Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Shelter – Sarah Franklin

Historical Fiction

It’s springtime 1944 and two lonely people find themselves in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, both have already suffered during the war years and now, amongst the closed community of Foresters, they learn new skills while they face the next hurdle in their journey of life.

I knew as soon as I heard about this book that I wanted to read it because it is set in the Forest of Dean, the place where I grew up and in the World War II time period which is of huge interest to me, especially when it focusses on the changing role of women. Sarah Franklin surpassed my expectations weaving a story about a Lumberjill alongside that of an Italian POW.

Connie Granger hails from Coventry until the war her life was going along predictable lines, but this is a young woman who wanted more than working in the factory until she met a man and got married. Connie wants to see the world and when the Americans come to the UK there is nothing she likes more than to don her pretty dress and dance with them. Maybe one of these young men could be her ticket to seeing more than Coventry, more than helping her mother out with her younger siblings and more than the life she sees stretching before her on a path strewn with a generation of expectations. Connie veers off the path and has joined the Timbre Corps and has been sent to the Forest of Dean for her training.

The true woman finds her greatest joy in life in building up a ‘happy home for her husband and children’.
Advertisement, Dean Forest Mercury, 7th April 1944

Nearby Seppe is contemplating his fate in a truck transporting him to the POW camp at the top of a hill. Seppe carves wood, he is good with his hands and he’s relieved he has been captured. This was one young man who was fighting a war that he doesn’t believe in but that just means he also feels apart from many of his fellow prisoners some of whom hail from the same small town he does, a place where his father doesn’t just rule his family with a sharp tongue and an even worse bite; a whole community reveres the man.

So our two main protagonists have had a tough time with the causes not just created by the war when they are put to work in the Forest to clear the timber to keep up with the quotas demanded by the Ministry of War and we witness the struggle as Seppe and Connie make life-changing decisions

The strength in this book is not just the accurate portrayal of a community one that even when I lived their in the 80s was distinctly separate from those that surround it, at a time when for those living there leaving the Forest was a big deal, but also in the brilliant characters Sarah Franklin has created. Every character is special, these lifelike people take in not just Connie and Seppe, but the whole supporting cast from Amos whose house Connie lives in, a house where she sleeps in his son’s bed while Billy is off fighting his ow war, to Joyce the next door neighbour who has a heart of gold but is no pushover, all are real people with characteristics that reminded me of the older generation of Foresters that I grew up amongst. They also give depth to a story that is both emotional and yet speaks of a generation for whom duty was threaded through their bodies despite what their hearts yearned for.

With letters home from Billy and excerpts from the paper lightly scattered in between the, at times, heart-wrenching story, there was simply so much to savour and enjoy in this historical novel.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to Bonnier Zaffre for an ARC of this wonderful tale that took me back to my roots (pun fully intended) and to Sarah Franklin who made me almost homesick for a place that I detested as I grew up amongst the trees and the customs. You made me recall the inevitable Dean Forest Mercury which confirmed just how little in the way of excitement was to be had and yet now, with older and wiser eyes I see the comfort in a world that was almost untouched by events outside it while the community within protected each other.

First Published UK: 27 July 2017
Publisher: Bonnier Zaffre
No of Pages: 432
Genre: Historical Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US


A book lover who clearly has issues as obsessed with crime despite leading a respectable life

25 thoughts on “Shelter – Sarah Franklin

  1. A beautiful and touching review, both the story and the revival of your own relationship with the area, it seems to have added a newfound later if appreciation, literature is so great when it does that, allows us to see through other perspectives, other times, other lives. Love the cover too, so inviting to want to read it!


    1. You are so right Claire – I couldn’t wait to escape and because of that have perhaps harboured a grudge but this book did make me realise the good aspects and allowed me to look back with fondness – so powerful when something ‘clicks’ when reading a book.


  2. Definitely one for the TBR list! I’m intrigued by WW2 settings at the moment having been researching it recently and with such an enthusiastic review, what’s not to like! 😀
    I know the Forest of Dean having stayed on a campsite there when I was about 12 and then more recently a few years ago. We really enjoyed the trip and it’s on our list to go back again.
    Thanks for the link to your interview with Sarah Franklin, Cathy. I shall go and take a look!


    1. Thank you Wendy – it is great and there are so many different aspects to WWII – this is nice because it isn’t set in the Blitz but looks at the roles of women and the POWs
      I have only been on fleeting visits since I left and this book did make me appreciate the parts that frustrated me when I was in my teens.


    1. It was odd because the characters could have been some of the older generation neighbours in fact our next door neighbour was called Ern so when a character with that name appeared early on it felt ‘right’ The Forest didn’t change much which was partly what I disliked as a teenager but as you get older you appreciate the traditions and steadiness a bit more.


  3. Isn’t that a special feeling, Cleo, when a book is set in a place you know well, and does an effective job with it? I really like when that happens. And the story sounds interesting, too. There’s something about that WWII/post-war time, isn’t there?


  4. Isn’t it lovely when you find the perfect book that delivers a really personal connection? I’m so glad Shelter did that for you. It sounds like a great historical fiction.


  5. Great review, and I’m so taken by the word Lumberjill that I actually want to be one now! Were there lumberjills when you lived there, or did they only happen because of the war? It’s odd how we come to value the traditions we hated when we were young – I often think I’ve turned into the very person my 21-year-old self would have mocked mercilessly…


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