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The Stars Are Fire

The Stars Are Fire

4.0 5
by Anita Shreve

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From the New York Times best-selling author of The Weight of Water and The Pilot's Wife (an Oprah's Book Club selection): an exquisitely suspenseful new novel about an extraordinary young woman tested by a catastrophic event and its devastating aftermath—based on the true story of the largest



From the New York Times best-selling author of The Weight of Water and The Pilot's Wife (an Oprah's Book Club selection): an exquisitely suspenseful new novel about an extraordinary young woman tested by a catastrophic event and its devastating aftermath—based on the true story of the largest fire in Maine's history

In October 1947, after a summer long drought, fires break out all along the Maine coast from Bar Harbor to Kittery and are soon racing out of control from town to village. Five months pregnant, Grace Holland is left alone to protect her two toddlers when her husband, Gene, joins the volunteer firefighters. Along with her best friend, Rosie, and Rosie's two young children, Grace watches helplessly as their houses burn to the ground, the flames finally forcing them all into the ocean as a last resort. The women spend the night frantically protecting their children, and in the morning find their lives forever changed: homeless, penniless, awaiting news of their husbands' fate, and left to face an uncertain future in a town that no longer exists. In the midst of this devastating loss, Grace discovers glorious new freedoms—joys and triumphs she could never have expected her narrow life with Gene could contain—and her spirit soars. And then the unthinkable happens—and Grace's bravery is tested as never before.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Mary Pols
…how the pages turn…Shreve has a gift for making the mundane engaging; Grace's excursion to Biddeford to look for a used car is nearly as interesting as her romantic life. Long before Liane Moriarty was spinning her Big Little Lies, Shreve was spicing up domestic doings in beachfront settings with terrible husbands and third-act twists. She still is, as effectively as ever, this time with a narrative literally lit from within.
Publishers Weekly
Stuck in a loveless and uncommunicative marriage with her husband, Gene, young housewife and mother Grace Holland has resigned herself to a future of childcare and housework. It’s just after World War II, and there aren’t many other opportunities for married women in coastal Maine. But when, after a summer-long drought, a massive fire breaks out and threatens her home and community, Grace may have an unexpected chance not only to rebuild but also to rewrite her personal narrative. Shreve (Stella Bain) writes with fondness of the coastal New England landscape, and she provides plenty of vintage details to evoke postwar life. Characterizations, however, are less convincing; Gene’s cruelty to Grace seems disproportionate to its purported rationale, and the novel’s final pages feel implausible and anachronistic, even given Grace’s newfound self-reliance. Nevertheless, many readers will be buoyed by Grace’s strength and resourcefulness and will be eager to debate the ethical decisions she makes as she seizes her independence. 200,000-copy announced first printing. (Apr.)
Library Journal
★ 03/15/2017
Shreve's (Stella Bain) latest brings readers to 1947 coastal Maine. In a close-knit town, Grace Holland, a young mother of two, enjoys camaraderie with her neighbor Rosie. She feels herself relax into discussions with Rosie that she can't have with her taciturn husband or her loving but rather rigid mother. In a time when the only advance warning for fire is the smell of smoke, residents prepare ahead of time. Grace wakes to the sound of her daughter coughing, bundles her children into the baby carriage, and carries them to the beach, where she thinks quickly enough to prepare protective wet air pockets from blankets, ordering Rosie to do the same. As the town burns around her, Grace rises to handle each astonishing ordeal as she meets it. VERDICT Based on the harrowing true story of the largest fire to ravage the coast of Maine, this is sure to be a best seller. Shreve's prose mirrors the action of the fire, with popping embers of action, licks of blazing rage, and the slow burn of lyrical character development. Absolutely stunning. [See Prepub Alert, 11/16/16; "Editors' Spring Picks," LJ 2/15/17.]—Julie Kane, Washingrton & Lee Lib., Lexington, VA
Kirkus Reviews
Shreve's latest takes on natural disasters, public and private.The summer of 1947 was unseasonably hot, leading to a drought that had devastating consequences for the state of Maine. Shreve's novel tells the story of the Great Fires of Maine from the perspective of Grace, a housewife living near the coast. Grace faces a drought of a different kind, in her marriage. Husband Gene, a surveyor, never talks about the war experiences that left him with inner and outer scars, but "the other husbands don't either." What is unusual, at least compared to how Grace's neighbor Rosie describes her love life, is how brutal Gene can be in bed. With two children under 2 and another on the way, Grace's domestic arrangements are increasingly stressed as blistering summer advances. By October, the entire state is a tinderbox; even a dropped cigarette can set a parched lawn ablaze. As wildfires threaten, Gene leaves with a crew of men to dig a fire break. Awakened in the middle of the night, Grace realizes her town is burning. She flees to the seashore with her children and the clothes on her back and spends the night along with Rosie and many others huddled under soaked blankets. After rescue comes, Grace's baby is stillborn. Now homeless, with the children and her mother in tow, Grace moves into a vacant beach-side mansion which, she thinks, was left to Gene by his late mother, Merle. Except that Gene has been declared missing, and the mansion is not unoccupied: Aidan, an Irish pianist, has been squatting there since the fire disrupted his concert tour. Gene's absence seems downright salutary. A brief affair with Aidan shows her what Rosie was talking about, and he resumes his tour, promising to return. All the contentedness stalls the novel, until Shreve shakes things up in a way that descends into woman-in-jeopardy territory. The back stories of the main characters are so sketchy that their actions seem unmotivated and arbitrary. Formulaic plot aside, worth reading for the period detail and the evocative prose.
From the Publisher
“Long before Liane Moriarty was spinning her “Big Little Lies,” Shreve was spicing up domestic doings in beachfront settings with terrible husbands and third-act twists. She still is, as effectively as ever, this time with a narrative literally lit from within.” 
—Mary Pols, New York Times Book Review

