Book Review: The London House

10 Nov

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.

Katherine Reay is the national bestselling and award-winning author of Dear Mr. KnightleyLizzy and Jane, The Brontë Plot, A Portrait of Emily PriceThe Austen Escape, and The Printed Letter Bookshop. All Katherine’s novels are contemporary stories with a bit of classical flairKatherine 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.


My Impressions:

I just closed the cover of Katherine Reay‘s latest novel, The London House, and all I can manage to say is WOW! Okay, that is not going to suffice for a review, so bear with me as I try to put into words all the feelings and emotions and ruminations that accompanied my reading experience. First, let me say that The London House is an exceptionally well-written novel. It is told from the first person POV of Caroline Payne, a young woman who has been dealing with emotional turmoil, grief, and perceived rejection for most of her life. She is our modern-day connection to the history of her family, and specifically her grandmother, Margaret and her great-aunt Caro. Their two stories are told in a series of letters and diary entries that Reay masterfully wove into a tale of betrayal and unforgiveness, courage and triumph. Caroline is determined to set the story straight about just what happened to her great-aunt during WWII and the examine the impact her choices made on the whole family from that point on to the present. Helping her is Mat, a long lost friend who shatters Caroline’s equilibrium. All of the characters within The London House are flawed and real and highly relatable. Their past sins and past failures resonated with this reader. All have a long way to grow, and Reay does a great job of exposing and exploring their personalities. The main story is full of mystery. What-ifs of the spy rings of the early days of the war kept me turning the pages. I have to admit that I did have a hard time with the beginning of the book — there seemed to be a lot of chaos surrounding the characters and their stories. But I think that was the point. The book takes all those loose ends and weaves a story full of hope and redemption. There is an overarching theme of perception vs truth. We often think that a thing is true because we perceive it to be. But as the character’s discover reality or history based on perceptions alone is flawed from the beginning. I loved how Reay inserted C. S. Lewis’ radio broadcasts that were part of the time period and used them to assert that there are absolute truths, whether we care to believe that or not. I found this message in The London House pertinent for today — not only in the world in which we live, but in my own personal life. This book made me think! And isn’t that a great bonus to a riveting story?! The historical details are fascinating, and I loved vicariously visiting modern day London and Paris.

The London House is perfect for those who like time-slip novels, WWII tales, and family relationship dramas. It is also for those who love an excellently told story. It is also perfect for a book club. You will want to talk about this book. As an additional bonus, one of the characters cooks. I found a new favorite recipe inspired by my reading — Lemon Olive Oil Cake. Google it and then make it, You will love it too! 😉

Very Highly Recommended.

Great for Book Clubs.

Audience: Adults.

(Thanks to the publisher for a complimentary copy. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)

2 Responses to “Book Review: The London House”

  1. Gretchen November 10, 2021 at 8:20 pm #

    I am reading this right now! Glad to see you highly recommend it. So far I am really enjoying it.

  2. Laurel Ann Nattress November 12, 2021 at 6:21 pm #

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Beckie. I am glad that you enjoyed The London House. Thanks for participating in the tour. Best, LA

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