The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

This is a book about two wars, of the price paid both by those who died and those who survived, of sisterhood and loyalty and immeasurable bravery. The Alice Network by Kate Quinn alternates between the two World Wars. The similarities are chilling with threads that tie the two together in more ways than one.

1915. Eve Gardiner is one of thousands of file clerks in London, unremarkable in appearance, quiet and demure, but because of her upbringing she speaks flawless French and German. She is bored and feels useless so when a Captain from British Intelligence recruits her to be a spy, she leaps at the chance. After a few short weeks of training, she is sent to Lille in occupied France and takes on the role of a shy, simple waitress in a restaurant that caters to German generals. The information she gleans from their overheard conversations is passed on to her contact, the “Queen of the Spies” Louise de Bettignies who becomes a bright and shining light for Eve in a dark and dangerous world. The work is exhilarating and treacherous, even more so when the owner of the restaurant takes an interest in her. One misstep and all will be lost.

1947. Charlotte (Charlie) St. Clair is young, unmarried and pregnant. Her wealthy parents send her to Switzerland to have her “Little Problem” taken care of and to preserve her (and their) reputation. Charlie is heartbroken over the recent suicide of her brother (a soldier who came home from the war but never left it) and the complete lack of information of what happened to her beloved French cousin Rose who she is convinced is still alive. In London, Charlie slips away from her Mother and contacts the one person she thinks might be able to help her – one Evelyn Gardiner. Evelyn’s hands are horribly disfigured and she is bitter and angry (the first thing she does to Charlie is to pull out a Luger and threaten to kill her) but eventually she agrees to go to France with Charlie see if they can find Rose. Accompanied by Evelyn’s driver Finn, they make their way to a France that is still torn and broken by the war. The horrors of World War II are very much still evident, but the shadows cast by World War I are still present too.

The book alternates between these two story lines, chapter by chapter. The connecting threads between the stories is gradually revealed, leading to an explosive final confrontation. It is one of those books that’s difficult to put down when you’re reading it and nearly impossible to forget about when you’re finished. I certainly found this to be true.

There are a lot of books about the World Wars, especially WWII, but The Alice Network manages to take a closer look at two lesser known subjects – the women who spied for the Allies during World War I, and the aftermath of the war in the countryside of postwar France. What really adds weight to the book though, is that many of the people and heart-stopping incidents depicted are true – there really was a network of female spies in German occupied countries during WWI and it really was called the Alice Network and was led by Louise de Bettignies, one of the most accomplished and successful spies the Allies had. Most of the things that happen in the book – the secrets the women uncovered, the danger and brutal punishments they suffered – actually happened. And in Charlie’s timeline, there is one episode that she comes across that is absolutely true (and absolutely chilling) but probably little-known outside of France. Evelyn and Charlie are fictional, but what they see and feel and experience are very real. Don’t miss the author’s notes at the end for more about these nearly forgotten heroines. And don’t miss this book.

 

 

 

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

What would you do if you found out the life that you were living was a lie? If the life your parents or grandparents have lived was based on a lie? What if your entire family history was based on a lie? This is the true story for some children whose parents don’t tell them that they are adopted either until later in life or after the parents die. Such events can sometimes be traumatic, but it all depends on the child’s character and the sense of identity that they have developed. Will the news that they are adopted be easily accepted or will it throw their lives into upheaval as they work to find their birth parents and their biological heritage? Those questions are all prevalent through Lisa Wingate’s newest book, Before We Were Yours.

Before We Were Yours is a work of historical fiction that delves into the shady antics of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society run by the infamous Georgia Tann. Tann ran the Tennessee Children’s Home Society for over 25 years. Between 1924 and 1950, it is estimated that Tann stole over 5,000 children from their families and that over 500 died from abuse, disease, and poor care while they were living under Tann’s care. This true story shattered so many lives. I recommend you read a little bit about Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society before you pick up Before We Were Yours in order to give yourself background information (It isn’t necessary, but like a true Girl Scout and an ever researching librarian, I love to be prepared.)

