I am thrilled to participate in the blog tour for The London House by Katherine Reay!
When I learned about this tour, I was so excited because Katherine Reay is one of my favorite contemporary fiction authors. I was even more intrigued by this book because it is set both in the present and during WWII. I loved experiencing this new novel from her!
There is so much that intrigued me about this book…
- The dual timelines
- A family centered mystery
- London setting (at least in part)
- Katherine Reay’s fantastic characters
I’m definitely a Katherine Reay fan and have loved the 5 other books by her that I have read. She writes beautifully about the struggles and triumphs of life and this one is no different. I really enjoyed this novel set in one of my favorite cities in the world, written in dual timelines and centered around a fantastic cast of complex characters.
Thank you to Katherine Reay and the publisher for the advance reader copy of the novel. All opinions are my own.
Book Summary: “Uncovering a dark family secret sends one woman through the history of Britain’s World War II spy network and glamorous 1930s Paris to save her family’s reputation.
Caroline Payne thinks it’s just another day of work until she receives a call from Mat Hammond, an old college friend and historian. But pleasantries are cut short. Mat has uncovered a scandalous secret kept buried for decades: In World War II, Caroline’s British great-aunt betrayed family and country to marry her German lover.
Determined to find answers and save her family’s reputation, Caroline flies to her family’s ancestral home in London. She and Mat discover diaries and letters that reveal her grandmother and great-aunt were known as the “Waite sisters.” Popular and witty, they came of age during the interwar years, a time of peace and luxury filled with dances, jazz clubs, and romance. The buoyant tone of the correspondence soon yields to sadder revelations as the sisters grow apart, and one leaves home for the glittering fashion scene of Paris, despite rumblings of a coming world war.
Each letter brings more questions. Was Caroline’s great-aunt actually a traitor and Nazi collaborator, or is there a more complex truth buried in the past? Together, Caroline and Mat uncover stories of spies and secrets, love and heartbreak, and the events of one fateful evening in 1941 that changed everything.
In this rich historical novel from award-winning author Katherine Reay, a young woman is tasked with writing the next chapter of her family’s story. But Caroline must choose whether to embrace a love of her own and proceed with caution if her family’s decades-old wounds are to heal without tearing them even further apart.“
A well developed dual timeline is one of my favorite ways to tell a story. I love getting details from both time periods and piecing together how it all fits together. This novel does this so well! We have the present day with Caroline’s search for truth and the years leading up to WWII with Caro and Margo’s childhood and experiences in that war. I felt that the transitions between time periods were smooth and easy to follow. Reay gives readers useful but not obvious clues about what we will read in the journals or letters. So keeping oriented to the changing time periods is smooth. I love all the historical details throughout the novel from C. S. Lewis’ radio broadcasts to references to famous dresses to conditions in London during the Blitz. And I loved the beautiful way Reay describes both time periods especially the London House itself and how it changes for the people who live there.
The characters are brilliant; their personalities are beautifully written giving them depth and complexity. I am always impressed by Reay’s characters. These are people who have difficulties without easy solutions. They experience loss, trauma, fear, and pain. Sometimes they are lost, looking for a purpose or a way to fix relationships. But what I love most is the way her characters are able to find joy, hope, and peace. They are able to build or rebuild relationships. And their journeys feel real rather than forced. The characters in The London House are complex and fascinating to watch. Caroline, our protagonist, begins the story feeling fearful, lost, and shut out. She doesn’t understand her family’s story which sets her on a journey to uncover the whole truth. I loved her journey to self awareness and forgiveness. I enjoyed the complexities of Caroline’s parents and how they deal with grief and pain. Mat was intriguing because of his search for truth, attempts to understand history, and desire for love. Perhaps most of all, I loved Caro and Margo. Their story is one of tragedy and love, loyalty and secrets. I was fascinated by their history and loved getting to know them alongside Caroline and Mat.
I loved the way the story is told not just as a narrative but also in journal entries and letters. We get a different unique points of view from each format. In the traditional narrative sections, we get inside Caroline’s head. And we see the family scandal inherited through the generations. But we also see connections between Caroline and her grandmother and great aunt. We see their similarities as they search for truth. Pairing that perspective with Caro and Margo’s views is beautifully done. We get to see Caroline’s search for truth while also learning about what really happened. And I loved the prologue and epilogue! The subtle differences between the sisters’ descriptions of similar events were striking. They see the world so differently at times, but they always return to each other. Their relationship felt so real, like my relationships with my own siblings. They fight, they share secrets, they keep secrets, and they love each other fiercely. The medium that tells their story adds to the depth of emotion and intensity of the end.
Throughout this novel, I was struck by the beautiful writing and powerful themes. The plot is engaging and mysterious but what makes this book stand out even more is the writing. Reay writes beautifully! She weaves themes such as redemption, love, truth, right versus wrong, and more seamlessly into the story. And Reay creates her scenes so clearly and beautifully. I love the descriptions of Caroline’s mother’s renovations on the London House. I could see each room and wanted to experience being there. I could feel the tension in the Waite family dinners. I could almost smell the air along the Seine. And no one writes a description of food more beautifully than Katherine Reay. The ways she describes meals as experiences and connects emotions to food are gorgeous.
Overall, I was captivated by this novel. The characters were well developed, the settings were beautifully created, and I loved the search for truth and peace. This makes me want to reread some of my favorite Katherine Reay novels to experience some of my favorite stories again. She writes powerful and relatable stories that I continue to think about long after I finish them. One of my favorite reads of this year!
What are your favorite WWII set novels?
Do you enjoy stories with dual timelines? Why or why not?
Katherine Reay is the national bestselling and award-winning author of Dear Mr. Knightley, Lizzy and Jane, The Brontë Plot, A Portrait of Emily Price, The Austen Escape, and The Printed Letter Bookshop. All Katherine’s novels are contemporary stories with a bit of classical flair. Katherine holds a BA and MS from Northwestern University, graduating Phi Beta Kappa, and is a wife, mother, former marketer, and avid chocolate consumer. After living all across the country and a few stops in Europe, Katherine now happily resides outside Chicago, IL.
To see more of my reviews of Katherine’s novels, see the links below: