Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Emma's Review: As the Sun Breaks by Ellie Dean

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

Cliffehaven, June 1944

As the planes continue to circle over Cliffehaven, Peggy Reilly’s sister Doris must seek refuge after a V-1 blast destroys her home. Rita, Sarah and the other residents at Beach View Boarding House quickly find their peace disturbed and it’s not long before even Peggy loses her patience. But with more bad news to come, will Doris finally be forced to swallow her pride?

Meanwhile Peggy’s father-in-law Ron Reilly is delighted when his sweetheart Rosie returns home. Until a heart-breaking confession suggests things may never be the same between them.

With loved ones scattered far and wide across the globe, and tensions running high, the end of the war feels somehow further than ever. And yet with the long-awaited Allied invasion in sight, a glimmer of light is starting to break through…

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Many thanks to Becky McCarthy from Arrow Publishing for my copy of As The Sun Breaks Through to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

As The Sun Breaks Through is the fifteenth book in the Cliffehaven series by Ellie Dean and despite being nearly 500 pages long I raced through the story as it was so engaging, realistic and endearing. Normally I would shy away from starting a series where so many books had been previously written, as I was new to this series only beginning with book thirteen The Waiting Hours, but there is something that always draws me to a good wartime, family saga book. I was glad I took the chance as I have fallen in love with the characters and the easy style of writing that sees chapters slip by as you become more engrossed in the story and all the goings on in Cliffehaven. It's also proof that each book is easily read as a standalone as I have had no problem following the main plotlines and the author slips in aspects of past books through Peggy's recollections and the fact she keeps in contact with all of the women who have passed through the doors of the Beach View Boarding House. As the series is nearing its conclusion I relish the fact that in the future I can go back and read all the books and meet of all the characters I haven't had the pleasure of getting to know yet. That sense of finishing a book and not having any more to read won't be present for me but also I really get the feeling that this series is one to be reread time and time again.

This new book follows directly on from where With a Kiss and a Prayer left off. Literally there is no gap of a few weeks or months instead we continue on in June 1944 as the Allies have just launched their major offensive to finally put a stop to the horrors of war instigated by Hitler. But following the events of the men away fighting is not the sole focus of the book, no instead we follow the lives of matriarch Peggy O'Reilly, her family and her chicks as she likes to call the young women who stay with her. Although every now and then there is a chapter from Jim's, Peggy's husband, point of view who is away fighting the Japanese in the jungles of Burma. I loved these chapters as they show the harrowing realities of being away from your family, fighting to exist every minute of every day not knowing what awaits around the corner. The tension and unease oozes from the pages and is in stark contrast to the lives of those at home patiently hoping and praying that the war will come to an end. That's not to say those in Cliffehaven have an easy life, of course they don't but I think dropping in chapters about Jim every so often re-enforces the fact that so many men sacrificed so much for their country.

With As The Sun Breaks Through, I got a real feeling that things were slowly starting to come to a resolution even though there is another year of the war to play out. There were no major new characters introduced which normally happens with each book, instead there was a real exploration of the characters already present that have I become invested in and familiar with. There was real character development and growth and the wrapping up of a few storylines. Given that this is the second to last book I enjoyed what I would call this winding down process. I think waiting until the last book to sort everything out would mean storylines which had been explored over so many books may be given a very rushed conclusion. I loved the brief paragraphs where Peggy would explain what had happened to one of the girls who had stayed at the boarding house and what they were up to now.

What I really enjoyed about this book is the fact that Peggy began to show her vulnerability and worries but also that she stood up for herself. She for so long has been the one who held everything together, who was all kinds of things to many people. The person who showed sympathy, compassion and support at every corner and now was the time when she showed a different side to her character and was more willing to accept help from others when for many years she was the one who had been dishing it out. She has taken so many girls under her wing in times of desperation when they needed help and a home and her generosity of spirit must not be undermined. But at times she came across to me as a bit of a pushover especially with regard to her sister Doris.

