Although this is an extremely late wishing, happy New Year nonetheless! Hello, and welcome back to another post! This past month has been somewhat chaotic, so I did not get much reading done. I started two of these books in December, but only finished them this month. However, I did read (and reread😉) a few notable and a few not notable books.
*Please note that all of the summaries are from Goodreads.*
THE ALICE NETWORK by: Kate Quinn – A novel *3/5 stars*
Summary: 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, code name Alice, 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.
Review: A Reese Witherspoon Pick and a Heather’s Pick, The Alice Network delivered a promising premise. However, while reading the story, I couldn’t help feeling bothered by the lack of emotion I felt towards the cast of characters. This book reminded me particularly of a cheap version of The Nightingale. Unlike The Nightingale, which I think is beautifully written, I didn’t find the writing in this book especially notable. In fact, it frustrated me at parts; much like Ruta Sepetys’ writing, Quinn was quite melodramatic at points throughout the story. A historical fiction novel does not require melodrama.
Unfortunately, I found The Alice Network far too long and I gradually became resistant and unmotivated to continue reading. The plot became tiring and repetitive, and the characters weren’t sparking my interest. Oddly, I found the tone of the story to be fairly detached. Despite components of the book occurring during the second world war, I did not find the novel to be atmospheric in the slightest. Normally, I feel considerably aware of the time period of the historical fiction novels I read due to the events happening during the book. However, as I mentioned, The Alice Network did not possess a sensation of history. This book most certainly is not one of the more noteworthy ones I have read in recent months, in spite of its increasing recognition and praise.
FREE FOOD FOR MILLIONAIRES by: Min Jin Lee – A novel *3.5/5 stars*
Summary: The daughter of Korean immigrants, Casey Han has refined diction, a closeted passion for reading the Bible, a popular white boyfriend, and a magna cum laude degree in economics from Princeton, but no job and an addiction to the things she cannot afford in the glittering world of Manhattan. In this critically-acclaimed debut, Min Jin Lee tells not only Casey’s story, but also those of her sheltered mother, scarred father, and friends both Korean and Caucasian, exposing the astonishing layers of a community clinging to its old ways and a city packed with struggling haves and have-nots.
Review: Soon after reading Pachinko (visit my review in my End of Year Wrap Up), I purchased Free Food for Millionaires. I noticed that themes such as achievement, race, class, and intelligence arose in both books. Unfortunately, however, this novel was not quite to my liking, as Pachinko very much was. For one, unlike Pachinko, the cultural experience was not present. This story focuses on the difficulties of being an immigrant in a foreign country. As expected, the book did not occur in Korea or Japan, but rather, it took place in New York City. Naturally, the tone of the story is especially different in the United States than in Korea. Much of what I enjoyed about Pachinko was the feeling of profound connection to the culture, but in Free Food for Millionaires I felt a loss of that connection. The absence of the Korean culture affected the story greatly. Sadly, the story wasn’t quite what I was expecting, for it was much too modernized for me.
Much like Pachinko, this novel focuses exceedingly on the various romances. However, I believe Free Food for Millionaires largely focuses on the frailty of love. That has not been as prominent a theme in any of the books I have read recently as it is in this one. However, the incessant relationships, the affairs, and the break-ups became predictable and exhausting. This book exceeded five hundred pages, which was most certainly unneeded and, in my case, undesired. Truthfully, after around three-hundred-fifty pages, the book lost steam (as did I!) and became formulaic and flat. I expected far more from Min Jin Lee in Free Food for Millionaires, but I do hope that her upcoming novel impresses me as much as Pachinko did.
WHEN WE WERE ORPHANS by: Kazuo Ishiguro – A novel *4/5 stars*
Summary: An English boy born in early-twentieth-century Shanghai, is orphaned at age nine when his mother and father both vanish under suspicious circumstances. Sent to live in England, he grows up to become a renowned detective and, 20 years later, returns to Shanghai, where the Sino-Japanese War is raging.
The maze of human memory–the ways in which we accommodate and alter it, deceive and deliver ourselves with it–is territory that Kazuo Ishiguro has made his own. In his previous novels, he has explored this inner world and its manifestations in the lives of his characters with rare inventiveness and subtlety, shrewd humor and insight. In When We Were Orphans, his first novel in five years, he returns to this terrain in a brilliantly realized story that illuminates the power of one’s past to determine the present.
Christopher Banks, an English boy born in early-twentieth-century Shanghai, is orphaned at age nine when his mother and father both vanish under suspicious circumstances. Sent to live in England, he grows up to become a renowned detective and, more than twenty years later, returns to Shanghai, where the Sino-Japanese War is raging, to solve the mystery of the disappearances.
The story is straightforward. Its telling is remarkable. Christopher’s voice is controlled, detailed, and detached, its precision unsurprising in someone who has devoted his life to the examination of details and the rigors of objective thought. But within the layers of his narrative is slowly revealed what he can’t, or won’t, see: that his memory, despite what he wants to believe, is not unaffected by his childhood tragedies; that his powers of perception, the heralded clarity of his vision, can be blinding as well as enlightening; and that the simplest desires–a child’s for his parents, a man’s for understanding–may give rise to the most complicated truths.
A masterful combination of narrative control and soaring imagination, When We Were Orphans is Kazuo Ishiguro at his best.
Review: Eloquently written and masterfully plotted, When We Were Orphans is an utterly thought-provoking read. As the story progresses, an air of suspicion becomes common, which sparked my interest thoroughly. Nevertheless, however much I enjoyed myself while reading, I felt no motivation to pick up the book. Although YA books are poorly written and bland, they are very much entertaining. I find that that seems not to be the case with these adult books I am currently reading. Books such as When We Were Orphans are excellent and an enjoyable read–even a riveting read at times–but they are not books that I would ordinarily pick up in the evening to open before bed. However, When We Were Orphans was most delightful to read when I did find the motivation.
That said, I was highly unimpressed by the ending. I thought it somewhat unraveled what the rest of the book had carefully set up. I thought it was abrupt and unpleasantly surprising. I found it portrayed the leading character Christopher Banks in a new light–one that was startlingly different from the rest of the book. That was likely done purposefully, but it didn’t satisfy me. Moreover, I felt the character that was involved in the conclusion had not been explored sufficiently for readers to be able to find satisfaction in the element of surprise. If anything, it left me with a negative perception of the book. However, I was very fond of the mystifying element of the story and cast of characters. When We Were Orphans was undoubtedly a compelling read.
THE HAND ON THE WALL by: Maureen Johnson – #3 in the Truly Devious trilogy *3/5 stars*
Summary: Ellingham Academy must be cursed. Three people are now dead. One, a victim of either a prank gone wrong or a murder. Another, dead by misadventure. And now, an accident in Burlington has claimed another life. All three in the wrong place at the wrong time. All at the exact moment of Stevie’s greatest triumph . . .
She knows who Truly Devious is. She’s solved it. The greatest case of the century.
At least, she thinks she has. With this latest tragedy, it’s hard to concentrate on the past. Not only has someone died in town, but David disappeared of his own free will and is up to something. Stevie is sure that somehow—somehow—all these things connect. The three deaths in the present. The deaths in the past. The missing Alice Ellingham and the missing David Eastman. Somewhere in this place of riddles and puzzles there must be answers.
Then another accident occurs as a massive storm heads toward Vermont. This is too much for the parents and administrators. Ellingham Academy is evacuated. Obviously, it’s time for Stevie to do something stupid. It’s time to stay on the mountain and face the storm—and a murderer.
In the tantalizing finale to the Truly Devious trilogy, New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson expertly tangles her dual narrative threads and ignites an explosive end for all who’ve walked through Ellingham Academy.
Review: As it was an anticipated release of mine, I was thrilled to return to Ellingham Academy in The Hand on the Wall. I read the first two books in this trilogy last year (I even wrote a raving review about Truly Devious), but I found it difficult to become passionate about the characters and the premise once more. I don’t think that this reflects poorly on YA as a genre, because I think Johnson’s writing is considerably weaker than that of several well known YA authors (this is likely owing to the drastically different genres: mystery and fantasy). However, as I mentioned in my End of Year Wrap Up, I do think that regularly reading YA books has become less rewarding for me.
Like most YA series, this final installment was entirely unnecessary. The mysteries continuing on from the previous two books (Truly Devious and The Vanishing Stair) became convoluted and drawn out to an unneeded extent. I would give this book a solid three stars purely because of its complexity regarding the various murders, as well as because of its entertaining quality–it was a very pleasant and effortless read. However, I was sadly disappointed by The Hand on the Wall.
DAISY JONES & THE SIX – THE AUDIOBOOK by: Taylor Jenkins Reid – A novel *5/5 stars*
Summary: Everyone knows Daisy Jones & The Six: The band’s album Aurora came to define the rock ‘n’ roll era of the late seventies, and an entire generation of girls wanted to grow up to be Daisy. But no one knows the reason behind the group’s split on the night of their final concert at Chicago Stadium on July 12, 1979 . . . until now.
Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock ‘n’ roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things.
Also getting noticed is The Six, a band led by the brooding Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camila finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road.
Daisy and Billy cross paths when a producer realizes that the key to supercharged success is to put the two together. What happens next will become the stuff of legend.
The making of that legend is chronicled in this riveting and unforgettable novel, written as an oral history of one of the biggest bands of the seventies. Taylor Jenkins Reid is a talented writer who takes her work to a new level with Daisy Jones & The Six, brilliantly capturing a place and time in an utterly distinctive voice.
Review: I cannot wholly express my love for this novel. I have now read Daisy Jones & The Six four times and I continue to further appreciate how deeply layered and realistically flawed the story–and the characters–is each time. However, this would be my second time listening to the audiobook. On this listen, I felt a greater attachment to the story and its characters. I believe the audiobook captures the narrative very nicely and in somewhat of a different light than a hardcopy of the book does. The individual narrators truly bring the story to life, for their voices possess a kind of emotion and animation that is not as distinct in the book. Daisy’s voice is equally husky as it is sultry, and Billy’s voice is appropriately gruff. Listening to the audiobook is indeed a very different experience than simply reading the novel.