4 February 2017

THE SCENT OF LILACS by Haydn Corper


AMAZON UK £ 4.99   / £ 11.99
AMAZON US $ 6.23  / $ 15.99
AMAZON CA $ n.a / $19.54

1945
Berlin
Military

In this tense story set during the last days of Berlin, 1945, we follow five different people, each with different loyalties and different roles: Tanya, a Russian with German nationality, John Marlow, an Englishman fighting the Reds for a Finnish outfit, Walter, a young German aspiring to the Hitler Youth and the brothers Leonid and Cheslav, soldiers in the advancing Red Army.

What we have is not so much a military war book, but an examination of people, their feelings and reactions to the events that are unfolding around them. If you want action, then you won't find it here, apart from a number of sporadic skirmishes,  all of which add to the tension building slowly and menacingly thanks to the author's craft of description and observations of those little things that people do – their characteristics, in other words. And this is masterfully done – all characters and the settings are totally believable.

I don’t think this is a spoiler: we are left at the end wondering about the eventual fate of each major character for the author leaves us with a number of options. Which, considering the depth of study of each person, is perhaps a bit of a shame for we have come to know these people so well during the course of the book. On the other hand this gives us the opportunity to think and expand our own questioning imagination, so perhaps this is a good thing.

Recommended for people who enjoy a human study rather than an action-packed war story: and the human study is done very well. Very well indeed.

© Richard Tearle (Discovering Diamonds)

Cover selected for Cover of the Month


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3 February 2017

A Discovering Diamonds Review of: FORTUNE'S WHEEL by Carolyn Hughes

AMAZON UK £3.99    / £9.99
AMAZON US $4.94   / $12.49
AMAZON CA $ n.a / $14.96

Family Drama / mystery
14th Century
England

"June 1349. In a Hampshire village, the worst plague in England’s history has wiped out half its population, including Alice atte Wode’s husband and eldest son. The plague arrived only days after Alice’s daughter Agnes mysteriously disappeared, and it prevented the search for her.

Now the plague is over, the village is trying to return to normal life, but it’s hard, with so much to do and so few left to do it. Conflict is growing between the manor and its tenants, as the workers realise their very scarceness means they’re more valuable than before: they can demand higher wages, take on spare land, and have a better life. This is the chance they’ve all been waiting for.

Although she understands their demands, Alice is disheartened that the search for Agnes is once more put on hold. When one of the rebels is killed, and then the lord's son is found murdered, it seems the two deaths may be connected, both to each other and to Agnes’s disappearance."


This novel, the first in the Meonbridge Chronicles,  is set in the fascinating period of England after the plague and explores that world through the typical middle-England village of Meonbridge which has suffered horrible mortalities. This is a clever choice of era and I found the setting fascinating, in particular the way it offered some liberating opportunities to women and to the poor as so many men had been lost that they were required to step up and manage land and, thus, gain more independence. This raised intriguing parallels with WWII that had never occurred to me before and made me think - which I enjoyed.

The novel follows the story lines of various villagers, I found the main characters interesting and engaging and wanted to know more about them and their fate. At the heart of the novel is a neat mystery about the disappearance of the daughter of the central character, Alice, and that, too, kept me reading on to find out more.

I enjoyed the way the villagers’ lives interlinked and felt the plot moved forward convincingly. I did however, feel that, particularly in the first half, the novel was rather densely told with long and slightly repetitive chunks of information and a lack of drama and sparky dialogue. The author clearly has the ability to do this as there were some thoroughly enjoyable scenes, but the slight ‘tell’ not ‘show’ hampered the pace a little in this early part of the story. The very large cast is set out in a list at the start but there were several characters I struggled to remember, even as their stories unfolded. I note that this is intended as the first of a series which is perhaps why there are so many characters, but an abundance of names and people made it quite difficult to become involved in the key story line. The author did hone in more on the core characters as the novel progressed, and I wonder if quite so many were needed at the outset? I also found that some of the stronger scenes ended too soon, just as they were building up some tension, with the author ducking immediate conflict and drama in favour of the longer-term story line which was a shame as both were definitely possible. 

Overall this is a promising novel from a debut author. Being set in a fascinating period and centring around some engaging characters - with a bit of polishing, there is potential here for an interesting series. I would suggest for the second novel that the author finds a good technical editor to help iron out the wrinkles. All this first novel needs is a lighter, more 'show' approach to really let it shine. For an insight into a different-to-the-norm period, however, this is a story worth reading as it is obvious that the author knows her period very well.

© Joanna Courtney Discovering Diamonds

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2 February 2017

A Discovering Diamonds Review of: THE MURMUR OF MASKS by Catherine Kullmann


AMAZON UK £2.99    / £9.99
AMAZON US $3.81   / $13.99
AMAZON CA $ n.a / $18.52

Romance
Early 19th Century
England and Belgium

Olivia Frobisher is a teenage girl when her mother dies suddenly. With her father and brother both at sea, she is taken in by her uncle who, almost immediately, arranges a marriage to an eminent botanist, 'Rambling' Jack Rembleton. It is a marriage of convenience for all parties concerned: Rembleton needs heirs, Olivia needs security and her uncle needs to do his best for her. But Jack is not all he seems and spends most of his time away from her. In the meantime, Olivia is introduced to Luke Fitzmaurice, a younger man than Jack, and with a reputation for the ladies.

