Saturday, 30 March 2019

Book and Cover of the Month - March

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 2019
(and honourable mentions going forward for Honourable Mention Runner-up)
Note: where UK and US covers differ only one version will be selected
Cover of the Month


Read our review
(designer D.K. Marley)
Honourable Mention Runner Up 

Read Our Review
Cover design by Chrissy of

Read Our Review
Cover design by Debbie Clement

If We Were Villains
Read Our Review
Cover design by Titan Books

From our March Reviews
Book of the Month 

Friday, 29 March 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of The Good Messenger by John Simmons

"I very much enjoyed the character of Tommy, especially when, as a boy, he makes his discoveries and tries to make sense of the bewildering world and the people around him."


Family Drama

"1912: Tom Shepherd reluctantly stays for two weeks at Hardinge Hall. Mr and Mrs Hardinge are trying to arrange a marriage for their son Teddy to Iris, daughter of a local businessman. Tommy becomes the innocent messenger who delivers the secret arrangements.

Armistice Day 1918: The First World War has changed everything, especially the closeted world that Iris, Teddy and Tom existed in.
1927. Tom is now a journalist investigating the discovery of a baby's bones in the woods around Hardinge Hall. Past and present move towards a resolution that might still bring everything crashing down."

I admit I wasn't sure about this novel when I started. It is set as three distinctive parts written from three different periods of time and as three different voices and I found that I had to grow used to each new part and each new perspective. I also felt that the prologue was somewhat superfluous, the story proper starting at Chapter One - which engrossed me far more than the preamble - but the prologue made sense as I finished the novel (although I still did not think its inclusion was necessary.)

I immediately liked Tommy when I 'met' him. He is sent as a nine-year old to spend time in the Kent countryside, although at first we do not learn why. He is a rough-edged little lad finding himself way out of his comfort zone, bewildered and confused. I wanted to hug him, especially at the opening when he is enthralled by riding in a car. We then meet the residents of Hardinge Hall: Mr Hardinge and his not very pleasant wife, Teddy, their son, Muriel their daughter and Iris who is another guest at the house. Iris is intended, by the Hardinges, to become Teddy's wife and Tommy himself becomes an innocent 'go-between' messenger between the other characters, (and yes, reminiscent of the well known novel of that title).

Part two moves to 1918 and is Iris's story, her  doubts, hopes, fears, moods and experiences through the Armistace and life in war-torn London, while part three finds us in 1927 and back with Tommy - now Tom - a journalist following the intrigue of an assignment which involves his return to Hardinge Hall, the unravelling of secrets, lost loyalties and dark tragedies, but also the discovery of love and romance.

I enjoyed the character of Tommy, especially when, as a boy, he makes his discoveries and tries to make sense of the bewildering world and the people around him. I think it was missing the enchanted enjoyment of Tommy that slightly put me off part two. Personally, I think the author should have stuck to writing this as Tommy's story throughout, but I must emphasise that this is my own preference; other readers will relish the sensitive portrayal of the characters, Simmon's intelligent writing and the atmosphere of the WWI and post WWI period where changes to lifestyle, prejudices and class were great. 

The novel is not a fast-paced mystery adventure, it is character-led not action-based but that, I do feel, is its charm. Despite my comments above, this is a book to read and savour.

© Mary Chapple

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Thursday, 28 March 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of Kindred Spirits : York by Jennifer C Wilson

"This book came as a surprise to me. I understand it is one of a series that has gathered many followers and my first impressions are that the concept is interesting, amusing and unusual."


This book came as a surprise to me. I understand it is one of a series that has gathered many followers and my first impressions are that the concept is interesting, amusing and unusual. Well, it is not often almost every character in a book is a ghost. Yes, truly.

If you cannot get past the idea that everyone who dies becomes a ghost and that a city like York is crammed to the rafters with them, then this book is not for you. If you can, and many do, then the tale of Richard III visiting York to visit with his father the Duke of Northumberland, will entertain you.

Richard is not the main feature of the tale however. Harry Hotspur, Dick Turpin and Guy Fawkes live in the city, cheek by jowl with a horde of Vikings and an unruly set of Roman soldiers. Worried by the nasty turn that the usual “hauntings” have taken in recent weeks, they agree to find out what is causing such unrest since the simple delight of photobombing tourists taking selfies has progressed to armed combat in the night time streets of York. Something must be done to restore order, but what?

