About the Book
Two lost souls brought together by the chaos of war. A train journey into the past. A love that echoes through time.
Paddington Station, present day. A young woman boards the sleeper train to Cornwall with only a beautiful emerald silk evening dress and an old, well-read diary full of sketches. Ellie Nightingale is a shy violinist who plays like her heart is broken. But when she meets fellow passenger Joe she feels like she has been given that rarest of gifts…a second chance.
Paddington Station, 1944. Beneath the shadow of the war which rages across Europe, Alex and Eliza meet by chance. She is a gutsy painter desperate to get to the frontline as a war artist and he is a wounded RAF pilot now commissioned as a war correspondent. With time slipping away they make only one promise: to meet in Berlin when this is all over. But this is a time when promises are hard to keep, and hope is all you can hold in your heart.
Format: ebook (400 pages) Publisher: One More Chapter
Publication date: 22nd April 2021 Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance, Dual Time
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I was drawn to this book because of it’s partial World War 2 setting and, in particular, because elements of the story unfold en route to Cornwall. I’m familiar with the line from London Paddington to Penzance on which Eliza and Ellie travel from my own holiday trips, although never on the sleeper service.
The story unfolds in chapters that alternate between Eliza in 1944 and Ellie in the present day. The plot relies on large helpings of coincidence, requiring a belief in fate or destiny, and bringing to mind the oft-quoted line, “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine” from the film Casablanca. As it happens, the film is referenced several times in the book.
The relationship between Eliza Grey and Alex Levine that begins after a chance encounter on a wartime train journey had a real fizz to it, even if Eliza’s initial reaction is less than promising. ‘She had never, in all of her life, met such an arrogant, self-opinionated, curt and, quite frankly, rude individual.’ As we learned from Pride and Prejudice, first impressions can be deceptive. On the other hand, Joe, whom Ellie meets in similar fashion, although pleasant enough, didn’t feel like a fully fleshed out character and I didn’t find myself as invested in their relationship as I did in that between Eliza and Alex.
I found it easy to imagine the glamour of the 1940s sleeper train to Cornwall; less so its modern day equivalent which, I suspect, would be considerably more utilitarian even when dressed in its costume of 1940s themed party train. And with all due respect to car attendant, Rihanna, she’s no match for her 1940s equivalent, the stately Jeffries.
I thought Eliza’s wartime story was by far the most successful element of the book so much so that, at times, the sections with Ellie felt like mere interludes. In fact, the main purpose of the modern storyline seemed to be to act as a framing device for telling Eliza’s story. Even though the author injected some jeopardy into Ellie’s personal story, I felt the modern day timeline could have been shunted off to the sidings. Having said that, there were some neat parallels between the two timelines, such as the eavesdropping couple across the aisle of the railway carriage and Joe’s choice of costume. And was his fluffy canine companion a nod to WW2 RAF hero Wing Commander Guy Gibson, portrayed in the film The Dambusters by Richard Todd?
The wartime sections of the book include some memorable scenes such as when Eliza, deployed as a nursing auxiliary to a hospital ship on the South coast, records in her sketchbook the preparations for D-Day. Or when she experiences the heady days following the Allied liberation of Paris.
The author sheds a fascinating light on the role played by war artists and war correspondents in documenting conflict, and the risks they took in doing so. The hardships too, living alongside the troops in often spartan conditions. Eliza has conflicted feelings about her role as a war artist. Is she right to depict the truth of the atrocities she sees, or should she be mindful of their potential impact on morale back home and present a more ‘sanitized’ picture?
Although compelling in parts, I felt The Night Train to Berlin spent a little too much time travelling along branch lines rather than speeding to its destination.
I received an advance review copy courtesy of One More Chapter via NetGalley. The Night Train to Berlin is available as an ebook now and will be published in paperback on 27th July 2021.
In three words: Dramatic, romantic, dual-time
Try something similar: You Let Me Go by Eliza Graham
About the Author
Melanie Hudson was born in Yorkshire in 1971, the youngest of six children. Her earliest memory is of standing with her brother on the street corner selling her dad’s surplus vegetables (imagine The Good Life in Barnsley and you’re more or less there).
After running away to join the British armed forces in 1994, Melanie experienced a career that took her around the world on some exciting adventures. In 2010, when she returned to civilian life to look after her young son, on a whim, she moved to Dubai where she found the time to write women’s fiction. She now lives in Cornwall with her family.
Her debut, The Wedding Cake Tree, won the Romantic Novelists’ Association Contemporary Romance Novel of the Year 2016. (Photo credit: Goodreads author page)