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[Fri Aug 1 20:31:28 2014] enhancedContent.pl: Wide character in print at E:\websites\aquabrowser\IMCPL\app\site\enhancedContent.pl line 249. 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.Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.
After losing her son in World War I, small-town librarian Cora Blake is surprised over a decade later to receive a letter from the U.S. government inviting her to go to Europe to visit his grave as part of a "Gold Star Mother" tour. Looking forward to the adventure, Cora also hopes that she and the other mothers will be able to find the closure that has eluded them for so long. A chance encounter with an embittered journalist gives her the opportunity to tell her story to the world and leads her to discover some unexpected truths about the long-term legacy of the war. VERDICT What initially feels like a straightforward and heartwarming road trip novel becomes more complicated as the women draw nearer to their destination and squabbles over class and personality differences give way to increasing criticism of the government and military bureaucracy. Though some later plot developments are a bit far-fetched, Smith, in a change of pace from her "FBI Special Agent Ana Grey" thrillers (Good Morning, Killer), artfully maintains a generally warm tone while also allowing her characters to ask hard questions about the war and its consequences.[Page 82]. (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
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.)[Page ]. Copyright 2013 PWxyz LLC