31 July 2019

Book and Cover of the Month - JULY

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
(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 
WINNER
Read our review
Cover designed by Erin Dameron-Hill 
Honourable Mention Runner Up 
Black Camp 21
Read our Review
ALTDORF: The Forest Knights: Book 1
Read our Review
Read our Review


Click here for the 2017 - 2018 Archive

2019

From our JULY Reviews
Read our review
Not a read for the faint-hearted. The aftermath of Culloden (April 1746) and this novel reflects the horror and violence suffered by the defeated Scots. There are graphic and explicit scenes, so not a book for a relaxing bedtime read, and being honest, it's a little slow in places but it is a stunning, novel that brought home the reality of what happened in the glens and highlands.

Read our review
I've chosen Ruth Downie's novella Prima Facie as my book of the month because the entire series is such delightful fun to read. This is a murder mystery with well-drawn plots and brilliant characters. The bonus of a touch of humour is just right - not overdone or feeling false. I wish we could see these as TV dramas!

30 July 2019

Prima Facie by Ruth Downie

Shortlisted for Book of the Month


Prima Facie: A Crime Novella of the Roman Empire by [Downie, Ruth]

"The dialogue snaps and crackles with life and I loved how Ms Downie so effortlessly presents us with people who are just like we are—albeit they belong in a different time. They bicker like we do, they nag and tease like we do, they care for their babies like we do, they hope and dream like we do. And Ruso’s family worries constantly—like so many of us do—about money. "

AMAZON UK

AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA

Murder mystery/novella/ Fictional Saga
AD 123
Gaul

"A novella from the author of bestseller Medicus, featuring reluctant investigator Ruso and his partner Tilla. A tale of murder, intrigue, and betrayal in Roman Gaul. It's AD 123 and the sun is shining on southern Gaul. Ex-military medic Ruso and his British wife Tilla are back after a long absence - but it's not the reunion anyone had hoped for. Ruso's brother has left him in charge of a farm he has no idea how to manage, a chronic debt problem and a gaggle of accident-prone small children. Meanwhile, his sister Flora has run away to rescue her boyfriend, who's accused of murdering a wealthy guest at a party. Can Ruso and Tilla save the boyfriend from the murder charge - or should they be saving Flora from the boyfriend? Will any of the guests tell the truth about the fatal party before it's too late? And meanwhile, how long can Ruso continue to lie about what's inside the bathhouse?"


After what appears to be a mandatory visit to Rome, Gaius Petreius Ruso, Roman citizen and doctor, decides to fulfil another expectation, namely a long over-due visit to his family home in Roman Gaul.
Where Ruso is hesitant—and somewhat overwhelmed by his loud welcome—his British-born wife Tilla is most curious. Where he perceived his step-mother and sisters as a trio of demanding women who expect him to sort everything from the mundane to life-and-death issues, Tilla sees a family—a family that at the time of their visit is struggling with various problems, so of course they expect Ruso to help.

And so starts this delightful little caper into Roman times, with the adept Ms Downie holding the reins in a firm grip.  Why on earth I haven’t read Ms Downie’s books about Ruso and Tilla before reviewing this novella is a mystery (pun intended). After all, I love beautifully executed who-dunnits set against a relevant historical background, and Ms Downie delivers in full on both accounts.

Thanks to Ms Downie, I am transported back to Roman Gaul and the villa where Ruso’s family lives. No, I do not constantly stumble over amphorae, recalcitrant togas or Latin quotes.  Ms Downie sets her stage with a far lighter hand, and where the togas are mentioned they serve a purpose, in this case, to wrap it firmly round young men who have had too much to drink and need to be transported home ASAP: I rather liked that utilitarian approach to a garment I’ve always found a tad…inconvenient.

Further to this, Ms Downie presents us with a vivid set of characters, all the way from Ruso and Tilla to his stepmother who takes it for granted her step-son will do everything he can for his sisters to said sisters themselves—one an intense and passionate young woman, the other not so young and somewhat frustrated by how her life turned out.

