In an attempt to “revitalize” my blog after being away from it for a while, I’m trying to make as many new posts as I can; trying establish myself as a new blogger (which has NOT been easy, let me tell you that).

But sadly, I have no new material prepared as of yet. So instead, I thought it would be fun to post some of my old book reviews that I was doing over on Salazar’s blog at 14 Shades of Grey. She had the awesome idea of doing book reviews at the end of each month and I later suggested that we sort of have an “unofficial” book club in which we talk about the various books that we have read. Keep in mind that this was pre-Post Card Purposes, so I was sharing my reviews on her blog as well (thanks Salazar!).

After starting my own blog, we discussed it and thought it would be a better idea of having my reviews on my own blog and I can link over to hers during book review time. And book review time for me is the last day of each month, no matter what day it is (the joke being that I need as much time as possible to finish!) unless I miss for some unforeseen reason.

So with all of that said, here are all of my main reviews that I have written so far. Enjoy!

October 2015

Hey all! Here are the books that I’ve read (and still reading!) for October. This first one, I Will Always Write Back is the one that I started to talk about last month, but was not finished with it at the time. It is written by co-authors Caitlin Alifirenka and Martin Ganda, along with Liz Welch. This is a remarkable true story about how two teens from two very different worlds, became pen pals, and eventually best friends. And it all began with one letter that was sent by Caitlin, an American girl from Hatfield, Pennsylvania to Zimbabwe where Martin lives. As you read the story, you can see both Caitlin’s and Martin’s relationship in regards to their friendship growing as they both learn about each other’s cultures and the difficulties that the other faces. One of the great things about how the book is written is that instead of chapters, it is divided up between Martin’s and Caitlin’s point of view and it switches back and forth between the two. And one of the most endearing aspects of the book is how well the two friends get along and really come to care for one another. This is especially shown from Caitlin’s point of view when she learns how impoverished Martin and his family really are. While there is no sign of tension between the two at all, as you read the story from Caitlin’s point of view, you begin to see her heart really changing and her determination to help Martin increases exponentially, especially when she begins sending him things in the mail other than the letters that they originally started with. I won’t spoil it for you and am hoping that you are curious enough to go read the book for yourself to find out some of the awesome parcels that she sends him. But it’s not just Caitlin who is growing in this unique exchange. We also see Martin coming to love Caitlin as a sister, even going so far as to call her an “angel”. By the end the book, Martin and Caitlin finally get to meet in person for the first time and just by how it is written, you can tell that it is an emotional moment for both of them. They both faced many challenges for this moment to take place, as you will see when you read the book, but by some grand miracle, they both overcome every obstacle that they faced and Martin is finally able to meet his American family, his second family that helped him for the eight years that he and Caitlin shared through letters.

I want to give a small editorial for this book, as it truly touched my heart in so many ways. First off, let me say that it is stories like this that help me realize that there are some pretty awesome people in the world. While it’s true that there are some real jerks, idiots and morons out there, there are a lot of good people in the world too. This story is just one of many that I have heard of that proves that cultural differences and barriers can get crossed and do get crossed. Indeed, we as a whole still have a long way to go, but in some ways, I think that we are off to a pretty good start. When you have two people of different countries, different ways of living, different genders and even different skin colors, becoming best friends though pen pal letters, that’s pretty powerful. And that’s what makes this story so endearing and heart wrenching. Caitlin and Martin’s story is not the first, or the only one that displays such passion. I’ve read two other books in the past that have an equal appeal to their experience and once again, can prove that people who are so different outwardly, can still love each other. The other books I’ve read are, Hope Runs by Claire Diaz and Samual Ikua Gachagua, and A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley. Both of these are excellent reads if you enjoy cross cultural interactions and relationships as I do, and like with Caitlin and Martin’s story, they will draw you in and you won’t be able to put the books down. I sure wasn’t able to!   

