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

 

Notes of a Naive Traveler: Nepal and Thailand by Jennifer S Alderson #BookReview #Travel

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After reading Down and Out in Kathmandu, the first fictional adventure of Zelda Richardson, I was eager to learn more about the incredible country of Nepal and author, Jennifer S Alderson’s experiences as a volunteer teacher. Jennifer was indeed a naïve traveler, who had left her family and secure job in Seattle to live with locals, deep in the Asian countryside, with little modern comforts.

Written in late 1999, this is a frank, spontaneous journal, augmented by messages home to friends and family. Beautiful word pictures are created of the lush countryside and fascinating shrines but we are also given details of the dirt, lack of hygiene and cultural clashes. So many interesting customs and festivals are included but we are also informed of how menstruating women are prevented from preparing food or even eating with their family for the first few days of their period.

Some of the places visited are so remote that few westerners are likely to see them. Jennifer describes a holy site up in the hills behind the house where she is staying, which is called Budhanilkantha. She finds an enormous sleeping statue of Vishnu reclining on a bed of snakes. There are also shrines to Ganesh, Shiva and other gods. Returning from this journey, she is stricken with diarrhea, vomiting and fever, as a result of a few sips of unboiled water.

Interspersed with the accounts of the killing of a goat and demands for donations from her host, Jennifer also enjoyed some thrilling expeditions where she proves herself to be fearless, but it is with some relief that she leaves for Thailand, at last able to have privacy. I was not surprised to read that Thailand is much more westernised and modern than Nepal, but after leaving Bangkok, Jennifer finds paradise in Koh Tao on the East coast and Krabi on the west coast.

This travel memoir is a great read, whether you have some experience of the East or not and it should be required reading for anyone contemplating volunteering in a different part of the world.

You can find Notes of a Naive Traveler on Amazon UK or Amazon US

Messandrierre: Murder in rural France by Angela Wren #TuesdayBookBlog

The First Jacques Forêt Mystery

Messandrierre

Jacques Forêt, an intelligent, considerate policeman, is vegetating in the small French village of Messandrierre, after leaving the challenging environment of Paris, so he is concerned when his unpleasant commander, Fournier, tells him to ignore the unexplained disappearance of three young adults, last seen nearby.  He is determined to continue his investigations, especially when he discovers that there have been more disappearances.

 

Meanwhile, Beth, a young British widow, has returned to the village intending to sell the cottage her husband had bought, but she is unsettled by the discovery that he had been keeping a secret from her for most of their married life.   Jacques tries to persuade her to stay in France but when she appears to be involved in his case, life becomes complicated.

 

Messandrierre is peopled by an assortment of French and British characters, who might all be suspects and there are plenty of red herrings.  The murder mystery is intriguing, as is the on/off romance between Jacques and Beth and the description of this part of rural France is vivid and believable.  I look forward to Jacques next investigation in Merle, published this month.

Angela Wren

From Angela Wren’s Author Page:

I’m an actor and director at a small theatre a few miles from where I live in the county of Yorkshire in the UK. I did work as a project and business change manager – very pressured and very demanding – but I managed to escape and now I write books.

I’ve always loved stories and story telling so it seemed a natural progression, to me, to try my hand at writing and I started with short stories. My first published story was in an anthology, which was put together by the magazine ‘Ireland’s Own’ and published in 2011.

I particularly enjoy the challenge of plotting and planning different genres of work. My short stories vary between contemporary romance, memoir, mystery and historical. I also write comic flash-fiction and have drafted two one-act plays that have been recorded for local radio.

My full-length stories are set in France where I like to spend as much time as possible each year. I’m currently working on the follow-up to Messandrierre and an anthology of alternative fairy tales which I intend to self-publish.

Down and Out in Kathmandu: A Backpacker Mystery by Jennifer S Alderson #TuesdayBookBlog

Kathmandu

Down and Out in Kathmandu is the first adventure of Zelda Richardson.  I came to it having already met the determined Zelda on her second adventure in The Lover’s Portrait.  In this earlier story, Zelda has just left her secure IT job in Seattle to volunteer as an English teacher near Kathmandu for 3 months.  Nepal proves to be a culture shock and the work a hard task for a young woman with no teaching experience or training.  She must live with a Nepali family who live a more western life than she had expected and yet she has to adapt to a very different diet including freshly slaughtered goat.

But first Zelda encounters Ian, an Australian backpacker who has taken a break in his teaching career to find pleasure and marijuana in Kathmandu.  They spend time together exploring the city, but part when Zelda commences her volunteer work.  With his dreadlocks and casual attitude, Ian seems less appealing than Zelda, but gradually I warmed to him.

The third character in the novel was a surprise.  Tommy is an unpleasant wastrel, bumming around in Thailand but wishing to return to Toronto as a successful man.  He decides to make his fortune by double-crossing the Greek, a gangster for whom he smuggles jewels.  He is doomed to fail but what can this have to do with Ian and Zelda?

The three threads are drawn together towards the end of the story after we follow Zelda’s failure as a teacher and her anger at the way the Rana family try to use her to further their ambitions for their children.  Jennifer Alderson’s knowledge of Kathmandu bring the poverty, dirt, danger and beauty to life and add credibility to the dramatic later chapters.  It is events in the city which most caught my imagination but Zelda’s experiences based on Jennifer’s life are very interesting.  I would like to have read more about her experiences but this would have weakened the structure of the dramatic events.

A very readable story set in a fascinating world and a great introduction to this likeable heroine and I will follow my interest in Nepal and Thailand by reading Jennifer’s book Notes of a Naive Traveler

You can find Down and Out in Kathmandu on Amazon UK or Amazon US

 

JenniferSAldersonAuthorPhoto_Twitter-300x300

Jennifer S. Alderson worked as a journalist and website developer in Seattle, Washington before trading her financial security for a backpack. After travelling extensively around Asia and Central America, she moved to Darwin, Australia, before finally settling in the Netherlands. Home is now Amsterdam, where she lives with her Dutch husband and young son.

Jennifer’s travels and experiences colour and inform her internationally-oriented fiction.

Her first novel, Down and Out in Kathmandu: A Backpacker Mystery, is a travel fiction adventure through Nepal and Thailand.

The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery, her second book, is a suspenseful ‘whodunit?’ which transports readers to wartime and present day Amsterdam.

Both are part of an on-going stand-alone series following the adventures of traveller and culture lover, Zelda Richardson. The third installment, another art-related travel thriller (working title: Smuggler’s Deceit) will be released in the Autumn 2017.

Her travelogue, Notes of a Naive Traveler: Nepal and Thailand, is now available as paperback and eBook. It is a must-read for those interested in learning more about, or wishing to travel to Nepal and Thailand.

Primary Sources from the 20th century: Reviews of “Notes on Voyage” and “Zeppelin Letters” by David Ransom

David Ransom is an amateur historian with specialist interests which have drawn him towards fascinating sources.  These two books reveal a diary and the letters of people who were alive in interesting times.

notes-on-voyage

Notes on Voyage is the diary of John Lynn and his family as they travel to Australia in 1911 to start a new life.  David Ransom has put the diary in its historical context and gives us information about the Lynn family, but it is John Lynn’s voice who speaks to us through his adventure.

The long voyage round South Africa, not stopping until they first reached Australia, must have been very wearing.  I have made this voyage myself, but with stops en route to relieve the monotony.  But the passengers and crew came up with many ideas to occupy themselves such as chess, music and football.  They watched flying fish and battleships and on the hottest nights slept on deck or indulged in pillow fights.  They endured a frightening hurricane and a mutiny by some of the crew.

This book is an opportunity to share the experiences of a hopeful and likeable family as they bravely set out over a hundred years ago.

zeppelin

Zeppelin Letters takes us to the Home Front during World War One, as we share the experiences of Londoners of the time, through the letters they wrote. We read of the horror and fear when the Zeppelins, and later planes, came to bomb the city and gain understanding of the difficulties people had, finding food and going about their everyday lives. I was surprised to discover how much disruptive and fatal bombing there was during a war when there were no air-raid shelters.

 
The letter writers were Maud Norris, George Vernon Hatch and Irene Magraw. Maud wrote to her brother, who was in New Zealand; George Hatch worked in an office during the day and volunteered at a searchlight station for the Civil Defence; Irene, who was married to a clergyman, wrote chatty letters to her mother.

