State of Terror, by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny

Eight stars

Louise Penny returns with high-profile story collaborator, Hillary Rodham Clinton, to create a strong international thriller that pushes the boundaries at every turn. In a story that has some subtle (and not so) references to the previous US Administration, as well as Clinton’s work as Secretary of State, the plot inches forward in a stunning manner. A few terrorist attacks in Europe turn the world’s eyes towards a group that seeks to topple all that is held dear. When the newly-minted Secretary of State is sent to handle the situation, truths emerge about future attacks on American soil, which could have drastic outcomes. Fighting against time and a blur of information, truths will have to emerge before America is again the victim of a horrible attack on its own soil. Penny and Clinton do well throughout this piece to offer up their own style, something I could not resist enjoying through to the final pages.

After a hard-fought primary and general election, Ellen Adams is rewarded for her service to the victor with the post of Secretary of State. As she assesses her position, she must come to terms with the fact that she’s accepted the role from her political rival, though someone she can at least stomach. The American political scene is somewhat dire, after four years of chaos under a seemingly incompetent president.

When a series of terrorist attacks in Europe begin to turn heads, Adams must assume the role of stateswoman and try to assuage the panic, while also taking a leadership role and get to the bottom of what’s going on. Tasked by the president to bring him news quickly, Adams assembles a team and they head to the region, only to discover that there is more to come. Someone (or a group) is preparing to attack America where it is the most vulnerable, as someone has taken the foot off the proverbial gas for the past four years.

Working behind the scenes and traveling covertly, Adams discovers that there is a plot in place to attack America at home. The details are sketchy and Adams will have to work alongside known enemies and some allies with questionable decision-making prowess to cobble together the truth. The world holds its collective breath, though many do not know what is coming. It’s a race to get answers, implement solutions, and bring stability once more. The key to is all may find itself in a small Canadian town, a place many know well. Penny and Clinton offer a great story that kept me guessing until the final pieces fell into place.

Political thrillers can be some of the most difficult books to write, particularly when the author takes an ideological side in their writing. They are sure to alienate some readers , simply by pushing their own fictitious agenda through plots, characters, and situations. This appears to be the case here, as Clinton and Penny have been panned by many, simply for the former’s political views or past work in a few US Administrations. While I am fine with free speech, it is the inane comments from those who refuse to read the books and simply offer vapid commentary that proves vindictiveness is an intoxication that does not require intelligence. That being said, there were many who could see some of the great storylines and writing, even if they did not agree wholeheartedly with the presentation in this novel.

The character development in this piece was quite complex and thoroughly enjoyable. Those familiar with Louise Penny’s writing will know that she creates strong characters in her novels that move from the page to the imaginations of the reader. Nuances and intricate details serve as part of the experience, which occurred throughout this piece. The imagery of the individuals playing various roles cannot be discounted, as they added depth to an already strong story and kept me wanting more.

While political thrillers and international terror plots appear to be plentiful in the genre today, there was something about this book that help elevate it for me. I am a fan of Louise Penny’s work and adore all things political, so this seemed to be the perfect mix for me. A strong narrative forged ahead throughout the piece and kept my attention until the final sentence. The plot evolved throughout, keeping it from being too predictable, with some wonderful twists that left me gasping at times. As mentioned before, it is the variety and complexity of the characters that made me take notice, as usual. The ending, and what a great one it was, left the door open for a sequel. I do hope this collaborative team can return for at least a little more, as the entertainment value was high and just what I needed this week!

Kudos, Madams Penny and Clinton, on a wonderful collaborative effort. You work well together, complementing each other’s strengths. I look forward to more in the coming years.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

What Happened, by Hillary Rodham Clinton

Nine stars

It takes a village to raise a child, but only a single politician to destroy that village and a bigoted wing of a political party to sully the fabric of a country. And that became clear on January 20, 2017, when Donald Trump assumed the office of President of the United States (though I still think he thought he’d bought Twitter and was just given a large office from which to offer inane social commentary). With the country unsure of what lay ahead, many were still asking themselves ‘what happened?’, including the Democratic Party’s candidate, Hillary Rodham Clinton. This book seeks not only to analyse what happened during the campaign and on the lead-up to Election Day, but also instil into the reader some of the key issues at hand, as well as given personal insight into those issues from the losing candidate. There are, surely, some degree of sour grapes, but not from a bitter perspective. Clinton does not come across as a sore loser, but one who had a deck stacked against her. She discusses some of the key hurdles she faced, as well as two overwhelming issues (Russia and the FBI) that proved devastating to a campaign that sought to shatter glass ceilings once and for all. A wonderful piece for all those who want a closer look at Election 2016 without all the academic analysis. Clinton personalises much of the book in a sensible fashion, which will likely keep readers pleasantly surprised.

