29 June 2019

Cover and Book of the Month

click here for the 2017 - 2018 Archive

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

2019
Cover of the Month for June

WINNER

Read our review
designer unknown

RUNNER UP COVERS


The Narrowboat Girls by Rosie Archer
Read our review
designer unknown
Sauce for the Gander (The Marstone Series Book 1)
read our review
designer unknown

exempt:

Read our review

click here for the 2017 - 2018 Archive
2019
From our JUNE Reviews


no runner-up this month because I thoroughly enjoyed 
all four shortlisted books 
which were:
our review
our review
our review

but I have chosen as
my Book of the Month 

I especially enjoyed this novel because 
it gave a different perspective
 to what I thought I knew about Jesse James 
(which, as it turns out, was very little!) 
If only the 'western' genre was always like this novel...!

28 June 2019

Sauce for the Gander by Jayne Davis

Sauce for the Gander (The Marstone Series Book 1)

"A well-written novel, elegantly grounded in an England of the past. The historical setting is seamlessly woven into the plot, the central characters quickly spring into people of flesh and blood."

AMAZON UK

AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA


Romance
18th Century 1700s
England

I shall come clean right from the start and admit I was in two minds about reading this book—mainly because of the title. Also, the short description had me somewhat concerned: an earl to strong-arm his heir into marrying an impoverished nobody? In the 18th century? Hmm, I thought.

I am glad to report that my initial concerns were quickly proven groundless. Four chapters in and I was already invested in the well-drawn and engaging protagonists, both of them victims to the machinations of their callous and deeply unlikeable fathers. In Connie’s case, one can—almost—understand why her father leaps at the opportunity of seeing her wed well above her station. In Will’s case…well, let’s just say Lord Marstone is the father from hell. 

Usually, a historical romance ends with a wedding. In this novel, things begin with a wedding. They have never met before the day they speak their vows, and while Connie undoubtedly is the most vulnerable—she is, after all, a woman, a possession handed over from her father to her unknown husband—Will is as uncomfortable as she is with this whole business of wedding a stranger. Who wouldn’t be?

While Will’s relationship with his father is a frigid, thorny thing, he has memories of happier days, long summer weeks spent with his siblings and his loving mother while his father entertained himself elsewhere. So when his father forces him to wed, Will manages to extract one concession: that he and his bride be allowed to reside in the Devonshire home his mother loved the best, far from the overbearing earl. 

Connie has no happy memories—her mother died too young. What little she knows of Will paints him as a carousing rake, a man who duels in the early dawn with the cuckolded husbands of his lovers.  What he knows of her, she does not know, but worries he will dislike having a wife who enjoys to read and broaden her mind well beyond the somewhat limited interests a woman “should” have. But while she may have her doubts about Will, she immediately realises he is very, very different from his father, and that is something to be very grateful for—as is the fact that they will not be living in close proximity with her new father-in-law. 

Hesitantly, the newly-weds establish some sort of relationship. Will shows restraint, Connie tries not to be overwhelmed, and in the manor of Ashton Tracey she sees the possibility of making a home. But there is some other game afoot at the little manor, a dangerous and illegal activity that soon comes to threaten not only their future, but also their lives.


This is a well-written novel, elegantly grounded in an England of the past. The historical setting is seamlessly woven into the plot, the central characters quickly spring into people of flesh and blood, and the plot is adequately convoluted. This is not a fast-paced novel—Ms Davis has an affinity for beautiful descriptive writing that at times slows things down. This reader does not mind. In fact, this reader very much enjoyed the atmosphere created by this talented author—so much so, in fact, that I have already acquired a new book by Ms Davis. 

© Anna Belfrage





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Our occasional 'On This Day' Fact
On 28th July 1846
Adolpho Sax patented the saxophone 

Adolphe Sax

27 June 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of The Montgomery Murder by Cora Harrison

The Montgomery Murder: An action-packed YA thriller (Victorian London Murder Mysteries Book 1)

"Harrison does an excellent job weaving in the history of the orphaned children during the Victorian Age. She paints a vivid picture of the hardships and the lives that the poor children endured"

AMAZON UK
AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA


Mystery  / Young Adult
Victorian 1800s
London, England 

The first of six Victorian London Murder Mysteries by Cora Harrison, The Montgomery Murder introduces readers to four young boys and their faithful dog. Led by twelve-year-old Alfie, the orphaned boys and their dog are left to their own ruses to survive the cold and foggy streets of 1856 England. When a ruse goes wrong and Alfie is caught with a stolen loaf of bread, he soon finds himself inside the police station, facing Inspector Denham. After asking young Alfie to identify a dead man, the Inspector makes Alfie an offer that sets the stage for a mystery that leads Alfie, his gang, and their faithful dog, on an adventure that shows how the wits and wiles of the orphaned children can bring justice to the dangerous streets of their city.

