The Stars Are Fire – Anita Shreve

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Good morning on this sunny bank holiday weekend! I’m delighted to be participating in this blog tour, for  Anita Shreve’s The Stars Are Fire. The first one of Anita’s novels I read was in Canada in 2002 and All He Ever Wanted is still a great read – if you haven’t read it,  I strongly suggest you look it up.  If you haven’t read anything by Anita Shreve yet, I think you’ll love #StarsAreFire and I’d like to thank Amelia from Little Brown for allowing me to take part in this blog tour and putting up with me sending her pics from sunny Crete when she was stuck in the office 🙂

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.

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If you haven’t read any of Anita Shreve’s page turning novels yet, this is a fantastic place to start. The fact that this novel was based on a true story was another factor which really drew me in as I love investigating around the books I’m reading. The long, hot summer of 1947 in Maine was a fascinating period that I knew nothing about prior to reading #StarsAreFire and Anita Shreve does an amazing job of transporting you back in time and reliving this traumatic event with Grace and her friend Rosie as they draw on every ounce of internal strength they have to rebuild their lives after the fires destroy everything they own,

The pairing of these two characters was very clever as we keep comparing them long before it occurs to Grace herself to draw comparisons about the state of her marriage with the much more passionate and fulfilled marriage that Rosie enjoys. Grace has been married to Gene from a very young age and his belittling of her and his cold, secretive and brusque nature is what she has come to accept as normal. One of the things I enjoyed most about this novel is the way we see Grace developing and flourishing despite the difficulties she has to endure.

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The metaphor of her rising, quite literally, from the ashes of her former life is a powerful one and this is a moving and engrossing read. Shreve keeps Grace faithfully within her 1940s context, providing much food for thought about marriage, independence and friendship for a 21st century readership.

I’m not generally a romance reader and I think that Anita Shreve is a writer who contains romance within her novels rather than make Grace’s whole journey about love, marriage and romance. The dramatic description of the fire and its immediate aftermath are the most striking part of this novel at first, but what remains after reading this novel is the grit and courage shown by Grace which enables her to make difficult decisions in her family’s best interests by the end of the novel.

I think that Shreve is just as skilful in writing about female relationships as she is about love and I thought Grace’s relationship with Rosie and her evolving relationship with Marjorie was another real strength of this novel. The journey for warring women to move towards accepting one another as human beings is a difficult one to paint without resorting to cliche and I feel that #StarsAreFire has managed it superbly. There’s no denying that Grace and Marjorie have a difficult relationship at the beginning of the novel, but the skilful and credible way that Shreve manages to describe their evolving appreciation of one another was another stand-out aspect of this novel for me.

Fans of Anita Shreve will love this and I hope that it also brings her new readers who love period fiction and strongly written female narratives. At the very end of her novel, Shreve suggests that we look up Wildfire Loose by Joyce Butler – which tells the true story of these fires – and this is the very next thing that I’m off to look up. Happy reading & enjoy the bank holiday!

Writer On the Shelf:

Anita-Shreve
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 favourites) 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.”
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.
Shreve is married to a man she met when she was 13. She has two children and three stepchildren, and in the last eight years has made tuition payments to seven colleges and universities.

Buy The Stars Are Fire online

Anita Shreve on Twitter

 

Thank you so much to Amelia at Little Brown Books for inviting me onto the Blogtour and sending me this gorgeous book. I’ll definitely be recommending it as a fantastic summer read that a lot of people should pack for their holidays this year.

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The Man Who Loved Islands #Blogtour

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In the early 80s, Bobby Cassidy and Joey Miller were inseparable; childhood friends and fledgling business associates. Now, both are depressed and lonely, and they haven’t spoken to each other in more than 10 years. A bizarre opportunity to honour the memory of someone close to both of them presents itself – if only they can forgive and forget. With the help of the deluded Max Mojo and the faithful Hamish May, can they pull off the impossible, and reunite the legendary Ayrshire band, The Miraculous Vespas, for a one-off Music Festival—The Big Bang—on a remote, uninhabited Scottish island? Absurdly funny, deeply moving and utterly human, this is an unforgettable finale to the Disco Days trilogy—a modern classic pumped full of music and middle-aged madness, written from the heart and pen of one of Scotland’s finest new voices.

Even if I hadn’t read the first two books in the #DiscoDays trilogy, I would have loved the reading given by  David Ross last week at his Glasgow book launch and would have ended up desperate to get home and read the first two books as soon as I could.

