31 May 2019

Cover and Book of the Month - May

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
Cover of the Month

WINNER

read our review
design Matador Publishing
Honourable Mention Runners Up 
Read our review 
cover design by More Visual










A Tale of Two Sisters: A heartfelt historical drama of intrigue, love and loss in a strange land
read our review 

2019
From our MAY Reviews
runner up reads


I'm recommending these first two novels as Runners Up with the caveat of I know both authors (indeed, both review for Discovering Diamonds!) However as the Book of the Month selections are my own personal choice I have no hesitation in highlighting these two superb reads...


read our review 




but as an independent choice I'm going to pick this one


My Book of the Month though, is
The First Blast of the Trumpet (John Knox Book 1)

I enjoyed this one, an author new to me
I look forward to reading more of her work!
(note: Penmore Press for two of the above novels is now my publisher, but my choice is genuine for the content of the novel, not who produced it.)

30 May 2019

By Force of Circumstance by J.G. Harlond

shortlisted for Book of the Month


By Force of Circumstance (The Chosen Man Trilogy Book 3)

"This is the stuff of good historical fiction: made-up characters adventuring alongside real ones who existed, and undertaking incredible adventures which are written so convincingly you are a little shocked to discover, at the end of the book, that it was all, after all, fiction."


AMAZON UK

AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA
(The Chosen Man Trilogy Book 3) 

fictional saga / political thriller
17th century / English Civil Wars
England / Europe

" 'For sale: the English Crown Jewels'
Ludo da Portovenere, now a settled merchant is thrust back into his former profiteering ways when the Queen of England commissions him to sell priceless gems to raise money for the Royalist cause during the Civil War. Will Ludo keep, or sell on the English Crown Jewels? There are many who would like to prevent him from doing either by removing him permanently from the stage. 
Ludo plans to make a very significant profit - mostly for himself - but these plans are set awry when Alina, Baroness Metherall, becomes involved. Meanwhile, Marcos Alonso Almendro now a successful merchant in Plymouth is charged with acquiring the jewels to prevent them being sold at all. What none of them know is that the evil-minded Vatican agent Rogelio, who is pursuing a personal vendetta against Ludo, has been commissioned to acquire the very same jewels by the Vatican. Events move into perilous territory as it comes time for old scores to be settled, one way or the other. Caught up in the violence of conflicts, not of their own choosing, Ludo, Alina and Marcos have to decide where their loyalties lie, where they want to be, and ultimately, with whom."

Occasionally, novels that run into a series begin to sag a little by the time we reach the third book or beyond. Not so with these exhilarating adventures of Ludo da Portovenere and his associates. If anything, the pace increases along with the page-turning full of drama and excitement plot.

What fascinated me, even more than the thrill of the chase and the 'will he won't he' about Ludo's decisions regarding those jewels, was the sheer joy of the author's talented writing and wonderful research. I was truly 'there' in the locations, settings and scenes. This is the stuff of good historical fiction: made-up characters adventuring alongside real ones who existed, and undertaking incredible adventures which are written so convincingly you are a little shocked to discover, at the end of the book, that it was all, after all, fiction.


Ludo himself is a charismatic character with a CV as long as his arm: merchant, Corsair, trader, lover, spy... he is single-minded and independent, but outside forces tend to get in his way, which, inevitably, lead to annoying problems for him to circumnavigate.


Alongside Ludo, we meet old friends - and enemies - from the previous two novels, and a host of intriguing new characters. It does not matter if you have not read the first two books as the author skilfully weaves enough backstory into this one - but, I would suggest that you start at the beginning because you are in for a treat.


This is, according to the publisher and author, a  trilogy. Oh, I do hope not... more please!

© Anne Holt




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29 May 2019

The First Blast of the Trumpet - Marie MacPherson

shortlisted for Book of the Month


The First Blast of the Trumpet (John Knox Book 1)

"A good, solid, old-fashioned historical novel. By which I mean that the settings, the characterisation, and the interaction between characters are all wonderfully and skillfully depicted."