Harrison does an excellent job weaving in the history of the orphaned children during the Victorian Age. She paints a vivid picture of the hardships and the lives that the poor children endured just so they could survive from one day to the next. As Harrison developed each of the characters’ journeys throughout the story, their strengths and their youthful flaws moved the story forward. With each turn of the page, I found myself falling deep into the time period, living the torments of the boys’ lives, and realizing their courage and the power of their unity to survive. 

Reading about the reality of the children’s lives during this time period drew out feelings of sadness and anguish. As a novel for young adults, The Montgomery Murder would set the stage to help today’s youth gain a sense of how children were treated and viewed during most of the 19th century. This is a story that could easily be integrated into a Humanities unit that opens the door for discussions on why and how child labor laws were first put into place to protect children. It is a story that can be used to discuss the ethics on how some children are also treated today. It really highlights how literature can teach children empathy.

In the end, young adults will discover the vitality and the will of four young boys and their dog as they work toward survival by solving a mystery. 

Harrison’s first novel in the series of six mysteries will leave readers wanting more of the adventures that take place in Victorian London.



© Cathy Smith



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26 June 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of The Narrowboat Girls by Rosie Archer

The Narrowboat Girls by Rosie Archer


"The factual side of the story - the handling of a narrowboat in all weathers and under difficult, even dangerous circumstances, was well researched and really brought home the effort these remarkable women of WWII put into keeping the country running."


AMAZON UK
AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA

Family Drama / romance
1944
England

"Spring 1944, and the war shows no sign of stopping. In Hampshire, Elsie is desperate for a new start after her husband leaves her. When her friend Izzy, herself planning an escape from her abusive boyfriend, tells her about the wartime jobs going for women on the canal boats, she jumps at the chance. Their new boss, Dorothy, is kind and fair, but it's clear she has a secret of her own. Their crew is completed by Tolly, searching for a new vocation now that her dream job has been snatched away. The work is hard, but together they pitch in, and through shared ups and downs they forge close friendships that will see them through the darkest times. What none of them could have predicted is just how much working on the canals will change their lives. Could it really be that what started as a means of escape will end up giving each of them everything they ever wanted?"

The very thought of progressing at a leisurely pace through the English countryside towards the large, industrial towns such as Birmingham via a narrowboat on the network of canals conjures the immediate picture of romantic idyll. Of course, the reality of the canal boats and the men - or in this case, the women - who operated them is far from that idyllic concept. Taking a leisurely cruise on a modern-day floating holiday home is very far from transporting essential goods during the hazards of war.

I enjoyed this story, and not just because I have happy memories of holidaying afloat with my family on various English canals. Right from the start, I felt that I knew the 'girls' as 'old friends'. Elsie, Izzy, Dorothy and Tolly, sharing their worries, hopes, dreams, disappointments and secrets together as friends do.

The factual side of the story - the handling of a narrowboat in all weathers and under difficult, even dangerous circumstances, was well researched and really brought home the effort these remarkable women of WWII (and WWI, come to that) put into keeping the country running. 

I must admit, I knew about landgirls working the farms and the women in the munitions factories but it never occurred to me that they would also be handling the essential transportation links of the canals.

This was a simple, unassuming story, predictable, as most 'romances' are, with the secrets and situations pretty obvious; to be honest there really wasn't much point in the author keeping the 'secret' until the end 'reveal'  - better to have confided it to the reader but kept it from the characters, which would, I feel, have made the secret holder's dilemma far more poignant. Still, this was an enjoyable, easy novel, absolutely ideal for holiday reading - especially one taken on the English canals!


© Mary Chapple





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25 June 2019

I Am Mrs Jesse James by Pat Wahler

shortlisted for Book of the Month


I am Mrs. Jesse James

"The everyday details of life in the years following the civil war were expertly drawn, and I learned a lot."

 Amazon Uk
Amazon US
Amazon CA

Biographical Fiction
1800s
USA

"A penny for a promise will change her life forever. For Jesse James, the war will never be over. For Zee Mimms, the war is only the beginning. The long, bloody Civil War is finally at an end when Zee Mimms, the dutiful daughter of a Missouri preacher, is tasked with nursing her cousin, Jesse James, back to health after he suffers a near-fatal wound. During Jesse's long convalescence, the couple falls in love, but Jesse's resentment against the Federals runs deep. He has scores to settle. For him, the war will never be over. Zee is torn between deferring to her parents' wishes and marrying for security or marrying for love and accepting the hard realities of life with an outlaw living under an assumed name and forever on the run. For her, the choice she makes means the war is only beginning."

The premise of this book intrigued me, because what do we really know about the wives and lovers of these famous, or should I say notorious men? The tale begins with a funeral, and yes, it is Jesse James himself who is being laid to rest. That's hardly a spoiler, given that most people with even a passing interest will know the nature of his death, if not all the details.

Immediately though, we are invited to wonder about Zee, his widow. How did they meet; how did her life's journey lead her to this day? The opening pages are a strong start, while the first few chapters do go a bit slowly. But there is a very good reason for this, because we need this slow start to show two things: firstly the fact that Zee nurses Jesse and this is how their relationship builds, and secondly because it presages what is to come - years of patient waiting on her part while Jesse is away, doing what he does.

The story is punctuated with sudden bursts of drama, which are well written and show the contrast between the fairly ordinary life which Zee lives and the adrenaline-fuelled existence of her husband. I didn't know the exact details of his life and death and so much of this was a revelation to me, and all the better for it.

The everyday details of life in the years following the civil war were expertly drawn, and I learned a lot. The book is written in the first person, which I normally don't like, but Zee is not given to introspection so it was less of a problem for me than normal. With minimal fuss, Ms Wahler draws family characters and relationships which endure over the years and the story is all the stronger for it. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

When Zee yearns for a normal life, I found myself rooting for her, even though I knew she'd never have her wish granted. The ending was a genuine shock, because I'd been lulled into watching a gentle domestic scene unfurl. This was masterful writing. After I'd finished the book, I looked up Jesse James and his life and found that the extraordinary details chronicled in the book are all true. What was really poignant was seeing photos of his mother's farm, and photos of both Jesse and Zee.

A strong book, which exerted quite a pull on me as a reader.

© Annie Whitehead
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24 June 2019

La Luministe by Paula Butterfield

La Luministe

"The prose is excellent and the book is a sensual delight that must be not just read, but experienced. "


AMAZON UK
AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA

Fictionalized biography

19th century
France

When the story opens, Berthe Morisot is a young girl who, along with her sister Edma, is allowed by their parents to study painting prior to the inevitable marriage. While Edma makes a suitable marriage, Berthe refuses the role society and her parents have assigned her and hopes to make a career as a serious artist. Such a career for a respectable woman was unthinkable in those days. When she meets the great Édouard Manet and falls under his spell, her desire to enter and conquer his world becomes her overriding passion.


This book is not a page-turner. Nor is it a conventional romance. It is a detailed and fascinating look at Paris at a time after the Franco-Prussian War when the city was undergoing great changes; a time when the new boulevards were being laid out; when artists well-known today were struggling to make names for themselves and impressionism was a new movement setting itself against the constraints of the staid Salon. Mostly, it’s about Berthe and her fraught relationship with Manet as she struggles to find herself as artist, lover, and woman. She’s a very nuanced character. We see her in moments of weakness, despair, envy, and self-doubt, but she never lets go of her vision, and we have to root for her. And it’s

also about Manet, a libertine who loves life and lives it to the fullest. There is also a supporting cast of famous names.

The writer goes deeply into the complex love affair between Berthe and Manet. The prose is excellent and the book is a sensual delight that must be not just read, but experienced. It’s always a pleasure to rub shoulders, in a manner of speaking, with the good and the great of the art world. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I recommend it for anyone who likes literary fiction, but it is a must for those interested in art history.



© Susan Appleyard



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22 June 2019

The Weekend

No reviews posted at the weekends - 
why not browse some of the items you may have missed?

click here for our Index

or browse back through our reviews



21 June 2019

The Greenest Branch by PK Adams

shortlisted for Book of the Month


The Greenest Branch: A Novel of Germany's First Female Physician (Hildegard of Bingen Book 1)

"Little is known about Hildegard’s life after she initially entered the abbey until Jutta’s death. Adams uses that gap in knowledge and creates a detailed and plausible version of her own, enhanced with excellent and accurate details of medieval life"


AMAZON UK 

AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA 

Fictional Drama 

12th century
The Rhineland/ Disibod Abbey

In the early 12th century, a young girl was given as a tithe to the church with the intention that she would be enclosed as an anchoress at the abbey of Disibodenberg. That girl was Hildegard, known to history as Hildegard of Bingen. This novel tells the story of her early years at the abbey of Disibod and attempts to fill in a gap in the historical record. 

