Escape to the past with three spring sagas by various authors – book reviews –

Travel to Norfolk for the final chapter of a First World War drama with a royal flavour, share the hopes for a new future with workers at Birmingham’s Bournville factory, and dive into a tear-jerking tale of love, loss and survival in three gripping sagas.
The Royal Station Master’s Daughters in Love by Ellee SeymourThe Royal Station Master’s Daughters in Love by Ellee Seymour
The Royal Station Master’s Daughters in Love by Ellee Seymour

The Royal Station Master’s Daughters in Love

Ellee Seymour

The historic railway station at Wolferton in Norfolk takes centre stage again in the third and final 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.

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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.

In the final chapter of Seymour’s emotion-packed series, we are swept back into the lives of the Saward family in 1919 and discover that although war is over, the effects of it are ever-present in the village of Wolferton.

At just two miles from Sandringham House, the private residence of British monarchs, the people of Wolferton have a special connection to the royals... particularly the family of the royal station master, Harry Saward.

But their privileged position and access to the royal family do not lessen the devastating impact of war on the Saward girls. Maria’s fiancé Eddie is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and Ada’s husband Alfie has lost his job, and his purpose in life. Jessie, meanwhile, is praying for the safe return of her beau Jack, and Beatrice is hard at work as a nurse in the war hospital and is faced with a shocking revelation from her sweetheart.

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With many men from the Sandringham Company still missing in Gallipoli, the village is also suffering and when Kitty Willow, the wife of one of the missing men, and her six young children lose their home on the royal estate, the Saward family rally round to help.

As the Willow family are forced into the workhouse and Kitty is separated from her children, life looks bleak. But when a kind benefactor takes a shine to Kitty, her fortunes may have turned around. Could this be the new start in life that she and her children so desperately need?

Seymour’s knowledge of this area’s history and her friendship with the current station master at Wolferton – Harry Saward’s great-grandson Brian Heath – brings an added poignancy to a story which explores the devastation caused to the local community by the disastrous Gallipoli campaign in 1915 which led to the deaths of many local men and royal estate workers serving with the Sandringham Company.

Also taking centre stage in this final visit to Wolferton are once again the women on the home front who pulled through the traumas and tragedies, adversity and poverty of the war years with outstanding resilience, particularly as the agony of many families was prolonged because the bodies of their loved ones who died in Gallipoli were not discovered until 1919.

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Packed with gripping drama, love and loss, a cast of colourful characters, and with a delicious Lavender Cupcakes recipe to tickle the tastebuds, this is a fitting final curtain for a series that has touched the hearts of all saga fans.

(Zaffre, paperback, £10.99)

Homecoming for the Chocolate Girls

Annie Murray

The city of Birmingham may not now be much-loved saga writer Annie Murray’s home territory but its people, its streets and its past have become an integral part of her life.

It’s nearly 29 years since Murray published Birmingham Rose, her first Birmingham-based novel, and now she’s back with Homecoming for the Chocolate Girls, the heartwarming and dramatic conclusion to her gritty family saga series following the lives and loves of the women and girls who worked at the famous Cadbury factory at Bournville in Birmingham.

In December of 1946, the war might be over but for the Gilby family there are still battles to be fought at home. The long war years have brought great change, not least for Ann Gilby whose husband Len left her for another woman, leaving her finally free to follow her heart.

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While the neighbours may be scandalised by having a divorcée in their midst, Ann is determined to rise above the local gossip and make a happy home with Tom Somers, her former sweetheart and the father of her youngest child, Martin.

Daughters Joy and Sheila are lucky enough to have their menfolk back home, but Joy’s husband Alan has returned a broken man from his experiences in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. And Sheila’s husband Kenneth is finding his travels and wartime adventures in the RAF Air-Sea Rescue have made Birmingham feel small by comparison.

Then there’s Ann’s youngest child, Martin, who is still coming to terms with learning who his real father is... as well as having secrets of his own.

Murray, whose home was in Birmingham when she began her writing career, invests hours of local research and her own powerful gift of imagination into her action-packed, family-based stories, and her genuine affection for the city and its people always shines through.

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And this warmhearted and gritty final chapter for the Chocolate Girls packs in all those ingredients – family bonds, romance, human emotions and the struggles and uncertainties of wartime and the post-war period – which have made this series such a delicious treat for all saga fans.

(Pan, paperback, £8.99)

A Mother’s Sorrow

Margaret Dickinson

Three young women, two families united and a bond that can’t be broken... enjoy meeting a group of women thrown together by adversity as they find hope, comfort and strength in a dramatic saga from much-loved author Margaret Dickinson.

Dickinson – a writer who had her first novel published at the age of 25 and has since gone on to pen a raft of bestselling sagas – is on fine form as she brings us a gritty and heart-rending tale of survival set in the years before and during the First World War.

In Sheffield in 1892, Patrick Halliday is a controlling character and he rules his family with a rod of iron. He’s hard on both his long-suffering wife Edith and his elder daughter, Flora, but he spoils his youngest, Mary Ellen, because she reminds him of his beloved mother.

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When Mary Ellen, aged just seventeen, finds that she is pregnant, Patrick throws her out of the family home and Flora feels compelled to go with her even though it means leaving behind her young man, Bert. And after wandering the Derbyshire countryside for miles, the sisters find shelter on a farm, working for their keep.

When Flora has to return to her job as a buffer girl in Sheffield’s cutlery trade, she is reunited with her friend, Evelyn Bonsor. As both young women find love and fall pregnant, the Halliday and Bonsor families are united, despite the many trials that cross their paths.

And then the Great War breaks out and through hardship and tragedy, these two families must stick together to weather the storm.

Dickinson is a born storyteller who knows how to immerse her readers in the past and a forgotten way of life, and in her 31st saga, she brings us a torrid tale filled with romance, heartache and page-turning drama.

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Written with saga queen Dickinson’s signature warmth and insight, A Mother’s Sorrow delivers the kind of rich period detail that brings the past and its people to vibrant life... and is a delight for all saga fans!

(Pan, paperback, £8.99)

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