"A deeply moving WW2 novel!"
Reviewed by Magdalena Johansson
Posted November 19, 2016
I had no idea this was part of a series when I started to
read this book, but as far as I know is the books not
linked to each other than that they take place in the
town of Wedding Tree. All I knew was that I wanted to
read this book the first time I saw the cover and then
read the description of the book. I have a deep love for
books with parallel timelines and I found the description
of the book fascinating with two women, old now, finally
confronting the past. Amelie O'Connor, the French War
Bride who stole Kat Morgans fiancée Jack. But, what
really happened? That's what Kat wants to know, but
Amelie needs to tell here the whole story, from the
start, not just how she and Jack met. Kat needs to know
what led up to the fateful meeting between Jack and
Amelie to understand why Amelie was so desperate that day
in the Parisian church...
Robin Wells manages to really convey the difficult years
during the Nazi occupation of France in THE FRENCH WAR
BRIDE. Amelie is just an ordinary girl with an ordinary
family when war arrives and suddenly her brothers have
gone off to fight and then comes the terrible day when
they have to leave Paris for safety in the country, but
not even there are they really safe. And, it will get
I was actually a bit surprised how deeply taken I was
with the story and its characters. I had hoped for a good
book, but I'm a bit picky when it comes to romance in
books. Honestly, I thought it would actually be more of a
love story than it was, but Jack wasn't even in the story
for over half the book. It was Amelie's story, her
experience with the occupation, watching loved one dies
that that really was the focus for most of the book.
Then, we had Jack showing up as a saving angel. And, the
way she insinuated herself into his life. Well, let's say
that she was desperate and the methods she used were a
bit objectionable. However, she had her reason.
Then we have Kat, we only get some snippets from her
life, how she met Jack and their courtship. However, I
got the feeling throughout the book that she was more in
love with the idea of marriage with Jack than she was in
love with Jack. She wanted the life her parents had, her
father a doctor and her mother a doting wife. I think
that she had pictured the perfect life and was in love
with that and Jack becoming a doctor just like her father
and then going to work with him was just a perfect dream.
So, Amelie arriving at Wedding Tree was for Kat a
terrible blow because suddenly her dream life was gone.
I think that THE FRENCH WAR BRIDE was an amazing book
that both showed the devastation of war and the
resistance of the people that would not bow down.
Amelie's story was deeply moving and I think if you like
reading WW2 books, then THE FRENCH WAR BRIDE is an
World War II Paris serves as the backdrop of a story of
compassion, betrayal, and forgiveness from the national
bestselling author of The Wedding Tree . . .
“I never knew what he saw in you.”
At her assisted living center in Wedding Tree, Louisiana,
ninety-three-year-old Amélie O’Connor is in the habit of
leaving her door open for friends. One day she receives an
unexpected visitor—Kat Thompson, the ex-fiancée of her late
Kat and Jack were high school sweethearts who planned to
marry when Jack returned from France after World War II. But
in a cruel twist of fate, their plans were irrevocably
derailed when a desperate French girl overheard an American
officer’s confession in a Parisian church. . .
Now Kat wants to know the truth behind a story that’s
haunted her whole life. Finding out how Amélie stole Jack’s
heart will—she thinks—finally bring her peace. As Amélie
recalls the dark days of the Nazi occupation of Paris,
The French War Bride reveals how history shapes the
courses of our lives. . .for better or for worse.
“I never knew what he saw in you.”
For a moment, I wonder if I’ve imagined the woman’s voice.
Mon Dieu, but the words are familiar—I’ve said them often
enough to myself over the last sixty-something years. But
when I turn toward the door of my assisted living apartment—
I am in the habit of leaving it open, so friends will know
when I’m not indisposed— sure enough, there she stands: my
husband’s scorned fiancee.
She is older, of course—the whole world is, is it not?—and
yet, I recognize her. She is still tall, at least compared
to me, even though her back is now stooped with age. Her
skin is still as pale as milk in a porcelain pitcher,
although now it has the crepey texture that is the fate of
all les femmes d’un age certain. She still had cornflower
eyes, a petite nose and a way of holding it high as she
looks at me, as if she smells something rancid.
