All the Ways We Said Goodbye
Powerhouse authors Beatriz Williams, Karen White, and Lauren Willig have teamed up for their third collaboration, a triple timeline story about three women whose lives are inexplicably bound up in the somewhat tragic history of Paris’ Ritz Hotel. The sweeping tale spans fifty years, introducing readers to Aurelie, Daisy, and Babs as they discover who they are and how they fit into the ever-changing world they inhabit.
Aurelie has spent most of her nineteen years in Paris, raised by her somewhat unconventional mother, who spends most of her time presiding over literary salons at the Ritz. So when war breaks out in 1914, Aurelie, who has always felt a bit out of place with her mother and her friends, flees Paris and returns home to her family’s estate. There, she and her father find themselves forced to share their home with a group of German officers, one of whom seems strangely fascinated by Aurelie’s beauty and intelligence.
Nearly thirty years later, Daisy is living a relatively normal life in Nazi-occupied Pairs. Her husband is desperate to endear himself to the Nazis in hopes of improving his social station, and Daisy does her best to keep herself at somewhat of an emotional distance from him. Unfortunately, her grandmother is keeping a dangerous secret, and if Daisy has any hope of keeping her safe, she’ll have to play a role in the French resistance movement, even if it causes her to betray her husband.
In 1964, Babs is mourning the recent death of her husband, a man she’s always considered to be the love of her life. She’s not sure what her future holds, so when she receives a letter from a stranger who has questions about her late husband’s wartime activities, Babs decides to journey to Paris. Once there, she hopes to lay to rest some nagging questions she’s had about the role he might have played in the French resistance, and she ends up learning far more than she bargained for.
AAR reviewers Shannon and Maggie have read All the Ways We Said Goodbye, and are here to share their thoughts on the novel.
Shannon: Dual timeline novels are quite popular these days, but All the Ways We Said Goodbye takes the trend a bit further, telling the stories of three women, each of whom lives in a different time period. I loved this style of storytelling. Each of the women had a compelling story arc, and I became invested in each of their journeys. How did the book as a whole work for you?
Maggie: I thoroughly enjoy dual timeline stories and have been a fan since before their current rise in popularity. In this tale, I particularly liked how the authors twined the three narratives together, with the events taking place in the earlier timelines driving the events of the latter ones. It helped keep me invested in the stories of each of our heroines and also gave the novel a cohesion it might otherwise have lacked.
Shannon: Each storyline was engaging, but Aurelie’s was perhaps the hardest for me to relate to. There was something slightly off-putting about her impetuous nature. Did you find her at all irritating?
Maggie: Aurelie was actually my favorite of the three heroines! She was impetuous but she was also a very young woman, an older teen, and I thought she learned and matured during her story arc. I also really liked her concern for her people – from when she made sure the mayors had something to eat and drink, to physically helping with the wheat harvest to ensure that the villagers had bread. Her kindness drew me to her.
Shannon: You raise some good points here. I’ll have to take some time to rethink Aurelie from your perspective. Now, let’s talk about Daisy. Her story was the most action-packed. I was on the edge of my seat through most of her chapters. She had a great deal to contend with, and I found myself cheering her on all the way.
Maggie: I think we had very different takes on this book! I found Daisy a bit vapid. From her foolish choice of husband to her grandmother having to spell out for her the dangers of their being Jewish during the Nazi occupation (and having to spell out for her that they were Jewish!) she seemed someone who lacked in character and intellect. I couldn’t help but wonder if she would have done the courier work if her partner had been someone old and fat and not the handsome spy she was working with.
Shannon: I think Babs was my favorite of the three heroines; her arc was more emotional than that of Aurelie and Daisy. At first, I worried I’d get bored with her attempts to learn the truth about her husband, especially since I was pretty sure I knew how he fit into the story as a whole, but I needn’t have worried. There was something so charming about Babs, something incredibly authentic and relatable. She never tried to be anything other than what she was, and I loved her for it.
Maggie: I agree that Babs was very authentic, relatable and likable. I enjoyed watching her receive a makeover and become a more glamorous version of herself and I thoroughly enjoyed her romance. I did struggle with her in regards to the issue of the letter, though. I found it hard to accept her excuses for the action she took, so while I enjoyed her storyline, that put a bit of a damper on my enthusiasm for the character.
Shannon: Let’s turn our attention to a different kind of character. The Ritz Hotel plays an enormous part in the lives of all three women, and, in many ways, it felt like a character in its own right. So much happens under its roof, and I loved the way the authors managed to bring it to life on the page. I’ve read other books that took place there, but the depiction here really stands out.
Maggie: The Ritz sounded absolutely amazing and lovely. The writers did a wonderful job of conveying the idea of a glamorous, luxurious location that had a thousand stories to tell, and hundreds of mysteries hidden behind its closed doors. I agree that the authors’ depiction of this location – as well as several of the others – was a standout point in the story.
Shannon: There are some romantic threads running through the novel, but I hesitate to actually call it an historical romance. The love stories are an integral part of the book, but the main focus seems to be on the personal journeys of our heroines. Initially, I was a bit disappointed by the understated nature of the romances, but I quickly fell under the spell of the story the authors were telling, and by the time I reached the end, I honestly couldn’t imagine enjoying it nearly half as much had it been told in a different way. Did you find the romantic subplots to be satisfying, or did they leave you wanting more?
Maggie: That’s such a tough question to answer. Of course, I always want more romance, but I think in the case of this story it would have been impossible to explore the love affairs more without turning it into a seven hundred page book – and I definitely didn’t want that! Given what I think the authors were trying to accomplish here, I thought they did a nice balancing act, providing a convincing love story within the broader context of a war narrative.
Shannon: This is a big book, clocking in at nearly 450 pages, but I flew through it. Did that work for you? Did it feel too long, or was it just right?
Maggie: The length worked fine for me. This is an epic story and epics take a bit of time to tell!
Shannon: I’m a big fan of these authors both separately and together, and their latest offering was truly spectacular. I’m giving it an A-, with only a few points taken off because of my initial difficulties with Aurelie’s character.
Maggie: I’m a big fan of the authors as well, but this tale is not a favorite for me and not one I would recommend to someone unfamiliar with their writing. I’m going with a B since I also took points off for difficulties with a personage, although in my case it is the secondary character Precious. I felt she practically screamed deus ex machina, as her interest in Babs made absolutely no sense. In fact, the character herself was difficult for me to grasp, given her rather complex history. That and a few other stumbles along the way made this a good but not great read for me. I’s offer a qualified recommendation to fans of the authors’ work or someone who enjoys epic women’s fiction stories taking place during WWI or WWII.