Originally published in the Canberra Weekly on 21 April 2022.
This review can also be found on the Canberra Weekly website.
Make sure to also check out my extended review for The German Wife.
Originally published in the Canberra Weekly on 21 April 2022.
This review can also be found on the Canberra Weekly website.
Make sure to also check out my extended review for The German Wife.
Publisher: Hachette Australia (Trade Paperback – 27 April 2022)
Length: 450 pages
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
One of Australia’s best authors, Kelly Rimmer, returns with another beautiful and exceedingly moving historical drama, The German Wife, which takes readers to the edge of despair and back again with its deep and bleak plot.
Kelly Rimmer is an outstanding author who specialises in writing great historical drama novels and who was one of the better authors I was lucky enough to experience for the first time last year when I received a copy of her 2021 novel, The Warsaw Orphan. The Warsaw Orphan was a brilliant and extremely powerful read that showcased multiple sides of the horror and terror experienced in the Warsaw Ghetto while also telling the unique tale of two young people who tried to smuggle young children outside the ghetto walls. Brutal, extreme and yet filled with hope, this was a deeply moving novel that ended up an incredible read. Due to how great this novel was, I was extremely keen to check out more stuff from Rimmer and I was extremely happy when I found myself receive a copy of her latest novel, The German Wife.
Berlin, 1930. Sofie Rhodes can only watch in horror as the Nazi Party starts to take control of her country, slowly morphing it into a nation of hatred and fear. Already facing financial ruin after World War I and the Depression, Sofie and her husband, Jürgen, find themselves receiving special attention from the Nazis due to Jürgen’s scientific speciality. When Jürgen is forcibly recruited to Hitler’s top-secret rocket project, Sofie finds herself constantly under surveillance and forced to conform to Nazi ideology, including turning her back on her Jewish best friend, Mayim.
Many years later, in 1950, Sofie and her remaining children emigrate to a small town in Alabama to be with Jürgen, whose past with the Nazis has been pardoned and erased in exchange for his work on the US space program. Determined to make a new life for herself and her family in America, Sofie soon discovers old and new prejudices both from the hostile Americans and the other German families living in town with them.
Isolated and hated, Sofie finds her path crossing with American housewife Lizzie Miller, who has her own history of loss and despair during the Depression. Shocked that her husband and government are so eager to be working with former Nazis, Lizzie keeps finding herself in conflict with Sofie, while rumour and gossip about the Rhodes family swirl around town. When these rumours lead to violence and anger, the new community will be torn apart as the true history of the Rhodes family comes tumbling out. Can this troubled family finally find redemption in a new land, or will the horrors of the war and Nazi ambition follow them wherever they go?
Damn, this was an intense and captivating read. Rimmer went all out with the emotional feels here in The German Wife, producing a powerful, moving and tragic tale of love, loss and moral compromise. Perfectly portraying some fascinating elements of the darkest part of our history, this was an exceptional read that gets a full five-star rating from me.
I cannot emphasise enough how good the story in The German Wife was as Rimmer produced a deeply dramatic historical tale with an impressive scope that comes together beautifully. Split between its two point-of-view characters, Sofie Rhodes and Lizzie Miller, The German Wife presents a complex, time-hopping narrative as the reader is shown the protagonists conflict as well as the events that led them to meet for the first time. Half the book takes place in 1950 Alabama, where both ladies live with their respective families, while the other half of the book goes back and sequentially examines their pasts from 1930 onward. This provides the reader with an intriguing view of both the Depression in America and the rise of Nazism in Germany, while also providing some intriguing context for the characters’ actions in 1950. This mixture of perspectives and time periods works extremely well, and Rimmer melds them together perfectly to tell a taught and emotionally rich tale. The past injustices and emotional traumas that occur in these earlier timelines contrast perfectly with the issues they are having in the 1950s, and it was great to see all the events that built towards the attitudes and emotions they had when they were older. It also provides three unique storylines (1930s America, 1930s Germany and 1950s America), all three of which contained some intriguing side characters and captivating historical elements, which was extremely compelling.
Out of the three main plot lines that The German Wife contained, I personally thought the examinations of Sofie and Jürgen’s time in Nazi Germany were the best. These scenes are particularly compelling, as they show the characters thrust into the middle of events they can’t escape from as they are forced to work with the Nazis and accept the changes to the country. Watching these inherently good characters make compromise after compromise and suffer constant emotional trauma and betrayal is pretty heartbreaking, but it produces some brilliant and memorable scenes that will really hit you in the feels. This context, and Lizzie’s excellent backstory, are worked into the 1950s storyline extremely well, and the various time periods compliment each other well, especially as Rimmer works to provide several cryptic hints about past events in the future chapters, which really adds to the reader’s apprehension. All these storylines, including the one in the 1950s, which examines the many issues the Rhodeses face when they emigrate to America, as well as the conflict that occurs between Sofie and Lizzie, are brilliantly written and loaded with emotional moments that hit you hard. There is also some great character work contained with The German Wife as Rimmer really builds up her central two characters, as well as the excellent supporting cast, providing them with captivating and compelling personal histories, which are fully explored in the flashback scenes. This great story, combined with the fantastic characters and the historical settings, is a narrative that will sit with me for a long time.
Rimmer also provides a detailed and impressive look at various historical elements that occurred between 1930 and 1950 in both America and Germany. The author clearly did a ton of research on multiple subjects before writing this book, and it really shows as the story progresses. These historical elements include a pretty comprehensive look at life in America during the Depression, as one point of view characters journeys around several parts of the deeply impacted South, and there are some great scenes, especially some of the early ones that take place in an extremely dusty climate. There is also a great examination of both the Nazi and American rocket programs that occurred during this period, as Jürgen serves as a technician for both governments. I found the examination of the V2 program to be extremely interesting, and Rimmer goes into exquisite detail here, with Jürgen serving as an intriguing stand-in for historical figure Wernher von Braun. This allows for the reader to see a slightly abridged version of the program (its shown through the eyes of his wife who is getting most of her knowledge second hand), but there is still a lot of great detail here, including the eventual change in objectives, the continued failure, the desire for it to succeed by the Nazis, as well as all the terrible things that resulted from it. However, a good part of the book is also reserved to examine one of the most fascinating parts of the Nazi rocket program, the subsequent responsive Operation Paperclip by the Americans, which pardoned many of the German scientists and moved them to America with altered pasts to help their fledgling space program. I loved seeing this movement to another country told through the eyes of both a wife of one of the scientists and an American citizen who finds out about the program, and it produces some brilliant and clever scenes that help showcases this extremely well.
