As the Nazis march toward Paris in 1940, American ballerina Lucie Girard buys her favorite English-language bookstore to allow the Jewish owners to escape. Lucie struggles to run Green Leaf Books due to oppressive German laws and harsh conditions, but she finds a way to aid the resistance by passing secret messages between the pages of her books.
Widower Paul Aubrey wants nothing more than to return to the States with his little girl, but the US Army convinces him to keep his factory running and obtain military information from his German customers. As the war rages on, Paul offers his own resistance by sabotaging his product and hiding British airmen in his factory. After they meet in the bookstore, Paul and Lucie are drawn to each other, but she rejects him when she discovers he sells to the Germans. And for Paul to win her trust would mean betraying his mission.
Master of WWII-era fiction Sarah Sundin invites you onto the streets of occupied Paris to discover whether love or duty will prevail.
LaVerne and Maggie read Sarah Sundin's Until Leaves Fall in Paris, then (virtually) got together to discuss the novel and are here to share their thoughts.
Maggie: I've read every novel Sarah has published since her first A Distant Melody, so naturally when I got a chance to review this one, I jumped at it.
LaVerne: And I see that you reviewed quite a few of her books for AAR. *SMILE* What caught me was the WWII time period, especially those early years before the US entered the war. Add Paris and our main characters who are part of the resistance movement, and I was all in.
Maggie: The resistance movement aspect would have made me a bit leery had this been a book by any other author since I'm not a big fan of spy romance. In this case, I had to like the book in spite of that premise. It helped that I liked both Lucie and Paul. Lucie had self-worth issues she needed to work through and Paul had to come to terms with doing what is right even when it is costly. Both these issues showed the strength of the characters, who conducted themselves with courage and integrity as they learned these painful lessons.
LaVerne: I just adored Lucie for dancing on pointe in the bookstore and her general lightness of spirit. Underneath that sparkle was a bright woman who knew how to judge how much risk she should take for the good of the resistance. Paul shows that same discernment with a more reserved air.
Maggie: Yes, they shared some core characteristics although their road to true love certainly didn’t run smooth. Lucie is initially quite attracted to Paul and then discovers he is (allegedly) collaborating with the Germans, which causes her to do an about-face and behave quite rudely to him.
LaVerne: I did enjoy the tension brought into the story through this interesting conflict of two spies hindered from revealing they are on the same side. I do love a good Superman/Lois conflict in a romance. Lucie had a definite ‘drama queen’ moment when she learned about Paul’s ‘collaboration’. Her deep emotional reaction seemed appropriate, but making it clear Paul was unwelcome in the bookstore did seem over the top. She regularly served German soldiers and collaborators but made this one exception for Paul. I was disappointed that she made an outward fuss when handling it when cold civility would have been better for her resistance work.
Maggie: I agree. Her behavior at that moment would have been likely to draw his ire and possibly cause him to make trouble for her if he had in fact been a collaborator. It would have been better to stay friendly but distant. Once they worked past that, I felt Lucie and Paul helped bring out the best in each other. He helped her have confidence as a business owner, while she helped him appreciate the creative side of life. They make a good pair. However, at one point, Lucie points out to Paul that they went from meeting to wanting to marry "so soon". The romance was rushed, I thought.
LaVerne: I didn’t have the same reaction. The accelerated move to thoughts of marriage made sense. They’re sharing the same dangerous experience, they get along very well, Lucie is attached to Paul’s little girl Josie, and there are weeks between their meeting and the marriage discussion. That seemed like enough time for me, so I wondered what was in Lucie’s background that prompted her comment.
Maggie: The concern she mentioned in the book was a fear of not fitting into Paul’s world, which I thought might be a legitimate issue given their different financial stations. You mentioned little Josie. A lot of people have negative feelings about children in romance novels, especially when it involves the child instantly adoring the new love interest as it does in this novel. Four-year-old Josie falls in love with Lucie quicker than Paul does!
LaVerne: She certainly does! But Josie is that barometer of instinct letting Paul know that Lucie is one of the ‘good ones’. Overall Josie plays an interesting role. She forces Paul and Lucie to interact even when they don’t want to. She is the guiding reason behind the choices both Paul and Lucie make throughout the book, and she shows how baffled parents can be when their child is not like them. Josie was an important and joyful character in the novel.
One thing that drew me out of the story was the constant presence of the ‘Historian’. For example, the specific dates at the top of each chapter or scene shift and the statements of historic fact interjected into characters’ musings, but not sounding like them. There’s a little too much of the author’s voice in this book for my taste.
Maggie: I felt the opposite in that it seemed authentic to me. Covid has dominated so much of the conversation in my friend group in the last few years and so many are measuring time in terms of lockdowns/variants. I would imagine being occupied by an enemy army would have a similar effect on conversation/thought/time measurement for people in Lucie and Paul’s situation.
This is an Inspirational romance, and I would rate the religiosity level of the novel as fairly high. I struggled to pin down any particular faith theme that runs through the story unless it is that of living righteously in whatever circumstance you find yourself in. I'm not sure the author really explored this issue with the depth it needed, though.
LaVerne: I felt the author was using the ‘faith in action’ technique to share the spiritual element. Every time Lucie or Paul made an important decision, they did it by reviewing the moral code they’ve been taught and then striving to follow the code, all supported by prayer. I didn’t recognize a theme either, but your description fits very well.
Maggie: I would argue that the secondary characters are very secondary in this novel. We never really got to know any of them well, as the emphasis was on the action and the romance.
LaVerne: Now that you say it, I do agree - definitely for Lucie’s acquaintances. Sundin gives us a little more character growth and background for the floor manager at Paul’s factory and the German overseer, but only in the context of the action.
Maggie: Overall, I enjoyed Until Leaves Fall in Paris but wouldn't say it is Sundin's strongest work. It gets a B from me because I felt the romance was a bit rushed, the author covered too much in too little page space and the story spent too much time on the action. On the positive side, the prose is excellent, the plot appropriately thrilling, our hero and heroine are perfect for each other and our primary characters are well-drawn and behave consistent to their nature throughout.
LaVerne: For me, I would agree that Until Leaves Fall in Paris has a few weak spots. I’m giving it a B- because the ‘Historian’ aspect was too intrusive for me, the “too much in too little page space” you mentioned diluted the emotional punch this story could have had, and I could easily set the book aside. However, as you say, the prose is excellent, the main characters are drawn with skill, and the action plot is well-conceived, providing exciting moments as our hero and heroine navigate through the dangers of espionage.
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