"Spain, 1526. Sister Ernestine is desperate for redemption. Wracked with guilt over having tragically caused her spouse's execution, the newly minted nun arrives at St. Francis Abbey to fulfill a promise to deliver secret documents to the brother of her dead husband. But after discovering she has to wait several months for him to return, she fears being stuck in the middle of a region terrorized by the Inquisition. Pulled into intrigues of the devout community and its residents, Sister Ernestine discovers a French spy has tracked her down, intent on stealing the plans that would alter the European balance of power. And as her old enemy closes in, she must protect the world-changing information from falling into the wrong hands... and survive the rising threat within the abbey's sacred walls.
With the future of Europe at stake, can the grieving woman complete her honor-bound mission before she loses her life?
Ernestine is an intriguing standalone historical fiction novel. If you like well-drawn characters, richly researched settings, then you'll adore Ernestine's story of emotional healing, redemption, and forgiveness."
Sister Ernestine is an enigma from the moment she rides into our lives, meeting us at the Alhambra on a bleak winter’s day. She arrives at the convent walls, apparently a nun seeking refuge, and yet within minutes we discover she is fleeing unknown dangers, she is atoning for a terrible sin, and carries a pair of ivory dice in her bag.
This beautifully crafted debut novel peels away layers of complex characters and brings us immediately into a fascinating world of sixteenth-century Spain. Ernestine holds her secrets close, and her past is gradually revealed by interactions with the people around her.
The outcome is a brilliant mosaic of intrigue, horror, love, and retribution. Against a backdrop of the burnings of heretics during the Inquisition to the importance of the cultivation of olives, with the ensuing conversion of Ernestine to understand her own life’s journey, this is a story that entertains on so many levels. On the one hand, it’s a dramatic morality play; on the other, it’s a fascinating, adventurous, love story. “Living to the fullest takes courage,” Ernestine is told by her lover. And indeed, her story is one of exceptional tenacity, survival, and the heart to live life to the fullest.
"Two young women from very different backgrounds meet in the Second World War and are plunged into a life where security and discretion are paramount. But both have secrets of their own to hide . . . In 1929, life for ten-year-old Mattie Price, born and raised in the back streets of Sheffield, is tough. With a petty thief for a father and a mother who turns to the bottle to cope with her husband’s brutish ways, it is left to the young girl and her brother, Joe, to feed and care for their three younger siblings. But Mattie has others rooting for her too. The Spencer family, who live at the top of the same street, and Mattie’s teachers recognize that the girl is clever beyond her years and they, and Joe, are determined that she shall have the opportunity in life she deserves. Victoria Hamilton, living in the opulence of London’s Kensington, has all the material possessions that a young girl could want. But her mother, Grace, a widow from the Great War, is cold and distant, making no secret of the fact that she never wanted a child. Grace lives her life in the social whirl of upper-class society, leaving Victoria in the care of her governess and the servants. At eleven years old, Victoria is sent to boarding school where, for the first time in her young life, she is able to make friends of her own age. Mattie and Victoria are both set on a path that will bring them together at Bletchley Park in May 1940. An unlikely friendship between the two young women is born and together they will face the rest of the war keeping the nation’s secrets and helping to win the fight. They can tell no one, not even their families, about their work or even where they are. But keeping secrets is second nature to both of them . . ."
Mattie and Victoria, two young ladies very different in character, upbringing and class, yet they discover they have much in common with each other. Mattie has had a hard life with difficult parents, Victoria has had everything she ever wanted that money could provide - except a loving mother.
Bletchley Park, the centre for intelligence and code breaking during World War Two, throws the two women together and their friendship grows. Only those of high intelligence,or expert capabilities were seconded to Bletchley, so we know from the start that there is something particularly special abut our two heroines.
The majority of the story, however, is set in the pre-war years, where the two girls fight the challenges of daily life to survive.
They are worthwhile characters, you want to root for them both, one criticism, however is would girls from such highly different class levels become such close friends? On the other hand, Bletchley (and the war) threw many diverse people together, so why not? Some of the story was a little predicatble, but that is the nature of this type of genre -- it isn't a mystery or surprising adventure story, so we'll not criticise the author for that.
A pleasant read, nicely written with characters to enjoy.