The US Presidential election in 2016 made history, of that there is no doubt. On the one hand, the Democrats nominated the first female as their candidate, while on the other, the Republicans chose a racist fear-monger who could not brag enough about his misogynistic ways. Surely, historians will have a field day with this in the next fifty years. With both camps armed and ready to go, it would seem that the list of hot button issues would shape the campaign and give voters something on which they could chew throughout the final months. Both Clinton and Trump had worked hard to etch out of their own positions throughout the primaries, facing daunting opponents, but sticking to their guns and presenting the general public with the most dichotomous set of beliefs possible. Issues such as women’s rights, minorities, socio-economic diversity, international diplomacy, executive branch continuity, and constitutional integrity prove interesting threads that emerge throughout the book. As Clinton discusses these areas, she also personalises it with her own take on events. Professional and personal experience are plentiful and she is able to spin things to show a more heart-felt approach to the entire process. That these issues reverberate throughout the narrative and help drive a wedge between the two candidates is an understatement, but it is surely Clinton’s reason for bringing them up so often.

While most campaigns are all about the issues, Clinton faced two major opponents that could not be debated away or reprimanded by the electorate. FBI involvement in the campaign, albeit indirectly, causes many headaches for Clinton, as she tried to explain her personal emails/server issue to the reader. I am no expert, but Clinton expressed that her use of a personal email was by no means a first amongst Secretaries of State, nor were there any known leaks or information of a highly classified nature that could have placed the United States in peril. The James Comey (FBI Director) insistence that there may be something criminal (or at least ethically problematic) could only serve to tip the balance against Clinton. The ongoing investigation and struggles left the American public uncertain if any wrongdoing had been uncovered, and the cryptic public sentiments made by Comey leading up to the election helped brand Clinton in a horrible way. The direct (and illegal) involvement of Russian money and meddling in the election, through social media, proved to sway the opinions of many with things that appeared online or could be found with a simple click of a cursor. I hate to use the phrase, but the amount of fake news that was floating around surely kept some of the electorate in dismay, forced to choose between two evils. It is stunning to hear what Clinton has been able to piece together on this topic. I cannot wait for more of the formal inquiry findings, at least until they are silenced. (Might this be what we all need to begin impeachment hearings?) Holding their noses, the vast majority of Americans made a choice, though I do wonder if they would have held the same opinion had all the information been readily available.

What I enjoyed most about the book was that it was not a sob story or a recitation of all the bad things done to Clinton, but an exploration of the entire election cycle, from primary fights with Bernie, through to the bitter defeat at the polls. Clinton came knocking on the glass ceiling (twice the bridesmaid, never the bride) and it would not shatter, though this is not her sole concern. The narrative is full of poignant and well-grounded thoughts about the America that chose Trump and where that will lead until 2020, when a course correction may be in order. Clinton also provides some stunning commentary from what she has seen of POTUS and his choices, using filters discussed throughout the book. This is a telling book that takes the reader through many of the areas of greatest strain in the country, which have surely been exacerbated by the election of Donald Trump. Bigotry, racism, misogyny, and elitism provide the foundation for a set of beliefs owned by the man occupying the Oval Office. While there have surely been others who have dabbled in these areas of divisiveness, it is more than the leader, the person elected to represent the populace, refuses to look outside his narrow view and govern with the best interests of all in mind. Then again, any jackass can knock down a barn, but it takes a carpenter to build one!

Kudos, Madam Clinton, for such insightful thoughts for all to share. I know some will scream #fakenews at every page turn, but we cannot expect the ignorant to be able to hold meaningful and well-rounded discussions without rushing back under their rocks. I await November 3, 2020 to see how the public will react, though I am close to positive we need only read Twitter feeds the moment the impeachment vote is tallied in the Senate.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: