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Review: The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey

The book in two sentences: It’s 1921 and Parveen Mistry joins her father’s law firm as one of the first female lawyers in India. Her past comes back to haunt her as she investigates three widows who left their entire inheritance to a mysterious charity.

Rating: 🌴 Island collection

Long story short: I had a great time reading this book. While it was a little slow to start, the pacing picks up after the first few chapters and I found it difficult to put down.

Parveen is a wonderful protagonist, and as the story jumps back-and-forth between her past and present selves, she grows as a character. The plot is also very intriguing, and introduces readers to the eccentric blend of ethnic and religious communities in 1920s Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay). Having spent childhood summers in that city, it was exciting and emotional to imagine myself and Parveen going to the same places decades apart.

This book is the first in a new series, and I’m looking forward to reading the next when it’s out in early 2019. Have you read The Widows of Malabar Hill or another work by Sujata Massey? What did you think?

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Review: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

Brief synopsis (Goodreads): Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another; the members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer.

This is the twelfth expedition.

Their group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain and collect specimens; to record all their observations, scientific and otherwise, of their surroundings and of one another; and, above all, to avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.

Rating: ✈ Travel companion

Long story short: I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I thought I would. The concept is something right up my alley, both interesting and enthralling, and featuring strong characters, but the pacing is too slow and the story doesn’t really go anywhere. There are some great action and suspense sequences throughout the book, places where I could feel my heart pounding and goosebumps forming, but the ending left me feeling adrift.

Annihilation is the first in the Southern Reach trilogy, but I’m not motivate to read the next two books. I watched the movie and have mixed feelings about it, too. Have you read or seen Annihilation? What did you think? Does the rest of the trilogy flesh out the story some more? Is it worth reading?

Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Brief synopsis (Goodreads): The nation of Panem, formed from a post-apocalyptic North America, is a country that consists of a wealthy Capitol region surrounded by 12 poorer districts. Early in its history, a rebellion led by a 13th district against the Capitol resulted in its destruction and the creation of an annual televised event known as the Hunger Games. In punishment, and as a reminder of the power and grace of the Capitol, each district must yield one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 through a lottery system to participate in the games. The ‘tributes’ are chosen during the annual Reaping and are forced to fight to the death, leaving only one survivor to claim victory.

When 16-year-old Katniss’s young sister, Prim, is selected as District 12’s female representative, Katniss volunteers to take her place. She and her male counterpart Peeta, are pitted against bigger, stronger representatives, some of whom have trained for this their whole lives. , she sees it as a death sentence. But Katniss has been close to death before. For her, survival is second nature.

Rating✈  Travel companion

Long story short (no spoilers): On the whole I thought this was a very enjoyable read. The premise was equal parts intriguing and horrifying, making me very curious to know more about it. After reading this I’m eager to find out what happens in the next book.

So, let’s get into it!

What I liked:

  • A complex female character takes center stage. I always find it refreshing to see a female protagonist be the hero of a book/TV show/movie that would usually fall under the “roles for boys” category. While representation is getting better, there still aren’t very many leading action roles for women, so it’s still an important achievement to celebrate. In particular it’s Katniss’ complexity I like; not only is she a match for her adversaries in the Hunger Games, but she is more than just a “strong female” archetype. She is also resilient, empathetic, lonely, and disillusioned. And that makes for a much interesting protagonist.
  • Themes in the book are (sadly) relatable. Voyeurism, materialism, desensitization, wealth inequality, tyrannical oppression…I’d go on, but it’s too depressing.
  • Good pacing, good action. The amount of time spent on each stage seemed fitting. The book is divided into two parts: the first comprises Katniss’ introduction, the Reaping, and getting ready for the Hunger Games; the second follows the actual Hunger Games and is almost three times as long as the first part.

What I didn’t like:

  • The limited perspective. A minor vexation, but it would have been nice to know how other characters were dealing with their respective circumstances, specifically Peeta, Gale, Prim, and Haymitch. It would have added to their development throughout the book as well as allowed us to get a more complete understanding of Katniss through their eyes.

Keep reading for a spoiler book and movie review!

Continue reading “Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins”

Review: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

Brief synopsis (Goodreads): Somewhere within our crowded sky, a crew of wormhole builders hops from planet to planet, on their way to the job of a lifetime. To the galaxy at large, humanity is a minor species, and one patched-up construction vessel is a mere speck on the starchart. This is an everyday sort of ship, just trying to get from here to there.

