Tag Archives: WW1 fiction

LAST CHRISTMAS IN PARIS by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb (2017)

Historical Fiction       World War 1 Fiction

last Paris







Defence of the Realm Act (DORA)  was approved by the British Government four days after the Beginning of World War 1.  It allowed the government to implement a wide range of laws and powers for the purpose of advancing the cause of an allied victory.  DORA allowed the officials to seize private property, control shipping and railroads, and implement measures to restrict food and beverage consumption. Any activities that might jeopardize the security of the nation were banned; flying kites , bonfires, speaking in a foreign language, and whistling among them.  DORA also enabled the government to censor newspapers – and censorship and propaganda are topics explored by the characters in this novel. 

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is another topic that is central to this novel although it was  known as shell shock at the time.  Related to the PTSD subject, is the different consideration given to officers (primarily upper class) vs. enlisted personnel (primarily working class) during this time.

I like to approach all historical fiction as a history lesson by doing some research on the events that occur in the story.  I am not talking about anything intense – no that’s not me going over old records and volumes in some dusty attic – just some background on battles or even real people among the fictional characters.  This novel inspired me to learn a wee bit about the Defense of the Realm Act and now I know something more than I did last week. Yay! In 1984, when I was 25 years old, I spent some time in England and, I will admit, I enjoyed the occasional pint, but the strange hours for opening and closing the pubs baffled me.  These unfamiliar operating hours (closing 3:30p.m. – 6:00p.m. and again 11:00P.M.) were dictated in DORA  to curtail alcohol consumption, and not revised until 1988.

Now to the novel (it’s about time – I know).  The story is told in the epistolary form similar to THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL SOCIETY by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, or LETTERS FROM SKYE by Jessica Brockmole – an exception would be the limited narrative set in 1968.  In the year 1914 a core group of friends are preparing for war, but it’s a war they are sure will be over by Christmas.  Thomas is the dreamer with a love for literature, Will is popular with the ladies, Evie has been schooled since birth for the genteel life of teas and charities, and Alice is the modern woman –  and life is about to change in a big way for all of them.  The letters begin circulating in 1914 while best friends Will and Thomas are still on English soil.  The correspondence continues when the men are stationed in France (often heavily censored) with Evie writing to both Will (her brother) and Thomas (childhood friend and Will’s best buddy).  Evie also writes to her close friend, Alice.  The main characters in this novel are members of the privileged class with Thomas’s family owning a London Newspaper.  The issues of censorship and propaganda are explored when Evie starts writing an article for the newspaper ( my two cents worth believes the pieces were inflammatory  even with my 2017 sensibilities)  Love and loss are amplified by the presence of war but love still manages to blossom through shared words, thoughts, and ideas.  The novel also addresses the devastation caused by the Spanish flu during these years.

An emotional journey of love and loss set during the first World War.

Reporting from war zones is still a subject that creates debate.   It is essential to protect the men and woman who are in vulnerable situations but is it the job of the war correspondent to promote patriotism even if it involves embellishing the truth or omitting facts?

LAST CHRISTMAS IN PARIS      Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb         2017         HarperCollins



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World War 1 Fiction…continued… um, again

 my dearsomewhere rivertonwalnut tree heroNecessity is the mother of invention     …unknown

There is no great loss without some small gain …Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House on The Prairie

MY DEAR, I WANTED TO TELL YOU ..by Louisa Young (The Borough Press, 2012). THE HEROES’ WELCOME….by Louisa Young (The Borough Press, 2014)  These two novels introduce the stories of two very different couples during and after WWI ; we learn how they coped during the war and how they adapted after the war. (both couples are in both novels). These are well researched and informative books.  The nature of war creates change,  advancements and innovations in many areas including aviation, agriculture, armaments, food storage and   medicine. I once read that we can thank the front line WWI nurses for our modern-day feminine napkins after they discovered that the absorbent bandages, distributed to the medical stations , were perfect for their needs. Another area that made huge advances during WWI was Plastic Surgery. The author of this book researched the hospitals and doctors that catered to facial injuries during and after WWI.  She even had a relative who worked with these inventive doctors, by designing plaster casts of the faces. There was a duty to make injured soldiers as ready for the civilian world as possible. On a personal note, when I read I tend to binge-read but that’s probably not the best way to approach these books — they just spend so much time in the characters’ heads. These two novels leave the reader with plenty to think about and would work well in a book club.

