Sunday, 28 February 2021

Sundday Guest Spot - Katherine Pym

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



Hello Katherine, 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 on these long, cold winter evenings, than curling up with a good book in front of a cosy fire, box of chocs and glass of wine to hand. (Unless you’re in the southern hemisphere, in which case it’s still the wine, but a platter of cheese, crackers and grapes to hand, while stretched out in a deckchair in the garden on a warm, sunny, evening...)

Q. Would you like to tell us a little bit about yourself...
A. First of all, I’d like to thank Helen for inviting me to this guest spot. I am truly grateful for this opportunity. [My pleasure H.]

I like history, especially 17th century London, although I’ve dabbled in other eras. The richness of the 17th century London speaks to me as if I’ve lived there, experienced the important events that happened then. 

Q. Where do you live?
A. My husband, puppy-dog, and I share time between Seattle and Austin. My husband worked for NASA in Houston and on the Space Shuttle from its onset to its demise. His family arrived in Texas before it was a state, before the Alamo, and when it was still considered Mexico. His homestead is there and we spend the winters when allowed and out of the Northwest’s rain. I ended up in Seattle due to finding work at the Boeing Company. 

Q. If you had a choice to live anywhere – where would it be?
A. On a cliff over a roiling ocean, with soughing winds and birdcalls, maybe a clothes line over to the side, beyond the garden. 

Q. Modern house, old cottage, castle or something else?
A.  A well maintained old cottage would be right up my alley, especially if it has some history attached to it. No ghosts please! 

Q. Cat,  dog or budgie?
A. Dog. We have an adopted pug/chihuahua mix who is the best friend ever. 

Q. Are you a ‘dining room for dinner’, or a ‘tray on your lap in front of the TV’ person? 
A. Depends on the meal. If it’s a big meal, I prefer the dining room table. If it’s a snack type dinner and not too messy, in front of the TV is the best place to be, with my pile of crochet next to me. 

Q. TV preferences – documentary, drama, comedy, soap or thriller?
A. I’m eclectic and like lots of different story formats. I enjoy sci-fi as long as it’s not dystopian or with zombies, historical documentaries, and a good drama with a good plot. I like Monty Python’s ridiculousness, and some comedy. I’m not much of a thriller or slash ‘em dead person. 

Q. What was your first published novel about?
A. My first novel is about London in 1660 and how Viola copes with being abandoned by her husband and the changes the Restoration brought. It is out of print at the moment, primarily because I embraced the language too much. It is hard to read, and oops, I also found some historical mistakes. For instance, I inserted streetlights in London at the time when there were none to speak of. Any lights to guide a passer-by would be a link boy, who carried a torch, or lights in windows, and sometimes, on main thoroughfares, a light attached to a house. Oftentimes, home owners would forget to light their candles outside their doors, and it would cause stygian darkness where people stumbled along, trying to find their way. If the homeowner remembered, the street’s light only lasted as long as the candle’s wick remained lit. 

Q. What was your last novel about?
A. Begotten takes place in ancient Sumer or Sumeria based on scholarly papers and archaeological digs in the area, It is a new genre called historical/fantasy and begins with a slave-girl on a planet whose sun is about to nova. She meets a man in the street as fireballs crash around them. Kessav tells Luna his wife won’t come with him to a new world, and Luna can take her place. With arms entwined, they leap off a cliff into a star gate of sorts to a new, fresh land.  


Q. Do you write in one genre or several?
A. I write in historical fiction or fantasy, and with Begotten, historical fantasy. 

Q. Have you ever considered exploring a totally different genre?
A.  Begotten is in what I would call a completely different genre from my others. The Salt Box is another—YA fantasy, which is based on a fairy tale of how the seas filled with salt. 

Q. If you could, which two of your characters would you like to invite to spend an afternoon with you?
A. Geoffrey Edward Hamilton, Highwayman, a poor maligned fellow trying to be bad but is good, who tries to gain the respect of his grandfather, and Celia, a healer from The Barbers. Her father gossips and snips hair in the shop’s front while Celia practices medicine behind a curtain. They are both interesting with fascinating backgrounds. 


Q. Where would you go / what would you do?
A. I’d like to time travel to 1660’s London and to ancient Sumer. I’d stay long if there is a toilet and bathtub, shorter if not. 