“Like her sensational best-selling 1998 novel The Pilot’s Wife, about a widow who discovers her pilot husband had a second family, The Stars Are Fire explores what happens in the secret spaces between married people…Masterful… lingers long after the last page is turned, like the smoke from a wildfire.”
—Patty Rhule, USA Today

“Precise, evocative prose brings the story’s vivid characters to life…original and gripping.” 

"Anita Shreve’s books are reliably engrossing literary page-turners, never formulaic…Shreve consistently creates complex characters and plots, often drawn from the historical record or from obscure headlines…Then she tells their stories in unobtrusively elegant prose."
—Kate manning, The Washington Post

"This is a suspenseful and heartwarming story of not just overcoming but also growing in the face of great difficulty."

"This is sure to be a best seller. Shreve's prose mirrors the action of the fire, with popping embers of action, licks of blazing rage, and the slow burn of lyrical character development. Absolutely stunning."
—Library Journal  (starred review, Editors' Spring Picks)

"It is a book of small moments, a collection of seemingly simple themes that build to surprising and moving crescendoes. Shreve's spare, economic prose suits her character’s practicality and initial hesitance to determine the course of her own life... Shreve's crisp writing becomes more expansive in the moments when her protagonist consciously stretches beyond the boundaries of her previously narrow life."

“I had the sense as I read Shreve’s newest and 18th novel, The Stars Are Fire, that I was in the company of millions of phantom future readers who will adore this novel and devour it and recommend it to all their friends and book clubs…Shreve’s storytelling choices feel organically wedded to her writing, a winning and essentially magical alchemy…It’s all totally irresistible.  Along with storytelling mojo and stylistic verve, this novel has an excellent, suspenseful premise: Grace’s life is upended and ultimately transformed by a real-life historical catastrophe, the wildfires that spread through coastal Maine in October of 1947, following months of severe drought….In fact, The Stars Are Fire is so virtuosic, so infallibly readable, it could very well sell more copies than all Shreve’s others combined.”
 —Kate Christensen, Portland Press-Herald

"One of the pleasures of reading The Stars are Fire is Shreve’s ability to impart an authentic feel of 1940s daily life... Shreve’s writing is lovely."
—WBUR.com ‘The ARTery’ 

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.60(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.30(d)

