Review: ALL THESE THINGS I'VE DONE by Gabrielle Zevin

10:49 PM Posted by Bonnie @ A Backwards Story

Love DELIRIUM? Here's another great dystopian novel to tide you over while awaiting PANDEMONIUM!

Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Release Date: Out Now (Sept. 6, 2011)
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux/MacMillan
Received: Finished copy for review


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.

I’ve been wanting to read Gabrielle Zevin’s ALL THESE THINGS I’VE DONE ever since hearing about it back in 2010. I was so excited to finally get my hands on it. The first book in her BIRTHRIGHT trilogy, Zevin’s new novel is full of all things forbidden: the mafia, coffee, and…chocolate? Yes, it’s true! In this world, chocolate and coffee are illegal substances. Would you want to live in such a world? I know I wouldn’t! The mafia is composed of various families that were once chocolate distributors, etc. The main character, Anya Balanchine, is part of the Balanchine clan, makers of the best chocolate in the world. They still sell chocolate illegally and make a fortune off of doing so. Parts of this book really remind me of both Mario Puzo’s THE GODFATHER series and Holly Black’s CURSE WORKER series. The book also has a dystopian flair to it, but in a refreshing change of pace, the characters aren’t trying to break free of and take down a controlling government.

The book starts off with a more mature Anya Balanchine narrating in past tense. The year is currently 2083, and “This was back when caffeine, along with about a million other things, was against the law. So much was illegal (paper without a permit, phones with cameras, chocolate, etc.) and the laws changed so quickly, you could be committing a crime and not even know it” (pg. 3, first US edition). Anya and her soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend Gable are leaving a coffee speakeasy, having gotten high off coffee (and in Gable’s case, espresso laced with shots of Prozac) and have an argument because Anya wants Gable to leave before the city-wide midnight curfew. Gable, of course, would rather stay and get Anya to feed him chocolate and finally get her into bed. A few nights later, he comes to her begging for chocolate and she gives him two bars from a newly-delivered case. But it turns out the new shipment was poisoned. Gable winds up in the hospital and Anya is sent to Liberty Children’s Facility, where she is treated poorly before her new friend Win gets his dad, the new District Attorney, to free her after it’s discovered that all chocolate has been contaminated, not just Anya’s personal shipment. From here, the story really picks up speed. Anya is falling for Win, but his hotshot DA father doesn’t want his son with the daughter of a notorious crime lord. This adds a little bit of a ROMEO AND JULIET spin to the story. In addition, strange things begin occurring within the Family, and deceit and betrayal linger in the air. Anya no longer knows who to trust or why the Family is suddenly interested in her mentally handicapped older brother Leo. Anya wants to protect her siblings and her grandmother and keep everyone safe, but she no longer knows who to trust, and things will get far worse before they have a chance of getting better.

ALL THESE THINGS I’VE DONE packs a powerful punch. It starts off slowly, but by the final 2/3rds of the book, I was hooked and knew I wanted to continue on with the BIRTHRIGHT series. Some readers have mentioned a lack of world-building in that they never knew “why” certain contraband was considered to be illegal, but there are still two books to come, so this doesn’t bother me so much. We had everything we needed. The characters are strongly developed and it’s easy to get attached to them. At times, this first book is very much developing everything we’ll need to know going into the second book, which is why I think it has a slower start. There’s so much world-building to do, from creating character motivation and letting readers know who everyone is to building Family ties. I have a feeling the next book will have a steadier pacing that doesn’t wait until the end to throw its final punch. Zevin has a much more mature writing style that’s easy to fall in love with and I look forward to reading more of her novels soon.


You might be surprised since the cover is so understated, but this is one of my favorite designs of the year. This is one classy cover. It stands out because it looks so different. I love the shiny red, the beautiful chocolate heart that looks real enough to eat (despite its drippy imperfections as it falls apart) and the way there’s pale gray in the background telling the prospective reader more about what lies within. I love the wax-like texture to the dust jacket that reminds me of a bar of chocolate and the way that when you pull out the flap, it looks like candy bar packaging. But most of all, I adore the way there’s a second hidden cover when you take off the dust jacket, making the who book look like a bar of chocolate. The coolest part of THAT is the fact that the chocolate is Balanchine Special Dark. Main character Anya Balanchine’s family produces chocolate and her favorite type was always Special Dark. (Me too, dark chocolate is my favorite!) This cover is genius, but don’t take my word for it…I filmed the cover for you to enjoy!

YouTube Link

COVER CRAZY: LIESL & PO by Lauren Oliver

8:25 AM Posted by Bonnie @ A Backwards Story

Cover Crazy is hosted by The Book Worms. Each week, bloggers "admire the art and beauty of a book’s design, so I’m going to post minimal words. It is up to you to write how you feel and what you like about it the way you’d like to."

Why I Love This Cover:

So, okay, I'm pretty sure I posted this cover as a Cover Crazy once before...but that was before I saw the final version in person! There's so much more beyond what we all thought there'd be.

