Book Review 8 – The Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan

Sorry, again, for my absence. As it is now the beginning of April, my goal is to post at least once a week on this blog, so get ready for more constant updates (fingers crossed).

During the month of February (I know, kind of a long time ago), I read The Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan. A friend gave me the book as a gift, otherwise I’m not sure I would have picked it up from the bookstore. I was drawn in from the very first page. The book’s premise greatly interests me: a young girl, Mehrunisa, originally of Persian descent, becomes intertwined in the aspects of 16th-century Mughal India, and especially in the affections of Prince Salim. What struck me most about the book, which was packed full of description of Mughal life and ornate and flamboyant finery, was Mehrunisa’s courage and resilience to challenge the notions of women during that period by speaking out against conventions, and daring to advise Prince Salim about what to do in court affairs. Mehrunisa’s eventual marriage to Prince Salim (who becomes Emperor Jahangir after his father’s death) confirms her ability to not only sway him with her beauty but also with her logical reasoning abilities. Sundaresan is a truly gifted writer, and I wouldn’t just recommend this book to those who love historical fiction — I think it’s a book that any woman should read, as it is a real eye-opener.

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Book Review 7 – The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

I started this novel in the summer but it wasn’t until October that I finally decided to finish this book — and boy, was it worth it!

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger is truly a marvelous work. When I first started the novel, however, you wouldn’t have heard me saying that — it’s one of those novels that grows on you as you continue to read it. The story itself  is a love story that follows Henry, a librarian who finds himself involuntarily displaced in time, and Claire, an artist who does not time travel. It begins with Henry and Claire’s first date (for Henry), progresses to an older Henry meeting Claire as a young girl, and culminates with Henry meeting Claire when Claire is an old woman (if you’re wondering how that’s possible, I’m not going to give anything more away!) Although some parts of the novel could have been cut out, Niffenegger writes with such presicion and attention to detail that you don’t even mind reading some of the paragraphs that read as lists.

However, what struck a resounding impact with me was Niffenegger’s message that love truly can withstand the test of time, and I recommend The Time Traveler’s Wife to anyone who believes in the power of that statement.

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Book Review 6 – A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

This is a bit of a late review, seeing as I actually read this book in early August, but better late than never 🙂

Although I’ve said mostly positive things about the other books that I’ve reviewed, this book was not my favorite. I had high hopes and expectations for it that mostly got let down (with a few exceptions).

A Visit From the Goon Squad focuses on the lives of Bennie Salzar, and aging former punk rocker and his record label business, and Sasha, his young assistant. The two are different from each other in multiple respects and I did enjoy how Egan alternated between their perspectives. The reader got to know both character’s backstories, even though the Sasha and Bennie never truly got to know each other’s backstories.

The one aspect of the book that is causing me to give it a slightly negative review (with a positive flair, of course, see above) is that the characters confused me. I’m not going to get into all the details, but the characters that surrounded the lives of Sasha and Bennie were unclear, as their relationship to the two main characters was unclear. Instead of narrating the story from Sasha’s and Bennie’s perspectives throughout the entire novel, Egan chose to narrate it through other characters who encountered Sasha and Bennie — which would have been fine, but since I had no idea who they were, this just made the novel more confusing to read.

I did enjoy the chapter written entirely in powerpoint format – it was a refreshing change.

All in all, this book was alright, not terrible, but it did have its flaws in respect to characters and plot.

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Book Review 5 – The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

I’ve finally come “of age” (as my mother likes to tell me) to read this book, and I am so glad that I did.

Right from the beginning it is clear that there is a special bond between Amir, the son of a wealthy Afghan businessman, and Hassan is his servant’s son – but Hosseini’s real talent is crafting a wholly unknown bond between the Amir and Hassan and adding twists and turns to the plot. The exotic scents of Kabul were only a backdrop for this amazing novel, and even when the Soviets invaded and the Taliban took control of the country and Amir moved to California and started a new life there, his regret of what he did on a fateful day in Kabul eventually led him back to his home country for a sort of redemption and forgiveness of himself. There are so many life lessons in this story, which is what makes it so unbelievably powerful. My favorite aspect of the entire novel would be the way Hosseini pieced together the novel so perfectly – I loved how moments at the beginning tied together well with moments and dialogue near the end and in the middle of the story. Let’s just say that I had some major aha moments.