AMAZON UK

AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA


"Hailes Castle, 1511. Midnight on a doom-laden Halloween and Elisabeth Hepburn, feisty daughter of the Earl of Bothwell, makes a wish to wed her lover, the poet David Lindsay. But her uncle has other plans. To safeguard the interests of the Hepburn family, she is to become a nun and succeed her aunt as Prioress of St. Mary’s Abbey, Haddington. However, plunged into the political maelstrom and religious turmoil of the early Scottish Reformation, Hepburn's life there is hardly one of quiet contemplation. Strong-willed and independent, she clashes with those who question her unorthodox regime at St. Mary’s, including Cardinal David Beaton and her rival, Sister Maryoth Hay. But her greatest struggle is against her godson, John Knox. Witnessing his rejection of the Roman Catholic Church, aided by David Lindsay, she despairs that the sins of her past may have contributed to his present disenchantment."

I have to confess to knowing little about the life and career of John Knox, other than a vague awareness of his role in the Scottish Reformation and the famous 'monstrous regiment of women' reference. This novel cleverly imagines the background to Knox's eventual involvement in that reformation, and the incidents which might have shaped Knox's temperament and passionate beliefs. Instead of meeting him at the point in his life where he usually makes an entrance as an intransigent firebrand, we see here the young child, deeply affected by his experiences and the injustices he witnesses in his early life. His relationship to Elisabeth Hepburn is pivotal to all this.



And it was this aspect which I most enjoyed. For what we have is not just an explanation and introduction to John Knox, but a good, solid, old-fashioned historical novel. By which I mean that the settings, the characterisation, and the interaction between characters are all wonderfully and skillfully depicted. The dialogue is believable and, though Scottish dialect words are liberally sprinkled on the page, very easy to follow. Not all the strange words are explained, but their meaning is clear and their use does not in any way hamper or hinder, but rather makes the characters come alive on the page. The complex layers and players of the Scottish nobility are explained only when it is necessary, so as not to confuse, and I became invested in the life of Elisabeth, following the twists and turns, the disappointments and triumphs of her life with not only interest but concern. 

Not being sufficiently knowledgeable about this period, I was genuinely shocked by one plot twist and was worried for her, and what the revelation would mean if, when, she discovered what I, the reader, had just learned. Sights, smells, sounds; all are vividly conjured up, and I was immersed in Elisabeth and Knox's world.


The machinations of the royal court, the capriciousness of the kings, and the naked ambition of the clergy are all employed to good effect to show the danger inherent in an era where a change of someone's mind could mean the difference between one man, or woman, living or dying. All the characters are firmly rooted in their historical setting, nothing jarred, and from beginning to end I felt I was walking alongside real, living, breathing, sixteenth-century people. 


I can't wait to tuck into the next volume of this trilogy.


©Annie Whitehead




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27 May 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of A Tale of Two Sisters by Merryn Allingham

A Tale of Two Sisters: A heartfelt historical drama of intrigue, love and loss in a strange land


"Recommended for those who enjoy women’s fiction and tales of the Turkish Orient."


AMAZON UK
AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA

family drama / mystery / romance
1900s
England / Constantinople

‘Separated by time and distance, two sisters seek answers for all they’ve lost.’

Alice Verinder is the sensible, responsible sister: the one who thinks it is her role to care for her ailing parents in their sad Pimlico home. Lydia is the impulsive, dynamic sister: a suffragette who has been caught throwing stones and had to escape the country – all the way to Constantinople. Between them lies the ghost of a much-loved brother, a joyful spirit who has recently died in a university prank. Quiet Alice, the spinster in Pimlico, lives for Lydia’s letters from the Topkapi palace, where she is supposed to be working as a governess. When the letters stop Alice becomes uneasy, then determined to find and save her wayward sister, as she has done many times before. But this time it is far, far more difficult because when Alice finally arrives in the palace, to which she is made welcome, she can find no trace of her sister, and no one willing to suggest where Lydia might be.


