Monthly Archives: July 2014

World War I Centenary: A Review of This Is How I’d Love You by Hazel Woods

This is how Id Love youI am ending the week by commemorating the Centenary of World War I with another review of an historical fiction novel set during The Great War.  Each one of the novels I have reviewed have given me a better understanding and deeper appreciation of the struggles, hardship and losses that this war leashed on the world.

In This is How I’d Love You, Charles Reid comes from a wealthy family in New York City that has made its fortunes in textiles.  Charles’ father assumes that Charles will take over the family business, but Charles wants to carve out his own path in life and go to medical school.  He decides to enlist as a Medic for the American Field Service volunteers in World War I and is sent to France where he recues the maimed and charred bodies of soldiers from the battlefield.  One of the few things that helps him keep his sanity and some glimmer of hope is the letters he receives from Sacha Dench in which they are exchanging moves for a long distance chess match.

Sacha Dench is a writer for the Times living in New York City with his daughter Hensley.  Mr. Dench is a pacifist and his anti-war editorials have gotten him fired from his position at the Times. Mr. Dench takes a job as a superintendent of a mine in New Mexico and as he and his daughter Hensley are riding on the train out West, she contemplates her problems and what has become her unhappy existence. When Hensley reads some of her father’s letters from Charles Reid, she starts her own correspondence with the medic.  Charles and Hensley are each stuck in horrible situations, in places far from home and their only ray of light in a dark world is their correspondence with each other.  The letters that they write to each other are very moving and eloquent and one of my favorite parts of this book.

Hazel Woods makes the suffering on the battlefield come to life through the eyes of Charles Reid.  He watches men who have been subjected to chlorine gas cough up their insides as they die a horrible and painful death.  Charles has to slog through the muck and blood of the battle field to decide if any of the wounded are still alive and worth carrying back to the hospital.  Throughout all of this he contemplates god and religion and the existence of faith in these horrendous circumstances.

Hazel Woods has written a beautiful historical novel that does justice to the atrocities that were suffered during World War I.  THIS IS HOW I’D LOVE YOU also reminds us that when we truly love someone we look past their flaws and faults and love them anyway.

*Thanks so much to Penguin Plume Books and NetGalley for the Advance Copy.  This book will be available on August 26th.

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World War I Centenary: A Review of The End of Innocence by Allegra Jordan

The End of InnocenceWhenever I start reading a new book it usually takes me a few pages to get used to the prose style of the author.  This was not the case with Allegra Jordan’s new historical novel THE END OF INNOCENCE.  The prose in this book was some of the most mellifluous writing I have encountered in a novel recently.

Helen Windship Brooks hails from a family whose ancestry is among Boston’s upper class that send their progeny to Harvard to become lawyers and doctors and captains of industry.  When the novel begins Helen will be attending Radcliffe College and is excited to join an editing class that is usually only open to the male students of Harvard.  The famous Professor Copeland has heard of her editing and writing skills and has personally asked her to join his seminar.  It is the one class that she truly enjoys and sees as a challenge during her first semester at college.  The poetry that is written for this part of the book is beautiful, especially the last poem that appears towards the end of the novel.

As Helen is attending the seminar at Harvard, she comes into contact with a variety of Harvard students.  These young men have diverse backgrounds and come from countries all over the world.  As the months pass during 1914 many of these young men leave Harvard and enroll in the militaries of their various countries to fight in the Great War.  Helen’s editing class gets smaller every day.  In this subtle way the author reminds us that the war had such an enormous impact on mundane circumstances like the attendance in a college course.

The most important character of this book for me was that of Wils Brandl, a student that Helen meets in her editing class at Harvard.  His mother is a Prussian countess and his father is a Bavarian poet.  When the war breaks out he is subjected to bullying, name calling and racial remarks because of his German descent.  Wils is a poet himself and has no interest in politics or fighting for the Kaiser’s cause.  Many of the discussions, commemorations and writings I have come across about World War I center around the Allied forces.  However, Wils character is a reminder that countless young men left their loved ones and fought, suffered and died on the German side as well.   War is not glorious or something to celebrate, but instead it is sad and tragic no matter which side of the battle field one happens to be on.

This novel inspires the reader to contemplate several poignant questions.  How do we appropriately commemorate those who have passed from this life ahead of us?  What is the appropriate time for mourning?  What, if anything, will successfully honor a life that has been tragically lost?  How do we move forward without the ones we so dearly love?   Allegra Jordan’s novel THE END OF INNOCENCE is a thought-provoking and emotional memorial to the Great War that affected so many lives.

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Thanks so much to NetGally and Sourcebooks Landmark Publishing for the Advanced Review copy of this book.

