I don’t like humid heatwaves so what better excuse to stay cool and read? I found Helen Bryan’s War Brides on my Kindle; I think it was the free book of the month some time. (It’s still £1.00 for the Kindle until 31st July.) For some reason I was expecting this to be one of those formulaic books about women in wartime, cynically designed to appeal to a certain readership. How wrong can you be! I was totally engrossed by it and read it in a day. The story begins with several old ladies returning to the quiet English village they lived in during the war for a reunion coinciding with the fifty year commemorations of VE day.
Alice has lived in the village all her life. The daughter of the late vicar, she now teaches and looks after a querulous, hypochondriac mother. She is bitter about being jilted by her handsome naval officer neighbour. American Evangeline whom he married in such a hurry now also lives in the village, making for ill feeling. Tanni is a Jewish refugee waiting for her family to escape from Austria and join her. Elsie is a teenager evacuated from the East End to be a housemaid. Most interesting is Frances, who has been leading a wild life in London and is dispatched by her important father to live out of temptation's way in the country.
An unlikely friendship develops between the women, who support each other. We learn their back stories and what happened as the war continued. Plus, there is a traitor in their midst, a Nazi sympathizer (rather like the film Went the Day Well?). When the reunion takes place, at the end of the book, secrets are revealed, mysteries solved and a rather satisfactory revenge taken. Helen Bryan (who is American) says she wrote this book as a tribute to the women of Britain who put up with so much during the war.
I’d been saving The Villa in Italy (also published as Villa Dante) for a bad time, knowing that no book by Elizabeth Edmondson would ever let me down. Right time, right book. It’s like a twist on The Enchanted April. In this case the troubled people who assemble at the Villa Dante one April in the 1950s have not chosen their destination but have been summoned, through lawyers, by the will of a woman none of them has heard of. Each has a different problem; although they had no previous connection, they soon become a loyal little group. The beautiful villa, its once beautiful gardens and the warm sea soothe them into feeling they’re on holiday. The will, though, designed for them as a puzzle, makes them face up to things they’d rather forget. The working out of the mystery and the surprising conclusion make for an absorbing read.
( rant about Amazon )