Monday, March 13, 2017

With Love, Wherever You Are by Dandi Daley Mackall, 2017

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Everyone knows that war romances never last. . . .Helen Eberhart always had to fight for what she wanted. Survival in a family of thirteen gave her the grit to push through nurse’s training and support herself. But after the attack on Pearl Harbor, she can’t stand catering to the pampered patients on Chicago’s North Shore. Enlisting as an Army nurse, Helen is transferred to a military hospital in Battle Creek, Michigan. There she comes face-to-face with the waves of broken bodies of the wounded soldiers, many no older than her beloved brothers.

Frank Daley wasn’t trying to be a hero. He’d only enlisted to finish medical school, confident that the war would be over before his deferment ran out. Life just worked out for him that way. But Lieutenant Frank R. Daley, MD, is sent straight from his graduation to boot camp in Battle Creek as his last stop before a battlefield hospital in Europe. And none of his training prepares him for the chance encounter with the spirited nurse who steals his heart.

After a whirlwind romance and courthouse wedding, Helen and Frank are sent to the front lines of Europe with only letters to connect them for months at a time. Surrounded by danger and desperately wounded patients, they soon find that only the war seems real—and their marriage more and more like a distant dream. If they make it through the war, will their marriage survive?

(466 pages)

I've been a long-time casual fan of Dandi Daley Mackall's books for years now, ever since I got hooked on the Starlight Animal Rescue series when I was younger. Mackall always writes children's books filled with equal parts thrills and heart, my favorite combination. When I saw the option to review this book, though, I knew straight away that it was a different beast. This is no 200-word animal rescue book for kids; rather, it's a 450+ page adult novel about a married couple serving as medical personnel in different parts of Europe during WWII.

The first thing I have to say is that this is a fascinating book. It provides an intimate, and often startling, perspective on WWII by focusing explicitly on the lives of Helen and Frank, army nurse and doctor, who are both serving in Europe during the height of the war. The scenes they each see throughout the course of the war and even after it are terrible, yes, but also educational–they show us the depths of human evil, the horrors of human-on-human violence, and the unalterable fact that we need to never engage in such a terrible world war ever again.

Maybe it's because I'm the daughter of two physicians myself, but I've always seen doctors and nurses as some of the greatest heroes during wars. They're the ones who go out to the front lines, risk their lives, do anything it takes . . . to save lives. When everyone around them is focused on destroying the enemy and throwing their men in front of bullets, medical personnel are the ones who stay focused on keeping soldiers alive. I especially appreciate that Helen chooses to help treat German soldiers in the French hospital, despite the flack she gets for it from the other nurses; her determination to help every patient and save every life she can, no matter the stigma, is truly admirable in a time when so many people were focused on mistreating anyone they didn't perceive as being "worth" common decency.

As for the story's central romance, well, I personally didn't care for it that much. Since I figured out who the real Helen and Frank were (hint: their last name is Daley, which is Mackall's maiden name), I was pretty sure I knew how it would turn out. I still don't really agree with the super-fast way they jumped into marriage, which strikes me as very stupid, but the characters themselves do acknowledge the insanity of their decision and spend most of the book building up their marriage bond through daily correspondence. Since they're a newlywed couple who are forcibly separated most of the time, when they rendezvous every few months there are some definite innuendos about what they do together alone–they're not even approaching explicit, though, so I was fine with them. Mainly, though, I just thought their emotions were really strong and rather volatile, and I couldn't get over the fact that they felt so intimate with each other when they'd barely even spent a few weeks together in person before getting married. I guess it was just a different world back then, one where a whirlwind romance like that actually has a chance at success. Plus, memories of their horrible experiences during the war probably helped them bond in later years.

Anyway, Dandi Daley Mackall definitely has the writing skills to try her hand at any genre she chooses. I'm so glad I gave With Love a try, and I look forward to seeing what else she'll be doing in the upcoming future!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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