Nightingale House, 1919. Liddy Horner discovers her husband, the world-famous artist Sir Edward Horner, burning his best-known painting The Garden of Lost and Found days before his sudden death.
Nightingale House was the Horner family’s beloved home – a gem of design created to inspire happiness – and it was here Ned painted TheGarden of Lost and Found, capturing his children on a perfect day, playing in the rambling Eden he and Liddy made for them.
One magical moment. Before it, all came tumbling down…
When Ned and Liddy’s great-granddaughter Juliet is sent the key to Nightingale House, she opens the door onto a forgotten world. The house holds its mysteries close but she is in search of answers. For who would choose to destroy what they love most? Whether Ned’s masterpiece – or, in Juliet’s case, her own children’s happiness.
Something shattered this corner of paradise. But what?
I received a copy of this book from Headline via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Like all saga’s this one has a great deal of scene setting and introduction of the players and their motivations. This makes the first half of the story slow-paced and detailed.
There is an intriguing mystery to solve and complex family dynamics. Told from two timelines, Lydia’s set in the late nineteenth century to the early twentieth century and Juliet’s her Great- Grandaughter in 2014.
The prologue sets the ethos of the story and introduces the painting of the garden, which is rightly a significant character in this story, as it represents an ideal that shrouds secrets, which are ultimately revealed as the story progresses.
Many of the characters are difficult to empathise, they are self-centred and seem uncaring of how their actions affect those around them. Juliet and Lydia are drawn together through the actions of Juliet’s deceased Grandmother Stella when she bequeaths her the house and garden, years after her demise.
Modern themes of social media abuse and dysfunctional families are explored and contrasted against the family in the late nineteenth century. It is notable that censure of certain behaviour and imperfect marriages were just as common in the historical setting, just hidden better.
The depth of research and historical detail gives this story its richness and authenticity. The imperfection of the characters also makes it believable. It is possible to want them to have a hopeful future, despite that lack of likeability and their numerous flaws.
If you enjoy a mystery, like a historical and contemporary timeslip point of view, and want to completely escape, this story is for you.
Present day: Anna is focused on growing her new gardening business and renovating her late grandmother’s house. But when she discovers a box hidden in a wall cavity, containing watercolours of exotic plants, an old diary and a handful of seeds, she finds herself thrust into a centuries-old mystery. One that will send her halfway across the world to Kew Gardens and then onto Cornwall in search of the truth.
A lady adventurer…
1886: Elizabeth Trebithick is determined to fulfil her father’s dying wish and continue his life’s work as an adventurer and plant-hunter. So when she embarks on a perilous journey to discover a rare and miraculous flower, she will discover that the ultimate betrayal can be found even across the seas…
Two women, separated by centuries. Can one mysterious flower bring them together?
I received a copy of this book from Orion Publishing via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
A lovely timeslip novel containing some unusual themes, which give it a uniqueness and quirky appeal.
An unexpected find when updating a house bequeathed to her by her beloved grandmother sets Anna on a mystery tour that reveals family secrets and takes her on a much-needed journey of self-discovery.
Elizabeth pushes against society’s conventions in Victorian England. When her much-loved father dies, she feels duty-bound to fulfil his dying wish This is not the selfless act it appears, as she has always wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps.
Both stories are engaging, and courageous in their own way. Elizabeth’s is perhaps the bravest and for me the most absorbing, because she sets out to visit Chile in South America, with only her maid, after living a sheltered, if unconventional life in Cornwall.
The story focuses on botany and botanical art and discoveries in great detail, this is fascinating and gives the story an authentic feel. The geographical descriptions likewise are well done and bring the settings to life. This is important in a story like this where the main protagonists are motivated out of their comfort zones to discover the truth. You have to experience what they do to believe it could happen.
The dual time perspectives are well- written and the links and crossover between past and present well grounded and believable. Neither of the female protagonists is perfect, they are flawed, but you are invested in their story’s and want it to end well.
Although easy to read, the pacing is slow in parts. The plot’s vivid imagery holds your interest, and the ending is worth waiting for.
In wartime, it takes courage to follow your heart.
Everyone hated the heat and the deafening noise, but for Gracie, the worst thing was the smell of chemicals that turned her stomach every morning when she arrived at the Rosenberg Raincoats factory.
