Review originally appeared in Library Journal, July 2019.
Alternating between the vineyards of war-torn 1940s France and present day, the lives of Ines and Michel, newlywed owners of the famed champagne house, Maison Chauveau, and the head winemaker’s Jewish wife, Celine Laurent, are forever altered. As Germans are pillaging homes and sending Jews to prison camps, a frightened Celine draws nearer to Michel for protection, thereby pushing Ines into the arms of another and setting off a chain of dangerous betrayal. The labyrinths of wine cellars beneath Chauveau conceal not only champagne from the Germans, but resistance weapons, Jewish refugees, and forbidden love affairs. Presently, Liv, 41, unemployed and newly divorced after 12 years and many unsuccessful attempts at pregnancy, abruptly departs for Paris with her 99-year old Grandmother Edith, a loving woman, both stylish and eccentric. Unsure of Edith’s motives, Liv questions Edith’s connection to Chauveau and Reims. Readers learn Edith’s painful secrets, and will appreciate the importance of family legacy and the passionate venture of champagne making. Unfolding in multiple viewpoints, the writing is atmospheric and rich, showcasing heavily researched topics of champagne making and French resistance efforts. VERDICT: Harmel’s touching story of love and loss in World War II France will appeal to fans of Pam Jenoff and Kate Quinn.
This story alternates between 1919 San Francisco and 1960’s Napa, California. In 1919, Vivien Lowe, an obituary writer, is holding on to a dream that her long lost love, David, is still alive somewhere. David has been missing since the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, when it ripped Vivien’s home and entire world apart. Vivien knows grief all too well, which is how she is able to comfort complete strangers who have lost loved ones, when they come to her asking her to write an obituary. Sadly, with both the Earthquake and the Spanish influenza, Vivien is very busy writing obituaries, and many of which are for young children. Vivien believes that dates (date of birth, date of marriage, date of death) do not matter so much as the deceased person’s story – their passions, their loves, their quirks. Her talent allows her to write perfectly fitting tributes for so many lives.
In 1960’s California, Claire is stuck in a loveless marriage with Peter. She is under-appreciated and her hopes and passions stifled by her husband on a daily basis. She wouldn’t dare leave him because of their young daughter, Kathy, and fear of what she would do on her own. Then, she meets Miles, a man who appreciates her, listens to her, and makes her come alive in ways she has never experienced before. Will she decide to remain with Peter, sacrificing any chance at future happiness? Or will she go against what is expected of her and attempt to start over.
This is a wonderful, historically-rich tale of family, loss, love, hope, and courage. Both Vivien and Claire are strong women and lovely characters who will draw readers in and capture their hearts. The author brings the two women together in a most unexpected and extraordinary way at the end. I would highly suggest this story for fans of historical fiction, romantic fiction, and mainstream adult fiction. It’s a quick read, but it will remain in your memory far after you turn the last page.