Friday, 18 July 2014

Guest Book Review: Terri Nixon - A Rose in Flanders Fields

Reviewed by Clodagh Phelan

Driving an ambulance through the mud in Flanders, aristocrat Evie Creswell is a long way from home. At Oaklands Manor all she had been expected to do was to look pretty and make a good marriage. But with the arrival of World War One everything changed…

And Evie, to the horror of her family, does not choose a husband from her blue-blooded set; instead she weds artist Will Davies, who works as a butcher’s apprentice. Soon she is struggling nightly to transport the wounded to hospital, avoiding the shells and gas attacks – her privileged home life, and her family’s disappointment at her marriage, a lifetime away.

And while Evie drives an ambulance in Belgium, Will is in the trenches in France. He withdraws from her, the trauma of his experience taking hold. Evie has the courage to deal with her war work, but it breaks her heart to think she is losing Will’s love. Can their marriage survive this terrible war? That is, if they both get out alive…

Amazon Link: Kindle

I'd like to thank Clodagh for offering to do a guest review of A Rose in Flanders Fields for me as part of this feature week.  

A love affair across the social divide. The horrors of the trenches in the First World War. A stolen diamond, a false imprisonment and terrible secrets. Misunderstandings, reconciliations and unrequited love. A cowardly attack on a lonely Flanders road with its devastating consequences and a final heroic dash across no man’s land. These are just some of the elements in this absorbing story.

While A Rose in Flanders Fields is billed as the second part of the Oaklands Manor Trilogy, you don’t need to worry if you haven’t read the first one. This book stands alone and is enjoyable in its own right. There is no clunky attempt to explain earlier events, which can slow the reader down. This doesn’t happen here – indeed it is perhaps the opposite. The action moves at such a fast pace it carries you with it all the way. 

Evangeline Creswell – Evie - is an aristocratic young lady who has defied her mother and opted to drive an ambulance in Flanders. This is where we first find her, axle deep in mud, ferrying the wounded to the casualty clearing station in her battered, old ambulance, Gertie. By her side is Kitty, the new girl. It is 1917 and they are in the thick of the war to end all wars. The scene is set. We now flash back to the year 2011, to Oaklands Manor where we meet a younger Evie. 

Headstrong, courageous and independent, Evie is incapable of sitting around being pretty and accepting one of the suitors her mother lines up for her. Instead she falls for Will Davies, a skilled wood sculptor who is apprenticed to the local butcher. As we follow their love story, in rural England and through the terrors of bombing and gas attacks, we also travel back in time. There is fascinating detail about life on both sides of the social divide, about the early days of women’s’ suffrage, about the way ambulance units were organised in World War 1 and many more fascinating details. 

However, while this is the background to the story it never gets in the way and serves always to enrich the action and deepen our knowledge of the characters. Evie and Will, of course. Their love affair with its highs and lows is the essential thread running through the story. Boxy and Kitty, young, innocent and brave – risking their lives to help the wounded. The mysterious Uncle Jack, who harbours a devastating secret. Lizzie, the scullery maid who wins his heart and becomes like a sister to Evie. Archie, his nephew, ever ready to spring to the rescue. 

Exciting and poignant by turns, with both laughter and tears, A Rose in Flanders Fields will grip you from the first page to the last. I can’t count how many times I came to an end of a chapter thinking, I really need to stop now, only to find myself deep in the next one. As you follow the story of Will and Evie you’ll find yourself holding your breath, willing for it all to come right in the end. To discover whether or not it does, you just have to read the book. You won’t be disappointed.

©Clodagh Phelan 
July 2014

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