Review – The Cottingley Secret

“Possibility is where all the best stories begin.”

Hazel Gaynor could write flatpack furniture instructions and they would still be utterly enchanting; I honestly cannot find the words to do justice to her ability to make stories come alive. As has been the case with her other novels I’ve read thus far, I didn’t read ‘The Cottingley Secret’, I lived it. Or at least, it certainly felt as though I did. This was absolutely not a novel I could dip in and out of between appointments or on lunch breaks; as soon as I opened the pages I was totally consumed by the characters and their unique journeys. Put simply, if I’d read this while running a bath, my house definitely would have flooded.

My knowledge of the Cottingley fairies was pretty limited before reading this re-telling; like most people, I’d seen the photos at some point but never really known the story behind them. I vaguely remember seeing the film adaptation in the 90’s, but even that memory is quite hazy now (especially as I am reluctantly beginning to accept that the 90’s were 30 years ago and not 10 as I often still think they were). If anything, however, that possibly made this story even more enthralling for me. I first discovered Hazel Gaynor’s novels through ‘The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter’, which reimagines the story of a really significant part of North East history and was therefore close to my heart, and also thoroughly enjoyed ‘The Girl who Came Home’ set around the Titanic, an event which we all have some knowledge of, but having limited knowledge of the ‘real’ events made me feel so much more connected to the characters. For once, I had no desire to google every detail and compare this retelling to the story of the ‘real’ fairies because I knew Hazel’s version is the one I want to believe is true.

Having said that, for the few aspects of the story I did google in vain attempts to pacify my own curiosity, even though I knew some parts were products of Hazel’s imagination and arose from the need to advance plots or fill in gaps in the real story, she intertwines fact and fiction so well that it becomes extremely difficult to separate the two. The story of the Cottingley fairies is already a pretty solid base for an exciting and spellbinding story, but Hazel’s imagination is like adding petrol to the low embers of a bonfire and giving the reader an absolute inferno of intrigue and excitement.

It must be difficult enough to tell one story, with the complexities of character depths and managing plot progression, but again Hazel Gaynor has taken that challenge and raised it with another story interweaved through the original so neatly that they’re knitted together like stripes in a jumper. The story of the present-day Olivia embarking on a new adventure despite her heart-breaking personal losses, whilst running the bookshop of all of our dreams, had enough emotion and intrigue to be a standalone contemporary fiction novel, but using this as the lens through which we discover Frances and Elsie’s secrets means we’re gifted with two incredible stories for the price (or three-week library loan in my case) of one. Personally, I found both stories equally gripping as well, something I find quite rare in these novels which flit between past and present; usually I develop a clear preference for one story after a few chapters and find the parallel story an irritating inconvenience but that couldn’t be further from how I felt whilst reading ‘The Cottingley Fairies’.

My ever-sceptical husband did ask me, whilst I was about half way through ‘The Cottingley Secret’ why I was reading a fantasy book when this isn’t usually my genre of choice, and why I was so invested when, quote, ‘they’re obviously not real’ but, in a way, are any books real? Every time we crack the spine of a novel we’re entering someone’s world of fantasy and make-believe. And, the key question with the Cottingley fairies is not whether the photographs were real or faked, but whether you choose to believe.

“There’s magic in every bookshop, Olivia. You just have to bring people to it. The books will take care of the rest.”

Review – Curtain Call at the Seaview Hotel

The Seaview had weathered many storms, but she felt this one might be her trickiest yet.

Rain pelting the windows, the toddler finally snoring beneath his cot blankets upstairs, candles flickering on the fireplace – surely nothing could make this moment any more cosy, I hear you say? Wrong. My sense of pure comfort more than doubled as I cracked the spine of ‘Curtain Call at the Seaview Hotel’, and checked in to my favourite beachside B&B. Although Glenda Young’s cosy crime series is definitely best enjoyed snuggled up by the fire on a rainy Autumn evening, I found both instalments so atmospheric that I really believe I could have read them in the Maldives (a girl can dream), and still felt the misty sea fret dampening my face and the aroma of fish and chips wafting up from the pages just as strongly.

I’m not usually much of a crime fiction lover, (it can be somewhat of a busman’s holiday for me) but since I always thoroughly enjoy Glenda’s historical sagas, I checked ‘Murder at the Seaview Hotel’ out of the library during a rare few days off work and was hooked straight away. I was so late to this party that I read the first instalment only weeks before ‘Curtain Call at the Seaview Hotel’ was released; which worked out great in the end as I got double the intrigue without the impatient waiting period between publications.

