The Kitchen Front – Jennifer Ryan

I have read many books which are based around the Second World War and it is always nice to get a different perspective, a different aspect to telling a well versed period of history.

Jennifer Ryan certainly does it with this book and uses the war at home, the food shortages, rationing and cooking to create this wonderful story.

The BBC programme The Kitchen Front needs to relate more to its female audience and so decides to hold a competition for a new presenter. Enter four ladies from Fenley Village.

First is Lady Gwendoline, she knows her status within the village, as being married to the prominent factory owner puts her above everyone else. In here eyes anyway. If she could win, then she would go up in everyone’s expectations, especially her husbands.

Audrey, widow with three young boys is Gwendoline’s sister. And looked upon as the poorer of the two. Devastated by her husband’s death and struggling to keep a roof above her families head, she will do anything to make the extra pennies to survive.

Nell is the kitchen maid for Gwendoline and along with the cook Mrs Quince, well known already in the area for what she can create. Nell is wanting to break free and leave the life of service behind and be her own women. Whilst she has the encouragement from Mrs Quince, can she do something as scary as cook for a competition and potentially win? Confidence is all she needs and it can come from the most unexpected places.

Zelda has bucket loads of confidence, as a chef very much in a mans world and determined to be recognised in her own right. Zelda sees this as a way to further her career. Except war work has taken her to the factory owned by Gwendoline’s husband and her condition means she is about to stand out from the crowd for all the wrong reasons.

All these women are thrown together in the competition and outside of that as well. There ingenuity to create something out of nothing or something out of foul ingredients shows the pluck and determination that the home front employed during rationing. The strength of friendship and adversity means that by the end of the book, all of their lives have changed.

Cooking and a common goal and purpose may have brought these four unlikely women together, but it was love, respect and their strength of belief and friendship which will keep them together long after you have finished reading the book.

An excellent book, covering the home front and full of recipes for dried egg powder, whale meat and tins of spam! Not sure I would want to recreate some of them, but they are all brought to life within the pages of the book.

Thank you to the publisher for the opportunity via netgalley to read this book. Unfortunately I was too late to download my copy but I was interested, so I purchased my own copy and devoured it. Jennifer Ryan’s writing is wonderful and I look forward to reading more.

The Kitchen Front is out now.


Daughters of War – Dinah Jefferies

Occupied France in early 1944.

Three women, sisters, Helene, Elise and Florence living together at the edge of a village in the Dordogne.

Helene is a nurse for the local doctor and wants to keep everyone close to her safe.

Elise runs a little café which is at the centre of resistance work and she is determined to be defiant and help defeat the Germans.

Florence the youngest, tends to the home, the garden and dreams of the day that everything is okay again in the world.

As the book progresses, events occur which change the course of all these three women’s lives. A knock at the door brings the resistance far closer than Helene would like to their life. Sheltering someone on the run from the wrong side could lead to problems. Florence’s innocence is shattered and the behaviour of the girls’ mother has a lasting affect on them all, despite her being in England.

The book moves between the three sisters, as we see their perspective, their take on what is happening around them. There are some upsetting scenes, which the author doesn’t shy away from and the impact they had whilst I was reading made me recoil, but also knew that this went on and to have it brought to life off the page was quite disturbing but necessary to understand the impact of the actions of the few.

I have read and enjoyed many books set during the Second World War and this will be one that will stay with me for a while. It was interesting to take another aspect of the war; Occupied France and the French Resistance, and not use some of the well written about areas, to create a powerful and evocative storyline.

The skill Jefferies brings is the details into which she goes. From the descriptions, I knew the cottage that the three sisters lived in, the garden that Florence tended in all of it’s glory; the flowers, the food, the necessities that were needed to survive were rich in detail. Which when the horrors that were witnessed made them all that more impactful.

I am glad that there is more to learn about these three sisters, as there are many unanswered questions that I have and I cannot wait until I can be swept away again with such an impactful setting and story.

It is authors and books like this that remind me why I love historical fiction so much.

Thank you to the publisher via netgalley for the opportunity to read this book.

Daughters of War is out now.


The Bootlace Boys – Eric Collinson

This book was the choice of my book club, the author was a friend of one of our members. We had read some First World War fiction already this year and wanted to broaden our horizons a bit more, which is why we chose this book. There was probably a lot of expectation on our part and the worry that we did not want to upset our friend or the author who kindly joined us for the discussion.

Our fears were unfounded, this is a book which is based on the authors real relatives, although certain events have been changed to fit and characters slightly altered. However, it is fundamentally a fictional story, based on a lot of research and the author giving people a voice about a group of miners in Durham who enlist in the Durham Light Infantry and find themselves transported into the reality and bloodshed of one of the battles of the First World War.

You get to meet Ted a coal miner and you follow him through his childhood, into a marriage with Bertha and subsequently into battle. Of course you learn a lot about Ted but you also get to know the way the mining villages work, how the mines and the mine owners were treating their workers and the strength that was created from working with the same people, living in close proximity to them and then going off to fight with them as well. This was a community which was not going to let anything divide it.

I learnt a lot and I was thrilled to get a glimpse into these lives. All the time as I was reading, I knew what was coming. I had prior knowledge, they did not. War was coming. And very interestingly war comes in the last quarter of the book and even then it is if we are waiting for the horrors that Ted and his fellow soldiers, friends and colleagues are going to either witness or be apart of. The horrors came, and whilst the truth might not make pleasant reading I feel it is important that so many know what happened. We can only know through books like this.

