Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

5 quarters

 Beyond the main street of Les Laveuses runs the Loire, smooth and brown as a sunning snake – but hiding a deadly undertow beneath its moving surface. This is where Framboise, a secretive widow named after a raspberry liqueur, plies her culinary trade at the creperie – and lets memory play strange games. Into this world comes the threat of revelation as Framboise’s nephew – a profiteering Parisian – attempts to exploit the growing success of the country recipes she has inherited from her mother, a woman remembered with contempt by the villagers of Les Laveuses. As the spilt blood of a tragic wartime childhood flows again, exposure beckons for Framboise, the widow with an invented past. Joanne Harris has looked behind the drawn shutters of occupied France to illuminate the pain, delight and loss of a life changed for ever by the uncertainties and betrayals of war.

My Review

I have read several books by Joanne Harris but somehow I missed Five Quarters of the Orange. Set in wartime France and in the 1990s in the small village of Les Laveuses it tells the story of Framboise Dartigen who has returned to her childhood home, unrecognised, as a 65-year-old widow with a new name. In the first person, Framboise describes the farm as it was when she lived there with widowed mother, Mirabelle, and her elder brother and sister, Cassis and Reine-Claude. Young ‘Boise was not a likeable child. There was animosity between her and her mother because they were too alike but Framboise yearned to return and take up the role of excellent cook using her mother’s album of recipes and farm husbandry.

As the book begins to reveal a horrifying wartime event involving the family, we read extracts from the album where among the recipes Mirabelle has written personal journal comments.  This hard woman gave little affectionate to her children but provided them with delicious meals which are described in sumptuous detail. Only the smell of oranges is an anathema to Mirabelle since it is a sign of approaching migraines.

Avoiding their mother, the children live wild in the countryside, striking up a friendship with German soldier, Thomas Leibniz.  Framboise, the youngest, is the most cunning but she is also an innocent.  The children’s amoral actions lead them into a dangerous situation and Mirabelle is too involved in her own misery and bitterness to notice until it is too late.

In the 1990s Framboise seems in control of her life, running a very successful creperie with a regular clientele, but the past threatens her contentment and only old friend Paul can help her.

Joanne Harris writes rich, succulent prose, littered with food similes and names you can taste, which accentuate the contrast between the delights of life and the horrors which wartime brought to the French countryside.

Five Quarters of the Orange 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

 

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

Intrigue & Infamy (The Victorian Detectives Book 7) by Carol Hedges #NewRelease #BookReview #RBRT

Intrigue

Book Description

It is 1866, the end of a long hot summer in Victorian London, and the inhabitants are seething with discontent. Much of it is aimed at the foreign population living in the city. So when a well-reputed Jewish tailoring business is set aflame, and the body of the owner is discovered inside, Detective Inspector Lachlan Grieg suspects a link to various other attacks being carried out across the city, and to a vicious letter campaign being conducted in the newspapers.

Can he discover who is behind the attacks before more people perish?

Elsewhere, Giovanni Bellini arrives in England to tutor the youngest son of Sir Nicholas Haddon, ex-MP and City financier. But what are Bellini’s links to a dangerous Italian radical living in secret exile in London, and to beautiful Juliana Silverton, engaged to Harry Haddon, the heir to the family fortune?

Romance and racism, murder and mishap share centre stage in this seventh exciting book in the Victorian Detectives series.

My Review

Never has a Victorian murder mystery seemed more appropriate for the time of reading.  Once again Carol Hedges captures our imagination with her tale of honest policemen, hard-working women and dastardly villains.  At a time when Italy and Germany are hotbeds of revolution as they try to build up unified national identities, foreign residents of London are subject to racist attacks by an unknown group.  Meanwhile, Juliana Silverton has ensnared her perfect husband and she can look forward to a happy successful marriage provided no scandal is revealed about her or her fiancé, Harry Haddon. But in the house of Harry’s father, Sir Nicholas Haddon, his second wife despairs as her young’s son’s loyalty is lost to a new young Italian tutor.

As the elegant Juliana tries to preserve her future, she is threatened by a jealous friend while Harry finds the bullying he received at Eton, continues into his adult life.  They must both summon courage and sang-froid to achieve happiness together. As more innocent people are attacked in the city, thank goodness we can rely on the careful detective work of our old friends Jack Cully and Lachlan Greig.

Intrigue and Infamy recreates the glitter and sparkle of sumptuous 1860s London, contrasting it with deception and secrecy and we are shown how so many people struggled against prejudice, misfortune and cruelty. Another compulsive read!

Intrigue and Infamy can be purchased at Amazon UK

My review of Diamond and Dust Book one of the Victorian Detectives series.

 

The Spider and the Stone: A Novel of Scotland’s Black Douglas by Glen Craney

Spider

As the 14th century dawns, Scotland’s survival hangs by a spider’s thread. While the clans fight among themselves for the empty throne, Edward Longshanks of England schemes to annex the ancient northern kingdom to his Plantagenet realm.

But one frail, dark-skinned lad stands in the brutal monarch’s path.  James Douglas is cherished by his fellow Scots as the Good Sir James. Yet his daring raids across the border inflict such havoc that the English brand him the Black Douglas and nearly bankrupt their treasury to capture him.

As a boy, James falls in love with the ravishing Isabelle MacDuff, whose clan for centuries has inaugurated Scottish monarchs on the hallowed Stone of Destiny. Yet their world is upturned when James befriends Robert Bruce, a bitter enemy of the MacDuffs. Forced to choose between love and clan loyalty, James and Isabelle make a fateful decision that draws the armies to the bloody field of Bannockburn.

Isabelle MacDuff will crown a king.

James Douglas will carry a king’s heart.

Both will pay an unthinkable price for Scotland.

Here is the little-known story of Scotland’s War of Independence and the remarkable events that followed the execution of William Wallace, whose legend was portrayed in the movie Braveheart. At last, James Douglas takes his rightful place with Wallace and Bruce in the pantheon of Scottish heroes. This thrilling epic leads us to the miraculous Stone of Destiny, to the famous Spider in the Cave, to the excommunicated Knights Templar and Freemasons, to the suppressed Culdee Church, to the initiation of Christ in Britain, and to the unprecedented Declaration of Arbroath, which inspired the American Declaration of Independence four hundred years later.

My Review

I have always been intrigued by the story of Robert the Bruce and yet he seemed a shadowy figure, but the Black Douglas, or James Douglas the Good, as the Scots called him, is an even more mysterious character. In this saga, Glen Craney interweaves, known facts with imagination and mysticism to play out the tortuous life of love and devotion of James Douglas. Ever loyal to his friend and later King, Robert, he suspends his own happiness for the sake of Scotland.  In Isabelle Macduff he has found his one true love, but she also puts her country before her own desires.

This is a story of guerrilla warfare, skirmishes and bloody battle.  The cruelty of the English Kings and disloyal Scots is met by brotherhood, sacrifice and persistence.  The intensity of the plot is lightened by fascinating historical figures such as the She-Wolf, Isabella of France, who married an unworthy English King, and humour is provided by Ned Sweeney, the lively and faithful monk.

The intense suffering of the women is matched by the heroism and violent death of so many of the soldiers.  Every scene rings true as if you were there struggling through the mud or shivering in a castle too, and I wanted James and Belle to find a way to free Scotland and themselves.  A recommended read for those who wish to know more about early Scottish history and the hand of fate.

The Spider and the Stone can be found at Amazon UK

My Review of The Virgin and the Wind Rose by Glen Craney