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review 2018-08-20 12:16
For lovers of poetic prose, complex narration and unique voices, a book about faith, guilt, and identity
The Incendiaries - R.O. Kwon

Thanks to NetGalley and to Grace Vincent, on behalf of Virago, Little Brown Book Group UK, for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review. Thanks also for the opportunity to take part in the blog tour for the launch of the novel, the first book published by R.O. Kwon, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

This novel describes the attempts by one of its protagonists, Will Kendall, of making sense and understanding the events that have led to his girlfriend’s, Phoebe Lin, participation in a horrific event. As often happens in novels with a narrator (or several), no matter what the story is about, the book often ends up becoming a search for understanding and meaning, not only of the events that form the plot but also of the actual narrator. Why is s/he telling that particular story? And why is s/he telling that story in that particular way? This novel is no different, although the manner the story is told can, at times, work as a smokescreen, and we don’t know exactly who is telling what, and how accurate he or she might be.

On the surface, the novel is divided into chapters, each one headed by one of three characters, John Leal (this one written in the third person and always quite brief), Phoebe (written in the first person), and Will, also written in the first person. At first, it’s possible to imagine that Phoebe’s chapters have been written by her, but later, we notice intrusions of another narrator, a narrator trying to imagine what she might have said, or to transcribe what she had said, or what she was possibly thinking or feeling at certain times. As we read this book, that is quite short notwithstanding the seriousness of the subjects it deals in, we come to realise that the whole novel is narrated by Will, who, after the fact, is trying to make sense of what happened, by collecting information and remembering things, and also by imagining what might have gone on when he was not present. He acknowledges he might be a pretty unreliable narrator, and that is true, for a variety of reasons, some of which he might be more aware than others.

The novel is about faith, about finding it, losing it, and using it as a way to atone and to find meaning, but also as a way to manipulate others. It is about love, that can be another aspect of faith, and they seem to go hand in hand in Will’s case. He discovered his Christian faith in high school, in part as a refuge from his terrible family life, and lost it when it did not live up to his expectations (God did not give him a sign when he asked for one). He moved out of Bible School and into Edwards, and there he met Phoebe, a girl fighting her own demons, a very private person who did not share her thoughts or guilt with anybody. Will falls in love with her and transfers his faith and obsession onto her. But she is also unknowable, at least to the degree he wishes her to be open and understandable for him, and she becomes involved in something that gives meaning to her life, but he cannot truly become a part of. He abandoned his faith, but he seems less likely and able to do so with his belief in her.

The novel is also about identity. The three main characters, and many others that appear in the book do not seem to fully fit in anywhere, and try different behaviours and identities for size. Will invents a wealthy family who’ve lost it all, to fit into the new college better; Phoebe hides details of her past and her wealth, and is Korean but knows hardly anything about it and John Leal… Well, it’s difficult to know, as we only get Will’s point of view of him, but he might, or might not, have totally invented a truly traumatic past to convince the members of what becomes his cult, to follow him.

The language used varies, depending on what we are reading. The dialogue reflects the different characters and voices, whilst the narrator uses sometimes very beautiful and poetic language that would fit in with the character (somebody who had been proselytizing, who was used to reading the Bible, and who tried to be the best scholar not to be found out). Also, he tends to use that language when remembering what his girlfriend had told him or imagining what John Leal might have said as if he remembered her as more beautiful, more eloquent, and more transcendent than anybody else. This is a book of characters (or of a character and his imaginings and the personas he creates for others he has known) and not a page-turner driven by plot. The story is fascinating and horrifying but we know from early on (if not the details, we have an inkling of the kind of thing that will happen) where we are going, and it’s not so much the where, but the how, that is important. The book describes well —through the different characters— student life, the nature of friendships in college, and some other serious subjects are hinted at but not explored in detail (a girl makes an accusation of rape, and she is not the only victim of such crime, there is prejudice, mental illness, drug use, abortion…).

