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.

For the Love of a Son by Jean Sasson

Title: For the Love of a Son
Author: Jean Sasson
Genre: Non-Fiction
Source: Personal Shelf
Set in: Afghanistan, America and Jeddah
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

My thoughts:
I love books by Jean Sasson. The first time I read on of her books I was in 11t Grade and it was probably my first non-fiction book. I have been a huge fan of hers ever since. I think her writing is simple but the stories in her books are heart wrenching. I remember I cried a lot when I read her book Mayada. She writes about women in the Muslim World. She writes about their oppression at the hands of those they love, oppression by their government and because of age old beliefs that are hard to shake even in this century.

This book is no different. For the Love of a Son is the story of a woman from Afghanistan called Maryam. Jean Sasson begins by telling us about Maryam’s grandmothers forced wedding to a man much older than her and the brutality she faced after he died. Maryam’s father was a very kind man in comparison to most of the Afghan men. She grew up under the loving protection of her much liberal parents and was, in a way, naive about the world around her. She saw them suffer abuse and thought them weak for not raising their voices.

But her perfect world came crashing down when their family had to flee Afghanistan after the Russian invasion. Their family immigrated to America where she thought she would be free from the sanctions imposed by Afghanistan government and their society. Maryam’s father married her off to a fellow Afghan who turned out to be a very violent and abusive man. When she had a son, he fled with him to Afghanistan.

This story is mainly Maryam’s but it is also the story of all the women who have suffered tremendously because of their government or their culture. This book tells us about so many such woman whom either Maryam knew personally or had heard about. I feel sad knowing there is so much cruelty against women, that their father’s, brothers and uncles who are supposed to love and cherish them, push them into a dark world and leave them without hope or self respect. It’s unbelievable how strong these women are even if it’s for the sake of their family, their children or themselves.

I will remember Maryam’s story for  along time to come and I hope more people read this book.

Note: That’s Maryam on the cover by the way. Also, it’s surprising how much history of Afghanistan is covered in this book which was a plus point for me.

The Night bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger

Title: The Night Bookmobile
Author: Audrey Niffenegger
Hardcover: 40 pages
Publisher: Abrams ComicArts; First Edition edition (September 1, 2010)
Source: Library
Rating: 1 out of 5

My thoughts:
I was excited when I saw a graphic novel written by Audrey Niffenegger at the library, so I immediately checked it out. Unfortunately I was really disappointed with the book. The graphics were normal, not bad , but nothing to talk about either.

The Night Bookmobile is about a young woman who finds a night bookmobile when roaming the streets one night after having a fight with her husband. She is surprised to find all the books that she has ever read in her life in the bookmobile. I wont tell you what happened because it’s a small book and it would probably spoil it for you. But suffice to say that I didn’t like what happened after that.

It’s one thing to love books, even to be passionate about them but I found this to be too much. I believe everything is good in moderation, until it doesn’t overtake the other aspects of your life. The blurb by Neil Gaiman on the back cover of the book says “a cautionary fantasia for anyone who has ever loved books“. Even though I’m obviously a book lover this doesn’t really ring true for me. Also, I felt it was too short a book to connect with any of the characters, I finished it in less than half an hour.

In short, there is nothing that I really liked about this book except the concept of stumbling across a library that will hold all the books you’ve ever read in your life. I feel like I should have liked this book but maybe I missed something. It definitely wasn’t for me.

Have you read this book? What did you think about 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.

These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer

Title: These Old Shades
Author: Georgette Heyer
Source: Personal shelf
Mass Market Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: Harlequin; Reprint edition (July 1, 2003)
Rating: 4 out of 5

My Thoughts:
There were so many times when I picked up a Georgette Heyer book and left it after reading 2 pages. I think it was wrong timing. but when I bought These Old Shades from the library sale and read that it was a romance story, I decided to give it a try.

