Review by New York Times Review
NOVELS SET DURING World War II can seem dismayingly similar: Families are separated, dangerous missions are undertaken, friends disappear. The books may be engrossing but the formulaic plots sometimes leave a reader wanting an unexpected twist. Armando Lucas Correa's the daughter's tale (Atria, $27) inventively satisfies that want. What's more, it's better written and more tightly edited than most books in this genre, and the story line is breathtakingly threaded together from start to finish with the sound of a beating heart. Or more to the point, the silence between the heartbeats. The novel starts in present-day New York when an elderly woman, who has just received a package of letters from her past, collapses from a heart attack: "One ... silence, two... silence, three... silence, four, five. She took a deep breath, waiting for the next heartbeat." And from there we rush back in time, as if coursing through her bloodstream, to a young Jewish family caught in the vortex of anti-Semitism in late 1930s Berlin. Julius, the husband, is a doctor, a heart specialist; his wife, Amanda, runs a bookshop; they will soon have two young daughters. Julius insists on staying put, providing for his patients, thinking the madness will stop: "Why flee and start all over again?" But then Nazis come to Amanda's store to burn her books, the local synagogue is destroyed by fire and Julius is arrested. From his cell, Julius manages to get word to Amanda as he is dying, instructing her how to flee the country and providing her with money and documents. The plan is for her to put her children, ages 6 and 4, on a ship bound for Cuba, where they can live with her brother, and for Amanda to go to a small French village to live with an old family friend and wait out the war. But as she is about to put her daughters on the boat, Amanda has a lastminute change of heart: She sends her elder daughter, Viera, to Havana and takes her younger one, Lina, to France. Amanda sends letters across the Atlantic to Viera, but they all come back to her. Meanwhile, she needs to protect Lina from the war now coming to France, which means passing her off to one stranger after another, reminding her to count her heartbeats when she is afraid, just as Julius had always said to do. Correa's prose is atmospheric, but what's most fascinating about this novel is his portrayal of terrified yet strong female characters who anticipate future trials and methodically work through them. Amanda knows that each decision she makes will have an impact on the next, but her goal is always survival. IN MISTRESS OF THE RITZ (Delacorte, $28), Melanie Benjamin gives us another strong female character, only in this case she's trying to do more than just survive: Blanche Ross, a young American actress who arrives in Paris in the 1920s and marries Claude Auzello, who becomes the manager of the Hotel Ritz. Ah, the Ritz. The focal point of Parisian excitement and glamour with its celebrity guests: Coco Chanel, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway. Monsieur and Madame Auzello take pride in the Ritz, and their role in making the visitors feel "safe" and able to "breathe a little more freely." Until June 1940, that is, when the "top-hatted doorman in a black overcoat" is replaced by Nazi soldiers. From there, mystery, intrigue and suspicion descend on the hallways and behind the hotel's closed doors. Looking for life where death abounds, Blanche joins the Resistance. When D-Day arrives and reports that Allied forces have entered northern France make their way to Paris, she sees freedom on the horizon and makes a crucial misstep. It is a mistake that sweeps Blanche, her friends and her husband into a whirlwind of terror - brutal interrogations and imprisonment - and exposes the secret that she has been trying to hide ever since she decided to leave the United States. As Benjamin has proved before, she has a way of animating long-forgotten history. Inspired by the story of the actual Blanche and Claude Auzello, "Mistress of the Ritz" is a vividly imagined thriller about two enigmatic people who left behind tantalizing clues about their lives. if it's suspense you want, look no further than Jennifer Ryan's THE SPIES OF SHILLING LANE (Crown, $27). Fans of Ryan's debut novel, "The Chilbury Ladies' Choir," will find this book even better - and those who found that first novel plodding or slow on the uptake will be drawn in by this quick and delightful mystery set in London in March 1941. In the wake of her divorce and spurred by her demotion as head of her village's Women's Voluntary Service, Mrs. Braithwaite is forced to re-evaluate her life. She has a secret to tell and she heads to London to make amends and offer a confession to her only daughter, Betty. But Betty is nowhere to be found. Mrs. Braithwaite searches everywhere for her fiercely independent daughter, through the streets of London during the Blitz and in its hospitals filled with bombing victims. Mr. Norris, her daughter's landlord, becomes Mrs. Braithwaite's reluctant sidekick, and together they enter into dive bars, secret meetings of the British Union of Fascists and underground spy rings with double agents and fake passports. All the while they are looking for clues, trying to evade capture, kidnapping and worse - and becoming unlikely friends. As the plot develops, it becomes clear that Ryan has created more than a potboiler. She uses the story to explore maternal love and the sometimes fraught relationships between mothers and daughters as well as the capacity for friendship among strangers. Ryan's subtlety shines in her acknowledgment of the importance of remembering the people who pass through our lives ("I'd like people to talk about how I helped them," Mrs. Braithwaite says) and in her descriptions of how war and conflict can teach empathy ("I can hardly believe how much of life I notice now") and change people for the better. familial love is also at the center of Rachel Barenbaum's debut novel, A BEND IN THE STARS (Grand Central, $28), an epic march across Russia during the summer of 1914 against a backdrop of dual menace: the impending war with Germany and the mounting hostility of the czar's army toward the Jewish community. The novel features a cast of characters centered on two siblings, Miri Abramov, a young Jewish surgeon, and her genius brother, Vanya, a physicist who thinks he can complete Einstein's