Chachic's Book Nook


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EWein Special Ops: A Sense of Place

For the last guest post for EWein Special Ops, we have the Elizabeth Wein herself sharing something about her writing. Plus an exclusive artwork that hasn’t been published anywhere else before.

YAY, EWein! *claps enthusiastically*

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A Sense of Place
by Elizabeth Wein

I’m writing these words from Scotland, on the western edge of Europe. I don’t know where Chachic will be when she posts them for the world to read: Manila in the Philippines? Singapore? Somewhere on the Asian side of the Pacific Rim, anyway. I know for a fact that two of the contributors to this wonderful and flattering celebration of my books are based in the United States and one is based in Canada. Never mind the content of this week’s Book Nook postings—just think about the origins. What you’re reading here this week is coming from random points all around the world, and you’re reading it at a different random point somewhere else on the face of the global map. I think that’s pretty cool.

I am not a cartographer and I am not really a map nerd, but I have never written a novel—or even a short story—without referring to a map. A real one. I drew my own maps for my Aksum books, and I am extremely proud of them, especially the one of South Arabia which appears in The Lion Hunter and The Empty Kingdom.

You can read the books without the maps, though. They don’t really matter, except in that they are a physical and visual manifestation of the setting. It is the sense of place that counts.

My favorite books have always been those that have a strong sense of place. When I think back to the fantasy writers who shaped my teenage reading, the ones that leap immediately to mind are Alan Garner, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Ursula K. LeGuin, and guess what? The books I loved best by these writers all include maps. Garner’s show a landscape based on a real place; Tolkien’s and LeGuin’s show imaginary countries, but that doesn’t make the settings for their fantasy worlds any less real in the context of their books. The world almost becomes a character in the novel itself. Setting shouldn’t just be there as a backdrop; a good sense of place will make a setting, fictionally speaking, into a living, breathing organism like our own planet, and the author’s love for and familiarity with the world of his or her creation guides us through the unfamiliar landscape like a virtual map.

The fictional worlds I love best stand on their own, even after the story’s characters have moved on to Westernesse or the Dry Land. You could set your own story in any of these places, celebrating the world the way fanfiction celebrates fictional characters.

ewein alderley edge 1984

That’s pretty much what I did with The Winter Prince. I set my first novel in the same landscape where Alan Garner set his first novel, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. Alderley, elder lea, Elder Field—“the Edge over Elder Field” is “Alderley Edge,” get it? To be fair, I claim some right to this landscape myself. I lived for a year in a house which still stands on the “site” of my fictional Arthurian “estate at Camlan.” My father read Garner’s Weirdstone aloud to me before I could read, under the shadow of the Edge itself, and this magical landscape got under my skin and stayed there. My ancestor did not carve the Wizard’s Well or design the stone circle there, as Alan Garner’s did; I do not have Garner’s blood right to that landscape. But as Lleu comments when Medraut shows him the rippled roof of the caves under the Edge for the first time (just as my father long ago showed them to me), “Dare anyone say he owns this?”

Lleu and Goewin’s fictional Elder Field of The Winter Prince is not Susan and Colin’s fictional Alderley of The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, any more than Alan Garner’s childhood is my own. But Garner’s connection to the real world he lives in, and the way that connection shapes his imaginary fictional worlds, became a lifelong influence on my own writing.

It’s interesting how “place” can also influence the creative process as I’m shaping a story. When I was writing Code Name Verity, I reached a point where all I really wanted to do was write about Scotland, where I live now. None of the action of Code Name Verity took place in Scotland at that point, and there wasn’t any reason for it to. But I was letting my Scottish narrator have quite a bit of free rein with the telling, and there was much about her that I didn’t yet know, so I figured we could both write about Scotland for a while and see where it went. The scene-setting—with its branch line railway and haunted castle and the one flight in the book that I actually made myself—was sheer indulgence. The plot points that came out of it—a key character recruited to RAF Special Duties—were integral to the novel. I hadn’t seen either narrative device coming. But how wonderful, and amazing, that they can work together like that.

Goewin and Lleu. Artwork by EWein.

Goewin and Lleu. Artwork by EWein.

It seems appropriate, when so many people have come together from such immense distances to celebrate my work here, to have had this chance to celebrate and share with you some of my thoughts regarding the notion of place within the story.

I also want to thank Chachic for bringing together this stellar group of writers and readers and friends who have spent this holiday week, in various corners of the world, thinking and dreaming and writing about the worlds I have described in my books—some of them harsh, some surprising in their beauty, some embellished by my imagination, but all of them rooted in truth. It is just humbling to read your words of praise and encouragement. It means that my own words are not just being thrown out there into a vacuum. You are passing them on.