Gracie is a girl on the factory floor. Jacob is the boss’s charismatic nephew. When they fall in love, it seems as if the whole world is against them – especially Charlie Nuttall, who also works at the factory and has always wanted Gracie for himself.
But worse is to come when Jacob disappears and Gracie is devastated, vowing to find him. Can she solve the mystery of his whereabouts? Gracie will need all her strength and courage to find a happy ending.
Guest Post – WHY I WRITE WWII NOVELS – Alrene Hughes
I think it was inevitable. If I was going to write a novel, then I would write about the second world war. For a start, my mother, aunts and grandmother had lived through the hardships and dangers of that time. The war had ended only seven years before I was born and, growing up, I somehow absorbed their memories second-hand.
My home city of Belfast in Northern Ireland – an industrial
city of shipbuilding, aircraft manufacture and heavy engineering – was crucial
to the war effort. Needless to say, it was heavily bombed. Later, when the USA
entered the war, it was to Northern Ireland that the GIs came to train before being
As a child, I knew the gaps between the buildings were bomb sites. Once on a bus going into the city centre with my mother, she pointed out a street where she had seen the dead bodies laid out on the pavement on her way to work after an overnight bombing. But she had happy memories too of her time as a factory girl building Stirling bombers. As a housewife after the war, I remember she wore her factory clothes, trousers and a turban, to clean the house. But the biggest influence in my post-war childhood was the music.
My mother and aunts had been popular singers, in the style of the Andrews Sisters, and throughout the war, they entertained in the concert and dance halls, as well as the military camps. After my mother died, I found an old scrapbook among her possessions. It contained many concert programmes listing the acts and the Golden Sisters, as they were known, often had the titles of songs they sang next to their billing: Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree; Chattanooga Choo Choo … And then there were all the photos.
I just had to tell their wartime story. The personalities of
my mother, aunts and grandmother were etched in my brain, the snippets of wartime
memories had been passed on to me and I had the scrapbook. Add to that my
research of life in the city and the ideas that flooded my mind and it was
enough to turn it into a novel. In the end, their story became a popular WWII family
saga, the Martha’s Girls trilogy.
Now I’ve written WWII novels set in Manchester, the city
where I’ve lived most of my adult life. It’s a lot like Belfast in some ways:
the heavy bombings; the industry; the no-nonsense, resilient people. The women
in my new novels The Girl in the Pink
Raincoat and The Girl from the Corner
Shop, face tragedy and danger, experience love and loss but, throughout, their
courage shines through.
I received a copy of this book from Head of Zeus Books in return for an honest review.
Gracie is an endearing character, young, naive, but optimistic and full of life, with a smile never far from her face. It is this bubbliness that attracts Jacob, even though he realises that any relationship between them would be fraught with conflict.
The setting and era of this story are vividly portrayed, you can imagine the raincoat factory, the bombsites and the people, as they try to live their lives during wartime. Anyone who has listened to their grandparents and parents stories about ‘the war’, will recognise familiar concepts, and it is this relatability that makes the story so powerful.
The plot is well constructed, with a mystery and romance. The prejudice rife at the time is evident and is an important theme. Wartime romance with a twist. Family drama, strong friendships and a menacing undercurrent of betrayal and obsession, something for everyone in this wartime tale.
Alrene Hughes grew up in Belfast and has lived in Manchester for most of her adult life. She worked for British Telecom and the BBC before training as an English teacher. After teaching for twenty years, she retired and now writes full-time. Facebook
Extract – The Girl In The Pink Raincoat – Alrene Hughes
to the sound of crying, and it was a moment before she realised it was coming
through the paper-thin walls of the house next door. Then she remembered it was
Friday morning and still Doris had not come to terms with her children being evacuated.
She lay for a while, watching a shaft of sunlight coming through the gap in the
curtains, and when the crying was replaced by the squeals and laughter of
excited children, she got up.
