(Review) A Star for Mrs. Blake by April Smith

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Publisher and Publication Date: Knopf. 2014.
Genre: Historical fiction. World War I.
Pages: 214.
Source: eBook copy from the library.
Audience: Readers of American history, World War I, and post war years.
Rating: Very good.

I love the ability to borrow eBooks from the library. It’s one of the most convenient things in my life. The two apps for borrowing the eBooks are Libby (by OverDrive) and OverDrive. Libby is the more user-friendly of the two.

Link from the National Archives on this history.

Summary: 
The Gold Star Mother’s Association lobbied during the 1920s for a pilgrimage trip to the grave sites of fallen Veterans during World War I. Widows and mothers were able to visit the grave site of their loved one. The cost of the trip was paid for the United States government.
Cora Blake’s only child died in France a month before the Armistice. Cora lives in Deer Isle, Maine. She takes care of her nieces and brother-in-law. She works at the library and fish cannery.

My Thoughts: 

What I liked about A Star for Mrs. Blake:
•I was drawn to the story because it’s history I’ve not heard about. I love women’s stories that tell me something I didn’t know, and in a way that gives clarity about the era in which they lived.
•The main character is Cora Blake. She is an exceptional woman. She is strong and resilient. She takes the initiative to be a friend to people outside her society and culture’s comfort zone. She has the confidence to step out and be a friend to a stranger in need. This is a quality I admire: people who are caring and they take the initiative to act.
•The story slowly reveals a mystery surrounding Cora’s circumstances.
•Other female characters have secondary stories. These women are from different areas of America and France. They are from different economic backgrounds. They have different Christian denominational beliefs or no belief at all. They have different personalities. They are reflective of women living during the 1920s. This gave me a wide lens view of women in this era.
•A Star for Mrs. Blake showed me something I just realized after turning 50. There are different types of love and different levels of love. Now, I’m going to be more descriptive. Men and women really can be friends with no sex. Men and women can love each other with no sex. Of course if the two of them are sexually attracted to one another this makes things difficult. We hear stories about women who love their female friends, but what about men and women who are best friends? One of the greatest joys in my life is  friendship with men. In A Star for Mrs. Blake, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see this type of relationship and love!
•Grieving is a strong element in the story. No one person grieves the same, because we are all unique and individual people. This is such a bonus feature in the book. To see the differences in grieving and how it is displayed. Grieving is laborious. It’s intensive. There is no time limit. And, it is not like getting over the flu. We will always miss that loved one, but we come to a point when we must continue life without them.

What I disliked about A Star for Mrs. Blake:
•I didn’t like the ending. I feel Cora Blake settled. However, Cora’s choice may have been a response to continuing on in life.

Amazon link

(Review) Birdsong: A Novel of Love and War by Sebastian Faulks

Birdsong
Publisher and Publication Date: Vintage. Published March 21st 2012. First published September 27, 1993.
Genre: Historical fiction.
Pages: 496.
Source: Library ebook copy.
Audience: Romance readers who can also digest a war story, or readers of military stories who can digest a love story.  Historical fiction readers of World War I.
Rating: Excellent.

Amazon link for the book

Birdsong is book two in the French Trilogy by Sebastian Faulks. The first book is The Girl at the Lion d’Or. The third book is Charlotte Gray. I’ve read Charlotte Gray. This last book I rated good or 3 stars. From what I remember, Charlotte Gray was a bland character.

Summary:
The year is 1910. Stephen Wraysford is a young Englishman who stays with the Azaire family in France. He is observing and learning about Mr. Azaire’s factory business. Mrs. Isabelle Azaire is the second wife and step-mother to the two children. She is a proper, respected, and lovely woman. The constraints of her economic class and the era in which she lives creates an insecurity about being perfect. However, perfect is a façade, an illusion. From the first moment, there is an instant attraction between Stephen and Isabelle. There are several scenes of lingering eye contact and touching, which builds to the moment they seek a safe place to act on their attraction. Their relationship is powerful and they are swept up in the energy it brings. It peaks when reality sets. The story then shifts to the early years of World War I. Stephen is in the British army. He is an officer in command of other soldiers. A secondary story is the late 1970s, England. A middle age woman is in search of information about her grandfather. The book is primarily about Stephen Wraysford. The lens is on him.

