The Jerusalem Assassin–deadly peace proposal

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The Jerusalem Assassin

by Joel C. Rosenberg

The Jerusalem AssassinNot every book is a good match for every reader. I think that may have been the case for me and Joel C. Rosenberg’s The Jerusalem Assassin which is a Christian political thriller. Most of this book is the setup for a very convoluted assassination plot involving groups of high level leaders and secret operatives from seven countries as well as a terrorist group.

It becomes apparent to world leaders that the president of the Palestinian Authority “doesn’t want to go down in history as the man who made peace. He wants to be remembered as the man who refused to surrender to the ‘criminal Zionists’…” In response, the leaders of the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Israel decide to meet on the Temple Mount and announce a peace proposal. Unfortunately, that opens the door for a targeted attack on the leaders of those countries.

Without the included Cast of Characters, I would have been lost. Instead, I was able to follow plot development by continual back and forth referencing of unfamiliar names, slowing the reading down considerably. I can’t say I actually enjoyed the book until the final fourth when the action played out.

The main character is Marcus Ryker who is ostensibly working for the Diplomatic Security Service, but is actually a special operative for the Central Intelligence Agency. Highly trained, efficient, and trusted, he uses his many connections to obtain critical information. He is a caring Christian, but his job puts him and those he loves in danger. I learned a lot about the daily physical and weapon training for agents and also the complicated logistics involved in setting up security for a U.S. president for a special event abroad.

Although the scenario of world conflict and years of attempts at a Middle East peace settlement are real, the details of the book’s plot and the people involved are fictional providing the author with much flexibility in creating his story. The results are deadly for many of the characters.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Tyndale House Publishers for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 3/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Mystery and Thriller

Notes: 1. #3 in the Marcus Ryker Series, but this book did not appear to rely on very much background from other books. 

  2. This author has written many books, both fiction and nonfiction, that focus on the Middle East.

Publication:   March 17, 2020—Tyndale House Publishers

Memorable Lines:

They were coming, and he knew they were coming, and he knew why—they were coming to kill him and to kill the president and to kill anyone else who got in their way. They were coming to settle scores.

…he and his son-in-law “must have undergone a Vulcan mind meld at some point, so unified are their views on theology and politics and even where in the Old City to buy the best baklava.”

Mahdi, the long-awaited Promised One…when that savior came, he would finally judge the Jews, the Christians, the atheists, the agnostics, and the pagans. Indeed, the Mahdi would judge every infidel and do so with fire and fury such as the world had never seen nor imagined.

In the Land of Blue Burqas–eye opening view of the women behind the blue veils

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In the Land of Blue Burqas

by Kate McCord

What would it be like to live in a country where the language, religion, and culture are extremely different from your own, a country like Afghanistan? Kate McCord raised support from friends and embarked on what was destined to be a five year adventure as a project manager, arranging for and supervising programs to help the local people. In the process, she found ways to interact within the cultural norms which, if violated, could result in penalties including physical abuse, expulsion, or execution. 

Although she could not openly evangelize, she spent much time there having tea with women, and sometimes men, sharing stories to illustrate the teachings of the Honorable Jesus who is regarded as a prophet in Islam. Those stories included parables Jesus himself shared with His followers. In recounting tales they could relate to and by the way she lived her life, Kate was able to show her Muslim neighbors and friends a God who loves them, unlike Allah, who is never associated with love. Allah’s followers obey him according to the interpretations of the local mullah in a most legalistic fashion.

Kate spent time learning the language and culture. Led by the Holy Spirit, she developed culturally sensitive ways to share difficult concepts like the Trinity. She lived as an Afghan woman, learning clothing requirements and social rules such as where to sit on a bus and when to make eye contact. Clearly a foreigner with her own religion, she adapted their customs to her own in a way that respected both traditions. Kate faced challenges in deciding whom to help in the most culturally appropriate way and looked to the locals to ascertain their attitudes toward individuals seeking aid. Knowing she could not revolutionize a society in which none of her many female friends said their husband had never beaten them, she nevertheless planted seeds of generosity, good attitudes, and kindness which helped the women in their relationships as well as showed them a side of the Honorable Jesus that they did not know thus drawing them to Him.

In the Land of Blue Burqas is the canvas on which Kate McCord paints a remarkably positive picture of Afghanistan and its citizens in spite of their dislike of most foreigners and regardless of the many brutal aspects of their culture.  I came away with a clearer understanding of why the country vehemently resists change and is so hostile to non-Muslims. I also emerge from this enlightening book grateful that I live in a country where I am free to choose to worship a loving God.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Evangelism, Christian Missions

Notes: I had a difficult time choosing the memorable lines I wanted to share. Sound bites and even longer quotes don’t do this story justice. I urge you to read the book to get a more complete understanding. It is a fascinating read. It also stimulates me to want to read about how Islam plays out in other countries.

Publication:   May 1, 2012—Moody Publishing

Memorable Lines:

Still, my greatest fear in the country has always been that I would be kidnapped and sold to some warlord as a fourth or fifth wife, relegated to household and sexual slavery behind a twelve-foot, mud-brick wall and locked gate. Even the mildest stories of Afghan women’s lives haunt me.

Our very presence challenges the power of the mullahs and the worldview of our neighbors. It’s one thing to hate and reject the voiceless, faceless masses of pig-eating, alcohol-drinking sons of Satan from the other side of the world—mythic caricatures interpreted by the mullahs through history and religion. 

But we Christian foreigners are flesh and blood with eyes and voices, laughter and tears, stories and faith. When Afghans meet us, see our lives, hear our stories, and recognize our humanness, conflicting worldviews collide. The safe box of well-defined ideological fortress-orthodoxy trembles, walls collapse, and doors open.

Montana Welcome–runaway bride and a cowboy

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Montana Welcome

by Melinda Curtis

Lily Harrison loves adventure, and she has had plenty of them since she met daredevil Danny Belmonte at the age of seven. They remain steadfast best friends through good times and bad, including long term damage to Lily’s hands. But is friendship enough to take them to the wedding altar?

It seems everyone in Melinda Curtis’ Montana Welcome wants to arrange Lily’s life for her, to take care of her, but Lily has to decide if that is what she really wants. Woven into a runaway bride story are threads of family relationships and secrets; “Big E” wants to get to know his newly discovered granddaughters, and Rudy Harrison wants to keep the daughters he raised. Connor, a handsome cowboy, with hangups and responsibilities, is tasked with getting Lily from California to the Blackwell Ranch in Montana. Connor and Lily, along with her new-found cousin Pepper and Pepper’s maid of honor Natalie, have thrills and laughs as they make the trek in a travel trailer in time for Pepper’s cowboy style wedding.

Montana Welcome will entertain you as you get to know these characters along with their motivations and quirks. It is a quick read that will leave you wanting more. This is not a deeply complex romance, but it does deal with real issues of love, control, and secrets. The characters are interesting, and the plot includes action and contains surprises.

The Blackwell Sisters series, each book written by a different collaborating author, will focus on one of the Blackwell sisters who all consider themselves Harrisons. As the series moves forward, Rudy and Big E set out to look for Thomas Blackwell, the girls’ biological father to answer questions and possibly bring closure to the family. Bring on the next book!

I would like to extend my thanks to Melinda Curtis and Harlequin Heartwarming for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance

Notes: #1 in The Blackwell Sisters series from Harlequin Heartwarming, noted for their clean romances. This is a followup series to The Return of the Blackwell Brothers, and it is written by the same authors. You absolutely do not have to have read the first series to enjoy this one.

Publication:   August 4, 2020—Harlequin Heartwarming

Memorable Lines:

She knew what she should do. and it didn’t involve walking down the aisle on the arm of a man who wasn’t her father to pledge herself to a man who didn’t want to marry her.

On the trip out west, he’d been lulled to sleep by Big E’s snoring, which was like listening to waves regularly crashing on a beach. Loud waves that covered the noise semitrucks made when they pulled in and out of the rest stops where he and Big E parked each night.

Pepper’s carefully constructed dreams, her life plan, her desire for lucrative freedom. Could it be possible that Pepper hadn’t been frivolously wishing upon a star? That she’d been wanting to create a life she, and she alone, controlled?

Dog On It–funny K-9 mystery

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Dog On It

by Spencer Quinn

Dog On ItHave you ever looked at your dog and wondered what in the world he or she (Chet says, “no ’it’s’ please”) is thinking? In Dog On It, you will be treated to author Spencer Quinn’s take on the imagined inner workings of a dog’s thoughts and personality. His vehicle for sharing these insights is the very likable and competent K-9 sidekick named Chet. The story is humorously told from his point of view.

I figure my dogs have the mentality of a two-year-old. They have a little understanding of the English language, even a smattering of Spanish, but I’m sure most of what I say goes over their heads. In a similar way, P.I. Bernie Little of Little Detective Agency talks over his cases with Chet. Chet picks up on the tone of the conversation, and over the years they have developed cues and routines that make them an outstanding team. When it comes to expressions like “wild good chase,” however, Chet is excited but confused.

We get to know Chet very well as he tells the story emphasizing what he and his “tribe” can do and how they are different from humans. Seen from his perspective, we learn the importance of scents, what delights Chet, and how easily distractible he is. Bernie does the thinking, but Chet’s role is equally important in following even the faintest whiffs and intimidating criminals.

Chet says that Bernie often has a cash flow problem although he doesn’t understand what that is. The source of the problem seems to be undercharging and an abundance of pro bono work. Bernie works to control his smoking and drinking. He has a combat past that Chet only shares a little about. Bernie is divorced and has a young son he adores. The detective displays intelligence, courage, and physical prowess. He isn’t perfect, but he is a very likable character.

Although this book truly brought a smile to my face throughout, don’t be deceived. Packing a good solid mystery with plenty of leads and some adventure as well, Dog On It is much more than a humorous book. On the other hand, don’t expect a deep plot exploring heavy issues; that’s not what this book is about. It is a quick read because it is so entertaining. I never tire of hearing what Chet is thinking or even why he is not thinking at all. This work is the most exquisitely funny example of anthropomorphism I have read in a very long time. I am looking forward to more reading pleasure with this series which currently has ten books.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery, Humor

Notes: 1. This book does not contain much in the way of casual inappropriate language, but it does take God’s name in vain multiple times.

2. #1 in the Chet and Bernie Mystery Series

Publication:  February 10, 2009—Atria Books

Memorable Lines:

At that moment I heard a funny swishing sound. Susie glanced over. “Getting close to home, huh?” I realized the funny swishing sound came from my own tail, whipping back and forth against the seat.

The woman’s mouth opened and closed, but no sound came out. I loved when Bernie made that happen. We walked outside feeling like winners, at least I did.

I’d been in a few car chases like this—one of the very best perks in our line of work, car chases—and they always ended the same way, with some perp’s pant leg between my teeth.

Shake Down–reality TV is so fake!

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Shake Down

by Kendel Lynn

Shake DownElliott Lisbon is the director of the billion-dollar Ballantyne Foundation and is also a very frustrated PI-in-training. There are plenty of cases to work on, but her boyfriend Lieutenant Ransom and other law enforcement officers do not share much information with her. So, Elliot enlists her best friend Sid, and the pair hone their investigative skills in the complicated search for Daphne who has a reputation for going missing and following her whims without warning. Would she do that with her friend’s wedding less than a week away?

In Shake Down by Kendel Lynn, lots of plot lines intersect. The Ballantyne Foundation is sponsoring a BBQ fundraiser honoring families who host the homeless. We are also introduced to Daphne who disappears shortly before she is to be maid of honor for her best friend Juliette. The girls met on a reality TV show where they were competing for an eligible bachelor. Much of the plot is centered around the town’s search for Daphne. That part of the book drags just a bit, but the pace and action pick up later and culminate in a conclusion I could never have predicted.

I would like to extend my thanks to Edelweiss and to Henery Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #5 in the Elliott Lisbon Mystery Series but OK as a standalone as characters from previous books in the series are clearly reintroduced.

Publication:   March 17, 2020—Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

She stopped as if her soles had been superglued to the asphalt. She seemed to be experiencing the second half of fight or flight. Freeze or faint.

“He’s being all cagey and friendly. Helpful in a distinctly not very helpful way.”

The shot was beyond loud. Like saying a hurricane was breezy or a ghost pepper had a little kick.

Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague

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Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague

by Geraldine Brooks

Year of WondersOur book club undertook Year of Wonders by Pulitzer Prize winner Geraldine Brooks. There are many things to recommend it, especially the depth of character development. Also prominent is the ability of the author to immerse the reader in the year 1665 in a small town in England where women of all classes were subject to the whims and humiliation of men.

We divided the reading and the discussion into two parts. The first half of the book was well received even though graphic descriptions of the Plague were tough to read. Several of us had to put the book aside for a time because of the horrors of the Plague and the difficult lives of the characters. 

