Saturday, August 12, 2017

I am in a happy place - at a farm overlooking mountains, the sun is shining and all is well. I am relaxed and this is much needed downtime and a chance to catch up with me blog and tell you what I have been reading and also what bookclub are enjoying.
I last told you of my enjoyment of The Tea Planters Daughter by Janet Macleod which was a bargain from Amazon Kindle - well I found two more in the series and enjoyed them both, The Tea Planters Bride and The Girl from the Tea Garden. All set in both the UK and India in a time of gentle living, fine manners and family feuds. Very entertaining and really good stories. I love tea but I had to move on!
From Bookclub I have read A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline who wrote Orphan Train which I really enjoyed.
 This book was well researched and brilliantly written - a technical masterpiece .... but it just didn't captivate me.  The story was inspired by a painting by an American artist Andrew Wyeth called 'Christina's World' and captures the life of a young woman who suffered from a degenerative illness and it is set in a farmhouse in Cushing Maine. Its a working farm and her family all work hard barely to keep themselves. A bright girl - Christina is forced to leave school to help out at home - with no electricity or running water - life is harsh and her disability makes it harsher. She is pitied by family and neighbours and she hates this. Her life is changed when a group of friends bring a young man home for the holidays and she dares to believe that he loves her and she falls in love with him - however his family will not let it be and the truth is that he doesn't fight very hard to let her go. she faces a harsh future alone with her much older brother to bring in money they rent a room to an artist and she becomes his muse. The artist spends the next decade or so staying with them each summer and she becomes the model for his famous painting which evokes a sense of mystery and curiosity in all who view it.

I enjoyed Circling the Sun by Paula Maclain. In fact I loved this book - and 'flew' through it in three days as I knew nothing about Beryl Markham - the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic but found her a fascinating subject for a biography. She was raised by her father in Kenya and the book details her family life, lovers and marriages.  The book details life in Colonial Kenya and the eccentric people that were attracted by the prospect of farming and fortunes to be made. It has made me want to read her actual biography.

Bookclub have also enjoyed "Big Little Lies" by Liane Moriarty - I bought this book as the book I had ordered for my bookclub buy arrived in Singapore a day after I left so I had to make a quick choice and I had read that Nicole Kidman and Reece Wetherspoon were so impressed with this novel that they bought the rights immediately and made it into a series. I haven't read it but Shakespeare's Sisters say its gripping and unputdownable! I binge watched the series on a long haul flight and the storyline kept me guessing to the very last five minutes so I guess the book keeps its secret right to the end. You don't even know who the victim is never mind the murderer until the last  minute!
This is what an Amazon reviewer had to say about it - "I rarely write reviews, but I have to for this book. It is just too good. It is not a mystery. You know someone dies. It is not a crime novel. It is a novel about women and people. There are three main characters, all mothers with kindergarten children in the same school. They are all so different, but so vividly portrayed in all their goodness and their flaws. You wish you knew them. The scene where the death actually occurs is so wonderfully written that I had to read it twice. Sounds odd, doesn't it, but you will understand when you read it. The book is so clever and so witty."

The next two books were recommendations from my niece and both were enjoyable although set worlds apart in different centuries. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante is a modern masterpiece from one of Italy's most acclaimed authors. It a rich and intense story of two friends Elena and Lila set in the 1950s in a poor and vibrant neighbourhood on the outskirts of Naples where they journey from infant hood through the complications of puberty and ultimately marriage. Lila is the brighter of the two and the most streetwise but circumstances force her to abandon her education but she still coaches Elena to excellence at school where her ambition is to have her words published. They hero worship a man from the village who achieved the unthinkable by having a book of poetry published. They imagine him living a rich and expensive life until he returns and rekindles a dark secret known by some in the village. Beautiful descriptions and great insight into the vulnerability of youth.

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry on the other hand, is set in Britain in the 1890s is about life, beliefs and love, science and religion, secrets and mystery. It reminded me of Remarkable Creatures by Tracey Chivalier both novels are set in a time of Victorian passion for collecting fossils along the Essex coast and their heroines strong women choosing to live differently enjoying the 'manish' pursuit of ammonites. Great characters and a love story with many twists and turns - It is a worthy winner of Britain's Best Book of the Year.

Last but not least my best read 'The Girl from Simons Bay' by Barbara Mutch. Just one of those books that you don't want to end. Local is lekker and this books tells the story of a seashell and a sealed letter that form a tenuous connection to a forbidden wartime romance.  1937 and Simons Town is a vibrant and diverse community with a Royal Navy port at the towns heart. Louise Ahrendts daughter of a shipbuilder nurtures her dream of becoming a nurse in a world of unwritten and unspoken rules about colour. She has the talent and the courage to make it a reality. At the outbreak of the 2nd WW Louise crosses paths with a man she longs to be with despite all the obstacles and conflict that life throws at them. A really beautiful story - My only complaint was that it ended!

