Book reviews: Tales of love, friends and family for summer days

The Very White of Love by S.C. Worrall
The Very White of Love by S.C. Worrall
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The long days of summer were made for reading… and here are three beautiful books of love in its many forms to enjoy with a glass of your favourite tipple.

The Very White of Love by S.C. Worrall

When freelance journalist and author Simon Worrall’s mother Nancy died in 2005, he found a battered, cardboard chocolate box at the bottom of her wardrobe.

Inside were bundles of faded love letters, tightly bound with string and fastened with tiny knots. What surprised him more was that the letters weren’t from his father but from his mother’s long-ago fiancé, Martin Preston, the nephew of the poet and author Robert Graves.

And the more he read Martin’s letters to his mother, the more Worrall wanted to find out what happened to him. It turned out to be an emotional quest, a rollercoaster journey that began with the letters and ended with this powerful debut novel of love, loss and war.

In September of 1938, Martin Preston is in his second year at Oxford University when his world is split in two by a beautiful redhead called Nancy Whelan. Their whirlwind romance blossoms in the picturesque Buckinghamshire countryside but dark clouds are already gathering over Europe.

A year later, Britain has declared war on Germany and Martin has enlisted with the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. He is soon dispatched to the battlefields of France, but as their letters cross the Channel, he tells Nancy that their love will keep him safe. Then, one day, his letters stop.

By September of 1940, the country is still reeling from the disaster faced by the British Expeditionary Force at Dunkirk, and it’s four months since Nancy last heard from Martin. She knows he is still alive and she’ll do anything to find him. But what she discovers will change her life forever…

There is a filmic beauty to Worrall’s writing in this heart-wrenching and enchanting story which is made almost unbearably poignant by the knowledge that the story is based on a real-life love affair which was torn apart by war.

Separated by conflict and geography, Martin and Nancy’s letters meant everything and it is their moving correspondence – full of poetry, longing and the grim truths of events at Dunkirk – which make this tale such an emotional and drama-filled experience.

Engaging, affecting and revealing, The Very White of Love is an extraordinary and memorable blend of fact and fiction.

(HQ, hardback, £14.99)

Wishes Under The Willow Tree by Phaedra Patrick

Saddleworth author Phaedra Patrick uses her own experience as a stained glass artist in an emotional and enchanting new novel which explores the grief of a couple struggling to save their childless marriage.

Patrick, an award-winning short story writer, won an army of admirers with her charming debut novel, The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper, an unforgettable story about a 69-year-old man mourning his wife of 40 years.

In Wishes Under The Willow Tree, Patrick proves once again that she is a master of character study with an acute eye for the ups and downs of family life, the inevitable losses, the triumphs, the tragedies and the surprising events that can see us through the hardest of times.

For generations, the Stone family have been making wishes on the old willow tree in their garden. And this year they are wishing harder than ever…

In the small Yorkshire village of Noon Sun, Benedict and Estelle Stone thought they had found their happy ever after. But, unable to have the children they have always longed for, their marriage has hit the rocks and Estelle has moved out.

Benedict is 44 and knows time is flying by. Estelle had come to terms with being childless but for Benedict, ‘the ache of wanting a child weighed him down like wet cement.’

Devastated but unwilling to accept defeat, Benedict, who is a jeweller and has his own village shop, vows to win back artist Estelle but he just doesn’t know yet how he will do that. And the unexpected – and uninvited – arrival of his estranged 16-year-old niece, Gemma, is the last thing he needs at the moment.

But when a decades old secret is brought to light, Benedict and Estelle realise they are not the only ones in need of a second chance. And that maybe the family they wished for has been there all along…

There is sadness here and personal pain, but there is also warmth, humour, the joy of close relationships and the family ties that bind us together. A fabulous feelgood tale with a gritty, real-life edge.

(HQ, paperback, £7.99)

The Love of a Family by Rebecca Shaw

When former school teacher Rebecca Shaw died three years ago, she left behind a rich legacy of gifted storytelling and a host of beautiful novels celebrating families, friendship and rural life.

Shaw, who did not start writing until later in life and yet sold more than one million books, lived with her husband in a picturesque Dorset village where she found plenty of inspiration for her charming and much-loved stories.

The Love of a Family is a heartwarming and life-affirming standalone novel which speaks loudly about the importance of family and always being there for one another.

Number 12 Spring Gardens is a quiet house. Myra and Graham Butler lead the kind of lives where everything is neat, tidy and predictable. That is until they are named guardians to their young nephews, Oliver aged 12 and 10-year-old Piers, who never knew their mother and have now lost their father. It’s starting to look like life will never be the same again for all of them.

Myra makes it clear she doesn’t want the responsibility of caring for two young children. After a terrible loss early in their marriage, she vowed never to open her heart again, and has turned her back on friends and family since. Now she has two children and a rabbit turning her house – and her heart – upside down.

Graham is determined to do his best, but can you learn to be a parent overnight? School, parties, squabbles and secrets are all a mystery to him and for once he must stand up to Myra and challenge the safe little rules that have kept them hemmed in for so long.

It will take danger, more heartbreak and a small dog for Myra and Graham to realise that, even if you don’t know what you’re doing, sometimes love is enough. And also to accept that they are going to need help to muddle through… and that the help they may need will come from an entire village.

Shaw writes with both empathy and insight as we watch Myra and Graham come to terms with their new life and learn to love the two young boys who have been so tragically orphaned and are now struggling to cope with their grief and loss.

The journey for them all is full of laughter, tears, mishaps and plenty of surprises… and a reading treat that all fans of family drama wouldn’t want to miss!

(Orion, hardback, £20)