Review: The Alice Network

October 21, 2017 in Book Reviews, Historical Fiction

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Alice NetworkThe Alice Network by Kate Quinn
Published by William Morrow on 13th July 2017 (UK)
Genres: Historical Fiction
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
Goodreads
four-half-stars

1947. 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.

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.

The Alice Network is a novel built around fact, something that I feel makes this novel particularly special.

Charlie St Clair finds herself pregnant and unmarried in 1947. Her well-to-do family insist she go to Europe to have her ‘Little Problem’ dealt with. Charlie seizes her trip to Europe to try and find her friend and cousin Rose who went missing in Nazi-occupied France. Charlie holds hope that Rose might still be alive and so begins her investigations.

It’s these investigations that lead Charlie to London and to one Eve Gardiner and her driver Finn Kilgore. From this point the story is told in alternating chapters, Charlie in 1947 and Eve starting in 1915.

Eve was part of a network of female spies – The Alice Network. While the character of Eve is fictional, this network existed, led by an Alice Dubois. Quinn incorporates this historical figure, the “Queen of Spies”, as well as some of Dubois’ associates into this novel.

The result is a work of fiction that is not only compelling and addictive but also fascinating and educational. I learned much from this novel with Quinn’s author’s note helping me to distinguish the fact from fiction.

The story, the search for Rose, forms the backbone of this novel but it’s far more than a missing person case. This is a novel of friendship, trauma, love, war, hope and despair. It’s an exploration of the post-war era as well as an accurate account of life in occupied France, and the sacrifices of a group of (generally unheard of) women who had their own important and dangerous roles in the war.

I loved the characters in this novel. The fact that I cared so much about them really finished off this novel for me.

This is a well-written, researched and thoroughly eye-opening novel. I think I’m going to seek out more information on The Alice Network and Alice Dubois herself. Her story and that of her associates is one I feel I need to know more about and I’m so grateful to Quinn for bringing it to my attention through this captivating novel.

Reese Alice Network

NOTE – The Alice Network was picked as a Reese Witherspoon book club read, so if you don’t believe me maybe Reese will convince you to pick it up! 😉

four-half-stars

Review: Kindred, A Graphic Novel Adaptation

January 31, 2017 in Book Reviews, Graphic Novel, Historical Fiction, Sci-Fi

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Kindred, A Graphic Novel AdaptationKindred by Octavia E Butler, John Jennings, Damian Duffy
Published by Abrams on 10th January 2017
Genres: Graphic Novel, Sci-Fi, Historical Fiction
Format: Hardback
Source: Publisher
Goodreads
four-stars

More than 35 years after its release, Kindred continues to draw in new readers with its deep exploration of the violence and loss of humanity caused by slavery in the United States, and its complex and lasting impact on the present day. Adapted by celebrated academics and comics artists Damian Duffy and John Jennings, this graphic novel powerfully renders Butler’s mysterious and moving story, which spans racial and gender divides in the antebellum South through the 20th century.

Butler’s most celebrated, critically acclaimed work tells the story of Dana, a young black woman who is suddenly and inexplicably transported from her home in 1970s California to the pre–Civil War South. As she time-travels between worlds, one in which she is a free woman and one where she is part of her own complicated familial history on a southern plantation, she becomes frighteningly entangled in the lives of Rufus, a conflicted white slaveholder and one of Dana’s own ancestors, and the many people who are enslaved by him.

Held up as an essential work in feminist, science-fiction, and fantasy genres, and a cornerstone of the Afrofuturism movement, there are over 500,000 copies of Kindred in print. The intersectionality of race, history, and the treatment of women addressed within the original work remain critical topics in contemporary dialogue, both in the classroom and in the public sphere.

Frightening, compelling, and richly imagined, Kindred offers an unflinching look at our complicated social history, transformed by the graphic novel format into a visually stunning work for a new generation of readers.

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler is one of those books that has always been on my radar, but I’ve just never got around to reading. So when I saw there was to be a graphic novel adaptation, I thought it the perfect time to familiarise myself with the story – and swoon over the artwork (which you can see here).

Kindred is the story of Dana, a young black woman living in 1976. Inexplicably, she is persistently transported back in time to an 1800 plantation in the American South. Her life changes when she is there. She is not safe – a free black woman in a white man’s world.

Her trips back in time coincide with the actions of Rafe, the plantation owner’s son. As Dana spends time on the plantation awaiting her return to the 1970s she builds friendships with the plantation workers and slaves. Through Dana, her treatment and the treatment of those around her, we gain an insight into the lives of plantation slaves at that time.

