Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Alice Network (Book Review)

Title: The Alice Network
Author: Kate Quinn
Publication: William Morrow paperback, 2017
Genre: Historical Fiction
Plot: In a fast-paced new historical novel from bestselling author Kate Quinn, two women—a female spy recruited to the based-on-real-life Alice Network in World War I France and a rebellious American college student searching for her cousin in 1947—are brought together in a compelling story of courage and redemption.
1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American teen 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.

1915. 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.

Audience: Fans of historical fiction, especially that set during World War II, will enjoy this book. I am thinking of some of my favorites: While Still We Live by Helen MacInnes, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (of which Quinn is also a fan), The Light Heart and This Was Tomorrow by Elswyth Thane, Where Memories Lie by Deborah Crombie (partly set in the present). Recent titles set during WWII which became bestsellers include The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah and All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.
My Impressions: I look forward to recommending this book to friends! It combines a number of my favorite things: historical fiction, women passionate about doing their ‘bit’ for the war effort, World Wars I and II, espionage, multiple timelines, and a compelling story. I had always meant to read Kate Quinn’s Rome saga (must have missed the fact that she wrote several set during the Renaissance, so those will be something to look forward to) so was eager to try this one, and it did not disappoint. The book is full of memorable characters, beginning with Charlie, a math major at Bennington (I guess I was wrong in thinking it was mostly a finishing school in the 40s), whose sense of loss about her brother’s suicide sends her into a promiscuous frolic among the Ivy League men who seem to have nothing better to do than drive to Vermont on weekends. Then, instead of going obediently to Switzerland for a discreet abortion, she decides to keep the baby and look for her missing cousin. It is in London that she meets Eve Gardiner and Eve’s mysterious chauffeur. Eve is an embittered veteran of the first World War, where her espionage resulted in grievous injury and lasting regret.

Other readers found a lot of humor in the writing but I found courage and loneliness in the personal journeys experienced by each character, which is why their unlikely friendship is such an appealing part of the story. One thing that I found very interesting was that Eve’s and Charlie’s differing attitudes toward their virginity: Eve recognizes that keeping her job at Le Lethe is essential so decides she has to sacrifice herself for the cause, whereas Charlie uses sex to dull the pain of her brother’s loss and almost as a way of defying her parents’ expectations. Patriotism is more honorable than depression as a motivation but Ms. Quinn admitted her other motivation for Charlie’s situation was that she wanted her to be pregnant as a vehicle to get her away from her family but not brokenhearted, as there is a Scot (and a Lagonda) in her future.

I didn’t like Eve and Charlie and Finn the way one sometimes has to like characters to enjoy a book – Eve too harsh, Charlie too brash, and Finn too much a foil to the women, and their alliance very improbable – but I couldn’t put down the book until I knew what would happen to them! Quinn skillfully weaves her narrative between the past and the present. I was more interested in the past but it is always good to see the bad guys get their comeuppance, even if it takes 30+ years.

About the Author: Kate Quinn attended Boston University, where she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in classical voice. A lifelong history buff, she has written four novels in the Empress of Rome Saga and two books set in the Italian Renaissance detailing the early years of the infamous Borgia clan. She and her husband now live in Maryland.

Source: I was provided a pre-publication copy of this book by the publisher for review purposes. A month or so after I reviewed this book, Reese Witherspoon chose it for her book club, which gave it some great publicity.

Please join Kate Quinn, author of The Alice Network as she tours the blogosphere with TLC Book Tours:

Tuesday, June 6th: Tina Says…
Wednesday, June 7th: Jathan & Heather
Thursday, June 8th: Laura’s Reviews
Monday, June 12th: A Chick Who Reads
Tuesday, June 13th: Caryn, The Book Whisperer
Wednesday, June 14th: Black ‘n Gold Girl’s Book Spot
Thursday, June 15th: A Bookish Affair
Thursday, June 15th: Girl Who Reads
Friday, June 16th: BookNAround
Monday, June 19th: Savvy Verse & Wit
Tuesday, June 20th: The Cactus Chronicles
Wednesday, June 21th: Unabridged Chick
Thursday, June 22nd: Bibliotica
Friday, June 23rd: Leah DeCesare
Monday, June 26th: Book by Book
Tuesday, June 27th: Just One More Chapter
Wednesday, June 28th: Kritters Ramblings
Thursday, June 29th: Kahakai Kitchen
Friday, June 30th: Literary Quicksand

1 comment:

Heather J @ TLC Book Tours said...

I'm totally with you on this one - it has SO MANY of the elements I like to read about! This is going on my summer TBR list for sure.

Thanks for being a part of the tour!