Welcome to Reader vs. Reader (anyone have any wicked name suggestions???). Two librarians who have read the same book will discuss it critically. They may agree, agree on certain points, or completely disagree. RvR will challenge your reading comfort zone and dig deeply into the text to find potential problems or subtle brilliance. And maybe both.
In January, Andrea and Pam both read Velvet Undercover by Teri Brown.
Samantha Donaldson’s family has always done its duty for the British Crown. In the midst of World War I, seventeen-year-old Sam follows in their footsteps, serving her country from the homefront as a messenger for the intelligence organization MI5. Deep undercover in the court of Kaiser Wilhelm II, Sam must navigate the labyrinthine palace and its many glamorous–and secretive–residents to complete her assignment.
The Quick Reactions:
|Pam: I get picky with my historical fiction. For what was going on, it needed to be at least twice as long, or at least twice as detailed. the *twist* wasn’t really a twist for me, and nothing felt authentically 1910s.
Andrea:I am not a big historical fiction person, so I didn’t notice all the little flaws. I enjoyed it as a light read that was fun, even if it was slightly predictable. I felt like even though Sam may not be completely accurate to the era, she’d be highly relatable to today’s teens.
Snippet of our conversation (Warning: spoilers everywhere!):
Pam: Okay, let’s start off with what we liked. I liked the layout of the book very much, with the cipher codes and the definitions. Secret passages! I liked those too!
Andrea: Yes, I thought both of those were awesome. Also, LOVED all the maid gossip and how she befriended them. I think I could have read a book completely with them as main characters.
Pam: We need an Upstairs, Downstairs version of this. I would dig that.
What really bothered me was how Samantha has all these special abilities, and that drives me up the wall. She’s super smart, knows five languages, is pretty, happens to look just like a cousin of the Kaiser’s DIL…
Andrea: I’ll agree with the Sam thing. I felt like she was a bit much at times, but then I also kind of liked that she wasn’t perfect?
Pam: Mmm, yes, she definitely wasn’t perfect. But she thought A LOT of herself. That first chapter with the crying and OH THE WORLD IS ENDING because she didn’t win the Girl Guides trophy wouldn’t make me pick her for a spy.
Andrea: That to me just screamed I’M SUCH A TEEN
Pam: And yet teens then had to grow up fast, because the population was being decimated. Sam talked about the war, and the armbands, and so forth, but she didn’t act like she was ready to step up. I guess that makes her more relatable.
Andrea: Yes, I know so many teens who could really relate to her, even if she wasn’t accurate.
Pam: I guess I just couldn’t believe in her or root for her because she was naive enough to think that she could do this wild mission, that she didn’t question her selection as a spy at all, until the end.
Andrea: Aka she was teenager?! Like seriously, you totally just described my teens, lol. I feel like she wasn’t supposed to be a real/typical spy?
Pam: I think teens should see themselves in books. I also think that books can teach us how to be better versions of ourselves, especially in times of war or disaster. And Sam didn’t grow up *enough* for me to go YEAH GOOD JOB. She was a little girl looking for her dad.
Andrea: And I can’t disagree with the growth aspect. There was some, but it was small. I think her realizing she wasn’t perfect and that she had been duped was a HUGE life lesson for her. BUT I honestly think the point was almost to see her as a little girl looking for her dad. She shouldn’t be in this situation. She wasn’t trained, even her father said as much. Sam totally fumbled almost every step. She made HUGE mistakes and had Max not been a good guy, she would have been dead on the roof.
Pam: Now that would have been an interesting plot point. However, there were some oddities with street names, too. If I’m talking about a street in Germany I wouldn’t say “the” Blah Blah Strasse. It would just be Blah Blah Strasse. Like Adams Boulevard or Washington Road.
Andrea: Whereas, not being a history buff or fluent in German, I totally didn’t notice any of that.
Pam: My last quibble was with the love interest. He was really boring, his backstory didn’t make sense to me, Maxwell isn’t really a German name (Maximilian? Yes!) and Meyer … is Jewish. Yet he’s a nice German boy. I know I’m kind of in the wrong war, but how did he get to be in the Crown Prince’s personal guard anyway?
Andrea: YES! We now we’re really having a smackdown, because I loved the love interest! I have to admit, I don’t know much about Germany, so “not a German name”, eh, I went with it. There was something about him I totally loved though. I don’t know if it was just how he acted with her or what, but when he appeared again I was like YES!
Pam: You mean at the end? Yeah, that was sweet. I admit it. So what did you like about Max? He was really nice … but I felt that he was TOO nice. Like too ready to help her do everything. Then again, I am a pessimist. Would he really check up on her as much as he did?
Andrea: There was something charming and I don’t know, human, about him that really drew me to him. He felt like the boy next door, even if current situation wouldn’t allow it. However, I was really torn on the nicety thing. I wasn’t sure that he actually was. I felt like it was more of a “I don’t know you, I’m going to act all nice to make sure you check out.”
Pam: I mean, it was pretty overt. If I were Sam, and I were a spy, and not a super well-trained spy, I’d be very wary of everyone, especially people who are nice to you when you don’t expect it.
Andrea: Oh yeah, but I think how unguarded Sam was most of the time was the whole point? She wasn’t REALLY trained. She was just a teenager who thought she knew what she was doing.
You want to know what bugged me? The unanswered plot points. WHO WAS THE ASSASSIN?! WHO BROKE INTO HER ROOM?!
Pam: YES! Oh, the other thing that bugged me: the scene on the train with the soprano and Sam sees a red book in the bottom of her knitting bag. I thought for sure she was another LDB spy, which would have been a fun twist. BUT the explanation is “everyone has red books.”???
Andrea: Yeah, I agree with that as well. I kept hoping she’d up to be a spy as well, but at the same time, I kind of like what she ended up being.
So, I think what this book comes down to is the intended audience. I totally think this one is more for your light historical fic readers? Like I kind of hate history and usually avoid historical novels, so for me this one was enjoyable. I think this is for the teens dabbling in historical fiction who like spies/adventure stories. It’s something to get their feet wet maybe?
Pam: I think you’ve got the crux of the matter. I’m super into history and languages and took an obscene amount of Western Civ classes in school, because French major. So I get very nitpicky when it comes to historical fiction.
HOWEVER light historicals, it works.; it is good for someone looking for a quick read or one with romance but nothing more than flutterings.
Stay tuned next month when we’ll duke it out over First & Then by Emma Mills.