The second book that I’m reading is called The Girl Who Wrote Loneliness by Kyung-Sook Shin. I’m about a quarter of the way through this one so I can’t give a full review on it this time but I have to say that I’m liking it so far. It has a nice slow feel to it, almost melancholic, but not quite somber, if you know what I mean. The story is told in first person by the main character, a teenage Korean girl (who is not named) and depicts her hardships of living in the 1970s, working in a “sweatshop” along with her cousin, and having to face the challenges of being paid the lowest wages while trying to make ends meet. It’s a good read and I am enjoying the story, but as I said, it does read a bit slow. It’s not your typical read. I’ll be back on in November for the next discussion once I finish and give a full review of what I thought. So until then, keep reading everyone!

December 2015

Hey all! I’m back with another book review for you. I actually started this book way back in October, but due to time (and a VERY busy schedule), I couldn’t finish it in time to talk about it. The book that I want to talk about this time is called The Girl Who Wrote Loneliness by Kyung-Sook Shin. This book is a very slow read, as I think I may have mentioned in the last discussion. But that doesn’t mean that it is dull or boring either. It’s interesting in that it is written more as a diary or a memoir rather than as a novel. There are no chapters, but is divided up into four main sections, that sort of serve as chapters, if you will, with each one beginning with either a quote or a piece of poetry written by either a poet or writer, such as Francis Jammes or Hwang In-suk.

The main character of the story is an unnamed young Korean girl from the 1970s who wants to be a writer and spends most of the book sharing her troubled and difficult past life (in the present tense) of having to work tirelessly in an electronics factory, go to school, and take care of her many siblings, both younger and older. Her constant companion is her cousin, who is always referred to as “Cousin”. And while their relationship felt more like a sister bond rather than a cousin bond, they do have their moments of disputes, as real siblings sometimes have. The conflict that I found to be the most heart wrenching was with her older brother, referred to as “Oldest Brother”. They have a small argument about her not wanting to return to work due to conflicting issues happening there. One thing that I like about our protagonist here is that she has a tendency to not speak if someone says something to upset her or if she doesn’t want to answer a question that someone asks her. And this is just what she does to “Oldest Brother” when he asks her why she’s not wanting to return to work. Her silence is depicted using an ellipse (what is used in writing to show an omission of a word or phrase with three or more periods). It looks like this: “…”. So anyway, she clams up when he asks her why and “Oldest Brother” loses his cool and yells at her to say something. When she still keeps quiet, he yells at her to just go back home to the country where they once lived and then storms out of the room. Our protagonist takes this to heart and actually makes her way back to their home in the country. And while you can tell that she is angry and upset with her brother for yelling at her, you can see that she is also struggling to decide whether or not she really wants to return. Her heart wins her over and she decides to return back to her brother, despite their feud, and when she gets back to him, he is seen crying as he was really worried about what happened to her. They both embrace each other, tears flowing from both of their eyes and “Oldest Brother” threatens to kill her if she does anything like that again, showing that he really did miss her. I found this part to be quite endearing as you can see the love between the two siblings.

What I found to be the most interesting aspect in this book was the protagonist’s interest in the composer, Bach. Near the end of the book, she is playing Bach Suite No. 2, performed by Mstislav Rostropovich, on her CD player. By the way, if you haven’t done so, I suggest to you to listen to this piece by Rostropovich. It is excellent. I’m an avid classical music listener, so of course I will like it. But even if you are not a classical music listener, listen to it anyway. It’s worth hearing and Rostropovich does an excellent job with his interpretation of the piece. Our protagonist wonders whether she is in awe of Rostropovich’s cello playing or with his interpretation of Bach. I’d say that it is probably both, based on how highly she speaks of both of these men, who are centuries apart but can bring the beauty of music to the surface.

What I thought was the most haunting and mysterious part of the book was the “pitchfork angle” that she continuously references, sort of serving as a recurring “antagonist” of sorts. At the beginning of the book, our protagonist accidentally pierces her foot with the pitchfork that she takes out of her family’s shed and doesn’t pull it out for fear of the pain. Her mother finds her and pulls it out for her and amazingly enough, her foot does not even bleed from where the fork was jabbed into her foot. Later, our protagonist sees the pitchfork in the shed again, and feeling threatened by it (feeling that it is glaring at her), she takes it and throws it into the well, where it stays until she decides to finally remove it at the end of the book, thus “defeating” the “antagonist” and her memory of her accident with the fork can finally be put to rest.

