3 April 2020

Blood’s Campaign by Angus Donald

shortlisted for Book of the Month

36146468. sy475

Adventure / Military
#3 of a series

"August 25, 1689 The English Army is besieging Carrickfergus in Ireland. Brilliant but unusual gunner Holcroft Blood of the Royal Train of Artillery is ready to unleash his cannons on the rebellious forces of deposed Catholic monarch James II. But this is more than war for Captain Blood, a lust for private vengeance burns within him. French intelligence agent Henri d'Erloncourt has come across the seas to foment rebellion against William of Orange, the newly installed Dutch ruler of England, Scotland and Ireland. But Henri's true mission is not to aid the suffering of the Irish but to serve the interests of his master, Louis le Grand. Michael 'Galloping' Hogan, brigand, boozer and despoiler of Protestant farms, strives to defend his native land - and make a little profit on the side. But when he takes the Frenchman's gold, he suspects deep in his freedom-loving heart, that he has merely swapped one foreign overlord for another.
July 1, 1690 On the banks of the River Boyne, on a fateful, scorching hot day, two armies clash in bloody battle - Protestant against Catholic - in an epic struggle for mastery of Ireland. And, when the slaughter is over and the smoke finally clears, for these three men, nothing will ever be the same again . . ."

Action adventure at its best. I read, and thoroughly enjoyed, the first in this series, somehow managed to miss out on Book Two, but picked up the thread of the delightful Captain Holcroft Blood (who is the son of Colonel Blood, the chap who stole the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London) and his companions quite easily. 

Captain Blood as a character  is a joy to meet. He is a complex, multi-dimensional person full of his own quirks - today he would be placed on the Autistic Spectrum. He is a stickler for the right way to do things, and often obsessed, which means sometimes you want to shake him, and sometimes you just want to hug him. 

The supporting characters of the devious Henri d’Erloncourt,  known as Narrey, a Frenchman and spy for King Louis XIV, and Michael Hogan who may just as well be an outlaw, are equally as well drawn and interesting as Blood himself. Blood is out for Narrey's blood (excuse the slight pun) and his desire for vengeance results in trouble because Holcroft is not one for respecting orders. Victory at the Battle of the Boyne is not his priority. Killing the spy is.

The author is very clever in that he portrays this infamous battle from both sides of the conflict and blends in the little details that bring his characters alive: Holcroft enjoys his job, loves the big guns he is in charge of as much as his wonderful Lorenzoni repeating rifle and his splendid uniform. The historical research is immaculate, the writing superb and the entire novel an absolute delight. 

Note, however for the squeamish: this is a novel based on historical fact, and it does have vivid military scenes of skirmishes and battles which have a violent and bloody tone. Battles were not nice places to be.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 
© Helen Hollick
 e-version reviewed

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2 April 2020

A Discovering Diamonds Review of We All Fall Down by Various Authors

We All Fall Down - Stories of Plague and Resilience

Authors: Jean Gill, Lisa J Yarde, Jessica Knauss, Deborah Swift, 

Kristin Gleeson, Laura Morelli, Katherine Pym, David Blixt, 
Melodie Winawr

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon AU

short stories
various eras
various locations

"Plague has no favorites. In this anthology, USA Today, international bestselling, and award-winning authors imagine a world where anyone—rich, poor, young, old—might be well in the morning and dead by sundown. Readers will follow in the footsteps of those who fought to rebuild shattered lives as the plague left desolation in its wake.
* An Irish woman tends her dying father while the Normans threaten her life and property—
* A Hispano-Muslim doctor fights the authorities to stem the spread of the deadly pestilence at great personal cost—
* A Tuscan street hawker and a fresco painter watch citizens perish all around them even as they paint a better future—
* A Spanish noblewoman lives at the mercy of a jealous queen after plague kills the king—
* The Black Death leaves an uncertain legacy to Dante’s son—
* In Venice, the artist Titian agonizes over a death in obscurity—
* A Scottish thief loses everything to plague and repents in the hope of preventing more losses—
* Two teenagers from 2020 time-travel to plague-stricken London and are forever changed—
* And when death rules in Ottoman-occupied Greece, a Turk decides his own fate.  Nine tales bound together by humanity’s fortitude in the face of despair: a powerful collection of stories for our own time. In dark and deadly times, love and courage shine bright."

Somewhat topical - how did the authors know? The subject - the pandemics of Plague - might not appeal to everyone given the surreal circumstances of life world-wide at the moment ... on the other hand many readers might find the topic highly fascinating. Plague (or in our present case Coronavirus Covid 19) is nothing new...

