The Kew Gardens girls at war

Posy Lovell, 1973-

Book - 2022

"Inspired by real events, a touching novel about a new class of courageous women who worked at London's historic Kew Gardens during World War II"--

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Historical fiction
War fiction
New York : G.P. Putnam's Sons [2022]
Main Author
Posy Lovell, 1973- (author)
Item Description
"First published in the United Kingdom in 2021."--Title page verso.
Includes discussion guide (pages 423-432).
Physical Description
432 pages ; 21 cm
Contents unavailable.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Lovell follows up her WWI-era The Kew Gardens Girls with an emotional story of a new generation of brave Britons. It's 1940 and newlywed Daisy Cooper--whose mother, Ivy, and godmother, Louisa, were among the women who took up men's jobs at Kew Gardens during WWI--has just sent her dashing RAF pilot husband, Rex, to fight the Germans when she's invited to Kew Gardens to work as a gardener. There, she's paired with elegant nurse Beth Sanderson, who longs to be a doctor--but her physician father Geoffrey refuses to sign the necessary papers for her to start training. Through their work, Daisy and Beth become fast friends--and then Daisy, who recently learned she is pregnant, receives word that Rex has been killed in action. Beth, meanwhile, has fallen in love with a Jamaican cardiologist and must contend with her father's racism and bigotry, not to mention that of society at large. The horrible reality of war is on full display in this engrossing story, which Lovell enhances with a visceral sense of bombs falling and terrible news arriving via telegrams. This has "movie option" written all over it. (Apr.)

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Review by Library Journal Review

Inspired by actual events, Lovell's sequel to The Kew Gardens Girls returns readers to war-torn England, this time in 1940. The story follows three women who volunteer to tend the gardens as part of the war effort. Newlywed Daisy Cooper, whose parents met at Kew Gardens, volunteers to keep herself busy after her husband Rex's departure for the RAF. Nurse Beth Sanderson wants to be a doctor, but her father won't allow her to go to medical school. She is falling for Jamaican surgeon Gus Campbell--a wholly unsuitable match, according to her family. Louisa Armitage was part of the original Kew gardening group during World War I, and now she's ready to join again. Although they come from different backgrounds, when tragedy strikes, the women come together and support each other through their darkest times. Seasoned narrator Elizabeth Knowelden moves seamlessly from voicing one character to another, giving each their own distinct personality and identity. Her elegant narration adds a somber tone to this moving story. VERDICT Recommended for those who enjoy WWII stories and women's fiction. Series fans will enjoy catching up with old friends, but it is not necessary to have read the first book to enjoy the sequel.--Cheryl Youse