By the time the children were ready to walk to school, a crowd had gathered in the street to see them off. Gracie and Sarah stood next to Doris as she held back her tears, hugged her two little girls and told them to be good and to write every week. An older boy, John Harris, took charge and it was clear that the evacuees had been drilled for this moment. At his command, they left their mothers and lined up like little soldiers, with their gas masks and belongings, each with a brown luggage label fastened to their coat. Gracie scanned their faces: some were filled with excitement, others apprehensive; and little Gladys Clark, with no mother to see her off, was sobbing her heart out.
raised his hand and all eyes turned to him. ‘One … two … three!’ he shouted,
and what happened next made the hair stand up on the back of Gracie’s neck –
the children began to sing.
India, 1926: English Margaret arrives with her new husband Suraj at his family home, set amidst beautiful rolling hills, the air filled with the soft scent of spices and hibiscus flowers. Margaret is unwelcome, homesick and lonely, but her maid Archana, a young woman from an impoverished family, reminds her of her long-lost sister, a tiny glimpse of home in a faraway place.
As Margaret and Archana spend more time together, an unexpected friendship blooms. But in British India the divide between rich and poor, English and Indian, is wide, and the clash between Margaret’s modern views and the weight of tradition on Archana will lead to devastating results…
England, 2000:Emma is at a crossroads. She has discovered the lie at the heart of her relationship, and she worries over the right choice to make for herself and her beloved daughter. When her grandmother gives her a mysterious painting, and asks her to take a message of forgiveness to an old friend in India, Emma is relieved to have some time and space to make a decision about her future. But as she fulfils her grandmother’s wish, a secret kept for over seventy years is finally revealed – the story of a day spent painting by a stream full of water lilies, where a betrayal tore three lives apart forever…
Will the weight of her grandmother’s regrets push Emma towards a mistake that will stay with her forever, or give her the courage she needs to make the right choice?
I received a copy of this book from bookouture via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
‘The Girl in the Painting’ and all of this author’s books are always thought provoking, rich in literary and visual imagery, full of historical detail, and unashamedly emotional. They are a true escapist read, written for the pleasure of writing, and this love and dedication comes across in every word.
The plot is divided between the early twentieth century, particularly the 1920s in England and India, and the end of the twentieth century when Margaret, at the end of her life, asks her grandaughter, Emma, also at a crossroads in her life to seek out an old friend and right a wrong.
The historical plot moves between England from Margaret’s perspective and India from Archana’s perspective, the stories seem so divergent, there are common threads, but it’s only in the late 1920s, when the two women’s lives become inextricably joined.
The story highlights the culturial differences from a unique point of view and allows the reader to better understand , what from a westen perspective may seem unthinkable. The similarites in the outlook and empowerment of women is also explored in this story. At the time when English women were campaigning for equality. They were in many ways as powerless to determine their own destiny, as the women in India at that time. The importance of sisters in their lives, is another thing Margaret and Archana have in common.
The characters are relatable and easy to empathise, you feel their pain and guilt and want them to find some solace. All three women and those who touch their lives are changed by heartbreak.
The historical detail gives the story depth and vivacity, whether it be in India or England, where Margaret tastes life with ‘The Bloomsbury Group, artists and writers who care little for social conventions and eptiomise the 1920s in England.
‘The Girl in the Painting’ is an emotional, evocative , escapist journey for everyone who likes to lose themselves in a story..
As the drums of war begin to beat louder on the continent, and life becomes more dangerous in cities, seventeen-year-old Jeannie McIver leaves the comfort of her Aunt’s house in Glasgow, to head to the wilds of the Scottish Uplands to start life as a Land Girl.
Jeannie soon falls in love with life on the busy Scottish hill farm, despite all of its hardships and challenges. She feels welcomed by the Cunningham family who values and cherishes her far more than her own rather remote and cold parents, and the work is rewarding.
She even finds her interest piqued by the
brooding, attractive Tam, the son of the neighbouring farmer, and a sweet
romance between them slowly blossoms. But even in the barren hills, they can’t
avoid the hell of war, and as local men start disappearing off to fight at the
Front, Jeannie’s idyllic life starts to crumble.
