Now an adult, Saskia is still living at Ashcombe and as a book restorer devotes her days tending to the broken, battered books that find their way to her, daydreaming about the people who had once turned their pages. When she discovers a notebook carefully concealed in an old Bible - and realising 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.."
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It's been a few years since I have read one of Erica James' novels. I can't tell you exactly why that is, but I am really pleased that I decided to read The Dandelion Years - it's one of those unexpected gems that you know you won't forget in a hurry, and will be keen to revisit in the years to come. I was drawn to the colourful cover, the idea of a wartime love story and also the fact I had read a few other favourable reviews from other bloggers, so I decided I must try it. Luckily, it definitely didn't disappoint, and is already up there as one of my favourite reads of 2015.
Saskia lives with her father Ralph and her 2 grandfathers Oliver and Harvey at their home, Ashcombe. They have all lived together since Saskia was a young child, and a horrible accident befell her mother and both grandmothers. She's been raised by the three men, and is unkeen to leave the place she has called home for pretty much all of her life. Her job as a book restorer has leant itself to some interesting discoveries, but none more so than a notebook in an old Bible - a tale of wartime love during the Second World War, and Saskia is determined to find the notebook's rightful owners. If only it would so easy to mend Saskia's heart as it is to mend the old books that come into her hands...
I am a massive history buff, having studied it at GCSE, A Level and degree level has certainly made me want to read more historical fiction than I get time to do. I prefer things set during the first or second world wars, my main interest area, so when I heard about this book and it's wartime love story, I knew it would be one I just had to read. The book alternates between the story of Saskia in the present day, and the story of the young wartime lovers. The wartime story takes place at Bletchley Park, where Jacob, the male lead in the story, worked as a cryptanalyst, deciphering German messages, which was of course Top Secret work. There he meets and falls in love with Kitty, although their story is not destined to run smoothly. I was completely taken by their story, overcoming the constant prejudice Jacob faced, as well as the pressure of their jobs at Bletchley Park. There have been lots of books and films, such as Enigma, written about the codebreaking of World War Two, and while this was of course an important part of Jacob as a person, the real story here was his romance with Kitty.
Back to the modern story of Saskia - I really did love this story. Saskia is hugely indebted to her father and grandfathers for raising her, and isn't at all keen to spread her wings and fly the nest, even though all 3 men acknowledge this is just what Saskia needs. She quickly becomes consumed with Jacob's story, and even when new romantic interests appear in her life, Saskia is too uncertain to take things further, afraid to upset the balance at home and leave her relatives without her. It was touching how respectful she was to them, how much they clearly loved each other and kept the house working, balancing the chores with working between them, a perhaps odd set-up but it worked for them. As the book progresses, and Jacob's story too, I was hoping Saskia would open her heart up to someone, to start a life for herself away from Ashcombe, but at the same time I could understand her loyalty to Ralph, Oliver and Harvey - the relationship between the four was so beautifully written.
Erica James' writing throughout this book was brilliant, and it was one of those novels where I just couldn't put it down once I had started. I was in love with both Saskia's story, and even more so with Jacob and Kitty's. Both took many twists and turns along the way, leaving me heartbroken in parts, happy in others, and a few scenes certainly made me cry, I'm not ashamed to admit. There may have been decades between Saskia and Jacob's stories, but the moral of love, family and happiness runs deeply throughout both of them. I loved every page of this book, from start to finish, and didn't want Jacob's story to ever end. Definitely my favourite of Erica James' books I have ever read, I can't recommend this one highly enough.