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Aussie Book Review : The Lavender Keeper by Fiona McIntosh

The Lavender Keeper

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

ARC provided by publisher

Synopsis

“Are you German or are you French? Are you working against Germany or for it? Are you telling me the truth, or are you a very accomplished liar?”

Lavender farmer Luc Bonet is raised by a wealthy Jewish family in the foothills of the French Alps. When the Second World War breaks out he joins the French Resistance, leaving behind his family’s fortune, their home overrun by soldiers, their lavender fields in disarray.

Lisette Forestier is on a mission of her own: to work her way into the heart of a senior German officer – and to bring down the Reich in any way she can. 

What Luc and Lisette hadn’t counted on was meeting each other. When they come together at the height of the Paris occupation, German traitors are plotting to change the course of history.

But who, if anyone, can be trusted? As Luc and Lisette’s emotions threaten to betray them, their love may prove the greatest risk of all.”

Overview

Times of war can make people reckless, and so it is that fate sets these people on a journey towards one another – paths that are destined to cross
Set against the backdrop of World War Two at the height of the German occupation in France, we are introduced to Luc Bonet, a Lavender farmer. Luc has always been aware that he was adopted, but after learning from his father the real circumstances surrounding his birth and adoption as well as bearing witness to the harsh arrest of his family from a distance, and the cruel murder of his grandmother, he joins the French Resistance in the hopes of exacting revenge against the perpetrators. The Maquis generally don’t carry out their revenge in the form of murder, but rather attempt to inhibit all means of communication, transport and the like in order to hinder the Germans in their quest to gain full occupation of France.
Meanwhile, amidst the same destructive war, but across the channel in Britain, lives a girl by the name of Lisette Forestier, daughter of a French mother and German father, who is extremely intelligent and more than competent in speaking both languages. We learn that Lisette, with a somewhat tragic past, shows no fear and has taught herself to live in the moment. It is both her affinity for languages and her displays of fearlessness which brings her to the attention of the War Office through her waitressing job at the Lyons Corner House where she comes into contact with both celebrities and soldiers. After her initial meeting with a Mr Collins, she is interviewed by the War Office and then recruited and trained as an agent. Both her path and mind are set as she clandestinely makes her way to France, where she is required to carry out her mission, one which requires her to get close to a German officer and thus assist in bringing down the Reich.
Lisette meets Luc who, as a member of the Maquis working in cahoots with the War Office, is tasked with assisting her to get to the other side of France in order for her to carry out her mission. On their journey across the war-torn country, it is inevitable that they should become closer and, whilst not meant to, begin to share personal details. Alas, she, as is Luc, are very aware that their separate but very important missions need to be accomplished and, if she is to successfully infiltrate the life of the Colonel, she will need to compartmentalise her life and try not to taint what she and Luc have begun to feel for one another.
With a love triangle threatening everything they believe in, tensions mounting amidst the first of the Allied forces landing at Normandy, the final scenes playing out amidst the celebrations of liberation and the traumatic events of the aftermath, will these two people emerge unscathed and once again find each other in order to fulfil promises made?
My Thoughts
This is the first book I have read by Fiona McIntosh and I’m so glad that the publisher afforded me the opportunity of discovering this great storyteller.
Although I tend not to read too many historical novels, what with my high school history lessons on the Second World War and everything in-between being pretty much boring, between Fiona and another author I have recently had the pleasure of reading, I think I am hooked.
Fiona’s sense of place is truly amazing and goes a long way to supporting the characters and plot along with providing the reader with a full range of sensory information, and I constantly found myself surrounded by the smell of lavender.
The story has great depth, created by well-rounded characters whose emotions are brought to life as they bear witness to the atrocities which the Germans carry out on the Jews in war-torn France during World War Two. And, whilst the war is the backdrop to this story, Fiona has quite capably managed to keep her focus on her characters. We see Luc, in particular, struggling with his hatred of the German army and the resulting treatment of his family and fellow man, whilst harbouring a lot of anger for the loss of that family, but at the same time, the feelings invoked by his love for a woman who appears to be just beyond his reach. Lisette, of course, whilst endeavouring to physically and emotionally distance herself from Luc in order to carry out her mission, doesn’t expect the Colonel to arouse such strong feelings within her, and her moral ethics come into play when she is torn between her love for these two men.
This book has earned 5 Stars from me and I wish to thank both the publisher, Penguin Group Australia and The Reading Room for providing me with a hard copy for review. I am now eagerly waiting to sink my teeth into the sequel, The French Promise, due to be released in 2013.
A Bit About the Author
Fiona McIntosh was born in England, spent her early childhood in West Africa and has lived in Australia for the past three decades. She worked for many years in the travel industry but after her shift to full-time writing she roams the world researching and drawing inspiration for her novels. Adelaide is her home base, which she shares with her husband and twin sons, but Fiona does most of her writing from the peace of southern Tasmania. To date she has written 23 adult novels across various genres and six novels for children.

This is the third book towards my 2013 Australian Women Writers’ Challenge.

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