Summer Reading – Mini Reviews

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Hello, it’s been a while as I’ve been enjoying the summer and haven’t had any university work to procrastinate from. But of course that doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading, so I thought I’d kick off again with a wrap up of all the books I read while on holiday with my parents. (Sorry, there are loads).

image1. 13 Minutes – Sarah Pinborough

So the first book I read on holiday was 13 Minutes, by Sarah Pinborough, which was an ARC from NetGalley. It’s a gripping thriller about a teenager who has an accident, resulting in her being dead for 13 minutes, but can’t remember what happened. With some fairly sickening twists and turns, I thought this was fantastic, and you can read my full review here.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️4/5

2. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Dìaz

This one was slightly strange. I can’t remember where I heard about this – probably just2629628booktube videos over the years. I didn’t really know anything about it, but spotted it at the college library and decided to give it a go. It’s about a boy called Oscar, who has moved to the USA from the Dominican Republic. The story follows him and his family growing up and the things that happen to them. It also had a lot of interesting bits about the political history of the Dominican Republic. It was quite good, but not amazing in my opinion. I think this was partly due to all the Spanish words that I had to look up, which made it quite a clunky reading experience.

⭐️⭐️⭐️3/5


3. City of Ashes and City of Glass – Cassandra Clare

1582996.jpgI am quite late to jump on this whole Cassandra Clare bandwagon, but since the ebooks are free on my local library’s reading app, I thought I’d give them a go. I’d read the last one the previous summer, and all the other books I wanted to read were on loan. So why not. I’m reviewing these together because I can’t really remember which things happened in which. This series is quite silly, but a fun and light read. There’s an interesting magic system, entwined with the occult, angels, demons, and various other mythological creatures, all with a ridiculous angsty teenage twist. I can see where a lot of the criticism comes from, as some of the main characters are incredibly immature and annoying, but I think you just have to accept that this is not ever going to be a fantastic piece of literature and enjoy it for what it is.

⭐️⭐️⭐️3/5

4. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves – Karen Joy Fowler 22817474.jpg

This is one of those books that’s slightly tricky to review without spoilers, but I highly highly recommend it. The narrator is a girl called Rosemary, who is looking back at her childhood, in particular her sister Fern, who went missing under suspicious circumstances. I found this book quite upsetting, but in a good, thought-provoking way. It asks some important questions about the way our society works.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️5/5


5. One Hundred Years of Marriage – Louise Farmer Smith

29524815.jpgThis is another one from NetGalley. The book is split up into sections, each following a different marriage in an American family, going right back to the pioneers. It was an interesting idea, but I’d say the execution was fairly ‘meh’. It did make me want to find out more about my family history though, and there was some interesting demonstrations about how quickly stories are forgotten and changed, as they are misrepresented by continuous tellings.

⭐️⭐️2/5

6. Surviving the Angel of Death – Eva Mosez Kor18898968.jpg

This is another NetGalley one (last one I promise!). I’m not really sure why this one was on there, as it seems to have been published in 2009, but anyway, it is certainly well worth a read. The book is a true story, written by a person who not only survived Auschwitz, but also was one of the twins experimented on by the Nazi ‘doctor’/evil scientist Joseph Mengele. This is one of those stories that is just too horrible to believe, and how awful humans can be.  It’s also a story of resilience, and the end was strangely uplifting, especially since Eva Mosez Kor has gone on to do lots of amazing things for other people after her escape. It’s impossible to say this kind of book is an ‘enjoyable’ read, but I think books like this are very important. If you are interested in this kind of thing, I would also recommend “A Detail of History” by Arek Hersch, who came to do a talk at my school.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️4/5

7. A Storm of Swords – George R. R. Martin

62291.jpgAnother instalment in the fantastic Song of Ice and Fire series, and definitely the best book so far. I’m currently watching the TV series with a friend, and desperately trying to stay ahead with the books (as far as possible). These books are so long that it’s often daunting to start them, but I always end up absolutely glued to them. The chapter structure (which alternates POV chapters from several characters) can get frustrating, because some characters are way more interesting than others, and lots of chapters end on cliff hangers, but ultimately this is quite an effective way of spurring you on through the book. Lots of shocking deaths (obviously) and dastardly schemes and plotting (obviously). I’m told the next one is quite boring though 😞

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️5/5

8. Behind the Beautiful Forevers – Katherine Boo11869272

This is an amazing book about the lives of some people who live in a slum next to Mumbai airport. I tried to write a brief review for this post, but it ended up getting ridiculously long, but I still wanted to say all the things, so I’ve decided to make it into a separate post!

