Rose Under Fire: Elizabeth Wein

I finished¬†Rose Under Fire, a companion novel to¬†Code Name Verity,¬†this morning. Despite being ready, this time, for a horrifying and very tragic story, I was still horrified and actually had a few tears in my eyes by the time I was done. Let me get this straight, though– I really don’t cry while reading books. I’ve only ever cried twice before, and one of those times was because of¬†Code Name Verity.¬†Ms. Wein creates a narrative so twisted and stunningly awful that tears seem like a given part of reading the book. Unless you’re truly steel-hearted, I don’t know how you could read this without shedding a single one.

Rose Under Fire follows the story of a young American woman, Rose Justice, working alongside her British counterparts; her job, when she is captured, is to transport a fighter plane from Paris to England. The first part of this book is Rose recounting her days working with Maddie (!! who comes back from¬†Code Name Verity¬†and is now married to Jamie,) and other girls, other pilots, while struggling to come to terms with the war. She recalls days where they are under fire, reading about the travesties happening in war-torn countries, and other sad tidbits of life… but she also has a lot of hope. She’s falling in love for the first time with a handsome young British soldier named Nick. She’s made close friends. She’s working towards a cause. Things are going relatively okay for Rose.¬†Unfortunately, that all changes when she tries to conduct an aerial ramming technique– taran–¬†on a German fighter plane. She succeeds, but is surrounded by three German pilots who very kindly escort her into Nazi-occupied Germany.
Now Rose is caught, and forced to undergo with worst seven months (I think it was seven months?) of her young life.

The reason I like this book so much is because you’re getting a look into concentration camps from the point of view of someone who’s not Jewish at all– but a political prisoner. Things don’t change much in terms of the torture and trauma that Rose Justice undergoes, but she has a different perspective on things. Most WW2 novels that follow Jewish prisoners in these camps are written from the perspective of someone who has lived their life as a civilian, utterly unaware of the travesties of war. Rose and, in the previous novel, Verity, knew exactly what they were getting into. Even if Rose wasn’t aware of the existence of these concentration camps, she examines everything with a far more calculating mindset. Most of her inner monologue consists of actively trying to keep the women in her camp safe, especially the Rabbits, who are prisoners that were experimented on by the German scientists. The Rabbits are the most protected and valuable people in the camp, because they are living proof of the horrors that these girls have been subjected to at the hands of their Nazi captors. It’s really refreshing to read a Holocaust book where the main character has a plan of action– which is to get at least one Rabbit out alive. They even make up a song to remember the names of all of the Rabbits, which is both heartbreaking and brilliant.

Another interesting thing about this story is that it’s written in Rose’s perspective after she reaches the US Embassy, post-being-captured. She’s writing about her escape attempt and her time in the concentration camp while staying at the Ritz, recovering. It’s a really nouveau attempt at writing this sort of story, I think, because Ms. Wein intertwines Rose’s recovery with her memoirs about the camp. Rose talks about the way things are now, seven months after she disappeared, about how the world has moved on without her. She confronts the reality of people not believing that the Holocaust was a real thing– her own mother can’t believe it. She is trying to remember how to feel alive, look alive, and be alive, when her life stopped seven months ago.

There’s one line in this book that really, really hurt, but a little context is needed. When Rose first flies over Germany, accompanied by a much kinder German gentleman, he points out the women’s concentration camp that she will later be imprisoned in: Ravensbr√ľck. He calls it “a pilot’s pinpoint,” because many German planes use it to figure out which way is north. When she’s way up in the sky, she notes that Ravensbr√ľck looks like an abandoned factory– and then several months later, during an air-raid drill, she and the other women are forced to run outside during an air raid drill and lie down in the center of the camp, staring up at the Allied planes that cross over them. Some women cry for help, but most are silent because when you cry, you are shot and killed. Rose watches the planes go by, knowing that the Allies won’t rescue them from their personal Hell: “… they’d be too high and it was too dark for them to see any of the forty thousand women lying facedown on the damp gravel, trapped in our wire-and-concrete cage.
A pilot’s pinpoint. That’s all.”


To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before: Jenny Han

Recently I finished up¬†To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before,¬†a fluffy and light quasi-romance quasi-slice of life by author Jenny Han, who’s also written books like¬†The Summer I Turned Pretty¬†and¬†Burn for Burn¬†(neither of which I have read.)

