Historical fiction novels that are grounded in the idea of romance are a newfound pleasure of mine. There’s something incredibly satisfying about witnessing two characters fall in love, even during periods of political tension and war. As love blossoms, so does hope, and the idea that two people can survive even the worst situations lets you believe in the idea of true love. The Room on Rue Amélie, a heart-breaking and unexpected new release by Kristin Harmel provides just that – hope.
This review contains quotes from the book.
Love in wartime is certainly not new in the historical fiction genre, but Harmel pulls the reader along in a false sense of security from the very first page. From the opening we are lead to expect that this will be a lasting romance, one that sweeps Ruby Henderson off of her feet when she meets her believed to be perfect man in a cafe by chance in New York one wintry afternoon.
He studied her for a moment. “I thought I was here for business. But now I realize that I might be here for another reason entirely.”
“And what is that?”
He leaned forward, locking eyes with her once again. “Perhaps to meet the woman of my dreams.”
– excerpt from Kristin Harmel’s The Room on Rue Amélie
Although their encounter may seem cliché, if not too good to be true, Ruby and Marcel Benoit make their way to Paris, where Ruby is able to explore the sights she always dreamed of in books – art museums, intellectual gatherings and a view of the Eiffel Tower. Despite the forewarning that the European theater is ready to ignite into war, Marcel holds on to his believe that Paris will persevere, while Ruby struggles to have a voice in the marriage.
When World War II breaks out, Paris slowly transforms. It’s beauty crumples as the city is taken over by Nazis. Tight curfews are enforced and tensions begin to rise as new regulations begin to restrict Jewish residents of the city, including Charlotte Dacher – a young girl that has been a source of comfort to Ruby as Marcel has begun to disappear, unannounced for days at a time.
Even in Paris, where citizens are making an effort to hold on to their faith that the city will prevail against the Germans who have taken over their restaurants, streets and transportation, mysteries begin to unfold. When a battered Royal Air Force Pilot appears at her door, Ruby is given a new meaning in life, unraveling Marcel’s sudden disappearances.
Against all odds, Ruby finds a voice – one that allows her to fight in the resistance effort. With the unexpected help of Charlotte, Ruby meets Thomas, a man who has lost his family but remains dedicated to the cause. As their lives begin to intertwine by chance, Charlotte, who is forced to grow up too soon, and Ruby, find hope, not only for themselves, but for Paris. Stripped of her voice despite her education, Ruby learns to speak out and fight for what she believes in through the resistance. Not only does she demonstrate incredible resolve, but power, as she forces herself into a movement for her nation, believing herself to be a true Parisian despite her American nationality.
Love is found in unexpected and heart-breaking places, sending the reader down a spiral of longing. The pages fly by as Ruby and Thomas meet once more – joined by an invisible bond that gives them strength in the worst of times. With the fear of capture lingering on the horizon, Ruby and Charlotte exhibit loyalty and devotion until the very end, dreaming of a world in which they can live and love freely in the presence of poppies.
Full of tension and unexpected romance, Kristin Harmel weaves a moving tale of friendship and resistance that will leave you stunned, shocked and devastated. Through a rich and informative plot that outlines the importance of escape lines in Paris, Harmel writes about the power of love and loyalty, two things that make us carry on even in the darkest of times.
Told through dual perspectives, Harmel captivates the reader by delving into the concept of being a foreigner in a society dictated by oppression and prejudice. A poignant reminder of how quickly the world can turn around, The Room on Rue Amélie stands out as a historical romance and has easily become one of my favorite reads of the year.