Release date: January 17, 2017
My rating: 4.5 out of 5
The Short Of It:
An enthralling novel about two WWII nurses that's both action-packed page-turner and emotional journey.
The Long Of It:
Any fan of WWII fiction should make a point to read Teresa Messineo's debut novel, "The Fire By Night," a dual narrative set in both theaters of war and told by two admirable, amazing women.
Despite their vastly different backgrounds, Jo McMahon and Kay Elliott become fast friends in nursing school. America is on the cusp of entering WWII, and both women join the Army with Kay heading to the Pacific and Jo to Europe.
Now, in 1945, they're separated by so much more than just an ocean. Jo is in war-ravaged France and the care of six grievously injured men has fallen into her hands alone, while Kay is wasting away in a barbaric Japanese POW camp in the Philippines. Both women escape into memories of the past -- good and bad -- to transport themselves away from the horror that has become their everyday lives. You'll be cheering for them to hang on just one more day, to keep fighting to survive against the odds.
Connection to the characters is so important in a novel like this, and I instantly fell in love with both Jo and Kay (though especially Jo). They're brave and courageous and brimming with perseverance and spunk, but they're also flawed and relatable and deeply affected by the many, many terrible things they've endured during the long and brutal war. Reading their stories, I felt like I was talking to friends I've known for years, not just characters on page. This is partly because of the author's writing skill and partly because countless real women experienced the same things.
Striving for historical accuracy, Messineo spent seven years doing research for her novel; her dedication shows in the dozens of small details she included that brought the scenes to vivid life. And I learned a lot too -- for instance, WWII nurses only had the "relative rank" of officers, meaning they were basically pseudo-officers getting a fraction of the pay, benefits and respect of male officers. While it surely meant double the research, I also really appreciated that Messineo chose to write a dual narrative; most WWII novels are set in either Europe or the Pacific and I enjoyed getting both perspectives in one harrowing tale.
"The Fire By Night" is a story of survival, of selflessness, of passionate love, and of the deep bonds of friendship, and it's a must-read for historical fiction fans.
*I received this book for free from the publisher via a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review.