Custard Tarts and Broken Hearts by Mary Gibson

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Custard Tarts and Broken Hearts by Mary Gibson

Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Louise Jones
Reviewed by Louise Jones
Summary: The story of factory worker Nellie Clark and how her fortunes change during the years before and during the Great War.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 416 Date: January 2014
Publisher: Head of Zeus
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781781855775

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In the tinder-dry summer of 1911 the factory workers of Bermondsey are about to ignite the flame of change, leading to the great Summer of Unrest. Inspired by the dock workers’ strike, scores of dissatisfied female workers take to the streets in protest, demanding better working conditions and equal pay. Nellie Clark, who works in Duff’s custard factory, is entranced by the charismatic revolutionary Ted Bosher and is swept along in the fervour, enthusiastically joining her workmates in the protest. When the heat of the day dies down, however, she is reminded of the stark reality that her wages are needed to feed her starving siblings. How will her drunken, violent father react when he finds out what she has done?

From the first scene in the book, I knew I was in for a treat. Gibson has a knack of setting the scene perfectly and the opening description of the hot, oppressive custard factory, with clouds of yellow dust suspended in the air was so vividly evocative, I could almost taste the sweet powder on my lips as I read.

The story spans the years between 1911 and 1919 and details the changing fortunes of Nellie and her family during the years preceding and during the Great War. Nellie’s circumstances change greatly over the years and we see her grow and mature in her outlook. Nellie is a warm, likeable character and it is easy to care about her. I got so wrapped up in the story, that at times, I was moved to tears by the narrative. I particularly enjoyed reading about the developments and changes to Nellie’s relationship with the outspoken and controlling Ted Bosher and how this contrasted with her friendship to soppy ‘aporth Sam Gilbie.

I simply couldn’t put this book down; I had to find out what happened to Nellie and her family and how they would cope with the hardships forced upon them during the war years. The period has been well researched which gives an air of authenticity to the text. Gibson also has a gift for creating memorable, well-rounded characters and there were some interesting side stories that were neatly drawn together at the end of the book.

Gibson sets the bar extremely high with her first novel and I can’t wait to see what she produces next. She is an exciting and promising new author.

Tilly True by Dilly Court may appeal to those who enjoyed reading Custard Tarts and Broken Hearts.

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Buy Custard Tarts and Broken Hearts by Mary Gibson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Custard Tarts and Broken Hearts by Mary Gibson at


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