A #WW2 Gunner Girl’s Diary. Rosie’s #Bookreview of #HistoricalFiction The Secret Diary by Anna Stuart

The Secret DiaryThe Secret Diary by Anna Stuart

3.5 stars

The Secret Diary is a dual-time story featuring recently bereaved Lorna and a diary that she finds which was written in 1945.

The diary was hidden in a secret compartment in the annex of her mother and step-father’s home. The annex was preserved in the 1940s style from when stepfather David’s parents lived there after the war. Reading the diary written by David’s mother Nancy was a form of escapism for Lorna, as well as appealing to her interest in history.

Nancy talked about her war years spent as a ‘gunner-girl’, shooting down enemy aircraft and working with other women who became her life-long friends. Several times Nancy hinted of a big secret and, with the help of David and his daughter Tilly, Lorna attempts to unravel the mystery.

I found the gunner-girl element very interesting and the post war chapters were by far my favourite parts of this story. In fact I could quite happily have accepted the whole story written in the post-war era. On a personal note,  I would have liked to have seen the story go a little darker with its storyline just to give it a more realistic feel; for me it was a little too feel-good for some of the subjects involved.

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Two women. One house. And a secret that spans decades…

The past merges with the present in an unforgettable, poignant story of love, loss and courage in this beautifully written story set between World War Two and the present day.

She steps into the room and it’s like going back in time.

Catapulting her right into the heart of the 1940s.

The spindle of the record player frozen and ready to play. The flowery wallpaper faded but intact. A soldier’s uniform pressed and hung on a door, coal still in the fireplace.

A floorboard creaks beneath her and she notices a small desk in the corner of the room. She opens the top drawer and runs her hands along the edges, something catching at her fingertips. A hidden compartment. And behind it, the soft edges of a book.

As she dusts it off, she can see it has a red leather covering, the pages yellowing with age. She realises it’s a diary. Some of the pages have been torn out. The first entry has 16th June 1945 printed in neat little letters at the top. Below it, in hurried, untidy script are the words:

‘My name is Nancy Jones. And I have a secret…’

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Of #HistoricalFiction Miss Graham’s Cold War Cookbook by @CeliaRees

Miss Graham's Cold War CookbookMiss Graham’s Cold War Cookbook by Celia Rees

4.5 stars

Miss Graham’s Cold War Cookbook is set mainly in Germany in the first few months after the end of World War Two, a period when there was a scramble for power out of the wreckage of war.  Into this scenario walks Edith Graham, a frustrated teacher who wants to do more with her life.

Offered an opportunity by a distant relative, Edith takes a job in Germany helping to start schools for children displaced by war, but she has also signed the official secrets act and has been asked to watch and listen for information which might lead to the arrest of war criminals.

As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that not everyone hunting Nazi party members wants to bring them to justice. Britain, America and Russia are all interested in the top scientists and medical doctors and have their own plans for these people – while Edith’s friend Dori is searching for missing British agents who disappeared under suspicious circumstances close to the end of the war.

Before Edith went to Germany she was asked by Dori to send her coded information about what was going on, because the she felt hampered in her search for a mole in the SOE (Special Operations Executive). Edith devised a message coding system using recipes, to send Dori her news.

I really enjoyed this story, as it took me to an era connected to the World War which was also the start of the Cold War and one I know very little about; I was quite shocked by some of the things that I read, especially about the war criminals and other Nazi party members.

The women in this book were the highlights for me; they shone through clearly and there were several great characters, all easily distinguishable. The male characters were harder to picture and I did get a little muddled between some of them and with which operation they belonged to, although this may have been deliberate in a double-crossing espionage style. I also liked the coded recipe idea and looked forward to guessing the messages between the lines of ingredients.

To sum this story up; a different type of World War Two story with an espionage theme which gave me much to think about especially with the advancements in science and medicine which took place in Germany during the war and where that information went after the war.

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World War II has just ended, and Britain has established the Control Commission for Germany, which oversees their zone of occupation. The Control Commission hires British civilians to work in Germany, rebuild the shattered nation and prosecute war crimes. Somewhat aimless, bored with her job as a provincial schoolteacher, and unwilling to live with her stuffy genteel parents any longer, twentysomething Edith Graham applies for a job with the Commission—but is instead recruited by the OSS. To them, Edith is perfect spy material…single, ordinary-looking, with a college degree in German. And there’s another thing—the OSS knows that Edith’s brother went to Oxford with one of their most hunted war criminals, Count Kurt von Stabenow, who Edith remembers all too well from before the war.

Intrigued by the challenge, Edith heads to Germany armed with a convincing cover story: she’s an unassuming schoolteacher sent to help resurrect German primary schools. To send information back to her OSS handlers in London, Edith has crafted the perfect alter ego, cookbook author Stella Snelling, who writes a popular magazine cookery column that embeds crucial intelligence within the recipes she collects. But occupied Germany is awash with other spies, collaborators, and opportunists, and as she’s pulled into their world, Edith soon discovers that no one is what they seem to be. The closer she gets to uncovering von Stabenow’s whereabouts—and the network of German civilians who still support him—the greater the danger. 

With a unique, compelling premise, Miss Graham’s Cold War Cookbook is a beautifully crafted and gripping novel about daring, betrayal, and female friendship.

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