What’s Ashley Reading?: Mistress of the Ritz

Mistress of the Ritz by Melanie Benjamin

First line: Blanche is dead.

Summary: Blanche Auzello, the wife of the Ritz hotel director, is living a beautiful life in Paris until June 1940 when the Nazis invade. They take over the grand hotel and life changes drastically. Life under the occupation becomes strained especially for Blanche who is hiding a secret that could potentially harm her and those she loves. However, she and her husband are determined to do what they can for France and the staff of the Ritz, even if it means their lives are forfeit.

My Thoughts: I am a big fan of Melanie Benjamin. Her novels are always very interesting and filled with fascinating women. I had never heard of Blanche or her husband before picking up this novel. It sounds like life in Paris was very tense during the occupation but not nearly as bad as I imagined it would be. It seems as if people continued to live life as normal as possible during those years.

Melanie Benjamin at Watermark books on May 28, 2019.

One of the issues I had with the story was that it seemed to almost center on her husband, Claude, rather than her. He references her often and thinks about her during his chapters but he almost takes over the narrative. And strangely I enjoyed his storyline more than hers. He could be a jerk but his story was more interesting except for when Blanche was with her friend, Lily.

FYI: Perfect for fans of Kate Quinn’s book, The Alice Network.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Last Year of the War

The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner

First line: I’ve a thief to thank for finding the one person I need to see before I die.

Summary: Elise Sontag, a fourteen year old girl from Iowa, has her life turned upside down when her father is arrested on the suspicion of being a Nazi sympathizer. Her family is sent to an internment camp in Texas where she meets her best friend, a Japanese girl named Mariko. They spend several months together before Elise’s family is deported back to Germany. In the hopes of keeping their friendship alive the two exchange letters but it is difficult with the ongoing war. However, Elise keeps up hope that after the war ends she will be able to return to America and see her best friend again.

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed this story. The last several books have not been as good as Secrets of a Charmed Life which was my first book I read by Susan Meissner. It is a topic that has not been talked about much and it could be because it is embarrassing but it is our history and we need to acknowledge it. And learn from it too. I cannot imagine how shocking it would be to have everything taken from you and being forced to live in basically a prison. Then to be sent back to a land that they had left or never even lived before. Especially with a war on and cities are being heavily bombed. How do you rationalize that?

The time spent in camp was actually a very small part of the book. Most of it took place in Germany after Elise’s family is repatriated. I liked listening to her story as she navigates this foreign land in wartime. She did not speak German which put her in a tight spot since the Germans were at war with America. I highly recommend this to anyone who loves a story set during World War II.

FYI: Definitely check out Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Only Woman in the Room

The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict

First line: My lids fluttered open, but the floodlights blinded me for a moment.

Summary: Hedy Kiesler was a young actress in Austria in 1933 when she meets Fritz Mandl, a munitions manufacturer. Her parents urge her to marry him in order to keep her safe with the threat of Nazi Germany looming over much of Europe. However, married life is not what she imagined. After fleeing her husband and the coming war, she travels to Hollywood and becomes the famously beautiful, Hedy Lamarr. As the path to war progresses, Hedy is determined to help save as many people as she can, even with very unconventional ways.

Highlights: Going into this novel I knew next to nothing about Hedy Lamarr. The one interaction with her was on the show, Timeless. I think this is one reason that I devoured this book. I did not know what to expect. Many authors have been taking readers back to the golden days of Hollywood but this is by far my favorite! Marie Benedict does a fantastic job of blending truth and fiction.

Hedy is not the normal Hollywood actress. She had other interests and was very intelligent. Her work on the guidance systems for torpedoes was leagues ahead of anyone else. It took months of work but she was not taken seriously by the men of the time. The technology is still used today in cell phones! Even though she has been called the most beautiful woman in the movies she wanted to be defined by more than that.

“Let me understand.  You are turning down our invention—which would have made your fleet unsurpassed in ocean warfare—because I’m a woman?  A famous one that you’d rather have shilling war bonds than helping build effective systems?  I can do both, you know—sell bonds and assist with your torpedoes, if that’s what it takes.”

After finishing her story I picked up the documentary, Bombshell, which goes past Benedict’s narrative but is a great companion to it. As with all the other Hollywood stories, I had to interlibrary loan several of Hedy’s movies. I cannot wait to watch them!

Lowlights: At first I was irritated that we spent such a long time in Austria and centering around her life with her husband as I read though the pacing made more sense. When Hedy arrives in the United States, she feels the guilt of leaving behind her loved ones. In addition, the knowledge she gains from her time with her husband help inform her for her inventions. I was sad that it ended so soon when there was still so much of her life to live but I think that now I have had time to reflect that the author made a good choice of ending it where she did.

FYI: If you enjoyed this than try books by Susan Meissner and Melanie Benjamin.

**Release date: January 8, 2019**