Novel Gossip: Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth E. Wein

When Chachic and I first decided to begin the feature Novel Gossip we both knew that one of the books we wanted to read together was Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein. We both loved the heck out of Code Name Verity and knew that this was a book we'd need a bit of friendly support for.
The bloggers behind Chachic’s Book Nook and See Michelle Read chatting about books, thousands of miles apart.

While our thoughts were a bit all over the board during Rose Under Fire, we both really enjoyed it. But let me preface this discussion by giving a plug for Code Name Verity (that is, if you're one of the crazy people who haven't read it yet). While it's not exactly a sequel, the beginning of Rose Under Fire focuses a lot on what happens in Code Name Verity, so naturally, it'll make your experience that much better to understand the story. Also beware: this is a concentration camp book. So. You know...feelings...and all that ahead. Our conversations took place over several days and has been edited to remove spoiler-y bits. Here's the description for Rose Under Fire via Goodreads:
While flying an Allied fighter plane from Paris to England, American ATA pilot and amateur poet, Rose Justice, is captured by the Nazis and sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious women's concentration camp. Trapped in horrific circumstances, Rose finds hope in the impossible through the loyalty, bravery and friendship of her fellow prisoners. But will that be enough to endure the fate that’s in store for her?
And here we go...

Michelle: I'm curious about this book because honestly it's starting just a wee bit slow. I'm not connecting with Rose yet. What do you think of her as a narrator so far? I know she is a naive, young American but lots of the observations she makes seem a little too daft - maybe they weren't for the time period, but since we have so much information now, it seems a bit like overkill. I don't know, maybe she'll grow on me, I sure am hoping so.

Chachic: Rose sounds really young, I was a bit surprised that she's only 18. I don't think the observations that she makes are unnecessary because I don't know a lot of these details so it's all interesting for me. We didn't really study the war that much back in school and the focus was on how it affected the Philippines, not on what happened in other parts of the world. It's either that or I've forgotten most of it.

Michelle: This is probably a prime example of my egocentric American up-bringing showing, but I suppose I just assumed everyone who reads this book would have a pretty good knowledge of WWII history. WWII is pretty much THE CONFLICT that historians talk about. People actually refer to it as 'The War' and there are hundreds of books and documentaries that come out constantly -- it's a huge fascination over here. I'm curious if that kind of mindset is present in the Philippines or just in America.

Chachic: I think that kind of mindset over WWII is only present in America. I don't see that kind of fascination in the Philippines. If anything, it's been said that Filipinos have short memories and we tend to forget things.

Michelle: I am wondering if all these little things that keep popping up are foreshadowing of what is going to happen to Rose: the concentration camps, having the disable a bomb fuse, etc.

Chachic: I know what you mean about foreshadowing! So we already know that Rose will end up in a concentration camp, I'm a little scared for her as she hears details on how horrible they are.

Michelle: I know! I'm worried for Rose too, I CRY like a little girl during any story about concentration camps so I'm not sure how this is gonna go.

Chachic: I usually try to stay away from books about concentration camps or about WWII but since Elizabeth Wein wrote this, it's a must read for me.

[about half-way thorough]

Michelle: Oh my. Poor Rose. This scared little Rose is sorta freaking me out. These descriptions of her first few days in the camp, her 'controlled flight into terrain' -- how terrible! I can't imagine how sick that would make you.

Chachic: We're only just at the start of Rose's experience and I already feel so bad for her. It's a terrible experience and I can't imagine how she must have felt while going through it.

Michelle: Also reading about how cruel the women guards are at Ravensbruck is terrible. The part that really stuck out to me was was "The randomness has left it's mark. I am scared of anything arbitrary now - of anything that happens suddenly." Because what a perfect way to describe how horribly the guards behave. How depressing and sad. While they are busy dehumanizing the inmates, the guards are also dehumanizing themselves. What amazes me, like Rose, is that these guards are scaring them, and hurting them on their own. No one is telling them how far or what to do to the people. The Nazis let the guards have free reign to cause as much pain as they felt like.

Chachic: I know, I was a little surprised when she said that the guards were women, it's not men who were mistreating the prisoners but fellow women. And on such a massive scale - there were thousands of prisoners in that concentration camp. You're absolutely right, while the guards are dehumanizing the inmates, they're also dehumanizing themselves. It probably became transactional for them to be mean, they were probably not even thinking about their actions anymore.

