I'm not normally a lover of feel good summer reads, and I don't tend to pay attention to the displays or the newest releases in this genre, so when I was given this as a gift I wasn't too sure of what to expect. I’m pleased to say that I really, really enjoyed this book, and although summer is drawing to a close, I think most people would absolutely adore reading before autumn kicks in!

Plot: Ashcombe was the most beautiful house Saskia had ever seen as a little girl. A rambling pink cottage on the edge of the Suffolk village of Melbury Green, its enchanting garden provided a fairy-tale playground of seclusion, 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 the broken and battered book 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.

Basic Points:

• The novel is 463 pages long, contains discussion points and an interview with the author at the end.

• It deals with themes of loss and death, but in a very sensitive way that I think every reader would find moving and easy to relate to.

The best way to describe this novel is that reading it was like receiving a massive hug! It’s such a lovely book to read, and I found that it wasn’t something I wanted to rush through or, for that matter, put down. I enjoyed reading chunks of it and then spending the day thinking about it; I was eager to find out what would happen, but I didn’t want the experience to end abruptly either. Erica James does a fantastic job at making everything so realistic that I honestly felt like I was reading an autobiographical account of someone’s life – both through the war diary entries and through Saskia’s narrative.

The novel features a few different perspectives; our primary narrator is Saskia, and a lot of the action takes place at Ashcombe. The cottage is as much a character as anyone else in the story, and it represents safety and sanctuary throughout. We learn in the first chapter that Saskia has lived there for many years with her father and two grandfathers. After a horrible car crash that killed her mother and both grandmothers when Saskia was very young, they all moved into the cottage and made it a delicate home. As I mentioned, The Dandelion Years tackles themes of death, loss and grief, as well as the challenge of moving on, and from the beginning we are aware that despite the loving family environment, Saskia’s grandfathers are concerned that she has held herself back from taking risks and moving on with her life. Now in her 30s, leaving the cottage is the last thing Saskia plans on doing, and it’s interesting to see her develop as a character throughout the novel.

The second perspective the novel adopts is from the war diary. I won’t name the character who writes it because that’s definitely a spoiler, but these extracts are seamlessly integrated and so much fun to read. Erica makes the diary entries so human and accessible, and a large part of the novel is dedicated to telling this man’s story. A lot of Saskia's development happens through the exploration of this diary, and the way it links the characters together is skilful, and nowhere near as predictable as I had originally assumed.

The third main narrative voice is that of Matthew, a young man who essentially inherits the large manor house his mother’s former employer owned, and enlists the help of Saskia’s father to curate the library. I’m not going to spoil anything because I loved all of the little twists and turns the novel takes, but it was really fun to flick between these characters and see inside their minds. Matthew is a nice contrast to Saskia, and his voice acts as a buffer between her and the war diary. He undergoes his own development too, and it's difficult to not enjoy the way his take on events differs from Saskia's.

There wasn’t one person I found to be unrealistic or two-dimensional. It feels like Erica spent a lot of time in developing her characters, and I think it definitely pays off. There were some parts that were a bit repetitive, mainly when Erica is explaining the family connections and feelings towards the tragedy that happened all those years ago, and I do think the contemporary romance bit was a tiny bit rushed in comparison to everything else going on. But to be honest I think that’s more of a mixture between personal preference and me having to really look at something to be a bit picky about rather than anything else!

The last quarter of the novel definitely made me cry, and the ending gave me a permanent smile, which shows that this is such a nice, feel-good book. It’s not horribly twisted or dark, and whilst it deals with some sensitive issues, it’s mainly light-hearted and a pleasure to read. I think it’s a good one to get as a gift because I think it would delight any reader, and I am definitely looking forward to checking out more of Erica James’ work.

Published by Avni Bhagwan