Today’s review is for a book chosen for my U3A reading group, The Dandelion Years by Erica James. I’m delighted that, because I’ve given up blog tours and author features for April in my AWOL in April month I’ve actually had time to read the book in advance of the group meeting – I don’t always manage that!
I’m thrilled that I’ll be having lunch with Erica James in the near future at the first ever Deepings Literary Festival that I previously blogged about here.
The Dandelion Years is published by Orion and is available for purchase here.
The Dandelion Years
‘Someone had made a perfect job of creating a place in which to hide a notebook . . . there was no address, only a date: September 1943 . . .’
Ashcombe was the most beautiful house Saskia had ever seen as a little girl. A rambling cottage on the edge of a Suffolk village, it provided a perfect sanctuary to hide from the tragedy which shattered her childhood.
Now an adult, Saskia is still living at Ashcombe and as a book restorer devotes her days tending to broken and battered books, daydreaming about the people who had once turned their pages. When she discovers a hidden notebook – and realises someone has gone to a great deal of trouble to hide a story of their own – Saskia finds herself drawn into a heart-rending tale of wartime love.
My Review of The Dandelion Years
32 year old Saskia lives with her father and two grand fathers following the death of her mother and grandmothers in a car crash ten years previously.
Initially I didn’t warm to The Dandelion Years as it felt slightly slow in comparison with other books I’ve read recently, but the more I read, the more I enjoyed it, until I was completely absorbed in the story and really entertained by it.
I laughed aloud at one point when Bill Nighy is mentioned because the reading group for which I was reading The Dandelion Years always tries to find a role for Bill Nighy as one of the characters in a fantasy film version of the book. This time he matched Ralph perfectly.
Indeed, the characters felt warm and human, especially Saskia and Jacob. What I found appealing was the fact that these are not idealised individuals, but flawed and difficult people who do not always behave as they should. This made them feel much more realistic to me. I came away feeling Erica James has an incisive understanding of human nature.
I really enjoyed the literary references and in particular the conceit of a book within a book that the diary presents. There’s also a smashing sense of place in both Bletchley and Suffolk so that I found the writing quite vivid. I thought the creation of 1940s England, with its war time deprivations, the class divide and sense of making the most of life was well depicted, particularly through the direct speech contained within those parts of the book.
Most of all, however, I found the themes in The Dandelion Years resonated thoroughly for me so that by the end of the story I felt quite emotional. Trust and relationships, and the need to make the most of life, are comprehensively explored, but it was the image of grief I found most affecting after similar experiences in my own life quite recently.
I went from feeling quite indifferent to The Dandelion Years to thoroughly enjoying it and being glad I had read it as it felt mature, well written and accomplished. It left me feeling positive and hopeful and I heartily recommend it.
About Erica James
With an insatiable appetite for other people’s business, Erica James will readily strike up conversation with strangers in the hope of unearthing a useful gem for her writing. She finds it the best way to write authentic characters for her novels, although her two grown-up sons claim they will never recover from a childhood spent in a perpetual state of embarrassment at their mother’s compulsion.
The author of many bestselling novels, including Gardens of Delight, which won the Romantic Novel of the Year Award, and her Sunday Times top ten bestsellers, Summer At The Lake and The Dandelion Years, Erica now divides her time between Suffolk and Lake Como in Italy, where she strikes up conversation with unsuspecting Italians.