17 February 2018

It's the Weekend

No reviews over the weekend 
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Can one fall in love with fictional characters?
by Anna Belfrage
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16 February 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of The Lost Letter by Mimi Matthews

AMAZON UK £2.99 £7.06
AMAZON US $3.14 $8.99 
AMAZON CA $11.30

Romance / family drama
Victorian era

Sebastian Conrad, recently elevated to Earl of Radcliff, is an angry, bitter man. Not only has he been horribly injured in the wars in India, but he has yet to get over the cold-hearted beauty who broke his heart.

Sylvia Stafford could have been angry and bitter. After her father’s suicide, she was left destitute, was totally shunned by polite society, and is now reduced to working as a governess. Plus, of course, there’s the matter of the handsome young officer she so loved but who didn’t return even one of her many letters.

Where Sebastian has buried himself in the countryside, Sylvia is making the best of life, having therefore achieved an element of contentment, if not happiness in her new life. And then, one day, a certain Viscountess Harker comes looking for her, convinced that Sylvia is the only person who can somehow break through her brother Sebastian’s self-imposed isolation and anger.

What follows is a classic romance. Sebastian battles a turmoil of conflicting feelings at the sight of Sylvia: bitterness, love, hope, anger. He lashes out, she is hurt, he is desperate at hurting her, apologises, lashes out again. Truth be told, Lady Harker’s plan is not exactly working out as she has planned. What ultimately happens I leave to readers to find out for themselves.

Sylvia and Sebastian are both engaging characters. The Victorian setting is well presented as is the vulnerability of the society girl turned persona non grata when her baronet father dies with huge unsettled debts. The prose is well-written, the dialogue adequately full of innuendos and misunderstandings. Now and then, POV slips, with Sylvia’s eyes filling with understanding while the narrative is being told in her POV. All in all, The Lost Letter is an entertaining read, adequate for all those who like to escape the here and now for an hour or so, preferably before a crackling fire and with a cup of tea at their side.

© Anna Belfrage

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15 February 2018

The February Mid-Month Extra with Anna Belfrage

Can one fall in love with fictional characters?
by Anna Belfrage

I imagine many of you will snort at the idiocy of the above question. After all, many are the readers that have fallen in love with the invented peeps that populate a novel. As a writer, that’s an emotion you’re eager to promote. A reader who has irrevocably lost their heart to a character is willing to forgive a lot just to spend a few more hours with their love. Come to think of it, this is valid in real life as well: never do we make as many (in some cases irrational) excuses for the behaviour of another person as when we are in love with them.

Like many of you out there, I have crushed on Mr Rochester (why, one wonders: here’s a brooding man with a vicious streak who doesn’t even have the decency to inform poor Jane he’s got wife #1 stashed in the attic). I have definitely spent too much time imagining a future with Aragorn (a major challenge: he lives in an entirely different universe and has lost his heart to the ethereal Arwen) and really, really think I could make life easier (and more fun) for a certain Mr Acorne, pirate extraordinaire. And then, of course, there’s Jamie Fraser of Outlander.

For the record, I have never crushed on Mr Darcy. Never. Well, except when Colin Firth played him, but I suspect that was me crushing on Colin rather than on Darcy. Darcy, IMO, is too cool, too contained. There’s no edge to him, no danger—which is probably why I much prefer Kresley Cole’s males who run the gamut from vampires and werewolves through demons and dark elves to Russian tycoons. I’m stuck on Rune the Baneblood, who is half demon, half dark elf and has the teensy weensy handicap of having bodily fluids that are poison to everyone else. One drop of Rune’s blood or his saliva and you’re gone, which of course has a hampering impact on Rune’s love life. Or not.

Right: moving on here…

By now, we’ve established that yes, one can fall in love with invented peeps. (And I’m perfectly OK with your crushes being totally different from mine. I rather like keeping Rune to myself. And Gideon Cross…) As a reader, establishing these emotional connections enhance the reading experience. As a writer, they enhance the writing experience. At first. At some point, the way my heart goes pitter-patter at the thought of one of my invented characters becomes a problem. Why? Because I can’t let them go. Not quite. And I don’t want them to die, ever. And because I feel I am betraying them when I start concentrating on the New Kid in Town, a.k.a. the leading characters in my latest WIP.
Today is the publication day for the fourth book in The King’s Greatest Enemy, a series spanning 1321 to 1330 and based on the rise and fall of Roger Mortimer. Now, I prefer having a fictional character as my lead, so while Roger—yes, I know, a tad too familiar, but Roger and I are really, really close, okay?—is the sun around which all the planets dance, it is Adam de Guirande who really has the lead role in my series, together with his wife, Kit.