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Right, that’s about it I reckon! I hope you all read some interesting books on your holidays too. Has anyone read any of these?

XoXOOXO

June Book Haul – 2016

Here’s a look at the books that made their way into my possession during the month of June! Most of these ones come from libraries this month, because I bought quite a lot of books in May

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  1. Heffer’s

This is the Cambridge branch of Blackwell’s books, est. 1876. It has a really cool multi-layer layout, with multiple concentric balconies going all the way round. I went their with my friend last week, and picked up…

The Lies We Tell OurselvesRobin Talley22710376.jpg

I definitely heard about this on Booktube, although I can’t remember whose video it was. It’s set in 1959 Virginia, in a school that has just started allowing black students to attend. Both a civil rights and LGBT book, and it’s had fab reviews.

  1. City Library

Went and picked up a couple more books from here. I’m loving using this library, although unlike my college library it charges for fines for late books, so I’d better be careful…

23592235Am I Normal yet? – Holly Bourne

I’ve already read and reviewed this, and absolutely loved it. It follows a teenager with OCD, through her life and relationships, and includes some awesome feminist stuff too.

We were liars – E. Lockhart16143347.jpg

This is an old booktube fave that I’m sure pretty much everyone has read. I’ve heard it’s best to go into it blind, so I don’t really know much about it.

  1. College Library

My college library has mostly academic books, but there’s this wonderful magical room called the light reading section, where you can just borrow as many books as you like. It’s based on trust, so there’s no official deadline/stress for giving them back. I picked up 4 books from here.

884424.jpgThe Almost Moon Alice Sebold

I’ve read 2 books by Alice Sebold in the past, The Lovely Bones, which was absolutely amazing, and Lucky, which was OK. I saw this one, which I hadn’t head of, and thought I’d give it a try, in the hope it lives up to The Lovely Bones. Not really sure what it’s about, but it had something about a girl killing her mother on the back…

Behind the Beautiful Forevers – Katherine Boo11869272.jpg

I heard about this one from one of John Green’s book recommendation videos, where it was recommended for people interested in decreasing “world-suck” (bad things like poverty/suffering/disease/inequality). I believe it is set in a slum in India.

2629628.jpgThe Brief and Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Díaz

Again, not completely sure what this is about, other than a person called Oscar Wao, set somewhere in America. Has had great reviews though.

I Was Told There’d Be Cake ­– Sloane Crosley2195289.jpg

Probably the most random choice on this list, this is a set of essays by someone I’d never heard of. I was drawn to it by the interesting title, nice spine, and held onto it for its funny blurb. I hope this will be entertaining. We’ll see.

***

So that’s it for the books I’ve got in June! I’ve also started reading some things on NetGalley, one of which I’ve got rather stuck on, but feel the need to soldier on so I can review it… Oh well. I hope you have all had marvellous Junes.

XoxoxxOX

 

Top 10 Tuesday Tag – Summer Reads

I first saw this tag on Books for Thought, which lead me back to the original creator of the tag, The Broke and the Bookish.

I realise I have kind of missed the Tuesday boat, but oh well, these things happen.

The theme for this week is “Top Ten books we plan to put in our beach bag this summer”. I don’t actually think I’ll be going to the beach this summer, but in any case, I am (obviously) not the kind of person who only reads on the beach! So I’ve adapted this to “Top Ten books I plan to read this summer”! 🌸 🌞 🐳

I’m not someone who massively goes for rigid monthly TBR lists – I tend to pick each book as it comes. But nevertheless, here are 10 books I would really like to get to this summer!

