Daughter of Xanadu by Dori Jones Yang

Title: Daughter of Xanadu
Author: Dori Jones YAng
Source: Library
Set in: Mongolia
Rating: 4 out of 5

My thoughts:
There are 2 things you should know before I start this review.
1) What is Xanadu: It’s a place in inner Mongolia which had the summer palace of Khublai Khan who was the grandson of the greatest ruler of Mongolia, Genghis Khan.
2) Who is Marco Polo: Marco Polo was a traveller and merchant who travelled to China and Mongolia somewhere between 1271 and 1295 alon with his father and Uncle. When he went back to Venice, where he’d come from, he wrote a book about his travels called Travels of Marco Polo. The author relied on this book while writing Daughter of Xanadu.

Lets get to the book now. This book is about a teenage girl called Emmajin who was the grand daughter of Khublai Khan. She was unlike other royal princesses who simply wanted to enjoy the comforts of palace and laze around the whole day and just be content with a life of doing nothing. Our Emmajin wanted to be a warrior, she wanted to fight for the great Khan and return home victorious after defeating the enemies of Mongolia. She wanted to help the Khan achieve the goal of ruling over the entire world. At least that’s what she thought she wanted to do.

Enter young Marco Polo. The Khan was not very sure of the agenda of these European merchants so he assigned Emmajin to befriend them and spy on them. Morco Polo has the exact opposite views than Emmajin. He thinks people should exist in the world peacefully and that all this war and occupying other countries was unnecessary. Of course Emmajin disagreed with him. All she wanted to was fight in a war.

So this is the basic premise. What attracted me to this book in the first place was that it was set in Mongolia. There aren’t many YA books that are set in Mongolia. And also that it was historical fiction.

I thought the first part was slow without much action. The author was basically building up Emmajin’s character and her background. Also, this was the part where Morco Pola nd Emmajin got to know each other and were attracted to each other, at least on a superficial level. The second half is where the action starts, when they travel to these remotest parts of Mongolia and China on a mission. This was my favorite part,the lands they crossed, the people they met, the adventures they had (not spoiling anything here) and how Emmajin and her relationship with Morco Polo changed because of all this.

There is only one thing I disliked in the novel. Emmajin never existed. Morco Polo did not meet anyone in Mongolia and fell in love with, at least none that is documented. I don’t mind introducing new supporting characters and new situations to build a story but I definitely have a problem when 2 of the main characters are fictional (namely Emmajin and her cousin). It kind of negates the whole romance for me.

But overall I really liked the book. I liked reading about Mongolia and their customs. I also liked reading about how it might have been for Morco Polo in ancient times. I loved that I got to learn a bit about history. I definitely recommend reading this book.

Oh and if you like watching videos, do watch my review for the same book below

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SchoolGirl by Osamu Dazai

Title: Schoolgirl
Author: Osamu Dazai (Translated by Allison Markin Powell)
Paperback: 100 pages
Publisher: One Peace Books (October 1, 2011)
Genre: Fiction/ Novella
Source: Review Copy
Set in: Japan
Challenge: East and SouthEast Asia Challenge
Rating: 3 out of 5

My thoughts:
I was very interested in this book because it’s considered a Japanese modern Classic and is written by a very popular Japanese author. Considering how weak my knowledge is in Japanese literature, modern or otherwise, I thought reading this book would give me an insight into the same.

This book could be sensitive, silent, hopeful and depressing all at once. Schoolgirl is a basically a day in life of a schoolgirl on the verge of womanhood. Her mothers indifference following her father’s death leaves a huge void in her life leaving her alone and vulnerable. Beneath all the loneliness she is also very depressed. She is at a stage in her life where her thoughts are full of contradictions. Her view of the world is hopeful and depressing at the same time.

