Thursday, 31 July 2014

All These Things I've Done - Gabrielle Zevin (#1 Birthright Trilogy)


In 2083, chocolate and coffee are illegal, paper is hard to find, water is carefully rationed, and New York City is rife with crime and poverty. And yet, for Anya Balanchine, the sixteen-year-old daughter of the city's most notorious (and dead) crime boss, life is fairly routine. It consists of going to school, taking care of her siblings and her dying grandmother, trying to avoid falling in love with the new assistant D.A.'s son, and avoiding her loser ex-boyfriend. That is until her ex is accidently poisoned by the chocolate her family manufactures and the police think she's to blame. Suddenly, Anya finds herself thrust unwillingly into the spotlight--at school, in the news, and most importantly, within her mafia family.


All These Things I’ve Done  is the first book in the Birthright trilogy. The series follows Anya Balanchine, the daughter of a mob boss, and is set in New York in 2083. Anya lives with with her aged grandmother, her older brother and younger sister, and even though she is only sixteen she is effectively head of her household.

The big seller in the blurb of this book is the idea that Anya is framed for attempted murder, something that I thought sounded quite exciting, but I wouldn’t hold your breath if I were you. It doesn’t happen for ages, probably about a thirds of the book in, so it’s hardly the catalyst of the plot. And on top of that, it’s a pretty tame attempted murder, so that was kind of disappointing.
The other aspect played up in the blurb was the love story between Anya and the DA’s son, Win. I got the impression that Anya and Win were going to be star crossed lovers from different sides of the tracks, but it’s not really as exciting as that. Both Win and Anya attend the same elite Catholic private school, both Anya and Win come from quite affluent backgrounds, even though their money has been earned by very different means. Win’s father is the the New York district attorney’s second in command, and because he fears his son’s relationship with a member of the Balanchine family will affect his reputation and candidacy for DA, he forbids them from seeing each other. ( I wouldn’t consider this a spoiler because it was basically written in less detail in the blurb, but it doesn’t happen until quite a while into the story.) While this extremely cliched, at least Zevin mixed it up a bit and made the girl from the wrong side of the tracks.

However, in the end the romance wasn’t even the most important part of the story. Zevin has created an interesting, futuristic, sort-of-dystopian world. New York has turned into a crumbling city fuelled by crime and corruption. In her world Zevin has placed a prohibition on caffeine and chocolate. I couldn’t see any reason for this ban , except to demoralise the civilians, but not one on alcohol, which doesn’t seem to be a problem in Zevin’s New York. Because of this ban , there is a black market trade in chocolate which Anya’s criminal relatives, the Balanchines, are involved in. Severe rationing has been put on fundamental things such as water and paper, no new clothes or books are made, and all types of food are in short supply. Ayna and her sister attend a super elite Catholic private school, which seems completely out of place in this Gotham-style New York.  Even though the book is set in 2083, Anya still lives in a patriarchal society. The men in the Balanchine family are irrefutably in charge, and when Anya’s father, the head of the organisation, is killed , Anya’s grandmother is passed over for the top spot. Similarly, they refuse to work with Anya, purely because she is a girl.

Zevin uses Anya’s grandmother in a very interesting way to reflect our time. She was born in 1995, probably the same year the average reader of this book was born. She reminisces back to now, and I found it extremely odd to hear the characters talk about our time as if it were history.

Anya is not the usual YA heroine. Normally the female protagonists are simpering damsels in distress, or mouthy crazy free-spirits. Fortunately, Anya follows in the footsteps of characters such as Katniss and Tris, and manages not to be a complete pain in the ass. Anya’s faith is very important to her, surprisingly enough. Normally religion is left completely out of these futuristic dystopian novels, but Anya is a staunch Catholic and a lot of her choices and actions are based on her faith. While I was impressed by Anya, I was not by Win. Win reminded me of a smarmy Augustus Waters, but ten times worse. If you have a hard time stomaching Augustus, you will have an even worse time trying to put up with Win. Normally the male protagonist s in YA novels are easy to drool over, but Win, for want of a better word, was kind of meh.

Overall a good, futuristic, dystopian novel and I’m looking forward to the next one and seeing where Anya and her family end up.  I would recommend this to anyone who like good quality YA dystopian, and it reminded me a bit of Divergent.

Stars: 3 ½ stars

Friday, 25 July 2014

Norwegian Wood - Haruki Murakami


Toru, a quiet and preternaturally serious young college student in Tokyo, is devoted to Naoko, a beautiful and introspective young woman, but their mutual passion is marked by the tragic death of their best friend years before.  Toru begins to adapt to campus life and the loneliness and isolation he faces there, but Naoko finds the pressures and responsibilities of life unbearable.  As she retreats further into her own world, Toru finds himself reaching out to others and drawn to a fiercely independent and sexually liberated young woman.