The ending of the book was met with a consensus of disappointment. After detailed and extensive exploration of the characters, author Brooks turns everything upside down leaving a shambles of motivations and actions that are disjointed based on expectations drawn from previous descriptions of their personalities. There is a baseness and meanness rising to the surface of characters who have been portrayed as admirable. The theology exposed by the ministers is not Biblically sound, but if one were to read the notes at the end of the book, it would not be surprising as the author refers to herself as having a “secular mind.”  This is a dark book and not one that I would recommend mainly because the ending tries to provide closure much too quickly and, in the process, rather bizarrely changes the essential characters of all the major actors in the story.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Penguin Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 2/5

Category: Historical Fiction

Notes:  This book includes an afterword, interview with the author, and discussion questions.

Publication:   April 30, 2002—Penguin Books

Memorable Lines:

I liked her, too, because it takes a kind of courage to care so little for what people whisper, especially in a place as small as this…She was a rare creature, Anys Gowdie, and I had to own that I admired her for listening to her own heart rather than having her life filled by others’ conventions.

And so, as generally happens, those who have most give least, and those with less somehow make shrift to share.

“…we must take stock of these herbs and such remedies as the Gowdies may have left here. The key to defeating this Plague, I am convinced, must lie here, in the virtue of such plants as can be used to nourish those who remain in health. We must strengthen our bodies that we may continue to resist contagion.”

One Little Lie–dangerous thriller

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One Little Lie

by Colleen Coble

One Little LieI didn’t know quite what to expect from Colleen Coble’s new series Pelican Harbor, so I dove into the first book wondering how the author would combine some mystery, a little thriller, and a bit of clean romance while incorporating a Christian viewpoint. Not that it couldn’t be done or hasn’t been done, but it is not my typical cozy mystery read. As it turns out, One Little Lie is a page turner. Its plot and characters have depth, and the threads occur on many levels. The reader has to wonder if they are parallel or will possibly collide making this a very intricate mystery indeed. 

Jane Hardy is chosen to be the new Pelican Harbor Chief of Police after her father resigns. What was behind his leaving the force? Why is Reid Dixon, who makes documentaries, having conversations with Jane’s father? Reid has been granted approval by the mayor to follow Jane around. Besides the pressure of extra scrutiny on her first days as Police Chief, why does Reid’s presence make her uncomfortable? Several murders and kidnappings later, events ramp up to a high danger level for Jane and her K-9 officer and companion Parker. Who can Jane trust?

The prologue of this book is set fifteen years earlier during an attack on a cult. That event and the years prior cast a shadow and create devastating secrets for the characters in this book. As for the Christian viewpoint, some of the characters in the book trust in God and have a relationship with Him. Those characters have challenges in which they rely on God; other characters come to see that believing in God could impact their lives and choices in a positive way as they struggle to get past the lies others have told them. This book provides closure for many threads, but I feel there is more story to be told in Pelican Harbor, Alabama. I’m looking forward to the publication of Strands of Truth, the next book in the series, in September 2020.

I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery, Romance, Christian

Notes: 1. #1 in the Pelican Harbor Series

2. Discussion questions are included at the end of the book.

Publication:   March 3, 2020—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

Jane had no idea how much he was going to mess with her life. It had been a long time coming Retribution was an exciting word, one he’d rolled around and around in his head for years. It would be a freight train coming for the Hardys at full speed. None of them would understand his purpose until it was too late.

But if Olivia could face the horror of her future, surely Jane could face the past that couldn’t reach out and hurt her any longer.

She teetered on high heels and wore tight-fitting jeans and a top that showed off her curves. False advertising. A cute figure was never a substitute for a beautiful spirit.

My Fair Latte–coffee, wine, and classic flicks

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My Fair Latte

by Vickie Fee

My Fair LatteHere’s an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a new cozy mystery series by an established author, Vickie Fee. In My Fair Latte, Halley Greer inherits an old theater from an uncle she barely knew. Immediately, the reason for this bequest to Halley arises as a background puzzle, but the real mystery centers around vandalism and murder in the theater that  Halley is working hard to resurrect as a business that combines her two passions—old movies and coffee.

The residents of the little tourist town of Utopia Springs, Arkansas, welcome Halley and encourage her in her new business. She has to clean up both the theater and the upstairs apartment, quite an undertaking as her uncle was a hoarder. Favorite characters are George and Trudy, local artists who take her under their wing, and Kendra who owns the escape room business across the street. There are several romantic interests as well.

I enjoyed meeting the residents of Utopia Springs and watching Halley develop her creative ideas on a shoe string budget. It was great to witness her new friends pitching in to help, building community around her. As the police seem to suspect Halley, she and Kendra investigate to try to put the focus on other possibilities. I found myself doing that myself, but missed the mark until the end. Eartha Kitty, another inheritance from Uncle Leon, has an important role in the story. I am looking forward to the next book in the series, but hoping that I won’t gain weight just reading about the huge, fresh cinnamon rolls that are a staple in Halley’s breakfast routine.

I would like to extend my thanks to Edelweiss and to Henery Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #1 in the Café Cinema Mystery Series

Publication:   March 3, 2020—Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

While it may have been a glamorous leading lady in its prime, the Star Movie Palace was now a faded beauty whose slip was showing from beneath its tattered couture.

Their fanny packs and I-heart-Utopia-Springs t-shirts were like tattooing tourist on their foreheads.

“I dearly love George, but this morning he started tap dancing on my last nerve before I’d even had a cup of coffee.”

The Crow’s Call–the taming of a crow

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The Crow’s Call

by Wanda E. Brunstetter

The Crow's CallI like Wanda E. Brunstetter’s foray into mystery with The Crow’s Call  which begins the Amish Greenhouse Mystery Series. It is a spinoff from The Prayer Jars trilogy, but that association does not impact the reader’s enjoyment of this new series. Having read the trilogy, I did enjoy the  pleasant surprise of encountering a few familiar characters.

The Crow’s Call begins with a family tragedy that will forever affect the King family. Woven into that background are mysterious occurrences which damage the Kings’ greenhouse and livelihoods. Amy, frequently the focus of the narration, tries to bear the burdens of maintaining her family both emotionally and financially, but the job is really too big for one young lady.

With interesting Amish characters who work at their relationship with God and others, this book includes the characters’ thoughts and prayers and the Bible verses they rely on as they deal with issues in their lives. The mystery of vandalism is not resolved nor are the issues of the depression of a young widow and the rebellion of her brother. I assume these problems will be carried into the next book in the series. A new Englisch couple moves in across the road from the greenhouse. The wife in the family suffers from a physical disability, but also from an unreasonable dislike of the Amish. She is rather mean spirited, but I have the feeling there must be a story behind her attitude. Other plot threads are an unexpected suitor from the past for the matron of the family and the opening of a rival greenhouse.

It was refreshing to read a mystery with no murders. I enjoyed learning more about Amish customs and beliefs. Reading The Crow’s Call is a good antidote to current social upheaval as this book emphasizes treating others with kindness and trusting in God.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Barbour Publishing (Shiloh Run Press) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian, Women’s Fiction, Mystery

Notes: This is most definitely part of a series, meaning if you want total closure on all threads, then this is not the book for you. I enjoyed the book, want to learn more about the characters, and anticipate further interesting plot developments, so I am “all in” to experience the rest of the series as it is published.

Publication:   March 1, 2020—Barbour Publishing (Shiloh Run Press)

Memorable Lines: 

Things she used to take for granted that had once seemed like simple chores now felt like heavy burdens she could hardly bear.

“It’s best not to worry—especially about things that are beyond our control. We need to pray every day and put our faith in God. And it wouldn’t hurt to ask Him to put a hedge of protection around us.”

She couldn’t let her discouragement tear down her faith. The best remedy was reading God’s Holy Word.

Two Days in Cairo, Egypt

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Last week I posted a detailed account of the first leg of our February trip involving four delightful days in Jordan where we floated in the Dead Sea, hiked all over Petra, explored Wadi Rum and snorkeled in the Red Sea. When initially booking this trip to Jordan, I wanted so badly to fit in seeing the legendary pyramids into our itinerary. Yes, we could have fit in visiting Jerash and Amman in Jordan, however visiting Cairo has always been a bucket list item and I was rather stubborn and insistent on making that long held dream become a reality. With this goal in mind, I set out to start planning this last special leg of our journey.

The late flight from Amman to Cairo was very short, with us touching down just after midnight. After exiting the plane via a staircase, we all boarded buses where we were then taken to a terminal where we passed through customs. Agents from our tour company were waiting for us just inside the terminal where they helped us fill out our declarations form. We had purchased our Egyptian visa ahead of time in an easy online process that took only a few days to get approved. Once we made it through customs, our agent helped us quickly navigate through the rest of the airport, collecting our luggage, and ushered us into our waiting van. We had a 45 minute drive to our hotel Le Meridien Pyramids in Giza in traffic hardly notable, which was surprising as Cairo is the largest city we have ever been in and we were still having nightmarish flashbacks to Lima’s traffic. As we were were driving along, just before pulling into the Le Meridien, we were jolted away upon spotting the dark outline of the pyramids in the dark night sky! They were so very much bigger than I had ever anticipated. Buzzing with anticipation, we pulled into Le Meridien where we went through security before meeting by our wonderful tour guide Waleed, who helped us get checked into our hotel. We had been introduced to Waleed through our incredibly talented wedding photographers, who are seriously the sweetest people. Seriously, check out Tiberius Images! Not only did they take stunning photos that truly captured our special day, they were a godsend with all the little details throughout the day from bustling my dress to folding pocket squares. Anyway, Russ and Rebecca are avid travelers too and having recalled their trip to Egypt from a few years ago, I’d reached out to inquire their advice regarding tour companies. They connected me to Waleed right away after providing a glowing review for him and highlighting how by the end of the trip you become part of his family. The praise is well deserved, as you’ll read more about during our next two days in Cairo, with Waleed taking wonderful care of us and providing so much wonderful detail every site he took us. He has his doctorate in Egyptology from the Cairo University and his first class knowledge as passion about his country was on display throughout this tour. You can read about Russ and Rebecca’s Egyptian adventure here and contact Waleed here.

We didn’t book through an official tour company but instead booked a private tour  with Waleed. All of our conversations and planning happened through Facebook Chat or sometimes phone calls, but Waleed was always quick to answer any question I might have. When initially researching hotels, I was convinced we wanted to stay in the super fancy (and pricey) Marriott Mena House, but Waleed convinced us to stay at the Le Meridien due to more reasonable rates, with still a stunning view. We loved our stay at Le Meridien and were so thankful we went with Waleed’s advice. Their morning breakfast spread was sprawling and that view of the pyramids, as you can see below, speaks for itself.


Giza Pyramid Complex

Due to having only two days in Cairo, we met Waleed early in the morning for our highly anticipated formal introduction to the Pyramids of Giza. I still have a hard time putting into words how large and overwhelming the pyramids are in real life, especially with the added emphasis of their remarkable age. Once we passed through security, Waleed took us to the base of the Great Pyramid, which is the largest of the three where he told us a brief history of the site and what we know people who built this world wonder. You can enter the Great Pyramid, but based on the masses of people and tight confines we were content to explore the base. The inside tomb of the Great Pyramid requires an extra ticket does not have any hieroglyphs or markings to make the experience stand out, in sharp contrast to the tombs we entered in Saqqara the next day.

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It is rather shocking at how close the city encroaches on the pyramids. From photos it appears as though the pyramids are in the middle of the Sahara, however in reality they are just up the hill from our hotel.

After leaving the Great  Pyramid, we crawled back in our van to drive to the back of the complex where we had the most scenic view taking in all three of the pyramids. Before our trip I’d read countless accounts of travelers navigating the Giza Pyramid Complex by themselves, however after experiencing this sprawling area first hand, I still don’t know how you could manage it without having much stress induced anxiety. I say this fully as a traveler who typically enjoyed exploring sans tour guide. 

Waleed knew all the spots for the best photos and when we wanted to ride a camel, there were no negotiations, he knew the base price with a family that he was been working with almost 20 years. Our camel ride started out at the scenic view point, and lasted approximately 15-20 minutes, where we were dropped off next to the Pyramid of Khafre, the middle of the three pyramids. Riding a camel between pyramids stands as one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had and I highly recommend the excursion. If you’ve ridden horses before, climbing onto the back of a camel is fairly comparable, except for on and off stages. Our camel guide also knew the best spots for photos, positioned us just so, and capturing the perfect photos with one shot.  Our camel’s names were Banana (mine) and Mickey (Kara).

Waleed was waiting for us at the Pyramid of Khafre, where we then headed over to the much anticipated Sphinx. While researching the pyramids, I’d encountered the same sentiment repeated many times that the Sphinx in general was markedly disappointing because of its size. That being said, I think my expectations had been mitigated because I didn’t have that reaction at all when finally seeing the Sphinx for the first time. Instead, I loved it! Did you know the Sphinx has a tail? The Sphinx with the three pyramids in the background was one of my favorite overall views of the complex. 

When our morning with the pyramids had drawn to a close and it was time for lunch. While we were waiting for our reservation, Waleed took us to a papyrus store where we saw a demonstration of how the ancient paper was and is created, along with the legends behind several of the key images found throughout the store.

After our trip to the papyrus store Waleed took us to a friend’s restaurant, the El Araby Kebab Egyptian Kitchen, where we were treated to a variety of authentic Egyptian dishes that were positively fantastic.  There was so much food and we were quite stuffed by the end. The lamb, bread, and hummus! It was all delicious.

Once we’d finished at lunch, our delightfully busy day continued at the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities. This old museum dates back to 1902 and contains over 120,000 Egyptian artifacts. The new Grand Egyptian Museum is slated to open in early 2021, and has been a $795 million dollar project that has been under construction for since 2002. You can get private tours of the GEM for $250 and the early photos of the modern museum look stunning! I’d picked Waleed’s brain about this early access tour instead of going to the existing Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, because I was concerned items would already be transferred over. Waleed assured me that exhibits would still be open in the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities and that in the future when we came back to Cairo that the old museum would be closed to the public so it is worth visiting now. I’m so thankful we took his advice, because we had such a great time exploring this old museum that could take days to explore. Waleed’s expertise and passion was in full display in the museum as he excitedly described the key items that the museum housed, as well as their historical significance. After hitting the highlights, Waleed let us wander around on own to explore and take in all of the beautiful, ornate items, while trying to process how impossibly old everything around us was.

The King Tut room was amazing! You can see his two sarcophagi below. Photos inside the room were not permitted, but I managed to snap one from outside the barrier through the crowds.

After the museum we had some downtime before our evening excursion. We had the option between a Nile River Cruise and a light show at the Pyramids. Other than driving over the famous river several times, we hadn’t gotten a good view of the Nile, which we’ve heard so much about throughout our lives. The cruise contained a dinner buffet, followed by a show featuring a talented belly dancer and Tanoura performers.


Saqqara

The next morning we set out for Saqqara, which is a massive burial complex and houses the ancient Djoser Step Pyramid. The Step Pyramid is the oldest and first of the pyramids, with its age falling somewhere around 4700 years old. The 50 minute drive from Giza to Saqqara proved interesting in and of itself, as we transitioned from the city to the country. The Step Pyramid was built by Imhotep, a name that will be familiar from the Mummy movie series. You can see Imhotep’s wooden sarcophagus below that is displayed in the Imhotep Museum. Upon arriving at the complex, Waleed took us through the highlights of the museum before giving us a brief overview of the layout and history of Saqqara.

One interesting aside was throughout the day, almost every security guard we came in contact with Waleed passed a few dollars their way. He called it buying their tea. He explained it wasn’t bribes or corruption, instead just a way of smoothing the gears.

Pyramid of Teti

As we began exploring this sprawling complex, we first descended into the Pyramid of Teti, which was one of my favorite things we did in Cairo! When visiting the Pyramids of Giza, you don’t actually see any hieroglyphs until you visit the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities. Saqqara is a merging, where you can actually enter pyramids and see the hieroglyphs and authentic paints that are mind boggling old and still intact. Entering the Pyramid of Teti, the the pyramid structure itself has been damaged and looks like a crumbling pile of dirt, but the path leads you to an entrance that descends down into a corridor that leads into tomb. As you can see in the photo below, this entry is quite short, forcing you to stoop backward as you climb down. Once in the vestibule, there’s another relatively long, height challenged hallway that you must stoop through to get to the burial chamber. As someone who has mild claustrophobia, this wasn’t the best of circumstances, but believe me when I say, any discomfort experienced is absolutely, 100% worth it! This chamber was stunning with the hundreds of hieroglyphs covering the walls and ceilings.

Leaving the Pyramid of Teti required more stooping and aid from the hand rails but the experience as a whole was amazing, leaving us excited to see what other wonders Saqqara had hidden. We entered a few other tombs where you could see the ornate hieroglyphs still painted in their bright colors. It was a bit shocking to see these tombs containing open windows in the ceiling, allowing natural light to illuminate the dark rooms, however also exposing the paint and carvings to the elements. Regardless, we loved exploring and could have spent more time ducking in and out of every open room.

Step Pyramid

Our wandering eventually lead us in front of the Step Pyramid where in front there is a large open area. Under this open space are 400 interlocking rooms that have only recently been restored and opened back up to the public. We missed the reopening of the Djoser Step Pyramid after 14 years by a mere two weeks. The Pyramid was closed after an earthquake damaged the structure in 1992. You can see a video of someone’s decent here.

Continuing along the perimeter of the complex, we climbed a hill where we could spy the Red Pyramid in the distance, however behind us Waleed pointed out that you could still see the massive Giza Pyramids.

Leaving Saqqara, we stopped at the Saqqara Carpets School where we were given a brief tutorial on the skill and effort that goes into making these beautiful rugs. The costly, stunning silk rugs had price tags that reflected the amount of work and skill that went into creating the works of art. We ended up leaving with our own beautiful rug that was a bit more in our price range. 


Old Cairo

We next ventured to Old Cairo where our first stop was the Hanging Church of the Virgin Mary that was built in the 4th century. This beautiful church gained its name due to being built over Roman Gate Towers that you can still see. This ornate church is a great example of Coptic architecture.

The Church of St. Sergius and Bacchus (brick arches in the photo below) was next on the itinerary, through the winding streets. You have to enter this church by descending down below street level, where it opens up into vaulted room with beautiful brick arches. What makes this church notable is that legend has it that Mary, Joseph and Jesus hid in the crypts of this church shortly after his birth. You can enter the dark crypt where they were said to have stayed but there are tons of people packed together without being able to see a whole ton. I walked through this cramped area to see it but due to COVID concerns was rather distracted the whole time.

Over lunch Waleed had a special surprise in mind. He treated us to a picnic along the Nile where we picked up Egyptian falafels from Felfela before getting us kushari to top off the meal. Kushari is Egypt’s national dish and a popular street food. It is made of rice, macaroni, lentils, chickpeas and fried onions, topped off with tomato sauce and garlic vinegar. This dish is very filling and full of flavor. Honestly, I’ve been craving the Egyptian falafels for weeks now that were unlike any falafel I’d ever had before. Waleed explained that in Egypt, falafels are made from fava beans, making it lighter and more moist than traditional falafels made out of chickpeas.

After lunch our surprise continued with an excursion sailing on a felucca, a traditional Egyptian vessel, along the Nile but it was too windy so we instead headed out in a pontoon boat. It was so interesting to see the Cairo skyline from the center of the Nile.

After lunch we went to the Amr ibn al-As Mosque. This mosque was completed in 642 and was the first one in both Egypt and Africa.

Our tour drew to a close with the must see Khan el Khalili Bazaar that has been active since the 1300s. Today this market is completely over ran with tourist items and it was packed with people but there was so much to see every where you looked. Waleed took us to have the best smoothies and then gave us a packet of Turkish coffee from his favorite shop where he picks up coffee for his whole family.

We ended our tour on the roof of the Le Riad Hotel where we enjoyed one last cup of tea before heading to the airport. We were there just at dusk when the pigeon farms were being called home to their roosts for the night. The pigeons are housed in large precarious structures built on roof tops. Can you spot them in the second photo down? Each set of pigeons responds to a unique whistle from its owner and you could see the flock after flocks swooping home together the night. You can read more about one farmer’s experience here.

On the way to the airport we passed the Cairo’s City of the Dead that we saw from along the highway. The City of the Dead is a massive cemetery that covers an area almost four miles long. People also live among the tombs, with the population peaking in the 1980s at approximately 180,000 people.
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We loved our time in Cairo and we look forward to returning in the future to see what other treasures Egypt has in store such as Luxor and Aswan. Waleed was a fantastic, organized, and passionate tour guide who still to this day treats us like family. It was easy to see why the Pyramids of Giza are considered a world wonder as their shear size, let alone age are nigh impossible to comprehend. Six days spread between Jordan and Egypt to see two world wonders was a special trip where countless memories were made but is far too short of time to take in everything in these two beautiful countries. We will be coming back soon to explore more!
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Source: Two Days in Cairo, Egypt

Veil by Eliot Peper

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Rate: 4/5


Medium: ARC


Overview (No Spoilers):

In every book I’ve read by Peper I find his pacing to be a breath of fresh air. One that catches you up in a whirlwind of activity,  leaving you mindlessly flip pages as quickly as possible. Veil doesn’t deviate from this fast paced mold, first established in Cumulus, Neon Fever Dream and the Analog Series, with the action and suspense keeping me ultimately glued. I can’t remember the last time I devouring a whole book in practically one sitting, but I lost hours while immersed in Veil. The literary Easter eggs sprinkled by Peper throughout Veil that subtly reference his previous works from Rachel, the CEO of the Commonwealth or the legendary reporter, Lynn Chevalier were fun flashbacks to familiar novels.

In my previous post, The Splendid and the Vile, I went on a bit of a tangent discussion regarding how book materials can overlap in surprising ways, like a complex, far fetched venn diagram. I’m continuing this thread here as, in How to Hide an Empire, the history behind the use in modern literature of the remote tropical island hideaway, where often a mastermind holds court, is traced back to the James Bond creator, Ian Fleming. The Vile and the Splendid references Fleming again, as well as the agent behind his Bond inspiration due to Churchill connections. In Veil, we see the aforementioned island base trope employed with a genius indeed pulling the strings. I found myself viewing this island base with more awareness than I might have prior to knowing some of the history established in How to Hide an Empire.

Back to the review at hand, throughout Veil Peper employs a wide cast of intriguing global characters from diverse backgrounds due to Zia’s school influence. The two that stood out were Zia and her father who were defined clearly by their emotional damage, which made them interesting, albeit not necessarily likable. I often find that the loss of a loved one in literature can glossed over or characters seem to move on  quickly after the ‘appropriate’ amount of time has elapsed. In real life, not everyone mourns with that same cookie cutter timeline, and Peper explores this dynamic in Veil. I found Zia and her father’s pain to be a fascinating layer to their depth, especially as that lingering hurt colored their every interaction. Often these open wounds seemed to heighten their reactions to the point of insults, escalating their conflict, which seems out of character in the face of the looming hurdles they need to overcome, until you realize how raw their pain still simmers just under the surface.

One theme that has resonated throughout Peper’s novels has been the impact of future technologies on society, in addition to often alarming implications behind who wields the power behind such innovations. Veil continues in this mold but adds a most intriguing wrinkle by blurring the line of right and wrong, with regard to the correct course to take. This line is in fact so marred I think I conservatively changed my mind at least four different times. Even now, I’m not quite sure what the right answer should have been, though I loved the pretty bow that Veil managed to tie out of a mess that seemed beyond salvageable. Zia’s immediate, strong, and passionate convictions had me doubting my instinct to want to thoroughly explore both sides of the argument as I plodded along at a seemingly slow processing pace that contrasted sharply with the rapidly unfolding events. Perhaps this is where the emotional pain that only been merely bandaged comes into play by stirring strong opinions and reactions for everyone involved. Peper continues to hone his craft in Veil and he genuinely gets better with each subsequent novel especially with respect to character development. I can’t wait to see what new future technology he will have up his sleeve to next haunt my general musings. Overall, Veil is an edge of your seat roller coaster that will have you crying, laughing, and biting your nails with each turn of the page while offering much fodder for future pondering regarding the complicated implications of weather control and global warming.


Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound):

  • I really enjoyed the scientific component of Veil. Zia’s father discovers how to temporarily halt the effects of climate change and secretly implements his findings without knowledge of side effects both long term and short term. He most definitely saved lives, but probably cost lives as well with the drought over India. Also, his band-aid did not halter the climate change process, so even though the storms had temporary abated, the root cause was still raging full stream ahead.  So good news, the heat waves and massive storms that kill millions were temporarily halted. Bad news, the earth was subjected to an untested science experiment with unknown long term consequences that has dire consequences. The concept is complicated, elegant, and offers plenty of material for pondering.
  • Zia’s immediate and forceful decision on the course of action still makes me uncomfortable. This issue was multifaceted and would/could not have an easy solution. Her actions were a consequence of her complicated relationship with her father, but this didn’t change how uneasy I was in my bones about her rushing foreward instead of processing. That being said, the pacing certainly served to heighten the suspense.
  • Galang was such a fun personality to read! Zia was so quick to want to trust him with revealing her father’s secret to the world, but I wasn’t so sure. Perhaps, Neon Fever Dream is too recent in my memory but could Zia have completely trusted him to frame the story appropriately?
  • Can I steal Selai’s idea about posing Haribo bears around the world? My favorite gummy bears!
  • I looked it up and there is actually a Zachary’s Pizza in Oakland, CA. Perhaps a favorite of Peper’s?
  • And while we are mentioning favorites, I personally loved all the Hamilton references.

