High-rise – J.G Ballard

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This is such a weird book. It starts like this:

Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months.

It´s a story about the unraveling of a miniature society almost in a “lord of the flies” kind of way but with adults. It all takes place in a high-rise sometime in the 1980´s. It centers around three men living in the building; Richard Wilder lives at the bottom, Robert Laing in the middle and Anthony Royal, the architect, lives in the penthouse. Around them the building and it´s citizens are falling apart. It starts innocently enough; loud parties that go on well into the morning, bottles and trash are flung off balconies, glitches begin to appear. Before too long chaos reigns. The building shuts down and no one seems to care. A man is killed in the pool and no one calls the police.  Resentment builds and soon there is all out war between different factions in the high-rise. People are beaten, women are raped, graffiti is sprayed across the walls and sabotage is rampant.

The three men have very different goals. Wilder wants to leave the bottom and “climb” to the top of the building. Laing, who resents the upper levels and is disdainful to the lower levels, hunkers down on his floor and Royal stays on the top, protecting his creation as it were.

The way all the inhabitants of the high-rise gradually get, for all intents and purposes, completely fucked up is extremely interesting. Reading I began to wonder if it was the building itself that held some kind of control over the inhabitants.

I do have issues with the book, most of all I was increasingly annoyed with the portrayal of the women in the book. Not one of them was a full fledged character on the same level as the men. They were either docile women who needed protecting, bodies open to any and all kind of assault or passive victims.

It is a fundamentally intriguing idea and text. The fact that I don´t understand what happened in the building doesn´t matter – I don´t think anybody ever does understand.

We were liars by E. Lockhart

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Goodreads blurb:

A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.
 Read it.

The eArc of this book came with a note from the publisher that included this this line:
And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.

Intriguing no?

Our main character is Cadence Sinclair-Eastman, called Cady. She comes from an extremely wealthy, privileged family who own their very own island where they spend their summers. The Sinclairs are rich and beautiful. In the family “no one is a criminal, no one is an addict and no one is a failure.” The family is led by the patriarch who has three daughters, all of whom drink too much and feud too much.

Cady spends her summers there with her cousins Johnny and Mirren and an outsider named Gat. Gat is handsome, dark skinned and political, almost Heathcliff-esque. Among the white conservative elder generation he is tolerated but not accepted. Together they form The Liars.

As we enter the story Cady is back on the island for the summer but everything is different. She suffers from migraines and memory loss after an accident on the island the previous summer. Cady doesn´t remember the accident and whenever she asks her family or friends about it they refuse to discuss it.

I think this is a book that you either love or don´t like at all. A lot of that is due to whether or not you know the truth about what happened to Cady or not. I did not and didn´t figure it out along the way which is how it should be. Finishing the book left me stunned and I immediately went back to the first page to read it again. I love when that happens because it sort of becomes a new book when you read it with the knowledge of things to come.

It´s an absolutely beautiful book and I recommend you read it!

Half bad by Sally Green

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In modern-day England, witches live alongside humans: White witches, who are good; Black witches, who are evil; and fifteen-year-old Nathan, who is both. Nathan’s father is the world’s most powerful and cruel Black witch, and his mother is dead. He is hunted from all sides. Trapped in a cage, beaten and handcuffed, Nathan must escape before his sixteenth birthday, at which point he will receive three gifts from his father and come into his own as a witch—or else he will die. But how can Nathan find his father when his every action is tracked, when there is no one safe to trust—not even family, not even the girl he loves?

On the surface the story could sound like many others out there; an orphan child famous because of his lineage is caught between good and evil with a prophecy lurking in the background. Luckily this book has so much more depth to it. 

You know that kid in school who everybody just knows is trouble. His father is out of the picture which everyone agrees is good because everyone knows his father is trouble. Maybe he drinks, gets int trouble with the law, is overall bad news. And you and everybody else knows that when it comes to this kid the apple didn´t fall far from the tree. Everyone knows there´s just a little too much of his father in him. Everyone expects him to get into trouble. Everyone is just waiting for it. And it makes the kid angry. If everyone has already made up their minds about him why bother to try to be any different? And that´s when everyone can nod their heads and say “see, we told you so. He´s bad news. Just like his father”.

For me, much of this story is about just that. About destiny and nature vs nurture and being an outsider. But everything is set in an alternate modern day England with witches!

 “I have this idea that somehow my father is watching me. He sees everything I do. He nods his head wisely at the discoveries I make….smiles approvingly…but he shakes his head at the bad decisions I make.”

Even though he´s never met him, Nathan´s father is ever present in his mind.  This was kind of heartbreaking. Nathan feels so alone in the world and this dream he has that his father cares for him and would be with him if he could is I´m sure very real to many children. And it hurts.

Black is not necessarily bad and white is not necessarily good. Nobody is purely good or purely evil. The “good” white witches do atrocious things to Nathan and his like. And Nathan is both gentle and volatile. There is potential for both in all of us.  

 The hype for this book has been huge with publishers putting huge stock in it. Lines such as “predicts it will do for witches what Twilight did for vampires.” And calling the author “the new JK Rowling”.  Much of the attention is due to the fact that  it is author Sally Greens debut, she hadn´t written a word three years ago, and a very impressive debut it is.

Ignite me by Tahereh Mafi

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This is the end. The third and final book of the Shatter me-series by Tahereh Mafi. I adore Tahereh, she is a joy both on internet and in real life (I had the privilege of interviewing her when she was visiting Stockholm).

