Curl up with three wonderful winter warmers By various authors - book reviews -

Meet three lovable dogs in need of a good home, share the lives and loves of the brave women who worked in dangerous wartime munitions factories, and follow the trials and triumphs of a young mixed race girl in London in the 1950s in three books just made for dark nights.

Home for Christmas

Florence McNicoll

Keep cosy this Christmas with a festive canine story that will have dog lovers and romance fans barking with joy!

Home for Christmas is the second book in a heartwarming fiction series in partnership with London’s Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, written by Florence McNicoll, pen name for writer and editor, Sophie Wilson, who worked at Transworld Publishers for five years, and is a passionate cat lover and supporter of the vital work at Battersea.

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Kathy Brentwood is good at keeping it together… or so it seems to the people around her. But really, struggling with grief after the death of her husband, Kathy’s life has become small. Her days are organised, her house is neat, but she is desperately lonely and with her son starting to build a life of his own, she isn’t sure where she fits any more.

On Christmas Day, a chance encounter with a man called Ben and a rescue dog leads Kathy to the door of Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. She meets Milly, the shy greyhound in need of a loving home, Baxter, the friendly Staffie who brings everyone together, and Archie the Jack Russell Terrier who is a true original and has a heart of gold.

Through a year of ups and downs, new friends – both two- and four-legged – and even the possibility of romance, a new life beckons for Kathy, if only she is brave enough. Because at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, it is never too late for a second chance… especially at Christmas.

Prepare to have your heartstrings well and truly tugged in this warm, funny and perceptive tale about loneliness, self-discovery, love… and the importance of animal friends.

(Trapeze, paperback, £7.99)

Christmas on the Home Front

Annie Clarke

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During the dark days of the Second World War, servicemen weren’t the only people risking their lives and limbs for their country.

In the munitions factories, where work was dirty and dangerous, brave women took risks every day to keep the forces supplied with ammunition, and in the fourth book of her uplifting Factory Girls series, Annie Clarke brings us more dramas from the lives and loves of three friends in a North East mining village.

Clarke’s roots are dug deep into this region and she draws inspiration for her stories from her mother, who was born in a County Durham pit village during the First World War and went on to became a military nurse during the Second World War.

She and her husband now live only a stone’s throw from that same pit village and she has often written about the North East in her novels which she hopes reflect her love and respect for the region’s lost mining communities.

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In October 1942, as Christmas approaches, evacuees in Massingham pit village decide a pantomime is just what they all need. Viola loves her new job away from the munitions factory, and hopes that her romance with the handsome Ralph might have a happy ending.

Meanwhile, married life is proving tough for Fran and Davey as they are forced apart by Fran’s job at the factory and Davey’s war work at Bletchley Park… and when there is an unexpected arrival on the doorstep, her world turns upside down.

And following her husband’s shock confession, Beth finally feels as though she’s regaining control of her life… that is until he turns up.

A lot can happen on the home front, but Christmas is a time for family and friends, and the factory girls will do everything they can to ensure this year’s celebration is one to remember.

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With its delightfully authentic and nostalgic warmth, a heartfelt sense of community in hard times, and the joys of family and friendship shining through like a beacon, this is a story of strong and resourceful women which will inspire, uplift and delight.

(Arrow, paperback, £6.99)

The Mother and Baby Home

Sheila Newberry

The trials and triumphs of a young mixed race girl in Greater London in the 1950s take centre stage in a heartwarming story just made for the Christmas season.

Sheila Newberry, the Suffolk-born author who sadly died in January this 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 Mother and Baby Home, Newberry transports us back to wartime and an area near Croydon where she grew up… a place where she played with her friends, rolled down grassy slopes, explored old gardens, and danced to the sounds of Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen.

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And it is here too that we meet Sunny who grows up in the mother and baby home on Grove Lane. The daughter of a wartime nurse from Trinidad and a pilot, she was abandoned by her mother on Christmas Eve in 1940 shortly after her birth and taken in by Nanette (Nan), the warm and gentle proprietor of the home.

Never having known her parents, Sunny has always felt like she doesn’t quite fit in, but now aged 16 she is ready to find her place in the world.

Heading out to start her first job in 1956, she finally feels she has some idea of who she wants to be. But Fifties London is changing at a rapid pace and so is Sunny.

Soon, however, she settles into her job at Rowland Printing Press where she catches the eye of the owner’s grandson, Alec, but when someone from her past returns, Sunny has some tough decisions to make… decisions that could affect the rest of her life.

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The Mother and Baby Home is a beautiful, thoughtful tale exploring life’s unexpected twists and turns, and the loves, challenges and friendships that we encounter along the way. Full of rich period detail, and written with Newberry’s natural empathy, this enchanting 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 wisdom and heartfelt emotions that were the trademarks of her writing.

And with the added bonus of a tasty, authentic recipe for gammon and pease pudding to try out, Newberry’s heartwarming story is a wonderfully nostalgic read for dark winter evenings.

(Zaffre, paperback, £7.99)

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