Adam is quite the man: not only is he tall, handsome and brave, he’s also a man of integrity and honour. Add to that the fact that he loves the young Edward III but also loves Roger Mortimer, and it is apparent I am setting him up for a lot of pain in my just released The Cold Light of Dawn. Thing is, his pain is my pain, and then there’s the fact that I intended this book to be the last book about Adam, which has resulted in a lot of sleepless nights while I’ve clutched my pillow to my chest and tried to convince myself I am a silly fool for being so affected by leaving him behind.

Turns out, I simply can’t tell him goodbye. This makes Adam smile. And Kit, who is more than delighted by the thought that I’ll give her man the opportunity to heal his broken heart.  Even Edward III is onboard, saying it’s not fair on either him or Adam to leave them like that. However: I have other people moving in to live inside my head, new characters that need TLC and attention as I carefully blow life into them, watching like a hawk over their first baby steps into the Belfrage universe.

“We can wait for a while,” Adam says, pounding his pillow into shape before reclining on his bed, Kit lying beside him. “As long as you don’t forget us.” He gives Robert FitzHugh a dark look. “He seems the monopolising type. He’ll throw a tantrum if you decide to spend time with us or Matthew and Alex.”
“Mmm,” I reply, eyeing my latest male lead. I rather like the thought of him throwing a tantrum, but in difference to Adam, I know he won’t. He’s too proud, too aware of just how thin the veneer his recent knighthood confers on him is.

The thing about falling in love with your characters is that they become an addiction. I need my regular Matthew and Alex fix (Duh! They’re my firstborn and therefore have a special hold on my heart) my Adam and Kit fix, my Jason and Helle fix. (Very few have as yet met Jason and Helle, but I am sure that when they do, they’ll understand why I need recurring fixes.) At the same time, I must move onwards and upwards. I think. Or maybe not. Or maybe yes. But how am I to abandon my previous creations? I have to keep tabs on them, ensure they’re okay. A conundrum, isn’t it?

So agonising do I find this separation from my invented peeps that I always have a little WIP going in which they feature. Some of those WIPs are For My Eyes Only. Some will probably see publication. In Adam de Guirande’s specific case he may very well gallop on for some books more, following his young bellicose king to Scotland and then to France. Along the way there will be adventures and death and pain and loss and love and joy and…

“Not exactly news,” Adam mutters. “You’ve put me through all of that several times by now.”
“She does that to all of us,” Alex pipes up from where she is making tea. Beside her is a plate loaded with cardamom buns – my recipe which Alex has filched from somewhere inside my brain. She claps her hands together, and out of every little nook and cranny in my head they come: Matthew Graham in his unlaced shirts and breeches, smiling at his wife as he claims the seat beside her: Adam and Kit, trailed by Adam’s brother William and look, there’s Roger Mortimer himself! 

“Just because I can’t gallop on after the 29th of November 1330 that doesn’t mean I don’t want a bun and a cuppa,” he tells me, gesturing for Queen Isabella to join him. Edward III sits down beside Adam, his grandsire Edward I prefers to remain standing, sniffing suspiciously at his tea. 

Jason and Helle come hand in hand, Robert FitzHugh guides his young wife Noor to the table, and soon enough they’re all munching their way through that mountain of cardamom buns while comparing notes about me. About me? Hey, stop that! I’m the author here, okay?

“They’re like an extended family,” I say to my BFF.
“Uh-hu,” she replies, rolling her eyes. “An invented family.”
“Nothing wrong with an invented family,” I tell her. Besides, she’s as addicted as I am to some of my characters. And let’s not get us started on her relationship with Jamie Fraser. This is a woman who has visited every stone circle in Scotland (I kid you not) at auspicious times to attempt to travel through the stones.
“As long as you remember which family is real and which isn’t,” she says, pouring us both a cup of tea. I smile into my mug. IMO, the whispering creations of my brain are just as real as my blood-and-flesh people. But there’s no need to say that out loud, I think.