As with all anthologies, some of the included stories appeal, others not so much; it is all a matter of personal taste and preference. Some stories in a collection are memorable or leave you thinking while some, for various reasons, do not linger in the mind quite as much - but I was delighted to discover that the former of these observations is true for the majority of stories in this intelligent creation with the general theme of 'plague'. 

We All Fall Down  is a collection that is perhaps particularly relevant with the current (early 2020) concern over the spread of the Corona Virus, and indeed, the alarming rise of Mumps and Measles because children have not been vaccinated. Even Polio is having a slight re-resurgence in some countries. All the stories leave you thinking 'thank goodness I live now, not then'!

I did enjoy all the stories to varying degrees, although I must admit that some were better than others and a couple left me feeling a little depressed - which, actually, is no reflection on the stories but on the skill of the writers who brought home the general feeling of hopeless tragedy that those poor people of the past had to endure when Plague struck a community, town or country. The fortitude, the despair, the hope, the tragedy all come over in every story to catch at your heart, and at the end of each either bring a sigh of relief or a surreptitious tear. 

I think most of us are familiar with the Great Plague of 1665 which struck London (partly remembered well because of the Great Fire of the following year) but it was highly interesting to read about different people, in different locations, in different eras, all with the common denominator of having to deal with a similar problem or situation. And of trying to survive.

A very interesting read by a host of very good authors.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds
© Anne Holt
 e-version reviewed

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1 April 2020

Mid-Week Guest Spot : Ann W. Righter

*laugh* did no one notice the DATE??!!

Ann W. Righter is a new novelist, she says:

I hope to self-published my first novel which is set in the 1100s and is about Shashona, a young Arab girl who disguises herself as a boy in order to escape the brutality of her cruel  merchant stepfather.

Shashona has heard stories of the beautiful Queen Elenor of Britain wife to Henry II and who wore male apparel when she went on campaign with her husband, the king. Shashona dreams of meeting her one day and when an opportunity arises she dresses in her brother's clothes and steals one of her stepfather's camels. She joins a caravan of the Silk Road heading for Morocco, hoping to cross into Spain and make her way north to this mysterious country of England where the grass is always green, rain falls from the sky and the Queen sits alone, shut in a tower waiting for someone to set her free.

It's only later that Shashona discovers a packet of diamonds amongst the silks and velvets of  the other goods loaded onto her stolen camel, and she makes up her mind to go to the King and offer to pay a ransom to release the captured queen.

Then a young man, Jaffra, joins the caravan along with his father and brother. He makes friends with our heroine, thinking that she is a boy and of course Shashona falls in love with him - but she has to maintain her hidden identity.

And then things happen that make her think maybe Jaffra isn't all he says he is...

A story of romance, intrigue and daring adventure.

Someone did tell me that perhaps I shouldn't use a comic-sans font, but I think that's alright as it is nice and clear to read, plus I've had a comment that the cover is a bit bland? Should I enlarge my author name? But then I really want the title to stand out.

Shashona was laying beneath her cotton blanket staring up at the sky full of blazing stars, wondering what magic caused them to burn so brightly. She knew some of their names, The Dipper, The Cross. Where had they gotten their names, she wondered? Had their mothers christened them at their birth thousands of years ago? She shifted uncomfortably, the sand hot beneath her, listening to the wind in the trees and Jaffra snoring not three yards away in a steady intake and outtake of breath every measured second. Even the annoying noise made the blood in her body feel hot and excited as it pumped around her body.
"They are like my diamonds," she thought to herself as her fingers touched the small velvet pouch tied to her waist belt where she kept them safe. "The stars are just like my diamonds."

actually written by Helen Hollick - an alternative title would be
How NOT to produce/promote a book!

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31 March 2020

Book and Cover of the Month - for books reviewed during March

designer Cathy Helms of www.avalongraphics.org
with fellow designer Tamian Wood of www.beyonddesigninternational.com
select their chosen Cover of the Month
with all winners going forward for 
Cover of the Year in December 2020
(honourable mentions for the Honourable Mention Runner-up)

March 2020

Designer unknown
Read our review here
Honourable Mentions

Designer Spiffing Covers
Read our review here

Designer unknown
Read our review here

Designed by Cathy Helms - not eligible for award

Read our review here

This is a personal choice made by  me, Helen Hollick,
(founder of Discovering Diamonds)
from books I have shortlisted for my personal reading 

My criteria for a 'winner' is:
* Did I thoroughly enjoy the story?
* Would I read it again?
* Is it a 'keeper'