As I was reading this book, I often wondered if the protagonist in the story was in fact the author herself, as many of the sources that I have read on her say that she did indeed work in a factory in her youth and had the desire to write, as did the main character in her book. But there is no clear indication that the girl in the story is the author, although it’s pretty safe to say that she is based off of the author’s life. The book itself, is, in a way, written in the form of a journal, as I stated above, so the plot lines sort of jump back and forth and there is no real linear form to the story, as is typical in most fiction. In my opinion, Ms. Shin, wanted the readers of the story to focus primarily on the girl’s melancholic and lonely state of being, hence the title of the book. And this is clearly seen towards the end of the book when the girl’s relatives virtually disappear from the story and is mainly focused on her activities that she does by herself, such as riding the subway train from her home into the city and going to the beach; there is very little mention of any of her siblings or the rest of her family the last few pages of the book, which for me, is sort of the crux of what it is about: loneliness.

Overall, I thought that it was good book. It reads very slowly, not usually typical for my taste, but I could still appreciate it for what it was and I enjoyed it. I felt that while the main character was very meek and demure, she was a strong character, sort of harboring a type of strength not typically seen in many main characters in books where they are bold, boisterous, and extroverted. I think too often we forget that having a strong sense of who one is and not losing focus of one’s goals is another kind of strength. And it is that strength that can carry one farther than strong words or attitude. It is the strength that we must all look for inside of ourselves; the courage to face our greatest demon, ghost, monster, whatever you want to call it; fear.

Overall, I give this book a 4 out of 5.

See you at next month’s discussion! Until then, keep on reading!

March 2016

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!

   May 2016

I am grateful that our reviews were a week late because I wasn’t finished with the book that I was reading and even stayed up past my bedtime, on more than one occasion, in order to finish it. But it was really good, so it was worth it. Anyway, here we go:

The long awaited book review for the second book of The Taj Mahal trilogy is finally here! I admit that I’m somewhat embarrassed that it took me this long to read this book. While I wasn’t excessively busy (no more than normal), I often found myself trying to find time to really sit down and read, which is a challenge in and of itself.

And to top it off, the book that I just finished reading, The Feast of Roses, is nothing short of a masterpiece. In fact, I’d say that it is even more in depth than the first book in the series, which I reviewed back in March. Filled with drama, action, romance and betrayal, “The Feast of Roses” will have you laughing, crying (and yes, I did tear up on certain parts that I read, especially towards the end), cheering and even cursing, as some of the characters will make you want to swear at them, to some extent, as the author brings them all to life in such a unique way. So with all that said, let’s get to the review!

The main focus of the story this time is on Mehrunnisa, our bold and daring protagonist from The Twentieth Wife. I didn’t reveal this fact in my last review, as to sort of give you a bit of a cliffhanger, if you will, but Mehrunnisa ended up marrying Emperor Jahangir, making her his twentieth wife, hence the name of the first book. And upon reaching this marital status, Mehrunnisa gains the title of “Nur Jahan”, which means “Light of the World”. And while she is overjoyed at finally being married to the man that she has always longed to be with, her “rival”, Jagat Gosini, Jahangir’s second wife, still competes for his affection, and does so by trying to show Mehrunnisa up. This is probably most effectively seen when all three of them go out on a hunt. Jagat Gosini shoots a lion (that was drugged by servants prior to their arrival on the hunting grounds to make it easier to hunt) that was approaching them with ease, while Mehrunnisa barely had time to react. This of course impressed Jahangir that Jagat Gosini was such a good shot, leaving Mehrunnisa feeling defeated and humiliated. But Mehrunnisa doesn’t give up after just one let down. She decides to try and win Jahangir’s heart and affection in other ways. One very bold thing that she does later is ask Jahangir if she can attend the daily “Jharoka” with him, which is a type of showing or glimpse that the people get to see of their emperor on the balcony of his palace. This is quite unusual as in these times, women of royalty were not to be seen by common people and when they do appear to them, they are veiled.

