Weekend Shorts: Book Club Re-Reads

I don’t re-read books terribly often, but when I do, it’s for book club. This year is probably going to be seeing more than its fair share of re-reads as I’ve been tasked with putting the book list together for my in-person book club, which means several very popular or much-requested books but also some books I know we can talk a lot about — the re-reads!

Of course, re-reading a book doesn’t always turn out the way you think it will…

Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein
Code Name VerityOh, man. I picked this book for my book club for several reasons, including that it’s short-ish and we were short on time, I remember loving the heck out of it, and it had been a while since we read a WWII book. It seemed like a winner.

What I didn’t remember from my first reading is the fact that the first half is slow as molasses in winter. It’s slow, it’s kinda boring, there doesn’t seem to be any reason for what’s happening, the narrator’s kinda weird… it’s bad. About half of the people who showed up for book club hadn’t made it past this part, and they were like, we are here to determine what you were smoking when you chose this book. The other half had finished it, with the redirect and the new narrator and the Actual Plot, and while they didn’t all love it they at least understood what I was going for!

True story, even I only just finished the first half before going to book club, so it was kind of hard to convince everyone else they should finish. But finish I did, and yes, again, the second half was much better, though I didn’t find myself shedding a single tear at the end of it where a few years ago I was ugly crying in public. I’m not sure if this is a function of reading it soooooo slowwwwly this time, or the conversation with people who didn’t like it right in the middle of my re-read, or just the fact that I knew what terrible things were going to happen. But it was just… an ending.

Recommendation: Absolutely yes you should read this. Maybe don’t read it twice.

Lock In, by John Scalzi
Lock InLet’s be honest, and TOTALLY SPOILERIFFIC IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE BOOK. I mostly wanted my book club to read this to see how many of them thought Chris Shane was a lady. I had Shane in my head as, like, robot first, dude second; my husband totally thought she was a badass chick. There weren’t a lot of book clubbers at this meeting because apparently sci-fi-based procedural crime stories are not my club’s jam, but of the handful who were there it was a mostly dude-Chris consensus, and in fact a sizable white-Chris minority who had missed the “angry black guy with a shotgun” line about Chris’s father.

I had actually tried very hard to get myself into chick-Chris mode, going so far as to use my free Audible trial to obtain the audio version of this book narrated by Amber Benson (you can also get one narrated by Wil Wheaton). It was a very weird experience. Sometimes my initial read of the book, and Benson’s not-super-feminine voice, kept me thinking Shane was a dude. After a while at each listen, I could get into chick mode, but only if I imagined that Amber Benson was Eliza Dushku instead. I would totally watch this movie with Dushku (or her voice, whatever) as the lead, by the way. And with Joss Whedon somewhere at the helm. Hollywood, make this happen!

Outside of all that, though, the book was just as weird and twisty as it was the first time, enough that I couldn’t exactly remember what was going to happen and all the big reveals were still pretty much intact. My book club was not a big fan of all the intrigue and subterfuge, which of course I loved, but they all agreed it was at least interesting.

Recommendation: Totally pick up the audio book in whichever narrator you didn’t expect the first time. It’s weird and fun.

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Liar and Spy, by Rebecca Stead

Liar and SpyAfter reading When You Reach Me, I had basically decided I was in heart with Rebecca Stead, because, I mean, I love A Wrinkle in Time and so does she and therefore BFF(aeae), right? That’s how it works, I think.

So when I heard about Liar and Spy, I was all, wait, like Harriet the Spy? Swoon! It took forever for the book to even show up at my library, but when it did it was mine and I read it.

And it was pretty okay. I was wrong about the Harriet the Spy connection, at least in that this story never mentions that one once. So, kind of a disappointment. But obviously you can still find similarities between the two, because they’re both about spying kids and ultimately how spying on other people living their lives is not as fun as living your own (spoilers?).

Stead’s story is about Georges, a poor kid with too many letters in his first name whose dad gets downsized and who has to move from an awesome house to a less awesome apartment. On a trip to the laundry room, Georges ends up agreeing to attend a spy club meeting, and from there meets a kid named Safer who is a super-duper master spy ready to teach Georges how it’s done.

There’s spying done, of course, and some intrigue about a mysterious neighbor, but there’s also quite a bit about being a nerd at school and losing a best friend as well. It’s super cute, if a little obvious in places and a little silly in others, just as a good kids book usually is.

Recommendation: For nostalgic adults and precocious kids.

Rating: 7/10

Free Agent, by Jeremy Duns (13 July — 16 July)

I think I just might not be cut out for spy novels. I tried several of them years ago and didn’t even finish; this one I did finish but I’m still not sure what to make of it. I think my biggest problem is that everything is just so convenient. Every time our hero is in deep trouble that he can’t talk his way out of, there’s a random person come to convince his captor to release him!

But the premise is good, and if you like spy novels you should check this one out. Our “hero” is Paul Dark (yes, really), a British Secret Service agent who, twenty years ago, may possibly have become a double agent for Russia. No big deal, except now there’s a Russian defector offering up a double agent turned twenty years ago in exchange for asylum or whatever. Oops! Paul is understandably panicked, because who wants to be caught as a double agent after twenty years, and he trucks off to Africa, where the Russian is, to do something about this situation. Of course, his fellow Secret Service types also know about this Russian, and know that Paul has gone off to find him, and so Paul has to also deflect their suspicion all the while. Throw in an attractive woman and a plot to kill the British PM, and you’ve got the idea.

Rating: 5/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2009)