Book Reviews: March 2016

It’s been a good month of reading. Somehow in the middle of my usual crazy March schedule, I found the time to read four books, and enjoy almost all of them:

books_16-03

Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett:

“When in doubt, read Discworld” has become my motto. Whenever I’m bored, not sure what to read next, or just want a quick pick-me-up, I always turn to Discworld (I’m trying to pace myself so I don’t finish the series too soon.) Anyway, this book, as you can guess from the title, belongs to the “Witches” series of Discworld (they are categorized by main characters such as Rincewind, Death, Tiffany Aching, the Watch, etc.) The story is actually quite similar to Indexing, which I’ve reviewed a while ago, except with more satire: a malevolent fairy godmother (who actually thinks she’s the good one) is making fairy tales come true against people’s wishes, and now it’s up to the three witches – Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat – to put a stop to it. It’s good, as most Discworld books are, but the voodoo magic stuff (the three witches travel to a city that is clearly the satirical version of New Orleans) flew over my head a bit so I don’t find the satire as clever as usual. 3.5/5

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt:

I’ve had this in my Kindle since forever and finally decided to read it, to see what the fuss is all about (Pulitzer Prize winners are not my usual fare). I’ve heard the phrase “Dickensian” thrown around when people talk about this book, and now I can see why – the story has a lot of parallels to David Copperfield: a young boy, after losing his mother, bounces around from the Upper West Side apartment of his classmate’s wealthy family to his deadbeat dad’s empty Las Vegas house to the Greenwich village antique shop of a kind and eccentric old man who takes him in. The complex and colorful characters are like the modern versions of Dickens’ characters, and the detailed description and poetic prose are reminiscent of Dickens as well. But then the book also has its own touches – the most notable one is, of course, the center of the story, Carel Fabritius’ painting “The Goldfinch”, which is both the catalyst and the symbol for the main character’s journey, and adds a thriller note to the story. I read this all the way through in two weeks, much quicker than I thought (the book is 700+ pages), which goes to show how absorbing it is. A lot of the time, though, I got impatient and skimmed a bit because I just wanted to know what happens next, instead of having to trudge through the main character’s musings about life and loss and beauty or some such nonsense. Plus, I find the ending deeply unsatisfying. My screenwriter mind prefer something more climactic. 4/5 (I still like it a lot more than I expected though.)

Kiki’s Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono:

After the monster that is “The Goldfinch”, I wanted something lighter both in weigh and in tone. I’ve seen the movie but didn’t realize it was a book (a series of book, in fact) until now. For those of you who don’t know, the story is about a 13-year-old witch who sets out to start her career, and since flying is her only talent, she decides to open a delivery service. The book is more episodic than the movie (which I believed is only loosely based on the series anyway), but is very cute. Too bad the Vietnamese translation is kinda blah (yes, that’s the cover of the Vietnamese edition) so I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought. 3/5

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson:

This one is fun. The title pretty much says it all – the story starts when the main character escapes from an old people’s home on his 100th birthday, and follows his wild adventure on the road as well as his equally wild adventures in the past. It’s a bit like Forrest Gump – throughout his life, the main character met all sorts of historical figures and had unexpected consequences on historical events – and makes me laugh out loud a couple of times (no other writers have done that to me save Terry Pratchett and Bill Bryson), so even though some of the historical facts get a bit tedious, I still like it. 4/5

The downside of reading so much this past month is that I’m about to run out of books to read, so please share your books so I can find something new too!

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5 Comments on “Book Reviews: March 2016”

  1. Mike says:

    You might like this one Salazar. You may wish to add this to your reading list! Check out my very long review below.

    Hey everyone! I have a great book to share with you this month, one that I discovered by looking at another book (a biography of the author I believe) and I think I hit the treasure trove of what a good book should be. The book that I just completed, “The Twentieth Wife” by Indu Sundaresan, is part 1 of a trilogy series called “The Taj Mahal” series and is by far, one of the greatest and well written books that I have ever come across. It is written very well, the characters are well written and are made to be very realistic (which makes sense as many, if not all of them, are based off of real people), and it leaves you with a sense that you yourself are living in Mughal India and are interacting with the characters as they make their way through life during this very ancient time.

    So, to begin with, the story is set in Qandahar, Persia (present day Iran) 1578, where Ghias Beg and his wife, Asmat, along with their children are struggling in poverty and fret about being able to live on what little they have. They worry even more because Asmat is ready to give birth to another child, Mehrunnisa, meaning another mouth to feed, along with their other two children. Realizing this, Ghias and Asmat regretfully decide to try and give Mehrunnisa away (by leaving her alongside the road in hopes that someone will find and take care of her). But in a twist of fate, a merchant by the name of Malik Masud finds Mehrunnisa and wishes to return her to Ghias and his family and invites them to travel with him to Lahore (located in the part of India, which is now Pakistan, long before India and Pakistan split into two different countries) to meet with Emperor Akbar, the current ruler of India during that time. The emperor sees to it that Ghias and his family are well taken care of and they never have to fear of poverty again.

    Not to get into too much detail (there is just too much that happens to do so anyway), the basic plot of the story picks up when Mehrunnisa is a little older and she sees one of the emperor’s sons, Prince Salim, and immediately is struck by love and basically becomes her obsession throughout the rest of the story. The same goes for the prince once he sees Mehrunnisa and is also infatuated by her beauty, most noticeably, her blue eyes.
    Mehrunnisa has hoped that ever since her first encounter with Salim, that she could be married to him, but was usually discouraged against by her family and most notably, her mentor, and later friend (of sorts), the emperor’s wife, Ruqayya Sultan Begam.

