26 April 2017

The MOURNING RING by Sarah Parke


Amazon UK £9.94 /£4.04
Amazon US $12.25 / $4.96
Amazon CA $16.02 / $6.74

Fantasy
Early 19th century

The Mourning Ring, by Sarah Parke, is a work of historical fantasy. Authentic details from the lives of the Brontë sisters, and their brother Branwell, are blended with a magical alternate setting. But this other place is not purely imaginary: rather it is the creation of the Brontës themselves. As children, the four of them had collaborated in the creation of an imaginary world. Rather than being kept secret, we know about this one through diaries and other records. Sarah has mined this store of information to reconstruct a credible and persuasive reality.

At its heart, The Mourning Ring is exploring the peculiar relationship between author and book. Probably most of us know the powerful urge to think of stories as real. One of the mysterious appeals of reading fiction is that situations which once existed only in the mind of the author assume tangible form for other people. So, how would it be to enter into such a created world? To be subject to its vagaries and limitations, but also to know it so well that you can manipulate events in ways that seem magical or serendipitous?

In the case of the Brontës, two complicating factors are stirred in. First, the world was created when they were children. Several years have passed since its beginnings, and in many ways it reflects an immature view of life. At first, as I read this book, I wondered why the characters seemed rather simplistic - almost stereotypes. Then abruptly it came to me: how else could they be, given who had created them? The teenage Brontës are meeting the products of their own childish minds.

The second factor is that of sibling rivalry. While the original creation of this world might have been harmonious and collaborative, each of the children has changed since then. They no longer necessarily see eye to eye, and the conflicts are worked out in this imaginary setting. But the emotional traffic goes both ways, and the fictitious world exposes something of the real difficulties these young people would experience as adults.

I did feel that some very early scenes, supplying one description of the links between this world and the other, didn’t integrate smoothly with later explanations in terms of imagination and creativity. However, this is a minor issue and readers should not let this detract from the whole.

I very much enjoyed The Mourning Ring, and recommend it to anyone who wants something a little different from their historical fiction. Sarah has done a great job of blending history and magic into a single compelling reality.

© Richard Abbott

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25 April 2017

The WHOLE TOWN’S TALKING by Fannie Flagg

Amazon UK £13.63  
Amazon US $16.90
Amazon CA $32.79

Mystery
1880
America

Twenty-eight year old Swedish born Lordor Nordstrom discovers that there is American farmland to be bought cheap, so he goes for it and buys some rich Missouri land and by means of placing adverts in the papers to attract other young farmers to follow his example. After a decade he still has no wife, so once again decides to us the press.

Chicago maid, Katrina Olsen reads ‘Swedish man looking for Swedish lady for marriage. I have a house and cows,’ she also goes for it, despite fears of the wilderness and savage redskins and wildlife. Exchanging photographs and letters, which still do not prove whether she could be entangling herself with a violent man, she receives a train ticket, and the match is settled.

Lordor is proud of Elmwood Springs, Missouri, where residents are now settling along with a preacher and someone to mind the store. It seems a nice, suitable town but Still Meadows cemetery – with land donated by our ’hero’ has something odd about it…


Fannie Flagg produces novels which abound with wonderful characters, although the mystery in this particular story is slow to reveal that there even is a mystery, let alone have it solved, but read on for the tale is an absolute delight.

© Anne Holt

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24 April 2017

The WHITE CAMELIA by Juliet Greenwood


Amazon Uk £8.99 / £3.84
Amazon US $7.29 / $3.54
Amazon CA $5.31 / $6.19

1900s
Cornwall

“The great Tressillion family is ruined. As Bea is forced to leave Tressillion House, self-made businesswoman Sybil moves in. In a world where the old rules are starting to break down, this one choice will change both their lives forever…
Sybil buys the abandoned great house even though she is tempted to tear it down. The village sees only a rich American hotel-owner. Nobody recognises the young girl who left years ago with nothing but a desperate need for revenge. Buying the house is her triumph — but now what? As the house casts its spell over her, as she starts to make friends in the village despite herself, will she be able to build a new life here, or will her old ghosts and hatred always rule her heart?

“Bea finds herself in London, responsible for her mother and sister’s security. Her only hope is to marry Jonathon, the new heir. He seems kind, but is he hiding something? Desperate for options, she stumbles into the White Camellia tearoom, a gathering place for the growing suffrage movement. For Bea it’s life-changing, introducing her to new friends, new ideas, maybe love, maybe even a chance to work and support herself. But it’s dangerous, risking arrest or worse. Can she follow her dreams without bringing yet more scandal on her family?
When those very dangers send the White Camellia friends back to Cornwall, Bea and Sybil must finally confront each other. Will long buried family secrets on both sides now destroy them both?”


