Rosanna’s Winter Book Reviews 2015/6

(Historical fiction – war, post-war and 1960s)

Brides of War by June Tate

When you put yourself in the hands of this author, you know that you are with someone you can trust. June Tate is a proficient storyteller who will take you through the events in her characters’ lives with wit and warmth. In this novel, we follow the stories of Gracie and Valerie, two GI brides who meet on the ship going out to America after the war and who are both determined to make a success of their new lives. But the truth is that many such marriages were not huge successes; there was much against GIs and their sweethearts who came from such different cultures and backgrounds and who often barely knew one another when they fell in love in the middle of war torn Britain and got married quickly, not knowing what the future might bring. The book works well because the two girls are from very different backgrounds and they have married very different men, so whilst Valerie remains in New York with her up and coming successful business man of a husband, Gracie travels to Colorado to be with Jeff. Both women feel initially isolated however, living so far from home and both women have difficult decisions to make, because neither man is quite what he seems.

The author crosses from one story to the other, maintaining a fast pace and shifting narratives with consummate ease so that the reader is barely aware of how she has done it; we are thus quickly drawn into both stories simultaneously and empathise fully with both women. Later, their stories collide once more when the two women meet up again, helping one other in their time of need. Both characters develop well throughout the novel to become strong, independent women and the author creates an authentic post war atmosphere with lots of interesting detail. As always, June Tate is easy to read and fluent in style. She takes you on her journey and you are surprised when you finally put the book down and you are there. I picked this book up at every opportunity in order to read more about the Brides of War and loved every moment. Highly recommended.

Ridley Road by Jo Bloom

I was looking forward to reading this novel as I’m interested in the 1960s as a period of recent(ish) history and I did enjoy this aspect of the book immensely. Jo Bloom captures the feel of the ‘60s in her descriptions of the streets of London, the fashions (especially the hair styles) and the music. We are introduced to Vivien the narrator as she moves to London from Manchester following the death of her father. She is a talented young hair stylist who wants to make her mark in the big city, but she is also on a mission – to find a man called Jack Fox. Vivien met Jack when he visited their home some months ago and they had a brief but intense affair. Vivien has no idea why Jack has not got in touch since his return to London, but she is determined to find out. To say more would be a spoiler, but the plot itself  is intriguing, centring around the growing fascist movement of the time with demonstrations against the Jews, all taking place around Ridley Road. I hadn’t known the extent of this – and I do like to feel that I have learnt something from a book, so I found this fascinating. I was slightly disappointed by the more personal story of Jack and Vivien; this seemed lacking in depth at times and I was also disappointed by the ending which seemed to take little note of Vivien’s original ambitions. We like to think of the 1960s as a time when women were able to become more independent and successful. However, I like Jo Bloom’s spare and concise style of writing and would definitely recommend this book – particularly for readers interested in the 1960s.

A Brief Affair by Margaret Leroy

I was expecting a saga and a light read – what I got was something gritty, atmospheric, authentic and extremely moving written in fresh and evocative language. Margaret Leroy is so skilled at conjuring atmosphere through detailed description that whilst reading this book you will suspend all disbelief and be in London during the Blitz. The story is about widowed Livia Ripley’s attempt to bring up her daughters Polly and Eliza in some semblance of normality, whilst developing her own career and sense of identity as a photographer, surviving the blitz and learning a bit more about men and relationships along the way. As the raids intensify, Livia volunteers to be a warden at the invitation of the enigmatic Justin Connelly, who is a wonderfully unusual ‘hero’. Through Justin, Livia experiences the true reality and despair of war, and discovers a strength she never knew she had and the ability to finally forgive herself for what has happened in the past. Livia develops beautifully as a character and is both complex and totally believable. As the blurb suggests, this book is reminiscent of the classic Brief Encounter .  I also hugely enjoyed Leroy’s characterisation and the gradual development of both family and romantic relationships in this novel; the relationship between mother and daughters particularly, is portrayed with great sensitivity and perception. Margaret Leroy has constructed a powerful and compelling picture of a family struggling to survive in London at war. Highly recommended. I loved it.

© Rosanna Ley
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