Robbie’s Inspiration: Book review, The Heart Stone by Judith Barrow

What Amazon says

1914 – and everything changes for Jessie on a day trip to Blackpool. She realises her true feelings for her childhood friend, Arthur. Then just as they are travelling home from this rare treat, war is declared.

Arthur lies about his age to join his Pals’ Regiment. Jessie’s widowed mother is so frightened of the future, she agrees to marry the vicious Amos Morgan, making Jessie’s home an unsafe place for her. Before he leaves, Arthur and Jessie admit their feelings and promise to wait for each other. Arthur gives Jessie a heart-shaped stone to remember him. But with Arthur far away, their love leaves Jessie with a secret that will see her thrown from her home and terribly abused when she can hide the truth no longer.

Faced with a desperate choice between love and safety, Jessie must fight for survival, whatever the cost.

My review

The Heart Stone is a compelling story about the impact of WW1 on a two families living in a small town in the United Kingdom.

When the story opens, Jessie’s father has recently passed. He owned a small bakery and ownership has passed to her mother, a weak woman who was totally dependent on her husband. Arthur has left school and is working at a local mill with a lot of other young men. His mother is widowed and takes in washing to put food on the table.

Jessie and Arthur go on a day trip to Blackpool with Arthur’s best friend, Stanley, and his posh wife, Clara. Jessie has a most wonderful time, seeing the ocean for the first time, and also coming to the realisation that her long friendship with Arthur has deepened into love. On the way back on the train, the news that Britain has declared war on Germany becomes know to the travelers and there is great excitement.

Jessie’s mother starts a relationship with a horrible and selfish man, Amos Morgan, who is a lecher and can’t leave Jessie alone. Arthur gets caught up in the propaganda about the war and, together with a number of other lads from the mill, enlists and is sent to France. Before he leaves, he and Jessie have a sad and emotional farewell when he shows her a love letter he has left for her, hidden behind a stone shaped like a heart in a wall. Jessie later discovers she is pregnant as a result of this last meeting with Arthur and she faces terrible shame and hardship as a result.

Jessie is a lovely young woman with determination and spunk. she is, however, a minor and dependent on her mother. When her mother marries Amos Morgan, she is left in a difficult position as she has no-where to go and no-one to confide in other than Arthur’s mother who lives across the road. Stanley has also enlisted and Clara, who has discovered she is pregnant, has returned home to her wealthy family. It is sad and emotional to read about how Jessie’s life spirals out of control largely because of her mother’s inability to stand on her own two feet and make a life for herself, despite inheriting the bakery. She ruins Jessie’s life with her ill advised marriage which gives Amos access to her teenage daughter. As the story progresses, the reader comes to admire Jessie more and more as she manages to overcome the difficulties she faces as a single mother in a society that ostracizes such women.

Arthur is a kind young man but he makes mistakes due to his youth. The first is putting Jessie in a position where she becomes pregnant and is turned out of her home. The second is the action he takes during the war which impacts heavily on his mother and Jessie.

Edna, Arthur’s mom, is a strong woman. She stands by Jessie when she is forced to leave the bakery after her pregnancy becomes known to Amos. She struggles to make a living and provide for them both, but she does it and she helps Jessie hugely with the baby after he is born. In many ways, Edna is more of a mother to Jessie than her own mom and she is honourable, determined, and brave. Edna stands up to Amos on certain occasions and does her best to protect Jessie from his unpleasant advances.

This is a beautifully written book with an interesting storyline that follows the course of WW1. It is very revealing about life for civilians as a result of the war, and especially life for women who were left without providers to raise children on their own.

Purchase The Heart Stone

Honno Press

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Find Judith Barrow



About Judith Barrow

Judith Barrow,originally from Saddleworth, a group of villages on the edge of the Pennines,has lived in Pembrokeshire, Wales, for over forty years.

She has an MA in Creative Writing with the University of Wales Trinity St David’s College, Carmarthen. BA (Hons) in Literature with the Open University, a Diploma in Drama from Swansea University. She is a Creative Writing tutor for Pembrokeshire County Council and holds private one to one workshops on all genres.

She says:-

My next book, The Heart Stone, is due to be published by in February 2021.

