Book Review

Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined: A Book Review

Let me tell you a little story about how a book found it’s way to me. I usually go into a bookstore with a plan. Even on the days when I casually decide to stroll into a bookstore, the wheels in my head begin turning as I shuffle through the file labeled “To Be Read” in my brain.  On this particular day, I was visiting the books I wanted as they sat pretty on the bookshelves when I noticed a book placed in the wrong section. Of course my OCD got the better of me and I picked it up to return it to its proper place (maybe I should start working in Indigo). I never made it to where it should be placed, because I decided it belonged with me.

At first it was the title that drew me in: “Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined”. I don’t know why but that title made me think and question the the story behind it. Then it was the beautiful cover that caught my attention. The star studded sky and a girl stargazing truly deserves cover appreciation. Finally, reading the excerpt is what made me decide to bring it home. I’m really grateful this book found me because it seems to be one of those underrated gems.

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Synopsis:

“My demon is you. My best and worst is about you: how I need you and fear for you, how I fear for myself if I lose you, how I have let myself be defined by you.” – Danielle Younge-Ullman.

This story is about a teenage girl name Ingrid and her mother. When she was younger, Ingrid travelled the world with her Opera singing mother, as she put on dazzling performances and received acclaim. When Ingrid’s mother loses her voice and career, their glamorous life comes to an end as they settle for a normal life filled with ghosts from their past. After a childhood with life altering moments and becoming an adult at a young age, Ingrid decides she wants to pursue her dream of becoming a singer.

The catch: Ingrid is challenged to complete a wilderness survival program in order to gain her mother’s approval for her career path. The other catch: The wilderness program is for a group of at risk teens consisting of runaways, ex-convicts and shady personalities. Ingrid spends her days in this gruelling program with a group of teens that make her feel uncomfortable, all the while trying to understand what she is doing there and working through years worth of pent up emotions and memories.

The Characters:

Ingrid put me through one hell of an emotional roller coaster. This book gives us flashbacks to Ingrid’s childhood, which helps us understand why she turned out the way she did. It is also written in the form of letters to her mother while she is at the wilderness camp. I truly enjoyed these parts because the writing was so sarcastic and really indicative of a teenage girl having an awful time at camp and life in general. Besides that, the most powerful thing about the letters is how her emotions completely boil to the surface. There is no sugar-coating how she feels about her past or present, and I do believe you get to know her character better with these scenes.

The Mother is an important character that we learn about through Ingrid’s flashbacks and letters. This is a difficult character to read about as you feel her pain jumping out of the pages as she describes losing her life’s passion. You feel angry about the way she treats Ingrid and how she tries to crush her dreams. Mainly, you just want her to pull through during her dark times.  

Andreas is a secondary character who begins dating Ingrid’s mother in the book. Andreas definitely became one of my favorite characters due to his endearing actions towards Ingrid and her mother. I loved reading the dynamic between him and Ingrid. Of course, the author did a great job in not making him appear too perfect but showing how sometimes your greatest flaw is how relentless you can be to help those who do not want to be “fixed”.

I especially enjoyed getting to know the group of misfit teens at the wilderness camp. Reading about their backstories and why they were doing this program was one of the most interesting parts of the book. The ex-convict Tavik ended up becoming one of my favorite characters from the camp. I’m not really sure when I started liking him, but suddenly I was on board with his character and wished we got more of him.

My Thoughts:

This has to be one of the most profound books with a theme of mental illness explored through the characters. Not only is mental illness viewed from the perspective of the person living with it, but it also explores how those around the person are affected. The symptoms, the challenges, the triggers and road to recovery are all explored and incredibly depicted in this story. There is a bit of a love story, but I did not care much for this part of the book. However, I do think that the backstory between Ingrid and this boy was essential and really well written. The way the story unfolds is also very fluid and easy to follow. Even though I saw that twist coming in the end, it was remarkably written for me to still feel it.

Let me just end this by saying that Goodreads compared this book to The Breakfast Club, which is my favorite movie of all time. I only read this comment after I was done with the book and I can tell you that “Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined” definitely has some Breakfast Club vibes. Besides that, it explores depression, pursuing your dreams, young love, bullying and family. This is a young adult fiction but I truly believe it is a book anyone can read and enjoy. I highly recommend this book and I hope it snuggles its way into your heart.

Happy reading bookworms!

Shazia.

 

 

Bookish Thoughts

Khanlibrary’s Favorite Books

“Hey Shazia, you’re a big reader…Do you have any book recommendations for me?”

I get asked this question a lot and I love it when I do! I usually burst out into a big dorky grin, clasp my hands together and start listing books by genre. I often wish I had an office where I could ask the person to have a seat, pour them some tea and unveil a portfolio of all my favorite books. Sadly, there is no office but I do have a mental portfolio of the recent books that I enjoyed as well as my all-time favorites.

