REVIEW: The Excitements by CJ Wray

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A brilliant and witty drama about two brave female World War II veterans who survived the unthinkable without ever losing their killer instinct…or their joie de vivre.

Meet the Williamson sisters, Britain’s most treasured World War II veterans. Now in their late nineties, Josephine and Penny are in huge demand, popping up at commemorative events and history festivals all over the country. Despite their age, they’re still in great form—perfectly put together, sprightly and sparky, and always in search of their next “excitement.”

This time it’s a trip to Paris to receive the Légion d’honneur for their part in the liberation of France. And as always, they will be accompanied by their devoted great-nephew, Archie.

Keen historian Archie has always been given to understand that his great aunts had relatively minor roles in the Women’s Royal Navy and the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, but that’s only half the story. Both sisters are hiding far more than the usual “official secrets”. There’s a reason sweet Auntie Penny can dispatch a would-be mugger with an umbrella.

This trip to Paris is not what it seems either. Scandal and crime have always quietly trailed the Williamson sisters, even in the decades after the war. Now armed with new information about an old adversary, these much decorated (but admittedly ancient) veterans variously intend to settle scores, avenge lost friends, and pull off one last, daring heist before the curtain finally comes down on their illustrious careers.

The archaic British expression “to spend a penny” is a euphemism that means you need to go to the toilet.

Dear Ms. Wray,

Brilliant. Absolutely bloody brilliant. I loved this book from start to finish. Combining two interests of mine – an older one about WWII and a new one I seem to have recently acquired for older main characters – it’s funny, heartbreaking at times, and perfectly brings everything down the home stretch for a fabulous finish.

I list it as just “timeline” as there are actually multiple ones in the book which follows eighty years of two incorrigible, indomitable sisters who are close to their 100th birthdays who have a few secrets left and issues to be dealt with. Though they weren’t close as youngsters, Penny and Josephine have come through a lot over the years. One of the best things in their lives is the arrival (thirty five years ago) of their young great-nephew Archie whom they take under their wing and to whom they begin to teach the finer things in life: How to fish, how to swear, and how to pull off a boss defendu move. When Archie accidentally breaks a lamp demonstrating that, Josephine happily presses a check for the cost into Archie’s mother’s hand as Josephine smiles with pride.

I don’t want to spoil any of the secrets by telling too much about the plot. It’s intricate, carefully woven and does the best thing for me – leave a bread crumb trail to back up what happens without totally giving the game away. I did guess one thing but so much springs from that bit that I was still thrilled at the end. But the rest? Wheels within plot wheels. Things fold back on past events then spring forward to now. Friends might end up enemies or on the other side of a double cross. The granddaughter of an admiral annoys everyone with her naval whistle but along with a nun, whose Morse code skills are better than Penny ever guessed, they – and a hen party in Paris – arrive in time to help save the day. Or rather they try to, but Archie, Penny, and Josephine have some tricks up their sleeves and a magnificent emerald ring somewhere else.

Penny and Josephine are well rounded characters but aren’t turned into quirky oldsters. They make mistakes and hold onto grudges but they learn from them. Their intentions are (usually) the best. They think the world of Archie and support his “toujours gay.” Their marriages aren’t what people think but the sisters allow people to think what they want. They both worked to support the Allied cause during World War II but their service might not be what people think it was.

I love how the world (and the Paris police) gets truly schooled about how these nonagenarians aren’t out to pasture. That a piece of German shrapnel is a handy thing to hang onto. That the spirit of Robin Hood isn’t dead. That DNA from Archie overcoming his aversion to spit leads to something wonderful. How Penny and Josephine have each other’s backs. And the outcome of the SOE jump is something I never saw coming. This is a marvelous book which I highly recommend. A

~Jayne

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Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 25 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there’s no TSTL characters and is currently reading more fantasy and SciFi.

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