These old shades is about a duke Justin Alastair, also known as Satanas and a very young but spirited boy called Leon, atleast until the Duke discovers that Leon is in fact Leonnie. One night Justin happens to meet Leon when he is running away from his cruel brother Jean. He takes Leon home with him and makes him his Page. Justin does not do it out of pity, he does it because Leon holds a striking similarity with his enemy of 20 years and with whom he still has to settle the score. When Justin comes to know that Leon is in fact Leonnie, he transforms her into a girl and decides to adopt her thereby introducing her to the society.

Honestly, I was a little bored by the first half of the book. It was too slow for me. But the second half was amazing, filled with adventure and romance. I cannot tell you much about the second half without spoiling the story but suffice to say I couldn’t keep the book down. There were too many characters which sometimes confused me but by the end I almost got them all straight. Leonnie was such a fun, adventurous character. Sometimes she was too young but sometimes she was much wiser than her age which made her more appealing to me. Georgette Heyer’s prose is sharp, witty, mature and yet fun and easy to read.

I recommend this book to those interested in fun historical fiction and those who are looking for a good escape story.

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.

Pompeii by T.L.Higley

Title: Pompeii
Author: T.L.Higley
Genre: Historical Fiction
Set in: Pompeii (Rome)
Source: Review Copy
Rating: 4 out of 5

My Thoughts:

This being the third book I have read by T.L.Higley, I can safely say that this author never disappoints. Pompeii is one of the books in the “Seven wonders of the world” series and no, you don’t have to read the previous books to understand this one because they are completely unrelated.

Pompeii is a small holiday town nestled in the shadow of the mountain Vesuvius. Ariella escapes Jerusalem when the Romans capture the city. For 9 years she works as a slave to Valerius and has to take part in the activities of his secret cult. She escapes Valerius and this life of slavery when she disguises herself as a young boy in a Gladiator group. This group then comes to Pompeii to perform. Cato comes to Pompeii to get away from Rome and all its political intrigues, to escape from his past humiliations and failures.

While Ariella, as Ari, tries to survive a gladiator camp full of men, Cato tries to stay away from the sleazy politics of Pompeii. But he is ultimately dragged into it when he meets the Town politician Maius. Mauis is the kind of man who will do anything and everything to stay in power. He takes an instant dislike to Cato. What follows is a political war where Cato tries to get the town to side with him and Mauis trying to crush him in every way possible. Meanwhile Ariella tries her best to train and survive the fights as a male gladiator.

I loved this book. It has the a distinct T.L.Higley flavor to it. Ariella is a strong female character who will fight to survive and refuse to take charity from anyone. The courage she showed was truly inspiring. Cato on the other hand was not so striking as a character. I thought he was a little bland compared to Ariella. The story is amazing though. I love how the author can build a believable story out of nothing but the ruins of Pompeii and some historical information available. Mauis was a slimy character, a true villain, the kind that could give you bad dreams. I seriously don’t remember hating a fictional character so much.

One thing to remember is that this is a Christian Fiction and Pompeii definitely is a little heavy on this aspect compared to her previous 2 books I’ve read. But I wasn’t really bothered by it as it was woven into the story with such ease that it never felt forced. Ariella has lost faith in God because of her loss and suffering. Cato is so lost and confused with life that he needs a direction and Christianity provided them that. Having said that there is absolutely no preaching in this book or any other books written by T.L.Higley. That’s what I love about this author so much. I have no interest in reading about Christianity or any other religion for that matter. But I loved Pompeii for the sheer brilliance of its story.

