Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “espionage”

Malin’s #CBR4 Review #57: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

In October 1943, a British plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Both the pilot and the passenger are women, and they are best friends. Queenie, code name Verity, a British spy, is captured by the Gestapo, and tortured for information. While she knows she should be strong and defiant, revealing nothing to her captors, she breaks, and hopes to prolong the time before her execution with a Sheherazade-style narrative about herself and Maddie, the pilot who’s killed in the crash. She writes her story on beautiful stationary, recipe cards, prescription pads and unused sheet music, hoping to keep the interest of the Gestapo officer in charge, earning herself a day or two longer with each “chapter” of her narrative.

The story of how Queenie (actually a Scottish noblewoman) came to befriend the granddaughter of a Jewish motorcycle salesman, and how Maddie became a successful pilot during the war, while Julia was recruited into espionage, is told interspersed with desperate ramblings about her time imprisoned in an occupied hotel, her feeble hopes of further survival, her self loathing about having cracked under torture, how she knows the other prisoners despise her for being a collaborator. Each new chapter gives further insight both into Maddie and Queenie became unlikely best friends and got involved in the British war effort in their different ways, and the horrible situation that Queenie finds herself in.

About halfway through the book, there is a surprising revelation, and if I wasn’t already completely engrossed in the story, this development ensured that I was even more reluctant to put the book down. The chapters in the latter half of the book are much shorter, and I kept reading with bated breath, both to find out the end to Queenie/Verity’s and Maddie’s story, and what would ultimately befall Queenie? Would she be rescued by the allies, and have to face their condemnation for her treachery? Would she, condemned as a nacht und nebel (shadow and fog) prisoner, be sent off to a concentration camp to have medical experiments performed upon her? Did Maddie actually die in the plane crash, as the Gestapo claimed?

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a book about a young woman, imprisoned and tortured, during the Second World War is heart breaking and unlikely to end with puppies and kittens and sunshine and fun. I haven’t cried so much during the latter half of a book since I read The Fault in Our Stars earlier this year, although it has to be said, not all the tears were sad. The book is very cleverly written, with more than one surprise in the narrative, and the two protagonists and their friendship are wonderful. True heroines both, they defy the contemporary gender roles of women, and risk their lives to make a difference.

While the book is not based on actual events, the author confesses that the story is inspired by a number of incredibly brave women who fought for their countries during World War II. This book is an absolute treasure, although the subject matter is obviously not a frivolous one. Because it’s written for young adults, most of the references to torture and the true horrors of Queenie’s imprisonment are implied rather than graphically described, but it’s still quite a harrowing read, so readers who tend to invest heavily in the books they read (like I do), should probably be warned that it’s a bit of an emotional roller coaster. You should still read the book, though, because it’s awesome. Easily one of the best books I’ve read this year, possibly several years.

Crossposted on my blog and Goodreads.

narfna’s #CBR4 Review #15: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson

When I first read it almost two years ago, I remember thinking that of the three Millennium books, Hornet’s Nest was definitely the weakest, but either because I’ve really drunk the Kool-Aid by now, or because I’ve simply ceased to think of Larsson’s creation as a fictional world, I liked it much better this time (and I did like it quite a bit before).

As I noted in my first review way back in June 2010, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest is much less of a mystery-thriller than books one and two. Instead, TGWKTHN is more of an espionage-thriller.  In the first book the big question was ‘Who killed Harriet Vanger?” In the second, “Who is Zalachenko?” There isn’t really a question in this book. We are treated to answers about The Section before the characters are, so the pleasure in this book, then, is in watching Blomkvist and Co. take down the men who ruined Lisbeth’s life piece by piece, and giving her vindication. It’s about airing dirty laundry and shaking things clean. And it is immensely satisfying (if a little unwieldy at times).

TGWKTHN is constructed around the trial of Lisbeth Salander. Blomkvist, Armansky, and several people within the police who believe her to be innocent, and even a faction within the Security Police, all work together to get Salander acquitted and take down the men of The Section, who have been committing crimes against the people of Sweden and infringing on their rights for decades. The build up to the trial is a little slow at times, but it’s worth it in the end.

Stuff that I loved:

  • All the random bits of Swedish culture and history.
  • Everything to do with Salander. I loved her forced recovery period and her reluctant friendship with Dr. Jonasson. (Actually I love it period that so many unlikely people are able to see past her hostile exterior and plant themselves firmly in her corner.)
  • Seeing all of the supporting characters we’ve met join together to kick some old balls.
  • Seeing all those self-important wrinkly old white men get what was coming to them.
  • Seeing everyone who ever mistreated Salander eat their words during her trial.
  • I love that Salander dressed in her Sunday worst for the trial, just to scare the shit out of everyone who was there.
  • The last line: “She opened the door wide and let him into her life again.”

Stuff that should have been fixed but couldn’t because Stieg Larsson is dead, you asshole:

  • Blomkvist sleeps with yet ANOTHER woman (that guy is just a manwhore, but at least he’s a likable one who is loyal to his friends and never pretends to be otherwise). I guess I like Monica Figuerola okay, but seriously, dude? At least he semi-commits to her at the end, but that might actually upset me more. Maybe I’m just a good old fashioned monogamist, but she isn’t Lisbeth, and Blomkvist is hopelessly dense. Probably all of this would have been resolved in all of the books he planned to write afterwards, but he’s dead, so that’s not happening, and instead I will complain about it on the internet.
  • I do not get the whole thing with Berger and the giant newspaper, or her thing with the stalker. it seemed out of place in a book that already needed to be cut for content. I suppose the impulse there was for Millennium to be in even more of a crisis than it already was, so thus we take away all-important Berger, but the book could have done without it.
  • I hate that there isn’t more.

All in all, this probably deserves four, or four and a half stars, but I don’t care about being objective, as I’ve already stated, so five stars.

[Link to original review here.]

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