Wednesday, 30 March 2022

Cochin Fall by Liz Harris

 REVIEWER'S CHOICE
1934 /1900s
India

Cochin Fall is a delightful and entertaining story that takes place in beautiful Cochin, South India, 1934. A story of love and misunderstandings, it will please those who enjoy romances and appreciate an ending where all is made well. 

Clara, just back from school abroad and the daughter of British business owner and trader Henry Saunders and his wife, is hoping to soon be engaged to her childhood friend, George Goddard, the son of another local British trader. Such an alliance, she knows, will be approved as it will strengthen the position of the two trading companies. Clara is also good friends with George’s sister, Lizzie, who is one of the two antagonists in the story, albeit a mild one. The other antagonist is Lewis Mackenzie, her father’s company agent and who is singly focused on financial success. The final and other significant character in the book is British diplomat Edward Harrington. The most decent and honest of all, he falls in love with Clara though recognizes that she is enamored with George. Harris does a marvelous job creating sympathetic characters whose stories demand a happy ending.  

The real enjoyment comes twofold. First, the background and setting may open up to the casual reader a world with which some might be unfamiliar. There are palm trees and rainstorms and sea-going vessels exporting local spices like pepper and cardamom. References are made to Bolgatty Palace, the residence of the local British governor; Indian servants play a background role. The story itself takes place during the British Raj, a period of British rule in India that lasted nearly 100 years from 1858-1947. Harris’ research is evident in the way she couches the story in a rich, historical context. 

Second, the reader will enjoy having a bird’s eye view of the various entanglements, all of which are rooted in misunderstandings and misguided assumptions. Characters find themselves in untenable positions. Clara cares for George, who seems to care for her, but may not really know her. Lizzie is interested in Lewis. Lewis is interested in Clara. Clara is trying to keep George’s interest, while Edward is pining for her in the background. Operating within the social expectations of the time, characters meet in public places, are accompanied by chaperones, and are thrilled by stolen kisses. It’s a tangled story of “love and war” and one that keeps the reader engaged as it’s not immediately clear how it can possibly end well. Happily, though, there is resolution. Misunderstandings are revealed and crimes accounted for. 

Readers, especially those who enjoy romances set outside of Europe or the United States, will find this an engaging story with a satisfying ending for all. 

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Mary Cluff
 e-version reviewed


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Monday, 28 March 2022

A Marriage of Lions by Elizabeth Chadwick

REVIEWER'S CHOICE


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Goodreads

 Fictional Drama
13th century / 1200s
England

"England, 1238 Raised at the court of King Henry III as a chamber lady to the queen, young Joanna of Swanscombe's life changes forever when she comes into an inheritance far above all expectations, including her own. Now a wealthy heiress, Joanna's arranged marriage to the King's charming, tournament-loving half-brother William de Valence immediately stokes the flames of political unrest as more established courtiers object to the privileges bestowed on newcomers. As Joanna and William strive to build a life together, England descends into a bitter civil war. In mortal danger, William is forced to run for his life, and Joanna is left with only her wit and courage to outfox their enemies and prevent them from destroying her husband, her family, and their fortunes."

An auspicious match. An invitation to war.

As usual with Ms Chadwick's absorbing and beautifully written novels, we follow the main characters - in this case, Joanna and William, through the years, watching them mature and grow, struggling with them through their challenges, sharing their laughter and tears.

As with most novels centred around the facts of our past, there are desperate times, violent times, tragic times, and time for tender love, all of which Ms Chadwick handles with skilful dexterity. Her ability as a writer is second to none, matching the lives of people we may never have heard of alongside the more famous characters of the thirteenth century. 

My only grumble is that, yet again, the publisher has set the price of the e-version so high. The hardback (at the time of writing this review, February 2022) is priced at £11.97 on Amazon UK ... the Kindle version is £10.99. No paper, no printing for an e-book, so why this huge amount? (Nor, as with most mainstream, is there a Kindle Unlimited option.) I really do feel that traditional publishers are ripping readers off where e-books are concerned. However, this is purely down to the publishing houses and is totally beyond an author's control. Alas.

Possibly, for some readers the first few chapters may feel a little slow but the pace picks up at the gallop as the ground-rush of historical events swells and grows to dangerous proportion. A time of quiet peace this era was not...

