The Orchard Girls by Nikola Scott #BookReview #BlogTour


London, 2004. Frankie didn't always have it easy. Growing up motherless, she was raised by her grandmother, who loved her – and betrayed her. For years, the rift between them seemed irreparable. But when their paths suddenly cross again, Frankie is shocked to realise that her grandmother is slowly losing control of her memory. There is a darkness in her past that won't stay buried – secrets going back to wartime that may have a devastating effect on Frankie's own life.

Somerset, 1940. When seventeen-year-old Violet's life is ripped apart by the London Blitz, she runs away to join the Women's Land Army, wanting nothing more than to leave her grief behind. But as well as the terror of enemy air raids, the land girls at Winterbourne Orchards face a powerful enemy closer to home. One terrible night, their courage will be put to the test – and the truth of what happened must be kept hidden, forever . . .

I'm delighted to be hosting the blog tour for The Orchard Girls today. Many thanks to Nikola Scott, Headline and Rachel Gilbey from Rachel's Random Resources for inviting me and for my advance digital copy of the novel, received through Netgalley.

I adored Nikola Scott's Summer of Secrets when I read it a few years ago so was thrilled to discover she'd written another dual timeline book. Secrets abound in The Orchard Girls too, in a story which switches seamlessly between London in 2004 and wartime Somerset.
The novel opens in September 1940 and finds society girl Violet Etherington railing against the future that's been mapped out for her. As with many families of the time, finances are tight and so Violet's overbearing mother is determined she should marry the rich but crushingly dull Edward Forster. Violet, however, is horrified at the thought, even when her cousin, Romy suggests she might find things easier as the head of her own household. Right from the start of The Orchard Girls, it's made clear how little control women had over their lives and when Violet pleads with Romy and Duffy - Romy's half-brother -  to help her escape an awkward wedding reception to go dancing and drinking, it might usually have just been a short-term reprieve.  This is wartime, though and London is under attack as the Blitz begins to wield its heavy toll on buildings and citizens alike. Her world changes in an instant and distraught with guilt, she makes a decision which changes everything.
Through the passage of time, I think we all have a tendency to look on the past with rose-tinted glasses and that's perhaps particularly true of the Second World War years which are thought of as a period when communities pulled together and everybody did their bit for the war effort. However, the truth wasn't always quite as edifying and Violet's experiences in the Women's Land Army paint a more authentic picture than some of the images of bucolic idyll we may be more used to. The first point of note is that she can't even join up under her own name and so becomes Lily Burns instead as Duffy assists her in securing a position working on an orchard in Somerset.
Life is changing for Violet's granddaughter, Frankie in 2004 too. The newspaper she worked on has recently been taken over by the London Post where the mercurial editor-in-chief, Hugo informs new and old journalists that restructuring will be necessary and that each staff member will be subject to an evaluation process. Frankie is immediately put in a difficult situation when it becomes evident that Hugo has researched her background and is aware she is Violet Etherington's granddaughter. It quickly becomes apparent that although Violet was a stalwart figure in the young Frankie's early life, something happened which caused them to become estranged. Nevertheless, her recollections suggest that whatever occurred, they were once close and she has much to be grateful to her grandmother for. As they tentatively reunite, Frankie begins to realise that Violet is starting to lose her memory and decides to move in with her, despite still resenting her grandmother's previous actions.
I thought the similarities between the two women were cleverly woven into the storyline - both are in positions where they feel helpless but both show strength of character. Frankie has to confront Violet's memory loss and subsequently her unpredictable mood swings while also trying to cope with colleagues who resent Hugo's perceived favoritism towards her and his persistent demands that she cash in on her name and connections to write an explosive story about her well-known grandmother.
Meanwhile, the chapters set in the past are especially moving as Violet - or Lily - finally discovers what it means to have friends. The bond that forms between the Land Girls is heartwarming as they unite to endure the backbreaking work in the face of open hostility by those who consider them women of uncertain morals. The misogynistic attitudes of the period mean that many people look on them with suspicion and it's an opinion shared by their  horrible boss, Mr Hardwick, who makes their lives a misery. The Orchard Girls doesn't flinch from portraying the bleaker side of life for some Land Girls and it's an important reminder of how courageous women like this were, working to the point of exhaustion for little reward and even less respect. 
Frankie hopes that being reminded of her younger days might help to bring back the Violet she still longs for but the demands of then and now hang over them all. As the Land Girls face the full horror of the war on a terrible night that changes everything, I tore through the pages shocked by what occurs here and intrigued to see what the dramatic revelations would eventually mean for Violet and for Frankie. 
The Orchard Girls is a beautifully written, evocative novel with exceptional characterisation. The wartime chapters present a realistic, fascinating and moving portrait of the time while the modern day sections are also heartbreaking as both women gradually come to terms with Violet's dementia. Nikola Scott perceptively reflects the fear and uncertainty of such a distressing diagnosis but this is also an emotional reminder that the wartime generation had their moment too; they were once everything young people can be and more as they had to do it in the throes of wartime when they needed to be brave and resilient too. An engrossing, heartwarming and honest story about friendship and family, The Orchard Girls is an absolute treat of a novel - I loved it!

The Orchard Girls is published by Headline Review it is out now in ebook and audiobook, with the paperback to follow on 2nd September, purchasing links can be found here but please consider supporting independent bookshops whenever possible.

Don't miss the rest of the blog tour, details are below.

About the Author
Nikola Scott started out in book publishing and worked as a crime fiction editor in America and England for many years. Turning her back on blood-spattered paperback covers and dead bodies found in woods, she sat down at her kitchen table one day to start her first novel — and hasn’t stopped writing since. Obsessed with history and family stories (‘How exactly did you feel when your parents gave the house to your brother?’) she is well-known – and feared – for digging up dark secrets at dinner parties and turning them into novels. 

Her first two books, My Mother's Shadow and Summer of Secrets, have both been international bestsellers and were translated widely around the world. Nikola lives in Frankfurt with her husband and two boys (and a kitchen table). 
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