Thursday, May 28, 2020

Blog Tour : The Railway Girls by Maisie Thomas

Welcome to today's stop on the blog tour for The Railway Girls. It just so happens that today is release day as well! So....happy release day to Maisie Thomas!

While WWII is a very popular setting for historical fiction at the moment there is a lot of variety within that setting and a lot of room for stories to be explored. One of the aspects that I enjoy is reading about women who had to take on unaccustomed roles just because of the war.  Some examples of books I have previously read which focus on this include The Ambulance Girls series by Deborah Burrows and Land Girls by Victoria Purman.  When I was offered this book for review, the title grabbed me straight away for exactly this reason.

The story begins with our characters coming together after successfully passing the aptitude tests to become railway girls. They come from all different walks of life, and all have their own reasons why they want to do their part for the war effort. Mabel wants to be out of her well to do home, to be independent and to hopefully be able to forget the traumatic events which are still taking their toll on her. Joan always feels like she can't do much right in the eyes of her domineering grandmother, especially not compared to her beautiful older sister and Dot is a salt of the earth type who wants to do her best to do her part, especially seeing as her beloved sons are fighting for the country. And if that gets her out of the house away from her miserable husband, well so much the better.

The book follows the characters as they each come together at Victoria Station in Manchester to begin their new roles. They, along with several other characters, promise to be there for each other no matter what, and they'll need that support base as they navigate the difficult new world that they have come into. Many of the men that they will now be working with don't believe that the women will be able to do the job, especially the hard, physical jobs like being a porter or making sure that the ballast beneath the rails stays in place by digging it and replacing it where necessary. It isn't easy to become friends just like that though. Each woman is very different, and there are plenty of secrets between them. Can you truly be friends if you are not willing to open yourself up?

One of the aspects that I enjoyed in this book was the exploration of social change. War is a catalyst for change in so many ways. Suddenly women whose sole role has been in the home for so long are now working in men's world, sometimes including having to deal with overt sexism, and yet, in many cases their home duties have not reduced at all. The way that women dress is changing rapidly. Joan's grandmother, for example, was adamant that Joan and her sister could under no circumstances raise their dress hems lest they be labeled as floozies and yet, we also start to see the advent of trousers. And socially we had the well to do young ladies mixing with the working class girls and becoming friends - something that would never have happened in normal life. And that's before we even think about war time romances, which seem to have an added urgency to them, or the impact of grief and loss within a community.

I did want to specifically mention one incident in the story because it is something I have never read before. One of most well known events in WWII is the evacuation of the soldiers from Dunkirk. I have read or watched plenty of accounts of those events, whether it be from the perspective of a soldier racing to get to the beach in time to be evacuated, or someone manning one of the small boats involved in the rescue. What I have never seen portrayed is the flow on effect that happened through the rest of the country. This book is set in Manchester which is a long way from the south coast of England, and yet the rescued soldiers were disbursed across the country using the railway and in these pages we got to see some of the ways that would have happened even that far away from the action.

I found it interesting that the author chose to use some Northern England style dialogue for one of the characters. I think it was used to try to show the class divide between some of the characters. It did also remind me of when I lived in Northern England for a few years.

As you can see, I have quite a lot to say about this book, so it is probably lucky that it is the first in a series, with the next book due out in September. There are plenty of other railway girls that we met in this book that we will have the opportunity to get to know more about as the series continues. I am looking forward to reading more!

Rating 4/5

Thanks to the publisher for sending me the review copy of this book.

Goodreads synopsis:
The first novel in the utterly brilliant Railway Girls series. Perfect for fans of Nancy Revell and Ellie Dean.
In February, 1922, at the western-most entrance to Victoria Station in Manchester, a massive plaque was unveiled. Beneath a vast tiled map showing the lines of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway network, a series of seven bronze panels recorded the names of the men of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway who gave their lives for King and Country in the Great War – a total of 1,460 names.
In March, 1940, a group of women of varying ages and backgrounds, stand in front of the memorial, ready to do their bit in this new World War...
Mabel is determined to make a fresh start as a railway girl where no one will know the terrible thing she did and she can put her guilt behind her... Or is she just running away?
Meanwhile Joan will never be as good as her sister, or so her Gran keeps telling her. A new job as a station clerk could be just the thing she needs to forget her troubles at home.
And Dot is further into her forties than she cares to admit. Her beloved sons are away fighting and her husband – well, the less said about him the better. Ratty old sod. She is anxious to become a railway girl just like her dear mam – anything to feel she is supporting the sons she prays for every night.
The three women start off as strangers, but soon form an unbreakable bond that will get them through the toughest of times...


  1. Sounds like it would be great as a TV series Marg.

    1. I could see this premise working as a TV series.

  2. I wonder why World War II is such a popular setting for historical fiction. I wonder if it is because it still lingers in our collective memory like no other time.

    This book sounds like a great read.

    1. Deb, maybe it is something to do with it's far enough in the past to be distant and yet my grandparents lived through it so we can associate with it.

  3. I like your review and it certainly makes me want to go get that book. I also like the time period and just finahed one of my all time favorites, The Shell Seekers. It has quite a bit of the setting during the war and I love that part.

    See you later for Weekend Cooking!

  4. I've seen several reviews for this... I'm thinking... I'll put it on my "maybe" list. Thanks!