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text 2017-03-06 12:17
Reading progress update: I've read 96 out of 400 pages.
The Great War and the Middle East - Rob Johnson

I'm reading this right now to review it for a publication so I won't be able to post a review here, but so far it's proving quite good. I've long been disappointed by the lack of a really good history of the First World War in the Middle East. This book seems to finally fit that bill; though it's far from a definitive account, Johnson provides a good analytical overview of events, including aspects of the war (such as German efforts to stir up Islamic revolution in Iran and Afghanistan) that have only been mentioned in passing elsewhere.

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review 2017-01-10 12:59
The Twelve Tasks of the Festive Season -- Bonus Entry
Der Weltensammler - Ilija Trojanow
Collector of Worlds, the - Ilija Trojanow

I blacked out my card on Dec. 19 using the "activity" entry for the Kwanzaa square, but since thereafter I did read a book set (partially) in Africa, too, here's my "bonus entry" post ... sorry for reporting in belatedly; blame it on BookLikes posting issues and a surfeit of things going on all at the same time in my life at present. :(


Not that it still seems to matter greatly to begin with, alas ... (sigh).


Der Weltensammler (The Collector of Worlds) is a novelized biography of 19th century polymath and explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton, who traveled widely in India, the Middle East and Africa, visiting Mecca (disguised as an Arab) and seeking -- partially successfully, though he didn't know it -- the source of the Nile (he did make it to Lake Victoria, but failed to confirm that the Nile actually does originate from there).  He is best remembered today for his translation of The 1001 Nights.


Interesting, though quite obviously largely fictitious insights into a fascinating life, and a voyage back through time to the Orient, Africa, and British Empire of the 19th century.


Snow Globes: Reads
Bells: Activities


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review 2017-01-07 23:39
NeoConservatism: Why We Need It - Douglas Murray

I have a great deal of respect for Douglas Murray. He is a confident and passionate speaker. The positions that he takes are often, shall we say, unpopular. Yet this does not deter him from putting forward his arguments. There are probably many areas where I would disagree with him, but I think it's important to get a range of opinions from across the political spectrum in pursuance of growth and learning, so I picked up his book on a controversial topic.


Neoconservatism is one of those blanket political terms most often associated with those that believe the Iraq War was the correct thing to do and that the correct path for American foreign policy is to pursue the spreading of liberty and democracy to as many nations as possible in order to protect freedom in the US. It is in some ways a product of the Cold War and the idea of the need to shield the free world from the advances of the Soviet Union and its totalitarian nature.


Other than a few core beliefs there doesn't seem to be much in the way of commonality between the people branded neocons. Murray attempts to underpin the roots of the concept and then document how it developed. He believes that it is often misunderstood or misrepresented in mainstream politics. The term has become, as a consequence of the highly-charged nature of the Iraq war, a vague, derogatory word to label those that defended the war and it is perhaps not surprising in 2016, given that in mainstream media and political opinion the war is roundly regarded as a catastrophe. 


Snippets of the book are useful for understanding what neocons roughly believe in, however the scope of that task proves too much for Murray in a mere 223 pages. For such a short book there are too many sections that just don't deliver the punches that I have come to expect from a man of Murray's intellect. When he does get some momentum going it ends up short lived because he moves onto another area and in the end a book that wishes to convince the reader of the need for this philosophy ends up a little bit thin on the ground. I can't help but feel unsatisfied. 

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review 2016-12-18 20:46
The Way Home by Cindy Gerard
The Way Home by Gerard, Cindy (2013) Hardcover - Cindy Gerard

Killed in Action—the most dreaded words imaginable for a soldier’s wife. Jess Albert has been living with them for four years, since the death of her husband in Afghanistan. Finding blessed numbness in routine, she doesn’t dare to look ahead, any more than she can bear to look back. Then Tyler Brown, a former special-ops warrior, shows up at her small general store in Minnesota North Woods, jarring her back to life. Jess knows better than to fall in love with another man who places duty to his country before love of his wife—but there’s no denying the longing and the hope for a future that Ty makes her feel. A world away, a lost American soldier clings to life and sanity in a lantern-lit cave. At his side is a dark-haired and dark-eyed woman whose touch is caring, despite the resentment he hears in her voice and sees on her face. But is it honor igniting her compassion for her enemy, or is it something more? A heartwarming, richly emotional, action-packed story about homecomings, The Way Home follows two women on opposite sides of the world. While they both walk a dangerous path between betrayal and honor, they each must find for themselves where to draw the line between duty and love.





Jess Albert has spent the last four years believing her husband was killed in action in Afghanistan. She's since buried herself in work as the owner and operator of a small general store in Lake Kabetogama, Minnesota. Just as she feels like she's starting to settle halfway comfortably into widowhood, back into her life walks someone else from her past -- Tyler Brown, a former special ops officer who met Jess when she assisted with a mission some years ago. Tyler was quite taken with her then, promised to look her up one day but never came back... until now. While Jess does feel an intense pull toward Tyler, she still has some unresolved feelings about her husband. Tyler approaches the tricky situation with patience and gentleness, eventually getting Jess to warm up to him. It then doesn't take too long for things between them to progress significantly, and just when they start throwing around the idea of marriage, that's just when news arrives that Jess's husband might not be dead after all.


