(I was given this ARC way back in 2018 in exchange for an honest review. Obviously behind, but I’m working on clearing out my old ARCs right now, so there you go.)
“I mean that sometimes, we only discover our calling in life when things are darkest.”
You guys remember what March of 2018 was like? Snapchat was the ruler of all social media, Kacey Musgraves famous Golden Hour album released on May 30th (and the world was never the same), and the March For Our Lives took place in Washington, D.C.*
*If you haven’t you should read Parkland by Dave Cullen. It’s inspiring.
Conveniently, I also received this ARC in the mail during this time period. It was around the same time that we were packing and moving to the country, so it fell through the metaphorical cracks and remained, sadly, unread. For whatever reason, my son really loves pulling ARCS off my bookshelves (they are slightly larger than the rest of the books, I can’t think of any other reason for his obsession), so I decided that I needed to either start reading the ones I was behind on reading or they were hitting the road.
Hence, my reading of The Room on Rue Amélie this past week.
I will say that when I received this ARC I remember being very excited; historical fiction is so squarely in my realm of reading, and the cover is beautiful. Kristin Harmel was already an established author, so I had every reason to believe this would be a winner. Let’s get right to it.
I will try to keep this as spoiler-free as possible.
The Room on Rue Amélie is a historical fiction novel based in Paris during WWII. The main character, Ruby, is an American who has married a French man and moved with him to Paris after their wedding. Though Ruby is the main character, there are two other characters from whose perspectives we read: Thomas Clarke (a British Air Force pilot) and Charlotte Dacher (a young Jewish girl and Ruby’s neighbor).
Despite her parents’ warnings of instability in Europe, Ruby comes to France in 1939 dreaming of splendor and romance, a Paris like that of Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Instead, she finds herself in the middle of German-occupied France, her own neighborhood fraught with elaborate heroism and deception.
I said that I would try to leave this as spoiler-free as I could, but through the course of the novel, we see many of the trademark plot points of WWII novels: concentration camps, round-ups of Jewish citizens, spies, warfare, and the like. Above all, this is a story of humanity and what good can come when you band together in love against the common evil of hatred, prejudice, and injustice.
As I have said maybe twenty times already in this review/on this blog/on my Instagram page, I love historical fiction. It’s the first genre I remember falling in love with as a reader, and I almost always go to historical fiction when I’m seeking comfort or a literary reset.
This is good historical fiction. The plot really moves well; it doesn’t feel like a slow read (at least in my opinion). It has also the classic points of a WWII novel, and it also has a nice (though star-crossed) love story. The setting of Paris is one many people can visualize and appreciate, and I have always liked WWII stories set in Paris because it feels different from the traditional German background you often think of when considering WWII.
I have a few complaints, though. In my humble opinion, the characters did not feel incredibly well-developed; I think the plot was given greater care than the actual characters. Because of this, I had a hard time feeling emotionally invested in those characters when events of the novel transpired. I think we are supposed to love Ruby, and I liked her, sure, but I didn’t feel like I knew anything about her personality. It was also written in third person, so I couldn’t glean any personality from her voice through the writing. Of course, yes, she’s a good person, but it’s hard to say anything that set her apart from any other character.
In addition to this, I called many of the major plot points from the very start. I don’t want to give too much away, but several of the deaths were obvious from the get-go, and the only thing I was moderately surprised by was the very, very end (told years later). Predictability doesn’t always bother me, and it didn’t so much here, but that predictability has an impact on the emotional effect of the story.
Lastly, this bears a lot of similarities in plot to The Alice Network (though a different war), The Nightingale, and Lilac Girls. These books are…iconic for their genre, in my opinion, and I just couldn’t place this book in the same arena.
““It is not your fault. Sometimes all the love in the world can’t protect a person against his fate.”
Please understand me when I say that the writing was good, I liked the story, and I enjoyed reading it. I was still propelled forward in concern for the endings these characters would receive, but it unfortunately has a few formidable friends in this genre to measure up against. I liked this book, but I didn’t LOVE this book.
Drum roll, please.
I think this actually deserves a 3.5/5, but as you know, I round down when I think a book deserves partial credit.
Read-Alikes/What to Read Next
After you read this (and like it) here a few books you might want to turn to next!
- Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
- The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
- The Huntress by Kate Quinn
- All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
- The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
- We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter
- Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
I do believe that if you like historical fiction, this is worth your time! I do believe that it’s maybe a bit more targeted for a female audience (possibly because of the love story element and the fact that 2/3 perspectives are that of women).
If you are someone who:
- appreciates period novels about WWII
- have an interest in historic Paris
- like a good love story
- enjoy historical fiction
- are interested in underground escape networks and spies
this could be a fantastic book for you!
And now, let’s wrap up this post with my favorite quote from the book:
“Perhaps that was what it was like to love someone deeply: to feel that no matter how many moments together you were granted, there would never be enough.”
Until next time, happy reading!