Cover Image: The Letter Home

The Letter Home

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Member Reviews

Inspired by heartbreaking true events, a rich, powerful novel of a mother's love, a baby girl, a dangerous journey from Ireland to America and a forgotten story that binds two families separated by an ocean.  A wonderful and incredibly rich novel . . . I wasn't able to put it down till I reached the end. I was absolutely captivated by the atmosphere, and the characters...
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A good story well told after what I presume a huge amount of research. Without a doubt Bridget is the star of the show and I could happily ( or actually very sadly) have read just her story.on the other hand Jessie never gelled with me.  I did find that all the modern time characters became a confusion of names and so some of their chapters were tedious. Researching your own family tree is hard to gets a grip of so all the details of the ones in the book were a tad overkill. 
Cracking book though and it will be a great favourite of many readers I’m sure.
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Rachael English has once again written another beautiful and heart wrenching book that slowly lures you in and holds you in its thrall until the very last page. The Letter Home shines a light on one of the most turbulent, difficult and impactful times in Ireland’s history, that period being the time of The Great Famine in the late 1840’s. The last time I read a book that focused on the famine was way back in my childhood when Marita Conlon McKenna’s book, Under the Hawthorn Tree, was published. Still to this day that book is studied in schools and it’s one many Irish children remember reading and learning so much from. I read lots of historical fiction, mostly centred around World War Two, so it was refreshing to read more of my own country’s history. How so many people were forced to immigrate due to blight destroying the main food source of potatoes resulting in a dreadful famine. The legacy of those bitter, hard and challenging years were felt for a very long time. Immigration still occurs today but for many different reasons as opposed to what faced those poor souls facing the difficult decision to leave during the Famine. 

The Letter Home is an extremely well-written book and brought together the threads of the past and established connections with the present and showing how in the modern day challenges relating to immigartion are still faced. My eyes were once again opened to what occurred during the famine and given it was so long ago, we tend to forget although not intentionally by any means, what our ancestors endured. This story really made me want to go back and research more about the Famine and how it perhaps affected people in my area. The book was impeccably researched but yet it never came across as if I was reading a history book. The human, emotional side shone through combined with historical fact. The three strands of the story were seamlessly woven together and this made for a fascinating read. At times some of the scenes set during the Famine were very difficult to read about without a tear forming in your eye but all the details needed to be there to really make you connect and feel for the main character, Bridget. It makes you appreciate what you have today and how we have come so far from those dark days.

In the present day, Jessie Daly’s life has imploded following an unfortunate appearance on a primetime national television programme. She is faced with no other choice than to return to her home village of Clooneven in Co.Clare. She needs to lick her wounds and come to terms with what has happened. Her career is in tatters and her family aren’t all that impressed with having to bail her out. Her parents, although supportive, you can sense their disbelief and shame at what has unfolded and her sister Lorna now sees an opportunity for Jessie to pay off her debts by working in her café. Lorna seems to have the perfect life which Jessie is very much envious of but perhaps all is not as it seems. I loved the slow unwinding of Lorna’s story and how it realistically and cleverly connected to the overall themes being explored in the book. Jessie will soon learn that life may appear golden on the outside for Lorna but deep down we are all struggling with our own battles. Is she willing to lift the lid given her thirst for a good story as a  journalist at the risk of further upsetting already unstable family dynamics?

To be honest, I didn’t feel a huge amount of sympathy for Jessie. I felt the situation she found herself in was very much of her own making. I didn’t really care what direction her life took but it’s when she meets local teacher Ger, whom was once a childhood friend, that the tangible links between the past and the present were established. Ger’s class are studying The Great Irish Famine and the story of what happened to one local woman sparks more than a little interest. So sets in motion, a journey for Jessie which I think allowed her to take her mind off her current situation. She finds herself delving back in time to when Clooneven was enduring the harshest years anyone could remember. She begins to uncover an incredible story whilst researching her family tree and in doing so it will make her face up to some harsh truths. Maybe the lessons she learns from the past will help her reconcile the events ongoing in the present and in some small way stop the same thing reoccurring right on her doorstep?

Without doubt, the strongest parts of the book were the chapters which focused on Bridget Markham. I felt deeply transported back in time to an Ireland so vastly different from the one I live in today. The poverty was widespread, and people lived in little more than hovels and were forced to pay astronomical amounts of rents to absentee landlords who lived in England. Bridget is the stand out character of this book. She suffers so much with one devastating loss after another. You can feel the hunger and weakness emanating from her as for several years the potato crop which families rely so heavily on fails. Poverty, disease, filth and hardship are evident on every page but Bridget is someone who battles for survival and I really didn’t know here she drew strength from given trauma after trauma befall her and her family. I loved all the minute detail regarding Bridget and her family as they battled to survive each day. This detail all added to the feeling of destitution and how so many were clinging to any small shred of hope that they could weather the storm they found themselves in. I still can’t comprehend that people were forced to live outside if evicted from their homes and had no choice but to eat grass. The workhouse was but a last option and given was such a remarkable and powerful person she did everything to stop this happening. 