I read some reviews that felt the description or the blurb were misleading, as it leads them to expect a thriller, and the book is anything but. I am not sure if there must have been an earlier version of the blurb, but just in case, no, this book is not a thriller. It’s a very subjective book where we come to realise we have spent most of the time inside of the head of one single character. Nonetheless, it offers fascinating insights into faith, the nature of obsession, and what can drive people to follow a cult and to become strangers to themselves and to those they love.

The ending is left open (if we accept the narrator’s point of view, although there is an option of closure if we don’t) and I was impressed by one of the longest acknowledgements I’ve ever read. It hints not only of a grateful writer attentive to detail but also of a book which has undergone a long process and many transformations before getting into our hands.

A couple of examples of the poetic language in the book:

Punch-stained red cups split underfoot, opening into plastic petals. Palms open, she levitated both hands.

The nephilim at hand, radiant galaxies pirouetting at God’s command. Faith lifted mountains. Miracles. Healings.

Not a light or easy read, but a book for those eager to find a new voice and to explore issues of faith, love, identity. Oh, and for those who love an unreliable narrator. A first book of what promises to be a long and fascinating literary career.

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review 2018-06-21 08:51
A challenging but satisfying book written in a unique voice that deals in momentous and relevant themes.
Just: A heart stopping thriller, full of emotion and twists - Jenny Morton Potts

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you are interested in getting your book reviewed, you can check here) and thank her and the author for providing me an ARC copy of her novel that I freely chose to review.

I had read great reviews of the author’s previous book Hiding and when I saw that her new novel was available, I knew I had to read it. I’ve been lucky with most of the books I’ve reviewed so far. I’ve read many good books in recent times. Some have been well-written and entertaining genre books (and I love a good genre book. There is something reassuring and satisfying about reading a book in a genre we like. We know what to expect, and we can be pleasantly surprised when the book pushes the boundaries of the genre or is an excellent example of it), some I would count among some of the best books I’ve read on a topic or genre, some have managed to mix different genres, sometimes even genres that seemed hardly compatible and have pulled it off beautifully, and there are some books that have surprised me, because they seemed to keep wrong-footing the readers, challenging them, and demanding their attention. They are not for easy consumption and they do not reassure. But they can be very rewarding. Just is one of these books.

This novel is told in the third person from a variety of points of view. We have women who cannot move on and let go (of past relationships, or their past and their families), and can at times seem pathetic and self-pitying, whilst at others, they will not hesitate to sacrifice themselves for those their love (at a great cost). We have men who are ridiculously devoted to women (a close friend they’ve known forever, or somebody they’ve worked with but hardly know anything about), hopelessly romantic, and willing to go to any lengths to “save” or “help” this women (who might or might not need saving).  There are friends and relatives who will keep secrets that will cost them dearly. All the characters have very distinct voices, and the reader needs to pay attention at all times, as the dialogues are dynamic, and the author rarely uses tags, so it can be a challenge to know who is talking at times, especially when new characters are introduced.

I’ve seen some comments about the book that mention that none of the characters are sympathetic. Leaving to one side personal preferences and the fact that unsympathetic or downright unlikeable characters can be protagonists as well, as long as they engage our curiosity (why are they as they are?, can we connect with them at some level, even if we don’t like what they do?), in this case it is clear that the author has carefully chosen how to tell the story, and this contributes to the way we feel.  Although the book is written in the third person (and that puts us in the role of the observer), we do see things from inside the heads of these characters, and, as we all are, they can be mean, cruel, egotistical, and truly annoying at times. Personally, I wanted to slap some of the characters sometimes, but there were some I quite liked, and by the end of the book, I definitely felt I had gained an understanding of most of them. As the book evolves we discover that we don’t know as much as we thought about all of these people, and only then do we realise how carefully constructed the novel is, and how its structure creates a whole that is much more than its parts.

