17 November 2017

The Butcher's Block by Lucienne Boyce

Shortlisted for Book of the Month

Amazon UK £3.99
Amazon US $5.17


Dan Foster Mystery Series #2

Murder most foul, treason and spies are the main ingredients of this, the third in Lucienne Boyce's series featuring Bow Street Runner, Dan Foster.

The grisly murder of a colleague leads Foster into the murky world of The Resurrection Men – grave robbers – secret societies, respectable businessmen not being quite so respectable, street urchins and much, much more.

I liked Dan Foster. He is a dedicated and dogged Runner, but he is flawed; his marriage is not a happy one. He knows some 'dodgy' characters and, because of his own past, is what we would call today 'streetwise.' He also is willing to exercise the spirit of the law rather than the letter.

Ms Boyce makes her characters three dimensional, even those who will have appeared in previous volumes, the plot is tight and there are no loose ends left at the end. Although part of a series, the novel can easily be read as a stand-alone. It will appeal to those who love this period when 'policing' was done mostly on observation and contacts. It is also a mild social comment about 'fat magistrates' and young children who face the rope for stealing in order to stay alive.

I cannot recommend this highly enough, a superb read.

© Richard Tearle

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16 November 2017

A Discovered Diamond review of: Duty and Dishonor by Shaun Ivory

Amazon UK £2.39 £6.99
Amazon US $3.09 $11.99
Amazon CA $15.99

Military / Espionage / Fictional Saga

US Civil War 1800s

Born on the voyage to America from Ireland, Conor O’Farrell is the protagonist in this first part of a series entitled America Made Me. At the age of sixteen - not being truthful about his age - Conor volunteers for the Union army and after some rudimentary training, soon finds himself seeing action. He becomes a hero, but wounded, he is to recuperate at a hospital where he meets President Abraham Lincoln. Things initially go well for Conor, but he is accused of spying by the sadistic Allan Pinkerton. Conor, now in his late teens, finds himself a fugitive…

This is a well told tale, with excellent characters and precise dialogue, I had one minor problem, however: usually, when one reads what are effectively memoirs of a totally fictional character, we are aware that the character will probably die eventually (although not necessarily, as this is pure fiction) but we do not normally know if, how or when. The author gives us these details in his prologue at the very start of Conor's adventures and I personally found this to be a  'spoiler'. I would much rather follow his adventures in this volume and the, quote, “several”, to follow without this prior knowledge, but apart from that small, personal niggle, a good novel and a thoroughly enjoyable read.

© Richard Tearle

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15 November 2017

The Mid-Month Extra: Covers Uncovered by Tamian Wood

By Tamian Wood
(co-judge of our Cover of the Month slot)

You glance across a crowded room and lock eyes. You are inspired, beguiled. Suddenly, “love-at-first-sight,” makes sense and you feel the spark of a love affair blossoming with …
...the BOOK of your dreams?

Ok, that might be taking the metaphor a bit too far, but work with me on this. The ultimate goal of your book's cover is to grab your reader’s attention and tell them in an instant, “Take me HOME, I’m just what you need! Pay no attention to all those other books, I’m the one!”

Think of it like your favourite little black dress that shows off your curves, and accentuates your …assets. :-)

Let’s face it, there are really only two reasons to write a book. 
1. To say you did, and 
2. To sell it.

Unless you only wrote your book so your grandmother could read it, and your target audience is your crazy cousin Emma, Auntie Eileen and Uncle George, the cover does matter. Let me say that again, in case you missed it in all the humor:

If you want to sell your book, 
your cover DOES matter. 

So, let’s assume you wrote your book to actually sell a few copies. The key then is that you must treat your writing as a business, your book as a product and the cover as its packaging. The cover is your most important marketing tool, and as such, must be properly packaged to be visually appealing to your target market.

A successfully designed book cover, like that little black dress, will convey the tone of your book, give hints about its content, and entice readers into actually picking up your product to read your meticulously written and diligently edited words. Metaphorically, you’ve just been asked out for a first date. Only then can your inner beauty be discovered.

Let’s have a look at some examples and see what they tell you about what’s under the covers…  (Ok, I’ll stop.)

Ponder on this cover package for a moment. What does the colour story tell you about what’s inside? It’s fresh, clean, green grass, blue sky. How does it make you feel? Cheerful, hopeful?

