelred must choose duty over love, until he, like his father before him, has cause to avenge the women closest to him. Battle must once more be joined, but the price of victory will be high. 
Can Ethelred stay true to his father’s values, end the feud, keep Mercia free, and find the path back to love?"

We are in Mercia. It is late in the 7th century. The hall is dim and shadowed... 

The thing with any of Ms Whitehead’s books is that there is an immediate time travel effect: one moment I am here, in the present, the next I am following the protagonists down dusty roads, through harvests and bloody battles.

The historical setting is in all the little details: the retting of flax, the board games, the sweet mead, the wonder at holding a book—a precious thing in vellum—in your hand.  Clothes, edibles, the presentation of a life entirely dependent on the weather and the seasons—we tend to forget just how vulnerable our antecedents were to such things as a failed harvest—it all weaves together into a captivating peephole to the past. Ms Whitehead adds further depth by adding the casual references to flora and fauna—and I just loved the domesticated polecats, used to keep the mice population in storage sheds at bay.

Sins of the Father is primarily the story of Ethelred, the youngest of Penda’s children. Somewhat tired of always being a “guest” in various households, Ethelred is recalled to Tamworth, there to embrace the new king of Mercia, his older brother Wulfhere.

Wulfhere is hot-headed, quick to action and determined to make the Northumbrians pay for past hurts. Ethelred is a thinker, less prone to rushing headlong into anything. Also, Ethelred is constantly aware of how much the conflict with Northumbria has cost his kin: family members dead and his sisters gone missing.

Ms Whitehead has crafted a wonderful protagonist out of Ethelred. Considerate and kind, slow to anger and strategically inclined, Ethelred is one of those men who builds relationships based on loyalty and trust. 

Any good story also needs a good antagonist. Ms Whitehead did not need to look far to deliver one. Oswii of Northumbria is distinctly dislikeable,  a loud bully who is not above using deceit and murder to rid himself of potential threats—including his own son. 

Ms Whitehead’s evident familiarity with the period and its various movers and shakers combine with her beautiful prose to deliver one of those books you sit down to read on a Wednesday afternoon and then it is suddenly well after midnight and you reluctantly emerge from 7th century Mercia to cope with life in the 21st century. The people she writes about have been dead for over a thousand years, and yet she breathes such life into them I can almost imagine inviting them in for a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit. 

Ethelred’s life isn’t easy. There is loss and loss and more loss. But now and then, there are glimmers of joy, moments of utter contentment. And that, Ethelred knows, is more than most people get. 

I think the majority of authors invest a lot of heart and soul into their writing. For many, that investment gets “lost in translation”, but Ms Whitehead’s pulse beats strong and true throughout Sins of the Father, wiggling its way under my skin and into my bloodstream. That, I believe, is the signature of excellent writing: it not only entertains, it touches something deep inside.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Anna Belfrage
 e-version reviewed

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Thursday, 26 August 2021

The Whirlpools Of Time Anna Belfrage

 book of the month runner-up

18thCentury / 21st century 

contains explicit adult scenes

"It is 1715 and for Duncan Melville something fundamental is missing from his life. Despite a flourishing legal practice and several close friends, he is lonely, even more so after the recent death of his father. He needs a wife—a companion through life, someone to hold and be held by. What he wasn’t expecting was to be torn away from everything he knew and find said woman in 2016… Erin Barnes has a lot of stuff going on in her life. She doesn’t need the additional twist of a stranger in weird outdated clothes, but when he risks his life to save hers, she feels obligated to return the favour. Besides, whoever Duncan may be, she can’t exactly deny the immediate attraction. The complications in Erin’s life explode. Events are set in motion and to Erin’s horror she and Duncan are thrown back to 1715. Not only does Erin have to cope with a different and intimidating world, soon enough she and Duncan are embroiled in a dangerous quest for Duncan’s uncle, a quest that may very well cost them their lives as they travel through a Scotland poised on the brink of rebellion. Will they find Duncan’s uncle in time? And is the door to the future permanently closed, or will Erin find a way back?"

I've read books by Ms Belfrage before, but not any of her time-slips. I had to suspend my disbelief a little regarding that whole premise, but once I had done so, it was easy to get involved in the story.

Sometimes, such stories show people falling through time, having a challenging period of adjustment, and then living in the new era as if born to it. Not so with this book, and I liked the way the time-slip elements played such a prominent part in the story. Erin forgets how hard it is to communicate in 1715 and it takes her a while to learn not to wander off, or get herself into situations where, unlike in her world, a phone call will not help her. But this is not the only way in which we are reminded that she, and Duncan, have fallen through time. Pertinently, Erin's own heritage puts her at a serious disadvantage in Duncan's world.

