The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve

Have you ever looked at the cover of a book and knew that the story was going to hook you? That’s how I felt when I saw The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve. Swirling fire, a deep red cover, and a bold font all signaled to me that the content of this book was going to leave me wanting more. Shreve exceeded my expectations with this novel.

The Stars are Fire is a piece of historical domestic fiction that focuses around the Great Maine Fire of 1947. This real event is given a fictionalized twist as Shreve tells the story of Grace Holland’s attempts to survive and rebuild after her life falls into ruins around her. After a summer-long drought, fires began near Bar Harbor and started ravaging the coast of Maine. People were left wondering where to escape to and hoping that the closeness of the sea would spare them from the brunt of the fire.

Grace Holland lives with her husband Gene and their two small toddlers. Five months pregnant, Grace is left to protect her children on her own after Gene leaves her to go help fight the fires. Grace and her best friend, Rosie, race to the sea with their four children to try to survive the flames. Keeping their children alive is their only priority as Grace and Rosie watch in abject horror as their houses and the community that they have grown to love bursts into flames. Hunkered down in the sand by the ocean, Grace fights to keep her children alive, sacrificing her own body to do so.

In the morning, Grace finds herself and her children wonderfully alive, but their lives have irrevocably changed. They’re penniless, homeless, and without a father or husband. Gene never returned from fighting the fires and no one knows where he is. Facing an uncertain future, Grace is forced to rely on the kindness of strangers until she either finds Gene or her mother or gets a job to support herself. Grace has to make a new life for herself and her children, something that both frightens and excites her since her life with Gene was not the most loving or supportive. While she has suffered great losses, Grace is able to move forward, find new happiness, and discover all the things she was missing when she was living with Gene. Just when she is settled into a new normal, something out of the blue happens and Grace is forced to be braver than she ever was before.

I really enjoyed this book. It was the first Anita Shreve book that I read and the first book in a really long time that had me wishing it would have been longer. There were so many characters whose backstories I was yearning to know more of and the ending had me on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen. This book is set up so well that Shreve could easily spin it into a series. Here’s to hoping she does!


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Enchanted August

Enchanted AugustI was well into Enchanted August  before the (admittedly obvious) similarities to Enchanted April impinged upon my consciousness. In both,  several people who’d not be friends in normal circumstances find themselves sharing a vacation home in an idyllic vacation spot. They become better versions of themselves, more generous, open-hearted and kind. Marriages are improved, and friendships fostered.

Brenda Bowen’s novel is modeled on The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnin. Published in 1922, it was made into a film in 1992, starring Miranda Richardson and Michael Kitchen.

In Bowen’s novel, Lottie and Rose happen upon an advertisement for a  cottage (in fact, a huge, Victorian house) on Little Lost Island in Maine. They are both at low points in their lives, stressed out about their children, husbands and life in New York City. Like Enchanted April, the desire and the plan take root during a pouring rain. All the better to contrast with the buoyantly sunny skies of Maine and Italy. Caroline Dester (a movie star in Enchanted August and Lady Caroline in Enchanted April) are struggling with the demands of fame and privilege.

The four occupants (the joyously optimistic Lottie, the quieter poet Rose,  beautiful Caroline and eccentric, grieving Beverly) meld into a family of sorts, even as it expands and embraces extended family members.  Maine itself is a character – ever-changing but always exhilarating, working its magic on all who spend time there. The very remoteness of the island (no cell phone service) changes how they go about their days and how they interact with each other and those off the island. There is a charmingly retro vibe to the story and the setting.

If you can’t physically get away this summer, dip into this virtual vacation between two covers, and you’ll feel as refreshed and restored as if you’d actually left your house.

 

The Poacher’s Son by Paul Doiron

This is not the type of book I would typically choose.  Turns out, I couldn’t put it down.

When I go on vacation, I often look for books that take place in the same locale.  Since I was heading out on a vacation to Maine, this one fit the bill.  Granted,  it had also received several excellent reviews, so I wasn’t just going by the title or the picture on the cover, though I’ve  selected books that way a time or too, as well.  Popular authors such as Nelson DeMillie, Tess Gerritsen, John Lescroart and C.J. Box were all singing the praises of this debut novelist, whose day job just happens to be editing Down East: The Magazine of Maine.  Plus, the book also landed on Booklist’s best crime novels of 2010 list.

The Poacher’s Son opens with Mike Bowditch, a game warden in Maine, receiving an alarming message on his answering machine from his estranged father, Jack, whom he hasn’t seen in two years.  The next day, Mike discovers that his father is the prime suspect in the murders of a beloved cop and a lumber executive.  Though Mike knows his alcoholic father makes his living poaching illegal game, he cannot bring himself to believe that the man is capable of murder.

What distinguishes this book from more plot-based suspense thrillers is the realistic no-one-is-perfect characterizations.  Also, the author seems to have a natural knack for pulling the reader into the setting, be it the rocky coasts or the forested wilderness that makes up much of Maine.

No, I won’t tell you the ending.  But I will recommend that you read this book and that you keep a lookout for the series of other Mike Bowditch mysteries to come.