Behind the Beautiful Forevers – Katherine Boo

This is a book I’ve had on my To-Read list for ages, since I first found out about it from John Green’s book recommendations video. I randomly spotted it in the college library and thought I’d give it a go (so begins many of my reading stories).

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This was such an interesting book. I was slightly put off by the title, which I thought sounded quite soppy and sentimental, but this was absolutely not the case. The book was written by an American journalist, who decided to spend 3 years living in a slum in Mumbai. The title actually arises from some adverts for tiles that is on the wall between the slum and the airport. The adverts promise that the tiles will be “Beautiful Forever”, and so the slum itself is “Behind the Beautiful Forevers”.

Anyway, the book follows various inhabitants of the slum, what they do in their day-to-day lives, their aspirations, successes, and failures. Katherine Boo herself is not a character, and it is just told in the third person as if life were going on as normal.

I thought this book offered amazing insight into the lives of people in slums. It was very interesting, and taught me a lot I didn’t know about their struggles, and especially the extraordinary amounts of corruption that they face from all authorities. It raised quite a lot of issues for me about the effectiveness of charities, and how difficult it is to help people in need when they are surrounded by a cage of corrupt authorities.

I thought the topic was dealt with a great deal of humanity, but without being sentimental, or patronising to the characters. I would recommend this to everyone really – I think it’s one of those books that’s “important” to read, in order to understand the problems that other people face.

Incidentally, anyone who’s read this book and worries (as I did) about how helpful the money they donate to charity actually is, I’d recommend you check out Giving What We Can. It’s an organisation that investigates charities, and comes up with a list of the most “effective” ones – i.e. the ones that allow your money to have the most impact. Many of the charitable organisations mentioned in this book are having their money siphoned off by corrupt authorities at a higher level, and it never actually reaches the people it was intended for. I believe GWWC investigates charities very carefully, to make sure this kind of thing doesn’t happen.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️5/5 stars

XooxoXXOO

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

13 Minutes – Sarah Pinborough

13 minutes is a gripping YA thriller/mystery, set in a sixth form college in Lancashire.

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A popular girl from the school has been found drowning in a river in the early hours of the morning. Although she survives, she ends up being dead (unconscious and with no heartbeat) for 13 minutes before being resuscitated. When she wakes up, she has no memory of the events leading up to her accident, or how she ended up in the river. She and her friend Becca are determined to unravel the mystery.

I thought this book was utterly gripping, with a compelling plot and plenty of twists and turns as more bits of evidence are discovered. It reminded me of the books I’ve read by Gillian Flynn (which are fantastic), although slightly toned down in graphicness for a YA audience.

The teenage school setting was wonderfully toxic, with all the Mean Girls-esque cattiness and plotting, false friends and queen bees aplenty. The suspicion and jealousy of those kind of teenage friendships and relationships was portrayed really well.

I’d highly recommend this to anyone who likes thrillers. It’s really made me want to read more of the crime genre!

Thank you to Netgalley and Gollancz for providing me with a copy of this book!

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4/5 stars

xxxooOx

Risuko – David Kudler

Can one girl win a war?

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From the blurb and description, I expected this to be an epic story of a brave young girl managing to play her part in a world of men. Kind of like Mulan (although of course that’s set in China, not Japan). I have a feeling that this may be the case in future instalments of the story, although so far this hasn’t really been evident. The question “Can one girl win a war?” is certainly not that relevant, as she doesn’t even try.

This really did feel like the first book in a series, with a lot of setting up of characters, but not a lot of actual plot. I felt as though I spent a lot of time waiting for things to happen, but not much really did.

The setting of ancient Japan was interesting, and not something I’ve ever read about before. There was a lot of stuff mentioned about the Japanese civil war, although I can’t say I actually understood what was going on. Partly because I couldn’t remember the unfamiliar names (totally my fault though, not the book’s!)

Despite the interesting setting, I just didn’t really ever feel emotionally invested in the book. There were elements of mystery in it, and some parts were quite exciting, but when the climactic “reveal” moment came, I didn’t really get it. Perhaps the author assumed too much background knowledge of the Japanese factions, or perhaps I hadn’t been concentrating hard enough.

Overall I did find this book to have a very interesting premise, and I loved the main character, Risuko. The time period is an interesting one, that I would be keen to learn more about. I think the main problems I had were just that the history wasn’t explained clearly enough, and that the story seemed to be “saving” itself for future books.

Thank you very much to Netgalley and Stillpoint Digital Press for providing this book!

⭐️⭐️⭐️3/5

 

Am I Normal Yet? – Holly Bourne

OK, so this book was completely not what I expected it to be.