Q. How do you prefer to travel? Plane, boat, car?
A. Depends on where we are going. Plane if the route is long, car if short, and boat if I need to cross a lake and there are no streets. 

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. Having been a single female for years, I’d avoid him. If in a dream world or different reality, I’d watch him then ask: ‘Are you Humpty-Dumpty? Did you have a bad fall?’ 

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 Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
2. A Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Devereux
3. Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier
4. Man in an Iron Mask, by Alexandre Dumas
5. The Marble Fawn, by Nathaniel Hawthorne
6. The Beautiful and the Damned, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
7. The Defiant Lady Pencaval, by Diane Scott Lewis
8. The Boy Captives, by Clinton L. Smith

Q. What sort of island would you prefer, and why? (e.g. Desert Island... Hebridian Island...)
A. I’d prefer something like Maui, with the best snorkelling ever. Not too cold, not too hot, and not many biting insects.   

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 bookcase for all the books I’ll end up storing. 


Twitter: @KatherinePym


Click HERE (and scroll down to 'P') to find our  reviews of Katherine's books  on Discovering Diamonds

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Saturday, 27 February 2021

Critique Corner - February



Welcome to our new 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 AvalonGraphics.org and Tamian Wood of BeyondDesignBooks.com 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 in Critique Corner we have this charming little cover from John DeJordy. Thanks so much for submitting it John! We appreciate your participation. 

Take it away Cathy!

 

Cathy Helms:

The artwork on this cover is charming and very well done! I assume from the childlike playfulness of the illustration, that this is a children’s book loosely based on historical figures and/or legends, thus the tie to historical fiction genre?

 

I spot the glowing cat eyes while viewing the cover fairly large, but at thumbnail size, they are hard to pick up on. And there is a lot of dead or unused space below those eyes (the dark opening of the cave) that could have been used for a sub-title or even the weaving in of the title itself. I’d suggest a sub-title in that space – or a reviewer’s quote. Something should be there as all that black seems to draw my eye away from the title entirely. Or draw in a bit more of the cat’s features – faint stripes, front legs with a paw reaching out?

 

The title font is playful and colorful, but it could be several points larger. The title should dominate the front cover with the artwork the secondary feature. But the author’s name is clear and a good size along the bottom. Well done.

 

I would have drawn a custom shape box for the copy on the back cover so you could better conform the copy around the character. And I would raise the copy to line up across the top of the cover layout with the title on the front cover – thus also allowing for the copy to be a point size or two larger. The copy is a bit tough to read and I am no fan of the black stroke on the white text either. But I do understand the struggle to get the copy legible over the top of such a rich and busy illustration. This is a good case for less copy and splitting it up around that character on the left by placing the bulk of it at the top, and the balance of it at the bottom. There is more space along the bottom that could be utilized better. And a low opacity color fill shape behind the copy would help the copy stand out a bit more than using a black stroke on the letters.

 

The capital ‘P’ on the first word on the back cover needs to be properly formatted and kerned. And due to working around a shape on the left, I would suggest right justifying the copy so at least one side is all aligned. The title is hard to read on the spine, so I’d recommend shifting it down so it sits over the dark areas of the rock.

 

Overall, a beautiful illustration as a base for this cover – the text just needs some polishing up.

What do you think, Tamian?

Tamian Wood:

I don't know about you Cathy, but I quite like this cover. The characters are positively charming. There is a bit of dead space that could have used a sub title, or a tagline, or a blurb, equidistant between the eyes in the cave and the mouse horse's nose. It doesn't bother me soooo much, it just seems like a wasted opportunity. Like some kind of focal point could be there.

The thing that bothers me the most on this cover is the title. The font is an ok choice, considering it seems like a children's book, but the colour treatment just comes out of nowhere. 

While it's true, contrast is good, It's always best to choose some colour from within the image, so that it looks like a cohesive colour story. So, for instance, had the designer/author chosen a bright green or yellow, it might still have stood out, but in a good way. 

Here's my take on it...


We do hope that our readers might pick up on a few tidbits of good design points while reading our commentary. And again, we thank our volunteer authors for willingly submitting their book covers for a free and no-strings-attached constructive critique of their designs. 

Until next time, be safe and be well!

