31 January 2019

Cover and Book of the Month - January 2019

2019
designer Cathy Helms of www.avalongraphics.org
with fellow designer Tamian Wood of www.beyonddesigninternational.com
will select the Cover of the Month
with all winners going forward for Cover of the Year in December 2019
(and honourable mentions going forward for Honourable Mention Runner-up)
Note: where UK and US covers differ only one version will be selected
January Cover of the Month

WINNER

Read our review
Honourable Mention Runner Up 

Designed by Cathy Helms - exempt from judging
read our review
2019
From our JANUARY REVIEWS
runner up

Read our review

Winner

Book of the Month 
Read our review

30 January 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of A Contrary Wind: a variation on Mansfield Park by Lona Manning


"I was doubtful, I admit, before starting this novel – not another Austen-look-alike… but actually, I quite enjoyed this one! "


Family Drama / Romance / Austen Spin-off
1800s
England

“Fanny Price, an intelligent but timid girl from a poor family, lives at Mansfield Park with her wealthy cousins. But the cruelty of her Aunt Norris, together with a broken heart, compel Fanny to run away and take a job as a governess. Far away from everything she ever knew and the man she secretly loves, will Fanny grow in strength and confidence? Will a new suitor help her to forget her past? Or will a reckless decision ruin her life and the lives of those she holds most dear?”

I was doubtful, I admit, before starting this novel – not another Austen-look-alike… but actually, I quite enjoyed this one! It is a variation of Mansfield Park, a sort of ‘what-if alternative fiction’ version. There are familiar characters from Austen’s novel and some new ones to enjoy (although I was not so enthusiastic about some of these new ones). Unlike Austen, however, there are a few ‘adult’ scenes so some readers may not like the addition of these.

Austen’s Fanny Price is a bit of a 'Marmite'* character, a personal preference - you either like or loathe her. I confess I am in the latter category. Mansfield Park is not one of my favourites, but I rather liked Ms Manning’s exploration of Fanny. The familiar Fanny is there at first, alongside the characters and events of Mansfield Park, but Ms Manning has added a new and intriguing dimension to the original plot, to Fanny, and some of the other characters, which show them all in a different light because we are looking at the story from a different angle and through totally different events – A Contrary Wind indeed, blowing everything along on a different, in in my opinion, much more interesting course.

There are some nitpicks, minor things, mostly where there is a slight clash of continuity with Austen’s descriptions of her characters, but does this matter? Not really! The novel is well written, engrossing, well researched and overall, well done.

Enjoyable and entertaining.

© Anne Holt
* Marmite a UK foodstuff best (in my opinion) spread on toast. It has a strong, salty, taste and you either love it or hate it - hence the expression ' a marmite choice'. 
 

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

29 January 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of Betrayal by Michele Kallio


"a well-observed mystery-novel interpretation of the demise of Anne Boleyn."


AMAZON UK

family drama / Supernatural / fantasy
Tudor
England

“Betrayal is the story of two women separated by thousands of miles and nearly five centuries, told in alternating chapters.
Although born in Devon, England, modern day Lydia Hamilton has lived her whole life in Canada. She seems to be living the perfect life living and working with her physician boyfriend, Dan Taylor, that is, until she begins to have a recurring nightmare of people and places she does not know- that haunts even her waking hours. Lydia resists Dan’s urging that she see Alan Stokes, a psychology professor at a local university for hypnosis. She tries to ignore her dreams as long as she can. But in desperation she allows Alan to begin hypnotherapy in hopes of understanding why she continues to have the dream. When a Christmas parcel arrives from her mother’s family in England, Lydia finds an old diary in the box and she quickly realizes that the woman, Elisabeth Beeton, she is dreaming about really existed and that there is more to her nightmares than just dreams. She must find out how this woman diary came to be at Morely’s Cross and why she haunts Lydia’s dreams. She flies to Devon, England. While in England she begins to unravel her parent’s estrangement and learns that she is to inherit her mother’s ancestral home. Dan refuses to accompany Lydia to England, but Alan is convinced there is a truth that must be uncovered. Lydia and Alan search the house at Morely’s Cross finding a packet of letters of accusation against Anne Boleyn. While involved in their search for Elisabeth, Alan and Lydia realized they have strong feelings for each other. When Dan finally arrives in England it is to bring Lydia home and stop all the nonsense. But he is too late, Lydia and Alan have already declared their feeling for each other.

