Friday, April 16, 2021

Blog Tour: Secrets of the Railway Girls and Railway Girls in Love by Maisie Thomas

Last year I read and reviewed the first book in the Railway Girls series by Maisie Thomas. Today, I am meant to be reviewing the third book, The Railway Girls in Love, as part of a blog tour. I can see the cogs turning, saying but what about the second book? Well, I am going to cheat and talk about both books.

This book commences just prior to Christmas 1940, a time when Manchester was suffering under ongoing air raids by German bombers.

Dot is busy being devoted wife to the Reg (who quite frankly doesn't deserve her), mother in law to Pammy and Sheila who are on their own whilst their husbands are away fighting, and grandmother to the ever mischievous Jimmy and pretty Jenny. Dot cooks, cleans, works full time on the railways and provides a listening ear and sage advice to the younger railway girls who she befriended when she started working.  But don't think that Dot is a saint. She knows that she has a tendency to jump to conclusions, to be a perfectionst when it comes to her housewife duties, can be a bit impatient with Reg, but she always has her family's best interests at heart.

Joan is still living at home with her Gran and her beautiful sister Letitia. The girls have both always know that Letitia has been their Gran's favourite, but they are the only family that they have given that their mother ran away with her 'fancy man' and their saintly father had died of a broken heart. Luckily, her boyfriend Bob's family, the Hubble's have taken her into their hearts. Joan is an all round good person, someone most people would like if they had a chance to meet her.

Mabel is finally coming out of her shell, helped by her own cheeky blighter boyfriend Harry Knatchbull. She's happy living in Manchester, and doing hard physical work on the railway line, even though that she has been bought up to be a lady. She would be safer at home with her parents, but Mabel has let guilt over past events to stay away.

As a reader, we know that in 1940 the war still has a long way to go, the characters aren't to know that there will still be several more years of war to come. They, in turn, display hope that the war will be over soon and their loved ones will be home safe and sound, to self doubt (for example when Dot wonders if she is selfish to still have her grandchildren at home rather than evacuating them to the country) and to despair as they lose people around them or their homes.

One of the key storylines in the book relates to Dot trying to uncover the truth about a possible theft from a secret food store. She enlists her friends to assist her, including lovely, friendly Mr Thirkle. At first, I wasn't sure about this storyline but it did make sense as the book went along.

Whilst the women prove their competence at their jobs time and time again, there are still plenty of people who don't like them doing men's work, and the women are often held to a higher standard of behaviour than their male co-workers might otherwise have been!

One of the main focuses of Secrets of the Railway Girls is the description of the Christmas Blitz which took place in Manchester in late 1940. The descriptions of the bombings and of people being affected in small and large ways, were extremely vivid and is one of the main strengths of this book!

Moving onto The Railway Girls in Love, we learn more about the girls as they deal with the events from the early years of the war. Dot, Joan and Mable are still the main focus of this book, but the various secondary characters come more and more to the fore. I especially loved that poor Lizzie's mum plays such a key role, along with claustrophobic Mrs Grayson who we met in the last book.

Dot still has a tendency to get involved in things that might not be her business, but when it affects the people she loves, she can't help herself. She also has grown her friendships within the group, particularly with posh Cordelia. Before the war, the closest that Dot would have come to meeting Cordelia would be if she worked for her as a cleaner or something similar, but in this new world where everyone is performing new roles they are fast friends, often combining to become a formidable pair as they support their friends.

For Joan, this book is the one where she finds out the truth of who she really is, and what happened in her family's tragic past. It also includes showdowns with her gran where they confront the secrets and lies from the past and have to try to build a new relationship, if that is even possible. Joan is the first to admit that she hasn't always made the right decisions, but she realises what it is that she wants from life.

Mabel is also coming to terms with the events of the past that have shaped her, and we finally find out the whole story about the death of the sister of her heart, Althea. This is the story that has been teased right from the beginning of the first book in the series, so it was good to finally know what it was that she felt so guilty about. Mabel is happy with her boyfriend Harry, so it is uncomfortable when an old boyfriend turns up, forcing her to confront those events. 

I love the detail that the author includes that makes the characters come alive and become people that we can relate to. For example, I couldn't help but think of us now with the following quote. When I watch something on TV now where people are hugging and kissing, I can't help but think social distancing??? in my mind!

...."She says she's sorry she can't offer you the Bentley, but her store of petrol has almost run out, so she'll be relying on applying for coupons from now on. Between ourselves, she's been on the receiving end of some criticism for using the Bentley."

"It's understandable," said Cordelia. "It's become such a large part of our thinking these days. My neighbour was called away unexpectedly and she asked me to look after her children for the evening. She said all I needed to do was read them a chapter from The Wind in the Willows. It turned out to be the part where Mr Toad drives around. Young Lucy asked where he'd got the petrol coupons and her brother said he must have got them off the black market."

"They played "Bye Bye Blackbird" on the wireless the other day," said Alison, "and I was singing along, but when it got to the bit about "light the light", I found myself thinking: what about the blackout."

As I read this book, I found myself completely invested in the friendship between all of the women, despite their differences in status, age and background. This was particularly true as we reached the end of Railway Girls in Love, where they all came together as one in support of one of their own.

I was also struck by the resilience the people of Manchester had to display as they try to go about their everyday lives. Incendiary bombs falling as you try to get home from work? Find a nearby cellar to wait it out. Your house bombed out, find a new place to live with the help of your friends, church hall flooded when there is a big event coming up, find another location. Of course, these events are stressful but with humour, resilience and the help of your friends anything can be achieved.

I have already seen that there is going to be another Railway Girls book in September. Whilst I still think that there is a lot of story still for Mabel, Dot and Joan, I am hoping that we will get to know some of the other women better too. I particularly think that there is much more to Colette's story than we have been privy to so far.

I have enjoyed all three books in this series, particularly these last two. I am already looking forward to reading it. This is one series that should be read in order, so start with The Railway Girls

Rating 4/5 for both books

Thanks to Netgalley and Random House UK for the review copy.

Be sure to check out other stops on the blog tour to see what other's thought of this book!



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