Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Review: After Such Knowledge, What Forgiveness?: My Encounters with Kurdistan by Jonathan Randal

Synopsis: Throughout the Kurd’s history, world powers have promised to help them achieve autonomy, and each time the Kurds have been betrayed. But they are also maters of betrayal. In this book, Jonathan Randal takes us behind the headlines to the inner story of power politics in the Middle East. His sympathetic knowledge of Kurdish history and his unparalleled access to Kurdish leaders and to diplomats, ministers, intelligence agents, warriors, and journalists make him the only writer able to get this story for us and uncover the truth. (from the back of the book)

Review: After reading A Road Unforeseen: Women Fight the Islamic State by Meredith Tax, I wanted to continue my acquisition of knowledge on the Kurds. I’ve had Randal’s book in my library for at least a decade. No idea why but I’m glad I kept it through all the purges.
Randal actually traveled to Kurdistan, at great peril, several times, during the 90s. As a seasoned journalist for both the New York Times and the Washington Post, he undertook this adventure with a practiced eye for detail. It shows. His ability to get close to key players in the events of the 90s (including the Gulf War) make this story part-history, part-adventure story. Randal gives the reader a simple but thorough history of the Kurdish people, and includes, in no uncertain terms, the constant conflict, betrayals, and lost chances for autonomy. He doesn’t take sides. All players are equally to blame. The Kurds themselves are often both victim and perpetrator.  Randal is a clear, concise, and thorough writer, excellent for both the academic and the amateur.
My only regret is that this book was published in 1999 – and I’m interested in Randal’s thoughts on the current situations, nearly 20 years later. But, given he was in his 40s and 50s during this book, it is unlikely he would undertake the same journey  in his 70s. This is unfortunate, as his practice eye and experiences would bring to light stories we aren’t going to hear otherwise. While it doesn’t include current events, those events are directly related to what Randal describes in the book. And to understand the present condition of the Kurdish people, one must look to their past.
Recommended for anyone interested in some of the roots of the current condition in the Middle East, particularly those that pertain to the Kurdish situation, and the war in Syria. 

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 0-8133-3580-9
Year Published: 1999
Date Finished: 10-5-2016
Pages: 356

Monday, October 10, 2016

Review: A Road Unforeseen: Women Fight the Islamic State by Meredith Tax

Synopsis: In war-torn northern Syria, a democratic society—based on secularism, ethnic inclusiveness, and gender equality—has won significant victories against the Islamic State, or Daesh, with women on the front lines as fierce warriors and leaders. A Road Unforeseen recounts the dramatic, underreported history of the Rojava Kurds, whose all-women militia was instrumental in the perilous mountaintop rescue of tens of thousands of civilians besieged in Iraq. Up to that point, the Islamic State had seemed invincible. Yet these women helped vanquish them, bringing the first half of the refugees to safety within twenty-four hours. Who are the revolutionary women of Rojava and what lessons can we learn from their heroic story? How does their political philosophy differ from that of Iraqi Kurdistan, the Islamic State, and Turkey? And will the politics of the twenty-first century be shaped by the opposition between these political models? (from the online description)

Review: I originally learned of the Kurdish female military from a BBC special. They fascinated me. So when this book presented itself, I eagerly requested to read it.
I was disappointed. But I’ll get to why in a moment. First, the parts of Tax’s writing that are excellent. This is a thoroughly researched history of the Kurds, starting with their origins and ending with the events that took place in the summer of 2016. With exquisite detail, she takes the reader through the intricate and delicate tides of the Middle East, the constant betrayals, the shifting alliances, the war, the death, and the meddling by outside forces. Tax clearly has an analytical mind and a passion to see the story of the Kurds told to the world.  
Here is why it was disappointing: for a book about women fighting the Islamic State, there is so little about these brave women. Tax includes minute vignettes about women who resisted, women who engaged in the politics, and women in the military hierarchy and political counsels, and pays particular attention to the Rojava, a governmental system created and run by an egalitarian mix of men and women. But large tracts of the book deal nothing with them, but rattle on about the men and nations surrounding them. The book includes limited information about how they function in the military, their life, journeys, training, and families – but no details.  Perhaps because there is so little out there – plausible because there is little about women’s experience in general  but even less about women in the Middle East, and of Middle Eastern women, the Kurds are some of the least represented and least contacted group in the region. But to have so little about women in a book dedicated to that subject is misleading.
One of the main complaints about history books is how the leave out the female contribution. While Tax’s book is not a history of the Kurdish female military, it is a complete history of the Kurds, because it includes the female experience.  This is a complete experience. This book should not advertise itself as a book about women in the Kurdish military – but as a current history on the plight of the Kurds. If I were going to teach a class on the condition of the Kurdish people, this is text I would choose. But not for a class on women in the Kurdish nation – it simple doesn’t focus on them enough to qualify. 

