Saturday, December 31, 2011

All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin

All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2011
young adult, first in a trilogy

I read this months ago...I really liked it. You can read on as I try to make sense of my jumbled notes, or you can trust me that it is great, skip the review and just read the book!

First, I really like this title, and the way it plays into the story.

Set in the future, where chocolate is illegal and water is scarce, this never really feels like a dystopian novel, which was a plus for me. (Although that has been a negative for other readers.) There were simply little details and moments throughout the book that made me remember it was set in the future.

Anya Balanchine's father is dead, but when he was alive, he was a notorious crime boss, something that deeply affected the family. Her mother was killed in a car accident (meant to take out her father) and her older brother suffered a brain injury as a result of the same accident. Anya's got a lot of responsibility, but still, things are going okay until her jerk of an ex-boyfriend almost dies from eating chocolate manufactured by Anya's family. To further complicate the situation, while a suspect in the poisoning, Anya is also falling in love with the assistant DA's son.

I love the following conversation between Anya and her friend:
"isn't that OMG?"
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Um, it stands for something. Dad said it used to mean, maybe, 'amazing'? Or something like that? He wasn't sure. Ask your nana, okay?" (p. 15, 16)
and then later when her Nana explains:
"Oh my God," Nana said. "Life used to move much more quickly when I was a girl. We needed to abbreviate just to keep up." (p.227)
What Zevin does best here is create really well-developed characters, especially Anya. I worried about her! She has so much responsibility, and I'm just not sure who she can trust - her family, the Japanese chocolatier...I hope she chooses wisely and I'm really excited to see how things play out in the rest of the trilogy.

Here's what didn't work (or felt out of place): there's an aside on page 209 where Anya speaks directly to the reader. It's the first time this happens and it just seems random.  Then, later, Anya speaks directly to the reader again, ending with, "Unlike some, I pride myself on being a very reliable narrator." (p. 266). This left me going, "What? Did I miss an indication that she's not a reliable narrator?" Up to this point, I'd been believing her...and so I started to wonder if we'd find out some really different things in the next book.
The things I liked definitely outweighed the things I didn't, and I can't wait for the next book!

Reviewed from library copy

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Lots of Reading, Little Blogging!

This week is where I play catch up...telling you about lots of great things I've read, so I can start the new year off on track!

The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan - I really liked this! It's the start of a new series, back at Camp Half-Blood. I'm anxiously waiting for it to be my turn to get the second one. Funny story - I was at a high school for a visit, and I overheard a couple of girls talking this. I mentioned I was reading it, and one of them got really excited and started to say something. I cut her off, "I'm not that far into it...I don't know why Jason has no memory or where Percy is...don't tell me anything!" Her eyes got big and she literally put her hand over her mouth to keep from telling me something.

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos - Okay, before reading this, I wasn't a huge Jack Gantos fan...I've read some Joey Pigza and some Rotten Ralph, and they just haven't worked for me. But this book? This book I LOVED. It has great characters and is laugh out loud funny...yes, the plot kind of falls apart and yes, the "murder mystery" at the end didn't work so well, but it still manages to be a terrific read about a boy who is grounded for the summer and only allowed to dig his family's bomb shelter in the backyard and help an elderly neighbor write obituaries for the local paper. It's one of my favorites of the year.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys - A moving story of how 15-year-old Lina and her mother and brother are taken from their home in Lithuania and sent to Siberia, a time during Stalin's reign which I knew little about.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor - A story of angels and devils that manages to be so different from all of the other angel books that have been published lately. I absolutely never really knew where the story was heading and couldn't put the book down. One of the best young adult books of 2011.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater - Violent races with water horses (a "summary" that probably doesn't do the book justice)...what I liked most were the fully-drawn characters, the relationship between Puck and Sean, and the village life.

Flesh & Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy by Albert Marrin - A hugely detailed look at not just the actual fire, but the events leading up to it (immigration and why people left their home countries), immigrant life during this time, and then the reform movement after the fire. Lots of good sidebar information on related topics. If the Triangle Fire interests you, but you'd rather a more fictionalized account try Threads and Flames by Esther Friesner, in which 13-year-old Raisa leaves Poland to join her sister in America, and eventually takes a job for the Triangle Shirtwaist Company.

The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie by Wendy McClure - McClure takes the reader along as she visits all of the sights from the Little House books. Highly entertaining and chatty at times...other times, I skimmed. I didn't remember much about the surveyor's house, which is from By the Shores of Silver Lake, which I haven't read nearly as many times as all the others. So, I picked up a copy to re-read...Mary is blind, Jack dies...and I realized why this was never a favorite.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness - Conor's mom is dying...and he isn't dealing with it very well. A monster comes in the middle of several nights, and tells Conor stories to help him find the truth. Brilliantly written, this was so powerful and so emotional, it's hard for me to see beyond the strong reaction it evoked.

What have you been reading lately?