Sunday, 30 August 2020

Cover and Book of the Month - August

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 Runner-up)

WINNER AUGUST

Read our review
(designer unknown)
RUNNER UP DESIGNS

Read our review
(cover design by Stephen Mulchahey)
Read our review
(Designer Unknown)
* * *
A personal choice made by me, Helen Hollick,
(founder of Discovering Diamonds)
from books I have shortlisted for my personal reading 
Book of the Month
AUGUST 2020
I enjoyed both of these WWII-related stories
my choice was a close-run decision
but My Runner-Up is:
Read our Review
And my WINNER
Book Of The Month is
Read Our Review

Friday, 28 August 2020

A Discovering Diamonds Review of The Other Side of Ordinary by Ines Roe



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fictional drama
1940s WWII
Germany / France


 “I want to live an extraordinary life.” Fiercely independent, Inge Krumm-Heller has known since childhood that she wanted to be different. Leaving her home and family in East Prussia (then part of Hitler’s Third Reich) at the beginning of the 1940s, she made her way to Berlin to work as a trainee photographer. We follow her through her first love affair, confrontation with the German class system and her wry observations on landladies and her daring foray into (then illegal) swing music evenings. 

Inge describes an air raid in graphic detail and gradually, as her interest in 'politics' wanes, she experiences shortages and realises Germany has lost the war. Scenes of encounters with occupying Americans and British, and other Germans who managed to survive reasonably well follow. Eventually, news comes of her missing parents lost in the post-war chaos and Inge sets off to look for them. Later, Inge’s ‘itchy feet’ drive her onwards with her life adventure as she arrives in Paris.

There are many scenes written as flashbacks; childhood memories and labour service with the Reichsarbeitsdienst (German Labour Service) stand out. Other characters narrate events such as her mother recounting her flight from the east as the Red Army approached.

The Other Side of Ordinary isn’t a novel, but a memoir of a period of upheaval. For English speakers from the Allies’ countries, it’s probably an eye-opener of life on ‘the other side’. 

Reconciling this period for many people of German extraction or older Germans and their children is a complex question. From the triumphs and optimism of the early 1940s to disillusionment, starvation and humiliation by 1945 and the uncovering of unspeakable abuse and ethnic cleansing has scarred at least one generation for life. 

Inge’s character does not touch on these areas, but focuses on her personal story which, despite personal traumas, tends to make the novel lighter in tone. One of the big questions asked continuously in the aftermath of the 1939-45 war was, and continues to be, ‘Didn’t the general German population know about the appalling things being done in their name?’

Inge herself comes across as hard-working and optimistic but with a low boredom threshold. But she is not proud and her willingness to undertake low-status work in order to keep her family fed and housed illustrates her determination to get on with her life.

There is too much ‘telling’ the reader about events and personalities instead of showing us with dialogue and actions, and this pushes the reader away. For this reviewer, there are too many flashbacks which make the story disjointed. A better approach to this complex story would have been to make a linear narrative. Some minor language and typo errors e.g. Unkle, Onkle for German Onkel (uncle) are irritating rather than serious.

However, this is a fascinating story with many personal anecdotes and period touches. It clearly shows how a spirited girl becomes a woman who can cope with everything that such disrupted times throw at her and may well be a revelation for readers of the Second World War period. 

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Jessica Brown
 e-version reviewed



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Wednesday, 26 August 2020

A Discovering Diamonds Review of The Silken Rose by Carol McGrath



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Fictional Saga
13th century
England
#Book 1


This novel, the first of a planned trilogy, focuses on Eleanor of Provence, the wife of Henry III, beginning with her journey to England to marry a man who was more than 15 years her senior. In this book, she is called Ailenor. The narrative brings readers along as Ailenor learns first how to be a wife and queen and then a mother. It gives us  varying perspectives, from Ailenor to Eleanor (sister of Henry III, wife of Simon de Montfort) and a fictional embroideress, Rosalind, and covering a variety of the events that plagued Henry III’s reign. The trilogy plans to take a look at the women who have been termed “She-Wolves” for various reasons. This first installment takes care of Eleanor of Provence and her reign as Queen Consort.

First, the good. There were many, many enjoyable things about this book. I loved how much detail there was. In every scene, McGrath evoked imagery, scents, sounds of daily life in medieval London. I especially loved the details with herb and flower gardens. I could practically smell the lavender and rosemary as I read. Similarly, the descriptions of the street scenes in London were just as evocative.

