Books set in Malaysia: my personal list #SundayBlogShare

With the help of Jill from jillsbookcafe.blog I have collected together some of my favourite books about Malaysia.  Having spent several holidays in the Malay Peninsular while I was living in Singapore I have always felt drawn to books set in this lovely country.

First books by local authors:

The Harmony Silk Factory by Tash Aw

HarmonyThe Harmony Silk Factory is a devastating love story set against the turmoil of mid-twentieth century Malaysia.  Set in Malaya during the 1930s and 40s, with the rumbling of the Second World War in the background and the Japanese about to invade, The Harmony Silk Factory is the story of four people: Johnny, an infamous Chinaman – a salesman, a fraudster, possibly a murderer – whose shop house, The Harmony Silk Factory, he uses as a front for his illegal businesses; Snow Soong, the beautiful daughter of one of the Kinta Valley’s most prominent families, who dies giving birth to one of the novel’s narrators; Kunichika, a Japanese officer who loves Snow too; and an Englishman, Peter Wormwood, who went to Malaysia like many English but never came back, who also loved Snow to the end of his life. A journey the four of them take into the jungle has a devastating effect on all of them, and brilliantly exposes the cultural tensions of the era.

Haunting, highly original, The Harmony Silk Factory is suspenseful to the last page.

Next I have to include two beautiful books by Tan Twan Eng

The Gift of RainGift of RainPenang, 1939, sixteen-year-old Philip Hutton is a loner. Half English, half Chinese and feeling neither, he discovers a sense of belonging in an unexpected friendship with Hayato Endo, a Japanese diplomat. Philip shows his new friend around his adored island of Penang, and in return Endo trains him in the art and discipline of aikido. But such knowledge comes at a terrible price. The enigmatic Endo is bound by disciplines of his own and when the Japanese invade Malaya, threatening to destroy Philip’s family and everything he loves, he realises that his trusted sensei – to whom he owes absolute loyalty – has been harbouring a devastating secret. Philip must risk everything in an attempt to save those he has placed in mortal danger and discover who and what he really is. With masterful and gorgeous narrative, replete with exotic and captivating images, sounds and aromas – of rain swept beaches, magical mountain temples, pungent spice warehouses, opulent colonial ballrooms and fetid and forbidding rainforests – Tan Twan Eng weaves a haunting and unforgettable story of betrayal, barbaric cruelty, steadfast courage and enduring love.

The Garden of Evening MistsGarden of Evening MistIn the highlands of Malaya, a woman sets out to build a memorial to her sister, killed at the hands of the Japanese during the brutal Occupation of their country. Yun Ling’s quest leads her to The Garden of Evening Mists, and to Aritomo, a man of extraordinary skill and reputation, once the gardener of the Emperor of Japan. When she accepts his offer to become his apprentice, she begins a journey into her past, inextricably linked with the secrets of her troubled country’s history.

Many years ago I read several books by Nevil Shute. This was my favourite.  You may have seen the film, but the book is even better.

A Town Like AliceTown Like AliceJean Paget is just twenty years old and working in Malaya when the Japanese invasion begins.

When she is captured she joins a group of other European women and children whom the Japanese force to march for miles through the jungle – an experience that leads to the deaths of many.

Due to her courageous spirit and ability to speak Malay, Jean takes on the role of leader of the sorry gaggle of prisoners and many end up owing their lives to her indomitable spirit. While on the march, the group run into some Australian prisoners, one of whom, Joe Harman, helps them steal some food, and is horrifically punished by the Japanese as a result.

After the war, Jean tracks Joe down in Australia and together they begin to dream of surmounting the past and transforming his one-horse outback town into a thriving community like Alice Springs…

The Separation by Dinah JefferiesSeparationThe SeparationDinah Jefferies’ stunning debut novel, is the heartbreaking tale of a family fractured by lies and one mother’s love reaching across the distance of years and continents.

A country at war with itself,
a family divided and betrayed,
a bond that can never be broken…

Malaya, 1955. Lydia Cartwright returns from visiting a sick friend to an empty house. The servants are gone. The phone is dead. Where is her husband Alec? Her young daughters, Emma and Fleur?

