14 January 2017

ONE SUMMER IN ARCADIA by Bill Page


Amazon UK £2.99 / £7.99
Amazon US  $4.99 / $6.97
Amazon CA  n/a

Series
Roman Britain / AD 370
Adventure / Military
Series #3

Bill Page has a wonderful knowledge of late Roman Britain, which he uses in abundance for One Summer In Arcadia.

The plot centres around a three-way relationship between Canio, a retired Roman infantry officer; Trifosa his beautiful young consort slave, and Antoninus a retired Cavalry officer, the son and heir of Trifosa’s original cruwl master, Censorinus. Canio has acquired a fortune, the details of which are given in the previous novel, The Sower of the Seeds of Dreams, but he is being blackmailed into spying on Antoninus by Lunaris, an imperial tax official and Lunaris has a grudge to settle.

Skillfully interwoven with the action is a search by all the main characters for security in life, love and conviction, with all of it tempered by Canio’s worldly but liberal incredulity.

There are subtle plot twists and unexpected events, about all of which I shall say not a word ... except read this book and enjoy the adventure.

©Helen Hollick Discovering Diamonds

13 January 2017

FOSSIL ISLAND by Barbara Sjoholm


Amazon UK £6.49 / £12.00
Amazon.com $9.99 / $18.00
Amazon CA n/a

Saga
19th Century / 1887

"A novel about love and independence in 19th century Denmark. Inspired by the relationship between the composer Carl Nielsen and the artist and ethnographer Emilie Demant Hatt”

The setting for Barbara Sjoholm's novel Fossil Island is Denmark in the 1880s, a period when a very traditional society started to meet the many changes of what was becoming the modern world.

Two sisters, the fourteen-year-old Nik, a tomboy at heart, and her older, more sedate, sister Maj, find their lives disrupted when their aunt introduces them to young, and very handsome, composer Carl Nielsen. A relationship develops between Carl and Nik, albeit it a most tempestuous one.

The cast of characters, both main and secondary, are very well portrayed and display human nature in all its myriad complexity, while the author's sensitive ability to bring alive the society of Denmark in the closing years of the 1880s is beautifully written.

It was a delight to read a novel about the late 1800s that was set outside of the familiarity of England. A must read.

©Anne Holt  Discovering Diamonds

12 January 2017

A Discovering Diamonds Review of: SCARS FROM THE PAST by Derek Birks



AMAZON UK £3.49    / £11.99
AMAZON US $4.44   / $18.99
AMAZON CA $n.a / $25.03

Saga/ Military
15th Century / 1481
England
Series #1

This is the first book in a new series by Derek Birks – but it is loosely built on his previous series, Rebels and Brothers, and I would recommend reading that series for an extensive backstory, albeit that Scars From the Past works well as a stand-alone.

We are in England in 1481, and the young John Elder has had it with living in the shadow of his dead hero father, Ned Elder. So John decides to set off on adventure instead of assuming the responsibilities that come with lordship, and accordingly, off he goes to Flanders and the not-so-fun life of a mercenary. However, prior to leaving, John has earned the undying hatred of bad guy Elias Slade, which will result in even more calamity for the Elder family. 

In turbulent times, villains such as Elias Slade thrive, while God-fearing people suffer and die. With John gone, the Elder family consists of women and children, and as such they are very much at the mercy of Slade. Mind you, formidable Eleanor Elder isn’t about to let a low-life crush her, but still, things don’t look good. At all. Add to this personal mess a very young Prince of Wales living in Ludlow and eager for his own adventures (and I must say it was refreshing to see the future Edward V presented as a hearty, courageous lad, rather than the milksop he is usually depicted as) and you end up with quite an exciting plot.

Mr Birks' familiarity with the period is evident throughout, as is his knowledge of the geographical setting. Medieval Gloucester and Ludlow spring into squalid life, as do stews and inns, 15th century goodwives and whores, mercenaries and thugs. The author also offers quite the cast of characters. Some, like Eleanor Elder, survived the first series and are still going strong in this new story, albeit somewhat more careworn. Others, like the stubborn and resilient little Meg Elder, are delightful new acquaintances. Some, like Elias Slade, have me breaking out in a rash. I fear he will be recurring character going forward, to the detriment of the beleaguered Elder family. 

As to the protagonist, John Elder is obliged to grow up fast to handle the threats to his family. He also learns just how impossible it is to escape your responsibilities – or your fate. Mr Birks presents this restless and somewhat brooding young man with elegance, as he does with Lizzie, John’s childhood sweetheart. I look forward to seeing John grow into full manhood in the following books – but please, Mr Birks, be somewhat less harsh on the poor Elders going forward or they will soon be quite, quite extinct! 

© Anna Belfrage

11 January 2017

THE LAST SHROUD by Derek Birks


AMAZON UK £3.49 / £12.49
AMAZON US $ 4.48 / $19.99
AMAZON CA $ n.a / $25.83

Adventure / Military / Saga
Wars of the Roses / 15th Century
England
Rebels and Brothers Series #4

"The Wars of the Roses must be settled on the field of battle. The prize? The crown of England. July 1469: just as England has finally found peace, a revolt breaks out against King Edward IV, forcing Ned Elder to take up his sword once more. But is Ned the warrior he once was? As the kingdom spirals into civil war, divisions between Ned and his sisters, Emma and Eleanor, threaten the family’s very survival. Out of the turmoil of rebellion steps an old enemy who offers to help Emma, but can she trust him?
Will the Elder family stand together when it matters most? They must, if they are to survive."

