Thursday, 30 September 2021

Cover and Book of the Month - September

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)

SEPTEMBER 2021

Runners Up

read our review
designed by Sara Argue Design

SEPTEMBER WINNER


Book of the Month


Read our Review

I thoroughly enjoyed this one!




Wednesday, 29 September 2021

A Discovering Diamonds Review of The Fire in the Glass and The Shadow of Water by Jacquelyn Benson

Two Books Today - part one and two of a series


Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon AU
Goodreads

Fictional Mystery/Historical Fantasy
Edwardian Era
England

Book One of The Charismatics Series

Lilith Albright, Lily, the bastard child of a stage actress and a member of the House of Lords, struggles to find her place in the rigid confines of Edwardian society. While Lily works to keep family secrets buried, she harbors another deep secret – she has visions of the future. After one such vision of the impending murder of her dear friend Estelle, Lily sets out to identify the perpetrator and do everything she can to change the future. As Lily follows various leads, she quickly realizes that her vision holds answers not only to preventing Estelle’s murder but also to a larger conspiracy as eugenics movements begin sweeping Europe. Lily also comes to learn that she is not the only one with unique gifts, as she is introduced to “The Charismatics.” Although Lily’s background makes her suspicious of others, she begins to let her guard down as The Charismatics support her in her dangerous quest to save Estelle. 

Throughout the book, Benson introduces a fascinating cast of characters, including the charming Lord Strangford, and includes detailed descriptions that transport readers into daily life in Edwardian London. The plot balances the historic background of pre-World War I England while also keeping readers in suspense about what will happen next in Lily’s adventures. By the end of the book, I was left wanting to know what is in store for Lily and The Charismatics!   
This promises to be an interesting series.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Tina Minchella
 e-version reviewed


A Discovering Diamonds Review of The Shadow of Water by Jacquelyn Benson


Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon AU
Goodreads

historical mystery / fantasy
1914
London

Book Two of the Charismatics Series
Lily needs to destroy the papers of a rogue doctor who wanted to gain her power for himself, through whatever vile method possible. A follower of the heinous discipline of eugenics, Dr Joseph Hartwell deserved his death. Now his research has to be put beyond use.

Lily is a 'charismatic', and is guided by Robert Ash, a kind of Charles Xavier from X-Men but operating in 1914 with a group of other charismatics - people with extraordinary abilities. Lily can see the future; her lover, Lord Strangford, can feel people's minds and memories from touching them skin to skin, and can even pick up remnants from objects such as chairs. Estelle is a clairvoyant and Sam can communicate with animals. These are the powers that Hartwell had wanted to harness for himself. Between them, they find an ancient prophecy that foretells the destruction of London, adding to images that Lily has seen. Together they have to find out what is going on, how this destruction can possibly come to pass, and then find some way to stop it.

This is part two of a three part series and it can't really be read as a stand alone - you'll want to read the up-coming part three. But when you start it, if you haven't read part one, you won't have a clue what is going on. There's no backstory for some time. Many readers will stop here and give up; that would be a mistake. Because the characters are so well written, once the back story comes in and you begin to be drawn into the world Lily inhabits, you'll get hooked.

I loved this, but the idea of people with these subtle powers fascinated me anyway, and the writing is very good. However, and there is usually a 'but', the writer, I believe, is American (I've just looked and yes she is) and it shows. She's writing about London but refers to 'blocks' rather than streets, 'candy' not sweets, train 'cars' not carriages, so she's not thought enough about place to use the English versions of words where they differ to the American. And her research into the Houses of Parliament omitted that they were burned down in 1834 and rebuilt up to and including 1876, so in 1914, they wouldn't have  been 'ancient' but, at most, 70 years old. I live in a house older than that which doesn't feel 'ancient'. There is also a certain feel that suggests she's looking at maps and doesn't really know London. The selection of 'The Spaniards Inn' seems to be proving she knows about London rather than any real personal knowledge - it feels too obvious.

Otherwise, as I said, it takes time to get into but it is worth it - sort of The Thirty-Nine Steps meets X-Men.


Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Louise Adam
 e-version reviewed




You will find several items of interest on the sidebar

30th September - book and cover of the month announced


Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Where Madness Lies, by Sylvia True


Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon AU
Goodreads

Fictional Drama
1930s / 1980s
Germany / USA Massachusetts

Sylvia True tackles a tough topic― mental illness and the madness of Nazi eugenics and racial cleansing―with compassion and skill.

We move between 1930s Germany and 1980s Massachusetts through the eyes of two central characters, Inga, and Sabine, her granddaughter.
 
