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.

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.

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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.

A Place Called Here by Cecelia Ahern

Title: A Place Called Here
Author: Cecelia Ahern
Genre: Fiction
Paperback: 389 pages
Publisher: Harper Collins Pb (October 20, 2006)
Set in: Ireland
Source: Personal Shelf
Rating: 3 out of 5

My Thoughts:
I read P.S. I love you by Cecelia Ahern some time back and although I didn’t like the writing style a lot, I did love the book. So when I got this book in a sale I thought I could give this author another chance and see if we get along. Unfortunately I didn’t like the book as much as I hoped to. I liked the writing style in this one but unfortunately the plot was very slow for me.

Sandy Shortt becomes obsessed with lost things when at the age of 10 her neighbor and classmate disappears. Sandy struggles to cope with the concept of lost and how things can suddenly disappear. When she becomes an adult she joins the Gardai’ who search for missing people. She becomes so obsessed with the cases that she finds it difficult to let go; so she opens a missing persons agency of her own. After years of wondering where all the missing socks and things and people go, Sandy lands up in a place which is in a different dimension altogether.

Have you wondered where all your missing stuff goes? One moment you have it and the next moment it disappears. Sandy lands up in such a place, A Place Called Here, where all the missing people are. Even all the missing things are there. It’s a place where you can get in but not get out of. It’s a whole new world where all the missing people have made a life for themselves. They have their own towns where missing people from all over the world stay.

Although I liked the concept of the book, after about 100 pages I began to wonder where all this was heading. The story was not moving forward as fast as I liked and frankly I was bored after a certain point and wanted the book to end or to reach a conclusion.

The good part about it was how the author handled the state of people who are missing or those whose someone is missing. She captures their emotions very well. There is something about this book that kept me reading in spite of being a little bored by it. I think many people might like this book, it just wasn’t for me.

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

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.

She walks in Beauty by Siri Mitchell

Title: She walks in Beauty
Author: Siri Mitchell
Source: Library
Genre: Historical Fiction
Set in: New York, U.S
Rating: 4 out of 5

My thoughts:
It is worth remembering that when, as a society, we deem something absolutely necessary to beauty or happiness, some people will do absolutely anything to obtain it.”-Note at the end of book by the author.

This sentence more or less sums up what this book is about. Like me, don’t get fooled with the cover and think it’s a historical bodice ripper. It’s far from that. It’s about Clara Carter and Lizzie, both 17 years old, entering their first season in New York. If you’ve read enough bodice rippers or historical YA, you’ll know what a season is. But you won’t find any handsome rake here. What you will get though are the De Vries brothers, Franklin and Harry. Franklin is the elder brother and hence the heir. So Clara, Lizzie and mostly all the girls debuted that season have their eyes set upon him.

Clara though is a little different from most of these girls. Her mother died when she was very young, her father is a famous physician who wants to restore his wealth, position and take revenge from the De Vries because they lost all their money in the panic as it was deposited in the De Vris bank. Clara wants to marry for love and although she doesn’t want to adorn herself with heavy dresses and heavy ornaments and doesn’t want to wear a tight corset to reduce her waist to 16 inches, she doesn’t have any choice. She doesn’t rebel because she loves her father and she wants to make him happy.

Along the way though, she discovers the value of friendship, that God will accept you as you are and all this glitter and glam is nothing more than a show. In the process of capturing Franklin’s heart and getting a proposal out of him she also discovers that marriage has to based on love.

The author Siri Mitchell has highlighted the extent to which women in the Victorian age went to achieve that perfect 16 inch waist and to get a lifetime of wealth and privilege. Even though this book is set in the Victorian times we still have the same problems in our society today to some extent. That’s probably why we have models who are all skin and bones and have shows like Bridalplasty.

Although I love romances, I loved how it’s not the main focus of this novel. It’s more of a coming of age story, of breaking the bonds that society has set for us and of differentiating between the right and wrong. I loved how the novel preaches without actually preaching. I thought the book a was bit slow at first because I was expecting a romance novel but sometime after 100 pages I looked at one of the blurbs on the front cover and realized that this was Christian fiction. Any complaints I have for this book are because I was expecting something else, so I wouldn’t really mention them here.

All in all a very satisfying read. Siri Mitchell is a very talented writer and I look forward to reading more books by her.

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

The Memoirs of a Monster Hunter by Nick Redfern

Title: Memoirs of a Monster Hunter
Author: Nick Redfern
Genre: Non-Fiction (Memoir)
Source: Library
Rating: 2 out of 5

My Thoughts:
I love reading everything paranormal. I have watched a lot of documentaries that deal with searching or proving the existence of Paranormal entities. So when I saw this book in the library I was instantly attracted to it. The book is Redfern’s account of the 5 years he spent in America chasing after monsters like bigfoot, Chupacabras, Moth-Man and others.

The book begins when Nick flies to the U.S for a conference where he meets his would be wife Dana for the first time. After a while they get married and they decide to stay in the Texas, U.S. for some time. He spends most of his time attending conferences. Now his research, or at least what he writes in his book, is mostly visiting the places where the monster was seen, talking to people who had seen them and also talking to people who have written books about them or are researching about them.

I didn’t feel there was anything new in this book. The back of the book says
But do such creatures really exist? Can it be true that our planet is home to fantastic beasts that lurk deep within its forests and waters? Memoirs of a Monster Hunter proves the answer is a resounding yes!

ummm…well, not really. At no point it’s actually proved that anything is real. Nor does the author ever comes across such creatures, at least not in this book. He does come across something called as Ghost lights and he claims to have seen them and taken a picture. But for some reason, he does not include the photo of the only possibly paranormal thing he has seen. And it’s not like there are no photos in the book. I’m just confused about why he wouldn’t include that photo, that’s all.

But the book is an easy read and is not boring for most of the time. I liked reading about conferences and such and how seriously all this monster hunting and UFO thing is taken. The books as a whole had little substance and the only chapters I enjoyed reading were the ones about Chupacabras in Puerto Rico. The author calls Chupacabras vampires because they suck the blood out of the animals and leaves 2 holes on the neck. I loved this section because it was new to me and the setting of Puerto Rico was marvelous. But again, all he does is go around interviewing people and visiting places and not proving or even trying to prove anything.

With a bit of effort he could have proved or at least made an effort to find some solid evidence. For e.g. when he found the place which the goat man had possibly marked as his lair, how difficult was it to place a camera all night at the place or even stay overnight? But he says he did not have the time. Because seems like most of his time was spent in attending conferences or hopping from one place to another. At one point he did not go to an actual site where he and his friends were going to stay overnight to see if they could find anything, but preferred to interview some person who had probably seen something years back. I mean seriously?

To me, it didn’t seem like he was actually interested to study the monsters in-depth. He was just there for the ride. Memoirs of a Monster Hunter was disappointing. And I don’t even want to start about how he was shamelessly plugging his other books throughout. Sigh.