With characters as complex and mysterious as the plot, I’m not sure how I became so invested in their stories after only a couple of chapters; but that’s the caveat of Glenda Young’s gripping storytelling; just as I start to have the characters worked out, there’s another intriguing twist which has me suspicious of everyone and second guessing myself. So, my decision to try this series in an effort to fill some spare time on days off quickly spiralled into “surely it will be resolved in the next chapter, just a few more pages before bed” and the inevitable cycle of frustration and the unrelenting need to find out what happens next; more commonly known as ‘the binge read’.

As I’ve said, crime novels can be a bit of a busman’s holiday for me, but I’m almost embarrassed to admit that, in neither ‘Murder’ or ‘Curtain Call at the Seaview Hotel’ was I able to correctly guess the murderer. In fact, on both occasions I was completely flabbergasted as I’d formulated totally different theories as to where the plot was going to progress; which again is a testament to Glenda’s talent for creating plots which are even richer than Jean’s home made chocolate cakes. Being so well established in the saga genre, it was no doubt a nerve-racking move for Glenda Young to branch out into cosy crime but I’m delighted that she did. Both instalments were equally as gripping, with the second possibly even more so since the characters were, by then, more well established which allowed her to delve further into their personalities and back stories, forcing the reader to question everything we thought we knew about these now familiar faces.

As much as I’m desperate to check into the cosy Seaview to join Helen in her exploits, and of course to pet good old trusty Suki, I don’t know if I could handle the stress. With the amount of plot twists which emerge so subtly I hadn’t even the slightest anticipation before they were hitting me in the face, I can only imagine the anxiety Helen must feel dealing with these every day. Of course, with a location as atmospheric as the Seaview and friends as wonderful as Sally and Jean I can see why Helen soldiers on through it and, even speaking as a vegetarian, I can say with confidence that I would definitely risk a night or two under the same roof as a murderer if it came with the promise of one of Jean’s full English breakfasts…

Farewell, Shipyard Girls!

We all have certain stories, certain characters or worlds which stay with us long after we’ve turned the final page. ‘The Shipyard Girls’ may appear to the objective observer as a typical saga series (a very well-written and addictive one at that), but for me this series marked the start of my first ‘proper’ writing experience; the first time someone other than my immediate family or friends (i.e. someone not morally obliged to) told me that I wasn’t terrible at it. I was a little bit late to the SYG party, but a couple of months after binge reading the first three books on holiday, I found myself between jobs and a bit unsure of the next steps. With a decent stretch of spare time on my hands for the first time in years, I decided to start writing. On the advice of a friend who had had some success, I began by writing about things I enjoyed and so, this saga series which I couldn’t put down seemed a logical place to start. When I received an email from Nancy herself to say she really enjoyed one of my reviews and asked if I’d like to be part of the next blog tour, I couldn’t believe it – a proper, successful author liked something I’d scribbled together on my ancient laptop one rainy afternoon.

I had no idea where my writing journey was going to go, and as evidenced by my completely sporadic and random postings on this blog, I still don’t. But the main constant since I started this page has been regularly scheduled hype about the latest SYG instalments and gentle background encouragement from Nancy. Since joining the club of SYG bloggers and having the privilege of getting to know Nancy, I’ve had three more career changes (I never was able to focus on one thing for too long) and become a parent; none of which has even slightly resembled the life plan I had in mind at the time I started blogging. Which, is what made it especially poignant to be alongside the girls as they all ended this chapter of their journey in preparation for embarking upon their next unique and exciting steps.

“Life, she had learnt, was lacking in certainty, and sometimes it ended up sending you down a different route to the one you had intended or wanted to take. Sometimes…those unexpected turns in life led to something rather special.”

I’ll admit I was nervous to start ‘Three Cheers for The Shipyard Girls’, partly because, as with all of the readers who have loved this series, I didn’t want it to end but also because I was really apprehensive of a potentially rubbish ending spoiling the rest of the series. It’s strange to think that we (as readers) have these particular series and characters that we really love, which are a result of a particular author’s imagination, and yet we seem to have no faith whatsoever in their ability to take the stories where they need to go. I genuinely felt under pressure as I started to read Three Cheers, and was quite fraught about whether Nancy was going to do our girls justice; so I can only imagine the anxiety which the prospect of ending such a well loved series caused her! Of course, as always, she absolutely nailed it.

My prediction for ‘Three Cheers’ had been a final epilogue with a flash forward to the girls with their granddaughters at the 2020 VE day anniversary celebrations (obviously in a perfect universe where coronavirus didn’t exist), mainly so that I would get to find out where life took all of them but actually, the ending Nancy gave us far surpassed this. Really, the ending of ‘Three Cheers’ felt like a beginning, with all of the girls parting ways to embark on the next stage of their lives and all being exactly where they should be; their collective journey having been completed and now fragmenting into individual, enthtalling stories just waiting to be written. The imagination of the reader as to where our girls might end up after they’ve taken these next steps takes their journeys so much further than any author (even Nancy) could. Even as an avid SYG reader myself, I can’t specifically whittle down where I want each of the girls to go in life; so the possibilities being conjured up by the individual readers’ minds are boundless. Just imagine the fan fiction spin-offs we could end up with!