This is a beautifully written story set in Cornwall and Wales in the early 1900s, involving family secrets, love and suffragettes.

Merely 100 years on, it is poignant to read how far we have come, witnessing the prejudice and outright stupid arguments against the women's vote.


Greenwood has chosen great characters for her story: a fallen family which is somewhat torn apart; Sybil, who just took over their old house and who has an interesting background, too, and the people who meet at the White Camellia establishment.

The prose is full of wonderful descriptive details, the pace perfect and the setting authentic. Moving, and with an ending worth waiting for, this has held my attention throughout. Very accomplished.





© Christoph Fischer



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23 April 2017

A Fourth Sunday Extra

We usually have something different each Sunday here on Discovering Diamonds...
But April has five Sundays - so as this is an additional bonus Fourth Sunday I thought 
we'd have a round-up of Discovering Diamonds so far!

Since 'going live' we have had 
40,702 page visits (as of 2pm 22nd April 2017)
293 books listed on our database
over 125 of those have already been reviewed
36 are currently being reviewed, a few have been rejected (usually because of incorrect formatting issues) and the rest are waiting to be received.

Which is fabulous!

Did you know that if you scroll down this main 'Bookshelf' page you will come to the Top Ten Most Popular Books Reviewed for all time on this blog, and the Top Ten Most Popular Books of the current month?

Here they are as of today (22nd April):

TOP TEN of ALL TIME

TOP TEN LAST MONTH



Running this review blog is hard work and takes a good deal of time, so my enormous thanks to Nicky who receives the e-books in and sends them out to be reviewed, to Annie who proof-reads the reviews before they are posted, and to our wonderful team of reviewers all of whom are doing a fantastic job because they want to support authors and promote good books to enthusiastic readers.

So what can you do to help?

  • I'd love some more Reader's Voice articles - topics gratefully received.
  • Do you fancy joining our review team? If so email me for details

Or a simple but very big thing - help to promote Discovering Diamonds. 
On Facebook, Twitter (the hashtag is #DDRevs) Goodreads - your own blog - anywhere and everywhere in fact! 

Discovering Diamonds will only become a wider success if we continue to review good books and readers who want to know about them visit these pages - so...




22 April 2017

A Discovering Diamonds review of 1066: WHAT FATES IMPOSE by G.K. Holloway


Amazon UK £2.48  £9.99
Amazon US $3.09  $16.70
Amazon CA  $29.24

 Military
1066
England

England is in crisis. King Edward has no heir and promises never to produce one. There are no obvious successors available to replace him, but quite a few claimants are eager to take the crown. While power struggles break out between the various factions at court, enemies abroad plot to make England their own.There are raids across the borders with Wales and Scotland.
Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex, is seen by many as the one man who can bring stability to the kingdom. He has powerful friends and two women who love him, but he has enemies who will stop at nothing to gain power. As 1066 begins, England heads for an uncertain future. It seems even the heavens are against Harold.
Intelligent and courageous, can Harold forge his own destiny – or does he have to bow to what fates impose?”

The 1066 period in fiction seems to be gaining in popularity, which is a good thing, as is the most welcome swing towards writing the events of what is probably the most famous date in English history from the English point of view – in other words exploring the truth behind the victor’s, the Norman, propaganda.

There are always two sides to conflict and G.K. Holloway certainly knows his stuff when it comes to research and fact; his detail seems to be faultless, but as a novel maybe the dialogue is a bit chunky in places, and perhaps the facts – as good as they are – occasionally get in the way of the fiction? The characterisation gives way to the research a little as well, which is a shame because 1066: What Fates Impose deserves a place among the other 1066 books because of the writer’s obvious enthusiasm and knowledge.

Having said that, the characters, their actions, their motivations – their obsession almost, fit very well into this novel. For readers who prefer their historical fiction to concentrate on the reality of fact, rather than the imagination of made-up fiction,  and to portray the truth of what might have happened, and to do so with confidence, this is the right book.

© Richard Tearle


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21 April 2017

A Discovered Diamonds review of TUNNEL 6 by Steve Bartholomew


 Amazon UK £1.99    £8.38
Amazon CA  $16.99

 Adventure / Romance
1860s
American Frontier

Tunnel 6 is a quirky and entertaining novel about a well-chosen period in American history that I knew nothing about beforehand and found fascinating. It is told in several different strands and, indeed, several different styles, including diary entries and a ‘confession’, and that nicely worked device held my attention well and kept the story moving along.

The novel follows the fortunes of a work camp in America building the Central Pacific railway line through the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the 1860s and specifically those trying to blast the longest tunnel – the eponymous Tunnel 6 - through granite. Centring around an engineer, a female wire operator and a saboteur sent to delay and, if possible, destroy the line, and with a fascinating side cast of Chinese workers, it offers a lively glimpse into a very interesting time.

That said, although I enjoyed Tunnel 6, it never truly grabbed me, perhaps because everything seemed to happen on a slightly superficial level. The core romance was sweet but very steady. It never seemed to hit any rocks or problems and as a result I never felt on the inside of it. That was believable in some ways as these were two very straightforward individuals but it still made it hard for me to truly care about their fate. The setting was clearly well researched and believably presented but there was no real atmosphere which, for a book set in the frozen wastes of Sierra Nevada, was a shame.

Similarly, when it came to the plot, I found it fun piecing together what had happened, but the fact that we knew the perpetrator of the attempted sabotage from the start meant that there was a lack of secrets to really keep me hooked and no one ever felt truly in jeopardy. The pace was sufficient to keep me reading but I felt that I was always waiting for the storyline to get going and found myself slightly surprised to have reached the end.

Overall, I found Tunnel 6 a fluid and fun read, but not one that really got under my skin. It will appeal to readers who are interested in this period of American Frontier history and the building of the railways.

© Joanna Barnden

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20 April 2017

A Discovered Diamond review of And THEN MINE ENEMY by Alison Stuart

A Discovered Diamond review of: AND THEN MINE ENEMY by Alison Stuart

Amazon UK £2.37    £6.31
Amazon US $2.95  $7.99
Amazon CA  $ n/a

 Romance / Adventure
17th Century / English Civil War
England

And Then Mine Enemy by Alison Stuart is a fast-moving, involving historical romance set in the instantly dramatic period of the English Civil War. It follows the unfolding relationship between Adam Coulter, bastard-born ‘cuckoo in the nest’ of a noble family who chooses to defy his half brothers by taking parliament’s side in the rising war, and Perdita Gray, fianceé to Adam’s stepbrother, Simon. Perdita is an independent-spirited woman who is strong enough to aid the severely wounded and brave enough to ride across war-torn England when the need arises. At first her engagement to the steady and loving Simon precludes her from giving in to her feelings for Adam but in times of war fortunes can turn swiftly, for better and for worse…

This is a very entertaining read, set in a fascinating period that Stuart creates naturally and convincingly. It is lightly written with good pace and flow and is peopled with characters you’ll will to succeed. It ends a little suddenly but as it is the first in a series that isn’t a big problem and I just need to get hold of the next book, Now My Sworn Friend, to read more about both the family and the country’s adventures in hard and interesting times.

© Joanna Barnden

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19 April 2017

A Discovering Diamonds review of LEONIDAS OF SPARTA: A BOY OF THE AGOGE by Helena P Schrader



 Amazon UK £3.65    £12.99
Amazon US $4.56  $15.32
Amazon CA  $11.75

Adventure/ Military / Coming of Age / Family Saga
Late 6th Century BC
Sparta - Greece

Book #1 of a trilogy

The death of Leonidas now stands alongside those of many other heroes of the past, yet the life of this man is not well documented. Helena Schrader attempts to put this right with her Leonidas of Sparta trilogy, of which this is the first volume.

It covers the period from when Leonidas is seven years old and taken to the Agoge (or school) until he eventually graduates to become a citizen fourteen years later. We follow his adventures, trials, successes and failures for each of these years, seeing how he grows up and deals with the harsh – though not so severe as we might imagine – upbringing in the Agoge and the Spartan way of life. Leonidas is the youngest son of the king and rather down-trodden by his brothers and half-brothers – even his slightly older-by-minutes twin, Brotus, looks down on him. But he has friends, the arrogant Prokles and the shy, stuttering weakling Alkander.

Whilst a good story - I cannot fault the research and the detail with which the author describes events - but we start off with a rather long prologue where Leonidas seems to be preparing for Thermopylae and from thereon in, the book is littered with words and phrases either in parentheses or within quotation marks, or both, when more appropriate writing might have removed these distractions. I also felt that so much of the history – and therefore the depth of research – was told in the narrative rather than shown by the characters in dialogue or action and narrative. There were only one or two typographical or spacing errors, but for a British reader I wonder if the 'Americanisms' (i.e ‘Fall’ not ‘Autumn’) and a spattering of anachronisms might jar a little? e.g. I doubt Spartan soldiers would have 'gone AWOL'?

All in all, I enjoyed the story, the subject is a fascinating one and should be told, plus the author knows her subject very well, so for readers who prefer historical detail over imaginative fiction this is ideal.


