Six sparkling sagas for springtime reading by various authors – book reviews –

Cuddle up with six compelling sagas – all brimming with drama and real history – as nostalgia and romance take centre stage in springtime reading.

By Pam Norfolk
Friday, 22nd April 2022, 12:30 pm
Hannah’s War  by Shirley Mann
Hannah’s War by Shirley Mann

Hannah’s War

Shirley Mann

A city girl discovers that joining the wartime Land Army isn’t quite the rural dream that she had imagined in a moving and dramatic new saga.

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Derbyshire-based journalist Shirley Mann follows up her compelling sagas, Lily’s War and Bobby’s War, with another exciting, emotion-filled celebration of the role of women on the home front as we are swept into the lives of the young women who worked on the land to keep the country fed.

It's 1942 and at nineteen years old Hannah Compton has the world at her feet. But with war raging, the country is in turmoil and Hannah decides to do her bit for the war effort. Hannah’s beloved grandfather taught her to grow vegetables in his market garden and this inspires her to become one of over 200,000 women joining the Land Army.

Posted to Salhouse Farm on the outskirts of Norwich, Hannah is excited for the adventure ahead of her but soon reality hits. Hannah is a city girl at heart and life in the countryside is not what she imagined. It’s cold, she hates the hard work, she misses her friends back in Manchester and she has to share a double bed with a stranger.

As Hannah gets used to the punishing farm work and makes some friends, she starts to settle in. But she simply can’t get used to living side by side with the German prisoners of war. Then a young German doctor steps in to save Hannah’s life and everything she thought she knew is brought into question. In a country at war, will Hannah be prepared to risk everything for the enemy?

Mann plunges readers into the hardships faced by women in an often alien environment where the work was incredibly physical, the weather was unpredictable and field after field had to be sown, harvested and re-sown.

Set against a backdrop full of rich period detail, including the plight of German PoWs, an addictive layer of nostalgia, intrigue, romance and the realities of life in a hidden corner of the home front, Hannah’s War is a saga full of history, heart and wartime heritage.

(Zaffre, paperback, £7.99)

Wartime Friends

Margaret Dickinson

Much-loved author Margaret Dickinson – a writer who had her first novel published at the age of 25 and has since gone on to pen a raft of bestselling sagas – explores the unbreakable bonds of love and friendship in a moving tale set during the Second World War.

Dickinson is a born storyteller, immersing her readers in the lives of two young women whose crucial roles will entrust them with the nation’s security and safety as they work on intelligence and the interception of enemy messages.

In 1940s coastal Lincolnshire, Carolyn Holmes is keen to do what she can for the war effort. Raised on the family farm, she is prevented by her mother Lilian from going to secretarial college after leaving the local grammar school, although nothing is too good for her brother, Tom.

Phyllis Carter, a widow from the Great War, lives close by with her son Peter who works on the farm. Peter and Carolyn are great friends but do not see a future together, although it is the dearest wish of both Phyllis and Lilian to see them marry.

After their home town is caught in an air raid, Peter decides to volunteer… to the distress of his mother, who makes life difficult for Carolyn as she blames her for not marrying Peter and keeping him safe at home.

Carolyn leaves to join the ATS where she meets Beryl Morley who will become a lifelong friend. After their basic training, Carolyn and Beryl are posted to Beaumanor Hall in Leicestershire as ‘listeners,’ the most difficult of signals intelligence gathering, intercepting enemy messages which are then sent to Bletchley Park for deciphering.

As the war unfolds and their work becomes even more vital, Carolyn and Beryl’s friendship strengthens and, in the dangerous times that follow, they will both need the support of the others as they face personal troubles of their own and the lives of those they love are put at risk.

Love and kindness prove to be powerful forces for good in this page-turning story as the war brings change and new opportunities for women from all walks of society. There are revelations, romance and dramas along the way but through it all, the healing gift of friendship remains the bedrock of Carolyn and Beryl’s lives.

Written with Dickinson’s warmth and insight, and brimming with the kind of rich period detail that brings the past to life so vividly, Wartime Friends is a delight for all saga fans.

(Pan, paperback, £7.99)

A Daughter’s Hope

Donna Douglas

The Blitz may have ended but will the residents of Jubilee Row in Hull stick together… or will their experiences drive them apart?

Welcome to the third book in a drama-packed Yorkshire Blitz Trilogy from Donna Douglas, the York-based author whose popular Nightingale series brought a London pre-war hospital vividly to life, and won her an army of fans.

This exciting saga series is based on Douglas’s research into the stories of Hull residents who lived through the Second World War. Using diaries, letters and the heartbreaking accounts of those who endured the Blitz, her aim is to convey some of their fighting spirit.

It’s autumn of 1942 and the Blitz has come to an end but for many families, it’s not over yet. As the residents of Jubilee Row begin to rebuild their lives, twins Sybil and Maudie Maguire decide to go off and do their bit by joining the WAAFs.

But what starts off as a great adventure soon forces the girls to grow up as they are confronted with the harsh realities of war. Will they stick together, or will their experiences drive them apart?

