Trials and Tribulations of a Pet Sitter by Laura Marchant – the love of dogs, the practical details and the humour of life.

Trials and tribulations of a Pet Settler by Laura Marchant

This book is a celebration of dogs in all their variety, personalities and challenges. The author is devoted to her dog, Brece, and this book records her first meeting with him, their earliest devoted relationship, and how her care needs inspired Marchant to consider a change to her office job. This book recalls how she set out to make a living from boarding then walking dogs for owners, many of whom have their own issues. It is the story of various dogs with all their traits and the problems that they cause Marchant, as well as their attractive and winning ways. The book is described as “Based on true stories”, but it flows far more than a series of anecdotes; she has arranged her observations and stories into deliberate sections. She also writes of the problems of being a dog walker in terms of finding places to walk her charges, the difficulties of managing vehicles, the challenges of coping with owners’ houses. This is an honest and well written account of the real relationships she develops through her love of dogs, and her real affection for even the most difficult canine. I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this unusual book which has the love of dogs at heart.

The book begins with a fond series of reminiscences of a childhood pet and her acknowledged skill at crossing a busy road. A distinctive personality, Frisco left Marchant with an excellent sense of dogs as creatures that made her happy. She acquired a partner, Mike, and then a golden retriever, Brece, the last puppy left from a brood. A distinctive and strong personality, Brece soon became possessive and dominant in the house. Marchant admits that she was lax about training her, and regarded her as others may think of their child. Following changes in her life which included her opting out of office work, she reveals how she thought of looking after other people’s dogs before others had perhaps realised that there was a market for those who did not trust their dogs to kennels. She began to board dogs in her home, though insisted on checking each animal with Brece in her house to check they were an acceptable fit. I had not realised how much there is to challenge a dog host in terms of personality and temperament as well as questions of its training and so forth. As she goes on to walk dogs for those who work, she has new struggles and joys that make her life interesting and challenging.

Not being a dog owner, I felt I learnt a lot about dogs from this book. I now know that it is sometimes difficult to assess a dog correctly, and that its breed, personality and circumstances have much to contribute to their behaviour. I found the mechanics of self employment fascinating, especially given the variables of dogs and their demands and abilities. Anything that involves dealing with people in their homes and with their precious pets will have drawbacks, especially when entrusting access to homes is involved. This is a book that is cheering overall, giving the essence of a life spent doing what they love, even when that is challenging. This book deserves to be popular for its honesty, humour and perception, but mainly for its genuine love of dogs which inspires and motivates a life. 

Scotland to Shalimar by Bryony Hill – A Family’s Life in India in a lovely book of generations

Scotland to Shalimar: A Family's Life in India: Amazon.co.uk: Bryony Hill:  9781913062132: Books

Scotland to Shalimar by Bryony Hill

A complex family history is the substance of this beautifully produced book, which not only has an interesting text concerning the generations of the author’s family, but is also beautifully illustrated. Hill has investigated family records and albums that have been created over the generations of her family since the 1740s. It is an achievement set down in a book, trying to master and convey the sense of a family which spent much of its time in India, in the service of the East India Company, then the British Military. Between the pictures of ancestors in and out of uniform, photographs of the latter generations and stories of the lives of the individuals, there are also many family recipes with some details of who and when they were written down. This is a lovely package of a book with a lot of social history as well as beautiful botanical paintings, generously produced. It does strike a very personal note, especially in the more recent family history where more is known about the characters. Never overly sentimental, it records the sadness of early deaths, and the repercussions of a family scandal or two. This is a memorable book for all the right reasons, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it. 

In his Foreword Mark Tully points out that this book is “a unique portrait of life at different stages in the ever-fascinating history of the British and their ongoing relationship with India”. This book is rich in its descriptions of what life as a British officer and his family was actually like in India; the “Fishing fleet” of young women eager to find husbands, the living conditions that made activity impossible in the extremes of heat, the houses in which people lived. It reveals fascinating details of retreat to supposedly cooler regions of India for the warmer months, and some of the contrivances which were constructed to cool the air. This is not only the story of large buildings lived in by the most well connected families, but also the bungalows which were basic accommodation with the frequent incursions of local wildlife. This book recalls the conflict of sending children ‘home’ to Britain for education and to a certain extent safety, and the strain that put on relatively young boys who were dispatched to boarding schools, uncertain where they would spend holidays. 

