Book Reviews: September 2016

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It’s been kind of a frustrating month of reading for me because most of the books are mediocre, but here it goes anyway:

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne:

This is the “it” book of the summer, isn’t it? (Well, it isn’t a book really; it’s a script.) I had to admit, I didn’t expect much, but from the photos of the cast, I thought it would be an interesting take on the world of Harry Potter.

The story, not to spoil it or anything, revolves around Harry’s youngest son Albus teaming up with Draco Malfoy’s son Scorpius and using a Time-Turner to go back in time and try to save Cedric Diggory. Now there lies my first problem with it: the Time-Turner is one of the least thought-out magical devices in HP, and any story that deals with time travel just opens itself to all sorts of plot holes and inconsistencies (this “How HP Should Have Ended” video features the only use for a Time-Turner that makes sense, in my opinion.) My second problem is that all the characters are annoying. The kids, especially, but the adult Harry, Ron, and Hermione as well. Here’s the thing – they went with the movie version of these characters, so Harry is a tortured matyr, Ron is a bumbling idiot, and Hermione is the only one with any sense. Perhaps they would be more likable on stage. I don’t know.

So you can see, I’m not impressed. And then there’s the big “twist” reveal at the end. Oh, that reveal. To sum up, here’s how my reactions go: “Wow all those effects sound amazing! I wish I could see this in person!” Then, “This reads like fan fiction.” Then, “This reads like bad fan fiction.” And finally, “WTF?! That is so dumb!” I’d still go see the play if I could afford a plane ticket to London though. 2/5

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín:

This is one of the books I picked up from the Deventer Book Fair. I loved the movie, so I wanted to check out the book. Well, let me just say this: if I hadn’t liked the movie so much, I would’ve found this book soooooooooo boring. Not that the movie improved on the book or anything; it followed the source material quite closely in fact. It’s just that the movie did a much better job of making these characters charming and the story touching, whereas in the book, I can’t relate to any of them. Maybe it’s just not my kind of book. 3/5 (and that’s only because I like the movie!)

Gilded Lives, Fatal Voyage by Hugh Brewster:

I picked this up before my Euro trip with the intention of taking it with me, but then I decided not to, because taking a book about the Titanic on a long trip doesn’t seem like a good idea. This book is, ostensibly, about the lives of the Titanic’s first class passengers, but other than a few broad sketches of their biographies, it’s a pretty standard retelling of the sinking of the Titanic. I think it has a great premise, but ultimately fails to live up to it: it doesn’t paint a very vivid picture of the rich and famous’ lifestyle in the Edwardian era and show how the sinking of the Titanic, in a way, puts an end to that way of life.

Another thing I found irritating about the book is the repetitive use of phrases like “likely”, “no doubt”, “undoubtedly”, and “must have”. It’s like the author wants to remind you that he doesn’t know any of these details for certain. I mean, we all know that a lot of it is just speculating; it’s not like this is a first-hand account, but that kind of writing is really distracting. 2.5/5

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari & Eric Klineberg:

My friend Debbi recommended this to me after one of our usual social/philosophical discussions, when I told her that I don’t know how people can date and have relationship in this day and age (because I am a robot who doesn’t understand human emotions.) This book is basically about the search for love in the digital age. I’ve read some disappointed reviews from people who expected it to be funny, since it’s written by Aziz Ansari, and found that it isn’t particularly funny. But I know it’s not a humorous book, so I wasn’t disappointed. It introduces some interesting concepts such as the idea of passionate love vs. companionate love, or the “phone self”, and also gives some insights into how smartphones and social medias are changing dating etiquettes. It doesn’t answer my question (because I am a robot who doesn’t understand human emotions) but a fun read nonetheless. 3/5

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4 Comments on “Book Reviews: September 2016”

  1. Mike says:

    After four months of attempting to get through my latest read, “Shadow Princess”, I’ve finally finished it this past weekend and am ready to write my full review on it. As I think I stated during last month’s review, it usually doesn’t take me this much time to read any book, especially one under 400 pages. But with the crazy, stupid, tumultuous summer that I had, my focus wasn’t where it should have been and it was a lot more difficult for me to really get into this story, especially with a change in the plot from the previous two books, as well as the full cast of new characters that I had to keep all straight in my head so that I could figure out what the heck what going on in the story!
    But now I can proudly say that I finished this great book and now I am ready to share it with you, as best as I can. Let’s go!

    “Shadow Princess”, as I’ve mentioned above, takes a slight turn in the plot as the main focus is no longer on Mehrunnisa, but on Jahanara, who is the grand niece of Mehrunnisa and the daughter of Arjumand Banu, who in turn, is the daughter of Mehrunnisa’s brother, Abul. Knowing this mini (and might I add the word “very” mini) family line that I gave you is essential to know if you are to fully understand the story in this book as the author often makes references to previous characters from the first two books and they are more often than not, tied into the family line of Jahanara in some way. The author even provides a handy family tree flow chart at the beginning of her book, which is so helpful to glance at as you’re reading the story to help you keep up with who’s who.