Before We Were Yours begins in Memphis, Tennessee in 1936. The five Foss children are anxiously awaiting the birth of their youngest new sibling while their mom labors inside their shanty boat home. Fearing for the mom’s life, the midwife demands that she be taken to the hospital to give birth or the babies and the mom will die. Shuttling her off to the hospital in a boat, the dad tells the eldest Foss child to watch over the siblings and stay at the shanty boat until they come back. Men show up in the middle of the night however and the Foss siblings’ lives are forever changed.

Flash to the present and Avery Stafford has come home to help her parents through her father’s cancer treatment and to also be groomed to possibly take over her father’s political career. At a particularly moving photo-op in a nursing home, Avery meets a woman who immediately captures her interest. The things this woman says to her has Avery shaken to the core. Avery decides that she needs to learn more about this mysterious woman’s life and thus begins a journey that will change her family’s history forever. Secrets never really stay secrets after all.

This novel shifts back and forth between the Foss children in the 1930s and Avery Stafford in the present. I really enjoyed the flip-flop between the two stories as the story of the Foss children created a deep swirling mystery around the woman in the nursing home and Avery’s grandmother. This book had me doing two things: learning more about Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society AND looking into my family’s history to see what I did not know already.


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Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

I love any story that has to do with mythology. I am more familiar with Greek mythology though, so when I stumbled upon Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman, I decided to give it a go. After all, Norse mythology deals with Thor, Odin, Loki, Freya, and many other Norse gods. If you’ve watched any Marvel Avengers movie, then you’re familiar with Thor and Loki. I wanted to read this book to see how close Marvel followed the Norse mythology(laughable, yes, but nevertheless I was curious). Add in giants, dwarves, ogres, and multiple other fantastical beasts and I knew I would enjoy it.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman spins the fantastical realms of the primeval Norse myths into a novel. Gaiman begins by describing the origins of the nine worlds and ends with Ragnarok, the time when the gods will die and a new world will take over. In between the beginning and decimation of all, Gaiman weaves stories of the different giants, dwarves, and deities who inhabit the nine worlds. This book was a fascinating read and Gaiman stays true to the actual Norse myths. Remember that this is a work of fiction, however, and he did recreate the characters a little bit to make it more interesting. Nevertheless, this book was a thoroughly engaging read. If you have the option to listen to it, I recommend you do because Neil Gaiman actually narrates it himself! Worth it.

Gaiman is a masterful storyteller whose lyrical thoroughness is out in full force as he breathes new life into these long-ago myths. Thor, Loki, and Odin seem to jump off the page as they fight to keep order throughout all nine worlds. Everyone manages to get into a little bit of trouble (I mean, Loki is a trickster God after all…), so you know things are going to get crazy. Each story told adds in multiple elements and different layers to the gods’ lives. I really enjoyed this book and hope you do as well!


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Charlatans by Robin Cook

Medical school is daunting, add in the added responsibility you take on the further and further you go in teaching hospitals and even before residents are hired on as staff, they are forced to make tough decisions. Robin Cook’s newest medical suspense novel, Charlatans, deals with the tough calls that doctors have to make on a day-to-day basis and just who is around to make sure those doctors stay honest. No one knows this more than the newly minted chief resident at Boston Memorial Hospital, Noah Rothauser. His new super chief position means that he is now responsible for all the surgical schedules, the training of the new residents, and handling the Morbidity and Mortality conferences that happen every time a patient dies. Noah is hopeful that the recent updates to the BMH’s operating rooms will be positive and will decrease the number of deaths that happen during surgery. After all, Boston Memorial Hospital is a famed teaching hospital that is known for being at the top in terms of medical advances and is also known for hiring only the best of the best. Updating those operating rooms will only help, not hinder.

That’s what Noah thinks anyway. All is going well until the death of a healthy hospital employee during a routine procedure. An anesthesia error seems to be the cause of death, but Noah doubts that. He believes that Dr. William Mason, a world-class surgeon, juggled patients and made a fatal error during the surgery that cost the patient his life. Mason won’t go down without a fight however and blames the anesthesiologist, Dr. Ava London. Noah isn’t sure who to believe, but does his due diligence into the background of this case to find out what really happened.

Thinking this case is behind him, Noah tries to move on. More anesthesia-related deaths occur however, and Noah finds himself having to question everyone that was involved in each case. Secrets come out and Noah finds himself getting to know Dr. Ava London more closely as he works with her to find out what really happened to cause those deaths.

Noah has to figure out what happened quickly because he soon realizes that there is much more to Ava than he originally thought. His own job and credibility are soon put to the test. Noah’s search for the truth is at an all time high as he works to figure out who really is at fault surrounding those three deaths and who is really telling the truth. After all, we all have something to hide, don’t we?


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The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne

Have you ever wondered what happens to the children who are the product of an abducted woman and her captor? After the news dies down, it’s expected that the abducted person and their children get on with life. But can they really? What happens to them? I’ve always been fascinated by the aftereffects. The latest book I read deals with this issue.

The Marsh King’s Daughter tells the story of Helena Pelletier. Helena finally has the life she always wanted: a loving husband, two adorable daughters, and a business that she manages herself. Everything is going perfect until Helena’s past comes crashing back into her life. Seems like she should be able to handle whatever comes, right? Well, Helena has a massive secret that not even her husband knows about. Her mother was kidnapped at the age of 14 by Jacob Holbrook. Jacob whisked her off to a cabin where she gave birth two years later in said cabin in the marshlands of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Kept captive with no possible way to escape, her mother fought to stay alive. Growing up, Helena never knew the real truth about her father or her mother. She grew up knowing her father was violent, but Helena loved him. He taught her how to survive in the wilderness: how to hunt, track, and live. His gruffness seemed to be a given. His violence? Not so much, but Helena learned to live with it. For the most part…

At the age of 12, Helena and her mother escaped, propelled into action by a series of events that thrust her father’s behavior into a new light. Their rescue made headlines, but Helena has taken great pains to make sure her past stays firmly in the past. She thought she was safe considering her father is in prison until she heard an emergency news bulletin saying that he had escaped. Jacob had found his way back into the Michigan wilderness. Deep down, Helena knows that the authorities have no hope of catching her father. She is the only one who can find him. After all, she knows his tricks. He taught her how to track and to hunt. Helena takes off into the wilderness knowing that she is the only person capable of successfully tracking her father.

I enjoyed this book, especially the parts where the reader learns about Helena’s past. Readers get to see Helena’s life unfold from birth to present. This book is also filled with sections of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale of the same title. The setting in this book is very well-developed and the pace moves quickly, so be sure to pay attention if you’re listening. I had to back up a few times when my mind wandered. This book was eloquently crafted and I finished it wanting more. Give it a read!

This book is also available as a CD audiobook.

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

When it comes to finding a new book to read, I’ve finally figured out what my favorite genre is. I love thrillers. Give me a story with a well-developed plot line, fully fleshed out characters, and make sure the story is gripping. Psychological thrillers with a hint of crazy and a lot of suspense are my go-to novels. I recently stumbled across another B.A. Paris novel called Behind Closed Doors and since I liked another of her novels a lot, I decided to try this one.

Behind Closed Doors messed with my head, but in a good way. This book is a perfect illustration of the fact that what we present to the world is not our true selves. Jack and Grace are the perfect couple. He has the wealth and the good looks to back it up, while she exudes charm and elegance at all the dinner parties they throw. You just can’t help but like them and maybe even wish your own relationship was like theirs. Their life is so well put together and perfect.

There’s only one small hiccup: Grace and Jack are never apart. He does go to work, but Grace is never seen anywhere without Jack. While some may say it’s because they are still in their newlywed period and are madly in love, others may find it odd. Grace doesn’t work, in fact she gave up her job shortly after they were married, but she never meets up with anyone for lunch or coffee. She has a plethora of excuses. The parties they throw are so extravagant and decadent, but Grace’s figure never changes. In fact, she is incredibly tiny. Grace doesn’t own a cell phone and all emails are sent to Jack’s email. She leaves the house with an empty purse, their house is gated and immensely private, and there are bars on one of the windows. What is really happening between Jack and Grace?

All those factors are overlooked because he is so kind and doting, while she is such a fabulous cook and fantastic gardener. Jack has even agreed to let Millie, Grace’s special-needs sister, move into their house when she turns 18. He’s designing her perfect and most-wished-for bedroom and wants the house to be just right when she moves in. He keeps mistakenly saying her bedroom is red though, when her favorite color is yellow. Why? What is going on? There are just so many slightly off comments and strange facts that point to some area of conflict within their marriage, but their perfect façade trumps all.

Without saying too much and giving away a major portion of the plot, I found this book to be terrifyingly psychological. Paris succeeded in getting in my head and had me wondering what was happening in Jack and Grace’s marriage and why each respective character behaves the way that they do. I was unsettled throughout this book because the story that Paris weaves is so believable. I found myself questioning the relationships of the people around me. I was immediately gripped by this novel and finished it in two days. Definitely recommended.


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The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

Looking for a new thriller to read, I found The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware. This twisty mystery thriller is a suspenseful haunting read that will leave you wondering whodunit until the very end.

Lo Blacklock is a journalist who writes for a travel magazine. Her boss is out on maternity leave which means that an assignment of a lifetime is up for grabs. Lo is given the assignment: spend a week on a luxury cruise ship that only has a ten cabins. Sounds perfect, right? After all, the pictures of this exclusive cruise ship are spectacular and Lo could use a bit of a break. She hopes that she will be able to turn this assignment into a better paying position at the magazine and also that if she impresses her boss, she will be given more travel assignments in the future. Right before Lo is to leave, an event happens that shakes and puts her on edge. Instead of passing on this trip though, Lo decides to soldier on.

Once this luxury cruise begins, Lo thinks she may be in over her head. She’s not as polished as the others and the ship practically screams that it costs millions of dollars. The cabins are lush, the guests are important and elegant, and the sea couldn’t be better. It’s a beautiful cruise, but as they begin their voyage, the winds start whipping and it quickly gets cold. Lying in bed one night, Lo wakes up to someone screaming. She then hears a door open and a loud splashing. Rushing to the door, Lo sees what she believes to be a woman thrown overboard. Could this be true? Raising the alarm, she voices her concern to security only to be told that all passengers and crew are accounted for. The cruise continues on as normal. Lo can’t shake the feeling that something is incredibly wrong and she just can’t ignore the worry in her gut. What happened to the woman in cabin 10? Deciding to investigate with the help of a fellow journalist, Lo searches for the woman.

Each passenger has secrets to hide and the ship soon reveals that it is full of secrets as well. Others have to know what happened to the woman. This book was haunting and slightly terrifying as Lo manages twists and turns through this suffocatingly tiny, yet immensely beautiful, cruise ship. Readers will trudge right alongside Lo as she works to find out what happened to the woman in cabin 10. I was hooked all the way to the end.


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The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The lives of classic movie actresses and actors have always piqued my interest. How they lived their lives, their scandalous affairs(if they actually had any), and what they did to become an icon are just a few of the things that I always want to know. Media coverage of both classic film stars and modern film stars seldom reveal the whole truth and as a result, fans usually have to wait until after the star’s death to learn the full truth, if that. Shelving a cart of new books one day, I stumbled upon The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. The cover immediately captured my interest as the woman looked like she could have been a classic movie star. Reading the blurb proved that she was and I knew I needed to read this book.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid is the gripping tale of Evelyn Hugo, an adored movie icon. Evelyn’s story is heart-wrenching and pure psychological romance fiction as readers are drawn into Evelyn’s stunningly glamorous world. With her popularity blossoming in the 1950s when she made her way to Los Angeles, Evelyn dominated the Hollywood scene in her relentless and ruthless rise to the top of the movie industry. Evelyn always knew what she wanted and was not afraid to use her body or the people around her to get it. Living in the public eye was a price she paid for being famous, but Evelyn still managed to keep secrets from the public and some of her closest friends that they never would have guessed.

After her decision to leave the Hollywood and show business in general in the late 80s, Evelyn became a recluse. She was never seen out, declined to sit down for interviews, and pictures of an aging Evelyn were almost non-existent. When she reaches out and contacts an unknown magazine reporter named Monique Grant to interview her, everyone in the journalism community is shocked. Why would Evelyn choose Monique to reveal her scandalous and glamorous life? What makes her so special? Why is Evelyn choosing to do this now? Monique has her own issues. She’s not exactly the number one journalist in the world, let alone her city or even her area of expertise. She’s not even 100% happy with where she is working as her career has stalled. Monique’s personal life is just as messy. Her husband left her just five weeks prior and Monique is still reeling.

Recognizing the Evelyn Hugo interview as the potential major career boost that she desperately needs, Monique decides she will do whatever it takes to make this a success and sits down with Evelyn. It becomes clear right off the bat that Evelyn has ulterior motives and it’s left to Monique to figure those out. Quickly Monique becomes wrapped up in the story of Evelyn’s life from her entrance to Los Angeles in the 1950s and the seven husbands she had before she retired in the late 80s. As Evelyn weaves her life’s story for Monique, she discovers that Evelyn’s ruthless ambition led her to some slightly questionable, but nevertheless sustaining, friendships and a major forbidden love that had the ability to potentially ruin Evelyn’s career. Evelyn’s professional and personal lives are forever linked together. As Monique formulates Evelyn’s story, she realizes Evelyn never does anything without having a reason. Monique begins worrying why Evelyn chose her to write her story and when Evelyn’s story finally reaches the present, Monique realizes that she and Evelyn are connected in a truly tragic and life-changing way.

I enjoyed this book more than I thought that I would. Multiple storylines were at play throughout the novel and I found myself thoroughly engrossed in each one. The vivid descriptions of Evelyn’s life as she navigated the rocky waters of fame and her personal life were so well depicted that I found myself believing for a bit that she was a real person. I wanted to learn even more about Evelyn Hugo and her seven husbands. She is fascinating. Highly recommended.

The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve

Have you ever looked at the cover of a book and knew that the story was going to hook you? That’s how I felt when I saw The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve. Swirling fire, a deep red cover, and a bold font all signaled to me that the content of this book was going to leave me wanting more. Shreve exceeded my expectations with this novel.

The Stars are Fire is a piece of historical domestic fiction that focuses around the Great Maine Fire of 1947. This real event is given a fictionalized twist as Shreve tells the story of Grace Holland’s attempts to survive and rebuild after her life falls into ruins around her. After a summer-long drought, fires began near Bar Harbor and started ravaging the coast of Maine. People were left wondering where to escape to and hoping that the closeness of the sea would spare them from the brunt of the fire.

Grace Holland lives with her husband Gene and their two small toddlers. Five months pregnant, Grace is left to protect her children on her own after Gene leaves her to go help fight the fires. Grace and her best friend, Rosie, race to the sea with their four children to try to survive the flames. Keeping their children alive is their only priority as Grace and Rosie watch in abject horror as their houses and the community that they have grown to love bursts into flames. Hunkered down in the sand by the ocean, Grace fights to keep her children alive, sacrificing her own body to do so.

