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Review: Code Name Hélène by Ariel Lawhon

Title: Code Name Hélène
Author: Ariel Lawhon
Year published: 2020
Category: Adult fiction (historical)
Pages: 464 pages
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location: (my 2022 Google Reading map)France

SummaryBased on the real-life story of socialite spy Nancy Wake, comes the newest historical fiction from a New York Times bestselling author, featuring the astonishing woman who killed a Nazi with her bare hands and went on to become one of the most decorated women in WWII.

Told in interweaving timelines organized around the four code names Nancy used during the war, Code Name Hélène is a spellbinding and moving story of enduring love, remarkable sacrifice and unfaltering resolve that chronicles the true exploits of a woman who deserves to be a household name.

It is 1936 and Nancy Wake is an intrepid Australian expat living in Paris who has bluffed her way into a reporting job for Hearst newspaper when she meets the wealthy French industrialist Henri Fiocca. No sooner does Henri sweep Nancy off her feet and convince her to become Mrs. Fiocca than the Germans invade France and she takes yet another name: a code name.
As Lucienne Carlier Nancy smuggles people and documents across the border. Her success and her remarkable ability to evade capture  earns her the nickname The White Mouse from the Gestapo. With a five million franc bounty on her head, Nancy is forced to escape France and leave Henri behind. When she enters training with the Special Operations Executives in Britain, her new comrades are instructed to call her Hélène. And finally, with mission in hand, Nancy is airdropped back into France as the deadly Madam Andrée, where she claims her place as one of the most powerful leaders in the French Resistance, armed with a ferocious wit, her signature red lipstick, and the ability to summon weapons straight from the Allied Forces.

But no one can protect Nancy if the enemy finds out these four women are one and the same, and the closer to liberation France gets, the more exposed she--and the people she loves--become.

Review: I love historical fiction and there is just so much good stuff out there, especially about WWII and I would add this novel to the list of those that I have enjoyed very much. And, knowing she was a real woman who spied makes this novel all the more interesting. Of course, there is a great After word at the end to give the reader the real scoop.

Nancy is someone to be admired. She went from a life of drinking, dancing, and socializing to one of the most respected resistance workers/spies in France. She commanded men, individually and in large groups, risked her life daily, lived in the muck, and made a difference. I really admire this woman for what she accomplished and I love that she put on bright red lipstick as her "armor" before facing a tough decision, doing a tough act (jumping out of an airplane), or facing a tough enemy.

This book is tense, interesting, fascinating, a bit brutal in parts, and shows a part of the war I haven't read much about: French resistance in the forests, supported by the British via supply drops.

Challenges for which this counts: none

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