Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

When I placed this book on hold at the library and I was like number 135 on 35 copies I was like "Wow! This book is going to be AH-MAZ-ING!" When I received the email saying it had been automatically downloaded to my Kindle, I was on it - quick like! And then, I wasn't.

I'm to go ahead and say I'm in the minority in this opinion, so no need to keep reading if you have flocked with the masses on the novel...I understand. But The Alice Network by Kate Quinn simply fell short for me. I found myself looking to do anything but read - even watch horribly boring car shows my husband likes - to keep this book at bay. I powered through because I needed to find out one thing about a character - and one thing only - and it turns out I could have learned this detail from a much shorter Wikipedia search.

But, before I move into my struggles, let's roll out the basic premise of the novel:

1947- Charlie St. Claire, a college dropout because she's found herself in a family way, returns home her sophomore year. She comes from wealth, so her parents are chauffeuring her off to Switzerland to take care of her "little problem." Her father calls her a whore - and she is. She doesn't even know who the father of her child is - states it could be "any one of six or seven fraternity boys." She is reeling from the death of her brother who came home from the war a changed man and subsequently "ate a shotgun." In her attempt to recover from this loss, she uses sex as a way to make her "feel something" again. Additionally, her best friend (and cousin) Rose also disappeared during the war and Charlie believes she's still alive. Her story is basically a cross-country trip trying to find Rose. She is whiny and selfish and petulant. I did not like her, not at all.

1915 - Eve Gardinier, a woman with a stammer that feels invisible to the world, wants desperately to find a way to serve her country. One man, who becomes code name "Uncle Edouard," sees her potential and her cleverness and recruits her into a network of female spies that served during WWI. She's multilingual speaking English, German, and French and her speech impediment makes people believe she is "simple-minded." This allows her to fly under the radar of most of the time - a quality needed in a good spy. She lands a job at the Le Lethe restaurant that caters to German officers and is able to find out all kinds of information that she passes along to "powers that be." She is invaluable and her story is riveting. I loved Eve.

So - that's the story. The novels toggles back and forth between the two women and their paths cross when Charlie finds out that Eve was one of the last people to be a part of a search for what happened to her cousin Rose.

Eve's story is truly gripping and heartbreaking and shockingly amazing and awful all at the same time. She is a woman on mission to serve and gives up so much in the process of doing so. Her character tore me up...what she did, what she experienced, what she sacrificed. Learning about the small details of the spy network through Eve, the notes on rice paper and hair pins, and false bottom bags, and Lugers concealed in the most unusual places, created an entire world in my mind's eye. The danger she and other women of The Alice Network faced in a attempt to blunt the cruelty of the German army is the stuff of legends.

Charlie's story is not gripping. I couldn't stand her. She was foul and dirty and self-involved. Bratty even. Her love for her cousin I guess could be considered admirable but that was about her only redeeming quality. Reading her chapters was mind-numbing and I found myself skimming them a lot just to get back to Eve. I was bored by the 1947 "road trip" and felt like this book needed a much heavier hand with the editing. Charlie's character was redundant in her obsessive "I see Rose everywhere I look" comments and there was simply no depth to her. None.

The novel touches on all facets of war - basically that it is hell not only on those fighting, but those left behind. Each character seems to be suffering from their own form of PTSD, and each of them is dealing with the derelict of psyche in a different way. I think Quinn did admirable research in order to write this book and share Eve's story - but for me, it should have been only Eve's story. Charlie was irrelevant and detracted from the real hero of this book.

I give this book ☕☕☕because of the research and the development of Eve - she stole the show, but it is far from my favorite historical fiction novel. If you browse through Goodreads, you'll see I'd be shunned for my opinion, but what I can say - I like what I like, and this wasn't it. Historical fiction should take an event from history and give it life, revitalize it with tenacity and pulse - the inclusion of Charlie's character left this novel cold, and metaphorically dead.

Kate Quinn writes other historical fiction novels - mostly set in Greece and Rome; this seems to be her first foray into American history. I wouldn't count her out as an author for me - the writing chops are good, but she needs an editor that understands the meaning of succinct.

