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on 21 July 2009
Not my usual kind of book, either - but as Stockport is my hometown, I was attracted by its northern setting. (Stockport is loosely fictionalised as Staveley, and Joan Bakewell dredges up a few details that I'd quite forgotten like the old Essoldo cinema ... long gone I imagine?)
Unfortunately, like many journalists who turn to fiction, Bakewell is a competent writer - but that's as far as it goes and this novel is lacking in any real spark. This is fiction-by-numbers, no better than an old-fashioned women's magazine serial. She throws in all the ingredients as if she's following a recipe; mix 4oz of illegitimate birth, 5oz of kidney transplant sub-plot ... and what do you get, a trite and unconvincing ending!
On the historical side, she has done her homework - but lacks the skill to infuse it with life.
It isn't a dreadful book. It's a quick, easy read - just a bit plodding.
A girls' grammar school 'adopts' a merchant ship during WW2, the serious-minded headmistress falls for the ship's master ... and lives are tangled down to the present generation. It passed an evening, but was very forgettable.
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on 15 June 2009
This is not my normal sort of book but the title intrigued me. From the start I could imagine the head-mistress of this well-to-do girls school. Joan Bakewell's accounts of what Liverpool docks and the fictitious Stockport were fabulous - you can almost smell the air there. I am only 40 and therefore was not alive during this time but I felt that throughout this book I could hear my grandmother as she used to tell me what life was like for women during the second world war. The book has a lovely just-in-time finish and although it's not all roses it is as it should be and left me feeling evermore grateful for what I have.
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VINE VOICEon 15 September 2009
They say that everyone has a novel in them - and fair play to Joan Bakewell for publishing her first at the age of 74. Cards on the table - I really admire her as a broadcaster; cultural and ethical commentator; and as a woman. I have recently read her excellent autobiography `The Centre of the Bed', and enjoyed it immensely. I have enormous respect for her.
So I wanted to really enjoy this Second World War romance - and I did enjoy it. I read it in a couple of days - eager to find out what happened. But it would not be honest of me to say that I found it without fault. Maybe because I was so recently acquainted with some of the details of her own wartime story, the parallels with her own experiences were a bit obvious for me. The imaginary town of Staveley, positioned between Manchester and Liverpool , is a device which seems to be a bit clunky here.
The novel tells the story of a girls' grammar school adopting a ship during the war, and of the relationships which develop between both the school as a whole, and in particular the romances that blossom between two of the pupils; their head mistress and three of the crew. There are some very touching moments in these stories, and Bakewell does bring to life the morals and values of the time, and how they stifled both women and girls, especially those who openly challenged social mores. She deals with real issues such as pregnancy outside marriage; adultery and adolescent sexuality well before the sexual revolution that was to follow in the 60's.
The parallel modern day story she tells of the daughter of one of these women, who gradually uncovers hitherto secret elements of her own personal history, does not work quite so well. Bakewell also seems to be packing a lot of social history into the tale - almost making it feel like a visit to the Imperial War Museum.
But it is a good story, told with feeling and with honesty, and I did maintain an eagerness to find out what happened to the main characters. It might have been better to stick to the telling of these tales via a more detailed autobiography. Bakewell has written her novel. It is good - but not great. But she is still a great role model for any young girl.
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on 20 November 2011
`All The Nice Girls' is set in part during 1942 when WWII is not going well for the British. As part of the war effort an all girl's grammar school in Stockport becomes one of the many that decide to sign up for the Merchant Navy's Ship Adoption Scheme. The idea, as headmistress Cynthia Maitland sees it (who was bereaved in the previous war)is to make `her girls' aware of what is going on in the world out there and of course to do there bit. The reality is a little bit different as this is, of course, is going to mix a group of young girls, all excitement and hormones, with a group of sailors.

Now with the premise of a group of young girls in the war, and Joan focuses on sixth formers Polly (also called Margaret) and Jen, you kind of know what is on the horizon - both the good and the bad. This is where Joan Bakewell throws in another thread into it all with a story set in 2003 where we find Millie, whose daughter is suffering from kidney failure to which Millie is debating helping with or not, has been left her mothers belongings. I won't say more as the reader is left wondering how the two are entwined and I don't want to spoil anything.

