Trouble in Nuala by Harriet Steel #bookreview

nuala

Trouble in Nuala is the first in a series of investigations by Inspector Shanti de Silva in colonial Ceylon.  Although a Sri Lankan himself, Shanti is married to Jane, an Englishwoman whom he had met after she came to the island as a governess.  They mix in the “best” social circles of Nuala, up in the hills far from the busy city of Colombo.  An experienced policeman, he may feel frustrated by his junior police officers and by the patronising attitude of Clutterbuck, the assistant government agent, but he is determined to investigate all cases without preference.

Although mainly concerned with minor offences such as neglected horses running wild, the sudden death of a bombastic, unpopular tea planter strikes de Silva as being suspicious, so he quietly makes inquiries into all the circumstances.  The lonely widow and the planter’s stepson were not happy, the plantation was making a loss and a young lawyer had recently accused the planter of mistreating his workers.

Interspersed with the gradual investigation is a delightful description of the beauty of Sri Lanka and of the pretentious social life of the British community living there in the 1930s.  Shanti and Jane have a respectful relationship based on love and consideration, so he willingly eats cucumber sandwiches when he would much prefer a spicier snack.

This gentle, intelligent policemen could well become renowned for his careful and thoughtful approach to crime in an enthralling environment.  A very enjoyable and relaxing book to read.  I look forward to his next investigation.

You can find Trouble in Nuala here

Rosie's Book Review team 1

Rack and Ruin by Carol Hedges

Rack &

In Rack and Ruin, Victorian progress continues apace.  The age of the railway has begun and people’s homes are being knocked down to make way for the tracks.  It is 1863 and lowly bank clerks, Danton Waxwing and Edwin Persiflage relieve the monotony of their daily drudge by plotting anarchist deeds.  Inspector Lachlan Greig, however, is more concerned with the discovery of tiny bodies revealed by the railway company’s explosives.

 

Meanwhile in Fitzroy Square, Daisy Lawton, spoilt daughter of an eminent surgeon, tries on beautiful dresses, in which to meet a potential husband.  Her former school friend, Tishy Simpkins, would prefer to continue her studies aided by the Ladies’ Literary and Philosophical Society, but she is enforced to look after her young brothers and attend to domestic tasks, by her uncaring father.  Amongst the other characters in the novel is young engineer, Fred Grizewood, who would dearly love to discuss his ideas with his renowned mentor, Joseph Bazalgette, but an unexpected event changes his life profoundly.

 

This novel is rich with mid Victorian life, from the gutter press to the fine drawing rooms and on to rough pubs frequented by villains and prostitutes.  Struggling in this hectic world, are oppressed women, caring police officers and evil baby farmers.

 

I take particular pleasure from the authentic 19th century writing style, so fitting to the subject matter and my knowledge is enriched by the inclusion of words which are new to me, such as “cynosure”.  The definition of this word, used by Carol Hedges, is, “something that strongly attracts attention by its brilliance.”  I think that’s an accurate description of this book.

Rack and Ruin can be ordered from Amazon

You can find my reviews of earlier books in this series:-                                                                     Diamonds and Dust                                                                                                                                          Honour and Obey                                                                                                                                                Death and Dominion

Rosie's Book Review team 1

 

Anywhere the Wind Blows by Jenny Lloyd

Anywhere

In this third book of the Megan Jones Trilogy, once again we find Megan in danger, due to the evil acts of others.  She should be making a new start at Wild Water, with brother, Morgan nearby and even Branwen on her side, but there is suggestion that Eli’s suicide might have been murder and either Morgan or Megan the assailant.

 

It is harvest time, but Megan’s labourers abandon her so she must seek new workers at the hiring fire.  Meanwhile we have met a new character, Cai Traherne, a psychic with an equally tragic past.  As he takes over as farm manager, will he be able to prevent further sadness befalling Megan?  Branwen now wants to be Megan’s friend, but is too late for that?

 

Written in the words of these three pivotal characters, the reader is drawn into the unfolding drama, hoping that Cai might yet prove to be a guardian angel, even though dreadful deeds, secrets and lies surround them.  Against the backdrop of the beautiful Welsh countryside which Megan loves, a thrilling tale is told.

You can read my review of Jenny Lloyd’s earlier book The Calling of the Raven here and you can see Leap the Wild Water at Amazon UK

#FridayBookShare The Mystic Rose by Stephen Lawhead @ShelleyWilson72

#FridayBookShare is a game created by Shelley Wilson to help search for an ideal read.

