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review 2017-07-19 23:01
Recommended to those who enjoy action novels, spy novels, thrillers, and definitely to Baldacci fans.
Zero Day - David Baldacci

Thanks to NetGalley and to the publisher, MacMillan, for offering me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

David Baldacci is one of these authors whose names a reader (and even a non-reader) cannot escape. His books are widely distributed and he always seems to have a volume or two in the bestsellers list (no, not the Amazon one on a little-known genre, but the real thing). Despite all that (or perhaps because of it, as sometimes some names seem so familiar that I feel as if I had already read/watched or whatever it is they do, them before) I had never read any of his books. I saw that coinciding with a book launch, NetGalley was offering a copy of the first book in the John Puller series, and I decided perhaps it was time I read him. (I don’t have any specific opinions on best sellers as such and I don’t necessarily avoid them as a matter of principle but I do prefer to discover them early on, so I can make my own mind up).

The story, narrated in the third person, mostly follows John Puller, a military investigator that is all you probably would wish for in such a character. He has complex family relations (including a genius brother imprisoned for life for treason), he has seen his share of combat and has the medals and the scars to prove them, he is as skilled at fighting as he is at investigating, and although usually he works as part of a team, he can be a one-man-band when required (as is the case here).  There are some moments (like the first chapter) when we follow other characters, but this is for a very good reason, and we, by and far, experience the events from Puller’s perspective. Of course, that does not mean we know everything he knows, because the book hides information at times and that means there are some surprises (the number of surprises might depend on how close your attention and on how many books of the genre you have read).  The story is a combination of a spy story with highly skilled military investigator/hero in charge, and a more standard police procedural, with big secrets, conspiracies, and environmental issues thrown in for good measure. There are hints of a possible romance, but nobody is up to the task, and the time frame is very tight for such developments.

The investigation is very detailed, and we get to know quite a few of the characters in the small West Virginian town of Drake, a coal mining place that has become almost a ghost town due to the environmental and economic consequences of the exploitation and depletion of its resources by the sole industry in the area. Baldacci shares as much loving detail on the way the coal industry works (or at least some far-from-exemplary companies), as he does on everything else: the way the military works, the different roles of the investigating and security agencies and how they interact, the equipment used, the weaponry… This might be too much for some readers, but I am sure it will make others very happy. I did enjoy more the discussions of the environmental issues and the socio-economic effects of the coal-extracting industry than the details about the equipment, but there is plenty of action and intrigue to keep readers of mystery, and also spy novels, entertained.

My favourite character is Sam Cole, the female police officer in charge of the investigation. She has problems of her own and also a difficult relationship with her family, and seems the perfect match for Puller. I would probably have preferred the novel to be about her, but that is not the genre or the focus of it. In many ways, her character is the one that makes us see Puller as something more than a perfect fighting and investigating machine, all professional, and efficient. Yes, he has a cat, some sort of relationships with his father, and an interesting dynamic with his brother, but she is the only person who is not a relative he seems to relate to at a level beyond the casual, and it is not only because it is helpful to his mission.  

I agree with comments that the novel is formulaic in many ways (Puller survives several attempts on his life, has to subvert orders and get inventive to save the day and manages to pull an incredible feat at the end), although as I haven’t read other Baldacci’s books, I cannot comment on how much better or worse Puller is compared to some of his other heroes (Reacher is mentioned often in the reviews, sometimes agreeing he’s as good, others denying it). I imagine once you have such a following as an author, you know what your public wants and expects, so it is perhaps disingenuous to accuse him of writing to a formula. It is not a genre I read often, and I prefer something more distinctive, less heroic, and with a bit of humour.

The book is well paced, the writing supports the story rather than calling attention to itself (as I said, some readers might find there is too much detail, but I doubt his fans will, and after reading the acknowledgements, it is clear that he is well-informed and has had access to first-hand information not many would have), and if you like lone heroes with a conscience, John Puller makes a pretty decent one. Recommended to those who enjoy action novels, spy novels, thrillers, and definitely to Baldacci fans. I am not sure I’d say I’ve become one of them, but I might try another one of his stories at some point.

 

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review 2017-05-19 17:15
Book Review - Please Explain Terrorism to Me: A Story for Children, P-E-A-R-L-S of Wisdom for Their Parents
Please Explain Terrorism to Me: A Story for Children, P-E-A-R-L-S of Wisdom for Their Parents - Laurie Zelinger,Ann Israeli

Our Beck Valley Book Review - Please Explain Terrorism to Me: A Story for Children, P-E-A-R-L-S of Wisdom for Their Parents by Laurie Zelinger and Ann Israeli

Prepare*Explain*Answer*Reassure*Listen*Safeguard
The acronym for PEARLS who produce a series of books for parents to share with their children explaining scary topics to help them understand difficult topics. The colourful illustrations which depicts the script help take the edge of the harsh reality off the topic. The way the topic is shown through the eyes of a young person that another young person would understand is exceptional. Also involving the boys friends, school life and family and the discussions along with the situations they protray bring it home to any family.