Highly recommended (but if you prefer an e-book version, borrow a copy from your local library.)

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 
not eligible for our award as this title is an independent review, and was not officially submitted to Discovering Diamonds. In addition, Ms Chadwick has kindly agreed to be one of our finalist judges.



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Friday, 25 March 2022

The Pirate by Joan Fallon

The Pirate by Joan Fallon
11th Century
Spain

Anyone interested in a vivid portrayal of life in Moorish Spain would do well to read Ms Fallon’s well-researched books. The Pirate is the second book in her The City of Dreams trilogy, and while it works well as a standalone, the series benefits from being read in order – and to fully appreciate it, I would recommend reading the first trilogy, The Al-Andalus Series, as well.

The Pirate is set in Malaqah (present day Málaga) and its protagonist, Bakr ibn Assam, is an accomplished shipwright—so skilled, in fact, that one day he is carried off in a pirate attack. Why? Because this ambitious pirate has decided to set up his own shipyard and needs the best of the best to build his new fleet. Bakr is less than delighted—and he also fears for the lives of himself and his two companions. The less than dashing pirate Al-Awal is ruthless and cruel and makes it very clear that Bakr is never returning home again. Bakr must put his faith in Allah—and in his own resourcefulness.

Meanwhile, in Malaqah, Bakr’s wife, Aisha, must somehow keep things going. Not only must she keep the household alive and fed, she is determined to keep Bakr’s pride and joy, the shipyard, working. It must be there, waiting for him, when he finally comes home. To Aisha, it is inconceivable that he is dead. God has already taken one husband from her; surely he will not take another?

While Bakr struggles to survive and find a way out of his predicament and while various members of his family desperately search for him—Aisha’s father and brother may not share her conviction he is still alive, but for now they are willing to pander to her hope—Ms Fallon weaves yet another thread into the narrative, namely that of the Khalifa Idris ibn Ali, ruler of Malaqah, and his endeavours to unite the rulers of various other taifas to once and for all put a stop to the expansions of Sevilla. Unfortunately for the khalifa, he should be watching for enemies much, much closer to home.

Ms Fallon adds layer after complex layer to the political intrigue and that particular plotline is not resolved in this instalment of the series. Let’s just say that ambition, hunger for power and greed are as strong motivators in Moorish Spain as they are in the present day—and those who want it do not hesitate to use nefarious methods to achieve their goals. 

It is very easy to relate to Aisha, a woman whose life in many ways resembles that of a modern-day woman, what with juggling family and work. She is intelligent and brave, but the restrictions imposed on her by her gender are always present, even if Aisha knows how to circumvent them when so required. I loved the depiction of the warm relationship between Aisha and her father, the apothecary Makoud. I grinned at the description of the somewhat more acrimonious relationship between Aisha and her mother-in-law. And I kept my fingers crossed that Aisha and Bakr would be reunited—somehow.

Ms Fallon’s forte lies not only in presenting us with well-developed characters but also in depicting everyday life, be it the casually mentioned cure for a persistent cough or the conversations on the rooftops as the sun sets after yet another blistering day. Details of clothes and traditions, of foods and interiors are dotted throughout, anchoring the narrative firmly in time and place. Add to this a fluid prose and strong dialogue and you have a very enjoyable read. 


Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Anna Belfrage
 e-version reviewed

Wednesday, 23 March 2022

A Discovering Diamonds Review of The Swan Diptych, by Ian Thomson



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Fictional Drama/short stories
14th Century/ 16th Century
Lincoln/Cambridge England


The Swan Diptych consists of two stories, set in Lincoln in the 14th century and Cambridge in the 16th, linked by swans and by themes of human arrogance and pride. There is no doubt that Ian Thomson uses words and language with skill. The reader is immersed in the settings; in the sights and sounds and smells, and in this lies his greatest strength as a writer. 

The first story, How the Dean Angered the Swans, is a cautionary tale best described as magic realism. Much of the story is told in the manner of a fable or a folk tale; I could imagine listening to it in front of a fire, captivated by the descriptions and history that unfolds. Thomson uses narrative effectively in this story, painting the picture of the city and of its people, who are awaiting the arrival of Richard II on an official visit, in a way that evoked, for me, a Brueghel painting. Whether this scene-setting goes on too long is a matter of taste.