The book touches upon important, controversial and difficult themes, both at a general, societal level (terrorism, emigration, wars, international aid and charities, adoption, indoctrination…) and at a more individual one (new models of family, friendship and love, letting go, romantic love, parenthood, family bonds…) and  I doubt any readers will remain indifferent to the plight of the protagonists. When I finished the book, I felt I had gained insight into subjects I had read about or seen in the news often, but the novel managed to make them feel much more personal and immediate.

There are wonderful settings (from Cambridgeshire to Libya), and scenes (beautiful and poignant) that I won’t forget. (I don’t think I’ll be able to look at shoes again the same way). The book is not evenly paced, and there are some contemplative moments, and some when we are taken from one scene to the next and left hanging on, trying to make sense of what just happened. A lot of the book deals in serious subjects but there are some light moments and plenty of humour, some witty, some dark, that bring some relief while underscoring the gravity of the issues at hand.  If some of the scenes might stretch the imagination and require suspension of disbelief (too romantic or contrived, or so I thought when I first read them), we are later obliged to re-evaluate them, we come to see them in a new light and they make sense.

I highlighted many sentences, but I thought I’d share a few:

Muduj had a weak stomach behind her strong heart.

Where once there were honey bees, now the metal drones buzz. Everything good has been replaced by manufactured evil.

Her body now was a foreign attachment to her head. Her heart was beating in her gums. Her eyes felt like transplants.

And so you don’t think it’s all very serious:

I always think it’s a worrying sign, when someone starts to read poetry.

I always recommend that prospective readers check a sample of the book to see if they feel it suits their taste, and this is especially true in this case. As I have warned, this novel treats in serious themes and is not a feel-good book (I will not discuss the ending, that I loved, but is not traditional, as it pertains such a book) for somebody looking for a light read. But if you are interested in discovering new talents and don’t mind harsh content (some sexual scenes as well) and are up for a challenge, this is a treat.

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review 2017-12-12 16:10
Beware if Leine Basso has you in her sights – The Last Deception by D V Berkom @dvberkom
The Last Deception: A Leine Basso Thriller - D.V. Berkom

The cover for The Last Deception by D V Berkom shows Leine Basso as I see her. I love when a cover fits the characters and the story.

 

I have been reading D V Berkom’s novels for some time now, and eagerly grab them and begin reading as soon as they arrive. Check out this and some of my other reviews and you will see why.

 

So…let’s not waste any more time.

 

The Last Deception (Leine Basso Thriller #6)

 

Goodreads  /  Amazon

 

MY REVIEW

 

I love kickass female protagonists and D V Berkom supplies me with one of my favorites in the Leine Basso series and The Last Deception. These books stand alone, so no worries there, but once you start, you won’t want to stop.

 

We start right off with action, kicking down doors and bullets flying, as she heads off to Libya to rescue 15 year old Munira from terrorists. She had been kidnapped, brutally abused, then when they were finished with her, they sold her to sex traffickers.

 

Leine thought she left her past behind, until a friend calls her for help.

 

Maskinovka – Deception. American lives are on the line and the clock is ticking. Danger and political intrigue. Who to trust. How do you find answers without tipping your hand to the wrong person?

 

Some would call Leine’s actions rash, but she called them expedient. Sometimes split second decisions must be made, to accomplish the mission. Leine will put her life on the line to do what is right. I know, or at least I think I know, that DV Berkom will not kill her off. 

I love a character who knows who they are. I have been with her through many trials and tribulations and love the person she has become. BUT, I loved her before, too.

 

The cover depicts my image of Leine. I can see her, laden with all the latest military goodies, crawling through the jungle, reconning, taking fire and dishing it out.

 

The writing and pacing keep the story moving and I travel from place to place, danger to danger, reading and wondering where it will all end. Sometimes your enemy is your friend and I love D V Berkom’s ability to make the story and characters read true. She does her research and it shows through her words. Great job D.

