I’m really delighted today to share my review of A Place to Belong by Cathy Mansell: published in November 2019 as both an ebook and audiobook by Headline Review, the paperback was then published on 6th February this year. My thanks to the publishers for my advance reading e-copy (provided via netgalley), and my apologies that it took me far longer than it should have done to find space on my reading list.
It’s been my pleasure to feature Cathy’s books once before here on Being Anne – she joined me as my guest, and we took a closer look at her books then published by Tirgearr (you can read it again here). I’ve met Cathy at the Leicester meetings of the Belmont Belles, and we’ve caught up sometimes at RNA events too. She’s such lovely company, and always passionate about her writing – and when I heard that she’d signed up with Headline I was so very thrilled for her, proof that good things can happen to the very nicest people, and a reward for all her hard work.
So let’s take a look at her first book with a new publisher…
A Place to Belong is the gripping and heartwrenching novel from Cathy Mansell, set against the sweeping backdrop of Dublin and rural Ireland in the 1940s.
She lost everything in one night. Now she must fight for happiness.
It’s 1943 and Ireland has escaped the worst of the war raging in Europe, but life is not without its hardships. When fire breaks out at the convent in Cavan where she has spent the past ten years, orphan Eva Fallon barely escapes with her life.
She’s offered a bed for the night by Ma Scully, whilst her nephew Cathal, visiting from Dublin, helps battle the blaze. Seventeen-year-old Eva has never known such kindness but she’s too proud to take advantage, and finds a job at Blackstock’s farm, setting in motion a chain of events that will change her life forever.
Amidst tragedy and hardship, the only ray of light is the friendship of Ma Scully and her growing, secret love for Cathal. And through it all Eva clings to her hope that one day she will find a place where she can truly belong.
Until fairly recently, I’ve read very few historical sagas – I thought I was more of a modern girl, and that they wouldn’t really be my kind of read. But I’m changing my mind, because – when they’re really well written, and that’s an absolute “must” – I’ve found there isn’t actually anything much better than being able to disappear between their pages for a while. And if we’re talking about “well written”, they don’t come much better than this.
The characters in this book are absolutely superb. I adored Eva, at the heart of the story, who finds herself “adopted” by the quite wonderful Ma Scully when the orphanage where she lives is destroyed by fire. She might be naive in the ways of the world, but my goodness she’s strong – making the best of every bad situation, working hard, looking for the good in everything, fighting her way through – and she really won my heart.
And all the female characters are so very well drawn – Ma Scully has considerably more depth than it appears at first, fighting for what she believes in every bit as hard, with a vast reserve of love and goodness. Even the minor female characters are three-dimensional and interesting – the ladies in the Dublin cafe are a really good example. And as for the less attractive female characters – well, Aggie is a total horror, bitter, cruel and twisted, and (horrendous as she is) quite wonderfully drawn.
The male characters perhaps are more sharply divided into good and bad – and as bad characters go, the villain in this story is one of the most repellent and frightening that you’re likely to come across. But if you’re looking for good, they don’t come much better than Cathal, a total hero in every way, a thoroughly lovely bloke, and a fitting love interest – however initially unlikely – for Eva. And while we’re talking about good men, I’m sure you’re going to like Finn as very much as I did – pure goodness behind his rather off-putting appearance, and such an excellent character study.
The story is just wonderful – challenge after challenge, little victories overshadowed by the next set back, real drama, the possibility of a happy ending sometimes ebbing away, the changes in fortune coming thick and fast. The rural Irish setting is perfectly done – I was inspired to explore on Google a little, taking a look at Cavan, Bawnboy and Templeport lake, taking a look at St Mogues island and its history. The wartime Dublin setting was excellent too – I’d never thought before about the impact or otherwise of the Second World War on Ireland and its people, and the backdrop to this book was a real education. Just sometimes, the research authors do can be over-displayed a little – it certainly isn’t here, it’s just gently used to give a feel of authenticity to the story.
Just another little thing while we’re talking about authenticity. I do have a real aversion when authors attempt to reproduce the vernacular in their characters’ speech – in fact, I’d even say it’s what has put me off sagas in the past. In this book, the author does it just perfectly, an example others could follow – the speech patterns are there, the unique expressions, but it’s all so gently done that it’s entirely comfortable to read, a hint rather than the oft-encountered sledgehammer.
And I have to mention the developing love story at the story’s centre – I thought it was ineffably beautiful, heartwarming and uplifting, and made me ache with a yearning that life would work out for two characters that I’d really grown to love.
A thoroughly enjoyable read and – whether you think you like a good saga, or are as convinced as I was that they aren’t for you – an author I’d very much recommend you catch up with. I loved this one – but I expect you can tell, can’t you?!
Cathy Mansell’s next powerful family saga, The Dublin Girls, will be published on 23rd July and is now available to preorder for kindle, in paperback and as an audiobook.
About the author
Cathy Mansell was born in Ireland and, although she now lives in Leicester, her Irish heritage plays a significant role in her fiction. Hailing from a family of writers, she says it was inevitable that she too would become one. She has had five novels published by Tirgearr Publishing before publishing A Place to Belong with Headline.