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The Alice Network by Kate Quinn, 2017, Historical Fiction

World War II is over for most, but not for Charlie St. Clair. She is pregnant and unmarried and her parents take her to Europe to take care of her “problem.”  When Charlie escapes her parents, pawns her grandmother’s pearls for money, she begins  a search for Rose, her cousin she loved like a sister.  She had disappeared during the war. Tracking her last information about her in London, she meets war-wasted Eve, part of a spy network that famed Lili, code-name Alice, ran. That's when she uncovered how Rose was a part of it.  Told between two timeliness, 1915 and 1947, the story becomes more than about finding Rose with real-life Lili as the glue for the fictional story Quinn tells.  It is a satisfying story of loss, betrayal, lies and redemption.

 

Cloud Cuckoo Land by by Anthony Doerr, 2021, Fiction

The author of All the Light We Cannot See takes a major departure from realistic fiction to tell a story that is hopeful fantasy and time travel.  The book begins in Constantinople with orphaned Anna and a story about Aethon who wans to turn into a bird and fly to a utopian paradise. The manuscript is lost and found as it braids the threads that hold this story together.  As the bird flies, so do we across time, continents and space.  "Cloud Cuckoo Land is a beautiful and redemptive novel about stewardship—of the book, of the earth, of the human heart.”  It was so different and beautiful and confusing, I may have to read it again.

 
 
Past Reviews
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Nothing is “beautiful” about America when 7-year-old Quian (pronounced chen)  arrived in New York with her parents.  Living “undocumented” meant living with secrets and fear every day.  Told through the young inquisitive, intelligent, but cautious Quian, we learn a desperate, courageous, independent, and heart-breaking story of living an invisible life.  Chang’s sparse but deeply affecting prose is worth the read on several levels:  for the writing, for the story, and for the celebration of an indomitable spirit. 

Beautiful Country by Quian Julie Chang, Memoir, 2021

 

Invitation to Solitude and Silence by Ruth Haley Barten, Devotional/Spiritual Formation, 2009

 

Contrary to what you might think, this book doesn’t ask you to pull away from your life and people to find silence for your soul.  The pandemic has pushed us in that direction enough!  Instead, my take away from this book is a way to make a space for silence in my heart where I expect to hear what God wants me to know. Ruth Barton is a spiritual formation director and retreat leader.  I found her thoughts inspiring, convicting and her suggestions easy and doable.  This book is for anyone who needs help listening more or who needs to take a break from the noise of your busy world, even if all the noise comes from yourself.

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Between 1787 and 1868, the British government transported an estimated 25,000 female convicts to Australia.  These women had been convicted of petty crimes.  The idea was two-fold:  unburden the penal institutions and help settle British holdings in Australia.  This book tells the mostly true and sometimes fictionalized account of one voyage of 200 women.  Hope Adams is a master at placing you on the fifteen-week journey on the Rajah.  She weaves her story of confinement, broken dreams, new hope, and sisterhood with a back-and-forth time division between then and now.  When one of the women is murdered, the story becomes a mystery to solve.  A page turner at the end, this book will anger you, surprise you, and give you every reason to hope for new beginnings no matter how many splintered pieces life gives.

Dangerous Women by Hope Adams, Historical Fiction, 2021
 

 Carnegie's Maid by Marie Benedict, Historical Fiction, 2018
 

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Benedict works her magic with historical details and engaging storytelling.  She tells the fictional story of an immigrant Irish woman who is placed in the Carnegie house as the lady’s maid to Mrs. Carnegie by an unusual mix up. The story helps the reader understand the dire circumstances many Irish families faces as well as the great divide between wealth and poverty in America.  It also reveals the relationships and business pursuits of the Carnegie’s and their legacy and life in 19th century America.  

 
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Salt to the Seas by Ruta Sepetys, Historical Fiction, 2017

 

Ruta Sepetys plunges you into the unthinkable and little-known story about the sinking of a German evacuation ship. The Wilhelm Gustloff was a luxury cruise ship conscripted for removing 10,000 military and refugees from Poland. Four main people become the storytellers as they wind their way to become part of the evacuation and each other’s lives. Perhaps you will be left with the same question I had, why have we not heard about this sinking where 9,000 lives were lost?

 
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Sparks Like Stars by Hashima Sepetys, Historical Fiction, 2021

 

Sitara’s life in Afghanistan was idyllic and privileged because her father was key advisor to president Daoud.  Everything changed when a communist coup assassinated the president, his family and every other anti-communist leader and their families. A palace guard found scared Sitara hiding in the palace and risked his life to take her to an American diplomat. Everything afterwards is a story of new identity, life-threatening challenges, and unresolved grief.  It is a gripping story of loss and lostness all the way to release and recovery.

 
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The Children's Blizzard by Melanie Benjamin, Historical Fiction, 2021

 

In January of 1888 a too sudden and devasting blizzard turned a normal day into a life-and-death challenge that stole life from over 200 homesteaders in the Dakota territory, most of them children.  Successful historical fiction writer, Melanie Benjamin, invented characters based on true stories to tell a heartbreaking story of survival and loss. Readers are drawn in to the hopes and struggles of two very young school teachers who make life and death choices for their classes, choices that no one prepared them for. The choices made one a heroine and one an outcast. The story reminds us that life turns on choices and sometimes they are choices we have to live with for the rest of our lives.