Thursday, 31 October 2013

Review: Transparent, Natalie Whipple


Natalie Whipple

HarperTeen; Kindle edition, 2013

Transparent is a fun, cute page-turner that renewed my faith in YA. Fiona is on the run from her mob boss dad, who has been using Fiona's unique powers for his own less-than-savoury power plays. Fiona is invisible, even to herself, and in escaping a life of crime with her mother, she ends up in a non-descript small town in Arizona, experiencing the day-to-day ups and downs of high school life.

The back story was minimal, but enough to establish the crucial points: to combat radiation, pills were given to the population during the Cold War - pills that caused mutations in the DNA of certain members of the population, resulting in special abilities: whether that be strength, the ability to fly, manipulation, voice-throwing, imitation, or, in Fiona's case, the ability to disappear. Transparent is set in the south-west United States, where the territory is ruled by warring mob bosses, Fiona's father among them.

Fiona's invisibility might be useful to her dad, but it's unheard of in any other human, making Fiona both unique and strange to her fellow classmates, most of whom avoid her. Whipple does a great job of revealing Fiona's insecurities, and although Fiona was quite often angry, this seemed more like a reaction to her less-than-stable life and the constant fear she had of being found by the less merciful members of her family. Her developing friendships with Bea, Brady and Seth were well done, and it was nice to see Fiona gradually start to relax into herself.

The romance element was part of the story, and I liked how it wasn't set out in a straight line - there was some confusion and some transferring of affections which made it a little bit less predictable than it could have been. As YA boys go, Seth will go down as one of my favourites, for being both grumpy and lovely all at the same time. (And special mention to Miles, in the hot brother category.)

Though there were some action sequences, and the tension did build as Fiona tried to keep her family safe, for the most part Transparent is about friendship and trust and finding yourself. It's quite a light read, but with a lot of fun moments and enough spark to keep you hooked until the end.

Overall rating: 7.5/10

Book source: Bought from Amazon.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Showcase Sunday #33

So, it's been a while since I posted any updates here, mostly because life has been pretty crazy. I have a new job, as well as my old job, and although I've managed quite a bit of reading the blogging has taken a bit of a slide. I'm hoping to get some reviews up over the next few days and hopefully review some of the (very good) books I've read lately!

This week, I bought one book - Epivision: Volume 1, by Matthew Thompson, the next book in the Domino Galaxy series. (You can read my review of the first book, Twin Spirit, here.)

One really good book I finally got around to reviewing was The Boys From Brazil, by Ira Levin. I have read Levin's four big novels this year and loved them all.

I also read and reviewed Divergent, by Veronica Roth, along with the other ladies in the Catch Up Club - this was our third book choice since we started up, and definitely my favourite of the bunch so far.

Looking forward to catching up with everyone!

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Review: The Boys from Brazil, Ira Levin

The Boys from Brazil

Ira Levin

Kindle edition, first published 1976

Alive & hiding in South America, the fiendish Nazi Dr. Josef Mengele gathers a group of former colleagues for a horrifying project--the creation of the Fourth Reich. Barry Kohler, a young investigative journalist, gets wind of the project & informs famed Nazi hunter Ezra Lieberman, but before he can relay the evidence, Kohler is killed.

Thus Ira Levin opens one of the strangest & most masterful novels of his career. Why has Mengele marked a number of harmless aging men for murder? What is the hidden link that binds them? What interest can they possibly hold for their killers: six former SS men dispatched from South America by the most wanted Nazi still alive, the notorious Angel of Death? One man alone must answer these questions & stop the killings--Lieberman, himself aging & thought by some to be losing his grip on reality.

Ira Levin has a knack for making the implausible seem plausible. More than that, he has a knack for horror. The same creeping horror - insidious rather than jumpy, but no less monstrous and twice as unsettling - that permeates his two most famous novels, Rosemary's Baby and The Stepford Wives, is put to good use here, this time with old Nazis as the target.

Ensconced in South America, the ruthless doctor of the Nazi regime, Josef Mengele, has hatched an intricate, elaborate plot. He sends out his best former SS men - his best assassins - to kill a list of men across Europe and America, all men of the same age, all civil servants. The man that stands between Mengele and his audacious plan is Yakov Lieberman, an aging Jewish man with a reputation for hunting down old Nazis and bringing them to justice. Tipped off by a young American investigative journalist, Yakov is in a race to try and stop the murders - and figure out the bigger plan that lies behind them - before Mengele can proceed too far with his evil intentions.

As ever, Levin's writing is taut, and the plot unfolds carefully, never revealing too much, intriguing and fascinating all at the same time. The big picture comes into view slowly, and then all at once, as Yakov realises the intent behind the seemingly bizarre orders that Mengele has sent his men out with. From the opening scene, when Mengele gathers his SS men in a Japanese restaurant to impart his instructions, you can't help but be hooked into the story. The ending is no less gripping - once again, Levin manages to raises more questions than he answers, with Yakov left to make a decision between morality and the prevention of future evil. The tense showdown close to the end of the book is so brilliantly done, so finely executed, that there was no putting the book down until the end.

Overall rating: 8/10

Book source: Bought from Amazon.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Review: Divergent, Veronica Roth (CatchUpClub #3)

Divergent (Divergent #1)

Veronica Roth

Harper Collins Children's, 2012 (2011)

In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue--Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is--she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are--and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

Before picking up Divergent, I didn't know much about it, apart from the fact that I might be one of the only people left around here who hasn't read it yet. Luckily for me, the other members of the CatchUpClub were in the same boat, and for October we chose Divergent as our next book.


I haven't read much great dystopian fiction in a while. (I have, sadly, read some less-great dystopian fiction lately.) So I was a little bit apprehensive about picking up Divergent. I started reading on my commute to work, at which point I realised that I was going to miss my stop if I didn't put it down. Roth has created a pretty bleak world, where humans live in one of five factions (Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless or Erudite) according to their dominant traits and the choice they make when they are 16. In a world that is factioned up to the hilt, if you don't survive initiation, you become factionless, which in layman's terms pretty much sucks balls.

Tris (formerly Beatrice) has always felt a little bit out of place in selfless Abnegation, so when her chance comes she ends up picking Dauntless, where bravery and courage are the name of the game. (The moment when her brother makes his choice was unexpected and a little bit wrenching, I have to say.) The rest of the book focuses on Tris' attempts to survive initiation (which is pretty brutal, by all accounts, and what happened to Edward stood out as particularly gruesome), make friends with her fellow initiates, deal with her guilt over her family, and have a minor brainmelt every time Four walks past.

(I don't know if 'brainmelt' is the technical term, but it's a word my friends and I developed when we were at uni, and it's kind of stuck.)

To be fair, Four might be the hottest boy in YA this year (or whatever year I should have been reading Divergent). Part of the 'holy crap' at the beginning of this review was totally for him. He and Tris dance around each other for most of the book, but Roth did a great job of developing their relationship and, particularly, Tris' confused, brainmelty feelings.

The building action at the end (and Roth is apparently not afraid of killing of characters at the drop of a hat) hints at what is to come in the rest of the series, and Insurgent is definitely on my reading list for the not-too-distant future...

Overall rating: 8/10

Book source: Borrowed from the library.