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Monthly Archives: May 2016

The House with the Lilac Shutters by Gabrielle Barnby

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Lilac

I have mixed feelings about short stories.  In some ways they can be perfectly formed like poems and they can be read in a limited time window but lacking the total commitment to a plot it is unlikely that the reader can be involved with the characters as in a novel.  In Gabrielle Barnby’s book there are connections woven through most of the stories, giving them a unity of place and essence.

 

The house with the lilac shutters, which drew me to this book, stands opposite the Café Rose in a small town in the south of France.  Most, but not all, of the stories take place there, in the heat of the summer sun.  Some are set in a parallel town in England. The protagonist are old and young, visitor and local and all aspects of life are reflected; birth, death, adultery, love, suicide and desire.

 

There is an element of, measuring lives in coffee spoons, as many moments in time are described in intense detail,

 

“Today we are sitting together outside Café Rose.  On our right there is the river, dark and green, bending the light into convex ripples.  I sip my coffee and look onto the square.  I want to add another cube of sugar, but I resist and try to savour the unfamiliar bitter-rich flavour.”

 

Among the many characters are many with secrets, some with regrets or guilt.  Memories are dwelt on but only some find new opportunities.  My favourite character is Angelique, the carer, who dressed in bright colours brings light into the life of Aubrey and makes tasty dishes from her childhood in Cameroon.  One story, Leyla’s Legacy, really troubled me.  It is a tragic tale of cruelty and unhappiness and of the subjugation of women continuing into each generation.

 

These stories are thought provoking, encompassing many themes and emotions in everyday places.  Gabrielle Barnby is a very talented writer.

 

You can find the book here and my earlier post about it.

Ann Bennett describes the background to her “Bamboo Trilogy”

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Today I have great pleasure in welcoming Ann Bennett to Lost in a Good Book to tell us about her intriguing Bamboo Trilogy.

ABann photo No2

When did you start to write, Ann?

I’ve been writing in my spare time on and off for over twenty-five years and have several half-finished novels and numerous short stories in my collection which I might one day dust off and revive!  In 2014 I was lucky enough to submit Bamboo Heart to Monsoon Books who liked it enough to offer me a publishing deal.

Better B Heart

What was your inspiration for Bamboo Heart?

The idea for Bamboo Heart came from researching my father’s wartime experiences. He fought in the Indian Army in the Malaya campaign and was taken prisoner at the Fall of Singapore. He worked on the Thai-Burma railway and survived the sinking of a hell-ship off the Philippines.

AB Death Railway _ Australian War Memorial

The novel first came to life when I discovered his ‘liberation questionnaire’ in the National Archives in Kew. It was an amazing moment when I first saw it, written in his perfect copper-plate handwriting, it answered so many questions I would have liked to ask him. The discovery was the culmination of a lifetime’s quest to find out what happened to him during the war. Since my first visit to Thailand in 1985, I’d travelled to South East Asia many times. I visited Kanchanaburi and the Bridge on the River Kwai in 1988. Those visits gave me a life-long love of the region, but taught me little about what happened to Dad during the war. However, from the moment I read his questionnaire, I knew I had to write about the railway to try to bring the story to life.

ABn Ann and Ollie 2010

In Bamboo Heart I drew directly on some of the events Dad had described. I tried to capture the suffering and courage of prisoners of war of the Japanese. The book tells the story of Tom Ellis, a prisoner enslaved on the Death Railway, and also charts the journey of his daughter, Laura, who turns her back on her comfortable lifestyle in eighties London to investigate her father’s wartime experience.

The wartime events were harrowing. So to lighten the mood, I broke it up with flashbacks to Tom’s pre-war life in colonial Penang, where he fell in love. I tried to tell a story of hope and survival, to examine the reasons why some survived the worst of ordeals and others sadly did not. I also wanted to show what an important role history plays in all our lives; how powerfully our family’s past affects our own choices and values.

My research for Bamboo Heart taught me so much more about the war in the Far East than I’d expected. I had not previously known how civilians suffered; about starvation and massacres, about bravery and sacrifice. I was struck by how the lives of everyone in the region was affected by the war and the occupation. I was inspired to explore the events from other angles and through other people’s stories, and hit upon the idea of writing a trilogy about the war in South East Asia.

What is the theme of Bamboo Island?

AB Bamboo Island

Bamboo Island is the story of Juliet Crosby, a plantation owner’s wife, who has lived a reclusive life since the war robbed her of everyone she loved. The sudden appearance of a stranger in the 1960s disrupts her lonely existence and stirs up unsettling memories.

I wanted to show how the war engulfed the region, how it destroyed families and lives. It was important for Juliet to be involved in her own personal struggle before the invasion changes everything. She travels from London to Penang with her sister Rose, initially for a visit, but both soon decide to settle in Malaya.  Juliet marries Gavin Crosby and travels with him to his remote rubber estate, but quickly discovers that all is not quite as might first have appeared. Her life is already in turmoil when war breaks out.

Through Juliet’s eyes the reader witnesses the horrors of the Japanese occupation of Singapore: the infamous massacre at the Alexandra Hospital; the horrific Sook Ching (elimination by purification) which saw the murder of many Chinese men and the brutal treatment of internees in Changi jail. The sinking of the civilian transport ship, the Vyner Brooke, and the massacre of survivors on Bangka Island, off Sumatra, were the inspiration for the sinking of a fictitious ship, the Rajah of Sarawak, which is central to the plot of Bamboo Island.  My aim, as in Bamboo Heart, was to bring the dreadful events of the Second World War to life through the story and the eyes of one character.

So who will we meet in the last book of the trilogy?

AB Bamboo Rd

I’ve continued the theme in Bamboo Road, the story of Sirinya, a young Thai woman, who together with her family are members of the Thai underground. They risk their lives to help prisoners building the Thai-Burma railway. The events of those years have repercussions for decades to come. The book tells Sirinya’s wartime story and how in the 1970s she returns to Kanchanaburi after a long absence abroad, to settle old scores from the war years.
Bamboo Road is to be published by Monsoon Books in 2017.

You can find Bamboo Heart on Amazon here

and Bamboo Island

Murder on the Tor by Frances Evesham

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Tor

Murder on the Tor is the third of Frances Evesham’s Exham-on-sea mysteries.   Once again Libby Forest’s life is interrupted by a crime on her doorstep.  While walking Bear, the Carpathian sheepdog, for her friend Max, she finds herself lost in the mist on Glastonbury Tor.  Briefly she meets a little girl and then she finds an old beaded necklace.  Headed down the slope she is alarmed to encounter Detective Sergeant Joe Ramshore, Max’s son, who treats her with his usual exasperation.  A body has been found and he implies that she has something to do with it.

Once Libby and Max realise that the apparent suicide is a photographer whose work is about to be exhibited locally, they decide to resume their investigations.  Libby is upset that Max is not as warm as he used to be.  Is their relationship going nowhere?  Have the illegal activities of her deceased husband caused Max to step back?

The serious nature of the dangerous probing into past deeds is lightened by the actions of some of the other characters; Mandy, the out of place Goth, Marina, Libby’s “friend” who is too lazy to walk her own dog and Jemima Blackwell, the eccentric retired Classics teacher, whom they catch stealing photographs.

Libby is a foolhardy heroine which adds to the excitement of an eventful plot and the culprits are well chosen.  The cast of colourful characters are a lively backdrop and the reader is tantalised by more information about Libby’s former husband.

Rosie's Book Review team 1

Silent Water by Jan Ruth

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The Wild Water series includes everything I desire for a perfect read.  It describes contemporary life in all its complexities; love, passion, family connections, humour and tragedy.  After the changes in family circumstances brought about by the blossoming romance between Jack Redman and his childhood sweetheart, Anna, when they reconnect in Wild Water, the plot grew menacing in Dark Water leaving readers on a cliff-hanger.  Silent Water delivers everything I had hoped for.  Events catch up with Jack and Anna and they must decide whether to reveal their secret.

 

Jack Redman can be embarrassing and foolish, but his passion and commitment to those he loves, make him irresistible.  Anna is quieter and more thoughtful, she takes longer to decide on her actions.  The other main characters are also fascinating.  Ex-wife Patsy is miserable in her new life in Chester and her depression leads her to be more manipulative than ever, but does she really deserve our sympathy?  Jack’s daughter Lottie is hilarious as she enters puberty, acting outrageously to cope with her need for a stable home.

 

In Silent Water Anna matures.  She takes responsibility and doesn’t rely on Jack to take care of her.  When she realises that he has been keeping secrets from her, she has to decide whether their love is strong enough to survive.  And as the storyline winds the threads together, there is a delicious twist at the end.

 

If I worked for a TV company, I would be commissioning this trilogy for a serial.  Against the backdrop of stunning scenery in Snowdonia, dramatic events, family misunderstandings, tears and laughter fill the plot.  If you haven’t tried it yet, you really must read all three books as soon as possible.

Rosie's Book Review team 1

 

 

The Joker by Georgia Rose

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Joker

This short story is a welcome return to Melton Manor for loyal readers of The Grayson Trilogy but it is also a stand-alone story and a delicious taster for anyone tempted to read A Single Step.

Will Carlton, one of the characters from the trilogy, now reveals his innermost thoughts. We knew he was charming and attractive but here is the explanation of his fear of commitment. After a night of passion with an attractive girl he will probably not see again, we learn how service in Iraq has affected his view of life.

This story demonstrates the complete involvement Georgia has in the world of her trilogy. The characters are real human beings with emotional baggage and deep feelings and she cares about each one. As a single short story, The Joker, is perfectly crafted, ending just as you would wish.

For a fuller, superb review go to Barb Taub’s blog.

My review of A Single Step is here

Teaser Tuesday #TuesdayBookBlog

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by Jenn of Books And A Beat. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two or three “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Silent EBOOK copy

I am really excited at beginning to read Silent Water, Part Three of Jan Ruth’s tempestuous Wild Water saga.

The following sentences are from the Prologue.

As he began the ascent, the Irish Sea crashed and rolled against the headland and the old mine workings came into view, silhouetted against a band of rainclouds.  Which way?  The dogs had scattered.  He stopped and gasped for breath at the top of the track, and listened.

There was a noise that didn’t belong on that mountain.  A savage, inhuman noise.

In the Greater Scheme of Things by Heather MacQuarrie

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Greater scheme

In the Greater Scheme of Things is the second book in Heather MacQuarrie’s trilogy, a family saga full of secrets, but it can be read as a stand-alone contemporary romance.

 

In a surprising first chapter, the heroine introduces her newly created persona of Francine Martin, a French girl who speaks perfect English, but we gradually discover that she is in fact an English girl who speaks fluent French and she is trying to escape an unhappy marriage which has only lasted 3 months.  Her deceit, when surrounded by kind friends and employers, is difficult to understand, but the tragic suicide of her mother, during their honeymoon has obviously left her in shock.

 

Francine is amazingly lucky.  She finds a job looking after the baby son of an Anglo-French couple, who soon become good friends.  After a few months, romance comes into her life again, but she maintains her anonymity believing there is no chance for personal happiness in this make believe world which she has created.

 

Alongside Francine’s story we are told of the break-up of another marriage, as Evie O’Sullivan discovers during a holiday in the Algarve that her husband Liam has betrayed her.  It is difficult to keep this in mind while following the major plot but it fits into the action towards the end of the novel.

 

Like Heather MacQuarrie’s earlier book, A Voice from the Past, the plot is fast moving and complicated.  There is coincidence and luck and towards the end there are so many active characters that without having read the first book you will struggle to keep up.  I found Kirsten, the tactless character who always put her foot in it, so lifelike and somehow you couldn’t help feeling sorry for her.  At times I wanted less plot and more description but twists and surprises certainly keep you reading to the very end.

Heather

 

Heather MacQuarrie was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland and now divides her time between her home there and her holiday apartment in Portugal. She is happily married to Ross and they have two sons and one young granddaughter. Heather recently left a long career in teaching to pursue other interests and concentrate on her writing. In the Greater Scheme of Things is the sequel to her first novel.

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