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.

 

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

 

The Spyglass Files by Nathan Dylan Godwin #Bookreview

Spyglass

A few years ago I read the first of Nathan Dylan Godwin’s Forensic Genealogist series. This is the fourth volume and, in my view, the best.

Morton Farrier is a professional genealogist whose investigations into past events often lead him into trouble in the present. As he approaches the date of his wedding to Juliette he is trying to avoid new cases, but he is intrigued by the situation of a woman who was adopted soon after her birth, during the Battle of Britain. As he tries to locate her family, we follow parts of the story of her birth-mother, Elsie, who was a WAAF officer in the Y service, listening in to German pilots as they approached England.

It is fascinating to learn about the invaluable work of these young women and to observe the terrifying lives of the fighter pilots they encountered. It is understandable that they were living for the moment.

As Elsie’s story is revealed, Morton becomes aware that criminal activities which started in a cottage on the Kent coast in 1940, reverberate in the present day. We empathise with Elsie, an intelligent girl, threatened by her mother-in-law and seeming to have lost any chance of happiness. Morton’s investigations are intriguing, especially if you are interested in genealogy and the final chapters are surprising and satisfying.

Now I am hoping that Morton will learn more about his own family in a future book.

You can find The Spyglass  File on Amazon UK

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.

Past Encounters by Davina Blake #TuesdayBookBlog

past-encounters

Past Encounters is a book you can’t put down and yet you don’t want it to finish. With echoes of “Atonement,” we read of the horrors, sadness and wasted lives of World War Two. It describes boredom and hardship and deep passion. I loved it.

Davina Blake expresses the tortured life of Rhoda during the war and her marriage up till 1955. Like her husband, Peter, she is concealing a secret which is keeping them apart. The reader experiences her wartime romance, a delightful parallel to the film, “Brief Encounters” and the terrible experiences of a group of British soldiers captured early in the war and kept imprisoned for over 5 years. She also records the effects of the First World War on the marriage of Rhoda’s parents.  The common humanity and suffering throughout Europe is clearly shown as Peter and Archie try to escape and travel home.

Having grown up in the 1950s and heard my mother’s wartime stories, this story feels right. The details of getting a coal fire to light and shivering in inadequate clothing ring true. The drabness of post war Britain and the difficulties that returning soldiers had in adjusting to civilian life, must have made married life stressful in this era, when feelings were rarely expressed, but in this novel we see through both Rhoda and Peter’s eyes and hope that they will be able make a future together.

deborahswift

Davina Blake is better known as Deborah Swift, historical novelist and I am sure I will soon be catching up with the books she has written under that name.

www.davinablake.com

www.deborahswift.com

Past Encounters can be found on Amazon UK  and Amazon US

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.