Reviewed by Emma Crowley
It’s 1946 and the war is over. In Liverpool, the blackout blinds may be coming down, but one family is about to face devastating misfortune…
Dora Evans is finally marrying the love of her life, Joe Rodgers, and her dreams of opening a dressmaking business look as if they might come true. With twin daughters on the way, Dora has everything she’s ever wanted.
But then tragedy strikes: one of Dora’s babies dies in infancy, and a catastrophic fire changes their lives forever. Dora is consumed with grief, struggling to get through each day and Joe is suddenly distant, finding solace in his colleague, Ivy.
With Ivy watching and scheming, and Dora battling against her own demons, can she keep her family together?
Bookouture publish such a wide range of genres taking in all the literary tastes of their loyal readers but there hasn't been that many that fall specifically into the historical fiction/family saga genre of which I love dipping in and out of every now and again. Then I saw the cover for The Lost Daughter of Liverpool and subsequently read the blurb and I thought this would be my kind of read and hopefully I would enjoy it. Pam Howes was an author I had never heard of before and I love to take a gamble on new authors as I always want to broaden my reading in terms of the authors and genres I read.
This is the first in a planned series entitled the Mersey Trilogy so I figured the author may slightly hold back and spread events out over the course of the three books in order to keep readers guessing and on their toes. In fact, and I am delighted to be able to say, Pam Howes didn't do this in the slightest. Indeed it was more a case of building up a picture only for the reader to be left gasping at what was unfolding as everything spun out of control. There was a solid, strong storyline throughout with moments of calm, serenity and happiness only then would the gritty, harsh realities of marriage and family life come crashing in to make themselves known in the most desperate of ways. The tagline on the cover says it's a heartbreaking and gritty family saga and you do begin to think god haven't those words being used to death to describe a book in this genre and are becoming nothing more than a cliché. But then the more you read through the story you realise the words are totally justified in this case and Pam Howes has written a deeply moving story in which every reader will take something worthwhile from it.
The book begins in 1946 and follows Dora over a three year period and in that time we see her undergo lots of changes some for the good and some for the bad. She is definitely a character that grows on you the more you see what is befalling her. You feel every emotion as she experiences so many tumultuous events. Even from the beginning I felt this book was a breath of fresh air, maybe not in terms of some of the subject matter rather for me the fact that it wasn't set during World War Two rather the years following it. I've read so many books set during the war that it was refreshing to see how people coped with the aftermath and attempted to restore some sense of normality to their lives and move forward into the oncoming years with more hope and optimism than had been previously felt for a long time. The fact the focus wasn't on the war meant the author could dedicate more attention to developing the characters and focusing on their specific problems within a small community rather than worldwide events dominating.
Dora Evans works alongside her best friend Joanie Lees in Palmer's factory. They have been friends since childhood and are more like sisters than friends. The factory had been buzzing during the war but now the owner's son has taken charge and orders are dropping off and therefore the girls are in danger of loosing their jobs. Yet from the outset I could see the pair had a spark about them, that little bit of extra initiative which could see them go along way compared to others who were prepared to sit back and loose their jobs. Dora and Joanie loved sewing and dressmaking and even began to have a little sideline going. Dressmaking would prove to be the salvation Dora needed and which would bring her back from the brink many a time.
I enjoyed how the story didn't just focus on the girls for a few months but rather the story flowed over several years and it made the story feel very natural and not forced. If the timespan had been shorter events would have been shoved in one after the other and it would have become unrealistic and unbelievable. I suppose that's what made this book so enjoyable - it was all so believable and although at times it was quite a difficult read and I felt desperately sorry for the characters the author never shied away from the plain facts and truth of the matter and bravo for writing about a topic that needs more attention and to be written about more in books because unfortunately for so many it's a painful reality.
The further I read the more I felt Dora could be a real character and one that I would love to spend time with and chat to about everything under the sun just like herself and Joanie did. Dora marries her teenage sweetheart Joe Rodgers and she has to accustom herself to running her own household out from under the warm embrace of her own family. Dora's family were all just so nice even though they had their own hardships to face and her mum was the backbone to Dora when she needed her the most. To be honest I thought everything would just be plain sailing for Dora and Joe but I'm glad the author threw a few spanners into the mix although I didn't like several of the things that occurred. I found myself gasping out loud at some of the injustices and I thought had the author gone that bit too far but it's clear she has a very good idea in which direction she wishes the whole series to go and she is not shying away from anything. In other books I find it often feels like the author just throws everything at a character to fill up page space and then doesn't deal with the resulting events and repercussions. Here I felt dealing with the aftermath was handled magnificently and all the sides of the story were presented to perfection. I never felt on one person's side or another's rather at times I was the person on the outside looking in and getting the entire picture on which I could form my own opinions and final judgement.
So many events unfold encompassing each and every character we meet that just when you think things may settle down and people can have a breather along comes something even more devastating and there were one or two points that brought me close to tears. I'm not in anyway saying this book is full of doom and gloom because it's not at all as the highs and lows merge together successfully. When the good times appear Dora embraces them and she showed her plucky determination and optimism. Her ambition and willingness to have a happy marriage was lovely to see so I hated what occurred during the later half of the book yet as I have said it was meant to be there to make the book the great read it turned out to be.
Honestly I was surprised how much I really enjoyed this book as I felt it could have been another run of the mill family saga and nothing new would be brought to the genre. Instead the total opposite proved to be true and I found The Lost Daughter of Liverpool increasingly hard to put down. To end the book the way Pam Howes did on such a cliffhanger after the reader becoming so invested in the characters in one way I was angry but in another it guarantees I will certainly be back for part two. I hope we won't be kept waiting too long to see what happens next as obviously there is an awful lot more to Dora's story to be told. The Lost Daughter of Liverpool is definitely one to watch out for and certainly lives up to the tagline on the cover.
Many thanks to Bookouture via NetGalley for my copy of The Lost Daughter of Liverpool to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.