Tag Archives: Great War

#BookReview ‘Love in a Time of War’ by @adriennechinn #WW1

Love in a Time of War by Adrienne Chinn is the story of three sisters during wartime, how the inconveniences of war can shatter dreams and promises, disguise lies, hide secrets and offer opportunities previously unimagined. Adrienne ChinnIn 1913, Cecilia Fry, eldest of the three Fry sisters, is nineteen when this story starts. She has fallen in love with her young German teacher and must decide whether to spend the summer with Max in Germany or in London working for the suffragist movement. Eighteen-year old Jessie is studying at nursing school and has been offered an amazing opportunity of which her mother disapproves. Jessie’s twin Etta visits the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts where she meets an Italian artist. All three sisters have dreams for the future, but those dreams are to be thrown into disarray by the Great War.
Love in a Time of War starts with a Prologue set in Italy in 1891. A young Englishwoman called Christina, visiting her Italian family on the island of Capri, falls in love with a young tourist. What happens during this Italian summer reaches through every page of this novel with its themes of the life of women at the dawn of the twentieth century, the new possibilities for women, promising independence, a voice and freedom of expression, weighed down by society’s traditional expectations of their role and behaviour. This is a view of a prosperous middle-class family, though the plight of working-class women is glimpsed via Milly, the Fry’s maid of all work who leaves to work in a munitions factory, and Jessie’s nursing friend Ivy. The three sisters choose completely contrasting paths in life and their stories are followed as war is declared and the family separates. Each in turn faces a difficult choice and then must learn to live the life they have chosen. Little do they realise how their own decisions echo the choices their mother also faced at a similar age.
Towards the end there are number of coincidences which enable the tying up of loose ends, these felt awkward and abrupt. But the Acknowledgements at the end explains how the novel was inspired by the author’s own three great-aunts and grandmother who lived in Britain, Canada and Egypt. So perhaps real life does provide coincidences that are presumed good, or bad, luck.
A gentle, romantic war story, ideal for reading on holiday. As the first book in a family saga series, ‘The Three Fry Sisters’, this book ends as life after war begins and the sisters face the new lives they have chosen. Book Two will cover the Twenties and Thirties, while Book Three will span World War Two into the Seventies.

If you like this, try:-
Waiting for Sunrise’ by William Boyd
The Inheritance of Solomon Farthing’ by Mary Paulson-Ellis
My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You’ by Louisa Young

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#BookReview ‘Stanley and Elsie’ by @nicolaupsonbook #literary #art #historical

Nicola UpsonMy knowledge of English artist Stanley Spencer was sketchy to say the least when I started reading Stanley and Elsie by Nicola Upson. This is a biographical novel that walks a difficult line between true fact and imagined conversation and walks it with skill, delicacy and drama. Definitely a novel for anyone who loves art.

Upson takes us into the Spencer household at Chapel View, Burghclere after the Great War when Elsie Munday starts work as a housemaid. Stanley Spencer has been commissioned to paint the inside of a chapel; his wife Hilda, also a painter, minds their young daughter Shirin. Through Elsie’s eyes we see the lives of this family, their ups and downs, the artistic differences, the selfishnesses of Stanley and Hilda, smoothed by the tact, diplomacy and efficiency of Elsie. The title could make some people assume Stanley and Elsie were romantically attached but theirs is a master/servant relationship that deepened into mutual respect and friendship. Stanley, selfish, focussed, is a difficult master, a difficult husband, and Elsie finds herself caught in the middle of disputes between husband and wife. Often she is exasperated with both of them. Instead she becomes indispensable to the household.

Upson gives us an insight into the lives of this family, their daily tasks, the squabbles, the unexpected joys. She combines small inconsequential details of painting with, through Elsie’s growing appreciation of art, the big picture destruction, grief and lasting devastation of war on Stanley’s generation of men. Upson is excellent at portraying place; the Spencers move between Burghclere, Cookham and Hampstead Heath as their marriage disintegrates, a separation complicated by Stanley’s obsession with another woman. No one could have forseen the consequences of this obsession. Stanley is selfish and self-absorbed, Hilda also but to a lesser degree; both can be loving with their children one minute and dismissive the next. At times, neither are particularly likeable; Elsie is the one who picks up the pieces.

Elsie is the core of this story. As narrator we not only see the Spencers through her eyes, we also see her grow from young girl to competent, confident young woman.

The ending was under-whelming but I see it must have been difficult to know how and when to end the novel.

