On The Cover: It’s 1916, and the last thing Nova Scotian soldier Danny Baker expects to find in war-torn France is the love of his life. Audrey Poulin is alone in the world, and struggling to survive the war in the French countryside. When Audrey and Danny meet and fall in love, it seems like the best version of fate.
But love is only the beginning, as Danny loses a leg in the Battle of the Somme, and returns home to Halifax with Audrey, only to discover that he’s unable to leave the war behind. Danny and Audrey struggle with their new life together, and must face not only their own internal demons, but a catastrophe that will soon rip apart everything they think they know about themselves and each other.
Published: April 2015
Why I Chose It: I received a copy of this book through a Goodreads First Reads Giveaway. I originally entered the giveaway because I wanted to try out a historical novel, and got very excited that this happened to be Canadian.
There is a lot of history in this book, which is what made me enjoy this story so much. The story manages to touch on war on the ground in France, the war support in London, England, as well as the major event of the Halifax explosion. By following two specific character’s experiences, I felt exposed to a small but very clear window of the war experience.
Overall the book was very strong visually. I felt there were a lot of strong descriptions about the surroundings and atmosphere. It helped that Audrey’s character is a painter, and her way of looking at the world came through the words on the page. Similarly, Danny and Audrey are such beautiful characters, and their love for each other is very sweet and adorable. They were both very in tune to their surroundings and I like that the different settings were so important to these characters.
There are a lot of very serious topics in this book, such as war injuries, PTSD, marital stress, orphans, etc. I really loved the maturity and respect that Graham had as she dealt with this subject matter. She did not try to glorify or romanticize these situations, but she also doesn’t try to gloss over the difficult topics. The explosion itself was very powerful, and the descriptions of the aftermath were gruesome, but Danny’s observances and reactions felt appropriate. I appreciated learning about the explosion from a character who experienced it directly.
While I thoroughly enjoyed looking at the war, the Halifax explosion, and the love between Audrey and Danny, I was unfortunately not swept away by the ending like I wanted to be. New issues were introduced very close to the end and resulted in a conclusion that was trying to wrap things up too quickly. The ending just didn’t have the polished feel that the rest of the story had. I was also sorely missing an epilogue or postscript to convey the actual historical events on the day of the explosion. For all the terrific visuals this story paints, it does not actually explain what happened.
Despite the ending, I really enjoyed this book. It was refreshing for me, and I enjoyed the touch of romance in a historical setting. It was also moving to read about such a monumental Canadian event and the experiences of one Canadian soldier. I would strongly recommend this book if you like historical novels, historical romances, or Canadian works.
Rating: 4 / 5
“It was just about always foggy or rainy around East Jeddore. But goddamn it, Danny was sick of rain. Rain led to mud. Mud led to memories he didn’t want to see. But whenever he sank back into sleep, they were waiting for him, fresh and insistent.” p 13-14
“She fell asleep thinking of him, wondering where he was, but she tried to banish the vision of him in the trenches. She’s seen photographs of what it was like there. The newspaper printed some, and she hadn’t looked away quickly enough. They wrote about soldiers dying or coming home broken. She’d seen soldiers around the city too, bandaged or hobbling on crutches. Or both. She’d even seen one who screamed like a madman on the street corners, reliving the nightmares, ducking under his hands from invisible explosions, then weeping with loss. Not Danny, she prayed.” p 97
“The war had been planted deep in Danny’s mind. Its roots had twisted and spread voraciously, unearthing more terrifying, loathsome memories. From those roots grew leeching vines of self-hate and self-pity which had bloomed into an armour so thick, he could no longer see the sky.” p 208-209