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

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

A Daughter’s Promise #NewRelease by Ann Bennett #TuesdayBookBlog

Daughter'sPromise

A daughter’s promise to her dying father, uncovers wartime secrets that cast dark shadows over three generations of one family.

In 2015, 90-year old Grace Summers receives some old sketches – the work of her deceased husband, Jack. One sketch is of a beautiful Indian woman in a street in Kuala Lumpur. This brings back bitter-sweet memories of the 1940s, when Grace met and married Jack, whose world had been torn apart by his time as a prisoner of war in Burma.

In 1988, Grace’s daughter, Louise, embarks on a journey to Burma to fulfil a promise she made to Jack on his death-bed. She meets a young Burmese man, Zeya, an activist, and gets caught up in pro-democracy demonstrations, with tragic consequences.

In 2015, Louise and her daughter Eve, retrace Louise’s steps to Myanmar, to research Jack’s wartime experiences and to search for the girl in his sketch. But they are unprepared for the long-buried secrets their journey will unearth…

Once again, Ann Bennett has written a moving story set in the East, where past history resonates through a family.  In her competent hands, an accurate description of the turbulent history of Burma plays out in a tale of sadness and secrets.

In A Daughter’s Promise three women’s lives have been affected by the tragic life of Jack Summers who was imprisoned by the Japanese army and made to work on the notorious Burma railway during the second world war.  Grace looks back to the days when she nursed Jack on his return to England and found herself falling in love with him.  Their daughter, Louise recollects her terrifying visit to Burma during pro-democracy demonstrations in 1988 and the secrets she has kept ever since, while grand-daughter Eve, finding herself at a crisis in her life, is determined to make her own journey to present day Myanmar in order to discover what happened to her grandfather.

The relationships between the generations are sensitively explored and we share their investigation into the mystery of the beautiful Indian woman whom Jack had painted.  At first the reader might find Jack irresponsible but as the contents of his wartime diary are revealed, the true horror of his experiences and his selfless actions to help others, engage our sympathy.  And from this tragic background comes the germ of happiness for Eve and Louise.  A captivating story of 20th century love and suffering, which is well worth reading.

A Daughter’s Promise is available this week on Amazon UK

My Review of The Foundling’s Daughter by Ann Bennett

The Sinclair Betrayal: A Jayne Sinclair Genealogical Mystery by M J Lee #TuesdayBookBlog #Review

Sinclair Betrayal

Jayne Sinclair is back and this time she’s investigating her own family history.
For years, Jayne has avoided researching the past of her own family. There are just too many secrets she would prefer to stay hidden. Then she is forced to face up to the biggest secret of all; her father is still alive. Even worse, he is in prison for the cold-blooded killing of an old civil servant. A killing supposedly motivated by the betrayal and death of his mother decades before.

Was he guilty or innocent? And who betrayed his mother?

Jayne uses all her genealogical and police skills to investigate the world of the Special Operations Executive and of secrets hidden in the dark days of World War 2. A world that leads her into a battle with herself, her conscience and her own family.

This is not the first Jayne Sinclair Genealogical mystery but the first I have read. It appealed to me because the wartime drama dealt with the story of British agents undercover in France while the research made by Jayne in the present day showed that investigation can reveal dark family secrets. The plotting is excellent, and we learn a great deal about the possibilities of following leads, but I found both female characters rather lacking in substance. Monique Massat, Jane’s grandmother represents the heroines of the SOE and her sad story reflects the tragedy of war. This story could make an exciting on-screen drama and I shall be seeking out other volumes in this series.

The Sinclair Betrayal can be found on Amazon UK

M J Lee

M J Lee

Martin has spent most of his adult life writing in one form or another. As a University researcher in history, he wrote pages of notes on reams of obscure topics. As a social worker with Vietnamese refugees, he wrote memoranda. And, as the creative director of an advertising agency, he has written print and press ads, tv commercials, short films and innumerable backs of cornflake packets and hotel websites.

He has spent 25 years of his life working outside the North of England. In London, Hong Kong, Taipei, Singapore, Bangkok and Shanghai, winning awards from Cannes, One Show, D&AD, New York and London Festivals, and the United Nations.
When he’s not writing, he splits his time between the UK and Asia, taking pleasure in playing with his daughter, researching his family history, single-handedly solving the problem of the French wine lake and wishing he were George Clooney.

 

In Her Defence (A Bunch Courtney Investigation) by Jan Edwards #NewRelease #RBRT

in her defence

 “Bunch Courtney’s hopes for a quiet market-day lunch with her sister are shattered when a Dutch refugee dies a horribly painful death before their eyes. A few days later Bunch receives a letter from her old friend Cecile saying that her father, Professor Benoir, has been murdered in an eerily similar fashion.

