Friday, 30 November 2018

Book and Cover of the Month - November

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 NOVEMBER
(selected at the end of the month)

Published by Berkley an imprint of Penguin Random House

Published by Berkley an imprint of Penguin Random House

Published by Berkley an imprint of Penguin Random House

Cover design by Andrew Brown

* * * 
Special Mention: 
(exempt from judging)
this design concept is from Silverwood Books 
with the layout set by Cathy Helms


There are two runners-up because I only had three books shortlisted and enjoyed all three too much to discount one:

so the runners-up are:

Read our Review
read our review
My selected Book of the Month is...

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, it captured the feel of pre-war England, a young girl bewildered and confused because of an apparent indifferent mother and the trauma of sexual assault - but what intrigued me was the portrayal of life in Colonial India - the descriptions were wonderful, so much so that I actually want to go to India to see the countryside for myself...

read our review
For last month's selections see main menu bar

Thursday, 29 November 2018

The Splendour Before the Dark by Margaret George

A Discovered Diamond

This book picked up right where the previous book The Confessions Of Young Nero in Margaret George’s Nero series (duology would be a better term) left off. Jumping right into the thick of things, Nero has just learned about the fire sweeping through Rome. He rushes back, determined to do anything he can to stop it. He was in the middle of the efforts to stop the Great Fire, though later he would fall victim to rumors that he started the fire himself to make room for his Golden House, or, infamously, that he was fiddling about the fall of Troy as Rome burned.

Nero’s troubles didn’t end with the last smoke of the fire. He had to deal with fossilized senators from old families who were scandalized that he wanted to do things in new ways. Hey, kind of like the fossilized old men in the senate today! How much things remain the same… Nero wanted to introduce arts and theatre and culture to Rome, and Rome, especially the patrician Romans, wanted nothing to do with it.

He also had to deal with numerous revolts, uprisings, and betrayals during his reign. Nero changed from an idealistic young boy to a somewhat paranoid man because of the betrayals he had suffered in his short life. He thought that betrayal, when it inevitably came, would come from within his family or possibly the senate, but he never saw it coming from the provinces or his Praetorian Guard. And certainly not from some of those he trusted most.

I really loved this book, at least as much as the first Nero book Ms George wrote. Here, we truly get to see Nero as he most likely really was - a sensitive, thoughtful man who wanted to make sweeping changes to a centuries-old system and instead got destroyed in the politics of it. He was first and foremost an artist and musician, loving nothing more than to write and perform poetry and music.

I took years and years of Latin from high school through grad school; I’ve read Tacitus and his comments about Nero. I never thought they seemed very realistic. The outstanding research that went into this book and its predecessor really highlights how misunderstood Nero has become to history. He wasn’t insane, cruel, or in love with persecuting Christians. He was flawed, yes, maybe a bit childish and naive for the ruler of the known world. Likely he was a bit narcissistic, or at least he came across that way somewhat, but not in a malignant way, nor in an entirely self-centered way, if that makes sense. His narcissism, such as it was, seemed to be derived purely from being a child of luxury and privilege and not knowing anything else. Sometimes while reading this novel, I felt a little embarrassed for him, as I think I was meant to, because, like others in the room with Nero, I wanted to tell him to stop, or ask him, “Don’t you know you can’t do that/say that here to these people?” He was so idealistic that he was really clueless about a lot of things, and it made him a target in a variety of ways.

As with all her other books, Margaret George has some absolutely lovely prose in this one as well. When speaking of the gods and religion, Nero has many things to say that were intriguing and well crafted. When one senator accused him of being an atheist, Nero replied that, in practical terms, he is because “since we cannot know [the gods’] thoughts, it is best to admit that and proceed in the dark, unlike ignorant people who think they know and make stupid interpretations.”

Later, regarding the Christians who he ordered executed for their alleged role in the fire, Nero said, “In some ways they are to be envied…. Having something so precious that it overrides all else in your life, even your life itself.”

As an atheist myself, I don’t feel this way about religion, but I do understand the sentiment. I hold many things in higher regard than my own life. Nero felt this way about his art, and came to realize he felt that way about Rome itself. Combining thoughts on religion with philosophy, another of Nero’s favorite pastimes, is a terrific scene that comes just after he competes in his first chariot race. Nero’s wife Poppaea berates him for racing, an act that a charioteer (i.e., a slave) would do, not a patrician, and she was afraid for him for many reasons. She told him he was acting like a child: “You are no longer a child. Or are you? You behave like one.” “If I behave like one, it is because deep inside the child is still there.” … “Childhood is a phase of life, to be put aside as one grows up.” “No, it should be cherished, because it is the truest part of ourselves, the part that came into being first. ...It is when we are our childhood selves that we are closest to the gods.” This one reminded me to cherish my daughter’s childhood and to get more in touch with my own inner child.

