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)



WINNER 
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
Goodreads

mystery
14th Century
England

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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tomorrow:
Book and cover of the month



28 March 2020

The Weekend

No reviews posted at the weekend

but have you visited


on
https://ofhistoryandkings.blogspot.com/
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
Goodreads

family drama
1600s
Scotland

"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

43726536

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon AU
Goodreads

Western / Mystery
1800s
USA


"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

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

Click HERE to find  Tony on Discovering Diamonds


If your novel/s have been reviewed by Discovering Diamonds
and you would like to participate in our 
 Guest Spot


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
Goodreads

thriller / spy
1943
Greece

"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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23 March 2020

A Discovering Diamonds Review of Seduction of a Highland Warrior by Sue-Ellen Welfonder Reviewed by Mary Chapple

50355109. sy475

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon AU
Goodreads
(Highland Warriors Series) 

Romance
1300s
Scotland

"Ms Welfonder has crafted a satisfying romantic read which will please lovers of the genre."

"Highland Warrior Alasdair MacDonald is a fierce and proud laird, sworn to preserve the peace in the Glen of Many Legends. His heart belongs only to his beloved land – until the sister of his greatest enemy pleads his help to avoid her pending betrothal. Now Alasdair is torn, for he believes a man is nothing without honor, and he’s given the King his word. But how can he refuse a damsel in distress? Marjory Mackintosh, often called Lady Norn, will do anything to unite the glen’s warring clans. But a dangerous new menace now threatens her beloved hills – and her. She is certain her husband-to-be has no intention of marrying her. She believes the Norse warlord coming to claim her has a nefarious plan: one that will end her life. Such a fate is one that Alasdair cannot allow to happen to the woman he secretly desires. Yet giving her refuge – even if he vows not to touch her – will risk the fragile peace in the glen. And the King has ruled that all three glen clans shall be banished if unrest erupts again. Alasdair and Marjory must prove that a worse danger than clan feuding is about to descend on the Glen of Many Legends. As Alasdair prepares for this new battle, Marjory readies her own. She’ll use seduction to convince Alasdair that sometimes the greatest triumph isn’t won by the sword, but the heart."

A classic romance read featuring a handsome hunk and a beautiful woman - the typical Historical Romance cover of the broad, beefy bloke clad (despite the cold wind and wet weather) in little but his sporran and a hefty broadsword, gives the game away regarding the genre. 

The Historical Romance novel often contains little history and a lot of romance. Not knowing much about Scottish historical detail for the fourteenth century I cannot comment on the accuracy for this novel (although I do query the Viking presence and the Longship on the cover?) but accurate or not, the whole point of a romance is just that - the romantic (and the usually complicated) relationship, between the hero and heroine of the tale. Seduction Of A Highland Warrior fits that particular bill very nicely indeed. 

This is part of a series, but I don't think it matters if the others have not been read - I've not come across them, but there was enough in this tale for me to understand the characters and what motivated them.

In Seduction Of A Highland Warrior, Ms Welfonder has crafted a satisfying romantic read which will please lovers of the genre. She has nicely blended in the ancient folklore of the Scottish Highlands with the obsessive drive by the bad guys for the wielding of control, greed and power at all cost, regardless of who - or what - gets in the way. While for the good guys and gals, the struggle to survive leads along treacherous paths where danger, suspicion and mistrust abound - but desire and love provide the ultimate goal.

We have the strong, honourable hero Alasdair MacDonald who will do anything for the greater benefit of his clan, and who, of course, is torn every which way by his love for the feisty, strong-willed Marjory, who is betrothed to a man she does not wish to marry.

Add to this the subtle blend of magic and superstition, the ghosts who roam the misty, quiet glens, and the mystical pull of an amber heirloom and you have everything you need for a satisfying romantic read.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds
© Mary Chapple

 e-version reviewed







You will find several items of interest on the sidebar

21 March 2020

The Weekend

No reviews posted at the weekend



But why not take a look at 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)





20 March 2020

The Ghosts of War by Lyn Alexander Reviewed by J J Toner

22783650

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon AU
Goodreads


Fictional Saga
WWII
#4 of a series

"A wonderful novel to complete the series. Highly recommended."