Plot is something that is very important to me in a novel and Schoolgirl definitely doesn’t have one. But my main problem with the book is that I couldn’t relate to the central character which is perhaps no fault of the author or the translator. For someone who doesn’t get depressed ever (touch wood), I didn’t understand how the girls thoughts veered towards depression so often and for no reason. I know there are people who suffer from depression and perhaps it is as unexplained as it is for this girl.

The back of the book says that Osamu Dazai suffered from depression during his lifetime and he died from a suicide attempt after several unsuccessful ones. There must be a few of his thoughts reflected through this young girls vision.

Overall I wasn’t as impressed with this book as so many others have. But I’m glad I read it.

The Mist by Stephen King

The Mist by Stephen King | Source: Library | Genre: Horror/ Mystery | Rating: 3 out of 5

My Thoughts:
The Mist was first published in Dark Forces Anthology and then in Skeleton Crew as a novella. I picked this up from the Library because I loved Carrie and kind of liked The Eyes of the Dragon and I wanted to read more by this author. But The Mist seems like a wrong choice now. Not because it was bad or anything but because it was forgettable. I finished this novel just yesterday after taking almost 20 days to read it in parts. It was interesting but not unputdownable and definitely not anything unique. Probably if I had read this book some years back, maybe 30 years or so, it would have been very different. But wait, I wasn’t even born then. Wait, even the book wasn’t published then. Never Mind.

Anyway…lets see if I can explain the plot in short. David and his 5 year old son are stuck in a supermarket when a Mist like thing suddenly engulfs everything outside the store and strange things start happening. There are weird creatures that come from the mist and eat those who are within their grasp. Nobody knows what these things are and from where they originated. There are hints of some government project gone horribly wrong but obviously nobody is really sure.The rest of the book is basically how they struggle to stay alive and try to figure a way out of the supermarket.

I believe there are too many Hollywood movies out there with a similar theme. So the novelty of this concept was lost on me. It felt like an age old formula for a gross story. There were a couple of times I was really scared, especially at the end but mostly I was pretty meh with the whole horror factor.

The Mist was good for entertaining for a few hours but I’m not sure I’ll recommend this. You might as well buy Skeleton Crew and get a few other stories with it instead of buying this separately.

The Great Elephant Escape by Antoinette Van De Water

Title: Title: The Great Elephant Escape
Author: Antoinette Van De Water and Liesbeth Sluiter
Genre: Memoir
Source: Library
Set in: Thailand
Challenge: East and SouthEast Asia
Rating: 4 out of 5

My thoughts:
I had very low expectations from this book but it ended up surprising me. The Great Elephant Escape  is about a German woman Antoinette who volunteered in an Elephant Park in Thailand and ended up organizing a ‘Bring the Elephant home’ campaign. Antoinette loved elephants and empathized with their situation in Thailand. She wanted to do more than volunteer and that’s when she came up with the project. The book  chronicles her and her teams journey through Thailand with the rescued Elephants. The goal of the project was to make people aware of the plight of the elephants.

Today Elephants in Thailand are mainly used for begging and tourism purposes. There are Elephant shows, Elephant rides and the works. But there are also elephants that work in the logging industry. Violent measures are usually used to train them and they are often not treated well. With deforestation, the elephant owners have little to feed their elephants, so they have to resort to take them to the cities to beg or use them in the logging industry.

Antoinette begins her project by raising money which seems a lot more difficult than she imagined. A lot of things that could go wrong did go wrong during the planning of this project. But as the project progressed there was also a lot of support and awareness created about the Elephants and their plight. The author takes you through Thailand with her and lets you experience the frustration of dealing with the Thai bureaucracy, the sorrow of seeing the plight of these majestic animals and the happiness of finally doing something for them.

The writing if not very literary is good enough to pull you into the book without any distractions. Antoinette seems like a genuine person who poured her heart and soul into this project. I highly recommend this book to those who are interested in memoirs or Elephants.