I have to admit I struggled with this novel to start with. I didn't feel I could keep up as Bakewell introduces several school girls, teachers and then an endless cast of officers etc in 1942 before then switching to 2003 when your still just grasping the past, however the `voice' she writes with carried me on.

I think it is Bakewell's storytelling (and this is a proper war story) rather than just the era that left me in mind of the authors of both the 1930s and the 1960s. I am aware that this might sound rather odd but that's the flavour that the book and indeed Bakewell left me with. It wasn't the narratives of the characters, which added to the experience as all characters and everything they go through are all vividly drawn, it was Bakewells writing voice and sounded very different from the one she broadcasts with. Both are charming.

My only slight issue with All the Nice Girls is that whilst I liked hearing a very different side to the war effort of WWII, which this undoubtedly is, I found the book a little predictable. I could sort of see where each relationship was headed and what might be coming around. That said there was something rather reassuring spending time with a book like that.

If you are a fan of books set during WWII and want a different take on it, and one based on fact as Bakewell herself went to a school in Stockport that sponsored a boat during that period, and has the atmosphere or are a fan of Bakewells already you will love this book, as would you if you want to get lost in a book you know where you are with. I enjoyed myself as I read and found some of it very poignant indeed.
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on 7 May 2010
I have the greatest respect for Joan Bakewell and was totally seduced by the fact that this was her first attempt at a novel. It was a must buy for me but I was very disappointed. It was competently written (which was to be expected) and it had a story to tell which was partly based on fact - usually good - but it was slight and by no means gripping. The beginning was slow and ponderous and getting into it was not helped by starting in 1942 and then thrusting the reader forward to 2003 and then back to the war and then forward again. I find this technique off putting and it therefore took a long time for me to be familiar with, and understand, not only the characters, but the thrust of the story. The best I can say is that it was readable. I did get to the end.
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on 7 May 2013
An engaging story about a little publicised aspect of Merchant Navy convoys in WWII and the support that was given by sponsorship. Several threads move through to 21st century with love stories interwoven.
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on 12 September 2010
Difficult to give an opinion on this novel.Joan Bakewell is well known for her views, the programes that she has done over the years, and the epithet that was applied to her as'thinking man's crumpet,so it was difficult to divorce all these views when reading 'All the nice girls'.The novel was rather tedious in parts,altough not boring rather laboured. The descriptions of Liverpool,the docks,life in a 1940's grammar school were evocative and well described,the characterisations were rather limp, and without force,though the feeling of loss that Cynthia from the 1st World War had came across strongly. The conclusion of the novel brought all the strands together in a good and interesting way, and left one feeling with a satisfactory outcome of the events that had occured. The tale was one that must have happened to many people at this time,most families probably have a similar tale to tell,so therefore I think more could have been made of this, and perhaps further areas could have been developed to make this an even better novel.
I would recommewnd this as a read as it entertaining,occasionally thought provoking, and an insight into the feelings that people had during the early 40's and passes the time in a pleasurable way, and it is light novel to read-train journeys and airports.
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on 22 March 2010
Setting a great example, Britain's offical voice of the elderly publishes her first novel in her seventies.

All the Nice Girls is a tale of a 'jolly hockey sticks' grammar school near Manchester signing up for the Merchant Navy's ship adoption scheme during the second world war. The narrative shifts between the 1940s and 2003, linking past and present characters and story line.

The author delivers a warm and good humoured story of war time relationships, including the heartbreak of separation, plus a realistic account of our convoys at sea facing German U-boat blockades. Although a slightly predictable plot, this novel has been painstakingly researched. I certainly didn't know there was a ban on embroidered underwear during the war, or that women were given official permission to go 'hatless' to church!

Overall, this is a jolly good summer read and a story to recommend. I just think Joan Bakewell fires a little too many research points at the reader, and as nostalgic as it is, it sometimes detracts from the plot.
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on 12 March 2016
I liked the story - until the end. I hated the ending.
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on 14 March 2014
book arrived soon after my order was placed in very good condition was well packed met all my expectations I shall enjoy reading it
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