I’m on a historical fiction kick lately! Perhaps I’m finding stories of female resistance fighters particularly inspiring at the moment, maybe I just need stories with a strong female main character. Either way, Melanie Benjamin’s Mistress of the Ritz ticking all the boxes.
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Book Details & SynopsisMistress of the Ritz by Melanie Benjamin
Published by Random House Publishing Group on May 21, 2019
Genres: Fiction, Sagas, Historical, Literary
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A captivating novel based on the story of the extraordinary real-life American woman who secretly worked for the French Resistance during World War II--while playing hostess to the invading Germans at the iconic Hôtel Ritz in Paris--from the New York Times bestselling author of The Aviator's Wife and The Swans of Fifth Avenue."A compelling portrait of a marriage and a nation at war from within."--Kate Quinn, author of The Alice Network
Nothing bad can happen at the Ritz; inside its gilded walls every woman looks beautiful, every man appears witty. Favored guests like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Coco Chanel, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor walk through its famous doors to be welcomed and pampered by Blanche Auzello and her husband, Claude, the hotel's director. The Auzellos are the mistress and master of the Ritz, allowing the glamour and glitz to take their minds off their troubled marriage, and off the secrets that they keep from their guests--and each other.
Until June 1940, when the German army sweeps into Paris, setting up headquarters at the Ritz. Suddenly, with the likes of Hermann Goëring moving into suites once occupied by royalty, Blanche and Claude must navigate a terrifying new reality. One that entails even more secrets and lies. One that may destroy the tempestuous marriage between this beautiful, reckless American and her very proper Frenchman. For in order to survive--and strike a blow against their Nazi "guests"--Blanche and Claude must spin a web of deceit that ensnares everything and everyone they cherish.
But one secret is shared between Blanche and Claude alone--the secret that, in the end, threatens to imperil both of their lives, and to bring down the legendary Ritz itself.
Based on true events, Mistress of the Ritz is a taut tale of suspense wrapped up in a love story for the ages, the inspiring story of a woman and a man who discover the best in each other amid the turbulence of war.
My Thoughts on Mistress of the Ritz
This is my first Melanie Benjamin novel, but it definitely will not be my last! It ticked all the boxes for what I look for in a historical fiction tale. It is beautifully written, immersive, and I walked away learning something new (or learning more) about a time/event in history.
Mistress of the Ritz is a fictionalized account of Claude and Blanche Auzello. (In fact, this is because there is so little detail known about the two). The story hops around in time from the ’20s when they first met, Claude a climbing hotel manager and Blanche an aspiring actress. It continues through WWII and to 1944 and V-Day. The chapters also alternate between Blanche and Claude’s points of view. These switches were handled well. They also helped to highlight their differences in culture, views on relationships, and personality – and the struggle it puts on their relationship.
The first half of the book was much more character-driven. Much of the story focusing on their relationship (and its struggles). However, the second half was much more plot-driven (even though I thought it was also here that the characters really jumped off the page). In the latter part of the book, Claude and Blanche became more involved in the Resistance – and kept their activities hidden. Because of their individual secrecy, both only saw the worst in each other, and it drove them further apart.
The side characters were equally fascinating! Coco Chanel’s story was a surprise to me, and the Ritz was a character in its own right.
Beautifully written, fully engaging, Mistress of the Ritz was the perfect tale for this WW2 historical fiction fan!
For another wonderful historical fiction set in World War II, try Leila Meacham’s Dragonfly!