As sad as it is to know that I won’t have any more exciting anticipation of new SYG books, I will certainly be re-reading the previous ones from time to time to catch up with my old friends and reminisce of our adventures; and I don’t mind admitting I’m glad to have finally shed the anxiety of Helen and Dr Parker’s infuriatingly inconsistent ‘will they, won’t they?’ drama. And, it’s comforting to know that we’ve left each of our girls at the exact right place for them to embark on the next passage in their lives (including Miriam – if you know, you know) but, if the day ever does come for an on-screen dramatization then Nancy, you know where to find me. As a Mackem lass who grew up within spitting distance of Tatham Street, I can think of nobody more befitting of a cameo…

Recent Reading Roundup – December

The Girl Who Came Home – Hazel Gaynor


I discovered Hazel Gaynor a while ago and absolutely devoured ‘The Lighthouse Keepers Daughter’, but somehow never got around to reading any of her other work until now. Titanic is one of those events which has been told and re-told so many times, especially in the historical fiction/saga genre that it is hard to make it fresh. However, as with ‘The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter’, Hazel Gaynor has a really unique ability to take factual events and sensitively intertwine fictious plots which breathe fresh life and emotion into already familiar stories, rendering them like an entirely new plot to even the most well-read historian. The story of the Addergoole Fourteen is one I’d strangely never come across despite (like everyone) having seen umpteen films, documentaries and novels about Titanic; and again Hazel Gaynor strikes the almost impossible balance between respecting the real-life characters’ personal journeys and adding her own creative flair to fill in the blanks which history has left and enrich their stories for the reader. I will certainly be making my way through more of her back catalogue when time allows!

Suffragette Girl – Margaret Dickinson


Obviously I love historical sagas and all things feminism, so there was no way I could have walked past this when I saw it in my local library. I will admit that I was initially taken aback by the prologue taking place in the 1930’s, and a bit confused as to how it could possibly link to pre-WW1 suffrage, but the plot was so multi-faceted that, before I knew it, I was following the characters into the 1920s and still wanting to know more about where their journey would take me. I did find the pacing a little bit fast for my taste, but this didn’t occur at the expense of any individual character development, I just would’ve enjoyed delving deeper into the shorter term milestones of the characters’ lives rather than skipping to bigger events which take place many years apart. That said, I do think this story had enough layers to it that it could have been a two, or potentially even three, part saga as it has definitely left me wanting more – which I suppose is the mark of any great story!

Skipping Christmas – John Grisham


On the hunt for some more specifically festive reads which don’t include a single woman finding love where she least expects it in a country village over Christmas after having her heart broken in the big city, and as a fan of ‘Christmas with the Kranks’, I was very much looking forward to this. As a footnote to that last point, there’s nothing at all wrong with chick-lit, I love chick-lit, I just don’t personally love Christmas chick-lit. I find good, standalone, Christmas stories quite difficult to find if I’m honest – Dickens really has the market on that one doesn’t he? Anyway, I did the strange and taboo thing of reading the book version after being familiar with the film, but in my defence it was only recently that I was made aware that this story was a book first. I was a little bit disappointed that some scenes and even dialogue were word for word the same as the film version, but then again I complain if “film versions” differ even slightly from books I’ve enjoyed so I suppose there was no winning either way in this scenario. I did however really enjoy the difference in Nora and Luther Krank from the “film version”. If I’m honest, the book makes a little bit more sense and the plot is more believable than the film – Nora in the film never seemed very sold by the whole scheme and I never quite understood why she got on board in the first place, but I found the Kranks’ literary counterparts much more united and a little bit more likeable in that sense; I was really rooting for them to have their Christmas-free holiday whereas in the film I always find the portrayal much closer to the stereotypical “grinch” dad and overly festive, motherly housewife. A testament to why the “book version” is literally always better.

Blog Tour – The Miner’s Lass

“Polly’s words about her never accounting to anything made her blood boil. She didn’t know how, not yet, but she vowed to herself that one day she would prove the woman wrong.”

Having my annual trip to Glenda Young’s dramatic yet enchanting world of Ryhope Village in 1919, I wondered what most saga fans do when they come across another story from the same context…how much further can she really go with this? What can she give us that we haven’t already seen? Well, once again, my ponderings became immediately redundant.