But all voyages leave their mark, and even the most ordinary of people have stories worth telling. A young Martian woman, hoping the vastness of space will put some distance between herself and the life she’s left behind. An alien pilot, navigating life without her own kind. A pacifist captain, awaiting the return of a loved one at war.

Set against a backdrop of curious cultures and distant worlds, this episodic tale weaves together the adventures of nine eclectic characters, each on a journey of their own.

Rating🌴 Island collection

Long story short (no spoilers): This was such a fun book to read, and to think it may never have been published were it not for Kickstarter! Okay, well it may have been published eventually, but I’m glad it was sooner rather than later.

Chambers created a wonderful new galaxy and filled it with some of the most interesting and honest characters I’ve ever encountered. I appreciated the realness of the writing (the dialogue and actions stayed away from classic cliches), and I particularly loved that the character development was the primary focus of the novel more so than the story. That did slow down the pacing of the narrative, but I welcomed the tradeoff. There are also some pretty cool issues that are discussed including species/race relations, laws regarding artificial intelligence and genetic tweaking, and the consequences of cloning.

If you enjoyed watching Firefly, you’ll likely enjoy this book.The next book will focus on some of the secondary characters introduced in this novel. I am SO looking forward to it! Have you read The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet? Is it on your TRL? Let me know in the comments!

Currently reading…

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Have you read it? Thoughts?

Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne

Brief synopsis (Goodreads): Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, a new play by Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage.

It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

Rating🏡  Left behind

Long story short (no spoilers): Although the Harry Potter series will forever hold a special place in my heart, this story was utter garbage.

  1. The tone and syntax don’t sound like Harry Potter. The narrative reads nothing like books 1-7. I realize that JK Rowling didn’t write the script herself, and therein lies part of the problem. The story reads like really, really, shitty fan fiction. Sentences are short and too simple, and only a handful of dialogues are more than 50 words. In several places quotes are lifted directly from books 1-7 and they still don’t sound right.
  2. The characters are badly written caricatures of themselves. Imagine you’re reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Harry, Ron, and Hermione decide to dress up as their parents for Halloween. That’s what they sound like in Cursed Child: not 40-year-olds, but 12-year-olds playing 40-year-olds.

    RON (hesitating in the face of her unwavering gaze): Fine. I, um, I think you’ve got really nice hair.
    HERMIONE: Thank you, husband.
    And that’s just the tippity-tip of the iceberg. The story is largely character-driven (as opposed to being magic-driven like in books 1-7), yet there is almost zero character development. We’re supposed to care about several new characters but we never get to know who they are, how they think, or what motivates them. Unlike books 1-7 Cursed Child isn’t in first person, and we aren’t privy to what takes place in the protagonist’s head (something that can be done in plays in the form of interior monologues). Without that as an anchor it’s easy to feel disconnected from his actions, and many times I wondered, Why is he doing that??

  3. The plot is kind of boring. It’s too much “been there, done that” for my liking. You see the same items, the same spells, the same people, the same problem…it’s not enough. There were one or two twists that I enjoyed, however I was too distracted by the fact that they came close to breaking universe rules (and opened up a whole can of worms).
  4. The book bends (and in one case breaks) universe rules. No, not like our Universe, the Harry Potter fictional universe. Every fictional universe has its own rules, and it’s the author’s responsibility to maintain consistency and explain any deviations from those rules. The reason they’re important is because they give the story structure and credence. In Cursed Child there are several instances when information is presented that challenges the Harry Potter canon, and the explanation for those anomalies comes down to creating more rules for the sake of moving the plot along.
  5. What was done well. Despite it being mostly terrible, there were small glimpses of that OG Harry Potter magic. Some of the dry humor is there; and one, maybe two, characters stay true to their book 1-7 selves.

The stage play has gotten good reviews, which makes me wonder if they’re even using the same script. It’s a two-part play that clocks in at a little over five hours; it took me about two to finish reading Cursed Child, so there’s clearly a lot missing in the transcript version. My guess is that the good acting is covering up the terrible, terrible story.

Anyways, have you read it? What did you think? Comment below! Keep reading if you’re interested in a spoiler review!

