Saturday, January 12, 2019

Flowers Who Flourish in Evil: "The Alice Network" by Kate Quinn

Not long ago I had a conversation with some friends about our preferred genres when reading books.  I shared that I really enjoy reading books set during wartime.  I love reading about characters who have overcome immense destruction in their life, both physically and emotionally, with an element and faith and hope.  I especially gravitate towards stories about Jewish families because their faith and courage was so stalwart.  They escaped death, looked death in the face and mourned for those who had died at the hand of Hitler and his regime.  Those who flourished in trials inspire me, thus I am drawn to these kinds of stories.  It's no surprise that "The Alice Network" by Kate Quinn sucked me in from the first page and I couldn't put it down until I knew what happened next. An incredible story inspired by the lives of actual women who flourished in the midst of evil and lived to talk about it. This book is up there with "The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah" in its descriptions and accuracy about the sacrifices made in both world wars.

The book has my favorite writing style and that is alternating point-of-view (POV) that switches between World War I London and post World War II London.  The majority of the details in regards to spy work is during World War I.  We soon discover that in spite of two very different women being showcased, their lives are going to connect at some point and it is pretty incredible when they do.

Character one is Charlie St. Clair, a young American with French ties.  She struggles with the expectations of her family to fit in a neat and tidy box that was so common in the late 40s.  In her quest to blaze her own trails, she ends up pregnant. The beginning of the story talks about the details on this baby or "little problem" as she calls it and a clinic in Switzerland where these "little problems" can be taken care of in a timely manner.  Charlie is very torn about what she should do in life and deeply mourns the loss of her cousin Rose.  Rose was lost in the war and the family has presumed she is dead after all this time, but Charlie is never convinced. She starts to do her own research and figures out there is a woman, living in London, who she can talk to who might have some information regarding Rose.  In steps character two....Eve Gardiner.  Eve is now an old woman with deformed hands and tries to intimidate people away by being grouchy, drunk and a recluse.  But, Eve has a story and a long list of reasons why she is grouchy, drunk all the time and a recluse.  Two words: the war. The first one.

Where do I even begin on Eve Gardiner? Her tale is one that can't be adequately described in a short blog without giving the book away.  Eve is a trailblazer of her own when the first world war breaks out in Europe.  She wants to do her part to serve her country and against her family's wishes she joins the Alice Network, a network of female spies in Europe.  These women are some of the fairest of them all, those who can lure the evilest leaders to their bedrooms and coax them to share war secrets.  The sacrifices each of these women make for each other and their country is beyond humbling.  I can honestly say this book drew me in and hooked me emotionally because these women were fiercely loyal to each other and didn't give up. While we are learning about Charlie and her interactions with old lady Eve, we are also learning about Eve's heroic efforts as a spy. It took awhile for me to realize how they would ultimately connect with the cousin Rose, but they do.  When it's all said and done you will feel like you've been through it with them.  It is straight-up intense.

The stories that are shared in this book are based on factual women and events.  That being said, it's gnarly. There is a lot of sex for secrets, lots of drinking and plenty of violence.  If that's not your cup of tea, this book is not for you.  It's INTENSE. But, it is SO good and very humbling.  As I said before, I enjoy reading books set in wartime because it reminds me that my life is pretty damn good because of my freedom and the ability to make choices about my body.  I struggle with any plot lines that include rape culture and this one came pretty close to me calling it at one point.  However, it was real and I knew this piece of world history was something I needed to continue reading about so I could get to the end.  So, just be forewarned.

My recommended reading group is definitely 18 or over.  It's a solid Rated R for the reasons I listed above. 

The moral of the story: Even the daintiest of flowers can do what is right, face their fears and overcome evil.

Happy reading, my amazing, geeky lovelies!

Missed last week's book review? Click here to read it!

Monday, December 31, 2018

2018 Top Five!

As the clock winds down to close the year 2018, I'm grateful for the adventure this bloggy blog has taken me on with all of you! I surpassed my own expectations for this new platform and I'm excited to keep it going.  The blog provided me with an accountability to keep reading as well as helping me write and process so many different themes and ideas.  I learned a lot about myself through reading and gained new perspective while taking on new genres and authors.  It's no surprise that the top five most viewed blog posts of 2018 are probably the best books I read all year.  I loved all of these books so very much and I hope you will add them to your list in 2019.  Cheers to another year of getting lost in a plot and forgetting to do laundry while I finish just one more chapter!

