Book Reviews

Friday Fic Pick: The Alice Network

Alice NetworkThe Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Historical Fiction – 1917 (World War I) and 1947 (Post-World War II) England and France

From the Author: 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 Take: The Alice Network is in one word, phenomenal. At times it is also dark and gritty and emotionally draining. That is the nature of war. But above all it is about conquering the darkness both outside and inside of ourselves, about friendship and family, love and life—about what is worth fighting for. From the minute I picked this book up until the last of its nearly 500 pages, I was blown away.

Charlie and Eve are two quite different women; however, their differences become two sides of the same coin. Both are on similar quests to find answers to the lives they left behind. Except Charlie still believes that there is hope for the future while Eve does not. These two women’s stories flow in and out of one another, switching between 1917 and 1947 until they finally merge and continue to the story’s final climactic moment. Often in dual-timeline novels, one time period is more captivating than the other, but I didn’t feel that with The Alice Network. Both stories held my attention equally. Even the secondary characters drew me in.

As discussed in the author’s note, the amount of research put into accurate depiction of these women’s lives is astounding. I especially enjoyed how Kate Quinn brought together experiences from both world wars. Most novels that I have read fail to mention that WWI ended only twenty years before WWII began, which isn’t much time for personal or economic recovery. Kate Quinn does not shy away from this aspect, acknowledging in detail the ramifications of WWI on her characters’ decisions within and after WWII. She brings forth raw emotions and lays them bare for us to see, creating characters that are both strong and vulnerable and very much humans we can relate to. Simply put, this novel is a beautiful example of what all historical fiction should be. Kate Quinn’s writing is completely spectacular.

Kate Quinn also recently released The Huntress, about WWII Nazi Hunters. More information on her novels can be found here: http://www.katequinnauthor.com/

Content Advisory: Due to the thematic nature of this novel, the story did contain a higher level of mature content than I typically include in books reviewed on this site. Please be advised that there are scenes containing graphic elements related to war, scenes of sexuality (although not explicit enough for me to consider erotica) and some instances of strong profanity. That being said, I found these elements to be, for the most part, used appropriately within the context of the story, and often I felt the gritty nature actually added to its authenticity.

REVIEW TEXT COPYRIGHT 2019 KELSEY GIETL

Friday Fic Picks: Best Historical Fiction of 2018

Welcome to a special new year’s edition of Friday Fic Picks! It seems like everyone is posting their favorites lists: favorite movies, music, television shows, celebrities,  hairstyles … you name it, there’s probably a list for it. Books are no exception. My writing communities have been posting their top ten, so I figured I should probably jump on the bandwagon before it drove off and left me.

So, here are my top 10 historical fiction reads from 2018, listed in alphabetical order by author’s last name because I used to be a librarian, and I also don’t want to pick favorites out of my favorites. They’re all worth reading! Click on each title for my full review and please note that not all of these were published this past year.

After you’ve looked over my Top 10, let me know yours. Maybe I’ll add them to my reading challenge for this coming year.

Keturah by Lisa T. Bergren

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Saving Amelie by Cathy Gohlke

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The Love Letter by Rachel Hauck

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The Wedding Dress by Rachel Hauck

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The Daughters of Boston and Winds of Change series by Julie Lessman

Technically this is 7 books and 2 novellas (with a third recently released), but I read them all at once so they’re being counted as one.

Julie Lessman

Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard

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The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy

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The Glass Ocean by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White

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Stealing Mr. Smith by Tanya E. Williams

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Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

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Book Launch this Weekend!

Twisted River Cover Final - hiresWell, readers, it’s almost here. Only one day until the official launch of my second book, Twisted River. I loved crafting the second half of the Across Oceans story and am truly thrilled and honored to be able to share it with you. While it holds the same charm as Across Oceans, in many ways I believe you’ll love this one even more. My favorite part of researching this story was that it takes place in my own hometown of St. Louis allowing me to insert many familiar locations and historically accurate details throughout. There are also a number of new characters including a snarky newspaper reporter who barged his way into my book without asking and a brother/sister photography duo who will take you to where I hope are unexpected places. And of course all your favorites are back from Book 1 … but I’m not mentioning their names just in case you haven’t read Across Oceans. No spoilers here.

To celebrate the launch, I am hosting a Very Merry Christmas book signing tomorrow, December 15, at Half Price Books in St. Charles, Missouri from Noon until 3 p.m. A few fantastic reasons to swing by the sale:

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  1. Just to chat. I love my books and I love my readers. Put them together and I could talk all day. So stop by to say hi and ask anything about … well, anything.
  2. Pick up a book. Across Oceans and Twisted River will both be available for purchase and signing for $12 each or snag both books for $20 (nearly $8 off online prices). There are also limited copies of the old cover edition of Across Oceans available for $10. They make great Christmas gifts!
  3. Bring a book. Already purchased a copy of either of my books online? I’m still happy to sign them.
  4. Win four books. At the end of the event, I’m raffling off four wonderful historical fiction novels: The Forgotten Room, Becoming Mrs. Smith, Salt to the Sea, and The Book of Speculation. There’s three ways to win: show up, buy one of my books, and/or subscribe for updates. Complete all three – that’s three entries. (Sorry, in-person entries only.)

So there you have it, folks. I hope to see you at the sale! Now, off to continue work on Broken Lines. An early hint at things to come in book 3: What is the cost of loyalty in the midst of war? How do you define enemy when the enemy is you? The lines may not be so clear anymore.

Copyright 2018 Kelsey Gietl

Friday Non-Fic Pick: Dead Wake

91JMtxRBVTLLast week in my review of The Glass Ocean, I mentioned also reading Dead Wake, but then realized that I never shared a review outside the world of Goodreads. So without further ado, here is this Friday’s recommended non-fiction read.

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson

Historical Non-Fiction (World War I)

From the Author: On May 1, 1915, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were anxious. Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone, and for months, its U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the Lusitania was one of the era’s great transatlantic “Greyhounds” and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack. He knew, moreover, that his ship – the fastest then in service – could outrun any threat. 

Germany, however, was determined to change the rules of the game, and Walther Schwieger, the captain of Unterseeboot-20, was happy to oblige. Meanwhile, an ultra-secret British intelligence unit tracked Schwieger’s U-boat, but told no one. As U-20 and the Lusitania made their way toward Liverpool, an array of forces both grand and achingly small – hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more–all converged to produce one of the great disasters of history. 

It is a story that many of us think we know but don’t, and Erik Larson tells it thrillingly, switching between hunter and hunted while painting a larger portrait of America at the height of the Progressive Era. Full of glamour, mystery, and real-life suspense, Dead Wake brings to life a cast of evocative characters, from famed Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat to pioneering female architect Theodate Pope Riddle to President Wilson, a man lost to grief, dreading the widening war but also captivated by the prospect of new love. Gripping and important, Dead Wake captures the sheer drama and emotional power of a disaster that helped place America on the road to war.

My Take: It is my opinion that few authors are able to write truly spectacular nonfiction. It is a challenging goal to lay down a set of (mostly) unbiased facts within an intriguing story. Harder still is the ability to form those facts as a fictional writer would in order to leave the reader feeling a personal attachment with the characters. It is difficult, but Erik Larson has accomplished it.

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania is much more than an account of one ship’s sinking in May of 1915. It encompasses the world before, during, and after the ship, creating an intricate tale of political plots, military tactics, and ordinary lives come to life on paper. A multitude of subplots are represented from every viewpoint including: Kapitänleutnant Walther Schwieger of Unterseeboot (U-boat) 20, Britain’s top secret Room 40, officials of the Cunard Line, American President Woodrow Wilson, and multitudes of the Lusitania’s passengers. The detail is absolutely astounding. Drawing from a number of sources including letters, diaries, news articles, transcripts, and autopsy reports, the author immerses the reader in an incredible retelling of the World War I era. Descriptions of nautical engineering, intimate romances and family relationships, political subplots and outrageous warfare. What they ate, what they wore, who was doing what when – who lived, who died, and how – it’s all included. This was, far and away, one of the best non-fiction books I’ve ever read. Recommendations of the highest regard!

