Size Doesn’t Matter (174): The Sugar Queen; The Alice Network

Size Doesn’t Matter (174): The Sugar Queen; The Alice NetworkThe Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen
Published by Bantam on May 20, 2008
Genres: Magical Realism, Romance
Pages: 276
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
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four-stars

In this irresistible novel, Sarah Addison Allen, author of the New York Times bestselling debut, Garden Spells, tells the tale of a young woman whose family secrets—and secret passions—are about to change her life forever.

Josey Cirrini is sure of three things: winter is her favorite season, she’s a sorry excuse for a Southern belle, and sweets are best eaten in the privacy of her closet. For while Josey has settled into an uneventful life in her mother’s house, her one consolation is the stockpile of sugary treats and paperback romances she escapes to each night…. Until she finds her closet harboring Della Lee Baker, a local waitress who is one part nemesis—and two parts fairy godmother. With Della Lee’s tough love, Josey’s narrow existence quickly expands. She even bonds with Chloe Finley, a young woman who is hounded by books that inexplicably appear when she needs them—and who has a close connection to Josey’s longtime crush. Soon Josey is living in a world where the color red has startling powers, and passion can make eggs fry in their cartons. And that’s just for starters.

Brimming with warmth, wit, and a sprinkling of magic, here is a spellbinding tale of friendship, love—and the enchanting possibilities of every new day.

This read has been long overdue, considering that I fell in love with Garden Spells back in something like 2008. I loved it so much, but for some reason I failed to immediately gobble down this sweet treat. The Sugar Queen has all that Sarah Addison Allen magic.

There’s just something about Sarah Addison Allen. She consistently uses romance tropes I’m not into, but she makes them work through some sort of actual magic. In The Sugar Queen, there are two couples, and neither one is remotely something I’d expect to be invested in, and yet. I really don’t know how she does it.

The book opens with our first MC, Josey, as someone breaks in her window. It’s weird but not scary. The intruder is Della Lee, who she vaguely knows. Despite Josey’s subpar efforts to remove her, Della Lee makes herself cozy in Josey’s closet of shame (filled with candy, travel books, magazines, and her favorite red sweater Josey’s mom tells her not to wear). Della proceeds to encourage Josey to get out of her house and out of her mother’s orbit.

Josey has a great character arc. She’s in her mid-twenties, and she’s barely lived. To make up for being a bratty child, she’s devoted herself to her mother, trying to earn her affection. In return, her mother’s completely toxic. As a result, Josey’s self-esteem is in the garbage, and she only leaves the house to ferry her mother around town. Her one joy is when her hot mailman, Adam, shows up with the mail; she always runs down to take the mail from him. Basically, Josey has this obsessive and massive crush on him and he barely knows she exists, but somehow this ship ends up being very cute. Adam’s also ended trapped in town by his fears, and they open up together in this really lovely way.

Della hooks Josey up with Chloe, who runs a cafe in town. The two end up becoming friends after Josey chases off Chloe’s cheating ex, Jake. Most of the magical realism is in Chloe’s plot line, and my god I wish books appeared around me to guide me through life like they do for Chloe. Again, I wouldn’t expect to care about Chloe and Jake, but Allen does a nice job with it.

The villain is standard Sarah Addison Allen fare: the alluring, evil, not-to-be-trusted man. I’d have liked to see Josey’s mom learn a bit more than she did; it’s cool that she’s a somewhat sympathetic character because of her past, but she doesn’t feel nearly sorry enough about being a shitty ass mom. I didn’t like, however, the way that Della’s story wrapped up: View Spoiler ».

While not Allen’s best, The Sugar Queen‘s very much a fun and beautiful read. I’ll very much be keeping my copy and rereading occasionally through the years.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

 

I received this book for free from ALA in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Size Doesn’t Matter (174): The Sugar Queen; The Alice NetworkThe Alice Network by Kate Quinn
Published by William Morrow on June 6, 2017
Genres: Historical, Romance
Pages: 503
Format: ARC
Source: ALA
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four-half-stars

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.

Kate Quinn’s another author who has been on my to-read list for years. I mean, as soon as I met Jessie, I started GR stalking her faves, and Kate Quinn tops the historical list. I knew I had to read those books; anything Jessie loves is a must-read. However, me being me, I totally failed to actually read any of them until I got an ARC of The Alice Network. I was a bit iffy on this one, because the plot centers on a pregnant woman, but I decided to give it a try anyway, and I am so glad that I did.

I fell in love with The Alice Network from the very beginning. The characters are strong, and I immediately loved mathematical Charlie’s sass. This book is massive, and reading it straight through took me three days (weekdays but still) and put me behind my schedule, but I just could not put it down. Sustaining interest and pacing over 500 pages is not easy, especially since there’s not too much majorly dramatic happening in Charlie’s timeline.

As is common in historical fiction, there’s a dual timeline/dual POV set up. The book alternates between Charlie, pregnant and searching for her cousin Rose who disappeared during WWII, and Eve, a spy working in WWI. The timelines converge at the very end of the book. It’s rare for me to be invested in both timelines pretty equally, but Quinn pulled it off. Charlie’s voicier and has a ship, but Eve’s story has all the action and tension.

My favorite historical fiction will always be that with a focus on women, especially badass women who history likes to ignore. Definitely read the Author’s Note at the end, because it reveals how much more of what happened was historically accurate than you might have thought. Quinn focuses on strong women of various stripes, and she holds them up. I also love the commentary on the double standard, like the assumption that female spies couldn’t have sex with a target for information without becoming attached.

The Alice Network draws heavily on actual history for a story that’s emotionally powerful and intense. BRB I need to go read all of Kate Quinn’s books.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

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