Published: May 5, 2015
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: TLC Book Tours
Recommended for readers looking for WWI stories from the American side
A shopkeeper's daughter, Hazel Renner lives in the shadows of the Pittsburgh steel mills. She dreams of adventure, even as her immigrant parents push her toward a staid career. But in 1914, war seizes Europe and all their ambitions crumble. German-Americans are suddenly the enemy, "the Huns." Hazel herself is an outsider in her own home when she learns the truth of her birth.
Desperate for escape, Hazel takes a teaching job in a seemingly tranquil farming community. But the idyll is cracked when she acquires a mysterious healing power--a gift that becomes a curse as the locals' relentless demand for "miracles" leads to tragedy.
Hazel, determined to find answers, traces her own history back to a modern-day castle that could hold the truth about her past. There Hazel befriends the exiled, enigmatic German baron and forges a bond with the young gardener, Tom. But as America is shattered by war and Tom returns battered by shell-shock, Hazel's healing talents alone will not be enough to protect those close to her, or to safeguard her dreams of love and belonging. She must reach inside to discover that sometimes the truth is not so far away, that the simplest of things can lead to the extraordinary.
Folks, I'm scratching my head over this one. There are definitely some wonderful things about this book, and I enjoyed the experience of reading it, but there were issues that I just can't overlook.
I'll start with the positive. This is my second book by Pamela Schoenewaldt (Swimming in the Moon was the first) and, once again, I was drawn in by the language in this book. It is not overly verbose, but the prose is still lovely and completely readable.
I was immediately attracted to Hazel as a character. She is a young woman very much at a crossroads in her life. As is typical among young people of that age, she is restless and then she discovers a family secret that leads her to question her life as she knows it. I liked that while Hazel was a proactive character, Shoenewaldt still gave her time to process these things that go on in her life.
The real draw for me with this book is how well Schoenewaldt draws America during World War I. I've read a fair amount of WWI fiction, but I think it was all from a European viewpoint. The United States had a unique experience with the war--while we didn't join in until late in the game, the war was fought by citizens on the streets of America. Schoenewaldt captures this expertly and, for that alone, I would recommend this book.
But, as I said, there were things that just didn't work. My biggest problem is that it seemed like Schoenewaldt took 3 passes at this before settling on a plot, but the first 2 possible plots are still included, but never finished. The first of these is Hazel's family secret, which is introduced, ignored for a bit, and then brought up briefly before being dropped for the rest of the book. The second story line involves some magic realism. It is not that I don't like magic realism--I actually quite like it when done well--but I do believe that it is something that an author needs to commit to and carry through the entire work. Schoenewaldt does not do this. It happens in only one part of the book and then is dropped again. Throughout the rest of this book, I kept hoping I'd see a return, or at least an explanation, of the magic realism, but it never happened. Because of this, I felt like I was reading 3 distinct stories (or 2 beginnings of stories and one complete story) instead of one cohesive novel.
I really think that a but more editing and the removal of "story stumps" would have greatly improved this novel. But, I cannot discount the beautiful language and Schoenewaldt's description of WWI-era America. Even with its flaws, I would still recommend this book.
About the Author:
Pamela Schoenewaldt lived for ten years in a small town outside Naples, Italy. Her short stories have appeared in literary magazines in England, France, Italy, and the United States. She now lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, with her husband, Maurizio Conti, a physicist, and Jesse, their dog.
I received a copy of this book in return for an honest review. I received no other compensation for this post.
Want to read more? Please check out some of the other stops on this book tour (links go to the blogs, not the specific reviews):
Wednesday, May 6th: Staircase Wit
Friday, May 8th: 100 Pages a Day … Stephanie’s Book Reviews
Wednesday, May 13th: Kritters Ramblings
Friday, May 15th: Peeking Between the Pages
Monday, May 18th: Ageless Pages Reviews
Tuesday, May 19th: Raven Haired Girl
Wednesday, May 20th: Broken Teepee
Thursday, May 21st: Good Girl Gone Redneck
Friday, May 22nd: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews
Thursday, May 28th: Seaside Book Nook
Thursday, May 28th: Silver’s Reviews
Monday, June 1st: Lavish Bookshelf
Monday, June 8th: Mom’s Small Victories