Michelle: I think I misunderstood Elizabeth Wein's initial reason in making Rosie a bit naive -- where I didn't like it at first, now, I need no convincing she was spot on. She has built this perfect setup for Rose's inability to fully comprehend what has happened to her once she's in Ravensbruck. Rosie can't conceive that's she in a real concentration camp because she has no idea WHAT THEY ARE. It's genius.

Chachic: I think you have a point about why Rose was so naive at the start of the book, she has no idea what she will undergo because she doesn't really know what concentration camps are. Also the naivety provides a contrast to how different she is after her ordeal.

Michelle: Yes. Also I am incredibly thankful that Elizabeth Wein is using flashbacks to tell Rose's story. "I am writing at a rate of 170 miles an hour and going nowhere." If Rose had been telling all these awful things in the moment, I think it would have been just too painful to read. Creating these flashbacks gives the reader a safe place to land in between bouts of insanity and breaks up the madness. I am infinitely glad she wound up free and that she was only in a camp from September to April. One day was probably enough for anyone.

Chachic: Me too. We get pauses to let the horrors sink in before moving forward. Also, it's a practical way of storytelling because like Rose said, she would never have been allowed the luxury of having writing materials while she was in prison. Sigh, poor Rose. She will probably endure so much before we get back to the present. I am so glad she's alive though.

Can I just say that I loved that bit when Rose first gets out of the plane after she lands in Germany and the guys there give her an applause of her perfect landing? From fellow pilots to another pilot, reminding her that they're just human beings too.

Michelle: Agreed. That was a pretty perfect moment for Rose. I hope it helps sustain her in the months to come.

Michelle: So this is probably obvious to everyone but I figured from the beginning that once in the camp Rose would memorize names of the people she meets there. Especially after Felicyta talks early on in the story about how people just don't even know what happens to their families.

Chachic: It wasn't certainly wasn't obvious to me that Rose would have to memorize names when she got to the camp! It didn't really occur to me. But she only had to memorize the Rabbits' names, right? I was wondering why it was just the Rabbits that she had to remember. Was it because what they experienced was one of the most cruel things in that camp?

[after finishing the book]

Michelle: Yeah, I think because the Rabbits were subjected to some of the most horrible medical ‘experiments’ imaginable. They effectively carried physical proof on their bodies of what happened to people in Ravensbruck.

Michelle: Maybe I'm coming into this book all wrong but my gut reaction to Rose Under Fire is this: while good and with lots of interesting tidbits, I did in no way like it half as much as I liked Code Name Verity. I mean I didn't even CRY when reading it and I cried buckets during Code Name Verity. Buckets. Maybe it’s because what I like so much about Code Name Verity was this great relationship between two young women and then what happens to them during the war. I didn't feel like Rose had a similar connection to anyone in Rose Under Fire.

Chachic: I do agree that Rose Under Fire didn't blow me away like Code Name Verity did. I remember I sobbed towards the last few chapters of Code Name Verity and I couldn't stop until I reached the end. And even after I finished reading it, I would become teary-eyed if I come across anything that reminded of the book. I agree with you that what I loved about Code Name Verity was that it was about this beautiful friendship between two girls who wouldn't have met if not for the war.

Michelle: I just didn't feel the same way about the friends Rose makes in the camp.

Chachic: While Rose did meet friends in the camp, to the point where she considered them her family (how could she not when they went through so much together? She had to cling on to something), it really isn't the same as the friendship in Code Name Verity.

Michelle: However I did like the fact that Rose is an American. I don't think I've ever read one about an American in a camp before.

Chachic: Yeah, I think it was a unique angle making Rose American. She was the only American in her block, right? Probably in the whole camp.

Michelle: One aspect that really stuck out to me was how the prisoners fought back. Most of the other books I've read have been of the "make the best of a bad situation' type. So I really like the subversive nature of the Rabbits and Rose and Irina -- they were always trying to find ways to 'fight' the system. Even as if how Rose said it was all pretty passive resistance when you looked at it from the outside, but to them it felt like a big deal. Which it was -- especially when you go back to how paralyzed with fear Rose was even after she was safe in the Ritz hotel in Paris.

Chachic: Like you, I thought it was brave of the girls to try and fight back whenever they could. It was good that they has small victories to keep them going. I'm amazed at how they manage to stay alive and stray true to who they are when they could have easily just given up and became emotionally dead zombie-like creatures. Yes, they were always filthy and hungry but their personalities still defined them. How Lysette was still a mother, Rose was still a poet and Irina was still a pilot. In spite of everything, they retained pieces of their lives within them. I ached for them because they all had these lives that were suddenly taken away from them.