© Richard Tearle



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18 April 2017

A Discovering Diamonds review of MAN and BEAST by Michael Jensen


Amazon UK £ 4.90
Amazon US $6.15
Amazon CA  $ n/a

LBGT (sexual content)
18th Century
American Frontier

Savage Lands series

“The year is 1797, and 24-year-old John Chapman is lost on the American frontier with winter falling fast. Near death, he stumbles upon a lone cabin, and the owner, a rugged but sexy frontiersman named Daniel McQuay, agrees to let John winter over.
John and Daniel quickly find themselves drawn to each other, the sex between them unlike anything John has ever known. But as the weeks turn into snowbound months, Daniel begins to change into someone brutish, and the line between man and beast disappears.
With the arrival of spring, John flees, eventually finding refuge in the company of a group of frontier outcasts, including a brash young settler named Palmer. But in the wilds of this savage land, love is not so easily tamed, and John soon finds himself calling upon the raging animal within him to save the man he loves.
Man & Beast is the first book in the Savage Lands, a series that celebrates the untold gay history of the American frontier. ((It) was previously published under the title Frontiers. This edition has been extensively revised.)”

The storyline for this novel is basically simple: in the autumn of 1797, John Chapman, a young man seeking a place in the world, is forced to flee a British garrison on the North American frontier when his relationship with an Army officer is discovered. The officer flees as well, but he is mortally injured in the chase. John then survives a trek through virgin forests until he comes upon a cabin occupied by the horrific yet apparently sexy, Daniel McQuay.

Writing in the first person as John, Jensen describes McQuay as having mood swings faster and more often than a two-year-old, but it is an unfortunate comparison because this man is manic, possibly psychopathic, and wholly terrifying. One wonders if John had come upon the cabin in spring-time how the story would have changed, but as it is, winter sets in and he is trapped in more ways than one.

Eventually John does escape, but then finds himself in the nascent town of Franklin, where everyone is running from something, and everyone has a sad tale to tell. Sad tales indeed, they run the gamut of man’s inhumanity to man – and occasionally, woman: prejudice in all forms; sexism (typical of the period but disturbing nonetheless), racism; incest; attempted infanticide . . .

And as the Ancient Greek doctor Asclepius told his disciples, the things that happen to people are like the people they happen to. The ‘good people’ of Franklin in their appalling ignorance and prejudice against native tribes are responsible for the death of a twelve year-old boy, whose head they proudly place on a stake.

Despite feeling out of place and unhappy with his neighbours, John Chapman tries to make something of the small settlement he’s allotted by planting apple trees. In the process he is also trying to come to terms with his sexuality and personality. Throughout the book, there are lengthy, graphic portrayals of M/M sex, and a number of violent scenes – visceral violence. Whether this is to an individual reader’s taste is obviously up to him/her, but take heed of the male torso on the cover as some indication of content. Not seeing the cover before I started the ebook, I began by thinking the beast of the title would be a bear, perhaps a puma: the beast is the character Daniel, also called Zach, who finds John again, just when John has started to find a form of contentment. To say more would be to spoil the story.

Jensen has created a sympathetic character in John Chapman. This reader, who blanched at numerous paragraphs, warmed to him, wanted him to succeed and be happy – and wanted him to get the hell out of each of the cabins to somewhere more civilised in every way. In this, Jensen has also succeeded, for he has re-created the difficulties and dangers facing those frontier settlers convincingly. This is a well-written book, albeit not for the faint-hearted.

© J.G. Harlond
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17 April 2017

BLITZ P.A.M.S. by John Orton


 Amazon UK £7.99 £3.99
Amazon US $4.99
Amazon CA no price

Coming of Age / Fictional Drama
WWII 1941
England

from the 'Tales from Old South Shields' series

Blitz PAMS is set in 1941 in South Shields, a small town on the estuary of the River Tyne facing Germany across the North Sea. The German Blitzkrieg has begun and as the first bombs hit the town, the Police send out a call for young cyclists, to be known as Police Auxiliary Messengers, (PAMS) to spring into action when phone lines go down.

Mossie Hamed, a sixteen-year-old Arab grocery delivery boy, volunteers. Through his eye view of bombs falling in darkness we learn how this experience changed the lives of him and his ‘marras’ and how these teenage lads – and a girl – fumbled their way through the first sexual encounters of their lives knowing that one more German bomb could end their existence. 

The writing style is vibrant, littered with dialect words and phrases which add flavour and delivers Geordie common sense and humour as plain English never could. The meaning is obvious in spite of the dialect and the action roars along with tales of heroism, tragedy and outright dishonesty.

As much a social history as a work of fiction, it is nevertheless worthy of people’s attention.

© Jen Black


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