The Ways We Hide: Book summary and reviews of The Ways We Hide by Kristina McMorris

The Ways We Hide

A Novel

by Kristina McMorris

The Ways We Hide by Kristina McMorris X
The Ways We Hide by Kristina McMorris
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Book Summary

From the New York Times bestselling author of Sold On A Monday―over a million copies sold!―comes a sweeping World War II tale of an illusionist whose recruitment by British intelligence sets her on a perilous, heartrending path.

As a little girl raised amid the hardships of Michigan's Copper Country, Fenna Vos learned to focus on her own survival. That ability sustains her even now as the Second World War rages in faraway countries. Though she performs onstage as the assistant to an unruly escape artist, behind the curtain she's the mastermind of their act. Ultimately, controlling her surroundings and eluding traps of every kind helps her keep a lingering trauma at bay.

Yet for all her planning, Fenna doesn't foresee being called upon by British military intelligence. Tasked with designing escape aids to thwart the Germans, MI9 seeks those with specialized skills for a war nearing its breaking point. Fenna reluctantly joins the unconventional team as an inventor. But when a test of her loyalty draws her deep into the fray, she discovers no mission is more treacherous than escaping one's past.

Inspired by stunning true accounts, The Ways We Hide is a gripping story of love and loss, the wars we fight―on the battlefields and within ourselves―and the courage found in unexpected places.

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Did your impression of the child on the cover change by the novel's end? What about the title? Describe the various meanings it holds throughout the story.
  2. From the Italian Hall Disaster and its parallel tragedy at Bethnal Green Station to the efforts of MI9, Houdini, and the Dutch Resistance, plus those of the Engelandvaarders, The Ways We Hide highlights myriad stunning pieces of history. Which among them fascinated and/or surprised you most?
  3. Love, loss, family, and sacrifice are major themes of the novel and the driving force behind many of Fenna's and Arie's actions. Did you largely agree or disagree with Fenna's decisions? What about Arie's?
  4. Several objects throughout the story—including the toy train, ...

You can see the full discussion here. This discussion will contain spoilers!

Some of the recent comments posted about The Ways We Hide:

Arie calls Fenna a coward for leaving him when they were in their twenties. Do you agree with his assessment?
I don't agree with Arie, I believe that Fenna was staying true to who she was, staying with Arie would have been the easy way out. It's unfortunate that they didn't reconnect later, though, after Fenna had been on her own. - Navy Mom

Arie made the impossible choice between betraying his fellow soldiers or protecting his niece. Or was it an impossible choice?
I agree with Joanw and cindyb. I can’t judge his actions without any false pride. I know things were done by many in war time that they would NEVER have imagined themselves capable of doing. The demands of war are unimaginable to ... - gerrieb

Arie tells Fenna, "You always do as you please, regardless of what I think or feel." Do you think this is true? In what ways does this trait play out throughout the novel?
I think this is true, Fenna didn't consider Arie in most of her decisions even though he was affected by them. She often made decisions based on instinct and out of her childhood fear of the stampede. Her emotion rather than her reason would ... - Navy Mom

Decision made with Charles
I don't think it would have made any difference in her decision to leave. There was already a lot of mis-trust between them and she knew that it would only get worse and continue to ruin their act. - susanr

Did you largely agree or disagree with Fenna's decisions? What about Arie's?
I think that both believed their decisions were noble and self sacrificing. Unfortunately life is messy and noble can masquerade as self centered. I think they both came to realize that life as Fenna put it is" imperfect, real and beautiful.&... - christineb

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Just like her heroine, Kristina McMorris works magic in this twisting tale of James Bond's Q meets World War II. I love this book!" - Kate Quinn, New York Times bestselling author of The Rose Code and The Diamond Eye

"The Queen's Gambit meets The Alice Network in this epic, action-packed novel of family, loss, and one woman's journey to save all she holds dear―including freedom itself." - Kristin Harmel, New York Times bestselling author of The Forest of Vanishing Stars

