Knife of Dreams (WoT #11)

WoT11Knife of Dreams by Robert Jordan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Knife of Dreams, the eleventh installment of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series and the last he completed before his death, is a return to earlier in the series.  Throughout Knife of Dreams, events that had been boiling around many primary protagonists for several books finally came to fruition.  The Perrin-Faile-Shaido storyarc throughout the book led up to a combined assault upon the Shaido by Perrin’s forced and the Seanchan in Malden.  Elayne’s quest for the Throne of Andor came to a successful conclusion, but a perilous one for her going forward especially after an attack by the Black Ajah.  Mat’s unusual courtship with Tuon came to a ‘successful’ conclusion, but not without battles not just martial.  Finally, Rand and Egwene continued on their respective paths to leadership though Egwene found herself undermining the White Tower from within as an ‘lowly’ novice while Rand continued struggling with his internal demons as well as unruly nobles just before a brutal meeting with Semirhage.

While there were negatives, one being unnecessary padding early in the book, they were quickly forgotten as events in the book picked up.  Of the last four books before Knife of Dreams, only Winter’s Heart provided anything substantial (at least to me) while the others seemed mostly a collection of story lines with little happening.  With Knife of Dreams, events seemed to be building and three words kept on appearing, more so further along in the book, the Last Battle.  After finishing Knife of Dreams, it felt like the series had completed it’s long 2nd Act and was gearing up for the 3rd and final Act.

The Wheel of Time Page

The Monster of Florence

0446581275-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

The Monster of Florence is the first true crime book I’ve ever read and while I knew it was about a serial killer and the investigation in catching the perpetrator that went off the rails, then I read the book and couldn’t believe it. The first portion of the book detailed the killings themselves following Spezi’s steps as he reported the happens in and around Florence with the crimes then the various investigations that led to interesting trials. The second portion of the book saw Preston enter the story and how his life was turned around by the Monster case especially from the hands of Giuliano Mignini. The Afterward of Preston’s view of the then-developing Amanda Knox case in light of his own knowledge of Italian journalism and justice was very poignant when looking years back.

Although I have read about how many people didn’t like the details Preston gave about his own experience with the Italian justice system, but I thought it helped highlight one of the problems plaguing the Monster case which seemed to be the point of the book. While Preston and Spezi have come up with a likely candidate for the Monster himself, the fact that they must battle decades old conspiracy theories seems the longest shadow that has cast itself over this case.

Angry Saints: Tensions and Possibilities in the Adventist Struggle Over Righteousness by Faith

dd76d2cf42bb6e25977364a5077444341587343Angry Saints: Tensions and Possibilities in the Adventist Struggle Over Righteousness by Faith by George R. Knight
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The 1888 General Conference session in Minneapolis was both a triumph and humiliation for the Seventh-day Adventist church because of the issue debated at it, the atmosphere they were debated in, and the resulting conflict within Adventism itself for the last 125 years.  George R. Knight not only examines the issues and the course of events before and after Minneapolis, but also the major individuals involved in a thorough manner.  Published around the 100th anniversary of the Minneapolis session, this book is important for every Adventist to read, both new and long-time.

The issue at Minneapolis was a new interpretation of the law in the book of Galatians by E.J. Waggoner & A.T. Jones that emphasized righteousness by faith that was supported by Ellen White.  This interpretation of Galatians was opposed by G.C. President George Butler and Uriah Smith, the editor of Review and Herald, and their ministerial allies.  The atmosphere of the session was contentious, a carry over from the 1886 session, in which the “traditionalists” and the “reformers” fought over the meaning of basic Christian truths with those of supposed Adventist truths as the nation debated a National Sunday Law.  After Minneapolis, the two factions continued to clash with one another over the understanding that has continued in essence until the present day.

The denomination triumphed at Minneapolis because it rediscovered the need to emphasize the righteousness and justification of faith in Christ along with the Ten Commandments, including the seventh-day Sabbath.  Another triumph was the emphasis to return to reading the Bible over following the lead of denominational leaders and not investigating their teachings.  However the humiliations for Adventists are more pronounced, especially when one considered that 40 years after the Great Disappointment a member of the denomination could be an Adventist but not Christian.  Another humiliation was that denominational leaders were trying to emphasis human authority instead of the Bible to “protect” supposed Adventist beliefs and even wanted to create creeds to protect them.  But the biggest humiliation that two factions that sparred over the law of Galatians have continued in essence to the present-day resulting at times of a divided church facing potentially facing dangerous situations.

