The Spitfire Girls by Jenny Holmes – a novel of some women of the Air Transport Auxiliary

The Spitfire Girls


This is a novel of some of the women of the Air Transport Auxiliary, A group of talented pilots who spent much of the Second World War transporting airplanes. They did not fly in battle, or just deliver new planes, but also those whose airworthiness was of a doubtful nature to be repaired.These women were not fair weather aviators; they had to fly planes as needed even when conditions were not perfect and enemy aircraft were present. While there is much written in non fiction about them, this is a novel which shows the fictional world of three characters who fly with the service, and one woman who would desperately like to despite the danger. This is a powerful story of love and devotion to duty, but also of the very real feelings of the women involved. These brave women were young, and sometimes made mistakes, but essentially they were fixated on flying craft without some of the cover that male pilots had during battles. This novel is the first in a series of books featuring the women, and men, who were responsible for getting the aircraft to the correct place to enable a vitally important element of the war to be fought.


The three pilots that fly the aircraft at the start of the novel have all had opportunities denied to many people, let alone women, in the 1930s. Planes were far more rare and relatively expensive to fly. In the First World War impossibly fragile planes had flown over the trenches to see the lie of the land, and the technology had advanced to provide planes which could be used for aerial combat. Angela, glamorous and wealthy, whose family owned woollen mills, had wanted to fly and could afford to. She blossomed in the ATA, flying bravely and well. It is known that she has been chosen to be the model on the ATA recruiting poster, and is well known on the base in Yorkshire in September 1943 as the novel begins. Her friend Bobbie is also well known as a pilot with ambitions, who had first learnt to fly on her father’s own plane in Scotland. She is however naive and when she becomes the object of interest to at least one male pilot, she is unsure how to cope despite her bravery. The third pilot, Jean, had a less easy path to flying. Having gained a scholarship to grammar school, she has had to work really hard to get the opportunity to fly, and makes the most of her chance by being the most able and courageous of the women pilots. Mary, meanwhile, is a driver, who is nonetheless brave and dedicated to getting personnel to the right place, even when in shock and physically affected by the dangers of the bombing which to the area was subject. Her friend Stan pushes her to apply for training, but she knows that women from her background are fighting a huge battle to get behind the controls of a plane under any circumstances, let alone when their importance to the country’s fate was so acute. 


This novel gives an excellent account of both the excitement and dangers of flying planes at this time. It shows that it was not only a matter of ability, but also background and opportunity. The tension is not always confined to being in the skies; the male pilots and ground staff have their own agendas on occasions, even feeling jealous of the women and their abilities. This novel is a well written look at the real humanity, the romances and intrigues of the women and those around them who flew planes in the most challenging of circumstances. It is an engaging and even gripping read, which more than kept my interest and kept me reading. I recommend this as a real book of the humanity and excitement of aviation in the Second World War. 


I picked this book up a while ago, and enjoyed it greatly. I noticed the the next in the series “The Spitfire Girls Fly to Victory” had been published, and I have happily managed to get a copy! I also see there is a Christmas one to come, so something to look forward to over the next few months.

A Christmas Wish for the Land Girls by Jenny Holmes- more than a Christmas book

Image result for A christmas wish for the land girls holmes

This novel, apparently a wartime saga about a group of girls working and living together, is taken a step further by this exciting and dramatic plot. A group of Land Girls has already been set up, with their romances, hard work and fearsome situations, living in and near a small town, in previous novels. In this book the land girls become dispersed, with two members moving to a distant village and farms which are indeterminate distances away from habitation. New characters are added which show different sides of the wartime experience. While there are shortages of some basics, absent friends and other elements of the wartime experience, this is not a war novel as such, but there is much to involve a reader with an interest in the period.

Joyce is one of the strongest characters in the previous novels, as she is a sensible and sympathetic land girl, working on farms where she has much experience and knowledge. Her romantic relationship does not feature heavily in this book, but her security allows her to understand and help others. She chooses to go further afield, to a farm where the farmer is taciturn and has a much younger, silent wife. Brenda also continues to be the most mobile land girl, for while she has found an isolated farm with a farmer and his spoilt daughter she also manages to retain and use her trusty motor bike. The worse tragedy happens involving a friend, and she can only remain steadfast in the face of sorrow. The two girls become involved in the life of the very small village, with a charming young vet and others. There is a rather stern Vicar, who is housing an evacuee with problems. One of the new characters introduced is Evelyn, a worker with the trees and countryside around. As with many of these books, dramatic events punctuate the book, with a rather exciting climax.