Two deaths by poisoning in a single week. Is this a coincidence? Bunch does not believe that any more than Chief Inspector William Wright.

Set against a backdrop of escalating war and the massed internments of 1940, the pair are drawn together in a race to prevent the murderer from striking again.”

 

In Her Defence is the second investigation by Bunch Courtney and Chief Inspector William Wright in the Sussex countryside. I haven’t read Winter Downs, the first book of this series but the reader is soon up to speed with Bunch’s back story. As a result of an accident, Bunch has had to leave the ATS and has taken over management of the Perringham House estate in her father’s absence.  She is aided by a team of Land Girls but since the main house has been requisitioned by the military, she shares the Dower House with her grandmother.

Bunch is happiest when riding her horse, but the constant paperwork required by the government makes estate management really onerous. Thank goodness Cecile, her old school friend from Switzerland, has come to help her with office work. But the death she witnesses at the market and the murder of Cecile’s father drive her back into detective mode despite the protests of the intriguing Chief Inspector Wright.  Bunch is a prickly, outspoken young woman who has rejected the amenable personality of Dodo, her sister.  There is an atmosphere of fear and unease engendered by rationing and the threat of invasion, while unpleasant attacks on locals with connections to Europe, increase the danger.  The mystery behind the murders is cleverly disentangled and it is fascinating to follow the activities of a small village close to the south coast in 1940.

I would recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys a good “Who dunnit,” and also to those interested in the social history of the war years.  I was a little confused in the first chapter by meeting several characters who used more than one name (Bunch is really Rose) so I would recommend reading Winter Downs first, but I intend to read that now since I really like Bunch’s character and the context of the mysteries.

In Her Defence on Amazon UK

jan edwards

Jan Edwards

Jan was born in Sussex, currently living in North Staffordshire. In addition to being a writer she is also a Reiki Master Teacher and Meditational Healer. Jan is available for interviews and appearances.

Jan’s blog page: https://janedwardsblog.wordpress.com/

Transcription by Kate Atkinson #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

transcription

 Transcription opens in 1981 when Juliet Armstrong is involved in an accident. As she lies on the ground, injured, her mind goes back to 1940 when she started work in the offices of MI5 and then to 1950 when she was a BBC schools programmes producer. A witty but unemotional protagonist she seems to be recounting events as they happened, but there are omissions, and can we really trust her testimony?

I loved this book, much preferring it to Life After Life. The story of how MI5 monitored Nazi sympathisers and the account of  the amoral social life of 1940 are fascinating. Juliet’s observations on a woman’s role, always making the tea but also sent out to risk her life on potentially dangerous missions without any training, reflect reality. At times, this novel made me laugh out loud, at others, it is tense and thrilling and always slightly puzzling. There are so many intriguing characters, from Peregrine Gibbons, so dapper but resisting her charms (Juliet’s naivety is believable) to Godfrey Talbot, the likeable double agent, via delightful Cyril, her hard-working companion in Dolphin Square and the tactless Daisy who is supposed to assist Juliet at the BBC.

As Juliet listens in to meetings between Godfrey and a group of fascist sympathisers her transcriptions are sketchy. Words are missing when the dog barks and we don’t have a complete picture of what is happening. This reflects Juliet’s story. She has the ability to lie easily, making her an effective spy and yet she cares deeply about the fate of a young maid who briefly helps her and who, like Juliet, is an orphan.

This is a deep novel with a light tone. It is interesting to read from the context of today’s politics and society. And if you are wondering, the flamingo on the cover is explained towards the end of the story. There has been criticism by some reviewers of the denouement in which we are told in a rapid summary how threads in the story linked and we learn more about Juliet’s motivation, but I am on the fence on this. It satisfied my queries but possibly could have been revealed more subtly. However, the texture and quality of the writing is so delightful I could happily read it all over again next week.

 Transcription is available atAmazon UK

Friday Bookshare #AmReading

This week I’m reading Harry Leslie Smith’s account of his early life. I was prompted to do so by Terry Tyler who reviewed his three autobiographies on her blog

A great depression

Harry Leslie Smith died on 28th November 2018 at the age of 95. He grew up in Yorkshire in great poverty and found wartime an escape from a life of hardship. After he retired he began to write about 20th century British social history and contributed many newspaper articles. In the last few years of his life his public appearances, such as his speech at the Labour party Conference have brought him to the attention of the wider public.

Reading this moving story about the sad childhood of Harry and his sister reminded me of another true story from the same era which I read many years ago.

Twopence

Helen Forrester came from a prosperous family, but after her father lost everything, the family moved to Liverpool, where her experiences of starvation and growing out of her clothes mirror that of Harry Leslie Smith.

Both these books are essential reading for anyone who thinks that hardship ended in the Victorian age.  Despite their dreadful experiences, both books are compelling and take you into their world.