There is a growth in Juliette that is remarkable and heartwarming to see. She looks back at herself when we first met her in Shatter me and begins to see that she had huge potential all along. She just needed to know herself and believe in herself. The emotional maturity of her along with Kenji and Warner was very nice to see. And Adam, well… he went through a big change from the first book too – but not in a good way. I was never a big fan of that character so I´m not that sad over how he turned out.

I do have issues with the ending, it was quite rushed and too… easy. Anderson died way too easily and after all the build up to the epic showdown between Juliette and Anderson it was kind of a let down.

I read this in one sitting, never leaving my chair one sunday afternoon into evening. And even though it wasn´t perfect it wasn´t bad at all :)

The sky is everywhere by Jandy Nelson

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Seventeen-year-old Lennie Walker, bookworm and band geek, plays second clarinet and spends her time tucked safely and happily in the shadow of her fiery older sister, Bailey. But when Bailey dies abruptly, Lennie is catapulted to center stage of her own life – and, despite her nonexistent history with boys, suddenly finds herself struggling to balance two. Toby was Bailey’s boyfriend; his grief mirrors Lennie’s own. Joe is the new boy in town, a transplant from Paris whose nearly magical grin is matched only by his musical talent. For Lennie, they’re the sun and the moon; one boy takes her out of her sorrow, the other comforts her in it. 

As the story begins Lennie has just lost her sister whom she adored and is preparing to return to school. She has, in several ways, lost her footing in life and quite effectively shut herself off from the world around her. Staying in the room she shared with her sister, refusing to clean out her things, leaving everything the way it was when Bailey was alive.

She begins to spend time with Toby, Baileys boyfriend and the one person (she feels) who is able to understand the grief. The two seek comfort and solace in each others arms. And I don´t mean hugging and leaning on each others shoulders.

On the other hand, there is Joe. He is the new boy in school and is interested in her. He is a relief from the melancholy and ache she feels.  There is no Bailey around when she is with Joe, he never knew her so it´s easy for her to forget the pain of her death when she´s with him. With him she can begin to move on. This is one of the good things about the book, the way the author is able to portray the juxtaposition one can feel directly following a tragedy; Lennie feels guilty about feeling happy with Joe when her sister just died

I wanted to like this book more than I did but I struggled through it though it got a little better towards the end. All in all, it was good not great. Beautifully written and well done but my problem is that I was never caught up in the characters lives. I didn´t really care much about what would happen to them and that´s not a good sign. I wouldn´t dissuade anyone from reading the book but I wouldn´t call it a favorite either.

After the end – Amy Plum

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Blurb on Goodreads blurb says:

World War III has left the world ravaged by nuclear radiation. A lucky few escaped to the Alaskan wilderness. They’ve survived for the last thirty years by living off the land, being one with nature, and hiding from whoever else might still be out there.

At least, this is what Juneau has been told her entire life.

When Juneau returns from a hunting trip to discover that everyone in her clan has vanished, she sets off to find them. Leaving the boundaries of their land for the very first time, she learns something horrifying: There never was a war. Cities were never destroyed. The world is intact. Everything was a lie. Now Juneau is adrift in a modern-day world she never knew existed. But while she’s trying to find a way to rescue her friends and family, someone else is looking for her. Someone who knows the extraordinary truth about the secrets of her past.

So Juneau is set loose in the big modern world which would be extremely difficult and traumatising for a young girl who has lived in the wild all her life. But we are spared that. It just so happens that Juneaus little tribe had a complete set of Encyclopedia Brittanica which Juneau had read through several times – go figure!

The other main character is Miles, a spoiled rich kid who has never really amounted to anything but who wants to win back his dads favor. When he finds out his dads company needs to find a teenage girl with information they need he figures this is a good way to please his father so he sets off to find the girl.

After the end is told in dual points of view; Juneau and Miles. Dual pov´s can be difficult but Plum did do a decent job of giving the characters distinct voices so I never got confused over the change in person. So that´s something.

But to be honest this book was a disappointment. I gave it two stars on Goodreads but that was merely because I did actually finish it. The characters didn´t engage me, the so called romance was ludicrous and not believable for a second. And don´t even get me started on that ending, ugh! No, Juneau, just no.

The Impossible Knife of Memory – Laurie Halse Anderson

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For the past five years Hayley and her father Andy have been living on the road. Never staying in the same place for too long, always leaving after a few months when the demons that haunt him since his return from service as a soldier in Iraq become too loud. Now they are back in the town where he grew up so that Hayley can go to a regular school. Hayleys job is to see to it that her father survives. She wants so badly to help her father. She doesn´t care much about school, all her energy goes to worrying about her dad and making sure her own messed up childhood memories don´t rush to the surface.

Can she and her father really have a normal life with friends and in the midst of everything that goes on with her father can she really have a boyfriend? Will Andy´s PTSD and drinking drive him over the edge and take her along with him?

I read this over the course of a few days during christmas. I couldn´t stop thinking about it, I stayed up late at night reading. It is a phenomenal read.  It was heavy, no doubt about it, but not bury-me-in-the-ground-heavy. And any tears that may or may not have been shed were absolutely worth it. And the tough parts were balanced out by the cute moments between Hayley and Finn, the boy. I am extremely glad that his character was added to the story, without him it would have been too much.

So in short, even though it´s only january this is already on my list for one of the best books of 2014.