I love the way there's a second cover hiding beneath the dust jacket (much like with DELIRIUM). The hidden cover features an image on the back that's integral to the story. Plus, doesn't it look so much more mysterious this way? This alone makes it clear that this book should only be owned in hardcover (if at all possible)!

All that gold is shiny and beautiful. If I had been born a dragon, it would most certainly be the most prized possession in my treasure hoard!

I posted this cover video alongside my review yesterday, but for anyone who hasn't seen it....THIS is why I'm even more in love with LIESL & PO's design than ever before:


What do you think? What cover are you crazy about this week?

Review: LIESL & PO by Lauren Oliver

2:48 PM Posted by Bonnie @ A Backwards Story

Title: LIESL & PO
Author: Lauren Oliver
Release Date: Out Now (Oct. 4, 2011)
Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s
Received: ARC for review from work/Also purchased first-edition hardcover copy


We meet Liesl the night after the day her young father has died. That same day she is visited by a ghost, Po, an eight year old boy who lives on the other side, the territory between life and death that runs parallel to the living world. Po has come to tell her that her father is stuck on the other side, and that she is the only one who can help him cross over.

A couple of wooden boxes. Some ashes. Some magic dust. A ghost, its pet, and a boy who forgot to wear a hat in the cold.

From these seemingly odd, random characters Oliver weaves the enchanting story of how, with the aid of Liesl, these elements come together over the course of one week to restore love and luster to a world gone grey and heartless.

It’s not often that I find a novel as rare and delicate as LIESL & PO by Lauren Oliver. This is the type of book I would have owned as a kid, the kind I would have read and re-read until it fell apart. It’s a throwback to so many of my childhood favorites. I’m really rooting for this one to at the very least be nominated for the Newbery Award. Heck, I’d like to see it win—the golden cover would look complete with a golden Newbery to match. I’d even take Silver, because it would be in good company with two of my other middle-grade favorites, ELLA ENCHANTED by Gail Carson Levine and PRINCESS ACADEMY by Shannon Hale. I think publisher HarperCollins is also eyeing up the big awards. The ARC for LIESL & PO compares the novel to Newbery winners THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman and THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX by Kate DiCamillo. It’s also compared to Newbery Honor book CHARLOTTE’S WEB by E.B. White. AND the final edition has a quote on it from last year’s Newbery winner Rebecca Stead (WHEN YOU REACH ME). What a line-up! To keep comparing LIESL & PO to other childhood staples, when reading it, I often felt like this had a Roald Dahl feel to it (especially MATILDA), that there are elements of Cinderella (Liesl lives locked away in the attic and has an evil stepmother and a stepsister), and that the golden embossed cover with ghosts peeking out is very reminiscent of A CHRISTMAS CAROL by Charles Dickens. On top of all that? The artwork reminds me a little of the care and love put into Caldecott winner THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET by Brian Selznick. That litany alone should make LIESL & PO stand out to the committee.

This book is fantastic, destined to be a true classic. It’s whimsical and enchanting. Oliver wrote LIESL & PO after the death of her best friend and pulled together a story from her tragedy, stating that this is the most personal of all her writing. The care and attention she paid to this idea truly shows. Her first middle-grade novel follows a young girl named Liesl who discovers that ghosts are real after her father’s untimely death. A ghost named Po appears in her room along with its pet ghost, Bundle. Liesl can’t tell if Po is a boy or a girl, if Bundle is a cat or a dog…and the truth is, neither ghost knows, either. Those things no longer matter once one has crossed over. Liesl is precocious and smart. Her favorite word is ineffable, because “it meant a feeling so big or vast that it could not be expressed in words” (Pg. 12). These are the types of gems scattered throughout LIESL & PO, humanizing the characters and making them easy to relate to. Liesl’s journey begins when Po informs her that it’s possible to make contact with her father. Because of Po, she’s able to escape from her evil stepmother and step out into the world, where she is joined by Will, a boy who has embarked on a sad journey of his own. Together, Liesl and Po must lay Liesl’s father’s ashes to rest, never knowing that they are actually in possession of the most powerful magic in the world…magic that corrupt adults will stop at nothing to obtain.

I know I’m not explaining the layers and nuances that make this novel so stunning well at all. At the same time, maybe that’s a good thing: It leaves more for you to discover on your own. The inside front flap leaves readers with this: “From New York Times bestselling author Lauren Oliver comes a luminous and magnificent novel that glows with rare magic, ghostly wonders, and a true friendship that lights even the darkest of places.” Perhaps that’s the easiest way to describe something as perfect as this.


This cover is beautiful, the kind that would make me instantly pick it up to see what it’s about. I love all the gold embossing and feel it’s a throwback to a lot of classic children’s literature. The gold oval image with ghosts peering out reminds me a lot of A CHRISTMAS CAROL by Charles Dickens for some reason (perhaps it reminds me of the haunted doorknocker?). The fact that you can take the jacket off and see a secondary cover beneath the book really seals my love for this design. The cover is even more beautiful beneath, complete with two images that capture moments from the novel. The only thing that would make this cover better would be a golden (or even silver…but I want gold, darn it!) Newbery Award seal! But don’t take my word for it…this is one of those cases where you have to SEE the cover to believe it!