Vocabulary Builder: When reading it is common that I encounter words that I’m not privy to the exact definition, however it is easy to infer the meaning of the aforementioned word based on the context of the sentence and story. As such, relatively new to the Critiquing Chemist, you’ll find an additional section that includes vocabulary words that I encountered upon reading the book being reviewed and either had to look up the definition or it is a word in which I would like to add to my repertoire. This endeavor is easier when in the Kindle format, and potentially impossible with audiobooks, however I’m going to attempt to continue this section for all future book reviews. I’ll be using the definitions from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Tessellated: having a checkered appearance

Zeitgeist: the general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of an era

Sequitur: the conclusion of an inference

Vim: robust energy and enthusiasm

Telenovela: a soap opera produced in and televised in or from many Latin American countries

Ineffable: incapable of being expressed in words

Verisimilitude: the quality or state of having the appearance of truth


 

Source: Veil by Eliot Peper

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

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Note From Sarah: The Critiquing Chemist will have a few new faces posting book reviews over the next couple of months! I have been asked to participate as a Judge in the Self Publishing Fantasy Blog Off and have recruited a fantastic team to help me with the contest. On June 1st, I’ll be posting introductions for my fellow four judges and a bit more background on the competition. In the mean time, please give Jennie all your support on her first book review for the Critiquing Chemist!


Critiquing Chemist Blogger: Jennie


Rate: 3.5/5


Medium: Kindle ebook (442 pages) 


Overview (No Spoilers): https://amzn.to/3bFgmab

After The Critiquing Chemist invited me to join her team judging the entrants in the 6th SPFBO competition, another team member wanted to get to know us better as readers, asking about our likes and dislikes in the fantasy genre and beyond. My first instinct was to share about my appreciation for fairy tales and fairy tale retellings. In addition to being flooded with Disney content as a child (which, at the time, I did not know were the kid-friendly versions of the original tales), I absolutely loved Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. This grew to include other books such as Briar Rose by Jane Yolen, The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter, and novels by Gregory Maguire (honorable mentions that don’t qualify as fairy tales: the Goosebumps series by R. L. Stine and In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories by Alvin Schwartz). I even took a class my senior year of college about the subject (good ol’ GERM 247. Fairy Tales, Myths, and Legends), so I’m basically an expert. Ha! Yeah, right.

Given my current streak of reading thriller/suspense novels, I sought to update my fairy tale portfolio and stumbled upon Uprooted by Naomi Novik. Published in 2015, this highly-rated book has received the Nebula Award for Best Novel and was nominated for a Hugo Award. It has also been reviewed previously by The Critiquing Chemist if you’re interested in checking that out here.

If you are a person who views the blurb as a spoiler, that’s fair, but I tend to use it as a way to gauge my initial interest in a story. Then again, I’m also the kind of person who, uh, accidentally ruins the ending, because I like to flip to the last page of a book to figure out how many pages I have left (luckily, this problem has largely been eliminated upon the introduction of ebooks and tracking the percentage read). So, I will do my best to remember that this is a review, not a summary… Review, not summary… However, if you do read this book’s synopsis, I would argue that the story is much bigger and more rewarding than what that and the first few chapters suggest.

There are many folks who will sing the praises of this work, – and it is a lovely read – it just didn’t speak to me in the way that would elevate it to ‘top shelf’ status. Novik has created a special world with a story that is unique, albeit in a setting that feels familiar (which, to be sure, can be appealing). This narrative has the hallmarks of a traditional fairy tale, complete with rival kingdoms, a forest full of menacing monsters, and magical elements. The characters are equal parts heroic and stubborn (some might even say implacable), and usually both at the same time. As the storyline moves forward, Novik deftly changes scenery, allowing her to further shape and embellish the world, bit by bit. As a stand-alone book, the plot covers a lot of ground in its 442 pages, occasionally to its detriment; there were times where I desired a bit more backstory or a bit more honing of a character’s skills (perhaps to be continued in a sequel or novella, eh, eh?). At its heart, this is a story about a young woman, Agnieszka, fighting to protect what matters most to her, while coming into her own and discovering just how strong she truly is. 


Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound): 

  • If I had to be labeled, I would probably classify as an ‘unreliable witness’. I’m much better at describing the big picture and how a story made me feel, than elaborating on the intricate details used to weave it all together. There’s a reason I had to read scientific articles multiple times: first to identify what the author was selling, and then at least once more to weed out any snake oil. So, I apologize if any of my musings have, in fact, already been explained and are moot points.
  • Exhibit A) Despite informing the reader early on that although the Dragon has been abducting 17-year-old girls for decades, ‘at a quick glance in the street I might have thought him a young man’, I still managed to picture him as an older gentleman for the first quarter of the book… I don’t know what to tell you.
  • Exhibit B) I got tripped up when the Falcon was introduced, because the wizards started using each other’s first names: ‘“Sarkan, what have you done?” the Falcon said, advancing on the Dragon’s seat.’ I somehow missed from that sentence that the Dragon is actually Sarkan, and later on that Solya refers to the Falcon. I never even considered that they had real names. Perhaps I need to slow down my reading pace. This is a marathon, not a sprint…
  • One quirk I noticed was that as Agnieszka would be analyzing the world around her, wondering what was going on or thinking of spells to try out to fix their current predicament, the wizards around her would answer her thoughts as if they were spoken aloud. So, either I read too quickly and missed that they can hear her thoughts, or perhaps this was a  subconscious stylistic choice done to prevent repetitive writing? I think it also bothered me because it felt one-sided. It’s not like she knew what the Dragon was thinking, just what his scowls suggested to her. Or is that kind of the same thing?
  • As for my gripes, I know it worked out in the end, and I’m not saying I don’t understand her stance, but I found Agnieszka’s persistence to save Kasia over and over regardless of real and potential consequences to be really reckless. That kind of shortsighted, all-consuming focus makes it difficult to come up with a good plan of attack (especially on your own).
  • There was also a bit of ‘I don’t know how to do it, so I won’t even try’ in Agnieszka while learning how to perform spells that I found irritating (although I know the Dragon wasn’t the best instructor for her style, so it was kind of like asking a fish to climb a tree as a gauge of its learning ability). She does acknowledge that she wished she’d done more to hone her craft throughout the book: ‘That was when I understood how much a fool I’d been. I’d never thought of magic, of my magic, as good for anything, until I stood there and knew that there was no one else but me; whatever was in me, however poor and clumsy and untaught, was more magic than anyone else in my village had. That they needed help, and I was the only one left who could give it.’ I’m not sure I like that I can relate more to the Dragon…
  • Although the fight scenes were necessary for the story, it bothered me how these situations and subsequent deaths were brought on by someone else being overzealous (I’m looking at you, Prince Marek) while Agnieszka is used as a pawn. It’s like the tension that arises from something not being your fault, while simultaneously not being able to do anything about it. This kind of scene is compelling, but I have a love-hate relationship with it because it tends to make me angry and in need of Bob Ross’s ‘happy little clouds’.
  • The time spent in Polnya felt a little slow while they waited for the trial to start. I would’ve liked to learn more about the origins of Alosha (the Sword), Father Ballo (the Owl), and Ragostok (the Splendid) – I’d include Solya (the Falcon), but he was skeevy. And tell me more about how to get on the list of wizards and the naming ceremony (and why it didn’t work for Agnieszka)…
  • How many other apprentices are being taught to follow strict pronunciation, specific body movements, and precise recipes that would benefit more from Agnieszka’s relaxed style of ‘sound it out until it feels right’? 
  • The Dragon had seemed shocked when Agnieszka blended her magic with his, as if that weren’t normal. Maybe it was just unusual for him, as someone who was as resigned to a solitary life in the tower as the women he kidnapped. Are she and Sarkan only able to create magic that is more than the sum of its parts because of their different approaches?
  • Since Kasia has escaped the heart-tree with tree-like qualities, is she now one of the wood-people who transformed into trees at the end? Is this where the wood-people came from? Could she join Agnieszka in turning into a tree after consuming the heart-tree fruit and water from the pool? 
  • I like the idea that Agnieszka could be Baba Jaga somehow. But it’s my understanding from folklore that she is generally someone to be feared. One way I can connect these two ideas is to consider that one of the unknown creatures in the Wood was finally able to trap Agnieszka and managed to turn her evil. And don’t think you’re out of the woods yet just because she’s been ‘dead and buried for five hundred years’, we all now know that Jaga is a time traveler…
  • Final thoughts: While there were characters that grated on me and moments that were too fleeting, I still enjoyed the tale.

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Source: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski

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<a href=”https://www.amazon.com/Sword-Destiny-Witcher-Andrzej-Sapkowski/dp/0316389706/ref=as_li_ss_il?ie=UTF8&linkCode=li3&tag=critiquingche-20&linkId=d3dfc45bfaf8b88e86ad5cfc8ecd1eca&language=en_US&#8221; target=”_blank”><img border=”0″ src=”//ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?_encoding=UTF8&ASIN=0316389706&Format=_SL250_&ID=AsinImage&MarketPlace=US&ServiceVersion=20070822&WS=1&tag=critiquingche-20&language=en_US” ></a><img src=”https://ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=critiquingche-20&language=en_US&l=li3&o=1&a=0316389706&#8243; width=”1″ height=”1″ border=”0″ alt=”” style=”border:none !important; margin:0px !important;” />


Rate: 3/5


Medium: Audiobook


Overview (No Spoilers):

The Witcher series, continuing with Sword of Destiny, assumes a relatively slower pace compared to The Last Wish. This next installment is comprised of related short stories that seemed much longer than the first book in the series. Throughout this read, we were treated subjected to many more painful Yennefer and Geralt interactions as the complexity of their relationship was established.

Having watched the show, I loved seeing several key adventures play out in text. Sapkowski’s take on the “The Bounds of Reason” was significantly more satisfying than the Netflix adaption of this short story. That being said, as a whole, I feel as though the show did a great job bringing several of the short stories to life. In this instance, however, the changes distracted from an already intriguing tale. In the spoiler section I’ll highlight one instance where the show made both a change for the better and a glaring omission.

The Sword of Destiny had a feel akin to a placeholder, with significant effort made to establish often fraught relationships, introduce new characters, and build backgrounds. So while it didn’t capture my undivided attention, unlike the first two books in this series, it still served a necessary role in expanding an already intriguing literary world. Overall, the Sword of Destiny was filled with tale after tale of Geralt finding himself in impossible situations, while simultaneously strengthening the foundation for the rest of the series to develop upon.


Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound):

  • I wonder why the TV show cut out Ciri and Geralt meeting in the woods? With how many times they bumped into each other in this book it gave the role Destiny plays in the lives of characters in this literary realm more credence.
  • Why didn’t Ciri become affected by the water of Brokilon?
  • My favorite story involved Geralt’s dealings with the mimic, Tellico. Dainty’s reactions throughout this scene were amusing as he tried to keep up with what was happening in his quickly evolving life.
  • Ok, I changed my mind. The mermaids were my favorite. Where did the steps into the ocean actually lead? Was it to the hidden city as Dandelion had predicted? Also did Sh’eenaz regret leaving the ocean? Was she able to control her greedy Duke Agloval? What was Dandelion’s reaction about learning the shell he took from the steps (that were covered in the shells) contained such a large pearl?
  • Would Geralt had selected from the playing children correctly had he wagered a guess as the Queen of Cintra had demanded? Honestly, this whole interaction of Geralt going to the Queen when Ciri turned six was rather dull.
  • I wish Essie (Little Eye) had been in more of this series!
  • I significantly enjoyed that in the pursuit of the Dragon that in the book Yennefer was there of her own accord instead of being hired by some glory filled noble in the TV show.
  • How was Gerald born to a sorcerer? Why doesn’t he tell Yennefer?

 

Source: Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

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Rate: 4/5


Medium: Audiobook


Overview (No Spoilers):

 

My dearest Stephanie came through with another spectacular book recommendation when she suggested Daisy Jones & The Six. Despite falling outside my typical genre of preference, this novel skyrocketed to the top of my to-be-read list, purely based on my friend’s former spot on recommendation of Beartown. Stephanie captured the essence of this unique novel in her following review:

Told interview style (with a full cast reading the parts in the audiobook, each voice actor just *perfect* for their part), the story follows the rise and fall of a 1970s rock and roll group. Each narrator is deliciously unreliable and has their own perspective on events, and the story abounds with beautiful descriptions of the song writing process, wild stories of parties, and the twists and turns of complicated relationships. I found myself alternately chuckling at one of the character’s quips and listening raptly to find out what would happen next. At the heart of the story are several strong women, whose choices direct the action of the story and lead to its ultimate conclusion. I came away with a new perspective on what it means to love and trust someone, and the power of forgiveness.

Due in part to the interview format employed by Daisy Jones & The Six, the audio book medium proved to be positively delightful, especially with a talented full cast that contained notable names such as Judy Greer, Benjamin Bratt, Jennifer Beals, and Pablo Schreiber. Likely due in part to this read being so far outside my typical material, the overall premise of Reid’s novel was refreshing, despite containing a heavy dose of darker elements interspersed throughout a general success story. Reid crafts characters who are distinct and memorable and really brought to life with the aid of the full cast. The formatting of Daisy Jones & The Six was reminiscent, albeit a vastly different genre, of two other comparable formatted books that I thoroughly enjoyed, The Historian and Sleeping Giants.

