Sunday Afternoon Reads: "Strawberry Fields" by Katie Flynn

When I hear about the Sallies (or the members of the church of The Salvation Army), I think of food parcels and op-shops - thrift stores for those who don't speak Kiwi. I didn't really know much more about them than that. I picked up a book with two girls in period attire on the front cover, knowing that I love historical fiction. What surprised me about Strawberry Fields was the key role that The Salvation Army played in the story.

Set in early 20th century Britain and Ireland, the story follows a "Crash"-type structure, where seemingly unrelated lives become this interwoven intricate puzzle the further the story progresses. There is Sara Cordwainer, born to privilege and loveless parents; there is her beloved nanny. Brogan and his father work in the railyards, sending money back to their family back in Ireland. There are the Carbery girls who lead lives of hardship and the one who gets away from it all - but will she find out about her past?

Strawberry Fields is the home for children established in the novel by the Salvation Army; it, and the religious denomination, play a key role in most of the characters lives. I love when stories have an overarching motif and I found the explanations of the philosophy of The Salvation Army, plus the description of the work they do in their communities, really interesting. I'm a strong believer that charity starts at home and this ties in with the "Sallies" philosophy.

The novel does come across a bit chick-lit in places but brings enough grit into it that it does make you think. The characters do go through some rough periods but you are still left thinking that some characters, including Sara, do lead a little bit of a charmed life. It's "when things are good, they are very very good, and when they are bad, they are horrid". A good read for under a blanket on a raining, stormy weekend.

3.5 stars out of 5.

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