Last Christmas in Paris: A Novel of World War I
Published by Harper360
Available in ebook and paperback: 5 October 2017
Source: Advanced Reading Copy
When I was invited by the publisher to review Last Christmas in Paris and to take part in the blog tour, I didn’t hesitate to say yes please. I already adore Hazel Gaynor’s writing, having reviewed her previous books here (links below) and whilst Heather Webb is a new author to me, the collaboration of the two authors and the wartime setting made this irresistible. Having read it, I can safely say that this is a book I will be recommending to everyone!
| About the Book |
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…
| My Review |
It’s not easy to tell a story simply by using an epistolary format. It has been successfully done before (The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society) immediately springs to mind but I’m delighted to say that these two authors have pulled this off magnificently, Last Christmas in Paris is a gorgeous read and I loved it.
With the occasional interruption into a change of timeline set in 1968, Last Christmas in Paris is told entirely through letters (and telegrams) during the years of 1914-1918, mainly between Evie Elliott and Thomas Harding – the childhood best friend of Evie’s brother Will. Evie is a prolific letter writer and it’s not only Tom who receives her missives but her brother Will, and her best friend Alice.
Evie was an absolute delight and I adored her. She wasn’t content just to sit by and let life pass by. She had principles, gumption and bucket loads of courage. Although from a privileged family, she had no airs or graces and was desperate to ‘do her bit’ for her country when war was declared. Her mother was dead set against her working at all but eventually Evie is able to get a job with the local postmistress delivering letters and those awful official telegrams bringing bad news. Not content with keeping quiet about the propaganda from the government and other news agencies who put out the false reports that everything is going swimmingly well for the troops, she secures a column in a newspaper – telling the truth as she sees it from a woman’s point of view and not holding back on the awful conditions in France and the difficulties faced by both fighting soldiers and the people at home waiting for their return.
When Tom went to war, he and Evie were not romantically involved. As Will’s younger sister, she has always been teased by both boys but through their correspondence we begin to see a different side to both Tom and Evie. Tom’s letters are heavily censored for mentions of location and other sensitive information but nevertheless through the level of detail, the evocative prose and historical facts I was completely swept up in their lives. The letters start off formally from Tom’s side – signing off with ‘Lieutenant Thomas Harding’ whilst those from Evie are jolly and newsy and include gifts of hand knitted socks, tobacco and books – anything to try and lift Tom’s spirits. As the war continues for far longer than anyone expected, their correspondence becomes more personal and intimate. Both pour out their innermost feelings about the war and life in general.
One interesting little thing which I didn’t know until now was that there are different meanings for where you place stamps on an envelope. This is something that Tom and Evie do with the other having to work out the meaning of the stamp position on the letters they sent to each other. I just had to Google and found this
The characterisation was spot on with the main characters being incredibly engaging and believable – Tom stole a little bit of my heart and even those I disliked intensely (yes John Hopper I’m looking at you!) were able to get under my skin! The storyline of ‘war neuroses’ (what we now know as PTSD) was extremely poignant and saddening. These poor soldiers who had been through hell at the front, were referred to as ‘Lacking Moral Fibre’ and ‘weak-minded’ when they were returned to Britain for hospital treatment.
Last Christmas in Paris will make you smile whilst breaking your heart. I was completely mesmerised by the letters, the characters, and oh just by the entire storyline and it will definitely be one of my favourite books this year. I made the mistake of finishing the last 50 pages or so on my morning train commute. My goodness this was an emotional read – a word of warning – if you’re reading this book in public make sure you have tissues!
— Heather Webb (@msheatherwebb) November 3, 2017
My thanks to Helena of Harper 360 for the review copy and for the invitation to take part in the blog tour. You can follow the tour below.
| About the authors |
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.
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.
Related Review Posts (Hazel Gaynor):