Reviewed by Emma Crowley
Peace has finally been declared in the Far East, but for those living at Beach View Boarding House, the news brings mixed emotions.
Peggy Reilly is devastated that her husband Jim will not be coming home for Christmas. And Sarah and Jane, who have lived at Beach View throughout much of the conflict, dread what they will find when they go back to Singapore.
Life in Cliffehaven is in a whirlwind of change as the men return from the war and Peggy’s evacuee chicks begin to spread their wings and start new lives in different corners of the world.
Peggy and Jim have longed to be together after so many years apart, but war has left them profoundly changed. Can they rekindle the loving, close relationship they’d shared before?
Many thanks to Random House UK via NetGalley for my copy of Homecoming to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.
It was bittersweet to be starting Homecoming, the final book in the Cliffehaven series by Ellie Dean, which follows Peggy Reilly and her family as they battle to keep the home fires burning during World War Two. I only came to know about this series over the course of the last five or six books but still I do feel a deep connection to it as the characters and storylines have become very familiar. Even though, it's the last book it probably could be read as a standalone. But being completely honest, in order to get a real sense of all the different characters and the trials and tribulations they have gone through and of course to familiarise yourself with the various settings it would be best to go back to the beginning or even go back several books like I have done.
Ellie Dean has certainly written a very fitting conclusion to what has been a wonderful series. There was a real sense of tying up loose ends and of answering so many questions that had been bothering me for some time. Nothing ever felt rushed in trying to conclude various storylines and it shouldn't have given the length and breadth of the series. It would have been a shame to rush through things given how deeply invested readers have become in the characters that come from all walks of life.
Peggy has been the foundation of these books so to see her waver at times during this story was a turn up for the books. I think she was going through so many emotions that after six long years of war she found it challenging to keep a lid on everything. She has been the backbone for all her chicks, so many who have come and gone over the years, that when they stopped needing her she was at a loss as to what to do. It didn't help matters when news reached her that Jim, her husband, would not be home for Christmas. She feels like everyone around her is getting their happy ending and doesn't she deserve the same. But still like all the challenges and demands that have gone before Peggy gathers herself together and continues to keep going forward with Jim at the centre of her heart and mind. She does keep her sadness under wraps and is delighted for others when everything appears to be coming together for them.
Peggy really is a worrier who can't rest easy until the very last minute unless she knows that her chicks and close family members have finally got the happiness that they deserve. There were several weddings to enjoy scattered throughout the story. Including some I would never have expected but perhaps for me one of the best things that had happened was concerning Frank, Jim's brother. At last the wool had been pulled from his eyes and my god I was glad it had. He deserved better than what he had experienced during the war. Although a really big showdown between Peggy and someone connected to Frank would have been very welcome as plenty of truths would have been told.
Love and kindness is always to be found at Beach View Boarding House and given the war has shown how life is too short and precarious to waste, I was so glad that all the different characters which are really too numerous to mention, just really went for it in this book. It was like a huge weight had been lifted from their shoulders now that the threat of death and destruction was gone. In a way they reverted back to their old selves and tried to forget the moments of great fear and sorrow that had gone before and instead they focused on embracing all the good things that life was surely going to through their way. Or at least they hoped so as things didn't instantly go back to normal. There were still a little few surprises thrown in every now and again just to keep the story tipping along instead of a continuous sense of concluding things. Doris's storyline was one for example and as for Ruby, I thought ah why do that to her? Then I understood that the world had bigger things in store for her. Peggy works her magic until the very last minute and it was a joy to see as she has definitely established herself as a character readers will never forget.
What I really loved about Homecoming was that it was split into different sections and different settings. Up until now I felt we had only gotten very brief snippets as to what was happening with Jim away fighting in Asia. In this book, entire chapters were given over to what happened following the surrendering of the Japanese and how Singapore attempted to get back on its feet again. I found these sections fascinating but also horrific in equal measure as news emerges of just what happened to so many people captured and taken as prisoners of war by the Japanese. I thought it was brilliant that the author showed how life didn't go back to normal for anyone once was was declared over. Instead endless struggles and hardships prevailed for so many.
As Sarah and Jane make their way from Cliffehaven to Singapore to be met by Jim whose work has been extended to take statements from those being brought back in from the jungle, I was on the edge of my seat. I desperately wanted to know what had happened to their father and specifically Sarah's fiancée. The tension and expectation was built up bit by bit and whilst they were waiting we really got to see how Singapore got back on its feet and how the people had to cope with and accept so many changes that had occurred since the Japanese took over. I think the sections set away from Cliffehaven were my favourite because I love reading about different countries and their experiences but also for so long I had wanted to know even more and Ellie Dean was finally letting everything spill forth.
Jim definitely underwent a transformation and the fact that his duty was extended even though he so desperately wanted to reunite with Peggy and his family gave him the time to take stock of what he had been through. Hearing the horrific acts imposed upon so many prisoners also gave him plenty of food for thought and allowed him to consider what his next step should be. I thought it was interesting to show the anguish and nerves he had about going home. You would take for granted that once the war was finally over that soldiers would be rushing back to their families but it was both realistic and interesting to see that despite a longed for reunion there was also apprehension because everyone and everything had changed so significantly. How can you return to a place you call home and know there is security there but you yourself are so deeply affected by all that you have done and witnessed?
Ellie mentioned in the end notes that readers had hoped the series would continue on bringing it right into the 50's and 60's but she herself thought it was best to remember them as they are instead of becoming old and frail. I agree with her. I have a picture built up in my head of everyone and I am deeply satisfied with the conclusion and I feel that's how I want them to stay. Everything was so expertly done throughout Homecoming and it really did feel as if all the strands of the story were slowly coming together to give us that ending that we have all craved for so long, Peggy included. I have to admit to being a tad emotional because of what happened and because I knew I would never read of the majority of these characters again or at least in the same setting and timeframe.
So I was delighted to see, that Ellie Dean will turn her attention to a new series which will focus on Ron and Dolly in their youthful years set before, during and after World War One. This was such a thrill to read and I think it is a brave thing to do given how deeply connected people have become to Peggy and everyone else but I am definitely looking forward to it. Homecoming was the perfect ending to a lovely series packed full of emotion, heartache, devastation but above all else love, support, friendship, community bonds, kindness and the power of family. Sadly there will be no more but Ellie Dean has certainly whet my appetite for Ron and Dolly's story or perhaps one day in the future we could see Cliffehaven becoming a staple of our Sunday night TV viewing. I for one would love that.
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