30 April 2020

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


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  APRIL 2020

cover design by Caroline Young for Headline Publishing Group


Honourable mentions

36146468. sy475
Read our review
designer unknown

UK Cover
(no designer known)


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 JOINT winner
Book of the Month
(because I loved them both)
for April 2020

read our review

and 


* * * * * * 


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

29 April 2020

Guest Spot - Amy Maroney



Amy Maroney lives in the Pacific Northwest with her family. She spent many years as a writer and editor of nonfiction before turning her hand to historical fiction. She’s currently obsessed with pursuing forgotten women artists through history. When she’s not diving down research rabbit holes, she enjoys hiking, drawing, dancing, traveling, and reading. 


Amy is the author of a historical mystery trilogy about a Renaissance-era female artist and the modern-day scholar on her trail. The series was inspired by travels in Europe over several decades, most recently with her husband and two young daughters in tow. During that trip, Amy discovered a 500-year-old portrait of a woman, painted by a woman. Intrigued by the idea of female Old Masters hidden in history's shadows, she resolved to write a novel about such an artist. One novel soon turned into three: The Girl from Oto, Mira’s Way, and A Place in the World



Find Book 1, The Girl from Oto, here. To receive The Promise, a free prequel novella to the series, join the author's readers’ group at www.amymaroney.com. Follow Amy on BookBub at https://www.bookbub.com/profile/amy-maroney, or find her on Twitter @wilaroney, Instagram @amymaroneywrites, and Facebook.



Amy is currently at work on her next historical fiction series. It stars a female artist born on the Greek island of Rhodes during the rule of the Knights Hospitaller in the fifteenth century. A future of adventure, intrigue, and danger awaits the heroine–and yes, there will be pirates.


Click HERE to find  Amy  on Discovering Diamonds


GUEST LIST

from next month the Guest Spot will be moving to SUNDAY 

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

28 April 2020

THE ROAD TO LADYSMITH by Nigel Seed


 Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon AU
Goodreads

Boer War / Military
1901
South Africa

Following his exploits in the Sudan, Captain Michael McGuire is sent to South Africa with his special team that was formed in the first volume, No Road to Khartoum. He is now to form a full troop and sets about recruiting the usual misfits and wastrels. Once in place, McGuire and his men are given several difficult reconnaissance roles culminating with taking part in the relief of Ladysmith. As the war progresses, they move on to Mafeking.

Along the way, McGuire meets a lot of well known people – Col Redvers Buller, Ghandi, Winston Churchill,  Breaker Morant and Robert Baden Powell, for example. There is also a nice touch when Baden Powell admires the 'badges' that McGuire awards his men when they have passed his tests in various activities! It is to the writer's credit than he can weave these real characters into the ficional story. But he also meets the ineffective and often class conscience officers that seem to have dogged the British army in so many periods and times of war.

For the most part, the story is told from McGuire's point of view, but every so often, the author will throw in a chapter which outlines the true facts of the war's progress. There is also the true story of Churchill's escape from a Boer POW camp.

The chapters are quite short and the action is constant which means that the story is told at a very fast pace. Although the second of three volumes, this is completely stand alone. A very brief synopsis is given at the beginning of the book and other details are added in at varying stages. The research is excellent and the true stories of the above mentioned characters forms part of the Author's Notes. 

I did have a couple of very minor niggles: there were a few typos and a typesetting formatting error and there were a few examples of repetitious words or phrases - Churchill refers to 'armchair warriors' a number of times, for example.

However, these did not spoil my enjoyment of the novel in the slightest. I certainly learned more about the Boer War than I had ever known before. I  look forward to newly promoted Major McGuire's further adventures.

