I’ve been on a historical fiction kick and I have been seeing out those that have a dual-timeline. Set in different eras of war, The Light Over London and
Published by Simon and Schuster on January 8, 2019
Genres: Fiction, Historical, World War II, Romance, 20th Century, Women
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Reminiscent of Martha Hall Kelly's Lilac Girls and Kristin Hannah's The Nightingale, this sweeping, entrancing story is a must-read for fans of remarkable women rising to challenges they could never have predicted.
It’s always been easier for Cara Hargraves to bury herself in the past than confront the present, which is why working with a gruff but brilliant antiques dealer is perfect. While clearing out an estate, she pries open an old tin that holds the relics of a lost relationship: among the treasures, a World War II-era diary and a photograph of a young woman in uniform. Eager to find the author of the hauntingly beautiful, unfinished diary, Cara digs into this soldier’s life, but soon realizes she may not have been ready for the stark reality of wartime London she finds within the pages.
In 1941, nineteen-year-old Louise Keene’s life had been decided for her—she’ll wait at home in her Cornish village until her wealthy suitor returns from war to ask for her hand. But when Louise unexpectedly meets Flight Lieutenant Paul Bolton, a dashing RAF pilot stationed at a local base, everything changes. And changes again when Paul’s unit is deployed without warning.
Desperate for a larger life, Louise joins the women’s branch of the British Army in the anti-aircraft gun unit as a Gunner Girl. As bombs fall on London, she and the other Gunner Girls relish in their duties to be exact in their calculations, and quick in their identification of enemy planes during air raids. The only thing that gets Louise through those dark, bullet-filled nights is knowing she and Paul will be together when the war is over. But when a bundle of her letters to him are returned unanswered, she learns that wartime romance can have a much darker side.
Illuminating the story of these two women separated by generations and experience, Julia Kelly transports us to World War II London in this heartbreakingly beautiful novel through forgotten antique treasures, remembered triumphs, and fierce family ties.
The Light Over London by Julia Kelly ticked all the boxes for me: World War II fiction, romance, compelling characters – AND I learned something new with the Gunner Girl storyline.
There are many parallels between the two women. They share a similarity in that they take on challenges to overcome or escape something. Cara is in the process of recovering from a difficult divorce when she discovers the trinket box and decides to learn more about the woman in the diary. Louise is escaping the seemingly dull life that lies ahead for her, planned out by others when she joins the British Army. The gunner girls provide her with a bit of daring as well as a challenge.
Both women also develop love interests. As Cara researches the book, she meets her neighbor Liam who also shares an interest in history. A relationship tentatively evolves between them. On the other hand, Louise has thrown herself headlong into a relationship with Paul, an RAF officer, and things progress very quickly there – almost too quickly.
They also both must deal with secrets. Cara uncovers both the secrets of the diary and those in her Gran’s past, while Louise deals with that which Paul has been hiding, and must keep a secret of her own.
I loved the heartfelt, descriptive writing in this story and how it drew me in. Kelly deftly switches the narrative between the two characters.
While the ending was not what I expected, where I really have an issue is with the blurbs comparing The Light Over London to The Nightingale and The Lilac Girls. Other than the WWII setting, I don’t see the similarities, and I find the blurb unfair to this book to set up expectations for a similar story.
While history is the thread that weaves these two stories together, this is really a book about their relationships. Strong women, secrets, the perils of wartime romance – this book was hard to put down.
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Where The Light Over London initiates the second timeline over a found object (I love stories set in
the other half of the synopsis
While the synopsis above talks about Lydia and Jean-Phillipe, it doesn’t much mention the present day storyline. Here, a woman named Charley takes a job as curator of a historical home that is in the process of being turned into a museum, as well as take care of her niece following the death of her brother.
In the process of researching the house’s history, she discovers clues that hint that it might be different from what they know. She also learns local lore regarding the owner’s sister, who fell in love with a prisoner who was billeted in the house (and was murdered.)
That sister was Lydia, and the prisoner was Jean-Phillipe.
The author offers an extremely well-researched novel with prose that flows beautifully. She weaves the two storylines well and keeps the plot moving steadily. This was a lovely character-driven novel – both primary and secondary characters are well developed.
The pace of this story is slow (at times, there is a great amount of detail on the curating process). While on reflection this plot was not packed with action, it still managed to keep me turning pages.
This is a story about relationships, grief, and what we do for those we love.
As with The Lights Over London, once again, it takes an author to introduce me to a piece of history of which I little knowledge beyond the basic facts taught in school.
If you enjoyed
If you enjoy historical fiction, take a look at my review The Little Shop of Found Things, a historical fiction/time-slip book by author Paula Brackston.
If gripping dual-timeline tales are more your thing, Before the Rain Falls by Camille de Maio is another must read.