Code Name Verity

Code Name Verity

Cover image for Code Name Verity
Cover image for Code Name Verity

Hello! All two of my readers. Hi! How are you? I have exciting news. Are you ready? Good.

I was wrong.

Yes, you read that right. I was wrong. I was mistaken about this novel. I said, prematurely, that I didn’t like it. But I did like it, in the end. I liked it a lot.

“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?” —Indieboung.org

I’m not sure if anyone here has read enough of my blog posts to notice, but I am a sucker for a World War II story. It honestly doesn’t even have to be a novel. I was raised by a history buff, and his favorite time period was also WWII. I remember seeing bunkers and bomb shelters when we visited London when I was 10. I enjoy hearing first-hand accounts from folks who lived through the war (though those voices are slowly being lost to us as the years pass). I enjoy movies set in the time period, even though my heart is inevitably in my throat for nearly the entire thing. So when I started this novel and I had a difficult time getting into it, I was doubly disappointed. I thought that you had to be a really big goof to ruin a story about WWII.

This novel is by no means my favorite book about this time period. It is deeply flawed. There is a lot of technical language, and I feel that, because she is a pilot herself, the author gets bogged down in the details that the rest of us do not understand. The voice of the narrator is jarring for a good bit at the beginning–full of British-isms and bravado that honestly got on my nerves a bit.

But, disheartened reader, please look past these flaws and read to the end. I cannot give you details. I cannot tell you why. I just must encourage you to please continue past your frustration and read to the end. It took me three tries to read this book, and feedback on Instagram shows that many commenters also had similar trouble finishing. But there are very few books with such a drastic turn-around. By the end, I couldn’t put this book down and had to finish it right then and there.

The characters are great. I am reluctant to give too many details, for fear of ruining the book for people, but Maddie and Queenie are both incredible and daring women for various reasons. Especially for such young women, their courage is of a sort that few who have never been to war likely ever personally witness. Even the villains, despite being despicable, are also sympathetic to a certain degree. The best characters are those that reflect the reality of humanity–namely that good and evil are rarely black and white. Wein achieves this in her characters.

This is a beautiful novel. I could live without some of the details about planes and airfields, but even the purpose of most of that is revealed by the end. The friendship between the narrator and Maddie doesn’t seem like much in the beginning, but by the end, you realize just how deep it runs, and it sort of blows you away. I won’t say I cried like a baby (like I did at the end of The Book Thief), but boy I got close. I highly recommend sticking with this one to the end. You won’t soon forget it.

The Nightingale (And Why It Matters)

The Nightingale (And Why It Matters)

The Nightingale
The Nightingale

I have never been a tremendous fan of Kristin Hannah. Before this, I never felt that her novels had much substance. They are frilly chick-lit with very little real value. The Nightingale, however, took my breath away. It is an incredible novel with a lot to say, and it highlights several parts of history that I feel deserve more attention than they have received in the past.

“In love we find out who we want to be.
In war we find out who we are.

FRANCE, 1939

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France…but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When a German captain requisitions Vianne’s home, she and her daughter must live with the enemy or lose everything. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates all around them, she is forced to make one impossible choice after another to keep her family alive.

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets Gaetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can…completely. But when he betrays her, Isabelle joins the Resistance and never looks back, risking her life time and again to save others.

With courage, grace and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah captures the epic panorama of WWII and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women’s war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France–a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime.” –Indiebound

On the surface, this is just a historical fiction novel about two sisters.  It’s not really even about the two sisters together or their relationship. Much of the novel follows both of them separately, except in the few places where their paths overlap. Set in France, it has a natural appeal for me because France is one of my favorite places in the world. I’m sure I’m not the only person who feels that way. There are so many depths and layers to the story once you delve deeper into the book. I am really pleased with Hannah for making this novel more than just another empty piece of chick-lit.

Several things set this novel apart for me. The first is that the goal of the novel is a lofty and noble one. Both of the women in the novel recognize the horror of what is happening around them. Rather than choosing the safer path of compliance, as many women understandably chose when their men were gone and their homes were invaded, both of these women live dangerous double lives in order to defend their homeland. They rely on their wits and act in the face of overwhelming danger. They stare their fear in the face and they continue onward in spite of it. Their level of courage is hard to match and it made for a really great story.

What I think is most important and enjoyable about this novel, though, is that this story is not entirely fiction. I do not know if Hannah based her story on any one person in history, but I do know that there were people in France doing exactly what these sisters were doing. One historical figure I read about reminded me so much of Vianne that I thought surely Hannah was inspired by the real woman’s story. The uncommon courage that people found within themselves during this very difficult time is inspiring.

