Monday, 10 May 2021

A Discovering Diamonds review of Monday's Child by Rosemary Morris



Amazon UK
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Goodreads

Regency Romance
1815
England / Brussels

"In March 1815, Napoleon Bonaparte escaped from exile in Elba. In Brussels, 18 year-old Helen Whitley, knows that war with France between Britain and her allies, is inevitable. A talented artist, Helen is aware of the anxiety and fear underlying the balls, breakfasts, parties, picnics and soirees, held by the British. In an attic, she paints scenes and portraits in which she captures the realities and emotions of daily life during the hundred days before the Battle of Waterloo. While Helen lives with her sister and wealthy brother-in-law, Major Tarrant, she waits for Major, Viscount Langley, to arrive in Brussels and propose marriage. Langley, who serves in the same regiment as Tarrant, is her brother-in-law’s closest friend, so Tarrant and her sister have no objection to the match. Helen is grateful to her brother-in-law for including her in his household. Nevertheless, she regrets being dependent on his generosity, so she looks forward to being mistress of Langley’s heart and home.
Before Langley leaves England to join his regiment, he visits his ancestral home, to inform his parents that he intends to marry Helen. Yet, when he arrives in Brussels to join his regiment, he does not propose marriage to Helen, and her pride does not allow her to reveal the misery caused by Langley’s rejection."

I have not read this author before – ‘my bad’ (as that awful saying goes). I found the narrative and the writing elegant and entertaining, with enough of everything to please most readers who enjoy the Regency Romance genre – intrigue, romance, adventure, survival of public war and private emotion. We have a heroine we like, a suitable hero, annoying relatives, class differences and expected etiquette all brushing shoulders with unexpected twists, and good guys and bad guys (and gals, of course). 

The characters, especially Helen herself, were well portrayed, along with the opposite life between the glitter of the ballroom and the gore of the prospect of battle engagement. The author seems to know her stuff where the detail of life in the Regency period is concerned, and I also found it refreshing to read a novel that was set around the Battle of Waterloo but did not actually concentrate on it from the military point of view; I enjoyed seeing the people and their reactions, more than the detail of the battlefield events. 

I’d say that the fans of Regency Romance will enjoy this tale.


Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Ellen Hill
 e-version reviewed


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Sunday, 9 May 2021

Sunday Guest Spot - Christina Courtenay

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




Hello, Christina, 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’m half Swedish, half British, and I love history, archaeology (the armchair variety), reading, dogs and chocolate. I write timeslip and time travel romance set in eras I particularly like – the Viking age (because of my Scandinavian heritage), the Regency, the English Civil War and the early 17th century. When I’m not writing, I love to try my hand at gardening (which I do very badly) and various handicrafts such as weaving, crochet and cross-stitch (which I’m slightly better at). Being a Leo I’m bossy, creative and sometimes impulsive, but hopefully not too much so.

Q. Where do you live?
A. I live in a tiny village in Herefordshire, five minutes from the Welsh border. My house is surrounded by fields that usually contain a lot of sheep which don’t belong to me, but to a local farmer. It’s lovely and peaceful and although I like to visit London from time to time, it’s always a relief to get back to the countryside.

Q. If you had a choice to live anywhere – where would it be?
A. I can’t quite make up my mind – the ideal would be to move around several times a year. Apart from our current house, I’d love to have one place in Scotland, one in Sweden, and one in Japan. Oh, and one in Mallorca for some summer sun and swimming. Sounds greedy, I know!

Q. Modern house, old cottage, castle or something else?
A. Definitely old – no later than Edwardian – and preferably some sort of castle or manor house. It would have to have lots of big rooms with high ceilings, beautiful cornicing and marble fireplace surrounds, plus large windows so it’s light and airy. Any other period details would be a plus and, if possible, a walled garden.

