Sunday, September 26, 2021

Three Words for Goodbye by Hazel Gaynor & Heather Webb


I picked this up at B&N on a whim and added it to my TBR stack and forgot about it (as I usually do!) until I was compiling my list for September reads and decided to add it in as a switch from my   otherwise heavy on the magic and literary theme choices. I'm glad I did, because this was perfectly enjoyable. Yes, it's on the eve of World War 2 (1937); the Nazis are rising and unease is building, but I don't think I've ever read a novel that includes the Hindenburg in it! 

This is a novel about two sisters: Clara and Madeleine Sommers. They are from a wealthy East Coast family. Their grandmother, Violet, has terminal cancer and has requested the two women travel to Europe to deliver letters to three people that meant something to Violet. All expenses paid, and they get to travel on the Queen Mary, the Orient Express, and return home on the Hindenburg-the latest in fast, luxurious travel between Europe and the U.S. 

The sisters don't get along--Clara is engaged to a wealthy businessman who treats her like a possession, and Madeleine is a journalist searching for her big break. Nellie Bly was a good friend of Violet, and her spirit is infused in this novel. Both ladies called her Auntie Nellie and remember her fondly. In fact Madeleine was inspired to become a journalist because of her. Clara loves art and is quite talented, but has had to set her talents aside as she prepares to marry Charles. She's not in love, but knows the marriage is what's expected of her. 

The two sisters set off on the Queen Mary--and yes, one is messy and wears trousers; the other is neat as a pin and dresses to the nines. One plays by society's rules, and the other drinks whiskey and gambles with men. They rub each other the wrong way and have many clashes. I was actually beginning to think they would never resolve their differences! 

However, as the sisters arrive in Paris to deliver the first letter, family history starts to pull them together. Madeleine feels the sense of unease that has settled over Europe and is eager to write about it. Clara is worried they are in the wrong place at the wrong time. But they promised Violet they would deliver the letters, and so after Paris, they travel to Venice, and then onto Austria. Along the way they discover more family secrets, find moments of sisterhood (followed by arguments, of course!), and start to realize the trip is also about discovering themselves and what they want out of life. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. I thought it was well written; the sisters were enough alike and enough different to make their relationship interesting and believable. Their love interests were there to provide some relief from what otherwise would have been too much sister time. The travel sounded marvelous--the clothes and food, divine. 

This kind of novel always reminds me of people digging around their family trees and discovering their ancestors were not perfect, play by the rules people. Clara and Madeleine certainly discover things about their family that would have stayed secret if not for this trip. Discovering those secrets helped them be brave and reach for the lives they truly wanted. 

Fans of World War 2 fiction, or fiction set in the late 1930's are sure to enjoy this novel. Relationships are a central theme, as well as forgiveness and living a life of happiness--even if it means a bit of scandal comes your way. Anyone who likes to read about women traveling and especially Nellie Bly would also enjoy this novel. 

Rating: 4/6 for an entertaining novel about sisters, the golden age of travel, relationships, love, and last wishes. An elegant read. 

Available in hardcover, paperback, audio, and ebook. 

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