Daily Mail

War’s broken hearts and minds

- By Sarah Hardy


(Manilla £14.99, 400 pp) THIS touching, absorbing novel considers World War II from an unusual standpoint: the wives of shattered survivors returning home.

Alice Rayne, lady of the manor, cannot understand the change in her previously dashing and charming husband; he, meanwhile, cannot forget his wartime deeds.

Elsewhere in the village, the wife of Dr Downes is dealing with her own guilt as well as his bitterness. The vicar, too, has his private anguish.

The walled garden of the title is a metaphor for all this hidden pain, as well as a real place that Alice finds comfort in restoring.

But it’s not all gloom, especially at the end. A beautifull­y written story that will especially appeal to Rachel Hore fans.

EVERY HAPPY FAMILY by Sarah Stovell (HQ £14.99, 384 pp)

PAST actions and their consequenc­es are at the heart of this gripping family tale.

Minnie’s adult daughters and son, Owen, have gathered in her large and beautiful Cotswolds home for Christmas. It’s a rare appearance from Owen, who moved to Australia years ago following a big family bust-up.

The cause was Nora, his childhood sweetheart, who just happens to be back in town, too.

As the book moves back and forth in time, and takes each character’s view in turn, the events of 30 years ago gradually unfold. Everyone had their reasons for doing what they did, but who, if anyone, was really at fault?

Stovell is a thoughtful, wise and witty writer who does teenagers especially well.

NO LIFE FOR A LADY by Hannah Dolby (Aria £16.99, 368 pp)

A HILARIOUS tale of hidden longings in 1890s Hastings. Violet, the innocent but independen­t-minded daughter of a banker, is determined to avoid marriage.

She is much more interested in finding her mother, who mysterious­ly disappeare­d a decade ago. She recruits two detectives — scary, slimy Mr Knight, and dishy, reluctant Mr Blackthorn — to find out.

Joining in the detecting, Violet uncovers other shocking truths, such as Hastings’ seamy side and what really takes place in the marital bedchamber. But what actually happened to her mother?

A glorious send- up of Victorian values, it’s funny from the start. Dolby’s wry authorial voice reminded me of the great Laurie Graham.

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