The dialogue snaps and crackles with life and I loved how Ms Downie so effortlessly presents us with people who are just like we are—albeit they belong in a different time. They bicker like we do, they nag and tease like we do, they care for their babies like we do, they hope and dream like we do. And Ruso’s family worries constantly—like so many of us do—about money. They don’t have any, this as a consequence of Ruso’s father and the pile of debts he bequeathed to his family upon his death. Accordingly, there is no steaming water in the family’s bathhouse—there is simply no money to maintain such a staple of a well-to-do Roman life. Turns out an unused bathhouse can be put to other uses than those intended…

Others do have money. Some spend indecent amounts of it to indulge in equally indecent behaviour. A group of young, rich men go wild and crazy at a party and when the night is over one of them has been murdered with his bastard brother accused of wielding the murder weapon. Unfortunately for Ruso, his youngest sister, Flora, is determined to marry the accused. All Ruso has to do is prove his innocence—a simple matter for an intelligent man like him, right?  Which is how Ruso and Tilla find themselves embroiled in a murder investigation that quickly develops into something far more complex and potentially dangerous than Ruso had hoped for.

For Ruso, the murder inquiry becomes a balancing act between finding the real perpetrator and ensuring his actions do not antagonise his family’s creditors. To Tilla, the murder inquiry is about justice, plain and simple. When Ruso sets the interests of his family before those of the unjustly accused, this causes serious friction between him and his wife, thereby adding an interesting element of spice to their otherwise stable and loving relationship.

How things turn out I will leave for the reader to discover for themselves. To me, this was a perfect introduction to a series I will now happily read my way through. And as to what happens in the bathhouse, well, one could almost paraphrase that old saying and say “What happens in the bathhouse, stays in the bathhouse”.


© Anna Belfrage



<previous   next >

You will find several items of interest on the sidebar

29 July 2019

New York 1609 by Harald Johnson

Kindle Edition

"The characters are well drawn, and interesting, as is the entire novel, while the author does not shy away from tackling various ‘political’ issues with a fair-minded balanced approach."


AMAZON UK

AMAZON US
AMAZON CA

Epic 

1600s
New York

“A Native American (Lenape) boy joins Henry Hudson’s expedition up the river that now bears his name, the fearless and visionary—and misunderstood—Dancing Fish doesn’t realize his entire world and way of life are in peril. Enthralled at first by these strangers, he begins to discover their dark and dangerous side, touching off a decades-long struggle against determined explorers, aggressive traders, land-hungry settlers, and ruthless officials. If his own people are to survive, the boy-turned-man must use his wits, build alliances, and draw on unique skills to block the rising tide of the Dutch and English “salt people.” Ambition and fear, love and loathing, mutual respect and open contempt bring Europeans and “savages” together in an untold story of the founding of New York City and the fabled island at its heart: Manhattan.”


This is a big book, not far short of 600 pages, divided into four sections covering the timeline of New York’s settlement by European white men (and women, of course): 1609, 1612-13, 1625-26 and 1640-44. The result is an epic – and fascinating – story of how what is, possibly, the most famous city in the modern world. 


The story follows a young Manahate Indian as the colonists from across the salt sea begin to spread and increase their domination. It follows his trust and bewilderment, his hopes and disillusionment, superbly portraying the struggle that the Native peoples endured to survive the presence of the white men, with all the greed for land, dominance and wealth that they brought with them. With a blend of historical fact and imagined fiction, we are immersed in this epic saga of tragedy and triumph.


The characters are well drawn, and interesting, as is the entire novel, while the author does not shy away from tackling various ‘political’ issues with a fair-minded balanced approach.


Despite its length,  this was an absorbing read, although, be warned, the barbaric treatment of the Native peoples by the white settlers is utterly heartbreaking. 


The author’s notes about what parts of his novel were fact was also well worth reading.


© Anne Holt




<previous   next >

You will find several items of interest on the sidebar

27 July 2019

The Weekend

No reviews posted at the weekends - 

Start here for our previous reviews



  Click here to browse back



26 July 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of The California Run by Mark A. Rimmer

Kindle Edition


"An action-packed nautical adventure full to the gunwales with entertainment and excitement."


