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October 20, 2019

3 Books about Strong Women of WWII

by Susan Roberts

I read a lot of WWII fiction but I especially enjoy books that are about the strength of women during the war and the differences they made during this time.  For too many years, we've only heard stories about the brave men during the war so it's fantastic to read about women who were also very brave and got involved in dangerous situations to help their country.  All of my books today take place in France.

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Mistress of the Ritz by Melanie Benjamin

May 2019; Delacorte Press; 978-0399182242
audio, ebook, print (384 pages); family saga
"War is nothing but attrition, it seems to him in this moment. There is nothing gained, only lost." (p 322)

"It is devastating to see a loved one suffer; it is harder to bear than your own pain. Love is despair, love is delight. Love is fear, love is hope. Love is mercy. Love is anger."

I love reading books about WWII and learning history at the same time. This novel takes place in my favorite place in the world - Paris and is about a real-life couple, Claude and Blanche Auzello. Claude is the manager of the Ritz Hotel and Blanche, an American, has been nicknamed the mistress of the Ritz because she spends so much of her time in the bar talking to and pampering patrons such as Hemingway and Picasso. Claude is very serious and the Ritz is his whole life. Blanche is a real people person who feels that she comes second to the Ritz in her husband's eyes. Their marriage is on rocky ground when the Nazis invade Paris in June of 1940, and set up their headquarters at the Ritz. Claude and Blanche must appear to be helpful and gracious to the high ranking Nazi officers to stay out of trouble and be able to retain their jobs. Instead of working together, their rocky marriage continues to keep them apart and they keep important secrets from each other that could imperil them and the Ritz Hotel. Will Blanche, Claude, their marriage and the Ritz survive the war?

This well-researched book about a little known couple from Paris is fascinating and intriguing. How they handled going from taking care of rich and important people before the war to taking care of the Nazi hierarchy was amazing, especially since the officers tended to be very cruel to the Auzellos and everyone else in Paris.

Be sure to read the Author's Notes at the end of the book to find out more about Claude and Blanche and the true story of the Ritz in WWII.

Buy Mistress of the Ritz at Amazon

The Winemaker's Wife by Kristin Harmel 

August 2019; Gallery Books; 978-1982112295
audio, ebook, print (400 pages); women's fiction
"She'd been holding out hope that somehow their small village would be overlooked, but of course that was silly.  The conquerors would want the fruit of their spoils-in this case, the endless bottles of fine champagne that huddled in the dark cellars beneath the countryside. "(loc 323)

In times of great upheaval, we discover what we're truly capable of.

Kristin Harmel is a wonderful storyteller who combines her beautiful writing with her extensive research to bring her readers another outstanding story. This time it's about a family winery near Reims during WWII. Many of the families who owned wineries in the area were part of the Resistance - some on a very small scale by using dirty bottles and bad corks on the wine that was for the Germans but others on a much larger scale - storing guns and hiding downed pilots and refugees in the underground caves where the wine was stored. The Winemaker's Wife is the fictional story of one of those families.

This is a dual timeline book that takes place in the 1940s in France as well as current times in the US and France. As you read the story, you know that they will intersect at some point and when they do, it's a real surprise. I enjoyed both storylines and the characters in both time periods.

1940 in Champagne, France. Michael is the owner of champagne house Maison Chauveau. He lives there with his new wife Ines and his chef de cave Theo and his wife Celine. When the Nazis invade their area, they insist on getting all of the bottles of champagne that are bottled. In turn, Michael and his family are treated a little better than most of the people around them. As time goes on, things change and Michael becomes involved in the Resistance. His work with them along with the love and betrayal from other people close to him affects the lives of everyone he knows and loves.

2019 in New York City. Liv and her husband have just broken up after 10 years and she is very depressed about the break up when her French grandmother, Edith, shows up and insists that Liv go to Paris with her immediately. After they arrive in Paris, Liv becomes aware that her grandmother is hiding secrets from her that may help explain the questions that she had about Edith's past.

This beautiful well-written novel is about family - past and present, and about love and forgiveness - not only of others but more importantly of yourself.

Buy The Winemaker's Wife at Amazon

All the Flowers in Paris by Sarah Jio 

August 2019; Ballantine Books; 978-1101885055
audio, ebook, print (304 pages); family saga
"On any given day I might pass as French, at least from a distance.  I look the part, more or less.  Scarf tied loosely around my neck.  Blond hair swept up into a high bun.  It has taken three years to semi-master the language but it would easily take a lifetime to become adequately versed in French style." (Caroline  2009 Loc 46)

This is a beautiful well-written love story to the city of Paris. It's written in dual timelines - one is Celine's story in the 40s when Paris was occupied by the Germans and the other is Caroline's story in today's Paris. Sometimes with dual timelines, I enjoy one story more than the other but with this book, I was equally interested in both timelines and anxious to find out how they would intersect at the end.

Celine lives in Paris with her father and her daughter and they own a small flower shop. They have to be very careful because Germany has invaded Paris and the soldiers can be very cruel to the citizens. They are fearful for each other but despite all that is going on, Celine is falling in love with Luc, a young man that she's known her entire life. When a cruel German officer discovers that her grandmother was Jewish, he makes her his mistress in exchange for keeping her family safe. Will her new life of pain and cruelty help save her father and daughter?

Caroline lives in Paris in the present day. At the beginning of the novel, she is in an accident and wakes up with amnesia. She doesn't remember who she is or anything about her past but has flashes about a child and is unsure if they are part of her life or not. As she learns her way around Paris again, she starts to spend time with the chef at a local bistro and thinks she is falling in love with him. In a back bedroom of her apartment, she finds the letters that Celine wrote to Luc during her captivity in the apartment. She works with a student at the Sorbonne to find out more about Celine and her family. The parallel timelines bring the story together and I can promise tears along with joy.

"Some of our friends have lost their businesses, others have been roughed up on street corners.  And yet so far, our little family has managed to avoid any significant personal or financial harm and I'm grateful for that every day"  (Celine 1943   loc 107)

This was a wonderful, well-written novel about love - especially love within a family. The dual timeline is very effective in bringing us a fantastic story with well-written characters and a setting in one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Buy All the Flowers in Paris at Amazon

Susan Roberts lives in North Carolina when she isn't traveling. She and her husband enjoy traveling, gardening and spending time with their family and friends. She reads almost anything (and the piles of books in her house prove that) but her favorite genres are Southern fiction, women's fiction, and thrillers. Susan is a top 1% Goodreads Reviewer. You can connect with Susan on FacebookGoodreads, or Twitter.

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  1. i used to devour stories about war, not so much any more. i do love to read about strong women though
    sherry @ fundinmental