 

I voluntarily reviewed a free copy of The Last Deception by D V Berkom.

 

Animated Animals. Pictures, Images and Photos  4 Stars

 

Read more here.

 

My Reviews DV Berkom’s Leine Basso Thrillers:

 

My Reviews for DV Berkom’s Kate Jones Thrillers:

 

 

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Source: www.fundinmental.com/beware-if-leine-basso-has-you-in-her-sights-the-last-deception-by-d-v-berkom-dvberkom
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review 2017-10-28 22:45
Book Review of NEST: Retribution: An Alivia Morgan Story by David Antocci
NEST: Retribution - David J Antocci

The Rally for US was meant to be a day of camaraderie and awareness. Instead, that crisp October morning turned into the bloodiest terror attack to strike the city of Boston in more than a decade.

 

In the wake of the attack, the New England Special Terrorist Division—NEST—turned to their most senior and capable agent, Alivia Morgan. She was unwillingly ripped from her home and family, but didn’t have a choice. Though she had no idea just how deeply personal the fight would become.

 

Now, it was up to her to find the extremists and stop another catastrophic blow that would drive the death toll higher. She was captured, alone, and armed only with her years of training and experience in Special Ops and the elite Army Rangers. Alivia quickly realized she was in a race against time as she struggled to escape with her life and stop the impending attacks. Could she do both?

 

Review 5*

 

This is the first book in a new series which follows the New England Special Terrorist Division (NEST for short). I loved it!

 

Alivia Morgan is a fantastic character. She is capable, strong and determined. When a terrorist cell targets her in retribution for her killing one of their leaders in an earlier mission, Alivia finds herself in a fight to the death. Held hostage, but knowing her team is looking for her, she is determined to bring the cell down. As the danger increases and the threat to innocents rises, can she stop them in time?

 

Having read this author's previous Escape trilogy, when he contacted me with regards to reading a complimentary copy of this book, I eagerly accepted as I knew I would be taken on an amazing roller coaster ride of not only danger but emotion. However, I also purchased a copy of this book when it became available to pre-order and re-read it as soon as it was released. This review is based on my own opinion and have not received remuneration for it.

 

As I said previously, I knew I would be taken on an emotional journey. However, I wasn't expecting the intensity, though in hind-sight I should have anticipated it. The story is told through mainly Alivia's point of view, but other characters, including the bad guys also have their say. I was pulled in from the first page and didn't put the book down until I had finished it.

 

The reader is introduced to the NEST team. NEST is one of several anti-terrorist task forces set up after the 9/11 attacks. The leader of the group is Director Luis Huerta and he is hands-on in his approach to leading the team. An ex-sniper, he has lots of experience in war. Then there are several other operatives that work under him, including Alivia and JJ. There is a hint of romance to go along with the danger as Alivia and JJ are involved in a forbidden relationship.

 

Then there are the bad guys. They are not the most pleasant of people and have the intention of causing as much chaos and terror as they can. The leader of the terrorist cell, Syed Ashear, has a personal grudge against Alivia and is determined to use her as a pawn in his deadly game against those he sees as infidels and nonbelievers.

 

I found myself holding my breath several times when reading as the intensity was almost unrelenting. There are some lighter scenes to counteract some of the more gruesome aspects of the storyline, but the fast pace kept me wanting to know what was going to happen next. Although this book has a fast pace, it is not rushed. The author has a talent for describing scenes in such vivid detail that it made it easy to picture and it ran like a movie in my mind's eye. In fact, I think this book would make a good movie thriller or TV series similar to NCIS. There are scenes of terror, as well as car chases, gun fights and explosions. Just when I reached the end of the book (or so I thought) with a feeling of happiness, the author throws a curve ball and ends the story on a chilling note in the epilogue. It doesn't quite end in a cliffhanger, but it's close and sets the reader up for the next book. I hope he's busy writing it because I am dying to read it!

