Alice Holden finds herself living in small town New Zealand in 1946 – a widow with two small children, a domineering Mother and an unwanted local suitor. And then there is Jean. Jean delivers Alice’s milk each morning, and with it a healthy dose of desire and confusion for Alice.
Alice slowly comes to realize that life without Jean in it is a poorer life, and when things become harder and harder for Alice to hold her small family together, there is no one else she can turn to and rely upon but Jean. And so Jean cautiously weaves herself into the fabric of Alice’s life and family, but with all the distractions, disruptions and obstacles in their way, can Alice and Jean find a way to let true love win?
The character of Alice is so well written I nearly cried while following her story. Alice is a war widow who slowly comes to the realization that her life is not what it could be… and that the key to making it better lies in the woman who delivers her milk. Alice is delicate, subtle in her strength and immediately likeable. Hammond gently but ably guides Alice through a number of trials and tribulations, and as the story progresses, so does Alice. We see the gentle, Mother side of Alice who simply wants to protect and provide for her children, and the subtle sexiness and femininity of Alice as she emerges from herself into a lover; a woman who goes after what she wants and discovers that need is not a bad thing.
Jean is exactly what you expect a lesbian to be in the space she is written for. She is butch, the strong, silent type who keeps to herself mostly for self-preservation reasons. But she is gentle, loving and passionate, and determined to save the woman she loves from a life less than she deserves. In Jean, Lily Hammond has created a beautiful heroine so endearing you immediately want her to succeed in her desire to save Alice and her children with her love. Jean is the type of gentle butch character that will make you swoon and Hammond has artfully crafted a character in Jean that will stay with you long after the pages are read.
The characters of Tilly and Jack are charming additions to this story, and the book would not be the same without the layer added by these two. The other minor characters in the book are all well written as well, and Hammond has used her characters to draw you in to their community. The characters in this book are as much a part of the location and time as anything else Hammond uses to create this.
The Writing Style
Lily Hammond has perfectly paced this book. Maybe it was because I couldn’t put it down, but I felt like there was a gentle build of romance, a couple of decent twists to make this more than your average romance, and a happily ever after. As a book set in small town 1940’s New Zealand, there is some local colloquialisms, but Hammond has been careful not to assume the readers prior knowledge, and has illustrated as much as possible what this place looks and feels like for her characters.
I LOVE this book. Lily Hammond has crafted a story that made my heart ache and sing at the same time, and I lived every moment of Alice and Jean’s story as I read it. Absolutely brilliant book that brings to life a time and a place that feels so real, and characters that introduce themselves slowly at first, but will leave you as friends.
There is a hint of abuse, violence towards women, and cheating in this novel, but this all adds to the story rather than being there gratuitously. This book is very quintessentially 1940’s New Zealand, so if historical fiction isn’t your thing, you might struggle slightly.
This is one of my favourite books. Lily Hammond has brought to life a beautiful romance in a time where that romance shouldn’t be possible, and has written exquisite characters that will stay with you for a long time after you finish reading. If you are looking for a romance that takes you to another time and place, this is a fantastic place to start. Masterful.
Excerpt from Alice & Jean by Lily Hammond
‘Morning Tilly,’ a voice outside said and Alice felt her heart pound faster, and she pressed a hand against her chest, feeling the heat of her flesh through the fabric of dress and apron.
It was a warm rich voice and she hurried towards it, hands flying from stomach to skirt to hair. She stood on the doorstep at last, flustered despite herself, and hoping that she hadn’t accidentally chewed off her lipstick during the morning’s wait.
‘Hullo Alice,’ the same voice said, accompanied by a smile that reached cocoa-coloured eyes dancing in a sun-golden face. ‘One pint of our finest, and a bottle of cream – what’s the cream for, Alice my love? Are you baking me a cake?’ The voice was full of laughter and seeped in under Alice’s pale skin and warmed her from the inside out.
Tilly turned to her. ‘Can we bake a cake, Mama? Please?’
It took a moment for Alice to answer the child. All the words were backed up in her throat, coating it like she’d swallowed a mouthful of honey.
Then she shook herself out of her fancies. She was being silly. Her hand patted Tilly’s shoulder.
‘We are going to bake a cake Tilly,” she said. ‘That’s exactly what the cream is for. We’re going to make a nice Victoria sponge.’ To her ears, her voice sounded clogged with cream already.
Tilly looked up at her. ‘Can Jean come help us eat it?’
Jean grinned at her, pushing the small bottle of cream into her hands. ‘Victoria sponge is my favourite,’ she said to the child, and looking at the mother.
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Bits and Bobs
ISBN number: 9780473378158
Publisher: Sapphica Books
Lily Hammond Online