"The son of a wealthy plantation owner and a doting mother, Mungo St John is accustomed to wealth and luxury - until he returns from university to discover his family ruined, his inheritance stolen and his childhood sweetheart, Camilla, taken by the conniving Chester Marion. Mungo swears vengeance and devotes his life to saving Camilla-and destroying Chester. Camilla, trapped in New Orleans, powerless as a kept slave and subject to Chester's brutish behaviour, must do whatever it takes to survive. As Mungo battles his own fate and misfortune, he must question what it takes for a man to regain his power in the world when he has nothing, and what he is willing to do to exact revenge..."
I confess, I had not read any novels by Wilbur Smith, even during all those years when I worked in a library, but I came across this title as a Kindle Unlimited and thought perhaps it was time that I delved.
Maybe I chose the wrong title because I was disappointed. Very disappointed. I assumed, as I was reading, that maybe this was a book written early on in Mr Smith's career as it had a rather 'old fashioned' feel about the style and plot, but not so - to my astonishment, according to Amazon it was released in 2020! (I did check to see if this was a re-release - apparently not, although please correct me if I'm wrong.)
I couldn't get to like the main character, Mungo St John. I found him full of his own importance and angst. Yes, characters must have motivation for the action that is to (hopefully) come, but this guy, I thought him a larger than reality meant to be a 'goodie' person, but who kept whining about his misfortunes, most of which he brought on himself anyway. I liked the female character, Camilla, probably because the poor girl had to suffer all the misogynistic stereotypical expectations of a Colonial black slave.
This is a title, I assume, aimed at the male readership market, a male author writing for a male audience; nothing wrong with that, but I'm reluctant to use the word 'misogynistic' again as it is banded around quite a lot lately... however... I think I'm going to have to. There were several scenes of a sexual nature (rape) which did not need the detail. (Predictable - it was inevitable that the author was going to include this.) Plus male dominance over women, general male egotism, general male arrogance... Yes, this was the norm for the period, these were the 'accepted' attitudes until relatively recently (still are?) - we cannot change history - BUT (and it's a big but) I found it all so distasteful. I skipped chunks because these scenes were so blatantly tedious in male attitude. Add to that, the story was so very predictable; I knew what was to happen in almost every approaching scene, not just the eventual outcome.
I also question the historical feel of the story. This was set in the 1840s, pre American Civil War (1861-'65) but the period felt much later to me - 1870s/1880s,late Victorian?
To be fair to Mr Smith this was co-written with Corban Addison (sorry, never heard of him). I'd strongly suggest that whoever selected him made a poor choice.
What was well done, however, was the portrayal of slavery. How, to the majority of men in that era black slaves were goods to be bought and sold, used and abused at their masters' will. Mungo regarded slaves as human beings, although other actions of his in this story were not so commendable.
Here on Discovering Diamonds our policy is we only post 4 or 5 star reviews, and our priority is indie and self-published historical fiction. So why am I writing this review for what I consider a 2 star mainstream novel?
Frankly, if Call Of The Raven had been submitted to us for potential review under a different (unknown) author's name it would have been instantly rejected. So, this review is to make a point and to shout out for good indie writers who are all too often dismissed as second- or even third-rate writers. We still come across the view that 'if a book is good enough it will be accepted by traditional mainstream', thereby implying that indie and self-published novels are not good enough. Well, I think mainstream needs to take a good look at itself!
Why are mainstream publishers continuing to churn out such poorly written books, when there are dozens of absolutely brilliant indie writers out there producing stunning 5 star reads?
I looked at the 5 star Amazon UK comments for this title: the majority were written by men. Nearly all were not regular reviewers (you can easily tell when you know what to look for). Only two were 'Vine Voice' regular reviewers (I also have that accolade). So I do question just how useful these 5 star comments actually are? (I also looked at the 1 and 2 stars and found uite a few readers thoroughly agree with my view).
A great pity that our stalwart reviewer, Richard Tearle, is no longer with us (he passed away in April 2021, and is very much missed) as I would have liked his male perspective opinion. I suspect he would have agreed with me, though.
Thank goodness for our indies! Keep at it ladies and gentlemen - all the reviews posted here this month aresuperior to this particular title. In my opinion this title should have remained in the slush pile - or never written in the first place.
It is 1940 when sailor Will Kidd survives a German attack on his ship, Christina. An experienced sailor, Kidd is a member of the merchant navy, i.e. those men who risk their lives to keep Britain afloat by ensuring a steady supply of life’s essentials. He is also married to Hanna, and while he is totally convinced it is his duty to continue with the merchant navy, Hanna suffers under the strain of constantly fearing for his life—something his recent experiences aboard the sunk Christina acerbate.
