Call of the Litany Bird by Susan Gibbs

Title: Call of the Litany Bird by Susan Gibbs
Author: Susan Gibbs
Source: Review Copy
Rating: 4 out of 5

My thoughts:
To say I didn’t know anything about the Rhodesian Bush war is an understatement. I’m overwhelmed by African war history. Ironically, the only reason I accepted this book to review is because it’s set in Africa.

This is a memoir of a time when Zimbabwe had become Rhodesia. This particular story is about a white farmer’s family. After Susan’s first husband expired because of Cancer, she married Tim and moved to Bonisia with her 2 young kids. Bonisia is in Matabeleland which is one of the conflict zones. Susan describes living under these conditions. Day to day life was very tense and they had to worry about attacks and death and safety among other mundane things.

The white minority community was a very close knit community. As different farmers were shot dead or abducted or attacked, Susan started to re-evaluate the safety of her family, and thought about leaving the land she had come to love and raised children on.

It didn’t matter much that I wasn’t aware about the history of Zimbabwe, what I loved most was the description of the daily life on farm. She bought the African landscape to life. I loved reading about her daily routine, about her bee rearing business and so many things among others. She talks about the dry season:

Following each successive drought we swore we could see the Kalahari desert encroaching further into our territory. Tjolotjo Tribal lands, west of Nyamandhlovu, were already desolate. Overgrazed by cattle, chewed to the quick by goats, denuded of trees by tribesmen building their huts and cooking fires, it had, over the years, cleared the way for desert sand to advance over the baked earth, and famine had become a reality for tribal people. Food agencies tried to help but little reached those in real need. Government road blocks confiscated donations coming in on the blocks of lorries, selling them on to the highest bidder and Nyamandhlovu farmers reacted by opening up back tracks on their land and smuggling the grain through.

She also talks about the monsoon. I loved the sentences below. It somehow reminded me of the monsoon back home.

The lacerating heat, seemed to last forever, but one day,as we watched from the verandah, purple clouds began stacking up on the horizon, rapidly blowing closer and bringing the smell of rain on the wind. Thunder rumbled in the distance, lightning played around the sky as afternoon grew dark. And then it broke. glittering rods of rain, blocked the view, spattered mud on the walls and washed dust laden leaves. Overnight the veldt greened and the air filled with smells of wet earth and blossoms and Matabele ants, pungent and pervasive when stepped on. Just behind John’s cottage the Mpopoma river came down in spate, sluicing over the spill way into the Khami and sending torrents rushing down into the dam.

She doesn’t dwell very deeply into the politics and the history, most of the times she just tells how the bush war affected the farms and farmers in Matabeleland. She had kept a map in her house where she marked all the dead, attacked and abducted farms with different colored pins, they also had to get up in the morning and do a roll call so that they can account for everybody. It was particularly sad to see the effects all this had on her kids, especially when one day her youngest girl playfully says to a worker ‘don’t get killed on the way home’

Whether you are interested in memoirs, African history or simply Africa, this book is definitely worth reading.

Muslim Women Reformers by Ida Lichter

Title: Muslim Women Reformers
Author: Ida Lichter
Hardcover: 513 pages
Publisher: Prometheus Books (May 26, 2009)
Genre: Non-Fiction
Source: Review Copy
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

My thoughts:
When I first browsed through the book, all I saw was too much information. Just from the index I could tell that there were too many countries and too many reformers from each country. I thought it would be an overload and I would finish the book without knowledge about anything in particular.

But how wrong I was. After reading the book I can still say it has lot of information but everything is so nicely structured that I could go read it in sections without getting overwhelmed. It was definitely not an overload and I could tell how important it was to include as many reformers as possible. I would feel bad if even a single among them was excluded and I feel there was still room for more.

Every countries section begins with a brief but concise history of the reformation with how the countries past and present has affected the position of the women for better or for worse. Under each country we have the information on different women reformers and the work they have done and are still doing for the betterment of women. It also lists the awards won and books written if any and the various organizations that are working towards a single goal-the betterment of women.

