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A Star for Mrs. Blake

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3.53 of 5 stars 3.53  ·  rating details  ·  1,856 ratings  ·  460 reviews
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 o ...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published January 14th 2014 by Knopf
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The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk KiddThe Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle ZevinAll the Light We Cannot See by Anthony DoerrOne Plus One by Jojo MoyesUnder the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan
Book Group Worthy Titles for 2014
83rd out of 290 books — 1,059 voters
The Days of Anna Madrigal by Armistead MaupinOrfeo by Richard PowersLittle Failure by Gary ShteyngartThe Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan BradleyA Star for Mrs. Blake by April Smith
JANUARY 2014 LIBRARY READS
4th out of 10 books — 15 voters


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Community Reviews

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Courtney
I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I had mixed feelings about this book. It was certainly a well written and compelling story. April Smith is clearly a very talented woman. The characters were believable, and true to history. I even kind of liked the way that the point of view would switch from character to character with little fanfare. I was able to easily be lost in the memories of Cora and the other mothers as they recounted the fondest memories of their boys or
...more
Brittany
I was up all night with the flu. This book was a non-challenging distraction.

More critical analysis would be less favorable. It had all the sophistication of a "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" book or an American Girl novel where you are allowed to use the word "screw." Well-researched, but fairly flat and predictable.

UPDATE: Turns out I did NOT have the flu. I was pregnant! And I'll probably always remember I was reading this darn book.
TL
Nov 28, 2014 TL rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to TL by: Won in goodreads giveaway
An interesting subject and lovely writing but it was boring for me. I may check out future books by the author but this one didn't do it for me unfortunately.

*I received this via Goodreads First Reads in exchange for an honest review*
Amanda
Jan 17, 2014 Amanda rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: arc
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 l ...more
Suzanne
I was extremely disappointed in this book, especially since it has been chosen as Cincinnati's "On the Same Page" book for this year. I was anxious to learn more about the WW1 Gold Star Mothers and their pilgrimage to France, but this book is so poorly written, the plot so clumsy, and the characters so cliche that I finally gave up on it.
Judy
What I love about reading historical fiction is that I'm constantly learning. It is like going to school without having to take tests and writing papers. This is exemplified by "A Star for Mrs. Blake." I had never heard that the United States Government planned, paid for and escorted over 6500 mothers of men who were killed in WWI to France where their sons were buried. That fact itself made the book important to me. Additionally, the book is a delightful fictionalized read where we become invol ...more
Lesa
April Smith's novel, A Star for Mrs. Smith, is powerful and unforgettable. It's the perfect selection

for a book group, based on a little known fact of American history. She opens the book with a note from the National Archives. "In 1929, Congress enacted legislation that authorized the secretary of war to arrange for pilgrimages to the European cemeteries 'by mothers and widows of members of military and naval forces of the United States who died in the service at any time between April 5, 1917
...more
Connie
In 1929, Congress appropriated funds to give Gold Star Mothers the opportunity to visit the graves of their sons who died in World War I. The author, April Smith, was inspired by the real-life diary of Thomas Hammond who acted as an escort to a group of mothers traveling to France in 1931. The book follows fictional Cora Blake and four other East Coast mothers as they travel by ship to France, visiting Paris and Verdun.

There are lots of interesting historical details included in the book--the De
...more
Kressel Housman
In 1929, Congress passed a law to cover an all-expense paid trip by boat for American mothers whose sons were killed in World War I and buried in France. This was during the Great Depression and Hoover’s presidency, which is really quite amazing because he wasn’t willing to let the surviving World War I veterans draw their pensions early. If the Gold Star mothers as they were called were treated the way this fictional account depicts, it must have been incredibly expenses, but then, the only peo ...more
Leeann
Mar 01, 2014 Leeann rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2014
This is a book that I thought was okay while I read it, but appreciated it more after my book club discussion. I thought that there were some great characters, but they weren't all developed to their full potential. I also thought some of the dialogue was unrealistic. It was as if it was a blend of 'old-timey' speak and a more modern dialogue. And many times I thought that there was no way that anyone would utter some of the sentences that they spoke. I was also disappointed that there seemed to ...more
Callie Glorioso-Mays
A Star for Mrs. Blake is a historical fiction book set in 1931, thirteen years after the end of World War I. The story follows Cora Blake's journey from her small town in the United States to visit the grave of her son, Sammy, in Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery with a group of Gold Star Mothers (referring to the gold star that hung on their service flags after a family member had died).