In the earlier years recorded in this book sometimes the details of life are somewhat sketchy, mentioning weddings, births and deaths which were a matter of public record. There are a few more details of military action, especially when an ancestor did something worthy of literal mention in dispatches. There are illustrations from the albums that have been carefully kept over the generations, showing journeys, sketches of landmarks and paintings of flowers and butterflies produced by women. The recipes are family favourites, being mainly for puddings, and stews, substantial meals of simplicity only slightly adjusted for warmer climates. The portraits in the early years are actual paintings, as suitable for the well known ancestors such John Montagu, 5th Earl of Sandwich, whereas later generations are remembered in family photographs. 

This is a book which has much to say about the women of the family, their resilience and lives of frequent journeys. The Prologue sets out the tenor of the book accordingly “Intelligent, indomitable women, their sense of humour and pioneering spirit leap from every page.” This is a family story, but more than that; this book offers an insight into a way of life that had great influence on life in more than one country.        

A Surprise for Christmas and other seasonal mysteries Edited by Martin Edwards – a real treat from the British Library Crime Classics series

A Surprise for Christmas and Other Stories Edited by Martin Edwards

A collection of twelve stories with a seasonal theme is always welcome, but this selection from Martin Edwards and the British Library Crime Classics series is very special for its variety. As pointed out in his Introduction to the book, there are some well known as well as some less famous authors represented here. The stories also vary in length from under ten pages to over eighty, which allow quite a range of effect, even if all are immensely entertaining. Some stories I recognised from similar collections, but all are good reads. The principle of entertainment is the main thing here; not intricate, clever plots but stories that attract and hold attention. I really enjoyed each story here, and found it difficult to put down. The separate introductions to each story by Martin Edwards are as ever informative, giving details of each author’s work and, where appropriate, the other name or names they wrote under. This book is a collection of real winter or Christmas gems, and I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it. 

Catriona Louisa Pirkis tells of an early woman detective whose stories first appeared in 1893. Loveday Brooke is a young woman who works for a detective agency, and in this case is challenged to solve a country house mystery. It is a very tightly written story which reflects Lovejoy’s methods of quickly seizing the necessary details.Edwards points out that with no storytelling “Watson”, Loveday is “completely self – defining and self – determining”.

 A well known writer, G.K. Chesterton, is seen in another country house mystery without Father Brown. Deeply unlikable characters meet their end in some stories, while in others mystery combines with mayhem, a haunted room with surprises. Some are very much of their time, the post war setting showing the effects of recent wars in at least two of the stories. My favourite story is also the longest, and it combines insight into a war blighted London, a disorientating fog, and a restless determination to find a missing loved one. “Give Me a Ring” by Anthony Gilbert is full of well drawn details that make up a story of near misses and the sort of situations that make the reader want to warn the characters of their danger. Although it includes a character the author uses in other short fiction, he does not dominate the story. Edwards reminds us that “Anthony Gilbert” is one of the pen names adopted by Lucy Malleson, and was her most successful. She also wrote as Anne Meredith, one of whose novels has been reprinted in the British Library series. This story builds the tension well, while including interesting comments on the significance of a young woman entering a public house. 

This is a very entertaining and enjoyable selection of stories which mixes rare stories which have not been previously republished, through to classics of the genre. This book is a good introduction to the British Library Crime Classics series, which gives a good idea of the range in time and type of stories. It is an impressive read which I recommend. 

Haunted Magpie by Anna Nicholas – a mystery set on an idyllic island with a lively detective

Haunted Magpie by Anna Nicholas

Isabel is a well known character on the beautiful island of Mallorca, being a former detective with the police, and now helping her mother run a lettings agency. This is the second book in the Isabel Flores Mallorcan Mystery series, but definitely works as a standalone book which is how I read it. She is in her thirties, and very attached to her pet ferret, Furo. Her close friend, Tolo Cabot, was her old boss, and persuades her to help solve crimes where her local knowledge and immersion in the community of Sant Marti gives her extra leads. As part of her investigations, she drives her memorable little car around the island, recognising the spots made special by family and friends. She enjoys food, and this book is a guide to the local food made lovingly by her mother, cafe chefs and others. Helpfully there is a Glossary of Mallorcan and Spanish words in the front of the novel to help the reader distinguish between a Botifarro (a local pork sausage) and Potaje (soup).  Isabel’s progress is marked by the foodstuffs she consumes, though her active lifestyle stops it being a problem as she tries to discover what really happened to some missing people. Another mystery surrounds the disappearance of various pets on the island, which seem to have been abducted by someone who knows the owners’ habits. Humour and a fluid writing style means that this novel  is easy to read and enjoyable, and I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this charming novel. 