The books writing and explanations are very easy for anyone to understand and along with the brilliant illustrations make this an exceptionally teaching aid. There is brilliant guidance notes in the book on how to get the best out of it for parents.

Read more on the #book and author here...
http://beckvalleybooks.blogspot.co.uk/2017/05/book-review-please-explain-terrorism-to.html

Book Description
Complemented by exquisite, colorful artwork, Dr. Zelinger skillfully crafts an easily relatable children's story using everyday situations, around the oppressive concept of Terrorism in the news. With masterful understanding of the child's world, new and frightening concepts are introduced carefully and gently, with the child's perspective in mind. Dr. Zelinger provides parent coaching to further the dialogue in her P-E-A-R-L-S of Wisdom section (Prepare, Explain, Answer, Reassure, Listen, Safeguard) where caregivers are given scripts to guide them, as well room for individuality. This pioneer book helps children and parents face a critical, often avoided topic with reassurance and calm.
"This book provides the 'PEARLS' of wisdom for parents and children to discuss a scary topic like terrorism in ways that promote healthy and authentic parent-child conversations that yield to mutual respect and bonding."

--Marc A. Brackett, PhD., Director, Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence

"Deep and yet accessible, her remarkable deciphering of the psychological factors that hinder the free communication between parents and children on terrorism is compelling. This fascinating guide amounts to a riveting lesson of clarity and to a masterpiece in bridging the unbridgeable."

--Hon. Yehuda Lancry, Former Ambassador of Israel to the U.N.

"Please Explain 'Terrorism' to Me is a straightforward and down-to-earth treatment of a difficult subject. Dr. Zelinger uses common sense, a simple clarification of the basic issues, and reassurance to provide a deeper understanding of terrorism for kids--without a corresponding rise in anxiety."

--Thomas W. Phelan, Ph.D., Psychologist/Author,

Source: beckvalleybooks.blogspot.co.uk/2017/05/book-review-please-explain-terrorism-to.html
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review 2017-04-05 22:59
One Perfect Lie
One Perfect Lie - Lisa Scottoline

By: Lisa Scottoline

ISBN: 978-1250099563

Publisher: St. Martin's Press

Publication Date: 4/11/2017

Format: Hardcover 

My Rating: 4 Stars

 

Lisa Scottoline returns following Most Wanted landing on my Top Books of 2016 with her latest, ONE PERFECT LIE. A mysterious new teacher lands at a high school. Is he a fraud?

A twisty suburban crime thriller, keeping you on the edge-of-your-seat, classic Scottoline style.

“Lying to ourselves is more deeply ingrained than lying to others." — Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Chris Brennan is applying for a teaching job at Central Valley High School, but he is not forthcoming about his past. He had scoped out the school and the teachers in advance.

After all, everyone liked a clean-cut guy, and they tended to forget that appearances were deceiving.

 



Even a fake resume. His resume says he went to Northwest College in Wyoming. He even picked a housing development nearby, Valley Oaks.

The small town is located in south-central Pennsylvania, known for its outlet shopping. No one would imagine what he was up to. His story was his parents passed away five years earlier in a car crash (drunk driver). An only child he says, so he decided to come to the area for higher pay and he loved kids.

Chris led the officials at school to believe he wanted to be accessible to his students on email, social media and believed in personal contact and mutual respect. He also said he coached. He even applied for the assistant baseball varsity coach position.

What better way to get connected? He was setting up a plan. Chris is not who he pretends to be.

What is his motive?

Chris bonds immediately with students. Can he fool the other teachers? Can he be trusted?

We meet a variety of moms, students, and teachers. Susan, Raz, Heather, Justin, Mindy, and Evan. The baseball team. Chris keeps abreast all the families and all the activities. Will he accomplish his mission? He puts his plan in place.

Mr. Y (Abe Yomes) gay, African American who teaches eleventh grade. He also lived in the town with his partner Jamie who owned a realty company. He is from Wyoming (for real).

Soon enough, however, Mr. Y is dead, an apparent suicide, and Chris is ready to move forward with his plan. There are certain people he needs to befriend. They are all part of his plan. Chris targets three teenage boys.

Absorbing and entertaining, you never know what is going on in suburbia. Domestic terrorism? Justice? Take a walk down Wisteria Lane. Domestic suspense is all the rave today. What goes on "behind closed doors" in normal neighborhoods. The lies we tell ourselves as well as each other.

Action-packed family drama, a thriller complex ride with lots of twists, turns, secrets, cover-ups, and suspense. Scottoline once again surprises her readers with contemporary issues and topics which filter into our lives.

A special thank you to St. Martin's Press and NetGalley for an early reading copy.