Anyone can have a go – all you need to do is answer the following questions based on the book you are currently reading/finished reading this week and use the hashtag #FridayBookShare

First line of the book.

Recruit fans by adding the book blurb

Introduce the main character using only three words.

Delightful design (add the cover image of the book).

Audience appeal (who would enjoy reading this book?)

Your favourite line/scene.

The Mystic Rose is Book III in Stephen Lawhead‘s Celtic Crusades but it works well as a stand alone read and as an introduction to this prolific author.

First Line    A young woman of my acquaintance saw a ghost.  Ordinarily I would not have given such a melodramatic triviality even passing notice, save for two pertinent facts.

Recruit fans by adding the book blurb

A story rich in history and imagination, here is the final volume in Stephen R. Lawhead’s magnificent saga of a Scottish noble family and its divine quest during the age of the Great Crusades.

A thousand years after its disappearance, the Mystic Rose—the fabled Chalice of the Last Supper—has been found, and the warrior monks of the Knights Templar, led by the ruthless and corrupt Renaud de Bracineaux, will stop at nothing to possess it. One brave, dauntless, noblewoman stands in their way . . .

Born among the hills of Scotland, and raised on the Crusader tales of her grandfather, Murdo, and her father, Duncan, young Cait is determined to claim the Holy Cup for her own. Guided by a handful of clues gleaned from a stolen letter, Cait and a small band of knights follow a treacherous trail that leads from the shadowed halls of Saint Sophia into the heart of Moorish Spain and a world long unseen by Christian eyes. A journey whose end means victory . . . or death.

Introduce the main character –Caitlin is determined, resourceful and vengeful.

Delightful Design

Mystic Rose Mystic US

Audience appeal  To readers who like myths, legends and stories of the Knight Templars

Your favourite line/scene

The slender blade went spinning to the ground, and the bandit, seeing that she was unarmed, reached for the bridle of her horse.  Cait slashed the rains across his face, catching him on the side of his head as he leaned forward.  He drew back with a curse between his teeth, and jabbed at her with the sword.  She dodged aside easily and the bandit lunged forward, snagging the bridle strap of her mount.  She pulled back hard on the reins, attempting to make her horse rear, but the bandit clung on, keeping the animals head down.

The wild-eyed brute swung around beside her, thrusting the sword at her as he made to lead her horse away, taking her with him.  Throwing aside the reins, she slid lightly off the back of the horse, landed on her feet and started for the tent once more.

Find the book on Amazon UK or US

If you want to join in, then answer the F.R.I.D.A.Y questions and use the Friday Book Share meme. Tag Shelley (@ShelleyWilson72) in, so she can read what you have added, too.

The Planter’s Wife by Ann Bennett

Planter

After hearing Ann Bennett’s reasons for writing her Bamboo Trilogy, I found myself particularly drawn to the second book, The Planter’s Wife because it described the period of history, during the second world war, when all society in Singapore and Malaya was turned completely upside down in a tragic, life-changing manner.  The book moves between the late 1930s/ early 1940s when Juliet and Rose arrived in Penang to stay with their aunt and uncle and the early 1960s when Mary, a young nurse, arrives at the remote rubber plantation which Juliet is running in northern Malaysia.

The events leading up to and during the war, are described in the first person by Juliet, so that we experience her sadness and horror at events beyond her control, while the story of Mary and Juliet in the 1960s is in the third person, enabling Juliet to keep her secrets and maintain a distance from her companion.  This is a story of love, passion and cruelty in an outdated society but it is also the story of major conflict and dreadful acts which we should never forget.

The detailed account of Juliet’s survival in occupied Singapore is fascinating, as it reflects the experiences of all the races who lived on the island more than any other book I have read about the conflict.  The travels in 1960s Indonesia are both interesting in showing a simple unspoilt society and in describing how they dealt with invasion 20 years earlier.

This was a story I could not put down, as I needed to discover Juliet’s secrets and what had happened to the other characters in the book and now I will turn to A Daughter’s Quest, the first book in the series.

Ann Bennett describes the background to her “Bamboo Trilogy”

Today I have great pleasure in welcoming Ann Bennett to Lost in a Good Book to tell us about her intriguing Bamboo Trilogy.

ABann photo No2

When did you start to write, Ann?

I’ve been writing in my spare time on and off for over twenty-five years and have several half-finished novels and numerous short stories in my collection which I might one day dust off and revive!  In 2014 I was lucky enough to submit Bamboo Heart to Monsoon Books who liked it enough to offer me a publishing deal.

Better B Heart

What was your inspiration for Bamboo Heart?

