Book Review: Softly Grow the Poppies by Audrey Howard

Fans of Audrey Howard, of which I’m one, will find this an excellent read. Set during World War I, it is the story of two brothers, their call to duty and the women they love.

SOFTLY GROW THE POPPIES touches on many aspects of life at this time. Men eagerly donning uniforms and thinking war is an adventure.  Soldiers on leave reluctantly returning to the war front knowing what awaits them. Women taking up the cause as ambulance drivers and nurses. On the home front, old men, boys and women left to carry on and support the war effort as best they can and finally, the plight of the returned soldier and the Spanish Flu pandemic.

Against this grim backdrop, love blossoms, is lost and found, and ultimately triumphs. As in all true love stories, there are misunderstandings, doubts and regrets. 

Alice Weatherly, an only child and heiress, disobeys her domineering father and goes to the railway station to say good-bye to her sweetheart, Charlie Summers. Charlie, a cavalry captain and younger son of a baronet, is about to embark for the war in France. Accompanying Alice is the independently wealthy and unconventional Rose Beechworth, whose property adjoins the Summers and Weatherly estates. Also at the station to bid his brother farewell is Harry Summers, the heir to Summer Place. 

Rose and Harry deny their attraction to each other at first. Harry must set his affairs in order before he, too, departs for France. Love is not a priority. Alice's and Charlie’s romance is all the more sweeter being a forbidden love.

When Charlie is posted as missing, feared dead, Alice becomes an ambulance driver and goes to France in search of him. She returns from France a changed person and when Charlie, suffering from memory loss, is eventually found and returned to Summer Place, their relationship also changes.

The graphic description of the carnage on the battlefield contrasts with the idyllic country scenes of two great houses and the lives of the people attached to them. Conversion of Summer Place, one of the houses, into a hospital brings the war to their doorstep and they see for themselves the tragic consequences – death, horrendous injuries and men broken in both mind and spirit. 

Although abrupt, the ending puts everything into place neatly. The villain is exposed, a family is re-united and the future looks bright. A true Audrey Howard ending.

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