The Poor Relation by Susanna Bavin – a story of a woman who must fight for her ambitions


Mary Maitland is the centre of a saga beginning in 1908 which poses many questions embedded in an extremely engaging story. This is not a story of many deaths and destitution – rather a story of a girl from a respectable family who is continually linked to her relatives who have the position, the influence and the money. They are used as a threat, and eventually actively work against her, as she struggles to assert herself in a world already against her as a woman. The unfairness of unequal wages, being passed over for promotion and continual assumptions about her abilities is one element of the battles she must continually fight. The more secret deliberate thwarting of her ambitions by her relatives means that she loses her opportunities. She is accidentally involved in the growing fight for women’s suffrage. The important thing is that she has tremendous self belief and drive. Other women also do their best; the nurse unable to continue working, the stepmother who makes the best of a marriage and motherhood, an elderly lady who realises that she must fight for her very home. This book is about the survival of people against the social pressures on them. No one is wholly bad or wholly good; this is a novel filled with real people in a setting that is deeply researched, but even more deeply felt. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this impressive book. 


Mary is the daughter of Edward, whose mother married a Kimber, the local family who have enormous influence in the area. Once a year the family are invited to the big house, where their social inferiority is emphasised at every point. Mary is enormously frustrated that despite ten years of efficient and effective work in the town council, she is always passed over by younger men who she has trained. Her father, a well drawn if annoying character for the reader, rules his household strictly, always with an eye to perceived objections by the grand Kimber relations. Not that they are happy in their lot, as Lady Kimber has being crossed in her romantic life too often. She is therefore bitter and ambitious for her daughter, Eleanor. Her clothes show her personality clearly; she is described as wearing a hat on which “ostrich feathers would quiver with her indignation”. She especially against Mary, as symbolizing her unfortunate relations by marriage.


Another strand is the dissolute Greg, whose expectations are dashed in the early part of the novel, and he finds his life difficult, despite his comfortable lifestyle. Dr Brewer becomes involved in settling disputes following a surprising will reading. The doctor, with his colleague, have ambitions to set up a community clinic, but their continual difficulties show the limitations of social and welfare provision at the time.


This book cleverly intertwines the stories of several individuals and carefully builds up their backstories, some of the reasons that they behave as they do. It is written with enormous understanding of the time, and people who lived in widely varying circumstances. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, feeling caught up in Mary’s story in particular, and was reluctant to put it down without discovering her progress through her fascinating experiences.


This is a very involving book which quite literally kept me awake, in a good way. At the moment there is a lot of concern for mental health, and whether concentration on reading books is possible. As you may appreciate, I find different books are good for different moods, but this one is the sort that truly involves the reader. Different from the funny, the safe, the re read or the classic. Which books are attracting you at the moment? Are you able to get hold of books now that you cannot browse in bookshops or visit libraries in the same ways? Are there particular books you would love to get your hands on but cannot at the moment?

The Deserter’s Daughter by Susanna Bavin – a family saga with fascinating plot lines

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The Deserter’s Daughter by Susanna Bavin


Life in Manchester in the 1920s is not easy. Many of the men in the working class neighborhood of Wilton Lane have not returned from the War, and feelings are sensitive. This saga is an intelligent and complex study of family life when desire, money, greed and fear become muddled with loss and hatred. Carrie’s family situation suddenly spirals out of control and she has to make the best of an impossible set of facts. It is not a unique dilemma for a novel of this type, but what makes this book so special is the way that Bavin creates a world of deceit and criminality in which the innocent suffer, and mistakes are harshly punished. As in Bavin’s other book, the research into the era is absolutely impeccable, giving not only the facts but also managing to convey the feeling of the period in so many details. The few years covered by this book are a time of momentous events for Carrie and her immediate family as the world of Manchester settles into a post war state. Sometimes brutal, even tragic, the hope and love which perminate this book with the basic strength of the characters means that it is difficult to put down, as tension and surprises maintain the reader’s interest. A flowing and immensely readable book, I found it a fascinating read. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book.


