5 stars · history · young adult

Read Code Name Verity immediately if you need a good book that’ll make you cry in public

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Code Name Verity

author : elizabeth wein

pages : [paperback] 339

memorable quote It’s like being in love, discovering your best friend.

favorite character : verity

summary :

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?

review :

I don’t even know where to begin with this book. I loved it so much, I know that I should have taken the time to read it years ago, and yet it just tore my heart open reading it.

Code Name Verity is YA historical fiction at its finest. Honestly, I absolutely love reading about the WWII time period because no two books about it are alike and it seems like I’m constantly unconvering new, interesting facts about the time period and the different people living in it. Like these ladies in Code Name Verity, who aren’t real historical figures but do real, amazing things that real women did. Things that would have most people quaking in their boots and then running in the other direction.

This book was very, very hard to read knowing that it was so realistic. Verity goes through so many terrible, traumatic things and she just needs to keep pushing forward because she knows that one stumble, one misstep, and she’s dead. Even if she does everything perfectly, she may still die because she’s in the hands of Nazi interrogators. They aren’t afraid of finding creatively horrific ways to make her talk.

There are so many twists to this book . . . Even when you think that you have everything figured out, know what will happen, and are reading expecting a certain thing to happen, you’ll be shocked. I know that I was. Some of the twists were happy. Some were so terrible that I cried. Once, I was riding the bus and shed a few tears before I made myself put away the book for the rest of the ride. It’s that captivating and harsh and well-written, it’s impossible not to feel ultimately connected to these women.

I not only have newfound respect for the women pilots and spies that risked, gave, and pledged their lives for the war–for the sake of the world, really–I’m desperate to read more about the true stories behind Code Name Verity. If this fictional account was this amazing, I can’t wait to see how inspiring, shocking, and perfectly unconventional the reality was.

5/5 stars

 

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3 stars · fiction · history · Uncategorized

“City of Women” was a disappointment

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City of Women

author : david r. gillham

pages : [hardcover] 392

summary :

It is 1943—the height of the Second World War. With the men away at the front, Berlin has become a city of women.

On the surface, Sigrid Schröder is the model German soldier’s wife: She goes to work every day, does as much with her rations as she can, and dutifully cares for her meddling mother-in-law, all the while ignoring the horrific immoralities of the regime.

But behind this façade is an entirely different Sigrid, a woman of passion who dreams of her former Jewish lover, now lost in the chaos of the war. But Sigrid is not the only one with secrets—she soon finds herself caught between what is right and what is wrong, and what falls somewhere in the shadows between the two…

review :

I was really excited to read this book because I have a fascination with reading books that take place during the WWII time period. This was much different from most other books that I’ve read because it was set in Berlin and barely had any mention of any battles or fighting apart from the occasional bombing coming from English planes overhead. Instead, most of the action is fixated on those who have been left behind in the city as every able man has been sent to fight. Most are in Russia, either never coming back to their families or returning as broken men physically and/or mentally. Citizens are starving. The Gestapo is everywhere. Sigrid learns, repeatedly, that there is nothing else more important in this version of Berlin than being a good German woman.

The book’s characters are those apart from the war. The women and children, mostly, as well as men either too old or injured to fight. And, worse than those left behind are those that are hunted. Any Jewish person, as well as anyone who fights to protect them or who speaks against Germany or the Gestapo. Sigrid, in the very beginning of the novel, is only concerned with herself. Her life is very boring. She doesn’t seem to even mildly like her husband and now she’s forced to live alone with his cranky elderly mother. Still, I always felt detached from her, never very sympathetic. Perhaps it was because I never got an explanation as to why she decided to marry her husband. Social pressure? Real love? I had no inkling of what her true feelings were like throughout most of this book.

That was made even more complex when she constantly dreams for the passion and love she holds for the lover she had taken years before, who is Jewish and has disappeared from her life. The things he does and says makes him everything but romantic to me. I felt pity for Sigrid because of her romantic options. There were no good options. But she kept pining after this man who was more terrible to her than her actual husband was.

I feel like this book had some interesting concepts, but the meandering way in which it was told made it seem much longer than it is–and it’s already a huge book. There were some very interesting details about how people would smuggle their friends or even strangers who were on the run and trying to get out of Germany. I liked the intrigue there, the danger. But there was little build-up to the conclusion of this book, which seemed to come out of nowhere. All of a sudden Sigrid was a completely different character, whereas in the hundreds of pages beforehand her character development had been much slower.

I feel like fans of historical fiction will like this book, particularly if you like the historical period like me. I know this is a book that some others will enjoy much more than I did but, for me, it wasn’t good enough.

