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Publisher: Vintage Books$12.12A Star for Mrs. Blake (Large Print Library Binding)
Publisher: Center Point$36.95
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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.
With expert storytelling, memorable characters, and beautiful prose, April Smith gives us a timeless story, by turns heartwarming and heartbreaking, set against a footnote of history--little known, yet unforgettable.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-10-14
- Reviewer: Staff
Smith’s sixth novel, a departure from her Ana Grey thrillers, presents the touching story, set in the 1930s, of Gold Star Mothers—the mothers of fallen U.S. service members—visiting their sons’ graves in France. Cora Blake lives in Maine, where she is raising her three nieces after her sister’s death. Struggling from day to day to survive the Depression, Cora learns of a chance, courtesy of the U.S. government, to see the last resting place of her son, killed in WWII. She ends up being the glue that holds together “Party A,” which includes, along with their escorts Second Lt. Thomas Hammond and nurse Lily Barnett, a Boston socialite, an Irish maid, and, temporarily, an African-American woman. The trip’s organizers soon correct this “mistake,” but the woman’s white replacement proves mentally unstable. During the trip, Cora meets down-on-his luck reporter Griffin Reed, who was badly disfigured while covering the war, and whose investigative skills bring her a gift beyond her hopes. Smith captures the mothers’ interactions in beautiful detail and delves into the government’s not-entirely-altruistic reasons for sponsoring the trip. Several plot threads, however, are unresolved, leaving the reader wanting more at the end of this captivating read. Agent: Molly Friedrich, Friedrich Literary Agency. (Jan.)
Gold Star Mother on a mission
April Smith, creator of the popular Detective Ana Grey novels, makes a change of pace with A Star for Mrs. Blake. This moving and surprising novel is the account of a Gold Star Mother’s sojourn to the fields of Verdun where her only son was killed, along with so many other young men, during World War I.
The reader would expect such a story to be moving, but what’s surprising is the toughness that Smith gives to her characters, especially Cora Blake, the Gold Star Mother. But why shouldn’t she be tough? When we first meet her, it’s during a freezing cold Depression-era Maine winter. Her parents are dead, her son is dead and she’s raising her motherless nieces. She and the girls are saved from penury when she gets a job in a sardine cannery that she must walk to because there’s no more gas to fuel the bus. Somehow, she’s managed to survive: She even has a suitor. Then, the letter comes, inviting her to visit the grave of her son in France. She decides to look forward to her voyage the way her seafaring parents looked forward to their trips around the world.
Cora’s sojourn puts her in more modest company, however. She becomes part of a group that includes an Irish housekeeper, a Jewish chicken farmer’s wife, a socialite and, almost, an African-American seamstress. The near inclusion of Mrs. Russell is our first reminder that, Depression and fallout from World War I aside, things aren’t quite right in America.
Still, most of the folks Cora meets are delightful company, including her minders, the plucky nurse Lily Barnett and the upstanding, infinitely patient and cheerful Lt. Hammond. Cora also strikes up a friendship with journalist Griffin Reed. Disfigured in the war, he’s a morphine addict who’s being kept by the artist who helped design the mask that conceals his wounds.
But as entertaining as the trip is, Smith, a lucid writer with a detective’s eye for detail, doesn’t let us forget the painful event that launched her heroine’s journey. Reed’s shattered face, rows of gravestones on a field, live ordnance found too near to a picnic area—all remind the reader of the grotesque wastefulness of the war that began a century ago. Through Cora Blake’s story, Smith explores the experience of some of the good, ordinary and resourceful people who were caught up in it.