It is rich in its descriptions and I did struggle a bit to begin with as it was leaving very little to my imagination, but actually once I got into the style of writing around about the same time Ted and Bertha had settled into marriage I was with the book right to the end.

A book that is the result of a lot of research and a great passion to tell a story which should be read by anyone interested in the First World War.

It was great to meet the author and also it inspired me to look at the records available for some of my relatives who were in the War as well. It reminded me why I loved my history degree and how research can take over. As of yet though I have not written a book. 

I am not sure if I can get the author to our book group for the next book in 2015. 


Reading Rememberance

Poppies at the Tower

In a week where we have remembered not just the fallen from World War One, but all subsequent wars and conflicts and for everyone who gave their life. It has made me think about the books that I have read that featured War as part of their background, plot or character. What a better way to have my own remembrance with some reading.

I have picked 11. It seemed fitting.

Anna Hope – Wake

The body of the Unknown Soldier is making its way from France to London, to be buried in Westminster Abbey and the city is awaiting this unique moment. The war is still raw in many people’s hearts and they have yet to move on or find the strength to see that this permanent monument is theirs forever.

Three women in London, have all experienced something very different by the war. They do not know each other, but they all have one thing in common – loss.

Elizabeth Speller – The Return of Captain John Emmett

For those that survived The First World War, coming home and readjusting was another battle that many were facing.

Ben Elton – The First Casualty

From the cover and the blurb, you know that this is a book about the First World War. You also know that Douglas Kingsley, our detective is being sent out to Ypres to investigate a murder.

Douglas Kingsley objects to war. Objects so vociferously that he ends up a prison.

Rosie Goodwin – Home Front Girls

It is always worth remembering that those left behind during the Second World War were fighting their own wars. Wars on the home front as well as personal wars……

Judith Kinghorn – The Last Summer

This is simply a love story. It is a story of a love between two people Clarissa and Tom, one a lady with all the privileges, the other a young man with ideas but no standing and no money. Their love others will frown upon. But not only is a class divided, there is something else which will divide them all – War. A division across the world.

Joanna Trollope – The Soldier’s Wife

On return from a six month deployment in Afghanistan Dan cannot seem to find what he is anymore. Being a soldier is the easiest for him than returning to family life, the army life gives him more structure, purpose and plenty of knowns. Families bring plenty of unknowns and no orders on how to deal with them.

Louisa Young – My Dear I Wanted to Tell You

This book is pitched at those who loved war stories with a romantic edge, and if you do then this is the book for you but be warned you might not like the outcome.

Heloise Goodley – An Officer and a Gentlewoman

Part of Sandhurst training is to keep a diary of your experiences whilst attending one of the most gruelling courses that can be found in the military around the world.

Richard Madeley – Some Day I’ll Find You

…..a good plot, believable characters and the seed that is planted that maybe these fictitious events around World War Two did actually happen. It has to be partly believable to work.

Alison Pick – Far to Go

It is 1939 and we are taken to Czechoslovakia where the Nazi threat is no longer becoming a threat it is becoming reality.

Jessica Francis – The Report

173 people killed, men, women and children. But no bombs fell and no shots were fired. So why did these people die? The siren had sounded but no raid was forthcoming? And could the truth be told during a war?

As I simply typed war into the search engine on my blog, I came up with far more books than these eleven. But it is them that I have chosen, they give so much and in differing ways about war and also about the people as well.


The Last Summer – Judith Kinghorn

This is simply a love story. It is a story of a love between two people Clarissa and Tom, one a lady with all the privileges, the other a young man with ideas but no standing and no money. Their love others will frown upon. But not only is a class divided, there is something else which will divide them all – War. A division across the world.

And so through Clarissa’s recollections we will follow everything about this tender love affair. War exacerbates some situations, love and grief become muddled. War changes everything; people, relationships and even homes. War also ends some things. Through it all the love between Clarissa and Tom never falters but love is sometimes never easy.

This is a beautifully written gentle story and one where you really do not know where it is going to take you. There are surprises along the way and although it is set nearly 100 years ago,  topics resonate in today’s society. Whilst modern day readers might find it frustrating at the problems the two main protagonists face, it is a reminder of how much society has changed. This novel evokes much about the feelings of those of left behind in war, as well as the following years.

I immediately fell in love with Clarissa and Tom’s romance, and although I hoped and probably knew that the inevitable was going to happen, how we got there was actually rather surprising and made the story that much deeper and stronger. The excerpts of letters throughout the novel, built on the story and added to the mystery only by reaching the end do all the pieces come together.

So much could actually be said about this novel and I would want to share, but to do so would simply ruin it for others. An excellent debut novel and an author I shall certainly be looking out for again.

How can you explain in words how a book which was slow but wanted to keep you turning the pages as you had to find out how it all ended. If I would say to anyone that this book is slow I think their immediate reaction would be “not for me then” but it is not slow in a bad way. It is slow in a marvellous romantic way which adds to the relationship between the two main characters. I thought at many points, this is where it will turn, everything will come together and then we will see the future. Sadly that was not the case, and moments lost to the heart eat away until the next time there is a meeting of lost loves. 

Many reviews have said this is an ideal book if you are a fan of Downton Abbey (of which I am) but I feel this is a completely unnecessary connotation and to be honest I am getting rather tired of using this as a selling point. If you love history, social change, social and class divides, romance and good strong characters you can believe in then – this is a book I think you would enjoy. 

Please note that the image I have used for this book, is the cover of the proof copy that I received for review (via Amazon Vine) and I actually prefer this to the copy that is currently on display in bookshops.