Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Cover and Book of the Month - October

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 OCTOBER
(selected at the end of the month)
cover designed by
read our review HERE


cover design Crooked Cat
read our review HERE
cover designed by
Read our review HERE 

my runner-up is...
read our review Here
And my selected Book of the Month is...

read our review Here
I loved it! Beautiful, evocative writing and a fabulous story and 
because this is how the wild west really was
For last month's selections see main menu bar

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

The Love Letter of John Henry Holliday by Mary Fancher

Western / Biographical fiction
American West

What would Doc Holliday have thought about his life as he lay dying in a hotel room in Colorado? What would he have had to say about his childhood, about the disease that had burdened and was now cutting short his life? About the famous gunfight in Tombstone and all the events leading up to it? What if these thoughts were contained in one last letter that he wrote to the only woman he ever loved, a woman who, at that very moment, was a Catholic nun in a southern convent?
The Love Letter of John Henry Holliday is this last letter.
Throughout, the reader sees him as Mattie knew him, a man brought alive as the complicated individual he surely was: intelligent and charismatic, violent and doomed. As he looks back on a life cut short by consumption, his words are often poetic, occasionally bitter, and frequently bleak, but it is all from his unique point of view. The letter is both an apologia and a penance. By the end, it is something more: a declaration of love.”

John Henry Holliday: better known as Doc Holliday of OK Corral and Wyatt Earp fame. Although published back in 2011 I came across this book again by chance (it was originally reviewed on another site where I was Managing Editor). Reading it again I was not disappointed. Mary Fancher’s writing is extremely elegant and the content very moving – do not think that this is a ‘Western’ as such, even though it is set in the location and period of one of the best known American ‘Western’ Events.

The novel bends around correspondence penned by the ‘Doc’ to his cousin Mattie, a nun, detailing the memoirs of his life which include the American Civil War and, of course, that famous gun fight at Tombstone, and ending just prior to his death in 1887. Apparently he did write letters to Mattie, although she later destroyed them, so much of the content here is fiction but based on immaculate research and a highly detailed insight into life in the American West, with the additional characters portrayed wonderfully and Holliday himself the essence of a most remarkable and interesting man, for all his foibles and often depressed state of mind.

Highly recommended as a fascinating book that beats all other westerns hands down.

© Helen Hollick

click here to return to home page 'Bookshelf' then scroll down for more items of interest

Monday, 29 October 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of Intrusion: A Relative Invasion by Rosalind Minett

#1 of the A Relative Invasion trilogy

Fictional saga

In 1937, England, the threat of war in Europe is matched by that at home for five-year-old Billy. His battle begins when he is introduced to his frail and artistic cousin, Kenneth. Adored by adults for his porcelain looks and toothpaste smile, Kenneth is a psychological bully. Smaller than Billy, although older, he displays the same emotions that allow Hitler’s rise to power – envy over strength, desire for new territory. With emotionally distant parents, a bullying uncle and a manipulative cousin, Billy starts to stutter. Unexpected challenges lie ahead and Billy must learn to meet them.”

Billy has a lot to deal with, and Ms Minett very skilfully handles the various traumas that beset this poor little boy. Bullying, parents who do not seem to care – the war itself. Today it is unlikely that any Western parents would send their child or children off to live with total strangers – I find the thought of evacuation horrifying – but then, so was the London Blitz. Billy survives the horrors that are thrown at him by crawling into his own shell, his own imaginative world where he has the protection of a special talisman.

I enjoyed the first of Ms Minett’s trilogy, and will go on to read the next two,  Infiltration and Impact (reviewed on DDRevs a while ago) if for no other reason than to find out how Billy manages to survive (assuming he does!) The detail of research seems to be immaculate, and the characters and events very believable. I took to Billy, wanted to hug him throughout the book.

© Ellen Hill

click here to return to home page 'Bookshelf' then scroll down for more items of interest

Saturday, 27 October 2018

The weekend 27th October

No reviews over the weekend but...

... did you miss

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

Friday, 26 October 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of Now We Shall Be Entirely Free by Andrew Miller

Now We Shall Be Entirely Free: The 'magnificent' novel by the Costa-winning author of PURE


Family Drama
England / Spain

Andrew Miller is a Costa award-winning author and this is another piece of literary creation that some will love, others not so much.

The year is 1809 and John Lacroix is brought back to his family home, a large manor house in Somerset that is populated by the housekeeper and a dog, more dead than alive having been severely injured in the retreat from Spain back into Portugal. Nursed back to life by the housekeeper, the introverted Lacroix gradually regains his strength but is unsettled, especially when a former army colleague visits and encourages him to return to the barracks with a view to returning to Spain. A trip away, far away to the islands of Scotland, is his plan, to run away from the army and the darkness that lurks in his mind, a half-formed impression of some terror that he can't face.