Friday, 26 February 2021

Cover and Book of the Month - February

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 2021
(honourable mentions for the Runner-up)

WINNER FEBRUARY 2021

Read our Review

Runner Up Cover


Book of the Month

Read Our Review

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, apart from because it was well written and engrossing but I had never heard of these events of WWII so it was fascinating to learn a bit about the past whilst being admirably entertained. 
 



Wednesday, 24 February 2021

A Discovering Diamonds Review of A Suitable Match by Jayne Davis


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Regency Romance
1782 
England 

Lady Isabella has been kept on a tight rein by Lord Marstone, her overbearing father. She's excited when he packs her off to London to make an advantageous match, confident her brother will preserve her from an unsuitable alliance. But when her brother is called away on vital business, he asks Nick Carterton to stand in for him. Nick, a scholar who relishes the quiet life, has avoided marriage for years but is finally giving in to his father’s request that he seek out a bride. Looking out for a young miss new to society is the last thing he'd choose to do. Will Nick’s attempts to help merely reinforce Isabella’s resentment at having her life arranged for her? Can Nick keep the headstrong Isabella out of trouble, put off unsuitable suitors, and still find himself a wife? Book 2 in The Marstone Series, A Suitable Match can be read as a standalone story, or to follow Sauce for the Gander.

Oh, I do like a delightful Regency Romance, especially when the weather outside is frightful – and Covid restrictions keep me indoors anyway, so the company of enjoyable characters is extra appreciated.

After her sisters were married, Isabella (Bella) is left on her own; she has very little idea of the world outside her own home. Her father expects everything to go as he wishes, and thinks only of himself, his social standing and his own political views – no one else is important. (I kept thinking of a certain person who lived in a White House until January 2021 for this character!) Nicholas is looking for a wife, but he has in mind the sort of woman he wants – Bella is not among them. But when she arrives in London (sent by her father in order to marry) everyone’s plans turn topsy-turvy – because of Bella landing in various situations of danger.

Possibly, Isabella could be irritating to some readers (I did feel I wanted to give her a good talking to at times!) but then, this is the stuff of Regency Romance. Perhaps, also the cast are somewhat stereotypical of the genre – the obnoxious father, the reluctant young hero, the impetuous heroine – but again, this is what is expected and wanted by readers (and I include myself) otherwise these books would not be ‘Regency Romances’ would they?

However, to be different from the ‘typical’ there is a lot going on in this novel! Apart from romance, we have blackmail, spies, alarming situations and action a-plenty, which, all-in-all make this an entertaining and enjoyable read.

(Part of the Marstone series - but a stand-alone novel)

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Mary Chapple
 e-version reviewed



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Monday, 22 February 2021

A Discovering Diamonds Review of Song Of The Shuttle by Christine Evans


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Fictional Saga
1861
England / America
(book 1)  

Jessie Davenport, a young mill worker, and Honora Darwen, an orphan determined to follow in her father’s medical footsteps, strike up a friendship in the busy industrial town of Gorbydale. With whispers of war on the horizon and discontent spreading in the Invincible Mill where Jessie works, the lives of the young people in Gorbydale are changed forever. With her mother unwell and her brother sent overseas to serve in the American Civil War, Jessie has to fight for the survival of her family Honora, meanwhile, struggles to break free from her subservient position in her uncle’s grand house. Could a voyage to the New World give the two women the freedom they crave? Will peace come to the turbulent town of Gorbydale? And could love be on the horizon for Jessie and Honor.

This novel reminded me of Catherine Cookson in the sense that it takes you into the world of the Lancashire mills and the huge difference between the families who ‘had’ and those who ‘hadn’t – the poor who struggled, and the rich who didn’t. The difference, however, was that Ms Cookson (as far as I recall) did not touch on the effect that the American Civil War had on the Lancashire cotton mills.

I found it a little difficult to sort out the characters at first, but once I had who was who in mind the story flowed better. The two main families, the Overdales and the Davenports, were well-drawn characters which the author cleverly used to show the difference between the Victorian class system and the mill workers and mill owners. Add into the plot the inevitable crossover of Romeo and Juliet-type  romance between the houses of Davenport and Overdale and you have an engrossing storyline.

My only slight reservation is that perhaps the book does not quite show racial prejudice true to form, particularly in scenes set in America during a civil war when slavery and appalling attitudes towards black Africans were acceptable among white people. Having said that, readers must keep in mind that our views today are (thank goodness) very different to those of the 1800s.

