Book review: Brighter Days Ahead by Mary Wood

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Two young women from opposite ends of England have both had a tough start in life but as the country battens down for a long war in 1940, will the conflict bring the chance for a new start?

Welcome to the gripping, gritty and moving new story from Mary Wood, a much-loved saga author who started self-publishing her novels as e-books and has never looked back since she won a print contract with Pan Macmillan, one of the UK’s biggest publishing houses.

Wood worked in the probation service in both Lancaster and Blackpool and her hard-hitting and emotional historical novels reflect her own experiences and the harsh realities of life at all levels of society.

The thirteenth child of fifteen to a middle-class mother and an East End barrow boy father, Wood’s childhood of ‘love and poverty’ gave her a natural empathy with the less fortunate and a lifelong fascination with social history. Now a great-grandmother, Wood’s exciting tales of romance, hardship and adventure have won her an ever-growing army of devoted readers and admirers.

Set against the backdrop of the Second World War, Brighter Days Ahead follows the fortunes of Molly Winters, daughter of a butcher in London’s tough East End, and Flo Kilgallon, a young woman from Irish stock who was orphaned when she was only months old.

Molly lives with her drunken and abusive widowed father who has betrayed and assaulted her more times than she can care to remember. From a young age, living on the tough streets of Edmonton, she has seen life in the raw but has found comfort in her job working at Goulds, a shoe shop owned by a Jewish family.

However, the Goulds fear the Germans are about to invade England, have booked a passage to America and will be closing the shop. It’s a double blow for Molly who has fallen in love with their son David… but to her joy, she discovers that David feels the same way about her.

But before Molly can start to think of a new life, she is snatched by a gang of ruthless pimps and crooks, and held captive in their sordid underworld. Suddenly her future has never seemed bleaker…

Meanwhile Flo, who spent her early years in a orphanage and now lives with her foster mother, is also facing an uncertain future as the kindly owner of the Leeds chemist shop where she works can no longer help finance her night school education.

As maths whizz Flo’s dream of becoming a teacher start to fade, her tutor approaches her about trying for a job at Bletchley Park, the Buckinghamshire base for hush-hush code-breaking work. It could be everything she never knew she wanted...

Can the two women, whose paths will cross, weather the hard times ahead because, as they both have learned, ‘life isn’t always fair. It lifts you up and then kicks you in the face.’

Wood, a worldly and wise author, is not afraid to peer into the darker corners of real life and this compelling, hard-hitting novel tackles some challenging topics which are just as relevant today as they were nearly eighty years ago.

In trademark style, she also brings us some enchanting characters, full of spirit, resilience and determination, and a story brimming with compassion, warmth, drama and adversity.

Romance with a seductive dark edge...

(Pan, paperback, £6.99)