Different Class by Joanne Harris #BookReview #PsychologicalThriller

Different Class

I chose this book because I had enjoyed Gentlemen and Players many years ago and this sequel takes place a year later in the same location, St Oswald’s Grammar School. Roy Straitley, an old-fashioned Latin Master is teaching his 35th year at the school and he has no desire for any other life.  Nicknamed Quaz (Quasimodo) because of his resemblance to a gargoyle based in a classroom in the bell tower, his intellectual, laissez-faire approach and loyalty to a group of boys he calls his “Brodie  Boys,” has caused boys and staff to be divided between those who detest him and those who have genuine respect and affection for him.

Although current events take place in 2005, alternate chapters take us back to 1981 when a group of 3 boys who join Straitley’s class, fail to fit in.  Of the three, it is Johnny Harrington whom he most disliked. It is therefor a shock that the new Super Head brought in to sort out the school is the same Harrington.  Reading a secret diary written by one of the boys in 1981 we gradually discover horrific events which took place.

Despite the serious nature of the plot there is also delightful humour.  Having taught in a school from the 1980s till this century I empathise with Straitley’s resistance to the new ways of emails and “health and safety”.  He defines his teaching style as “benevolent neglect” and on the whole his pupils respond by acting responsibly.  However the past catches up in appalling consequences and only wit and comradeship can avoid disaster for the school, its staff and its pupils.

Different Class on Amazon UK

 

Foxden Acres (The Dudley Sisters’ Saga Book 1) by Madalyn Morgan #BookReview

Foxden Acres

It is 1939 and Bess is looking forward to completing her teacher training in London.  Then she must decide whether to look for a post in the city or return home to the countryside near Rugby.  Her happy childhood was spent playing and riding on Foxden Acres estate where her father works but her affection for James, son of Lord and Lady Foxden is unlikely to be returned since she is not of his class.  Returning to London, her handbag is stolen, but she is rescued by Natalie Goldman and her husband Anton. They talk to her about the increasingly dangerous situation in Germany for Jewish families and they become good friends.

On the outbreak of war, life is turned upside down for Bess, her family and her friends. When the school where Bess teaches is evacuated out of London, she is asked by James to return to Foxden Acres to help organise the conversion of the estate into arable land with the assistance of a team of Land Army girls. James has joined the RAF as a pilot while her brother Tom has signed up as a soldier.

This novel gives a wonderful picture of wartime life for families and those who served on the Home front.  Long hours of hard work are interspersed with the tragedy of air raids and the loss of dear friends.  The best and the worst of humanity is revealed in the events of the plot.  It is both inspiring and upsetting but is also a tribute to love and friendship.  I can’t wait to read about the other Dudley sisters.

Foxden Acres on Amazon UK

The Subtle Knife Book 2 of His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman #TuesdayBookBlog

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I read Philip Pullman’s trilogy back in the late 1990s but after watching the first series of His Dark Materials on TV I decided I would like to reread The Subtle Knife.  On TV we have already been introduced to Will Parry in parallel to Lyra’s early story, whereas in print, he is introduced, initially as the main character in this second book.  But I was reassured to find that I still found this compelling series riveting, if often distressing.

Will is an impressive boy, old before his years, formed by the fear and loneliness of looking after his mother after his father’s disappearance.  It is heartening to see him gradually grow towards Lyra as she supports him. They are both inadequately parented and aware of the importance of their destinies.  It is good to come to know more about the witch Serafina Pekkala and the adventurous Lee Scoresby. The brilliant characterisation is the key to the conviction of this story.  The daemons, which those from Lyra’s world each have, participate more actively in this book and you cannot help wanting one as part of your own soul.

The bright exciting world in which Will and Lyra find themselves in this novel, soon reveals itself to be a place of grief and the subtle knife itself, a poisoned chalice.  There are so many interesting themes taken from Paradise lost and William Blake but recognising the allusions is not necessary to the appreciation of the vast panoply of ideas within the novels.  Although very much a middle story ending on a cliff-hanger, in many ways it is my favourite.  I am very much looking forward to seeing how The Subtle Knife is presented on screen.

