Reminiscent of Martha Hall Kelly’s Lilac Girls and Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale, this entrancing story “is a poignant reminder that there is no limit to what women can do. A nostalgic, engrossing read” (Julia London, New York Times bestselling author).
It’s easier for Cara Hargraves to bury herself in the past than to confront the present, which is why working for a gruff but brilliant antiques dealer is perfect. While clearing out an estate, she pries open an old tin that holds the relics of a lost relationship: an unfinished diary from World War II and a photo of a young woman in uniform. Captivated by the hauntingly beautiful diary, Cara begins her search for the author, never guessing that it might reveal her own family’s wartime secrets.
In 1941, nineteen-year-old Louise Keene feels trapped in her Cornish village, waiting for a wealthy suitor her mother has chosen for her to return from the war. But when Louise meets Flight Lieutenant Paul Bolton, a dashing RAF pilot stationed at a local base, everything changes. And changes again when Paul’s unit is deployed without warning.
Desperate for a larger life, Louise joins the women’s auxiliary branch of the British Army in the anti-aircraft gun unit as a gunner girl. As bombs fall on London, she and the other gunner girls show their bravery and resilience while performing their duties during deadly air raids. The only thing that gets Louise through those dark, bullet-filled nights is knowing that she and Paul will be together when the war is over. But when a bundle of her letters to him are returned unopened, she learns that wartime romance can have a much darker side.
“Sweeping, stirring, and heartrending in all the best ways, this tale of one of WWII’s courageous, colorful, and enigmatic Gunner Girls will take your breath away” (Kristin Harmel, bestselling author of The Room on Rue Amelie).
This reading group guide forThe Light Over London includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book
For Cara Hargraves, burying herself in her job working for an antiques dealer is an easy escape from the memories of a failed marriage and the tragic death of her parents. One day, while clearing out an estate, she finds a World War II–era diary and photograph of a young woman in uniform—the same uniform her grandmother wore during the war. With the help of her neighbor, Cara searches for the identity of this mysterious woman, all while exorcising the secrets of her family’s past.
Author Julia Kelly weaves in the tale of Louise Keene, the author of the diary, as she falls in love with a dashing pilot before running away from her Cornish village to join the women’s branch of the British Army during World War II. While Louise gains her independence and finds her place among her fellow gunner girls, she also discovers the darker side of wartime romance. The Light Over London is about two women who find themselves and fight to forge a better and brighter future.
Topics and Questions for Discussion
1. Although Louise’s mother is proud of her flower garden in front of their house, Louise’s father plants a vegetable garden there in case of rationing, which was “the first big battle of her parents’ war within the war. . . . The argument was finally won one spring day when Louise had returned from a bicycle ride to find her father on his knees in the mud, ripping out just-flowering plants, while her mother stood in the front window, arms crossed and face pale” (page 23). What does this scene reveal about Louise’s parents’ relationship, and how they cope with living during wartime?
2. One of the main conflicts in the beginning of The Light Over London is that Louise is dissatisfied with life in her Cornwall village. Who in your group is from a smaller town? Discuss the differences between life in small town and a bigger city—both the pros and the cons.
3. When Cara first discovers the diary, Mrs. Leithbridge tells her to throw it away, but Cara fights to keep it. Why do you think she is so drawn to it initially?
4. Nicole, Cara’s best friend, and Kate, Louise’s cousin, have relatively minor roles, but they are important in the book. How do their characters drive the plots of the two sections forward?
5. “It seemed extraordinary to her that this man who belonged to a glamorous world so removed from her own had chosen her, a girl who’d hardly ever ventured out of Cornwall save the few times she’d visited her mother’s sister in Bristol” (page 86). Discuss the power dynamics going on in Paul and Louise’s relationship. What do you see as potentially harmful for each of them?
6. Discussing a passage in Louise’s diary, Cara remarks, “Of course people slept together before they were married” (page 213). What are your perceptions of sexual ethics during World War II, and did reading The Light Over London change them?
7. What about Cara’s relationship to Liam is different from her relationship to her ex-husband? How do you think her character has changed?
8. Paul makes the following argument to Louise: “If you ask me, they should’ve never started women’s auxiliary branches. It’s too dangerous, not to mention the distraction” (page 221). What does Paul mean by “distraction”? What modern-day arguments have you heard for keeping certain groups of people from serving in the military?
9. After Paul dies, Louise learns that he already had a wife when he married her. What do you think of Louise’s response to this information? Did the revelations during her meeting with Lenora surprise you?
10. Paul’s character is one that’s easy to fall for (both as the protagonist and as the reader). Why? What about him makes it seem like a good decision for Louise to choose him?
11. In looking back at the scene where Paul and Louise first meet, can you find any hints of Paul’s true character? Did you think anything about him was suspicious?
12. A major theme of this book is Louise’s independence. Discuss her transformation as a character throughout. What surprised you?
13. How do Cara and Louise’s stories mirror each other? How do they diverge?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Cara’s need to find the owner of Louise’s diary is motivated by her desire to uncover her own family history. Look online for a basic family tree template, fill it out, and bring it back to the group—sharing what you know about your ancestry and the gaps that you found.
2. Have your group research the women who served in the British military during World War II. Bring your findings back and discuss what you discovered. Focus in on what many of these women did after serving.
3. A large part of Cara’s job is assessing the value of antiques. Have a show-and-tell day in your book club where you each bring in a family heirloom. If any items have been appraised, share what they’re worth and why. If any of your members are willing, bring items that haven’t been appraised to an antiques expert and ask the expert to appraise them. If there’s an appraisal cost, the whole group can chip in.
4. Host an authentic tea party, complete with English tea and biscuits. If you have time, put together an antiques version of “The Price Is Right.” With the antiques that you had expertly appraised, have everyone guess how much the pieces are worth. The person who guesses correctly the most times wins a teapot.
Julia Kelly is the award-winning author of books about ordinary women and their extraordinary stories. In addition to writing, she’s been an Emmy-nominated producer, journalist, marketing professional, and (for one summer) a tea waitress. Julia called Los Angeles, Iowa, and New York City home before settling in London. Readers can visit JuliaKellyWrites.com to learn more about all of her books and sign up for her newsletter so they never miss a new release.
“This novel is about ordinary women and their extraordinary stories. Its touching ability to blend historical drama from the 1940s with deeply emotional relationships of the present transports us to WWII London through forgotten antique treasures, remembered triumphs, and fierce family ties.” —Kate D., Senior Editor, on Light Over London