Attending the book event was a ‘must’ for me as it was a really unique event combining music, gin and books – which if they aren’t my top three things in the world, must come pretty close…

It was also a chance to actually get to meet the lovely Karen from Orenda Books and hear a set by the best fictitious band in the world: ‘The Miraculous Vespas’ led by the inimitable Bobby Bluebell in the Admiral Bar.

Alistair Braidwood aka ScotsWhayHae! ably led an eclectic conversation with David where we gained insights into such diverse issues as changing priorities as you get older, stealing cows in Ayrshire, the Germans’ penchant for Scottish profanity and real life events sneaking into his fiction.

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It is always a pleasure to hear writers read from their own works and even though David made it clear this was not a favourite part of a book launch for him, it was fantastic to hear a rendition of the seance in his own voice and the crowd’s response on the night made it clear that they loved it too – including all the swearing!

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The dark humour in these books paints a truthful and perceptive portrait of Scottish men of a certain age and the blend of humour and poignancy hits just the right balance in this final book of the trilogy. Although I’m not sure we can really call it a trilogy as I’m sure we’ve not heard the last of these chancers as they’re surely way too good to put out to grass yet.

Mr OnTheShelf is an Ayrshireman and I took him along on the night to get a slice of nostalgia. He came away desperate to read the books for himself and was really enthusiastic about the memories it triggered. As a fan of  ‘Cath’ by The Bluebells, he loved this intimate gig with The Miraculous Vespas which took him right back to 1984 and his heyday.  The fact that he enjoyed the night so much also showed that even though this is a trilogy, you don’t need to have read the first two books to be swept up in Bobby and Joey’s tale of life, love and Blood Oranges.

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The addition of the playlists by David F Ross was also a huge bonus for me and I recommend playing them on Spotify for yourself when you’re reading the books. There’s a real range of tunes from Durutti Column through Malcolm Middleton to De La Soul and this really made the book come to life for me, it was great having the music as a backdrop and feeling the energy of the characters evolve and alter as they grow old rather than grow up.

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He’s been compared endlessly with Irvine Welsh and John Niven and if you enjoy these writers then you will definitely enjoy the Disco days trilogy, but I think they contain something wholly their own that sets them apart from their contemporaries.

Ross is an architect and it is perhaps the overarching structure of these three novels that contributes most strongly to their impact. They do not follow sequentially on from one another exactly but instead, all three of them contribute to a unique narrative arc that gives us a much stronger insight into the way the different eras of their lives contrast and collide with one another.

I loved The Man Who Loved Islands and I think that attending the event last week brought it to life for me in a very different way. Karen Sullivan from Orenda has made a name for herself in being able to choose fresh new voices in fiction and the launch in Glasgow has proven that she’s also able to choose fresh new ways to promote her books too. It was also lovely to meet Mary @bethsy as I always love meeting other book bloggers and it was great to see her win the limited edition vinyl on the night too! Not jealous at all, Mary…

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I can’t wait to see where David F Ross goes next in his fiction writing – once you’ve read his profile, you’ll be amazed he finds the time. He is definitely a Scottish writer to watch and I look forward to more news after hearing the hints that we could be seeing the Heatwave boys and The Miraculous Vespas on stage and screen in the near future, which is sure to bring him the wider audience he deserves.

Thanks to Karen and Anne for getting me a copy to review – you can buy yourself your own copy here – it’s an absolute must-read.

BUY A COPY FROM HIVE

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Author On The Shelf

David F. Ross was born in Glasgow in 1964, and he lived in various part of the city until the late ‘70s. He subsequently moved to Kilmarnock, where he has lived since. He was educated at James Hamilton Academy until being politely asked to leave.
 (Expulsion is such a harsh word, isn’t it?)
 Following a frankly ludicrous early foray into sporadic employment (Undertakers, Ice Cream Parlour, Tennis Groundsman, DJ … he’ll save these stories until he knows you better), David found himself at Glasgow School of Art, studying architecture.
In 1992, he graduated from the Mackintosh School of Architecture. He is now the Design Director of one of Scotland’s largest, oldest and most successful practices, Keppie Design. (Funny old world, eh?)

David has worked all over the world and he led his practice strategy for projects in countries as diverse as China, Egypt, Malaysia, India and Libya. He is a designated business leader for East Ayrshire Council, a Board Mentor for Entrepreneurial Spark and he was design advisor to Strathclyde Passenger Transport for their modernisation programme of the Glasgow Subway in advance of the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
 
He is married to Elaine and has two children, Nathan and Nadia, who have both signed legally binding agreements to house him in the best Old Folks Home his money can buy. He is a Chelsea fan – from long before the cash-rich days – and occasionally writes stream-of-consciousness rubbish for @ByTheMinChelsea and other @ByTheMinSport feeds on Twitter.