Sunday, 3 May 2020

Emma's Review: Wartime at Liberty's by Fiona Ford

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

London, 1942

Flo Canning’s heart is beyond repair following the news that she has been dreading since the outbreak of war. As Flo throws herself into the role of fabric manager at Liberty’s, old and new friends alike help pull her from a whirl of despair.

Between work and home life there’s plenty to keep Flo occupied. Not least new deputy store manager, Henry Masters, whose arrival has consequences that Flo and her workmates could never have foreseen.

But there is more tragedy still to come, and Flo and her friends will need each other more than ever if they are to survive the uncertainty ahead.

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Many thanks to Arrow publishing via NetGalley for my copy of Wartime at Liberty's to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

Wartime at Liberty's is the third in the Liberty Girls series by Fiona Ford and what another enjoyable journey I undertook with the girls who work in the world famous London department store. This time around the book concentrates on Flo who has recently lost her husband Neil whose ship was torpedoed. She is certainly going through a very rough time trying to come to terms with her new normal. Life for her and so many others had already been altered with the outbreak of war but now three years in she feels all her hopes and dreams have been dashed with the loss of Neil.

Flo gave herself a really hard time throughout this story as guilt eats away at her. This guilt changes her perspective and long term outlook on life and its only if she can overcome what is eating away at her that she can return to some sense of normality. The last time she saw Neil they parted on an argument, the subject of which was her failure to give up the singing she loves so much. Music runs through her blood and her voice is loved by many. She has such a talent but Neil doesn't want her doing this preferring her to keep working away in the fabric department of Liberty's. She receives a letter from Neil where he is very angry with her as he hates dishonesty and Flo has kept singing behind his back.

But now Neil is gone and she feels it would be dishonourable to him to keep up her music. To be honest I thought Neil created a lot of fuss over nothing even though an explanation was given. The fact the last time she saw him leaves her with such bad memories, this really affected how she dealt with the grieving process. Flo was punishing herself, unnecessarily in my opinion, throughout the book and her friends and co workers could see this too. But how could they get through to her? She is also dealing with the recent loss of Aggie, the woman who brought her up. So she is struggling with a double blow in a short space of time.

Flo questions as to who she is any more. Her life has lost its sparkle and the enjoyment she got from working at Liberty's is dissipating but life goes on and she must return to work. What I really love about this series of books is that yes it focuses on one specific character at a time but the other girls also are not forgotten from book to book. So we do get to hear about how things are going with Dorothy, Mary, Alice, Rose and Jean too in the day to day workings of the shop. Liberty's provides a focus that brings the girls together and the shop also gives us plenty of really juicy story lines. I love that a baddie of sorts is introduced in each story, set to cause trouble and upset when the girls are just trying to make the best of a bad situation. It's like the work politics we all know of and experience in our own lives and the reader can see what is going on and just desperately wants to tell the girls what is happening behind their backs so they can set about solving it.

But I think Flo given her former role as deputy manager of the department, a role she steps back into briefly in this book, has equipped her well enough to see that things are not quite right. If she did a little digging she might get some answers. I had my suspicions as to what was going on with a certain character and knew the minute they made an appearance that they had plenty up their sleeve and were out to ruffle more than a few feathers in any way possible. But the girls try to keep their lives positive and the costumers satisfied and make them feel special. Community spirit, friendships, solidarity, work bonds and so much more form the core values that the girls have and it is so enjoyable to read of a group of women who are there for each other through thick and thin.

A new character comes in the form of Henry Masters, the new deputy store manager who wants to bring about change. He has his own interesting back story and I felt there was an awful lot that could happen with the development of his character and his introduction opened up many other avenues for the different women to be explored. There are many strands branching out from the main plot throughout this book and that's what makes this such an enjoyable read. The fact there is never any lull in what is going on and you are eagerly turning the pages to see who might be mentioned next. The war does play a role, of course it has to as the actions, emotions and viewpoints of every character are deeply affected by it but this is different from many of the war time saga books. It really concentrates on what was going on on the home front specifically Liberty's and its workers and whilst reading it allows you to forget about what was raging on as the everyday problems a lot of which might have befallen them whether war was happening or not. Fiona Ford is brilliant at keeping her readers engaged and keen to know what will happen next and by focusing on one specific character as the main thread for each book she really lets that character develop and the reader becomes deeply invested in them whereas in another book Flo would just be a passing character to me and I wouldn't pay her much heed.

I felt Flo desperately needed guidance and almost some sort of a sign that she shouldn't close herself off from living her life because unease, shame and regrets were eating away at her. It's only when she starts doing things for others in need that you can see some of light appearing and the shadows of the former Flo making themselves known. I thought it was admirable that she was looking out for her friends and one scene in particular led to such heartbreak but I am glad it was included because it allowed for some surprising revelations to come forth. There was another storyline which I thought was brilliant to have it included because it is never mentioned in saga books and it deserves just as much prevalence as it gets in modern books.

Wartime at Liberty's is an excellent addition to the series and even if you are new to the work of Fiona Ford I would still recommend that it can be read as a stand alone book. This collection of women are a constant in each others lives and I hope that there will be many more books to come in this personal, wonderful and inspiring series.

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