The Penny Bangle is the last in a trilogy of books following the lives and loves of various members of the Denham family. It's a series I've thoroughly enjoyed reading and a family who I'm sorry to have to leave behind, no matter how fitting an end The Penny Bangle is to the series.
In The Penny Bangle, it's the turn of Alex and Rose Denham's twin sons, Robert and Stephen, to take centre stage. It's 1942 and both men are home, recovering from injuries they suffered at Dunkirk. Into their lives comes nineteen-year-old Cassie Taylor, newly arrived from Birmingham after her granny sent her away to the country where she thought she'd be safer, and very reluctantly about to be the new land girl tasked with helping out on their parents' farm.
As Stephen and especially Robert are to find, Cassie is an exceptionally endearing character. From the opening scene, where she drops her underwear on a station platform, I couldn't help but root for the pretty, sparrow-like city girl who (literally!) mucks in and makes a go of being a farmhand. She's plucky, friendly, hard-working and sweet-natured.
Robert and Stephen may be twins but their characters are as different as their attitudes towards Cassie when they first meet and get to know her. They're both interesting men, affected in their own way by the war and events in their family and they both vied for my attention at different points in the book.
Apart from the wonderfully-realised characters, one of the things I loved about the book, and indeed all the books in this trilogy, is how much I've come to learn about what people's lives and careers were really like in the periods they cover. The Penny Bangle may have romance at its heart but there is so much more to it than that. The novel gives a fascinating insight into living through the Second World War for those in a city like Birmingham, or as someone working as a land girl on a farm in Dorset or joining the forces, training and working as a driver and then being posted overseas as part of the war effort. It's a book rich in period detail without it ever getting in the way of the characters and their stories, and ultimately it was those compelling characters and their stories who kept making me reach for the book until I closed it - and the series - with a satisfied sigh.