Alone in an alien environment, Alice turns to a diffident yet somewhat brusque Englishman called Harry Frome for help. Harry works in the palace library, a quiet occupation that has some very disturbing connections. The library, like much else related to ex-patriot life in Constantinople, is controlled by the large, over-bearing and sinister Valentin Boucher, who Alice fears is involved in Lydia’s disappearance.


As Alice and Harry begin to investigate Lydia’s secret life, they know they are being followed, a situation that draws them together and helps them find affection – but otherwise puts their own lives in danger.


A Tale of Two Sisters is a gently exciting good read. Told from the two sisters’ different points of view, this is the sort of old-fashioned story that implies the worst without exaggeration or explicit sex and violence – although they are all there. A chocolate box-type novel with sharp spikes and unexpected twists and turns.


Recommended for those who enjoy women’s fiction and tales of the Turkish Orient.



© J.G. Harlond




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25 May 2019

The Weekend

No reviews at the weekend
 but why not browse back through 
our previous reviews?

Start here for our May reviews
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24 May 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of The Way of Glory by Patricia J. Boomsma

The Way of Glory


"The author has taken on a huge task to chart a crusade and even if some parts don't quite work there are passage of real beauty that demonstrate how Ms Boomsma has genuine potential as a writer."


AMAZON UK

AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA

Cate lives in a town in the east of England with her family. The story opens with a death, an unexplained death that the zealous townsfolk blame on a local wealthy Jew. This sets the religious scene for the novel, one that charts the progress of the town's inhabitants who choose to go on crusade to the Holy Land, via Spain and Portugal. Women are needed hence the presence of Cate and her aunt Mary among the company, women to cook for and care for the men, using their knowledge of herbal medicines. But the way to the Holy Land is not smooth going, and their enemies are not just the Saracens.


This is the author's first full length work and for that it is reasonably accomplished. In places the writing is naive with a preponderance of tell rather than show, 'he did this because so-and-so said that', and some basic novice errors in the terminology, inaccurate clothing, crusaders stopping for lunch, that kind of thing. I'm not too sure of her use of 'Brycgstow' for Bristol, Domesday Book has it as 'Bristou' some sixty years earlier. 


But the author has taken on a huge task to chart a crusade and even if some parts don't quite work there are passages of real beauty that demonstrate how Ms Boomsma has genuine potential as a writer. A little more attention to detail and sticking to what she does best will assure her of more success in the future. I would also suggest she finds a very good technical editor to help her iron out the wrinkles, for then we could expect some very good novels indeed. However, a pleasant enough read that does accomplish what the author intended. 


© Louise Adam


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23 May 2019

A Rip in the Veil by Anna Belfrage

Shortlisted for Book of the Month



"The story is easy-flowing and exciting, the difference between the two lead characters - Alex is a very forthright twenty-first-century woman, Matthew a very down to earth seventeenth-century man - is superbly handled."


AMAZON UK

AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA
(The Graham Saga Book 1) 

fictional saga /fantasy / time slip /romance

1600s
Scotland

"On a muggy August day in 2002 Alex Lind disappears without a trace. On an equally stifling August day in 1658, Matthew Graham finds her on an empty Scottish moor. Life will never be the same for Alex – or for Matthew. Due to a series of rare occurrences, Alexandra Lind is thrown three centuries backwards in time. She lands at the feet of Matthew Graham – an escaped convict making his way home to Scotland in this the year of our Lord, 1658. Matthew doesn’t quite know what to make of this concussed and injured woman who has seemingly fallen from the skies- what is she, a witch? Alex gawks at this tall, gaunt man with hazel eyes, dressed in what to her mostly looks like rags. At first, she thinks he might be some sort of hermit, an oddball, but she quickly realises the odd one out is she, not he. Catapulted from a life of modern comfort, Alex grapples with this new existence, further complicated by the dawning realization that someone from her time has followed her here – and not exactly to extend a helping hand. Potential compensation for this brutal shift in fate comes in the shape of Matthew – a man she should never have met, not when she was born three centuries after him. But for all that Matthew quickly proves himself a willing and most capable protector he comes with baggage of his own, and on occasion, it seems his past will see him killed. At times Alex finds it all excessively exciting, longing for the structured life she used to have. How will she ever get back? And more importantly, does she want to?"


