Published January 2012 in hardcover, August 2012 in paperback by Broadway
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in consideration for this review
In 1945, Elsie Schmidt is a naive teenager, as eager for her first sip of champagne as she is for her first kiss. She and her family have been protected from the worst of the terror and desperation overtaking her country by a high-ranking Nazi who wishes to marry her. So when an escaped Jewish boy arrives on Elsie’s doorstep in the dead of night on Christmas Eve, Elsie understands that opening the door would put all she loves in danger.
Sixty years later, in El Paso, Texas, Reba Adams is trying to file a feel-good Christmas piece for the local magazine. Reba is perpetually on the run from memories of a turbulent childhood, but she’s been in El Paso long enough to get a full-time job and a fiancé, Riki Chavez. Riki, an agent with the U.S. Border Patrol, finds comfort in strict rules and regulations, whereas Reba feels that lines are often blurred.
Reba’s latest assignment has brought her to the shop of an elderly baker across town. The interview should take a few hours at most, but the owner of Elsie’s German Bakery is no easy subject. Reba finds herself returning to the bakery again and again, anxious to find the heart of the story. For Elsie, Reba’s questions are a stinging reminder of darker times: her life in Germany during that last bleak year of WWII. And as Elsie, Reba, and Riki’s lives become more intertwined, all are forced to confront the uncomfortable truths of the past and seek out the courage to forgive.
I was really drawn to Elsie's story and was much more invested in her life in Germany. From the beginning of the book, I was struck by McCoy's original take on World War II. Not often do we find our protagonist on the side of "the bad guy." While Elsie's opinions certainly grow and change throughout the book and the Nazi's are clearly in the wrong, McCoy does an excellent job of illustrating, both in the Elsie's story and in Riki's, that things are more often grey than black and white.
Alternating chapters between the past and present, McCoy draws her readers through The Baker's Daughter, although for me it was much more to get to Elsie and the tension that just did not let up. Writers often put their characters into dangerous situations only to pull them back just in time. McCoy offers a much more realistic approach. Like most Germans, the Schmidt's suffer, with very different resulting opinions about what has happened to them.
McCoy contrasts the Nazi's treatment of Jews with the United State's treatment of illegal immigrants through Riki's part of the story. It's an interesting comparison, although it got lost somewhat with so many plot lines involved. McCoy has tried to cover a lot of ground here and I would have preferred to focus more on Reba's family and how that affected her relationships.
Would I recommend this book? Absolutely, it is a lovely book about women who must find their inner strength under very different but very difficult circumstances. It would make terrific book club selection with much to discuss. McCoy has written a book that is thought provoking on many levels.
"We all tell little lies about ourselves, our pasts, our presents. We think some of them are minuscule, unimportant, and others, large and incriminating. But they are the same. Only God has enough of the story to judge our souls."
Thanks to TLC Book Tours for including me in this tour. For other opinions about this book, check out the full tour. This is Sarah McCoy's second novel. To learn more about McCoy and her writing, visit her website, her blog, or her Facebook page, or chat with her on Twitter. My how being an author has changed in the past ten years - can you imagine trying to find the time to write, tour to promote your work, have a family and keep up all of this internet presence? Fortunately, McCoy seems to have figured it out; she is currently working on her third novel.