R.I.P VI Challenge

I’m joining R.I.P this year. I’m not sure if I can really dedicate much time to it but I’ll try my best. Since I have already started reading The Mist by Stephen King and it’s a pretty small book so I’m sure I can at least complete the first level. But I’ll try and read as many books as possible since I do have a few in my TBR

Here’s what I have. So whatever I read will most probably be from this stack.

The Mist by Stephen king
The raising by Laura Kasischke
The king’s General by Daphne Du Maurier (I’m not sure if this is horror or mystery even, please let me know if you’ve read it)
The Haunting Hour by R.L.Stine
The Dark and Hollow Places by Carrie Ryan
The Host by Stephenie Meyer

I’ve tried to stick to horror books. Have you read any of these?

A Golden Age and the Good Muslim by Tahmima Aman

Today I’m reviewing two books together just because they are the first 2 books in a 3 book series and I feel the second cannot be read without the first.

Title: A Golden Age
Author: Tahmima Aman
Genre: Fiction
Set in: Bangladesh
Source: Personal Shelf
Rating:4.5 out of 5

My thoughts:
In 1947, after Independence from the British, India was partitioned into India and Pakistan (east and West). East Pakistan was later named as Bangladesh after the 1971 war. Okay, as an Indian, I know all this. But my knowledge about the Bangladesh war of Independence is very limited. Forget about the war but even otherwise I knew very little about Bangladesh in spite of its proximity to India. So when my husband went to Bangladesh for work, I asked him to get me something written by a Bangladeshi author and he got A Golden Age. Honestly I couldn’t have selected a better book.

A Golden Age is about a Muslim woman called Rehana whose husband has expired and her children are forcefully handed over to the relatives as she was deemed unfit to raise her kids all alone. She works hard to get her kids back to Dhaka and succeeds but not without any sacrifices. The story actually begins when her kids are all grown up: Maya is a 17-year-old and Soheil is 19. Soheil and Maya are actively involved in student politics; Soheil is a very charming speaker and can pull crowds. When Pakistan attacks Bangladesh (then East Pakistan), Rehana does not want her children to get involved in the war in any way. She had to fight very hard to get them back from her relatives and she doesn’t want the war taking them away from her.

As the war comes closer to home and her children become involved to the point of leaving their homes and fighting for their country, we see all that Rehana has ever struggled for on the verge of falling to pieces. We also see her strength as a woman and her resolve to protect her children at all costs.

In A Golden Age, we don’t get to know the details of the war, we are always on the fringes. Our state is like Rehana’s, wanting to know what is happening and when it will all end. It is a human story, the story of a mother set against the backdrop of a war. I loved the authors writing, it took me to Bangladesh, to Dhanmondi and that period of struggle. I enjoyed reading this book immensely inspite of the serious topic. It was informative and entertaining. This is one book that I very highly recommend.

———————————————————————-
Title: The Good Muslim
Author: Tehmima Aman
Genre: Fiction
Set in: Bangladesh
Source: Review Copy
Rating:4.5 out of 5

My thoughts:
The Good Muslim begins 10 years after A Golden Age ends. It felt right to review these 2 books together as the second one is the continuation of the first and without reading the first book  it is very difficult to understand the second. The war has ended, a new country, Bangladesh is formed and 10 years have passed. This book is from Maya’s point of view and she is now a women’s doctor in a remote village in Bangladesh, leaving her mother and brother, for reasons unknown at that point. Due to some unfortunate circumstances Maya has to return to Dhaka. She finds that a lot has  changed while she was away. Her brother has dedicated himself to Islam and he is no longer close to their mother. Soheil’s wife’s funeral is being held and he also has a son called Zaid who is 4 years old.

Soheil has begun to give religious sermons and has left his sons upbringing to a woman who works with him. She is as strict and religious as Soheil and Zaid is left without any education and anyone to look after him. Maya struggles to settle back in Dhaka and tries to comprehend the changes Soheil has gone through. She takes Zaid under her wing and tries to make his life better.
On the other hand, she also struggles to understand how people can forget how they struggled for Independence only a few years back and have moved on. She doesn’t want to move on. She wants to remember, not only all that happened but also how Soheil was before and during the war. She wants to understand what Soheil has gone through to affect him so much that he has to turn to religion. When Soheil decides to send Zaid to a Madrasa, Maya thinks she has to do something for Zaid.