Hanna Kidd is a wonderful character. Young but markedly mature after surviving a sequence of harrowing experiences, she is one of those people who always sets others before herself. It is Hanna who cooks, cleans and generally keeps the household running in the home she shares with her younger sister Judith, a somewhat older woman called Nance and their landlord, Sam. Hanna is also very much in love with her husband—and he with her. Ms Flynn does a beautiful job describing her two protagonists and their relationship, defined by the few, precious moments when they’re together before Will’s duties yet again carry him off into the unknown.
Will has a friend, an Italian called Paolo. When he introduces his friend to Judith it is immediately apparent to Hanna that Judith is smitten. It worries Hanna: Judith at seventeen is a fragile person—or so Hanna thinks—scarred by the death of their mother, by Judith’s own near-death experience and the subsequent execution of their father for the murder of their mother.
Personally, I was not much taken with Judith, a self-absorbed young woman who considers herself entitled to Hanna’s support—but rarely sets her own interests aside to be there for Hanna. Everyone, it seems, assumes Hanna can handle her own problems and theirs. No one—except for Will, and to some extent Sam—realises that sometimes the load on Hanna’s shoulders is much too heavy.
When it comes to Paolo, Judith scoffs at her big sister’s concerns. She is in love with Paolo and is already envisioning a rosy future together with him.
And then Italy declares war on Britain.
Overnight, Paolo becomes an unwanted alien. His experiences at the hands of the British will leave him an emaciated wreck in a internment camp in Australia, while in Liverpool Judith struggles with the fact that she is pregnant—and unwed, seeing as the baby’s father is far, far away.
Ms Flynn delivers an emotional story set against the background of a ravaging war. Air strikes, the terrors experienced by Hanna and her family as they huddle in their little bomb shelter, homes reduced to rubble, a constant shortage of everything from sugar to fabric—it is all adeptly described. Added to all this Hanna’s gnawing fears for Will, Judith’s for Paolo. Torpedoes blow holes into hulls, ships list and sink, and in the midst of all this, there’s the potted hyacinth Hanna receives as a reminder that life still goes on. The apple trees flower, the grass grows high and fragrant, and now and then the sun shines—a necessary contrast to the grimness of life while at war.
No family escaped WW II unscathed—this applies to Hanna’s family as well. But what happens I leave for the reader to find out for themselves by picking up Ms Flynn’s well-written novel.
In a history spanning a thousand years, the Lydiard estate has belonged to just five families. The men were adept at acquiring wealthy brides and spending their fortunes, while their wives were consigned to a private, passive life. But were they?
So opens the description of “The Ladies of Lydiard”, a fascinating study of the women of the Manor of Lydiard Park. From royal matriarch Margaret Beaufort to King Charles’s mistress Barbara Villiers; and from Lady Diana Spencer, wife of Frederick St John, 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke, to Mary Howard, the gamekeeper’s daughter who married the Sixth Viscount, these remarkable women left their own indelible mark on this English country house, its parkland and surrounding parish.
Written in a style that combines impeccable research with fine story-telling, Ms Bevan has produced a series of essays that truly take us inside the social history of the secret lives of the ladies of the great house. Whether creating remedies for the plague, supplementing building renovations with their own fortunes, or hosting garden parties for the local villagers, these women are brought to life in witty, accessible prose and gorgeous colour illustrations.
A reader doesn’t need to be familiar with the history of Lydiard Park to enjoy this collection, but you will enjoying getting know more about the ladies of the manor, the people whose lives they influenced, and the extraordinary history of a country house through their eyes.
In post-Roman Britain, shifting politics and religions created tensions between the people and rulers. Some remained true to the older pagan religion while others converted to the new religion of Christianity. Some rulers adopted Roman practices in many facets of their life and others held to the traditional British ways. Sistersong centers around three sisters, children of King Cador of Dumnonia (modern Devon), whom Holland interprets as the sisters from the traditional ballad “The Twa Sisters.” Riva is the eldest of the three, scarred for life by a fire; Keyne, the middle child, battles with her family to be accepted for who she truly is; and Sinne, the youngest, is spoiled and thoughtless in her pursuit of romance. When a mysterious warrior, Tristan, arrives at their father’s stronghold with urgent news about an imminent invasion by a dangerous Saxon king, a chain of events is set off that will affect the sisters in unimaginable ways. Aided and mentored by the fictional Myrdhin, stymied by the historical Gildas, the royal sisters embark on their own journeys to become the people they were meant to be.
