Monday, 31 May 2021

Cover and Book of the Month - May

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


(unknown designer)

(designed by Deranged Doctor Design)


(unknown designer)

read our review
this cover was designed by and is therefore
not included in the cover of the month
A separate annual 'award' is given for these covers 
at the end of the year

Book of the Month

thoroughly engrossing
read our review
I didn't think this would be quite 'for me' but I thoroughly enjoyed it!

Sunday, 30 May 2021

Critique Corner

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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 Jen Black - Silver Season Affair

Thanks for sharing your cover! We appreciate your participation.

Tamian's response:

The lovely manor house and clothing of the female figure definitely put us right in the historical fiction genre, for sure. But I'd have to say, this one could use a bit of polish.

My first giveaway that this might be a DIY cover is the all white all centered, all the same size text. Choosing a colour from the image, say a light beige from what looks like (maybe) Cotswold stone (?), would help bring up the sophistication factor. 

And while the font is definitely readable and sufficiently contrasty, it's just the teensiest bit... generic and lackluster. I think this might have been a bit more successful with a font like Desire. Since the sub title hints that there might be some hanky panky goin' on, a slightly more romantic font might not go amis. 

If I were designing this, I'd bring the image of the house down a bit  and add more sky to allow more room for the title to be split on to at least two, possibly three lines. It would have the added bonus of cropping out the tree stump in the foreground. (Some good photoshop skills could get rid of that too) Unless it is a feature in the story, it's just distracting.

I would probably choose a less bold version of the font for the sub title. It's not fighting for attention with a busy background, so a more delicate font would feel less clunky. Also, I'm not sure the quotation marks are necessary. I might also choose a different font altogether for the author name. But KUDOS for being bold and letting it take up some space.

The character does definitely catch the eye, but is most surely a cut and paste that is not blended well into the scene. When I zoom in, I can see the building through her chin and hat. And the lighting doesn't match. Clearly the building light source is a fairly strong light from the upper right. On the girl, at least her face, the lighting is from the lower right. But the thing that strikes me most is how, curiously, her face is a bright orange, while her arm seems more of a normal skin tone. Just evening out that discrepancy would go a long way to improving this cover.

Cathy? What say you?

Cathy’s Response:

Overall, this cover design immediately sells the reader that this is a historical fiction novel. Both the title and the quote on the cover hint at a potential historical romance novel as well.

The background image of the estate is a good solid photo that also works overall – but my eye keeps going to the tree stump in the foreground. On one hand, I wonder if the tree stump ties into the story somehow, does it? But if on the other hand, it does not, then I think it simply needs to be edited out as it is a distraction. We have three elements in this design: the manor house, the lady and the tree stump. I would recommend narrowing that down to just the lady and the house. Those two elements are more than enough to sell this cover.

What I would suggest is blending in a more dramatic sky over the manor house and bringing the house image down to the horizontal center of the cover. The lady could be much larger and shifted over to the left side of the layout. And with a little more detailed design work on her, she can better blend into the layout. I see some issues with the edges of her dress, hat and gloved hands not being clipped out of her original background quite cleanly enough. And I suspect there are a few smudges of white left over from her original background that are floating over the dark grass to her right. And her skin tone needs to be balanced – her face is almost orange while her exposed arm is quite pale in color. We have a very bright sunny day on the manor house yet our lady seems to be in more diffused lighting. I would balance that out so the entire design is equally sunlit.

The typography, with a little editing and font choices, could have better impact as well.  If the manor house is shifted down a bit, then I would stack the title and increase the point size of the letters to fill the top portion of the cover. White is commonly used by non-designers for their text – so to help give this cover a more professional feel, I would use one of the colors out of the bricks of the house or a blush color, or a dark color. The author’s name would be better balanced centered across the bottom, but the font is fine – perhaps not in italics though. The quote – if this is simply the sub-title for the book, I’d recommend not using the quotations at all. And I would place it closer to the title, not in italics, but perhaps all caps.

I hacked up the background enough so that I could play around with the typography placement to better demonstrate what I am suggesting:

I hope that helps. The cover has good elements in it, so with a little extra design work, it could have more impact – especially at thumbnail size.

