Some books gently guide you through a story while others punch you in the face on the first page. Code Name Hélène is the latter. Not only is this one of my favorite books of all time, but it’s also my #1 recommendation for people looking for action-packed historical fiction. Feminist fiction meets WWII novel meets romance read, Code Name Hélène is truly one of the great marvels of contemporary fiction. And any reader who appreciates a strong female protagonist will want to add this book to the top of their TBR list!
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Code Name Hélène: Synopsis
Like most people, Nancy’s life has been completely upended by World War II. But unlike most people, Nancy’s life prior to the War is absolutely perfect. She and her new husband just married after a whirlwind romance, something she thought would never happen to her. Now she’s sitting alone in her poshly decorated flat in Marsielle waiting for the war to be over so Henri can return home.
A former reporter, Nancy struggles to be complacent, no matter how rich she is now. So, rather than sit at home to wait for his return she does the only thing she knows how to do. She resists. In the beginning, it’s simple: delivering messages, supplies, and the occasional human cargo. Fighting alongside a network of Free French soldiers, Nancy learns what it means to sacrifice both mentally and physically. And mission after mission, she takes on a new identity in order to survive the best way she knows how.
“The thing about lipstick, the reason it’s so powerful, is that it is distracting. Men don’t see the flashes of anger in your eyes or your clenched fists when you wear it. They see a woman, not a warrior, and that gives me the advantage.”
As she gets deeper into the network things begin to change. Nancy begins to change, too. She hardens in a way that she never thought possible. If she doesn’t get home to Henri soon, she may forget what it means to be soft and feminine. With Nazis and Vichy closing in, can she survive long enough to hear the coded message they’ve all been waiting for? More importantly, will she be ready to answer the call when it comes?
Code Name Hélène: Musings
Let’s face it. Not every book is made for every reader. And some books are meant to be read by certain people. I’m 100% convinced that Code Name Hélène was written specifically for people like me (and you if you’re crazy about historical fiction, too). By far the best World War II novel I’ve read, Code Name Hélène literally has something for everyone. Romance, espionage, intrigue, fashion, Paris, murder, combat…you name it, this book has it!
One of the things I loved most about Code Name Hélène is the fact that Lawhon creates two competing storylines. Flashing back and forth in time, readers get glimpses of Nancy’s life before and during the war. We fall in love with Henri alongside Nancy and feel her pain feels having left him to do her part in the war, torn between being in the action rather than at home in the arms of Henri. This creates tension that’s too compelling to put down. Readers experience all the highs and lows of Nancy’s life during this period, right up to the bitter end when she learns the truth about the ravages of war on one’s country and one’s life.
It wasn’t simply the plot with this one though; I feel hard for Nancy and for Lawhon’s writing style. Nancy’s razor-sharp tongue jumps off the page, exploding to life from the first few lines. I listened to this audiobook and immediately upon finishing knew I needed to own a forever copy for my shelves. I couldn’t break away from this novel, completely engrossed from the get-go. This is the most badass WWII heroine I’ve met on my never-ending journey to devour all things historical fiction. I want to know this character IRL. Hell, I want to be this character. The fact that the book is based on a true story makes this accomplishment even greater. Bravo, Ms. Lawhon. Bravo, Nancy.
Code Name Hélène: Rating
Finishing Code Name Hélène left a hole in my TBR that I’ve struggled to fill since. I read A LOT of WWII fiction, and none have been as good as this novel, in my opinion. It’s hard to top perfection, and that’s just what Code Name Hélène is in my opinion. If only we could all be a little bit more like Nancy, throwing caution to the wind as we fly through the night waiting for our parachutes to open, hoping that this will be the mission that makes a difference. Trust me, y’all. This book is an adventure you don’t want to miss.
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