I hope to read book two of the saga to find out ‘what happens next’.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Anne Holt
 e-version reviewed




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Sunday, 21 February 2021

Sunday Guest Post - Joan Fallon

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






Hello Joan, 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 on these long, cold winter evenings, than curling up with a good book in front of a cosy fire, box of chocs and glass of wine to hand. (Unless you’re in the southern hemisphere, in which case it’s still the wine, but a platter of cheese, crackers and grapes to hand, while stretched out in a deckchair in the garden on a warm, sunny, evening...)

Q. Would you like to tell us a little bit about yourself...
A. Delighted to be asked. Well, I was born a long time ago, in Dumfries, near the Solway Firth and although I only lived there until I was three years old, I identify very much with my Scottish roots. I am a rather private person and as a child spent most of my time with my nose in a book. I grew up on the east coast of England, then moved to the Thames Valley, where I became a teacher. Teaching of a variety of sorts, primary, further education, and management training was my life until I decided to give it up and become a writer. That coincided with the plan to leave the UK and to live in Spain.

Q. Where do you live?
A. I live in a small fishing village a few miles east of Malaga. It’s a delightful place, quiet but not too quiet and in easy reach of the city centre. Having spent a large part of my early life living by the coast, I am happy to be living by the sea again.

Q. If you had a choice to live anywhere – where would it be?
A. I’m perfectly happy with where I am but if I were to win the lottery I’d buy an apartment in Malaga overlooking the port. It would be nice to be within walking distance of the theatres and museums.

Q. Modern house, old cottage, castle or something else?
A.  Thirty years ago I would have said ‘old cottage’ but now I would go for a modern apartment with large terraces. I’m no longer interested in the extra work than invariably goes with older buildings and definitely don’t have time for a garden.

Q. Cat,  dog or budgie?
A. Dog. I have had dogs since I stopped going out to work and stayed at home to write. Most have been abandoned dogs and six of them have been schnauzers, the latest of which is a white miniature schnauzer puppy. My favourite however, (if I dare to say such a thing) was a German Shepherd who had been found wandering in a dried up river bed when he was two years old. He was the most loving and obedient dog I ever had.

Q. Are you a ‘dining room for dinner’, or a ‘tray on your lap in front of the TV’ person?
A. Oh I have always liked eating at the table, preferably outside or, if the weather is bad, inside at the dining room table. 

Q. TV preferences – documentary, drama, comedy, soap or thriller?
A. Dramas are my favourite TV viewing, followed by documentaries.  

Q. What was your first published novel about?
A. My first novel, Spanish Lavender, was a love story set in the Spanish Civil War. It is was the story of Elizabeth, a young English woman who got caught up in the mass exodus from Málaga in 1937. As she tried to escape the beleaguered city she meets two men, Alex, an Englishman who had come to support the Republican cause and Juan, a Spaniard. She and Juan fall in love, but as they head along the coast, they are attacked and Juan is badly wounded. In the confusion they become separated, and believing he is dead, Elizabeth returns to England. But it doesn’t end there.


Q. What was your last novel about?
A. Again it is set in Málaga but it is a very different city; the year is 1042 and we are in Moorish Spain. My last novel was book three of The City of Dreams trilogy, and is called The Prisoner. The series is about two families, one is the royal family and the other is the family of an apothecary whose shop is just outside the walls of the palace. It is a turbulent time for Malaga; rulers change with increasing regularity and the city’s enemies are growing ever closer. In this, the final book, the caliph, fearful of betrayal from those around him, has thrown his brother into prison. Meanwhile the apothecary’s family have their own problems, one of which could mean exile or even death.


Q. Do you write in one genre or several?
A. I write in various genres, but mostly historical fiction, because I love the challenge of taking some event from history and turning into a novel. But I also write contemporary fiction, mainly about women.

Q. Have you ever considered exploring a totally different genre?
A.  I have. In fact I have just finished the first draft of a new detective novel. Again it is set in Málaga but now it is a modern city. My detective is a woman called Jennifer Dunne, JD to her friends; she used to work for the Metropolitan police but moved to Spain and set up her own detective agency. If the first book goes well, then she will have many more cases to solve.

Q. If you could, which two of your characters would you like to invite to spend an afternoon with you?
A. I think I’d like to spend an afternoon with Elizabeth from Spanish Lavender and Bakr, the shipwright from The City of Dreams trilogy. Bakr is married to the apothecary’s daughter and is a wonderful character, strong, manly, loving and brave. Elizabeth is also brave and is a very enthusiastic and resilient character. 