The book opens with the disappearance of Paloma Crespi, a young florist with a troubled past. Angry with her boyfriend, she chooses to walk back home, and meets with a determined attack. Meanwhile, Isabel is volunteering with local school children in the village centre, until the local mayor asks her to investigate the apparent abduction of several pets, including the local police officer’s Alsatian. As it is winter the holiday letting business is less busy, so she agrees to investigate, especially as many in the village are anxious about their own pets. Meanwhile Paloma’s disappearance is causing concern, and Isabel is drafted in to question her uncle and aunt, boyfriend and others. She visits a lot of Paloma’s clients for whom she worked as a freelance florist. The characters of the village and the surrounding area appear and are well described, coming to life in the author’s hands. The descriptions of the settings are well handled, making the island sound very attractive.

This is a very well written book with gentle humour, a lot of food tastefully described, and a strong plot with many entertaining subplots. There is tension and excitement in this extremely well constructed novel. It is a good read constructed around a community in which the main character, Isabel, is obviously well liked. The research is so well done that everything is well blended and impressive. I really enjoyed this book, finding it an easy, flowing read. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys a well plotted mystery in a well described setting with hints of comedy, animals and plenty of food!  

The Maiden and the Mercenary by Nicole Locke – an historical romance set in a fortress between an unusual couple

The Maiden and the Mercenary by Nicole Locke

An historical romance with a terrific atmosphere, this novel of a fortress of secrets and danger delivers a story of a man and a woman, and the situations they find themselves in. Set in France, 1297, it features a couple who find themselves in an impossible series of dilemma. Biedeluue, or Bied, is an unusual young woman who is absolutely determined to save her family at any cost, specifically her sister Margery, in times of difficulty. Louve is a mercenary who has spent so long working for and with members of the Warstone family that he is willing to risk everything to help settle their disputes as much as possible, and to “play (their) games”. What actually happens in the fortress where it seems impossible to know who to trust makes an impressive background for a romance of two people who spend a fair bit of time at odds. The gradual revelation of the two people’s difficult past is well handled in depicting that their romance is far from a foregone conclusion, and that these passionate people could well be hopelessly unsuited. This is a romance novel in which nothing is certain, and which the narrative is carefully handled. I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this romance which offers real depth in both characterisation and plot.

As the novel begins, Bied is engaged in stacking goblets as part of a drinking game. Despite the effects of the ale which she has freely drunk, she perceives that a stranger has entered, and although feeling ill, she wants to protect the children. Louve has entered the kitchen, and to his surprise is given the job of Usher, and is effectively left to run the household. While Louve struggles to sort out his sudden attraction for this passionate and attractive woman, she struggles to understand why this apparently trained warrior is suddenly adopting the posture and identity of a servant, albeit a senior one. Louve is trying to second guess what the lord of the fortress is trying to achieve, what games he is playing. Bied tries to ensure that the kitchens, which she professes to hate, run well enough, but it seems that despite her efforts she will be put on the spot in the most public and dangerous way. The atmosphere in the fortress is unpredictable, claustrophobic and not encouraging to a new romance, when both Bied and Lovuve know that they will be happy to merely survive. 

This book is vividly written to give the feeling of confusion and making the most of every opportunity, every moment of safety. The sense of threat is well drawn and forms more than a background to a difficult romance between a couple who find each other physically attractive. The climax involves many characters and surprising terms of events. Although the Warstone family appears in other novels, this book very much stands alone in terms of plot and main characters. This is an unusual and effective romance novel which makes much of its setting and the determination of a young woman to rescue her sister at all costs. Altogether this is a very readable and enjoyable novel which I recommend for those who enjoy historical romance.   

The Spitfire Girls Fly for Victory by Jenny Holmes – four women flying planes for war in an enthralling novel

The Spitfire Girls Fly for Victory (Paperback)

The Spitfire Girls Fly for Victory by Jenny Holmes

The Air Transport Auxiliary – the Atta girls amongst them – was a group of pilots who took enormous risks to deliver planes in Britain during the Second World War. This second novel featuring a group of these young women in the series by Jenny Holmes, titled for the most exciting and impressive of the planes they flew. I am confident that this book could be enjoyed as a stand alone novel as the characters develop within the story, and the plot stands largely alone. Three main characters, Jean Thorton, Bobbie Fraser and Mary Holland all featured in the first novel, and in this book they are all flying a variety of planes in different, often challenging circumstances. They also have lives that are really interesting, as romance or even just involvement have their moments. A new character, Viv Robertson, arrives to upset many apple carts; with her Canadian background and Hollywood experiences she is a very different, determined young woman. 

