As a result of one thing and another, I haven’t felt much like reading recently (I’ll post about it soon) and, if my TBR pile had been a physical thing instead of e-books, it would no doubt be about to topple off my bedside table.
However, one evening, with a bit of free time on my hands, I knew just which book I was going to pick up first, The Railway Girls by my friend Maisie Thomas.
I’d heard good things about this book and it really didn’t disappoint – and not just because I got a thank you in the acknowledgments, which was a lovely surpsise.
Here’s the blurb:
In February, 1922, at the western-most entrance to Victoria Station in Manchester, a massive plaque was unveiled. Beneath a vast tiled map showing the lines of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway network, a series of seven bronze panels recorded the names of the men of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway who gave their lives for King and Country in the Great War – a total of 1,460 names.
In March, 1940, a group of women of varying ages and backgrounds, stand in front of the memorial, ready to do their bit in this new World War…
Mabel is determined to make a fresh start as a railway girl where no one will know the terrible thing she did and she can put her guilt behind her… Or is she just running away?
Meanwhile Joan will never be as good as her sister, or so her Gran keeps telling her. A new job as a station clerk could be just the thing she needs to forget her troubles at home.
And Dot is further into her forties than she cares to admit. Her beloved sons are away fighting and her husband – well, the less said about him the better. Ratty old sod. She is anxious to become a railway girl just like her dear mam – anything to feel she is supporting the sons she prays for every night.
The three women start off as strangers, but soon form an unbreakable bond that will get them through the toughest of times…
While we briefly studied the Second World War at school, I can’t say I have read too much fiction set in this period but I absolutely loved all the details included in this book, which really helped bring the story to life.
In her bio Maisie says she likes writing “stories with strong female characters” and that certainly comes across in this book. Working on the railways as a woman was not for the faint hearted generally but the attitudes of some male colleagues certainly didn’t make it any easier. It made me think how far we have come in some ways but also how far we still have to go.
Readers have posted on social media about which character is their favourite but I thought Mabel, Dot and Joan were all superbly written – not a weaker character among them. Even many of the secondary characters had something that held my attention. In fact, instead of three, there should be least five books or more in this series just so everyone gets a fair turn.
At several points I actually broke out in goosebumps – and it had nothing to do with being cold because it was boiling. I was moved by Maisie’s descriptions of air raids in a way that I haven’t been before. It was like being there in the dark, hearing the rumble of planes and experiencing the terror of falling bombs followed by the adrenalin rush of survival and then the urge to help.
The story is full of unexpected twists and turns and this was one of those occasions when I groaned when I read the last sentence because I definitely didn’t want it to end. I genuinely can’t wait for book two – and it will be going to the top of my TBR pile.
My rating: Easily five stars.
With thanks to Maisie and her publishers for the ARC (via NetGalley) in return for my honest opinion. Sorry for the delay in reviewing.
If you want to find out more, you can read my recent mini Behind The Book post.