Q. Where would you go / what would you do?
A. I would take them on a tour of present day Málaga so they could see how the city had changed since their respective time there, and what has remained the same. We would visit the alcazaba, the Arab fortress, which was newly built when Bakr lived there, had been bombed to the ground in the Civil War and now has been reconstructed. I would take them into the central market where the Moorish arch at the entrance is the one that used to be in Bakr’s shipyard and where they can still buy the same spices and fruits that the Moorish markets sold. I would show Elizabeth the port, which now has cruise ships moored in it instead of war ships, and how the boarded up shops and bombed streets of the centre have been replaced by pedestrian paths and glitzy shopping areas. Bakr would be amazed to see how his city has grown in size in a thousand years, and we would walk through parks that in his time would have been beneath the sea.

Q. How do you prefer to travel? Plane, boat, car?
A. I dislike the hassle of airports, but obviously there are times when it is the only way to travel. However I prefer to travel by car because it gives me more freedom, I can take whatever luggage I want, and it also means I can enjoy the journey and the places I am passing through. Driving through Spain and France is much more fun than flying.

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 has a dog lead but no dog. I stop and ask him if he’s lost his dog. If he has I offer to help him find it.

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 Grapes of Wrath, (John Steinbeck)
2. The Mirror and the Light, (Hilary Mantel)
3. Burial Rights, (Hannah Kent)
4. George Elliot, The Last Victorian, (Kathryn Hughes)
5. The Reckoning (Charles Nicholl)
6. The Prophet (Kahlil Gibran)
7. Penguin Book of First World War Poetry
8. A Star Called Henry (Roddy Doyle)

Q. What sort of island would you prefer, and why? (e.g. Desert Island... Hebridian Island...)
A. Hebridean island. It wouldn’t be too cold because of the Gulf Stream. There would be plenty of fish, seals and lots of wonderful bird life, and beautiful scenery. 

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 solar powered iPad




Click HERE (and scroll down to 'F') to find our  reviews of Joan's books  on Discovering Diamonds

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Friday, 19 February 2021

A Discovering Diamonds Review of The Coming of the Wolf by Elizabeth Chadwick


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Fictional Saga
1069
Wales

"The Welsh Borders, 1069. When Ashdyke Manor is attacked, Lady Christen is forced to witness her husband's murder and the pillaging of her lands at the hands of brutal Norman invaders. It seems the pain is finally over when Miles Le Gallois, Lord of Milnham-on-Wye, calls off the attack. But he has Christen's brother under armed guard and a deal to offer: her brother's freedom for her hand in marriage. Christen finds herself hastily married into the enemy side, with her brother swearing his vengeance on her new husband. Miles and Christen's precarious union invites enemies from all sides and when Miles is summoned for a lengthy campaign by the King, Christen is left to watch his lands. In the midst of war, two enemies must somehow learn to trust one another if they are to survive . . ."

I've been an eager fan of Elizabeth Chadwick's novels for many years now - starting from when The Wild Hunt was first published - and so it was a great pleasure to read this title as a prequel to Ms Chadwick's excellent debut series (well, debut way back, when she first started writing!) The Coming Of The Wolf is a standalone read, but I would wager you will go on to read the others, if you have not already done so.

This one is of the 'romance' genre rather than Ms Chadwick's recent novels, which are more biographical fiction in nature, but the detail of research and 'feel' for the period remains the same, along with the author's impeccable writing skill.

Personally, I prefer Ms Chadwick's later novels written about real characters of the past (William Marshal, Eleanor of Aquitaine etc) but this is still a brilliant read - entertaining, enjoyable, absorbing - although
 I do admit (as anyone who knows me is well aware) I am no fan of Duke William of Normandy or his 1066 era followers, so I did rather root for the anti-Norman characters here in The Coming of the Wolf

What a pity that the author could not make it alternative fiction though! 

Recommended for an enjoyable read.


Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Helen Hollick
 e-version reviewed



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Wednesday, 17 February 2021

The Lifeline, by Deborah Swift

shortlisted for Book of the Month


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In the stories that have grown up around the heroism of ordinary people in WWII, the ‘little boats of Britain’ and their involvement in the evacuation at Dunkirk is well known. Much less well known is the Shetland Bus, the clandestine cooperative operation between Britain’s SIS and SOE units and the Norwegian resistance.