The events of the story are both amusing and instructive, as a fable is meant to be, revealing the ridiculous excesses of some powerful churchmen, and with an underlying message about human folly and the hubris of setting man above nature. Unusual and charming, I thoroughly enjoyed this first story.

The Patronal Feast is a longer story, at its centre a murder mystery that reminded me to some extent of The Name of the Rose. Given dispensation by Richard II to serve a roast swan at the yearly dinner commemorating the patronal saint of a Cambridge college, the preparations for that dinner provide the framework for both the crime and the intrigue and secrets behind it.

Here the author’s reliance on narrative is less effective in conveying the story, although he still creates an immersive setting. When a continental scholar and polymath is asked to solve the murder of a young and noble scholar at St. Stephen’s college, his analysis is given by letter – quite a long and detailed letter, presented to the reader without very little reaction or comment from its recipient. The backstory contained in the letter is important; the method of relating it may overwhelm the reader. 

Like the first story, The Patronal Feast looks at how at least some of the seven deadly sins impinge on human behaviour, even among those meant to be above such human frailties. Both stories are imagined history, but How the Dean Angered the Swans was, for me, a more satisfying and readable story than The Patronal Feast.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

©  Marian L Thorpe
 e-version reviewe



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Monday, 21 March 2022

Beneath the Waves by Melissa Addey

 

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Fictional Drama
80/81 AD
Rome

Emperor Titus wants a Naumachia, a water event including a mock sea battle and other features. After the first event, he is so pleased that he wants another the following year, on a grander scale, this one with deeper water and deadly aquatic creatures: eels, vipers, sharks and crocodiles. An ensemble of workers have to figure out how to waterproof the floor of the Amphitheatre; how to get water to the Amphitheatre and onto the floor of the arena, then how to drain it quickly. They also have to get ships (2/3 the size of a regular ship) into the water; get sea creatures from Ostia, and house them safely until showtime. And, really, there is no point in having man-eating creatures in the water unless there is something to eat. 
Fighting gladiators falling from the ships satisfy this need, but the author skims very lightly over this part.

Marcus, the manager of games and his assistant, Althea, face these Herculean tasks after having put on one hundred days of consecutive games, along with others recruited occasionally for their expertise. As well as working closely together, Althea and Marcus live in the same insula (apartment block) which has a popina (eating place) on a corner run by Cassia and her father. Various other occupants of the insula include a retired Vestal Virgin and a lively, energetic orphaned black boy who’s a sort of mascot.

One night, Althea barely escapes being raped. The next day, she realises her attacker is a cousin of Cassia’s come for a visit. She faces a moral dilemma. Should she tell Cassia or just hope the cousin will go home? Delay only makes things worse because it is soon apparent that the cousin has his eye on the popina through marriage to Cassia. Althea tells no one and lives in fear. She copes with her secret and the burdens of her job with the support of friends. This is only one of several sub-plots.

Three things I particularly liked about this book: the narrative takes a simple, unadorned style, in keeping with the characters; likewise the dialogue is simple, even when explaining technically complicated things relating to the Naumachia, and skips along naturally without ever seeming forced. The third is the supportive and loving community of the insula, which add a few heart-warming moments to the drama.

Anyone who reads this book would be forgiven for wondering how the author found information on something as arcane as Naumachia, which apparently only happened twice. It is explained in the Afterword, but I can’t begin to imagine the difficulty the author must have had tracking down resources on the subject. Kudos for that.

It is the second in a series. The first deals with the destruction of Pompeii – a must read for me. Highly recommended.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Susan Appleyard
 e-version reviewed

Friday, 18 March 2022

A Discovering Diamonds Review of Violet’s War by Rosemary J. Kind



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Fictional Drama
1915
England

"1915: Violet Dobson is horrified when husband Billy signs up to fight for King and Country. Billy is already her hero — she doesn’t need him to prove it. As Billy heads to France, Violet has her own battles to fight, living with Billy’s mam and dad.
To Violet’s surprise, teaching her young son Tommy to play football proves a pleasure rather than a chore, but when she’s invited to coach the women’s team at work Violet’s not so sure. In Billy’s mam’s opinion, nice women don’t play football and married women certainly don’t.
Caught between her mother-in-law’s old-fashioned views and her own love of the game, Violet is coming under growing pressure to play. The team is raising money for the military hospital. What if Billy was one of the wounded?
As Violet takes to the pitch, Private Billy Dobson faces the enemy on the Western Front. Their problems are only just beginning."

