I’ve been wanting to try Alex Martin’s Katherine Wheel series for such a long time – I downloaded the first in the series, Daffodils, not that long after it was published back in 2014, and have done the same with all the books that followed. When I knew I’d be meeting Alex at the Narberth Book Fair on my first visit in 2018, I wondered if I could start reading the series beforehand, but time ran out – instead I read a standalone, The Rose Trail, very different from the series as it’s a 17th century time slip story, but found I really loved her writing (you’ll find my review here – and if you have Kindle Unlimited, you can read it for free). Then I heard Alex talking about her series, plainly a labour of real love, and wondered when on earth I’d ever find the time to catch up with it.
But last month the planets finally aligned. Alex had let me know that the fifth book, Woodbine, had been recently published, and – as it takes the story forward with the next generation – might just be a good book to read as a standalone. She told me more – about the way that books can be a great solace when you feel stressed, frightened or lonely, a constant resource to escape the grim reality we each are facing right now. She hoped that Woodbine could be an escape for its readers, and mentioned that she’d been struck by the similarities between the global conflict of WW2 and the worldwide struggle we now face. So one sunny afternoon, when there wasn’t a book I needed to read immediately for the next blog tour, I settled down in my comfy chair and allowed myself to be transported to another era…
Lottie, her sister Isobel and Al, the man they both love, are on the brink of adulthood and the Second World War in Woodbine, the fifth book in The Katherine Wheel Series.
Trapped and alone in occupied France, Lottie must disguise her identity and avoid capture if she is to return and heal the bitter feud over the future of Cheadle Manor.
Back in England, Al is determined to prove himself. He joins the Air Transport Auxiliary service, flying aeroplanes to RAF bases all over the country.
Isobel defies everyone’s expectations by becoming a land girl. Bound by a promise to a dying woman, she struggles to break free and follow her heart.
Woodbine is the penultimate book in The Katherine Wheel Series.
I was initially a little worried by launching myself into a series with the fifth book: but while I’d obviously missed out on the earlier story and some of the background to the characters (particularly the older ones) and their relationships, I had no difficulty picking up enough of the context and moving on into the story of the next generation. And what a story – it totally swept me away, enthralling in every way with the most wonderful story-telling and the very finest of writing. This is a pretty substantial book at over 400 pages, but other than comfort breaks (when I took my kindle with me!) I didn’t surface for air until I’d read the very last page.
There were a number of elements that made this book one I really loved. I’m often a bit of a pushover for a WW2 setting, but the research that went into this book – the British home front (particularly, but not exclusively, for those used to living more comfortable lives), and the realities for the French population – must have been incredibly extensive, and it’s all wonderfully woven to bring the era so vividly to life. The sense of place throughout is exceptional – Cheadle Manor and its surroundings, the Welsh farming community where Isobel spends time as a land girl, war-torn Paris and the rural community where Lottie finds refuge. The book’s canvas is enormous – but sometimes it’s extraordinarily intimate through your degree of involvement with the fortunes of the three main characters, every one of whom you grow to really care about. And the pacing of the story is perfectly handled – quiet moments alternating with gripping sections when you really can’t read and turn the pages fast enough.
I will mention though that while the book does have an ending, the story doesn’t conclude in this book – we’re still in the midst of wartime, and there’s another book to come, drawing their individual stories and the whole series to a conclusion. I really didn’t mind that – it just made me want to read the next book even more, as I’d become totally invested in these wonderful characters. I’m not a regular reader of “sagas”, and don’t read historical fiction that often either – but from my reading of this single book I could tell that this series was something very special indeed.
Now while I might have been just a tad frustrated that I couldn’t download the sixth and final book in the series and see the story through to its conclusion, you’ll be SO pleased to hear that you won’t have the same problem. I’m delighted to let you know that Ivy was published on 1st July and is now available for kindle and in paperback: I’m just trying to carve out some more reading time, because I’m desperate to read on…
Ivy (Book 6)
All the disparate threads of this epic saga are seamlessly woven together in Ivy, the sixth and final book in The Katherine Wheel Series.
Drawn into the Resistance in Occupied France, Lottie’s strengths and endurance are tested to the limit.
Home-loving Isobel, torn between love and duty, must set herself free if she is ever to find happiness.
Flying planes for the Air Transport Auxiliary frequently puts Al in danger but securing the woman he loves proves much more challenging.
Cheadle Manor once lay at the heart of the lives of Lottie, Isobel and Al, but World War Two has broken every bond tying them to their safe haven. Can they ever come home and be together again?
Goodness, I can’t wait! Shall we take a look at the whole series, from the very beginning? Oh go on, let’s! Just click on the cover image or title to be taken to the individual book pages – or you’ll find the Amazon page for the whole series here.
Daffodils (Book 1 – currently available free for Kindle)
Katy, a maidservant at Cheadle Manor, longs to escape her narrow life but events unfold slowly in her rural village. Jem Phipps has always loved Katy. His proposal of marriage rescues her from scandal but after tragedy strikes, Jem becomes a reluctant soldier on the battlefields of The First World War, leaving Katy behind, restless and alone.
Lionel White, the local curate, has just returned from India bringing a dash of colour to the small village and offers Katy a window on the wider world. Only when Katy joins up as a WAAC girl does she finally break free from the stifling class-ridden hierarchies that bind her but the brutality of 20th-century global war brings home the price she has paid for her search. Through the horrors of WW1, she discovers only love brings freedom.
In essence, Daffodils is a love story, whose tender heart is almost torn apart through this tumultuous time.
Peace Lily (Book 2)
After the appalling losses suffered during the First World War, three of its survivors long for peace, unaware that its aftermath will bring different, but still daunting, challenges.
Katy trained as a mechanic during the war and cannot bear to return to the life of drudgery she left behind. A trip to America provides the dream ticket she has always craved and an opportunity to escape the strait-jacket of her working class roots. She jumps at the chance, little realising that it will change her life forever, but not in the way she’d hoped.
Jem lost not only an arm in the war, but also his livelihood, and with it, his self esteem. How can he keep restless Katy at home and provide for his wife? He puts his life at risk a second time, attempting to secure their future and prove his love for her.
Cassandra has fallen deeply in love with Douglas Flintock, an American officer she met while driving ambulances at the Front. How can she persuade this modern American to adapt to her English country life, and all the duties that come with inheriting Cheadle Manor? When Douglas returns to Boston, unsure of his feelings, Cassandra crosses the ocean, determined to lure him back.
As they each try to carve out new lives, their struggles impact on each other in unforeseen ways in this heartbreaking romance.
Peace Lily is about boundaries in post war romance – boundaries between traditional values and the modern age of the 20th century, between men and women, young and old and in post-war 1919 these are tested as never before.
Speedwell (Book 3)
Katy and Jem enter the 1920’s with their future in the balance. How can they possibly make their new enterprise work? They must risk everything, including disaster, and trust their gamble will pay off.
Cassandra, juggling the demands of a young family, aging parents and running Cheadle Manor, distrusts the speed of the modern age, but Douglas races to meet the new era, revelling in the freedom of the open road.
Can each marriage survive the strain the new dynamic decade imposes? Or will the love they share deepen and carry them through? They all arrive at destinies that surprise them in Speedwell, the third book and another heartbreaking romance in the Katherine Wheel Saga.
Willow (Book 4 – a novella)
The stifling heat of a summer’s day lures four children to the cool green waters of the river running between Cheadle Manor and The Katherine Wheel Garage.
Al captains the little band of pirates as they blithely board the wooden dinghy. Headstrong Lottie vies with him to be in charge while Isobel tries to keep the peace and look after little Lily.
But it is the river that is really in control.
Lost and alone, the four children must face many dangers, but it is the unforeseen consequences of their innocent adventure that will shape their futures for years to come.
Book Four of The Katherine Wheel Series may be small in size but it packs in many surprises for the children of Katy and Jem and Douglas and Cassandra. Willow bridges the generation gap between the last three books, Daffodils, Peace Lily and Speedwell, and Book Five, Woodbine, when the four children are on the brink of both adulthood and the outbreak of the Second World War.
I’ll be back as soon as I can with my review of Ivy – there’s absolutely no way I won’t be reading this series to its end…
About the author
The Plotting Shed is at the bottom of my garden and is where I can be found bashing both brain and keyboard in an attempt to express those thoughts and ideas that have been cooking since I was seven and read Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. It was a genuine light-bulb moment when I finished that excellent story and closed its covers. I knew deep-down in my soul that this was what I wanted to do with my life. I had inherited an old black and gold typewriter and, when I wasn’t skinning my knees climbing trees or wandering aimlessly in the countryside with my dog and my dreams, I could be found, as now, typing away with imaginary friends whispering in my ear, but it was many years before I had the confidence to publish any of them.
Now I have two standalone novels on Amazon, and the complete Katherine Wheel series: I’ve also written a collection of 3 short stories, called Trio (a free copy of which is available at The Plotting Shed)