I appreciated other small details, such as the use of relics, in particular the Virgin’s girdle, as charms for a safe childbirth experience. The churching ceremony after giving birth was not given a lot of detail, but it was mentioned a few times throughout the novel and it added extra depth. Also, a queen’s role as intercessor was mentioned several times. I’m fascinated by the queens’ intercessory role throughout time and how it changed, helped, or hindered politics. Little things like this make readers like me happy. I know not everyone cares about historical accuracy when they read a book for pleasure (*horror!*), but I am always deeply appreciative of authors who are as accurate as they can be. The readers like me will be happy and the readers who don’t care will still read the book and enjoy it regardless. 

A few quibbles, however. The writing was clear and easy, flowing smoothly from one perspective to another. The main POV character was, of course, Ailenor, but Rosalind and Nell also got a good deal of time. I was glad, though, that the chapter headings indicated when a change of perspective happened because I didn’t find there was much variance in the voices portrayed by the three women. Ailenor, Nell, and Rosalind often sounded similar and could be hard to tell apart if it were not for chapter headings, so there was little individual character distinction.

By the same token, I felt that Rosalind was the only one who really had any character development. Ailenor, by contrast, sounded like a fully mature woman even on her journey to meet her husband-to-be when she was only 12 years old. Rosalind, on the other hand, started as a young and shy embroideress but grew into a confident and respected woman, wife, and mother. I did wish a little more of her story had been given to us. She was probably my favorite character in the book. The narrative felt incomplete because there were some fairly substantial jumps in the events of her life. However, since she was not the primary focus of the novel, this is probably why the author decided not to make her a larger figure. 

The novel ended with the promised betrothal of Edward to Eleanor of Castile in roughly 1254. This was about ten years before the start of the Second Barons’ War. I was disappointed that the novel didn’t cover this since I think a lot of interesting content could have been written about Ailenor during those years. She was considered one of the She-Wolves, and the Barons’ War and Simon de Montfort’s role was a major element within Henry’s reign. Perhaps these details are to be included in the next book of the series?

It would have been particularly interesting to see Rosalind’s role in these events as well. Even though she is fictional, sometimes those are the best characters through which to explore an historical event or person. Again, I understand why it wasn’t included, though.

Overall, I enjoyed this novel. It was an easy read and gave an interesting glimpse into a fascinating period of England’s history. 

N.B: the file received to review was a PDF copy, and therefore unedited with several errors re: muddled sentence construction, typographical mistakes etc. Discovering Diamonds has been informed that these have been rectified. 

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Kristen McQuinn
 e-version ARC PDF file reviewed




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Monday, 24 August 2020

A Discovering Diamonds Review of The Viscount Besieged by Elizabeth Bailey



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Regency Romance
1790s
England


"1798, England. Isadora Alvescot has always dreamed of becoming a famous actress on the stage. But when her beloved papa suddenly dies, her family’s future is thrown into turmoil. With no immediate male heir, the family estate has been bequeathed to a distant relative – a viscount named Lord Roborough. And now Isadora is being pressured to consider matrimony. When Lord Roborough arrives, Isadora is desperate to do all she can to find out his intentions and determine whether he is a friend or a foe…Will he allow her family to remain living on the estate? Will Isadora still be free to pursue her dreams of acting? Or will she be forced to bend her will to another and become a wife?"

Twenty-year-old Isadora is a complex character, with many, quick, mood swings. I wasn't quite sure whether I liked her or not, but she was immensely entertaining as a character, so perhaps, yes, I enjoyed her! 

Her counterpart, Lord Roborough is also a delightful character, enigmatic, mysterious  - will they, won't they fall for each other, and if they do not, why not? Will 'Dora reach her dream of becoming an actress? Or will that feisty temper of hers lead her into trouble once too often?

The story was a little on the slow side to get going, and I did feel was dialogue-driven rather than character led, but, once things picked up and the characters began to develop the story took off with a few twists and turns and some witty, clever, banter along the way.

Readers of Romance will enjoy this charming Regency Romp;  it will not disappoint.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 


© Ellen Hill
 e-version reviewed





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Saturday, 22 August 2020

Guest Spot - Catherine Kullmann




I was born and brought up in Dublin and moved to Germany after my marriage. Before that, I was an administrative officer at the Department of Finance in Dublin. I worked as attaché at the Irish Embassy in Bonn until my eldest son was born. Following a twelve-year stint as a full-time mother, I joined the New Zealand Embassy in Bonn. We returned to Ireland in 1999 and in 2009, following a year’s treatment for breast cancer, I took early retirement from my position as Director of Administration and Human Resources at a large Dublin law firm.

Apart from reading, I love music, especially opera, travel, and good food and drink, especially in the company of friends. I am fascinated by all aspects of history, not only the great facts but also the trivia and minutiae of everyday life. 