I found the pace rather slow in places, but in others was carried along grinning at the very idea of a ghost cat called Seamus delicately pawing at the legs of unsuspecting diners in the pub and ghosts holding their own Christmas festivities in Clifford’s Tower at midnight. The writing is calm and clear, there are no sexy encounters (well, these are ghosts….) and York, the city itself, is well described.  If you fancy reading something very different to the normal run of literature, then try Ms Wilson’s Kindred Spirits : York. I don’t think you will be disappointed.

© Jen Black

note from Helen Hollick:  anyone visiting York for a vacation would be well advised to join with one of the organised evening  'ghost walks' - great fun!

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Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Circe by Madeline Miller

Circe: The Sunday Times Bestseller

"I absolutely loved how Circe deals with her role in and among the gods."


Fantasy / Mythology

2000 BCE
Ancient Greece

Circe is the tale of a fascinating but somewhat overlooked woman from Greek myth. She is the daughter of the sun god Helios, a lesser divinity, immortal, and a witch. She has the power to transform things and she knows the inherent magic in plants. Most of us know her from her role in The Odyssey, which was significant even if it wasn’t long. This novel tells her tale from her childhood, her self-discovery, and how she finds a place for herself in the harsh world of the gods.

I absolutely loved how Circe deals with her role in and among the gods. She never has an easy time - she has the worst time, really - but she is a woman in a man’s world and she still makes a place for herself. She is seen, and forces the divinities to acknowledge her in some way, whether any of them like it or not, including her. I think this really mirrors the experiences of modern women in that we still struggle to be seen and be taken for granted, not be underestimated, and not shuffled off or ignored as though we are worthless. 

When Circe encounters Prometheus, it sets the stage for her entire life. She learns she can defy the gods to an extent. Perhaps she will be punished for her defiance if she gets caught, but she also learns they don’t actually know everything and there are things people can do and get away with what they never know about. She manages to make this idea central in her own life, defying the gods in subtle and not so subtle ways. 

I really loved the way crafts were woven throughout as well. They were, however, divided by traditional gender roles. It makes sense within the context of the narrative, though, since Circe, Penelope, Medea, were expected to know certain things and not others, and vice versa for Odysseus or Daedalus. The women knew weaving and spinning, herb lore, healing and midwifery. The men knew smithing, metalwork, sculpting, and woodworking. Breaking down crafts by gender roles reinforces the roles and highlights the fact that even the gods are similar to humans in this world, which is super interesting because, even though the gods are immortal and have various powers, they are still limited in some ways with what they can do. They are governed largely by their emotions and desires. In many of the ways that count, they act more like immortal toddlers than as wise beings. Humans tend to be more reasonable in some situations than the gods, which I think is interesting. Is it how Circe sees the gods and humans, or is that how it truly is here? Intriguing commentary, either way. 

I loved this book, and I love strong women, and strong women figuring out that they are strong is just the best. 

I haven’t even gotten into the sheer beauty of Miller’s writing style! Very highly recommended and an excellent way to get a ton of Greek mythology without reading the source material, if that isn’t really your thing. 

© Kristen McQuinn

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Tuesday, 26 March 2019

If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio

If We Were Villains

"a tale of madness and obsession and  Shakespeare!"

audiobook reviewed
Narrator: Robert Petkoff

thriller/  mystery
present day

"Oliver Marks has just served ten years for the murder of one of his closest friends - a murder he may or may not have committed. On the day he's released, he's greeted by the detective who put him in prison. Detective Colborne is retiring, but before he does, he wants to know what really happened ten years ago. As a young actor studying Shakespeare at an elite arts conservatory, Oliver noticed that his talented classmates seem to play the same roles onstage and off - villain, hero, tyrant, temptress - though Oliver felt doomed to always be a secondary character in someone else's story. But when the teachers change up the casting, a good-natured rivalry turns ugly, and the plays spill dangerously over into life. When tragedy strikes, one of the seven friends is found dead. The rest face their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, and themselves, that they are blameless."

