Late on a frozen February evening, a young woman is running through the streets of London. Having fled from her abusive boyfriend and with nowhere to go, Jess stumbles onto a forgotten lane where a small, clearly unlived in old house offers her best chance of shelter for the night. The next morning, a mysterious letter arrives and when she can't help but open it, she finds herself drawn inexorably into the story of two lovers from another time.
In London 1942, Stella meets Dan, a US airman, quite by accident, but there is no denying the impossible, unstoppable attraction that draws them together. Dan is a B-17 pilot flying his bomber into Europe from a British airbase; his odds of survival are one in five. In the midst of such uncertainty, the one thing they hold onto is the letters they write to each other. Fate is unkind and they are separated by decades and continents. In the present, Jess becomes determined to find out what happened to them. Her hope--inspired by a love so powerful it spans a lifetime--will lead her to find a startling redemption in her own life in this powerfully moving novel.
Letters to the Lost is a dual narrative set in 2011 and the 1940s. It tells the story of Jess, a singer who gets mixed up with the wrong sort of man and Stella, a foundling who considers herself fortunate to be getting married so she will finally have a home and family of her own.
Jess steals some money from her horrid boyfriend before making her daring escape but it isn't enough to survive on for long and she is injured so she holes up in an abandoned cottage. Inside she finds a letter addressed to Mrs. S. Thorne and at first she has no intention of opening it but it is marked "Urgent" and it looks like the home's owner hasn't been there in some time so she goes ahead and reads it. What she finds is a letter from Dan, an elderly American man who is trying to connect with his lost love, Stella. When Jess finds a box of old letters written from Dan to Stella during the war, she decides to write to Dan and help him find Stella.
Stella's marriage to Reverend Thorne isn't exactly what she'd hoped for. During their courtship, Charles was kind and attentive and although there wasn't passion, she thought it was enough to build on. Unfortunately things become difficult and no matter how Stella tries to reach him, he is cold and distant. When war breaks out, Charles is quick to enlist as a chaplain, leaving Stella behind even though he wasn't required to go. Stella's only solace is her friendship with Nancy, who has always been more wild and daring. At Nancy's invitation, Stella decides to go out dancing and that night she meets Dan.
The relationship between Stella and Dan is at first a friendship. They meet a few times before Dan leaves town and then write letters back and forth. Dan encourages Stella when she is feeling blue and she lifts his spirits by writing of the little things going on in her town which gives him comfort and reminds him what he is fighting for. Inevitably they fall in love and begin to plan a way to be together and for Stella to leave Charles.
Jess in the meantime is struggling to survive in the cottage without electricity and heat and meager supplies. It is there that she meets Will Holt, a probate researcher. Will is looking for any remaining relatives of the late owner of the cottage. Jess's mission to find Stella is somehow connected to Will's own search and as they both get caught up in Stella and Dan's story, they also begin to care about each other. Letters to the Lost appealed to me on many different levels because of the setting and the characters and wanting to know what happened to them. I love historical fiction so reading about life during WWII was interesting though I've read several novels set in that time and dealing with similar struggles. The love between Stella and Dan was touching and reminded me of a Nicholas Sparks novel (in a good way). Normally I do not like books with adulterous affairs but in some instances (where the husband is horrid and the wife is trapped in the marriage) it makes it more acceptable to me. I just felt so bad for Stella and her circumstances. She was so full of love to give and the people in her life were not that great. Even her best friend is pretty selfish and at times it is like Stella is so isolated. The townspeople have expectations of her to lead by example as a pastor's wife and her husband was so remote even when he was actually at home. I could see why Dan's warmth and caring stole her heart even though she tried to resist her attraction to him and save her marriage. Although I think the historical story grabbed my attention more, I also surprisingly enjoyed the modern story line with Jess and Will although their romance didn't have the same strength as Dan and Stella's. Jess and Stella have some similarities in what they've gone through so I was rooting for both couples to have a happy ending. I also liked following along with Jess to figure out what happened to Stella and seeing how Stella's story affected Jess and gave her strength to start over. My one complaint is that the character of Charles Thorne becomes something of a caricature and Nancy sort of fades from the picture. I would have liked it if Thorne's character had more depth and his motivations were explored. Nancy was never a favorite of mine but she served as a vehicle to bring Stella and Dan together among other things. Overall I'd say this debut is a winner. It reminded me favorably of the novels of Sarah Jio, who often writes stories with dual time periods like The Violets of March. I was also reminded of the new novel by Sara Gruen, At the Water's Edge and That Summer by Lauren Willig. I think fans of Nicholas Sparks would enjoy the romantic elements as well. I think the novel would also be a great selection for book discussion groups. If you like historical fiction, romance and stories set in both modern and historic time periods, you should check out Letters to the Lost. Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of the publisher and Netgalley