 It was a pleasure to read this novel. The detail seemed to be well researched and the characters came easily and believably to life. It had not occurred to me that women played football during the Great War period - but of course they did! (And why not?) It seems such a great shame that even now in 2022 we are only just accepting that we girls can do as well as (maybe even better than?) the lads at these things. It has only taken one hundred years or so...

Reminiscent of Catherine Cookson, this book gives us a convincing period setting with a dragon of a mother-in-law and a put-upon wife and mother who is determined to not be bullied into submission. The football element provided a pleasant change from the usual WWI type story. My only (very, very slight) grumble is that I meet so many characters called 'Tommy' in this era of novels. Surely some boys had other names? Eddie, William, Ronald, George...?

 I found myself rooting for Vi right from the start. No spoilers, so I'll not go into detail, but you do not need to be interested in football to enjoy this novel.

The music hall song quotes and the snippets from the newspapers at the start of each chapter were a nice, interesting touch. 

It's a good story, simply written but engrossing. 

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Mary Chapple
 e-version reviewed

Wednesday, 16 March 2022

A Discovering Diamonds Review of The Unveiling of Polly Forrest by Charlotte Whitney


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Mystery /Family Drama
1900s / 1934
Michigan USA

"When her new husband Sam perishes in a bizarre farm accident, would-be milliner Polly soon becomes the prime suspect in his murder. As she digs for evidence to clear her name, Polly falls into a sinister web implicating her in a nefarious crime ring being investigated by White House Police. Polly’s life and those of her family are at stake. Narrated by Polly, her self-righteous older sister, Sarah, and Sarah’s well-meaning, but flawed husband Wesley, a Methodist minister, the story follows several twists through the landscape of the rural Midwest."

This is an enjoyable mystery. It is set in 1934 Michigan during the Great Depression, when farmers were living hand to mouth and struggling to keep the banks from repossessing their smallholdings. Twenty-year-old Polly lives on a farm, stuck in a loveless marriage. Her sister, Sarah, is living in an adjacent farm, married to Wesley, a preacher-cum-farmer. Polly is childless; Sarah has three young children. Polly’s husband, Sam, abuses her physically and verbally, but Polly tells nobody – not even her sister or in correspondence with her mother. When Sam is found lying dead in the barn, the story takes off, and continues through a series of twists, most of which took me by surprise.

The two sisters are of very different personality types, creating an element of tension, which is maintained skillfully throughout. The author uses three different narrative points of view and short chapters. On balance, I felt this enhanced the book. 

I did have one thought, however. It is tagged as a mystery - and it is a mystery and a very well written one at that - but the main thrust of the book seems to be the transformation of one of the characters from immature gold digger to sensible adult, rather than a mystery puzzle for the reader to solve.

That personal perspective on my part aside, it was an interesting and satisfying read.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© J J Toner

 e-version reviewed


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Monday, 14 March 2022

A Discovering Diamonds Review of Blood of the Iutes by James Calbraith



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Fictional Drama /Military
AD 458
Post Roman Britain

"It's not easy being the son of a king. Octa never wanted to be a mighty warrior, or a great ruler of men – he'd much rather be a clerk or a priest - but he's resigned to his destiny as the son and heir of the first king of the Iutes. There is only one problem: under his father's peaceful reign, there aren't many opportunities for a youth to gain experience in combat and leadership. 
So when a Roman legate arrives in Britannia, for the first time in a generation, bringing dire news from across the Narrow Sea and requesting help in the coming clash between rival Imperators, Octa jumps on the chance to prove himself before his friends and his father - no matter the consequences...What follows is an epic journey across Frankia and Gaul in the twilight of the Empire, filled with battles, intrigues and romance."

AD 458. Post-Roman Britain is often described as a ’dark’ period as verified records of this period are non-existent. From accounts written later (Gildas, Bede, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle) we have stories probably handed down orally and then written down, copied and re-copied. Archaeology gives us concrete if tantalising clues of the people who settled in southern Britain; this was a period of transition and fusion as well as incursion.

