CHRISTMAS WITH THE RAILWAY GIRLS
(The Railway Girls Book #4)
Christmas is the season for family and friends, and this year the railway girls will need each other more than ever.
Cordelia appears to have the perfect life. When her daughter Emily arrives home unexpectedly, she can’t wait to introduce her to her friends. But when things don’t go to plan, Cordelia must decide where her loyalty lies.
Things aren’t going too smoothly for Alison either. Her beloved boyfriend has yet to propose, but there’s a charity fundraiser dance and she’s dressed up specially. Surely, tonight must be the night.
Colette’s friends are envious of her devoted husband; he meets her after every shift on the railway, and accompanies her around town. But Colette has a secret, one that will change her life—if only she knew who to confide in.
With the festive season fast approaching, the railway girls are hoping for some Christmas magic…
She loves writing stories with strong female characters, set in times when women needed determination and vision to make their mark.
The Railway Girls series is inspired by her great aunt Jessie, who worked as a railway clerk during the First World War.
Maisie lives on the beautiful North Wales coast with her railway enthusiast husband and their two rescue cats.
They have enjoyed many holidays chugging up and down the UK’s heritage steam railways and their favourite is the Severn Valley Railway.
Maisie also writes as Polly Heron and under her real name of Susanna Bavin
You can keep up to date with all three authors at their combined website
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“My hope for the characters in this series is that they will forge friendships that will last a lifetime, because I know from personal experience that strong friendships between women can provide support and comfort, not to mention loads of fun. I hope that you, my readers, have just such special friendships in your lives too”
LATE JUNE, 1941
Cordelia stood at the foot of the tall pole, looking up at the pair of railway signals jutting out high above her. It used to be scary to climb a ladder that was vertical rather than one propped up at an angle, but she was used to it now and didn’t think twice about settling her knapsack on her back, grasping the sides of the ladder and placing her foot on the bottom rung. Some signals weren’t all that high off the ground. It was simply a matter of their being visible to the train driver. These two signals were at least twenty feet up, because of the water tank beside the permanent way that would have obscured the train driver’s view if the signals were lower.
She climbed to the top. If there was more than one signal, she always began at the top and worked down. As she stepped from the ladder onto the wooden platform, she felt the usual little swirling sensation in the pit of her stomach, but after all these months of experience in her job as a lamp-woman, it lasted only a moment. It was another cool day. Last week had been gloriously hot, but the end of June looked set to be significantly less warm. Beneath overcast skies, Cordelia removed the lamp from the signal arrangement, cleaned it and put it back in position before swinging herself back onto the ladder to climb down to the platform beneath.
The upper signal was for the main line, the lower for the branch line. How proud she had been when she had learned that. The feeling of becoming good at her job above and beyond simply going through the motions of the endless cleaning and putting back of lamps, the workings of the railway, the feeling of actually understanding the workings of the railway, had made her rock on her heels with satisfaction. But who was there to share her small triumph? Not Kenneth. He didn’t like her working on the railway. He would have infinitely preferred her to join the Women’s Voluntary Service or take on a role in the Citizens Advice Bureau, like her friends had.
“Was it wrong of her not to give Emily a lecture on accepting people for themselves instead of judging them according to their position in the world?”
“She had gone right back to being the quiet little mouse. What had happened to the bright, pleasant woman from earlier on? A hot feeling expanded inside Colette’s chest. The bright, pleasant woman had come home. That’s what had happened. She had come home and turned back into the near-silent mouse. Oh my goodness. Was that the explanation? Had Bunty been ground down over the years until all that remained was a quiet little shadow? An obedient shadow? Was Father a bully? The hot sensation in Colette’s chest turned in an instant to ice. Was that where Tony got it from? From his Father? Was Tony in the process of grinding her down? In years to come, would she too be nothing more than a near-silent, obedient shadow? Was she halfway to becoming that already?”
“Alison delivered a final squeeze and met Mum’s approving expression. God, it was appallingly hard doing the decent thing. Wasn’t being honourable supposed to make you stronger? It didn’t have that effect on her. Her attempts to do right by Lydia were only on the surface. Inside, she was a seething mess of hurt and resentment”
“When Cordelia had first known Mrs Cooper, she had thought her a simple soul, but now she valued that simplicity, seeing it as a kind of wisdom. Since losing her beloved only child, Mrs Cooper had looked for pleasure in small things. That was how she got by and made the best of her life. It was something to be admired. Mrs Cooper was neither educated nor cultured, but there was a fundamental goodness in her, a willingness to see the best in others, that few possessed”
“That’s what all this is about. Hope. Yes, it’s sensible and practical and folk will benefit from it. But the Christmas Kitchens are about more than giving practical help. They’re about goodwill and hope, and you can never have too much of them”
“Emily was far from being the little girl whom Cordelia had striven to shape in the image of herself and Kenneth. But that was the point, wasn’t it? She had succeeded in bringing up a younger version of Kenneth and herself. the trouble was that while Kenneth remained his middle-class, cultured, urbane self, Cordelia had changed. Her wartime experiences and friendships had opened her eyes and her mind – while her daughter’s remained firmly closed”
“This will be a festive season to remember”
I know I must sound a bit like a stuck record, but I have to say it once again, this series just keeps on giving and getting better all the time. Author, Maisie Thomas, always manages to put a slightly different spin on the storyline, which keeps each new episode unique, fresh, vibrant and relevant to the cultural and societal mores of the times. Also, whilst a series, each book can be read quite happily as a stand alone story, with any necessary background story details fed in succinctly, so that whilst I never felt left out or cheated in any way, I conversely didn’t feel that there was too much repetition surrounding past events and relationships.
