The Dandelion Years, by Erica James

Ashcombe – a rambling pink cottage with an enchanting garden – provides Saskia with a fairy-tale playground of seclusion as a child, a perfect sanctuary to hide from the tragedy that shattered her childhood. Now an adult, Saskia is still living at Ashcombe and as a book restorer devotes her days tending to the broken, battered books that find their way to her.

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.

While the story sounded promising, it took a long time for me to get invested in it. The characters weren’t relatable and everything seemed a little too set up and perfect. Put aside the saccharine sweetness of the story and eventually you will be rewarded with a bittersweet tale.

The Dandelion Years flicks between the secret notebooks and Saskia in the present day. Unlike some novels, it was easy to notice the time shift and follow along as one is written in first person while the other is in third.

The story hidden in the notebook is a beautiful yet heartbreaking story of Jacob and Kitty during World War Two and their time in Bletchley Park. Their abrupt and devastating ending is a tearjerker that will wallop your senses. It was with a heavy heart that I kept reading the book after their story had ended.

The other bright sparks in the story besides Jacob and Kitty are Saskia’s grandfathers. Harvey and Oliver are sassy, hilarious and the kind of grandfathers that you want in your life. More time should have been devoted to them and their relationship with their granddaughter and how they navigated the tragic loss of their wives.

On the other hand, the story of Saskia and Matthew’s relationship is frustrating and cumbersome. Neither character is particularly endearing – Saskia is meant to be a 32 year old but she acts like a petulant teenager. The couple has no spark and their story drags on to conclude in a way which ties all the threads together but is in no way realistic or satisfying for the reader.

Push through the slow smouldering main story to be delighted by the bright flame that is Jacob and Kitty.

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TITLE: The Dandelion Years
AUTHOR(S): Erica James
PUBLISHER: Hachette
RRP: $37.99
ISBN: 9781409146131

Rebekah is an Otago-based mother of two young girls. The former journalist and primary school teacher has a soft spot for New Zealand authors and young adult fiction. Follow her on Twitter.

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