Here is yet another novel about the harrowing events of World War Two, with the Fairy Tales a beloved French grandmother told to her grand-daughter used to find two missing men.
What a fabulous concept! What a pity it was not as well executed as it might have been.
First, I would like to talk about all the wonderful things in this novel. Author Kristin Harmon got most everything right. Her characters (with one exception) were compelling: the male characters interesting and multi-dimensional, the whiny teenager growing into a young woman, and the grandmother (although largely absent) a compelling presence. And who couldn’t love a novel located in a French Bakery in Cape Cod with a trip to Paris fitted in?
But there were some problems that ruined the experience. As most of you know, audiobooks can be very unforgiving of narrative style. Which means that if you, as the author, have some irritating tics, they are going to be magnified by the audio experience, especially when the narrator speaks in a mind-numbing monotone.
Where Ms. Harmon really fell down was with her dialogue tags. As other readers have noted it was extremely irritating to have the characters “muttering” or “mumbling’ or “saying things in a small voice.” You can get away with this sort of thing ONCE, but NOT multiple times. Instead, you have to pick words that are either invisible (like “said”) or provide insight or interest into what is going on. The experience of listening to these boringly repetitive dialogue tags was NOT edifying. Instead, it was like listening to chalk grating on chalkboard.
Secondly, the protagonist Hope became more and more of a problem as the novel unfolded. I get that she is emotionally dysfunctional and has a lot of stresses in her life (failing bakery, obnoxious teenaged daughter, caddish ex-husband and dying grandmother) but still, she was SUCH A WET BLANKET! No wonder daughter Annie was so rude to her! Every time Annie suggested something her mother was so lukewarm, because (as she explained to herself and Annie) she wanted her 12-year-old daughter to “learn to manage her expectations.” It was maddening. What she really meant (of course) was that SHE didn’t want to do anything that took her out of her comfort zone.
It didn’t help that she got more and more dithery as the novel went on. Near the end she was so cold to love interest Gavin that I was surprised he showed up, when she changed her mind about him for the THIRD TIME. Despite the author’s wishes, I really DON’T predict a Happy Ending for them. So I give this novel 5 stars for a wonderful concept and 3 stars for its execution. (Four Stars.)