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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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.

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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Bamboo Road by Ann Bennett #Bookreview #TuesdayBookBlog

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

 

Voyager by Carl Rackman #Bookreview #TuesdayBookBlog

Voyager

This style of novel is not my usual choice of genre but it’s always good to try entering a new environment and adapt to a faster paced narrative. And I am really glad I chose Carl Rackman’s second book.

From the Prologue when Brad talks to his fiancé by phone as she tries to escape from the second tower on 9/11 to the culmination of this thriller on the day of the Inauguration of a new President in 2017, this fast-moving thriller keeps you guessing. There are a number of significant characters to meet, including Brad, a member of an FBI counter-terrorism unit, Dr Callie Woolf, Project Manager of the Voyager Interstellar Mission and Matt, a British pilot who freelances for MI5. Brad soon finds himself in disgrace, Callie fears her project will be cancelled and Matt may lose his freedom.

The plot is complex and offers “alternative facts” and there are acronyms and details of the workings of NASA and US Security staff to come to grips with. The characters gradually fill out into believable personalities and each of them becomes increasingly endangered. And then we meet Mirage, a mysterious superwoman. Is she good or evil? Is the world about to be invaded by creatures from another world, or is there a conspiracy? This tautly constructed suspense novel kept me turning the pages and hoping that Brad and Callie would solve the mystery and survive all attempts on their lives.

Voyager is available on Amazon UK or Amazon US

You can find my review of Carl Rackman’s first novel, Irex here

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Garden of Stars by Rose Alexander #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

The Separation by Dinah Jefferies #Bookreview #TuesdayBookBlog

Separation

This is a story about the separation of mothers and daughters told from opposite sides of the world by Lydia, a young mother abandoned in Malaya in 1955 and her daughter Emma lonely and unloved in England. Initially the main story is of Lydia’s journey during the Malayan Emergency through the dangers of jungle roads where insurgents may kill or kidnap locals or colonials alike. With little money, she searches for her missing husband and daughters gaining help from a mysterious stranger. Her story includes love and tragedy against the background of the steaming heat and lush growth of the countryside.

Lydia’s story is told in the third person, but we have no doubt about her feelings and emotions. Emma describes events in her own words. She is an independent eleven year old, traumatised by the sudden move to cold, drab England after her happy childhood in the tropics. No-one will tell her where her mother is and she misses her terribly. In addition she has to deal with an abusive adult and a harsh boarding school.

I identified strongly with this story, remembering 1950s England and having spent some of my teenage years in Malaya and Singapore. The authenticity of the settings is striking, but what captivates the reader is the passion and drama of the plot. There are mysteries to solve, scores to settle and happiness to hope for.

Dinah Jefferies is a talented writer who is able to give context and characterisation to a moving, thrilling plot. This was a book I read late into the night, not wanting to put it down. Highly recommended.

The Separation is available on Amazon here

D Jefferies

Dinah was born in Malaya in 1948 and moved to England at the age of nine. In 1985, the sudden death of her fourteen year old son changed the course of her life, and deeply influenced her writing. Dinah drew on that experience, and on her own childhood spent in Malaya during the 1950s to write her debut novel, The Separation.

Now living in Gloucestershire with her husband and their Norfolk terrier, she spends her days writing, with time off with her grandchildren.