Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Review: The Hello Girl/Ex Marks the Spot -- by Merline Lovelace

A Love Worth Fighting for . . . a Marriage Worth Saving . . .

All that's standing in the way of the Dunbar's divorce is Brian Dunbar's unwillingness to sign the papers. And though his wife, Lieutenant colonel Ann Dunbar, loved him as madly as she did on the day of their wedding day eleven years earlier, their differences, intensified by the pressures of career and family, are irreconcilable . . . Or so she thinks.

When a long-lost file lands on Anne's desk, she learns some unexpected lessons about love and trust from the remarkable story of a World War I “Hello Girl” telephone operator. Marie Reynaud fought valiantly for love, a love memorialized in diary entries that transcended war and time. It was a love inspiring enough to save Anne's marriage.

Author Merline Lovelace is herself a retired Air Force Lt. Colonel and as such is well equipped to write about the stresses and pressures on marriages where one or both partners are in the military. This is another novel that seems to hang on a plot that is classic and often considered simplistic, but somehow Lovelace makes it work. Lt. Col. Anne Dunbar is bucking for full colonel and is working in the pressure cooker in Washington, D.C. She has filed for divorce from a husband who is equally set on achieving fame a nd fortune in one of the city's most prestigious law firms. Their goals seemed to mesh at first, but long absences during war and peace have diluted the passion as well as clouded the plans for the future, including plans to start a family. Yet Brian just can't seem to bring himself to sign those papers. Using whatever he can to force a face-to-face encounter with a woman he loves still, Brian and Anne agree to begin “dating” again. Somehow they must re-discover what it means to be friends as well as lovers and marriage partners.

Woven through this story, however, is the rare and beautiful entries contained in a World War I diary, the creation of one of the Army Signal Corp's “Hello Girls.” These women were recruited to be the overeseas switchboard operators that linked the officers at headquarters with the other war entities. In the midst of all this is Marie Reynaud, a woman who has volunteered to serve her country because the love of her life has died. Somehow she is hoping to continue his patriotic contribution in his stead. In the horror of war with its hurt and violence, Marie becomes acquainted with an Army flier who slowly but surely found a way into her heart. The grace-filled pages of that diary and its messages of hope and faith settled into Anne Dunbar's heart and mind and caused her to re-think her relationship with her husband.

This is a truly delightful story and is told with an eye to be truly romantic. Lovelace analyzes the stresses of this marriage and doesn't back away from the down side of being an active military officer. She also tells the whole truth about the kinds of hurts that come when two people who genuinely love one another allow ambition and career to sidetrack their relationship. It is a gentle story story well told. It is a great read and another Lovelace novel that is sure to please. I give it a rating of 4.5 out of 5.

In this edition of Lovelace novels, the above story is coupled with a “bonus” book entitled “Ex Marks The Spot”, Lovelace's novel about a couple who have already divorced but both have still retained serious levels of affection for each other. Again, both partners have been in the military during the entire time of their relationship and the pressures of long absences and the desire for career advancment have ultimately brought these two into divorce court. The question is asked: “Can you still fall for the guy next door if you've already divorced him? And here you have the central premise upon which this novel is based.

Colonel Andrea Armstrong has essentially been “drummed out of the corp” because of an injury, one which may or may not be reversible, and which may truly end any hope for advancement to Brigadier General. Moving to Florida at the urging of her best friend, Andi finds that the house that she has rented is next door to her ex-husband who is still active in the military. Left at loose ends and sure she can only stroll the beaches and relax for so long, Andi begins to indulge her love of books and becomes determined to open her own book store. Slowly but surely her life and that of her ex-husband become intertwined and they each came to recognize that their regard, friendship and yes—love--had never died.

It is a delightful story that is not deep, but it is very pleasant and when I finished it I was aware of lots of warm fuzzies. I have lots of reactions to books, and most of them are positive, but every once in a while there comes along stories that are just plain easy to read and seem intent on finding the best in people. And who doesn't love a happy ending? Lovelace writes with a sure hand and her own experience shines through these characters. They have probably been in her mind and heart for many years. Having been an Army wife for six years, I met lots of folks similar to the characters in both these stories. It is great to share even these fictional experiences and know that in spite of all the difficulties of military family life, people can find one another a second time. I give this novel a rating of 4.5 out of 5.

1 comment:

Tracy said...

It sounds really good. I can't wait to borrow it back from you! lol