 

David Antocci has written a thrilling first book to what looks to be a fantastic new series. His characters are extremely lifelike and this made the story feel incredibly real. I said in my review of Escape: Dead End that this is an author to watch, and I was right. I love his fast paced writing style, and the story flow is fantastic. I have already added this author to my favourite authors list, and will definitely read more of his books in the future.

 

Although there are no explicit scenes of a sexual nature, I do not recommend this book to young readers, or those of a nervous disposition, or those who may be affected by a triggering event due to extreme violence and/or abuse and/or terrorism. I highly recommend this book if you love crime thrillers, suspense novels and/or military fiction. - Lynn Worton

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review 2017-09-03 11:10
A powerful, touching, and beautiful book for readers prepared to ask themselves the big questions.
Home Fire: A Novel - Kamila Shamsie

Thanks to NetGalley and to Bloomsbury Publishing for providing me with an ARC of this novel that I freely chose to review.

When I read in the description of this novel that it was a contemporary version of Antigone, I was intrigued. If all Greek tragedies are powerful stories, I’ve always been inclined towards those that figure female characters at their centre, and by the moral questions they pose. The author explains, in a note at the end, that the project had started as a suggestion to write a modern adaption of the play for the stage but it had ended up as a novel. Her choices on adapting the original material make it, in my opinion, very apt to the current times, whilst at the same time preserving the eternal nature of its moral and ethical questions.

I don’t think I can improve on the description of the novel that I’ve shared above, but I thought I’d offer a few more details. The story, told in the third person, is divided into five parts, each one narrated by one of the main characters of the story. First, we have Isma Pasha, the oldest sister of a Pakistani-British family. When her mother died, she sacrificed herself for her twin sibling and left her studies to support them until they were old enough to choose their own paths. She is serious, studious, hard-working, and remembers a bit more than her siblings do what it was like when her father, a Jihadist who was never home, died on his way to Guantanamo Bay. The questions, the surveillance, the suspicions, the need to be ‘beyond reproof’… When her sister Aneeka, is about to start university, and her brother, Parvaiz, is pursuing a career in sound and media studies, she accepts an offer by one of her old professors to continue her studies at Amherst College in Massachusetts. She enjoys her quiet life there and meets a young man, Eamonn, whom she recognises as the son of an important UK politician, and one that had had some dealings with her family in the past. Although from very different social classes they share some things in common (they are both from London and they have Pakistani family, although Eamonn knows very little about that side of things). Their friendship never develops into anything deeper, but it brings hope and possibility to Isma’s life.

The next part is told by Eamonn, who intrigued by a photo he’d seen of Isma’ sister, tracks her down, and despite the secrecy surrounding their relationship, falls for her.

Parvaiz’s story is that of a young man brought up among women, who is very close to his twin-sister, Aneeka, but annoyed because the women in his life make decisions without him and he has no male role-model to guide him. A chance meeting with a man who tells him he knew his father ends up in his indoctrination and eventual joining of the Caliphate.

Aneeka’s chapters talk about her grief and her determination to do what she thinks is right, no matter the price or the consequences, both to herself and to those around her. When is love too much and how far would you go for your family?

Karamat Lone, the British Home Secretary, has the two final chapters. He is of Pakistani origin but has abandoned much of his culture and identity (including his religion and his way of life) and advocates assimilation and harsh punishment for those who don’t. Like for Aneeka, for him, there can be no compromise. He repeatedly chooses politics and his official life over his family and that has terrible consequences.

