A few months ago, I read and really enjoyed Melanie Benjamin’s The Girls in the Picture. So when I got the opportunity to read her newest novel, I couldn’t resist. Like The Girls in the Picture, Mistress of the Ritz is based on a true story. Which made it all the more poignant.
(All reviews are spoiler-free unless otherwise noted.)
(From Goodreads) Nothing bad can happen at the Ritz; inside its gilded walls every woman looks beautiful, every man appears witty. Favored guests like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Coco Chanel, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor walk through its famous doors to be welcomed and pampered by Blanche Auzello and her husband, Claude, the hotel’s director. The Auzellos are the mistress and master of the Ritz, allowing the glamour and glitz to take their minds off their troubled marriage, and off the secrets that they keep from their guests–and each other.
Until June 1940, when the German army sweeps into Paris, setting up headquarters at the Ritz. Suddenly, with the likes of Hermann Goring moving into suites once occupied by royalty, Blanche and Claude must navigate a terrifying new reality. One that entails even more secrets. One that may destroy the tempestuous marriage between this beautiful, reckless American and her very proper Frenchman. For the falsehoods they tell to survive, and to strike a blow against their Nazi “guests,” spin a web of deceit that ensnares everything and everyone they cherish.
But one secret is shared between Blanche and Claude alone–the secret that, in the end, threatens to imperil both of their lives, and to bring down the legendary Ritz itself.
Based on true events, Mistress of the Ritz is a taut tale of suspense wrapped up in a love story for the ages, the inspiring story of a woman and a man who discover the best in each other amid the turbulence of war.
It might just be that it takes place in a hotel, but the synopsis reminded me a bit of A Gentleman in Moscow, which I loved. I think Melanie Benjamin has a talent for finding interesting people with stories to tell. Blanche and Claude Auzello are no exception. I had never heard of them before I picked up this book, but I am so glad I did because they deserve their story to be told.
On the surface, Mistress of the Ritz is historical fiction. The majority of the novel takes place during the end of WWII, and the German occupation of Paris. But there is also the love story between Claude and Blanche, jumping back to when they first met in 1923. But what really ties everything together are the mysteries. Blanche and Claude have so many secrets, from each other, from the Nazis, and from the world as a whole. And discovering each secret felt like an adventure. I enjoyed the historical setting immensely, but I loved the intrigue. It made this novel compulsively readable, and truly something special and unique.
I don’t want to spoil anything, so I won’t say too much more – you have to discover this story for yourself. But I’m still blown away that Claude and Blanche were real people. It’s both incredibly inspiring and heartbreaking. I think Melanie Benjamin is gifted at showing the human nature of her characters. We tend to think of Paris as glamorous, and it was such a sharp contrast to the war. I think this book will haunt me for a long time.
★★★★☆ – 4.5 stars! (I don’t have a half-star symbol.) Mistress of the Ritz is a brilliant take on an obscure true story. If you enjoy historical fiction, I highly recommend this one!
Mistress of the Ritz will be available in bookstores May 21. You can order your copy on Amazon.
To get the audiobook for free, use this link to sign up for a free trial of Audible and choose Mistress of the Ritz as one of your two free books.
This book was generously provided to me by Wunderkind PR. All opinions are my own.
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