Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Emma's Review: The Shop Girls of Lark Lane by Pam Howes

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

The war is over, but there’s heartbreak ahead…

Liverpool, 1945. As the war draws to a close, Alice and Terry Lomax are building a new life with their young daughter Cathy. After years away fighting, Terry is a stranger to his daughter and must work hard to win her trust and love.

Alice and old friend Sadie work in the haberdashery of Lewis’s department store, where bomb damage scars the walls and rationing is still in force. Yet Lewis’s remains open, a sign of strength in the midst of Liverpool’s post-war ruins.

Though memories of those lost in the war are fresh, Alice and Sadie look forward to the future. But then a tragic accident leaves Alice a widow, and the father of Sadie’s child – a man she hoped never to see again – is back in Liverpool…

With Alice struggling to start again alone, and Sadie desperate to protect her son, can these two shop girls overcome their troubles and keep their hopes alive – even with all the odds against them?

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Many thanks to Bookouture for my copy of The Shop Girls of Lark Lane to review via NetGalley and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

The Shop Girls on Lark Lane by Pam Howes continues on more or less from where we left off in  book one - The Factory Girls of Lark Lane. It's August 1945 and Alice Lomax is adjusting to life with her husband Terry with him having recently been demobbed from the army. Things are taking some getting used to as Terry had been away for so long and they had not spent any time together apart from their wedding night, the very night their daughter Cathy was conceived. Throughout book one Alice was at the centre of everything, the stalwart who battled through every obstacle placed in her path and someone who did so with strength, determination and grace. She was a character I came to love and respect and so I was delighted to see this new book would continue on with her story.

Alice really has stepped up to be the mother figure as she has her younger brother Brian aged 15 living with her as well following the loss of their mother. Life should be happy, simple and contented for the family but Cathy is creating problems throwing tantrums and just generally not being herself and creating a distance between herself and Terry. This causes some strain amongst the family but really who could blame a child for not leaping into the arms of a man you had never met before. This gives the reader plenty of food for thought as this must have been the situation for so many families with men returning home from the war. They themselves changed by their experiences fighting and families altered too with the loss of a family member or new additions who simply did not know this person entering their lives. The war changed every aspect of people's lives and it was interesting to see how Pam Howes shone a light on an aspect I had given scant thought to previously. I did initially think would this form the basis of the entire book but I soon discovered this was not to be the case.

Although I felt the book got off to a slow start by the time I had finished the first quarter I found myself really getting stuck into things as the foundations had been laid and I could see how various strands of the story were going to be further developed and explored. Alice is no longer working in the Rootes factory as most men have returned home so now she works in the local department store and she believes herself and Terry can work hard to create a nice family unit which will be well provided for and taken care of. At weekends she works at the local legion which shows how she wanted to avail of every opportunity given to her with a long term goal in mind. I will say from fairly early on I wondered why was there so much fussing over Terry's decision to do up the motorbike but this decision led to a life altering event for Alice and her family.

A decision where once again just like during the war she has to remain strong and resilient and she must soldier on despite such heartache and devastation which she thought she had avoided with Terry's safe arrival home after the war. Alice had only just come to terms with adjusting to a new kind of normal life, free from air raids and the worry of a telegram arriving out of the blue. So this latest loss throws her off course but her strength and tenacity see her venture down a path. One which she believes will be beneficial and will help with the strain and financial pressure she is under having being left to raise Cathy and Brian solo. Women had learned to become independent during the war years and I believe it was this trait that saw Cathy begin to pick up the pieces, to reassess what the next step should be but always at the forefront of her mind were Brian and Cathy and their long term future. Would she put her own personal happiness to one side and make sacrifices for others?

Fellow co-worker at the legion, Jack, who we got to know a small bit in book one takes an even bigger step into the spotlight here and to be honest it soon became apparent he was a very changed character from the one we caught glimpses of before. I could see Alice wanted a stable and secure environment and future for the kids but it just all seemed too good to be true, like it all fell into place too easily at least for her. Although Jack liked a drink, initially he seemed a nice enough person yet saying that, there was always this niggle at the back of my mind. Were his intentions actually genuine or did he see a way in to Alice to get what he desired at a time when she was very vulnerable?  I think he saw a sliver of vulnerability exposed and he pounced on it and once he was in there, he turned the screw ever so tightly and no way was he relinquishing the grip once he had begun.

She in turn needed her own quick fix solution to what she deemed as problems that were insurmountable. I believed Jack had ulterior motives and his controlling nature soon began to become apparent. He presented one side to the public and close friends but behind closed doors it was another story altogether. Yes Alice needed to make a change but in my mind she was being too hasty. She jumped at the first available opportunity thinking nothing else would come her way. Maybe she should have bided her time and stood back and assessed the situation more carefully. But I suppose if you are smack bang in the middle of a situation and you feel desperate as if no possible solution will arise than maybe you will go for what seems the easiest option. But will this choice lead to happiness or to hurt, anxiety and heartbreak? Will the wool be pulled from Alice's eyes? Will Jack continue the destructive path he is on and get away with things? Only time will tell and that's what kept me reading on and fully engrossed in this story.

I became so caught up in everything going on and really I just wanted to be able to step into the story and sit down and talk to Alice to explain what was going right at her very front doorstep. She gave up her security far too easily and all that independence that she had acquired during the war was slipping through her fingers at a rapid pace. There were scenes where I wanted to be able to tell other characters what they weren't witnessing and things just kept going on like that. Everything was building and building and then unexpected news for Alice again makes her stop and think. Yet still the big outpouring I had been waiting for didn't materialise it was almost as if she had lost some of her power and was in a trance and couldn't make a leap to get out of a situation. Backed into a corner springs to mind.

Even her friends Sadie and Millie began to notice things but I think although they were concerned they were too caught up in the dramas in their own lives. It was lovely to see both Sadie and Millie make a reappearance but I would love their stories to have even more prominence in the next book. I do realise this is Alice's story to tell but still Millie and Sadie have made an impact on me too.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Shop Girls of Lark Lane. It was a real strong follow up to book one and my god the last few chapters you could cut the tension with a knife and I was tormented by the way in which it ended.I was left desperately wanting answers and so gutted that I will have to wait until next year to see how things work out. If you haven't read the beginnings of Alice's story I would suggest you read these two books over Christmas and then you'll be nicely set up to see how the trilogy all pans out.

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