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4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 22 May 2011
I have read quite a few war books and heard a tale end interview of the author of this book on the radio and was inspired to buy it. Am so glad I did. It is a rich story of the horrors of war but told from a very human aspect. It is not a documentary of WWI with dates and places, albeit its a full factual account. It is how as people, ordinary people fared in the war and the horrors they faced and the loves they lost. I absolutely loved it and cannot stop thinking about Major Locke, Rose, Julia, Nadine and ofcourse Riley. The book made me cry - and in the middle - not at the end. It is written with such strong emotion and pathos that I, who have never reviewed a book before decided I must review this one. Please read it, as although it is a story, what you learn from this story is far greater than a factual account of what happened in this awful awful war. The characters are so plausible and their incredible bravery makes me so proud to be British. I hope the writer gets the credit she deserves for this, as it truly is thought-provoking, heart rendering and probably even more corny expressions used in these reviews but which are completely needed here!
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on 4 August 2011
The front cover of this book, reminiscent of yet another beach chick-flick read, nearly put me off. Fortunately with the encouragement of a close friend, I launched into one of the best books I've read this year. So often novels set during the First World War dwell on the painful minutiae of trench-life, with characters taking second place in the spin of a narrative dominated by bloody gore. In contrast this novel pushes the characters to the fore, with piercing characterisation and poignancy. Best of all it is far from predictable, allowing the reader to turn the pages with an anticipatory appetite for what is to follow.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The Great War of 1914-1918 has provided rich pickings for novelists over the years; almost a hundred years after the event, the scale of the horrors and human suffering remain such that hardly a month goes by without the appearance of at least one new story based on events of those times. One would think that by now almost everything that there was to say on the matter had already been said, and many times over, at that; in a sense, it probably has. Certainly, Louisa Young's "My Dear I Wanted To Tell You" brings nothing particularly new to the oeuvre; indeed, many of her themes and her characterisations are so predictable as to border on the hackneyed. But what this particular book may lack in originality it more than makes up for in masterful handling of pace, clear-sighted and poignant portrayal of thought-processes and emotions, a wonderful understanding of the human condition, all married to a flawless grasp of dramatic structure and flow.

The book draws you in from the very first page, and holds you in a vice-like grip right to the very last page. There are times when it is hard even to remember to breathe. When she finally lets you go, it is with a sense of exhilaration as well as exhaustion.

The story is well researched and rich in historical detail but this is always kept properly subservient to the main narrative; Louisa Young always keeps her characters well to the foreground, never allowing the historical fact and scale of the events themselves to take over -- a mistake all too often made in books of this kind. "My Dear I Wanted to Tell You" operates first and foremost at a fundamentally human level, bringing home the truth that in those times there were a great deal more (and more important) battles fought daily in people's minds than in the mud of Flanders, and that the casualties of war on this scale extend well beyond those killed or maimed in the fighting. It also has a lot to say about the endurance and resilience of the human spirit (as well as a fair amount about how fragile that can be too) and the dangerous comfort to be found in lies, both to oneself and to loved ones.

Absolutely first rate.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 3 January 2012
This is the story about two soldiers during World War 1 and the women left behind in England who love them. There are five main characters. Riley Purefoy, from a working class background, loves upper class Nadine Waverney despite her mother's disapproval. He volunteers as a soldier at the start of World War 1 - given the choice between volunteering for a year or for the duration of the war, he chooses the latter, because he doesn't want to spend an entire year in the army. His commanding officer will be Peter Locke, who has left his wife Julia and cousin Rose behind in England. While Julia pines for her husband, Rose signs up as a nurse in a hospital specialising in facial reconstructions.

The first half of the book is about the experiences that the five have adapting to the realities of war and the shifts it brings about in their relationships. In the second half, Riley suffers a serious injury which will affect all of the characters in different ways.

I have mixed feelings about this book. It did a very good job of conveying the various facets of war, the experience for those in the trenches, in the hospitals and stranded at home. There were parts that were beautifully written but at other times the choppiness of the narrative became hard to take. I didn't really feel caught up in it until the second half, when it settles down and became (for me) far more involving and moving. The ending is somewhat contrived, but also genuinely satisfying.

