I have things to say about this book. Prepare thyself.
I would like to preface this by saying that I read a lot. Probably about 3 books a week. I do work a full-time job, so for me, that's a lot. If you look at my bookshelves on Goodreads you may have the impression that I rate all books 4 or 5 stars. Not true. I only rate the ones I love, that leave a mark. And while I would like to write reviews for all of them, I just don't have a whole lot of time for writing out everything I love about them. Regretfully so. As an author myself, I know how important reviews are, so I do hope to one day be able to go through my bookshelves and write at least a few words for them. But certain books that truly and utterly sweep me away while reading, I try to write something because I want others to experience a truly amazing book. And this book - it was truly amazing.
Let me add that this isn't my typical genre. I probably wouldn't have even read it had my friend, Christie, not messaged me one night and said how much she was loving it. I waited for her to finish to get her final thoughts and what she said was... "You have to read this! I can't stop thinking about it. I know you and you will LOVE IT." That's true...she does know me and she knows what books will likely make me all aflutter and get my heart racing. So, with that in mind, I bought the book. I didn't even need to second guess it. But I didn't start on it immediately. I had some writing of my own to do and another book I had started reading that I wanted to finish. But every time I turned on my Kindle this book was staring me down, so I finally gave in and said..."I'll read the first chapter now and pick it back up later." Well...so much for plans. I started reading and before I knew it I was a few chapters in and glued to my Kindle. Page after page, I was IN it, totally invested and completely spellbound. I had just a vague idea of what the book was about as I tend to avoid reading reviews until after I've finished a book. Basically, I look to see who liked it and take that into account, but I don't want to know anything else. I love going into a book blind. And so, blind is how I started this journey.
From the start the author had me at the first line in the first paragraph in the first chapter.
"The first person I met in England was a hallucination."
I remember thinking...whaaat? I had to keep reading. I needed to know what kind of character I was dealing with here. Is she supposed to be a little crazy?
Well, the answer to that is, no. She wasn't crazy. But she was brilliant and brave and troubled and worried and grief-stricken. She also, like many women in those days, had to deal with double standards and prejudices against women. It was a battle on every front. Literally. But her "hallucinations" were just her mind and heart pushing her to search for her cousin, Rose, who had gone missing during WWII in France. And when she decided she would follow her "hallucinations" until she found answers the story takes off - almost straight away. I loved Charlie. To be so young, she set out to find her best friend/cousin and I love her for loving Rose so much.
Enter Eve. Eve was the woman who could help her find Rose. Maybe. All Charlie had was a name on a report. The journey began there - at Rose's doorstep. The two women did not like each other one bit. Eve was much older and had lived a hard, unhappy life. She was not thrilled to have trouble knocking on her door late at night. And when you dive into her character and find out what all she had to endure your heart will break. Mine did. So many times. Because the story spans across two wars and many difficult choices. The past, 1915, and the present, 1947.
Throughout this book's journey so much is discovered about Eve and her past. Why was she so bitter and angry? What made her this way? While reading Eve's timeline (1915) we learn it all. Oh my God, do we learn it all. Not a detail is left to wonder. It's all laid out for us with every turn of the page. I can honestly say I have never been so affected while reading a book. Eve's story is one of the most heartbreaking stories I have ever read, and yet, I felt so much pride for her too. She was probably the most 'real' character I have ever had the pleasure of reading. And not just her - but every single character in this book is completely real to me. I feel like I not only read a piece of our history, but that I was actually there while it happened, while it all unfolded in real time.
So many characters I fell in love with. So many of them. The Alice Network, for which Eve was a part of, is not made up. It existed. These women did so much for the war effort during WWI, made unspeakable sacrifices, suffered the likes we will never fully comprehend. They are true heroines and real events are threaded throughout this fictionalized story. I am regretful that I had never heard of the Alice Network before reading this book. But now that I have I am better for having read it and I have been forever changed.
I could talk about this book for days. There is just so much I can't discuss here in this review for fear of giving away spoilers, but I will never forget it. I will never forget a single word written. So many quotes I have read and re-read. So many scenes I think about even now and get teary eyed over. The ending was perfection. A beautiful and long-lasting friendship was forged between Charlie and Eve by the time we make it to the end. More than friendship, even. A family was formed. And I can't think of a single thing I would change. Hard to read at times, yes. But it was the hard times that made the sweet spots so much sweeter.
There is even a developing romance between these pages. While not the central focus, it was a beautiful thing to witness and I certainly didn't expect it. I was simply swept away by the entirety of the book. Every word was precious to me. Every scene so brilliantly depicted. If I had to break this book down into just one word I would say that this book is quite simply a heartbeat. It lives. It breathes. It teaches. It inspires.
It endures. And when you find out exactly what I mean by that...you will understand why I fell in love with these characters so damn hard. And maybe, just maybe, you will too.