Wednesday, 14 April 2021

A Discovering Diamonds review of Playing With Fire by Jayne Davis

Fictional Saga /Romance
eighteenth century

"France 1793. Phoebe’s future holds little more than the prospect of a tedious season of balls and routs, forever in the shadow of her glamorous cousin and under the critical eye of her shrewish aunt. She yearns for a useful life, and a love match like her parents’, if such a thing could ever be possible for an unwanted, poor relation. But first she has to endure the hazards of a return home through revolutionary France—a nation suddenly at war with the English. Her aunt’s imperious insensitivity soon arouses a suspicion that quickly develops into mortal danger. Can a stranger encountered on the road prove to be their unlikely salvation?
Alex uses many names, and is used to working alone. A small act of kindness leads him to assist Phoebe’s party, even though it might come at the expense of his own, vital mission in France. Ignoring his own peril, he is willing to risk all in the hope of getting them safely back to England. Unexpectedly, as he and Phoebe face many dangers together, he finds his affections growing towards the resourceful and quick-witted red-head, despite their hopeless social differences. Alex dismisses the possibility of a match between them, not realizing that she feels the same way about him. Before they can admit to their affection for each other, they must face the many difficulties that lie ahead."

Well, I do enjoy a good eighteenth-century romance, and this one was no exception. Our young couple are a likeable pair in what I found to be an enthralling story. Phoebe and Alex were delightful characters, and I even enjoyed (although I'm not sure that 'enjoyed' is the right word!) the unkind aunt because the author portrayed her very well as an unlikeable person! Don't we all love a villain occasionally!

I also enjoyed meeting up with characters from Ms Davis's other books in this series (Will Marstone, for instance), although perhaps the author could have reminded us with a little more backstory about who they were and what significance they held - it has been quite a while since I read Sauce For The Gander, for instance, so it took me a while to remember the details.

It is a big book at 500 or so pages, so not a one-off cosy afternoon's reading in front of the fire, (ha ha despite it's title!) and there were a couple of passages that flagged a little, but even so this was a most enjoyable adventure. An adult read, for there are references to violence, including sexual violence, but there is nothing explicit.

If you like your romance reading to be full of adventure, with quick-witted heroines and rather nice heroes, with an added touch of well-researched historical background, this one is for you - it is a stand-alone, no need to have read the other two in the series, although I would recommend that you do.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Mary Chapple
 e-version reviewed

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Monday, 12 April 2021

A Discovering Diamonds review of The Noose's Shadow by Graham Brack

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon AU

Murder Mystery
17th century

"1680, Leiden, The Netherlands. After a successful trip to England to secure the Princess Mary’s hand in marriage to William of Orange, Master Mercurius is back at the University of Leiden. And once more, he finds himself embroiled in a local mystery. A farmer named Wolf was stabbed to death outside his home, and his neighbour Jaco has been arrested for the murder. But Jaco’s wife Sara is convinced her husband is innocent, and Mercurius believes her. As Mercurius gathers the facts, it soon becomes clear that Wolf was a deeply unpopular man. But is that enough of a motive for murder? With the shadow of the noose looming over Jaco, Mercurius is running out of time to catch the killer and stop an innocent man from hanging in his stead. The Noose’s Shadow is the fourth historical murder investigation in the Master Mercurius Mystery series: atmospheric crime thrillers set in seventeenth-century Europe."

This was my first foray into Graham Brack's Master Mercurius murder mystery series. There was much I enjoyed, a little I didn't.

This is not a fast-paced action thriller - I hope it isn't a spoiler but 'whodunit' was obvious from the start, although our sleuth took several chapters and quite a few days to reach the same conclusion. However, the enjoyment was in finding out how our theological university lecturer reached his eventual conclusion.

I like Mercurius, he is an amiable, amusing somewhat naïve fellow who has his own outlook on seventeenth-century life, and is a closet Catholic priest in a non-Catholic university. I like him because of his naïvety, his lack of arrogance and his preference for thinking things through in the local pub rather than the quiet of the church. I didn't like him so much, oddly, for almost the same reasons - I felt these points were a little over-egged by the third part of the book: enough already of the mayor trying to marry him off to his daughter but our hero not realising the fact, and a few other repetitive scenes. I also rather skipped Mercurius's various thoughts on religious matters and quotes, which were quite acceptable given that our man is of a profound religious faith, but as a non-believer I found them a little tedious, a little too lecturing by the back door maybe?

All of which makes it sound like I didn't enjoy The Noose's Shadow which is completely incorrect! I did enjoy it! The book is very well written, the research is immaculate, the characters realistic, the narrative flowed and I found it very refreshing to read about a country (the Netherlands) which is rarely written about (outside of Tulips...!) This is a light, easy and entertaining read.

Will I read more about Master Mercurius? Certainly, I've already downloaded the first book Death In Delft.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Jack Holt
 e-version reviewed

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Sunday, 11 April 2021

Sunday Guest Spot - Barbara Gaskell Denvil

Continuing our Sunday Series
of taking a look at some fabulous authors!

Hello Barbara, welcome to our Discovering Diamonds Guest Spot. Along with my readers and visitors I love to hear from authors who write wonderful stories. There’s nothing better than curling up with a good book,  box of chocs and glass of wine to hand!

Q. Would you like to tell us a little bit about yourself...
A. I was born a month before World War II ended so I feel about two hundred years old, and unfortunately I’m, losing my sight so that brings some problems and a good deal of laughter as well. There’s very little normal about my life, and I love the varied experiences, the eccentricity and the travel. My greatest passion is my family – three daughters including identical twins and now there is a large parcel of grandchildren and great grandchildren of all ages. Naturally I totally adore writing and heaven only knows what I would have done with myself over the years without my books to escape into.

Q. Where do you live?
A. I’m in Southern Spain at the time of writing this (January 2021) for a six month holiday from the winter freeze, but I have in fact recently returned to England – after twenty years living in Australia amongst their wildly gorgeous variety of animals and birds.

Q. If you had a choice to live anywhere – where would it be?
A. Someone would have to invent a new country for me with the wildlife of Australia, India and Africa, the climate of California, the scenery of Southern Italy, the delightful friendliness of parts of India and Spain, the food from France, England and Greece, prices of India, the houses of America’s New England, or the wonderful old French Chateaux, the occasional mists of Scottish islands, the culture and history of England, with the jungles of Borneo and South America to explore.
 When someone kindly tells me where that country is, I shall move at once.

Q. Modern house, old cottage, castle or something else?
A. A bit of everything please. Probably the old cottage, but with a wonderful annexe that has all the modern extras including loads of light. I adore castles but they aren’t too cosy to live in.

Q. Cat,  dog or budgie?
A. Oh dear – here we go again. I want three kittens and a puppy, a golden eagle, a harpy eagle, a small owl, a couple of macaws and several parrots, possibly a toucan and 4 or 5 peacocks. A tiger cub is essential, but preferably one that would grow up very slowly. Maybe two cheetahs would be safer. A lynx or two definitely. An aye-aye, some African wild dogs, and a few lizards. A large aquarium would be nice, and there are probably some more I’ve forgotten. And – oh yes – a very large garden to keep them all.

Q. Are you a ‘dining room for dinner’, or a ‘tray on your lap in front of the TV’ person?
A. I’m usually sloppy and balance a plate on my lap. I love sitting to eat around a table when there’s a larger group of friends.

Q. TV preferences – documentary, drama, comedy, soap or thriller?
A. Everything except the soaps. A good drama, but Fantasy is perhaps the best, although comedy over the years has hooked me and brought such delicious happiness. And depending on the subject, I frequently lose myself in a good documentary.

Q. What was your first published novel about?
A. Part historical drama, mystery, and partially dark fantasy. FAIR WEATHER was the book – and is still one of my favourites.

