The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jefferies

Dramatic
Drama

Published by Penguin (Viking), August 27th, 418 pages, £3.85.

Quick Description: history, mystery, drama and romance in an exotic setting.

Steam?: moderate.

Plot: 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 . . .

This is such a great story!! Sooo much mystery… At a good 400 pages, it is not so much a saga that drags, but a good chunk of entertainment. It has really good pacing. Once the events start to unfold, I found myself digging ferociously a third into the novel.

First off the authors captures the POV of Gwen very well; a young English wife, still in her teens arriving in Ceylon to meet her husband, who she barely knows. So deeply in love with Laurence, her determination to become the perfect wife is very endearing. But her fears and anxieties are positively pulsing off the page, so much that the reader instantly cares about her and wants her to do well.

However, she is perfectly imperfect- if that makes sense. At times she is a selfless and courageous character who grows stronger from start to finish. Other times, she makes heavy mistakes (a massive one halfway into the novel) and spends the rest of the novel spiraling out of control to correct them. She is vulnerable to weak feelings like all-consuming jealousy and insecurity. After all who could really blame her? I kept having to remind myself that she is only 19 and having to deal with moving into a new world full of unanswered questions and secrets. Laurence got on my nerves a few times. I mean, why did the dude have to be so fricking distant all the time? You cannot just expect your new wife to arrive and not ‘interfere’ with everything. He did gradually get better and opened up. So the novel really did tease out the revelations.

Another wonderful thing was how I fell comfortably into the setting. There were so many vibrant places to imagine; the tea plantation and the bustling city in the 1920s. But it wasn’t just visual, the author conjured up the different aromas, temperatures and sounds. I actually felt at home with Gwen, in her house by the hills of tea fields. Real life events, like the violent racial tensions and the depression seep into Gwen’s everyday challenges. So there was an endless series of activity and hurdles to overcome for the couple. I also loved the other characters; Fran- Gwen’s cousin, Verity-Laurence’s sister (to name a few), who were all so different and eccentric in their own way. They really added their own colours to the mix.

The novel is also filled with so much sorrow and heart break. But it really isn’t a sob-fest. I don’t like those books, when you reach a depressing end, you think- what was the point of reading this? This book deals with sadness that is caused by very simple issues like miscommunication and insecurity. It is also caused by the dominating restrictions of society during that time. So who can really say they would not do the same unforgivable thing ? (got to read to find out;)) The novel really does leave you feeling just a little bit wiser.

Thank you Penguin, snagged my review copy during my intern days. xx

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The Gilded Life of Matilda Duplaine by Alex Brunkhorst

Something special
Something special

TB Published by Harlequin/Mira UK, 8th Oct 2015, 336 pages, £7.99

Quick description: a mysterious love story, a modern Great Gatsby.

Steam?: more sweet than steamy.

Plot: Family secrets. Forbidden love. And the true price of wealth.

Thomas is a small-town boy and when Lily invites him to a dinner party, he gains access to the exclusive upper echelons of Hollywood society. As he enters a world of private jets and sprawling mansions, his life and career take off beyond his wildest dreams.

Then he meets Matilda Duplaine.

Beautiful and mysterious, Matilda has spent her entire life within the walls of her powerful father’s Bel-Air estate and Thomas is immediately entranced by her. But what starts as an enchanted romance soon threatens to destroy their lives and the lives of everyone around them.

It is a real pleasure to be able to review novels like this. At first it was the unusual title and striking cover that drew me into requesting a copy from Mira UK. After reading the first few chapters I knew this was something quite special. I think this is a great debut. The writing is so lovely and poetic. It is very delicate and sensitive to the fine details of environment and characters.

It is likened to The Great Gatsby, which is one of my favorite novels of all time (so I was also interested because of that), and I agree. I do notice many echoes to the classic. Thomas Cleary is a shy, hardworking, mid-western young man who seems to stumble into a whole new world of class and wealth. But instead of being in East Egg Island, like Nick Carraway, we are in LA Hollywood. We see the never ending beauty and glitz bouncing off of Thomas’s enchanted POV, but also glimpse the dark cracks within the group that takes him in. The book doesn’t have the numbing melancholy that Gatsby has, but it is punctuated with bitter moments. Its pretty much the old- the rich are actually deeply unhappy because of things that cannot be brought. I like to indulge in messed up rich characters.

