Monday, December 12, 2016


Title: Small Great Things
Author: Jodi Picoult
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Pages: 470
My GoodReads Rating: 

This is the longest book review I’ve ever written. There was so much to write I just couldn’t stop.

This was the first time I read a book by Jodi Picoult and it was an experience to be savoured. I could see the broad sweep of her prose even in the first few pages.

The title of the book refers to Martin Luther King’s quote, If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.

We begin with the first person point of view of Ruth. As a child, she would accompany her mother, a housemaid, to the mansion of the white Hallowells. Seeing her mother help Mina, the white mistress, during labour where all the differences in schooling and money and skin color evaporated like mirages in a desert inspires Ruth to be a labour and delivery nurse.

Years later, Ruth helps a baby, Davis, born to Brittany and Turk Bauer, but they turn out to be white supremacists, and they don’t want a black nurse around them or their baby. Ruth’s supervisor takes a decision to bar her from being around the baby even though she is the most capable and experienced nurse on duty. Ruth resents the slight and the humiliation.

Then when the baby is in distress, all the other nurses are busy, and Ruth is the only one at hand. She hesitates just for a moment, and in that time, the baby takes seriously ill, and is unable to be revived. By the time she tries to resuscitate the baby, it is too late.

She says, It’s been fourteen nights when I’ve awakened with a start, reliving not that infant’s death but the moments before. Playing them in slow motion and reversing them and erasing the edges of the narrative in my head so that I start to believe what I’ve told myself. What I’ve told others. As Ruth prays for the soul of baby Davis, I felt her pain.

The hospital, fearing a lawsuit, distances itself from Ruth, who is arrested and accused of being responsible for the baby’s death. Criminal manslaughter, amounting to death.

At first, Ruth doesn’t trust Kennedy, the defense attorney allotted to her case, because she is white, and withholds the truth of her hesitation from her. Kennedy is determined to fight the allegation of negligence, and to play down the race issue. It is a subject upon which she and Ruth cannot agree.

There is no such thing as a fact. There is only how you saw the fact in a given moment. How you reported the fact. How your brain processed that fact. There is no extrication of the storyteller from the story.

Slowly it seems that Kennedy gets into the skin of her client, beginning to understand what she goes through every moment of her life. She is professional and efficient and touched by her client’s innocence.

Ruth knows that as a woman of colour, she is more likely to be suspected and accused. She is thrown in prison, where she struggles to hold on to her dignity, unwilling to lose herself as she waits for bail to be posted. The first freedom you lose in prison is privacy, the second is dignity.

A trial is a mind game, so that the defendant’s armor is chipped away one scale at a time, until you can’t help but wonder if maybe what the prosecution is saying is true. Ruth begins to doubt herself, wondering if she is really guilty and unable to see it.

The book brings out the struggle faced by the Blacks. The blacks are invisible in positions of glory. They stand out only when they are viewed with suspicion.

When the issue is as heated as this, it polarizes people, pitting them on opposite sides, evoking hostility. I am Indian, I have brown skin. I could understand the discrimination faced by people like Ruth, even though I myself have rarely felt it. My country has also had a shameful record of treating people as less than human because of their birth.

The chapters come to us from the first person PoVs of Ruth, Turk and Kennedy. The chapters from Turk’s PoV show us the same scenes with Ruth, this time from his perspective, as also his childhood and early life. How his brother died and how his family blamed a black man and how he brought into the myth of white supremacy. Turk’s narrative includes details about his parents, life with his grandfather, how he became part of the Movement, and his meeting with Brittany, whose father Francis Mitchum is the leader of the Movement.

We get the back stories of all three narrators, and we realize we are all humans with failings. The author doesn’t take any sides. She showed us the human side and frailty of all three voices. She doesn’t paint the white supremacists negatively either. Their pain at losing their baby is palpable.

Each chapter is presaged by quotes on the theme of justice, change, colour and harmony by authors like Benjamin Franklin, James Baldwin, Maria Cristina Mena.

The beauty of Jodi’s writing is worth remarking upon. Better give him all the love you had stored up for his lifetime right now helped me understand the fierce love of parents who mourn an infant gone too soon.

