#BlogTour Wartime for the Shop Girls by Joanna Toye

Today it’s a pleasure to take part in the BlogTour Wartime for the Shop Girls by Joanna Toye.

About the Author

Joanna Toye joined the production team of The Archers after reading English at Cambridge University, and became a scriptwriter for the programme for over twenty years. She has written a number of spin-off books about the long-running radio drama. On television, she has written for Crossroads, Doctors and Eastenders.

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About the book

It’s 1942 and as shortages of staff – and goods – begin to bite, young Lily Collins is thrilled to step up to sales junior in her job at Marlow’s department store.

But bombs are still falling and Lily and fellow shop girls Gladys and Beryl need a stiff upper lip to wave boyfriends, husbands and brothers goodbye, especially with a baby on the way and grim news on the wireless. When Jim, who works with Lily at the store, seems restless, things are bad enough, but nothing can prepare Lily for the secrets that come tumbling out when her favourite brother comes home on leave…

Somehow, she must keep smiling trough. Community, family and friends rally round as her home town – and the whole country – is tested once again.

Review

This is the second book in a new series set in the fictional department store Marlow’s. Both books can absolutely also be read as standalone novels.

The charm of this series is the normality of it all, well as normal as it can be when you’re writing about World War II. Instead of delving into the horrors of that period in history Toye gives the readers the war at home. The changes, the coping and the new structures needed to sustain everyone on the homefront.

How everyone comes together to support Beryl while she is feeling vulnerable and Gladys becomes brave enough to speak her mind. The way Lily deals with a secret that brings grave consequences with it. All of them know that they are stronger together, as opposed to letting themselves be ripped apart by the tragic losses and fear they experience.

The focus is on a few characters, family and friends and the way they deal with the heartache and the fear. It gives it a warmer feel – emotions and situations the reader can relate to. It could be your family, which is exactly what the strength of the series is.

It’s historical fiction set in Britain during World War II. Toye uses the department store to show the changes and difficulties during that time on a small scale, which makes it easier to imagine and comprehend all of it on a national scale. Women stepping into the roles of men to ensure that the country, and the war machine kept running. Families having to deal with the uncertainty of their loved one being in the midst of dangerous conflicts. Hoping every day that a death or MIA message wouldnt be delivered to their door.

The author captures all of that in this heartfelt story, which is ultimately about family and friendships holding each person together in the most difficult time of their lives. It will be interesting to follow Lily, Beryl and Gladys as their stories continue in the third book of this series.

Buy Wartime for the Shop Girls at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer. Publisher: HarperCollins pub date 23 Jan. 2020. Buy at Amazon com.

Dear Mrs Bird by A.J. Pearce

Emmeline Lake is ambitious. She wants to be a journalist, a woman in a man’s world, a Lady war correspondent. Someone who sniffs out the story and feeds it to the masses. When she answers an ad in the newspaper and gets the job she thinks all her eggs have hatched at once. Unfortunately she finds her new position is not only not at the newspaper it’s only as the typist for the formidable agony aunt of a women’s magazine with low readership.

Emmeline decides to see it as a temporary situation, a stepping stone to the bigger world of journalism, but she hasn’t bargained with Mrs Henrietta Bird. Never has she met a more cantankerous, narrow-minded and prudish woman. The poor young girls and women who write to Mrs Bird aren’t aware that their letters are judged and discarded within a moments notice. Never shall there be a mention of anything in any way scandalous or inappropriate.

Emmeline finds herself drawn to the worries, questions and concerns of the women. She makes an impulsive decision, which could potentially end her budding career. 

This all takes place in London during WW2 and the heavy bombing of the town by the Germans. Trauma and fear play a poignant part in this story, and also the bravery of the men. women and children who tried to survive in the bomb plagued areas of England.

In a way this book puts the whole agony aunt column into perspective, well actually it shines a completely different light on it. That it might be a way of crossing the boundaries of oppression when it comes to topics which may be controversial or being the confidante for people who have no other person to confide in.

I wonder how many of us would do the same thing as Emmeline given half the chance. The possibility of easing the worried minds of a few women here and there, and of course the act of defiance against the patriarchy of society. Just the simple feeling of knowing that one isn’t alone with a problem, be it a mundane one or one of a more serious nature. Women supporting other women.

It’s amusing, and yet also a tale of bravery at the same time. Mrs Bird is an endearing story of hope, spontaneity, determination and courage.

Buy Dear Mrs Bird at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer. Publisher: Picador; pub date Paperback Dec 2018. Buy at Amazon com.

Follow @ajpearcewrites, Visit ajpearce.com

#BlogTour The Silent Woman by Terry Lynn Thomas

Today is my turn on the BlogTour for The Silent Woman y Terry Lynn Thomas. It is more than just a story about an innocent woman, who accidentally becomes caught up in the pre second World War games of deception, it is about all women and the daily fights they have to endure to survive.

About the Author

Terry Lynn Thomas grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, which explains her love of foggy beaches, windy dunes, and Gothic mysteries. When her husband promised to buy Terry a horse and the time to write if she moved to Mississippi with him, she jumped at the chance. Although she had written several novels and screenplays prior to 2006, after she relocated to the South she set out to write in earnest and has never looked back.