One of the most impressive things about this book is the immense amount of research that goes into it on a technical level, as the women fly very different types of planes during the novel, each with their own advantages and challenges. So not only do the Spitfires, which are lovingly described, feature, but also the older planes or “crates” which may well have some definite dangers.  This is not a textbook of their controls, fuel capacity and way they should have performed, but how they felt to fly, especially in specific conditions. The routes that the women take, which all offer  their own challenges, are well described, as the incidents which may affect each fight. Not that this is an overly technical read; the women are given lives and emotions outside their duties, living in a large house with the owners appearing and those that actually work on the planes. Each character is treated with understanding, and develops throughout the narrative.

The book opens in March 1944, with the newly married Jean helping Mary to make a dress to go and visit her “Sweetheart” wearing, as Mary is nervous of making her way to meet the man that she loves. Jean and her new husband are eager to find their own house away from the official accommodation so they can be together, and the cottage comes with a lot of work. Bobbie, on the other hand,has strong memories of a sort of relationship which was disastrous, so is more hesitant about getting involved with another man. Into their established world arrives with a squeal of wheels Viv, with her borrowed sports car and her amazing confidence which partly covers her desperation to fly the planes and help in the war effort. As the book proceeds, two young men appear on the scene who challenge two of the women to rethink their attitudes to those who own the house and a local racehorse stables. When a mysterious young woman is introduced into their midst she has quite an effect on the others in the house.

This is a totally absorbing book which recounts vividly fictional accounts of the women who made a vital contribution to the war effort in delivering planes to the correct airfields. It is frank about the cost to the women who were part of the Atta ranks, the risks they ran, the way they had to have relationships affected by war. Informative but never dry, this really brings the women alive as they flew planes in circumstances their male counterparts would perhaps not risk. Each portrait is very three dimensional, with lots of depth, and altogether this is a very enthralling book.   

Anyone for Edmund? by Simon Edge – a Saint’s relics become a political issue in this contemporary comedy

Anyone for Edmund?

Simon Edge, Anyone for Edmund?, Lightning Books, 2020

The blurb describes this book as “a canonical comedy featuring a medieval patron saint, a tennis court and a Westminster spin doctor”. There is a tennis court in a corner of the Abbey Gardens in Bury St Edmunds, just under what was our bedroom window, and an archaeological dig was planned there this year as part of the Abbey’s millennium celebrations which should have taken place this month.

We know that the Shrine of St Edmund was the reason for the Abbey church and its pilgrimage trade, and that this all came to end when Henry VIII dissolved the Abbey. The monks left, the abbey church was destroyed, and the bones of Edmund disappeared. There are some in Arundel Cathedral but, if memory serves, they include part of a sheep and a cow. Logic has always said that if you want to hide the bones of your patron saint, the best place to quietly bury them would be in the monks’ graveyard – and archaeologists believe that is the area which was later used for tennis.

In this novel, the bones of Edmund are found. Edmund was once our patron saint, and Mark, an enterprising Westminster spin doctor, realises he could be just the saint to bring our fractured nation together in a post-Brexit world. George for England, Andrew for Scotland, David for Wales, Patrick for Ireland – and Edmund for all of us. There is one chapter where Mark edits Wikipedia to prove that Edmund had a Scottish mother, links with the Welsh Court and was a friend of Patrick. Once it is on Wikipedia, it must be true – and soon Edmund’s multi-culturalism is being reported as fact by all the major news organisations.

Mark’s boss is Marina Spencer, the Culture Secretary, and she represents the government at the service to rebury Edmund, this time in a shrine in the Cathedral. She is a little miffed as the seat she is given is in a gallery high on the north side of the crossing, and she can’t see a thing. I had a chuckle at this – when the Cathedral Chapter received the plans for the new crossing some fifteen years ago now, several of us asked what the point was to this gallery. At the end of the service she manages to get to the shrine itself, and Mark makes sure a press photographer gets a photo of her deep in prayer and adoration, which makes the front pages.

Very soon, almost indecently soon, Marina becomes Prime Minister, and starts to push for Edmund. Success follows success, but some opponents pay a terrible price. Mark begins to worry that there is a power at work which is more than just politics. He raises his fears, and is escorted from his office, sent for counselling and put on gardening leave. Is Edmund dealing with his 21st century enemies in the way he dealt with opposition in the 9th? Will his new found fame lead to him becoming Patron Saint, or is his power not appropriate in the modern world?

