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Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
The Soldier and the Orphan: Separated by Church and War by Alastair Henry is a historical romance set principally in the first half of the twentieth century. When Billy Jones answered the patriotic call and went to war against Hitler, he had no idea of the journey of discovery he was about to undertake. Wounded and recovering in a Paris hospital, Billy falls in love with the ministering angel, his nurse. Suffering from shell shock, Billy returns to England to recuperate. Billy’s only real family was his mother, Mary, who died while he fought in France. All alone and still recalling the horrors he experienced in France, Billy has great difficulties reintegrating into the austere post-WWII world that was Britain. An old friend is his salvation, offering him a job and a place to live. As Billy slowly rebuilds his life, he begins to wonder about his mother’s death, and he also longs for his beloved angel, Claire, from Paris. Finally, a chance encounter reveals excellent news; Billy has a twin brother who was taken away from his mother immediately after birth and put into the Church’s care. Billy’s mission becomes three-fold; to find his brother, to discover how his mother died, and to reconnect with Claire, the love of his life.
The Soldier and the Orphan is a beautiful, warm story of fate, chance, and the luck of birth. At a time when unwed mothers were actively ostracized from polite society, Billy’s mother was faced with the most horrific of choices; to surrender her baby boys to the church. I particularly appreciated Mary’s courage and steadfastness to stand up to the bullying of her parents and the priest, who were determined to take the boys from her. That she managed to hold onto one of them at least was a testament to her courage and determination. The highlight for me in this tale is the constant serendipity and interweaving lines of both Billy's and Tommy’s lives. I truly appreciated the coincidences that allowed their differing paths, which took them thousands of miles apart, to cross and collide eventually. Alastair Henry does a marvelous job of presenting different perspectives on the two boys' journeys, and the fast-paced, high emotion that the story generates makes this book hard to put down. You will find yourself constantly needing to know what happens next. This is a fascinating insight into how children of that time were often saddled with “the sins of the parents” and how their lives were manipulated without them having an opportunity to make any decisions or input. This is a satisfying and enjoyable read that I can highly recommend.