As with its predecessors, of course there were many aspects of ‘The Miner’s Lass’ which continue to set Glenda Young’s stories apart from others of this genre, but the element which really jumped out for me, more so than anything else, was the sensitive, poignant and yet contextually appropriate depiction of mental health issues. Coal mining is such a fundamental part of the North East heritage that it is often romanticised in novels of this kind, but Glenda wasn’t afraid to shy away from this by depicting the harsh reality which accompanied this profession for probably the majority of those who experienced it. The account of Michael’s first day down the pit, and the subsequent impact which it continued to have on him, was so moving that I wanted to jump right into the pages to give him a huge hug and tell him that everything would be alright. Similarly, Mary’s experience of depression was framed through the context of 1919 Ryhope, wherein the collective understanding of such issues was of course very narrow and the prospect of appropriate treatment for a working class woman was essentially non-existent, but it was written so sensitively that it could easily have been lifted from a contemporary story, or even real life in 2021. Balancing the ignorance and misconceptions of this time period with a need to portray these issues in an empathetic way cannot have been an easy task, but Glenda Young managed it seamlessly with her unique and heartfelt ability to make a reader really ‘feel’ the characters’ journeys.

“Maybe a little bit of madness runs in us all. The trick is not to let it overwhelm us.”

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Glenda Young saga novel without our headstrong heroine having hurdles metaphorically thrown at her every few chapters, but, (without spoiling any twists for anyone who hasn’t read this book yet), I was really struck by the potential conflict and betrayal between Ruby and one of her closest friends. The feminist overtones of Glenda’s previous saga novels (and indeed this one) have always been so fierce that it was an intriguing change to come across conflict between some of our hardy, independent Ryhope lasses. Again, one of the things I love so much about Glenda Young’s sagas is that, although the attention to historical detail is so meticulous that you can almost smell the coal dust emanating from the pages, the plot elements are always so universally human that the reader feels as though the characters are people from our own lives.

“Whatever happens, we’ll get through it. We’re Dinsdale women, we’re strong.”

It was also an interesting change of pace to have a romantic lead who, quite frankly, made my skin crawl; and also that of the majority of the other characters except our protagonist. Again, I never like to spoil plot twists for anyone who hasn’t read the book yet, but fear not, our latest heroine isn’t fooled for long – Glenda’s team of fearless females never are ones to be fooled twice, they’re far too intuitive and headstrong for that. Although that scene with the bath tub will live rent-free in my mind for a while; I heard inklings about that particular moment a while ago from Glenda’s twitter and all I will say is that it did not disappoint! Fear not, confused reader, you will know when you get to it!

So, we’re six stories deep into Glenda Young’s Ryhope saga novels, but rest assured, things are far from getting boring. In fact, it seems as though every time she graces us with another exciting installment, I find myself feeling less satisfied and only hungrier for more drama and heartache; so once again I cannot wait to see what she comes up with next. And I’m still waiting for her to announce a spin-off wherein all of her strong Ryhope heroines unite like ‘The Avengers’ in some epic finale to this enthralling collection of novels.

Recent Reading Roundup

Having taken a somewhat unplanned maternity leave from blogging, the pressure around what my first post in about 6 months should be about has felt pretty intense. As with many other difficult periods in life, reading is the only thing which has kept me somewhat sane over the past few months, and mastering the art of holding a paperback in one hand with my napping baby balanced on the opposite arm was a total game-changer. So, having binge-read my way through at least half of my local library’s stock, I started to get a backlog of books I wanted to rave about; but every time I started to get into something approaching a normal routine, my baby would hit another milestone and send everything haywire. If you know, you KNOW. To ease myself and my sleep-deprived brain back into blogging, the easiest thing seemed to be to bullet point the highlights of my recent reads, although being concise is not one of my strongest qualities, as anyone who follows this blog will know; so I will try my best to keep it snappy.

Letters On Motherhood – Giovanna Fletcher. I love everything Giovanna Fletcher does, from her You Tube to her podcast, fiction and non-fiction I devour it all, and two weeks after becoming a mother myself, this seemed like the perfect read. But, if you want my brutally honest opinion? It was lovely to read in the newborn bubble; full of heartfelt and emotive reflections on past moments of motherhood and those yet to come, I was cradling my bundle of joy and planning all the sentimental letters I would write to him about this wonderful time together. However, just after I began this read, my partner went back to work and the reality of colic, reflux, eczema and sleep regression set in. In a nutshell – can be enjoyed by anyone not currently experiencing what my perinatal mental health worker calls “the fog” (sometimes also aptly referred to as “the storm” by other professionals). I’d recommend this whilst in the newborn bubble or once one’s child(ren) are pretty much self sufficient, but whilst riding the storm, to be honest, it’s as fluffy as an NCT course or a Fairy washing powder advert and overly romanticised the utter hell of those early days in the same way the concept of “the blitz spirit” must infuriate anyone who actually lived through that nightmare. Sorry Giovanna! (In her defence, I found “Happy Mum, Happy Baby” much more realistic and relatable).