But Jahangir agrees to this, much to the confusion of nearly everyone that has eyes to see. And it is here that we begin to see a big change in Mehrunnisa. While she was seen as a strong and intelligent woman in the first story, both her intellect and power show even more in this story. Jahangir may be the emperor of the empire, but many said and felt, that Mehrunnisa was really running the show, as she could often get Jahangir to do whatever she wanted. It got to the point where many people were either afraid of her or hated her, or both because of this. This animosity was especially seen in Mahabat Khan, Jahangir’s childhood friend, as his position of minister was severely lowered when Mehrunnisa stepped into the scene. They end up having a pretty huge power struggle, as it were, near the end of the story, after Jagat Gosini steps out of the scene (read the book to find out what happens to her). But while Mehrunnisa shows herself as someone not to be messed with (even her mentor and friend, Ruqayya Sultan Begam pointed out how arrogant she was becoming and needed to remind her that she was part of the reason for her becoming empress to Jahangir [again, read the first book to find out how that took place]), she is seen to be a very motherly and loving figure to her daughter, Ladli. Ladli is sort of seen as the most innocent of all of the characters in the story for being so young. This is especially seen in the beginning of the story in which she tries to get Jahangir’s son, Prince Khurram, to notice her older cousin, Arjumand, the daughter of Mehrunnisa’s brother, Abul. Even as she gets older, Ladli is seen as being very child-like and innocent, even going so far as to question some of her mother’s decisions, feeling perhaps that everything that she does is not moral. Rarely do the two have a cross word for each other and in my opinion, are probably the closest to each other as far as relationships go, besides the love between Mehrunnisa and Jahangir.

Truthfully, I could probably go on and on about all the details of what happened in the story, because like its predecessor, there are many sub plots and happenings and it’s just too much to try and remember every little thing that happened, which is why you should read the book for yourselves (hint, hint). But let me cut to what I think the main theme of the story is. This book mostly focuses on Mehrunnisa as her reign as empress of Mughal India in the 17th century. She relies on the guidance of her father, Ghias Beg, her brother, Abul, Jahangir of course, and his son, Khurram. The last few chapters of the story show a huge power struggle of who is to get the crown of emperor (mostly between the emperor’s sons) when Jahangir passes away. And much like the first book, acts of betrayal and deceit occur among family members and former alliances. I almost felt like I had to make a scoreboard in order to keep up with who was doing what, as so many times it felt like a certain character was going to get it, only to have it snatched away by someone else. Seriously, you couldn’t find more drama and action in the modern action movies and TV shows that we watch today; there is just so much going on.

What makes this such a powerful story, and at times, sad, is that for all of her efforts to carry on her bloodline and for being known as “the empress of no nonsense” (my personal superlative for Mehrunnisa), she ends up living the life as a sort of pauper in the latter years of her life. When Jahangir passes away (very, very sad scene to read), the new emperor basically exiles Mehrunnisa from the empire so that she will no longer be a threat to him, and she ends up dying (also a very, very sad scene) peacefully in her daughter’s presence. But her legacy in her 50 years of life or so, lives on and is, in part, the reason for the building of the Taj Mahal. We all know that it was originally built as a symbol of love and devotion that Prince Khurram had for his wife, Arjumand, later called “Mumtaz Mahal”, when she died. But it is often hinted that it was because of Mehrunnisa’s influence in that matter that allowed those events to take place. The author had Mehrunnisa speculate towards the end of her life that if she had had more women in her circle of influence instead of men (asking Arjumand about trying to get Khurram to marry Ladli instead of going to him directly about it is one example of this), things may have turned out differently and there may never have been a Taj Mahal. But however it happened, and for whatever reasons that led to it, Mehrunnisa, “Nur Jahan”, was indeed a powerful and strong woman. She plays an important role in history and like I said for the last book, I am glad that I got to read about her and those around her. A great story all the way around!

There were parts of the book that I thought were slow and at some point, I sort of just skimmed over, mostly the parts about the war between England and Portugal and the ambassadors that went to India to try and establish a sort of trade with them. So that, and the fact that there were so many characters involved, sort of weakened the overall focus of the story I feel. But still, it is a well crafted novel and I enjoyed it very much.

I give this one a 4.5 out of 5.

And while Mehrunnisa’s story might have come to an end, Indu Sundaresan has a third book titled, “Shadow Princess”, which I plan to read next. And I’ll be reviewing that one at the next book discussion (hopefully!). Hope to see you all there!

June 2016

I sort of took an unexpected detour in my book reading this time (tends to happen with me a lot; ah, the life of a bibliophile). While I had recently started the third book in The Taj Mahal series, Shadow Princess, I came across a children’s/tween/ teen book called Valkyrie by Kate O’Hearn. It entails the adventures of a young (in reality, she is over 600 years old but physically appears to be around 14) Valkyrie named Freya and her discovery of what life is really like on Midgard (Earth) and the making of human friends that help show her that humanity isn’t as bad she first believed. Freya, in the beginning of the story, has an indisputable hatred of humans due to what she has seen of their behavior over the centuries, believing them to be nothing more than blood thirsty savages. And because of this belief, Freya dreads her First Day Ceremony in which she becomes an official Valkyrie and must reap (take the soul of) her first human that dies in a valent battle.

As it turns out, her first reaping allows her to encounter Tyrone, a fallen soldier in the military that has a huge heart as he is concerned for his family that he will leave behind once he dies. Freya is stunned by how dedicated and warm the soldier is when he pleads her to not take him away from his family until he knows that they are safe; her heart begins to warm a little more for humanity after seeing this.  But Freya must do what she must and reaps Tyrone and they both travel to Asgard, home of the Valkyries and all of the fallen warriors who have died valiantly in battle. From what I gather, Asgard is like a sort of purgatory for the fallen warriors where they can either choose to reside in Valhalla (within Asgard) and party and celebrate for eternity or to go through the Gates of Ascension, which is like heaven I guess. But Tyrone has no desire to celebrate in Valhalla because he is so concerned for his family that are still back on Earth, and instead decides to go through the Gates of Ascension. He only does this after Freya agrees to look in on his family, which she agrees to do, despite the many protests of Orus, the black raven who is Freya’s constant companion and ultimately, her adviser. And leaving Asgard without permission from Odin (who sort of serves as the god of Asgard) is strictly forbidden, which leaves Freya in quite a conundrum in fulfilling her promise to Tyrone. She enlists the help of Loki, brother of Thor, who which both are sons of Odin, that helps her and Orus get past Heimdall, the watchman of Bifrost, a living bridge that leads down to Earth.

It is at this point where Freya’s attitude toward humans truly begins to change, as she meets various people who are kindhearted in nature, very much like Tyrone was. The person that she becomes closest with is Archie, a teenage boy with whom is a victim of a gang of neighborhood bullies, led by the cruelest one called JP. Freya ends up saving Archie and a group of kids, known as the “geek squad” from JP and his bully buddies, which makes both Freya and Archie, JP’s new main targets, as they will encounter him several times throughout the story, one in which nearly kills Archie and Freya pleads with one of the Angels of Death (who take the souls of people who die but are not soldiers that have fought valiantly) to spare him long enough so that he and the other members of the “geek squad” can attend the school dance in order to celebrate their becoming more brave and learning to stand up for themselves (thanks to Freya’s training) against JP and his gang.

But even while that little victory is temporarily being savored, things are not well back in Asgard as Loki (known for his trickster-like ways) tries several times to have Odin learn of Freya’s absence. Maya, Freya’s older sister learns of this conspiring and convinces Heimdall to let her pass so that she may find Freya and bring her back to Asgard before Odin finds out that she’s missing. However, Odin does find out before Maya can bring Freya back and sends two dark searchers after both of them (demon-like creatures that are invincible and cannot be stopped by anyone, except by Odin himself, until they either find and kill their quarry, or bring them back to face Odin’s punishment.

And while I’m trying not to give too much of the story away (it’s really good!), basically, the climax of it comes about when the dark searchers reach Earth and rage an all-out battle chase, of sorts, on Freya and Maya and a bitter sweet ending is inevitable when the death of someone special occurs.

The ending will indeed surprise you, nothing like I would have expected but much better than I could have imagined! And if you’re anything like me, you will probably cry a little at the end when you discover how the main characters (Freya and Archie) make it out of this conniving conundrum alive (or not).