The idea for Bamboo Heart came from researching my father’s wartime experiences. He fought in the Indian Army in the Malaya campaign and was taken prisoner at the Fall of Singapore. He worked on the Thai-Burma railway and survived the sinking of a hell-ship off the Philippines.

AB Death Railway _ Australian War Memorial

The novel first came to life when I discovered his ‘liberation questionnaire’ in the National Archives in Kew. It was an amazing moment when I first saw it, written in his perfect copper-plate handwriting, it answered so many questions I would have liked to ask him. The discovery was the culmination of a lifetime’s quest to find out what happened to him during the war. Since my first visit to Thailand in 1985, I’d travelled to South East Asia many times. I visited Kanchanaburi and the Bridge on the River Kwai in 1988. Those visits gave me a life-long love of the region, but taught me little about what happened to Dad during the war. However, from the moment I read his questionnaire, I knew I had to write about the railway to try to bring the story to life.

ABn Ann and Ollie 2010

In Bamboo Heart I drew directly on some of the events Dad had described. I tried to capture the suffering and courage of prisoners of war of the Japanese. The book tells the story of Tom Ellis, a prisoner enslaved on the Death Railway, and also charts the journey of his daughter, Laura, who turns her back on her comfortable lifestyle in eighties London to investigate her father’s wartime experience.

The wartime events were harrowing. So to lighten the mood, I broke it up with flashbacks to Tom’s pre-war life in colonial Penang, where he fell in love. I tried to tell a story of hope and survival, to examine the reasons why some survived the worst of ordeals and others sadly did not. I also wanted to show what an important role history plays in all our lives; how powerfully our family’s past affects our own choices and values.

My research for Bamboo Heart taught me so much more about the war in the Far East than I’d expected. I had not previously known how civilians suffered; about starvation and massacres, about bravery and sacrifice. I was struck by how the lives of everyone in the region was affected by the war and the occupation. I was inspired to explore the events from other angles and through other people’s stories, and hit upon the idea of writing a trilogy about the war in South East Asia.

What is the theme of Bamboo Island?

AB Bamboo Island

Bamboo Island is the story of Juliet Crosby, a plantation owner’s wife, who has lived a reclusive life since the war robbed her of everyone she loved. The sudden appearance of a stranger in the 1960s disrupts her lonely existence and stirs up unsettling memories.

I wanted to show how the war engulfed the region, how it destroyed families and lives. It was important for Juliet to be involved in her own personal struggle before the invasion changes everything. She travels from London to Penang with her sister Rose, initially for a visit, but both soon decide to settle in Malaya.  Juliet marries Gavin Crosby and travels with him to his remote rubber estate, but quickly discovers that all is not quite as might first have appeared. Her life is already in turmoil when war breaks out.

Through Juliet’s eyes the reader witnesses the horrors of the Japanese occupation of Singapore: the infamous massacre at the Alexandra Hospital; the horrific Sook Ching (elimination by purification) which saw the murder of many Chinese men and the brutal treatment of internees in Changi jail. The sinking of the civilian transport ship, the Vyner Brooke, and the massacre of survivors on Bangka Island, off Sumatra, were the inspiration for the sinking of a fictitious ship, the Rajah of Sarawak, which is central to the plot of Bamboo Island.  My aim, as in Bamboo Heart, was to bring the dreadful events of the Second World War to life through the story and the eyes of one character.

So who will we meet in the last book of the trilogy?

AB Bamboo Rd

I’ve continued the theme in Bamboo Road, the story of Sirinya, a young Thai woman, who together with her family are members of the Thai underground. They risk their lives to help prisoners building the Thai-Burma railway. The events of those years have repercussions for decades to come. The book tells Sirinya’s wartime story and how in the 1970s she returns to Kanchanaburi after a long absence abroad, to settle old scores from the war years.
Bamboo Road is to be published by Monsoon Books in 2017.

You can find Bamboo Heart on Amazon here

and Bamboo Island

The Sans Pareil Mystery by Karen Charlton

Charlton

I read this 19th century detective story without realising that it was the second investigation in Regency London for Detective Lavender and Constable Woods, but this was no handicap.  Although Stephen Lavender is reserved, we slowly learn of his sad past, his new budding romance and his renowned detective abilities.  Assisted by dependable Ned Woods, he is able to cut through the mystery to the dangerous underlying plot, while dealing with his tortuous private life.

 

The other main character, Donᾶ Magdalena, has a troubled past and an insecure future, which aids the plot considerably.  I would have liked the villains to have had more substance and subtlety but the developing drama keeps the reader on the edge of her seat.