Not an historical novel, but those interested in the Bard and his works, and who like a good mystery/thriller should enjoy this. This was a tale of madness and obsession and  Shakespeare! A group of theatre students at a prestigious college, nearing graduation, are coming unraveled and their places in their group are not as secure as they once thought. Tensions come to a head when they receive their role assignments for a major play in the fall and not all goes as they expect. Soon after, one of their troupe ends up dead and the others know more than they are willing to admit. Someone has to take the fall for what turns out to be a killing rather than an accidental death, and the resolution does indeed “make mad the guilty, and appall the free.” 

There was almost nothing I didn’t love about this book. The characters were well developed and complex. They all had flaws and some were just downright nasty. Some were confusing - I do not understand Oliver’s motivations at all, nor why certain others remained silent. I loved all the Shakespearean quotes scattered throughout the text. I also loved the behind the scenes views of how Shakespearean actors learn how to be Shakespearean actors. I know, for example, that they don’t actually hit each other on stage, but I never really thought about just how much choreography and practice it takes to make a slap look real, or how to do a punch differently than a slap and make that look real as well. 

Practicing with swords and foils and voice coaches to learn the difference of accent and dialects, all these things are just part of it. Then there is the history and social commentary woven into each play. It was a flashback to some of my better literature classes from my undergrad years. I loved it!

© Kristen McQuinn 

* we review novels  set post 1953 at our discretion

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Monday, 25 March 2019

Lavinia by Ursula K LeGuin

Good Reads Revisited

"I felt completely engaged with Lavinia’s thoughts and emotions"

published 2010

biographical fiction
Roman era

"Lavinia is the daughter of the King of Latium, a victorious warrior who loves peace; she is her father's closest companion. Now of an age to wed, Lavinia's mother favours her own kinsman, King Turnus of Rutulia, handsome, heroic, everything a young girl should want. Instead, Lavinia dreams of mighty Aeneas, a man she has heard of only from a ghost of a poet, who comes to her in the gods' holy place and tells her of her future, and Aeneas' past...
If she refuses to wed Turnus, Lavinia knows she will start a war - but her fate was set the moment the poet appeared to her in a dream and told her of the adventurer who fled fallen Troy, holding his son's hand and carrying his father on his back..."

Little is known of the historic Lavinia - she only has a few lines in Vergil’s Aenead - but Ms LeGuin has brought her to life for us. The strangeness of the early pastoral life of Latium, from kitchen to war is completely credible. The research shows but never disturbs. The sacredness of spirit realm which was so important to Romans up to and sometimes beyond early Christianisation is integrated, with visions and mysticism as an important driver in Lavinia’s daily life.

I felt completely engaged with Lavinia’s thoughts and emotions; she had a strong sense of doing the right thing, defined as piety, accepting events when appropriate, but holding firm when she believed in the vision of her fate. Ms LeGuin has been very clever in bringing in the poet Vergil to converse with Lavinia, throwing in the suggestion that Lavinia is a mere construct. It is, of course, for the reader to decide…

As a convinced ‘Roman nut’ who has a penchant for strong women characters, this was a natural book choice for me and the reward was a clever and well-written story.

© Alison Morton

Good Reads Revisited
Have you an 'old favourite' historical novel? 
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Saturday, 23 March 2019

Browsing the Blogs March

Twitter: #DDRevsBrowsingBlogs
interested in having your blog post listed?
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In July 1745 Prince Charles landed in Scotland, raised his standard at Glenfinnan in August, and headed south with his growing army. Lord George Murray, along with a lot of other men, joined the prince’s army at Perth, and became the Lieutenant-Commander of the Jacobite forces. 
Read More:

When History meet Hollywood by Sarah Gristwood on The History Girls Blog

"There’s been a bit of a boom in historical films recently - and I was lucky enough to get a preview of several at a film festival. Not, however, the one that’s attracted all the controversy: the new Mary Queen of Scots film which has been criticised so freely – it shows a meeting between Mary Stuart and Elizabeth Tudor which absolutely never happened. Though actually, every single drama about them has imagined that meeting, from Schiller back in 1800 to the old Vanessa Redgrave/Glenda Jackson movie. "

Read More>


Slipcoat Cheese by M. J. Logue (from the English Historical Fiction Blog)

The time has come, the Ironside said, to talk of many things: of Banbury cheese, and slipcote cheese, and sometimes headless kings. Banbury cheese must wait another day, for my accomplish't delight on this occasion is slipcoat cheese.