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Chapter One Kent, Summer 1940 Louisa heard the engines before she saw the planes. They were high-pitched and droning like bees. Angry bees, she thought. She straightened up, rubbing the small of her back because she wasn't as young as she'd once been and bending over the plants in her garden always made her ache, and peered upward. It was a glorious day. The sky was bright blue, with little puffs of white clouds. Louisa shut her eyes for a second, enjoying the feeling of the sun on her face, then opened them again almost immediately as the droning engines grew louder. And suddenly there they were, right overhead. Two planes-no, three, four-spinning and spiraling, silhouetted against the cornflower-blue sky as they dived down. Louisa felt a little thrill of fear and excitement. The war often seemed far away from her sleepy Kent village, but not today. "Teddy?" she called to her husband. "Teddy, come and see." The noise was louder now, engines screaming and guns crashing. The planes swooped downward and Louisa gasped, thinking that surely they couldn't come this low, but then they were shooting upward again, into the clouds. She could hear voices around her, as the village children crowded out into the street. She knew they'd be running to the fields, hoping to find some bits of shell or shrapnel. Part of her wanted to go and see what they would find, but she couldn't tear her eyes away from the battle in the skies. One of the planes came powering across the horizon, with another in pursuit. Louisa couldn't tell which was German and which was British. She narrowed her eyes, squinting against the sun. German in front, she thought, and a Spitfire closing the gap from behind. "Good Lord." She turned to see Teddy standing next to her, his nephew Christopher at his side. Teddy frowned as he saw the planes and Louisa immediately regretted calling him outside to look. Teddy's son had been killed in the last war and he'd been devastated when this conflict had begun. Devastated. Without taking her gaze from the sky, Louisa reached for Teddy's hand and squeezed his fingers in hers, letting him know she was there. Teddy was resigned to the war now. He knew that Hitler had to be stopped, but that didn't mean he liked it. He refused to do anything that supported the fighting; instead, he was the billeting officer for the evacuees who had flooded the village. Overhead the sky was crisscrossed with contrails as the planes raced across the blue. The droning of the engines was peppered with gunfire so loud that Louisa almost wanted to put her hands over her ears to drown it out. Her stomach was fluttering. It was scary and exhilarating to watch these pilots battling it out over their heads. But then, she'd always liked a bit of drama. "He's been hit," Christopher said, pointing to the German plane, which had a trail of thick smoke coming from the wing. "He might bail out. Look for a parachute." Louisa breathed in sharply. "He's turning round." The plane streaked across the sky, leaving wisps of inky-black smoke in the blue. "Look!" She took her hand from Teddy's and pointed upward. "Look, he's going back the way he came." She laughed in excitement. "Our boys have seen him off." Teddy gave a little shudder and walked back up the garden toward their cottage without a word. Louisa felt a moment's regret for enjoying this dogfight as much as she had. She looked at Christopher. "Poor Ted," she said. "This is tough for him." Christopher nodded. "Every day must bring back memories of Philip." Overhead the planes were disappearing into the distance, the sound of gunfire fading as they went. Louisa wondered if the German pilot would make it back to France safely or if he would bail out. She was surprised to realize she hoped he would be all right and smiled to herself. That was what marriage to Teddy did, she thought. She remembered how passionate she'd been during the early years of the last war, gobbling up every bit of news from the Front and even, she swallowed down a burst of shame at the thought, abusing the men who didn't fight. She and Teddy had very different memories of the last war. Very different. Louisa looked toward the house, where she could see Teddy getting his bicycle out of the shed at the side of the cottage. "It helps when he's busy," she said to Christopher. "He'll be off to see his evacuees now." Christopher sat down on the lawn with a thump. Louisa looked round at him. He was a funny chap, Christopher. Forgetful and distracted, tall and ungainly and always falling over, but loyal and honest and with a real talent for growing plants. She was very fond of him, as was Teddy-whose younger sister was Christopher's mother-and they'd been delighted when he'd got a job as a farmhand nearby. "Do you wish you were more involved?" he asked bluntly. "More involved with the war, I mean?" With a small grunt and a rather graceless motion, Louisa sat down next to him, wondering how to explain how she felt. "I do," she admitted. "I feel rather . . ." "Useless?" "That's it exactly." She smiled at Christopher. "Last time round I was doing my bit." "At Kew Gardens?" "You've heard all my stories a thousand times." "I like them." Louisa sighed. "I know it was hardly the same as what Philip did, or the other men who fought at the Front, or the women who nursed or supported the troops in other ways. But by keeping the gardens going we freed up the male gardeners to go and fight." "I'm thinking about joining up," Christopher said. Louisa turned to look at him, surprised. He'd never mentioned this before now. "Really?" "I know I'm probably no use to anyone," he said, giving a small, self-conscious smile. "I'm so clumsy. But I just feel . . ." This time it was Louisa who said: "Useless." "All the lads from back home, friends from school or the ones I used to play with growing up, they've all gone, Louisa. I should be doing my bit." "Farming is a reserved occupation," Louisa pointed out. "You're fighting the war in the fields." "I know that," Christopher said, nodding vigorously. "But even so." "What would you do?" He shrugged, his skinny shoulder blades pushing against the fabric of his shirt. "Army, probably. I wouldn't last five minutes in a plane and I get seasick." Louisa laughed but Christopher looked serious. "Do you think Uncle Teddy would be upset?" "I think he'd understand," Louisa said carefully, though she wasn't sure she was telling the truth. She glanced at where her husband was crouched down next to his bike, prodding the tire, out of earshot of their conversation. "And what about you?" "What about me?" "Do you think I should enlist?" Louisa felt a little prickle of something that she thought might be envy. "I can't tell you what to do, Christopher." She plucked at a piece of grass. "What would you do?" Christopher said. "If you were me?" Louisa thought about the charming village they lived in, where she knew everyone's name and everyone knew her. She thought about her friends in the Women's Institute, strong, capable women who kept the village running smoothly. She thought about the rolling fields and