Q. What was your last novel about?
A. I have been writing a historical fantasy series called CORNUCOPIA, and my last publication was number three in the series, The Dunes. This is a fantasy world but based very largely on the English medieval with a huge cast of characters, and fast moving drama.

Q. Do you write in one genre or several?
A. Too many. My imagination refuses to follow straight lines.

Q. Have you ever considered exploring a totally different genre?
A.  Constantly, yes.

Q. If you could, which two of your characters would you like to invite to spend an afternoon with you?
A. An interesting question, and hard to answer. I am in love with every character as I write them. Perhaps I’d choose Vespasian the male protagonist from Fair Weather, and Freya, the female protagonist from Cornucopia.
But I’d welcome all of them if they’d like to pop along.

Q. Where would you go / what would you do?
A. I think I’d take them all on a summer cruise around the Mediterranean. Luxury cabins of course.

Q. How do you prefer to travel? Plane, boat, car?
A. Having lived for some years in Australia which involves 24 hour flights, I have entirely gone off flying. The car is fine and that’s my normal preference. But I can’t drive anymore because of my failing eyesight so I need my lovely daughter to help. I lived for many years on a yacht in the Mediterranean, and that was the most gorgeous way of life. Such an open, peaceful and friendly way to live. Sailing into the sunset and at night with a million stars as your companion is something I will never forget.

Q. You are out for a walk. You see a chap sitting on a wall, looking right fed up – but there’s something odd about him... What? And what  do you do?
A. I would pause first, and then walk up, to ask him if he is alright.
Expecting a gentle ‘Yes, fine thank you,’ or a more pathetic ‘I feel quite sick, can you call an ambulance?’, I am naturally very surprised as he turns eagle eyes on me, tries to shake his shoulders, and says, “I’d appreciate some help, miss. You see, I’m a Golden Eagle and I was flying high, heading south and looking for a mate. But when I saw the river below, I decided to land and go fishing.”
“So what on earth happened,?” I ask, intrigued. 
“I have no real idea,” sighs the man. “I’ve lost my wings and my beak, and I don’t know who I am anymore. I can’t go fishing in these clothes, and no beautiful female eagle will agree to be my mate now.”
I felt extremely sorry for him, and wonder what I can do, so my suggestion is quite boring but reasonably practical. “I think you’d better come home with me,” I say. “I’ll cook you some salmon and teach you how to be human. I bet you’ll find a mate soon enough. You certainly have an interesting story to tell the girls.”

We have a long-running Radio programme here in the UK called Desert Island Discs on which celebrities talk about their life and select eight of their favourite discs... so changing that slightly...

Q. If you were shipwrecked on a desert island, what eight books would you want to find left in an abandoned hut? (There’s already a Bible, the Quran, and the complete works of Shakespeare)

1. The complete Lord of the Rings
2. The Once and Future King 
3. Dorothy Dunnet’s Lymond Chronicles
4. Devil’s Cub by Georgette Heyer
5. Anything by Neil Gaiman
6. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
7. Anything by S. Fowler Wright
8. Something by me that I can rewrite and make better
The trouble is, I have adored so many books over my centuries of passionate reading and there must be thousands I’d want – the absolute favourites are hard to pick. Besides, I’ve forgotten half their titles by now.

Q. What sort of island would you prefer, and why? (e.g. Desert Island... Hebridian Island...)
A. Something a bit lush, hot without too much tropical rain – but with plenty of animals to keep me occupied. Any chance of electricity and a computer please? A couple of take-away restaurants would help because otherwise I’d be dead in a fortnight. I’d never kill any of those animals for dinner except perhaps the occasional cockroach. [Helen: Hmm That's stretching the luxury option a bit Barbara!]

Q. You would be allowed one luxury item – what would you want it to be? (a boat or something to escape on isn’t allowed.)
A. Definitely a friend. I lived alone for many years, but not anymore thank you.
[Well... I'll allow you an automated restaurant with an endless supply of food because you can't see to cook, and as the island is full of fluffy animals I'm sure you'll befriend one very quickly, so alright your luxury can be electricity and a computer.]