I also really need to highlight Rimmer’s examination of the Nazi takeover of Germany that occurred in all Sofie’s flashback chapters. Rimmer already has a lot of experience showcasing the evils of the Nazis from her previous books, but The German Wife probably contains one of her best depictions of this as it showed how a normal German citizen’s life was turned upside down in just a few years. The author really hammers home just how creatively evil the Nazis were in corrupting their own country, as you see the full gradual process take effect. The author meticulously recounts every change that the Nazis implemented, all of which served to ensure the loyalty of its people and to terrorise those they hated. You get to see the full range of controls that the Nazis enacted, including threatening job security, disappearances by the secret police, control of the media, turning friends and neighbours against each other, providing a common enemy, and even brainwashing children in the schools. All of this is pretty damn intense, especially as there are some notable modern parallels, and it is darkly fascinating to see everything that the Nazis did. However, the true brilliance of the way that Rimmer explores it in The German Wife, is to show how people like the Rhodes reacted to it. Watching them become horrified by the changes to their country and the people around them is pretty intense, but the real drama occurs when they are forced to make compromises. Sofia and Jürgen are constantly faced with the choice of helping the Nazis (either directly or indirectly by not opposing them), or to face various consequences for themselves and their families. Their decisions, despite always appearing to be their best option, eventually drag them deeper into complicity with the Nazis, so much so that Jürgen becomes a reluctant member of the SS and bears some responsibility for utilising slave labour in terrible conditions. This is such a horrifying thing to witness, especially as the reader is left to wonder what they would have done in a similar situation. They way the scenarios are written, with the Rhodes punished every time they move away from the party goals really ensure that you have no idea how you would have acted it makes some of the reactions from the 1950s American characters sound extremely naïve as a result. This was such a powerful and impressive inclusion from Rimmer and I felt that this brilliant portrayal of the Nazi’s techniques for control of their own citizens added so much to book’s outstanding plot.
With The German Wife, Kelly Rimmer continues to shine as one of Australia’s most exceptional authors of historical dramas. This outstanding contains an extremely moving and heartbreaking tale from some of the darkest moments in 19th century history. With powerful views of life during both the Depression and the rise of the Nazis, readers will quickly become engrossed with this impressive tale and well-written central characters. The German Wife was insanely good and will leave readers stunned with how the story comes together. A deeply memorable and intense read, I cannot recommend this book enough.
Publisher: Picador (Trade Paperback – 22 February 2022)
Length: 406 pages
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Intriguing new author Jessica Stanley produces a compelling Australian political drama, A Great Hope, an intense read that looks at the impact of the mysterious death of a politician on his family, set to the backdrop of a turbulent time in Australian politics.
John Clare was a titan in Australian politics. The head of a powerful union and a key player in the election of Kevin Rudd as prime minister in 2007, he had long been tipped as a future leader himself. Supporting him in his push for power were his elegant wife Grace, his troubled children Sophie and Toby, and Tessa, the mistress he thought would stay secret.
But now John has fallen, brutally, to his death. A terrible accident – or was it?
In the wake of losing John, his inner circle mourn and rage, remembering and trying to forget the many ways he’d loved and disappointed them. An adoring and unreliable father; a grateful and selfish husband; a besotted and absent lover; an authoritative and compassionate leader; a failed politician in an era when party politics failed a nation. As those around him reassess everything they knew of and felt for John, a new idea of what love and power really mean begins to emerge – as does the true cause of his death.
Gripping, propulsive and ambitious, A Great Hope untangles the mystery of John’s fall through the eyes of those who knew him best – or thought they did. Deftly displaying the clash of the political and the personal, this is a novel for our times, from a brilliant and forceful new Australian writer.
This was an excellent novel which I think did a great job telling a unique story by exploring some of the more controversial elements of recent Australian politics. A Great Hope’s story is a great blend of personal drama, political intrigue and contemporary historical fiction, with a little bit of mystery thrown in as various characters attempt to understand the death of John Clare and the impact he had on the world.
Telling the story from a variety of different perspectives, including those of his family, his mistress, and other related figures, Stanley presents a complex and winding narrative that proves to be very compelling at times. Initially set one year after the death of John Clare, the story jumps around the various point-of-view characters, and the readers are shown not only their present situations and opinions but also the origins of the characters as well as the full events that led up to the night John Clare died. While this does produce a cluttered story with a few odd moments (such as the unnecessary and graphic sex scenes), the reader is soon treated to a unique story that cleverly builds up to the finale while also exploring the various key characters. You get a real sense of everyone featured in the novel, especially those closest to John Clare, and their complex lives and relationships with the political heavyweights. Unfortunately, most of these characters are pretty terrible people who are fairly insufferable and hard to enjoy. While this was no doubt the intent, to show the strain and ugliness a political life brings out, there are barely any relatable or redeemable figures here (honestly the only character I particularly liked was the mistress, Tessa, which is a bit odd when you think about it).
While this lack of likeable characters did slow the flow and my enjoyment of the story a little, I managed to power through the last 200 pages in a single sitting. There are some interesting resolutions and revelations towards the end, and I enjoyed seeing some of the storylines come full circle, especially those that are set up in the present and then expanded on in the flashbacks. The resolution of who or what caused the death of John Clare was pretty interesting and a little surprising, but it fit nicely into the unique feel and storytelling of A Great Hope.
One of the most distinctive elements of A Great Hope was the author’s intense and in-depth examination of Australian politics in the early 21st century, particularly around the 2007 and 2010 elections. This is mainly because the author, Jessica Stanley, was herself involved in some of these campaigns, particularly in 2007, when she served as one of the party’s social media consultants (similar to main character Tessa). As such, this book contains some compelling and fascinating insights into the election campaign, candidates, and voters, particularly those associated with Australia’s major left-wing party (the Labor party), which really added to my enjoyment of the book. Some of the more intriguing and compelling political moments of this period are scattered throughout A Great Hope, and I deeply enjoyed seeing the author’s take on what happened and why. The author also examines the growing impact of social media during this time, as well as other intriguing elements about campaigns and party politics. However, readers should be warned that these political elements do start to get very upsetting as the book continues, especially as Stanley dives into the failures of government, the increased political hostility, the rejection of climate change by the opposition, and the inherent sexism that defined the era between 2007 and 2010. This stirred up some unpleasant memories of the political landscape of the time, but I did find this to be an interesting and captivating part of the novel, and I really appreciated how much these unique and realistic inclusions added to the story.