Whilst this chapter in the lives of ‘The Railway Girls’, has technically been classified as a Christmas episode, I think it would be fine to read at any time of the year, as the seasonal references, whilst definitely present, don’t overwhelm the narrative or dialogue, which also spans the preceding months from June to November. It would be a shame to miss out on this episode for fear that Christmas is its only focus point. As the bombing raids intensify and a ravaged city faces shortages and tragedy, friendships amongst colleagues becomes an even more vital bond, on a railway network which is a sitting target for the enemy.
For this fourth storyline, the spotlight switches direction, to focus on three different members of the group, although of course, it is still “all for one and one for all” when the chips are down, and matriarch Mrs Dot Green, remains the lynchpin which holds everything together and on whom they can all depend, either as a mother figure to the younger members, or as a sensible shoulder to cry on and offer words of advice and wisdom, to her fellow, more mature friends. However, Dot is your typical, down-to-earth Mancunian, with no airs and graces, no plumb in her mouth, a little rough around the edges and with not too many social skills or etiquette. All the ladies come from diverse backgrounds, some are more polished than others and whilst they may not in other circumstances, be the most natural of bedfellows, they have all learned that war is a great leveller and defies class and distinction. However not all their family members may be quite so easy going or accommodating.
Following a lengthy courtship, Alison has been thwarted in love in the most painful of ways, with her woe being compounded not only by the speed at which her supposedly forever soulmate moves on with his life, but by a member of her own family, who under any other circumstances would show more empathy with Alison, but in wartime conditions and with the threat of invasion growing ever closer, needs to grab their own happiness where and when they can. With the help of her friends, is Alison able to begin putting the past behind her and reach for the future she deserves?
The ladies have always thought that Colette was way too shy and wrapped up in her overly attentive husband. However throughout, I have been of the opinion that there was more going on than met the eye. Whilst I wasn’t quite spot on with my deductions, they were close enough to cause consternation and I could only applaud Colettes tenacity in keeping her secret until she could bear it no longer. Her often silent plea, “You never know what goes on behind closed doors” is finally heard, although only by one of her non railway friends, and not the erstwhile Dot this time. With help and support, Colette’s eventual act of ultimate courage may appear fatal and final, but has the door been left ajar for later episodes?
Cordelia, whilst not the only refined, top drawer person in the group, is the only one who has a husband at home, to whom class, image and standing in the community, is all important and encompassing. Cordelia has accepted the friendship and adapted to the ways of all the other ladies, but particularly Dot, with whom she has a special rapport and understanding, despite their disparate backgrounds, especially as they are the two elders of the group. Cordelia hopes that Kenneth and daughter Emily will learn to see the good in people, no matter what their social status, so that friendships forged in wartime adversity might continue into the peaceful aftermath, should that day ever come. It seems however, that Cordelia has been too good at raising a daughter in her own own image and Emily is even more intransigent than her father. What will it take for a complete change of heart to happen and will Cordelia have to make the ultimate sacrifice to set the wheels in motion?
Multi-layered, well structured and naturally evolving, often tense and highly textured, sometimes humorous, but always hopeful. Beautifully fluent narrative and dialogue always written from the heart, offers a very easy going, three dimensional, wonderfully visual sense of time and place, which is totally immersive. The author’s love of railways also shines through in the meticulous attention to detail and although I have never visited Manchester or seen Victoria Station for myself, I could almost imagine myself there, soaking up the atmosphere alongside the ladies as they go about their daily work, then later enjoying a cup of tea with them in the concourse buffet, grabbing those few minutes of relaxation time in which to be themselves, before they head their separate ways as they switch back into domestic mode to tackle the day to day trials and tribulations of wartime shortages and household family emergencies.
Maisie has created and developed a compelling core cast of characters, who have been afforded the strongest of voices with which to tell their story. However she astutely realised that in the troubled wartime experiences this band of friends share, some relationships will inevitably change and evolve over time, either as a consequence of the ravages of the war itself, or through changes in personal circumstances. Either way, Maisie is really adept at treating departing characters with the respect they are due and welcoming newcomers into the fold, to add their own unique blend of strengths and bonds to the new mix, keeping “The Railway Girls” alive. The camaraderie, dynamics and synergy between the characters is very evocative and tangible, making them easy to relate to and invest in. Yes, they are as complex and emotional, raw, vulnerable and passionate as the next person; however they are always vibrant, genuine and believable, addictive and authentic, often with a great sense of fun despite the difficult and busy lives they lead and the personal challenges and tragedies they must endure.
I read for Enjoyment, Entertainment and Escapism. Ideally I also like my storylines to be Engaging, Emotional and Educational. When each new book in a series can evoke all those feelings, time and time again, without losing its edge, then I know I am on to a winner!
“Keep the home fires burning”, Maisie!
A complimentary paperback edition of this book, for review purposes, was made available by the author, for which I thank her.
Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which promotes this book or its author.
I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a well deserved 5 out of 5 stars!