I’ll admit that I picked up this book for two primary reasons: 1. It looks like a fun and easy-going novel, and after reading about Lada’s conquests and heartbreaks,¬†I¬†needed a break, and 2. this novel features a protagonist who is mixed, both South Korean and white, and her cultural heritage is a big part of her personal identity. I like that, because the author includes a lot of tidbits of Lara Jean’s life that feature her South Korean¬†side.
Anyways, the story follows Lara Jean’s societal downfall: for years, she’s been writing letters to the boys that she has crushes on and leaving them sealed and ready to deliver in a box (which is a terrible idea, Lara Jean, you’re basically asking for this to happen to you.) Predictably, the letters get sent out, and she is mortified. Especially since one of these crushes is her sister’s longtime boyfriend, Josh.

I was pleasantly surprised because I thought that Josh would be the love interest, but instead, she coaxes an old, but distant friend, Peter Kavinsky, into pretending to be her boyfriend– which is cliched, I’ll admit. She and Peter draw up a contract, where he’ll help her convince all these old boys (especially Josh) that those were just silly letters that meant nothing, and in return, Peter (who was actually one of the recipients, but who Lara Jean used to know very well) gets to show off to his old ex-girlfriend, Genevieve, that he is completely and truly over her. Of course, they start to fall in love.

So I will admit that the plot is extremely predictable. Lara Jean and Peter start developing feelings for each other, and the two main conflicts are Josh’s reaction to his letter and Gen’s reaction to Peter’s new girlfriend (it’s not a good one.) So go somewhere else if you’re looking for a new and exciting tale that’ll take you to waters never traveled and places never discovered, because this is not it.
This book, however, is easy and entertaining. It’s a fun read for a rainy evening, not something serious. So if you’re looking for something to chill with, then you should try this book out. The language isn’t complicated, the plot isn’t complicated, the romance isn’t complicated. But it’s fun.

Oh, let me talk really quickly about one part of this book that I really enjoyed: Margot, Lara Jean, and their family’s relationship. They’re a really tight-knit unit, and the interesting thing is that (if I remember correctly,) their mother was the Korean one, while their father is white. However, their family is¬†very¬†Korean– possibly because their father wants to make up for their mother’s loss. It’s an interesting take on grief, and also a look into the life of single father-hood.

I’ve read quite a few reviews that ridicule Lara Jean for being “childish” and “innocent,” and refer to her as “privileged.” I’m just going to say: not every character has to be some super serious, world-changing hero. Nor does every female character have to be a badass, butt-kicking superwoman. It’s¬†okay¬†to read books that are silly and it’s¬†okay to have heroines that are silly, because life does have quite a few silly moments. Life isn’t all sadness and darkness and despair, fighting against the system and dystopian vigilante justice. Life is also roses and first loves and embarrassment, and ice cream and kittens and crushes. So sit back and enjoy this book and don’t take yourself too seriously.
I really liked the story. Maybe you will, too. ūüôā

And I Darken: Kiersten White

I recently finished author Kiersten White’s latest novel,¬†And I Darken,¬†and I’m not quite sure if I liked it or not. It was really well written, the plot was alright, and the characters were intriguing, but then there are certain aspects of the book that weren’t exactly my taste. The story takes place in several old kingdoms in Eastern Europe, notably Wallachia and the Ottoman Empire. It follows the tale of Lada and Radu, the children of Vlad Dracul and heirs to the Wallachian throne.

From the beginning, it’s established that Lada is this really ugly, really bloodthirsty and slightly psychotic child. She’s constantly causing trouble, she resorts to using her fists and teeth to get her way, and she’s her father’s favorite. Radu, her brother, is much more angelic in nature and in looks: he’s the handsome, golden-haired-golden-hearted and constantly terrorized younger brother. The basic plotline is that Lada and Radu are given away to the Ottomans by their father, in exchange for I think, keeping Vlad on the Wallachian throne as a figurehead. Lada, as she grows older, schemes to get it back, but struggles between going after her throne or giving up and settling down besides Mehmed, the heir to the Ottoman empire and the only boy who Lada feels is equal to her.

So what I liked about the book: Lada is an unforgiving force of vengeance. She will do almost anything to get her way. Most heroines in YA fiction can try going for this route but end up looking whiny or ignorant, but Lada is constantly faced with the fact that she is a girl in a world of men, and for¬†once¬†we have a heroine who isn’t seductive and beautiful and who has men constantly falling over her feet. We have this very angry, very bloodthirsty, uprooted empress who will stab and slaughter and maim her way to the top. It really is a villain’s backstory. I don’t really know if Lada’s going to end up being the good guy at the end of all of this, but then again, I don’t know if there really are any good guys in this book.

