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Violins of Autumn Hardcover – June 19, 2012
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"Spying, having run-ins with German soldiers, watching people die--there is something on almost every page to make readers catch their breaths. Along with the action, there are plenty of humanizing moments as Adele makes friends and loses them and finds small moments that keep her going." Booklist
"McAuley (Over and Over You) has clearly done her research; historical facts are smoothly woven into the narrative, and the details of Betty's assignments, such as spying on a factory or passing along codes, feel real. ...Betty is a daring and relatable heroine, and the challenges she faces will keep readers engaged." Publishers Weekly
"Worthy of consideration for school reading lists, Violins of Autumn (the radio code phrase that indicates the Allied invasion is nigh) is a memorable, vicarious experience... will appeal to WWII and spy fiction buffs alike." VOYA
"With its evocatively realistic language and determined heroine, Violins of Autumn drew me in immediately and kept me in its thrall until the very last page. Amy McAuley does a terrific job of blending the simple, happy details of everyday life with the harsh realities and heart-pounding dangers of wartime..." Compass Book Ratings
"McAuley's novel is accessible, fast paced, and filled with derring-do..." Horn Book Guide
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In 1944, a seventeen-years-old American girl living with her relatives in London named Betty becomes Adele Blanchard and parachutes into Nazi-held France. Part of the British operation helping the French Resistance, she is to become a courrier in Paris while her friend Denise is to become a radio operator. They are first taken in by a welcoming French woman and her less-welcoming son, Pierre. For reasons unknown to Adele, she feels the need to prove herself to Pierre and volunteers to spy on a nearby factory. Denise and Adele head to Paris, rescuing a downed American pilot named Robbie along the way. He and Adele bond but they get separated upon reaching Paris. Their safe house compromised, they scramble to find safe places to stay. Once these are secured, the girls get to work helping the Resistance while Robbie waits to be returned to his unit.
First person present tense must be a growing fad in historical fiction. Once again, my usual complaints per my personal preference remain. But this one has an added on--the story starts with Adele being tortured by the Germans. So most of the story is technically in flashback, so it should be in past tense. Which would also help when we find out more about Adele's life as Betty. I know many rules aren't set in stone, but I wish changing tenses was one.
Adele is a protagonist one can support, even if she wasn't our narrator. McAuley creates a portrayal of a young woman pretending to be older in a world that's all turned upside down. And she's trying not to die. I like how she's not immediately good at her job. She screws up her first drop. And she loses two bicycles. But she gets better and still manages to spy on the factory. She grows as an agent as D-Day approaches and develops a deep friendship with Denise as well as a relationship with Robbie. Along the way, she also manages to impress Pierre and he starts relying on her more. It makes you wonder how she ends up captured, but the reason is quite good and realistic.
The other characters are interesting as well. Denise at some times was annoying. You wanted to take her, shake her and remind her: "This is war, damnit!" She seemed more interested in being in Paris, shopping and partying. But when she flips out on a German soldier at a nightclub, a new side emerges. We learn her fiance died fighting the war and she's determined to bring down the Nazis. As the danger grows more imminent, she's a good soldier even when the enemy tricks her. In a twist that probably did happen, she uses different ways to tell the SOE she's operating under duress but the SOE never picks up on it. They even remind her of the sercurity protocols rather than panic over the fact she didn't perform them. Denise is also a driving force at the end to save Adele, rounding up people who are trustworthy. She and Adele have a true friendship which is one of the best relationships in the book.
I do not think I will ever be adding this to my "romance" shelf. It doesn't fit in with the definition of "romance" held by the RWA and the industry. Neither her relationship with Robbie nor hers with Pierre is central to the book. Neither has a happily ever after or even happily for now. Pierre is killed by Germans. Robbie is revealed to still be France and he visits Adele when she is busted from a German prison. But he still has to continue to fight and only promises to find Adele once the war is over. We do not see the end of the war so are not told if Robbie and Adele reunite. I personally would like to believe they do. Pierre was a distraction during the war. Two people facing possible death who found comfort in each other. Even Adele admits she prefers Robbie's company. And you can see the chemistry between them better.
McAuley creates a good picture of Paris under occupation. She also writes the tension the city was under well.
If it weren't for the present tense, I think this might have gotten 5 stars.
The Allies are poised to invade France at any moment. Meanwhile, their spies must arm and train the French Resistance in preparation for D-Day. Plain, unassuming Betty, now known as Adele Blanchard, is a courier. Trustworthy and poker-faced, fluent in French and German, it is her job to pass secret messages throughout France. It isn't long before things go wrong for her and fellow spy Denise, leaving them stranded in Paris with downed pilot Robbie.
I enjoyed VIOLINS OF AUTUMN despite not being a historical fiction fan. (There is more than enough history woven throughout to thrill any World War II buff.) A great deal of my goodwill is for Adele. She's an admirable character. She thinks fast on her feet and is extremely practical. She's a young woman who knows that her decisions could result in her death or the deaths of others. She begins the book armed with a poker-face, quick lies, and her training, but by the end she must use everything in her arsenal to survive.
There is, of course, romance. Robbie, a sixteen-year-old, lied about his age to join the Air Force and is too soft for the situation he finds himself in. Pierre, a handsome member of the French Resistance, thinks Adele is nothing more than a flighty girl. I appreciated that Amy McAuley gave her heroine two love interests but didn't force a love triangle. Adele is too busy fighting an underground war to worry about which boy she likes.
The missions were quite exciting. Germans lurk around any corner, ready for any slip, from accidentally speaking in English to ordering black coffee. (Due to rationing of milk and sugar, black coffee was assumed.) Adele must complete her missions with little more than a bike and a notebook.
I also liked the friendship between Adele and radio operator Denise. Denise is a little more impulsive than Adele, but she's a skilled spy in her own right and a good friend. I've recently read a lot of books centered around female friendships and I really can't get enough of them. Friendships last a lifetime, especially when your friend is the only person you can trust not to be a double agent.
Espionage, friendship, and romance all played out to the background of WWII. If that doesn't appeal to you, then VIOLINS OF AUTUMN probably isn't your thing. But given how many people love CODE NAME VERITY, I think there are quite a few people looking for just that.