The Porcelain Maker by Sarah Freethy

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Date of publication: November 7th, 2023

Genre: Historical Fiction, Fiction, World War II, Romance, Historical, Adult Fiction, Holocaust, Germany, War, Relationships

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

An epic story of love, betrayal, and art that spans decades, through the horrors of World War II to 21st century America, inspired by an actual porcelain factory in Dachau.

Two lovers caught at the crossroads of history.

A daughter’s search for the truth.

Germany, 1929. At a festive gathering of young bohemians in Weimar, two young artists, Max, a skilled Jewish architect, and Bettina, a celebrated avant-garde painter, are drawn to each other and begin a whirlwind romance. Their respective talents transport them to the dazzling lights of Berlin, but this bright beginning is quickly dimmed by the rising threat of Nazism. Max is arrested and sent to the concentration camp at Dachau where only his talent at making exquisite porcelain figures stands between him and seemingly certain death. Desperate to save her lover, Bettina risks everything to rescue him and escape Germany.

America, 1993. Clara, Bettina’s daughter, embarks on a journey to trace her roots and determine the identity of her father, a secret her mother has kept from her for reasons she’s never understood. Clara’s quest to piece together the puzzle of her origins transports us back in time to the darkness of Nazi Germany, where life is lived on a razor’s edge and deception and death lurk around every corner. Survival depends on strength, loyalty, and knowing true friend from hidden foe. And as Clara digs further, she begins to question why her mother was so determined to leave the truth of her harrowing past behind…

The Porcelain Maker is a powerful novel of enduring love and courage in the face of appalling brutality as a daughter seeks to unlock the mystery of her past.

First Line

In a tall cabinet, on a glass shelf, lies a white porcelain rabbit.

The Porcelain Maker by Sarah Freethy

Important things you need to know about the book:

Pace: The pace of The Porcelain Maker was medium throughout most of the book. It did speed up towards the end (when Bettina tried to flee Germany with Max).

Trigger/Content Warning: The Porcelain Maker contains content and trigger warnings. If any of these triggers you, I suggest not reading the book. They are:

  • Antisemitism (graphic)
  • War and War themes (graphic)
  • Violence (graphic)
  • Classism (moderate)
  • Dementia (moderate)
  • Depression (moderate)
  • PTSD (moderate)
  • Alcohol Consumption (moderate)
  • Dead Bodies (moderate)
  • Suicide (minor)
  • Starvation (moderate)
  • Grief (graphic)
  • Confinement (graphic)
  • Gun violence (moderate)
  • Murder (graphic)
  • Concentration Camp (moderate)
  • Genocide (moderate)
  • Mass Murder (moderate)
  • Abusive Relationship (minor)
  • Mental Health Hospitalization (minor)

Sexual Content:  There is sexual content in The Porcelain Maker. It was not graphic.

Language: There is moderate swearing in The Porcelain Maker. But there is offensive language used (slurs against Jewish people).

Setting: The Porcelain Maker is set in several locations. In Bettina and Max’s section of the book, the locations were various parts of Germany. In Clara’s book sections, the settings were Cincinnati, London, and Germany.

Tropes: War, Combining Real and Fiction Events, Including Historical Figures as Characters, Dual Timeline, What Life was Like, Survivor’s Guilt, Death Used as Catalyst, Bittersweet Ending, Alternation POV, Trauma

Age Range: I recommend The Porcelain Maker to anyone over 21.

Plot Synopsis (as spoiler-free as I can get):

Max and Bettina fall in love in the golden years between World War I and World War II. But, with the rise of Nazism, Max is soon captured and thrown into Dachau. What saves him from manual labor is an unexpected friend he had made at Allach’s famous porcelain factory and his talent for creating porcelain figures. Desperate to save Max, Bettina will do anything to save him. That includes planning a daring escape from Allach with Max. Will that escape happen?

Desperate to find out her father’s identity, Clara starts on a journey tracing her roots with the sparse clues her mother left her. But, what Clara discovers will shake her to her core and make her question everything she knew about her mother. Will Clara find out who her father is? And why didn’t her mother tell her?

Main Characters

Max Erlich: I liked Max. He truly loved Bettina and was willing to step back to let her shine. I was enraged with how he was captured (I was yelling at my Kindle). Then, I knew his plotline would go two ways: a happy ending way or the way that would shatter me (and Bettina). So, I wasn’t surprised by how it ended.

