22/02/2016

The Dandelion Years (by Erica James)

I’ve enjoyed books by Erica James for around seventeen years now, ever since my husband bought me a couple of them thinking - correctly - that they were my kind of book. I put her latest book on my wishlist last year, then spotted it inexpensively in the ‘bargain basement’ at the AwesomeBooks site when I was making an order.

So I’ve just spent the last week reading ‘The Dandelion Years’. It’s quite a long book, almost 400 pages, and if I’d limited myself to my usual 10-20 minutes at bedtime, I would barely be half-way through. But yesterday I spent several hours reading; it became almost compulsive, and I finished it at breakfast this morning.

There are two intermingled stories in this book. The present-day one is about an unusual family: two grandfathers, one father, and a twenty-something daughter called Saskia. This household suffered a terrible tragedy when Saskia was a child and it’s drawn them closer together. Saskia and her father work in book restoration and sales, specialising in volumes from old houses.

Matthew has just inherited an old house from someone his mother used to work for, and invites Saskia’s father to inspect and value the immense library that his benefactor collected over the decades.

The other story takes place in the 1940s, in an old diary that Saskia discovers. It’s a love story, featuring two people who worked for the intelligence service during World War II. There’s a link between this diary and the main part of the story, one I suspected almost immediately and which was confirmed quite quickly. There are other links, too, which are more tenuous, and the whole is cleverly crafted together, the two subplots mingling well.

As with most of Erica James’ novels, this is primarily character-based. This mostly works well, although I found myself a bit confused in the early chapters, with quite a significant number of main characters; I also had a hard time distinguishing Saskia’s two grandfathers, even though they had quite different roles and personalities.

But although some characters seemed very similar and (at times) difficult to tell apart, it didn’t really matter. As I got into the book I found myself identifying quite strongly with Saskia, if not so much with the people in the other storyline.

There are one or two shocks in the story, which is perhaps a little darker than some of the author’s other books; it’s also rather deeper and with more to think about. On the whole I enjoyed it very much. Definitely recommended if you like this kind of women's fiction.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's Book Reviews

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