Book Review: The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier

Book Review: The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier

Author’s Blurb

The stunning new novel from the bestselling author of Girl with a Pearl Earring. Honor Bright is a sheltered Quaker who has rarely ventured out of 1850s Dorset when she impulsively emigrates to America. Opposed to the slavery that defines and divides the country, she finds her principles tested to the limit when a runaway slave appears at the farm of her new family. In this tough, unsentimental place, where whisky bottles sit alongside quilts, Honor befriends two spirited women who will teach her how to turn ideas into actions.

Review by Hazel Barker

The Last Runaway is a fast-paced enjoyable historical novel, and a perfect mix of page-turning plot and characters. The book imparts a succinct and informed account of the underground railway and of the lifestyle of Quakers during the 1850s. It is an emotion-packed novel of homesickness, grief and guilt, written in a taut, lucid style.

The book depicts the struggle between good and evil and reveals the weaknesses and strength of human nature.The author delves into the main characters’ minds and gives a sense of the intrigue, deep loyalties and hatred of each character. Honor Bright jeopardizes her marriage for the sake of her convictions, a milliner forgets herself to help others, and an ex-slave risks her own freedom to rescue her children from slavery. Jack Haymaker is long-suffering and patient; his patience and forgiveness are much to be admired. Even the antagonist Donovan has some redeeming points.

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Review of ‘My China Mystery’

My China Mystery by Marion Andrews


Author’s Blurb.
Frank and Ella White’s passion was to touch the people of China. They met while working for the China Inland Mission in the nineteen forties, seeking to take the Gospel to a culture steeped in idol worship.
But their work was cut short and they were forced to flee.
In later years Frank rarely spoke of his time in China. It was only when he died that his daughter, Marion Andrews, discovered a treasure-trove of photos with accounts of his time there. These photos, combined with his prayer letters, uncovered the mystery of her parents’ work in pre-Communist China.
My China Mystery will take you on a journey into another time and culture, as Frank and Ella White take the name of Jesus to a people in need. As Marion discovers her history in China and receives the honours of a war hero for his work in China, the mystery is revealed.

Review by Hazel Barker

The author uses her journalistic skills to produce an interesting book on her parents, based on family photographs, diaries and correspondence between her father and his family, and his colleagues.
My China Mystery describes her father’s work in China – in God’s army of disciples as well as in the British army. The book interested me particularly as I’ve been researching my uncle’s life, during World War Two. He served as a member of the Friends’ Ambulance Unit, during the London blitz and in Yunnan, China in the final spasm of the war.
Marion Andrews has done extensive research and weaves it seamlessly into the story. The only flaw I found in the book was an error in the map, showing the position of Mandalay. That town is in the centre of Burma and not where indicated. Despite this, I would recommend My China Mystery to all those interested in broadening their knowledge of other countries and learning about the hardships and sufferings endured by missionaries while promoting the Lord’s Word.

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O’Reilly’s at Green Mts National Park

Colin

Colin

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Narrative Hook Challenge Winner

Narrative Hook Challenge Winner
The winner of our Narrative Hook competition was Hazel Barker for the line: ‘Dad lied to us. The Second World War was over, the long wait at an end.’
Hazel wins a swag of books and $25 cash prize. Congratulations, Hazel.
(Excerpt from Omega Writers’ Magazine, ‘Words with Wings’ Feb2014)

Chapter 1
Post-war Rangoon

Dad lied to us.
The Second World War was over, the long wait for freedom at an end, and when government employees were summoned to Rangoon my father was appointed Assistant Registrar and Personal Secretary to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. As so many homes had been bombed during the war, he was ordered to leave us behind where we had been living at Mandalay. Having suffered the lash of his tongue and felt his blows all our lives, we regarded the separation from him as a glimpse of heaven, but our relief was to be short-lived. In late 1946 Dad wrote telling Mum to join him at Rangoon as a home now awaited us there.
All happiness vanished.
For nearly two years, Mum and her remaining children had lived in the old capital of the Burmese kings, and Dad had sent us our much needed living allowance each month while he was in Rangoon.
So, when Mum received the letter ordering us to leave Mandalay, we reluctantly took the train to Rangoon, only to find there was no house. All seven of us had to live in a single-roomed warehouse within the grounds of the High Court.

(An excerpt from Part 2 of my memoir ‘Hear No Evil. Speak No Evil’)

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Book Review: Past Imperfect by Winfreda Donald

Publisher: FeedARead.com.Publishing

Author’s Overview
Freya is the middle child and odd-one-out in the close but dislocated Dunbar family in Australia. When Freya meets soul mate Alexander Marcou at High School in 1976 her thwarted efforts to forge an identity amid secrets and gaps in the family history lose their urgency. Fate intervenes and the pair are suddenly oceans apart – Freya helping Gramma in Scotland. They make the best of a lengthening separation by studying to prepare for their travel adventures around nursing, teaching and flying. But destiny hasn’t finished with them. Malevolent forces swirl under their radar to part them permanently. Bewildered and betrayed, both grieve deeply in disbelief. Eventually Alexander marries. Scarred by her experience with Alexander, Freya shies clear of commitments. Superficially serene, the questions simmer and identity issues trouble her again. Immersion in work is a forlorn but effective way to suppress dreams of a lost future. In the 1990s while undertaking nursing research, Freya meets Reg Prentiss an Australian IT expert. After their professional friendship transforms to a whirlwind courtship, they marry and head for a new life DownUnder. Determined to set the past aside, Freya commits to this marriage and the children she and Reg plan to have.

