Stella Bain by Anita Shreve | Book Review




Stella Bain, an American woman, wakes up in France in the middle of World War I and has no idea who she is. She clings to the name Stella Bain and, after she recovers from her injuries, she decides to become a nurse’s aide until she figure out who she is or what to do next. She feels very strongly about going to London to the Admiralty but doesn’t know why so she travels there on a hunch not knowing what awaits her there. Before she makes it there, she is found outside by Dr. Bridge and his wife and they allow her to stay in their home so she can get better and soon Dr. Bridge takes her on as a patient to help her try to figure out who she is.

MEH. I was so excited for this one because the premise sounded awesome and I love adult historical fiction. I hate to say it but it was completely a disappointment for me which is a shame because the first half of the book was SO GOOD — very compelling and kept me turning the pages. But then the second part happened and I felt like the story just got lost somewhere and I didn’t care anymore. I probably should have put it down but I didn’t and now I regret that because the ending REALLY didn’t nothing for me. SO MUCH APATHY FROM ME.

So let’s talk about the only part of this book that really standout for me — the first part. I was hooked immediately. The main character wakes up not knowing her name, where she is or any other details about herself. She finds herself in France during World War I and starts working as a nurse’s aide and just starts rebuilding a life under the name Stella Bain. Something triggers her and she feels like she needs to go to the Admirality in London — on a hunch. That’s when she meets Dr. Bridge and his wife by chance and they start to work on her memory. It was compelling and I felt so sorry for her and wanted to know her story. Early on we learn who she is, but then we learn her back story and how she became to be in France which was ALL very interesting. I was really loving the book at this point. It flowed very well and I was intrigued by the main character.

But then the rest of the story happened. It seemed so scattered and pointless for me. After she found out who she was, I just stopped caring. I didn’t mean to. I was looking forward to her “redemption” so to speak but it just wasn’t there for me and I struggled to keep going. There were SO many different things going on and the storylines weren’t as strong as they SHOULD have been for me. I wanted to care about what was going on in the custody battle but I didn’t because it didn’t feel entirely urgent to me — just a thing she was doing. I should have wanted this romance but it was NOT AT ALL captivating to me despite having caught the tension early on. I think I get what Shreve was trying to do with the rest of the story but it didn’t come together well in my opinion. My friend Hannah and I read it around the same time and we both agreed that we thought the story was going to focus more on the shell shock she had experienced but it didn’t really and just seemed to lose any sort of focus.

I finished this book not feeling anything at all — and that’s the worst kind of feeling for me. I’d rather passionately hate a book than feeling nothing at all.

Ultimately the worst kind of disappointment — a very strong absorbing first half as we watch Stella try to figure out who she is, her identity is revealed and her compelling back story was shared that went downhill. Then this book kind of went off into la-la land and my mind went off with it. I was bored, the storylines were clunky and not compelling and I felt nothing at all anymore.

Stella Bain by Anita Shreve


Let’s Talk: Have you read this one? Heard of it? Have you read any other Anita Shreve books? This was my first one, unfortunately, and I’m scared to try others but totally would with a good rec. Any other good books you know that are set during WWI?

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About Jamie

Jamie is a 32 year old married lady (with a new baby!!) who is in denial that she's actually that old to be a married lady and a mom. When she's not reading you can find her doing Pilates followed by eating ice cream, belting out Hamilton (loud and offkey) and having adventures with her husband, daughter and rescue dog.


  1. It’s a shame that Stella Bain turned out to be such a bitter disappointment as based on the premise alone the novel sounds really promising. I love unreliable narrators and think the idea of following a character with amnesia as they attempt to ascertain their true identity sounds fascinating. If only the whole novel had centred around this! As it stands, it sounds as though the revelation as to her identity and redemption arc weren’t well paced and Shreve’s intended message wasn’t executed to best effect. I agree with you – There’s really nothing worse than a general feeling of apathy when a novel is complete. As a result, it usually ends up feeling like little more than a waste of time. While I also adore adult historical fiction, I think this is one novel I can safely say I won’t feel compelled to add to my to-be-read list any time soon. I’m sorry to hear that this one didn’t work out for you, Jamie 🙁 I’ve had my fair share of disappointing reads too lately, and know how frustrating that can be!

  2. It’s such a shame that Stella Bain was disappointing! I love Anita Shreve and I would recommend you read The Pilot’s Wife and Fortune’s Rocks, both of which were the first novels I read from her. Fortune’s Rocks remains one of my favorite novels to this day. I hope you give more of Anita Shreve’s work a chance and I’m sorry Stella Bain wasn’t what you expected :(. Usually, World War I is such an interesting topic for a novel because World War II seems to dominate the book industry!

  3. I’ve always wanted to try an Anita Shreve book, but never have because I’ve heard a lot of disappointing/bad things about them. It sucks because the synopses always sound so interesting, haha!

  4. It makes me pretty sad that this book didn’t turn out as good as you’d hoped, especially after you really got sucked into the first part. I would have totally picked it up based on the summary, particularly since I love historical fiction. GAH. I hope you have or have had better experiences with other Shreve books!