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

 

A Convenient Fiction (Parish Orphans of Devon Book 3) by Mimi Matthews #NewRelease #TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT

Convenient Fiction

She Needed A Husband…

It’s been three years since Laura Hayes’s father died, leaving her and her invalid brother to subsist on the income from the family’s failing perfume business. But time is swiftly running out. What she needs is a husband, and fast. A noble gentleman who can rescue them all from penury. When a mysterious stranger arrives in the village, he seems a perfect candidate. But Alex Archer is no hero. In fact, he just might be the opposite.

He Wanted a Fortune…

Alex has no tolerance for sentiment. He’s returned to England for one reason only: to find a wealthy wife. A country-bred heiress in Surrey seems the perfect target. But somewhere between the village railway station and the manor house his mercenary plan begins to unravel. And it’s all the fault of Laura Hayes–a lady as unsuitable as she is enchanting.

From the beaches of Margate to the lavender fields of Provence, a grudging friendship slowly blossoms into something more. But when scandal threatens, can a man who has spent his entire life playing the villain, finally become a hero? Or will the lure of easy riches once again outweigh the demands of his heart?

My Review

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife,” but for Alex Archer the opposite is true. He has come to Surrey in search of an heiress. Such a man doesn’t sound like a hero, but Alex has hidden depths. He is one of a group of boys from an orphanage who grew up to achieve success but in his case his life has not given him happiness.

Laura had a happy childhood but after her father’s death, she and her sickly brother have a limited income, maintaining respectability while submitting to the patronising charity of local heiress, Henrietta.  Laura is a capable, determined woman.  She does her best to extricate the family’s once successful perfume business from a wily solicitor but her position as a single woman means she has little power.

The tumultuous relationship which develops between Alex and Laura promises no happy ending, since each aim for a different conclusion to their problems but their conversation and interaction is fascinating to read.  We come to realise that such independent thinkers are well matched, but fate seems to be against them.

For those who have read the previous books in this series, there is an interesting meeting with the other parish orphans, but it is not necessary to have read those books first.  The books of Mimi Matthews are unique. Although historical romances they do not follow the usual template.  With a nod to Jane Austen, these frank, determined heroines break down their heroes’ reserve causing the men to admit their true feelings. There is an immediacy about this story which makes easy reading for a modern reader.  Another delightful book by this talented, knowledgeable author.

A Convenient Fiction can be found on Amazon UK

My review of The Matrimonial Advertisement Parish Orphans of Devon Book 1

 

The Garden of Lost and Found by Harriet Evans #BookReview #SundayBlogShare

Garden

“The future is yet unwritten; the past is burnt and gone”

This is a story across four generations of the happiness and suffering of the women who came to live in Nightingale House.  Initially we meet Liddy and her artist husband Ned Horner living in the house she had inherited from her mother.  They seem to have lived an idyllic married life in the house and garden but now in 1918 tragedy has touched them. But the story moves back in time to describe the time when Liddy lived in London and she and her sister Mary met penniless Ned and his generous friend Dalbeattie, an architect. Their interactions are the basis for an incredible saga and the repercussions continue into the next two generations.  Reading of Liddy’s cruel treatment at home, where she is subject to gaslighting, is hard, but her inner strength carries her through to a future with Ned.

In contrast, we suddenly move forward to a typical 21st century family, meeting Liddy’s great grand-daughter, Juliet an art historian, struggling to bring up 3 children in a troubled marriage.  The descriptions of a teenager, small girl and a toddler are hilarious and realistic, and I could feel for Juliet as she tried to maintain her professionalism at work with so little support from her husband.  Discovering she has inherited Nightingale House changes her life dramatically and is not welcomed by her children.  In many ways I preferred reading about Juliet to the story of Liddy and of Stella, Juliet’s grandmother, but they are essential to the person Juliet is, to her love for the house and garden and her intense interest in art.

The descriptions of the garden, the Doll’s House and the Dovecote, used as Ned’s studio, are vivid and pleasurable and the context of Edwardian art, fascinating to read. A book which should appeal to those who like contemporary or historical novels with an enticing mystery to keep you interested to the very end.

The Garden of Lost and Found on Amazon UK

Harriet Evans

Harriet Evans

The Mermaid and the Bear by Ailish Sinclair #BookReview #RBRT #NewRelease

The Mermaid

Isobell needs to escape. She has to. Her life depends on it.

