Book Review: A Star for Mrs. Blake by April Smith (plus, a giveaway)

starformrsblakeTitle: A Star for Mrs. Blake
Author: April Smith
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: ARC from the publisher for tour with TLC Book Tours
Number of pages: 352 pages
First line: Cora Blake was certainly not planning on going to Paris that spring.

Goodreads blurb: …set in the 1930s about five American women – Gold Star Mothers – who travel to France to visit the graves of their World War I soldier sons: a pilgrimage that will change their lives in unforeseeable and indelible ways.

The women meet for the first time just before their journey begins: Katie, an Irish maid from Dorchester, Massachusetts; Minnie, wife of an immigrant Russian Jewish chicken farmer; Bobbie, a wealthy Boston socialite; Wilhelmina, a former tennis star in precarious mental health; and Cora Blake, a single mother and librarian from coastal Maine. In Paris, Cora meets a journalist whose drug habit helps him hide from his own wartime fate-facial wounds so grievous he’s forced to wear a metal mask. This man will change Cora’s life in wholly unexpected ways. And when the women finally travel to Verdun to visit the battlegrounds where their sons fought as well as the cemeteries where they are buried, shocking events-a death, a scandal, a secret revealed-will guarantee that Cora’s life and those of her traveling companions will become inextricably intertwined. Only now will they be able to emerge from their grief and return home to their loved ones.

A Star for Mrs. Blake got off to a slow start for me, but I’m so glad that I didn’t give up on it. I think this is a common issue when you have a book that follows the stories of several different characters, but fortunately, April Smith’s wonderfully descriptive writing and character insight made me keep reading.

I had never heard of the Gold Star Mothers program until I read this book, and I found this little snippet of history fascinating. In light of the knowledge that another world war is on the horizon, reading of mothers traveling to France to visit their sons’ graves a dozen years after World War I ended is especially poignant. Smith deals with the questions many mothers have: how did he die? was it worth it? why my son? These questions are universal, and are still being dealt with today by the family members of our men and women serving in Afghanistan.

Smith also deals with class, gender, and race issues, with the idea of military service without question, and with the trials faced by those who survived the war. While the various storylines seem a bit disparate during the first half of the book, they come together beautifully in the end. This is a must-read for any lovers of historical fiction, and especially those interested in World War I.

Thanks to the publishers, I am honored to be able to give a copy of A Star for Mrs. Blake away to one of my readers. Here’s how to enter:

~ One entry per person.

~ This giveaway is open to readers in the US only. (Publisher’s rules, not mine.)

~ Please leave a comment on this post before 11:59 p.m. PST, Friday, February 14, 2014. I will draw one winner on Saturday, the 15th, and contact him or her for her mailing information.

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26 Responses to Book Review: A Star for Mrs. Blake by April Smith (plus, a giveaway)

  1. bermudaonion (Kathy)
    Twitter: bermudaonion

    I’m not familiar with the Gold Star Mothers program either. This sounds like it is worth sticking with.

  2. anne says:

    Thanks for this captivating novel which interests me greatly. The story and the era fascinate me very much.

  3. Beth Hoffman says:

    I suspect I’d like this book! Thanks for offering a giveaway.

  4. Kailana says:

    I have been seeing this around and hope to read it at some point! (Just a reminder, I don’t live in the US so this is just a comment!)

  5. I haven’t heard of this book before, but it does sound interesting. Any story about military men like this catches my interest, given my dad was a veteran himself.

  6. Michelle says:

    The Gold Star program in general is such a great one that really never gets any attention, unfortunately. It is such a relatively easy thing to do, to show recognition to those mothers and/or wives who have experienced the ultimate loss on behalf of the country. I’ve heard such great things about this book, but my own experiences as an Army wife always hit a little too close to home whenever I read about this.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Michelle – I didn’t know Jim was Army! How did I not know that? I can understand why books like this would take on a much more significant meaning.

  7. Beverly S. says:

    Love historical fiction (majored in history in college) and this one looks especially good. 🙂
    Thanks for your review and giveaway. Hope you are staying warm…..bitter cold here….course that is good “stay inside and read weather.” 😉

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Beverly – It was 17 below zero at our house yesterday morning. Seriously. I am SO over winter!

  8. Sheila (Book JOurney)
    Twitter: bookjourney

    Sounds like a good read! Great give away Carrie!

  9. Pingback: April Smith, author of A Star for Mrs. Blake, on tour January/February 2014 | TLC Book Tours

  10. This time period brought such a huge degree of change to society … I really enjoy books that bring that upheaval to the attention of readers.

    Thanks for being a part of the tour!

  11. Elisabeth says:

    Thanks for the giveaway! Sounds like a great read, and Paris is a favorite city of mine!

  12. Susan says:

    This book sounds like quite a departure from her novel from long ago called North of Montana, a crime story set in L.A. She has switched gears and it seems an interesting subject matter. thanks for the review

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Susan – I haven’t read anything else by her – didn’t know she wrote crime fiction!

  13. Anita Yancey says:

    It sounds like a very touching and interesting book. I love the time period the book is set in. Thanks for having this giveaway.