The novel for the most part is split in two parts. That of Jess trying to re-start her life in MN, soon getting involved with Tyler, and then the story of Jess's husband, J.R., in Afghanistan. The US military officially but mistakenly declared J.R. dead. In fact, he was still very much alive, taken as a POW but finding enough strength to escape captivity. But now he finds himself falling in and out of consciousness, being nursed back to health by a Muslim woman, Rabia, and her father, who have been hiding J.R. in a cave. As J.R.'s basic health starts to return to him, he finds he has no memory of anything prior to his mission in Afghanistan -- no memories of Jess, his childhood, nothing. What he clings to is the affection that he starts to feel for the quiet, mysterious Rabia, whom he realizes has risked her life and the life of her father to keep J.R. safe. But why, he wonders?


To be honest, I was pulled into this book mostly by the cover, thinking it'd be a heartwarming story about a military man making it home for the holidays. Turns out this is actually Book 2 in Cindy Gerard's One-Eyed Jack series and the holiday season, while present at one point, actually doesn't play a big role in the plot here.

I haven't read anything else in the One-Eyed Jack series but had no issues enjoying this book as a standalone work.  I've seen a mountain of 4 and 5 star reviews for this book, so I guess I'm going to have to be in the minority but I just found it a decent 3 star read. It had its moments I liked but mostly I found the writing to be largely generic in terms of romance, underdeveloped plot and over-the-top characters who were laughably superhero level perfect. Except that I will give props to Gerard for actually writing a romance around a guy that's not necessarily built like a super huge linebacker! While there are plenty of passages describing how hot Tyler is, I did catch something that puts his height in the 5'8-5'9 range. Me personally, I'm one of those ones who likes trees to climb, but I liked that the under 6ft boys got some representation :-) 


I also liked the comedic lightness Jess's friend / employee Kayla brought to the plot, even if she sometimes made me cringe-laugh with her cutesy nicknames she would use to reference Tyler, like "Commando Cutie".


I think I would have gotten bored with the Jess / Tyler story pretty quickly had it not been for Gerard mixing things up and periodically taking the reader over to Afghanistan to look in on J.R. and Rabia. While I wasn't all that impressed with J.R. as a character (particularly after some of his backstory gets revealed), I did find Rabia's story as a whole having its compelling moments, I was just bummed she was not given more time in the plot. Getting to know her world a bit better could've led to opportunity for a pretty moving reading experience, but most of her screen time seemed to be dedicated to stripping down under the stars with J.R. Once or twice, okay, but over and over and over again with nearly the same conversation afterward each time? Yawn. 

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review 2016-12-07 21:09
One Small Donkey by Dandi Daley Mackall, illustrated by Marta Alvarez Miguens
One Small Donkey - Dandi Daley Mackall,Marta Alvarez Miguens

Your family will love this heartwarming Christmas story told from an unlikely perspective: a donkey carrying Mary to Bethlehem. Though the donkey wasn’t the biggest, fastest, or strongest of all the animals, he had an important job all the same. Adults and children alike will love the message about how God has big plans for little ones.





This children's story opens with -- say it with me now -- one small donkey! Our adorable donkey protagonist is grazing on a hill,  enjoying some fine weather, when he spots two big, gorgeous horses with flowing manes coming his way. Donkey admires their strength and beauty and wishes he could claim the same qualities for himself. Alas, he finds himself of slight size and noticeable clumsiness. He also struggles with speed. But little does he know, HE has been chosen for a very important task and will soon be a key player in every future retelling of the Nativity story ever. This particular donkey will be responsible for carrying a very pregnant Virgin Mary to Bethlehem so she may birth the Baby Jesus. Not too shabby for this wee donkey!  


Admittedly, the biggest pull for me with this board book was the undeniably adorable (and beautifully colored!) illustrations. Illustrator Marta Miguens does a fantastic job bringing real personality to the story's starring mule! But aside from the illustrations, I think this little book offers a great way for parents to share the Nativity story with their youngest readers without overwhelming them with too many details at once. While the basics of the familiar tale are all touched upon, very small readers will enjoy the focus on all the livestock characters that typically take a backseat in more grown up tellings of this Christmas legend. Additionally, this story provides an important message to young readers that everyone has innate gifts that can help better the lives of others, even if those gifts are not always immediately recognizable. Life has a way of calling on those gifts when most needed, even if it seems to take months or years. But when called upon, the person often sees that no one could have helped quite like they were able to! 


I've come across some reviews that mentioned the wording at times being clunky, throwing off the flow of the rhymes. I didn't notice it myself at first but after seeing such reviews I did another read-through and sure enough, a few pages near the story's end do have a few awkwardly phrases lines. Now seeing that, I would recommend adult readers to do a silent read through or two before sharing with your child, just to get a feel for where to put the vocal pauses. 



FTC DISCLAIMER: BookLookBloggers.com and Thomas Nelson Publishers kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

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