Meanwhile, in Lisbon, Calley, a British soldier who witnessed an atrocity in a small Spanish village, who also happens to be brutish and somewhat of a thug, is sent to England with the more dapper Spanish officer, Medina, to track down and kill the man deemed responsible for the atrocity: Lacroix.

Is Lacroix a scapegoat for the events in that Spanish village, a random English officer who will serve his country better by dying for it than fighting for it? Or is the agonising memory of Spain and the massacre at the village one and the same?

Being literary, the language of this novel is a delight. The descriptions are vivid and fresh, nothing hackneyed or over-used here. And the characters are distinct, Lacroix rather laughs at himself because it is easier than taking himself seriously, Calley is just the right side of a criminal to suit the British Army, and Medina has enough gravitas to avoid slipping into some caricature of a Spaniard adrift in a country where the language and customs often escape him. Indeed, the plot in its barest form could easily have come from the pen of Bernard Cornwell (and in some elements, did) with Sharpe the main character searching for a quiet life but with the war hot on his heels. But that is about where the similarities end.
For this is literary, and the setting is secondary to the language and the themes of life and death, love and war. The characters are delicately drawn, slightly in soft focus so they are just out of reach, the edges smoothed by the intricate language so they are not quite real.

The attention to detail makes this a long read. I read the eBook but the physical book is over 400 pages, and none of them race away with you. It is not a page turner. There is tension, but you feel that it will wait for you, there's no urgency. Yes, we'd like to know how Calley and Medina are going to trace Lacroix beyond Bristol, but you feel that they are happy to wait for you finish the washing up before they continue on their journey.

This is undoubtedly an accomplished novel filled with accurate historical detail and a plot that works, but it is slow, it is ethereal in places. The war in Spain is a backdrop, not a living part of the novel, and it could therefore be set in any similar conflict. The author did not set out to write a novel about the Peninsula War, but about a man exploring himself after a devastating event. It works, and it works well, but don't pick it up thinking you've found a replacement for Richard Sharpe.

© Louise Adam

click here to return to home page 'Bookshelf' then scroll down for more items of interest

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Finding the Way by Wayne Ng

Family Drama
6th century
Zhou Dynasty, China

Written mostly in flashback, Ng’s lyrical debut is the story of Lao Tzu’s vibrant and turbulent life. In the beginning of the novel, Lao Tzu is an old man who is captured when he rides a water buffalo into a military camp. I didn’t know you could ride water buffalos, but that is beside the point. The captain of the camp is at first understandably untrusting because spies abound and take all manner of appearances in his experience. But upon questioning him in more depth, the captain soon realizes that the old man is actually who he claims to be - the renowned scholar Lao Tzu - and he quickly commands for a scribe to come and record his tale of escape from the royal Zhou palace. As it is eventually revealed, Lao Tzu and the captain’s tales are very closely linked, to the captain’s astonishment, proving to him that The Way has many wandering paths that diverge and intersect but all have a larger purpose in life.

Ng’s novel is a superbly written tale, full of intrigue and drama and rich with cultural narrative. All of the main characters are vivid and multidimensional, and even the secondary characters are distinct and memorable. The writing itself is lovely. There are so many turns of phrase throughout this novel which are simply pretty that I took quite a long time to read the novel as I spent a lot of time highlighting those passages and phrases. The philosophical discussions embedded within are welcome food for thought, and I learned a lot about Taoism. It piqued my interest and inspired me to go learn more about it. I think to say that a book made me want to learn something new is the highest praise I can give.

Highly recommended.

© Kristen McQuinn

click here to return to home page 'Bookshelf' then scroll down for more items of interest

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of Cardinal Points by Dory Codington

#1 Edge of Empire series

Fictional Saga

Cardinal Points is the first story in Dory Codington’s ‘Edge of Empire’ series. The novel relates the story, love affair and eventual marriage of two young people caught up in the American revolution. Set at the time of what many know of as the ‘Boston Tea Party’, Codington creates a vivid and credible representation of what life may have been like in an 18th century British colony.

The book starts with a few pages of historical background, which is not the most gripping opening for a work of fiction but does serve to explain the socio-political background to the events about to unfold. The two protagonists are Jason Fitzsimmon, a younger son of an aristocratic British family, and Oona, an indentured servant who believes herself to be of humble Irish origin. Their story runs along a fairly traditional romance trajectory: girl meets boy, they separate then find each other, there are doubts, disasters and tensions, and finally a happy ending. Along the way, the reader may enjoy, or not, Oona’s sexual awakening. This book contains some explicit sex scenes, which are somewhat at odds with the author’s more didactic story-telling style. The title relates to navigational instruments, which the author also tells us about. Perhaps there was a little too much ‘historical telling’ from an academic view rather than that of fictional narrative?

