Thursday 27 April 2017

The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve #BlogTour @AnitaShreve1 @LittleBrownUK

Hot breath on Grace's face. Claire is screaming, and Grace is on her feet. As she lifts her daughter, a wall of fire fills the window. Perhaps a quarter of a mile back, if even that. Where's Gene? Didn't he come home?
1947. Fires are racing along the coast of Maine after a summer-long drought, ravaging thousands of acres, causing unprecedented confusion and fear.
Five months pregnant, Grace Holland is left alone to protect her two toddlers when her difficult and unpredictable husband Gene joins the volunteers fighting to bring the fire under control. Along with her best friend, Rosie, and Rosie's two young children, the women watch in horror as their houses go up in flames, then walk into the ocean as a last resort. They spend the night frantically trying to save their children. When dawn comes, they have miraculously survived, but their lives are forever changed: homeless, penniless, and left to face an uncertain future.
As Grace awaits news of her husband's fate, she is thrust into a new world in which she must make a life on her own, beginning with absolutely nothing; she must find work, a home, a way to provide for her children. In the midst of devastating loss, Grace discovers glorious new freedoms - joys and triumphs she could never have expected her narrow life with Gene could contain - and her spirit soars. And then the unthinkable happens, and Grace's bravery is tested as never before.

The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve is published in hardback by Little Brown in the UK on 2 May 2017 and is the author's seventeenth novel.

Like many people, I have been reading and enjoying Anita Shreve's books for many years, and was delighted to be offered the opportunity to read and review The Stars Are Fire for the Blog Tour.

In The Stars Are Fire, Anita Shreve returns to the historical settings of her classic novels such as Fortune's Rocks and The Pilot's Wife. This story is set just after the second world war, in Maine, USA, and features the terrible wildfire that devastated the county in 1947.

This author does not write huge books but she creates huge stories with her perfectly crafted, sharp and taut prose. The Stars Are Fire grips from the very first page and does not let go.

Grace Holland and her husband Gene live with their two small children in Maine. On the surface, their life appears happy and content as Grace keeps the house, whilst Gene earns the money. Rub a little gloss from the surface though, and the real truth of their marriage is easily exposed. Grace leads a narrow, oppressed life, coping with Gene's unpredictable outbursts and juggling motherhood and housework. When she discovers that she is pregnant with their third child, it seems like the end of the world.

Desperately unhappy; the only person who casts an ounce of joy into her life is Rosie, her next door neighbour and great friend. She's outspoken and bubbly and is a rock to Grace. As the summer heat intensifies, and the women and their children struggle to catch a breath, a deadly and ferocious fire begins and soon everything that they own is gone.

The fire marks the beginning of a new life for Grace in many ways. Gene is gone, presumed dead and she is penniless and homeless. Gathering up the last of her strength after tragedy strikes, she begins to forge a new life for herself.

What follows is a remarkable story, full of wonderfully created characters in a setting that is beautifully described. Anita Shreve's description of the horror of the fire, and the devastation it causes to both land and to human is startling and raw. Grace suffers loss after loss, followed by joys, followed by crushing blows, but his is not a sentimental novel at all. It is intricate, and rich and perfectly paced.

The Stars Are Fire is an absolute triumph of a story, the perfect read. I loved it and would recommend it highly.

My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review and invited me to take part in this blog tour.

Anita Shreve grew up in Dedham, Massachusetts (just outside Boston), the eldest of three daughters. Early literary influences include having read Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton when she was a junior in high school (a short novel she still claims as one of her favorites) and everything Eugene O’Neill ever wrote while she was a senior (to which she attributes a somewhat dark streak in her own work). After graduating from Tufts University, she taught high school for a number of years in and around Boston. In the middle of her last year, she quit (something that, as a parent, she finds appalling now) to start writing. “I had this panicky sensation that it was now or never.”
Joking that she could wallpaper her bathroom with rejections from magazines for her short stories (“I really could have,” she says), she published her early work in literary journals. One of these stories, “Past the Island, Drifting,” won an O. Henry prize. Despite this accolade, she quickly learned that one couldn’t make a living writing short fiction. Switching to journalism, Shreve traveled to Nairobi, Kenya, where she lived for three years, working as a journalist for an African magazine. One of her novels, The Last Time They Met, contains bits and pieces from her time in Africa.
Returning to the United States, Shreve was a writer and editor for a number of magazines in New York. Later, when she began her family, she turned to freelancing, publishing in the New York Times Magazine, New York magazine and dozens of others. In 1989, she published her first novel, Eden Close. Since then she has written 17 other novels, among them The Weight of Water, The Pilot’s Wife, The Last Time They Met, A Wedding in December, and Body Surfing.
In 1998, Shreve received the PEN/L. L. Winship Award and the New England Book Award for fiction. In 1999, she received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey, and The Pilot’s Wife became the 25th selection of Oprah’s Book Club and an international bestseller. In April 2002, CBS aired the film version of The Pilot’s Wife, starring Christine Lahti, and in fall 2002, The Weight of Water, starring Elizabeth Hurley and Sean Penn, was released in movie theaters.
Still in love with the novel form, Shreve writes only in that genre. “The best analogy I can give to describe writing for me is daydreaming,” she says. “A certain amount of craft is brought to bear, but the experience feels very dreamlike.”

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