Now Terry Lynn writes the Sarah Bennett Mysteries, set on the California coast during the 1940s, which feature a misunderstood medium in love with a spy. Neptune’s Daughter is a recipient of the IndieBRAG Medallion.

She also writes the Cat Carlisle Mysteries, set in Britain during World War II. The first book in this series, The Silent Woman, was released in April 2018. When she’s not writing, you can find Terry Lynn riding her horse, walking in the woods with her dogs, or visiting old cemeteries in search of story ideas.

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Visit terrylynnthomas.com

Buy The Silent Woman

About the book

Would you sell your secrets?

Catherine Carlisle is trapped in a loveless marriage and the threat of World War Two is looming. She sees no way out… that is until a trusted friend asks her to switch her husband’s papers in a desperate bid to confuse the Germans.

Soon Catherine finds herself caught up in a deadly mixture of espionage and murder. Someone is selling secrets to the other side, and the evidence seems to point right at her.

Can she clear her name before it’s too late?

Review

You could say that Catherine is naive and perhaps not completely aware of the implications of her actions. She is most definitely being used by the secret government groups, who decide the outcomes and often the narrative of history. Her simple tasks as a secret courier aren’t doing any harm, it’s just a bit of fun and a way to make money.

Not that she should technically have to make money, because her husband is a rich and powerful man, but he keeps her on a tight financial leash. There you have it, the status quo of the majority of women both then and now, controlled by the sexism in society. Then the fact Catherine is deemed useless by her husband because she can’t fulfil her ‘role’ as a woman.

The story was also about the empowerment of women. I’m not sure it was intentional, but kudos to the author if it was. The message could get lost within the crime element of The Silent Woman. The moments when the women protect each other, save each other and make a stand against the sexual harassment, and sexists in general.

The Silent Woman is a combination of spy thriller, crime, women’s empowerment and emancipation. It is also about the greatest opposition women encounter, aside from men and gender inequality. When women try to undermine other women, keep them submissive and fail to protect them, it is far worse than being oppressed by the opposite gender. In a way Thomas shows us how the silent woman starts to find her own voice, and stand up for herself and others.

If you are looking for a spy infused crime set in the late 1930s, you might get more than you bargained for. You don’t just get a body and a murder mystery, you get a miniature protest and a discovery of self. Thomas delivers more than just a Foyle’s War scenario, or in this case Catherine’s War. The author delivers a dose of reality with a touch of rebellion.

Buy The Silent Woman at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan

beneathThere are events in history that tend to take second or third place in importance and narrative, mainly because there are so many atrocious events that tend to take precedence. Understandably so, however it doesn’t make the pain and suffering of others less worthy of retelling. In this case the bombing of Milan and the invasion of Italy by the Germans.

The story of Pino Lella is one of many, there are a lot of forgotten heroes around us. The men and women who have made their niche in history with acts of great bravery, and yet their voices are never heard. The author was inspired to bring this true story of Pino’s courageous actions to others, and I am glad he did.

Pino’s parents insist he join the German military forces in an attempt to keep him safe. As a parent I can understand the convoluted logic, however this choice places him in the awful position of being one of the enemy. At the time there was no way his parents could have known what this association might entail in the years after the war. Any hint of collaboration often meant the difference between life and death, and being shunned by his fellow countrymen. His choice creates a chasm between himself and his best friend, but at the same time Pino has the opportunity to help bring the enemy down.

The chapters on the escape route through the mountains create vivid imagery. I am sure Pino’s description of the climbs were almost blasé, despite the danger and the incredible skill he acquired to help Jewish people flee. This nonchalance is mirrored in the writing.

In a way Sullivan pays tribute to all the unknown Pino’s of the world, and to all the stories we will never get the opportunity to hear. Reminding us of parts of history that slide into obscurity.

Buy Beneath a Scarlet Sky at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

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Visit marksullivanbooks.com

The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck

the womenWhen you compare how many books are written about the perpetrators of the Holocaust vs books on the brave people who tried to stop the face of evil. Well, the scales are rather imbalanced. Regardless of whether it would have changed the outcome of history or not, at least they tried. Against all odds, they tried.

Marianne thinks she needs to keep her promise to protect the women and children of her husband’s co-conspirators. That in itself is a noble thing to do, and she does in fact save Benita, Ania and their children in her own way, however Marianne can be very judgemental at the same time.

The pain, horror and difficulties of those considered to be the guilty party tend to be swept under the rug. After everything the people of Germany did, and their collaborators of course, why would anyone feel any pity towards them? The author gives the reader a flavour of some of those post-war difficulties. This doesn’t mean she excuses or shifts the blame, she just tries to remind us that in war there is a lot of collateral damage, and the lines between guilt and innocence are often very blurry.

Towards the end of the book there are conversations between Ania and her daughter Mary. They are reminiscent of conversations, questions and clarifications Jessica Shattuck had with her own grandmother about her past.( I loved my grandmother, but she was a Nazi) Shattuck has tried to align the image she has of her grandmother with that of her past as a member of the Nazi party.