Every baby is born beautiful. It’s what we project on them that makes us ugly spoke a harsh truth we like to forget. I liked another quote about babies. Babies are such blank slates. They don’t come into this world with the assumptions their parents have made, …or the ability to sort people into groups they like and don’t like.

Another quote about how people are vulnerable: Sometimes when people spoke, it wasn’t because they had something important to say. It was because they had a powerful need for someone to listen.

And this one about how black people are never celebrated:
The only time people who look like us are making history, it’s a footnote.

Ruth’s education and hard work take her above her station, but the race issue pulls her down again. I think about water, how it might rise above its station as mist, flirt at being a cloud, and return as rain. Would you call that falling? Or coming home?

Ruth’s mother Lou’s homespun wisdom was true. You don’t go to school with a stain on your shirt, because if you do, people aren’t going to judge you for being sloppy. They’re going to judge you for being Black.

Ruth is teased for being Oreo, black on the outside, white on the inside.

The author gives us a close look at the work that a nurse does. It left me with newfound respect for the profession. I’m not familiar with the medical profession but Jodi’s description of the hospital procedures and medical jargon never strike a false note.

I enjoy reading courtroom dramas, the incensed, impassioned speeches and here Kennedy gives that to us in ample measure. She gives the defence all she’s got.
Ruth realizes, talking to Kennedy, that prejudice is judging before the evidence exists, In a culture in which the very words, white and black, are synonymous with good and evil, the Blacks have it bad. Ruth is passed over for promotion with Marie who has 10 years less experience being promoted over her.

Edison, Ruth’s son, gets a taste of racism when his best friend Bryce is not comfortable with Edison dating his sister. Edison also faces the brunt of Ruth’s case. A straight honours student like his mother, it doesn’t save him from discrimination.

Jodi weaves in real stories, juxtaposing the fictional story in a real world in which people like Trayvon Martin and Ahmed, the Muslim boy who brought a clock to school and was arrested for his pains, become news for entirely unjust reasons, merely on account of the colour of their skin.

I liked the way Jodi was able to connect seemingly unrelated things to the race issue: the colour of the Bandaid made to match a white person’s skin tone, Emu in the sky, the constellation near the Southern Cross.

In Jodi’s deft hands, all the relationships came out beautifully. Most of all, I liked the manner in which she brought out the piquancy of the equations between parent and child, especially a teenage one, and those between sisters, and friends, between a lawyer and a client, and between spouses.

Despite her differences with Ruth, Adisa, her older sister, stood up for her, You are my only sister.

After her mother dies, Ruth thinks of her as a reminder of the beauty of a mother-daughter relationship.

Looking at her mother is like looking in a mirror that distorts by years. On losing her, she says, What’s it like being the balloon when someone lets go of the string.

In death, her mother looks like an illustration in a book, two-dimensional, when she ought to be leaping off the page and I realize this is as much an expression of Ruth’s grief as it is a description of Jodi’s characters. They all leap off the page.

Little by little, there is a change in the equation between Ruth and Kennedy. It’s the difference between dancing along the eggshell crust of acquaintance and driving into the messy center of a relationship. It’s not always perfect, it’s not always pleasant – but because it is rooted in respect, it is unshakable.

The beauty of Jodi’s writing is that while this book is about race relations, and grief and entitlement, it’s also about the pain of losing a parent, of raising children and watching them grow into adulthood, the difficulty of parenting teenagers, the nature of friendships, and self-identity.

I was amazed at the quality of the prose, at the connections that Jodi makes us see. The fact that Kennedy’s husband Micah is an eye surgeon, juxtaposed against the fact that we live in a world where people pretend that they do not see.

The ending is a bolt that takes us by surprise, but when you think about it, it is the most satisfying ending. All I will tell you is that it ends with hope: Freedom is the fragile neck of a daffodil, after the longest of winters.

A brilliant book that I am now busy recommending to anyone who will listen.

(I got an ARC through First To Read.)

Thursday, December 01, 2016


Title: Amy Chelsea Stacie Dee
Author: Mary G Thompson
Publisher: GP Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Pages: 232

This book did an amazing job of taking us into the conflicted mind of a victim of abduction, a young girl who has spent six horrific years in captivity. 

