Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Elizabeth St John reviews Family Business by Renny de Groot

 Today Liz St John reviews Family Business by  R.V. deGroot. The author has kindly offered an ebook as a giveaway. To be in with a chance of winning a copy of this wonderful novel, simply leave a comment below or on our Facebook page.
The winner will be drawn on 28th March
Good luck!

 Set in the Netherlands against the backdrop of the Great Depression and through World War II, Family Business follows the story of Agatha Meijer and her sons, André and Johan, as they build their textile business, a business Agatha is determined her sons will carry on, regardless of their own desires. Family tension comes to a head when the boys each take a stand, sending all their lives spinning in directions none of them would have ever anticipated, and making each of them question the true meaning of loyalty, love, and freedom.

Family Business follows the fortunes of the Meijers, a family living in Holland in the years leading up to and during World War II, and as such, takes us into a world rarely covered by historical fiction novels. In the midst of more familiar stories about the French resistance, or English fighter pilots, the fate of lesser known countries and families is often overlooked, which is a great shame. Ms deGroot remedies this by bringing this time and place vividly to life, through the eyes of Andre and Johan Meijer, and their mother Agatha, the matriarch of the family.
Opening when the brothers are teenagers, we follow their simple daily routines of school, soccer --- and a first girlfriend. Almost immediately, we are introduced to the dark and prevailing will of Agatha, who rules the small family and its precious business with an iron fist. Dominating the narrative throughout the novel, Agatha is the protagonist to all good hopes and dreams. Although one has a reluctant admiration for her strength of character, her grim determination to let no outside influence deter the course she has charted for her boys sets up a series of shattered dreams for the young men. When, finally, through the catalyst of their girlfriends and wives they challenge Agatha’s grasp, she is unable to find pride in their independence, and quickly moves to sever their happiness.
The narrative is fluid, with clear dialogue and a mounting tension facing the inevitability of the German invasion. By the time war does come, we are seriously vested in the lives of Andre and Johan and their wives and families. The inevitable heroism and tragedy of war is no less harrowing because of its predictability, and Ms deGroot handles our emotions tenderly and still offers hope for the future.
Reading the afterword, I wonder if Family Business is based on circumstances within Ms deGroot’s family, or on events told first hand by survivors of the war and their children, which makes the stories even more fascinating. Although at times the characters are a little black and white (I would have loved to have known more about Agatha, and the events in her life that turned her into such an unlikeable creature), I found the descriptions of their lives compelling, and obviously very well researched. The book is a little slow to start, but as time begins to move more swiftly, the pace picks up, and soon we are facing triumph and adversity side by side with the Meijar family.
A very well-written character-driven historical fiction novel, and one that I am really glad I read. I cheered, I cried, and I felt I became part of the Meijar family, and was reluctant to put the book down at its ending. I hope Ms deGroot may write a sequel, for surely the period of post-war challenges holds many opportunities for more of her compelling family stories.
Four out of Five Stars.

About the author:
 Renny deGroot is a first generation Canadian of Dutch parents. Her debut novel, Family Business, was shortlisted for the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize, 2015.  Her second novel, After Paris, has also been well received, with the current interest in all things WW1.  Renny has a BA in English Literature from Trent University.

Renny lives in rural Ontario with her elderly Chocolate lab, Great Pyrenees and young Golden Retriever. 
Where to find Renny:
Website: Amazon Canada; Amazon US.

About the reviewer:

Elizabeth St.John was brought up in England and lives in California. To inform her writing, she has tracked down family papers and residences from Nottingham Castle, Lydiard Park, and Castle Fonmon to the Tower of London. Although the family sold a few castles and country homes along the way (it's hard to keep a good castle going these days), Elizabeth's family still occupy them - in the form of portraits, memoirs, and gardens that carry their imprint. And the occasional ghost. But that's a different story...

Elizabeth's Historical Fiction series "The Lydiard Chronicles" follows the fortunes of the 17th Century St.John family through royal favor and civil war. Her latest novel, By Love Divided, continues the story of Lucy St.John, The Lady of the Tower. This powerfully emotional novel tells of England's great divide, and the heart-wrenching choices one family faces.


  1. I would love to read this book. The evocative cover picture captivated me and the excellent review made me long for more.

  2. Thank you so much for your insightful review. I'm glad that you enjoyed the book Elizabeth St John!

  3. My pleasure. I do hope you're considering a follow-up to it, Renny.