(Image from Barnes & Noble)
Viann Mauriac lives a quiet life as mistress of Le Jardin, the country home that's been in her family for three hundred years. Nestled in France's Loire Valley, it's a safe, lovely spot to raise her 8-year-old daughter, Sophie. Even when she has to send her husband—gentle Antoine, whom she's loved since she was a child—off to the Front, Viann's convinced her little village of Carriveau will be spared the horrors of the approaching war. When her worst fears come to pass, Viann does her best to blend into the landscape, making sure she and Sophie do nothing to arouse the attention of the Nazi soldiers who crowd the streets of her little town. Then, a Nazi captain commandeers Le Jardin, keeping Viann on as his housekeeper. Terrified for herself and her daughter, Viann must watch herself every minute of every day. As the war drags on, she has to rely on the inner strength she never knew she had, even as she's forced to do the unthinkable to keep Sophie safe.
Safety is the last thing Isabelle Rosignol, Viann's younger sister, wants. The 18-year-old longs for adventure, the chance to do something real, something important. Kicked out of yet another finishing school, she's living with her estranged father when the Germans bomb Paris. Running for her life, Isabelle flees the city, heading for Viann's house. Along the way, she meets a charming Communist; when he betrays her, hotheaded Isabelle does the one thing that feels meaningful—she joins the Resistance. Isabelle never intends to put her sister and niece at risk with her dangerous activities, but that's exactly what she's doing. Striking out on her own, the passionate young rebel will face deadly obstacles around every corner in her battle to make a difference in her chaotic, war-torn world.
For two sisters—a decade apart in age and experience—war will test their nerves, their courage, their compassion, and their already tenuous relationship with one another. As they fight every day to survive in enemy territory, they will become heroes in their own right. But will they live through the fighting? Will they survive long enough to reunite with their loved ones? Even if their bodies make it through the hell of war, will their hearts—scarred and shattered by horrors they can't un-see, un-experience—ever mend?
You may have noticed that "A" grades are a little hard to come by around here. In order to earn my undying love and praise, a book has to pick me up, sweep me off my feet, and move me in a way that makes certain I'll never forget it. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah did all of those things. With rich detail, complex characters, a dramatic historical backdrop, and a sweeping storyline, it has everything I crave in a novel. So absorbing is this epic tale that it seems real, like you're taking a Technicolor journey through the same landscape and emotions as the characters. This is a novel you feel. Sometimes too much. I worried right along with Viann, cringed in fear with Isabelle, and wept as I came to the end of their story. The Nightingale is, at its heart, a story about two sisters, but truly, it's so much more. It's a meditation on how far one would go to save the people she loves, a celebration of the sacrifices military wives make (then and now), as well as an astute acknowledgement of the importance of families—no matter how imperfect they may be. In case you can't tell, I loved it. Although it's a difficult read at times, I can't recommend The Nightingale highly enough.
If this were a movie, it would be rated:
for language (a handful of F-bombs, plus milder invectives), violence, mild sexual innuendo/content (although there is a short, but fairly graphic rape scene), and intense situations
To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of The Nightingale from the generous folks at St. Martin's Press. Thank you!