Julie’s Book Club: Code Name Verity

Code Name Verity

Code Name Verity

Code Name Verity was on the shelf of recommended reads at my most-frequented library, so I picked it up thinking that I don’t read enough YA. The novel tells the story of two girls and their unlikely bond forged in wartime England during World War II. Maddie is a woman pilot. “Queenie,” as her best friend is called, has a much more mysterious job.

The book begins in diary-like entries penned by Queenie, describing their friendship up to the night Maddie delivered her to occupied France and her plane went down. Queenie, the reader learns, is being held and tortured in France and these are in fact passages she’s writing for the head interrogator as a way to avoid further torture. She’s “selling her soul,” she writes, by giving the Nazis bits of wireless code and information on airfields. She’s also buying herself time.

Author Elizabeth Wein does great things with perspective and information here. What Queenie, a non-pilot, knows about planes, for example, is limited. But she is imaginative in her descriptions, and her tandem flights with Maddie are some of the loveliest sequences in the book. The further Queenie gets into her tale of friendship and survival, the higher the stakes, as it becomes apparent that she soon will be shipped to a camp for experimentation and execution.

I read the last 200 or so pages of this book in a rush, because I had to find out how it ended. It unfolds brilliantly, with carefully plotted reveals (especially as Queenie doles out information to her captors bit by bit), and the friendship shared by Queenie and Maddie is sweet enough to make you weep. (There may have been a few tears shed by the time I closed the book.) I don’t pick up a lot of historical fiction, but in this case the setting of wartime England, with high suspicions, rationed food, and women’s work often seen as secondary, was multifaceted and vibrant. Wein really makes history come alive in this book (despite making up several town names, locations, and details of the characters’ work), and the illusion of reality was strong all along. I suspected nothing. A pilot herself, all of the flying sequences Wein described were written dreamily–coming out of the pages, one can tell the author is passionate about being in the sky.

I highly recommend Code Name Verity, and I think the reading experience will make me eager to try other historical fiction novels.

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Anne’s Book Club 08

SAtrilogycoversSummerset Abbey by T. J. Brown (summary from Amazon.com):

1913: In a sprawling manor on the outskirts of London, three young women seek to fulfill their destinies and desires amidst the unspoken rules of society in this stunning series starter that fans of Downton Abbey will love.

Rowena Buxton

Sir Philip Buxton raised three girls into beautiful and capable young women in a bohemian household that defied Edwardian tradition. Eldest sister Rowena was taught to value people, not wealth or status. But everything she believes will be tested when Sir Philip dies, and the girls must live under their uncle’s guardianship at the vast family estate, Summerset Abbey. Standing up for a beloved family member sequestered to the “underclass” in this privileged new world, and drawn into the Cunning Coterie, an exclusive social circle of aristocratic “rebels,” Rowena must decide where her true passions—and loyalties—lie.

Victoria Buxton

Frail in body but filled with an audacious spirit, Victoria secretly dreams of attending university to become a botanist like her father. But this most unladylike wish is not her only secret—Victoria has stumbled upon a family scandal that, if revealed, has the potential to change lives forever…

Prudence Tate

Prudence was lovingly brought up alongside Victoria and Rowena, and their bond is as strong as blood. But by birth she is a governess’s daughter, and to the lord of Summerset Abbey, that makes her a commoner who must take her true place in society—as lady’s maid to her beloved “sisters.” But Pru doesn’t belong in the downstairs world of the household staff any more than she belongs upstairs with the Buxton girls. And when a young lord catches her eye, she begins to wonder if she’ll ever truly carve out a place for herself at Summerset Abbey.

My Thoughts on SUMMERSET ABBEY and an interview with author Teri Brown:

First, and rather shallowly of me, the covers for these three novels are GORGEOUS! The Belle Époque has always been one of my favorite times in history (though I have many. But, come on, the costumes! Budding technology! Historical amazements!). I haven’t had the pleasure to watch Downton Abbey, but I’ve enjoyed several films and books that take place (and were written) during these years. I was really pleased to see how each of the three main characters navigated the time period growing into strong independent women against an incredible historical background.

Teri writes with such rich detail that I couldn’t help but be swept up and read them all over the span of a long weekend. It’s interesting that I’ve been reading more contemporary lately because as I’ve said before I love fantasy, but I recommend these to anyone who likes this time period, strong heroines, and engaging story-telling. These books are definitely ones that cross the boundary from adult to YA. The youngest protagonist begins in her teens and ends at, I believe, 19. They’re not graphically violent or sexual, and would appeal to readers of all ages. In fact, I think our own Audrey would love them.

Through the power of Twitter I discovered her books. Teri was kind enough to let me ask her a few questions about her Summerset Abbey trilogy. Viva les médias sociaux!