The Midnight Library and How to Stop Time – Matt Haig. My edgy, former teenage self is reeling that I chose a book based on its currently high level of commercial popularity, but sometimes there is a good reason as to why things are popular. I am not usually one for reading books with abstract or magical elements, they’re often a bit too wishy washy for me, but both of these concepts were too intriguing not to explore. I loved the honest and unfiltered depictions of mental health in ‘The Midnight Library’, and wondering what might have been is such a fundamentally human element of everyone’s psyche that we can all relate to Nora’s journey, but Matt Haig manages to balance out the darker themes with a wonderfully optimistic ending which I’m still reflecting on a couple of months later. I then read ‘How to Stop Time’ off the back of how much I enjoyed The Midnight Library and again was intrigued by the concept. I love a historical fiction novel, obviously, but seeing a character experience so many different contexts within one journey is such a unique way of framing this, and raised the age old question of nature v nurture – who would any of us be if we lived in different time periods and cultures? Are we universally ourselves or products of our environment? Again, it’s been two months and I still don’t know.

The Munitions Girls series – Rosie Archer. Again, we know I love a historical saga, and this was one I hadn’t got round to reading yet, even though I have enjoyed a lot of her standalone novels. I was surprised to learn that this series was only in four parts, since the amount of different characters which Rosie Archer juggles throughout the plots is crazy, and yet is still able to provide enough rich detail to ensure the reader is fully invested in each character’s personal journey. The plot moved very fast, and it’s impressive how far she was able to take each character’s journey in just four installments, but it never felt rushed or skimmed over at any point, nor were any of the more rich or emotive aspects of the plots spared. That must have been a really difficult balance for the author to strike, but I’d absolutely recommend this series for any saga lover wanting a quick and exciting binge without sacrificing the depth of plot, emotive themes and character development.

Christmas with the Bobby Girls – Johanna Bell. I have followed this series since it first came out, but I somehow got waylaid in pursuing it. When my local library received its first copy of this book, of course I was at the top of the waiting list (also the thrill of being the first person to check out a book was one I didn’t know I needed). I do love that this saga seems to shift focus between different primary characters in each installment, so although the overall passage of contextual time in the story isn’t particularly rapid, the reader’s interest is still gripped by the stark differences in the characters’ lives and journeys as they intertwine with one another. I definitely need to read the most recent installment of this saga, and will be doing so as soon as my baby allows me to have more than 1 hour of sleep in a twenty four hour period!

Blog Tour – The Shipyard Girls on the Home Front

“The next few months would decide the fate of the war – and thereby, the fate of humanity.”

The feeling of being at the tipping point of a totally unprecedented moment in history, where the efforts made not just by those on the front lines but by all of us at home too, could essentially make or break whether the hardship will end successfully or continue for goodness only knows how long; is something which will resonate with anyone who reads the tenth installment of ‘The Shipyard Girls’ in real time of its release. Life often has a funny way of imitating art, and although I would like to think our world leaders are all ‘Shipyard Girls’ enthusiasts too, it’s probably more likely that this is a happy coincidence; or Nancy Revell has a crystal ball. Every book in this series has a multitude of themes and sub-plots, but the overarching theme within ‘On The Home Front’ is sacrifice, which, reading whilst I’m sat at home, having not seen family or friends in months, wearing a mask just to step outside of my front door and wondering if my hair will ever be a normal length again; felt quite poignant. Surely if our old friends from Thompson’s Shipyard are still putting the graft in, day in day out and in all weather conditions to do their bit in the fight against global fascism, often without any hope or assurance that it will end successfully, if at all, then we can do our bit on our ‘home front’ against the pandemic; by staying snuggled up indoors with a good book. As inspiring as our Shipyard Girls are, I know which ‘home front’ I’d rather be on – so thanks for giving us another great story to make that a bit easier, Nancy.

So, we’re ten books in and are still getting to know new characters; which must be quite the juggling act for Nancy Revell. I often imagine she must have an entire wall in her house covered in photos of all the different characters, with string and notes pinned in between which join and inter-connect their stories; like the briefing room on a really good police drama. Having said that, to anyone who is new to this saga, don’t let that put you off starting it. I’m a stickler for reading sagas in the correct order, but the characters in this series are created and written with so much love and detail that I do firmly believe a reader could pick up any ‘Shipyard Girls’ book and become fully immersed in the story straight away. Their rich back stories and carefully orchestrated interactions with one other allow the characters to tell more of their story in a few short lines than any summary or spoiler ever could; so even though Bobby is somewhat of a fresh face (aside from being referenced third hand by other characters previously), as always it only took a couple of pages for him to become part of the furniture.

