Thursday, 30 November 2017

Cover and Book of the Month Revealed

designer Cathy Helms of
with fellow designer Tamian Wood of
has selected our Cover of the Past Month
with all winners going forward for Cover of the Year
(and honourable mentions going forward for Honourable Mention Runner-up)
Note: where UK and US covers differ only one version will be selected

* * *
Novels Reviewed During November

Read the review
designer unknown
Honourable Mentions
will go forward for annual 'runner up'

Read the review
designer unknown
read the review
designer unknown

Read the review
Olly Bennett
Click here to see previous winners

a personal choice by Helen Hollick

From our NOVEMBER Reviews
A very difficult choice this month with some superb novels added to my 'shortlist' and read with great pleasure. My three favourite indie authors were also devoured:

read the review
Read the Review
Read the Review

but I decided to go for my great love - novels about the sea, albeit a very different period from my own.

So my Book of the Month choice is:

read the review here
* * *

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

A Discovered Diamond Review of Ardent by Heloise West


Fictional Drama / LGBT

In the village of Torrenta, master painter Morello has created a colour that mimics the most expensive pigment of all, the crimson red. Master Zeno, from strife-ridden Medici Florence, tells him the colour gives him a competitive advantage – but Morello must be careful. Fraud is ever-present in the dye and pigment markets.
As they work together in Torrenta, Morello falls hard for Zeno’s assistant, Benedetto Tagliaferro, a young man of uncommon beauty and intelligence. Benedetto is still fixed on his old lover, the master painter Leo Guisculo, and cannot return Morello’s affections.
But when Leo dies in a terrible accident, it’s to Morello that Zeno and Benedetto turn for help. And Morello soon finds that in Florence, every surface hides layers of intrigue.”

The detail of the scenery and the art of painting wonderful masterpieces is as stunning as those finished paintings would be, the author, Heloise West, certainly seems to know her subject.

Written from the two main characters, Morello and Benedetto’s point of views, in alternate chapters, I did find it a little difficult to get into my stride with the story because of the changing POV, and the love triangle aspect (the third person being dead) was a little difficult to get into – but – how does a young man cope with losing the love and inspiration of his life and discover how to accept that time, love and life moves on?

A beautiful love story, especially for readers who appreciate this era and location.

© Ellen Hill 

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Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Fen-wolf by S.Pitt

Amazon UK £3.99
Amazon US $5.19

Military / Epic

Out of field, out of fen, out of forest we rose, putting fear behind us. Foe fled before us: hard-handed death-dealers, wolf-howling warriors, fierce in fealty; our swords glittered in the sunlight . . .

Spring,1066. Edward the Confessor is dead, England is at peace and Hereward, son of Eorl Leofric, returns from exile to his ancestral lands. But peace does not last and when Norman invaders murder his foster-brother, Hereward turns from thegn to outlaw. As the Normans tighten their grip and uprisings fail, rebels flock to join his band at Ely, the Isle of Refuge. Soon the whole Norman army is on its way, to destroy Hereward and, with him, the last centre of English resistance.

This magnificent novel can only be described as a tour de force. Ms Pitt gives us the early years of William the Conqueror’s reign through the eyes of his most determined opponent, a man whose name many may have heard of but not so many may know about. Hereward the Wake was an outlaw who opposed Norman forces to save his beloved Fenland and Mercia from their stranglehold – and failed. This, in part, I knew. Which is why the novel is a tour de force – I knew from the very beginning that our hero was not going to win and yet I read on for over a 1,000 ebook pages. Why: because the story is beautifully written; because I was interested in the small details of eleventh-century everyday life; because each of the characters was so skilfully drawn that I wanted to know what happened to his wife, friends and followers – and because Ms Pitt knows her horses.

It is a rare treat these days to read a historical novel where horses are treated as more than a convenient form of transport. As the novel opens, Hereward arrives back in his homeland from Flanders with a ‘lady’ wife, a bright little girl and two horses; one is a fabulous destrier stallion, the other, a sway-backed, bloody-minded, one-man mare. These horses form a meaningful part of the narrative and what happens to them is indicative of what ultimately happens to Hereward’s fen-wolves – his followers.

To say more is to spoil the story, but this is not a happy tale. Despite Hereward’s every effort, he rarely succeeds for more than a week at a time. His wife, an intelligent woman once accustomed to luxury, chooses to live in a humpy to be at his side, but the reader knows that cannot last. And yet, as their situation becomes graver, more hopeless, this reader wanted to read on. I even read every word of the battle scenes, which I’m apt to skim in most novels. Ms Pitt’s description of William’s men trying to make a pontoon to cross to Ely on war-horses and wearing their armour, is gripping. How Hereward’s men disappear into the woods and merge with the trees to harass trained knights is fascinating.

Fen-wolf is a big book - and definitely a Discovered Diamond.

© J.G. Harlond

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Monday, 27 November 2017

A Discovering Diamonds Review of Alba is Mine by Jen Black

Amazon UK £2.29
Amazon US $3.02

Romance / Viking
11th century
Orkney / Scotland

We meet our hero, Finlay, in prison because he tried to abscond with the woman he loves. Upon his release, King Malcolm of Alba sends him to the court of his half-brother Thorfinn, Lord of Orkney, where he is to marry Thorfinn’s half-sister, Ratagan. Finlay is not unwilling as his true love has been forced to marry his cousin. Ratagan has a young lover. She knows she must marry Finlay because that’s what her brother wants but she is ambivalent.

As with most romance plots, there is a great deal of falling in and out of love between the parties, and the reluctance of Finlay and Ratagan to decide whether they will marry or not leads to several encounters that resolve nothing. Meanwhile, war looms when King Malcolm dies and both the king’s grandson, Duncan, and our hero, Finlay, are prospective heirs to the throne of Alba.

I have to say that I’m not a great fan of romance, so I didn’t find that side of the story engrossing. However, this is an unexplored period and setting for me, and I enjoyed the history and the glimpses of Viking life. (Throwing knives at one poor fellow for entertainment.) Most of all I enjoyed Ms Black’s faculty for creating atmosphere. I could almost feel the sting of wind-blown snow on my face, the welcome warmth of a firelit room, or the eerie menace of a mist-wrapped wood.

There are some editing errors, mostly missed words, but not enough to spoil the reader’s appreciation. Those who like to mix their history with romance will enjoy this book.

© Susan Appleyard

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Saturday, 25 November 2017

Something To Look Forward To!

starting on December 3rd
here on Discovering Diamonds
 a festive season of ...

throughout December we will be posting a different
 short story or excerpt every day 
- with the theme of DIAMONDS

Here's a picture taster for what to look forward to!

Follow the Tales … and Discover some Diamonds

3rd December     Richard Tearle Diamonds

4th December     Helen Hollick  When ex-lovers have their uses

5th December    Antoine Vanner  Britannia’s Diamonds

6th December    Nicky Galliers  Diamond Windows

7th December    Denise Barnes  The Lost Diamond

8th December    Elizabeth Jane Corbett A Soul Above Diamonds

9th December    Lucienne Boyce Murder In Silks

10th December    Julia Brannan The Curious Case of the Disappearing Diamond

11th December    Pauline Barclay Sometimes It Happens

12th December    Annie Whitehead Hearts, Home and a Precious Stone

13th December    Inge H. Borg  Edward, Con Extraordinaire

14th December    J.G. Harlond The Empress Emerald

15th December    Charlene Newcomb Diamonds in the Desert

16th December     Susan Grossey  A Suitable  Gift

17th December     Alison  Morton Three Thousand Years to Saturnalia

18th December      Nancy Jardine   Illicit Familial Diamonds

19th December      Elizabeth St John The Stolen Diamonds

20th December      Barbara Gaskell Denvil Discovering the Diamond

21st December       Anna Belfrage   Diamonds in the Mud

22nd December       Cryssa Bazos    The Diamonds of Sint-Nicholaas

23rd December        Diamonds … In Sound & Song 

Friday, 24 November 2017

There is Always A Tomorrow by Anna Belfrage

shortlisted for Book of the Month Selection

Amazon UK £3.99 £10.99
Amazon US $5.26 $14.99
Amazon CA $n/a

Timeslip / Fictional Saga
Maryland / London

Graham Saga #9

This is the ninth in the popular time slip series, the Graham Saga, following the fortunes of Alex, a reluctant time traveller, and Matthew Graham, her seventeenth century husband. Alex and Matthew are still in Maryland working their substantial farmstead with their ever growing family, sons, daughters, grandchildren, waifs and strays. But this story starts with an attempted rescue of a dear friend from an old enemy with a supporting cast that both make you shudder with revulsion and smile with approval.

The action flits between Maryland and London with life in London, courts and coffee shops, but the centre of the novel is always the Graham's Garden, the family home. Where other novels have discussed the parting of the ways of the family, this one sees the return of many.

Ms Belfrage writes in a pleasing style that keeps on going, never letting up, vivid and engaging that sweeps you on and makes you feel for the characters. I found myself resenting the bad things that happen in the novel, having to recall that these are not real people, but they feel real.