Elisabeth Beeton, a lady’s maid to Anne Boleyn falls in love with George Boleyn, Anne’s brother who is trapped in a barren and loveless marriage. George seeks to have his marriage to Jane Boleyn set aside when Elisabeth becomes pregnant in 1534. Anne refuses and Elisabeth is sent to Staffordshire where she gives birth to a son. Jane is also away from Court having been exiled because of an argument with the King, Henry VIII, when she returns to Court in the summer of 1535 she learns of their affair and realizes she has been made a fool of, but she decides her place at Court is too important to lose over such a minor matter. In 1536 Elisabeth finds herself pregnant again. When George goes to Anne, she begs him wait until her son is born, but Anne miscarries in late January. George realizes his suit is hopeless now and urges Elisabeth to fulfil a marriage contract her grandfather had arranged with Andrew Tremayne, to protect her and his child. Reluctantly Elisabeth agrees and she marries Andrew immediately in an effort to convince him that the child she is carrying is his. But after witnessing Elisabeth and George in a lover’s embrace, Andrew realizes he has been cuckolded and seeks his revenge by going to Thomas Cromwell, the King’s Chancellor. Henry has become eager to escape his marriage to Anne believing it to be cursed by God and he pressures Cromwell to find a way out. Andrew promises Cromwell a letter from Elisabeth listing the Queen’s infidelities with names, dates and places. Meanwhile Cromwell has contacted Jane Boleyn to tell her about the child born in Staffordshire. Angry Jane seeks her revenge by agreeing to write the letter Cromwell wants. Andrew produces his letter and it is decided that Elisabeth must be kept incommunicado so that she cannot deny the letter. She is arrested and taken to the Tower in April 1536. After the trials and executions of Anne and George, she is released unaware of the part her husband played in their demise. Years later Andrew will reveal this in a fit of anger.”

Betrayal is possibly not to everyone’s personal taste – it will depend on whether you like the fantasy of supernatural tied up with history. I rather do so I enjoyed this novel. Most of us know the historical facts about Anne Boleyn – or do we? That is the delightful thing about fiction, authors can interpret or even invent where there are echoes of doubt about the ‘facts’. We were not there at the time that these momentous events happened so we can never know for certain what really happened, and this is where fiction steps into the breach.

Betrayal, I thought, was a well-observed mystery-novel interpretation of the demise of Anne Boleyn. The blend of the lives of modern-day Lydia and Tudor Elisabeth was well done, although the historical characters did, perhaps, shine a little more than the contemporary ones. Could the author have made just as good a novel by concentrating on the Tudor story as a separate, plain, un-supernatural-themed historical novel? The answer is yes, definitely for she reproduced the feel and empathy for the 1500s with great skill – but equally, the dual setting of modern-day created a different kind of story, so as I said at the beginning it really depends on individual taste and preference.


For my mind, an interesting and absorbing read!


© Mary Chapple







<previous   next >



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

28 January 2019

The Queen’s Letters by Jen Black

A Discovered Diamond



"I couldn’t put this book down. Using complex, well-developed main characters from different social strata this novel offers a glimpse of what life must have been like during this period at diverse levels of society."

AMAZON UK
The Scottish Queen Trilogy #3


Romance / Fictional Saga
1500s
Scotland/ France

The third story in Jen Black’s The Scottish Queen Trilogy sees reluctant hero Matho Spirston putting his life in danger once more as he tries to deliver the Dowager Queen of Scotland’s personal letters to her family in France. It is Matho’s first trip across the Channel and he finds both the language and cultural differences a challenge, a situation worsened by the fact that his mission is threatened by an unknown opponent. Help is on hand, however, in the shape of a lanky young stable-hand called Jehan, who comes to the rescue when the inn in which Matho is lodging is burnt to the ground. Homeless and jobless, Jehan joins up with Matho, helping him with his French in return for lessons in self-defence. Lessons that become increasingly necessary because whoever it is that wants the satchel of letters Matho is carrying is willing to go to extreme lengths to get it.