In Frankfurt, 1934, Inga is a member of a wealthy Jewish family. Her beloved younger sister, Rigmor, suffers from deep depression and a range of increasingly challenging insecurities and mental confusion. Strong-minded Inga is determined to find a solution. Rigmor’s condition worsens and she’s finally admitted to an institution in the hopes of a cure. But some institutions were beginning at this time to adopt Hitler’s Final Solution in one form or another. In the case of mental illness, it was sterilisation or extermination. 

Modern Sabine’s experience is very different. We meet her as she’s being admitted, reluctantly, to a mental institution a few months after having a baby. Although her symptoms are similar to Rigmor’s, she’s diagnosed as having depression with mild psychosis and treated in a very different way. 

There’s plenty written about how the Jews and Gypsies were treated by the Nazis, but very little about what happened to those with mental conditions. Anyone considered to be feeble-minded, or with mental conditions causing confusion and instability, was also ‘guilty’ of diluting the pure Aryan race. 

The author skilfully intertwines a number of themes. We experience horror, mystery, hidden secrets, love, and joy. At no time does it feel despairing or gloomy, despite the dreadful descriptions of Hitler’s ethnic cleansing ‘solutions.’

Despite its serious subject, this is a gripping tale and told with great sympathy. 

Highly recommended.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Robyn Pearce 
 e-version reviewed


You will find several items of interest on the sidebar


Monday, 27 September 2021

A Discovering Diamonds Review of The Vanishing Children by Graham Brack


Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon AU
Goodreads

Mystery 
1600s 
Leiden, The Netherlands
Book 5

“The Dutch Stadhouder, William of Orange, has summoned Master Mercurius — and that is never good news. Mercurius has gained a reputation for himself with William for successfully undertaking diplomatic missions. And William is now paranoid that his own subjects — and the English exiles living in the Netherlands — are plotting against him. Mercurius is sent to gather information, but he soon finds himself caught up in another mystery. Three Jewish boys have vanished, and the local magistrates are doing nothing to investigate their disappearances. Mercurius quickly realises something sinister is going on and promises to unravel the mystery before he has to return to Leiden. Who is abducting the young children? Are more at risk? And is the Stadhouder right to fear a plot against him…?”

I enjoy a good murder mystery, and Graham Brack hits the spot by providing good entertainment in the persona of Master Mercurius – although this, the fifth in the series, is more mystery than murder. In addition to a good plot, we have humour, excellent location description (I am convinced that Mr Brack possesses a time machine), believable characters and excellent writing. 

Using factual events of the late 1600s in The Netherlands and England – nearing the end of Charles II’s reign and the approaching coronation of James II and the Monmouth Rebellion - Brack has woven a mystery to be solved when three very young boys go missing from the Jewish quarter of Amsterdam. He is tasked with sorting all this out, plus there are some pompous Burghers who do not want to pay their due taxes, a suspicious Catholic priest, a rather likeable, if dutiful, cavalry officer, a servant, and a posh carriage. Add in some political machinations, which are beyond our hero’s comprehension, and you have a darn good tale.

Told first person by Master M himself, and written as if he is dictating his memoirs, the style is absorbing and frequently amusing – especially with his asides to his notes. I can guarantee a smile while reading. Our sleuth is a reluctant investigator and usually only manages to stumble on the right path by accident, while all he wants to do is pursue a quiet life at his Leiden University and be left alone to read. To his annoyance William of Orange tends to make a habit of scuppering his plans.

I have read all the books in the series, but they do not have to be read in order, although for the best enjoyment, I would suggest you start at the beginning, Death In Delft

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Jack Holt
 e-version reviewed


You will find several items of interest on the sidebar


Friday, 24 September 2021

Lost Lady by Michael Reidy

Lost Lady by Michael Reidy
shortlisted for Book Of The Month


Fictional Drama
Paris
1920s

"Set against the glamour and excitement of 1920s Paris, the events of Lost Lady shadow the life of a young émigré to reveal a microcosm of Russian history. Natasha ekes out a living as an artist's model, sewing costumes for the ballet and playing the piano for Mme Duflot's notorious establishment. Befriended by the young Charles Boivet, still finding his feet after the Great War, the girl he knows only as Natasha draws him out and introduces him to the cultural life of les annes folles. However, the complex social and political entanglements of the Russian communities threaten her safety and his. Intrigue, conspiracies and rivalries begin to dominate Natasha's life in this sub-culture and Charles can only watch as she is sucked in."

I have often observed that writing a book is like making a cake. If you put in all the right ingredients, it is not entirely a guaranteed success, but if you miss one out, it will surely fail.  Imagine a book that lacks a basic ingredient and yet still manages to be a wonderful, intoxicating read.