My Thoughts:
I have so many thoughts about this story.
•I’d heard about this book years ago when the movie was on PBS. I watched pieces of this movie at that time. I’m hoping to watch it in full.
•Recently, I read an account (from someone else) this book gave a solid look at World War I. I agree. It is descriptive about so many aspects of the war I’d not considered. For example, the lice and flea problem. Lice and fleas permeated the soldier during World War I. Even when they were on leave and cleaned up, the eggs were in the clothing. They’d hatch eventually and the soldier began itching. The itching was done without realizing, because they’d become accustomed to the problem. Another aspect is the shaking or tremor in the hands of soldiers. Their hands shook because of PTSD. Other aspects of the war in this book: the sound that a shell makes before it hits the target; what happened to a human body depending on where the shell hit; the miners who tunneled; an explanation of what gangrene does to a human body; what a poisonous gas attack does to a human body; medical treatments from doctors and nurses; the feeling of detachment for a soldier; retrieving dead bodies for burial; and the infestation of rats.
Birdsong is a book about relationships. Relationships between husbands and wives, parent and children, lovers, friends, and soldiers who are in war. As I’ve become older, I have learned there are different types of love and different levels of love. And, people who romantically love one another, and it is a deep love, don’t always end up in a permanent relationship. Sometimes things don’t work out for people who love one another. This book explores a lingering love. A love that doesn’t go away, but only finds a safe place to settle in a person’s heart.
•Faulks is a descriptive writer. I found myself lingering and rereading certain parts, especially with people. I felt that if I reread those portions about the person I might understand them better. I might see them in my mind clearer.
•The themes in the story pull at the heart. For example, war and the impact it makes on generations.
Birdsong is a haunting story. It’s a memorable story.
Birdsong is a mature story. I’m not saying that if you are 18 you are not old enough to read the story. Birdsong requires a maturity about life that is made profound by older eyes.
•I understand the reason for including the modern story. However, I didn’t care for it. It felt pasted. It felt insignificant in comparison to Stephen’s story.

 

(Review) Beyond The Moon by Catherine Taylor

Beyond the Moon_Blog Tour PosterBeyond the Moon_web

 

Publisher and Publication Date:
The Cameo Press Ltd. June 25, 2019.
Genre: Historical fiction. Fantasy fiction. Romance. World War I.
Pages: 496.
Source: I received a complimentary paperback copy, but I was not required to leave a positive review.
Audience: Readers of World War I. Romance. Dual time periods.
Rating: Excellent.

Amazon link
The kindle copy is free in Kindle Unlimited.

Book tour landing page: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.

About the author:
Catherine Taylor was born and grew up on the island of Guernsey in the British Channel Islands. She is a former journalist, most recently for Dow Jones News and The Wall Street Journal in London. Beyond The Moon is her first novel. She lives in Ealing, London with her husband and two children.
Catherine Taylor website
Catherine Taylor

Summary:
Outlander meets Birdsong is this haunting debut timeslip novel, where a strange twist of fate connects a British soldier fighting in the First World War and a young woman living in modern-day England a century later.
*Shortlisted for the Eharmony/Orion Write Your Own Love Story Prize 2018/19
In 1916 1st Lieutenant Robert Lovett is a patient at Coldbrook Hall military hospital in Sussex, England. A gifted artist, he’s been wounded fighting in the Great War. Shell shocked and suffering from hysterical blindness he can no longer see his own face, let alone paint, and life seems increasingly hopeless.
A century later in 2017, medical student Louisa Casson has just lost her beloved grandmother – her only family. Heartbroken, she drowns her sorrows in alcohol on the South Downs cliffs – only to fall accidentally part-way down. Doctors fear she may have attempted suicide, and Louisa finds herself involuntarily admitted to Coldbrook Hall – now a psychiatric hospital, an unfriendly and chaotic place.
Then one day, while secretly exploring the old Victorian hospital’s ruined, abandoned wing, Louisa hears a voice calling for help, and stumbles across a dark, old-fashioned hospital room. Inside, lying on the floor, is a mysterious, sightless young man, who tells her he was hurt at the Battle of the Somme, a WW1 battle a century ago. And that his name is Lieutenant Robert Lovett…
Two people, two battles: one against the invading Germans on the battlefields of 1916 France, the other against a substandard, uncaring mental health facility in modern-day England. Two journeys begun a century apart, but somehow destined to coincide – and become one desperate struggle to be together.
Part WW1 historical fiction, part timeslip love story – and at the same time a meditation on the themes of war, mental illness, identity and art – Beyond The Moon sweeps the reader on an unforgettable journey through time. An intelligent read, perfect for book clubs.

For fans of Diana Gabaldon, Amy Harmon, Beatriz Williams, Kate Quinn, Kristin Hannah, Kate Morton, Susanna Kearsley and Paullina Simons.

“A poignant and stirring love story… Taylor’s accomplished, genre-bending book succeeds as a WW1 historical novel and a beguiling, time travel romance… The sharply written narrative deftly moves back and forth between the past and present.” — Kirkus Reviews
“A time travel romance, yet so much more than that. It is also an unflinching portrait of the horrors of war, and a look at the torturous extremes a human soul can endure. It is a sonnet to the transformative power of love, even as it is also a criticism of the futility and pointless destructiveness of war.” — Shaylin Gandhi, author of By The Light of Embers

My Thoughts:
This is a first novel for Catherine Taylor!
Beyond The Moon is a busy story. It’s busy because several themes are running through it. Examples of themes: PTSD, war, depression, survival, love, death, prison, art, medical practices, family, friendship, private hospitalization/treatment center practices, pacifist, and addictions. The lengthy list of themes, and the categories the book fits, had to have been a very big challenge for Taylor. I believe she pulled it all together for a great story. I read the book in two days! The story held my attention until the end, because I had to know how the story would wrap up with the two main characters.
Dual time periods has become common in historical fiction books. In other books, the dual time periods go back and forth with the change of each chapter. Beyond The Moon allowed one time period to stay through repeated chapters at times. This gave me a chance to relax.
Solid description writing of the scenery that helped me become apart of the story.
Taylor is wonderful at painting the scenes.
Great dialogue. In one scene, people are having a conversation about the war (World War I.) This conversation gave me an idea of how people on both sides felt about the war.
Fantastic reading about medical practices used during World War I. Some of the practices are primitive, yet they are on the edge of transformation in learning new things.
The ending is not believable, but I consider this story to be fantasy.
A wonderful first novel! Bravo.