At the end of six years, she returns home, still unwilling to speak of what she has gone through, not because she has any misguided sympathy for her kidnapper, but because silence is the only way to ensure the safety of those who were unable to flee to safety with her.

Six years ago, Amy Macarthur and her cousin Dee Springfield were forced into a vehicle by an unidentified person. Amy was 10 and Dee 12. Amy’s disappearance breaks the family down. Her dad moves to Colorado, where he remarries, and her brother Jay forever resents Amy for the split.

When asked what happened during the 6 years she was away or where she was, Amy/Chelsea just won’t talk. It isn’t safe. It seems as if she is still in denial.

Slowly Amy reveals her memories to us, memories of the past, good memories, back when the family was together, refusing to talk about the last six years. While her family is patient with her, they wish she would talk, so they could all look for Dee. Dee’s mother, Hannah, is impatient with Amy’s refusal to talk, but her sister, Lee, seems to understand the trauma that Amy may still be suffering and is more patient with her.

Kyle, their kidnapper had dolls, chiefly, Chelsea, Stacie and Lora, among others. He kidnaps Amy and Dee to stand in as his human Chelsea and Stacie respectively. Failure to play along with this pretence results in cruelty, assault and the withholding of food. 

Gradually, Dee disappears into insanity, losing herself as she is raped repeatedly. She gives birth to two girls, Lola and Barbie. Incapable of caring for them or for herself, it is Amy as Chelsea who mothers them, bathing and diapering them.

The story is written in the first person present tense point of view of Amy, making it more real and intimate. But Amy’s own sense of trauma makes things confusing for us.

I found Amy Chelsea Stacie Dee confusing initially but once I caught on to what was happening, I found it extremely disturbing and creepy. I understood that Amy and Dee were taken away, but who then were Chelsea and Stacie? Little by little, the story revealed itself.

Kyle was one devious and twisted character. As the horrors of what he put the two girls through were revealed, I felt a deep sense of pity for them, and was able to understand why Amy behaved the way she did. Even the bad decisions that she took began to seem logical, given her experiences.

In the beginning, the narrator comes to Amy’s house, pretending to be Amy, yet talking to herself as if she were Chelsea, a girl who has no right to come to Amy’s house. There’s a mystery surrounding this girl and it leaves us feeling lost.

It seems that Amy has come home, but we are not sure she is really Amy. In her self-talk, she addresses herself as Chelsea.

Their account while in captivity feels horrifying. She says, Taste means nothing when you’re hungry, after Kyle shows his cruelty through food.

I also felt for the characters of Amy’s parents, particularly her mom, and her brother, Jay, and Dee’s mom and sister. I was touched by how Amy’s mother chews her hurt and her anger with her food, swallowing it.

Amy was a complex character. For a long time, she withholds her memories from us, and we don’t know what to make of her. We see her as cruel, for having left Dee and returned to her family. She herself is plagued with guilt for having kept silent while her cousin was being raped by Kyle, and for having prayed that it wouldn’t be her next. What’s more, she loved Lola and Barbie who were born as a result of the rapes.

This is a story of conflicts.

Amy’s dad feels a sense of conflict between his earlier family and his newer one.

Amy herself feels conflicted between being Amy and Chelsea. She longs to be wholly Amy and live in the moment with the family that she has been restored to. But all along she cannot stop thinking of herself as Chelsea, knowing that Lola and Barbie are still there, in the clutches of Kyle.

Slowly Amy reveals the extent of the depravity and nightmare that Kyle was. How she learned to say things to appease Kyle because the truth didn’t set you free, it got you hurt.

We feel for the plight of Dee, raped repeatedly, raped a month after her baby was born.

The author builds the momentum well, and like Lee, we too are patient, afraid to push Amy, afraid of the truth. Amy’s narration brings in an element of indirectness to Dee’s situation, making it both remote and strikingly real at the same time.

This was a YA story that has appeal for older readers as well, and might be too disturbing for younger readers, because of the horrible experiences lived through by the main characters.

An intense story.

(I got an ARC through First To Read.)