Bettina Vogel: This woman was strong. She knew her mind from the beginning and wasn’t about letting anyone tell her what to do. She had a plan to get out of Germany before Max was captured. But, when he was arrested, her plan had to be adjusted a bit. I disagreed with her marrying the SS guy, but I understood why she did it. What I didn’t understand was her after World War II. What was done to her messed her head up, but willingly not telling her child something that important made me scratch my head. Still, regardless of her choices, I liked her a lot.

Clara Vogel: I felt terrible for Clara. At times, she was chasing shadows and rumors about her father. I liked that her doggedness got her answers. That scene at Dachau, talking to a Holocaust survivor and looking at records, gave me chills.

My review:

When I started to read The Porcelain Maker, I was expecting it to be like other World War II/Nazi Germany books. The main character is captured by the Nazis, forced into concentration camps, and either done to them or seen horrendous things. But not in this case. In this case, while the horror of Dachau was there, it was muted and kept in the background. Which is what made the violence and racist remarks that Max endured at the porcelain factory even more shocking.

This book was an emotional read for me. I grew up in a predominantly Jewish community in Massachusetts. Several of my neighbors, friends, grandparents, and teachers survived concentration camps during World War II. Nothing was talked about, and seeing those inked, blue numbers wasn’t out of the ordinary for us. It wasn’t until a local woman started talking to the middle and high school about the Holocaust and what she endured that I truly got a sense of what happened.

The Porcelain Maker has three separate storylines. Those storylines follow Max, Bettina, and Clara. Max and Bettina’s storylines merge at the beginning of the book, but they separate once they move to Allach. Each storyline was well-written, and each had its twist that surprised me.

The storyline with Max affected me the most. I genuinely liked him and wanted everything to turn out well. But, after he moved to Allach with Bettina, I felt that everything that happened to him (and to her) was predestined. I wanted to change how the author wrapped up his storyline. I wasn’t surprised, but it wasn’t something that I wanted to happen.

The storyline with Bettina also affected me. As I said in her character section, I thought she was strong. Once the Nazis put Max into Dachau, everything she did was to protect her baby and, ultimately, to work towards seeing Max again. Did I agree or like everything she did? No, but I did understand. I also understood why she was so broken in Clara’s recollections. Living through something like that and with what was done to her would scar anyone.

The storyline with Clara intrigued me. I liked seeing her journey to finding out who her father was. What I liked even more was that the author set the storyline in 1993. There were few computers or internet access back then (I remember using dial-up in 1994 or 1995 for the first time). Clara had actually to do the research. I liked how she got one tiny breadcrumb after another, eventually leading to someone who knew her father. I won’t lie; I did get emotional while reading her storyline. I got all the emotions and then some.

The end of The Porcelain Maker was perfect. I won’t say anything about what was written except that I liked it. And the epilogue was just as good. Talk about a tribute!!!!

Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press, NetGalley, and Sarah Freethy for allowing me to read and review this ARC of The Porcelain Maker. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoy reading books similar to The Porcelain Maker, then you will enjoy these books:

All Dressed Up by Jilly Gagnon

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Bantam

Date of publication: September 6th, 2022

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Mystery Thriller, Fiction, Contemporary, Adult, Audiobook, Suspense, Relationships, Crime

Purchase Links: Amazon | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | Alibris | Powells | IndieBound | Indigo | BetterWorldBooks

Goodreads Synopsis:

The weekend getaway at the gorgeous manor hotel should have been perfect. But Becca is freshly smarting from her husband Blake’s betrayal and knows this is just an expensive attempt at an apology. She may not be ready to forgive him, but the drinks are strong, the estate is stunning, and the weekend has an elaborate 1920s murder mystery theme. She decides to get into the spirit of things and enjoy their stay. What could go wrong?

Before long, the game is afoot: famed speakeasy songstress Ida Crooner is found “murdered,” and it’s up to the guests to sniff out which of them might be the culprit. Playing the role of Miss Debbie Taunte, an ingenue with a dark past, Becca dives into the world of pun-heavy clues, hammy acting, and secret passages, hoping to at least take her mind off her marital troubles.

