Book reviews: Wartime romance and drama for summer nights

Three saga queens travel back to the dangerous years of the Second World War for three captivating tales of love, loss, hardship and romance on England's Home Front.

Tuesday, 6th June 2017, 2:52 pm
Updated Thursday, 8th June 2017, 3:39 pm
Wartime romance and drama for summer nights
Wartime romance and drama for summer nights

The Spark Girl bv Fiona Ford

When her fiancé is killed in action, it seems like Kitty Williams’ world has been shattered but in wartime there can be no time to lose hope.

Spurred on by her terrible loss and the advance of Hitler through Europe, car worker Kitty is determined to do her bit for king and country… but will she be brave enough to face the danger and the bombs?

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Welcome to the perilous streets of wartime Coventry and the voice of an exciting new author in the ever-popular world of saga fiction.

Fiona Ford, who grew up in Bath, spent her childhood listening to her grandfather talk about his time in the Royal Navy during World War Two and poring over his large collection of photos which seemed to perfectly capture life during wartime.

Although Ford went on to develop a successful career as a journalist, she never forgot her passion for the past and has now combined her love of writing with her interest in days gone by.

Set in 1940s Coventry, The Spark Girl is the first book in an action-packed wartime series which follows the fortunes of a group of women drivers with the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service), the women’s branch of the British Army.

A knock on the door early one morning would not normally be cause for concern but it is 1940, Britain is at war and Kitty Williams’ childhood sweetheart and fiancé Joe Simmonds is far from home fighting Hitler with the Navy.

A telegram contains the worst possible news and Kitty, an orphan whose parents both died in a fire, must now face the future without the man who was her ‘rock.’ But soon resolve kicks in and Kitty, who works at a car factory in the city, is determined to take over the fight where Joe left off.

Signing up to the Women’s Army is just the sort of challenge Kitty needs and on a training course in Leicester she meets three other new recruits who will make sure that she won’t be in this adventure alone.

There’s former Canary girl Di Mills with her cheeky grin and freckled face, ‘posh’ girl Mary Holmes-Fotherington who defied her father to join the ATS and Peggy Dando who is already homesick for her mum in Bristol. When the girls are all selected to be drivers or ‘spark girls,’ they get ready to share an uncertain future.

And when bombs start to fall on her home town of Coventry, and supposed allies turn against her, Kitty must find the strength she never knew she had to save her family, fix her broken heart and help her country to victory.

Ford gets to the heart of what it was like to live through the dangerous war years in this warm, captivating, down-to-earth story which is brimming with engaging characters, adventure, romance and heartbreak.

And the good news is that the story continues next year with The Spark Girl’s Promise.

(Orion, hardback, £19.99)

The Ferry Girls by Rosie Archer

Born and raised in Gosport, author Rosie Archer has made it her mission to bring to life the rich history of this South Hampshire coastal town.

After a series of much-loved novels featuring the tough women who worked at the town’s Royal Navy Armament Depot during the Second World War, Archer moves her sharp focus to the ferry services which have operated out of Gosport since the days of steam boats.

The Ferry Girls, a drama-packed, nostalgic tale of friendship, wartime struggles and romance, charts the dreams, dilemmas and dangers facing a young woman whose German heritage hangs over her like a shadow in the dark days of 1941.

Violetta ‘Vee’ Smith, 23, has a secret… her real name is Schmidt and she is half German. With the Blitz at its height, Vee and her widowed mother May risk being interned as enemy aliens, or having their smallholding near Southampton torched by suspicious, German-hating neighbours.

Vee and May need false papers to make them legal citizens and local ‘businessman’ Sammy Chesterton, a man who strays on the wrong side of the law but manages to keep his reputation unsullied, is prepared to offer them for a price.

But the price is one that Vee can’t pay and so she runs away to nearby Gosport where stately ferries plough back and forth to Portsmouth come rain, shine or German bombers.

When handsome ferry skipper Jack Cousins offers Vee a job on the boats and a room in his house with the other girls who work on the ferries, she knows that she has made the best decision of her life.

Jack is kind and his baby daughter Peg is a ray of sunshine, and Vee soon finds herself falling for them both. But there is just one major problem… Jack’s selfish and uncaring wife Madeleine.

The other ferry girls become good friends to Vee and they are all determined to carry on enjoying nights out dancing in Gosport and keeping their spirits up despite the hard work, rationing and heavy bombing.

But can Vee truly be happy under the roof of a man she loves but can’t have, and will her new friends desert her if her German nationality comes to light?

Archer is adept at portraying the gritty realities of the Home Front during the war years as we follow Vee and her friends through the hardships, uncertainties and camaraderie that were a part of everyday life.

Love, friendship, passion, drama and a cast of vibrant, authentic characters make this an exciting and enthralling read for all lovers of adventure, nostalgia and romance.

(Quercus, hardback, £20.99)

Always in My Heart by Pam Weaver

Inspired in part by her own discovery that she had a secret half-brother from the war years and that they had unknowingly grown up together in the same village, Pam Weaver brings us a heartbreaking tale of dark secrets and family ties in her moving new novel.

Weaver, whose gritty and enthralling novels reflect her love of people and her passion for the town of Worthing, follows the trials and tribulations of two teenagers evacuated from wartime London to a farm in the Sussex countryside.

In 1939, when war is declared, twins Shirley and Tom Jenkins leave behind all they know to live in faraway Worthing. Almost fourteen, they are very close to their mother Florrie but she is ill and convinced that leaving London is the only way to keep them safe.

Shirley is the bright and resourceful twin while her brother Tom is gentle and sometimes slow to understand the world around him. Shirley helps him get by and is always his best friend and ally. The twins are taken in by local farmer Gilbert Oliver, but their new home quickly proves to be far from a rural dream.

Tom is forced to do back-breaking work and sleep in a cold store room each night, and they are both prevented from contacting home. The farmer’s wife Janet is heavily pregnant and seems to live in fear of him. She is also refusing all midwives so it will be up to Shirley, with no experience in the matter, to help her deliver the baby.

Their new teacher at the local school notices that something is not right with the children, but the farmer keeps the twins from seeing anyone. Meanwhile, their mother Florrie is being treated for tuberculosis in London and the arrival of an unexpected visitor brings back painful memories from the past to haunt her.

As the cold weather sets in on the farm and Tom falls ill, Shirley discovers that Gilbert is hiding a deadly secret. Will Shirley be able to find a way out for everyone and can the power of family bonds help her and Tom to survive their ordeal and reunite with their mother at last?

Weaver brings home the harsh realities of wartime privations and the hardships faced by some of the youngsters who were evacuated from their homes to what was supposed to be safety and security.

But she also has a keen eye for the essential goodness of humanity and the ordeals of young Shirley and Tom are redeemed by the healing power of family ties and enduring love, and the unwavering strength of true and trusted friendships.

Packed with drama, emotion and startling revelations, this is a gripping saga from a master storyteller.

(Pan, paperback, £6.99)