Read an Excerpt

Hot breath on Grace’s face. Claire is screaming, and Grace is on her feet. As she lifts her daughter, a wall of fire fills the window. Perhaps a quarter of a mile back, if even that. Where’s Gene? Didn’t he come home? She picks Tom up from his crib and feels a wet diaper. No time to change him.
She scurries down the stairs carrying both children. She deposits them in the carriage in the hallway and pushes it onto the screened porch. Claire begins to cough in the smoky air. “Sweetie,” Grace croons, “have you saved us all?”
She stuffs blankets, diapers, baby food, and water into the carriage behind the children. She loops the kids’ clothes around the upper bits of metal and ties them in knots. She’ll have to leave the mementos.
Because she can’t push the now too-heavy carriage over the lip of the porch, she reverses it in order to drag it down the step. Claire is crying, and so is Tom, but Grace has no time to soothe them.
As she maneuvers the vehicle to the edge of the grass, a bomb goes off, the explosion one Grace can feel right through her feet and legs. The children are silent, as if awed by the sound.
“A fuel tank in a house on Seventh Street,” she hears one man shout to another.
Sparks and embers swirl around Grace. There’s chaos in the streets. She hears cars moving, women screaming. Balls of flame seem to leap from treetop to treetop, giving the fire a frightening momentum. A tree catches fire at the top, and the fire races down the trunk and into a house below. Another bomb. The fire turns tree after tree into tall torches.
Fields resemble hot coals. For as far as she can see, there’s an unbroken line of fire. Cars are traveling, but where can they go?
An ember lands on the hood of the carriage. Grace swipes it off and begins to run. Heat and common sense push her to the seawall. A deer leaps across the street with her, chased by the freight train bearing down on all of them.
She takes the children from the carriage and sets them on a blanket on the sand. On another blanket, she lays out what few provisions she has brought. Abandoning the carriage, she begins to drag both blankets away from the fire and closer to the water. When the sand feels wet underfoot, she stops. 
Smoke adds to the confusion. She spots, and then doesn’t, Rosie dragging a canoe.
“Rosie!” Grace calls.
“Grace, where are you?”
“Right at the water. There you are.”
Grace helps her friend drag the canoe beside the two blankets. “Where’s Gene and Tim?” Rosie wails.
“I have no idea,” Grace says, shaken.
“Where are all the people going?” Rosie asks.
“To the schoolhouse, I heard.”
“That’s crazy. The schoolhouse will burn, if it hasn’t already.”
Grace kneels on the blanket to change Tom’s diaper. His sleeper is dry enough to stay on. Grace can feel heat on her face.
“Oh, God,” Rosie cries.
“The Hinkel house just went. It’s only one street back from us.”
Grace has no words. When she glances up, the fire burning on the ground resembles hot jewels among the rocks and pebbles.
“Rosie, take what you can from the canoe and put it near the water’s edge. Then push the canoe out to sea.”
“But . . .”
“It’s wood. If an ember falls inside, it will bring the fire right to us. Wet your hair and the kids’ hair.”
Rosie follows Grace’s instructions. She’s glad that Rosie won’t see her own house go up. Already, roof shingles are burning.
“Do my kids, too,” Grace yells to buy more time.
The splendid maple next to Grace’s own house turns orange in an instant, as if someone had switched on a light. The tree collapses. Grace can’t see her screened porch, but she knows the fire will consume that next and lead straight into the house. She left the photographs, the papers, the layette, the antique tools.
Rosie’s house explodes, the fire having found the fuel tank in the basement. Rosie snaps her head up. 
“Rosie, don’t,” Grace commands, and there must be something in her voice that makes her friend obey, because Rosie turns to the water and puts her face in her hands.
Grace imagines the fire eating its way through her own home. The kitchen with the wringer washer, the hallway where the carriage is kept, the living room in which Grace made the slipcovers and drapes (an image of the fire climbing the drapes like a squirrel momentarily freezes her), upstairs to the children’s beds, her own marriage bed. All their belongings, gone. Everything she and Gene have worked to have, gone.
“Rosie, listen. Go down to the water’s edge so that only your feet are in the water. Lay down facing the sand—make an air pocket—and I’ll bring you Ian and Eddie. Put a child under each arm and hold them close. Make air pockets for them, too. I’m going to soak your blanket and drape it over you. I’m going to cover your heads. Don’t look up and don’t reach out a hand or let your hair out from under the blanket.”
Rosie is silent.
“Okay?” Grace shouts.
“Okay,” Rosie says.
Grace races into the sea to wet the blanket. Men in jackets and caps carry children toward the water, as if in a great and horrible sacrificial act. The women, with provisions, follow. She lays the blanket over Rosie and her children just as she said she would. Then she sets her own children in the sand and wets another blanket. Tugging the dripping wool, she fetches Tom and lies down facing up, pulling the blanket to her face and anchoring it with her feet. She beckons for Claire to come to her. When she has the children securely beside her, she lets go for a second and flips onto her stomach, making three air pockets. She rolls the children over so that they are all facedown in the sand. Holding her hair back with one hand, she drapes the blanket up and over their heads. She checks around Claire and Tom to make sure nothing is sticking outside the covering. 
She hears screams—not of pain, but of horror, and she guesses that the waterfront houses are about to go. People who have not managed to get out of town are trapped like rats running for the sea. She prays an animal will not step on her or, worse, try to burrow inside.
The heat on their heads and backs is just this side of bearable. The blanket won’t stay wet for long.
“Rosie!” Grace shouts.
Grace can hear nothing.
“Still here!”
“Squiggle back into the water till it’s up to your thighs, just short of the kids’ feet.”
“Do it, please.”
Grace follows her own instructions and is in water nearly to her waist. She wishes she had thought to make a cave for her stomach. She creates new air pockets for herself and the children.
“Whatever you do, don’t look up. Rosie, did you hear me?”
“Did you look up?”
Grace takes shallow breaths, afraid she might inhale sand. She wonders if she and her children will die like this, the fire advancing to the dune grass at the seawall and then igniting Grace’s blanket. Would it be too late by the time she felt the pain, or would she have a few seconds to get Tom and Claire into the water up to their shoulders? She might have to dunk herself and the kids if the fire gets that close. Does sand burn?
She can do nothing but wait until the fire exhausts itself. The seawater must be in the mid-sixties, and she has begun to shiver under the blanket. She has on only her cotton nightgown. The children are hardly more dressed than she. She can’t tell if the shivering is simply because of the cold, or if it stems from fear. Heat leaves the body quickly when one is lying on the ground, though the top of her feels as if it might sear at any minute. She would rather suffer the cold until the fire is well and truly out. How long will that take?
Around her, she hears timbers crashing, grass crackling. How many people are on the beach now? She doesn’t dare look. She wishes she could calm herself, but it’s impossible with the shivering. She has only one task now, to save her children.
And then Rosie’s children and Rosie.
The shaking becomes so severe, the children seem to catch it. Nature’s way of keeping them warm inside.
When she can no longer resist peeking, the moon is red. Burned trees fall to the ground amid showers of sparks. The entire town, for as far as Grace can see, is ablaze. Nothing moves but the fire—hungry, angry, relentless.
This must be what hell is like, she thinks as she lowers the blanket.

