I received a free copy of Enchanted Islands for my honest review. All book links are affiliate links and if you purchase through them I will receive a small commission – it helps to keep the cats in treats.
About the Book:
Inspired by the midcentury memoirs of Frances Conway,Enchanted Islands is the dazzling story of an independent American woman whose path takes her far from her native Minnesota when she and her husband, an undercover intelligence officer, are sent to the Galápagos Islands at the brink of World War II.
Born in Duluth, Minnesota, in 1882 to immigrant parents, Frances Frankowski covets the life of her best friend, Rosalie Mendel, who has everything Fanny could wish for—money, parents who value education, and an effervescent and winning personality. When, at age fifteen, Rosalie decides they should run away to Chicago, Fanny jumps at the chance to escape her unexceptional life. But, within a year, Rosalie commits an unforgivable betrayal, inciting Frances to strike out on her own.
Decades later, the women reconnect in San Francisco and realize how widely their lives have diverged. While Rosalie is a housewife and mother, Frances works as a secretary for the Office of Naval Intelligence. There she is introduced to Ainslie Conway, an intelligence operator ten years her junior. When it’s arranged for Frances and Ainslie to marry and carry out a mission on the Galápagos Islands, the couple’s identities—already hidden from each other—are further buried under their new cover stories. No longer a lonely spinster, Frances is about to begin the most fascinating and intrigue-filled years of her life.
Amid active volcanoes, forbidding wildlife and flora, and unfriendly neighbors, Ainslie and Frances carve out a life for themselves. But the secrets they harbor from their enemies and from each other may be their undoing.
Drawing on the rich history of the early twentieth century and set against a large, colorful canvas, Enchanted Islands boldly examines the complexity of female friendship, the universal pursuit of a place to call home, and the reverberations of secrets we keep from others and from ourselves.
About the Author:
ALLISON AMEND, a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, is the author of the novels A Nearly Perfect Copy and Stations West, which was a finalist for the 2011 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature and the Oklahoma Book Award. She is also the author of the Independent Publisher’s Award-winning short story collection Things That Pass for Love. She lives in New York City where she teaches creative writing.
Is this not one of the prettiest covers for a book? One is not supposed to be influenced by a book’s cover but come on – we all are. It’s the cover that draws us to look at a book, to pick it up and read the synopsis. If I were still buying books in a book store I would have been so drawn to this book. And yes, the synopsis would have interested me too. The Galapagos Islands have a certain mystique, don’t they? It would be interesting to live there but these are far different times than those of Frances and Ainslie Conway – the real people upon whose books this fictional tale is based.
The first third of the book deals with Frances’s upbringing in Duluth and the start of her friendship with Rosalie Mendel. These two young girls form a bond that will last ’til the end of their lives but it will not always be easy between the two of them. After a horrible incident the girls runaway to Chicago where Frances gets a job as a secretary and Rosie tries to pursue acting. I don’t want to share too much of the plot but I will just note that a break happens and Frances leaves. The next time the girls meet is not for many, many years.
Frances ultimately ends up working for Navel Intelligence as a secretary after a career as a teacher and there she is offered an extraordinary opportunity; marry a man and go on a spy mission to the Galapagos Islands. This was just as Hitler was coming to power. Frances had, by this time come to the conclusion that she would never marry. She had also reconnected with Rosie who was married and very well to do. Despite the unknowns Frances agrees and off she goes with her new husband, Ainslie.
The book is written ostensibly by Frances as a memoir. It starts at the end of her life and she begins to look back. When I started it I was immediately drawn in – I really liked Frances. But as I got into the book it started to fade a little for me. The sections on the Galapagos were not as descriptive as I would have expected from a book entitled “Enchanted Islands.” I didn’t feel like I was there as I have in so many other books. I simply was not transported to any island, enchanted or not. Frances also did not seem to grow as much as one would expect from a woman who had gone through what she did.
I’m very torn about this book because overall I did enjoy it but I feel the title misled me. It was more a story about Frances and the relationships in her life – primarily with Rosie – than it was about her time on the island. It was interesting to learn that people lived on the Galapagos; I had no idea that they had human inhabitants.