AMAZON UK

AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA

Nautical
1850
New York / San Francisco / Cape Horn

“New York, 1850. Two clipper ships depart on a race around Cape Horn to the boomtown of San Francisco, where the first to arrive will gain the largest profits and also win a $50,000 wager for her owner. Sapphire is a veteran ship with an experienced crew. Achilles is a new-build with a crimped, mostly unwilling crew. Inside Achilles’ forecastle space reside an unruly gang of British sailors whose only goal is to reach the gold fields, a group of contrarily reluctant Swedish immigrants whose only desire is to return to New York and the luckless Englishman, Harry Jenkins, who has somehow managed to get himself crimped by the equally as deceitful Sarah Doyle, and must now spend the entire voyage working as a common sailor down in Achilles’ forecastle while Sarah enjoys all the rich comforts of the aft passenger saloon. Despite having such a clear advantage, Sapphire’s owner has also placed a saboteur, Gideon, aboard Achilles with instructions to impede her in any way possible. Gideon sets to with enthusiasm and before she even reaches Cape Horn Achilles’ chief mate and captain have both been murdered. Her inexperienced 2nd Mate, Nate Cooper, suddenly finds himself in command of Achilles and, with the help of the late captain’s niece, Emma, who herself is the only experienced navigator remaining on board, they must somehow regain control over this diverse crew of misfits and encourage them onwards and around the Horn. But it is the ladies on board Achilles who finally regain control of the situation. With the help of their passenger compliment, which include a French Madam and her three girls, Emma and Sarah do all they can to manipulate this crew as they, in turn, confront sea, weather, a murdering saboteur and one another as they struggle to reach their destination ahead of Sapphire.”

The official back cover blurb says it all – this is an action-packed nautical adventure full to the gunwales with entertainment and excitement. The author, Mark A. Rimmer, knows about the sea, ships and sailing – and his knowledge shows in his ability to tell a thoroughly credible story, complete with a believable and diverse cast of characters such as Sarah Doyle and Henry Jenkins, the ‘baddie’ Gideon, and 'heroine' Enma … but no spoilers, I’ll say no more about them.

Some scenes are brutal – this was a harsh, brutal life for sailors and seamen (and passengers) but to be picky, possibly some of the detail of how to sail a ship, navigate etc., is, maybe, a little too detailed, but lovers of (the equally deeply detailed) Patrick O’Brian will find this novel fascinating and engrossing. It is also, I am delighted to say, not just a stereotypical nautical yarn for the male reader – this one has women involved, and what superb women they are!

© Anne Holt



<previous   next >

You will find several items of interest on the sidebar



25 July 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of Storms Gather Between Us by Clare Flynn

Storms Gather Between Us: A compelling saga of love, strife and the power of determination

"
The two main characters and all the rest of the cast were well-written, and although this is the second book of a series it sat easily as a stand-alone read. "


AMAZON UK

AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA


Romance / Fictional Saga
1930s
Zanzibar / England

"Life can change in the matter of a moment...Since escaping his family’s notoriety in Australia Will Kidd has spent a decade sailing the seas, never looking back. Content to live the life of a wanderer, everything changes in a single moment when he comes face to face with a ghost from his past on a cloudy beach in Liverpool. The daughter of an abusive zealot, every step of Hannah Dawson's life has been laid out for her...until she meets Will by chance and is set on a new path. Their love is forbidden and forces on all sides divide them, but their bond is undeniable. Now, they will have to fight against all the odds to escape the chains of their histories and find their way back to one another."


The subtitle for this novel is: "A compelling saga of love, strife and the power of determination." This was a story of a young man, Will, who has a past that he has to deal with and was, therefore, a most intriguing character, and Hannah, a young woman dominated by her obsessively zealous father. The two main characters and all the rest of the cast were well-written, and although this is the second book of a series it sat easily as a stand-alone read. 


I did find the opening chapter to be slightly hard to get into as it centred on backstory, a sort of 'Previously' summery and some of the novel was a little 'dark' in places: Hannah's misery, Will's troubled past haunting him - but unpleasant things happen to real people, (life isn't always a 'box of chocolates') and I very soon found myself rooting for the two of them to rise above their troubles. 