So I would like to invite you into my imaginary office that has a gigantic bookshelf from floor to ceiling and a hot pot of tea with biscuits ready to serve. Please have a seat on the bean bag chair (because comfort is of utmost importance at the office) and let us have a look through the portfolio of my favorite books.

*Side note: my “portfolio” would really be a colourful and highly organized PowerPoint presentation complete with graphs and hilarious memes. But since this is a blog post I will tone it down a notch and just break it down numerically. Enjoy!

1) Favorite fictional book that made me cry:

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

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(picture from @khanlibrary)

Alright, let’s just start off by saying nobody makes me cry like Mr. Hosseini. I really hope I get to meet him one day and express how much I love his books. The way he weaves a story together and shows the growth of the characters is truly inspiring. Why do I love this this book so much? It is beautifully written and it makes you feel every emotion. It educates you and opens your mind. It makes you root for the characters, celebrate their victories and cry for their sorrows. While A Thousand Splendid Suns is my favorite book, I also highly recommend any of Khaled Hosseini’s books. Especially “Sea Prayeras the proceeds will benefit UN Refugee Agency and the author’s foundation 

2) Favorite Memoir that read like a novel:

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

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This was perhaps one of the best-written and insightful memoirs I have ever read. Jeanette takes us along on her journey through her childhood with her eccentric family and all the hardships they faced as they lived their life like nomads. At times this book felt like a novel. All the characters came to life and I was easily able to envision each scene in my head. It was deeply personal and I loved every bit of it.

 

3) Favorite classic that makes me swoon:

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

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Need I say more? Jane Austen’s classic is well known, as there are many TV specials and retellings of the story out there. The original classic will always be my favorite. I love Mr. Darcy’s awkward ways and Elizabeth’s feisty personality. I loved the entire nutty Bennet family. I have lost count on how many times I’ve read this classic. One thing is for sure; I never get tired of rereading it!

4) Favorite kids series I discovered in my adulthood:

Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rich Riordon

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I discovered this series in my mid twenties and I read them faster than Zeus’ lightning bolt. What an incredible adventure for both youngsters and adults alike. I enjoyed every single book in this series. I’m a huge fan of Greek mythology so these books were right up my alley. However, I don’t think you need much knowledge about Greek mythology to enjoy this series. 

5) Favorite young adult fantasy that made me want befriend the characters:

Clockwork Angel: The Infernal Devices Trilogy by Cassandra Clare

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Let me start off by saying I HATE love triangles. I always question how characters have got the time for such nonsense. However, here is a series that handles a love triangle perfectly. I loved Tessa, Will and Jem. To this day, I cannot pick which character I love more. The ending was pure perfection! I’m not a fan of the other Shadowhunter books, but this trilogy has my heart.

6) Favorite inspirational book that made me reflect on life:

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

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This is the kind of book that teaches you a different lesson every time you read it. I have read this book at three different points in my life and each time I uncovered a new message or thought. The writing is poetic and filled with metaphors and big lessons. There is a quote from the novel that has stuck with me from the very first moment I read it: “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” It is not only the most memorable quote from the book but my favorite quote in general.

7) Favorite book from my nerdy childhood:

Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

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My mom often tells me about my reaction once I finished reading Anne of Green Gables. One of the things I supposedly said at the age of eight years old was that I wished I had a sister like Anne Shirley. I really believe that the first few books you read as a kid really shapes you into the reader you turn out to be. I thank my mom for introducing me to L.M. Montgomery as a kid.

(Special shout out to the Harry Potter series but that was a given. I wanted to include something apart from the obvious).

 

8) Favorite Historical Fiction that held my attention for hours:

The Other Boleyn girl by Philippa Gregory

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Does Henry VIII fascinate anyone else or is it just me? To say this guy had problems is an understatement. He definitely had 99 problems and a Boleyn girl was one of them. I knew a bit about the Boleyn drama before reading the book, but whatever I knew was mainly about Anne Boleyn. I liked that this book focused on her sister and we see things through her perspective.

9) Favorite Self Help book that left me feeling inspired:

Good Vibes, Good Life by Vex King

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I really do feel that some books find you when you need them the most. This was one of those books for me. The author delivers simple, honest advice that seems to hit the mark perfectly. I found myself nodding along with the author’s advice and every so often wanting to shout out “yes! Preach!” but seeing as how I was in public transport at the time I stopped myself.

10) Favorite Middle School book that made me fall in love with reading all over again:

Cue for Treason by Geoffrey Trease

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I loathed being assigned books to read in elementary school. I always wanted to be in control of what I read. However, in Grade 6 everything changed when our teacher made us read “Cue for Treason”. This book was so good that almost every single kid in my class enjoyed reading it. I remember actually having fun while writing my book report because I had so many thoughts and emotions after finishing it. I lost my copy years ago but I was so happy to have found one just a couple of months back at Chapters. It feels like I got a piece of my childhood back.

There you have it folks. While I do have many more amazing books in my portfolio, these are the ones that hold a special place in my heart.

