Book review: Letters from Home by Kristina McMorris

Can two people really fall in love at first sight and can that attraction turn into a happy-ever-after relationship?

Tuesday, 7th June 2011, 7:00 am

Kristina McMorris’s emotionally charged debut novel is everything it sets out to be - romantic, passionate and utterly bewitching.

Billed as an extraordinary love story, Letters from Home is written straight from the heart and all the more moving as it is based on the real-life whirlwind wartime courtship of the author’s own grandparents who came to know each other almost entirely through correspondence.

There is more than a nod to the great French literary hero Cyrano de Bergerac in a heart-rending plotline which revolves around the theme of mistaken identity. Add to this a rich cast of characters and a convincing evocation of wartime uncertainty and there is plenty here to keep discerning readers enthralled.

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In Chicago, Illinois, two people lock eyes across a crowded dance floor. The events that follow will spark an unforgettable romance.

The year is 1944 and the US has just entered the war. Young men and women are being drafted in to fight with their allies on Europe’s distant shores. Throughout America, sweethearts are saying their last goodbyes.

Literature student Liz Stephens is betrothed to childhood sweetheart Dalton Harris...she knew him long before he was a budding US senator with expensive suits, perfect ties and slicked-back hair.

Since war broke out, she has become desperate to know if she can depend on Dalton who seems more interested in his political career than courting his fiancée.

When she meets GI Morgan McClain at a dance, she feels an instant and intense connection. The likeable farmer from Illinois has a natural warmth that ‘reaches for her heart like invisible hands.’.

The feeling is mutual; McClain is mesmerised by Liz’s blend of gentleness and strength, and finds in her a feeling of understanding that defies reason.

But then he dances with her flirtatious best friend Betty and in a moment of misunderstanding, Liz is left feeling like just another soldier’s fancy.

Betty falls for Morgan’s good looks and begs the very eloquent Liz to write letters for her to post to him overseas.

Liz reluctantly agrees, if only to retain a connection to him, but as the war enters its last searing days, the correspondence that began on a whim looks set to alter the course of their lives forever.

Letters from Home is far from a standard romance...McMorris’s elegant writing avoids slipping into over-sentimentality and she keeps her storyline simple but quietly powerful. The link to the battle front adds pace and tension, and the couple’s moving letters give the story a welcome creative impetus.

A treat for true romantics.

(Avon, paperback, £6.99)