Then, the morning after they arrive, the actress playing Ida’s maid fails to reappear for her role. The game’s organizer–that’s Miss Ann Thrope to you–assumes the young woman’s flakiness is to blame, but when snooping for clues as “Debbie,” Becca finds evidence she may not have left of her own free will.

First Line:

The mansion changed at night, all the rigid lines and hard surfaces of the daytime melting into something softer, more secret, a little strange.

All Dressed Up by Jilly Gagnon

When I read the plot for All Dressed Up, I was immediately intrigued- a mystery that takes place during an immersive 1920s-themed murder mystery. I couldn’t hit that accept button fast enough. I was looking forward to reading bad puns (and yes, there were plenty) and solving the actress’s disappearance. But, this book fell short of my expectations. Not to say I didn’t like it (I did), but it was the characters (mainly Becca) who made me “meh” about this book. Everything else was perfect.

All Dressed Up did have an enjoyable and exciting plotline. The story centers around Becca and her husband, Blake. Blake had arranged a weekend getaway to an immersive murder mystery. But Becca isn’t exactly thrilled about it. Blake and herself are going through a rough patch in their marriage, and she is still furious about what happened. But once there, the magic of the mansion and the mystery draw her in. But, a real-life mystery draws her in when one of the actresses goes missing. Becca is determined to find out what happened to her. But is she getting in over her head? Can Becca solve the fictional murder mystery as well as the real-life one? And, while she’s at it, can she forgive her husband for what he did?

All Dressed Up is a fast-paced mystery that takes place on in a mansion somewhere in New York state. I didn’t catch the town’s name (or there wasn’t one). But with the talk of New York City and going upstate, I figured it was in New York.

The characters are the main reason I was “meh” about All Dressed Up. Individually, they all got on my nerves, and together, that nerve was stretched to the max. I will not discuss each character. I will focus on the main ones, Becca and Blake.

  • Becca: I had mixed feelings about Becca. On the one hand, she was a great detective (both in and out of character). She genuinely cared about the missing maid. But her detective work bordered on obsessive. However, she was awful to Blake. Yes, I get that he cheated on her, and I understood her behavior for the first 25% of the book. But every overture he made, be it doing something she liked and that made him uncomfortable, she was awful to him about. She was mean and spiteful, which didn’t gel with me.
  • Blake: Out of all the characters, I did like him the best. He acknowledged and owned that he screwed up badly. He was willing to do whatever it took to work on his marriage. But there is a line between constantly apologizing for one thing and taking the brunt of Becca’s anger for everything. Becca crossed that line before the book started.

As I mentioned above, the secondary characters got on my nerves as much as the main ones. But, they did add extra depth to the plotline and did provide a few red herrings to the mystery.

All Dressed Up fit perfectly into the mystery and suspense genres. The author did a fantastic job of keeping me guessing who the killer was in the game and why the maid went missing. As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, several red herrings were thrown out by the secondary characters.

The author wrote the main storyline well with Becca, the other guests, and the fake mystery. I loved the puns (even if they were groan-worthy at times). I also really liked how the people running the show made the guests work for the clues. Because, on my end, I am also trying to figure out who the killer was. I made notes, and it wasn’t who I thought it was.

The other storyline was well written, with Becca investigating the actress/maid’s disappearance. The author did keep me guessing about what happened to her. I did figure out what happened by the middle of the book, but I didn’t expect who. Talk about a big twist in the plot there. A “no freaking way” was thrown out when it was revealed. And the reason this person did it was heartbreaking.

The end of All Dressed Up was typical of the genre. I liked how the author revealed who the killer was in the fake mystery, why the maid disappeared, and who was behind it. As I mentioned above, it was a twist that I didn’t see coming. Also, what I didn’t see coming was something to do with Becca and Blake. I wasn’t sure if I liked it, but it did tie up that storyline.

Three Reasons You Should Read All Dressed Up:

  1. The murder mystery storyline.
  2. The puns. As bad as they were, I was dying laughing when they came up.
  3. The twist at the end of the book. I didn’t see that coming..

Three Reasons You Shouldn’t Read All Dressed Up:

  1. Becca. I felt terrible for her, but I couldn’t stand her.
  2. Blake. I explained why above.
  3. The other characters. They got on my nerves.

I would recommend All Dressed Up to anyone over 16. There is no sex, mild language, and mild to moderate violence.

If you enjoyed reading All Dressed Up, you will enjoy reading these books: