Tag Archives: Kate Quinn

#BookReview ‘The Diamond Eye’ by @KateQuinnAuthor #WW2

What a wonderful book is The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn. The fictionalised story of a real Soviet female sniper fighting in what is now Ukraine in the early years of the Second World War, this is a novel I didn’t want to put down. Kate QuinnThe life of Kiev resident Mila Pavlichenko, young mother and history student, changes when the Nazis invade. Already an accomplished shot with a rifle, she leaves her young son Slavka with her mother and goes off to war. In the 18 months of her time on the frontline as a sniper, the real Mila scored 309 official ‘kills’. She is injured fighting in Sevastapol and, once recovered, is ordered to join a diplomatic mission to the USA to persuade the Americans to join the European war. The action in America is probably the most fictionalised part of The Diamond Eye which is based in part on Mila’s memoir. Quinn states in her Author’s Note that parts of the memoir are clearly Mila’s own voice, other entries seem like Soviet propaganda.
This is not just a war story with guns and death and trenches. Quinn tells the story of a young woman, torn from all that is familiar, who finds strength inside herself and with her comrade snipers, to do what must be done. Some of her fellow soldiers have brief times at her side; others, the most skilled snipers, survive. She discovers how difficult it is, when you know you may die tomorrow, to open yourself up to friendship, or love. She acquires a nickname, ‘Lady Death,’ and spurns the frequent attentions of her senior officers. Her girlfriends also volunteer, her estranged husband turns up as a combat surgeon, but there are few light moments in her life. Her primary motivation is to defend her homeland, that is the only thing keeping her away from home. Between missions she gathers leaves and sends them to Slavka, she carries her dissertation with her and takes it from her backpack to read to remember the life she once had. Quinn alternates the dark story of Mila’s fighting, first at Odesa and then at Sevastapol, with her later trip to Washington in 1942 plus excerpts from the diary of the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, who Mila met on that trip.
This is a shocking story and a compelling one. The sections about sniper technique and tactics are not for the faint-hearted but the current war in Ukraine adds a reality check and there are light-hearted moments in Washington as Mila meets the American press, not alerting her hosts to the fact that she can speak English. Also lightly woven through the fighting sections are snippets of Russian folklore, a reminder that Mila’s country has roots and traditions much older than the Soviet Union.
Quinn creates a heroine we care for. Brave and determined with a sharp edge of sarcasm, this is Mila’s story as imagined by the author. The two parts of the story – the fighting, the subsequent trip to America – are key to the growth of an unusual and exceptional young woman. So what if the final section lurches into ‘thriller’ territory, it made the pages turn even faster.
Highly recommended.

And here’s my review of THE ROSE CODE, another WW2 thriller by Kate Quinn.

If you like this, try:-
‘The Bear and the Nightingale’ by Katherine Arden [#1 Winternight trilogy]
Midnight in Europe’ by Alan Furst
Corpus’ by Rory Clements [#1 Tom Wilde series]

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE DIAMOND EYE by @KateQuinnAuthor #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5QW via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘The Rose Code’ by @KateQuinnAuthor #WW2 #Bletchley

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn is the first book I’ve read by this author. I was drawn in by the WW2 setting and promise of mystery, but it’s much more than that. There are two timelines; 1947 as the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth approaches, and 1939 at the outbreak of war. At its centre are three young women who don’t quite fit into their worlds. War introduces something new to their lives. Opportunity. Advancement. Recognition. Friendship. Home. Kate QuinnMabs has grown up in Shoreditch but longs to escape. She follows her own plan of improvement – reading the classics, copying the accents of assistants in upper class shops – with the long-term aim of rescuing her younger sister Lucy from poverty. Osla is a Canadian society girl, rich, pretty, labelled as a dim deb who trains as a riveter to make Hurricanes. Both have mysterious interviews and are sent on a train journey to ‘Station X’. This turns out to be a large country mansion – Bletchley Park – where secret war work is undertaken. Both must sign the Official Secrets Act before they are admitted. At their lodgings, they meet Beth, downtrodden daughter of their strict religious landlady Mrs Finch.
Beth’s skill at crosswords is recognised and soon all three girls are working at ‘BP’. In their jobs – typing, translating, decoding – the three girls get to know each other and, despite the rules of secrecy, they learn how gossip inside ‘BP’ works. Soon they are promoted, learning top secret information before it is transmitted to government, before even Churchill. And with knowledge comes power, and danger.
We follow the three through romances – Osla with young naval officer, Prince Philip of Greece – and bombings. There is something to like and dislike about each woman making them realistic, rounded characters. Mab was my favourite, Osla slightly irritating, while Beth changes the most throughout the course of the book. The 1947 strand becomes a hunt for a traitor as the Cold War gets colder and a former WW2 ally becomes the enemy. The girls must revisit their wartime secrets to question the nature of truth and loyalty, to each other and to their country.
The Second World War is often thought of as a time of liberation for women doing the jobs of men and in some ways it was; but Quinn shows this was a transitory advantage – temporary, class driven, certain jobs only – and women were still ultimately dependant on a man in so many ways. As the women look back at their former lives we see how much, and how little, has changed for them.
Some of the coding puzzles went straight over my head but that didn’t really matter. The Bletchley setting is great, the gossip of the weekly scandal rag, the familiar names dropped – Alan Turing, Joan Clarke – the book club and 3am kidneys on toast. I’m not sure the 1947 royal wedding deadline adds much to the narrative, there’s enough threat without it. As I was getting towards the end of the book and was interrupted, I snatched up the book again at the next possible opportunity.

If you like this, try:-
Life After Life’ by Kate Atkinson
Another You’ by Jane Cable
Life Class’ by Pat Barker

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE ROSE CODE by @KateQuinnAuthor #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5lQ via @SandraDanby