Happy new year to all readers all across this world!

With love & gratitude, E Wein

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Thank YOU, EWein! I love the sense of place that well-written books can give its readers. And I love maps in books. I even took a picture of the one inside The Lion Hunter and The Empty Kingdom:

Lion Hunters map

This concludes EWein Special Ops. I hope you all had fun going through the posts. The giveaways are still open until next week, click here to check them out.

EWein Special Ops


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EWein Special Ops: Guest Post from Maggie

My good friend Maggie of Young Adult Anonymous generously got me a signed copy of Code Name Verity a few months ago, so I knew she would be perfect for EWein Special Ops.

Please welcome Maggie!

Young Adult Anonymous
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I’m a book hoarder. When I love a book, I get as many editions as I can. My justification is that not only am I filling up my shelf, but I’m also creating a shelf for my future child. I see myself as a curator overseeing the portraits of characters that I hope will line the walls of my child’s mind. However, I still read primarily for myself. What I love about reading is that even though I’m no longer a child, I can still be shaken and affected so much by what I read.

One of the books that shook me to my core was Code Name Verity. I was sitting on an uncomfortable, backless stool in the ER, having accompanied by stepbrother after he drunkenly sliced his finger open at 3am, and I needed something to distract me from strangling the drunken mess in front of me. Enter Verity. For the next few hours, as we were moved from room to room, I stayed in Ormaie with Queenie. I was transfixed by this story of friendship, survival and war.

It’s like being in love, discovering your favorite author. I have been in love with Elizabeth Wein ever since that night and fell even more so with Rose Under Fire. I love that her characters are ordinary girls put in extraordinary circumstances. They are badass and fierce, but also scared and flawed. There’s a realness to them that went straight to my heart.

Maggie CNV

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Wein’s books are ones that create an instant bond with other book lovers. I’ve made some great friends through book blogging and for my birthday this year, Mandee of Vegan YA Nerds got me this necklace:

Maggie CNV pendant

These are special books and I’m thrilled to be part of the EWein Ops team. I have told the truth.

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Thank you, Maggie! I love that you’ve bonded with other book lovers over CNV. I’m so happy we’re both EWein fans.


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EWein Special Ops: Guest Post by Tori

Tori is a longtime fan and friend of Elizabeth Wein. She has a series of sweaters inspired by Elizabeth Wein characters, several of which can be seen here. She is here today to talk about growing up as an EWein fan.

Please give Tori a warm welcome!

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I was thirteen when The Winter Prince came out; I read it because I was going on a field trip to a book reading. I’m not sure I was always so conscientious, but it was set in Arthurian England, and I was into King Arthur and Ancient Rome. I loved it. When I was fourteen, I was sure I wanted to be a writer. My mom, working magic as far as I could tell, called Elizabeth and asked if she wanted a teenage apprentice. I’m sure I wrote, but mostly, I remember reading lots, a rather eclectic list of things I almost definitely wouldn’t have picked up on my own (things like The Mabinogion, The Owl Service, and “The Wasteland.”) I sometimes joke that my taste has been formed by Elizabeth Wein, but I was fourteen and my brain was a sponge; it’s not that big a stretch. We fell a bit out of touch when she moved from Pennsylvania to England and then Scotland; it was before everyone had email, and I am a dreadful correspondent if stamps are required.

I waited patiently for A Coalition of Lions to come out. (I roll my eyes at George R. R. Martin fans when they complain about wait time between books. I waited ten years for Coalition.) At some point between books, I spent a month in Istanbul, and every time I looked at a mosaic I thought of Lleu, and Medraut telling him that he had to see the mosaics in Byzantium. I tried to make all my college friends read The Winter Prince, and it was frequently one of the books I read to decompress from reading too many philosophers.

A Coalition of Lions was the last time the release of one of Elizabeth’s books came out that surprised me. I was a senior in college, and I had checked Amazon randomly to see if it was ever coming out. And then, unable to wait for shipping, I started calling the bookstores I could walk to on foot to find out if they had it in stock and would put it on hold for me. I stayed up until four reading Coalition in a day. I finished, and I fished out an old email address I had written down and sent what was probably an only semi-coherent email, which reignited our correspondence.

Tori as Verity

Tori dressed as Verity for Halloween

Now, I am very lucky and get to be an early reader. I dressed up as Verity for Halloween three years ago, possibly before the Code Name Verity had a publisher. I had Ravensbrück dreams while I was reading Rose Under Fire. I’ve also had dreams about the possibly mythic Sword Dance, but no one took my books away from me when I had dreams about Sword Dance (I had dreamt I was going to be gassed in a concentration camp and woke up looking for more of Rose to read and was more bothered by the lack of book than by the dream; my friends made me promise to stop reading World War II novels for a while.)