A poignant story of one college student's romantic coming-of-age,Norwegian Wood takes us to that distant place of a young man's first, hopeless, and heroic love.


There is a lot to be said about Norwegian Wood. It’s a coming of age story, or to use the pretentious new word I’ve learned, a bildungsroman. Norwegian Wood is apparently Murakami’s most popular novel, even though it is extremely different to his other novels. The narrative follows Toru Watanabe through his first years of university as he learns about the nature of life and death.

Norwegian Wood is permeated by a sense of loneliness and alienation. Our protagonist, Watanabe, embodies this loneliness. I found Watanabe to be kind of an annoying character to begin with, his defining feature is his loneliness and isolation from those around him. He is, in my opinion, a terribly dull character. But Watanabe is like this for a good reason, and his nature serves an extremely plot and symbolic point. So as boring as I found Watanabe, maybe he was just representative of a more normal person, instead of the caricatures we sometimes find in novels.

The more I read of this book, the more I thought of it as an older, darker, harsher, more graphic version of a John Green novel. It reminded me so much of Green’s first novel, Looking for Alaska, it almost seemed to a darker version for older young adults. Don’t feel like I’ve spoiled it for you , the plot of Norwegian Wood is nothing like that of Looking for Alaska, but there were definitely some parallels. The characters of Watanabe and Midori are extremely like Pudge and Alaska. The arc and tone of the story was quite similar, and just like Pudge, throughout the novel Watanabe comes to understand the nature of life and death. ( Just to let you know , I loved Looking for Alaska ,  so I did not mind reading another book I found similar to it. The similarities aren’t bad, I just wanted to point them. Also, I’m pretty sure Norwegian Wood was written first, so if anyone is copying, it’s Green.)As I’ve mentioned before, this novel is surprisingly dark. Murakami deals with suicide and mental illness in his novel, and no holds are barred.

The characters, for the most part, are fairly realistic. Naoko, Watanabe’s best friends ex-girlfriend seems to be a rather quiet, rather lost character. Nagasawa, Watanabe’s friend, is an intellectual player who is unable to commit. Reiko, Naoko’s middle aged roommate, is probably the oddest of the characters, while still managing to be realistic. Midori, on the other hand, seemed to be one of those cliched whirlwind, crazy girls that you rarely meet in real life.

Overall this was a really good book. I didn’t love it like everyone else seemed to , but I did really really like it. I would recommended it to anyone who wants to make a step up from ordinary YA novels.

4 Stars

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

What's Left of Me - Kat Zhang

Blurb: I should not exist. But I do.

Eva and Addie started out the same way as everyone else—two souls woven together in one body, taking turns controlling their movements as they learned how to walk, how to sing, how to dance. But as they grew, so did the worried whispers. Why aren’t they settling? Why isn’t one of them fading? The doctors ran tests, the neighbors shied away, and their parents begged for more time. Finally Addie was pronounced healthy and Eva was declared gone. Except, she wasn’t . . .

For the past three years, Eva has clung to the remnants of her life. Only Addie knows she’s still there, trapped inside their body. Then one day, they discover there may be a way for Eva to move again. The risks are unimaginable-hybrids are considered a threat to society, so if they are caught, Addie and Eva will be locked away with the others. And yet . . . for a chance to smile, to twirl, to speak, Eva will do anything.


The novel opens with the extremely interesting premise that each human is born with two souls instead of one, two consciousnesses that coexist in harmony until one of them, the dominant soul, eclipses the other, the recessive soul . Except in the case of Addie and Eva,our protagonists, the recessive soul, Eva,  never disappears. Addie and Eva still share the same body years after all their peers have lost their recessive soul.  People like this are called hybrids and they are thought to be dangerous by most of society. They live in fear of being discovered and being separated. The society that Eva and Addie live in is almost identical to our own, and this gave the book a slightly unnerving quality.

The book is told from Eva’s perspective, even though Addie is in control of their body. The dual souls idea  is kind of confusing to begin with, but I got used to it after a while. Zhang makes the distinction between Addie and Eva quite clear, but I found it difficult to distinguish between the other characters. To me they didn’t have a unique voice.

This is quite a page turner, and I was interested to see how the book ended the whole way through. Even though I found the characters a little dull, the plot was extremely engaging. l didn’t realise that this was the first book of a series when I first picked up the book, and I would definitely keep an eye out for the next one. I’m interested to see where the story goes from here, and there are an awful lot of questions I would like to be answered. Like how did the hybrids come to be, or do they just live in an alternate universe where people have always had two souls. Why did society came to fear and ostricise hybrids , even though in the other countries around the world hybrids are in the majority.

This book is a pretty solid dystopian thriller, definitely one of the better ones I have read (the standard in this genre is definitely slipping)

3 Stars

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Inferno - Dan Brown


In his international blockbusters The Da Vinci Code,Angels & Demons, and The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown masterfully fused history, art, codes, and symbols. In this riveting new thriller, Brown returns to his element and has crafted his highest-stakes novel to date.

