Friday Book Whimsy: The Alice Network

People ask me all of the time how I find the books that I read. Mostly I don’t have the faintest idea. I get daily book offerings from Book Bub and Goodreads. I might click on a book on Amazon and it will give me other suggestions. Somehow or another (very likely Pinterest), I came across an informal online book club hosted by actor Reese Witherspoon, and the book being recommended was The Alice Network by Kate Quinn.

Never heard of the book. Never heard of the author. And it was another novel that dealt with (primarily) World War I and informally with World War II. Ugh. Did I want to read another World War novel? I decided I would give it a try. I’m so very glad I did.

The Alice Network is based on a true story of a French women who headed up an organization of women spies during World War I. Her pseudonym was Alice Dubois; hence, the Alice Network.

The story intertwines the lives of two separate women – Charlie St. Clair, a young  American socialite who has disgraced her family by becoming pregnant without benefit of marriage in 1947, and Eve Gardner, a young woman who suffers from stuttering who becomes involved in the Alice Network in 1915.

Charlie’s brother commited suicide shortly after returning from World War II, and Charlie handles her grief by deciding to seek out her beloved cousin who lived in France and is presumed dead. So when Charlie’s mother takes her to Europe to “take care of her little problem,” Charlie sneaks off and begins her search. In the course of events, she meets Eve Gardner and they find a connection so strong that Eve agrees to help her search for her cousin.

Throughout the course of the book, Eve tells her exceptional and often sad story to Charlie: she served as a spy during World War I, part of the Alice Network. Eve’s mangled fingers are a result of her work in the network.

Part spy story, part action novel, part feminist literature, the story and the writing are exceptional. I chuckled as often as I cried. The characters are well-drawn, and though Eve does her best to push people away, she was one of my favorite characters from all of the books I’ve read this year.

Two strong thumbs up for this exceptional novel.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Under the Same Blue Sky

under the same blue skyUnder the Same Blue Sky is Pamela Schoenewaldt’s third novel and I have watched her novels get better with each offering.

Schoenewaldt writes about immigrants, or at least has in her three novels to date. Her debut, When We Were Strangers, is the story of a young girl who comes to America from the Abruzzo region of Italy to escape the whims of a lustful father. In Schoenewaldt’s second offering, Swimming in the Moon, her main character, Theresa, comes to America from Naples, Italy, along with her mother who struggles with mental illness.

Under the Same Blue Sky introduces us to a family who emigrated from Germany to what seems to be one of Schoenewaldt’s favorite locations – Pittsburgh. The main character, Hazel, lives with her mother and father who are shopkeepers and they are living a happy life. That is, until World War I breaks out and suddenly the neighbors no longer see American immigrants but instead see evil Germans who are America’s enemies.

In the course of adjusting to their disrupted lives, Hazel learns a devastating secret about her family, and everything changes. She eventually leaves to take a job as a teacher in a small farming community, where she begins to find happiness.

Until, oddly I thought, she discovers she has the ability to heal. Once the community realizes Hazel has the power to cure, she is nearly overcome by people wanting her healing powers and not understanding that not everyone can be healed.

I say “oddly” because once Hazel leaves this small community to learn more about her family secrets, the healing thing just sort of dies down.

Despite this rather strange and (I thought) random part of the book, I found the novel to be simply magnificent. I loved all of the characters and haven’t been able to forget them, despite the fact that I read this book some months ago. The story was interesting and I found I couldn’t put the book down.

One of the things I most liked about the story was getting another perspective about what was really an awful war – World War I. We forget how American Germans (and in World War II, also Japanese) were treated once they became America’s enemies. Interesting and sobering.

My only complaint, once again, is the storyline around Hazel’s ability to heal. I would LOVE to have another story that features her healing abilities and how it impacts her life without getting distracted by another storyline.

Nevertheless, I highly recommend this wonderful book.

Buy Under the Same Blue Sky from Amazon here.

Buy Under the Same Blue Sky from Barnes and Noble here.

The Under the Same Blue Sky from Tattered Cover here.

Buy Under the Same Blue Sky from Changing Hands here.