Book reviews: Escape into spring with four sizzling sagas

From the magical Isle of Skye and the blue seas of Tasmania to hardship in 19th century England and the fun of a 1960s seaside holiday camp, there is plenty to keep readers glued to the page this spring.

Tuesday, 11th April 2017, 8:21 am
Updated Tuesday, 9th May 2017, 6:41 pm
Escape into spring with four sizzling sagas
Escape into spring with four sizzling sagas

Spindrift by Tamara McKinley

Awe-inspiring landscapes, an emotional journey across the world and a family harbouring dark secrets… much-loved novelist Tamara McKinley is back to steal our hearts.

Tasmanian-born but now living and writing in Sussex, McKinley is the author of a string of compelling novels, many of them following the lives of Australian pioneers and those who came after them.

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Her new sweeping saga, set between the magical Isle of Skye and the promising new frontier of distant Tasmania, is a wonderful, drama-packed story of sacrifice, suffering and one woman’s determination to face the ghosts of her past.

It’s 1905 and 65-year-old Christy, recently widowed, has always dreamed of making the journey from her home in Tasmania back to the wild and beautiful Scottish island where she was born… Skye, nicknamed ‘cloud island’ by the Old Norse people and a place of tumbling waterfalls and rugged coastlines.

But the bombshell announcement that she is going to sail across the world to Scotland is greeted with horror by her family. Eldest son Hamish regards the plan as ‘sheer lunacy,’ daughter Anne, whose relationship with her mother hit stony ground years ago after a devastating confession, tells Christy she is being selfish and even James, her beloved younger son, is sceptical.

One person thinks Christy should go… her 18-year-old granddaughter Kathryn, a feisty young woman about to break the bounds of convention by going to university in Sydney. But Kathryn wants to travel with her.

Eventually, Christy sets sail with Kathryn and a mistrustful Anne acting as her companions on a journey that will end in painful memories, shocking revelations and the retelling of a story that began when Christy was just 15.

Fifty years ago, Christy MacInnes lost both her mother and her home in a terrible blaze. She cradled her newborn sister and comforted her three young brothers but as the flames devoured their tiny cottage, Christy had no idea what the future held for them. All she knew was that it was up to her now to keep her family alive.

Within a matter of weeks, Christy and her family had boarded the clipper Storm Cloud taking them to a new life on the other side of the world in Launceston, Tasmania.

But what Anne and Kathryn don’t realise is that Christy’s past is darker and more textured than they could know, and that in returning to Skye they will unearth bittersweet memories long-buried, memories that will ultimately change the course of the three women’s lives forever.

Spindrift is a gripping story, weaving seamlessly between past and present, and packing a powerful emotional punch as Christy’s life starts to unravel in the most unexpected and spectacular style.

There is love and reconciliation here, but also cruel deprivation and despair as the devastating real history of the potato famine and Highland clearances of the 18th and 19th centuries are brought to vivid life.

History, mystery and romance in perfect harmony…

(Quercus, trade paperback, £14.99)

Mothering Sunday by Rosie Goodwin

Be prepared to shed tears as much-loved author Rosie Goodwin works her storytelling magic in a heart-rending saga packed with her trademark warmth and wisdom.

A former social worker and foster mother, Goodwin has written over 20 beautiful sagas, and was awarded the rights to follow three of the late, great Tyneside writer Catherine Cookson’s trilogies with her own sequels.

But the countryside around Nuneaton in Warwickshire has always been the inspiration for Goodwin’s own compelling tales of hardship and hope, and this new drama-packed story is a delight, a true emotional rollercoaster set against the deprivations of 19th century life.

It’s 1884 and 14-year-old Sunday Small has been in the Nuneaton Union Workhouse since she was abandoned at birth. The regime is cruel, and if it were not for her young friend Daisy and the lovely Verity Beau who comes in every week to teach the children their letters, Sunday’s life would barely be worth living.

Beautiful Miss Beau is a kind young teacher who tells Sunday all about the town’s history and is the only adult who has shown the innocent and vulnerable girl an ounce of affection.

But now Sunday is growing up fast and has attracted the unwelcome attention of the workhouse master Mr Pinnegar who will stop at nothing to get her alone and will not take no for an answer.

With no choice but to leave behind the workhouse and everything and everybody she has ever known, Sunday strikes out on her own to make her fortune and to fulfil her promise to come back for Daisy and her other friend Tommy.