There are little things from all of Elizabeth’s books that pop up for me. It seems fairly constant. There is an Ethiopian restaurant I can walk to from my house, and even if just eating Ethiopian food of injera didn’t make me think of Telemakos, they serve a wine called Aksum; the first time I realized that I made us order it on the principle of the name alone. I’ve made my own vanilla extract, and everytime I do, I think of Medraut. I assess every umbrella as “Useful in an air raid?” I’ve burst into tears, seeing a discarded ballpoint pen, free from the bank, on the sidewalk because it made me think of Maddie and her fabulous Eterpen. On my commutes to work, I listen to history podcasts and when I hit names and real historic facts that are in her books (particularly the Aksumite-Arthurian books) I have been known to yelp with excitement, even though I am surrounded by strangers who probably think I a bit mad.

I joked at the beginning that Elizabeth Wein has formed my taste. When The Winter Prince was released as a Kindle book, I was doing my very best EWein Facebook cheerleader and was virtually jumping up and down, trying to get my friends to read it again. Someone asked me what it was about. After giving my brief overview along the lines of “It’s a story about Mordred, set in England just after the Romans have left. He’s a dark anti-hero and his mother is a brilliant, scheming, thwarted queen. And it’s beautifully written.” And then I sat there and stared at those three sentences and said to myself, “You know, if someone were to write a book that were just for me and contained all of my favorite things, they would write The Winter Prince.

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Thank you, Tori! Sword Dance has to happen!

EWein Special Ops


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EWein Special Ops: Reading The Lion Hunters Post CNV

Brandy blogs about fantasy and realistic novels (both middle grade and young adult) at Random Musings of a Bibliophile. She read and loved Elizabeth Wein’s Lion Hunters novels this year and in this guest post, she gives her perspective on what it was like to read these Arthurian books after she’s read Code Name Verity.

Give it up for Brandy!

Random Musings of a Bibliophile2

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Being a member of Sounis (fan central for Megan Whalen Turner’s books) I had Elizabeth Wein’s Lion Hunter series recommended to me several times. And I tried. I tried so many times. I have to be honest though, I am not and never have been a huge fan of the Arthurian legend. There is too much that creeps me out. This was a huge obstacle for me when it came to reading The Winter Prince. I tried so many times, and each time I went a little further, but I always ended up not finishing.

Not because it is badly written. Oh no. Yes, this was Wein’s (actual) debut novel, but Ms. Wein is an amazingly talented writer and her debut novel has more craft and skill in it than most people’s fourth or fifth. No, I couldn’t finish it because she is just too good at what she does, making you feel and know everything her characters do. As a result, Code Name Verity was the first of Wein’s novels I truly experienced. After that I could not imagine not going back and reading everything else of hers I could. I didn’t even care that I had to work to locate copies that were no longer in print. I did it happily.

And I still wasn’t able to finish The Winter Prince. I didn’t let it stop me this time. I just skipped it and went on to A Coalition of Lions. Then I devoured the rest of the series within a week. There is so much to love about this earlier series and it deserves far more attention than it gets. Even now after the popularity of Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire, it still isn’t as widely read as it should be. Too many people still refer to Code Name Verity as Wein’s debut novel. That needs to change. If you are a person who loves Wein’s writing in her two latest novels, there is nothing that will stop you from loving these too.

What can you expect to get from these books? The same care and attention to character development you found in Code Name Verity. These are characters you will come to know and love, particularly Telemakos. I don’t know how any one could walk away from reading The Sunbird without him owning a huge chunk of their heart. The historical period is brought to life in such a way that you actually feel you are there. This is Ancient Ethiopian historical fiction too. No one can complain they have too much of that in their lives. Readers can also expect to see the same brilliant ability to bring hope and beauty out of despair and destruction.

You won’t even have to hunt them down like I did. They are now available as e-books. There are no excuses.

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The Winter Prince ebookA Coalition of Lions ebookThe Sunbird ebookThe Lion Hunter ebookThe Empty Kingdom ebook

Thank you, Brandy! No excuses indeed. Click on the covers above to grab copies of the ebooks.

EWein Special Ops


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EWein Special Ops: Being Brave

Maureen is a library assistant who blogs at By Singing Light. Elizabeth Wein is one of her favorite authors and today, she talks about the theme of courage present in all of EWein’s novels.

Please join me in welcoming Maureen to EWein Special Ops!