My chosen Runner-Up 
for March 2020

read our review here

and my Book of the Month

* * * * * * 

Book and Cover of the Year
will be announced on 31st December 2020

30 March 2020

The Black and the White by Alis Hawkins

50657400. sy475

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon AU

14th Century

In the Forest of Dean in the 14th Century, young Martin Collyer wakes from an illness – the plague – that should have killed him. Beside him, his father lies dead, half-sewn into his shroud. Outside, Martin finds the family’s horse and cart loaded with all their household goods, and, nearby, an exquisite, life-sized statue of the saint a peddler had convinced his father to believe in: St. Cynryth, the White Maiden. The local priest had never heard of her, but Martin’s father was convinced of her power and her blessing.

Remembering where the peddler had claimed the saint’s shrine was, a long distance east, Martin, wracked by guilt at his survival, begins a pilgrimage to the site through a countryside devastated by the plague. Along the way he meets Hob, a bitter, rebellious youth who sees a chance to reinvent himself in the breakdown of the traditional master-peasant relationships wrought by the deaths of so many, both lords and men. Martin reluctantly accepts Hob as a travelling companion on the road east.

The Black and the White is a quiet, almost lyrical story, a psychological study of guilt and faith and fear in a collapsing world. Written in both the present tense and in first-person, the immediacy of Martin’s thoughts contrast with the slowly unfolding story. A reader wanting rapid action will be frustrated by The Black and the White, but Alis Hawkins does a masterful job of creating and building tension throughout the story, both by the gradual reveal of Hob’s story and his true nature, and through Martin’s confusion and terror at the explanation of some of his own actions.

Modern language and, for the most part, modern place names allow the story to be accessible, but Hawkins writes with insight into the embedded, internalized fear of purgatory and hell and the power of the medieval church, and behind it, the remnants of pre-Christian beliefs in fairies and spirits and divination by magpies – the source (or one of them) of the title of the book.

Magpies and their ancient counting verse are woven into the narrative and Martin’s fears, and the use of this motif is also one of my few niggles about the book. Suddenly, with about eighty percent of the story told, a single magpie (‘one for sorrow’) is seen in a barren field of death, foreshadowing the ending – and that is the last mention of the bird of foretelling. The lack of this motif at the very end of the book struck me as unbalanced, incomplete – but perhaps that was the author’s intent, because it echoes what other losses Martin must come to terms with.

The Black and the White is a book to make the reader think, not just to entertain; an imagining of a post-apocalyptic England that 21st century minds can barely grasp.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Marian Thorpe
 e-version reviewed

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Book and cover of the month

28 March 2020

The Weekend

No reviews posted at the weekend

but have you visited

a different story every day
(except Friday when we have Novel Conversatins)

Start here for our previous reviews:
  Click Here to browse back

Mid-week Guest Spot
last Wednesday's guest 

we are currently accepting new submissions

we would especially like to promote 
indie authors 
and childrens' historical fiction

email Helen author@helenhollick.net  )
for further information

Kindle, Paper White, Book, Device
(we prefer e-files - mobi preferably
 but do accept properly formatted PDF files)

27 March 2020

A Discovering Diamonds review of Witch Light by Susan Fletcher reviewed by Annie Whitehead

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon AU

family drama

"the sort of read from which you emerge, having been fully immersed in the setting."

"1692. Corrag, a wild young girl from the mountains of Scotland, has been imprisoned as a witch. Terrified, in a cold, filthy cell, she awaits her fate of death by burning – until she is visited by Charles Leslie, a young Irishman, hungry to question her. For Corrag knows more than it seems: she was witness to the bloody and brutal Massacre of Glencoe.
But to reveal what she knows, Corrag demands a chance to tell her true story. It is a tale of passion and courage, magic and betrayal, and the difference that a single heart can make to the great events of history."

An original idea, and an intriguing premise; this book certainly piques the interest and keeps you wondering. The devices used, of conversation and letters, lend an immediacy to the tale. Corrag speaks to Mr Leslie, while each chapter ends with his going back to his lodgings and writing a letter to his wife in Ireland. 

Let me get (most of) the very few niggles out of the way first.

