Posted in Book Review

One Enchanted Evening – Anton Du Beke – 4* Review

London, 1936. Inside the spectacular Grand Ballroom of the exclusive Buckingham Hotel the rich and powerful, politicians, film stars, even royalty, rub shoulders with Raymond de Guise and his troupe of talented dancers from all around the world, who must enchant them, captivate them, and sweep away their cares.

Accustomed to waltzing with the highest of society, Raymond knows a secret from his past could threaten all he holds dear.

Nancy Nettleton, new chambermaid at the Buckingham, finds hotel life a struggle after leaving her small hometown. She dreams of joining the dancers on the ballroom floor as she watches, unseen, from behind plush curtains and hidden doorways. She soon discovers everyone at the Buckingham – guests and staff alike – has something to hide…

The storm clouds of war are gathering, and beneath the glitz and glamour of the ballroom lurks an irresistible world of scandal and secrets.

Let’s dance . . .

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My Thoughts…

A delicious, detailed, dance orientated novel, which unfolds against a background of class division, an unprecedented threat to the monarchy and a cosmopolitan hotel whose outward glamour hides a web of secrets.

The characters are believable and vividly depicted, they draw the reader into the story and engender empathy and dislike according to their behaviour. The setting epitomises polite London society in the 1930s. The ballroom’s importance, as a place to see and be seen, is a core theme of this story and is the focal point for the action and dialogue between the main characters.

Like ‘Upstairs Downstairs ‘ and ‘Downtown Abbey’, society’s class division is marked. The ‘lower class’ characters’lives are difficult and provide a thought-provoking reminder of poverty and hardship.

The political unrest in Europe and England make living life the limit a given, for those able to do so. When secrets unfold and people’s livelihood and reputations are in danger, the true heroes and villains emerge.

I received a copy of this book from Zaffre via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

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Posted in Book Review

Blog Blitz :The Killing Time – M.J Lee 4*Review

As tensions simmer in Shanghai, children go missing…

Shanghai 1932: Inspector Danilov hasn’t recovered from the death of his child… but across a Shanghai riven with communal tensions, children are going missing.

Missing, and then murdered. Who is responsible? Why have the children’s bodies been exhibited for all to see?

Just as Danilov thinks the stakes couldn’t be higher there is a new dimension, Japan, a rising power flexing its muscles. In fractious Shanghai, an explosion is long overdue. With the clock ticking can Danilov and his assistant Strachan solve the case? The fate of Shanghai may be at stake. So is Danilov’s job… And his sanity.

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Extract

Back at Central Police Station, the detectives’ room was empty save for Strachan and Danilov. The rest of the squad, or what remained of them after the Shanghai Volunteers had decimated the ranks, were at lunch, on patrol or simply avoiding work with all the professionalism of the accomplished loafer.

Strachan was hunched over the missing persons file, while Danilov was busy sending smoke rings up to the kippered ceiling, where they hung floating in the air before gradually dissipating like a wastrel’s fortune.

‘Why was the ear removed, Strachan?’

The detective sergeant knew better than to speak now. Danilov was only turning the problem over in his mind; he didn’t require a response.

‘And why slash the face but leave the birthmark? If anything identifies him, it is the mark.’ Another stream of smoke rose to the ceiling. ‘We need to go back to where the body was found.’

It was Danilov’s belief that a crime scene yielded as much information about the killer as the body itself.

‘When, sir?’

‘There’s no time like the present.’ He stubbed the cigarette out in the empty ashtray and adjusted the lamp over his desk so it was at exactly forty-five degrees. Anything less or more would be a distraction. ‘Have you found him yet in missing persons?’

‘Nothing so far. He might not live in the International Settlement.’

‘From the French Concession?’

‘Or any of the Chinese areas along the border: Chapei, Siccawei, Nantao, Hung Tsung.’

‘Hmm, but why risk transporting him? With all the recent tensions, the Volunteers are manning roadblocks at all the major crossing points.’ Danilov shook his head. ‘No, he came from the International Settlement. Too risky to move him around. Keep looking; you might want to check the Criminal Intelligence files too.’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘I always thought Criminal Intelligence was the wrong name for the division. Criminals lack intelligence. That is precisely why we are able to catch them.’

‘An oxymoron, sir.’

‘A what, Strachan?’

‘A figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear next to each other, like “the young couple were alone together”.’

‘You’re spending too much time with my daughter, Strachan.’

The detective sergeant smiled at the thought. ‘I’m enjoying helping her with her English literature degree. We’re reading Jane Austen at the moment. I didn’t know a—’

He was interrupted by a knock on the glass that separated the detectives’ room from the rest of the station. A small, round woman entered.