Universal Links for ‘Historical Mysteries Collection’

Blessop’s Wife:

The Flame Eater:

Sumerford’s Autumn:

The Deception of Consequences:

The Summer of Discontent:

Historical fantasy 

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Friday, 9 April 2021

A Discovering Diamonds review of Children's Fate by Carolyn Hughes

Fictional Saga
14th Century

"It’s 1360, eleven years since the Black Death devastated all of England, and six years since Emma Ward fled Meonbridge with her children, to find a more prosperous life in Winchester. Long satisfied that she’d made the right decision, Emma is now terrified that she was wrong. For she’s convinced her daughter Bea is in grave danger, being exploited by her scheming and immoral mistress. Bea herself is confused: fearful and ashamed of her sudden descent into sin, but also thrilled by her wealthy and attentive client. When Emma resolves to rescue Bea from ruin and tricks her into returning to Meonbridge, Bea doesn’t at first suspect her mother’s motives. She is happy to renew her former friendships but, yearning for her rich lover, Bea soon absconds back to the city. Yet, only months later, plague is stalking Winchester again and, in terror, Bea flees once more to Meonbridge. But, this time, she finds herself unwelcome, and fear, hostility and hatred threaten… Terror, betrayal and deceit, but also love and courage, in a time of continuing change and challenge – Children’s Fate, the fourth Meonbridge chronicle."

Followers of this series will enjoy this next episode, equally newcomers, but I do suggest starting at the beginning to fully get to know the village of Meonbridge and its engaging inhabitants.

What I enjoyed about this novel, (as with the previous books) is the excellent character development and the attention to detail - I must admit, with some poignancy because of the present pandemic that is affecting the world. Choices about what is best for our children are always difficult, and I found myself, while reading, thinking in these circumstances, what would I have done?

The exploitation of women, young girls in particular, is also well written - times were tough, which again mean tough choices. And then, those choices once made have to be lived with, for better or worse.

The author also brings across the difference, in these Medieval times, between life in a town or a village, between those who have and those who have not, while creating that underlying realisation that Plague has no distinction between the sexes, ages, or wealth and poverty - again another reminder that our present-day situation is not much different. (Except, of course, we now have medicines, better health care - and a vaccine!)

Very enjoyable.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Ellen Hill
 e-version reviewed

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Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Chariot of the Soul by Linda Proud

shortlisted for Book of the Month

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon AU

#Book one of a proposed series

Fictional Saga
1st Century
Roman Britain

"Togidubnus, son of King Verica of the Atrebates, has been living in Rome for ten years. During a visit to the Oracle at Delphi, he is given a divine injunction to return to barbaric Britain. He wants to stay in Rome with his host, the scholarly Claudius, and his teacher, the philosopher Seneca. But events conspire with the gods: Claudius becomes emperor, Seneca is thrown into exile and King Verica arrives in Rome to beg help in regaining lands lost to the warlord Caratacus. Claudius sends Togidubnus home in advance of the Roman army to persuade the Britons not to resist or else face a bloodbath. Why should they resist? After all, the Roman way of life is better. Isn’t it?"

Togidubnos (AKA Delfos or Delphinius) is the youngest son of the Briton King Verica, sent to Rome as a royal hostage as part of a trade agreement between Verica and Rome. Educated in that great city for ten years by Seneca himself, Togidubnos is then sent back to Britain to help convince his people that their wisest course of action is to fall in line and submit to the might of the Roman Empire. When he arrives, he finds his two worlds - Roman and Stoic, Briton and Druid - at odds, both in the politics of the world and within himself.

Chariot of the Soul focuses on the eventual takeover of Britain by the Roman Empire under Claudius. The author sets the stage nicely. It is obvious that she did some excellent research and she shows it with thorough but not pedantic history given as current events in Togidubnos’s young life. The Britons are still rather tribal, and alliances between the various tribes are often unpredictable and ever-changing.

