In the Bleak Midwinter - Carol Rivers
I can't believe I haven't discovered Carol Rivers before now. Writing in the tradition of Catherine Cookson and Lena Kennedy, she re-creates for her readers the London of yesteryear, populating her story with characters that are larger than life and resonate long after the last page is turned.
Set just after WW1 has ended, Birdie is a real life heroine, looking forward to being a good wife to her intended Donald Thorne, who has visions of expanding his grocery shop. Birdie Connor is a loving daughter, and both sister and substitute mother to young Pat, on the cusp of adulthood. Like many young girls she has an eye for fashion, she also has a talent for dressmaking. There is sorrow in her life though. Her eldest brother Frank has brought shame on the family, breaking his father's heart, having been accused and convicted of desertion. And Birdie can't understand why Donald can make time to walk out with his brother's widow, yet insists the only way Birdie and he can be alone together is if Birdie works long hours in his shop. When Frank breaks out of jail, and gets involved with Russian `white' terrorists tension mounts and it's down to young Pat and Harry, the Connor's lodger, to pit their wits against desperate people and the police to salvage the Connor's honour and Birdie's happiness.
All through the book, I longed for Birdie to tell Donald where to stick his rotten fruit and veg, and take a better look at Harry, a man quietly supporting Birdie while nurturing a growing building company. Carol Rivers keeps her readers entertained with the sights and smells of old London (you'll learn a little Cockney Rhyming Slang) and creates characters so vivid, you'll live through their struggles and triumphs, good times and bad as they battle with day to day living on the Isle of Dogs.
Reading this book is like a long leisurely stroll down memory lane, back to good old London Town where a pint of cockles was the only fast food, when family was everything, and the world was the street where you lived. Mix in a story of faith, desertion, and desperate refugees to add spice and intrigue, and you have a book impossible to put down until the very last drop has been savoured.