This is such a powerful book. While I can’t speak to the original, this graphic novel adaptation works wonderfully. The imagery is stunning and definitely furthers the Kindred experience.

This isn’t an easy book to read. It’s emotional, heart-breaking at times. While classed as a science fiction novel this a book that is built around fact, history, and it educates the reader.

Having read the graphic novel, I now really want to read the original version of Kindred. I can already see why it has such a well-earned reputation, and I believe that this graphic novel adaptation is the perfect way to bring the story to a wider audience.

four-stars

Review: Homegoing

January 9, 2017 in Book Reviews, Historical Fiction

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: HomegoingHomegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Published by Viking on 5th January 2017
Genres: Historical Fiction
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
five-stars

Effia and Esi: two sisters with two very different destinies. One sold into slavery; one a slave trader's wife. The consequences of their fate reverberate through the generations that follow. Taking us from the Gold Coast of Africa to the cotton-picking plantations of Mississippi; from the missionary schools of Ghana to the dive bars of Harlem, spanning three continents and seven generations, Yaa Gyasi has written a miraculous novel - the intimate, gripping story of a brilliantly vivid cast of characters and through their lives the very story of America itself.

Yaa Gyasi takes us on a journey spanning seven generations and thousands of miles in Homegoing. We begin our journey in the Gold Coast of Africa, in the time of British occupation, tribal wars and slavery. It’s from this point that we follow the descendants of two women across history and the globe.

Gyasi’s writing is captivating. She creates the most incredibly vivid characters, shares a snapshot of their story with us and moves on to the next generation. Now, when I realised this was the case I wasn’t too sure how I’d like it; journeying with one character/set of characters for such a short period of time before moving on. I needn’t have worried though; each and every one of Gyasi’s characters had me engrossed. I’m no writer, but I can only imagine the immense skill required to write such a huge cast of perfectly formed characters and to tell their stories in a continuing timeline.

I must confess that my knowledge of black history has been poor. I’ve read about slavery, its abolition, I’ve watched documentaries, but truly I’ve never managed to fit it all together in my mind. This book takes us chronologically through hundreds of years of history. While, I assume, the characters themselves are fictional, their situations and experiences are definitely not.

I hold my hands up and admit my shocking ignorance on the subject. I learned a great deal from this book – facts, yes, but also, importantly, seeing life through our characters.

Gyasi packs so much into this relatively short novel. We follow a family whose history is steeped in slavery, and another family whose societal position keeps them free. We pass from generation to generation, exploring and meeting the challenges of the day.

This book gives a real insight into some of the treatment of black people through the years: challenges faced, prejudices against them, ‘ownership’, segregation, police brutality.

I found myself so saddened while reading this to realise how far we have yet to go: that despite the passing of all this time, so much of this still rings true. Since I read this book, we’ve seen global events that have only increased racism, with society feeling that it’s actually moving backwards rather than forwards towards equality.

I could write about this book all day, but it’s a book you need to experience for yourself. Nothing I can write here can do justice to what is contained within the pages of Homegoing.

It’s a very readable, beautifully written, intimate and honest novel. Personally, I found it educational too. It’s a book I will be urging everyone to read. It’s a 300-something page journey through time and place that simply MUST be embarked upon.

five-stars

Review: Risuko: A Kunoichi Tale

June 13, 2016 in Book Reviews, Historical Fiction, YA

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Risuko: A Kunoichi TaleRisuko: A Kunoichi Tale by David Kudler
Series: Seasons of the Sword #1
on 15th June 2016
Genres: YA, Historical Fiction
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
three-stars

Risuko.

Though Japan has been devastated by a century of civil war, Risuko just wants to climb trees. Growing up far from the battlefields and court intrigues, the fatherless girl finds herself pulled into a plot that may reunite Japan -- or may destroy it. She is torn from her home and what is left of her family, but finds new friends at a school that may not be what it seems.

Magical but historical, Risuko follows her along the first dangerous steps to discovering who she truly is.

Kano Murasaki, called Risuko (Squirrel) is a young, fatherless girl, more comfortable climbing trees than down on the ground. Yet she finds herself enmeshed in a game where the board is the whole nation of Japan, where the pieces are armies, moved by scheming lords, and a single girl couldn't possibly have the power to change the outcome. Or could she?

Kano Murasaki is more commonly known by her nickname, Risuko – Squirrel. Such is her aptitude for climbing her mother gave her the name and it stuck. She lives in Japan in 1570, a period of Civil War in the country.

