Bamboo Heart by Ann Bennett #BookReview

B Heart

Bamboo Heart has been waiting on my Kindle for a little while. I loved Bamboo Island and I found Bamboo Road really moving but I was worried that this, the first book of the Bamboo Trilogy might be very upsetting. Indeed, the Prologue takes us straight to a Japanese Prisoner of War Camp in 1943, where Tom Ellis has been incarcerated in a narrow individual earth lock-up. He keeps his spirits up by thinking of the girl he left in Penang.

The book moves on to London in 1986 where Laura Ellis, Tom’s daughter returns from Paris to see her father, who is sick. A successful city lawyer, she is dissatisfied with her life and worried about the actions of her boyfriend, Luke. Finding a photo of a young woman with oriental features, named Joy de Souza, Laura decides to travel to Thailand to learn more about her father’s wartime experiences and then on to Penang where he may have met Joy.

The book takes us back to pre-war London where Tom, also unhappy with his life, had decided to travel out east to manage workers on a rubber plantation. He becomes part of the expat community, but he also meets a local teacher who becomes very important to him. His easy-going life is suddenly changed by the approach of the Japanese, when he must become a soldier, but he becomes a captive in Singapore and is taken to the Death Railway.

The book reveals the suffering of so many soldiers and the repercussions in their lives post war. Laura’s experiences in Thailand and Penang are also life-changing but in a positive way. This is a challenging but fascinating story of the tragedy of war but hope for the future.

My interview about the Bamboo Trilogy is here  The book is available on Amazon UK

 

The Lost Letter by Mimi Matthews #amreading #BookReview

 

Lost Letter

Here is a classic tale of love lost and ensuing misfortune. Paralleling the situation in the tale of Beauty and the Beast, the heroine, Sylvia Stafford finds herself in a stately manor house where the Earl of Radcliffe, badly injured in the Indian rebellion, hides himself away from society so no-one can see his facial scars.

But Miss Stafford had originally met the Earl 3 years earlier in London, when he was Colonel Sebastian Conrad. There had been flirtation, the exchange of kisses and he had taken a lock of her hair as a keepsake. Since then, her circumstances had changed dramatically. Her father, losing all his money at the gaming tables, committed suicide. Penniless and alone, Sylvia had accepted a position as Governess with a family in Cheapside and Sebastian had not contacted her.

Sylvia Stafford is a determined, proud, young lady of 25. She carries out her teaching duties enthusiastically and will not demean herself for the sake of money. Sebastian now believes that she is a fortune hunter, despite the efforts of his sister, Lady Julia Harker, to bring the two together.

Mimi Matthews writing reflects her deep academic knowledge of Victorian social history, subtly making every action and speech believable. Much of the story is told through conversations between the two protagonists and this engages the reader with their personalities and a wish for their happiness. The essence of this thwarted romance was deceit and misunderstanding and they extricate themselves from this in a credible way. I found myself rooting for Sylvia and enjoying every moment of this delightful novel.

The Lost Letter will be published on September 19th and can be preordered on Amazon

Mimi Matthews

Mimi Matthews is the author of The Pug Who Bit Napoleon: Animal Tales of the 18th and 19th Centuries (to be released by Pen and Sword Books in November 2017) and A Victorian Lady’s Guide to Fashion and Beauty (to be released by Pen and Sword Books in 2018).  She researches and writes on all aspects of nineteenth century history—from animals, art, and etiquette to fashion, beauty, feminism, and law.  Her scrupulously cited articles have been published on various academic and history sites, including the Victorian Web and the Journal of Victorian Culture, and are also syndicated weekly at Bust Magazine.

When not writing historical non-fiction, Mimi authors exquisitely proper Victorian romance novels with dark, brooding heroes and intelligent, pragmatic heroines.  She is a member of Romance Writers of America, The Beau Monde, Savvy Authors, and English Historical Fiction Authors, and is currently represented by Serendipity Literary Agency in New York. Her debut Victorian romance The Lost Letter will be released in September 2017.

In her other life, Mimi is an attorney with both a Juris Doctor and a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature.  She resides in California with her family—which includes an Andalusian dressage horse, two Shelties, and two Siamese cats.

https://www.mimimatthews.com/

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The Redoubtable Miss Fisher #amreading #BookReview #TVcrime

Miss-Fisher-s-Murder-mysteries

I have recently become a fan of the wonderful Miss Fisher mysteries on TV. Set in Melbourne during the 1920s, the programmes show beautiful architecture and clothes to die for. The plots are reminiscent of Miss Marple or Agatha Raisin so I decided it was time to read one of the many books about this incredible heroine.

Looking for a story I had not seen on television I chose Book 9, Raisins and Almonds.

Raisins & Almonds

Phryne Fisher is a wealthy single woman with a busy household including two adopted daughters, Ebony the cat, Molly the puppy and her staff. Elegantly dressed, at all times, Miss Fisher is a passionate, pleasure loving woman who strives for justice, using her intellect to solve crimes which defeat the police force. She takes in waifs and strays because she remembers poverty in her childhood and her wealth has not made her proud or snobbish.

This mystery centres on the busy Eastern Market, where the victim has been murdered with strychnine, in a book shop belonging to Miss Lee. Detective Inspector Jack Robinson, a less attractive character than he appears in the TV series, immediately arrests Miss Lee as the chief suspect, but Phryne’s help is enlisted by Miss Lee’s Jewish landlord, Mr Abrahams, to find the real culprit. Embarking on an intimate love affair with Mr Abraham’s beautiful young son, Miss Fisher also explores the Jewish community and the dabbling in alchemy by those studying the Kabbalah.

Aided by her reliable assistant, Dot, and handy Jacks of all trades, Bert and Cec, while being consulted unofficially by Inspector Robinson, Phryne makes progress but brings herself and those she loves into danger. The author has thoroughly researched ancient Jewish beliefs as well as the problems of living in an anti-Semitic society.

The author has a witty turn of phrase and has created delightful characters. This mystery is an easy read, with an imaginative plot and a novel setting.

Raisins and Almonds is available at Amazon UK

Kerry

Kerry Greenwood

Kerry Greenwood was born in the Melbourne suburb of Footscray and after wandering far and wide, she returned to live there. She has a degree in English and Law from Melbourne University and was admitted to the legal profession on the 1st April 1982, a day which she finds both soothing and significant.

Kerry has written twenty novels, a number of plays, including The Troubadours with Stephen D’Arcy, is an award-winning children’s writer and has edited and contributed to several anthologies. In 1996 she published a book of essays on female murderers called Things She Loves: Why women Kill.

The Phryne Fisher series (pronounced Fry-knee, to rhyme with briny) began in 1989 with Cocaine Blues which was a great success. Kerry has written thirteen books in this series with no sign yet of Miss Fisher hanging up her pearl-handled pistol. Kerry says that as long as people want to read them, she can keep writing them.

Kerry Greenwood has worked as a folk singer, factory hand, director, producer, translator, costume-maker, cook and is currently a solicitor. When she is not writing, she works as a locum solicitor for the Victorian Legal Aid. She is also the unpaid curator of seven thousand books, three cats (Attila, Belladonna and Ashe) and a computer called Apple (which squeaks). She embroiders very well but cannot knit. She has flown planes and leapt out of them (with a parachute) in an attempt to cure her fear of heights (she is now terrified of jumping out of planes but can climb ladders without fear). She can detect second-hand bookshops from blocks away and is often found within them.

For fun Kerry reads science fiction/fantasy and detective stories. She is not married, has no children and lives with a registered wizard. When she is not doing any of the above she stares blankly out of the window.

The Pierced Heart by Lynn Shepherd #BookReview

Pierced

The Pierced Heart continues the story of Lynn Shepherd’s flawed detective Charlie Maddox. Regretting his behaviour towards servant girl, Molly, he is haunted by her in his dreams which are not abated by a mission to Austria, where he finds himself in a strange castle deep in the Austrian countryside. As the plot progresses the actions of his host, Baron Von Reisenberg, take us to the Gothic world of Bram Stoker and Charlie begins to descend into madness.

For me this story came to life in Chapter 4, at the beginning of the journal of Lucy, in January 1851. Describing her travels in Paris and Vienna she is about to return to Whitby, a home she cannot remember. She recounts how she has assisted her father in deceiving audiences with phantasmagoria and how gradually her health has weakened. In the style of the books of Essie Fox and Wilkie Collins, Lucy’s plight worsens with each episode we read.

At times, the novel seems too gratuitous for me, but others will relish the descriptions of a series of violent murders of young women in London, 40 years before Jack the Ripper. This is an intense, captivating book to read and the ending, though not really a surprise, was very satisfying.

The Pierced Heart can be purchased on Amazon UK

The Orchid Tree by Siobhan Daiko #BookReview

Daiko

The Orchid Tree is a dramatic and moving account of wartime events in Hong Kong and the repercussions in 1949 for the three main characters, Kate, a British teenager, Charles, a young Eurasian and Sofia, whose home is on the neutral island of Macau.

 

Kate Wolseley tells us of her privileged life living on the Peak, in her own words.  Almost 16 when the Japanese bombs fall on the city, her days of horse riding, going to the yacht club and spending time with the son of their amah are changed to the hardship of Stanley Internment camp, where the family try to survive in one room, with very little food.  There she meets Charles Pearce, sharing the sadness and difficulties, as they fall in love.

 

Meanwhile in Macau, there is a semblance of normality despite the many Japanese soldiers, but Sofia Rodrigues, beloved daughter of the head of the successful Macau Consortium, has to bear the unpleasantness of her stepmother and her arrogant half-brother, because her mother was a Chinese concubine.  Seeking the company of Her Chinese uncle and her Russian governess she is growing up as a courageous, independent young woman.

 

When Kate reluctantly returns to Hong Kong, she is determined to help those who are less fortunate and she no longer expects happiness herself.  Lieutenant James Stevens, who has come to Hong Kong in search of a successful future hopes that Kate will become fond of him but she is evasive and uncommitting.   In dramatic circumstances, he encounters Sofia and suddenly his life takes another turn.

 

Knowing Hong Kong, I was impressed with the accuracy of the historical detail and the feel of the surroundings in this novel.  The complex strands of the plot work well and there are surprises to confound the reader.  A delightful mix of  adventure, romance and tragic modern  history.

Siobhan

Siobhan Daiko was born in and spent her childhood in colonial Hong Kong. She and her hubby moved to the UK shortly before it was handed back to China. She has worked in the City of London, once ran a post office/B&B in Herefordshire, and, more recently, taught Modern Foreign Languages in a Welsh high school. Siobhan now lives with her husband and two cats in the Veneto region of Northern Italy, where she spends her time writing, researching historical characters, and enjoying the dolce vita.

The Orchid Tree was inspired by her early life in Hong Kong. Her grandparents had been interned by the Japanese in the ex-colony from 1942 to 1945, and it was while she was researching their life in the internment camp that the idea for the novel came to her. She wanted to bring alive a time and place that no longer exist, but one that will forever be in her heart.

 

Sinclair by Julia Herdman #TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT

 

Volume one in the Tales of Tooley Street

Sinclair

After a surfeit of Tudor novels, my preferred era for historical fiction is the Victorian age, but I am beginning to discover the rich seam of social life, politics and sexual tension in the Georgian age.

In Julia Herdmans’ novel, we meet Edinburgh surgeon James Sinclair leaving his unhappy life in Edinburgh for a rewarding future with the East India Company. Luckily for the reader he is thwarted in this plan and instead takes a partnership in a surgeon/apothecary business in south London. The story reveals the suffering of so many patients in those days and the sometimes unhelpful remedies provided. Sinclair is a caring, astute doctor who does his best for his patients and trains his apprentices well, but he is somewhat inadequate in his understanding of women.

There are several other fascinating characters in this novel, particulary Charlotte Leadam, recently widowed and struggling to survive without entering into an unhappy pecuniary marriage. As the plot progresses the families of Charlotte and Sinclair become enmeshed and his selfish behaviour threatens them all. Against the background of the social life of London, Yorkshire and Edinburgh the story tells of evil doings and generous spirits.

This is the first book of a family saga and its satisfying conclusion, though possibly too perfect, sets the scene for more interesting developments in a following volume. This was a book I opened each evening with great interest as I got to know this talented, enigmatic man and hoped that he would sort out his life.

You will find Sinclair at Amazon UK or Amazon US

Julia Herdman

Julia Herdman has always liked things nice girls shouldn’t mention in polite conversation – politics, religion, sex and money. She studied history at university because of it.
In her early teens she was devouring Jean Plaidy and Winston Graham novels by the dozen. At university she moved onto first hand testimony including the Roman classics, Norse sagas and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

Now her interest and inspiration is in the development of the urban middle class, particularly the development of the medical profession in Edinburgh and London.

Her Tales of Tooley Street series is inspired by a real family of Apothecary Surgeons, the Leadams, who lived and worked there from the late 18th century to the mid 19th century.

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The Lover’s Portrait by Jennifer S. Alderson #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog

Lover's Portrait

American Art History student Zelda Richardson loves her life in Amsterdam, but entrance into the Master’s course in Museum Studies depends on her performance as an intern at the Amsterdam Historical Museum. She is asked to work on an online project to restore 1500 paintings stolen by the Nazis during World War Two to their rightful owners or descendants but she is not welcomed onto the project by the stiff, unfriendly Huub Konijn, senior curator at the Jewish Historical Museum, who designed the website.

But not content with her editing role, Zelda uses her previous web design experience to brighten up the front page, with her own choice of paintings, in an animation. Despite Huub’s criticism, one of these paintings, Irises, triggers a claimant almost instantly. Rita Brouwer, a large, jolly American woman claims it was painted for her elderly sister, but as Zelda begins to warm to this lady, another claimant turns up. Karen O’Neil is an unpleasant socialite, accompanied by her German lawyer, Konrad Heider. She has paperwork listing the painting in the Gallery of her grandfather, Arjan van Heemsvliet.

In parallel with events in 2015, we read about how many valuable paintings belonging to Dutch Jews were hidden in 1942 by Arjan and his friend, picture framer, Philip Verbeet who was Rita’s father. But both men disappeared and the location of the paintings is still unknown. We know more than Zelda about whom she should trust but part of the mystery is concealed until the end and Zelda’s impetuous, proactive investigation leads her into danger and thrilling action.

The novel gives a detailed account of the large quantity of art that was stolen and how rightful ownership is carefully researched, which of necessity slows down the first part of the story, but there is also a compelling mystery which makes the rest of book a real page turner. Zelda is a determined young woman who stumbles into predicaments because of her desire to reveal the truth and the other characters also have convincing motives and characteristics. A great read.

I have since discovered that this is the second book about Zelda, so I am now looking forward to reading Down and Out in Kathmandu: A Backpacker Mystery, Book one in the series.

The Lover’s Portrait can be purchased at Amazon UK or Amazon US

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