The Secret Letter

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 22 Jul 2019

Member Reviews

The Secret Letter by Debbie Rix was inspired by a true wartime story as the authors parents were in the RAF and the Wrens respectively. She has used elements of their story to write what became a beautifully crafted story following two different women and their experiences during World War Two. The brief prologue really sets the scene for the story that unfolds.

In September 2018 Imogen receives a handwritten letter with a German postmark from Magda, a person she has never met. Magda knew Imogen's husband during the war and now all these years later she wishes to commemorate the part he played in a major event in the small town she lives in in the German countryside. Instantly, the reader's instinct is piqued and there are all sorts of questions and ideas running through your mind. You want all the answers immediately but before that can happen an absorbing, tense and emotional story must be told. The book is divided into four distinct parts which begin in 1939 and will eventually bring us up to the present day. But it is the sections set during the war years that make for an interesting, impassioned and fascinating read and one where the sacrifices of so many will long live on in your mind.

The chapters alternate between Magda and Imogen and once you settle into the rhythm of the story and know to expect that each chapter will switch between characters you immerse yourself into the story and are keen to discover how eventually the connections between the two women become apparent. Part one was very much introductory for the first quarter of the book, it was entitled the Phoney War and to be honest not much happened bar the reader getting to know the two girls and their family situation. I suppose it was similar to worldwide events with the war that there was a period of waiting and anticipating to see what the next move should be once war was declared. Once I reached the halfway point I found myself really absorbed in what was going on and starting to deeply care for the characters.

The first section followed Imogen as she was evacuated from Newcastle for fear of the city being bombed. She is moved with her school to the Lake District, she is very much an innocent teenager and I don't think she realised the true extent of what was about to unfold. That her sheltered childhood where she had been provided with everything she wanted would be dramatically altered. She spends the remaining years of her education in the Lake District and her focus does switch to men, Dougie being one but always at the back of her mind is family friend Freddie McMasters. Over several chapters we see how the affects of the war are beginning to be felt in Imogen's life and the same is said for Magda in Germany.

I thought it was brilliant that the author took two women, but both from very different backgrounds and opposites sides of the fence so to speak, and wrote about how different countries and families dealt with the war. We always get to read of English characters and their experiences of war but never German families. It provided a very different slant to war time fiction books and I think Debbie Rix has brought something fresh and innovative to this genre in which I have read many books. It also showed how not every German believed what was happening to their country and the actions of Hitler were right.

Magda has led a sheltered life on her family's farm deep in the Bavarian countryside with Augsburg being the nearest city. Her brother Karl had left Germany to study in England and it is when she receives a letter from him that things begin to change for her. For several years now Hitler and his ideologies have been forced upon the German people with endless propaganda in a bid to indoctrinate the nation and many believe everything he says but the contents of the letter sow a seed in Magda's mind. She begins to realise that all is not as it seems and when her close friend Lotte's family are taken away simply for being Jewish Magda herself starts to rebel. She doesn't want to be part of the Young Maidens, the female equivalent of the Hitler Youth. Nor does she believe in the German's racial superiority over many races especially the Jews. Magda doesn't agree with the new rules enforced upon Germans nor does she think victories should be celebrated. She wants to make a stand as she rightly believes that German citizens were being denied their liberty and their lives because they were Jewish or because of their Catholic faith saw them being at odds with what the Nazi's wanted everyone to believe. Yet the character of Otto makes Magda be more than wary of broadcasting her views.

Initially I found both Magda and Imogen to be quite immature and difficult to warm to but it is only as the story moves forward over the course of the war and these two young girls develop into young women both with incredible spirit, heart and determination that the reader comes to understand what connections in terms of personality they share. They mature into responsible adults deeply affected by what they witness but both equally determined to fight for what is right and to do their bit to see an end to such bloodshed and unnecessary evil. I thought Magda's parents, in particular her mother Kathe, weren't very clued in as to what Magda was up to. Kathe lived in a perpetual state of fear and she didn't like that Magda was thinking outside the box.

On the one hand I found Magda to be silly for putting her family in unnecessary danger. Maybe she should have just toed the line and fallen into step with what was required of Germans at the time just to make it through the war unscathed. But then I thought maybe she was very brave and deserved admiration for standing true to her principles. Life was uncertain and all anyone could do was go with it but she choose to go against the norm and fight for what she believed in. She helped anyone in need and by doing this various other strands of the story developed.