© Richard Tearle

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27 April 2020

The Final Puzzle by Juhi Ray

Shortlisted for Book of the Month




Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon AU
Goodreads


 India /Pakistan


Reading The Final Puzzle has been a privilege: it is informative, entertaining and full of wise words. Superficially, it is a re-telling of part of the reign of the Moghul Emperor Akbar, who ruled for over half a century in 16th Century Hindustan. He is clever, brave and ambitious, so much so he is constantly at war to expand his empire. Akbar is aided in this by his brilliant and equally wise adviser, Mahesh Das, a plain man of humble origins who rises to one of the highest positions in the land, and accumulates numerous jealous, vicious enemies along the way. The shared history of these two extraordinary men, however, is only the top layer of this multi-layered historical novel. Running through the narrative are issues related to religion, gender, love, loyalty and free-will.

After extending his territory to include vast swathes of the Indian sub-continent, Akbar seeks to unite the religions of his disparate territories. It takes many years, but he eventually succeeds in bringing together scholars of the main faiths, Islam, Hinduism, Jainism, and Zoroastrianism, with the aim of finding a way to establish or at least devise a faith that will transcend religious differences and ensure tolerance if non-unity among his subjects. Throughout the story, we see how religious zealots and those who use religion as an excuse to sow discord undermine his rule, and how both he and Mahesh Das nearly die as a result of extremism at their hands.

Issues relating to love and marriage are another theme. Mahesh Das’s wife, Lakshmi (a real person), is so caught up in her unfounded belief that her husband either loves another woman and/or plans to take a second wife that she destroys their marriage. Later, when he is no longer a young man, Mahesh does fall in love, but he has vowed not to take a second wife, and despite the fact that his wife is unsuitable and rejects him, does his best to ignore his heart. The woman he yearns to be with is named Radha.

 A free spirit with a mind of her own, Radha frequently dresses as a man to move and act more freely. I’m not sure to what extent the story veers into the politically correct here, but the dilemma Mahesh confronts is subsequently confounded when his royal master offers to take Radha into his harem. Whether or not this is entirely fictional doesn’t matter in the end, though, because it is a touching, grown-up love story with an unexpected outcome – to say more would spoil the book.

Apart from Mahesh Das’s marital problems and Akbar’s thwarted intentions to bring about religious tolerance, The Final Puzzle is a complex tale of good versus evil. The author, Juhi Ray, takes her time constructing the historical background; creating her settings and circumstances; interweaving inter-dependant strands; lightening darker sections with curious anecdotes and beautiful descriptions of places I would love to visit. One of her strengths is her measured pace, although there are frequent moments of high action – when Akbar single-handedly faces down an enraged elephant is one. There are a few very modern American idioms that sound out of place, references to a ‘hitman’ and ‘angst’ for example, which jarred, but this is every historical fiction author’s challenge: how to avoid ‘thee and thou’ pedantry and make an ancient story accessible to the modern reader.

If I have a serious criticism it is that the good are almost too good, and the bad are downright evil, but that is the way of telling an old tale, and the life of Akbar is in many respects a well-known folk tale. For this reader, however, much of it was new and all of it a pleasure to read. Highly recommended for anyone interested in the history of India, or looking for a different kind of historical fiction.

This is a thumping good story, a debut novel that ranks as a Discovered Diamond. I look forward to Ms Ray’s next book.


© J.G. Harlond

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 
©
 e-version reviewed









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25 April 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 Conversations)

Start here for our previous reviews

and to browse  back
* * * 

we are currently accepting new submissions

email Helen author@helenhollick.net  )
for further information

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





24 April 2020

A Discovering Diamonds Review of THE TESTAMENT OF LEOFRIC THE BLACK: VOLUME ONE ( 1040-57 ) by EDWARD CARTWRIGHT BEARD


Amazon UK
Amazon US
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Goodreads

Fictional saga
11th century
England


It is 1071 and the (failed) uprising of Hereward in the marshy fens around Ely. Born with a deformity, Leofric The Black, we meet him as he flees the accusation of treachery. He has developed from a child used to taunts and ridicule to a competent Saxon warrior fighting to survive against the conquest of England by Duke William and the Normans.

