Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein.
“I AM A COWARD,” begins Verity. “I wanted to be heroic and I pretended I was. I have always been good at pretending.”
“Verity” has been captured in a town in France because she looked the wrong way crossing the road, crashing into a truck right outside Gestapo headquarters in 1943. So, she’s not the most talented spy the British have ever seen then, or is she? Tortured by Gestapo Captain von Linden and his underlings, Verity has cracked under the intense pressure, and agreed to give up British war secrets in exchange for her clothes (”The warmth and dignity of my flannel skirt and woolly jumper are worth far more to me now than patriotism or integrity”). She tells her story on recipe cards, music scores and doctor’s prescription forms, gradually revealing the truth about herself, the British espionage effort, and her best friend Maddie – who flew her across the Channel to begin her short-lived mission – all the time loathing herself for her cowardice, and being loathed by her fellow prisoners. Her story reaches its stressful conclusion about half way into the novel, and I shall say no more!
Except, Code Name Verity is an awesome World War II espionage novel. ”Verity” is a wonderfully unreliable narrator (would you trust a spy?), and her story is of two heroic young women who throw themselves headlong into the war with unexpected and frightening consequences. Bring your hankie, or two.
Elizabeth Wein has said this novel was inspired by her research into female pilots in World War II (as a pilot herself – cool! – she wondered what role she could have played), and you can read about her other literary inspirations for the story in this Book Smugglers post here.
If you’re also interested in reading more about women’s participation in World War II (the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, for example), then here are some titles.
Also, Flygirl by Sherri L Smith is about an African American woman who pretends to be white in order to be accepted into the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASP).
Bitterblue has been Queen of Monsea for eight years when the novel opens. Being Queen of Monsea, in practice, means struggling under a great weight of paperwork supplied by her trusted advisors, who assure her that it is indeed essential to the running of her kingdom. It also means she is isolated from her friends (who are busy overthrowing kings in other countries), and increasingly frustrated by how little she knows about Bitterblue City and Monsea. It is hardly surprising then, when one night she snatches the opportunity to escape the castle and explore the streets in disguise, finding herself drawn to a pub where a storyteller has his audience enthralled.
This begins an intricate journey of discovery for Bitterblue and the people of Monsea, who have been kept from the truth first by Leck (Bitterblue’s heinous father, as seen in Graceling and Fire), and then by a misguided assumption that sweeping things under the carpet and quietly moving on is the best way of dealing with attrocities. Bitterblue is about secrets, lies, and the truth that slowly wangles its way out of hiding. (And also adventure and romance.)
Bitterblue is a quiet, page-turning read. There’s a large cast of characters, all with strengths and weaknesses – it’s hard to separate the goodies from the baddies, which is mostly the point. Bitterblue herself differs from Kristin Cashore’s other two heroines (Katsa and Fire), in that she doesn’t have a special power and isn’t (she thinks) particularly beautiful (describing herself as being built like an eggplant), but she does have a large amount of pluck and courage and wit, proving that you don’t have to be magic to be strong, and being strong is an admirable quality in a heroine.
Apart from being a great story, Bitterblue has some other features:
The Catastrophic History of You and Me, Jess Rothenberg
Dying of a broken heart is just the beginning – Welcome to forever! This enchanting story of 16 year-old Brie starts with her dying and being catapulting into the afterlife. This novel is inspirational, heart wrenching, romantic and difficult to put down. Brie is a relatable and charismatic character who is journeying through the 5 stages of acceptance, with a little help from the charming, off- beat, and gorgeous Patrick who is a resident lost soul. With soaring highs and bottomless lows, this story takes you on the roller coaster ride of the afterlife, in novel which is called “gorgeous, funny and heart-breaking” by Lauren Oliver (New York Times best seller, and writer of Before I Fall). The Catastrophic History of You and Me is a novel I highly recommend.
~ Katie, Churton Park
Set after a war where most adults have been killed by a biologogical weapon, the people remaining are mostly either children or teenagers (Starters) or the elderly (Enders). The Starters are unable to work and if an adult doesn’t claim them they can’t get accommodation, and can be arrested if they are caught. Enders are at the other end of the scale. They have health care to keep them alive until well into their hundreds, near limitless wealth and live in huge mansions.
