Friday, November 23, 2012

Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein

I swear, I was going to do a middle-grade book next. I went to the library and got several out that have been on my TBR for a while. But I also got out Code Name Verity, and I read the first page, because I always read first pages along with book flaps to see what I'm in for, and I was so impressed and compelled that I had to keep reading. And now I have to do a review, because YOU HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK!

Deep breaths. I'm calm now. But seriously, this is the most amazing, brilliant, wonderful, beautiful, suspenseful book I've read in a long time. I had to read some pages with a bookmark below the line I was on so my eyes wouldn't skip ahead to the end of the page and ruin the scene for me. Maggie Stiefvater calls it a "three gasp" book, and there were at least that many gasps for me. More, I think. (But read her review, and then you probably don't have to read mine.)

Other reviewers have commented that it's a very difficult book to review, because you can hardly say anything about it without giving away spoilers. I can't even tell you the main characters' names! But it's about a female pilot and her best friend a female spy, during WWII, and if that doesn't make you want to read it already. . . even if you don't like historical fiction, you've got to admit that spies and the French Resistance and Gestapo torture sound pretty exciting, right?

The people who didn't like the book complain that it's too slow, that they were actually bored for the first hundred pages. Come on: the narrator is writing her story with her feet tied to the chair and a guard jabbing his cigarette into her neck. How is that boring???!! Okay, so maybe it takes a while to get to the --never mind, I can't tell you what it takes a while to get to--but aren't you dying to know what happens to her from the very first page?

The story she tells is a story of friendship--supposedly she's revealing all the secrets of the British War Effort (that's not a spoiler, you find that out on the first page), but really she's telling us about two incredible personalities who meet because of the war and become the unlikeliest of friends. And the personalities just shine out. The narrative voice is so vivid and funny and unexpected you want to read on just to see what she'll say next. Which is why the Hauptsturmfurer (sp??) keeps giving her more paper, and more days alive to write. Scheharazade, he calls her.

Oh, the allusions. And the metaphors, and the symbolism. This book is so rich, so interwoven with plot and meaning and connections. Everything is connected. EVERYTHING is significant. I can't tell you any of the significant things, but PAY ATTENTION TO EVERYTHING. It will make you gasp, the way some little thing will keep coming back and gain new significance every time.

MMmmmgahlslflargllmpgl. That's me not saying all the things I want to say about this book because I don't want to give away ANYTHING. The way it reveals itself to you is so brilliant and I would hate to ruin it for you. I've said too much already. Careless talk costs lives.

I thought I recognized the name Elizabeth Wein, and then I discovered that she wrote the Lion Hunters series, which I read a long time ago and really liked. The five books, starting with The Winter Prince, are a very, very different take on the King Arthur story, with really, really interesting characters. I don't remember them well enough to say more, but I'm going to go back and reread them.

Code Name Verity is the full-meal-deal: your grandmother's best meatloaf, with garlic mashed potatoes and creamed corn, all washed down with a pint of something bitter and British (for me it will be malted chocolate milk, but you could have Guinness if you like).

PS: I won't be doing any blogging for a couple of weeks, because I'm off to Buenos Aires to tango! Perhaps I'll post some pics when I get back. Now I have to load up my iPod with books for the long, long plane ride.

Friday, November 9, 2012

A Surplus of Sequels

I know I'm behind on my Canadian reviews, and I want to do another Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday, but on Tuesday two books came out that I've been waiting forever for, so I had to drop everything and read them! (So I may as well get a blog post out of them.)

Captain Vorpatril's Alliance is book 14 of Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series (more accurately, Vorkosiverse, since not all of them star a Vorkosigan. Like this one, for example.) I've raved about Bujold already, so I'll just say that if you've read the other books you won't be disappointed in this one. But if you haven't read any don't start with this one--a lot of the humor and enjoyment comes from in-jokes and from finding out more about characters we already care about. Oh, Ivan! Have to say, the climax scene was incredibly funny.

Days of Blood and Starlight is the insanely amazing sequel to Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and I can't begin to say enough about this author or this series. Except, Aauuuggghhh! It's a trilogy! (At least it wasn't as horrifically cliffhanger an ending as the first one was.) This book is brutal and bloody* and bleak, but it's so, so beautiful**. Morocco this time, and an abandoned kasbah. And lots more of Eretz. Seriously evil angels. Painfully good monsters. (And scary monsters and good angels, and conflicted both.) The first book was about love. This one is about war, vengeance, retribution. But Karou still means hope. Laini Taylor is a craftswoman of consummate skill, and her stories are both exquisitely written and grippingly page-turning. (Sigh. I will never, ever write as well as she does.) If you loved Daughter of Smoke and Bone you won't be disappointed in this one, though you may wish she hadn't taken it to such a dark place. Just be aware that it's much more violent than the first book. (Think Hunger Games and Chaos Walking, and it's a bit worse.)

There are a few other sequels coming up to sabotage my attempts to be productive. Jim Butcher's latest Harry Dresden book is due on Nov 27: I'm eagerly awaiting what Dresden will do as the Winter Knight in service to Mab. I already have Orson Scott Card's Ruins, the sequel to Pathfinder, on my iPod, but I have to reread Pathfinder first, so I'm saving them both for a long plane trip I'm taking in a few weeks. And I have Terry Pratchett's latest, which I don't think is a Discworld novel, so doesn't count as a sequel, but I've been looking forward to it as well.