Right away, Daisy Jones & The Six reveals that there is a big mystery surrounding the the hottest band in the world mysteriously dissolving, in the midst of their biggest tour decades ago. With this major conflict looming over every interview in the book, the suspense begins to build almost immediately, keeping the reader flipping pages ever faster with each subsequent point of view. Overall, despite not being a genre that I actively seek out, Daisy Jones & The Six is a fantastic summer read that will not be misplaced on your TBR lists.


Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound):
  • I loved the twist that Billy and Camila’s daughter was the narrator ‘behind’ the book.
  • Did Billy and Daisy write another song?
  • My heart hurts on all levels for Graham and Karen.

 

Source: Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Four Days in Jordan

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As a child, I can’t tell you how many times we watched and rewatched the Indiana Jones movies. Indy’s adventures to remote locations and hidden ruins seemed so far removed from any similar landscapes that my young mind could associate with having grown up in rural Michigan. Needless to say, when I realized that Petra was the filming location of the iconic temple with the remarkable architecture in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade this travel destination was immediately added to my bucket list. When I received an email from The Points Guy last summer alerting me to $500 round trip tickets to Amman from Detroit I couldn’t book my tickets fast enough after getting over the shock at such a great deal. After booking, followed the questions that likely should have been addressed first.

  1. Is Jordan safe?
  2. Is mid-February an OK time to visit with regard to weather?
  3. What will our itinerary look like? Do we stay in Jordan or fit in a quick trip to another country while we are in the region?
  4. Do we need a tour guide or drive ourselves?
  5. Do we need visas in Jordan?

You’ll find the answer to these questions and more below.

Safety:
To address safety in Jordan. Yes Jordan is safe despite being surrounded by countries that have mostly all encountered various levels of turmoil in the recent past. There are increased advisories for traveling to the Syrian or Iraqi borders, but you can read more here regarding those warnings at the US Department of State. At every hotel there was high security in place, as well as key tourist attractions such as Petra. These felt more preventative than reactionary, making us feel save overall. In addition there were also many military checkpoints along the highways where paperwork and IDs were checked. The Jordanian people in general, including the police and military we encountered were incredibly friendly and always quick with a smile. It should noted though that before traveling anywhere you should check the most recent travel advisories as situations are ever evolving.

Weather in February: Due to the extreme warm temperatures in Jordan, it is routinely suggested that the best time of the year to visit is March to May and September to November. As such, these are the most popular tourist seasons where you would encounter large crowds at the key sites. Late February was just on the shoulder of the peak season, so we encountered minimal crowds throughout our time in Jordan. As a result though, we visited at the end of winter so we were met with the chilly weather, especially in Amman, Petra, and Wadi Rum. The weather was warmer around the Dead Sea and even more so at the Red Sea. It was chilly going for a dip in the Dead Sea but not unbearable and fairly comfortable in the Red Sea, especially with a wet suit.

Overall Itinerary: In four days we easily fit in the Dead Sea, Petra, Wadi Rum and snorkeling in the Red Sea. In Jordan we did not use a tour guide but drove ourselves everywhere with no issues. After our Jordan leg of the trip we decided to fly to Cairo for two days to fit in the Giza Pyramids before heading back to Michigan. I fully acknowledge this packed schedule isn’t for everyone and travel preferences vary significantly. And that’s OK. We love filling our schedules to the max and we had a blast while managing to see so much over a short few days. Especially in Jordan we were only traveling an hour or two at most each day, except for the drive back to Amman, allowing for leisurely mornings and relaxed evenings. A far cry from our nonstop Peru itinerary. Unfortunately, we did not have time to explore Jerash or Amman in Jordan, which we’d heard fantastic recommendations regarding. Next time!

Driving Ourselves or Tour Guide?
Initially I was dead set on a tour guide. My brother and his wife, Kara, who came with Luke and I to Peru just over a year ago, were going to join us again for this new adventure. During the logistics planing stage, Samuel had been reading about tourists driving themselves around Jordan, allowing them to create their own timelines/itinerary. I was highly skeptical but after reading many successful accounts of how easy tourists found the process I reluctantly acquiesced. The following links are accounts from fellow bloggers of their driving itineraries.

Helena Bradbury

The Unending Journey

Miss Journey

The Points Guy

The Adventurous Flashpacker

While actually driving in Jordan, we were stopped by various police checkpoints but most of them didn’t even check our passports. After seeing we were Americans they waved us through, telling us to have a good day. The few times they asked to see our passports the exchange involved answering a few questions about where we were headed and what we had done so far in their country.

One word of warning if you’re driving yourself is to beware of speed bumps! These little traps were often unmarked and along the highway leading to several jolts that left me temporarily worried about our rental car. No wonder our little Toyota’s shocks were so worn out.

Visas:
Yes you need a visa to enter Jordan. Visas cost 40 JOD per person for one entry and you need to pay cash.

If you have the Jordan Pass then your visa is included in your ticket. When your flight gets in

Jordan Pass:

The Jordan Pass combines the tourist visa with they entry fees for over 40 tourist sites throughout Jordan. There are three levels of the pass to buy depending upon how long you want to stay in Petra (1, 2, or 3 days). After buying your pass, you will receive an email with PDFs of your tickets. 

Jordan Wanderer (1 Day in Petra): 70 JOD
Jordan Explorer (2 Days in Petra): 75 JOD
Joran Expert (3 Days in Petra): 80 JOD

Our personal experience involved a bit of confusion in the airport as we got in line with the rest of the tourists buying their visas. We had already bought our pass online, so really the only benefit from us standing in a 40 minute line was that we got a visa stamp in our passport.


Dead Sea

After flying into Queen Alia International Airport  we navigated our way through the various security check points before getting to our rental car. See details regarding getting your visa above. Excited about getting on the road, we left the airport rental car area, immediately merging with other airport traffic before encountering an unmanned toll booth at the airport’s exit. Having not received any instructions about this hurdle from the rental car agency, we sat stumped because there wasn’t a pay option, instead it was requesting a nonexistent ticket. Just as we were starting to get flustered upon watching the traffic back up behind us the gate mercifully opened without any prompting and we were on our way.

At this point it was mid afternoon and our destination involved a smooth hour and a half drive to the Dead Sea Marriott. We accidentally got off the main road at some point and the GPS eventually took us down a winding, weaving single lane road through the mountains leading to the Dead Sea.

Due to our trip coinciding with Jordan’s off season we stayed in four or five star resorts throughout this entire trip for a fraction of their usual prices. This cost saving is deceptive though as when traveling with Samuel and Kara we usually split a room, however the majority of hotels we encountered in Jordan did not allow four individuals to a room.

An unfortunate consequence of also traveling during the winter is the early sunset that had to be factored significantly into our itinerary. In this case though, just as we arrived at the resort, the sun had dipped behind the horizon preventing us from visiting the Dead Sea on  night one.

Once we were settled in our rooms we set off to explore this massive resort and find someplace to have dinner. After much debate, we ended up getting Italian at Il Terrazzo Restaurant, and the food did not disappointed in the least. Had the sun been up, you could tell the views would have been spectacular of the Dead Sea from the patio of this restaurant.

Upon satisfying our borderline hangry needs, we continued exploring to see if we could get to the shoreline of the Dead Sea. As the beach access closes at sunset and the long path down to the rocky shore lacking illumination, we ventured down to a pavilion where we could hear the waves crashing. From here you could see the lights of Eilat, Israel just across the water.

The next morning we got up with the sunrise for breakfast before retracing our path last night for a morning dip in the Dead Sea. Keep in mind, this is before 7AM in February. The outside temperatures were still in the mid 60s, which is a far cry from the close to freezing temperatures we left in Michigan but it was still cold nonetheless. The Dead Sea as a whole was one of the most unique experiences I’ve had with the water taking on almost slimy feel where upon moving your hands just under the surface you could see the supersaturated nature of this salty body of water. I’d always been a bit skeptical regarding how much one might actually float in the Dead Sea. Walking into the water, you only get about knee deep before it’s easier to just sit down in the water instead of trying to take another step. Floating far surpassed any of my expectations as you had to work to stand back up again and the whole time you were in the water was felt effortless. The water actually decently warm except for random currents of bitter cold that would catch you off guard. Kara and I applied the mud that is rumored to have therapeutic properties. Sure we felt rather silly slathering it all over but the exfoliation from the mud left our skin feeling silky smooth. Eventually, the cold patches sunk too deep so we relented after a half hour or so and made our way to the hot tub to warm up in the sun.

We didn’t soak in the hot tub for too long due to it was still before 8 AM and secondly we had a big day ahead of us! We had a three hour drive to arguable the most anticipated stop on our road trip, Petra! We took the Dead Sea Highway the majority of the way to Petra, which allowed us to drive along the length of well known salty body of water. The Dead Sea is shrinking, dropping by three feet almost every year. While we didn’t necessarily see that evidence at the Marriott, the receding levels were quite apparent as we drove south.  This stretch of highway as a whole was very desolate, so in the future if you ever decide to follow this itinerary, make sure you have a full tank of gas before you depart the resort area of the Dead Sea, and for that matter make sure you go to the bathroom too.


Petra

If you’re planning on staying around Petra, the gateway city is Wadi Musa, where there are lots of options for hotels. After much research, we ended up staying in Petra Moon Hotel based on the fantastic reviews and reasonable price. The real decision maker though was the close proximity to the entrance of Petra that you could see down the hill outside the hotel lobby. That being said, I’m not going to lie, I was a bit caught off guard when there was a city, not to mention our hotel just outside the entrance to the path to Petra.

Arriving at Petra Moon Hotel at mid afternoon we were an hour early before our check in, but we only had two and a half hours or so before sunset, which signaled the closing of the site for the day. Having arrived in Wadi Musa, quite hungry but I was so excited to finally see Petra that I persuaded everyone to forgo lunch, allowing the hotel to store our luggage, and adventure in to see one of the World Wonders. Yes, yes. I realize this breaking a cardinal rule of traveling, “Keeping everyone full=Happy!,” but it was totally worth it! Petra was stunning! That first view of the imposing facade carved from a solid cliff face was like living through a dream.

First though, actually getting through the park entrance proved to have a few more steps than initially anticipated. You pass through a security checkpoint entering the park where they have a visitor center and various restaurants/souvenir shops. These seemed like a formality because we didn’t actually pass our bags through the scanner and there are various paths where you can bypass this hoop. Months ago, we had bought our two day Petra tickets by purchasing the Two Day Petra Jordan Pass (See above for more details). Initially we thought the eticket we had printed off would be sufficient to get through the second more formal entrance. Instead, we were stopped and told to trek back up the hill to be given two supplemental tickets from the Visitor Center when they verified our Jordan Pass. Again, all an easy process but not clearly explained in any of the Jordan Pass information. Finally past the second gate, we were on our way toward Petra, but immediately started getting constantly hounded to take donkey rides to and from the ruin.  Donkey rides going one way are included in your Jordan Pass ticket, however a tip is expected. Also, for extra you can hire a donkey and cart instead of riding on a donkey if that is more your preference. As a hiker these carts zoomed back and forth at often reckless speeds through the slot canyon, significantly breaking up the ambiance of the walk and adding a real element of danger due to the high speeds. This behavior of driving the animals too fast through crowed areas was a constant theme throughout Petra as the drivers or handlers were anxious to pick up their next passenger and subsequent tip. It’s not included in your ticket, but if you negotiate and fora tip you can also take donkey rides to other sites within expansive Petra. We enjoy walking so we didn’t partake in the included ride either day we were at Petra and it must be emphasized donkey or no, expect a large amount of walking while exploring this impressive sprawling site.

As we started our hike, the city life seemed like another world as we moved further along the mile long path to the Treasury. The initial stretch was mostly open ground, however soon transitions into the Siq, which entails just over a half mile of slot canyons. It was in that first, open part of the hike we saw our first tombs with the Obelisk Tomb being highlight. Near this tomb are also strange massive cut blocks called the Djinn Blocks that are of a mysterious purpose.  You can see the Obelisk Tomb in the photo just below. Also note the carriages and donkeys in the background of the photos.

Obelisk Tomb

The Siq

The Siq is a 0.6 mile slot canyon leading up to the iconic Treasury that can be first sighted through break the narrow walls. In the slot canyon itself you can see aqueducts along the walls where the builders of Petra had directed water flow into the city. Every step you take closer to the heart of Petra seems like you’re exponentially further from the modern hustle and bustle of Wadi Musa. Especially the first time you’re traversing the Siq, it is unknown which bend will yield the first views of the Treasury so every corner approached contains it’s own measure of mounting anticipation. With each relative disappointment, the excitement only grows at the prospect that the next bend might yield the long waited views.

It was on this walk that we witnessed our first prejudice toward Asians as a result of the burgeoning Covid-19 threat. Just as we were walking past a group of Japanese tourists taking a group photo, we simultaneously passed a European couple and their young son. As the couple approached the Japanese tourists they very obviously both covered their mouths with their scarves/masks. This action shocked the four of us and became a discussion point the rest of our hike. Keep in mind, this was on February 16th. It wasn’t until three weeks later that everything escalated to panic levels for the United States and Michigan. While this was the first instance of prejudice we witness, it definitely wasn’t the last of our trip.

