Wednesday, 28 February 2018

February Book Cover and Book of the Month Revealed

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)
Note: where UK and US covers differ only one version will be selected

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


designer: Olly Bennett
of  More Visual
Read the review here


Read the review HERE
read the review here


Although a short novella, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Ms St.John is a superb writer, and I think one of the reason this book has stayed with me is because I still haven't made up my mind whether I like the protagonist or not - such a refreshing change to meet a character who has the qualities (or non-qualities) of real, living people. I also enjoy novels that look at characters who apper briefly in other novels, then have the opportunity to strut their stuff on their own stage!

as a close second was Anna Belfrage's latest because it was a treat to read well-researched information regarding a period I know very little about.

Read the review HERE

For last month's selections see main menu bar
Book of the Month - Cover of the Month

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of Henry : by Tony Riches

AMAZON UK £2.99 £8.99
AMAZON US $4.10 $12.99 

Biographical / military

Bosworth 1485: After victory against King Richard III, Henry Tudor becomes King of England. Rebels and pretenders plot to seize his throne. The barons resent his plans to curb their power and he wonders who he can trust. He hopes to unite Lancaster and York through marriage to the beautiful Elizabeth of York. 

With help from his mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, he learns to keep a fragile peace. He chooses a Spanish Princess, Catherine of Aragon, as a wife for his son Prince Arthur. His daughters will marry the King of Scotland and the son of the Emperor of Rome. It seems his prayers are answered, then disaster strikes and Henry must ensure the future of the Tudors. 

In his Author’s Note at the end of this novel, Tony Riches says he spent three years researching and reading about the early Tudors, and in  Henry, Book Three The Tudor Trilogy he has brought history to life. The novel reads very much like a docu-drama: we see events through Henry VII 's eyes, but details are solidly grounded in research and the reader ‘visits’ the places and palaces where the real man lived and walked, and schoolroom history occurred.

Riches’ depiction of Henry Tudor, father of the more famous or infamous Henry VIII, is as a quiet, inward-looking man, full of doubt yet also full of ambition. By marrying Elizabeth of York, daughter of a family who are rival claimants to the throne, Henry intends to unite England and Wales and bring peace to a nation torn apart by internecine strife. He has his work cut out. This is a time of tremendous uncertainty and ‘pretenders’ to the throne seem come two-a-penny. It makes for an unsettling situation. Henry, not a flamboyant or charismatic man like Edward of York, is constantly beset by real and perceived threats to his monarchy.

The book opens with the outcome of the Battle of Bosworth Field and closes with Henry’s death in 1509, taking the reader through some of the best and worst of his reign, and in the process giving us the childhood and adolescent years of his larger than life son, who from an early age demonstrated the more visible skills that would overshadow his quieter, more politic and sensible father. We also see the strong relationship between Henry and his wife, how they adored all their children and suffered at the tragic deaths of a baby and the heir to the throne, Arthur. We witness how Henry relies on his mother, Margaret Beaufort, a somewhat conniving woman although not the power-hungry she-wolf so often depicted, whose sound council enables him to make some difficult choices.

The author’s quiet style is perfectly matched to the character of Henry Tudor. The prose, somewhat flat at times, is nevertheless well-suited to the subject. This book is a thought-provoking portrait of a wise, caring man who does not want to rule yet whose actions and decisions laid the foundations for a dynasty and a strong, politically powerful and wealthy nation. This is a very good book for anyone wanting to know more about the early Tudors.

© J.G. Harlond

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Monday, 26 February 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of To Live Out Loud by Paulette Mahurin

AMAZON UK £2.57 £9.62
AMAZON US $ 3.53 $14.95
AMAZON CA $5.21 $19.03

Biographical fiction
late 19th /early 20th  Century

The title is a quote from Emile Zola and this book deals with the French author's outrage over the Dreyfus affair – a judiciary scandal that rocked France in the late 19th Century. His sense of justice caused him to write  J'accuse – an article that was published in the newspaper that he then worked for. In a farcical trial, he was found guilty of libel but fled to England and only returned to France once the truth came out some years later.  The tale is told through the eyes of the fictional Charles Mandonette, who, as a young man, met the child Emile, becoming a firm friend and father figure, thus allowing him to know Zola's thoughts and motives.

There is no doubt that the author has placed together the facts of the Dreyfus affair with great accuracy and passion.  The book is written in a matter of fact style – each chapter being headed with a quote from Zola's writings - though there are one or two words or phrases that I would question as having been used by the characters in that era. There is also one unfortunate aberration: “He moved his head across the table and in a whisper said...”.

But my main criticism is that it is rather too short with no real character building and even less attention to Zola's wife or his mistress. I realise that the Dreyfus affair is the overwhelming subject of the book, but I feel that it could have been so much more.

Nevertheless, it will appeal to those interested in that particular incident in French history.

© Richard Tearle

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Saturday, 24 February 2018

It's the Weekend

No reviews over the weekend 
but did you miss...