Review by Hazel Barker
Past Imperfect is the first book in the Long Shadows Series. It is a brilliantly conceived plot, which lets the action unfold, and culminates in an unexpected climax.

The author intersperses action with dialogue, and every now and then waxes into a lyrical style. Although written with clarity, the book tends to have too much detail at times, and pace slows down a bit.

The warm and wonderful letters between the two parted lovers are a delight to read. Like Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd, romance lovers will be kept biting their nails, wondering when the twain will meet.

I recommend Past Imperfect to all who are anxious to follow the characters and witness the mystery and suspense unfold with each successive book.

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Book Review: The Monsoon Bride by Michelle Aung Thin

Publisher: Text Publishing
Publisher’s Summary
Burma, 1930.
At their final marriage lesson, when the priest had talked on and on, Desmond bent his head to hers and whispered, ‘Our world is newer, faster and better—you will see.’ She took his hand in hers then and squeezed it. His skin had a peppery, meaty sweetness, a smell that seemed to stick to her dress, her hair and skin. She named it ‘the scent of men’. Beside her, he snored gently in his sleep, his face no more than an outline, rising and falling in the dim light. She decided that she liked the sound.

Winsome is just married and filled with anticipation. Her new husband is a stranger—one of the suitors chosen for her and the other mixed-race girls from the men who apply to the orphanage. But as the night train rattles towards her new home she sees possibility in this uncertain destiny. She knows she is headed for a new life in the metropolis.

She does not know about Rangoon, this city cradled in the arms of rivers. That it is about to be torn apart in the struggle between its ancient owners and new masters. That it will seduce her, possess her senses and change utterly her notion of what kind of woman she can be. When she meets Jonathan—when the monsoon comes—she begins to find out.

Review by Hazel Barker
I enjoyed reading The Monsoon Bride. The author has created vivid and strong settings and rightly depicts the mood and atmosphere current during that period of history. I particularly liked the way Michelle Aung Thin wove history into the narrative.

The opening chapter grabbed my attention. I found both male characters, Desmond and Jonathon, true to life, and as the story progressed, my sympathy went out to them. The story gripped me, making me eager to read on and discover whether Winsome could return to Desmond as the repentant sinner.

Winsome’s behaviour, however, is so unlike a girl who had been brought up in a convent. The distinction between social classes in Burma were too rigid at the time, and when she wandered alone in dangerous areas and showed sympathy for a coolie who had been wounded during the riots, I found her attitude more like that of a contemporary female than that of a girl in the 1930s.

I would also like to point out an error in the story. In 1930, an Indian bearer would never have addressed anyone as Thakin, but as Sahib; not even a Eurasian.

Despite these discrepancies, The Monsoon Bride held my attention to the end, and took me back to my childhood days as I read the familiar names of streets and places in Rangoon.

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Excerpt from ‘Telegraph’, UK

Telegraph.co.uk
Touching letters from WW2 soldier to his pacifist brother
One was a pacifist whose principles prevented him fighting in the Second World War, the other signed up took part in the gruelling campaigns to push the Germans out of North Africa and then Italy.

A letter from Douglas to Clarence Dover dated Sept 1 1943.
Now, letters between two brothers have emerged, almost 70 years after the conflict ended.
The correspondence was sent from Douglas Dover, serving in the Royal Army Service Corps, to his older brother Clarence, who had joined the Friends Ambulance Unit, a Quaker-run organisation with whom he was stationed in China.
The letters show the closeness of the pair, despite their different beliefs. Douglas, a driver, recounts his experiences in the heat of Africa coming under attack from the Germans, and then as his unit advances through Italy.
He described seeing an eruption of Vesuvius as “a marvellous sight with a column of smoke miles high with the base a mass of fire” and referred to Naples as “a city now famous for racketeers and filth.”
The brothers’ mother Ada died of a heart attack while both sons were overseas. Douglas wrote: “I know it will be a shock to you, I cannot believe it yet, or rather I can’t take it in yet. We lost the one who we all loved so much.”
When Douglas was granted a period of leave, in August 1945, he told his brother: “Only one thing is missing and that is that you will not be there, but maybe will we be together soon.”
On his arrival back home in Nottingham, he sent another letter telling Clarence: “Nottingham looks very much the same as when we left, but the girls seem to have lost all sense of moral control.”
The letters continue until May 1946, when Douglas was about to return to Nottingham again. The collection ends with the line: “Well C, I will not make this a very long one. For the folks do not know I’m coming … cheerio for now, my next letter will most likely be from home.”
Douglas died in 1989 and Clarence in 2001. The letters were found by Clarence’s daughter June Cobley, 61, from Beeston, Nottinghamshire. She said: “I am really proud of my dad for refusing to fight. I could not have done that at the age of 20.
“We never quite knew what his family’s reaction was at the time but I have a letter from his mother in which she said she was standing by him.
“She wrote to him: ‘I shall have the satisfaction of knowing that you have laboured for the benefit of peace’.
“My father did not talk about it much. In some ways, I think he was braver not to fight because of the pressure that was on him.”

See: The Chocolate Soldier: story of a conchie by Hazel Barker. Story based on Clarence Dover during World War Two.

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