Friday, 31 July 2020

Cover and Book of the Month - JULY


designer Cathy Helms of
with fellow designer Tamian Wood of
select their chosen Cover of the Month
with all winners going forward for 
Cover of the Year in December 2020
(honourable mentions for the Runner-up)

Cover of the Month

Cover by Design for Writers

Honourable Mentions

         Design by Next Chapter
Read Our Review             

Design by JD Smith Design
Read Our Review

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
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'
* * * * * * * *
Book of the Month
 JULY 2020
runners up
I couldn't decide between these two novellas
so have chosen both of them

thoroughly enjoyed this one!
Special Mention
I don't usually select non-fiction
but this one was a darn good read
and a 'must' for anyone researching this topic!

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

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

A Discovering Diamonds Review of Forged By Iron by Eric Schumacher

Amazon UK
Amazon US
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Fictional Saga
10th Century
Sweden / Estonia
Bk 1 Olaf's Saga

I must say that as a Swede, it is quite a pleasure to immerse myself in Mr Schumacher’s vivid depictions of life in the Scandinavia of the 10th century. I have previously read and enjoyed his books featuring Haakon the Good and now Mr Schumacher has leapt forwards a couple of decades to introduce us to the very young Olaf Tryggveson, one of the more enigmatic characters in Norse history.

Forged By Iron follows Olaf and his sworn companion Torgil on the journey from childhood to manhood. It is not an easy journey: Olaf’s father is murdered and Torgil’s father, Torolv, masterminds a heads-over-heels escape to Sweden. From there, the plan is to travel to Novgorod, where Olaf has an uncle who can keep him safe. Unfortunately, things happen. 

Suddenly, Torgil is as fatherless as Olaf and the boys, Olaf’s mother Astrid and her very young maid, Turid, are sold as slaves in Estland (present day Estonia) There, Astrid is torn from her son. Where she goes one way, the boys and Turid end up in the same household. Turid’s gender leads to years of servitude as a concubine while Olaf and Torgil are destined to spend their endless days as thralls working bog-iron. Such hard work either breaks a man or makes him stronger than most, hence, I assume, the title. 

Forged By Iron is told in the point of view of Torgil who is some years older than Olaf. While he is oath-sworn to Olaf, Torgel doesn’t exactly like Olaf. Quite understandable, as Olaf is something of a spoiled brat who rarely considers the implications of his actions on others. Mr Schumacher paints a lovely and endearing portrait of Torgil, a boy who may not have the charisma of Olaf, but who is steadfast and courageous, even when he is scared silly. I was especially touched by the relationship between Torgil and Turid. Clumsy and awkward, Torgil doesn’t know what to say or do to make Turid overcome her abuse, but he is somehow still there for her—and she knows it. 

All in all, this was an engrossing read. Pace would perhaps have benefited from more abbreviated descriptions of the whole bog iron process but it is evident Mr Schumacher has done the research required to recreate the world of a distant past. Torgil, Torolv, Olaf, Turid and Astrid come alive as does their historical setting—which is why I forgive Mr Schumacher for that teensy weensy anachronistic potato. 

Warmly recommended for Viking fans and for all those who enjoy a well-wrought coming-of-age story.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Anna Belfrage

 e-version reviewed

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Monday, 27 July 2020

A Discovering Diamonds Review of The Saracen Storm by J.M. Nunez

Amazon UK
Amazon US
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fictional drama
700 AD

It is always a pleasure to pick up a book set in an era that is rarely represented in historical fiction. In this case, Mr Nunez leads us back to the years around 700 A.D, Spain. At the time, Spain did not exist. The former Roman colony had been invaded by the Visigoths some centuries after the birth of Christ, but now the various Visigoth kingdoms are quaking under the advance of the Saracen conquerors. It is a confused time, a time when the Christians are pushed further and further north. It is a time brought to vivid life by Mr Nunez, his obvious extensive research resulting in a multi-layered depiction of the historical landscape.

Any Spanish schoolchild will have heard of the battle of Covadonga, as pivotal an event for the future Spain as the Norman invasion in 1066 is for England. At Covadonga, the hero of the day led his Christian countrymen to victory over the advancing Moors. At Covadonga, the determined Saracen expansion was brought to a brutal halt, thereby kicking off the Spanish Reconquista—a struggle to reconquer the former Christian Spain from the Moors that would not end until 1492, when the last Moorish Kingdom, Granada, fell to Fernando and Isabel.

