Three super sagas for fireside reading by various authors - book reviews -

Meet the brave wartime women who worked in secret in North Yorkshire, enjoy a drama-packed tale featuring the struggles of two sisters in Victorian Warwickshire, and dive into a young woman’s  rocky road to fame in wartime Dorset.

By Pam Norfolk
Tuesday, 22nd February 2022, 12:30 pm
A Mother’s War by Mollie Walton
A Mother’s War by Mollie Walton

A Mother’s War

Mollie Walton

Many people have been enthralled by the story of the Bletchley Park codebreakers but perhaps few know about of the work of the heroic women who worked in secret, transcribing and decoding the encrypted German messages as they arrived.

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Inspired by her visit to the stunning Raven Hall Hotel, which sits 600 feet above sea level in Ravenscar, near Scarborough, and enjoys a cliff-top view over Robin Hood’s Bay, Mollie Walton has dug into this beautiful area’s wartime history.

Walton, pseudonym of historical novelist Rebecca Mascull and author of the compelling Ironbridge series, discovered that Raven Hall, built in 1774, was used as a billet for wartime forces with many of the women working at a Y Station, a signals intelligence site, near Scarborough.

And as the wartime home front has often been compared to people’s lives during the Covid-19 pandemic, in terms of the anxiety, fears for the future, restrictions on civil liberties and the grieving process of families who lost loved ones, Walton set out to explore the experiences of women in society, in work and in the home.

In September of 1939, widow Rosina Cavert-Lazenby has summoned her five daughters – Grace, Evelyn, Constance and twins Daisy and Dora – to Raven Hall, the crumbling ancestral home of the Lazenby family, of which Rosina is the sole living member.

As war with Germany is declared, Rosina’s eldest daughter, 21-year-old Grace, who has been studying at Oxford, informs her mother that she will be joining the home front effort as a wireless-telegraphist based at a Y station in Scarborough and soon she is carrying out highly valuable transcription work.

And when the RAF come to stay at Raven Hall, Rosina finds herself intrigued by their charismatic, albeit young, Sergeant Harry Woodvine, but is there time for love with the war looming? With so much on the line, Rosina and Grace must learn how to push themselves and have the courage to lead those around them into the unknown.

A Mother’s War is the first book in what promises to be a gripping trilogy starring Rosina and her five daughters as they are forced to adapt to a new and complex way of life in which love and friendship blossom, and the dangers and losses of wartime are never far away.

Set against the dramatic backdrop of the North Yorkshire coastline, and with its rich and authentic portrayal of the changing role of women and the pressures they faced on the home front, Walton brings us an emotional and insightful story of strength, resilience and forbidden love.

(Welbeck, hardback, £12.99)

A Daughter’s Destiny

Rosie Goodwin

Add a welcome sparkle to the dying days of winter as Rosie Goodwin, one of Britain’s best-loved saga queens, conjures up more storytelling magic for her Precious Stones series.

The star of each standalone story in this glittering collection is named after a gemstone and follows on from Goodwin’s enchanting Days of the Week series which won the hearts of her army of readers and a fistful of accolades.

A former social worker and foster mother, Goodwin has penned well over thirty beautiful, heartwarming novels, exploring life and love in days gone by, and selling a million copies. She was also awarded the rights to follow three of the late, great Tyneside writer Catherine Cookson’s trilogies with her own sequels.

And now, A Daughter’s Destiny – a gritty, drama-packed tale featuring the struggles and hardships of two sisters to stay afloat after their privileged life is snatched away – delivers the same winning blend of romance, intrigue, fascinating characters, and richly detailed, authentic and atmospheric settings.

Our new gemstone star is Emerald Winter who has lived a privileged life with her parents and her younger sister Abigail in the stately Astley House in Warwickshire. But all that suddenly changes in 1875 when her father disappears, leaving the family in enormous debt.

The sisters and their mother Dorcas are forced to throw themselves on the mercy of Emerald’s cold and uncaring uncle Bernard who begrudgingly allows them on his farm. Desperate to find work, Emerald must leave her family and travel to London to become the companion of a distant aunt she has never met.

Meanwhile, rebellious Abigail is unwilling to lower herself to menial farm chores and instead runs away to London, finding work as a hostess in a Soho club where she soon attracts trouble.

Torn apart by destiny, the sisters must learn to survive against the odds in an unforgiving city. Will Emerald ever be able to find happiness and reunite her family again?

Unsurprisingly, Goodwin is one of the top 50 most borrowed authors from UK libraries and here she packs in all those recognisable people, events and dramas – births and deaths, loves and losses, good people and bad people – that have made her novels so beloved by readers over the decades.

Emerald and her sister Abigail’s battle to survive after their father’s disappearance proves to be a gripping emotional rollercoaster with plot twists aplenty and a story that takes us to the real-life rural village of Astley in the heart of north Warwickshire.

Full of Goodwin’s wisdom, warmth and wonderful storytelling, and with the author’s ingredients and tips for a traditional Victorian picnic hamper to tickle the taste buds, this is a tale to cuddle up with by the fireside and lose yourself in the history, the heartaches and the romance.

(Zaffre, hardback, £12.99)

A Songbird in Wartime

Karen Dickson

A young singer with a voice that melts hearts takes the starring role in a drama-packed saga set in the beautiful West Country.

A Songbird in Wartime comes from the pen of Karen Dickson, an author who started writing stories when she was just a child and has always been interested in social history. Her heartwarming sagas may be set in the rolling hills of Dorset but are inspired by the stories of her grandparents who lived in the North and grew up in the early part of the twentieth century.

Drawing on their vivid descriptions and memories, Dickson’s new rollercoaster tale stars a girl whose loyalty to the man she loves is tested through enmity, fame, misunderstanding and the uncertainties of wartime.

At Shaftesbury in 1936, the prestigious Mansfield House Hotel has been a refuge for 20-year-old Emily Baker ever since she was orphaned at the age of sixteen. Not only did they give her employment as a chambermaid, but it’s also where she met her fiancé Tom Harding, the hotel’s gardener.

Emily’s greatest gift, however, is her singing voice with its rich intensity and flawless purity, a talent recognised by the hotel manager who turns her into the hotel’s star turn, attracting audiences from the surrounding villages and towns.

But when ruthless Bristol theatre agent Roland Thurston stays at the hotel and hears Emily singing, he is determined to take her away to Bristol and make her a star. And when he learns that Emily would never leave her fiancé, he hatches a plan to get her away from Tom.

Six years later, Emily has made a name for herself as the Bristol Songbird. Her love for Tom is still as strong as ever, but she has not heard from him since a long ago fateful night when her life turned upside down. And with the world now enveloped in a war, it seems unlikely the two will ever meet again.

Will Emily and Tom ever find their way back to one another or will the war – and Roland – succeed in keeping them apart?

Beautifully written with what is fast becoming her signature warmth and empathy, Dickson’s new page-turner brings us a brave, determined and inspirational heroine in a gripping story packed with emotion, heartache and intrigue.

Featuring a cast of vibrant and authentic characters, the evocative backdrop of wartime and the world of theatre, and a story that will have you booing the baddies and rooting for our heroine, this is a gritty and ultimately uplifting tale with friendship, family and love at its core.

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £7.99)