To go a little more in depth, without giving away too much of the story, as you should go read it for yourself, I want to talk a little about the two main characters, Freya and Archie. While many might look at a story like this and say that it’s the typical “boy falls in love with girl, despite their vast differences” kind of story, that is certainly not the case here. What I really like about this story more than anything else is the relationship that Freya and Archie share and that it’s a NON-ROMANTIC one, thank goodness, as I honestly get so tired of that kind of banality that I see in a lot of these kinds of stories. Though it is quite evident that Freya and Archie love each other as the story progresses, with Freya and Archie, it’s more like a brother and sister kind of love, not a romantic love. The author consistently makes it clear that Freya and Archie are best friends, especially towards the end as she states this directly to be the case, several times. But even without said statements, as you read the book, you can clearly see how much Freya and Archie love each other as best friends and look out for one another. The best example of this is the scenario where Archie is nearly killed by JP and is near death in the hospital. Freya refuses to leave his side for even a minute for if she does, the Angel of Death that’s waiting there with her would take his soul away to the Gates of Ascension (heaven). As long as she, a Valkyrie, is present, the Angels of Death can’t take the souls of the dead as a general rule. And despite the pleading of Freya’s sister, trying to convince her to let Archie go and the Angel’s chiding to her that it was Archie’s time to go, Freya would not budge an inch. To me, that is one of the most touching moments in the story. And from Archie’s point of view, he was willing to put himself in harm’s way to protect Freya from the Dark Searcher sent by Odin, even though he was clearly outmatched. It is that dedication that ultimately saves him in the end, which you’ll see if you read the book.

And there are a lot of other little encounters that both characters face that again show their care for each other, which I think works so well in this story.

One thing I found particularly interesting about this kind of story is that despite all the references to people being carried to other worlds to live forever after they die, there was no reference to places where people are sent to that live immorally, such as hades, hell or any other type of “shadow realm” that administers damnation. Not to go the religious route here, but I found that to be quite interesting. I guess the author just decided that this particular reference was not needed so it wasn’t worth mentioning. 

Overall, I thought this book was an excellent read. It was witty, suspenseful, compelling and even a bit creepy (I have to admit, I was a bit creeped out by those Angels of Death), but nonetheless, a real page turner. And while it usually takes me a while to read such a length of a book (344 pages), I read this one in just a little over a week, which is fast for me; it was that good. I simply couldn’t put it down. I even ended up staying up past midnight some nights just because it gripped me that well. I kept saying to myself, “just one more page, just one more page!”. Well, that one page became two, then three, then four, and before I knew it, I knocked out another chapter!

I hated to come to the end of the book, but the good news is that this is not the end. This looks to be a series and the second book, Valkyrie: The Runaway is already out. I plan to get it as soon as possible as I can’t wait to see what awaits Freya and Archie in this new adventurous story. And you can bet on the fact that I’ll be reviewing that one as soon as I finish it!

So all in all, I give Valkyrie a 5 out of 5. Great story! Go read the book, now!


September 2016

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!).


October 2016

This book, Making Friends With Billy Wong by Augusta Scattergood, was a short, quick read for me. It’s a children’s chapter book, just a little over 200 pages so I finished it within a week. While not nearly as fast-paced and vigorous as some of my previous reads this year, this story has a certain charm of its own. In fact, while reading it, it reminded me very much of the classic book To Kill A Mocking Bird by Harper Lee, as the two main characters seem very similar in terms of temperament and personality.

So here, we have Azalea Morgan, an 11 year old girl living in the year 1952, and she, much to her reluctance, is spending the latter half of her summer break with her grandmother Clark in Paris Junction, Arkansas. And no, Paris Junction isn’t a real city in Arkansas, but the name is still pretty cool, right?

Her parents drop her off at her grandmother’s in order to help her do odd jobs around her house, after suffering from an injury that she sustained. But Azalea isn’t at all pleased to be there at all and her and her grandmother get off to a rough start.

