Description (from cover):
‘The New York Times bestselling author of the acclaimed Ian Rutledge and Bess Crawford mysteries returns with a bittersweet love story, set at Christmas during the dangerous opening months of World War I.
‘I was in Paris the day the French Army mobilized.’
In 1914, while visiting her friend, Madeleine, Lady Elspeth Douglas’ life is thrown into chaos when war breaks out and the Germans quickly overrun Belgium, threatening France. Having just agreed to marry Alain, Madeleine’s dashing brother, Lady Elspeth watches him leave to join his unit, and then she sets out for England, only to find herself trapped on the French coast.
Caught amid a sea of stranded travelers, terrified refugees, and wounded men overflowing the port of Calais, the restless Elspeth–daughter of a Highland aristocrat whose distinguished family can trace its roots back to the court of Mary, Queen of Scots–decides to make herself useful, carrying water to weary soldiers near the Front. It is an act of charity that almost gets her killed when enemy shells begin to explode around her.
To her rescue comes Captain Peter Gilchrist, who pulls her away from the battle and leads her to safety. But before they can properly say goodbye, Elspeth and Peter are separated.
Back in London, surrounded by familiar comforts, Elspeth is haunted by the horrors she witnessed in France. She also cannot forget the gallant Peter Gilchrist, even though she has promised herself to Alain.
Transformed by her experience, Elspeth goes to London and enrolls in a nursing course, where she meets fellow nurse in training, Bess Crawford. It is a daring move, made without the consent of Elspeth’s guardian, her cousin Kenneth, a high-handed man with rigid notions of class and femininity.
Yet Elspeth Douglas is a woman with a mind of her own, which–as she herself says–is a blessing and a curse. She is determined to return to the battlefields of France to do her part…and to find the man she has no right to love, no matter how far Cousin Kenneth may go to stop her. But before she can set things right with Alain, he goes missing and then Peter is gravely wounded. In a world full of terror and uncertainty, can the sweetness of love survive or will Elspeth’s troubled heart become another casualty of this terrible war?
A poignant, compelling tale brimming with adventure, danger, and love, The Walnut Tree is an enchanting holiday gift and a wonderful companion to Charles Todd’s acclaimed Bess Crawford series.
If you can believe it, this is my first Charles Todd book ever. I know that I am so far behind and need to get my hands on either his Ian Rutledge or Bess Crawford series. I have been planning to read them for a while because they get such good recommendations and reviews and to be honest, I love historical mysteries. So when I saw that Todd was coming out with this Christmas novella, I jumped at the chance to see what all the hype was about and let’s just say, that this reader was not disappointed.
The writing flows so wonderfully in this book and the story sucks you right in. Lady Elspeth finds herself trapped in Paris after World War I has begun. She has been staying with her childhood friend, Madeleine and has developed some feelings for Madeleine’s brother, Alain. Alain is due to ship out with his regiment and he asks Elspeth to marry him before he leaves. She agrees on the condition that Alain speaks to her cousin, Kenneth, who is her guardian, at the first opportunity. Alain soon leaves and Elspeth decides that she needs to return to England. On her journey home she discovers just how brutal war can be and casts aside her noble status and upbringing and decides to help the soldiers that surround her. She has a hard time getting to England and along the way she meets Peter Gilchrist in a moment of chaos as German forces are shooting at them and they are running for their lives. She is parted from Gilchrist before she can thank him for helping her and she makes her way back to England. Once she arrives back in England she feels the call of duty to join the nursing school and do something to help in this disastrous war. This story follows Elspeth, Alain and Peter through the beginning months of World War I. It shows us just how awful this war really was and the toll it took on the soldiers and the nurses and doctors that were sent to the Front to do their duty.
It took me a little while to read this, not because the story was bad or anything. We got DVR the other day at our house and I have been watching some good old classic movies like My Fair Lady and Miracle on 34th Street and catching up on some Downton Abbey episodes and discovering Upstairs Downstairs. I know that this is no excuse to be reading, but DVR is truly an amazing invention. Okay, now back to my review. This book was beautiful and if this is what is to be expected of Charles Todd’s writing then I must get my hands on his mystery series. I think that I want to read the Bess Crawford series, as she makes a very small appearance in this book and she left me intrigued. I can’t wait to see what she gets up to.
I loved the imagery that Todd paints with ease with his descriptions of World War I. How it affected not only the soldiers at the Front, but the nurses and doctors who had to help heal the wounded and the citizens that had to go without food and other necessities due to rationing and severe shortages. I found it quite easy to picture myself amongst the characters in this story. Personally, I don’t exactly know why they called it ‘a holiday tale’ because really there isn’t much holiday like things going on in this novel. There is a Christmas scene, but the majority of this story occurs on the battlefield and features war and the devastation that comes with it. Not really a Christmas themed book, which is a little deceiving, but nevertheless still a great read for historical fiction fans of WWI and I really think Downton Abbey fans will enjoy this one. Amazing story and I hope that Todd will write more about these characters and their story because quite simply I cannot get enough. A great, quick read (if you ignore the DVR) that I think many readers will enjoy.
Overall Rating: 5
Disclaimer: This book was selected from the library by myself and I reviewed this book without compensation of any kind. All thoughts and opinions are solely mine.