The hero of Covadonga is a certain Pelayo, a man shrouded in mist. Mr Nunez has made Pelayo the hero of his narrative and does an excellent job in breathing life into the myth, the man, the legend. Born the bastard son of the Duke of Asturias, Pelayo overcomes the stigma of his birth, the hatred of his half-brother, the loss of the love of his life and emerges harder and sharper, a bit like a tempered blade of steel. But the young Pelayo is something of a wastrel, more interested in enjoying a good time with wine and wenches—likely an attitude he adopts to annoy not only his father but primarily his half-brother, Julian. But then, one day, Pelayo comes face to face with the destruction wreaked by the Moors on a village of his people. A new Pelayo is born that day, a man of action and brains, of integrity and honour who will rise to the occasion despite all those who do their best to see him tumble. Mr Nunez’ Pelayo is an engaging man, a character one roots for. 

At times, Mr Nunez’ erudition and love of the period results in something of an information overload. But this is easily forgiven given a narrative that so firmly takes the reader by the hand and expertly guides him or her through the complex historical landscape that is Spain of the 8th century. Warmly recommended! 

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Anna Belfrage
 e-version reviewed

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Sunday, 26 July 2020

Guest Spot -Graham Brack

Graham Brack

Graham Brack lives with his wife Gillian in Northamptonshire and has two children and three young granddaughters. He trained and practised as a pharmacist and has also written about football, rugby and medical law. 

Graham has been writing for as long as he can remember, but now concentrates on crime fiction. Three times shortlisted for the Crime Writers' Association's Debut Dagger prize (in 2011, 2014 and 2016) he never quite managed to win it.

His 2011 entry was published as Lying and Dying, the first of his Josef Slonský mysteries set in Prague. Five more books have followed. 

The 2014 offering is Death in Delft, a story set in the late 17th century in the Netherlands and featuring the reluctant detective Master Mercurius, a philosophy lecturer at the University of Leiden. When young girls disappear the Mayor of Delft sends to Leiden asking the Rector of the University to send the cleverest man he can spare to help unravel the mystery. Despite his feelings of inadequacy, Mercurius sets to work, learning something of ordinary people’s lives in the process.

In his second adventure, Untrue Till Death, Mercurius is summoned by William of Orange to investigate a treasonous plot against William’s rule. Not knowing whom he can trust, William needs an outsider to find the guilty men. This proves to be more dangerous than Mercurius is comfortable with, though it would not have to be especially hazardous for that to be true. 

Graham and Gillian are frequent visitors to the Low Countries where Graham researches the background to his stories whilst simultaneously assessing coffee shops and restaurants. As a result of these trips Graham is now able to bore audiences on a range of 17th century topics relating to the Netherlands.

Graham has (so far) written another two stories in the Mercurius series, taking the story from 1671 to 1680. You can read more about Graham and his work at and follow him on Twitter @grahambrack.

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

Friday, 24 July 2020

The Promise by Amy Maroney

shortlisted for Book of the Month

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon AU

Fictional Saga /Novella
fifteenth century

"It is 1483, and the Pyrenees mountains are a dangerous place for a woman. Especially if you're Elena de Arazas. Haunted by a childhood tragedy, mountain healer and midwife Elena navigates the world like a bird in flight. An unexpected romance shatters her solitary existence, giving her new hope. But when her dearest friend makes an audacious request, Elena faces an agonizing choice. Will she be drawn back into the web of violence s
he’s spent a lifetime trying to escape? The Promise: A Prequel Novella will transport you into the world of the Miramonde Series, which tells the dazzling story of a Renaissance-era female artist and the young scholar on her trail."

Amy Maroney is fast becoming one of my favourite historical fiction authors after reading The Girl from Oto and now her prequel, The Promise. She recreates the past faithfully on the page through gorgeous description. I feel that I’ve been transported to the Pyrenees in a bygone era. But her attention to detail doesn’t end with place and setting. Her characters are meticulously crafted: they breathe, they live, they jump off the page, and they play on the mind long after the last page is turned.

