Book Review: War Brides

The 14th novel I chose to read in the Goodreads Reading Challenge was Helen Bryan’s War Brides.

‘With war threatening to spread from Europe to England, the sleepy village of Crowmarsh Priors settles into a new sort of normal: Evacuees from London are billeted in local homes. Nightly air raids become grimly mundane. The tightening vice of rationing curtails every comfort. Men leave to fight and die. And five women forge an unlikely bond of friendship that will change their lives forever.

Alice Osbourne, the stolid daughter of the late vicar, is reeling from the news that Richard Fairfax broke their engagement to marry Evangeline Fontaine, an American girl from the Deep South. Evangeline’s arrival causes a stir in the village—but not the chaos that would ensue if they knew her motives for being there. Scrappy Elsie Pigeon is among the poor of London who see the evacuations as a chance to escape a life of destitution. Another new arrival is Tanni Zayman, a young Jewish girl who fled the horrors of Europe and now waits with her newborn son, certain that the rest of her family is safe and bound to show up any day. And then there’s Frances Falconleigh, a madcap, fearless debutante whose father is determined to keep her in the countryside and out of the papers.

As the war and its relentless hardships intensify around them, the same struggles that threaten to rip apart their lives also bring the five closer together. They draw strength from one another to defeat formidable enemies—hunger, falling bombs, the looming threat of a Nazi invasion, and a traitor in their midst—and find remarkable strength within themselves to help their friends. Theirs is a war-forged loyalty that will outlast the fiercest battle and endure years and distance.

When four of the women return to Crowmarsh Priors for a VE Day celebration fifty years later, television cameras focus on the heartwarming story of these old women as war brides of a bygone age, but miss the more newsworthy angle. The women’s mission is not to commemorate or remember—they’ve returned to settle a score and avenge one of their own.’ (synopsis taken from Amazon)

As I may already have mentioned I am a big fan of historical novels, particularly those set during World War II.  Women played a very important role during those turbulent years in the early 40’s and therefore, quite rightly, they often play a central role in novels set during this period.  This novels title, War Brides, clearly highlights that it is centred on a group of young women during this unsettled period as they support one another during times of love, loss and war.  The novel particularly follows five women; Alice, Evangeline, Elise, Tanni and Frances.  These five women all come from very different backgrounds, but find themselves thrown together in the small village of Crowmarsh Priors.  War brings these women together, as they find the men of the village slowly leave to join the war effort against an increasingly strong German force.  Left behind, these women find themselves fighting the battle on the Home Front as they, alongside women across the country, work hard to ensure their country is able to stay afloat, working the land, working in factories and protecting their homes.

I really enjoyed this novel, and can wholeheartedly recommend it.  My only criticism (if it can be called that) is the number of characters.  Whilst the book does centre on those five women, each has their own backstory and at times I found it difficult to keep track of who was related to who.  That could however be me trying to read the novel after particularly long days at work!  Do not let this put you off though, I found the back stories to be engaging and integral to the story as they showed you why each woman acted the way that she does.  This novel really does highlight the strength of women as they support one another whilst dealing with their own tragedies and losses, and it shows what a group of women can achieve under such traumatic circumstances.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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