My Small Kucing Blog

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez

This book is written by Deborah Rodriguez about her experience in Afghanistan where she had set up a beauty school for the women there. She is a hairdresser escaping from a second bad marriage by joining a group offering humanitarian aids to people there after the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

She wrote that people broke into applause when she was introduce as a hairdresser from Michigan during one meeting of the team with other foreigners who were living there.

After that, daily she would received request from people for her to cut their hair although she was busy with her volunteering work. This soon arouse her curiosity about beauty salon there. She soon discovered that beauty saloon were banned by the Taliban. There are some beauty saloon started to operation again but at a low profile to escape public scrutiny. She managed to visit a beauty salon with the help of a friend and find that they are lacking very much in skill. This brings on an idea for her to open a Beauty School there.

She went home and set on working to get sponsorship for the said. She managed to get some and started to set up the beauty school. She interviewed the first batch of potential students. She were shocked by the reason why they want to join the beauty school and the story about their life

She also married an Afghanistan man after being match-made by her friends after meeting him for 20 days. Neither can speak each others language much. There are some tough challenges in their relationship.

During the course of her 5 years stay, she learn about the life and the stories behind her students.

But she was forced to flee Afghanistan when her heard not only there are threat against her person but also there are threat to kidnap her son for ransom

I find that the some things described in this book is not so right.

In this book she portrayed herself someone soft hearted and kind. Kind of savior to some of the woman in the beauty school.

Then why did she have to go and write how she helped a student faked her virginity on her wedding night? From her stay there, she would have know what is the consequence if this story gets back to the girl's husband.

Then there is her marriage to an Afghan man, Samer Mohammad Abdul Khan who is 10 years younger than her and which she knew for only 20 days. In page 101 "Afghanistan was great when I was with the students or my friends, but when they went home, I was lonely. It's a very family orientated-culture, but I wasn't part of the family. I wasn't part of a big NGO, either, where people live together in big compounds and become sort of like family. I wanted to stay in Afghanistan, at least for a longer stretch of time than the few weeks when school was in session. But I wasn't sure I could do it alone." Is this why she married him although she knew that he has a wife and seven daughters? Loneliness?

After she took her marriage vows, as written in her book, she was thinking "I was thinking worst case scenario : I'll just go back to America and never tell anyone that I got married"(Page 113).

In Page 122, she mentioned the reason why she did not tell her family about her wedding when she went back to America "I thought this was the perfect arrangement: three months in States with my cottage and my loved ones; two months in Afghanistan with my secret husband and continued involvement with the beauty school".

This is the part which raised a red flag in my brain. If these are her feelings at the time, it seems to me that she is the type that would put her interest first before others. Is she the type of person who would go through so much trouble to help women in Kabul without some sort of benefit?
In Page 190, one of the Teachers warned her about her son getting too close to a 15 year old student named Hama but she thinks "I thought it was important for her to know that other men found her pretty. I didn't want her to think she was stuck with Ali or forever tainted by his actions." Result? Hama came to school with a black eye and cut lips after her "uncle Ali" heard about Deborah's son and her. She have been in Afghanistan for some time and she should have known their conservative culture there. Like people say "when in Rome....". Changes have to be gradual.

Page 274, " Then I heard that someone is plotting to kidnap Noah and hold him for ransom. That terrified me-it was one thing to put myself in danger, but I couldn't risk my son. When I contacted some security professionals I knew in Kabul and told them my story, they told me to pack my bags and meet them at a safe place in ten minutes. I was not to tell anyone, including my girls or my husband, what I was doing or where I was going. ....". This seems rather fishy to me. Like there is something missing, not told here.

And in page 276 "I left behind not only all my valuables, but also my precious personal tokens-including the only picture I had of my father and my kids,antique dishes and other heirlooms from my mother's family, and the silly flamingos my kids bought me years ago..". Why can't her husband and friends forward the said to her after she left the country as she said she had communicated with them after she left the country and she sent money to all the girls to help them through the tough time? If not through normal postal channel, surely she would still have contact with some NGO volunteers who would be willing to carry the only photo of her father with her kids back to her.

This book seems to be full of contradictions.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Once Removed By Andrew Leci

I bought this book from BookXcess a few days ago. Excited to read this after a reader commented she liked this book.

It was 1997. Malaysia turning into a developed nation. Andrew have been in Malaysia as a Quantity Surveyor for about 6 months. On top of working he is looking for love and a good time. Unfortunately, he looked for them at the wrong places.