Both women had very different experiences during the war but to me Magda was the stand out character and she was truly extraordinary and remarkable for what she did. She is stubborn and wilful and at times you will find yourself wanting to shake her but then you see her loyalty and firm belief holding strong and true. She was selfless in some of her actions and the further her story developed during the later years of the war I was still constantly guessing as to how she does end up with connections to Imogen as suggested during the prologue. As for Imogen once she completed her first year studying architecture signing up for war work became compulsory. It was fascinating the work she was engaged in and when we are first introduced to her I never thought this was what she would end up doing as she seemed so childish and never one to settle to anything.

It was clear a lot of detailed research had been undertake by the author particularly in relation to Imogen's war work and again it's something I haven't really seen written about before in this genre. Of course romance does very much feature in this story, both for Magda and Imogen, because life and love do continue despite the ongoing horror and devastation. With regard to Imogen I thought she was being hasty and should have sought answers but when certain secrets are revealed you are left with a smile on your face as you understand just how clever the author has been.

The Secret Letter was a slow burner for me but once it found its footing the story really got going and I found myself racing through the latter half of the book more than keen to discover how all the dots would be joined up. I had my initial thoughts as to how the two strands of the story related to each other. There was a slight apprehension on my part that the ultimate reveal would be a disappoint or would fall a little flat but that wasn't the case at all. Instead it all felt very heart-warming and life affirming and it brought the story full circle with all loose ends being tied up. By the mid way point of the book, I truly felt I had travelled back in time and I felt every bit of the characters fear and anguish but also their willingness, boldness and bravery to fight for what is right and to always stand true to your principles and beliefs. The Secret Letter is an impressive read from Debbie Rix who is an expert at bringing the past to life and who has written a book which reminds us to never forget the sacrifices so many made in the past so we could live the way we do today.
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The Secret Letter is an exceptionally well written story of two girls who become young women during WWII, and the author significantly threads the historical context at the time into each of their lives. Particularly impressive are the relationships each girl has with her parents. Both girls' mothers are strong influences in their lives; both families are strong units; the fathers are supportive and understanding. The dialogue among the family members is believable, as though it had been witnessed or recorded.
 Imogen is English, upper middle class, and motivated to attend University, rare for most women at the time. Magda is German, the daughter of farmers who run their own farm and make an independent living. She, too, aspires for an education not typically available for women. 
Imogen's experience is that she has to leave her home to live with foster families in the countryside, along with other British children, as a precaution against German bombs in the cities. Imogen loves Freddie, a boy she has known all her life but has to wait for through the duration of the war. War temporarily disrupts her plans but offers her the opportunity of a lifetime, to work with British intelligence as a plotter of strategic military maneuvers.
Magda's experience is that she has to belong to Hitler's Youth groups and participate in the required training for service in a movement that repulses her. She is pursued by Otto, a firm believer in the Third Reich, a frightening character who becomes an SS officer. Magda's experience is more difficult, more complicated, and yet every bit as interesting and involved as Imogen's.
The historical events as they occurred at the time in England and in Germany are informative and relevant to the stories of Imogen and Magda. There are really three stories here: Imogen's, Magda's, and the history being made at the time. The characters are believable, the stories well told, the history well researched and incorporated into the plot. I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Thanks to Netgalley and Bookouture for the advanced copy.
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The cover is what first drew me to the book. Second was the historical fiction. I absolutely  love reading about WWll. This story is so beautifully written. I can’t wait to read more, by Debbie Rix.
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What a delightful read! I’m always drawn to historical fiction, but truthfully there are times when reading accounts of World War 2 when it’s too much for me to read as a form of entertainment. I felt that this book was hopeful enough, while still telling the sad, realistic stories that accompany this period in history. I enjoyed the characters and thinking about how different scenarios were taking place with youth of similar ages. How experienced similar things, but with their own personal elements. I also love when stories have storylines that are parallel, but also intersect in sweet ways. I really enjoyed that aspect of this book.
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The Secret Letter: Gripping and heartbreaking WW2 historical fiction by [Rix, Debbie]This historical fiction is set during WWII in Germany and England.
Magda, one of the main characters lives near Augsburg, Germany on a farm. Her brother, Karl, attends Oxford University. Magda misses her brothers so much, so when she received a letter telling about the war she kept it, even though he asked her to destroy it. This action leads to danger for her family. Magda has also been encouraged to join a German Girls League.
Another of the characters, Imogen, who lives in England with her friends. They have all been sent away from home to live in other towns.
The story grows by telling each girl's story as the war goes on. Including their plans when they grow up.
This story is so moving. It caught at my heart from the beginning. I recommend this book highly.
This book was sent to me by NetGalley, and Bookouture in exchange for an honest review.
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Thank you to NetGalley, Bookouture and Ms. Debbie Rix for this Advanced Readers Copy of "The Secret Letter"

