Reviewed by Emma Crowley
DEVON 1918. When Jessie Hale loses her nursing job at the end of the First World War, she leaves London to become the nurse maid to the Kendle family in Devon.
On arrival she finds the family in disarray. Captain Kendle is a loving father but is traumatised by the war and kept at arm's length by his frosty wife. When their elderly Nanny suffers a bad fall, Jessie has to try to bring the household together. Gradually Jessie finds her place in their lives, becoming devoted to Captain Kendle's lively son Jack, his lovely, but quiet daughter Catherine, as well his invalid Mother.
Jessie soon starts to love her life at Kendlebury Hall, but problems arise when her feelings for her employer start to change...
Jessie's Promise is the first book I have read by Rosie Clarke although I have had me eye on her others yet just have never gotten round to reading them. This read proved to be much more than just a family saga set around the time of war and it surprised me with the depth of the storylines and the feelings and emotions it inspired in me towards certain characters. Set in 1918 after the conclusion of World War One, Jessie Hale is 26 and working as a nurse in a London hospital having returned home from nursing at the front with the V.A.D's.
As we meet Jessie another unexpected turn is about to come upon her life and all because she dared to brook convention and speak her mind and the truth. She stands up and makes a complaint against a doctor working in the hospital of which several women have had not so savoury dealings with. Jessie was witness to one such incident and she can't keep it a secret even though the woman it happened to wishes the truth kept buried. Unfortunately the outcome Jessie wished to occur didn't materialise and she finds herself out of a job from a profession she loves and which has seen her through some hard times but also made her the person she is today. This willingness and determination within Jessie of always doing the right thing and sticking to both her beliefs and morals is so evident within the first few pages and that is what makes the reader instantly like her character. She maintains this stance throughout the book no matter what grave injustices or wrongs are thrown at her over the course of the story. I liked this aspect to her and she went against the convention of the time where men held the influence and women wouldn't have been given short shrift as their opinions were viewed as not valuable and time wasting or even worth listening to or considering. It's this feisty, resilient and observant side of Jessie that forms the backbone of Jessie's Promise and which made for a very good read. Although at one or two stages I will admit I did disagree with Jessie's actions but I suppose if your heart and mind work together to say one thing you can't but not listen to it.
Now Jessie is jobless and combined with the fact she still harbours deep feelings for her lost love she knows she needs a change. She cannot stay with her Aunt forever but she needs to move on. She answers an ad in a magazine for a nanny and nursing assistant at Kendlebury Manor in Devon. It would be a total change for Jessie and maybe give her time to re-evaluate which direction she would like her life to now go in. Little does she realise her hopes for peace and to go silently about her business with the children she is charge of won't exactly materialise. It seemed once the story moved to Devon it took on a different quality. It was like the house and its residents were stuck in another era with the weight of time and past events pressing heavily on them. The house was not what it had once been with the minimum of staff now in place and I sensed an overwhelming feeling of desperation and of needing a change. Would Jessie be the one to implement this or will she to get caught up in something she may best keep out of for fear of her involvement which would result in upsetting the overall picture? Or will she prove the tonic and solace the residents need?
Jessie came across as someone who could settle in anywhere and she would at first test the waters, get a feel for the place and then being an outsider looking in could see what needed to be done. She was a force to be reckoned with but not in a pushy or dominant way or with any sense of aggression. She could see that care, love and respect and being mindful of others was what what needed. She knew none of the background to the family which slowly unfurled the more I read through the story so to my mind she was the perfect person with just the right perfect, positive touch that could implement change for the better. Even if stern opposition awaited her.Jessie aswell as making friends with the servants below stairs who soon become close friends finds her self in charge of Lady Kendle and her two grandchildren, Jack and Catherine. Jessie finds even the old Nanny has been neglected as the wife of Captain Kendle, Mary is often away from the house and has little or no time for her in laws or her own children.
Captain Kendle too is not the man he once was and I could sense he was haunted by something but Jessie begins to work her magic and show her caring nature and he begins to reconnect with his children albeit in little ways. For me the children really shone through in this book, Jessie could see they had been neglected and forgotten about having had a succession of nanny's come and go and the old nanny was just that too old to care for them herself and she lived in fear of being thrown out of the house. Jessie saw what others didn't that Jack needed a gentle firm hand and as for Catherine she needed love, affection and attention instead of being dismissed as an idiot through no circumstance of her own. She should not have been something kept hidden and away from public eyes she needed to be nurtured and Jessie could be the one to do that.
I loved how Jessie just pushed everyone's views and abrupt dismal of things aside and got on with her own plans which were only ever for the good of the children. She was upsetting the apple cart but all for good. I loved how she was blunt and told a few home truths and even if they weren't what the powers that be wanted to hear Jessie knew everything she did was for the children in her care. I felt she brought the house back to life and even though she wasn't aware of past events or even the bigger picture as to what was happening none of this mattered she wanted to create some positivity and love in the children's lives and in doing so she was helping to heal her own past hurts.Midway through the book I felt things did become slightly repetitive before picking up again. For my liking there was just that bit too much about the daily routine with the children and Lady Kendle, and it didn't move the story on enough, but then things slowly started to get going again and Jessie experiences feelings she never thought possible again but if she listens to what is being said deep within her it may cause more harm than good. The reader could see some of these feelings emerging yet then I felt everything rushed ahead like a steam train on full power and became slightly unbelievable and it needed to be reined in ever so slightly. I knew the outcome I wanted for the characters but given the situation they found themselves in I never quite knew whether this could be achieved or not.
I was with Jessie every step of the way as she navigated her new life through the ups and downs but I didn't agree with what her heart was saying all the time. I enjoyed how the author wrote about a child with a disability and how children like this may have been viewed at the time, it brought a surprising element of depth to the story. The romance element was overpowering at certain stages but then a few shockers were thrown in and some were very unjust and shocking and I was almost angry at the author for letting these things happen. Jessie's Promise was definitely a much better read than I had been expecting which provided a few twists and turns along the way and kept this reader turning the pages. Jessie was a strong character who you were rooting for and not some damsel in distress, weak character that I read about far too often. The ending may have been a little too rushed but it didn't detract from my overall enjoyment of the story. I would say this book is well worth the read and now having enjoyed this book I do want to try out Rosie Clarke's Workshop Girls series.
Many thanks to Aria via NetGalley for my copy of Jessie's Promise to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.