This is usually the week when I endure the torture of putting together my Books of the Year list – and no, that’s honestly not true, because I really do enjoy going through the year’s reviews and remembering the pleasure every book has given me. This year, I’m going to postpone publishing my list until the lull between Christmas and New Year – I have quite a few (ah, the art of understatement!) Christmas books I’d like to read and review before January comes, and I thought it might be a nice way to end the year before taking the month-long break I’ve promised myself. I have done a first run through – 73 contenders at the moment, so still rather a lot of work to do!
There are always a few books I read that I choose not to review – I’ve already mentioned the audiobooks (you’ll find that post here), and it’s also rare for me to review books that I read and discuss with my book club (it always somehow feels like cheating!). But I was horrified to find that there are two books I’ve read this year that I’ve totally forgotten to review as I’d planned – I always thought I was one of the most organised people on the planet, and it was a nasty surprise to find that I have my “moments” too! So, I’ll be sharing two rather shorter-than-usual reviews today, in two separate posts (and apologies to the authors for my unforgivable lapse) – they were both books I loved, and I really wanted to help bring them to people’s attention.
So first, the quite wonderful The Seamstress of Warsaw by Rebecca Mascull. Published as an e-book by Spellbound Books on 18th September, in paperback on 25th September, and it’s now available in hardcover too – the e-copy I read was my own, pre-ordered and purchased via Amazon. I read it on release, but thought it might be polite to wait until the blog tour was over – and then I thought it might be a nice idea to review it when the paperback came out. And then… well, I simply forgot, and I’m so sorry!
I’ve unfailingly loved Rebecca Mascull’s books. Until now, I think The Wild Air might have been my favourite (read my review here), but I also loved Song of the Sea Maid (review here), and the superb job she did of completing Vanessa Lafaye’s Miss Marley (review here). A couple of years ago, I read and reviewed The Daughters of Ironbridge, the first of her trilogy written as Mollie Walton – although I’ll readily confess that sagas aren’t my usual choice of reading, I really did love it (you’ll find my review here), although I sadly wasn’t able to return for the other two books in the series (sorry Becca!). But as soon as I heard about this one, I had an immense sense of excitement and anticipation – and I’m delighted to report that it was entirely justified…
A man learns a shocking truth about his past.
A mother writes a diary as the ghetto walls go up.
From the bombed streets of London, to occupied Warsaw, to the Polish forests bristling with partisans, will their paths cross? Will their pasts be reconciled? And will they survive the deadly assaults on their freedom and their lives?
The Seamstress of Warsaw is a tale of endurance and loss, family and blood, stories and histories, that questions the nature of who we are and where we are going, when the road ahead is burning.
“Daring, tragic, haunting, and unforgettable – Mascull is a superb writer” – Louisa Treger, author of The Dragon Lady
Given the subject matter, I was expecting a harrowing read, and this book most definitely was – but, having read other books from this gifted author, I was also hoping for a well-told and engaging story, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed in any way. This book was absolutely stunning.
It’s told from two perspectives – Daniel, leaving his home in wartime London and heading to Poland in search of his family and a sense of home and belonging, and his mother Helena, a seamstress eking out a living as her life dramatically changes and she finds herself struggling to survive within the walls of the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto. The research that went into this book must have been immense – I’ve read other books with a similar backdrop and setting, but rarely felt transported in the way this wonderful book achieved, every moment of fear and horror, feeling part of the experience through all the vividly drawn detail. It doesn’t pull any punches, and it’s difficult to read at times – but the vivid descriptions of the realities of the characters’ experiences are well balanced by a compelling story with an uncertain outcome.
This is far more than the recreation of a slice of troubled and disturbing history – the emotional engagement with both characters throughout their personal journeys is exceptional, as their stories slowly converge and then continue beyond the confines of the ghetto. The story-telling is superb, and the whole book is perfectly paced – it’s powerful in its imagery, but also laced through with bravery and personal strength, hope and a visceral hope for survival.
Quite wonderful – and a book I’d most certainly recommend to others.
About the author
Rebecca Mascull is an historical novelist who also writes saga novels under the pen-name Mollie Walton.
Under the pen-name Rebecca Mascull, she is the author of four historical novels and co-author of a novella.
Her first novel The Visitors (2014) tells the story of Adeliza Golding, a deaf-blind child living on her father’s hop farm in Victorian Kent. Her second novel Song of the Sea Maid (2015) is set in the C18th and concerns an orphan girl who becomes a scientist and makes a remarkable discovery. Her third novel, The Wild Air (2017) is about a shy Edwardian girl who learns to fly and becomes a celebrated aviatrix but the shadow of war is looming. All are published by Hodder & Stoughton.
She also completed the finishing chapters of her friend and fellow novelist Vanessa Lafaye’s final work, a novella called Miss Marley, a prequel to Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. This novella was published by HarperCollins.
Her latest book as Rebecca Mascull is a stand-alone historical novel set in London and Poland during WW2. The Seamstress of Warsaw was published by SpellBound Books in September 2021.
Rebecca also writes historical saga fiction as Mollie Walton. She has always been fascinated by history and on a trip to Shropshire, while gazing down from the iron bridge, found the inspiration for what became her debut saga trilogy titled The Ironbridge Saga, published by Bonnier Zaffre: The Daughters of Ironbridge, The Secrets of Ironbridge and The Orphan of Ironbridge.
Her next Walton trilogy will be set in WW2 North Yorkshire. The first novel of this new saga will be published in March 2022 by Welbeck.
Rebecca has worked in education, has a Masters in Writing and lives by the sea in the East of England.