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A Star for Mrs. Blake: A novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (January 14, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307958841
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307958846
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (86 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #26,307 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Smith, author of five thrillers starring FBI Special Agent Ana Grey, here offers a heartfelt glimpse into a little-known episode in U.S. history, the journey taken by mothers of U.S. soldiers fallen in WWI to visit their sons’ graves in Europe. Smith focuses on five mothers whose sons were buried at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in France. Their unofficial leader is Cora Blake, a single mother from Maine. She’s joined by an Irish maid, the wife of an immigrant Russian chicken farmer, a woman who’s been in and out of mental institutions since her son was killed, and a wealthy Boston socialite. Smith deftly spotlights moments along their sojourn, from the giggling fits brought on by the French delicacies they are served on board ship to the tears they shed when confronted by the stark white lines of marble stones where their sons’ remains now lie. Side plots revolve around an American journalist, badly disfigured in the war, who befriends Cora and publishes her story in a French newspaper, and the practice of racially segregating these mothers, even in their grief. Smith’s foray into historical fiction is captivating and enlightening. --Deborah Donovan


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

“Smith's gentle, evocative prose brings graceful life to a wrongly forgotten historical footnote.” —Entertainment Weekly

“A first rate novel that is well worth reading. . . . Smith has the unique ability to take a long forgotten story and craft it into a page turner. . . . She’s found an important but forgotten postscript in America’s past and has written a compelling historical novel that confronts racism, class and economic differences as well as government bureaucracy. Smith conveys all of these topics through story and characters rather than a soapbox, and her subtle approach has far more impact than the histrionics of any television or radio pundit.” —Rob Taub, The Huffington Post

“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
“Smith writes with great depth of detail and of emotion, giving voice to these Gold Star Mothers who traveled from America to their sons’ graves in France.” —Historical Novel Society

“A moving novel [that] gives readers a detailed and colorful description of life during the interim between the War to End All Wars and the next world war that quickly followed. . . This is not simply a story of grieving mothers but a story of America—rich in the lives of each of the characters who raise small boys to become part of the dream but instead bury them in a faraway land. . . The questions are posed: How do we achieve peace? What are the costs of war? Can freedom and patriotism co-exist in America? And, for us in this century, how are our lives richer for the sacrifices of those who served before us?” —Lorinda Hayes, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“Riveting. . . Smith has told this story with memorable characters and truly beautiful writing.” —Ann Lafarge, Hudson Valley News

More About the Author

Yes, I'm the same April Smith who writes the FBI Ana Grey Mystery/Thrillers, but now I've taken a new direction -- a foray into historical fiction with my latest novel, A STAR FOR MRS. BLAKE. I've wanted to tell the story of the 1930s Gold Star Mothers pilgrimages to Europe for twenty-five years, but nobody was interested, so I wrote it on spec. They say to follow your heart, right? I wrote NORTH OF MONTANA, the first Ana Grey novel, on spec, too. I grew up in the Bronx, where the Kingsbridge Road Branch public library above a dry cleaners was the center of my universe -- which many years later became Los Angeles and writing for television, garnering three Emmy award nominations and two from the Writer's Guild. Now I'm happy to be back home: still in Los Angles, still writing scripts, but firmly and forever in the world of books.

Customer Reviews

The story and the characters were very interesting.
Judy W Darby
A Star for Mrs. Blake is a melodically beautiful, meticulously researched novel about an unknown piece of American history.
Bloggers Recommend
It started off as an interesting premise but was bogged down with too many partially developed characters and plot lines.
Catherine M Kirk

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Samantha Glasser VINE VOICE on November 10, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
A Star for Mrs. Blake is the story of a woman who gets the chance to visit her son's grave in France. She is a "Gold Star Mother," a woman whose son was killed during WW1. The government gave these women passage to Europe with all expenses paid if their sons weren't shipped home for burial. Prior to reading this book, I had no idea that this really happened, so I am grateful to April Smith for teaching me something.

