Reviewed by Emma Crowley
It's Christmas Eve 1920 when nine-year-old Abby Kirby's family is ripped apart by a terrible tragedy. Leaving everything she's ever known, Abby takes her younger brother and runs away to the tough existence of the Border farming community.
Years pass. Abby becomes a beautiful young woman and falls in love, but her past haunts her, casting dark shadows. Furthermore, in the very place she's taken refuge is someone who wishes her harm.
With her heart broken, Abby decides to make a new life as a nurse. When the Second World War breaks out, she volunteers as a QA nurse and is sent overseas. However, life takes another unexpected and dangerous turn when she becomes a prisoner of the Japanese. It is then that Abby realizes that whatever has gone before is nothing compared to what lies ahead...
Rita Bradshaw was a new author for me when I was given the chance to read her latest book Snowflakes in the Wind, I had never heard of her before but was surprised to see she had written 20 books already. This book is historical fiction that began in 1920 and took us right up into the mid 1940's. I have to say you could mistake this book as just another one of the numerous family saga books that flood the book market on a regular basis if you were to take a quick glance at the cover. I questioned whether I would find this story too run of the mill? Instead this proved to be much more than that and provided a deep insight into the life of a young woman torn apart by tragedy when she was very young yet our main female character Abby proves she can weather any storm no matter what is thrown at her. She was a change from the norm and showed her resilience, courage and strength at all points during the book despite all the obstacles and hardships placed in her path.
The book had six sections and initially I wondered was this way too much? Would there be an awful lot of chopping and changing from settings and time periods? Would I end up just confused or would it ruin the flow of the story? No is the answer to every question. In fact I liked how there was never too much focus on a particular time in Abby's life, just the right amount of attention was given so the reader could get a feel for what Abby was going through at any one point and then we moved on a few years. Normally I dislike so much moving around in a story but here I think it's what made me enjoy this book so much, the story moved along at a nice pace and kept the reader interested in Abby's trials and tribulations.
We first meet Abby and her family on Christmas Eve in 1920. She has a younger brother Robyn and her mother Molly works in the local shop to earn something to keep the household running as her husband Edgar is unable to work as he still feels the after affects of fighting in World War One. The family doesn't have much but they make the best of life that is until tragedy strikes and Abby and Robyn find their worlds turned upside down. Abby feels her life may never be the same again but right from the first few chapters it's clear, despite her age, that she is a person who cares for everybody else and when push comes to shove her caring nature and intuition comes into play and this is displayed several times over throughout the book. As Robyn was so young at the time when upset befalls the family I thought the author portrayed his vulnerability very well and in that way she was also able to showcase Abby's strong traits to perfection.
Soon they found themselves living with a grandfather they had never known (for various reasons) on a sheep farm where he is a shepherd deep in the countryside surrounded by moors. This is like an alien life to the pair but Abby makes the best of things. Admittedly I did find some of the language used when characters were speaking during this section of the book a bit difficult to follow. I understood it was their dialect and was meant to bring more substance and flavour to the book but I found myself skim reading some paragraphs at this point. Although the author did build up a fantastic picture of life at Crab Apple Farm and how difficult and challenging life could be working and living in all weathers. There were two fairly significant characters introduced at this point. One every reader will slowly start to fall for and another with such a chip on their shoulder you thought surely no good can come of this and I kept racing through the chapters to see what would unfold. Subtle hints were constantly dropped yet I had no idea how things would pan out in relation to the above mentioned characters and how they would slot into Abby's life?
As I have mentioned before the author never lingered too long on each section instead giving just the right amount of focus to that time in Abby's life before moving on to the next important stage. We weren't inundated with unnecessary details that would have halted the flow of the story and I found the latter half of the book from part three onwards was fascinating, Abby had reached womanhood and I felt again a whole new side of her had emerged. We follow her journey as she trains to become a nurse leaving the family home she had wanted so badly to establish successfully with her grandfather. Yet it was a step the reader could see clearly needed to be taken. Although it was generally thought at the time young women pursuing higher education was a complete waste of time Abby bucked the trend and persisted in her dreams. Although I felt there was an ulterior motive in her wanting to leave the family home. I loved this section set in the hospital and again it was evident plenty of research had been undertaken by the author as she conveyed the long, long hours of a student nurse and never spared the harsh realities they were forced to endure to make the girls the best nurses they could possibly be. Little did Abby realise she would need to put everything she had learned into practice on an epic scale which would push everything she had endured n the past right out the window as she faces the unimaginable. The section in the hospital was perhaps the longest alongside that which featured what happened to Abby during the war but to me they were the strongest sections and I wanted them to be even longer. The tough regimented routine was clear for all to see beside the developing bonds of friendship and camaraderie and offset the hardships and difficult scenes. There was a point where I thought oh I don't want that to happen and was left open mouthed but in another way it was essential to the overall plot.
The final part of this book was perhaps the most harrowing to read as Abby becomes deeply involved in World War Two as she is sent nursing abroad. I won't say where or what happens to her but this section made the book come full circle. No images or descriptions were spared and it opened my eyes up to a part of the war that I hadn't previously read about in a book before. It proved how everyone in the world was so deeply affected by World War Two. For Abby it proved traumatic and I wondered at some points would this book have any sort of happy ending at all? So devastating and horrid was what she had to endure but at all times as I have mentioned from the beginning to the end of this book Abby was a stand out character who proved her mettle time and time again and I hoped she could clutch on to some small beacon of happiness at the times when she needed it the most.
Snowflakes in the Wind proved to be a much better book than I had expected and I would certainly read more from this author in the future. It's not all based around Christmas more so that Christmas Eve in 1920 proves the catalyst for a serious of events that provides for a tumultuous life for our strong main character. It is definitely worth a read and may prove a refreshing change from all the Christmas books published at this time of year if you have become overloaded with that genre.
Many thanks to Sophie Goodfellow from ED PR for my copy of Snowflakes in the Wind to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.