Thursday, September 11, 2014

Review: This Is How I'd Love You by Hazel Woods

This Is How I'd Love You
By: Hazel Woods
Publisher: Plume
ISBN: 978-0-14-218148-5


Fresh from Harvard, Charles Reid is one of thousands of young men eager to be the first to enlist, the first to represent America at long last entering the Great War that has long been raging on the European continent. Desperately brave and desperate to matter, in his hunger for an anchor from home to ground him while overseas, Charles enrolls in a pen pal program seeking a chess partner, and is matched with Sacha Dench, a vehemently antiwar journalist. Dench is far from the type of patriot Charles was sure would seek to boost the morale of the boys overseas, but like his wealthy parents' disappointment in his choice of military service, he views Dench as a challenge. Desperate to prove his mettle and the rightness of his place in the world gone mad, Charles posts his response just prior to embarking for France. And thus the game is set, and the first volley of words is fired between two very disparate men whose mutual love of chess will spark a connection with staggering, unforeseen consequences.

Hensley, Sacha's only daughter and just seventeen, is shattered -- her heart broken and her life uprooted simultaneously, with an intensity and force that has left her reeling. Her future once so bright and assured, when her father loses his position at the newspaper thanks to his antiwar sentiments they are forced to accept the largess of a distant cousin and a job across the country, far from everything that defines home and comfort. Yet this loss is relatively minor compared to her internal loss of confidence in herself. For having given her heart to a teacher, only to have her trust thoroughly abused, Hensley is left desperately longing for a place to belong, for a truth to once again anchor her in a world gone mad.

Their correspondence begins when Hensley impulsively scratches her own desperate words of optimism in the margins of her father's latest reply to Charles, instinctively recognizing and responding to a kindred soul in search of an emotional anchor. In the face of once unfathomable horrors, now made everyday, commonplace occurrences by the reality of war, Charles -- serving as a medic -- grabs onto Hensley's words with both hands. A connection, a lifeline writ in whispered hopes and dreams and scribbled on fragile pieces of paper, quickly forms between the lost girl and the boy trapped in a nightmare world. For these two lives, nothing makes sense until they intersect on the page, their words breathing hope and life and purpose into their days. But when trial and tragedy strike, will words prove strong enough to overcome the secret scars Charles and Hensley have sustained from their respective battles?

When I first heard about This Is How I'd Love You, I was immediately interested in the novel, as historical interest in the time period aside, I am an absolute sucker for a love story told through letters. There is something undeniably appealing and romantic about a love story crafted through words, especially handwritten, one's heart and soul poured onto the page, and a connection forged through a meeting of minds and hearts alone, irrespective of appearance or background. But I was nervous. Hazel Woods is not only a new-to-me author, but a new-to-me debut author...and while I'm always open to trying new authors, the very concept of this story resonated so strongly with me that I was desperately afraid of meeting disappointment within its pages. Thankfully, I couldn't have been more wrong to worry, for This Is How I'd Love You is, frankly, a stunner of a debut. Not only one of my favorite reads of the year, it is quite simply one of the best debut novels I've ever read.

Alternating between Charles and Hensley's point-of-view, Woods has crafted a love story that is absolutely breathtaking in its intensity. More than just a romance, this is the story of the very human need to know and be known, and the power of that connection when found. Ideally suited to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War, Woods doesn't shy away from the reality of the battlefield atrocities a man in Charles's position would have faced, the impact of those horrors serving as the impetus for him to ground himself within the safety of the cocoon created by Hensley's un-looked for but welcomed words. Likewise the war's impact is felt on the homefront, thought thanks to Sacha's political stance from a very different angle. Hensley struggles with the physical sense of ostracism brought on by her father's firing, compounded by the emotional ostracism of the brief affair with her teacher and its life-changing result. Their shared words give them the courage to face the unknown, as Charles writes "Hold on....I would see us through to a happier day."

But when the voice behind the prayerful words gains a face, both Hensley and Charles are faced with a second choice: to find the courage to claim this chance at happiness, or hold forever to a dream come true -- but physically unfulfilled. And therein lies the essence of this book, for in its stunning simplicity, their story cuts to the core of some of the greatest fears one must face as a human being -- the fear of the unknown, and of being known. For while their words "have created a self," there is still the truth of that self, the living, breathing, physicality of it, that has as yet remained shadowed. Here Woods has crafted a love story for the ages and a stunning, heart-wrenching portrait of grace. For as Charles and Hensley both discover, they each have mistakes and imperfections, those "deal breakers" that they fear will destroy the gift of their shared words. And that is where each has the chance to be a living embodiment of grace to the other, living out their words of love in each other's lives, the once bleak and empty uncertainty of the future "trumped by the fact that it is" theirs to share together.

With her debut Woods has crafted a novel to savor, a gorgeously-rendered portrait of grace and the power of words to inspire, connect, and change lives. With her meticulously-crafted prose, Woods has sketched a powerful picture the Great War's social impact, touching on issues of class and particularly the expectations faced by women like Hensley who desperately desired to live life on their own terms, shedding the shackles of social convention that placed them under the control of male family members (no matter how well-intentioned). Her characters are both wholly of their time and timeless, the desire for connection and acceptance resonating through Charles and Hensley's now "antiqued" (but oh-so-romantic!) method of communication. This Is How I'd Love You is a novel sure to wend its way into your heart, bring tears to your eyes, and remind you of the power and beauty of a life fearlessly lived.

About the book:

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 forces to resign from the New York Times for his antiwar writings, she finds herself expelled from the life she loves and the future she though 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. When everything turns against them, will their words be enough to beat the odds?

Thanks to Historical Fiction Virtual Blog Tours for the review opportunity!

About the Author

03_Hazel Woods

Hazel Woods lives in New Mexico with her husband and two children. For more information please visit You can also find her on Twitter. 

This Is How I'd Love You Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, August 25
Review & Giveaway at Flashlight Commentary

Wednesday, August 27
Interview at Dab of Darkness

Friday, August 29
Interview at Book Babe

Monday, September 1
Review & Interview at Closed the Cover

Tuesday, September 2
Review & Interview at A Chick Who Reads

Wednesday, September 3
Review at The Bookworm

Friday, September 5
Spotlight & Giveaway at So Many Precious Books, So Little Time

Monday, September 8
Spotlight & Giveaway at Historical Tapestry

Tuesday, September 9
Guest Post & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books

Wednesday, September 10
Interview at Caroline Wilson Writes

Thursday, September 11
Review at Booktalk & More

Friday, September 12
Review & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair
Spotlight at CelticLady's Reviews

Monday, September 15
Review & Guest Post at Bookish

Tuesday, September 16
Review at Book of Secrets

Wednesday, September 17
Review at Book Nerd

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