Thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours and William Morrow (Harper Collins) for the opportunity to read and review this book for the blog tour.
New York, 1937: When estranged sisters Clara and Madeleine Sommers learn their grandmother is dying, they agree to fulfil her last wish: to travel across Europe—together. They are to deliver three letters, in which Violet will say goodbye to those she hasn’t seen since traveling to Europe forty years earlier; a journey inspired by famed reporter, Nellie Bly. Clara, ever-dutiful, sees the trip as an inconvenient detour before her wedding to millionaire Charles Hancock, but it’s also a chance to embrace her love of art. Budding journalist Madeleine relishes the opportunity to develop her ambitions to report on the growing threat of Hitler’s Nazi party and Mussolini’s control in Italy.
Constantly at odds with each other as they explore the luxurious Queen Mary, the Orient Express, and the sights of Paris and Venice, Clara and Madeleine wonder if they can fulfil Violet’s wish, until a shocking truth about their family brings them closer together. But as they reach Vienna to deliver the final letter, old grudges threaten their reconciliation again. As political tensions rise, and Europe feels increasingly volatile, the pair are glad to head home on the Hindenburg, where fate will play its hand in the final stage of their journey.
Perfect for fans of Jennifer Robson, Beatriz Williams, and Kate Quinn, Gaynor and Webb have written a meticulously researched narrative filled with colourful scenes of Europe and a stunning sense of the period.
Regular readers of my book reviews will know I enjoy reading historical fiction novels set in the last century, and I’m pleased to say that this book is now one of my favourite books of the year.
Clara and Madeleine Sommers are sisters who have drifted apart, but have been invited to visit their grandmother Violet at their family home. Violet has a quest for them to complete, before she dies, to visit 3 countries in Europe, to lay flowers at a war grave and to deliver two important letters.
The Sommers family appear to be a wealthy family, so the sisters are able to travel in luxury. I loved reading the descriptions of the interiors of the Queen Mary and the Orient Express – the writing style of this book really brought them to life.
The book is set in the late 1930’s, and the rise of Fascism in Italy and Austria is included in the story, a reminder that life was about to change.
I enjoyed how Clara and Madeleine’s relationship changed over the course of the journey, as they started to find out more about each other, and also what had happened in the past for Violet. Before reading the book, I hadn’t heard of Nellie Bly (Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman) and I’ve enjoyed reading more about her life too.
This is a story about a number of journeys, looking back at how Nellie Bly, then how Violet and her sister travelled, the current physical journey by Clara and Madeleine, plus the emotional journey that they need to make to discover what will make them happy.
I’m intrigued by how two authors can write a book together, but however they have done it, they have produced a book I didn’t want to put down. This is a busy story, full of historical detail but it doesn’t feel like a history book. I enjoyed travelling across Europe with Clara and Madeleine and found myself holding my breath as I raced through the last section of the book to find out what would happen during their Hindenburg journey.
Happy to recommend this well written and researched book. I’ve got one of Hazel’s books on my Kindle ready to read (The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter) and I will be looking to read more of the previous co-written books from this talented duo).
HAZEL GAYNOR is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of When We Were Young & Brave, A Memory of Violets and The Girl Who Came Home, for which she received the 2015 Romantic Novelists’ Association Historical Romantic Novel of the Year award. Her third novel, The Girl from The Savoy, was an Irish Times and Globe and Mail bestseller, and was shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards Popular Fiction Book of the Year. In 2017, she published The Cottingley Secret and Last Christmas in Paris (co-written with Heather Webb). Both novels hit bestseller lists, and Last Christmas in Paris won the 2018 Women’s Fiction Writers Association Star Award. Hazel’s novel, The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter, hit the Irish Times bestseller list for five consecutive weeks. Hazel was selected by Library Journal as one of Ten Big Breakout Authors for 2015. Her work has been translated into fourteen languages and is published in twenty-one countries worldwide. She lives in Ireland with her husband and two children.
HEATHER WEBB is the USA Today bestselling, award-winning author of The Next Ship Home, Rodin’s Lover, Becoming Josephine, and The Phantom’s Apprentice, as well as two novels co- written with Hazel, Last Christmas in Paris , which won the 2018 Women’s Fiction Writers Association Star Award, and Meet Me in Monaco, a finalist in the 2020 RNA Awards as well as the 2019 Digital Book World Fiction awards. To date, Heather’s works have been translated into fifteen languages worldwide. She is also passionate about helping writers find their voice as a professional freelance editor, speaker, and adjunct in the MFA in Writing program at Drexeul University. She lives in New England with her family and one feisty bunny.