I can’t say that I blame her. If I’d been Jack’s high school
sweetheart who had written to him nearly every day while he
completed medical school and military service, I, too, would
have held a life-long grudge against the woman he’d jilted
Especially if that woman had been a war bride, and if I’d
been wearing his engagement ring, waiting for him to come
home and marry me and practice medicine with my father, so
that I could live the life of a small town doctor’s wife,
just like my mother. And especially especially —can you do
that in English with that word? The double adverb? I’ve
never known—if I were a tall, gorgeous, smooth-haired blonde
who must have had men standing ten deep to dance with her,
and the war bride was small, dark and French.
“Kat,” I say, self-conscious of the accent I have tried, but
never managed, to lose. “What a surprise.”
“I imagine so. Although not as much of one as you gave me.”
I laugh, then realize she isn’t trying to be amusing.
“You’re right, of course.”
She nods, her mouth a tight, disapproving line.
So. This is not to be an easy visit. I grip the arms of my
chair and rise slowly to my feet. “Come in, Kat. Come in and
have a seat.”
She enters slowly, looking around. I can only imagine how
the place looks to her. I moved to the Shady Oaks Assisted
Living Center with Jack, when we thought he might recover
from his stroke. In trying to make it feel like home, I
furnished it with perhaps too many of our belongings. But
then, my taste is old-school Parisienne— ornate and layered.
I like my surroundings to appeal to all the senses. I watch
Kat take in the heavily framed paintings, the large plush
sofa, the deeply tufted rose-colored chairs, the fringed
drapes. Knickknacks and books and magazines cover
practically every surface. It’s the kind of room where one
can keep discovering things, little treasures like a crystal
paperweight shaped like a rose, or the carving of a ship in
the corner, or that sketch of a naked woman that she’s
staring at now, the one that Jack said looked like me. She
looks shocked. I wonder if she thinks I posed for it. It
pleases me to think she might believe so.
Most likely, however, she’s thinking, “How on earth did Jack
ever live with all this stuff?”
“Please— take this chair.” I gesture to the large, cushioned
begere I’ve just vacated, the most comfortable seat in the
apartment. “Can I offer you tea? Or a coffee?”
“No.” Ignoring the chair, she settles heavily onto the sofa,
the large gold velvet one that used to be in the formal
living room at our house.
“So what brings you back to Wedding Tree?” I ask, retaking
my seat as gracefully as my arthritic hips allow.
She fingers the double strand of pearls around her neck. “I
have a great-granddaughter who recently moved here. She’s
with that new computer company in that monstrous building
north of town.”
“Oh, yes.” It is a software firm, and the building is all
graceful glass curves, with landscaping that always has
something in bloom. I think it is lovely. “So you came to
“That is my excuse. I actually came to talk to you.” She
grips her cane. “I need to know what happened.”
“To Jack?” My chest suddenly feels hot and tight. “He had a
stroke two years ago.” I feel the loss, still, like a
physical thing—as if I had lost an arm and a leg and half of
my key organs.
“I know, I know. I was sorry to hear about it. Deepest
condolences, of course. But that isn’t what I meant.” She
had the grace to look ill at ease. “I meant about… earlier.
About what happened between you and Jack in France. I want
to know the details.”
I pull my brows together. “Pardon me, but after all these
years, surely it cannot matter?”
Kat’s chin rises to an imperious angle. For a moment she
looks like a portrait of Louis XVI, where he’s wearing one
those tight-necked blouses. “It has always mattered.”
Oh, dear. I cross, then uncross my legs. “Sometimes, Kat,
it’s best to just let bygones be gones.” I realize I didn’t
say the phrase quite right. “Sometimes one needs to…” What
is the saying in English for passer l’eponge? “To forgive
“Oh, I’ve forgiven. At least, I’ve forgiven Jack.”