"A riveting tale of intrigue and illusion, danger and historical mystery, but at its heart the story of one woman's struggle to escape her own past. While using her remarkable skills to help captured soldiers, Fenna finds herself face-to-face with what she loves most and what she fears most, trapped in a place where each decision she makes could unlock the paths to freedom and a future... or death." - Lisa Wingate #1 New York Times bestselling author of Before We Were Yours

This information about The Ways We Hide was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

Write your own review

Susan Roberts

Fantastic Book
I read a lot of WWII fiction and am always amazed when I read a book that looks at the war from a different perspective and is full of new things for me to learn. The author did considerable research and it shows on every page. This is a dual time line book that looks at Fenna's life at 10 years old in Upper Michigan copper country and the other time line is about her life throughout WWII.

1942 - When the novel begins, Fenna is presenting her magic act in front of a crowd. From a young age, she was intrigued with Houdini and his magic act where he was able to defy reality and escape from restraints. Fenna has a knack for creating new magic tricks and she and her helper, Charles, have intrigued the audience. After the show, she is approached by a gentleman who asks her if she'd be interested in going to London to work with British intelligence to create items to help prisoners of war in Germany. Together they create things like a razor that is really a compass and a board game with a map hidden in it. She becomes known as the 'gadget girl' while she's working for M19 outside of London. When a test of her loyalty draws her into occupied Europe, she has to decide what is really important in her life and if she can overcome her past.

1928 - Fenna's mother died several years earlier so her family is just her and her father. He is a cooper miner who is on strike for better working conditions. While they are at a Christmas gathering with several hundred people, someone yells FIRE and she becomes trapped in the stairwell with a mob trying to get out of the building. This part of the story is based on the Italian Hall Disaster of 1913 where 73 people - mostly children - were killed trying to escape a building. Fenna is almost suffocated but manages to escape with the help of a young boy, Arie who lives in her apartment building. The fire and the young boy both become important parts of the rest of her life. Because of the fire, she has panic attacks if she is in a confined area and feels as if she's suffocating. Arie tries to help her and takes her to a Houdini film to watch the escape artist perform magic tricks. After that film, she becomes enamored with magic tricks and develops some of her own.

This story about two traumatized children who grow up to be troubled adults and the ways that they hide their hurt and their love from each other and from the world around them. It's a story of family, love, bravery and forgiveness as these two people - Fenna and Arie - grow up and become part of the war effort and have to decide what is really important in their lives.

Be sure to read the Author's Notes at the end of the book. She shares a lot of information on what was true in her novel as well as the real people she based some of her characters on.

If you enjoy World War II fiction, you don't want to miss this book. It's always interesting to get a different look at the war and the ways that British intelligence worked to help their troops. Plus I always enjoy a book with a strong female character who commits acts of bravery to help others.

Linda Z.

A "Magical" Historical Fiction Novel
Kristina McMorris, the author of ‘The Ways We Hide” has written an intriguing and captivating novel. The Genres for this novel are Historical Fiction, Fiction, and Romance. I love the novel and “magical approach” that Kristina McMorris has used in describing how illusion and magic can be a show maker, and yet be used during World War Two. The story takes place during World War Two and goes to the past regarding the characters and events. The places where the novel takes place are America, England, and Europe. There is danger, destruction, threats, and possible death.

The author describes her dramatic characters as complex and complicated. Some are survivors and brave. During the tragedy of war, some characters are depicted as evil, and some are kind and risk their lives to be helpful. The female protagonist in the story Fenna Vos, grows up in America, and after tragedy finds herself in an orphanage. Fenna seeks out her friend Arie, who had helped free her of a terrible situation when she was trapped. Fenna and Arie have their own communication and do understand each other. Both care deeply for each other, but Fenna sets out to make her own way in the world.

