Lady Elspeth Douglas, the daughter of a Scottish Earl, is visiting a friend in Paris in 1914 when the country finds itself thrust into war. Before trying to escape to England, her friend’s brother, Alain, proposes to her and, unsure of her true feelings for Alain but knowing she has always been attracted to him, she agrees. The next day he is gone to war.
As Elspeth makes her way to the coast of France she finds herself in the middle of battle. An old family friend, Captain Peter Gilchrist, finds her in the madness and gets her to safety. Now finding herself attracted to this rescuer, Elspeth has no time to review these new feelings before the chaos of war separates them once again and she finds herself back on English soil.
Having seen the devastation of the wounded soldiers on her way home and knowing that while she cannot fight alongside her countrymen she must do something to help them, she joins The Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service and returns to France to serve. As Elspeth struggles to make sense of the horrors of war and the truly terrifying injuries she sees every day, she also realizes what a good nurse she is and how fulfilling it feels to do something so important. Her new life as a nurse is cut short, however, when her guardian gets word that she has been working as a nurse and refuses to let her continue.
Feeling devastated at the loss of what she now sees as her true calling, scared for the life of her fiancé and confused by her continually growing feelings for Peter, she decides to take an injured Peter to a small cottage owned by a fellow nurse, It is at the Walnut Tree Cottage that Peter begins to heal and Elspeth and Peter’s bond grows. But when Elspeth gets word that Alain has been released by the Germans and is back in Paris trying to recover from a devastating injury she must decide where her heart lies and what sort of future she will have in this ever changing world at war.
The Walnut Tree is a quick, entertaining look into World War I and the various positives and negatives of being a woman born into a noble family at this time. Much like that rank in society, The Walnut Tree had both positive and negative elements. On the downside, the story often felt rushed. Being a shorter book of about 250 pages, the story would have done better to eliminate certain secondary story lines such as one dealing with a ring of thieves and smugglers, and to better develop either the descriptions of war or the relationships between Elspeth and her two suitors. Much of the book felt like it was being told to the reader instead of described, making it hard to really get into the lives and challenges of the characters. I was also annoyed by the continuous references to Elspeth’s rank and how unusual the actions around her were for one of her upbringing. For the length of the story it felt redundant.
On the plus side I enjoyed getting a glimpse into how the nursing sisters were trained and how they dealt with the utter chaos and destruction they faced every single day. I haven’t read a book quite from this perspective and I could see how a woman would decide to become a sister to do her part for the war effort when so few options were available. I felt this same compassion when Elspeth agreed to marry Alain, knowing that she had feelings for him and not knowing exactly what he faced or even if she would see him again. I believe quite a few women would have made this same choice.
All in all The Walnut Tree is a good book for those that enjoy lighter historical fiction. I have heard excellent things about the author’s Bess Crawford series and so I will definitely give those a try as well.
Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, their dog Oliver and their fish Finn. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by William Morrow. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.