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Letters from Skye: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, July 9, 2013

4.3 out of 5 stars 321 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

A Letter from the Author, Jessica Brockmole

Jessica Brockmole

Dear Reader,

As an American who spent years living abroad, I know too well the challenge in maintaining relationships from a distance. Before telephones and webcams made separations easier, people had no choice but to entrust bits of their heart to the postman with every letter they sent. A lost letter could cause sleepless nights, a returned letter, even more. But a reply penned immediately, in a hot rush of emotion, could make the soul soar. Letters from Skye is a story about lovers and families separated by war, with nothing but pen and paper to hold everything together.

I first wrote this book six years ago, while I was living in Edinburgh, Scotland. After my youngest was born, we escaped the city and went to the Isle of Skye for one gorgeous week. We stayed in a cottage on the beach and chased legends across the island in the rain. Evenings, I sprawled before the little peat coal fire with maps of Skye, tracing the coast and trying my tongue at the Gaelic. On the drive back to Edinburgh, a story came together in my head. The story of a woman bound to the poetry of Skye, held within those rocky coasts, being given a glimpse of the greater world with the unexpected arrival of an envelope. The story of a man, desperate to prove himself fearless, finding his only fear on the other end of those letters. The story of a daughter, trying to catch the past as it comes tumbling out of the wall. I scribbled notes right there in the car and started furiously writing when we got back home.

The result of that outpouring wasn’t just a novel; it was an extended letter to myself, written in those secret, lonely hours after the rest of the world went to bed. A letter reminding me to not lose touch with those I love, no matter where in the world we may be. Reminding me that it’s okay to have fears; I’m stronger for overcoming them. Reminding me to walk to the borders of who I am, and then to take a step beyond.

I invite you to do the same.

From Booklist

It’s 1912 and David, an American college student, sends a fan letter to Elspeth, a young Scottish poet on the Isle of Skye. What begins as cordial correspondence grows into friendship and soon love with WWI as a backdrop. Elspeth is married, however, and David eventually volunteers as an ambulance driver, leaving Elspeth alone to wait and wonder. Flash forward to 1940 Edinburgh, where Elspeth’s daughter, Margaret, has fallen in love with a young man going off to war. Nothing Elspeth says can dissuade Margaret from marrying. After an air raid, Elspeth disappears, and Margaret discovers the letters from David, which launches her on a mission to find out just what happened those many years ago. Told exclusively via letters between lovers, mother and daughter, and husband and wife, Brockmole’s novel will make readers feel that they’re illicitly reading someone’s diary. But the letter convention has its drawbacks. It’s difficult to get a full sense of who these characters are beyond what is written in their letters, which leaves them, at times, flat and two-dimensional. --Carolyn Kubisz

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; First Edition edition (July 9, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345542606
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345542601
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (321 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #839,989 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By D. Williams VINE VOICE on June 15, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
LETTERS FROM SKYE, a novel in letter form, begins in 1912 with David Graham, an eighteen-year-old student in Urbana, Illinois, writing to Elspeth Dunn, a twenty-four-year-old poet who had never left the Isle of Skye in Scotland. The first letter is an ordinary fan letter; Graham had just finished reading one of Dunn's books. Opening the novel with this simple fan letter, which grows into much more, catches readers' attention right away and keeps readers' attention until the very end.

Not only are there letters between Graham and Dunn before and during World War I, but also letters written by Dunn's daughter Margaret during World War II. Margaret has fallen in love with a soldier, and her mother tries to warn her against it - or at least to give the situation due thought.

The style of this novel is spot-on for the type of work it is. There are times when the authors of the letters take their time, and other times when the authors of the letters are so tired or busy that they simply dash off a few words. As a college student, Graham finds himself in some fairly typical scrapes, and later, as an ambulance driver during World War I, he tells Dunn as much as permitted about where he is and what he's been doing. (There are comments about incidents and places Graham describes that didn't pass the wartime censors and were literally cut out of the letters.)

This work really kept me reading because it posed many questions. Dunn is married; will she and Graham end their relationship? Who is Margaret's father - Iain, Dunn's husband, or Graham? (Readers do find out later.) Why is Dunn so close-mouthed to Margaret about the past?

Yes, this novel is rather formulaic; readers do get a "been there, done that" feeling at times. However, the author does manage this formula well and offers an excellent light read.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Letters from Skye is a sweet and simple book that ultimately disappointed me because the author seemed to believe that the cliched plot twists and insubstantial characters and setting could be saved by a charming concept.

I love the idea of a novel told in letters or diaries and just last week read and reviewed a great example of this type of novel - Margaret Forster's Diary of an Ordinary Woman. But to make that kind of novel succeed you have to have a strong narrative voice, a sense of a real person setting events down in real time. Unfortunately, all of the letter writers in Skye sound the same - there's no differentiation in voice between an American college student and a Scottish poet in 1912 or a young woman and her boyfriend in the midst of WWII.

I've read interviews with the author and she seemed to have done a great deal of research on the language of the time. The words may have been correct but her diction and language structure was completely off - the letters read like zippy emails back and forth, full of jokes and some fairly explicit conversations between a man and a woman in 1912. I suppose I'm inclined to nit-pick because I have all the letters between my great-grandfather and his parents, covering a time period from the 1880s-1930s. People wrote very differently back then and spoke about things in a far more poetic way than we do. I didn't feel any of that in Skye.

I reached a point about halfway through the book when I realized it wasn't going to work for me. I plowed through to finish it as I'd received a review copy and kept myself occupied by wondering what the novel might have been like as a straight-forward narrative with the key letters interspersed throughout.
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12 Comments 53 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I am fond of stories that are told through letters. Using only correspondence between characters to tell the story is tricky business. Characters are developed and explained only through whatever has been written so the author must be skillful in crafting the letters.
It starts with a letter from David, an American student, to Elspeth, a poet living on the Island of Skye in Scotland. A seemingly innocent piece of fan mail becomes a love story that starts in WWI and continues through the next generation and WWII.
Jessica Brockmole has the spare writing style and even hand that lends itself well to this type of book. She starts with nothing more than a few lines and moves onto introducing other characters and parts of the story line.
It is almost summer and I retreated with this book to the library for the comfort of the A/C and a sprawling sofa. I was carried away to Scotland and London in the midst of two wars. A delicious story that kept me wrapped up for several hours. I have to admit to being somewhat disappointed as I came to the end.
The plot isn't unique. It is a basic love story but it is how it is organized and told that makes this such an enjoyable read.
At first I was confused by Elspeth but then I became hungry to hear her story. What would happen with David? Would Margaret be able to forge a relationship with Paul?
If you enjoy an easy reading love story...this is a good choice for you. Just allow yourself to be swept into the pages and enjoy the ride.
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