I must admit, I wasn’t initially sure whether I really liked Bobby, but as Nancy Revell drip fed me more and more of his feelings and perceptions around significant events which us familiar ‘Shipyard Girls’ readers already knew inside out, it definitely made me look at Gloria’s long since buried back-story from another angle. Despite being a bit frustrating for the reader who has become a bit spoiled by happy endings in this saga, Bobby’s reaction to Gloria’s story was told very bravely and sensitively. Within my day job I work with a lot of people who have had similar experiences to Gloria and her boys, and as lovely as it would have been to have a rosy family reunion where all past evils are forgotten and made right by the promise of a better future, in reality the process of moving past something like that is usually quite messy and fraught with even more conflict and resentment. It would have been easy for the author to put a wholesome glow over this whole sub-plot, but she bravely gave a more ‘warts and all’ interpretation, which I’m sure will resonate with many people who may read it.

“‘Love!’ Dorothy put both hands on her chest. ‘There is to be a lot of love this year! I can feel it in my bones.'”

Of course, this being a ‘Shipyard Girls’ book, the path to true love, in whichever form that takes, continues to be anything but straightforward. We may now only be two more books away from the finale, but that evidently doesn’t mean the drama is going to slow down. I am usually a binge-reader of this series, but ‘On The Home Front’ was the first instalment I’ve read which I had to put down for my own well being. Granted, I am significantly more hormonal than usual these days, but the rollercoaster of emotions within the whole D-Day chapter did get a bit too much, especially after Rosie and Gloria’s brief interaction at the bar where they simply admitted to not being alright; which served as a moving reminder that the joyous success of D-Day, and the war itself, didn’t come without sacrifice. The statistics of fatalities throughout the War are something which can never really resonate for those who read them; numbers on a page are just that, but it’s the thoughtful re-telling of these personal stories, despite being fictional, which preserve the personal struggles felt by so many people throughout those tremendously difficult years.

Speaking of binge-reading, I did also commit a cardinal reading sin when I was about two thirds of the way through ‘On The Home Front’. My baffled husband looked out of the corner of his eye to me frantically thumbing through the pages ahead with a determined look and asked what on Earth I was doing; to which my response was something like “I need to know if he’s alright after this, I need to know what I’m getting into before I continue!” To which he said “can’t you just read it?”. Of course I could have simply read the book at a normal rate, but I felt the need to emotionally prepare. Once I found the reassurance I needed, I snuggled back down into the duvet and continued happily. Until the next evening. Being a ‘Shipyard Girls’ book, of course there are still plot twists at every turn; and so the smugness I felt at having spoiled some perfectly good tension building for myself by skipping ahead for reassurance, was quickly wiped away when Nancy Revell threw another unexpected twist at me. I certainly deserved it, but I was furious. I don’t mean to speak (or write) in riddles, but I don’t like to spoil these things for anyone who hasn’t already read this, however if I simply mention the foreshadowing of the aeroplane having done this journey umpteen times without issue, anyone who has read it will know what I mean. It was with the same smugness that they said the Titanic was unsinkable; so I really should’ve seen that one coming.

Still, if we’re ten books in and I’m still finding the plots to be unpredictable, then this is absolutely not a bad thing. Just, maddeningly frustrating at times – but I wouldn’t have it any other way, and I’m sure all you other ‘Shipyard Girls’ enthusiasts would agree!

Blog Tour – The Paper Mill Girl

“If she wanted to protect her family, she had to make an impossible choice.”

A young girl living in an already difficult situation is faced with an even bigger challenge and must find strength she didn’t know she had to overcome said challenge; then ultimately comes out on top and with her dream man in tow? Saga readers like myself do like to think we have it all worked out, don’t we? But, as with its equally exciting predecessors, Glenda Young has once again blown all of those pre-conceived assumptions out of our minds like a gale swirling around the pier of Hendon Beach with her latest novel ‘The Paper Mill Girl’, and its fiercely independent heroine Ruth Hardy.

That said, Ruth’s mission to navigate almost Dickensian conditions which just seem to get periodically harder as more and more obstacles present themselves, with no real hope or guarantee of when things will get better made for an incredibly humbling read. Of course I don’t mean to say that ‘The Paper Mill Girl’ is depressing and will leave you feeling like this poor girl could never catch a break in life, but her inspiring story just became that bit more thought provoking through reading it in a time when we really don’t know when we’ll be coming out of the horrible situation that we’ve all found ourselves in for the past year; and yet all we seem to do is complain and dwell on the awful sides of it, whilst the Ruth Hardys of the world are simply putting on their tattered old boots, lifting their skirts and putting one foot in front of the other with no solid hope or reassurance that things will get better. In a nutshell – I felt a bit crap reading about her incredible and inspiring story on a Saturday afternoon in my warm house whilst feeling bitter about how long it’s been since I could go shopping and get an overpriced latte from a coffee chain.

“You’re an angel, Ruth Hardy. You know that? You care for everyone else and take nothing for yourself. I don’t know how you do it.”

