The Alice Network by Kate Quinn — Reread Review

In the four years since I last read The Alice Network, I’d managed to forget almost everything. I remembered Eve spying in German-occupied Lille, but I’d completely wiped Charlie, her quest to find her cousin and her romance with Finn from my memory. That’s not a reflection of their relative merits, because both the 1915 and 1947 plots have incredibly compelling moments. It might simply be that the title reminds me of the WWI timeline, making it easier to call to mind.

Facing a pistol-wielding murderer does tend to put parents further down the list of things to be intimidated by.

The Alice Network, Kate Quinn

It’s surprising that I’d forgotten Charlie, as she definitely undergoes the most positive character development over the course of The Alice Network, and that’s usually something I enjoy! Her evolution from obedient daughter to defiant bookkeeper certainly feels earned, though I did notice a bit more telling than showing at times, particularly towards the end.

Eve’s heart slowed in a shaft of diamond-bright excitement.

The Alice Network, Kate Quinn

Kate Quinn handles the plot excellently: there are moments of creeping horror, triumph and shock, and she does an excellent job of balancing the two timelines, keeping both interesting and engaging to the last. The ending is lovely, wrapping everything up and giving a sense of hope for the characters we’ve invested so much time in. Kate Quinn’s prose is consistently effective, with some really lovely moments, especially describing the flower fields in Grasse.

I don’t know if The Alice Network is something I’ll want to revisit again, but I’d definitely read more by Kate Quinn.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The City We Became by N K Jemisin — New Review, Bookclub Edition

I’ve heard a huge amount about N K Jemisin, so I was interested to finally read some of her writing. ‘What if cities were personified as people’ was intriguing, but didn’t give much of an idea what the plot was going to be, so I really didn’t know what to expect.

There’re cops in body armour over by the subway entrance, showing off their guns to tourists so they’ll feel safe from New York.

The City We Became, N K Jemisin

I hadn’t realised that the city-people would have been normal people first, which was a really unexpected spin on things. I enjoyed reading about Padmini and Bronca and Brooklyn and Aislyn because they all had normal people lives, they didn’t just come into being as personification of New York’s four boroughs. Character is always the most important part of any book for me, and these characters felt alive and vibrant, even the ones who were standing in the way of what the others wanted to achieve.

All of that stuff is true. All the other worlds that human beings believe in, via group myths or spiritual visitations or even imaginations if they’re vivid enough, they exist. Imagining a world creates it, if it isn’t already there. There’s the great secret of existence: it’s supersensitive to thought. Decisions, wishes, lies — that’s all you need to create a new universe.

The City We Became, N K Jemisin

That said, the actual plot wasn’t really my cup of tea. I wasn’t expecting a multi-dimensional war, or Lovecraftian horrors, and neither is something I particularly look for in a book. I did enjoy the characters coming to work together, figuring out how to get to their goal, but the antagonist and the stakes were a little bigger and higher than I could appreciate.

I enjoyed reading The City We Became, and it certainly made me think about things, so I’m looking forward to book club’s discussion. But I don’t know that I’ll seek out more books by N K Jemisin unless I encounter something where the premise seems more up my alley.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Go-Between by L P Hartley — Reread Review

I first encountered The Go-Between on a list of great first lines given to my English class as writing prompts. From then on, I always kept it vaguely on my massive list of books I wanted to read some day, despite having no real idea what it was about or even what kind of book it was. (Interestingly, I made no such resolution about The Trial or 1984, nor can I even remember what the other books might have been.) I didn’t actually get around to reading The Go-Between until years later, which is probably for the best, as I don’t think I’d have understood it.

When I finally did read it, it was because I was on holiday in Norfolk and wanted to read something set in the surrounding area. The Go-Between certainly delivered on a sense of place and time, both during that read and this. There’s a slight metafictional flair in Leo looking back on his memories, which I always enjoy. It was interesting that Leo’s obsession with the soaring mercury matched so well with my own increasing temperatures as I suffered through a nasty febrile cold. Just one of the many ways that books seem to be reflecting my own life back at me this year!

What did we talk about that has left me with an impression of wings and flashes, as of air displaced by the flight of a bird? Of swooping and soaring, of a faint iridescence subdued to the enfolding brightness of the day?

The Go-Between, L P Hartley

Though the story wasn’t as compelling this time around, the prose is beautiful. The Go-Between is the kind of book that I think Rebecca would like because she appreciates a really stunning sentence. That’s not really something that I read for, but I do my best to notice them when I stumble across them.

Leo and the rest of the characters are very well-drawn, to the point that Leo is uncomfortably embarrassing at times. L P Hartley does a very good job of conveying adult characters through the perspective of a child who doesn’t really understand them, which is quite a tricky feat of writing.

I mounted the black scaffold, which was almost too hot to touch, and looked down into the mirror which had been shattered by the farmer’s dive. How flawless it was now; a darker picture of the sky.

