Review copy was received from Publisher. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
The Secret Society of Salzburg by Renee Ryan
Published by Harper Collins on December 27, 2022
Genres: Historical Fiction
Amazon, Audible, Audiobook, Barnes & Noble, Apple
At first glance, Austrian opera singer Elsa Mayer-Braun has little in common with the young English typist she encounters on tour. Yet she and Hattie Featherstone forge an instant connection—and strike a dangerous alliance. Using their friendship as a cover, they form a secret society with a daring goal: to rescue as many Jews as possible from Nazi persecution.
Though the war’s outbreak threatens Elsa and Hattie’s network, their efforts attract the covert attention of the British government, offering more opportunities to thwart the Germans. But Elsa’s growing fame as Hitler’s favorite opera singer, coupled with her secret Jewish ancestry, make her both a weapon and a target—until her future, too, hangs in the balance.
A star Austrian opera singer and a pair of English sister typists forge an unlikely friendship, then pit themselves against the might of the Nazis by smuggling Jews to safety. I read that this book is based on a true story which flamed my interest even higher. Renee Ryan was a new to me author, but I have meant to explore her books ,so it was an easy choice to pick up the standalone inspirational historical fiction, The Secret Society of Salzburg.
Beginning with a ‘heart in my throat’ first scene in 1943, Austria, before plunging back into what led up to this point starting nine years before in 1934, the book got off to a fantastic start. Told alternatively between Hattie and Elsa and each short chapter captioned by location and date, I had no trouble following the progress of the deeply moving sometimes harrowing story of women who showed their mettle in desperate times.
Elsa has spent her life focused on her singing. Hattie had a rather ordinary middle class life with an untapped artistic talent until Elsa’s beautiful singing voice brought them together.
Meanwhile, the Nazi power grows and takes over, becoming a dark danger to Elsa’s Jewish aunt and all the Jews. The friendship that started between the women is deepened and tested when the Featherstone sisters and Elsa join together in a daring secret team to disappear Malvina. And, then more Jews need their help and they end up working with Oliver in the British war ministry. As, the war continues through London bombings, Europe aflame, and Elsa surrounded by enemies, the suspense ratchets up and everyone knows it is a matter of when, not if, that the women will get caught. The saving of lives is worth it to Elsa and Hattie, but a price is paid, and the climax was gripping to discover what and how it would all end.
I enjoyed that The Secret Society of Salzburg showcased opera singing, art, war, secret underground work, and a slow burn prickly romance for Hattie and Oliver. The focus was Hattie and Elsa’s friendship at the core of it all, but the women have relationships with an equally interesting surrounding cast of friends, coworkers, and family. Hattie and Oliver must grow on each other and this romance was heartwarming, but very much back seat to the work they are all doing and sometimes just trying to survive during a time of war.
I’m always in a state of wariness about WWII stories featuring the Jews because my heart breaks over so much that happened to them and others who the Nazis tried to hurt and destroy, but I can reassure readers that this book doesn’t go into graphic scenes of violence. Renee Ryan manages to work the reader’s emotions and pull in the attention with her powerful descriptions and writing style.
And, so, my senses were overwhelmed by written description of historical setting and situation, characters with depth, and the emotions in the story and my own as I read swiftly to the end nearly in one sitting. The gently inspirational theme and authentic historical feel make this a good recommendation to sweet historical romance or mild historical fiction lovers.
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This sounds like a book that would make a good movie. And it’s based on a true story, I’m going to add this one to my TBR
I agree. A movie that would have me figuratively biting my nails. 🙂
This sounds right up my alley! Thanks for sharing!
Yay, glad to put you onto it, Carole!
Oh wow, I can see why this would be a good one.
It really grips the reader. 🙂
This is one of the reasons I stay away from books and even movies which are bases on real events. It will either leaving me cursing or have me bawling my eyes out at the treatment being meted out.
Oh yeah, I have to watch these types, too. I get so caught up and it tears my emotions apart.
I just put this one one my tbr! It looks so good and your review convinced me!
Happy to tempt you, Wendy! 🙂
I always love books like that but it’s been a while since I haven’t read one
I love them, but I don’t read many b/c I get emotional.
What a lovely review you have here! I absolutely adore WWII fiction, and I have been wanting to return to it. So this is great! Its good to know that the involvement of the Jews and the abuse is written tactfully.
Exactly, Renee! It keeps things honest, but no explicit descriptions.
Love the sound of this one!
It does tempt one. 🙂
This sounds really good! I am so glad that you enjoyed it!
It was all I was hoping for when I picked it up.
Fantastic review Sophia. I love this period and go through bursts where I devour them. I’ll keep this one in mind.
Definitely worth a place on your WWII fiction list. 🙂