I also liked the way everything tied in with the main theme, even the story elements which seemed like subplots. When Duncan and Erin find Arabella Stirling being attacked, the story seems to veer away from the time-slip element when it becomes clear that in coming to Arabella's aid, the pair have made a murderous enemy and, seemingly diverted from the quest to find Duncan's uncle, they are dragged into Arabella's problematic life.  And yet... All is not as it seems, and neither are the people necessarily who they seem, and apparent tangents become neatly-closed circles. Ms Belfrage presents us with a tightly-plotted, action-packed drama which puts so many characters in danger, leads to chases, abductions, and grisly murders, and then seamlessly brings all the threads together to give the reader several satisfying 'aha' moments, reminding us all the while of the basic premise of the novel. (There will also, I'm sure, be plenty of 'aha' moments for any readers of Ms Belfrage's Graham Saga books).

This is, according to the author's notes, Book One of a planned new series, but it can very much be read as a standalone. Towards the final scenes, I had to put the book down to take a call, and found myself aggrieved that I couldn't continue reading at that moment - the sign of a definite 'page-turner'!

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© anniewhiteheadauthor.co.uk
 e-version reviewed

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Tuesday, 24 August 2021

Hour Glass by Michelle Rene

shortlisted for Book of the Month

Audio or Paperback
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon AU

Fictional Drama /Autism

"Set in the lawless town of Deadwood, South Dakota, Hour Glass shares an intimate look at the woman behind the legend of Calamity Jane told through the eyes of twelve-year-old Jimmy Glass.
After their pa falls deathly ill with smallpox, Jimmy and his sister, Hour, travel into Deadwood to seek help. While their pa is in quarantine, the two form unbreakable bonds with the surrogate family that emerges from the tragedy of loss.
In a place where life is fragile and families are ripped apart by disease, death, and desperation, a surprising collection of Deadwood's inhabitants surround Jimmy, Hour, and Jane. There, in the most unexpected of places, they find a family protecting them from the uncertainty and chaos that surrounds them all."

I loved this book. It is a beautiful and insightful portrayal of a small mixed-race autistic girl. It’s told through the eyes of her 12-year-old brother who loves and cares for his little half-sister – both left motherless as their father is dying of smallpox. They are looked after by a cast of unlikely characters, including Calamity Jane, in the lawless frontier town of Deadwood, in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

The book touches a number of important topics such as autism, the lives of orphans in the pioneer days, courage, compassion and not being too quick to judge others. However, these themes are never heavy. Instead, they’re skilfully woven into a heart-warming and unforgettable story. 

The story has a vibrant and vividly portrayed cast of engaging characters. The language is rich and deeply engaging – all the senses are engaged.

 Highly recommended. You might need your hanky!

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

 e-version reviewed

Due to our increased popularity,
from 1st September we will be reviewing 
a book every weekday 
(but not weekends)

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Monday, 23 August 2021

A Discovering Diamonds Review of Of Darkness and Light by Heidi Eljarbo

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
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Fictional Drama

"Oslo, 1944. Soli Hansen’s passion for art history is and always has been a way of life for her. While she spends her days working in an art shop, WWII is taking its toll on everyone. Apprehensive of the consequences, Soli avoids becoming entangled in the war resistance efforts. She closes her eyes in hopes the enemy will retreat and leave her beautiful country for good. But when a woman is found dead in the alley alongside the art shop and a painting from the last auction goes missing, Soli is thrown into the thickest of the fray involving both Nazi art theft and the Norwegian resistance. Once Soli finds her courage, there’s no turning back. Her personal life is turned upside-down with danger, lies, spying, and an incredible discovery. In this dual timeline novel, Heidi Eljarbo paints a vivid picture of what people are willing to do in desperate times. With unforgettable characters and rich historical details, Of Darkness and Light will keep the reader mesmerized until the last satisfying page."

The story opens as Norway is being invaded by the Germans when 18-year-old Soli sees a fleet of bombers thundering past, above her quiet country home. The story then moves to occupied Oslo, August 1944, where we find her employed by Mr Holm, a fine art dealer who values her skills and training in all aspects of Renaissance and Baroque art.

She arrives at work one morning to find their cleaner dead by the rubbish bins. How did she die? Was she murdered? Until that point Soli has managed to stay clear of politics, the Germans and any serious involvement with the war. But now, the war comes to her. She can’t avoid being involved. 

What was the painting that everybody seemed to be looking for? Who could she trust? All is not as it seems.

The story is fast-paced and exciting. I enjoyed the fascinating blend of recent history and mediaeval art, seen through the story of Caravaggio, and am looking forward to the next in the series.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

 e-version reviewed

Due to our increased popularity,
from 1st September we will be reviewing 
a book every weekday 
(but not weekends)

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Saturday, 21 August 2021

Sunday Guest Spot - Jennifer C. Wilson

The last of our Sunday Series
of taking a look at some fabulous authors!
thank you to all who have taken part
and thank you to you, our visitors, for
your support and interest

Hello Jennifer, 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 than curling up with a good book, box of chocs and glass of wine to hand!

