Tag Archives: WWI

Review: Stella Bain by Anita Shreve

12th November 2013

pg1*This book was sent to me by the publisher Little, Brown in exchange for an honest review.

A woman wakes in a French battlefield hospital with no recollection of who she is, where she is, or how she may have gotten there. But she does remember how to assist the doctors and how to drive an ambulance, a difficult skill. From all accounts, she’s American, though it’s only 1916, and American hasn’t yet entered the war. On leave, she attempts to make her way to the Admiralty in London. She isn’t sure why she needs to go there, but the place holds significance for her, and she’s hopeful someone can identify her there.

But on the way, she takes ill, and Dr. August Bridge and his wife take her in. Dr. Bridge is a cranial surgeon, unfit for war because of scoliosis and bad eyesight, and he begins working with Stella in an attempt to regain her memory, as there are moments of clarity for Stella in which she only feels emotion. She sketches disturbing images she sees but cannot determine whether they are true or a figment of her imagination. But the story turns in an instant when Stella remembers her old life.

***

So, you should know that when I was in college, I devoured Anita Shreve books. In my estimation, they are similar to what the Jodi Picoult books are now. Pretty covers. Intriguing stories, but with a depth I usually enjoy more than some other women’s fiction.

Stella Bain was initially enthralling. Watching as she struggles to place herself and recall her reason for being in France is fascinating. I felt as though much of the book would be spent with her and Dr. Bridge working to restore her memory. However, when her amnesia disappears – rather quickly in the scope of the novel – the story becomes something different altogether. Stella begins to tell what brought her from America to the battlefields of France, another different but intriguing narrative. Yet after the reader understands what has brought her to war and what caused her amnesia, the novel begins to wane.

Still a good read, Stella Bain suffers from what many novels in the past several years have – a promising introduction but a less-than-stellar fulfillment of its early potential.

Recommended for fans of Anita Shreve and those interested in World War I.

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An Unmarked Grave by Charles Todd

25th June 2012

*I received this book as part of a TLC Book Tour and the publisher William Morrow in exchange for an honest review.

Bess is back at the front in the start of An Unmarked Grave, and the war isn’t the only thing killing soldiers. It’s 1918, and the Spanish Influenza is cutting down strong and weak, nurses and soldiers. Amid the dead bodies, however, is one that’s unaccounted for. It seems someone has used the convenience of the dead bodies to slip in the victim of a murder. When Private Wilson reveals the body to Bess, she is astounded to find the dead man served beside her father and was a family friend. However, before she is able to contact the matron and notify her, Bess too is struck down with the flu, and her recovery is slow. Once she is stronger, she believes she dreamt of the body until she learns Private Wilson hanged himself. The more Bess learns, the more she is convinced Wilson was murdered as well. And the killer won’t rest until Bess is silenced.

An Unmarked Grave is the most intense Bess Crawford book to date, in my opinion. Not only is Bess near death in the beginning of the novel, but several other characters are in perilous circumstances as well. This book has a dark side to it that I think the previous novels have lacked, which makes sense as World War I goes on.

That said, I would also have to admit this was my least favorite book in the series, but not because of its darker quality. This series relies heavily on character, and I adore Bess. She’s strong and intelligent with a bravery I wish I would have in a similar situation but know I would not. However, this installment has a weak central mystery. The ending was unsatisfactory in that it was not supported by the bulk of the evidence, and there was an extremely odd storyline that kept popping up (if you’ve read it, the news story about the divorced woman). It just didn’t quite make sense.

Plus, the last book, A Bitter Truth, set up a possible love connection between Bess and Sergeant Larimore, an Australian solder. I was looking forward to the development of this relationship, but Larimore only appeared once in the book. Of course, that’s fine, I don’t mind a relationship taking a while to develop, but as Jenn at Devourer of Books mentioned, it was a throwaway. He appears for an instant only, and I’d rather Larimore not been present at all, as opposed to the odd way he was inserted into the plot.

Simon, on the other hand, the Crawford family’s dearest friend, seems to care more and more about Bess, and I think Bess certainly returns the feeling. The friendship seems very platonic, but you never can tell. I’d like to see Bess with a little romance in her life, so I’m very curious as to what the next book in the series holds. Even though this wasn’t my favorite, I’m still a staunch Bess Crawford fan and will look forward to the next title…and Bess Crawford’s continuing adventures.

For other opinions on An Unmarked Grave, check out the other stops on this book tour.

Check out my reviews of A Duty to the Dead and A Bitter Truth.