My last book,The Memory, was published by Honno in March 2020is a stand alone book about a woman, Irene Hargreaves, who is the career for her mother. One a dark evening in 2001 Irene stands by the side of her mother’s bed and knows it is time. For more than fifty years she has carried a secret around with her; a haunting memory she hasn’t even confided to her husband, Sam, a man she has loved and trusted all her life. But now she must act before he arrives home…

Irene and her mother, Lil, are bound to each other by the ghost of Irene’s sister, Rose. A little girl with dark hair, a snub nose and an extra chromosome. A genetic hiccup that shaped all their lives. Irene and Sam care for Lil now that dementia has claimed all but her failing body. Irene is at the end of her tether, but if she consigns her mother to a residential home, she and Sam will lose theirs. Irene blames her mother for Rose’s death, and will never forgive her,

The prequel to the Haworth trilogy, A Hundred Tiny Threads, was published in 2017and is the story of Mary Howarth’s mother,Winifred, and father,Bill. Set between 1910 & 1924 it is a the time of the Suffragettes, WW1 and the Black and Tans, sent to Ireland to cover the rebellion and fight for freedom from the UK and the influenza epidemic. It is inevitable that what forms the lives, personalities and characters of Winifred and Bill eventually affects the lives of their children, Tom,Mary, Patrick and Ellen. And so the Pattern trilogy begins.

The last of the trilogy, Living with the Shadows, published in 2015, is set in 1969 and is the story of the next generation of the Howarth and Schormann families. It is a time of Mods and Rockers, the Beatles, flower-power and free love. But for Linda Howarth, Ellen and Ted’s daughter, and Richard Schormann, Mary and Peter’s son, the shadows from the past return to haunt them.

The sequel to Pattern of Shadows, Changing Patterns, is set in 1950/51.The war is over, but for Mary the danger isn’t…1950: Mary is living in mid Wales with Peter, a German ex-POW, and working as a nurse, though she knows her job is in danger if they find out about Peter. When her brother Tom is killed, Mary is devastated, especially as nobody will believe that it wasn’t an accident. Her best friend Jean is doing her best to get Mary to leave Peter and come back to Lancashire. Mary is sure this will never happen, but she has no idea of the secret Peter is keeping from her.

Pattern of Shadows was inspired by my research into Glen Mill, a disused cotton mill in Oldham, Lancashire, and its history of being the first German POW camp in the country.

I was researching for an earlier book in the Local Studies and Archives in Oldham, while staying in the area, but reading about the mill brought back a personal memory of my childhood and I was sidetracked.

My mother was a winder in a cotton mill and, well before the days of Health and Safety, I would go to wait for her to finish work on my way home from school.

I remember the muffled boom and then the sudden clatter of so many different machines as I stepped through the small door, the sound of women singing and shouting above the noise, the colours of the cotton and cloth – so bright and intricate.

Above all I remember the smell: of oil, grease – and in the storage area. the lovely smell of the new material stored in bales.

When I thought about Glen Mill I wondered what life would have been like for all those men imprisoned there. I realised how different their days must have been from my memories of a mill and I knew I wanted to write about that.

So started 18 months of research

Book review by Steve Dube, Western Mail Jul 10 2010

Pattern of Shadows Judith Barrow (Honno)

It’s Manchester and World War Two is drawing to a close. There’s a war on, but it’s not just the enemy who are the cads and bounders in Barrow’s debut novel.

Her heroine, Mary Howarth, is a 22-year-old nurse in a prisoner of war camp for German soldiers; her beautiful sister Ellen, 18, is up for good times when she finishes work in the munitions factory. Their father Bill is a drunken tyrant and a bully who beats their mother. He was gassed in Wold War One and suffers coughing fits when he smokes.

This is the world of gasmasks in the rain, gravy browning on legs, girdles, chenille table cloths, linoleum, outside toilets, and Clarke Gable and Vivien Leigh at the pictures.

Barrow beautifully evokes those raw and edgy days with this well-paced, gritty love story that draws in some of the issues of the time including family, sexual and labour relationships, unmarried mothers-to-be, censorship, pacifism in a time of war and fraternisation with the enemy.

Lancashire-born Barrow has lived in Pembrokeshire for the past 30 years and has published poetry, short stories and children’s novels as well as a play performed at Swansea’s Dylan Thomas Centre.

This is her first adult novel and it continues Honno’s record of publishing women’s works not just because they are by women, but because they are good.

Lancashire Evening Post – Pattern of Shadows Review By Pam Norfolk

Published on Mon Jul 05 07:00:21 BST 2010

The grit, the grind and the grim realities of wartime Lancashire provide the backdrop for a gripping debut novel.It is a dark tale of bigotry, lies, betrayal and loss of innocence…but also one of renewal, loyalty and trust.

In March 1944, the war is taking its toll on 22-year-old nursing sister Mary Howarth – rows are tearing her family apart, air raids are hitting nearby Manchester and the darkness of the blackout is smothering her.

Her younger sister Ellen says she should be having a good time while she can, but her job at a prison camp for the housing and treatment of German POWs, rewarding as it is, leaves little time for pleasure.

And there is the added worry of her much-loved brother Tom who is suffering the indignity of imprisonment at Wormwood Scrubs where he is reviled as a Conscientious Objector.

Mary feels trapped by her responsibilities at home and is tired of hearing from everyone that she is ‘married to her job’.

So when Frank Shuttleworth, a guard at the camp, turns up at the Howarth house and reveals that he has been watching Mary for weeks with an eye to walking out with her, she is more than a little flattered.

Frank, a southerner who claims he was invalided out of the army after being injured at Dunkirk, is a good-looking man alright and, for the first time in years, she starts to feel alive. But there’s something about Frank that she doesn’t understand and doesn’t like…

He detests her nursing ‘Huns’ even though to Mary, ‘patients are patients whoever they are’, and his simmering aggression starts to drive a wedge between them.

When violence finally erupts and Mary gives him his marching orders, Frank is not the kind of man to take no for an answer.

‘You’ll not get rid of me that easily,’ he warns.

And when he discovers that Mary is about to embark on an affair with Peter Schormann, a German doctor at the POW camp, Frank determines to exact a deadly revenge…

Barrow’s thoughtful and atmospheric novel shines a light on the shadowy corners of family life and strife, as well as exploring human concepts like friendship, love and respect.

A well-written and very wise first novel…

My first eBook, is Silent Trauma. Silent Trauma is the result of years of research, and the need to tell the story in a way that readers will engage with the truth behind the drug Stilboestrol. So I had the idea of intertwining this main theme around and through the lives of four fictional characters, four women, all affected throughout their lives by the damage the drug has done to them. Their stories underpin all the harm the drug has done to so many women all over the world. The story is fictional, the facts are real.

85 thoughts on “Robbie’s Inspiration: Book review, The Heart Stone by Judith Barrow

    1. Hi Jacqui, this book was heart rending, but sadly an excellent snapshot of the circumstances at the time. I like how Judith wove the narrow mindedness about accidental pregnancy into the story. Pregnancies like Jessie’s were a result of strong emotion and ignorance about sex and it is shocking how all the blame lay at the feet of the women.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Just read this and wanted to say what a great and supportive writer Judith is – and then I read both your comments. I’m now hoping that the last 40% is okay!

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Easily done, Robbie. I changed the name in my mind and didn’t think to say anything – so thrilled am I with your lovely review for a book that came out ( like The Memory) in one of the lockdowns.

        Liked by 2 people

  1. How very timely, this!
    I vowed to purchase the book in another Amazon purchase and that purchase materialized at the end of December.
    Then, over the weekend I received the paperback.
    Golly! So excited. Can’t wait to read it. — slowly, cause I want to taste the words.
    So glad you posted this. Thank you. Yay!
    Congrats to Judith too ( 😉)

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hi Olga, I have been meaning to read one of Judith’s books for months and months but I am very good at over committing myself with Beta reads and my book clubs so things often slip. I decided in December that I would not read another book club book until I had read this book of Judith’s and Alex Craigie’s book. I have loved both books, very different, and I’m glad I made this decision.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We all have TBR piles that are tumbling over, Robbie – so I’m grateful that you found the time to read The Heart Stone. I do love Alex Craigie’s work as well. I hear there will be another book of her’s out soon. So, looking forward to that. Thank you again. x


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