I have always enjoyed writing, I love the fall of words, the shaping of an expressive phrase, the satisfaction when a sentence conveys my meaning exactly. I enjoy plotting and revel in the challenge of evoking a historic era for characters who behave authentically in their period while making their actions and decisions plausible and sympathetic to a modern reader. In addition, I am fanatical about language, especially using language as it would have been used at the time my books are set. But rewarding as all this craft is, there is nothing to match the moment when a book takes flight, when your characters suddenly determine the route of their journey.

Why do I write historical fiction? To start, I love the challenge and enjoy exploring all the highways and byways of research. Also, at a time where very little history is taught at schools, historical fiction informs us about the past. It provides insights into yesterday and helps us understand today. It encourages us to persevere or warns us to change direction. It can reveal past, hidden wrongs, teach us to value the struggles of those who went before us and inspire us to preserve and build upon their achievements.

The extended Regency is one of the most significant periods of European and American history, a period whose events still resonate two hundred years later The Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland of 1800, the Anglo-American war of 1812 and the final defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 all still shape our modern world. The aristocracy-led society that drove these events was already under attack from those who saw the need for social and political reform, while the industrial revolution saw the beginning of the transfer of wealth and ultimately power to those who knew how to exploit the new technologies.

My books are set against this background of off-stage wars, of women left to fend for themselves in a patriarchal world where they have few or no rights. My protagonists inhabit a real world but they and their stories are pure fiction. As well as meeting their personal challenges, they must also cope with external events and the constraints imposed by society. The main story arc is romantic. I am particularly interested in what happens after the first happy end—how life goes on around the protagonists and sometimes catches up with them. 

The Murmur of Masks is the first in a loose series of books set between 1800 and 1825, with the bulk of the action taking place between 1812 and 1825. It was followed by Perception & Illusion, A Suggestion of Scandal, The Duke’s Regret and The Potential for Love. These are all available as eBooks and paperbacks, and have been reviewed by Discovering Diamonds. The final book in the Waterloo arc, A Sensible Marriage, will be published next year.

Thank you for your interest in me and my books. 


You can find out more here:





Amazon.com 

Amazon.co.uk 

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Friday, 21 August 2020

A Discovering Diamonds Review of Interviewing the Dead by David Field




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mystery
Victorian
London

"London, 1892. Over two hundred years ago, in 1665, a mass grave was dug to house the hundreds of corpses who fell victim to the Black Death. When Aldgate Underground station was extended, the workmen discovered the grave and unceremoniously dumped the bones, to make way for the new track. Now, a renowned spiritualist is claiming the dead are rising to punish Londoners. Strange encounters start to be reported in London’s East End with some people dying from unexplained causes. People start to panic, and distressed parishioners consult local preacher, Matthew West, looking for reassurance. Matthew is at a loss and turns to local doctor, James Carlyle, for answers. Carlyle and West have very different views on science and religion, but they decide to work together to get the bottom of the mysterious deaths. Has a curse really been put on London? Have the dead risen from their graves? Or could a serial killer be loose in the city…?"

When medium Sarah Gibbons has something of a fit before a full house, screaming that she can see the ghosts of the long-dead plague victims whose final resting place has been disturbed by the expansion of the Metropolitan Line, she sets off a sequence of events. Suddenly, the residents around Aldgate, the poor souls who live out a harsh life in the backyard of 19th century London, have a new threat to contend with: vindictive ghouls.

The fact that multiple witnesses come forth claiming to have seen said ghouls—some are even scared to death by the apparitions—does not convince pragmatic doctor James Carlyle that there is something paranormal at work. Neither is the young Methodist preacher, Matthew West, inclined to believe in visitations from the past, but something is happening, the tinge of fear and evil settling like a wet blanket over the East End of London. Carlyle and West, together with Scotland Yard detective, Jennings, form an alliance to get to the bottom of all this.

There are clear echoes of Arthur Conan Doyle’s books about Sherlock Holmes in Mr Field’s novel, albeit that here it is the doctor who plays the lead role rather than being the side-kick Watson is to Holmes. It is, however, my opinion that it is Matthew West who is the real protagonist, despite Carlyle’s evident brilliance. Matthew is a likeable protagonist, thoughtful and contemplative but with plenty of fire and backbone in him when so required.

The female lead, Carlyle’s daughter Adelaide, is also well-drawn, albeit she is at times surprisingly brash and rough around the edges for a woman of her time. However, it is easy to relate to her explosive temper and rants: here we have an intelligent young person who finds herself severely constricted by her gender, reduced to being a second-class citizen in a world where women more and more are beginning to question the ancient order of the world.