When Nero is on stage or talking about the arts, his true love, is when his real personality comes through. Nero and an actor are discussing the destruction of many of the theatres in the fire and how to rebuild so that plays can be put on again. Nero says, “Yes, people need that. Especially after such sorrow. It helps them to know that life goes on.”
“Oddly enough, tragedies are a remedy for that. They put our own sorrows in context, the context of being human. Suffering is woven into all existence.” I loved this scene for a lot of reasons.

Overall, I think this was just about a perfect novel. I just loved the deep research that clearly went into it, and the discovery of a man who is so different than how he is often portrayed in history. I think Margaret George has uncovered a more realistic version of Nero than anyone else and I adore the way she handles him and the multitude of myths and scandals that surround him.

© Kristen McQuinn

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Wednesday, 28 November 2018

The Hollow of Fear by Sherry Thomas


#3 of a series

The Hollow of Fear is the third in Thomas’s Lady Sherlock series and honestly, they just keep getting better and better. In this installment, Charlotte Holmes helps her dear friend Lord Ingram when his wife’s body is discovered in the ice house on the grounds of his country estate, Stern Hollow. Charlotte provides assistance and moral support to Ingram, who is the prime suspect in Lady Ingram’s murder. In order to be able to assist and move freely among the police investigators, Charlotte dresses up as Sherlock’s fictional brother Sherrington, which is hilarious since Sherlock himself is fictional as well. Livia, meanwhile, though concerned about Ingram, is also pining for the mysterious man she met in the second novel, while trying not to be obvious about it. Readers will be rooting for her to get some kind of happiness, which has been so long withheld due to circumstance and her parents’ unkind personalities. Throughout the twists and turns, Charlotte has to keep her sisters safe, keep her identity as Sherlock secret, and keep Ingram out of the hangman’s noose.

There is so much to unpack in this novel. The plot is wonderfully complex and it kept me guessing until the end. We learn that, as so often in real life, people are not always as they first appear. Some turn out to be nicer than we think, and in this case, learning that was a delightful surprise. Others are harboring dark secrets and it hurts to find out who it is. It was also a treat to learn more about Ingram’s other two brothers: Wycliffe, the eldest and the duke, and Remington, the youngest and free-spirited of the group. Although they really didn’t make an actual appearance on the page to speak of, it still gave a more well-rounded background for Ingram and Bancroft that was appreciated. Readers of the series are already intimately familiar with Ingram, of course, and Bancroft, a quasi-Mycroft figure.

But it is beyond the plot where the novel’s true strengths lie. Charlotte still desires Ingram, and propositions him on occasion, to his consternation, since he operates within the scope of society. However, she only wants him on her terms and is willing to wait if necessary. Unlike the original Sherlock, Charlotte isn’t asexual, but she refuses to allow society to dictate how she lives her life, and she isn’t driven purely by mindless desire, which would be terribly boring. The fact that she is almost certainly on the spectrum also makes for some interesting interactions because she reacts to emotions very differently. Also unlike the original, Charlotte uses food and eating as her addiction rather than cocaine, which sparks great discussion about body positivity and body image. I love her commentary about “maximum tolerable chins.”

My favorite element of this particular story is that it has lots to say about gender identity. Thomas takes Sherlock and gender-flips him into Lady Sherlock, which is fun enough on its own. But here, Lady Sherlock goes and dresses as a man so she can help Ingram. While she was dressed as Sherrington Holmes, the handful of people who know Charlotte is actually Sherlock - Ingram, Livia, and Inspector Treadles - maintained her cover, addressing her as a man and treating her as such. They said things to her and allowed her to do things as Sherrington that never would have been allowed had she presented as Charlotte, even if it was just Ingram, who is indulgent of her and lets her do pretty much what she wants. I found the interplay of gender identity and gender fluidity to be fascinating.

Oh, and that last line! I simply can’t wait for the next book!

© Kristen McQuinn

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Tuesday, 27 November 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of Conrad Monk and the Great Heathen Army by Edoardo Albert


9th century Vikings

This is a sharply satirical romp through the ninth century, a time when the heathen Danes were plundering, pillaging and raping their way through the various kingdoms of a nascent Christian England. The Angles, the Saxons, the Mercians, and various other kingdoms all fell to the battle-hardened invaders in their long boats. The book tells the unlikely, but hilarious, tale of a duplicitous monk called Conrad and his innocent companion, Brother Odo, as they struggle to remain alive and free while all around them are losing their heads or are being sold into slavery.

