Saturday, March 12, 2016

Blog Tour--Lindsay B. Ferguson's Moving and Intricate "By the Stars"

I was provided a free advance copy by Cedar Fort in exchange for an honest review.

On Tuesday, at least two books entered the wide world of publishing.  One was mine--Swan and Shadow--and another was Lindsay's debut novel.  We discovered this shared event through Twitter and have cheered each other towards the finish line, which was lots of fun.  Today, I got to go to her signing at Barnes and Noble and promised (after signing my book for her and getting my purchased copy of this signed by her) to post as soon as I got home.  Shockingly, that means now.

Anyway, to get on to the review.  I have immediate affection for this book because the protagonists are Cal and Kate and that hearkens to me being Aunt Kathryn to a nephew named Cal.  But the similarities end there.  Cal starts the story as an awestruck adolescent who admires a new girl at school.  He spends a lot more time admiring her novelty, the stories she can tell and her personality than mentioning her looks and that makes the basis first for a good friendship and a later lasting relationship.

The period piece is charming in its nostalgic elements.  I loved getting to tag along when they did the jitterbug at a dance hall in Salt Lake City.  I spent a little while fact-checking because I wasn't familiar enough with dress styles to know if a girl wearing cap sleeves in the 1940's was common.  When Cal arrives in the mission field, he has to use a pay phone for the first time in his life and I found the description of the experience absolutely adorable.  I also enjoyed that Kate was taking classes to enter the work force because my grandmother did similar things before being setting the example for three generations of sister missionaries, myself included.

The meat of the story, however, is the story of Cal's involvement in the Philippine-area battles of World War II.  While I've spent a lot of time reading about the European fronts and even heard about the Spanish revolutionaries' imprisonment in an Austrian forced labor camp, I knew next to nothing about this.  The entire thing made me very nervous because I got attached to her characters and was never sure who would make it out alive.  Since the story starts with an interview with the 93-year-old version of the protagonist, I knew that he wouldn't be one of the ones to die, but everyone else was fair game.  The grittiness and intensity of the descriptions called to mind Michael and Jeff Shaara's works on the Civil War.

While this is published for a family-friendly audience and the characters are definitely Mormon, it's not restricted in its appeal.  I could read the chapters on Cal's missionary experiences without needing to rely on the LDS vocabulary that I know very well.  It reminded me of The Other Side of Heaven, where you can still enjoy the plot and the moral meaning of it without having to have a testimony.

All in all, this is a solid contribution to historical fiction that is appropriate for a wide variety of ages. I'm hoping to see Lindsay's name on upcoming titles and maybe I'll be lucky enough to share a release date with her again.