SOMEWHERE IN FRANCE..by Jennifer Robson (William Morris Paperbacks, 2013) Romance …A titled young lady defies her parents and trains to be an ambulance driver during WWI . She also has an interest in a hunky young Scotsman, working on the front as a doctor. Decent romance.

THE WALNUT TREE…by Charles Todd (Avon, 2013)  A holiday romance and mystery by the author responsible for the Bess Crawford series (and  Bess even makes a appearance in this book). An aristocratic lady trains as a battlefield nurse and falls in love with a soldier. This is a short book but a rewarding read.

BEREFT…..by Chris Womersley (Scribe Publications, 2010) An Australian man returns to his home town, after serving in WWI , and 10 years after he left because he was accused of a terrible crime.

THE HOUSE AT RIVERTON…….by Kate Morton (Macmillion Pan Books, 2007) In the winter of 1999, Grace Bradley, a former maid at Riverton House, is sharing her memories of working in an English Estate. At 98 years of age, Grace has much to share and she knows all the secrets.  WWI figures prominently in this novel. I like all Kate Morton’s work.

These are just a handful of fiction novels set during or after The Great War.

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World War 1 Fiction…….continued

I still have a handful of WW1 fiction titles that I would like to introduce in my blog before I move away from this topic (for now but not forever) and again I will emphasize that these novels could be set during and/or after the war.

DEAFENING…….by Frances Itani (2003) It has been several years since I read this novel but I think of the story and the characters often. That has to be a sign of a good novel. It is primarily the story of a girl, Grania who becomes deaf at age five after a bout with scarlet fever. She lives in a small town in Canada.  The book addresses her education and her close family ties and much more as she is growing up. Eventually she meets a nice man and they marry but soon after the wedding, World War 1 breaks out and Grania’s dear husband signs up as a stretcher bearer with the Canadian army  and heads to France. I have written about this book in more detail in an earlier posting because this little blurb  could not possible do justice to such a special novel. A wonderful novel that just may send the reader on a rollercoaster of emotions. It was like that for me.

THE CRIMSON ROOMS….by Katharine McMahon (2009)  This is a novel that expertly illustrates that a war isn’t really over simply because the fighting has stopped. Evelyn Gifford is a young woman in her 30’s trying to become a lawyer at a time when women were not expected to be lawyers. She lives in a household of women (mostly relatives) and they are grieving for Evelyns’ brother–his hat still hangs on the hook near the door where he left it on his last leave.  Evelyn has some interesting cases including a war veteran who refuses to defend himself from a murder charge.I really like this novel and I think it tackles some issues that were in the forefront at the time. deafeningcrimson room It is a stand-alone and a mystery.More next blog.

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World War One Fiction set on Scottish Islands.

LETTERS FROM SKYE…..by Jessica Brockmole (Ballantine books, 2013) Wonderful novel told entirely through letters (epistolary style) encouraging comparisons to THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL SOCIETY…by Mary Ann Shaffer.  In the  Spring of 1912 an American college student is lying in bed recovering from a dorm prank gone wrong. A friend gives him a small volume of poetry. On a whim he sends the author (Elspeth) a fan letter, and she replies from her home on the Scottish Island of Skye.  They correspond  back and forth, sharing their dreams and disappointments. I have reviewed this book in greater detail in an earlier posting but I will say that the plot takes them through World War One and beyond. There is also a second narrative involving Elspeth’s daughter and a World War 2 romance. I loved this novel!