Thank you again for submitting your cover, Jen!

Discovering Diamonds will be reviewing this title on 9th August

Sunday Guest Spot - Catherine Kullmann

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

Hello  Catherin, 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 hate this question. The basics—I’m in my seventies, recently widowed after a long and happy marriage, a mother and grandmother. I enjoy reading, good food and drink, the company of family and friends, travel, music and art. I am fascinated by history, in particular social history. I started writing fiction after taking early retirement following a brush with breast cancer. To date I have published five novels and a gothic novella.

Q. Where do you live?
A. In Dublin, in my old family home. My husband was German and I moved to Germany when we got married. We returned to Ireland in 1999. I have only had three addresses in my whole life; this house, the apartment we rented when we first married and the house we later built.

Q. If you had a choice to live anywhere – where would it be?
A. Having lived abroad for over twenty-five years, I don’t want to live anywhere but Dublin. The Irish temperament, people and climate suit me. I don’t like extremes of heat or cold—I’ll take rain over either any day. For holidays, my favourite countries are Greece, Italy and France, preferably in the spring or autumn.
Q. Modern house, old cottage, castle or something else?
A. If I win the lotto, then a not too large Georgian house standing in its own grounds. The lotto win will have to be big enough to pay for any necessary restoration, including upgrading the plumbing to today’s standards, and also to pay the wages of a cook/housekeeper and gardener/maintenance person. There are quite a few of these houses on what were then the outskirts of Dublin but are now only a couple of miles from the city centre. Many of them were built near the sea when sea-bathing etc. became fashionable at the turn of the eighteenth to the nineteenth century. They are not grand houses, but comfortable, spacious and beautifully proportioned with mature gardens. 

Q. Cat, dog or budgie?
A. None at present. If I had my Georgian house, then a cat as the staff would be able to look after it while I was away.

Q. Are you a ‘dining room for dinner’, or a ‘tray on your lap in front of the TV’ person?
A. Breakfast is tea and toast in bed with the daily paper, lunch is a sandwich and a more tea in my favourite armchair and dinner is at a properly set dining table. A German habit I have retained is coffee mid-afternoon although I forego the cake.

Q. TV preferences – documentary, drama, comedy, soap or thriller?
A. I watch very little TV. If I do, it is usually a concert or opera. In the evenings I read and listen to music on the radio.

Q. What was your first published novel about?
A. The Murmur of Masks, the first novel in what I call my Waterloo arc. Set against a background of the mostly off-stage Napoleonic wars, they consider in particular what happened when the men disappeared over the horizon to fight the French, leaving the women to fend for themselves in in a patriarchal society.

The Murmur of Masks starts in 1803 Eighteen-year-old Olivia's naval captain father is 'somewhere at sea' when her mother dies suddenly, leaving her daughter distraught and homeless. Desperately in need of security and safety, Olivia accepts Jack Rembleton's offer of a marriage of convenience, hoping that love will grow between them. She does not know that Jack's affections are elsewhere engaged.
Ten years later, Olivia has made the best of her situation. She loves her children and has found her place in the ton. An unexpected encounter at a masquerade with Luke Fitzmaurice leads to a second chance at love. Dare she grasp it? Before she can decide, Napoleon escapes from Elba and Luke joins Wellington's army in Brussels. Will war once again dash Olivia's hopes of happiness?

Here I took a common Regency trope—the marriage of convenience. What, I asked myself, if it doesn’t turn into a love match?

Q. What was your last novel about?
A. The Potential for Love is set in 1816. When Arabella Malvin sees the figure of an officer silhouetted against the sun, for one interminable moment she thinks he is her brother, against all odds home from Waterloo. But it is Major Thomas Ferraunt, the rector’s son, newly returned from occupied Paris who stands in front of her.
For over six years, Thomas’s thoughts have been of war. Now he must ask himself what his place is in this new world and what he wants from it. More and more, his thoughts turn to Miss Malvin, but would Lord Malvin agree to such a mismatch for his daughter, especially when she is being courted by Lord Henry Danlow?
As Arabella embarks on her fourth Season, she finds herself more in demand than ever before. But she is tired of the life of a debutante, waiting in the wings for her real life to begin. She is ready to marry. But which of her suitors has the potential for love and who will agree to the type of marriage she wants?

