Thursday, 30 November 2017

Emma's Review: The Liverpool Girls by Pam Howes

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

It’s 1966 and in Liverpool two sisters are about to have their lives turned upside down…

Sisters Carol and Jackie haven’t had the easiest of childhoods, but as they grow up and begin their own lives both hope for happier times ahead. Stylish Carol works in Lewis’s department store, while Jackie dreams of drama school, and a career on the stage.

But the sisters are heartbroken when they discover they have been dating the same man, and an unexpected pregnancy causes a rift between them. Parents Dora and Joe must overcome their past hurts and help their daughters, despite the meddling of Joe’s second wife Ivy.

As the sisters’ troubles spiral and difficult decisions must be made, can the family pull together – or will Jackie and Carol’s sisterly bond be destroyed forever?

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Many thanks to Bookouture via NetGallley for my copy of The Liverpool Girls to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

The Liverpool Girls is the third and final part of the Mersey trilogy by Pam Howes. Of course it is easily read as a standalone book and it shouldn't put readers off if they have not read either of the first two books, but in my own opinion to get a sense of how brilliant the series has been, and to really understand what motivates the characters to act the way they do, I would start from the beginning with The Lost Daughter of Liverpool. It was easily one of my favourite books in the family saga genre that I have read this year, so much so I feel so deeply invested in the lives of Dora and her family. Things haven't always been easy for them and the author certainly up until this point has never spared the harsh realities of life and all the troubles it can bring.

I know when I began reading this book there were certain outcomes which I wanted to see come to fruition based on several storylines in the first two books. So I was surprised when I began The Liverpool Girls that in fact we had moved forward quite some time into the latter part of the 1960's and the attention shifts to the children of Joe and Dora, Carol and Jackie. They are both now well in their teenage years and it soon became obvious that the book would focus more or less on these two girls. I had expected a continuation of where we had previously left off, yes initially I was slightly disappointed that the focus would turn from Dora and Joe, yet the more I read through the book it was actually a clever move to bring the story forward some years in the fact we still knew what was ongoing with Dora but the girls had their own gritty and at times unbelievable stories to share with the reader.

It is 1966 in the Fazakerley area of Liverpool. Jackie is the somewhat naive 15 year old daughter of Dora and Joe, both characters whom I had come to love in this series. I say Jackie is naive because at numerous points throughout the story that followed I felt she rushed headlong into situations without scant thought for the consequences. The situation that develops over the course of the book if it occurred in today's society would be very shocking despite all the weird and unbelievable stories we read of on a daily basis. So I can only imagine how people in the 1960's would have viewed the entire thing. Jackie lives at home with Dora while older sister Carol has moved out to live with her father Joe and stepmother Ivy.

It still pained me that after all this time, thanks to the evil, spiteful, manipulative character that was Ivy, that Joe and Dora still weren't back together. I know lies, deceit and cunning are very hard things to get over, and Ivy had spun such a web that Joe was deeply entrenched in it, but still it was clear these two needed to be together. The scene when confrontation finally explodes between Joe and Ivy was brilliant and one I had waited for, for so long. I literally wanted to stand up and applaud Joe for finally getting some backbone. Ivy needed her come comeuppance and to see it delivered was brilliant.

Carol is now 18 and working in a department store. The history of Carol and Dora and their relationship is briefly explained for those who are new to the series and if this had been my first time meeting the characters I felt it would have been ample enough information. There is a distinct distance between Jackie and Carol and I could understand why given elements of their childhood and I think jealousy, bitterness and a lack of deep considerate love between them played a role in what unfolded. I know they didn't know what was going on individually but once discovered a halt really should have been called.

Pam Howes does a brilliant job of describing life in the 60's, how it was a time of changing fashions, of mods, of new music and where a whole new generation could enjoy life without war or the threat of rationing hanging over them. I don't think I've ever read anything set in this time period so it was a refreshing change to read of a new era apart from war. Really the crux of this book and the falling out between the sisters and the devastation that rips through the family is all over a boy.

The local vicars son Sandy, Alexander or Alex. The only thing I will say about this book is that the various names he had annoyed me, I understood why there was a need for it as it was a crucial plot element but it made me confused and I kept having to remind myself who I was actually reading about. Sandy seemed very much a young man about town, interested in lots of girls and the joys and excitement they could bring, all without forming any clear bonds or attachments. His portrayal as the starving artist, painting away but never really earning enough for a living was fairly accurate. Sandy had a charm about him that made girls fall at his feet and without saying more this charm is what leads to major problems in Dora's family. Can they survive the hurt, lies and ensuing problems or will it all be too much and their family will never be reunited again?

I'll admit for the remainder of the novel once the major plot had been revealed I really went back and forth on my opinions on characters certainly Jackie and Carol. I couldn't make up my mind as to which one I was meant to feel the most empathy for. On one page it was Jackie and then she would do or say something that would turn me off her and then a few pages later it was Carol doing the same. Carol and Jackie were far from perfect, in fact they had so many flaws but at times there were genuine nice sides to them. Although out of the two I think it was Carol who acted the most rashly. She did things to trap people and the more seedier part of her storyline upset me at times. I didn't like the road she was venturing down but then some times I thought - did you not bring all this on yourself with your actions? Who could blame your family if they abandoned you. Jackie too frustrated me at times and then at other stages I felt nothing but empathy with her. Her heart ruled her head most of the time and the situation that she was in I would say was not over her own making but unless she acted herself she would not find a way out to reach a satisfactory ending.

Jackie despite being younger than Carol perhaps had more sense. I felt she certainly matured when she made the biggest decision of her life. It was so unjust and unfair that she had to do this but she dealt with it with great responsibility and I felt she was really looking at the bigger picture even though her heart was breaking in two. I sincerely hoped the bonds of love and family would out win the darker side of the story attempting to break through. I think it's testament to Pam Howes writing and the way she skilfully wove all the storylines together that made me feel this way. There were times when I wanted to shake certain people and then more subtle clues were dropped before being explored in more detail, this gave me an insight as to what was to come and to be honest I didn't like it one bit. Simply for the fact I was thinking how one earth can any family cope with this? Dora throughout was a stalwart mother to both her children but I wouldn't have blamed her if she had taken a step back and supported one over the other. I felt we didn't get as much of an insight into Dora as we had before but most of her story had been told and it was time for Carol and Jackie to step into the spotlight even if for most of the time what they were going through was beyond difficult.

The Liverpool Girls was a deeply satisfying conclusion to the Mersey trilogy. I feel it has ended just at the right time as to have any more books would be dragging things out and the story would be in danger of becoming stale and boring. Keeping the series to three books was ideal, it gives the reader plenty of time to really get to know the characters and get inside their minds. The storylines were all given ample time to develop and for resolutions to be found as to whether the reader likes them or not that is up to one's own individual opinion. Long after reading the characters and plot twists will live on in your mind as the story was told so effortlessly combining gritty drama, family relationships, love, tragedy and heartache and in all done in the most brilliant of ways.

At times The Liverpool Girls is very emotional and I would say difficult to read because you feel so much for the characters but I am so glad I took the time to read of such incredible girls. Pam Howes has done such a fantastic job with this trilogy and fans will love this one and new readers to. If you haven't read either The Lost Daughter of Liverpool or The Forgotten Family of Liverpool make sure you do as it will really complement your reading of the fantastic The Liverpool Girls.

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