Love conquers all in the autumn saga season - by various authors - book reviews -

As autumn draws in, cosy down with a selection of nostalgic sagas that are guaranteed to add much-needed warmth and romance to the dark nights.

By Pam Norfolk
Wednesday, 20th October 2021, 3:45 pm
The Patchwork Girls
The Patchwork Girls

The Patchwork Girls

Elaine Everest

After the sudden death of her politician husband during the early months of the Second World War, Helen Wentworth is forced to return to her family home in Kent.

But living with her mother and stepfather again is not what Helen ever wanted and when the manner of her husband’s death becomes a cause for suspicion, she turns to new-found friends to see her through the dark days ahead.

Welcome to the dangerous but warm-spirited world of wartime so vividly imagined by Elaine Everest, the Kentish author whose bestselling series, The Woolworths Girls, The Butlins Girls, and The Teashop Girls, have made her one of the nation’s most popular saga queens.

Expect drama, secrets, romance and friendship as Everest, who grew up listening to stories of the war years in her home town of Erith, brings us a gripping and emotionally powerful story of love and loss set against the trials and tribulations of life on the home front.

In October 1939, Helen is suddenly faced with the death of her MP husband, John Wentworth, in an incident at their smart London apartment which is now under investigation by Inspector Richard Gladstone of the RAF’s military police.

With a twenty-year age gap, their marriage had been one that was convenient to them both… John needed a smart, good-looking wife and Helen was eager to leave behind her selfish mother and her unpleasant stepfather, Gavin Davis.

But now she is back at her mother’s house in Biggin Hill, Kent, where the atmosphere is tense and Helen feels alone and unloved. Not knowing where to turn, Helen joins the local women’s sewing circle despite being hopeless with a needle and thread.

And she soon finds that these resourceful women can not only make do and mend clothes, quilts and woolly hats, but their friendship mends something deeper in Helen as well.

Canadian Lizzie Donnington is a natural leader, always ready to lend a helping hand or a listening ear. Effie King, Helen’s mother’s housekeeper, has uprooted her life from London to keep her two little girls away from the bombing raids, and the sewing circle is a welcome distraction from worries about how to keep a roof over their heads and about her husband who is on active duty overseas.

When the reason for Helen’s husband's death comes to light, her world is turned upside down yet again. The investigating officer, Richard, is determined to leave no stone unturned, but it’s not long before his interest in Helen goes beyond the professional.

As Helen pieces together old fabrics into a beautiful quilt, and the threads of her husband’s mysterious death are finally pulled together, can she patch up the rifts in her own life and find the happiness she has always longed for?

Everest’s foray into the lives of the plucky sewing group women brings with it some moments of heartbreak, suspense and humour but amidst all the discoveries and shocks, it’s love, loyalty, family and friendship that will see them all through the darkest days.

With the ever-present fears for loved ones fighting overseas, and worries and personal dramas unfolding on the home front, this is an engaging and addictive story and, as always, the community spirit which holds people together is evoked with the warmth, rich period detail and superb characterisation that we have come to expect from this master storyteller.

(Pan, paperback, £7.99)

Her Wartime Secret

Emma Hornby

A secret from the past threatens to tear apart a loving couple in a gripping wartime saga from Bolton author Emma Hornby.

Hornby, who was inspired to write after researching her own family history, bases her stories on the many generations of her family who eked out life amidst the squalor and poverty of Lancashire’s slums.

And this history is reflected in her emotionally-charged stories which include the powerful and absorbing novel, A Shilling for a Wife, set in mid-19thcentury Bolton.

In Bolton in 1940, Janie Hudson and her husband James have a strong and loving marriage. A move from an inner-city slum to a peaceful new estate outside of the town should have been a fresh start for them and their three children.

But when war is declared and James announces he has signed up, Janie fears it’s the beginning of the end. Waving goodbye to their menfolk is a sacrifice that families are making all over the country and Janie does her best to make do, forging friendships in her new community.

But when James comes home on leave a traumatised and desperate man, and then goes AWOL, Janie’s heart goes out to him. Determined to keep him safe, she plans to hide him in their new house.

But how long can they keep the secret, and what threats might lie ahead if they are found out?

Featuring a family torn apart by war and held together by a secret, this gritty tale of love, loyalty, friendship and survival explores the hardships of life during the turbulent war years and features a cast of authentic, beautifully portrayed characters.