In the heart of Italy, Harvard professor of symbology Robert Langdon is drawn into a harrowing world centered on one of history’s most enduring and mysterious literary masterpieces . . . Dante’s Inferno.

Against this backdrop, Langdon battles a chilling adversary and grapples with an ingenious riddle that pulls him into a landscape of classic art, secret passageways, and futuristic science. Drawing from Dante’s dark epic poem, Langdon races to find answers and decide whom to trust . . . before the world is irrevocably altered.


In my own experience, I’ve noticed that Dan Brown gets a lot of flack for his pseudo-intellectual thrillers, and Inferno certainly fits this description. This is the fourth novel of his that I have read, and, in my personal opinion, his best.

This book ticks all my boxes. It’s essentially a fast paced thriller, the narrative unfolds over a 48 hour period, more or less. What sets Brown’s books apart from the rest is his use of history. Langdon, the protagonist is a symbologist (is that a real thing? who cares!) who for some reason gets roped into saving the world from another potentially catastrophic scheme because the bad guy is obsessed with Dante’s Inferno, and Langdon is the only guy who can stop him. Obviously if you’re a fan of plausible fiction then you probably shouldn’t read this book, but if, like me, you are willing to suspend disbelief as much as is needed, then it’s actually quite a good read. It also helps if you have an interest in history or have ever been to or want to go to Italy. This book is a must-read if you’re visiting Florence or Venice. I like to think that the history Brown has thrown in to prop up his plot is true, but I’m not an expert and feel free to point out the massive flaws I’m sure are there. But regardless of whether it’s accurate or not, I found this background extremely interesting.

If you’ve ever read a Dan Brown novel you’ll be aware that they tend to follow a formula. This contains a rather bizarre mystery that only a Harvard professor can solve, a beautiful, young, intelligent female assistant and a hell of a lot of religious and renaissance iconography. Brown also tends to base his plots on a mixture of two things that scare people, something that scared us in the old days , ie the plague, and something that scares us now, ie population explosion, and blends them nicely together to create something quite terrifying. The plot is heavily based on genetics and bioengineering, two subjects I don’t know enough about, so I can’t say whether or not it was plausible.

The bad guy in this story is quite interesting. He doesn’t even appear that much in the novel, and even so I was genuinely conflicted by his actions. His motives are quite complex, so complex that I may even have condoned his actions a little bit. Not to give too much away, but I’m not really sure that his plan would have worked anyway, and that kind of annoyed me, but you have to put up with these things.

Overall Inferno is a good solid , if standard, thriller with some interesting history thrown that fulfills it’s thriller purpose.

Stars: 3 1/2

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Every Day - David Levithan


Every day a different body. Every day a different life. Every day in love with the same girl.

There’s never any warning about where it will be or who it will be. A has made peace with that, even established guidelines by which to live: Never get too attached. Avoid being noticed. Do not interfere.

It’s all fine until the morning that A wakes up in the body of Justin and meets Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. From that moment, the rules by which A has been living no longer apply. Because finally A has found someone he wants to be with—day in, day out, day after day.


This is the first book of David Levithan’s I have read ( apart from Will Greyson Will Greyson, which I really enjoyed) and I must admit that I am a newfound fan of his.  Everyday is unlike anyother book I’ve read. The narrative follows A , a drifter who wakes up in a different body every day. this plot may sound insane, and Levithan never explains how A came to be, but A does explain his backstory pretty well about halfway through the book.

For the purpose of this review I’m going to call A a he, because that’s how I pictured him as I read the book, and also because they call him a he in the blurb. But despite this Levithan intentionally makes A gender neutral, which I found really difficult to get my head around, but gave a really interesting and philosophical dimension to the book. A lives in both female and male bodies, and is attracted to both males and females. A falls in love with Rhiannon, not because she’s a girl but because he just loves her ( if that makes sense, Levithan does a better job of explaining in the book, that is why he’s the professional writer, not me). This seems to be Levithan’s style, to identify love as a connection between souls, regardless of the bodies we come in.

Apart from the extremely interesting gender-study-thing , Levithan actually wrote a really captivating plot. It was a real pageturner, I read it in one sitting in about 2-3 hours. It’s a really easy read, and even though the plot seems quite complicated it was really easy to follow and I never got lost. I really cared about A and hoped that everything would work out for him ( will it? no spoilers ). Levithan treats his characters in a similarly clear way. There are four or five recurring characters, but apart from those all the characters are replaced everyday. Despite this Levithan manages to create unigue characters with there own clear voice, all types of personalities from all walks of life. Justin, Rhiannon’s …. unsavory…. boyfriend is a character that could have been drawn badly, but Levithan cleverly manages avoid this and paints Justin as not-a-complete-jerk. I know personally that there are too many novels that leave the reader screaming ‘why are you still with him, he’s an idiot’ at the heroine but this is not one. Levithan makes it clear why Rhiannon stays with Justin, which is refreshing.