Fearful and desperate, she contacts the British District Officer and learns that Alec has been posted up country. But why didn’t he wait? Why did he leave no message?

Lydia’s search takes her on a hazardous journey through war-torn jungle. Forced to turn to Jack Harding, a man she’d vowed to leave in her past, she sacrifices everything to be reunited with her family.

And while carrying her own secrets, Lydia will soon face a devastating betrayal which may be more than she can bear . . .

My review of The Separation

The Planter’s Wife by Ann BennettPlanter1938: Juliet and her sister Rose arrive in Penang to stay with an aunt, after the death of their father. Juliet quickly falls under the spell of Gavin Crosby, a plantation owner, who despite his wealth, charm and good looks is shunned by the local community. Rushed into marriage, Juliet is unprepared for the devastating secrets she uncovers on Gavin’s plantation, and the bad blood between Gavin and his brother…

But in 1941 the Japanese occupy Malaya and Singapore sweeping away that world and changing Juliet’s life forever.

For decades after the war which robbed her of everyone she loved, Juliet lives as a recluse back on the plantation. But in 1962 the sudden appearance of Mary, a young woman from an orphanage in Indonesia, forces Juliet to embark on a journey into the past, and to face up to the heart-breaking truths she’s buried for so long.

My review of The Planter’s Wife

Han Suyin is always a writer of choice:

And The Rain My DrinkAnd the rainIt is 1948 and the British in Malaya are struggling to put down a Communist uprising and deal with rising nationalism in the colony. Chinese girl Suyin falls in love with a British police officer and is able to see both sides of the war but she sympathizes more with the Communist guerrillas and is critical of the British colonials. A much-loved classic and an important work in the canon of Singapore literature.

And now one I haven’t read but which is on my tbr pile

The Night Tiger by Yangsze ChooNight TigerIn 1930s colonial Malaya, a dissolute British doctor receives a surprise gift of an eleven-year-old Chinese houseboy. Sent as a bequest from an old friend, young Ren has a mission: to find his dead master’s severed finger and reunite it with his body. Ren has forty-nine days, or else his master’s soul will roam the earth forever.

Ji Lin, an apprentice dressmaker, moonlights as a dancehall girl to pay her mother’s debts. One night, Ji Lin’s dance partner leaves her with a gruesome souvenir that leads her on a crooked, dark trail.

As time runs out for Ren’s mission, a series of unexplained deaths occur amid rumours of tigers who turn into men. In their journey to keep a promise and discover the truth, Ren and Ji Lin’s paths will cross in ways they will never forget.

To read Jill’s personal list of books set in Singapore look here

 

#AtoZChallenge : P is for Pollyanna

I first came to the story of Pollyanna when I went to the cinema at the age of 11 to see the film.  Unfortunately I forgot my glasses, needed for distance viewing, so sitting in the circle it was like listening to an audio-book!  As a result I soon found the book by Eleanor Porter, to fill in the parts I had found difficult to follow, and it was well worthwhile.

Pollyanna

‘Most generally there is something about everything that you can be glad about, if you keep hunting long enough to find it’

When orphaned 11-year-old Pollyanna comes to live with Aunt Polly, she just feels lucky to have an aunt at all. She lives by the philosophy of her father, that there is always something to be glad about. Gradually she conveys that optimism and happy disposition to her aunt and the local community.  But she is not a sickly sweet child, for she gets into mischief and never stops talking.  Often she lacks tact or understanding of her elders and she has to suffer harsh words from others who do not appreciate her attitude. And then everything falls apart when a dreadful accident paralyses Pollyanna. Suddenly it is difficult to “play the glad game” or find the joy in every day.  Will her positivity ever return?

It is amazing how many of the characters I love from 20th century children’s books were likeable but precocious children, often orphaned, who charmed those they encountered and made a success of their lives.

 

 

The Lost Letters by Sarah Mitchell #BookReview #RBRT

Lost

 What if keeping your loved ones safe meant never seeing them again?