After the German invasion of Norway in April of 1940, Norwegian fishing vessels began arriving in the remote Shetland Islands, bringing people fleeing the Nazi regime. Many of the captains and crew of these boats - fishermen from the coastal villages of Norway - became part of the ‘Shetland Bus’, making multiple trips back to Norway under cover of night and winter seas to deliver armaments and bring back compromised agents, as well as Norwegians who feared arrest, both Jews and members of the resistance. 

In The Lifeline, Deborah Swift tells this story through the experiences of two central characters, Jorgen and Astrid. Jorgen is a member of Milorg, the main Norwegian resistance movement, trained as a radio operator. Astrid is a primary teacher. The novel opens with Jorgen realizing he has been compromised: he must flee, hoping to make the coast and escape to Shetland, leaving Astrid behind. 

The story reflects both the terror and tedium of occupation; the tiresome check of papers, the long queues for little food, the casual harassment and random reprisals for resistance, however minor. While Jorgen battles mountains and weather in his long route to the coast, Astrid’s anger at the increasing Nazi encroachment on Norwegian culture and tradition reaches a head when schools are forced to adopt a new curriculum focused on Nazi ideology. She joins those involved in civil disobedience against the Germans. The real history of these events is woven into Astrid’s and Jorgen’s stories competently, without overwhelming the reader. 

The risks taken by ordinary people, when even the wearing of an item as innocuous as a bobble hat could mean arrest, are reflected in Astrid’s experiences, while the dangers faced by the members of Milorg are given life in Jorgen. He has been joined in his flight to the coast by another man: can he be trusted? When Astrid, now a fugitive herself, chooses to aid the family of one of her students, the Jewish girl Sarah, their paths begin to converge on Shetland. 

Swift paints a picture of immense bravery, both physical and mental, from men and women caught up in a war not of their making. We care about these characters, both the fictional ones and the historical ones; they are rounded and real, with doubts and fears and mistakes. War changes them in ways they do not expect, leading to an ending a little different than what might have been expected.

Recommended for readers of character-driven WWII stories, or anyone who wants to know more about this little-known piece of history.


Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Marian Thorpe
 e-version reviewed





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Monday, 15 February 2021

The Happiest Man on Earth by Eddie Jaku Non-fiction


WWII

"Life can be beautiful if you make it beautiful. It is up to you. Eddie Jaku always considered himself a German first, a Jew second. He was proud of his country. But all of that changed in November 1938, when he was beaten, arrested and taken to a concentration camp.
   Over the next seven years, Eddie faced unimaginable horrors every day, first in Buchenwald, then in Auschwitz, then on a Nazi death march. He lost family, friends, his country.
   Because he survived, Eddie made the vow to smile every day. He pays tribute to those who were lost by telling his story, sharing his wisdom and living his best possible life. He now believes he is the ‘happiest man on earth’.
   Published as Eddie turns a hundred, The Happiest Man on Earth is a powerful, heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful memoir of how happiness can be found even in the darkest of times

This is a remarkable book.
Eddie Jaku, born in 1920, tells us his life story. A German Jew, he was caught up in the brutal excesses of the Nazi regime. Eddie was interned in Buchenwald and Auschwitz. His excellent engineering education made him Economically Indispensable and kept him alive, although he came within a hairsbreadth of annihilation many times.

His sister, Hennie, was the only one of his family to survive the war. After the war, in 1955, he and his wife moved to Australia.

This book should be required reading for schools and for anyone writing about the Holocaust. Writing the book at the age of 100 years, Eddie and his wife have two sons, four grandchildren and five great grandchildren. His message to the world is one of forgiveness, although he confesses that he still does not understand what came over the German nation in the 1930s.


Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 
© J J Toner
 e-version reviewed






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Sunday, 14 February 2021

Sunday Guest Spot - Annie Whitehead

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



Hello Annie, 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 in front of a cosy fire, box of chocs and glass of wine to hand. (Unless you’re in the southern hemisphere, in which case it’s still the wine, but a platter of cheese, crackers and grapes to hand, while stretched out in a deckchair in the garden on a warm, sunny, evening...)

Q. Would you like to tell us a little bit about yourself...
A. I’m Annie, and I’m an author and historian, with a special interest in (some might say obsession with!) the Anglo-Saxon era. In ‘past lives’ I’ve been a singer and a pre-school music teacher.

Q. Where do you live?
A. Quite near the English Lake District but the ‘quite near’ is important because it’s a little more off the beaten track.

Q. If you had a choice to live anywhere – where would it be?
A. In this imaginary scenario can I be rich enough to own several houses? I’d love to have a base back in Norfolk where I spent my formative years, but I also love Wales, particularly North Wales. Mainly though, I’d be happy living anywhere that’s near the sea.

Q. Modern house, old cottage, castle or something else?
A. You’d think that being interested in history that I’d like an old house, or castle but actually I don’t think I’d be able to sleep in an old building – that’s where the ghosts live, isn’t it?

Q. Cat,  dog or budgie?
A. I’m currently employed by a cat and have had several feline bosses over the years, but I am very fond of dogs too. I’ve never been on first name terms with a budgie so I’d have to reserve judgement there!

Q. Are you a ‘dining room for dinner’, or a ‘tray on your lap in front of the TV’ person?
A. We always sat round the big family dining table when the kids were all still at home. These days there’s just the two of us here so it’s the kitchen table, with the TV on.

Q. TV preferences – documentary, drama, comedy, soap or thriller?
A. I don’t watch the soaps as I find they’re addictive but I’ll watch just about anything else on telly except reality shows and crime dramas.

Q. What was your first published novel about?
A. It told the story of Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians. She was the daughter of Alfred the Great and ended up ruling in a country and leading the fight against the Vikings.


Q. What was your last novel about?
A. I went back even further in time and wrote the story of Penda, the last pagan king of Mercia. It was a story of love, blood feud and vengeance.


Q. Do you write in one genre or several?
A. So far I’ve only written fiction in one genre, but I do also write nonfiction books about history.


Q. Have you ever considered exploring a totally different genre?
A. I have. In fact I’m currently outlining the plot for a contemporary novel. 

Q. If you could, which two of your characters would you like to invite to spend an afternoon with you?
A. Just two? Hmm, difficult choice. I think I’d pick Alvar, from my second novel because there’d never be a dull moment with him, and Derwena from my third. As the wife of Penda she had to put up with much heartache but she was a very independent and strong woman.


Q. Where would you go / what would you do? With those two, I think there’d be a lot of drinking and merry-making, but I’d like to take them somewhere they’d both enjoy and that would be a modern fairground. They are both up for any kind of challenge, love adventure and I think they’d literally enjoy the ride!

Q. How do you prefer to travel? Plane, boat, car?
A. With my characters do you mean? I’d love to go by horseback actually, so they could show me the world from their perspective. Otherwise one of my favourite modes of transport is a narrow boat. There is something really calming about pootling along slowly, whilst being so close to nature. Canal banks are beautiful.

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. It’s odd because he only has one shoe on. His other foot is bare and his toenails are painted. At first I assume he’s been on his stag night and abandoned but then I notice he’s crying. Not sobbing, or shuddering, but just a tear sitting on his cheek. I talk to him because he’s young and reminds me of my son. I know how fragile hearts can be at that age. He tells me that he and his girlfriend have had a big argument. I can’t help much but I listen, and go away hoping that they patch things up, and worrying very much about him. I realise, as I walk away, that he hasn’t lost his shoe at all, but that he was looking at his toe nails and remembering the laughs they had when she painted them. I hope they find that joy again.

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. Flambards by KM Peyton
2. English Historical Documents Vol I 500-1042 by Dorothy Whitelock
3. The Reckoning by Sharon Penman
4. 1066 and All That by R. J. Yeatman and W. C. Sellar
5. Down with Skool by Geoffrey Willans
6. Flight of the Heron by D. K. Broster
7. King Hereafter by Dorothy Dunnett
8. Walter de la Mere: The Complete Poems

Q. What sort of island would you prefer, and why? (e.g. Desert Island... Hebridian Island...)
A. I’d like a desert island because of the sun and clear blue water, but an island further north would give the changing seasons which might provide some variety, especially if I don’t get rescued for a while.

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. It would have to be something on which I could play, or listen to, music. A piano? Or an i-pod that never needed recharging!






Click HERE (and scroll down to 'W') to find our  reviews of Annie's books  on Discovering Diamonds

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