Three emotion-packed sagas for winter reading by various authors - book reviews -

Light the fire, draw the curtains and snuggle up with three enthralling sagas that are guaranteed to add an extra glow to cold, winter nights.

Thursday, 2nd December 2021, 4:55 am
A Simple Wish by Rosie Goodwin
A Simple Wish by Rosie Goodwin

A Simple Wish

Rosie Goodwin

Add an extra sparkle to your Christmas countdown as Rosie Goodwin, one of Britain’s best-loved saga queens, conjures up more storytelling magic for her Precious Stones series.

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The star of each standalone story in this glittering collection is named after a gemstone and follows on from Goodwin’s enchanting Days of the Week series which won her an army of readers and a fistful of accolades.

A former social worker and foster mother, Goodwin has penned well over thirty beautiful, heartwarming novels exploring life and love in days gone by, and was awarded the rights to follow three of the late, great Tyneside writer Catherine Cookson’s trilogies with her own sequels.

And now, A Simple Wish – a gritty, drama-packed tale featuring the desperate struggles of a homeless Victorian girl – delivers the same winning blend of romance, intrigue, fascinating characters, and richly detailed, authentic and atmospheric settings.

Our new gemstone star is Ruby Carter who works hard in her parents’ bakery in Nuneaton in 1885. Whilst life isn’t easy, she’s happy enough… her gentle mother protects young Ruby from her cruel father and loves her unconditionally.

So, when her mother falls seriously ill, Ruby is heartbroken. Then, from her deathbed, her mother reveals that Ruby was adopted at birth. Stricken by grief and alone with the violent man she called her father, Ruby feels she has no choice but to flee.

At just fifteen, homeless and alone, she is relieved when a kindly stranger named Mrs Bamber takes pity on poor Ruby and welcomes her into her home in Birmingham. But soon, Ruby learns that Maddie Bamber is not as generous as she first seemed… she forces Ruby into a life of crime as a jewel thief in the city’s jewellery quarter.

With nothing to her name and nowhere to go, Ruby has no choice but to go along with it, despite the guilt and shame she feels. But she is determined that she will atone for what she has done, and be reunited with her birth parents… because Ruby’s only wish now is to find her real family.

Unsurprisingly, Goodwin is one of the top 50 most borrowed authors from UK libraries and here she packs in all those recognisable people, events and dramas – births and deaths, loves and losses, good people and bad people – that have made her novels so beloved by readers over the decades.

Ruby’s battle, not just to survive but to find her birth family, proves to be a gripping emotional rollercoaster with plot twists aplenty and a story that takes us into the beating heart of 19th century Birmingham.

Full of Goodwin’s wisdom, warmth and wonderful storytelling, and with the author’s delicious, traditional recipe for apple charlotte to tickle the taste buds, this is a tale to cuddle up with on winter nights… and guaranteed to leave readers hungry for A Daughter’s Destiny, the next book in the series.

(Zaffre, hardback, £12.99)

The Jam Factory Girls Fight Back

Two young women fight a desperate battle to claim what is rightfully theirs in the final chapter 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 centred on a jam factory in London’s Bermondsey in the time leading up to the First World War in 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 and The Secrets of the Jam Factory Girls, we move forward to 1913 and back into the lives of Millie Lefton and Elsie Makin, two young women from opposite sides of the tracks whose friendship has survived against the odds.

From the moment Len Lefton came into their lives, everything changed for Millie and Elsie. Both fell in love with him, but he chose Millie, because of her attractive legacy – the Jam Factory.

Now Millie is expecting Len’s baby and it should be the happiest time, but her husband’s true colours have come to the fore – and Millie is forced to leave the marriage. Now Millie is desperate to save her child from Len’s clutches. Will Len ever allow her to find happiness?

Elsie has fallen in love with dependable Jim, but Len is threatening their happiness too. Elsie and Millie are determined to overthrow Len and reclaim the Jam Factory as their own. Will they succeed, and can they rebuild their lives after the devastation Len has caused?

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 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 final visit to Bermondsey is an emotional rollercoaster from first page to last, and will leave readers longing for The Orphanage Girls, a thrilling new saga series set in Bethnal Green.

(Pan, paperback, £7.99)

Christmas with the Cornish Girls

Betty Walker

There’s no hiding place from the triumphs and disasters of the Second World War… even in the beautiful town of St Ives in Cornwall.

Welcome back to the lives and loves of a group of women who have their own personal battles to fight during the dark days of the war years but who are determined to help others, however risky that might be.

This heartwarming saga series full of family and friendship comes from Betty Walker who lives in Cornwall with her large family and also writes bestselling contemporary thrillers as Jane Holland.

In 1941, the bombs are still falling but in St Ives, Christmas is finally approaching. And with the war ongoing, Lily is feeling anything but festive… until her spirits are lifted by close friend Eva who asks if she will join her in her work at an officers’ convalescent home.

Eva came to St Ives to be near the man who almost gave his life to protect hers but will the wounded pilot ever help to heal himself by opening his heart to love?

Meanwhile, Rose suspects that the local orphanage is mistreating its charges…and it’s her job to uncover the truth before it’s too late.

Can the girls help one another through the darkest days in order to give everyone in St Ives the sparkling Christmas they so deserve?

Love, life and laughter are never far away in this compelling series which comes packed with nostalgia, romance and drama, and is the perfect companion for winter reading by an open fire!

(Avon, paperback, £7.99)