In The Good Muslim we don’t get to know what’s going on in Rehana’s mind which was weird considering how tuned I was to her feelings in the first book. It felt uncomfortable not knowing what was going on in her mind. Nevertheless, Maya is an interesting character as well. The author has shown all her confusion, anger and frustration very well.

I loved this book equally if not more than A Golden Age. I thought without the war as a backdrop, the book would be boring but it wasn’t. Her writing is very beautiful yet very easy to read and get lost into. She takes you to the remote villages in Bangladesh as well as to the rapidly changing Dhaka with equal ease. Most of all it reminded me of home, of eating puchkas and drinking chai from a street vendor while looking at an ever changing landscape.

Tahmima Aman takes you into the heart of the country and into the heart of the people who reside there. For that reason alone, this book is worth reading.

Note: A Golden Age is from my personal shelf while The Good Muslim is a review copy.

Progress: East and SouthEast Asia Challenge….

Since it’s already been a little over 6 months since the year began I thought I might do a recap of where I am in terms of the East and SouthEast Asian Challenge. I am not very pleased with my progress so far but the year is not over yet and I do believe I can catch up.

I have been trying to get my hands on books that are set in as many countries as I can but it’s becoming increasingly difficult. Majority of the books are based in China, Japan or Vietnam and I’m not even remotely interested in books written by foreigners about the Vietnam war. I want something from an insider’s perspective and possibly something that doesn’t entirely revolve around the war.

I do have a few more books in my TBR and the library is always there. I will try and read from the countries that I haven’t read already. Right now I’m reading Goodbye Tsugumi by Banana Yoshimoto.

This is what I’ve managed so far
Thailand- Private Dancer by Stephen Leather (Violet Crush)
Thailand – Only 13
Thailand – The great Elephant Escape
North Korea – Jia by Hyejin Kim (Violet Crush)
Singapore – A Leap of Love by Catherine Lim (Violet Crush)
Indonesia – Sea by Heidi R. Kling (Violet Crush)
China – Dragon Keeper by Carole Wilkinson (Violet Crush)

I have also read a couple of books more which I haven’t reviewed, hopefully I’ll review them soon. I have books on Japan and Burma in my TBR. Hope to read them soon as well.

For those of you who have taken part in the Challenge, please do update the review list as and when you get time. There are already a few reviews linked. Please go here to see the list. If you are interested in the list of books based in each country, go HERE.

DragonKeeper by Carole Wilkinson

Title: DragonKeeper
Author: Carole Wilkinson
Genre: Fantasy
Set in: China
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Hyperion Book CH; 1 edition (April 2, 2005)
Rating: 4 out of 5

My Thoughts:
Dragonkeeper is a story set in Ancient China in the Han Dynasty. Ping is a 5-year-old slave girl in one of the forgotten castles of the Emperor. She does all the cooking and cleaning for the Imperial Dragon caretaker who is very lazy and mean to her. When the Emperor comes to the castle with his entourage to kill the dragon, she has no choice but to flee.

Since the slave girl is all she has been all her short life, she wants to go back, but the dragon takes her on a journey to the ocean where he can gain her strength back. On the way, Ping and the dragon have many adventures and I loved every minute of it.

I loved journeying through ancient China with Ping; be it visiting the Garden of secluded harmony or sailing on the yellow river. The author Carole Wilkinson weaves a fascinating and enchanting tale. Her writing can enthrall a child and an adult into ancient China and into Ping’s world. She creates characters that are both strong and vulnerable at the same time, be it the little girl or the dragon Danzi.

I cannot recommend this book enough for all the adults, kids and teens out there. I’m only too eager to read the sequel Garden of the Purple Dragon.