Fenna has always been intrigued by Houdini and magic, and creates a magical show. Military Intelligence in Britain, M19 is interested in her ideas and gadgets to help fight Germany, and Fenna finds herself involved with espionage. Fenna has no idea the perilous journey she has to face, and realizes that there are “many ways that we hide”. I would highly recommend this thought-provoking and a unique historical fiction novel.

Barb Foulke

The Ways We Hide
I just loved this book - from page one to the very last page. I am rarely so taken by a book. It is a really great story, well written and I learned something about WWII as well. A triple hit!

When I first received the ARC I saw that it was nearly 500 pages and immediately worried that I would not have the time. Also it feels like a big commitment if I happen to not like the book. For that reason I read the first 10 pages, just to see if it seemed reasonable. At page 10 I thought that I might read just a little bit more as the book is clearly "a good one". At page 50 I decided that maybe I would just put the book at the head of my reading list and by page 75 I admitted to myself that I could not put this book down.

This book is the story of Fenna, and her character development is outstanding. The book follows her growth and maturity in the various backdrops of her environment. I felt so much compassion for her as the book begins with her tragic, but very realistic lonely childhood in a Midwestern mining town in the 1920's. Socially in the 20s children were not valued, not recognized. Surrounded by neglect during her childhood Fenna learns to become invisible. She learns independence, stamina, perseverance at a very young age. She also learns to successfully hide - often in plain sight through an introduction to Houdini and his ability to escape various predicaments.

Her story moves with her interest in Houdini and her skillful mastering techniques of hiding. She is so accomplished that she is picked up by the English war office M-19 and recruited for an operation infiltrating the Netherlands. She is the perfect operator as she is an independent, strong, skillful woman.
I found this section of the book particularly interesting. I did not know how involved the Dutch were in WWII, and how much they participated in the resistance. I found it particularly interesting how paranoid they were of their own neighbors and fellow Dutch. The mistrust and angst that the Dutch experienced was palpable - something I was never aware of.

Of course the book includes a great romance inserted into this history of social America in the 1920s and a fresh look at WWII in Europe. Also as a conclusion, to finish Fenna's fine character is a wonderful ending where she doggedly works, against all odds of success to save a young girl from the very circumstances that she faced as a child. Arie saves Fenna abandoned by circumstances and Fenna saves Evelien.

What a great read!

Lee L.

The Ways We Hide
I have most of Kristina McMorris’s works on my TBR, though so far, I’ve only had a chance to read two of her books — this book, her newest novel The Ways We Hide, and her previous one, Sold on a Monday, which came out back in 2018. While I have every intention of getting through McMorris’s backlist at some point, I also don’t want to miss any of her new works — which is why, as soon as I saw that she had a new book coming out this month, I requested an ARC before even reading the summary of what the book would be about.

After I got approved, I went back and read the blurb, which made me even more intrigued and excited to read the novel. While I’ve read plenty of books set during World War II and covering various themes, one that I haven’t come across is exactly what McMorris’s new book explores: the role of magicians / illusionists in the war effort. Up until this point, I’ve always thought about magicians as entertainers, never realizing that there were very practical ways they could put their skills to use during the war, such as helping to design escape plans and contraptions or other gadgets that could hide things such as maps. This was a fascinating concept to me and an angle not often explored in WWII-themed fiction. Not only that though, in terms of this particular story, the illusionist is a woman (the main character Fenna Vos), which is even more rare given the time period and the prevalent society conventions at the time.

From a historical perspective, McMorris did a great job relaying the various elements related to real-life events and people, as well as establishing an atmospheric sense of time and place. I remember reading somewhere that McMorris mentioned this is one of her more ambitious novels to date, which I can totally see, as this one actually covered quite a bit of ground, with a time period spanning 1928 to 1945, a setting across three different countries (United States, England, the Netherlands), and a multitude of historical events / people covered (which I didn’t actually realize until I read her Author’s Note at the end of the book). The meticulous research she did in preparation was obvious in the way she was able to utilize so much descriptive detail throughout the story, whether in reference to historical events and people, or even the gadgets created for military use. Also, with Fenna’s background as the daughter of Dutch immigrants and so parts of the story revolves around the Dutch community she grows up in, I ended up learning a lot in that area as well.