Q. Cat,  dog or budgie?
A. Dogs plural – love them! An ideal pack would consist of a Tibetan spaniel, a rough collie, a Pekingese, a Griffon Petit Brabançon, a pug, a French bulldog and a Griffon Bruxellois, and maybe a couple of rescue greyhounds.

Q. Are you a ‘dining room for dinner’, or a ‘tray on your lap in front of the TV’ person?
A. It can be fun to have proper dinner parties and go all out with lovely table settings and so on, but for every day I prefer a tray on my lap in front of the TV.

Q. TV preferences – documentary, drama, comedy, soap or thriller?
A. Costume dramas (with happy endings, NOT like Sanditon!), Scandi Noir crime series and programmes about history like Time Team, which is sadly gone.

Q. What was your first published novel about?
A. Trade Winds was a historical romance set in 1731 about a Scottish man who goes to Gothenburg in Sweden to try and make his fortune. He ends up joining the first ever journey of the Swedish East India Company to the Far East, and finds both love and adventure along the way.

Q. What was your last novel about?
A. The Runes of Destiny is the story of Linnea, a twenty-first century woman who travels back in time to the Viking age. When helping out at an archaeological dig, she uncovers an exquisite brooch, but blacks out after reading the runic inscription. She wakes up surrounded by men in Viking costume, who seem to take re-enactment very seriously. Lost and confused, she finds herself in the power of Hrafn, a Viking warrior who claims her as his thrall and takes her on a journey across the seas to sell her for profit. Setting sail, she confronts the unthinkable: she has travelled back to the 9th century. Linnea is determined to find a way back to her own time, but there’s a connection forming with Hrafn and she has to decide what it is she really wants.

Q. Do you write in one genre or several?
A. It’s really one genre – romance – but I have tried my hand at several sub-genres within that: historical romance, timeslip, time travel and modern YA.

Q. Have you ever considered exploring a totally different genre?
A. I did when I wrote a series of YA books – it was fun not to have to do a lot of research but just sit down and let my imagination soar.

Q. If you could, which two of your characters would you like to invite to spend an afternoon with you?
A. Killian Kinross from Trade Winds and my latest hero Hrafn Eskilsson from The Runes of Destiny.

Q. Where would you go / what would you do? I think I would just like to sit and chat with them and feed them 21st century food (all the things they’ve never tasted like chocolate and ice cream) – I have a feeling I’d enjoy their company immensely. Killian has a very naughty streak and a great sense of humour, whereas Hrafn is very serious, so it could be fun to watch their interaction.

Q. How do you prefer to travel? Plane, boat, car?
A. I hate all forms of travel to be honest, but a really nice train like the Orient Express would be good!

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 ask if he’s lost and if there’s anything I could do to help. If I find that he’s a time traveller, I’d be in seventh heaven! But if he’s odd in a creepy way, I’d run a mile.



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

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Friday, 7 May 2021

Devil's Porridge byChris Longmuir

Shortlisted for Book of the Month



Amazon UK
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Thriller / Murder mystery
1917 / WWI
Kirsty Campbell Mysteries book 2

“East London, January 1917: “He pulled her into his arms and kissed her long and hard before he strangled her. With a last glance at the fire, he turned and ran for the door to escape the inevitable explosion.” Sixteen-year-old munitionette, Sally, witnesses the saboteur escaping from the explosion at Silvertown Munitions Factory. When their paths cross again at Gretna Munitions Factory, he knows she can identify him, and that he dare not hesitate to kill again. The explosion has set off a lethal chain of events, and when Policewoman Kirsty Campbell, and MI6 agent Beatrice, join forces to protect Sally, they find themselves following a murderous trail that entangles them with saboteurs, Irish revolutionaries, a German spy, and a plot to assassinate the King. The body count is rising. The clock is ticking. And the stakes are higher than Kirsty could ever have imagined.” *

I admit, I was unaware that there were munitions factories – and MI5 – during WWI; I’d always assumed that these belonged to the later WWII –  I was also unaware that there were women police offices as early as 1917 ... well, you live and learn, and what a pleasant way to do so, in the hands of an obviously experienced writer who knows her facts and knows how to write a very good story.

