26 April 2016
Book Review: After the Last Dance by Sarra Manning
Kings Cross station, 1943. Rose arrives in London hoping to swap the drudgery of wartime for romance, glamour and jiving with GIs at Rainbow Corner, the famous dance hall in Piccadilly Circus. As the bombs fall, Rose loses her heart to a pilot but will lose so much more before the war has done its worst.
Las Vegas, present day. A beautiful woman in a wedding dress walks into a seedy bar and asks the first man she sees to marry her. When Leo slips the ring onto Jane's finger, he has no idea that his new wife will stop at nothing to get what she wants.
So when Jane meets Rose, now a formidable older lady, there's no love lost between them. But with time running out, can Rose and Jane come together to make peace with the tragic secrets that have always haunted their lives?"
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I have recently tried to broaden my reading horizons, and have tried different kinds of books that have looked interesting, and luckily they have been enjoyable reads also. I've also discovered that I really enjoy reading historical fiction, so when I saw a copy of Sarra Manning's new book After the Last Dance up for request on Netgalley, I thought it looked just like my cup of tea. It's a book with a dual narrative, one in modern day, and one in 1943 at the time of the second world war. This is probably my favourite period of history, and a subject I studied intensively for A Level History, so I thought this book would be perfect for me, and I was right!
As I mentioned, there are 2 stories in this book, which each come together towards the middle of the book in a very clever way. First of all, there's the modern story of Jane, who has run out on her wedding in Las Vegas and ends up in a bar, when she meet Leo. In a drunken haze, the pair decide to tie the knot despite just meeting, and quickly do so. Then back in 1943, a young woman called Rose has run away from home to come and work in London at the Rainbow Corner, where American soldiers go for dances whilst away from home. Rose makes some new friends, and also a few soldiers who more than catch her eye. The past catches up with the future when Jane comes into Rose's world through a family connection, and the two women realise they may have more in common than they would have ever believed...
I've read a few of Sarra's previous books, but this was her first foray into the world of historical fiction. I therefore had no preconceptions about it, and went into it with an open mind. I needn't have worried too much though, because I was taken by the story immediately, and found myself utterly hooked by both Rose and Jane's stories, separate as they were at the beginning. In fact, I could happily have read a book just focussing more on Rose's story, it was just brilliantly written and Sarra's writing was so evocative of the time - everything from the fashion, to the setting, Rainbow Corner and the American soldiers were vividly described, and were a joy to read about throughout the book.
Jane's story was an interesting one. I spent much of the first part of the book trying to figure her out, she was a bit of an enigma and I couldn't work out where she was coming from at all, but I liked that about her! She was quite a wild character, but I had the feeling there was a hidden side to her, and I looked forward to reading more of the book and finding out the truth about her. Her new relationship with Leo was a fun read, I couldn't believe the two actually went through with marrying each other, and soon find out there's lots they obviously didn't know about each other! The pair end up back in London when Leo's aunt falls very poorly, and here is where the stories connect.
Rose's time at Rainbow Corner was a fascinating one, and I have to confess I didn't know anything about Rainbow Corner itself until I read this book. Rose very much built her own life down in London after running away from home, and I enjoyed reading about the relationships she built with the other girls, and how hard she had to work to make ends meet and make a good life for herself. I enjoyed reading about the wonderful things the girls go to wear, the handsome American soldiers, the music, the food, drink (coca cola!), and even London at that time. You can really tell Manning has done her research and this was certainly my favourite part of the book.
The book was superb to read from start to finish, and I couldn't put it down once I had begun reading. It wasn't a short book but I could have read double the length that I did, I really did enjoy everything about the story, especially when we meet Rose again as an elderly lady and she starts to relive her time at Rainbow Corner through her memories, bringing Jane into the fold as a new family member too. I loved the level of intrigue we had with Jane, the burgeoning relationship between her and Leo, Rose's past life during the war, and also dealing with her illness in the modern day, coming to terms with her own mortality. Manning weaves the threads of the two stories perfectly together into one wonderful novel that I adored from start to finish. This book is certainly an emotional rollercoaster, with laughs, love, sadness and tears, but one I must highly, highly recommend!