A sweeping WWII novel about the secrets we keep from the ones we love, and a couple tested again and again by distance, sacrifice, and a woman's ambition to fulfill her own dreams
Alec and June meet in a small English town in 1927 when they are children. Alec has lost his parents in India to cholera; he's a dreamy, thoughtful child who maps the stars and invents wild stories. June is a gifted young mathematician, memorizing train timetables and studying equations. They grow close, and their love feels inevitable, until war separates them. Alec becomes an RAF pilot; June, a codebreaker at Bletchley Park, which means keeping the important work she does a secret from Alec forever. Though they're separated for years at time, they share the certainty that their love will endure.
But when they're reunited after the war, they return deeply changed by their experiences, each with different expectations and hopes for the future. The couple must decide how much of themselves to reveal to the one they love, which dreams can be sacrificed, and which secrets are too big to bear alone.
A poignant, heart-wrenching novel that asks readers to think deeply about the decisions and deceptions--small and large--that make a life and a love worth having.
Rafe Posey is the author of the novel The Stars We Share and a short-story collection, The Book of Broken Hymns. He works as a bookseller on an island in the Pacific Northwest. The Stars We Share is his debut novel.
The Stars we Share by Rafe Posey. was a very disappointing book. This is a story that takes place from when the two main characters were children through their courtship, and years into their marriage. While much of it takes place during World War II the setting is diverse and far flung. The main characters are frustratingly ignorant to each others needs. Given the fact that they were friends from childhood it is completely baffling to me as to why they wouldn't know each other. The story asks the reader to wade through this lifetime of frustration. It drags and never seems to pick up speed. The only interesting tidbit was that the main female character does work for the British Intelligence during the war. She truly enjoys it and is good at it. She feels she can never explain to her husband that she needs a life away from being a wife and mother. Frustrating. I almost stopped reading it. I wanted to give the author the benefit of the doubt so I trudged through it. I would like to thank the author, publisher and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
DNF (40%) This book was disappointing... The plot was really, really dragging and it felt like there was little point. There really should have been more going on to push everything forward. June's character was also extremely annoying and confusing. She would switch back and forth between being a full-on feminist and not wanting any man, to being SO in love and unable to live without Alec. 🙄 I really NEVER felt like I could see what was really going on with her, or relate at all. On top of all of that, there was starting to be some language and a vague understanding that they were sleeping together. It really could have been such a sweet book.
Some books draw me right in. Some are a little slower, but then gain momentum. Unfortunately, this book was neither of those two. It began slow and creaked along. I had a complete disconnect with the plot, characters, and everything else. This book was a complete miss for me. Thanks to Edelweiss and Pamela Dorman Books for the early read.
Ever since having read and loved Rafe Posey's story collection, THE BOOK OF BROKEN HYMNS, I've been waiting for what he would next publish. THE STARS WE SHARE is an entirely unexpected and staggeringly worthy follow-up.
Following June and Alec, who meet as children in 1927 and continue to live and love through 1964, this novel seamlessly incorporates historical fact and detail with insightful exploration of social mores and constructs, and juxtaposes the costs and horrors of war with the damages of societal limitations and expectations related to gender roles.
June and Alec journey, individually and as a couple, through a complicated and arduously upending period in the history of the world, a world ripped asunder and stripped of its innocence by World War II and the societal upheaval and redefinition of what life could be, might be, should be. And that process reverberates to this day as the world continues to try to define right and wrong and fair and equality.
Rafe Posey manages to give voice to that morphing reality through alternating points of view between June and Alec, in close-third omniscient voice, which is quite a brilliant approach to reveal the inner thoughts of two people who love one another deeply, who connect at a soul level, but who are living in two very different worlds with two very different frames of reference, and yet continue to try to find one another as they work to find themselves within the world and within their relationship.
Another stunning aspect of the novel is the shape and pace of the prose. Rafe Posey manages to write in a style and with a cadence and vocabulary that would be perfectly at home had it been published in the time during which the action takes place. It adds another layer of authenticity, its rhythms and gorgeously constructed sentences, the complex but clear syntax, all in the service of a fascinating plot; a plot that serves not only to tell a riveting tale of a friendship turning to love and the challenges of maintaining that love, but, too, a near epic historical saga.