    So, getting back to the plot, this story takes place a few years after the events of “The Feast of Roses” (the 2nd book in the trilogy) and portrays Jahanara as a young teen, the eldest child of the current emperor, Emperor Khurram, or Shah Jahan, as he is often referred to as in this book. If you recall, he was the son of Emperor Jahangir from the second book.

    While the first two books mainly focused on the emperors’ sons going after the throne (and doing it in rather grisly ways much of the time), the main focus of “Shadow Princess” is Jahanara, along with her younger sister, Roshanara, and their efforts to support one of their brothers who is next to inherit the throne. The opening of the story begins with Shah Jahan’s wife, Arjumand Banu (known as Mumtaz Mahal) giving birth to another child, whom we hear very little of, and then dying shortly afterward. This sudden death of his wife totally devastates Shah Jahan and puts him on the verge of nearly abdicating the throne on the spot. Jahanara was able to talk him out of this grief stricken decision quickly, mostly noting that while Dara and Aurangzeb were next in line to receive the throne, both were still too inexperienced to fully handle the Mughal Empire on their own.
    So Shah Jahan decides to remain on the throne for this reason, as well as the fact that it was not proper for the son of an emperor to inherit the throne while his father was still alive, and instead, decided to build a grand tomb to honor his deceased wife, what we now know as The Taj Mahal.
    But all is not calm among Jahanara and her siblings. Contentions between them all begin to rise, and just like we’ve seen in the previous books, betrayal, mistrust and even murder are very much a reality here and will keep you guessing as to who will come out on top. And while the male siblings, Dara and Aurangzeb, each have their eyes set on the throne, the female siblings are also competing against each other in a way, to see to it that the brother that they support inherits the throne (Jahanara supports Dara and Roshanara supports Aurangzeb). And it’s not just these royal ramifications that are keeping these two powerful women on edge, as their father will not allow them to marry. But that doesn’t mean that their hearts are free of love and that love triangles don’t exists. A noble in the emperor’s court named Najabat Khan, has captured the hearts of both Janahara and Roshanara and they both desire to be his lover and go about it in different ways.

    I think that you get the picture as far as how all of this goes. And once again, I am faced with the same problem of having so much to tell but will limit myself in this review as it is simply too much detail to go over and reading the book yourself will serve as the best way to tell the story and letting it unfold to you as it did for me. I will tell you this. Many of the same backstabbing and acts of betrayal that you’ve seen in the first two books do happen in this one as well and one prince (out of a total of 4; Dara, Shuja, Aurangzeb, and Murad) ends up murdering the other three to make inheriting the throne that much easier (seriously, don’t these people have any originality?). And surprisingly, Mehrunnisa makes a brief appearance in this book as she speaks with Jahanara when she goes to see her for advice, much like Mehrunnisa did with her own mentor, Ruqayya Sultan Begam. This leads me to believe that part of this story takes place before Mehrunnisa dies, as she clearly does in “The Feast of Roses”. So it was nice to have mention of her in this story, albeit briefly, as she is often portrayed of as not being very well liked by some of the characters in the story, particularly by Shah Jahan.

    But to sort of sum it all up, as this is the third and last book in “The Taj Mahal” series, I will say that it has been a most unforgettable story to read. It started off with Mehrunnisa’s birth in “The Twentieth Wife” and essentially ends with Jahanara’s final moments with her father, who (she) is roughly at the age of 64 by the end of the third book. And each character along the way has a story to tell, whether it be a big one or a small one. And though they are based off of real people in history, their stories are, in part, fictional, as Ms. Sundaresan points out in her afterward. But as you read all three books, you, in a sense, feel like you’ve become part of the characters’ stories too and that you are right along there with them as they interact in this ancient world. And once you’ve become a part of their stories, they, in a way, become your story.

    Okay, that may sound a little corny, but it was what I felt as I was reading these magnificent books. So now, it is time I rate this one. I give this one a 4 out of 5. I had to bump this one down by one point because to me, I found it a little more difficult to follow than the other two books. I don’t know if it was because all new characters were introduced and there were simply too many to try and keep all together, or the fact that throughout the book, the author gives a sort of intermission between chapters that talks about the building of the Taj Mahal. And while I found those intermissions to be interesting, I felt that they broke up the story too much and perhaps should have been kept separate from the main story; like maybe had it at the end so that the reader could read about it in full without interruption.

    But still, it was an extremely great read and I’m so happy that I stuck it out to read all three books in this series.

    Keep on reading! And if you feel so inclined to, join in with us each month during the discussions. Salazar and I are having all of the fun! Have fun with us! See you all next month for more awesome reads (hopefully!).

  2. Salazar says:

    Hey Mike, thanks for your review! What do you think about posting these on your blog from now on and link to them here? That way you can keep your reviews, post whenever you want without having to wait for me, and more people can read them. It’ll help to grow your blog and keep the book club growing too!

  3. Kezzie says:

    Yes, I do see what you mean about HP. I was so unconvinced by the Big reveal- like that would ever happen, V is far too much of a control freak for that!

    • Salazar says:

      I wish the bad guy had been someone like Barty Crouch Jr. – a crazy fanatic obsessed with old Voldy and believes that they are chosen to finish his work. This is just… eww.


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