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MIni Reviews: The Historical Fiction Edition

 

It’s time for another roundup of the ARCs I read in January.  This time I want to focus on a couple of lovely historical fiction novels that I read, one set in WWII and the other set during WWI.

 

MIni Reviews: The Historical Fiction EditionThe Whispers of War Goodreads

Author: Julia Kelly

Publication Date: January 14, 2020

Publisher:  Gallery Books

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

Julia Kelly’s The Whispers of War is an engaging work of historical fiction that focuses on three friends, Marie, Nora, and Hazel, and the challenges they face when World War II reaches the shores of England.  The author deftly uses a dual timeline to both ground her readers in the present and take us back in time. She begins in the present with Marie’s granddaughter, Samantha, who has travelled to London after Marie’s death to present Nora with a keepsake Marie wanted her dear friend to have.  Samantha has also been charged with writing a eulogy for her grandmother so she takes the opportunity of meeting Nora to pick her brain about Marie’s early life.  Although Nora is the gateway to the past, the author presents the WWII timeline from the perspectives of Nora, Marie, and their other good friend, Hazel.

As much as WWII historical fiction has always fascinated me, the friendship of these three women was what really sold me on this book.  Marie is German-born, and although she has lived in England nearly all of her life, the threat of war with the Nazis has her on edge, especially as rumors abound that those with German blood could be placed in internment camps.  Nora, on the other hand, is English by birth and actually works for the British government at the Home Office.  She takes advantage of her position to keep Marie apprised of what’s really going on with respect to possible internment camps.  In sharp contrast to both Nora and Marie is Hazel, who works for a matchmaking company. Ever the optimist and even in the face of war, she’s in the business of helping people find love.  These three women are such an unlikely trio, but the bond of friendship they share is just beautiful to see, especially when contrasted with the ugliness of war as more and more people turn on Marie because of her German background.

Using WWII and Marie’s experiences as its backdrop, The Whispers of War explores some pretty big themes – friendship, sisterhood, what happens when loyalties are tested, politics, women’s rights issues, and even a little romance.  Marie’s story is pretty incredible and I loved learning more about her alongside her granddaughter.  If you’re into WWII historical fiction and/or stories that feature strong female characters, you’ll want to check out The Whispers of War4 STARS

 

 

MIni Reviews: The Historical Fiction EditionThe Vineyards of Champagne Goodreads

Author: Juliet Blackwell

Publication Date: January 21, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

Set in the beautiful Champagne region of France, Juliet Blackwell’s latest novel The Vineyards of Champagne follows Rosalyn, an American woman who is traveling to France to find new wines for her company to distribute in America.  Rosalyn, still reeling from the loss of her husband, isn’t excited about the trip but her boss thinks it will be good for her.  On the plane, Rosalyn meets Emma, an Australian woman with a larger-than-life personality and who is working on a project that piques Rosalyn’s interest.

Emma has a packet of letters that belonged to her grandmother, who was corresponding with a young French soldier named Emile LeGrand during WWI.  The letters were written by Emile, and Emma is heading to France in hopes of finding out more about the French soldier and hopefully finding her grandmother’s side of the correspondence.  Rosalyn is drawn in by Emma’s enthusiasm for the project, and so what started as a business trip for Rosalyn slowly becomes a trip about healing and moving forward, as she and Emma dive deeper into the letters and learn more about Emile and about what life was like in the Champagne region during WWI.

This was such an easy book to fall in love with.  I adored both Emma and Rosalyn from the moment they met.  I felt tremendous sympathy for Rosalyn because of her loss and how much she was struggling to cope but could tell right away that Emma was going to be good for her with that live-out-loud personality of hers.  I also loved the quaint little town that Rosalyn stays in while she’s there, as well as the array of wonderful secondary characters, especially Jerome, a champagne maker who catches Rosalyn’s eye.

The biggest draw for me in The Vineyards of Champagne though was what I learned about WWI.  The history that unfolded through the letters just made for such a fascinating read. I had no idea that the citizens of this region in France had taken shelter during the war in underground caves beneath the champagne houses. The women and children basically lived in underground cities, educated the children there, and periodically came up to harvest the grapes to keep champagne production going.  How amazing is that?

The Vineyards of Champagne is a story of love and loss, resilience and survival, and above all else, friendship and hope.  4 STARS

 

Book Review: The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Book Review:  The Alice Network by Kate QuinnThe Alice Network by Kate Quinn
four-half-stars
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on June 6th 2017
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 503
Source: Library
Amazon
Goodreads

MY REVIEW:

I love historical fiction that is set during WWI and WWII, so Kate Quinn’s The Alice Network was the best of both worlds for me as it has a dual time line, one of which takes place during WWI while the second takes place a couple of years after WWII.  What an incredible read this was! And the fact that the story is based on an actual real life women’s spy network that was active in France during WWI?  Amazing!  How did I not even know there was such a thing?

The Alice Network follows the story of two women, Charlie St. Clair and Eve Gardiner, and what happens when their lives unexpectedly cross paths.