We follow Bridget for a number of years and her family situation gradually deteriorates. Her mother, brother and husband all die and she is left with her baby daughter Norah. Bridget is fierce in her love and will do anything to protect her daughter. She literally has nothing and food is non existent but her honesty, intelligence and selflessness shone through from every page. I was so glad she was given such a strong voice throughout the book it was like she was speaking for all those who died during the Famine and reminding us never to forget and not to allow the same thing to happen again. Bridget’s story took on many twists and turns. Literally everything was thrown at her and I found it wore me down and made me feel great anguish and upset for her because with each turn of the page I never knew what she would face. It was like a constant uphill battle. 

When Bridget makes the ultimate sacrifice her love radiates off the page and your admiration for her grows. The significance of the letter mentioned in the title comes into play here and also more so towards the end of the book but it was wonderfully executed. So poignant and memorable and heart-breaking. I found the sections of the book set during Bridget’s time in America really fascinating. The journey on the coffin ship, the hardships faced when she arrived when all had thought America would welcome everyone with open arms after all it was the land of rich and plenty. I loved how the author laid out little clues planted in chapters focusing on America from Bridget’s perspective to tie things back to the present. I didn’t fully join the dots until the end and that’s the what a good book should be. But I will say the inclusion of family trees really did help things because given we were dealing with a vast time period and several generations I was becoming confused and needed this clarification.

Kaitlin, living in Boston in the present, is the third woman who binds the strands of the story together and for the majority of her story I was wondering why was she there. She came across as just being very down and not in a good place and I hate saying this but she always seemed to be moaning and groaning. Yes, her personal circumstances are heart-breaking to read about but I found myself much more drawn to Bridget and Jessie. I understand the necessity for her inclusion but in all honesty she didn’t make the most impact on me and she wasn’t the most memorable character.

The Letter Home is a haunting and absorbing read detailing a story of poverty and emigration and the connections between the past and the present are cleverly established. This book gives you plenty of food for thought and despite the themes being dark and difficult to comprehend Bridget’s tale although full of misery, neglect and death has moments of pure hope and sunshine. I thoroughly enjoyed how the story came full circle. It’s a beautifully crafted story which will stay with me for a long time.
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The letter home by Rachael English. 
When journalist Jessie Daly loses everything she holds dear, she travels home to Ireland's west coast, and helps an old friend researching life during the famine. Jessie becomes drawn into the heartbreaking story of a brave young mother, Bridget Moloney, and her daughter, Norah. On the other side of the ocean, in Boston, Kaitlin Wilson is researching her family tree. She unearths a fascinating story, but her research forces her to confront uncomfortable truths about the past, as she uncovers an unexpected connection to Ireland in famine times. Generations before, in the small town of Boherbreen, a young mother faced a heart-wrenching choice: to watch her baby girl perish with hunger, or to start out for a new life in America, alone, in order to protect the one she loves most...
A good read with good characters.  Likeable story.  I did like Kaitlin. 4*.
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Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for an early review copy. 

Jessie,  journalist after having lost everything she loved, goes home to Ireland. There, she finds herself looking into how people lived during the big famine. Soon she’s engrossed into the story of a mother Bridget and her daughter Norah.

In Boston, also doing some research is Kaitlin, but she’s looking into her family tree. Whilst doing so, she finds out an story too, meaning she has to face some hard truths about what happened in the past, as there is a connection with a family, who used to live in Ireland during the famine. 

Years ago, in a town called Boherbreen, a mother, yet young, was facing a heart wrenching decision, either she slowly lost her daughter sue to none food or she left to start a new life in America. But to do that, she has to go alone, so what will she do about her daughter…….
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There are a few authors on my list who I know will never let me down and Rachael English is one such storyteller. From the start of The Letter Home I was engrossed in the way that the past, and the present, are brought to life in a family drama which spans generations and which tugs away at the heartstrings.

Initially set in Ireland in the mid-nineteenth century, at the height of the potato famine, we meet Bridget Maloney and her young daughter Nora who are facing the worst hardships imaginable. We then move forward to the present day and meet, Jessie and Kaitlin, two very modern young women who are separated by an ocean but who discover in searching for clues about their family history that there are secrets which have been hidden away for generations. 

Beautifully written, and impeccably researched, I enjoyed all the many different aspects of The Letter Home. The history, and hardship, of nineteenth century Ireland comes alive but then so does the present day with all its modern challenges and I found that I enjoyed reading Jessie and Kaitlin's story as much as Bridget's decision to say goodbye to everything she loved. By carefully threading together the missing pieces of this family history we encounter every emotion from sadness and despair, through to acceptance and remembrance.

The heartbreaking connection to the past is what binds future generations together and The Letter Home is a poignant story about surviving incredible hardship and of making a brave new start against all odds
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What a great read. Sad in some parts which I’m not always keen on but still a great book with will resonate with others. Well written book.
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This was such an enjoyable and lovely read. I was gripped right from the start and engaged all the way through. It was well written with good characters and a good story. A really ejoyable read.
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This won't download to my kindle. No idea why as I'm doing exactly what I've done in the past with hundreds of other titles so unable to review
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