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Blue girl

Two books 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 book 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.


Blimey - presumably someone glanced at the cover of the Daisy Dalrymple book, perhaps saw that it was a murder mystery and thought rightio... How bizarre!

I'm not actually a big fan of epistolary fiction, but you do make the Skye book sound worth reading - and if nothing else I'd love to read something set on Skye, having been there not long ago.

Nice idea, too, to read WWI stories in honour - I wish I'd thought to do that (not that August is over, of course). It seems so strange that it was 100 years ago though - perhaps because I do read so much around that period in general, and taught about it for so long, it just doesn't seem that long ago...
I think they must've done. The cover's all wrong too, to be honest. She's never in Epping Forest. It's a real shame as it's a thoughtful, decent story that treats the subject of what happened to soldiers returning from the war with a great deal of sensitivity. And they go and do that to it. *Sigh*

I quite like a bit of epistolary fiction. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer is not bad if you ever see it in the library, that one's about WW2 on Guernsey. Actually I can lend it to you if ever you feel like reading it. Hoping to go to Skye 'one day'.

It doesn't feel that long does it, I quite agree. Yes, I think it probably is because we read around that period a fair bit. I didn't know you taught that period.

D'you know I keep glancing at the Schaffer book, and never quite picking it up, so yes, perhaps when I'm a bit further out west... *g*

I "only" taught it up to GCSE level, but yes, it was quite the thing. I took school trips over to France and Belgium too, way back when, and it was so... not good, not nice, but... to see how the kids reacted when we visited the cemeteries and the battlefields. I was so proud of one group of girls - we visited one of the German cemeteries, which was looked after by a sole, elderly German man who began muttering darkly when we all descended from the coach. After a little while the girls plucked up their courage and asked him a question in their high school German, and he absolutely opened up to them, and was so friendly after that, showing them around. We even got a smile as we left... They said he seemed so pleased to be asked... (Sorry - distracted by memories!)
The Schaffer book might be one you'd like and it's a quickish read too. And interesting.

Don't be sorry, brilliant story about taking the girls to a German cemetary. Stupidly, I hadn't thought there might be German cemetaries in France and Belgium. Of course there would be...