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on 14 April 2013
"War's Last Dance" is the captivating debut novel by the highly talented Julia Underwood. Her beautifully descriptive prose cleverly combines the simplicity of a charming love story with the complexity of War, corruption, politics, kidnap, relationships, poverty and despair. The author manages to engage the reader from start to finish, such that one is transported both in time and space to watch events unfold first-hand. The book is tremendously well-researched, Underwood's vivid descriptions and exquisite detail make this novel both captivating and fascinating.

The story is set in the 1940s, in post-war Berlin. Underwood evolves her characters superbly, causing the reader to immediately empathise with Isabel, the protagonist, who is forced to leave her East-end life behind her. She travels with her young daughter from London to Berlin, to join her military husband who has been posted there as part of the Allied Control Commission to govern the defeated Germans. Underwood's moving narrative takes the reader on a journey through the abject poverty and suffering of the German people, whose city has been destroyed by war, intertwined with the lives of the Allied forces who work there, struggling on war rations in a faraway place. Crime and corruption are inevitable, and Underwood cleverly entangles this within the story. Isabel's world is changed irrevocably by war, and when catastrophe strikes, she is forced to make some brave decisions and take charge of the situation, something that is very difficult for a woman to do in what is very much a Man's World.
I will definitely purchase a Hardback copy of this book when a print version becomes available - it's definitely a keeper!
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on 15 March 2015
This is a wonderfully crafted book, the life of the Army wife coping in war torn England superbly described in enough depth to draw the reader in and hold their attention. Her life in the desolation of post war Germany in the immediate aftermath of the division of Berlin was described in a truly excellent way - the sights, smells and visions of devastation leap off the pages. The dark underbelly of black marketeers, thefts and fraud seemed to have been extremely well researched and created an atmosphere of fear and mistrust which was almost tangible.
Overlying all of this was a poignant and gentle love story, beautifully teased out over the whole of the book - love growing, stuttering and growing again.
The oddly random missing words, while a distraction, could not spoil what is overall a superb story.
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on 23 March 2014
War's Last Dance delves into life in Berlin after the Second Wordl War has ended and the city is occupied by the British, American and Russian forces. There is little food and much exploitation while the British and Americans valiantly struggle to maintain middle class life with wives' tea parties and dances in the Officers' Mess.

I enjoyed this novel because it explored little known territory and demonstrated how some of the British civlians and soldiers made money. This book is certainly not a wallow in nostalgia but shows post war lif in the raw.

The characters are well-drawn and the plot develops to a gripping conclusion.
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on 30 April 2013
A gripping romantic, crime novel: poignant and highly evocative of the post-war era in Berlin that explores a young military family's challenges in adjusting to life in the occupied city, after years of enforced separation during the hostilities. Beautifully crafted by the author, Julia Underwood, and extremely well researched.
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on 14 April 2013
War's Last Dance not only covers the romantic story behind the main character, Isabel, it also chronicles the devastation left behind in Berlin after the end of the Second World War. Many people don't stop and think about what life was like in Germany after 1945, but the destruction was far from over by the war's end. Julia Underwood powerfully describes the total devastation in Berlin - Isabel is shocked by the utter ruin of the city - mountains of rubble, thousands of displaced refugees, starving and dying of diseases.
War's Last Dance narrates an important point in history and is well worth reading if you are interested in the after-effects of the Second World War.
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on 4 April 2016
I received a copy of War's Last Dance by Julia Underwood from its publishers, Endeavour Press, to read for their virtual Historical Fiction Festival which takes place later this month.

Set at the end of the Second World War, Underwood's novel takes us into the heart of destroyed Berlin when a young English woman, Isabel, journeys to Germany to join her husband, Bill, who has been posted there to help oversee rebuilding efforts. Isabel and Bill married during the War after a brief engagement, but have hardly seen each other for years and he is a stranger to their four year old daughter, Penny. I enjoyed the first half of War's Last Dance. We see London in wartime - the camaraderie and deprivation, rationing and vegetables grown in every back garden. Isabel is portrayed as a strong woman and devoted mother, getting by as best she can with the help of her family. Her decision, once it is safe to do so, to follow Bill to Berlin and finally be together as a family is completely understandable and the lengthy train journey across Europe is well described.

Berlin is a shocking place. The destruction is far worse than London and we see people not only barely surviving in impossible circumstances, but hundreds more - refugees and displaced persons - swelling their numbers every day. Underwood describes this hell with sensitivity and I thought such a setting would be central to her story. However instead we take a weird turn into not-quite-thriller and not-quite-romance. Isabel becomes incapable of doing anything without leaning on a man and frequently abandons her daughter to maid Irma in order to gad about with new friend Zelda and potential romance John. It's no wonder that overworked and stressed out Bill is so easily exasperated with her! The Penny is abducted in an flat unconvincing storyline that pivots on a miraculous teapot discovery and Isabel's unpracticed ability to accurately fire a gun. Turning the page reveals a six year gap and sudden swerve into Happily Ever After. WTF!

I was disappointed by the way War's Last Dance turned out. It starts pretty well, light but interesting, but if I had known where the tale would lead, I would probably have run at about the same time as the dog did.
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on 22 April 2013
A rarity these days: not an obsessive Dan-Brown-ish page-turner, but a gentle, smouldering and atmospheric read; something to take you to another time and place.

I have been reading War's Last Dance on my daily commute, and it's completely immersive. An awful lot of effort has gone into historical accuracy, which makes the deft characterisations all the more credible.

Highly recommended.
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on 14 April 2013
"War's Last Dance" is a story difficult to put down, with fantastic descriptions of post-war Berlin, into which the author weaves the tale of a family's struggle to adapt to separation and life in a foreign country. Underwood has a tremendous talent for writing, such that the reader is drawn into the story from the very beginning. I will most certainly buy her next book!
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on 2 June 2013
This was a fairly quick, ideal holiday read. The main character is very believable and carries you through an interesting time in history that I have never thought much about. I particularly identified with her as a mother and admired various character's resilience to a very difficult time. I would definitely read something else by this author.
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on 16 April 2013
A thoroughly enjoyable read, difficult to put down. Its the first book I have read which focuses realistically on the chaos in Germany immediately after WW2. It has the right combination of history, crime and romance. If it had been written by a well known author, it would sell thousands of copies.
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