*Literally, in my case: I sliced my finger while chopping vegetables (a fairly regular occurrance, since we have sharp knives and I'm a klutz), and some blood was leaking out of the bandage, and I kept forgetting and putting that finger on the page. So there are authentic bloodstains in various places in my book.

**I really thought I'd gotten over that alliteration virus, sorry.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Next Big Thing

I haven't yet mentioned my writing on this blog, because that wasn't the purpose I had in mind for it. But my friend tagged me in her blog, and if I don't carry forward the tag (pay it forward?) I imagine the consequences will be as calamitous as if I didn't pass on a chain letter. (Remember chain letters? Did you know they used to be actual letters that you sent in the mail?)

I'll answer the 10 Questions about my Work In Progress that I'm supposed to, but the most important thing to take away from this post is the link to my friend's site, where she talks about her WIP (and it sounds way cool and I wish she'd hurry up and write it), and the links to the writers I'm going to tag, because they'll have way cool WIPs to talk about, too.

So, first go to Kim Neville's blog. Was I right? Isn't that the greatest idea for a story?

And now, here are

10 Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing

1. What is the title of your Work In Progress?

I don't know yet. I call it Arin, because that's my main character's name. (I may or may not have named her after Aerin from The Hero and the Crown.)

2. Where did the idea come from for your book?

A half-page scene I wrote in a notebook several years ago, in which a boy is listening to his grandfather telling stories about the days when people lived in shining towers and flew through the air in giant metal birds. The boy doesn't believe his grandfather. He has to go take care of the rabbits, that keep trying to escape. I had the image of a farm in the Fraser River valley, inland from Vancouver, at a time when the climate is dry and almost desert--a great contrast to what it is now. Eventually the only thing I kept from this scene was the climate. And the rabbits.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

Post-apocalyptic YA. But NOT dystopian. I'm trying to imagine a very real future scenario, when oceans have risen, temperate climates have gotten warmer and drier, weather has gotten more extreme--and I threw in some earthquakes and volcanic eruptions just to make sure society would completely crumble. But it's not going to be depressing or bleak. People are resourceful and will come up with all sorts of interesting ways to adapt. Think steampunk except with eco-tech. Eco-punk!

4. What actors do you imagine playing your characters?

Um. Hadn't really thought about this. It's a good exercise in character development! Arin's best friend, Chelse, is a young version of Karen Gillian crossed with Julia Sawalha in her role as Lydia in Pride and Prejudice--gorgeous, fearless, impulsive, and completely selfish. Kennan could be Matthew Lewis as the older Neville Longbottom--lanky, a bit awkward, but very nice, and good in a crisis. He's hopelessly attracted to Chelse. Arin is harder. A young Sissy Spacek, but with brown hair. (That just shows how old I am!) Okay, more contemporary: Caitlin Stasey, from Tomorrow When The War Began (which is based on a wonderful book of the same name, which anyone who liked The Hunger Games should go find right now). But without the Australian accent. Naive but practical, fragile-seeming but with a core of steel.

And Arin has a younger brother who could easily be played by a young Macaulay Culkin.

5. What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book?

That would require me to know what's going to happen! I reserve the right to completely change this, but so far:

A girl caught stealing water is forced to spy on (or maybe for) a group of saboteurs determined to start a war over the Pipe that carries the Fraser River south to Seattle.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Um. I have to finish writing it first.

7. How long did it take you to finish the first draft of your manuscript?

See answer to 6. My last novel took me five years. I'm hoping to cut down on that somewhat.

8. What other books would you compare this story to in your genre?

I'm thinking Little House on the Prairie meets Kenneth Oppel's Airborn. Not sure about the airships, though. (I'd like airships, but where will they get the helium?)

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

As soon as I started thinking about what Vancouver might look like in 100 years or so--assuming the worst climate change predictions come true, and we run out of oil, and the whole fragile structure of our society comes tumbling down--I came up with a whole cascade of political, economic, and social ramifications that are a lot of fun to play with. Essentially I've been reading all the dire warning books and deciding, gee, this is probably going to happen at some point in the near future. What will that look like? But I have faith in the human race: I don't think it will be dystopian. I think it might be kind of cool!

10. What else about your book might pique your readers' interest?

I think I've come up with a (reasonably) plausible explanation for why there won't be electricity in my future world, but people will still have technology, so it will be fun to come up with non-electric ways to do all the things we currently need electricity for. (Did you know that London used to have a network of high-pressure water mains all through the city to supply hydraulic power to factories, workshops, building sites, etc?)(Does that not give you all kinds of steampunky ideas?)('Cause, it was actually steam powered. Unlike airships.) (Which are just too inherently cool not to include, whatever the genre is called.)(But I don't think there are any helium repositories anywhere near Vancouver, darn it all.)(I wonder if they could pipe it from somewhere?)(There may end up being a lot of pipes in my novel. Would Pipe make a good title?)

That's it for my WIP. Now it's time for my taggees to answer these questions and post on their blogs. Give them a week or so, and then go check out

The purple-haired KT Wagner, at Northern Lights Gothic

The blue-haired Aheila, at The Writeaholic's Blog

(I should totally dye my hair.)