#BlogTour #BookReview The Shanghai Wife by Emma Harcourt @RandomTTours @Harper360UK

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Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Shanghai Wife by Emma Harcourt. My thanks to Anne at Random Things Tour for inviting me to take part in the tour and to HarperCollins for my digital review copy.

The Shanghai WifeAbout the Book

Forbidden friendship, political conspiracy and incendiary passion draw Australian woman Annie Brand deep into the glamour and turmoil of 1920s Shanghai.

Shanghai, 1925. Leaving behind the loneliness and trauma of her past in country Australia, Annie Brand arrives to the political upheaval and glittering international society of Shanghai in the 1920s. Journeying up the Yangtze with her new husband, the ship’s captain, Annie revels in the sense of adventure but when her husband decides the danger is too great and sends her back to Shanghai, her freedom is quickly curtailed.

Against her will, Annie finds herself living alone in the International Settlement, increasingly suffocated by the judgemental Club ladies and their exclusive social scene: one even more restrictive than that she came from. Sick of salacious gossip and colonial condescension, and desperate to shake off the restrictions of her position in the world, Annie is slowly drawn into the bustling life and otherness of the real Shanghai, and begins to see the world from the perspective of the local people, including the servants who work at her husband’s Club.

But this world is far more complex and dangerous than the curious Annie understands and unknowingly, she becomes caught in a web of intrigue and conspiracy as well as a passionate and forbidden love affair she could not have predicted: one with far–reaching consequences…

Format: Paperback (304 pages)             Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication date:16th September 2021 Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance

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My Review

I really enjoyed the book’s opening section in which Annie travels along the Yangtze river on the working boat captained by her husband, Alec. In fact, I was as disappointed as Annie when, because of the fear of attack by pirates, she is forced to return to Shanghai and the relative safety of the International Settlement, the part of the city not under Chinese control. (The author’s Historical Note provides more information on the political situation in Shanghai during the period in which the book is set.)

The Shanghai Wife provides a vivid insight into the growing unrest in Shanghai in the 1920s, although this is almost exclusively seen from the point of view of the foreign inhabitants living securely within the confines of the International Settlement. In particular, the ladies of the Shanghai Maritime Club are largely oblivious to what is going on in the old city, more interested as they are in their bridge parties, preparations for the next Club ball or when tea will be served. Only Annie senses a growing apprehensiveness as she travels around the city. ‘This was more than the edginess of summer heat; there was fresh tension in the streets’. That tension will shortly erupt into violence.

Annie is well-meaning but impulsive and rather naive, as a result of which she frequently puts herself – and others – at risk, on occasions with deadly consequences. Even Annie admits at one point that ‘she had made a terrible mess of things’. From the beginning, there are hints of a traumatic event in Annie’s past the nature of which is only revealed at the end of the book but goes some way to explaining her instinct to try to rescue others in danger.  Despite expressing a desire to learn more about the daily lives of the Chinese people and railing against the racist attitudes of the Club ladies, Annie demonstrates a degree of hypocrisy, relying as she does on servants whose names are never used, referred to merely as ‘houseboy’ or ‘wash amah’.

Chow, the maitre d’hotel of the Club, is the exception; he’s a living, breathing individual not just one more ‘Chinaman’. Annie welcomes his attentive attitude and kindness towards her, especially when events leave her feeling lonely and isolated.  Their friendship is frowned upon by other less enlightened members of the International Settlement; interracial relationships definitely being a no-go area. Nevertheless, Chow tries to respond to Annie’s wish to experience the ‘real’ Shanghai, not all of which she finds attractive.  He chides her, ‘This is my Shanghai, Mrs Brand, the vitality and the poverty, but perhaps you are not ready. Remember, please, that your standards are not ours, do not judge what you don’t understand.’  It turns out the city is a place of hidden dangers leading to some dramatic events towards the end of the book.

If you long for a combination of mystery, romance and melodrama set in a fascinating location, then The Shanghai Wife may be just the book for you.

In three words: Romantic, dramatic, action-packed

Try something similar: Summer of the Three Pagodas by Jean Moran

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Emma Harcourt Author PicAbout the Author

Emma Harcourt has worked as a journalist for over 25 years, in Australia, the UK and Hong Kong. In 2011, she completed the Faber Academy Writing a Novel course and The Shanghai Wife was born. Emma lives in Sydney with her two daughters. She is currently working on her second novel.

