Sisters on Bread Street by Frances Brody

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Sisters on Bread Street by Frances Brody

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A welcome reissue of an early work of the author of the Kate Shackleton mysteries. If you're interested in the time around the first world war and family sagas then you will love this book.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 480 Date: January 2016
Publisher: Piatkus
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-978-0349410708

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Julia and Margaret are the Wood sisters, struggling to hoist themselves out of a life of poverty in Leeds just before the outbreak of the first world war. Well, Julia is struggling. Margaret sees her way out as being through marriage to a rich suffragette's son, Thomas. She's an apprentice milliner and beautiful, but both sisters have a disadvantage and it's one which grows bigger as war approaches: their father is German.

A limited edition of Sisters on Bread Street was first published to mark the centenary of Julia McNeil, Frances Brody's mother (who lived on Bread Street as a child) and it's based on stories told by her mother. It has the ring of authenticity, bringing to life the way that people lived and the closeness of hunger and even death. You'll warm to Julia, a hard worker determined to do her best for her family, but even she was not above theft when it came to acquiring the ingredients for the meat pies which she hawked - or to settling a score. Honesty, it seems, was a privilege of the better off - if they cared to indulge themselves.

It would be easy to dislike Margaret, but she looked carefully at her assets (her beauty) and how she could make the most of them. She was pragmatic and where Julia was determined to get the best for the family, Margaret looked out for herself. I was struck too by Joe Wood, the girls' father and a man who was only too willing to work, but suffering for a background (German and Jewish) which was no choice of his and about which he could do nothing. Brody brings out the casual cruelties to which he was subjected and which occasionally washed over onto his girls.

I was envious of the community spirit in and around Bread Street, where families would support each other: it's something that many of us have lost. From her early teens Julia felt a responsibility not just to her own family, but to other families who would go hungry if it was not for the meat pies which she gave them and a promise to a dying friend saw her giving substantial help to one family well into the future.

I enjoyed the book although I must confess that family sagas are not really my first choice of reading: I read because I love Brody's Kate Shackleton mysteries and not just for the stories: the writing is superb and it was this which tempted me to read Sisters on Bread Street. I enjoyed Sisters, but if the family saga appeals to you then you'll probably get more from it than I did.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy of the book to the Bookbag.

For non-fiction stories from the first world war, we can recommend Stories of World War One by Tony Bradman. It's aimed at teens but adults will enjoy it too. The aftermath of the war from the point of view of women is covered in Fighting on the Home Front: The Legacy of Women in World War One by Kate Adie. If it's fiction you're looking for then have a look at The Soldier's Wife by Pamela Hart.

Buy Sisters on Bread Street by Frances Brody at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Sisters on Bread Street by Frances Brody at

Buy Sisters on Bread Street by Frances Brody at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Sisters on Bread Street by Frances Brody at


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