I would give this two and a half stars, if possible.
I had very high hopes - WWI, WWII, British people, poetry, forbidden love, flashbacks, family history - it's like my own personal checklist of favorite reading topics. It was engaging enough for me to read and finish in a short amount of time and it was much lighter than I expected - not that I need Nazis jackbooting everywhere but this was one hundred percent a straight up love story. Which is fine, only I was expecting sweeping epic saga spanning two continents and world wars, so ultimately, I was disappointed.
About those world wars: they were barely distinguishable from one another. The Blitz was mentioned but other than the fact that the letters were dated, there was absolutely no difference between WWI and WWII. Further, the level of historical detail was about as specific as if I decided to write a novel set during the war off the top of my head, occasionally checking Wikipedia to confirm a fact. Besides a few tossed off references to longer skirts, women's rights or lack of them (side note: seriously Elspeth's rant letter was so annoying, anachronistic and RANDOM - why are all heroines in historical fiction staunch feminists who have no compunction about railing against patriarchal society? Does anyone else find this unrealistic?) and the fact that they are conversing entirely by letter, it was almost as if the setting were an afterthought. Moving on.
Every single character in the book sounded like a modern day American, except for David who occasionally sounded as if he wandered off the set of Leave It to Beaver. Elspeth tosses in an obligatory "lass", "lad" or "bairn" to prove she is an authentic Scot. Both David and Elspeth wrote overwrought, embarrassing love letters - I know Elspeth was a poet and perhaps I am an unfeeling droid, but the writing made me cringe. When Margaret informs her mother Paul proposed, Elspeth writes back:
"That golden pool, it swirls around them, and they worry they might drown if they're not careful. They hold tight and make whatever promise comes to mind. You can't believe anything said in wartime. Emotions are as fleeting as a quiet night...Please don't give your heart away without realizing it, because, my sweet girl, you may never get it back."
Me: intense eye roll.
And the poem! I was wondering whether there'd be a poem included since much was made about the fact that Elspeth was a poet. Then came Repose. Which Elspeth recited the poem off the cuff TO DAVID'S FACE which is so much worse. If I were David I would have died on the spot and then haunted Elspeth as punishment. However, he seemed to appreciate it.
Though Margaret gets equal billing in the blurb, she's really a useless vehicle for propelling the 1940 story along. The only person more useless than her is the bland and faceless Paul. Seriously, they could have easily substituted him with a best friend, cousin, or even random stranger. If you're looking for a second love story set in WWII, prepare to be disappointed.
So those are my issues - the writing was mediocre and sometimes mortifying, the plot utterly predictable (I'm sorry but when a character is "missing and presumed dead", you just know he is going to make an eleventh hour appearance, usually at the most inconvenient time)
, and an ending worthy of at least three more eye rolls, each one more intense than the last. But on the other hand, it was entertaining and I was in the mood for a light romance novel. And that is precisely what it was! There was potential to be a moving war story, but instead it was pleasant, forgettable fluff.