  1. Scarlet – Marissa Meyer 13206760.jpg

I read Cinder, the first book, last summer. I quite enjoyed it, although I was on a long distance walking trail at the time, so was quite distracted at the time of reading. However, although the first book didn’t leave a massive impression on me, I’ve heard people I trust absolutely raving about this series, so I’m determined to give it another go!

2. Aristotle and Dante discover the Secrets of the Universe – Benjamin Alire Sáenz12000020.jpg

This one’s been on my TBR list ever since I first started watching Booktube videos. It seems to be on SO many people’s top favourite books lists, but I’ve just never managed to get round to it!

3. The Enchanted – Rene Denfield 18090147.jpg

Another Booktube-originating recommendation (from Regan I believe), this is a magical realism novel set in a prison. I’ve always been slightly fascinated by prisons, in a weird kind of way.

11486.jpg4. The Colour Purple – Alice Walker 

This one’s been on my bookshelf at home since at least last year. It’s about civil rights/ racism in America, and it’s on a lot of lists of “important” books.

5. Room – Emma Donoghue 7937843.jpg

EVERYBODY has been talking about Room. And if the book didn’t already sound amazing enough, the film is also supposed to be incredible.

13477676.jpg6. Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock – Matthew Quick

This is another book that I’ve been meaning to read for ages. I think it’s just the slow trickle of positive comments that have finally won over my curiosity. Also, apparently the formatting is really cool.

7. The Girls – Emma Cline26893819.jpg

This is a really new release, coming out this month I think. It follows the girls involved in a cult in America in the 1960s. I’ve seen it on a few people’s blogs, but it was Candice’s review that really convinced me.

23592235.jpg8. Am I Normal Yet? – Holly Bourne

This one was recommended to me by an IRL friend. Sounds like a hilarious light summer read. Also nominated for the 2016 YA book award (ooh).

9. White Oleander – Janet Fitch32234.jpg

This is a book I picked up in a charity shop at some point last year, and have just never quite got round to reading. One of Stories for Sophie’s posts has pushed this one back to the front of my mind in the past week or so.

16068905.jpg10. Fangirl  Rainbow Rowell

It has taken me along time to admit that I want to read this book. I will basically admit that I found it quite embarrassing to want to read a book called “Fangirl”. I don’t really classify myself as a fangirl, which for me draws to mind images of screechy, hysterical, young teenagers. I pigeon-holed it in my mind along with “Girl Online” and other “internet-y” books. BUT this book has just had TOO MANY positive reviews from people I trust, and I am beginning to think I misclassified it. I simply must find out what all the fuss is about (plus, Eleanor and Park was fantastic).

***

So that’s it, the top 10 books I plan to get to this summer!

If you fancy giving this tag a go yourself, then I tag you! The original creators just ask that you make sure to link back to their blog in your post.

XoXOXOoX

Chasing the Stars – Malorie Blackman

Chasing the Stars is Malorie Blackman’s newest novel. It’s described as a YA-Sci-Fi retelling of Othello, mostly set on a space-ship. 🚀

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I don’t want to give too much away in my synopsis, because it’s one of those books that withholds background details and then reveals them later on, but basically, Vee and her brother Aidan are the only two remaining survivors on their spaceship, after a mysterious virus wiped out all the other crew members. Near the beginning of the book, they end up rescuing a group of people from a planet, where they’re under attack from some malicious aliens called Mazon. The rest of the book takes place on the spaceship.

The narrative alternates with first person chapters from the main male and female characters, Vee and Nathan. I’m not too familiar with Othello, but I think Vee is Othello, and Nathan is his lover Desdemona (so the genders are swapped round).

I’m not quite sure how closely the plot of Othello was followed, but there were definitely quite a few of the same plot devices, including the planting of an incriminating object on someone under false pretences, and the classic Shakespearean pre-arranged eavesdropping session. The writing was also peppered with cheeky Shakespearean quotes, although not all from Othello.

The setting on a spaceship was quite cool. I’m not really into that kind of thing usually, so I was a bit sceptical at first, but it seemed to work out. Malorie Blackman is good at writing about computers and robots, perhaps partly due to her her background in computer programming! The gadgets and cool futuristic stuff on the spaceship was fairly stereotypical though – nothing especially original.

