Friday Book Whimsy: Our Darkest Night

There have been about 1,207,436 novels written about World War II in the past 15 years. I’ve read a lot of them, because I find that period of time interesting and tragic. Some have been bad; many have been good. I picked up Our Darkest Night because I found the plot description interesting. Moreover, while I have read many books about England and France and Germany during World War II, I haven’t read many about Italian Jews.

I will also admit that I was interested in the novel because I enjoyed author Jennifer Robson’s novel The Gown, a novel (I reviewed it here) that took place just after WWII, and gave the back story about Then-Princess Elizabeth’s wedding gown. The Gown was a wonderful book, and I was optimistic about Our Darkest Night.

I wasn’t disappointed. I enjoyed the book very much.

Antonina lives with her family in Venice. It’s 1943, and as the Germans appear to be losing the war, things are getting even more difficult and frightening for Jews in Italy. In an effort to keep his daughter safe, Antonina’s father takes a drastic step to keep his daughter safe. He, with the help of a friend who is a priest, convinces Nico Gerardi, a Catholic man (who left the seminary to help care for his family’s farm,) to pose as Antonina’s new husband, and take her to the farm near a small Italian village. Antonina reluctantly agrees to this arrangement. They not only have to convince the German authorities that they are married, but they also have to convince Nico’s family, who can’t know the truth for their own safety.

The novel could have been satisfying as simply a romantic story. Robson, however, takes the reader to the dark side of the closing days of the war. It wouldn’t have been as good a novel had she not done so. It was World War II, after all. The descriptions of life in concentration camps was disturbing and terribly sad. The story paints a clear picture of the strength of family and love.

While I know the Germans were the bad guys in WWII, it would be nice if an author could resist caricatures of German soldiers. There must have been some who recognized the evil with which they were surrounded. Having said that, I was happy to see a Catholic priest presented in a positive light for a change!

I highly recommend this book, as I did The Gown.

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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.