Knight goes over all everything I have just stated in great detail, but I found the most important part of the book to me was the last chapter entitled, “The Continuing Possibility.”  Within this chapter, Knight uses his own early experience as an Adventist as an example of the continuing problem that is can be seen in some Adventist churches.  Within the context of the preceding chapters, this final one puts the crisis in Minneapolis squarely into our time and challenges us to examine how we relate to Christ.

Crossroads of Twilight (WoT #10)

WoT10Crossroads of Twilight by Robert Jordan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The tenth installment of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series, Crossroads of Twilight, has been maligned from readers since it’s publication and with understandable reasons.  The story arcs of Perrin, Mat, Elayne, and Egwene are given the emphasis throughout the book with only a touch of Rand near the closure of the book.  The majority of the book’s time period leads up to and during the climatic final chapter of Winter’s Heart before finally advancing when Egwene’s story arc begins.  Though out the book, everything seems to be moving pieces into place for something big to happen but it never really materializes. In each of the last chapters for Perrin, Mat, and Egwene a dramatic turning in the plot happens but leaving the reader to wait until the next installment to find out what happens resulting in frustration.

Crossroads of Twilight is a mixture of positives and negatives, with the latter emphasized because of the two year wait and the fact that Prologue was almost a tenth of the book even though some of the bits within that were interest.  However, even though this book can be frustrating at times (my came in about three-quarters of the way through waiting for something to happen) it is a necessity to read as The Wheel of Time draws to it conclusion.

The Wheel of Time Page

It’s True! It’s True!

0060393270-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_It’s True! It’s True! by Kurt Angle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kurt Angle’s autobiography is a quick, enjoyable read about how the youngest child of a working class family rose to become an Olympic champion then become one of the biggest names in professional wrestling of the last two decades.  Angle opens up in detail about his family life while growing up and how it influenced him as he pursued his athletic dreams, the honesty in this section of the book really makes one realize how determined Angle became to be the best in the world.  The amateur wrestling descriptions throughout the first half of the book, especially in the detailing of individual matches, was THE highlight of the book for me as I learned about the sport.  The final half of the book details the first 18 months of Angle’s WWF/E career and his growing pains, both good and bad, in the ring.  The insights Angle gives in this section not only opens up the business to long-time “smart” fans about the inner workings of the business, but also how an accomplished athlete like Angle critiqued himself throughout the process.  The only negative was that Angle repeated somethings a few times in the book and considering the short length of the book, it really stood out.  Besides that negative this was an enjoyable read and a recommended read.

Winter’s Heart (WoT #9)

WoT09Winter’s Heart by Robert Jordan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In Winter’s Heart, the ninth installment of Robert Jordan’s epic series, the author learned the lesson from his previous entry (The Path of Daggers) by having one of the myriad of character arcs from the beginning of the book develop over it’s course so as to reach a conclusion at the end of the book.  This dominating character arc was the series’ primary protagonist, Rand al’Thor aka The Dragon Reborn, who’s dual goal was to kill those who had attempted to take his life at the end of the previous volume and to cleanse the male half of The Power from the Dark One’s taint.  The other strong point of Winter’s Heart is the return of Mat after being missed in the previous book, like what happened to Perrin in The Fires of Heaven.  Elayne and Perrin’s arcs continue as well, though they are tertiary in the grand scheme of this book especially as Perrin’s is partial seen through the eyes of his wife, Faile.

Jordan’s return to having a dominating story arc that gives the book a beginning, middle, and end is big improvement over The Path of Daggers.  However, of all the story arcs given space in this volume only Rand and Mat’s seem to have traction throughout.  Elayne’s arc is broken up into several portions through the book while Perrin is gone after the first third of the book.  It seems that in correcting the problem Jordan had in The Path of Daggers, he messed up the transitions from story arc to story arc that were a plus from The Path of Daggers.

Whatever the flaws, the last 34 pages of Winter’s Heart can make up from some of them.  The last chapter, With the Choedan Kal, is one of the best (but not the best) that I’ve read in the series so far and by far the best since Book 5, The Fires of Heaven.  Overall if I could give Winter’s Heart a 3 1/2 stars I would, however unlike The Path of Daggers in which I rounded down to a 3, but for the ninth installment I’m giving a 4.

