#BookReview The Girl from Vichy by Andie Newton @Aria_Fiction

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Girl from Vichy by Andie Newton. My thanks to Vicky Joss at Head of Zeus for inviting me to take part in the tour and for my digital review copy via NetGalley.

cover194781-mediumAbout the Book

1942, occupied France. As the war in Europe rages on, Adèle Ambeh dreams of a France that is free from the clutches of the new regime. The date of her marriage to a ruthless man is drawing closer, and she only has one choice – she must run.

With the help of her mother, Adèle flees to Lyon, seeking refuge at the Sisters of Notre Dame de la Compassion. From the outside this is a simple nunnery, but the sisters are secretly aiding the French Resistance, hiding and supplying the fighters with weapons.

While it is not quite the escape Adèle imagined, she is drawn to the nuns and quickly finds herself part of the resistance. But her new role means she must return to Vichy, and those she left behind, no matter the cost.

Each day is filled with a different danger and as she begins to fall for another man, Adèle’s entire world could come crashing down around her.

Adèle must fight for her family, her own destiny, as well as her country.

Format: ebook (306 pages)                 Publisher: Aria
Publication date: 13th August 2020 Genre: Historical Fiction

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My Review

Set in World War 2, The Girl from Vichy is a drama-filled story of life in the French Resistance. The girl of the title is Adèle Ambeh who, having taking sanctuary in the convent of Notre Dame de la Compassion to escape marriage to a man she has come to despise, soon discovers there is more going on there than prayer and painting. In fact, the convent is cover for a Resistance network. Soon Adèle is recruited into the Resistance and witnesses first-hand the consequences of discovery or betrayal.

A novel featuring the French Resistance enters a fairly crowded field, jostling for attention with books such as Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale or Kate Mosse’s Citadel. However, being set after the armistice with Germany and France’s separation into “Free” and “Occupied” zones provides a fresh slant. The author vividly conveys the divisions between those who supported the Vichy regime led by Marshall Pétain and those who opposed it, seeing it (rightly) as little more than a puppet of the Reich. These were divisions that were played out within communities, within families, between friends and even between husbands and wives.

The mission Adèle is given underlines those divisions only too clearly when she is asked to get close to the man from whom she originally fled, now an influential member of the Vichy police force. Able to receive or grant favours on a whim, he’s also a ruthless hunter of Resistance members.

I liked the way the book sheds a light on the different motives of those who joined the Resistance, whether that’s fighting to restore the freedom of France, the desire to rid the world of evil or for reasons of a more personal nature. And conversely how, in a time of uncertainty and scarcity, it may take very little for someone to be tempted into the role of informer.

The Girl from Vichy is set in a fascinating period of history with many dramatic, occasionally shocking moments, especially towards the end of the book. I found myself drawn into Adèle’s story, applauding her bravery (and that of the real-life women on whom her character is based) and wondering how events would unfold. As the book illustrates, even in time of war people experience loss and find love but they also learn what human beings are capable of – both the worst and, more importantly, the best. As her mother reminds Adèle, “We do what we have to do. When we have to.

In three words: Dramatic, emotional, absorbing

Try something similar: Flight Before Dawn by Megan Easley-Walsh

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Annie Newton author The Girl From VichyAbout the Author

Andie Newton is an American writer living in Washington State with her husband and two boys. She writes female-driven historical fiction set in WWII. The Girl I Left Behind was her first novel. She would love to say she spends her free time gardening and cooking, but she’s killed everything she’s ever planted and set off more fire alarms than she cares to admit. Andie does, however, love spending time with her family, ultra trail running, and drinking copious amounts of coffee.

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#BookReview Katheryn Howard: The Tainted Queen by Alison Weir


cover180777-mediumAbout the Book

A naive young woman at the mercy of her ambitious family.

At just nineteen, Katheryn Howard is quick to trust and fall in love. She comes to court. She sings, she dances. She captures the heart of the King. Henry declares she is his rose without a thorn. But Katheryn has a past of which he knows nothing. It comes back increasingly to haunt her. For those who share her secrets are waiting in the shadows, whispering words of love… and blackmail.

Format: ebook (478 pages)                Publisher: Headline
Publication date: 6th August 2020 Genre: Historical Fiction

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My Review

Katheryn Howard: The Tainted Queen is the fifth book in Alison Weir’s Six Tudor Queens series. I’ve read all the previous books with the exception of Anna of Kleve which is patiently waiting on my bookshelf. Perhaps conscious of previous criticism, Alison Weir writes in her Author’s Note, “Apart from fictionalising the historical record, I have invented very little.” The result is a convincing account of the character traits and events that led to Katheryn Howard’s tragic end.

Written in the first person, the reader gets a picture of a naive young woman who lacks the awareness or guidance to realise how the foolish mistakes she makes whilst in the household of the Duchess of Norfolk will come back to haunt her. The author depicts a surprisingly licentious atmosphere amongst the young men and women of the household with frequent midnight “feasts” that don’t only involve food. Katheryn is drawn into this activity, conducting affairs with firstly her music tutor and then with Francis Dereham. If the book is an accurate reflection of the amount of sexual activity taking place, given the primitive methods of contraception available it’s surprising no pregnancies ensued.

I confess I struggled to maintain my interest in this section of the book with its accounts of nightly youthful indiscretions. And I found some of the writing rather laughable. Examples such as “Pulling down his hose, he entered her and rode her like a stallion” or “For answer, he took her hand and guided it inside his codpiece”. However, during this period an important exchange takes place between Katheryn and Francis, the effect of which will prove pivotal later.

Because of her youth and beauty, Katheryn becomes a valuable pawn in the hands of her Howard relatives, who seek both power and the restoration of the Catholic faith. She is dangled in front of the King in an effort to encourage him to divorce Anna of Kleve. Katheryn goes along with this out of gratitude to them for rescuing her from a life of relative poverty and because she is dazzled by the thought of becoming queen. “The prospect thrilled her, colouring everything else.” The idea of being shown deference, wearing gorgeous clothes and jewellery, living in splendid palaces, having servants dancing attendance on her and obeying her every whim is irresistible. I could actually see how the opulence of court life would turn a young girl’s head. Despite her disappointment at her first sight of the now ageing and obese Henry, she concludes: “She could do it if she had to. For the first time, she knew herself to be as ambitious as the rest of her family. If submitting to the King’s desires was the price of her elevation, she would pay it.”

Although Henry’s eagerness to marry Katheryn is undoubtedly driven by lust and the need to secure the succession, in the author’s hands the reader sees a real tenderness develop between the two. For me, this part of the book, describing the relationship between Katheryn and Henry, and detailing daily life at Court or whilst on progress around the country was one of the most fascinating and compelling.

Despite everything she has achieved, the King’s obvious devotion to her and the example set by the demise of Anne Boleyn, Katheryn foolishly sets out on a course of action that will ultimately result in her downfall and death. It left me thinking “You silly, silly girl” especially when she fails to see how she is being manipulated or, at best, being given extremely poor advice.

This is the point where the limitations of the author’s decision to write in the first person become evident. As she herself admits in her Author’s Note, because the reader is never privy to the thoughts of Henry, it is impossible to explore the possibility that he did not want Katheryn to be condemned to death. The author points to signs of his initial leniency, such as the fact she was not sent directly to the Tower of London, arguing that he may have been influenced by reformers on his Council who seized the opportunity to remove a Catholic queen and bring down the Howards in one fell swoop.

One very interesting point Alison Weir makes, which is unknown to Katheryn and therefore to the reader as well – because we only know what she knows – is that she might have saved her life if she had admitted to a pre-contract with Dereham. As Alison explains, “If she had never been the King’s legal wife, she could not be accused of adultery, only bigamy, with the second marriage being rendered invalid. Bigamy was seen as a spiritual offence…it did not become a felony until 1604.” For me, this made the final chapters all the more poignant.

I received an advance review copy courtesy of Headline via NetGalley.

In three words: Detailed, dramatic, moving

Try something similarInnocent Traitor by Alison Weir

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Alison WeirAbout the Author

Alison Weir is the biggest-selling female historian (and the fifth best-selling historian) in the United Kingdom since records began in 1997. She has published twenty-three titles and sold more than 3 million books – over a million in the UK and 2.2 million in the USA. She is now working on two concurrent series of books: Six Tudor Queens, comprising six novels on the wives of Henry VIII and England’s Medieval Queens, a quartet of historical works of non-fiction.

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