R E V I E W :: That Summer in Berlin by Lecia Cornwall

That Summer in Berlin
Lecia Cornwall
Publication Date: October 11, 2022

Viviane Alden is much more interested in taking pictures than marrying, but a career in photography is verboten for a woman of her station. Still, she secretly sells her impressive images to newspapers. When her mother presses her to find a suitable match, Viviane agrees instead to chaperone her sister Julia as she visits Germany for the summer, culminating in a trip to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, the games in which Jesse Owens won four gold medals.

Although Winston Churchill was already predicting a second major war, and some suspected Hitler was putting together an army and mass producing arms, most had no stomach for another conflict in the region and were placated by the new ruler’s reassurances. Tom, a journalist and acquaintance of Viviane, is pressed into service by the English government trying to learn as much as possible about Germany’s secrets while covering the games. Familiar with Viviane’s skills, Tom asks her to partner with him to expose the truth. She agrees: as an upper class English woman on holiday, she would be above suspicion.

Guests of Count Georg von Schroeder, Viviane and Julia are given VIP treatment. Not only is von Schroeder respected, his wife aspires to position her sons, Otto, an SS officer, and Felix, a scientist, to succeed in the new regime. In contrast, Georg hopes the English debutantes will temper his sons’ extreme views.

Viviane knows of Hitler’s hateful sentiments and has heard of rumors of work and killing camps, but with an influx of foreign visitors, all antisemitic messaging has been removed. Still, she is determined to collect valuable photographs. She’s confident her nationality will keep her safe, but getting intelligence requires risk. At the same time, her principles are tested when she is asked to provide assistance that could put her life in danger.

That Summer in Berlin highlighted the seductive appeal of Hitler’s pageantry and propaganda to both Germans and English while showing how Germans were surveilled and punished if they did not conform (and though despite that some resisted). It illustrates the nurturing and complicity with totalitarianism, an issue increasingly important.

Determined, headstrong, and principled, Viviane is as fetching a character as Julia is frustrating. The final scenes before the epilogue have a Bourne-Identity-level action and intensity.

Thanks so much to @netgalley and @berkleypub for an advanced reading copy of the book and to @berittalksbooks for organizing the #berkleywritesstrongwomen #berkleybuddyreads!

R E V I E W: The London House by Katherine Reay

Thanks to Harper Muse Books and TLC Book Tours for including me in the book tour for The London House by Katherine Reay.

Caroline Payne, who was named after her great aunt who died of polio, left law school to be near her family in Boston. She receives a surprise visit from Mat Hammond, a college classmate, now historian, who learned shocking information about Caroline’s family. Her namesake didn’t die young, as she was told, but actually abandoned her family and country to marry her lover, a Nazi officer. At first, Caroline is incredulous but then realizes that secrecy and disappointment have shaped her family. She decides to visit the family’s ancestral home in London to uncover the truth.

Ensconced in a trunk in the attic, Caroline finds letters, diaries, photographs, and other  keepsakes. The letters reveal a fashionable Parisian scene around the House of Schiaparelli but also point to the horrors of living under Nazi rule.

London, Paris, WWII, dual timelines, a promising love interest, and a hope for family reconciliation … once I started this, I got completely sucked in! I enjoy the epistolary aspect of the novel in particular, with the immediacy of Caro’s observations about Paris in wartime. Her story was fascinating! Yet, her shame and the secrets it created in the family caused ripples of despair across generations, and only in confronting the truth could the family heal past and present wounds.