About the author
Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. As such a profession does not exists, she settled for second best and became a financial professional with two absorbing interests, namely history and writing.

Presently, Anna is hard at work with The King’s Greatest Enemy, a series set in the 1320s featuring Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures and misfortunes in connection with Roger Mortimer’s rise to power. The fourth book in the series, The Cold Light of Dawn, has just been published.

When Anna is not stuck in the 14th century, chances are she’ll be visiting in the 17th century, more specifically with Alex and Matthew Graham, the protagonists of the acclaimed The Graham Saga. This series is the story of two people who should never have met – not when she was born three centuries after him. A ninth instalment has recently been published, despite Anna having thought eight books were enough. Turns out her 17th century dreamboat and his time travelling wife didn’t agree…
Anna can be found on her website, on Facebook and on her blog. Or on twitter and Amazon.
TWITTER: https://twitter.com/abelfrageauthor  @abelfrageauthor
Link The Graham Saga: http://amzn.to/2sVzZsZ
Link The King’s Greatest Enemy: http://myBook.to/TKGE
Link The Cold Light of Dawn http://myBook.to/TCLOD

Anna and Helen at a Denver  Conference 2015

                                                   .... next month's post >

14 February 2018

The Cold Light of Dawn by Anna Belfrage

A fabulous series with two very romantic lead characters for Valentine's Day - meet Kit and Adam...

Shortlisted for Book of the Month

AMAZON US $6.88 

Fictional Saga 
England / France

Book 4 The King’s Greatest Enemy Series

Fascinating Research Powering a Glorious Love Story

"After Henry of Lancaster’s rebellion has been crushed early in 1329, a restless peace settles over England. However, the young Edward III is no longer content with being his regents’ puppet, no matter that neither Queen Isabella nor Roger Mortimer show any inclination to give up their power. Caught in between is Adam de Guirande, torn between his loyalty to the young king and that to his former lord, Roger Mortimer. 
Edward III is growing up fast. No longer a boy to be manipulated, he resents the power of his mother, Queen Isabella, and Mortimer. His regents show little inclination of handing over their power to him, the rightful king, and Edward suspects they never will unless he forces their hand.
Adam de Guirande is first and foremost Edward’s man, and he too is of the opinion that the young king is capable of ruling on his own. But for Adam siding with his king causes heartache, as he still loves Roger Mortimer, the man who shaped him into who he is. 

Inevitably, Edward and his regents march towards a final confrontation. And there is nothing Adam can do but pray and hope that somehow things will work out. Unfortunately, prayers don’t always help." 

The fourth eagerly awaited novel in The King’s Greatest Enemy series, The Cold Light of Dawn has been billed as the final book in Ms Belfrage’s award-winning medieval historical fiction saga. Let me put it on record. Nope. No. Never. Don’t believe it. This series is too good, too addictive, too compelling not to continue. We’re just getting warmed up! And, Ms Belfrage herself has left a tantalizing epilogue where she hints she may return. All I have to say is, when?

Here’s the joy of reading this series: the research and detail is impeccable. It’s deep, comprehensive, and completely reliable. Which means as a reader, one can relax and enjoy the outstanding narrative, knowing that the author has done her homework and built her historical fiction on a solid foundation of fact and truth. That being said, plunging into the fascinating world of medieval England and France with characters as likeable as Adam and Kit de Guirande is to see, feel, hear and speak the time, for Ms Belfrage’s writing is utterly immersive. And here’s the interesting part – along with her historical accuracy, Ms Belfrage’s dialogue and emotions are totally accessible to the 21st century reader, without seeming anachronistic.

In The Cold Light of Dawn, we know there is a final showdown coming. And despite neatly dispatching some enemies early on in the book, the tension ratchets to almost unbearable levels as Kit and Adam are witnesses to the return of Edward III and the young king’s journey to manhood. Some beautifully written characterizations (the viscerally compelling scenes around the fate of Alicia and Robert for instance) show the depth of the young man as he grows into his role. And we know that this is just a dress rehearsal for worse to come.

Alleviating the political tensions and stresses at court (the queen's pre-occupations with providing heirs is another tense subplot) is the glorious love story between Kit and Adam. At times exasperated with each other, at other times wonderfully lustful, theirs is a genuinely human relationship, and one that we can all wish for, no matter what era.