‘Inspector Danilov, the chief will see you now.’ She lowered her voice. ‘He has five minutes, fitting you in between a committee on the uniforms of Sikh policemen and a meeting about the new filing system for criminal records. I’d hurry if I were you.’

‘Thank you, Miss Cavendish. I’ll come right away.’

The inspector stood up from his chair, feeling the ache in his knees. Winters were the devil to him, bringing back old pains he thought he’d left behind.

‘The chief inspector is in a jolly good mood today. They’ve approved his proposal on overtime pay for ancillary staff.’

‘Does that mean you will receive more money, Miss Cavendish?’ asked Strachan.

‘Less, actually. He’s removing all allowances. No more overtime pay, no more travel expenses, no more meal allowances. I don’t know when these budget cuts are going to stop.’

‘It’s what President Hoover calls the Great Depression, Miss Cavendish.’

‘Another oxymoron, Strachan?’

Miss Cavendish’s right eyebrow rose. ‘An oxy what?’

‘Don’t ask. My detective sergeant will have you reading Jane Austen next.’ Danilov put on his jacket. ‘While I’m gone, Strachan, ask around the station, see if anybody has heard anything about any kidnappings recently.’

‘Kidnappings, sir? Why?’

Danilov tapped the side of his beak-like nose. ‘A hunch. Back in 1912, when I was in London… ’

‘And I was in school.’

‘Thank you, Strachan, for reminding me of your youth and inexperience. As I was saying, back in 1912, there was a gang of kidnappers operating in Poplar who encouraged the families of their victims to pay up by sending them a severed ear. It invariably concentrated their minds as they haggled over the price.’

He turned to go.

‘Did you catch them, sir?’

‘Who?’

‘The kidnappers?’

‘Of course. Like all criminals, they became greedy. Demanding money once too often and removing far too many ears.’

Miss Cavendish tapped her watch. ‘The chief inspector is waiting.’

‘I’ll ask around, sir.’

‘And don’t forget to chase the report. I want it on my desk by the time I’ve finished with the chief inspector.’

‘Yes, sir.’

Danilov followed Miss Cavendish down the corridor to Chief Inspector Rock’s room.

‘I could ask around for you too, Inspector. People tell me things; I don’t know why,’ said the elderly woman over her shoulder.

‘People do it because you are an excellent listener, Miss Cavendish, with a capacity for gossip that puts Catherine the Great to shame.’

They both stopped in front of the chief inspector’s door.

Miss Cavendish played with the rope of pearls that surrounded a roll of fat on her neck. ‘You do say the nicest things, Inspector. But I’ll ask anyway.’

She knocked.

A loud ‘Come!’ from inside.

‘Into the dragon’s den. Good luck,’ she whispered, opening the door. ‘Inspector Danilov as you requested, Chief Inspector.’

‘Thank you, Miss Cavendish. Do come in, Danilov, and take a seat. I won’t be a moment.’

 

My Thoughts…

Shanghai in the 1930’s was a tinderbox, and this story captures this ethos perfectly. Japan’s annexation of Manchuria created additional tension between the Chinese and Japanese populations within Shanghai, and it’s against this setting the fourth Inspector Danilov tale takes place.

Dark and tragic crimes are the central theme of this story, and the child murders are difficult to read. Trying to solve them forces Inspector Danilov to confront his demons and personal tragedies. As this is the fourth book in the series, undoubtedly the reader has already learnt a great deal about Danilov and his colleagues and family in the previous books.

Authentic Danilov’s idiosyncrasies make him easy to like, he is the typical smart, driven detective, whose career is his life often to the detriment of his family and health. The plot has twists, and the pacing varies with the action. A little slow in the first few chapters, it gains motivation as the plot becomes convoluted.

As a standalone, read it is good, but it would be even better if you’d read the previous books in the series. This disturbing story has an evocative setting, enigmatic detective and exciting political theme, making it an absorbing read.

I received a copy of this book from Canelo via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

M J Lee 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 advertising awards from Cannes, One Show, D&AD, New York and the United Nations.

While working in Shanghai, he loved walking through the old quarters of that amazing city, developing the idea behind a series of crime novels featuring Inspector Pyotr Danilov, set in the 1920s.

When he’s not writing, he splits his time between the UK and Asia, taking pleasure in playing with his daughter, practising downhill ironing, single-handedly solving the problem of the French wine lake, and wishing he was George Clooney.