Possibly, some of the plot was coincidence driven - but coincidences also do happen in life, unexpected 'out of the blue' things do pop up which set in motion a chain reaction, which in turn leads from one unexpected event to another, and which can drive people to take the plunge and do something they would not have normally even thought of, let alone pursue. 

So yes, I did find it compelling. Very much so.


© Mary Chapple





<previous   next >

You will find several items of interest on the sidebar

24 July 2019

The Woolworths Girls by Elaine Everest

Shortlisted for Book Of The Month



"...an easy-read, charmingly written featuring believable, likeable, characters and I thoroughly enjoyed it."

AMAZON UK

AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA


Romance / Fictional saga
1938
England

First of a series


"It's 1938 and as the threat of war hangs over the country, Sarah Caselton is preparing for her new job at Woolworths. Before long, she forms a tight bond with two of her colleagues: the glamorous Maisie and shy Freda. The trio couldn't be more different, but they immediately form a close-knit friendship, sharing their hopes and dreams for the future. Sarah soon falls into the rhythm of her new position, enjoying the social events hosted by Woolies and her blossoming romance with young assistant manager, Alan. But with the threat of war clouding the horizon, the young men and women of Woolworths realize that there are bigger battles ahead. It's a dangerous time for the nation, and an even more perilous time to fall in love . . ."

How many UK readers of this Blog remember - and still miss - 'Woolies'? It was a 'sell everything' shop, I bought my first Beatles' album from Woolworths, purchsed birthday presents for Mum, Dad and Sisters and stocked up on essentials like a bag of broken biscuits from the BB counter. So yes, this charming romance was a trip down memory lane, but what an enjoyable trip it was!


I took to the characters straight away, the Girls becoming instant friends as I met each one for the first time, quickly becoming absorbed into their lives, rooting with them for their hopes and dreams, anguishing over their trials and fears. Cheering when all went well, biting my nails when it didn't.


This is a simple romance, it is not a work of grand scale literary fiction - and in this instance, thank goodness for that! It is a pleasant holiday read or bedtime story, designed to be enjoyed for what it is, an everyday story of everyday folk going about their everyday business, while making other, everyday, friends against a backdrop of events that were to change the everyday into the trauma and uncertainty of war. 


It is an easy-read, charmingly written featuring likeable, characters and I thoroughly enjoyed it. My thanks to the author for providing such a relaxing 'bedtime' entertainment which I looked forward to reading each night. I'll be reading the other stories in the series! 


© Mary Chapple


<previous   next >

You will find several items of interest on the sidebar


23 July 2019

So Others May Live by Lee Hutch

shortlisted for Book of the Month


So Others May Live

"This is an exceptional novel and a remarkable debut."

AMAZON UK
AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA

Family Drama

WWII
England / Berlin

"In the space of a single night, four lives collide as Berlin staggers under the weight of British bombs: Mick, a Lancaster pilot, proposed to Grace on his last leave but one more mission stands in between him and the end of his tour. Grace harbours a secret, one which she fears might change the nature of their relationship forever. Unsure of how he will respond, she has decided to tell him upon his return knowing that to do so risks losing him forever. Seven hundred miles away in Berlin, war-weary firefighter Karl is haunted by the images he’s seen both on the home front and in Russia. Now he takes command of a group of teenage auxiliaries who find themselves on the front lines of Germany’s defences against a nightly rain of fire. On a call, he meets Ursula, a young woman who lives near his station. Karl quickly finds himself falling for her, unaware that she is playing a dangerous game, one which might place his own life in danger. As the raid unfolds, they face choices which will forever change them and those they love."

