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Sharing our love for authors, and the stories they are inspired to tell.

The Secret Diary
by Anna Stuart
Books On Tour
Review

My thanks go out to the lovely 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.

Image of the Blog Tour Banner for the book 'The Secret Diary' by author Anna Stuart

THE SECRET DIARY

Cover image of the book 'The Secret Diary' by author Anna StuartThe past merges with the present in an unforgettable, poignant story of love, loss and courage in this beautifully written story set between World War Two and the present day.

She steps into the room and it’s like going back in time. Catapulting her right into the heart of the 1940s.

The spindle of the record player frozen and ready to play. The flowery wallpaper faded but intact. A soldier’s uniform pressed and hung on a door, coal still in the fireplace.

A floorboard creaks beneath her and she notices a small desk in the corner of the room. She opens the top drawer and runs her hands along the edges, something catching at her fingertips. A hidden compartment. And behind it, the soft edges of a book.

As she dusts it off, she can see it has a red leather covering, the pages yellowing with age. She realises it’s a diary. Some of the pages have been torn out. The first entry has 16th June 1945 printed in neat little letters at the top. Below it, in hurried, untidy script are the words:

‘My name is Nancy Jones. And I have a secret…’

Cover image of the book 'The Secret Diary' by author Anna Stuart

ANNA STUART

Image of author Anna StuartAnna wanted to be an author from the moment she could pick up a pen and was writing boarding-school novels by the age of nine.

She made the early mistake of thinking she ought to get a ‘proper job’ and went into Factory Planning – a career that gave her some wonderful experiences, amazing friends and even a fantastic husband, but did not offer much creative scope.

So when she stopped to have children she took the chance to start the ‘improper job’ of writing. During the baby years she wrote in those gaps provided by sleeps, playschools and obliging grandparents, publishing short stories and serials in all the women’s magazines.

Her ultimate aim was to write longer fiction and several years ago she published a series of successful historical novels under the pseudonym Joanna Courtney, a name she will continue to write under. She will write and publish her contemporary novels as Anna Stuart.

Keep up to date with all Anna’s news at her website

Follow Anna on Twitter

Connect with Anna on Facebook

“The war was a terrible, terrible time but it did so much to liberate women and allow them to discover just how brave, capable and clever they were. Clearly, being expected to go back into the kitchen after such challenging experiences was always going to be problematic and finding a happy balance is something that we are still working on today”

Cover image of the book 'The Secret Diary' by author Anna Stuart

FIRST LINES

PROLOGUE

Nancy sets down her hairbrush and looks at herself curiously in the elegant triple mirror. Three faces stare back but she isn’t sure if she recognises any of them. Who is she now? Is she Nancy the gunner girl, battling with her crew to keep the enemy from invading their skies? Nancy the new wife, fighting for a place as a gamekeeper at her husband’s side? Or Nancy the young mother, keeping a happy home for her growing family?

ONE

Lorna Hayes climbed slowly out of the car and looked in astonishment at the stunning cottage in front of her. Her mum had said her new home was ‘rather sweet’, but she hadn’t mentioned that it was chocolate-box perfect. She grabbed her phone and checked the address again. Yep – The Gamekeeper’s Cottage, just like the plaque on the wooden gate said.

Cover image of the book 'The Secret Diary' by author Anna Stuart

MEMORABLE LINES

“War has changed them all. The things they’ve seen, the things they’ve done, the secrets they’ve shared. The world is different now, and you can’t just pack the past away with your gas mask and your ration book and ‘go back to normal’, because normal is different too”

.

“She choked upon the word, for the future felt like one great big gaping hole, waiting to suck her into its dark centre”

.

“She’d talk to Joe. She’d remind him of the woman he’d fallen in love with – the active, determined, purposeful gunner girl. She was still that girl, even with the war over, and somehow she had to make him see that before she lost everything she’d fought for”

.

“Ridiculous, really, to take your mind off peace and prosperity by recalling danger and fear, but at least in the face of possible death she’d felt alive”

.