Q. Would you like to tell us a little bit about yourself....
A. Hello! Thanks for featuring me today! I’m Jennifer C. Wilson, and I’m a marine biologist by background / day-job, working as an environmental consultant. In terms of writing, I love historical fiction and paranormal historical fiction, and am particularly keen on Richard III, as anyone who has read my books to date will have noticed!

Q. Where do you live?
A. I live in Whitley Bay, right on the north-east coast of England, just outside Newcastle. I used to come here as a child during the summer with my grandparents, and I love that I can see the sea from my flat (only 2inches, but it’s still wonderful to me!

Q. If you had a choice to live anywhere – where would it be?
A. This changes quite frequently, but if we’re going all-out fantasy, then I still want a castle in Scotland! Ideally by a loch, with a mountain in the background. Just to look at of course, I wouldn’t start doing anything silly like trying to climb it… 

Q. Cat,  dog or budgie?
A. Cat (called Tugger), and a dog (called Captain). I know a lot of people have their children’s names picked out, but I’m prepped for when I get pets!

Q. Are you a ‘dining room for dinner’, or a ‘tray on your lap in front of the TV’ person?
A. At the moment, I’m 50-50 – I have a living-room-diner. But I always sit to the table, even if the TV is on in the corner, even if it’s just a sandwich. 

Q. TV preferences – documentary, drama, comedy, soap or thriller?
A. Documentary. I love history and art documentaries at the moment, learning loads, and getting travel inspiration. 

Q. What was your first published novel about?
A. The ghosts of the Tower of London! We met the ghosts of Richard III, Anne Boleyn, and many, many more, kick-starting the wonderful adventure that has been the Kindred Spirits series. 

Q. What was your last novel about?
A. Last novel was The Raided Heart, delving into the dangerous world of the border reivers, in 1470s Northumberland. Also, technically, this was the first novel I ever wrote, back when I was a teen, so there’s a nice link-back to it. 

Q. Do you write in one genre or several?
A. Several, to an extent. I write both paranormal historical fiction, and historical romance. 

Q. Have you ever considered exploring a totally different genre?
A. I currently have a draft contemporary romance that I’m working on, and thoroughly enjoying, which I think will be the next thing I look at. There’s also a crime trilogy pottering around in my brain, which seems to want a way out soon!

Q. If you could, which two of your characters would you like to invite to spend an afternoon with you?
A. That has to be Richard III and Mary Queen of Scots, if I could have anyone!

Q. Where would you go / what would you do?
A. Well, a nice visit to a historical site would be good, I think. They both have links to Fotheringhay Castle, of course, but although Richard would hopefully have happy childhood memories there, I’m not sure the same could be said for poor Mary… Perhaps Edinburgh Castle, partaking of a nice afternoon tea in the café there. 

Q. How do you prefer to travel? Plane, boat, car?
A. I love being on boats. My favourite thing in the world is to get on a ferry in Oban, and head out to the islands, with a Lorne sausage butty and a cup of green tea in the café, followed by a glass of wine on the way back in. And a notebook and pen in hand, of course. 

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. Ooh… That’s a challenging one. I’d have to approach him, check he was alright. Maybe he’s one of my ghosts, come along to have a go at me for not featuring him in a story – I’d have to put that right, straight away!

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...
 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. The Other Boleyn Girl, Philippa Gregory
2. Bloody Scotland, Terry Deary
3. My Heart is my Own, Mary Queen of Scots biography, John Guy
4. The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Antonia Fraser
5. 1,000 Years of Annoying the French, Stephen Clarke
6. The Greatest Knight, Elizabeth Chadwick
7. Cat, Freya North
8. Does a blank notebook count as a book? It would have to be a pretty thick one mind, if I’m totally on my own for a while… And a pen, of course! 
[I'll let you have the notebook and pen - both are magic ones that never 'run out']

Q. What sort of island would you prefer, and why? (e.g. Desert Island... Hebridian Island...)
A. No surprises, but definitely Hebridean! Ideally one reached by ferry from Oban, with afore-mentioned café!

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. If the notebook isn’t allowed above, then it would have to be some sort of music-system. I’m alright with my own company, but silence and me aren’t always the best of friends, and I’d need my cheesy pop, boybands and musical theatre soundtracks to get through. 

Find out more about Jennifer...