Into this intriguing period steps James Calbraith. Blood of the Iutes begins a second series – The Song of Octa – in an overarching series, The Song of Britain. The thread running through this book is complexity: shifting alliances, old and new religions, the culture clash between the remnant of Romano-Britons living in glorious ruins and vital, hungry, self-reliant Germanic settlers consolidating their place in Britain and internecine tribal rivalries. Set into this is the eighteen-year-old Octa, half-Briton, half-Jute who yearns for his books, speaks imperial Latin and gathers a motley group of friends around him who feel as on the edge of society as he does. 

His adventures in Gaul transform him, and this is well-handled as, step-by-step, he reconciles his quest for adventure with the realities of the growing power of the Franks, the interventions of the Saxons and the determination of the by now half-barbarian Roman Empire under Majorian to continue to exist. Detailed descriptions of weapons, battles, logistics and landscapes are woven well into a story with many twists and turns so that the reader learns as well as being entertained. 

Action is fast and tense – the characters are never under any illusion that they are safe – although there are balancing moments of relief. Octa’s character is well-written as are his close companions; even the briefest encounters with historical figures are deftly drawn. The only one who jarred was Basina who, while capable, tough and fiery was exaggerated on her sensuous side.

The author gives us a note of the main events that occurred in the preceding series, The Song of Ash, where the hero was Octa’s father, so for this reviewer, there was no need to have read it.  The Blood of the Iutes works well as a standalone, although I disliked the cliffhanger in the last chapter, something that tends to be off-putting as an incentive to buy the next book.

A list of characters and town names and a glossary of Latin and Frankish/Saxon terms is extremely useful as these are used extensively throughout this well-crafted novel. The Latin-speakers called Octa’s people Iuti or Iutae. Other possibilities are Jyder (Danish), Jótar (Old Norse), Ēotas (Old English). Although we are used to calling them Jutes, Iutes in the title reminds us nicely of the transitional nature of the time.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Alison Morton
 e-version reviewed

Sunday, 13 March 2022

What I Look For When I'm Reviewing - By Annie Whitehead, DDRevs Senior Reviewer

Here at Discovering Diamonds, we look at hundreds of books in a year. Sadly we reject some from the outset, then sometimes we read and still decide not to review, because we only publish 4 and 5 star reviews and not all the books submitted are deemed by our review team to be of that standard. [See Helen’s article]

Thankfully, many of the books not only receive a review, they can also end up with a Discovering Diamond, a Reader’s Choice nomination, and now can even be longlisted for the Richard Tearle Award.

So what is it that makes me excited by a book? Here’s what I love to find in an historical novel.

Working from the outside in, I love to see an eye-catching, professionally designed cover that suggests the subject matter. I like a good, not too long, blurb which hooks me in, and it's worth bearing in mind that in this digital age it’s very important to check to make sure that your 'Look Inside' sample on Amazon is formatted correctly and is free from typos.

A good blurb will draw me in, yes, but often I’m sent Mobi files which don’t include the blurb, (or even the title!) and as I often have a substantial stack of review books to read, I frequently go to the book having forgotten the premise. So I enjoy a strong opening where I discover as quickly as possible where we are (time and place), and who’s telling the story (their age, gender etc). When it comes to setting, I'll always feel more involved in the story if it really couldn't be set in another period. I don't want a history lesson, but I do think stories are stronger if they are attached firmly to their time and place.

It’s a comforting feeling to settle down with a book and sense that you’re in good hands. Several things can contribute to that. Firstly, a strong opening with an action scene that really drops me, the reader, into the set. Perhaps I’ll have a few questions - not too many; I don’t like to be confused - that will be answered in the following pages. What’s even better is if those answers are presented lightly. If there’s a lot of exposition*, I’d prefer a prologue, even though they’re not popular these days, to set up the story if it really needs setting up (although as Helen has pointed out, a prologue shouldn't be used instead of setting the story up, and should be short). I’m always appreciative if the author can show me they’ve done their research by sprinkling the results of that research lightly across the pages. 