Can one fall in love with fictional characters?
by Anna Belfrage
click here to go to page

* * *
and have you seen our

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

Friday, 23 February 2018

Katharina: Deliverance by Margaret Skea

shortlisted for Book of the Month

AMAZON UK £3.99 £7.41
AMAZON US $5.39 $17.36

Biographical fiction
early 16th Century

First, a confession. All I really knew of Martin Luther was an impression of a man in monk's garb (incorrect) nailing parchments to church doors in the dead of night (also incorrect) and schoolboy giggles when reading about a diet of Worms. Thus, when this book arrived in my inbox, my heart rather sunk a bit for it is not a period that I am particularly well-versed, or even interested, in.

However, any misgivings I may have had were dispelled completely by the time I had reached the second page. The quality and style – written in the first person and the present tense – didn't so much grab me as to physically haul me back through the centuries and wouldn't let me go until I had read every single word.

Katherina von Bora is taken from her home as a five year  old to a Cistercian nunnery in a faraway town on the wishes of her new stepmother. Speech is sometimes allowed, but she learns to communicate by signing and excels at the skills she is taught. Illicit tracts written by Martin Luther are smuggled in and Katherina and her friends slowly become influenced by them and they doubt their beliefs.  The chance to abscond presents itself and several of the nuns take advantage of the opportunity and are transported to Wittenberg. Katherina is, by this time, a young woman and has already taken her vows. She is taken in by a rich family and soon approached by a young man who presses his suit. But it is not to be.

Interspersed with the story are italicised segments where Katherina is older and obviously ill, for her ramblings in these often lead to the next part of main story. The author skilfully blends these pieces in and they are never intrusive.

There is so much to enjoy in this sparkling novel that brings the characters to life, including the rather dour Martin Luther, but most especially Katherina's progress from child to woman. The book ends with their marriage and I was delighted to see that a sequel is due to be released later this year and I am excited about that for there is a lot more of Katherina to be told.

Very highly recommended

© Richard Tearle

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Thursday, 22 February 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of: The Leper King by Scott R. Rezer

AMAZON UK £1.99 £9.05
AMAZON US $2.70 $15.50
AMAZON CA $3.99 $19.35

fictional saga / fantasy
12th century/crusades
Holy Land

Book 1 of the Magdalene Cycle

Baldwin IV is an easy protagonist to admire. He is still a boy when he becomes King of Jerusalem during a turbulent time. Throughout his short life, and through sheer strength of will, he deals with challenges that would test older, healthy men. Baldwin is tormented by his leprosy, and the author graphically describes his worsening condition. Eventually, he comes to terms with his imminent death and even comes to understand why he has been afflicted. He is wise and brave beyond his years, dutiful and serious but occasionally mischievous. In spite of his youth and disease, he leads his armies against the enemy, Salah-ed-Din (Saladin) who is making gains in the Holy Land. In other books of the period I have read, Salah-ed-Din is portrayed as a rather shadowy enemy of the crusaders. In this book, he emerges as a full-bodied character with his own point of view. 

In fact, all the main characters are three-dimensional. As Baldwin’s disease progresses, the princes of Outremer jostle to gain an advantage in the next reign. Menace, intrigue, rebellion, magic and the supernatural in the form of Mary Magdalene as an immortal spiritual guide all play a part in this dark tale. I could have enjoyed it more without the magic, but it is an integral part of the story, and I’m sure many other people will enjoy that aspect. The balanced portrayal of the two sides in the struggle is refreshing. The author has added a touch of authenticity by using Arabic names for people and places. This is done from the pov of Salah-ed-Din.

There are a few grammar errors, but nothing too distracting.

© Susan Appleyard

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Wednesday, 21 February 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of: The Falcon Strikes by Gabrielle Mathieu

AMAZON UK £3.84 £12.50
AMAZON US $5.27 $15.99 
AMAZON CA $20.12

second of a trilogy

Fantasy / Fictional Saga

This novel has been a unique read for me and left me rather wondering how to describe it. It is the second in a trilogy and I haven't read the first, leading, I suspect, to some of my indecision.

It is set in Ireland, both sides of the border, in the 1950s but the scenario played out there is a fantasy. As such it is maybe an odd choice again for Discovering Diamonds, but the pinpoint accuracy of the setting puts it firmly in the historical novel genre.

And then it diverts away from it into some odd Germanic film noir filled with odd characters and even odder props.

Peppa (short, yes, for Peppermint) Mueller travels to Ireland having left a traumatic experience in Switzerland, along with the man she loves, Tenzin Engle, another of the weird characters who is so not ordinary he is actually probably really annoying, being too good to be true. She is on the trail of a female called Silvia de Pena who orchestrated the traumatic events in Switzerland and Peppa needs to stop her doing it again. De Pena has a poison that makes people psychotic and Peppa was a test case for it. In Peppa it has awakened a totem, an inner creature that lurks in her subconscious and rears it falcon head when it feels threatened. She calls it Cora.

