Monday, October 17, 2022

Review: The Codebreaker's Secret by Sara Ackerman

by Sara Ackerman
Release Date: August 2, 2022
2022 Mira Books
Kindle Edition; 384 Pages
ISBN: 978-0778386452
Audiobook: B09PQMNGVD
Genre: Fiction / Historical / WWII
Source: Review copy from publisher
3.75 / 5 Stars
1943. As war in the Pacific rages on, Isabel Cooper and her codebreaker colleagues huddle in “the dungeon” at Station HYPO in Pearl Harbor, deciphering secrets plucked from the airwaves in a race to bring down the enemy. Isabel has only one wish: to avenge her brother’s death. But she soon finds life has other plans when she meets his best friend, a hotshot pilot with secrets of his own.

1965. Fledgling journalist Lu Freitas comes home to Hawai'i to cover the grand opening of the glamorous Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Rockefeller's newest and grandest project. When a high-profile guest goes missing, Lu forms an unlikely alliance with an intimidating veteran photographer to unravel the mystery. The two make a shocking discovery that stirs up memories and uncovers an explosive secret from the war days. A secret that only a codebreaker can crack.
My Thoughts
The Codebreaker's Secret is the latest WWII novel by this author and I always look forward to her books as she usually tends to focus on aspects of war that are not as familiar to readers, on the people who played huge roles in the war effort, but didn't necessarily step foot on a battlefield and the stories are compelling. And her passion for Hawaii and its history is evident in every word she writes; I have always enjoyed learning about island life during WWII and how the people coped after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  And while I enjoyed this story, I didn't really find it as compelling as in the past and the dual timeline affected my overall experience of the book, and not in a positive way, unfortunately.
First of all, both Izzy and Lu are strong female characters and I related to both of them.  I can't imagine how difficult it would have been for Izzy to break into such a world, even during times of stress, and I'm sure she would have been questioned at all times.  I did find Izzy's story the more compelling of the two but that may simply be because I preferred her story line over that of Lu's. However, the first snag I hit with this book was the reason she felt compelled to go to Hawaii, and that was to retrace her brother's footsteps before he died.  For someone so committed to her work as a codebreaker, it just seemed flimsy at best.  And to send a codebreaker who has no knowledge of the Japanese language, especially a woman, also rubbed me the wrong way. 
I will admit I struggled a bit with the story line, and I definitely skimmed through the 1965 ones as I didn't necessarily see a purpose to them.  The book started off rather strong and interesting, even if I didn't quite believe in the reason for Izzy to head to Hawaii, or even if it would have happened, and I teach WWII history so I do have a background in the subject.  When Izzy started retracing her brother's footsteps, I enjoyed learning about the island, but there was something that felt off about the whole thing. I can't explain it, but it just felt weird.  And I couldn't understand the purpose behind any of it either except to maybe try to give a reason for Izzy and Matteo to become closer through memories of her brother? However, I did like the inclusion of Matteo's PTSD as such things were not really discussed during that time period although many men and women were suffering from trauma due to war-related events.  
While I enjoyed a lot of things in this book, like reading about the work the codebreakers did during this time period, I definitely struggled with the dual time line.  It's not that it wasn't interesting learning about Rockefeller and what he was up to, but I just didn't see the point.  Personally, the story lines just felt like they didn't work together and were strung together to come up with a way to have this sort of mystery involving Izzy's friend.  It wasn't hard to figure out who did the deed and who the person became in the future and to be honest, there were parts were I became a bit bored and was looking for something to happen.  I also thought there were too many coincidences in this book. It feels like every books makes use of a dual time line today. 
The Codebreaker's Secret was a bit disjointed and some of the story line didn't quite sit well with me, but the descriptions of the island during this time period are beautiful and it is still worth a read.  I definitely struggled with Izzy becoming a codebreaker, not because she is a woman, but due to her lack of knowledge of Japanese language and culture; however, I do know a lot about the topic so I can't just put that aside and go with the story.  The author is a beautiful writer and I love how she continues to write books that are unconventional during this time period which is why I will recommend this book despite some of the issues I had with it.  And I highly recommend her previous work as well.