Note: I received this book free through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer Program in exchange for my fair and honest opinion.

Bookmarks: 6 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-1-942658-10-8
Year Published: 2016
Date Finished: 10-4-2016
Pages: 321

Friday, October 7, 2016

Review: Tozer on the Almight God: A 366-Day Devotional compiled by Ron Eggert

Synopsis: These excerpts from A.W. Tozer's prolific pen reflect Tozer's hunger for God. There are 366 daily devotions encouraging the reader to trust, obey and especially worship our almighty God. Scripture references and prayers have been added to each passage. Reference codes represent the name of the book and the page from which the quote was taken. (from the online description)

Review: After discovering Tozer in early high-school, I continued to read him voraciously. Reading this each morning, along with my Bible, helped me grow, spiritually. Tozer’s insight, instruction, and admonishments for our relationship with God proved singularly encouraging.  

Ron Eggert pulled these devotionals from many of Tozer’s writings, including some of his lesser known workers. Ranging in subject from worship to the Holy Spirit to daily discipleship, Eggert chose a wide selection of Tozer’s instructions. Each devotion starts with a small verse, and ends with a short prayer. There is also a legend at the back of the book that tells you from which of Tozer’s writings the lessons come.
As for Tozer’s writings, he writes with a blend of firm reproof, exhortation, and wisdom. He is both gentle in his encouragement and absolute in his reproach. Tozer’s writings are excellent for self-improvement, profitable for your spiritual life.
I highly recommend this, and any of Tozer’s works. 

Bookmarks: 9 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 0-87509-972-6

Year Published: 2004
Date Finished: 10-3-2016
Pages: 375

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Review: The Divine Hours (Complete Year) by Phyllis Tickle

Synopsis: The Divine Hours is the first major literary and liturgical reworking of the sixth-century Benedictine Rule of fixed-hour prayer. This beautifully conceived and thoroughly modern three-volume guide will appeal to the theological novice as well as to the ecclesiastical sophisticate. Making primary use of the Book of Common Prayer and the writings of the Church Fathers, The Divine Hours is also a companion to the New Jerusalem Bible, from which it draws its Scripture readings. The trilogy blends prayer and praise in a way that, while extraordinarily fresh, respects and builds upon the ancient wisdom of Christianity. (from the online description)

Review: C.S. Lewis once remarked that there was a general distrust, particularly by Protestants, of fixed, repetitive prayer. It was claimed they violated the scripture in Matthew 6, in which Jesus admonishes his listeners to not engage in “meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.” The fixed-prayer cycle of The Divine Hours may seem like that to the prejudiced mind. But Lewis, in the Screwtape Letters, speaks of the parrot babbles we did as a child, as if repeating a prayer is a childish thing, and the truly spiritual compose only spontaneous prayers. For me, spontaneous prayers are a disaster for a mind as prone to meander as mine. It is quite impossible for me to pray longer than twenty seconds without straying to thoughts all together unholy. Hence my need for an anchor, a corral, a hemmed in path for my mind to pray along, so as not to get lost.
This trilogy is just that sort of thing. Phyllis Tickle has taken the Book of Common Prayer and laid it out so those of use who find the actually book daunting may still unitlize this excellent tool. There is a minor amount of uncertainty when first starting as to the dates, but once you start, the dates settle into a rhythm. There are four times of prayer: Morning, Mid-Day, Vespers, and Night. The prayers themselves are mostly scripture Psalms with other readings added occasionally. The Vespers prayer has a hymn or piece of poetry and the Night Office usually has writings by universally acknowledge Saints of God.
I highly recommend The Divine Hours. Praying this will encourage you, guide you, deepen your relationship with God, and give you structure and peace. It is an excellent tool for those who wish to improve their prayer life but are uncertain how or where to begin. Even those who have been Christians for many years will benefit from the act of praying the scriptures.