Nineteen year old Charlie St. Clair is pregnant and unmarried.  The year is 1947, so as you can imagine, Charlie’s parents have deemed her situation a “problem” and so are shipping her off to a clinic in Switzerland so that it can be taken care of low-key so as not to ruin Charlie’s reputation at home.  Charlie makes the trip with her mom, and when they have a layover in England, Charlie runs away because she is on a mission of her own:  to find out what happened to her cousin Rose who had been living in Nazi-occupied France and disappeared during WWII.  Her family has presumed she is dead, but Charlie is convinced that she is still out there somewhere.  She only has one lead at this point, an address in London and a name, Evelyn Gardiner.  She has no idea who Evelyn Gardiner is or how she can possibly help her find Rose, but she is determined to follow this lead wherever it takes her.

Enter Evelyn, or Eve as she is known, Gardiner.  I’m not sure what Charlie expected when she first knocks on Eve’s door, but a snarky, stuttering, gun-toting drunk with horribly disfigured hands was probably not it.  At first Eve barely even listens to Charlie’s story about her cousin Rose and has no interest at all in helping her. That is, until Charlie mentions Le Lethe, which was the name of the restaurant where Rose was working at just prior to her disappearance, and Monsieur Rene, the owner of the restaurant.  As soon as Eve hears those names, her whole attitude abruptly shifts and she decides to help Charlie.

As Eve sets out to help Charlie, we are also taken on a second journey, this time back to 1915, where we follow Eve and see how she has ended up the way she is when Charlie meets her in 1947.  In 1915, Eve is working as an administrative assistant at a law firm in England, but she desperately wants to do something more important. Specifically, she wants to join the action in WWI fighting against the Germans.  She unexpectedly gets her chance when a visitor to the law firm, notes that Eve has qualities that would ideally suit her to working as a spy.  Namely, she appears to remain calm, cool, and collected no matter what is going on around her, and she is able to lie with a straight face.  Those qualities, coupled with a horrible stutter that make others assume she’s a bit dim-witted and therefore underestimate her.  Because of these qualities, the visitor recruits her to become a part of The Alice Network, an all-female spy network that was operating in France, right under the German’s noses.  Eve is eager to join and so we follow her through her spy training, to her primary assignment in enemy-occupied France during the war and all of the dangers it ensues, all the way through to why the names Le Leche and Monsieur Rene struck such a chord with her so many years later when Charlie St. Clair mentions them.   Eve’s journey is equal parts riveting and horrifying, and 100% life-changing.

I love when a dual timeline narrative is handled well and author Kate Quinn does a marvelous job presenting both Charlie and Eve’s stories in The Alice Network.  The chapters alternate between the 1915 and the 1947 timelines so Eve’s backstory is presented a little at a time as is Charlie’s mission to find out what happened to her beloved cousin.  Both stories are so compelling that I found myself easily pulled along, particularly because I really wanted to know what happened to turn Eve from spy extraordinaire to a bitter, disfigured woman with a major drinking problem.   I also wanted to see how exactly Eve was supposed to be the key to helping Charlie find Rose, not to mention I really wanted to know if Rose was still alive, and if so, why has she gone two years without trying to contact her family.

I also think that part of the reason the dual timeline works so well in this story is the active presence of Eve in both timelines.  She is such a fascinating and complex character, both in her younger days where she so desperately wanted to fight against the Germans and as we see her in 1947, where she is ready to take her Luger and blow the head off of anyone who so much as looks at her funny.  I adored Eve’s bigger-than-life personality and the way it just fills the pages of this story.  She made me laugh, she made me cry, and she had me scared to death for her at so many points throughout the story.

Charlie is very likeble as well, but in a different way, since we only see her at age 19.  What I liked about Charlie was her spunk and her determination, as well as her absolute devotion to her cousin, who was more like a sister to her.  Charlie’s youthful enthusiasm, combined with Eve’s fierce snark, makes them a pretty formidable team as they journey together to find Rose.

Kate Quinn also does a brilliant job of depicting the settings, both in 1915 with enemy-occupied France and then 1947, with both the French countryside and with London.  The sights and sounds felt authentic, and Quinn’s attention to detail is spot on.  As I read and followed these women, I felt myself transported to each time period and location.

I wouldn’t really call it a dislike, but I do have to admit that I found Eve’s storyline to be a lot more compelling than Charlie’s.  I loved both characters and was invested in both storylines, but Eve’s journey and the life-threatening danger she faced every moment while working as a spy was just absolutely riveting. Charlie’s story just fell a bit short in comparison.

If you’re looking for a well written, riveting read, I’d highly recommend checking out The Alice Network.  It’s sure to be a favorite for fans of historical fiction, but I think anyone who enjoys reading about strong and complex female characters would love this read as well.  Since this was a fictionalized account of the actual Alice Network, I find myself now wanting to go out and learn more about it since I had never heard of it during any of my history courses in school.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

In an enthralling new historical novel from national bestselling author Kate Quinn, two women—a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during World War I and an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947—are brought together in a mesmerizing story of courage and redemption.

1915.  In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She’s also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie’s parents banish her to Europe to have her “little problem” taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.

1948. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she’s recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she’s trained by the mesmerizing Lili, the “Queen of Spies”, who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy’s nose.

Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn’t heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth …no matter where it leads.

four-half-stars

About Kate Quinn

Kate Quinn is a native of southern California. She attended Boston University, where she earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Classical Voice. A lifelong history buff, she has written four novels in the Empress of Rome Saga, and two books in the Italian Renaissance, before turning to the 20th century with “The Alice Network.” All have been translated into multiple languages.

Kate and her husband now live in San Diego with two black dogs named Caesar and Calpurnia, and her interests include opera, action movies, cooking, and the Boston Red Sox.