Dinah Jefferies

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The Sapphire Widow – Dinah Jefferies

Published June 29, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

A sweeping, breath-taking story of love and betrayal from the Number One Sunday Times bestselling author of The Tea Planter’s Wife.

Ceylon, 1935. Louisa Reeve, the daughter of a successful British gem trader, and her husband Elliot, a charming, thrill-seeking businessman, seem like the couple who have it all. Except what they long for more than anything: a child.

While Louisa struggles with miscarriages, Elliot is increasingly absent, spending much of his time at a nearby cinnamon plantation, overlooking the Indian ocean. After his sudden death, Louisa is left alone to solve the mystery he left behind. Revisiting the plantation at Cinnamon Hills, she finds herself unexpectedly drawn towards the owner Leo, a rugged outdoors man with a chequered past. The plantation casts a spell, but all is not as it seems. And when Elliot’s shocking betrayal is revealed, Louisa has only Leo to turn to…

What did I think?:

The Sapphire Widow is one of the books picked by Richard and Judy for their Summer Book Club list this year and I was delighted to see it there having thoroughly enjoyed one of Dinah Jefferies’ previous novels, The Teaplanter’s Wife which I read and reviewed with my sister, Chrissi Reads. However, I finished this book feeling generally disappointed and a bit deflated, despite the number of very positive reviews it has on Goodreads and from my fellow bloggers. There are some wonderfully positive things about this novel, I hasten to add (and will mention them later) but for me, it was ultimately far too predictable. I hate to say but it was almost as if I didn’t need to read until the end, I could have told you what was going to happen much earlier than that.

Dinah Jefferies, author of The Sapphire Widow.

This novel is a work of historical fiction set in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in the mid 1930’s. We follow a young woman called Louisa Reeve in the early years of her marriage to Elliot as they struggle with devastating multiple miscarriages. When Elliott meets an untimely end, Louisa is forced to forge through life on her own, all her previous dreams and wishes appearing to be null and void. She must also grapple with the huge and life-changing secrets that Elliott has left behind after his death and wonders if she ever really knew her husband at all.

I think that synopsis says pretty much everything I’d like to say – I don’t think it’s a spoiler to talk about Elliot’s death to be fair, I mean shouldn’t the title of the book give a little bit of a clue? Anyway, first I want to talk about the positives because there were some very pleasing things about this novel that I enjoyed and has led to me giving it the eventual rating that I have. First of all, Dinah Jefferies is a wonder with creating a setting. The beautiful Ceylon scenery, the animals, the weather, everything is written so evocatively that you can almost imagine yourself there, the heat bearing down, the strong smell of the spices and the sound of the exotic creatures that call Ceylon their home.

Ceylon (Sri Lanka) where The Sapphire Widow is set.

This is an author who has been there, done that and can create a sense of place in such vivid historical detail that you are right there with our characters, seeing what they see and feeling what they feel. It’s one of the reasons why I feel so bad for having ANY criticism of this novel at all, there’s an obvious audience out there that it would resonate much more with than myself and who might enjoy the whole romance and predictability of the situation! Sadly, that just wasn’t me. I have to admit, I was initially wary when I began this novel as you are immediately told the nature of our female lead’s multiple miscarriages. As something I’ve struggled with myself, I was concerned that it would be too hard to read but luckily, I ended up coping well.

Louisa was a perfectly likeable character and I enjoyed how her nature developed into something much more independent and stoic, despite her major hardships in life when she is forced to confront her darkest fears. However, one of my pet peeves in any novel is predictability and that has a huge effect on how much I enjoy a novel as a whole. I’m certainly not going to go into any spoiler territory at all but I was so disappointed that I could literally predict every single little thing that was going to happen to Louisa many chapters before it happened. Unfortunately, this meant that when these events did occur, the whole surprise and spontaneity of the narrative was completely lost and in turn, it lost me as a reader because of this. I’d have loved it if the author turned things around, threw us some red herrings, took the story in a direction we weren’t expecting, surprised us a little bit?