Cora Blake, a volunteer librarian, lives on Deer Isle, Maine where she cares for her three nieces, and keeps ta
...more
Megan
I was not terribly engrossed in this story. I think it had too many characters and too much happening to them. It almost felt like Smith had a check list of things that happened related to Gold Star Mothers and made sure to include the whole list. Segregation? Check. Immigrants? Check. Rich lady? Check. Poor lady? Check. Polio victim? Check. Jewish lady? Check. Crazy lady? Check. Health problems? Check. Motion sickness? Check. Issues with unexploded ordinance? Check. A veteran wearing one of tho ...more
Kathy
A great story about a little known episode in American history. In 1929 the American government funded travel for mothers of soliders killed and buried in France, to travel to view their sons' graves. This is a story focusing on five of the women who traveled there together.
Cora was a librarian from a small island in Maine; Bobbie,a high society woman from Boston; Katie an Irish immigrant who worked as a maid in Boston; and Minnie, a Jewish woman. The fifth woman in their group was a mix up. The
...more
Kimberly
What. A. Read.
When I signed up for the tour I was really interested in the book because I had never heard of the Gold Star Mothers. I'm a Canadian so I'm not well versed in American history but I found the idea of this government initiative to be what drove me to sign up since I rarely read historical fiction set after 1900 and I was very interested in reading a book based on a fictional woman, from small town America travelling overseas to finally see where her son rested 13 years after his dea
...more
T.B. Markinson
3.5 stars

I have to admit, I’m a sucker for historical fiction. Many, many years ago it was all that I read. When I read the blurb for this novel I was intrigued. I had never heard of the pilgrimages made by mothers and widows of members of the armed forces who died in World War I. This is the type of history that fascinates me: the history of everyday life.

The story follows five women on their pilgrimage. Each woman is an individual and this adds a wonderful degree of tension in the story. Howev
...more
Jonathan
I'd never heard of a federally funded pilgrimage of World War 1 gold star mothers to the graves of their sons in Europe, but there was such a program apparently. I find that fact more moving than the novel which just did not do it for me. Aspects of the descriptions and relationships were well done, but then certain scenes between the principle characters would feel just a bit dull somehow and the devices employed to move the plot along were too convenient. And then in the end it was all wrapped ...more
Nancy
April Smith is quick to write that while the circumstances of her new novel are factual, the majority of the characters are fictional. Still, A Star for Mrs. Blake (Knopf, digital galley), has the veracity of real lives and true emotion. In 1931, Cora Blake is a librarian in a Maine fishing village whose only son died in World War I. As a "Gold Star Mother,'' she joins a group of other women on a government-sponsored trip to France to visit the graves of the fallen and bid a final goodbye. The g ...more
Samantha Glasser
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 t
...more
Quiltgranny
A truly dismaying book. I felt like I was following a labrador running hither and yon - look there's a squirrel! The book is supposedly based on the diary of a military man whose first assignment upon graduating West Point was to escort a group of Gold Star mothers to Verdun. The author couldn't decide if this was to be more historically based (it wasn't), a story about the sacrifices that mothers made for the war (repeated ad nauseam), or a romance (little of it). There were too many non-essent ...more
Theresa
Interesting from the historical point of view, but I was somewhat disappointed with the actual writing. I feel that some story lines were started and then abandoned and some were too predictable. For me, the novel was full of potential, but the execution was not what I had anticipated.
Connie
When I was a young child in the early 1950's, my grandmother used to tell me about the stars that mothers would put in their windows if they had sons fighting in WW II. Since I have remembered these stories all of my life, I was delighted when I found this book at my local library.