Watery Ways by Valerie Poore #BookReview #Memoir

Watery ways

In this account of her first year of living on a barge in Rotterdam’s Oude Haven, Valerie Poore’s overriding impression is that “one of the first things you learn about living on a barge is that an awful lot of stuff is going to end up in the water”.

The year in question is 2001, and at forty something, the author takes the plunge to exchange her life in the corporate fast lane of Johannesburg, for life on a historic Dutch barge. Every month brings new challenges, obstacles and experiences. She meets a whole world of fascinating people, not least of whom are an endlessly smiling, but absent minded ‘landlord’, an intellectual, but quirky friend and confidante and an old world charmer whose mastery at the helm wins more than just her respect. She also learns how to cope with the sometimes strenuous demands of casting ropes and negotiating locks when acting as skipper’s mate during numerous nail-biting watery adventures.

If you’ve ever wondered what it was like to live on a barge, this book may be the bait that hooks you; whatever your reaction, it will certainly give you an off beat and amusing insight into the ways of living on the water.

My Review

Having followed Valerie Poore on Twitter for some time now, I finally got round to buying one of her books.  Watery Ways proved even better than I expected. The amazing characters living on the barges in Rotterdam’s Oude Haven reflect the variety of colour, shape and repair of the barges themselves. Val is a courageous, hard working resident of a barge without washing facilities or modern conveniences and with the help of her friends she soon learns to manoeuvre her barge in the busy, terrifying waterways beyond the Haven.  A budding relationship and her experiences on board convince Val that she wishes to own her own floating home, so we join her quest to find the ideal craft.  At times she has the companionship of dogs and a suicidal cat who add to the excitement of day to day life on board.  I found myself seeking out maps to follow her journeys, but having tried “driving” a boat on the Thames I wouldn’t dare try to navigate the Dutch waterways!

Valerie Poore

Val Poore

Val Poore was born in London, England, and grew up in both north London and the west of Dorset. After completing her degree in English, History and French at Bournemouth, she took a further course in the conservation and restoration of museum artefacts at Lincoln College of Art which qualified her for nothing at all really. She then spent two years doing furniture restoration before going to South Africa in 1981 with her husband and small children.

Valerie left South Africa permanently in 2001 and has settled in the Netherlands, where she shares her time between a liveaboard barge in Rotterdam and a cottage in Zeeland. She teaches academic and business English on a freelance basis and still writes in her spare time, although she admits there’s not enough of that at the moment. In fact, she has been writing since childhood and wrote stories, articles and radio plays for years before embarking on her first book in 2005. Val loves travelling especially when it involves roughing it a bit. She feels that she has better adventures and more interesting experiences that way.

She has written six books altogether: the Skipper’s Child (teen/kidult fiction), How to Breed Sheep, Geese and English Eccentrics (sort of grown-up, humorous fiction), Watery Ways and Harbour Ways (memoirs of her first years of living on a barge in Holland), Walloon Ways (three years as a weekend Belgian) and African Ways (a memoir her life on a farm in South Africa). Her seventh book (another novel) is in progress but is taking rather longer than she had hoped. This is simply due to real life getting in the way

To find out more about Val Poore’s life see her blog

Watery Ways on Amazon UK

Books set in Malaysia: my personal list #SundayBlogShare

With the help of Jill from jillsbookcafe.blog I have collected together some of my favourite books about Malaysia.  Having spent several holidays in the Malay Peninsular while I was living in Singapore I have always felt drawn to books set in this lovely country.