“I’ve tried to forgive you, as well,” she continued, leaving
me unsure if I’d spoken or only thought the question. As my
age advances, that happens now and again. “At least as well
as is humanly possible, with the little information I have.
I forgave Jack right away so I wouldn’t live a bitter life.
And I haven’t.” Her chin again tilts up, and her eyes seem
to throw down a challenge. “I’ve had a marvelous life.”
“I’m so glad.” I am, actually. I have always carried a
burden of guilt about the way my actions affected her. “You
married, I heard?”
“Oh, yes. A wonderful wealthy man who adored me. I have four
children, nine grandchildren, eighteen great-grandchildren
and two great-great grandchildren.”
“Yes.” She brushes an invisible piece of lint from her navy
skirt. “I met my husband in Dallas when I left Wedding Tree.
I’ve been very blessed. But I have one last item on what my
great-grandchildren call my bucket list. You and Jack…. It’s
the one thing in my life I have never understood. And…” she
pauses. “I don’t have much time left.”
I smile. “At our age, no one does.”
“Yes, but I know exactly how little time I have,” she says.
“You see, I had cancer years ago, and it’s…well, it’s back,
and this time it’s untreatable. I have no more than six
months. Probably less.”
My forehead knits. I resist the urge to cross myself. “I’m
so, so sorry.”
She waves her hand dismissively. “It gives me a framework.
I’m carefully choosing how to spend my time.”
“And you’re choosing to spend some of it with me?” I’m
afraid my tone reveals my incredulity. In her shoes, I’m
sure I wouldn’t have sought out my company.
Her head bobs in a single, somber nod. “I have not been able
to understand how I could have been so wrong about Jack. I
grew up knowing him, and… well, I thought he was an
I looked down at my wedding ring. The band is worn on the
palm side of my finger, so thin it hardly holds together.
“He went back on his word to me.”
“It really wasn’t his fault.”
“Oh, I know who shoulders most of the blame.” The censor in
her tone—well, my skin prickles upward, like the ruff of a
wolf. “But, still… I was just so certain that Jack…”
I can’t catch what she says next. I lean forward and touch
my ear. “Pardon?”
She closes her eyes, her face drawn as if in pain. When she
speaks, her voice cracks in a way that strikes the heart. “I
thought he loved me.”
“Oh, he did!” I say quickly.
“Obviously not enough, or he wouldn’t have succumbed to
The pause in her statement would have been funny if it
didn’t sting so much. I have always been aware that Kat was
a great beauty, whereas I…well, no one would ever have
described me that way. “I really gave him no choice,” I say.
“Unless you drugged him and tied him down, seduction is no
excuse for infidelity.”
I am startled and amused. I fight to hide both reactions. “No?”
“No. Seduction is only an attempt, a temptation. True love
Her notion of true love — so naive, so ridiculously
American! —makes me smile.
“I fail to see anything funny.” Her voice is like needles,
prickled and sharp.
“No, no—of course not. It’s just that, Kat—it was war time,
and things were not so black and white.”
She dismisses my remark with a sweep of her hand. “There are
“Well, then, why are you here?” With that mindset, nothing I
say will make any difference.
“To hear the truth. My hospice counselor… he’s been very
helpful. He’s Jewish, of all things.” She leans forward a
bit. “You know, Amelie, at your age, you might want to look
into consulting one, too.”
I think this is a —how do you say it?—a dig, but I can’t be
sure. “I don’t think you can get a hospice counselor if you
aren’t ill,” I say softly, wondering if Kat has some form of
dementia. So many of us do as we age.
She shrugs. “Ill, old— it’s all the same. Anyway, Jacob
suggested that I do whatever I need to do to make peace with
the past. And I realized that I needed to come see you and
hear the truth.”
The truth. Mon Dieu, what a horrifying concept! My heart
gave a hard, pointed-toe kick to my ribs. “What did Jack
tell you?” I ask, trying to buy some time.
“Very little. Something about you tricking him, but I
dismissed it, of course.”