I cannot say enough about all the depth and glories of this novel. It manages to speak to today's world while deftly limning a historical reality of such detail and validity, presenting truths and questions without pedantry or facile supply of answers.
Great debut. Five stars. And so eager for the next Rafe Posey writing.
This book was beautifully written! I became completely engrossed in this story about June's work as a codebreaker during the Second World War, while her fiancee Alec flies planes. She is Top Secret so cannot tell Alec a single thing about her work or whereabouts. He thinks she is secretary. June struggles with her secret, her passion for the work she does (brilliantly), and her love for Alec. Alec's plane goes down and he is taken as an injured POW.
... June's care and tenderness, and the heartbreak of Alec's pain and awkwardness... As they both struggle to find their way with each other, was very (heartbreakingly )moving.
The characters, especially June, were very real for me.
A Huge thank you to Goodreads Giveaway, the author Rafe Posey, and Pamela Doorman Books / Viking fora copy of the book.
I have already gifted this book twice since finishing it. It's one of those that burrow into your soul and just stays there, moments from the book become your memories and pop up in your head like your own thoughts. Spans the world, time and the lives of two people who are so incredibly in love and meant for each other, but also recognizes that the solid foundation of love doesn't mean things will be easy, it just means you know who your person is. The way Posey was able to write about the conflict between the independence of wanting something for yourself versus the obligation of a partnership is remarkable, and something I have not seen done so well in anything else I have read. And his ability to recognize that specific pull for a woman, and a woman during that time, who is so damn smart, it took my breath away at moments. I will press this book into the hands of so many more people in the months and years to come, and eagerly anticipate the next Posey book.
This book moves quite slowly. The beginning was promising and seemed to hint at a gripping plot, which made me excited for how the book would turn out. However, as I read more and more, the same themes would laggardly repeat without much new development. I continued reading on because the writing was absolutely stellar and gorgeous, but the storyline itself was just too slow.
However, I will concede that I loved how realistic the book was. This is not the book to read if you want a page-turner with shocking plot twists. However, if you like books that are true to life and quite keen in its depiction of real life struggles when it comes to families and relationships, then you might like this book!
I read the book as an audio book and I'm thrilled. The story touches, the protagonists are real and understandable for me. Christian Coulson, the narrator, certainly contributed to the fact that I could empathize with character even more. Also, I found his pronunciation of German words really good. And I think I can say that because I'm German.
Posey’s debut book takes place during WWII and spans 40 years. It explores the repercussions of the war and secrecy on two very engaging characters. We are drawn into the lives of two people who have known each other since childhood in 1927 and were tested in their marriage by the war. It tells the story of June and Alec as they remain true to each other despite hardships.
Alec an orphan meets June in an English village. He is an avid watcher of the night sky and June memorizes maps and imagines a bright future. Alec enlists in the Royal Air Force as a pilot flying daring sorties at night during the war. June becomes a codebreaker at Bletchley Park and other places doing covert work for the war effort and must keep her work secret. We can visualize in depth the star filled sky of Alec and hear the low whine of the Japanese Zero planes in June’s life while she was in Ceylon. Alec is shot down and is imprisoned for years in POW camps, first Italian then German and Russian. June follows her dream, but Alec wants domesticity and must find a way to reconcile his life with his war injuries. June becomes plagued with her secrets and dreams of her career and how much she can divulge.
This is a powerful story. It is sweeping and immersive and filled with lush settings in India, Kenya and England. It is a well-researched story that will stay with you.
There were glimmers of beautiful writing that was also believable but for the most part the story felt forced. The character of June wasn’t believable. And both Alex and June seemed so self absorbed that the ending was hard to believe.
There are many interesting parts to this story. However some of the themes are repeated ad nauseum and other events are merely mentioned and then the story picks up several years later. I kept reading because I was hoping for more but I was disappointed.
This was a random grab when another library hold fell through. The early pages had me hooked and excited by where I thought the story was going. Unfortunately most of the book ends up slow-paced and full of repetition. The main theme is the struggles of the two main characters' marriage and love arc, but they're both so emotionally ignorant to the other's needs it's a frustrating storyline and it feels like the author just forces the relationship.
