Book reviews: Three winter warmers to kick off the New Year

Three winter warmers to kick off the New Year
Three winter warmers to kick off the New Year
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Sit back with your favourite tipple and say cheers to 2017 with three gorgeous escapist romances.

A Year at the Star and Sixpence by Holly Hepburn

Running a remote country pub inherited from their father would seem the perfect escape for two sisters on the run from their troubles.

But the shabby, neglected Star and Sixpence is trapped in a Seventies time warp, not all the locals are friendly and there is pressure to re-open the hostelry in just three weeks’ time…

Brought together for the first time as a novel, Holly Hepburn’s four gorgeous Star and Sixpence novellas, which have sold over 50,000 copies in ebook form, are the ideal reading companions on long winter nights.

Packed with fun, romance, drama and a host of lively and lovely characters, these addictive tales from the beating heart of a village in rural Shropshire are the next best thing to stepping into your local and enjoying all the latest gossip.

When sisters Nessie Blake and Sam Chapman inherit a historic pub in the beautiful country village of Little Monkham in Shropshire, they jump at the chance to escape from their messy lives and start afresh.

Nessie has just walked out on a 15-year marriage that had long run its course and Sam is not giving much away on why she has run a long way from her life as a PR golden girl with a chic little flat in trendy Kensington.

The girls had not spoken to their estranged father Andrew Chapman for over 20 years but his pub, the 17th century Star and Sixpence, has provided both of them with a place of escape and the chance to make build a new future.

But the Star and Sixpence is not quite what they imagined… it is pretty much derelict, ruined by debts and it looks like it is going to be a big job to get it up and running again. Even more daunting is the discovery that the pub has been at the centre of village life for over four centuries and the locals expect it to be open again in just three weeks’ time.

Determined to make the best of this new life and with the local postmistress Franny Forster – ‘Darth Vader in a dress’ – breathing down their necks, Nessie and Sam set about making the pub the heart of the village once again.

Their first year at the Star and Sixpence was always destined to be tough but when the sisters’ past comes back to haunt them, the fresh start the young women needed seems a distant dream…

Hepburn captures all the atmosphere and tensions of life in a small, close-knit community as we follow Nessie and Sam through a rollercoaster year in Little Monkham with its immaculate village green, weather-worn historic houses and ill-assorted residents.

With back stories to discover, romances to unfold and secrets to be unearthed, there is never a dull moment as village dramas spring to life with the most unexpected results and with lashings of wit, warmth and wisdom.

So curl up and enjoy the New Year with a trip to the Star and Sixpence!

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £7.99)

The Girl Below Stairs by Jennie Felton

Romance, tragedy, mystery and drama… Jennie Felton’s Families of Fairley Terrace series continues to win hearts as minds as the third book in this enthralling series hits the shelves.

A real-life mining disaster in 19th century Somerset was the inspiration behind these page-turning sagas which are always written straight from the heart of an author who evokes this corner of England and its people with genuine warmth and exciting authenticity.

Only a few miles from Felton’s home town of Radstock in Somerset, 12 miners died at Wells Way Coal Works in 1839 when a rope snapped as they were descending into the pit. Popular belief has it that the rope was maliciously cut, although nobody was ever arrested.

Set over 60 years later in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, The Families of Fairley Terrace stories chart the fortunes and misfortunes of the people who live in a row of ten houses in a small village caught up in a terrible tragedy.

And the close-knit pit village community return as we follow Edie Cooper from Number One who discovers that the repercussions from the day of the mining disaster will have a greater impact on her future than she could ever have imagined.

Down-to-earth Edie has grown up at the Ten Houses, the row of miners’ cottages at Fairley Terrace in South Compton, surrounded by a loving family.

In 1910, aged 20, she spends her days at grand Fairley Hall working as lady’s maid to 15-year-old Christina, the beautiful, exuberant adopted daughter of the wealthy and powerful Fairley family… and her nights dreaming of a life with handsome, fiery local lad Charlie Oglethorpe.

Although broken-hearted when Charlie, ten years her senior, leaves with barely a look back to make his fortune in London, Edie finds consolation in her unexpected friendship with Christina who asks for her help in uncovering the mystery of her true parentage.

But their search for answers puts Edie and Christina in grave danger. Someone in Fairley Hall will stop at nothing to keep long-buried secrets hidden. Will Edie be able to protect Christina, and will she find her own path to happiness with Charlie?

The magnificent Fairley Hall plays a leading role in this gorgeous new story which gives us a fascinating glimpse into life both above and below stairs.

Packed with fascinating characters, danger, passion and struggle, and with a plotline that highlights the harsh realities of life and love for women in the opening decades of the 20th century, The Girl Below Stairs will delight all Fenton’s avid readers and whet their appetites for The Widow’s Promise, the next in this addictive series.

(Headline, paperback, £6.99)

London Calling by Helen Carey

A chance meeting at a London bus stop with a neighbour who pointed out the sites of wartime air-raid shelters on Clapham Common was the inspiration behind Helen Carey’s enthralling Second World War novels set in a bustling urban street.

London Calling is the fourth book in the much-loved Lavender Road series which follows the fortunes and misfortunes, hopes and fears, loves and losses of a resilient community of close-knit friends and neighbours in Clapham.

Carey’s trademark attention to authentic historical detail and her talent for transporting her readers to a vibrant world where ordinary people are living extraordinary lives amidst the uncertainties of wartime have earned her an army of fans.

Add lashings of drama, surprises, intrigue, humour and high passions and the stage is set for an exciting trip back in time.

As 1942 draws to a close, German air raids have devastated south London but it will take more than Hitler’s Luftwaffe to break the spirit of the residents of Lavender Road. While their menfolk face up to Nazi forces in Europe and North Africa, these hardy women have their own battles to fight.

Nurse Molly Coogan is keen to do her bit but first she needs to escape from the oppressive discipline of hospital life… and from her dangerous attraction to an unobtainable man. Jen Carter is convinced she has got what it takes to become an actress. But will she have to use more than her acting talents to get that lucky break?

Jen’s mother Joyce, meanwhile, has always had to scrimp and save while bringing up her large family. Now, as food shortages deepen, she is amazed to find that her advice is in public demand.

But it is not all harmony amongst the women of Lavender Road. Molly and Jen certainly don’t see eye to eye. Molly is unimpressed by Jen’s prima donna ways and Jen, unaware of Molly’s secret heartache, can’t resist taking her own frustrations out on Molly. It’s just as well that no one knows what challenges lie ahead...

From stolen glasses in the Flag and Garter to fancy dinners in the heart of the West End, and from a desperate battle for survival on a hospital ward to a torpedo hitting its target in the Mediterranean Sea, London Calling is an irresistibly romantic, gritty and nostalgic tale of wartime.

(Headline, paperback, £6.99)