Enchanted Islands by Allison Amend

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Sometimes you pick up a book thinking it’s going to be about one thing, and then it turns out that the story is actually about a completely different journey.  At times these surprise novels turn into disappointing reads, but in this case I lucked out, and it resulted in a surprising new favorite read of 2016!  Let’s discuss…

What’s it All About?

Despite the title, there are no Enchanted Islands until page 154.  Instead, this story opens up with two women, Frances Conway (who was a real person) and her friend Rosalie in their nursing home.  The women have been friends since childhood; however, Frances has a secret about her past when she and her husband lived in the Galapagos Islands.  The story is then told in flashback of Frances’ life and the adventures and events that shaped her character.

We watch her Jewish childhood in Duluth, Minnesota.  Frances is bookish and introspective, a trait that shapes much of her decisions in life.  Frances’ family, though affectionate, are relatively poor and need her to work instead of continuing on with school.  Frances’ best friend, Rosalie, is the daughter of wealthy parents and lives a seemingly enchanted life, though later we find out that it comes at a price.  Eventually the girls escape to Chicago for a time, before going their separate ways. Frances lives in a few different places before settling in San Francisco, and years later is reunited with her old friend Rosalie, who also happened to move there.  All of this happens before Frances’ future husband, Ainslee Conway (also a real-life person in history) and the navy intelligence becomes a part of her life.

Frances quickly becomes a part of an operation based in the Galapagos Islands to watch the activities of German residents in this remote area of the world.  She is assigned to Frances as his “wife,” though their relationship gets complicated during their time of farming, exploring, and spying in Floreana.

The Nitty Gritty

Don’t expect some page-turning thriller novel (though I did fly through this book).  This novel is instead an in-depth character study of introverted people and their relationships to others in a war-torn world.  In it, allegiances are blurred and love is defined in multiple terms and shades.  It also grapples with the idea of secrets we all keep, even from those closest to us, even to those that have known us our entire lives.  Although I was shocked at first that the book was of such a different genre from what I was expecting, it by no means disappointed me.  I loved going through the emotions of hurt, anger, infatuation, betrayal, etc. as each scene passed.

I’m also determined to read the real-life memoirs of Frances and Ainslee Conway, as they sound like absolutely fascinating people.

Final Verdict: Slay or Nay?

100% SLAY.  It is an absolutely beautiful and compelling novel.  Savor each chapter.

5/5 Stars from this reader

 

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