After the opening scenes we go back in time to when our hero was a boy of nine, and witness his struggles and dreams, his hopes and desires, walking beside him as he grows into a youth and then a man.

Leofric is a very believable character with his additional talents of artistry and skill at illuminating manuscripts. But as with all who hold prestigious gifts he has enemies who are jealous of his prowess and who will stop at nothing to destroy him. Equally, he has friends, Earl Harold son of Earl Godwin (King Harold II) among them.

Blended nicely into the facts of this turbulent and transformation period of English history is a little enchantment and magic in the form of a wondrous sceptre, the old gods and a sorceress. Leoftic’s goal is to find and reveal the real traitor in order to prove his innocence and against all the odds from rivals, the Normans and the supernatural we find ourselves cheering for him to accomplish his destiny.

My only quibble would be the inaccuracy of the helmet on the cover - way too early a style for this period. But I doubt the fault lies with the author, it was probably the publisher's decision.


Through Leofric’s eyes the author paints a vivid, often cruel and vicious, but also emotional and compelling, picture of eleventh century England. This is a debut novel, I believe, and the first of a trilogy – comparable, I would say to any of Bernard Cornwall’s novels, or Helen Hollick’s acclaimed novels of the same pre-1066 period.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 
© Anne Holt
 e-version reviewed







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23 April 2020

Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier Reviewed by Lucy Townshend

A Good Read Revisited



Amazon UK
Amazon US
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Amazon AU
Goodreads

Fictional Saga / Fantasy
10th Century
Ireland


"A magnificent saga set in the Celtic twilight of 10th century Ireland, when myth was law and magic was a power of nature, brilliantly brought to life: the legendary story of an evil stepmother opposed by a seventh child.
A wicked woman, an evil curse, and a love that must triumph over impossible odds.
Set in the Celtic twilight of ancient Ireland, when myth was law and magic a force of nature, this is the tale of Sorcha, seventh child of a seventh son, the forbidding Lord Colum, and of her six beloved brothers.
The keep at Sevenwaters is a remote, strange, quiet place, guarded by silent men who slip through the woodlands clothed in grey, and keep their weapons sharp. For there are invaders outside the forest; raiders from across the seas, Britons and Vikings bent on destruction. But now there is also an invader inside the keep: the Lady Oonagh, a sorceress as fair as day, but with a heart as black as night. Oonagh captivates Lord Colum with her sensual wiles; but she cannot enchant the wary Sorcha. Frustrated in her attempts to destroy the family, Oonagh binds the brothers with a spell that only Sorcha can lift. If she fails, they will die.
Then the raiders come, and Sorcha is taken captive.
Soon she will find herself torn between her duty to break the curse, and a growing, forbidden love for the warlord who is her captor."

Many years ago, I read the Bridei Chronicles by the same author and was recently discussing them with a historical fantasy fan. She recommended the Sevenwaters Trilogy, of which Daughter of the Forest is the first. The first thing to say about this is that it is an absolute brick, coming in at 538 large pages. But settle down, because you'll be glad you have such a chunky story to enjoy. The tale is told by Sorcha, who is herself a story-teller, and the 'voice' changes over the course of the book as she grows up. 
The early chapters tell of an idyllic childhood, although always tinged by the sadness of the death of the children's mother, and the ever-present threat of war. Sorcha learns to be a healer, skills that come in handy when she has to tend a wounded soldier, an enemy of her family but one whom we just sense will have a part to play in the story later. Her nursing of this young man (which includes spinning tales to aid his recovery), and the circumstances which cause her to abandon him, will have consequences for both of them. But her story goes in another direction for many years, indeed to a whole new country. The spell which Sorcha must lift requires her to endure such hardship, and has such a strange stipulation, that I wondered how the rest of the story would unfold - surely the author couldn't keep going with this, never mind Sorcha herself? But, she does. They both do. I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say that it involves Sorcha keeping silent. For a very long time...