Given the appalling legal status of married Englishwomen under the legal system of coverture which lasted until well into the nineteenth century, it is amazing that women got married at all. Unfortunately, the alternative was not much better. Arabella wants to marry for love but knows that there are other, just as important matters to be considered when choosing her husband.

Q. Do you write in one genre or several?
A. In one. My novels are all set in the extended Regency period, from 1800 to 1830. I find this period fascinating. It was one of the most significant periods of European and American history whose events still resonate after two hundred years. 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 are all events that continue to shape our modern world. 

Q. Have you ever considered exploring a totally different genre?
A. I am tempted sometimes by historical fantasy. I have written one unpublished novella in this genre that could be the introduction to a complete series. Much as I love writing historical fiction, it was very liberating to be able to create my own world. I don’t know if it would be wise to change horses in mid-stream, especially as I am not getting any younger. So, the novella remains on my computer, read only by my husband and sons.

Q. If you could, which two of your characters would you like to invite to spend an afternoon with you?
A. Ladies Needham and Neary are two older ladies who appear in several of my books. They don’t suffer fools gladly but will come to the aid of a young wife and help her find her feet in the ton. They are very good company. An afternoon with them would be worth years of research. 

Q. Where would you go / what would you do?
If they visit me, I wouldn’t like to inflict the horrors of modern rush hour on them, so I think afternoon tea in a sheltered spot in my garden while we talk about life in their time and now. If I visit them, I am of course in their hands and would go along with whatever they chose for my entertainment.

Q. How do you prefer to travel? Plane, boat, car?
A. Planes are very convenient, especially when you live on an island, but I hate airports and shudder to think what they will be like when we are finally allowed to travel post Covid. In the past, we loved to take the direct car ferry to France. Now I must get used to travelling solo. All my plans for this year fell through and I am still reluctant to make any definite ones for next year.

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. This is a tricky one. It would depend very much on the time and place. In Ireland, especially outside cities, it is usual to greet a stranger when passing and even to stop and exchange a few words if you have time. My instinct is to be friendly and supportive. If I think he is a danger to himself or others, I would phone the emergency services and, unless I felt personally threatened, stay with him until they came. 

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 Jane Austen Omnibus
2.The Lord of the Rings
3.The Beacon at Alexandria (Gillian Bradshaw)
4.The Works of the Romantic Poets
5.The Swiss Family Robinson (Johann Wyss)
6.Spinning Silver (Naomi Novik)
7.Enquire Within upon Everything – the Shipwreck Edition
8 A thick, blank, ruled volume so that I could keep a journal and do some other writing.

Q. What sort of island would you prefer, and why? (e.g. Desert Island... Hebridean Island...)
A. As I mentioned above, I don’t like extremes of hot or cold, so I would like an island off the coast of West Cork, where there is a pleasant, temperate climate. I would draw on the Swiss Family Robinson and Enquire Within for advice on building a shelter from the Atlantic storms.

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. An aga or similar and an unending supply of fuel for it.

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

See Our Full 

Friday, 28 May 2021

The Kingdoms by Natasha Pulley

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon AU

Timeslip / Alternative

"Come home, if you remember. The postcard has been held at the sorting office for ninety-one years, waiting to be delivered to Joe Tournier. On the front is a lighthouse – Eilean Mor, in the Outer Hebrides. Joe has never left England, never even left London. He is a British slave, one of thousands throughout the French Empire. He has a job, a wife, a baby daughter. But he also has flashes of a life he cannot remember and of a world that never existed – a world where English is spoken in England, and not French. And now he has a postcard of a lighthouse built just six months ago, that was first written nearly one hundred years ago, by a stranger who seems to know him very well.
Joe's journey to unravel the truth will take him from French-occupied London to a remote Scottish island, and back through time itself as he battles for his life – and for a very different future."

The Kingdoms is a timeslip alternative historical fiction, if that is even a genre! And, for those who hate timeslip, it isn't modern and the past but the past and even further back. Whatever genre, it is fascinating and the main character is warm, engaging and refreshingly normal. 