Fantastic new author Jessica Stanley got off to a great start here with A Great Hope, producing an intriguing and distinctive novel that makes excellent use of the author’s political insights. While I had some issues with the story and characters, A Great Hope ended up being quite an entertaining book, and I was very interested in seeing how everything came together, as well as all the clever political inclusions. I look forward to seeing what Stanley writes in the future, especially as there are so many memorable moments in Australian politics to set a story around.
Publisher: Michael Joseph (Trade Paperback – 2 November 2021)
Length: 420 pages
My Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars
Australia’s leading author of the historical drama, Fiona McIntosh, returns with another compelling and intriguing novel, The Spy’s Wife, which takes the reader on an intense and powerful dive into pre-World War II Nazi Germany.
McIntosh is a great author whose work has spanned several genres of fantastic fiction. McIntosh debuted back in 2001 with the fantasy novel Betrayal, the first book in her Trinity trilogy. From there she wrote several fascinating fantasy trilogies, including The Quickening, Percheron and Valisar series, before moving on to other genres. This includes her Jack Hawksworth crime series (initially written under the pen name Lauren Crow) and the Shapeshifter children’s fantasy series. However, in recent years, McIntosh has been best known for her impressive collection of historical drama novels that take the reader on some deep journeys to compelling bygone periods with complex characters and intriguing historical elements. These include The Pearl Thief, The Diamond Hunter and The Champagne War, each of which were excellent reads with some compelling historical hooks to them. Her latest book, The Spy’s Wife, was another amazing read that contained a thrilling plot.
Evie, a widow and stationmaster’s daughter, helplessly looks out for the weekly visit of the handsome man she and her sister call The Southerner on their train platform in the wilds of northern England. When polite salutations shift to friendly conversations, they become captivated by each other’s reticent manner. After so much sorrow, the childless Evie can’t believe love and the chance for her own family has come into her life again.
With rumours coming out of Germany that Hitler may be stirring up war again, local English authorities have warned against spies. Even Evie becomes suspicious of her new suitor, Roger. But all is not what it seems.
When Roger is arrested, Evie comes up with an audacious plan to prove his innocence that means moving to Germany and working as a British counter-spy. Wearing the disguise of dutiful, naïve wife, Evie must charm the Nazi Party’s dangerous officials to bring home hard evidence of war mongering on the Führer’s part.
But in this game of cat and mouse, it seems everyone has an ulterior motive, and Evie finds it impossible to know who to trust. With lives on the line, ultimate sacrifices will be made as she wrestles between her patriotism and saving the man she loves.
From the windswept moors of the Yorkshire dales to the noisy beer halls of Munich and grand country estates in the picture-book Bavarian mountains, this is a lively and high-stakes thriller that will keep you second-guessing until the very end.
This was a really good novel from McIntosh, containing a brilliant and dramatic historical storyline loaded with a ton of intriguing pre-war espionage elements. The Spy’s Wife has a bit of a little slow start while McIntosh sets out the scenario and introduces the main characters and their romantic relationship. While I admit that this initial quarter of the novel did not grab me completely, it did serve as an excellent introduction to the plot, and the rest of the book flowed on extremely well from there. Once the male lead is arrested as a spy the story really starts to pick off, with Evie following her heart and volunteering to head to Germany as a spy. What follows is an intense and captivating read, as Evie gets further and further down the espionage rabbit hole, forced to play the role of a dutiful housewife while threats and dangers lurk around every corner. The story goes in some fantastic directions, and the excellent blend of drama, intrigue and thrilling sequences really helped to produce an impressive and addictive read. I loved seeing the main character’s odyssey in Germany, especially as the unrelenting high-pressure situation leads to some very powerful scenes, and the reader really has no idea if or when tragedy will occur. The story eventually leads to an extremely moving conclusion, which perfectly wraps up some character arcs and ensures that the reader is left reeling and surprised. An overall amazing story, guaranteed to keep you hooked.
McIntosh also features a great range of characters throughout this book who add a lot to the impressive end exciting narrative. The main character is Evie, the titular spy’s wife, a widow whose new love turns out to be a German spy. Evie is a brilliant and charismatic woman who has some amazing reserves of strength and compassion flowing through her. McIntosh does a great job setting her up and there is a real believable transition within her from stationmaster’s daughter to international spy. It was extremely fascinating to see this mostly untrained operative attempt to infiltrate the highest levels of Nazi society and the character puts on a fantastic “brainless woman” act which works extremely well, even if it is extremely counter to her actual character. Evie is matched by her new lover/potential betrayer in Roger/Max, the German spy who is captured by the British before returning to Germany to assist Evie’s mission. Max is an interesting character: a highly regarded German from an old family, who finds himself out of favour due to his first marriage to a Jewish woman. Max was coerced into spying for the Nazis through threats to his half-Jewish son that forced him to help a government he despises. Despite his outward dislike for the Nazis, the reader is never totally certain where his loyalties truly lie, and whether he may betray Evie. This really helps amp up the drama in the novel, especially as these two protagonists have some major confrontations about their roles and their histories. I really appreciated the deep and complex character arc surrounding Max and McIntosh took it to some amazing and compelling places.
I also must really highlight the book’s main antagonist, Giselle, a fanatical Nazi who has been obsessed with Max for years. A dangerous and malicious being, Giselle is immediately shown to be a cruel person by her constant harassment of the protagonists, as well as her kidnapping of Max’s son. McIntosh did an outstanding job with Giselle, turning her into an intense and crazed figure, constantly trying to drive a wedge between Evie and Max while also attempting to prove that Evie is up to something. You really hate Giselle as the book continues, especially as she gets some major victories, and she ended up being an amazing villain who all readers will love to hate. Other characters of note with The Spy’s Wife include a range of fictional and historical figures, including some leading members of the Porsche family, each of whom add a lot to the narrative. All these great characters added a great deal to the plot of the novel, and I really appreciated getting to know them and seeing where their interesting arcs went.
The final thing I wanted to highlight about this book was the impressive and detailed settings. The Spy’s Wife takes the reader to some amazing and beautiful locations, and McIntosh’s amazing and descriptive writing, which was loaded with substantial historical and visual detail, really helped to bring all of them to life. I really enjoyed seeing some of the locations in this book from the picturesque train station in Yorkshire where the story begins, all the way through to Munich and other parts of Germany. Each of these locations was fascinating and compelling in their own right, and I loved how McIntosh tried to infuse them with the pre-war sentiments and worries. I was particularly impressed with the detailed portrayal of the city of Munich, and the reader really gets a sense of its beauty and culture, as well as the impact the Nazis and the upcoming war is having on it. I deeply enjoyed this excellent settings, and McIntosh really used them to full effect to enhance her story, and ensure that the protagonists could observe many intriguing cultural and historical elements.