The book made me laugh out loud, it may me grimace at the workings of government, it took me back to Bury, and it has some great one-liners – “In extremis, there was solace to be derived from Antiques Roadshow” (that sounds like a text for lockdown). I only argued in one place – Bury’s railway station is described as “nondescript Victorian”, it is anything but!

The above is a review written by Northernvicar http://www.northernvicar.co.uk – I am posting it here to mark St.Edmund’s day on 20th November (yesterday) – he certainly seemed to enjoy it!

Music To Eat Cake By by Lev Parikian – forty pieces of writing to educate, amuse and always entertain

Music to Eat Cake By by Lev Parikian 

A book of essays often have a unifying theme; this unusual and very readable book has many themes, and most of them suggested by other people. This book is produced by Unbound, which means that it is sponsored by a number of people. Parikian had the idea of asking people for ideas of what he could write about – subjects for essays, however unlikely. It meant that there is an unusual collection of topics covered in this book, even for a writer who identifies himself as a conductor and keen birdwatcher with interests in cricket and other topics. Just to make it more of a challenge to write and compile this book, he worked out that forty pieces of writing, decreasing in length by one hundred words from four thousand to begin with would also mean that the pieces of writing got shorter as the book progressed. Each piece is carefully written in accordance with these self imposed rules to be the exact length, which is no mean achievement. It also transpires that people “provided” words, which are inserted into the pieces. These range from the German “Sehnsucht” (a nostalgic longing for what might have been)  to “sunflowers”. Some words are simple, others polysyllabic, and each word is identified with its nominator.

Within this framework the pieces of writing reveal much about the author and his special areas of knowledge, such as “Getting the Best out of Enthusiastic Amateur Musicians” which as a conductor he understands thoroughly in all respects. His father was a professional violinist who played a Stradivarius, which gave rise to “The 1681 ‘Fleming’ Stradivarius”, a quite moving piece. One of his other interests is cricket, and there are several pieces which reflect this, asking about particular cricketers, commentators and about the sporting nature of the game, the laws and the spirit of fairness which it is supposed to represent. There are also fascinating pieces which extol the virtues of the sandwich and soup, their construction and deconstruction. He looks at the way aging affects people, especially him, and the concept of “Second Chances” through tennis players and a famous actor. Not that he is an expert of everything he writes about, and can be self deprecating, especially in the rather funny “How Not to Cure Hiccups at Midnight on Ryde Esplanade”. There is maths and music, sibling singing groups and a difficult wedding reception or two. 

I enjoyed “A Brief History of the Keighley and Worth Valley, which packs a lot into eight hundred words. My favourite is the fantastically named “The Intrinsic Link Between Chocolate, the Wombles and Musical Theatre in Post-Millennial Britain”, a subject suggested which is “clever, perverse, or an irritating mixture of both”. He reveals much about his method of writing, which includes extensive research on people desperately trying to make the link between topics, and in this case failing. With three thousand two hundred words to play with in this piece, he can admit to some diversions and hopeless links. The answer is ingenious, and quite an achievement.

I enjoyed this book for its variety and well written mix of ideas. This is at once a personal book and an academic exercise, a collection of amusing, clever and odd pieces, a real cornucopia of ideas and observations. It is undoubtedly an achievement,  a book which it is possible to pick up and put down,having perhaps learnt something, and definitely been entertained. I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book and recommend it as entertaining.  

Sowing Secrets by Trisha Ashley – a story of love, roses and diets

Sowing Secrets: Amazon.co.uk: Ashley, Trisha: 9781847560117: Books

Sowing Seeds by Trisha Ashley

While the new books by this established author are wonderful reads, this older book is also an excellent glimpse into the world of a woman having to cope with difficult situations. Fran is an artist who lives in a small Welsh village, with a fascination for roses which she plants in her cottage garden. She has a daughter, Rosie, who is usually away at university. Her husband Mal is not Rosie’s father; Fran believes that her daughter is the product of a one night stand. One of her problems is that she is uncertain as to the attractive, distinctive young man’s identity having been drunk, on the rebound from her long term boyfriend, and acted out of character. Her beloved Ma has always supported her, as have her local friends. Her problems begin at Christmas, when Rosie demands to know about her father, Mal is being more distant, and Fran is being nagged by him about her weight. This novel is narrated by Fran, as she considers her friends, family members and life in the village, with the usual humour and brilliant characterisation which typifies Ashley’s books. Food, roses and so much more abound in this book which contains humour and romance, all from Fran’s point of view.

