27 April 2014

A Star For Mrs. Blake by April Smith, Book review

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (January 14, 2014)
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307958846
  • Also available in KINDLE format


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. 

My thoughts:

In April Smith's  'A Star For Mrs. Blake', we discover anew an almost forgotten part of history! Thirteen years after the Armistice, the US Armed Forces organized pilgrimages of Remembrance for Mothers who lost their sons during the Great War. 

Of the 17, 389 women eligible to travel to the battlefields of France under this auspicious program, 
only 6, 693 made the journey to Verdun.

April Smith wove a brilliant novel showcasing 5 women of very different backgrounds and the West Point officer and Army nurse who accompanied them on the S.S. Harding for a last farewell to their loved ones.

With charismatic flair, the author gives an accountant of each fictional character's feelings as they make this emotional journey. First class accommodations are almost dazzling and even perplexing for some of the Mothers, but despite their differences, they share one bond: see where their sons have fallen. 

April Smith took care to blend the fictional and the fact based events with a clarity most readers will appreciate as mothers themselves. 
In 'A Star For Mrs. Blake' you will laugh whole heartily, shed a few tears and feel compassion for these women facing their sons' last resting place but also their pride at their ultimate sacrifice for the country each believed in!

This is my first novel by this author and I appreciate her keen descriptive for highlighting a poignant event and fascinating diorama of one such pilgrimage across 1930's France. 

Here is a quick excerpt of her writing skills:

'Union Station was like an illustration from a child's book, made of buff colored brick with brown edging, two peaked facades, and a clock tower in between that wore a conical roof like a hat; a fairy tale place that promised any train you boarded here would provide a safe and a pleasant journey. As they slipped away, past ice houses that once shipped Penobscot River ice all over the world, lumberyards that had given way to paper mills shuttered because of the Depression, Cora was departing a world of simple equations and screwed-down values that she had always taken for granted.'

You almost feel there! I can't wait to check out her other books! 

5 Stars!!

About the Author:

april smith author

From Amazon:

"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 writing scripts, but firmly and forever in the world of books."

Visit April Smith's website

Note: A library loan reflecting my opinion only!

Thank you Anna for suggesting this title!


  1. Definitely like the sound of this one. Added to my reading list. After an unsettled start to the year, I am finally getting myself organised once again. I haven't managed to pick up a book in ages, so maybe this is where I should start!
    Thank you for stopping by my blog today. I too am looking forward to sitting outside again. We did try it last week, but had to give in because we were shivering so much!

    1. It is a great book Tracey and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
      Ex-RAF flyboy says he couldn't hear your teeth shattering, ours made as much noise on this side of the pond last week. We had heavy rain downpours, hail, and a windstorm all in one 12 hour period yesterday with an average of 48 degrees F, lost the power and huddled by the wood stove! From the news this morning, we
      fared better than others!

  2. I enjoyed this one, too! We definitely have similar tastes in books. :)

    1. I'll take that as a compliment Anna as I regularly enjoy discovering new titles on your blog and always appreciate your input!


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