Reviewed by Emma Crowley
Cliffehaven, May 1944
The tension is rising for Peggy Reilly and the inhabitants of Cliffehaven as the planes continue to roar above the town and there is still no news of the long-awaited Allied invasion into France. There seems to be no end in sight of this war which has scattered her family and brought conflict right to the door of Beach View Boarding House, but Peggy cannot work miracles and the toll of the war is beginning to weigh on her slender shoulders.
Meanwhile, Ron Reilly has landed himself in hot water with his sweetheart, Rosie – and this time, his Irish charm will not be enough to get him out of trouble.
The war has forever changed the lives of Peggy’s loved ones, but with the promise of an Allied invasion comes the hope that her beloved husband and family will at last be coming home. It will take an enormous amount of spirit to keep that hope alive and bring harmony back to Beach View.
Many thanks to Becky McCarthy at Arrow Publishing for my copy of With a Kiss and a Prayer to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.
Readers needn't worry that With a Kiss and a Prayer by Ellie Dean being the 14th book in the Beach View Boarding House series that they wouldn't be able to follow the story lines, I only joined in on the last book The Waiting Hours and after a few chapters I became familiar with the story and the various characters. Knowing all the back stories is not essential at all and once you settle into the story there is a really good family saga series focusing on the O' Reilly family, their relatives and close friends. It makes for an enjoyable read and I found despite the book being over 400 pages in length I read it in two sittings.
It does prove very helpful that there is a map of Cliffehaven at the beginning and also a family tree of the O'Reilly family for readers to refer back to if they need to. I would think the inclusion of a separate tree or even a character list of the various girls that have already featured in the series would be quite useful as well just so when Peggy or anyone mentions that girl the reader would be able to check the page without having to try and join the dots or purely just to enhance the readers general information.
It's May 1944 when we return to Cliffehaven and the war still rages on with no specific end in sight. Quite early on the reader can sense that everybody is growing bone weary with everything, they want something major to happen so they can see that there may be light at the end of the tunnel. Living in a constant state of fear, apprehension and worry surely would begin to take its toll on anyone and given it has been five long years they question whether their resilience and prayers are having any affect at all. It's hard for the women left behind to do their bit and keep the home fires burning while they await news of their men fighting abroad or in some cases imprisoned in war camps facing unimaginable horrors too awful to contemplate.
Throughout the book there is a strong feeling that the country is on the cusp of something. All the characters are on edge turning an ear to world events even more so than ever before. There are rumours swirling about that a major push is about to happen but no one knows specifics or what exactly is involved. When this does happen I thought these scenes were the best in the book. They were so emotional and brought a tear to me eye as the O'Reilly family stand in the street in the early morning in their nightclothes watching hundreds of planes flying over head and endless streams of boats pushing through the water to reach French soil. There was a collective release of breath which had been held for so long that finally at long last the big offensive had arrived. The road as Churchill himself said would not be easy or even a quick one but they had taken the steps to quash the evil forces once and for all. Still the worry for those left behind did not abate and for Peggy the sense of loosing control and not being able to help everyone starts to take its toll.
Peggy O'Reilly really is the typical matriarch, tender, loving, caring and a woman who always puts her own needs on the back burner as she tends to everyone else’s stresses and worries. She has to remain strong where others may falter. She keeps the house going while working in the factory whilst all the time her own children who are away and her husband Jim are on her mind. Again in this book I thought the chapters featuring Jim in Burma were just brilliantly written and again I wanted even more of them. There were such brilliant descriptions of what it was like on a day to day basis and reaffirmed for me that it was only one small part of a huge war but every bit as dangerous with the Japanese lurking around every corner of the dense jungle. It's true the men who signed up in England couldn't possibly have known what they were getting themselves into. Many were inexperienced but knowledge, sense and wariness would have come quickly. For there was no other option only to throw themselves into the situation presented to them and hope that victory at some stage would be theirs.
If the women and relatives back on home soil knew the extent of what Jim and countless others were experiencing their worries and anxiety would only have increased tenfold. The heat of the jungle, the vegetation, the mountains and the struggles to overcome ambushes and skirmishes were so vividly written and provided a contrast to the story we were reading about in Cliffehaven. My heart was in my mouth and I hoped nothing bad would befall Jim. As Peggy receives sporadic letters from Jim her vulnerability begins to show. She can't maintain the armour she has built around herself. She needs to express how she is feeling and I hoped when this occurred that somebody would be there to console her just as she is always there to console and support others.
I found the initial first 100 pages quite slow to get going and there wasn't really much of a story. Peggy's father in law Ron, who is a pure old rogue but beneath it all he has a heart of gold had a storyline which I really didn't think would stretch the entire length of the novel. His love life wasn't enough of a story to see the book through to its conclusion so I am glad that this seemed to be pushed into the background for the majority of the novel before reoccurring towards the end. To be honest this strand didn't really hold my attention and I was more interested in Peggy and the girls - Rita, Fran, Ivy, Cordelia and Sarah. Ron got up to all sorts of antics and portrayed a particular personality but beneath this exterior he was wise and worried for everyone even if he didn't always know how to express himself. His dog Harvey is essential to the series and as the author mentioned in an end note, readers would be up in arms if anything happened to him and I couldn't agree more.
Once I got through the 100 pages something just clicked with me and I became deeply engrossed in the story, rapidly turning the pages. I think this was partly due to the fact that I had reacquainted myself with the characters after it being a year since I had read the last book and also because things started to happen. I don't think any one character had a dominant story line in this book rather it gave an overview of how the characters were feeling as they awaited news of the rumoured big push. The book at times, slightly felt as if it was a filler in before major events will occur in the future as I sense the author likes to continue on from where the previous book left off rather than jumping months ahead. I suppose on reflection if you have spent six years writing a major series and undertaken so much research you don't want to rush things and the author must have a timeline of how she wishes the books to continue on to the end of the war and maybe even beyond.
Two characters really frustrated me in this book and they were Pauline, Peggy's sister in law, and Doris her sister. Pauline seemed to be such a whinge, I know her own personal experiences of the war have led to trauma and heartache but even her family were growing wearisome of her antics. She was the same in the previous book and did nothing to enamour herself to the readers. She has so many faults, constantly crying for herself and blind to the needs of others. I grew bored of her and desperately wanted someone to give her the wake up call she clearly needed. As for Doris she seemed to think she was a cut above everyone else and there was a distinct lack of a sisterly bond between herself and Peggy. A dramatic event was needed for the wool to be pulled from her eyes in order for her to wake up and come back down to earth with a bang. The way she treated Peggy was despicable and only for the fact Peggy has such a kindly nature I thought she would have turned her back on Doris for good.
There was a tension filled scene towards the end of the book that had my heart in my mouth and in a way the result was a slight cop out as it would have added another angle to the storyline for future books but in another way it may just have caused too much upset to loyal, long time readers. There were a few other plot lines working away in the background and I did enjoy them too as I did with the book overall. I think we left the story at a critical juncture and it guarantees I will be back for more. All the characters involved are to be admired for their courage, resilience, fortitude and the comradery, friendship and love that they offer to each other.
Ellie Dean has once again done a brilliant job of creating warmth amongst the constant hardships and written about women who the reader will grow to care for. I'm already looking forward to the next instalment which comes to us in August and is titled As the Sun Breaks Through which suggest there may be a ray of hope for all who live in Cliffehaven.
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