The missing ingredient concerns the two main characters, Charles and Danielle, very good friends who wine and dine together, attend art galleries and concerts, and believe they can maintain a platonic relationship. We do not know what they look like: the colour of eyes and hair, how tall they are, good-looking or otherwise. We don’t even know their ages except that they are young-ish. Their mode of dress is never related. Most authors expend great effort to describe the main characters. But here, the author’s skill is such that we know them intimately despite not knowing their personal details. They are a blank slate upon which we can paint our own impressions.

Another unusual thing is the antagonist. At first I thought there wasn’t one. The Okhrana lurks menacingly in the background, but doesn’t impact the lives of the two main characters. I came to the conclusion it was Natasha, who doesn’t fit the mold because she is a good person, but she is the one who prevents the two friends from resolving their conflict.

Natasha is a young girl who works as a model and sleeps with artists in exchange for a place to stay. She introduces the two friends to Russian emigres who escaped the revolution and yet are still in fear for their lives, and before long the two find themselves steeped in Russian culture. From the beginning, Natasha is an enigma. She appears to be a malnourished and penniless waif, who cadges drinks and dinners and leaves before they can find out much about her. But she has refined manners, can quote Tolstoy and knows some aristocratic Russians. She is a mystery the two friends are determined to solve.

Paris in the 1920s is in the process of change, trying to shake off the post-war gloom and rediscover itself. The Russians, on the other hand, are desperate to hold onto the past, its culture and privileged society. Charles and Danielle both have shadows from the past standing in the way of present happiness. For Charles, it is his experiences in the Great War. For Danielle, it is the death of her fiancé in the same war. They too make a conscious effort to leave the past behind and enter the post-war world.

This is an excellent book, rich in the culture of a place and time, with three unforgettable characters who bring out the best in each other. I thoroughly enjoyed it and didn’t want it to end.

I must also note the cover. So simple, and so evocative of the era. 

Very highly recommended
Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Susan Appleyard
 e-version reviewed
<previous   next >

You will find several items of interest on the sidebar



Thursday, 23 September 2021

A Discovering Diamonds Review of Under a Gravid Sky - Angela MacRae Shanks

1700s
Scotland

"The north-eastern Highlands, 1747. In the weeks following Culloden, a victorious Hanoverian army rampages through the glens, committing atrocities, intent on crushing the rebellious Highland clans. In occupied Strathavon, persecuted families struggle under repressive new laws and rent rises. Five-year-old Rowena loses her mother, while Duncan witnesses the brutal events that make him an orphan.
A sensitive child told she must harden herself, Rowena turns to Morna, the green woman, who takes her on a journey of discovery into the magic of the natural world, passing on her healing skills. But as she blossoms into a woman, Rowena catches the eye of Hugh McBeath, a ruthless exciseman sent to extinguish the scourge of whisky smuggling from the Duke of Gordon’s lands. Beguiled, McBeath believes her a witch. Nevertheless, he must have her for his wife.
Smuggling illicit whisky has long been a tradition in Strathavon; the fiery spirit brings coin for paying rents. Now smuggling is deemed a traitorous act that helped fund the Jacobite Rising. Duncan is the best smuggler the glen has ever seen, but having hidden while his family burned, how can he ever be worthy of tender-hearted Rowena?"

It seems that the author is a native of the land she writes about, and it shows. The descriptions of this corner of Scotland are vividly portrayed, and she is adept at describing the working lives of the poorer folk who lived there in the 18th century and of the trials they faced just to stay alive. This is a beautifully produced book, with a gorgeous cover, and there is just enough dialect in the speech to give a real flavour of time and place, without it ever being confusing. And, on that note, the history and politics are dropped in very lightly - just enough so that we know what's going on, but never too much that we get an 'info dump'.

I'd have liked to see a slightly faster-paced narrative, particularly in the opening chapters which might have benefited from the children growing up by a few years, and I also wonder whether McBeath didn't need a little more back story, which could have developed his character and made us understand why he behaves so villainously. There were also a couple of plot points which didn't ring quite true for me. A good, experienced no-nonsense technical editor would bring out the talent that this author clearly possesses by helping to tighten the plot and resolve the pacing issues - to turn a good book into a brilliant one. Good editors cost money, but a really good editor is a worthwhile investment.

This is a prequel to The Blood and the Barley, and it's clear from the author's notes that more in the series are planned. Ms MacRae Shanks has created a world where she can explore the lives of her characters at length, and which she can return to time and again, and I'm sure her story-telling will grow stronger as the series expands.


Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Lucy Townshend
 e-version reviewed


You will find several items of interest on the sidebar

Wednesday, 22 September 2021

Some Rise by Sin by Siôn Scott-Wilson

1800s
England

"1829 is a tough year to be a body snatcher. Burke and Hare have just been convicted of killing people to sell their bodies, to widespread outrage—but despite the bad press, doctors still need fresh corpses for medical research.
Sammy and Facey are a couple of so-called ‘resurrection men’, making a living among society's fringe-dwellers by hoisting the newly departed from the churchyards of London whilst masquerading as late-night bakers. Operating on tip-offs and rumours in the capital’s drinking dens and fighting pits, the pair find themselves in receipt of some valuable intelligence: an unusual cadaver has popped up on the market, that of a hermaphrodite. For any medic worth his salt it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity—a medical curiosity and rara avis—and famous anatomist Joshua Brookes commissions the two men to obtain the body, at any cost. But some corpses hold secrets, and before long the enterprise becomes a deadlier and more complex undertaking than either man could ever have imagined."

To pick up this book and start reading is, I think, as close as you'd ever come to knowing what it would be like to suddenly find yourself in early 19th-century London. Sammy is an eloquent narrator but he speaks the language of the streets, and since he is our guide, we quickly get used to the particular speech eccentricities that these characters have.

There is so much delicious detail, from scenes inside the drinking houses, to the greasy feel of trousers. The sights and sounds of a pulsing London are vividly captured and the city is a character in its own right, playing a huge part in the story.

Sammy and Facey walk many miles, and you get the sense that London pavements were just as hard then as they are today. There is poignancy, with the two little brothers, both called John, who rely on each other and the 'ne'er-do-wells' of their acquaintance, and Rosamund's habit of always smiling behind her hand, so conscious is she of her chipped teeth.

I applaud the author's logistical skills, in corralling so many major and minor characters, all of whom burst onto the pages and make themselves known in a few brief sentences, giving us their back story, their idiosyncrasies, and often providing light humour. I especially liked the minor character who'd had a full set of the finest ebony teeth made, but wondered plaintively whether ebony should in fact splinter so easily and taste of boot polish...

The plot is a lot more intricate than the blurb suggests, and the hermaphrodite's body is not the only one that gets Sammy and Facey into trouble. Again, I have nothing but admiration for the way the author keeps track of the plot. It's easy to read, but must have been one heck of a challenge to write!

Scott-Wilson cleverly avoids making overt statements about wealth / poverty / inequality, and there are no stereotypes here. There are good and bad people on both sides of the socio-economic divide, but one thing is made clear, though again, subtly done: literacy is empowering.

Sammy is an astute young man, able accurately to assess the people who come in and out of his life, but he's equally good at showing us his own character, with all its faults and strengths. Again, hats off to the author for this achievement, something which is quite difficult to pull off when writing in the first person.

My only negative criticism is for the cover: the image is good but the title font and placing could have been better, and what a shame that the author's name is not more prominent - it can barely been seen, especially at thumb-nail size.

I'm not sure I've read a book quite like this one. It's different, it's quirky, beautifully imagined and executed, and stylised without ever becoming pretentious. 

Highly recommended.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Annie Whitehead
 e-version reviewed


You will find several items of interest on the sidebar


Tuesday, 21 September 2021

The Steel Rose: By Nancy Northcott

Book of the Month


Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon AU
Goodreads

Fictional Drama/ historical fantasy
14oos / Richard III / Napoleonic / multi
England

The Boar King's Honor Trilogy Book 2

Very exciting and crafted with skill.

This is a fast-paced and exciting story that fits in a number of genres – historical fiction, historical fantasy, magical fantasy, Regency, time-travel and romance. Lovers of all those genres will enjoy it, for it’s much more than any single category. Even though it’s the middle book in a trilogy, it works very well as a standalone novel. I was unaware of its ‘middle child’ status until the very end and it didn't matter.

Widowed Amelia, with very advanced magical Gifts, is seeking to lift a curse set on her family in the time of Richard III. The stakes rise – Napoleon escapes from Elba, aided by French wizards. His grand plan is to conquer England. Amelia is in grave danger from a rogue English wizard who wants to either control or neutralise her powers. He’s also a traitor to his country – aiding the French for his own nefarious purposes. Enter Julian, close friend of her now-deceased brother Adam. Julian's help is needed (he's a powerful, influential and highly Gifted wizard.) The two form an alliance. They’re assisted by Amelia’s long-deceased grandparents who, very conveniently, pop in and out of current time, reporting what’s going on in other places and training the young couple with more advanced Gifts. 

