Sunday, 2 June 2019

Book club highlights on a cool spring morning...

I have a cup of steaming chai tea and a yummy Date Bar as I sit down to write this post, but they are more of a “coffee and dessert”, not the main meal.  As I was cooking and preparing my lunches, I was feeling quite hungry, so I made a toasted tomato sandwich for breakfast, and it was so delicious! It brought me right back to childhood, when I used to have these quite regularly.  I think I'm going to start making them more often.
I decided to finish The Au Pair last weekend, and it was every bit as good in the last section as it had been up to the point when I wrote last week.  The story was complex, the premise believable, and the ending offered a plausible yet surprising conclusion, and while everything was wrapped up, it didn’t feel contrived.  Emma Rous did an outstanding job, especially considering this was her debut novel after eighteen years working as a veterinarian. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys gothic novels or books centred around family secrets.
I started reading The Alice Network by Kate Quinn on Monday night, and was both delighted and disappointed that I got sucked into the story almost from the first page; delighted because I didn’t think I would enjoy this  historical novel, and disappointed because it meant that I wanted to read every word and couldn’t just skim it in order to prepare for my book club meeting yesterday. I’m only halfway through, but I’ll give you a summary of the book and the highlights of the discussion.  Based on an actual network of spies during WWI, this novel is told in alternating voices, one narrative set in the middle of WWI and the other set just after WWII. Charlie St Clair is a nineteen-year-old American girl from an upper-middle-class family who, in May 1947, is being brought to Switzerland accompanied by her mother to take care of her “Little Problem”.  She is not sure how she feels about her condition, but she has agreed to the Appointment because she’s arranged to travel via England, where, instead of remaining with her mother for the last leg of their journey, she heads off on her own with no money and no experience, armed only with an address on a scrap of paper and her grandmother’s pearl necklace. She is off to find her French cousin, Rose, who disappeared during the war and has not been heard from since.  Two years older than Charlie, she is like the big sister she never had, and since she was unable to save her older brother James from killing himself after returning from the war, she is determined to try to save Rose. She travels to meet Evelyn Gardiner, a drunken, cantankerous woman in her mid-fifties who may have some knowledge about Rose's last known location. When she hears about Charlie’s quest to find Rose, her interest is piqued by something Charlie says and so she reluctantly agrees to travel with Charlie, but only if Charlie pays.  We are then introduced to Evelyn/Eve Gardiner, a young British woman who, in 1915, is singled out by Captain Cameron to join a network of female spies who are tasked with collecting information about the Germans. Eve speaks English, French and German, and at twenty-two, looks seventeen. She is slight and speaks with a stutter, so is thought by most to be not very clever, an error in judgement that serves her well. When she goes to work at a restaurant in Lille where German officers are known to frequent, she is able to gather significant intelligence to pass on to the head of the network, Lili/Alice Dubois, who then passes it on to Captain Cameron.  Eve, as the shy, stuttering serving girl Marguerite, is required to make the ultimate sacrifice in order to gain further access to information about the Germans, and it can only lead to horrific consequence. This is as far as I got, about halfway through the book, but I’m sure disaster lurks in the coming pages and chapters. There were just three of us at the meeting yesterday, and only one of us finished the book, the other member having read about two thirds so far. The person who read the whole book said she loved every page, but that there were parts when she just had to put it down and take a break. When I told her I was really enjoying the book, she said that if I thought the first half was good, I would probably find that the second half was even better.  We agreed that Quinn did an excellent job of interweaving the stories - I think one member described the storytelling structure as “layers upon layers, and these layers are also overlapping”. We felt that we learned alot about female spies and spying, which was very different from the stereotypes we had in mind. We were shocked at how much these women were required to sacrifice in the name of duty, and the limited choices women had at the time to serve their country and help the war effort. All in all, it was a successful meeting and an excellent book selection, and I look forward to finishing this novel in the next day or so.
I will not have time to read the book for tomorrow night’s meeting, and I can’t even skim it, as The Mandibles is not the type of novel that lends itself to skimming.  *Sigh* I’ll just have to accept that, in this case, there really were too many books and too little time.  
That’s all for now.  Enjoy the rest of the day, whatever you do.
Bye for now…
Julie

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