Arts and Culture, Books

Book Review: The Tea Planters Wife – Dinah Jefferies

I admit I was completely suckered in to picking up this book because of the front cover and its promise of far away climes and exotic places. It certainly delivered on the exotic climes with the book entirely set in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and the local cities and plantations in the early 19th Century after WWI.

We are introduced to our lead character, 19 year Gwen early on as she leaves England for Ceylon to marry her widower husband Lawrence who owns a tea plantation. Ceylon is described beautifully, you really feel the heat and humidity but also why Gwen falls in love with the country and her plantation home; it is beautiful. But the simmering tensions of rebellion are also prominent, the problems of class divide and the treatment of labourers all add a cloying atmosphere of the rising tensions of the area. Without this context I don’t think the book would have worked so well, or Gwens’ decisions understood.

Initially Gwen is a sweet and naive girl who wants to do well as a housewife and fit in with the local ex-pat community in Ceylon, however she is not a placid girl and is used to being useful, wishing to understand the running of the plantation, though she struggles with being undermined and pushed out by the plantation manager though is successful in the house. Despite this Gwen throughout the novel showed that she was not a push over and had strong beliefs and moral fibre, that she does not accept the inherent racism prevalent in Ceylon and will help others from the lower classes, however ironically ‘racism’ plays a huge motivating role in what happens to her.

For me it is this early naivete that allows the central tragedy of the book to take place, with Gwen still so young, new to the role and not fully understanding of her husband and the secrets that still surround him and his previous wife’s death, and being generally without support, apart from the absolutely lovely housekeeper Naveena who solidly supports her throughout. I found how she dealt and persevered with her choices extraordinarily brave, despite her pain and it was the real turning point in seeing Gwen grow as a character coming out of her 2 dimensional paradigms as a heroine, showing the early promises of character strength she had displayed in the novel.

Gwen really held the story together and her turmoil and desperation to keep her world together despite the emotional cost on her, but I enjoyed the other characters from the complex broody Lawrence, to the loyal Naveena, impish Fran, the mysterious Savi and temptress Caroline. They all added a depth to the storyline and added rather than detracted from it as a whole.  Verity, as the clingy antagonistic younger sister also played a major contributing factor to the storyline and while, like Gwen, I never warmed up to her, I wavered between pity, exasperation and downright annoyance and by the end of the novel couldn’t see a happy future for Verity. But then I don’t think Verity could either.

Overall I very much enjoyed this book, it was a slow starter but then picked up the pace about a quarter to a third in, with me eager to know what would happen to Gwen and her family. While the conclusion of Gwen’s story was bitter-sweet, only emphasising the need for honesty and communication, it was ultimately satisfying and I left feeling hopeful for Gwen despite the uncertainty of the future for her and Lawrence.

4 stars from me – now I just need to go look up other novels by Dinah Jefferies!

 

Arts and Culture, Books

Book Review: No Place For a Lady – Gill Paul

I have a bit of a soft spot for fiction set during, around or inspired by the period of the Crimean War, one of my favourite books is The Street Philosopher by Matthew Plampin and I adore the Charge of the Light Brigade poem so this book automatically peaked my interest when I saw it.

Overall I enjoyed the book, it’s characters, the setting and pace. While it was definitely a romance, at it’s heart I felt was the relationship between the two sisters although they were barely together in the novel, I felt without that it would have been another generic novel of romance, war and despair.But that sisterly relationship gave another element and helped drive the plot forward.

I liked both of the sisters immensely although they were clearly very different people, I perhaps identified with Dorothea the most (being an older sister myself perhaps?) but I understood Lucy too and could understand her motivations and perspective. It was interesting to see the war from the different perspectives of soldiers wife and nurse that the sisters took, seeing the conditions, bloodshed and chaos from both sides did allow for very different insights and to see how the war changed both of them.

I do have to agree with other reviews I have read that Lucy, despite all her trials, also had some very fortuitous circumstances come her way but overall I didn’t feel this detracted from the book, or made it less believable overall and when you consider Lucy’s personality type it perhaps make sense that those circumstances came her way. Although Lucy was very young, and this was clear, I liked her and was rooting for her throughout the book, she certainly had a lot happen to her, but despite this showed great spirit and resolve. I was personally far more invested in her secondary relationship, than the one she had with Charlie which I felt was flawed from the start, though I could tell they loved each other, but I far more enjoyed what happened to Lucy post Charlie and her subsequent relationships and felt immensely sorry at the way it panned out for Lucy.