Overall I really interesting read and would recommend it to anyone who likes John Green style YA fiction.

Stars: ****

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Girl Parts - John M. Cusick

Blurb:What happens when a robot designed to be a boy’s ideal “companion” develops a will of her own? A compulsively readable novel from a new talent.

David and Charlie are opposites. David has a million friends, online and off. Charlie is a soulful outsider, off the grid completely. But neither feels close to anybody. When David’s parents present him with a hot Companion bot designed to encourage healthy bonds and treat his “dissociative disorder,” he can’t get enough of luscious redheaded Rose — and he can’t get it soon. Companions come with strict intimacy protocols, and whenever he tries anything, David gets an electric shock. Parted from the boy she was built to love, Rose turns to Charlie, who finds he can open up, knowing Rose isn’t real. With Charlie’s help, the ideal “companion” is about to become her own best friend. In a stunning and hilarious debut, John Cusick takes rollicking aim at internet culture and our craving for meaningful connection in an uberconnected world.

Review: This book was recommended to me on goodreads but I had to wait a whole year before my exams finished and I could get my hands on a copy. Not that I had spent the whole year pining after the book, but I was quite pleased with myself when I spotted it in the library. Someone ( I can’t remember who ) quoted on the back of the book said that it was an addictive read , and it was, I read the whole book in two sittings , only putting it down to go to sleep.

The world created in the book is very much like our own, but with a few slight differences, the technology. The book seems to be set a few years in the future,  David’s father seems to be some sort of tech mogul, he has a computer with multiple monitors that use what he is browsing to generate related content. The students at St. Seb’s  do all their coursework online at there own pace, and of course the Companion robots. The technology is a central theme in this book, and most of the issues the book deals with are rooted in our technological advancement.
David and Charlie, two of our three main characters act as foils for each other. david is a spoiled rich kid with doting parents and a huge group of friends online and off. David is a player, a jerk and completely self centered. He displays the typical ‘I’m indestructible and the world revolves around me’  teenage mentality we see so much in the media, but thankfully Cusick does develop his character quite skillfully and he becomes less of a jerkface.  Charlie on the other hand , is David’s antithesis. He is a quiet , self-contained loner who admits that he is only happy when he is alone. He has no friends, and lives completely off the grid. It seems that Charlie’s lack of friends is a product of his absence from the online community, Cusick’s commentary that we cannot be social unless we are social online.

The psychiatric professional, Dr something, ( I can’t remember his name , sorry) tells both David and Charlie that they are suffering from ‘disassociation’, a kind of social apathy, a prescribes a Companion bot. This diagnosis rings somewhat true, but Cusick’s commentary seems to indicate that this social apathy isn’t as bad as the media and the adults around us would have us believe. Telling society that teenagers today suffer from ‘disassociation’ may just be another way of condemning youths. Ever since the advent of teenagers adults have been discussing how they are out of control and not behaving normally, and maybe ‘ disassociation’ is just another manifestation of this mentality. Charlie and David do seem to have social problems, but are they as bad a those around them may think?

Circling back to the ‘Companion’, this robot is the essential piece of this story. The Companions are perfect replicas of the perfect teenage girl, designed to treat teenage boys for their disassociation. The Companions seem to represent the inherent sexism in this society. There are only girl Companions , no guys ( and the boys are all given girl companions, totally disregarding the fact some of them might be gay). While David and Charlie are obviously flawed , Rose, David’s Companion, is the perfect girl. She has the perfect body and the perfect submissive personality. She has been programmed so that her end goal is David, the only thing worth doing is making David happy, he is the only reason for living. Rose has a great line ( that I can’t quote because i don’t have the book with me) that goes something like ‘ boys can do whatever they want but girls just have to sit quietly and look pretty’ . This resonated with me,and after reading Caitlin Moran’s ‘How to be a Woman’, reminded me that we still have a long way to go with feminism.
My favorite character in the book was probably Rebecca, not because she was a fantastic person, but because she was a real person. I won’t give you any spoilers but you should look out for her.
The book is told from multiple perspectives, which can be really interesting , especially when Cusick describes Charlie’s interaction with Rebecca, as we see how horribly they misunderstand each other.

Rose’s character is also very interesting, primarily because she is a robot, but as the book progresses you forget , and when Cusick reminds you that she is a robot you just can’t deal with it. Rose may be a robot, but she feels the full spectrum of human emotion , something that David can’t understand.
This book was an excellent, strangely insightful read which I would thoroughly recommend, and I hope I have spoiled anything for you.
Rating : 3.5 Stars