Joe finds himself at La Gare du Roi, one of the mainline train stations in Londres but has no recollection of getting there. He thinks there might have been someone else on the train with him, but he can't be sure. All he does know is that nothing makes sense. Eventually, he is collected by his master, M. Saint-Marie, a shabby-chic Frenchman whose finest days are behind him, but is genuinely fond of Joe, his slave, whom he has married off to Alice (another slave who was supposed to marry his brother, Toby, but Toby died in Scotland seeking to put down the English and Scots rebelling against French rule in the UK).

Then a postcard is delivered to Joe, dated some ninety or so years in the past, but depicting a lighthouse that was only built six months before, and signed 'M' who he thinks might be Madeline, but has no idea why. Drawn to seek employment at a machinist who manages the UK's lighthouses for their Parisian masters, Joe travels to Scotland, to Eilean Mor, to repair the lighthouse and discover what happened to the keepers who have vanished. And to unravel an impossible mystery - how can a postcard even exist ninety years ago of a lighthouse that was only built six years ago - and why send it to HIM?

This is a long, complicated story that takes you through the lives of several characters in order to relate the story. It flits in and out of time, back and forth through backstory and the action, piecing together the story and revealing a little at a time until we finally, along with Joe, find out what is going on. There are hints along the way; one massive one made me stop and re-read towards the end that made sense only as a train journey neared its end.

One will never quite look at time travel the same again, never quite trust what you see, and one's knowledge of the Napoleonic Wars will take on a new light.

A fantastic novel, a growing genre of alternative history treated in a unique, fascinating way. A perfect novel for fans of Hornblower, or with an interest in the ships of the era and sailing. More literature than commercial fiction, you won't regret reading this.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Nicky Galliers
 e-version reviewed

You will find several items of interest on the sidebar

31st May .... Book and Cover of the month announced

Wednesday, 26 May 2021

A Discovering Diamonds Review of Something in Madness by Ed Protzel

19th century

Book#3 Dark Horse Trilogy

"1865. After the Civil War, Durksen Hurst and three black friends return home to a devastated Mississippi, the sole survivors of a Union colored cavalry regiment. But instead of peace, they find unregenerate Confederates who reject emancipation still in charge. Undeterred, Durk opens a law practice to help disenfranchised freedmen — only to be threatened by powerful planters and nightriders. A black school is burned; a petition march to Jackson is terrorized. And when one of his friends goes missing, Durk is horrified to discover Black Codes being used to force freedmen into brutal servitude. Clever Durk schemes to liberate them but must contend with armed ruffians — and a rigged court system. Will fire and bullets prevail?"

This is the final book in the Dark Horse trilogy. I haven't read the first two but, helpfully, this one begins with a recap of what has happened in the previous two volumes so the reader is able to catch up with the story, for the most part. I say for the most part because what is not mentioned in the blurb is the other threat to Durk and his friends, the confused and confusing character of Devereau French.

Devereau's story is a huge part of the narrative and, whilst the introduction makes clear what has happened to this character up until now, I felt that in order to really understand Devereau I needed to see the character in action in the previous two volumes. Inevitably, I think, when one hasn't read the beginning of a series, some nuance and understanding of the characters is lost. It is clear from Volume Three that Durk, his partner Antoinette, and Devereau have a long and complicated history, which is neatly resolved here.

This book challenged me in many ways. It is unsparing in its depiction of the brutal treatment of technically freed slaves, and pulls no punches when showing the attitudes of those in the South who felt that the war was not over and resisted all attempts to change and improve society and the lives of the former slaves. These scenes made for compelling reading, though not necessarily comfortable reading. I applaud the author though for not shying away from such issues.

I've already mentioned Devereau, but I didn't come away from the book feeling that I'd really got to know the other main characters and, again, this might be because they've had two previous books in which to tell their story and I only met them in this, the final part of that tale. I wonder, though, if it was also because of the author's habit of presenting several points of view within the same scene? This technique is quite uncommon these days, where writers usually stay with the point of view of one character throughout an entire scene. Once I'd got used to this habitual switch from one POV to another, I had no problem with it and, in the final scenes, it was used to good effect and one POV would actually have lessened the drama. (In fact I must say that the plotting generally, and the action scenes, were clever, artful and gripping.) But I think this technique also had the effect of preventing me from really getting to know the characters and pinpointing where my sympathies should lie, especially with Devereau whose story was complicated to say the least (I can't say why because that would be a huge spoiler).