Dory Codington knows a great deal about her epoch and setting, and in some scenes her writing transports the reader there – to narrow, muddy lanes, chilling gloom and a sense of impending, unavoidable conflict. In this respect her novel is a good read: I learned a lot about Boston, taxation and the colonial politics of the 1770s. What was less enjoyable for me was the way she uses the same narrative style for her lovers’ inner thoughts, and brushes past opportunities to develop characters and situations through dialogue.

On a personal level, I had a little trouble accepting the name Jason for an Englishman of the period. I may be wrong here, but something more Anglo-Saxon or Norman French would have sounded better. Nonetheless, Jason is everything a young hero should be, brave, good-looking, loyal and romantic.

The portrayal of Oona is tender, but somewhat confusing. Oona is a live-in domestic servant to a Puritan family, who have promised to educate her and protect her virtue. That being the case, I was not convinced that she should be working in a harbourside tavern each evening – hardly a place for a respectable girl, servant or otherwise. Of course, both the name Jason, and Oona’s employment as a servant and a tavern maid may have happened, truth can be stranger than fiction, but the constant reiteration of Oona’s modesty and her anxiety to keep her good name ran counter to her circumstances.

The plot moves along at a good pace, there are moments of tension and some more visual, dramatic scenes. I would have liked to know more about Oona’s life with the Puritan family, especially the wife, who is supposedly trying to protect her in a maternal role but gives her a life-threatening thrashing for taking up with a young man. Despite the various contradictory elements, this is an interesting background to the so-called 'Boston tea party' affair, and recommended to readers who like their history with a sexy bit of entertainment on the side.

© J.G. Harlond

 <previous   next >

click here to return to home page 'Bookshelf' then scroll down for more items of interest

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of A Slave of the Shadows by Naomi Finley

#1 of a series

Fictional Saga
American South

“In 1850 Charleston, South Carolina, brutality and cruelty simmer just under the genteel surface of Southern society. In an era where ladies are considered mere property, beautiful and headstrong Willow Hendricks' father has filled her life with turmoil, secrets, and lies. Her father rules her life until she finds a kindred spirit in spunky, outspoken Whitney Barry, a northerner from Boston. Together these Charleston belles are driven to take control of their own lives--and they are plunged into fear and chaos in their quest to fight for the rights of slaves. Against all odds, these feisty women fight to secure freedom and equality for those made powerless and persecuted by a supposedly superior race. Only when they've lost it all do they find a new beginning.”

In a male society, the women are nothing more than chattels for bedding and breeding. Willow is the only daughter of a stern father who believes women belong in the home (or the bedroom). Not the kitchen – that is the place for the slaves, people of an even lesser status than the women. Willow, however, has different views, she wants attitudes to change, presumably initiated by her recent education abroad. She makes friends with the house slaves, delighting in their company and conversation, but should her father find out… and she is friends also with Whitney, the daughter of the neighbouring plantation owner, also recently returned from New York and like Willow, abhorrent of the vile treatment of plantation slaves.

Fair enough that these two young ladies were at odds with their fathers and the culture they were born into because of the ‘outsider’ education, but I do wonder if their views were perhaps a little too twenty-first century, not those of the Carolinas in the 1800s? Slavery to us, now, was a dreadful, dreadful thing, but to the colonists of the American South in the pre-civil war years? Attitudes then were very different. I am not condoning those attitudes, but should historical fiction reflect the period being written about or today’s views? The slaving years of American (and elsewhere!) history are sometimes hard for many of us to accept (although for as many racism is still a despicable tendency) and the author seems to have done her research well, while the narrative, once the initial slight slowness is overcome, moves at a steady pace.

There were quite a few anachronisms as well which did not sit well with the period. A thing which, I hope, the author will take on board with the next volume of the saga – I suggest a good editor to pick these up.

I wasn’t sure about the changes of perspective from one character to another, nor from first to third person. Did the idea work? For me, not really, as each change jolted me out of the story, which is a shame as it is a good story, and one worth reading, particularly for readers who enjoy this period and the Carolinas connection. Overall this was an entertaining story, with another in the series to look forward to.