Obviously Ruth’s story is fictional, but no doubt inspired by the real tales of so many women from a time period which is largely overlooked by the history books, and as with all of Glenda Young’s stories, was so well researched that it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if it turned out there really had been a real life woman who had this, or an extremely similar story to tell. I actually grew up near the old Hendon Paper Mill, and went to school just around the corner from where it stood, but am embarrassed to admit that I had to have a little google of where it actually stood and how long it had been in operation. I was aware of it to an extent, but unlike Sunderland’s more dominant industries like the mines and shipyards, the paper mill has largely been lost to the history books like a battered old toy forgotten at the back of a cupboard. That is, until Glenda Young obviously came along, realised the potential for so many amazing stories which have been sitting in the back of a metaphorical cupboard and breathed new life into this largely forgotten part of our Mackem history. (Google that phrase if you’re not from the North East).

Of course it wouldn’t be a saga novel without some romance weaved in between Ruth’s overarching endeavours, but once again Glenda Young has left the ‘know it all’ saga readers such as myself perplexed, intrigued and sometimes a bit angry through the twists and turns in Ruth’s relationship with the charming but, at times somewhat disappointing, Mick Carson. I really try not to spoil the plot for anyone in these reviews, but I must say I was bloomin’ furious when he started being a bit of a, well, a bit of a bloke really! Fictional leading men aren’t supposed to be useless – we have real life men to provide us with disappointment and we read books to escape and dream about men who don’t sometimes say the wrong thing or get intimidated by our fearlessness and let us down.

“Love seemed to have a nasty way of making itself felt in hurt and despair.”

But, I’ve said before how I love Glenda Young’s stories in particular because they don’t follow the typical reassuring plot themes of some other historical saga novels; and the relationship between Ruth and Mick definitely kept me on my toes as I turned the pages and had genuinely no idea as to how it was going to pan out. Again, as with all of Glenda Young’s wonderful novels however, it was apparent throughout ‘The Paper Mill Girl’ that she really knew Ruth inside out, and so graced her readership with the ending that she and the other characters deserved, without falling into the trap of being a sickeningly perfect romantic reconciliation which we all saw coming from chapter one. I have no doubt that it would’ve been easier to write a consistently perfect romantic hero, but as many of us know that’s very rarely how it goes in real life. The perfectly imperfect, human nature of Glenda Young’s characters are what keeps her readership hooked, and we come back time and time again as we know she will always take us on a journey through unexpected twists and turns which challenge both our beloved characters and our assumptions; always leading to a surprising yet perfectly fitting and thought provoking ending. After all, the path to true love never did run smooth did it?

Blog Tour – ‘A Christmas Wedding’

As with the popular groups in secondary school, ‘The Liberty Girls’ is a series which I have admired from afar for a while now, but never actually been included in. Of course, the difference with literary girl squads is that you only have to purchase (or loan, in a simpler time when libraries were open), a copy to welcomed into their inner circle with open arms. If only everything in life were this simple. Anyway, so there I was, thrilled to have been invited to metaphorically sit at the popular girls’ table, but simultaneously nervous about being the last person to arrive at the party. I’m a stickler for being methodical, so the idea of starting a new saga in the final instalment simply wasn’t sitting well with me. However, it’s a testament to Fiona Ford’s writing that, within a couple of chapters, all my anxieties had been alleviated and I felt like I’d been one of the gang the whole time. If anything, it might have made the story even more enjoyable, as the troublesome thing with sagas is that sometimes, when you’ve read all of the previous instalments, you become so familiar with the characters that you’re able to predict their next move, which can take away some of the suspense. In this case however, I had no pre-conceived ideas about any of the characters or where the story was likely to take me next, so every twist and turn of the plot was that bit more intriguing and kept me from being able to stop reading.

Taking place between London and Devon, ‘A Christmas Wedding’ takes the feisty and fearless ‘Liberty Girls’ on ever-twisting and yet intertwined journeys as their saga comes to an emotional conclusion. My anxieties about having not read the previous instalments of this saga were alleviated even more through the introduction of new recruit Brenda, who has an intriguing yet closely-guarded past. I was able to break into the already tight-knit cluster of main characters and familiarise myself with their rich histories through her induction into the group. As with any great saga or even standalone story, the fiercely independent ‘Liberty Girls’ share unbreakable bonds which are felt by the reader immediately, and are no doubt a result of a complex history of collective tears, laughter and perseverance; all of which is hinted towards throughout, which has left me wanting to back-track and find out more about the events which led to this nail-biting finale.

“Everyone knows it’s women what really run things, but whether menfolk’ll feel the same way whenever they come home once this blasted war is over is another matter.”