THE ROAD DANCE……by John MacKay (Luath Press, 2002). The road dance in the title was an event held to say good-bye to the first boys to leave the Island (Lewis)  for WWI. The author is a Scottish journalist/tv personality who spent his childhood summers on Lewis with his Grandmother. The book is published by a Scottish independent publisher but please do NOT read the back cover…all the major plot points are revealed in the blurb on the back cover. This book is beautifully written and very sad. A quote….”Sending their young men off to war had been a sad ritual for so long for the people of the island, and the dust of many of these boys blew across the historic battlefields of Europe and beyond. Yet again the King had called from far away, and the young bloods had rallied to the cry. And when the steel had clashed and the guns had roared and the victory had been won, those who were left would return home and be forgotten again. The Islanders knew this and yet they always marched.  It was God’s will some said” (page 71)  I have reviewed this book with more detail in a past post.

The sinking of the Iolaire was mentioned in  Peter May’s Lewis Trilogy ( sorry but I can’t remember which book) but one of the characters discovers that he is related to the Iolaire hero and it has a profound effect on his life.


letterroad dance

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World War 1 Mystery Series part 3

Capturewent waterafterlionMy last few blog entries have revolved around mystery series set during (or in the aftermath) of World War 1.  I would like to continue that theme with this post about three mystery series that may be of interest to anyone who appreciates historical mystery fiction of this era. All three of these mystery series take place after the war  but they all incorporate elements of he war, and in some cases the actual answer to the mystery can be found directly in something that happened during the war. All of the novels on this page feature strong, intelligent women as the main characters

Daisy Dalrymple is a character created by Carola Dunn with her first adventure being “DEATH AT WENTWATER COURT” (1994) and then followed by 20 more entries. The reader will learn early in the first novel that Daisy was the privileged child of an Earl but after the war (and because of the war) her circumstances changed dramatically.  Her beloved brother Gervais died during the fighting and was buried somewhere in France. Her father died immediately following the war from the Spanish Flu. The Dalrymple money and estate were entailed and thus it was left to a distant cousin. Daisy’s fiance was a Quaker and a “conscientious objector” but he worked as an ambulance driver near the front and he was also killed. To keep busy (and to make money) Daisy began to write successful magazine articles.  Her stories on the” Grand Old Estates” allowed for her to travel. In the first novel Daisy meets an interesting fellow – DCI Fletcher, himself a widower after his wife died from the Spanish Flu. Oh yeah…..and there’s a murder. These novels, although the subject matter can be intense, tend to be more like a cozy and less gritty than some other series of this era.

The next series is actually one of my favourites during this era–the DANDY GILVER series by Catriona McPherson  with the first entry being “After the Armistice Ball (2005). This  first novel is set among the struggling upper classes, in the aftermath of World War 1. We meet a character named Alex who has just inherited an estate , even though he was a second son. His older brother died in the war. A lot of things just aren’t the way they were meant to be. Dandy and Alex become WORK partners and I just love their witty banter, and the droll insight. They are at their absolute best when their  investigations bring them to areas of Scotland where the superstitions and customs may seem ridiculous but they’re brilliant at separating the chaff from the wheat. And the war does figure directly in some of the entries, for example, they have a case that involved a “conchie”–that would be slang for conscientious objector. In one telling but simple scene, Dandy is talking to a woman about her  own school age sons and, without thinking she asks the woman if she has sons. She realised her mistake immediately as the woman’s face crumpled in on itself.  After the war a person NEVER asked a stranger about their sons. This series has 10 titles.

Jade del Cameron is  another strong female character written by Suzanne Arruda with the first entry of the series called “THE MARK OF THE LION”(2006) Jade was an ambulance driver during WW1 where her pilot boyfriend downed his plane very near to where she was working. His dying wish was for her to travel to Africa and find his illegitimate brother. In truth I found this to be more of an “African Adventure series ” rather than a “WW1” series but an interesting read all the same.