The Go-Between, L P Hartley

The first time I finished The Go-Between, I was eager to read it again, feeling that there were many more layers which would offer up their secrets now that I knew the whole story. This time, I don’t feel quite that same drive — perhaps because I didn’t get as much additional understanding out of it as I had hoped. Still, I’ll keep it on my shelf. It’ll be interesting to revisit it again and see what I make of it a third time.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Little Book of Otter Philosophy by Jennifer McCartney — New Review

I’ve always loved otters, ever since I first saw them at London Zoo when I was 8 or 9. They’re just so playful and engaging to watch, especially in big groups. The Little Book of Otter Philosophy was a birthday gift from work, which has been sitting on my shelf waiting for me to get around to it for far too long. Though I sometimes struggle with non-fiction, I had a feeling this would be quick and easy to read. What I couldn’t have predicted was how very, very appropriate it would be.

So if you’re the one that’s let someone down, don’t be too hard on yourself — or on them, if it’s the other way around. Apologise or forgive (or don’t and move on to a hopefully healthier situation), but take heart that even the best, most adorable things in nature are also complete assholes sometimes.

The Little Book of Otter Philosophy, Jennifer McCartney

The week I started reading about how to ‘live life like you otter’, I was working into the small hours most nights, trying to get my magazines schedules for 2022 sorted while also facing narrowed print deadlines. Never have I more needed the advice to play more, work less. If only it were that easy!

That’s what the otter philosophy is all about, vocalising pleasure with all your might. Shouting joy out into the universe. Putting that happiness out there for all to see and for everyone to share.

The Little Book of Otter Philosophy, Jennifer McCartney

I particularly appreciated that Jennifer McCartney got right into ‘a practical guide’ — I so often find self-help books or articles to be so vague that I just get frustrated because I have no idea how to implement that advice. As a long-term choir member, I found the section on singing and music to be particularly affirming. As a long-term scheduler, however, being told to organise and prepare less was not quite so welcome, though I can see it has merit.

Overall, I just really enjoyed reading The Little Book of Otter Philosophy. It was nothing ground-breaking, and I certainly didn’t manage to implement the guidance to cut down on the amount of work hours I was putting in, but I think parts of it will stick with me, nonetheless. I’d like to reread when my work life isn’t quite so hectic, so that I actually stand some chance of putting it into practice.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

What Katy Did at School by Susan M Coolidge — Reread Review

Cover: bookshop.org

Previous in the series: What Katy Did.

I love What Katy Did, and I love What Katy Did at School, but it struck me on this reread that the two have almost nothing to do with one another. The Katy Carr who attends school in Hillsover seems to have completely forgotten that she ever romped around losing hats and causing havoc. There are occasional references to lessons Katy learned when she was unable to walk but, on the whole, if you presented What Katy Did at School as the first in a new series, I’d totally believe it.

The remaining four were Sally Alsop and Amy Erskin; Alice Gibbons, one of the new scholars, whom they all liked, but did not know very well; and Ellen Gray, a pale, quiet girl, with droll blue eyes, a comical twist to her mouth and a trick of saying funny things in such a demure way that half the people who listened never found out that they were funny.

What Katy Did at School, Susan M Coolidge

In a way, it’s a shame. What I loved most about What Katy Did was the character development, and Susan M Coolidge doesn’t give us much of that in this sequel. Though Katy is sent away to school so as not to become old before her time, she doesn’t materially change through her experience at The Nunnery. Instead, she’s become almost a new Cousin Helen: perfect and unchanging. Meanwhile, Rose Red seems to have taken up Katy’s old mantle, though there’s no significant character arc for her, either.

“Oh, that isn’t all. It’s being gentle, don’t you see? Gentle and nice to everybody, and just as polite to poor people as to rich ones,” said Clover, talking fast, in her eagerness to explain her meaning,— “and never being selfish, or noisy, or pushing people out of their place. Forks, and hats, and all that are only little ways of making one’s self more agreeable to other people. A gentleman is a gentleman inside,—all through! Oh, I wish I could make you see what I mean!”

What Katy Did at School, Susan M Coolidge

On the other hand, Susan M Coolidge, like Enid Blyton, captured the romance of boarding school in a way real life always failed to measure up to. While the disgrace of walking past boys carrying a sponge and towel was a little lost on me, I’ll always remember the glory of Katy and Clover’s Christmas box. Clover’s advice to her cousin Clarence about being a gentleman has also stuck with me for most of my life. Though lacking What Katy Did‘s character development, What Katy Did at School also lacks the original’s saccharine preachiness, which is probably a good thing for many modern readers. Katy is something of a paragon, especially when founding her Society for the Suppression of Unladylike Conduct, but it seems more of a joke than anything taken terribly seriously.

I really enjoyed Katy’s relationship with Miss Jane. It’s one of the few places in the novel where events in What Katy Did actually matter, and it leads to the resolution of the only real conflict in the novel. If that could’ve been fleshed out, I think I would’ve loved this book as much as I loved What Katy Did. Instead, it’s a fun and nostalgic boarding school read, but nothing exceptional.

The next book in the series is What Katy Did Next, which I remember disliking, but I was only about 12. It’s possible that, as an adult, I’ll find it a lot more worthwhile. I certainly intend to give it a fair try!

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.