I found Muslim Women Reformers an awesome resource on the work done by women from different Muslim countries. Although every country has it’s own laws, one thing remains common-the exploitation of Muslim women in the name of Islam. The problem is combining religion and politics and hence the misinterpretation of religion to achieve the political goals. Since most of these politicians are men, they use Islam as a way to keep women out from what they consider their territory. But women are learning to interpret Islam the correct way which is helping in fighting with these fundamentalists.

These are the women who are fighting for basic rights, both political and personal, and suffer tremendously for it. I am amazed by their courage and determination at the cost of their personal lives. The saddest part probably is that these women have to fight even for basic things like custody of their children, honour killings, right to decide if they want to wear a veil and right to express their opinion; and although it is a slow process, there is definitely progress in many parts of the Muslim world.

I am in no situation to say how accurate or inaccurate this information in this books is but I have faith that the author has done enough research before writing the book. I also understand that there are exceptions everywhere. For me, this books definitely deserves a place on my shelf. I highly recommend it.

Related/ Similar topics:
Teaser Tuesday: Muslim Women Reformers
Honour Killing: Stories of men who killed by Ayse Onal

The Truth of the Matter and The Patron Saint of Butterflies

The Truth of the Matter by Andrew Klavan: This is the third book in the Homelanders series. You can read the second book without reading the first but to read the third, you have to read the second. In the first book (no spoilers), Charlie West does not remember anything about his life. He learns that the police are on his trail to arrest him for murdering his best friend. But the bad guys are after him too and he’s clueless why. In the second book he finds some answers but he doesn’t really remember a lot from his past year. In this book he remembers almost everything and seriously what a bizarre one year it was for him. I mean, the plot is unbelievable. I rolled my eyes almost throughout the book. There is only so much that can happen to an 18-year-old. But Charlie West is an extraordinary human being obviously. This book made me laugh so many times, not because the book was funny but because the plot was so unbelievable. But there is this un-putdownable quality in this book. I just couldn’t stop reading. It’s a good continuation to the series. This book doesn’t end here though. There is a fourth book in this series. And you know what? I want to read that too.  3 out of 5 stars.

The Patron Saint of Butterflies by Cecilia Galante: A nice book which would have its own post if I had reviewed it on time. But I didn’t and now the details are a bit hazy. It’s a story about two 14-year-old girls Honey and Agnes set in Mount Blessing religious commune. Agnes is devoted to her faith and believes everything that is told to her by her parents and their religious leader. Honey is an orphan who is a little wild at heart and difficult to tie down. As she has no parents to teach  her the ways of their religion all the time, she grows up reluctant to follow it blindly. She wants to move out of the commune and experience normal life. There are also things going on in the commune that she knows are wrong. When Agnes’s grandmother takes the kids and runs away from the commune, Honey and Agnes have to learn to live their life all over again with a completely new set of rules and beliefs. I loved how opposite the two characters are and I liked both the girls. I liked how they both struggled with what was right and wrong and what was taught to them. In spite of a serious subject it’s a pretty light and quick read. I enjoyed reading it and will definitely recommend it. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Witness the Night by Kishwar Desai

Title: Witness the Night
Author: Kishwar Desai
Genre: Mystery
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Beautiful Books (15 April 2010)
Set in: Jalandhar, India
Source: Review Copy
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

My Thoughts:

How does one avoid the Tyranny of dreams? The footsteps that keep taking you back to a house full of ghosts, where every window has a face staring from it, each face once beloved and known, now with bloodied eyes and grey lips, their hands drooping, bodies limp, yet yearning. They are all silent. The thick bile of sadness oozing from their hearts has regurgitated into their throats and blocked their voices, their pale shadowy hair seems like seaweed, green and stringy, floating in the air. Yet, all around their collapsed bodies is the scarlet odour of fresh killing, the meat at their feet is newly shredded for the dogs, which are peculiar and never bark. They do not even nudge the meat. Do they know whose flesh it is? How can they tell? Does human flesh taste different? Is there some loyalty hidden in the DNA of animals that allows them to differentiate? Nothing in the house is as it should be, because now another smell permeates and rises, the smell of burning flesh. (Pg. 1)

Set in small town Jullundur (Jalandhar) in Punjab, Witness the Night is the story of a 14 year old girl Durga caught in a nightmare and a 45-year-old social worker Simran who is working hard to find out the truth. When 13 people from a rich and prominent family are killed one night, 14-year-old Durga, the daughter of the family and the only survivor, is the main suspect.