Ultimately, though, any sense of slight detachment on my part was, I think, the result of my not having read the previous two books. Whilst the author was at great pains to allow latecomers to catch up by providing a summary of what had happened before, the difficulty of not having met the characters earlier is harder to overcome. I suspect that, if I'd read all three books, I'd have been hugely satisfied with the way all the strands were pulled together and sad to say goodbye to these characters. 

So a good read - but start at the beginning!

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Lucy Townshend 
 e-version reviewed

You will find several items of interest on the sidebar

Monday, 24 May 2021

A Discovering Diamonds Review of Falling into the light by M.J. Wiley


Falling into the Light by M.J. Wiley is set in the mid 19th century. It is a fictional narrative of a young Dalai Lama's sudden decision to travel to the United States while on a diplomatic visit from Tibet to China. During this journey, His Holiness assumes another man's identity and gets a glimpse of life in America. He travels from America's west coast to Washington D.C and comes into contact with people from all walks of life - ruffians, Native Americans, a prostitute, and even President Lincoln. The Dalai Lama's life experience allows him to have a greater understanding of the Buddhist principles he had learned all his life. This enables him to serve in his role as the Dalai Lama with greater empathy when he returns to Tibet.

This was an enjoyable read vividly describing life in America during the 1800s. Several Buddhist principles were incorporated into the story. I particularly liked a couple of short poems about living in the moment and being responsible for our actions.

I would have liked for the author to specify the year the events took place to give the reader a better sense of the timeline. The Dalai Lama's love story was also somewhat incomplete but perhaps the author intentionally left it so. The book is somewhat on the pricey side for a book that has only 134 pages though. 

There are multiple social issues including slavery, civil war, attacks on Native Americans, all of which were touched upon briefly, but Kudos to the author for an unconventional storyline and interesting premise.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Juhi Ray
 e-version reviewed

You will find several items of interest on the sidebar

Sunday, 23 May 2021

Sunday Guest Spot - Richard Denning

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

Hello Richard, 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 trained as a doctor and worked as a General Practitioner with a North Birmingham practice until April 2017 when I retired from NHS practice to focus on my other work. I am married with two children. 
I am a historical fiction, historical fantasy and Young adult sci-fi, writer. I also write online articles on historical, publishing and gaming related topics. A keen player of board games and other games I am one of the directors of UK Games Expo (the UK's largest hobby games convention and one of the largest in the world). I am a board game designer and my first Board Game 'The Great Fire on London 1666' was published in October 2010. Since then, I have published several other games.

Q. Where do you live?
A. Sutton Coldfield in the West Midlands. Whilst basically a suburb of Birmingham it has its own distinct identity and intriguing aspects to its history. It has one of the largest urban parks in the UK which dates back to a Deer park of Henry VIII’s time whose chaplain Bishop Vesey founded a school here in 1527 and managed to get the town royal patronage, hence the full title being Royal Sutton Coldfield.

Q. If you had a choice to live anywhere – where would it be?
A. I do love traveling and seeing the world particularly the ‘old places’, locations with deep history. I like good food and a nice drink so there are many locations I like to go and could happily live such as Italy or Germany, but I can honestly say that the UK with all its quirky rules, history and traditions, its pubs and cricket grounds suits me just fine. 

Q. Modern house, old cottage, castle or something else?
A.  My own house dates back to the 1930’s but I would love an older house with some history and a big library! But I am also a city dweller. I like the convenience of shops that don’t close much and multiple options for restaurants and cinemas. So a regency town house in Oxford perhaps or maybe Edinburgh which is a city I am fond of. 

Q. Cat, dog or budgie?
A. I am not really an animal person and don’t have a pet. We did have a budgie when I was a child, but it is cats that seem to like me. My mother-in-law had two when she was alive and they both seemed to want to sit on me. Dog’s seem a bit high maintenance to be honest.  So, a cat if I was to have a pet.

Q. Are you a ‘dining room for dinner’, or a ‘tray on your lap in front of the TV’ person?
A. Bit of a mix. We don’t seem to watch much TV collectively, but it is nice a few evenings a week to sit together and watch something you can share then talk about later and doing that whilst eating just seems easiest. But it is nice also to chat about ‘life’ without that distraction so most weeks we will also pull up a chair and eat breakfast or lunch at a table and plan things. Other times especially this year with us working from home has seen everyone typing at a keyboard whilst munching a sandwich in different rooms.

Q. TV preferences – documentary, drama, comedy, soap or thriller?
A. If watching with family when they are here it would be some form of drama or thriller series either historical based detective stories (maybe Poirot, Morse etc) or some form of sci-fi and fantasy (so yes Game of Thrones). If watching alone similar but I tend to favour a film, particularly a series of films. The only thing I really don’t like is Soap or ‘Reality’ TV in any form.

Q. What was your first published novel about?
A. This was The Amber Treasure in 2010 which was the first book of my Northern Crown series which follows the story of a young nobleman - Cerdic  - as he lives through ‘the darkest years of the Dark Ages’, those we know the least about. Cerdic, the nephew of the great warrior Cynric, grows up dreaming of glory in battle and writing his name in the sagas. When war comes for real though, his sister is kidnapped, his family betrayed and his uncle's legendary sword stolen. It falls to Cerdic to avenge his families loss, rescue his sister and return home with the sword.

Q. What was your last novel about?
A. This was Kith and Kin the 5th book in the Northern Crown series. The series began in 580 - the year of his birth. By the end of book 5 the story has reached the year 612. The storyline which was relatively simple in the first book – an adventure/battle novel has evolved as the story has progressed and involves the story of both rival brothers and rival kings and the effect all that has on Cerdic’s family.

Q. Do you write in one genre or several?
A. My primary area is Early Anglo-Saxon Britain but even there I write in two series. One in Northern Crown and straight historical fiction whilst The Nine Worlds series is aimed at children and blends in fantasy and mythology from the Anglo-Germanic-Norse worlds. I have also written some time travel novels and other historical fantasy.

Q. Have you ever considered exploring a totally different genre?
A.  I have enjoyed the fantasy and sci-fi novels and can’t imagine writing modern thrillers or pure romance novels for instance. I fancy sometime writing something in the  detective/ who-done-it genres as I already blend in some plot twists and gradually revealed knowledge at times but I feel I would need to find a period where that type of novel would be fresh as many period have been essentially ‘done.’

Q. If you could, which two of your characters would you like to invite to spend an afternoon with you?
A. Septimus Mason – from the Hourglass series (the time travel ones) a bit of a mercenary and a rascal but with a good heart and sense of humour who would just be fun to be around.  Hussa, the main enemy from Northern Crown. Villains can often be more interesting than heroes don’t you find?

Q. Where would you go / what would you do? With Septimus Mason along we would have access to time travel and the ability to go anywhere so I think we start with breakfast in a New York diner in modern times (Pre Covid). I have never been to New York so that would be interesting. Then off to ancient Rome to take in the sights. Lunch perhaps in Paris in the '20s. After lunch we take in Lords for some cricket in the Edwardian era along with high tea before sliding back to visit the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace. Dinner maybe as a cosy tavern in the Scottish islands with a steaming bowl of mussels. Maybe finish the day at Lerwick in the Shetland Islands during the annual Viking boat burning ceremony which is on my bucket list.

Q. How do you prefer to travel? Plane, boat, car?
A. I prefer driving – which can involve a ferry. So, for instance once a year I drive to Germany (well in a normal year that is) to attend a board game fair – the largest in the world – in Essen which is in the Ruhr and I like the road trip there and back. We have done holidays driving to and from Italy and Austria and up to Orkney. I prefer the freedom of a car to a plane. That said, I am happy flying if it is more practical

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 completely naked. I enquire why and he says he was on a stag do (he is the groom) and he woke up nude and handcuffed to a gate in the wall. The wedding is in an hour and his best man and mates having left him stranded have not turned up to release him. We cannot unlock the handcuffs but find that the gate post is loose, so I am able to deliver him, complete with the gate still handcuffed to him to the church, by way of a tailors! I got invited to the reception.