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BlogTour #BookReview Daughters of War (Daughters of War 1) by Dinah Jefferies @RandomTTours @fictionpubteam

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Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Daughters of War by Dinah Jefferies, the first in a new series set in World War 2 occupied France. My thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours for inviting me to participate in the tour and to HarperCollins for my digital review copy.

Daughters of War CoverAbout the Book

France, 1944. Deep in the river valley of the Dordogne, in an old stone cottage on the edge of a beautiful village, three sisters long for the end of the war.

Hélène, the eldest, is trying her hardest to steer her family to safety, even as the Nazi occupation becomes more threatening. Élise, the rebel, is determined to help the Resistance, whatever the cost. And Florence, the dreamer, just yearns for a world where France is free.

Then, one dark night, the Allies come knocking for help. And Helene knows that she cannot sit on the sidelines any longer. But bravery comes at a cost, and soon the sisters’ lives become even more perilous as they fight for what is right. And secrets from their own mysterious past threaten to unravel everything they hold most dear…

Format: Paperback (544 pages)              Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication date: 16th September 2021 Genre: Historical Fiction

Find Daughters of War (Daughters of War #1) on Goodreads

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My Review

Told in alternating chapters from the point of view of Hélène, Élise and Florence, the author carefully delineates the three sisters’ personalities. Hélène is sensible, cautious and feels a keen sense of responsibility towards her younger sisters in the absence of their mother. Élise is impulsive, courageous but at times heedless of the risks to which she exposes herself and her sisters. Florence is sensitive, caring and has an instinctive feeling for the natural world.  At first, the sisters lead a charmed life, tucked away in their cottage and fortified by the food Florence seems to be able to create out of nothing.  They are also fortunate to have, or have come into their lives, three handsome men who offer them practical help, reassurance and often a little bit more.

It is Hugo, the local doctor, and his wife Marie, who initially experience the realities of life under the Nazis. However, everything also changes for the sisters following a brutal encounter (the nature of which may be triggering for some) which is quite different in tone from that of the book so far.  In fact, this event signals a change to a much more dramatic storyline during which the author explores in minute detail how each of the sisters respond emotionally to the often traumatic experiences they witness. The revelation concerning their mother towards the end of the book, although resolving a mystery signalled early on, may not come as that much of a surprise to the observant reader but does bring unexpected complications.

What the book does particularly well is convey the realities of life under German occupation: the violence of the Vichy-supporting Milice, the fear of reprisals for acts of sabotage by the Resistance, the shortages of food and fuel.  It’s a time of distrust, divided loyalties and uncertainty about what tomorrow might bring.  After all, how can you plan for the future when you don’t even know if you’ll be there to see it? ‘The world was cracking and splintering deep in its bowels. And people were falling through the cracks, never knowing which of them was going to meet their fate.’

Another strength of the book is its descriptions of the landscape of the Dordogne, a gift surely to the area’s tourist board.  So, through the eyes of the sisters, the reader is given a picture of ‘the languid twists of the river’ from which can be seen castles perched on high cliffs and fortified hilltop towers with old stone walls.

The first in a planned trilogy, in the concluding chapters of Daughters of War the author lays the groundwork for a number of possible story arcs in subsequent books.

In three words: Romantic, sweeping, dramatic

Try something similar: The Girl From Vichy by Andie Newton

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Dinah Jefferies Author PicAbout the Author

Dinah Jefferies began her career with The Separation, followed by the number 1 Sunday Times and Richard and Judy bestseller, The Tea-Planter’s Wife. Born in Malaysia, she moved to England at the age of nine. As a teenager she missed the heat of Malaysia, which left her with a kind of restlessness that led to quite an unusual life. She studied fashion design, went to live in Tuscany where she worked as an au-pair for an Italian countess, and there was even a time when
Dinah lived with a rock band in a ‘hippie’ commune in Suffolk.

In 1985, the death of her fourteen-year-old son changed everything and she now draws on the experience of loss in her writing. She started writing novels in her sixties and sets her books abroad, aiming to infuse love, loss and danger with the extremely seductive beauty of her locations.

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