This gorgeous novel focuses on the shifts between the dominant groups of the time - pagans and Christians, Britons and Saxons - and the ways in which the intersection between groups can create conflict. Readers see these intersections and tensions most strongly played out in the narrative of Keyne and the expected role of women in their society; and between the fictional Myrdhin, a variant of the Arthurian wizard Merlin, and Gildas, a historical monk who lived in the 6th century.
I loved, too, the theme of consent that recurred throughout the novel. Riva, Keyne, and Sinne are expected to marry men their father selects for them, based on political need. Theirs was the duty of most noble and royal women for most of recorded history. Forcing women into limited roles is reflected in many works of literature, including “The Twa Sisters” ballad. It is a very patriarchal ballad and demonstrates women’s lack of agency in general. The desires and thoughts - indeed, even the basic input - of the women are disregarded. This holds true for Keyne in particular, who identifies as male (and yes, there are many examples of nonbinary or transgendered people throughout history; it is not an issue confined to our modern society). Despite Keyne’s identity as a man, the majority of people around him refuse to address him as such, including his family. The erasure of women in general, and of people who do not fit into the patriarchal narrative of a society, is a clever way in which Holland answered the question of why there were three sisters referenced at the beginning of the ballad, but only two by the end.
There are so many delightful points about Sistersong that, were I to address even the top few on my list, this review would be near the length of the actual novel. Suffice to say, Sistersong is one of the best retellings or Arthurian legend I have read in years, and it definitely is on my personal list of the best books of 2021.
This book hooked me on the first page—I couldn’t put it down.
Dorrie (Dorothea Lange) saved every cent in her work as a photographer’s assistant in New York in order to go travelling, but the First World War got in the way. So, with Paris not an option, she headed instead to San Francisco.
The excitement of her arrival rapidly turned to terror when, within an hour of stepping off the train, a pickpocket relieved her of every hard-sweated penny.
“The first and most important thing that happened to me when I got to San Francisco was that I learned what it felt like to be alone and penniless, to have no tie to the world but fear, hunger, and need. That’s where it all started for me.”
All she had left was her precious camera. That night she slept on a beach, cold, frightened and hungry. The next day she met Caroline Lee, a beautiful Eurasian girl who became her best friend, helping her make sense of the confusing and sometimes frightening world she’d landed in. And more than that, she supported Dorrie in her quest for success as a portrait photographer.
A central theme, woven skilfully into the fast-paced action, is how second-class citizens—women and anyone not white, but especially those of Chinese descent—suffered at the hands of powerful white males of a certain type. Even in a liberal city such as San Francisco, discrimination dominated.
How Dorrie flipped her dire start into becoming one of the most influential documentary photographers of the last century is a gripping story. And her friend Caroline’s story about the violence done to Chinese girls and women is disturbing and powerful.
The latter part of the book outlines the bones of her later life, when she turned from portrait photographer of the rich to documentary photographer of the Depression. Many readers will recognise the famous Depression-era photo ‘A Migrant Mother’ en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Migrant_Mother. Lange was that photographer.
Based on fact and woven together with quality research, this story will fascinate, horrify, and delight. And if you’ve ever lived or visited San Francisco, you’ll love the way Darnzik depicts the atmosphere, the buildings and the characters, both true and imagined.
The only (small) gripe I have is that the last small section, filling us in on the later life of Dorothea Lange, seemed rushed and disjointed. However, it’s compensated for with an extensive section of historical notes at the end. As with all good historical novels, I learned a heap and enjoyed a wonderful story.
Werner Nehmann is a man in a difficult situation. He’s a man who’s reinvented himself more than once: born in Georgia, apprenticed to the blood and brutality of butchery, he fled the limitations of his village to take a German name and become a journalist. Time in Paris has further removed him from his origins, but now he writes for Goebbels, propaganda for the Third Reich. Blood and brutality are inescapable, but somehow he must find a way to make it sound acceptable.
The book opens with Nehmann remembering a circus act he saw as a child: the illusion of levitation, and his belief that what he saw was real. In a way, Nehmann has lived his life believing in levitation: the detachment of journalism allows him to rise above the truths of war and genocide. But the German Sixth Army is attacking Stalingrad; winter approaches, and Nehmann – through an uncompleted personal errand for Goebbels - will be forced to confront realities on the ground.