The Spy’s Wife was another awesome and moving historical drama from Fiona McIntosh, who once again takes the reader on a compelling and powerful journey back in time. Set around several impressive character and containing a deeply captivating historical plot about espionage, love and betrayal, The Spy’s Wife is a fantastic must-read for all historical drama fans.
Publisher: Hachette Australia (Trade Paperback – 1 September 2021)
Length: 452 pages
My Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars
Bestselling Australian author Natasha Lester returns with a powerful and intense historical drama that presents a multigenerational tale of love, loss, culture, and the horrors of the Nazi occupation of France, in The Riviera House.
Paris, 1939. With the war about to start and fears of a Nazi invasion becoming more apparent, Éliane Dufort, a young art student who works part time at the Louvre, watches the staff store away the gallery’s most expensive artworks and begin to hide them throughout France. Determined to survive the upcoming war, the last thing Éliane should have done was fall in love, however when she meets one of her brother’s friends, Xavier, she cannot help herself, and they soon begin a whirlwind romance. However, with the Nazis right outside of Paris, Xavier leaves for England, breaking her heart.
With Xavier gone and most of her family killed by the Nazis as they tried to flee the city, Éliane vows to fight the invaders by any means necessary. Her connection to the Louvre lands her a job working for the enemy in the vast warehouse the Nazis are using to store the artwork looted from France. Working with the legendary Rose Valland, Éliane is tasked with recording every single piece of art that the Germans steal, as well as attempting to discover where they are being sent. However, Éliane soon gains the unfortunate romantic attention of a powerful Nazi officer, while a returning Xavier, now a treacherous art expert working for Hermann Göring, threatens to destroy her cover.
Many years later, vintage fashion expert Remy Lang travels to the French Riviera and arrives at a beautiful house that was part of a mysterious inheritance from her unknown biological parents. Hoping to escape from her intense grief at the loss of her husband and child, Remy soon becomes involved with a visiting family living at the neighbouring villa, including charming photographer Adam. As she attempts to understand her feelings for Adam amidst her sorrow, Remy soon stumbles upon a shocking mystery when she chances upon a catalogue detailing artworks stolen from France during the war, which includes a painting that hung in her bedroom as a child. Determined to get to the bottom of this mystery, Remy attempts to trace her past and the history of the unexplained painting. But the story she uncovers is one of great tragedy and shocking revelations that will change everything Remy thought she knew about her past.
This was an outstanding and deeply impressive historical drama from Natasha Lester, who has previously written some great historical dramas, such as The Paris Secret and The French Photographer. The Riviera House is a particularly compelling and intense novel that perfectly brings two separate timelines together into one moving narrative, while also focusing on two distinctive and complex groups of characters. This results in a brilliant and moving read that is guaranteed to haunt you long after you finish reading.
Lester tells a deep and captivating tale in this novel that is moving, intense and very addictive to behold. The author utilises a split timeline throughout The Riviera House, with one storyline set during World War II in Paris, while the other is based in the modern day and takes place in several locations, although primarily in the French Riviera. The book jumps back and forth between these two timelines, with the speed of transition increasing the closer it gets to the conclusion. Both storylines contain their own plot, characters, and interesting features, and they come together to form quite an intense overarching narrative.
The first storyline of The Riviera House is the World War II storyline, which follows the character of Éliane Dufort. Éliane, after suffering several great losses because of the Nazi invasion, becomes embroiled with the French Resistance and soon gets a job working for the Nazis, assisting in their loot warehouse, and helping historical figure Rose Valland create her record of stolen works. However, the story gets increasingly complicated as the book progresses, with Éliane torn between her remaining family, her love/hate relationship with the traitor Xavier, and her forced relationship with a powerful Nazi member who has fallen for her. The entire story comes to a head in the closing days of the Nazi occupation, when Éliane is forced to risk everything dear to her, and soon encounters just how tragic the war is and how evil people can be, even those closest to you.
This part of The Riviera House is an amazing bit of historical fiction, exploring the history of the time while also featuring an emotional and moving tale of love, hope and courage. I really connected with this half of the novel, due to the thrilling and intense story that shows a grim picture of the period and featuring some memorable moments. The story of Éliane and her family is full of tragedy and suspense, and if you are looking for a happy read than you have come to the wrong place. While I did see most of the major twists coming, I appreciated how this narrative came together, as well as the clever way it led into The Riviera House’s other timeline. I also deeply enjoyed the unique historical aspects of this novel, particularly around the Nazis’ systematic looting of French art. Lester really dove into this part of the war, providing a detailed account how the Germans stole the art, stored it, and eventually shipped it away as the war progressed. This tale features several real-life historical figures who are worked into the plot extremely well and who add an extra layer of authenticity to the tale. One of the most interesting historical figures is Rose Valland, the courageous art historian who risked everything to pull together a record of the looted artwork. Valland, who has inspired characters in films such as The Train or The Monuments Men, was a fascinating character in this novel, and I liked how Lester tied Éliane’s story into that of Valland. I felt that this examination of the Nazi art theft was both fascinating and cleverly utilised, and it helped to provide some extra power and intensity to the novel.
The other timeline in The Riviera House is based in modern times and follows Remy Lang, a fashion figure who is spending time in the French Riviera, trying to escape her grief over the tragic death of her husband and child, and soon meets some new people who help her move on. This storyline was more of a pure dramatic tale and focuses on Remy’s grief, her new romance, and the friction brewing between the family she has just met. I got quite attached to the potent emotional elements featured in this book, especially as Lester really focuses on the lingering impacts of grief, such as the guilt survivors feel when thinking about something new or considering moving on. Add in quite a compelling mystery element to it, as Remy and her new friend Adam start investigating the connection that Remy had to the other story, such as her long-dead biological parents and several mysterious inheritances. These connections to the storyline set in the past compliment the protagonist’s current issues and concerns extremely well, and it was really fascinating to see her work out how her life was shaped by the original protagonists many years before.
I ended up really liking both timelines within the novel, although I did prefer the storyline set in World War II due to its interesting historical research, complex characters riven by war, and terrible tragic moments. I must admit that I am not usually the biggest fan of historical dramas that feature two separate timelines (it really is an overused device in historical dramas). However, I think that it was utilised extremely well in The Riviera House, and the two separate storylines melded together into a fantastic overarching read. I loved how Lester was able to provide subtle hints about the fate of the historical protagonists in the contemporary storylines, although the full revelations about them was often hidden and not revealed until later. I also really appreciated finding out how the events of the World War II story led into the later plot, and the full truth about how everything occurred is not only great to behold in the historical storyline, but it also has some major impacts on the modern-day protagonist. This really enhanced The Riviera House’s plot and the overall drama of the book, and it helped to produce an excellent overall narrative.