Michelle: Speaking of secondary characters, I think one of my favorite people in the entire novel was Anna Engel -- the Kolonka in Ravensbruck. I was utterly fascinated by her evolution from prison hospital tech to prisoner herself. Plus it didn't hurt that she was a tough, sarcastic lady. I liked her lots.

Chachic: I really liked Anna Engel as well, how she represented the idea that even Germans suffered under their countrymen if they went against the system. I like how she tried to be a good person in small ways - she wasn't horribly cruel to Rose and the other girls. But I absolutely had no idea Anna was the same Anna Engel in Code Name Verity! She is, isn't she? I was so surprised at how Elizabeth Wein connected her characters like that. How Anna was a big part of Verity's story and then Rose's as well.

Michelle : ANNA ENGEL IS THE ANNA FROM CODE NAME VERITY?!?! My use of caps is indicative of my level of genuine surprise! I did not catch that one AT ALL! I knew I should have reread it before I read Rose Under Fire!! Now I need to go back and reread that section in Code Name Verity! Awesome. Thanks for pointing that out to me. I would have felt like a dork for not figuring it out.

Chachic: She's the Engel in Code Name Verity, right? I'm not too sure because I don't have my copy of Code Name Verity here with me so I can't check. Maybe I should have reread Code Name Verity before Rose Under Fire too, I think I would have liked the latter more if I did.

Michelle: Yeah, I think it all comes down to the fact that I don't really love Rose as a person herself. Still. I did like some of her poems and how she told the story (with flashbacks through writing) but I never really felt like she was real. Especially in contrast to how I felt about the characters in Code Name Verity.

Chachic: I felt the same way, I wasn't as invested in Rose as I was with the characters from Code Name Verity. Maybe that's why I felt like I was distanced from her story.

Michelle: And I felt like it was a total cop-out that we never see Rose reconcile with her family (besides that initial phone call) back in America. I'm guessing she does eventually, but that very human, painful moment would have done a lot for me to connect with Rose. It's a completely unique experience! Although to be fair, I do understand why Rose stays in Scotland. It was a whole country torn apart by war, not just from afar, but right there with all the bombings, etc. so I can see how she'd like to be there with people who KNEW. But I just can't see her family not swooping down on her en masse once she turned up again. Even if the reunion had to be in Scotland, I think it would have been worth it as far as Rose's character is concerned to have included it in the story.

Chachic: I know, I was so surprised that we didn't get a scene of Rose reuniting with her family. Like you said, I would have thought that her family would fly to Scotland to see her. Of course, they would want to see with their own eyes how she's doing. Speaking of her family, I kind of expected her more to think about them while she was at the camp? I mean it was mostly Nick that she thought of and talked about while she was there, and she didn't even really love him. I get that it's the idea of Nick as a hero and not the actual person himself but I would have thought that it would be normal to miss her family.

Michelle: Yeah that was pretty odd too. Maybe she needed to distance herself so she wouldn't become utterly depressed? I'm not sure. I hope it doesn't come across like I didn't like the book, because I really did. But I was expecting so much MORE from Elizabeth Wein after Code Name Verity. I wanted to be wowed and it sorta felt like a lot of other concentration camp books I've read before. Like she spent so much time on imparting a message that she forgot about building awesome characters. Sadness.

Chachic: I really liked reading the book as well but yeah, I don't love it as much as Code Name Verity. I think I liked it more than you did? Because I can't compare it with other concentration camp novels. I did like the idea of "tell the world" and how Elizabeth Wein said that's what she tried to do with Rose Under Fire. It's an emotionally heavy read and now I need a happy book!

Michelle: Yes! A change of pace after the heartbreak of this one very much in order.

The Story Guy Blog Tour + Giveaway

Yesterday I posted a review for a fantastic new novella I just discovered: The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers. I am excited to be part of the Blog Tour for The Story Guy. So scroll on through -- not only will you find an exclusive excerpt from The Story Guy but a chance to win your very own eBook copy of The Story Guy!

In case you missed my review, here's the skinny on The Story Guy:

In this eBook original novella, Mary Ann Rivers introduces a soulful and sexy tale of courage, sacrifice, and love.

I will meet you on Wednesdays at noon in Celebration Park. Kissing only.

Carrie West is happy with her life . . . isn’t she? But when she sees this provocative online ad, the thirtysomething librarian can’t help but be tempted. After all, the photo of the anonymous poster is far too attractive to ignore. And when Wednesday finally arrives, it brings a first kiss that’s hotter than any she’s ever imagined. Brian Newburgh is an attorney, but there’s more to his life . . . that he won't share with Carrie. Determined to have more than just Wednesdays, Carrie embarks on a quest to learn Brian’s story, certain that he will be worth the cost. But is she ready to gamble her heart on a man who just might be The One . . . even though she has no idea how their love story will end?

