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Code Name Hélène Summary and Reviews

Code Name Hélène

by Ariel Lawhon

Code Name Hélène by Ariel Lawhon X
Code Name Hélène by Ariel Lawhon
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Book Summary

Based on the thrilling real-life story of socialite spy Nancy Wake, comes the newest feat of historical fiction from the New York Times bestselling author of I Was Anastasia, 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 and earns a new nickname from the Gestapo for her remarkable ability to evade capture: THE WHITE MOUSE. 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, she is told to use the name HÉLÈNE with her comrades. 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, known for her ferocious wit, her signature red lipstick, and her 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--will become.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

BookBrowse Review
Nancy Wake was a New Zealand-born nurse and one of the only women to serve in the SOE, or Special Operations Executive, during World War II. Her life is fictionalized in Ariel Lawhon's Code Name Hélène, a disappointingly generic historical fiction novel with jaunty, gratingly modern prose, and a far too heavy a focus on Nancy's romance with the French industrialist Henri Fiocca. While the book aims to tell an empowering story about a remarkable woman, Lawhon's idea of feminism is evident in a gratuitous and inane scene where Nancy applies lipstick before jumping out of a plane -- when asked what she's doing, she replies "Putting on my armor." Nancy Wake was a far more complex and multifaceted woman than Lawhon's vision of her would allow the reader to see." - Rachel Hullett

Other Reviews
"A compulsively readable account of a little-known yet extraordinary historical figure—Lawhon's best book to date." - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Magnificent...Lawhon carries us into the heart of the French resistance [and] into the mind of a badass heroine with uncanny instincts who takes on the Nazis and men's arrogant sexism with uncommon bravado...Even long after the last page is turned, this astonishing story of Wake's accomplishments will hold readers in its grip." - Booklist (starred review)

"Gripping…Lawhon throws readers into the middle of the action…Lawhon's vivid, fast-paced narrative will keep readers turning the pages, and a detailed afterword makes plain how much of the account is factual. This entertaining tale does justice to Lawhon's larger-than-life subject." - Publishers Weekly

"Ariel Lawhon delivers in Code Name Hélène. This fully animated portrait of Nancy Wake... will fascinate readers of World War II history and thrill fans of fierce, brash, independent women, alike. A stark exploration of the remarkable difference one person, willing to rise in the face of fear, can make." - Lisa Wingate, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Before We Were Yours

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Reader Reviews

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Davida

Resistance in Red Lipstick
Nancy Wake was an ex-pat Australian, working as a freelance journalist in France sending stories to the Hearst papers in the US, when she fell in love with the wealthy businessman, Henri Fiocca. That was in 1936, and Nancy had already witnessed the beginnings of the rise of Fascism, even reporting on the cruelty of Brownshirts and interviewing a strange, but up-and-coming German politician named Adolph Hitler. She understood then the threat to France and all of Europe. So, when the war began, her first instinct was to outfit an ambulance so when Henri, now her husband, was called up, she could also be useful to the war effort. Little did she know then that this would lead her to become (as Goodreads says) “one of the most respected and powerful figures within the French resistance, all the while doggedly working towards liberation, and back to her beloved Henri.”

No, before I read this book, I had no idea who Nancy Wake was, or anything about the woman behind the many aliases she had including The White Mouse, Madame André, and of course, Hélène. In fact, Lawhon begins her book with the line “I have gone by many names.” The fact that I wasn’t familiar with any of these names, despite her being one of the Gestapo’s most wanted spies, and the extraordinary number of awards heaped upon her after the war (literally across the globe), makes me ashamed, both for myself (as a lover of historical fiction, particularly biographical, women’s fiction from this era), and for the oversight of history not shouting her story out from the rooftops. Well, thank heavens for Ariel Lawhon, and for her writing her story so beautifully (or should I say, righting history). I will now take this opportunity to reiterate what Lawhon says as introduction to her author’s note at the end of the book: do NOT read those notes before you read the novel! PLEASE!