Expect tears and laughter, and a twist in the tail as Hornby delivers another northern winner…

(Corgi, paperback, £6.99)

The Dover Cafe On the Front Line

Ginny Bell

As wartime grips England in the autumn of 1940, the coastal town of Dover and the busy café in Market Square are suddenly finding themselves on the front line.

But despite the danger and the Battle of Britain raging overhead, formidable widow Nellie Castle, owner of the Dover Café at War, is determined to keep the café open… no matter what.

Welcome back to the trials and tribulations of the lively Castle family whose home town of Dover was at the forefront of the Second World War, suffering four long years of relentless bombing raids and earning the nickname Hellfire Corner.

The Dover Cafe On the Front Line is the second book in Ginny Bell’s compelling debut saga series and once again stars Nellie and her six children who can now hear German guns firing across the Channel.

Life has been tough for Nellie since her husband Donald died thirteen years ago but her daughter, Lily, is facing an exciting time of change as she starts her nursing career. The work is demanding, but with romance on the horizon, she still finds time to enjoy herself. That is until a prisoner escapes from the hospital and everything she holds dear – including her freedom – is put at risk.

Meanwhile, there are strange goings-on at the café… rumours are circulating and long-buried secrets are surfacing, secrets that could tear the Castle family apart once and for all.

Bell’s pride and affection for the town she knows so well shines through in this heartwarming saga series as the charismatic Castle family spring to vibrant life and we share in their dramas, secrets, laughter, tears, and fears during the war years.

At the heart of the action is the strong and determined Nellie Castle, a woman whose humour, resilience and straight-talking will be needed in this turbulent new chapter of her life.

Well researched, written with warmth and insight, brimming with emotion and drama, and starring a cast of superbly drawn characters who touch the hearts of readers everywhere, The Dover Café series is fast becoming a favourite with saga fans.

(Zaffre, paperback, £7.99)

A Mother’s Secret

Kitty Neale

Born and raised in Battersea during the war years, saga queen Kitty Neale has made this area of South London her own with a raft of gritty and compelling novels.

And in the first book of a new Battersea Tavern family saga series, we are whisked away to London in 1939 and into the life of Winnie Berry who has been the landlady of the Battersea Tavern for nearly twenty-five years.

The pub is like home to her… a place of tears and laughter, full of customers that feel like family. But it’s also a place where she has learned to avoid the quick fists of her husband Brian, and where she has raised her beloved son, David.

Unfortunately, David has inherited his father’s lazy streak and can’t seem to hold down a job, but when war is declared Winnie is determined to keep her son safe. That’s because she is still haunted by the choice she made years ago as a desperate young woman, and she won’t make the same mistake of letting her family be taken from her.

But when a young woman crosses her path, the secrets of Winnie’s past threaten to turn her world upside down. There’s nothing stronger than a mother’s love… but can it ever have a second chance?

Get ready for shocks and secrets, drama and tears as Neale works her magic on this addictive tale of danger, wartime and a mother’s love.

(Orion, paperback, £7.99)

A Precious Daughter

Diane Allen

The rural beauty of North Yorkshire, the wilds of Canada and the city streets of Liverpool form the backdrop to a gripping tale of family, love, hope and hardship from popular storyteller Diane Allen.

Allen, whose inspiration comes from the stunning countryside surrounding her home near the historic market town of Settle, has her finger firmly on the pulse of northern saga writing and the hardy Yorkshire folk who have for centuries made their home amongst the hills and dales.

Allen, an observant and insightful writer, fields a fascinating cast of authentic characters in an enthralling tale packed with emotion, drama and the harsh realities of a family’s struggles in the late 19th century.

When Ethan Postlethwaite, his wife Grace and their daughter Amy announce that they will be leaving the family home in the Yorkshire Dales in 1896, Grace’s parents are heartbroken. Hoping for a new life prospecting for gold in the wilds of Canada, the young family say goodbye and set sail across the Atlantic in search of a brighter future.

The journey there proves hard and treacherous, however, and upon arrival it becomes apparent that the riches they had been promised in the gold fields have already been plundered. So when the family is devastated by the death of Grace, Ethan decides he must take his daughter back to England.

Arriving in Liverpool, Ethan and Amy soon find work in a dairy as cow-keepers, but Amy is restless and struggles to settle into yet another new life. And when a chance encounter at a cattle show ignites an old friendship, she must decide where her own future lies and what she must do in order to find happiness at last.

Allen seduces her readers with a warm-hearted and compassionate tale which evokes the grit and grind of working life but also delivers romance, the shining light of hope, and proof of the enduring power of love, family and friendship to transform even the darkest days.

(Pan, paperback, £7.99)