Norfolk, 1940: Sylvia’s husband Howard has gone off to war, and she is struggling to raise her two children alone. Her only solace is her beach hut in Wells-Next-The-Sea, and her friendship with Connie, a woman she meets on the beach. The two women form a bond that will last a lifetime, and Sylvia tells Connie something that no-one else knows: about a secret lover… and a child.

Canada, present day: When Martha’s beloved father dies, he leaves her two things: a mysterious stash of letters to an English woman called ‘Catkins’ and directions to a beach hut in the English seaside town of Wells. Martha is at a painful crossroads in her own life, and seizes this chance for a trip to England – to discover more about her family’s past, and the identity of her father’s secret correspondent.

The tragedy of war brought heartbreaking choices for Sylvia. And a promise made between her and Connie has echoed down the years. For Martha, if she uncovers the truth, it could change everything…

My Review

Martha, overcomes her terror of flying in order to discover more about her father’s past. Having written about his life in Canada, he was about to return to his roots in East Anglia when he suddenly died. Martha also wants to see her estranged daughter, Janey, who is studying at Cambridge, but first she must solve the mystery of the beach hut he father had rented and the file of letters on his computer to someone called Catkins.

The novel takes us back to World War Two and a friendship between two young women, Sylvie and Connie.  Each is hiding a secret and their unexpected friendship gives them courage to take a bold decision.  We are shown a vivid picture of life in wartime Britain, where women had important roles doing their best for their country in the Women’s Voluntary Service, against a background of bombing and fear.  Relationships between men sent off to fight and their worried wives at home are severely strained and they can easily grow apart.

Martha is an engaging character, whose story, written in the present tense, involves us actively in her compelling adventure, while Sylvie, distanced by the past tense, makes us fear for her future happiness.  Threads are gradually gathered, connecting the women together and enabling Martha to forge a more positive future where she is reunited with her daughter and finally understands her father’s past.

The Lost Letters can be purchased at Amazon UK

S Mitchell

Sarah Mitchell

THE LOST LETTERS in my first novel, inspired by a visit to Wells-next-the-Sea in Norfolk, where there is a row of iconic beach huts. Some of them looked very old to me, and it made me wonder for how many generations they might have been in the same family and handed down over the years…

I didn’t become a writer until I was in my forties. I studied law and after that practised as a barrister in London for nearly 20 years. For a long while I wanted to write a novel – inspired by my mother who used to write children’s stories for a radio programme called ‘Listen with Mother’ – but it took me a long while to take the plunge and actually make the dream happen. As well as the beach huts, THE LOST LETTERS draws on the decision my grandparents almost made to evacuate my mother to Canada at the start of the Second World War. So much has changed since then, and yet so much – the bonds within a family – are the same. I wanted to explore that in my writing.

I now live back in Norfolk, where I grew up, with my husband and three almost-grown-up children. Norfolk is an extraordinary county and I feel incredibly lucky to live here. I hope THE LOST LETTERS captures a little bit of the beauty of Norfolk, as well as the horror and hardship of war.

You can follow Sarah Mitchell on Twitter at @SarahM_writer

The Matrimonial Advertisement (Parish Orphans of Devon Book 1) by Mimi Matthews #NewRelease #RBRT #BookReview

 

The-Matrimonial-Advertisement-Web-Medium-with-Quote-e1530680720709

 

Helena Reynolds needs sanctuary and, even more than that, a protector. She has travelled to Greyfriar’s Abbey, a remote estate in Devon, to enter into a marriage contract with a stranger. Captain Justin Thornhill is a brave, attractive man, so why is he advertising for a bride? Tortured in India during the mutiny at Cawnpore, he bears scars, and a scarred personality. He needs a business arrangement which will provide contentment and household management, but why has this beautiful, refined lady offered to marry him? They both conceal secrets which may drive them apart. Helena has a vulnerability which makes Justin protective and soon the couple become close, despite fate dictating that they have no future together.

This is an irresistible romance with the added frisson of gothic fear. At a time in Victorian Britain when a woman belonged entirely to her father, guardian or husband, could Helena ever be free to love and live as she wishes? Mimi’s writing style is engaging, and we are plunged immediately into Helena’s predicament. Secrets are gradually revealed, adding depth to our understanding of the main characters. This is Miss Matthews’ best book so far and it is only the first in a new series!

