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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A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Ove, to put it kindly, is a curmudgeon. All of his neighbors are ninnies and no one knows how to do things properly. He has had a long-running feud with his former best friend and next-door neighbor Rune over a disagreement (fight) that ended with Ove being forced to step down (coup d’etat) as chairman of the Residents Association. He follows a rigid routine through his day, inspecting the neighborhood for trash, bicycles parked illegally and rule-breakers, all the while muttering about the people who drive BMWs (instead of Saabs) and nobody knowing how to bleed a radiator anymore.

That routine is severely disrupted when new neighbors move in and back their trailer into his mailbox (honestly, doesn’t anyone know how to back a trailer properly?). Ove has important business planned for that day, but now he must show the new neighbor (Lanky One) and his wife (Pregnant One) the correct way to do things and his plans are ruined. Every day he attempts to finish his plan, but time and again something comes up and interrupts him, mostly because of other people’s incompetence. No one seems to know how to repair a bicycle, or open a stuck window, or how to drive a stick shift car (Ove despairs for the future of mankind) His new neighbors persist in being his friends and, although he does all in his curmudgeon-y power to discourage them, he attracts a circle of friends and loyal supporters. And a scruffy street cat.

At first I didn’t like Ove. At all. But as the story unfolds and we learn more about Ove and his life it is easier to empathize with him. Life has sent Ove some tough blows and gradually it becomes evident that his grumpiness protects a kind and caring person. Also, most of Ove’s rants are quite funny (Ove wonders why a tattooed man let someone “doodle on him”) and his opinions are often spot-on. He may occasionally use politically incorrect terms (to everyone’s consternation) but he is fair to all and will fight any injustice against you, large or small.

A Man Called Ove is a charming, funny (more than one person asked me what I was reading because I couldn’t help laughing out loud), heartfelt book about looking past the surface and giving people a chance. Highly recommended.