the beautiful hills and the woodlands where she could walk and about her carefully tended garden. And then she thought about the last war, when she worked so hard at Kew that she would be asleep each night before her head hit the pillow. She thought about her friends Ivy and Win-the Kew Gardens girls, they called themselves-who supported one another and fought for one another when things went wrong. And she thought about her time as a suffragette, battling for the vote and doing things she'd never have thought herself capable of. "Louisa?" Christopher said. "What would you do if you were me?" "I'd enlist." "Thought so." Louisa felt a lurch of fear. She adored Christopher but she wasn't blind to his flaws. She knew he was being honest when he said he was clumsy. She couldn't imagine him with a gun in his hand. "Don't do it because of me," she said quickly. "And don't rush into anything, will you? This is a big decision." Christopher bit his lip, making him look like the little boy he'd been when Louisa and Teddy had gotten married. "You're needed on the farm," Louisa added. "Mr. and Mrs. Oliver would be lost without you." "They're getting some Land Girls," Christopher said with a shrug. Louisa doubted that Land Girls-good as they might be-would know with a glance at the soil what crop would thrive there and what would fail as Christopher did, but she smiled. "Do what you think is best," she said. "No one else can make that decision for you." Up at the cottage, Teddy had stopped fiddling with his bicycle tires. "Off to see my evacuees," he called cheerfully. "Save some lunch for me." Louisa waved. "Will do." "Uncle Ted wouldn't enlist," Christopher said, as Teddy sailed round the side of the cottage and out onto the street, ringing his bicycle bell as he went. "No." "And he wouldn't want me to either." "No." Louisa felt uneasy, as though she were being disloyal to Teddy even having this conversation. She curled her legs to one side and stood up-with some difficulty, because she was almost sixty, after all, and women of her age were not supposed to sit on lawns like schoolchildren. "I should go and get lunch ready." Christopher looked at his watch, which had a large crack across the face. "Oh blow it, I was supposed to be picking up some wood to mend the fence up at the farm," he said. "I totally forgot that was why I came down to the village. I saw Uncle Teddy at the window and waved, and he invited me in for a cup of tea, and the fence totally went out of my head." He slapped himself on the forehead with his sizable hand. "I'd better go." He got to his feet much more easily than Louisa had and bent down to kiss her on the cheek. "Thanks, Louisa," he said. "You've really helped." And with that, he darted off, leaving Louisa to wonder whether she actually had helped or if she'd just made everything a whole lot worse. Chapter Two London "Do you, Daisy Dobson, take this man . . ." As the vicar spoke, Daisy gazed at Rex. He was so handsome, she thought, with his blue jacket bringing out the color in his eyes. His hat was tilted at an angle, giving him a slightly cheeky look, which Daisy liked. That, together with his freckles, made him look more like the boy she'd fallen in love with when they were both still at school than the man he now was, despite his RAF uniform. She had a sudden memory of watching him share his lunch with Scruffy Nev, a boy in their class who would come to school in bare feet because his family couldn't afford to buy shoes. Rex's parents didn't have much back then-no one did-but he still shared what little he had. That was one of the reasons Daisy loved him so much. "Daisy?" Rex whispered. She blinked. She'd been so busy staring at her husband-to-be that she'd stopped listening to the vicar. "Sorry," she said, grinning. "Is it my turn?" There was a murmur of laughter from the congregation. Daisy glanced at her mother, Ivy, in the front pew. Ivy rolled her eyes at Daisy fondly-at least Daisy hoped it was fondly-and next to her, Daisy's father, Jim, gave her a wink. Brimming with happiness, Daisy turned her attention back to Rex. "I do," she declared, and Rex threw up his arms in triumph, like he'd scored the winning goal in the cup final. This time the laughter around the church was louder, and even Reverend Osmond joined in. "I now pronounce you man and wife," he said, and Rex gathered Daisy into his arms and kissed her so firmly and proudly that Daisy felt her legs go weak. Hand in hand with her new husband, she walked down the aisle, waving to the friends and family who had come to wish them well. "I'm sorry it's not the perfect wedding day," Rex said. Daisy squeezed his fingers. "It's not what we would have planned, but it is the perfect wedding day anyway," she said. "Because we got to say our vows." They reached the church porch and paused. Rex touched his nose to Daisy's. "You're a soppy old thing, Daisy Dobson." "Daisy Cooper," she said, trying out her new name for the first time. "Mrs. Daisy Cooper." Rex beamed and pushed open the heavy wooden door so they and their guests could spill out into the small churchyard. "Are you ready for a photograph?" Jim asked. Daisy made a face. "I'm not sure I want one," she said. "It will just remind us who wasn't here." Jim put his arm around his daughter. "I know you wanted your brother to be here." "I know it was impossible but it still feels odd, doing this without Archie. If we'd waited, then perhaps he would have been home on leave." She screwed up her face. "But I suppose if we'd waited, Rex would have gone." "I'm glad we did it today, even if it was a bit rushed," Rex said. "When the war's over, we'll have a big party and Archie can bore us all with his stories about army adventures, and Poppy can be a proper bridesmaid-" "Thank you," said Daisy's younger sister, who'd been furious there hadn't been enough time to get a new frock for her to wear. "And perhaps my mother will have stopped crying by then," Rex added in Daisy's ear. Sure enough, her new mother-in-law was sobbing into a lacy handkerchief. Daisy-who'd known Rex's parents for donkey's years-hoped it was just the emotion of the day that had caused her tears and not that she'd secretly been disliking Daisy all this time. "And Louisa and Teddy can come," Ivy said, adjusting Daisy's veil around her face. "And Bernie." Daisy grinned at the mention of her godmother. "Louisa would have a hip flask in her handbag." "Almost certainly," Ivy said. "Now come on. Let's have a picture. You're only going to do this once, and it's important to remember it." In Rex's arms, smiling at the camera, Daisy thought she would never forget today. And yes, it wasn't perfect. She missed her brother, and she was wearing a dress that had once belonged to her mother, altered to fit and with the neckline changed, along with Rex's mother's veil. Her shoes pinched, and she wished Louisa were there to dispense an occasional tot of brandy along with sage advice about married life. But they'd been lucky to arrange this wedding so fast. Excerpted from The Kew Gardens Girls at War by Posy Lovell All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.