During one of Risuko’s many climbing expeditions she is met by an older lady in a palanquin, along with her entourage. She tells Risuko that her mother has sold her, and consequently Risuko’s life changes dramatically.

Ok, so I have mixed feelings on this book. I really loved the Japanese setting, the cultural and historical aspects of the novel. What I was less keen on was the pace of the actual story itself. I wasn’t swept up in it – I wanted more action, particularly on Risuko’s part. Instead, I felt like this book was more of a scene-setting story, a prelude to future books where, I assume, we will see more action.

As for the characters themselves, I really didn’t feel very connected to them. I didn’t care enough about them. There are many characters in this novel and while I obviously have some I preferred to others, I really wish there had been more substance to the characters on the whole. Just a personal opinion.

The story is told through the eyes of Risuko. Consequently, we see things as she does – which can be amusing at times. She’s a young, naive girl and so while she may not realise what’s going on around her, we (well I, as an older reader), see what she’s missing.

I believe this novel is aimed at the Young Adult audience, however at times it read (to me) slightly more Middle Grade. That said, some of the implications and suggestions in this book are definitely more YA appropriate.

Honestly, I did enjoy this novel. I enjoyed the mystery aspect of it as well as the historical setting. However, I think I went in expecting more but that’s my own fault entirely.

I feel that this series is nicely poised for the second book and that perhaps book 2 will fulfil more of what I’d hoped for book 1 – action, heroism, self-discovery. I will pick up the next book to see where the series goes – it has so much potential.

three-stars

Review: The Cure For Dreaming

May 30, 2016 in Book Reviews, Historical Fiction, YA

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Cure For DreamingThe Cure For Dreaming by Cat Winters
Published by Amulet, Abrams Genres: YA, Historical Fiction
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
Goodreads
four-half-stars

Olivia Mead is a headstrong, independent girl—a suffragist—in an age that prefers its females to be docile. It’s 1900 in Oregon, and Olivia’s father, concerned that she’s headed for trouble, convinces a stage mesmerist to try to hypnotize the rebellion out of her. But the hypnotist, an intriguing young man named Henri Reverie, gives her a terrible gift instead: she’s able to see people’s true natures, manifesting as visions of darkness and goodness, while also unable to speak her true thoughts out loud. These supernatural challenges only make Olivia more determined to speak her mind, and so she’s drawn into a dangerous relationship with the hypnotist and his mysterious motives, all while secretly fighting for the rights of women.

 

The year is 1900. Olivia Mead is a teenager living in Portland, Oregon with her father the notorious dentist Dr. Mead. Olivia’s mother left when she was just four years old, leaving to pursue her theatric dreams.

Oregon at this time was a state divided on Women’s Rights. There was a strong Suffragette movement, despite the fact the men of Oregon had voted down suffrage referendums. Olivia dreams of going to college, of furthering her education and broadening her mind. Her father however doesn’t want her getting big ideas – she’s a woman, she should get married and stay at home.

We join the story on Olivia’s birthday. Having attended a Suffragette rally earlier in the day she is out with friends at show – a talented hypnotist from Montreal, Henri Reverie. His sister is providing the musical accompaniment on the organ. Olivia is selected from the audience to be hypnotised and finds that she quite enjoys the experience, even if she doesn’t know what happened to her!

However, her father finds out about her hypnotism and her attendance at a suffragette rally. Disgusted, he employs Henri to hypnotise Olivia, to cure her of her ‘dreams’, to remove women’s rights from her mind and to make her less argumentative. Henri doesn’t approve of these actions but he desperately needs the money. Henri and Olivia’s paths continue to cross and eventually they strike up a partnership, a way he can make the money he needs and she can keep her personality.

This was such an interesting, gripping read! I’ve read a few novels set around this time period, but this one really stood out to me. I found the whole premise of the book fascinating. Obviously it is based around fact, women were often maltreated for standing up for their rights, some even ended up in asylums. So this idea of finding a cure for their lofty dreams, a way to keep them quiet, was real.

In this novel we see the attitudes of the time towards women, the ignorance with which they were treated and the dismissal of their rights. Olivia’s father’s insistence that she be removed of her argumentativeness leads to trouble for her when an admirer tries to take advantage of her – one of the dangers faced by women when their voice is removed.

I also really liked Olivia’s obsession with Dracula. The visions that she sees and their Dracula-esque nature really add another, darker gothic layer to this novel.

In all honesty, my only complaint about this book is that it had to end. I wish there were a sequel, I want more of Olivia, Henri and Genevieve.

four-half-stars