Blog Book Tour | “Last Christmas in Paris” (an #Epistolary novel of #WWI) by Heather Webb and Hazel Gaynor!

Posted Friday, 20 October, 2017 by jorielov , , , , , 0 Comments

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Acquired Book By: I am a regular tour hostess for blog tours via Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours whereupon I am thankful to have been able to host such a diverse breadth of stories, authors and wonderful guest features since I became a hostess! I received a complimentary ARC copy of “Last Christmas in Paris” direct from the publisher William Morrow in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive compensation for my opinions or thoughts shared herein.

Why this #Epistolary novel captured my attention:

It will not surprise those who regularly read Jorie Loves A Story to denote the stories Jorie loves to read most these past four years have been hinged somewhere in the historical past! Of those, I tend to reside somewhere in the World War eras more readily than other eras (other timescapes I have a penchant for are the Regency, Victorian, Edwardian and Roaring Twenties) as there is always a new approach to telling a story either at war or on the home-front which resonates with my heart for Historical Fiction. When it comes to reading Ms Webb’s stories, I had the grace of finding her whilst her debut novel ‘Becoming Josephine’ was first releasing, finding a strong voice and emerging talent where I had this to say on her behalf:

Ms. Webb gives the reader a rendering of the situations and events which befit the era of the story’s origins but on the level that even a sensitive reader could walk through the scenes without blushing too severely or cringing at the imagery painted in narrative. Even though she does plainly give the raw visceral imagery its due course. She doesn’t allow it to take over completely, but allows it to fade in the background. Except for what occurs in Rose’s home of Martinique and what happens when she returns to Paris, in which the horror of the attacks are in full measure. Rather than focus solely on the horror that erupted she gave the smaller details of the aftermath which proved just as difficult if not moreso to read. Such a horrid time in history for the survivors to have lived through. She chose instead to direct the focus on Rose’s rise into the persona of Josephine who became the woman’s edificial Phoenix.

In regards to Ms Gaynor’s writings, I am only just starting to get to the point where I can focus on her writings – having picked up a copy of ‘The Girl Who Came Home’ for my thirty-fourth birthday (four years ago). It was one of three novels I came home with by authors I either knew of or dearly wanted to read next! If you visit the Cover Reveal w/ Notes I wrote on behalf of “Fall of Poppies” her links were remiss because I could not find them ahead of posting my showcase. I was meant to receive a copy to read and review but will be reading this through my local library instead.

There is a bit of a back-story about how my path crossed originally with Ms Gaynor as it goes back to #LitChat in May of 2014! Here I refer to snippets of the conversation I participated in which led me to become curious about the story I would find inside ‘The Girl Who Came Home’ and plant the seed of interest to follow Ms Gaynor’s career:

I had fully planned to host a dual-interview between Ms Webb & Ms Gaynor, however, as I had to turn my questions in rather late (within the past week or so) I am unsure if the interview will still be able to be completed at this time. I was hoping to get two perspectives on the same questions which would culminate on a lively chat about this novel and Historical Fiction. Meanwhile, I was unable to finish reading the story itself by the 13th as originally scheduled and had to push my review forward to Sunday giving me enough time to finish collecting my thoughts as I am sharing them now.

As previously mentioned last week as I reviewed ‘Dennis and Greer: A Love Story’, I have a strong passion for Epistolary Fiction – which alighted in my life quite happily when I first read ‘Letters from Skye’. Since then, I have sought out various authors and story-lines which follow either a letters & correspondence narrative or entreat through slippages in time via diaries or journals. Either way, I feel quite the zest of mirth for finding a new ‘story’ caught inside the time capsule of what is left behind through the words people write down – either to be shared or kept private for their own edification.

