"A Christmas Gift" by Ruby Jackson, a Scottish writer living in Angus, is the third in the author's excellent series of books dealing with the lives and experiences of four friends during the Second World War. Grace, Sally, and twins Daisy and Rose have grown up together in Dartford in Kent. Each finds their own way of dealing with the dramatically changed and changing world around them. Daisy pursues her dreams of becoming a pilot, while Rosie goes to work in a munitions factory. The second book in the series, "Wave me Goodbye" followed Grace, who joined the Women's Land Army as a way of escaping an unhappy home life with her uncaring sister, and a hopeless love life.
In "A Christmas Gift" we follow the story of Sally, who gives up the chance to go to university to pursue a career in acting. But things don't get off to the best of starts. On her first day Sally arrives to find the school 'Closed for the duration', yet another casualty of war. But all is not lost. On the recommendation of Oliver Dantry, whose stage school she was to attend, Sally is taken on by Dartford Rep as an apprentice. She has to learn her trade the hard way, working as a member of ENSA entertaining the troops. Despite personal setbacks, such as when her home is destroyed during an air raid with the loss of all her possessions, Sally learns to adapt and makes friends. We meet the well-bred Sebastian who gives her a roof over her head, the cast and crew of the company who take her under their wing, and Millie, an accomplished ballerina who is struggling to come to terms with the death of her husband, but from whom she learns to make her way in the theatre and to cope with life away from home in wartime.
There is also a second strand to Sally's story: her chance meeting with the handsome Jon. In looking for something to wear for a night out, she chances upon a velvet cloak in a second hand shop and buys it. In the lining she finds an expensive ring and her quest to find the owner leads her to Jon, who insists she should keep it. But, Sally has never owned anything so precious and feels uncertain that she should. As both pursue their separate careers, they never forget one another, but the war contrives to keep them apart. Jon is thought lost at sea and Sally mourns him whilst all the time hoping against hope he will return. Does this beautifully written book have a happy ending? You will have to read it to see!