The story concerns Cora Blake, a single woman from Maine whose son enlisted at the age of 16 and was killed near Verdun. Her enthusiasm at the trip causes her to take charge in socializing the members of the group she will be traveling with. Each character in this book is extremely well-developed and you leave feeling you know each of them intimately. This is the high point of the novel. It also touches on the futility of war, which could have been a bigger focus, but which is clearly illustrated with the various characters.

I found this book to be a pleasure to read from start to finish, but many of the plot twists are predictable, giving it less of an impact than I would have hoped. However, if you begin, I defy you not to care enough about the characters to see them through to the end.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Amanda on January 17, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
I thought this was a fantastic premise for a book. I was familiar with the concept of stars in the window for sons (and now daughters!) serving abroad and with the gold stars for those who lost a son during World Wars I and II, but I was not familiar with the government sponsored pilgrimages of these mothers to the graves of their sons. Its kind of amazing that our government did that-and really what an undertaking that must have been. (This short article is interesting for further reading.) I liked that the group we follow in the book, Party A, is made up of such very different women, the maid, the socialite, the Jewish farmer’s wife and the widowed Mrs. Blake. I believe that’s one of the good things about our military-all walks of life meet up together. Unfortunately, these soldiers died together, the mothers’ grief becomes a uniting factor across class, religion and race.

I think Smith got too carried away with her subjects and what could have been an interesting and touching story was too bogged down by extraneous details and side stories. If Smith had been able to narrow down her focus I think she could have also done more to keep her characters real and language true to the time period. It felt like every character you met had a back story, and they just didn’t matter. I would rather have gone deeper into a few issues, such as the separation of the white and African American mothers, than have read about the history of the Army General who planned the pilgrimages. The fact that there is a “death, a scandal, a secret revealed” on the journey should be enough to keep the reader engrossed without overloading on irrelevant information.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Patty MB VINE VOICE on December 14, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
An incredible novel about a group of women, the only thing that these women have in mind is that their sons died in World War I. Something I learned was that between 1930 and 1933, the US Department of War gave an opportunity to the widows and mothers of soldiers who died in and were buried overseas.

Our group, Party A, is made up of Cora (the Mrs. Blake named in the title), Katie, Wilhelminia, Minnie, Bobbie, the Army nurse Lily and the only man in the group, the Lieutenant Hammond, who is supposed to guide the group. The word "control" would be more appropriate because he has a written schedule and looks at it and his watch every five minutes and when they're running late, he pitches a fit and tries to gather the women together so that they don't "miss" anything important (at least it's important to the Army).

April Smith does an excellent job creating realistic characters. I felt at times that I was traveling along with the group, feeling their overwhelming emotions and becoming friends with some of them. Just the idea of traveling to Paris thirteen years after losing your son in the war was overwhelming for all of these women.

There was some excitement on the trip that nobody expected. One part of the excitement was Griffin Hammond, a used-to-be journalist who wrote an article that he could only sell to the French newspapers. He interviewed Mrs. Cora Blake and wrote such a good article that the newspapers wanted a follow-up story. Another piece of excitement occurred during a picnic and then continued afterward. These last two pieces of excitement were really unexpected and were heartbreaking - aha - no spoiler from me! You have to get the book to find out about the excitement.

The book really gripped me from page one and wouldn't let go. I sat reading it and telling my husband about it. I definitely recommend it!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By nevina VINE VOICE on December 30, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
“A Star for Mrs. Blake” is a beautifully told story that focuses on a nearly forgotten piece of history, the experience of Gold Star Mothers post World War I .
“Gold Star Mothers” are mothers who lost a child in war combat. The families of the fallen soldiers had to choose between bringing their sons home or having them buried in France. Set in the 1930's, this book follows a group of 5 very different women who went on a government funded trip from the U.S to visit the graves of their sons in France. It's about how they found common ground with each other and tried to come to terms with their terrible losses and how their "pilgrimage" changed them. This book could have been so melodramatic and even though it was an emotional read it never went too far in that direction.
What an enjoyable and memorable read.
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