Monday, November 28, 2016

Book Review: UGLIES

Title: Uglies (Uglies #1)
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Pages: 406

The very first sentence read, The early summer sky was the color of cat vomit. Even though it tried to express beauty in comparison with an unpleasant bodily function, I was not left with feelings of disgust or distaste. 

Perhaps it is true when they say that beauty is relative.

So apt in a novel which packs a punch around the issue of beauty.

Tally Youngblood has lost her best friend, Peris. He has moved to New Pretty Town, after having turned pretty. In this world, turning 16 entitles you to undergo a series of surgeries that will make you beautiful. Being Ugly is of no worth in this world, and that is why on hitting puberty, every boy and girl dreams of turning pretty.

There was something magic in their large and perfect eyes, something that made you want to pay attention to whatever they said, to protect them from any danger, to make them happy. They were so…pretty.

Like our real world, there are all kinds of advantages in being pretty, including being able to sleep as late as one wants to, and enjoying a life of non-stop partying and luxury.

Tally, who lives in Uglyville, sneaks into New Pretty Town to meet Peris. She finds that the friendship is no longer important to him. Tally can’t wait to turn 16 and be a part of that world. On her way back, she meets Shay, another Ugly girl, who shares the same birthday. 

Shay quickly fills in the void left by Peris. The two girls begin a friendship that brings comfort to both as they await their 16th birthdays and their chance to turn pretty. Tally looks forward to undergoing the surgery along with Shay and spending their lives having fun.

But Shay, it appears, does not want to turn pretty. She does not buy into that culture, and even tries to talk Tally into staying Ugly. She tells her of a place called Smoke, where a guy called David has organized a group of people who have chosen not to turn pretty, yet lead happy, unprogrammed lives.

A week before her birthday, Shay decides to run away to the Smoke. Tally refuses to go with her.

And yet Tally’s birthday brings disappointment. Special Circumstances, a group that controls the city, threatens her with a lifetime of ugliness unless she leads them to the Smoke. Tally has promised Shay that she won’t betray her but she has also promised Peris that she will turn pretty soon. Choosing to keep her promise to Peris, Tally, armed with cryptic directions given to her by Shay and a pendant that will lead Special Circumstances to the Smoke, sets out. Now she is a spy for Special Circumstances.

Reaching the Smoke, Tally renews her friendship with Shay and befriends David and the others, looking for the opportunity to activate the pendant and get pretty. Until David and his parents reveal to her the truth about being pretty.

In the Smoke, Tally learns how the Uglies there trade their belongings for food and clothing. Everything has value and history, and here we are rejecting everything for something else, trading the intangible for the intangible.

David’s description of newspapers, like books, but you threw them away, and got a new one everyday, gives us an idea of just how wasteful we are. 

No wonder Tally’s world thinks of us as an idiotic, dangerous and sometimes comic force of history. But as David reminds her, Every civilization has its weakness. There’s always one thing we depend on. And if someone takes it away, all that’s left is some story in a history class.

Pretties have a lot of luck. They are seen as healthy and loved, and preferred as potential spouses. The novel invokes evolutionary biology and how humankind came to equate the beautiful with health and strength, seeing beauty as desirable.

This is truly an interesting world, a world where plastic recycles itself. Tally chews a toothbrush pill and wears an interface ring which lets her interact with inanimate objects.

The story is written from the third person point of view of Tally. In Tally, we have a heroine who opts to do something patently unheroic as breaking a promise and spying on her own friend. She deludes herself into thinking that Shay is misguided and that she must bring her back home.

Set in the distant future, when people like us, who are called Rusties, are long dead. In their History classes in school, young Uglies learn that the past included a time when people killed one another over skin colour, and taller and more good-looking folk got better jobs, spouses, and the best of everything. Sounds familiar?

In this world, the Rusties lived a lifestyle, much like ours, more than 300 years before Tally’s time. It is a lifestyle that demanded constant pillaging of the earth’s resources. The criticism of the Rusties also makes a point about our vacuous entertainment options.

Much of the story felt harsh, like a critique, or worse, like an indictment of our way of living, which has threatened and destroyed our world.