From the opening paragraph this is a thrilling read, tempered by detail that doesn’t interrupt the action but enhances the feel for time and place.  The lives – and dangers (leaving aside the matter of murder, espionage, spies and such) – endured by these remarkable women are expertly portrayed here: it is a cliché I know, but this was very much a page-turner of a read. 

I liked our policewoman, Kirsty, and found myself grumbling at the various men who either insulted or ignored her; this was the period before women had even got the vote, after all, let alone took on male-gender jobs, but in history and in this novel the ‘fair sex’ proved themselves again and again.

If I must be critical, I would say that there are a lot of characters and I found it difficult to juggle them all in the Who’s Who stakes: this is one disadvantage of reading on a Kindle, in paperback format it is easy to flip backwards to check out who X or Y was in a previous scene. Hard to do on an e-reader. I also thought that perhaps Kirsty herself should have appeared more to the fore on occasion.

This is the next in a series, but reads perfectly fine as a stand-alone. 
Highly recommended.


Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Jack holt 
 e-version reviewed


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Wednesday, 5 May 2021

A Discovering Diamonds review of The Shadows of Versailles by Cathie Dunn

available on Kindle Unlimited

Fictional Drama
17th century  / 1600s
France

An Affair of the Poisons Book 1

"When Fleur de La Fontaine attends the court of King Louis XIV for the first time, she is soon besotted with handsome courtier, Philippe de Mortain. She dreams of married life away from her uncaring mother, but Philippe keeps a secret from her. Nine months later, after the boy she has given birth to in a convent is whisked away, she flees to Paris where she ends up mending gowns in the brothel of Madame Claudette, a woman who helps ‘fallen’ girls back on their feet. 
Jacques de Montagnac investigates a spate of abducted children when his path crosses Fleur’s. He searches for her son, but the trail leads to a dead end – and a dreadful realisation. Her boy’s suspected fate too much to bear, Fleur decides to avenge him. She visits the famous midwife, La Voisin, but it’s not the woman’s skills in childbirth that Fleur seeks.
La Voisin dabbles in poisons. Will Fleur see her plan through? Or can she save herself from a tragic fate?"

Anyone who, like me, watched the recent TV series, Versailles, will be aware of the 'affair of the poisons', a bizarre and extremely dark episode which took place during the glory days of the Sun King's reign. Whereas the TV production made use of the incident to add a murderous aspect to certain of the main characters, here Ms Dunn takes the real history, some of the real people caught up in the scandal, and weaves an intricate plot involving two main, but completely fictional, characters. I very much liked the way she selected some real figures from history and threaded her own characters into their lives in a most plausible way.

The focus is kept sharply on the main players - Jacques and Fleur - and their close companions and associates. This allows for the tension to be kept taut, and the sense that both Jacques and Fleur, together and independently, are in constant peril, is all-pervading.

Inevitably, this means that there is less space to show the reader the 'background' cast and scenery. I perhaps would have liked to have been shown more of the people, sights, and sounds of the glittering court of Versailles and of the contrasting streets in Paris. 

But getting back to the main characters, I especially liked the fact that the author provides reasons for Fleur's behaviour and the young woman's story arc is credible. Jacques is perhaps less of a work in progress, presented from the beginning as a fully-formed character who knows where he is in life and where he is going, but he too goes through a lesson in awareness and it was sweet to 'watch' him as one particular penny dropped!

This incident in history, the poisons and the scandal of the abducted children, might almost feel completely fantastic had it not all been true. Ms Dunn, in focusing on a small cast of characters, shows how these terrible events affected ordinary people's lives.

Shadows of Versailles is the first in a series, but does not end on a cliff-hanger. One chapter closes, another remains open, but there is enough resolution to satisfy readers whilst they await the next instalment.


Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Annie Whitehead
Discovering Diamonds Senior Reviewer
 e-version reviewed


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Monday, 3 May 2021

A Discovering Diamonds review of The Steel Beneath the Silk by Patricia Bracewell


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Fictional Saga
11th Century
England

In the year 1012 England’s Norman-born Queen Emma has been ten years wed to an aging, ruthless, haunted King Æthelred. The marriage is a bitterly unhappy one, between a queen who seeks to create her own sphere of influence within the court and a suspicious king who eyes her efforts with hostility and resentment. But royal discord shifts to grudging alliance when Cnut of Denmark, with the secret collusion of his English concubine Elgiva, invades England at the head of a massive Viking army. Amid the chaos of war, Emma must outwit a fierce enemy whose goal is conquest and outmanoeuvre the cunning Elgiva, who threatens all those whom Emma loves.

I have not read the first two books in this series about Queen Emma, but this book read reasonably well as a standalone. 

The story centres around Emma of Normandy who was twice queen of England, marrying first Æthlered II, or the Unraed, as he was known for his bad counsel. She later marries Cnut, the prince who becomes a king after many years of fighting the English. Throughout the book, the narrative teeters between the ‘good’ queen, Emma, and the ‘not so good’, Elgiva, Cnut’s first wife. We follow the two women’s fortunes and root mostly for Emma, because she is the likeable one and the other isn’t. At the same time, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Elgiva. 

It is always an historical fiction author’s joy to write about periods that are short of fact as the fictional 'what happened next' can be explained in so many different ways. Ms Bracewell is very good with her research and although readers may have their own interpretation of the situations that arose, there is no argument with hers, but despite writers having the freedom to fill in the gaps, it is not always easy to get it right. The plot has to make sense, the actions of the characters have to fit what we know of them historically and the story needs to be plausible. Ms Bracewell does this very well.  

The prose was very good, emotive and poignant. Ms Bracewell is an excellent writer, although I did feel that some of the narrative was grim - these were grim times - but I would have appreciated a little more light to balance the shade. 

This is third and last instalment of the trilogy. I do hope that Ms Bracewell will consider continuing the story of such a great woman at some time in the future. 


Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Paula Lofting 
 e-version reviewed



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Sunday, 2 May 2021

Sunday Guest Spot - Anna Belfrage

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



Hello Anna, 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 am Swedish, mother of four, happily married since yonks back to a man who can still make me laugh so hard I cry or whisper things in my ear that make me go a vivid red. Had I been able to choose, I’d have become a time traveller—assuming a return ticket was guaranteed. I read on average 4-5 books a week, have always had a thing about history, think I would have made an excellent medieval knight—except that knights were rarely female—and have always wanted a white horse. Eldest son once promised me one (at the tender age of eleven) but so far nothing. I like to bake—predominantly cakes—and cook. I only drink tea, never, ever coffee. I have a thing about clunky boots, have daydreams where I singlehandedly save the word due to my awesomeness, and have a preference for jeans and hoodies. I don’t like snakes, will go ‘eek’ at the sight of a spider indoors but they never bother me outdoors (well, unless they’re tarantula size). I sing in the shower, while I’m cooking, walking, dusting, hoovering. I am fluent in three languages due to an itinerant childhood, am somewhat verbose and have a collection of very, very naughty jokes.

Q. Where do you live?
A. I live in Malmö, which is in the south of Sweden. For those who are fans of the crime series The Bridge, said bridge joins Malmö with Copenhagen.  Further to our flat in Malmö we also have a country house out in the woods. 

Q. If you had a choice to live anywhere – where would it be?
A. Seeing as you’re asking me this in December [Helen - at the time of writing this!], at present anywhere warm and sunny sounds nice. (For some odd reason I’ve always had this idea that I’d like living in the Azores, smack in the middle of nowhere. I have, however, heard that there’s a LOT of rain there...) Ask me in June and I am very happy where I am.