He was "abused", jilted and put on the spot on many occasions. On top of constantly getting a bad hangover, he also had blackout" on at least two occasion and both which come back to haunt him later.

His ignorance on the local language and custom leads to many hilarious and embarrassing moments.

The book is written in a journal form, starting from 1ts January 1997 to 30 June 1997. It's very amusing to read. It is really fun to "see" Malaysia from the view point of an Ang Moh.

Love the way he narrate the story of Natalie. It made me laugh out loud. The story of his relationship with Shanti is also a gem.

I don;t think there is any part of the story which I don't like. He is real brave for daring to poke fun of certain quarters.

Overall a good read

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Saga Of Darren Shan - Vampire Rites Trilogy

This is a 3-in-1 book Part 4,5 and 6 of The Darren Shan Saga. I have posted Part 1-3, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11 and Part 12 earlier on because I could not get my hand on the full set of the books.

Book 4 : Vampire Mountain

Mr Crepsley decided that they should journey to The Vampire Mountain coz it's time to present Darren to The Council Of Vampire Generals. They meet once every twelve years. If they missed this round, it would be a long wait for the next meeting.

Mr Tiny insisted that they bring along two of his Little People. This infuriate Mr Crespsley but he was forced to accede.

It was a very harsh journey during which they found a Vampeneze's buried body and in one event one of the Little People was killed and another broken the century old golden rules of never to speak. His name is Harkat Mulds. He also brought terrible news from Mr Tiny to the Vampire Princes

They managed to reach Vampire Mountain safety. Darren was welcomed by the people there. Among which consist of Mr Crepsley's old mentor Seba, Kurda (a future Vampire Prince) and Arra (Mr Crespley's ex-mate).start learning a lot of things, one of which Mr Crepsley was not supposed to "blood" him and make him into a Vampire Assistant. Mr Crepsley was to be punished and the punishment is DEATH.

Noble Darren could not let Mr Crepsley be killed and had agreed to be subjected to five Vampire Trials without know fully what it meant. It was too late when he was informed that he had to perform the 5 Five with success or die trying.

Comments : Love the plot. It's like "honeymoon year" before the nasty things comes up. The conditions and traditions of the vampires was finely outlined.

Book 5 : Trials Of Death

Darren had unknowingly agreed to perform 5 trials in order to save Mr Crepsley and himself. To show to the Council that he is worthy to be blooded.

His friends were anxious for him to come out alive from the trials. Each evening, Darren would be allowed to draw a number from the bag. The number is the code for the task/trial which he had to go through the next day. He have 24hrs to prepare for the task and his friends taught him as much as they can .

He got thru the first three trials. There were some narrow escapes but he survived. On the fourth trial, he was nearly killed but he was rescued by Harkat Mulds. There are cries for his life as nobody is to interrupt the trial. Many calls for Darren to be executed since he did not complete the trial. It was considered that he failed.

The Vampire Princes adjourn to discuss the matter. Almost everyone knew the answer to the question already. Darren will be condemned to death.

Kurda is of the "modern" thinking Vampire and does not think it's fair that Darren be condemn to death. Hence he discussed with Darren to runaway from the Vampire Mountain.

Darren agreed to the plans. Together they used Kurda's map to journey out of the mountain. But their plans were discovered by Vanez, another of Darren's friend. He went to intercept them  for there are no escaping from the wrath of the Vampire Princes.

They bumped into a cave full of Vampeneze. Very surprising why would there be so many Vampaneze? Are they planning to attack? Is there a traitor among the Vampires?

The end result was bad. Darren was plunged into a river with strong current.

Comment: The part about the trials was rather gross/scary. Very fast paced book as there is no time to rest. Very amazed at how Darren's friends managed to find loopholes in the ancient law to help Darren.

Book 6 : The Vampire Prince

Darren nearly died when he was wash out of the mountain by the river. He was "rescued" by Rudi. A wolf cub which he befriended on his way up the mountain.

Rudi brought Darren to the she-wolf who nursed him back to health.

After a few days, Darren felt much better but deep down in his heart there is another matter to be dealt with. He have to inform the Council that there is a band of Vampeneze in the mountain and is preparing to launch an attack.

Darren managed to find his way back to the mountain with the help of an old she wolf. As he is a fugitive, he dare not show himself to others Vampires. He can only trust very few people. He can't get to Mr Crepsley but he managed to contact Seba. Seba listen to his story. At first, Darren was fear that Seba might not believe his story especially about traitors among Vampire. But Seba managed to see through Darren and believe him

They went to the Vampire Prince just when Kurda is to be "crown" as  a Prince.

