Saturday, 30 June 2018

Book and Cover of the Month - JUNE

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

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Novels Reviewed During JUNE
(selected at the end of the month)

Published by Matador
Read the Review
Published by Cedar Fort Inc
Read Our Review
Published by Headline Publishing Group
Read our Review
Published by Quercus
Read our Review


My runner-up choice is Seraphina's Song by Kathryn Gauci

read our review
And my selected Book of the Month is...
I love stories of the Age of Sail, and this is one of the best (outside of my own series of course! LOL) that I have read in a long while. In fact, I'd go as far as saying this is better than even Patrick O'Brian for the simple reason that Mr Allan has brilliantly incorporated female characters into his stories, whereas their presence in many of O'Brian's novels is notable by their absence.  Bravo Mr Allan.
Read the review

For last month's selections see main menu bar

Friday, 29 June 2018

Phenomena: The Lost & Forgotten Children by Susan Tarr

Shortlisted for Book of the Month

AMAZON US $3.38  

Family Drama
New Zealand

He existed under the constant threat of solitary confinement, the straitjacket, the padded cell and all that involved, the fire hose, The Treatment, The Leucotomy – or was it The Lobotomy – if he was disruptive or disobedient or if he wasn’t quietly mad.

Phenomena is the story of one man’s experience in Seacliff Mental Hospital in New Zealand in the fifties, a place where the necessity of keeping inmates passive by inhuman means took precedence over restoring their mental health. As the author observes, it is a place for the unloved and unlovable, the uneducated and unwanted.

When the book opens, Malcolm has been transferred from Seacliff to a home where the residents live independently, with a nurse visiting only once a week. There he might have lived out his life happily. Except that Julie, the blind girl he befriended, dies in a tragic accident. His resultant grief takes him back to Seacliff where he is subjected repeatedly to The Treatment, electric shock therapy that takes away his memories.

Today we have to shudder in horror that places like this existed and such practices were routinely applied in the name of medicine.

But Malcolm is a fighter and knows it’s important to get his memories back. As they return, we learn he was a normal little boy, except that he had a weak eye and arm and needed a special shoe. His father had already begun an affair when his mother died, and Malcolm became one of the unwanted. Left, at a railway station at the age of six, he ended up in Seacliff. Knowing what caused him to be placed in the mental hospital is the beginning of a process that leads him to happiness.

I adore Malcolm. I want to meet him and take care of him. He is a humble soul, a gentle giant, compassionate and giving, and possesses his own simple logic. He finds pleasure in the company of Julie, and the things he sees on their walks together. He accepts people as he finds them without judgement. The book is populated by other characters, brought to life by skilful writing. While often exhibiting bizarre behaviour, they are also lovable. Their unique tales are told in vignettes, sometimes tragic but interspersed with humour.

I expected this to be a dark and depressing story. And of course it has its dark moments, but it was never depressing, mostly because of Malcolm. He never despairs but survives the soulless institution and deserves his happy ending.

© Susan Appleyard

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Thursday, 28 June 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of: Stone Circle by Kate Murdoch


Family drama / fantasy

Antonius is a peasant employed at the palazzo of the Conte Leonardo Valperga doing menial tasks. But he has a special talent: he can read people's thoughts. Meanwhile, Savinus de Benevento, a seer of great renown whose clients include the Conte, is looking for an apprentice.  Passing Savinus' tests easily, Antonius is taken on along with one other, Nichola, the son of Conte Leonardo. Immediately there is conflict between them as Nichola is arrogant and resents playing second fiddle to someone so far beneath him socially. And, of course, they both fall in love with Savinus' beautiful daughter, Giulia.

Naturally, Nichola tries everything he knows to discredit Antonius but you can't keep secrets from a mind reader and Savinus is well aware of the boy's tricks.

Not  a bad tale and a solid debut novel; it is pacey and illustrates well the difference between the wealthy and the poor in 16th Century Italy. The introduction of shape-shifting was a disappointment to me taking it too far into the realms of fantasy  - although it is  important to later events in the story, and fans of fantasy will enjoy this element. 

©  Richard Tearle

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Wednesday, 27 June 2018

A Sloop of War by Philip K. Allan

Shortlisted for Book of the Month

AMAZON US $5.18  

Napoleonic Wars 1800s

A Sloop of War is the second installment in Philip Allan's thoroughly rollicking "Alexander Clay" Napoleonic-era nautical series. It brings just as much excitement and attention to historical detail as the first volume, The Captain’s Nephew, with more nuanced character development as the author adds to his already considerable writing craft and storytelling confidence. These are not the two-dimensional characters often found in lesser examples from this historical fiction subgenre. They are flesh-and-blood men and women, full of crushing anxieties, wild desires, and often shockingly poor judgement, that draw you into their stories.

Allan continues with his deliberate development of his before-the-mast characters, bringing the tangled issue of slavery into the lives of the tars through introduction of a throughly intriguing black sailor who is a runaway slave from a Barbadian sugar plantation. This complex man, Abel Sedgewick, holds the promise of much interesting development in later volumes, particularly since we’re treated to a subplot concerning the anti-slavery ship’s surgeon, Mr. Linfield, and the younger daughter of a Scots-Barbadian planter with rather progressive ideas on the economic inefficiencies of chattel slavery. The author even lets drop a mention of the great abolitionist, William Wilberforce, so no telling where this thread might lead now that he’s started pulling on it.

One of the perennial challenges in writing Age of Sail stories seems to be providing believable female characters. (I recall in the entire 138 minutes of the excellent 2003 film version of Master and Commander, there are exactly two women onscreen for perhaps 15 seconds—in a dinghy trying to sell fresh fruit alongside HMS Surprise.) So far, Mr. Allan has done a commendable job crafting interesting women and imbuing them within strong storylines. There are no seams showing yet from stitching in the ladies, and I trust in the author’s manifest skill to keep things taut and tidy going forward.

Alexander Clay is, of course, back as his tactically brilliant, swashbuckling, headstrong, and rather socially inept self. You can't help but alternately cheer for and scratch your head over Mr. Allan’s protagonist... and I'm confident that's exactly as intended. Many of the more interesting junior officers and ratings are back, including Clay’s loyal best friend, Lieutenant Sutton, and The Captain’s Nephew nemesis, Lieutenant Windham. And of course, there’s enough sea and land combat to slake the martial thirst of the most discerning maritime fiction reader.

If I was forced to find a deficiency—and I shock myself even writing this—the book might have been a little longer. Although at 326 pages A Sloop of War is hardly a novella, I felt a little shortchanged. On the other hand, we’re treated with a deft touch to any number of cliffhangers, major and minor, for the third volume and beyond. So we’ve hardly heard the last of Alexander Clay.

© Jeffrey K. Walker

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Tuesday, 26 June 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of: The Falcon of Sparta by Conn Iggulden

alas, only 3 stars...

AMAZON US $ not available
AMAZON CA $17.99 

Ancient Greece

It is very hard to judge some aspects of this book as the mobi file supplied by the publisher was extremely poor quality which did not make it easy to read the text: indents all over the place and littered with typos. ARC editions (Advanced Reader/Review Copy) do often have uncorrected typos as they are a pre-final proof read version and are for review only, not for sale but they should still be produced to a quality standard where layout and presentation is concerned – not resemble a low-grade first draft.

In theory this would mean instant rejection by Discovering Diamonds as we insist on good quality presentation, but we are placing a review to highlight that traditional mainstream publishing is not always up to scratch, especially where technology is concerned. Indie writers are all too often ridiculed for this sort of sloppy output. We sincerely hope that these production errors are not in the printed book version or final e-book edition.

What one can discern of the writing itself is as good as you would expect (typos are assumed to be the fault of poor editing by the publisher, although the annoying point of view flipping, the head-hopping that drains scenes of their power is all the author's...where was the editor’s input?) and Iggulden does present another gritty story.

King Darius is dead and he had to choose his successor as no throne can be secure if there is no heir, worse still if there are two, which does not bode well for Cyrus, the second son. Taking his responsibilities seriously, Artaxerxes does exactly as he is advised by his father - he is going to execute his younger brother and thus remove a threat before it can materialise. But Cyrus is no mere figurehead and he is takes his leadership of the Persian armies as seriously as his brother takes being king. It cannot end well for both.

