Sunday, January 18, 2015

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

"Oct. 11th, 1943--A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it's barely begun.

When "Verity" is arrested by the Gestapo, she's sure she doesn't stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she's living a spy's worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.

As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage, failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy? 

A Michael L. Printz Award Honor book that was called "a fiendishly-plotted mind game of a novel" in The New York Times, Code Name Verity is a visceral read of danger, resolve, and survival that shows just how far true friends will go to save each other."

Huh. So I'm a little surprised. Well, this review doesn't come with a clear-cut opinion. The first thing I'll say is that it goes slow. It's only about 300 pages, but I ended up taking quite a while to get through it. That changed a bit, though, somewhere around two-thirds of the way into it when the perspective shifts to the other girl. I'd just spent 200 pages getting through the Verity's story and getting a grasp on what happened, when Maddie's narrative comes in (starting from the beginning again) and slowly tugs at threads of the story, unraveling things here and there to present a completely whole view. I was a little blindsided, and impressed, as everything started to subtly shift. This is definitely one that wants to be read again. It's true, though, that although Maddie's story was more interesting, it wasn't any less dense. You have to want to get through this, or you'll just end up setting it down and not working up the willpower to pick it up again. It was a pretty well-done story, in my opinion: their friendship is realistic and powerful and the book is personal and surprisingly intricate. Just, if you don't have patience, beware. Still, I think it's worth reading. There's copies at Kettleson, SHS, and Mt. Edgecumbe.

Friday, January 2, 2015

What If? by Randall Munroe

"Randall Munroe left NASA in 2005 to start up his hugely popular site XKCD 'a web comic of romance, sarcasm, math and language' which offers a witty take on the world of science and geeks. It's had over a billion page hits to date. A year ago Munroe set up a new section - What If - where he tackles a series of impossible questions: If your cells suddenly lost the power to divide, how long would you survive? How dangerous is it, really, in a pool in a thunderstorm? If we hooked turbines to people exercising in gyms, how much power could we produce? What if everyone only had one soulmate? From what height would you need to drop a steak to ensure it was cooked by the time it reached the ground? What would happen if the moon went away? This book gathers together the best entries along with lots of new gems. From The Lord of the Rings, Star Trek and the songs of Tim Minchin, through chemistry, geography and physics, Munroe leaves no stone unturned in his quest for knowledge. And his answers are witty and memorable and studded with hilarious cartoons and infographics. Far more than a book for geeks, WHAT IF explains the laws of science in operation in a way that every intelligent reader will enjoy and feel the smarter for having read."

I love this book. So much. I can't express the nerdy heaven that is this book. The whole thing is quite as good as the premise suggests, and my level of respect for Munroe is at an all-time high: he's capable of these hugely complicated equations concerning ridiculous topics, and at the same time he'll give occasional hilariously practical remarks to finish up his answer. That, added in with the half dozen random interludes for the weird and worrying questions he doesn't really think would be a good idea to answer (but often forms a reaction comic to), assures that you'll never get bored reading this. I learned a lot of useless but thoroughly entertaining info, and a large trove of really useful stuff too. Anyone who's interested in science at all--or even science fiction--should most definitely read this. In fact, everyone should. In my humble opinion, of course. There's a copy at Kettleson, in the new section.