A delightful read. I particularly enjoyed picturing the paintings in my mind as I turned the pages. Reading Stanley and Elsie makes me want to visit Sandham Memorial Chapel near Newbury, Hampshire, now a National Trust property, and also to explore Upson’s other novels.

If you like this, try:-
The Gustav Sonata’ by Rose Tremain
The Goldfinch’ by Donna Tartt
Life Class’ by Pat Barker

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#Bookreview ‘You’ll Never See Me Again’ @LesleyPearse #historical #romance

Lesley PearseWhen a character in a film says ‘never’ it’s a sign that the impossible thing will definitely happen before the end. Such is the title of the new novel from Lesley Pearse,You’ll Never See Me Again.

It is 1917 and a storm is thrashing the Devon coast at Hallsands. Betty Wellows is with her shell-shocked husband Martin at his mother’s home, safely up the cliffs. Martin no longer recognises Betty, he is a different man from the fisherman who went to war. Betty is working all hours to support her husband and his mother, putting up with insults, petty grievances, grief for the loss of her husband. As the storm becomes wild and dangerous, Agnes instructs her daughter-in-law to go to her own house beside the beach to rescue her belongings from the flood. Afraid, Betty escapes the older woman’s abuse and runs into the storm. As the waves crash into her home, Betty realises this is her chance to escape Hallsands, Agnes and Martin.

The dramatic opening grabbed my attention and my emotions. Betty is trapped in a life of poverty with a husband who no longer recognises her and a mother-in-law who takes her money and treats her like a skivvy. When she has the chance to escape, Betty takes it. I spent the whole novel chewing over Betty’s dilemma; was she right to run, should she have stayed. Pearse maintains this dilemma throughout the book as Betty goes to Bristol where she changes her name to Mrs Mabel Brook, a widow. You’ll Never See Me Again is the story of how a lone woman in the middle of the Great War is able to strive to improve her lot in life. Mabel suffers setbacks, encounters thieves and frauds, and sheds copious tears. There are moments where her life seems to have reached a settled, easier place; but, of course, more trauma lies ahead.

This is a cleverly plotted book that kept me guessing to the end. Mabel at times is her own worst enemy, and she finds it difficult to accept help. Then she accidentally discovers a talent she never knew she had. When she moves to Dorchester, Dorset, to be a live-in servant/housekeeper for illustrator Miss Clara May, Mabel’s life takes a new turn. Nearby is a prisoner of war camp and one of the inmates, Carsten, looks after Clara’s garden. Carsten and Mabel fall into a state of mutual liking when Spanish flu strikes at the camp; afraid for Carsten’s health, Mabel volunteers as a nurse.

Mabel ran away from Hallsands to be free, but her past travels with her. Finally she must confront her origins in order to move on with her life. Mabel has a strong sense of honesty and justice, which sounds odd given the way she ran away in chapter one. But she is unselfish, never turning away from difficult decisions and transforming herself in a short space of time into a beautiful, assured woman that her neighbours at Hallsands would not recognise.

Read my review of The House Across the Street, also by Lesley Pearse. And here’s why thriller author Helen J Christmas chooses Camellia by Lesley Pearse as her ‘Porridge & Cream’ comfort read.

If you like this, try:-
One Step Too Far’ by Tina Seskis
Sometimes I Lie’ by Alice Feeney
The Girls’ by Lisa Jewell

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Book review: Summertime

Vanessa LafayeFrom the first chapter, this novel is steeped in its setting. Florida, 1935. Racial divides, love [extra-marital and long lost], the US mistreatment of its Great War veterans, and the threat of the elements dominate this tale of Heron Key. Vanessa Lafaye is a debut novelist but she handles her explosive material with assurance, taking time to build the story as the town prepares for the annual beach barbeque on Independence Day. With the weather reports showing a hurricane approaching, tensions build between the townsfolk and the war veterans camped nearby in cockroach-infested mouldy conditions.

Lafaye took her inspiration from two real events, the Labor Day Hurricane in 1935, and the appalling way the US Government treated its war veterans. Heron Key is fictional as are the characters, but some of the things which happen during the hurricane are based on real-life reports. This is a wonderful meld of fiction and fact, handled by skilled storyteller. Lafaye handles the suspense as if she has been telling stories like this all her life.

Click here for Vanessa Lafaye’s blog.

If you like this, try:-
‘The Knife with the Ivory Handle’ by Cynthia Bruchman
‘The Last Runaway’ by Tracy Chevalier
‘The Other Eden’ by Sarah Bryant

‘Summertime’ by Vanessa Lafaye [UK: Orion] Buy now

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