Publishing July 22, 2019
Historical Fiction 

Inspired by a true story, this is the exciting and heartwrenching tale of two young girls as they come of age during WWII. 

We first meet "Magda", a farmers daughter growing up in the German Countryside. Her brother is away studying at University in England and by letter tells Magda the truth of what Herr Hitler and his campaign is actually doing. Magda, was forced to join the "Young Maidens", an aryan women's group and she begins to question and then rebel against Hitler and the new regime. Putting herself and her family at risk, she fights for what she believes is right amidst the inconceivable inhumanity of what is happening around her in Germany.

"Imogen" is a young girl growing up in Newcastle England. She dreams of going to university to study Engineering. However the war has a different path instore for Imogen. First sent off to "The safer English Countryside", she struggles with being away from her family and life she knows in the city. She returns a little older and so much wiser and decides to complete one year of university and then enlist as a Wren.

Full of twists and obsessions, secrets and lies; the story takes us on a journey of first loves, broken hearts and what it means to be strong when the world is in chaos. 
4 stars
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A beautifully written book. I was hooked from the first page. It was a  true page-turner. This is a really great book club read. So much to talk about and digest. The detail, the character development, the plot-- it's all there in the book. the author hit a true home run with this one. It will tug at your heart and stay with you which is the mark of a great book. 5 stars --a 2019 must-read.
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I've read a lot of WWII fiction, and I especially enjoy books where I learn something new that I had previously not known about that era.  It was interesting to learn about the German resistance and the English women war efforts, but overall, this book fell a little short to me. I found the two primary characters a little underdeveloped and immature (even considering their respective ages).

I enjoyed this book, but it wouldn't be my first recommendation for a WWII book.
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A World War Two historical fiction set in Germany and England in the 1940’s. It is about two young girls and their life during World War two. Magda is a young girl who lives on a farm near a small village near Augsburg in Germany. She misses her older brother Karl who went to England before the war to attend Oxford University. 
Karl sends a letter to Magda and tells her about the coming war and resistance fighters. He tells Magda to destroy the letter. Instead she keeps it and potentially puts her family in danger. Magda and her school friends are encouraged to be involved in a German Girls’ League.
In England Imogen and her best friend and other children, are sent away from their homes and families in Newcastle to Keswick, a small village in the Lake District.
The novel switches back and forward to Imogen and Magda as the war progresses. Imogen and her friends miss their families but are safe as they grow up and plan how they will contribute to the war effort.
Magda struggles to keep away from danger during the war, she has dangerous friends and tries to help wounded airmen and is constantly at risk of being discovered. This is about families, friendships, WW2 and secrets.
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Thanks to NetGalley for an early copy in return for an honest review
A very good read and one I can highly recommend to others. 
I could not put this down.
Thoroughly enjoyable with an amazing cast of characters that you cannot help but engage with.
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I have read so many books about WWII in recent years, and I know some people think they are overdone, but I adore learning about a new aspect of what happened during one of our planet's darkest times. This is one reason I really enjoyed this book. Telling the stories of two girls as they mature into women: one an English evacuee, the other a German farm girl, this book talked about elements of the war I had not known about before.

