The Last Bookshop in London. Madeline Martin

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Published: Harlequin
Date: 6th April 2021
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

August 1939: London prepares for war as Hitler’s forces sweep across Europe. Grace Bennett has always dreamed of moving to the city, but the bunkers and drawn curtains that she finds on her arrival are not what she expected. And she certainly never imagined she’d wind up working at Primrose Hill, a dusty old bookshop nestled in the heart of London.

Through blackouts and air raids as the Blitz intensifies, Grace discovers the power of storytelling to unite her community in ways she never dreamed—a force that triumphs over even the darkest nights of the war.

The Last Bookshop in London slowly draws the reader in (me) and then in a little while it has me fully hooked.

It is a beautifully written story of wartime London and the people who faced such hard times during all the bombing that went on.

Grace finds herself in London as the war begins. While she isn’t a reader her mother’s friend pushes her into a bookshop job with Mr. Evans. It’s an old dusty place with books everywhere. Before long Grace finds she has a place there and slowly builds a love of books and reading. 

At night she helps out patrolling the streets, putting out fires and helping injured people. Her kindness and compassion changes hearts and inspires the ordinary person in the neighbourhood to keep going. She supports others and when the time comes she is moved by those who reach out to her.

Grace is ordinary doing extraordinary things. A quiet heroine. I am sure there were many such people in those times. 

For those you like reading about WW2 and bookshops will find that this book is for them.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The Last Correspondent. Soraya M. Lane

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Published: Lake Union

Date: 1st November 2020

Source: Publisher via NetGalley

When journalist Ella Franks is unmasked as a woman writing under a male pseudonym, she loses her job. But having risked everything to write, she refuses to be silenced and leaps at the chance to become a correspondent in war-torn France.

Already entrenched in the thoroughly male arena of war reporting is feisty American photojournalist Danni Bradford. Together with her best friend and partner, Andy, she is determined to cover the events unfolding in Normandy. And to discover the whereabouts of Andy’s flighty sister, Vogue model Chloe, who has followed a lover into the French Resistance.

We are used to seeing journalists and reporters risk their lives to share with us the often dangerous and horrific events in our world.

In The Last Correspondent Soraya M. Lane gives us a graphic portrayal of what it was like for women correspondents to do what they so strongly felt called to do. Report what was happening at the front of World War 2.

She has thoroughly researched this time period and the gender discrimination that existed. Only men were deemed strong enough to report the war. It was very difficult for women to get a look in.

In Danni and Ella we meet very gutsy women. Danni a photographer and Ella a writer. They see and deal with life threatening circumstances. Chloe who starts off as a rather young and naive women, eventually becomes an amazing young woman. 

The story is gripping, sometimes shocking. But mainly it delighted me with the strong bonds of friendship and the determination of the characters to seek what felt true to them, whatever the obstacle.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
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Early One Morning. Virginia Baily

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Early One Morning
Virginia Baily
Published: Virago Press
Date: 25th August 2015
Format: Paperback
Pages: 391
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Thank you to Hachette NZ
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A grey dawn in 19443: on a street in Rome, two young women, complete strangers to each other, lock eyes for a single moment.

One of them, Chiara Ravello, is about to flee the occupied city. The other has been forced at gunpoint on the back of a truck with her husband and children.

As time stands still, Chiara makes a decision that changes her life for ever. Loudly claiming the woman’s son as her own nephew, she demands and – to her amazement – secures his immediate release. Only as the trucks depart does she begin to realize what she has done.

Several decades later, Chiara lives alone in Rome, a self-contained woman working as a translator. Always in the background is the shadow of Daniele, whose absence and the havoc he wrought on Chiara’s world haunt her. Then she receives a phone call from a teenager claiming to be his daughter, and Chiara knows it is time to face up to the past.

My thoughts banner
Early One Morning – a momentary and quick decision by a mother and Chiara changes the lives of a number of people. I have just finished reading a book set in war torn Germany during the second world war.  Now Virginia Baily takes the reader into Italy – another country undergoing the ravages of war and being invaded.
Chiara has lost her her fiance to anti-fascist activities and now she struggles to care for Cecilia her sister who has been damaged by a number of fits that have injured her brain.  She does not welcome the young Jewish boy – Daniele Levi.  The extent of that unwelcome is incredibly sad.
Chiara flees to the country where her Nonna has a farm, taking with her Cecilia and Daniele. There they form an odd little community of people eking out an existence with the ever present fear of the German soldiers. Daniele is a silent unhappy boy. He does not realise he has been saved from a worse fate.  How could he know, all he knows is being yanked away from his family into a life with strangers.  His life with Chiara is never easy for either and eventually leads to complete separation.
The story is told from a number of points of view – primarily from Chiaras, but also from Antonio – a friend of Chiaras and now a priest, and from a young girl – Maria who discovers her father is not who she thought. It is a shock that rocks her world and sends her on a journey.  
The novel weaves between the 1940’s and the 1970’s. In doing so the lives of the characters and what happened to them unfolds in a way that gradually reveals all that happened from that one lock of eyes between two strangers. At times I hated being dragged from one era into the next, yet it built tension and intrigue.  It was well paced and had me reading on. I fell in love with this odd group of characters and their lives.
While not a book I would normally pick up,  the very real characters, the descriptive writing, the outcomes from that one choice – somewhat unexpected, fascinated me. I loved the small surprises that sprang out at unexpected times like a jack in the box. The motives and  the love, the hopes, disappointments, the guilt and sadness that characters experienced all combined to bring them alive in my imagination. Early One Morning  had me reaching for the tissues as it ended.
This book would be an interesting read for book groups, I am sure it would engender much discussion and be relevant to people’s lives today.

4 stars

Try a little bit of the audio to obtain a feel for the book.


The Nightingale. Kristin Hannah

The Nightingale.  Book Cover

The Nightingale
Kristin Hannah
Publisher: St Martin’s Press
Date: February 3rd 2015
Format: e-ARC
Pages: 448
Genre: General Fiction
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
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In the quiet village of Carriveau, Viann Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France…but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When France is overrun, Viann is forced to take an enemy into her house, and suddenly her every move is watched; her life and her child’s life is at constant risk. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates around her, she must make one terrible choice after another.

Viann’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets the compelling and mysterious Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can…completely. When he betrays her, Isabelle races headlong into danger and joins the Resistance, never looking back or giving a thought to the real–and deadly–consequences.

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In The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah has written a powerful book mostly about women who worked behind the scenes of war in France and made a difference.  It is fitting that this book is published on the 70th memorial of the liberation from Auschwitz.
“If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are”.  Two women certainly find out who they are as this story progresses through the invasion of France by the Germans.  One stays at home, one travels the country as part of a very daring and courageous Resistance team.  Both face tremendous hardship.  
Isabelle and Viann have a remote relationship with their father, damaged by his participation in the First World War.  Viann has married and has a daughter Sophie.  Isabelle who is outspoken and impulsive is sent from one school to another as she upsets the established regime.  When war breaks out Viann sees her husband Antoine go off to war and Isabelle has decided she is finished with school and wants to help out – and to make a difference.  Both sisters clash at times, yet at the root is deep love.
At the opening of the book we meet an unnamed woman, is she Isabelle or Viann? That question is not answered to the very end.  She is old and gathering things up as she is taken to a care facility by her son – a doctor.  As she goes she picks up a little identify card that says Juliette Gervaise.  She also has a special invitation to Paris for a celebration of the partisans of the Resistance.  As those questions are answered at the end, it is a very moving ending.  I sobbed through this part of book with the heartache of loss of these people and the courage shown by so many of them.  Some from that time are  alive, some have died. 
The portrayal of both the experience at home of Viann and of Isabelle and their father as they experience the invasion of their country is well written.  As a reader I was caught up into their lives. So much of it was horrific, yet what amazes me is that from all this the people who were so brutally treated speak of love. One character says “But love has to be stronger than hate, or there is no future for us”. As I listen to survivors of the Holocaust in recent days I hear them say similar words.
This book is a beautiful tribute to those brave, amazing people, women especially, who contributed to the gaining of freedom for their country and people during World War 11 in France. It is not easy reading, yet it is important reading. Kristin Hannah – thank you.
5 stars