And yes, yes I know, this isn’t a thriller or even a work of crime. It’s a beautifully descriptive historical fiction that plonks the reader straight into 1930’s Ceylon. I get that. It’s just a shame as I mentioned before, to read a story where you already know the story before you’ve finished it, if that makes any sense? However, if you’re looking for a gorgeously detailed love story with a pleasant female lead and some interesting character development, look no further. I’m sure Dinah Jefferies will continue to delight her current fans and manage to amass many more. If you’ve read it, I’d love to know what you think!

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

Talking About The Teaplanter’s Wife by Dinah Jefferies with Chrissi Reads

Published November 4, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

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 . . .

What did WE think?:

CHRISSI: Did you have any preconceptions of this book going into reading it?

BETH: Not really, this is the first novel that I have read by Dinah Jefferies so I was excited to see what her work would be like. On reading the synopsis, I was intrigued enough to want to start the story and her writing was so beautiful that I thoroughly enjoyed it. Historical fiction is one of my favourite genres to read and I was hoping for a storyline rich in information about what life was like in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in the 1920’s and that is essentially what I got.

BETH: Whom was your favourite character in this novel and why?

CHRISSI: I really loved the character Navenna, who was the maid in the story. I know she’s not a main character, but she’s stayed with me. I loved her caring nature and how she would protect Gwen. I loved how the young Gwen had an ally in Navenna.

CHRISSI: Dinah Jefferies has created a great sense of time and place in this novel. Discuss how she has achieved this.

BETH: The author has definitely done her research for this novel, it shows in every moment when Ceylon is described, from the time when Gwendolyn first steps off the boat and the reader sees the new and foreign land through her eyes to later years when she is a bit older. Having slightly more experience with the land and the inhabitants of it gives her more confidence when she has to stand up for herself or make difficult decisions but she never loses her love or respect for it. As the reader, Gwen’s obvious feelings for the land where she becomes a woman is lovely to experience and, as a result, made me quite envious and curious to experience it myself. We not only see Gwen develop and grow as a person as the years go on, but we see the country change also which was very interesting to read about.

BETH: What did you make of the character of Laurence’s sister Verity?

CHRISSI: I initially felt very irritated by Verity. She seemed incredibly needy at the beginning and very reliant on her brother. She was quite a busy body really! I didn’t like the way she treated Gwen. As we delve deeper into Verity’s history, I started to feel a little bit of compassion for her. She really was a lonely lady.

CHRISSI: The keeping of secrets is a big part of this novel- discuss the decisions that the characters make and the affect these decisions have on their lives.

BETH: Ah yes. There are some BIG secrets in this novel but I’m very wary of spoilers so I’m going to try and be as vague as I can. Lets just say that Gwen is not the only person keeping secrets… and there are some whoppers of secrets kept by each individual. They are often kept as the person thinks that it is the best way to protect the other individual, however this may not necessarily be the case and it may in fact be more damaging. In one particular case, it may not affect one individual but a whole group of people and has the potential to be life-changing for all concerned.

BETH: There are quite a few surprises in this novel. Were you prepared for the events that unfolded?

CHRISSI: Definitely not. I thought I had this all sussed out. I remember thinking it was all a little bit predictable, but I have to hold my hands up and say that I was wrong! I love it when that happens. There were so many twists and turns along the way, which pleasantly surprised me. I was intrigued throughout and was wondering where the story was going to go next!

CHRISSI: How does this book compare to other love stories?

BETH: I was actually pleasantly surprised by the love story of Gwen and Laurence. I thought I had it all figured out and it was going to go the way of other stories I have read where a young woman goes to live with her older husband abroad but I was completely wrong. Gwen and Laurence have the kind of love that felt really authentic i.e. they have problems, they get annoyed with each other, they fight, they sulk then they make up! It was nice that they both had (normal) flaws in their characters and still loved each other enough that there was no real “baddie” in the relationship, despite the secrets that are kept.

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

CHRISSI: I think I would! I really enjoyed this book, and I have to admit I wasn’t expecting to!

Would WE recommend it?:

BETH: But of course!

CHRISSI: Of course!

BETH’s star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

CHRISSI’s star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0