But Sunday has another secret ambition, a secret dream of one day being united with the long-lost mother who gave her away. However, she is about to discover that, try as she might to escape, the brutal world of the workhouse will not let her go without a fight…

Deprivation, cruelty, hatred, discovery and love all play a part in Goodwin’s powerful and moving story which grips from the chilling opening to the tear-jerking finale.

A dark but beautiful story…

(Zaffre, hardback, £12.99)

The Guardian Angel by Elizabeth Gill

Locked away for eight years after being found guilty of murder, Zebediah Bailey has no hope for the future… until a woman from his home village unexpectedly sends him a letter.

Shopkeeper Alice Lee is already classed as middle aged, has never found anyone to marry and also knows the meaning of loneliness… when their lives entwine, there are surprises in store for everyone.

Welcome to The Guardian Angel, the latest spellbinding story from Elizabeth Gill and the first book of the Weardale Sagas, a wonderful new series that whisks us back into the lives of families in a 19th century community in the north-east of England.

Born in a small mining town on the Durham fells, Gill loves her home territory and her many books reflect her natural warmth, her affinity with the folk of this tough northern area and her gift for storytelling.

In 1855, in Stanhope, Weardale, a small dales town in County Durham, Alice Lee, 37 years old and unmarried, is the only volunteer when the new Methodist minister asks his congregation to help 27-year-old Zebediah Bailey.

Zeb, who has never had a single visitor, is in prison for killing Alec White during a fight eight years ago and the townspeople would rather forget than forgive this troubled local youth who lost his way.

Some thought Zeb, who came from a good home, should have been hanged but Alice, who witnessed the brawl and is still convinced Alec’s death had been an accident, dutifully writes to him every week, sending him sweets from the little shop that is her livelihood… Alice Lee’s Confectionery.

Alice, who has had never had any real friends because of the unmarried status of her real mother, won’t admit she’s lonely but since the deaths of her adoptive parents, making and selling sweets for her little shop has become her whole world.

But a new, reforming governor has taken over Durham Prison and soon Zeb, who has been ill-treated for years, is allowed to walk free. Alice, who is torn between wanting to help him and knowing that she would face accusations of taking solace from a murderer, agrees to take him in, much to the horror of her neighbours.

And what develops between them is unexpected, both intense and bittersweet. It could be a new beginning, or else the undoing of them both…

The Guardian Angel is a beautiful, moving story, packed with the author’s emotional wisdom and starring an inspirational heroine… a kind, generous and loving woman prepared to risk her good reputation and all she has to give the chance of a new start to a man reviled by his former townsfolk.

Gill knows how to touch our hearts and this enchanting opener for an exciting new series will be loved by both new readers and her army of followers.

(Quercus, hardback, £20.99)

Those Were the Days by Lynda Page

Many think nostalgia isn’t what it used to be… but they obviously haven’t immersed themselves in the dreams, dramas and dilemmas of Jolly’s holiday camp!

Those Were the Days is the fourth saga set in Lynda Page’s Jolly’s holiday camp, an unforgettable mecca of nostalgia where English summer holidays beside the seaside in the 1960s have been springing to vivid life since the publication of The Time of Our Lives in 2013.

These gregarious tales of chalet shenanigans and good old-fashioned holiday fun are full of hilarious escapades and sunshine romances amongst the holidaymakers and staff, and have captured the hearts of readers young and old.

In the summer high season, there is seldom a dull moment at Jolly’s with the campers and staff intent on having the time of their lives and the place positively buzzing with the sound of laughter.

But in the middle of winter, when the campsite is shut, an eerie silence descends upon the ballroom, the big wheel at the fun fair stops turning and the swimming pool lies empty. But this Christmas things are about to change.

The camp’s owner, 56-year-old Drina Jolly, is about to offer shelter to a stranger who will repay her kindness in ways she cannot imagine and not only that… she is busy building a caravan park to attract new campers.

Meanwhile, Drina’s beloved daughter-in-law Rhonnie gives her a welcome surprise by returning with her young son Danny. And when Rhonnie offers to stay on to oversee some major renovations that will bring the holiday camp to life out of season, Drina knows this summer is going to be the best ever.

With Rhonnie in charge of the girls in the office and a charismatic new manager appointed to run the caravan park, the team are ready to give the visitors at Jolly’s a holiday to remember for the rest of their days.

What could possibly go wrong?

There is so much to enjoy in Page’s outings to Jolly’s holiday camp… romance, adventure, sunshine, fun, and lashings of mayhem, mishaps and moments of sheer magic.

So book in for in for your next holiday at Jolly’s… but always expect the unexpected!

(Headline, paperback, £6.99)