She has a plan and it’s a well thought-out, well observed plan, to flee her privileged life in London and the cruel man who would marry her, and ruin her, and make a fresh start in Scotland.

She dreams of faery castles, surrounded by ancient woodlands and misty lochs… and maybe even romance, in the dark and haunted eyes of a mysterious Laird.

Despite the superstitious nature of the time and place, her dreams seem to be coming true, as she finds friendship and warmth, love and safety. And the chance for a new beginning…

Until the past catches up with her.

Set in the late sixteenth century, at the height of the Scottish witchcraft accusations, The Mermaid and The Bear is a story of triumph over evil, hope through adversity, faith in humankind and – above all – love.

My Review

Scotland in 1597 was not a place to be a woman, especially a woman of faith, opinions or healing gifts.  But Isobell has fled from her London home to avoid marriage to a cruel Englishman and has found kindness and friendship in a Scottish castle.  Hiding her wealthy background, she starts work as a kitchen maid but her clumsy mistakes reveal her lack of experience.  While Bessie, the housekeeper guards her secrets, Isobell must be more cautious with Agnes, the spiteful governess and Christen, the aristocratic lady of the house.

Soon Isobell is captivated by the impressive castle and its fairy tale setting and she finds meeting the Laird is an overwhelming experience. It is a pleasure to read of their growing romance despite misunderstandings but as they grow closer, others gather to cause pain and suffering.

This carefully researched story is based on true events in Aberdeen when cruel men gained power over innocent women by accusing them of witchcraft.  It is a horrifying story from our history, mirrored in other parts of the United Kingdom.  Thankfully in The Mermaid and the Bear the sadness is tempered by love and kinship in a believable and satisfying conclusion.  An enchanting novel.

The Mermaid and the Bear can be pre-ordered for release on Oct. 18th at Amazon UK

Ailish

Ailish Sinclair

Ailish Sinclair trained as a dancer and taught dance for many years, before working in schools to help children with special needs. A short stint as a housekeeper in a castle fired her already keen interest in untold stories of the past and she sat down to research and write.

She now lives beside a loch with her husband and two children where she still dances and writes and eats rather a lot of chocolate.

To learn more about the beautiful Scottish countryside, castles and the Standing Stones please go to  Ailishsinclair.com

The Prodigal Son by Anna Belfrage (The Graham Saga Book 3) #BookReview

Prodigal

Safely returned from an involuntary stay in Virginia, Matthew Graham finds the Scottish Lowlands torn asunder by religious strife. His Restored Majesty, Charles II, requires all his subjects to swear fealty to him and the Church of England, riding roughshod over any opposition.

In Ayrshire, people close ranks around their evicted Presbyterian ministers. But disobedience comes at a high price, and Alex becomes increasingly nervous as to what her Matthew is risking by his support of the clandestine ministers – foremost amongst them the charismatic Sandy Peden.

Privately, Alex considers Sandy an enervating fanatic and all this religious fervour is incomprehensible to her. So when Matthew repeatedly sets his faith and ministers before his own safety, he puts their marriage under severe strain.
The situation is further complicated by the presence of Ian, the son Matthew was cruelly duped into disowning several years ago. Now Matthew wants Ian back and Alex isn’t entirely sure this is a good thing.

Things are brought to a head when Matthew places all their lives in the balance to save his dear preacher from the dragoons.
How much is Matthew willing to risk? How much will he ultimately lose?

My Review

I have intended to read a book from The Graham Saga for some time but I chose this particular book because of its inclusion of the story of the Scottish Covenanters who risked death and persecution to maintain their Presbyterian faith, especially as this included my own ancestors.

Although it would be best to read this saga from Book One, I was quickly able to enter into the storyline by the author’s reference to relevant parts of the backstory.  Essentially this is an alternative Outlander story; in 2002 Alexandra has been thrown back into 17th century Scotland where she meets handsome, brave Matthew Graham.  In The Prodigal Son we find Alex struggling with the physical demands of life as a mother on a Scottish farm, passionately in love with her husband Matthew but increasingly worried by his reckless support of Alexander Peden, “the Prophet,” who is sought by the English soldiers of Charles II.

