It’s a real pleasure today to join the blog tour and share my review of Last Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb, published in e-book and paperback by Harper360 on 5th October. When Helena at Harper360 contacted me about this book and offered me an early e-copy, I’ll admit I did hesitate a bit. There was a point where I was getting distinctly battle weary with all my reading of books set against a WW1 backdrop – and the letters format often isn’t my favourite (I’m one of those rare people who didn’t really enjoy The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society…). But I’m SO glad I said “yes” – this book was just exceptional, and one of my favourite reads of this year.
New York Times bestselling author Hazel Gaynor has joined with Heather Webb to create this unforgettably romantic novel of the Great War.
August 1914. England is at war. As Evie Elliott watches her brother, Will, and his best friend, Thomas Harding, depart for the front, she believes—as everyone does—that it will be over by Christmas, when the trio plan to celebrate the holiday among the romantic cafes of Paris.
But as history tells us, it all happened so differently…
Evie and Thomas experience a very different war. Frustrated by life as a privileged young lady, Evie longs to play a greater part in the conflict—but how?—and as Thomas struggles with the unimaginable realities of war he also faces personal battles back home where War Office regulations on press reporting cause trouble at his father’s newspaper business. Through their letters, Evie and Thomas share their greatest hopes and fears—and grow ever fonder from afar. Can love flourish amid the horror of the First World War, or will fate intervene?
Christmas 1968. With failing health, Thomas returns to Paris—a cherished packet of letters in hand—determined to lay to rest the ghosts of his past. But one final letter is waiting for him…
If ever I had doubts about the epistolary format, I’d totally set them aside within the first few pages of the exchange in this wonderful book. The story is told through letters – mainly between Evie, frustrated to be left at home and expected to accept it, and Thomas, her brother’s friend at the Front. There are also exchanges between Evie and her brother Will and her close friend Alice, and occasionally other letters and telegrams giving insights into the developing story. And there are wonderful scenes from 1968 – Thomas’ return to the Paris of their wishes and dreams – that punctuate the letters quite perfectly, and frame each wartime year that passes.
Should anyone doubt that you can get to know people by reading a simple exchange of letters, dispel that thought now – I loved Evie from the very beginning, felt her frustration, uncertainty, anger, warmth, and love, and Thomas’ “voice” was every bit as distinctive and involving. The first person account of day-to-day existence at the Front is shocking, sometimes harrowing, and beautifully observed with touches of detail that bring it to life – so much more than scenes of war, instead the real life experience of a human being pushed to the limits of endurance, the horror mixed with the mundanity of living. Evie’s life is perfectly drawn too – her need to try and make a difference, from her mother-defying delivery of mail to her writing of a newspaper column with far-reaching consequences.
The developing romance is wonderful – tentative at first, perhaps just imagined, sometimes one-sided, but later totally all-consuming, with moments of such intensity it really hurts. And just a little warning – don’t, whatever you do, read this book to its conclusion in public… I cried my heart out (and not for the first time… a sign of a very special book for me), but loved every single moment.
About the authors
Hazel Gaynor is a New York Times bestselling, award-winning author, originally from Yorkshire, who lives in County Kildare, Ireland with her husband and two children. Hazel’s 2014 debut novel The Girl Who Came Home was a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. Her second novel A Memory of Violets, was also a New York Times bestseller, and her third, The Girl from The Savoy was an Irish Times and Globe & Mail bestseller. Hazel writes a popular guest blog ‘Carry on Writing’ for national Irish writing website writing.ie and contributes regular feature articles for the site, interviewing authors such as Philippa Gregory, Sebastian Faulks, Cheryl Strayed, Rachel Joyce and Jo Baker, among others.
Heather Webb is the acclaimed author of historical novels Becoming Josephine and Rodin’s Lover. In 2015, Goodreads selected Rodin’s Lover as a Top Pick of the Month. Heather is a member of the Historical Novel Society and lives in New England with her children and husband, and one feisty rabbit.