Wednesday, May 6, 2020

A Shop Girl at Sea (Pennington's #4), by Rachel Brimble

Atria, May 2020

Pennington's, the finest department store in Bath, and getting a reputation that's spreading through Britain, is still going strong. Changes are coming to the lives of some of the staff, though. Esther Culford is on maternity leave, about to give birth to her first child. Amelia Wakefield is stepping up to act as the window designer rather than the window designer's assistant, and Ruby Taylor is acting as her assistant.

But the RMS Titanic is about to set sail for New York, and Elizabeth Pennington has a plan. She's sending Mr. Weir, the head of the men's department, and Amelia Wakefield, to New York City, to check out the department stores of America's greatest city for ideas and inspiration. It's an exciting adventure for Amelia, a sign Miss Pennington and Mr. Carter have growing confidence in her, and a chance to continue to better herself.

Ruby is also getting a chance to prove herself, taking a responsibility for Pennington's windows she hadn't imagined yet.

Meanwhile, hardworking seaman Samuel Murphy has signed on to the Titanic with his own dreams of possibly staying in America, escaping a life completely bounded by his widowed mother and two sisters, whom he has been completely responsible for since his father died suddenly in a dockside accident. They are demanding and dependent, and his mother won't hear of either of the sisters getting a job. She's absolutely insistent that it's his job to support them and he has no business wanting a family of his own. He's seriously considering not returning, and just sending them regular money from America.

But Samuel is haunted by guilt at his desire not to do what he feels his father would expect. Amelia has a secret that has haunted her with guilt and fear for years. And Ruby has an abusive mother, a younger brother who needs her protection, and feelings for a Pennington's coworker, the widowed Victoria Lark, that she's been taught all her life are wrong and shameful.

Can any of these three ambitious young people who have so much ability and drive overcome the ghosts that haunt them?

Ruby discovers that her new opportunity at Pennington's comes with a nasty, envious gossip determined to wreck everything for her.

Amelia is enjoying the trip on the Titanic, even with Mr. Weir being, with best intentions, a little over-protective. She and Samuel meet when he's assigned to spend part of every shift being friendly and helpful to the second class passengers, and with his help she learns a lot about not just the second class, but also the first and third class, passengers' tastes and choices in all the things that Pennington's might sell them. And they are attracted to each other.

But this is the Titanic, and the reader can't avoid knowing that they have a major challenge to their survival heading for them.

And back in Bath, neither Mrs. Taylor, nor the malicious coworker, want anything good for Ruby.

They  all face major obstacles, both from others and from themselves, to achieving their dreams.

As always, the characters are very well drawn, and Brimble very sensitively portrays both the reality of class differences, and the essential equality that Miss Pennington and Mr. Carter believe in and embrace, and which is starting to assert itself in the first part of the 20th century.

I've been really enjoying these stories and the characters we meet.


I received an electronic galley of this book from the publisher, and am reviewing it voluntarily.