3/5 stars

 

4 stars · adult · fiction · history · Uncategorized

The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee: Book of the Month

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The Queen of the Night

author : alexander chee

pages : [hardcover] 561

memorable quote Men often complain of the wickedness of women. Of how we delight in what power we have over their hearts. But they reign over everything else, so of course, they grudge us this, should we ever come to rule over this thing the size of their fist.

summary :

Lilliet Berne is a sensation of the Paris Opera, a legendary soprano with every accolade except an original role, every singer’s chance at immortality. When one is finally offered to her, she realizes with alarm that the libretto is based on a hidden piece of her past. Only four could have betrayed her: one is dead, one loves her, one wants to own her. And one, she hopes, never thinks of her at all.  As she mines her memories for clues, she recalls her life as an orphan who left the American frontier for Europe and was swept up into the glitzy, gritty world of Second Empire Paris. In order to survive, she transformed herself from hippodrome rider to courtesan, from empress’s maid to debut singer, all the while weaving a complicated web of romance, obligation, and political intrigue.

Featuring a cast of characters drawn from history, The Queen of the Night follows Lilliet as she moves ever closer to the truth behind the mysterious opera and the role that could secure her reputation — or destroy her with the secrets it reveals.

review :

This book was much more than I’d expected.

Lilliet Berne is a complex character. For starters, that’s only one of the various names she uses to identify herself throughout the book as she continuously switches identities. Whether it’s because she moves to a new place, starts a new profession, or meets a new group of people, Lilliet is constantly changing herself to fit in. She’s an exceptional chameleon, and great at surviving terrible times in Paris, America, and Germany, just to name three countries in which she almost died.

In spite of how intense that is, and how much of a badass she could be, the plot was very slow. This is an enormous book, packed with historical detail and character pieces. I enjoyed knowing so much about the time period and the various settings Lilliet found herself in. In spite of this, however, there seemed to be a constant thrum of repetition. Yes, I understand, she couldn’t completely escape her past and all of that. But I had no idea of where the book or plot was going to go because Lilliet seemed to have absolutely no life goals for herself. I understand taking the best opportunity when it is presented to you and going with it, but come on. We could have had some idea of what she’d have liked to do with her life if absolutely no one would have interfered and money was no object.

I’ve been really interested in historical fiction lately so I was glad to see this as a choice as a Book of the Month pick. Honestly, I might not have picked up this book on my own otherwise, because I’d never heard of it before. It’s unlike anything else I’ve read and it’s the kind of story that stays with you long after you read the final page. Usually wondering what if THIS had happened instead of THAT and knowing that you had just as little control over the plot as Lilliet had over her complicated, dangerous life.

3.5/5 stars

I received this book from Book of the Month in exchange for an honest review. My review was in no way effected by this.

Book of the Month is a monthly subscription service in which you can choose one out of five book picks to be sent to you each month. While reading you can discuss plot, characters, and more on the book message boards. You can even choose up to two other books you’d like to receive that month for just $9.99 more per book. Find out more on the website.

4 stars · adult · fiction · history · Uncategorized

Flight of Dreams by Ariel Lawhon

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Flight of Dreams

author : ariel lawhon

pages : [hardcover] 336

favorite character : werner franz

summary :

On the evening of May 3rd, 1937, ninety-seven people board the Hindenburg for its final, doomed flight to Lakehurst, New Jersey. Among them are a frightened stewardess who is not what she seems; the steadfast navigator determined to win her heart; a naive cabin boy eager to earn a permanent spot on the world’s largest airship; an impetuous journalist who has been blacklisted in her native Germany; and an enigmatic American businessman with a score to settle. Over the course of three hazy, champagne-soaked days their lies, fears, agendas, and hopes for the future are revealed.

Flight of Dreams is a fiercely intimate portrait of the real people on board the last flight of the Hindenburg. Behind them is the gathering storm in Europe and before them is looming disaster. But for the moment they float over the Atlantic, unaware of the inexorable, tragic fate that awaits them.

Brilliantly exploring one of the most enduring mysteries of the twentieth century, Flight of Dreams is that rare novel with spellbinding plotting that keeps you guessing till the last page and breathtaking emotional intensity that stays with you long after.

review :

Flight of Dreams is the exact book you need to read if you’ve ever been vaguely interested about the Hindenburg. Better yet, if you’ve never heard of it, you’ve going to want to anxiously research everything you can find about the explosion after you finish this novel because the historical context is just so interesting.