The novel could easily fall into clich├ęd nonsense – and in a few parts doesn't quite manage to avoid that. Silvia de Pena is a femme fatale straight out of a bad Philip Marlow-style detective story, seductive, intelligent, pure evil; the poison is named Compound Totentanz or simply Compound T, its partner in crime is Compound S, an unbelievably strong aphrodisiac made from the ludicrously named Strong Sprout. Doesn't sound very sexy, does it?

If the novel were just these elements then I might have laughed my way to giving up on it. But it isn't. Ireland of the 1950s is perfectly portrayed in such detail that you feel you are there. Ms Mathieu has made some sense of a complex political situation, neatly dividing Belfast into Green and Orange to help the reader, explains how and why splinter terrorist groups formed and manages to see both sides of the divide equally - equally corrupt and not to be trusted.

I suggest, read Book One first, as so much of this second novel relies on past events and it can be quite overwhelming, and coupled with the bizarre characters and names, it is tempting to not bother and give in, but you'd lose a compelling story and a building of tension that makes this a satisfying read. Different, certainly; off the beaten track, definitely; but ultimately pretty good!

© Nicky Galliers

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Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Friends Of My Father by Shaun Ivory

Amazon UK £2.39 £6.99
Amazon US $3.24 $12.99
Amazon CA 

Family Drama
Ireland, near Dublin

To thirteen-year-old Brendan Lavelle, his father is a hero. Highly decorated in the First World War, John Lavelle is now the town's respected doctor. But then Brendan discovers pages of a diary his father had written during the Gallipoli campaign.

The evidence points to some sort of conspiracy involving other members of the small town community and the murder of one of their colleagues. Brendan sets himself the task of seeking the truth of this mystery – aided by the sassy Maura, a girl a little older than he with a reputation of being a bit strange -  even though it leads to Brendan doubting his father's integrity. He and Maura slowly piece together the clues which lead them to a dangerous and chilling conclusion and denouement.

What I really liked about this book was the sheer consistency of the author's writing in presenting the world through the eyes of a young child, perfectly mixed with Maura's more worldly outlook and experience.

My only quibble is with the extracts from John Lavelle's diary which are printed in a different font, one that more resembles handwriting, which I found a little difficult to read, especially as many common words are reduced to abbreviations to add to the idea that it (the diary) had been written quickly and in difficult circumstances. However, there is not too much of this.

The cover is simple but effective: a young child, wide-eyed and innocent and two shadowy figures as a background.

All in all, a book that I thoroughly enjoyed, well written , full of description and evocative.

© Richard Tearle

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Monday, 19 February 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of Hooks and Eyes by V.L. McBeath

AMAZON UK £2.99 £8.99
AMAZON US $4.10 $12.95

AMAZON CA $23.33

Family Drama

Set in 1846 England, Hooks and Eyes by V. L. McBeath, is the story of Mary Jackson, a young widow, and the journey she takes to ensure that she can aptly raise her two young children during the Victorian Age. After the death of her husband, Mary decides to leave her in-laws’ country home to live with her deceased husband’s Aunt Lucy and Aunt Rebecca in the city.  Determined to make her own choices about what is best for her family, Mary, against the advice of her aunts, marries William Wetherby, her former employer, bully, and womanizer.

Throughout the novel, McBeath intertwines the lives of multiple families while incorporating accurate historical elements into each chapter. She touches on how the non-mechanized businesses transitioned into the mechanized factories of the Industrial Revolution. Most importantly, McBeath opens readers’ eyes to the difficulties faced by widowed and older, unmarried women during the mid-1800s.

The author did a good job capturing the emotional struggles faced by the women throughout the novel. Readers will sympathize with Mary’s emotional and psychological pain. Seeing how women could choose to support one another, as Mary’s aunts tried to do, was enlightening. Unfortunately, some of Mary’s choices did not set well with her Aunt Lucy.

Instead of using Mary and Wetherby’s marriage to focus the many subplots more effectively into the central narrative of female strength, McBeath moves the story forward by introducing multiple characters to create short, family dramas that are frequently left unresolved or are irrelevant, and because of this, the one storyline that moves the main idea forward is unresolved. Had it been, it could have given Mary profound insight into her original choice, creating a smoother transition into the final scene.

Hooks and Eyes starts with a narrative that captures the emotions of the main character and the journey she takes because of the death of her true love. The subplots are interesting and build a sense of the period, but  they fall a little short of connecting that main storyline introduced in the beginning of the novel, with the climax in the final paragraphs.

However, an interesting novel for those readers interested in this period.

© Cathy Smith

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Saturday, 17 February 2018

It's the Weekend

No reviews over the weekend 
but did you miss...

Can one fall in love with fictional characters?
by Anna Belfrage
click here to go to page

* * *
and have you seen our

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

Friday, 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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