Caligula sent an invasion force during his short, disastrous reign, but it failed, the biggest impact being that some British tribes continued trading with Roman territories afterwards. Claudius was smarter about it, using Togidubnos’s knowledge of his home country to try to win the Britons over through more peaceable means. To some extent, this worked as the regions in southern Britain were generally more peaceful under Roman rule than other regions. By the end of the novel, readers have a good understanding of the shifting politics of the period. We are also introduced to Boudicca, that spectacular woman who united the tribes and very nearly kicked the Romans out on their collective asses. Presumably, that part will come in the sequel, as Chariot of the Soul is only the first of a series. 

The characters in Proud’s novel were all deep and well-crafted. Seeing the ways in which Togidubnos grew and changed over time was...not really fun since a lot of bad things happened to him. But satisfying, I suppose, to see how he grew and learned how best to use his knowledge of both Rome and Britain to help as many people as he could, and how he reconnected with the people of his birthplace. 

His mission was really an impossible one - go back to Britain and convince these very different and almost neurotically independent tribes to submit peacefully to Rome. It is no wonder that he became conflicted in a variety of ways. 

Togidubnos was a real king, by the way, of the Atrebates tribe. There's not a lot known about him, but it was enough to give Proud a few good ideas! His British slave, Mandred, was probably my favorite character. I have a soft spot for sarcastic folk anyway, and he was probably the one person who truly kept Togidubnos on a proper path. 

I think my favorite element of character development focused on Claudius himself. He did not have a very large role in this novel, nor was it necessary since the story isn’t about him. But I loved how Proud made him seem a fool prior to becoming emperor, but he always had flashes of the real man underneath, hidden and waiting to be released. She really highlighted the ways in which other people underestimated him. I never really subscribed to the view that Claudius was mentally challenged because I just don’t see how he could have reigned for nearly fourteen years if that were the case. I suppose he could have been a puppet but it seems easier and more in line with so much of Roman succession if his handler were just to kill him and take over. I recently read that possible reasons for Claudius’s tremor, slurred speech, and other physical ailments could have been polio, cerebral palsy, or even Tourette’s syndrome. Whatever the reason, I think he was a more successful emperor than many who came before him, and certainly more so than some who came after. 

Another excellent element of this novel was the focus on horses. Yes, I was a horse-crazy little girl. I am probably still a horse-crazy middle-aged woman. But no, that isn’t why I love this part. In a lot of other novels I’ve read set in pre-Roman or Roman Britain, horses were present but treated mainly as tools. Here, they were priceless, with herds going back through generations of painstaking breeding. The warriors loved their horses and when bad things happened to them, they were as grief-stricken as they were when a beloved comrade died. I liked seeing this side of ancient British culture explored more. *

Proud also did a good job with her handling of the druids. I loved the mystical feel to many of these characters, but it wasn’t so mystical as to be unbelievable. I do wish there had been more here, more detail or rituals. But Proud did a good job with the extremely limited sources there are about the druids. 

The only thing I didn’t care for was the title. It does come from a discussion Togidubnos has with a druid, but we don’t get that until near the end of the book. 

A complex and very well researched novel, this was an excellent read and I am looking forward to reading the sequel.

(* Note from Helen Hollick: this empathy with horses  is probably why the British are particularly 'horse people' even today, and why many of us have an inbuilt taboo against eating horsemeat. For those of us who are 'Britons' via long-distance DNA, horses are more than pets or things to own. They are family.)

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Kristen McQuinn
 e-version reviewed

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Monday, 5 April 2021

The Soft Touch of Angels by Anna Belfrage

Shortlisted for Book of the Month

Fictional Saga / novella

"After months of torment, Duncan Melville has had enough and punches one of his bullies in the face. In retribution, he is set upon by the tormentor’s much older brother…
There are few things that upset Alex as much as seeing a member of her family hurting. So when her ten-year-old grandson is severely injured she decides the only thing to do is to take him home, never mind that Duncan’s biological mother, Sarah, will likely throw a fit. Sarah does throw a fit. She wants the living reminder of the terrible events that led to his unfortunate conception gone, immediately. Alex refuses. Duncan is a child—a child of her blood—and she will not fail him. The Christmas spirit in the Graham home is seriously threatened as unhealed wounds break open. Caught in the middle is Duncan, a boy who doesn’t quite know where he belongs—or with whom."