Twitter: @WriterMJLee

Posted in Book Review

The Sapphire Widow – Dinah Jefferies – 5*Review

Posted in Book Review

The Candle Factory Girl – Tania Crosse 3*Review Blog Tour

1930’s London – A backstreet saga full of hopes, dreams and the fight for survival. 

Work at Price’s Candle Factory in Battersea is tedious for intelligent, seventeen-year-old Hillie Hardwick, but she knows she is lucky to have a job at all.

Her home life is no better, as she constantly battles with her exacting and bullying father in order to protect her mother and five younger siblings from his abuse.

Her only solace is her loving relationship with the chaotic Parker family and her best friend, Gert Parker.

When matters violently escalate for Hillie, smitten Jack-the-Lad Jimmy Baxter seems her only salvation.

But could this be the biggest mistake of her life, and should she be looking for protection nearer home?

Links to buy

 Amazon: http://amzn.to/2sKD3IJ

Kobo: http://bit.ly/2CB9ZTE

Google Play: http://bit.ly/2HxyIMs

iBooks: https://apple.co/2Ht50rU

 

My Thoughts…

Life was hard in 1930s England for most people. During ‘the depression’, women had little or no say in their lives, forced into domestic drudgery or menial factory jobs, paying less than men and with few prospects.

Hillie Hardwick is a young woman, she works in the Candle Factory with her best friend Gert Parker, and hands over most of her wages to her father to help support their large family. Money is tight, and her home life is far from idyllic, Hillie’s father is abusive, and Hillie seeks solace with Gert’s family who financially are no better off than the Hardwicks but happy. The tone of this story realistically reflects the period, full of angst,  despair and hardship, which will not be the everyone’s reading tastes. 

Jimmy offers Hillie a lifeline to a better life but is she moving in the right direction or following a different path to the same disastrous end? Romance, friendship and mystery are all explored in this saga. Abusive behaviour and crime also feature and the last few chapters are sinister and action-packed, Hillie’s life is in turmoil and changes irrevocably.

Intrinsic historical detail brings the story to life, but you do spend a lot of time in Hillie’s head which does slow the story’s pacing and makes it daunting to read in parts. Overall, if family sagas that showcase the best and worst of life, full of realistic but often mundane events are your thing, this will be an enjoyable read. The ending is lovely and romantic and gives Hillie the type of life she deserves.

I received a copy of this book from Aria Fiction via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Delaying her childhood dream of writing historical novels until her family had grown up, Tania eventually completed a series of published stories based on her beloved Dartmoor. She is now setting her future sagas in London and the south-east

Website: http://www.tania-crosse.co.uk/

Twitter: @TaniaCrosse

Facebook: @TaniaCrosseAuthor

Posted in Book Review, New Books

4* Review:The Tea Planter’s Wife – Dinah Jefferies

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Poppy - Blurb

Nineteen-year-old Gwendolyn Hooper is newly married to a rich and charming widower, eager to join him on his tea plantation, determined to be the perfect wife and mother.

But life in Ceylon is not what Gwen expected. The plantation workers are resentful, the neighbours treacherous. And there are clues to the past – a dusty trunk of dresses, an overgrown gravestone in the grounds – that her husband refuses to discuss.

Just as Gwen finds her feet, disaster strikes. She faces a terrible choice, hiding the truth from almost everyone, but a secret this big can’t stay buried forever . . .
Flowers - Buy Links

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Flowers - My Review

The Tea Planter's Wife by Dinah JefferiesAn atmospheric story with strong characters, well researched historical detail and honest insight into the prejudices of the between-wars era.

Gwen is a naive, privileged young bride, with no idea what to expect from her new life. The story captures Gwen’s emotions perfectly. The reader follows her character development and increasing maturity, during her tempestuous marriage. Laurence, an attractive widower’s past life holds many secrets that can cause pain to his new bride. The most poignant scenes occur when Gwen becomes a mother. The choices she faces are terrible and life-changing.

There are mystery, romance and an interesting insight into life on a Ceylonese tea plantation. The historical details enhance and authenticate the story. The story has many strong female characters despite the prejudices of the time. ‘The Tea Planter’s Wife’ reflects the beginnings of female emancipation. It illustrates the courage and suffering of our female ancestors believably. The racial discrimination at the centre of colonialism is also highlighted and explored, as is the religious differences prevalent in Ceylon during the 1920’s and 1930s. Prejudice in both these forms force Gwen to make a tragic choice, which is pivotal to the story.

The plot is simple but effective and allows the dramatic, historical setting, powerful imagery and memorable characters to shine.

I received a copy of this book from Penguin Books UK via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

The Tea Planter's Wife

The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jefferies
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dinah Jefferies

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