The mystery of who Matilda was and the secrets that had been buried years ago, really kept me reading at full pace. It was the sort of- reading late into the night and first thing in the morning- type. And Matilda as a character is really quite unique. A girl who has never left the confines of a luxury estate? Talk about messed up really. And Thomas himself. We begin to realize he is not the perfect gentlemanly man he himself prides in, he also has many imperfections like Nick. But both characters progress and move forward with a (sort of) happy ending (depends the way you look at it, and also don’t want to give any spoilers).

Simply special.

@alexbrunkhost1

Thank you Cara Thompson from Mira UK for my review copy xx

Can We Live Here?: Finding a Home in Paradise By Sarah Alderson

Hilarious and inspirational
Hilarious and inspirational

Published by Blink Publishing, 3rd August 2015, 256 pages, £6.29

Quick description: Non-fiction travel writing, collected blog posts.

Plot: Last week, I was sitting in seven layers (two of them thermal) next to a fire, with a blanket wrapped around me. Now, I am sleeping in kickers and a vest under a fan. Let the mosquitos bite me. They can have me … Can we live here? … If I dont become roadkill in the next few days, I ll let you know my thoughts. In 2009, Sarah and John Alderson quit their full-time jobs in London and headed off, with Alula, their three-year-old daughter, on a global adventure to find a new home. For eight months, they travelled through Australia, the US and Asia navigating India with a toddler in a tutu, battling black magic curses in Indonesia and encountering bears in North America asking themselves one defining question: Can We Live Here? Inspirational, hilarious and fascinating this is an unforgettable travel memoir and a unique guide to quitting your job, following your dreams and finding your home in a far-flung paradise.

If you have read any of previous posts you will know of my obsession with Mila Gray’s (aka Sarah’s) NA books. It started off with noticing Come Back To Me (Book 2/Spin off: This Is One Moment) in my local library. After devouring it in utter bliss, I learnt a bit more about the author’s life and the too-good-to-be-true journey she took with her husband to finding a new home in the tropics. My god I thought, you are actually living my dream… reading and writing YA and NA in Bali? Who could ask for more?

This book is brilliant. It goes into detail, starting from the seed of the idea of leaving London, to the travelling, to the settling and to what comes next. Its very easy to read and absolutely hilarious. The way Sarah writes- its like having a nice chat with a good friend and listening to the amazing but insane things she has seen and been up to. There are chapters on Indian railways, colonic irrigation in Bali (I’m actually so interested), ecstatic dancing and many more. It was such a treat, and so apt reading it on my tube journey to work.

There is also a lot of soul-searching. Sarah writes about the materialism, the tiredness and the cynicism that permeates life in the UK, especially London. Having recently moved to London, I know this on a daily basis. I am physically and mentally jogging to keep up with everything. The city is like a Twilight vampire, seductive and exciting, but draining all the energy from me. Soon I will be shriveled and bitter.

So if you’re out there and wondering whether working in an office for the rest of your life is it, or if you have an inkling that you could move to somewhere hot and figure out a way of making money that doesn’t require sitting in a management team meeting […] remember the power of saying ‘Fuck It’. That’s all we did.

Anyway, its not all sunshine and detox smoothies. Sarah does write a lot about the realities of emigrating and the anxieties that shadow it. But there were some moments that were really touching and made me look up from the page and actually think- what the heck am I doing? I am 15 chapters away from my dream- move it! But could I really quit a job that took forever to get (two degrees seemed to have shut doors rather than open them in my opinion)? Don’t I still want to do the Friends thing, the Sex and the City thing? I guess for now, but check up on me in a few months, because if I hear ‘signal failure’ one more time, I may pass out.

Wouldn’t it be more insane to keep on doing things I don’t like?

True that true…

At Stanfords (Covent Garden), Sarah interviewed by Myanna Buring
yaaay

I had the pleasure of meeting Sarah at Stanfords (Covent Garden) on the 13th August for her interview with Myanna Buring and had my book signed (yippee). To sum it up it was a great night and Sarah was just as cool and lovely as her writing is, although I may have been the only resident perv who was into Mila Gray- come on guys I know you’re all out there…

@SarahAlderson

www.sarahalderson.com