Wednesday, 19 January 2022

A Discovering Diamonds Review of Over the hedge by Paulette Mahurin

WWII
Netherlands

"During one of the darkest times in history, at the height of the German occupation of the Netherlands in 1943, members of the Dutch resistance began a mission to rescue Jewish children from the deportation center in Amsterdam. Heading the mission were Walter Süskind, a German Jew living in the Netherlands, Henriëtte Pimentel, a Sephardic Jew, and Johan van Hulst, principal of a Christian college. As Nazis rounded up Jewish families at gunpoint, the three discreetly moved children from the deportation center to the daycare across the street and over the backyard hedge to the college next door. From the college, the children were transported to live with Dutch families. Working against irate orders from Hitler to rid the Netherlands of all Jews and increasing Nazi hostilities on the Resistance, the trio worked tirelessly to overcome barriers. Ingenious plans were implemented to remove children’s names from the registry of captured Jews. To sneak them out of the college undetected past guards patrolling the deportation center. To meld them in with their new families to avoid detection. Based on actual events, Over the Hedge is the story of how against escalating Nazi brutality when millions of Jews were disposed of in camps, Walter Süskind, Henriëtte Pimentel, and Johan van Hulst worked heroically with the Dutch resistance to save Jewish children. But it is not just a story of their courageous endeavors. It is a story of the resilience of the human spirit. Of friendship and selfless love. The love that continues on in the hearts of over six hundred Dutch Jewish children."

1940: Johan van Hulst, Deputy Principal of the Reformed Teachers’ Training College in Amsterdam, decided he couldn’t sit on the fence. Every day, across the road at a converted theatre, he watched truckloads of Jews arrive. People were beaten and traumatised, families separated, and then trucked out to unspeakable destinations.

Next door to the college was a Jewish kindergarten; the Nazis turned it into a holding pen for young children before shipping them out to the camps with their parents. Christian Johan at the college, Jewish Walter at the theatre, Jewish Henriëtte at the kindergarten and other associates, colleagues and students of all faiths became part of a secret network to smuggle the smallest children away to safety. Think of the anguish of each parent, hoping against hope that a stranger somewhere would cherish their beloved child, otherwise heading to a certain death.

How they did it under the noses of the watching Nazis, and the price many of them paid for their bravery, is inspiring. It is estimated they saved the lives of between 500 and 1,000 tiny babies and children, whisked away in baskets, parcels and other secret methods.

You’ll hold your breath in fear as the story shares the events of this dark period of Dutch history and the sacrifices made by people who daily put their lives on the line. 

However, at times the writing style gets a bit bogged down on description, rather than being a well-paced narrative - I have to be honest, the story-telling gets a little hard-going at times because of the somewhat inflexible writing style but...it is a short read, only 176 pages, is free to download on Kindle Unlimted or less than£1/$1 to buy, the true-life events are dramatic enough to keep you reading and this story of courage and sacrifice does need to be told and heard. So overall, I give it 4 stars.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Robyn Pearce
 e-version reviewed




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Monday, 17 January 2022

A Discovering Diamonds Review of The Warring Heart by Ros Rendle

WWI
England

The Warring Heart is a gentle romance set in England during WWI. The focus is on Pretoria, who after navigating a mildly scandalous relationship, finds herself without a beau and so agrees to marry Nathaniel, a well-established local farmer and a man completely devoted to her but for whom she initially feels little.

At its heart, this novel is a romance. Foremost are Pretoria’s burgeoning feelings for her husband and the steady love he offers her despite the challenges of gossip, distance, and war. An unexpected twist halfway leaves the reader curious as to how a resolution might be found; at the same time, the characterization is such that it was easy to predict that all would end as it did, even as there was some question as to the capitulation of one particular character. That aside, readers will enjoy watching Pretoria's and Nathaniel’s relationship grow over time. It is a love story at its core.

The novel takes place over the four years of WWI and is centered on the home front where Pretoria manages the farm with hired help. Other chapters focus on the war itself, and while the war provides a compelling backdrop, it is also in this that something is lacking. For example, Nathaniel leaves to serve in the trenches, but the letters that he writes home are remarkably mild. There was an opportunity to not only acknowledge the brutality of the war but also to explore how it might have changed Nathaniel. As such, the horror of the war is downplayed and Nathaniel himself seems largely unaffected.

While the graphic nature of war is minimized, the book itself is rich in historical details. For instance, references are made to the Women’s Land Army, a group made up of women that during WWI volunteered to work in the fields in order to keep soldiers fed. The novel also explores to some degree the anti-German sentiment which would have been widespread. Small details like the inclusion of pinafores, carriages, corned bully beef, and even Royal Vinolia Toothpaste not only added to the story, but also allowed the reader to be completely immersed in WWI Britain.

Inevitably, the war ends. Nathaniel comes home. Pretoria reaches a place where she understands her own heart. Each character stays true to who they are and what they hope for, and the story ends on a satisfying note.  Those who appreciate a sweet romance with a comforting resolution will enjoy The Warring Heart.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Mary Cluff

 e-version reviewed



Friday, 14 January 2022

Imperilled by Kristina Freer

REVIEWER'S CHOICE




Biographical Fiction
WWII 
Russia /Poland

"Marisha... The daughter of a Polish Political settler from the Eastern Polish borderlands is snatched by Stalin's henchmen at the start of WWII. Along with her family, they transport her to a Gulag in Arctic Russia to be worked and starved to death.
Having been parted from the boy she loves, she strives for a new purpose and a reason to live. Emerging emaciated two years later as Stalin frees them after Hitler embarks on Operation Barbarossa, Marisha fights her way alone across the war-torn Soviet Union in search of him.
This is a true story of loss and recovery re-affirming the immutable human spirit, testing people of courage to recreate themselves in the face of total devastation.
But will she succeed... ?"

This is the second time I've read this book* and it is no less powerful upon revisiting. We have a promising debut novel from author Kristina Freer, a natural storyteller who has turned a real-life family experience into a tale that works as fiction. The fact that the author is related to the main character is almost an irrelevance as the events are written as a novel, and that's a hard trick to pull off successfully when you are writing what is essentially a memoir. It's done really well and yet the background must still have required a great deal of research. The story doesn't sensationalise, nor is it overly-sentimental, and is all the more hard hitting because of it. Marisha is a reliable narrator who is well aware when she is impatient or unkind, and doesn't flinch from showing herself in the occasional bad light, nor does she excuse herself, even though anyone in those appalling circumstances would struggle to behave well all the time. 

The pacing is superb and the development of the timeline and the effects of the ordeal are shown in varying ways. I especially liked the way the stages of the ordeal are measured by the attitude to possessions, from the early scenes at the farm when they gather what they can't bear to leave behind, to the scenes at the end when a pillow and a tablecloth mean everything, and at the same time, nothing, because to keep them might mean not being allowed on a ship.

The descriptions of the natural world - especially of sunsets and weather - are extraordinary, as is the scene-setting. This 'painting with words' seems to come naturally to the author and never feels contrived; indeed it seems effortless. I can still clearly picture everything: the shacks, the layout of the 'village', the walk to the station, and the railway wagons. When Marisha had to leave her mother at the railway station, I saw every moment and movement. The descriptions are sometimes the more brilliant for their simplicity: the gypsy women arrive 'barefoot and uninvited' into the kitchen, and Marisha describes how she and her fellow travellers 'blundered forward into the haze of our own spent breath.'

Along with the imagery there is a nice sense of continuity and symbolism, such as when Marisha looks back at her home and realises that in her hurry to pack she has forgotten to blow out the lamp and she can see it burning in the window as they ride away.

Inevitably, there is not much joy in the story, there are few moments of levity. At times it makes for deeply upsetting reading, the more so because it is true. Yet there is a spark of hope throughout, and moments where faith in humanity is, if not restored, bolstered at least.