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World War I Centenary: A Commemoration Through Books

WW1centenary_715x195This week on The Book Binder’s Daughter, I am commemorating the centenary of World War I through a series of reviews of historical fiction set during The Great War.  There are a lot of fantastic books coming out this year that bring to the life the hardships, tragedies and sacrifices that many nations suffered during the war.  I have chosen 3 of these books to review this week: Fallen by Lia Mills, The End of Innocence by Allegra Jordan and This is How I’d Love You by Hazel Woods.

For more information on the history of this war and commemorative events visit:

The United States World War I Centennial Commission

The World War I Historical Association

 

FallenFirst up is the novel Fallen by Lia Mills.  This World War I historical fiction takes place in Dublin and centers around the Crilly family whose oldest son Liam has volunteered to join the army and fight in the war.  The member of his family who is most devastated by his decision to go to the front is his twin sister Katie.

The perspective of this book is unique as it centers around Dublin and the Irish views of the war.  At the time, the Irish were trying to gain independence as a republic, so many men like Liam joined the army in an attempt to prove that Ireland was worthy of its own seat at the peace talks at the end of the war.  This novel served to remind me of the scope of the war and just how many countries were involved in the fighting.

While the Irish army is heavily involved in the war, its citizens are also dealing with the Easter Rebellion in which Irish Republicans stage an armed rebellion in the streets of Dublin to end British rule.  The characters in the book learn all too well the horrors of war as fighting, looting and blood shed are brought to their very streets.

Lia Mills brings to life the suffering that the soldiers face in the aftermath of war through the character of Hubie, a wounded veteran.  As Katie Crilly is trying to decide what to do with her life in the year after her twin brother goes to war, she is introduced to Hubie.  They seem to find comfort in each other’s suffering and he repeatedly asks her what she wants in her life now that she is no longer defined by her brother.

I love it when a novel has a clever title whose meaning and significance are revealed throughout the story.  Katie and her family read the papers everyday and see lists of soldiers who have “fallen” in battle.  The euphemism for death disturbs her and she feels that it is too light a word to use for what has happened to her brother and other men like him.  Throughout the novel “fallen” also comes to have a very different meaning for Katie.

My litmus test for a successful historical fiction is that it makes me want to further research the time period.  As I was reading Fallen, I kept looking at World War I websites for photos, stories and descriptions of this time period.  So according to my test, Fallen is a resounding success.

What World War I books, fiction or non-fiction, have you read?  Let me know in the comments!

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Review: Painted Horses by Malcolm Brooks

Painted HorsesI admit it.  Grammar mistakes drive me crazy.  I spend my days enlightening students about the grammar nuances of a dead language.  So I do have an excuse, or at least an explanation for my pet peeve.  When I picked up Painted Horses and read the first line I cringed:  “London, even the smell of it.”  But despite the fact that this story begins with a sentence fragment I read on.

Catherine Lemay grows up as the only child of well-to-do parents who live in the outskirts of New York City.  Her parents want her to study piano, so like a good daughter she gets accepted into Julliard and heads off to London on a Fulbright Scholarship.  But while she is in London exploring the city, she stumbles upon an ancient Roman archaeological dig.  One thing leads to another and Catherine gives up the piano and changes her studies to archaeology.

During a summer in the 1950’s, Catherine is hired by Harris Light and Power to look for Native American artifacts in a canyon in Montana.  The power company is obligated to conduct a survey of the canyon before they flood it for their power damn.  It is evident that the executives at this company chose Catherine because she is not only young, but also a woman who could not possibly be capable of finding anything in their canyon.   The discovery of artifacts of any significance would mean delays for the company’s project and they will not let anything stand in the way of what they view as progress.

We are also treated to the story of John H. who is a horse whisperer of sorts an well as an artist and lives in the canyon that Catherine will survey.  The author cleverly gives him a common first name and only a letter for a last name.  He is orphaned at any early age and makes his way out west by jumping on trains.  He has no family, no ties in the world and answers to no one.  The best parts of the book involve the backstory of John H. and the development of his character as an interesting man who rides horses and paints them as well.

It is obvious from the beginning of the novel that Catherine and John H. are destined to cross paths.  I was disappointed that the inevitable interaction between them does not take place until the last quarter of the book.  Before their encounter, the reader is given intricate descriptions of American west scenery, a glimpse of the landscape of Italy during the Second World War, and accounts of Native American music and dancing rituals.  Although it must have taken the author a lot of time to research all of this historical detail, these descriptions did nothing to advance the plot or enhance the story.

The strength of PAINTED HORSES definitely lies in its characters.  With more careful editing the book would have been a better read for me.  If you like archaeology, the American West, horses or historical fiction set in the 1950’s then give this book a try.  The publisher is giving away a copy on Goodreads.  You can add it to your shelf and enter the giveaway here:

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