Back in Hull, their older sister Ada faces struggles of her own as she nurses the war wounded. But can anyone help to mend her own broken heart?

Once again Douglas brings us a vibrant cast of characters… from the irrepressible Big May Maguire and her decidedly smaller but equally indomitable friend Beattie Scuttle, to a captivating supporting line-up of family and neighbours, this is a danger-laced tale of love, loss, loyalty and friendship in the hardest of times.

Laughter and tears are never far away as the younger generation of Jubilee Row face fears and uncertainties, and the ever resourceful Ruby Maguire has to bolster everyone’s spirits and keep house and home together.

Laced through with no-nonsense Yorkshire humour, and lashings of rich, nostalgic period detail, this is a fascinating portrait of everyday life on the home front in wartime, with its hopes and hardships, warm romances and grim realities.

(Orion, paperback, £6.99)

The Woolworths Saturday Girls

Elaine Everest

Welcome back to life in post-war Kent in the entertaining fortunes and misfortunes of Elaine Everest’s ‘family’ of devoted and dedicated store staff who have become like friends to an army of readers.

Everest’s wonderfully nostalgic Woolies series, which has brought new life and love for the famous stores that once graced almost every high street in the country, has taken us through the trials, tribulations and triumphs of a group of hard-working women and their boss Betty Billington during the turbulent war years.

When the long years of conflict finally ended in Everest’s fourth book, A Gift from Woolworths, her plan was to make it the girls’ last chapter but she was so inundated by readers begging to find out what happened next for her Woolies girls that she happily returned to familiar territory in her fifth book, Wedding Bells for Woolworths.

And after a much-loved prequel, A Mother Forever, charting the early life of favourite character Ruby Caselton, Everest brings us The Woolworths Saturday Girls, the seventh instalment and an exciting meet-up with a new generation of Woolworths Girls.

In 1950, the Second World War is over and life has moved on for Woolworths workers Sarah, Maisie and Freda. In a brave new world, the Woolworths women have high expectations of their daughters, wanting them to seize opportunities they didn’t have themselves.

Ready to take on Saturday jobs at Woolworths, budding friends Bessie, Claudette, Clementine and Dorothy are faced with unforeseeable challenges as the real world comes into focus. Their bond can only be strengthened as they overcome some dark times.

But perhaps their lives are not as clear-cut as their mothers wished them to be. When Bessie finds love in the wrong crowd and falls pregnant, the image of her future and ambitions become skewed and she relies on the Saturday girls to help her see her problems through. But how can they find a home for the baby when it arrives?

With wild imaginations, it is up to the Woolworths girls, new and old, to save the day… and their futures. Can they achieve their dreams in time for their futures to begin?

With its enchanting mix of drama, romance, friendship and family, and lots of twists and turns to enjoy along the way, this is an enthralling introduction to a new generation of those irrepressible Woolworths girls.

(Pan, paperback, £7.99)

A Mother’s Betrayal

Emma Hornby

Married to an abusive husband, one woman must fight for her family’s happiness in a moving and gripping saga from Bolton author Emma Hornby.

Hornby, who once worked in a Blackpool rock factory and 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, and Her Wartime Secret, featuring a family torn apart by war and held together by a secret.

In this new saga, Hornby sweeps us to Manchester in 1867 where Mara O’Hara longs for a peaceful life free of violence and poverty. But she has married the bully Seamus O’Hara whose family includes three stepsons who all have a reputation for drunkenness and quick tempers.

Her eldest stepson Conrad is the worst of them all… a brute and a criminal who makes Mara’s life a misery. But when Conrad is accused of a crime he didn’t commit, Mara is the only one who can prove his innocence. Perhaps this is her chance to finally free her family from his toxic influence.

Will Mara clear Conrad’s name, or will she have the courage to break away from her stepson’s villainy?

Hornby’s gritty and emotion-packed tale of revenge, retribution, love and friendship explores the hardships of life in the 19th century and features a cast of authentic characters. Expect tears and laughter as Hornby delivers another northern winner.

(Penguin, paperback, £6.99)

The Baker’s Girl

Gracie Hart

Head off to Leeds in the final year of the 19th century for Gracie Hart’s new heartwarming saga which harnesses all the warmth and goodness of a tasty home-baked cake!

In Leeds in 1894, 17-year-old Meg just wants to keep her family together. Her widowed mother Agnes is desperately ill and her sister is still in school so it’s up to her to support them. All Meg knows to do is bake and desperation leads her to Ted Lund, the miserly owner of a local bakery.

In a moment of uncharacteristic kindness, he takes pity on Meg and offers her a job. But Ted’s charity ends there. He will save money at any cost, cutting corners by using sawdust in his bread, ignoring vermin in his flour, and paying Meg a pittance. But despite her mistreatment, Meg can see what the bakery might yet be. Using her baking skills and her kind heart, can she turn the shop around?

Leeds-born Hart knows the winning formula when it comes to northern sagas and this tale of love and survival – which comes complete with some of Meg’s delicious recipes – is a Yorkshire-flavoured treat!

And look out later this year for A Sixpence for Christmas, a new story featuring baker’s girl Meg.

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £7.99)