From the title, cover, tag line (“It’s tough being a girl”), and the checklist on the back (college, parties, friends who don’t dump you, a boyfriend), I had categorised it as a light, girly contemporary. Its description in my Summer TBR was a “hilarious light summer read”. Clearly I hadn’t read the blurb with any kind of accuracy. I think this comes of having had such a strong recommendation from a trusted friend – I knew I definitely wanted to read it, so I hadn’t spend much time researching what it was actually about! 23592235

Anyway, to correct my previous misconceptions, Am I Normal Yet is about a girl called Evie, who suffers from severe OCD and general anxiety disorder. After a long period of recovery, she has returned to college, where she’s faced with all the normal college-y things, and has to deal with them on top of her illness.

The book was written from Evie’s point of view, and it was very eye-opening to get inside her head. Holly Bourne did a lot of research for this book, talking to psychiatrists and people suffering from OCD, and I think she did a great job. The first person narrative combined with the anxiety-ridden inner monologue really got under my skin, and made me better understand what Evie was going through, giving me a real sense of paranoia and lack of control.

Another interesting aspect was Evie’s perspectives on mental illness, from how she thinks people perceive her, to her family’s reactions, how society’s view of them has changed, and the way people use the names of mental illnesses flippantly in conversations.

Despite its heavy subject matter, this book was still actually pretty funny at times. Some of the characters were hilarious (I loved Amber especially).

I thought the discussions on feminism were absolutely fantastic. The three best friends, trying to reclaim the word “spinster” set up the Spinster Club. During meetings they discuss a range of issues, from periods, friendships, dating, and mental illness. They brought up topics such as the “Madonna-whore complex”, and “Manic pixie dream girls”. I’ve never seen this kind of discussion in a YA book before, and I think these are such important ideas for teenagers to learn about.

Another feminism thing I really enjoyed was the Bechdel test, which I’d never heard of before. Basically, a book/film passes the test if it contains one conversation between two women, that isn’t just about men. A surprising number of films don’t pass!

Despite this educational element, this aspect of the  book remains funny and light hearted, and isn’t at all preachy.

Overall, I was very impressed with this book and how much important stuff it managed to fit in. Its discussions of feminism, mental illness, family, friendships, and relationships, in such an entertaining yet informative way, make this book a thoroughly deserving recipient of the YA book prize.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️4.5/5

XoxooOooOX

These Shallow Graves – Jennifer Donnelly

Josephine Montfort is a young woman from one of New York’s most elite families. At the beginning of the book, she discovers that her father has died. Was it an accident? Suicide? Murder? Jo decides to find out.

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This book has had loads of really positive reviews on Goodreads, so I had fairly high expectations going into it. I had been informed it was an utter page turner, with a really immersive setting; a true thriller.

Overall though, I though this book was just a bit meh. I would say it was pretty similar to Philip Pullman’s The Ruby in the Smoke, but not as good. I certainly didn’t feel particularly thrilled. The setting was good, a classic turn-of-the-century New York, with contrasts between the grand upper class houses, and the crime-ridden slums, but for some reason, I just didn’t feel excited about it.

In the first 100 pages I just found myself feeling quite apathetic towards the characters and the plot – they seemed quite wooden and predictable. The whole trope of intelligent woman who has to give up all her ambitions because of her class is an important one, but I just felt like I’d heard it all before.

On top of this, the characters were just SO STUPID. It took them ages to figure out really obvious clues. For example, when they rule out that the death wasn’t an accident or a suicide, they genuinely are stumped as to what else it could be. A lot of the “dramatic twists” in the story were so drawn out that they lost all excitement and impact.

One character I did really like was Fey. I was surprised that she warmed to Jo as much as she did, but she ended up being a real hero, going out of her way to help out with her badass thievery skills. She actually seemed a lot more intelligent than Jo, despite her lack of education, and wise from having had to fend for herself.

Having said that, I did find that the story picked up again towards the end. In the last 100 pages or so, I became more gripped, and actually began to find it a bit more exciting. I certainly didn’t anticipate all the twists that happened. The ending was satisfying – not too clichéd (but probably headed that way).

A slight pet peeve of mine that popped up a couple of times in this is when characters in books scoff at something, saying that only happens in books. For some reason I find it incredibly cringey.

I think perhaps this book was just aimed at younger readers than me. Having read some adult thrillers, such as Gillian Flynn, I simply failed to muster up much excitement for this fairly predictable plot. Perhaps I have become cynical and withered in my old age.

⭐️⭐️⭐️3/5

XxxooXOo

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.

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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

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