Friday, 29 April 2022

Sea of Shadows by Amy Maroney

REVIEWER'S CHOICE


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"1459. A gifted woman artist. A ruthless Scottish privateer. And an audacious plan that throws them together—with dangerous consequences. No one on the Greek island of Rhodes suspects Anica is responsible for her Venetian father’s exquisite portraits, least of all her wealthy fiancé. But her father’s vision is failing, and with every passing day it’s more difficult to conceal the truth. When their secret is discovered by a powerful knight of the Order of St. John, Anica must act quickly to salvage her father’s honor and her own future. Desperate, she enlists the help of a fierce Scottish privateer named Drummond. Together, they craft a daring plan to restore her father’s sight. There’s only one problem—she never imagined falling in love with her accomplice. Before their plan can unfold, a shocking scandal involving the knights puts Anica’s entire family at risk. Her only hope is to turn to Drummond once again, defying her parents, her betrothed, even the Grand Master of the Knights himself. But can she survive the consequences?"

This is the second in Ms Maroney's Sea and Stone Chronicles and, whilst I heartily recommend that you read the first, (Island of Gold), this new book can absolutely be read as a standalone. Those familiar with the cast will recognise Anica's family, and will be delighted to know that the falconer Cédric makes a brief appearance, but this story is new, and does not relate to the previous book beyond those brief connections and the fact that we are, once more, on the island of Rhodes.

And my, oh my, we are really there. The author conjures up this hot, dazzling, multi-cultural place with enough detail to allow us to feel the heat, or the stinging rain, to smell the aromas of the harbour, and to hear the noise of the merchants and those coming down to meet the ships.

The tale is brilliantly woven, with many a twist and turn before the final pages. I didn't so much read, as watch the people as they played their parts, and I could see every detail of the settings, the clothes, and the movement of the characters who are all well drawn. The burgeoning relationship between Anica and Drummond is beautifully, and believably, played out.

Once again, Ms Maroney has delivered a cracking story which whisks along, has a detailed plot with jeopardy aplenty, and yet never dispenses with characterisation or setting. And here's the most satisfying thing: that setting. Not only is this a cracking story but it is one so firmly rooted in its time and place that it simply could not be told were it set anywhere else in the world, or at any other period. Yes, it's a love story. Yes, it's an adventure story. But above all, it is a story about what happens to those bound by convention and caught up with the Knights, and everything that happens in the book remains true to that. The victims become so not only because they encounter the villains, but because they are hide-bound by the rules of the Order, and by the social rules of the day, and everyone in the book acts within those parameters, never stepping out of their period. 

Because of this, I 'closed' the book feeling that not only had I been thoroughly entertained and caught up in the lives of Anica, her family, and the rather enigmatic Drummond, I felt that I really had witnessed Medieval Rhodes and had learned about its history. Highly recommended.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Annie Whitehead

 e-version reviewed




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Wednesday, 27 April 2022

Dark Fortune, by Theresa Tomlinson

REVIEWER'S CHOICE

Fictional Drama
1800s
Yorkshire, England

What would drive a young girl to steal jet, the lignite gemstone for which the Yorkshire town of Whitby is renowned? Taking as her starting point a historical record of a father and daughter apprehended for such a theft, Theresa Tomlinson creates a credible and evocative tale of life in Whitby in the middle of the 19th century.

After Paulina Raw’s father is crippled in a lifeboat accident, attempting to save the crew, the family’s fortunes take a turn for the worse. He cannot work, and worse, becomes addicted to the laudanum that relieves his pain. His children, including his oldest Paulina (Lina), beachcomb for fragments of jet, to be sold to the workshops that turned it into jewelry. When her father convinces her to steal from one of the workshops, Lina is caught and sentenced to four months hard labour. 

Dark Fortune is both Lina’s story and that of the working-class people of Whitby: fishermen and their wives and children who cut bait and collect shellfish from the rocks, the artisans of the jet workshops, and those who lived by begging and prostitution. It captures the pride and shame of these families: pride in keeping a roof over their heads and food on the table; shame at being seen as anything less than decent. Lina shames her family when she is jailed, and again when she returns to Whitby after her sentence with shorn hair, a visible reminder of her fall. Some shun her; some forgive, as she attempts to return to the community and find ways to support her almost-destitute family. 

Lina’s determination and persistence in working towards a better life for her family is realistic; this is not a fantasy of working-class girl to doyenne of an empire, but to the improvement in stability and status that was possible within the limitations of society at the time. The inclusion of period photographs of men and women at work add to the verisimilitude of the story, as does the presence of historic men and women with small but important roles. 

Tight pacing, an eye for details that invoke the setting and time, and clearly-drawn characters make Dark Fortune an engaging and recommended read. 

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Marian L  Thorpe
 e-version reviewed



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Monday, 25 April 2022

A Discovering Diamonds review of Peaky Blinders - The Real Story of Birmingham's most notorious gangs: by Carl Chinn

Non-fiction


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non-fiction / gangsters / crime
1900s
Birmingham

"The Peaky Blinders as we know them, thanks to the hit TV series, are infused with drama and dread. Fashionably dressed, the charismatic but deeply flawed Shelby family blind enemies by slashing them with the disposable safety razor blades stitched in to the peaks of their flat caps, as they fight bloody gangland wars involving Irish terrorists and the authorities led by a devious Home Secretary, Winston Churchill.
But who were the real Peaky Blinders? Did they really exist?
Well-known social historian, broadcaster and author, Carl Chinn, has spent decades searching them out. Now he reveals the true story of the notorious Peaky Blinders, one of whom was his own great grandfather and, like the Shelbys, his grandfather was an illegal bookmaker in back-street Birmingham.
In this gripping social history, Chinn shines a light on the rarely reported struggles of the working class in one of the great cities of the British Empire before the First World War. The story continues after 1918 as some Peaky Blinders transformed into the infamous Birmingham Gang. Led by the real Billy Kimber, they fought a bloody war with the London gangsters Darby Sabini and Alfie Solomon over valuable protection rackets extorting money from bookmakers across the booming postwar racecourses of Britain.
Drawing together a remarkably wide-range of original sources, including rarely seen images of real Peaky Blinders and interviews with relatives of the 1920s gangsters, Peaky Blinders: The Real Story adds a new dimension to the true history of Birmingham's underworld and fact behind its fiction."

There is  probably not much more that I can add about the book that is not already said in the blurb above.

The TV  series Peaky Blinders has been drawing viewers (at least here in the UK) to their TV screens like moths to a flame. It is an absorbing, creative, well-acted and superbly filmed TV drama about the violent gangsters of Birmingham in the years between the Great War and WWII. Like the TV drama the book includes the poverty of the post-war era and the violence of the ‘Peaky Blinders’ themselves, but unlike the series the book is not full of action-packed edge-of-your-seat unable to look away thrills a minute.

This is a social history. It is well researched but does tend to read a little like a transcript from a history lecture in places. There is quite a bit of repetition of things already said, but, all the same, I found it an interesting read, and it would be very useful as a reference source for any authors writing about this period of Midlands England.

I’m not sure how it managed to become a Sunday Times Bestseller (I give it four stars), though I suspect readers bought it because they expected something similar to the TV series. Judging by the number of Amazon low-star reviews, many of these readers were disappointed. There are more than a few typos – the book needs another proof read; however, it is free on Kindle Unlimited if you are a subscriber, so worth a look if this period of history is of particular interest.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Jack Holt
 e-version reviewed

Friday, 22 April 2022

no review today

 apologies - no review today, 

Helen is at a conference in Torquay 

so isn't at home to keep an eye on things


our next review will be on 26th April




Wednesday, 20 April 2022

Carteret by Jenny Hambly




Confirmed Bachelors Book 3 

Regency Romance
1800s
England

Dignified, reserved, and every inch the gentleman, Laurence Westerby, the fifth Viscount Carteret, finds his ordered and predictable world turned on its head when a mysterious lady steps into his private parlour. He thinks her spirited, reckless, and undoubtedly in need of his protection.
Confident, frank, and used to managing her own affairs, Miss Cassandra Fenton does not like the role of damsel in distress. Laurence seems determined to help her out of her immediate difficulties, however. His chivalry reminds her of all the reasons she is so unsuited to marriage.
An unlikely friendship is forged, but will it survive the pressures of potential abductors, smugglers and a suspected murderer?

Oh, I do like a good Regency Romance. I’ve not come across this author before, but I will seek out more of her books. I found the characters to be intriguing, nicely developed and very believably ‘in period’ regarding how they behaved and spoke, but without getting bogged down with stereotypical tropes or false, unwieldy to our modern ears, dialogue.

It was rather a pleasant change to see a nicely designed cover with an ordinary, although good-looking, male rather than the typical back view of a lady – or the man showing off his semi-naked torso. (Did men back then, really have abs?) 