In addition to the story being well-written, the characters were also well-drawn, with Fenna written in a way where, as readers, we can’t help rooting for her through all the hardships. With that said however, I honestly found it difficult to connect with her on an emotional level — which is strange given the entire story was told from Fenna’s first person point of view, so we are privy to all her inner thoughts and feelings. I think part of the reason for this is because, for me, some parts of the story ended up focusing a bit too much on Fenna’s romantic relationship with Arie, to the point that it drove a large part of Fenna’s actions and decisions during a certain portion of the story. Normally this wouldn't be a problem, but given the premise of the story and the highly dangerous situations she often found herself in, some of her actions came across as irrational and illogical. While the romance piece wasn’t overwhelming compared to the rest of the story, it was a little distracting for me because I was expecting more focus on the historical piece and how Fenna uses her skills as an illusionist and escape artist in her work with MI9. This was also the main reason I ended up rating this 4 stars instead of 5, as I felt like the direction of the story strayed a bit near the midway mark and also, the emotional connection was lacking.

Overall, I definitely liked this one quite a bit and recommend it as a worthwhile read, especially for the different and refreshing angle it presents in terms of WWII historical fiction.

Received e-ARC from Sourcebooks Landmark via NetGalley and print ARC via BookBrowse First Impressions program.

Elizabeth@Silver's Reviews

Elizabeth@Silver'sReviews - excellent writing and marvelous research, but dragged for me
We meet Fenna Vos as a child in Copper Country living with her father after her mother died in childbirth.

Her father worked in the copper mines, and they were on strike so life was hard.

Fenna meets Arie during a Christmas Party that turned deadly...a true event.

A little later, we follow Fenna as she escapes from an orphanage and goes back home to live with Arie and his family.

Fenna and Arie are in love, but Fenna can't marry because she said she would never be a good mother since the screams from the Christmas event of screaming children still rings in her ears.

She then leaves Arie...she is heartbroken and she knows he will be too

Fenna learns tricks and is in a Vaudville show when she is approached by an intelligence officer who wants her to help them defy the Germans.

We follow her through the war as she helps invent gadgets for soldiers that look like one thing but could be a razor or a compass or anything to help soldiers escape.

The turned down edge of the cover gives a clue about one of the clever gadgets created.

Fenna was a very determined, brave girl and woman.

Despite the historical aspect and the interesting facts about the inventions and the as-always marvelous writing style and extensive research of Ms. McMorris, THE WAYS WE HIDE was not that attention-grabbing for me.

It moved along slowly and took a while for me to be fully engaged in the story line, but the last quarter of the book pulled me in.

Those readers who enjoy historical fiction and want to learn something new will definitely enjoy this book that I think could have been a bit shorter.

Her author notes give wonderful facts you won’t want to miss reading.

Of special interest is the meaning of Fenna's last name. 4/5

This book was given to me by the publisher and BookBrowse for an honest review.

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Author Information

Kristina McMorris Author Biography

Kristina McMorris is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author. Her background includes ten years of directing public relations for an international conglomerate as well as extensive television experience. Inspired by true personal and historical accounts, her novels have garnered twenty national literary awards, and include Letters from Home, Bridge of Scarlet Leaves, The Pieces We Keep, and The Edge of Lost, in addition to novellas in the anthologies A Winter Wonderland and Grand Central. Her forthcoming novel, Sold on a Monday, will be released September 2018. A frequent guest speaker and workshop presenter, she holds a BS in international marketing from Pepperdine. She lives with her husband and two sons in Oregon.

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The Ways We Hide
by Kristina McMorris
From the bestselling author of Sold On A Monday, a sweeping tale of an illusionist recruited by British intelligence in World War II.

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