I also quickly wanted to highlight some of the cool and fascinating cultural elements that Lester slipped into her novel, particularly around art and fashion. I already mentioned how much I enjoyed the interesting and in-depth examination of the Nazis’ looting and the plans to stop them, however, I also appreciated the way in which Lester examined the art itself, as well as the people who were fighting to protect it. You really get a sense of the beauty and subtlety of the different artworks featured throughout the book, but more than that you also get to explore what makes people passionate for art. This book contains several characters who appreciated the true value that this art had to themselves and the nation, so much so that they were willing to risk their lives for it. This forms a major part of the historical storyline’s plot, and I think that Lester did a wonderful job exploring it. In addition, the contemporary storyline features a compelling examination about the appeals of vintage fashion. Lester, who has previously explored fashion in some of her past novels (for example, a major part of her previous novel, The Paris Secret, revolves around vintage gowns), did a good job explaining the current obsession with vintage fashion, as well as how people can make money off it. While I usually care very little about any sort of clothing fashion, Lester’s descriptions proved to be very intriguing, and I found myself appreciating her obvious passion for the subject. Both these cultural inclusions enhanced the story, especially as they were strongly related to the various protagonist’s motivations and obsessions, and I really appreciated they time that Lester took to feature them.
Overall, I felt that The Riviera House by Natasha Lester was an excellent and well-crafted historical drama with some powerful elements to it. Lester did a wonderful job of crafting a compelling, multi-period storylines that combined historical and contemporary narratives into a single, moving tale. I particularly enjoyed the cool focus on the Nazi occupation and art obsession, which resulted in a thrilling and very tragic tale. The Riviera House is a highly recommended book and a must-read for all fans of historical drama.
Publisher: Allen & Unwin (Trade Paperback – 1 June 2021)
Length: 344 pages
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Impressive debuting Australian author Michelle Wright transports the reader back to the horrors and struggles of occupied Paris with the moving historical drama, Small Acts of Defiance.
May 1940. Following the tragic death of her father, Australian teenager Lucie and her French mother Yvonne are left without any means of supporting themselves in Australia. Reaching out to the only family they have left, Yvonne’s estranged brother Gerard, Lucie and her mother are convinced to journey back to Yvonne’s home city of Paris to live with Gerard in his apartment.
Despite having reservations about leaving for a Europe rocked by the early stages of war, Lucie is quickly enchanted by the beauty and culture of the city. However, shortly after their arrival, disaster strikes and the French army suffers a catastrophic defeat, allowing the Nazis to invade France and occupy Paris. Forced to adapt to the new regime, Lucie and her family attempt to survive as well as they can.
While wishing to remain safe and unnoticed by the Nazis, Lucie is drawn into the conflict when she befriends several people around Paris who resent the German occupation. Encouraged by their strength and determination, Lucie experiments with using her artistic talents to engage in small acts of defiance against the Nazis and the puppet Vichy French government. However, when she witnesses the Nazis’ increased attacks against Paris’s Jewish population and the attitudes of her authoritarian uncle, Lucie is drawn even deeper into the fight. How far will Lucie go to save her new home, and what difference can even a few small acts of defiance truly have?
Small Acts of Defiance was a fantastic and moving novel from a promising new author that did an excellent job highlighting the horrors and troubles of occupied France. Author Michelle Wright, an Australian who has spent considerable time in Paris, has written an outstanding novel with a story that is both beautiful and devastating, as she tells the intriguing and intense tale of Lucie and her experiences during the war.
Wright has produced a fast-paced and deeply moving narrative for Small Acts of Defiance. The author swiftly sets the scene for the main characters of Lucie and her mother, who move to Paris right before the invasion while still dealing with the traumatic aftermath of Lucie’s father’s death. It really does not take long for the historical horror to occur, as Paris is swiftly conquered by the Nazis, although Wright ensures that there is just enough time for Lucie, and the reader, to become enchanted with the city before its occupation. Following the invasion, you are introduced to several great supporting characters who help Lucie to fully see how evil the Nazis and their French collaborators are, especially as some of her new friends are Jewish. This centre part of the novel is great, and it was fantastic to see Lucie find her feet while also starting her initial acts of defiance. However, while all appears mostly right, you know that tragedy is on the horizon, especially as the Jewish characters you become close to slowly have more and more restrictions placed upon them, which can only lead to disaster and despair. Once the inevitable happens, the story really intensifies, as the protagonist witnesses true horrors and atrocities which slowly costs her some people she is really close to. Readers will not be prepared for how dark and tragic the book becomes, although you cannot help but keep reading, especially as there is a little bit of hope for some characters. The conclusion of Small Acts of Defiance is pretty intense and satisfying, especially as the protagonist achieves several great things while there is some good news for the other supporting characters. This entire narrative very well written, and I loved the dramatic and powerful tale that Wright created here. There is so much amazing and moving character development, especially around Lucie, which really grounds the novel and helps keeps the readers glued to the pages. Wright has a real talent for writing hard and dark scenes, and I was utterly enthralled by this powerful story.
I was deeply impressed by the sheer amount of historical detail that Wright put into her debut novel, which is no doubt a side effect of all the time she spent in Paris. The author covers the entirety of the Nazi occupation, from the French defeat, to the chaos of the invasion and the subsequent control of the city by the Germans. There are so many interesting details and facets of history contained within the story, and I found myself getting really engrossed in the spectacular portrayal of this key historical location. Wright spends time focusing on the various attitudes and reactions of the citizens of Paris, which ranged from outrage to acceptance or even outright support of the new regime. The depictions of the puppet Vichy government and its actions was particularly intriguing, especially as the author examines the reason it had some support from the French. This is particularly shown by Lucie’s uncle, an authoritarian former solider who respected the military general put in charge of the country, and who felt disenfranchised by the previous free French government. There was also a lot of focus on the gradual crackdown and eventual deportation of the city’s Jewish population. Due to the protagonist befriending several Jewish characters, you get to see the various restrictive laws come into effect, and the way that the Jewish population was dehumanised and destroyed one step at a time. All of these proved to be deeply fascinating, and I loved how Wright was able to work it all into her intense and excellent story.
One aspect of this historical detail that I found extremely intriguing was the storyline surrounding the protagonist’s attempts at defying the Nazi and Vichy governments. Unlike most historical fiction protagonists who fight back with guns, political speeches or brazen heists, the hero of Small Acts of Defiance at first uses art to subtly push back against authority. This is achieved by drawing pamphlets or subtle symbols of French freedom in the postcards that she sells, small things that could still get her in trouble. As the war progresses, the protagonist gets involved in other small ways, such as helping to pass information to the Allies or assisting the city’s remaining Jewish population. I found these small acts of resistance to be a fascinating part of the book’s plot, and it was rather interesting to see the effect that even these minor actions could have on the character’s moral. It also resulted in some compelling comparison to some of the more radical members of the French Resistance, especially some of Lucie’s friends, who take more drastic actions and face several physical and moral consequences as a result. While Lucie does become more involved later in the book, I felt that it was really intriguing to see the various small, non-violent ways that French citizens could have helped in the war effort, and I think that it was a fantastic part of this captivating narrative.
Small Acts of Defiance was an incredible debut from Australian author Michelle Wright that does an amazing job capturing the tragedy, division and defiance that occurred during Nazi occupation of Paris. Featuring a moving and captivating tale that surrounds one girl’s small attempt to help her friends and her new city, Small Acts of Defiance is an outstanding historical drama that comes highly recommended. I am very intrigued to see what additional novels Wright creates in the future, and I am extremely glad I got the opportunity to read her fantastic first novel.
Originally published in the Canberra Weekly on 13 May 2021.
Make sure to also check out my extended review for The Warsaw Orphan.
Publisher: Hachette Australia (Trade Paperback – 28 April 2021)
Series: Standalone/sequel to The Things We Cannot Say
Length: 416 pages
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Prepare to have your heart broken again and again as Australian author Kelly Rimmer presents a captivating, powerful and dark historical drama, The Warsaw Orphan.
Warsaw, 1942. The Nazis have a firm control over all of Poland and have moved the entire Jewish population into the infamous Warsaw Ghetto. Vastly overcrowded and with limited supplies, life is extremely hard in the Ghetto, and many have given up all hope. For Jewish teen Roman Gorka, all he can do is try to survive and earn enough to keep his family alive. However, when rumours spread through the Ghetto about the Nazi plans to transport them to “work camps” out in the forest, Roman knows that it is time to act. Knowing that the lives of himself and his parents are already forfeit, Roman attempts to find a way to save his younger siblings.
At the same time, a young woman, Elzbieta Rabinek, has just arrived in the city and appears to be a typical Polish girl living with her family. However, Elzbieta is hiding a dangerous secret: her real name is Emilia, and she is the younger sister of an executed Jewish sympathiser. Fleeing her village with her new family, Emilia is kept hidden from any potential pursuers. But when Emilia discovers the truth about the Ghetto, she becomes determined to help and joins an underground group of women working to smuggle Jewish children to safety.
As Emilia becomes more involved with the secret work of her organisation, she soon encounters Roman. Working together to save Roman’s younger sister, the two grow close and soon their fates are inevitably tied together. But when a terrible tragedy strikes, both Roman and Emilia will be thrown into disarray. As Warsaw becomes overwhelmed with fire and despair, can these two young people survive with hope, or will they be washed away in a flood of righteous anger?
Wow, just wow. This was an incredibly touching historical drama that has really impressed me thanks to its moving story and striking portrayals of life in World War II Warsaw. The Warsaw Orphan is the latest novel from Australian author Kelly Rimmer, who has previously produced moving novels such as Truths I Never Told You and Before I Let You Go. The Warsaw Orphan is actually a sequel to Rimmer’s previous book, The Things We Cannot Say, with some of the supporting characters from the previous novel appearing in more prominence in this latest novel.
I was lucky enough to receive a copy of The Warsaw Orphan a few weeks ago and thought it sounded like an intriguing novel, especially as it was from a new-to-me Australian author. Based on the synopsis for the book, I knew going in that this would be a dark and emotionally rich novel, but I was very surprised with how compelling and poignant the narrative it contained would be. Using the perspectives of the two narrators, Roman and Emilia, Rimmer paints a grim and powerful picture of the situation in Warsaw which the two protagonists find themselves in at the start of the book. Both story arcs progress on their own separate way for a while, and it is intriguing to see the different experiences of two people living only a few streets away from each other in Warsaw. It does not take long for the protagonists to encounter each other, combining the narrative together. While the initial joining of their character arcs brings some hope to the story, Rimmer makes sure to quickly crush that with despair and heartbreak as both protagonists experiences tragedy after tragedy, as a series of different historical catastrophes engulf Warsaw and its people. Every time the two central characters appear to be close to some sort of happiness, some new danger or disaster seems to befall them, and the reader is forced to sit back and watch as they endure their latest hardship. While this novel is emotionally tough to read at times, Rimmer’s excellent storytelling ensures that you keep moving forward, especially as you become really invested in the lives of her two protagonists and the struggles of the various peoples of Warsaw. While you may be left emotionally ragged and drained by the end of this book, readers will come away from this story extremely satisfied and with a little bit of hope.
I must really highlight the author’s outstanding and powerful depiction of historical events and places throughout The Warsaw Orphan. Rimmer has clearly done her research on the subject and utilises a lot of fascinating and horrifying historical elements to great effect throughout the narrative. For example, much of the story surrounding Emilia and the organisation she joins that helped to smuggle Jewish children out of the Ghetto is based on real life Polish hero Irena Sendler, with various features of Sendler’s work and personality imparted on some supporting characters. The portrayal of occupied Warsaw is also extremely impressive, and you get a real sense of life in the city. This is especially true of the Ghetto, as the author spends a significant amount of time exploring what happened within. Rimmer pulls no punches when it comes to the horrors of the Ghetto and the brutalities the Nazi regime imparted on the Jewish population. The various descriptions of the Ghetto are extremely harrowing, but through them the reader gets a sense of what the people within would have experienced. I particularly appreciated the way in which she tried to capture the uncertainty that many of the characters, both Jewish and non-Jewish, had about the Nazis’ plans and you get a real sense of the fear and confusion in the lead up to the deportations. Rimmer ends up covering all the key events that occurred in Warsaw between 1942 and 1947, and readers get some powerful and detailed views of the forced deportations to the camps, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the Warsaw Uprising, the German retreat and the subsequent Soviet occupation. The author shows every dark aspect of these historical events as her point-of-view characters find themselves involved in them, often to their great detriment. All these powerful and remarkable historical events and locations serve as a great backdrop to this dramatic tale, and I found it fascinating to learn more about some of these events.