I am very excited about my next blog post–I will be combining two of my favourite elements of fiction.  I love fiction about Scottish Islands, I have written many blogs about this subject in past posts.  And I also love World War 1 fiction so I am going present some Scottish Island fiction set during World War1.



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World War 1 Fiction—–Mystery Series (Part two)

spellerIn World War 1 they called it “shell shock” in Wold War ll they called it “battle fatigue”, and now they refer to it as” PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder)” but whatever the label it was definitely clear after WWI that not all wounds were physical. I bet there were more than a few traumatized soldiers who would have liked to punch Friedrich Nietzsche in the nose — that would be the pinhead who came up with “that which does not kill us makes us stronger”  um, I don’t think so. (actually Nietzsche died in1900) My point is that a lot of men came home from this war at a time when mental problems were considered weaknesses and instead of receiving much needed support they were shunned and stigmatized. Some men left for the war as strong, self-sufficient, family breadwinners—-and returned as broken versions of themselves and a burden to their loved ones. Many of the survivors returned with missing limbs and many had compromised lungs from the  mustard gas. At times it was a sad “welcome home” after 5 years of hell to find no job vacancies. Many of the novels that grace these pages cover some of these atrocities and more. These pages are my tribute to mystery series set  during WW1 and its aftermath. Many of these mysteries have their roots in WW1, even if they are being investigated many years later.

“THE RETURN OF CAPTAIN JOHN EMMETT” by Elizabeth Speller (Houghton, Miffin, Harcourt 2012)  Lawrence Bertram series #1. .  Lawrence Bertram is having difficulty adjusting  to a “normal” life after the war especially since he has recently lost his wife and infant son.  Into his life comes the sister of his childhood  friend asking him to look into her brother’s suicide. His investigation leads him to his old friend’s army buddies and he finds things more complicated than he originally imagined. This is an interesting mystery with a likable main character.  I would like to mention the sad but lovely prologue featuring the wives, mothers, children, sweethearts and relatatives of lost soldiers watching the train carrying “The Unknown Soldier” to his final resting place in London.The crowds were silent or quietly sobbing , each person wondering if that could be my boy!!! The second book in the series is called “The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton” (Houton, Miffin, Harcourt 2013)  In this book Lawrence finds himself in a village that has been totally wiped out of young, able bodied men. So far there are only two books in the series  but Elizabeth Speller released a stand-alone novel about WW1 this year called ‘THE FIRST OF JULY’. (Pegasus, 2014) and this novel is set in the trenches. I will not comment on this novel because I have not read it.

I had hoped to cover more series in this post but I kind of yammered on a bit. I have more so I will release a new post in the next couple of days.  It will be Part 3!

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World War 1 and Mystery Fiction Series

maisie I love mystery series – I suppose that started with Nancy Drew – but I still watch closely to see when my favourite authors are ready to release the next entry in their series. I will stalk them on the internet and the new release section of my library hoping to get near the beginning of the queue. I like to see the characters grow and change and develop and sometimes they even encounter set-backs. (It has just crossed my mind that Nancy Drew is not at all like that – she was always 18, dating Ned Nickerson and palling around with Bess.)

The first series is MAISIE DOBBS …By Jacqueline Winspear (Soho Press, 2003) Maisie is a woman who is easy to admire. She spent many of her early years “in service ” until one day she was caught by the lady of the house using the library.  This transgression might have resulted in immediate dismissal but instead the lady took an interest in Maisie and her informal education had begun.  She went on to a more formal education but at the onset of WW 1 she trained to be a nurse (lying about her age). She saw many years service at the front lines in France. The novel actually begins in 1929 as Maisie is opening her office as an “Inquiry agent and Psychologist” but her cases constantly bring her back to the war and her earlier years are usually recounted as a flashback memory.. She deals with shell-shocked soldiers and many injustices that still stem from the war. She also manages to straddle the world of the upper and lower classes . Personal grief, depression, anxiety are all examined in the books. The Maisie Dobbs books now number 10—-in order MAISIE DOBBS 2003, BIRDS OF A FEATHER 2004, PARDONABLE LIES 2005, MESSENGER OF TRUTH  2006, AN INCOMPLETE REVENGE 2008, AMONG THE MAD 2009, THE MAPPING OF LOVE AND DEATH 2010, A LESSON IN SECRETS 2011, ELEGY FOR EDDIE 2012, LEAVING EVERYTHING MOST LOVED 2013. I highly recommend these novels. In a side note—-Jacqueline Winspear did not write a Maisie Dobbs book this year but instead she came out with s stand-alone (also about WW1) but I didn’t like it. Unfortunately I can not tell you why because it would be a spoiler. But rest assured Jacqueline Winspear fans, it was well reviewed by the REAL press. It is called THE CARE AND MANAGEMENT OF LIES 2014.

Another series I like also features a WWI . nurse.  The books are by Charles Todd and feature a British nurse–Sister Bess Crawford. The first novel begins on Tuesday 21 November, 1916, 8:00 am aboard the HMHS (His Majesty’s Hospital Ship) Britannic. Britannic had been requisitioned as a hospital ship with the onset of WWI and was travelling to collect wounded from Greek Macedonia, Palestine, and Mesopotania. The time and the date are important because 12 minutes later, at 8:12 a.m. an explosion rocked the ship. (Probably a mine)  Fifty five minutes later the Britanic was lost beneath the sea. The Britannic had been the sister ship of the Titanic and many improvements had been undertaken so this ship could avoid the fate of the Titanic. Unfortunately simply human error was probably responsible for the quick sinking; the nurses had opened all the portholes on the fresh and breezy day to air out the chambers. There were adequate lifeboats (unlike the Titanic) and the final death toll was 30 lives. Even these  lives could have been spared but several lifeboats left before the captain called”abandon ship” and they were swept into the propellor. This is a fairly accurate account of the sinking of the Britannic – I know , I researched it–(Okay, okay I googled it)   And then the fiction…..Our heroine Bess is sent home to recover from a broken arm and she uncovers a mystery. I almost did not read this novel because of the author. Charles Todd—-I just had to wonder what a man could know about the emotions of a frontline nurse. Well guess what…Charles Todd is the pen name of a MOTHER and SON writing team.The first book is A DUTY TO THE DEAD 2009, AN IMPARTIAL WITNESS 2010, A BITTER TRUTH 2011, AN UNMARKED GRAVE 2012, A QUESTION OF HONOUR 2013, AN UNWILLING ACCOMPLICE 2014. One of the books deals pretty heavily with that other enemy–the spanish flu.

Charles Todd also writes a series featuring WWl veteran Inspector Ian Rutlege. I have read some good reviews BUT I have not read themduty to the

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World War 1 and Fiction Novels

This year is the 100th anniversary of the beginning of WW 1 and in recognition of that fact I would like to present some of my choices for WW 1 fiction novels. These novels are set during, or in the aftermath of this war. Many would argue that nonfiction would be a greater use of one’s time and provide a more accurate picture of historical events. I can’t argue with that logic, I can only say that I prefer fiction. I like to get to know a character. enter his or her thoughts, follow them through their story, and in the case of a series, I can follow them through many adventures.  I have reviewed many of these books in earlier blogs and I now intend to do more of an overview. I will be including books that are set in the aftermath of the war because the repercussions of WW1 were enormous. In Great Britain a good portion of a generation of young men were wiped out, and in consequence, women found themselves with more options in the workplace. Until then women had few choices; they were wives(and mothers), they were “in service”  or they joined a religious order (with exceptions, of course) But so many of the men were gone, and women had gained experience in the workforce. There was change. It might also be said that WW 1 Caused a blurring of class lines. More change!

My next blog will feature some of my favourite authors and their WW 1 series.