From the very first page, we are presented with a medieval version of Blackadder and Baldrick with a series of (cunning) plans; there’s simply no other way of describing these two characters and the colourful language used to tell their story. The tale is woven around a maguffin in the shape of a holy book, bound in gold and encrusted with jewels, which the Christians must save from the Danes, while Conrad schemes to keep it for himself. I found the book amusing throughout, if a little over-scatological at times. This quote illustrates the satire running through the book. Coming from Ireland, it rang a note of veracity with me:

He was touched with the same lunacy that drove the monks from Ireland to cast themselves on to the sea in a boat with no oars, that the Lord might take them where he would, be that a new land at waters’ end or the long prayer with the fishes of the deep.”

For me, the irredeemable nature of Conrad, the not-so-lovable rogue, was a little disappointing – consistent, but disappointing. The story would have been more satisfying if Conrad had exhibited the smallest vestige of empathy at the end. The language is cleverly medieval while eminently readable. However, I learned quite a few new words, like seax, scop and aetheling. As to the story’s historical content, the author notes at the end make a case for a solid historical framework. I am not qualified to comment, although he sounded convincing.

 I look forward to more of Conrad and Odo’s adventures.

 ©JJ Toner

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Monday, 26 November 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of The Brotherhood of the Black Flag by Ian Nathaniel Cohen


Nautical / Romance

In an action-packed, heroic story, Michael McNamara leaves Bristol, England, in search of himself. McNamara starts with a dream to become an officer in the Royal Navy. When an opportunity presents itself, he is accepted into the navy as a volunteer – per – order, after providing a reluctantly written letter from his father. When McNamara is then drummed out of the navy, he uses his skills with a small sword to become a fencing instructor, only to be let go from this position a year later. He then decides to pursue a fresh start in Kingston, Jamaica. Once McNamara arrives there he finds himself in a duel with a group of ruthless Caribbean pirates and thus is set in motion a series of events that leads him to the magnificent Dona Catalina Moore Viuda de Caldeira and her infamous fiancĂ© pirate, Captain Stephen Reynard.  What happens next takes our hero on a journey that comes to define his purpose in life through his experiences with The Brotherhood of the Black Flag, and this is where the real story begins.

Cohen does an excellent job building a fast-paced story that moves McNamara’s adventures forward with vivid descriptions of battles and fights that take place on land and at sea. His knowledge of 18th-century weapons, specifically swords, helps readers to visualize the time period and the character’s personas. Readers feel McNamara’s tenacity and commitment to life by Cohen’s balance of the accuracy of facts with the originality of his fictional story.

Throughout the book, readers come to respect McNamara for his loyalty and duty to those in his life. The character builds relationships and establishes his reputation as a strong, principled individual who holds steadfast to his ideals. Equally, readers also come to know and understand the beautiful Catalina, whom McNamara comes to love; and the pirate Reynard who appears to be working on changing his swashbuckling lifestyle. When Cohen moves the story into a sudden and unexpected twist of events, readers wonder whether they missed something along the way – but soon realize the author’s masterful writing skill.  

The only thing that lets the book down is the cover. The narrative is exciting, the cover isn't - for young adults or a children's book it would have been fine, but not for an adult read.

The Brotherhood of the Black Flag is a must read for anyone who is captivated with the Age of Piracy. Cohen has done a remarkable job developing a story that places readers in the middle of the action, and into the heart, soul and spirit of the hero, Michael McNamara.

Excellent read

© Cathy Smith

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Saturday, 24 November 2018

The weekend 24th November

No reviews over the weekend but...

Trumpet fanfare please! I am very proud to announce that Discovering Diamonds has been awarded a place on the Top 35 Historical Book Blogs, a list selected from thousands of Historical Book blogs ... because "...they are actively working to educate, inspire, and empower their readers with frequent updates and high-quality information."

HUGE thank you to the wonderful #DDRevs team of reviewers and admin helpers - you are all stars! And thank you to the authors and visitors who enthusiastically support us! Wow! I'm thrilled!

Historical Book Blogs

starting December 1st

join us every day for a short story inspired by a song
enjoy the story - and see if you can guess the song title!

authors will include:
 1st        Philip K Allan 
 2nd       J J Toner         
 3rd       Catherine Kullman    
 4th       Helen Hollick              
 5th       Richard Tearle                         
 6th       Barbara Gaskell Denvil
 7th       Nicky Galliers
 8th       Angela Macrae Shanks          
 9th       Katherine Pym  
10th      J G Harlond    
11th      Anna Belfrage
12th      Richard Dee
13th      Inge H. Borg   
14th      Annie Whitehead
15th      Louise Adam  
16th      Char Newcomb
17th      Alison Morton                         
18th      Kathryn Gauci
19th      Helen Hollick 
20th      M.J. Logue
21st      Helen Hollick 
22nd     Cryssa Bazos               
23rd      Jennifer Wilson                       
24th      Elizabeth St John                    
26th      Helen Hollick