As ever Anna Belfrage has written yet another wonderful story of the Grahams. Her characters are so real that they are long-treasured friends, and it was a delight to meet with them again. Apart from her excellent writing, engrossing plot, the emotional turmoil of children – and their parents – the author’s detail of time, place and background is all beautifully accomplished.

For readers who have faithfully followed the lives of Alex and Matthew Graham and their family members, The Soft Touch Of Angels, even though it is a short read, is yet another treat to savour and enjoy. To newcomers, there are a lot of characters in this novella, and a lot happens – there is some backstory, but maybe this is not the place to start, purely because you will be missing out on a wonderful ongoing saga by not meeting these people at the right place and time (A Rip In The Veil).

Often, where a series is concerned the enthusiasm of author and reader can ‘go off the boil’ after a few stories about the same characters. The plots become predictable or repetitive, the characters become stale and lose their believability, but this does not happen in Ms Belfrage’s competent hands ... if anything, the opposite is true! The entire series grows from strength to strength, building one upon the other with each extraordinary outstanding episode into an ongoing, superb friendship between author, characters and readers.

Speaking personally, I hope the series never ends.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Mary Chapple

pre-publish ARC reviewed.

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Sunday, 4 April 2021

Sunday Guest Spot - Margaret Muir (writing currently as M.C. Muir)

Continuing our Sunday Series
of taking a look at some fabulous authors!

Hello Margaret welcome to our Discovering Diamonds Guest Spot. Along with my readers and visitors I love to hear from authors who write wonderful stories. There’s nothing better than curling up with a good book,  box of chocs and glass of wine to hand!

Q. would you like to tell us a little bit about yourself... 
A. Being ‘Down-under’, I’m looking at the sea and enjoying the sun set. Like many writers, I appreciate a fairly solitary life, but that has never stopped me from travelling – COVID-19 has had more of an effect on that. And like Helen, my inspiration to write was stirred by the sea, to be exact, sitting on the bow of a tall ship and gazing at the magic conjured by the ocean.
As a late starter, my first book was published in 2005, and though I have aged and slowed since then, I am still writing – my latest novel published only a few months ago.

Q. Where do you live? 
A. I live at Low Head, on the north coast of Tasmania.

Q. If you had a choice to live anywhere – where would it be? 
A. It took me a long time to find the answer to this question. I began life as a Yorkshire Lass but left the Old Dart at 28 years of age. First stop – South Africa. I loved the physical climate but not the political one. Rhodesia was next but it was even less appealing. Back to England and then to Australia. After trying Sydney (10 years) and Perth (30 years), I came to Tasmania to find my ultimate location.

Q. Modern house, old cottage, castle or something else? 
A. I built a new house, overlooking a broad river estuary and the sea in Bass Strait, with a lighthouse at the bottom of the garden.

Q. Cat, dog or budgie
A. No cat or dog or budgie - just me.

Q. Are you a ‘dining room for dinner’, or a ‘tray on your lap in front of the TV’ person? 
A. I’m definitely ‘a tray on my lap’ kinda person.

Q. TV preferences – documentary, drama, comedy, soap or thriller? 
A. Documentaries, movies, quiz shows and comedy.

Q. What was your first published novel about? 
A. ‘Sea Dust’ tells of a young woman’s struggled to leave Yorkshire and escape by sea to somewhere far away. Set in 1856 – it reflects some of my personal desires at the time.

Q. What was your last novel about? 
A. ‘Nelson’s Wake’ is the sixth book in a nautical fiction series. It follows the adventures of Captain Oliver Quintrell during the Napoleonic Wars period.

Q. Do you write in one genre or several? 
A. Initially wrote and published English Historical fiction with female protagonists. With the later seafaring novels, I write fiction but from a male point of view under the by-line M.C. Muir.

