I have adored Sara Ackerman’s books over the years. She writes such interesting novels about WWII that are set in Hawaii. Her passion for the island and its history really shine under her pen plus there is always a little bit of romance to entertain readers. I really enjoyed reading all of her books and find that each has been between a 4 and 5 star rating for me.
When I saw this one was coming up, I made room on my review calendar for it. I hadn’t actually planned on reading it as soon as I did but I knew I would read it before the summer was out. I had an excerpt on my blog and once I read the excerpt I found that I simply needed to just read the rest of the book so I picked it up much earlier than I anticipated.
Ackerman’s book offer readers escapism and untold stories. If you love WWII novels but find the genre saturated with similar stories over and over again, Ackerman’s books are a fantastic option! This book itself offers a bit about female codebreakers during the war (a top topic in WWII era historical fiction) but in this book, the codebreaker isn’t in some London bunker trying to break German codes, she is on an exotic island trying to break Japanese codes while trying to grieve the loss of her brother.
A brilliant female codebreaker. An “unbreakable” Japanese naval code. A pilot on a top-secret mission that could change the course of WWII. The Codebreaker’s Secret is a dazzling story of love and intrigue set during America’s darkest hour.
1943. As war in the Pacific rages on, Isabel Cooper and her codebreaker colleagues huddle in “the dungeon” at Station HYPO in Pearl Harbor, deciphering secrets plucked from the airwaves in a race to bring down the enemy. Isabel has only one wish: to avenge her brother’s death. But she soon finds life has other plans when she meets his best friend, a hotshot pilot with secrets of his own.
1965. Fledgling journalist Lu Freitas comes home to Hawai’i to cover the grand opening of the glamorous Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Rockefeller’s newest and grandest project. When a high-profile guest goes missing, Lu forms an unlikely alliance with an intimidating veteran photographer to unravel the mystery. The two make a shocking discovery that stirs up memories and uncovers an explosive secret from the war days. A secret that only a codebreaker can crack. (Summary from Goodreads)
Admittedly this is the first book of Ackerman’s that I struggled with. It’s not that it wasn’t a good book it’s more that it just took it’s time getting there if that makes sense. It started out really strong, the first couple of chapters were well written and set readers up for an engrossing tale. But then somewhere around the 20% mark it started to lose steam for me. I had a hard time believing that Isabel wanted to go to Hawaii to basically retrace the footsteps of her deceased brother. On the surface it made sense but as we got into the story where she meets Mateo and retracing her brother’s favorite spots as a catalyst for their romance just felt weird and off to me. For me it just didn’t work and felt a little off. The first half of the book mostly covered Mateo and Isabel going to her brother’s favorite spots and Mateo documenting those spots and the whole time I was thinking “Why???? What’s the point of this???”. And Mateo’s devotion to all those spots and memories felt a little weird too. Can’t explain it but it just didn’t feel fitting some how.
I struggled with Lu’s parts of the book too. There seemed to be zero connection between Lu and Mateo later on in the book and I just really struggled to get into that part of the story. For some reason this whole book felt very mismatched and strung together but not in a good way. After the 50% mark things eventually picked up and got better (no spoilers!) but by that point I was already feeling disconnected and bored with some of the story. It took too long getting there and getting to the interesting parts for my taste. This was unexpected for me because Ackerman’s books have generally been really good. This book started out with her trademark love of Hawaii and it’s war time history. I loved that part and I loved the descriptions of the island and it’s rugged beauty. But the characters felt lacking for me.
While this book didn’t excite me as some of Ackerman’s other novels, I think it’s still worth a read. It’s not bad but for me, I felt like her other novels were stronger and I think this one could have been better than it was. Ackerman is still an author that I recommend a lot to readers looking for ‘off the beaten path’ WWII novels. She is a marvelous writer and I love how she writes and the stories she tells, but in this one I think it could have been better.
Book Info and Rating
Paperback, 384 pages
Published August 2nd 2022 by MIRA
ISBN 0778386457 (ISBN13: 9780778386452)
Free review copy provided by publisher, MIRA, in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and in no way influenced.
Rating: 3 stars
Genre: War romance, WWII, historical fiction