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Bamboo Road by Ann Bennett #Bookreview #TuesdayBookBlog

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AB Bamboo Rd

 

This third book in Ann Bennett’s Bamboo Trilogy complements the earlier books but can be read on its own.  It tells the story of Sirinya, a young Thai girl who, with her family, helped some of the prisoners building the Burma railway during the Second World War.  We meet Sirinya when she returns to Thailand in the 1970s after the death of her English husband.  There had been dreadful consequences following from the family’s kind actions during wartime and now Sirinya seeks the person responsible for their betrayal.

 

The awful experiences of the British servicemen and the terrifying bravery of those involved in the Thai underground movement do not make easy reading but I had no idea that local aid had been given and the way they managed to deceive the Japanese soldiers is intriguing.  Sirinya’s family are convincingly portrayed and I desperately hoped for a happy outcome.

 

The contrasting scenery in the countryside, in the rain forest and in Bangkok are vividly described and Sirinya’s feelings of love, despair and acceptance reflect events realistically.  Other characters such as her determined, strong mother, Kitima, the quiet, reserved soldier, Johnny and the gentle, supportive Kasem flesh out this unusual tale with people I could imagine and would like to meet.  A very thought-provoking novel which is well worth reading.

Bamboo Road was recently published on Amazon UK  and on Amazon US

My review of Bamboo Island Book Two in the trilogy can be read here

 

Garden of Stars by Rose Alexander #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

Garden of stars

Garden of Stars is a beautifully written novel, set in London and Portugal. It tells the tale of Sarah Lacey, who returns to Portugal in 2010 wondering whether she will be able to discover the love she had lost 20 years earlier. She has been given a journal by her great aunt, Inês Bretão, who though born in the Alentejo, had married an Englishman in 1934. At first Sarah thinks that the life story of Inês is meant to guide her own actions but she begins to realise that there is a mystery to solve.

But Sarah’s story is also one of love and loss. There is passion and romance and also the quandary of modern family life, of too much work, not enough money and lack of communication. At home, her husband Hugo is looking after her beloved daughters Honor and Rose. In Portugal she has the chance of rediscovering Scott, her first love.

For me, the delight of this book is the description of places in Portugal, both in the 1930s and the 21st century. We visit a cork farm, a vineyard, Lisbon, Estoril and Porto. Both Inês and Sarah love the light, the beauty and the people of Portugal and when Sarah is reunited with Scott, he sums up his feelings in this way.

He had managed to get hold of tickets to see one of Portugal’s most famous fado singers, knowing that Sarah shared his love of this traditional music that sang of saudade, of nostalgia, loss and longing.
“Memories are what make us hurt – we all have our own saudade. My saudade is about you, what I shared with you and lost. When you left without telling me why, you stole my life and my soul.
This is fado. There are no happy endings.”

I found the journal of Inês rather strange. At first she writes in intimate detail, expressing feelings not written for an audience, she writes of things she would not want her husband to read but later she explains little of her life. Only towards the end of the book do we understand why she has given this book to Sarah. Sarah is an easier character to identify with, as she deals with everyday life we can recognise.  Scott said, “There are no happy endings.” I recommend that you read the book to discover whether he was right or wrong.

Garden of Stars is available on Amazon here

Return to the Little French Guest House (La Cour des roses #2) by Helen Pollard #FridayRead #bookreview

Blue skies, new love, and a glass of Bordeaux . . . what could possibly go wrong?

Return

In January, I decided to chase away the winter blues by reading Helen Pollard’s “Little French Guesthouse.”  Now on a sunny Spring break I have picked up “Return to the Little French Guest House.” It was a delight to join heroine Emmy as she began her new job as Rupert’s right hand woman.  Filled with enthusiasm and great ideas she relished the task of putting the Guest House on the map, starting her own online business and developing her budding relationship with charming Anglo-French solicitor, Alain.  But it is not all plain sailing.  A critical review by a vindictive travel blogger instigates cancellations, a major booking for a large family was never recorded by Rupert’s wife, Gloria, and both she and Emmy’s ex-partner Nathan are still causing trouble.

However Emmy does manage to spend time with new friend Sophie visiting chateaux and nearby towns and she becomes closer to Rupert’s friends, especially Jonathan, who is beginning to feel his advancing age.  It is a warm community, always willing to help each other out and most of the guests enjoy their holidays immensely.  Once Alain returns from Paris, he and Emmy grow closer but will their previous relationships cause them grief?

There are some very humorous scenes occurring in the guest house and delightful repartee around Rupert’s dinner table.  Combining these scenes with lovely descriptive passages and the romantic experiences of a likeable heroine, make this an entertaining follow-up not to be missed by those who read the first book.

You can find Return to the Little French Guest House at Amazon UK

My review of the original Little French Guest House is here

Helen Pollard

As a child, Helen had a vivid imagination fuelled by her love of reading, so she started to create her own stories in a notebook.

She still prefers fictional worlds to real life, believes characterisation is the key to a successful book, and enjoys infusing her writing with humour and heart.

Helen is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and The Society of Authors.

The Curse of Arundel Hall: A Yellow Cottage Vintage Mystery by J. New #FridayRead #RBRT

Arundel

Although this is not the first of the Yellow Cottage cosy mysteries, Chapter One introduces the heroine, Ella, and explains why, as an intelligent 24 year old widow, she is living on the island of Linhay needing to occupy her life with a challenge.

 

Set in the 1930s, there are parallels with the investigations of Miss Marple, but in Ella’s case her help is welcomed by Sir Albert Montisford, Police Commissioner at Scotland Yard.  In addition to the usual cast of suspects, the local Lord, a spurned spinster, a handsome doctor and a disreputable bachelor, Ella has a phantom cat and sees ghosts others are unaware of.  New developments in police methods such as finger-printing are explained and the local village provides a range of interesting characters.

 

At first the story moves rather slowly as Ella researches the history of Arundel Hall and why it is cursed.  I felt Phantom the cat should have had a more active part in the story and I kept trying to locate the island of Linhay, which was such a short drive or train ride from Scotland Yard.  Once the murder had occurred, the pace increased and the reader is presented with several possibilities for the culprit.

 

For me the most interesting part are the questions raised towards the end of the book.  What is the mysterious background of Ella’s housekeeper and who is the person who telephones Yellow Cottage filling Ella with dismay?  Definitely an invitation to read the next book.  If you like a light read in the style of Agatha Christie or Midsummer Murders you will enjoy this novel.

PS I love the black cat on the cover picture!

 The Curse of Arundel Hall is available on Amazon UK

J New

J. New is the British author of paranormal cosy mysteries, murder mysteries and magical YA with a hint of romance. A voracious reader and writer all her life, she took her first foray into Indie publishing in 2013, and has never looked back.
She has an eclectic reading taste, ranging from the Magic of Terry Pratchett, JK Rowling, Tolkien and Neil Gaiman, to Dean Koontz, Eion Colfer, Anne Rice and Agatha Christie. A lover of murder mysteries set in past times, where steam trains, afternoon tea and house staff abound. She is convinced she was born in the wrong era as she has a particular aversion to cooking and housework.
She also has an impossible bucket list, which includes travelling on the Orient Express with Hercule Poirot, shopping in Diagon Alley with Sirius Black, lazing around the Shire with Gandalf and Bilbo, exploring Pico Mundo with Odd Thomas and having Tea at the Ritz with Miss Marple.
Funds from the sale of her books go towards her dog rescue effort.

Rosie's Book Review team 1

Exposure by Rose Edmunds

exposure

The return of Crazy Amy in this nail-biting story, opens with drama and amusement. You have no need to have read Rose Edmunds’ previous book, Concealment as you will soon know a great deal about Amy and her devilish alter ego, Little Amy, within the first few pages. But Amy is a highly intelligent, talented lady who has discovered a conscience and after the loss of her well-paid, city career in London, she needs a project.

Returning to her life is old-flame Toby Marchpole, an investigative financial journalist. While prying into possible fraud at IPT plc, a distributer and retailer of plumbing components, he is shocked to see the firm’s finance director, Venner collapse in front of him, spluttering, “Tell Amy….” He soon discovers that Venner was a former colleague of Amy Robinson and realises that it’s time to renew their friendship.

I know nothing of city finance, but then I also know nothing about spies or murder, so what is important is that the thrilling events keep me reading and the complexities of the fraudulent actions are clearly explained. This is a story which is a worthwhile read for two reasons; Amy’s adventures keep you on a knife edge and at the same time you warm to her flawed personality, longing for her to find happiness.

Adopting a new identity, Amy is unsure whether to trust Toby and she is sometimes unwise in those she does choose as trustworthy. Once again, she encounters DCI Carmody, with whom she had hoped for a relationship, but he is chilly and judgemental, knowing her failings and trying to deny his own feelings.

This book stands alone as an enjoyable, exciting page-turner but I would also recommend Concealment either before or after reading Exposure, and you never know, Amy may return for another adventure after the exciting final twist in this story.

Exposure  will be published on March 24th 2017
I reviewed this book as a member of Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team.

You can read my review of Concealment here

Rosie's Book Review team 1

Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley #BookReview

new JA

On the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen I feel beholden to return to her timeless stories, but in Lucy Worsley’s book I have been given additional insight into Jane’ character and sensitivity. “Jane Austen at Home” is assiduously well documented, showing a depth of research and most importantly, a grasp of Jane’s spirit.

At first sight, the thick book of small text seems daunting, but as you begin to read you are invited in to Steventon Rectory and soon come to know Jane’s family; her loving father, unsympathetic mother, the legion of brothers and dear sister Cassandra. From Jane’s letters and many accounts by family members, Lucy has built up a clear picture of her everyday life and the way in which her homes are reflected in her books.

It is a delight to read Lucy’s own voice as she reveals her discoveries about Jane Austen,
in her letters – “her personality is there, bold as brass, bursting with life, buoyant or recalcitrant as each day required.”
Jane’s letters were “double-voiced,” giving an entertaining account to be read aloud, but with a subtext that her nearest and dearest would understand. Lucy Worsley also parallels Jane’s letters to the tweets of J K Rowling!

It is the first time I had fully appreciated that the demands of the long Napoleonic War, raising prices and causing shortages, made middling families, such as Jane’s, experience hardship but they also brought the military officers in their dashing uniforms, both aspects being the meat for Jane’s plots.

The retirement of Reverend Austen and the family’s move to Bath are described in intricate detail, underlining the dreadful effect on Jane and Cassandra. We read of the sale of all the family’s books and of Jane’s piano and her music. Leaving her home of 25 years, they move from one rented house to another among the “pea-soup fogs in Bath.” Her father’s death causing a large drop in their income shows how much she understood the importance of money to her heroines.

The frustration of Jane Austen’s life story is how poorly she was acknowledged as an author, during her lifetime and what a pittance she received when they were published. Despite the help of her father and her brother in finding publishers, novels and women writers were not yet considered worthy of great praise.

Reaching the chapter where Jane, Cassandra and Mrs Austen move back to Hampshire and settle into Chawton Cottage, I also felt as if I was coming home. I could see her sitting by her table in the cottage window, trying to write, while others moved about the compact house. The last few years of her life show Jane as a calm, determined woman with the same purpose and energy as her heroines.
This is a book for lovers of Jane Austen’s books who wish to know more about this quiet, enigmatic person. Did she have romances, were there regrets that she remained single and had no children? Did she achieve what she wished to accomplish? I suggest you read “Jane Austen at Home” to look for those answers.

Jane Austen at Home will be published on May 18th 2017 and can be pre-ordered at Amazon UK or Amazon US

(A review copy of this book was kindly provided by the publishers, Hodder & Stoughton)

Lucy Worsley

worsley

Dr Lucy Worsley is Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, the charity which looks after the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace and Kensington Palace.

Her first paid employment after studying history at Oxford was at a minor stately home called Milton Manor, near Abingdon, where she fed the llamas. After that she became an Inspector of Ancient Monuments at English Heritage, doing historical research at Bolsover Castle in Derbyshire: this led to her first book, ‘Cavalier’, about a dissolute Royalist duke. Her work as a curator at Kensington Palace led to ‘Courtiers’, which was followed by ‘If Walls Could Talk’, ‘A Very British Murder’, and her first historical novel for young readers, ‘Eliza Rose’, which is set at the Tudor court.

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls #TuesdayBookBlog

the-glass-castle

“I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening (party), when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster … She had tied rags around her shoulders to keep out the spring chill … To the people walking by, she probably looked like any of the thousands of homeless people in New York City … I was embarrassed by them, too, and ashamed of myself for wearing pearls and living on Park Avenue while my parents were busy keeping warm and finding something to eat.”

 

This is a startling memoir of a successful journalist’s journey from the deserted and dusty mining towns of the American Southwest, to an antique filled apartment on Park Avenue. Jeanette Walls narrates her nomadic and adventurous childhood with her dreaming, ‘brilliant’ but alcoholic parents.

At the age of seventeen she escapes on a Greyhound bus to New York with her older sister; her younger siblings follow later. After pursuing the education and civilisation her parents sought to escape, Jeanette eventually succeeds in her quest for the ‘mundane, middle class existence’ she had always craved. In her apartment, overlooked by ‘a portrait of someone else’s ancestor’ she recounts poignant remembered images of star watching with her father, juxtaposed with recollections of irregular meals, accidents and police-car chases and reveals her complex feelings of shame, guilt, pity and pride toward her parents.

 

I expect those of us reading Jeanette Walls’ book, who do not live in the U.S. see this story from a different perspective to those who know her as a journalist.  “The Glass Castle” instantly reminded me of Helen Forrester’s “Twopence to Cross the Mersey”; a different place, a different time but both books autobiographies about poverty and parental neglect.

 

The world in which Jeanette grew up, was not such a shock after reading Bill Bryson’s accounts of life in some parts of the U.S. but it does seem amazing that the children managed to escape being taken into care.  What is surprising is her ability to describe her upbringing in such a lucid, unemotional way.  It is clear that her dysfunctional parents were imaginative and talented and that her father, at least, cared deeply for her except when his alcoholism caused him to act despicably.  It is difficult to imagine how she could forgive him when he stole their savings and he certainly never built the glass castle, but at least he taught her how to dream.

 

Jeanette’s mother was much more difficult to empathise with.  A self-confessed “excitement addict”, she seemed to have no maternal instinct at all.  What she did have was a close bond with her husband even when he let them down, probably because of her inclination for self-destruction whenever things seemed to be going well.

 

The stories of life in the desert were fascinating but the events in cold Virginia were much more depressing.  And yet, even when being bullied, Jeanette remained positive.  The optimistic tone of the book is incredible.

 

On the back cover, a reviewer has written, “Jeannette Walls has the talent of knowing exactly how to let a story tell itself.”  How true.  You feel as if you are part of the story not just seeing it through her eyes.  A fascinating read.

 

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