REVIEW: Gift from the Sea by Anna Schmidt
Dear Ms. Schmidt,
Early 20th century American historicals aren’t exactly falling off trees like the oak pollen covering my car right now. So when I see one, I get excited. When it turns out to be such a nice experience to read it, I want to tell people. So here goes.
Maggie Hunter is an angry and slightly bitter young woman. She over works herself as a nurse at the small hospital on her native Nantucket Island to deal with the grief of losing her best friend and fiance to the war raging in Europe. So when her innkeeper father and a local fisherman discover a half frozen young man on the beach during a January storm and that man turns out to be a German – the enemy – she’s hot for him to be turned over to the authorities. There is no good reason for him to be here and every bad reason to imagine.
Or so Maggie thinks. Stefan Witte is a man who is risking everything for what he believes in. But, seriously injured by frostbite, he might lose the short window of opportunity to do what he’s come to America for – help stop the war that is ruining his beloved Germany. If he can’t convince the Hunter family of his true mission, he’ll end up incarcerated or worse. Can he get this already skeptical woman to help him? Or will these two miss a chance to save lives and find their own HEA?
So we’ve got a hero and heroine who have every reason to be wary of each other and for whom a love relationship is the last thing on their minds. Maggie’s calling as a nurse just barely overcomes her disgust at the thought of having to nurse the enemy. And if her parents hadn’t put their collective foot down, she probably still wouldn’t have helped beyond the initial night. Christian charity can go hang as far as she’s concerned.
Stefan is a man alone among the enemy and too debilitated to even get out of bed much less make a run for it or try to meet his contact on the island. His reticence to trust too much to these people he doesn’t know makes perfect sense. He feels the need to keep some informational aces up his sleeve in case things turn ugly and isn’t above deliberately targeting those he feels he could use in his mission.
As opposed to Stefan as Maggie initially is, and her “way beyond personal” reasons make it entirely reasonable, the change for her to believe in him had to be carefully done. And it is. The scene where he goes for broke and explains to Maggie the reasons behind his willingness to hand over information to the enemy is powerful and immediately made me think of the French movie Joyeux NoÃ«l. The way you make the telling slightly understated just adds to the emotional power and helps Maggie to begin to see Stefan, and the German people, as human beings and not just The Enemy.
Emotions for all the characters seesaw back and forth but given the situation mine would too. People who had initially been willing to help this young man in need get reminded of the losses they’ve suffered from the war. When events conspire to raise suspicions again, it didn’t feel to me like improvised conflict but something that would naturally occur. And even in the end, not everyone is completely convinced overnight.
Like Maggie, I have some niggles about Stefan’s contacts and how the underground movement would be able to engineer things across the ocean. In the end, I had to just accept that they could happen as does Maggie. I also had to mentally readjust myself to an age before rapid communication when it might take weeks before decisions are made and events move forward.
The period details add to the story but don’t swamp it. The descriptions of clothes, transport and the isolation of the island during the storms of winter are all part of the plot. The care and treatment of frostbite are sobering as is the danger of pneumonia in this era before modern antibiotics. You even include the need to isolate possible Spanish flu patients as an integral element of the book.
Maggie’s crisis of faith is a necessity given the fact that this is a Steeple Hill line book. Did I feel preached at – which is sometimes a deal breaker for me with these books? No, I didn’t. Was this an important part of her character or did it merely feel tacked onto the story? Question one: yes. And question two: no. I thought Stefan’s arguments about faith went beyond merely trying to get Maggie onto his side and delved deeper into what ultimately brings these two together.
I enjoyed the fact that humor is sprinkled throughout the story. Maggie’s efforts to learn Morse code and her father’s advice to Stefan, “keep it simple as she’s just learning it,” were delightful. And I wonder if Stefan ever gets that nurses hat away from her?
So thank you for a wonderful story utilizing an under served era of American and world history. And danke for making sure that Maggie and Stefan enter their relationship with open eyes and full knowledge of what they might be up against as far as public opinion goes. B+