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

Rosie's Book Review team 1

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

Rosie's Book Review team 1

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.

Codename Lazarus: The Spy who came back from the dead by A P Martin #bookreview

Lazarus

Codename Lazarus takes us first to Germany in the mid-1930s as Hitler and the Nazis rise to power. We see the unpleasant changes through the eyes of John King, an English academic, whose friends include a Jewish family, the Bernsteins and a young German, Joachim Brandt, who has decided to join the SS.

Moving to 1938, King is recruited by his former professor to the world of espionage, in an attempt to foil the efforts of Nazi sympathisers in England. This requires him to cut off all ties with his former life and after another visit to Germany, he must disappear. However his under-cover activities take place in London, where he has to cultivate relationships with British nationals who wish to aid Germany. A significant relationship with a young German nurse is suspended, but old friends from the past will take a dramatic part in the denouement.

This is an exciting plot-driven story and although we gain knowledge of King’s feelings early in the story, he becomes increasingly more distant as other protagonists take a more active part in the storyline. One of the Nazi sympathisers gains our sympathy and we realise that she has trapped herself in a web of deceit. I was especially interested in the vivid description of pre-war Germany and in the realistic account of the evacuation scene at Dunkirk. The final scenes intensify in excitement and are real page-turners, but I was disappointed at the sudden conclusion which left questions about other threads in the book.

This debut novel is a fluent tale set in a fascinating time. Plotting and descriptions are sound but the earlier parts of the book lead me to expect greater knowledge of the hero’s emotions and confusion at his use of subterfuge and his abandonment of his friends and family. I look forward to reading the next book by this promising author.

War Crimes For The Home by Liz Jensen #TuesdayBookBlog

War Crimes

`You know what they say about GIs and English girls’ knickers,’ ran the wartime joke, `One Yank and they’re off.’ When Gloria met Ron, he was an American pilot who thought nothing of getting hit by shrapnel in the cockpit. She was working in a munitions factory in Bristol during the Blitz, but still found time to grab what she wanted. Ciggies. Sex. American soldiers. But war has an effect on people. Gloria did all sorts of things she wouldn’t normally do – evil things, some of them – because she might be dead tomorrow. Or someone might. Now, fifty years on, it’s payback time. In her old folks’ home, Gloria is forced to remember the real truth about her and Ron, and confront the secret at the heart of her dramatic home front story. In a gripping, vibrant evocation of wartime Britain, Liz Jensen explores the dark impulses of women whose war crimes are committed on the home front, in the name of sex, survival, greed, and love.

Gloria, a poorly educated, foul-mouthed old woman doesn’t seem like the normal heroine, but the tortuous interwoven account of her life, now in old age & formerly during the war, certainly make for compelling reading.

This is a story with layers which float to the surface indiscriminately.  There is the typical story of a simple English girl seduced by an American serviceman, an amusing tale of an old dear with a weak memory causing havoc in an old people’s home, an account of betrayal & human suffering and in amongst the “jokes” and amusing anecdotes, a sad story of many unhappy people affected by events 60 years earlier.

The use of a hypnotist allows the story to be slowly unravelled with an interesting final twist, but it doesn’t seem quite credible.  Gloria’s early wartime experiences, however, are understandable.  The two young sisters are effectively orphaned in a time and place where moral constraints have disappeared, as an antidote to the awful horrors which also occur in their everyday lives.

This was a book which I did not warm to in the early pages, but it was an easy read and soon became a fascinating account of a real human being who despite her misfortune still relished the pleasures of life.

Liz Jensen

Liz Jensen was born in Oxfordshire in 1959. Her critically-acclaimed work spans black comedy, science fiction, satire, family drama, historical fantasy and psychological suspense. Three of her novels have been nominated for the Orange Prize and in 1998 she was shortlisted for the Guardian Fiction Award. She is Writer in Residence at Kingston University and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Her work has been developed for film and translated into more than 20 languages.