It was in fact my fascination with the character of Elena, the mysterious and independent mountain woman who helped raise Mira from The Girl from Oto, which made me eager to read her story in this prequel novella. I enjoyed every moment of it! I loved learning more about Elena and her past. She’s a wonderfully layered character—human, strong, and resilient. I loved revisiting characters from The Girl from Oto, and discovering new characters, in particular, Elena’s nomadic lover, Xabi, who has captured my imagination. 

As this is very much a prequel, the end links directly to the beginning of The Girl from Oto, so if you haven’t read the first book in the Miramonde series, be prepared to continue reading and to lose yourself beyond this novella.

Strong writing, nuanced characters and stunning description makes The Promise highly recommended.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Cryssa Bazos

 e-version reviewed

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Wednesday, 22 July 2020

A Discovering Diamonds Review of The Captain and the Countess by Rosemary Morris

Amazon UK
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“London. 1706 Why does heart-rending pain lurk in the back of the wealthy Countess of Sinclair’s eyes? Captain Howard’s life changes forever from the moment he meets Kate, the intriguing Countess and resolves to banish her pain. Although the air sizzles when widowed Kate, victim of an abusive marriage meets Edward Howard, a captain in Queen Anne’s navy, she has no intention of ever marrying again. However, when Kate becomes better acquainted with the Captain she realises he is the only man who understands her grief and can help her to untangle her past, and help her regain that which should be hers by right.”

Queen Anne’s Navy, a dashing young Captain and a widow, somewhat older... Ms Morris has captured the period well, both in the way people behaved and in the way life dictated beliefs and opinions. I also enjoyed that, although this was a ‘Regency Romance’ in style and feel, being set almost a century prior to the typical ‘Austen Georgian Age’ this was a nice change from the norm. I don’t think I have read much about the Queen Anne period, so this delving into a relatively unknown period setting was extra enjoyable.

Edward Howard, our hero,  is waiting for the Admiralty to decide his future, meanwhile he must survive on half-pay. He is  young but dashing; mature and reliable. Kate, the heroine widowed Countess, has a damaged past and her heart is full of sorrow. The love story that emerges when the two meet, although sensual, is not explicit –  the traditional ‘happy ending’ was most satisfying, although I did need to reach for the box of tissues a couple of times before I got that far!

A moving, well-written romance. 

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Mary Chapple
 e-version reviewed

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Monday, 20 July 2020

A Discovering Diamonds Review of The Dark Horizon by Liz Harris

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon AU

Fictional family Drama / Romance
England and America

“Oxfordshire, 1919. The instant that Lily Brown and Robert Linford set eyes on each other, they fall in love. The instant that Robert’s father, Joseph, head of the family’s successful building company, set eyes on Lily, he feels a deep distrust of her. Convinced that his new daughter-in-law is a gold-digger, and that Robert’s feelings are a youthful infatuation he’d come to regret, Joseph resolves to do whatever it takes to rid his family of Lily. And he doesn’t care what that is. As Robert and Lily are torn apart, the Linford family is told a lie that will have devastating consequences for years to come.”

How enjoyable to read a story written by a writer who can bring the characters and situations alive, seemingly with the utmost of ease.

We meet the characters and instantly take to them – or hate them. Lily is immediately likeable, Joseph, as quickly unlikeable. Straight away, from the opening paragraph, the characters’ passions, hopes and fears, their loves, secrets, lies, and losses grabbed my attention and held it, quite firmly, until the last page.

Lily falls in love with Robert – and there the trouble starts, for Robert’s father, Joseph does not like or trust his prospective daughter-in-law; she is not, in his opinion, good enough for the Linford family.

Interesting to read, as well,  the contrast between life in Oxfordshire and life in New York – both places, along with the feel of the period, well described and beautifully drawn.

My only slight comment is that maybe everything worked out too easily in the end, intentions mattered over actions and so events were solved. I felt a little that just deserts were not served... but then this is the first of a trilogy, so maybe there is more to come?

A good read, written elegantly and enjoyably.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Mary Chapple
 e-version reviewed

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Sunday, 19 July 2020

Guest Spot Derek Birks

About Derek Birks
Derek was born in Hampshire in England but spent his teenage years in Auckland, New Zealand, where he still has strong family ties. For many years he taught history in a secondary school but took early retirement to concentrate on writing.