Q. Modern house, old cottage, castle or something else?
A.  Anyone want to give me a nice medieval castle—preferably with a HUGE bank account to pay for repairs and whatnot—I’d be delighted to assume the role of chatelaine.

Q. Cat,  dog or budgie?
A. Dog. I always get the impression cats laugh at us…

Q. Are you a ‘dining room for dinner’, or a ‘tray on your lap in front of the TV’ person?
A. I’m actually a ‘kitchen table for dinner’ person. I love kitchens and even if I have a writing nook, I usually end up at the kitchen table. 

Q. TV preferences – documentary, drama, comedy, soap or thriller?
A. Drama, followed by thrillers and documentaries

Q. What was your first published novel about?
A. A Rip in the Veil is the story of a reluctant (and initially very incredulous) time traveller who ends up at the feet of an escaped 17th century convict. She finds him weird. He thinks she might be a witch. And from that less than auspicious beginning kicks off a love story that will survive anything life throws at them—and I like peppering my protagonists with curveballs, which is why one book grew into an entire series called The Graham Saga


Q. What was your last novel about?
A. Err…my latest, [Helen - yes, latest!] I hope… His Castilian Hawk is set in medieval Wales. Edward I is determined to crush the Welsh once and for all and his loyal man-at-arms ends up torn between his duty to his king and the love for his wife, who is quite, quite determined to keep at least one little Welshman safe from the English king.



Q. Do you write in one genre or several?
A. Several, although I have a particular fondness for historical fiction

Q. Have you ever considered exploring a totally different genre?
A.  Well, I already have as I’ve published a contemporary romantic suspense series. I’d like to do more of that, and now and then I toy with the idea of writing fantasy.

Q. If you could, which two of your characters would you like to invite to spend an afternoon with you?
A. My Alex (The heroine of The Graham Saga) and Adam de Guriande (the protagonist of my medieval series featuring Edward II, Mortimer and all that mess) 

Q. Where would you go / what would you do? With Alex and Adam? They are very different people, but I think I’d take them on a hike and then I’d serve them a massive picnic, complete with chocolate and tea to make Alex happy because she craves both those things when she’s stuck in the 17th century. And to make Adam’s day (which would be hard, because he detests being separated from Kit, his wife) I’d treat him to hamburgers. 

Q. How do you prefer to travel? Plane, boat, car?
A. Depends where I am going, but generally I steer clear of boats as I get very sea-sick.

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. Odd? Well, I suppose that’s relative, but yes, seeing a bloke in armour in the pouring rain is a bit strange. I mean, metal gets too wet and it can start to rust, right? So I hurry over and offer him my umbrella. The really, really odd thing is he has obviously never seen one before! Seriously?


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)
A. Shoot! Those three would have made my list 😊
1. The Lord of the Rings
2. The Heart of Darkness
3. For Whom the Bell Tolls
4. El Coronel no tiene quien le escriba (No one writes to the Colonel)
5. Jane Eyre
6. Wide Sargasso Sea (obvious companion piece to previous choice)
7. La Casa de Bernarda Alba  (Bernarda Alba’s House)– yes, a play, but wow, what a play!
8. Here be Dragons

Q. What sort of island would you prefer, and why? (e.g. Desert Island... Hebridian Island...)
A. Could you please book me into an island with relatively temperate climes? No hurricanes please. No ice storms either. And while you’re at it, I like wide beaches to walk on. A Hebridian Island doesn’t sound too bad—does it come with stags and kilted hunters? [Helen - probably not the kilted hunters]

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. Oooo… A functioning sauna. It would serve the dual purpose of keeping me clean and helping me keep warm.

Check out Anna’s website to find out more about her and her books! You can also find her on Amazon, on FB and Twitter .