Many scholars and historians have spoken of a collective criminality, responsibility and guilt when it comes to the Nazi era. Men and women, who under normal circumstances would never have committed crimes, are guilty of participating in and allowing the worst of atrocities.

No matter how hard Shattuck looks for an explanation there will never be a satisfactory answer. The majority of these men and women weren’t sociopaths, psychopaths or sadists. The majority of them were normal people in the midst of a mass movement of propaganda, patriotism and not so subtle brainwashing, who did condone and commit sadistic crimes. They looked the other way and chose to believe the truth of the concentration camps was merely Allied propaganda. It’s easier to ignore than to accept that you are part of the problem.

The one thing Shattuck can and should take away from all of her literary attempts to alleviate some genetic sense of guilt, is that the descendants are not to blame for the sins, mistakes or crimes of their ancestors.

The Women in the Castle is a well balanced read. It considers both sides of the coin, and most importantly the collaboration of both sides to attempt to rebuild lives after the war. Marianne, Ania and Benita are mothers and friends, there aren’t just women influenced and driven by the choices of their past.

It is tale of friendship, hardship and ultimately one of loyalty. Shattuck delivers the harsh reality of war in a direct and no nonsense way. There is no need for violins or overly dramatic scenes. The truth is sufficient. Definitely an author I will be revisiting again.

Buy The Women in the Castle at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain

gustavNeutrality, yes it is a word Switzerland likes to wave around like a flag of honour. The truth is rather more dismal I’m afraid.

What they call neutrality I call collaboration, what they call being an objective observer I call turning a blind eye to the atrocities going on. The Swiss closed their borders to the Jews, the Swiss helped the criminals to escape and the Swiss are still sat on illegal war gains.

Money, art and artefacts belonging to the victims of WW2 and hidden by so-called neutral Switzerland. Yeh, so much for sitting on your fake laurels and praising yourselves for being such outstanding citizens of the world. Switzerland: synonymous with sanctimonious.

In The Gustav Sonata the horrific events of the Second World War are still influencing the people and their day-to-day lives. Anti-Semitism is still rife, albeit in a subtle way and yet often more insidious in its nature. This is definitely apparent when it comes to Emilie. Gustav finds it hard enough to maintain friendships without his mother weeding out his friends based on their religious beliefs.

Gustav strikes up an unlikely friendship in pre-school with a lonely little boy called Anton Zwiebel. The two of them connect, and despite the occasional argument, they have a friendship that lasts many decades.

Essentially their friendship is the main focus of the story or rather the denial of the emotional attachment between the two of them. In essence the moral of the story is, if you aren’t true to yourself and what you feel, you will never truly be at peace, content and happy.

For me The Gustav Sonata had a certain Die Blechtrommel (The Tin Drum) feel to it. The little boy who lives inside his head, whilst he battles the injustices around him and fights to survive in a world that doesn’t care whether he is there or not. The relationship between Gustav and his mother is a one-sided one. Emilie can’t seem to get over the traumatic experiences in her past. She feeds and clothes her son, but emotionally she is stunted and Gustav suffers for it. As a child he filters this information in a way which is more comfortable and less hurtful for his own sanity.

Even without the complex and emotional relationship between Anton and Gustav, and the story of discovery of self, it is an interesting read. It’s possibly a book that may fall under the radar. Hopefully it won’t.

Buy The Gustav Sonata at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

Susi, the granddaughter from house nr.4 by Birgitta Behr (English review)

susiI think this book is remarkable, it would be perfect for educational purposes. It is the type of book that should be available in primary and high schools. It is a great way of teaching children and teens about one of the darkest eras of 20th century history.

I really liked the way Behr combined the artistic element of the book with the narrative and prose. She delivers the changes in the law, the atmosphere and behaviour towards Jews during the Nazi era, in a way that is concise and brutally honest. At the same time she manages to deliver history through the eyes of a child and with a lot of compassion.

The illustrations are simplistic and yet at the same time they are crude and to the point. They are enhanced by the written slogans, graffiti and the story itself.

Susi experiences how her life is taken apart and destroyed bit by bit by the changes in her country. Suddenly Jews are persona non grata. Her family has to rely on both friends and strangers to help them to survive the atrocities of the war. There are plenty of unsung brave people, who helped instead of looking away during that difficult time. They tend to be forgotten when history is recalled.

Behr brings you up close and personal to the events of that time period without having to use any graphic images or violence. The new laws and ‘rules’ are shown in form of crude slogans, which makes it all the more realistic. The words show the injustice and inhumanity without having to show the true measure of the violent situation.

The focus of the book is on this one family, as opposed to everyone who suffered and the entirety of the situation. In a way it makes the book even more poignant and it gives the reader the feeling of empathy and of being involved. The reader relates to the little girl, because it is easier to connect to her fate and story.

It is a book of important historical relevance and one I will gladly recommend.

Buy Susi, die Enkelin von Haus Nr.4 bei Amazon de, Amazon UK or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

Read Susi, die Enkelin von Haus Nr 4 (German review) here.