Read More >

Book of the Day

The "Lost" History of the Town of Swindon by Nicola Cornick (from the EHFA blog)

The town of Swindon in Wiltshire is not well-known for its pre-industrial era history. It rose to prominence in the early nineteenth century, first with the building of the Wiltshire and Berkshire Canal in 1810 and later when it became a centre for the repair and maintenance of locomotives on the Great Western Railway. 

Read More>

April Munday: A Writer's Perspective
Medieval linen


"Over the past month, we’ve been looking at the manufacture of fabric for outer clothes in the Middle Ages: wool and silk. Now we’re taking a look at the fabric used for undergarments. These were not undergarments as we would think of them, but simple chemises or shirts, whose purpose was to keep the outer garments away from the skin. They kept the body’s oils and sweat from the expensive (and almost impossible to wash) wools and silks. It was the undergarments that would be washed, not the outer ones."


Steam in the British Coalfields by Mick Pope - Amberley Blog

"Trainspotter, a description that has somehow become a term of ridicule, conjuring up an image of some bespectacled nerd who is unable to function in normal society and definitely won’t have any dress sense, wife or girlfriend. Funny how this has come about as an interest in railways in general as the second most popular hobby among men in the United Kingdom after angling. I did wear glasses as a young lad and so I was part way there already!"


Sheila Williams

In 1590 at Skipton Castle in Yorkshire the Countess of Cumberland, Margaret Russell gave birth to a daughter, Anne. Her father was George Clifford one of England's heros; explorer, commander of ships during the Spanish Armada, favourite and champion of Queen Elizabeth I. However, whatever his public reputation, privately he was not much of a husband and father. George Clifford died in 1605 when his daughter was just fifteen. His final act of neglect was to disinherit his daughter of all the land, titles and possessions of the Clifford estates...


Jude Knight The disease that made you in fashion

One of the biggest killers of humankind in history (apart from other humans) has been a tiny organism we now call Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

In ancient Greece, it was considered the most prevalent disease of the age. Throughout history, it has been feared and the symptoms treated with despair. And in the nineteenth century, it was a fashionable way to die.

A Baron for Becky

J.G.Harlond - A Tribute to Daphne du Maurier

It is 80 years now since Daphne du Maurier’s novel Rebecca was first released. Back in 1938, du Maurier’s publishers were nervous about the novel’s future, but the story has become a classic: a world-wide favourite, a play, a television series, even an iconic black and white movie. For a while, back in the 90s, new editions of du Maurier’s novels were hard to obtain, but with the recent film version of My Cousin Rachel she is very much back in the public eye. Which is as it should be, because Daphne du Maurier was a very accomplished novelist.

Friday, 22 March 2019

The Girl From Oto by Amy Maroney

Shortlisted for Book of the Month

"This is skilful story-telling at its very best. There are so many strands to the tale, with many hints carefully dropped in along the way."

The Miramond Series #1 

Fictional Saga

fifteenth century / 21st century

In fifteenth-century Spain, a noblewoman gives birth to twins, a boy and a girl. A wise woman helps her, taking the girl away to safety in a convent. In twenty-first-century England, an art historian is attempting to discover the true identity of a portrait painter. How are the two events connected?

This is a dual timeline novel and some reviewers have said that the historical scenes work better than the present-day scenes. At first, this may be true but, after I'd finished the book, the modern-day characters stayed with me for just as long. However, let's rewind. 

It soon becomes clear that the girl in the monastery and the portrait painter are one and the same, but that's not a spoiler, because almost to the last, we don't know how all this came to be. Mira, the young girl, grows up in the convent, and whilst others learn her identity, she initially does not. The Spanish part of the story is told from various points of view - that of Mira herself, of the abbess, of Mira's parents, and of a rich merchant, whose family have something to do with the story, but quite what, we don't immediately learn. Nor do we learn for quite some time just why Mira was sent away - this part of the story is revealed slowly, and is all the better for it. 

