books, reviews

Review: The Red Thread – Dawn Farnham

I was kindly sent this in exchange for my honest review. 

The Red Thread is book one of the The Straits Quartet – set in colonial era Singapore. 

The author lived in modern Singapore for many years and has written several books sit in the country’s past. 

I found it quite hard to get into this book to begin with – which follows Charlotte McLeod as she travels from Scotland to be with her brother who has been appointed to head up the first police force in the British colony. 

It also tells the story of two young men, Zhen and Qian, who travel at the same time from China in search of success and fortune. 

Their paths will cross with Charlotte’s with explosive personal results. 

There’s some quite raunchy sex scenes so maybe don’t leave this lying around if you’ve got young children who are learning to read (it happened to my friend with a different book). 

Anyway, back to the book. 

Once I got into the plot a bit more it picked up a pace and was really easy and pleasant a read. 

There are some sad moments and as I said some very sexy ones. The story is peppered with real people and sits into a historical narrative, including Raffles, who founded modern Singapore, but has already returned to England as Charlotte arrives. 

I enjoy historical fiction that gives context as the plot unfolds, as this does, rather than giving a history lesson before the story. 

Although one day I am getting a time machine and going back to tell all these daft women living in tropical climates to throw away their petticoats and crinolines asap and swap them for sensible native dress. 

The ending seems quite final – so it would be interesting to see where the story picks up in the next book. 

books, reviews

Book Preview: Daughters of India – Jill McGivering

I was gifted this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Written by a journalist specialising in Asia, this historic novel tells of Isabel and Asha, two women caught in India’s struggle for independence. 

Isabel is the daughter of British parents, her father a high ranking Raj official. Her life is pampered and privileged,  far removed from that of Asha – whose father swept the streets until he was falsely accused of theft and fired. 

As adults their lives cross paths again, Isabel is a bored housewife trapped in a loveless marriage and Asha a teacher fighting for independence. 

Told from the perspective of the women themselves McGivering presents the fading opulence and extreme poverty of both sides of the independence battle. As the Second World War looms will these women end up on the right side of history? 

I found this utterly enthralling – I’m a massive history geek so that intrigued me right off. India’s struggle to shake off the  British Empire isn’t exactly taught in schools. I also really appreciated the two protagonists being female – women’s voices are so often from the narrative of history. 

It’s also really well written, the story flows and the characters felt real. There’s a lot packed into this book and I will be mulling over it for a while. 

Daughters of India is published in hardback on the 22nd July so if it sounds like something you’d enjoy (and I hope it does) then place an order at your bookseller of choice now. 

books, reviews

Book Review: Look What I Have Done – Sarah Schmidt 

Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks, 

When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one

I can’t remember when I first heard of Lizzie Borden but I was a rather macabre child so probably quite early on. She seems to be having a bit of a moment right now – with this book and two tv shows about her (Netflix currently has one with Christina Ricci as Borden). 

Schmidt researched this book rather thoroughly – including staying in the Borden house. Luckily her writing style means it doesn’t feel like an academic tome. 

In fact it reads like a rather modern thriller – with multiple narrators and flashbacks. The setting is the rather claustrophobic house the Borden family lived in – Mr Andrew Borden, his two adult daughters, Lizzie and Emma, second wife Abby and housemaid Bridget. The doors and windows are always kept locked even in the heat. 

It’s a small cast of characters and Lizzie dominates the household with her childish behaviour and temper tantrums. Sister Emma desperately wants to escape and Lizzie refuses to let go. 

The book is incredibly well written and really draws you in to the tense environment. Opening in the immediate aftermath of the murders, Schmidt spins a tight web of resentment and bitterness. 

I read this in two sittings, breaking for an appointment because it’s so gripping. Even knowing the rough outcome didn’t matter. 

If you like thrillers, historical, biographical books, this is one for you. In fact, even if those genres aren’t your thing, read it anyway. 

books, reviews

Book Review – Frog Music by Emma Donaghue

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Based on a true story about a murder in San Francisco when it was still a new city, Donaghue spins a story involving circus folk, music, measles, baby farms, dancing girls and frog hunting.

Jenny Bonnet (pronounced Bonn-ay) was a teenage tearaway who spent time in a reform school before becoming a trouser-wearing frog hunter in the ponds and swamps around the fledgeling San Francisco, supplying the restaurant trade with that delicacy, frog legs.

When she was 27 she was shot dead in a guesthouse outside the city. No one was ever convicted of the killing.

Using old newspaper articles and court records, Donaghue fleshes out the story of Bonnet’s life and death. Narrated by Blanche Beunon, a French acrobat turned stripper and prostitute, who befriended Jenny shortly before her death, the novel depicts the struggles of immigrants, living hand to mouth in Chinatown.

The details of Bonnet’s life were scarce so this allowed Donaghue, whose last book was the harrowing Room, a lot of scope to write an imaginative, colourful narrative peopled by outrageous characters and a complex tangle of emotions and motives at its centre.

This book is well worth a read, whether historical fiction is your thing or not.

ramblingmads