This may be an unpopular opinion, and I sincerely hope it doesn’t cause any offence or unrest among existing ‘Liberty Girls’ readers, but I must admit that it took me a while to really understand Dot’s character and her appeal. As a brusque woman myself, I should have immediately related to her character and mannerisms, but I did struggle at first to comprehend why the girls were so accepting of her somewhat harsh nature; especially in some of her behaviours towards Peter and Brenda. However, as the story progressed and more secrets were revealed about her past, I definitely warmed to her and was eventually rooting for Dot, who seems to be the fierce, mama-bear type in the group.

Something was wrong, and no matter how it distracted her from her own happiness, if one of her Liberty family was in trouble, Dot was determined to find out why.”

Dot’s relationship with Ivy and Helen in particular invoked feelings which are as warm and fuzzy as the festive final chapter, and had me misty eyed as their tragedies unfolded, yet were overcome with triumphant courage and their unbridled love and support for each other.

“She knew they could marry in a tin hut and their wedding would still be special as long as they were surrounded by so much love.”

So, with my heart sufficiently warmed and my nose phantom-smelling the aromas of pine needles and Christmas pudding, I definitely feel suitably festive now, irrespective of what a 2020 Christmas may end up looking like, and am off to make a start on my list for Santa…which definitely has the rest of the ‘Liberty Girls’ saga at the top!

Blog Tour – The Girl with the Scarlet Ribbon

A fan of Glenda Young’s sagas already, I opened this latest release with much the same anticipation as I approach a roast dinner made by my Mam’s recipe, or a fluffy Victoria sponge; on the assumption that it was going to follow much the same blueprint as her previous novels, which I knew from past experience would no doubt leave me feeling warm, fuzzy, satisfied and full. Well, perhaps not ‘full’, maybe I’m taking this food metaphor a bit too seriously. But, as with the recipe for a roast dinner or a Victoria sponge which have been tried and tested through generations, if something works and produces a great result every time – why change it? However, clearly not someone to live life in her comfort zone, I hear Glenda Young shouting “challenge accepted” to her readers as she takes us through Jess Davison’s unique and turbulent journey with each turn of a page.

“The truth of her birth, of who she belonged to, was unfolding right in front of her eyes. It seemed that anything was possible now.”

So, as I returned to 1919 Ryhope on the naive assumption that I was going to be enjoying more of the same feisty female heroines overcoming secrets which were resurfacing after being long buried in their pasts, I became my own worst enemy and consistently tried to get one step ahead of the plot. “I know where this is going, she’s built drama in this context before, such and such is definitely going to happen next” I would think, smugly. However, for the first time in my life, I experienced what I presume is the sensation of being wrong (thankfully my husband doesn’t bother reading my blog, so I know this is a safe space for such an admission). Of course, Jess is every bit as feisty and fearless as her predecessors, and yes, naturally she had a lovely happy ending which drew a satisfied tear to my eye, but that’s about where the similarities to Glenda Young’s other saga novels end. Perhaps it was deliberate, in order to throw the reader off the scent, but I was initially convinced that the heroine of the story was going to be Mary, which was of course quickly forgotten when Jess’ courage and determination came storming into the story; and then flabbergasted once again when my prediction about what Mary’s role would be in the ending turned out to be completely off the mark.

Having read quite a lot of saga novels, I really thought I had this plot worked out, but Glenda Young just kept throwing curve-ball after curve-ball, which left me totally unable to put this book down. It also feels important to point out that, even if she had played it safe and kept to a pretty ‘standard’ saga plot with typical twists and a predictable ending, this author’s wonderful storytelling ability would still nonetheless have had readers gripped. But, rolling the dice and serving her readers an ending which definitely leaves food for thought in terms of Mary’s role and her character make-up, was a gamble which absolutely paid off and more. I finished this book a few days ago now, yet I’m still pondering over what my opinion is of Mary; I just can’t make up my mind about her – perhaps there’s scope for a sequel?

Clearly not satisfied with a single dose of feisty heroine in one story, I really enjoyed the author’s creation of Lena. Initially, I thought her character would serve as the unremarkable best friend who helped the plot along by being the leading lady’s confidante, but her personal journey was really heartwarming and inspiring to read, touching on an issue which is rarely given the opportunity to be addressed in novels set in this time period.

“‘Who’s to say what’s normal or odd?’ Lena said. I think a bit of madness runs in us all.”

Similarly, I first had Miss Gilbey written off as the inevitable ‘baddie’, and was skeptical about every move her character made, which just serves as further confirmation that Glenda Young is evidently not putting her feet up and settling into an easy routine of churning out novel after novel which follows the same standard formula. ‘The Girl with the Scarlet Ribbon’ is proof that she can write well outside the box and put unexpected, fresh twists on what can often be a ‘safe’ and ‘samey’ genre. I, for one, am fastening my seatbelt now, in eager anticipation of whatever exciting and unpredictable ride she’s planning to take her readership on next.