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LETTERS FROM SKYE…..by Jessica Brockmole (Ballantine books, 2013)


In the spring of 1912 an American college student is recovering in a hospital bed after he was injured during a dormitory prank gone wrong. A friend gives him a small volume of poetry  and on a whim he sends the author (Elspeth)a fan letter. Within a month the lady poet writes him a letter describing the excitement his letter generated in the small post office near her croft on the Island of Skye in Scotland. Her first fan letter . They correspond back and forth  as they share their dreams and disappointments until one day he reveals his plans to visit the U.K. and he asks her to meet him. There are  problems; she has never left her island (she has a crippling fear of water), and she is a married woman. This narrative continues throughout WWl.

The novel has a second narrative which begins in 1940 as Elspeth’s daughter Margaret has fallen for a R.A.F. pilot.  Margaret is confused over Elspeth’s reluctance to see her daughter marry during war-time.

This entire novel is told through letters and it is not surprising that it is constantly being compared to “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society” by Mary Anne Schaffer.  My library website offers space for people to comment on books that they have read and EVERYONE made that comparison with this novel. I recently read that the epistolary narrative was extremely popular in the 18th century and then its popularity declined. Perhaps it is coming back.

The title kind of gives it away but the main character was born and raised on a remote area of Skye. We see a little of the Island life –her father and brothers are fishermen and she discusses the beauty of her island and the work involved in a croft but I would say that this novel is not centered on island life BUT it still gets to be in my Scottish Island series!!!

I enjoyed this book and found it quick to read.


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THE ROAD DANCE …….by John MacKay (Luath Press, 2002)


“The Road Dance” is the first of three novels written by Scottish journalist/t.v. broadcaster John Mackay and published by Luath Press; an independent book publisher based in Scotland.

“John MacKay was born in Glasgow of Hebridean parents. His childhood summers were spent at his Grandmother’s home in Carloway on the Isle of Lewis. The Road Dance draws heavily on the influences of that background” (quote from insert in The Road Dance).

The first thing I want to say about this book is that it is beautifully written but very sad. Tragic. I would not want to read it if I were feeling melancholy. The novel begins at the onset of World War 1 which ,of course,was a very difficult time in the world’s history. The road dance in the title was an event held to say good-bye to the first boys  to leave the island (Lewis) for the war. (wasn’t it all supposed to be over by Christmas?)  Island life was already difficult and their departure added weight to an already heavy burden.

  A quote from this novel….”This community had suffered tragedy more than most. Death hovered in the wind; it rode the waves that smashed the rocks and seeped through the earth to ruin the crops.  It stalked the young and the old.  Its visits were accepted with a fortitude built on the faith that each soul would find peace  at the feet of the Lord for time everlasting.” (p. 83)  This speaks of the great strength and resilience of the islanders but I had trouble dealing with all the sadness. Be prepared to weep.  This novel succeeds in extracting the raw emotions of the reader but this reader was just overwhelmed. I think I am trying to say that the problem (if it can be called that) is probably with this reader and not the novel.

A little advice……DO NOT READ THE BACK COVER.  If that seems as though I am yelling than good…because I am!  Almost all the major plot points in this novel are revealed in the blurb on the back cover. Why????

I have read the author’s other two novels and I hope to discuss them in future blogs (Definitely not as sad)

HEARTLAND  by John MacKay       (Luath Press, 2004)

LAST OF THE LINE  by John Mackay   (Luath Press, 2006)

I have decided to add another quote from this book because it is so revealing; “Sending their young men off to war had been a sad ritual for so long for the people of the island, and the dust of many of these boys blew across the historic battlefields of Europe and beyond. Yet again the King had called from far away, and the young bloods had rallied to the cry.  And when the steel had clashed and the guns had roared and the victory had been won, those who were left would return home to be forgotten again. The Islanders knew this and yet they always marched.  It was God’s will some said” (page 71)

All this gut-wrenching emotion and the H.M.S Iolaire is not even mentioned until the second book.

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