For more information visit: http://eriklarsonbooks.com/

Review text copyright 2017 Kelsey Gietl

Friday Fic Pick: The Glass Ocean

y648The Glass Ocean by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White

Historical Fiction – 1915 and 2013

From the Authors: From the New York Times bestselling authors of The Forgotten Room comes a captivating historical mystery, infused with romance, that links the lives of three women across a century—two deep in the past, one in the present—to the doomed passenger liner, RMS Lusitania.

May 2013
Her finances are in dire straits and bestselling author Sarah Blake is struggling to find a big idea for her next book. Desperate, she breaks the one promise she made to her Alzheimer’s-stricken mother and opens an old chest that belonged to her great-grandfather, who died when the RMS Lusitania was sunk by a German U-Boat in 1915. What she discovers there could change history. Sarah embarks on an ambitious journey to England to enlist the help of John Langford, a recently disgraced Member of Parliament whose family archives might contain the only key to the long-ago catastrophe. . . .

April 1915
Southern belle Caroline Telfair Hochstetter’s marriage is in crisis. Her formerly attentive industrialist husband, Gilbert, has become remote, pre-occupied with business . . . and something else that she can’t quite put a finger on. She’s hoping a trip to London in Lusitania’s lavish first-class accommodations will help them reconnect—but she can’t ignore the spark she feels for her old friend, Robert Langford, who turns out to be on the same voyage. Feeling restless and longing for a different existence, Caroline is determined to stop being a bystander, and take charge of her own life. . . .

Tessa Fairweather is traveling second-class on the Lusitania, returning home to Devon. Or at least, that’s her story. Tessa has never left the United States and her English accent is a hasty fake. She’s really Tennessee Schaff, the daughter of a roving con man, and she can steal and forge just about anything. But she’s had enough. Her partner has promised that if they can pull off this one last heist aboard the Lusitania, they’ll finally leave the game behind. Tess desperately wants to believe that, but Tess has the uneasy feeling there’s something about this job that isn’t as it seems. . . .

As the Lusitania steams toward its fate, three women work against time to unravel a plot that will change the course of their own lives . . . and history itself.

My Take: A few reasons I was immediately drawn to this book:

  1. Lovely cover!  Which leads me to reason #2 …
  2. Steamships. I’ve had a love affair with them for over twenty years now. Then I read Dead Wake by Erik Larson last year which is a non-fiction account of Lusitania and World War I. His discussion of the topic was fantastic and inspired me to incorporate WWI into my writing.
  3. I’ve read two other books by Beatriz Williams (Overseas and Along the Infinite Sea) and loved both of them. Highly recommend! I haven’t read anything by Lauren Willig and Karen White yet, but I certainly will.
  4. Three authors wrote this together. As an author myself, I had to see how they did.

So let’s discuss #4. Three authors wrote this book. Three people with three writing styles who are looking at the story from three different viewpoints … and you could not tell. Each author wrote one of the three main characters, but they fit so flawlessly together that I had no idea who wrote which part. Both primary and secondary characters maintained the same feel throughout the book, and I only found one continuity error. One! Either these women have linked up their brains or have one heck of an editor. As an author, I can’t imagine trying to meld two thought processes into coherence, let alone three, and make it all sound wonderful.

From the description of the ship and historical events of the era to the conspiracy plot lines and entangled romance, I felt so much for these characters and stayed up far too late to find out who survived after that fated torpedo strike. I’m glad to say that the end was satisfying, although not exactly what I was expecting. Tragic yet hopeful. I’m really looking forward to reading these authors’ other collaboration, The Forgotten Room, and seeing what else they might pull together.

More information about the authors can be found here: Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, Karen White

Text copyright 2018 Kelsey Gietl