Those left behind try desperately to keep the home fires burning, but then Jeannie makes one devastating decision which changes the course of her and Tam’s lives forever.
believe her luck when she sees the ‘For Sale’ sign attached drunkenly to the
front gate. It is unclear from the dilapidated state of the cottage whether its
most recent resident is living in a similar state of neglect or has given up
the unequal battle and departed to pastures new, either in this world or the
next. What is
clear is that the cottage, whatever its current decrepit appearance, has the
best view in the village. And although Liz has often heard quoted the maxim
‘Never buy a house for the view’, she feels certain that, in this case, there
will be a queue of would-be purchasers.
estate agent seems taken aback by the speed of her response. He agrees to show
her round and they arrange a time and a day.
two days later, she steps into the cottage she sees that the description of it
being ‘in need of some modernisation’ is no exaggeration. But she is not put
off by the paucity of rooms – two in fact, with what is little more than a
corridor squeezed between, quaintly described in the brochure as a galley
kitchen. The meagre space of the cooking area is further depleted by a rusty
metal ladder that leads up into the attic. Liz peers up the ladder and is met
by darkness and a cold draught of musty air.
A row of blackened pans hang from hooks beneath a shelf running the length of the kitchen. On it are ranged baking trays, rusting metal biscuit tins, jars and containers of various sizes, a glass demijohn, furry with grey dust, and a set of weighing scales, their copper surface tarnished and dull. It seems to Liz as though she has stepped back several decades into the kind of house beloved of museum curators. A stone sink stands in the corner beneath a small window and, next to it, an electric cooker. On the floor, linoleum, cracked and lifting round the edges, reveals glimpses of the stone floor beneath. All that is needed, she thinks, is the model of a cook, in a black dress, frilly apron and starched hat, standing uncomfortably angled at the stove, wooden spoon poised over a never-boiling double pan of hollandaise sauce. Although, she realises, even as she imagines it, that a maid of that generation would not have had the advantage of electricity. This amenity has been listed with others as contributing to part of the cottage’s ‘modernisation’. Looking up at the metal lampshade suspended from a frayed twist of wire, Liz considers the word overstated.
hope the owner doesn’t mind us looking round when she’s out,’ she says, seeing
the further signs of habitation in the stained tea towel on a hook beneath the
window and a greasy oven glove hanging by its side. She turns to Kenneth
Mackie, the young man from the estate agent’s, who has ventured no further than
the front door. He sniffs.
was a “he”, actually. I believe the old chap died, so I’m sure he won’t mind
you looking round.’
I’d no idea.’ She scans the room, seeing it with new eyes. ‘Did he live here
doesn’t look as though he had many visitors. That’s sad.’
companion glances at his watch. ‘Perhaps you would like to see the rest of the
cottage.’ His voice is bland, disinterested. It is clear that he has no opinion
on the previous resident, dead or otherwise, or the property in his charge.
yes please.’ Liz follows him into the bedroom. It’s sparsely furnished, but the
heavy, old-fashioned pieces fill the space. The bed is situated within a
recess, where it can be closed off with a curtain. The curtain has been pulled
back and hooked behind a chair and the bedcovers are crumpled, as though
someone has been lying on top of them. This intimacy comes as a shock to Liz.
She glances towards the door, eager to leave the room and look elsewhere.
The living room is a little more welcoming. In it, she can picture the old man going about his tasks. He must have been very old, she thinks, given the antiquity of the furniture. His favourite chair is drawn up to the fireplace. Ashes lie cold in the grate and litter the hearth. On a rag rug, down-at-heel slippers wait for their departed owner. A naked light bulb hangs from the centre of the ceiling. Against the wall opposite the fireplace stands a bookcase, stuffed with volumes in identical orange-brown covers and with indecipherable titles. A small sash window adorned with cobwebs rations the light entering the room. She walks over to it, examining the deep recess with its eighteen-inch-thick walls. Hopefully, these will keep out the chill of winter.
windowsill is propped a solitary photograph. It is sepia and blotted with age.
Liz steps up to it slowly and stares at the smiling girl with a frizz of hair
encircling her face. She is standing in a field and holds a bucket in one hand,
a rake in the other. Around her and in the distance are sheep. But the girl has
eyes only for the view in front of her. She is looking not at the photographer
but to one side. The young face is radiant. But it is not this that causes her
heart to leap. It is the familiarity of the image in front of her.
It is a photo of Liz’s own mother.