The Treasury

When the famous facade was finally first glimpsed, it went without explaining why Petra is considered a world wonder.  A pleasant surprise, due to us arriving toward the end of the day was that we were treated to views of the Treasury with minimal crowds. The area around the Treasury can typically be quite packed, as we found out the next day, making our first look quite special.

After soaking in the Treasury, we started taking in the immediate surroundings only to have our eyes light upon hikers walking high above us on a narrow path along the cliff face. If you search photos of the Treasury on Instagram, this birds eye view is quite popular so we set out to see if we could find the hike entrance. Following other tourists we eventually found the path by turning right after exiting the Siq and walking straight until you encounter steps and a well trod path. There are no indicators or guard rails so be careful and mindful of your fellow hikers. This section of Petra was a bit more crowded than we might have preferred due to its proximity at certain points to the edge, so we didn’t venture to the very top but the loft views we did see were phenomenal.

After exiting the hike, we continued our strategy of mindlessly following the crowd as we entered another narrow pass. There are limited signs throughout Petra and the visitors center had been out of maps, so we ended up following the crowds with the blind faith they knew where they were going more than we did. Not the best plan, but it worked well under these circumstances. This narrow path had tombs lining one side but in front of the tombs lined table after table of cheap looking trinkets and scarves. Every table throughout the ruins basically sold the same touristy items. The presence of likely hundreds of tables and tents, especially since the majority of them are selling the exact same thing was a major distraction to the experience as a whole. Yes we loved the architecture and the history of Petra, but due to the remote and peaceful atmosphere surrounding Machu Picchu we hold that site more dear.

One repeated warning I’d read regarding Petra was the potential scam surrounding the Bedouin men, also called Jack Sparrows, working in and around this touristy area. This fraud involves a romantically based manipulation with the men offering solo female travelers private tours, and eventually to sleep in a cave for the night. Then playing on emotions, the demands roll in for money. If you Google it, you’ll find romantic stories and sad, scary tales. I realize this is a very brief and abbreviated version of this scam. I’ll link more details below, but I thought I’d be remise to not to at least address this potential danger. While we didn’t experience anything regarding the aforementioned scam, but we did have our own colorful interactions with various of the enterprising merchants you’ll find described below.

Offbeat Traveling

A Little Nomad

Mei Mei Chu

The narrow path we were walking eventually opened up into the Street of Facades, which contains rows of the extraordinarily carved tombs. We meandered along this path before stopping at the Roman Amphitheater.

Roman Amphitheater

Again almost the entire path was lined with tables of the same souvenirs. The Royal Tombs stand in prominence, up a steep hill overlooking the valley. This is the first and really only tombs we encountered that you could walk in and explore. Many of the other tombs or even side rooms of the Royal Tombs contained blankets, tea sets, or other indicators that people were living there despite the that living inside the tombs was supposed to be prohibited. Easily my favorite part of the Royal Tombs was the colorful ceilings and walls that were found in the Urn Tomb as you can see below.

Urn Tomb

As we left the Royal Tombs the path between tables grew quite narrow so we were all walking in single file line, with Luke, myself and Kara leading Samuel who took up the rear. A Bedouin man setup in one of the souvenir tents asked Samuel if he needed help controlling his wife. Samuel laughed and said something along the lines of good luck with that. The man responded with a completely straight face that Samuel should come back later without her and he had a knife give Samuel a great deal on to keep her in line. And on that note, we hurried along.

It was getting close to sunset, so we decided to head back since we had a long walk ahead of us and we had skipped lunch. Upon reaching the Treasury, the facade was covered in shadows but the area was even more empty than when we’d first walked in. Also proving to be a novel experience, we were alone for the most of our walk back through the Siq, which was a special and relaxing way to end our first day in Petra.

Absolutely famished, we headed back to Petra Moon Hotel where we were able to officially checkin to our room, with our luggage having already been delivered. Heading immediately out to find food, the first four places we stopped were closed until around seven for dinner. As we were approximately an hour and a half from that time frame, we kept wandering until we found The Cave Bar, which is built out of an old tomb and touted to be the oldest continually operating bar in the world. The doors were kept open in this small, cute little restaurant, so it grew quite cold, especially as a storm blew in. Regardless, we were quite content with the eccentric ambiance, our full bellies and a drink to cap off a more than memorable first day in Jordan that started off with a dip in the Dead Sea and included exploring  in Petra.

Day two in Jordan had only one set itinerary item in which we wanted to get to our camp in Wadi Rum before nightfall. With only a two hour drive to our camp we had all morning to explore Petra.  The archeological site opened at 6 AM, so we had plenty of time allotted for a solid second day of exploring the ruins. This time entering the park went smoother because there were even few people around than the night before. Plus we’d already procured the needed Jordan Pass verification and tickets. The hike we had in mind was a strenuous 850 stair step climb to the Monastery. The whole hike was 1.6 miles from the Treasury to the Monastery, and keep in mind, this doesn’t include the 2 km hike to even get to the Treasury. We set a brisk pace because we knew we would be cutting it close to our hotel checkout time. The second time walking up to the Treasury was just as captivating on day two, but we didn’t linger long as we had so much more to explore. 

Once past the Tombs we started seeing new sites we didn’t get a chance to explore the previous night as we advanced down the Colonnaded Street. Along the way, we explored the Great Temple, which is largest free standing ruin in Petra. Climbing up the old steps of this structure provided a commanding view of the valley around. While we were sitting, taking in the view a fragile old woman came up to ask if we wanted to see her authentic ancient coins to buy. Two things here. First, based on finding other warnings online, I’d read that anything ‘old’ you see for sale in Petra is almost assuredly a cheap import. Secondly, by law, Jordan has strict antiquities laws regarding antiquities leaving the country.

The Great Temple

After politely declining and continuing up the Colonnaded Street we were drawn to the next freestanding ruin in our path, Qasr al-Bint that still somehow has an intact arch. Aiding this structure in surviving hundreds of years of earthquakes is the distinctive architecture design of alternating stone and wood. If you look closely along the wall of this structure you can the layers of wood in this structure that is thought to have been the main temple. Remarkably this structure was built likely between 100 BC to 100 CE although this is still debated. Just think about how old the wood must be that is still holding the walls high. 

Qasr al-Bint

The Monastery 

After Qasr al-Bint, the path we’ve been following basically ends in a t-juction, with a sign at the end directing you to various locations throughout Petra. The arrow directing to the Monastery was totally scratched off! We hypothesize that this vandalism was deliberate to encourage visitors to engage with the many, many locals waiting to give tours because at this point we were being asked every few minutes if we would like to hire a donkey to take us to the Monastery. Of course this is pure speculation. Pulling out Lonely Planet’s Jordan edition we flipped to the Petra section to see if we could garner some insight into making an educated decision as to which direction to head. Finding a reference to a restaurant, we spotted one off to our right and headed in that direction. As it was still so early in the morning, the Basin Restaurant was closed but there was a well worn path behind the building. There were no signs and the path was not super defined, but it fit description, plus we spied some hikers well ahead of us. Using the age old wisdom of blindly following people hoping they know more than you do we decided to adventure on ahead.

The path to the Monastery was by no means easy but it was definitely not the hardest hike we’ve ever completed. The path involved over 850 stair steps, several switch backs and breathtaking views as you climb high above the valley. Shortly after starting the hike, you can’t see the individual tombs, but they’ve been replaced by an equally impressive expanse. Needless to say, we took many, many mini breaks throughout our hike to the Monastery. We also encountered quite a few donkeys carrying passengers, which honestly seemed quite unsafe for the both the riders and the animals, especially with the rocks slick from the rain the night before. The animal minder would walk next to the animals, at some points manually pushing the donkeys up a particularly steep step. From a hiking standpoint, we would have to get way out of the way of the four legged  traffic, which offered its own measure of uncertainty as we tried to anticipate the side of the narrow, tight path the animal would choose to tread. Not to mention, hop scotching over mud pie surprises that lay scattered along the path that women were actively cleaning up all along our walk. Almost the entire walk up to the Monastery was lined with the tables and tents that were prevalent in the main sections of Petra. These tents were sometimes perched precariously and rather uncomfortably on the edge of a steep cliff as you can see in some of the photos below.  We were passing through at such an early hour, you could still see people sleeping in the tents or starting small fires with twigs to cook their bread and warm up tea. It wasn’t until near the top that we started getting asked to buy their wares that were exactly the same items we’d seen on repeat throughout Petra. We did find some of our most aggressive or creative sales pitches on these narrow paths as you were forced to traverse back by the same tents to leave the Monastery.  Since the most memorable interactions happened on our hike back down I’ll wait to retell these stories until after I talk about our time in the Monastery.

Just as I’d started to give up that we’d ever reached the Monastery we rounded a corner and the massive tomb appeared just off to our right. I’d assumed, based on popular photos from the site that we’d approach at a distance, but instead you are deposited from the path basically right in front of the ruin. Facing the Monastery there was a small tea shop and seats where a smattering of other hikers were enjoying soaking in the Monastery. While you can’t go into the ruin you can walk right up to the entrance. We quickly took the obligatory photos before heading toward the tea shop to get out of the way of other travelers and get a quick respite before our hike back down. It was so enjoyable to watch other hikers emerging from the path to find themselves at their long awaited destination.

Far too soon it was time to head back down the path, where eager Bedouin were waiting to try to secure our purchases. Due to there being one main path up and down from the Monastery there creates the opportunity for direct sales pitches. On our way up the path, one young girl had asked us where we were from, when we responded Michigan, she yelled Go Packers! We are actually Lions fans with Green Bay a major rival, so on the grand scale of things she was so very close. On our way back down the path, she was waiting for us with a Green Bay stocking cap on.  Another convincing pitch that ended in a curse started with a different a young girl physically blocking our way near the top of the path and aggressively grabbing our hands to make us pinky promise to buy something from her on our way back down. With Covid-19 concerns in the back of our minds we were not that happy with the forced contact. On our way back down we anticipated the upcoming interactions so we made a game plan as to how to passively  bypass this rather forcefully attentive saleswoman. Alas, our game plan fell apart as she singled out Samuel and Kara. As Samuel was trying to disengage himself from the targeted approach, three women eventually emerged from the tent, yelling about how he was breaking his promise. It was all fun and games until it wasn’t. He kept sidling away and out of range when the instigator shouted that Samuel wouldn’t leave Jordan alive. This stopped us all in our tracks, but the girl wouldn’t take back her curse, whereupon she continuing to shout about broken promises. Needless to say, we hurried on down the path, stunned at how that interaction had spiraled so badly.

Our hike up took approximately 45 minutes with being quite liberal with taking many breaks. The return trip took just over 20 minutes. I was again thankful for the time of year we visited Petra, as we’d encountered minimal crowds. It would have not been nearly as enjoyable during this hike had there been many other people to jostle around, especially on some of the narrow passes. That being said, the extra bodies might have taken away some of the targeted attention from the Bedouins plying their wares.

As we were on our way out of Petra, we hurriedly took in the sites one last time, especially lingering around the Treasury as we were already late to check out of our hotel. Due to the timings of our previous two visits to the Treasury, (just before closing the previous day and just at opening the next morning) we had been able to experience this wonder with just a handful of other people. Leaving the Treasury for the last time around 11 am, we witnessed the area packed with the throngs of official tours hustling and bustling around each other. These last cherished glimpses of the renowned ruin serve to emphasis how special our previous two visits had been when we had the Treasury all to ourselves.


Wadi Rum

After checking out of our hotel we wandered down the street to the elegant Movenpick Resort where we had a delicious lunch in their opulent, ornate Al Maqa’ad Bar. We were all a bit wilted from our busy morning but soon perked up and were excited for our two hour drive to Wadi Rum. Accommodation wise, I was arguably the most excited for our upcoming stay at Memories Aicha Luxury Camp but had so many lingering logistical questions that hadn’t been answered as thoroughly as I might have wanted due to a combination of issues ranging from website construction, resort construction, and seemingly vague email responses. In hindsight, not knowing quite everything helped the magic unfold to our absolute favorite aspect of our trip and favorite hotel stay ever.

During the planning stage of our trip, I have to admit that I became very overwhelmed trying to research Wadi Rum camps that range from rustic (~$10/night) to luxury (<$350/night). The most important advice I found after extensive research was to make sure that you are selecting a camp inside the official protected area. I can’t emphasis this enough! That being said, attempting to find a map of the Wadi Rum Protected Area borders with the camp locations is so much more difficult than it should be. Before finding the suggestion regarding camp location, I was dead set on either the Sun City Camp or the Wadi Rum UFO Luxotel. Both camps were expensive but photos that fellow bloggers took from these camps were so unique that of course they were high on my short list. Alas, upon looking closer at a map, the camps were not only outside the preserve, but also right along the highway. After a few more days of looking up the various camps I settled on Memories Aicha Luxury Camp because despite the higher price tag (200 JOD), the prospect of sleeping in a clear glass bubble under the stars in a desert was quite alluring. The price also included dinner, breakfast, and a stargazing tour.

