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4.2 out of 5 stars
A Star for Mrs. Blake
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine 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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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on January 17, 2014
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.

There were passages in this book that I found quite moving, especially as the mothers visited the cemetery where their sons were buried and later the battlefield where they died. But the best parts of the writing I had to search for in between the trivial details or language that seemed to anachronistic to me. I was invested in Mrs. Blake’s story as well as Bobbie's and Wilhelmina's, and I wish I had been able to be more interested in the other mothers. This was definitely worth a read for the historical perspective and a different kind of women's story.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon December 15, 2013
Format: HardcoverVine 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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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon December 30, 2013
Format: HardcoverVine 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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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on February 28, 2014
The premise of the book is a sparkling bit of not widely-known American history. I wanted this to be a really great book instead of a not too bad book. I hope April Smith eventually becomes that great American novelist, but this is not the book that will make her career. The characters seem to be drawn from a list of ethnic and temperamental "types" that the author feels can appeal to everyone. She attempts to add small touches of background characters and plot, but most times this appears contrived or distracting and part of some formula. Also, someone writing a novel that takes place in the 1930s shouldn't use jargon from the 21st century. It really detracts from the time and place of the story.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on March 20, 2014
Unfortunately, this book trivialized a very interesting event in history that is little known. The writing was poor and the characters were under developed, very shallow and cliche, cliche. There were so many personalities and events that could have been explored but were ignored which left the reader uninvolved in the entire story. I truly wish it had been better as the facts of women leaving home and crossing the ocean to see their son's graves at the time, took so much strength and courage and is little known.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
There are books I've read (and movies I've seen) which are peopled by "fox hole" characters. That group of characters whose identities are shorthanded to the reader by use of stereotype. You know, the "tough Italian guy from Staten Island", the "freckled Irish guy - son of a beat cop, of course - from Boston", the "brilliant and sensitive Jewish guy from Brooklyn", the "WASPy, stiff-upperlipped guy from Oyster Bay", the "black guy with-something-to-prove from Alabama", etc. The stereotypes - and variations within each one - are those of guys who share a fox hole on a Pacific Island during WW2 and face death together. The plots these characters are written into are often as stereotypical as the characters themselves, as is the case with April Smith's new novel, "A Star for Mrs Blake".

"Star" is the story of five Gold Star mothers - all female variations of the stereotypical characters above and joined by a couple more - who are treated by the US government in 1930 to visit the graves of their sons, killed and buried in France in The Great War. The problem with this book - and the reason I'm giving it twp stars - is that not much in the book is memorable. You'll read it, think about the idea of giving these grieving mothers a chance for a final goodbye to their fallen sons, and then, probably, forget in three weeks that you have read the book. It's not a "bad" book in any way; it's just not a particularly "good" one.

Okay, I'm a reader and not a writer. I have the utmost respect for authors who put their work out there for others to read and enjoy. I usually don't presume to be able to advise an author on how a work can be improved. But I've been thinking about April Smith's book since I read it. Could it have been written without using the "fox hole" method of creating characters? Would it have been a better book had she chosen fewer characters to include, and have one main character to focus on? (In the book, a bit more time is given to "hardworking, single mother from the coast of Maine", Cora Blake) I just don't know, which is why I'm a reader and not a writer.

The most value for this book would be as a mediocre book club choice. Club members could perhaps pick out a couple of the characters to talk about. Other than that, "A Star for Mrs Blake" is a pleasant read for a day at the beach.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on March 27, 2014
Too much jumping around and forcing the plot to make this believable for one second. Pity because it is a story that should be told but not this mishmash. Not worth the time or money.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on February 21, 2014
I wouldn't recommend this book. It started off as an interesting premise but was bogged down with too many partially developed characters and plot lines. It is forgettable.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on January 20, 2014
This book gives the reader a look into the lives of women who lost their sons in WWI. This perspective was new to me, particularly the overseas tours that were conducted during the height of the depression. Anyone who is a student of history will find this book an interesting and easy read. I wish that the author had included a few press pictures of the mothers boarding their ships and so on. The information provided on the men referred to as "tin noses" was fascinating. As an amateur genealogist I have dealt with a fair amount of WWI military information. I was already aware of the attempts made to assimilate men who had suffered severe facial deformities from the war back into normal society. The details that this book provides gave me a better understanding of the process and perils involved. Overall a decent book.
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