Eventually, Matho succeeds in fulfilling his task and receives replies to the Queen’s letters to take back to Scotland. The journey home, though, is equally full of dangers. Matho and Jehan become caught up between opposing armies as Habsburg troops cross the French border, and to complicate matters Matho also has to look out for a young French noblewoman named Agnes, who insists he take her to Paris. Matho advises against it, but the strong-willed young lady (illegitimate daughter of a de Guise cleric) is not disposed to accept advice – not until she sees they really could be trapped in the front line. Matho decides the only safe option is for Agnes is to return with him to St Andrews, from where, hopefully, she can join the Dowager Queen’s household at Stirling as a distant relative.

Meanwhile, in England, Meg (otherwise known as Margaret Douglas, niece of King Henry VIII) is preparing for marriage to the Scottish traitor Matthew, Earl of Lennox, whose own royal task will bring him face to face with Matho at Dumbarton. I would have liked more on vivacious Meg, her appearance in this story is too short, but what happens with Lennox at Dumbarton perhaps makes up for it. To say more on this would be a spoiler. From here on, the intrigue behind King Henry’s territorial ambitions and the struggle for power over the infant Mary Stewart is action-packed. The various means by which Matho Thirston evades capture and hanging make him a veritable sixteenth century James Bond.

I haven’t read the previous two stories in the Trilogy, but I couldn’t put this book down. Using complex, well-developed main characters from different social strata this novel offers a glimpse of what life must have been like during this period at diverse levels of society. Jen Black weaves familiar personality traits and recognisable emotions of ambition and jealousy, love and regret into distant political intrigues, making this a very enjoyable book. Her description of Scottish castles and surrounding countryside is informative but not intrusive. These tidbits of history, combined with a rapidly moving plot that finally arrives at a never-quite-certain satisfactory ending, make this very worthwhile historical fiction. I particularly liked Ms Black’s style: she has a light touch and knows how less can be more.

The Queen’s Letters works well as a stand-alone novel, but it is bringing a complex story to a close so it would be advisable to read the Trilogy in order. This way one knows more about the key players of the time, why Matho Spirston carries such a burden of guilt, and why he should or should not accept Agnes as his wife.



 © J.G. Harlond 





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

26 January 2019

Spare a moment to...

...say 'thank you' to the authors who write the books you enjoy reading






Several of our reviewers here at Discovering Diamonds are authors, so may I encourage you to say a huge 'thank you' to them by taking a moment to leave a comment or two for their books on Amazon? (If you've read them, of course - if you haven't, they all come highly recommended!) 

These are our reviewer authors: (with links to Amazon)


Alison Morton
Anna Belfrage
Me
(in the hat) ... Helen Hollick
Annie Whitehead
J G Harlond
Jeffrey K. Walker
J J Toner
Jen Black
Lorraine Swoboda
Richard Abbott
Paula Lofting
Susan Appleyard
Richard Dee


OR
leave a comment on Amazon for 
ANY author!
we all appreciate a little 'thank you'!



25 January 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of Teaching Eliza by Riana Everly


"the author has fun shuffling some of the novel’s pairings in an entertaining manner" 

AMAZON UK

Fictional Drama / Humour / Regency
1800s
England


Subtitled Pride and Prejudice meets Pygmalion, the novel begins with Professor Darcy, an expert in linguistics and phonetics, bemoaning the fact that a man of substance such as himself must always be the target of fortune-hunters. His aunt, Lady Catherine de Burgh, is planning to announce his betrothal to her daughter, since he seems to have no intention of finding anyone for himself. Bingley suggests that if Darcy were to announce his own engagement, he would scotch that plan immediately.
The question is, where to find a lady who would suit his consequence enough for Society to be duped, and yet amenable enough to play the game, and withdraw at the end of it?

Bingley suggests that his friend might find a suitable partner among his Jane’s pretty sisters; but Darcy snubs Lizzy at the ball at Netherfield because her accent and country manners are insupportable – something which clearly has not concerned Bingley when making his own choice of bride.
When Jane marries, Lizzy realises that life at Longbourn will be intolerable. She has been invited to London for the Season by her aunt Gardner’s sister, Lady Grant; but hearing Bingley’s sisters denounce her as a rustic, she realises that she cannot presume to the heights of fashionable London society as she is. She asks Darcy to teach her how to speak; and though at first reluctant, he agrees to do so on condition that she play the part of his affianced bride. A bargain is struck.