Fun right? Well, just to whet your appetites, here's a sneak peak at what you'll find in The Story Guy...

I finish the email, only trembling a little.



Subject: Wednesdays Only

I’m certain you’ve filled the position, but it’s late (or very early) and I’m intrigued despite the judgment I should possess staring into the second half of my third decade.

My IM handle is “lieberries” on villagemail.

When I send it, my breath comes out in a whoosh and my heart is pounding in my ears. I don’t really expect him to answer, but I open my villagemail account anyway and turn my laptop’s volume up so I can hear the IM chime. I can’t quite work out why I answered him.

Sure, he’s pretty, and maybe I’ve gotten a little comfortable with things, or maybe the insomnia is getting the better of me. It’s been a long day that has stumbled into a sad and quiet morning. I can’t stop thinking about stupid things. My dad’s arm around my mom’s shoulders while she takes pictures of the Alaskan coast. Will and Shelley kissing in their tiny urban goat shed, their homemade cheese in their old beer fridge. I look at my thumb, where the sliver has made it red and swollen.

I pull my T-shirt over my bare legs. Sit up straight and try to think straighter. Practically speaking, meeting a MetroLink stranger for anything, but especially kissing, is not entirely safe. I touch my throat, where a blast of heat burns in the hollow.

Is it really something bad to have a life that’s safe? To wear skirts at a sensible length, to let a friend walk you home from the bar, to meet a man for coffee in a busy diner days before you’re alone with him on your stoop?

I look at his picture, how his cuffs bunch at his forearms.

While I value my contentment, I do apparently have a little fight left—for adventure, for capital “R” romance, for the certain curesthat Shelley teased me about—somewhere deep in my lizard brain. At least the part that, say, motivates happy sea turtles to leave their familiar waters and heave themselves up on the scary beach and lay eggs. Not that my eggs have anything to do with this.

I resolve to at least lean back against the pillows and rest before I have to get ready for work, but as soon as I set the laptop on the nightstand, my IM calls out.

In the quiet room, my gasp sounds totally Victorian.

When I spin the screen toward me, the IM box is as real as can be, and the handle is no one I recognize.

GearTattoo: I haven’t filled the position. Still interested?

THE STORY GUY on Goodreads

About Mary Ann Rivers
Mary Ann Rivers was an English and music major and went on to earn her MFA in creative writing, publishing poetry in journals and leading creative-writing workshops for at-risk youth. While training for her day job as a nurse practitioner, she rediscovered romance on the bedside tables of her favorite patients. Now she writes smart and emotional contemporary romance, imagining stories featuring the heroes and heroines just ahead of her in the coffee line. Mary Ann Rivers lives in the Midwest with her handsome professor husband and their imaginative school-aged son.

Connect with Mary Ann:  Website  |  Twitter |  Facebook


The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers

Let me start this review by saying The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers is a bit of departure from the usual sorts of books that tend to attract themselves to my reading-radar. So I'll just lay it out nice and plain: The Story Guy is a full-on romance novella with lots of sizzle and adult...situations. If you like stories that fade to black at certain moments, this ain't it. Ahem. That said I found myself glomming onto this particular read like you wouldn't believe because A. it came highly recommended by rock-star Angie and B. it features a teen services librarian as the heroine. Full-stop. That just may be my weakness right there. So if this sounds like something you might enjoy, continue on friend. And if not, well, I'll see you on the next go round.