At the time I was initially inquiring about availability, the camp offered white plastic tents with a clear plastic window facing out into the desert. Confusion ensued when on Instagram, elegant glass bubbles started showing up in images for the camp. Needless to say this quandary only served to deepen when Booking.com still had the old tents and the official website for the camp being under construction. After several back and forth emails, the mystery was solved with Memories Aicha Luxury Camp recently upgrading their plastic domes to luxury glass bubbles.

Another crucial detail to looking into when determining which camp you’ll stay in Wadi Rum is how much available tours are and what they sites they entail.  For example SunCity had everything as an added extra. Memories Aicha offered jeep tours from a local guide that could be booked we arrived. There were two options for Jeep tours with a three hour (60 JOD per family) or five hour (100 JOD per family). A stargazing tour was another experience we were interested in and conveniently was included in our stay at Memories Aicha.

When arriving in Wadi Rum Protected Area you have to stop at the Visitor Center to pay the park entrance of JOD 5.00 per person. Thankfully our Jordan Pass included this fee but we still had to have our passes stamped and we had to sign into the protected area. In reality this was a bit of mass confusion but we just jumped through the murky hoops. The first guard checking passes directed us to park and walk to building where our Jordan Passes were stamped, then this  second guard directed us to a second building where a third guard took information pertaining to what camp we were staying at and who would be picking us up.  We then headed back to our car to continue to drive to the Wadi Rum village where we would meet our driver. Of note, it was before the visitor center that we spotted the camps along the highway that were on the outskirts of the Protected Area, i.e., SunCity Camp, Wadi Rum UFO Luxotel, etc.

The biggest concern we had, post booking, regarded general logistics of how we were going to get to the camp if it was a 15 minute drive into the sandy desert and where we would park our car. The camp had sent us an address to plug into our GPS to meet our driver in the village of Wadi Rum, which all turned out to be so easy and straight forward once we’d arrived. We had Verizon cell service in the village to in case we would have had to call our driver.

We drove another 7 km through remote desert before reaching the Wadi Rum village. The address provided by camp led right to a public parking lot that was quite easy to identify due to the amount of trucks congregated with various camp logos along their sides. It was there that we met Ayman who was going to drive us, to the camp in the back of his open pickup with built in benches and be our tour guide the next morning. Our rental was a four wheel drive vehicle so Ayman recommended we follow him in the pickup and that way we could park our vehicle at the camp instead. Slightly nervous about driving in the sand, we followed but hadn’t realized how bad the shocks were in our rental with the car vibrating and shaking the whole drive. Fifteen minutes later we excitedly spotted the camp; an isolated oasis along the desolate landscape.  The photos here and on other social media platforms fall far short of capturing how beautiful this camp truly is. As our luggage was unloaded, we confirmed with Ayman the time for our tour the next morning before heading to get our first up close glimpse inside the striking domes. The luxurious inside of the glass bubbles contrasted sharply with the desert that we were surrounded by. We had no cell phone service,   no TVs, and no wifi available, which was refreshing change and ultimately added to the relaxing isolated feel of Wadi Rum.

Dinner and breakfast were complimentary, so soon after we had enjoyed a quiet moment taking in the extraordinary sunset we headed to dinner in their ornate restaurant built into a cliff face. The food was a wide ranging buffet that was delicious, especially after a long day that had us starting out hiking around Petra.

It was at dinner the manager of the camp introduced himself and informed us that there was a complimentary stargazing tour at 8PM depending upon the clouds that were potentially going to roll in.  Thankfully the clouds cooperated and soon we were on a 15 minute walk outside of camp. Floor length, heavy coats had been provided to keep us warm against the chilly desert night air. Between the heavy coats and the flickering lights resembling torches they had given us for the hike, the whole experience had an air of surreal and we positively loved it. Our guide, Patrick was fantastic, regaling us with a flowing story of the stars from mythology, and physics to the applications of the Zodiac symbols. After his 40ish minute talk Patrick, who is also a professional photographer took various pictures of everyone who went on the tour. It was a bit of a challenge as you had to stay perfectly still for around twenty seconds due to the long exposure. The whole tour took about two hours but I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many stars, not to mention how bright they were. Far too soon we were heading back to camp where we were eager to return to the warmth of our rooms. At ten the lights surrounding the outside the isolated domes were turned off, allowing us to fall asleep under the stars.

The next morning we wolfed down breakfast before excitedly getting ready for our tour. We did have to checkout of our room prior to our tour, but we were able to leave our car at the camp as that’s where we were getting picked up and dropped off by Ayman.

We were decided on the three hour tour mainly riding in the back of a pickup for five hours sounded rather miserable. Ayman really pushed the five hour tour because of the quantity/quality of what we would be seeing otherwise. Going with his recommendation turned out to be the right call because we absolutely fell in love with Wadi Rum and this desert ranks as one of our favorite places we’ve ever been. Plus, the pickup ride was surprisingly quite comfortable and broken up often by stopping and exploring the many different sights Wadi Rum has to offer. Wadi Rum’s distinctive red sand and landscape should be familiar from various movies such as The Martian, The Red Planet, Prometheus, Lawrence of Arabia, Rogue One, Aladdin, and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

Sand Dunes
There was sand everywhere, obviously as we were in the middle of a desert, but the first stop on our trip was a massive sand dune that afforded expansive views of the surrounding otherworldly landscape. This distinct red sand was seriously the softest sand I’ve ever walked in. I positively refuse to tell you how many breaks I had to take to get to the top of this dune though. Nope. Not going to even give you a range (shhh…>5).

At each stop of the tour there was a Bedouin tent set up where locals are quick with a smile and an offer of tea. We enjoyed tea at this first stop and the last one but I would have been filled to bursting had we partaken of tea at every stop. Honestly, before this trip I could have counted the times I’d drank of tea on one hand, but this tea was quite delicious. While enjoying this first sip of tea for the day, I was chatting with the local Bedouin man as he proudly told me how Dwayne Johnson and Anne Hathaway had been in his tent while filming a new movie, enjoying his tea.

Khazali Canyon
Our next stop was the narrow Khazali Canyon, which contains easily identifiable petroglyphs along with Thamudic, Nabatean, and Islamic inscriptions. Probably the most interesting petroglyph, in my unprofessional opinion, was a pair of feet. This narrow passage had a stream of water flowing through it, but Ayman told us that just a week earlier into the wet season that we would hardly have been able get into the canyon at all. His family has a dozen sheep and three camels that they bring to this little oasis during the wet season for water. As the path was still wet and filled with deep pools. When crossing one of the pools, Ayman kindly built us a little rock bridge to get across, braving the cold water to get the rocks stable enough for us to cross. We couldn’t get much further before we were  stymied and had to turn back but the canyon experience was well worth being at the top of anyone’s must see list in Wadi Rum.

Little Bridge:
After exiting Khazali Canyon we climbed back in the truck to head to our next remarkable Wadi Rum landmark, the Little Bridge. Hiking to the top of this arch wasn’t strenuous, and once at the top Ayman situated us just right to get the perfect photo. He also staged a jumping photo that might be the best I’ve ever taken part in!

Um Frouth Rock Bridge
First driving up to this impressive arch it didn’t even occur to me that we could, let alone would want to climb to the top. So when we got out of the vehicle and Ayman showed us the foot holds to climb up my palms started sweating! We ended up climbing it and honestly it wasn’t as bad as it appeared from a far. Plus the top afforded even more spectacular landscape views of the desert, that is, when I could look up from where I was stepping.

Abu Khashaba Canyon 
Abu Khashaba Canyon amounted to a beautiful, breathtaking (literally breathtaking as you walking up and down hill in sand for 45 minutes) hike through a canyon shaped like an hour glass so it grows quite narrow for a bit of the hike. What made this stretch so special was the fact that Ayman dropped us off at one end of the canyon and picked us up on the opposite end, which afforded us significant time to do some exploring on our own without any direction. We passed maybe one other couple walking the opposite way the whole time we were in the canyon. Again, this lone hike only added to the already memorable experiences of the day.

Lawrence House  
Honestly, there isn’t much to this site, and they can’t even guarantee it was actually inhabited by TE Lawrence. What was entertaining though was hiking to the top of the surrounding rock formation to again get another expansive view of the landscape.

Mushroom Rock
The last landmark stop on our Wadi Rum Tour was the Mushroom Rock. As with the other stops, this one served to provide us with a yet another new, astonishing view of the distinctive landscape. No wonder movies have Wadi Rum as a popular go to location for their Mars based films. It was at Mushroom Rock that we enjoyed our last cup of tea and were treated to a captivating song by one of the Bedouin men. You can see the video below. Ayman made one last stop on our way back to the camp to show us how a local plant called anabasis articulate (Jointed anabis) can be used to make soap due to its ability to create foam. Kara and I gave it a try and our hands were left soft and smelling quite nice the rest of the day.
Our five hour tour flew by! Riding in the back of the pickup truck was comfortable and such a fun way to experience Wadi Rum. It helped that we had the sweetest tour guide who was eager to answer any questions or point out key features of the Wadi Rum desert. Honestly, approaching this leg of the trip, I had relatively mediocre expectations for Wadi Rum, because it was overshadowed by the other key stops on our trip such as Petra or the Pyramids. As a result of underestimating the magic that this area holds, the hospitality of the Bedouin people, and the one of a kind lodging, Wadi Rum will forever hold a special place in our hearts and is one of our favorite places we’ve ever visited.

Ayman made one last stop on our way back to the camp to show us how a local plant called anabasis articulate (Jointed anabis) can be used to make soap due to its ability to create foam. Kara and I gave it a try and our hands were left soft and smelling quite nice.
Our five plus hour tour flew by! Riding in the back of the pickup truck was comfortable and such a fun way to experience Wadi Rum. It helped that we had the sweetest tour guide who was eager to answer any questions or point out key features of the landscapes. Honestly, coming into this trip, I had relatively mediocre expectations for Wadi Rum because as a desert, in my mind it was overshadowed by the other key stops on our trip such as Petra or the Pyramids. It was likely a result of underestimating the magic that this area holds, the hospitality of the Bedouin people, and the one of a kind lodging we stay in that Wadi Rum will forever hold a special place in our hearts and was one of our favorite places we’ve ever visited.

Tala Bay – Red Sea

Leaving isolated Wadi Rum we were reunited once again with the world as we once again had cell service. Our destination was the city of Aqaba, specifically Tala Bay, which is right on the Red Sea. Our drive from Wadi Rum to Aqaba was only an hour and a half so we got to our hotel, the Movenpick Tala Bay Resort around 2 PM where we had an afternoon to relax by the pool and enjoy all the delicious food. February along the Red Sea is warm but not really bathing suit season. That being said, having spent all winter in Michigan the weather felt lovely. We had a really wonderful day where we enjoyed a few drinks on the patio while playing countless games of euchre.

 

The next morning we got up early for breakfast, eager to get out to the dive shop associated with the Resort. It was going to be a rainy day off and on, but we were desperately hoping to go snorkeling in the Red Sea, which is touted to have some of the most visually beautiful snorkeling spots in the world. The ___ dive shop has three basic snorkeling tours. There’s an all day package, half a day, and an hour excursion. We had wanted to do the half a day tour but due to it being the off season and the poor weather there were not enough other tourists signed up so we settled for the hour excursion. Wet suits, masks, flippers, and snorkels were all provided and the excursion guide took us by speed boat to a few different locations. Samuel and Kara are much more experienced snorkelers (remember their Australian adventure) than Luke and I so we just followed them around the famous Japanese Gardens. My snorkel was leaking, which provided some difficulties but in general it was a pretty special experience. The second spot our guide took us was a key diving location where the Jordanian government sunk a tank and a large plane. It was rather eerie to see the large plane slowly emerge from the blue gloom as you got closer. Then you noticed small bubbles emerging from around the plane and eventually several divers bobbing around the outside came into view. The water in general was comfortable, especially with the wet suit, and while we were out snorkeling the rain even stopped and the sun briefly emerged.

Far too soon it was time to get back in the car for our longest drive yet back to Amman where we were flying out for a two day trip to Egypt to see the pyramids. Jordan had initially drew my attention due to Petra, however this wonderful country proved to contain so much more than was expected. In four days we swam in the Dead Sea, marveled at Petra, explored the desert and slept under the stars in Wadi Rum, before ending our trip by snorkeling in the Red Sea. Yes four days is far too short to see everything Jordan has to offer. Key sites that we will be eventually coming back to explore are Amman, Wadi Mujib, Kerak Castle, Jerash, Bethany Beyond Jordan, and many other sites. Jordan is so very rich with diverse landscapes and stunning ruins, but these perks are only accented by the Jordanians’ overwhelming hospitality that we experienced throughout our trip. Everyone was quick to help or offer a smile, making us feel right at home in each stage of this memorable adventure. Well except for the mountain top curse, but we will chalk that up to an abnormality. Overall, Jordan should be on every traveler’s bucket list, and not only for the world wonder that is at its heart, but for all the other amazing sites it has to offer.


 

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Source: Four Days in Jordan

Sauvigone for Good–chocolate creations

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Sauvigone for Good

by J.C. Eaton

Sauvigone for GoodNorrie, part owner of Two Witches Winery in Penn Yan, New York, is doing her part to facilitate the wintery Chocolate and Wine Festival that is sure to draw a crowd to the benefit of the wineries on Seneca Lake. Three world class chocolatiers will be competing for a large cash prize plus lots of media attention. First, there will be three days of demonstrations and wine pairings at the wineries. Norrie has a great crew who can manage normal issues that might arise. No one is prepared, however, for murder, scheming, and sabotage.

To counter bad publicity that is sure to arise, Norrie sets out to investigate a puzzle that involves the chocolatiers and other mysterious guests from Europe. Her friends Don and Theo at a neighboring winery offer support, and Gladys, who works for the county sheriff, can be counted on for the occasional leak of information. Norrie has had run-ins with Deputy Hickman before. He associates her with disasters and repeatedly warns her off her attempts at investigating.

Although the plot centers on murder and intrigue with lots of red herrings, there are side threads as well. Norrie, while “babysitting” the winery in her sister’s absence, has a job and deadlines as a screenwriter. In addition, she is sorting through her feelings for Godfrey, a young entomologist friend who is very helpful whenever called upon, and for Bradley, a lawyer she is dating. 

I recommend Sauvigone for Good by J.C. Eaton as a fun cozy mystery, clean and interesting. I’m looking forward to the next whodunit by this husband and wife writing team.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Lyrical Underground (Kensington Press) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #4 in The Wine Trail Mysteries but could be read as a standalone.

Publication:   December 10, 2019—Lyrical Underground (Kensington Press)

Memorable Lines:

“Do you want any of us to go with you?” Stephanie asked. “It’s not a problem for me. My husband can put the boys to bed instead of having a love affair with the remote.”

It was another frigid morning and the snow in our vineyards glistened from the crust of ice that had formed on top of it. Another picture-perfect postcard for the Finger Lakes, unless you actually had to be outdoors.

“…And she’s got a smirk on her face that makes the Cheshire Cat look like an amateur.”

Twins for the Mountain Firefighter–standing up for those you love

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Twins for the Mountain Firefighter

by Melinda Curtis

Twins for the Mountain FirefighterThea Gayle, working on her PhD in textiles, takes on a job as a nanny for ten year old twin girls. When their truck driving, widowed dad is absent for two months without paying Thea’s salary or the apartment rent, Thea finds herself and the girls literally on the sidewalk in Seattle with their belongings. When Thea latches on to the mention of Uncle Logan, a mountain Hot Shot firefighter, she packs the girls and their possessions in her yellow VW Beetle and heads to Silver Bend, Idaho.

In the little town she discovers Logan, aka Tin Man because he “has no heart,” still in deep distress over the death of his twin sister Deb, the girls’ mother. He is having trouble coping with his grief, maintaining his challenging job, and caring for his aunt Glen who has declined rapidly both physically and mentally. Thea brings light into all of their lives, but she and Logan both had serious problems in their family backgrounds and wonder if they can overcome them to find happiness.

Melinda Curtis’ Twins for the Mountain Firefighter is clean and heartwarming, but it does address serious issues including abuse, abandonment, and trust. Although the series focuses on a crew of Hot Shots, there is more emphasis in this novel on relationships than on the actual firefighting. It has characters reaching deep into themselves to find strength, courage, and caring they never knew they had.

I would like to extend my thanks to Melinda Curtis for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance

Notes: #2 in the Mountain Firefighter series, but works well as a standalone.

Publication:   March 16, 2020—Purple Papaya

Memorable Lines:

She swung her foot, causing a ripple from the bells attached to her shoes, reminding herself to believe in sunshine and happily-ever-afters, of dreams being achieved.

The distance between them and their goals suddenly seemed insurmountable. She and Logan operated on two different planes. He guarded himself from others with invisible plates of armor and wanted to be alone. She called people to her with color and sound.

His acerbic niece turned to face him. And suddenly, it wasn’t Deb’s face he saw in her scowl but his own. Here was more fallout of his actions, proving he was like a rock dropped into a pond, creating ripples where he shouldn’t.

The Blood Mirror by Brent Weeks

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Rate: 5/5


Medium: Audiobook


Overview (No Spoilers):

Weeks has crafted one of my favorite series of recent, and I must confess I don’t want this journey to come to an end. Just when I think the series can’t get any better Weeks ups the game in The Blood Mirror. So much happens throughout this fourth installment of the Lightbringer series that it feels as though every conversation, regardless of how trivial it might seem, has hidden layers that are yet to be peeled back. Part of what drew me in as a reader during the The Black Prism and elevated this series above other contemporaries was this level of complexity and depth imbued upon establishing that nothing is as meets the eye. I loved that Weeks manages to fool the reader right away in book one, leaving one to question and ponder each previous discussion or interaction in a new light. In a rather bold move by Weeks, he employs this tactic again, implementing this dynamic for a third time causing the reader to rehash yet again the same key interactions and events, dating back to book one. Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, I’m delighted. Certain POVs or situations seemed to drag throughout The Blood Mirror but these were usually sandwiched between giant revelations or high suspense, allowing the overall flow to maintain a nigh breakneck pace despite the few odd hiccups. While this read did not necessarily expand the literature realm, significant depth was added to almost all key characters as we learned more about their motivations, desires, and backstories. Weeks also brutally wielded his pen as a weapon as he killed off one of my favorite characters. During this specific scene, I was sobbing while cutting up vegetables for soup when my husband got home from work, ultimately amused at the emotional mess he was walking into. The Blood Mirror has the general feel of a placeholder as Weeks maneuvers his players in place for the grand finale, but manages to avoid stagnant pacing that often accompanies pawn being positioned with fast pacing and shocking reveals. Overall, The Blood Mirror has left me both eagerly anticipating what surprises Weeks will have in store for the final installment of his series, while simultaneously dreading this fantastic literary adventure drawing to a close.


Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound):
  • Andross Guile the loving father? Just as I thought he’d been crafted diamond hard into a one dimensional evil character we start to see cracks shine through of perhaps a hidden side.
  • Gavin’s brother was never in the cells and instead killed on Sunder Rock? All of those interactions, POVs, suffering were just a figment of Gavin’s madness?
  • When will Gavin realize he can draft White? What will the White mean for his Black madness?
  • Is Gavin actually evil then?
  • What will happen to Gavin as he is on the path set by Grinwoody? How will Gavin’s interactions be with Gunner? Where are the rest of the rowers that Gavin was shackled with?
  • What else has he erased from his mind by using the Black?
  • Wait…wait… wait! Kip is actually Andross’ son? Just ponder all those interactions and games they played against each other in this new light.
  • At least Karris now realizes that Zymun is a fraud! When Gavin the Blackguard died that was another heartbreaking scene as his character was easy to connect with and like. Thankfully his words reached Karris.
  • It was interesting that Zymun was not actually part of the majority of this read. What has he been up to?
  • Some of my favorite chapters were Kip evolve into his own leader, along with his Mighty. That being said, his interactions with Titis were indeed frustrating, as they must have been for this newly married couple. Still, their bond grew, along with the size of their army.
  • Why did Karris or Andross never talk about Kip being in the Blood Forrest? They must have heard rumors.
  • Teia killing Ironfists’ sister was another heart wrenching scene where the reader feels as helpless as the old Commander. This felt like a turning point for Teia. What will Ironfist do next? Are the rumors of him being a King now true?
  • When will Winston do something unforgivable to the Mighty?
  • What is going on with these higher powers at play?
  • Who was the third person in the cells when Teia went to the dungeons and saw Quentin?

 

Source: The Blood Mirror by Brent Weeks

Have a Deadly New Year–Christie-inspired plot

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Have a Deadly New Year

by Lynn Cahoon

Have a Deadly New YearToday was a great day to read a novella—short and complete in one sitting. Lynn Cahoon’s Have a Deadly New Year found Angie Turner and her staff of chefs at The County Seat restaurant offsite at a combination catering event and retreat. After providing a fancy multi-course meal to kick off a famous band’s reunion, the chefs were looking forward to a week’s working vacation in the huge, glamorous mansion. Complications arise when one of the band leaders is murdered and no one can go anywhere. The house is in a remote area, a blizzard strikes, and they are mandated to stay until the police return from another emergency. Are they under lockdown with a murderer and who might it be? 

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Lyrical Underground (Kensington Press) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: This is a Farm to Fork novella. I love this series, and I normally find Lynn Cahoon’s books effective as standalones. I would not recommend it for this novella, however. It is just too short to comprehensively make all of the connections necessary for full enjoyment.

Publication:   December 3, 2019—Lyrical Underground (Kensington Press)

Memorable Lines: 

“I have a personal motto that it’s all about me.” “You’re the leading man in your own play.”

“I suppose you’ll be doing New Year’s resolutions during your week? Make sure they’re about you and not what others think you should do.”

“Negative energy never produces a positive outlook.”

How to Hide an Empire by Daniel Immerwahr

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Rate: 4.5/5


Medium: Kindle


Overview (Spoilers Abound): NPR  deserves kudos for directing me to yet another fantastic nonfiction read that has left me mulling over the wide array of seemingly unconnected topics that are somehow pulled together under the same unified theme. How to Hide an Empire was chock full of information and details that not only significantly added to my understanding and knowledge of the history of the US territories but also challenged me to view this topic from a novel perspective. Additionally, not only were the facts relayed in a way that almost seamlessly fit into a connected story, but Immerwahr spent considerable time and effort explaining the reasoning behind the Government’s motivation or attitudes regarding these territories at various time points. The topics covered by Immerwahr were so expansive that one can hardly grasp the quantity research that had to be conducted in order for How to Hide an Empire to be written, let alone organized. A sampling of the various subjects covered that are all framed through the lens of the United States territories range from Peruvian guano, to Osama bin Laden, Sony, the Beatles, James Bond, and the birth control pill. An important gauge for my nonfiction reviews, albeit bias toward my own preferences, lies in how much information an authors is able to convey throughout their book, thereby broadening my knowledge on a specific topic, while maintaining an engaging story. In this regard, Immerwahr knocked the level of detail and the sheer quantity of material covered, well out of the park. That being said, several instances during this read I would end up finding myself glossing over or falling asleep during a particularly technical section but the upside garnered by the wide array of knowledge gleaned during this read more than made up for any resulting naps. As a female scientist, I was moved by the heartbreaking story of Clara Immerwahr who was the author’s Great, Grandmother’s cousin. Despite this being a spoiler filled section, I won’t delve further into her backstory, instead I’ll encourage you fall down that information wormhole to learn not only about her but also husband, who not only won a Nobel Prize but played a key role in developing chemical warfare in WWI. Back to the book in general, How to Hide an Empire also challenges the public’s understanding (including myself) of how far our borders are/were extended throughout the Greater United State’s history. For example, despite knowing that Hawaii and Alaska were not states until post WWII I’d never really through through what this had meant from the standpoint of Pearl Harbor being attacked. We focus on the attack of Pearl Harbor, but on the same day, Japan had also attacked the Philippines and Guam who were both also territories, the same as Hawaii. Immerwahr illuminates the decisions behind framing the attack from the perspective on one territory, Hawaii vs. the others. Also, did you know that Japan had also attacked several Alaskan Islands during WWII? As an American, I’m well aware of the horrors exacted upon the Native Americans, however each territory had its own history with the mainland that proved most difficult to read, even Hawaii and Alaska. These painful accounts ranged from medical experiments in Puerto Rico to military actions in the Philippines or forced relocation in Alaska. Immerwahr easily could have fallen into a tone of condemnation, however instead somehow maintained a neutral voice that worked to explain or give rise to understanding of how larger policies or attitudes gave rise to those specific situations. In additional to managing overall tone tone Immerwahr writing as a whole avoided interjecting opinions and bias, instead relying upon facts or direct quotes found in documents, correspondence, articles, etc. Over over again while reading this book, I found myself constantly peppering my husband with a multitude of “Did you know..” questions. For example, Did you know that Alaskan Aleuts were also moved into internment camps  where they faced horrifying conditions during WWII all for their own safety? Or did you know Hawaii was under martial law after Pearl Harbor for almost three years? Did you know the US presently has around 800 bases all over world? Did you know the US President Millard Fillmore actually talked about the need to promise fairer prices for guano? Did you know…? Did you know..? Did you know…? How to Hide an Empire effectively turned me into a broken record! Overview, Immerwahr has forever changed how readers will look at a logo map of the United States of America, along with a significantly broadening of our understanding regarding how our rather fuzzy boarders that have ebbed and flowed throughout a relatively short history.

Source: How to Hide an Empire by Daniel Immerwahr

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