Book reviews: Romance, secrets and wartime drama for autumn nights

As the nights draw in, cosy up with a dazzling selection of autumn books that include a beautiful cross-generational family saga, a thrilling fictional biography of film star Loretta Young and the moving tale of a couple's fight to save their dying child.

Wednesday, 28th September 2016, 8:59 am
Updated Wednesday, 5th October 2016, 1:44 pm
Romance, secrets and wartime drama for autumn nights

The Jeweller’s Wife by Judith Lennox

Over the past 25 years, Judith Lennox has been growing into a master storyteller, filling her elegant, sweeping novels with high passion and human drama.

An acute observer, Lennox has a sharp eye for our fears, follies and flaws and these are the bedrock of enthralling stories which blend romance and family life, both past and present, with her now trademark warmth, compassion and intelligence.

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Her beautiful new saga follows two generations of one family, moving through the turbulence and restrictions of the war years to London in the Swinging Sixties, and exploring the heartbreaking legacy of secret passions and cruel betrayal.

In 1938, as England teeters on the brink of war, 19-year-old Juliet Capel is alone and penniless in Cairo after the death of her nomadic Egyptologist father. When she meets Henry Winterton, a 36-year-old jeweller who runs a successful family business in London’s Bond Street, she agrees to marry him after a whirlwind romance.

Her new home is Marsh Court, a grand house near the Blackwater estuary in Essex countryside, a place she loves at first sight. But beneath her husband’s suave exterior lies a cruel, ambitious and ruthless man and knowing that Henry will never truly love her, Juliet invests all her energies into her home.

She finds consolation in Henry’s large family and the birth of her two children Piers and Charlotte but she glimpses love at last in the irresistible charm of her husband’s best friend and dashing up-and-coming MP Gillis Sinclair who regularly comes to stay at Marsh Court.

Urbane, warm and charismatic, Gillis is everything spiteful Henry isn’t and despite them both being married, they begin a passionate affair that will have consequences far beyond anything Juliet imagines.

Because Gillis Sinclair is hiding a dark secret and, as the next generation of Wintertons grow up, Juliet fears that they too will be tainted by the past...

Lennox weaves a mesmerising saga imbued with warmth and wisdom… a story of families, the ties that bind them together, the complexity of relationships and the power of love to heal.

The perfect book for autumn nights…

(Headline Review, paperback, £8.99)

All the Stars in the Heavens by Adriana Trigiani

Adriana Trigiani, author of the blockbuster epic The Shoemaker’s Wife, returns with her biggest and boldest novel yet, a hypnotic tale based on the Hollywood life of film star Loretta Young.

In this spectacular saga, as beguiling as Hollywood itself, Trigiani takes us back to Tinseltown’s golden age, an era as brutal as it was glittering, and into the complex and glamorous world of a young actress hungry for fame and success.

The movie business is booming in 1935 when 21-year-old Loretta Young meets 34-year-old Clark Gable on the set of The Call of the Wild. Although he is already married, Gable falls for the stunning and vivacious young actress.

Far from the bright lights of Hollywood, Sister Alda Ducci has been forced to leave her convent and begin a new journey that leads her to Loretta.

Becoming Miss Young’s secretary, the innocent and pious young Alda must navigate the wild terrain of Hollywood with fierce determination and a moral code that derives from her Italian roots.

Over the course of decades, she and Loretta encounter scandal and adventure, choose love and passion, and forge an enduring bond of love and loyalty that will be put to the test when they eventually face the greatest obstacle of their lives.

All the Stars in the Heavens captures the lustre, drama, power and secrets that could only thrive in the studio system, all viewed through the lives of an unforgettable cast of players, and creating magic on the screen and behind the scenes.

Trigiani takes us on a worldwide ride of adventure from Hollywood to the shores of southern Italy. With meticulous detail, she paints a rich, historical landscape of 1930s Los Angeles, where European and American artisans flocked to pursue the ultimate dream… to tell stories on the silver screen.

Brimming with larger-than-life characters both real and fictional, including stars Spencer Tracy, Myrna Loy, David Niven and Hattie McDaniel, this is the unforgettable story of one of cinema’s greatest love affairs during the golden age of American movie making.

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £7.99)

The House on Bellevue Gardens by Rachel Hore

A friend in need is a friend indeed...

Rachel Hore, an author who has made her name with enchanting novels like The Glass Painter’s Daughter and A Week in Paris, explores the real meaning of friendship in a poignant and heartwarming story set in a tranquil London square.

Bellevue Gardens is tucked away behind a busy street and many pass it without knowing it’s there. But here, through the imposing front door of Number 11, is a place of peace, sanctuary and secrets.

It is home to Leonie… once a model in the Sixties, she came to the house to escape a destructive marriage and now, out of gratitude, she opens her home to others in need, whether they be rich or poor, young or old.

Rosa has arrived in London from Poland to look for her younger brother Michal. But he has disappeared, and now she’s alone, with nowhere to stay and no one to help her. Stef is running away from her boyfriend Oliver and the claustrophobic life she has been living in his opulent flat. Frightened, friendless and far from her family, she needs somewhere to hide.Rick is living in limbo. He is a shy young man sheltering from the world to write and draw and dream but he desperately needs a place to nourish his creativity.

All three find refuge at 11 Bellevue Gardens, the shabbiest house of the smart white-painted Georgian terrace in north London. However, the house which has provided sanctuary for so many is now itself under threat. Can Leonie rescue the place that saved her all those years ago?