Many were outraged by Darren's story and did not believe him. That is till Seba spoke and also Kurda's admission.

They then prepare for "Battle" with the Vampeneze. Both side have heavy loss but in the end the Vampires triumph. The triumph was temporary as it opens up the road for Mr Tiny's prediction to come true.

Meantime, the Vampire were grateful for Darren's early warnings. However, the fact stands that Darren failed the fourth trial and the laws says that he is to be put to death. The Vampire Princes discussed the matter thoroughly. There is no way out for Darren. Everyone except the Princes who failed the trail have to die no matter how great his service have been to the Vampires.

There is only one way out for Darren. However, there is no precedent on this. Would this move gain support of all the other Vampires?

Comments : There seems to be a lot of mystery. And it thickens by the pages. Just when I feel that I got the hang of the story, the story changed dramatically. But at least now I know what Part 10 and Part 12 was talking about. It is related to this book

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Broker By John Grisham

Joel Backman was nickname the Broker as he is a genius in making deals. One day, a deal went awry. One by one those who were involved was murdered. He packed his bag and "confessed" his crime. He was jailed in a maximum security prison for his own safety.

After 6 years, the out going President gave him a last minute Presidential Pardon at the request from the CIA. The condition of the pardon is that he have to leave the country and live under a new name.

He was smuggled out from the country and given a new identity.

However, he still does not feels secured as sometime seems to be amissed. Why did the CIA wants him out of the prison when so many parties wish him dead?

He tries his most to learn the truth and to find safety though he is like a newborn baby who need CIA to keep holding his hands.

I have read this book a few years ago. Came across this book again when I was looking for something in the storeroom.  Read the synopsis and found that I have forgotten much of the story. Hence the interest to re-read this again.

Found that the beginning and the middle are very interesting. The suspense was there. But by the ending, the suspense just couldn't keep up. Many things just seems to coincidentally fell in step. It doesn't seem very believable.

Like the part where CIA supposed to follow him 24/7 and there are tracking devices in his clothing. Why CIA does not feel suspicious when he took off to go and meet up with Rudolph?

How can someone who is computer illiterate suddenly become techno savvy after reading 2 pages of instructions from his son? The CIA supposed to monitor the son's movement. How can the son withdraw huge sum from his account to buy and send Joel a handset without the CIA noticing that? All seems to be lump into negligence.

He was in the hit list of so many country and everything suddenly stopped just because he hand over the disc?

Despite my grouses, this is still not a bad book to read.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Girl On The Landing by Paul Torday

Elizabeth has been married to Michael for 10 years. She married him because she was fond of him rather than love him. He can give her the emotional and financial security. He is pretty well off. Owns land in Scotland. They occasionally went to visit Beinn Caorrun, a gloomy house which he had inherited. Even with that they life that they live was monotonous. Everything were predicable.

That is till the went on a holiday in Ireland. In the holiday house, Michael thought he saw the figure of a girl in a picture on a landing. But when he went to inspect further later, he found that it looks like just a smudge.

After the vacation, Elizabeth noticed that Michael started to change. He is more spontaneous and fun. She likes the new Michael very much and felt she could fall in love with this man.

Sad to say, Michael's past start to catch up with him. Elizabeth slowly found out things from his past and got to know the reason for his changed behaviour. Things that is dangerous for her to know.

This book is more fascinating than The Irresistible Inheritance of Wilberforce. It;s more mysterious and a hint of dark forces at work.

The plot was very skillfully woven and the tension was there till the very end.

Am glad The Big Bad Wolf Sale allows me to discover another author whose work I like pretty much.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Brothers by Yu Hua

Baldy Li and Song Gang are step brothers. Baldy's mother married Song Gang's father after Song Gang's mother pass away.

At first their parents was worried that the boys might fight. However, the boys got on fine and become inseparable. Song Gang was the quiet and gentlemanly type while Baldy was rather coarse.

Then comes the cultural revolution which resulted in Song Gang's father demise. Baldy Li's mother was unable to take care of both boys. Hence Song Gang was given back to his grandfather to take care.

This did not hinder the good relationship between the two brothers. They are still as thick as thieves.

When Baldy Li's mother pass away, Song Gang promised to take care of Baldy no matter what.

As they grow older, Baldy start to look for a wife. And he was attracted to the town's beauty, Lin Hong, whose butt he peeped when he was just 14 years old. He become notorious in the town because of that incident. Lin Hong hates his guts but she was attracted to Song Gang.

