Sunday, August 19, 2012

REVIEW: Code Name Verity

Wein, E.  (2012).  Code Name Verity.  New York:  Hyperion.

333 pages.

When it came to choosing to read Code Name Verity, descriptions of the story didn't really win me over.  I imagined the humorless drama, angst, and depictions of the horrors of war I usually associate with historical war fiction.  And I wasn't exactly feeling it.  But then there were sooooo many recommendations to read it, I sighed and climbed off my judgmental high chair to read it.

I'm glad I did.  Because within the first few pages, although some of horrors of war are certainly present, I found myself chuckling--actually chuckling--at some of the protagonists' narration.

What a wonderful surprise.

Appetizer:  Scottie has been captured by the Gestapo in France in 1943 two days after the Allied plane that carried her there crashed.  Unlike some of the other Allied prisoners being held with her, she takes the "easy route" and immediately reveals what few secrets she knows.  Ordered to write her confessions for the Gestapo, Scottie shares about her past leading up to the war and about Maddie; the friend she flew to France with and the girl who led her to this point.

Scottie's confessions reveal her tortures, fears, frustrations, as well as her passions and her intelligence as she awaits her fate.

I was rather surprised when Code Name Verity switched to explore another character's point of view about two-thirds of the way through the novel.  I have to admit, despite the dark realities Scottie faced, I would have happily faced them by continuing to read from her point of view.  I actually put the book down for several days, it took me by that much of surprise to have to read another character's story. (although, this change in point of view proves essential to reveal Scottie's true nature as well as the strength of her friendship with Maddie.)

Another difficulty I had was the way that the topic suddenly switched or the way Verity would be recording about her past then suddenly switch to insult her captors.  It could be a little off-putting, especially for struggling readers.

Despite these issues (which may solely be mine), I hope history teachers will consider assigning Code Name Verity in their classes; either as a whole class read or as an optional read.  It does a wonderful job of revealing women's roles in World War II as well as showing the terrible conditions and tortures that spies and prisoners of war faced.  It would also make a great recommendation for students passionate about airplanes or flying.

Assign it, teachers!  Assign it!

Read it, young adults!  Read it!

Dinner Conversation:

"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 rousing battle speeches." (p. 3)

"I'm just damned.  I am utterly and completely damned.  You'll shoot me at the end no matter what I do, because that's what you do to enemy agents.  It's what we do to enemy agents.  After I write this confession, if you don't shoot me and I ever make it home, I'll be tried and shot as a collaborator anyway.  But I look at all the dark and twisted roads ahead and this is the easy one, the obvious one.  What's in my future--a tin of kerosene poured down my throat and a match held to my lips?  Scalpel and acid, like the Resistance boy who won't talk?  My living skeleton packed up in a cattle wagon with two hundred desperate others, carted off God knows where to die of thirst before we get there?  No.  I'm not traveling those roads.  This is the easiest.  The others are too frightening even to look down." (p. 5)

"You really think I know a damned thing about where the Allies are planning to launch their invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe?  I am a Special Operations Executive because I can speak French and German and am good at making up stories, and I am a prisoner in the Ormaie Gestapo HQ because I have no sense of direction whatsoever.  Bearing in mind that the people who trained me encouraged my blissful ignorance of airfields just so I couldn't tell you such a thing if you did catch me, and not forgetting that I wasn't even told the name of the airfield we took off from when I came here:  let me remind you that I had been in France less than 48 hours before that obliging agent of yours had to stop me being run over by a French van  full of French chickens because I'd looked the wrong way before crossing the street.  Which shows how cunning the Gestapo are.  'This person I've pulled from beneath the wheels of certain death was expecting traffic to travel on the left side of the road.  Therefore she must be British, and is likely to have parachuted into Nazi-occupied France out of an Allied plane.  I shall now arrest her as a spy.'" (p. 6)

"And the story of how I came to be here starts with Maddie.  I don't think I'll ever know how I ended up carrying her National Registration card and pilot's license instead of my own ID when you picked me up, but if I tell you about Maddie you'll understand why we flew here together." (p. 7)

"There are a few more types of aircraft that I know, but what comes to mind is the Lysander.  That is the plane Maddie was flying when she dropped me here.  She was actually supposed to land the plane, not dump me out of it in the air.  We got fired at on the way in, and for a while the ail was in flames and she couldn't control it properly, and she made me bail out before she tried to land.  I didn't see her come down.  But you showed me the photos you took at the site, so I know she has crashed an airplane by now.  Still, you can hardly blame it on the pilot when her plane gets hit by antiaircraft fire." (p. 14)

Tasty Rating:  !!!!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

REVIEW: The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee "Either be a wimp or a Wookiee"

Angleberger, T.  (2012).  The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee.  New York:  Abrams.