Ms Freer is to be congratulated on this remarkable debut. Turning a relative's memories into such compelling drama is no mean feat.

*When first submitted to Discovering Diamonds, this book was hampered by a lack of stringent copy-editing and proofreading, resulting in far too many uncorrected typos and errors. Rather than reject it out of hand (recognising a good book and a potentially talented writer) DDRevs suggested to Ms Freer that she undertake a thorough re-edit, and to her great credit she has revised, edited, and polished what was a 'good' book so that it now gleams. There are a few remaining punctuation issues, but the author's beautiful prose and lyrical writing far outweigh any very small 'niggles'. That the author realised the importance of undertaking the revisions only adds to my conviction that here is definitely an author to watch and I look forward to reading more of her work. Brava.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Lucy Townshend
 e-version reviewed

cover designed by www.avalongraphics.org
exempt from Designer's Choice Cover of the Month


Wednesday, 12 January 2022

A Feigned Madness by Tonya Mitchell

REVIEWER'S CHOICE



Fictional Drama / Fictional Biography
19th century 
New York

"Elizabeth Cochrane has a secret. She isn’t the madwoman with amnesia the doctors and inmates at Blackwell’s Asylum think she is. In truth, she’s working undercover for the New York World. When the managing editor refuses to hire her because she’s a woman, Elizabeth strikes a deal: in exchange for a job, she’ll impersonate a lunatic to expose a local asylum’s abuses. When she arrives at the asylum, Elizabeth realizes she must make a decision—is she there merely to bear witness, or to intervene on behalf of the abused inmates? Can she interfere without blowing her cover? As the superintendent of the asylum grows increasingly suspicious, Elizabeth knows her scheme—and her dream of becoming a journalist in New York—is in jeopardy. A Feigned Madness is a meticulously researched, fictionalized account of the woman who would come to be known as daredevil reporter Nellie Bly. At a time of cutthroat journalism, when newspapers battled for readers at any cost, Bly emerged as one of the first to break through the gender barrier—a woman who would, through her daring exploits, forge a trail for women fighting for their place in the world."

An outstanding story and brilliant research. It’s 1887 and Elizabeth Cochrane is fighting to get a job as a reporter for New York’s World newspaper, one of the city’s top dailies. However, she has a problem—her gender. In the Golden Age, very few women could get employment in newsrooms. Of those who achieved it, almost all had to write about ‘womanly’ topics such as fashion, flower galas and home decorating. 

Elizabeth was only interested in meaty topics and prepared to put herself in harm’s way to prove her ability. The editor of the World challenged her to get admitted as a patient to infamous Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum for ten days, then write an exposé. If she succeeded, he’d consider employing her.

How she tricked people into accepting that she was unhinged, and her experiences at Blackwell’s Island, make a dramatic story. The place was filthy, the staff were sadistic, and the patients suffered terrible abuse. Elizabeth ended up fighting for not only her own dream of independence and acceptance in a man’s world, but also the rights of those powerless and unable to fight for themselves. The flashbacks to her earlier life give a skilful contrast to the build-up of tension, danger, and terror she experiences at the asylum. 

This masterful and tightly constructed story is based on the true-life experiences of ‘Nellie Bly’, the pseudonym given Elizabeth by a previous editor. It is powerful and sometimes distressing, but also inspiring and unputdownable. The characters are skilfully portrayed, including minor ones, and from the opening page to the end, the narrative never lost pace. The end notes and bibliography are a welcome addition for anyone interested in reading more. 