Continue reading “Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne”

Review: A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

Brief synopsis (from Goodreads): Summers span decades. Winter can last a lifetime. And the struggle for the Iron Throne has begun.

As Warden of the north, Lord Eddard Stark counts it a curse when King Robert bestows on him the office of the Hand. His honour weighs him down at court where a true man does what he will, not what he must … and a dead enemy is a thing of beauty.

The old gods have no power in the south, Stark’s family is split and there is treachery at court. Worse, the vengeance-mad heir of the deposed Dragon King has grown to maturity in exile in the Free Cities. He claims the Iron Throne.

Rating🌴 Island collection

Long story short: It took a very long time for me to read A Game of Thrones because I’m not accustomed to jumping on the popular culture bandwagon for media that have been around for ages. I don’t care if others do that, or if the media becomes popular after I’ve read/seen it, but I personally take comfort in being part of a smaller fan community (it’s like being a member of a super secret club and I love it).

I feel like kicking myself in the pants for not picking up A Game of Thrones sooner. It’s everything I enjoy in books (well, minus the misogyny): action, adventure, mystery, and drama. Many characters, even those without their own narratives, had incredible depth. The writing was straightforward and I was easily immersed. There were several places in the novel where the suspense was wonderfully set up, and I loved the way Martin worked with dramatic tension.

I also love stories that are unpredictable, which is an understatement for A Game of Thrones; I was on my toes the entire time and it felt great (albeit a little exhausting…court drama is not for the fainthearted, as Ned found out…).

I’m not sure if/when I’ll watch the television series…maybe after I’ve read all the published books? What did you think of A Song of Ice and Fire? Comment below, let me know!

Rainy updates

Hi everyone!

I’m currently in Saigon, Vietnam waiting for the monsoon-like downpour to end before heading back out to practice my narrowly-missing-scooters skills. The hostel where I’m staying has a computer so I thought I’d use this opportunity to give you some updates about my reading challenge progress!

I’ve been using long plane and bus rides to my advantage, and I’m happy to announce that in the past two weeks I’ve read two books (two more than I thought I’d finish)! The most exciting one was Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. I know I’m tardy to the party…but at least I made it!

got
You remember Archimedes, my faithful Kindle, right?

The other novel I finished was Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde, book two in the Thursday Next series.

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If the rain doesn’t let up, book reviews will be posted sooner rather than later…If you’re curious about my travels, you can check out my travel blog here. Hope you all are having a lovely summer!

Review: Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart

Brief synopsis (from Goodreads): Constance Kopp doesn’t quite fit the mold. She towers over most men, has no interest in marriage or domestic affairs, and has been isolated from the world since a family secret sent her and her sisters into hiding fifteen years ago. One day a belligerent and powerful silk factory owner runs down their buggy, and a dispute over damages turns into a war of bricks, bullets, and threats as he unleashes his gang on their family farm. When the sheriff enlists her help in convicting the men, Constance is forced to confront her past and defend her family—and she does it in a way that few women of 1914 would have dared.

Rating🌴  Island collection

Long story short: I really enjoyed this book and I’m very much looking forward to reading the sequel, Lady Cop Makes Trouble, in September.

The plot was riveting and contained a lot of what I like to read: an original and unpredictable story, a good amount of action and suspense, and character development. The pacing was slow at times, but I rather liked reading about the mundane details of the sisters’ day-to-day lives.

I instantly loved the Kopp sisters and how different they were from each other. As the oldest Constance is instinctively protective of her sisters; Norma is the introverted middle sister who is often distrustful of strangers; and Fleurette is a whimsical and imaginative seventeen-year-old, as trusting of others as Norma is wary.

constance kopp

The coolest part about this novel is that it’s a fictional account of real events and real people. Constance Kopp and her sisters actually existed, and the major events in this book actually happened. Says the author Amy Stewart, “My task as a writer was to take the public record—pieced together from newspaper articles, genealogical records, court documents, and other sources—and invent the rest of the story.” In fact the title of the novel comes from a newspaper headline about Constance Kopp that appeared in the Philadelphia Sun on November 23, 1914. Stewart also met with descendants of some of the characters in the book, who shared stories about their ancestors. I’m always eager to read books about women ahead of their times, and this one was extremely satisfying.

 

If you’ve read Girl Waits with Gun, what did you think? If you haven’t, would you?

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