Back to the fiction world for today’s set of mini-reviews! Today I’ll be reviewing The Rose Code by Kate Quinn and Passing by Nella Larson.
The Rose Code by Kate Quinn
About the Book
Title: The Rose Code
Author: Kate Quinn
Genre: historical fiction, historical mystery
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
“She didn’t want a calmed, soothed mind; she wanted impossible work that her brain converted to the possible by the simple process of wringing itself inside out until the job was done.“
“It’s odds to make you weep, which is why we must think of it as a game. To do otherwise is sheer madness.”
The Rose Code is another one of those dual-timeline historical fiction books, but it manages to stay unique and interesting. It follows three women: wealthy and magnetic debutante Osla, independent and tenacious Mab, and shy but brilliant Beth, who become friends after they are recruited to crack German codes at Bletchley Park. The first timeline follows the budding friendships between the women, their codebreaking work, and (*sigh*) their romantic relationships.
The second timeline starts in 1947, and to say the least, something has gone very wrong. The war is over, but Mab and Osla despise each other and Beth has been locked in an insane asylum for three years. She has to find a way to escape, find her former friends and confront the secrets of their pasts before it’s too late.
I definitely had mixed feelings about this book, but it was overall enjoyable. I felt pretty attached to the characters, and the story, especially at the beginning, was really interesting. There were a few twists that surprised me, it didn’t feel anachronistic at all and I felt like I was immersed in the time period. I also liked the writing and I was highlighting a lot of quotable lines.
And the character development! All three of the main characters were well-developed and memorable; none of them blended together (an impressive feat for a dual timeline, triple POV novel!) And speaking of character development: throughout the course of the story, I went from completely hating Beth to really sympathizing with Beth. She ended up being the most relatable character for me, even though she annoyed me at the beginning of the book.
I was glad to learn more about Bletchley Park and I loved how there were cameos of real historical figures. I’m really interested in cryptography, and it was great. (the CS nerd in me wanted to hear more about Alan Turing though!)
I did not give The Rose Code five stars though, for a few reasons. Though the book was long (over 500 pages, I believe), it seemed like everything was resolved a bit too quickly at the end. There was also a lot of romance in the middle part of the book, which dragged out the story (I don’t much like reading romance, and when I do I prefer clean romance which this was… not.)
Passing by Nella Larson
Author: Nella Larson
Rating: 4/5 stars
“But she did not look the future in the face. She wanted to feel nothing, to think nothing; simply to believe that it was all silly invention on her part. Yet she could not. Not quite.”
Irene Redfield is a black woman with a comfortable life in Harlem with her husband and children. But when she has a chance run-in with an old childhood friend, Clare Kendry, the delicate balance of her life is threatened. She learns that Clare, who has a light complexion, has been “passing” as white for years: leaving her community behind and living as a white woman.
Happy to become reacquainted with her past, Clare begins spending more time with Irene: attending parties and social events with Harlem’s black population, and she is playing a dangerous game: Clare’s husband, who has no idea of her true background, is very racist.
As tensions rise between the two women, Clare’s secret is caught in the balance.
Passing was on my school reading list (one of the books I would have read in junior year if we hadn’t been online), and I really enjoyed it. Larson’s writing is absolutely beautiful, and the writing flowed even when the book had more of a quiet, slow pace.
She also did a great job getting the reader into Irene’s head. Throughout the book, the reader witnesses Irene’s inner monologues and dialogues and is able to watch her think through moral dilemmas and evolve as the story progresses.
“The trouble with Clare was, not only that she wanted to have her cake and eat it too, but that she wanted to nibble at the cakes of other folk as well.”
The tone of the book is pretty dark, as well, and… that ending though. This is a spoiler-free review, so you’ll just have to read it yourself.
There were so many themes packed into such a short (slightly more than 100 pages) book: jealousy, racism, identity, community, family life…. I just wish I had been able to discuss it with my class.
That’s it for today’s mini-reviews post! Have you read either of these books? What are some of your favorite historical fiction/classic books?
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Classical music piece of the day: Satie- Gnossienne 1