Wednesday, 31 January 2018

January Cover and Book of the Month

designer Cathy Helms of
with fellow designer Tamian Wood of
will select the Cover of the Month
with all winners going forward for Cover of the Year in December 2018
(and honourable mentions going forward for Honourable Mention Runner-up)

* * *
Novels Reviewed During January
(selected at the end of the month)

Winning Cover Design by Bespoke Book Covers
Read our review HERE

Runner Up - cover designer unknown
read our review HERE
Runner Up - cover designed by TCK Publishing
Read our review HERE
Runner Up - cover design by
Historical Fiction Book Covers
read our review HERE


Now that we are receiving a substantial amount of novels to review I am finding my reading list also extending (which is a good thing!) I've had some delightful books to select my Book of the Month from - some sad, (the one about Charles Dickens' wife Catherine Dickens : Outside the Magic Circle by Heera Deeta as example. I confess I have never liked Dickens, the man or his works, maybe this is the reason why?) 

Others were exciting or intriguing - all were page-turners but I am obliged to select a 'winner' - except from this month I am also going to have a 'runner-up'.

So my runner-up because it made me laugh out loud :

Read the Review
and the Winner of Book of the Month 

... because I enjoy novels about the 17th Century - and Mr Pepys, and this one was very good...

Read the review
< For a list of shortlisted titles for January see the sidebar (you might have to scroll down) 

Congratulations all round!

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

By Love Divided by Elizabeth St John

shortlisted for Book of the Month

AMAZON UK £3.00 £10.99
AMAZON US $ 4.01 $14.99
AMAZON CA $5.07 $19.06

Biographical Fiction
English Civil War

Book 2 of 2 in The Lydiard Chronicles (2 Book Series)

How interesting that Elizabeth St. John is able to write about her ancestors. And what an interesting story she has presented. Lucy St. John-Apsley, now a widow, is forced to watch her family splinter as civil war rends the country. Bookish, sensible Lucy and her husband favour parliament, while Allen and James are attracted to the court. As the civil war progresses, the divisions become more acute. When the family comes together, there is friction. But when tragedy strikes, when one or another is in need, they prove that family loyalty and love transcends any political or religious affiliation.

Although the book is not  fast paced  and has several points of view, it is a well-told story examining in detail the impact of civil war on a family. The characters are entirely credible. Allen's growth from irresponsible courtier to bitter, broken soldier is a wonderful example of the art of character development. I will pay Ms. St. John the ultimate compliment by admitting that when one of the characters tragically dies, I shed a tear.

© Susan Appleyard

Media preview

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Monday, 29 January 2018

Her Majesty’s Will by David Blixt

shortlisted for Book of the Month

Amazon UK £4.44 £8.95
AmazonUS $4.44 $8.95
Amazon CA $7.39 $16.26

 humour /mystery

‘Before he was famous, he was a fugitive. Before he wrote of humanity, he lived it.  Before he was the Bard of Avon, he was a spy. A very poor spy.
England, 1586. Swept up in the skirts of a mysterious stranger, Will Shakespeare becomes entangled in a deadly and hilarious misadventure as he accidentally uncovers the Babington Plot, an attempt to murder Queen Elizabeth herself. Aided by the mercurial wit of Kit Marlowe, Will enters London for the first time, chased by rebels, spies, his own government, his past, and a bear…’

Tudor England. 1586. Will Shakespeare. There are many things that author David Blixt does well – and one among them is anything concerning fictional explorations of the Bard. Oh, two things. Add delightful humour.

From the opening lines I thoroughly enjoyed Will’s adventures. Historically accurate it is not. A fast-paced read, it is not. A truthful tale of Shakespeare’s life… well you get the picture. But what this novel does achieve is a witty romp through some of the unexplained ‘lost’ years of Shakespeare’s early life. Blixt sets the tone with his own playwright expertise, giving a colourful, richly flavoured feel of life, lust and other things that went on at the time of Elizabeth I. As sidekick to Marlowe, the young Will blunders through one unforeseen adventure to another with, often, hilarious results. The aim, to protect the Queen’s (and his own!) life. Oh, and there is the bear… but I’ll not give away any plot spoilers.

The Shakespearean style of the dialogue may not be to everyone’s taste, as Blixt has (expertly in my opinion, but some readers may not agree) mimicked the style of the day. Does this slow the reading experience and the adventure down? Personally, I think not, for instead we have brilliant swordfights, absorbing intrigues, laugh-out-loud humour, delightful (and groan-type) puns, (for the sensitive, some are a bit rude,) delightful descriptions, believable (for all their insanity) characters all wrapped up in an engaging mystery plot. Her Majesty’s Will is a funny, lighthearted, tongue-firmly-in-cheek romp. And I loved it!

