Book reviews: Four fireside sagas for autumn nights

Invisible Women by Sarah Long
Invisible Women by Sarah Long

From women facing crossroads in their lives to village scandals and a Victorian drama set in the rugged Yorkshire Dales, here are four novels to brighten the dark days ahead.

Invisible Women by Sarah Long

What about me? It’s a refrain that will resonate with many women as they head for the big 5-0 birthday.

After what seems a lifetime of taking care of everybody – from children and husbands to parents and in-laws – three women decide it’s time to start putting their own desires first.

Age-old themes are embroidered with humour, wisdom, warmth and pitch perfect observation in a sassy, sparkling novel from Sarah Long, a London-based author who knows how to touch the nerves – and the funny bones – of women of a certain age.

Invisible Women is a gorgeous, funny and feelgood story of love, sex, motherhood and sisterhood set amongst a group of friends who are determined to take control of their lives as they approach their mind-focusing half century.

Sandra, Harriet and Tessa have been best friends since school but not one of them is truly happy. Sandra has a naughty secret, Harriet has been ditched with her ailing mother-in-law one time too many and Tessa is desperate for distraction after her youngest flies the nest for university. With their 50th birthdays just around the corner, isn’t it about time they put themselves first?

After Tessa responds to a late night Facebook message from an old flame, she finds herself impulsively waiting at the airport for a plane from New York. Will it reunite her with ‘The One That Got Away’, or land her in a heap of trouble?

And is this the long-awaited moment that Tessa and her friends grab their lives back and start living exactly as they choose?

Irreverent, witty and emotionally charged, Long’s rollercoaster ride zones in with exquisite precision and perception on the dreams, despairs and dilemmas of all middle aged women getting ready to say a final goodbye to their youth and looking forward to new beginnings.

Warm, intelligent reading for the autumn nights!

(Zaffre, paperback, £7.99)

The Big Little Festival by Kellie Hailes

Welcome back to Rabbit’s Leap, an enchanting Devon town where romance and real life have a habit of colliding in the most delightful way!

Hot on the heels of The Cosy Coffee Shop Promises, author Kellie Hailes is back to seduce us with this entertaining new chapter in the life of a picturesque rural idyll as it prepares to celebrate a landmark 500th anniversary… and a most unexpected romance.

Mother of two boisterous twin boys, Tyler and Jordan, and head of the festival committee, Jody McArthur is panicking. It’s only weeks until her picture-perfect town of Rabbit’s Leap holds its first ever festival and everything is falling apart.

Desperate to avoid disaster, she brings in notorious London party planner Christian Middlemore to save the day. He’s snooty and arrogant but Jody wasn’t prepared for just how gorgeous he would be.

Men are off the cards for Jody and surely Christian is the last man she would ever date? But with tensions rising – along with the bunting and home-made scones – she is about to find out if her determination to stay man-free will last the course.

Expect sparks to fly and the best-laid plans to go awry in this fun-filled, drama-packed tale of secrets, gossip, nosy neighbours and glorious romance. Cosy up and enjoy!

(HQ, paperback, £7.99)

City of Friends by Joanna Trollope

Lose yourself in the troubled lives of four women facing crossroads in their lives in a wise and wonderful novel from saga queen Joanna Trollope.

City of Friends is Trollope’s twentieth novel, a compelling story which lays bare the fears, frustrations and manifold pressures of women caught up in the maelstrom of modern life.

The day Stacey Grant loses her job feels like the last day of her life. Or at least, the only life she'd ever known. For who was she if not a City high-flyer, senior partner at one of the top private equity firms in London?

Stacey must begin to reconcile her old life with the new… one without professional achievements or meetings but instead long days at home with her dog and her ailing mother, waiting for her successful husband to come home.

But at least Stacey has ‘The Girls’ to fall back on. Beth, Melissa, Gaby and Stacey – women now rather than girls – have been best friends from the early days of university right through their working lives, and through all the happiness and heartbreaks in between.

But these career women all have personal problems of their own, and when Stacey’s redundancy forces a betrayal to emerge, one that was supposed to remain a secret, their long-cherished friendships will be pushed to their limits…

With her trademark warmth, wisdom and insight, Trollope navigates the emotional and psychological journey of four women forced to ask challenging questions not just about themselves but about their friendship and the secret corners of their lives.

Imbued with truth, experience and understanding, this is a story written for every woman facing the slings and arrows of the modern world.

(Pan, paperback, £7.99)

The Windfell Family Secrets by Diane Allen

The green valleys and rugged limestone outcrops of the Yorkshire Dales form the stunning backdrop to another beautiful tale of family ties, love, hope and hardship from popular storyteller Diane Allen.

Allen, whose inspiration comes from the stunning countryside surrounding her home at Long Preston near the historic market town of Settle, has her finger firmly on the pulse of northern saga writing and the hardy Yorkshire folk who have for centuries made their home amongst the hills and dales.

The Windfell Family Secrets is the much anticipated follow up to The Mistress of Windfell Manor, another captivating chapter in the life of Charlotte Booth, whose disastrous marriage to dashing cotton mill owner Joseph Dawson brought her to the edge of despair and destitution.

Twenty-one years have passed since Charlotte fought to keep Ferndale Mill and her home at Windfell Manor following her marriage to Joseph. Now, highly regarded in local society and happily married to her childhood sweetheart Archie Atkinson, she seeks only the best for their children, Isabelle and Danny.

But history has a habit of repeating itself when Danny’s head is turned by a local girl of ill repute, despite his promise of marriage to the far more respectable Harriet Armstrong. Meanwhile, the beautiful and secretive Isabelle shares all the traits of her biological father, the notorious Joseph Dawson.

And when she announces that she is to marry John Sidgwick, the owner of High Mill in Skipton, her mother quickly warns her against him. Sidgwick is a former drinking mate of her late father and facing bankruptcy, and Charlotte fears his interest in Isabelle is founded more upon self-preservation than any notions of love.

What she doesn’t realise is how far he is willing to go to protect his future…

Allen, an observant and insightful writer, fields a fascinating cast of authentic Yorkshire characters in an enthralling tale packed with emotion, drama and the harsh realities of life in 19th century northern England.

But there is romance here too amidst the grit and grime, the shining light of hope, and proof of the enduring power of love, family and friendship to transform even the darkest days.

(Pan, paperback, £6.99)