In reading about what Tally thought of the Rusties, I was reminded that, as a people, we are truly Ugly, not for our physical imperfections but for the ugliness that we spread around and leave behind. The Rusties were totally savage, like we are today.

And yet, not everything that the Rusties did was a waste. The railroads have their uses, but Tally still can’t understand their tendency to blast through mountains to fix tracks in straight lines. One particular sentence hit home: Whole rain forests had been consumed, reduced from millions of interlocking species to a bunch of cows eating grass, a vast web of life traded for cheap hamburgers.

Because the locale is so harsh in this dystopian world, the writing feels urgent and true.

The new world is divided into new pretty, middle pretty, late pretty and dead pretty, and keeping watch over them are a group of people known as Special Circumstances.  

This is a world of survivalist tendencies. Dystopian on account of its perceived utopianness.

The book ends on the cusp of a sequel, with Tally receiving a chance to redeem herself and save the others.

I look forward to reading, Pretties, the second in the series.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Book Review: FIRST LIGHT

Title: First Light
Author: Bill Rancic
Publisher: GP Putnam's Son
Pages: 320

Kerry, her husband and her ten-year-old son, Jackson, embark on a 5-day road trip to Canada. Their purpose is to attend a memorial service for those who died in Denali Airlines Flight 806, over a decade ago. 

The couple sees the road trip as a good occasion to let Jackson know about that aspect of the past that they have always kept hidden from him.

The first chapter is in the first person point of view of Kerry’s husband. At that point, we do not even know his name. it is only in Chapter 2, that the author moves behind for a wider look, giving us the entire story through the medium of the parents telling young Jackson about what happened before his birth.

We learn the story of Daniel Albrecht and his fiancée, Kerry Egan, both employees of Petrol Inc, the world’s biggest oil company, who are in Alaska in the wake of a huge disaster. At this point the story reads almost newsy.

Their boss, Bob Packer, is making unreasonable demands of them, insisting that they fix the leak and resolve the crisis, so they can all go home.

The other employees include Judy, Kerry’s best friend, and HR head Phil Velez who lost his wife Emily to cancer, while he worked at his previous company. He has joined Petrol, in an attempt to get away from the memories and sorrow and the pity of his former colleagues. At Petrol, Phil feels attracted to Kerry. However, he struggles to control his attraction and ends up behaving in an unfriendly manner with her.

Working against odds, Daniel and his men manage to plug the leak in Alaska. Soon they are all on a plane from Anchorage to Chicago. Aboard the plane, Daniel and Kerry make plans for their wedding, and Kerry reveals the news about her pregnancy.

Shortly thereafter, the plane’s engines fail and the plane crashes, killing many and plunging the remaining in a desperate quest for survival.

The description of the plane crash and its immediate aftermath feels real and heart rending.

Phil is hurt and suffers from internal injuries. Kerry suffers from concussion. A survivor, Beverley, who is a nurse, tends to the injured.

Daniel tells Phil to ensure that Kerry does not drop off to sleep, fearing that she might slip into a coma. Leaving them together, he sets out to look for Judy who has disappeared along with the entire tail end of the plane, which has broken off, and to look for his satellite phone. 

While in the tail section, he finds that Judy is dying. The description of Judy’s injury and the possibility of her slow but imminent death made for difficult reading.

The storm and raging snow make it difficult for rescue teams to seek them out. In this scenario, Bob and Daniel set out to seek help.

Outside in the snow, as they trudge weary miles for two days, suffering frostbite and other dangers, Bob turns out to be more a liability than an asset to Daniel.

While Mother Nature plays out her drama, the humans play theirs. The author highlights the physical, mental and emotional distress of the survivors as they struggle to keep themselves alive while waiting for the rescue teams to find them. 

Nerves clash as the need for survival brings out the worst instincts in some people. This gives Phil’s character a chance to redeem himself, to fight off the guilt that has been his since the death of his wife.

I felt conflicted about the character of Daniel. I admired the way he rose to every occasion, looking for food that he could salvage, and helping people. The fact that he is a crisis management professional made his actions believable. But he also got irritating. 

Sure, he was trained to manage crises, but his ability to take charge in all situations jarred. Misfortune could have brought out leadership skills in one of the others too.

On the other, the change that came over Phil was handled well. It was nice to see him, confessing to his worst secret, admitting that he left his sick wife alone for three hours, unable to cope with her mood swings and the almost cruel way in which she lashed out at him. 

The confession, and his subsequent change of character, made him a more endearing character. I began to sympathise with him, see his innate goodness. I also liked the unnamed nurse who understood his situation and didn’t blame him.

The other characters too made their presence felt in a positive manner. Flight attendant Kecia, and passengers, Beverley, small boy Zach and his mother, they all came alive. Even Kerry, even though she spent the greater part of the book in an unconscious state.

The big man who tries to hog the fire, and little Zach, they are all real people. Even Bob has his moment when he apologises to Daniel.

While it is no surprise that they get rescued, given that the book begins with young Jackson learning the story from his parents, the twist is still there, and it took me by surprise.

This was a heartwarming story of courage amid difficulties, and love seeking to triumph over huge odds, that I enjoyed reading.

My prayers for all victims of plane crashes.

 (I got an ARC from First To Read.)

Wednesday, November 23, 2016


Title: Asylum - 13 Tales of Terror
Author: Matt Drabble
Publisher: Eden Publications
Pages: 292
My GoodReads Rating: 

Martin Parcell, an out-of-work journalist on account of an accident-induced disability, takes up a job as a janitor in a private mental care hospital. It is the only job to be found in bleak times. Blackwater Heights is a Gothic building on the outskirts of the city. The building is surprisingly modern and utilitarian on the inside.

James, the older janitor, who shows him around on his first day of work, tells him the dramatic story of Horace Whisker, the original owner of Blackwater Heights. Martin is consumed by his imagination.

Sensing that Martin is an aspiring novelist, James offers to tell him the bizarre but true histories of the thirteen inmates at the asylum, on condition that he write and publish a book on the stories and share the proceeds with him. Unwilling to live his entire life as a janitor, Martin sees this as his ticket to a better life and agrees. But he soon realizes that he is getting much more than be bargained for.

Each of the inmates has his/her own unique story. Some are criminals, some have just found themselves at the wrong place, at the wrong time.

The stories are all well written, each evoking the right amount of atmosphere, enabling a movie to play out in our imaginations. Most of the plot lines are interesting.

In Picking Up Strangers, where a guy who lives his life according to schedules, and finds his life rudely disrupted when he stops his car to pick up a woman in distress.

In The Voice, a guy is plagued by a devilish voice inside his head.

In Two Blind Mice, a doctor preys on the visually impaired.

Is Anybody Out There? sees a woman making good money by pretending to be able to talk to the dead.

In Lonely Hearts, a grieving detective inspector, who has allowed himself to sink into grief-induced alcohol addiction after the death of his wife, gets a chance to redeem himself by solving a cold case.

No Strings Attached sees a young friendless land make one friend who is not quite what he appears to be.

Stormy Seas includes a ghostly visitation,

Method Acting introduces us to an arrogant rom-com star who attempts to earn respect for his craft by acting in a serious film.

In The Devil’s Music, a teenage boy gets more than he bargained for when he tries to invoke the devil.

Primetime Special sees a TV star, past his prime, attempting to boost his career by shooting an episode in a haunted house where he has already rigged some special effects.

In Yellow Streak, a soldier’s cowardice prevents him from attempting to save his fellow soldiers, when he has the chance to.

In Dish of the Day, a food critic who has destroyed the dreams of numerous small restaurant owners, is consumed by desire for a particular food that he can never have.

Night Class saw a group of adult students on the first day of class being systematically killed in a slash fest. This was the only story that I didn’t enjoy reading.

Each story ends with an unexpected development and in spite of himself, Martin finds himself intrigued by the inmates.

The only story that wasn’t a surprise was what happened to Martin himself.

But don't let that stop you from reading the stories. If you enjoy getting your imagination in a twist, this one's for you.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016


Title: Drone Threat (Troy Pearce #4)
Author: Mike Maden
Publisher: GP Putnam's Sons
Pages: 352

This was Book 4 of a series so I was prepared to be slightly lost. What I wasn’t prepared for was how far this book veered from the promise it began with.