This is an exceptional novel and a remarkable debut. The author is an ex-fireman, which explains his facility with matters to do with firefighting. I have no idea how he came by his knowledge of conditions inside a Lancaster bomber on a bombing mission, but he did a truly amazing job. The English idiom and slang and the banter between the members of the aircrews are all handled to perfection, without overdoing it. The book spans just three days in November 1943. We are introduced to several leading characters on both sides of the conflict – a Bomber Command pilot and his fiancée in England and a fireman and his girlfriend in Berlin, among them. The action goes back and forth between the two locations, giving us an eye-opening view of the War from both sides. This is the strength of the novel. It’s impossible not to sympathise equally with both sides. Mr Hutch’s depiction of life under the Nazis is pitch-perfect. 

This aspect of the book is a little sketchy, and I had a few minor quibbles, like the shortage of umlauts*. Also, the handling of suspense was a tad uneven in spots, but the author must be forgiven since he has given us what amounts to two excellent novels in one. 


Overall, this is a great read by a confident, talented author. 



© JJ Toner


*The umlauts are a group of sounds in German. They are written ä, ö, ü (or ae, oe, ue).



<previous   next >

You will find several items of interest on the sidebar



22 July 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of The Pearl That Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi

(narrated by Gin Hammond)
AUDIOBOOK REVIEWED
The Pearl that Broke Its Shell: A Novel

"This was such a thought-provoking novel. Though fiction, it deals with issues which happened in real life and which are still highly relevant today"


AMAZON UK

AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA

Family Drama
Early 20th/Early 21st (dual timeline)
Kabul, Afghanistan

The Pearl The Broke Its Shell is a dual timeline narrative told mostly from the perspective of Rahima, a young woman living near Kabul in 2007. She and her sisters are the children of an opium-addicted father and, with no brothers to help the family, their hope of improving their life or marriage prospects are grim. Their rebellious aunt, Shaima, suggests that Rahima follow an old custom called the bacha posh, which not only sounds like Klingon the way the narrator pronounced it, but it is the tradition of allowing a girl to dress and act as a boy when there are no other boys in a family. She can go to school, run errands for her mother, and chaperone her other sisters. In this way, Rahima becomes Rahim, a boy until she reaches marriageable age and her father marries her and her two other eldest sisters off. By marriageable age, I mean she was 13. 

The tradition of bacha posh was not unique to Rahima’s family. She had a many-times-great grandmother, Shekiba, who had lived as a man near the turn of the century as well. The secondary timeline follows her story from her small village and farmstead, through the cholera epidemic that wiped out her entire family, and how she lived as a man in order to survive. 


This was such a thought-provoking novel. Though fiction, it deals with issues which happened in real life and which are still highly relevant today - child marriage, honor killing, domestic abuse, drug addiction, and many other issues. Any one of these things is enough to break a person, but underneath all this is woven the strength of women. Rahima and Shekiba, as well as the other women throughout the book, all suffer hardships, sacrifices, abuses, and losses that are unimaginable. Some, like Rahima’s sister Parwin, are overcome. But others, like Rahima and Shekiba themselves, keep fighting even when they think they’ve come to the end of their strength and can’t go any further or endure anything else life could possibly throw at them. In the end, Shekiba’s story becomes a source of strength for Rahima, and Rahima becomes the pearl that breaks her shell. 


I loved the use of bird imagery throughout the book. Parwin was fond of drawing birds, there were birds singing and fluttering about in many pivotal scenes. Birds have some significant parts in Islamic culture, from the “Miracle of the Birds” when Abyssinian forces were supposedly annihilated by birds dropping pebbles from the sky to prevent them from entering Mecca and destroying the Ka’bah, to stories found in The Thousand and One Arabian Nights to works by Sufi poets and Islamic mystics. Including the bird imagery elevates the narratives of the women and equates them to many of the mystics or saints from other cultures in some ways, those who were made holy through their suffering, like medieval saints. I am not sure if that is intentional or not, but the image is there all the same.


This mystic thread continues in the book’s title, which is derived from the ecstatic poem There Is Some Kiss We Want by Rumi, the 13th-century Sufi poet. It is a lovely poem: 


There is some kiss we want

with our whole lives,
the touch of spirit on the body.

Seawater begs the pearl

to break its shell.

And the lily, how passionately

it needs some wild darling.

At night, I open the window

and ask the moon to come
and press its face against mine.
Breathe into me.