Darcy is at first all Henry Higgins – rude, conceited and patronising, and unlikeable in a way that Austen’s Darcy is not. The author makes a nod to this, when Lizzy describes his ‘various moods as being almost those of separate men’. If the reader has never read Pygmalion, will they understand his behaviour? He is assisted by Colonel Fitzwilliam, in the role of Colonel Pickering, who unlike that gentleman has a romantic problem of his own to solve; and there is Freddy, another import from Pygmalion, as a suitor for Lizzy. The conflation of LIzzy Bennet, Regency gentleman’s daughter, and Eliza Doolittle, Victorian flower-girl, is, however, a little stretched. That which makes Eliza Doolittle so attractive is her fiery temper and her street-wise sense of self-preservation, and that which makes Lizzy so interesting is her certainty and her self-belief. All are missing here.

Lady Grant’s stated plan that Lizzy would be presented at Court in a spectacular London debut is nonsense, given her family’s status and lack of funds. Darcy says he will be able to pass her off as a duchess by the time he has finished her education, which is a claim from the play; here he’s speaking figuratively.

Until the story begins to broaden out from the professor-pupil relationship, it has all the flavour of Pygmalion, and Lizzy has none of the sparkle that the reader expects of her. After that the author has fun shuffling some of the novel’s pairings in an entertaining manner, and the plot picks up speed and interest. The Bennets take a much smaller role; Wickham is as dastardly as ever, though made stupid by a desire for revenge; Georgiana is suffering from depression after her mistreatment by him; and Caroline Bingley gives full rein to her dark side.

What starts out as an homage to both books turns into something of a romp of its own. The use of quotations from the original is like finding old friends in strange places, though the characters themselves are not as we know them. Shaw stated that Higgins should never be allowed to marry Eliza, whom he created to win a bet and in order to con Society, and there is something of that in Darcy here which the author must overcome. There is still pride and prejudice to be overturned, but whether they are less worthy or justified than in Austen’s version is a moot point, and perhaps unfamiliarity with the play may colour some readers’ judgement there.

There are some errors which stand out, one being a 'ring at the front door' (this is 1811) and 'discrete’ and ‘less discrete' where discreet should have been used. However, overall, a good read.

© Lorraine Swoboda

 



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

24 January 2019

THE OLD DRAGON'S HEAD by Justin Newland

A Discovered Diamond



"...ticks all the boxes – murder, mystery, treason, glorious villains, reluctant heroes and more than a touch of the supernatural."

Family Drama / Fantasy
15th Century
China

A stand out novel that ticks all the boxes – murder, mystery, treason, glorious villains, reluctant heroes and more than a touch of the supernatural.

Feng, the son of the town magistrate, witnesses the accidental poisoning of his father whilst at a banquet for the Prince of Yan, whose army prepares to pass through the Great Wall. Feng should inherit his father's positional duties, but is shamed by his ambitious deputy and the evil Chang is appointed in his place. Chang has issues of personal revenge on his mind and no one is safe.

Bolin is an impoverished son of a fisherman, conscripted to work on cleaning the Dragon's Head – the eastern end of the Wall - but he suffers headaches and visions, refusing to believe that he has 'yin-yang' eyes. Luli is a widow who possesses many gifts and it is these three who must work independently to try and solve the mystery of the disappearance of Dragon Master Wing twenty years earlier, find the Dragon Pearl and release the dragon itself.

There is not much time: the Mongols are gathering north of the Wall and they have their own talisman – The Blue Wolf.

I really enjoyed reading this novel – the action is constant and provides an interesting insight into Chinese culture, beliefs and superstitions. Bolin is on a voyage of discovery to find himself and his destiny whilst Feng, through a scroll left with Luli, finds out exactly who he is. There are some great cameos: the torturer, an old soldier and Luli's son, mute since witnessing the death of his father some years before. And there is just enough of a cliffhanger to warrant, I hope, a sequel.

With an attractive cover, I recommend this book, especially to those interested in Middle Ages China.



© Richard Tearle



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

23 January 2019

Doc: A Novel by Mary Doria Russell

A Discovered Diamond
Shortlisted for Book of the Month



"There was almost nothing I didn’t love about this book."

