Review: After the War is Over by Jennifer Robson

after the war is over by jennifer robsonFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: historical fiction
Length: 384 pages
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Date Released: January 6, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

The internationally bestselling author of Somewhere in France returns with her sweeping second novel—a tale of class, love, and freedom—in which a young woman must fnd her place in a world forever changed

After four years as a military nurse, Charlotte Brown is ready to leave behind the devastation of the Great War. The daughter of a vicar, she has always been determined to dedicate her life to helping others. Moving to busy Liverpool, she throws herself into her work with those most in need, only tearing herself away for the lively dinners she enjoys with the women at her boardinghouse.

Just as Charlotte begins to settle into her new circumstances, two messages arrive that will change her life. One is from a radical young newspaper editor who offers her a chance to speak out for those who cannot. The other pulls her back to her past, and to a man she has tried, and failed, to forget.

Edward Neville-Ashford, her former employer and the brother of Charlotte’s dearest friend, is now the new Earl of Cumberland—and a shadow of the man he once was. Yet under his battle wounds and haunted eyes Charlotte sees glimpses of the charming boy who long ago claimed her foolish heart. She wants to help him, but dare she risk her future for a man who can never be hers?

As Britain seethes with unrest and postwar euphoria fattens into bitter disappointment, Charlotte must confront long-held insecurities to fnd her true voice . . . and the courage to decide if the life she has created is the one she truly wants.

My Review:

England after the end of World War I was a different place than it had been before the war. An entire generation of young men had died in that war, leaving behind a generation of women for whom there simply would not be nearly enough men to marry for those that wanted to. Which meant that, in spite of the country’s desire to return to the gentler days before the war, there was a generation of women that was going to have to earn a living because there was no choice.

Women had spent the war years working at jobs that men did, for relatively good wages, and did not want to give those jobs and wages up. It was difficult to return to the kind of unskilled and unstimulating labor that they had left behind to become nurses and ambulance drivers at the start of the war. And there were too many families where the husband could no longer work because of war-related injuries, but the wife either couldn’t get a decent paying job, or her husband wouldn’t allow it.

Add to this the changes for those privileged, and those in service. A significant number of young people who would have gone into service for a wealthy and titled family before the war, went into military uniform and experienced a life with considerably more equality. Often it was the equal share in being shelled or gassed, and an equal share in the possibility of dying. But the world changed. Fewer people came back to service after the war, and the life of the privileged classes was forced to change, even if those changes went very much against the grain.

Think of the post-WWI world portrayed by Downton Abbey. The post-war period is markedly different from the pre-war. The universe had changed.

somewhere in france by jennifer robsonAfter the War is Over is the sequel to Robson’s excellent Somewhere in France (reviewed here). The point-of-view character is one of the friends of Lilly and Robbie from that first book. Charlotte Brown is radically different from Lilly and Robbie, bordering occasionally on downright radical.

Charlotte was a nurse during the war, but before and after she served as an aide to a constituency advocate in Liverpool. Charlotte’s job is to find aid and assistance for families suffering from the economic downturn. Even with all the women being fired from what are supposed to be “men’s jobs” there still aren’t enough jobs for all the returning soldiers.

While Charlotte is happy for Lilly and Robbie, and content in the job she is all but married to, something is missing in her life. Someone. Charlotte fell in love with Lilly’s brother Edward the day she met him. Unfortunately, any chance they have for happiness seems doomed. At first, Edward is caught in an engagement arranged by his parents when he was a child. Then, when his father dies and he inherits the earldom, he discovers that his father did a lousy job of managing the estates and that the death duties are ruinous. He breaks off his engagement and searches for a rich young woman whose family fortunes can repair his own.

But the real block to any possibility of happiness is Edward’s continuing depression and illness after the war. He feels as if he will never be a whole man after losing his leg, and he appears to be drinking himself into an early grave. Edward is suffering from shell-shock, but perhaps something more as well.

It will be up to Charlotte and her nursing skills to find out what is really wrong, and to make sure that he takes the care and cure that he needs. Even if she knows she is making it possible for him to be whole with someone other than herself.

She’ll be happy again. Someday.

Escape Rating A-: It’s easy to sympathize with a lot of Charlotte’s story. She is a career woman, long before it was cool. She has an inbuilt drive to do something about for the people who need help. It’s not just that she saw too much as a nurse, it’s the way she’s always been. She recites her own story in a public speech, off the cuff, and it explains so much about what motivates her.

She was also lucky in that her parents supported her goals, whether they completely understood them or not. Her situation contrasts strongly with Lilly’s, as Lilly had to fight to be her own person. Charlotte always was. While there is a difference in class, Charlotte is firmly middle-class, she also faced the expectation that she would marry and have children. Her mother worries that she won’t be happy without those things, but still loves the person she is, and doesn’t try to change her.

It’s good to see a story like this where the heroine has supportive parents and isn’t running away from a horrible, or even just stifling, situation.

A lot of this story is about women’s relationships. Not just about the friendship between Charlotte and Lilly, but particularly about the life Charlotte has created for herself as a single woman. Her friendships (and frenemy-ships) with her co-workers and her housemates are important. As is the late war that hangs over everything in the story.