Derek writes fiction which is rooted in accurate history. He is interested in a wide range of historical themes, but at the start of his writing career he focused on the late medieval period. His debut historical novel, Feud, is set in the period of the Wars of the Roses and is the first of a series entitled Rebels & Brothers which follows the fortunes of the fictional Elder family.
It was always Derek’s aim to write fiction where the main protagonists are both male and female. Thus, in the Rebels & Brothers series, the focus is on the exploits of three young siblings who are from a noble family of middling status. Ned Elder, an untried knight and soldier, is the eldest; his sister, Emma, is plain, practical, a little sombre and mostly conventional; and, by stark contrast, the younger sister, Eleanor, is beautiful, brash to the point of reckless and most unconventional. In Lady Eleanor Elder, Derek has created a rather special character who has shocked and entertained his readers perhaps more than any other.

Derek’s books are action-packed and almost no character is safe so – as one reviewer has said: “Don’t get too attached to anyone!”
However, dire threats have been made to the author by some readers should he decide to kill off Lady Eleanor!

After the fourth and final book of the series, The Last Shroud, was published in 2015, Derek embarked on a new Wars of the Roses series: The Craft of Kings, which continues the story of the Elder family but begins ten years after the end of the previous series.
So far it comprises: Scars from the Past, The Blood of Princes and Echoes of Treason. The Elders will return later in 2020 in the fourth and final book of the series, Crown of Fear.

Derek’s interest in the Wars of the Roses period goes beyond fiction and he has produced almost fifty non-fiction podcasts about the subject for those who want to explore what really happened. These are available from his website, or through i-Tunes and other podcast providers.
Derek’s most recent novel, an Amazon bestseller, is The Last of the Romans, which is a complete change of time period and setting. It is set in turbulent fifth century Europe and centres upon the shadowy historical figure of Ambrosius Aurelianus.

Ambrosius Aurelianus is an interesting figure for whom there is some documented evidence in a time period where there is so little evidence for the existence of any named individual. It is a period rich with Arthurian fantasy and some have suggested that Ambrosius is the basis for the legendary Arthur.
In The Last of the Romans, Derek explores the origins of the man and provides a wholly fictional, yet plausible, backstory for Ambrosius.
Derek’s forthcoming book is a sequel, entitled Britannia: World’s End, which finds Ambrosius in post-Roman Empire Britain. There he must grapple with a broken society which is no longer exactly Roman, nor yet especially Saxon; it is a land in flux, where no one man – or woman – has control. The landscape is recognisably Roman, yet many of the towns and villas which once drove the economy are decaying and the rule of law is in the hands of the most powerful.
Into this uncertain world, Ambrosius and his companions arrive in winter as refugees hoping to carve out a new life in a place sometimes described by Romans as… World’s End.

Britannia: World’s End will be out in the early summer 2020.

If you are interested in Derek’s work, you can sign up to his occasional email newsletters on his website contact page here:

You can also follow his progress by means of the following links:
Twitter handle: @Feud_writer

Click HERE to find Derek  on Discovering Diamonds

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and you would like to participate in our 
 Guest Spot
click HERE for details

Friday, 17 July 2020

A Discovering Diamonds Review of Tales of Ming Courtesans by Alice Poon

AMAZON CA (not available for Kindle)

Historical fiction
17th Century

Tales of Ming Courtesans is the interwoven story of three young women who trained and worked as courtesans in 1600s China. Rushi, Yuanyuan, and Xiangjun were all real women, and they had a shared background of being sold as children to “thin horse traders,” who were essentially sex traffikers. Their paths cross in a performance house in Nanjing and their friendship sustains them through some truly awful events, ranging from small personal tragedies to sweeping national crises.

The thing I liked best about this book was how incredibly descriptive it was. Images, smells, and locations were all vividly described; I felt like I could see the river, smell the flowers or the cooking, hear the birds and noise of the town. I liked the names of a lot of the houses or other places - Villa of Alluring Fragrance, for example. It’s descriptive and mysterious and lyrical. I loved it. It made me want to take a trip to China to see some of these places.

The women themselves were a force to be reckoned with - or should have been except that life, men, and the caste system kept them down. I know nothing about Chinese history, and even less about this particular period transitioning between the Ming and Qing dynasties. I enjoyed learning some of the history and culture of that time. It was such a rich culture with many interesting rituals, art, and literature.

