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the girl from the paradise ballroom

Source: Review copy from Broadway Books
Rating: ★★★★☆

For an instant, as he opened his throat, he feared the sound would be lost in the clatter of the ballroom. Then his own voice soared, swelling through the air like a sirocco. Slowly the faces turned toward him: not only the Italians but the stewards, the British soldiers, the refugees, the Nazis. Little by little the Hitler Youth anthem died away. Antonio was filled with hope, a sense of rightness. This is what I am for, he thought. This is what I was born to do.

(from The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom)

Quick summary: In The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom, a chance meeting between a struggling British dancer, Olivia, and an Italian singer, Antonio, changes their lives forever. When they meet again, Antonio has agreed to take singing lessons from an Austrian refugee, and he learns that his wealthy patron is Olivia’s new husband. They must navigate their attraction to one another as Olivia sees cracks in her marriage and Antonio deals with trouble at home, as his wife begins to mirror his brother’s strong support for Mussolini and the Fascist Party. Set in England before and after World War II, Alison Love paints a portrait of the immigrant experience as fear and chaos erupt during wartime.

Why I wanted to read it: I’m a sucker for a World War II novel with a striking cover!

What I liked: Before The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom, I had never read about the experiences of the Italian community in Britain and how many were swept up in the rise of fascism as an expression of pride in their nationality. Antonio works hard to support his family, helping at his father’s cigarette kiosk during the day and singing in clubs at night. He resists his brother’s push to join the Fascist Party, and he sees the way the refugees fleeing the Nazis are treated and is not surprised that after Mussolini joins the war, the British government begins arresting foreigners in droves. Love does a great job showing how the tensions related to the war built up and then exploded into riots and how this fear lead to the mistreatment of refugees and immigrants. I also liked her portrayal of the strong female characters, especially Filomena, Antonio’s sister, who falls in love with an Englishman despite her family’s plan for an arranged marriage. When everything seems to be going wrong for Filomena, she summons her strength and courage and moves forward.

What I disliked: I had a hard time buying into Antonio and Olivia’s relationship. I just didn’t feel the chemistry between them. There was so much going on in this novel that the historical aspects overshadowed the love story, and that was okay with me because I thought that part of the book was more interesting.

Final thoughts: The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom brings to life the Italian experience in England during World War II. Although I didn’t feel the passion between Antonio and Olivia, I thought they were interesting characters, and I enjoyed reading their stories. Even with their love story taking a back seat for me, there was more than enough depth to this novel to keep me entertained and invested in the characters.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for having me on the blog tour for The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom.

Disclosure: I received The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom from Broadway Books for review.

© 2016 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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