I think both of the girls were flawed, but still heroines of not only their stories, but of the bigger story. I enjoyed seeing them navigate relationships and politics and morality in the midst of their formative years. If you like historical fiction, especially WWII fiction, then I think you will enjoy this book.
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Moving, heartbreaking, and powerful, The Secret Letter is a coming-of-age story about bravery in the face of fear and the importance of kindness.  The build is rather slow, but the short chapters prevent the story from dragging on too much.  I like how the story is told from both Imogen's and Magda's perspectives, and how their stories intertwine despite their differences.  I also appreciate how the story doesn't focus solely on Magda and Imogen--there are many supporting characters who play a crucial role.  Fans of WWII fiction will be excited to see this novel.
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Incredible World War II story about two girls, one in England and the other in Germany. Each were courageous in efforts against the evils of the Nazis and Hitler. Magda, growing up on a German farm hates the indoctrination of the Nazi Party beliefs that is forced upon her. Imogen, a British citizen becomes a part of the secret world of plotters in her war effort. Magda's and Imogen's stories are beautifully woven together to give readers glimpses of behind the scene Europe during the war. Based on true events, readers who love historical fiction, will enjoy this book. Highly recommended!
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Another wonderful story from this author.  Each book that is written transports you to a period in history where we can learn as well as lose ourselves in the lives of the characters.  In this book it is World War 2 and the difference perspectives of an English and German girl growing up in this troubled time.  I highly recommend this book if you like historical women’s fiction.
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This is definitely the best book I have read this year, & I read a LOT!

The tale starts with a letter from an elderly German lady to an elderly British lady, inviting her to a WW2 commemoration service in Germany. We then find out the background to the story & how the lives of two women are connected. 

The stories alternate between life in Germany and England & we see how communities were torn apart, or brought together, by the war. 
In England, we follow Imogen as she is evacuated to the Lake District, whilst in Germany Magda is a very reluctant member of the Hitler Youth, and almost accidentally becomes involved with a resistance movement. In both countries we see love, loss, heroism and ordinary people trying to get on with their daily life and do the right thing, despite the war going on around them.

This book was realistic, captivating, engaging & hard to put down. 

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free from NetGalley, all opinions are my own.
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The letter at the start of this is an effective opener, posing the necessary questions to provide the setting for the book.
Rix has a beguiling style of writing with which she manages to introduce elements of humour even when her characters must tackle more serious matters
The way Rix presents the parallel world of the girl Magda in Germany is quite refreshing as we are encouraged to observe and feel the events and effects of the Second World War from the stance of those on the side of the 'enemy'.
We are given enough of each child's story to become involved with the characters before we are moved on - many books take us away from one storyteller too soon for me to feel any close tie with them. 
I thoroughly enjoyed this journey.

Thank you to NetGalley and Bookouture for this copy in exchange for an honest review.
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The Secret Letter is the story of two girls, English Imogen and German Magda, who become women during World War II. In their own ways, they serve the Allied cause and their lives intersect in ways they can't even imagine.

The premise of this book is really interesting - how a German girl willing to protect an RAF pilot shot down over Munich would affect the life of a Wren in England. But I think the book just tries to cover way *too much.*

There was so much flip flopping between Magda and Imogen's stories that it was hard to get really invested in either of them. I wish the book had just focused on one or the other (but Magda's story was more interesting, so let's just choose Magda) and really fleshed out the details. I would have loved that book I think. 

Also Imogen and Magda came off as too modern in my opinion. They sounded like 21st century women living in the 40s. That's kind of a pet peeve of mine when characters don't seem to fit the time of the story.

Besides these two things, the book was fine. It was easy to read, the writing style was good, and but I just didn't love the story.
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4 strong stars

There are so many book title buzzwords these days that tend to make me immediately pass over the book. Examples include “Girl”, “Lies”, “Dead”, “Killer”, “Sister”, etc. You know what I mean. “Secrets” is another word that tends to make me look the other way. BUT, any titles using the words “Letter” or “Diary” always get a look. I don’t know why, but those words shoot my curiosity straight up! It was the title of this book that drew me; the colorful and intriguing cover (despite my normal dislike of the backwards girls in the red coats motif) was then enough to push me over the edge and hit that green Net Galley button. Was I rewarded? Yes, indeed I was!

This year I have really solidly connected with historical fiction. My new interest in this genre has really destroyed my TBR list, but it’s definitely been worth it. The Secret Letter is another in a long string of winning stories that have taken my heart this year.