“You should have believed him,” I say.
Her eyes meet mine directly for the first time since she’d
sat down. “Just how did you trick him? I need to know what
happened. Please. I want to hear the full story so I can die
“What makes you think it will bring you peace? It’s more
likely to anger you.”
“Just tell me. Please. It is for the good of my eternal soul.”
Oh, my—how does one refuse such a request? My breath hitches.
“I need to know the exact nature of what you did so that I
can forgive you fully,” she says. “Not for your sake— quite
frankly, I couldn’t care less about you— but for mine. I
understand that God only forgives us as we forgive others.”
She sits quietly for a moment. “I need to know what you did.”
I had believed that the secrets of my early days with Jack
would die with me. The notion of dredging them all up, of
shining a light on what I had worked so hard to bury, makes
my heart both race and stop, although I know this is
biologically impossible. “I do not mean to be rude, but this
is a private matter. What was between Jack and me is really
not your concern.”
“Not my concern? Not my concern?” She is suddenly a lion—
her forehead creased, her mouth large, her voice larger,
roaring in a way that is likely to summon an aide. She
pounds her cane on the floor to emphasize each word. “You
stole my life!”
My upper lip breaks a sweat, while my mouth feels packed
with gauze. “You said you had a wonderful life. That you
married a wonderful man.”
“I did. He was wealthy, handsome, successful, adoring. But…”
In that heartbeat of a pause, I knew what she was going to
say. The words came out barely more than a whisper; the lion
is now a wounded lamb. “…He wasn’t Jack.”
No, of course not. No one else in the world was Jack. “I—-”
I started to say I was sorry, but what good would that do?
An apology would bring back nothing, would give her nothing.
And I wouldn’t mean it, anyway; I would not have given up a
single moment with that magnificent man.
“Please,” she begs.
I look at her and try to see her objectively. It is what
Jack used to do with his patients —to remove assumptions and
see clearly. She is an old woman, searching for the truth
about her life. Ah, merde.
“The truth is not likely to bring you the peace you want,” I
In fact, peace is the last thing it’s likely to bring. How
can she forgive me once she hears the full extent of my
How can I forgive myself? I had hoped to die without digging
through the graveyard of my past, picking through and laying
out all the skeletons of shame and pain—the shame and pain
that I’d suffered myself, but far worse, the shame and pain
I’d inflicted on others.
And yet, what excuse do I have to withhold what she wants to
know, aside from pure selfishness? Elise is gone, so I no
longer need worry about protecting her. I have lived through
the true horror of old age, which is outliving a child.
“I don’t even know where you and Jack met,” Kat says.
This, at least, I can give her. “It was at a church.” It was
l’Eglise Saint Medard, on the Rue Mouffetard in the Fifth
Arrondissement. I can picture it so clearly I might have
visited it just yesterday. Jack and I didn’t meet there,
exactly; one might call it more of an encounter.
“I was kneeling at the end of the altar, sitting back on my
heels, my head against the railing, when Jack entered the
confessional. He didn’t see me— and I didn’t look up to see
“Wait!” Kate holds up her hand like a traffic cop. “Jack
went into a confessional? But he was Baptist!”
I nod. “He was there on behalf of someone else.”
Kat sits silently for a moment, apparently digesting this.
“And you? You were there because you were religious?”
“No. I was there because I was desperate.” Desperate and
despairing, with nowhere else to turn.
As I think of it, memories waft in like wisps of fog and
cling to each other.“I was… how do you say? …at the end of
my rope. Heartbroken and…and.. just broken. I needed a miracle.”
“Why? What had happened?”
“So much. So very, very much.” The fog was thickening,
coalescing into something with weight and shape.
“I mean with Jack. You said he went into the confessional.”
She didn’t want information about me—only about Jack. Of
course. “Yes. He went in, and I overheard him talking to the
priest—he spoke French quite fluently, you know—and what he
was saying… Well, I couldn’t help but listen.”
“What did he say?”
“He explained that he had been with an evacuation hospital
unit in Normandy that was following the First Army on its
march through France.”
