Monday, December 29, 2014

Review: The Secret Servant

The Secret Servant
The Secret Servant by Daniel Silva

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another great Allon novel from Daniel Silva. While the last novel in this series left me wanting a little more, this one hit all the right notes. It had all the usual features of a spy thriller and these were all well executed by Silva. I especially enjoyed the unexpected humor in the denouement. One thing that makes this series so interesting is the way Silva gets into the minds of Allon and his foes. The terrorists are rarely just evil caricatures; Silva gives space for acknowledging that some of their gripes are legitimate—while giving no quarter to their methods. He also shows you the psychic damage to Allon for being like his namesake, the angel of judgment. Killing, even when justified and necessary, leaves a mark. This novel, involving both the Americans and the British, highlights the ineptitude of the West in dealing with Islamic terrorism.

---Spoiler Alert---

Shamron is clearing dying; it'll be interesting to see what Silva does with Allon as he loses this guiding figure in his life. Also, I am curious to see how the marriage with Chiara plays out.

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Saturday, December 27, 2014

Review: The Blessing Of A Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children

The Blessing Of A Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children
The Blessing Of A Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children by Wendy Mogel

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I was disappointed in this book. I loved the title and the idea of it; it’s been on my ‘to-read’ list for a while. But it wasn’t really what I expected. Don’t get me wrong, there are many good and interesting ideas. Mogel connects worthwhile parental advice to Jewish wisdom and teaching. However, this connection seemed somewhat superficial. The parental advice is mostly conventional and typical of parenting books. The Jewish teachings often felt like an afterthought.

Two other aspects of the book led me to an overall negative review. First, Mogel is a clinical psychologist and uses her cases and experiences to illustrate her advice. That is fairly typical for books like this, but nonetheless, it is too anecdotal for me. I would have liked the anecdotes to be more grounded in some data.

Second, the religiousness of the book was surprising and put me off. Now, with a book with a subtitle of “Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children”, I shouldn’t have been surprised. But I was. As a secular Jew, I see the value of Jewish teachings without a lot of God-talk. I expected something more along the lines of using Talmudic teachings or other forms of Jewish wisdom to illustrate points. Mogel, though, goes beyond this towards advising particular religious practices as part of her parental advice. I don’t want to overplay this. Mogel wasn’t proselytizing or making constant references to God. This aspect was more subtle and something that I was more sensitive too.

There is some very good advice in these pages. In particular, her advice on the need to avoid overindulging and overprotect children is important and she offers some practical tips to help parents on this front. But overall, I am not comfortable recommending this book without the caveats about my concerns raised above.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Review: Wool Omnibus

Wool Omnibus
Wool Omnibus by Hugh Howey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wool is a creative and original post-apocalyptic dystopian work that is gripping, unpredictable, and thrilling. The story mainly takes place in the Silo: a self-contained, underground city of 150 stories. As far as the inhabitants know, this is the entirety of existence. Speaking of anything beyond this is prohibited. The why of this taboo and the existence of the Silo is slowly explained through the book's five parts.This mystery and the impact it has on the characters is the driving force of the story.

While there are plenty of ideas in play: freedom vs control; liberty vs security; facing uncomfortable truths vs ignorance is bliss; fate vs choice; justice vs the collective good; and the obvious allusion to Plato's Cave, these don't overpower the characters and the story. Like all great sci-fi, the characters are dealing in world that is in many ways distant from our own but still we know them and their concerns.

Howey is a great story teller; looking forward to reading much more of him.

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