The Maid: A Novel of Joan of Arc

September’s book pick was The Maid: A Novel of Joan of Arc by Kimberly Cutter. Book pick was brought by Jill.

Book Synopsis:

“Was she a saint or a witch? A visionary or a madwoman? Or an extraordinary peasant girl who, at God’s bidding, led an army, saved France, and paid the price by burning alive? . . . Kimberly Cutter’s portrait of ‘Jehanne’ as a strange, gritty teenage tomboy and true believer is compelling.” —USA Today

It is the fifteenth century, and the tumultuous Hundred Years’ War rages on. France is under siege, English soldiers tear through the countryside destroying all who cross their paths, and Charles VII, the uncrowned king, has neither the strength nor the will to rally his army. And in the quiet of her parents’ garden in Domrémy, a peasant girl sees a spangle of light and hears a powerful voice speak her name: Jehanne. 

The story of Jehanne d’Arc, the visionary and saint who believed she had been chosen by God, who led an army and saved her country, has captivated our imaginations for centuries. But the story of Jehanne—the girl whose sister was murdered by the English, who sought an escape from a violent father and a forced marriage, who taught herself to ride and to fight, and who somehow found the courage and tenacity to persuade first one, then two, then thousands to follow her—is at once thrilling, unexpected, and heartbreaking. Rich with unspoken love and battlefield valor, The Maid is a novel about the power and uncertainty of faith and the exhilarating and devastating consequences of fame. 

Book Discussion:

I think today seems like a good day for a recap!  I know you’ve all been on the edge of your seats awaiting a recap from The Maid discussion in October so here it goes.
A few of us met early at Seaboard to give Shobha a chance to visit two of the many establishments in her new town of Matthews.  Shobha was enjoying a brew (Seaboard is a brewery and wine bar/shop) when the girls from Waxhaw arrived (just a touch late).  The weather was beautiful though I had been concerned about the temperature and had multiple conversations with the staff/owner at Sante, our restaurant destination, to determine the best dining area for us.  The owner finally convinced me that dining outdoors would be lovely for the evening and I chose the back courtyard.  He was right, it was perfect weather for dining al fresco and we had the courtyard to ourselves which is always a plus.  Since I’d had so much interaction with the Sante folks already I didn’t want to be late for the reservation so Susan and I manned up, chugged our wine and headed on down the street to Sante.  
Once everyone arrived, we ordered some appetizers as usual; luckily talking Shobha out of the escargot.  Wine all around and on to The Maid.  Generally everyone knew of Joan of Arc but not much about her or why she happens to be the patron saint of France. I found the story very interesting and we had a fairly in depth discussion about whether she was delusional, or was actually sent from God on her journey.  A mixed bag of feedback there that generally followed the level of religious faith each person has.  The more faithful among us do believe God has chosen ones to do his bidding (and I truly hope if that’s the case Susan gets picked next because I’ll know then she’s not crazy); while those of us with a more minimal amount of religious faith leaned towards the crazier side of Joan’s story.  Having said that, there is no doubt that she led troops to battle, she survived a fall from high up in a castle with no injuries, turned the tide of the 100 years war and in the end was burned at the stake.  As for the words we used to describe her (per Jenn’s inquiry) Brave, Crazy, Faithful…there are others but my memory…  The book was overall thumbs up with a couple thumbs down thrown in.  On to picks, hopefully you all know by now we are reading American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins.   

The Alice Network

September’s book pick was The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. This pick was brought by D&O member Suhanti.

Book Synopsis:

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, code name Alice, 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.

Book Discussion: Recap curtesy of Shobha

Thanks to Jill stirring up old old memories, I got home with this urge to recap our evening- my first since the unfortunate incident of ‘Lolita’. And as no one was in direct firing range unlike the last time, it seemed somewhat safe to give in. 

