Monthly Archives: February 2013

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

verity Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Synopsis from the publisher:
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 and failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy?

First, allow me to address the concerns of those who might shy away from this because it’s technically classified as Young Adult — Code Name Verity reads like an adult novel. The complexity of the story, the caliber of research, and the characterization of both Verity and Maddie are as well done as any adult historical fiction novel you will read this year. Read it. You’ll thank me, I promise.

Code Name Verity is a beautiful story of friendship set against the harrowing background of WWII. It explores two areas that I wasn’t really familiar with: the Air Transport Auxiliary and the Special Operations Executive, a.k.a. the spy unit. I loved learning about the civilian flight organization that ferried planes and spies for various missions, often at considerable risk, and about the intricacies of the SOE. By the end, I wanted to read through the research books that the author cited in her bibliography and learn more about these brave women.

Of course, in covering two of the riskiest branches of the war effort, the stakes would need to be pretty high, and Elizabeth Wein has absolutely no problem with conveying these stakes from the very beginning with Verity’s words: “I have two weeks…You’ll shoot me in the end no matter what I do, because that’s what you do to enemy agents.” Throughout Verity’s interrogation, where I wondered whether each dispatch was going to be her last, and then the later scenes with the Résistance in France, where the fighters were literally lurking in the Nazis’ backyard, my heart was in my throat. The twists and turns and moments where certain plot points became clear were also masterfully done.

But this story would be nothing if not for Verity and Maddie. Their story of friendship in wartime and the respect and strength each gathers from the other’s courage and bravery adds a deeply human element to everything that occurs. There were several times where I wondered if I would have the wherewithal to act as these girls did if I was thrown into their situation, and then realized that they were both younger than me.

Code Name Verity is a gripping and emotional read that will leave you weeping. I highly recommend it.

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Circles of Time by Phillip Rock

circles Circles of Time by Phillip Rock

Summary from the publisher:
A generation has been lost on the Western Front. The dead have been buried, a harsh peace forged, and the howl of shells replaced by the wail of saxophones as the Jazz Age begins. But ghosts linger—that long-ago golden summer of 1914 tugging at the memory of Martin Rilke and his British cousins, the Grevilles.

From the countess to the chauffeur, the inhabitants of Abingdon Pryory seek to forget the past and adjust their lives to a new era in which old values, social codes, and sexual mores have been irretrievably swept away. Martin Rilke throws himself into reporting, discovering unsettling political currents, as Fenton Wood-Lacy faces exile in faraway army outposts. Back at Abingdon, Charles Greville shows signs of recovery from shell shock and Alexandra is caught up in an unlikely romance. Circles of Time captures the age as these strongly drawn characters experience it, unfolding against England’s most gracious manor house, the steamy nightclubs of London’s Soho, and the despair of Germany caught in the nightmare of anarchy and inflation. Lives are renewed, new loves found, and a future of peace and happiness is glimpsed—for the moment.

I hadn’t heard of Phillip Rock or the Abingdon trilogy until a read along was announced at Book Club Girl. I had so much fun participating in the Bess Crawford read along and I was intrigued by all the comparisons between the Abingdon trilogy and Downton, so I signed up immediately.

I pretty much inhaled the first book in the series, The Passing Bells. It felt like Downton had come alive on the page, and I loved meeting the Greville family and the characters below stairs. I also enjoyed seeing the English aristocracy through the eyes of a somewhat impartial observer: the Greville’s American cousin, Martin Rilke, who ultimately becomes the narrator as World War I breaks out and the comfortable world of Abingdon is turned upside down. And I thought Rock gave a really great sense of where the war took each character, and the consequences of each journey. The only reservation I had was that some of the relationships were rushed, but with so many characters and the war and two more books coming, I was willing to let it slide.

The discussion at Book Club Girl was thought-provoking, as always, and left me more than ready to tackle Circles of Time, which is being discussed today.

Circles of Time picks up in the Roaring 20s, and people are trying desperately hard to move on from the war, even as another is brewing across the Channel. Much like on Downton, the Greville parents are trying to return to pre-war standards but are finding the world and their children too changed for such a thing to be possible. Thankfully, instead of behaving like Lord Grantham, Anthony Greville tries his best to adapt to the situation and accept the paths his children have chosen, while his wife has a much more difficult time accepting certain things, most notably Alexandra’s “unlikely romance.”

At the same time, Martin Rilke makes it over to Germany in time to witness the nascent days of the Nazi party and the failed Beer Hall Putsch of 1923. As with The Passing Bells, he gives an outsider’s perspective of the tensions bubbling under the surface in a Germany that’s being squeezed by reparation payments, but also a perspective that’s slightly affected by familial proximity, as one of his German Rilke relatives happens to be a major supporter of the fledgling Nazi party. Martin is horrified by his cousin’s politics, but, as the cousin keeps saying, it’s impossible for Martin to understand. The book leaves off on an uncertain note that is very reflective of the time.

It was nice to continue the Greville’s story, but I felt that Circles of Time lacked the character development and conflict that made The Passing Bells so interesting. It felt like everything moved a little too fast and that the story lines were a little too pat, and, again, there were certain relationships and plot lines that began but ultimately fizzled out with little explanation. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy Circles of Time — I did! I loved getting better insight into Willie, the youngest Greville, and I was so happy to see Charles come out of his shell shock, which was one of the events from the first book that really affected me. And Alex’s romance was enjoyable, and very reminiscent of Downton. I also thought Rock did a great job of conveying a sense of place, particularly the underground clubs in London’s SoHo, where flappers and bright young things danced and drank the night away, and the scenes in Germany.

The third book in the trilogy, A Future Arrived, is out today. I can’t wait to read it and find out what World War II has in store for the Grevilles.

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