Bookmarks: 8 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-0-385-50540-6 / 978-0-385-50557-4 / 978-0-385-50476-8
Year Published: 2000 / 2001 / 2000
Date Finished: 10-1-2016
Pages: 661 / 670 / 647

Monday, October 3, 2016

Review: Miss Brooks Loves Books! (And I Don't) by Barbara Bottner, Illustrated by Michael Emberley

Synopsis: With the help of Miss Brooks, Missy’s classmates all find books they love in the library—books about fairies and dogs and trains and cowboys. But Missy dismisses them all—“Too flowery, too furry, too clickety, too yippity.” Still, Miss Brooks remains undaunted. Book Week is here and Missy will find a book to love if they have to empty the entire library. What story will finally win over this beastly, er, discriminating child? William Steig’s Shrek!—the tale of a repulsive green ogre in search of a revolting bride—of course! (online description)

Review: What a delightful book! As a book lover, I’m often the “Miss Brooks”  and share her enthusiasm and relentless determination to find “the book” that will turn the non-reader into a reader. It was enchanting to read from the “non-readers” point of view and the share that moment when she found the book that fired her mind! An excellent book for school kids – readers and non-readers alike. But perhaps more so for the reader to understand how to assist their friends find books and how to share their love of reading with those who may not be as enthusiastic.
Bookmarks: 8 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-0-375-84682-3
Year Published: 2010
Date Finished: 9-30-2016
Pages: 16

Friday, September 30, 2016

Review: Clean Food: A Seasonal Guide to Eating Close to the Source by Terry Walters

Synopsis: Clean Food is a feast for the senses that will nourish mind, body, and soul--and this revised edition offers lovers of fresh, seasonal vegan fare even more than before. In addition to all-new color photographs and 20 entirely new recipes, acclaimed chef and nutritionist Terry Walters has updated the dishes to feature today's most healthful ingredients. Now, for example, virgin coconut oil substitutes for canola oil and maple syrup replaces agave nectar as a sweetener. In addition, those going gluten-free will find recipe variations throughout the book to meet their needs. (online description)

Review: This is a comprehensive book that has non-meat recipes, organized by season. It begins with her over-all approach to eating, which extols clean food (i.e. no processed foods), and in particular, eating only those vegetables in season. Under the section on Basics, she goes into detail about ever ingredient that she uses - herbs, vegetables, oils, nuts - writing about where they originated from, how they are used, and where to find them. Her recipes are easy-to-read and easy to follow. The recipes themselves are excellent, with lots of diverse flavors.
But here is my main issues - while there is plenty of scientific evidence that proves eating less processed foods is healthier, some of her other assertions have no scientific bases at all. She makes several firm assertions against animal protein and several about fat that are simply wrong. The science is shoddy at best. According to the back of the book, she is educated, but none of the institutions mentions seem to be those that concern themselves with hard science. Not a fan.
But I am going to keep the book for the recipes. Even we carnivores need side dishes. 

Bookmarks: 6 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-1-4027-6814-9
Year Published: 2007
Date Finished: 9-11-2016
Pages: 290

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Review: At the Edge of the World by Kari Jones

Synopsis: Maddie and Ivan have been friends forever. They go to school together, surf, party, and hang out all the time. But all is not well in Ivan's world, and as control of his life slips further away from him, Maddie must decide what her role in his life really is.

Review: Kari Jones’ At the Edge of the World is a young adult book that centers on the relationship between Maddie and Ivan. Maddie lives with her parents in a house by the sea, somewhere in Canada. Her best friend, Ivan, lives next door. Ivan’s father is an alcoholic, and Ivan works to conceal the extent of his father’s addiction. As the story progresses, Maddie learns all the thing Ivan is concealing and struggles to decide how to support Ivan best – to protect his secrets or the tell for Ivan can get help.
I admire Jones for tackling a subject like how the addictions of the parents can affect the child. And she handles it well.
However this doesn’t really redeem the story from the issues.
The characters have little depth and the issues they face (other than Ivan) seem trite. For example, Maddie gets into a prestigious art school with a scholarship but complains about going. I find this ridiculous and annoying. And this is probably because I haven’t been a teenager for twenty years, and there is a reality to it. Teenagers rarely understand the blessing they have. This is a “big deal” for Maddie, as her parents want her to attend, but she resists.
The story is a slow, aside from a few moments of contrived excitement – like a shed fire and a missing parent and a big party.
One bright point is Maddie’s parents. They are two men, and I appreciate that this isn’t even mentioned as part of the story. In the tale, they are just  her parents.
Kari Jones shows promise as an author, and I expect as she writes more, the issues I have with this book will be corrected. 

Note: I received this book free through LibraryThing's Early Review Program, in exchange for my fair and honest opinion.

Bookmarks: 6 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-1-459810-624
Year Published: 2016
Date Finished: 9-8-16
Pages: 243