A thoughtful novel that shows war’s impact on people and communities.




In Ferns’ debut historical novel, two English sisters follow different paths before and after World War II.

In 1937, free-spirited Rachel discovers that she’s pregnant, and she turns to her down-to-earth sibling Veronica for support. Veronica marries airman Richard Mathews, and Rachel, after giving birth to daughter Susie, moves in with one of the men she’d been seeing, who soon brings drugs and abusive behavior into the house they share. Veronica attempts to help Rachel and protect Susie, but Rachel resents her interference, and the sisters drift apart. Veronica moves to the countryside as World War II intensifies. As London faces the threat of German bombings, Veronica persuades a reluctant Rachel to send Susie to her home as part of a general evacuation of children from the city. When it appears that Rachel has been killed in the Blitz, Veronica and Richard adopt Susie, who grows up with no memory of her birth mother. After the war, Richard returns home, scarred by his military experience, and turns to heavy drinking. In the 1950s, Rachel suddenly returns, forcing the family members to come to terms with secrets they’ve kept and with their responsibilities to one another. Ferns introduces a number of nuanced and engaging secondary characters, including Veronica’s theatrical best friend Heather, who brings a touch of lightness to a story laden with heavy themes. The war and its aftermath are thoughtfully handled, and the characters experience growth and newfound maturity over the course of the novel. The postwar scenes of Richard’s alcoholism and subsequent treatment are particularly well -done and reflect Ferns’ real-life background as a retired psychologist. The prose is generally strong, although the dialogue is often stilted, as when characters awkwardly avoid using contractions: “I am not sure this is the right place for me,” Richard says at one point. “I am uncomfortable.”

A thoughtful novel that shows war’s impact on people and communities.

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5323-9826-1

Page Count: 334

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: June 8, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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