This is a sweeping saga, and at times is a real page turner. The pacing is excellent and we are not always on the edge of our seat, but we can never relax for long. There are plot twists and turns, as Sorcha is taken by her captor across the sea, and cannot explain her quest to him or his household, who view her with suspicion as the enemy. The relationships develop beautifully, the secondary characters are well-rounded, and the magic is presented as a fact of life, so that it never feels unbelievable. I was very happy to accept that the brothers were put under a spell, that a fairy queen visits Sorcha in the forest, and that Sorcha can hear some of her brothers talking to her even though they are separated by an ocean. This is because the author fully immerses the reader in this strange, twilight world.

But this is also a historical novel, set in a definite time and place: 10th-Century Ireland and England. Thus, despite being happy to accept the fantasy elements, I was not so happy to accept that pumpkin and turkey were on the menu. Strange what we readers of fiction demand of our authors, isn't it?

The extended blurb for this book compares it to Marian Bradley's Mists of Avalon, and I would concur. If you like big, sweeping stories that combine history and fantasy, you will love Daughter of the Forest. It is a beautifully constructed book and I enjoyed it so much I've bought the other two in the trilogy and look forward to settling down with them. This is cosy, escapist reading, ideal for these times.


Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 
© Lucy Townshend









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22 April 2020

Guest Spot Kathryn Gauci




Thank you for giving me the chance to showcase my books and talk a little about my writing life on Discovering Diamonds, Helen. You and your team do a great job promoting other authors and I for one, am extremely grateful for the work you do.
[Helen: Thank you!]

I started writing just over six years ago after a career as a textile/carpet designer. Travel, history and art have always been an important part of my life and so when I did decide to become an author, I naturally gravitated to historical fiction which still allowed me to explore all this, albeit, through the written word rather than design. For me, writing is a case of “write what you know” which is why I wrote my first novel set in Greece and Turkey. The Embroiderer is an epic story spanning 150 years through the female line of one family. It is a saga of love and loss, hope and despair, and I was able to touch on all my favorite subjects: the shadowy world of political intrigue and espionage, a belief in superstition, art, and above all, the extraordinary courage of women in the face of adversity at a time when the Ottoman Empire was disintegrating and modern Greece was still a young country. The Embroiderer was also taken up by a Greek publisher.



After this, I decided to write two more set in the region. The second, a novella, Seraphina’s Song, is set in Piraeus, Greece, during the 1920’s and 1930’s. It is about a hopeless love affair between a bouzouki player and a taverna singer. Immersing myself in the underworld of Greece during that time, especially the music, was a pleasure to write.




The third in what I call my “Asia Minor Series” is The Carpet Weaver of Uşak. It is the haunting story of a deep friendship between two women in a carpet weaving village in Anatolia, one Greek Orthodox, the other a Muslim Turk: a friendship that transcends an atmosphere of mistrust, fear and ultimate collapse, long after the Great War and the Turkish War of Independence have ended. I suppose it was inevitable I would write about carpet weaving as I had been a carpet designer in Athens for six years and spoke to families who used to live in the region of Anatolia. Whereas The Embroiderer was about a family who gains privilege and wealth in the Ottoman Empire, The Carpet Weaver of Uşak concentrates on village life. For these villagers, few were educated and none of them knew about politics in the wider sense. Their life centered on survival, and to survive, you needed the trust and friendship of your neighbor, regardless of their race of religion.



My other area of interest is WWII. Conspiracy of Lies is set in France and is about a woman who leads a double life as a Gestapo Commandant’s mistress and an SOE secret agent in order to retrieve vital information for the Allies.



This led to my second WWII novel (novella) set in France – Code Name Camille. It was first written as part of The Darkest Hour Anthology: WWII Tales of Resistance, along with nine other WWII authors. In the first week, it became a USA TODAY bestseller. All proceeds were donated to the Washington Holocaust Museum. It is now a stand-alone novella. The story is about twenty-one-year-old Nathalie Fontaine who heads to Paris and joins the Resistance, but a chance encounter with a stranger exposes a traitor in their midst who threatens to bring down the entire network.