 

I enjoyed discovering more about the Bow Street Magistrates and the London theatre in 1810, without feeling that I was being taught.  It is a refreshing change to have a detective story set in this era.  The precarious position of women in a male dominated society is clearly shown while still maintaining the exciting drama and sweet romance.  I shall certainly be seeking out the earlier story of Lavender and Woods.

#AtoZChallenge Letter L

The theme of my challenge is poetry and books inspired by art and/or art inspired by literature.

Lis for the Lady and the Unicorn

The_Lady_and_the_unicorn_Desire

There are 6 tapestries exhibited in Paris called La Dame à la licorne, all of which show a noble lady with a lion and a unicorn.  In some there is also a monkey.  Five of them represent the five senses and the sixth, A mon seul désir, shown above, which may represent love or understanding.  The tapestries were woven, from wool and silk, in Flanders, from drawings made in Paris circa 1500.  They bear the arms of Jean Le Viste, a powerful nobleman in the court of King Charles VII.  The background to each tapestry is the mille-fleurs design.

Unicorn

In her book published in 2003, Tracy Chevalier gives a possible account of how the tapestries might have been woven and who the model for the virginal lady could be. Weaving her story into the warp and weft of the masterpiece she has created a compelling story.  On her website you can read more interesting facts about The Lady and the Unicorn.

You can find a list of all the other A to Z Challengers here.

 

#AtoZChallenge Letter E

025-eleventh-century-02-e-q90-1372x1483  is for Ekphrasis

Ekphrasis is the theme of my A to Z Challenge.  It means responding to, or interpreting one form of Art in another form.  So a poem may describe a painting or express the poet’s emotional response to it or a poem may inspire an artist to paint a picture.  This is not the original Greek meaning of the word Ekphrasis but it has evolved into this usage.

E is also for Essie Fox.  She has written books which respond to and interpret famous works of art.  Essie’s debut novel The Somnambulist takes its title from the painting by Millais, showing a sleepwalker in a Victorian nightdress.  Essie visited Bonhams when the painting was being auctioned.

Somnambulist           a somnambulist bonhams

According to Essie, “Apart from the usual allusions to Wilkie Collins’ novel The Woman in White, and the opera by Bellini which is called La Sonnambula, it seems that the painting was also inspired by Millais’ admiration for Symphony in White No 1:  The White Girl by J. A. M. Whistler.”

Essie

Book Description of The Somnambulist by Essie Fox

When seventeen-year old Phoebe Turner visits Wilton’s Music Hall to watch her Aunt Cissy performing on stage, she risks the wrath of her mother Maud who marches with the Hallelujah Army, campaigning for all London theatres to close. While there, Phoebe is drawn to a stranger, the enigmatic Nathaniel Samuels who heralds dramatic changes in the lives of all three women. When offered the position of companion to Nathaniel’s reclusive wife, Phoebe leaves her life in London’s East End for Dinwood Court in Herefordshire — a house that may well be haunted and which holds the darkest of truths. In a gloriously gothic debut, Essie Fox weaves a spellbinding tale of guilt and deception, regret and lost love.

Link to list of other A to Z Challengers

 

The Lake House by Kate Morton

Lake House

The Lake house contains all the ingredients I have come to expect in a novel by Kate Morton: mystery, action in different eras, a beautiful house in Cornwall and more than one complex female protagonist.

The core story is of the Edevane family who lived in Leoanneth, a large house by a lake in Cornwall, from 1911 until 1933.  An idyllic love story is blighted by the First World War and as their family life appears to be blossoming again, tragedy strikes.

Moving to 2003, we meet Sadie Sparrow, a feisty police sergeant who has let her emotions take over when investigating the case of an abandoned child.  Visiting her grandfather, Bertie in Cornwall she inadvertently discovers Leoanneth, overgrown and deserted.  Soon she is putting her experience to good use trying to discover what happened on that fateful Midsummer Eve in 1933.  As she researches old newspapers and case notes, we encounter Alice Edevane, who was 16 in 1933 and is now a very successful crime write of 86.  Will she help Sadie or will she keep her secrets?

The intricate plot weaves threads together in a most satisfying way.  The book has a glorious sense of time, of the echoes glimpsed momentarily.  Sadie, Alice and Alice’s mother Eleanor gradually reveal themselves as the book progresses.  They all share sadness and loss which they hide behind strong personas.

Some readers may feel that all the puzzles are solved too perfectly, but I was sad to leave this long beautiful book.