Q. Have you ever considered exploring a totally different genre? 
A. I have dabbled in poetry, short stories and children’s stories, and am currently writing an historical narrative non-fiction on the life of a Tasmanian bushranger.

Q. If you could, which two of your characters would you like to invite to spend an afternoon with you? 
A. Captain Oliver Quintrell and convict – Matthew Brady. I would like to visit Oliver in Portsmouth and meet his young daughter. I would like to meet Matthew on Sarah Island (Convict location) and learn first-hand of the horrors the prisoners were subjected to there. 

Q. How do you prefer to travel? Plane, boat, car? 
A. I used to love cruising, despite the fact I always get sea-sick when I am on the sea. But the 2020 pandemic has put me off stepping aboard another cruise liner. Therefore, I will opt to fly.

Q. You are out for a walk. You see a chap sitting on a wall, looking right fed up – but there’s something odd about him... What? And what do you do? 
A. He is old, and unkempt and his clothes appear ragged. Yet his eyes are bright and he is gazing intently at the horizon with an expression of expectation. I can’t resist stopping and asking him what he is looking at. Is he waiting for something?

We have a long-running Radio programme here in the UK called Desert Island Discs on which celebrities talk about their life and select eight of their favourite discs... so changing that slightly... 

Q. If you were shipwrecked on a desert island, what eight books would you want to find left in an abandoned hut? (There’s already a Bible, the Quran, and the complete works of Shakespeare) 

1. A dictionary
2. An encyclopedia
3. The Voyage of the Beagle – Charles Darwin
4. Grimm’s Fairy Tales
5. An Atlas of the world
6. The voyages of Captain Cook
7. Charles Dickens – complete works
8. Yorkshire Grit by Margaret Muir

Q. What sort of island would you prefer, and why? (e.g. Desert Island... Hebridian Island...) 
A. I would prefer somewhere wild and rugged.

Q. And you would be allowed one luxury item – what would you want it to be? (a boat or something to escape on isn’t allowed.) 
A. A laptop or keyboard (or just ample paper and pencils) – something that allows me to write stories.

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Friday, 2 April 2021

The Light Ages - A Medieval Journey Of Discovery by Seb Falk

Shortlisted for Book of the Month

US cover
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon AU

14th Century / Medieval

"The Middle Ages were a time of wonder. They gave us the first universities, the first eyeglasses and the first mechanical clocks as medieval thinkers sought to understand the world around them, from the passing of the seasons to the stars in the sky. In this book, we walk the path of medieval science with a real-life guide, a fourteenth-century monk named John of Westwyk - inventor, astrologer, crusader - who was educated in England's grandest monastery and exiled to a clifftop priory. Following the traces of his life, we learn to see the natural world through Brother John's eyes: navigating by the stars, multiplying Roman numerals, curing disease and telling the time with an astrolabe. We travel the length and breadth of England, from Saint Albans to Tynemouth, and venture far beyond the shores of Britain. On our way, we encounter a remarkable cast of characters: the clock-building English abbot with leprosy, the French craftsman-turned-spy and the Persian polymath who founded the world's most advanced observatory. An enthralling story of the struggles and successes of an ordinary man and an extraordinary time, The Light Ages conjures up a vivid picture of the medieval world as we have never seen it before."

The Light Ages is a non-fiction study that seeks to dispel the concept of a 'Dark Ages' for good by revealing the light of scientific knowledge possessed by our medieval ancestors. Falk's method is not merely a discussion but an almost biographical account following the life of a monk from St Albans whose name would never have been known to us had one of his works not been erroneously attributed to Geoffrey Chaucer. In seeking the identity of the true author, John of Westwyk was discovered and details of his life became known. Not many details, admittedly, but his work directs Falk to piece together his world, and how enlightened it was. 

