Novellas in November Review # 2 and 20 Books For Christmas Review # 5: The Walnut Tree: A Holiday Tale by Charles Todd


My Interest

A World War I “holiday” tale featuring a titled English lady? Sure, why not!

The Story

Lady Elspeth Douglas is in Paris with a heavily pregnant friend as war is declared. She thinks she may be in love with her friend’s brother, too. After staying on to help the friend deliver her baby, Elspeth set off on one of the more unlikely journeys of the war. Through amazing coincidences she runs into most of her former dance partners and her male cousins–all serving in highland regiments. She speaks Gaelic with the piper and French  with port authorities. Along the way she ends up, briefly, at the front. She helps with the wounded. Eventually she lands back in ole Blighty to be a member of Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Services–but “forgets” to include her courtesy title on the application. She’s a fabulous nurse (Of course she! She has pluck! She’s the daughter of an Earl, of course she gets her way!).

Along the way she has doubts about the Frenchman she’s all but agreed to marry when she runs into a neighboring well-born chap who knows her cousins from their public school (American Prep School–like Bush and the Roosevelts and JFK attended). But then, yes, Then! Somehow–but HOW? Her guardian, whom she at least acknowledges is not evil, pulls the plug on her free-spirited life. And, somehow, yes SOMEHOW, she goes back to France and miraculously the Frenchman has survived injury, being taken as a Prisoner of War and being exchanged (well it COULD all happen, right?). But she is so conflicted! Which man is right for her?

My Thoughts

Ok, I’m having a little fun with this review. It’s the sort of book where you must accept that people CAN run into each other at the Battle of Ypres, ok? And that no one, NO ONE, realized an Aristocrat who’d never uttered a word in any but the poshest of posh accents, could suddenly “pass” as a mere middle class girl of good family-the people she encountered were so dim they couldn’t tell her origins form her accent at a time when accent was everything.

What I liked was: Elspeth had no modern ideas of hiding away “living in sin.” She knew she’d be ruined. She played as fast and loose with the “rules” of her world as far as she could. She knew her limits. She mostly respected the authority of her Guardian, even loved him (he was her uncle) and adored her cousins. Yes she had “pluck” and even “spunk,” a quality that I’m in complete agreement with Mr. Lou Grant on (remember that scene in the Mary Tyler Moore Show? See the bottom of this post).

Miss Georgina Worsley with Major James Bellamy (left), Princess Mary (center), and Lady Sibyl Crawley (right)

I loved Elspeth’s romance with Peter–it was sweet and honorable. He was a good chap. She was a good girl. They did not hop into be ala 2021 but acted like folks pushing the outside of the envelope in 1915. I found it odd though that her Guardian looked down on nursing when the King’s only daughter trained as a nurse at this time and the King’s own mother founded the nursing service. Princess Mary, later the Princess Royal, was kept in London and only nursed mothers and children, but….in the two great period dramas, Upstairs, Downstairs (the real one–from the ’70s) and Downton Abbey, posh aristo’s Miss Georgina Worsley, ward of the Hon Richard Bellamy, M.P. and step-granddaughter of the Dowager Countess of Southwald and Lady Sybil Crawley were nursing sisters. Dear Georgina even went to France where, she naturally, just happened to stumble upon wounded cousin “Jumbo” aka Major James Bellamy. Of course she did! See? It had to be acceptable to nurse! Georgina, like Lady Edith Crawly in Downton ended up a Marchioness!!! Of course poor Sybil….

My only true complain with this book wasn’t titles–they were fine. It was a stupid mystery worked in. It was really more like it had been started in the first draft and forgotten. No one remembered to edit it out. It was awful, but mercifully it only took up a few lines. When pulling the cover for this post I discovered this was another “between the numbers” sort of tale in the Bess Crawford mystery series. Lady Elspeth was a colleague of Bess’s in Queen Alix’s nursing service. I don’t have any interest in Bess, but I’d love a sequel on Lady Elspeth.

I’ve poked fun at this story, but the truth is I really enjoyed it! The stupid mystery cost it some in my rating. A final comment, there is Christmas in this story but I would not really call this a “Christmas” book. Don’t let that stop you from enjoying it though.

Note: This is a little longer than Novellas in November’s suggested Novella length–308 pages in all, but it is a very light read.

My Verdict

3 thoughts on “Novellas in November Review # 2 and 20 Books For Christmas Review # 5: The Walnut Tree: A Holiday Tale by Charles Todd

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