1943, in the ruins of Blitzed London…
Stella Thorne and Dan Rosinski meet by chance and fall in love by accident. Theirs is a reluctant, unstoppable affair in which all the odds are stacked against them: she is newly married, and he is an American bomber pilot whose chance of survival is just one in five.
… He promised to love her forever
Seventy years later Dan makes one final attempt to find the girl he has never forgotten, and sends a letter to the house where they shared a brief yet perfect happiness. But Stella has gone, and the letter is opened by Jess, a young girl hiding from problems of her own. And as Jess reads Dan’s words, she is captivated by the story of a love affair that burned so bright and dimmed too soon. Can she help Dan find Stella before it is too late?
Now forever is finally running out.
Every so often, a book comes along that is so thoroughly perfect that you feel like you’re going to burst if you can’t tell everyone about it. Otherwise they might never read it – and that would be so dreadful. Letters To The Lost by Iona Grey is published by Simon & Schuster on 23 April in paperback and for kindle: it’s a substantial read, 560 wonderful pages, but it could have been twice as long as I never wanted it to finish.
We all read for different reasons, but one of the things I love is the way you can live inside a book for as long as you’re reading it, entirely leaving the real world behind – and when this book ended, I cried my eyes out because everything had been so perfect. For three thoroughly blissful days I was totally lost in the wartime love affair of Stella and Dan, aching for them with every obstacle and injustice they encounter, my heart in my mouth waiting for Ruby Shoes to return safely and for Dan to write his next letter.
The author does a magnificent job of recreating wartime Britain, peopled with vividly drawn characters and with just enough well-researched detail to bring it all to life: I loved the detail around the preparations for the fete (and the arguments over scones and ginger cake), the preparing of food, the effect of rationing (and the value of tinned peaches), the impact of the blackout. But she also conveys the very different world Stella inhabited – the moral unassailability of the church, the expectations of women, the challenges of being “different”.
The book opens with Jess – a character you quickly get very attached to – running away from her present day problems, finding refuge in a deserted house, and stumbling across the wartime story of Stella and Dan after discovering a box of letters. The structure is really clever – as Jess reads the letters we read them with her, the gaps are filled by our visits to Stella’s world, and the whole book moves totally seamlessly between the two worlds. With a thoroughly gripping and unashamedly romantic story line, the whole book is beautifully crafted. Sometimes with dual timeframe stories you find the shift from one to the other can be a wrench, or you prefer one storyline over the other – in this book there are no such problems, I was every bit as interested in how the story of Jess and Will played out as I was in Stella and Dan.
In her review on Random Things Through My Letterbox, Anne said that readers of Lucinda Riley will adore this book – I really can’t think of a better comparison, and anyone who knows how much I love Lucinda Riley’s writing will appreciate what high praise that is. It’s quite amazing that this is a debut – Iona Grey is an incredibly accomplished story teller, and I’m looking forward greatly to seeing what she does next. This is a book you really mustn’t miss – I loved it.
My thanks to netgalley and the publishers for my advance reading e-copy.
Iona Grey has a degree in English Literature and Language from Manchester University, an obsession with history and an enduring fascination with the lives of women in the twentieth century. She lives in rural Cheshire with her husband and three daughters. She tweets @iona_grey.