The plot as such is not particularly riveting – it is relatively obvious that London is not in the throes of a paranormal invasion and the subsequent investigation is entertaining rather than exciting.  The descriptions of the darker sides of London, however, are extremely evocative, vividly bringing to life a world where poverty reeks and stinks, where everything is somehow grey and dirty—constantly. This is a world of hollow-eyed infants, of women who sell their bodies for food, for gin, of men who bow under the weight of supporting their growing families on a pittance. There is little light in this world. It is a world of shadows and grime, a world with little, if any hope. At times, Interviewing the Dead reads more like social history than a novel, and while this highlights just how thoroughly Mr Fields has researched the era, it does result in a loss of pace. 

In conclusion, Interviewing the Dead is a book I would recommend to all those who love depictions of late Victorian London, who shiver delightedly at being showered with details about everyday life in an era where the world stood with one foot still rooted in the past while the other was firmly set on the path towards the beckoning future. 


Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Anna Belfrage
 e-version reviewed





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Wednesday, 19 August 2020

A Sister's Song by Molly Green

shortlisted for Book Of The Month


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Fictional Saga

WWII
Malta

The Victory Sisters #2


"Her duty is to keep smiling through… When World War II breaks out, Suzanne’s dream of attending the Royal Academy of Music crumbles. Determined to do her bit, she joins a swing band that entertains troops in some of the worst-hit cities of Europe. Through singing, Suzanne finds a confidence she never knew she had, and she soon wins the admiration of Britain’s brave servicemen. But her heart already belongs to a Navy officer who is serving out at sea. The question is… will they meet again?"

I confess. I love Molly Green's novels, and there was an added poignancy to this particular one: the book blurb (above) also states: "A gripping tale of love, courage and camaraderie, perfect for fans of Nancy Revell, Donna Douglas and Vera Lynn." I started reading on the day the news announced that our beloved, and much honoured, Dame Vera Lynn passed away. So another confession: I shed a few tears as I read. I am slightly too young to remember Dame Vera during the war years, but I grew up with Mum singing along to the wireless (as we called it back then - and no that wasn't modern wi-fi - it was the radio!) 

Ms Green has a knack of taking her readers out of the 'today' and placing them very firmly in the period she is writing about. Partly, this is because of her excellent writing ability to create realistic characters, events and situations, but also because her research is meticulous. The wartime conditions, and Suzanne’s discovery of her strength and courage, is expertly portrayed – a young, quiet girl who has her hopes and dreams taken from her, but finds other dreams and hopes to take their place. Along with the heartache and trauma of wartime love, of course. It was also a delight to meet Suzanne’s sister Raine, from the first book in the series, A Sister’s Courage.

This is not just a story about the war, and ENSA, of entertaining the troops and survival during difficult times, it is a story about people – fictional people, yes, but written so convincingly that I almost found myself wanting to search out their autobiographies. It is a story of friendships, of loyalty, of courage. It has laughter and tears, fears and bravery, and it has music and song. I defy anyone reading this not to be humming "We'll MeetAgain" or "White Cliffs Of Dover"  as they read.


In short, an utterly marvellous book to read!

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Mary Chapple

paperback edition reviewed




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Monday, 17 August 2020

A Discovering Diamonds Review of The Light Within Us by Charlotte Betts


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fictional saga
1800s
Cornwall, England

Part One of a trilogy


"1891. Spindrift House, Cornwall. Talented painter Edith Fairchild is poised to begin a life of newlywed bliss and artistic creation in the inspiring setting of Spindrift House, freshly inherited by her charming husband, Benedict, and overlooking the stunning harbour of Port Isaac. But when her honeymoon turns sour, her dreams are all but dashed and after a moment of madness and desire she finds herself pregnant with another man's child. Edith swears never to tell her secret and devotes herself to her art. Joined at Spindrift House by her friends - Clarissa, Dora and the secret father of her child, Pascal - together they turn the house into a budding artists' community. But despite their dreams of an idyllic way of life creating beauty by the sea, it becomes clear that all is not perfect within their tight-knit community, and that the weight of their secrets could threaten to tear apart their paradise forever..."

What an engrossing read! The small group of artistic friends who take up residence at Spindrift House in Cornwall are intriguing and fascinating people – the newlywed couple, Edith and Benedict, whose marriage is soon on the Cornish rocks, and then their student friends, Clarissa, Dora, Wilfred and Pascal.  There is more to Pascal, however, than we first realise... although there is actually more to all the characters, as we discover as the story and their backstories, unfold. 