“No, Joe. It’s our job. That’s what this is all about; That’s the whole point. We fought for out country side by side, and now we have to fight for our future the same way. I don’t want you to do it for me, but with me”

.

“Why shouldn’t a man have a strong woman at his side?”

Cover image of the book 'The Secret Diary' by author Anna Stuart

REVIEW

“Two women. One house. And a secret that spans decades…”

Whoa! Don’t take those tissues away, I’m not quite cried out just yet!

Happy tears, sad tears, who knows where one ends and the other begins!

I read for five make that six, good reasons, all the ‘e’s: Enjoyment, Entertainment, Escapism, Emotion, Education and Engagement. Seldom does a single book meet all of these criteria in equal proportions, leave me wanting more and sad to have closed that final page – until now! Add to that: Beautiful, Heart-breaking, Heart-warming, Uplifting and Inspirational and you are getting close to describing the emotions this lovely story evoked.

Wonderful dual timeline tales, told in the voices of Nancy from 1945/6 and Lorna from the present day, both set in the lovely Norfolk countryside, with a quintessentially English ‘chocolate-box’ cottage at their heart. Nancy’s diaries, hidden for decades, help to tell her side of the story, through the capable voice of Lorna, for whom they are a healing and cathartic release from her own recent sense of loss and desolation. The unfolding saga is an important piece of cultural and societal history, an evolving love story which transcends time and generations, and a rich sense of family which held me close, welcomed me in and which I didn’t want to leave.

After a devastating loss, which has left Lorna a lone parent to her two young sons, they have gone to recover and begin the healing process, at the home of her mother and her new husband in rural Norfolk. The cottage has been in step-father David’s family since back before WWII (Nancy, it transpires, was his mother), and in fact, the separate annex where Lorna and the boys are to stay, hasn’t been decorated since then and still boasts all its original fixtures from Nancy’s day. History teacher Lorna discovers a secret drawer, in which she finds Nancy’s post-war diary. The ensuing journey of enlightenment for the entire family, is what forms the basis of this truly engaging storyline, with all its twists and turns and long-buried secrets. The complexities of the investigations help to begin the healing process for Lorna, as she learns that Nancy’s homecoming from her wartime service duties, as she tries to fit back into a woman’s role in peacetime, is every bit as fraught as her own journey of loss. But as two strong, resourceful and resilient women, divided by time alone, Nancy and Lorna prevail in spectacular fashion.

This complex multi-layered story, is beautifully structured and richly textured, yet written with the lightest of touches and guiding hands by an author who knows exactly where she is leading her readers on their journey and just how many tears most of them are likely to shed along the way! Rich in atmosphere and offering a genuine sense of time and place, this is a real story to escape into. Anna is an author who is undoubtedly also a consummate storyteller, whose lovely way with words adds a unique depth and range to her work and keeps the dual timeline changes, clean and seamless. At the same time, she has an assured ease and confidence in her writing style and narrative, which makes the reading experience profoundly touching, visually descriptive and captures the emotion of those ‘heart and humour’ moments wonderfully.

Anna has created an engaging, multi-faceted cast of characters, from both time zones, who are completely relatable, well defined and developed, and in whom I was totally invested. They have been afforded a strong voice to tell their own story, which they do with some genuinely believable dialogue and in an addictive style, keeping true to the era. Anna has not been afraid to expose their individual emotional complexities and vulnerabilities, and their divergent family dynamics, which are dealt with sympathetically and with some excellent interpersonal interactions.

The promise of renewed hope going forwards, for those who dare to dream – thanks to those who have dreamed and been brave before us!

Image of author Anna Stuart

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!

 

Written by
Yvonne

I can’t remember a time, even as a child, when I haven’t been passionate about books and reading.
I began blogging, when I realised just how many other people out there shared my passion for the written word and I have been continually amazed at the wealth of books that are available and the amount of great new friends I have made, from literally 'The Four Corners Of The World'.

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10 comments
  • This sounds really good! I really need to get through the WWII books I already have so I can start adding some new ones to the stack! I think I’ll go ahead and put this one on my wishlist for future reference.