What’s under the cover, you ask? A letter from Pope Francis about caring for our common home, Earth.

The cover I created for the Pope’s Encyclical Letter is designed to make you think about our environment, ecology, and our children’s future. The fresh greens, calming blues and flesh tones are used intentionally to evoke a feeling of newness, and concepts of youth, growth, and springtime rebirth. (And for anyone curious, much to my darling husband's disappointment, no, we did not get to ride in the PopeMobile.)

What about these next two. How do they make you feel?

The colour red in both of these images tells us they might be about ​something sinister, but the fonts also tell us a story too. Notice that the bold modern font on The End Of Snow tells us that the story is based in modern day. If you zoom in close, you’ll also notice the texture of the font feels like a blizzard.

With Rebel Nation, we can surmise from the font that it has something to do with history. The rebel flag also gives a historical clue… but why is there a modern day-rifle site? Hmmm, intriguing.

​How about this cover, designed by my good friend and fellow designer Cathy Helms from Avalon Graphics?

Of course, the word "Dead" is a bit of a "dead" giveaway, but again, the use of the colour red drives it home. Nicely creepy Cathy!

In the case of these next two​,​ the softer font tells us this is a more feminine story. But what else can we discover about these two? Do they belong together? What clues tell you this?

With a sequel, it’s important to have consistency in the overall look and feel from one book to the next so your readers (or searchers) will know these stories belong together. This is known as “branding.” Typically, the colour story will likely match and text treatment is usually similar.

Notice the repeating elements. The spherical object at the top of the design space, the light source just below, the city-scape in the foreground, and the similar text treatment. All these elements let us know that these are part of a sequel.

​Here's another great example of repeating elements from Cathy Helms of Avalon Graphics. The fonts are the same and in the same positions, the colour story is complimentary, there is a ship in each. (and except for Pirate Code, the same ship is used.) Nice work Cathy!

Another important thing to note is that there should be a strong contrast between the text and the image behind so that your words are legible.

​Here is another example of strong contrast from Avalon Graphics.​​ Notice how the title stands out against the background.

You should​ also​ always keep in mind that the cover will be displayed on digital browsers at a thumbnail size, so it is important the elements are minimal. Including every detail from your story only serves to make your cover busy and confusing, and gives away too much, too soon. Remember our little black dress ​analogy ​and keep it simple and classic.​ If you go back over each of the sample covers, there are really only 1-3 visual elements in each.​ (excluding text of course.)

One final little tid-bit of advice I always give new authors is​,​ if you are beginning to write a book, start saving your pennies from day one, so that when it’s complete, you’ll have a tidy little nest egg to invest in what it takes to make your product look professional.

Because it matters. 
A lot.

Are you a DIY cover designer? 
I am offering a cover critique on my blog. Show me what you have and I promise an honest, kind and constructive insight into how you might make your cover better before
you display it to the world.

Take a peek at what other authors have shared…
Tamian Wood

Graphic Designer

Beyond Design International

Video Trailer: http://bit.ly/1k4NppT

So what do you think about the covers shown above? Share your views and ideas  by leaving a comment below.

14 November 2017

A Discovering Diamonds review of: A Limited Engagement by Saralee Etter

Amazon UK  £2.45
Amazon US  $3.23
Amazon CA £7.72

Regency Romance

When Miranda Luce’s father dies and leaves her penniless, the spirited young miss decides to become an actress. She joins the theater troupe belonging to her sister Mary and her husband Edward. But then Edward is unjustly thrown into debtor’s prison. Miranda and her sister must raise the money to save them all from ruin. Lord Justin Devereux needs a fiancée—in a hurry! Justin doesn’t want to get married, he just wants to take control of his inheritance and escape the upper-class London social scene. His solution: Hire an actress who can play the role of his fiancée at one important family dinner.
But Lord Justin’s trustee isn’t satisfied and Miranda’s role must be extended. The longer the masquerade lasts, the more complicated it becomes. Will the deception be unmasked before each gets what they want?”

The plot reminded me of a typical jape that Bertie Wooster and his ever-faithful Jeeves would try to pull off – although P.G. Wodehouse’s hilarious tales are pure comedy, and this delightful tale is typical Regency Romance.

