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Secrets She Kept by Cathy Gohlke

Secrets She Kept by Cathy Gohlke
Pub, Date: August 20, 2015
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, Tyndale!)
Summary: The secret a mother was forbidden to share . . . the consequences a daughter could not redeem—but will risk everything in her attempt.

All her life, Hannah Sterling longed for a close relationship with her estranged mother. Following Lieselotte’s death, Hannah unlocks secrets of her mother’s mysterious past, including the discovery of a grandfather living in Germany.

Thirty years earlier, Lieselotte’s father, ascending the ranks of the Nazi party, demands a marriage for his daughter to help advance his career. But Lieselotte is in love—and her beloved Lukas secretly works against the Reich. How far will her father go to achieve his goal?

Both Hannah’s and Lieselotte’s stories unfold as Hannah travels to Germany to meet her grandfather, who hides wartime secrets of his own. Longing for connection, yet shaken by all she uncovers, Hannah must decide if she can atone for her family’s tragic past, and how their legacy will shape her future.
Genre: Historical Fiction, Christian Fiction

Twenty-seven-year-old Hannah recently lost her mother and her father passed on years before. While cleaning out the house, she receives word from an attorney about her mother’s will and a safe deposit box that is to be turned over. All her life her mother had been caring, but emotionally shut off and passive – what could she possibly want Hannah to have? The family wasn’t rich by any stretch of the imagination…there’s no way a safe deposit box could hold anything of value.

Hannah had always been told her mother was Austrian, the accent alone ostracized her from the rest of the town. So when she opens the box and discovers letters from Germany, she’s more than a little confused. Those letters set her on a course overseas seeking answers and family she never knew she had.

On the surface, Secrets She Kept sounds like a book written for me: WWII fiction, dual narratives, family secrets – and for the majority of the story it was! Unfortunately, by the halfway mark things started spiraling downward and by the ending I just wanted it to be over.

When Hannah arrives in Germany, her grandfather welcomes her, though the language barrier is initially an obstacle they must face. Until one night when the housekeeper mentions he speaks English fluently – her grandfather and his doctor were apparently feeling her out, seeing what she was like and whether or not she could be trusted. Her grandfather, Grossvater, is extremely wealthy and spares no expense in showing Hannah the sights and sounds of her new home. It’s with her driver, Carl, that Hannah begins to suspect there’s more to her grandfather – and mother – than she ever expected.

Every chapter the novel alternates between the war and Hannah’s story in the 1970s. Normally both storylines are strong enough to the point where I enjoy them equally, but here I found myself looking forward to the jump back in time to Lieselotte’s tale. A brother eager to join Hitler’s forces. A father rising in the ranks. A boy she loves, though his family does work her father would never approve of. Lieselotte spends more and more time with Lukas and his family, ultimately turning her back on her father and brother to help Jewish families hide and escape.

I was fully invested in the story until Lieselotte finds herself in a concentration camp. Ravensbruck, to be exact. I’ve made no secret about my love for what I’ve dubbed biographical fiction, novels that use real people as characters, but something about inserting Corrie ten Boom and having her later serve as the catalyst for Hannah’s journey to forgiveness that didn’t sit well with me at all.

While reading, I kept thinking the story was setting itself up for a twist, but that twist never happened and I’m left wondering if I would have enjoyed the story more had it been there. It would have made sense, given all the little details and hints scattered throughout the book. In the end, I found myself liking Secrets She Kept less and less with each page. That said, it seems (at least from the ratings and reviews on GoodReads – this book has a 4.47 rating!) I clearly in the minority. I’m sure this book will find plenty of fans. Unfortunately, I wasn’t one of them.

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