First books by local authors:

The Harmony Silk Factory by Tash Aw

HarmonyThe Harmony Silk Factory is a devastating love story set against the turmoil of mid-twentieth century Malaysia.  Set in Malaya during the 1930s and 40s, with the rumbling of the Second World War in the background and the Japanese about to invade, The Harmony Silk Factory is the story of four people: Johnny, an infamous Chinaman – a salesman, a fraudster, possibly a murderer – whose shop house, The Harmony Silk Factory, he uses as a front for his illegal businesses; Snow Soong, the beautiful daughter of one of the Kinta Valley’s most prominent families, who dies giving birth to one of the novel’s narrators; Kunichika, a Japanese officer who loves Snow too; and an Englishman, Peter Wormwood, who went to Malaysia like many English but never came back, who also loved Snow to the end of his life. A journey the four of them take into the jungle has a devastating effect on all of them, and brilliantly exposes the cultural tensions of the era.

Haunting, highly original, The Harmony Silk Factory is suspenseful to the last page.

Next I have to include two beautiful books by Tan Twan Eng

The Gift of RainGift of RainPenang, 1939, sixteen-year-old Philip Hutton is a loner. Half English, half Chinese and feeling neither, he discovers a sense of belonging in an unexpected friendship with Hayato Endo, a Japanese diplomat. Philip shows his new friend around his adored island of Penang, and in return Endo trains him in the art and discipline of aikido. But such knowledge comes at a terrible price. The enigmatic Endo is bound by disciplines of his own and when the Japanese invade Malaya, threatening to destroy Philip’s family and everything he loves, he realises that his trusted sensei – to whom he owes absolute loyalty – has been harbouring a devastating secret. Philip must risk everything in an attempt to save those he has placed in mortal danger and discover who and what he really is. With masterful and gorgeous narrative, replete with exotic and captivating images, sounds and aromas – of rain swept beaches, magical mountain temples, pungent spice warehouses, opulent colonial ballrooms and fetid and forbidding rainforests – Tan Twan Eng weaves a haunting and unforgettable story of betrayal, barbaric cruelty, steadfast courage and enduring love.

The Garden of Evening MistsGarden of Evening MistIn the highlands of Malaya, a woman sets out to build a memorial to her sister, killed at the hands of the Japanese during the brutal Occupation of their country. Yun Ling’s quest leads her to The Garden of Evening Mists, and to Aritomo, a man of extraordinary skill and reputation, once the gardener of the Emperor of Japan. When she accepts his offer to become his apprentice, she begins a journey into her past, inextricably linked with the secrets of her troubled country’s history.

Many years ago I read several books by Nevil Shute. This was my favourite.  You may have seen the film, but the book is even better.

A Town Like AliceTown Like AliceJean Paget is just twenty years old and working in Malaya when the Japanese invasion begins.

When she is captured she joins a group of other European women and children whom the Japanese force to march for miles through the jungle – an experience that leads to the deaths of many.

Due to her courageous spirit and ability to speak Malay, Jean takes on the role of leader of the sorry gaggle of prisoners and many end up owing their lives to her indomitable spirit. While on the march, the group run into some Australian prisoners, one of whom, Joe Harman, helps them steal some food, and is horrifically punished by the Japanese as a result.

After the war, Jean tracks Joe down in Australia and together they begin to dream of surmounting the past and transforming his one-horse outback town into a thriving community like Alice Springs…

The Separation by Dinah JefferiesSeparationThe SeparationDinah Jefferies’ stunning debut novel, is the heartbreaking tale of a family fractured by lies and one mother’s love reaching across the distance of years and continents.

A country at war with itself,
a family divided and betrayed,
a bond that can never be broken…

Malaya, 1955. Lydia Cartwright returns from visiting a sick friend to an empty house. The servants are gone. The phone is dead. Where is her husband Alec? Her young daughters, Emma and Fleur?

Fearful and desperate, she contacts the British District Officer and learns that Alec has been posted up country. But why didn’t he wait? Why did he leave no message?

Lydia’s search takes her on a hazardous journey through war-torn jungle. Forced to turn to Jack Harding, a man she’d vowed to leave in her past, she sacrifices everything to be reunited with her family.

And while carrying her own secrets, Lydia will soon face a devastating betrayal which may be more than she can bear . . .

