Book reviews: Get yourself beach ready with four super summer sagas

Secrets Under the Sun by Nadia Marks
Secrets Under the Sun by Nadia Marks
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Escape to secrets and sunshine in beautiful Cyprus, raise a glass to fun and flirtation in a French vineyard, and enjoy the dramas and despairs of women finding friendship during wartime.

Secrets Under the Sun by Nadia Marks

Head off to the sun, sea and sand of Cyprus for a moving and romantic mystery from Nadia Marks who burst on to the book scene last year with her beautiful debut novel Among the Lemon Trees.

Marks, whose maiden name was Kitromilides, which in Greek means bitter lemons, grew up in London but was born in Cyprus, the enchanting setting for this scorching summer tale of three childhood friends on a journey of discovery into secrets from their past.

On the island of Cyprus, in the small seaside town of Larnaka, three childhood friends have reunited in midsummer heat for the funeral of Katerina, the much-loved old woman they knew as ‘Tante’ and who had a profound effect on their lives.

Eleni, who has flown in from London, her cousin Adonis who is now living in New York, and Marianna who lives not far away in Nicosia grew up together in their small, quaint seaside town and are as close as siblings. And they all loved Katerina like family even though she was not a blood relative. The three young people were ‘the children she never had.’

Although from humble beginnings – she was hired as a household maid from the age of thirteen – Katerina’s love, wisdom and guidance helped shape them all. The old lady had become a pillar of their community, seeing the town change from a bustling, fashionable port to the quiet tourist destination it is today. The friends can hardly imagine a Larnaka without her.

Her loss leaves the friends bereft, but the funeral is not just a time to mourn and remember. Adonis’s mother Anita decides that with Katerina’s death comes the time to share the family’s secrets, and to answer the riddles of their childhood.

And what she reveals – a story of secrets, deception, forbidden love and undying loyalty – will change everything the three friends had thought about their lives.

Secrets Under the Sun is an atmospheric and emotion-packed sunshine odyssey, weaving between past and present, brimming with revelations and romance, and delivering the perfect travelling companion for this year’s holiday season.

(Pan, paperback, £7.99)

Summer at the Vineyard by Fliss Chester

And for those who like it steamy hot, why not grab a glass and head to the south of France for fun and flirtation amongst the vines?

Co-owner of an independent wine merchant based in the Surrey Hills, Fliss Chester adores combining her love of wine with her passion for writing so Summer at the Vineyard, a fizzy concoction of chalets, chateaux and Chablis, is her perfect summer reading recipe.

Jenna Jenkins needs to get away from London. She has been unceremoniously sacked from her job and it’s make or break time with her boyfriend Angus, so a summer job at the beautiful Chateau Montmorency in the south of France seems like the perfect solution.

Planning the party of the century, dining out with suave Frenchmen, and giving in to a little temptation among the vines are all in a day’s work... but is there a secret lurking in the chateau cellars?

Caught in a trap she can’t talk – or drink – herself out of, Jenna is well and truly corkscrewed. Things are really hotting up under the sun when a mysterious benefactor helps her out of her jam. But why does he seem so familiar?

Chester, already the author of winter warmer Snowballs: Winter Fun on the Slopes, turns up the heat in more ways than one in this sexy, sizzling, romantic comedy which is ideally served on a sun lounger in foreign climes, but will be equally enjoyable on any beach closer to home.

(Orion, paperback, £8.99)

Sing Them Home by Pam Weaver

A real-life air crash in her home town of Worthing in 1943 was the inspiration for a gritty and compelling new saga from much-loved author Pam Weaver.

A former nursery nurse, Weaver’s enthralling novels reflect her love of people and their stories, and her passion for the West Sussex seaside town of Worthing, and this emotional and drama-packed tale of three determined women who find friendship in wartime sees the born storyteller on top form.

In the summer of 1942, a German aircraft crashes into a house in Worthing and causes complete devastation to the local community. Three strangers meet for the first time that day… Pip Sinclair, Stella Bell and Lillian Harris.

Lillian’s three-year-old daughter Flora has been hurt in the crash and is rushed to hospital. As she comes through her ordeal, she finds her mother and her two new ‘aunties’ by her bedside. The three new friends, whose husbands are all fighting overseas in the forces, quickly bond over their shared experiences.

The three new friends also have the same love of singing and soon form The Sussex Sisters, Worthing’s answer to the Andrews Sisters, to boost morale in dance halls and canteens all over the south coast.

When D-Day finally arrives, it’s the promise of a brighter future they have all been longing for. But the men who return home are altogether different from the husbands they waved off. How will they respond to their wives’ new-found fame? How will the women live alongside these distant, damaged men?

With secrets, revelations and surprises on the horizon, the friends will need each other more than ever.

You can always rely on Pam Weaver to deliver a warm-hearted and richly authentic story, full of her emotional wisdom and her keen understanding of what it meant to live and love during the stresses and strains of wartime.

The rollercoaster experiences of the three young women pack in plenty of surprises and drama, but it is their friendship, their loyalty and their shared affection that sees them through the good times and the bad times.

Vivid, compelling and moving, Sing Them Home is a super summer saga from the opening refrain to the final chorus…

(Pan paperback, £6.99)

The Narrowboat Girls by Rosie Archer

Three young women seeking a new life find solace, adventure and friendship on England’s canal networks in a moving and nostalgic novel from popular saga queen Rosie Archer.

After a series of novels featuring the tough women who worked at Gosport’s Royal Navy Armament Depot during the Second World War and a saga focusing on Gosport’s ferry services, Archer treads exciting new territory as she explores the wartime work of women on vital waterways transportation.

Brimming with nostalgia, real-life drama, romance and friendships, The Narrowboat Girls will delight Archer’s army of fans who love her sagas… all inspired by the things that have touched her own life, and the emotions she has experienced along the way.

In Gosport in 1944, Elsie Barker’s life is in pieces. Her marriage is over after her solicitor husband admits to having an affair with another woman who is now pregnant with his child, and their home is shortly to be sold.

A new start is what 30-year-old Elsie needs now more than anything but how is she going to do that when she only works part-time at Priddy’s Hard munitions factory, helping the war effort, and has little money she can call her own?

When her friend at Priddy’s, Izzy Baker, a smart and sassy 19-year-old who is planning an escape from her abusive boyfriend, tells Elsie about the jobs going for women as narrowboat crew on the canals between London and Coventry, she jumps at the chance to join her.

With so many men away fighting in Europe, the vital work of transporting goods around Britain’s waterways is now open to women.

Their new boss, Dorothy Trent, is kind and fair, but it’s clear she has a secret of her own. Their crew is completed by Tallulah ‘Tolly’ Whitehead, another girl seeking a fresh start and a new vocation now that her dream job has been snatched away.

The work is hard and the few men left on the canals don’t appreciate mere girls doing their job, but the women forge close friendships in the face of adversity, bonds that will see them through the darkest times and make all the hardships worthwhile.

What none of them could have predicted though is just how much working on the canals will change their lives. Could it really be that what started as a means of escape will end up giving each of them everything they ever wanted?

Archer brings to vivid life the tough war years and the constrictions placed on women struggling to make their way in a man’s world. However, the six years of war did open up new avenues of work opportunities for women and The Narrowboat Girls provides a fascinating portrait of life on the waterways.

Well-researched and full of wartime detail, saga fans can expect plenty of passion, drama, tears and laughter as we follow Dorothy, Elsie, Izzy and Tolly on their journey of self-discovery.

(Quercus, hardback, £20.99)