Song Gang being the big brother, was willing to forgo his own happiness. However, it was not meant to be.

The ties between the two brothers was "disrupted". Each went their separate ways. They lived their separate lives and Baldy got richer by the day. However, this is not the end of the story.

A very captivating story. There are parts where the story is rather coarse and seems to be overly exaggerated. I kind of want to vomit when the author describe how Baldy's father died from peeking at women bottom.

The author put the Cultural Revolution in a different perspective. It's very refreshing to see it from the innocents boys eyes who thought nothing much of it while the adults fear for their lives.

However, the part after Baldy got rich and held the Virgin Contest was unrealistic.

Overall, I love the Baldy Li's character and disliked Lin Hong.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Adventures of Amir Hamza by Ghalib Lakhnavi & Abdullah Bilgrami


The story in this book is something like The Arabian Nights Tales.

Amir Hamza was born under a lucky star. He was destine to do great things and to be a great man. Helping him was Amar Ayyar, his best friend who is the world greatest trickster.  

Before Amir Hamza was born, it was written in the stars that he is destined to save Persian Emperor, Naushervan's crown.And that he did. But at the same time, he fell madly in love with Naushervan's daughter, Princess Mehr-Nigar.

However, there are those who are in the court of Emperor Naushevan who hates him. And they poisoned the Emperor's mind against him. Emperor Naushevan gave him many dangerous and near impossible task. Amir Hamza travelled far and wide accomplish those task. Through his journey, he was endlessly challenged by human, magical creatures, Djinns and demons. He managed to defeat them with the help of his best friend Amar. He welcomed those who are willing to convert to the True Faith of Islam and destroy those who don't. In between, he also met and loves many lovely females.

It's a really beautiful tale. The wordings were flowery and meaningful.

However, I think I would love it more if it's translated into the Malay language like what I've read in Hikayat Seribu Satu Malam.

In my opinion, the book should have been name The Adventures of Amar Ayyar because Amar seems to outshine Amir Hamza. I couldn't help laughing at the tricks he played on people and marvel at all his brilliant ideas.

To enjoy this book, it have to be read with and open mind. Please do not let the differences in religion to hinder the joy of reading it.

I am glad that I found this Hardcover copy at the Big Bad Wolf Sale last year at RM8 only. What a great bargain.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Big Dirt Nap by Rosemary Harris

This is the second Rosemary Harris book which I read. I love her Pushing Up Daisies. Got both books from The Big Bad Wolf Sale last year.

In this book, Paula Holiday gets to tag along with her friend Lucy to an all expenses paid trip the Titans Hotel. Lucy is there for a story while Paula is there to see the rare Titan Arum or better known as Corpse Flower( Rafflesia)

Unfortunately for her, she gets to "meet" with a real corpse instead while her friend Lucy went missing.

Nick, was a man whom she met in a Bar was found dead with Paula's name card in his pocket. Starting then, strange things starts to happen to her. She felt that she is being tailed and spied on. Her home was broken into.

Paula waited for Lucy at the hotel but Lucy never show up. Lucy sent her strange messages which makes Paula fear that something bad had happen to Lucy. She started to dig around and found that Nick's murder and Lucy disappearance seems to be linked.

This is a very fast paced book. A lot of clues and stuffs like that. There was an unexpected ending in the story. The murderer turns out to be someone who is least expected in the story.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler

Michael and Pauline met for the first time in his mother's grocery shop. Pauline was hurt and she was brought into the shop by her two girlfriends. Michael was attracted to her despite their different background.

Red hot romance blossomed. War is just around the corner. Michael volunteered to join the armed forces. It was one of those War time romance. Pretty soon they got married and settled down at the grocery store.

Not all were rosy. The babies came on after another. Sometimes they quarrel. Pauline was not satisfied with staying upstairs of the grocery store. Understandable that she wanted a home of their own.

A few years later, they managed to move to a home of their own at a better neighbourhood. And yet, things slowly came undone

Anne Tyler managed to capture the mood of that era in this book. It's easy to digest why they got married and things like that. Only when near the ending, things was a bit dull.

The one thing I don't like about this book is the font. It is very tiny and hard to read. Am not sure why the font is so tiny. Is it to save paper so that can cut cost in printing or if there are any other reason?

I bought this book solely because of Anne Tyler is such a good author and I often enjoy her books very much. Otherwise, I would not buy it at all due to the tiny fonts. If there are any authors out there reading this blog post, do consider the font when you intend to publish your book,