Rimmer has come up with an incredible pair of young point-of-view characters for this book, Roman and Emilia. Roman is a Jewish teen living in the Warsaw Ghetto with his family. Through his eyes you get to see many of the horrors of the Ghetto, starvation, Nazi oppression and the constant fear and death. Rimmer does an impressive job of capturing the inner thoughts and feelings of someone caught up in these terrible events, and I really appreciated the strong sense of survival and desperation you get from him. This quickly morphs in anger, righteousness and revenge when Roman experiences one tragedy too many, and he becomes in a number of dangerous fights against his oppressors. Not only does this result in a number of brutal war sequences, but Rimmer paints a picture of a rebellious soul whose anger and moral outrage overwhelm his senses and force him to do darker and more dangerous deeds. This depiction of anger and rage is quite powerful, and definitely fits an individual who loses everything and does not know what to do.
Emilia, on the other hand, is a somewhat more innocent figure, who, despite not being Jewish, has her own experiences with oppression after witnessing her brother dying in The Things We Cannot Say. Due to the events of this previous book, she has fled to Warsaw with her adoptive parents, hiding under an assumed name. Despite the troubles she is running from, Emilia chafes under the rules her guardians put in place, especially once she learns what is happening in the Ghetto. Despite her fear, uncertainty and loyalty to her guardians’ wishes, Emilia soon becomes involved in the smuggling of children. I really liked how Rimmer decided to utilise her previous character in this novel, and the author does a great job of revisiting parts of her story so that new readers can appreciate what has happened in her past. Emilia proves to be a really interesting character throughout the book, and I loved the contrast in views between her views of Warsaw and Roman’s darker experiences. Watching a non-Jewish citizen experience the horrors of the Ghetto for the first time is pretty moving, and the reader feels a certain kinship to her as they are also witnesses to the various tragedies. I loved the storyline surrounding Emilia joining the movement to save Jewish children, and the author utilises her to tell this group’s very unique tale extremely well.
Both Roman and Emilia have some fantastic storylines in The Warsaw Orphan, and I really liked the way their two separate character arcs come together. These two characters experience an immense amount of grief, regret, violence and despair throughout the book, and their connection is one of the few things to keep them going. Rimmer sets up both characters extremely well throughout The Warsaw Orphan and readers will quickly become obsessed with their unique tales and harrowing experiences. I think both character storylines worked extremely well on their own, but together they tell an even more tragic story, as these two fall in love amongst the worst moments of human history. Seeing the various tragedies and poor decisions that impact their relationship is pretty heartbreaking, and the reader is left in hope that they both survive in the end. I think that Rimmer did an exceptional job creating and developing these two characters, and it is a mark of her writing ability that I ended up caring so much for them both.
The Warsaw Orphan by Australian author Kelly Rimmer is an exceptional and incredible historical drama that comes highly recommended. Rimmer has produced a first-rate story that perfectly utilises two tragic protagonists, an extremely dark and atrocious historical period and an addictive, if tragic, story of love, loss and survival. The Warsaw Orphan is a powerful and compelling book that will stick in your mind long after you finish its final harrowing page.
Publisher: HQ (Trade Paperback – 3 March 2021)
Length: 460 pages
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Interested in a fantastic historical fiction novel that looks at a unique and overlooked part of Australia’s history? Then make sure to check out The Codebreakers by bestselling author Alli Sinclair, an amazing and dramatic novel that I found to be extremely captivating and powerful.
1943, Brisbane: The war continues to devastate and the battle for the Pacific threatens Australian shores. For Ellie O’Sullivan, helping the war effort means utilising her engineering skills for Qantas as they evacuate civilians and deliver supplies to armed forces overseas. Her exceptional logic and integrity attract the attention of the Central Bureau-an intelligence organisation working with England’s Bletchley Park codebreakers. But joining the Central Bureau means signing a lifetime secrecy contract. Breaking it is treason.
With her country’s freedom at risk, Ellie works with a group of elite women who enter a world of volatile secrets; deciphering enemy communications to change the course of the war. Working under immense pressure, they form a close bond-yet there could be a traitor in their midst. Can the women uncover the culprit before it’s too late?
As Ellie struggles with the magnitude of the promise she’s made to her country, a wedge grows between her and those she holds dear. When the man she loves asks questions she’s forbidden to answer, how will she prevent the double life she’s leading from unravelling?
The Codebreakers was an amazing and well-written historical drama from Australian author Alli Sinclair, who has previously penned several other great historical novels. This latest book from Sinclair tells the impressive and captivating tale of some of the most unique women in Australia’s storied war history, the secret codebreakers of Central Bureau. This proved to be an impressive and captivating read that I powered through in a quick amount of time, especially as Sinclair came up with a clever and compelling narrative.
Throughout this outstanding tale, Sinclair not only covers the intricacies of a fascinating group of female codebreakers, also known as the Garage Girls (they worked out of a garage), but also includes some excellent character-driven drama as the protagonist is forced to come to terms with the secrecy of her work as well as the various tragedies that befall her and her friends as the war takes it harsh toll. Throw in an intriguing spy thriller angle, as the Garage Girls find out that one of their own may be a traitor, and this becomes quite an intriguing and exciting read. I loved the great blend of excitement, adventure and tragedy that the author produced, and I really liked how she not only showed the protagonist’s entire tenure with the Garage Girls but also featured the tragic aftermath of the war, where the consequences of the protagonist’s decisions and the loneliness of missing friends and colleagues forces her to choose a different path. Readers will swiftly find themselves very attached to the main protagonist and her amazing story, and I had a great time seeing this entire tale unfold.
I must highlight the excellent historical aspects of The Codebreakers as Sinclair has clearly done some intense research on this period. I really enjoyed the intriguing examination of the Central Bureau codebreakers who were active in Brisbane during WWII and who helped to decrypt transmissions and provide vital information to the Allies. Throughout this great book, Sinclair really goes into great detail about the work the codebreakers would have done and some of the impacts of their work. She also tries to examine the mentality that surrounded these codebreakers, both in their work and outside it, as each codebreaker was forbidden to talk about their work to anyone, both during the war and after it. This proves to be an intriguing and intense central part of the novel’s drama, and it is apparently based on interviews that Sinclair did with surviving members of the real-life Garage Girls. This was an impressive and amazing basis for this great story and I deeply enjoyed learning more about this fascinating and formerly-secret women.