“Yes, yes. He wrote me of that.”
“He said he and a young medic were helping a wounded
infantryman out of a jeep when a lone German soldier, dazed
and disoriented and probably wounded himself, wandered into
the hospital zone. He had a machine gun, and he aimed it at
them. The medic had a gun; he knew Jack was not armed. He
pushed Jack out of the way and shot the soldier.”
I remember how Jack’s voice faltered as he told this to the
priest. Even now, the memory makes my own throat thicken.
“The medic saved Jack’s life, but in the process, the
machine gun fired into his chest. As he lay dying, he asked
Jack for a priest; he wanted to confess. There was not time
to find one. Jack said he would hear his confession, and
later relay it to a priest. That was why Jack was at the
church that day— to confess by proxy for the medic.”
“Catholics can do that?” Kat asked.
What ridiculous details snag this woman’s attention! But
then, she wouldn’t know; like Jack, she, too, was raised
Baptist. “No, and the priest told Jack as much. ‘Well, I
gave my word,’Jack said, ‘so I’m going to tell you his
“So he did?”
“Yes. Jack said that the medic had been separated from his
unit soon after the American landing— what is now called
D-day. A young French woman hid him from the Germans for a
couple of weeks and helped him connect with the American
hospital unit. He feared he’d gotten her pregnant. He loved
her, and he’d intended to return and marry her.
“The priest replied that he would pray for the young man’s
soul, and asked his name.
“‘Doug Claiborne from Kalispell, Montana,’ Jack replied.
“The priest asked if Jack knew the name of the girl or where
she was from.
“‘No,’ Jack said. ‘The medic was fighting for his last
breath as he told me this. He said he had a letter from her
in his coat pocket, but when I looked for it, there was just
a hole where the pocket should have been.’
“‘Then there is nothing you can do,’ the priest said.”
I close my eyes, seeing the dimly lit church again in my
mind’s eye. I can practically smell the wood polish on the
altar rail, practically see the flicker of the votive candles.
“It was wrong, but as Jack and the priest talked, their
voices grew softer, and I crept closer to better hear. As I
neared the confessional, I saw what looked like a doctor’s
bag outside the curtain. A metal tag was attached to the
top. I flipped it over and read his name: Dr. Jack O’Connor.
“‘And you, my son?’ the priest had asked.‘Do you have
something to confess?’”
“‘Only that I do not deserve to be alive,’ Jack said.
‘Another man died when it was meant to be me.’”
“‘Apparently God thinks otherwise. Are you going home soon?’”
“‘Not yet. I’m stationed at the 365th Army station hospital
here in Paris—it used to be the American Hospital. I’m here
for at least a couple more months, maybe longer.’”
“‘Ahh,’ the priest said. ‘Well, I will pray for you.’”
I open my eyes to see Kat frowning at me. Until this moment,
I had not realized I had closed them. “Right then and there,
I formulated a plan.”
Kat’s eyebrows rise. “A plan?”
“Yes. But in order to understand, you must know what life
was like for me during the war.”
Kat waves her hand in that dismissive gesture again. “I
don’t care about your sufferings. Have you cared about mine
all these years?”
“Not as I should have.” She does not really want to forgive,
I realize. She does not want to let me off the hoof, I think
the saying goes. I tamp down my irritation, then force
myself to look at her again, as Jack would have done—
objectively, without bias or emotion.
Sacre coeur. She is an old woman who is dying. I realize I
must grant her wish. But first, I will lay down some rules.
“Some actions only make sense if you know the reasons why.
If I am to tell you this story— the whole ugly truth of it
all — I insist on telling it at my own pace, in my own way.
I will tell it without interruptions or questions, or I
won’t tell it at all.”
She nods, her mouth pinched and tight.
“This might take a while,” I warn.
She lifts her shoulders in that stiff little shrug again. “I
have nothing to do but hear this and die.”
And I have nothing to do but to tell it. I sigh, then draw a
deep breath and begin.
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