Audiobook Review, Historical Fiction

The Huntress by Kate Quinn

The HuntressThe Huntress by Kate Quinn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read Kate Quinn’s The Alice Network recently and fell in love with her ability to tell stories about strong women in World War I and II. She has a knack for finding untold stories of brave women during wartime and spinning fictional tales based on true events. In The Alice Network it was the story of a network of female spies. In The Huntress it’s the story of a female pilot who flies for the infamous Night Witches, a group of Soviet women who flew bombing missions in WWII and were feared by Nazi Germany.

In addition to the story line following the Night Witches, there is a story line about a man named Ian who essentially becomes a bounty hunter after WWII. His mission is to track down Nazi war criminals and bring them to justice. His target: The Huntress. A woman who is said to have murdered innocent children during the war.

And finally, the story of a young woman coming of age in 1950 post-WWII. When her father comes home with a new fiance and her daughter she is excited for her family to be complete again. But there is something about her soon-to-be stepmother that makes her a tad uneasy.

So if those feel like three totally different stories, it’s because they are. For a lot of the book, I felt like I was reading three separate and distinct books. I couldn’t see how they related to each other and how they were going to tie together. By the end of the novel, the stories eventually converge and they ended up meshing well. But I will say there was a portion of the middle where I started to lose a little bit of interest. I found that there was somewhat of a lull in the story. That also may have been due to the book’s extensive length which was a tad too long in my opinion.

That being said, I did really enjoy the story overall and very much enjoyed Kate Quinn’s writing and storytelling ability. The characters were vivid and had distinct personalities that I enjoyed. I felt invested in their individual outcomes. And very much appreciate learning stories of WWII that I’ve never heard (in this case about the Night Witches).

I struggled a bit with the audiobook in places because there is a lot of authentic German or Soviet terminology and nomenclature throughout the book. I’m very much a visual learner and would have found it easier to keep the names straight if I had read the print version as opposed to listening to the audiobook despite the narrator being fantastic.

While I enjoyed The Alice Network more, I did like this one as well and think if you’re a fan of Kate Quinn’s previous work you will probably appreciate it as I did. Would highly recommend but would probably recommend that you read in print as opposed to listening to the audio.

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Audiobook Review, Historical Fiction

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Between Shades of GrayBetween Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Devoured. Binged. Slammed. Tore apart.

Whatever verbiage you want to use, that’s what I did to Between Shades of Gray.

When I found out last week that Ruta Sepetys would be coming to my local library Monday for a screening of the movie adaptation of this book, Ashes in the Snow, followed by a Q&A, I was super excited. I read her novel Salt to the Sea a while ago and fell in love with it. Ruta’s writing has a way of sucking you in and transporting you in time and in setting. When it comes to books made into films, I prefer to read the book first, so I had to quickly read this one before the author event (tomorrow!).

What I truly love about Ruta Sepetys is that she tells the forgotten stories. If you read WWII historical fiction, you’ve read stories about Nazi-occupied France or about Jewish prisoners in concentration camps or about the attack on Pearl Harbor. But Ruta finds the stories you’ve never heard. Important stories. And she brings them to life.

Between Shades of Gray is set in 1941. It tells the story of Stalin’s “death list” and the many families in the Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia who were secretly deported and imprisoned by the Soviet Union in the beginning of WWII. The book follows the life of fifteen-year old Lina who is sent to a remote camp in Siberia along with her mother and brother as they fight to stay alive.

I could not believe this was a true story. And it’s one I’ve never heard. The things these people were subjected to during their internment by the Soviet Union were unbearable and unthinkable. And Ruta Sepetys did a fantastic job recreating the horrid conditions. I found myself as the reader questioning if I could have survived. This one definitely made me think about how lucky I am to have the things I do and its message makes me appreciative for my freedom.

The audiobook narration is particularly good. I felt the tension and uncertainty in the narrator’s voice and she portrayed a young girl in this time period very well. At a little over 7 hours, it is a very quick listen.

If you’re a fan of historical fiction, I think this is a must-read. I am so excited to attend the movie screening tomorrow and meet Ruta herself!

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Historical Fiction

The Guest Book by Sarah Blake

The Guest BookThe Guest Book by Sarah Blake

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Out May 7th! Pre-order from Amazon here!

I have such mixed feelings about this book so I think I’m going to need to break it down in pieces to sort through my emotions.

1. The Writing. A freaking plus! 5 stars! Sarah Blake is an extraordinary talent when it comes to her writing style. Her work kind of reminds me of the great classics in that it’s so elegantly executed with sweeping, graceful prose. She truly captured the scenery and the essence of the island and made me feel like I was right there in the book with all of the characters.

2. The Content. 3 to 4 stars. The overall message of race and equality was executed well for the most part and this is the portion I would give 4 stars. I understood the point she was trying to make and the content she was trying to drive home. But while the message was there, there were times it got a tad lost in all of the minutiae along the way. Now for the 3 star piece of the content…. the relationships and timeline. The book covers several generations of characters and stories (which is superb) but there were times where I needed to mentally reset and remember which timeline I was in with which characters. And the relationships of the characters to each other sometimes became a tad muddled and confusing. Frankly, I needed a family tree to reference at times to keep myself straight.

3. The Length. 2 stars. Listen… I’m all for long novels. When the length is warranted. This book probably could have benefited from editing down 50 – 100 pages of content. While Blake’s writing is beautiful, there were portions of the book where descriptions of characters or scenery or feelings were so long and drawn out it felt bogged down.

4. The Characters. 5 stars. While there were a lot of them, the characters were very well developed. In fact, some of the secondary characters were so good that they felt like primary characters and their stories really shone through. I could tell Blake put a lot of thought into developing distinct personalities and traits of each character.

Overall, this is not a quick and easy book to read. It takes a lot of focus, attention, and patience. It is definitely not a book that you can put down and pick up repeatedly. I found myself needing to dedicate large chunks of time to read it so that my brain could focus and absorb the information presented. It is extremely dense but it has an important message.

I don’t think this book will be for everybody and judging by the reviews so far on Goodreads you’re probably in one of two camps: those who appreciate Blake’s writing and message and those who couldn’t finish the first 100 pages. But if you can see it for more than just entertainment and as an exercise in thoughtful reflection, you will likely find it rather superb.

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-I received an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to NetGalley, Sarah Blake, and Flatiron Books for the opportunity to review.-

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Audiobook Review, Historical Fiction, Reese Witherspoon's Book Club

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

The Alice NetworkThe Alice Network by Kate Quinn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh my I am behind on my book reviews! I decided not to review any books while on vacation in Miami and read a whopping 5 books on vacation which are patiently waiting to be reviewed. So here goes nothing!

I have recently been dying to read Kate Quinn’s The Huntress which just came out. But in my quest to read everything from Reese’s Book Club, I simply had to read The Alice Network first (plus my library has like a 6 month waiting list for The Huntress….).

The Alice Network is a WWI AND WWII novel, with one story line taking place during the Great War and the other taking place shortly after the Second World War. In the past, Eve is a full blown spy, trying to expose German secrets. But when she finds herself in a relationship with the enemy, she may have gotten more than she bargained for. In the later timeline, Charlie is a pregnant-out-of-wedlock young lady whose parents have dragged her overseas to get an abortion. But while she’s there she will be more focused on searching for her cousin Rose who went missing in Nazi-occupied France during the war. Eve and Charlie will come crashing together as their stories collide.

I simply adored this book. STRONG WOMEN. That’s what I have to say. Both Eve and Charlie were incredible characters dreamed up by Kate Quinn and splashed on the pages of The Alice Network. They were both fiesty and fierce and fought for what they believed in. It’s especially inspiring to see such strength in the time period in which this book was set. And to think that network of spies deemed The Alice Network was a real thing is simply incredible.

I listened to this book on audio and would highly recommend. The accents are good and the narrator is engaging. It’s a pretty lengthy audiobook that will keep you entertained for either a really long car ride or many short ones (or just a day of cleaning the house and errands… however you like to listen to your audiobooks).

And now I am so much more excited to read The Huntress… if only I didn’t have to wait so long to get my hands on it. I think I know where my next Audible credit is going!

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Audiobook Review, Historical Fiction, Romance

When We Left Cuba by Chanel Cleeton

When We Left CubaWhen We Left Cuba by Chanel Cleeton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Chanel Cleeton has done it again! And she may have done it better.

I simply adored Next Year in Havana when I read it as one of Reese Witherspoon’s book club picks last year. It so fantastically captured the essence of Cuba while providing a lot of great historical information about how Fidel Castro rose to power.

So when I saw When We Left Cuba hit the shelves, I could not wait to read it. And it did not disappoint. When We Left Cuba starts where Next Year in Havana leaves off. The Perez family has fled to the United States after Fidel Castro assumes power. And the story follows Beatriz as she struggles to accept the reality of her beloved Cuba. She is angry and decides to use her beauty and intelligence to help the CIA with their plans to overthrow Castro.

I absolutely adored Beatriz. She was such a strong character with strong morals and values, oozing independence and fire. Chanel Cleeton did the perfect job developing her and making her totally believable.

Beyond my love for Beatriz, there were two really great things about this book:
1. The Love Story. There was kind of a bizarre love triangle thing going on in the story and it was perfectly executed. I was enraptured with Beatriz and how she balanced her love for Cuba and her mission with her conflicting love interests.
2. The History. I learned so much about The Cold War by reading this book and it was fiction. I’ve always thought one of the fantastic things about historical fiction as a genre is the ability to make history interesting and engaging. Cleeton did the perfect job incorporating true events (The Bay of Pigs, Kennedy’s assassination, The Cuban Missile Crisis) into the story, and giving good historical information without bogging down the story with boring factual content. She used Beatriz’s experience of these events as a delivery tool and it worked wonderfully.

Overall, this was a very strong follow up to Cleeton’s successful first novel. I think I may have enjoyed it even more than Next Year in Havana which was a hard act to follow. As each book is told from the perspective of a different sister in the Perez family, I truly hope Cleeton continues this story from the perspectives of the other sisters in the family. I would be delighted to find out what happens next.

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