© Helen Hollick

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Saturday, 27 January 2018

It's the Weekend - so re-visit time: did you see these ...?

It is the weekend - so no reviews,

but did you miss....

and did you find a few moments 
(perhaps during coffee break or lunch)
 to read our series of Diamond Tales?

Don't worry if you missed them - they are all still here! Start with Richard Tearle's Diamond Story.

And why not browse our INDEX PAGE, to see what else of interest you might have missed?

Friday, 26 January 2018

A Discovering Diamond review of Catching A Witch by Heidi Eljarbo

Amazon UK £2.99 £15.36
AMAZON US $2.99 $19.99 
AMAZON CA $25.35

Witchcraft / Family Drama

Most readers of historical fiction (and history) are aware of the famous witch trials that took place in England and America, what delighted me for this tale was the setting of Norway – a familiar theme set in a very different location.

Based on the factual events of history when these horrific and tragic witch hunts were subjecting ordinary people (mostly women) to events that make me shudder to think of, this novel depicts those dreadful times with humanity, skill and empathy, recreating what it was like to be a woman several hundred years ago – and accused of being a witch.

Each chapter tells of a different person from the small village, with the main narrator being Clara, the daughter of a pastor, now deceased. Her friend, Bess, knows the uses of herbs and remedies… and then the witch hunter arrives…

I did find the opening introduction a little slow, but perseverance is worth it, for once that is passed and the story proper begins, the characters come alive. Within the chapters there are surprises and shocks, heartfelt moments of joy or deep sadness, mixed in with scenes where it was almost too painful to read on because of the inevitable superstition and bigotry of the people (mostly men) involved.

A pleasure to read something a little different to the usual Salem/Pendle Witches theme.

© Mary Chapple

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Thursday, 25 January 2018

Bannister's Muster: Snap by Barbara Gaskell Denvil

shortlisted for Book of the Month


Y.A  / Fantasy
Book One of a series

‘What’s a boy to do when he wakes in the night to find a giant balloon and a strange man in his bedroom? For young Nathan Bannister, the sight of a mad wizard in his room is only the beginning--as strange and wonderful things await those brave enough to climb aboard! Nathan leaves behind what was once his quiet life and the warmth of his bed for the great unknown. Whisked away to medieval London and left to fend for himself, Nathan learns that adventure is never simple--and the past is no place for a boy in his pyjamas!
Magic, adventure, wonder, and excitement await those who seek it. With new friends, and many enemies, Nathan’s journey to wondrous and magical places is only beginning. There’s room for all as Nathan is joined by his little sister to help share in the adventure.’

I loved this full of life magical adventure! Written for young adults, I would say this first part of what promises to be a thrilling adventure series is suitable for all ages, not just the younger readers.

Straight into landing with Nathan in Medieval London I was hooked, and was enthralled by the plot, the action, the humour – the wonderful baddies and the exciting goodies.

In addition, Ms Denvil knows her history – which for this adventure is the delightful icing atop the cake.

Read and recommended with great pleasure

© Ellen Hill

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Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Brotherly Love by Lorna Peel

AMAZONUK £1.99 £6.99

Family Drama / Romance

‘Ireland, 1835. Faction fighting has left the parish of Doon divided between the followers of the Bradys and the Donnellans. Caitriona Brady is the widow of John, the Brady champion, killed two years ago. Matched with John aged eighteen, Caitriona didn't love him and can't mourn him. Now John's mother is dead, too, and Caitriona is free to marry again. Michael Warner is handsome, loves her, and he hasn't allied himself with either faction. But what secret is he keeping from her? Is he too good to be true?’

An excellent book depicting village life and morals in the Ireland of 1835.

Caitriona lost her husband two years ago. It was a loveless marriage, so her grief is for show for the villagers who adored her late husband. With the death of her oppressive mother-in-law the chances of self-determination are improving. The family of her late husband are still fighting with the Donnellan family but maybe, with the arrival of the attractive and single Michael, who seems to be neutral in this quarrel, Caitriona may finally become free; were it not for many other complications.

Peel depicts the psychology of village quarrels, peer and family pressure really well and shows the complexity of conflicts this brings for people caught up in them.

While focused on the romance part of the story, the book is well researched and adds plenty of authentic detail and historical scene setting. 

It’s easy to identify with our heroine and feel transported to the time and place.

Great characters, solid writing credits and a very enjoyable book.

