The Tea Planter’s Club by Ann Bennett #NewRelease #TuesdayBookBlog

Tea Planter

From award-winning author Ann Bennett, comes a heart-breaking story of love and loss set in World War 2 Burma.

In 1980, Edith Mayhew, proprietor of the Tea Planter’s Club in Calcutta, is preparing to sell up after years of decline. She thinks back to 1942 when her sister Betty vanished having fled over the mountains from Burma to Assam to escape the Japanese invasion. Whilst packing, Edith comes across some letters which may hold clues to Betty’s mysterious disappearance.

The discovery propels Edith on an epic journey to Assam, where she is forced to face devastating secrets of love and betrayal from the war years.

My Review

Edith and Betty had grown up close, as their parents were too busy drinking and enjoying themselves to look after the girls, but Edith, the eldest was the sensible one, while Betty was the beauty.  Arriving in Calcutta in 1938, a terrifying stabbing in the street drives them into The Tea Planters’ Club, where Gregory, the kind, courteous, British owner provides them with a suite. The two young women seek employment and reasonable accommodation, but meeting Robert Furnvall, a handsome, wealthy businessman from Rangoon, quickly changes Betty’s plans. She flirts outrageously with Robert, ignoring Edith’s feelings and within a week they have married and set out for Burma.  Edith hides her sadness, working hard in a boring office but when she decides she can no longer afford to stay at the Tea Planter’ Club, Gregory asks her to marry him and help him running the hotel. Theirs is a marriage of friendship and respect but in Rangoon, Betty finds her new husband boring and the colonial life tedious.

Both women are aware that war is approaching the East as the Japanese army invade Malaya. Both Gregory and Robert join the forces but while Edith maintains the Club for army officers, Betty is conducting an illicit affair. Soon Betty has to flee Rangoon as a refugee and her experiences change her character dramatically.  Edith anxiously awaited her sister’s arrival in Calcutta but now in 1980 she still wonders what happened to Betty. As she begins to pack up the hotel, she finds a hidden letter which might help her find out more. She travels up to Assam to a tea plantation where refugees were seen in 1942, hoping for news.

It was difficult to put this gripping story down, as Edith wins our sympathy immediately and yet gradually we find qualities in Betty which even she was unaware of. The story describes the frustrating life of many of the colonial wives, seeking a purpose or idling their lives away with gossip and partying, while the native populations long for independence.  As the dramatic events of World War Two destroy their way of life, relationships become the most important thing.  There is suffering and sadness within this novel but also a great mystery is solved in a satisfactory way with the promise of happiness for those who are left.

The Tea Planter’s Club is available at Amazon UK

My review of The Planter’s Wife by Ann Bennett

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 Missing Sister by Dinah Jefferies #BookReview

Missing

Belle Hatton has embarked upon an exciting new life far from home: a glamorous job as a nightclub singer in 1930s Burma, with a host of sophisticated new friends and admirers. But Belle is haunted by a mystery from the past – a 25 year old newspaper clipping found in her parents’ belongings after their death, saying that the Hattons were leaving Rangoon after the disappearance of their baby daughter, Elvira.

Belle is desperate to find out what happened to the sister she never knew she had – but when she starts asking questions, she is confronted with unsettling rumours, malicious gossip, and outright threats. Oliver, an attractive, easy-going American journalist, promises to help her, but an anonymous note tells her not to trust those closest to her. . .

Belle survives riots, intruders, and bomb attacks – but nothing will stop her in her mission to uncover the truth. Can she trust her growing feelings for Oliver? Is her sister really dead? And could there be a chance Belle might find her?

My Review

Belle is a brave, independent young woman, making her own way in the world, following her father’s death.  After a comfortable but not very happy childhood she is curious about the mother who left her and a sister she never knew.  Her story is told against the dangerous political undercurrent of colonial Burma in a pre-war world about to disappear.  While apparently protected by the British authorities, Belle has little sympathy for their autocratic attitudes and she is determined to discover the truth about her sister, even when it means taking a hazardous voyage up country, along the Irrawaddy river.

I knew very little about the history of Burma, now Myanmar, so I found the descriptions of the old mansions in Rangoon and the golden pagodas on the hills near Mandalay, fascinating.  Belle’s story is interwoven with that of Diana, her mother, in the 1920s, so we also try to solve the mystery of baby, Elvira. As we read of Diana’s gradual estrangement from her husband, the parallel tale of Belle and American journalist, Oliver, suggests a happier fate, but misunderstandings and a plot to silence Belle, could destroy any hope of a happy ending.

Once again, Miss Jefferies has written a compelling eastern tale of mystery and romance, which I highly recommend.

The Missing Sister can be found on Amazon UK

My review of The Separation by By Dinah Jefferies is here