Close the language-door

and open the love-window.

The moon won't use the door,

only the window.

Excellent story but I was not quite so impressed by the narrator. I suggest read the book, not listen to the audio!

© Kristen McQuinn


<previous   next >

You will find several items of interest on the sidebar




20 July 2019

The Weekend

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


A good article every Indie writer should read
by Alison Morton

A Book Reviewer's Frustration
or 
how to present your book properly to a reviewer
click here 

* * * 

19 July 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of THE GHOST GARDEN Catherine Curzon and Eleanor Harkstead

The Ghost Garden (The de Chastelaine Chronicles Book 1)

"With vampires, imprisoned spirits good and bad, and a haunted rose garden, this is a Gothic romp of a novel complete with light versus dark, love and loss, and revenge."

AMAZON UK

AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA
 (The de Chastelaine Chronicles Book 1)

Supernatural
1920s
England

In 1925, Cecily James, lonely wife of the brutal and austere headmaster of Whitmore School, attempts to contact the spirit of her brother, killed at Ypres ten years before, through a séance. Instead she encounters Isabella, a 17th century inhabitant of Whitmore Hall, who was condemned to death by her own husband for a crime she didn’t commit.

At the same time a malevolent force, which has long affected the dominant males of the house, gains strength, and Cecily’s marriage takes a turn for the worse. Into the strained atmosphere comes Rafael de Chastelaine, a replacement Latin master, who is a far better gardener than he is a Latin scholar.
Kindred spirits, Raf and Cecily learn Isabella’s story and vow to release her from her entrapment, though that seems to enrage the evil that occupies the clock tower, and what starts as a fight for one ghost becomes a bid to reunite two long-dead lovers, and to destroy the darkness which threatens Cecily and the entire school.

With vampires, imprisoned spirits good and bad, and a haunted rose garden, this is a Gothic romp of a novel complete with light versus dark, love and loss, and revenge. The creeping sense of evil is very well portrayed, and the conclusion satisfying. The relationship between Raf and Cecily is full of humour (though Cecily’s discussion of a cache of ‘saucy’ love letters verges on the unnecessary and inappropriate for the scene), and their willingness to fight for and alongside each other promises well for the continuation of the series. 

Be aware that there are sexual descriptions, and some violence.


© Lorraine Swoboda




<previous   next >

You will find several items of interest on the sidebar


18 July 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of ALTDORF: THE FOREST KNIGHTS by J K SWIFT

ALTDORF: The Forest Knights: Book 1

"
I enjoyed this book; the action is pretty much non-stop and the characters, especially Thomas, are well structured and thought out."

AMAZON UK
AMAZON US 
AMAZON CA

Book One

Fictional Saga/adventure
14th Century
Switzerland

All Thomas wants is a quiet life. He and his companions have been at war in the Holy Land for nigh on thirty years in the service of the Knights of St John. Together they return to their homeland and go their separate ways. Only the giant, Pirmin, remains with him.
.
Thomas has bought a ferry service that crosses the lake for whomsoever needs it and he and Pirmin set about restoring it. Pirmin is a restless character and soon finds good lodging at the local inn, his board paid for by his work on the innkeeper's behalf. Here he meets the outlaw Noll Melchthal, young and charismatic. Thomas will have nothing to do with the fugitive and is now rarely seen in the village. Seraina is a druid priestess with healing gifts and other powers.

Meanwhile, in Hapsburg, Prince Leopold, younger brother of King Frederick, has plans of his own. He intends to build a fortress at Altdorf, near the village, for there will be profit in both trade and tolls for him. All these characters will come together in J K Swift's exciting tale which has its foundations in the (probable) myth of William Tell.

I enjoyed this book; the action is pretty much non-stop and the characters, especially Thomas, are well structured and thought out. One or two little niggles with anachronistic vocabulary that would not have been known in those days, but this did not spoil the overall feel of the book. The ending is complete with no loose ends; nevertheless, there is a sequel and I look forward to reading it to discover what happens next!

© Richard Tearle


<previous   next >

You will find several items of interest on the sidebar