Also read 'In Order to Live' by Yeonmi Park - a harrowing story of a young girls escape from North Korea.


Rose Petal Beach by Dorothy Coombson - a light read with an interesting twist by this author who always weaves interracial relationships into her stories.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Bon Voyage!

I travel a lot - I like to travel and see new places. I think my recent reading reflects this as I have read about a Coffee Shop in Kabul while on a plane to Singapore - I have read about the Quality of Silence in a environmental mystery while on the plane to South Africa. I have enjoyed the romance of being a Tea Planters Daughter in India while staying in the Cape and the joys on board The Little Paris Bookshop set on a barge in France from my garden in Port Elizabeth. But I will start with a grand novel written in the 80s set in Singapore before and during the Japanese occupation, which I read in Singapore!

"The Malay words for red earth are tana merah and I deem this to be the perfect name for a house which will, I hope, be home to our family for generations to come."

Dexter is an old family name in Singapore - Grandpa Jack arrived int eh late 1800s and built a huge financial empire out of real estate rubber and tin, Tanamera begins in 1830 and is focused  around  grandson John and his love affair with Julie - a half Chinese daughter of wealthy neighbours - but interrelations are out of the question and they prepare to face a future without each other. The war comes and things change dramatically for the colonial life in Singapore and for the Dexters. This sweeping epic was great to read while in Singapore as many of the streets and buildings remain. I was interested to understand the history of Singapore and its peoples and how they experienced life during the Japanese occupation. Its an old book and it was made into a TV series and I can see why - the story brings history alive on its pages and i loved it and left Singapore richer for reading it!

Deborah Rodriguez has captured the nuances of daily life of the  people of Kabul in a remarkable coffee shop in the middle of Afghanistan. Thrown together by circumstances, bonded by secrets and united in friendship it is a charming story of Sunny and the love of her life - her coffee shop! It's pitched as a cup of friendship but I found this cuppa too sweet for my liking - after a promising start with Yazmina - orphaned daughter from rural Afghanistan - being abducted and sold into a sordid life of human trafficking - I thought I had another Kite Runner in my hands but sadly it didn't do it for me. Having said that, most of my bookclub loved this book  and it comes well recommended from Amazon and Good Reads. i  felt it had the potential to be  darker, stronger and slightly bitter - the way I enjoy my coffee - less cappuccino and more espresso!

The Little Paris Bookshop - From the Jacket...........

Monsieur Perdu can prescribe the perfect book for a broken heart. But can he fix his own?
Monsieur Perdu calls himself a literary apothecary. From his floating bookstore in a barge on the Seine, he prescribes novels for the hardships of life. Using his intuitive feel for the exact book a reader needs, Perdu mends broken hearts and souls. The only person he can’t seem to heal through literature is himself; he’s still haunted by heartbreak after his great love disappeared. She left him with only a letter, which he has never opened.

After Perdu is finally tempted to read the letter, he hauls anchor and departs on a mission to the south of France, hoping to make peace with his loss and discover the end of the story. Joined by a bestselling but blocked author and a lovelorn Italian chef, Perdu travels along the country’s rivers, dispensing his wisdom and his books, showing that the literary world can take the human soul on a journey to heal itself.

Internationally bestselling and filled with warmth and adventure, The Little Paris Bookshop is a love letter to books, meant for anyone who believes in the power of stories to shape people’s lives. I enjoyed it - a light easy read - well written - great characters and set in France - pure escapism!

The Quality of Silence is a page turner set in Alaska and tells the story of a wife who refuses to believe that her husband has been killed in an explosion and fire at a gas mining settlement in the midst of the frozen Tundra. She sets off to find him with their deaf daughter Ruby and finds herself being stalked by a menacing vehicle hellbent on preventing them. Its a story of industrial espionage and you really don't know who is on whose side until the final pages. Its a story for today - I loved the topic and the gutsy heroine and the beautifully captured language of a small girl who has never heard the words. Great read! 

I took a chance with The Tea Planters Daughter - I liked the jacket and it popped up in my Amazon feed so I bought it for 99p. I enjoyed it and just downloaded the sequel- The Tea Planters Bride- another 99p investment! Set in India and then in Newcastle, it really reminded me of those dramatic Catherine Cookson novels which were addictive reading in the 80s. A strong female heroine - a wicked family and a tall dark handsome man in pursuit - all the right ingredients for an enjoyable 'soapie'. It was a great holiday read and I love novels set in India - I seem to be on an Indian treasure hunt at the moment as I enjoyed the British TV series Indian Summers and am currently enjoying the BBC documentary of The Real Marigold Hotel. Viceroy is a film I am looking forward to seeing too ........and tonight I had curry for supper so things are hotting up! 

So you see - you can travel the world from your armchair - Bon Voyage!