    The book is very interesting in that it is written with several plots happening simultaneously, in that while we have the sort of “love” plot between Mehrunnisa and Salim, there is also shown to be several “power” struggles happening between Akbar and his son, Salim, for the throne (there are at least two attempts of Salim plotting to kill his father in order to succeed him on the throne. And later, Salim (now called Jahangir when he succeeds his father on the throne when he passes away from natural causes) has to face the same threat from his own son, Khusrau, who also plots against his father for the throne and appears to be even more ruthless than his father at his attempts in doing so. But unlike Akbar, who is seen to be rather lenient with his son’s actions, Jahangir is not as kind as his father and severely punishes Khusrau for his actions. One very grisly way that this is displayed is when Jahangir has his army slaughter his son’s army (who are not as well trained as his father’s army) and puts the corpses and almost dead bodies on display for Khusrau to see as he is paraded down the “crimson lane”, which completely devastates him. Then he is locked up and confined to ensure that he does not try anything like this again. Khusrau escapes however and tries to overtake the throne again and is caught and punished again (by being blinded) thus guaranteeing that he is down for the count. After that, he is not mentioned much for the rest of the story.

    Another power struggle that happens is the strained marriage between Mehrunnisa and her abusive husband, Ali Quli. It was a marriage of Akbar’s choosing at the time and was presented to Ghias to tell his daughter, to which she highly rejects but ends up following through as it was the emperor’s wish. And for over a decade, Ali Quli was seen to be a cruel and unfeeling husband towards Mehrunnisa, as he often made a point to try and dominate over her as he felt because he was a man and a warrior. But I really admired Mehrunnisa as she shows herself to be a very strong woman and is seen several times standing up to her husband, which, back in these times, was very rare for a wife to do towards her husband. One of the best examples of this is when Mehrunnisa finally is able to give birth (after two miscarriages) to a baby girl (named Ladli) and her husband doesn’t even want the child, hoping for a son. But Mehrunnisa doesn’t care if he doesn’t want her as she feels that after two lost babies, her daughter is a gift and won’t give her up.

    And finally, the last (and probably the most crucial) struggle seen in the story is the one between Mehrunnisa and Jahangir’s 2nd wife, Jagat Gosini. Throughout the whole story, you see these two shooting invisible daggers at each other as there is an obvious hostility that is seen between the two of them, particularly Jagat Gosini, who holds a deep hatred for Mehrunnisa because Jahangir has been infatuated with her ever since he was a prince. She continuously plots against Mehrunnisa in order to get Jahangir to see her differently, fearing that he will want to marry her, as Mehrunnisa’s husband later dies in a surprise attack. We (the reader) are constantly reminded of how much Jagat Gosini hates Mehrunnisa, almost to the point of laughter because she never gives up. And it’s at one point, you wonder if she will actually succeed in keeping these two love birds apart, as for a brief time, they split up over a small argument. And while there are no true “villains” in this story, in my opinion, Jagat Gosini is by far the biggest antagonist here as she is basically the foil for Mehrunnisa. And to me, those are the kinds of antagonists that make the best villains for any story.

    Overall, I found that I really enjoyed the story. What I found to be the most interesting about it was at the end where the author gives an afterward, telling the reader that many of the events that took place in the story are, or were, actual depictions of what really happened and that Mehrunnisa was a real person. I won’t give away all of the details as you should read the book for yourself if you want to know more about her, but I was really surprised to see that I was reading a fictional story about a real person, a real woman, who was strong, independent and intelligent. I had never heard of her before reading this book, but I am glad that I know about her now. And as it turns out, this was the perfect book to read for Women’s History Month! And I’m happy to have been able to share this great tale with you for this month’s review.

    There are two more books in this series and I am planning to read those as well. The next book is called “The Feast Of Roses” and I plan to start that next and (hopefully!) have it read for next month’s book review. So my overall rating for “The Twentieth Wife” is a 5 out of 5.

    Great read! Keep on reading everyone! And please share what you read! Salazar and I would love to hear what everyone else is reading. I know that we can’t be the only ones enjoying this! Join in!

  2. Kezzie says:

    Wow, Mike, that is some epic comment!
    Well, I got two books from the library but both were a bit weird- one I couldn’t bear to read after about 20 pages so I returned it to the Library. I love the Edward Marston Railway detective books so I recommend those.
    The witch stories are the ones I like best from Discworld, although I like the Nightwatch ones! Rincewind just annoys me!x

    • Salazar says:

      The Death books are my favorite, and Tiffany Aching a close second, but I love the Witches and the Watch too. And I have a soft spot for Rincewind – probably because the first Discworld book I read was “The Color of Magic”, and also probably because I always have a soft spot for bumbling not-quite-heroes.

  3. Mike says:

    Hahaha, thanks, Kezzie. Yeah, I was really into this book and I wanted to write a really good review for it as it was very deep. There were many little side stories and many other minor characters involved in it, so I really had to cut my review down so that it wouldn’t be insanely long. All that I’ve written here were just the main story plots. 🙂

    I have heard good things about Edward Marston’s work. He has written many book series under a few different pseudonyms and writes really in-depth historical mysteries.

  4. Mike says:

    I just made an interesting discovery. I was looking up “The Goldfinch”, as I was thinking of reading it sometime in the near future, and I happened upon the audio version of it. And by some really weird ironic twist, one of the narrators for “The Goldfinch” is the same one that narrates “The 39 Clues”; David Pittu. I’m most certainly going to listen to audiobook now! David Pittu is one the best narrators I’ve ever heard and I really admire his voice work.


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