Secondly, I like a 'non-X-Factor' moment. Let me explain. When I watch such shows, there’s usually a bum note or two when the singers perform. This makes me cringe, but worse than that, I can’t relax, because I know the likelihood is that there are more to come. When I watch a performance from an established, old-school singer who is pitch perfect, I uncurl my toes, drop my shoulders, and sit back to enjoy the song. That’s how I like my reading experience, so I appreciate the lack of bum notes or, in this case, the lack of mistakes. No, I don’t mean typos, because there are some which are experts at hiding from editors and proofreaders and if there aren’t too many, we forgive. (Typos should be added to the list of things that will survive Armageddon!) What jars is a mistake which will lift me out of the moment, and leave me tense in case more are on their way. I like being confident that I’m in good, capable hands. I’ve recently read two mainstream books which left me slightly on edge because one author did not understand the different verbs to lay and to lie, and the other couldn’t spell a particular word (this was more than a typo, since the word appeared several times). Perhaps it’s wrong of me, but it left me feeling that they hadn’t read many books themselves, or taken great enough care when writing. I don’t think you need to understand or even know all the different past tenses (simple, imperfect etc) but if you don’t know that it’s not good English to say “She lay the scarf on the bed” then it might be that you need to work on your craft a bit more. I know the lay/lie thing confuses a lot of people; Helen Hollick (founder of Discovering Diamonds) told me that she remembers the difference between lie and lay by: 'The hen lies on her nest to lay an egg.' My own aid is that lie has the same vowel sound as recline, and lay has the same vowel sound as place. But these only help with the present tense so, since most authors of historical fiction are using the past tense, here's a really useful guide.

Accreditation Link

Characters using period-appropriate language will always get the thumbs up from me. Again, it’s nice not to be lifted out of the story by thinking, “Would s/he really have said that?” Strong world-building is also incredibly helpful in drawing the reader into the story and, again, it’s satisfying if you can stay there, and not be wondering if the period detail is correct; I like to see little snapshots of what the author can see - what's happening in the background while the main characters are centre-stage - that give me a realistic flavour of the period. Like I said, it’s a confidence thing. 

If the book is written by an American author, I’m absolutely fine with favor, honor, and color etc. Why should US authors change the way they spell when writing a story set in England? What I’m not so keen on, and again it will jar, is if the British historical characters use US idioms, and vice versa. Again, it goes back to confidence, that the author has done their research, not just into the period, but the culture, as it were. So, I do like Victorian characters in England to speak of autumn, not fall, just as I’d expect 20th-century New York characters to be on a sidewalk, not a pavement. 

And those characters always grab my attention if they’re strongly drawn. I need to see them in action and if someone’s falling in love with them, I want to as well. For that, I have to see what others find attractive about them. Conversely, I’m happy to hate a villain, because as long as I’m reacting to the characters I’m engaged with the story, even if I hate some of the people in it. It’s even better if the villains aren’t pantomime baddies and I’m shown why they went bad. 

I was never much a fan of first-person narrative but it is very popular and I do use it for my short stories. Done well, it's effective, and I take my hat off to anyone who writes a whole novel in first-person, because I think it’s incredibly difficult to present that character, who always narrates and never gives us the option of looking at them through the eyes of others. I prefer a narrator who can show me what they see, not tell me what they do, by which I mean describing directly what’s in front of their eyes: “The men were gathering for a fight,” rather than “In front of the path where I stood, I could see the men gathering for a fight.” 

I’m always in awe of the master of the plot, of the author who can get their characters into, and out of, scrapes and dangerous situations and I especially enjoy it when the resolution is plausible and I find myself thinking, “Oh, that’s why we were told about the thing left in the barn,” or “Crikey, I didn’t realise it was him but yes, now he’s revealed his identity, it all makes sense.” It makes for such a satisfying read when all the little loose threads are tied together at the end and you’re not left thinking, “So, what did the dog have to do with it all? Why was the aunt so dead set against the marriage; that wasn’t really explained.”

I prefer it all wrapped up at the end, rather than a cliff-hanger ending but that’s personal choice; I like the story to be finished, with the possibility of more if it’s part of a series. 

Oh, and I do love a good chunky author’s note section at the end. Some readers might not, but I do like to know which, if any, of the characters were based on real historical people, or some extra background detail on a particular part of the story. As the person who lives with me is fond of saying at the end of every film we watch, “Is it based on a true story? We need to be knowing.”