Awards:
Book of the year: younger readers-> The children’s book council of Australia.
Aurealis Award winner
2004 Winner: Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards
2004 shortlisted: NSW Premier’s literary Awards

A Leap of Love and The Leap Year

I borrowed this movie from the library on a whim and I’m so glad I did. I ended up loving it. It was such a feel good, romantic and happy movie. Obviously since it’s a Singaporean movie and I thought they are all made in either Chinese or a non-English language. But surprisingly this is in English although it’s about a Chinese woman and her search for love.

Li-Ann is a young girl when she boldly asks a stranger for a date on 14th Feb. Li-Ann and Jeremy, the stranger, end up spending a few blissful hours together and Jeremy catches a flight back to Canada. It was fun seeing a movie set in Singapore and recognizing the places I had already seen. Without giving away the story though, they meet every leap year and we get to experience Li-Ann’s tangle of emotions through the years. Be it happiness of finding the right man or the disappointment when he doesn’t feel the same. Over the next few years we get to see how every leap year affects Li-ann’s life.

I enjoyed it so much that I looked up for more information on the internet. It’s actually based on ‘A Leap of Love’ by Catherine Lim who is a Chinese Singaporean (although she is from Malaysia) author in her 80’s and a firecracker of a woman. I watched her interview on YouTube and I was so intrigued that I’m planning to read all her backlist.

Anyway, so I found A Leap of Love in the library and ended up loving it too. The movie is very similar to the book where the character sketches and the basic plot are concerned. But there are a few changes in the movie which make for better viewing. The writing in the book is funny and sarcastic and fun to read. It’s a love story, but it’s not the mushy type nor does it have a chick-lit feel (which the movie has).

I cannot recommend the movie to romantic or chick-flick fans. The book is something that can be enjoyed by all though. Highly Recommended.

The book A Leap of Love is for the East and SouthEast Asia Challenge.

Sea by Heidi R. Kling

Title: Sea
Author: Heidi R. Kling
Genre: Young Adult
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile (June 10, 2010)
Source: library
Set in: Indonesia
Rating: 3 out of 5

My thoughts:
Sea is about a 15-year-old girl Sienna who lives with her father and grandmother in U.S.A. She lost her mother in a plane crash a few years back. She has serious emotional issues which were the result of her mother’s death. Then she accompanies her father to Indonesia to work with the Tsunami orphans, she is instantly attracted to an Orphan boy Deni who is playing the drums for their welcome ceremony. I found the instant attraction weird. There is nothing that really makes him stand out other than his strong muscles under his tight shirt. I do understand his appeal later on since he seems to be the leader of the other boys and keeps passing deep, dark looks to Sienna. She’s a teenager after all, she’s bound to fall for that.

Anyway, as Sienna gets to know more about the orphan kids and the things they lost, her own sorrow seems very small to her. She works on her father’s team with the kids suffering from Post Traumatic stress disorder. This is the really sad part of the story-reading about children having to watch their entire families swept away. It’s heart breaking.

As a novel, what worked for me in Sea was the setting. I don’t think there are many YA novels that are set internationally. It feels like the author has actually been to Indonesia in the way she describes the landscape, the people and the customs. What didn’t work for me was believing that a boy from a village could speak English so fluently. We have been to Indonesia twice and we’ve had a really tough time communicating with the locals since very few know how to speak English.

If I decide to overlook that I still have a couple of things I didn’t like. Sienna-I didn’t like her and I didn’t understand her. She was stupid and irresponsible and there are only so many things you can excuse for being a teenager. If I was her father I would have grounded her for life. Another thing I didn’t like was the ending. It kind of negated the entire romance between Sienna and Deni for me. I can’t really tell you why without spoiling the end..

But, Sea has its appeal. Even though I didn’t love it, I know there are readers who might love this book.

This book counts for the East and SouthEast Asia Challenge