Reviewed by Emma Crowley
Bonnie Lindsay is born into a travelling fair community in the north-east in 1918, and when her mother dies just months later, Bonnie’s beloved father becomes everything to her. Then at the tender age of ten years old, disaster strikes. Heartbroken, Bonnie’s left at the mercy of her embittered grandmother and her lecherous step-grandfather.
Five years later, the events of one terrible night cause Bonnie to flee to London where she starts to earn her living as a singer. She changes her name and cuts all links with the past.
Time passes. Bonnie falls in love, but just when she dares to hope for a rosy future, WW2 is declared. She does her bit for the war effort, singing for the troops and travelling to Burma to boost morale, but heartache and pain are just around the corner, and she begins to ask herself if she will ever find happiness again?
Many thanks to Annabelle from Emma Draude PR for my copy of A Winter Love Song to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.
It was only last year that I discovered the writing of Rita Bradshaw when I read Snowflakes in the Wind, despite the author having written numerous books in the saga genre I had never heard of her before. It's always a thrill to discover a new author in one of your favourite genres and having enjoyed last years publication I was keen to see how would this new book A Winter Love Song measure up. I had similar thoughts regarding this book as I had had before. Overall it was a very good read and fans of the genre will adore every aspect of it. For me, as with Snowflakes in the Wind, I felt the second half was far stronger than the first.
The first half had a lot of setting up to do so the reader would understand how the characters developed and what motivated them to act the way they did in the later half of the book, but once all that was out of the way and our main female protagonist Bonnie Lindsay, or Bonnie May as she becomes, grows up and takes the her future into her own hands the story really got going and I enjoyed it. The book is split into five distinct sections each focusing on developing a certain characters storyline but not without also keeping the reader up to date with all the major players. It added definition to the story to have the various sections and it helped move the story forward in terms of the fact, we weren't stuck in the same time period for the entirety of the book instead it jumped forward a few years or months and kept the story fresh.
A Winter Love Song is a story of resilience, survival, hope and above all else friendship and love. Bonnie Lindsay lives with her father John as part of a travelling community fair that spend their Summers going from town to town setting up the fair and offering entertainment to all and sundry. The Winters are spent camped in one area, making repairs to equipment and scratching a meagre living doing odd jobs wherever possible. It is the only life Bonnie has known and she is happy with it. Singing is her one true love and in fact will be her saviour time and time again throughout the book. The fair and all it entails is in her heritage, it is in her blood just as it was in her mothers.
John is not of traveller descent having come from an orphanage so the pull and draw is not as intense for him. He has other long term goals in mind but a lot of hard work and grit will need to be undertaken before any of them can come true. Bonnie's mother died in childbirth and since then she has become accustomed to it just being her father and herself. Her maternal grandmother Margarita, Madge, is married to Franco. They are both as mean and vindictive as the other with money and drink their only ambition. Madge detests Bonnie and when a tragic event takes place Bonnie is left in the care of her grandmother and Franco. They see Bonnie's talent in singing and exploit it at whatever turn possible. Although Bonnie loves the opportunity to sing, not a penny she earns is ever seen by her and the fact her old family wagon and horse were sold also eats away at her.
Bonnie faced a very cruel, difficult childhood at such a young age. No one could say fortune placed itself at her feet. She was alone even though she had blood relations as the way they treated her was abhorrent. Years go by and another even more dramatic event unfolds which will leave the reader cold and in great sympathy for Bonnie. Yet here is where her resilience and courage begins to show and although at times throughout the remainder of the novel it may waiver, it is these traits that make Bonnie the remarkable character that she turns out to be.
I loved how Bonnie the older she got and finally at the age of 15 took her own destiny into her hands. She knew her life of cruelty, sharp words and put downs was never going to alter and the event that was the catalyst for change for her was really the last straw. I applauded what she did in escaping the fair but also felt she would be constantly looking over her shoulder in fear of reprimand for what she had done. Arriving in London I was apprehensive that Bonnie would face dangerous times and the book could have gone down the seedy route which thankfully it didn't. That's not to say life was all plain sailing and Bonnie had it easy. That wouldn't have made for an interesting read at all.
Bonnie is a character who above all else wants to better herself. She displays loyalty, courage, hope, ambition and dedication in everything she undertakes and is a character to be admired. I felt in London in the earlier parts of the book, although she had to work hard. there was no real sense of extreme hardship which you would find in other books. A chance encounter leads to a job singing at a club with Enoch as manager of the club. This is the pivotal turning point in her life which leads to so much more. Bonnie's singing talents shines through and I suppose if you have it people will see it and good things will come. I wondered would Franco and Madge rear their ugly heads again? This aspect of the storyline slightly resolved itself too easily for me. I would have loved a few scenes of tension and danger rather than the convenient way it panned out, but at least sorting this issue made way for other storylines to come to the fore in particular that of Selina, a lodger in the same house as Bonnie, and a soon to be close friend. What Selina was going through was horrific and I am glad something like this was mentioned in this book because it not often is in the saga genre.
Amidst Bonnie making a new life for herself, achieving singing success, and finding love with Art Franklin along the way then World War Two is declared. I thought it was very clever of the author from the early 1930's onwards that every so often there would a page or two informing the reader of world events what was happening with Hitler in Germany as he was coming to power with his party and what was happening to Jews living there. This information dropped in every now and again was very useful and informative, we got a glimpse of world events yet the characters were still going on with their normal lives but the reader knew eventually when war was declared that the characters would some way be involved in the events. The sections over the course of the war were very well written and detailed. Life in England demonstrating the difficulties of war rations, bombings, the blackout and being always on the alert if shelter needed to be found were a daily occurrence for the people.
But Bonnie's talent was put to good use singing for munitions factories and camps up and down the country. Bonnie showed her metal once again when she feels a calling to do her part for the war effort. Singing to the troops in Burma was the result and perhaps for me this was the best part of the book, I felt every bit of the dripping heat in the tropical rainforests, the dangers and perils that awaited around every corner. Bonnie knew she was putting her life in danger but as she was so selfless she put others before her own personal worries. The author highlighted how cruel and barbaric the Japanese were during that time and again reminded me how every part of the world was affected by the actions of one man. The storyline in Burma regarding a certain character seemed too good to be true, slightly far fetched that it could happen but it worked out well for some one else. I had a sneaking suspicion throughout the book that something like this would happen but wasn't entirely sure how the author would make it work.
Overall A Winter Love Song is definitely worth a read. It's not one I flew through in one sitting, rather I read it in chunks. It is an enjoyable read and Bonnie is one character you won't forget in a hurry.
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