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4.5 out of 5 stars43
4.5 out of 5 stars
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on 19 December 2008
What a fantastic read! The meticulous planning of the narrative draws you into the lives of the principal characters and makes this a novel you simply won't want to put down. The characters are subtly drawn and sympathetic. The description of the raid in France is one of the most vivid descriptions of battle I've ever read, the evocation of pre and post war England evokes a sense of place and context effortlessly. Highly recommended.
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on 8 August 2013
Before I started reading this book the title intrigued me. It is a splendid book and I enjoyed it immensely. Being approximately the same age as the two principal characters I am amazed how the author, who was not born at the time of the action, has captured the feel of those strange and terrible years. I cavil with one general portrayal and with one minor detail but the page turning excitement of the plot and the redolence of the action render these of little importance.

The writing is delightfully straightforward and the dialogue racy but a few passages must be mentioned as being particularly poignant and beautiful. When Philip, about to a engage in a particularly dangerous action imagines his father receiving the news of his death and kneeling to pray on the soil of his kitchen garden among the sprouts (p53). And again when he felt himself drowning `...the water spoke to him in a soothing voice...' (p167). I was much moved too by the juxtaposition of Rose in the agony of giving birth and Philip slowly submerging into the dark waters of the Loire (p229).

Ever since I first read Antonio's description of Octavia's crying -`There's April in her eyes and these the showers to bring them on', I have always been fascinated by the use of original metaphors. So when I read `ghostly sheep'; `breath pluming in the cold air' and `the flour she stroked through the sieve was silk under her fingers' I thought, yes, let's have some more of this. And whilst I'm referring to figures of speech I liked the example of meiosis towards the end, and I'm quoting from memory, when Rosie enters the bar at Waterloo station with `the top two buttons of her cardigan missing after her interview with the priest'!

I loved this book; I relived the period; I learnt much about the raid on St Nazaire; I longed to slap Mrs Seymour's miserable face (how could the dear old rector marry such a woman but then how could Mr Bennett get landed with the charming Elizabeth's mother)!: I revelled in hatred at the nuns of Nazareth house and would have thought it exaggeration if I had not already known about the Dublin laundry. In short a fine book and what a great film it will make.
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on 5 April 2015
The War Before Mine has two settings. 2006 in Australia and the years around WW2 in the UK. This is a very emotional tale dedicated to the 7000 children shipped to Australia between the years of 1947 and 1970 as orphans. Children often treated as "nobodies" who had love and parentage withdrawn from their precious lives.

In 2006 Alex Mullen attends a reunion for migrant children. Shipped out to Australia at the tender age of 4 with a false birth certificate stating he was 5, Alex bumps into Frankie at the reunion. 5 years older than Alex, Frankie had taken the young boy under his wing and protected him. They were together in the Naz orphanage, the boat to Australia and the Dundrum orphanage until Frankie was sent away. Now they meet again.

We meet Rosie and her family living in Gateshead at the start of the war, the oldest child in a large family, she helps her Mam as she gets the family evacuated. But it doesn't last long before their Da fetches them back. A proud man and a Romany he wants his family with him. When Rosie's Mam dies soon after the birth of the next baby, Rosie is left struggling to step into her mother's footsteps. She's thrown a life-line when her Uncle offers her a job in his boarding house in Falmouth, she can get away from Gateshead but still send money home.

It's in Falmouth she meets Philip Seymour, trainee commando, he's billeted in her Uncle's house. In a few precious hours grasped before Philip leaves for war, they fall in love and unite their passion. Philip then goes on a dangerous mission and the only news is that he's missing in action. A desperate Rosie decides to join-up too, finding her feet in the ATS.

When a bomb kills her Uncle she's left with no bolt hole when she most needs it and she must do the best she can in extreme circumstances.

There were several stories within this one book, the orphans sent to Australia, the dangerous mission the commandos went on and the plight of those left at home during the war years. Chapters go back and forth between the two settings as the story builds, some give extra background to the characters as Alex's story unfolds. I really wasn't sure how the story would end and it left me quite emotional at the end, still wanting to know more about Alex and the years up to 2006. A very good layered story.

This review is based on a free copy of the book given to me by Honno Press.
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on 25 November 2008
I loved this novel. It is a very well-told tale, a real page-turner. The historical setting of the Second World War made it all the more moving. It was a battle I knew nothing about, but it brought home the horrors of war in a very personal way. Those individual soldiers and their thoughts brought tears to my eyes. The main characters in particular were beautifully depicted with trips into the past to reveal their difficult backgrounds. I couldn't wait to find out the ending to the book.
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on 18 November 2013
The best book I have read for a while. The author captures the spirit of the times during WW2, when uncertainty about the future dominated peoples' lives. The central characters, a commando preparing for the raid on the dock gates at San Nazaire and a maid with whom he falls in love, are separated by circumstances and lose touch with each other. The commando who has been declared missing in action, has been wounded in the raid, but escapes to Gibraltar and finds himself overseas until the end of the war. The girl, who has received no news of her lover, 'joins up' but finds herself pregnant. Britain seventy years ago was very different to what it is today, so that the opportunities on offer to a girl in her position were grim. It would be unfair for me to go on to tell what happens after that. The characters are well defined, individual and very interesting; the plot well planned and believable.
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on 14 September 2013
I could hardly bear to put it down, which is fitting for a book about separation. Very, very moving and powerful.
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on 1 August 2013
Very well researched on WWII. A war story as well as a love story, The War Before Mine uses a real event, the famous Raid on St Nazaire, to explore the idea of separation and what it meant to men, women and children.
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on 13 March 2014
I was so impressed by this book, I read it twice in quick succession and I'm looking forward to reading it again before too long. A lot of people got it from me for Christmas the year before last! The writing is clear and confident, moving through historical event as if the author had experienced it first-hand, and the book stays with you afterwards. The title is very powerful – I knew I wanted to read it long before I got round to buying it, and I wasn't disappointed. The cover is pretty good too!
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on 19 November 2013
I was unsure about this book and the story line, imagining it would be similar to many other books of this genre. However, I think the story was very believable, and the characters very interesting. The author quite clearly did a lot of research into the war and the particular mission at the centre of the story. It maintained my interest throughout, and I was glad it came to a conclusion in the way it did. I will look out for any more written by Caroline Ross.
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on 12 December 2013
Caroline Ross has a wonderful ear and the uncanny ability to give voice to a whole sweep of characters. This is a book of broad themes: wartime love, the shifting social and political scenes and child migration and yet each thread maintains an authenticity in its dialogue that brings the intertwining stories to life. The book ran like a film in my mind's eye. A total pleasure. I shall read it again and can't wait for the next.
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