If you’re heading off on honeymoon with ideas of nothing more than Pina Coladas and coconuts, don't let the partial wartime setting of this novel be a reason not to pack it.
It's undeniably more love story than history lesson, written in a dual timeframe that effortlessly flits between a 1943 blitzed London and the (almost) present day.
The story opens in 2011 with Northern girl Jess, who is trying to escape an abusive boyfriend. In desperation she breaks into an empty cottage in an affluent part of North London, intending it to be her short-term hiding place. While there, she's surprised to find a letter from America marked urgent and addressed to a Mrs S Thorne. She opens the letter and in doing so, enables the second part of the story to begin.
Stella Thorne and Dan Rosinski have fallen in love by accident. She is newly but unhappily married to the local vicar Charles, he's an American pilot who promises to love her forever. And that's exactly what he does - despite the impossible divide. Some sixty years later he makes one final attempt to get in touch with the woman he never forgot and writes that letter - one of several as it turns out - to the house where they briefly spent some time together. Stella is obviously no longer there but Jess is. And so is Will, a probate researcher who is investigating the family history behind the property.
Jess becomes captivated by the love story from days gone by that is unfolding in the letters. She takes it upon herself to try to unite the two war-time lovers before it is too late. We in turn are captivated by her own slow-burning modern day romance with Will.
Whether we are reading in the past or the present, both stories are equally compelling - and as the author herself says, there are strong parallels between both; 'Jess's story is Stella's story, in the age of the welfare state.'
This is vivid storytelling at its best, exquisite detailing of time and place, laying bare the inequalities faced by women on the home front, expertly well researched without once becoming turgid. Never will you root for two couples more. It takes a very talented writer to overcome the problem of the reader knowing from the very beginning that the wartime romance between Dan and Stella did not survive and, more than that, forgiving Stella the transgression she makes from her dreary marriage to Charles.
This novel is the definition of romance. Let it give you something big to aim for - an epic, life-lasting love story of your own. It will remind you why you're on honeymoon in the first place. And for extra bonus points, Grey treats us to some wedding planning, just in case you're not quite over that yet. Once finished, don’t leave this one on the plane or selflessly pass it on. You'll want to read it again - guaranteed.