I hadn’t known at the time when I asked to be a part of this blog tour, I’d finally find a story written through the sequences of letters & correspondences I had first discovered in ‘Letters from Skye’! I cannot even begin to tell you how overjoyed I was at this little discovery when I first started reading the ARC! I hadn’t known when it first arrived either – as I wanted to savour reading this without doing what I usually do which is to look over a novel tip to stern – never reading out of sequence but becoming acquainted with what it contains – I sometimes read the Appendixes first, too, as those are places where Authors Notes or other such lovelies could reside or even for those of us who like a bit more information, where back-stories or research notes are presented!

I was also wicked happy for reading a new release by William Morrow – as this is one imprint I have fond memories of reviewing for off and on for the past four years! It has become one of my favourite imprints for finding convicting fiction and characters of whom give me lasting hours of joy walking beside them!

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Blog Book Tour | “Last Christmas in Paris” (an #Epistolary novel of #WWI) by Heather Webb and Hazel Gaynor!Last Christmas in Paris
Subtitle: A Novel of World War I
by Hazel Gaynor, Heather Webb
Source: Publisher via Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

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…

Places to find the book:

Borrow from a Public Library

Add to Riffle

Add to LibraryThing

ISBN: 9780062562685

Also by this author: Cover Reveal: Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War, Becoming Josephine, Author Interview: Heather Webb (Rodin's Lover), Rodin's Lover

Genres: Epistolary | Letters & Correspondences, Historical Fiction, Historical Romance, Military Fiction, War Drama


Published by William Morrow

on 3rd October, 2017

Format: Paperback ARC

Pages: 368

Published By: William Morrow (@WmMorrowBks),
an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers (@HarperCollins)

Converse via: #HistFic, #HistoricalFiction + #Epistolary

About Hazel Gaynor

Hazel Gaynor

HAZEL GAYNOR is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of A Memory of Violets and The Girl Who Came Home, for which she received the 2015 RNA Historical Novel of the Year award. Her third novel The Girl from the Savoy was an Irish Times and Globe & Mail Canada bestseller, and was shortlisted for the BGE Irish Book Awards Popular Fiction Book of the Year. The Cottingley Secret and Last Christmas in Paris will be published in 2017.

Hazel was selected by US Library Journal as one of ‘Ten Big Breakout Authors’ for 2015 and her work has been translated into several languages. Originally from Yorkshire, England, Hazel now lives in Ireland.

About Heather Webb

Heather Webb

HEATHER WEBB is the author of historical novels Becoming Josephine and Rodin’s Lover, and the anthology Fall of Poppies, which have been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Cosmopolitan, Elle, France Magazine, and more, as well as received national starred reviews.

RODIN’S LOVER was a Goodreads Top Pick in 2015. Last Christmas in Paris, an epistolary love story set during WWI released October 3, 2017, and The Phantom’s Apprentice, a re-imagining of the Gothic classic Phantom of the Opera from Christine Daae’s point of view releases February 6, 2018. To date, her novels have sold in ten countries. Heather is also a professional freelance editor, foodie, and travel fiend.

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My Review of last christmas in paris:

With a heavy-hearted somberness we find ourselves in 1968, ten days before Christmas watching as Thomas tries to quiet his emotions and embrace the chance he’s being given to return to Paris. His heart is heavy and full; the memories are not mere echoes but fond companions he has cherished since the Great War. You can feel his anguished resolve – of knowing he must make a journey to keep himself tethered a bit longer in this world – to find what needs to be understood within a letter he has not yet willed himself to open. For those who are left behind or are given tasks after someone leaves us – the hardest part in keeping our promises to them is finding the strength to do what is asked of us.

As Thomas and his best mate, Will go off to the war everyone believed would end in two months’ time – it is Will’s sister Evelyn who takes up the duties of writing to both young men whilst their away. You can feel the levity in the boys’ first letters – of trying to put things into perspective but without being overly concerned because at that point in History’s memory, no one was overtly concerned they could not win a war quickly; if only they had known! For Evelyn, the letters gave her purpose and a way to ferret out her anxieties of knowing so many boys going off to do their bit! In her letters, she had a liveliness I think the boys would respond too once the glow of duty wore off and the grim reality of what they were in for during the long haul settled over them!

