22 November 2017

Swift for the Sun by Karen Bovenmyer

 AMAZON UK £5.71 £13.99
AMAZON US $7.59 $14.99  
AMAZON CA $24.93

Nautical / Romance / LGBT
18th Century

In the beginning, the title “Swift for the Sun” conjured up everything from old sailing ships swiftly following the sun - to other flights of fancy involving smugglers and privateers (which it does). At the end of Bovenmyer’s novel, I realized that I was further wrong in assuming it to be a rollicking pirate fable or – as one of its genre is listed as gay romance - a man loving another man; it was so much more (even though I, too, have loved men – but then, I am a woman).

Benjamin Swift (as he introduces himself to us in this first-person account) is young, impetuous and a bit of a bungler who doesn’t listen too well to advice from his more experienced mates. This becomes sadly evident when, as captain of the Sea Swift, he puts his ship squarely on the rocks on cursed Dread Island. Deeming himself the only survivor of the wreck, the young seafarer is understandably spooked when he finds himself face to face with a blond island savage who masters survival a lot better than our handsome Benjamin. After initial life-threatening quarrels and mutual mistrust, the two men (both being predisposed by nature or circumstance) fall deeply in love.

This is when the author’s mastery of human needs and wants shines. Lust and love are aptly intertwined with Benjamin’s secret hope to be rescued. A storm does bring a ship - and with it terrible trouble brews for the two. Sun could easily “take care” by himself of unwanted intruders into their isolated paradise; but during an ensuing fight, Benjamin feels he needs to prove himself.

That’s when I shouted at my Kindle, “For heaven’s sake, he told you to stay put!”
I had become utterly involved in the two protagonists’ fates and desperately wanted them to escape their seemingly inexorable doom clamped on them by their “rescuers.”

Apart from the thrill of exotic seafaring adventure, the novel left me with a much deeper question about loyalty, the bond between two human beings, and the moral choice between killing for freedom or submitting to Man’s laws. “What would any of us have done?”

One minor distraction, for me at least, were the chapter titles. Some took away the faint hope that it might not be so - as for Chapter 13, for instance.

Apart from that, this is an excellent fluid read that easily earns five stars from me as a Discovered Diamond.

© Inge H Borg

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21 November 2017

Britannia’s Gamble by Antoine Vanner

Shortlisted for Book of the Month

AMAZON UK £2.42 £7.49
AMAZON US $3.21 $11.99

Nautical / Fictional Saga / Military
Victorian era
Egypt / Sudan

Britannia’s Gamble is not just a naval thriller or a tale of war and military conflict. For those of us who have read earlier episodes, it’s an additional delight as it continues the story of Nicholas Dawlish, a Royal Navy officer who is more familiar with steam engines, breech-loaders and torpedoes than with sails, carronades and broadsides.

Nicholas, tough, determined yet anxious about his mission, must endure the horrendous desert stretching across Egypt and Sudan, sail up the Nile through hostile and treacherous waters and then make the hardest decision of his life. But at what cost?

This series goes from strength to strength as we uncover Nicholas’s core character and unpeel the layers he has built up to protect it. His sense of duty and his long-term mission to secure a place of comfort and security while serving his country to the utmost of his ability are again in peril in this latest adventure. But Nicholas is mellowing, not least due to his wife, Florence, who has faced dangers of her own as well as with him in the midst of war-torn Europe and beyond.

Antoine Vanner’s strong grasp on sailing, the Victorian navy, military and political events and personalities of the time is evident. his writing style is assured, flowing and engaging. Roll on the next Dawlish adventure!

© Jessica Brown

Join us here during December for a variety of Diamond Tales
with a short story by Antoine Vanner scheduled for 6th December

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20 November 2017

A Discovering Diamonds Review of: Sarah’s Secret by Beverly Scott

A Western Tale of Betrayal and Forgiveness by Beverly Scott

Amazon UK £3.19 £10.44
Amazon US $4.24  $14.95
Amazon CA $n/a

Western / Romance
Early 20th Century
United States

Sarah’s Secret: A Western Tale of Betrayal and Forgiveness is a story of Sarah, a mother who is widowed at the turn of the 20th century, left with five children to raise. Feeling alone and abandoned, she decides to make the journey from the barren New Mexico territory back to her home in Nebraska. After settling back in with her extended family in Nebraska, Sarah soon discovers that her deceased husband, Sam, had lived a different life before their marriage. This secret life not only haunted Sam when he was alive, but it also affected Sarah and her children after his death.

The author did well weaving historical facts into the three story sections that unfold the tale of Sarah’s and Sam’s lives. From the descriptions of the barren New Mexico desert to the wild streets of Dodge City, Kansas, Scott paints pictures of the past that bring life to the story’s characters and their frontier adventures.

Growing up west of the Mississippi, and being fortunate to have heard the stories of the late 19th century and early 20th century women in my own family, helped me to appreciate the struggles faced by this young mother who was left to raise five children. Each chapter was a reminder of how women helped to define the true essence of the pioneer spirit.

Although in the end, the story came together, the transition from the first section, that describes Sarah’s journey home, to the second section that provides back-story about Sam, was initially puzzling since the second section opens by describing Sam’s first life under a different name. It was toward the end of this second section that the puzzle pieces of Sarah’s life are realized. After reading the second section I went back to reread the first section with more appreciation and understanding.

In general, however, the story was an insightful tale of one woman’s journey and the experiences she had that defined her strength. It was easy to feel compassion for Sarah as she overcame obstacles and found ways to succeed throughout her life. 

© Cathy Smith 

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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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