So to summarize, a splendid novel and one that is sure to delight all fans of Kit and Adam. I’d venture to say that perhaps it’s the best yet of the series.

Until Ms Belfrage writes the fifth book, that is.

© Elizabeth St John
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13 February 2018

Counterpoint by Elizabeth St John

Theo, Earl of Suffolk: The Lydiard Chronicles 

 Shortlisted for Book of the Month

AmazonUK £0.99
Amazon US £1.36

Biographical Fiction/ Novella
Early 1600s 17th Century

Theo Howard, Earl of Suffolk is torn. Betrothed to a child to satisfy his family dynasty, he longs for the freedom to make his own choice. And when he attends a lavish party at his family's newly-restored palace, he is immediately attracted to Lucy, a beautiful young lavender-seller. But in this enchanted world of Shakespeare's Midsummer's Night Dream, all is not as it appears. Theo's headstrong sister Frances is determined to sabotage her own arranged marriage, and aided by the cunning of Frances and her friend Barbara St.John, perhaps Theo can find his own path to happiness and true love.”

Ms St John explains: “When I wrote The Lady of the Tower, the story revealed itself in the narrative of my ancestress, Lucy St.John. But, as with all novels, other characters appeared, and their voices grew strong and insistent, demanding their own story be told. This is Theo’s counterpoint to chapter six in the novel, in which Theo meets and falls in love with Lucy St.John. A counterpoint is a melody played in conjunction with another, or an opposing viewpoint in an argument. Our lives are complex, and each one of us carries within us a counterpoint to another’s story. Here is one to Lucy St.John, the Lady of the Tower.” And a very good one it is!

What I found refreshing about this story was that the hero, Theo, is not a perfect being, but a very  believable flawed character just like any person alive today. I liked him in Lady of the Tower, and now I like him even more because of meeting him in depth within these pages. Life is not all ‘happy ever after’, plans, hopes, dreams can and do go wrong, the good times have to walk alongside the bad. Real life circumstances are not fictional make-believe, and that is why I liked this novel. It was so believably real. The characters are likeable or dis-likeable for a variety of reasons, the plot is engaging, the historical facts behind and woven into the story are well researched and interesting.

Elizabeth St John is a stunning writer, she puts in the right amount of detail to bring a story alive, but not so much that you feel you have inadvertently wandered into a history lecture on seventeenth century life.

I only have one complaint.  Far too short... but then this is a novella and there are Ms St John’s other two excellent books to devour again! Even so... more please!

Highly Recommended

© Helen Hollick

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12 February 2018

The Polar Adventures of a Rich American Dame by Joanna Kafarowski

AMAZON UK £6.71 £14.99
AMAZON US $8.97 $16.99
AMAZON CA $9.59 $24.99

non-fiction Biography

It takes a very special kind of writer who can capture the feelings and emotions of literature and turn it into biography. Joanna Kafarowski brings her unique talent to The Polar Adventures of a Rich American Dame, and in doing so transports us into the fascinating world of heiress Louise Arner Boyd, Polar Explorer and adventuress.

This meticulously researched and beautifully written account takes us back to the early part of the twentieth century – extraordinary times when Karen Blixen was traveling Africa with a similar passion and verve, and women were staking their own claim upon travel exploration. Ms Kafarowski’s authoritative style moves us along at a great pace, full of detail but never pedantic, and as a result, brings us alongside the expeditions with a photographic clarity similar to Ms Boyd’s own creations.

Although biographical non-fiction, I was reminded of another of my favorite reads – Nancy Horan’s Under a Wide and Starry Sky for its interesting perspectives on the characters. Ms Kafarowski is an excellent curator of a fascinating character, and I would highly recommend this book to any armchair traveler.

© Elizabeth St John

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10 February 2018

It's the Weekend

No reviews over the weekend but have you seen our

where you will find all sorts of interesting things
 to amuse, entertain and inform?

9 February 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of: Moriarty Takes His Medicine Anna Castle

AMAZON UK £4.10 £12.20
AMAZON US $5.48 $14.99

(A Professor & Mrs. Moriarty Mystery Book 2)

Victorian era / Sherlock Holmes spin-off

It’s a daunting thing to take up a beloved story series and add one’s own spin to it, but just as the recent Sherlock video series has reinvigorated the visual narrative and atmosphere when viewers like me would have thought Jeremy Brett the definitive Sherlock, so has Anna Castle shown us what might be done in our era with the stories that got generations of readers hooked on detective fiction in the 19th century. I was able to jump right in with the second volume of the Moriarty series—testimony to Castle’s writing skill.

As the tale opens, Moriarty is thoroughly domestic and thoroughly harassed. His fussy wife is redoing their newlywed home to her taste, harrying him from room to room and then to his club, and we wonder just how someone as important and complex as Holmes’s nemesis could be in such insubstantial circumstances, attached to such a fluttery creature. But then we learn that perhaps “nemesis” is an exaggeration, and perhaps there’s another way to look at the characters we’ve known, or thought we knew, all along.

For with pretty deft handling, we get glimpses of the story from Book 1, and tantalizing peeks at Mrs. Moriarty’s sister, a woman of questionable character. All that’s just in the background, though soon to be brought into the foreground as the game comes afoot. For it seems some wealthy women are dying at an alarming rate, and soon after their special treatment for the nervous disorders of the Victorian era. And it seems only some wily women might be able to infiltrate the facility—Holmes’s famous disguises just won’t do.

The rollicking story is satisfyingly predictable, and this easy read entices us to pick up Book 1 and to also look forward to the next in the series.

© Cindy Rinaman Marsch

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8 February 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of: The Viscount and the Vicar’s Daughter by Mimi Matthews

Amazon UK £2.29 £6,73
Amazon US $3.09 $8.99
Amazon CA $3.82

Victorian era
Yorkshire, England

The story begins with Tristan Sinclair, Viscount St. Ashton, in a black mood as he approaches the Fairford estate in North Yorkshire to attend one of the Brightwells' notorious parties. Upon hearing a woman weeping in the woods he goes to investigate and finds Valentine March, a drab, mousy companion recently victimised by the daughter of the house, weeping over a ruined piece of artwork that had belonged to her mother.

The storyline is fairly predictable, as is usual in the romance genre, with a brooding hero and a beautiful young woman alone in a dreadful situation, but the writing is lively and entertaining without errors or typos and tells the tale from both his and her perspective. Minor characters are less finely drawn. St. Ashton’s father is important to the plot, but is scarcely more than a name and a series of orders that mightily displease his son. In true romance style, the focus is all on the feelings of the couple who are slowly drawn together. The pacing of the story is good and the dialogue between the couple is entertaining.

My only negative is that having followed their adventures I flicked over to the next page expecting more only to find I had reached the end of the book. A rather abrupt ending in my view. I find it difficult to tell length or word count with an e-book, but this one felt much too short. The fact that I wanted more must say something good about the quality of the author’s work!

 © Jen Black

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7 February 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of Blood And Roses By Catherine Hokin

Amazon UK £3.50 £12.99
Amazon US $4.72 $3.67
Amazon CA $6.97 $6.30

Biographical Fiction
Wars of the Roses

The Wars of the Roses has been written about as fact and fiction in countless books, but what I find so fascinating – for fiction – is that every novel has a different view, a different perspective. That is what is so fascinating about historical fiction; one author can write one angle, another, something entirely the opposite – yet both can be absorbing reads.

Ms Hokin’s Blood and Roses is from the view of the wife of Henry VI, Margaret of Anjou, and focuses, in part, on the view of the women involved in the turmoil of this unsettling, worrying and often tragic period of English history, most of which happen in the background of the story – for obviously the women, even queens, did not avail themselves to political machinations, negotiations or the inevitable battles which followed the failures of the former. The action happens as Margaret hears of it through news carried by messengers or tittle-tattled gossip, we learn what is happening as she does, and witness her reactions through thoughts that are in her mind. We see, hear of, experience, everyday life through her sheltered one. We cope as she copes, we laugh, cry, feel fear alongside her.

Does the author’s idea of writing like this work? In part yes, in part no – although an overall answer will probably depend on the taste of individual readers. Changes of allegiance from one side to the other become a little confusing – but then they were probably just as confusing in that life-turned-upside-down period anyway! For the reader, a list of characters for York and Lancaster and who was on which family tree would have been useful (although these do not always reproduce clearly in e-book versions)

An action-packed thrill-a-page novel this is not. An interesting exploration into Margaret’s life and marriage it is – and a very good exploration at that.

© Ellen Hill

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