Book Review and GIVEAWAY!

10:03 AM Posted by Bonnie @ A Backwards Story

If you liked the idea of karmic retribution that resonates throughout BEFORE I FALL by Lauren Oliver, you might also like....

Author: Jessica Brody
Release Date: Out Now (Apr. 27, 2010)
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux/Macmillan
Received: Library copy


Madison Kasparkova always thought she understood how Karma works. Do good things and you'll be rewarded, do something bad and Karma will make sure you get what you deserve.

But when Maddy’s boyfriend cheats on her, nothing bad comes his way. That’s why Maddy starts the Karma Club, to clean up the messes that the universe has left behind. Sometimes, though, it isn’t wise to meddle with the universe.

It turns out Karma often has plans of its own.

Jessica Brody is one of my new favorite contemporary YA authors. Her novels are adorable…and the ones coming out in the future sound amazing. I already have a whole list of her books marked as TBR on GoodReads! This summer, I really enjoyed reading MY LIFE UNDECIDED (which I’ll be reviewing on A Backwards Story in November for Ashley from Basically Amazing’s Just Contemporary event) and moved right on to her debut YA novel, THE KARMA CLUB. While I didn’t like it quite as much as MY LIFE UNDECIDED, it was still really cute. Brody has a way of making readers genuinely care about her characters.

The novel revolves around Madison Kasparkova, a teenager who wants nothing more than to be popular. Maddy submits her boyfriend’s picture and bio to a popular teen magazine, and when he’s chosen as the featured boyfriend, she’s ecstatic. Finally, people will notice her! Only…the most popular girl at school notices her boyfriend, who promptly dumps Maddy despite everything. Maddy’s devastated, of course. Why is it fair that he gets to be happy when she did so much for him? Everyone always says that what goes around comes around, but how long does she have to wait for Karma to rear its head? Maddy decides to take matters into her own hand. She forms The Karma Club with her best friends (who have also been wronged by guys in the past). The club seeks to right the wrongs that have been done to them in a kind of “pay it forward” fashion. They also seek to swear off boys in a fashion that reminded me of last year’s THE LONELY HEARTS CLUB by Elizabeth Eulberg (review here). Whenever a plan’s successful, the girls go out and buy a charm for their special charm bracelets. But what about the fact that Maddy is falling for someone new? Will she be ostracized by her friends? And is playing with fate the right thing to do? What happens when it turns around and wants retribution?

This book was so much fun. At first, I didn’t overly love Maddy or the way she dealt with various situations, but over time, I grew to love her. I really like the way Brody wove characters together and set up a scene that brings everything to a climax in the perfect way. The romance was light and sweet, and the friendship was solid. At times, I felt the girls went to extreme ends to complete their methods of revenge, but it felt like…Like, “Hey, this is a book for all you girls who have ever been dumped for no good reason. Don’t you want to smash your ex’s face in or slash his tires or just shove a pie in his face? Something, ANYTHING to humiliate or aggravate him? Well, here’s your chance to live vicariously!” This is a dream world where revenge CAN come true and the girlfriend CAN get back at the ex dumb enough to let her go. So extreme, yes, but also therapeutic!


While this isn’t my favorite cover in the world, it pulls directly from the novel. The notebook the model is holding is supposed to the notebook where the girls write down everything they do in The Karma Club. Which, if you think about it, isn’t the smartest idea. Why would you write stuff like that down? Aren’t your charm bracelets enough? So the notebook is integral to the story!
I do like the fact that the notebook’s cover is a fun shade of red, which add a pop of color to the cover. The title reminds me a bit of a sea resort, though I like the way it’s in the yin yang. It also reminds me a bit of a bracelet charm! I also like the way the author’s name is the same color as the logo for the club.

(And this trailer is pretty awesome. It’s what first made me want to read this!!)


Have you entered to win MY LIFE UNDECIDED by Jessica Brody yet? If not, do so now! Just click this link and fill out the form at the bottom of the page (The form is linked to my blog account, so I don't think I can copy/paste it directly here. Sorry for the extra step, DF Fans!).

[But heeeeeey, you get to see another trailer by doing that if you wish!]

So far, it’s my favorite of Brody’s two YA novels and I can’t wait to share my love with a lucky bookworm!

It's also the last day to enter to win two paranormal novels, EARTH BLEND and HUMAN BLEND by Lori Pescatore. Enter HERE!

Happy book birthday Liesl and Po!

7:26 PM Posted by Ella Preuss

(...which was yesterday, and I completely forgot! Sorry, pretty book!)

Lauren's first MG book was released yesterday, yay!

HarperCollins has created a very beautiful website, which you can visit here to learn more about the book and its characters. Go here to add it to your Goodreads list.

And watch this gorgeous trailer below!