Add into the trauma of the collapsing marriage, several secrets, an unexpected pregnancy, the Bohemian lifestyle of hopeful young artists, a deceased aunt, a dubiously inherited property, the jealous son of a lover and the difficulties encountered by Victorian women who were powerless against the law and society, and you have a highly compelling, engrossing read. 

This is not a fast-paced, hold-your-breath read, rather, it is a steady pace with some likeable characters and a few you will loathe – villains with their perhaps somewhat over-dramatised roles. There is a little too much of a non-Victorian, modernistic feel to events - conversations and expectations - that creeps in every so often, but this did not spoil the story, and maybe I am being a little picky to mention it.

The story did end somewhat abruptly – but – this is the first part of a trilogy, so a ‘cliffhanger’ is quite acceptable. A good read. I look forward to part two.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 



© Anne Holt

 e-version reviewed



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Sunday, 16 August 2020

Guest Spot - Juhi Ray




Set in 16th century Hindustan (the modern-day Indian subcontinent), Emperor Akbar discovers an incomplete astrological chart. It may hold a secret that could threaten his life and the Empire.

He assigns the sensitive task of uncovering the chart's mystery to his brilliant adviser, Mahesh Das. 

This journey takes Mahesh to the heartland of Hindustan. Mahesh however, was not expecting to fall in love. He is torn between his heart and his loyalty. Why did Emperor Akbar bestow the title of Raja Birbal on Mahesh Das? His closeness to the Emperor and meteoric rise spark jealous enemies to target him. 

Amid the backdrop of religious tensions in the Empire, Akbar moves forward to promote religious tolerance and root out corruption. Rebellions against Akbar and personal attacks against Raja Birbal become more common. 

After multiple attempts on Birbal's life, his enemies believe they are successful. In 1586, while battling the hilly tribes of the Northwest frontier, Raja Birbal is declared dead. But his body was never found. 

What really happened?  

* * * 
About Juhi:
Juhi Ray is originally from India. She lives in the United States and enjoys reading, cooking, going on hikes, and vermicomposting.

Writing historical fiction was entirely fortuitous since she works in the medical field. Following her debut novel, The Final Puzzle, which tied for the Book of the Month honor on Discovering Diamonds blog, she has published a novelette titled The Empress's Guilt. She is involved in a backyard food garden project.

Links:
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Website:

Twitter: @juhi2016
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Friday, 14 August 2020

A Discovering Diamonds Review of Blossom In The Ashes by Ron Singerton


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Fictional Drama
20th century / WWII
England, Hawai’i, Japan, Russia, Germany


This book is a sequel to A Cherry Blossom in Winter, which I read, reviewed and enjoyed. 

With a Japanese mother and Jewish/Russian father, Tadichi learns a harsh lesson in bigotry when he confesses his mixed heritage to the girl he hopes to marry and is unceremoniously dumped. Twelve years later, he is still unmarried, a fighter pilot and on Oahu where his mother lives. There he meets his brother, Koizumi, whom he hardly knows and who is also a fighter pilot in the Japanese navy. With him is the beautiful Sayuri and his mother’s old friend. But Koizumi isn’t on Oahu merely to accompany the two ladies. He has a mission which will pit him against his brother in the coming war. To complicate matters further, both men are in love with Sayuri.

The story contains some of the components of the last book – lovers of different cultures torn apart by war; battle scenes which include, in this case, Pearl Harbour from the Japanese perspective; the suffering of civilians on the fringes of war. This one has a broader sweep than the first book. 

The author has cleverly set his characters in different countries to show different perspective and the impact of war on other peoples. There are the two naval pilots, Tad and Koizumi, zipping through the ether on opposite sides. Through them the author reveals his knowledge of the planes of the day and aerial combat. The air and sea battles are exciting without being overly-lengthy or too detailed. We see Sayuri alone in Tokyo when it is mercilessly bombed and when the atom bombs are dropped on unsuspecting populations just as Japan is on the point of surrender. Tad’s mother is a nurse in Hawaii. His father is in Russia when war breaks and must make his way west to Germany and the allies. His friend Jeremy, an American of Japanese descent, becomes a prisoner of war, escapes when the ship he is on is sunk, and provides some of the most edge-of-the-seat adventures in the book.

I thoroughly enjoyed this action-packed book, but I must mention one thing. The opening chapter is set twelve years before the main action and deals with Tad’s girlfriend and her parents’ horror when he tells them of his Japanese/Jewish heritage. They immediately make it clear that he is not wanted. I expected that this kind of bigotry would be explored later in the book, but it wasn’t, which left me confused about why it was included.

 That apart, a book to recommend.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Susan Appleyard
 e-version reviewed




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