AMAZON UK
AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA

read as an: audiobook
Narrator: Mark Bramhall

western
1800s
American West

This historical fiction novel focuses on the life of John Henry “Doc” Holliday from his early years, before he was famous for his role in the gunfight at the OK Corral. He was born to be a Southern gentleman, but he moved to Texas in hopes that the hot, dry air would ease the tuberculosis that was already ravaging his lungs. When the job market proved to be less than he had hoped, he started professionally playing poker. At the urging of Kate Harony, the Classically trained Hungarian whore he lives with, Doc and Kate move to Dodge City, Kansas, and start afresh. And Doc becomes friends with a young man named Morgan Earp, his brothers Wyatt and James and the rest, as they say, is history. Or is it?

This book! I acquired this audio book (print versions available!) to check off the “Read a Western” box on the Read Harder Challenge, and it was the only one immediately available that sounded remotely interesting. I’m not a fan of westerns. I did not expect to enjoy it all that much, it was just something to get through. I had no idea that I would discover the book that is probably my favorite book of 2018! This novel was just absolutely delightful. Doc Holliday was not the man he is portrayed by history, at least not according to Mary Doria Russell. He was a quiet, mild mannered, Southern gentleman who loved playing the piano, reading Classical literature, and speaking Latin. He was born with a cleft palate, and he was one of the first babies to have his fixed. He was fiercely loyal and did not seek fame or notoriety. This Doc Holliday was a person I genuinely cared about.

The narrator, Mark Bramhall, delivered a superb performance. He shifts seamlessly from Doc’s slow Georgia drawl to the sharper twang of the Texas cowboys to the cheerful Irish brogue of the local town drunk. He gives dry wit a biting edge that made me laugh out loud more than once, and imbued his voice with such sadness or nostalgia at times that only the coldest person would remain untouched. I hope he narrates other books, because I definitely want to hear his voice again.

There was almost nothing I didn’t love about this book. Some of my favorite scenes were when Doc fixed Wyatt’s teeth and gave him dentures to replace his missing teeth. Wyatt was so happy to see his own smile, it was heartbreaking. He had to practice saying his S’s and TH’s and he was determined to get it right, which was also somehow endearing. Doc was proud of his work and delighted to be able to give a person back some of their self confidence and health, which he vigorously defended later to Kate when she was nagging him about how dentistry doesn’t pay any money. 


I also loved the scene near the end when Doc was playing The Emperor piano concerto. That whole scene made my face leak on my drive to work. I want to buy this for my own collection. I would listen to it again, or eyeball read it. It was enthralling.

Definitely A Discovered Diamond!

© Kristen McQuinn




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

22 January 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of My MacArthur by Cindy Fazzi


"...one of those love affairs between two ambitious people  that you know is going to end not just in tears, but in tragedy."

AMAZON UK


Romance
Pre-WWII
Philippines

“The year is 1930. The place: Manila. Douglas MacArthur is the most powerful man in the Philippines, a United States colony. He’s fifty years old, divorced, and he falls in love at first sight with a ravishing young Filipino woman. He writes her a love note on the spot. Her name is Isabel Rosario Cooper, an aspiring movie actress. One glance at his note and she thinks of him as my MacArthur.
MacArthur pursues his romantic obsession even though he’s breaking numerous taboos. She reciprocates his affection because he could open doors for her financially struggling family. That MacArthur happens to be handsome compensates for the fact that he’s as old as her father.
When MacArthur is appointed the U.S. Army chief of staff, he becomes the youngest four-star general and one of America’s most powerful men. Out of hubris, he takes Isabel with him to America without marrying her.
Amid the backdrop of the Great Depression, MacArthur and Isabel’s relationship persists like “a perilous voyage on turbulent waters,” as she describes it. In 1934, after four years of relationship, MacArthur leaves Isabel for fear of a political scandal.
The general goes on to become the iconic hero of World War II, liberating the Philippines and rebuilding Japan. Isabel drifts in Los Angeles unable to muster the courage to return to Manila. As he ascends to his special place in American history, she plunges into a dark place, ultimately meeting a tragic death.”

There is a lot of tension in this romance, one of those love affairs between two ambitious people  that you know is going to end not just in tears, but in tragedy.

I did find the different Point Of View perspectives of the two main characters, Isabel and MacArthur, to be a  little confusing, even slightly irritating at first – but once into the novel the idea of writing the story of these two people like this made sense.

The writing is well-done, and for this Brit who knew nothing about MacArthur beyond his name, the novel was intriguing and interesting – so much so that I found myself looking on Wikipedia to read up on some of the historical detail behind the novel. Fascinating stuff, but possibly of more interest to US readers?

© Mary Chapple




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