By Singing Light

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“I AM A COWARD,” Verity says right at the beginning of her story. “I wanted to be heroic and I pretended I was… But now I know that I am a coward.”

Of course, the truth is more complicated. In fact, one of the brilliant things about Code Name Verity is the way it shows you a character who claims to be one thing, a coward, while disproving that again and again. To be frank, thinking about her bravery, the sheer audacity of it, takes my breath away and moves me to tears at the same time.

But it’s not just Verity herself. There’s Marie, the French Resistance lassie, and Mitraillette and the rest of the Thibauts. There’s Anna Engel, risking her life every time she does not translate exactly what is written, giving Maddie a scarf. And Georgia Penn, speaking of audacity. Read her scene again and think about the courage it would take for both her and Verity to enact that careful dance of words and movements. There’s Maddie, finding the strength to do the hardest thing, and then to keep living afterwards. And there’s Queenie’s mother, leaving the window open.

(Pause to mop up.)

But bravery is a strand that runs through all of Elizabeth Wein’s books. In Rose Under Fire, there are not heroics in the usual sense, in the Verity sense. The bravery there is required to keep living, to stay human under circumstances that are designed to keep you from doing either. It’s perhaps quieter than Code Name Verity, but it is just as present and just as intense. Starving women standing for hours in the snow rather than giving each other up.

It’s in The Winter Prince, in Lleu struggling against sleep and Medraut struggling against the darkness in himself. It’s in A Coalition of Lions, in Goewin leaving Britain behind, setting out alone into the unknown. Certainly it’s in The Sunbird — like Verity, Telemakos leaves me breathless. And in The Lion Hunter and The Empty Kingdom, he must find a different kind of courage to win through a situation that looks impossible.

It seems to me that in all of the books, courage is one of the markers that point us toward the moral characters. When so many of them occupy a morally grey area, it is a signpost that tells us who deserves our care. Von Linden and Anako fail their tests; they do not even have the bravery to do their own dirty work. (Von Linden is a much more complex character than Anako, but in a way that makes his failure greater.) Even Nick, in Rose Under Fire, doesn’t have the courage to wait for Rose. On the other hand, Anna Engel acts with courage, as does Medraut. It’s this quality that sets them on the other side of that line.

It’s worth noting that the kind of courage I’m talking about, the kind that these books value, is not the same as honor. It’s not even necessarily physical courage, although it can be (in The Sunbird, for example). It’s not limited by age — see Telemakos and Amelie Thibaut — or by gender — see EVERYONE. Not the courage to fight the war or fire the gun, but the courage to do what is right, to face darkness internal or external and not give in. It’s the strength to keep going, to fly the plane.

This courage is not found in isolation. The friendship at the heart of Code Name Verity is not an accident. Verity retells the story of Queenie-and-Maddie, the sensational team, precisely because it gives her strength. Outside of that bond, Mitraillette is the one who keeps Maddie together in those frightful first days after the bridge. For Rose, in Ravensbruck, it’s Irina and Roza especially, but the whole of Block 32, which “was really, really good at propping people up.” Even Telemakos in Abreha’s palace is driven by Athena, proves himself with the other palace children.

And it’s Goewin and Telemakos under the city, drawing pictures on each others’ hands to chase away the darkness. It’s not an accident that the image of hands keeps showing up, from Arthur’s hands on Medraut’s shoulders in The Winter Prince, to A Coalition of Lions. And again in Code Name Verity with Marie and Verity (“the backs of our hands were touching”); on the cover of the US edition; with a hand on Maddie’s shoulder while she flies. And yet again when Rose and Irina share that secret symbol of who they are: taran. Wein’s books consistently undermine the narrative of lone heroes: again and again, we see that we are saved in the company of others, that in the dark places the important thing is who stands beside you.

After all, that’s what stories — the best stories — are. A light to see by, a hand holding yours in the dark.

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Thank you, Maureen! I love that last line.

EWein Special Ops


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EWein Special Ops: Giveaway (Ebook and Signed Copies)

Maligayang Pasko! 🙂 Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope you’re all having a festive holiday season with your friends and family. Ours is more subdued than usual because my Lola (grandmother) passed away a few days ago and we spent Christmas at the funeral home.

EWein Special Ops

I hope you’re all enjoying the guest posts for EWein Special Ops so far? To celebrate the blog event, both Open Road Media and Elizabeth Wein have generously provided copies of her books to be given away during this week. I thought Christmas is the perfect day to bring up giveaways. The three copies are:

  • One ebook copy of either The Winter Prince or The Sunbird from Open Road Media (winner gets to choose)
  • One signed print copy of A Coalition of Lions from Elizabeth Wein
  • One signed print copy of The Sunbird from Elizabeth Wein

Unfortunately, WordPress doesn’t allow users to embed Rafflecopter widgets in free blogs so please click on the links instead:

The giveaways are open internationally and the winner will be chosen on January 2. Good luck and please spread the word about it!


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EWein Special Ops: A love letter to Code Name Verity

Again, Happy Christmas Eve to all of you! Liz is a New Jersey librarian who blogs over at A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy at the School Library Journal site. In this guest post, Liz talks the many reasons why she loves Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.

Spoiler warning for Code Name Verity, please skip this post if you haven’t read the book!

SLJblog_TeaCozy

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A love letter to Code Name Verity.

CNV cover rainbow

Image from Elizabeth Wein’s website.

I can remember reading, for the first time, the first line of Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein: “I am a coward.”

And I can remember thinking, “I do not want to read about a coward.” And then, thinking, “well, OK, the truth is, well, who wouldn’t be a coward?”

And then I kept reading. And began to understand more about the narrator, and began to cheer her on, despite her being a coward who sold out for a warm sweater, because of the story she was telling and how real she became to me, and, of course, who wouldn’t be a coward, in her situation?

And I noted some of the cleverness going on, with the narration, such as how long it took to reveal her name to us, and I thought I understood the type of clever Elizabeth Wein was being. Making us be sympathetic to someone who gave up codes to the Nazis for a warm sweater and the chance to write out a story. Making us feel for that girl.

And then that page came, when I realized, the narrator had a name other than her code name (Verity), or the name she used in her writing (Queenie) and she had a purpose other than what she was telling her captors.

And that, perhaps, yes, Julie – that’s her name, of course you know that, her name was Julie – was telling us the truth all along.

Oh, not about some things. If you’ve read Code Name Verity, you know that yes, Julie is a spy and she has been captured and tortured and she writes out her confession. All true. What isn’t true is what she confesses; what isn’t true is the story she tells the Nazis. She figures out just how much truth and lies to mash up, and she schemes to include a message to those outside the walls of her prison, and that message isn’t “I am here” or “rescue me.” It’s all about her mission, always her mission.

Because so much of Julie’s writing cannot be trusted, Code Name Verity demands a reread. It’s the perfect example of how spoilers don’t matter to a well-crafted story. Oh, don’t get me wrong – I would not deliberately deny to any reader the discovery of the truth behind Julie’s story. But once the “reveal” is revealed, to go back knowing, to go back truly being in Julie’s head – this time, this reading, is different. Because, even more so than the first time, you are with Julie as she writes – rather than being with Julie by reading what she’s written.

And this – that Code Name Verity remains just as strong, if not stronger, once “the secret” is known, is half the reason I love this book so much.

The other half is Maddie. Part of what Julie writes about is the friendship between Queenie and Maddie, and even in the lies and exaggerations (what better way to believe someone is a coward, than to name her something that sounds spoiled, indulged, and soft? “Queenie” indeed) there are truths. Why, some wonder, did Julie include any of these things? Isn’t that too much to believe, that she would include these meanderings and side shows that become important to the reader, or to Maddie, or to understanding Julie better, but are nothing to the Nazis demanding a confession?

Because. Because even as Julie was being smart and clever, she was trying to keep herself from being what she confessed to: a coward. Oh, it’s OK to be the type of coward who admits fear and then gets on with what has to be done, and I believe that is the type of coward who Julie is. It’s not OK to be the one who lets cowardice control what they do. And Julie, broken and cold and captured and not quite sure if her gamble would work, needed to remind herself who she was.

And who was she? Maddie’s friend. And picturing herself, through Maddie’s eyes, gave her courage. (It also, practically speaking, gave her even more words in which to hide.)

And this is why the friendship between Maddie and Julie thrills me and touches me and makes me cry. Not for what they did or didn’t do, not for the laughs they shared, not because they were friends (even though yes, all of that matters.)

But because at its best, what friendship can give us, is seeing ourselves through another’s eyes and knowing we are worthy. We are good, we are kind, we are brave, we are smart – we are not cowards – because of that person. And how that person sees us.

One of the most satisfying parts of Code Name Verity is discovering that yes, Maddie is real, and yes, Maddie and Julie’s friendship is real, and yes, Julie was telling us the truth, and herself the truth, that she has such a friend.

And that is why I love Code Name Verity: because it’s about lies and stories and friendship, and how we see ourselves and how we need others to see the truth about ourselves.

And, of course –

“Kiss me, Hardy.”

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Kiss me quick! Thank you, Liz.

EWein Special Ops