Code Name Lily by Julien Ayotte

Code Name Lily by Julien Ayotte
Published: November 2018
Genre: Historical Fiction, War Fiction
Pages: 292
Available: ebook, paperback

Reviewers Note: I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. If you are interested in viewing this book on Amazon, click on the book cover.

Plot: Dr. Tony Papineau receives a phone call out of the blue. The current owner of his childhood home has discovered a hidden room which contains a metal box that once belonged to Tony's father. The box contains two WWII medals, a journal and a letter. This surprising find sets Tony on a journey of discovery about the father he never knew and Lily, the woman who rescued him from capture by the enemy.

After a few chapters, that set up the storyline, the plot (if you call it that) jumps to 1915 and the author offers a brief bio of Edith Cavell a WWI member of the Belgium resistance. The following chapter is a bio of Andree de Jongh, founder of the Comet Line: it reads like a Wikipedia article interspersed with odd bits of dialogue. The book spends several chapters outlining the backstory of the Belgium resistance group who ferried downed American and British airmen out of occupied Belgium through France and Spain and ultimately to freedom.

At last, the author introduces the reader to Lily and American Airman, Gerard (Gerry) Papineau, and the all too brief tale of their time together and his escape from Belgium. The plot then meanders back and forth in time and weaves its way through various storylines. The last chapters, again, read like biographical articles on various resistance members.

The Characters:  The book is centered on multiple sets of characters. Dr. Papineau and his family in modern time, his father and his parents, his mother and her parents, Lily and her family, and various bad guys who work for the Gestapo. The most interesting characters are the actual members of the Comet Line, the author tells us the history of many of the most notable members and their fates.

The History:  The history of the Comet Line is what caught my attention and interested me in this book.  Despite being told in a round-about way, I did learn a lot about the brave women and men who risked their lives (and many lost their lives) rescuing Allied soldiers and airmen from the Nazi occupiers. I was particularly fascinated to read that many of the leaders of the group were women. Some chapters read like an 8th grade history lesson and less like a novel and are actually more engaging than the fictionalize chapters. 

The Writing:   There is a saying in the writing world, Show Don't Tell. Show us the characters, show us how they feel, how they live, how they interact with the world around them. Don't tell us, show us. This is a book that tells us everything.  The reader is kept at arms' length from the characters, their story lacks a sense of drama, there is no tension, no plot twists, no nail biting moments.  History is dumped in large chunks that stand starkly apart from the storyline. Characters are introduced and reintroduced numerous times. The same information is repeated over and over. I can't count the times we are told that Lily looks like a schoolgirl! The pace is choppy, and I found myself skimming over parts of the story. The dialogue is wooden and at times unbelievable. 

Overall: This should have been a fantastic story, but it's not. A great historical novels weaves fact and fiction together in a seamless tale, this is not the case. The modern day plot line is weak, there is too little to the story of Gerard and Lily to drive the romance narrative, and the huge info dumps read like a grade-school history textbook. 

Recommendations:  As a lover of Historical Fiction, it gives me no pleasure to say that I cannot recommend this book. As a fictional story it doesn't work and there are better non-fiction options if you want to learn about the brave men and women who made up the Comet Line. 

I give this book ⭐⭐ 

Want to read about the Comet Line? Check out this non-fiction book on the history of the line by author Peter Eisner. 

My Ratings: 

1  Star: Not good at all, do not read!

2  Stars: Read only as a last resort, no other books available

3 Stars: Good, enjoyed it, will recommend with reservations

4 Stars: Really good, read this book!

5 Stars: So good, I might read it again sometime! Highly recommend


  1. I completely agree with your assessment. My first writing gig was as a book reviewer for a local newspaper. I try to be gentle because I realize what an undertaking is involved in creating a compelling story. But I was amazed at how amateurish the author 's novel is. While the topic is well worth reading about, its exposition is deeply flawed. The dialog is forced and contains unnecessary detailed ramblings about each siblings' curriculum vitae, Google like mappings of various locations and involves weaving in and out of two world wars, so many brief stories that don't seem to connect. I have nothing but admiration for the Comet line but was disappointed. It seems to be a compilation of historical research sandwiched into multi-generational thumbnail bios of brave people making great sacrifices for the Resistance.


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