When Simran, a fiercely independent and outspoken social worker arrives in Jullunder to speak with Durga and find out the truth from her, she realizes that the incident is not as straight forward as it seems. Durga looks like a scared child but she keeps mum about the incident. It is up-to Simran to find out the truth on her own. As she tries to uncover the truth, she finds that the relationship of Durga with her family has sinister undertones to it.

I cannot tell you how much I loved this book. It deals with a very important subject about female infanticide and the place of women in a conservative society. I could tell the author is passionate about the subject. But in no way does it get overbearing or boring. It’s also a page turning mystery where we are kept wondering till the end about how it happened. Although we know what happened by the first page itself, it’s still a mystery about why someone would wipe an entire family out.

The book is written from 2 viewpoints, Durga’s and Simran’s. While Durga’s writing is serious and dark, Simran’s is sarcastic and funny at times. She is a very interesting lady and I especially enjoyed her interactions with her mother. Overall this is a mystery that is different from many mysteries out there because not only is it page turning but it also deals with a very important subject with honesty and fearlessness.

My review doesn’t do the book justice. You have to read it to see how wonderful it is. Highly recommended. Witness the Night is the winner of 2010 Costa First Novel Award.

Pupulazzi by Elise Allen

Title: Populazzi
Author: Elise Allen
Source: Review Copy
Genre: Young Adult
Hardcover: 400 pages
Publisher: Harcourt Children’s Books (August 1, 2011)
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

My Thoughts:

Normally I wouldn’t have picked this book up because it seems like it’s aimed at teens. I love YA but I usually stay away from books that revolve around school like because I don’t really seem to connect. But Populazzi I picked because it’s written by Elise Allen who is a 2011 Debutante.

Cara is a teenager who is a nobody in school. The fact that she peed in school when she was a kid followed her as she grew up and stopped her from climbing the social ladder. But when she changes school she decides to start with a clean plate. Her best friend Claudia, makes a plan for Cara to climb the ladder and thus become popular in her new school. The plan is to start dating guys starting at the middle level and then gradually climb up and date the most popular guy and hence become the Populazzi.

It’s actually a pretty predictable plot. It started off very interesting and funny. I was engrossed until her first two boyfriends, Archer Jain and Nate. But after that it just seems like a drag. It’s a pretty believable story though. I can totally see teenagers relating to it. In spite of the topic of the book, the author has tried to maintain a sense of right and wrong throughout the book. Cara definitely knows the difference but still goes with the flow.

It is also probably one of the very few books with an Indian American as one of the important characters. So that was kind of refreshing. The writing was free-flowing which helped but I can’t deny that I was a little disappointed in the book.  But I liked the writing so I will definitely pick up her next book if the premise interests me.

I seem to be in the minority as the reviews on Goodreads are very good.

Heart With Joy by Steve Cushman

Title: Heart With Joy
Author: Steve Cushman
Genre: Young Adult
Source: Review Copy
Paperback: 200 pages
Publisher: Canterbury House Publishing (September 1, 2010)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

My Thoughts:
Heart with Joy is about a 17-year-old boy Julian whose mom left him and his father because she said she wanted to help her parents with their motel and complete writing her book. But Julian knows it’s more than that. He plans on going to Florida to his mother for the summer, and possibly to settle there. He is not as close to his father as he was with his mother, so staying with his father is not really appealing to him.

Julian takes up cooking and other household activities after his mother goes away. Slowly, he discovers that he really likes cooking and is possibly even passionate about it. He gets acquainted with his next door neighbor, who is a really old woman, who has a passion for birds.