The opening scene is set in the Kurdistan region in Northern Iraq where ISIS terrorists have taken over, laying waste the land and killing all those they denounce as kafirs. The ISIS are waging war not only against non-Muslims, but also on Shias and any Muslims not abiding by their regressive ideologies.

The writing wasn’t pretty. It tells it like it is, conjuring the heat and dust and the fatigue and horrors that cling to conflict ridden regions.

The first few chapters of the book bring out the modus operandi of the ISIS, the youth of their recruits, their murderous appeal.

I would have appreciated a glossary for the first few chapters. There were so many words that I could not understand. Words such as mahdi, ummah, jizya, taqiyya and dhimma.

But it was all for nothing. The first chapter talks about the ISIS, and I was prepared for a novel where the ISIS were the bad guys, but spoiler here, the focus shifted soon enough, and I felt a little cheated at that. There was no reason to tell me that Ahmed was born a Catholic but is now a Muslim and zealous in the interests of the caliphate. That he and others like him rape the women they capture, hanging the men and children, and leaving their bodies for insects to feast upon and as a grim warning to those who need it. 

A whole chapter is wasted on Ahmed, with a generous back story built in, and all for nothing. He is a mere foot soldier in the ISIS, which itself is a footnote in this book.

It is hard to tell the period in which this book is set, but it is a time when America has already has a former woman President, and bionic body parts are in use.

Troy Pearce, a former CIA man, leaves to start his own firm, Pearce Systems, to deploy drone technology to protect his people and to be able to choose his battles without politicians dictating terms.

Very soon is becomes clear that there are vested interests that are itching for a war in the Middle East, and Vicki Grafton, chief of staff, aided by Vice President Clay Chandler, are on their side.

While President David Lane has a no new boots on the ground policy, Chandler believes The world goes to hell without strong American leadership.

Lane hopes to put in place a Drone Command with Pearce at the helm. While discussions on the subject are still on, a drone arrives on the White House campus, with a folded ISIS flag and the chilling printed letter from Caliph Abu Waleed al-Madi, the head of ISIS, that the flag be flown by 12 noon the following day or else America will face serious consequences. For every day thereafter that the flag is not flown, America will be hit further until the nation is brought to its knees in five days.

When the flag is not flown the first day, ISIS hit a few airports without wreaking any casualties. To make things more complicated, the Saudis want to protect themselves from an ISIS invasion and the Russians want to help the Americans in a war and get the sanctions on them lifted. And both want to profit from war.

No wonder peace is so elusive.

Alexandr Tarkovsky, the Russian ambassador to the US, and Al Saud, the Saudi ambassador to the US, try their best to get the US to commit to war against ISIS. And they have the support of Chandler, who insists that war is the only way.

The book helps us to understand the lives of the people on the killing grounds, no matter which side of the conflict they may be on. The author tells it like it is. How nations pursue their own agendas leaving the world a mess.

In the beginning, the author builds up his story well. We see the endless deliberations between the President and his advisory team as they discuss the best solution to be had under the circumstances. Whether they should ally with Russia and Saudi Arabia or fight a war alone, Pearce hopes that war will be averted.

The author brings out well the simmering politics played by vested interests. How tyrants are cultivated to suit certain needs. As Tarkovsky says to Chandler, Over and over, you keep supporting religious terrorists as a weapon against your secular enemies, but you create worse enemies in the bargain.

Pearce sounds another note of warning when he says, After nearly twenty years of military intervention, do you seriously believe the Middle East is more stable and secure than before we went in? That we are more secure?

While the understanding of the politics behind war was sound and the research on drones and related technology was explained well, much about this book was slapdash. Al Saud and Vicki Grafton were two characters whose names were not even included in the cast of characters, even though they play an important role through the book. On the other hand, the leaders of ISIS are mentioned even though they don’t show up after the first two-odd chapters.

Much as Drone Threat began well, it didn’t end quite smoothly. There was no effective resolution, and I got a sense of undue haste as the author sought to bring events to a close.

(I read an ARC from First To Read.)


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