    Thanks for a great review, Yvonne.

    • Hi Kelly,

      Because this story isn’t all WWII centric, I think you’ll be okay adding this book to your list! 🙂

      Seriously though, the dual timeline works really well and the storyline unfolds in an unexpected way.

      Anytime you fancy an emotional but ‘nice’ read, I can definitely recommend

      ‘The Secret Dairy’

      Thanks, as ever, for your support and kind words. Have a lovely weekend 🙂

  • The story sounds really intriguing and your review has me really wonder what’s in Nancy’s diary and what kind of secret Lorna is going to find out..and how is it going to affect her life..
    Thanks for the review, Yvonne!

    • Hi Angie,

      Nancy’s secret affects just about everyone in the family, but not in a terrible way and I think they all feel emotionally richer for having it come to light.

      It also worked really well as a dual timeline story, as all the changes were clearly marked and nicely executed.

      Thank you for taking the time to stop by, I always look forward to your visits. Enjoy your weekend 🙂

  • Despite your positively glowing review there are several things that put me off this novel slightly. Having gone through a period when I read SO many books set during this period it has to be a pretty special read for it to stand out for me … something I’m sure this one will do given your thoughts on it. I’m just not sure I’m wanting a read in which tissues are required at this moment in time but the main concern for me is the diary aspect. Not a format I tend to fare well with, add in the dual narrative and I’m really not sure this is one for me. Then again … Oh! I don’t know, what sounds like a wonderfully compelling read, I could be tempted.

    • Hi Felicity,

      OK! So I’m not out to try and convert you, as if we all read the same books, life would get a bit boring 🙂

      I know what you mean about WWII books, there are just so many out there right now, that the marketplace seems a bit flooded with them. This one is definitely no more than a 50/50 split between WWII and the modern day, which worked really well.

      With regards to the diary – Lorna finds it hidden in Nancy’s old bedroom and she spends periods of time reading sections of it, which is where the WWII portions of the story are and where we hear Nancy speak in her own voice. None of the diary entries are written in the text, which really puts me off a story too.

      You can’t get away from the fact that you will need tissues though! Lorna is recently widowed with two small children and is still grieving. Nancy makes revelations in her diary which shock her son and his family to the core. It is time for new beginnings for everyone!

      I hope you are tempted enough to read this one for yourself, but if not, I am still grateful that you took the time to check out my review and engage so beautifully, I do enjoy chatting with you, it’s like you are sat in the room with me! 🙂

  • I love so many things about this book. The idea of discovering a diary, and by a historian, is so good. This is also a nice coincidence, as today I’m starting a historical fiction novel set in the WWII, as I just finished another good book.
    After I finish the book I’m starting today, if I will be in the mood for another WWII novel, I will search for this one.

    • Hi Anca,

      I am really pleased if my posting of this review put you in the right mood to begin reading your own WWII novel, I shall be sure to keep a look out for your review, should you post one of course!

      I have just begun reading a real chunkster of a WWII novel, which comes in a little short of 800 pages and is the first of a trilogy, although the author assures me it will work okay as a stand alone if I decide not to read all three volumes, as I am not generally a huge lover of such lengthy tomes, although I am riveted to the pages so far!

      I have worked with the author many times before, although up until now he has typically written gritty thrillers, so this is a completely new venture for him, which has been several years in the making!

      ‘The Gathering Storm’ has received 5 star reviews across the board so far, for its meticulous research and attention to detail and so far, I can’t see my own rating being any less.

      I’ll leave a link just in case you want to check it out and on Amazon the Kindle pre-order price is ridiculously cheap!!

      https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/58552898-the-gathering-storm

      https://www.alanjonesbooks.co.uk/sturmtaucher_trilogy.html

      Have a great day! 🙂

      • The new novel sounds really good. I read a few 600+-700+ pages novels and they were really good, well worth the time reading them. I hope you will enjoy this one.
        Have a great day too. xx

Written by Yvonne

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