ARC Reviews, Book Reviews, Historical Fiction

Book Review: The House by the Lake by Ella Carey

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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.


TheHouseByTheLakeAuthor:  Ella Carey

Genre: Historical Fiction > WWII Fiction

Version: eBook

Publisher:  Lake Union Publishing

Source: NetGalley


Book Description

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.

Divider2I 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.TheHousebyTheLake

   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.

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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.MyRating

5-Star Rating System

*Big thanks to Lake Union Publishing for providing me with a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Divider2About the Author

EllaCareyElla 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.

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23 thoughts on “Book Review: The House by the Lake by Ella Carey”


    #2 Your photos are fantastic. Many Bookstragrammers (or however you spell it) insist on buying physical copies of books for photography purposes, but your e-reader pictures are just lovely. And cute doggie!

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I wonder why we’re stuck on WWII when Vietnam created such a massive rift in the U.S.–in fact, Ken Burns created a new documentary on the Vietnam War that comes in several sections (can’t remember how many) and is 18 hours. He interviews people and soldiers in Vietnam and the U.S. to get multiple perspectives.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I just heard about the Ken Burns documentary today on NPR. It sounds fascinating. Honestly, I think America in general is stuck on WWII because we came out looking the best in the history books. Vietnam and Korea are still in recent memory for many people (let alone Kuwait and Iraq!) and are much more decisive. It’s harder to try to find heroic stories or unbiased history for those. It’s like no one wants to ruffle feathers? Or it was so controversial that we are choosing to focus on other issues (like racism and #OwnVoices), or perhaps it’s that the world is a bit burned out on war right now? Either way, you’re right– we need more focusing on those times. That’s one reason reading The Best We Could Do really spoke to me.

        I’m reading Ruta Sepetys’ Between Shades of Gray about Lithuanians shipped to Siberia by the Russians in 1941. There is so much I’m learning I didn’t know before about the eastern front in WWII– but it’s making me crave stories from other wars. Any suggestions for other books?

        Liked by 1 person

      3. The go-to novel is usually The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. Pat Barker is a woman who writes war fiction. I read The Ghost Road ages ago in a college course. I like the contemporary novel Her Own Vietnam by Lynn Kanter, which is about a woman’s perspective as a nurse in the war.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I ran a book blog tour for Lynn Kanter’s novel Her Own Vietnam, a novel I really enjoyed. The audio book just came out, too. I read Pat Barker’s The Ghost Road in college (but I can’t remember it). I’ve read a few stories from The Things They Carried, which Tim O’Brien wrote based on his own experiences in Vietnam.


    1. Yes, I agree. Could we just have a WWII book with a linear timeline?!

      And thank you so much! While I would much rather take pictures of physical books, the majority of my ARCs are via eBook, so I can either NOT include pictures, or just get creative in my photo taking 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I remember wanting to read this and you not liking it, I thought I had missed that review! I hate instalove ow whatever it’s called and when you feel like the romance is not developed… I’m going to follow your advice and skip this one!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ugh. I am SO sorry, Amanda! There is nothing worse than being excited to read a book only to be disappointed. Do you think that your excitement to read this influenced your dislike more strongly? Kinda like when hype falls flat, right?

    I’m with Melanie about multiple timeline historical fiction stories. If done well, they are amazing! However, there are so few which are done well. Morton, in my understanding, always does a great job with this! Unfortunately, it seems like Crrey just doesn’t have the same well-defined writing style yet.

    Do you think you’ll seek our Carey’s other books? Or are you going to walk away while you can? 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t necessarily think my excitement or hype effected my disappointment in this novel, BUT it could be that I’ve just read so many amazing WWII books that this one is just dull in comparison…

      I know! I’m all for a story told in a linear timeline… Let’s try that for a change!

      I wouldn’t be opposed to giving Carey a go in the future. Her books have good ratings…. This could just be that this particular book and I didn’t click.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Exactly! There are SO many great WWII books out now, and more being published every day. If you aren’t exceptional you aren’t noteworthy. It makes me sad to say that. But, why don’t we try branching into other moments of history?

        A linear timeline. What a novel idea. 😉


  4. Ah shame this didn’t totally work for you, cos I liked the concept too and was intrigued by it. But it sounds like it was a bit lacklustre and I get why it fell flat for you- we all have books that just fail to evoke strong emotions. Plus it’s a real pity about that climax. Great review!!


  5. Aw bummer, that’s such a shame you didn’t like this. It certainly sounds like your kinda thing. But then again, you’ve ruined every other historical fiction book in existence for me by making me read The Nightingale. That book is stupidly good and will forever be my reference point for saying “well, what you should have done is . . . ”

    I think I’ll add this to my list of books-I-want-to-read-but-I-already-have-far-too-many just incase I stumble across it at some point. I have a hunch I might like it more than you did.

    Liked by 1 person

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