I received a copy of this book from Aria Fiction via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Told from several points of view, from a historical and current day perspective, ‘God’s Acre’ creates a vivid picture of life in rural Scotland during World War 2 and in the twenty-first century. It ‘s a story of coming of age, working in the Land Army and finding out that love and family are not always bound by blood.
Jeannie is a free spirit, she is clever, but is not allowed to follow the same educational path as her brothers. Her clergyman father feels she should help in his parish, but she wants independence and freedom. Joining the Land Army means living in a rural setting, but the people are friendly and she finds she fits. Meeting Tam is love at first sight, but he is troubled and she is young and naive and it seems their love story is doomed to fail.
Liz knows little of her mother’s background when she visits the Scottish village her mother often talked about. Finding a cottage for sale, she visits and finds a tenuous connection. She buys the cottage and tries to rebuild her life and discover what she can about her mother’s past.
The historical viewpoints of this story are poignant and page turning, there is so much heartache, but a real sense of family. Jeannie is a lovely woman but so naive and this flaw in her character changes her whole life.
Believable, complex characters drive this story forward and make it an excellent read. The setting is full of visual imagery and you can imagine what working on the farm at this time was like for Jeannie. The mystery of Jeannie is revealed in a letter to her daughter, it is full of sadness and transparency and underlines the heartbreaking waste, caused by misunderstanding and the inability to trust. Despite this, the ending is hopeful for Liz in the present day and ends this lovely story in a satisfying way.
Born and brought up in the south of England, the eldest girl of nine children, Dee moved north to Yorkshire to study medicine. She remained there, working in well-woman medicine and general practice and bringing up her three daughters. She retired slightly early at the end of 2003, in order to start writing, and wrote two books in the next three years. In 2007 she moved further north, to the beautiful Southern Uplands of Scotland. Here she fills her time with her three grandsons, helping in the local museum, the church and the school library, walking, gardening and reading. She writes historical fiction, poetry and more recently non-fiction. Occasionally she gets to compare notes with her youngest sister Sarah Flint who writes crime with blood-curdling descriptions which make Dee want to hide behind the settee.
1862 Young widow Eugénie is left bereft when her husband dies suddenly and faces an uncertain future in Guernsey. A further tragedy brings her to the attention of Monsieur Victor Hugo, living in exile on the island in his opulent house only yards away from Eugénie’s home. Their meeting changes her life and she becomes his copyist, forming a strong friendship with both Hugo and his mistress, Juliette Drouet.
2012 Doctor Tess Le Prevost, Guernsey-born though now living in Exeter, is shocked to inherit her Great-Aunt’s house on the island. As a child, she was entranced by Doris’s tales of their ancestor, Eugénie, whose house this once was, and who, according to family myth, was particularly close to Hugo. Was he the real father of her child? Tess is keen to find out and returning to the island presents her with the ideal opportunity.
Will she discover the truth about Eugénie and Hugo? A surprise find may hold the answer as Tess embraces new challenges which test her strength – and her heart.
I received a copy of this book from the author in return for an honest review.
A delightful mix of contemporary and Victorian life on Guernsey, with colourfully described historical details, and an engaging contemporary story full of romance, friendship and family drama.
Tess unexpectedly inherits an old house on Guernsey where she spent her childhood, Visiting her inheritance, she is drawn to the rundown house and being at a crossroads in her life decides to renovate and make Guernsey her home again.
Characters from previous stories make cameo appearances, but the story is standalone. The story slips between 2012 and Victorian times, told from Tess and Eugenie’s points of view. Both stories are complex and interesting, and there is a historical mystery for Tess to solve.
The story features a real historical figure, although the story is fictional, his presence as a character adds authenticity and depth.
Domestic abuse is a primary theme in this book, and it serves to highlight, its prevalence, and the differences and similarities between contemporary and Victorian women, in abusive relationships.
The storytelling is enthralling, the setting vividly described and the connections between the past and present meaningful. A lovely mix of believable characters and a realistic but hopeful ending make reading ‘The Inheritance’, a lovely way to spend an afternoon.
Guest Post – Anne Allen – The Inheritance
I would like to start by thanking Jane for
allowing me space on her lovely blog, to talk about my latest offering in The
Guernsey Novels series.