And while staying in Paris Junction over the last half of her summer, Azalea encounters several people that, in a way, change her life. Several recurring characters make their appearance throughout the story, most notably, Melinda Bowman, Willis DeLoach and Billy Wong, which is the other main character in the story (his name is in the title after all). They, along with Azalea “help” Grandmother Clark in her garden due to her confinement to a wheelchair. But with the exception of Billy, these “helpers”, as they are called, are far from any real help for Azalea, or her grandmother. Melinda is a little “snot prissy girl” who’s more concerned about messing up her hair and getting her shoes dirty than doing any real gardening, and Willis is a bad boy troublemaker and sort of serves as Azalea’s foil and antagonist throughout the book. He sort of reminds me of Huckleberry Finn from “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” as he’s almost always getting into some kind of trouble.

In fact, like I mentioned above with the To Kill A Mocking Bird metaphor, this story also sort of has that “Tom Sawyer” feel to it as well and it makes me wonder if the author was inspired by both of these classics while writing it.

But getting back to the review, Azalea doesn’t care at all for the “helpers” and only thinks about returning to Texas in time for school to start. And while at first, she is also a bit reluctant to allow Billy Wong into her circle, you can see as you read along that they slowly become good friends. Their friendship becomes stronger as you keep reading, especially seen when Azalea stands up to Willis, several times for his bigoted remarks about Billy being Chinese. And while their friendship does waver from time to time, as most friendships do, you can see an undeniable love that each of them has; not a romantic one but one of friendship.

And what is nice about this story is that by reading in between the lines (an overused cliché I know), you will see that not all of the characters are what they seem to be, particularly Willis. While it is evident that he is clearly the “bad boy” in this story, I like how the author gives him a sort of “softer side” for the reader to see so that you don’t completely hate his guts. Even Azalea’s grandmother, who I didn’t exactly like at first as I seen her as being authoritative and cold, really warmed up to her granddaughter in the end and it makes you happy to see that in some weird way, they both became friends too.

Overall, the story is cute, with a capital “C” and there are no real difficult themes to explore here. I was led to believe that this story was based off of the author’s own life and that she may have in fact, been Azalea, but in the end, she reveals no such detail in her note. But the story she says, is based off of real history and real stories of many Chinese families living in a similar fashion to Billy Wong and his family; owning grocery stores, trying to make a good living, which wasn’t easy during such times when racism thrived. This subject is briefly touched upon in the book as I stated, with Willis giving Billy a hard time because he was Chinese as well is mentioned that Billy had a hard time getting into all “white” schools, as the schools were segregated back then. But the main focus of the story is Azalea’s and Billy friendship, which is special in and of itself and is what really makes this story a fascinating read.

So with that, I give this book a 3 out of 5. While I thought that it was very well written and it was great to show a growing friendship between a girl and a boy of different “races” (I really hate using that word), I felt that the story was a bit too rushed and that there wasn’t much of a climax, other than Billy’s family store being trashed. While that was tragic, I felt like the solution was rushed too much, like the author didn’t exactly know how to bring it to an end. And some of the characters seemed really one dimensional, like Melinda and Mr. Henry Jackson, a bike/auto repair man that shows up from time to time throughout the story but doesn’t serve much of a purpose other than to interact with the main character. But I did like how the story was told in first person (from Azalea’s point of view) and throughout the book, we see a sort of “journal entry” thing that’s told from Billy Wong’s point of view and how he feels about some of the characters, so that was kind of cool. So a good book overall, but I think I need something a bit deeper than this to keep my attention.


January 2017

So, getting on to the reviews, I just have one book to present this month, the typical amount for me to have due to my busy lifestyle. The book I have this time around is an autobiography. It’s called The Distance Between Us (Young Readers Edition) by Reyna Grande.

She is a Mexican born woman who came to the US when she was a child, with her father and her older brother and sister. Her story is simply incredible. She had to endure many hardships as a child, such as abandonment, due to both of her parents leaving for America shortly after her birth; leaving her and her siblings behind, poverty, verbal and physical abuse from her father, who was an alcoholic, and the cultural shock of trying to adjust and fit into American life back in the 1980s and 1990s. Her story is heartfelt, painful, and just downright sad to read, especially the part about the abuse from her own father. But it’s also a story of encouragement and hope as you witness Reyna’s tenacious spirit of wanting to build for herself a better life in the US and work her way through school, wanting to become a creative writer and have her stories published.