Soft, quiet yet powerful story ab out how the secrets we harbor and unfulfilled dreams we have can keep us from acknowledging all of life's blessings we have right in front of us. I think this book would make a marvelous movie.
This is World War II fiction…sort of. Instead of the usual driving narrative about heroism or some sort of previously “untold story”, it’s actually the story of the relationship between two people who meet as children in 1920’s England. They are inseparable until the war interrupts their lives and changes them forever. While the book does cover their war experiences (which do involve heroism & an “untold story”), the bulk of the book focuses on the aftermath and examines both the effect of trauma, secrets, and the sacrifices people make for those they love. It isn’t a straight forward narrative, instead it is a leisurely survey of sorts. Moments in time are shared, the story jumping and skipping ahead to the next and then the next months or years later, with viewpoints shifting back and forth so the reader can see motivations and understandings. Sometimes that is frustrating, but it also offers space for the reader to contemplate and consider. It’s a book to make you think about people and how they are affected by the world around them. There's much here for book groups to discuss and readers to ponder.
I really try to find something positive about every book I read, even ones that I find difficult to finish, but this novel just dragged on to the end. Both characters were annoying and quite selfish to each other, even though the novel referenced their childhood friendship numerous times. The novel had a multitude of plot holes and empty story lines that just made “getting into” the story very difficult.
As for a reflection on the story, I think that it would be that we can all learn from each other more than we think we can. What we hold inside us is what unites us. If either character in this novel put their selfishness aside and just spoke about the difficulties plaguing them from their time during war, their relationship would be completely different.
Sorry for a less than eloquent review, but this novel was just not it for me. ☹️
This is the kind of big fat novel I crave. Reminded me a bit of Marcia Willet’s books. The everyday-ness (quotidian!) of the story adds so much when one wants to get lost in another time and life…..which I love to do. And as always, the Second World War is lush with daily life we tend to romanticize. So, if you want to enter into the heads of two ordinary, yet at the same time, extraordinary people and their war….grab this book.
This is one of the best books I’ve read in years. I hope the readers of negative reviews will ignore them and decide to read this book, anyway. It should be awarded a literary prize. It’s so beautifully written. I hope the author has another book in him that can equal this one.
I loved the primary theme at the center of this book, about a woman who served in the Foreign Office for Britain during WW2 and did top-secret work including serving at Bletchley Park. She’s intelligent and loves her job, but once the war is over, she goes back to marry her childhood sweetheart and can never tell him what she did. He, too, carries secrets of the horrors he experienced in a German POW camp. This conflict, about expectations and individually in a marriage, especially the tension between the assumed-domestic but desired-professional life of June, is a worthy topic. And, when the novel finally got around to the topic and stayed with it, it was wonderfully written, a gentle but deep exploration of all the emotions and logic involved, especially as June cannot fully discuss or explain her ambitions to her husband because of the Official Secrets Act.
Alec, of course, has no such official reason for keeping secrets other than he’s a man in the 1940s and 1950s who feels that he must do so just to remain manly. So there’s that hypocrisy to unpack, as well. Posey does a wonderful job of viewing the situation from all sides without passing too much judgement, although I think he lets Alec off a little too easily. Something comes up that requires June (with permission) to tell him just a little about her life during the war, and Alec is allowed a pity party because his masculinity and pride are somehow threatened because his wife gasp! had a job that wasn’t just typing and pouring tea! She used her brain and she excelled at it! He also cannot seem to get it through his thick skull that she was legally forbidden to tell him, that doing so would have amounted to treason; instead, he wallows in anger that her secrecy was somehow a personal insult to him. I didn’t mind that Alec felt that way, because I think, especially for the time, it was probably accurate. But I was disappointed no one, especially June, didn’t call him out for his selfish reaction. Or that he never realized that he had not told her the whole truth about his service, either. There’s a moving scene in which Alec tells someone other than June about a heartbreaking experience, and the fact that it’s someone else just serves to underline this disparity.
Even though I enjoyed this book for its themes and thoughtfulness, it has a problem, and that is the beginning. It’s an extremely slow start, and I felt it was unnecessary. Both I, the reader, and the plot didn’t need the lengthy backstory of how Alec and June met as children, grew up together, etc. Then, once the war starts, Posey feels the need to account for every single month but that just results in events being reduced to a sentence or two as he rushes through them, even though they have no bearing on the end. The pacing would have been better by starting closer to the inciting incidents (June breaking code in India, Alec in POW camp) and any other important details from their past could have been revealed through a well-placed flashback or, even better, in one of those letters they were writing to one another.
While I always find WWII fiction to be shattering, I also find it deeply moving when books show the aftermath of the war and the ways in which the characters who made it out desperately try to navigate a shattered world while carrying unbearable trauma. (Lilac Girls did this remarkably well, I think.) Your heart will break over and over again for June and Alec as they try to navigate a world that is, in many ways, irretrievably shattered, while also carrying with them the "stiff upper lip" post-war British culture within a society that was not in any way equipped for people to be able to say to each other what they needed and why.
This is not a happy book, even after the war ends. Many times, it's hard to read this book and remind yourself that the options that June is so desperate to pursue are not the options that women have available to themselves today. And, the long historical scope of the novel sometimes means that major events, conflicts, plot points, and relationship developments are sometimes glossed over in the interest of covering breadth vs. depth. I don't know that I wanted this book to be longer, as I think the intentional depiction of several decades of June and Alec's life together is essential, but there were times when I did want a deeper dive into the emotional innerworkings behind the scenes, which, admittedly, is more of a personal reader preference than a critique of this heart-crumbling book.
I enjoyed this book and found myself reading and digesting slowly so as not to rush the engrossing story. Overall, I found it incredibly real but also heartbreaking. While both Alec and June took comfort in the stability of the other’s love throughout their individual challenges, it was sad seeing that neither seemed to really get what they wanted out of life. June seemed to feel obligated to stick it out with Alec and to have a child when she clearly wanted to be out doing all the codebreaking stuff she had done during the war. Alec wanted a more traditional family with more kids. It bothered me that Alec was so against June doing some of the same things he did himself- like her wanting to take the guest researcher opportunity in Oxford was selfish when he had just spent months somewhere working on boats for his job. I understand it was a different time, but it made Alex less likeable for me. I thought the struggle in June’s motherhood journey- of wanting to be free to focus on her work but also feeling envious of Alec’s bond with Penny because they were together so much, was familiar and something I have felt too.
In short, this book kept me interested and I liked the writing. It was very sad, though, and to me was more of a story of an obligatory kind of love compared to a beautiful love that conquers all- type story (which is what I thought this would be). I didn’t ever get the impression that either Alec or June in the end would look back and be glad they had stayed with the other and not regret all they had given up by staying.
It's hard for me to put into words my feelings about this novel. The story is raw and beautiful, but at the same time things get so exhausting.
Through the whole novel June and Alec are holding onto an expectation of life through their childhood. They have never known any other love or future other than themselves and they refuse to let go of that for something better.
Honestly it gets exhausting and repetitive to read. The constant tug of war between June and her career, and Alec and his deep wants of a family life. It eventually grows incredibly obvious that he and June are better off going their separate ways. They have different dreams of their lives and its awful reading how they force things to work and give up their dreams for the only thing they have ever known.
It feels like through the novel it was building up towards their inevitable divorce and separation. But things keep happening that tear them apart and yet brings them back together. At the end they even admit they haven't been the same after secrets emerge and they still stuck it out.
I just do not understand how in the end they're still together when they're so clearly opposite in every way. In ways that had been obvious since they first met as children, even.