theory of relativity if he witnesses the Aug. 21 solar eclipse, and by so doing gain passage to America for his entire family. Early in the book, the siblings are forced to split up in this quest because of growing anti-Jewish sentiment. Vanya travels with Yuri, Miri's fiance, to join an American scientist who plans to photograph the eclipse. But after Vanya leaves, Miri discovers that he is in danger. With the help of a Russian Army deserter - whom she hides in her basement and cares for while he recovers from an injury - Miri goes in search of her brother. Their search is a perilous one, confronting Miri and her soldier companion with unexpected threats and testing their relationship. As Barenbaum poignantly writes: "Everything in our universe is made of pieces." Yet "no laws are absolute. Life, the universe, they aren't written in stone." The dialogue feels remarkably honest, and time passes in the novel like a train hurtling toward its destination with stops, starts and lurches. The history of the period and the region has been carefully studied, but Barenbaum carves a fresh story from some of its most evocative and disturbing details. IF YOU CAN'T GET ENOUGH of 20th-century Russia, leap ahead 50 years to THE RED DAUGHTER (Random House, $26), John Burnham Schwartz's novel about Stalin's only daughter, Svetlana Alliluyeva, who defected to the United States in 1967, leaving two children behind in Moscow. Svetlana's C.I.A. profile is revealed early in the book. It's a telling passage, one that sets up much of what follows in this sad, traumatic tale of Svetlana's life and her relationship with Peter Horvath, a young American lawyer whom the C.I.A. has tasked with bringing Svetlana to New York. (That lawyer is very loosely based on Schwartz's father, Alan.) The C.I.A. describes Svetlana as "an active, alert and intense individual," a "very dependent person used perhaps to being bullied by her powerful father." The report goes on to suggest that she is "prone to become a disciple or a follower," with a tendency to become "jealous and disappointed when others receive the acceptance and praise she wants" and "furious when she feels she has been misled or misdirected." The ensuing narrative proves just how prescient this analysis is. The story, which captures the mysterious Svetlana through her imagined journal entries and letters, as well as Horvath's "editor's notes," is lively and engaging. As a novel, "The Red Daughter" does exactly what good historical fiction should do: It sends you down the rabbit hole to read and learn more. Schwartz includes a great list of books that inspired him to write his novel and that readers might want to explore. Of special interest is the section on Svetlana's time in Scottsdale, Ariz., at Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin Fellowship, and her brief marriage to Sid Evans, a Wright apprentice and protege (modeled on the architect William Wesley Peters), with whom she has a son. Let's just say that there is another fascinating novel to be written about Peters and Wright's widow. SPEAKING OF FAMOUS DAUGHTERS, there's a new novel out about Alice Roosevelt, the oldest child of Theodore Roosevelt. Reading about Alice - her rebellious nature, her attention-grabbing antics - is always a pleasure. That said, american princess (Berkley, paper, $16), by Stephanie Marie Thornton, is long - and it drags at times. The novel is written in Alice's voice and divided into three parts. It begins when she is 17 years old. President William McKinley has just died in office, and Alice is about to become the first daughter. The book ends near the final moments of Alice's life at the age of 96. The first section sets the scene: Alice is the wild child in the White House, the "connoisseur of mistakes," carrying a pet snake around in her purse, smoking and chewing gum and jumping into a swimming pool fully dressed while on a diplomatic mission. There's no question that she is desperate for her father's attention. Despite all the warnings, she falls in love with Congressman Nick Longworth. Yes, it's fun - after all, she's a celebrity behaving badly. The book picks up in the second section when Alice comes into her own against the backdrop of Nick's numerous affairs and drunken behavior. It's perversely satisfying to see Alice torpedo her husband's congressional re-election as she helps her father's unsuccessful third-party campaign to upset President William Howard Taft in his fight against Woodrow Wilson. She clearly wants a divorce from Nick, but it's not going to happen, so her loyalties are with her father. Good for her. The third part, which recounts her relationship with Senator Bill Borah; the birth of her child, Paulina; the death of various men in her life; and Paulina's suicide at 32, offers abundant proof that life isn't just a game for Alice - that joy and heartbreak are real for her. The book is an ambitious one, and it could have benefited from more editing. There's a lot to take in. Still, Thornton has done a great deal of research, so much that at times you feel as if you're reading a memoir. It's hard to say no to a book about Alice Roosevelt. it should also be hard to say no to a novel about the endlessly fascinating poet Elizabeth Bishop. What's not to like about a novel that reimagines Bishop's time in 1937 Paris, hanging out at Sylvia Beach's bookstore and drinking champagne at Le Boeuf sur le Tóit cabaret on the eve of World War II? A lot, in the case of Liza Wieland's PARIS, 7 A-M. (Simon & Schuster, $26.99). Bishop's childhood, including her father's untimely death and her mother's mental breakdown, was unbelievably tragic, and her relationships in college and beyond provide much fodder to explore. Alas, Wieland's book is a disappointment. While some excitement and drama ignite nearly two-thirds of the way through the book, it's over before you can take it all in, and the writing is terribly disjointed. The ending skips through the years 1938 to 1979, wrapping up decades of Bishop's life in a mere 24 messy pages. If there is one positive outcome of reading this book, it is that it might make you want to rediscover Bishop's poetry, which, if you're like me, you may not have turned to since senior year of high school. Don't bother putting this novel in your backpack as you head out of town; pick up one of Bishop's collections instead. susan ellingwood is a former books and opinion editor at The Times.
Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [June 2, 2019]
Review by Booklist Review
War changes people,"" says one of the characters in the latest from Ryan (The Chilbury Ladies' Choir, 2017), and that's certainly true for Mrs. Braithwaite. Following her humiliating divorce and subsequent ouster from her position as head of the village Women's Voluntary Society, she takes off for London to find her estranged daughter, Betty. When she arrives at Betty's boarding house in Shilling Lane, however, Betty is nowhere to be found. Mrs. Braithwaite bullies the landlord, Mr. Norris, into helping her search for her daughter, never mind that Mr. Norris lacks ""oomph."" Betty works for MI5, and once she gets over her surprise that it's her mother who rescues her from the clutches of British fascists, mother (with Mr. Norris' increasingly effective assistance) and daughter play cat and mouse with Nazi sympathizers and double agents. Along the way, Mrs. Braithwaite learns lessons about the true measure of success. Even with sometimes-vivid descriptions of the horrors of the blitz, there is a good deal of fun in this cozy caper, and fans of The Chilbury Ladies' Choir will eat it up.--Mary Ellen Quinn Copyright 2019 Booklist
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Ryan (The Chilbury Ladies' Choir) again focuses on women braving the dangers of WWII in this exciting tale of espionage and love. In 1941, Mrs. Braithwaite is stripped of her vaunted village position as the leader of the Women's Voluntary Service for being too bossy. Mrs. Braithwaite, a woman of more gusto than height, heads to London to reconnect with her daughter, Betty, who she hasn't seen in two years. But when she gets to Betty's boarding house, no one has seen her in days; she also hasn't been to work at her listed employment for years. As Mrs. Braithwaite searches for answers, she makes a reluctant companion of Mr. Norris, Betty's landlord and a timid accountant who is worried Betty might be in trouble. Soon they discover Betty is working for British intelligence, and Mrs. Braithwaite and Mr. Norris become embroiled in a plot to root out Nazi-sympathizers in London. Mrs. Braithwaite shakes up Mr. Norris's life in unexpected, welcome ways as they form an unlikely friendship and almost get Betty captured while she is working undercover. With its eccentric, believable characters and plot of home front intrigue, this delightful drama will appeal to fans of Martha Hall Kelly. (June) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review
Ryan (The Chilbury Ladies' Choir, 2017) presents a social climber in reverse in Mrs. Braithwaite, a recently divorced, not very well-off granddaughter of an earl just deposed from her position as head of the Women's Voluntary Service in her English village during World War II.Raised by her Aunt Augusta, a heartless snob, Mrs. Braithwaite has always been told her family is superior to others. When her WVS nemesis, Mrs. Metcalf, forces her out, Mrs. Braithwaite realizes that a secret Mrs. Metcalf knows about her will always make her vulnerable, so she decides to go to London to tell her daughter, Betty, about the secret, thus denying Mrs. Metcalf the upper hand. Arriving in Wandsworth Common, she meets Mr. Norris, Betty's landlord, and finds out that Betty has been missing for several days in the midst of the Blitz. Undeterred, Mrs. Braithwaite sets about searching for Betty, eventually enlisting Mr. Norris in this quest. As they make their way around war-torn London, unraveling the mystery of what kind of war work Betty has been doing and where she's been, Mrs. Braithwaite engages in some self-reflection. As the story unfolds, she and Mr. Norris become a team, thwarting a group of British fascists and helping a number of other people along the way. Mrs. Braithwaite transforms from a somewhat bossy and imperious person to a more likable one. The transformation is believable as she begins to turn outward and do her bit not because of any misplaced sense of rank or privilege, but out of more selfless concerns. Some of the minor characters are less-than-fully fleshed out, and the last part of the story feels superficial. The very end of the book leaves the door open to a possible sequel, and readers will want to know what Mrs. Braithwaite and Mr. Norris will get up to next.A cozy, entertaining historical spy story. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.