About this book: (from the publisher) All her life, Hannah Sterling longed for a close relationship with her estranged mother. Following Lieselotte’s death, Hannah determines to unlock the secrets of her mother’s mysterious past and is shocked to discover a grandfather living in Germany.
Thirty years earlier, Lieselotte’s father is quickly ascending the ranks of the Nazi party, and a proper marriage for his daughter could help advance his career. Lieselotte is in love―but her beloved Lukas is far from an ideal match, as he secretly works against the Reich. Yet Lieselotte never imagined how far her father would go to ensure her cooperation.
Both Hannah’s and Lieselotte’s stories unfold as Hannah travels to Germany to meet her grandfather, who is hiding wartimes secrets of his own. Longing for connection, yet shaken by all she uncovers, Hannah must decide if she can atone for her family’s tragic past and how their legacy will shape her future.
About the author: (from her website) Cathy Gohlke is the two-time Christy Award–winning author of the critically acclaimed novels Secrets She Kept, Saving Amelie, Band of Sisters,Promise Me This (listed by Library Journal as one of the best books of 2012), William Henry Is a Fine Name, and I Have Seen Him in the Watchfires (listed by Library Journal as one of the best books of 2008), which also won the American Christian Fiction Writers’ Book of the Year Award.
Cathy has worked as a school librarian, drama director, and director of children’s and education ministries. When not traipsing the hills and dales of historic sites, she, her husband, and their dog, Reilly, divide their time between Northern Virginia and their home on the Jersey Shore.
If this book were a movie, I would rate it: PG-13 for war-related themes
Why I read this book: To understand the past and its connection to my time; to better understand others.
Content advisory: references to torture and violence related to war and the Holocaust
Reminds me of: It’s You by Jane Porter
This story matters to me…for its wrenching reminder that everyone has a story, honorable or not, and that we can’t truly know people until we understand the stories that make them who they are.
[Tweet “Cathy Gohlke’s latest WWII novel, a poignant reminder that everyone has a story @Crazy4Fiction”]
My take: This novel’s first chapter completely wowed me. I was impressed by how immediately and concisely the author dropped me into conflict, provided a compelling problem that not only revealed a great deal about the character’s strengths and weaknesses, but also hinted at the story arch and provided a clearly defined goal. Bravo. As beginnings go, this one was rendered by a masterful hand.
After which, the story ramped up at a steady pace, revealing one by one mysteries that needed solving. The story soon split into two story lines: Hannah’s more contemporary one (which is not actually contemporary at all but set in the 1970s–an intriguing choice by the author) and the WWII-era one involving Hannah’s mother, Lieselotte. Somewhere in here, the story lost its tight emotional grip on me. I sensed a distance between myself and the characters, feeling I was watching the story unfold rather than living it from the inside out. I admit this is a purely subjective reaction. Most reviewers I’ve read have had a different experience. Of the two narratives, I did find Hannah’s the more compelling, perhaps I think it’s difficult to find fresh angles of the oft-explored European war scenario.
One thing I especially appreciated: though she didn’t dwell there, the author did not shy away from the horrors of WWII. Mostly these are woven, if not tastefully (how can they be?) than appropriately into the story, acknowledged as real and horrific, and then moved past. In doing so, Gohlke reflects, better than most of this genre, the depth of brokenness caused by trauma and war. As we are now living a few generations removed from this era, it’s easy to underestimate what these people endured.
While ultimately uplifting, Secrets She Kept opened my eyes once more to the unfathomable price of war and the devastating truth that some haunted souls are never able to leave its consequences behind this side of eternity.
Thanks to Tyndale House for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.
After words: What inspiring story from WWII has left its mark on you?