Here are the reviews for the other novels written by T.L.Higley.
Shadow of Colossus
Guardian of the Flame

Shadow of Colossus still remains my favorite book though. Pompeii coming a close second.
Go HERE to see some pictures of Pompeii and of the authors travels there.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Title: The Graveyard Book
Author: Neil Gaiman
Source: personal shelf
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins; First Edition edition (September 30, 2008)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

My Thoughts:
What can I say about this book that hasn’t been said before? So I’ll keep it short. I was introduced to Neil Gaiman by Hugh when he mentioned Stardust a long time back. After that I kept reading about what a great author he was on other book blogs. I bought Fragile things and tried to read it. I loved the few stories that I read even though I found them a little weird. But my attention span for short stories is very limited and I left the book half read. After that I kept searching for The Graveyard Book after reading rave reviews but in library it was always checked out and those in book stores are expensive. To cut the long story short, I finally gave in and bought this book; and I LOVED it.

Neil Gaiman is everything that everyone has said and more. For me The Graveyard Book was mostly a coming of age story than a fantasy. For those who haven’t read it, it’s a story of a boy called Nobody Owens. His entire family is killed one night and he, as a toddler, wanders into the graveyard and is saved by a ghost couple Mr and Mrs Owens. Silas, who is neither dead nor alive and who lives in a crypt in the graveyard agrees to be his guardian and bring him all the necessities.

I loved the world Neil Gaiman has created in this book – all the ghosts in the graveyard, the atmosphere, the blue tattoo man and the ghouls gateways. Everything was so fascinating even if it was in a story. Most of all I loved Bod, loved seeing him grow up and eager to explore and know more about his surroundings. I also loved his adventurous and fearless spirit, although you probably think that’s not much considering he grew up in a graveyard.

There is something magical about Neil Gaiman’s writing, it’s as simple as it can get but it also has great depth. I wonder whats next for Nobody Owens, hopefully Mr. Neil Gaiman will let us know in a sequel?

I am eager to experience more of Gaiman’s writing. What should I read next?

Women on the verge of a nervous breakthrough by Ruth Pennebaker

Title: Women on the verge of a nervous breakthrough
Author: Ruth Pennebaker
Source: Review Copy
Publisher: Berkley (January 4, 2011)
Rating: 3.75 out of 5

My thoughts:
When 3 generation of women who cannot stand each other have to live under the same roof, you can definitely expect some entertainment. That’s exactly what we get in Women on the verge of a nervous breakthrough. For a minute I thought this would be a self help book, but not really. It’s a story about 3 completely different women and how they go through their almost nervous breakdowns and subsequent breakthrough’s.

Joanie is in her late 40’s and has just gone through a divorce with her long time husband Richard because he cheated on her with a girl in her 20’s. Her mother Ivy whom Joanie is not very close to has also come to stay with her. Her teenage daughter Caroline is trying to come to terms with her parents’ divorce in her own way which has created a distance between mother and daughter. In addition to all this, Joanie has to take up an advertising job after years of staying at home. Obviously she is on an all time low.

All these three women are annoying and endearing at the same time. With her marriage broken, Joanie is always complaining and although you understand why, you wish she would just stop for a minute. But then she is also trying to get her life back on track by getting a job and working towards her issues by joining a divorce group. I disliked Ivy for  always nagging Joanie and Caroline and finding faults in everything Joanie did. She’s also more biased towards her son even though its Joanie who has taken her in after she lost all her savings. On the other hand you also feel bad for her because she’s lost everything and has come to her daughter to stay. Caroline is a teenager, so obviously she is irritating and annoying and all that but you also feel bad for her because she feels invisible in school and everything is not good at the home front too.

As the novel progresses, each of these three women realize the worth of the other as they come to terms with their own loss and realize the value of the other. The author, Ruth Pennebaker, has written a thoroughly entertaining book and although the circumstances are depressing, no where does the book become overbearing or boring. I didn’t find it laugh out loud funny as written on the book cover but I did make me smile at places. Initially I was a little worried that I wouldn’t like the book because the characters were so unlikable. But as the book progressed and the layers peeled you realize they have their own charm.

The author has managed to show the fragile thread by which these relationships are hanging by and how they reluctantly work towards their differences and misunderstandings. Definitely give this book a try if you interested in reading about relationships between women.