This is skilful story-telling at its very best. There are so many strands to the tale, with many hints carefully dropped in along the way. I hoped desperately that all would become clear, that the strands would tie themselves together, and they did: the role of the merchant family, the history behind the paintings and the origins of their wooden panels, the brutality of Mira's birth family, the reason for her being sent away. Despite the fact that this is one of a series, the loose ends all come together satisfyingly, so it can definitely be read as a standalone. You can choose to revisit these characters, or not. That in itself is the mark of an excellent book. There is a great little reveal, too: Ramon, Mira's father, beats any servant who dares approach him from the left. One assumes this is just a device to demonstrate his temper, but even this fairly minor detail is explained towards the end of the book.

The plotting is intricate, masterfully worked out, and the pacing is superb. That's not to say it's a fast read; there are many scenes where one can enjoy a lingering look at the expertly-described scenery, watch the local mountain people celebrating, and enjoy the burgeoning romance of the modern-day protagonist, Zari, as she tries to combine her professional and personal lives.

The author is American, yet chooses to use vocabulary which English readers will find familiar, so the modern day characters use mobiles rather than cell phones, for example. 

To the very last pages, I was unsure how the story would 'pan out' and I found myself saying 'aha' out loud as little hints dropped into the earlier chapters suddenly made sense, and I was genuinely impressed with how the author put all the strands of her detailed plot together. In the closing chapters, a family scene could so easily have been drawn with cliche and assumed responses. Yet the author directs the scene differently and the reactions of the characters, at first surprising, become all too real. To say more would be a spoiler.

The concept of the novel, of modern-day characters researching a story from the past, is not a new one, but it really works. I was fascinated by the historical sections. The Girl from Oto might have worked as a straight-forward historical novel, but the modern-day scenes added to a sense that so much of history is lost to us, and sometimes we just have a tantalising glimpse of a lost world. The fact that Zari literally walks over the same terrain that Mira has walked before her adds a poignancy to the tale.

© Annie Whitehead

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Thursday, 21 March 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of Berlin Butterfly: Ensnare by Leah Moyes

"National and world events are shown through Ella’s eyes and like most ordinary people at that time, they hardly touch her except for the tension expressed by her employers and colleagues. The atmosphere is realistically and very deftly evoked. "


family drama

1960s *
East Berlin

1960s East Berlin was a tense and dangerous place. And Leah Moyes draws this very well indeed. Her protagonist, teenager Ella, has had a rough start in life and doesn’t expect much. However, she has the rock-solid anchors of her best friend Anton and younger brother Josef and her love for her adoptive father until the infamous barrier which became the Berlin Wall went up in 1961. But Ella is conflicted. Does she take a chance to escape with Anton and Stefan – a decision she must make in minutes – or does she stay to care for her dying father? Her inner strength shows us her answer as well as the resilience in the way she makes the best of the stressful consequences. But Ella is no ‘Mary Sue’; she is emotionally and socially constrained because of her early life, unable to relate to others except to Anton and Josef. She longs to escape in every way as signified by her artistic expression in the form of the butterfly pictures she produces.

Moyes cleverly demonstrates the privilege, yet the fragile position, of the nomenklatura, the party rulers of East Germany as well as the restricted and harsh life of the majority of the population. Her research and world building are thorough. National and world events are shown through Ella’s eyes and like most ordinary people at that time, they hardly touch her except for the tension expressed by her employers and colleagues. The atmosphere is realistically and very deftly evoked. 

The plot unfolds naturally at a smooth pace, neither slow nor rushed. We follow Ella as she unfolds like a butterfly from a chrysalis, wondering at her own emotional flowering. But she is all too aware of crossing the iron boundaries separating the new classes in the DDR when she starts to experience very deep feelings for a member of the elite.

This is an entrancing story well told and with a very engaging protagonist. As a German-speaker I enjoyed the little drips of language which enhanced the setting, but many readers will appreciate the comprehensive glossary the author has provided. Only one thing, well, possibly two things detract: I read the Kindle version and was disappointed to find a proportion of the formatting was haywire; something to check given that Amazon is the world’s biggest ebook retailer. The other is that a very enjoyable read has been negatively affected by a lack of editing. At one point I wondered if the author was a non-native English speaker. Once edited professionally, this book would have nothing to stop it flying high.

© Jessica Brown

* we review novels  set post 1953 at our discretion

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