What a character was Doris. She was selfish, maddening and irritating and impossible to warm to at all.She seemed to think everyone and everything was beneath her, that there was one set of rules for her and she could boss and order people about at will. She has created a bad name for herself within Cliffehaven and when she needs support the most with the loss of her house through bombing will people be willing to give it to her? When Peggy stood up to Doris I wanted to applaud her as it is great to see someone get their comeuppance when it is so richly deserved. Doris in this book undergoes a transformation, a softening of sorts but one wonders is it too little too late?

What makes this series so special is that it embraces you right from the very beginning and allows you in to gain an insight into the lives of so many families during the war years but it do so in such a non flashy, over the top way. There aren't dramatics thrown in just for the sake of it. Instead it all flows so naturally and you feel like you are reading about friends who you are lucky enough to get to check in with perhaps twice a year to see how they are getting on with the daily struggles of deprivation and the constant worry and fear for loved ones. Ellie Dean has created one big family atmosphere with these books and at the centre of it all is Peggy who offers love and stalwart support. She gives others the courage and strength to carry on and has to be one the best written characters in a war time saga book. She likes feeling useful like one of the women all part of one larger army doing their bit to help win the war. But that's not to say she does all this unaided and for me her father-in-law Ron offers the comedic value to break up the feelings of despair and also anger that can be evident, which is natural of course.

Ron is the loveable rogue, who always has a few tricks up his sleeve and is never without his faithful canine companion Harvey by his side. We saw a new side to Ron in this book as he needs to grow up a little bit and make some life affirming decisions regarding commitment. Can he pick up the pieces with landlady of the local pub Rosie recently returned to Cliffehaven or is it too late to secure happiness? Is it possible for him to turn over a new leaf? Ron really stepped up to the mark in this story that's not to say he hasn't already supported the family in the absence of his son but I felt previously at times he got away with too much and presented this persona where he had a devil may care attitude and that he could flit in and out of the house at will without any due consideration for its inhabitants. But now we got more of an insight into all the simple little things he does that mean so much and that really he has a heart of gold. I hope he will get the happy ending he deserves.

There were lots of other characters mentioned who themselves have shared their stories and how they came to be in Cliffehaven in past books. Ivy who works in the armaments factory, Rita volunteering at the fire station, Fran working as a nurse at the local hospital and Danueta who has suffered so much but is now emerging stronger and attempting to recover and put the past behind her. The book I would definitely want to go back and read would be the one where Sarah's story featured as she left Singapore before it fell to the Japanese. From what I read here it sounded brilliant and now she is being forced by her mother to go and live with her family in Australia once war is over and loved ones return from fighting or hopefully will be released from prisoner of war camps. The only problem is has Sarah found a new and happy life and is there some one else waiting around the corner for her?

I relished every moment reading this wonderful book, it shows that love, life and laughter can exist in the darkest of times and it paints a realistic and accurate portrait of families during the war years. Of how communities came together and demonstrated that happiness had to be grabbed at every opportunity. It’s sad that many people's lives and futures were shaped by outside influences which they had no control over but without the sacrifices of those people who knows where we would be today. The sense of community, friendship and love that exudes from this book just gives you such a real good, warm feeling inside despite everything the characters experience.

Beach View House is packed full of genuine people who make up one big family who experience many ups and downs. In this book there are impossible choices to be made, relationships to be mended and amidst the times of joy there is anxiety pervading and tensions rising as the war grows ever nearer to a conclusion. But will those Peggy and co love so much return safe and sound? How can the town of Cliffehaven hope to remain the same place it was? Only time will tell. But one thing is for sure amid darkness a ray of light is beginning to shine through, hope and unbreakable bonds between people who love and trust one another may just be enough to see them through to the bitter end. I really don't know how I'll wait until January 2019 when the final book On a Turning Tide is published to see how everything turns out as I have thoroughly enjoyed this book.

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