Sometimes a glimpse into the past can help make sense of the future…
Everyone thinks Lexi is crazy when she falls in love with Hollingsworth House – a crumbling old Georgian mansion in Yorkshire – and nobody more so than her husband, Dylan. But there’s something very special about the place, and Lexi can sense it.
Whilst exploring the grounds she stumbles across an old diary and, within its pages, she meets Allie – an Australian nurse working in France during the First World War.
Lexi finally realises her dream of buying Hollingsworth but her obsession with the house leaves her marriage in tatters. In the lonely nights that follow, Allie’s diary becomes Lexi’s companion, comforting her in moments of darkness and pain. And as Lexi reads, the nurse’s scandalous connection to the house is revealed…
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Previous to reading Where Dragonflies Hover I had never read anything nor heard of Annmarie Brear. Yet Annmarie seems to have quite a back catalogue and I think she would be an author whose previous books I would like to go back and read at some stage. When Sharon pointed out this book to me and I then read the blurb, I had a feeling it would appeal to me as it mixed the present with the historical element featuring World War One. It also had the added bonus of featuring a diary which would help the story from days gone by unfold.
The story opens with an old woman sitting outside in the garden of a once grand house now used for convalescence and for those nearing the end of their lives. The woman Alexandra Jamieson is in a reflective mood as she urgently tries to get all her thoughts, opinions and memories down on paper in the form of a diary looking back at all that she has experienced. All that she has loved and lost. Allie knows her time is not long and she wishes someone in the future may find her diary and read it so she will not be forgotten nor will the greatest love of her life become lost in history. Hers was a love that may have been wrong, frowned upon and forbidden but despite its secretiveness it was a love and desire that helped her through good times and bad. To Allie it felt right as if they were always meant to be together to survive all the war threw at them to emerge stronger and more compassionate on the other side. 'When you fall in love you aren't in control. Love controls you'.
Now almost sixty years later Lexi O'Connor is a young woman driven by her career as a solicitor and up until now she has been happily married to Dylan. But slowly there is a feeling of unrest creeping into many aspects of her life. She feels old, worn and empty which should not be the case for a young , vibrant woman doing well in her career. She feels Dylan is drawing away from her, becoming ever more obsessed with his own career as an oncologist. The lines of communication are beginning to close and the love they once had for each other seems to be decreasing not gaining in strength as it should be. When Dylan cancels a birthday dinner Lexi had so carefully planned she starts to wonder is this the beginning of the end? Driving past an old grand house for sale, Lexi can't resist driving up its long driveway for a glimpse of a house which has caught her eye and heart for quite some time. 'Every time she passed by the rusted gates of this old house, she experienced something emotional and today being overly sensitive, was no different'. She wishes she could buy it but the price range and her issues with Dylan are ever present niggling away in the back of her mind. Would it be the final nail in her marriage if she went behind her husbands back and fulfilled her dream of owning the house despite it being a moneypit? Lexi's inquisitive nature leads her to explore the area and gardens surrounding the house and in an abandoned boat shed she discovers a toolbox and carefully hidden in it is an old diary. The diary belongs to Allie and when Lexi begins to read the story she is taken back in time to uncover a love story where the power of love shone through. Lexi wonders can the same happen with her marriage and just why was she meant to find the diary at this point in time considering it has remained hidden for numerous years?
The story slips nicely between the present and the past as we learn more about Allie and her experiences nursing in France during the war. What I really liked about this angle to the book even thought it may sound strange to say so was the fact that the author never shied away from the brutal realities of the time. The descriptions were so real and vivid like you were almost there on the ground in the field hospitals as the few staff battled to do their best in the most extraordinary of circumstances. The descriptions of this time made the book come to life and we could see how Allie struggled to cope with what was ongoing around her but yet at the same time she was attempting to maintain a strong front to get her through each day and hour. It was a time of constant pressure and stress as they battled filth and unimaginable horror to operate in conditions beyond descriptin. When an army officer Daniel Hollingsworth is brought in Allie's life changes for ever and here the power of love shone through. The author showed very well how love could conquer all and I became ever more engrossed in the sections of the book from Allie's point of view. I found myself wanting to return more to the past as the scenes were filled with tension and apprehension as to what was to come. It was like everything was on a knife edge and one little slip would see Allie's small bit of happiness gone forever. Allie was a remarkable woman and a character you would not forget in a hurry for her courage, strength and determination. I hoped these aspects of Allie's personality coming through in the form of the diary would help Lexi and the internal struggles she faced so many years later.
I'll admit I did connect with Allie's story more so than Lexi's even though it was set in the years of World War One. Maybe that was the part of me that enjoys history so much coming through. Lexi's story was good and would have been perfect for a novel all of it's own without Allie but the diary is what brought the pair together across time. Lexi really was in a quandary about where her life should go and with the house calling to her she feels she can't do anything except buy it even if it meant going against her husband's wishes. Sometimes the head rules over the heart despite the consequences such a decision will entail. I didn't find Lexi as strong as Allie .She was a nice enough character but I didn't connect with her in the way I was supposed to even though her story was interesting enough. The emotional aspect didn't hit me where it matters. Her colleagues in her law firm were briefly mentioned throughout and I did think Carla's storyline came out of nowhere and didn't really have a place in the story. It just seemed to be put in there for the sake of it and didn't mesh well considering the historical aspects of the book. Having said all that I was interested to see how everything would play out with Lexi and the house and her husband and would reading Allie's diary give Lexi some sort of advice or the confidence to resolve her own issues?
Overall Where Dragonflies Hover was a lovely story and a nice easy read despite the subject matter regarding Allie and her experiences. My only fault with the story was I felt the past and present story lines didn't gel all that well together. Each was interesting in their own right and would both have made two fine separate novels but they never seemed to unite that well. I understand the diary was the key connecting the past to the present but I needed a hint of mystery or for Lexi to become involved in a search or something just to add that extra element to the story. But that is my opinion and a minor fault and other readers may not feel that way at all. That said the book was a great escape for a couple of hours in a week where I certainly needed time away from everything going on,
Many thanks to Choc Lit for my copy of Where Dragonflies Hover to review via NetGalley and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.