Two emotion-packed sagas for spring reading by various authors - book reviews -

Share the triumphs and disasters of the girls at an East End jam factory, and follow a young woman on her journey to find happiness in two enthralling sagas.

By Pam Norfolk
Tuesday, 18th May 2021, 12:30 pm
Secrets of the Jam Factory Girls
Secrets of the Jam Factory Girls

Secrets of the Jam Factory Girls

The close bond between two young women, born on opposite sides of the tracks, will be tested to the limit in the second book of an emotion-packed saga series from favourite storyteller Mary Wood.

Inspired by her own early years in the East End of London, Wood sweeps us back to the struggles of workers at a jam factory in London’s Bermondsey in the time leading up to the First World War for a another story full of love, loss, hardship and betrayal.

Wood, who lives between Blackpool and Spain, worked in the probation service in both Lancaster and Blackpool, and her hard-hitting and emotional historical sagas reflect her own experiences with people from all walks of life, helping her to bring a realism and grittiness to her writing.

In the follow-up to The Jam Factory Girls, we move forward to 1912, and find that working class Elsie Makin has toiled her way up at Swift’s Jam Factory in Bermondsey from the shop floor to the top, and believes it’s now her time to shine.

But when she is involved in an incident involving her wealthy half-sister Millie Swift’s new husband, Len, she is forced to keep it secret… the truth could threaten their sisterly bond.

Dot Grimes is dogged by fear, coming to terms with her mother’s rejection of her. She should be enjoying the happiness she craves with her beloved Cecil (Cess)… instead, she’s trapped in an asylum, haunted by the horrifying cries of inmates. All she wants is to get married, but what chance is there for her if she’s locked away?

And Millie, meanwhile, is trying to build a life with Len… but the man she loves is not all he seems. Can the factory girls create the future they all desire?

Wood excels at storytelling and this hard-hitting tale is full of heartbreak, drama, rich period detail, and the harsh realities of life in the early 20th century as Elsie, Dot and Millie rely on their close friendship to see them through the best and the worst of times.

Written with insight, warmth and the empathy gained from the author’s years working with a cross-section of society, this new visit to Bermondsey is an emotional rollercoaster from first page to last, and will leave readers longing for the next exciting chapter of the women’s lives.

(Pan, paperback, £7.99)

The Canal Boat Girl

Sheila Newberry

When her life falls apart in Wales in 1883, a talented young musician makes the decision to run away from her family and head to London.

But falling in love with what turns out to be the wrong man will set Ruth Owen on yet another course… could this be the final path to happiness?

Sheila Newberry, the Suffolk-born author who sadly died in January last year, knew a thing or two about the ups and downs of family life. A mother of nine children, and with twenty-two grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, this much-loved writer has left a legacy of nostalgic sagas – including The Winter Baby and The Nursemaid’s Secret – which have enthralled readers across the decades.

In The Canal Boat Girl, a beautiful saga of old sorrows and new beginnings, Newberry transports us back to the last decades of the 19th century where we meet a young woman who is struggling to leave behind the troubles from her past.

In Brynbach, Wales, in 1883, seventeen-year-old Ruth Owen, a talented musician with a scholarship to a prestigious music school, has a sparkling career ahead of her. But after a run-in with her mysterious tutor, Drago, a man of Spanish origin, she flees to London, leaving everything and everyone behind.

London, 1897. Fourteen years later, Ruth, now married with two children, finds herself struggling for money and a place to live. Left with no other option, they decide to return to Wales and live on a canal boat.

Life on the canals may seem idyllic, but what troubles await her return? And can the past ever truly be forgotten?

The Canal Boat Girls is a charming, thoughtful tale exploring life’s unexpected twists and turns, and the sacrifices, separations, loves and friendships that we encounter along the way. Full of rich period detail and nostalgia, and written with Newberry’s natural empathy and insight into what it meant to live through times of upheaval and personal challenges, this gently uplifting story is a saga to savour.

Published throughout most of her adult life, Newberry’s novels were always inspired by her own family’s experiences and this charming, drama-filled novel certainly packs in all the warmth, wisdom and heartfelt emotions that were the trademarks of her writing.

And with the added bonus of a tasty, authentic and foolproof recipe for lamb chops and potatoes to try out, Newberry’s enchanting and heartwarming story is a delicious and wonderfully poignant read for spring and summer evenings.

(Zaffre, paperback, £7.99)