Tuesday, 15 September 2020

Emma's Review: Secrets of the Railway Girls by Maisie Thomas

 Reviewed by Emma Crowley

Manchester, November 1940

As the war continues and secrets threaten the railway girls, they will discover the true meaning of friendship.

For Dot, her job on the railways is everything. Transporting parcels around the country gives her pride that she is doing her bit for the war effort, but a growing friendship causes problems when home and work collide.

Joan loves her boyfriend Bob dearly, but when tragedy strikes, her heart is torn apart, and she is forced to make a decision that could hurt those she loves most.

Meanwhile Mabel has finally found a place to call home and her relationship seems to be going from strength to strength. However, the relentless bombing in the Christmas blitz is about to destroy everything she holds dear, and she will need her friends’ courage and generosity now more than ever.

Amazon Links: Kindle or Paperback

Many thanks to Arrow via NetGalley for my copy of Secrets of the Railways Girls to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

Secrets of the Railway Girls is the second book in the series from Maisie Thomas which follows the ups and downs of a group of women working for a railway company during the war years. I really enjoyed the first book so I was delighted that the wait for the next instalment wasn’t too long. In case you were worried judging this book by its cover that the focus would be all Christmas based and that in fact being September is far too early to read it, then you needn’t worry at all. This is not a Christmas book by any means. Yes the festive season does feature but only briefly and it’s more to do with providing a backdrop to a serious event which shapes and moulds the remainder of the plot. So really this book can be read and enjoyed at any time of the year. This was a good follow up to the introductory book in the series and I felt overall that it really moved the story as a whole much further on. There was lots going on and I didn’t feel there were any chapters or scenes that were there simply as filler ins to increase the word count as is often the case in some historical saga books that I have read lately. 

I felt we got to know the majority of the characters in much more depth. I definitely think this story will have you changing your opinions about some of them as I know their actions, one woman in particular, had me really disliking them but then by the end they do something that makes them redeem themselves in your eyes. I felt I slotted straight back into the story as there was a quick reintroduction with just a suitable amount of information to refresh readers memories and there was enough backstory to arise the interest of new readers. It’s not strictly necessary to have read the first book but if you’re anything like me you’ll want to read the series in order, to get the overall picture and to not miss out on any of the finer details. But yes it’s written in such a way that those who pick it up now or at any point with future books will be easily able to follow along.

Joan, Dot and Mabel still the form the core characters of the book, some other women do feature but certainly not to the same extent. I am still really hoping that Cordelia, Colette, Alison and co will get more prominent roles in future books as I really want to know more of their personal stories aside from the various jobs they are employed to do on the railways. Colette in particular is one character I really have my suspicions about as to what is going on beneath the shy, quiet exterior that she presents. Hopefully this will be explored more as there are certainly enough tantalising hints being dropped at the moment.The women of the group are a mixture of both young and slightly older but their differences in age and to some extent their backgrounds never gets in the way of them developing a close and united bond and friendship. One in which they are always there for each other through thick and thin and whatever may be going on in both their personal and professional lives.

The railway girls always stick together and even though they are all assigned to different roles within the railway company I love how they find the time to meet each other at the buffet whenever they can. They know meeting and talking through their day and any problems or issues they have is the way to make the best of the situation they find themselves in with war continuously raging on. But at the same time they are working in a male dominated world where still the remaining men not away fighting think a woman’s place is best in the home. Dot certainly experiences this both at home and at work but she is an incredible woman fighting against the tide determined to keep everyone happy but is she forgetting her own peace and at happiness in the process of doing so?

There is no question that Dot is the stand out character so far in this series. She is almost like the leader/mother figure of the group but she does this in the most quiet and unassuming way. She shows that life needs to carry on as normal and to do this with dignity and determination. She is tenacious, brave and intuitive and as well as trying to do her bit for the war effort she tries to keep her family life well balanced too. I despise her husband and her two daughters-in-law as I think they view her as a door mat that they can walk all over but she is slowly showing her worth and all the railway girls can see how capable she is. Her storyline in this book was brilliant. Not much can be said or else it would be given away but I loved how she put on her investigative hat alongside fellow railway worker Mr. Thirkle in order to solve a mystery. This led to lots of other little subplots regarding Dot. At one point I didn’t like the way she was being treated because of perceived viewpoints that were probably wrong. One scene in particular showed just how important Dot is to everything and everyone and when her bravery is tested it certainly makes one male in particular realise that females working on the railways are definitely a necessity and they their place is well and truly earned.

Mabel’s story was a dominant one in book one whereas here I thought she took more of a backseat. I don’t think the issues and guilt she had then are fully resolved but love seems to have come her way in the form of Harry Knatchbull who is in the RAF. I didn’t like what happened between them and I thought Mabel was too forgiving when she heard certain things. Is this exposing her vulnerability and the fact that she is not over what happened in the past that she is so ready to forgive and forget that easily? I sense there is a lot more to come for Mabel and that her past will reveal even more of itself in future books.

As for Joan, in this book she has been the most divisive of characters for me. Tragedy befalls her and her family life is torn apart. Her Gran, that herself and her sister live with, just goes from bad to worse in terms of bitterness, resentment and just overall nasty personality. I can’t understand how Joan puts up with so much. Although a lot becomes clear in the last quarter or so of the book which makes her reassess everything she has known and stood for and which in turn makes her question what her next steps should be in her personal life. But prior to this I really took a turn against Joan, I just couldn’t fathom no matter what her heart was telling her, the actions she took. She was reckless and it was like a betrayal, I expected her to be upstanding and loyal. Instead it was like she really threw caution to the wind and in a really bad way. She couldn’t confide in the other women because she knew what she was doing was wrong. Surely that should have told her that what she was doing was totally and utterly wrong. I hate saying that I disliked a character that is central to the book but that’s how I felt about her in this book. I was just desperately hoping that she would redeem herself and ultimately make the correct long term decision.

Secrets of the Railway Girls was an eventful read but I did think towards the end that a lot of the events were left too late and featured in the last quarter instead of perhaps being more spread out throughout the book. Everything kind of came tumbling together at once and yes it only served to make me turn the pages even quicker to see what was happening but still not saving some of the bigger resolutions/reveals for the last minute may have been more beneficial. But this is a minor gripe on my part but I will say something that I found very frustrating throughout and I wonder did other readers feel the same was the jumping from character to character within chapters and pages. I was caught up reading about Joan perhaps and then there was a slight gap on a page which made me presume the next paragraph would feature Joan maybe in a different setting. This wasn’t the case instead we jumped to someone else and to be honest I found this very confusing. A little image between paragraphs showing a character change or even to put the characters name in would have been brilliant especially as when the jump came it always ended at a point where I was keen to know what happened next to a character and instead something and someone totally different was featured. 

But overall I really enjoyed my return visit to the Railway Girls as they continue to show that everyone has to try and cope with the lot they are presented with. That there is no choice, bad things do happen and it’s the way you deal with them that’s important. The girls refuse to fall down and crumble during wartime and I look forward to seeing how will they will tackle what life and the war throws at them next when they return  in The Railway Girls in Love.

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