My review of The Separation

The Planter’s Wife by Ann BennettPlanter1938: Juliet and her sister Rose arrive in Penang to stay with an aunt, after the death of their father. Juliet quickly falls under the spell of Gavin Crosby, a plantation owner, who despite his wealth, charm and good looks is shunned by the local community. Rushed into marriage, Juliet is unprepared for the devastating secrets she uncovers on Gavin’s plantation, and the bad blood between Gavin and his brother…

But in 1941 the Japanese occupy Malaya and Singapore sweeping away that world and changing Juliet’s life forever.

For decades after the war which robbed her of everyone she loved, Juliet lives as a recluse back on the plantation. But in 1962 the sudden appearance of Mary, a young woman from an orphanage in Indonesia, forces Juliet to embark on a journey into the past, and to face up to the heart-breaking truths she’s buried for so long.

My review of The Planter’s Wife

Han Suyin is always a writer of choice:

And The Rain My DrinkAnd the rainIt is 1948 and the British in Malaya are struggling to put down a Communist uprising and deal with rising nationalism in the colony. Chinese girl Suyin falls in love with a British police officer and is able to see both sides of the war but she sympathizes more with the Communist guerrillas and is critical of the British colonials. A much-loved classic and an important work in the canon of Singapore literature.

And now one I haven’t read but which is on my tbr pile

The Night Tiger by Yangsze ChooNight TigerIn 1930s colonial Malaya, a dissolute British doctor receives a surprise gift of an eleven-year-old Chinese houseboy. Sent as a bequest from an old friend, young Ren has a mission: to find his dead master’s severed finger and reunite it with his body. Ren has forty-nine days, or else his master’s soul will roam the earth forever.

Ji Lin, an apprentice dressmaker, moonlights as a dancehall girl to pay her mother’s debts. One night, Ji Lin’s dance partner leaves her with a gruesome souvenir that leads her on a crooked, dark trail.

As time runs out for Ren’s mission, a series of unexplained deaths occur amid rumours of tigers who turn into men. In their journey to keep a promise and discover the truth, Ren and Ji Lin’s paths will cross in ways they will never forget.

To read Jill’s personal list of books set in Singapore look here

 

Perfect by Rachel Joyce #BookReview

Only when the clock stops does time come to life

Perfect

Summer, 1972: In the claustrophobic heat, eleven-year-old Byron and his friend begin ‘Operation Perfect’, a hapless mission to rescue Byron’s mother from impending crisis.

Winter, present day: As frost creeps across the moor, Jim cleans tables in the local café, a solitary figure struggling with OCD. His job is a relief from the rituals that govern his nights.

Little would seem to connect them except that two seconds can change everything.

And if your world can be shattered in an instant, can time also put it right?

This is a story of details; of the few seconds which can alter life and the routines which keep us sane.  The hot summer of 1972 is vividly recreated at Cranham House, a desirable Georgian home standing alone on the moor.  In a house where, “the air was thick with Vim and Pledge polish,” Diana maintains an immaculate life for Byron & his young sister while her husband works away from home all week.  Each morning after a healthy breakfast they get into the new Jaguar driving Byron to Winston House private school in his smart, neatly pressed uniform, but on the day when two seconds are removed from time, everything changes.

Byron’s friend James is full of clever ideas and he also has a crush on Diana. “Her eyes were bright, her skirt pressed, her hair blow-dried,” and she was naturally kind.  When her world starts to fall apart the 2 boys do their best to help her.

In parallel chapters we meet Jim in the present day, living in a campervan on the edge of a new housing estate and working in a supermarket café.  As a result of his stay in Besley Hill, “where the mad people lived,” he has a stammer and has difficulty interacting with people. But he is finding it difficult to ignore the new cook Eileen, a large lady with titian hair and her laugh has, “something so chaotic about the noise, so joyous and unequivocal.”

