Reviewed by Emma Crowley
It’s 1951 and rationing is finally coming to an end. But while Liverpool is recovering from the ferocity of war, a family is about to be torn apart…
Dora Rodgers is adjusting to a new life in Liverpool with her young daughters Carol and Jackie. After the fear of the war years and a difficult break up with her husband Joe, Dora is finally building a future with her children.
But then an unexpected knock at the door rips her family in two.
To Dora’s horror, Carol is taken away by a welfare officer to live with Joe. She is determined to fight for her child, but when a tragic accident leaves her mother in hospital, and shocking news from Joe breaks her heart again, she struggles to cope.
With her family in pieces and her marriage over for good, will Dora ever manage to get her daughter Carol home where she belongs?
Ever since that tense ending to The Lost Daughter of Liverpool by Pam Howes I was desperate to find out just what was next in store for the incredible woman that is Dora Rodgers. I loved the first story but was very frustrated that it had ended on such a cliff hanger as we were given a sneak peek of the first chapter of the second in the Mersey Trilogy The Forgotten Family of Liverpool. If anything it certainly guaranteed that I would be back to discover what happened in the next instalment and after only five months of waiting I was very keen to begin this story and uncover if life for Dora could anyway settle down or was there plenty more things waiting around the corner to conspire against the happy, contended life she so deserved?
I've read heaps of saga books in the last few years, some good some not so, but this series really stands out from all the rest. The war is over and I am glad that for once we are reading a story where we see how people are dealing with the aftermath and the following years and adjusting to a new way of life. But also the fact that this book centres around one family, and specifically Dora, means there is not so many strands you have to follow. Tackling such relevant issues as mental health and the breakdown of a marriage is also to be applauded considering how taboo the topics would have been at the time. The author centres all her attention on Dora, her immediate family and the problems they encounter. Therefore I feel Pam Howes always stays on track and is not one for much repetition.
The books are highly readable (I know there had only been two so far) and I find once you start it's the kind of story where you say to yourself just one more chapter and then before you know it you are more than halfway through the book. As with any book in a series of course you can read this as a stand alone but to truly enhance your reading experience do read the first book before hand. I know myself if presented with a series I don't think I would pick it up in the middle I would rather start from the beginning and honestly if you don't read the first instalment you are missing out on a truly fantastic read. I found myself easily settling back into Dora's life and even if I hadn't there was enough info within the first few chapters to remind me of everything that had gone before.
Dora has already been very much through the mill and I could sense there was plenty more in store for her. When we meet her again Dora is raising her two young girls Carol and Jackie. Her separation from Joe is still in place. This really killed me that a couple who everyone could see should really be together were apart. I understood Dora's reasons and could sense her fear and apprehension about what could happen if they got back together. Yet surely love could override everything. But Dora had been deeply affected, both mentally and physically, by everything she had previously been through and maybe she wasn't ready to move forward as a family given what had happened in the recent past. Just when you think some sort of happiness is in place social services arrive following a complaint and Carol is taken away. Is Ivy up to her old tricks again? I thought how could one woman cope with so much and still stay standing but that's one thing about Dora in this book she was much stronger and more together and coped with things admirably.
I couldn't imagine anything worse than your child being taking away from you even though you know the accusations to be untrue. Dora to me was even more mature in this book. She accepted responsibility well and I think she wanted everything to be right because she was just too fearful to go back to the way she felt in the first book. There was fight and a determined spirit here which hadn't been as previously apparent. She wasn't going to take things lying down and she wanted her daughter back with her. She was not one to be walked over. Where as much as I loved Joe and wanted him to be back with Dora he just came across as being led by his head rather than his heart. He was very much under Ivy's thumb. They work at the same factory but I believed if he wanted a united family he should have kept away from her.
Ivy was just as bad in this story if not worse. Evil, skilfully manipulative, spiteful and unpleasant are just some of the words I would use to describe her. She did nothing to endear herself to anyone. She had Joe under her thumb and if she ever felt him slipping away she always had something up her sleeve with which to reel him back in. I didn't like the way the Joe and Ivy strand of the story developed. It wasn't going in the direction I had wanted it to. I feel so invested in Dora's story considering how I felt about book one that all I wanted was a happy outcome and just as something positive starts to happen or a ray of light appears there again along comes something to dash Dora's hopes and dreams, to put a spanner in the works. Given this is a trilogy I know things can't be wrapped easily but still some lasting not fleeting happiness would be nice to see.
Dora's independence and talent began to shine through the deeper I got into the story. I felt she used her initiative and she knew she had to make things better for herself if she wanted to get Carol back. I loved how friends of hers who we had already met made a reappearance and were there to support her but also how new characters were introduced especially in the form of Samuel and Esther. They became like substitute parents to Dora given her fathers passing and her mother's deteriorating health. Samuel and Esther allowed Dora to indulge in her passion for sewing creating garments. They saw her talent and abilities and wanted to let her shine. They became her support system and back up when times got tough and it was a lovely to see such a friendship/relationship develop. Although events towards the end of the book made me sad and annoyed at what was unfolding. One character who I felt really stepped up to the plate more than ever was Dora's brother Frank. What an incredible guy. He had suffered his own trauma but still at every step of the way was there for Dora doing anything he was asked no matter how big or small to make life that little bit easier for her. He was amazing with Carol and Jackie but still I thought it was slightly disappointing that the romance element of his story didn't move forward at all in this book.
The Forgotten Family of Liverpool was a brilliant follow up to The Lost Daughter of Liverpool. I can't say one was better than the other because they were both equally as good. There is a danger with a series of it losing steam or having no where to go, too much can be packed into the first book leaving mere filling in to follow. Thankfully that wasn't the case here and I enjoyed every bit of this emotional, honest, gritty, raw and endearing story. I'm very interested to see what the next step will be in Dora's journey when the third and final instalment is published. Hopefully we will discover all the answers before the year is out.
Many thanks to Bookouture for my copy of The Forgotten Family of Liverpool to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.