And finally... the 'afterburn': those delicious novels whose characters and setting stay with you for days, weeks, or even months afterwards. Those books have all (or most) of the above and maybe a bit of magic sparkle too. Where does that sparkle come from? Probably individual style, that mystical 'author's voice' - a way of 'speaking' on the page which becomes distinctive and more prominent with each novel written. So please keep writing - and sending us your books!


*'exposition' is sometimes known by readers/reviewers as 'info-dump' - a chunk of explanation about the history or backstory which slows down the action.


Find Annie's books and blog at anniewhiteheadauthor.co.uk



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Friday, 11 March 2022

A Discovering Diamonds Review of Resistance of Love by Ros Rendle

  

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Romance
WWII
Australia / England/ France

Delphi’s peaceful new life is threatened by the spectre of war… After spending ten years in Australia, Delphi Strong is on a ship back to England with her daughter, Flora. While on board, Delphi meets Rainier, a charming vineyard owner on his way home to France. Forming an instant mutual attraction, the two share a whirlwind romance before disembarking. Unable to forget her, Rainier crosses the channel a few months later and asks Delphi to marry him. Equally lovestruck, Delphi accepts, and she and Flora join Rainier in France. However, their idyllic lifestyle is shattered when war breaks out and the Nazis begin to occupy the country. Forced to flee to the Free Zone in the south, the family must now pull together to resist the enemy… Can Delphi keep her family safe? Will they find a way to defy the occupying forces  Or will the brutal new regime destroy their peace forever…?

This is the second book in the saga, and I have not read the first. Does it matter? Probably not, although with all sagas and series it is often best to start at the beginning. 

This seems to be a well-researched romance of the period between the wars and during WWII itself. The author has conveyed the growing disquiet among ordinary people during the rise to power of the Nazis, setting the reader in that thoughtful zone of ‘what would I have done in those circumstances?’

An entertaining read, although the pace ambled a little in the middle, but then it picked up again and became more exciting.

I enjoyed the character Flora, the daughter, more than that of her mother, Delphi – but this might have been because I have not read the first book?

For readers who enjoy WWII romance this should be a satisfying read.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Mary Chapple
 e-version reviewed

Wednesday, 9 March 2022

A Discovering Diamonds Review of Legacy of Truth by Christy Nicholas

1900s
Ireland

Legacy of Truth is the second book in Christy Nicholas’s Druid’s Brooch series, first published in 2016 and re-released in 2021. In late 18th-century Ireland, Esme, the protagonist, is the twin sister of Eithne, but they are as unalike as chalk and cheese. Eithne is interested only in bettering herself; Esme is loyal to her family and their farm. But her feckless father cannot make a living on the farm his father Éamonn has bought him, and eventually is convinced leave Ireland for America, a fresh start.

Éamonn is a Traveller, always on the move, buying and selling. Esme loves him dearly, for his steadiness and his stories, and it seems she is his favourite too, because it is to her, the younger twin, who Éamonn chooses to give a family heirloom, a brooch that has been passed down through the generations, and grants each holder a different ability. For Esme, its gift – or curse – is to let her see if a person speaks the truth.

Both Esme and Eithne remain in Ireland, and the central conflict of the story concerns Eithne’s desire for the brooch she believes should be hers. But while that conflict threads through the story, Legacy of Truth is primarily Esme’s story, as she struggles with the realities of life as the wife of another Traveller. She chooses a fixed life in a small crofting community; he, the life of the road. As an outsider in the community, her life is far from easy, and the details of this rural life, Esme’s isolation from all but one family, and her day-to-day disappointments and small triumphs are the true focus of the story.

Rich in detail, the scattering of Irish words and phrases as well as the author’s descriptions fix the setting firmly in the reader’s mind. Legacy of Truth is a story about finding truth, and discovering it may not be what you thought. 

Disappointingly, for a newly edited re-release, the paperback had numerous formatting errors and there were a couple of threads that went nowhere - but perhaps these are resolved in other episodes? However, the author was notified and  the formatting errors have been corrected, so these issues may only occur in a few early release editions.

Readers of the Druid's Brooch series will appreciate this additional episode of the saga.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Marian L Thorpe
 e-version reviewed



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