This is part of my Summer Reads series where I’ll be sharing book recommendations – a series of “not just cookbooks”.
Well, this Summer Reads project wasn’t meant to turn into *only* Paris-themed books but the last few weeks might suggest otherwise! This week’s pick is a recommendation from Jacqui of The French Village Diaries (who’s got some wonderful France-themed book reviews on her site if you’re interested) – I saw it mentioned on social media and went to download it immediately, started reading, and basically read it on and off in the space of a couple of days.
From the publisher:
A promise that binds them together. A war that pulls them apart.
Childhood companions Fleur and Colette make a vow, under the trailing ivy of their secret garden, that they will be secret sisters forever. But as they grow up, the promises of childhood are put to the ultimate test. For Colette is the daughter of the house, and her life is all jazz clubs, silk dresses and chilled champagne, while Fleur is the orphan niece of the housekeeper and doesn’t feel like she belongs anywhere.
Years later, in 1939, life as they know it will never be the same. As the German tanks roll in and Paris becomes an occupied city, the promise they made as children will have consequences they could never have imagined…
This is historical fiction, set in Paris before and during World War II and it was interesting to read about the leadup to the war (with some of the older characters still remembering the hardships of World War I and not wishing it to start over) and how day-to-day life changes in that leadup and then during the war itself. It’s also a book about a female friendship and how it endured over many years and upheavals. There is a strong theme of hardship running through the novel – Fleur is an orphan who lives with Tante Agnes, the housekeeper for Colette’s family so she starts the story with a distinct social and financial disadvantage. An unlikely friendship blossoms in childhood, despite their social status differences, and they promise to remain sisters forever when they are very young. A childish, naive promise that, despite everything, they do manage to keep and come out at the end of the story (in 1994) still friends, their families and lives intertwined stronger than ever. As they move through the war years, Colette endures her own hardships (very different from those encountered by Fleur but no less challenging) and her character changes significantly through the book from when she is a petulant, spoiled child to the eventual thoughtful, caring, more selfless friend she ends up becoming.
This is a story of resourcefulness, of people figuring out what they need to do to survive a war, of people coming to terms with some of the things they find themselves doing to survive but, at the end of the day, it’s about friendships (Fleur and Colette but also their friends who they work with and rely on as they make their way through the grim years of the war). It’s also a story of hope and courage and yes, there’s a little bit of romance in there too! I thought the characters were well-developed and though Colette wasn’t my favourite at the start, I did actually care what happened to her and found myself turning pages and reading “just one more chapter” to find out what happened, like a good thriller.
A fabulous read for the beach, the couch, poolside, or the plane/ train/ bus. A must-read for fans of historical fiction and compelling stories of strong women.
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