Tuesday, May 30, 2017

REVIEW: The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

The Alice Network
by Kate Quinn

Publisher: William Morrow
Page Count: 528
Release Date: June 6, 2017
Format: Trade Paperback ARC

How got: ARC giveaway on LibraryThing

First attention getter: already loved the author and spy stuff in WWI


From GoodReads:

In an enthralling new historical novel from national bestselling author Kate Quinn, two women—a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during World War I and an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947—are brought together in a mesmerizing story of courage and redemption.

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.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 5

Kate Quinn stands as a personal favorite of mine; I know that anything she writes will be visceral in its setting/story and her characters will be as real as I. When I learned she was departing the worlds I knew her from, ancient Rome and Renaissance Italy, to explore the dramatic setting of World War I and II, I was all on board from day one. She doesn't fail to deliver, either.

World War II spy thrillers are almost a dime a dozen nowadays. Everywhere you look, someone has their own take or spin on the familiar tales, especially when you talk about spy thrillers in Nazi France. Yet, WWI is a whole new world when it comes to espionage stories. Then Quinn explores one of the most successful spy rings from that era, ran by women no less, and you've got a suspenseful narrative to hold you on your seat’s edge.

Quinn applies her skill at world building to this era just as well as her previous historical escapades. The harsh reality of German occupied north east France during the First World War comes to stark life as she portrays a population who will do anything to survive, snakes who profit from such an environment, and a German occupation force who revel in their control. The odds these women faced, fighting for their country in their own way, were truly staggering. On top of the already inherent dangers, these women also faced draconian prejudice and views on their role in war and their reputations. The bravery shown by these gals in the face of all that truly inspires. Sad to say, not every member of this ring had a happy ending, either, so the odds got some folks.

On top of utilizing some excellent historical details and scene settings skills, Quinn continues to create excellent, realistic characters through which to tell her story. Every single one stands out as a real individual, even the secondary background folks. It's our leads, though, that really shine. Each is damaged by war in their own way, all experiencing grief and some elements of PTSD. From the severe case of Evelyn who faced the true horrors of war and mankind's evilest behavior to Charlie's obsessive grief over her cousin's disappearance, each tale takes the audience on an emotional journey unlike any other. Not many authors can achieve as much success with their characterizations as they do with their world building, but Quinn is one of them. Truly a master!

Then on top of everything, Quinn weaves an intricate plot line that ties everything together in a truly suspenseful climax. Hidden connections as both world wars unfold surprised me left and right. I loved how the author tied in her character’s emotional journey with the story as well. Healing from past trauma and facing your demons played a huge part in the story overall. As our characters traverse over France looking for their missing pasts, the reader can't help but be transported in this journey of growth and overcoming the odds.

One can never fail when reading a Kate Quinn book. She has it all: great characters, a spellbinding story, and a setting and world you can sink into. Not once was I bored and looking for the motivation to continue on this epic story. I can't recommend this book highly enough; safe to say that if Kate Quinn wrote it, it's got to be good!!

Note: Book received for free via LibraryThing giveaway in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

REVIEW: Brimstone by Cherie Priest

by Cherie Priest

Publisher: ACE

Page Count:304

Release Date: April 4, 2017

Format: Trade Paperback

How got: local library

First attention getter: already liked the author and synopsis


From GoodReads:

In the trenches of Europe during the Great War, Tomas Cordero operated a weapon more devastating than any gun: a flame projector that doused the enemy in liquid fire. Having left the battlefield a shattered man, he comes home to find yet more tragedy for in his absence, his wife has died of the flu. Haunted by memories of the woman he loved and the atrocities he perpetrated, Tomas dreams of fire and finds himself setting match to flame when awake....

Alice Dartle is a talented clairvoyant living among others who share her gifts in the community of Cassadaga, Florida. She too dreams of fire, knowing her nightmares are connected to the shell-shocked war veteran and widower. And she believes she can bring peace to him and his wife s spirit.

But the inferno that threatens to consume Tomas and Alice was set ablaze centuries ago by someone whose hatred transcended death itself....
My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4

Cherie Priest always finds a way to please my palate. Her unique gift of combining gripping storytelling, supernatural elements, and the darker side of life makes her stand out in the crowd. With this new addition to her body of work, she still continues to please overall. I anticipated this novel highly when I heard that it dealt with WWI and supernatural fire starting, two elements that at least I can say I've never seen combined. So I knew I was in for a different kind of story. Despite one little element I had a hard time with, this book still ranks as a great tale.

The author chose a turbulent time to set her story. Set post WWI, the story explores the themes of healing from tragedy and fighting against prejudice. I enjoyed her usage of historical details like the ever popular world of mysticism that arose after the war as people try to contact their lost ones. She uses that heavily as a strong vehicle to bring together her two protagonists as they prepare to face off true evil. Her ability to bring everyday life from this timeframe also stood out. The fashions, Prohibition, and lingering pain from the war and recent Spanish flu epidemic all play interesting parts in the tale.

As always, Priest excels at combining her supernatural elements with the overall story. Demonic spirits, fire starting, psychic sessions, and guiding lights make this story distinctive when held up against other historical fantasy titles. I really like how they also played such an important part as the bedrock for the overall story and struggle. The author created a fight against evil and prejudice with psychic elements and ghosts on both sides of the story. She draws on the lingering distrust of “witchcraft”, making the need for a creation of a community like this one and using that as both a scene for the narrative and objective as well.

It's one of the two leads where this book falls down a bit. I liked Thomas. He's a tragic figure whose life has hit hard with multiple painful events and an obsession with connecting to his past. After losing his wife and emotional health post war, the universe decided to kick him in the nuts even harder by connecting what seems like an evil entity to his soul. That serves as the basic plot line for the story, and what a story it is! Through it all, Thomas fights with a deep well of courage that the reader can't help but admire. Even if Thomas doesn't think he's being brave, we all know different.

So with all that good, you're probably wondering what I'm talking about when I mention that this area is where the book fell out. It's Alice that's the problem. She's not flat out horrible by any means. I still felt like I could identify with her and connect with her as she put herself in this community of peers. However, at times she came off extremely immature. I felt I was reading the inner thoughts of a young teen rather than a young woman. She read too innocent to my mind. I think I would have connected to her better if her inner thought processes had been that of an older woman.

A unique set of supernatural elements set this post WWI ghost busting tale apart. The author uses great historical details and a great main character to keep her readers moving forward rapidly. While the other main character can be immature at times, I still couldn't help but want her to pull through and help fight the evil hunting Thomas. While not the best work Priest has done, I would still feel comfortable recommending the story. It's a unique anecdote that will please many a reader.