1940 - Stasia always found comfort in the idyllic French countryside where she spent her childhood summers, roaming the gardens of an old chateau and finding inspiration for fairy tales full of bravery and adventure. But these days are much darker, and with Nazis storming across Europe, she soon finds herself one of the most hunted agents of the Resistance. The only safe haven she can think of is Chateau de Montissaire. But she’s about to discover that it just may be the center of her biggest mission yet.
Present day - When Isabelle purchases a crumbling chateau in Rouen, it’s not just a renovation project—it’s a chance to reconnect with her sister, Emilie, the only family she has left. What she uncovers instead is an intriguing mystery… As the siblings piece together the incredible truth behind the books written by their great-grandmother Stasia, they discover an exciting story of courage in the face of treachery and an explosive secret that will change everything they believed about their family.
Kelly Bowen has written another compelling, dual-timeline, WWII/Present Day novel that sucked me in and refused to let go. In the present day, we get dreams realized, complicated family dynamics, a possible romantic connection, and an unexpected - no, shocking - revelation about a beloved great-grandmother. I enjoyed Isabelle's journey but the heart of this book takes place some eighty years earlier, in the days leading up to WWII and those that followed during and after the Nazi invasions across Europe.
Nobody lives through a war and emerges unscathed. Childhood friends, and later sweethearts, Stasia and Nicholas certainly don't. What befalls them over the course of four years, both individually and as a couple, is immense. It can't help but change them, sending each on different paths of growth and evolution. Bowen conveys these changes in organic, breath-stealing, deeply emotional ways as the world they've known implodes around them. The changes are particularly immense within Stasia as the scenes in the Netherlands show in gut-wrenching ways.
Friendship - and it's impact on each of these characters - is a key facet of this book. The bonds between Stasia and Nicholas, Stasia and her school friend Margot, and Nicholas and fellow seaman Oscar are strong and enduring whether they are together or not. Their trust, admiration, respect, and affection, forged in the fires of combat, and in the perilous streets of Nazi-occupied Amsterdam, have an incalculable impact upon the lives - and actions - of each of them. I was with them every step of their journeys, feeling their fear, devastation, anger, and determination. These characters were developed to the point where I was almost certain that if I had researched their names in historical documents I would have found evidence of their daring, patriotic exploits...and of their enduring love.
Bowen's books are well researched and authentic to time and place. Reading this novel was like watching the triumphs - and horrors - of WWII come to life across my mind. There are scenes that broke my heart and left me sobbing. Others that still haunted me weeks after reading them. Ultimately, I was left with admiration and respect for those ordinary (but in reality, extraordinary) citizens who, without being asked, put their lives on the line daily while helping to save the world from the evil of the Nazi empire, expecting nothing in return. Those like Stasia who, after the war, built new lives, not forgetting, but never divulging, their roles in winning the war for freedom.
I highly recommend The Garden of Lost Secrets.
Do you enjoy WWII novels or movies?
Are there any authors writing in this era that you would recommend?
Have you read Kelly Bowen yet? Either her WWII novels or her historical romances?
One person who posts a comment before 11:00 PM, May 17 will receive a print copy of The Garden of Lost Secrets.
*Must be 18
Thank you to Forever for the generous donation of today's giveaway.