There are no speech marks anywhere in the book. When Corrag talks, any reported conversation is in italics. When Mr Leslie writes, all of his words to his wife are in italics except when he's reporting speech. You get used to it, but on the first few pages it is not clear that Corrag is talking to anyone other than the reader, and the italics are frequent and distracting. Stick with it, though, and they become less intrusive. I must confess to wondering about Mr Leslie’s discretion. He ( a secret Jacobite) worries that he dare not speak openly about his sympathies to anyone he meets, yet he is happy to commit his treasonous thoughts to paper and send the letters across to Ireland. Has he not seen what always happens to riders with secret dispatches? (They can expect to get ambushed in a forest. Every time.) There are a few instances of confusion between the verbs lay and lie, even in the past tense. This is not consistent, however, so clearly the author knows the correct forms. I assume therefore that these were errors at the proofreading stage. It had a jarring effect and lifted me right out of the story which, when it gets going, is compelling. 

It’s a telling of a life, of how Corrag came to be at Glencoe on that fateful night. Corrag says of herself that she is for places, not people, and her ability to notice tiny detail and to revel in the beauty of nature and all its inhabitants is lyrically told. She is a natural storyteller, an innately kind person, and one who is able to see the good in just about anyone. She focuses on those tiny details because sometimes the 'bigger picture' is just too awful to contemplate. Let's not forget, she is in prison awaiting execution for being a witch. Once we've settled into the tale, we almost forget that Corrag is talking out loud. The story flows, even when she pauses to describe someone or something, because she is a gifted storyteller with a curious mind and an observant eye. She (or should I say the author?) shows the Scottish countryside with vivid clarity and we feel every footstep, hear every snow-melt, notice every smell. Corrag talks of having cobwebs and cow slobber in her hair and the picture comes alive. 

She does take a long time to come to the point of her story and to some this might be frustrating, but part of her strategy must surely be to fill the awful hours of waiting. When the snows melt this year, she will be executed. Naturally, she wishes to talk, to remember. And her story is not just about the massacre, but what brought her to the glen in the first place. It is as well to bear this in mind when reading, since this is very much Corrag’s story, rather than the story of what happened at Glencoe. In fact, it’s fair to say that not much happens; not obviously, anyway. The true drama is in the play between Corrag and Leslie, as she slowly, without trying, changes his mind and gives him cause to reassess his own life and beliefs. The character development and the plunging of the reader into the world of the Scottish Highlands are what gives this book its strength. It may be that it’s the sort of  book one admires for the writing, rather than for the pace of the story itself. The author has a knack of concentrating on the minutiae in a way that makes the rest of the picture come sharply into focus. It's the sort of read from which you emerge, having been fully immersed in the setting.

I had one last niggle though: this book is available under three, yes, three, different titles. It has been released, and is still available, under the titles Corrag, Witch Light, and The Highland Witch. I believe one of these is the US rather than the UK title, but even so, why a third title? 

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds

© Annie Whitehead

paperback reviewed

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26 March 2020

A Discovering Diamonds Review of Wolves of Eden by Kevin McCarthy Reviewed by Anne Holt


Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon AU

Western / Mystery

"This novel was brilliant because it is nothing like those TV and Big Screen westerns. We have the Wild West, the Civil War, the army fort,  but there the similarity ends."

"The American Civil War may be over, but in this thrilling historical novel, the battle for the West is only just beginning. Dakota Territory, 1866. Following the murders of a frontier fort's politically connected sutler and his wife in their illicit off-post brothel, Lieutenant Martin Molloy and his long-suffering orderly, Corporal Daniel Kohn, are ordered to track down the killers and return with "boots for the gallows" to appease powerful figures in Washington. The men journey west to the distant outpost in a beautiful valley, where the soldiers inside the fort prove to be violently opposed to their investigations. Meanwhile, Irish immigrant brothers Michael and Thomas O'Driscoll have returned from the brutal front lines of the Civil War. Unable to adapt to life as migrant farm laborers in peacetime Ohio, they reenlist in the army and are shipped to Fort Phil Kearny in the heart of the Powder River Valley. Here they are thrown into merciless combat with Red Cloud's coalition of Native tribes fighting American expansion into their hunting grounds. Amidst the daily carnage, Thomas finds a love that will lead to a moment of violence as brutal as any they have witnessed in battle a moment that will change their lives forever."

The westerns on TV, usually dated back to the '60s and '70s (Bonanza, The Virginian, High Chaparell, Loredo, Gun Smoke...) and those of the Movies - True Grit, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Pale Rider, Big Country, The Magnificent Seven ... mostly follow the same pattern: hero white guy against the baddie Native Indian or evil gunslinger. The American white guy goodie, of course, always wins.

This novel was brilliant because it is nothing like those TV and Big Screen westerns. We have the Wild West, the Civil War, the army fort,  but there the similarity ends. This is a story of hardship, of emotions, prejudices and of people. You'll not find a clean-shaven, white shirted, manicured Hollywood version man among these pages, nor a coiffured, busty, platex-bra, blonde with lipstick immaculately in place.  

The American Civil War was brutal and bloody. The land of the Western United States was unforgiving and harsh. The non-native men and women who started to settle Out West were tough and complex. Their situation was tough and complex. Life was tough and complex. Different religions, beliefs, morals, views, standards were all thrown together with the only common denominator being survival, and the author expertly explores all these along with his creation of some superb characters. Some are likeable, some are not. Some you're glad to see the back of, some you root for.

Throw in a murder to be solved and you have an intriguing and interesting novel to read. 

Superbly written, but be aware that the novel reflects real life which includes scenes of cruelty, brutality and bad language. It's not a novel for the squeamish, but disregarding that, a highly recommended read.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 
© Anne Holt

 e-version reviewed

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25 March 2020

Mid-Week Guest Spot : Tony Riches

Brandon – Tudor Knight
By Tony Riches

From the author of the international bestselling Tudor Trilogy comes a true story of adventure, courtly love and chivalric loyalty. 

Handsome, charismatic and a champion jouster, Sir Charles Brandon is the epitome of a Tudor Knight. A favourite of King Henry VIII, Brandon has a secret. He has fallen in love with Henry’s sister, Mary Tudor, the beautiful widowed Queen of France, and risks everything to marry her without the King’s consent.

Brandon becomes Duke of Suffolk, but his loyalty is tested fighting Henry’s wars in France. Mary’s public support for Queen Catherine of Aragon brings Brandon into dangerous conflict with the ambitious Boleyn family and the king’s new right-hand man, Thomas Cromwell. 

Torn between duty to his family and loyalty to the king, Brandon faces an impossible decision: can he accept Anne Boleyn as his new queen? 

Tony Riches
About the Author

Tony Riches is a full-time UK author of best-selling historical fiction. He lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the history of the Wars of the Roses and the lives of the early Tudors. For more information about Tony’s books please visit his website tonyriches.com and his popular blog, The Writing Desk and find him on Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches

 Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

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24 March 2020

The Poseidon Network by Kathryn Gauci Reviewed by Helen Hollick

shortlisted for book of the month

48744501. sy475

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon AU

thriller / spy

"Ms Gauci has a talent for describing her locations so well that you are transported there; like a fly on the wall you are immediately a part of what is happening"

“'One never knows where fate will take us. Cairo taught me that. Expect the unexpected. Little did I realise when I left London that I would walk out of one nightmare into another.' 1943. SOE agent Larry Hadley leaves Cairo for German and Italian occupied Greece. His mission is to liaise with the Poseidon network under the leadership of the White Rose. It’s not long before he finds himself involved with a beautiful and intriguing woman whose past is shrouded in mystery. In a country where hardship, destruction and political instability threaten to split the Resistance, and terror and moral ambiguity live side by side, Larry’s instincts tell him something is wrong. After the devastating massacre in a small mountain village by the Wehrmacht, combined with new intelligence concerning the escape networks, he is forced to confront the likelihood of a traitor in their midst. But who is it? Time is running out and he must act before the network is blown. The stakes are high."

It is always refreshing to read something about World War II that is not set in the more usual region of France or Germany. And even more refreshing when the story has a good plot, believable characters and is very well written.

Ms Gauci has a talent for describing her locations so well that you are transported there; like a fly on the wall you are immediately a part of what is happening at a Cairo cocktail party or holding your breath, back against a wall in a hidden spot in a souk, or trudging up a mountain path in Greece wary, scared, of what is around the corner...

Narrated first person by special agent Larry Hadley, from the opening paragraph I felt I was immersed in a breath-taking Humphrey Bogart/Lauren Bacall thriller movie. Ms Gauci's talent for writing the description of events and landscape is as superb as the tension she builds. The characters spring to life, the atmosphere is as real as the hot Greek sun.

Nor is this novel glamorised. The real Greek Resistance was populated by passionate people who believed in fighting for their freedom, regardless of the consequences if caught by the German or Italian occupiers. Danger, treason, death, was there at every step, and Ms Gauci portrays this very well. Her characters are ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Some of them survive, others do not.

For the reader, we are there, alongside Larry and the Resistance, aware of the danger, aware that somewhere there is a traitor about to betray us - and we turn each page with an eager, held breath wondering what is to happen next...

An excellent novel which will keep you reading into the early hours... and beyond.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds
© Helen Hollick

 e-version reviewed

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