Sunday, February 27, 2011

Review: Letters from Home

Summary: Chicago, 1944. Liz Stephens has little interest in attending a USO club dance with her friends Betty and Julia. She doesn’t need a flirtation with a lonely serviceman when she’s set to marry her childhood sweetheart. Yet something happens the moment Liz glimpses Morgan McClain. They share only a brief exchange—cut short by the soldier's evident interest in Betty—but Liz can't forget him. Thus, when Betty asks her to ghostwrite a letter to Morgan, stationed overseas, Liz reluctantly agrees.

Thousands of miles away, Morgan struggles to adjust to the brutality of war. His letters from “Betty” are a comfort, their soul-baring correspondence a revelation to them both. While Liz is torn by her feelings for a man who doesn’t know her true identity, Betty and Julia each become immersed in their own romantic entanglements. And as the war draws to a close, all three will face heart-wrenching choices, painful losses, and the bittersweet joy of new beginnings. 

Beautifully rendered and deeply moving, Letters from Home is a story of hope and connection, of sacrifices made in love and war—and the chance encounters that change us forever. -- Kensington

I hesitate to even start my review like this... but when I first started reading LETTERS FROM HOME by Kristina McMorris, I wasn't sure that I was going to appreciate this novel. While I do enjoy fiction that takes place during WWII, the first few chapters of the book made me fear that this was going to be a sappy romance-type book -- not exactly my favorite genre. However, I have to give credit where credit is due. I was pleasantly surprised by the depth and scope of LETTERS FROM HOME, and I actually ended up enjoying this story (and the characters) a great deal.

LETTERS FROM HOME did have elements of romance, especially between the beautiful letters that went back and forth between and Liz and Morgan, but it wasn't heavy handed to me. Maybe I'm getting mushy in my old age, but I enjoyed seeing how their relationship grew through the almost-extinct craft of letter writing. In addition, I also really appreciated how these letters served another purpose to the reader -- showing the horrors of war through the eyes of a solider.

I think what made this book so special to me were the characters. I thought the author did a great job of developing each one and making them seem to real. LETTERS FROM HOME told the story of four different people -- Liz, Morgan, Betty and Julia. Each character's story was interesting (as were their background stories) and I thought the characters were surprisingly complex. In addition, I appreciated how each character evolved by the end of the novel -- war really does make people see things differently. Finally, I enjoyed that by "meeting" these four characters, the reader was able to see how the war affected not only the people fighting and working overseas, but also those who remained home.

LETTER FROM HOME is Ms. McMorris' debut novel and I think it's a very strong start. She did a good job with dialogue, character development and the setting; however, I think what I most appreciated about her writing was the passion in her words. It was evident that LETTERS FROM HOME was a labor of love for her, and I admit that I was touched by the inspiration for this novel. When Ms. McMorris was collecting recipes for a family cookbooks, she discovered love letters that her grandparents wrote to each other during the war. Reading these special letters gave her the starting point for her first novel.

I believe that LETTERS FROM HOME would make an interesting book club pick. Because the novel gives four different characters' stories, there is a great deal to discuss about their thoughts and actions. There is a reading guide available which touches upon some very important themes including letter writing, communication, the effects of war, friendships, responsibility and obligation, loss, parent/child relationships, the role of women, honesty, love, self-discovery, sacrifice and forgiveness. There are also some suggested activities to enhance your meeting like invitation and decor ideas, food and beverage suggestions, and even favor ideas. And if you really want to go all out, Ms. McMorris is available to chat with your group.

Ms. McMorris has a fantastic website which definitely captures the essence of LETTERS FROM HOME. There are details about the research that Ms. McMorris' conducted to write this novel, as well as some photographs and excerpts from her grandparents' letters. In addition, she has even included a few of the characters' favorite recipes (some also appear in the back of the book.) Maybe it's because I'm dieting, but I thought this one for Peach Basket Turnover sounded especially delicious:

Peach Basket Turnover

A tasty twist on pineapple upside-down cake, this was another of Liz's favorites made by Nana.

2 eggs (yolks and whites separated)
1/2 cup sugar
1 15 oz. cans sliced peaches in light syrup
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter

In a bowl, beat yolks with sugar until light. Drain syrup from canned peaches into a cup. Set peaches aside. Add 1/3 cup of the syrup to yolk mixture. Beat 5 minutes. Fold in egg whites. Sift together flour, baking powder, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Blend with mixture and add vanilla. In a separate medium bowl, cream together brown sugar and butter, then add peaches and rest of salt. Spread peach mixture evenly in greased 8x8" baking pan. Pour batter over top. Bake at 400 degrees for 40 minutes or until done. Turn out upside down. Serve hot with whipped cream.

I found LETTERS FROM HOME to be a sweet novel that touched my heart. I recommend it to fans of women's fiction, romance and WWII historical fiction books.

Thanks to the author for sending me a copy of this novel.

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bermudaonion said...

I don't mind some romance in a book as long as it's not over the top. I do love when letters are incorporated in a story, so this sounds like a book for me.

Beth F said...

I might have passed this one up without your review. I'm not into the sappy kind of romance. This one sound great, though -- and like Kathy, I like books that include letters.

Rebecca Rasmussen said...

I definitely love letters and notes in novels and I'm glad to hear that it isn't sappy. :)

Dizzy C said...

I am looking forward to this one.
We have a different cover for the UK.
Not sure which cover I prefer.

Not sure what the uk publish date is yet either, but is on my wishlist


Dizzy C said...

PS just found our date is May 2011.

Thanks for the review.


rhapsodyinbooks said...

I love how you always check the author's website. I should do that too. There's such good stuff there!

Stacie said...

A book with letters, recipes, romance, and set in WWII sounds like a perfect book for me! I will have to check it out!

Kristina said...

Thanks so much for the amazing review! And thanks to the commenters for the kind words.

May 5th is indeed the U.K. release from HarperCollins. I'm delighted with the cover they created as well.

I hope you enjoy the read!

diaryofaneccentric said...

I thought this book would be too heavy on the romance, so I'm glad you cleared that up. I'll link to your review on War Through the Generations.