Review: The Winemaker’s Wife by Kristin Harmel

42201870Champagne, 1940: Inès has just married Michel, the owner of storied champagne house Maison Chauveau, when the Germans invade. As the danger mounts, Michel turns his back on his marriage to begin hiding munitions for the Résistance. Inès fears they’ll be exposed, but for Céline, half-Jewish wife of Chauveau’s chef de cave, the risk is even greater—rumors abound of Jews being shipped east to an unspeakable fate. 

When Céline recklessly follows her heart in one desperate bid for happiness, and Inès makes a dangerous mistake with a Nazi collaborator, they risk the lives of those they love—and the champagne house that ties them together. 

New York, 2019: Liv Kent has just lost everything when her eccentric French grandmother shows up unannounced, insisting on a trip to France. But the older woman has an ulterior motive—and a tragic, decades-old story to share. When past and present finally collide, Liv finds herself on a road to salvation that leads right to the caves of the Maison Chauveau.

Review. Text on the string. Conceptual 3d image

Source: NetGalley and Gallery Books          Rating: 5/5 stars

Liv Kent has always known her grandmother is a bit eccentric; what Liv Kent hasn’t ever known is what led to and/or caused that eccentricity.  With the ugly and unexpected dissolution of her marriage, Liv is completely at a loss as to what she will do with the rest of her life.  Just as Liv is reconciling herself to her new reality, her eccentric grandmother appears on her doorstep, tells her to pack a bag, and whisks Liv off to France. 

Liv has no idea why her grandmother has taken her to France but the break from reality is a welcome surprise.  True to form, Liv’s grandmother continues in her eccentric ways with strange disappearances, inexplicable comments regarding the past, and mutterings about the future.  With little understanding of her grandmother’s behavior, Liv begins to ask questions and what she (eventually) discovers indeed changes everything she knew about her life and her past and tremendously alters her future.

Liv’s grandmother has never been particularly chatty about her past and as her story is revealed, Liv understands why.  As it turns out, not only did Liv’s grandmother survive the Nazi occupation of France, she was in the thick of the fray.  As a young woman, Liv’s grandmother became involved, intimately and otherwise with the men and women of France’s Champagne region.  As one of the most successful and prosperous regions in the country, the Nazi party was particularly interested in occupying and controlling the region.  As one might assume, this arrangement was only beneficial and only safe for the Nazi Party.  For Liv’s grandmother and her friends and loved ones, the situation was not only financially devastating but also emotionally and physically terrifying. 

As the months and years of World War II rage on, the people of the Champagne region find subtle and covert ways to thwart the efforts of Hitler’s men.  Through sabotage, subterfuge, and spy efforts, Liv’s grandmother finds herself among people unwilling to accept their fate and looking to significantly change the outcome of the war.  Though the efforts were truly terrifying and clearly life-threatening, Liv’s grandmother tells the story of heroes, the unsung heroes of the war who fought to preserve their land, their legacy, and their respective futures.  In the thick of it from the very beginning, Liv hears stories of heroism, betrayal, death, love, friendship, and even triumph and is completely taken aback by her grandmother’s revelations.  Though the past is certainly fascinating and eye-opening, it is the results of that past, the consequences of so many actions and inactions that well and truly stun Liv.  What her grandmother reveals alters every part of Liv’s reality and her future.

The Bottom Line:  WOW!!  What an incredible read!! From start to finish, I was enthralled with this story: from Liv’s crazy grandmother to the stories of the past, I fell into this world and didn’t come out until I reached the final page.  The Winemaker’s Wife is a seamless blending of the past and the present with the past being the far more interesting of the two.  The descriptions of the time and place, the raw emotion, the terror of the environment and actions are so vivid and so real.  As a character-driven reader, I found the characters to be particularly robust, complicated, and both likeable and completely disagreeable.  Interestingly, I often found myself liking and hating the same character simultaneously thanks to words and actions alike.  When you couple the strong characters with a compelling story, you have a recipe for success.  At every level The Winemaker’s Wife is a triumph and not just in the historical fiction genre, but as a whole and as a part of literature in general.

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