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 Lord of the Rings (J/R.R. Tolkien)
2. The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams)
3. Going Postal (Terry Pratchett)
4. Sharpe’s Eagle (Bernard Cornwell)
5. Flashman (George Macdonald Fraser)
6. Mrs Beeton's Cookery Book (always useful!)
7. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. (Edward Gibson)
8. A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens)

Q. What sort of island would you prefer, and why? (e.g. Desert Island... Hebridian Island...)
A. A Scottish Island. Maybe Orkney. Somewhere with old ruins, the older the better. Things always make more sense when there is something old about. And a Scottish island have access to great seafood.

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. I would need some way of writing. Ideally a laptop but assuming power is going to be an issue a large notebook, pen and ink would suffice.

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Friday, 21 May 2021

The Raider Bride by Johanna Wittenberg

shortlisted for book of the month

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon AU
available on Kindle Unlimited

Fictional Saga /Fantasy
Ninth Century
The Norsewomen #book 3 

"King Solvi is dead at the hands of the Irish king. To gain her inheritance, Ragnhild must sail to Ireland with her brother to seek vengeance for a father she’d fought a war against. But things don’t go as planned. From the outset, the venture is beset by betrayal and bloodshed…"

Another stunning work of historical fiction by the mistress of the Norse tale. The Raider Bride is the third book in an utterly convincing series about women warriors in northern Europe in the ninth century. This one concerns Ragnhild (aged 17), daughter of the late King Solvi, promised in marriage to an old Irish king called Murchad (he’s 30).

Like all feisty warrior princesses, Ragnhild is having none of this arrangement. When she hears that her father has died at the hands of Murchad, she sets her heart on accompanying her brother, Harald, on a trip to Ireland to avenge their father’s death. Her warrior band, the shield-maidens, make ready their longboat, Raider Bride, and the journey begins.

This story is a delight, a feast for the reader in so many ways. We have sea voyages, battles galore, treachery and betrayal. We are invited to compare the two ancient cultures, Norse and Irish Рtheir customs, attitudes, and, of course, their religions. The Irish have embraced Christianity; the Norse people have their pantheon of gods, Odin, Thor, Freya etc. The story navigates its way through a series of twists while we sit on the edge of our seats worrying if Ragnhild and her shield-maidens will survive their experiences and avoid Valh̦ll.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© JJ Toner
 e-version reviewed

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Wednesday, 19 May 2021

The Girl With the Silver Star by Rachel Zolotov

shortlisted for Book Of the Month

Russia / Europe

"As a hailstorm of bombs begins to shatter the city of Minsk in Belarus, Raisa and her family run through the darkness of night to take cover. When Raisa, Abraham, and their daughters, Luba and Sofia, emerge from the bomb shelter, they find an unfamiliar city before them; chaos and terror burn in every direction. Fearing for their lives, they must leave at once to find the rest of their family. But before they are able to escape, Abraham is conscripted into the Russian Army and the family is forced to part ways. Raisa’s love and strength are put to the ultimate test as she finds herself on her own with her two young daughters in tow. How will she manage alone without her soulmate by her side?
Relying on hope, resourcefulness and courage, they walk, hitch hike and take trains heading for Uzbekistan, over 2,500 miles from home. Along the way they run from bombs, endure starvation, and face death.
Raisa finds solace in the women around her. Her mother, sisters, old friends and new help carry her through the difficult war years, but Raisa’s longing to reunite with Abraham still rages inside her heart. Will they ever see each other again? Will Raisa and her family find their way back to their homeland?"

This lyrical, poignant and heartbreaking debut novel is a stunning tribute to the power of family love and resilience. From the very beginning the characters invite you into their lives, and as we join them on their harrowing journey through war-torn Russia, we become part of their family.

Ms Zolotov combines fascinating research with beautiful prose to deliver a powerful, unforgettable family narrative. Truly a legacy to her ancestors, and a must-read perspective on the plight of the Russian Jewish community and the power of enduring love.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Elizabeth St John
 e-version reviewed

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