The story has a tight and well-constructed plot. Within its fantasy boundaries, the many twists and turns are believable, the characters are well-developed, and the history is well researched.

On a personal note, I delighted in the ‘About the History’ end notes, when Northcott credited Josephine Tey’s book ‘Daughter of Time’ as the trigger for her interest in the controversy over Richard III. It had the same impact on me – to be aware that accounts of historical events are written by the victor and might not be true.

I thoroughly recommend this book and look forward to the third in the trilogy.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

©  Robyn Pearce
 e-version reviewed


You will find several items of interest on the sidebar


Monday, 20 September 2021

A Discovering Diamonds Review of Calista by Laura Rahme





Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon AU
Goodreads

Gothic Thriller
England and Greece
19th century

“Colours and shapes have a habit of changing in this house. When you think you have grasped what you are seeing, you find it is all an illusion, and things take on quite another form.”

French detective Maurice Leroux is invited to look into four deaths that occurred in the space of a year at Alexandra Hall, a mansion owned by Aaron Nightingale and his Greek wife, Calista – two of the victims. The other two are Vera, Aaron’s sister, and a maid. Foul play is suspected. M. Leroux finds the atmosphere at the hall both sinister and mysterious. The housekeeper, a frightening individual, locks him in his bedroom at night ‘for his own protection’, but a locked door doesn’t allay his creeping suspicion that someone, somehow, has entered. The four maids and gardener, all owning various degrees of strangeness, act as if they have something to hide.

In such a book we might expect to read about spectral figures and things that go bump in the night. Here everyday objects take on a sinister aspect: spoons, a fountain that must never be turned off. M. Leroux’ own demons are resurrected – and none could be worse than a vicious mother – as he delves deeper into the mystery, comes to understand the relationships between the four victims and uncovers a terrible secret.

The author builds the drama very effectively to a satisfactory conclusion that will surprise. 

I am new to this genre, but I enjoyed it -- and it didn’t keep me awake at night. 

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Susan Appleyard
 e-version reviewed




You will find several items of interest on the sidebar

Friday, 17 September 2021

A Discovering Diamonds Review of Muskrat Ramble by Mim Eichmann



Fictional Drama / Jazz
early 20th century 
United States

The second and final installment in Mim Eichmann's saga of before-her-time free spirit, Hannah Owens, Muskrat Ramble is a tour of (a ramble through) 20th-century America, commencing on the eve of the First World War. This meticulously researched novel takes us from New Orleans on the cusp of the Jazz Age to Prohibition-era Chicago to the Front Range of Colorado. It's a breathtaking travelogue, to be sure.

Eichmann has remarkable skill with historical setting and a musician's easy fluency with the intricacies of the early development of American jazz. It's an immersive experience for readers, surrounding us with the rich sounds and smells of New Orleans, the languid sultriness of Louisiana's sugar plantations, and the bone-chilling cold of Chicago winters. The author paints with a refined brush that renders her settings in lush and textured colors. The book is probably worth the price for the author's settings alone.

I didn't find the protagonist, Hannah, particularly likable. And I don't necessarily count this a negative. It was frankly refreshing to encounter a female protagonist in a historical novel that wasn't immediately likable. Hannah is self-indulgent, with a recurrent indifference to the effects on others of her often selfish decisions. This includes Hannah's blithely entering into a sexual relationship with Edouard "Kid" Ory, the great New Orleans jazz trombonist who Eichmann co-opts as the lover of Hannah's teenage daughter whom he subsequently impregnates. This was irresistibly tawdry and rollicking good fun. Rather than rooting for Hannah, I found myself awaiting her next train-wreck life choice, which included ending up cross-wise with Al Capone's Southside Gang. In the end, Hannah does right (no spoilers), but it's a circuitous route getting there.

The primary weakness of this book lies with the unevenness and herky-jerky pacing of the storyline. Much of this is a result of the author's impulse to show too much of her extraordinary research, forgetting that in historical novels research should, like an iceberg, remain 90% below the surface. This is most manifest in the final chapters, wherein the story moves across three decades recounting the development of jazz and the subsequent lives of the too-many musicians introduced earlier in the book, stitched together with the thinnest connections to the aging protagonist. Indeed, the book would have been improved by ending earlier. However, Ms Eichmann has the mechanics, and talent, to become a fine historical novelist, with discipline gained through experience for her future books.

Readers interested in jazz and its development will enjoy the detail in this novel.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Jeffrey K. Walker
 e-version reviewed



You will find several items of interest on the sidebar