Review: The Windmill Girls by Kay Brellend

Friday 16 January 2015

Title: The Windmill Girls
Author: Kay Brellend
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: 15th January 2015
Pages: 388
Source: Review Copy
Rating: 4/5
Purchase: Amazon
The Windmill Theatre is proud of its boast that the theatre is 'never closed' despite London being brought to its knees by the Blitz. For Dawn Nightingale, her job as a dancer provides a good living, though she draws the line at parading across the stage as one of the infamous 'tasteful' nudes.

Dawn also finds it hard not to get caught up in the petty rivalries of her fellow employees: Rosie, headstrong and naive, and Marlene, whose saucy behaviour is sure to land her in trouble. Then there's Gertie and Olive, the backroom girls who are constantly at each other's throats.

But when Dawn witnesses a crime, she realises that there are worse things than being caught in an air raid. For the women of the Windmill Theatre and the men that they cannot escape, the pull of London's dark underbelly is never far away...

I am a huge fan of Kay Brellend's books and was extremely excited to receive a review copy of The Windmill Girls just before Christmas. Some of Kay's previous books have taken place on Campbell Road, a notorious London slum, with larger than life characters making the best of what they had (or rather didn't have). This time around much of the action takes place at the Windmill Theatre, focusing on a number of characters but namely five very different but headstrong women, Dawn, Rosie, Marlene, Gertie and Olive, some more likeable than others, and some with secrets that could wreak havoc should they get out. Kay creates strong characters, and female characters I think readers can really get behind, root for and perhaps see a little something of themselves in.

I read a lot of family sagas, which are typically romantic, fluffy reads whereas with Kay's books she really touches on the darker side of the war, not covering anything up or romanticising what was a very scary and dangerous time for a lot of people. Dawn witnesses a crime very early on in the book, and this sets the scene for the drama that unfolds over the course of the novel. Kay's descriptions of the area, the feelings of her characters and the action taking place on the page really transport you back in time to the point where I felt as if I was a part of the story, watching the action unfold from afar. In the beginning I had no idea where this story would go, but knew that if Kay's previous books were anything to go by it would be a story that had me gripped and The Windmill Girls certainly was gripping.

War changes people, both in good ways and bad and that is certainly the case with The Windmill Girls which features characters from both ends of the spectrum, some that I absolutely rooted for whilst others I found truly despicable. Kay creates characters that feel real, this is fiction but there's a little bit of fact and truth in there which gives this book an eerie sense of realism. It's hard, as always, to talk about the story too much but it is really good and at times exciting, though it does touch on some emotional subjects in places. Often with books like these you expect the typical happy ever after, but as with the war itself, that's not always the case and Kay doesn't shy away from that. All that said though the book is very much a celebration of times gone by, of people pulling together and good overcoming evil. The characters felt so real that I felt real hope for them, and the ending of the book felt a little open-ended which I hope means Kay will continue the story of these characters in a future book.


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