The Summerset Abbey trilogy takes place during what the French call the Belle Époque (Americans call it the “Gilded Age” and the English call it the “Edwardian Age”, but I like the French version best). What drew you to this time period in particular to set your novels?

I’ve always loved this time period even before I knew it was a time period! I look back at the books I read as a child and so many of my favorites take place in the late 1800’s early or 1900’s like, Amanda Miranda by Richard Peck, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith or So Big by Edna Ferber. When I saw Downton Abbey I realized that it was actually the Edwardian Period and I knew I wanted to write a series about it.

The costumes, settings, autos, and jewelry are richly drawn. How much research did you do to write this trilogy?

I did a lot of Research, but I was on a very tight writing schedule as well. I took a class from a woman who was an expert in the period and then hired her to help me with research duties. Whenever I had a question, I would just shoot it off to her and she would get on it. That way I was able to finish the stories and go back in an layer more details. That’s pretty much the way I work with all my historicals… story, characters and plot first, then details.

Throughout each book, Rowena, Victoria, and Prudence take over narrating duties. Did you write the book linearly and change perspectives according to story demands, or … ?

I wrote each book from start to finish. They seemed to come very organically for me. Of course, I was fighting cancer during the writing of these books and with the back to back deadlines, there was no way for me to write any other way! Only a few times would I have to go back and rewrite a scene in someone else’s POV.

This was written as a trilogy, but each book could certainly be read as a stand-alone. However, how much of each main characters’ end journey did you know before you started?

Honestly, I knew very little about their individual journeys when I first started the trilogy. I think of each of the books as focusing on one particular character arc, though they all grow during each book. For instance, The first books was Prudence’s book. The second was Victoria’s and Rowena got the final book, though Kit and Victoria didn’t get their happy ending either until the third book, but I think Victoria did most of her growing in book two.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently researching and working on an adult novel called Saffron Skies which takes place in 1911 India. It’s about a sharp tongued young woman who was a part of the “Fishing Fleet”, which is what they called women who went husband hunting in India during the time of the British Raj. She falls in love with a half English half Indian clerk and all sorts of troubles ensue. The research has been wonderful fun.

Thank you so much, Teri, for talking to me about your process with this trilogy! I also discovered that Teri also writes YA books. Born of Illusion is currently sitting in my tbr pile. Check it, and her historical novels out, at your local bookstore or library.

TJBrown_authorphotoAbout the author: Teri Brown is proud of her two children but coming in a close second is the fact that she parachuted out of a plane and beat the original Legend of Zelda video game.

She is a word scribbler, head banger, math hater, book reader, rule breaker, food fixer, novel writer, kitty keeper, and city slicker. Teri lives with her husband and way too many pets in Portland, Oregon.

Author Links: WebsiteTwitter | Facebook | Goodreads

Buy SUMMERSET ABBEY Today: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

Julie’s Book Club: Hild

Hild by Nicola GriffithHild cover

Hild was my Christmas gift to myself. (Ok, not my only gift to myself, but perhaps the best one.) I’d like to say I finished it in a rush after two sleepless nights, but travel over the holidays and the return to work means I’m still trucking through it. However, I didn’t want to wait to gush about it until next month, so here goes:

I feel like Nicola Griffith’s novel is set in one of the most finely crafted fantasy worlds I’ve ever encountered. The characters, even those who are only at the edges of the scenes, are drawn with great depth. The imagery of the costuming is stunning. The action, from bloody skirmishes on a riverbank to the killing of a piglet in a marketplace, is created on the page as vividly as it would appear on a video screen. But Hild isn’t a fantasy. It’s set in seventh-century Britain, amidst the growth of Christianity and the annexation of kingdoms by Edwin of Northumbria.

Hild, the king’s youngest niece, is growing up in a world filled with uncertainty and political intrigue. As she learns her way around the court, the child, prophesied to be “the light of the world,” makes herself indispensable to the king as his seer. Hild is not a typical child, nor is she a typical woman for the period, and as she learns more about the players and kingdoms at stake, she is more deeply drawn into the plots that determine the course of Edwin’s conquests. She must stay constantly alert to protect herself and her loved ones, to remain in the king’s good graces, and to follow her wyrd.

As I mentioned, I’m entranced by this book. The scenes of daily life, like tapestry weaving and jewelry making, set it solidly in its time, and the conversations and characters make the seventh century feel raw and real. A tremendous amount of research must have gone into this novel, as well as a tremendous amount of imagination. Little is known about St. Hilda of Whitby, upon whom Hild is based, but Griffith nevertheless gives us her life from the age of three in immersive detail.

Get Hild here (or at your local bookstore)!