"Hitler’s war is over. Lieutenant-General Erich von Schellendorf of the German General Staff is a prisoner-of-war. Exhausted by the collapse of every aspect of his life, deeply disturbed that he could not moderate the utter destruction of Germany, his only reward is that he survived the most destructive war in history. But now that the guns have stopped, his country destroyed, his wife gone, Erich must ultimately answer a lonely conscience and face his personal ghosts of war."

Last Book of a Wonderful Series
At the end of World War II, General Eric von Schellendorf meets with his estranged brother, Colin, and is reconciled with his ex-wife when she finally faces the dark secrets of her past. Eric is subject to an American war crimes tribunal where the truth of his wartime activities in the German resistance and spying for the British cannot be used in his defence. His life is complicated by the presence of his British lover and a son that they share. 

Once again, Ms Alexander has done a stellar job of research. Her marvellous writing style transports us to this distant and alien world with alacrity. The characterisation is skilfully done, with the scenes that switch from England to Germany very well complimenting the plot which has the reader's interest gripped from the start.

Book Four is an exciting read, well written, well presented, giving us drama and the inevitable conflict of human nature,  while portraying the consequences of war which can either tear people apart or bring them closer together.

Although a series, and it is always best to start a good series at the beginning, this last volume can just as easily be read as a stand-alone as the author provides enough background information to fill in the gaps. 

A wonderful novel to complete the series. Highly recommended.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds
© JJ Toner






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19 March 2020

Empire's Daughter by Marian Thorpe Reviewed by Annie Whitehead

shortlisted for Book of the Month


31302469

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon AU
Goodreads
#1 of a series

Fantasy 
(strictly speaking this is not a historical novel but DDRevs think that many readers of historical novels will equally enjoy this imagined Empire)


"The whole time I was reading, I was convinced that Ms Thorpe knows every tiny detail of the empire she has created, which made what she described on the pages feel incredibly real."


"For twenty generations, the men and women of The Empire have lived separately, the women farming and fishing, the men fighting wars. But in the spring of Lena’s seventeenth year, an officer rides into her village with an unprecedented request. The Empire is threatened by invasion, and to defend it successfully, women will need to fight.When the village votes in favour, Lena and her partner Maya are torn apart. Maya chooses exile rather than battle, Lena chooses to fight. As Lena learns the skills of warfare and leadership, she discovers that choices have consequences that cannot be foreseen, and that her role in her country’s future is greater than she could have dreamed."

It's a difficult and probably daunting task to make up a world. The author has to utterly convince the reader that this new world is believable, and realistic, even though it is fantasy. So the first test of such a book surely must be to make the reader think that they are having a real world described to them. Empire's Daughter passes this first test brilliantly. The whole time I was reading, I was convinced that Ms Thorpe knows every tiny detail of the empire she has created, which made what she described on the pages feel incredibly real. The scenery, the customs and traditions, the way of life - all were portrayed so well that it felt like reading about a real time and place. It's clear that the author has done a great deal of research on several periods of history in order to make her imagined world feel so authentic.

I wasn't sure, initially, though, whether it was a place I necessarily wanted to spend time in, so far-removed was it from anything I'd come across before. But within a few pages I had settled in and felt like I was walking with Lena as she moved around the village. It was almost as if the author was saying, 'It's okay, come on in. It's new and different, but let me be your guide.'

And what a sure-footed guide Ms Thorpe is. This, the first in a trilogy, contains all the elements required of a great story: battle plans, battle scenes, a journey. But it also has human relationships, a love story, and a main character who grows and learns throughout the course of the book. It's not all about the main character though, and all the people whom Lena encounters are depicted vividly and are three-dimensional. One character, Tice, does not have a major role and yet her story affects many of the other characters. (She even has her own song, printed in full at the back of the book, which I thought was a great idea which gives a moment to pause and consider all that has been played out.) Lena's interaction with the other people in the story bring some touching moments, and the bonds she forms with them develop in a believable way. The relationship between her and her partner Maya is interesting and true to life; they love one another, but have opposing views and this leads to scenes of tender, emotionally-charged moments which really resonated. I really enjoyed this book and felt like I'd gone on Lena's journey with her. And here perhaps, the reviewer should ask whether the book passes the ultimate test: does it do its job, imagined world notwithstanding? The answer is a resounding 'Yes'. Long after I'd closed my Kindle on this particular volume, I found myself thinking about the characters and am keen to pick up the story in the next volume of the trilogy. 


Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Annie Whitehead

 e-version reviewed







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