THE LONDON HOUSE by Katherine Reay
GENRE: Dual Timeline / Historical Women’s Fiction
PUBLISHER: Harper Muse
RELEASE DATE: November 2, 2021
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.
The London House by Katherine Reay exceeded all my expectations, and I already had high ones set going in to it. I started out thinking the story would go one way, but I was quickly caught up in the current of words that took me places I had not foreseen. It is a story of brokenness, yes, but it’s also a greater story of love, courage, and hope. And though I have not personally lived a similar life to either Caroline, I found myself in their stories, and I was deeply moved.
“Those were hallmarks of our childhood. Sisters bound by love, promises, our own language, and what I thought was our own unique sense of fairness.
Yet, that’s just it. It wasn’t just ours. And if not only ours – we are part of a larger story. And that’s what presses upon me tonight, Margo – my part in this larger story.”
Reay has beautifully created a handful of flawed and relatable characters in one family, broken for generations, where healing hangs in the balance of finally telling the truth. Of finally learning the truth. Of tracing the fatal tear in the family’s fabric to its source and moving from there toward the freedom that comes from authenticity. “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” and Caroline Payne desperately wants her family free from the damage perpetuated down the line by her great-aunt Caroline Waite’s untold story. In these pages, through Margo & Caro’s letters and diary entries from the days leading up to and during World War II, we see a world on the brink of chaos, a family divided by politics and choices, and a love greater than we first assume – no greater love, in fact. In Caroline Payne’s present day world, we find a world and a family in much the same condition.
“We are in such an odd, terrifying place right now and I doubt life will ever return to the cadence we once knew – the safety and comfort I confess that I believed would last forever.”
I loved both Carolines in this story – the WW2 era twin and her modern day great-niece. Watching their very different lives intersect and run slightly parallel held me captivated, frantically turning the pages, forcing myself to slow down and absorb all the masterful nuances to be discovered. The genealogical mystery-solving that present day Caroline and Mat embark on, and of course their swoony romance and sizzling kisses, would have been enough to delight me. But the author took me even further, seamlessly weaving several distinct elements – family dynamics, romance, buried secrets, intrigue, truth, and history – together with pitch perfect narrative into an achingly beautiful tapestry.
“The truths are fixed, immutable, and eternal. We are the ones who will come and go, not truth.
Isn’t that reassuring? I find such comfort, as the world falls apart, that some things will last…”
Bottom Line: Impeccably written & laced with hope, The London House by Katherine Reay combines several of my favorite elements to keep me fully engrossed from beginning to end! Generational brokenness against the backdrop of genealogical mystery is seamlessly told from past to present (through the lovely use of epistolary style) and brings with it intriguing layers and possibilities. This isn’t a book to rush through – though you may be tempted to do just that because it’s so compelling. Rather, it is a story to be savored, each word perfection and each character relatable. Perfect for fans of Hazel Gaynor & Pam Jenoff!
(I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book which I received from the publisher. All views expressed are only my honest opinion.)
My Rating: 5 stars / fabulous!
Katherine Reay is the national bestselling and award-winning author of Dear Mr. Knightley, Lizzy and Jane, The Brontë Plot, A Portrait of Emily Price, The Austen Escape, and The Printed Letter Bookshop. All Katherine’s novels are contemporary stories with a bit of classical flair. Katherine 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.
What about you? What makes you want to read The London House by Katherine Reay?