It is predictable – of course you know that Miranda and Justin are going to fall in love, you know it will have a happy ending – but this is the stuff of the romance genre, so so what?
The pleasure is in the journey, not the destination, and I found Saralee Etter’s A Limited Engagement to be a thoroughly enjoyable escapism read. Just right for a cold winter night curled in front of the fire, or for an entertaining holiday read.

© Mary Chapple

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13 November 2017

A Discovering Diamonds Review of: On Different Shores by Rebecca Bryn

Amazon.UK £8.99
Amazon.US $2.71  $14.99
Amazon.ca $3.30

19th century

The story begins in tried and true fashion: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, in this case to another man. Young Jem, a common labourer, does the honourable thing by standing aside so that Ella will marry the man chosen for her, the son of a prosperous farmer, who can give her a better life. Unfortunately, the husband turns out to be a coarse brute. The story really gets interesting when Jem, along with his two cousins, commits a murder and is sentenced to be transported to a penal colony. Never mind that she is married and has borne Jem’s son, Ella determines that somehow she will follow her love to the other side of the world.

Two things illuminate this book for me. First is the little nuggets of 19th century farming life Ms. Bryn describes without in any way intruding on the story. Second is Ella’s awakening, as she learns little by little how few rights she has over herself and her child. As one of the men in her life says in all sincerity: ‘Why would you need rights? You’re a woman. Your pretty little brain isn’t equipped to deal with important decisions. You need the protection and support of a man, a husband.’ These words encapsulate the views of the time perfectly, especially as they are spoken by a good man.

Jem pays a terrible price for an atrocious act committed in a moment of madness, and Ella’s determination to join him leads her to adopt drastic measures. Yet it is not difficult to sympathise with the two.

I do have a couple of little gripes. The author uses pronouns instead of proper names far too often, leading to some confusion. Also, in the early chapters I found the motivations of the two central characters difficult to believe. But these things in no way reduced my enjoyment of the book. Once the story got going it gained momentum with each page until, at the last, I was left wanting more. As it happens, books 2 and 3 are available.

© Susan Appleyard

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10 November 2017

The Ring of Flames by Joan Fallon

Amazon UK £3.99
Amazon US $5.26

Shortlisted for Book of the Month Selection

Fictional Drama
 11th Century

Set in the very early 11th century, The Ring of Flames is the third instalment in Ms Fallon’s books about the Moorish kingdom al-Andalus, at the time rent apart by civil war as various factions struggle for control over the weak and inept ruler, the Khalifa. Once again, Ms Fallon’s knowledge of the period shines through in everything from her descriptions of the political chaos to the small details of everyday life, such as the blue turban Christians are expected to wear to what people eat and wear.

While the Khalifa, Al-Hisham, plays a pivotal if passive role in the novel, this is principally the story of the falconer Ahmad, his brothers Qasim and Rafiq, and their lives in Córdoba, capital of Al-Andalus. At the time, Córdoba is not a good place to be in. Repeatedly the city is overrun and sacked, as first one, then the other faction gains the upper hand. Ahmad and his extensive family do what they can to keep themselves and their friends safe, which is how a Jewish girl and an Anglo-Saxon monk find refuge with them.

Things go from bad to worse when Córdoba is besieged. Two years behind their walls and the citizens have eaten their horses, their goats, the children reduced to stick-like waifs, the soldiers taxed with defending the walls constantly exhausted due to lack of food. Somehow, Ahmad must find a way to guide his family—and the weak Khalifa—to safety before the besieging Berbers enter the city. But how is he to do that, when the enemies have formed a ring of flames around the city, making it impossible to sneak out through the gates?

I thoroughly enjoyed this read, immersing myself in Ms Fallon’s descriptive writing. The first few chapters are, I have to be honest, a little slow — and a tad confusing as new characters are introduced at a furious pace — but once Ms Fallon settles into her story she takes me along on an educational and exciting journey through a world I knew little about prior to reading her books. I soon found myself entirely submerged in the long-ago Córdoba, running side by side with Ahmed and his family. It is therefore with some surprise I close the book to discover I am not, in fact, in the hot and dusty Al-Andalus — testament to Ms Fallon’s skill as a writer. 

