Enchanted Islands

Enchanted Islands

A Novel

Book - 2016
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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 Gal#65533;pagos 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 Gal#65533;pagos 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.
Publisher: New York :, Nan A. Talese/Doubleday,, [2016]
Edition: First edition
Copyright Date: ©2016
ISBN: 9780385539067
Branch Call Number: FIC AME
Characteristics: 306 pages ; 25 cm

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r
Reads_A_Lot
Jun 26, 2017

I found this book to be a satisfying read. It's loosely based on the real life of Frances Conway from teenager to old age. It has a slow, detached style which is similar to Frances' personality. More of no-nonsense look into her life. The last half of the book is set in the Gal√°pagos Islands. I enjoyed the primitive landscape and outdoor adventure of this part of the book the most.

c
cbrigham
Apr 09, 2017

The characters were simply not believable. And the actions they took in their lives were not believable. It was as if the author said "how many different 'outcasts' can I have represented among these 3 primary characters" and made that her main premise.

The writing was fine enough, stylistically. But the plot was just utterly trite. And the interior life of a woman's mind was rather limited (love! friendship! rejection!) And I write that as a woman.

If you want a well-written autobiographical account of life on the Galapagos at this time, try Margret Wittmer's Floreana (which largely gave this author all the details for this book). Wittmer is a surprisingly good writer, and, again, it's autobiographical. And there's enough excitement in her life to make the read compelling.

ehbooklover Aug 13, 2016

I decided to read this one for two reasons: 1) the gorgeous cover and 2) the fact that it takes place in the Galapagos Islands. While the setting was evocative and beautiful at times, the book's focus was really female friendship, with the setting serving solely as backdrop. And in the end these characters were actually what kept me reading this wonderful book.

h
heidiwhat
Jul 12, 2016

Predictable. Good writing, but I didn't care about any of the characters and I didn't learn anything. Boring.

n
Novel_Librarian
Apr 09, 2016

A good read - engaging characters and a great narrative voice, plus an interesting topic. Amend works a bit off the memoirs written by Frances Conway to imagine the life that she and her husband Ainslie would have led on the Galapagos Islands before and during World War II, and then also really vividly imagines the path that would have led Frances to that moment, including a well realized female friendship. Well done.

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m
m0mmyl00
Feb 19, 2017

Spoiler alert -- I wrote this so I'll be able to remember what the book is about months from now.
Frances and her one friend Rosalie are refugees, Frances poor and Rosalie seemingly well-off. It turns out that Rosalie "helps out" with the rent by sleeping with the landlord. The two women run away together. They love each other like sisters, but Rosalie sleeps with Frances's crush and so Frances runs away, again, to another city. Eventually, she meets Ainslie and falls sort of in love with him. He becomes a spy and he marries Frances as part of his cover. They set up housekeeping on a mostly-deserted island. A German couple are there as well, and they spy on each other. Meanwhile, Frances discovers Ainslie is gay, but they love each other anyway -- just not "that" way. Their post ends, they return to the US, and Frances serendipitously runs into Rosalie, whom she has missed terribly. They become friends again, but Rosalie is rich now and they do not have much in common and run in different circles. Ainslie's homosexuality gets found out by the Navy and they send him back to the island as a way of kindly getting rid of him, then discharge him. Eventually he dies and Rosalie's husband dies, then Rosalie and Frances move together into an old-folks home.

Supposedly, this story was based partly on a true story. I found the "marriage as cover" part a bit hard to buy, and it never was really explained or acknowledged as weird. The writing was an awkward mix of vintage (in keeping with the time period of the 1920's-40's) and modern. It was an easy read and I didn't have trouble finishing it, but I wouldn't recommend it.

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