The third book in my WWII series is The Poseidon Network and is set in Greece, so in a way I am combining my two loves again – WWII and Greece. It begins in the shadowy souks and cocktail parties of Cairo’s elite and moves to the mountains of Greece, Athens, the Aegean Islands, and Turkey. The Poseidon Network is a cat-and-mouse portrait of wartime, part of which is based on actual events. With this novel, I wanted it to be more of a spy/espionage/thriller, rather than a straight Resistance story.
Where to next? I have just spent two months in the Jura/ Franche-Comté region of France exploring WWII, the Resistance and the smuggling routes to Switzerland, so this current WIP is set there. I am hoping to have it completed in three months. After that I plan to do something quite different. It will incorporate much of my earlier research, but is a different genre. I can’t say any more at this point except that it’s bubbling away in my mind and I am very excited to begin it.



Thank you for hosting me on Discovering Diamonds, Helen. It’s been a pleasure to be with you.


Click HERE to find  Kathryn on Discovering Diamonds



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

21 April 2020

A Discovering Diamonds Review of Do Not Awaken Love by Melissa Addey



Amazon UK
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Goodreads

Fictional Saga
11th Century
Spain /Morocco


11th century, Northern Spain. Isabella has been a nun in the Christian kingdom of Galicia since she was a child, a gifted herbalist leading a quiet and spiritual life, devoted to God. But on a rare journey outside of the convent, she is taken by Viking raiders and sold to Morocco as a slave. Cruelly treated by her first owner, salvation comes from an unlikely source: Yusuf bin Tashfin, leader of a vast Muslim army intent on conquering all of North Africa. Isabella must struggle not only to survive her new life but to hold true to her faith, which is tested by great dangers… and by love.

It's a testament to the strength of Ms Addey's writing that I did not read the blurb before accepting a copy of this book for review. I saw that she had a new book, and I requested it. So I knew nothing about it when I started reading. Thus the scene where Isabella is taken by the Norse came as a complete surprise to me. The opening pages of this novel are magnificent; the change of pace as Isabella's life changes from nun on a gentle journey to bound captive is dramatic and superbly handled.

Ms Addey shows Isabella as a woman of her time. She is a Christian nun and as such does not wish to converse with people of other faiths. This might jar our modern sensibilities but it absolutely rings true. What befalls Isabella - including the loss of both her birth name, and her given name of Sister Juliana - gives her cause to reconsider her views, in a way that is both plausible and believable.

Had I read the blurb, I would have been expecting the arrival on the scene of Yusuf, for I have met him before. The author has given us the story of these turbulent times in her other books in this Moroccan series and each is told by a different woman, all of them key players and all connected to Yusuf in some way. Inevitably, then, there is a sense of deja vu, and if you have read any of the other books but particularly if you have read A String of Silver Beads, there are no further surprises. Kella, Yusuf's first wife, has a deep and abiding connection to Sister Juliana which we learn about in A String of Silver Beads and so there are no plot twists here. 

What we have instead is the same events told from Juliana's perspective and the story is very much one of character development. Experiences shape her, her relationship with Yusuf is complex and taxing, and she goes through a transformation which makes her a stronger version of what she once was, but it is not an easy journey. Isabella/Juliana is somewhat of a mysterious figure in A String of Silver Beads; here she describes her own story and becomes a central character, an essential part of the narrative.

As always, the sights, sounds and smells of Early Medieval North Africa and of Spain are exquisitely painted. One doesn't read, so much as watch.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 
© Annie Whitehead
 e-version reviewed




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20 April 2020

Empire's Hostage by Marian L. Thorpe

shortlisted for Book of the Month





fantasy
#book 2

In the second book in the Empire's Legacy series, The Empire and the northern people have been at war for over a year, but a truce is finally at hand. As part of this treaty, Lena, now a Guardswoman on the Wall, is asked to stand as hostage, to go north to live and learn among the people of Linrathe. But not everyone there will welcome her.