Dorothea had, if not an easier path, a more straight forward one in the book. I liked her resolve and determination to be useful and to make a difference in the war, despite her worry and fear for Lucy. I felt one incident that occurred to Dorothea was a little unnecessary, I didn’t see what it added to her storyline but it was minor and while traumatic for her didn’t deter her resolve. I really enjoyed how through Dorothea we met Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole, two fascinating historical figures but also considering all the other nurses, doctors and staff who went to the war through Dorothea you see that perspective of those who weren’t recognised for their efforts, they just did their job. I was pleased about how her story panned out, and though it wasn’t her intention her at all she got her own happy ending as I really felt she deserved it after her years nursing her mother, being a dutiful daughter to her father and trying to be an example to her sister that she deserved happiness – and I really liked who she ended up with. Yes it wasn’t some raging fire of desire or heat of the moment (like Lucy’s love affairs) but more slow, steady and based on knowing each other.

Overall, as a read to immerse yourself, forget for a little while and just to enjoy being swept away it was solid and enjoyable, and not too sickly sweet with the romance and would appeal to Historical Fiction fans. I’d give it 4 out of 5 stars.

Arts and Culture, Books

On a book related note…

On a book related note, I am volunteering at the Henley Literary Festival this week. I have been involved with the festival in some capacity over the past few years, I worked as an administrator over a couple of months part time initially and I have tried to volunteer some time at as many of the festivals as I can. I only missed one due to starting a new position – can’t really ask for time off on third week in!

Part of working at the festival really made me want to pursue a career in events, marketing etc. and I really want to still get into these areas in the art & culture world. I am currently working in events and I really enjoy it and the marketing and social media aspects I do, so I know it is definitely the right area for me.

If you are ever able I would definitely recommend coming along to the festival, it is quite often a fantastic line up and a great atmosphere.

Arts and Culture, Books

Book Review: The Bed I Made, Lucie Whitehouse

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The Bed I Made, Lucie Whitehouse

I found this a really interesting book to read, as I continued to read it I felt more and more like it was some sour version of 50 Shades of Grey gone psycho. High, giddy romance gone terribly, terribly wrong. But to be honest, the more I read, the more I wondered, was it ever really right in the first place?

I enjoyed the book immensely though. I wanted to keep reading. I wanted to know the finish, what would happen and become of the main character Kate. I have to admit that it did take me a while to warm up to Kate, not due to her indiscretions/lapse in moral judgement, but because it took me a while to ‘get’ her. I am glad though that I took the time to go on the journey with her, from the beginning of her flight from Richard to the very tense and satisfying end.

I certainly found the contrast between Alice (a key character for me) and Kate of interest, and Kate’s fixation and connection with her very unnerving, but perhaps it wasn’t strange considering her trauma. I am glad there was some peace made with this character, a resolution. I found this relationship just as central as the one that Kate develops with Pete in the book. I don’t think you can really do anything but like Pete in the book and you can forgive what may seem a flaw in embarking on something with Kate so soon. I found Kate’s friend easy to like and I think easy to forgive with how she was manipulated and her betrayal of Kate, I am glad in the epilogue this relationship seemed to be mending.

A particular note that I loved in this book was the authors use of the landscape and topography of ‘the Island’ to evoke the moods of the central character and the change from the bleak of winter to the hope of spring. It was well paced also, it was not too long, so you felt the slowly sinister building presence of Richard.

Overall I found this book a satisfying read and I would really recommend, it is well written and well paced. Find it for yourself and enjoy!

Books, General Musings

International Literacy Day: Literacy & Me

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I cant imagine a world where I was unable to read. I am sure I could have survived but my life would never have been as enriched as it is today.

I would not have run through the woods with Skip. I would not have climbed the Faraway Tree with Moon Face, had midnight feasts at Mallory Towers or had adventures with the Chalet Girls. I would not have learnt girls could be soldiers like Alanna, they could befriend the outsiders and love those who are shunned like Marnie, I would not have time travelled with Dan and Ursula to Roman Britain, been at the Battle of Troy with the Moon Riders, with Odysseus or all the Greek armies. I would never have found the Night World, saved Middle Earth with Frodo and the Fellowship or discovered a world of magic with Harry as we grew up together. Discovered love with Elizabeth and Darcy, met the Kings Assassin or the Liveship Traders, tasted the poisons with Yelena or discovered Spinalonga……

I am already omitting so many characters I have met loved and cherished in the above, I just cant list them all. But each book, story or character has shaped a part of me. Informed a part of who I am, reminds of great times, the dark times that reading got me through and just the joy of being able to read. Without literacy I would have missed out on so many things, I would still be missing out on so many things. Literacy truly is a gift to treasured and should be for everyone, so on International Literacy Day I hope and pray for a future where this is possible.