* * *

... did you miss

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

Friday, 23 November 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of A Different Kind of Angel by Paulette Mahurin

Family Drama
Russia /New York

“Inspired by real events chronicled by a journalist for The World News, Elizabeth Cochrane (pen name, Nellie Bly), in 1887. Klara Gelfman’s life in Kiev was serene until she turned nineteen. That’s when Russia’s Tsar Alexander II was assassinated, and a vicious propaganda campaign spread that blamed the Jews for his death. Klara and her family became victims of the many pogroms breaking out throughout Russia. None were so violent as what hit Kiev in 1881. It was there that Klara’s family was torn asunder and her world changed forever.  This is the story of what happens to this traumatized, orphaned, young Jewish woman when she escapes Russia and crosses an ocean to arrive on the rough streets of New York City able to speak only a few words of English. There, in the land of the free, Klara’s life is thrown into turmoil when she is mistaken for a drunken prostitute. Mistreated by those entrusted to protect her—the police, a judge, doctors, and nurses—she is condemned to an unrelenting hellscape when she is incorrectly and involuntarily committed to a lunatic asylum.  At a time when women had no political, economic or professional rights, comes a story where corruption by the powerful was as overt and commonplace as was garbage on the New York City streets.”

Ms Mahurin writes with vivid emotion, bringing her characters to life in such a way that we are totally immersed in their living nightmares, tragedies, traumas, hopes and dreams.

Some scenes, so emotionally and realistically written were as emotionally hard to read, for the inhumanity dispersed to those who cannot defend themselves was more than shocking, but there were good, kind people trying their best to do good, kind things amongst the the sordid environment of the lunatic asylum.

Do not be put off by the unpleasantness of such though, for Ms Mahurin’s  characters also have their dignity and they walk through the pages of this brilliantly written novel with heads high.

This is a skilfully written story of the dark nature of people, and of the determination of others to survive, no matter what. Not a light ‘romantic’  read by any means, but it is one based on the compilation of  true stories of several women who faced abuse, humiliation, starvation and  other such horrors with immense courage. Read the book, it is a tribute of support to the women of the past who suffered terribly, and to those who tried, in their own way, to help them.

© Ellen Hill

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Thursday, 22 November 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of A Woman’s Lot by Carolyn Hughes

(The Meonbridge Chronicles Book 2)

Fictional Saga

“How can mere women resist the misogyny of men? A resentful peasant rages against a woman’s efforts to build up her flock of sheep… A husband, grown melancholy and ill-tempered, succumbs to idle talk that his wife’s a scold… A priest, fearful of women’s "unnatural” power, determines to keep them in their place. The devastation wrought two years ago by the Black Death changed the balance of society: more women saw their chance to build a business, learn a trade, to play a greater part. But many men still hold fast to the teachings of the Church and fear the havoc the daughters of Eve might wreak if they’re allowed to usurp men’s roles and gain control over their own lives. Not all men resist women’s desire for change – indeed, they want it for themselves. Yet it takes only one or two to unleash the hounds of hostility and hatred…”

I am tempted to say that this novel (this series) is the fourteenth century equivalent of the UK’s long running BBC radio drama The Archers (of which I am a huge fan). Tempted because the by-line for The Archers is ‘An everyday story of country folk’ – and A Woman’s Lot is certainly that!

The village of Meonbridge is struggling to survive after the terrible Mortality (the Black Death) had brought such horror upon the land. Entire families had died or wives were left without husbands, husbands without wives, no children to continue the family line, no parents to bring up the children… This in turn leads to further hardship and suffering for those who had survived for there were few people to do the work, no skilled labour meant those who could work were in a position to leave their homes and find employment elsewhere – on their terms, not as almost slave-labour under their feudal masters. It is after or during war or widespread disease that those who have survived come into their own – and in many cases, this means the women. Change has to be accepted, but often at a price and in the face of (male) adversity.  All this upheaval and struggle to remake their lives is very well portrayed by Ms Hughes who brings a brilliant insight into the difficulties left as an aftermath of a natural disaster.

There are a lot of characters, and the character list does help a little but going back to check it is not easy on a Kindle, and I would suggest to read the first book first in order to get to know the characters better. The detail is superbly researched with the minutiae of everyday life almost on a level with being on a par with a documentary or non-fiction book, this might be at the expense of pace, however, for the narrative is somewhat slow in places – but this novel is not meant to be a fast-paced adventure romp, it is an intriguing and highly interesting meander through the lives of people who had suffered terribly and were determined to make the best of what they were left with, so for readers interested in the daily life of the people who survived the Black Death, of the consequences of such a dreadful disease, or just interested in the 1300s – for the wealth of fascinating everyday detail I’d say this is a must.

© Ellen Hill

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