Thursday, 14 August 2014

Two books with with a WW1 theme

This month of August, 2014, is of course the centenary of the outbreak of World War One. I generally try to read something based on WW1 or WW2 in November around Armistice Day but this year I decided to do that themed reading in August for the centenary. So today, two books that involve the Great War, one set during the conflict and the other dealing with the aftermath, eight years later.

First, Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole. This is my book twelve for Peggy's Read Scotland 2014 challenge and my book six for the Postal challenge 2014 which is being hosted by The Indextrious Reader.

Elspeth Dunn is a young poet living on the Isle of Skye. She has had a book of verse published and in 1912 gets her very first fan letter from David Graham, living in Urbana, Illinois, and just a few years younger than herself. She answers and thus begins a corresspondence in which two very different people slowly get to know one another. Both pour out their hopes and dreams, things which they might not tell anyone else, and the two become very close. World War One breaks out and athough the USA is not at first involved, David decides to volunteer as an ambulance driver. Naturally it's extremely dangerous but Elspeth can do nothing to help except keep writing letters and hope fate will keep David alive long enough for them to meet. Some years later, another young woman, Margaret, is struggling to cope with a world war of her own - World War Two. Her mother has been secretive all her life and Margaret has no idea who her father is. She finds a cache of letters and thus begins a quest to find answers to some of the questions her mother refuses to answer.

This is rather a beautiful story told via the letters that Elspeth and David exchange. It works wonderfully and the reader really gets a chance to get to know both of them. Secrets are slowly revealed, some you guess at, others are more surprising. It all feels very personal, and quite traumatic at times as you experience Elspeth's dilemmas, her desperate need to have something in her life other than the Isle of Skye, which she loves but feels is somewhat of a prison, and her intense worry about what's happening to David at the front. The time split between the events and letters of WW1 and WW2 was well handled, I liked the dribs and drabs of information that slowly built a picture from which the reader can start to guess what's going on. It was a very good read, rather compulsive as you turned the pages not wanting to stop until you find out more, so I read it in a couple of days. For me, it only had one slight drawback which made me give it four instead of five stars on Goodreads... and that was the ending. Without giving anything away, I just found one or two explanations and actions hard to credit. But apart from that this really is a very good book, well worth anyone's time.

The second book is not actually set in WW1, it takes place eight years later, but the war is very much a background to this story. It's Anthem for Doomed Youth by Carola Dunn, book 19 in the author's 'Daisy Dalrymple' series. It's also my book 28 for Bev's Mount TBR challenge.

Alec and Daisy are due to spend the weekend in Safron Walden in Essex, at their daughter, Belinda's, school sport's day. Their plans have to be abandoned when three bodies are found buried in Epping Forest and Alec and his junior officers, Tom Tring and Ernie Piper, are called away to investigate. The team have no idea who these three men were, or how they were connected, and investigations lead nowhere. Eventually their identities are discovered, but still no connection until Daisy suggests to Alec that, as one man was a colonel in the army, there might be a WW1 connection. Daisy goes off to the sport's day in Essex along with her friends, Melanie and Sakari and, to all intents and purposes, is away from and out of Alec's investigation. Or so the theory goes. At the school Daisy comes into contact with several of Belinda's teachers. One, a Mr. Harriman, is deeply unpleasant, especially to one teacher who was a conscientious objector during the war, and another who was a war hero. Naturally, Daisy ends up being involved with a case of her own and her and Sakari have to pool all their resources, not only to solve their own case, but also to help Alec with his.

Anthem for Doomed Youth is rather a departure as Daisy Dalrymple books go. Partly because its WW1 theme inevitably makes for a more serious book than previous instalments, but also the storyline tends to concentrate rather more on Alec and his investigation than it does on Daisy. The book certainly doesn't suffer for that, in fact I think it's one of the best in the series. Alec and his team are an interesting bunch, Tom and Ernie have had bit part roles in many of the books so far and it was excellent to have them take centre stage for once. I also really like Daisy's Indian friend, Sakari, with her fascination for Daisy's crime solving and desire to be involved. Carola Dunn has given all these 'extras' very succinct characters and drawn them with a good deal of humour but also human flaws. It's also a departure in that there is not a huge list of suspects in a country house, or other setting, where Daisy has to find out who did the deed. This is much more a story about thorough investigation and a slow discovery of secrets. Sad secrets. Tragic in fact and as always the author handles these issues with a deft and sympathetic hand. I love this long series to bits and Anthem for Doomed Youth is very definitely one of the very best of the lot.

I just want to add one small thing about Anthem for Doomed Youth. On the back of my copy, above the synopsis, there is this sentence: 'Is a deranged killer stalking Daisy through the woods?' The answer to this is 'No'. In no part of this book, 'nowhere', is Daisy in any woods being stalked and in fear of her life and anyone expecting or hoping for that is going to be disappointed. Who on earth writes the blurbs for the backs of these books? Do they even read the book? It's preposterous really and disappointing in publishers who go in for this kind of nonsense.



DesLily said...

hmmm the Letters from Sky sounds pretty good! I'll think about that one lol

Peggy Ann said...

I enjoyed Letters from Skye too Cath!

Cath said...

Pat: I think it's the sort of book most would enjoy, Pat.

Peggy: Yes, I seem to remember seeing on Goodreads how much you liked it. It really is a super book.

Melwyk said...

Glad to see you've discovered Letters from Skye too! Glad you enjoyed this epistolary read :)

Cath said...

Melwyk: I've been seeing the book all over the blogging world and Goodreads so I just had to read it for the epistolary challenge.

Penny O'Neill said...

Wonderful, Cath.
I'm particularly interested in "Letters from Skye"; intrigued by the time periods, the secrets, and the fact that we I've about 200 miles from Urbana. Almost went to college there.

Cath said...

Penny: It was such an absorbing, personal kind of book. What a strange coincidence about Urbana!

TracyK said...

I may have to try Anthem for Doomed Youth. I have read the first book in that series and have some more to try, but I haven't hurried back because maybe too cozy for me. Obviously haven't read enough of them to judge really. I usually like to read in order but the emphasis on Alec sounds good to me.

Cath said...

Tracy: You know, it's funny but I've never thought of Daisy as being 'cosy'. Of course she is... how silly of me... but I'm not really a cosy mystery fan so why I like the Daisy books so much is a mysteryin itself. Anthem for Doomed Youth is rather different though so you may like it better.