#BookReview A Ration Book Daughter (East End Ration 5) by Jean Fullerton @rararesources @CorvusBooks

A Ration Book Daughter

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for A Ration Book Daughter by Jean Fullerton, the fifth book in her series featuring the Brogan clan and set in World War 2 London. My thanks to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to take part in the tour and to Corvus for my digital review copy via NetGalley.

I’m delighted to say there’s also a giveaway (UK only) with a chance to win one of six paperback copies of A Ration Book Daughter. Enter via this link.

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  • The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner.
  • Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.
  • Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data.
  • I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

A Ration Book DaughterAbout the Book

Not even the Blitz can shake a mother’s love.

Cathy was a happy, blushing bride when Britain went to war with Germany three years ago. But her youthful dreams were crushed by her violent husband Stanley’s involvement with the fascist black-shirts, and even when he’s conscripted to fight she knows it’s only a brief respite – divorce is not an option. Cathy’s only solace is her little son Peter.

When a telegram arrives declaring that her husband is missing in action, Cathy can finally allow herself to hope – she only has to wait 6 months before she is legally a widow and can move on with her life. But in the meantime she has to keep Peter safe and fed. So she advertises for a lodger, and Sergeant Archie McIntosh of the Royal Engineers’ Bomb Disposal Squad turns up. Kind, clever and thoughtful, their mutual attraction is instant.

But with Stanley’s fate still unclear, and the Blitz still raging in London’s East End, will Cathy ever have the love she deserves?

Format: Paperback (416 pages)  Publisher: Corvus
Publication date: 6th May 2021 Genre: Historical Fiction

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My Review

I’ve enjoyed all the previous books in this series that I’ve read having first been introduced to it by winning a copy of A Ration Book Christmas in a Readers First giveaway.

One of my favourite characters remains Queenie, Cathy’s grandmother and matriarch of the Brogan clan, who has a particularly interesting way of marking Sunday worship and family celebrations. Fiercely protective of her family, you definitely do not want to get on the wrong side of Queenie. This is amply demonstrated in the book when the recipient of Queenie’s ire results in someone returning home ‘with a face like a gargoyle with a wasp stuck up its nose’. However, she does have a softer side, demonstrated by her tender care for ailing priest Father Mahon.

The introduction of new characters such as Glaswegian widower Sergeant Archie McIntosh and vicar’s wife Mrs Paget allows the author to explore prejudice in its various forms. I also liked the way Archie’s artistic talent challenges the expected stereotype and, in fact, comes to play an important role in the plot. Providing the characters we love to hate this time are Violet Wheeler, Cathy’s horrendous mother-in-law, who refers to ‘that nice Mr Mosley’ and will hear no wrong when it comes to her vile son Stanley, and Archie’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Monkman, who was definitely away the day they conducted discrimination awareness training.

Archie’s role in the Royal Engineers’ Bomb Disposal Squad provides a timely reminder of the courage of those who quite literally took their life in their hands every time they were called out. And while we’re talking about Archie, can you blame Cathy for her reaction when she first gets a glimpse of the ‘corded muscles of his back, shoulders and arms’ as he washes at the kitchen sink? No, neither can I.   Cathy’s role in the Women’s Voluntary Service and her sister Jo’s work in a munitions factory also reveal what a vital role women played in the war effort.

The atmosphere of wartime London simply oozes from the page whether that’s the spread at a christening party – sardine and spam sandwiches or eggless fruit cake anyone? – or the menu at the Brogans’ favourite East End pie and mash shop – stewed and jellied eels or individual beef pies served upturned, all accompanied by a pile of mashed potato and smothered in parsley sauce.  And it being 1942 there’s the sound of the almost nightly air raids on London with the ‘ear-splitting clamour of falling bombs…joined by the whistles of the ARP wardens, police claxons and fire engine bells’.

As with previous books in the series, A Ration Book Daughter contains a wealth of fascinating information. For example, that the distinctive taste of the sauce just mentioned can be attributed to the water having been used beforehand to stew the eels. Or that responsibility for dealing with unexploded bombs was split between the Royal Engineers and the Royal Navy depending on the type of bomb involved. Or that there is such a thing as a camouflet when a bomb explodes underground creating a pocket of deadly carbon monoxide. The author also takes the opportunity to introduce real events into the story resulting in one particularly memorable and dramatic scene, the true scale of which was kept under wraps for fear of its effect on morale.

It was a joy to catch up with the seemingly ever expanding Brogan clan. As is said more than once in the book, ‘If it wasn’t for the Brogans, people would have nothing to talk about’. It was also wonderful to be introduced to new characters like Archie.

In A Ration Book Daughter, Jean Fullerton once again skilfully combines a convincing picture of daily life on the ‘Home Front’ with an engaging love story that, for me, stayed just on the right side of sentimentality. In fact, I’ll admit to becoming a little tearful towards the end of the book. For fans of historical sagas set in World War 2 this is a series I can’t recommend highly enough. Although I was delighted to learn there is another book on its way soon, I was sad to learn it will be the final one in the Ration Book series. I’d better keep my spirits up by putting the kettle on for another brew.

In three words: Heart-warming, authentic, emotional

Try something similar: The Walls We Build by Jules Hayes

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Jean FullertonAbout the Author

Born and bred in East London Jean is a District Nurse by trade and has worked as a NHS manager and as a senior lecture in Health and Nursing Studies. She left her day job to become a full-time writer in 2015 and has never looked back.

