Two tasty sagas for springtime reading by various authors – book reviews –

The famous Tower Ballroom in Blackpool, and the equally well-known Cadbury Factory in Birmingham, take starring roles in two sparkling new wartime sagas.
The Ballroom Girls by Jenny HolmesThe Ballroom Girls by Jenny Holmes
The Ballroom Girls by Jenny Holmes

The Ballroom Girls

Jenny Holmes

It may be wartime in Blackpool, but can the magic of the ballroom help three girls dance their cares away?

Welcome to the first of a sparkling new series which brings to life the glitz and glamour of the famous Tower Ballroom, the turbulent years of the Second World War, and the vibrant dancing scene of the resort in the 1940s.

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Jenny Holmes, author of The Air Raid Girls series, works her storytelling magic on this empowering tale which spotlights three very different women, all eager to prove themselves during a time of change, hardship and uncertainty.

In Blackpool in the summer of 1942, we meet Sylvia, the spoiled daughter of Lorna Ellis, one of Blackpool’s pre-eminent and most ambitious ballroom dancing teachers. Sylvia has been coached to win awards all her life and now approaching 21, she is under pressure to scoop up prizes by fair means or foul. But when she secretly takes lessons in the popular new Latin dances, will mother and daughter end up at odds?

Pearl, meanwhile, is the oldest daughter in a large, chaotic family who all work at the Pleasure Beach. Pearl sells fish and chips by day, but on a Saturday night she often sneaks away to join dancers in their glittery finery at the Tower Ballroom. She partners her best friend Bernie Greene, who works a Pleasure Beach ride, and as their dancing improves, might friendship turn to something more?

Joy is an evacuee who lost her parents in the Blitz and feels alone in the world. Now she lives in a shabby boarding house where she works as a cleaner. But, although she is shy and modest, Joy has a secret... she has fallen in love with the American Jitterbug, the latest dance craze. So when dashing Tommy invites her to dance, she wonders if this could be her chance to find the life and love she’s always dreamed of.

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And it seems it is when Lorna’s rival dance school spots Joy’s talent and she is given a chance to break away from boarding house drudgery and enter the glamorous world of professional ballroom dancing.

Through blackouts and air raids, the excitement of the ballroom never dims but competition is fierce. Will the Ballroom Girls find what they’re looking for in the joy of the dance?

Full of drama, romance and the thrill of dancing, this heartwarming and uplifting story sets the scene perfectly for an exciting and nostalgia-laden new series which visits some of Blackpool’s familiar landmarks and will delightful both saga fans and those who know and love this seaside town.

(Penguin, paperback, £7.99)

Wartime for the Chocolate Girls

Annie Murray

The city of Birmingham may not now be Annie Murray’s home territory but its people, its streets and its past have become an integral part of her life.

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It’s nearly 28 years since Murray published Birmingham Rose, her first Birmingham-based novel, and as her new heartwarming tale of secrets and lies, mystery and drama is published, she invites us to immerse ourselves once again in the wartime life and times of this historic city.

Wartime for the Chocolate Girls is the fourth book in her tasty Chocolate Girls series which follows the lives and loves of the women and girls who worked at the famous Cadbury factory at Bournville in Birmingham.

It’s April of 1941 and after almost losing her life in a bomb blast while serving in the Women’s Volunteer Service, Ann Gilby has been forced to take stock of what is really important... her family. With her daughters Sheila back home, and Joy still working munitions at the Cadbury factory and engaged to her soldier sweetheart, home life feels more settled too.

Ann has even come to an uneasy truce with her husband, Len, despite her recent discovery of his infidelity and the fact that he has fathered a child with another woman. But what Ann has not reckoned with is, Marianne, Len’s other woman, turning up on her doorstep... a woman with a mysterious past.

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The problem is that Ann has secrets of her own and one day soon she knows she will have to tell her youngest child, Martin, who his father really is...

Murray, whose home was in Birmingham when she began her writing career, invests hours of local research and her own powerful gift of imagination into her action-packed, family-based stories, and her genuine affection for the city and its people always shines through.

And this warmhearted and gritty chapter for the Chocolate Girls packs in all those ingredients – relationships, romance, the uncertainties of wartime and human compassion – which have made this series such a delicious treat for all saga fans.

(Pan, paperback, £7.99)

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