Charlotte’s relationship with Edward reminded me a bit of Downton, specifically Matthew’s illness after the war and his engagement to the heiress Lavinia Swire. The way that his injuries affected him, the engagement to a woman who may have been the “right woman” to solve his family’s problems but was certainly not the one he loved, and the problems of class were similar to Edward’s predicament, his engagement, and his love for Charlotte. Nothing turns out quite the same, except the happy ending, but the situations are predicated on some of the same decision points.

After the War is Over is much less soap-opera-like over all. The central story is Charlotte’s becoming everything that she can be, and learning to love the life she has, in spite of difficulties thrown into the path of a career woman in the 1920s. Her happy ending is excellent icing on a well-told cake.

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.
***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Somewhere in France by Jennifer Robson

somewhere in france by jennifer robsonFormat read: ebook provided by Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genre: historical fiction, historical romance
Length: 400 pages
Publisher: William Morrow
Date Released: December 31, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Lady Elizabeth Neville-Ashford wants to travel the world, pursue a career, and marry for love. But in 1914, the stifling restrictions of aristocratic British society and her mother’s rigid expectations forbid Lily from following her heart. When war breaks out, the spirited young woman seizes her chance for independence. Defying her parents, she moves to London and eventually becomes an ambulance driver in the newly formed Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps—an exciting and treacherous job that takes her close to the Western Front.

Assigned to a field hospital in France, Lily is reunited with Robert Fraser, her dear brother Edward’s best friend. The handsome Scottish surgeon has always encouraged Lily’s dreams. She doesn’t care that Robbie grew up in poverty—she yearns for their friendly affection to become something more. Lily is the most beautiful—and forbidden—woman Robbie has ever known. Fearful for her life, he’s determined to keep her safe, even if it means breaking her heart.

In a world divided by class, filled with uncertainty and death, can their hope for love survive. . . or will it become another casualty of this tragic war?

My Review:

great war and modern memory by paul fussellThe quote that opens this book, “The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time” is one that is often used in reference to the Great War, as World War I was referred to. It’s a quote that has haunted me since the first time I read it in The Great War and Modern Memory by Paul Fussell, a literary exploration about how WWI changed public consciousness in the mind of a generation.

And that’s fitting, because the WWI era has become very popular in the 21st century. The WWI era is also the Downton Abbey era, and we think we know it well because of the popularity of Downton.

But the lamps really did go out, as is shown quite clearly in Somewhere in France. We live in the world created by the shuttering of those gentle lights. The universe lit by our much harsher electricity is a much different place.

Lady Elizabeth Neville-Ashford is a woman that we would recognize. She wants to be whatever she can be. She’s bright and intelligent and wants to stretch her mind and her horizons.

But the class-ridden society that she was born into has placed her upon a pedestal, one that her station does not allow her to step off of without dire consequences. On the one hand, she has wealth and privilege; on the other, she is not permitted the education or training that would fit her to make her own way in the world. And, as she discovers, if anyone assists her in gaining that knowledge, the punishments are severe.

An old family retainer teaches her to drive. Her parents take away his retirement cottage and his pension. This is legal, there is no safety net. It is not right, but they have that privilege. It is also the last in a series of venal punishments that Lilly can no longer bear. She wants to help in the war effort, but her mother in particular feels that the aid organizations are no place for an earl’s daughter.

Lilly leaves with a carpetbag and goes out to earn her own place in the world, armed only with determination and those driving and mechanical skills that cost so dear. She sells her jewels to pay for her parents’ cruelty to the man who taught her.

A young woman set on a course to do her duty to her country, she intends to help with the skills that she has. The Army recruits women ambulance drivers, and she serves in France under horrific conditions. But there she is reunited with the two men who have been steadfast in their belief that she can be whatever she wants to be if she just keeps trying; her brother Edward, and Edward’s best friend, Robbie Fraser.

When she was Lady Elizabeth, Robbie was considered unsuitable for her. He’s a Scot who made it into university on scholarship and is supporting himself as a surgeon. As a professional man, her family considers him barely more than a tradesman. But for Lilly the independent woman, Robbie is the only man who knows who she really is and loves her for herself.

If he can just get over who she used to be, and what the war has done to them both.

Escape Rating A: This is a fantastic book to start the year with. Absolutely stunning.

Lilly starts the story as a bird in a gilded cage. You can feel her beating her wings against the bars; she wants out, but she’s letting herself be made smaller and smaller every day. Then the war (and an opportune visit from Robbie) kicks her into realizing that she can make a difference if she’s willing to step outside the box that her parents are determined to put her in.

Once she decides to start taking what to 21st century readers seem like reasonable risks (learning to drive, writing letters to friends) Lilly really starts to blossom. She doesn’t whine, she gets down to work.

We see the war from Lilly’s perspective as an ambulance driver. Think of MASH only with less developed surgical techniques and 30 years fewer medical advances. In other words, more death. Lilly drove the wounded through a nightmarish “No Man’s Land” day after torturous day, yet still kept on, because it was the best way she could contribute.

That a romance flourishes at all under these circumstances is both amazing and not surprising at all. The urge to find a spark of life amidst all that death seems natural, but Lilly finds Robbie at an Aid station, and they move haltingly beyond friendship. Robbie has an impossible time believing that they have any future, and there is often heartbreak.

The portrayal of the woman rising beyond everything her society believed possible of her is a terrific read. If you enjoy Downton Abbey, you will fall in love Somewhere in France.

And if you get caught up in Lilly’s wartime escapades, you may also enjoy Bess Crawford. Bess is a nurse in France in this war. Her first story is A Duty to the Dead.

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.


***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.