As Lena learns more of the history of both her land and the north, a new threat emerges, one that will test her loyalty to its limits, and in the end, demand a price she could not have envisioned.

As the blurb states, this is the second book of a trilogy and, even though I've read the first (Empires' Daughter), I was pleased to find a precis of that first novel at the beginning of this one, so that anyone unfamiliar with the story so far can catch up. Lena's story continues, but it came to a satisfying pause at the end of Book One, and goes off in a new direction in Book Two. These are definitely plus points for me, for I like a series to be a group of books which can be read alone, rather than have things left on a cliffhanger.

Empire's Hostage tracks Lena as she is forced to travel north of the wall as part of the terms of the delicate truce. What follows is a story packed full of interesting characters and an adventure-driven plot which keeps you turning the 'pages', keen to find out what happens. Although this is a fantasy series, set in a fictional world, it has been constructed using a wealth of historical research. The languages used by the people of Linrathe and the Marai are based on Old Welsh, Gaelic, and Scandinavian languages. The Empire has much in common with the Roman Empire, and the whole feel of the book - modes of transport, food and drink, farming and fishing practises - is medieval in tone. As I mentioned in my review of Book One, this is a world about which the author knows every tiny detail. It is as keenly and intelligently researched and written as any good historical novel, and it reads like historical fiction, with the added bonus that this is a new world, one with which the reader becomes readily familiar because the author knows precisely what that world looks like, along with every intimate detail of her characters' lives.

I'm not normally a huge fan of books which use the first person narrative but here it really works well because Lena is a shrewd observer of people and a very thoughtful character. She learns from her experiences, questions the motives and behaviour of others, and she develops as a character, being plausibly shaped by all that has happened to her. 

Once again, this part of the story cleverly has both a definite ending and a promise for future adventures. I'm very much looking forward to reading Book Three.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 
© Annie Whitehead
 e-version reviewed








You will find several items of interest on the sidebar


18 April 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 Conversations)

Start here for our previous reviews:

and to browse  back
* * * 

we are currently accepting new submissions

email Helen author@helenhollick.net  )
for further information

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





17 April 2020

A Discovering Diamonds Review of Anna’s Refuge by Kerryn Reid



Amazon UK
Amazon US
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Goodreads
#Bk 1 of Wrackwater Bridge 

Romance
Early 19th century
England

Anna Spain is so deeply in love with the dashing, charismatic Gideon Aubrey that she allows him the kind of liberties a young woman of her time usually reserves for her husband, only to find that Gideon is no gentleman. He is in fact a scoundrel who, having had his way with her, jilts her in a most humiliating fashion. However, the scoundrel’s younger brother, Lewis, while not so attractive is sympathetic, sensitive and feels bound to help her, since he blames the nefarious Gideon for the position she is in. But then he falls in love with her. This odd sort of love triangle is complicated by the inevitable baby on the way.

Anna’s heartless parents set her up in a dilapidated flat in Leeds with little money and a single servant who is devoted to her. Seduced and abandoned, Anna feels she deserves nothing better. Lewis offers help but, again, her shame is so great that she rebuffs him. Whether the ‘Refuge’ of the title refers to the flat in Leeds or to Lewis is debatable. I’m inclined to think the latter.

It is Lewis’s love for her that finally convinces Anna she is a person of worth and allows Lewis to escape the shadow of his brother. Of the two, Lewis is the more appealing character and won my applause.

This is not an action-packed drama – nor is it meant to be. But I have to say that some parts were drawn out and would have benefited from a cropping. Otherwise it was a good read, particularly for readers who like a romance novel.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 
© Susan Appleyard
 e-version reviewed







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