I have a very likely inaccurate vision of these courtesans as something akin to Inara Serra from Firefly. My understanding is that courtesans were pretty well-educated, trained in poetry, dance, music, performance, and yes, bedroom skills. But they could choose whether or not to take a patron to bed for money, and that choice was the real defining difference between courtesans and prostitutes, who had no choice at all. At any given moment, all three women in this novel worried they would have to sell themselves to a brothel to pay off a debt or avoid homelessness.

Owing a debt literally meant you could be sold like a chattel to anyone who could pay off the debt by buying you. It is a horrifying thought that the women effectively were forced to participate in their own slavery and sale of their bodies. The courtesans seemed to be in high demand as well, which gives a really interesting dichotomy because it isn’t the sort of role I typically associate with being desirable. The ways in which families sought to have a child by using concubines was new to me. I guess I just need to read more since I am woefully ignorant about this part of the world, in any time period.

My only quibble was that, occasionally, the dialogue between characters felt a bit odd. Sometimes it seemed really formal, especially for just talking to friends or family. Other times it had some anachronisms, like saying a courtesan can “hook up” with anyone she chooses to. That drew me out of the story a little bit, but the rest was good enough to gloss over these slips.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

©Kristen MacQuinn
 e-version reviewed

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Wednesday, 15 July 2020

Victorine by Drēma Drudge

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Biographical fiction / literary fiction
19th century

We’ve all seen her on the covers of lush and shiny Impressionists coffee table books. Naked—sitting on the grass with two clothed men in Le déjeuner sur l’herbe and reclined on a chaise in Olympia—or clothed as a matador, or a street musician, or a demur mother with her daughter by the Gare Saint-Lazare. But precious few of us know anything of Victorine Meurent, Manet’s favorite model. Drēma Drudge sets out to change all that and succeeds in grand fashion.

This might seem a variation of a coming-of-age story, had not a young Victorine sprung, Athena-like, fully formed from the fertile and thoroughly well-informed mind of Ms. Drudge. We meet Victorine early in the book as a sexually-open teenager, casually dumping her first lover for a magnetically violent bare-knuckle boxer. She had posed nude for her printmaker father, a frustrated painter himself, so manifests little concern for the nude poses demanded by Manet after he encounters her in her father’s shop. She is, quite simply, a thoroughly modern woman, of a kind just emerging from the social and artistic ferment of Third Republic Paris. Victorine is exceptionally self-aware, particularly of her ambiguous place as both artistic collaborator and a tool to exploit and shock the male gaze. Her fluid sexuality is of a piece with this broader self-awareness—sometimes emotionally fulfilling, always physically pleasurable, and occasionally transactional. 

But Victorine Meurent was not just the striking, fair-skinned redhead who anonymously entered our cultural canon through her remarkable collaborations with Édouard Manet. She became a respected painter in her own right, displaying six of her works during the great salons of the late 19th century and right up to the First World War. Throughout Victorine, she is singularly goal-driven. Tired of posing for and stroking the egos of men who could or would be great artists, she seeks a way to attend art school herself with a most intense focus. 

She encounters some role models—other women artists—whom she alternately loves or loathes. Against great financial odds and despite endless patriarchal and misogynistic barriers, she is finally accepted into the Parisian community of artists as a more or less coequal member.

This book is a work of literary fiction about a real person set in an historic era, rather than historical genre fiction. The story is narrated by Victorine herself in first-person present—which is a bit jarring to start. And as most authors know, first-person narration is a delicate high-wire act that requires significant craft to pull off successfully. What first-person gives in intimacy and vividness, it often takes away in limitation on point-of-view and limitation of setting. Ms. Drudge negotiates this challenge beginning-to-end with a combination of adroit plot structuring and a writing style that flashes and gleams like an Impressionist’s palette. The author’s shining prose pulled me inexorably through the few weaknesses in this work, such as a slightly flabby middle and a somewhat rigid insistence on threading the story through a few too many notable paintings. But with Victorine’s provocative and evocative voice shining through Ms. Drudge’s crystalline prose, these faults recede into pettiness. 

I highly recommend Victorine for both those looking for literary fiction in historical settings as well as fans of stories from Paris in the Belle Époque.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Jeffrey K. Walker
 e-version reviewed

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