I love a good time-slip novel and A Rip In The Veil, the first of a stunning series, is very definitely, good. 


Alexandra - Alex - is to fall in love with Matthew Graham. Nothing odd about that in a novel of historical fiction, except Matthew existed and lived several hundred years before Alex was born, and they were to meet (and fall in love) after Alex falls through - literally - a rip in the veil of time. 


The story is easy-flowing and exciting, the difference between the two lead characters - Alex is a very forthright twenty-first-century woman, Matthew a very down to earth seventeenth-century man - is superbly handled. The factual history of the period and the upheaval and unrest in 1658 Scotland between the English and the Scots is also superbly done, with the fictional elements, the magical fantasy bits all seamlessly entwined with the very real sense of era and location that Ms Belfrage has created.


This is the second time I've read this novel (and yes I have read the entire series) and I enjoyed it even more second time around. I will go on and read the rest of the series now, for Alex and Matthew and the joys, sadnesses, horrors and delights that await them in the next books beckons with pleasurable anticipation. I must also add that I am most impressed by the cover design of this book, and the entire series. 


Invariably, the Graham Saga series will be compared to the Outlander books by Diana Gabaldon. Personal opinion, but I think these are better.


My only comment would be: more please Ms Belfrage. More.


© Anne Holt





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22 May 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of Sealed Orders by Alaric Bond

Kindle Edition

"I enjoy a good nautical adventure, especially when they are written as well as Sealed Orders."


AMAZON UK

AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA
(The Fighting Sail Series) 

Nautical

1800s

"With news of victory at Trafalgar still fresh, HMS Hare arrives in England carrying details of yet another British naval success although the prospects for her captain, Thomas King, are less encouraging. Hare's hull requires attention and dockyard facilities are already overstretched while, if she were sent for refit, he would be unlikely to retain her command. Then a face from the past brings hope and King finds himself despatched on an urgent deep-sea mission so secret only sealed orders will reveal the final objective. Facing enemies that range from French privateers to powerful battle fleets, extremes of weather and the unpredictable behaviour of their Commander-in-Chief, the men of HMS Hare learn as much about themselves as any distant adversary and discover who their friends truly are."


I confess I came across this novel while browsing in a charity shop, so my apologies to the author as he'll receive no royalties from the purchase but... I discovered that this is the eleventh of a series, and enjoyed it so I promptly bought a couple more of the series for my Kindle, so a fair trade I think.


I enjoy a good nautical adventure, especially when they are written as well as Sealed Orders. The start, the set-up for the story, was a little somnolent, but not annoyingly so and the action soon steps up the pace. It is 1806 and the British have recaptured the Cape of Good Hope (known back then as Cape Colony). As this was the first time I had met the characters I did not know who were 'old timers' or 'newcomers' but I very quickly found my favourites. The narrative is believable, the research seems immaculate, as is the sailing detail and all very nicely written. The tension of action is superbly balanced with the everyday 'life' of the characters.


Whether it is a good idea to start at the beginning of the series would be up to personal choice, but I had no difficulty diving in at book eleven!



© Ellen Hill






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21 May 2019

Designs Of A Gentleman by Judith Thomson

shortlisted for Book of the Month


Designs of a Gentleman : The Darker Years



"Philip Devalle is an unusual – and enjoyable – creation. At first, he seems to have few redeeming features, being extremely vain[but] he does not lack courage or skill."

AMAZON UK

AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA


 Fictional drama
17th C – Charles II
England and France

Designs of a Gentleman is a prequel to a series of books based on the adventures of Philip Devalle in a time when relations with France and Holland are in a precarious state.


Philip had a miserable childhood, beaten heavily and often by his older – and slightly insane – brother, Henry. His father, Earl Southwick, was not much help either, always deferring to his heir's excuses. Seeing no great future for himself, Philip, saw no other recourse than to try and find himself a patron at court. He also finds that his good looks – inherited from his French mother - attract a great number of ladies, especially Barbara Palmer, Countess of Castlemaine.


