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.
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.
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
FYI: Perfect for fans of Kate Quinn’s book, The Alice Network.
First line: Goldengrove devoured my sister every time I closed my eyes.
Charlotte Smith is the daughter of a wealthy San Francisco business
man. She is engaged to a respectable man. Her manners and comportment
are perfect. However, her sister Phoebe has fits of depression or
energy. Her parents do not know what to do with her. Their only hope is
to send her to a respected asylum for women called Goldengrove.
Charlotte loves her sister and is determined to get her out of the
asylum. She devises a plan to be admitted to the asylum in order to find
and rescue her sister. When Charlotte arrives at Goldengrove she
realizes that her plan may not be as easy as she originally thought.
My Thoughts: The story took a little while to gather momentum. The first several chapters were devoted to giving a little backstory but once Charlotte enters the asylum everything picks up. Quoting one of the reviewers I follow on Goodreads, “…the chick in this book is cray cray!!” Why do you think that walking an insane asylum is going to be easy. She figures that she can just waltz out with her sister once she finds her. Even though her main goal is to find her sister, she learns a lot about the struggles that women have to face out in the world. She was raised very sheltered and wealthy where these hardships are not shared. I loved seeing her growth.
Most of the story is told through Charlotte’s
thoughts rather than interactions and conversation. This style makes the
reading a little slower but as a reader you can tell that the author
did a lot of research in order to fill out her novel. Everything down to
the specific treatments to the activity at docks in San Francisco.
other women at the asylum though were hands down my favorite part. Each
of them had a story to tell even though we get it in bits and pieces.
Hearing how easily a wife, daughter or sister can be discarded is so
sad. If you wanted to do or be anything other than what was expected you
were clearly “insane”. It makes me want to scream at the injustice that
they faced. And the women that were truly disturbed did not get the
help they needed. Be ready for a look into a cruel world but it will
also give you the feels for how much Charlotte and Phoebe truly care for
each other. I hope that I would do something this crazy for my sister
if the time ever came around.