It’s a real pleasure today to share my review of Sisters at War by Ros Rendle, the first book in the Strong Family historical saga. Published by Sapere Books on 13th July, it’s now available for kindle (free via Kindle Unlimited) and in paperback. The ecopy I read was my own, preordered and purchased via Amazon.
I first had the pleasure of meeting Ros on a visit to the Belmont Belles and Beaux, the Leicester RNA chapter who always make me feel so welcome, and our paths have crossed a few times since then – it was lovely to see her when I attended the Deepings Literary Festival a couple of years ago, and event she helps organise and which I’ll look forward to visiting again when activities are resumed next year. She told me all about the Strong Sisters, made the books sound as if they were something I’d really enjoy, and I had every intention of starting with the first of her then self-published series, Flowers of Flanders. But I was then really delighted to hear about her contract with Sapere Books, and thought it might just be better to wait until the series was re-edited and republished. I must admit I hadn’t really expected it to take quite as long as it did – I know the publishers were particularly affected by the pandemic, but it’s looking promising for the rest of the series. The next book, The Warring Heart (a new one this time), is published on 7th September and available for preorder for kindle (and even better, just 99p at the moment).
But let’s take a closer look at this first in series…
In the shadow of war, a young woman battles with her heart…
Eighteen-year-old Rose Strong has loved childhood friend Michael Redfern for as long as she can remember.
However, believing that Michael loves her beautiful but aloof younger sister, Delphi, Rose vows to keep her feelings hidden.
When war breaks out, Michael enlists, and Rose fears for his life as he heads to the trenches in France.
As the war rages on, Rose strikes up a friendship with Thom, a budding engineer. And when Thom’s feelings for her grow warmer, Rose must decide whether she is prepared to betray her heart.
And with Delphi joining the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps while Rose remains at home, it seems Michael and Delphi may grow closer. But Delphi is harbouring a secret of her own…
Will Michael make it home safely? Is he destined to be with Delphi? Or could Rose be the one to win his heart…?
Sisters at War is a breath-taking romantic saga set in England and France during World War I. It begins The Strong Family Historical Saga series.
1913 and as the threat of war increases, this story focuses on the Strong family. Eldest daughter Rose is about to leave to take up a place at Oxford, encouraged by her particularly enlightened parents who don’t see her sex as a barrier to learning – although gaining a degree wasn’t an option for women at that time. She’s particularly attracted to local boy Michael Redfern, but has given up any hopes for their future as he seems to only have eyes for her more flighty and self-obsessed sister Delphi – in fact, he’s apparently told Delphi he loves her, so any hopes she’s had have already been dashed. There’s much talk about war at the dining table, and their young son Hector can’t wait to sign up, although he’s too young to do so – when the local young men report at the recruiting station, he lies about his age and has to be snatched and returned home, although that proves to only be a temporary reprieve.
At first, the primary focus of the story is Rose herself, her relationship with her sister and family, her thwarted romance – and she’s an exceptionally likeable heroine, very well drawn, warm and intelligent, and her appeal only increases as the book progresses. But the focus moves to the arena of war – through Michael’s letters from the front, more graphic about the realities than those he can write to his family, and it’s a device the author uses particularly well. And then we have the opportunity to witness that reality – through Michael’s eyes, and through those of Delphi who joins the Women’s Auxiliary and has traumatic experiences of her own.
There was a great deal I enjoyed about this book, which balances perfectly the lives of the sisters and their romantic entanglements with the more harrowing and particularly moving wartime narrative. The author’s research was clearly thorough and extensive, and she uses it to recreate those wartime scenes with particular reality, and there were quite a few times when I really felt the fear of being under fire, crawling through the mud, wondering whether I’d live to see another day. She also portrays really well the intense friendships that develop in the face of such threat to life and safety, and every individual character is particularly well-drawn and developed.
On the research front, I will admit I was perhaps less keen on those earlier conversations around the dining table about the developing political situation – a touch heavy for me, although wholly understandable given Rose’s more serious interests and concerns, and her father’s investment in her education. As you might expect, I particularly enjoyed the romance – Delphi’s has quite a few surprises along the way and some real heartbreak, but Rose is the one who always particularly draws the eye and I found myself really invested in the possibility of her future happiness as she wrestled with the choice between the lovely (and very patient) Thom and Michael, the boy she’s known and loved since childhood.
The writing is excellent, with well-developed characterisation and capturing of the social history, the particularly vivid recreation of the wartime scenes, and I found the whole book a compelling read with a strong narrative drive and a fine emotional touch. Yes, I enjoyed this one – a great start to the ongoing series, and an author I’d certainly be very happy to read again.
About the author
Having worked as a head teacher, Ros has been used to writing policy documents, essays and stories to which young children enjoyed listening. Now she has taken up the much greater challenge of writing fiction for adults. She writes both historical sagas and contemporary romance; perfect for lying by a warm summer pool or curling up with on a cosy sofa.
Ros is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, the Historical Novelists’ Society and the Society of Authors.
She lived in France for ten years but has moved back to the UK with her husband and dogs. While there she gained much information which has been of use in her books. Her books are thoroughly and accurately researched.
Ros has two daughters and four grand-daughters with whom she shares many heart-warming activities. She and her husband enjoy ballroom and Latin dancing when she’s not writing, as well as dog walking and, although they have been caught out once or twice, these are not normally practised at the same time.