I also liked the fact that one of Lada’s biggest hardships is the fact that she’s a girl. It’s a little tragic, because no matter how terrifying she is, her problems always boil down to the fact that she’s a girl. She befriends the Janissaries and fights better than any of them– but is still molested by one of her crew because “she’s a girl,” and she realizes that, hey, no matter what I do, I’m never going to be a part of this crew because I’m a girl. So she does something even better and she takes over their group, becoming their leader. Also, she kills the guy that groped her– that scene was both expected and unexpected, because I thought Lada would get her revenge but I didn’t realize that she would murder Ian, the offender. She kills him out in the woods and then casually mentions to Mehmed that hey, I left a body somewhere out there, deal with it for me.

There aren’t any love triangles in this book, really, except Radu does try to mess with Lada and Mehmed’s relationship at one point, I think. Of course, the romance is a bit screwed up, but everything in this book is a bit screwed up.

What I don’t like about this book: Mehmed, Radu, and some of the filler stuff. I’ll talk about Radu first. He’s so pathetic compared to Lada, and most of his role in the novel is as this self-pitying mass of sadness. He wants Lada to love him, he wants Mehmed to love him, he just wants someone to love him. And at first, it’s understandable. Then it’s annoying. By the end of the book you just want Radu gone for good. The first half is Radu trying to gain Lada’s favor and the second half is Radu trying his best to keep Mehmed alive and also, surprise, he’s gay and deeply in love with Mehmed, who is the epitome of straightness. I guess he was just kind of a predictable character. He does manage to find Nazira, a lesbian, and marry her so that they’re not societal outcasts, but it makes you wonder: does Radu have a honing beacon for queer people? Because he has this friend, too, just a random friend from the courts, who ends up making out with the guy in his palace, and it’s just a really strange and confusing scene.
The one thing I do like about Radu is the fact that he’s very manipulative: he knows how angelic and innocent he is and how to wrap people around his finger, and he does it well. I wish there was more focus on that, or that it was written well. There’s a part where he convinces Mehmed’s father not to kill Lada, but it a flimsy and obvious attempt at changing the king’s mind when I hoped he’d do something subtle. A long-con. But I guess that’s kind of hard to do.

Mehmed just annoyed me because he’s Lada’s love interest and Lada really doesn’t need a love interest. His entire existence is just, “I love you Lada, stay with me in the Ottoman Empire and we can be happy together,” and it makes me mad. For one thing, Mehmed has this whole horde of concubine that he regularly sees, and he has two children already. At one point in the book, he leaves the country, comes back, Lada’s excited to see him but also nervous, he goes to do the do with a concubine and¬†then¬†he comes to meet Lada, and then they later have their first kiss, and then he does the do with another concubine, and Lada figures all of this out and is heartbroken. And Mehmed refers to it as his “duty” as a king. Now, I understand that kings in the Ottoman empire always had their concubines, but I still think that he was a very selfish character. He’s also incredibly foolhardy, a trait that’s exhibited several times: when he tries to rule the kingdom as a child, when Lada and Radu are afraid to tell him that they saved his life and he can become the king later, when he’s more established, etc. I just didn’t like this guy at all. He’s a waste of time, Lada, let it go.

Lastly, there was a lot of the book that was just random things happening to Lada and Radu, like Radu discovering his religion and Lada fighting Janissaries– there were¬†so many chapters¬†of Lada fighting Janissaries– and while it’s always nice to have character development, it got very boring in the end. I kind of skimmed through those parts and moved on to the main plot line because it got a little repetitive. Lada fighting, Lada remembering that she’s a girl, Lada getting mad, Lada murdering someone. Radu sneaking around the palace, Radu thinking about Mehmed, Radu thinking about Nazira, Radu being torn between Islam and his love for Lada.

I was a bit relieved when the book ended, to be honest. It got to the point where I was just like “Lada go take your throne and forget about these guys,” and she did, so that made me happy. The final chapter is Lada standing over Wallachia with her Janissaries and the newly reintroduced Brogan, her childhood friend who was taken away but has come back. She’s going to take back her kingdom, so I hope that it gets a bit more interesting in the next book although I probably won’t continue this series.


The Boogie Man

Over the past week I made it through this RPG Maker game,¬†The Boogie Man. It’s the story of a detective, trapped inside a castle and hunting down a madman who has taken the residents of the castle tour (of which he was a part of along with¬†his wife,) captive.

The story is really interesting and, in the beginning, was well-thought-out. Our madman, the titular “Boogie Man,” is a genuinely warped individual with a thirst for chaos. He wanders around the castle, murdering and maiming people all while hunting Detective Keith Baring’s wife, Helena. Each room holds another puzzle piece that will eventually help solve the puzzle of who exactly the Boogie Man is, and flowing dialogue, atmospheric music and original artwork help make to make the game intriguing. It certainly held my interest until the very end, and exceeded my expectations, considering the fact that it’s free.

Now, for a free game,¬†The Boogie Man is incredible: there’s a story, changing gameplay mechanics, and¬†so¬†much dialogue. I would recommend it if you’re bored and want to play something creepy, but without jumpscares. There are some cons to it, though, and this is where spoilers begin.
The beginning of the story was good. Detective Keith Baring and his wife, Helena, who suffer a strained relationship due to a past tragedy, decide to holiday at this random castle that they get free tickets to tour courtesy of Dick, who is Keith’s supervisor.


Haha. You’re in for a ride, Helena.

So Keith wakes up in the middle of the night and realizes that Helena is gone, and then after a few cutscenes and some wandering around the castle, is introduced to the main antagonist: Boogie Man. He chases Boogie Man around the castle for the next six hours or however long it takes you to complete the game, and through various hints you start to guess who Boogie Man might be: is it one of the hostages? Is it Dick? Is it Eric, the clumsy subordinate? But no, in the end, it turns out that the Boogie Man is… Brendon. The castle’s proprietor and the guy who started the tours. He’s the first victim but haha, surprise, he actually destroyed a doll that¬†looked¬†like him. I admit that the unmasking threw me off, not only for that reason but also because Brendon has literally no motivation to antagonize Keith Baring. What was he trying to do? Build a reputation for the castle? No, there’s no motivation at all. This is even commented on by Dick in the epilogue, when he states the same confusion over Brendon’s missing motivation. I think that it’s supposed to be assumed that he’s just crazy, but… why? It felt like a cop-out. They tried to play up a Batman-Joker relationship between Keith and Boogie, but it didn’t work out.

This game also features a lot of voice acting, which might be your thing, but is certainly not mine. I like voice acting in games like¬†Bioshock, Batman,¬†Brothers,¬†you know, ones made professionally.¬†It was a little weird playing an RPG that had voices for their characters. I got used to it after the first few hours: Keith’s voice actor, only identified by the pseudonym “Neon,” did a pretty good job. So did the other voice actors. The only one who irritated me to no end was the voice of Helena, who might have also been the voice of Tod Baring, their son. I could not¬†stand¬†her. She had this very soft, breathy, high-pitched voice which almost convinced me to mute the entire game, which would have been a pity because the soundtrack is pretty great. I wish there was a way to turn off the voices. Boogie Man’s voice was really good, too. I think he was the only one that was actually convincing, whose voice fit their character. Everyone else felt slightly disjointed.

Speaking of the characters, they aren’t super well thought-out, but you become reasonably attached to most of them. Keith especially, since you play as him. There’s also the slimy ex-reporter, Lance, the father and daughter duo, Richard and Sophie, and the married couple, David and Shirley. I think that David actually comes from the game¬†The Crooked Man,¬†which is part of the trilogy that¬†The Boogie Man¬†belongs to. A lot of the characters are stereotypes: Richard is the overprotective father, Sophie is the brat, Helena is the useless and hyperfeminine love interest, and Keith is the emotionless, grade A detective that has no time for your crap. The most interesting ones were probably David and Shirley, mostly because you don’t know anything about them, other than the fact that they consider themselves to be loners. Very mysterious. David’s also the only helpful one, and referred to as the “Robin to Keith’s Batman,” so he made himself a place in my heart.


Here’s Keith trying to solve a puzzle in a creepy room.

The cutscenes are incredibly long, but they’re fun, so that didn’t bother me too much. I think that the only other thing that really annoyed me about this game was the walking. You had to walk so much, and the castle was like a maze. It was impossible to find different rooms, and you have to run back from Point Z to Point A multiple times when searching for items/events and completing missions. Oh, I actually thought of one more thing: I’m pretty sure that there is no way to complete this game without the walkthrough. It’s hard, and a lot of the events that happen have to be triggered by super-specific things. I think I would have spent an extra six hours just walking around and trying to get something to happen if it hadn’t existed, but luckily, an official walkthrough is online.

Overall, this game is great for being free. It’s a good way to pass the time, but it’s also pretty creepy and features some rather violent methods of death, although it’s all 8-bit so I don’t know if that would bother anyone. I enjoyed it, but I don’t think I’d play it again, even though there are multiple endings. I got the happy, true ending, and I’m content with that. Still, props to the creator, Uri, for putting so much time and effort into this. Here’s a link to the download file if you’re interested in trying it out: