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review 2017-02-05 00:55
Code Name Verity
Code Name Verity - Elizabeth Wein

I AM A COWARD

I wanted to be heroic and I pretended I was. I have always been good at pretending. I spent the first twelve years of my life playing at the Battle of Stirling Bridge with my five big brothers, and even though I am a girl they let me be William Wallace, who is supposed to be one of our ancestors, because I did the most rousing battle speeches. God, I tried hard last week. My God, I tried. But now I know I am a coward. After the ridiculous deal I made with SS-Hauptsturmführer von Linden, I know I am a coward. And I’m going to give you anything you ask, everything I can remember. Absolutely Every Last Detail.

This was impressive. I had kept putting off reading Code Name Verity because I had no idea this was a YA novel when I got it, and when I found out that it was, my heart sank.

 

However, despite my reservations and some initial concern about the voice of the narrator, I could hardly put the book down. Sure, there are things you can pick apart, but in the end this was a tough spy story - and very much an adventure story that was engaging both mind and gut. And the latter was utterly wrenched.

 

Maybe it's because I have overdosed a little on Bond recently and a spy thriller from a female perspective was just what I needed as an anti-dote, or maybe it's because Wein takes great care with details without bragging about her research, or maybe it's because it's just nice to read a story about WWII that is not all about patriotism or nationalism or the clear division of good and evil, but this was a nice change of pace from my recent encounters with espionage thrillers.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-11-05 19:25
Code Name Verity - Elizabeth Wein

The synopsis of this book didn't really intrigue me. I wouldn't have read it if it hadn't been recommended to me by a friend. I'm sorry to say I didn't end up liking it. Also, I just happened to read this at the same time as I was reading another book set in Nazi-occupied France (Sarah's Key). Weird coincidence.

The first part of the book is 203 pages and I was not buying it. The main character is a British spy who has been captured by the Nazis and is tortured until she agrees to give up everything she knows. She is then allowed to write a memoir in the process(???). Pages and pages of fluff that have nothing to do with anything. There's no way the Nazis would have put up with that waste of time. It straight-up confused me at times, as it seemed more like a diary than a confession and I thought that maybe my problem was that I was having trouble differentiating between what she was thinking and what she was actually writing for them. But no, I'm pretty sure she was supposed to have written that entire first part for the Nazis. I just couldn't believe it, and therefore, I couldn't get into the story. What's funny is that in the "Author's Debriefing", Wein said over and over that she wanted everything to be plausible and implausibility is exactly why I didn't like the book.



For the record, I did consider pretty early on the possibility that Julie is lying and not actually revealing any information to the Nazis, and I kept that in mind while I was reading. She was supposedly giving away information that would cause the deaths of countless people, so she acted ashamed of herself every once in a while, understandably. But at the same time, the way she described herself in her memoir was so cocky. It made no sense, further supporting my belief that she was BS-ing the info.

If there had been more mention of her torture, I might have believed her willingness to betray her country. If there had been more impatience from the Nazis, I might have believed her ability to write a book in order to stall for time. As it was, I was too distracted by the implausibility to enjoy the book.

Speaking of time, it seemed like she was held for a really long time and I wondered how the Nazis didn't realize at some point that she was feeding them false information. Ultimately, it's supposed to have been two weeks, if I remember correctly, so that's slightly more believable. But still, she seemed too unfazed to have been suffering torture for days.

Side note: Julie was captured because she looked the wrong way crossing the street, which seemed sketchy to me except that Wein said that actually happened to someone. How many times did I hear "Look both ways before you cross the street." when I was a growing up? Both ways. Were they not taught that back in the 1920s/30s?

Anyway, then comes the second part. I actually liked this part, so it made me angry.

I was slightly confused at first because I wasn't sure where we were on the timeline of the story when part 2 began. But the plot was much better. We find out that Julie actually hadn't told the Nazis anything, Engel is actually an ally, and we move forward in the plot to Julie's assisted suicide, which I thought was well-written. Overall, I think the insight into Julie's interview was my favorite part of the book. Je cherche la vérité.

The second part is supposed to explain/validate the first, but the first part just went on for so long, and I was so distracted and annoyed by it not making sense, that the second part can't possibly make up for it.

In addition to all that, throughout the whole book, the plane-talk (which I realize is the inspiration for the book) bored me. It wasn't continual, but it was too often to not affect my opinion of Code Name Verity. And I was often wondering how old the main characters are. Am I supposed to know? They seem like teenagers to me, but realistically, they have to be adults, right? Or older teens who have lied about their ages...

Anyway, to conclude this rant... ultimately, I like the plot a lot, but the execution of it was poor.

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text 2016-10-08 10:27
Code Name Verity - Elizabeth Wein
Code Name Verity - Elizabeth Wein

I really want to read this book, but I can't. This is the second time I have tried so hard to pick the book up but instead, have left it 50 or so pages in and not returned to it. I love the premise of the book, a story told from the point of view of a British spy captured by German forces in WWII, who recounts her events through a series of letters among other things. 

 

To be completely honest with you I'm not entirely sure what my issue is with this book. I want so badly to read it and continue on with the duology(?), but each time I go to read it I end up in a reading slump and never venture past the 100-page mark. The parts that I did read however I thoroughly enjoyed.

 

I would recommend it to anyone that is interested in historical fiction with a little bit of feminism, on the path to equal rights in a time where women were seen as incapable of doing things such as flying planes in order to defend their country. I hope to one day pick this book up again and be able to finish it and receive the full enjoyment I know I could get from this book.

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review 2016-09-27 03:01
Code Name Verity (Audiobook)
Code Name Verity (Audible Audio) - Elizabeth Wein,Lucy Gaskell,Morven Christie

I always like learning or hearing about different aspects of WWII than we're used to encountering in TV, movies and books. This book gives us a rare glimpse into what it might have been like to be a woman pilot and woman spy for the Allied forces in WWII. On that count, this is an interesting read. I also liked the friendship between Julie and Maddie, how they helped each other and depended on each other. I especially liked that they were shown to be as tough and capable as the male heroes we always hear so much about.

 

Unfortunately, the structure in which the story is told made it hard to really settle into it. I couldn't get past the thought that the Gestapo would hardly be half as patient as the ones here, who let Julie ramble on about her friend Maddie when she's supposed to be writing her confession and giving them valuable intel. Yes, there was an attempt to lampshade this, but it didn't really help in the long run. It also didn't help that the narrator for the first part of the story sounded too composed and tranquil for someone being starved and tortured. The journal style was carried into the second half, which really just made me impatient with Maddie for writing down stuff where anyone could stumble upon it. I think the plotting and pacing would've been helped by a more traditional narrative style.

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review 2016-07-09 01:10
still good
Code Name Verity - Elizabeth Wein

Re-read for July 2016 UC Book Club selection

It is pleasure to know that some books stay as good as you remember. Now, if you need me I will be the crying mess in the corner that is cursing Hollywood that this hasn't been filmed yet.


Old Review
There is something lacking in war stories that make it to television. We have great battle epics, such as appear on HBO, and we have the rescue stories that appear everywhere. Understandably the battle epics focus on men; what women appear are wives, girlfriends, mothers, nurses, victims. The rescue stories tend to focus more on women rescuers, possibly to make up for the lack of women in the battle stories. I don’t know. And this is true even when the film is not about WW II. Look at Birdsong, War Horse, Cold Mountain.

Yet, women did fight in most, if not all, of the wars. Whether it was as last line of defense, disguised as a man, as spies, in factories, as couriers, as pilots, tank drivers, or snipers; women were fighting in battle long before Congress debated whether or not it should be allowed.
I’m not sure why this gets ignored. Perhaps because the unknown stories outweigh the known ones. Perhaps because it disrupts our view of motherhood. Perhaps because being a wireless operator is less glorious than being a fighter pilot. Maybe because the women didn’t want to talk about it. But it’s been known for awhile. Shoot, The Longest Day has a woman Resistance member.
Another thing that gets downplayed or ignored is female friendship, which always takes second seat to a romance or, more often, fighting over a man. One woman is always superior, better, than the other.

So it is refreshing to read something like this book.

I swear if this book doesn’t win some award, I’ll thump someone. I’ll break legs. I’ll hunt awards committees down. I’m tired of watching good authors get passed over for stupid reasons.

Now the bookstores will tell you this book is Young Adult. That is a lie. It is a historical novel for anyone (though parents should be warned there is torture).

The book relates the experiences of Maddie and Queenie, two young women who joined various British divisions, Aircraft Aux and SOE, during WW II. It starts with Queenie writing as she is imprisoned in occupied France. She has been picked up because she looked the wrong way when crossing the street. The book is told, largely, though first person (the narrative does switch, but the voices are so different), and is a book about friendship as well as a person’s ability to do. The focus is mainly on women, though the men are not depicted as evil or misogynistic. It is such a layered and tight book, and I can’t say why because I don’t want to spoil it. If you are looking for a war torn romance, this isn’t it (a romance is hinted at).

But this book. This is a great book. From the first sentence, you are brought in. The characters, in particular Maddie and Queenie, are so real. It is like they are there before. The novel is also, in some ways, a rebuke to those stupid cat fighting television shows because the women help themselves here.

Just read it. Okay.

P.S. I’ve looked over the negative reviews, and some people do have a point. I will say, however, what they complain about is explained in the second half of the book (and Queenie is tortured for a variety of reasons even as she is writing, though this might have been corrected post ARC).

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