JDCMustReadBooks

 

 

Praise  

 

"Scottoline keeps the pace relentless as she drops a looming threat into the heart of an idyllic suburban community, causing readers to hold their breath in anticipation." –Booklist
 
"Readers can be assured that the author nails the high school milieu, from athletic rivalries to sexting...they're in for one thrilling ride." –Kirkus Reviews
 
"Entertaining...This fast-paced read culminates in a daring chase that would play well on the big screen." –Publishers Weekly
Source: www.judithdcollinsconsulting.com/single-post/2016/11/04/One-Perfect-Lie
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-02-02 22:38
Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue - Maajid Nawaz,Sam Harris

'Liberals imagine that jihadists and islamists are acting as anyone else would given a similar history of unhappy encounters with the West. And they totally discount the role that religious beliefs play in inspiring a group like the Islamic State - to the point where it would be impossible for a jihadist to prove he was doing anything for religious reasons. Apparently it's not enough for an educated person with economic opportunities to devote himself to the most extreme and austere version of Islam, to articulate his religious reasons for doing so ad nauseam, and even to go as far as to confess his certainty about martyrdom on video before blowing himself up in a crowd. Such demonstrations of religious fanaticism are somehow considered rhetorically insufficient to prove that he really believed what he said he believed.' - Sam Harris page 47-48

 

I think that one paragraph sums up my frustrations with the debate on Islamic terrorism. Imagine if you went back in time to see the Knights Templar not give an inch in battle, driven by their religiously inspired, fervent belief in martyrdom. The conclusion you draw from this is that this was at root a frustration garnered from hundreds of years of eastern foreign policy in the form of Jihad and the knights' reaction has nothing to do with religion. Surely you'd have to be at least dishonest in that scenario to discount the role of religious conviction? And yet as Harris demonstrates, this has almost become a mainstream political opinion amongst so called liberals. Harris continues -

 

'The belief that a life of eternal pleasure awaits martyrs after death explains why certain people can honestly chant "we love death more than the infidels love life." They truly believe in martyrdom - as evidenced by the fact that they regularly sacrifice their lives, or watch their children do so, without a qualm. As we have been having this conversation there was an especially horrific attack on a school in Peshawar, Pakistan, where members of the Taliban murdered 145 people, 132 of them children. Here's an except from an online conversation with a Taliban supporter in the aftermath of the massacre - Human life only has value among you worldly materialist thinkers. Death is not the end of life. It is the beginning of existence in a world much more beautiful than this. Paradise is for those pure of hearts. All children have pure hearts. They have not sinned yet... They have not been corrupted by their kafir parents. We did not end their lives. We gave them new ones in paradise, where they will be loved more than you can imagine. They will be rewarded for their martyrdom."

 

I think that speaks for itself. You would have to make the claim that the Taliban supporter is lying, in order to undermine the idea that extreme religious conviction plays some part in the terror debate and I personally think the weight of evidence rests against you if you do.

 

But anyway that's not even the debate that people should be having, the debate should be how do you deal with the tide of Islamist and jihadi groups around the globe? Maajid Nawaz argues that Islamism, the political belief of fundamentalism and the spreading of Islamic law and customs across all nations, must be defeated at grass roots levels within the Muslim community. They estimate that Islamist groups make up between 15 and 25% of the world's 1.6 billion strong Muslim population. He sees The Obama administrations refusal to name Islamism as being at the root of groups like IS as a failure. He believes that naming the problem instead of avoiding it, gives Muslims a choice to either 'reclaim our religion and its narrative, or allow thugs and demagogues to speak in its name and impose it on others. Calling it extremism is too relative and vague and sidesteps the responsibility to counter its scriptural justification.' He means scriptural justification here in the sense that one may interpret many things from the Qu'ran and ahadith and one of those readings is the skewed beliefs of Islamic State. He also mentions however that another essential thing that needs to happen is for there to be an acknowledgement that there are many different interpretations possible, each to the person who reads the scripture. Essentially if the Muslim community can get to the stage where the interpretations are personal to the person and there is no right answer, this is the first step on the way to pluralism and secularism. 

 

I've done rather a hatchet job here of what is a short, at 128 pages, yet valuable conversation in which the intricacies and problems of the debate are analysed in such greater depth. Despite its small length, it is definitely a worthy addition to the field and a good discussion between two respectful men, one a liberal Muslim, the other a liberal atheist. The more this is talked about and the less it is approached with apprehension and shame the better for our society. 

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review 2017-01-30 13:40
Fatal by John Lescroart
Fatal: A Novel - John Lescroart

 

Even one little, tiny mistake can prove to be fatal. 

 

Kate finds herself uncontrollably attracted to a married man. She herself is married, but she doesn't let that stop her. Before you know it, the situation spirals out of control. 

 

If Fatal had stuck with Kate's and her paramour's family, I think this would have been better. The terror attack and a lot of the characters, (Alan, Ginny, Laurie),  felt as if they were not really necessary to the plot. I also felt as if there were too many twists and turns, even though I was able to figure it all out, almost from the very beginning.

 

All that said, though, the story was fast paced and interesting. I especially liked the Police Detective Beth and her partner Ike. I hope to see them again in the future. 

 

Overall, Fatal was a fun, quick story that was all over the place at times and could have been more focused. Even still, it was entertaining and I was glad to be reading Mr. Lescroart's work again.

 

You can get your copy here: Fatal: A Novel

 

*Thank you to Atria and NetGalley for the e-ARC in exchange for my honest feedback. This is it.*

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