Chateau of Secrets
By Melanie Dobson
Howard Books, 2014
Gisèle Duchant guards a secret that could cost her life.
Tunnels snake through the hill under her family's medieval chateau in Normandy. Now, with Hitler's army bearing down, her brother and several friends are hiding in the tunnels, resisting the German occupation of France. But when German soldiers take over the family's chateau, Gisèle is forced to host them as well—while caring for a Jewish child and harboring the resistance fighters right below their feet.
A present day story weaves through the past one as Chloe Sauver, Gisèle's granddaughter, arrives in Normandy. After calling off her engagement with a political candidate, Chloe pays a visit to the chateau to escape publicity and work with a documentary filmmaker, Riley, who has uncovered a fascinating story about Jews serving in Hitler's army. Nothing can prepare Chloe for the shock of what she and Riley discover at her family's chateau...
Chateau of Secrets by Melanie Dobson is an epic story, told by a masterful storyteller. Every essential element is present: rich characterization, historical detail, multilayered plots, lyrical writing that flows across the page, an emotional and gripping narrative. This is also a compelling and relevant story, with a message that calls out to us today. My attention was captured and held from the very first page. Whenever I come across a novel like this, my only problem is in writing a review that comes close to doing it justice.
Chateau of Secrets is set in the medieval Château d’Agneaux, close to the northern French town of Saint-Lo, and is loosely based on the courage and faith of a real-life French noblewoman. Melanie has a gift for seamlessly weaving past and present together between Gisèle Duchant during the Nazi occupation of France, to her granddaughter, Chloe Sauver, in today's time. This is the second excellent story I've read recently that used this literary vehicle, and I loved how the contemporary storyline gave me a much-needed breather from the emotional depth and suspense of World War II.
Gisèle, a French war heroine, is a strong character that readers will love. With a devout faith, as well as passion and purpose that included helping her brother Michel and the resistance cell, I couldn't help but admire and be drawn to her. Gisèle was driven to rescue, even as the enemy was determined to destroy.
Chloe, Gisèle's granddaughter, found herself engaged to an ambitious political candidate, only to be used as a campaign pawn in order to get elected. Chloe "felt a bit like a broken gift hidden under pretty paper and a bow." Riley, with his WWII heritage, was intrigued as to what sacrifices people were willing to make in order to protect themselves and those they loved: "It tells a lot about a person when you find out what or who they're willing to die for."
At the heart of this story are its spiritual themes, relevancy, and even challenges for us today. God uses ordinary, often unexpected people to carry out His will. It's also a book about secrets - secret tunnels, secret identities, secret motives. Gisèle questions as to how a secret could destroy, yet it could also shield a family. "When did a secret cross over the gray wasteland between protecting one you loved and destroying him?"
But the theme that hit the hardest is drawn from Jesus' words, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." As she wrestles with this teaching, Gisèle reflects: "When was she supposed to love her enemy and when was she supposed to resist? And somehow, in the great mystery of faith, was it possible for her to do both?" Her conclusion - and maybe ours as well? Pray, but also fight against evil. I'd like to end with these touching thoughts from Gisèle:
"Was it possible to love your enemy even as you hated - as you battled - the wrong that drove them? Perhaps that was what Jesus did on the cross. He forgave those who killed Him and yet in his death, He defeated the sin that blinded them."
Chateau of Secrets is an extremely entertaining and moving story that earns my highest recommendation - and will be on my "best of the best" list for this year's reading.
Melanie Dobson is the award-winning author of thirteen historical romance, suspense, and contemporary novels including Chateau of Secrets, The Courier of Caswell Hall, and The Silent Order. Two of her novels won Carol Awards in 2011, and Love Finds You in Liberty, Indiana won Best Novel of Indiana in 2010.
Melanie has loved writing fiction since childhood, but it was a long journey to publication. After seven years of writing and rewriting, her first novel (Together for Good) was published in 2006-a story inspired by the adoption of her oldest daughter.
Melanie and her husband, Jon, have two daughters. After moving numerous times with Jon's work, the Dobson family has finally settled near Portland, Oregon, and they love to travel and hike in both the mountains and the cliffs above the Pacific. When Melanie isn't writing, she enjoys exploring ghost towns and dusty back roads, line dancing, and reading stories with her kids.
Meet Melanie online at melaniedobson.com, Facebook, and Goodreads.
Thank you to Howard Publishing for providing an electronic ARC of this book through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.