Even if you have not read the others in this series, don't let that put you off this particular instalment. You may well want to go back to the beginning to find out what happened before, but There Is Always Tomorrow is an individual a story of the New World and the Old, and is perfectly satisfying on its own.

© Louise Adam

2nd review received:

One of the biggest challenges of writing sweeping family sagas is to give the reader the small details that bring the characters to life. And in There is Always a Tomorrow, the ninth in the Graham Saga, Ms Belfrage shows her skill as a novelist in bringing these details to the forefront. With themes of love and loss, distinct and parallel lives, this book traverses time and distance to follow the exploits of the rapidly expanding Graham family. At the same time, poignant and deeply emotional scenes (Alex carving her son’s name as a memorium comes to mind) anchor the action, and bring the family vividly to life. These delicate, intimate insights into motive and character compel us to feel as if we too are part of the Graham family.

Ms Belfrage’s thorough historical research is seamless, a foundation for the story but never interrupting the flow of the narrative, nor intruding upon the characters and their actions. This is the very best kind of historical fiction – where time and place effortlessly supports the very human story that is being revealed. And, because the research is so well done, as a reader one is never jarred out of the story with an anachronism or a detail that is out of place.

I truly enjoyed my time in the world of the Grahams, and have found myself thinking about them well after I finished the book, wondering about their world and their lives. That, to me, is the mark of a great story. I hope Ms Belfrage finds it in her heart to bring us another in the Graham Saga. In the meantime, I’m going to join her in the 14th century in her other series, The King’s Greatest Enemy. I have a feeling I will be equally enthralled.

© Elizabeth St John

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Thursday, 23 November 2017

Carina by Alison Morton

shortlisted for Book of the Month Selection

AMAZON US $ 1.69

Alternative / Novella / Thriller
‘Roma Nova’, Canada, New York, 'Eastern United States' (USA)

Tucked away somewhere in the middle of Europe on a boundary with Austria is a little-known (fictional) country called Roma Nova. It has been in existence for more than one and a half millennia and was founded by leading Roman families fleeing the falling Roman Empire. Roma Nova continues the old laws, religions and protocol whist maintaining a solid relationship with all countries.

This is the world that Alison Morton has created and Carina is a novella of crisis and corruption within its own Senate.

The Carina of the title is a lieutenant in the Praetorian Guard; she just happens to be the wife of Major Conrad Mitelus and granddaughter of Aurelia Mitela, the second most powerful woman in Roma Nova. So it is embarrassing for all when Carina has to be disciplined for a simple prank. Having served her seven-day sentence, she is sent on a mission to find and abduct a suspected traitor to face charges. With her friend and colleague, Flavius, things go smoothly. To start with.....

This is a fabulous thriller that really cracks along at a great pace and just doesn't let up from start to finish. It shows that Roma Nova is up to date despite its ancient customs. It is a stand-alone story featuring many characters from Ms Morton’s other full-length novels that span two absorbing trilogies.

There are two things I love about Ms Morton's 'world': one is that it is all so plausible and the other is that Roma Nova has a lot to teach us about the sheer equality of the sexes in this mythical country. The characters are well rounded and, impressively, are fallible.

If you have not encountered Roma Nova as yet, then I strongly recommend all previous six books with this as a good start point to whet your appetite. A helpful brief history of Roma Nova is also included at the end of this novella.

 Without doubt, a Discovered Diamond!

© Richard Tearle

Join us throughout December for some scrumptious
Diamond Tales and a short Roma Nova story by Alison Morton
scheduled for the 17th!

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Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Swift for the Sun by Karen Bovenmyer

 AMAZON UK £5.71 £13.99
AMAZON US $7.59 $14.99  
AMAZON CA $24.93

Nautical / Romance / LGBT
18th Century

In the beginning, the title “Swift for the Sun” conjured up everything from old sailing ships swiftly following the sun - to other flights of fancy involving smugglers and privateers (which it does). At the end of Bovenmyer’s novel, I realized that I was further wrong in assuming it to be a rollicking pirate fable or – as one of its genre is listed as gay romance - a man loving another man; it was so much more (even though I, too, have loved men – but then, I am a woman).

Benjamin Swift (as he introduces himself to us in this first-person account) is young, impetuous and a bit of a bungler who doesn’t listen too well to advice from his more experienced mates. This becomes sadly evident when, as captain of the Sea Swift, he puts his ship squarely on the rocks on cursed Dread Island. Deeming himself the only survivor of the wreck, the young seafarer is understandably spooked when he finds himself face to face with a blond island savage who masters survival a lot better than our handsome Benjamin. After initial life-threatening quarrels and mutual mistrust, the two men (both being predisposed by nature or circumstance) fall deeply in love.