This is a great book for any person (for both child and adult) to read as it shows that no matter how difficult things may seem in life, it’s never truly the end, unless you give up.

I always feel a bit odd in rating biographies and autobiographies as they are stories about real people rather than made up fiction found in novels. I feel that I have no right to judge someone else’s life, whether good or bad. So for these, I base my ratings on how well it is written. And for The Distance Between Us, I give this a 5 out 5 because it is very well written. Reyna writes her story almost like it is an actual novel that is told in the first person point of view. She has a way of drawing you into her story and makes you feel like you are really there with her; running across the border to make it to US soil or facing her angry father before he strikes her, and more. She brings her story to the reader and I think that that’s a good poignant element for any autobiography, especially one like this.

And please keep in mind that I read the Young Reader’s Edition, which means that it was meant for kids to read. Apparently, she has written a similar book that’s meant for adults that shares the same title as its young reader’s counterpart. I haven’t read that one but I am strongly thinking about it to see how they compare. Ms. Grande has also written and published a novel back in 2006 titled Across A Hundred Mountains that is based on her life. I am thinking of reading that sometime in the near future and then read her adult version of the book that I just finished to compare the similarities and differences between each one. It should make for a nice reading project over the next few months!

Now my next target book will take a slight turn, though it is also an autobiography. It’s called Threading My Prayer Rug by Sabeeha Rehman.

This book was recommended by a newly formed book discussion group that I just joined a few weeks ago. And no, it’s not online. A group of library co-worker friends and I meet at our favorite coffee shop and actually talk about the book that was chosen for that particular meeting. I’ve only been to one so far but I’m looking forward to our next one (date not yet determined) and I’m hoping to have most, if not all of this next book read so that I will be ready to discuss it. And when I finish it, I’ll give you my input on it on the blog as well. Stay tuned!

Finally, I wanted to briefly talk about this graphic novel that I recently started reading. I mentioned it yesterday for my SIA posting. It’s called Shoulder-A-Coffin Kuro and it’s a Japanese manga about a melancholic girl who is on a quest to find the witch that has cursed her and must wear black all of the time until it is lifted. It sounds like my kind of story.

I’m still collecting the series as I bought the first book, seen above, back in 2009. I read volume 1 almost right away when I first bought it, but stopped after that. So I’m planning to go back to it and read my way through the entire series to see what happens to “Kuro”, the given name of main character (her real name is kept a mystery, though her given name fits her quite well as the word “kuro” means “black” in Japanese).

Two things that I noticed right away with this series is that all of the pages are black, instead of the usual white paper that books are printed on, again further emphasizing the melancholic tone of both the character and the story to match. I thought that was a really cool idea to play on, especially for a graphic novel.

And the second thing I’ve noticed is that unlike most graphic novels, which are done in all black and white, this series, as well as another series, both written and illustrated by Japanese artist, Satoko Kiyuduki, is done partly in color. It’s a really nice effect and really gives the artwork more life. It’s also a nice break for your eyes to see bits of color throughout the whole story, as it’s spread out through the whole book where whole pages are all in color. It’s very nicely done and one of the many things that I like about Kiyuduki’s work. She also has another series called G.A. Geijutsuka Art Design Class (really long title, right?) which is done in a similar fashion to Shoulder-A-Coffin Kuro, in terms of character design and having color pages mixed in with the mostly black and white ones. The only difference is that the pages are on white paper as normal. I plan to read that series as well and will talk more about it later, hopefully.

Well, that’s all for now folks. Hope to see you back here next month and I hope to have some great new books to talk about. Until then, please keep reading!


2 thoughts on “Reviews From The Past

  1. You seem like quite the reader, Mike! I’ve really been trying to read more again lately – I used to do it so much more frequently! Keep up the good work, and I wish you success in growing your blog, as well. We’re all in this community together. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Sarah Beth! Yes, I love to read and I really love books. But I must admit that I’ve read so much more over the past two years than I ever had before mostly due to
      the encouragement of a few blogging friends and doing the book reviews. It gives me that motivation to keep going. 🙂

      You keep up the good work as well on your blog and feel free to stop by when you get a chance. Thanks so much for you support!


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