The characters could have been better developed. Riley and Nadine's relationship is the central thread, but too often we were told about how they felt for one another rather than feeling it. Rose is a wonderful character, but she is frequently sidelined. Peter is nice enough but less than interesting and his wife Julia is a vapid and tedious character on whom far too much time is wasted. Clearly that couple were included to show a broader canvas of reactions to the war, but they didn't develop in any significant way or add much to the book. Another review here mentions how you can see the author's "workings" as she constructed the story, and that's how I felt also.

If this whets your appetite to read more about how World War 1 changed the role of women in England, I recommend the novel Half of the Human Race.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 21 May 2014
Beginning in Edwardian London, Louisa Young's fourth novel focuses on Riley Purefoy, an attractive, young working-class boy, who meets the well-to-do bohemian Waveney family after a mishap in the park near to their beautiful Georgian house. Riley is taken back to the Waveney home and is soon taken under their wing, making friends with the children, Noel and Nadine, and working as an artist's model and assistant for a family friend, painter Sir Alfred Pleasant. Sir Alfred, keen to support Riley in his quest to improve himself, invites him to live in his home, allows him access to his library and pays for his education. As the years pass, Riley and Nadine become particularly close and by the time they are in their late teens, and the First World War has begun, they have fallen in love with one another. However, Nadine's mother makes it clear that Riley is not the right class for her daughter, and her objections, plus an embarrassing incident with a young artist friend, encourage a confused Riley to join up with the hopes of becoming a 'proper' man who is worthy of Nadine. In Belgium, Riley comes under the command of Captain Peter Locke, a sensitive musical man, who takes a liking to Riley and is keen to see him promoted. War at the front line, however, is worse than Riley could ever have imagined and in order to cope with the horrors he is bombarded with daily, where he "walks on corpses and breathes death" he tries to shut himself off and exist in an almost hypnotic state focusing only on what has to be done. When he writes to Nadine, who has now become a VAD nurse, to explain his feelings, she responds with warmth and understanding and when the pair meet up for three days' leave, they are keen to explore their deep and passionate feelings for one another.

Peter Locke meanwhile, verging on a nervous breakdown, arrives home in Sidcup to beautiful, but shallow and seemingly self-absorbed wife, Julia, whose only aim in life appears to be to keep herself lovely for her husband, and who is bitterly disappointed when Peter cannot bring himself to put the war behind him and enjoy his leave with her. (Shades of Rebecca West's Return of the Soldier (Modern Library)). Also in Sidcup is Peter's cousin, Rose, an independent and very resourceful young woman working as a nurse at the Queen's Hospital under the pioneering plastic surgeon, Major Gillies (a real-life character). And it is to Queen's Hospital that Riley Purefoy arrives after half of his face is blown off when he returns to the front. Under Rose's care and the skilled hands of Major Gillies, who reconstructs the lower half of his horrifically injured face, Riley's outward injuries slowly begin to heal, but he is convinced that his relationship with Nadine must end to avoid her wasting her life on him out of pity. And so he writes her a letter ...

This is a very readable story and one which I started and finished practically in one sitting and, although I will say that I found parts of this novel a little too romantically sentimental for me, Louisa Young's historian qualifications and excellent research, evident in her vivid descriptions of the terrible conditions experienced by soldiers at the front, and her fascinating information on the pioneering work on facial reconstruction carried out by Gillies and his team, lifted this novel to something with more depth and readability than the average romantic saga. Louisa Young was also careful to show the reader how the war continued to affect her characters after their traumatic experiences and this aspect of the story, I believe, is continued in the author's sequel to this novel: The Heroes' Welcome which is due to be released very soon.
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on 5 March 2012
This novel intertwined the lives of five people during WWI in a way I particularly enjoyed. There was Riley and Nadine, two young adults who grew up together but in differing class positions. They both loved each other but Nadine's disapproving mother and their class divide meant that they were not going to have their happily ever after. Then there was Peter and his wife Julia and cousin Rose. Riley and Peter meet in the frontline and become friends and the three women also, eventually, cross paths.