Hurley is a master of evoking setting and mood with few words, and running through Last Flight to Stalingrad is a sense of emptiness: the bleakness of the steppe and the space of the sky reflecting a theme of hunger. Not just the physical hunger that awaits, and comes for, both the Sixth Army and the Russians under siege, but the hunger for human connection, for friendship, for love, that is felt by almost all the characters, whether Goebbels, or the damaged, determined pilot Messner, or Nehmann himself.
This is the second World War from the intimate viewpoint of Germans, both historical and fictional, humanizing individuals who are often seen as one-dimensionally evil. Hurley makes no value judgments, with the exception of Hitler, who, through the eyes of the other characters, is seen as fanatical and unstable. Last Flight to Stalingrad concerns itself with the universal truths of war, much as All Quiet on the Western Front does.
"After proving himself as a formidable cavalry commander, Marcus Antonius finally earns a position at his kinsman Julius Caesar’s side. However, Caesar is an exacting general, demanding complete allegiance from his staff, even when his decisions put him at odds with the Senate. Marcus’s loyalty to Caesar comes at a cost, and he soon finds himself embroiled in mob violence and military mutinies. As civil war brings Rome’s Republic crashing down, many a relationship is torn asunder, including Marcus’s marriage. Determined to rise triumphant in Rome’s new era, Marcus faces his fears, his failures, and his enemies—not the least of whom is himself. Amid the crisis of the Ides of March, Marcus must don the mantle of ruthlessness to carve his own legacy in Rome’s history. Enemies have been made, wills have been read, and heirs proclaimed.
But in Rome’s civil unrest, blood answers only to blood."
After the first book in the series, where we meet Marcus Antonius (Mark Anthony) as a young boy and see his character forming, here he is a man, a soldier, the character we know from history, and you'd think this is the story that we all know well. But do we?
He's a character who usually comes bursting onto the pages/screen when Julius Caesar is at the height of his powers and about to be taken down in the most bloody and brutal way. And we all know what happens: Antonius stands up, comes not to bury him but to praise him etc, and then gets to step centre stage, for a while.
Not so here. Here we see how the complex relationship between the two men develops, how Caesar begins to wonder if his faith in his deputy is misplaced, while Antonius at once loves and despairs of Caesar. No easy friendship this, and Brook Allen portrays these two characters extremely well, showing that nothing is as clear cut and straightforward as the history books might have us believe.
If you're looking for battle/fight scenes, they're here, and they're well done, from the sheer misery of life on the road in the army, to the depiction of the battle of Philippi. The complicated politics are explained with a light touch, too. But the personal stories are what shine through: Marcus' difficult relationship with Antonia and with Fulvia, his love for his family, the demons he still carries from his youth, and his growing mistrust of his supposed ally Octavian.
This sets us up nicely for Volume Three, of course...
"Marcus Antonius has it all—power, prestige, a heroic military reputation, and the love of Queen Cleopatra. But as master of Rome’s Eastern provinces and kingdoms, he must maintain peace, and in so doing, he sacrifices his own happiness, yoked within a loveless marriage and an eroding alliance. As Octavian’s star rises, Marcus must compete with his rival’s success, though it leads to an embittered struggle threatening to end their unity. Once Marcus finally takes matters into his own hands, his fate becomes tied to the East—and Cleopatra. Far from Rome and his seat of power, a horrific campaign to fulfill Julius Caesar’s vision will forever alter him. He is a man torn between two countries and two families, and ultimately—a soldier fated to be the catalyst transforming Rome from Republic to Empire."
The final part of the trilogy about the life of Marcus Antonius (Mark Anthony) sees him, unsurprisingly, in Egypt. No doubt it's a familiar story to all, for don't we all know what happened to Anthony and Cleopatra?
Perhaps we don't all know, though, about what else he was doing in the east when he wasn't with his love, and the depiction of his fight against the Parthians is told in stark and graphic detail. The suffering of his own army is poignantly written and very moving. The mighty Roman army is put under a microscope to show us the individual soldiers who were, lest we forget, just ordinary human beings. Even in Egypt, Marcus can't escape the machinations of the Roman political behemoth and we are reminded that any notion of power-sharing was but a fantasy.
Octavian is determined that it shall be he, and not Marcus, who prevails. Marcus knows, and he also knows that he is not as strong as he once was, and this is portrayed very movingly. Of course, we know it can't end well and it doesn't, but Ms Allen produces a twist at the very end, which takes nothing away from the legend, but adds another layer of emotion to what is already a powerful ending.
She is to be congratulated on taking on a subject so seemingly well known and adding new dimensions to the story. A series to be read and savoured; highly recommended. (I cried at the end.)