190 pages.

Appetizer:  Dwight is gone and the other kids at McQuarrie Middle School are left wondering who is the weirdest kid in school without him and how they can receive the wise advice that Dwight's Origami Yoda used to provide.

When Sara, Dwight's neighbor, arrives at school with a Chewbacca cootie catcher and a Han Foldo to translate the Wookiee, the students learn that they once again have a guide to help them deal with the stresses of middle school, but Tommy is intent on finding a way to bring Dwight back to McQuarrie Middle.

I'm in love with this series.  Have been for awhile now.  Angleberger gets kids and gets the social interactions of people in a school.  Highlights for this book include having a librarian-hero who makes sure to provide students with books that will be of interest to them, Tommy's realization about why Harvey makes the comments he does, new love interest for Kellan, a reliance upon the wisdom of girls and a growing tension about education--both in terms of emphasizing teaching to testing over encouraging artistic development and in terms of a school dynamic that while welcoming, may crush individuality.

I look forward to the next book to see how the students will resist their Principal Rabbski's regime changes:

At one point, one of the characters mention dancing wookiees on youtube.  This got me sidetracked for a little while:

You're welcome.

Does anyone else have the Star Wars theme stuck in his or her head?  I do.

Alas, I cannot watch any of the movies, since they are currently in a moving truck.  I guess I'll just have to keep humming to myself.

Dinner Conversation:

"Every case file begins with a question...The first time it was "Is Origami Yoda real?" Then "Will Darth Paper destroy Origami Yoda?"
It looked like THIS case fill was going tot start--and end--with the question:
How can you have a case file without Dwight?
Because Dwight's the guy who made Origami Yoda in the first place.  And it was Origami Yoda who made so much interesting stuff happen that was worth investigating." (p. 1)

"'Hey, guys!' called Sara, as she headed for our table.  "Check this out!"
She held up this weird thing.  It was sort of like an origami finger puppet.  But it sure wasn't Yoda--it was brown.
All of a sudden, it opened its mouth.
"Holy furballs!" said Kellen.  "It's Chewbacca!"
"Yeah!" said Sara.  "Dwight made it for us.  He yelled at me from his bedroom window while I was waiting for the bus this morning.  Then he threw it down to me in a plastic baggie."
"Do it again!" said Kellen.
"Mmmrrrgggggg!" went Sara, opening Chewie's mouth.  There were fangs in there!" (pp. 6-7)


Tasty Rating:

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Audiobook Review: The Selection (Like The Bachelor...or a prissier version of The Hunger Games)

Sorry I haven't been posting much.

I got a new job that requires me to move across the country.  Between planning new syllabi, searching for a new apartment, packing boxes, and dealing with my cats' psychoses caused by any major change, I haven't had much time to read or post.

I have, however, had the time to listen to audiobooks!

Taking a break from George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, I decided to listen to The Selection by Kiera Cass.

Appetizer:  America and her family are members of the caste of artists in their society.  This means they're better off than servants, but still sometimes go hungry when they are not able to entertain the richer members of the second and third castes.

When America receives one of the invitations sent to all female members of the society who might be considered to marry the prince, she immediately wants nothing to do with the selection of the country's new princess.  But her mother, a social climber that reminded me of Mrs. Bennett from Pride & Prejudice, and her secret boyfriend from a lower caste, Aspen, both insist she apply at the chance to improve her life.

America soon learns that she made the initial cut and is sent off to the capital with 34 other girls who wish to vie for the Prince's affections.  Uncertain if she can love the stuffy Prince Maxon, America's main goal to stay in the competition is to provide her family with a monetary stipend for her family and to recover from the surprising break-up with Aspen.  But, upon meeting Prince Maxon, she's in for a number of surprises and dangers.

I did have some initial struggles with the patriarchal nature of the culture depicted in this young adult dystopia.  Why do girls who get married have to join their husband's caste?  Why can't the betrothed of either sex change according to their preferences?  I wasn't crazy about the emphasis on the selected girls' bodies becoming property of the government or the emphasis on them needing to be virgins.

I also hated America's relationship with Aspen.  She "obeys" a few orders he gives and consistently follows his heads.  Boo.

On the plus side, I did get into the story.  From driving to the airport, waiting for planes and then driving to my soon-to-be new town, I listened to all eight hours of the book and decided to finish the book before finally crashing in bed.

I liked the fairy tale elements.  The Selection feels like a drawn out and twisted version of Cinderella.

*vague spoiler* Although I did feel vaguely annoyed that the actual selection is not made at the end of the book, the feeling of anticipation for book two is more pronounced.  *end vague spoiler*

Tasty Rating:  !!!!


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