Fun Fact: I strongly considered adding Game of Thrones in the mix but I’m quite angry at the author right now so he was removed from the list until he decides to finish the books ….seriously George, are you waiting for a white walker apocalypse or what? 

Happy Reading,

Shazia.

Book Review

Tell it to the Trees by Anita Rau Badami

*Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 I have to applaud authors who are able to make their stories feel sinister from the very first page. To the point where you are almost holding your breath expecting something bad to happen. You feel the darkness trying to creep its way to the surface and so you keep reading and waiting for the story to go full dark force on you. I waited, I read and unfortunately this book fell flat for me in the end. Did it go full dark force on me? It sure did. This book is dark, but the wrap up of the story did nothing for me.

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Synopsis

“Truth was a shifting, shy thing, like sunlight changing from moment to moment, unknowable even if you spent your life in the heart of it.” – Anita Rau Badami.

Anu is a forty-something woman looking for a secluded retreat to write her book. She comes across the Dharma family’s “back-house” in the quiet town of Merrit’s Point and decides it will be the perfect place to spend some alone time writing. She gets to know the Dharma family and soon realizes there is something sinister happening in their household.

The Dharma family consists of the Vikram, the head of the household who was once married to a wild and free woman named Helen, who tragically died in a car crash leaving behind a daughter, Varsha. Vikram remarried by arranging a marriage for himself in India. He brings Suman from the warmth of India, to his cold and quiet town. It is not long before Suman has a child of her own and becomes trapped in her new life with her possessive stepdaughter, needy son and violent husband.

With the arrival of Anu as a tenant, Suman finds a friend and confidant. While Vikram is at work and the kids are at school, Anu visits Suman and Vikram’s mother, Akka, as they share stories over tea. With time, Anu starts realizing that there is not only something wrong with Vikram, but with his daughter Varsha as well. Varsha will stop at nothing to keep her family together and protect all of their secrets. When tragedy strikes and questions are asked, secrets start exposing themselves and threatening to break apart a family that was already hanging by a thread.

Characters:

I think the author did a fantastic job painting a picture of what domestic abuse does to children. In my opinion, the only strong, well developed characters in this book are the children.

Varsha is a thirteen-year-old girl with so much darkness in her. She was raised in a violent environment. She observed violence and experienced it herself. Seeing excuses made for her father’s abusive ways somehow embeds the idea in her head that sometimes extreme measures need to be taken to keep a family together. Something you see her do time and time again in the book. I’ll be honest, this girl creeped me out! I kept thinking something is not right with this girl, and I kept reading just to figure her out. She somehow reminded me of those crazy villains in slasher movies who are hiding in closets with a huge knife. Don’t worry she doesn’t do this….or does she? (evil laugh). No, she doesn’t but she gives off that kind of vibe.

Hemant is seven-years-old and your heart will break for him. He grasps onto any form of love given to him and is constantly battling with the secret thoughts he has about how his father and sister are bad people. While at times I felt like I was reading a perspective of a much older person rather than a seven-year-old, I still think that his character came a long way in terms of growth.

My heart did hurt for Suman as I read about what her life was once like and how it is reduced to daily violence. The author does a good job in showing how Suman feels suffocated in a loveless marriage and in an isolated cold town. She misses her culture, her family and the happiness she felt when she was free to live as she wished. The problem with this character is that I saw no growth. I was rooting for her every step of the way but I felt like her storyline did not progress much. Even with the arrival of Anu and their growing friendship, I felt like there really seemed to be no point to her perspective in the story as nothing was happening. While Anu was an interesting addition, I did not feel like I knew her well towards the end of the story. I felt no connection to her despite the fact that she plays a central role in the story.

Akka, the kid’s grandmother, was a very interesting character and had the potential to be so much more. Here is a woman that told stories without sugarcoating them for the youngsters. She spoke openly and freely. The scenes with her in them gave the story some life and I really believe that if she was given more depth and space she would have taken the story further. I felt like her storyline was just left hanging and I was sitting there asking “But where did Akka go? Can Akka come back?”. I’ll admit I mainly wanted her back because she seemed to have her own chilling secret. I guess the author left it open to interpretation for the readers.

Overall thoughts:

While this book did keep me engaged for the most part, I was disappointed in how everything was wrapped up in the end. The story was very bleak and I would have hoped to see some flicker of hope for the characters, but I did not. I felt like after everything I had been through with these characters, we were all left hanging. I finished the book feeling mainly annoyed by the potential the story had to be so much more.

The mystery presented in the very first chapter also added an element of suspense but after a while there was no more urgency for that particular part of the story. Despite all this, I do think the book had some very important take away messages about how a home environment can really shape children’s personalities in ways we could never imagine. Give this book a try if you like books that explore culture and family secrets with a light mystery. 

Happy reading!

Shazia.

p.s. I’m still haunted by that girl in this book. There is a reason why I avoid horror movies with children in them (or all horror movies, period).