This is when the author’s mastery of human needs and wants shines. Lust and love are aptly intertwined with Benjamin’s secret hope to be rescued. A storm does bring a ship - and with it terrible trouble brews for the two. Sun could easily “take care” by himself of unwanted intruders into their isolated paradise; but during an ensuing fight, Benjamin feels he needs to prove himself.

That’s when I shouted at my Kindle, “For heaven’s sake, he told you to stay put!”
I had become utterly involved in the two protagonists’ fates and desperately wanted them to escape their seemingly inexorable doom clamped on them by their “rescuers.”

Apart from the thrill of exotic seafaring adventure, the novel left me with a much deeper question about loyalty, the bond between two human beings, and the moral choice between killing for freedom or submitting to Man’s laws. “What would any of us have done?”

One minor distraction, for me at least, were the chapter titles. Some took away the faint hope that it might not be so - as for Chapter 13, for instance.

Apart from that, this is an excellent fluid read that easily earns applause as a Discovered Diamond.

© Inge H Borg

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Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Britannia’s Gamble by Antoine Vanner

AMAZON UK £2.42 £7.49
AMAZON US $3.21 $11.99

Nautical / Fictional Saga / Military
Victorian era
Egypt / Sudan

Britannia’s Gamble is not just a naval thriller or a tale of war and military conflict. For those of us who have read earlier episodes, it’s an additional delight as it continues the story of Nicholas Dawlish, a Royal Navy officer who is more familiar with steam engines, breech-loaders and torpedoes than with sails, carronades and broadsides.

Nicholas, tough, determined yet anxious about his mission, must endure the horrendous desert stretching across Egypt and Sudan, sail up the Nile through hostile and treacherous waters and then make the hardest decision of his life. But at what cost?

This series goes from strength to strength as we uncover Nicholas’s core character and unpeel the layers he has built up to protect it. His sense of duty and his long-term mission to secure a place of comfort and security while serving his country to the utmost of his ability are again in peril in this latest adventure. But Nicholas is mellowing, not least due to his wife, Florence, who has faced dangers of her own as well as with him in the midst of war-torn Europe and beyond.

Antoine Vanner’s strong grasp on sailing, the Victorian navy, military and political events and personalities of the time is evident. his writing style is assured, flowing and engaging. Roll on the next Dawlish adventure!

© Jessica Brown

Join us here during December for a variety of Diamond Tales
with a short story by Antoine Vanner scheduled for 6th December

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Monday, 20 November 2017

A Discovering Diamonds Review of: Sarah’s Secret by Beverly Scott

A Western Tale of Betrayal and Forgiveness by Beverly Scott

Amazon UK £3.19 £10.44
Amazon US $4.24  $14.95
Amazon CA $n/a

Western / Romance
Early 20th Century
United States

Sarah’s Secret: A Western Tale of Betrayal and Forgiveness is a story of Sarah, a mother who is widowed at the turn of the 20th century, left with five children to raise. Feeling alone and abandoned, she decides to make the journey from the barren New Mexico territory back to her home in Nebraska. After settling back in with her extended family in Nebraska, Sarah soon discovers that her deceased husband, Sam, had lived a different life before their marriage. This secret life not only haunted Sam when he was alive, but it also affected Sarah and her children after his death.

The author did well weaving historical facts into the three story sections that unfold the tale of Sarah’s and Sam’s lives. From the descriptions of the barren New Mexico desert to the wild streets of Dodge City, Kansas, Scott paints pictures of the past that bring life to the story’s characters and their frontier adventures.

Growing up west of the Mississippi, and being fortunate to have heard the stories of the late 19th century and early 20th century women in my own family, helped me to appreciate the struggles faced by this young mother who was left to raise five children. Each chapter was a reminder of how women helped to define the true essence of the pioneer spirit.

Although in the end, the story came together, the transition from the first section, that describes Sarah’s journey home, to the second section that provides back-story about Sam, was initially puzzling since the second section opens by describing Sam’s first life under a different name. It was toward the end of this second section that the puzzle pieces of Sarah’s life are realized. After reading the second section I went back to reread the first section with more appreciation and understanding.

In general, however, the story was an insightful tale of one woman’s journey and the experiences she had that defined her strength. It was easy to feel compassion for Sarah as she overcame obstacles and found ways to succeed throughout her life. 

© Cathy Smith 

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