I’ll admit that I’m a huge fan of Lawhon’s work, and I’ve been one since reading her first novel in 2014. Although that might make it seem like I’m prejudiced, I can assure you that I’m not (and I hope that will be evident through this review). To prove this, I’ll start with the thing that didn’t sit 100 right with me, and that was the order of the last several chapters. See, my thinking was that after one of the climactic chapters, a couple of the ones that followed felt slightly like a letdown. In particular, the chapters that were flashbacks to earlier times, that gave background for action that took place later on. These slightly disrupted the flow of the ending of the book, and I’m not sure how I might have re-ordered them to make it feel smoother. That said, I wouldn’t have wanted Lawhon to cut any of them, because they were all important to the story (including at least one twist I hadn’t expected).

Other than that, I have to say is that through this book, I became totally and utterly enamored with Nancy Wake, by whatever name she used. My regular readers will know that last year I fell in love with the character Nina in Kate Quinn’s “The Huntress.” Well, sorry Nina, but it is already time for you to step aside – Nancy is my #1 favorite bad-ass woman now! Yes, I know that Nina was fictional and Nancy was a real person, but still… when it comes to pure grit, ingenuity, and audacity, there’s just no comparison. Furthermore, while Nina was crass in both language and looks, Nancy had an even fouler mouth on her. Plus, even when she went for days if not weeks without the ability to keep up her appearance, she always made sure that people would never be able to see what was behind the façade until she wanted them to, with her red lipstick always at the ready. In addition, the way Lawhon portrays Henri, well… SWOON! Again, my readers know I’m not into romance, but boy, this relationship was a true joy to watch develop, like watching a tiny rosebud turn into a full blown, gorgeous rose. In a word: Exquisite!

One of the reasons why I love Lawhon’s books so much is because they’re so vividly written, with just enough poetry underneath her forthright style. As I mentioned in my third #DiscussionSunday post, I recently realized that when I read, I can practically see the action take place in my head. However, if the writing is lacking and I can’t visualize things clearly, the books often get lower ratings from me. I’m pleased to say that this book was so beautifully crafted that I think someone should make this into a movie and ask ME to help make sure that what I saw in my imagination comes across the same on the screen. This was particularly true when Lawhon described scenes that took place in France while Nancy was leading the resistance. Hell, I could almost feel the blisters, aches and pains that Nancy suffered, which never once diminished her fortitude to succeed with her mission.

Seriously… do I need to say more? Would any of my readers be surprised at my recommending this book wholeheartedly, with a full five out of five stars? I’m sure you won’t be (yes, I cried; yes, I laughed. Both when I wasn't expecting to cry or laugh). Mind you, I must admit that although this came extremely (almost dangerously) close, it didn’t actually beat out Lawhon’s “Flight of Dreams” for my favorite of all her novels so far. This is ONLY because of my little niggle regarding the order of those final chapters, which wasn’t enough of a problem for me to reduce it even by a quarter of a star. Read this book. You won’t regret it… but WARNING: If you don’t like to read books with dialogue that includes tons of swearing (even though the real Nancy reportedly could make a furious, drunken sailor blush, and Lawhon toned it down for this novel), then this book might not be for you!

lani

Resistance for the brave
Fascinating historical fiction of Nancy Wake, a spitfire woman who, though only in her early 20's to 30's became a celebrated heroine in WWII. Through her work as a salty tongued firehouse, this Australian woman worked for the British as an intrepid spy. She went on missions that I found absolutely daring to help the French resistance movement. Her exploits and love for her newly wed husband was beautifully crafted and immersive. I could have done without the gratuitous sex scenes but that was a small blip in the overall scheme. Do not read the comments by the author contained in the epilogue until you finish the book. I was in awe of how much of the story was accurate. This tightly coiled book will be a favorite of those who like historical fiction, but others will stay for the suspense. Red lipstick will never be the same for me...

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Author Information

Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is a critically acclaimed, New York Times bestselling author of historical fiction. Her books have been translated into numerous languages and have been Library Reads, One Book One County, Indie Next, Costco, and Book of the Month Club selections. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband, four sons, a black Lab, and a deranged cat.

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