Due to our increased popularity,
from 1st September we will be reviewing 
a book every weekday 
(but not weekends)

Thursday, 19 August 2021

A Discovering Diamonds Review of The Usurper King, by Mercedes Rochelle

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon AU

Fictional Saga
14th Century
#3 of a trilogy

In this last of Mercedes Rochelle’s trilogy of the life of Richard II, much of the focus – inevitably – is on Henry Bolingbroke, Richard’s cousin, the man who would depose Richard and become Henry IV. Exiled to France Henry discovers to his shock and disbelief that he has been disinherited. Richard has stripped him of all his lands and titles. This is one straw too many for the exiled Bolingbroke, and he resolves to reclaim his birthright.

Bolingbroke is portrayed as a remarkably sympathetic character, one whose journey from simply wishing to reclaim what is rightfully his, to the usurper king he became, is shown in an incremental hardening of belief that Richard has gone too far – not only in dealing with his cousin, but in his treatment of the nobles of England as a whole. Gathering about him a number of sympathetic nobles, among them Henry Percy, ‘Hotspur’, the son of the ancient and powerful Percy family of Northumberland, he slowly moves towards Richard’s downfall.

While it is generally believed that Richard II died at Pontrefact, possibly by starving to death, Rochelle offers an alternative end to Richard’s life, one for which there is some tantalizing historical evidence. Rumours that Richard was alive led to more unrest in England, while in Wales, Owain Glyndŵr’s uprising kept Henry IV busy – and perhaps allowed Henry Percy, who had by now thrown his support behind Edmund Mortimer, to gather arms and men against him.  Mortimer, the 3rd Earl of March, was Richard II’s heir presumptive, but only a child at the time of Bolingbroke’s capture of the throne.

The strength of The Usurper King is in the details, and in Rochelle’s ability to present the complex politics of the period in a way that makes for an easy read. The last chapters, leading up to the Battle of Shrewsbury, are particularly exciting, and her portrayal of the broken, desolate Richard II is convincing and empathetic. One or two inaccurate botanical details detracted a little for me, but not seriously. A useful chart of nobles and their titles is provided for readers (like me) not fully cognizant of who was who in the period, especially as titles often changed hands. Overall, I found The Usurper King a competently told story that taught me much about a period of English history I previously knew little about. 

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Marian L Thorpe
 e-version reviewed

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Tuesday, 17 August 2021

The Poison Keeper by Deborah Swift

shortlisted for book of the month

Amazon AU

Fictional drama
17th century
Naples / Italy

"Naples 1633. Aqua Tofana – One drop to heal. Three drops to kill.
Giulia Tofana longs for more responsibility in her mother’s apothecary business, but Mamma has always been secretive and refuses to tell her the hidden keys to her success. But the day Mamma is arrested for the poisoning of the powerful Duke de Verdi, Giulia is shocked to uncover the darker side of her trade.
Giulia must run for her life, and escapes to Naples, under the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, to the home of her Aunt Isabetta, a famous courtesan. But when Giulia hears that her mother has been executed, and the cruel manner of her death, she swears she will wreak revenge on the Duke de Verdi.
The trouble is, Naples is in the grip of Domenico, the Duke’s brother, who controls the city with the ‘Camorra’, the mafia. Worse, her Aunt Isabetta, under his thrall, insists that she should be consort to him.
Based on the legendary life of Giulia Tofana, this is a story of hidden family secrets, and how courage and love can overcome vengeance.

Ms Swift is one of those authors who can pick a reader up and simply drop them into any given historical setting, and she's equally at home writing about the 17th or the 20th centuries. The Poison Keeper is a slight departure, in that it's set in Italy, but again, whilst it's clear that the author has worked very hard to research the period and geographical detail, she's done it all so that we don't have to. That detail sits lightly on the page, so that you just feel like you're inhabiting the world you're reading about.

Whilst this story is based on a real-life character, I'm full of admiration for the plot twists and turns which I feel have come from the mind of the author rather than the pages of the history books. Much of Guilia's life is either undocumented, or the sources disagree, so full marks to Ms Swift for turning what must have at times been a frustratingly incomplete picture into such a page-turner.

This book gives it all - drama, tension, intrigue, and fully-rounded characters, believable relationships and a main character who grows and develops during the course of the novel. I enjoyed reading Guilia's story, although my heart was in my mouth several times, and I also learned a lot about life in 17th-century Naples. I was vaguely aware of the Camorra, and more so of the powers of the Inquisition, but it was interesting to see how these threats affected the daily lives of ordinary people. Along the way we learn a great deal about various trades, and lifestyles - in particular what was expected from the courtesans - and how in this age women were still very much regarded as inferior, as sinners, and had to find their freedoms and independence where they could. Reading the book you feel as though you can see, smell and hear the streets of Naples, and feel the heat, oppression and the danger.

This is the first in a planned series and while I'm eagerly awaiting the next instalment, this can easily be read as a standalone. 
Highly recommended.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Annie Whitehead

 e-version reviewed

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