It has genuinely been such a long time since I picked up a book that could keep my interest. And it’s not because I haven’t tried: With my Scribd trial, which gave me access to a nearly infinite number of books in either audio or digital format, trying is all I did. And then with the library, too. Part of it has just been because I want to read, but another reason I’ve been trying so hard to find a good story is that I wanted to introduce/continue a book segment on this blog.
Well, I’m just accepting the fact that there are a lot of books being indiscriminately published, marketed to a buzz, and then as readers we’re kind of fooled into thinking it’s because they are actually good, right? Nope! This is a slight rant, I guess, but the truth is that as an advanced reader for NetGalley, I’ve read good, well-structured, interesting, and well-told stories that went out of print just a couple months after “launching.”
So, at least we know some good books don’t get any buzz. But must the opposite be true, too? No, it doesn’t have to be, but it definitely is if my experience with reading lately is anything to go by.
I picked up The Alice Network by Kate Quinn from the library on a whim. I recognized it when I saw it in the fast-lane display shelf at my local library. It’s this month’s book club pick for one of the few book clubs I know of in my area, and it’s also emblazoned with a seal for Reese’s book club. And maybe I haven’t talked about her on this blog, but put simply Reese Witherspoon’s opinion on a story really counts for something in my books. (Pun not initially intended!)
And the premise for this one is great. Or should I say these stories, because the book technically has two stories lines and it alternates between them with each consecutive chapter. One story is set just after WWII and involves a young, unmarried but pregnant woman who runs away from her family in search of her missing cousin. Her search leads her to Eva Gardiner, a seasoned French spy, and I presume (because I haven’t read the whole book) that together they solve the mystery of the missing cousin.
The second storyline is about Eve Gardiner and how she began her career as a spy in what is the fictionalized version of the real-life Alice Network, a group of female Allied WWII spies. Interesting, right?
Well, sort of. First, I was okay with the back-and-forth for a couple of chapters, but I quickly lost interest in the 1915 time line. The 1947 time line of finding Charlie’s (the young girl) cousin had so much more urgency. I even began skipping over the 1915 chapters and found that I didn’t feel lost at all. The stories are at least for the first 100 or so pages (1/5 of the book) completely independent. You don’t have to read both at the same time to get what’s going on, at least to that point.
But by page 100, what had begun as a truly interesting story with a hook began to swivel to a stop. The characters began to engage in meaningless banter and paragraphs describing Eve’s swearing or Charlie’s newly acquired morning sickness began to feel like cheap fillers to avoid getting to the next plot point before it’s structurally appropriate to do so. As in, if the story does hold water and warrant the number of pages and words spent telling it, then it wasn’t apparent in the first 20%.
Based on several Goodreads reviews, I also wasn’t the only one who strongly preferred one of the time lines over the other. I think this is problematic because that so many people made a “choice” is a symptom of the fact that you could make a choice (duh!), which means that some readers, myself included, weren’t given a compelling enough reason to want to read both other than their strategic placement, alternating chapter-by-chapter.
I’m not sure what I will move on to now. Any ideas?