 © Anna Belfrage

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9 November 2017

A Discovering Diamonds Review of: VAST HORIZONS by Terry Collins

Amazon UK £2.29 £6.26
Amazon US $3.04 $9.95

Family Drama /  Novella
1838 - 1853
Southern United States

Terry Collins has written a book that I think most people who have studied their own genealogy would have liked to have written: a novel where his ancestors are the main characters. It tells the story of the Kline Family and the momentous decision by patriarch John Lowry Kline to take his family west along the Oregon Trail.

It is a very short novel – about 134 pages – and this is acknowledged by the author, but I feel there was so much more that could have been included. Some years are simply skipped and we never really get to know the characters. At the start of the book, John is a Lieutenant in the Army, organising the removal of the Cherokee Indians to a reservation, apparently with little opposition – but before we know it he is getting married and seems to have left the army. I would have liked, too, to know more of the everyday trials and tribulations facing the settlers as they travelled west to a new life. Also, there were some loose ends left untied.

But having said that, the story is well told, the writing style is good and the novella is a fine example of a family memoir-type read - ideal for anyone thinking on the same lines. The cover is taken from a photograph by the author of one of the locations that the family would have passed through.

This novella might, because of its specific content, have more appeal for US readers with a similar family background history than to UK readers.

  ©Richard Tearle

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8 November 2017

THE ENCHANTED SWANS by Christy Nicholas

Amazon UK £4.45
Amazon US $5.82

Fantasy / Celtic Legend


The Enchanted Swans is a version of the Irish legend of The Children of Lir. It starts with a less than happy event, the death of the main character’s mother. This main character is Fionnuala, a fae princess from whose point the story is told. Chapter One begins in 460 BCE and the whole story ends in 450 AD.

Why the sweeping saga? First of all, Fionnuala’s people live many winters, while the newcomers to the land, the Milesians, have shorter lives. However, the Milesians have stolen the land so Fionnuala and her family have to move below the hills, add to this, Fionnuala and her brothers Aed, and the twins Fiachra and Conn are enchanted and become swans. They are cursed to spend three-hundred years in three different lakes before the curse is lifted.

The book is divided into four parts and is a story about family and love, but also a story about jealousy and betrayal. The lives of the four children are depicted both before and after the curse with Magic being a very important element and present through the story, while by the end, religion has started to dominate as the “new god” appears.

The names are obviously Irish and thus sometimes a bit difficult to read and remember, but the pronunciation guide and glossary at the end help with this, but the story as a whole transports the reader to Ireland and the mystical lives of these fascinating characters, so pronunciation of the characters’ names soon becomes irrelevent.

The cover, too is most attractive, giving a very good 'feel' for the enchanted swans.

The author’s style is very descriptive and makes the reader feel like they are where the story is happening. All this makes the novel an interesting retelling of a well-known legend, full of emotion and very hard to put down.

© Kaja Korent

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7 November 2017

A Discovering Diamonds review of RHODE ISLAND RENDEZVOUS by Linda Collison

 Amazon UK £3.67
Amazon US $4.87

book 3 in the Patricia MacPherson series
US Colonies - Rhode Island and Havana

This is the third book in a series that will surely be continued. Patrick MacPherson is handed the captaincy of their ship when his business partner marries. His first voyage as shipmaster is to Havana to sell some completely legal cargo and return with things that may be subject to new laws imposed by the British Government. Not quite smuggling,  but a race against time.

There is, however, one slight complication: Patrick is, in reality, Patricia .....The reasons for her disguise are quite understandable – becoming outwardly a man has got her to the position she wants to be in and instances of such deceptions were quite common in those days (although few were actually recorded). These are explained in this story as I am sure they are in the previous volumes (which I have not read). Also, I am sure, the one question I have has also been addressed before, but not in this book. I think it should have been as I am  other readers coming to the series through this book for the first time would be asking it too: how did she 'go' when everybody on board believed her to be a man?

But let us not dwell on such things. The story moves along at a great pace and the seagoing passages are excellently and convincingly written. We discover a possible future lover and a former one also makes a significant appearance. Some back story is given, but I would definitely recommend reading the previous volumes to be completely au fait with her circumstances.

Recommended as a good read.

© Richard Tearle

(an ARC version was reviewed, where there were a few typos etc - to be expected in a pre-publication version, but should have been corrected for the final edition.) 

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