By Evelyn’s second letter, you can see how her and Thomas would enjoy writing to each other – they had a comfortable exchange of conversation even then! She was tired of feeling useless and without direction in life – as her father’s only concern for her was a well-matched marriage! Something Evie wished her father would outgrow and her mother’s woes over who might have already died at battle rattled her a bit because it was only in an ill-attempt to see if the one suitor her Mum preferred had actually survived to propose! Imagine being in that particular predicament? No wonder she wanted to write her brother and his best friend! Thomas was good-hearted about her letters – finding he enjoyed sharing his hours with her, even if it was about the rudimentary tasks of learning how to ‘soldier’ before going to the front. He broke down his moments and gave her insight into what he was facing; even if most of it felt a bit boring for the moment. Or as we all know – the calm before the storm!

I had a smirk of a laugh on my face when Evie disclosed to Thomas how the Mums’ of the next season’s debutante debut are all up in arm’s over the fact the best boys are already ‘sent off’! I mean, seriously? What is more important right then? Of course, knowing the ton I’d imagine they would have felt they were entitled to an uninterrupted life; how silly of them! I commiserated with her over the ridiculous outfit girls’ had to wear just to ride a ‘bike’ back then and loved how she was thriving on Thomas’s encouragement to continue writing! She was a writer in her bones but finding her voice and her traction in publishing were two harbours she had not yet found a mooring.

Behind the carefree exchanges, Thomas is worried and aggrieved most about his father’s absent replies. You feel for the lad immediately because you can sense he went against his father’s wishes but why should that matter now when his son is soon at the front to face the enemy? Sometimes I think fathers were too hard on their sons; especially the considerate ones like Thomas who explained everything in a letter and giving a rightful case for having the benefit of a strong influence to do what is right in life even if it is not something chosen for you but rather one you seek out yourself. I feared for Thomas – would he get resolution with his father or would his choices divert their relationship into fallow ground?

Evie’s best friend Alice is quite the charming hoot of a girl! She’s exactly the kind of friend you’d hoped to have yourself – as she is sunshine in a bottle! She likes to live on the rainbows of life and try not to stress over spilt milk before it’s known to be spoilt. Her letters are airy and full of life bursting out of the ink she’s using to compose her words whilst Evie’s letters are growing in depth through the realities of war she’s gleaming from the boys’ letters. They are off closer to the battlefields now – finding themselves not as prepared for what they would find there (as so many could say themselves) yet not giving in to doubt nor fear either. She for her part is finding ways to give them a bubble of a laugh – by expressing how sorry she is for a knitter and how she’s keeping active on her bicycle! The exploits of hers might pale in comparison but it’s her innocent way of finding joy despite the unease of what she learns in the letters which endears you the most! I nearly felt she might find a way to get to the war herself – she reminds me of other characters I’ve read and loved from other war dramas (including #ChartonMinster!) who took it upon themselves to find their purpose rather than feel continually vexed by restrictive parents.

As the boys struggle to find their rhythm at war, Evie tries to sort out hers back home. No one is especially happy come Christmas, as they were not out of the war but rather, only just beginning to serve. Trenchfoot was already an issue for some of them (where your feet and toes are waterlogged) but they kept their chins high despite the challenges. For Evie’s part, she tried to keep her letters light and tempered with the follies of home-life whilst Thomas tried to give her an impression of his life as an officer without the trauma of what it was really like to live through it. He found confidence to confide in her about his father and about his future. It was there inside their dreams for ‘after the war’ they found the companionship they both never knew they were seeking.