 
Irene’s letters, including details about her little dog, Smut, and baby Betty are the liveliest to read, but the combination of different viewpoints alongside official reports give a vivid picture of the dramatic events from 1915 to 1917. This is a must read for anyone interested in social history and particularly of wartime London. I very much enjoyed it.

Notes on Voyage can be found here and  Zeppelin Letters is also available at Amazon UK

David Ransom

ransom

David Ransom was born in Brighton, UK. He served an apprenticeship as a compositor in the days of hot metal printing, trained as a Monotype keyboard operator, and eventually moved on to Apple computers and magazine design.

He has always had a fascination with history and has a varied collection of miscellaneous items related to Pitcairn Island, the New Zealand Shipping Company, and the history of photography. Occasionally some of these areas come together, and it is as a result of these fortunate links that he aims to produce books for the Kindle.

His next book will cover the New Zealand Shipping Company’s “Remuera” and its connection with Pitcairn Island.

Food and Folklore, A Year of Italian Festivals by Lisa M Vogele

Food & Folklore

Food and Folklore by Lisa M Vogele, A year of Italian Festivals, is a travel guide with a difference. It explores the regions of Italy via the many festivals that are held throughout the country. In each region there is a festival during most months throughout the year and sometimes several during summer.

How often have you visited an area to discover that you have just missed a delicious food festival or a fascinating celebration of folklore? In this book Lisa helps you to plan your vacation so that you arrive at the best time, know where to obtain tickets and learn far more about the people of the region.

Ideally, since this a small black and white paperback to carry, you should link to the website

https://lisalovestotravel.com/

where beautiful photographs illustrate many of the festivals from the book.
I have yet to use this book in Italy, but I am already applying its techniques, in collecting posters about Portuguese festivals on my Pinterest board, for my regular visits to the Algarve.

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Lisa Vogele is an Italophile, festival-lover, and travel-addict. Her blog “Lisa Loves to Travel” has been created to share her love of festivals with fellow travelers and enthusiasts. Originally from Connecticut, she and her husband Mark call Colorado home. She loves hearing suggestions, recommendations, and experiences around festival travel. She can be reached at lisa@lisastravelguides.com or follow her on Twitter @travelwithlisa. The “Food & Folklore” series is published by Lisa’s Travel Guides and highlights food, fun, and festivals to help others go local as a traveler, not a tourist. For information about forthcoming books in the series or assistance with incorporating festivals into your travel check out: www.lisastravelguides.com

You can purchase Food and Folklore from Amazon UK or Amazon US

 

Do Not Wash Hands In Plates by Barb Taub

If you have ever visited Barb Taub’s blog http://barbtaub.com/ you will know that she is the master of intelligent humorous writing so I knew when I downloaded this book that I was likely to be sniggering and quoting passages to my husband all the way through.  I was right.

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Do Not Wash Hands In Plates is summarised in the extension to the title: Elephant frenzy, parathas, temples, palaces, monkeys…and the kindness of Indian strangers, and that really is what it’s all about! In a warm witty account, Barb describes her travels around India accompanied by long term friends Janine and Jaya.

With the aid of Jaya’s vast extended family and a variety of fearless drivers, the three companions navigate the horrendous traffic and manage to visit some wonderful locations, despite the visit of the American President constantly causing temples and palaces to be closed. Every sentence is filled with humour and warmth, as Janine and Jaya nurse Barb through Delhi Belly and Indian bureaucracy.

There are so many quotable sentences. As an American living in Britain, Barb has learnt that,
“In the UK rules are inviolate and graven in stone. Rules in India are more like guidelines.”
When in danger of missing their plane, Jaya leads them straight past the long queue to the front,
“In the States people would have stopped us. In the UK we would have at least been speared by laser-focused glares and possibly even aggrieved throat-clearing,”
But as Jaya so often remarked, “In India people are so kind.”

Food is an important part of this book, since hospitality is paramount in India. I confess I had to google to discover the difference between parathas, roti, naan and chapatis and now I am anxious to do a taste test. The exotic, colourful, frenetic places they visited are beguiling but no visit to India could be so entertaining without Barb and her friends accompanying you!

Taj