Visit her website at:

What's Next:

I am super excited folks! I'm diving into some "pre-summer" reading. Kristy Woodson Harvey has graciously allowed me to review her Peachtree Bluff novel series. I'll be starting with Slightly South of Simple and then moving into the second book (publication on the horizon!) The Secret to Southern Charm. 

I'm also bound and determined to finish Paris over Spring Break!

Happy Reading my friends. Cheers! 🍷🍷🍷🍷🍷

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Digging In by Loretta Nyhan

Happy Sunday fellow readers! Today I bring you a simple novel with a simple story of learning to let go of the past and live again. This was a Kindle First book (Prime members get one free book a month and I'm usually quite underwhelmed by the books - lucked out this time!)

Digging In by Loretta Nyhan follows the life of Paige Moresco after the loss of her beloved husband Jesse. I'm not giving anything away here - this is in the first few pages of the novel and from the beginning of page one the reader can see Paige is struggling - to hold onto herself, her job, and her relationships with her teenage son, Trey. To add insult to injury, her boss of more than a decade in the advertising firm she works for dies suddenly and his young, hip son takes over the family business. (You can already see the trouble brewing?!?!?)

Mr. "new boss" has decided that two people need to go and they are going to fight for their jobs - including Paige and Jackie, the mainstays of the company. He says the competition will be fierce to which Paige counters, “Fierce like BeyoncΓ©, or fierce like Vladimir Putin?” There's some lovely wit interspersed within the family drama.

Paige is overwhelmed, as anyone would be, trying to keep her life together. And one night after her grouchy neighbor comments on her yard going to dandelions, she kind of snaps. She rummages through the pantry, finds a bottle of wine - "I poured the wine and took a sip. Heavenly." and begins to dig. Literally dig up the dandelions and in the process of purging her anger, her sadness, her soul she digs and digs and digs. Now with a giant hole of dirt and nothing to do with it, she takes a chance in her life on gardening - something she's never done before. 

With the help of her friends, her son, and a funky gal she meets at the farmer's market named Mykia that has an entire story of her own, Paige learns to live again - to become who she is now, and let go of who she was then.

Digging In is a novel of redemption. Of finding your way out of a terrible storm that would pull anyone to their knees. Nyhan writes with a depth of emotion that is cathartic and creates believable characters and scenarios that allow the reader to thrive within the lives of all the personas embedded in this great work. I especially enjoyed the way the writer dealt with grief through a surprise personality that domineers the ending of the book - appropriately. Our instinct is to always say we are sorry when someone else is hurting - and yes, we're sorry they are hurting, but our apology will not help them. Nyhan writes through the verbiage of a character:

“Then you should ask for a good memory that best describes him or her. Let the grieving person have a moment with that person again.” “Couldn’t that be too painful?” I asked. “It’s all painful. Listening to a hundred people apologize for something they had nothing to do with is excruciating, isn’t it? They can’t reverse anything with their apologies.”

I loved the developing relationship of Paige and her son, Paige and her boss, Paige and her friends, Paige and her neighbor, Paige and the police officer, Paige and our final character. Each connection was organic and profound. 

I give Digging In  an enthusiastic ☕☕☕☕☕ because this was just a great story - a human story. This book will be published on April 1, 2018. 

Nyhan has a couple of other novels, that I promptly purchased via Amazon for $1.99 each! A steal if they are as good as this one. 


She also co-wrote three additional novels that I hope to add to my collection: I'll by Seeing You, Empire Girls, and This Heart of Mine.

What's Next?
I'm currently reading The Alice Network by Kate Quinn and I'm 10% in and in love. So excited to see how this book develops.

Happy Reading my friends! Cheers! 🍷🍷🍷🍷🍷

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini

Quick update for today - Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini.

My simple advice - pass on this novel.

It's not poorly written, I don't want to be entirely negative; however, it is incredibly dull. It really should have been titled Mary Todd Lincoln's Life as Observed by her Dressmaker. This novel had such potential to bring to life a person from history - several persons from history - and it just falls flat. I was actually bored reading this book. The narrative lacks depth - for historical fiction there is no characterization, no connection, no development of the plot. It's a textbook - plain and simple.

In a nutshell: This book is set amid the start of the Civil War as Abraham Lincoln comes into the Whitehouse. It's 1861 and Mrs. Lincoln will need a dressmaker to fill her closet with appropriate styles for her new position as first lady. Elizabeth Keckley is selected from a variety of modistes that apply for the job - her ability to create a frock that is exquisitely for its wearer is beyond reproach. She becomes not only her "designer," but also her "ladies maid" (to borrow a term from the British) and her confidante because apparently everyone hated Mary Todd Lincoln (not quite heard it told that way before). And that's pretty much it.

While the women become far closer to one another than employer/employee, the novel lacks the intimacy that this relationship should inspire. We learn, yet again, the struggles of the Lincoln family, only this time it's through the limited narrator of Ms. Keckley and from what I can tell in this novel, wasn't keen on the observation. I wanted more from their friendship - I was left feeling empty and bland.

It has a rating of 3.43 on Goodreads - and I should have looked first. Rarely do I find a book rated less than 4 stars that I like - those numbers don't lie folks.

I give this ☕☕ because I respect the research done to write this novel, but then again - I could have learned most of this from Wikipedia in a far shorter amount of time. This was bland enough for me that I won't be tempted to check out any of her other novels. Her Elm Creek Quilts series does seem to have an impressive following so I may give that a go - but there are other series to read right now. #cozymysterieslove

If you want to read a truly gripping novel about The Civil War check out Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbott - that is a great book!

What's next for me? Hopefully something a bit more entertaing!

I just started Digging In by Loretta Nyhan and I'm still reading Paris by Edward Rutherford - I promise it's so good!

Looking forward to spring and Spring Break folks where I can tackle my TBR pile!

Until then - Happy Reading. Cheers!


Sunday, March 11, 2018

Love and Ruin by Paula McClain

Happy Sunday fellow readers. I hope your day has been filled with joy. Mine has been filled with rain and chances of snow (doesn't Mother Nature know it's MARCH!) but I can't complain as that is pretty great reading weather - of course, I believe all weather is great reading weather.

Admittedly I used to feel a little guilty when I spent entire days reading (or writing - or at least trying to write) but I don't anymore. My hubs spends all day working in the garage, my son with him, and this is what they love - reading is what I love.

And wow do I have a novel for you today!

Love and Ruin by Paula McClain tells the story of Martha Gellhorn, Ernest Hemingway's third wife - yes...third. If you don't already know much about Ernest, this book will shed some light on the "man" he was. I use the word man loosely because while he was a brilliant writer, everything I've ever read about him clearly indicates that he was a whiny, childish, self-absored prick. He possessed very few qualities that I believe a real man should possess - namely the fact the he was a philandering asshole, and no self-respecting man spends his time falling in love with other women while he's married. But, that's not really what Love and Ruin is about (although you learn a lot of this!). Love and Ruin is about another woman that loved this impossible man and how she poured everything she had into him and almost lost herself in the process.

Martha Gellhorn is a writer - she's a real woman as this novel is historical fiction - and on a trip to Key West with her mother and her brother stubmles into Ernest Hemingway's life. He's married to Pauline right now (wife #2 after Hadley - The Paris Wife - another amazing novel by McClain). He has two boys (three children total) and has somewhat settled down in Key West. After meeting Marty though, he finds a spark in her that seems to be missing from his life, and for her, he is her literary hero - her white whale - her giant of the page. And her fascination with him is real and binding.

He takes such an interest in her and her writing as she's recently published her first novel, too and acts as mentor until they both land in Spain covering the war with Franco; that's when mentoring ends and a torrid and long love affair begins.

McCain captures the essences of their tragic love that is reminiscent of Wuthering Heights to me - both characters are flawed, both are deeply disturbed, and both are dreadfully dependent on each other. Their relationship is painted as a series of desperate attempts to control one another under the guise of love and failing miserably. We watch as she loses herself in him and then as she attempts to regain the strength and passion she once had for writing, he steals away bits and pieces of her out of spite. I found myself in awe of and angry at them both! Her for loving a married man and pursuing a relationship with him with very little resistance, and him for...well, see everything I wrote above. BUT - there's also something uniquely dynamic about Martha Gellhorn and her gumption to persist against the odds, her love for Ernest no matter how destructive, her maternal passion for his children, and her eye for finding the story of real people during tumultuous times. McCain makes her both a hellion and a hero.

McCain's writing is flawless. She stirs the reader right from the prologue with forceful introspective ideas, "It may be the luckiest and purest thing of all to see time slow to a single demanding point. To feel the world rise up and shake you hard, insisting that you rise, too, somehow..." to giving the reader an understanding of hope with the design of "...a talisman we were braiding back and forth, repeating the words without variation until they were links in a chain of hope, or faith, or whatever lies between."

She also exposed the life of a writer in these pages and many of the lessons I've taken to heart. Ernest Hemingway's comment that "if you force yourself into the yoke before dawn, you can do whatever yo like after," and her analysis of the writer noting, "[that] it had been my general understanding that if you were a writer, you pummeled your own soul until some words trickled out of the dry stream-bed, enough to fill a saucer or a teaspoon or an eyedropper. And then you wept a little, or gnashed your teeth, and somehow found the fortitude to get up the next day and do it again."

Love and Ruin not only gives insight into the life of Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway, but also into the life of a writer with all its disastrous beauty and dangerous liaisons of the heart and soul.

"The page was snowy white. It still held all of its secrets.
There was nothing to do but begin."

I give this novel a resounding ☕☕☕☕☕ and recommend in to anyone that wants to real historical fiction done right. A truly great story - truly great writing.

I received this novel via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Love and Ruin will be published May 1, 2018. I'd reserve my copy now!

What's Next:

Still plodding through Paris (will this book ever end? But seriously, it's meticulously fantastic!)

Starting Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiavereni

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Subway Girls by Susie Orman Schnall

The Subway Girls by Susie Orman Schnall is an historical fiction novel that toggles between 1949 and 2018. The overarching premise of the novel is women attempting to dominate a "man's world." It has a definite feminist approach to it, but not in a negative way.

1949 - we meet Claire; a woman attempting to earn a career in the male dominated advertising industry. She meets with rejection after rejection, even to simply enter the typing pool, and finds herself discouraged. She has a doting boyfriend who wants to marry her, but honestly she's not quite sure about the seriousness of his proposal. On a whim, a friend enters her into the Miss Subway contest and she finds herself a finalist. Shocked by this, Claire enters a world of beauty pageant life that she'd never found interesting and it changes her is ways she didn't expect.

2018 - we meet Olivia; a brash and egotistical woman that works in advertising. She consistently pits herself against the men around her and volleys between love interest and arch nemesis. After losing a huge pitch campaign she's down in the dumps drowning her sorrows at the local bar with her gay pal James (this felt a bit contrived) and...wait for it...shockingly meets Jack who happens to be a big whig in transportation and just happens to be seeking a new advertising campaign. Of course he doesn't tell Claire this as he listen attentively to her saga and the NEXT DAY the company she works for is offered a chance to pitch. Hmmmm....

Claire later decides to revive the Miss Subway pageant as a last ditch effort to save face in this industry at which she's failing. Her neighbor just happens to be a former contestant. thoughts.

I didn't like this book. I wanted to - the premise is sound but the execution is flawed. I found the dialogue clunky, Claire desperate, and Olivia ridiculous and unnecessarily foul at times. The love stories didn't quite add up either and the side story about James felt like it existed for the sole purpose of being able to say "look...I have a gay character in my novel." It wasn't organic and this detracted from the novel.

The writing surprised me for being professionally edited. A lot of trite imagery in the form of unneeded adjectives, adverbs, and similes that often didn't make sense. I understand creating a world for the reader, but this was a world I couldn't get into because it felt false. There was an inauthenticity to this novel I couldn't get past.

I think the juxtaposition between time periods decades apart is a solid idea and I've seen it work - most recently with Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton, but this just didn't connect for me. Claire and Olivia's paths don't merge in the seamless way a "time-hop" novel should and this causes the story to be lost.

I wanted to like this book because I love historical fiction. I wish I had, but I cannot recommend. I give it ☕☕ because the idea is good and the cover is lovely - I just didn't care for the writing or characters.

The Subway Girls will be published on July 10, 2018. While I didn't care for it doesn't mean it's not for you!

I received this book as an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.