Title: Chateau of Secrets
Author: Melanie Dobson
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publishing Date: May 13, 2014
About the Book:
A courageous young noblewoman risks her life to hide French resistance fighters; seventy years later, her granddaughter visits the family’s abandoned chateau and uncovers shocking secrets from the past. 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 château, Gisèle is forced to host them as well—while harboring the resistance fighters right below their feet. Taking in a Jewish friend’s baby, she convinces the Nazis that it is her child, ultimately risking everything for the future of the child. When the German officers begin to suspect her deception, an unlikely hero rescues both her and the child.
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. Riley wants to research Chloe’s family history and the lives that were saved in the tunnels under their house in Normandy. Chloe is floored—her family isn’t Jewish, for one thing, and she doesn’t know anything about tunnels or the history of the house. But as she begins to explore the dark and winding passageways beneath the chateau, nothing can prepare her for the shock of what she and Riley discover…
I was recently introduced Melanie Dobson through her book Chasing the Wind. It was so gripping it left me wanting to read more, which led me to this novel. As with her other book, I was hooked right from the beginning. Melanie wove the two timelines together seamlessly and the chapters all ended at moments that left you incapable of putting the book down. The chapters were also short enough that you could tell yourself “just one more” and find yourself finishing the book.
I can’t imagine what life would have been like for Gisèle as she was somehow able to help hide her brother along with other resisters, as well as house a fleet of German soldiers, all on the same property. She was even able to pass her friend’s baby off as her own after she and her husband disappeared. A life of secrecy was a dangerous one during WWII, but Gisèle endured despite the risk.
My only complaint with the book stems from the fact that I am not Catholic, and so it feels odd to me to read about someone praying to saints instead of God. There were a lot of references to saints and their abilities to comfort and strengthen people in their hardships. It’s just not something I’m used to. Other than that the Christian content was strong throughout, with Gisèle leaning heavily on her faith to give her the strength she needed to endure.
I loved how the book called on people from several different influences to rebel against the Nazis (including Nazi soldiers). The war led a lot of people to say and do things that they deeply regretted. It was a daily battle to persevere or give in to the fear. For some, they chose their missions out of cowardice, but for others they found ways to “fight for the good guys” even while being placed in the center of evil.
This was a book that will easily stay with you long after you’ve read it. (yes, I JUST finished reading it, but I know it impacted me deeply). It doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, but I still wish there was a sequel. I felt so immersed in the story that I found myself wanting more. It was an amazingly powerful novel, and I highly recommend it!
Age Appropriateness: As with many novels that take place during WWII, there is some content that might be uncomfortable for some readers. I would consider it fairly light compared to others (none of the book takes place in a concentration camp), but it’s still very clearly based in history. Most notable is that there is an attempted rape that occurs as well as an insinuation that one of the characters has sex with German soldiers in exchange for gifts. My personal recommendation is for 14 and up.