As most of you know, I am a huge historical fiction fan, especially WWII historical fiction. I am also a big fan of books that deal with past family secret mysteries (think Kate Morton). So when I read the book description for The House by the Lake and found that it was a fusion of the two, I was all for it.
Author: Ella Carey
Genre: Historical Fiction > WWII Fiction
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Anna is content with her well-ordered life in San Francisco. But her world is turned upside down when her beloved grandfather, Max, reveals a startling secret: Anna is part of an aristocratic family who lost everything during World War II. What’s more, Max was forced to leave behind a precious item over seventy years ago in their estate in old Prussia. It’s now his ardent wish that Anna retrieve it.
Anna burns with questions as she heads for Germany: What memento could be so important to her grandfather? And why did he keep their history hidden? As she searches for answers, she finds herself drawn to Wil, a man who may hold the key to unlock the mystery. Together they discover that her family’s secrets are linked with an abandoned apartment in Paris, and these secrets go deeper than she ever imagined.
Alternating between 1930s Europe and the present, The House by the Lake illuminates the destiny of a family caught in the tumult of history.
I love books that are inspired by real people/events. The House by the Lake was inspired by Marthe de Florian and the discovery of her apartment in 2010. Marthe de Florian was a famous French courtesan around the time of WWI. In 2010, her abandoned apartment in Paris was discovered. It had been untouched for decades and contained many paintings, furniture, and belongings. I really like how the author drew inspiration from Marthe de Florian, and built her story around her. The House by the Lake follows Marthe’s granddaughter, Issabelle, but Marthe is apart of the story as she is the one who raises Issabelle.
Despite this book including elements that I typically love, this book did not work for me, which is a shame because the concept and storyline COULD have made for a great read. I would very much like to preface this review with the fact that I am in the minority here. This book has a 3.9 star rating on Goodreads with almost 15,000 ratings. While this book was not my particular cup of tea, obviously there are many people who enjoyed the book, so take my thoughts with a grain of salt. Basically, I felt like the author had a wonderful concept for a story here, but the execution came up short.
The House by the Lake alternates between past and present, where the characters in the present storyline are trying to figure out the mysteries of the past. While I love this method, I also feel it is risky because it can be hard to pull off. In every book I read with this format, I almost always find myself drawn to one story over the other. This one was no different. I found myself being indifferent to Anna and her quest to reveal the secrets of the house by the lake. There was so much potential in this part of the story, but Anna & her story felt very flat. In comparison, Isabelle’s story was a tad more interesting, but again flat & emotionless. When I read a WWII historical fiction, I want it to evoke strong emotions: fear, anger, sorrow, hope…. Something! Unfortunately this book failed in bringing about any strong emotions in me while reading.
The romance in this book, in both past and present storylines, was bland and unbelievable. Max & Isabelle is an instalove situation in that their relationship develops very quickly. They actually spend the majority of the book apart, but in the scenes when they are together, I didn’t feel any type of romance or passion. As far as Anna & Wil are concerned, their relationship felt very awkward and forced. There was no chemistry.
Most of all, the climax was rushed and didn’t evoke the feelings it should have. This was a HUGE plot twist that I didn’t ever see coming & should have made me feel a particular emotion, but it didn’t… This isn’t to say that I was upset with how everything panned out, actually I thought it was fitting, but that it felt lackluster.
In summary, despite the overall plotline of The House by the Lake being quite good, I couldn’t connect to any of the characters, the romance was unbelievable, it lacked emotion, and the climax felt very rushed.
Ella has an arts degree majoring in European history and nineteenth century women’s literature, and a music degree in classical piano. She has traveled extensively in Europe and has a particular fondness for Paris. When Ella is not hard at work on her fourth novel, she is either busy with her pair of teenagers, walking her pair of Italian greyhounds while cooking up future books and greeting the many people who think the dogs are whippets, reading or dreaming of being in Paris.