In 2006 she won the Harry Bowling Prize and now has seventeen sagas published over three series with both Orion and Atlantic all of which are set in East London.

She is an experienced public speaker with hundreds of WI and women’s club talks under her belt, plus for the past fifteen years she has sailed all over the world as an enrichment speaker and writing workshop leader on cruise ships.

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#BookReview A Hundred Million Years and a Day by Jean-Baptiste Andrea @BelgraviaB

A Hundred Million Years and A DayAbout the Book

When he hears a story about a huge dinosaur fossil locked deep inside an Alpine glacier, university professor Stan finds a childhood dream reignited. Whatever it takes, he is determined to find the buried treasure.

But Stan is no mountaineer and must rely on the help of old friend Umberto, who brings his eccentric young assistant, Peter, and cautious mountain guide Gio. Time is short: they must complete their expedition before winter sets in. As bonds are forged and tested on the mountainside, and the lines between determination and folly are blurred, the hazardous quest for the Earth’s lost creatures becomes a journey into Stan’s own past.

Format: Paperback (176 pages)  Publisher: Gallic Books
Publication date: 7th May 2021 Genre: Literary Fiction, Literature in Translation

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My Review

‘It’s true that a story often begins with a road, but I wish I knew what made mine so tortuous.’

The book opens with Stan’s poignant childhood memory of returning home after school, seeing the closed shutters of a bedroom window and realising, even as a six year old, that he should not disturb his mother. ‘In such moments she needed darkness, and darkness alone.’ The reasons for this will gradually become apparent.

Stan’s discovery near his farmland home of a fossil – a trilobite – awakens an interest in palaeontology. ‘It was three hundred million years old, and I was six.’ It’s an interest that is encouraged by his mother but discouraged by his bully of a father (known as the Commander) who desires Stan to take over the family business.

Moving ahead forty years to 1954 and Stan is now a Professor of Palaeontology in Paris. He has never forgotten the story of an old man’s discovery of a dinosaur fossil in a cave within a glacier in the Alps. Finding the site has become an obsession. Along with Umberto, a friend and colleague of many years, Umberto’s assistant Peter, and local guide Gio, the four men embark on the expedition of a lifetime. (There is another member of the group but I’ll leave you to read the book to find out more about him!)

I loved the way each of the men were fully rounded characters.  Umberto is a giant of a man with a ‘good, big, stone soul’.  When it comes to excavation he has ‘magic in his hands’ able to gently release ‘time’s grip’ on a fossil. His loyalty to Stan means leaving personal commitments back home. Gio’s instinct for changing weather conditions and his knowledge of the mountains is unparalleled.  However, he also knows only too well what dangers they hide. Peter is described as having a ‘genius for the absurd’ which will be demonstrated all too clearly.

I admired the way the author explored the dynamics between the men, especially as summer gives way to autumn and every day seems to present a new obstacle to overcome in order to achieve their objective.  The frustration and anger that festers beneath the surface is vividly brought to life in a memorable paragraph delivered in stream of consciousness style.

Another striking aspect of the book is its use of anthropomorphism so that even the weather seems to exhibit a life of its own.  For example, autumn is described as ‘prowling at the edge of the plateau… a beast of flesh and claws’.  As weeks turn to months it becomes akin to a battle of wits between the men and the glacier, as if the glacier is actively seeking to thwart their efforts.  It certainly feels that way to Stan.

When winter truly arrives, every day, every hour even, becomes a struggle to survive and retain a grip on sanity. I really felt I was there on the mountain alongside Stan but, of course, invisible to him, which makes his feelings of loneliness and attempts to ward off madness all the more poignant. At one point he observes, ‘I am surrounded by millions and millions of cubic metres, acres, tons of nothingness, void, absence’.

Interspersed with the story of the expedition are Stan’s memories of events earlier in his life: memories of rejection, loss, cruelty and violence.  However, Stan’s history of misreading situations or misinterpreting the feelings of others made we wonder how much I could truly trust his viewpoint.  The author challenged me to think about Stan’s real motivation. Is it the professional acclaim that will come from the discovery of possibly a new species of dinosaur, the achievement of a long-held dream, or a belated attempt to prove to his father that he is not the failure and weakling he was accused of being?

Sam Taylor’s translation expertly showcases the author’s wonderful turns of phrase. For example, the description of the valley from which the group start their climb as being an ‘eternal vendetta between stone and water’.  Or when, later in the book, the men awake to a heavy snowfall that finds them in snow up to their chests, the scene is likened to a ‘polar morning in Pompeii: our torsos floating on an ocean of powder, statues lost at sea’.

The low page count of A Hundred Million Years and a Day belies the power of the story it contains. As is often the case, the best things do come in small packages. My thanks to Isabelle Flynn at Gallic Books for my review copy, published today in a new paperback edition.

In three words: Powerful, moving, immersive

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Jean-Baptiste AndreaAbout the Author

Jean-Baptiste Andrea was born in 1971 in Saint-Germain-en-Laye and grew up in Cannes. Formerly a director and screenwriter, he published his first novel, Ma Reine, in 2017. It won twelve literary prizes including the Prix du Premier Roman and the Prix Femina des Lycéens. (Photo credit: Publisher author page)

About the Translator

Sam Taylor is an author and former correspondent for The Observer. His translations include Laurent Binet’s HHhH, Leila Slimani’s Lullaby and Maylis de Kerengal’s The Heart, for which he won the French-American Foundation Translation Prize.