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Saturday, February 08, 2020

WWI Underground City Novel Not As Immersive As Promised

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Rosalyn Acosta doesn't care for France or its famous bubbly, yet here she is on her way to the country's Champagne region on a buying trip for her boss' winery.  Anyone would be envious of such a trip.  For Rosalyn, however, it's a painful reminder of her honeymoon in Paris, a celebration of a marriage that ended too soon, leaving her paralyzed with grief.  And debt.  Hence, her need to bring in some lucrative French accounts.

A chance conversation on the plane with her vivacious Australian seatmate piques Rosalyn's interest in a little-known fact about Champagne's tumultuous history.  During World War I, as bombs pelted the small town of Reims, France, its beleaguered citizens—mostly women and children—hid in the tunnels beneath the village's famous champagne houses.  In this underground city, the resilient occupants ran shops, a school, and even continued to harvest and store champagne.  As Rosalyn begins reading old letters describing wartime Reims from a young French soldier to his Australian pen pal, a marraine de guerre, she becomes so immersed in their story that she must know how it ends.  Suddenly, the trip Rosalyn has been dreading becomes something much, much more intriguing.

While Rosalyn gets acquainted with Champagne and researches its fascinating history, she finds herself rising out of the ashes of grief, finding herself again, and experiencing hope for the first time since her husband died.  Will she find all the answers she seeks in France?  

I love me a dual-timeline novel, especially one that's based on an intriguing historical detail like the underground WWI city in Champagne.  Throw in some old letters, a family mystery that will require a genealogical treasure hunt and you've pretty much caught me hook, line, and sinker.  Which means I should have absolutely adored The Vineyards of Champagne by Juliet Blackwell.   Despite the fact that it boasts a blend of elements I find particularly appealing, this novel turned out to be just an okay read for me.  Why?  As happens often in dual-timeline novels, I became more interested in the past storyline than the present and The Vineyards of Champagne spends most of its time in the latter.  Rosalyn drove me a little crazy with her self-absorbed whining.  I much preferred keeping company with the besieged folks of Reims.  It's them and their lifestyle I wanted to know more about.  Since I know little of France and nothing at all about champagne, I found these topics interesting.  Overall, though, The Vineyards of Champagne just seems to go on forever without really immersing the reader in the most interesting part of its premise—the underground WWI city of Reims.  In the end, then, I liked this novel well enough, just not as much as I wanted to.  It's interesting in a lot of ways, but its focus isn't where I wanted it to be if that makes sense.  

(Readalikes:  Hm, nothing's really coming to mind.  You?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

or brief, mild language (no F-bombs), violence, blood/gore, and mild sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of The Vineyards of Champagne from the generous folks at Penguin Random House in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!


  1. I'm reading this at the moment, and I was hoping that later in the book we would get more about the WWI story but it sounds like it stays as lots of current day story with bits of history instead of more 50/50 or more of the historical story.

    1. You get the story mostly through the letters, but that just wasn't enough for me. I wanted a more dynamic, immersive WWI story and I just didn't get that, unfortunately.

  2. If this story had just been set in the past I'd totally want to read it, but sadly, dual timelines just aren't my favorite thing.

    1. I usually like dual timelines, but I feel like the format just doesn't work well in this particular novel. For a dual timeline to really work for me I have to care about the stars of each and enough has to be going on in each story to keep me interested in both. That didn't happen in this one.

  3. I hate when it happens like this. I've read whole books because the initial "hook" was so intriguing, only to find out that the book was about everything BUT the hook. Seems like false advertising sometimes.

    1. Right! It's super disappointing. That's exactly how I felt with THE VINEYARDS OF CHAMPAGNE.

  4. I enjoyed this book and actually enjoyed both timelines the same. I agree that Rosalyn was a whiner, but I think I was able to identify with her widowhood and that might be why I enjoyed it more than you did. I am glad that you liked it enough to give it a B-. I had not heard of the tunnels during WWI so was fascinated with that aspect for sure. Nice review Susan.

    1. Sounds like you could relate to Rosalyn more than I could. I did find her empathetic, but I also got tired of her endless grief because it made her seem whiny and too wrapped up in her own pain to care about anyone or anything else. If she were someone I knew in real life, I'd be more patient and understanding, but as a fictional heroine she just got on my nerves!

      The tunnel aspect is so fascinating, isn't it? I definitely want to know more about it.

  5. I think I might get bored by the wine/champagned angle.

    1. Yeah? I think the author did a good job of not overwhelming the story with a bunch of details about champagne making. There were enough to be interesting, but not enough to bore me.


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