As we shift back to Thomas in the present, his current reality is visited through journalled entries of where he is attempting to live out the remaining hours he’s been given in the full glow of his memories and of the love for a woman who is now gone from him; save the letters, of which repair the distances even if they bring an unwanted pinch of sorrow with their companionship. It is here, we see Thomas trying to do his best to find joy in the ‘moments’ he has whilst owning to the truth of his condition – it’s a tricky exercise of patience and acceptance. His companion on the trip, is a lovely endearing nurse who understands his needs even if she worries about his medical issues – she has decided to live for him right now – letting him do what is necessary for him to have peace and a bit of joy this Christmas. On her side of the ledger – she’s able to see Paris with fresh eyes and fill her soul with the splendors the city offers her to find and seek out.

Evie is growing restless – you can understand why – she wants to contribute ‘something’ and yet, her infuriating mother acts more like Mrs Bennett than a woman who would understand the needs of her daughter. On that vein, I even liked how she considered delivering the mail with her bicycle! I hadn’t read previously about the shortages of postal workers but it makes proper sense – as I’d imagine a lot of jobs were filled by woman and those who were left behind who could not serve when all the men who could handle their duties were sent elsewhere to protect everyone back home. It would make large gaps in the work force but also, it would allow some the chance to do something they couldn’t have tried otherwise. I feel Evie is about to break free of the lock-hold her Mum has on her – a girl can only thrive so long without freeing herself to find her own way.

You can tell the differences between Thomas and Will (Evie’s brother) – Thomas is choosing to write letters to abate the discomforts of his service and Will, is shouldering most of what he is experiencing in the dark. He keeps a lot close to his breast as they say – not giving out a lot of information – which can’t be good for his soul. He’s living through hellish conditions but he is allowing himself to be cordoned off – unable to express himself and not sharing even his fears with his sister. He’s not the chatty type and in some ways, I fear this might be what undoes him in the end. You have to flex out out your emotions and purge your thoughts – without getting things off your mind, they are simply allowed to fester and worsen. Except to say, he had a surprise for us all – he fell in love with a French nurse! So, apparently – despite his quiet respite from his sister and family, he’s getting on just fine! I had to laugh – it’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for as they will constantly surprise you!

As the tides start to turn – where war starts to take more than what Evie and Thomas are able to bear, they start to turn closer to each other to find the strength neither of them feels. It is a turning point too, for their friendship – of having more of a connection than merely the sister of a best friend. They are on solid ground now – where they share a fondness that is growing past what originally fused them together. It is in their letters – you feel the full angst of their situations – each living with the knowledge of what war is bringing to change their lives in unfathomable ways but with the hope, one day all of this will be over but how will they greet the declaration of peace? They each have found solace in writing to each other – of reaching out to ‘someone’ who gets what the other is experiencing if only to find one to connect too who can be sympathic and understanding.

Evie becomes a journalist and her best friend, Alice becomes a war nurse – the two of them found their individual paths to take despite the absence of knowing what is the better course to tread! I had to chuckle though, how Alice ‘won’ her position as a nurse (that might bite her in the end as being unwise!) whereas Evie was a natural fit for journalism. I could easily see how she could write expository pieces rather than narrative prose – she has such a good knack for observational disclosures which pull you into what she is writing. I could see why it appealed to her – it gives her a bit of the freedom she’s seeking but in such a way, she’s not entirely stepping out on her own yet either. I am sure her Mum needed help not to faint once she learnt of her employ!

As Evie finds her voice in journalism, we start to see her emerge as a singular talent for conveying how it feels to be left ‘at home’ whilst everyone else is ‘away at war’. She pours her heart and her soul into her articles – fuelling her words with the truism of the moment with the added benefit of being able to correspond with Thomas. His ability to share with her news from the front lines goes a long way towards her compassionate writing to give a bit of what he has given her to those who are not as fortunate to have a solider as a pen pal. Throughout her journey as a journalist, you can see how she is growing in the maturity of dealing with real-world after effects of a war no one understood – it was a war which tested more than the resolve of those on the ground – it took everything out of everyone everywhere.