This tale has two side by side storylines covering 1939-1951, with a final leap to 2019, that eventually merge—this fact we infer from the intriguing prologue. The vast majority of the narrative takes place during WWII. Our protagonists are farm girl Magna who lives in the German countryside and city girl Imogene who is British. I love that both sides of the war are represented in this manner, though Magna is sympathetic to the other side. The themes that course through the novel include one of my very favorites - the grace of humanity, which can appear even during times of battle.  This theme was well explored in the book and made a real impression on me. Learning points include interesting war positions and career opportunities for intelligent British women, the system of evacuations and billeting of British school children out of the cities, the presence of resistance fighters in Germany, and the treatment of Christmas during the war years in Germany. 

The two protagonists are well characterized and highly likeable, especially Magna. There are also a number of interesting, generally well written side characters. There is a bit of romance that for the most part takes a backseat to the rest of the story. That’s not a bad thing, but I did wish we had a little more substance to those relationships to make me cheer even more for them to succeed. There are also a couple of coincidences that seem a little convenient. These are minor criticisms but are the reason for the lost star. I loved, loved, loved the prologue and the last chapter set in 2019 and how many questions that arose during the story are tied up by the end. There are also some really tense moments during this read that add a layer of suspense.

In the author’s note at the end, Ms. Rix tells us that the novel is based on her parents’ real wartime experiences. Her parents’ letters, diaries and her father’s RAF log books were used to develop the story. I love this fact about the book.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed The Secret Letter and recommend it for those looking for a good wartime storyline. 

Many thanks to Net Galley, Bookouture, and Debbie Rix for an ARC of this novel. Opinions are mine alone and are not biased in any way.
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Thank you to NetGalley and Bookouture for the read of Debbie Rix’s, The Secret Letter.

Told in the same timeline: 1939 WWII from the perspectives of two young girls, The Secret Letter captivates the reader from the very beginning. 

Germany: Magda, young, brave, determined, she resolves she must not be silent. She hates what has happened to her world and despising the Hitler Youth, decides to rebel. 

England: Imogen is taken to safety; away from the war that is devastating Europe, but she cannot stand by as others bravely act out against the enemy. 

Both young women, credible, strong-willed, courageous and making a difference – making history. 

The Secret Letter enthralled me from the start. I had a hard time putting this one down. Making it even more moving is that author Debbie Rix based the story on the experiences of her parents, engaging you through emotions, and appealing to your soul. 

I highly recommend this wonderful historical fiction read that will capture the heart of anyone who reads it. 

The opinions expressed in my reviews are my very own.
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Debbie Rix has written a hard-hitting emotional tale about how World War II affected the lives of two young women, one in Germany and one in England. Although hundreds of miles away, Imogen and Magda were both severely affected by the war. As a matter of fact, they had very similar views, although it was hardly likely that the two girls would ever meet.

For Magda, living in Germany, as a thirteen-year-old teen was not easy. Magda was completely devastated after witnessing her best friend Lotte and her family being snatched away and forced into a concentration camp. This made it impossible for Magda to ever understand the strong political leanings when thousands of young people were being forced to accept Hitler's views. Magda has her own mind about matters, even at risk to herself and her family. When a boy Magda grew up with, Otto, not only rises high in Hitler's army, while at the same time pursues her romantically, things become increasingly difficult for her.

Imogen is fifteen-years-old and living in the country in England when the war begins. She witnesses many tragic and difficult things, including witnessing bombs being dropped. Writing letters to those she loves is as much as she can do to show how she feels about things. Little does she know that a young German girl would one day affect her very life.

I have read a lot of historical fiction over the past year, but this book certainly hit me the hardest. For example, I knew about the bombings that occurred, but in this story the devastation was so very hard hitting for both Imogen and Magda. Tears flowed freely while reading of some of these occurrences. Also, with the situation involving Magda's brother Karl, as well as her helping those in great need was done very well, and showed her incredible resilience.

I really felt for Imogen as her very future lied in the hands of others, and this included her heart's desire. She may not have had the same experiences as Magda, but her story was equally compelling. I savored this story and all that these girls went through. I cried happy tears at the ending because it was something that I kept hoping for the entire time I was reading this book.

This is my second read by Debbie Rix and I had a similar experience when I read The Photograph by her. She is a fantastic author who knows just how to pull the heartstrings with the wonderful ability to connect readers to her characters.

Many thanks to Bookouture and to NetGalley for this ARC to review in exchange for my honest opinion.
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