The Purple Shadow by Christopher Bowden

Thank you to Christopher Bowden for a copy of the book, to prepare for the blog tour organised by Rachel of Rachels’s Random Resources. My thoughts are my own and not influenced by the gift.

Synopsis:

In the years before the war, Sylvie Charlot was a leading light in Paris fashion with many friends among musicians, artists and writers.  Now she is largely forgotten.  Spending time in Paris during a break in his acting career, Colin Mallory sees a striking portrait of Sylvie.  Some think it is a late work by Édouard Vuillard but there is no signature or documentary evidence to support this view.

The picture has some unusual qualities, not least the presence of a shadow of something that cannot be seen.  Perhaps the picture was once larger.  Colin feels an odd sense of connection with Sylvie, who seems to be looking at him, appealing to him, wanting to tell him something.  Despite a warning not to pursue his interest in her portrait, he is determined to find out more about the painting, who painted it, and why it was hidden for many years.   

Colin’s search takes him back to the film and theatre worlds of Paris and London in the 1930s – and to a house in present-day Sussex.  As he uncovers the secrets of Sylvie’s past, her portrait seems to take on a life of its own. 

My thoughts:

This book had an old fashioned feel to it, despite some of the story being set in modern times. We start off in Paris, meeting Colin, an actor in between roles, who is intrigued by the purple shadow on the painting of Sylvie Charlot. The painting had been found wrapped up and hidden away in the apartment. Colin is convinced this was part of a bigger portrait but why would someone cut up a portrait and who else was in the original?

Colin visits theatres, galleries and museums in Paris and London, and finds a love story set in the 1930’s. The more he discovers, the more intrigued he becomes, the more mysterious it becomes, and he discovers that he is not the only person interested in the story behind the painting. This is a spoiler free review so I can’t divulge anymore about the story but can confirm that I enjoyed the story, which was very different to my normal genres.

Author Bio:

Christopher Bowden lives in south London. He is the author of six colour-themed novels, which have been praised variously by Andrew Marr, Julian Fellowes, Sir Derek Jacobi, and Shena Mackay.  

Social Media Links –  https://www.facebook.com/christopher.bowden.90

Website – http://www.christopherbowden.com/

Purchase Links 

UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Purple-Shadow-Christopher-Bowden-ebook/dp/B01JLMD7N4/

US – https://www.amazon.com/Purple-Shadow-Christopher-Bowden-ebook/dp/B01JLMD7N4/

France – https://www.amazon.fr/Purple-Shadow-Christopher-Bowden-ebook/dp/B01JLMD7N4/

The Ringmaster’s Daughter by Carly Schabowski

I’m thrilled to be sharing my review for the Ringmaster’s Daughter by Carly Schabowski on my book review blog today – this thought provoking book is now one of my favourite book of 2020. Thank you to Bookouture for a digital review copy via NetGalley and for inviting me to join the blog tour. My thoughts about the book are my own and not influenced by the free copy (or by the author’s dogs – we also have a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel)

Synopsis:

Circus people don’t ask who you were before, or what god you believe in… when you join the circus, you are family, whatever your past.

Paris, 1940. Twenty-year-old Michel Bonnet lives on the edge of the law, finding work where he can breaking in horses on the outskirts of the city. But when the Nazis invade, Michel takes refuge as a stowaway on a rickety train bound for the rural south. It’s a journey that will change his life forever.

The train is property of Le Cirque Neumann – a travelling circus owned by the troubled and irritable showman Werner Neumann. Neumann offers Michel a job caring for the company’s horses – a lucky break, but with an unusual condition attached. Michel must keep to himself and never speak of what he sees behind the glittering curtain of the big top.

But as Michel finds himself pulled into the strange and wondrous world of the great spectacular it becomes more difficult to keep his promise. Why does the man with the performing monkey never speak, and the sword swallower turn his face away? Who are the silent, shadowy figures who flit like moths between the wagons when the sun is down? It’s clear that Neumann is keeping his performers hidden away… but why?

And how can Michel win the love of the beautiful and exotic trapeze artist Freida – the graceful, green-eyed star of Neuman’s spectacular – when he’s been forbidden to even meet her gaze?

A heartbreaking and uplifting wartime novel– perfect for fans of Water for ElephantsThe Nightingale and The Tattooist of Auschwitz.

My thoughts:

In May 2020, during the early days of furlough, I saw this book listed on NetGalley. Both the cover image and the synopsis appealed – I enjoy ‘modern’ historical fiction having studied the twentieth century during my O level course.

The book starts in Paris, just as the Germans are marching in, in the summer of 1940 and the British are heading home via Dunkirk. Carly Schabowski sets the scene of a city in turmoil, with neighbours running away and bomb damage being repaired. We are introduced to Michel, a shy young man, who is the main character. It was only after reading the book, that I realised that this is one of very few books I’ve read recently where the main character is male and is the first male historical fiction main character (the other books were of crime or thriller genres).

Michel escapes Paris (with help from his neighbour Betrand), and ends up travelling with the Le Cirque Neumann, looking after their horses. As the synopsis states, Werner, the Ringmaster keeps his performers away from Michel. The book follows Michel as he slowly becomes trusted by Werner and we discover the history of the various performers.

This wasn’t a book about a circus for me, but a book about how dangerous it was to be living in France in 1940 if you were Jewish, Catholic, disabled, gay or had a rare genetic condition. The circus performers all had reasons to hide and heartbreaking stories to share – including the one who made himself mute so that he couldn’t tell anyone where his family had fled to.

I was entranced by the story telling and could see this book as a movie. The detailed descriptions brought the locations and the show in the Big Top to life. I realised how much I had been encouraged to care for the characters when we reached the end of the book and I was holding my breath to find out what happened next. There are many friendships and romances to discover amongst the heartbreak and betrayals.

This is a beautifully written historical fiction book, dealing with some difficult topics and sadly even in our modern times, some of the same intolerances still exist. As I said earlier in my review, this is one of my favourite books of 2020 and I will be busy recommending it.

Carly Schabowski

Carly Schabowski worked as a journalist in both North Cyprus and Australia before returning to Oxford, where she studied for an MA and then a PhD in creative writing at Oxford Brookes University. Carly now teaches at Oxford Brookes University as an associate lecturer in Creative Writing for first and second-year English literature students. 
Twitter:  @carlyschab11

Buy Links:
Amazon: https://bit.ly/3eMifEf

Apple: https://apple.co/34mzW9h

Kobo: https://bit.ly/2RmjnoF

Google: https://bit.ly/38oTs77