Callie lives in an abandoned building with her friend Michael and her younger brother Tyler. Tyler is only seven, and unwell but they have no access to any kind of health care and no way of getting help. However, Callie has heard of one way she might be able to earn enough to get them a house and some safety. Prime Destinations run a body bank where Enders can rent the bodies of Starters, be young again, play sports, all that sort of thing. Callie should be asleep while the Ender is having fun being her, but the chip used to control her is defective and she wakes up to find out that the Ender who hired her wasn’t just planning on playing tennis or going dancing – she wants to use Callie’s body to kill someone.
Lissa Price’s blog is here.
Where Things Come Back, John Corey Whaley
I can’t remember the last time I got so much enjoyment out of a book!
Where Things Come Back is made up of two separate narratives which eventually come together in a way I never expected. The first narrative is that of 17 year old Cullen Witter, whose widely-liked younger brother suddenly disappears. While his brother’s disappearance is in the forefront of his mind, the people of the small town he lives in are obsessed with the alleged sighting of a Lazarus Woodpecker, a bird not seen in the area for more than 50 years. The other narrative follows Benton Sage, a young university student who takes up a position as a missionary in Africa but loses his faith and any sense of meaning in his life along the way. It’s very well written and the multiple storylines are interwoven carefully. One issue I had was the narrative perspective change towards the end which came out of the blue. It took me four pages to click to what was going on before I realised it was something clever. There are a lot of smart, witty and heartfelt observations throughout the book as well as a lot of elements to the story, so I look forward to reading it over again.
I really can’t recommend this book enough!
Grave Mercy, Robin LaFevers
Ismae is a peasant girl living in 15th Century Brittany. Just after her wedding to a violent pig farmer, Ismae is rescued by the herbwitch who tried to poison her before she was born (but you wouldn’t quibble: the pig farmer is horrid) and whisked away to a mysterious convent. The sisters of the convent of St Mortain aren’t your average nuns. Mortain is merely masquerading as a saint: he’s an ancient god; Death, actually. Ismae is, she learns, a daughter of Mortain; immune to poison and with a natural gift for killing, and the sisters are assassins, using their skills to ensure the Duchy of Brittany remains independant from the looming, malignant France.
That’s basically the background to Grave Mercy, the first book in the His Fair Assassin series, which is getting great reviews from the lofty New York Times to blogger-reviewers, like here or here. I read the whole book in pretty much a day. It’s an action-packed historical novel with some romance, mystical magic, and a few gory endings, and I liked it!
The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, by Michelle Hodkin
How is it that Mara escaped the totally destroyed building with a sore head and all her friends died? Who bashed in the head of that dog-beating hulk of a man near her school? What strange things are happening to the wildlife in their new home town? So many alligators dead all at once! Could these incidents be related? And why does she have to be attracted to the best looking guy at school who can only mean trouble!
A strange and haunting tale of life with amnesia and self discovery.
Candor, by Pam Bachorz
A perfect town, with perfect people. Teenagers who love doing their homework, who never, ever do anything their parents don’t want and always get to class on time. And then they get perfect marks. Except the most perfect person knows why everything is like this. And he has the power to change it. If you liked the Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness or Juno of Taris by Fleur Beale then you should put this on your reading list. Good read, great ending.
Accidental empires, by Robert X Cringley
The story (or one version of it anyway) of how the personal computer, Microsoft, silicon valley etc all got started, nearly didn’t get anywhere and how most of it wasn’t really all that planned. At all. If you like reading non-fiction or enjoyed The Social Network, then this will be a fun read.
The Wish List, by Eoin Colfer
Meg Finn is killed in the middle of helping steal from an old man. But there’s a problem. She’s done some bad things. But then she’s also done some good things as well. So with her perfectly balanced between them Heaven and Hell are both trying to push her over the line to their side. She has one last chance to redeem herself by helping the old man she tried to rob with his wish list. Four wishes, limited time and both Heaven and Hell are breaking the rules. I’d recommend this to younger teens – maybe 13 or so. You’ll probably still enjoy it if you’re older though – I did!
Clay / David Almond – I have enjoyed David Almond’s books such as Skellig and Kit’s Wilderness because the stories and characters are so gripping and Clay was no exception. The story is told by Davie, a teenage boy. Davie is an altar boy, along with his best mate Geordie, and they make money at funerals and hang out together in their hideout plotting out the next attack on a rival gang of boys. Apart from the threat of Mouldy, the leader of the rival gang of boys, (a boy as big as a man and often reeking of beer who seems to take their battles too far) theirs seems a comfortable, naive existence.
Then Stephen Rose moves in with his aunt “Crazy Mary”. Stephen Rose was sent away to train as a priest at 11 years old but was thrown out and returned to his parents. Shortly afterwards his mother father died and his mother went mad.
Davie’s mum and the priest encourage him to make friends with this lonely boy who has come to the village in such tragic circumstances. Stephen has a gift for making beautiful creatures out of clay. He loves clay because it is “alive” – it’s the material from which God shaped Adam and the silky suppleness of wet clay is malleable like the human skin.
This book, like the others, is grounded in the real world. Because the world and the relationships between the characters and everything is so real it is easy to enter fully and I think it is the whole-hearted acceptance of the world which makes the supernatural events as they emerge (so slowly like a dripping tap) so unsettling.
The story is interesting for the dynamics of the relationships between all the characters and the movement from innocence to terrible knowledge. The book explores ideas of power of creation, the right of creation, good and evil, revenge …
I would recommend this book to: people who like realism with a bit of the fantastical (but incredibly believable) thrown in and also books like the Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War which explore the dynamics of human relationships and power struggles.
The main characters in the book are boys but I think it is suitable for girls as well.
I would also recommend this as something different to try for people who like gritty books like Precious as I think, although it enters into fantasy, it carries the same intensity and delves similarly into human relationships and power struggles. I would also potentially recommend it to vampire book lovers because Stephen Rose definitely has the makings of an undead hero. I think people who enjoyed Abssynia and The Red Shoes etc. by Ursuala Dubosarsky would enjoy these.
My name is Mina / David Almond – This is a new book by David Almond. It is a diary by Mina, a strange and creative girl who doesn’t quite fit in with school and other kids. The book has a bold format which is part of the storytelling style. It was more difficult to just lose myself in this story compared to other books written by David Almond because the character,rather than the narrative, is given central stage. Also perhaps this story is less about relationships between people than it is about what is going inside the head of one central character. This, however, is just because of my personal preference of how to enjoy a story; I’m not that great at reading graphic novels and I’m not a patient reader so I don’t enjoy picking and piecing out all the bits and pieces of a story. At the same time the story has stuck with me and I keep going back and puzzling over bits I didn’t quite understand.
What I didn’t realize until I read someone else’s review of this book, which is pretty obvious (except I’m no good at remembering character names) that this is Mina from Skellig before she meets Michael (she meets him right at the end of the book, he is the new boy who has moved in next door so this is a prequel to Skellig)
Because this is a very visual book I would recommend this to people who like reading graphic novels (although it plays more with font rather than illustration) and also books like Shaun Tan’s The Arrival. I would also recommend it to people who enjoyed Sophie’s World because of the slightly disjointed way the story is put forward – you sort of need to piece it together – and also the way philosophical thought and ideas are explored in the book. Maybe also people who enjoy reading diary formats. Also I think again readers of Ursuala Dubosarsky’s books and particularly people who enjoyed Abyssinia would enjoy this book.
Skulduggery Pleasant. Books one to five, all written by the Golden God (as he calls himself on his blog) Derek Landy.
If you’re looking for them they won’t be in the YA area, they’re actually in with the kids books. But that’s really not a good reason for not reading them. These are, in all honesty, the best series of books that I’ve read recently. They’re about a skeleton detective, and a girl called Stephanie. Lots of magic, crazy action, bad guys, good guys, girls who beat up bad guys and general world saving happens. If you like any kind of fantasy or action books, this is a good choice to pick up next.
Here’s the trailer for the most recent book Mortal Coil:
And, if you are already a fan and like me counting down until the next one comes out, Derek Landy blogs over here. Sometimes there are photos of kittens, if you need any incentive to go visit. Otherwise expect ramblings, fanfic reviews, photos and interviews. Unfortunately the rumour that there will be a movie is still at the one day there may be a movie stage, but the next book should still be out on schedule in August/September this year.