My second book of the year brings me to England, a place that I was lucky enough to call home for eight months back when I was in university. Though I was living an hour and a half outside of London, I got up to the capital a few times a month and truly fell in love with it. I haven’t had the opportunity to go back and spend any significant amount of time there, so this novel temporarily filled a Big Ben–shaped hole in my heart.
It’s always been easier for Cara Hargraves to bury herself in the past than confront the present, which is why working with a gruff but brilliant antiques dealer is perfect. While clearing out an estate, she pries open an old tin that holds the relics of a lost relationship: among the treasures, a World War II-era diary and a photograph of a young woman in uniform. Eager to find the author of the hauntingly beautiful, unfinished diary, Cara digs into this soldier’s life, but soon realizes she may not have been ready for the stark reality of wartime London she finds within the pages.
In 1941, nineteen-year-old Louise Keene’s life had been decided for her—she’ll wait at home in her Cornish village until her wealthy suitor returns from war to ask for her hand. But when Louise unexpectedly meets Flight Lieutenant Paul Bolton, a dashing RAF pilot stationed at a local base, everything changes. And changes again when Paul’s unit is deployed without warning.
Desperate for a larger life, Louise joins the women’s branch of the British Army in the anti-aircraft gun unit as a Gunner Girl. As bombs fall on London, she and the other Gunner Girls relish in their duties to be exact in their calculations, and quick in their identification of enemy planes during air raids. The only thing that gets Louise through those dark, bullet-filled nights is knowing she and Paul will be together when the war is over. But when a bundle of her letters to him are returned unanswered, she learns that wartime romance can have a much darker side.
Illuminating the story of these two women separated by generations and experience, Julia Kelly transports us to World War II London in this heartbreakingly beautiful novel through forgotten antique treasures, remembered triumphs, and fierce family ties.
This is the first novel I’ve read of Julia Kelly’s, and I’m impressed by how easily the author takes us back in time to such a fascinating (and devastating) period in history. I was engrossed in Louise’s story and was so glad we had more than just the diary entries to be able to tell her captivating story. The Gunner Girls were a unique group of women, and they really paved a way for women in the armed forces and proved that women are tougher than we look.
While I was interested in Cara’s love story, I wasn’t as wrapped up in her storyline with her grandmother as I would have liked to be. Gran is a firecracker, for sure, but I wish we learned more about her story—it could have, arguably, been the most exciting of the three. The way Cara kept pressing her grandmother for information also seemed forced and out of character, and left me feeling a bit… icky. I almost wish there were a third timeline established to tell Iris’s story, too, though I know that would have presented some challenges.
Nevertheless, I couldn’t put this book down. I was immersed in the world, and wish there was more to explore. It has me hoping there was another coming (maybe a series?) so we could learn more about the Ack-Ack girls.
If you enjoy fiction, WWII and romance—very tasteful and G-rated, might I add—I would definitely add this to your list. Just know that if you’re looking for a heavily detailed, tear-jerking historical fiction like the books to which this is being compared, you might be a little disappointed.
Food for thought
Though there is quite a bit of this book that’s focused on the romance, I do love that the plot centres on a group of women who are getting things done, just like the boys. Hit up the comments and let me know: Who is your favourite kick-ass fictional heroine?
“Every time the post comes and there’s a letter from him, I feel a little more sure of myself. Paul helped me find the strength to finally break away from home.”
― Julia Kelly, The Light Over London
Thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster Canada for the advanced copy, and to Genevieve Perron-Migneron on Unsplash for the aerial view of London.