Libraries are being ransacked. France is torn apart by war. A French librarian is determined to resist. Told through smuggled letters to an author, an ordinary librarian describes the brutal Nazi occupation of her small coastal village and the extraordinary measures she takes to fight back.
Saint-Malo, France: August 1939. Jocelyn and Antoine are childhood sweethearts, but just after they marry, Antoine is drafted to fight against Germany. As World War II rages, Jocelyn uses her position as a librarian in her town of Saint-Malo to comfort and encourage her community with books. Jocelyn begins to write secret letters smuggled to a famous Parisian author, telling her story in the hope that it will someday reach the outside world.
France falls and the Nazis occupy Jocelyn's town, turning it into a fortress. The townspeople try passive resistance, but the German commander ruthlessly begins to destroy part of the city's libraries. Books deemed unsuitable by the Nazis are burnt or stolen, and priceless knowledge is lost.
Risking arrest and even her life, Jocelyn manages to hide some of the books while desperately waiting to receive news from her husband Antoine, now a prisoner in a German camp.
Jocelyn's mission unfolds in her letters: to protect the people of Saint-Malo and the books they hold so dear. Mario Escobar brings to life the occupied city in sweeping and romantic prose, re-creating the history of those who sacrificed all to care for the people they loved.
This is a beautiful story that went none of the places that I expected it to. It rejected most tidy standards for the historical novel market, particularly in Christian fiction, and told a powerful story regardless of where it led. It doesn’t take the easy way out, but rather presents a meaningful picture of reality. (This story is also based on true events as well, which adds a whole new layer to it.)
I was curious going in when I noticed it was a female lead written by a male author. (Not anything against male authors, but I had just come off of a very poorly written novel by a male author who hadn’t done his research.) Mario Escobar did an amazing job keeping the thoughts and perspectives true to female experience. Much applause.
Plus, can I just say how cool it was when they would talk about Spain and such, and to know that this guy actually knows what he’s talking about, lives it day in and day out? I felt like it added such a neat element to the story. I’d love to see more authors of different ethnicities telling their stories in the Christian fiction market.
This book does include infrequent language (four instances total, three of which appear in one chapter, Chapter 5 to be specific). I found the book at my church library where the words had been inked out.
Due to it being told in a letter format, I didn’t feel like I really got in Jocelyn’s head or really got to know her. I was reading a compelling story, to be sure, but I didn’t have a connection to the characters. I would have loved to see something more along the lines of Amy Lynn Green’s Things We Didn’t Say, which does a fabulous job connecting the reader to the character despite being told through letters.
What The Librarian of Saint-Malo lacks in character connection, it makes up for in powerful story.
Long before she was the terror of Wonderland, she was just a girl who wanted to fall in love.
Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland, and a favorite of the unmarried King of Hearts, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, all she wants is to open a shop with her best friend. But according to her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for the young woman who could be the next queen.
Then Cath meets Jest, the handsome and mysterious court joker. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the king and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into an intense, secret courtship. Cath is determined to define her own destiny and fall in love on her terms. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.
It’s rare for the actual writing to grab me quite like this. I was so immersed in Cath’s head. Every comparison sounded so natural, exactly the way that she would describe it or see things. The prose was top notch.
Some of the plot twists were a bit easy to figure out, but I think that worked to the book's benefit. Rather than shocking me when the truth came out, it built that suspense and yes, a little bit of dread as I waited for the truth to be revealed in all its monstrosity.
I have read very few negative-arc stories before, so I was very curious going into this one. Mainly because Marissa Meyer did such a good job getting me into Cath’s head, I almost didn’t realize what was happening. Until halfway through the book I suddenly jerked to attention and realized how selfish Cath was being. Looking back, I could trace the slow evolution all the way back to the beginning.
No good person in this story is completely good. And no bad person is completely bad. Even Jest (who next to Mary Ann was probably the most noble character in the story) has his undeniably selfish moments.
Jest and Cath are brilliantly contrasted to each other. We watch Jest struggle to overcome his selfish tendencies, even though he certainly slips up at times. Meanwhile, we watch Cath become more and more consumed with what she wants, what she thinks will make her happy. And when she is unable to get it, she blames those around her—some justly, but eventually more and more unjustly—for her unhappiness.
It balanced this all perfectly with my sympathy to Cath, hoping that the likable girl from chapter one would somehow open her eyes and avoid her inevitable end.
Was any of this Cath’s fault at all? Was it those who made her so miserable—her abusive parents, for starters? Or was it her own subtle selfishness? Heartless forced me to consider my own life and where I might be more like Cath than I’d like to think. A negative-arc story, while not always quite as enjoyable to read, has a unique power in that sense.
One more quick note before I move on is that this book brilliantly handles the topic of body-shaming and food-shaming. While it may not offer much of a happy ending for those who struggle with it, it does illustrate how hurtful these words (and other words) can be, an important and timeless thing to hear.
This is a negative-arc story, otherwise known as a tragedy. You have been warned. Please also note that while it is clean, this is also not an explicitly Christian book, although it does have healthy messages.
Heartless is a tragic tale, one that might prove too bitter to swallow. But if you stop and savor a while, you might be subjected to some interesting flavors you wouldn’t have encountered otherwise.
Hi there! Rachel again. Check out this section for book reviews and cover reveals of some of my favorites!