The addition of a slight mystery and unexpected characters added nicely to the plot, although maybe the resolution was very slightly contrived – it did not matter as the story overall was so enjoyable. This is not an action novel, but a gentle cosy-before-the-fire romance, ideal to be enjoyed with a pot of tea and a plate of chocolate biscuits while the windy and rainy weather blusters outside. 

Recommended for Regency Romance readers


Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Mary Chapple
 e-version reviewed

Monday, 18 April 2022

A Discovering Diamonds Review of The Heiress: The Untold Life of Anne de Bourgh by Molly Greeley


Fictional Drama
1800s
England

A Pride and Prejudice Novel

As a fussy baby, Anne de Bourgh was prescribed laudanum to quiet her, and now the young woman must take the opium-heavy tincture every day. Growing up sheltered and confined, removed from sunshine and fresh air, the pale and overly slender Anne grew up with few companions except her cousins, including Fitzwilliam Darcy. Throughout their childhoods, it was understood that Darcy and Anne would marry and combine their vast estates of Pemberley and Rosings. But Darcy does not love Anne or want her. After her father dies unexpectedly, leaving her his vast fortune, Anne has a moment of clarity: what if her life of fragility and illness isn’t truly real? What if she could free herself from the medicine that clouds her sharp mind and leaves her body weak and lethargic? Might there be a better life without the medicine she has been told she cannot live without? In a frenzy of desperation, Anne discards her laudanum and flees to the London home of her cousin, Colonel John Fitzwilliam, who helps her through her painful recovery. Yet once she returns to health, new challenges await. Shy and utterly inexperienced, the wealthy heiress must forge a new identity for herself, learning to navigate a “season” in society and the complexities of love and passion. The once wan, passive Anne gives way to a braver woman with a keen edge—leading to a powerful reckoning with the domineering mother determined to control Anne’s fortune . . . and her life.”

Another Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen spin-off? Do we really need them? Well, probably yes because these forays into 'what if' speculation are very popular among Austenites. (Is that a word?) And I do admit, I am one among them.

Anne de Bourgh has always been a bit of a pathetic figure within the P & P genre. Readers either treat her with contempt or feel sorry for the poor, down-trodden girl. I’ve wavered between the two, and have often wondered about her situation. Was she content with being treated as an invalid? Smothered and coddled? Was she relieved that she no longer had to marry that proud Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy? Phew! Thank goodness for Miss Elizabeth Bennet who came along and saved her from a future life as a wife (and expectations to become a mother) that she did not want!

Or, perhaps she did want? Did poor Anne, like most of us, loathe her controlling mama?
I wonder, was Jane Austen dropping us, the reader, a powerful, but whispered, hint about the Georgian attitude towards sex in Pride and Prejudice? I’ve always wondered: the Bennets had quite a few children, so did the Gardiners, but Mr Darcy and Anne de Bourgh were only children – while their respective, presumably doting and best friends, mamas seemed to have not indulged in ‘that sort of thing’. Does this tell us something about their characters?

This entertaining novel explores some of the speculative questions. I cannot say that I agree with all of the author’s theories, but Ms Greeley makes a fair attempt at believably painting Anne’s life, and does it quite well. The pace was a little slow in places, but we meet some familiar characters in various situations, and are most adequately entertained.

Probably a must read for Austenites.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Anne Holt
 e-version reviewed

Friday, 15 April 2022

A Stream to Follow, by Jess Wright


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Fictional Drama
1940s 
USA

A Stream to Follow is set primarily in a small town in Pennsylvania in the years immediately following WWII. Both Bruce Duncan and his brother Glen served in the war; Bruce as a front-line surgeon, Glen as a fighter pilot. Both were severely injured and carry scars both physical and psychological, challenging their abilities to settle into lives put on hold for the war.

The author is a professor of psychiatry, with several non-fiction books on depression and anxiety preceding this first novel. His expertise informs his portrayal of the psychological issues which both Bruce and his brother have: both deal with PTSD, but Glen also fights addiction and other diagnoses. Portrayed sensitively, they are part of the tensions of the story, but not the only ones. Wright weaves many of the changes and tensions of post-war life into the personal story: the struggle against industrial disease in the face of indifference couched as a concern for employment and the economy; social change reflected by a woman doctor setting up practice; conflicts of class and economic status. He captures the flavour and feel of post-war fiction, bringing immediately to my mind the 1946 film The Best Years of Our Lives and its depiction of servicemen adjusting to post-war small-town life. 

Bruce is a fly-fisherman, and the passages describing his hours on the rivers are almost lyrical, contrasting the peace of nature and quiet contemplation against the problems of his daily life. It is this pastime that brings him another of both his conflicts and his joys: the English woman Amelia, whom he meets on the River Test in Hampshire. Also a fisherwoman, Amelia is the heir to the estate on which Bruce is fishing, with responsibilities to her ancestral lands. Their love story is fraught with complications: neither can easily leave behind their obligations at home. 

The scenes in England ring less true, even when seen through Bruce’s, an American’s, eyes. Some of the terms used by Amelia are odd: V-rocket, rather than V2 or the more commonly used ‘doodlebug’; ‘manor’ rather than ‘estate’ when referring to her inherited lands. But forgiving those, Amelia’s indecision is that of many war brides: does she leave behind everything familiar to join the man she loves in a new land?

A Stream to Follow is a nostalgic book in its depiction of a time when church and community could be relied upon for support, when small-town physicians made house calls—but it also does not shy away from the secrets and scars carried by men and women living their everyday lives. 

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Marian L Thorpe
 e-version reviewed

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Wednesday, 13 April 2022

In Memory

Just a small post to remember Richard Tearle, who passed away on this date, 13th April 2021.

Richard was a stalwart reviewer for Discovering Diamonds (and before that he reviewed indie novels for the Historical Novel Society from 2011/12).

He encouraged and supported many a debut indie author - and established authors as well. His reviews were fair and honest, and for himself, Richard was one of those rare breeds - a True Gentleman.

I am so proud that I managed to get his book published during his final weeks with us - it is still available. On behalf of Richard, my thanks to everyone who helped produce it.

We all miss you Richard.

https://getbook.at/NFWritersGroup


Desperate Daughters: A Bluestocking Belles Collection With Friends - various authors

Authors: Caroline Warfield; Rue Allyn; Mary Lancaster; Jude Knight; Elizabeth Ellen Carter; Alina K Field; Meara Platt; Sherry Ewing; Ella Quinn.

REVIEWER'S CHOICE


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Regency romance / short stories
1800s
England

"The Earl of Seahaven desperately wanted a son and heir but died leaving nine daughters and a fifth wife. Cruelly turned out by the new earl, they live hand-to-mouth in a small cottage. The young dowager Countess’s one regret is that she cannot give Seahaven's dear girls a chance at happiness.
When a cousin offers the use of her townhouse in York during the season, the Countess rallies her stepdaughters.
They will pool their resources so that the youngest marriageable daughters might make successful matches, thereby saving them all.
So start their adventures in York, amid a whirl of balls, lectures, and al fresco picnics. Is it possible each of them might find love by the time the York horse races bring the season to a close?"


If you love a meaty Regency romance, this book is not to be missed. It was like sitting by a roaring fire on a cold winter’s night with a platter of divine cheeses and a glass of wine.

Henry Bigglesworth, Earl of Seahaven, was desperate for a son. He was up to wife No. 5 when he popped his mortal coil, leaving 22-year-old Patience as step-mother to nine girls, some of them older than her, plus a baby daughter of her own.

Enter a nasty distant cousin, heir to the title and estate, and his equally avaricious wife. He evicted the family from their gracious, stately home, leaving them very limited income and a totally inadequate trust for the girls’ dowries. Genteel poverty, it was politely called; we might say they were just above the breadline.

The only home available was a simple cottage left to Patience by her parents, but she and the seven older girls had to work to survive. (Oh no! They had to earn money by their own fair hands! But needs must, and no-one was looking.) Her next problem was, how could she ensure these gently-bred girls met suitable husbands when there was NO money for a London season?

Then a letter arrived from York. A kindly cousin was offering the use of her town house during the York season while she went adventuring to Egypt. The adventures and mis-adventures began. 

Diving into this exceptional collection of novellas, each story based on one of the marriageable girls, was an unexpected delight, not because I don’t enjoy Regency romances, but because I rarely read novellas or short stories. The Bluestocking Belles have almost seamlessly woven their individual tales into an integrated tapestry. Their formula works for both lovers of full-length books and readers who enjoy shorter fiction. Each author is an expert in the genre and an accomplished writer. I have only one tiny quibble; Ella Quinn’s story did not blend as smoothly. However, her fans will delight in reconnecting with some of her regular characters as they intertwine with the Seahaven family.

I loved this book, and what great value! A delicious smorgasbord of stories for one small investment! I’m off to grab their other collections.


Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Robyn Pearce
 e-version reviewed

Monday, 11 April 2022

Bloody Dominions by Nick Macklin

REVIEWER'S CHOICE


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Fictional Drama / Military
58-56 BCE
Gaul
The Conquest Trilogy #1

"58-56 BCE. As Caesar’s campaign unfolds, tests of courage and belief will confront the three protagonists, shaping them as individuals and challenging their views of the world and each other.
Atticus – an impetuous but naturally gifted soldier, whose grandfather served with distinction in the legions;
Allerix – a chieftain of the Aduatuci, who finds himself fighting both for and against Caesar; and 
Epona – a fierce warrior and Allerix’s adopted sister.

Experiencing the brutalities of conflict and the repercussions of both victory and defeat, Atticus, Allerix and Epona will cross paths repeatedly, their destinies bound together across time, the vast and hostile territories of Gaul and the barriers of fate that have defined them as enemies."

From the beginning, the authenticity and immediacy of the slog, skill and training of the characters stood out. The author has woven good period detail into a compelling story of three strong characters who at times find themselves on the same side and opposing sides, victors and defeated, yet uphold their values of honour, duty and comradeship. 

Caesar’s campaigns in Gaul were hard, determined and almost industrial; he was out to make an impact on his world. But the author shows that for those on the front line, scouting deep into enemy territory or caught in an advance outpost, the life was unrelentingly one of blood, guts and injury, only relieved as in most military forces by friendship and gallows humour. 

The author depicts the tribes in Gaul with understanding, demonstrating their superior cavalry skills, courage and strategic approach. But the tribes suffered from a lack of the ability to form a disciplined alliance – a frustration for Allerix and his father. Legions and Gauls are both fighting for survival and the author is extremely good at bringing this visceral struggle to the page in plentiful detail.

Along with action, conflict and battles, the author gives us deft and succinct family and home backgrounds of the three main characters, Atticus, Epona and Allerix, making them sympathetic and vibrant whilst still evoking the brutality of the age. A bonus was a strong female lead in Epona with a perfectly plausible reason for her to be a warrior. The tribes did not suffer from the Roman unwillingness to consider women warriors! 

Friendships and respect across such well-defined battle lines and set of values and objectives are sometimes awkwardly portrayed in historical and action fiction, but Nick Macklin accomplishes this almost effortlessly, depicting the conflict of these relationships very neatly.

Although this is the first part of a trilogy, the story concluded well, opening the reader to the next in series, but not leaving an irritating cliffhanger. Bravo, Mr Macklin!

Bloody Dominions holds its own very well with the novels from the established canon of Roman fiction writers. The writing itself and narrative are of a very high standard; it did not in any way convey the feeling of a debut novel. This was a very satisfactory read. I’m looking forward the next one!

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Alison Morton
 e-version reviewed





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Friday, 8 April 2022

Burke and the Pimpernel Affair, By Tom Williams

19th Century /Napoleonic
England / France

"1809: when a mission running agents into Napoleon's France goes horribly wrong, it's up to Burke to save the day. With the French secret police on his trail, can he stay alive long enough to free British spies from imprisonment in the centre of Paris? And how does the Empress Josephine fit into his plans?
Burke's most daring adventure yet sees him and his loyal companion William Brown using all their cunning and courage to survive as they move from the brilliance of Napoleon's court and Society parties to the darker Paris of brothels and gambling dens."

In 1809 Napoleon was threatening England—and hell-bent on ruling Europe. His beautiful but now rejected wife Josephine was about to be divorced for lack of an heir. Along comes English officer James Burke and his trusty side-kick, Sgt. William Brown, sent by Britain’s spy master on a perilous commission that leads them into the very heart of Paris society―the highest and the lowest. Voilà―you’ve all the ingredients for a fast-paced exciting yarn. 

Burke and Brown are commanded to discover which safe house, somewhere between Calais and Paris, has been compromised. At the same time, they’re trying to keep secure a team of Royalist saboteurs who don’t know they’re the bait in the trap. 

Danger lurks on every corner, behind every tree, and on the streets of Paris. The saboteurs and Brown are in grave danger. Things get pretty grim! 

This story hooked me from the start. It’s a rollicking and delightful tale. You’ve all the classic elements of a dramatic adventure―espionage, England at war with France, the games those at the pinnacle of society play, and spy masters on either side of the English Channel with their devious tentacles.


Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Robyn Pearce
 e-version reviewed