From start to finish, this was an amazing novel that kept me hooked – I couldn’t put it down and had to know what happened next! It’s really hard to review this book without giving much away, so I’ll keep this short and sweet. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning the real story of the war-ravaged country of Afghanistan, and who enjoys novels about friendship and inner forgiveness.

“There is a way to be good again.” – Rahim Khan

“For you, a thousand times over.” – Hassan

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Book Review 4 – The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

First, a powerful quote:

“Things usually work out in the end.”

“What if they don’t?”

“That just means you haven’t come to the end yet.”

It’s amazing how a family that was so dysfunctional can still warm your heart. The Walls family, as cataloged in Jeanette Walls’s groundbreaking memoir, The Glass Castle, did all that and more. Right from the very beginning, I was astounded at the kind of family that the author herself grew up in – at some parts throughout the novel I had to remind myself that it was actually a memoir and not fiction.

Jeanette’s father, when he was sober, possessed innumerable knowledge about physics, the cosmos, and how to live life – but when he was drunk, he nearly shattered his family’s hearts into pieces. Her mother didn’t see the value in caring for children, and encouraged them to fend for themselves (I was thinking – why would she even have kids?). Jeanette recounts her first memory when she burned herself while she was cooking a hot dog – when she was THREE YEARS OLD. Yes, that’s right. And after she got better (and her dad pulled her out of the hospital), her mother  encouraged her to  continue cooking, saying something like (this is not a direct quote) “you need to face your fears.”

From the beginning, I knew this book was going to make me experience a roller coaster of emotions, but I was ready.

The Walls family was always running from something – Jeanette and her siblings Brian, Maurine and Lori, don’t even recall the number of houses they have lived in. When Jeanette was younger, they moved between desert towns in Arizona and California, but when she got older, her family ran out of money and resorted to living in the dreary town of Welch, WV where her grandmother lived. The only beacon of hope was their father’s promise to build a Glass Castle, an engineering feat with high glass ceilings and stunning architecture. This never happened, of course, and one by one, all of his children lost faith in him – except Jeanette.

As the Walls siblings learn to stick together and face challenges such as not having enough to eat, they eventually make their way to New York City to pursue their own dreams, leaving their parents behind in the dust. When their parents decide to follow their children to the city, they become homeless – a heartbreaking moment for the children, but there is nothing they can do about it.

Even in the midst of it all, the family still stuck together.

Contrary to its premise, this book was amazing and I highly recommend it to anyone who has experienced or is experiencing love of some kind. I don’t normally read memoirs as I often find them dull and simply a recount of a person’s life, but this memoir was much more than that, and it touched me in a way I can’t fully express.

This book will make you laugh and cry out in disbelief, and that is why it is so amazing.

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Book Review 3 – The Lost Saint by Bree Despain

As you’ve probably noticed, lately I’ve been in the mood for writing book reviews. I’ve just had a lot more time to read and I’m beginning to derive pleasure out of writing these reviews. So, without further ado, here’s my book review for The Lost Saint by Bree Despain!

The Lost Saint is actually the second book in a trilogy called the Dark Divine by Bree Despain, and focuses on the relationship between Grace Devine and Daniel Kalibi. I don’t want to give too much away, so this is going to be quite a short book review. But the book definitely deserves a review.

So. Back to the story. Daniel was a werewolf before Grace cured him (something that was deemed impossible, until she did it, earning her the name of The Divine One) but she is slowly falling under the influence of the wolf. This is because she got bitten by her brother, Jude, who had also turned into a werewolf. However, although the story doesn’t center on werewolves, there is this whole other side as well that involves a new character, Nathan Talbot. I’ll spare you the details, but basically Talbot (he insists that he be called by his last name throughout the book) helps Grace develop her new powers, when Daniel refuses to do this, in unexpected ways. Grace’s relationship with Daniel is eventually put at stake.