Giveaway: (Impressions In Ink is only posting the material for the giveaway.)
During the Blog Tour, we are giving away two paperback copies of Beyond the Moon by Catherine Taylor! To enter, please use the Gleam form below.
Giveaway Rules!
– Giveaway ends at 11:59 pm EST on December 20th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Paperback giveaway is open to the US only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspicion of fraud will be decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– The winner has 48 hours to claim prize or a new winner is chosen.

Link for the giveaway: https://gleam.io/lAcVI/beyond-the-moon

(Review) The Victory Garden by Rhys Bowen

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Publisher and Publication Date: Lake Union Publishing. February 12, 2019.
Genre: Historical Fiction.
Pages: 368.
Source: Library.
Audience: Readers of World War I, historical fiction and romance.
Review: Okay.

Amazon

Summary:
Emily Bryce is a young woman who is yearning to be involved in the war effort. Her best friend Clarissa shares about her role in caring for the wounded, and this makes Emily more determined to become involved on the home front.
Emily’s brother, Freddie, died in the Battle of Ypres. Her parents are determined to keep Emily safe. Emily’s mother is determined to show Emily off to society.
Emily volunteers as a Land Girl. It is hard work. Her parents are shocked and appalled that their darling girl is doing manual labor. While on this new adventure, Emily meets an Aussie pilot on medical leave. She also finds a journal about medicinal arts. This journal changes her life. It also keeps her busy during the hard days ahead.

My Thoughts:
I didn’t feel an attachment to any of the characters. The story has an interesting plot, but I didn’t feel emotion that I should have about the main character at least. Emily’s had sad events in life, but I was not effected.
The part of the story I found most interesting was the journal Emily found with information about medicinal arts. So, it is not a person that held my interest, but a journal about medicinal arts. It shouldn’t be that way.
This is a serious story. Life and death occur, but I didn’t become swept up in it or feel it mattered.
I finished the story but am disappointed. This book did not work for me.

(Review) Letters to Doberitz by Derek R. Payne

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Publisher and Publication Date: Austin Macauley Publishers LTD. October 31, 2018.
Genre: Nonfiction. Memoir. World War I.
Pages: 224.
Source: I received a complimentary copy, but was not required to leave a positive review.
Rating: Excellent.
Audience: For readers of World War I and military books.

19 black and white illustrations

Amazon
The Kindle price is $4.49

A FIRST novel from Derek R. Payne

 

Summary:
Letters to Doberitz is a memoir of Derek R. Payne’s family during Word War I. This is the story of his grandparents and great-grandparents. The story represents life in England before World War I and during the war years; it also shows the remarkable story of men who fought in the battles of World War I. Another key feature is the after effects of combat on a battle weary man. The family holds a large selection of black and white photographs from this period. His grandfather learned a new art by painting over the black and white photographs adding watercolours. Payne considers the photographs a “window” to their lives.

My Thoughts:
Letters to Doberitz is an excellent resource for any reader interested in World War I. In the first few pages, I was shown how people felt about the looming war in early 1914. It also shows the work environment, dating, and parent to children relationships. I especially loved a panoramic view shown through strong description of street life. In addition, a speech given to the people in the Bristol town square about the war.
William Payne joined the war early. He was a young man with a driven focus. If the book had only been about him I’d have enjoyed reading it, but the book includes his father’s story.
Additional reasons why I loved this book:
•It was interesting to read about the enlistment process and combat training.
•The first battle, The Battle of Mons. The thoughts of the soldiers who were still in training, and how they heard the battle had not gone well. This point adds to the tension.
•The departure for Belgium, and the first sighting of this country. Through Will’s eyes I understood better about how all the combat ready men must have felt. He’d lived in the same place all his life and he’d embarked on a first trip.
•The trench line. This part of the book, the battle in the trenches, is a crisis point in the book. The nighttime thoughts and perspective. The waiting of when the battle will begin. The anticipation and tension of when the shells hit and are brought in to closer range. The shock wave of the blasts from the guns. The chaos of bombardment. All the sights, sounds, and feelings of being there are brought to life. I feel this is the strongest feature of the book.
•I was most interested to read about how men were treated for “shell shock.” This is what PTSD was called in World War I.

Shellshock2

Photograph is from Wikipedia and not from the book. Photograph taken from a field station at Ypres, Belgium, 1917.