It was an interesting read in the end, but I feel like I was left on a ledge with so much more to see in front of me but no way to cross the gap. It feels unfinished and even like the story itself is forced to end. Its disappointing, really.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
This WWII and beyond novel was a slog - rather good on detailing the horrors of war but poor on depicted sympathetic characters caught up and irrevocable changed by it. They seem almost parodically English in their determination to demonstrate who has the stiffest upper lip in the face of unspeakable tragedy, separation and sacrifice, only to devolve into tremendously self-piteous and anemic drips when reunited. The style of writing was restrained to the point of yawns, even when our hero and heroine were caught up some of the more tumultuous events of the mid-century. I was reminded of Nevil Shute's ability to write of the most brutal events in war and suffering in a reporter like fashion while making the reader care enormously for the little people caught up in the turmoil. I did think also of Shirley Hazzard, who was always interested in the tension between a brilliant woman's ambitions for professional success and her desire for conventional love and family life. Perhaps a bit unfair to offer up other books as better reads, but the title, cover and breathless blurbs of gush on the back jacket of this one promise a much more epic feel than delivered.
This was an interesting piece of historical fiction set in England from the 1930s until the '60s. Alec is an orphan from India (his father was in the British army) who goes to live with an aunt in England. There he meets June and they grow up together and fall in love. When WWII starts, he joins the RAF as a pilot and she becomes a code breaker - first in England and then in Alec's beloved India. They reunite after the war, marry and start a family, and continue on in their lives and careers.
So, that sounds pretty good, right? Instead, it seemed to stretch on for a very long time (nearly half a century in the book) and ended up being a look into honesty in a marriage. It was sad more than it was bittersweet, and I hoped for more for Alec and June.
I guess because it was billed as a 'sweeping WWII novel", I thought that would be the extent of the book. And it was very WWII heavy with maybe 50% of the book taking place over the course of a few years, but then the last third or so took place through 20 years. Unfortunately, the last third is where I felt it dragged.
My thanks to Penguin Group Viking and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
This is the debut novel for Rafe Posey. The story seems to ask the question, “Can one love someone and not be in love?” June and Alec meet as young children in 1927 when Alec���s parents die from a cholera attack in India. He is sent to live with his aunt in England . She is friends with June’s family and Alec and June become great friends. Alec likes to make up stories and June is quite good with mathematics and seeing patterns. All was looking good for them both till WWII broke out. Alec joins the RAF and June is asked to join the code breakers at Bletchley Park. As this is a secret group, June cannot divulge any of this to Alec. They continue to write, but June has a hard time with keeping the secret from Alec. They do marry after the war and move to Scotland, where Alec would like to start a family, but June feels she would be missing out on something. Keeping secrets is a difficult way to keep a marriage intact. I enjoyed the book and it has an easy pacing from 1927 till 1964.
This was an ARC provided by Penguin Random House, and I in no way received any compensation for my opinion of this book.
Let me just say it outright. I didn't like this book. The writing and the characters were a bit 2-dimensional. The author really didn't flesh them out well. I didn't see why the characters made the decisions they made with regard to their relationship. I didn't even really understand why they were so in love because the author moved quickly from one point to the next. It's like he wrote this in fragments and then stitched it together hoping that the story would flow, and really, it just fell rather flat. Plus, I really do feel like the market is way too flooded with WWII historical fiction set in Europe. I just seems like so much of what comes out is set during that time period although I do think it's getting better to a degree.
This is a good story about 2 people during 1930-1960s and their career desires. A story about a woman who isn’t drawn to motherhood and being a traditional wife. She meets her future husband when they are 10 or so and this is their story. Hers, one where her career prevents her from sharing with others what her job is, where she works, what she does. His, one where his military career ends, and his new career begins. Because of her career, she has hurt him by not sharing with him what has happened to her, where she has gone, and he resents her connection to her former boss. This is the story of their lives and how it works out in the end. It was a bit slow moving for my liking. The descriptions of places are spot-on and interesting.
Alec Oswin is 8 years old when his family is devastated by Cholera in India and leaves him orphaned. He is brought to England by his Uncle Roger, who leaves Alec in the care of his Aunt Constance.
On his first day in England, Alec and Constance visit the Atwell family, whose daughter June provides Alec a tour of the estate. This starts a bond between Alec and June that will bloom into love and more.
Atmospheric and erudite, this love story spans 40 years and three continents, a world war and many secrets. Although separated at times for years and miles, their love for each other shined on as if written in the stars.
Despite the slow burn nature of the story, I lost myself into it and found it completely satisfying, a fictional relationship that felt real.