I definitely found similarities to the Noughts and Crosses series – the way the characters were so stubborn and held quite unreasonable grudges against each other (although this might partly have been dictated by the plot of Othello). The first person narrative lead to quite a lot of ranting and complaining inside the characters’ heads, as well as harping on about how much they fancied each other. They definitely weren’t especially “likeable” characters.

The book could definitely be accused of insta-love, although since Vee’s been marooned on a spaceship for years, perhaps it’s understandable for her to fall in love with the first other person she sees. There’s definitely self awareness of the insta-love though, with both characters reflecting on it, and whether it was real (a lot) throughout the book.

All in all, an interesting and engaging read. I was certainly drawn along, following the trail of hints at future reveals of background information, despite getting a bit sick of the characters’ inner monologues.

Thank you very much to Penguin for sending me a copy of the book 🐧

⭐️⭐️⭐️3/5

XoXOXOOooo

Will Grayson, Will Grayson – John Green & David Levithan

This book is about two characters called Will Grayson, one written by John Green, and the other by David Levithan. The book alternates in point of view, with half the chapters being from one Will Grayson, and the other half from the other. They start off as completely separate stories, and then begin intertwining.

WillGrayson

John Green’s Will Grayson is a classic John Green guy, introspective, geeky, moanily lusting after a female love interest. David Leviathan’s Will Grayson suffers from depression, and has a lot of anger towards the world and the people around him, with his only solace being a character called Isaac he’s met online. Both Will Graysons go to different high schools, and have never met at the beginning of the book.

There were certainly aspects of the book that I really enjoyed, particularly David Levithan’s Will Grayson. I’ve never suffered from depression, but I think these chapters gave insight into that kind of trapped mind, and the rage and helplessness he feels. His chapters, particularly the early ones, felt raw and shocking. A really interesting aspect of this portrayal was the fact that the chapters from this Will Grayson’s point of view were written all in lower case letters. As well as making it really clear which person’s point of view I was currently reading, I think this added to his hopelessness and low self esteem.

There’s also something about books with alternating chapters which means I can’t stop reading them. I think it’s often the way the author can leave you on a cliff hanger, and then you know you have to read the next chapter to find out what happens, by which time you’re then on a cliff hanger for the next chapter, and so on, in a massive cycle until you finish the book. Both authors were certainly very compelling.

One of the main problems I had with this novel was the character Tiny. He’s the best friend of the John Green Will Grayson, described with terms like “fabulously gay”, and “the world’s gayest person”. In keeping with this weird stereotype, he prances around the book like a unicorn drunk on pink champagne, and of course, puts on a massive musical at the end about his “gayness”. I don’t know how qualified I am to comment, but I feel as though this is a massive stereotype that really doesn’t fit with any of the gay people I know, and I don’t think it’s helpful to take these characteristics and describe them as “gay”. Gay means homosexual. Not glittery Madonna-loving sparkle queen. There are straight people who act like that, and gay people who don’t.

I also found the idea of a character like Tiny in a high school quite unrealistic. High schools are fairly unpleasant places, and I can’t really believe that Tiny didn’t get more stick for his flamboyant ways. I know there are a few jabs throughout, and the issue when the football team don’t want him in their changing room, but people were generally quite accepting. I know this is a good thing, but I just think it probably isn’t that realistic.

I in no way wish to slate this book, as I did actually really enjoy reading it. It’s definitely made me want to investigate more of David Levithan’s writing (I’ve already read all of John Green’s other books). Although I did find the ending really stupid.

⭐️⭐️⭐️3/5

XxooXoXoO

Cover design: Lolita

Hello! You may be pleased to hear (or may not be), that I haven’t completely abandoned my new blog, but I do have finals starting in two days, so writing book reviews hasn’t exactly been top priority 🙁

For the time being I’ve got another book cover design – I got really enthusiastic and made a few a couple of weeks ago, but didn’t want everyone to get sick of them if I posted them all in quick succession.

Anyway, this one is for the modern classic Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov, which as most probably know, is about a middle aged man who falls in love and fantasises over a teenager (called Lolita).