I wasn't as gripped as I should have been as there was a lot going on for little progress, long passages of conversation between characters that seemed only to make the same point over and over, and then the passages of plot-furthering action were rushed and not fully explored. There is a lot of anti-climax and the pivotal parts of the story seem again to be rushed.

It is clear what interests Iggulden from this novel and if a reader's interest is equal, they will find much to satisfy, but I do feel the text is not disciplined enough in its execution to make the most of every scene, passing over some scenes that should carry more weight, and are even referred back to by Iggulden, but are at the time included almost as an afterthought. 

This is readable and the research is remarkable, but I expected more from this author, his editor and his publisher. Alas, only 3 stars because of the typos in this edition.

© Nicky Galliers

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Monday, 25 June 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of: Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

AMAZON UK £1.99 £7.74
AMAZON US $15.60 $21.45
AMAZON CA $14.99

Family Drama
American South

“Memphis, Tennessee, 1939
Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family's Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge, until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children's Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents - but they quickly realize the dark truth...

“Aiken, South Carolina, present day
Born into wealth and privilege, Avery Stafford seems to have it all: a successful career, a handsome fiancé, and a lavish wedding on the horizon. But when Avery returns home to help her father weather a health crisis, a chance encounter leaves her with uncomfortable questions and compels her to take a journey through her family's long-hidden history, on a path that will ultimately lead either to devastation or to redemption.”

Before We Were Yours is historical fiction set in the American South in the 1930s and tells the unknown and extraordinary tale of baby farming. It is based on fact which makes it all the more engaging - you learn from this novel.

Teenage Rill is left alone to fend for her four siblings when her father rushes her pregnant mother to hospital. Within hours, their houseboat is stormed and the children are forced into an orphanage. For orphanage read 'Baby Market' as the children slowly and agonisingly discover that their parents will never come back and their slow understanding is beautifully portrayed and gripping. The novel goes back-and-forth with a modern day rich girl who also discovers gradually and painfully that her own family have secrets - and if they come out then the result will be devastating.

Now and then the novel loses our attention as it meanders a little and the changes in points of view take time to get used to but a great read and heart wrenching once you know it is based on cold, hard facts.  

© Jeffrey Manton

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Saturday, 23 June 2018

Here we are at the Weekend!

No reviews over the weekend 
but .....

Discovering reader preferences, habits and attitudes
 Announcing the 2018 Reader Survey

Readers and writers – a symbiotic relationship. Ideas spark writers to create stories and build worlds and characters for readers’ consumption. Readers add imagination and thought to interpret those stories, deriving meaning and enjoyment in the process. 

A story is incomplete without both reader and writer.

What then do readers want? What constitutes a compelling story? How do men and women differ in their preferences? Where do readers find recommendations? How do readers share their book experiences?

designed to solicit input on these topics and others. 

Please take the survey and share this link 
with friends and family via email 
or your favourite social media. 

Robust participation across age groups, genders, and countries will make this year’s survey – the 4th – even more significant. Those who take the survey will be able to sign up to receive a summary report.

Please mention Discovering Diamonds
on the survey 
where appropriate!

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Have you seen our

where you will find all sorts of interesting things
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Friday, 22 June 2018

One Last Dance by Judith Lennox

Shortlisted for book of the month


Family Drama

One Last Dance is a family saga set between 1917 and 1974. This novel has a broad cast of characters and viewpoints and yet the author makes us care about all of them and engage with their hopes and dreams - and feel for their disasters. There is love and betrayal set around a great house in Cornwall - a sort of Mandalay for those familiar with the novel Rebecca - and it sweeps you along at a terrific pace through the first and second world wars and then through the austere fifties and swinging sixties,  yet manages to hold your attention all along.

Shy Esme is forced to compete with her beautiful sister Camilla until Camilla rejects Devlin, the handsome owner of Rosindell. Esme has secretly been in love with Devlin for years and so accepts the bargain in the hope of winning his heart. But Camilla plays games and in one of many plot twists Camilla challenges Esme's marriage with consequences for the next two generations. There are twists and turns, there are moments of heartbreak. It's astonishing an author can lead us through so much history and yet hold our attention. Could barely reach for another chocolate as I read on and on...

© Jeffrey Manton

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Thursday, 21 June 2018

Roman Games by Bruce MacBain alas, this title appears to be only available second-hand in the UK - but try your local library $14.95 $ n/a


Sextus Verpa, a hated informer to the paranoid Emperor Domitian, is found stabbed to death and Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus – Pliny the Younger to you and me – is called to investigate. Well, not so much to investigate, but to ascertain the guilt of one of Verpa's Jewish slaves – 'traitors and atheists, as they are'.  On the basis that if one is guilty then all of the others must have known about it and are therefore complicit in the murder, their fate is to be burned alive in the arena once the Roman Games have been completed. Pliny has fifteen days to find the truth.

It soon becomes apparent that the main suspect was innocent, but Pliny's task isn't made any easier when the slave is murdered whilst in confinement.

It's all in here: body in a locked room, suspects and motives, people not being who they appear to be, a drunken bawdy poet who finds himself assisting Pliny, a mysterious man with his arm in a sling, religious overtones and political plots.

Poor Pliny; knowing he is inadequate in terms of detection, he stumbles from conclusion to conclusion, all of which prove to be part of the solution but not all of it.

I thoroughly enjoyed this romp. The characterisation of Pliny was excellent, wise, naïve and very, very fallible. Those of a squeamish nature may not like some of the methods of torture and execution that the Romans employed, but fortunately they are not too gruesome – merely matter of fact. There is quite a lot of sexual activity and innuendo but nothing that we might not expect from those 'decadent' times.

Infamy, infamy! They've all got it in for me....”
Very enjoyable.

© Richard Tearle

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Wednesday, 20 June 2018

The Merest Loss by Steven Neil

AMAZON UK £2.99 £7.88
AMAZON US $4.29 $13.17

Biographical fiction 
1830s - 1860s
England / France

A young man, Martin, walks into the stable yard of Tom Olliver, a racehorse trainer and former jockey, asking for help in identifying his father. Then begins the true story of Harriet Howard, an original 'wild child' at school, a promising actress and a woman coerced into befriending and sponsoring the British Government's plans to support Louis Napoleon in his attempts to rule the French.

The love of Harriet's life is Jem Mason, a successful jockey, rival and friend of Olliver's. But Jem and Harriet's relationship is as stormy as it is passionate. Enter the villain of the piece, Nicholas Sly. His orders are to recruit Harriet for her role as courtesan. Harriet refuses, but suddenly there are no roles for her to play and Jem's career plunges as well. They split up and, following more threats from Sly, she agrees to do what she has been asked. In a very short space of time she acquires many lovers, at least five of whom might be the boy's father – for she never reveals who it is.

The majority of the book is written in the present tense, which I often find off-putting. However, in the hands Mr Neil it is easy to overcome such prejudice, for I found myself imagining that I was in a theatre, listening to an unseen narrator setting the scenes for the audience, whilst the players made their entrances to present the dialogue. And whilst the narration presents the facts in a simple, matter-of-fact style, there are moments of beautiful description.

In content, style and prose, I cannot find fault anywhere. Yet I have to make mention of a couple of things. Before I had even opened the book, I believed I was getting a Romance to read – a genre I admit that I am not enamoured of. The author no doubt has his reasons for the title (or did I miss something?) yet I feel that it is too nondescript nor memorable enough. The cover would be absolutely perfect for a book of a different genre for it is an excellent piece of work, even down to an accurate illustration of the Chateau de Beauregarde which was Harriet's  home – a gift from Louis Napoleon. Yet for me it does not  convey the political intrigue, the glitz of London and France, the evidence that mounts up  as Martin tries to uncover the mystery of his sire nor the thrill of the steeplechase so vividly described within the text.

Those small things aside, I thoroughly enjoyed every chapter of what I feel is a quite remarkable book with its unknown narrator and easy to read style. I believe Mr Neil has a good career in front of him.


© Richard Tearle

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