So let’s see- 
Book: The Alice Network

Restaurant: Cafe Monte, sweet, well intentioned but slightly ditzy mostly harried server, good food, very good bread, annoyingly dim lighting which even on a non book club evenings makes it hard to see what’s on your plate so just imagine Amy trying to read questions from back of the book written in 8 point Sans Serif font. She looked like a 17th century scholar holding a candle (albeit battery operated one) over an ancient manuscript i.e. adorable. Pictures to follow soon. 

Attendees: entire East Indian wing plus one (our darling Anisha) and two third of the West. If not for Anisha’s effervescent self, East made for a sorry sight: sleep deprived Suhanthi and Hetal, nauseous and cranky because of it me. In the absence of rowdy trio, West wing was low-keyed too, basically we didn’t drive any fellow diners away which was a pleasant change. 

Discussion: Alice Network received one of the most lackluster thumbs up that I had ever seen. It was hilarious now that I think of it- we all surreptitiously looked at each other just to see who’ll raise their hand first, forget the thumb positions! Amy’s was the only decisive thumbs down done in our signature D&O spirit: she came in liking the book but discussion turned her against it. I opted for sideways -trying to make up for my above mentioned crankiness. Plus Jill called me Katie! That hit me really hard, I was devastated- verra ..verra devastated. Don’t worry- she and I made up later over our mutual love for Twilight series. 

What was wrong with the book you ask? Let me count the ways…
 
1. ‘Questions were lame‘ (Anisha), ‘These are stupid questions!’ (Amy). ‘Didn’t we just answer all that?’ (Hetal) ‘Ok, anyone has anything to say about the book?’ (Jill) to which only Karie responded-though for the life of me I can’t remember with what. 

2. Cheesy romance- skin against sweaty skin (Eve w/René), legs hooked or wrapped around (all of them at some point!) errant lock of hair (Finn), lips Iocked (Eve/Cameron) lips lingering (Finn/Charlie) lean, sleek and smooth (René)

3. Disappointing leads- Jill and I hoped that besides Finn & Cameron aka Uncle Edward, René may turn out to be another romantic but flawed hero (he was good looking, excellent and surprisingly not so pervy in bed) ‘He satisfied her sexually!.’ (Suhanthi- cutting to the chase, always bluntly apt). We also thought maybe Charlie’s mom and/or aunt will turn out to have some connections to Alice Network -somehow tying in those infamous pearls as well. That didn’t happen. 

4. Lili’s mischievous smile/look over her shoulder in EV-UH-REE situation- on being told Eve had betrayed her, at the check points, over Eve’s sleeping with Rene, being dragged by the German officers- there was no end to her optimism and flirty French-ness. Then it was Rose’s rosy cheeks, blond hair, impish look, white summer dresses.. goddamn Yank, daisy, my pet, C-words thrown around, pansy, och lass, bonny wee, so on and so on —-ad nauseam, ad infinitum. 

5.  Lack of any secondary characters or sense of place other than maybe old lady outside the burned down church which apparently is word for word from her actual testimony.On a side note- Epilogue/ Author’s note made for much more interesting read. 

6. Clichéd and neatly tied up ending(s)- Eve not being the betrayer, Violette forgiving Eve,  René‘s hand smashed with the same Baudelaire bust, René killed symbolically by Eve, the perfect ever-after with perfect car and grandma’s pearls for Finn and Charlie (a cincher for Amy’s thumb down verdict), pleased and fluttering parents courtesy of car/pearls (to think it took Lord Grantham a whole season and half to accept Tom the chauffeur- but then he didn’t have a Bentley. Or pearls), Eve’s perfect job as a game hunter because killing René and being a spy made her realize how much she ‘liked to stalk, hunt and kill dangerous things’…
‘so random!’ (Anisha) and lots of eye rolls at that end of the table. 
Other than that and incomprehensible reason for all of them settling down in the dreaded town of Grasse (‘Why???’ -Anisha) everything else was fine. I highly recommend reading it, you get yo appreciate books like Lolita, Suite Francaise all the more for it. 

Our next book is The Tale of Halcyon Crane by Wendy Webb. 
We should find some haunted house to discuss it- that’ll be so much fun!

xoxo

SR