© Christoph Fischer


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Tuesday, 23 January 2018

The Darcy Monologues edited by Christina Boyd

AMAZON UK £4.52 / £12.12
AMAZON US $5.95  / $14.95
AMAZON CA $7.56 / $18.95

Regency/ Jane Austen / Short stories
19th Century/ 21st century/ crossover

This edited collection of short stories, edited by Christina Boyd, features  fifteen original, previously unpublished short stories based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Each story is told from Mr. Darcy’s point of view, though none of the tales are a simple retelling of the famous story of Austen’s original novel. Each, of course, puts its own creative spin on the beloved novel, even those that are a fairly straightforward retelling of the story from Darcy’s perspective.

As with any anthology or collection of stories, not all of the works in The Darcy Monologues appealed to me, nor are they likely to appeal universally to every reader. There are certain settings and interpretations of which I am simply not a fan, but which are still wildly popular, although not necessarily my favorite variety. Most of the short stories here were sweet and light, a few were touching, and a couple simply missed the mark for me. All, however, were well written and well edited. That, alone, would be more than enough to strongly recommend the book. This was a treat to read overall, and there is something here to delight any Austen fan.

I cannot leave a review without highlighting the stories I felt were the strongest of the lot. Of course, other readers may have different opinions, but for my two cents, these are some of the best of the anthology:

From the Ashes by J. Marie Croft. This story showed, among other scenes, the famous letter Darcy handed to Elizabeth after his first proposal to her. However, this was the author’s version of the letter’s first draft, which was much more colorful than the elegant and articulate missive Elizabeth actually received. It made me laugh out loud more than once.

The Beast of Pemberley by Melanie Stanford. This is a Pride and Prejudice / Beauty and the Beast mash-up. It’s possible that someone, somewhere, has written one like this before, but it has escaped my notice. It was a perfect fit for the two stories to be blended like this! I have a love/hate (mostly hate) relationship with Beauty and the Beast because of  feminism! But this short story balanced the two narratives superbly.

Without Affection by Jan Hahn. This is a thoughtful retrospective piece. Darcy is looking at Elizabeth wandering in the gardens of Pemberley when they are old, after 50+ years of marriage, and he is trying to think of when he thought she was the most beautiful. He decides the time he would choose, and it leads him to recall a troubled period in their marriage. This was, in my opinion, the most poignant of the tales in the collection.

© Kristen McQuinn

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Monday, 22 January 2018

The Du Lac Devil by Mary Anne Yarde

AMAZON UK £1.99 / £11.99
AMAZON US $1.99  / $14.99
AMAZON CA $3.73 / $19.01

Saxon / Arthurian
6th Century
Saxon Britain

The Du Lac Devil is the second novel in Yarde’s Du Lac series, though it largely acts as a standalone novel. It focuses on Merton du Lac, the youngest son of Lancelot. The novel opens a few years after the events of the first novel, The Du Lac Chronicles, and depicts Merton in the life of a mercenary, a soldier for hire. He has earned the reputation as a devil because of the way he fights, almost like a berserker, and because of some of the brutal things he’s had to do in his duties over the years. What people don’t realize is that he is tormented by his actions, and he did it all to keep his brother, Alden, and his kingdom of Cerdiw safe from the hands of his political enemies.

When his brother Budic’s wife dies, Merton and Alden reunite at their childhood home of Benwick Castle while paying their respects. While there, they discover that agents within the castle’s household are conspiring to overthrow Budic and take the ancestral du Lac family stronghold, and thus become King of Brittany. Merton, Alden, and Budic must work to set aside their animosity and rivalries to find who is working to usurp Budic.

Readers are given deeper insight into Merton du Lac and his life, which was a treat. Merton is my favorite of the du Lac brothers so far, so I appreciated getting to know more about him. The story itself was entertaining and held my interest throughout the novel. In fact, I had initially been given this book to review but when I realized it was the second of the series, I went out and got the first one, read it, and then came back to this one to do my review. Then I bought the third in the series as well as the novella. I genuinely am enjoying the series. It is full of action and adventure, plenty of politics and even romance. There is something in here for just about everyone.

My final conclusion: this is a very fun, Arthurian-adjacent story, and will appeal to readers with a taste for Saxon culture and politics.

© Kristen McQuinn

Pre-publication copy was reviewed – errors were found, which we believe have been corrected

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Saturday, 20 January 2018

The Weekend 'Did you miss...:?

It is the weekend - so no reviews,

but did you miss....

and did you find a few moments 
(perhaps during coffee break or lunch)
 to read our series of Diamond Tales?

Don't worry if you missed them - they are all still here! Start with Richard Tearle's Diamond Story.