The Wheel of Time Page

Chronicles of the Crusades

53ce49b1eb5d8cf593866505251444341587343Chronicles of the Crusades by Jean de Joinville
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Originally I skimmed through this book almost a decade ago in preparation for my Senior History Oral Exam and only focused on the overall theme questions listed in my study guide at the time.  However this past week while actually reading Chronicles of the Crusades and found thanks to the excellent translation, a easy read and very informative on its subject matters.  Of the two chroniclers, I found Jean de Joinville the easier to read because of his style of writing.  Most likely the spread and evolution of romantic literature influenced Joinville’s style of being more down-to-earth and slightly easier to read when compared to Geoffrey of Villehardouin, who was more matter-of-fact and somewhat “stiff.”  However, just because Geoffrey’s style is a little “stiffer” doesn’t mean it’s not easy to read nor informative about the establish and early years of the Latin Empire of Constantinople.  If you’re interested about first-hand accounts of the Crusades, specifically the 4th and 7th, this is the book for you.

The Path of Daggers (WoT #8)

WoT08The Path of Daggers by Robert Jordan
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

The eighth installment of Robert Jordan’s epic Wheel of Time series, The Path of Daggers, continues the numerous storylines that feature the main characters of the epic but doesn’t have a story unto itself.  The lack of a lone storyline contained wholly with it’s pages makes The Path of Daggers a collection of various stories all of which feature the same theme: danger.  Although this is an interest approach to contain his epic series, Jordan’s decision results in the reader finding it hard get involved in the book.

While the transition from one storyline to another was well done, none of the storylines seemed to reach out and grab the read as being the most important.  While Jordan’s world building continues to be outstanding, the characteristics of some of his main characters or characters in general continue to frustrate though if one has read this far into the series you should have found a way to deal with it.

Finally, I will admit that due to outside factors that affected my reading schedule most likely had a direct affect on how I viewed this book.  I found it a step down from the previous three installments (The Fires of Heaven, Lord of Chaos, and A Crown of Swords) though if I could have given this book 3.5 stars instead of 3, I would of.

The Story of The Moors in Spain

0933121199-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Story of the Moors in Spain by Stanley Lane-Poole
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Though originally written and published over 125 years ago, The Story of the Moors in Spain by Stanley Lane-Poole is an quick, easy, and informative read.  Although the book is not up to the scholarship standards of today, Lane-Poole uses the sources at his disposal along folklore, traditional Spanish ballads, and romantic history written by Washington Irving to produce a most engaging book.  Lane-Poole always denoted in the text when he was going on either the folklore, ballads, or romantic history insertions for the reader as a way to bring history alive and when they were contrary to actual history he made note of it.

One of the biggest negatives of the book that one notices is that Lane-Poole engages in perpetuating the Black Legend that has tainted the perception of the Spanish since it’s creation.  At the beginning and ending of the text, Lane-Poole laments that the Spaniards decided to reject the civilization of the Islamic Moors for the backwardness of the Catholic (note I said Catholic not Christian) “crusaders” then points out certain incidents that prove his point.  To be fair to Lane-Poole, one can not use today’s standards to judge him and when a Christian showed “civilized” behavior and a Moor “uncivilized” he did point it out.  However, there was always the perception that these incidents were few and far between.

Even with this negative to the text, The Story of the Moors in Spain is an excellent way to begin learning about the Islamic period on the Iberian peninsula.  However this book should not be your last on the subject.

The Making of Medieval Spain

A Crown of Swords (WoT #7)

WoT07A Crown of Swords by Robert Jordan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Crown of Swords is a well balanced installment of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series, especially when looking at it as part of the series’ 2nd Act.  The book’s various story lines pick up where they left off in the previous volume, Lord of Chaos, and either continue or come to a conclusion that quickly leads to a new one taking its place and either bringing together or separating the large cast of characters.  Unlike the previous installment, A Crown of Swords seems to be better paced as Jordan stuck with a story line for several chapters in a row until it came to an appropriate place to transition to another story line or for the next book.  Throughout the book, a variety of character developments take place with the most important happening with Nynaeve followed by Mat and Rand.

There were a few things that were somewhat of a drag, mostly the usual complaints one hears from longer time fans like in-depth detail on clothing, hair pulling by a certain character, the interactions of various women with one another, etc.  The one that continues to be a personal problem to me is that the climax at the end of the book seems rushed with all of it occurring during the last chapter of the book.  But since these “problems” or complaints have been present throughout the series an objective reader does get use to it.

Overall, A Crown of Swords is a good read and I recommend you continue reading The Wheel of Time series with this book.

The Wheel of Time Page