A Rip in the Veil: http://myBook.to/ARIV1 

His Castilian Hawk : http://myBook.to/HISHAWK

Amazon page, http://Author.to/ABG 





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

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Saturday, 1 May 2021

Critique Corner - April

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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 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 we have a cover submitted by Susan Appleyard


Thanks for sharing your cover, Susan! We appreciate your participation.
 

Tamian's response:

My first thought on this cover is that it's quite dark and a bit... muddy(?)  I really struggled to figure out what the central focal point is, aside from the obvious, "something on fire". I had to zoom in quite significantly to make out what I think is a ghost and skeletal hands at the top of what I assume is a witches pire. If I got that right, kudos on a great concept. Those hands are a stroke of genius! I just think it needed to be larger, to fill the space, and make it easier to recognise the figure for what it is, especially at thumbnail size. The scale of the central figure could have been increased a good inch and a half by pulling the bottom of the fire down to just above the series title, and snugging it up to the bottom of the title, leaving just a touch of breathing space. (1/8"ish on either edge.)

Next, the font seems a little too modern, and... almost "fun" or "frivolous" and doesn't match the mood of the rest of the cover. Also, I've never been a fan of all centered all the same size text. Many times it can make a title more interesting to decrease the size of the linking words like "the", "and" "or", "of the" and such like. I will sometimes even change the font, or make the italic, to give it more interest. -- caveat: don't get too crazy with the overall number of different fonts! 

I also might have chosen a bit brighter yellow from the fire as the font colour just to make it stand out a touch more, but it's great that it's not all white text (a personal pet peeve of mine) Or... if you (or your designer) has the skill, a bit of a hint of a flame texture within the font would have really made it unique.

All pretty minor things that could have made this just a bit more intriguing.

Cathy? What say you?

Cathy’s Response:

My first comment is on the artwork – definitely takes me back to darker, medieval times. And I do want to know why and who is being burned at the stake in front of the ominous castle. The scene is mysterious, moody and menacing; easily drawing the eye in.

What can help give more of an impact is the font used for the title – something that is more fitting for historical fiction overall. The peachy fill color is also not as rich and fiery as it could be. I think the intent was to use one of the colors from the flames or smoky atmosphere around the central image – just not quite enough saturation of red in it to totally pull it off. I would go a tad brighter with the orange.

The font choice for the title itself could also be more serious too. It seems a bit playful to me, and I am fairly certain that this novel is not playful in the least (correct me if I’m wrong). So, I would recommend going with the Sabon font family (typically used on historical fiction covers) or something close to it. And Sabon pairs nicely with a simple sans serif for a little typography hierarchy/variation on a cover layout as well. The title should be the largest element on the cover, in almost every case, thus go a few point sizes larger so the title is easy to read at thumbnail size.

The series title ‘The Albigensian Crusade’ is nearly lost as the point size is far too small. I would suggest moving it to the top of the cover and increasing the point size. Line the left and right edges of the series title with the author’s name too for balance. Most of the typography on a cover should line up for good balance.

And one final note about font fill color choices – avoid using white or black for all or most of your typography – that is a common mistake made by non-designers. In this cover design, I might go with a light color for all of the copy, other than the title, picked out of the clouds and smoke – being sure to have enough contrast so it is all still easy to read over the background. White is often too harsh – you want the entire cover design to use the same color pallet – and feel like all of the elements blend together.

I took the liberty of playing around a bit with the typography and came up with this version:

I gave a slight increase in size to our person burning at the stake, centering the fire ring on the cover, being certain that the title did not quite touch the pole. And while zooming in on the person on fire, I did notice a hard line of reddish orange on the right side over the person – I’m assuming part of the flames added to the design that need to be blended out along the one side to correct. I also gave the title a dark drop shadow effect to allow it to stand out from the background a bit more (depth).

Overall, the original is a good design with beautiful and engaging artwork – the typography is good, but with a few tweaks, could give this cover that extra punch that might better attract more readers.