Friday, 24 March 2017

Emma's Review: Shipyard Girls at War by Nancy Revell

Reviewed by Emma Crowley


It takes strength to work on the docks, but the war demands all hands on deck and the women are doing their best to fill the gap. 

Rosie is flourishing in her role as head-welder while still keeping her double life a secret. But a dashing detective is forcing Rosie to choose between love and her duty.

Gloria is hiding her own little secret – one that if found out, could not only threaten her job, but her life.

And the shipyards are proving tougher than Polly ever imagined, while she waits for her man to return home safely. 

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Shipyard Girls at War by Nancy Revell is the second in a series following  the trials and tribulations of a group of women working in one of Sunderland's shipyards during the early years of World War Two. I had only read The Shipyard Girls a few weeks previous to reading this follow up book and I was glad I hadn't had such a long wait between books as the story and characters were still very much fresh in my mind. In that sense it really did feel like this story was a cohesive follow on to what had happened in book one. In fact the story picks up more or less a few months after the concluding events of The Shipyard Girls. 

Normally I would say coming in at a later point in a series is perfectly fine as the back story is slipped in for readers to pick up the pieces or to read between the lines as to earlier events but with this book I feel slightly different. Yes all the setting up, some key events and filling in back stories from the first book were evident here in order to bring new readers up to date but I felt to get a real sense of the inner workings of the characters and to enhance your overall enjoyment of the series one would do best to read the first book in the series to get the most of the really interesting, engaging story between the pages. That's not to take away from this book at all it's just stepping back and looking at it with fresh eyes if you didn't know what had happened previously you mightn't feel the same emotions I felt for the characters throughout or empathise with them regarding certain situations. Having being deeply invested in them previously this time around I was even more caught up in the story and flew through the book in two sittings.

Full credit to the author for focusing attention on an aspect of the war that I have not read about before, that of the women who worked as welders in the ship building yards in many towns across England. Nancy Revell provided a fascinating insight into the lives of these women who came up against so many obstacles even though they were only trying to do their bit for their country and the war effort. All at the same time keeping their home and family lives going whilst working twelve hour shifts in all extremes of weather. As most of the characters and their story-lines had been introduced and somewhat dealt with in book one I felt the author really didn't mess around and got straight down to business and it was like there had just been a brief absence from this set of characters who had become like friends and now we were catching up with them as if no time had passed at all.

The prologue although very brief was dramatic and hard hitting and set the tone for a large part of the book and Bel who I felt hadn't had such a major plot previously got her chance to step into the forefront of the story even if the way she was feeling and the circumstances she was battling through weren't the most pleasant. Throughout the story we certainly saw a very different side to her but I suppose it was all the raw emotion, anger and hurt that was coming through that she simply couldn't forget or manage to bottle away in the blink of an eye. Her storyline was strong, realistic and incredibly well written and powerful because at the time so many women across the country and even the world would have been experiencing the same feelings.

The group of women featured are for the most part strong and determined and one would have to be considering the demanding work of welding in the shipyards. The author never holds back in her descriptions of their daily routine at work and how they are forced to work in all kinds of weather. I thought they all came across as so brave taking on a man's job but at the centre of it all was their willing to help their country to defeat Hitler. The story could have become quite repetitive if it continued to outline the daily grind at work and what sets it apart is that the outside lives of the girls also had their own focus. Throughout I felt there was a nice balance achieved between work and home life with plenty of ups and downs and emotions thrown in for all concerned. At the shipyard Helen, daughter of the manager, is determined to reek her revenge and will do this at any cost although she doesn't want Daddy to know what she is up to and tries in some ways to keep her antics all above board and in others she is pure sly and manipulative. I thought she was even worse than in the first book, she saw some of the women's weaknesses and preyed on them. She saw too the strong bond forged between the group of women and she didn't like it one bit as she herself had nothing like it in her own small life.

The war of the title relates to the internal war ongoing in the yard but also the world war whose affects are felt in all aspects of the women's lives. They seemed to live in fear of bombs raining down upon them and I have to say the scene towards the end in the yard was written to perfection full of tension and emotion. The overriding feeling in this story was one of hope and of women who believed in each other, helped each other and who were forging bonds and friendships that went way deeper than just your average friendship. Perhaps the two strongest women were Rosie and Polly. Rosie is head welder and I felt now we were seeing a more softer side to her than we had glimpsed before. She was opening herself up to love somewhat although there is something hidden in her past that will impose a firm obstacle in her path. This wasn't resolved in this book and I hope it will be explored in more depth in the future books to come. Rosie was ambitious and always loyal to her friends and family and I loved how she could see what Helen was up to and was determined to find some sort of resolution that would work for her small little group. Polly seems to have taken to welding like a duck to water and although she hadn't had as much of a prominent storyline as before (seeing as her fiancée is away fighting) I'm glad we continued to have a focus into her home life. Her brother Joe has returned from fighting and is not the same man he was. The reader could see the myriad of emotions he was experiencing and how he was torn in two. Does he listen to his head or his heart? I wondered while reading this aspect of the storyline would such a thing have happened in reality but maybe it did and circumstances were so different at the time that people had to grab every opportunity that came their way.

I really enjoyed reading Shipyard Girls at War. It brought the overall storyline along very nicely while at the same time leaving lots of unanswered questions and new story lines bubbling away in the background ready to come forward in book three. Gloria's, the oldest of the bunch, storyline although it progressed quite well certainly feels very unresolved and I am more than interested to see how it all plays out in the future. There is a complex cast of characters and storylines woven throughout this book which make for a tense read at times but the powerful emotions coming through counteract this. I'm impressed with Nancy Revell's writing and have found myself deeply invested in a steely group of women who are struggling to get through the war years in one piece. 

September sees the publication of book three Secrets of the Shipyard Girls and I can't wait to see what happens next. I think there are some characters who haven’t come into the spotlight yet and who have been waiting patiently in the background to let their story be told. Others who have had a story line in book one and didn't feature much in this book are waiting in the wings to re-emerge and have their story told once more. I do hope this series will continue for many more books to come as we are still only in mid 1941 and I feel there is lots more to learn about this incredible group of women. If you love war time saga books I wouldn't hesitate to recommend The Shipyard Girls series.

Many thanks to Random House UK for my copy of Shipyard Girls at War to review via NetGalley and to Sharon for having my review on the blog. 

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