I received this book as my Book of the Month choice for April and I’m glad that this was the selection I made. For a book slimmer than I’d expected, there was so much detail and intrigue packed into the pages. I think the size was perfect because while it never skimmed over important details or character traits, the plot never dragged either. And the chapter headers, which slowly count down to the Hindenburg’s inevitable explosive fate, are completely ominous.

The characters were hard for me to like and enjoy, at first. It seemed like everyone was either cranky or trying to stab someone in the back (literally or figuratively, depending on the character) but I like how it was a slower process for me to piece together their pasts and motivations. Some, like the American, remained mostly a dangerous mystery. Some, like Emilie, I grew to love. And some, like cabin boy Werner, I really rooted for. Everyone knows what it is like to start out at a job where you need to do everyone else’s job and get none of the credit. But he’s so adventurous, a hard worker, and, okay, he was kind of adorable to read about.

Just as some of the characters were purposefully spreading rumors about each other to make them seem suspicious, there were several characters who were shady enough, and details that just didn’t add up, that I wasn’t really certain of what would happen until the end. I love that I wasn’t able to predict the ending, even though obviously with all of the historical detail to this some events needed to remain the same.

This book is a great blend of fact with fiction. I’m the kind of person who always reads the author’s notes at the end of a book and I’m so glad that I did that, here. Tiny details that I never would have guessed were real, characters that actually existed, and tragedy that truly struck–that’s the kind of thing that keeps you interested in the events. I’m invested in this story, in these personalities that were created to fictionalize and somehow come up with a meaning behind a great tragedy. And I loved it.

4/5 stars

 

4 stars · history · Uncategorized

Number the Stars is a children’s book you’ll never forget

number the stars cover

 

Number the Stars

author : lois lowry

pages : [paperback] 137

favorite character : annemarie

memorable quote :

She fell asleep, and it was a sleep as thin as the night clouds, dotted with dreams that came and went like the stars.

summary :

Ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen and her best friend Ellen Rosen often think of life before the war. It’s now 1943 and their life in Copenhagen is filled with school, food shortages, and the Nazi soldiers marching through town. When the Jews of Denmark are “relocated,” Ellen moves in with the Johansens and pretends to be one of the family. Soon Annemarie is asked to go on a dangerous mission to save Ellen’s life.

review :

I remember reading Number the Stars years ago, back in middle school, and being vaguely bored by it. Maybe because I preferred to read books with more magic, mystery, and general mayhem in them. Somehow a story about true historical accounts, things that could be much scarier than fiction, didn’t phase me. I’m thinking that’s because my teacher didn’t take full advantage of the chance to fully teach me about this book and time period.

This is a book great for students who are just beginning to learn about what happened during WWII, specifically in Denmark with the Jewish population. Although the main character herself isn’t Jewish, her best friend is, and through her Annemarie begins to realize that not only is not everyone the same, but that she can make a difference in preventing others from getting hurt because of the decisions of those in power.

I really think that this is a book that should be spread, to those who are old enough to comprehend the subject and if its handled delicately. It was a terrible time period, but it’s important history, and I think this book stands out as one of the best works to teach about it.

4/5 stars

5 stars · adult · fiction · history

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

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The Help

author : kathryn stockett

pages : [hardcover] 451

memorable quote :

You is kind. You is smart. You is important.

favorite character :

summary :

Three ordinary women are about to take one extraordinary step….

Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.

Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody’s business, but she can’t mind her tongue, so she’s lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.

Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.

In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women–mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends–view one another. A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope,The Help is a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don’t.

review :

Okay, I have to admit–this is one book where I saw the movie before reading the original novel. I know, I know–but I also have to admit that I never thought I’d be interested enough in the story to actually read it. And it was on TV one day, alright? Don’t judge me.

The Help was everything and nothing like what I’d expected. The writing was much better than I’d anticipated and, even though I knew some of the plot twists because they happened to be in the movie, this book made the characters that much deeper and more interesting. (But I still enjoyed the film, so you should check that out, too. I actually want to watch it again now that I have the book read.) Obviously, the most interesting people ended up being the help themselves. These women went through so much every day just to make a living, and a terrible wage at that. And they were forced to be strong enough to pretend to be grateful to the white women who were single-handedly ensuring that they stayed beneath the poverty line.

But, interestingly, there are good moments in the book. Not every scene or chapter is dedicated to violence and racially-charged tension. There are also the quiet, tender moments between a woman paid to raise a child who isn’t her own–a child who loves the help more than she loves her own mother. Moments of hope, where women who’ve been down and out for so long are willing to risk it all just so someone else in the world might be able to read about their true experiences. I particularly loved Aibileen, who I think could have been a fantastic writer on her own (and, in my mind, went on to write whatever she wanted without Skeeter’s help after the book) but just needed a little nudge to get things rolling. She was such a great role model and a great friend.