This is a genuinely engaging book, which keeps the reader thoroughly involved and intrigued. This type of book depends on the strength of the characters, and this book succeeds apparently effortlessly in making the reader feel invested in the people in this story. The characters are varied, with all their faults and strengths well described, and feel very human. Even the minor characters on the edge of the narrative have their interest and value, from their reactions to events and their development. The plot is simple, where even minor events assume great significance as they affect people that the reader feels genuine interest and involvement with throughout the book. Other characters from the previous novels make their entrances, especially as they coincide with Joyce and Brenda. Social events, emergencies and upheavals see people discovering much about other people, not always positive traits, but also some great strengths. Despite the title it is certainly about far more than the immediate Christmas season being more about a period of several months in local lives. This allows the situations and characters to really develop, and it is certainly not limited to a sentimental season.  I enjoyed this book immensely, even the bleak parts, and I recommend it as a good, fairly escapist read.

As Christmas Eve is fast approaching, I have decided to keep posting reviews over the holiday period. This may be because I am addicted, or maybe it is because I know that despite the adverts and tv specials, not everyone has a Christmas filled with family and friends. Having endured some pretty horrible Christmas seasons I know that it sometimes good to be distracted, even if you cannot immediately buy the books (though with the power of the internet…) that I review or check your library for borrowing possibilities. So, do have a good Christmas wherever you are, whatever you wish for, and however you spend it!

Wedding Bells for Land Girls by Jenny Holmes – An engaging novel set in Wartime Britain

Image result for Wedding Bells for Land Girls Holmes

Melodrama, varied characters, rural life and a wartime setting all make this book a great immersive read. While being presented as a book featuring a group of girls, there are some satisfying aspects of a book that is truly page turning for many readers. Land girls all working in farms and for widely differing landowners have different experiences, but all are subject to the romance and drama of living away from home, often for the first time. Exactly how much difference the setting of war in 1942 makes to emotions is as frequently with such novels, and indeed real life, made more intense. Younger men are on leave from various military forces; the urge to join up or be conscripted affects many lives. Holmes handles the frustrations, fears and drama of lives lived on the edge well, and while there are certain points at which credulity may be stretched a little, it is all controlled well and the essential characteristics of each character is consistent.

This was the first book I have read in this series, so I was grateful that there is a list of characters at the beginning of this book. It opens with a wedding, which is a useful device for introducing many of the characters and their relationships to each other. We also see them behaving in the ways which will emerge through the novel, with slightly unsure Grace marring her long term love, Bill. Brenda is a down to earth and strong character who roars around on a motorbike even when en route to a wedding, where new comer Doreen is seen as a big character always attracting attention. Joyce is shown as a concerned figure in looking after the newer girls, while being attracted to the troubled Edgar. There is some black marketing by a wholly bad character, and it is this element of the novel which seems a little too extreme in what is otherwise a well balanced narrative. The older people in the village are a little easily dismissed; I got a little confused between some of the older women as to who was acting as manager of the Land Girl’s Hostel. I did think that the relationship between Grace and her new mother in law was well described. The actual work undertaken by the Girls sounds accurately established, and there are good sketches of the large horse who undertook a lot of work when there were fewer tractors. The somewhat fierce sister was convincing, and many of the situations are at least resolved by the rather fast ending.

Overall I enjoyed this book, as it had plenty of interest and was truly difficult to put down. While one or two elements tipped over into the unlikely, the overall emotionally charged situation is well handled. The impending departure of some of the men into various military organisations and the urge to make the most of time remaining was very well realised. There is no wailing about individual plights, and I found the action kept moving really well. This is an engaging read, full of action and excellent characters, and I will be searching out the next book soon.

This is yet another type of book that I have found recently. I am reviewing a pop star autobiography tomorrow, and I am looking at different books as picked up in Meadowhall last Friday. My new Waterstones card has finally been activated, so I was able to get a copy of Pat Barker’s “Silence of the Girls”. I also found William Boyd’s “Love is Blind” and Sarah Perry’s  “Melmoth”. Having recently embarked on “The Corset” by Laura Purcell, I have some serious reading to do!