Gaynor and Webb have not backed down from showing the humanity of war – of how surviving the experience of ‘war’ can change a man from the inside out. In this, they pay homage to a lot of soldiers of the past and present who have found themselves suffering from PTSD – it has taken on different names in the past, but the heart of the matter is trying to resolve the unresolved anguish – especially the mental toll war takes out of a person. In this story, Thomas is having trouble moving past an incident where only seconds stood between life and death; it’s a morality issue on his part and a hard lesson in his humanity on the other hand. He was sent to a special hospital back in Scotland to try to resolve what was happening inside him, whilst Evie prayed and hoped he had lived through the months where his letters had come to a stop. It was Alice, her dear-hearted friend the war nurse who was able to alleviate some of her frayed nerves but as the letters resumed, Thomas was a shell of his former self – completely unable to be the friend he knew he should be to Evie.

It is here – in these chapters, where we feel as hugged close to Evie and Thomas as ever before – of feeling what they are experiencing as if it were our own lives and knowing how difficult it is to find even a small measure of hope and peace when the whole of the world feels like it will crush you (as it felt to Thomas). The words Gaynor and Webb chose to exchange between the two lovelies speak to the heartache and the pain of not knowing if your words are enough – if you can reach the friend who needs you most and if anything you do or say will make a difference for them – in the darkest moments they must face.

I knew this one would tug at my heart and be a story I’d have trouble parting – you cannot read this and not feel the tears – they glisten as you attempt to read the final letter, of feeling the full weight of what has transpired between Evie and Thomas; whilst trying to stay calm enough to read how this ends – or should I say ‘begin anew’? There is hope in the ending – hope and a beautiful note of how love can transcend everything in this life – even time and war – to where it is love which sees us through whilst the joys must be caught and captured as soon as we observe them. If we can hold onto love and if we can find joy in the everyday – we have unexpectedly learnt the best lessons life can give to us. For Evie and Thomas – their letters were their romance; their bond was stronger than life itself and it is how war writ their destiny to become entwined which gives the most depth to how their souls walked as one.

On the writing style of Ms Webb & Ms Gaynor:

Right at the start, I knew I could stay forever in this novel written in tandem between two authors I have grown to appreciate both near and far. One author has such a distinctive style, I know her influence as soon as I find it in a story and the other, whose voice til now was unknown feels as if this was not the first time I had read one of her stories. The beauty of course is how well matched their writerly styles were to fuse the narrative together into a fluid story. I greatly admire those who can co-write a story or a series together – to find a bridge between their imaginations and their instincts, leaving us with something to chew on long after we’ve met the characters and seen their conclusions.

As you read through the letters – you gather a sense of pace and preparation of thought – letters are written with the intention of signaling out certain bits of your life you wish to share which speak to what is on your mind and heart. Absorbing Evie’s letters, you can gather how hard it is to dissect what is changing in England whilst the boys are serving at the front whilst the boys find it difficult to hold back and not convey the grimness of war. In each letter, you find a purposeful voice streaming through their dialogue of conversation – of how their personalities shine and how each has their own way of holding back or revealling more than intended. It is an interesting succession of lives striving to make sense of a world at war and the uncertainties that go along with the chaos evolving out of the aftermath for war changes more than just the landscape of countries and cities.

The ways in which Ms Gaynor and Ms Webb reached back through time and pulled forward such a heart-stirring account of war through two pen pals who drew closer to each other with each letter is a remarkable feat to have accomplished. I found myself itching to dig into the next letter as I had with ‘Letters from Skye’. The two novels should be read back-to-back for those seeking wicked good stories set through the discourse of letters & correspondences. This is how Historical Fiction can breathe new life into what is already understood by re-examining the layers hidden with the onions of time’s arrow.