I greatly enjoyed the fast-paced, thrilling experience of reading this book, since it was full of suspense and action at almost every turn, but what disappointed me was Grace’s naivete. Don’t get me wrong, I love her determination and she’s cute and sweet, but she can be very innocent (and almost annoying) at times. Also, the whole let’s-tell-lies-because-we’re-boyfriend-and-girlfriend thing between her and Daniel did not bode well with me.

All in all, it was a good, but not great, read. I’d recommend it for a) those who have read the first book in the trilogy, The Dark Divine, or b) people who like supernatural teen romance novels in general.

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Book Review 2 – Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran

During the month of June, I was reading the exceptional book Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran. As you may have guessed, the story follows the wax sculptor Marie Grosholtz through the turbulent times of the French Revolution, back when her exhibition at the Salon de Cire in Paris was just becoming famous. (The events of the book occurred years before she moved her exhibition to London and it started to become more famous across the world). The story progresses from the budding French Revolution through the years of terror.

One of the greatest accomplishments of the book, and the reason that compelled me to read it from start to finish, was the closeness of Marie’s personal story against the backdrop of the French Revolution. I sympathized with Marie at all the right moments, just as Moran would have wanted, and yet learned a lot about the French Revolution. Moran captured the key moments of the French Revolution – the storming of the Bastille, the creation of the National Assembly, the abolition of the monarchy, and the rise of the Reign of Terror and the fervor to root out “royalists” – with perfect research, and no flaws or missteps.

Although the ending was a bit of a disappointment (don’t worry, I won’t reveal what happened), it struck a chord with me because I realized that this novel was chronicling a real-life event, and unlike in fantasy tales, things may not turn out exactly the way you want them to, but you can still move on and enjoy life.

Marie’s passion, individualism, and determination is what makes her an unforgettable heroine, and as Moran pointed out, her talent for wax sculpting was what kept her alive during the French Revolution. Today, Madame Tussauds is a high quality wax museum with exhibitions across the globe, and it all started with the will of the young Marie Grosholtz.

I highly recommend this book, especially if you are a history enthusiast but want a different spin on an already-told story – this book will not disappoint!

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Book Review 1 – Beloved by Toni Morrison

The past month was spent reading the novel Beloved by Toni Morrison and I must say, though I was not outwardly pleased with it at first, my interest in the characters as the novel progressed grew substantially. After reading the last few paragraphs of the novel, I finally understood the message that Morrison was trying to convey to the readers and felt as though I had come to terms with the novel’s main ideas. Yes, it took that long. There were passages that were long, some that were full of dialogue, and others that were just plain confusing – all of which inhibited me from seeing the truth and getting to the core of the author’s intent in creating the work.

Here’s a plot summary: Sethe, an ex-slave, lives at 124 (a house) after escaping from horrific conditions of slavery. She murdered her daughter, Beloved (and tried to kill her other children) in an attempt to not let them endure the same terrible experiences of slavery as she did. Now, 18 years later, she is struggling with the memories of her past as they continue to haunt her in the form of the ghost of Beloved. Other major characters in the novel are Paul D (a slave on the same plantation as Sethe), Denver (Sethe’s daughter), Baby Suggs (Sethe’s mother-in-law), Stamp Paid and Ella (ex-slaves and workers on the Underground Railroad). Yes, it sounds disturbing and slightly gory – which it was – but what I failed to realize upon reading the summary (and even throughout most of the book) was that it was much more.

The story is a testament to the millions of slaves that died during the middle passage – a treacherous journey from Africa to North America. It also serves as a memory of the brutal conditions of slaves during the antebellum era, and Sethe’s story is powerful and profound and resonates with me now enough for me to be sitting here writing this book review. Ultimately, Sethe comes to terms with her past, because she has to do that in order to face her future, and that journey can be transposed to any life situation.

And that is how my opinion of Beloved changed dramatically from the first word to the last. Yes, it’s confusing, especially with all the sudden transitions from the present in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1873 and the past in the pre-Civil war era at the slave plantation in Kentucky, but the message is powerful, disturbing, yet beautiful.

Sethe’s story is now a part of me, as well.

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