Review: The Sewing Room Girl.

sbavinIf Susanna Bavin ever needs an alternative career, I think she should consider being a hypnotist. 

I’m sure she must have had some training already because the minute I see one of her books, it’s impossible to look away; anything could be happening around me and I wouldn’t notice. 

Her third book, The Sewing Room Girl, is a powerfully written story, full of twists and turns, heartbreak and smiles, that will stay with me for a long time. 

Here’s the blurb:

Born into service, sixteen-year-old Juliet Harper has always idolised her mother, Agnes. But Agnes is haunted by what could have been, and the glamorous life she might have lived if she stayed in Manchester rather than settling down in the Lancashire moorland with her husband.

Life takes another unexpected turn when Juliet’s father suddenly dies. Agnes’s reputation as a seamstress leads to her being taken on by local landowners the Drysdales, where she is proud to work. But it will be a bumpy road for both of them as they settle in to their new lives.

Will Juliet ever be able to choose her own path? And what will become of them when Agnes falls ill?

Every single character pulls their weight. As usual, Susanna’s villains are enough to make me shiver when I think about them, even now. Also, I think plucky, courageous Juliet might just be my favourite of Susanna’s leading ladies (and I don’t say that lightly). 

The time period (1890s) and location seem meticulously researched. Susanna has the perfect touch when it comes to weaving in interesting little titbits of the time without making it seem like a history lesson. 

Her wonderfully warm writing style lured me deeper and deeper into the tale until I felt like I was there living it with them. 

I pre-ordered this one and I will be doing the same with book four.

Format: Kindle.

Price: £2.48 (via Amazon).

My rating:  Five stars. 

Susanna was one of my first Behind The Book interviewees last year, talking to me just before debut was published. You can read more here.

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Book Review: A Respectable Woman.

A respectable womanWith her second book Susanna Bavin has cemented her place as one of the country’s leading family saga writers.

Following the success of her debut, The Deserter’s Daughter, it must have been quite a feat to come up with a story equally as good but, in my opinion, she’s produced something even better.

And I don’t say that lightly, as I loved her first book, but this one charmed me even more.

Here’s the blurb:

After losing all her family in the Great War, Nell is grateful to marry Stan Hibbert. However, five years on, she is just another back-street housewife, making every penny do the work of tuppence and performing miracles with scrag-end. When she discovers that Stan is leading a double-life, she runs away to make a fresh start.

Two years later, Nell has carved out a fulfilling new life for herself and her young children in Manchester, where her neighbours believe she is a respectable widow. But the past is hard to run from, and Nell must fight to protect the life she has made for herself and her children.

From the first page, Susanna pulls you into the backstreets of 1920s Manchester so that when you’re done you’ll be wanting to scrub your front doorstep and send your children out to play in the street with their mates (although no noisy games on a Sunday).

It’s a hard life, especially for a single mother, but you get a real sense of community as Nell’s neighbours pitch in to look after her children while she works – although no matter how hard she toils, she’ll never be allowed to earn as much as a man. Interesting that we are still having similar conversations today.

Along with Nell, there’s a wonderful cast, including swoon-worthy Jim, the solicitor turned window cleaner, Mrs Brent, who takes the family under her wing and later has her kindness repaid, and two lovely young characters in the shape of Alf and the beautifully named Posy.

Then there’s the villain. Susanna seems to have a particular skill for conjuring up nasty pieces of work and Edmund is up there with the best of them. Thinking about him still makes my blood run cold.

The story is so well written, with wonderful little details from the period adding to the colour of the tale.

Having learnt my lesson last time, when I carried on reading long after my bedtime, I gave myself some much needed ‘me time’ while Freya was at school to enjoy this book. I am so pleased I did because, once again, I couldn’t put it down – even to make myself some lunch (unheard of).

I’ve already pre-ordered her next book, The Sewing Room Girl. Hopefully I won’t have too long to wait.

Format: Libby (borrowed from Norfolk Library Service).

My rating: Five stars.

Book Review: The Deserter’s Daughter.

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When the paperback version of Susanna Bavin’s debut, The Deserter’s Daughter, arrived in the post I Tweeted this photo with the caption: “That’s my weekend reading sorted.”

In reality, I turned the first page on Friday night and the next thing I knew it was 24 hours later and I was breathing a happy sigh as I closed the book. It is THAT GOOD.

I’m sure I didn’t sit reading the whole time – there is a four-year-old in the house, after all – but Mark did comment, ‘Is that book attached to your hand?’.

I wanted it to be. I fell asleep (way after my bedtime) worrying about the lead character, Carrie, and I woke up desperate to see where the story would lead her. Where it would lead all of them, really.

Here’s the blurb:

1920, Chorlton, Manchester. As her wedding day draws near, Carrie Jenkins is trying on her dress and eagerly anticipating becoming Mrs Billy Shipton. But all too soon she is reeling from the news that her beloved father was shot for desertion during the Great War. When Carrie is jilted and the close-knit community turns its back on her as well as her mother and her half-sister, Evadne, the plans Carrie nurtured are in disarray

Desperate to overcome private shock and public humiliation, and with her mother also gravely ill, Carrie accepts the unsettling advances of well-to-do furniture dealer Ralph Armstrong. Through Ralph, Evadne meets the aristocratic Alex Larter, who seems to be the answer to her matrimonial ambitions as well. But both sisters put their faith in men who are not to be trusted, and they will face danger and heartache before they can find the happiness they deserve.

I’m going to let you into a secret, I was really worried about reading this book. Usually I am open to new genres but family saga is one that I thought wouldn’t float my boat. Not only that, I have got to know and like Susanna over the last year or so – since she appeared in my second Behind The Book post – and I really wanted to love her book. (Not that I think she would have cast me aside if it wasn’t my cup of tea).

I feel a bit daft now that it took me so long to read it (the hardback came out in June last year).

If Susanna’s book is an accurate representation of the family saga then sign me up. She has created nuanced, believable characters, who I was invested in from the start, along with an absorbing and colourful narrative – all elements I enjoy in contemporary books.

And, far from distracting from the story, the historical aspect only added to it. She writes with honesty and sensitivity about what it must have been like to be a deserter’s daughter. I felt the shame of the family as sure as if they were my relations.

This is an accomplished book and an incredible debut. I can’t wait for her next one, which I will definitely be reading as soon as possible.

Format: Paperback.

Price: £8.99 (via Amazon).

My rating: Five stars.

With thanks to Susanna and her publishers, Allison & Busby, for the paperback in return for an honest review.