Sunday, November 7, 2021

Review: "The London House" by Katherine Reay

Katherine Reay + THIS COVER = A Must-Read Novel!

Uncovering a dark family secret sends one woman through the history of Britain’s World War II spy network and glamorous 1930s Paris to save her family’s reputation.

Caroline Payne thinks it’s just another day of work until she receives a call from Mat Hammond, an old college friend and historian. But pleasantries are cut short. Mat has uncovered a scandalous secret kept buried for decades: In World War II, Caroline’s British great-aunt betrayed family and country to marry her German lover.

Determined to find answers and save her family’s reputation, Caroline flies to her family’s ancestral home in London. She and Mat discover diaries and letters that reveal her grandmother and great-aunt were known as the “Waite sisters.” Popular and witty, they came of age during the interwar years, a time of peace and luxury filled with dances, jazz clubs, and romance. The buoyant tone of the correspondence soon yields to sadder revelations as the sisters grow apart, and one leaves home for the glittering fashion scene of Paris, despite rumblings of a coming world war.

Each letter brings more questions. Was Caroline’s great-aunt actually a traitor and Nazi collaborator, or is there a more complex truth buried in the past? Together, Caroline and Mat uncover stories of spies and secrets, love and heartbreak, and the events of one fateful evening in 1941 that changed everything.

In this rich historical novel from award-winning author Katherine Reay, a young woman is tasked with writing the next chapter of her family’s story. But Caroline must choose whether to embrace a love of her own and proceed with caution if her family’s decades-old wounds are to heal without tearing them even further apart.

Secrets destroy lives. Grief destroys lives. The Payne family has lived under the weight of secrets and grief for generations. Caroline's immediate family fractured when her sister was killed in an accident, but she didn't realize there was a deeper reason that her family fell apart - the supposed betrayal of her great-aunt Caroline (called Caro) during World War II. When Caroline learns the story she was told about her aunt was a lie, she determines to learn what she can about the woman she was named after. Along the way, she discovers healing, love, and redemption.

As I started reading, I didn't really know what to expect from this novel - I've enjoyed several of Katherine Reay's other books, but this one is split time, which can be hit or miss for me. We can file this one under "hit."

This story is captivating and so beautifully plotted. The truth about Caro is revealed slowly through letters, journals, and government documents, and I wasn't ever entirely sure what Caroline would find out about her great aunt. The story is also heartbreaking - so many lives were impacted by Caro's actions during the war, both positively and negatively. My heart hurt for Caro's sister Margaret, who died before learning the truth, and for Caroline's father (Margaret's son), who lived with parents unable to fully love him or each other because of their grief and pain. While some of the letters and journal entries did feel a little long for my taste (I would've preferred to have them broken up more with scenes from the present), overall I really enjoyed this novel and the experience of reading it. I know the story is fictional, but it absolutely feels like it could be the truth, and it's both tragic and hopeful.  4-1/2 stars.

Read my reviews of Reay's Dear Mr. Knightley (5 stars), The Brontë Plot (4 stars), A Portrait of Emily Price (4-1/2 stars), and The Printed Letter Bookshop (5 stars).

Katherine Reay is the national bestselling and award-winning author of Dear Mr. Knightley, Lizzy and Jane, The Brontë Plot, A Portrait of Emily Price, The Austen Escape, and The Printed Letter Bookshop. All Katherine’s novels are contemporary stories with a bit of classical flair. Katherine holds a BA and MS from Northwestern University, graduating Phi Beta Kappa, and is a wife, mother, former marketer, and avid chocolate consumer. After living all across the country and a few stops in Europe, Katherine now happily resides outside Chicago, IL.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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