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Robyn Pearce
 e-version reviewed


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Monday, 10 January 2022

A Discovering Diamonds Review of The Scribe by Elizabeth R. Andersen The Two Daggers:

Part 1



Fictional Drama
13th Century / Crusades
Holy Land

"All Henri of Maron wanted was to stay with his family on his country estate, surrounded by lemon groves and safety. But in 13th century Palestine, when noble-born boys are raised to fight for the Holy Land, young Henri will be sent to live and train among men who hate him for what he is: a French nobleman of an Arab mother. Robbed of his humanity and steeped in cruelty, his encounters with a slave soldier, a former pickpocket, and a kindly scribe will force Henri to confront his own beliefs and behaviors. Will Henri maintain the status quo in order to fit into a society that doesn’t want him, or will fate intervene first?
The first book in The Two Daggers series, The Scribe takes readers on a sweeping adventure through the years and months that lead up to the infamous Siege of Acre in 1291 CE and delves into the psyches of three young people caught up in the wave of history."

Acre, one of the oldest continually-inhabited settlements on earth, has had a long and sometimes violent history. From about the middle of the 7th century CE, it was an Islamic city, until it fell to Baldwin of Jerusalem in the First Crusade in 1104. In 1187 the Ayyudib sultan Salah al-Din reclaimed Acre as a Muslim city, but lost it again to a combined European Christian force in 1191. Both militarily and economically important due to its strategic position and its access to the Asian trade, Acre would be fought over even by those who were meant to represent the same interests.

Elizabeth Andersen’s debut novel, The Scribe, is set in the years leading up to the siege of Acre in 1291 by Al-Ashraf Khalil, the eighth Mamluk sultan. Rumours of invasion are building, but harrying by the Mongolian Golden Horde is dividing Mamluk attention. But while this may concern the military and religious leaders of Acre, more immediate concerns occupy the three young people whose lives the novel follows.

Two are brother and sister, Emra and Ela, later known as Zahed and Sidika. Their village destroyed and their parents killed by Mamluk forces, both will become enslaved in different ways. The third is a noble child, Henri de Maron: European nobility, but also an outsider; his mother is ‘Saracen’, Arab. As the years progress and war looms, the lives of these three become, through a series of plausible coincidences, intertwined.

Henri is the central character, a bitter young man who must, on the sudden death of his father, take control of his family’s fortunes. Threatened not only by the political situation, but by an enemy, Philip, who wants Henri’s lands for his own, Henri must grow up – a lot. He has both his mother and his sisters to protect, and his duties as the lord of his manor. But Henri is neither old enough nor wise enough to make the correct choices very often.

The Scribe is well-researched, and of particular interest to me was the inclusion of the Mongolian incursions into the area, something rarely mentioned in the history of the wars for control of Acre, Jerusalem, and the middle East. The Scribe is not a story that glorifies the Crusades, but acknowledges the cultural and scientific knowledge of both Jews and Muslims, as well as the cruelty and violence imposed on them by Christian crusaders.

The device of the intertwined lives of the three young people, each of a different religion, works well for the most part, and the intrusion of the antagonist Philip adds to the sense of danger and intrigue. Description is effective, and the pacing kept my interest.

There are a few proof-reading errors, and a warning: there is a cliff-hanger ending. (The book is subtitled The Two Daggers: Part 1, and it is an incomplete story.)  But a solid debut, and a more comprehensive look at the historical background surrounding the struggles for control of the Middle East in medieval times than I usually see. The Scribe should interest readers who like personal stories set against the turmoil of historical events.


Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Marian L Thorpe

 e-version reviewed



Friday, 7 January 2022

A Discovering Diamonds review of Lies that Blind: A Novel of Late 18th Century Penang by E.S. Alexander

 

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon AU
Goodreads

Fictional Drama / Biographical Fiction
eighteenth century
Malaya

"1788, Penang, Malaya: A young man desperate to prove himself becomes enmeshed in the web of deceit woven by an ambitious adventurer whose double-dealing imperils the island's inhabitants.
Malaya, 1788: Aspiring journalist Jim Lloyd jeopardises his future in ways he never could have imagined. He risks his wealthy father's wrath to ride the coat-tails of Captain Francis Light, an adventurer governing the East India Company's new trading settlement on Penang. Once arrived on the island, Jim - as Light's assistant-hopes that chronicling his employer's achievements will propel them both to enduring fame. But the naïve young man soon discovers that years of deception and double-dealing have strained relations between Light and Penang's legal owner, Sultan Abdullah of Queda, almost to the point of war. Tensions mount: Pirate activity escalates, traders complain about Light's monopolies, and inhabitants threaten to flee, fearing a battle the fledgling settlement cannot hope to win against the Malays. Jim realises that a shared obsession with renown has brought him and Light perilously close to infamy: a fate the younger man, at least, fears more than death. Yet Jim will not leave Penang because of his dedication to Light's young son, William, and his perplexing attraction to a mercurial Dutchman. He must stay and confront his own misguided ambitions as well as help save the legacy of a man he has come to despise.
Inspired by true events, Lies That Blind is a story featuring historical character Francis Light (1740-1794) who, in an effort to defy his mortality, was seemingly willing to put the lives and livelihoods of a thousand souls on Penang at risk."

Penang seems to be quite popular these last few months for works of historical fiction, which is one of the good things about this genre, for we get to read different history about different people and places – a refreshing change from genteel English Georgian Romance, the Tudors or WWII!

The research in this novel seems meticulous, using the actual letters that Captain Francis Light wrote. The detail of the culture, the era, the location are utterly absorbing; it is very clear that Ms Alexander has great feeling and intricate insight for Penang.

Readers might find the opening narrative more reflective of a non-fiction history book rather than a novel, but keep with it for once we get into the fictional world things really takes off with a character-driven story that incorporates drama, intrigue, suspicions – in short all the stuff of a well-written thoroughly engrossing mystery thriller. 

My only niggle is, as with all mainstream novels, (Lies That Blind is published by Penguin) and something we often mention here on Discovering Diamonds, is that the price of the e-version is very high (£11.99at the time of writing this). But prices are set by the big publishers, so this is not within the author’s control. Fingers crossed for some special offers – in which case grab a copy quick!

© Anne Holt
paperback  reviewed

Wednesday, 5 January 2022

The Rippon Spurrier by C J Richardson


Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon AU
Goodreads  -  not found

Fictional Drama
16th century
England

Set in the late 1560s, the story of Robert’s participation in a rebellion against the heretic queen, Elizabeth, when Catholics longed for the return of the old religion and aimed to set free Mary Queen of Scots, is told from both Catherine's and Robert Gray’s points of view.

There is a fine level of historical detail for the many who relish those things, and the setting is the north of England during the winter months of 1569-70. There are many references to the Pilgrimage of Grace some years earlier in which Robert’s father died in mysterious circumstances. However, someone wishes those circumstances to remain forever hidden and this becomes a danger for both Robert and Catherine.

There was a tendency for the writing to be more non-fiction than fiction in tone and the characters, particularly the males, seemed a little flat, but the history I could not fault. Today few people have the blind faith and devotion that inspired these characters to leave their homes and families to follow a cause but the author does give a sense of why that feeling was prevalent in the sixteenth century. 

I felt there were opportunities to shape the story in a more dramatic way and use less narrative writing, but that is a matter of personal taste and I see no reason to mark this novel down because of the “show v tell” argument. There are many people who enjoy a serious historical novel without feisty maidens and bare-chested heroes pushing their way to the front. I hope this book does well for this author.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Jen Black
 e-version reviewed


Monday, 3 January 2022

The Raven and the Dove by K.M. Butler

Reviewer's Choice 
This novel is longlisted for the 



This cover has been selected as
www.avalongraphics.org



Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon AU
Goodreads

Fictional Drama
Viking / 900s
France/Normandy

Viking novels have abounded recently, and many focus on battles and raids. While K.M. Butler’s The Raven and the Dove opens with a Norse raid on a Frankish town, warfare is not central to its story. Cultural conflict and conciliation are.

In the early 900s, Frankia acknowledged the Norse warrior Rollo’s claim to all lands between Rouen and the mouth of the Seine, lands that had been raided by the Norse over some years, and largely abandoned both by the Franks and by their king. The Raven and the Dove tells the story of those years, and the slow cultural adaptation of both the Franks and the Norse to become, in only a generation or two, the people we know as Normans.

The story is told through two protagonists: the Norse shieldmaiden Halla, and the Frankish alderman Taurin. Worshipper of the Norse gods, sexually free, a warrior and a leader, Halla is unlike any woman Taurin has ever met. He, a devout Christian, bound by the early-medieval church’s ideas of sin and salvation, a leader who is primarily an administrator, Taurin bears no resemblance to any man of honour and standing Halla can envision. Yet when Taurin submits to Rollo’s supremacy to keep his people and lands safe from Norse raids, and Halla is made Rollo’s representative and governor of these new lands, expediency leads them to marry. 

Small, subtle things illustrate both Halla and Taurin’s discomfort and culture shock: the layout of a hall, the way hair is dressed, as well as larger, more obvious ones of religious practices, or the expectations of women’s behaviour.

The conflicts of thought and belief, culture and expectation in their developing relationship mirror those of the larger community, an effective narrative device.

A second personal story, seen through Halla’s eyes, reinforces the blending of the two cultures. Poppa, daughter of Frankish nobility, is now the bride of Rollo. Her restricted life as a Christian woman of high status contrasts with her freedom and potential power as Rollo’s wife. But as the Norse leader, Rollo too has cultural conflicts to deal with; he must balance the Norse sense of justice against the Christian one, to keep both his peoples content. Compromise rarely pleases everyone, and conflict arises.

Butler balances action, description, and character development deftly; the pacing is excellent. History is neatly inserted primarily through conversation, without feeling like an ‘info-dump’, and the world the author invokes feels both well-researched and real, without jarring anachronisms.  The prose is clean, the dialogue effective, and we see just enough of what the protagonists are thinking to give both insight and a rounding of characters into people we care about. The Raven and the Dove is an impressive first novel, one written with skill and craft. 

Recommended for readers with an interest in early medieval European history with a slant towards social and cultural change rather than war. 

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Marian L Thorpe

 e-version ARC reviewed



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Saturday, 1 January 2022

Announcing: The Richard Tearle Discovering Diamonds Award 2022

Happy New Year to all!

the team of Discovering Diamonds is proud to announce a new award
to promote quality indie-published/small press historical fiction

 £150 first prize
£50 runner-up

The Richard Tearle Discovering Diamonds Award 2022

Discovering Diamonds opened as a review site for indie and self-published authors on January 1st 2017. Since then we have posted about 1,000 reviews of historical novels that have reached a good standard of quality and are, from a reader’s perspective,  ‘value for money’.

Interspersed with our review posts we have highlighted various authors via our annual December StorySong short story entertainment, offered guest posts, made Book and Cover of the Month selections, reviewed some mainstream traditionally published historical novels and works of historical non-fiction, but our main aim is to promote Indie/Self-Published writers and small independent presses of quality historical fiction. We maintain thata good book is a good book no matter who publishes it, or how - but ‘getting noticed’ for indies can be an ongoing, uphill struggle.

Therefore, in order to help, albeit in a small way, Discovering Diamonds is to run an award through the kind generosity of Jeffrey Manton (*see below), who has offered to sponsor a first prize of £150 for two years (2022 Award/2023 Award). There will be a runner-up prize of £50.

It is to be called The Richard Tearle Discovering Diamonds Award in remembrance of Richard who passed away in April 2021. He began as a reviewer for the Historical Novel Society Indie Reviews in 2011/12, when I was Managing Editor, then came over to Discovering Diamonds when it was conceived in November 2016. He personally encouraged many new writers, supported established authors and, as a rough tally, reviewed not far off 700 novels, so to name our award in his honour is most fitting.

Helen Hollick

Founder Discovering Diamonds (#DDRevs)

for full terms, conditions, list of judges 

click here: TERMS & CONDITIONS

how to submit a book for potential  review

click here: SUBMISSIONS

(we do not accept entries direct for the award)


The Richard Tearle Discovering Diamonds 2022 Award