To buy The Matrimonial Advertisement in the UK

To read my review of The Lost Letter by Mimi Matthews

Mimi Matthews

Mimi

Mimi Matthews is the author of The Pug Who Bit Napoleon: Animal Tales of the 18th and 19th Centuries and A Victorian Lady’s Guide to Fashion and Beauty. She researches and writes on all aspects of nineteenth century history—from animals, art, and etiquette to fashion, beauty, feminism, and law. Her scrupulously cited articles have been published on various academic and history sites, including the Victorian Web and the Journal of Victorian Culture, and are also syndicated weekly at BUST Magazine.

Mimi’s writing and research have been referenced in such diverse web and print publications as Smithsonian MagazineThe Paris Review, The Journal of Civil War MedicineApartment Therapy, and USA Today’s Happy-Ever-After blog. Her work is frequently used in high school and college classrooms as part of an English or History curriculum.

When not writing historical non-fiction, Mimi authors exquisitely proper Victorian romance novels with dark, brooding heroes and intelligent, pragmatic heroines. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society, Romance Writers of America, and English Historical Fiction Authors. Her debut Victorian romance The Lost Letter was released in September 2017.

In her other life, Mimi is an attorney with both a Juris Doctor and a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature. She resides in California with her family—which includes an Andalusian dressage horse, two Shelties, and two Siamese cats.

https://www.mimimatthews.com/

Gold Plated by Christine Campbell #FridayReads #RBRT

Gold plated

Rosanna and Paul are celebrating their Golden Wedding with a grand party at the local Golf Club.  Aided by their only daughter Heather, Rosanna is making sure that everything is perfect including baking a delicious cake and buying Paul the ideal gift, but have all their years together been so perfect?

The clock is turned back to 1964 when Rosanna started at Art college and Paul was her young, charismatic tutor.  Lacking confidence in herself, she was astonished that he chose her as his “secret” girlfriend, but against all odds, they have now been married for 50 years.  Abandoning her earlier artistic ambitions, Rosanna has looked after their lovely home while Paul continued his successful teaching career.

Christine Campbell is skilled at putting us inside Rosanna’s head.  We begin to understand her calm, quiet personality and her loyal, loving nature.  We can see that Paul takes her for granted but they seem to have a happy marriage.  But at the party everything changes in a dramatic way. Secrets are revealed, treachery exposed, and Rosanna’s life is in tatters.

This is a story, with which we can all identify in some way.  It is sadly true that many women, and men, can suddenly find themselves alone as old age approaches and dealing with the collapse of all they believed in can be catastrophic. But this is not a sad story, there is a positive message that life is what we make of it and Rosanna discovers new personal qualities of independence and self-reliance as well as rekindling her creativity.

Personally, I would have preferred the story to have been written in the past tense, especially for the scenes from the past, but that is probably just my particular bête-noire!  The detailed involvement in Rosanna’s rollercoasting emotions and cleverly plotted, surprising events make this book a very rewarding read.

Gold Plated is available on Amazon UK

Christine Campbell

Christine Campbell

Christine Campbell lives in a small village outside of Edinburgh with her husband, whatever assortment of children and grandchildren happen to be visiting at the time, and awaiting her first great-granddaughter. How exciting is that?

When she has a moment of peace, and is not distracted by the varied wildlife currently taking up residence in her garden and the field beyond, Christine writes novels or posts on her blog at cicampbellblog.wordpress.com as well as producing occasional videos about her writing on her Facebook page and YouTube.

Lifting The Lid Off Christine’s Kist Of Stories can be found on Facebook

My review of Searching for Summer by Christine Campbell

The Wind Singer by William Nicholson #BookReview #YA

Wind Singer

William Nicholson was the playwright who wrote “Shadowlands” and “Gladiator” so it may surprise you to read that The Wind Singer is a children’s book (or at least young adults). It is a dystopian fantasy, centred on Kestrel and Bowman Hath, twin sister and brother who live in the city of Aramanth with their mother, father and baby sister. In Aramanth everyone is ranked and housed according to their success or otherwise in examinations. From the first toddler test to check whether a baby can identify colours and is out of nappies to the advanced tests for the father of the family.