The book begins with Carrie’s joyful preparations for her imminent marriage to Billy Shipton with her mother. Her sister Evadne is jealous that her younger half sibling is to marry before her, and when the news arrives that Carrie’s father was executed as a deserter  in the war. At a time when even shell shock was not diagnosed properly, the shame of a so called coward in the family is life changing. Later on in the novel there is more on the mental damage that war caused, but at this stage the revelation is life changing, as the wedding is called off and even Evadne’s job is imperiled. As Carrie’s options are limited, tragedy strikes and the women become desperate, an opportunity appears that will have dramatic consequences for everyone. The world of medicine as therapies are tried is introduced, but curiously it is the business of antique dealing which becomes actually dangerous. Who if anyone will survive, and what is the role of true love and loyalty?


This is a powerful, complex and well written saga which contains important themes such as the lack of choices that women had in the recent past, the way men influenced their lives, and the ways they were so dependent on the choices made for them. The effects of a terrible war both on those who fought, and those who loved them is well written. The characters are all well developed, with very human failings and qualities, and there are some interesting details of clothing, setting and even antiques.There is a strong plot which works well throughout, and all loose ends are well tied up. This is a delicious saga, and an excellent read for fans of historical family novels featuring strong female characters. Well worth seeking out!


Meanwhile I have been a bit distracted from putting posts here – I am still reading, just had a few days away and doing different things. I have been collecting some lovely books which I look forward to posting reviews about as soon as possible. They are quite a varied lot! I was delighted to get my hands on a copy of this one!

The Sewing Room Girl by Susanna Bavin – a powerful novel of a woman fighting to survive in the 1890s

In 1892 the position of unmarried women was often difficult, if not impossible, even if that if one was talented and skilled. Juliet is a young woman who is attractive and brought up as a skilled needlewoman with a real flair for design, but circumstances, and some people, seem anxious that she does not succeed. This is a saga which reveals real challenges and some opportunities for young people at a time of change. Clothes and gardens can present new openings, but the power of gossip and jealousy can seem overwhelming. This well researched and brilliantly plotted novel is a powerful tribute to the strength of character of a young woman who has to fight against even members of her own family to find a role, and a way forward, as a new century dawns. I was grateful to have the opportunity to read and review a copy of this powerful novel.


Juliet Harper is just fifteen when  the book opens in 1892. Her father has just died in an accident, and she is left with her mother, the tempestuous Agnes, who feels deeply the criticism she has always shown to her husband for making her ambition to open her own salon disappear. The village community in which they live has long been unimpressed by Agnes’ ambition and simultaneously admiring of a Mr Nugent, the local lord’s land agent. Juliet is fated to learn more of the latter as she moves with her mother into a sewing room at the local big house, as her mother is given the job of overseeing much of the household sewing, together with an ambiguous position in the hierarchy of servants. Juliet hates her job of caring for an old woman of the village, and seizes the opportunity to gain a position in a local shop where she can begin to use her sewing skills and talent for design. Her mother is jealous of her success, and Juliet’s life seems well set for success when she meets the young and ambitious Hal Price. Things begin to spiral out of her control when her mother falls ill, and a certain man acts to gain access to her. The anger and jealousy of another woman leads to a catastrophic event, and Juliet must act to save herself, even at the cost of leaving all she knows and loves. A new start seems to offer new hope, but she has reckoned without her powerful and influential grandmother, who determines that Juliet will be under her control. Can Juliet grasp the small hope that friendship brings, when she seems to be fighting on all fronts?


This book is a powerful testament to the courage of a young woman when everything is against her. In today’s society when we are aware of how the abuse of women can affect their lives, this book can be painful reading as brutal acts against teenage girls are tacitly accepted, whatever the results. The odds which are stacked against the characters and the ways they must employ to survive are well handled and the ending more than satisfactory. This novel reflects well the research and feeling for the period that the author has unquestionably developed, and as historical fiction writing it is an effective piece of social history in very dramatic form. I recommend this book for fans of sagas in which women must fight to survive, and who enjoy realistic writing.     

There is a giveaway opportunity for several of Susanna Bavin’s books, which is being done through a rafflecopter. I believe you can enter at    Sorry, UK only!


If you are tempted to comment on my posts, please feel free! I know most of the authors and or publishers have a look if they know I have posted on their book, so you will be communicating with them as well! (Besides, it’s great for my ego!)