I hope that more people will continue to pick up this book because it’s so interesting. It’s nothing like anything else I’ve had the chance to read lately. Maybe that’s because it’s so realistic; I read at the end of my edition that the author based some of the story on her own experiences with ‘the help’ growing up. That’s what’s most shocking, I think. Most people out there forget how recently these events all took place.

I had a friend recommend this book to me and I think that I’ll be recommending this one to others as well. Not only is it one that needs to be read, the writing is great, and I can’t wait to pick up something else by Kathryn Stockett.

5/5 stars

 

fiction · history · romance

The Bronze Horseman by Paulina Simons

The Bronze Horseman

The Bronze Horseman #1

author : paulina simons

pages : [hardcover] 637

summary :

From the author of the international bestseller Tully comes an epic tale of passion, betrayal, and survival in World War II Russia. Leningrad, 1941: The European war seems far away in this city of fallen grandeur, where splendid palaces and stately boulevards speak of a different age, when the city was known as St. Petersburg. Now two sisters, Tatiana and Dasha Metanov, live in a cramped apartment, sharing one room with their brother and parents. Such are the harsh realities of Stalin’s Russia, but when Hitler invades the country, the siege of its cities makes the previous severe conditions seem luxurious.

Against this backdrop of danger and uncertainty, Tatiana meets Alexander, an officer in the Red Army whose self-confidence sets him apart from most Russian men and helps to conceal a mysterious and troubled past.

Once the relentless winter and the German army’s blockade take hold of the city, the Metanovs are forced into ever more desperate measures to survive. With bombs falling and food becoming scarce, Tatiana and Alexander are drawn to each other in an impossible love that threatens to tear her family apart and reveal his dangerous secret — a secret as destructive as the war itself. Caught between two deadly forces, the lovers find themselves swept up in a tide of history at a turning point in the century that made the modern world.

Mesmerizing from the very first page to the final, breathtaking end, The Bronze Horseman brings alive the story of two indomitable, heroic spirits and their great love that triumphs over the devastation of a country at war.

review :

The Bronze Horseman is something I was definitely hyped up about. The reviews on Goodreads are amazing; people kept telling me that it was their favorite book ever. And knowing how seriously I take my decisions about my own favorite books I knew I had to get my hands on this one. I was eventually able to get a used copy for a really great price and was amazed by how gigantic this book is. Over 600 pages! For something pitched as romance, that’s a lot to work with. Because I love reading about the WWII time period and there’s rarely anything I get that’s set in Russia, this seemed perfect. And then . . .

I never fell in love with this book. Probably because I never really came to like the love story. Dasha is Tatiana’s sister. Honestly, Tatiana’s entire family was terrible about her, and I loved that Alexander called them out on it, but family is family. It breaks a sacred girl code to not only date someone your relative (friend, whoever) has dated . . . But to fall in love with them while they’re still going out with your sister (and then some)? Nope. I just wasn’t feeling that. Setting that aside, the brief encounters that Tatiana and Alexander had managed to be so boring and not passionate. No, about a dozen times they went through the same conversation of fighting over what they should do with their relationship. At least sometimes it switched between who would suddenly decide (after an illicit comment or kiss) that this was all wrong and would shout/call/run after the other when they were offended by the thought that the relationship should be over. It was so predictable.

In these 600 pages, there were only a few hundred in the middle that went fast for me and were captivating–honestly, they probably had the least amount of the romance in them. I loved hearing about how the war was changing society–I loved reading about Russian society in general, though I’d never, ever want to live there. Even though the war made things utterly unlivable, I couldn’t look away as Tatiana fought to survive, as bombs fell around the city, as rations fell shorter. If war had been the forefront of the novel, not the romance, I’d have loved it. I can’t deny that Paulina Simons can write. I just didn’t enjoy her romance.

To top it all off, I finish this book and find out that there’s more. It’s a trilogy. I’m  happy enough to sit and pretend that it really all ended in this book because it all wraps up well enough at the end, though I suppose there is some plot twist that explains how there can be two more books after how this one ended. I don’t know, because I’ll never read them–but if someone wants to tell me what happens, that would be fine.

I honestly don’t understand the hype about this book or the love portrayed. These are the favored characters of so many people and I can’t get behind them at all. It just isn’t the book for me, unfortunately.

1/5 stars