2016 Book Reviews Kate Thompson Macmillan Pan
Book Review: Secrets of the Sewing Bee by Kate Thompson
Author: Kate Thompson
Published: March 10th 2016 by Macmillan
Amazon | Amazon UK
Blurb: Orphan Flossy Brown arrives at Trout's garment factory in Bethnal Green amidst the uncertainty of the Second World War. In 1940s London, each cobbled street is strewn with ghosts of soldiers past, all struggling to make ends meet. For the women of the East End, their battles are on the home front.
Flossy is quickly embraced by the colourful mix of characters working at Trout's, who have turned their sewing expertise to vital war work. They fast become the family that Flossy has always longed for. Dolly Doolaney, darling of the East End, and infamous tea lady, gives her a particularly warm welcome and helps Flossy settle into wartime life.
Things aren't so easy for Peggy Piper, another new recruit at the factory. She's used to the high life working as a nippie in the West End, and is not best pleased to find herself bent over a sewing machine. But war has the ability to break down all sorts of class barriers and soon Peggy finds the generosity and spirit of her fellow workers difficult to resist.
Dolly sets up a sewing circle and the ladies at Trout's play their part in defending the frontline as they arm themselves with their needles and set about stitching their way to victory. But as the full force of the Blitz hits London, the sewing bee are forced to shelter in the underground tube stations on a nightly basis.
In such close quarters, can Dolly manage to contain the secret that binds them all? And how will Peggy and Flossy cope as their lives are shaped and moved by forces outside of their control?
First of all I would like to thank the publisher for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.*
Review: Last year I had the pleasure of reading Kate Thompson's debut, Secret of the Singer Girls, which I thoroughly enjoyed. So I was over the moon to get a review copy of her new one. As soon as I started reading Secrets of the Sewing Bee, something sounded familiar and I soon realised that this story is set in the same textile factory as the previous book, Trout's. The difference is that The Sewing Bee takes place some years before, when the war is about to begin. This made me really glad, as I really enjoyed reading about some favourite characters from The Singer Girls and learning what they were up to before their own story. But the main characters for this one are completely new.
In Secrets of the Sewing Bee, we are introduced to two new recruits for the factory: fragile and shy Flossy and beautiful and proud Peggy. These girls couldn't be more different, they have had completely different upbringings, one being raised in an orphanage, the other in a healthy family, one ready to please, the other too cool to bother with work or making new friends. But soon war breaks out and willing or not they find themselves in the same boat with the whole Trout's family. And their friendship is one of the few things they can cling on.
Something I love about Kate Thompson's stories is how you can tell the amount of research that she must have done for them. Her detailed descriptions of the buildings, the streets, the atmosphere and even the feelings of her characters make you feel part of the story. I always enjoy books that teach me something and with this one I learned so much, as we glimpse at the lives of those who lived through the horrific Blitz. Some made it and some didn't and the story reflects this and how everyone must have felt perfectly.
Another bit that I found really interesting was that the author added some testimonies from the women she interviewed during her research. They lived in the East End during that time and their words really resonated with me and made me understand the story even better. I really thing Kate Thompson captured their experiences perfectly in the story: that feeling of camaraderie, that almost joyous atmosphere they created in the underground stations where they had to hide from the bombs and also how brave and strong those women were.
Secrets of the Sewing Bee is a touching story that will surprise you more than once. With complex characters, secrets, love, friendship and tears, it has it all. I cannot wait to see what Kate Thompson comes out with next.