Friday, 3 August 2018

Emma's Review: Telegrams and Teacakes by Amy Miller

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

‘There was no denying it, being cheerful was a challenge. You just had to be grateful for small mercies: a sunny day, a night without an air raid, an extra rasher of bacon from the butcher.’

England, 1942: 23-year-old Betty runs away from Bristol to make a new life for herself. Betrayed by her husband, Betty flees to the seaside town of Bournemouth, where she has fond memories of childhood holidays. There, she finds a small family bakery, in desperate need of a new shop girl…

At the Barton Bakery, Betty finds a sanctuary with shopkeeper Audrey Barton, but Audrey is fighting battles of her own. Her husband is at war and in grave danger, she is heavily pregnant, and her customers are horrified by the demands imposed by rationing.

Audrey’s stepsister Lily receives a letter from a man she once loved very much, a man she thought was lost to her forever. He offers her a new future with him, but one that will mean sacrificing so many of her hopes and dreams…

As Winston Churchill tells the country to ‘never give in’, the women of the Barton Bakery struggle on to keep their families, homes and loved ones safe in a time of turmoil.

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Many thanks to Bookouture via NetGalley for my copy of Telegrams and Teacakes to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

Telegrams and Teacakes was my third and last visit to Barton's Bakery in Bournemouth to follow the fortunes of Audrey, her family and extended friends and neighbours. Amy Miller has written such wonderful stories in the Wartime Bakery series and I was sad to say goodbye to these characters. The final instalment wrapped up any loose ends that had been lingering while introducing a few new little sub plots also. This book can be read as a stand alone but I think you would do better to start at the beginning with Heartaches and Christmas Cakes, and follow on with Wartime Brides and Wedding Cakes simply because it would enhance your overall enjoyment of the series and allow you to understand just how special the character of Audrey is and what she is capable of achieving through hard work and sheer courage and strength. I had hoped there would be more to come from Audrey and co considering it is only 1942 and the war did rage on for another three years but the ending did wrap up everything nicely but still in my mind it left room for maybe a little novella in the future. Who knows?

Telegrams and Teacakes, as well as the other two books in the trilogy, epitomises the feelings that war inspired amongst those left at home. People wanted to keep everything running as normal as it possibly could be. Friendship, camaraderie, kindness, unity and sacrifice are just some of the words that spring to mind. Being cheery, upbeat and happy was a challenge but everyone was grateful for small mercies whatever shape or form they took. Everyone in the community pulled together and even though deep inside they were desperate for news of loved ones away fighting or else were living in constant fear of being bombed they still always put on a brave face determined to make it through one day at a time step by step. People displayed endless resilience despite their lives being turned upside down. None more so than Audrey Barton, she has been the stalwart of her family as her husband Charlie is away doing his bit for his country. Audrey is definitely the matriarch to whom everyone turns to for advice and support, she is strong, brave and courageous keeping so many balls juggling in the air at one time. The bakery needs to be kept going despite the protestations from regular customers of the introduction of the new national loaf but Audrey does her best to produce little treats and bakery delights when she can at all.

Combined with the workload of the bakery Audrey just has the biggest heart and can't say no to anyone she sees in need. Times may be desperate for everyone but she always has the ability to stretch things that little bit further to embrace those that are crying out for help, love and attention. The door is always open in Audrey's house, space can be found for a waif or stray as she knows just as Charlie is away fighting for his country she too wants to do what she can back on home soil. But as Audrey awaits the birth of a much longed for baby, it quickly became apparent that she was doing far too much. You can only do so much for everybody else before you have to stop and think about yourself and your own welfare. That's what I loved about this book for so long we had seen Audrey as strong and unbreakable, nothing could phase or shatter her but here there was a sense of vulnerability creeping in. A feeling of letting one's guard down and allowing others to step in and do for her as she had done for so many. I enjoyed seeing this other side to her character as it demonstrated she wasn't all one sided and invincible but that she was human too and did have her weaknesses and that when things just got too much she was willing to embrace the hand of friendship and aid that was being offered. Audrey's story was perfectly concluded., it was bitter-sweet and heart-warming.

A new girl arrives on the scene with secrets of her own that she does not want exposed. Betty has fled Bristol in the hopes of starting a new life away from the awful news she has discovered. Everything she thought was true and perfect in her life has turned out to be the complete opposite. I didn't like the tone Christine, a friend of Audrey's stepsister Lily, took with Betty. It seemed out of character and threatening with how I had viewed her before. But because she took this stance it forced Betty to admit the truth and I think Audrey and co were more willing to welcome her into the fold because of her honesty. The way Betty's storyline developed amazed me because I would have taken the totally opposite viewpoint and not be as warm and approachable when she is presented with a difficult decision. It shows that beneath it all Betty was a kind-hearted person who along with everyone else would do everything in their power to try and survive and make the best of a bad situation against all the odds. Betty the more we got to know her and understand why she came to be in Bournemouth the more she slotted in so readily and perfectly into the overall family feeling always evident through each book in this series.

As for Audrey's brother William and his new wife Elsie, I was so glad to see their storyline which had been brewing and brewing in the first two books at last come to a head. It had been clear for some time that confrontation and getting everything out in the open really did need to happen. Keeping things bottled up and not allowing others in to share the burden would only result in the most disastrous of consequences. There was a gradual thaw and softening in Williams behaviour and I admired Elsie for standing by the man she loved through the good times and bad. Unfortunately the bad seem to far out weigh the good but there is light at the end of the tunnel. William returned from the war with a changed personality and I was glad to finally discover the reasons why but I hoped that with the backing of Elsie that he could express what he was feeling and why. It was interesting to see how it went about this and it showed just how torn apart and battered many men were from what they had experienced and witnessed.

A brief mention of Lily, stepsister to Audrey, her storyline needed resolution too but I felt it was only mentioned every now and again just so she wasn't forgotten as having been a crucial character in books one and two. I would have loved to have seen her feature more in this book and have her story developed more. It just felt all too fleeting. It needed something more tangible and concrete rather than a letter. A physical meeting of two minds would have been ideal.

Although Telegrams and Teacakes wasn't the strongest in my mind out of all three books it still provided the reader with a fitting ending to a series which has been so enjoyable. It's full of heartbreak and disappointment but also too packed full of love, compassion and consideration. Kindness runs through the Barton's veins and with family and community spirit they can weather any storm the war may throw at them. A lovely ending to a delightful series which now has me intrigued as to what direction Amy Miller will venture in next.

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