In the morning, Grace finds herself and her children wonderfully alive, but their lives have irrevocably changed. They’re penniless, homeless, and without a father or husband. Gene never returned from fighting the fires and no one knows where he is. Facing an uncertain future, Grace is forced to rely on the kindness of strangers until she either finds Gene or her mother or gets a job to support herself. Grace has to make a new life for herself and her children, something that both frightens and excites her since her life with Gene was not the most loving or supportive. While she has suffered great losses, Grace is able to move forward, find new happiness, and discover all the things she was missing when she was living with Gene. Just when she is settled into a new normal, something out of the blue happens and Grace is forced to be braver than she ever was before.

I really enjoyed this book. It was the first Anita Shreve book that I read and the first book in a really long time that had me wishing it would have been longer. There were so many characters whose backstories I was yearning to know more of and the ending had me on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen. This book is set up so well that Shreve could easily spin it into a series. Here’s to hoping she does!


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Deadline by Sandra Brown

I love romance books. They are the perfect stress-free read. When I’m feeling anxious or need a break, I tend to gravitate toward the romance section in the library for a new(to me) romance read. I can usually fly through a romance novel in a day or two and get back to my other reading. I needed a good romance read recently and decided to look for one online. I checked out a copy of Deadline by Sandra Brown a week ago through OverDrive. I had just finished another book, saw Deadline, thought the cover looked interesting AND saw it was available immediately for checkout, so I decided to give it a listen. I had never read anything from Sandra Brown before, so I was expecting a regular suspenseful fiction read. Boy, was I wrong.

Deadline by Sandra Brown is a fantastically crafted piece of romantic suspense fiction that deals with family secrets, post-traumatic stress disorder, presumed deaths, missing persons, domestic terrorists, and a massive hunt for the truth. Dawson Scott is a journalist who has traveled the world writing stories. He just returned from Afghanistan after spending almost a year in combat conditions. Dawson is trying to cope with battle fatigue, but finds alcohol and drugs to be his only solace. He’s haunted by what he witnessed overseas and simply trying to get through his life one hour at a time. After being told by his boss that he is to fly somewhere less than desirable to cover a story, Dawson receives a phone call from his source within the FBI that has the power to completely change his life.

Amelia Nolan is struggling to get over the death of her ex-husband, former Marine Jeremy Wesson. Jeremy disappeared and was later presumed to have been murdered after the mutilated body of his married girlfriend was found eaten by dogs. Jeremy’s DNA was found on scene and authorities have presumed him dead. The woman’s husband is on trial for his murder and Amelia has been called to testify. Tackling this case while raising two very young children as a single parent, Amelia is working hard to keep her life together. With her nanny in tow, Amelia and the boys spend time on the beach, their safe haven from the craziness around the trial.

Dawson’s source has called to say that the DNA found at the Wesson crime scene has found a match. Jeremy is actually the biological son of a pair of domestic terrorists who have been on the FBI’s most wanted list for over 40 years. Pleading with Dawson, his source convinces him to cover the trial of Jeremy’s presumed murderer to try to find out more information about Jeremy’s life. Walking into the courtroom, Dawson plans on staying for a few days, writing his story, and moving on. The minute he sets eyes on Amelia though, his plan goes out the window. In an effort to learn more about Jeremy, Dawson decides to get closer to Amelia and soon finds himself developing feelings for her. Dawson has to stay focused, figure out who Jeremy Wesson really is, and if he is still in contact with his domestic terrorist parents. Could he catch them? Just how much danger are Amelia and her boys in?

This book is definitely a thriller with a bit of romance. Brown has crafted a book that is very suspenseful, but has some definite steamy scenes. This book is well-crafted with a plot that is quite twisty and chockful of red herrings. I was engrossed through this book as Dawson and Amelia worked to find out the truth. Highly recommend. I can’t wait to read more Sandra Brown!


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