Lyons teashops were an an institution in Britain between the two wars, as much for their distinctive, well trained “Nippies” as their good food and drinks. This book features three girls who were collectively known as Nippies in the Ramsgate branch. Rose, Lily and Katie have all grown up in Ramsgate, and have all been trained in London to work in this local branch. It is now early 1940, and the stirrings of war are beginning to affect daily life and threaten the calm of the town. The girls will discover the changes that war will bring in this well written story of life and loves when everything is under threat. Secrets are exposed, dangers faced and discoveries made as the girls try to stand together with those that love them. The background of danger in a coastal town makes this a different picture from a London based war novel and lends a certain intimacy to a community under fire. I was so pleased to be given the opportunity to read and review this book which is bound to prove popular with Elaine’s many fans.
The book opens with Flora, Rose’s mother in 1926, when life seems very different. She enjoys visiting a Lyons tea shop, but hopes for more than such work for her only child. As she secretly lays aside the clues to a hopeful future, she acknowledges that she must get back to running a guest house, Sea View, which is the scene for much of the narrative in 1940. As we first see Rose, she is helping her friend Lily as she arrives in a dishevelled state, partly as a result of losing her mother recently. Rose is aware that working in Lyons is a cut above the other local cafes, even if the cost is dealing with the extremely strict Miss Butterworth, manager of the Ramsgate branch. Katie also arrives, full of the joy of her relationship with Jack who like her grew up in the local orphanage. They go on to meet people like the charming Ben who offer a glimpse of a different life, and face challenges that can sometimes be seen as horrific. Revelations emerge as the focus of the book slightly moves, but the people gravitate back to Sea View as the centre of the action as offering shelter to an assorted group of people. Anya is a refugee who has joined the household, but my favourite character is Mildred, whose bravery and kindness transforms situations. As enemy invasion becomes a real possibility, and a great event means that everyone is stretched to the limit.
This is such an absorbing book, which flows so well that it is difficult to put down. I felt that the characters worked well as individuals, with each of their own situations dealt with, and then together the dialogue and dynamics really brought them all alive. As with Elaine’s Woolworths series, the central force of the Lyons tea shop holds the strands together, together with Sea View. The local knowledge as always is impeccable, as well as the research into the strict rules by which Lyons ran every branch. I really enjoyed this novel in every respect, and cannot wait to see if and when “The Teashop Girls” and their friends return.
Like Elaine, I have good childhood memories of Ramsgate as a summer holiday place. We actually had some form of cousin living there, so we would all squash into her house for the week or so we were there. It was definitely a special place where I first encountered slot machines and beaches, sand in sandwiches and sunburn! Later we would go to the coast North Wales, which was great fun, but Ramsgate had its own style and people I still remember. This book brought back memories!