I think the strength of the start of the book lies in how the author portrays the difficulties of coping with war - both for the men fighting and for those left behind. There was no way for the men to prepare themselves for the horrors that they would see (and I don't suppose the preparation these days is much better despite the fact we all feel a bit desensitised to it thanks to the media) just as the women struggled to cope without their men. What I liked was how the author showed the coping mechanisms for the three women so differently: Rose and, after a while, Nadine were very much the stoic women who coped best by doing things, in this case joining the Voluntary Aid Detachment as nurses. Though they were working in different areas, they eventually became friends through letters relating to an injured character. Julia, however, seemed so lost and directionless throughout the novel, falling into a depression and becoming fixated on perfection: perfection of the home and perfection of her looks. It was sad to read. This is not to say that the author did not write well about Riley and Peter and their experiences, she did, it's just that my particular interest is of women's roles during war.

Towards the end, the book became a sort of grim, gripping tale of the early development of facial reconstruction surgeries after one of the characters is injured badly. I have to say, being a bit of a nerd, I found this fascinating and it took my focus away from the characters for a while. This is not the fault of the book, it's more my own interest in how medicine and science have developed throughout the years and the fact that it will probably always override the happenings of a story.

Now to mention a few things that annoyed me about the novel. I felt that it dragged a bit in places and was ever so slightly predictable. I never felt like it had a sense of suspense, of the unknown, that I like when I read. Also, despite the fact I mostly liked them, the female characters were a bit on the clichéd side: artistic Nadine who falls for a working class lad, beautiful but otherwise useless Julia, and the plain but caring Rose. I also felt like Rose was a woefully underused character as, of all the women, she had the most interesting story arc.

Despite the flaws it had, I found My Dear, I Wanted To Tell You a gripping read. In the Q&A at the end of this book, the author mentions the possibility of a sequel during WWII and I would definitely like to read it.
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VINE VOICEon 22 March 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The First World War has been an era that has provided writers with inspiration for some very moving and poignant fiction. This latest offering by Louisa Young, follows the men on the frontline and the women they leave behind.
Riley Purefoy signs up in attempt to escape from a broken heart after Mrs Waveney makes it clear he isn't good enough for her daughter, Nadine who is destined for an advantageous marriage. As his luck continues during the war and the rising death toll means he is promoted fast, he begins to see the war as an opportunity to prove his worth to her disapproving family.
Fighting alongside Riley, is Peter Locke. A man of wealth and high standing who, swallowing the propaganda demonising the Hun, joins to protect his new wife. After having newly married life abruptly interrupted, Julia Locke waits anxiously in her new home contemplating how her preparation of becoming a wife didn't include life without a husband. Embracing the new opportunities is Peter's cousin Rose who after accepting life as a spinster suddenly finds herself with work and purpose in her life.
The book explores most of the issues that the war uncovered in Britain, especially the class system and women's rights but the character's seem slightly stereotyped which spoilt any attempt to be unique.
For those keen on World War One fiction the story has essences of Atonement and Birdsong but isn't quite as powerful. Perhaps due to the characters not as multi-dimensional as you hope but there is also some difficulty getting completely engrossed as Young's writing style includes a variety of speech and thoughts in one swift flurry making it quite difficult to follow.
Many will love this book and appreciate the experience of being transported back to one of the most interesting and tragic periods of history. However, there are other books written during and after the era which I'd recommend before this.
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on 24 August 2012
Others have commented on the books content and theme so I won't repeat that. I found the book absorbing, well researched, well written and engaging from beginning until the end. The only thing that I didnt really like was the title.It is rather unimaginative and doesnt draw one in to what is a stimulating and imaginative novel of a a very high calibre. I am not sure how anyone could give this book less than a 4 star rating but I guess some people would find fault with the gates of paradise!
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on 23 April 2012
This a lovely book, beautifully written. Although it is so sad in parts, I couldn't put it down. The writing held my attention from the word 'go. The descriptions were excellent and one could almost smell some of the dreadful scenes of what happened in World War 1. I would recommend this to anyone who feels they could read about such a tragic event. The story is not over-romanticised bu is utterly compelling.
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VINE VOICEon 6 June 2012
..told from the perspective of a small cast of characters whole lives are intertwined. It reall does make you wonder at the courage it took to fight in the first world war with the industrial carnage around you - and also the huge pressures (social and otherwise ) on the people left behind. This book takes a huge swipe at the social attitudes of the times and creates some very sympathetic characters who you just get caught up in wanting to know how it turns out. I read this in just two days because it was so easy to read - even thought some of the subject matter is really quite stomach churning
In conclusion a great story about a crummy time and a society shaking off the outdated attitudes that pigeion hole people from birth
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