Wow! We are on Weeks 28, and 29 this week! It's crazy to me that the year is already more than half over! And that I've read almost 30 books!
I do need to apologize for not getting a post out last week, but with some family health issues, and a surprise visit from my big sis (Hi, Lauren!), it just didn't leave a whole lot of time for reading and writing. But, lucky for you, you'll get two book reviews this week to make up for it!
If you need a refresher on my weekly book review, check it out here!
I was very excited to read the first of this week's books. I've read three other books by this author (She fuels my love of historical fiction!), and I was super excited to pick up another by her! So, with no more gilding the lily, here is my review of Mistress of the Ritz by Melanie Benjamin!
Mistress of the Ritz begins right at the start of the German Occupation of Paris (since I'm on a major WWII kick right now, this should not be surprising!). Blanche and Claude Auzello, the Director of the Ritz, are forced to see their beloved home and hotel become the home of Nazi officers.
Told through alternating points of views, Blanche and Claude try to adjust to life with Germans. Many hotel owners are agreeing to the demands of the Germans, hoping to survive the Occupation in that way. But Claude wants to do more.
He soon makes contact with a man named Martin, who he passes coded messages to about the German movements and battle plans.
Soon, Blanche is swept up in the resistance as well. Her friend Lily, whom she met after running away from Claude during a fight, is a Resistance fighter, and together the pair begin smuggling crashed fighter pilots out of Paris and to safe locations. But thinking of keeping the other safe, Claude and Blanche never tell the other what they are doing during those nights away. Both think the other is having an affair. But this, in a way, begins to help heal their shattered marriage.
With news of the American liberation, Blanche insults a German officer. It is revealed that she is actually Jewish, and her and Claude reconcile with this just before Blanche is taken.
She is taken to Frenes, where she is tortured for information for months. They break her to the point where she admits she's Jewish. On the day of her executions, the Americans liberate Frenes. Claude takes Blanche back to the Ritz where the pair try to find some normalcy. Blanche soon starts finding homes for Jewish orphans, as a way to reclaim her faith. This also helps her keep her tenuous grip on reality. But, when Claude is let go at the Ritz, the pair move to the country where they die in murder-suicide at Claude's hand.
Of all the books I've read by Melanie Benjamin, I think I liked this one the least. The subject matter was fascinating; I love learning about new people who are unknown but did amazing things, like the Auzellos. But I found her writing less intriguing in this book. The writing just felt a little bland compared to her other books. I liked that she attempted to turn the Ritz into it's own character in the novel, but I feel she didn't push the setting far enough for that to happen.
I felt that some of the dialogue was also a little stilted. I know she was aiming for a proper Frenchman, but sometimes it felt a little jarring. I almost wish there would have been a little more dialogue instead of Benjamin telling us what was said. It would have helped flush out the characters more fully.
The plot also moved a little slowly at times. I know Benjamin needed to show how the couple met, and how their marriage fell apart, but those scenes always felt a bit stretched. And I know she was trying to show what life was like under the Nazi Occupation, but some of the scenes describing the day-to-day activities in the hotel were a little dull. I would have rather had more action with Blanche smuggling people out of Paris, and Claude passing coded messages. Benjamin tells us these things happen, but the reader never gets to actually experience them which I didn't like. I want an author to show me, not tell me.
I will say I was mildly disappointed with this book. Normally, her books are amazing. Sadly, I have to give Mistress of the Ritz by Melanie Benjamin a 3 out 5.