What’s more, it changed my perception of the area and its people during the war. Growing up in the United States, we are taught, in both school and at home, that the United States were the big heroes and we saved Europe from Hitler. That might be one way of looking at it, but reading this kind of novel is important because it makes one realize just how difficult it was for the people under Hitler’s thumb to survive, let alone resist. Though my worldview has expanded drastically since I was a child in history class, I still sometimes sense those lingering prejudices and biases. Reading this novel and others (The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak is another that will alter your perceptions of people in Nazi-occupied Europe) helps to combat some of that conditioning.

Here are a few things that I already suspected, but which this novel really helped to drive home for me:

-The people of France, or anywhere else in the Axis-occupied territories, were not cowards, and they didn’t just sit around waiting to be rescued. Hitler was not recognized for the threat that he was until it was too late, and he seized his power by degrees. In hindsight, it is easy to recognize his evil, but no one truly knew or believed how bad it would eventually get. And still, people were resisting his influence from the beginning of his power.

-Not all Nazis were evil. Just because they wore the armband and followed orders doesn’t mean all of them truly subscribed to the message. Many of them resisted in any way they could while still doing the minimum necessary to protect themselves and their families.

-Women played a vital role in the war. Many didn’t wear uniforms; they didn’t fire guns; they didn’t die in trenches. But they did more than “keep the home fires burning.” They protected children. They hid those people wanted by the Nazis. They smuggled fallen pilots out of Nazi territory and kept them from being murdered or made prisoners. They risked their lives to subvert the Nazis in countless ways, and it is a relief to see some of those stories being told at last.

This is a powerful, emotional novel that packs a lot of message in just a few hundred pages. It is beautiful, it is deep, and I believe it is an important work of historical fiction–one of those that reminds us that there are many tales to be told, even when we think we’ve heard them all.

12.25–Labyrinth

12.25–Labyrinth

For those of you hoping I’d be reviewing the David Bowie movie or something along those lines, I’m sorry to disappoint you! No, this is definitely a book.

The novel jumps back and forth between 2005 southern France, and the same location in the 13th century.  Alaïs and Alice are the same person living in two entirely different times–Alaïs in the ancient past and Alice in modern France.  While volunteering at an archeological dig, Alice discovers artifacts in a cave that launch her on the path toward her destiny–a picture of a labyrinth painted on the cave wall, a stone ring, and the skeletons of two people long-deceased.  The story then takes off almost like a Dan Brown novel (a bunch of baddies going after an ancient and mystical secret and leaving a huge trail of bodies that somehow no one really notices), centered around several things, namely the quest for the Grail and the Inquisition in Europe.

In part, it was this that confused me. I didn’t particularly enjoy the novel that much, and now that I think about it, it may have been the fact that I couldn’t pin down a central focus.  The jacket text makes it seem as though it’s more about the persecution of a sect known as the Cathars in France in the 13th century, who were considered heretics by the Catholic Church and were hunted down and burned.  In reality, this is merely setting for the shadowy, secretly-embarked-upon quest for the Grail, the truth about which is known by a very small group of people.  I suppose, though, that there was too much detail about the Cathars, and it got confusing keeping track of who wanted to kill the main characters because they were heretics, and who wanted to kill them because they were the protectors of the Grail.  There was too much conflict coming from every side, and it made me go cross-eyed.

It was a decent story, but I didn’t love it.  Alaïs and the people in her time were well-written and interesting, but Alice and the modern counterparts of the people from the past were somewhat lame.  Alice herself was a bit of a bimbo, and I didn’t really feel her personality matched all of the actions she was required to take.  If it had been real life, she would have been the first to give up her secrets and die…just saying.  The bad guys, with the exception of maybe one, were also kind of…not scary.  There was no moment when I was like, “Oh no! They’ll find the Grail first!” or “Oh no, he’s actually going to kill that dude!”  It was more like, “Ok, I know exactly where this is going…” and I ended up being right.

Overall, I thought the premise and the period in history about which Mosse chose to write were interesting and unique.  I appreciated that about the novel, at least.  But the rest of it–plot, characters, believability–all fell flat for me and made it difficult to get excited about picking up the book and reading more. And those are the most important parts of the books, so that super stinks :/ Sorry guys! Hopefully the next book will be a humdinger! It’s about Doctor Who! How could it not be?

I cried when I found out he was married