As I stated before, Carrie is a protagonist I can absolutely get behind. She's a glasses-wearing librarian for Pete's sake who might just be a little bit, well, maybe...lonely. With a fulfilling job and friends who love her, she's never felt the need to truly put herself out there if only to avoid the awkwardness inherently involved in the dreaded first date. So she waits. Until one late night (or is it early morning?) when, sleepless, she curiously clicks on an on-line personal ad for what seems to be the most unexpected request. 
I will meet you on Wednesdays at noon in Celebration Park. Kissing only.
Feeling totally unlike herself, Carrie responds to the cryptic request and agrees to meet this mysterious stranger. And after that first day, Carrie embarks on a bit of a surprising, if not highly unconventional, courtship with a man so badly in need of rescuing it's almost painful at times to watch. Because if there's ever a man in need of a bit of rescuing, it's Brian. As in the words of Carrie's co-worker Justin:
"Wow, Carrie. When I said you should go for Story Boy I didn't realize he was a Russian novel."
The Story Guy is a novella that does not read like a novella. It reads like an incredibly well thought out, full-length novel with dynamic pacing and challenging characters. Despite their obvious, instant attraction it's Brian and Carrie's intensely personal conversations that go a long way in revealing their true selves more than any number of dates could have that propel this story from mere good to bloody brilliant. Take this startlingly raw confession of Carrie's on why she hasn't been dating much lately.
I was making some kind of request for some specific kind of love, and instead of that love, the love I needed, I would get another kind. Like, I would need...daisy love, you know, pretty love, sweet love that nonetheless was ubiquitous in roadside ditches in summertime, and instead I would get orchid love. Love that needed misting and replanting and pruning and fertilizing and died anyway. So I stopped asking, and it was okay, except I've been feeling like I don't have enough...of something.
Daisy love. *sigh* Who doesn't crave uncomplicated daisy love at times? And Carrie's ability to articulate those feelings in such a poetic just makes me feel so much. And that is what Mary Ann Rivers is so adept at in this debut -- making one feel all these great, big Emotions.

And maybe I'm getting a bit off track here but for me, while reading The Story Guy, I could not get the song Rescue Me out of my head. Cheesy as that sounds. But maybe that's the highest recommendation of all that I could give this story -- I just can't plain get it out of my head.

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Angieville review
Karen Knows Best review

book source: review copy from publisher

The Chocolate Touch by Laura Florand

Even though I don't necessarily love the cover of The Chocolate Touch (that skinny dude is so NOT Dominique Richard! I do so miss those enormously charming silhouettes paired with the bright blue and pink of the previous The Chocolate Thief and The Chocolate Kiss), I must admit to absolutely adoring the contents contained within the packaging. I've thoroughly enjoyed all of Laura Florand's previous novels but The Chocolate Touch pretty much killed it for me. Killed. It. Too soon you say? Well, read on...I'll clue you in as to why.

Every single day for the last week, Dominique Richard has caught glimpses of a unusually frail looking woman sitting in his exclusive Parisian chocolate shop nursing a cup of chocolat chaud while sampling one of his unique creations. Intrigued with her unusual quietness and general willingness to simply sit and enjoy his chocolates, Dominique finds himself wanting to get to know her. But at the same time, believing his natural aggressive nature would not be attractive to this quiet lady, makes plans to slowly charm her into looking not quite so...bruised. Even if the mysterious lady in question is sure Dominique couldn't possibly be interested in her, especially if he were to discover all her secrets.

I cannot say enough about Ms. Florand's deft hand at setting a scene, at creating tension, and in general at pairing two so very different individuals in one of the sweetest love stories I've come across in a long time. So often I found myself grinning like a fool or worried for the results their mutual stubbornness. Yes, Dominique and Jamie both have their complicated...issues...but they just complement each other so well. Their relationship is so out of the norm for both of them but it just works period. She's in need of some rebuilding and he's never had the implicit trust that Jamie is so willing to give. Although in this readers opinion, basically the best thing about both characters is their honest desire to simply do right by the other. That's enough right there to make this girl swoon. And then there's this small fact that the man specializes in dark chocolate. Oh boy. Talk about dreamy.

Nor is Ms. Florand afraid to dive headfirst the messiness of family dynamics in The Chocolate Touch -- which I will be forever grateful for. Jamie and her older sister fully captured my interest with their obvious love and fierce instinct to protect one another despite their myriad differences. Jamie's save-the-world mentality was such a wonderful foil to her sister's I'm-in-control-here demeanor. Of course, even more satisfying had to be watching Dominique trying to navigate those dangerous waters when he not only meets Jamie's sister, but her overprotective father, and prying grandfather (who is probably one of my favorite secondary characters. Ever.). Those scenes proved to be ever so hilarious yet also thrillingly sweet. Perhaps even more fabulous was how Ms. Florand allowed so many strong characters in one scene without ever overwhelming the other while still staying true to their own nature. That's no small feat and only added to The Chocolate Touch's addictive nature in the best possible way.

Now. If you still need some convincing, head on over to Laura Florand's site and read the first chapter of The Chocolate Touch to whet your appetite. It's all kinds of perfect.

The Chocolate Touch will be released July 30th.

series reading order:
~ The Chocolate Thief
~ The Chocolate Kiss
~ The Chocolate Touch

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Angieville review

book source: review copy from the author