I also enjoyed the way in which the author perfectly captured the feel of mid-war Brisbane throughout The Codebreakers’ story. Sinclair laces her narrative with a lot of fascinating discussions about various military attacks that hit Australia, wartime polices and general thoughts and feelings about the war and the people involved with it. However, I was most impressed with Sinclair’s attempts to capture the mentality of the people on the home front in Brisbane at the time. Not only did you get the frustrations of the common Australian citizen/soldier as they dealt with the deployed American soldiery, but there is also the sadness and regret of those that survived. You could almost feel the despair of several characters in this book, especially after the deaths of some of their loved ones, and it was a truly moving inclusion in this fantastic and powerful read. All of these historical inclusions were really remarkable, and I had an outstanding time exploring Sinclair’s vision of this intriguing and momentous period of Australian history.
The Codebreakers by Alli Sinclair was an awesome and moving historical drama that proved to be an exceptional examination of a truly unique group of Australian women. Sinclair makes perfect use of the amazing historical basis for her novel and turns it into quite an exciting and captivating tale of resilience, friendship and romance, which comes highly recommended. I really enjoyed this fantastic novel and I loved learning so much about the codebreakers of Australia’s Central Bureau.
Publisher: Allen & Unwin (Trade Paperback – 2 February 2021)
Length: 344 pages
My Rating: 4.25 out of 5
Deception, divided loyalties and despair are all on offer in the debut novel of Australian writer Rebecca Starford, who presents a curious and captivating read with The Imitator.
‘We trade in secrets here, Evelyn. There’s no shame in having a few of your own. Our only concern is for who might discover them.’
Out of place at boarding school, scholarship girl Evelyn Varley realises that the only way for her to fit in is to be like everyone else. She hides her true self and what she really thinks behind the manners and attitudes of those around her. By the time she graduates from Oxford University in 1939, ambitious and brilliant Evelyn has perfected her performance.
War is looming. Evelyn soon finds herself recruited to MI5, and the elite counterintelligence department of Bennett White, the enigmatic spy-runner. Recognising Evelyn’s mercurial potential, White schools her in observation and subterfuge and assigns her the dangerous task of infiltrating an underground group of Nazi sympathisers working to form an alliance with Germany.
But befriending people to betray them isn’t easy, no matter how dark their intent. Evelyn is drawn deeper into a duplicity of her own making, where truth and lies intertwine, and her increasing distrust of everyone, including herself, begins to test her better judgement. When a close friend becomes dangerously ensnared in her mission, Evelyn’s loyalty is pushed to breaking point, forcing her to make an impossible decision.
A powerfully insightful and luminous portrait of courage and loyalty, and the sacrifices made in their name.
This ended up being a fantastic and enjoyable read from Rebecca Starford, who has come up with a really intriguing and unique story. Starford is an Australian writer who is probably best known for her work on the Kill Your Darlings magazine, as well as her non-fiction book Bad Behaviour, which chronicled the author’s life at an elite country boarding school. The Imitator, which was also released under the title, An Unlikely Spy, is an impressive and captivating historical drama that follows a young woman who becomes involved with British espionage at the start of World War II.
The Imitator has an interesting and surprising story to it which is guaranteed to grab the reader’s attention all the way up to its final shocking twist. Told from the perspective of protagonist, Evelyn Varley, the story is split into two distinct periods, with some of plot set shortly after the end of World War II, while the rest follows the protagonist during the early days of the war. Most of the narrative is set during the earlier time and examines the protagonist during this period, including her recruitment into MI5 and her eventual work investigating Nazi sympathisers. This proves to be quite a fascinating narrative thread, and I really enjoyed the great blend of historical espionage and the compelling drama surrounding the character and her personal relationships. I was particularly intrigued by the parts of the book that explored Evelyn’s attempts to infiltrate a major group of Nazi sympathisers, especially as she is forced to alter her personality to fit into the tight-knit group of fascists. Starford also includes several chapters set after the war which show Evelyn dealing with the aftermath and her actions during the conflict. These post-war sequences compliment the rest of the story extremely well, and hint at tragic consequences to what she did after she is contacted by people from her past. However, readers are in for quite a shock, as these later sequences are shown to be a major bait and switch. Instead of the conclusion that you would generally expect in one of these stories, Starford puts in a particularly major and dramatic twist which really changes the entire tone of the narrative. This twist was a brilliant master stroke from the author, especially as it switches around the implications for the post-war chapters and shines a whole new light on everything. I was really impressed with this amazing narrative, especially once you realise how the author set up the clever ending, and this was truly an awesome and memorable story.
One of the things that I really liked about The Imitator was the fantastic historical setting of London during the early period of World War II. Starford did a great job of highlighting what life during this period would have been like, from the early actions of organisations such as MI5, to the feelings of the populace, most of whom were convinced that the war would be fought far away or would not happen at all. I was also really impressed by the author’s examination and dramatization of several intriguing real-life historical events that occurred during this period. The character of Evelyn Varley is based upon the real life of MI5 operative Joan Miller, who infiltrated a major Nazi sympathiser movement, known as the Right Club, in London back in 1939. Many details about the Right Club are fitted into the book and used as the basis for the Nazi group the protagonist infiltrates. While there are several name changes, the fictional group closely matches what actually happened with the Right Club and MI5’s mission to infiltrate it. I felt that Staford did an amazing job exploring this group and the mission of Joan Miller, and it proved to be an exceptional and clever base to this awesome story.
I also must compliment the compelling and intriguing protagonist of this novel, Evelyn, who serves as the main point-of-view character for the story. Evelyn is a complex individual with a number of features formed during her harsh early life at a prestigious private boarding school. Thanks to her less affluent parents, Evelyn does not really fit in with the richer students and is soon forced to adopt a much different persona, which is helped by the relationship she forms with the family of her one friend at the school. This ability to change her persona becomes particularly important later in life when she begins her career in espionage and must show a false side to herself to people she is trying to take down. Starford has written a fantastically complex character here in Evelyn, and I really appreciated the way in which the author examines what events or personality traits a successful undercover spy might need to have. I also liked the way in which we get to see the character at different parts of her life as the book progresses, such as her innocent pre-war life, her experiences as a seasoned infiltrator and her reflections as a damaged survivor. These various periods of her life and the different personalities are very dramatic and intriguing, and I found it fascinating to see how the author envisioned her changing personality. Starford also writes in an extremely good storyline around the protagonist’s twisted loyalties, which forces her to choose between the safety of her country and the people closest to her. These conflicting loyalties and friendships take Eveyln in some dark places and I really must applaud the clever and powerful narrative that Starford constructed around this great character.
Overall, The Imitator by Rebecca Starford is an exceptional and captivating read that comes highly recommended. I really enjoyed this fantastic book’s clever blend of historical fiction, espionage and dramatic storylines, and I had a wonderful time getting through all of The Imitator’s compelling twists and revelations. An outstanding read that is guaranteed to stick in the mind long after you have finished reading it.