We watch Philip thrive at court, following all the trends set by the rich – fashion, gambling and, of course, women. He survives both fire and plague and even keeps his rash promise of introducing Nell to King Charles. With Buckingham, he finds himself in France, adored by the Duc d'Orleans – Monsieur – and also a confidant of King Louis. He is also made a major in the French army due to his French mother.


Philip Devalle is an unusual – and enjoyable – creation. At first, he seems to have few redeeming features, being extremely vain; he is handsome, he knows it and uses his looks unashamedly to advance in both courts. Yet he does have a kind streak for those less fortunate than himself and he does not lack courage or skill. He makes friends and enemies just as easily. 


As a prequel, this can easily be read as a stand-alone novel, though I hope, like me, the reader will be wanting more.


© Richard Tearle




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20 May 2019

The Girl Puzzle: A story of Nellie Bly by Kate Braithwaite

shortlisted for Book of the Month


https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51SEdwOjnwL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

"Sophisticated and accomplished story-telling"


AMAZON UK
AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA


Biographical fiction
19th century
USA 


The cover and title of this novel are worth thinking about before one opens the book itself. The author is telling us that at one level it is historical fiction, a tale told about a past epoch and how people lived then; at another, it is a story of someone’s life but not a biography. It is a story: the author’s interpretation of what happened to Nellie Bly. Who in turn was not only Nellie Bly but Elizabeth Cochrane, a young woman shaped by the lamentable circumstances of her parents’ life – which she is determined to overcome. The puzzle starts here but is quickly forgotten because the author’s lucid prose and excellent characterisation means that one falls into the events of Nellie Bly’s life as if they were happening for the first time now. 


Braithwaite has chosen to write about a woman whose published autobiographical work is relatively well known in the USA. This story is told, however, on a dual timeline. Readers new to Nellie Bly’s life know from the start that yes, she overcame the shame and poverty of her childhood, and yes, she became the most celebrated woman in journalism of early twentieth century – and yet they can read each page anxious to know what happened next. This is sophisticated storytelling.


Nellie Bly, now a wealthy woman journalist in late middle age, is living in a New York hotel suite. While she continues with her popular newspaper social commentaries, she is also writing her memoirs. Handwritten chapters are given to Beatrice, one of her secretaries, to type up. In this way, we see Nellie’s first-person account of her life, and also learn what a younger woman thinks about her employer. 


Elizabeth/Nellie’s story begins when she is a twenty-year-old anxious to find a job on a New York newspaper and make a name for herself. Down to her last borrowed dime, she accepts a frightening challenge as the condition for obtaining a job: to become an inmate of a mental institution and report on conditions from first-hand experience. Elizabeth Cochrane/Nellie Bly then becomes Nellie Brown, a poor befuddled young woman who has lost her luggage, her family, her home, and her memory. The act is convincing enough to get her into Blackwell’s Island Lunatic Asylum.


Nellie becomes trapped in the vicious treatment regime of a late nineteenth-century mental institution. She is demeaned, ill-treated and controlled day and night by some appallingly cruel nurses. Readers also meet some of the other inmates: gentle but dangerous Tilly Maynard, sad and apparently quite sane Anne, and a number of other rowdier, nastier women who are also subject to the asylum’s institutionalised torture. It makes chilling reading, and I was most disappointed that the one ‘good doctor’ who could have made their lives so much more tolerable turned out to be weak-willed, and ultimately no match for our brave heroine. (More on that would be a spoiler.)


Running alongside this narrative is Beatrice’s observations on Nellie Bly’s informal adoption agency and how the woman becomes besotted with a small girl who has also been the victim of tragic family circumstances. Beatrice is fascinated by her employer, but wise enough to see her flaws – which is how the reader is left to form his/her own judgment. 


As I say, this is sophisticated and accomplished story-telling. It is also a timely novel, for while it shows how one determined woman achieved success in what was then in every way a man’s world, that woman was not without her own weaknesses and blinkered vision. 


This novel is indeed a Discovered Diamond.


© J.G. Harlond





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