© Mary Chapple

 <previous   next >

click here to return to home page 'Bookshelf' then scroll down for more items of interest

Monday, 22 October 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of The Tides Between by Elizabeth Jane Corbett

Family Drama /Nautical
Emigration to Australia

“In 1841, on the eve of her departure from London, Bridie's mother demands she forget her dead father and prepare for a sensible, adult life in Port Phillip. Desperate to save her childhood, fifteen-year-old Bridie is determined to smuggle a notebook filled with her father's fairy tales to the far side of the world.
When Rhys Bevan, a soft-voiced young storyteller and fellow traveller realises Bridie is hiding something, a magical friendship is born. But Rhys has his own secrets and the words written in Bridie’s notebook carry a dark double meaning.
As they inch towards their destination, Rhys's past returns to haunt him. Bridie grapples with the implications of her dad’s final message. The pair take refuge in fairy tales, little expecting the trouble it will cause.”

The plot of this expertly-written novel begins and then builds upon the matter of secrets and whether to trust or not. The Tides Between could be mistaken, at first, for a romance or a fantasy novel, but it is neither, it is a drama with supernatural elements added in for good measure.

With the narrative taking place aboard ship – the Lady Sophia bound for Port Philip near Melbourne – during the long passage from England to Australia the author has portrayed a very good depiction of life at sea for the emigrants, the long dull days when only story-telling can relieve the monotony of struggling to stay alive at steerage (low-cost) level. Fifteen-year-old Bridie, her step-father and pregnant mother are to meet others who also hope for a better, new, life on a far distant shore. Welsh Rhys and Sian also have their own hopes, fears and secrets and their friendship grows with Bridie when they realise their joint love of storytelling – especially for the old, Welsh tales.

I must confess that I struggled with the Welsh language passages and the myths, personally, I found the Welsh a little overdone – but for lovers (and speakers!) of Welsh and the old tales of Wales this would be a very readable novel. I believe the novel is aimed at Young Readers – would non-Welsh speaking thirteen to fifteen-year-olds be patient enough with the Welsh content I wonder?

Having said that, it was easy enough to skip the Welsh bits and enjoy the other parts of the story for its passion, delightful characters  and feel of authenticity.

© Ellen Hill

click here to return to home page 'Bookshelf' then scroll down for more items of interest

Saturday, 20 October 2018

The weekend 20th October

No reviews over the weekend but...

... did you miss

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

Friday, 19 October 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of Rose Rivers by Jacqueline Wilson

Book 2 of the Hetty Feather series

Young Adult

Rose Rivers lives in a beautiful house with her artist father, her difficult, fragile mother and her many siblings. She has everything money can buy - but she’s not satisfied. Why can’t she be sent away to a good school like her twin brother?  Why can’t she learn to become a famous artist like her father or his friend Paris Walker? Why is life so unfair for people who were not born rich? When a young girl, Clover Moon, joins the household as a nursemaid to Rose’s troubled sister Beth, Rose finds a true friend for the first time and she starts to learn more about the world outside. Will Rose finally achieve her dreams? And will she be able to help Clover find her own dream?

I so enjoy Jacqueline Wilson’s historical flavoured novels – I wish we had been able to discover history in this style while I was at school back in the 1960s! 

Thirteen-year-old Rose Rivers has everything that money can buy and lives in a beautiful house with her artist father, six siblings and self-centred mother. Unfortunately there are lots of things that money cannot buy. When her beloved twin brother returns from boarding school he has changed into a young gentleman but Rose is still thin, unattractive and poorly educated. She loves her satirical drawings – but who else will do so? And then the artist, Paris Walker, comes into her life… as does nursery-maid Clover Moon who also has a talent as an artist.

Rose is growing up, and she has so many questions to ask: why are girls treated differently to boys, why can she not be friends with the servants, why…why…why?

I was delighted to meet Clover Moon again (see our review Clover Moon) and Jacqueline Wilson is so skilled at not only conveying the social structure of Victorian life, but takes us into the minds of her characters so that the readers – young adults of 10+ years – may also start questioning today’s social inequalities.

My only (very big) gripe is the price. The Kindle edition at £8.99 is more expensive  than the hardcopy (£8.74) with the paperback at £6.99. I’m sorry Ms Wilson, but this sort of pricing annoys me – especially for children’s books. We are trying to encourage our youngsters to read, unlike most adults, many prefer e-books to the real thing but very few youngsters could afford £8.99.

Once a book is formatted and placed on Amazon (or wherever)… a one-off task for the publisher, there is little more to do (except collect the royalties) There is no paper involved to run up costs in an e-book, there are no delivery costs, no overheads for a bookstore to absorb – just how does mainstream justify an e-book being priced at £8.99? When are mainstream publishers going to realise that it is an absolute rip-off to charge MORE for an e-book than the hardback copy? So for the price: 4 stars

My strong advice to readers … get the book from your local or school library!

© Helen Hollick

click here to return to home page 'Bookshelf' then scroll down for more items of interest