Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Book Review: The Light Over London by Julia Kelly

Pages: 304
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: January 8, 2019
Publisher: Gallery
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "It’s always been easier for Cara Hargraves to bury herself in the past than confront the present, which is why working with a gruff but brilliant antiques dealer is perfect. While clearing out an estate, she pries open an old tin that holds the relics of a lost relationship: among the treasures, a World War II-era diary and a photograph of a young woman in uniform. Eager to find the author of the hauntingly beautiful, unfinished diary, Cara digs into this soldier’s life, but soon realizes she may not have been ready for the stark reality of wartime London she finds within the pages.  In 1941, nineteen-year-old Louise Keene’s life had been decided for her—she’ll wait at home in her Cornish village until her wealthy suitor returns from war to ask for her hand. But when Louise unexpectedly meets Flight Lieutenant Paul Bolton, a dashing RAF pilot stationed at a local base, everything changes. And changes again when Paul’s unit is deployed without warning.  Desperate for a larger life, Louise joins the women’s branch of the British Army in the anti-aircraft gun unit as a Gunner Girl. As bombs fall on London, she and the other Gunner Girls relish in their duties to be exact in their calculations, and quick in their identification of enemy planes during air raids. The only thing that gets Louise through those dark, bullet-filled nights is knowing she and Paul will be together when the war is over. But when a bundle of her letters to him are returned unanswered, she learns that wartime romance can have a much darker side.  Illuminating the story of these two women separated by generations and experience, Julia Kelly transports us to World War II London in this heartbreakingly beautiful novel through forgotten antique treasures, remembered triumphs, and fierce family ties."
Cara Hargraves is newly divorced and training to be an antiques dealer.  While working on a job site with her mentor and boss, she comes across a mysterious tin that holds a diary and some photos that date back to World War II.  She is instantly intrigued about the diary and is determined to reunite it with its owner.  Chapters switch between present day Cara to Louise Keene, a young woman from a coastal village in England, who we come to realize is the woman in the photo that Cara unearths.  Louise is living a very simple life with her parents and working at a shop in the village.  It's a very mundane life until her very gregarious cousin, Kate, invites her to a dance.  Louise goes not expecting much though as her overbearing mother thinks she will marry a local boy who is off at war.  When Louise goes to the dance, she is immediately thrown into Kate's group of outgoing friends and meets Flight Lieutenant Paul Bolton.  He is mysterious, good looking, and makes her heart skip a beat. Their romance ensues much to the dismay of her mother, but this all changes when Paul gets unexpectedly deployed.  Louise decides she doesn't want to spend the rest of her life with her mother dictating her every move and stuck in her childhood bedroom, so she decides to, along with Kate, join the women's branch of the British Army and trains to become a gunner girl.  Julia Kelly's The Light Over London is perfect for fans of wartime fiction. If you like your historical novels with a strong side of romance and drama then this novel is a good fit for you.

I instantly liked Louise as she is the type of character that you can't help but care about in The Light Over London.  Her mother is so overbearing; it is suffocating. I couldn't wait for her to get out of the Cornish countryside and everything that is holding her back.  I didn't always agree with Louise's decisions, but I did care about her and was hoping she would get her happy ending.  I loved going along on her journey with her as she trains with the British Army. I had no idea bout gunner girls and I found it utterly fascinating. I love that more people and authors are focusing on the untold stories of women's roles in the war. I think that is important and I appreciate that Kelly showcases the gunner girls and their role in the anti-aircraft unit.

While I enjoyed Louise, I didn't always appreciate her relationship with Paul in The Light Over London. I wanted him to be a good guy, but there were some red flags raised...not to mention how quickly their romance ensued. Let's just say that Paul is a man that has many secrets and all of them will come to the surface as the story progresses.

Cara's story is featured in alternating chapters in The Light Over London and while I liked her character, I wasn't drawn to her story as much as Louise's.  I find sometimes that happens with dual-timeline historical novels. I did like how Cara slowly learns about Louise's story and this also inspires her to connect with her grandmother about the war as well and uncover a few family secrets of her own.

While this historical novel doesn't pack an emotional punch like The Nightingale or Salt to the Sea,   I still found it to be charming and I especially appreciated learning more about the British Army's gunner girls.


  1. I also love all these novels, and even nonficton books, that are coming out that tell lesser-known stories of women during the war. Great review!

    1. YES! Me too. I have been loving all the untold stories....learning so much in the process as well. Thanks for visiting, Angela!


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