The Hath family live in the Orange sector which we would identify as being for blue-collar workers although they are obviously intellectually superior but don’t toe the line. Kestrel is strong and independent and always protects her sensitive, fey, twin brother Bowman. The whole Hath family are closely tied by love and are torn apart by a mistake made by Kestrel. She and her brother realise that the city will only become whole and normal if they can find the missing part of the Wind-Singer a strange tower erected by another race thousands of years before. Their quest takes them on a long journey accompanied by Mumpo, a very simple boy who loves Kestrel. Their journey, bravery and adventures make up the rest of the story. It sounds predictable but it is a compelling read and this is both a complete story in its own right and part one of a trilogy with very different, more demanding events in the next two books.

I think this is essential reading for today’s constantly tested young people, especially the children of competitive parents, but it is also a very enjoyable read for any adult who enjoys a fantasy read.

The Wind Singer at Amazon UK

Double Cheque by Heather MacQuarrie #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

Double

Like all good dramas, “Double Cheque” is about secrets and lies.  As in “Broken Cups,” Heather MacQuarrie’s previous book, the story describes families and young couples with happy lives which can so easily be destroyed by unfaithfulness or anger.

This story centres on Jasmine, a young woman moving into her first flat and her parents, Patty and Kenneth.  Jasmine is devastated to discover that her mother has been conducting an affair, unknown to her father and she enlists the help of her brother Sam.  Patty still loves her husband but cannot resist the excitement of weekends with Dougie.

Jasmine is happy to make new friends, Jillian, Bradley and Alasdair and one of these young men may bring love into her life.  Meanwhile she decides to help mutual friend, Grant to a reconciliation with his father, Cameron Ferguson, who ironically is a good friend of Patty’s lover Dougie.

As a reader it takes a while to get your head around the relationships in this character packed novel but soon you begin to care about their feelings and the predicaments in which they find themselves.  The unpleasantness and difficulties experienced by Alasdair as a result of brain damage from a childhood accident are dealt with sensitively and it is heartening to read of the support he receives from his close circle of friends.

There is also a suspicious death to be dealt with.  We know the perpetrator, but does he deserve our sympathy or approbation?  Will he be caught or betrayed?  This has all the elements of an exciting soap opera.

The Women of Heachley Hall by Rachel Walkley #RBRT #NewRelease

Heachley

When book illustrator, Miriam Chambers inherits Great Aunt Felicity’s Victorian mansion in the Norfolk countryside, she discovers it is a poisoned chalice.  Either she must live in the run-down, cold building for a year and a day, or it will be auctioned for charity.  Since she is able to work at home she decides to accept the challenge and she employs some local tradesmen to improve the facilities a little.  But it is a lonely house set in overgrown woodland and Miriam is grateful when a strange-looking young man comes to the door offering to chop wood and do odd jobs.  As the creaks and bangs around the house alarm her, she is pleased when Charles, the reticent young man, provides company.

 

Increasingly Miriam tries to find the reason for the conditions imposed in her Great Aunt’s will.  Was there foul play when she had her accident and what happened years before when part of the house burnt down?  This beautifully written mystery weaves a spell around the house and the people connected to it.  It is easy to empathise with Miriam but there is a surprising conclusion which you are unlikely to predict.  Reminding me of the books of Kate Morton, this is a story for lovers of ghost stories, history and romance.  The introductory quote.

“One lives in hope of becoming a memory”

Is an apt description of this haunting story, about the nature of love.

You will find The Women of Heachley Hall on Amazon UK or on Amazon US

Rachel Walkley’s delightful description of herself:-

Aspiring writer who pens Women’s Fiction and magical tales about family secrets.

What else?

An East Anglian turned Northerner – ish.

Information professional, always.

Biologist, in my memories.

Archivist, when required.

Amateur pianist and flautist.

