Book Notes Review-The Warm Hands of Ghosts by

Thanks to Netgalley and Ballentine for providing a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

 

Book cover for The Warm Hands of Ghosts. Two white hands holding a red poppy.

 

The Warm Hands of Ghosts
by Katherine Arden

Summary

During the Great War, a combat nurse searches for her brother, believed dead in the trenches despite eerie signs that suggest otherwise, in this hauntingly beautiful historical novel with a speculative twist, from the New York Times bestselling author of The Bear and the Nightingale.

 

January 1918. Laura Iven was a revered field nurse until she was wounded and discharged from the medical corps, leaving behind a brother still fighting in Flanders. Now home in Halifax, Canada, Laura receives word of Freddie’s death in combat, along with his personal effects—but something doesn’t make sense. Determined to uncover the truth, Laura returns to Belgium as a volunteer at a private hospital, where she soon hears whispers about haunted trenches and a strange hotelier whose wine gives soldiers the gift of oblivion. Could Freddie have escaped the battlefield, only to fall prey to something—or someone—else?

November 1917. Freddie Iven awakens after an explosion to find himself trapped in an overturned pillbox with a wounded enemy soldier, a German by the name of Hans Winter. Against all odds, the two form an alliance and succeed in clawing their way out. Unable to bear the thought of returning to the killing fields, especially on opposite sides, they take refuge with a mysterious man who seems to have the power to make the hellscape of the trenches disappear.

As shells rain down on Flanders and ghosts move among those yet living, Laura’s and Freddie’s deepest traumas are reawakened. Now they must decide whether their world is worth salvaging–or better left behind entirely.

 

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My Thoughts

The Warm Hands of Ghosts is a mix of historical fiction, mystery, and supernatural elements. I loved this book.
The story starts in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in January 1918.  A ship laden with explosives has blown up in the harbor, destroying much of Halifax, and killing Laura Iven’s parents. Laura is a registered nurse, sent home from the military hospitals of World War I after suffering a severe leg injury.

While nursing the injured from the explosion, injuries reminiscent of the wounded she left behind in Belgium, a crate arrives from Flanders with her brother Freddie’s belongings. But she’s not received a death notice from the army. Since her brother is the only member of her family left, Laura returns as a civilian nurse to the war and its hospitals to search for her brother.

Laura’s search will take her beyond the physical lines of the war. In a place with so much death, the demarcation between the physical world and the supernatural blurs. Faland inhabits this no-man’s-land. He comes and goes as he pleases, preying on the PTSD of soldiers at war. Once a man is in Faland’s grip, he never wants to leave. If Laura finds physically finds Freddie, will she still lose him to his memories?

The research Arden put into this novel is evident because I was immersed in post-explosion Halifax, the military hospitals, and the horrors of trench warfare. I was drawn to Laura-her commitment to her patients, her bravery at returning to the front, her determination to find Freddie and bring him home. Freddie is very much a soldier caught up in a war he doesn’t understand. Surrounded by death and destruction, he finds the only way to survive is trust a German soldier, the very person he was sent overseas to kill. Freddie’s battle is as much a mental war as a physical one, at a time when soldiers suffering from the mental strains of war were left on their own.
The Warm Hands of Ghosts is a well-written historical novel that also combines elements of mystery (is Freddie dead or alive?) and the supernatural (who or what is Faland?) Arden’s newest novel has earned a place on my bookshelf.

5/5 stars.

Publishing Information
Publisher: PenguinRandomHouse
Genre: Fantasy
Pub Date: Feb 13
ISBN 9780593128251

 

Book Notes Review: The Lost Dresses of Italy by M. A. Mclaughlin

Back of woman in blue dress walking down Italian street. book cover for The Lost Dresses of Italy

The Lost Dresses of Italy
by M. A. Mclaughlin

The Lost Dresses of Italy is a historical fiction book and a murder mystery. The story is told in two points of view and with two timelines. In October 1947, widow Marianne Baxter, a textile historian, travels to Italy to help prepare three dresses for an exhibit. The dresses were owned by Christina Rossetti and found in a trunk in a museum undergoing restoration. In 1865, Christina Rossetti is almost late to a meeting with a potential donor. Christina volunteers at a halfway house for women, and the potential donor had contacted her. It turns out the donor is an old friend of her father’s from their revolutionary days in Italy.  He will meet her again in Italy during a trip planned by several members of Christina’s family. The trips for both women, Marianne in 1947 and Christina in 1865, become far more than they initially planned. Both trips involve mysteries, deception, and betrayal.
As I read, I found myself looking up information about Rossetti because the book piqued my interest. The author also starts each chapter with the beginning lines from Monna Innominata: A Sonnet of Sonnets, written by Rossetti. There are several mysteries in the book. The book opens with a murder that is still unsolved. No one knows how Christian Rossetti’s expensive dresses ended up in Italy; her home was in London. It seems these two events are unrelated, but as the story continues, the answer to smaller mysteries leads to bigger ones. I enjoyed reading this book. Recommended.

Thanks to #NetGalley for providing a free copy of #TheLostDresses in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.

Publishing Info:
Publisher: Alcove Press
Genres: General adult fiction, historical fiction
Pages: 304
ISBN: 9781639105649
Pub date: Feb. 6, 2024