Four super sagas for spring nights by various authors – book reviews -
Cosy up with some sparkling springtime sagas that transport readers from a royal stronghold in rural Norfolk and the luscious strawberry fields of Hampshire, to the counters of bustling Woolworths stores in Kent and the windswept cliffs of North Yorkshire.
The Royal Station Master’s Daughters at War
The historic railway station at Wolferton in Norfolk takes centre stage once more in the second book of a fascinating First World War debut saga series from journalist and PR professional Ellee Seymour.
Wolferton Station – now in private hands – opened in 1862 and was the nearest station to Sandringham House. Trains continued to bring the royal family to and from their estate right up until the station’s closure in 1969.
Seymour’s delightful series was inspired by the Saward family, who ran the station in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and her stories gives readers a glimpse into all walks of life during this period... from top-tier royalty to the humblest of soldiers.
It’s 1917 and we meet up again with Maria who has adapted well to her new life on the royal Sandringham estate where she works as a maid for the widowed Queen Alexandra in the Big House. After growing up amidst poverty and suffering, Maria is in awe of the many treasures around her.
It is two years since she turned up at the royal station master Harry Saward’s house at Wolferton to escape her secret past. Maria was destitute and had nowhere else to turn but, having proved herself honest and capable, Harry and his daughters have welcomed her as one of the family. But when a mysterious relative called Nellie Jeacock turns up, on the run from the law, Maria’s new-found happiness could be under threat.
Meanwhile, the impact of the war is being felt deeply in the community as the fate of missing men from the Sandringham Company, who fought in Gallipoli, is still unknown. Harry’s daughters pull together to support each other and the women on the royal estate as they face up to their sorrows and challenges.
Ada’s husband, Alfie, is away fighting on the front line leaving her to care alone for their young son while Beatrice is now a VAD nurse at a cottage hospital and still mourning the loss of her first love, Sam. Jessie, meanwhile, has become a land army girl, transforming the Queen’s flower garden at Wolferton Station into a vegetable plot, and still longing for the return of her sweetheart Jack.
In a community torn apart by loss and tragedy, how will the station master’s family survive and find the happiness they are all searching for?
Packed with gripping drama, love and secrets, a cast of colourful characters, and with a delicious, authentic gingerbread biscuits recipe to tickle the tastebuds, this is a heartwarming treat guaranteed to leave saga fans hungry for more.
(Zaffre, paperback, £9.99)
A Daughter’s Gift
Some of the Second World War’s unsung female heroes are being given their place in the spotlight in a gripping saga trilogy from Molly Walton, better known as the historical novelist Rebecca Mascull.
A Daughter’s Gift is the second book in this enthralling series which stars the women who worked at a Y Station, a signals intelligence site, near Scarborough.
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, Walton dug into this beautiful area’s wartime history and discovered that Raven Hall, built in 1774, was used as a billet for these wartime workers.
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.
At the heart of these stories are widow Rosina Calvert-Lazenby and her five daughters – Grace, Evelyn, Constance and twins Daisy and Dora – and Raven Hall, the crumbling ancestral home of the Lazenby family, of which Rosina is now the sole living member.
We meet up with them again in September 1940, a year since war was first announced and at a time when the threats are becoming all too real. With Raven Hall requisitioned by the army, Rosina must do all she can to protect her family home from the rowdy troops. And after Rosina’s burgeoning relationship with young RAF Sergeant Harry Woodvine is interrupted when he’s posted abroad, the arrival of an older officer who takes a keen interest in her could also spell trouble.
Meanwhile, Rosina’s fearless second daughter, 20-year-old Evelyn, decides to join the Auxiliary Fire Service. Determined to help with the Blitz effort in London, she faces extreme danger. Two kind professional firemen, the Bailey brothers, take her under their wing to help protect and guide her. But with the bombings getting worse, there can be no guarantees.
Who will be safe, how can Rosina protect all those she loves, and is love still possible with such high stakes?
