Friday, June 27, 2014

Review: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
May 2012 by Hyperion Books
343 pages--Goodreads

Oct. 11th, 1943-A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it's barely begun.

When "Verity" is arrested by the Gestapo, she's sure she doesn't stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she's living a spy's worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.

As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage, failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy?

There was so much hype surrounding this book.  It won a Printz honor.  Many people raved about it and gave it 5-star reviews.  It was on all the recommendation lists for a little while.  And it wasn't bad; I actually quite liked it.  But it is slow.  Very slow.  The ending is fantastic, but you have to be willing to push through the first half of the novel to get there.  I read Code Name Verity using the audiobook, which worked out quite well.  The narration was excellent and it kept me going through the less-engaging first half of the novel.

I loved how well we got to know Julie and Maddie.  This book is sometimes pitched as a spy novel, which is just misleading.  No Bond or Borne here.  This is a book about the friendship between two young women, albeit in rather dangerous circumstances, but the events of WWII take a distant back seat to the women's friendship.  And I honestly don't remember the last time I read a young adult (not middle grade or children's) novel that celebrated love between friends with absolutely no romance whatsoever getting in the way.  Though it was slow, I do appreciate the development of their relationship.

Without being gratuitous, this book is honest in its descriptions of torture, interrogation, and execution.  But with its level of violence and some strong language, it is not a book for younger readers.

This next paragraph is spoilery, so feel free to skip it.  
I can't think of the last time an author has pulled off an unreliable narrator so well.  As I read the second half of the book and realized what Julie had done, I had to keep flipping back to earlier in the novel to see how she had done it (I actually had both a physical copy in addition audiobook).  Suffice it to say, there were many "What the heck!?" moments.  And the best part is Wein tells us from the start that there would be an unreliable narrator.  She says in the first few pages that sabotage is integral to the mission of a captured combatant.  It was sort of like Michael Cane's bookend statements in The Prestige about how you look for the secret but you won't find it because you want to be fooled.  

Code Name Verity is a well-written novel with excellent characters.  It's not as fast or exciting as the hype or description implies, but if you can put in the investment, it is worth it.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Review: Stolen Songbird

Stolen Songbird by Danielle L. Jensen
April 2014 by Strange Chemistry
469 pages--Goodreads

For five centuries, a witch’s curse has bound the trolls to their city beneath the ruins of Forsaken Mountain. Time enough for their dark and nefarious magic to fade from human memory and into myth. But a prophesy has been spoken of a union with the power to set the trolls free, and when Cécile de Troyes is kidnapped and taken beneath the mountain, she learns there is far more to the myth of the trolls than she could have imagined.

Cécile has only one thing on her mind after she is brought to Trollus: escape. Only the trolls are clever, fast, and inhumanly strong. She will have to bide her time, wait for the perfect opportunity.

But something unexpected happens while she’s waiting – she begins to fall for the enigmatic troll prince to whom she has been bonded and married. She begins to make friends. And she begins to see that she may be the only hope for the half-bloods – part troll, part human creatures who are slaves to the full-blooded trolls. There is a rebellion brewing. And her prince, Tristan, the future king, is its secret leader.

As Cécile becomes involved in the intricate political games of Trollus, she becomes more than a farmer’s daughter. She becomes a princess, the hope of a people, and a witch with magic powerful enough to change Trollus forever.

I will start off by saying that ending was so much not okay.  I need book two right now.  What do you mean book two wont be out for a year and then I have to wait a whole nother year for book three?!  GAHAHGadfjaoeiwnodainvpaofiahs.

Now that I've gotten that out, I will say that I loved Stolen Songbird.  It was not a perfect book and it is not a book for everyone, but I could not put it down.  With the exception of the 30 or 40 pages I read before going to bed, I read the whole 400+ pages in one day.  Had I started later in the day or had the book been longer, I would have needed to stay awake all night to finish it to find out what happened.

This is one of the very few times a romance has taken center stage in a plot without me objecting as I read.  With many, many romances I roll my eyes at how shallow the characters are and how uninteresting their story is, but I cared about this one a lot.  And the romance didn't detract from the other important things going on.  I really wanted Tristan and Cecile to get together, and at the same time I really wanted to figure out Tristan's political machinations.  And I wanted to find out whether the rebellion would work or fail miserably.  And I loved seeing how Cecile integrated herself into Troll society 

I also loved the minor characters.  Marc, Tips, even Anais, but especially the twins.  I loved Victoria and Vincent and their good natured competitions and Cecile's friendship with them.  Along with engaging characters, Jensen presents us with a rich world with complex political and social structures without infodumping.  We are given answers just a little bit at a time as Cecile learns things or figures them out.

Stolen Songbird reminded me a lot of The Hollow Kingdom but with more adventure and romance.  And endearing characters.  And pages.  Basically take everything I liked about The Hollow Kingdom and add more of it and you get Stolen Songbird.  I did not expect to love it so much.  It is not the right book for everyone, but it was the right book for me right now.  It's full of mystery and intrigue, and I need answers.  Do you hear me, Jensen.  I need book two now!

Mini Review: Rump by Liesl Shurtliff

Rump: The True Story of Rumplestiltskin--Liesl Shurtliff
April 2013 by Alfred A Knopf Books for Young Readers
272 pages--Goodreads

In a magic kingdom where your name is your destiny, 12-year-old Rump is the butt of everyone's joke. But when he finds an old spinning wheel, his luck seems to change. Rump discovers he has a gift for spinning straw into gold. His best friend, Red Riding Hood, warns him that magic is dangerous, and she’s right. With each thread he spins, he weaves himself deeper into a curse.

To break the spell, Rump must go on a perilous quest, fighting off pixies, trolls, poison apples, and a wickedly foolish queen. The odds are against him, but with courage and friendship—and a cheeky sense of humor—he just might triumph in the end.

Rump was a cute and funny read. I enjoyed the tie-ins to other fairy tales. It was a bit too simple for me. There is some MAJOR scooby-doo-ing/villain-monologue-ing near the end of the book. And the major twist is based on Rump's real name being Rumplestiltskin, which we all know going into the story (thank you cover picture), so we all knew what was going to happen. The foreshadowing for this unsurprising twist wouldn't bother a younger audience, but it made Rump's constant worry about his name a bit tedious for me.

As a bonus, the audiobook was read by Maxwell Glick aka THE Mr. Collins of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, so that was awesome. Although, Glick used a sort of storytelling narration style that didn't quite fit with a first-person narrative, I still enjoyed listening to him read.  Cue the nostalgia.

Rump:  The True Story of Rumplestiltskin is a good quick read or bedtime story for young readers. 

P.S.--Small bone to pick with the cover:  Why is Red's hair not red?


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