It is the story of one group of mothers who made the trip to France to visit the graves of their sons who had died on French soil during WW I. This book is historical fiction. The book seems to be nonfiction because so
...more
Phyllis
What a delightful surprise reading this book was. I won this book in a raffle or I would never have picked it up to read; I am very glad that I got the chance to read it. I learned about an event in American history that I knew nothing about - the war mothers visiting their sons' graves in France. This author does a great job of fleshing out more than one character and balancing both genders so that the reader gets the full flavor of the story. The tone and telling of the story is definitely fem ...more
Anna
The story encapsulates the journey made by many Gold Star Mothers following World War I. Drawn from the diaries of Colonel Thomas Hammond, the liaison officer who accompanied the Mothers to visit the gravesites of their fallen sons. The Mothers of Party A are from diverse backgrounds, but share the common bond of sorrow and loss. Despite being treated to nicer accommodations, the "pilgrimage" was tiring and often overscheduled. Told mainly through the eyes of Cora Blake, who lost her only son Sa ...more
bookczuk
In the years after The Great War, before the causes World War II had fully reared their ugly heads, and were just snuffling around claiming ground, mothers of fallen US soldiers joined together to support and comfort each other, but to also provide care to wounded soldiers far from their families. The American Gold Star Mothers, so named from the gold stars hung in their windows to indicate a deceased veteran, still exists today. A Star for Mrs Blake takes place in the infancy of this organizati ...more
Meg - A Bookish Affair
"A Star for Mrs. Blake" covers a historical tale that I have never heard about before (and you all know how I love learning something new from everything that I read). After WWI, families of many American military members were given the choice to bury their fallen family members in France or to bring the bodies back to the States. For those that chose to have their loved ones buried in France, pilgrimages to Europe were organized by the Army for mothers who lost children during the war. This boo ...more
Melinda
I absolutely loved this novel.

The setting is the bulk of the story and my goodness it is arresting. As the ‘pilgrims’ and their entourage travel to France, tracing their loved ones steps and finally arriving at the cemetery it is moving and will touch the reader. Smith’s description of surroundings is vivid and gives a sense of the horrific events the soldiers endured.

Purely character driven Smith does a fabulous job blending differences, beliefs, heritage, military and civilian – the entire cas
...more
Wendy
3.5 stars.
A Star For Mrs. Blake was an easy, enjoyable read. The storyline is interesting; the voyage of a group of Gold Star mothers who travel to France in order to visit the graves of their sons who were killed during WWI.
The flow of the story was good and it never felt that it lagged. The character development was mostly solid and I enjoyed the main character of Cora Blake. I did feel, though, that some of the other mothers in Party A came off a bit like caricatures.
I've read a few of the
...more
Ginny Hazen
Had never heard of this little piece of history so enjoyed learning about it. The relationships formed by the US "mothers" going to Paris to see where their dead sons were buried after WWI was realistic and touching. My only disappointment was a storyline that was dropped after it was introduced in the first part of the book...that is the African American mothers who were also invited. I would definitely recommend this book. It has some good surprises!
Tracy
This was a story set in 1931 about some of the Gold Star mothers who went to France to see the graves of their fallen sons. The novel was "inspired by the diary of Colonel Thomas Hammond, son of Colonel Thomas West Hammond, whose first assignment as a graduate of West Point was to accompany a party of Gold Star Mothers as a liaison officer on a pilgrimage to France." I knew nothing of this program by the U.S. government, and found the story fascinating. The story was well written and very intere ...more
Katherine
Once, when I was about seven or eight years old, so it had to be 1949-1950, while walking on a Sunday afternoon with my Dad around our Chelsea New York neighborhood, I remember noticing a rectangular flag-like banner with a gold star hanging in the window of one of those below sidewalk apartment windows. It was like nothing I'd seen before against the pane between it and the lace curtains behind it. I asked my father what it was and he said a Gold Star Mother lived there. Naturally, I asked what ...more
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BOOK GIVEAWAY 4 33 Jul 16, 2014 04:07AM  
On the Same Page ...: April Smith 1 4 Mar 13, 2014 10:47AM  
On the Same Page ...: The role of women in the book. 1 3 Feb 25, 2014 11:13AM  
On the Same Page ...: What do you think of Mrs. Blake's decision to have her son interred in France? 1 7 Feb 19, 2014 11:35AM  
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256995
Here's the down and dirty: grew up in the Bronx, went to college in Boston, graduate school in California, back to Cambridge to write a first failed novel and learn how the world works by writing ad copy,west to Los Angeles in 1976 for a career writing and producing TV, until the writer's strike of 1988 when I wrote my first novel on spec, North of Montana. Two wonderful grown children and the bes ...more
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