Book Review War Brides by Helen Bryan {Living Outside the Stacks}


With war threatening to spread from Europe to England, the sleepy village of Crowmarsh Priors settles into a new sort of normal: Evacuees from London are billeted in local homes. Nightly air raids become grimly mundane. The tightening vice of rationing curtails every comfort. Men leave to fight and die. And five women forge an unlikely bond of friendship that will change their lives forever.


Helen Bryan was born in Virginia, grew up in Tennessee, and is a longtime resident of London. A former barrister, she is the author of an award-winning biography of Martha Washington. She was inspired to write War Brides “by the true war-time stories of family and friends in the United States and England, and by the little known stories of the brave young women who joined Churchill’s Special Operations Executive.”


I enjoyed this book immensely, but I’m a fan of World War II novels. Is it right to say “a fan” of that genre? There’s something about the strength of character of the people who lived then, the desire to sacrifice for their country, and the willingness to help each other out. Anyway, I know I’m romanticizing the era but that’s part of the appeal of that decade as well: women were soft and feminine but they were strong and tough.

The novel starts with five women who have nothing in common who come to rely on each other for their survival. I think the way they were able to create a sense of community, not just for themselves but for those who lived in the town with them, was admirable. And the loyalty between the ladies, even when they weren’t sure about the other’s motives, was a nice contrast to the idea that we generally have of women always in competition with each other.

My one complaint is that there were just too many characters. Each was interesting in her or his own way, but there were points where I had to go back and try to remember who the person was and how she or he was connected to the other characters.

I’d recommend this book for book groups as there are a lot of areas for discussion: women and war, sacrifice, justice, revenge, family, etc.


Daenel T