Excerpted from THE STARS ARE FIRE by Anita Shreve. Copyright © 2017 by Anita Shreve, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Meet the Author

ANITA SHREVE's novels have sold more than six million copies and have been translated into thirty-six languages. She lives with her husband in New Hampshire.

Brief Biography

New Hampshire; Massachusetts
Date of Birth:
B.A., Tufts University

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The Stars Are Fire 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous 3 months ago
Anita Shreve did not disappoint the reader again in her book. It was one full of all emotions and impossible to put down. KUDOS to her again.
Anonymous 25 days ago
Story bounced around- just not a good book. I have read every Anita Shreve book written. This one just felt strange. Would not recomend to anyone
BookGirlNY 3 months ago
The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve is a one sitting read. Once you pick up the book and read the first sentence, you will not want to or be able to put it down. A five star book of engaging historical fiction. Shreve transports us to coastal Maine in 1947 where we meet Grace, a mother of two and married to Gene. Her best friend Rosie lives next door with her two children and husband Tim. All summer there has been a drought and now wildfires are raging across the state. Grace and Rosie’s husbands have gone to fight the fire and left the women and children at home. The fire is escalating and the women must rely on their instincts to save their children and themselves. At this pivotal moment Grace’s life is changed forever. Nothing she knew or depended on can help her when the winds of change come. Grace must now light the fire that has been buried deep inside of her in order to survive. Grace is a character of deep emotions and resilience. In the beginning of the book she is very meek and quiet. In time we come to see her fierceness and drive that compels her to live. Rosie is another favorite character of mine. She is not quite as well developed, but I loved her from the beginning. She is everyones best friend and ally. My least favorite is Gene for many reasons. He is a self-centered egotistical man that cares nothing for his family!
Ilovemister 3 days ago
Absolutely marvelous. It was a grabber from the first page. Story moved along and kept a person engaged. Great Book!
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