This beautifully written story, with a heart as big as the owner of Number 11, moves between past and present lives, exploring what it means to be lonely, lost or unhappy, and speaking loudly and movingly about the redemptive power of love and the kindness of strangers.

A caring, compelling tale of 21st century life from a perceptive writer…

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £7.99)

The Secret by Kathryn Hughes

Last year, Kathryn Hughes from Manchester captured thousands of hearts across the world with her stunning debut novel, The Letter, a captivating and moving story about tragedy, loss, hope and salvation.

And now she is back with The Secret, another sensitively written and heart-wrenching tearjerker that follows a young couple desperately trying to find a donor for their critically ill son who will die without a new kidney.

Moving between the stories of two women – one in the 1970s and one in the present day – Hughes delivers another unforgettable, poignant story of tragedy, hope and second chances that will have readers reaching for the tissues.

Mary Roberts has been nursing a secret for forty years. In 1975, she made a difficult choice, under tragic circumstances, that would change her world for ever and alter the path of someone she holds dear.

Fast forward to 2015 and Beth is searching for answers. She and her husband Michael need a miracle to save their stricken son Jake whose only chance of life is a compatible kidney donor.

Beth has never known the truth about her parents, but finding out could be the lifeline her sick child so desperately needs. When Beth discovers a faded newspaper cutting amongst her recently deceased mother’s belongings, she realises that the key to her son’s future lies in her own past. She must go back to where it all began to unlock a long-hidden secret…

Brimming with emotion, surprise revelations and immaculately researched, The Secret is a nostalgic, poignant read for readers of every generation.

(Headline Review, paperback, £7.99)

The Gunpowder and Glory Girls by Rosie Archer

Wartime is no place for shrinking violets… so it’s just as well that the yellow-tinged ‘canary girls’ at Gosport’s armaments factory are as tough as old boots!

Welcome back to friends in need, flying bombs and dangerous gangsters in the fourth book of Rosie Archer’s thrilling series featuring a group of feisty women fighting to keep their head above water in the Hampshire seaside town.

The inspiration behind this compelling series, which has included The Munitions Girls, The Canary Girls and The Factory Girls, are the real-life munitions workers at Priddy’s Hard, the Royal Navy Armament Depot in Hampshire, who helped to arm the Allies’ D-Day invasion fleet.

Archer, who was born and raised in Gosport, pays tribute to the dangerous and dirty work undertaken by the 2,500 women at Priddy’s who packed shells and bullets with sulphurous chemicals that made their skin and hair turn yellow.

Her gritty, inspirational stories prove that no matter how hard the times, despite bombing, short rations, cruel men and unwanted pregnancy, love and friendship will pull you through.

By August of 1944, the war is drawing to a close, but the munitions girls are still hard at work in Priddy’s factory. Gladys, who has been promoted to overseer, has been feeling lonely lately. Her daughter Lizzie has moved away, and a lot of her friends have left Gosport too.

But an act of kindness towards Goldie, a teenage girl left homeless after her gran is killed in a doodlebug bomb explosion, provides Gladys with a new friend and lodger.

But Goldie has run away from her dangerous step family, a group of local gangsters and black-market smugglers which includes a particularly brutal thug and pimp who is determined to make the girl his. Can Gladys keep Goldie safe while dealing with her own unexpected pregnancy?

Packed with drama, emotion and the perilous uncertainties of the Home Front, and written with warmth, humour and a real understanding of the lives of the munitions workers, this enthralling series is a joy for all lovers of wartime romance.

(Quercus, hardback, £19.99)

Evie’s Allies by Kitty Danton

The hopes and fears, joys and disasters of an English wartime village spring to exciting life in the second book of Kitty Danton’s warm and captivating debut trilogy.

Danton is a born and bred Devonian and her entertaining Dartmoor Chronicles were inspired by the experiences of her mother June during the long days of the Second World War.

Drawing on the tales of an earlier generation, Danton sweeps us away to an age of blackout, rationing, romance, friendship, tragedy and the community spirit that kept the country and its people afloat.

At the heart of these charming and lively books is young schoolteacher Evie Yeo whose dreams of working in a big city were scuppered by the onset of hostilities. She fears that life will be dull in her quiet home village but, after landing job at the local primary school, wartime seems to be throwing up the most unexpected twists and turns.

After having her heart broken not once but twice, Evie has sworn off men and is focusing on her job teaching at the village school in Lymbridge in Devon. Her class is much bigger now that evacuees have come to Lymbridge and if she thought that her previous boss – the mother of her scoundrel ex-fiancé Timmy Bowes – was bad, she is in for a tough autumn term with new headmaster Mr Bassett.

Although not yet 30 years old himself, Mr Bassett regards Evie as a young flibbertigibbet and merely a ‘make-do-for-now’ answer to the problem of appointing a new infant teacher.

Meanwhile, it’s a busy time for all in the village as Linda is getting married and there is a dress to make, Tricia’s baby is due any day now and Evie is determined to help raise the spirits of the men in the local recuperation hospital.

But friends and family always come first, especially in a place like Lymbridge, and as the Yeos have to face more than their fair share of troubles, it’s good to know that allies are not hard to find. Wartime is a time to come together but when a familiar face returns, Evie might find that her broken heart isn’t as easy to forget as she’d hoped...

Danton fields an engaging and charismatic cast of characters who are fast becoming as familiar as old friends. Whether it’s Evie’s colourful family or her band of friends, pupils and colleagues, there is never a dull moment in this entertaining, multi-faceted story of love and life in wartime.

(Orion, hardback, £19.99)