Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

16250900I’m handing this out for World Book Night 2014 and decided that before doing so I should probably give the thing a read, no? It won a Printz Honor when it was released and the sequel has been earning extra heapings of praise for both books. When choosing my WBN selection, I wanted something that lots of people, particularly young readers, could really sink their teeth into. A book with meat, plot, and purpose. Code Name Verity seemed just the thing.

Here’s where a synopsis should go, but I don’t want to reveal too much. How about…two friends are involved in some espionage during WWII that gets one of them captured in occupied France after their plane crashes. Oh, and the two friends (the pilot and the spy) are teenage/college-aged girls. Did that synopsis work at all? Just go read the thing.

SO GOOD. I could not put this down. I’d lowered my expectations going in because so many had warned me the book bored them and was bogged down under dull aviation details that wouldn’t interest anyone who wasn’t a pilot. Wein, herself, is a pilot. But I didn’t find this to be the case at all. The details that were included just made the story feel more authentic and gave the tone of the novel a gripping sense of realism.

The writing is wonderful and smart and emotionally riveting. The girls are well written and believable. The plot is nonstop – full of twisty, turny moments that genuinely shocked me more than once. It is so rare for a plot twist to find me unawares these days, but Code Name Verity pulled it off not once, but twice. The ending was gut-wrenching, and I can understand why so many previous readers were moved to tears. The story manages to be centered around a beautiful female friendship and themes of feminism in the best and most brilliant of ways. This is a book that shows you a thing instead of telling you a thing. And I loved it.

After having read and loved and read and hated a vast plethora of WWII fiction and nonfiction, I really didn’t think it possible for a book set during this time period to feel fresh and to teach me something I didn’t know. But Code Name Verity does this – excels at this – and deserves all its praise and accolades. I can’t wait to hand this book over to people of all ages in April and to get my greedy little hands on the sequel!!

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Three Souls by Janie Chang

Three-SoulsWhat made me pick up Three Souls? I think subconsciously I’ve been seeking out historical fiction all year, but more than that even, I wanted something Chinese and feminist with a deftly paced plot. I got that and much, much more in Janie Chang’s novel set against the backdrop of the beginnings of World War II and the Chinese civil war between the Nationalists and the Communists.

Leiyin is a young mother who awakens to find herself at her own funeral. She remembers nothing of her life. Her three souls surround her as she realizes something is barring her entrance into the Afterlife and eventual reincarnation. As her lost memories play out before her, Leiyin must watch and process all the missteps and egregious mistakes she’s made in her short 24 years in order to understand how to make amends for her discretions.

I think Three Souls is a novel best read cold. No need to know any real plot points about who Leiyin is or was. No need to start guessing her transgressions before even opening the book. Can you imagine being stuck in some sort of limbo having to watch your life literally pass before your eyes? All the embarrassments and bad decisions? The moments where you realize how awful of a person you’ve been at times? To feel buried under the weight of a debt or a horrific fuck up that you might never be able to mend?

That, for me, was the most compelling aspect of Three Souls. Janie Chang has created such a masterfully drawn, full-bodied female character filled with darkness and joy and despair and folly and good intentions. Leiyin won me over almost immediately as a person who transcends the page – who walks and talks and breathes. Watching her watch herself stumble and fall and learn and grow and falter and wobble was heartbreaking and inspiring and infuriating. She stayed with me even when I wasn’t reading the novel and will, no doubt, be with me long after. She’s the perfect example of an often unlikeable character who grabs hold of a reader and won’t let go despite her flaws.

I just kept reading and reading and telling myself, “Good God, this book is so good.” Which, I guess, surprised me in the best of ways. It’s at once page-turning and cerebral. The ending came as a complete surprise, and I wouldn’t have changed a single thing. Janie Chang is now firmly situated on my authors to watch list and I hope you’ll give her a chance, too!

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Thanks so much to the publisher and TLC Book Tours for a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review. Check out the other tour stops here!

About the Author:

Janie-ChangBorn in Taiwan, Janie Chang spent part of her childhood in the Philippines, Iran, and Thailand. She holds a degree in computer science and is a graduate of the Writer’s Studio Program at Simon Fraser University. Three Souls is her first novel.