A Star for Mrs. Blake by April Smith with Giveaway
Today I have a fictional account based in real life events: please be sure to check out the other tour stops for this title, and don’t forget to enter the giveaway only here at I am, Indeed. One US or Canadian winner will win a signed, first-edition hardback cover of the title! The drawing ends on 12 May at 23.59 (EST), and you can’t win if you don’t enter!
In 1929 Congress enacted legislation that authorized the secretary of war to arrange for pilgrimages to the European cemeteries “by mothers and widows of members of military and naval forces of the United Sates who died in the service at any time between April 5, 1917, and July 1, 1921, and whose remains are now interred in such cemeteries.” Congress later extended eligibility for pilgrimages to mothers and widows of men who died and were buried at sea or who died at sea or overseas and whose places of burial were unknown. The Office of the Quartermaster General determined that 17,389 women were eligible. By October 31, 1933, when the project ended, 6,693 women had made the pilgrimage. This is a review of the fictionalized accounts of five of these women…
April Smith took a wonderful and little known snippet of history and crafted a story that brought five of the women as they journeyed on their pilgrimage. Diverse women, with different experiences, united in their grief and loss brought unique perspectives, giving a solid sense of loss and enabling the reader to empathize and imagine the world that they were living in. For me, the more poignant parts of the stories revolved around the battle site visits and the graves, the details of grief, realization and the women’s own ability to find a sort of closure with their losses.
There are five unique characters, and Smith does attempt to introduce them all and fill our head and her characters with often extraneous ephemera and backstory that fell short of presenting the actual information about each life that I cared about: their grief, their loss, the sense of determination to make the pilgrimage and find some closure and peace for their own selves. The support and camaraderie that I would have expected to feel strongly throughout their journey often took second place to the backstory and explaining each woman’s approach, and thus deadening the emotional impact.
While descriptive and evocative for place, there was a certain remove from the visceral emotional reactions that I expected to have frequently recurring through the story, and I felt a tiny bit cheated. This is one of my favorites: history presented that is grounded in fact with a fictional overlay to tell a story that places me, the reader, right into the emotions, sights and feel of the time. The pacing and flow was far too inconsistent to provide me with those escapist moments, and that inconsistency was hindering my ability to feel the emotions or have them impact in any relevant way.
The time of this tale is the early 1930’s, and the other niggle I had with the story itself was language use. I like my phrasing, slang and references to feel OF the time, and there were too many choices that were perhaps not incorrect, but felt wrong and the use of multiple entendre and language that verged on blue had such an inconsistent and jarring effect on my reading that I also was pulled away and questioned several insertions. I don’t believe that an author needs to insert modern language, patois or phrasing into a historically set work to get readers to understand or enjoy. There were several passages that could have, in my opinion, been removed entirely without loss and perhaps to the benefit of the story.
And yet, I really did enjoy this story: I learned many things, I saw a new perspective on character and place and Smith does have a very conversant and capable style of writing that encourages you to read on. Grab some history with your fiction – it is a great way to learn and be inspired to seek out more information!
Title: A Star for Mrs. Blake
Author: April Smith
Genre: Literary Fiction, Literary Fiction /Historical Setting
Published by: Knopf
Audio Length: 11 Hours: 20 minutes
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About the Book:
The United States Congress in 1929 passed legislation to fund travel for mothers of the fallen soldiers of World War I to visit their sons’ graves in France. Over the next three years, 6,693 Gold Star Mothers made the trip. In this emotionally charged, brilliantly realized novel, April Smith breathes life into a unique moment in American history, imagining the experience of five of these women.
They are strangers at the start, but their lives will become inextricably intertwined, altered in indelible ways. These very different Gold Star Mothers travel to the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery to say final good-byes to their sons and come together along the way to face the unexpected: a death, a scandal, and a secret revealed.
None of these pilgrims will be as affected as Cora Blake, who has lived almost her entire life in a small fishing village off the coast of Maine, caring for her late sister’s three daughters, hoping to fill the void left by the death of her son, Sammy, who was killed on a scouting mission during the final days of the war. Cora believes she is managing as well as can be expected in the midst of the Depression, but nothing has prepared her for what lies ahead on this unpredictable journey, including an extraordinary encounter with an expatriate American journalist, Griffin Reed, who was wounded in the trenches and hides behind a metal mask, one of hundreds of “tin noses” who became symbols of the war.
A copy of this title was provided via Publisher for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.