And why not browse our INDEX PAGE, to see what else of interest you might have missed?

see you all Monday, when we have our Mid-Month Extra post
this month an interesting article by Inge H. Borg

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Earl of Shadows By Jacqueline Reiter

Shortlisted for Book of the Month

AMAZON UK £3.99 £7.99

AMAZON US $5.26 $8.99

Biographical Fiction 

I approached reading Earl of Shadows with slight trepidation, since it is set in a period of history I know little about. But within a few pages, I was intrigued by the two brothers, William and John Pitt, and the very human flaws rendered fascinating by the author's deft characterizations. A chapter or so later and a devastating blow to their family surrendered them to the fates. With me firmly at their side, each started on a path that would ultimately lead to their own destruction…and redemption.

Ms Reiter’s exceptional research is an effortless foundation for a tale of two brothers – William is charismatic, brilliant and set on a meteoric career in politics. His older brother, John, Earl of Chatham, is destined to be subordinate to the mercurial and clever William. If that was not enough to serve up conflict aplenty, a sea change in English society upsets their world order, and an embittered political confrontation plays out in their daily lives. But it is the small and compelling details that turn this from a fascinating biography into enthralling historical fiction.

At about Chapter Five, I put the Earl of Shadows aside for an hour or two and rolled up my sleeves to familiarize myself with the political and social climate of England in the late 1780s (which to be honest, I had not considered since high school history). But such was the detail written into the novel that I wanted to understand the background, while absorbing the characters and emotional drivers of the two brothers and their fatalistic love-hate relationship. I would recommend anyone not familiar with this period of history to do the same; it significantly heightened my enjoyment of the book.

The beauty of the writing is the events told through the eyes of a flawed character. John is well aware of his weaknesses, and yet is driven to continue to repeat his errors throughout his life. And, reflected in the glory of his successful younger brother, the Earl of Chatham continues to struggle to feel good about himself, his marriage, his role in the world.

Throughout the novel, the 18th Century is brought vividly to life by an author who obviously loves the period and has saturated her knowledge of history with colorful details and glorious interludes that bring us right into the action (I particularly enjoyed the carriage flight and fight along Pall Mall between White’s and Brooks’s clubs). The Court scenes are lavish and detailed, glowing with fabrics and jewels and pools of golden candlelight. And yet in the corners lurk the shadows, and even in a happy marriage with the lovely Mary, John still carries his angst with him.

Without spoiling the end, I thought Ms Reiter brought this beautifully wrought novel to a fitting close at exactly the right point in the Earl of Chatham’s life. And as he mournfully returned to the shadows, part of this flawed but compelling man stayed with me in my heart; the true sign of a great novel. I hope there is more to come. Let me know when, so I can read up on the Walcheren Campaign. Actually, I think I need to go and read about it now. 

© Elizabeth St.John

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Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Catherine Dickens: Outside the Magic Circle by Heera Datta

Shortlisted for Book of the Month

AMAZON UK £2.34 £9.99
AMAZON US $3.09 $9.99 
AMAZON CA $12.66

Family Drama / Biographical Fiction
19th century

Catherine Dickens, wife of the great Charles Dickens and mother of his ten children, suddenly finds herself abandoned by her husband after twenty-one years of marriage. He provides her with a house and even a financial settlement on condition that she sign a draconian agreement that separates her from her minor children and forbids her from speaking publicly about the matter. (Or the 18 year-old actress he has taken up with.) Of course, Mr. Dickens speaks publicly and often about his wife as well as issuing press releases vilifying her as an unfit mother and even suggesting she had a mental problem.

The problem for Ms. Datta was to create a character in the respected author and champion of under-privileged women, who would do such a terrible thing to an undeserving wife; and also to create a character for Catherine that would show why she didn’t fight, why she passively signed an agreement that left her bereft of her children and painted her as the one at fault in the failed relationship. The author succeeds brilliantly.

We see Catherine go through a range of emotions, in turn miserable and hopeful, angry and accepting, pitiful and passive. But we never see her step outside the role of a women who has been so dominated by a controlling man that she has little will of her own. We may not admire her but we never despise her. We want to cry with her for the repeated blows and give a great cheer when she finds a little joy.

Ms. Datta digs deeper into the pathos of Catherine’s situation to discover that when she is with old friends she is uncomfortable. She worries they wonder how she has adapted, if she knows about the actress, and what kind of mother she really was. But she is also uncomfortable with prospective new friends who don’t know who she is because she has nothing to talk about with them, no husband, no children, no household concerns. It is another, cruel layer of aloneness.
It is always fascinating for authors to read about great figures of literature, but I believe anyone who reads this book will never see Charles Dickens in the same light again.

This is a sad book, but well worth reading. I heartily recommend it.

© Susan Appleyard

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