This is How I’d Love You
by Hazel Woods
Published August 26, 2014
Genre: historical romance
As the Great War rages, an independent young woman struggles to sustain love—and life—through the power of words.
It’s 1917 and America is on the brink of World War I. After Hensley Dench’s father is forced to resign from the New York Times for his anti-war writings, she finds herself expelled from the life she loves and the future she thought she would have. Instead, Hensley is transplanted to New Mexico, where her father has taken a job overseeing a gold mine. Driven by loneliness, Hensley hijacks her father’s correspondence with Charles Reid, a young American medic with whom her father plays chess via post. Hensley secretly begins her own exchange with Charles, but looming tragedy threatens them both, and—when everything turns against them—will their words be enough to beat the odds?
There’s just something about an epistolary novel–is it the sense of voyeurism, seeing something that’s supposed to be private?–I’m not sure. What I do know is that I love reading books that use letters, diary entries, texts, emails, and other personal documents to tell a significant part (or even all of) a story. This is How I’d Love You probably doesn’t strictly qualify for the genre, but the letters exchanged by Hensley Dench and Charles Reid do play a crucial role in the story, besides being a joy to read.
The Great War (AKA the First World War) has been going on for a while, but America has just officially entered the war effort as the novel begins. (Reading anything of this time period always makes me think of Rilla of Ingleside and Susan’s constant, biting criticism of President Wilson’s hesitance to enter the war. It’s a part of that book that has always stuck with me, including her response to his finally asking Congress for a declaration of war–“The United States has declared war at last, as I always believed they would, in spite of Woodrow’s gift for letter writing, and you will see they will go into it with a vim since I understand that is their habit, when they do start.” Gotta love Susan!) See? Letter writing–it’s everywhere! 😉 Charles Reid has joined the war effort, as we see in the first chapter. Long dreaming of becoming a doctor, he’s going to be a part of the aforementioned “vim”, serving as a medic. A chess player, he answered an advertisement before heading overseas that offered to match soldiers up with civilian pen pals. He requests a chess player, in hopes that a long distance match will do him good while overseas.
He doesn’t expect to get Sasha Dench, an journalist who has lost his position because he refused to tone down his pacifist editorials. Dench’s very first letter to Charles labels him and his fellow soliders as “daft” or “tragically misinformed” in addition to imparting the older man’s first chess move–not exactly the uplifting correspondence Charles was hoping for.
Until Hensely decides to hijack her father’s letters, adding her own words of encouragement.
Soon the two are corresponding on their own, and their letters are truly moving. Both gain comfort from the others’ words in a way that they hadn’t anticipated, and I was looking forward to each letter at least as much as the characters were. In between mailings, life goes on for them both–war is even worse than Charles had expected, and it’s not going to leave him unaltered physically or mentally. Hensley has a secret that she keeps to herself as long as she can, but it’s not one she can hide forever and it’s going to have lasting consequences. Neither one will come out unscathed–but will they be able to find a life together on the other side?
This book made my weekend–thank goodness I didn’t have anything pressing to do, as it was nearly impossible to put down once I’d started! Admittedly there are parts when the pacing is a tad off and a bit too much is put into unnecessary descriptions at times, but neither of these factors detracted from my enjoyment at all. The third-person, present tense POV took a bit of adjustment to read–I’m not a huge fan, but eventually I stopped noticing it. Again, it was only a minor deterrent.
Overall I adored the story that was being told, and will definitely be looking for more from this author.
Rating: 4 1/2 stars / A
I received a complimentary copy in exchange for an honest review.