The Last Shroud is the final novel in Mr Birks incredible Rebels and Brothers series set in the chaotic years of the English War of the Roses. Ned Elder has had enough of this bloody (in both senses of the word) war but between the ambition of Warwick, and Master Elder's loyalty to Edward of York, the conflict is  hard to ignore.

Ned Elder is a very likeable character  by far the best of the troubled Elder family. With his companions, Hal and Bear, the three men do not flinch from what they know is their duty – even when such knowledge affects their families and loved ones. Ned has developed through this series from an angry young man to one guided by personal integrity and sense of honour. I liked him from the start, I like him even more now that he has matured.

The cast of characters is varied, and some are portrayed in a different light to what we have come to expect in novels of this period. (Anne Neville for example is quite different in Mr Birks' interpretation: bravo for having the courage to follow an own path!) Mr Birks' writing is descriptive in its detail and he has an obvious passion, and knowledge, for these turbulent times. The series as a whole is a wonderful and entertaining read, but as with them all, this one is a 'stand-alone', although for maximum enjoyment and reading pleasure I strongly suggest starting at the beginning with FeudMy single (very faint) murmur is that Ned always seems to be in trouble one way or another... but then isn't that often the fate of most fictional protagonists? The hero character goes to hell and back for the benefit of our entertainment. I've no objection to that at all,  though I guess the characters have!

The end of the Last Shroud, and this excellent series left me quite bereft of Ned's company and Mr Birks' talent for writing a good story -  but wait, three cheers! There is to be a second series, the first of which will be reviewed tomorrow!

© Helen Hollick

Note: in my reviewer's edition there was a typesetting error (it happens!) Pages 259-260 had a few lines repeated from a previous passage. This has possibly now been amended so may not be in the later post-proof read versions, even so, it did not detract from the story.

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10 January 2017

THE SONG SAYER'S LAMENT by David Ebsworth


Amazon UK £10.99  / £3.49
Amazon US  $15.49 / $4.25
Amazon CA not available

Adventure /Arthurian
7th Century AD


The song sayer of the title is the blind Morgose but this tale set in the Dark Age of post Roman Britain is narrated by Merriden, a friend and mentor of the young war lord, Ambros Skyhound.

Although I had to concentrate at the beginning, do persevere because this is a magnificent novel covering ambitions to unite the country under one king, ravages of plague, longer winters and the struggle for supremacy between the old faiths and gods and the new Christians.

I found each page to be a tapestry of absorbing description, believable characters and dialogue that gives what you would expect from those times. In other words, whenever you pick this book up you are immediately taken back to a period well over a thousand years ago.

The author's notes show exactly the depth of research that went into the writing of this book and David Ebsworth has employed that research perfectly. Whether or not the Dark Ages are your thing, I thoroughly recommend this excellentnovel.

David Ebsworth is a superb writer. This is his fifth novel, and every one is very different to the previous in style, pace, period and feel. That takes talent. 

©Richard Tearle 

9 January 2017

A Discovering Diamonds Review for: REMEMBER, REMEMBER the SIXTH of NOVEMBER by Tony Morgan

Amazon UK  £1.99
Amazon US  $2.99
Amazon CA  (price unavailable)

Alternative
James I / 1605

Tony Morgan’s novel is an alternative history addressing the ‘what ifs’ of the gunpowder plot. Although I knew very little of the detail of this famous event of English history, not beyond the basics that we all know, it is evident from the first line that this is not going to be the traditional story. Reading it over those first few days of November, almost as the events unfolded added a poignancy.

The novel starts with a small boy asking for a ‘penny for the king’ rather than the expected ‘Guy’. This sets the trajectory of the novel and you want to read on to find out how it could all end so differently.

The novel follows the fortunes of several characters on both sides of the political divide over the several days before the plot and the aftermath. The reader is led to feel most sympathy for the plotters, a turnaround as we are generally expected to believe them evil for what they planned and the shocking loss of life that would have followed. In this we are almost rooting for them, despite a sense of futility in that we know the plot failed. But this is alternative history, so the reader is never sure of what they think they know.

Well written and engaging, the only character who threatens to become a caricature is King James himself, but he is the least sympathetic character in the novel and the almost cartoonish treatment suits him. Robert Cecil undergoes a transformation that is almost – almost – not credible, but I believe the author wished to redeem him and I think he does this fairly successfully. The novel feels right, the detail of the setting is believable, and that renders the rest plausible. The cover could be better and, if I'm honest, lets the book down a touch, a better cover would attract more readers, but the inside works perfectly OK, even on an iPhone. It is a first novel and in places this shows, but Morgan has definite potential and I hope he goes on to write more.

This novel is being sold to benefit two great charities, Save the Children and the fund set up to support victims of flooding in the town on Tadcaster, Guy Fawkes being born and raised in nearby York. If a better reason to buy this was needed, other than it being a satisfying read and well worth the effort, then these two charities are pretty good ones!

(note from Helen Hollick: the author tells me that already a lot of money has been raised - but more is needed!)

©Nicky Galliers
(This novel may appear incorrectly formatted as an e-book on some devices.)

8 January 2017

SUNDAY

No reviews on a Sunday 
but have you seen our new
Reader's Voice Page?
this month - why are we fascinated by the bad-boy type guys?

George Warleggan - we just love to hate him!