When I began to read this book my response was quite violent - why on earth had no one ever told me any of this before?! There are facts and details that are, to me, essential to the understanding of the mind of medieval man - not just monks, but the salt of the earth farmers and land workers. They knew far more about the world around them than the average modern man in the street with all the Googles and Facebooks that are at our disposal. They knew how to judge the passage of time using the stars, how to use them as a giant calendar to govern their lives and their work. 

Falk also explains why the western world judges time by the sun, and why the eastern world uses the moon, so obvious and yet so unknown - at least, by me! And he reveals that our medieval ancestors were not as stupid or uneducated as we want to believe - water-powered alarm clocks; the use of Roman numerals and Arabic numbers alongside each other; how they understood long division; using themselves as giant sundials; when the length of an hour became a set measurement; why our days are named for the planets, more obvious in the romance languages such as Spanish or French. Our ancestors were amazing - they were all expert astronomers.

I read this before I looked it up on Amazon and finding it was the Times book of the year 2020 didn't actually surprise me; however, it did reassure me that I can trust what Falk says and take it to heart because what I read was pretty mind-blowing stuff. Falk's narrative is warm and friendly and so accessible, very unlike the old textbooks from school so don't be afraid to pick this up and delve into it, or just dip in and out - if you can put it down.

If you write medieval fiction, you must read this book. I cannot recommend The Light Ages highly enough. 

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Nicky Galliers
 e-version reviewed

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Thursday, 1 April 2021

Critique Corner - March

Welcome to our Discovering Diamonds feature, Critique Corner, where our cover design experts volunteer kind, expert, and constructive critiques to help our readers make the most of their cover designs. Since Discovering Diamonds began in 2017, Cathy Helms of and Tamian Wood of have been co-judging the monthly cover design competition for the site. And since their selected designs have been so well received, they would like to share with all the #DDRev's fans and followers, some pearls of wisdom from their combined 40 years in the cover design business - so, over to Cathy and Tamian...
This month we have a cover submitted by Diane Byington:

Thanks for sharing your cover Diane! We appreciate your participation.

Tamian's response:

I have to say, there's not a lot I can pick at on this cover. It's clearly well done. The font choices are clean and classic, there's a pure and simple concept, it's not busy or cluttered and it has good contrast. If I had to guess, I'd say this was professionally designed, and not a DIY. 

My only nitpick would be that I'm not seeing anything that places it in the '60s on this cover. Perhaps had there been some kind of psychedelic graffiti/peace sign, or some other iconic '60s symbol on the shoe, (a daisy flower maybe?), it might have given that hint. All in all though, It's quite lovely and inviting. Nice work.

Cathy? What say you?

Cathy’s Response:

A nice, clean and balanced cover design! Typography is easy to read and well placed. I like how the title fits nicely inside the shoelaces where they are laying on the background.

Without looking up the title on Amazon, I would guess that this is a modern mystery. But I see that the genre listed is Historical Fiction. The shoes do look as if they might be from the 1970’s or 1980’s? But they are not immediately placing me in the past, if that makes sense? I’d like to see some other detail that would clearly place this novel in the correct period so potential readers would know what to expect overall. That could simply be done by using a period font for the title as I would hate to change anything about the overall design. While the font chosen for this cover (possibly Sabon or Garamond font families) is used quite often on historical, classical covers, I still feel that we need something else in this design to nail the correct period for this novel.

Also a suggestion: one of the top details in book cover design trending now is allowing some part or element of the background/artwork to intersect with the title letters. So, I would have let the shoelace interweave or lay over the title to give the cover a more three-dimensional feel which is so popular in publishing right now.

Below is a quick and dirty edit of that shoestring to illustrate what I am describing:

Overall, this is a well-crafted book cover design. Good job!

Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Cover and Book of the Month - March

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 2021
(honourable mentions for the Runner-up)


Read our Review
published by Severn House Publishers


Read our review
cover art by Miblart


Read our review
designed by 
Deranged Doctor Design

Book of the Month
a personal selection
by Helen Hollick

read our review

I admit the horse on the cover first attracted my attention
 (looks just like our mare, Lexie!) 
but the story itself hooked me in right from the start.
Jolly good read