Shamsie has created multi-faceted characters, all distinctive and different in the way they feel, they see the world, and they relate to others. I found Parvaiz’s story particularly effective and touching, particularly as his decision might be the most difficult to understand for many readers. He loves sounds and the way he describes everything he hears is fascinating. The story of his indoctrination and the way he ends up trapped in a situation with no way out is hard to read but totally understandable. They choose him because he is a young man, vulnerable, looking for a father figure, and easy to manipulate. He makes a terrible mistake, but like the rest of the characters, he is neither totally good nor bad. They all keep secrets, in some cases to avoid others getting hurt, in others to try and save somebody or something. At times questions are not asked so as not to shatter an illusion, and at others, even the characters themselves no longer know what the truth is. The structure of the novel allows us to see the characters from their own perspective but they also appear in the stories of the others, and that gives us a better understanding of who they really are, how they appear to the rest of the people, and of the lies they tell themselves and others.

The novel deals with a number of relevant subjects, like terrorism and counter-terrorist measures, religion, ethnic and religious profiling, social media, surveillance and state-control, popular opinion and its manipulation by the media, politics, identity, family, love (many different kinds of love), ethics and morality. Although many of these topics are always at the centre of scholarly and popular debates, now they are more pressing than ever.

This is a beautiful book, lyrical at times, full of warmth and love (family love, romantic love, love for knowledge and tradition…), but also of fear and hatred. It is passionate and raw. We might not agree with the actions and opinions of some (or even all) the characters, but at a certain level, we get to understand them. We have fathers (and most of the men, although not Eamonn) prepared to sacrifice their families and their feelings for what they think is a higher and mightier good (country, religion, politics…). We have women trying to maintain the family ties and do what is right beyond creed, country lines, written laws, and paperwork. And a clash of two versions of family, identity, and survival condemned to never reaching an agreement.

I highlighted many lines of the text (and although always in the third person, the language and the expressions of the characters are very different in each segment), and some are very long (another writer not concerned about run-on sentences at times, although they serve very clear purposes), but I decided to share just a few examples:

Always these other Londons in London.

He was nearing a mosque and crossed the street to avoid it, then crossed back so as not to be seen as trying to avoid a mosque. (This is Eamonn walking around London).

She was the portrait to his father’s Dorian Gray —all the anxiety you’d expect him to feel was manifest in her. (Eamonn thinking about his mother).

Grief was what you owed the dead for the necessary crime of living on without them. (Aneeka thinking about her brother and about grief).

This was not grief. It was rage. It was his rage, the boy who allowed himself every emotion but rage, so it was the unfamiliar part of him, that was all he was allowing her now, it was all she had left of him. She held it to her breast, she fed it, she stroked its mane, she whispered love to it under the starless sky, and sharpened her teeth on its gleaming claws.

The human-rights campaign group Liberty issued a statement to say: ‘Removing the right to have rights is a new low. Washing our hands of potential terrorists is dangerously short-sighted and statelessness is a tool of despots, not of democrats.’

He looked like opportunity tasted like hope felt like love (Anika about Eamonn).

Working class or Millionaire, Muslim or Ex-Muslim, Proud-Son-of-Migrants or anti-Migrant, Moderniser or Traditionalist? Will the real Karamat Lone please stand up? (The newspapers talking about Karamat Lone, the Home Secretary).

Who would keep vigil over his dead body, who would hold his hand in his final moments? (Karamat thinking about his mother’s death and then his own).

This is a powerful book and a novel that made me see things from a different perspective. What happens to those left behind? We are used to hearing about the families of young men and women who leave them and their country of birth to join terrorist groups. We hear of their surprise at what has happened, they seem unable to react or understand how their son, daughter, sister, brother… has become somebody they no longer understand or know. But, what must life be like for them afterwards?

There are elements that might stretch the imagination but for me, they fit within the scope of the story (it is supposed to be a tragedy, after all) and the novel treads carefully between realism and dramatic effect.

A great novel that brings to life many issues that are sometimes ignored in the political and media discourses but that are fundamental if we want to reach a better understanding of the situation. A book for people who are looking for something more than a good story and a bit of entertainment, and are prepared to ask themselves some questions. Another author I had not read yet but whom I will eagerly follow from now on.

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