THE BLOG
01/13/2014 02:29 pm ET Updated Mar 14, 2014

Book Review: A Star for Mrs. Blake by April Smith

It's 1931 and Cora Blake is about to leave the United States for the first time in her life on a trip to Paris with four women she's never met. These five ladies are Gold Star Mothers -- women whose sons died in battle during World War I and were buried in France.

More than 116,000 American soldiers were killed in WW I and over 30,000 were buried in Europe, so in 1929 Congress passed legislation to fund first class travel for mothers of fallen soldiers to visit the graves of their sons in France. Other than old photographs, women who lost their sons often had nothing more than a scrap of cloth or perhaps only a button from a uniform as a remembrance. During a three-year period, 6,693 mothers made the trip to say goodbye to their sons.

According to Smith, the book was inspired by the diary of Lt. Thomas Hammond. "He's the only real person in the novel and he served as a liaison officer for the Gold Star Mothers pilgrimages in 1931 and kept a handwritten record of his experiences in a Wannamaker's Department store day book. He was 24 at the time and a recent graduate of West Point." Smith confirmed that all the biographical facts in the novel about the character are true.

April Smith also said that she did detailed research and visited every one of the book's locations and it certainly shows. She's found an important but forgotten postscript in America's past and has written a compelling historical novel that confronts racism, class and economic differences as well as government bureaucracy. Smith conveys all of these topics through story and characters rather than a soapbox, and her subtle approach has far more impact than the histrionics of any television or radio pundit, myself included.

April Smith has the unique ability to take a long forgotten story and craft it into a page turner. A Star for Mrs. Blake is a first rate novel that is well worth reading.