And it is chaos which causes the major events in this novel.  It is a fascinating tale of appearances, mistakes and human relationships.  There is mystery as to who Jim is and what has happened to him and what Diana’s background was before she met her husband.  Despite the slow pace I found it compulsive reading.

Perfect on Amazon UK

Rachel Joyce

Rachel Joyce

Rachel Joyce is the author of the Sunday Times and international bestsellers The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Perfect, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, and a collection of interlinked short stories, A Snow Garden & Other Stories. Her work has been translated into thirty-six languages.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book prize and longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Rachel was awarded the Specsavers National Book Awards ‘New Writer of the Year’ in December 2012 and shortlisted for the ‘UK Author of the Year’ 2014.

Rachel has also written over twenty original afternoon plays and adaptations of the classics for BBC Radio 4, including all the Bronte novels. She moved to writing after a long career as an actor, performing leading roles for the RSC, the National Theatre and Cheek by Jowl.

The Work of Art: A Regency Romance by Mimi Matthews #RBRT #NewRelease

work of art

An Uncommon Beauty…

Hidden away in rural Devonshire, Phyllida Satterthwaite has always been considered more odd than beautiful. But in London, her oddity has made her a sensation. Far worse, it’s caught the eye of the sinister Duke of Moreland—a notorious art collector obsessed with acquiring one-of-a-kind treasures. To escape the duke’s clutches, she’s going to need a little help.

An Unlikely Hero…

Captain Arthur Heywood’s days of heroism are long past. Grievously injured in the Peninsular War, he can no longer walk unaided, let alone shoot a pistol. What use can he possibly be to a damsel in distress? He has nothing left to offer except his good name.
Can a marriage of convenience save Philly from the vengeful duke? Or will life with Arthur put her—and her heart—in more danger than ever?

Phyllida Satterthwaite is presented to us surrounded by a cacophony of misbehaving dogs, all of whom she owns and cares about. Insisting on bringing them to the London home of her uncle Edgar Townsend, she must soon find a husband to provide for her, now she is penniless.  It is apparent that she puts animals before people and she seems unaware of her beauty, only thinking herself odd because of her mismatched eye colours.  But for one person, the Duke of Moreland, she is a work of art, which he wishes to add to his collection.

It might have gone according to Townsend’s plan had it not been for the noble actions of Captain Arthur Heywood, but what use is he, so badly injured from the battle of Albuera that he can hardly walk. Yet Arthur and Philly are drawn together because they don’t fit into the artificial society of Regency London.  Arthur fears a terrible fate will befall Philly and he is prepared to use his wealth, and power to keep her safe.  But can there be a happy ending?  Arthur is damaged, physically and mentally, while Philly is an innocent, gentle girl who longs for independence and a safe place to look after her animals.

As with all Miss Matthews’ novels, it is the conversations between hero and heroine which catch the imagination. As love grows, problems increase. Philly is still in danger and Arthur is not fit enough to protect her.  There are credible misunderstandings and a complex plot but the intimacy of this delightful couple is such a pleasure to read.

The Work of Art can be pre-ordered on Amazon Uk for delivery on July 24th

You read my review of The Lost Letter, a Victorian romance by Mimi Matthews here

Hope by Terry Tyler #NewRelease #DystopianBritain #BookReview

 

Hope

Hope takes us to an alternative UK in 2028. Just 5 years earlier, shiny new Prime Minister, Guy Morrisey, had been elected, part of Brand Morrissey, with his wife Mona, a fitness guru, and two clean living photogenic children. Now we meet Lila Stone, whose earnings come mainly from her social comment and review blog, content with the lifestyle she shares with her flatmates, Nick, a successful online journalist and Kendall, a sweet curvaceous girl. But slowly things begin to fall apart. Queues outside food banks become longer each day, Nutricorp, a company started by Mona’s father, is becoming increasingly powerful and Mona’s project to make ordinary folk #FitForWork attacks their confidence and even their livelihood.