Heart With Joy is exactly that, finding something that fills your heart with joy instead of going through life just because you have to. It’s a coming of age story, where Julian begins to understand his father, his mother and his own heart. It’s an easy read and its a very simple and quite story. I enjoyed knowing more about birds as a hobby and also loved the glimpse of recipes given in the book.

I had a problem with what a sweet, understanding teenager Julian is. I haven’t met any teenager who is as well adjusted and has his priorities in place and also who has such insight into things. But maybe I’m just being cynical.

It’s a good book though, definitely worth a try if you like YA or like quite stories.

Green Books Campaign: More Than a Memory-Reflections of Vietnam

This review is part of the Green Books campaign.Today 200 bloggers take a stand to support books printed in an eco-friendly manner by simultaneously publishing reviews of 200 books printed on recycled or FSC-certified paper. By turning a spotlight on books printed using eco- friendly paper, we hope to raise the awareness of book buyers and encourage everyone to take the environment into consideration when purchasing books.

The campaign is organized for the second time by Eco-Libris, a green company working to make reading more sustainable. We invite you to join the discussion on “green” books and support books printed in an eco-friendly manner! A full list of participating blogs and links to their reviews is available on Eco-Libris website.

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Title: More than a memory (book site)
Author: Various (Edited by Victor R. Volkman)
Publisher: Modern History Press (May 13, 2010)

My Thoughts:
More than a Memory is a collection of essays, prose and poems. This collection has stories and poems written by those who had fought the war in Vietnam and lived to tell the tale.

Some stories/ poems are about survival, some about finding your comrades dead beside you and not being able to do anything about it, some are about adjusting back into the real world where a single loud noise could take you back into the Vietnamese jungles, some are about dealing with post traumatic stress and some are about hope.

As it a collection written by different authors,I thought some were well written ans dome were not, but all were worth reading. It has more poems than stories and prose though, so if you hate poetry stay away from it. I am not a fan of poetry either but I read every single poem in this book. That’s saying something.

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Buried Alive by Roy Hallums

Title: Buried Alive
Author: Roy Hallums
Genre: Non-fiction (memoir)
Source: Review Copy
Set in: Iraq
Rating: 4 out of 5

My Thoughts:
Roy was a 56 year old retired Naval commander working for a food supply contractor in Baghdad’s high-end Mansour district. In 2004, Roy was kidnapped by gunmen who stormed his Office. 3 Iraqi’s and a Filipino Robert was kidnapped along with him. After shuffling Roy and Robert to a few places, they finally kept them in an underground cell in a house in the middle of nowhere.

For 311 days Roy along with Robert survived hellish conditions while being blindfolded and handcuffed most of the time. Buried Alive is the story of their survival and hope against all odds.I admire Roy for his courage and his ability to stay sane in the most trying circumstances.

Buried Alive is not just a hostage drama. We also get a glimpse into how kidnapping became a business to make money, to bargain or simply to spread terror in foreign countries. The most surprising information was how many Iraqis are kidnapped for extortion. We hear about people from various nationalities being kidnapped and the various foreign government efforts to negotiate, what we don’t hear often is how these kidnappers take hostage their own countrymen to get money.

The book also gives us a glimpse into Roy’s family and how they dealt with his kidnapping. Also, it was interesting to see how the FBI controlled every aspect of information sent/ given about the kidnapping. When I started this book my progress was a little slow but after 50 pages, I just breezed through it. Buried Alive is also a good look behind all those kidnapping and killing videos we’ve see on the news. Horrifying but true. Recommended.

Beyond The Comfort Zone by James M Turner

Title: Beyond the Comfort Zone
Author: James M Turner
Source: Review Copy
Genre: Non-fiction (Memoir)
Paperback: 354 pages
Publisher: Cliffs Edge Books (December 9, 2009)
Rating: 4.25 out of 5

My Thoughts:
This book was not exactly what I was expecting when I read the premise. Not in a bad way though. The premise is about how one of UK’s premier musicians finds himself in the Golden Triangle working to infiltrate the trade of Human Trafficking. And that’s exactly what it was. But having read about books on human Trafficking before, obviously my mind jumped to conclusions. So in a way Beyond The Comfort Zone was refreshing.

Jim, as the author is referred in the book, was born in Northwich in 1961. He describes how he went from an unknown saxophone player to one who played for famous bands like Bros and Take That, But after years of playing and after opening his own production company, he decided he wanted a change, to go on adventures he had read about on NatGeo magazines. The first 50 pages or so describes his life before and during his music career. Although I had never heard of this musician or even the bands Bros and Take That (I don’t listen to Western music a lot), I was never bored. It was an entertaining tale.

In 2002, he finds himself in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I would have loved to know why he decided on this particular place and what was he really planning to do there. But seems like that was exactly what he was planning, to NOT do anything, probably just experience a new place. He meets many people along the way, foreigners as well as the local people. Franco was one of those guys.

Franco and Jim, armed with a hidden video camera just for the sake of fun and possibly coming away with something explosive, go to a Burmese village along the Thailand-Burma (Myanmar) Border. They find themselves wanting to capture something of importance, something that would capture the child prostitution that is so ripe in Thailand and that particular region. They come away with some footage which turns out to be very rare and before they know they are pulled into something much larger than they had anticipated.

Beyond The Comfort Zone was thrilling and entertaining. It was also sad because it was real. It made me angry and sad for the hundreds of children who are trafficked for prostitution every year. The author describes daily life in Thailand, not necessary from a locals point of view but not from a tourists viewpoint either. At times I did not want to read about Franco’s and his antics but they too offer a different view of Thailand. This book does not really dwell deep into the human trafficking issue, it is mostly the authors experiences and the adventures he had along the way. The last hundred pages or so had me holding my breath waiting to know what happened. This being a memoir only adds more to that feeling. All I can say is don’t judge this book by its cover. Recommended to those who like memoirs and those who like their memoirs to read like a novel.

The Long Way Home by Andrew Klavan

Title: The Long Way Home (The Homelanders Book Two)
Author: Andrew Klavan
Genre: YA thriller
Hardcover: 352 pages
Source: Review Copy
Rating: 4 out of 5

My Thoughts:
I’ve had this book for some time now but what kept me from reading it was that it was the second book in the Homelanders Series. So I did what I usually do when faced with this dilemma. I read the spoilers reviews of the first book on Amazon after checking if the library had the first book. I was very happy to know that not many people were satisfied with the first book since it left a lot of questions unanswered. It seemed like the first book was kind of a build up.

So I jumped into the second book and was hooked right from page 1. In the first book ‘The Last thing I Remember’, a high school student Charlie West went to bed as an ordinary guy and woke up to find out that the police as well as the bad guys are after him. A year has passed by and Charlie doesn’t remember any of it.

********spoilers for those who haven’t read the first book**********
I didn’t really know how much he found out about himself in the first book but it didn’t matter because I didn’t feel like I missed a lot. I think it was because the author covered the gaps successfully. When this book opens Charlie is surrounded by the bad guys, supposedly the terrorists who want to destroy America by recruiting Americans who are against the country. After escaping from them and then later the police, Charlie goes to his town Spring Field to find out the truth. That is where we learn about his friends, his school and his teachers and what could have gone wrong. I was on the edge of my seat for the entire book which was also a very fast read.

********end of spoilers**********

What I didn’t understand was the terrorists role in all this. They were always in the background and the reasons were not really enough for me to believe that they were a danger to Charlie. Charlie was too good a kid which could actually work well since this is a YA novel. Charlie could be a good role model. Also there are absolutely no bad words. Even though it’s an adventure involving terrorists and a murder, it is a very clean book. At times I found the language very simple and forced. It could be because this is the first YA series that the author has written. But he is the recipient of 2 Edgar awards, so what do I know.

Anyway, recommended for YA lovers and those who love adventure and mysteries.