Here are the Top Five of 2018:

AND..............drum roll, please!

Happy New Year and Happy Reading in 2019, my amazing, geeky lovelies!

Sunday, October 28, 2018

For Whatever Time We Might Have: "The Witch's Daughter" by Paula Brackston

#Rayloween2018 has been long-anticipated in my world. First and foremost, I HEART Halloween. It is my favorite holiday besides my birthday and the 4th of July. This year I knew that I needed to make it super special because last year was ultra sucky. So, as a part of my Halloween festivities (which started in the last week of August) I decided to broaden my reading horizons and tackle a witchy thriller.  Little did I know that "The Witch's Daughter" by Paula Brackston would fit this description well beyond my imagination I would love it so dang much all the while being a bit scared out of my knickers.  But, it wouldn't be Halloween without a little adrenaline rush, right?

The main character of "The Witch's Daughter" is Bess Hawksmith. Bess comes from a very tightly knit family from early 17th century England.  Her mother is a dedicated healer and by any other definition a witch, but chooses to use her powers only for good. She and Bess experience great sadness when 3 of their family members die from the Black Plague.  Bess' mother can't bear to lose her only daughter and she sacrifices herself to a local warlock who in turn gives her the powers to save Bess from dying. The trade off for this decision is ultimately death because she is discovered to be a witch and is hung. It's really intense from page 1 and I knew If was headed for a really gripping plot once Bess' mother was hung for witchcraft. In exchange for the warlock giving Bess' mother the power to save her, she is required to turn herself over to him and become immortal and a witch herself.  The remainder of the book is sections of her life as she is living in present day and as alter-egos in other time periods.

What I didn't expect was not only some solid time travel, but time travel that would ultimately connect to present day in such a way that had my mind reeling for days.  This entire book was exceptionally written and I found myself making time to read more because I didn't want to leave in the middle of a time travel section because I might miss something good.  Probably my favorite time travel section was set in late 19th century London. Bess' is a doctor who works in a local teaching hospital by day and in the evenings she runs a back-door entrance female clinic for women who have become pregnant through illegal means. The majority of her clients are prostitutes and she shares really intimate and tragic details about her interactions with these women. This section really touched my heart because she knows that she can't change their outcomes, but she also knows that they need the medical help more than anyone because of their chosen professions.  This section gave a very real description of how the lives of women have drastically changed over the years. This was also the section that I was drawn in the most emotionally so when the gripping element manifested itself I almost threw my book across the room because I was so shocked at how everything transpired. Let's just say the laundry didn't get done that afternoon because I was too busy reading 75 pages in one sitting.

One of the many elements I loved about "The Witch's Daughter" was Bess' commitment to using her powers for good. She never sacrificed dignity and honesty for the sake of being a witch. I liked that a lot.  How many times do we have the opportunity to use our voice or our powers for good and perhaps take advantage of it in a bad way? How often do we see this manifested in the public arena, especially with politicians.  I'm always so inspired by people like Will & Kate and Harry & Meghan because they know they are popular, but use their influence for the absolute best they know how.  That is what life should be all about. We should do our best to make use of whatever time we have in life. Doing good should be our primary goal always. This ongoing theme in "The Witch's Daughter" was so inspiring. We see throughout the book, that Bess struggles to do good in the face of evil and almost pulls away from showing emotion because she knows she might hurt mortals.  In spite of the difficulties though she still lets herself be vulnerable and it was moving to read.

This book was probably so intense and gripping for me because I literally experienced all emotions while reading it. The author explored some really heavy themes along with witchcraft and it was some goooood reading. Towards the end of the book I had to take a time-out or two because I was stepping into plot that might lead to some overly vivid dreams. But, it ended in a powerful manner that I loved. I'm also happy to report that their is a sequel and I plan to read it in the next couple months. It will most definitely be featured on the blog as well.

My recommended reading group would be age 18 and above.  It's a Rated R read with heavy adult themes including sex, execution by hanging, prostitution and witchcraft.....isn't that a depressing line-up all in one sentence? I promise it's not all together at the same time, but if this stuff bothers you, just know that each of these topics are legit and come up multiple times in the book.

The moral of the story: Make the most of the time you have. Be kind and use your power for good. Good will always win over evil. Always.

Happy reading, my amazing, geeky lovelies!

Missed last week's book review? Click here to read it!

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