Lila’s childhood as a foster child has made her independent, and she is determined to help those in need, but she is reluctant to seek help for herself. Gradually she, Nick and Kendall find their comfortable life moving to “Just Getting By” and then “Totally Fucked”. Will they end up entering one of the villages for those who fail to support themselves, called Hope?

The frightening thing about this novel is that it is not so different to the world we live in now. The toxic effect of social media on well-being and how easily powerful factions can distort facts is present in our society and with the slightest shift we could be in Lila’s place. Another really powerful dystopian novel by Terry Tyler which could so easily become our reality.

Hope can be found on Amazon UK

My review of Terry Tyler’s other haunting picture of Britain’s future Tipping Point

Marked for Revenge: An Art Heist Thriller by Jennifer S. Alderson #NewRelease #FridayReads

Marked

An adrenaline-fueled adventure set in the Netherlands, Croatia, Italy, and Turkey about stolen art, the mafia, and a father’s vengeance.

This is the third of Zelda Richardson’s adventures in the art world. While working on her Master’s thesis she had been an unpaid intern. Now in her first paid job as a museum researcher she is anxious to make her mark, but little does she realise that she will soon be a suspect in a daring multiple art theft. This thrilling tale also allows us to view the situation from the viewpoint of the thieves and observe a bitter feud between Luka, a Croatian gangster and Ivan an embittered ex-collaborator, determined to get revenge for the tragic death of his daughter.

While Zelda’s boyfriend, Jacob, is working in Cologne, she spends her free time in Amsterdam, socialising with colleagues at the Amstel Modern Museum and getting to know her neighbour, Gabriella, a talented artist. Shortly after three sketches by famous artists are stolen from the Amstel Museum, Zelda stumbles into trouble when she inadvertently sees a copy of one of the sketches in Gabriella’s studio.  After Gabriella disappears, Zelda’s admission that she has seen a copied painting puts her under suspicion. Zelda is desperate to find Gabriella and clear her name, so she is relieved when noted art recovery investigator, Vincent de Graaf, takes on the case, allowing Zelda to assist him.

This series of daring art thefts are especially intriguing because at each location a card is left by “Robber Hood,” criticising the gallery for lack of fool proof security.  I took great pleasure in the delightful chapter titles, such as, “Balkan Bandits Strike Again”  and “The Audacity of Art Thieves,”  The authors descriptions of action and adventure in Venice and Marmaris bring each site vividly to life and made me keep turning the pages long after I should have turned off the light.

For an illustrated account by Jennifer S Alderson of the locations in her book look here

My review of Zelda’s first escapade in the art world The Lover’s Portrait

Marked for Revenge on Amazon UK

The Inheritance (The Guernsey Novels 7) by Anne Allen #BookReview

Inheritence

This is the second Guernsey novel I have read so I was pleased to recognise some familiar places and people, but previous knowledge is not needed to read this stand-alone story.  Heroine, Tessa is completing her training as a doctor in Exeter and hopes to move into general practice when she is surprised to hear that she has inherited a large house in Guernsey from her Great-Aunt Doris. Returning to the place where she grew up, fills Tess with pleasure but what she should she do with this crumbling old house?  Looking up an old friend gives her a contact which could lead to a new job, so Tess considers returning to Guernsey.

In parallel to the contemporary story, we read the diary of Eugénie written in the 1860s.  A recently widowed French woman, she is Tess’s ancestor.  More tragedy follows when she loses her baby, but she is taken care of by Madame Drouet who is the long-term mistress of Victor Hugo and her life becomes closely linked to the famous couple.

As Tess works out what she wants from life, she meets Jack who supervises the restoration of the house where Eugénie once lived.  Both women have to make decisions about their futures, but Tess has more freedom than her ancestor had in Victorian times.  It is fascinating to read of Victor Hugo’s long sojourn in Guernsey and his magnetic personality.  In contrast, the modern problems encountered by Tess, as a doctor and her growing awareness of her genealogy add great depth to this unusual novel.

The Inheritance is available at Amazon UK

My review of The Betrayal by Anne Allen