My thanks go out to Sarah, representing publisher Bookouture, for securing me a spot on this ‘Books On Tour’ journey.
As ever, additional thanks go out to NetGalley, for their excellent download and review service.
THE ORPHAN’S SECRET
England, 1941: Life has always been cruel to Ethel. Raised in an orphanage by a merciless mistress, she never knew the meaning of love. And now she has fallen for the one man she who is forbidden to her – Karl, a German held captive in the local prisoner of war camp. He might be the enemy, but he has her heart.
When Ethel discovers she’s pregnant, she is labelled a traitor and shunned by all. The love of her life is torn away from her, but she vows to protect their precious daughter. She gives birth as bombs rain down, to the sound of ear-splitting shrieks and explosions in the distance. But then the planes fly over the house, and the unthinkable happens…
A baby girl lies in the rubble, surrounded by broken glass and crumbled brick. The odds are against her, until a woman, Lily, picks up the child from the wreckage. Will she be saved from her mother’s fate or will she forever be a helpless orphan?
She wrote her first short story at the age of ten for a magazine competition. She didn’t win but was hooked on writing for a lifetime. For many years she wrote poetry and short stories and got many rejection slips.
Success followed when Shirley decided to get serious about writing novels after she retired from auxiliary nursing.
After living in various locations, she settled under the big skies of Northumberland and has lived with her husband in the same house for over forty years.
Shirley has three daughters and four grandchildren and likes nothing better than family gatherings.
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PROLOGUE – 1953
“Joy Radley’s small hands covered her face.
‘Seven, eight, nine…’ she called out.
She peeped between her fingers. She could see Dad, sitting in the comfy chair in front of the fire reading the Sunday newspaper.
She heard creaking noises coming from the staircase.
‘Ten!’ Joy took her hands from her eyes. ‘Ready or not, Freddie, here I come.’
NORTH–EAST TOWN OF SOUTH SHIELDS
EARLY MARCH, 1940
“Lily Armstrong finished speaking, inhaled deeply and waited for the onslaught from Mam.
It was Monday. The pair of them had finished the weekly wash and, the tub emptied, backyard swilled, they were now warming their red and frozen hands in front of the range fire.
Mam, as Lily had expected, was outraged. ‘Married next week. I’ve never heard the like. And without a thought to ask your Dad.’ Her slight body quivered in annoyance”
“It was different for menfolk, Lily thought as she hung a line on hooks screwed into opposite walls of the kitchen. They worked hard but their shift finished when they came home and then they didn’t lift a finger for the rest of the day”
“Didn’t every generation strive to make life better? If they hadn’t, mankind wouldn’t have progressed from the Stone Age”
“It’s one of the reasons I love you. You let me be me”
“If only there was another way leaders could wage war instead of involving people, who mostly wanted a simple life without struggle and to not have to kill their fellow man”
“You didn’t choose who you fell in love with but it was what you decided to do about it that counted”
“An orphaned baby who needs a home, and the woman who risks everything to provide it”
I have read several WWII novels recently and whilst all have had very unique and enjoyable storylines, from this book I was hoping for something individual and inspiring – and boy did it come through on all fronts – including the hammering a pack of travel tissues has taken, which I keep on my desk for just such emotional reads!
This was another of those stories where the main theatre and focus of events, was life on the home front for those left behind when the troops had gone off to war, although there were one or two flashes and snippets about life and conditions on the frontline too. Women stepped up to take on some of the roles which had traditionally been filled by their male counterparts, often taking them way outside of their comfort zones both physically and emotionally. However, surprising even themselves, it was amazing just how quickly they manged to adapt to the changes, taking things in their stride and making a remarkably good job of it all.
I was taken on a journey which lasted some fourteen years, from just after the outbreak of war, right up until 1954, and boy, was it one heck of an emotional rollercoaster of a ride. The skill and consummate ease with which Shirley was able to add in subtle twists and turns to the storyline, was just a joy, even though each one left me more wrecked and tearful than the last, and I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough in my need to know what happened next.
An extremely well-structured, multi-layered, poignant and wonderfully textured storyline. Totally immersive and rich in atmosphere, often intense and emotional, but with some genuinely intuitive and unscheduled lighter moments of touching compassion and compelling humour. Despite the fact that I couldn’t escape the obvious horrors of wartime shortages and enemy bombing raids; from the industrial mining and shipyards of South Shields, to the relative serenity of the Scottish Highlands, the assured observational and highly descriptive narrative, blended with some excellent conversational and honest emotional dialogue, to offer a genuine sense of time and place, which had great depth of vision, making it a seamlessly inclusive experience for me, as a casual observer.
Lily, like so many other young wartime women, is way ahead of her time and strives to realise her dream of independence and individuality, capitalising on the opportunities the war effort has thrown her way. Ultimately though she is forced to make the life-changing decision of whether to pursue the path she has chosen, or if, after all, blood is thicker than water. Having made that decision and at peace with herself, she then faces her biggest challenge yet. Which path will she now choose, when truth, openness and honesty set her on a collision course with her own inner emotions and longings. There are no guarantees, as either decision might have damaging and irrevocable consequences, even though her actions will always be taken with the best of intentions.
Shirley has carefully created and drawn, a substantial cast of well developed and genuinely authentic characters. Not all are immediately easy to relate to, but that has much to do with their northern upbringing and outlook on life, so scratch the surface a little and their true canny sense of humour and easy friendliness rises to the occasion, notwithstanding the usual vagaries of family dynamics. Yes! they are often complex and emotional, volatile and vulnerable, raw and passionate; however they are always reliably genuine and believable, addictive and often amusing.
A work of cultural and societal fiction, based on and wrapped around the reality of some well established historical facts, written sympathetically and lovingly from the heart, with care and deference to the subject.
Aside from the WWII theme, which features strongly in all author Shirley Dickson’s novels, to date they also have the commonality of focussing on protagonists who share the same background experience of having been raised in orphanages, or been abandoned as children, often resulting in emotional suffering and very damaged childhoods.
Was the ending the ‘happy ever after’ moment I felt that I, and indeed the characters deserved after so much sorrow? Now that would be telling! However the joy of reading is that everyone’s experience is unique, so where will your journey take you?
A complimentary kindle download of this book for review, was made available by the publisher and supplied by NetGalley.
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!