Ten years later and Olivia has three children whom she loves, but she is having some regrets about her marriage: Jack has done his duty and has left for Europe on another expedition with his partner, Bart Wilkins. At a masked ball, Olivia, disguised as a Greek muse, meets Luke again. He seduces her – or does she seduce him? He is unaware of her identity, but she is fully aware of his. Olivia, at last, finds the meaning of love – but she is trapped. Two important things happen then (no spoilers) and the lovers are thrown together near to the front line of Waterloo.

This is a good story, well told, full of the type of dialogue that we expect from those days and, apart from one or two minor 'niggles' I quite enjoyed it. The cover – a reproduction of a well-known painting - I thought dull at first, but as I read on, the expression of boredom and quandary on the face of the subject perfectly mirrored the troubles of Olivia. I am happy to recommend The Murmur of Masks to fans of the Romance genre.

© Richard Tearle 

 
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1 February 2017

A Discovering Diamonds Review of: THE SEVEN LETTERS by Jan Harvey



Amazon UK £3.99 / £9.98 
Amazon US $5.06 (e book only found) 
Amazon CA $ n.a 

Mystery / War Adventure
WWII / Present Day
France / England

“When Claudette Bourvil is recruited to the French Resistance the last thing she expects is that she will be sent to work in the heart of Paris to spy on senior Nazi officers.

Claudette learns how to survive in a city ravaged by war, where the citizens are murdered on the whim of the occupying force. Constantly under threat of discovery, and in danger of losing her life, Claudette risks everything when she falls in love with the wrong man, the worst kind of man.

Over seventy years later, in rural Oxfordshire, Connie Webber discovers seven letters linked to a famous playwright, Freddy March. The letters will eventually lead her to Paris where she discovers the horrific reason behind Freddy’s lifelong depression. As his mother’s story unfolds Connie uncovers a dark past that the city has tried to erase from history.”

The Seven Letters gives the reader a dramatic, and occasionally heart-rending insight into the war years when Paris, and France, suffered under the iron rule of the Nazis. Claudette joins the Resistance and finds herself working in a bordello in German occupied Paris. She falls in love … with the enemy.

In modern-day Oxfordshire, England, Connie sees her friend, Freddy March, throw himself in front of a train. The two stories, France during the war, and Freddy’s suicide are connected, as Connie is to discover while clearing Freddie’s house where she finds some letters that lead her to France and some dreadful secrets.

After the initial first person opening sequence the story is told in alternating chapters between the two eras, which I found a little difficult to get used to, but once the pattern settled the different scenes made sense. Switching from first to third person was also a little disconcerting, especially as the prologue, set in the French part of the story, was also first person but Claudette’s subsequent story was third person narrative. Personally I would have preferred third person throughout, and maybe not used a prologue, but then, all authors have their own ideas and vision for their stories. Possibly the cover is a little dull (in colour, not in content) which does not draw the eye to it, especially at thumbnail size, but I assume the idea was to convey a sepia-style photographic-type image of the period.

The intrigue, romance and well-researched historical detail soon grip the attention with the characters becoming ones to care about, although their lives, especially those of the people in war-torn Paris, are occasionally traumatic.

Is the story different from others of this ilk? Undercover Resistance in a war-occupied setting falling in love with an enemy officer? I have read several, so no, but Seven Letters has some delightful good (and bad!) characters, and the mystery element binds it all together nicely. For readers who enjoy novels about the lives of ordinary people and how they survive the horror of war, this should provide a satisfying read.

© Anne Holt



Jan Harvey tells about how and why she wrote The Seven Letters: click here (redirects to Let us Talk of Many Things - Helen Hollick's Blog) 
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30 January 2017

A Discovering Diamonds Review of: THE UNEXPECTED EARL by Philippa Jane Keyworth


AMAZON UK £).99    / £10.50
AMAZON US $1/24   / $14.95
AMAZON CA $n.a / $19.32

Romance
Regency / 18th Century
England

This is a classic Regency Romance. Miss Julia Rotherham is attending her sister’s coming out ball when she unexpectedly comes face to face with the man who jilted her six years before. And on this hangs the tale.

This romantic story features a feisty heroine, a handsome leading man, an excellent supporting male, two fabulous sisters and a suitably wicked foil. But for all the typical clich├ęs this story only descends into farce where it is required and lightens what could be a dark situation. In general the characters are rounded enough to be believable, although the mother does teeter on the edge of the ridiculous, but in a very Jane Austen / Mrs Bennett kind of way and so it is completely forgivable.

Although it could be said that this novel does not offer anything new in the way of Regency Romances, that is not a criticism. Sometimes it is a comfort to know that the story will develop in the way you expect, like an old friend in a new hat. So bravo! A good read, warm, familiar, and welcoming. Like a comfy pair of slippers or an old snuggly jumper, this is a perfect indulgent read for a long winter evening.

©  Nicky Galliers  Discovering Diamonds

29 January 2017

IT'S THE LAST SUNDAY IN THE MONTH - WHICH MEANS:

No reviews on a Sunday but have you seen our 
Reader's Voice page?


Where we welcome, you, the reader, to have your 2pennyworth say on your views
Today:

Do we still love ‘Ruritania’? by Alison Morton
Ruritania is an imaginary country in central Europe, a ‘placeholder kingdom’ and is used in academia and the popular mind to refer to a hypothetical country. The author, Anthony Hope, depicts Ruritania as a German-speaking Catholic country under an absolute monarchy, with deep social, but not ethnic, divisions reflected in the conflicts of the first novel, The Prisoner of Zenda- but is this style and idea still as popular today for readers and writers? How essential to today's novels was/is Ruritania?

click here to read the article
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