Code Name Verity by Elisabeth Wein

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Hyperion, 2012

Maddie’s a wiz with an engine. She’s proved it with the motorbike her granddad gave her for her birthday, but her focus on motorbikes quickly changes in 1938 when a young noblewoman crash lands her Puss Moth airplane in a pasture near Maddie’s home. The chance meeting leads to an opportunity for Maddie to learn to fly, which she continues until the war begins in earnest. But the war brings unusual opportunities for women both in work and friendship. Code Name Verity is the story of two such women, women thrown together by the war who build a strong and enduring friendship.

When I saw this title on the library shelf, I remembered that the book had caused a fair amount of buzz when it came out. I’d never followed the buzz into detail. Perhaps all I’d seen was on Twitter, and the cover, which looks like it’s about torture. Which, to be fair, is an important part of the story, but I’m hesitant to read books about torture, strange for someone who devours mysteries and thrillers and books about World War II, I know. But be still my heart, the other things this book has – England, Scotland, World War II, codes, women pilots, Special Operations Executive spies, the Moon Squadron and a fabulous friendship between two women. How could I have waited four years to read this book?

I spent a good part of last weekend engrossed in its pages. I found Code Name Verity to be extremely well researched, and I’ve read a lot about WWII and Special Operations Executive in the past years. I found it an utterly gripping story. The suspense drew me in; trying to piece together the story and the story beneath the words kept me riveted; and the personal relationships in the book kept me satisfied. This book will appeal to so many different types of readers.

I won’t chance spoiling the plot by revealing more, but I will recommend this book for personal reading, classrooms, and libraries. I’ll be adding Code Name Verity to my select private library. And next time I anticipate a quiet weekend, I’ll search out Rose Under Fire, another World War II book from Elizabeth Wein. I’ll let you know what I think.

Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald

Dial; March 18, 2014.

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Theo’s grandfather’s death in a street accident is completely unexpected, and his last words to her are mysterious. “There’s …a letter…And a treasure,” he said. His words propel thirteen-year-old Theo into a mystery that shows there was more to her grandfather than she ever imagined. Theo finds an old painting in his studio, and she thinks she know who painted it. It’s bad news though, because Jack wasn’t anywhere rich enough to afford such an old painting. There’s worse news, too; Theo’s grandfather was a museum guard, and a painting has just been found missing from the vaults. In order to solve the mystery and save both her grandfather’s house and reputation, Theo must enlist her smarts, her resourcefulness, and an unlikely pack of new-found friends.

Under the Egg is a cracking good mystery. The story engages the reader in its twists and turns. Even more engaging than the twists of the story is Under the Egg’s main character, Theo. She’s got a tough life that’s become much tougher with her grandfather’s death, but rather than feeling sorry for herself, she soldiers on and works to find a solution. And though Theo is the most fully drawn of the characters, all of the characters ring true. And they all have their surprising sides, some heartwarming and others sinister.

Personally, I have always loved books that open up some part of the world to me. This book offered new insights into the world of art museums and auction houses. It also offered fascinating glimpses into certain aspects of World War II. I expect that Under the Egg may expose its readers to a new interest. Fitzgerald is ready to help with that, too. Her web page includes loads of information and source links to help interested readers delve further into the art and history referred to in the book.

This is Laura Marx Fitzgerald’s debut novel for middle grade readers. I had to double check that because it’s so accomplished. According to her web page it’s true. I’m so sorry that Under the Egg only came out this March because I’m already waiting impatiently for Fitzgerald’s next novel.