The book opens at Christmas, with Rosie at home and asking questions about who her father is, knowing that Mal did not appear on the scene until well after she was born. Indeed Rosie and Mal argue frequently, often about his attitude to Fran. Mal is frequently away for work, and while he is away she works hard at her illustrations and cartoons, and plants roses even beyond the boundaries of Mal’s regulated garden. The neighbours seem to resent her, and apparently report to Mal on her activities. She has her friends, including Nia, who is a potter, and Carrie who has teashop known for her wonderful cakes. Another friend is Rhodri, newly divorced and owner of a large house and estate called Plas Gwyn, which he is intending to open to the public and as an events venue. Nia decides to organise him, and they become involved in a bid to get a celebrity restoration gardener to come and sort out the gardens for a television series. It is an excellent plan, until Fran recognises the celebrity gardener, Gabriel Weston, as someone from her past. To add to her confusion, her ex boyfriend Tom seems determined to attract her attention, as well as invite Rosie to learn to surf. Mal, however, seems increasingly distant, and a tragedy forces her to review her thoughts about her marriage, Gabriel and everything else in her life.

This is an extremely lively and enjoyable book. Fran’s attempts to diet at her husband’s insistence forms a running joke in some ways, and his impossibly high standards make him thoroughly annoying. Fran’s thoughts and panics, highs and lows are really interesting and well depicted, and her life is punctuated with some realistic incidents. I always enjoy the way Ashley’s  female lead characters tell their story, detail her friends and those who are difficult, and cope with challenges that would finish off other people.  This is a very entertaining book, with underlying themes of marriage problems, past loves and village life. There is  a lot of humour in this book, some of it quite dark, but all of it vivid. I recommend this book to Ashley’s fans, and would argue it should help make many more. 

Courage of the Shipyard Girls by Nancy Revell – A group of women show the strength of female friendship.

Courage of the Shipyard Girls: Shipyard Girls 6 (The Shipyard Girls  Series): Amazon.co.uk: Revell, Nancy: 9781787460843: Books

Courage of the Shipyard Girls by Nancy Revell

This series about a group of women on the Home Front is a well written testimony to the strength and mutual support of women under pressure. The author points out that seven hundred women worked in the Sunderland shipyards during the Second world war, doing vital work to manufacture and repair the ships needed to maintain the naval presence to the war effort. This book tells the stories of a group of women who mainly do the actual welding on ships, as well as work in the drawing office and organisation of the shipyard’s output. It is dirty, dangerous work in its own right without the added challenge of bombing raids when the planes are aiming for the shipyards. These women, like so many others, were also missing their male loved ones who were on active service, as well as encountering those whose service kept them in Sunderland. The group of women in this book represent so many  real people. This book is part of a series, but such is the quality of the writing and the construction of the story it would be perfectly possible and indeed enjoyable to read it in isolation. 

This book begins with a Prologue  detailing the discovery of a letter addressed to Polly which announces that her fiance Tommy is missing on active service as a diver. She has already read it and is fleeing to J.L.Thompson’s shipyard where she works as a welder. The letter is given to her mother Agnes and Tommy’s grandfather Arthur, who pursue Polly to the shipyard to check on her. Once there they realise that she is with her friends and working in the job she is determined to do. Rosie is the chief of the work gang, Gloria being her slightly older deputy. Dorothy and Angie are younger women with a busy social life, while Martha is the solid worker. Another young woman, Helen becomes the other focus of the novel, as she has to cope with news that plunges her into a decision that has to be made by many women. Helen has traditionally not got on with the women who work in the yard, but has secretly been meeting Gloria and her baby Hope. Having got the reputation for unpleasant behaviour towards the women, especially Polly, when she has to cope with a succession of challenges she finds herself alone and having to deal with her thoroughly unpleasant mother and grandfather. Many other characters appear and affect the lives of the shipyard girls, who seek to manage their lives in the most difficult of circumstances. 

This is a moving and extremely well written which celebrates female friendship and genuine affection. The sense of place, the noisy, dirty shipyard and the terrace houses become real in every sense in Revell’s skilful writing. The individuality of the women is well drawn so it is easy to become involved in each woman’s emotions, from the confident to the insecure, from the loving to the necessarily defensive. I found myself completely drawn into the book, with its surprises, twists and incredible climax. I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone interested in the roles women played in the Second World War, as despite being presented as fiction it has a centre of reality. I found it a vivid read, and I am looking forward to reading others in the series.