A Daughter’s Gift is another superbly researched rollercoaster ride through the heartaches, dramas and perils of the Calvert-Lazenby family as Rosina and her daughters continue 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 romance.
(Welbeck, hardback, £14.99)
The Strawberry Fields Girls
As three young women prepare for a summer season of strawberry picking in 1913, they little suspect that love may soon be knocking on their door... just as the drums of war start to slowly beat across Europe.
The Strawberry Fields Girls 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 south of England where she now lives 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.
And this new rollercoaster tale, set amidst the glorious strawberry fields of Hampshire, recalls the county’s reputation as the ‘Strawberry Coast,’ harvesting high quality, flavourful strawberries which would be picked every day and over 20,000 berries loaded on to a daily train bound for Covent Garden and top hotels in London.
The strawberry harvest is finally ready. The delicious fruit makes up the main source of income for the small hamlet of Strawbridge in Hampshire. Good friends Leah Hopwood, Alice Russell and Dora Webb are ready to spend their summer months working as strawberry pickers on Isaac Whitworth’s farm. But when Leah takes a fancy to young seasonal farm hand Harry White from London, and Alice catches the eye of the handsome new curate Samuel Roberts, the two girls find themselves falling fast.
This leaves Dora on the outside, struggling with the weight of being her family’s sole breadwinner and caring for her sickly father. But the summer months are long and the surprises are far from over. Away from the fields, a war is brewing which risks everything the girls can dare to dream about.
Beautifully written with what is fast becoming her signature warmth and empathy, Dickson’s new page-turner brings us three resourceful, determined and inspirational young women in a gripping story packed with emotion, drama and romance.
Featuring a cast of vibrant and authentic characters, the evocative backdrop of a country heading into war, and the charms of a forgotten rural world, this is a compelling and ultimately uplifting tale with friendship, family and love at its core.
(Simon & Schuster, hardback, £22)
The Woolworths Girl’s Promise
Welcome back to the entertaining fortunes and misfortunes of Elaine Everest’s ‘family’ of devoted and dedicated store staff who have become like friends to an army of avid readers.
This wonderfully nostalgic Woolies series, which has brought new life and love for the famous stores which once graced almost every high street in the country, has taken us through the trials, tribulations and triumphs of a group of hard-working women and their boss Betty Billington at the Kentish town of Erith during the turbulent years of the Second World War.
When the long years of conflict finally ended in Everest’s fourth book, A Gift from Woolworths, her plan was to make it the girls’ last chapter but she was so inundated by readers begging to find out what happened next that she happily returned to familiar territory in her fifth book, Wedding Bells for Woolworths.
And after a much-loved prequel, A Mother Forever, charting the early life of favourite character Ruby Caselton, and an exciting seventh instalment in which we met a new generation of Woolworths Girls, Everest bounces back with her eighth amazing Woolworths saga.
So get ready to discover the turbulent early life of the irrepressible Betty Billington... including her journey before she arrived at the Erith store, and her meeting with her fellow Woolworths girls in 1938 just as war loomed once more on the horizon.
After losing her beloved fiancé at Ypres in 1917, 17-year-old Elizabeth (Betty) Billington faces a lonely future estranged from her upper-class parents due to her association with Charlie Sayers and his working-class family.
No longer able to live under her parents’ roof, Betty is taken in by Charlie’s father and escapes the suffocating demands of her parents. But Betty soon learns all too well about the realities of life after an accident at the Woolwich Arsenal munitions works, and gains strength and independence from her experiences.
Spotting an advertisement for a job at Woolworths nearby, Betty begins a new and rewarding career, even if it means starting at the bottom of the employment ladder in the well-known store. Soon, her work journey leads her to Ramsgate in Kent to work in a newly built store and with it the chance of marriage, but can she ever forget Charlie and the promise she made to him?
With its enchanting mix of drama, romance, friendship and family, and lots of twists and turns to enjoy along the way, this is an enthralling account of the early life of one of Everest’s best-loved Woolworths girls and another uplifting read from a master storyteller.
(Pan, paperback, £7.99)