Letters to the Lost by Iona Grey
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Publishing Date: May 26
Genre: adult fiction, historical fiction
Late on a frozen February evening, a young woman is running through the streets of London. Having fled from her abusive boyfriend and with nowhere to go, Jess stumbles onto a forgotten lane where a small, clearly unlived in old house offers her best chance of shelter for the night. The next morning, a mysterious letter arrives and when she can’t help but open it, she finds herself drawn inexorably into the story of two lovers from another time.
In London 1942, Stella meets Dan, a US airman, quite by accident, but there is no denying the impossible, unstoppable love that draws them together. Dan is a B-17 pilot flying his bomber into Europe from a British airbase; his odds of survival at one in five. The odds are stacked against the pair; the one thing they hold onto is the letters they write to each other. Fate is unkind and they are separated by decades and continents. In the present, Jess becomes determined to find out what happened to them. Her hope—inspired by a love so powerful it spans a lifetime—will lead her to find a startling redemption in her own life.
A young woman on the run from an abusive boyfriend and a terrible situation breaks into a small English home and comes across a shoebox full of WWII letters. The letters are written by the same man who recently sent a desperate plea to a Mrs. Thorne to get back in touch with him — a letter dropped through the slot that Jess opens out of curiosity. The letters transport Jess back in time, to London 1942, to US airman Dan and sheltered vicar’s wife Stella. They stumble across one another in a bombed-out church, searching for Stella’s bracelet. As time progresses, their friendship-through-letters turns into something much more, and Stella struggles to find a way out of her destructive sham of a marriage.
At first this book had a lot going for it — nearing five stars for this WWII fanatic — and for a while I was convinced that, as a Kate Morton fan, I would adore this. Dual timelines are hard, historical fiction is hard, and getting the reader to fall in love with the parallel stories is even harder. And that’s where my love for it dwindled away: I didn’t care one bit about Jess. Her story — on the run from a bad situation and seeking solace in a quiet place before getting back on her feet — was compelling at the beginning, but then she latched on too quickly to the next man to come into her life (Will, and he’s another (boring) story) and became dependent on a male once more. I didn’t believe it, I didn’t enjoy it, and I felt her story could have been so much stronger if it went in a different direction.
But Dan? Dan and Stella totally made up for it. Stella was a poor orphan who, once she was of age, became the housekeeper at Charles Thorne’s vicarage. She didn’t know what love was, so when Charles proposed — and this meant having her own home and building a family, things she didn’t have growing up — Stella’s overjoyed. She quickly learns there’s something off about their marriage, and begins to wonder if it’s her fault. (Oh no, honey, it’s definitely not you!) Enter Dan: charming in a quiet and chivalrous way, not at all cheeky or boisterous like the other Americans roaming London. He helps her find jewelry she’d lost, and they decide to have lunch together. Lunch turns into an exchange of letters, which turns into “when are you on leave next?” and “let’s go on a weekend trip together” and “how can we get you out of this marriage and start over?”
I know that sounds predictable for a WWII romance, especially when the characters not only have a war to deal with but also an entire body of water if the war ever ends and they’re both still alive. But it’s really not that predictable. I had no idea if their plans would work, I didn’t know why Dan was reaching out to her in modern day (did things not work out, and why?). They’re full of love and fire and logic that everything seems possible and yet hopeless. The modern time portion of the narrative gives us a trail of clues to follow, and that was enjoyable up to a point (cue Jess and Will rants).
Lindsey @ Bring My Books and I had a long conversation about this. We love Dan just like we love Jamie and Red, and we really felt something for Stella. Their story was beautiful and heartbreaking and we wanted more. We also wanted to shove Jess in a broom closet till she examined her life and looked at her choices, and we wanted to kill off Will (not even going to bother more comments on him) so that no reader would ever need to read his passages. If you want to know the definition of “weak,” I’d point you to this storyline.
That being said, I’m definitely going to watch out for Iona Grey’s next books. Stella and Dan won me over, and if Grey’s publications follow that line I’m on board!
Thank you, Edelweiss, for providing this book from Thomas Dunne Books for review!
2 thoughts on “Book Review: “Letters to the Lost” by Iona Grey (ARC)”
Alexa S. (@alexalovesbooks)
Letters to the Lost sounds very intriguing! I’m curious about the relationships in this novel, particularly how the present is juxtaposed against the past. It does kind of suck that you didn’t like one of the characters + their romance, but I’m glad the other pair made up for it in a way. Going to be checking this one out!
You should! The merging of past and present was plausible enough, but then that secondary relationship in the modern day sort of…weakened it? Kinda made me wonder why this wasn’t straight historical fiction. Read it and share your thoughts! Maybe there was something I missed with the modern relationship.