This book marks a slight change of direction for
me in that instead of referencing the German Occupation in Guernsey as in my
previous books, I go further back in time to the late 19th C and we
meet the famous writer, Victor Hugo. It may not be widely known, but he spent
fifteen years in Guernsey while in exile from France, having fallen out with
Emperor Napoleon III. He arrived, complete with his wife, children, mistress
and various other exiles, in October 1855. Hugo had already been kicked out of
Jersey, his port of call, for rude comments about Queen Victoria. The Guernsey
view was that if Jersey didn’t want him, he must be worth having!
The inspiration behind my book was Hugo’s house,
Hauteville House, in St Peter Port. It’s one of a kind – opulent, over the top,
full of quirky features like oak panels carved by Hugo himself, and with a
rooftop eerie made from steel and glass where he wrote his novels and poems. I
have visited it a couple of times, both when I lived there and two years ago
when the idea for this book first surfaced. It is exactly how it was in Hugo’s
day and his descendants gifted it to France some years ago and a French flag
flies outside to proclaim it as French territory. My last visit was just in
time as the house has been closed for nearly two years for extensive
renovation, re-opening on 7th April just before my book is
Hugo finished writing his most famous work here, Les Misérables, as well as several more novels and collections of poetry. In my book, my character, Eugénie, a young French woman living yards away from Hugo, has a life-changing encounter with him and becomes his copyist. No computers or typewriters around then! His mistress, Juliette Drouet, also helped with the copying and the two women became close. Eugénie, recently widowed, has inherited her husband’s family home but has no income and working for Hugo is her salvation. My story is dual-time and the in the modern part, my character, Tess, is a Guernsey-born doctor now living in Devon and she unexpectedly inherits what was Eugénie’s house from her great-aunt in 2012. There has long been a family myth that Hugo and Eugénie were particularly close and that he may have been the father of her child when she remarried. I had to be very careful about this aspect of the story as Hugo’s descendants still have an apartment in Hauteville House and do visit Guernsey regularly. How to avoid upsetting people! Although he was a known womanizer, as far as is known Hugo had no illegitimate children.
Anne Allen lives in Devon, by her beloved sea. She has three children, and her daughter and two grandchildren live nearby. Her restless spirit has meant a number of moves which included Spain for a couple of years. The longest stay was in Guernsey for nearly fourteen years after falling in love with the island and the people. She contrived to leave one son behind to ensure a valid reason for frequent returns.
By profession, Anne was a psychotherapist, but long had the itch to write. Now a full-time writer, she has written The Guernsey Novels, seven having been published. The books form a series, but each one is a standalone story with links to other books and characters. Although not originally planned, Anne is, in effect, writing a saga of Guernsey; featuring numerous characters and stories covering the German Occupation, Victorian Guernsey and the present day. A mix of family drama, mystery and love, the books have a wide appeal to readers of all ages.
A stolen sister. A daughter determined to uncover the truth.
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?
I received a copy of this book from Penguin UK via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Such an evocative read, this story of loss, political unrest and a quest for the truth takes place in Burma during the 1930s, with slips back in time to 1911 and the 1920s.
Belle has left England, for a life as a singer in exotic Rangoon. She’s not the usual type of singer they have, but her talent and independent spirit bring her both admirers and adversaries.
Her mother’s failing mental health blighted her childhood, but after her father’s death, she discovers her parents once lived in Rangoon and had and lost a child there. Can this terrible tragedy explain her mother’s illness and what happened to her missing sister?
Belle’s search for the fate of her missing sister reveals more questions and answers, Oliver an attractive journalist offers to help, but can she trust his motives, or should she rely on the establishment to help her?
The plot is engaging. The perfect pacing adds to the story’s sense of mystery and menace. The political climate is dangerous, and Belle shows her emotional strength as she witnesses unspeakable violence and prejudice.
Full of powerful imagery, both in terms of the geographical and historical setting and the vivid characterisation, this story enthrals the reader. There is a mystery to solve a family tragedy to witness and empathise, and a lovely romance.
A lovely escapist read, which will touch your emotions and inspire your imagination.
