Official Synopsis from Goodreads: From the bestselling author of The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir comes a thrilling new WWII story about a village busybody—the mighty Mrs. Braithwaite—who resolves to find, and then rescue, her missing daughter.
Mrs. Braithwaite, self-appointed queen of her English village, finds herself dethroned, despised, and dismissed following her husband’s selfish divorce petition. Never deterred, the threat of a family secret being revealed sets her hot-foot to London to find the only person she has left—her clever daughter Betty, who took work there at the first rumbles of war.
But when she arrives, Betty’s landlord, the timid Mr. Norris, informs her that Betty hasn’t been home in days–with the chaos of the bombs, there’s no telling what might have befallen her. Aghast, Mrs. Braithwaite sets her bullish determination to the task of finding her only daughter.
Storming into the London Blitz, Mrs. Braithwaite drags the reluctant Mr. Norris along as an unwitting sidekick as they piece together Betty’s unexpectedly chaotic life. As she is thrown into the midst of danger and death, Mrs. Braithwaite is forced to rethink her old-fashioned notions of status, class, and reputation, and to reconsider the question that’s been puzzling her since her world overturned: How do you measure the success of your life?
Readers will be charmed by the unforgettable Mrs. Braithwaite and her plucky, ruthless optimism, and find in The Spies of Shilling Lane a novel with surprising twists and turns, quiet humor, and a poignant examination of mothers and daughters and the secrets we keep.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Setting: 1941 London and Ashcombe Village, England
***I received an eARC copy of The Spies of Shilling Lane from the publisher, Crown Publishing, via NetGalley***
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Review: Fun and sweet, but contains too much spy stuff. The Spies of Shilling Lane by Jennifer Ryan was completely different than what I expected going in. I was expecting an emotional historical fiction read about the Blitz in London, and while I did get that to some extent, this book had far more humor and spy activities than I expected. Parts of it were emotional, but mostly I found this to be a lighthearted spy caper that made me smile.
Mrs. Braithwaite is our main character. She’s an overbearing, controlling, vocal leader in a small community. Her husband divorces her, and her village ostracizes her and so she heads to London to tell her daughter some important news. She discovers that her daughter, Betty, has gone missing, and so Mrs. Braithwaite teams up with Betty’s landlord, the quiet Mr. Norris, and they search the streets of London looking for Betty. Turns out that Betty is a spy working for MI5, and this is where the book begins to lose its believability. But you know what? It didn’t matter to me; I put my reservations aside and just went with the plot and the adventure and enjoyed myself!
I will say that I found this read hilarious. Mrs. Braithwaite has so many great scenes: from standing up to the local criminals, to wielding her handbag with gusto, to hiding in the bushes on a stakeout. And through it all is the mild-mannered Mr. Norris who feels a duty to help search for Betty, but doesn’t want to get involved in anything too extreme. I loved the relationship between Mrs. Braithwaite and Mr. Norris. It was so sweet and charming, and I loved how they each helped the other discover life. It was quite lovely.
The one character that I felt was lacking development was Betty, Mrs. Braithwaite’s daughter. I never connected with her character, and she didn’t draw me in. I’m not a fan of spy stories, and when she appeared in the story it became more spy oriented, and I’m sure that had something to do with my lack of interest. All of the double agents, various characters, and general mystery just weren’t believable nor did I find it all that interesting. I wanted to get back to Mrs. Braithwaite and Mr. Norris bickering about spam vs sausages.
There were some emotional moments. As this is set in London during the Blitz, we get some scary bombing scenes, there’s a young lady at a hospital that Mrs. Braithwaite befriends, and one of Betty’s roommates has a sad story. Mr. Norris and Mrs. Braithwaite each have their own sadness that they are dealing with, but even though there is a lot of sadness, there is also a lot of joy and laughter. Even though I wasn’t a fan of the spy stuff, I’d absolutely love to read a sequel to The Spies of Shilling Lane, and I hope someday to see these characters again!
Bottom Line: A lighthearted spy caper with great characters!