On the aesthetics of a William Morrow release:

Generally speaking, I am one who commends Wm. Morrow on their ‘P.S. Editions’ and other general extras they include at the end of their novels. They have the tendency of surprising me with their extras and despite this copy being an ARC, there were surprises to be had inside! For starts, I loved the cover design for this novel because it encased the felicity of Christmas (the season which is most important to the story & to Thomas) but it also had the feel of a vintage snapshot of correspondence – how letters used to be tied up in ribbons and how weathered envelopes become which are well-worn from multiple readings. The Eiffel Tower is iconic but it’s the woman in the red dress whom you notice more – especially as the ribbon tying the letters is also red. You feel like this could be a weathered manuscript of truths told through people who lived through a generation we can only imagine and continue to have empathy for their resolve to survive.

Tucked into the page designating the individual ‘parts’ of the tale is a carry-over aesthetic of the cover design – where you see the Tower muted behind a snow dusting scene. Even the telegrams used as part of the correspondences which make up the story itself are cast appropriately – being seen as a dark shade of gray which stands out against the letters themselves. If a newspaper article is being shared, the font changes to the recognisable shape of a typewriter’s inked words. Little changes in how the different ‘letters’ are seen on the pages warms my heart, as they feel a bit more special somehow – as if you can decipher what kind of correspondence is being expressed and how it must have felt to receive it. I also like the breakage in just having everything aligned and arranged in an archival manner.

The only exclusions I wish had been present were the drawings exchanged by Evie and Thomas! The descriptions of the drawings were wicked good, but there was space enough to tuck in the drawings I thought between the letters themselves – or to take ‘snapshot’ of the envelope or flap where the drawings lived – even seeing a snap of how the positioning of the stamps on the envelopes to ‘speak’ a message without words would have been nice! I know illustrations are not oft found in novels – but in this instance, I thought they would have added a special touch of truism to honour Evie and Thomas.

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This blog tour is courtesy of: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Last Christmas in Paris blog tour via HFVBTs
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{SOURCES: Cover art of “Last Christmas in Paris”, book synopsis, author biographies, author photographs of Heather Webb & Hazel Gaynor and the tour badge were all provided by HFVBTs (Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours) and used with permission. Post dividers by Fun Stuff for Your Blog via Pure Imagination. Tweets embedded by codes provided by Twitter. Blog graphics created by Jorie via Canva: Book Review Banner using Unsplash.com (Creative Commons Zero) Photography by Frank McKenna and the Comment Box Banner.}

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About jorielov

I am self-educated through local libraries and alternative education opportunities. I am a writer by trade and I cured a ten-year writer’s block by the discovery of Nanowrimo in November 2008. The event changed my life by re-establishing my muse and solidifying my path. Five years later whilst exploring the bookish blogosphere I decided to become a book blogger. I am a champion of wordsmiths who evoke a visceral experience in narrative. I write comprehensive book showcases electing to get into the heart of my reading observations. I dance through genres seeking literary enlightenment and enchantment. Starting in Autumn 2013 I became a blog book tour hostess featuring books and authors. I joined The Classics Club in January 2014 to seek out appreciators of the timeless works of literature whose breadth of scope and voice resonate with us all.

“I write my heart out and own my writing after it has spilt out of the pen.” – self quote (Jorie of Jorie Loves A Story)

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Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • 2017 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge
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Posted Friday, 20 October, 2017 by jorielov in 20th Century, Bits & Bobbles of Jorie, Blog Tour Host & Reviewer, Debilitating Diagnosis & Illness, Diary Accountment of Life, During WWI, Epistolary Novel | Non-Fiction, Flashbacks & Recollective Memories, Historical Fiction, Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours, History, Literary Fiction, Medical Fiction, Mental Health, Mental Illness, Postal Mail | Letters & Correspondence, Psychiatric Facilities, PTSD, Realistic Fiction, Story in Diary-Style Format, the Nineteen Hundreds, The World Wars, Women's Fiction

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