Take a trip back to wartime with two super sagas - book reviews

Victory Girls by Helen Carey
Victory Girls by Helen Carey
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Light the fire, draw the curtains and cuddle up with two beautiful wartime tales that will whisk you away to the dangers, dramas and romance of the Second World War.

Victory Girls by Helen Carey

Six books – and a staggering one million words – after setting out to write a drama series set in a busy, bustling street in wartime London, Helen Carey brings us the final, memorable chapter.

It was a chance meeting at a London bus stop with a neighbour who pointed out the sites of Second World War air-raid shelters on Clapham Common that became the inspiration for Carey’s enthralling Lavender Road novels and she could never have imagined how they would win the hearts of thousands of readers.

Each book has followed the fortunes and misfortunes, hopes and fears, loves and losses of a community of close-knit friends and neighbours in Clapham, but it has been the author’s attention to authentic historical detail and her talent for transporting her readers to a vibrant world where ordinary people are living extraordinary lives amidst the uncertainties of wartime that have made this such a standout series.

Victory Girls sees the resilient women we have known and loved through high days and hardships getting ready to fight to the last for a brighter future as Allied troops battle their way across Europe in the summer of 1944.

In Lavender Road, nurse Molly Coogan’s hopes for an end to the conflict are overshadowed by the threat of Hitler’s V-1 rocket attacks on London, a chilling daily reminder that for some, the war is far from over.

And Molly has other things on her mind… not least, the handsome young Canadian pilot Callum Frazer whom she met while on nursing service in Tunisia. Molly fell hopelessly in love with Callum but he is the son of a wealthy businessman who is vehemently opposed to them getting married.

And back in London, Molly’s thoughts have also turned to her dream of training at a medical school to be a doctor, and delving into the circumstances that led to her spending much of her childhood in a London orphanage, even if it brings more pain.

Meanwhile, Helen de Burrel knows all too well how dangerous it is in war-torn France after serving as an agent with the Special Operations Executive and nearly losing her life. But it was in France that she also met her resistance fighter fiancé, André Cabillard, and it’s a long-time since she heard from him.

Helen has now managed to land the role of liaison interpreter for the British and Allied forces in France and nothing is going to stop her trying to track him down… before he is lost to her forever.

Carey rounds off her gritty and nostalgic series with some edge-of-the-seat, action-packed thrills in dangerous war-torn France as we travel back in time for more romance, surprises, dark humour and high passion.

The Lavender Road novels have been a delight, a perfect blend of real history and exciting fiction, full of charismatic characters, and paying a warm tribute to the tough generation that endured so much but still managed to pull together and keep on smiling.

Lest we forget…

(Headline, paperback, £7.99)

A Brighter Day Tomorrow by Pam Evans

And wartime forms the background to a moving tale of a young, unmarried mother struggling to survive amidst the bombs and hardships of west London in a poignant saga from much-loved storyteller Pam Evans.

Family, friendship and that important sense of belonging are all explored in this gritty and poignant novel as Evans transports us back to the days of rationing, uncertainty and danger when death and destruction were only ever a heartbeat away.

Seventeen-year-old Liz Beck is getting through the war years with all the dangers, the long working hours at the local munitions factory, and the endless shortages by having fun with her best friend Marg when they are off duty.

And there is excitement in the air in the summer of 1943 with the arrival of American GIs on England’s shores. Despite the reservations of her strict parents, Liz, her sneaky sister Dora and Marge manage to enjoy an evening of fun at the ice rink which has been reopened in honour of the GIs.

Happy, spirited Marg, who reckons ‘a girl has to make her own chances in life,’ doesn’t waste time in chatting up Joe and Victor, a couple of handsome American servicemen. Before long, the two friends are swept off their feet and Marg’s dream of becoming a GI bride to Joe looks like it might well come true.

Even though Dora is jealous of the romance that blossoms between Victor and Liz, it seems nothing can spoil their happiness. But then tragedy strikes and Liz makes the shocking discovery that she is pregnant.

Thrown out of the house by her intransigent father, Liz is left alone to cope in a society that frowns on unmarried mothers. But with almost nothing left to lose, she finds love and support where she least expects it and, as the war comes to an end, she hopes that the future will be brighter than she could ever once have imagined…

A Brighter Day Tomorrow brings to life the dilemma of unmarried mother Liz as she confronts prejudice and occasionally downright cruelty with fortitude, resilience and the bulldog spirit that kept a nation battling on during the long war years.

Evans is a warm and observant author who packs her compelling stories with wisdom, nostalgia, real history and drama, and here she shines a light on the unconditional love of a mother for her child, whatever the future may bring.

A beautiful saga for cold winter nights…

(Headline, paperback, £7.99)