The Light Over London by Julia Kelly: Brimming with drama, plot twists and poignancy, this is a warm and fitting tribute to brave women of every generation - book reviews -

Light Over London
Light Over London

The lives of two women – from different generations – are changed forever by events during the danger-filled years of the Second World War.

The lives of two women – from different generations – are changed forever by events during the danger-filled years of the Second World War.

Long-lost letters and a heartbreaking diary hold the key not just to the past of a brave wartime gunner girl, but to a family secret that has been festering for over seven decades.

Julia Kelly, the award-winning author of books about ‘ordinary women and their extraordinary stories,’ was inspired by her own family history for this sweeping, compelling tale of romance, mystery and real-life history set between rural Cornwall and the bombed-out streets of London.

The Light Over London is Kelly’s tribute to the remarkable gunner girls of the ‘Ack-Ack Command’ who defended the capital city’s skies on anti-aircraft guns. Made up from the Army’s women’s branch, the ATS, the gunner girls were formed to help fill out the ranks of anti-aircraft batteries stationed in Britain and across Europe.

Although they could not engage in combat, or load or fire the massive guns, the women worked as spotters and operated complex equipment, and were constantly exposed to danger… with 350 of them losing their lives.

And it is their courage and resilience that lies at the heart of the story in which we meet 28-year-old Cara Hargreaves who is looking to ‘start again’ back in rural Gloucestershire in 2017 after her marriage ended in divorce.

Cara is finding it easier to bury herself in the past rather than confronting the present, which is why working for a local antiques dealer is the perfect job. Whilst clearing out a former Victorian vicarage, she discovers an old tin that holds the mementoes of a wartime relationship… an unfinished diary, a locket, an initialled handkerchief and a photo of a young woman in uniform.

Captivated by a diary ‘full of another woman’s most intimate thoughts,’ and drawn by the happiness and heartbreak inside it, Cara begins her search for the author, never guessing that it might reveal her own family’s wartime secrets.

Meanwhile, in 1941, nineteen-year-old Louise Keene feels trapped in her Cornish village, as she waits for Gary Moss, the wealthy but dull suitor that her mother has chosen for her, to return from the war.

Louise, who works in the local grocery store and rarely goes out in the evenings, is persuaded by her vivacious cousin to accompany her to a dance at the nearby air base at St Mawgan where she meets Flight Lieutenant Paul Bolton, a handsome Spitfire pilot with the RAF.

Paul sends sensations swooping through her stomach and suddenly everything changes… but then everything changes again when Paul’s unit is deployed without warning.

Desperate to play a more meaningful role in the war effort, Louise defies her mother and joins the women’s auxiliary branch of the British Army in the anti-aircraft gun unit. And as bombs fall on London, Louise and the other gunner girls show their courage and determination while performing their duties during deadly air raids.

The only thing that gets Louise through those dark, bullet-filled nights is the knowledge that she and Paul will be together again when the war is over. But when her letters to Paul are returned unopened, she learns that wartime romance can have a much darker side.

And as Cara reads her words, decades later, she discovers that hope can be found even in the hardest of times… she just needs to take a chance.

Kelly’s moving story unfolds through the dual narratives of Cara and Louise, with the two timelines providing a fascinating contrast and allowing their individual experiences and emotions to play out against two very different backdrops.

Both young women – smart and resilient – embark on journeys of self-discovery, a chequered path that will involve taking chances on their future and experiencing loss, secrets, betrayal, passion, and the close bonds of friendship, family and lasting love.

Brimming with drama, plot twists and poignancy, this is a warm and fitting tribute to brave women of every generation.

(Orion, paperback, £7.99)