A Star For Mrs. Blake by April Smith

January 15th, 2014 Books

A Star for Mrs. Blake

About A Star for Mrs. Blake

Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Knopf (January 14, 2014)
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.
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.
As a Navy veteran and a spouse of a retired Naval Officer, I felt deeply connected to the ladies and Lieutenant Hammond.  As a mother, I was overcome with emotion.  There was so much depth to this story that I truly forgot that I was reading a work of fiction.  There were so many aspects of this book that I could relate to.  Ms. Smith did a wonderful job of not just capturing the historical vision, but of telling those things that are not tangible or recorded.  The patriotism, the service, the ties that bind sons to mothers, soldiers in battle, and the loss of life, these are things that cannot simply be told.  This story of the pilgrimage of Gold Star Mothers and Widows was not told in the pages of this book, it was brought to life.
Do you know how in the movies they begin a shot of an older woman talking, usually to a younger person, and then they flashback to the time of the story?  Then, on occasion the storyteller is brought back to present time, they show her, she handles the present day situation as if needlessly interrupted, only to cut back to the past?  That is how I felt from the first pages of A STAR FOR MRS. BLAKE.  April Smith captured the moment in time so vividly it was as if I were treading through the bitter cold and snow in the patched up boots of Cora Blake.  I could feel the loss and grief to my core as I read the stories of the Gold Star Mothers’ grief.  I shed tears for the loss of a child that had gone into battle, not as a child, but as a man, but yet still a boy I cradled in my dreams.  I felt the healing power of kinship among women and the hope of new beginnings. Then my children would ask for some attention and it was if I was zapped from a different time to address them.  Once their needs were met, I was instantaneously zapped back in time.   All of these feelings were conjured up through the pages of a book.  The images of heartbroken mothers invaded my sleep.
I remember when I was 19 years old and set out to join the Navy.  War had just been declared in the Gulf and I was due to leave for boot camp days later.  I was excited in many ways.  Like the boys of this book, it was a duty to country, a pride that can’t always be explained or understood.  For some in my company it was a bit of rebellion.  There were fears, I know my parents had them too, but they were supportive and proud.  I was joined by so many other women and men, looking back we were mostly just kids, but we were excited and ready for whatever task was ahead.  We made instant best friends, comrades, shipmates.  Lifelong connections that may not ever be understood or explained by civilians.  It was a kinship, we all were forever changed during that time.   I knew exactly what would compel a young lad of only 16 to go and enlist.  I knew what would drive two brothers to join that war, together.  I knew the desire a young doctor or nurse may have felt to go do what they can.  April Smith captured that desire and it was conveyed in the characters as the mothers remembered their sons.
I have lost shipmates.  I have walked the route through Arlington National Cemetery.  I have read the names on those white headstones and shed tears for fallen brothers and sisters.  I have prayed for their families and given thanks for their sacrifice.  Walking through the sea of white headstones is very humbling.  As described in the book, “…but now she saw a marble forest of young men who were dead, an knew that Sammy was, had been, and always would be, in their company.”  These soldiers and sailors are never alone.  They should never be forgotten.   We have come so far since the 1930’s, but one thing never changes in war.  There is loss.  A STAR FOR MRS. BLAKE captures a story of a time set long ago, but is relevant yet today.
One of the things that I really enjoyed about this book ,aside from the pride of service and the emotions I felt, was the evolution of the characters.  It wasn’t just about mothers grieving for their lost sons on foreign soil.  Each character found something within themselves and freed themselves of something that had bound them to the past.  Through their journeys, these ladies were able to find a future without having to let go of their child.  Barriers were overcome because of one common thing bringing these ladies together.  Through this journey these ladies made discoveries about themselves, their families, and the world in which they live that they never would have made had they not embarked on this pilgrimage.
The author included this poem by an unknown author and I felt overcome with sadness, pride and remembrance as I read it.
“I wear a poppy on my breast
Where once a boyish head found rest.
And often when the day is done
I see again my soldier son.
He comes to me in such a way
That I can almost hear him say,
‘Do not worry, Mother dear,
I am coming home some day.’
And when the tears unbidden start
I place a hand above my heart
To there caress a touseled head
But only find a poppy red.”
Thank you April Smith for sharing such a wonderful experience in time and thank you to TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour.  I’d like to thank all those who served before me, with me, and after me.  The sacrifice is great.  We must never forget that all gave some, and some gave all.
In honor of our fallen,
Cici ♥

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A Star for Mrs. Blake is a beautifully written, meticulously researched slice of American history. April Smith’s poignant and tender story of five courageous World War I Gold Star mothers’ amazing journey across the sea is one you will never forget.” —Fannie Flagg
“April Smith has written a beautiful and unforgettable novel about five Gold Star Mothers whose stories are both personal and universal. Writing A Star for Mrs. Blake must have been a labor of love and it shows on every page. Everyone who has served or is serving in the military, and also their families and friends, should read this book.” —Nelson DeMille
“A heartfelt glimpse into a little-known episode in U.S. history. . . Smith’s historical fiction is captivating and enlightening.” —Deborah Donovan, Booklist (starred review) 
“Captivating. . . Smith captures the mothers’ interactions in beautiful detail and delves into the government’s not-entirely-altruistic reasons for sponsoring the trip.” —Publishers Weekly

About April Smith

April Smith is the author of North of Montana; Be the One; Good Morning, Killer; Judas Horse; and White Shotgun. She is also a television screenwriter and producer, whose most recent work was a TNT original movie based on Good Morning, Killer. She lives in Santa Monica.
Connect with April on her Website – Facebook –Twitter
*I received an advanced copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

4 Responses to “A Star For Mrs. Blake by April Smith”

  • April Smith [ 15Jan14]

    Dear Cici,

    I don’t know if it’s usual for an author to reply to a reviewer, but I was so moved by your reaction to A STAR TO MRS. BLAKE, I just had to tell you that you brought me back in touch with why I wrote the book and kept at it for twenty-five years until I felt I’d understood and experienced exactly what you’re taking about — patriotism that can’t be explained, dedication that only buddies can know, a deep feeling of connection to principles . . . And I’m so pleased you saw all of that in the characters’ development because that’s what novelists aim to do, but it takes a long time for all those attributes to settle and become dramatized. The book is getting wonderful reviews, but yours really touched my heart. I wanted to personally thank you and your husband for your service, and also for this generous sharing of your own story.
    Warm regards,
    April Smith

  • April Smith, author of A Star for Mrs. Blake, on tour January/February 2014 | TLC Book Tours [ 19Jan14]

    […] Wednesday, January 15th:  Cici’s Theories […]

  • Heather J @ TLC Book Tours [ 19Jan14]

    I can certainly see why you enjoyed this book. I love that feeling of being right there with the characters, experiencing exactly what they experience. I’m adding this book to my TBR list right now!

    Thanks for being on the tour. I’m featuring your review on TLC’s Facebook page today.

  • Cici [ 19Jan14]

    Thank you for your storytelling. I have been been suggesting your title to so many, it was such a wonderful story. We are starting a new book club with our church ladies in February and I am really hoping they will all agree to have this book be our first read. I need to do a follow-up post on your book. I have thought about this story so much, it has really changed my perspective and I am surprised how deeply I have been touched. Thank you for sharing your gift.


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