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.
THE SECRET DIARY
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…’
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.
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“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”
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?
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.
“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?”
“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!
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!