Author PK Adams does a lovely job bringing a young Hildegard to life with her clear and elegant prose. The setting of the medieval Rhineland is well described and gives readers a vivid image of life during the Investiture Controversy. The conflicts brewing between the Church and secular authorities were complex and distressing to people at the time, and Adams captured these emotions plainly in her characters. 


I have, at times, railed against authors of historical fiction who take liberties with historical fact for the sake of telling a story. I think if they can’t tell a good story without over-embellishing the facts then they aren’t good storytellers. However, Adams has found a sweet spot with regard to Hildegard’s story, and she’s run with it. Little is known about Hildegard’s life after she initially entered the abbey until Jutta’s death. Adams uses that gap in knowledge and creates a detailed and plausible version of her own, enhanced with excellent and accurate details of medieval life. We may not know about what Hildegard’s life was really like for a number of years, but this novel presents us with a viable option for consideration. 


Adams wove in many lyrics from Hildegard’s songs, which was a nice touch. A vital touch, in my opinion. I don’t think one should write about Hildegard without them, given that she wrote so many. I do wish there had been more about herbology, such as recipes she might have used, but that’s just because I am super interested in herbalism. There was enough on that front to appeal to most readers who aren’t as interested as I am, I believe. 


The characters are nicely developed overall. I would like more development with Helenger; right now, he just seems like the flat arch-villain, mean just for the sake of being mean. I would also like more development with Volmar, particularly since he played such a large role in Hildegard’s real life. Maybe that will be in book two? The issue with Jutta and her bodily mortification left me a little wanting - I wanted to know more about Hildegard’s thoughts behind it. But overall, these were minor - and possibly personal - issues which didn’t impact my enjoyment of the book as a whole. 


I am excited that I don’t have to wait to read the next in the series - thanks, Netgalley! It will be interesting to see how the next book handles the later parts of Hildegard’s much more well-documented life. Hopefully, Adams will continue this remarkable woman's story with the same eye for detail as she has begun it. 



© Kristen McQuinn




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20 June 2019

The Tubman Command by Elizabeth CobbsA review by Discovering Diamonds


The Tubman Command: A Novel

"
Elizabeth Cobbs is a skilled historian who uses her knowledge and research of the time period to build a story that connects readers directly to the soul of a woman who opened the door of change for hundreds of enslaved men, women, and children."

AMAZON UK
AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA

Historical Fiction / Biographical Fiction
19th Century 1863 / American Civil War  
USA 

"It’s May 1863. Outgeneraled and outgunned, a demoralized Union Army has pulled back with massive losses at the Battle of Chancellorsville. Fort Sumter, hated symbol of the Rebellion, taunts the American navy with its artillery and underwater mines.  In Beaufort, South Carolina, one very special woman, code-named Moses, is hatching a spectacular plan. Hunted by Confederates, revered by slaves, Harriet Tubman plots an expedition behind enemy lines to liberate hundreds of bondsmen and recruit them as soldiers. A bounty on her head, she has given up husband and home for the noblest cause: a nation of, by, and for the people.
The Tubman Command tells the story of Tubman at the height of her powers when she devises the largest plantation raid of the Civil War. General David Hunter places her in charge of a team of black scouts even though sceptical of what one woman can accomplish. For her gamble to succeed, “Moses” must outwit alligators, overseers, slave catchers, sharpshooters, and even hostile Union soldiers to lead gunships up the Combahee River."


When we hear the name Harriet Tubman, the first thing that may come to mind is the Underground Railroad, but Tubman, also known as Moses, contributed much more to the American Civil War than what she did to help slaves escape to freedom via the Underground Railroad. Tubman also worked as a spy for the Union army, and The Tubman Command is an historical fiction account of a raid Tubman could have helped plan that took her behind enemy lines and into the heart of danger.

Elizabeth Cobbs is a skilled historian who uses her knowledge and research of the time period to build a story that connects readers directly to the soul of a woman who opened the door of change for hundreds of enslaved men, women, and children. Cobbs skillfully weaves together a story about Tubman and her world that paints a vivid picture of the lives of people during one of the bloodiest wars in American history.

As I read The Tubman Command, I found myself stepping back into the 1860s, living Tubman’s life through her everyday experiences. I could taste her homemade gingerbread to the point that I found myself searching the internet for a similar recipe. I could sense the spirit of the culture through the bits and pieces of the words to the songs that Cobbs weaves into the dialogues and descriptions of the scene that moves the story forward. Cobbs masterfully creates a world mixed with emotions that makes you smile on one page and brings you to tears on the next. It was hard putting the book down as you lived a short part of one woman’s life while she worked unconditionally to save others from fates worse than death. 


Tubman was a hero to the people whose lives she touched and changed throughout her lifetime. Tubman’s strength and courage remain an inspiration today. Cobbs does an outstanding job taking readers into Harriet Tubman’s world, and joys and heartaches of people who lived suppressed lives until Tubman was able to help them find their way to their Promised Lands.

© Cathy Smith



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19 June 2019

The Teashop Girls by Elaine Everest


"From the opening chapter, the characters leapt into life. I felt as if I had wandered into a real-life Lyons Teashop."


AMAZON UK
AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA


Family Drama
1940s
England

"It is early 1940 and World War Two has already taken a hold on the country. Rose Neville works as a Lyon’s Teashop Nippy on the Kent coast alongside her childhood friends, the ambitious Lily and Katie, whose fiancé is about to be posted overseas in the navy. As war creates havoc in Europe, Rose relies on the close friendship of her friends and her family. When Capt. Benjamin Hargreaves enters the teashop one day, Rose is immediately drawn to him. But as Lyon’s forbids courting between staff and customers, she tries to put the handsome officer out of her mind. In increasingly dark and dangerous times, Rose fears there may not be time to waste. But is the dashing captain what he seems?"

The WWII Lyons teashops - I am not quite old enough to remember them, but I know of them and so it was with great interest that I delved into this novel. And what a fabulous read it was!

From the opening chapter, the characters leapt into life: Lily, Mildred, Rose and Kate. I felt as if I had wandered into a real-life Lyons Teashop. The lives, loves, joys and woes of these delightful young ladies was utterly absorbing and a pleasure to read. The secondary characters were as brilliantly created as the main ones, and as realistically portrayed.

Opening in June 1940, prior to the evacuation of Dunkirk, the story takes us to the seaside towns of Ramsgate and Margate, the daily life of enduring the war is emotionally gripping – and in places vivid and frightening, the author’s descriptive writing of an air raid as an example. 

The scene setting, the detailed research, the use of authentic language (who uses ‘courting’ now for young couples?) the very feel of this charming story made for a thoroughly enjoyable read.

An absorbing tale, written by a gifted storyteller.

© Mary Chapple



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18 June 2019

The Severed Knot by Cryssa Bazos

Shortlisted for Book of the Month




"
Ms Bazos’s writing is flawless, with wonderful descriptions and spine-tingling dialogue expertly founded on meticulous research."

AMAZON UK

AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA

Hauntingly Beautiful.

Let me state this here and now. Severed Knot is a fabulous follow-up to Ms Bazos’s award-winning debut novel, Traitor’s Knot, and if possible, I enjoyed this book even more than the first. From the very beginning, you are swept into a world of warfare and adversity, huge challenges and heartbreak with two compelling characters, Mairead and Iain. Each brings their own story with them, heart-wrenching and captivating. Together, they are unforgettable. 

As victims of the English Civil War, their lives rapidly succumb to the horrors of deportation, and as indentured slaves, Iain and Mairead find themselves helpless and hopeless on the hostile landscape of seventeenth-century Barbados. Ms Bazos’s vivid writing draws you immediately into a world as foreign and harsh as can be possibly imagined. The story evolves into a devastating account of servitude, and with our hearts in our mouths, we travel with Mairead and Iain as they fight to survive. 

Running like a ribbon of light through the beautiful descriptive writing emerges an attraction that pulls and tugs at the heartstrings, and flares into a love story that endures the horrors of their imprisonment. Together, Iain and Mairead begin to hope they may find a way to escape and find their way home again, and as their spirits strengthen, our hopes rise with them.

Ms Bazos’s writing is flawless, with wonderful descriptions and spine-tingling dialogue expertly founded on meticulous research.  Her descriptions embrace all the senses, where you can hear the poignant strains of Mairead’s violin and suffer the unbearable heat of a plantation sugar cane field. From the first page to the last, we travel with Iain and Mairead in their hearts and souls, hoping they can find their way home and to a love they both deserve.

This is a story that is rarely told, of the thousands of Irish and Scottish indentured slaves that were shipped to the colonies in the mid-seventeenth century. Ms Bazos writes of this heartbreaking period in history with empathy and passion and the result is a novel of depth, breadth and hauntingly beautiful moments. 

© Elizabeth St John



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Today In History

1815. The Duke of Wellington

Battle of Waterloo 1815.PNG
The Battle of Waterloo
by William Sadler
* * * 
1942 Sir Paul McCartney was born


Interesting fact:
he was auditioned twice to become a choirboy 
and his first instrument was a trumpet.

He is a talented singer, but even he would have struggled 
to sing and play the trumpet!



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