Map of the Heart by Susan Wiggs

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Map of the Heart will be published August 22, 2017. I was in the mood for a love story, and this one was a perfect fit. This is a modern-day romance mixed in with a healthy dose of historical fiction, historical mystery, and a forbidden historical romance.

36 year old widow and single mother, Camille, has shut off her own heart from feeling happiness or true love, since her husband died in a tragic accident five years prior. At that time, she also gave up her favorite past-time which brought her the most joy – photography.

Camille spends her days trying to figure out the best way to deal with her moody teenage daughter and aging father, whose cancer is fortunately in remission. Part owner of Oh-La-La, a home-goods shop in downtown Bethany Bay, the New England touristy beach town she calls home, Camille also has a film developing business. She specializes in developing and restoring very old film.

Enter Finn, Malcolm Finnemore, but known only as Finn. He’s a handsome historian and professor who specializes in war and military history and volunteers his time recovering lost soldiers remains to give families closure. His own father, a soldier, disappeared during the Vietnam War before Finn was born, and Finn has been unable to find any clues to locate him, until a lost roll of film from his father’s camera was uncovered. The film could be images of the last place his father was alive, and it could even lead to his whereabouts. Giddy with excitement at the prospect of getting closer to finding his father, he contacts an expert, Camille, to restore and develop the very old, important film for him.

What follows is a series of sparks, then fires, then uncertainty, and passion in a romance made for the movies. Oh la la, indeed!

Camille’s father, Henri, who grew up in Bellerive, France, receives a box found in the attic at Sauveterre, and estate in southern France where he grew up and that he owns. Inside are some puzzling items that belonged to Henri’s mother, Lisette, who died during childbirth. There is little to no resemblance between Henri and his presumed father, Didier. Camille and Henri begin to question whether Didier Palomar, mayor of Bellerive and a Nazi supporter who was killed shortly after WWII ended, is actually Henri’s birth father.

Henri and Julie, Camille’s daughter, decide to spend the summer in southern France at Sauveterre, despite Camille’s resistance. She finally gives in after Julie is involved in an accident at school and Camille is unsure whether Julie is the bully or the bullied. Julie is miserable, and a summer away with a mystery to solve may be just what she needs to snap back into a happier childhood. And, of course, Camille realizes that Aix-en-Provence where Finn lives is very close to Bellerive. A summer in beautiful southern France AND a handsome, charming, single man dying to meet up with her as soon as possible – any woman in her right mind would be crazy to turn that down! Thank goodness, for the sake of the story, Camille lets go and heads to France.

The story switches back and forth to the 1940’s as readers get to know young Lisette and her remarkable story. Once the truth about Henri’s real father and Lisette’s past are revealed, readers will not be able to put the book down. I know I certainly couldn’t!

Map of the Heart is well-written with equal parts heartbreak and romance. The romance isn’t too steamy, but subtle and implied. I felt transported back and forth between the beach town of Bethany Bay and the picturesque estate of Sauveterre in the Var – both places that I would love to be. I loved the story and even the ending, which I sometimes do not like in romantic fiction. Fans of Elin Hilderbrand and Kristin Hannah will love this story.

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At the Edge of Summer by Jessica Brockmole

9780345547897_c667aAt the Edge of Summer will be published on May 17, 2016.

It is the summer of 1911, and 15 year old, Clare, is sent from her home in Scotland to Mille Mots, a castle in the French countryside. Her father passed away, so she was send to live with the Crepets, artists and friends of her mother. Clare’s mother, also an artist, disappeared when Clare was younger, leaving Clare with a feeling of being unwanted and unimportant.

At Mille Mots, she meets Luc, the only child of the Crepets. Luc is a few years older than Clare and he studies at the university. Clare is intrigued by Luc, who treats her as an equal and encourages her to be herself, teaching her how to draw and spending time getting to know her.

Just when Clare starts to feel at home with the Crepets and her feelings blossom for Luc, her grandfather shows up to take Clare with him on his journey through Portugal and Africa. Clare is once again thrust  into unfamiliar environments where she feels like an outsider looking in.

Fast forward a few years, as World War I is raging across the land and Luc and Clare have drifted apart, Luc is serving his country in battle. He thinks of Clare often and gets through some very hard days with the help of a friend and fellow soldier named Chaffre. Clare yearns for summer days spent with Luc, the one place she was truly ever happy – at Mille Mots. Thinking about Luc and hoping he makes it out of the war alive, she decides to take his advice and pursue study in art. She attends the Glasgow School of Art, and while there begins volunteering in a Paris studio where artists sculpt prosthetic pieces for injured soldiers. What she finds there will forever change the course of her future.

Brockmole does a fabulous job describing Paris, the French countryside, and the castle at Mille Mots. Readers can easily picture Clare’s surroundings and share in her feelings of loss and sadness when she must leave Mille Mots after such a memorable summer spent there.

The novel includes many letters between Luc and Clare over the years they are apart, some replies and some that go unanswered and unread. The letters add a richness to an already beautiful story line and budding romance.

Another aspect of the story which I really appreciated were the man/woman platonic friendships that both Luc and Clare had while they were apart. Luc became close with Mabel, a nurse who helped him so much after he was injured in the war. Clare is fortunate to meet and become close with Finlay, also an injured solder with a heart of gold. Without the support of Mable and Finlay, Luc and Clare may not have had the courage to find themselves or fight for the way back to each other.

Fans of historical fiction, fiction, and romance will surely enjoy this story. It is well written with an intriguing story line and beautiful descriptions of art and landscape.

 

 

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

nightingaleThe Nightingale by Kristin Hannah is a fabulous choice for historical fiction fans or any fiction readers. Set during World War II in and around war ravaged Paris, it is a story which alternates between two sisters and what they each must endure to survive the war. Older sister Vianne and her young daughter Sophie are left to fend for themselves when Vianne’s husband Antoine is called away to serve in the war. The hardships begin when a series of Nazi soldiers decide to billet in their home, taking and using whatever and whomever they please. Vianne’s younger sister, Isabelle is rebellious and passionate. She makes it her goal to make a difference and do something to fight back against the Germans who are taking over her city and her home, no matter the danger and risks. The thing that I loved most about this book is that is centered around female characters fighting for their lives and those of innocent children. It really paints a truthful (though heartbreaking and unfathomable at times) portrait of the war’s effect on women. I challenge you to read this book with dry eyes. I certainly couldn’t. I will even go out on a limb and say this is the best book that I have read about World War II and the Holocaust so far. Close seconds are Jodi Picoult’s The Storyteller and Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay. Amazing, just amazing.