Thursday, October 19, 2017

Review: The Alice Network

Charlie St. Clair's wealthy parents are ready to take over. They can discretely go abroad and "take care" of the pregnancy she is hiding from the world and they are more than happy to ignore the fact that Charlie's cousin Rose went missing during WWII. But Charlie suddenly realizes that she doesn't want her parent's money and prestige to take care of everything. She runs away instead, determined to find her beloved cousin and figure out what to do about her pregnancy. Along the way, she finds an unlikely and reticent ally in Eve Gardiner, a WWI spy with tremendous guilt about her past and a score to settle. The two women team up to find the man who might give them the answers they both need.

Every time I go to write a historical fiction review set around this time period, I feel the need to state how much I love books set in this era. Many of them have dual narratives, where a contemporary descendant finds a letter or a diary and sets off to solve a mystery from the 1940s. In The Alice Network, Kate Quinn sets the present action right after WWII. This allows readers to see how little time passed between the two world wars and how devastating that was for the people who lived through them both.

The two women in the story play against each other well as the pampered, sheltered rich girl and the older woman haunted by what she experienced. Charlie's wealthy family protected her from many of the horrors of war. Conversely, Eve was on the ground in France collecting information with the risk of being captured and killed around every corner. Through her, we see an honest portrayal of the toll of war--she becomes a drunk haunted by her past and unwilling to engage in the present. In the beginning of the story we are stunned by how angry and withdrawn she is but, as she reveals the story of her past, we understand how she got this way.

Both storylines feel immediate because the horror of war is so recent and both women are looking for something that they can find in the present. It can by satisfying when a character solves a mystery from the past, but it has an even greater impact when there are repercussions in the present. This is one of my favorite historical fiction novels that I've read this year and I will certainly be reading a story by Kate Quinn again soon.

The Alice Network
By Kate Quinn
William Morrow Paperbacks June 2017
503 pages
From the library

Sunday, October 15, 2017

It's Monday and I need to get organized!

Hello, bookish people! How are you?

It's been a busy week, but I did have the chance to spend most of Saturday with two of my sisters and my mom. Now it's time to focus on getting organized this for the week, including some events at our church and the 24 Hour Readathon!

This week, I read Shalom Sistas: Living Wholeheartedly in a Brokenhearted World and White is for Witching. I also finally finished listening to Lab Girl. I borrowed the audiobook from my library way back in May, but didn't get to finish it before it had to go back. I got it back in my library queue a few weeks ago and I'm so glad I did. What a beautiful and unexpected story!

        White Is for Witching  Lab Girl

Now I'm reading A Murder in Time and assembling my stack of books for the readathon this weekend. What are you reading?

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Review: Sourdough

Lois Clary's life revolves around her job as a software engineer at a hip tech company specializing in robotics. Her only non-work interaction is with the brothers who run a local restaurant; she talks to one on the phone when she orders and sees the other when he delivers her food. She adores their spicy food and sourdough bread, but her happy dinners come to an abrupt end when the brothers have to leave the country. They come to say goodbye and leave her a strange gift--their sourdough starter. Lois learns to bake and soon she is baking bread for her company's cafeteria and then for an underground farmer's market that combines cooking and technology. Lois' routine life is about to become very surprising.

This is my second foray into a Robin Sloan novel and I had a wonderful time reading both books. They are heartfelt, quirky, and smart, and I love the way that Sloan looks at both the limitations and promise of history and technology. This story is like nothing you've ever read before and the author will take you on a wild and really fun ride, while subtly making you think about what makes a good life and whether tradition and technology can live together.

Lois herself is a great character, but Sloan really goes to town in creating his secondary characters which include a group of women all named Lois, a haughty restauranter, a man who herds goats and makes radioactive cheese, and a bibliophile who only collects books about food. There is a bit of magic that lives in this book and in the sourdough starter; it occasionally goes a bit too far but mostly makes for a delightful addition to this story.

Now while you go get this book, I'm off to bake some bread.

By Robin Sloan
MCD Farrar, Straus, and Giroux September 2017
262 pages
From the library

Monday, October 9, 2017

It's Monday and we're jumping into another week!

Hello there, ladies and gents! How is it going?

I'm going to keep it short and sweet this morning. I need to get to the grocery store and back with little girl before her big brother gets home from a half day of school.

This week, I read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. Now I'm almost through Parable of the Sower. Somehow it's taken me 30 years to read a book by Octavia Butler, but I'm finally here!

               The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo   Parable of the Sower (Earthseed, #1)

Next up for me is Shalom Sistas by Osheta Moore. What are you reading this week?

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Review: A Beautiful Poison

Allene Cutter fought hard for her childhood friends Jasper and Birdie to come to her engagement party. Her father doesn't think they are acceptable company for a young woman about to be married into one of New York's wealthiest families. When a woman at the party drops dead, the three friends are pulled into a mystery. Are the people dying all around them victims of the Spanish influenza or is something more sinister at work?

Lydia Kang transports readers into 1918 New York City, from the most opulent mansions to the clock factory where Birdie spends hours each day carefully painting dials. The mystery is a slow burn as our intrepid trio of friends try to decode the messages left with each body, armed with Allene's knowledge of chemistry and Jasper's access to the local morgue. This is one of those books that can easily send you down a bookish rabbit hole. It is easy to read about Jasper working in the morgue or Birdie painting clock faces with radium and jump right into a book like Bellevue or The Radium Girls

The author makes a bold choice, as none of the main characters is particularly likable. As eighteen year olds, they make selfish and bad decisions often. In certain books, you can tell the good guys from the bad guys. In A Beautiful Poison, almost anyone could be guilty because they all do terrible things to the people in their lives. Each time you think you might know who is behind the mysterious deaths, new information changes everything. I didn't see the ending coming at all. If you love a good mystery and a trip 100 years into the past, this is a great read.

A Beautiful Poison
By Lydia Kang
Lake Union Publishing August 2017
350 pages
Read via Netgalley

Monday, October 2, 2017

It's Monday and I'm reading all the new releases!

Oh September, you were a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad month. But I'm trying to be hopeful about October. I have a giant stack of books that came in from the library and it is definitely the time of year to bake all the delicious things.

This week, I read Escaping Peril. My son and I are exchanging books each month, so he picked that one for me to read in September. Then I jumped into the giant stack of library holds that came in all at once and read Chemistry and The Alice Network

            Chemistry   The Alice Network

Next up for me is The Seven Husbands of Evelyn HugoWhat are you reading this week?

Monday, September 25, 2017

Review: The Other Alcott

Everyone knows Louisa May Alcott, the author of the much-beloved Little Women. Many readers know that the stories were loosely based on Alcott's life and family. But few people stop to think about the real lives of the other little women. In The Other Alcott, Elise Hooper imagines the life of May Alcott, the woman who is known to many readers as tempestuous and selfish Amy.

Both Louisa and May are women who love art--Louisa writes stories and May is enamored with drawing and painting. When Little Women is published, Louisa's story is praised and May's accompanying illustrations are panned. Their paths diverge, as Louisa takes up the mantle of providing for the family financially and May must care for their everyday needs, at the expense of her art. It will take a break from the family for May to develop her artistic talent and discover who she really is, away from the shadow of Amy March.

Like many girls, Elise Hooper grew up loving the story and characters of Little Women. She even lived near the Alcott's family home. Hooper tells readers in the afterword that she started writing this book the day her youngest daughter started kindergarten, because May's story had been calling to her for years. It's easy to see Hooper's love for the Alcott family on these pages. They lived in the middle of a fascinating period in history--their father was a prominent abolitionist, Louisa was one of the few women of her time to have a successful career as an author, and May experienced an art world on the brink as new styles like Impressionism came to the forefront.

But of course this must be a book about family at its core, since it is a fresh look at the little women. While the fictional March family made poverty look charming, that was not the reality for the Alcott family. Louisa worked incessantly to provide for the family and the friction in this story comes from two sisters trying to find room for both of them to have careers when there are bills that must be paid and a family that needs care. Hooper shows us a May who could be passionate like her fictional counterpart, but also cared deeply for her family. In this story, Louisa is a woman is cold in a way Jo never was, when her determination to keep the family solvent and have a successful career takes precedence over anyone's happiness.

The Other Alcott is a must-read for anyone who counts themselves among the devoted fans of Little Women. It's also a story that shows that the tension between pursuing our dreams and caring for our families is an old, familiar tale.

The Other Alcott
By Elise Hooper
William Morrow September 2017
432 pages
From the publisher for TLC Book Tours