This complex plot highlights the clash of opinions about the behaviour of men and women in a marriage between a 21st century woman and a 17th century man but it also shows the power of love and understanding.  There are interesting discussions about beliefs between Alex and her husband and sister-in-law, and her difficulty in coping with mistreatment by the soldiers is accentuated by her modern background.

I found this timeslip story fascinating and now wish to read the first book in the series to discover some of the mysterious events which brought Matthew and Alex together.

The Prodigal Son on Amazon UK

Anna

Introducing Anna Belfrage

No Stone Unturned (The Lucy Lawrence Mysteries Book 1) by Pam Lecky #BookReview

No Stone

A suspicious death, stolen gems and an unclaimed reward: who will be the victor in a deadly game of cat and mouse?

It is winter in 1886. Lucy Lawrence sits in her comfortable home in St John’s Wood with only Horace the cat as a companion. As so often, her husband Charlie is away.  Their marriage which started with her elopement from her Yorkshire home has lost the love and excitement of those early days, but Lucy is loyal and hopes one day that they will be blessed by a child.  But her world falls apart when a policeman takes her to a mortuary in Soho to identify the body of her husband who has been killed in an accident.  There she meets Phineas Stone, a tall distinguished private investigator, who tells the police that Charlie was the lead in his current case.

Soon, despite her misgivings, Lucy is entangled in those enquiries, since Charlie has fallen foul of a dangerous gang of thieves.  She wishes to clear his name, but she is unsure whether Mr Stone is her friend or not.  When a threatening visitor appears, she decides to return to her estranged family in Yorkshire, but this leads her into even more trouble, and she is forced to turn to Phineas for help.

Lucy Lawrence is an excellent heroine, brave and clever, she is determined to discover the truth about her husband’s part in the case of stolen gems and fraud and with the help of her enterprising maid, she goes under cover and solves the crime.  This is the first of a series and I am looking forward to Lucy’s next mystery when she travels to Egypt.

Pam Lecky

Pam Lecky

Pam Lecky is an Irish writer of historical fiction with a particular love of the late Victorian era and early 20th century.  Awaiting the invention of time travel, she has to be content with writing about these periods instead.  Her debut novel, The Bowes Inheritance, was awarded the B.R.A.G. Medallion; was shortlisted for the Carousel Aware Prize 2016; made ‘Editor’s Choice’ by the Historical Novel Society; long-listed for the Historical Novel Society 2016 Indie Award; and chosen as a Discovered Diamond in February 2017.  In April 2018, she published a collection of all her short stories, entitled Past Imperfect. With settings as diverse as WW1 era Dublin and a lonely haunted lighthouse, romance, mystery and the supernatural await you.  Last month she published the first Lucy Lawson Mystery aptly named No Stone Unturned.

No Stone Unturned is available at Amazon UK

T is for Dido Twite from Black Hearts in Battersea #AtoZChallenge #TuesdayBookBlog

Hearts  Black Hearts

Joan Aiken was an amazing writer of children’s fiction about the supernatural or alternative history. The long series of fat books which begin with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase are set in Britain in a version of late 17th century history where James II was never deposed in the Glorious Revolution, but supporters of the House of Hanover are active enemies of the monarchy. Wolves have invaded the country from Europe via the newly built Channel Tunnel. The child hero or heroine varies from one book to another, but my favourite appears first in book 2, Black Hearts in Battersea. Here I met Dido Twite, a poor ragamuffin girl who helps young apprentice painter, Simon and the wealthy, Sophie. Dido Twite speaks appallingly, dresses scruffily and is defiantly independent. She also proves to be loyal and brave.  The children deal with wolves, kidnapping and shipwreck.

Part of Dido’s endearing quality is her personal vocabulary.  In distress she exclaims, “Croopus!” Her friendly greeting is, “Wotcher my cully,” and we understand her meaning when she says, “betwaddled,” or “havey-cavey.” It is such a relief when this extraordinary girl reappears in Night Birds in Nantucket and other books in series.

Dido Twite

This will be the last of my #AtoZChallenges for two reasons. Firstly, because I am travelling for several days with limited Internet connection but secondly because I am uninspired by the last few letters of the alphabet.  Perhaps you can suggest suitable book characters you might have included in your list of favourites.

My A to Z favourite Book Characters