Lolita

I chose the childish underwear to emphasise Lolita’s young age, but also show her sexualisation by the author. The black tiles and the printed letters look a bit like a blackboard too, again pointing to her youth.

I know my past few posts have all been cover designs, but I’m planning to do more texty posts after exams finish. This blog is supposed to be about entire books, not just the covers!

XoxoxxX

Cover design: Gormenghast

The next book cover design I’ve done is for the classic fantasy book Gormenghast.

It’s part of a trilogy following the Royal family of an enormous castle called Gormenghast, which has existed for thousands of years, and is full of strange rites and rituals. It’s an intriguing series, which I’ll probably do a proper review of once I’ve finished the third book (which I’m partway through).

Gormenghast

The black bird (which fortuitously landed on my windowsill!) reminded me of the Countess Groan, who has a great affinity for birds, and has flocks of them following her around all the time. The bricks in the background represent the constant presence of the castle walls, which nobody ever leaves, and the dark lower half of the image suits the book’s sinister themes.

XooXXXoO

Stravaganza Series – Mary Hoffman

I don’t think this series receives the attention it deserves. Why doesn’t anyone talk about it!? Harry Potter is fab, but surely there’s a little bit of enthusiasm for middle grade magic left over? No? Come on guys.

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Stravaganza is a middle grade series about teenagers travelling from the present day to a parallel renaissance Italy, Talia. I read the first four books as a child, and absolutely adored them, so a few years ago when I found out that two more had been written, I of course reread the whole series.

Each book focusses on a new main character who discovers they are a Stravagante, someone able to travel between England and Talia. The main characters return in subsequent books, allowing an overarching plot as well as new individual character stories. The Stravaganti are often experiencing hardships in the present day, resulting in a perfect mix of “real-life” struggles as well as exciting historical political intrigue.

Although it’s a while since I read the series, I do remember absolutely falling in love with some of the characters, particularly Arianna, a young Talian noble woman. I was so invested in the fates of all the characters, and the racing plots, and the beautiful descriptions of all the stunning festivals and historical costumes. UGH IT WAS JUST SO GOOD.

It’s a magical series that cemented my love of reading.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️4.5/5

X0oXooO

Noughts and Crosses – Malorie Blackman

As most people are probably aware, the Noughts and Crosses series is set in an alternative world in which the white race (the Noughts) have been historically oppressed by the black race (the Crosses), rather than the other way round. There are a lot of racial conflict and civil rights issues being played out, but it’s the black people who hold all the power and the white people who are screwed by the system.

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It’s taken me absolutely AGES to finish this series. Literal ages.

I read the first book, Noughts and Crosses, when I was about 12. I found the book very shocking and traumatic – to be honest, it was probably a bit too mature for me to be reading. So I never continued on with the series. One dose of this sex/violence/tear gas-infused sequence was quite enough for my sheltered little mind.

It wasn’t until last year when I spotted the series at the library, and decided to give it another shot. Ironically, I think that perhaps this time round, I’ve overshot the mark a bit, because I found some of the language quite juvenile. For example, words like “sooooo” kind of grated on my nerves a bit. (Although this may well be more of a reflection of my nerves rather than bad writing, since after all parts of it were narrated by a young-ish girl.)

The premise of this book is certainly fascinating. I know that at 12, I found it really thought provoking, especially smaller issues like “skin coloured plasters” only being pink (or in this universe, brown). I found it really embarrassing that I’d never noticed stuff like that before. Obviously in an ideal world, it would have had the same impact without the race reversal, but flipping the status quo like this really forces the reader to abandon all their stupid unconscious racial bias.

Much of this series focuses on relationships between noughts and crosses across the racial divide, angsty forbidden love à la Romeo and Juliet. I must say that a lot of the characters throughout this series really frustrated me in their seeming inability to EVER change their mind about things. This did make for really frustrating parts, where people would mull over a stupid grudge for YEARS and not have any fresh perspectives or even consider any other point of view. High stubbornness content I would say. Everyone thinking in black and white, as if the colour scheme of the book covers has leaked into their consciousnesses. (Ooh, poetic).

All in all, great premise, but irritating characters and juvenile language.

⭐️⭐️⭐️3/5

XxxXOO