The Alice Network (Kate Quinn)

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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.

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The Alice Network has become my favourite book of the year so far. I couldn’t stop listening to it. And I have already started trying to pimp it out to all my friends and family.

It was very interesting to learn more about the spy networks operating during WWI; this isn’t a subject matter that we touched upon when I was in school, mostly focusing on either the trenches or the homefront during the Great War, and then spending the majority of the semester on the Second World War. I had to keep reminding myself that this takes place during 1915. Thinking of how different times were back then … women didn’t even have the right to vote yet, so it is absolutely remarkable that there were real-life female spies operating throughout Europe.

The pace of this story is excellent. Detailed but quick and there were never any parts I felt like skipping ahead through due to boredom. The narrator, Saskia Maarleveld, did an amazing job. The characters were all very real to me, which led to heartbreak at times.

I know that The Alice Network has been a bestseller since its release in 2017, and there continues to be a long wait list at my library. It is also a book that has been covered in numerous book clubs and I can see why.

If you haven’t read this book yet, I strongly encourage you to do so ASAP. Push it to the top of your TBR list. I have heard from fans of Kate Quinn that this isn’t even her best book so I will definitely be listening to her others in the near future.

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The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game is a 2014 blockbuster film telling the story of Bletchley Park’s code-breaking team, which was charged with cracking the “unbreakable” German code Enigma, during WWII. It follows the efforts of Alan Turing and co, as well as telling us of Alan’s heartbreaking personal story, from childhood to his death in 1951.

Alan Turing and his team solved the Enigma Code, and it is estimated that their doing so ended the war two years earlier and saved 14 million lives.  That fact that the Enigma Code was broken remained a state secret for 50 years.

If this had not been a historical film, I would have said that the writers needed to go back to the drawing board.  Despite not knowing much about this topic, I was able to foretell many aspects of the plot, including Christopher’s fate, the identity of the Soviet spy and “the sacrifice”.

Clearly, this film is based on historical fact though and somehow, that makes it all forgiven. At the base of it, this wasn’t a spy thriller; being able to see the outcome did not ruin the movie. It was a dramatic retelling of some of England’s best – and worst – moments in the 1940s and 50s.

One thing that struck me throughout the film, was how different things were then, from now. A 25 year old woman was almost barred from being a member of the team, based upon her gender, and then further prevented from joining because of her parents’ objections.  It was indecent for her to work on a project with five men, and to work for the war effort instead of hunting for a suitable husband. Likewise, I had no idea that in the 1950s, homosexuality in Great Britain was punishable by custodial sentence or chemical castration.

I had wanted to watch The Imitation Game when it was released last year but I never got around to it.  I have always been interested in history, and took multiple classes in secondary school and uni, but somehow missed ever learning about Turing or the Enigma Code.  The Eric Walters book, Enigma, which I just read about was also based on war efforts occurring a Bletchley Park, so it was an interesting parallel to finish both this weekend.  I definitely want to go and learn more.

The movie was nominated for 8 Oscars, including Best Picture of the Year, and ultimately won for Best Writing (adapted screenplay). Not surprising, considering it starred fantastic fan-favourite actors including Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightly, Matthew Goode, Allen Leech and Charles Dance.

It was a remarkable film that I am so thankful I made the time to watch this weekend. I highly recommend it.

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Enigma by Eric Walters – A review

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If you have never heard of Canadian author Eric Walters, you must live in a cave and have never been a child.

He is a former teacher from Toronto who started writing to inspire his students and hasn’t stopped since. The guy churns out amazing novels for 8-14 year olds at an amazing rate. I first experienced his brilliance more than a decade ago in seventh grade, when we read several of his books. He promptly became my favourite author and even as an adult, I go back to re-read the occasional standalone or newest addition to a series.

Okay, okay, I should be writing a review for Enigma, not fawning all over the guy. But I love him so much, I’m going to leave a list of his best novels at the end of this post, in case you are that youth or parent looking for some good reads.

Enigma is the sixth, and presently the most recent, installment of the Camp X series.  It follows two teenage brothers, George and Jack, and their exploits helping Allied powers during the Second World War.  The first several books take place in Canada, the fifth in Bermuda, and Enigma, in the UK.

The style of the book changes slightly, in that George and Jack really don’t seek out trouble this time around. In fact, 70% of the way through the book, lots has happened but there are no suspicious characters to be found.  Hopefully there will be one more book to tie the series off, but I enjoyed Enigma, and it certainly redirected the series after the previous book flopped.  You can see the progression of time, the boys are older and becoming more independent. The elder brother Jack is barely in this book, spending most of it at work or with his girlfriend, instead of with George and the reader.

If you are a fan of Eric Walters or the series itself, definitely make some time to read this one.  I am always impressed with the level of research Walters does, and his attempts to write a fictional tale within a historical framework.  Not many authors take the time to do this when writing for youth and it matters.

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Books I highly recommend you start with (boys and girls): The Bully Boys; Camp X series; Northern Exposures; Safe as Houses; Sketches; Shattered; Trapped in Ice; The Hydrofoil Mystery; Stars; Diamond in the Rough; Stand your Ground; Visions

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