The Vineyards of Champagne
Rosalyn Acosta, suffering from the loss of her husband, agrees to a business trip to Champagne, France, as a way to begin the healing process, despite not really liking champagne. There, she meets a number of intriguing people, including a kindred spirit, Emma, who hires her to help read through some old WWI letters. The letters are between an Australian “godmother” and Émile, a French soldier in the trenches. They tell of Émile’s life, his love, Lucie, and life during the war.
In Reims, France, to escape Nazi soldiers, Lucie and her family hide in the caves under their champagne vineyards in 1916. The days are dark, cold, and lonely. Only the champagne stores, and her love, Émile, keep Lucie going. Then tragedy strikes, and the future looks bleak. Rosalyn and her newfound friends are instantly enchanted and endeavor to track down the fate of these three people, as the letters suddenly stop with no real conclusion.
Blackwell writes well, making it easy to visualize the network of caves the Rémois citizens hid in during the war. The letters evoke a great atmosphere and sense of place, and Lucie’s story inside the caves is intriguing. However, these are only small parts of the story. The majority of the book centers on Rosalyn, in the present, learning to live with her grief, and accepting new friends and possibly new romance. I found myself hurrying through these parts so I could get back to Lucie in the caves. It would almost have been better to write two separate stories, so that Blackwell could have given more time and attention to each character. Overall, this is a story of love, loss, family, and resilience, best read with a cold glass of bubbly.