Writing: 4/5 Characters: 5/5 Plot: 4/5
Another upbeat, can-do, WWII based piece of historical fiction from Jennifer Ryan, author of The Kitchen Home Front and The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir. Three women in Aldhurst Village help transmute the local sewing circle into a shining example of community spirit during the deprivations of war — launching a wedding dress sewing circle, transforming old, often moth-eaten wedding dresses into modern beauties available for loan to brides in need. Grace Carlisle — the dutiful vicar’s daughter, soon to marry her father’s curate; Cressida Westcott, renowned fashion designer, returning to the village manor house (from which she was evicted decades before due to non obedience) when her home and business in London are reduced to rubble; and her spoiled niece Violet Westcott, who wants nothing but to marry a title and live the luxurious life to which she is entitled.
There was romance and it is handled well, but the real treats for me were the friendships, the awakening of awareness of opportunities and alternate lifestyles for each of the women, and the well-researched details of life on the home front. Ryan’s tidbits about wartime clothing were fascinating: The rationing (40 coupons per year — about enough for a a couple of dresses), the government Make Do and Mend program, the restriction on bathing to 5 inches of bathwater twice per week to save on fuel, the “paint on stockings” made from gravy — useful if there are no dogs around! — and most interesting, the challenges for designers who had to make do with “less fabric, more synthetic materials, and absolutely no metal fastenings or elastic.” It was just technical enough on the design and sewing aspects to be interesting but not overwhelmingly confusing to a sewing ignormus like myself.
As always, Ryan captures the real community spirit of wartime in Britain — ordinary people “joining forces to overcome the difficulties of war.” While not avoiding the terror and depression of the time, the book manages to focus on the positive and uplifting aspects of people coming together to do what needs to be done.
Thank you to Ballantine Books and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on May 31st, 2022.