Extract from The Missing Sister – Dinah Jefferies
Rangoon, Burma, 1936
Belle straightened her shoulders, flicked back her long red-gold hair and stared, her heart leaping with excitement as the ship began its steady approach to Rangoon harbour. Rangoon. Think of it. The city where dreams were made, still a mysterious outline in the distance but coming into focus as the ship cut through the water. The sky, a shockingly bright blue, seemed huger than a sky ever had business to be, and the sea, almost navy in its depths, reflected a molten surface so shiny she could almost see her face in it. Even the air shimmered as if the sun had formed minute swirling crystals from the moisture rising out of the sea. Small boats dotting the water dipped and rose and she laughed as screeching seabirds swooped and squabbled. Belle didn’t mind the noise, in fact, it added to the feeling that this was something so achingly different. She had long craved the freedom to travel and now she was really doing it.
With buzzing in her ears, she inhaled deeply, as if to suck in every particle of this glorious moment, and for a few minutes, she closed her eyes. When she opened them again she gasped in awe. It wasn’t the bustling harbour with its tall cranes, its freighters laden with teak, its lumbering oil tankers, its steamers and the small fishing boats gathering in the shadow of the larger vessels that had gripped her. Nor was it the impressive white colonial buildings coming into sight. For, rising behind all that, a huge golden edifice appeared to be floating over the city. Yes, floating, as if suspended, as if a section of some inconceivable paradise had descended to earth. Spellbound by the gold glittering against the cobalt sky, Belle couldn’t look away. Could there be anything more captivating? Without a shadow of a doubt, she knew she was going to fall in love with Burma.
The heat, however, was oppressive: not a dry heat but a kind of damp heat that clung to her clothes. Certainly different, but she’d get used to it, and the air that smelt of salt and burning and caught at the back of her throat. She heard her name being called and twisted sideways to see Gloria, the woman she’d met on the deck early in the voyage, now leaning against the rails, wearing a wide-brimmed pink sun hat. Belle began to turn away, but not before Gloria called out again. The woman raised a white-gloved hand and came across.
‘So,’ Gloria’s cut-glass voice rang out, breaking Belle’s
reverie. ‘What do you make of the Shwedagon Pagoda. Impressive, no?’
‘Covered in real gold,’ Gloria said. ‘Funny lot, the
Burmese. The entire place is peppered with shrines and golden pagodas. You
can’t walk without falling over a monk.’
‘I think they must be splendid to create something as
wonderful as this.’
‘As I said, the pagodas are everywhere. Now, my driver is waiting
at the dock. I’ll give you a lift to our wonderful Strand Hotel. It overlooks
Belle glanced at the skin around the other woman’s deeply
set dark eyes and, not for the first time, tried to guess her age. There were a
number of lines, but she had what was generally termed handsome looks. Striking
rather than beautiful, with a strong Roman nose, chiselled cheekbones and sleek
dark hair elegantly coiled at the nape of a long neck . . . but as for her age,
it was anyone’s guess. Probably well over fifty.
Gloria had spoken with the air of someone who owned the city. A woman with a reputation to preserve and a face to match it. Belle wondered what she might look like without the thick mask of expertly applied make-up, carefully drawn brows and film-star lips. Wouldn’t it all melt in the heat?
‘I occasionally stay at the Strand after a late night, in fact, I will be tonight, though naturally, I have my own home in Golden Valley,’ Gloria was saying.
‘Golden Valley?’ Belle couldn’t keep her curiosity from showing.
‘Yes, do you know of it?’
Belle shook her head and, after a moment’s hesitation,
decided not to say anything. It wasn’t as if she knew the place, was it? She simply
wasn’t ready to talk to someone she barely knew. ‘No. Not at all,’ she said. ‘I
simply liked the name.’
Gloria gave her a quizzical look and Belle, even though she had
determined not to, caught herself thinking back. A year had passed since her
father’s death, and it hadn’t gone well. The only work she’d found was in a friend’s
bookshop, but each week she’d pored over the latest copy of The Stage the
moment it arrived. And then, joy of joy, she’d spotted the advertisement for performers
wanted in prestigious hotels in Singapore, Colombo and Rangoon. Her audition
had been in London, where she’d stayed for a gruelling two days and an anxious
wait until she heard.