Today I am delighted to host a stop on the blog tour for Jane Thynne’s latest instalment in the Clara Vine series, Solitaire. I’ve been following the Clara Vine series for several years now, so you can imagine my excitement when I was asked to take part in the tour! Thynne’s writing is the perfect blend of romance, history, and espionage and I can’t wait to see where Clara’s adventures take her next.
Author: Jane Thynne
Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK
Publication Date: November 17, 2017
Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Thriller
Themes: WWII, Espionage, Survival, Romance, Grief
Features: Historical notes
June 1940: Nightly blackouts suffocate Berlin. Then France falls and a shadow descends across Western Europe now under German occupation.
A shadow has fallen over Clara Vine’s own life, too. She is an Anglo-German woman in a country that hates Britain. Virulent anti-British propaganda is everywhere.
Then she is summoned to meet the Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels who has decided that Clara should adopt a new role – as his spy — and that she must go to Paris on a mission.
Much as she dislikes the idea, Clara realises this might be the chance to find an escape route to Britain. But Goebbels has other ideas and soon Clara is drawn into a web that threatens to destroy her. As everything she holds dear is taken as ransom, she must fight to protect her family – and to survive…
If you like historical fiction with a touch of espionage, and you haven’t read the Clara Vine series yet, where the heck have you been?! Daring and dramatic, Solitaire is the kind of book that will hook you right off the bat and just keep reeling you in. And the best part is that even though Solitaire is part of a larger series, you can read this book by itself and you won’t feel like you’ve missed a thing.
The opening passages at the casino in Lisbon, and Clara’s encounter with the man on the train, provided more than enough action to propel me through those passages where Clara is dealing with Leo’s loss. And not only is Clara a fiercely strong female lead, this novel is packed with a cast of secondary characters that give it both texture and depth. I adored the American correspondent Mary Harker for choosing to stay when leaving would have been the easiest option, her neighbour Doctor Franz Engel for his subtle defiances of the Nazi party, and even found a soft spot in my heart for Irene Schonepauck given her difficult position of trying to break into the world of party-wives.
The secondary story line of Sonja and Katerina was just as good as Clara’s. While Sonja initially seemed like a harsh and judgemental person, once I realized the steps that she was taking to protect her sister I couldn’t help but warm to her character. It must have been hard to leave Katerina behind, to intentionally burn those bridges so that she wouldn’t come looking for her, and to quietly protect Katerina from the extermination initiatives being carried out against those with disabilities. Now add in Katerina’s infectiously plucky character, and you’d have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by the sister’s stories.
Between the two heroines there’s enough and action and adventure to keep you on your toes. I found that Katerina was an excellent vessel for relaying vital information about the war-time landscape of Berlin as well as the plight of the children of the Reich. Sure, we see the city through Clara’s eyes as well, but Katerina’s escapades on foot and in the S-Bahn show the city from a different, if not more detached, perspective. I’d go so far as to say that through Katerina we get to Berlin through the eyes of someone who still loves the city and holds it on a pedestal, rather than the perspective of someone who has resigned themselves to it’s wartime realities.
On the other hand, Clara gets to whisk us away to exotic locations. Through her eyes we are able to see the romance and beauty of occupied Paris, and the melting pot of neutral Lisbon – two incredibly unique settings suspended in those fleeting moments before all hell breaks loose. I liked too, the differences in perspective regarding Lisbon between Clara and Sonja, as the really highlighted the luxuries afforded by privilege – even in wartime. This was especially highlighted through Clara’s encounter with Mrs. Wallis Simpson, who praises her jewels and clothing above all else, and complains about her pending exile in the Bahamas.
And, Oh! That fashion! No matter how threadbare some of the dresses were made out to be, I could picture every pleat, curve, and line of the clothing depicted. This is one of the those books that I would kill to see as a movie simply because of costumes! I can only imagine the overwhelming joy of acquiring commodities in the drought of rationing. Even the simplest of things such as coffee and stockings take on new meaning, and I found myself just as pleased to discover them in each new location as Clara. But seriously, can we please have a Clara Vine movie empire? Because we NEED a female alternative to Mr. Bond.
Oh, dear lord, there’s something else that I just have to mention – I love a book that calls out the stereotypes and misogyny of Ian Fleming, and Thynne does this perfectly through incorporating Fleming (and his famous martini) during his time in the NIS. Now don’t get me wrong, I love me some James Bond, but Clara’s encounter with Ian’s character is perfect – right down to the way in which she rebuffs his rather forceful advances. Despite her situation and his undeniable swagger Clara is able to hold her own in ways that the ladies of the Bond novels never seem to have the grit to do. This whole scene was so incredibly feminist, definitely meta, and so very, very good!
Now, there’s something else all you lovely bookish people don’t know about me, but after university I worked for several years selling high end jewellery and timepieces including Cartier. So, the incorporation of iconic Maisons really hit home for me. It is relatively well documented that the London offices of Cartier were a regular meeting place for the Free French, thus the extension that the Paris offices served a similar purpose in the novel seemed the perfect fit. As too was the inclusion of Jeanne Toussaint, the Panthere collection sketches and High Jewellery, and that iconic caged bird brooch! For those that are interested, the companion brooch with the doors open was produced in 1947.
Would I recommend this book? A hands down yes! This baby reads as a who’s who of European high society in the early years of WWII – drawing in everyone from high ranking Nazi officials and their wives, to British royalty, politicians, authors and internationals film stars. The blend of fact with fiction is seamless, and it’s clear that the research into even the most minute of details was substantial. This is a book that is dominated by breathtakingly brave and undeniably strong women, and we need to see more like it. Masterfully crafted and gripping to the end, I only wish I knew where it was going next!
Solitaire is a must read my friends, and I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys WWII, Historical Fiction, and some international espionage.
I was born in Venezuela and grew up with my parents and two brothers in London. After school in Hampton, I spent a year working at the Old Vic Theatre before reading English at St Anne’s College, Oxford.
I then joined the BBC as a production trainee, but after a few years succumbed to a hankering for Fleet Street and moved to The Sunday Times. I spent many cheerful years at The Daily Telegraph as media correspondent, but my single most exciting moment in that time was getting a publishing contract for my first novel.
In particular I have a passion for historical fiction and love the research that involves. The first in the Clara Vine series, Black Roses, became a number One Kindle Bestseller. In the UK the series is published by Simon & Schuster. Outside Britain, my novels have been translated into French, German, Greek, Turkish and Italian. In France the series is published by J.C Lattes and in Greece by Kedros. In the US and Canada the series is published by Random House.
As well as writing books I now freelance as a journalist, writing regularly for numerous British magazines and newspapers, and also appear as a broadcaster on Radio 4. I have been a guest reader at the Arvon Foundation and have sat on the broadcasting committee of the Society of Authors. I have three children and live in London.
I also have an active Facebook page where I love to interact with readers. Do please follow me on GOODREADS and add the Clara Vine novels to your ‘Want To Read’ list. Get in touch. It’s great to talk!
Thank you so very much to Jane Thynne for sending a copy to in exchange for an honest review, and to Sian Devine for extending the invitation to join in this tour.