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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Review: Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS by Joby Warrick

Title: Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS
Author: Joby Warrick
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Doubleday
Publish Date: September 29, 2015
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "When he succeeded his father in 1999, King Abdullah of Jordan released a batch of political prisoners in the hopes of smoothing his transition to power. Little did he know that among those released was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a man who would go on to become a terrorist mastermind too dangerous even for al-Qaeda and give rise to an Islamist movement bent on dominating the Middle East.

     Zarqawi began by directing hotel bombings and assassinations in Jordan from a base in northern Iraq, but it was the American invasion of that country in 2003 that catapulted him to the head of a vast insurgency. By identifying him as the link between Saddam and bin Laden, the CIA inadvertently created a monster. Like-minded radicals saw him as a hero resisting the infidel occupiers and rallied to his cause. Their wave of brutal beheadings and suicide bombings continued for years until Jordanian intelligence provided the Americans with the crucial intelligence needed to eliminate Zarqawi in a 2006 airstrike.

     But his movement endured, first called al-Qaeda in Iraq, then renamed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, seeking refuge in unstable, ungoverned pockets on the Iraq-Syria border. And as the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011, ISIS seized its chance to pursue Zarqawi's dream of a sweeping, ultra-conservative Islamic caliphate. 

     Drawing on unique access to CIA and Jordanian sources, Joby Warrick weaves together heart-pounding, moment-by-moment operational details with overarching historical perspectives to reveal the long trajectory of today's most dangerous Islamic extremist threat."

My Two Cents: 

"Black Flags" is a fantastic book that explores the origins of ISIS/ ISIL/ da'esh (choose your fave) and why and how the group has become such a force for evil throughout the world. If you paid any attention to this past election cycle in the United States, you couldn't go but a minute for without hearing something about ISIS. The terrorist group is one of the number one threats (if not the number one threat) causing disruption throughout the entire world. This book explores how ISIS came to be and especially focuses on Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, one of the masterminds of the organization.

This is such an important read in order to understand how this group came to be and why it is so difficult to combat them. I thought that the author did a really good job of explaining the situation to people who may not think about current events so much as well is giving new information and insight to those who follow current events very closely. Especially in the political climate of today, books like this are so important to thoroughly read in order to understand what is going on and what we are facing in the broader scope of the world. This book has a ton of detail and I thought the author did a good job of making information accessible to everyone. This is definitely an important read and a well-done one at that!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day!

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day here in the United States! In honor of the day, I wanted to share some of my favorite MLK quotes!

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” 

“Faith is taking the first step even when you can't see the whole staircase.”  

“If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” 

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

Do you have any favorite MLK quotes?

Friday, January 13, 2017

Review: Matilda by Roald Dahl

Title: Matilda
Author: Roald Dahl
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Puffin
Publish Date: 1988
Source: Owned (finally!)

What's the Story?:

From "Matilda is a little girl who is far too good to be true. At age five-and-a-half she's knocking off double-digit multiplication problems and blitz-reading Dickens. Even more remarkably, her classmates love her even though she's a super-nerd and the teacher's pet. But everything is not perfect in Matilda's world. For starters she has two of the most idiotic, self-centered parents who ever lived. Then there's the large, busty nightmare of a school principal, Mrs. ("The") Trunchbull, a former hammer-throwing champion who flings children at will and is approximately as sympathetic as a bulldozer. Fortunately for Matilda, she has the inner resources to deal with such annoyances: astonishing intelligence, saintly patience, and an innate predilection for revenge.

She warms up with some practical jokes aimed at her hapless parents, but the true test comes when she rallies in defense of her teacher, the sweet Miss Honey, against the diabolical Trunchbull. There is never any doubt that Matilda will carry the day. Even so, this wonderful story is far from predictable. Roald Dahl, while keeping the plot moving imaginatively, also has an unerring ear for emotional truth. The reader cares about Matilda because in addition to all her other gifts, she has real feelings."

My Two Cents:

One of the best things about being an adult is that I can buy all of the books I want. Okay, maybe not all of the books because there would just not be room for my family and I if I bought ALL OF THE BOOKS but I can buy my favorites from the different seasons of my life. Growing up, I was lucky enough that my dad would take me to the library whenever I wanted. One of the books that I checked out countless times was Matilda by one of my favorite authors, Roald Dahl.

If you're a book lover, this book will resonate with you, even if you are an adult. Matilda is a book lovers' character. She breathes books. She believes in the power of books to change her life and they definitely do. I loved her as a child for many of the same reasons that I love her now. She is secure in her own power even with her family constantly telling her that she's worthless because she speaks her mind and is interested in more than just "watching the telly." She isn't afraid to be different and she believes in herself. She's a great, strong character and one that has stood the test of time.

Roald Dahl is still one of my favorite authors. His books, including Matilda, are incredibly inventive and entertaining. I love how vivid his characters are. He knows how to write in such a way to get kids to want to read and to be interested in what is happening to the characters throughout the book. Not only is our main character, Matilda, amazing but it's hard to forget secondary characters like Miss Honey and The Trunchbull. This was such a fun re-read for me!


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Leaving for Las Vegas! Help!

I feel bad complaining about the cold since it's going to be really warm here in the DMV by the end of the week. I am counting down the days until I can hop a plane and go to Las Vegas this weekend with the Husband. This will be the first real vacation that we've had since having our girls. This will also be my first time in Las Vegas and I always love exploring new places!

Now Las Vegas has never been high on my places-to-travel list. I am not a big gambler. I have nothing against it but I only really know how to play blackjack and slot machines feel a little boring to me. We are going out to support my best friend and her husband as they officially launch their company. I'm sure we'll have a good time!

So I need help! What should we do in Las Vegas? Have any of you ever been? What are some of your not-to-be-missed sights?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Review: A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna Raybourn

Title: A Perilous Undertaking
Author: Deanna Raybourn
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Berkley Books
Publish Date: January 10, 2017 (Today!)
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Veronica Speedwell returns in a brand new adventure from Deanna Raybourn, the New York Times bestselling author of the Lady Julia Grey mysteries...

London, 1887 . . Victorian adventuress and butterfly hunter Veronica Speedwell receives an invitation to visit the Curiosity Club, a ladies-only establishment for daring and intrepid women. There she meets the mysterious Lady Sundridge, who begs her to take on an impossible task saving society art patron Miles Ramsforth from execution. Accused of the brutal murder of his artist mistress Artemisia, Ramsforth will face the hangman's noose in a week s time if Veronica cannot find the real killer.

But Lady Sundridge is not all that she seems and unmasking her true identity is only the first of the many secrets Veronica must uncover. Together with her natural historian colleague Stoker, Veronica races against time to find the true murderer a ruthless villain who not only took Artemisia s life in cold blood but is happy to see Ramsforth hang for the crime."

My Two Cents:

"A Perilous Undertaking" is the second book in the Veronica Speedwell series by Deanna Raybourn. I loved the first book in the series and was very excited to get back to Veronica's adventures in Victorian England. I was not disappointed with this book! While this book can largely be read as a standalone, I wholeheartedly recommend reading the first book as it is a good one. Also, it'll give you greater insight into Veronica and some of the other characters in the book.

Veronica is such a good heroine. She is whip smart and funny throughout the book. She uses her wits to solve the mystery at the center of the book. Lady Sundridge wants Miles exonerated and Veronica is down for the job and will find satisfaction simply solving the mystery. However, Veronica also wants to figure out more about Lady Sundridge and whether or not she holds the key to shedding light on exactly where Veronica came from. I really liked following Veronica and Stoker as they solve the mystery. They have a great banter that kept me entertained.

In this book, we get more insight into her character and where she came from. Since she is the product of an illicit relationship, her full origin is still shrouded in a good bit of mystery. We also find out more about Stoker and why he doesn't have the warmest relationship with his family. I really liked how the author built the characters with a bit more detail in this book. It made me feel more in tune with them. I am anxious to see what future books hold for these characters!


Monday, January 9, 2017

2017 Reading Challenges

Every turn of the year, I try to make some reading resolutions for the upcoming year. When I started thinking about 2017, one thing that kept coming up for me is that I wanted to read a little more out of my comfort zone and I wanted to push myself a little further. I came up with several challenges that I want to really push myself with.

Here they are:
And as always, I'm on a quest to read more of my own books. I did terribly with this last year but 2017 is a new year, no? So here I go again!

To keep me honest (and on track), I will be posting updates on my progress at the beginning of each new month. I am hoping that this will help me be a little more successful than I was last year!

Are you participating in any book challenges for 2017?

Friday, January 6, 2017

Review: Flying Lessons and Other Stories by Ellen Oh (Editor), Sherman Alexie, Jacqueline Woodson, Kwame Alexander, Walter Dean Myers, Meg Medina, Tim Tingle, Kelly J. Baptist, Soman Chainani, Matt de la Pena, Tim Federle, Grace Lin

Title: Flying Lessons and Other Stories
Authors:  Ellen Oh (Editor), Sherman Alexie, Jacqueline Woodson, Kwame Alexander, Walter Dean Myers, Meg Medina, Tim Tingle, Kelly J. Baptist, Soman Chainani, Matt de la Pena, Tim Federle, Grace Lin
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers
Publish Date: January 3, 2017
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?

From "Whether it is basketball dreams, family fiascos, first crushes, or new neighborhoods, this bold anthology—written by the best children’s authors—celebrates the uniqueness and universality in all of us.

In a partnership with We Need Diverse Books, industry giants Kwame Alexander, Soman Chainani, Matt de la Peña, Tim Federle, Grace Lin, Meg Medina, Walter Dean Myers, Tim Tingle, and Jacqueline Woodson join newcomer Kelly J. Baptist in a story collection that is as humorous as it is heartfelt. This impressive group of authors has earned among them every major award in children’s publishing and popularity as New York Times bestsellers.

From these distinguished authors come ten distinct and vibrant stories."

My Two Cents:

One of the things that initially got me into reading as a youngster was the ability that books had to let me see through new eyes and walk that proverbial mile in someone else's shoes. I think it is so important for everyone but for children and teenagers to have access to a wide variety of books that reflect all different walks of life and experience. That is just one reason that I am such a big supporter of the "We Need Diverse Books" movement. It's an important step forward for the book industry and I'm happy to see anthologies like this come out to take the movement forward!

If you read middle grade fiction, it is easy to see that the line up of authors included in the book is truly a powerhouse. Each author brings their own unique voice to the collection. I had two favorite stories in the book. First, I loved the story about a boy who finds a fantastical story that his father secretly wrote about the boy and the boy takes the idea and turns it into a story for a story contest. My other favorite was about a boy who gets dragged to Europe by his crazy grandmother and discovers how to break out of his shell.

There is a lot to love about this collection. All of the stories are incredibly different and will introduce readers to memorable characters. If you don't know some of these authors already, it will also introduce you to some of the brightest voices in middle grade fiction today. This is a great collection and one that I know that I will be recommending a lot. It would make a great gift for the middle graders in your life.

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