Reluctant gardener.

Scribbler of pictures.

And forever…. a mother and wife.

Oh, not forgetting, cat lover!

The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman #FridayReads #BookReview

Masked City

After reading The Invisible Library I was looking forward to this second volume of the series in which Library Agent, Irene Winters, faces another challenging mission in alternative worlds.  Her handsome apprentice, Kai has been kidnapped and taken to an alternative Venice ruled by the Fae, therefore rampant with chaos.

Unaided, she must rescue Kai, before the Dragons, lords of “order,” declare war with the Fae.  Setting out to find him before it is too late, Irene makes unlikely alliances with a group of followers of important Fae patrons, as they travel on an incredible train which can move between worlds.  Adopting a carnival mask and an all covering cloak she attempts to move around the dark alleys and gloomy canals of Venice, incognito, but she constantly finds herself in increasing danger from the evil Lord and Lady Guantes.

The city is described in rich detail, maintaining its reputation for murder and fear.  Irene is a bold, creative agent who uses her story telling powers to create narratives which bend reality to her purpose.  Her powers of using the Library Language to open locks and change the state of matter, help her in her task, but cause her pain and exhaustion.  This colourful story is full of vivid images of the iconic buildings in Venice and the sumptuous mythical train, which are a delight to read.   Although all the essential background story is given, you will gain most by reading Book One The Invisible Library first.

The Masked City is available at Amazon UK

More about Genevieve Cogman and The invisible Library

The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd #BookReview

London Eye

I recently discovered the books of Siobhan Dowd, sadly after she died.  Written as a young adult adventure, “The London Eye Mystery” is exactly the sort of book I would have bought for my school Library or classroom.

 

Written in the words of Ted, who lives with his parents and elder sister Kat in London, it describes the mysterious disappearance of his cousin Salim from a capsule on the London Eye and how he and Kat try to find him.  Ted’s approach is unusual, because he has Asperger’s syndrome and he has a particular knowledge and interest in meteorology. Thus, he works logically through all possibilities, even the absurd, such as spontaneous combustion, using climatic vocabulary, for instance The Eye of the Hurricane and The Coriolis Effect, to analyse events.

 

Ted and Kat put their sibling rivalry aside to find their cousin.  Kat tells Ted that he is genius and he learns that she is able to read body language which he does not understand. Ted’s navigation of the underground and his experience of the crowded Earl’s Court exhibition centre, highlight the fears such places can induce for many people but how feelings can be overcome when it really matters.  A great book for 10 or 11-year-olds but I really enjoyed it too.

Siobhan Dowd

Siobhan Dowd was born to Irish parents and brought up in London. She spent much of her youth visiting the family cottage in Aglish, County Waterford and later the family home in Wicklow Town.
She attended a Catholic grammar school in south London and then gained a degree in Classics at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford University. After a short stint in publishing, she joined the writer’s organization PEN, initially as a researcher for its Writers in Prison Committee.

She went on to be Program Director of PEN American Center’s Freedom-to-Write Committee in New York City. Her work here included founding and leading the Rushdie Defense Committee USA and traveling to Indonesia and Guatemala to investigate local human rights conditions for writers. During her seven-year spell in New York, Siobhan was named one of the “top 100 Irish-Americans” by Irish-America Magazine and AerLingus, for her global anti-censorship work.

On her return to the UK, Siobhan co-founded English PEN’s readers and writers programme, which takes authors into schools in socially deprived areas, as well as prisons, young offender’s institutions and community projects.

During 2004, Siobhan served as Deputy Commissioner for Children’s Rights in Oxfordshire, working with local government to ensure that statutory services affecting children’s lives conform with UN protocols.
Siobhan has an MA with Distinction in Gender and Ethnic Studies at Greenwich University, has authored short stories, columns and articles, and edited two anthologies.

In May 2007, Siobhan was named one of “25 authors of the future” by Waterstones Books as part of the latter’s 25th anniversary celebrations.

Siobhan died on 21st August 2007 aged 47. She had been receiving treatment for advanced breast cancer for 3 years, and did not go gentle into that good night.