Book Review: EMPTY HEARTS, sourcing suicide bombers

E7720DEE-B3BF-4F0B-BBA9-60224924D222Empty Hearts
Juli Zeh
Translated by John Cullen

In 2025, the United States and Russia have formed an alliance making most terrorist groups impotent. France, along with Britain, has left the European Union. Nationalist, anti-immigration political parties have control of countries across the globe as many citizens have moved from despair to apathy.

Britta comforts herself by knowing she’s doing her part—providing a necessary service. She and her colleague Babak run The Bridge, a non-traditional anti-suicide service that uses Lassie, a sophisticated computer algorithm, to identify men with a high risk of suicide for intervention. However, though they have helped many disentangle themselves from suicidal thoughts, this practice actual conceals their true business: providing suicide bombers for terrorist groups.

If one of the clients goes through their twelve-step program and still wishes to die, Britta pairs him with an organization that wants to remind the world they still exist, perhaps ISIS or the Green Party. Since these organizations no longer have the cache they once did, they have trouble recruiting suicide bombers, and The Bridge has a monopoly on supply. When an organization works with The Bridge, they observe rules that benefit all, including a limit to collateral damage.

When a terrorist attack at the Leipzig airport is thwarted by authorities, Britta panics—the bombers, one of whom was killed, one captured—did not come from The Bridge. She divines that this indicates another provider is in operation and that she, Babak, and Julietta, their latest recruit, and only female, are in danger and go into hiding.

Empty Hearts had less action than I expected. However, there was interesting commentary on politics and the danger of apathy. As such, the focus remains on the philosophical themes. I wish there had been a shade more characterization. Babak has a fleshed-out backstory, but we see only glimpses of Britta’s past and even fewer insights into Julietta’s motivation. At the same time, Britta is an interesting character, focused on rules and procedure and comfortable being in charge of people and situations even as she has relinquished power in the political realm (though wielding suicide bombers is, I suppose, power enough!). I wish there were more context to these characters and to the CCC and its ominous initiatives.

Babak has a fleshed-out backstory, but we see only glimpses of Britta’s past and even fewer insights into Julietta’s motivation. At the same time, Britta is an interesting character, focused on rules and procedure and comfortable being in charge of people and situations even as she has relinquished power in the political realm (though wielding suicide bombers is, I suppose, power enough!). I wish there were more context to these characters and to the CCC and its ominous initiatives (Efficiency Packages) that promote discrimination. I was also disturbed when Richard, Britta’s husband, started pressuring her to be more “wifely.” I suppose I wanted her to object more vehemently.

The ending of the novel surprised me, and it wasn’t the ending I wanted, but I do think it was the right ending which made me think about the book long after I put it away. Empty Hearts starts a little slowly and picks up steam, but its strength is found the philosophical questions it raises about the current state of politics and the implications for the future.

Book Review: THE ANIMAL AWARDS, who wins magical healer? amazing egg? Find out!

Jenkins, Martin - The Animal AwardsToday is National Wildlife Day, a perfect day to share the just published children’s book The Animal Awards written by Martin Jenkins and illustrated by Tor Freeman.

The Animal Awards uses the entertainment awards ceremony in an innovative way: to present a natural history of unusual animals who would probably not be in a collection together, or maybe not in a book at all. Using categories such as “The Amazing Egg Award”(ostrich), “The Best Bouncer Award” (kangaroo), and “The Magical Healer Award” (axolotl), Freeman introduces fifty animals, insects, and sea creatures.

The book is entertaining and informative with engaging text and charming illustrations. Each “award” spread has a description of the animal on one side with basic information: category (e.g., bird, reptile, insect, or mammal), habitat, lifespan, and diet. In describing why the animal has won the award, Freeman offers a brief profile of the creature with interesting facts. On the facing page, an illustration or series of illustrations exhibits additional facts. In the illustration of the tortoise, for example, winner of “The Centenarian Award,” the illustration compares the lifespan of the tortoise, Greenland shark, black coral, and ocean clam. The illustration page for the lion, winner of “The Marvellous Mane Award,” has four smaller drawings showing what life is like in a lion pride.

In addition to providing a natural history of these interesting animals—also including penguins, elephants, bats, terns, bullfrogs, cheetahs, jellyfish, and so many more—the book sensitively discusses extinction and threats to endangered populations.

The Animal Awards uses humor to convey a wide array of interesting factual information. Although some of the vocabulary or concepts may require the help of a parent, teacher, or guardian to understand on first exposure, I think this is a book that kids will return to again and again for the fun facts and absolutely adorable and informative illustrations. It would be a wonderful gift and addition to a school or home library.

If you would like to know what you can do to help save endangered wildlife today and every day, visit the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Thank you to NetGalley and Frances Lincoln Children’s book for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

August Wrap-Up

August Wrap UpAugust was a hectic month with a trip to Oklahoma to see my family. In addition to these books, I read some fun children’s books which I’ll post about later. My favorites were Knife by Jo Nesbø and Into Captivity They Will Go (set in my home state and available October 1) by Noah Milligan. The audio version of Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered was also lots of fun!⁣

What was your favorite read from last month?⁣

Book Review: THE LONG CALL, meet Detective Matthew Venn

Cleeves, Ann - The Long Call (ed)The Long Call
Two Rivers Book #1
Ann Cleeves

Happy Publication Day
to the Long Call!

Detective Matthew Venn watched his father’s funeral from the periphery. Since he renounced his family’s strict evangelical faith when he was in college, he’s not been in contact with them. But he was startled out of his memories back into his current reality when his office called to report that a dead body had been found on a nearby beach. After a rough period, the man, Simon Walden, had been living with devout social worker Caroline Preece and her roommate, Gaby Henry, artist in residence at the Woodyard Center, a hub of the community containing an art studio, theater space, café, and day center for adults with learning disabilities.

As Venn investigated with the savvy single mother DS Jen Rafferty and young, ambitious Constable Ross May who has uncomfortable ties to the DCI, a woman with Down’s Syndrome who attended the adult day center went missing. Since Simon Walden volunteered at Woodyard, it became a focus of the investigation—difficult for Venn since the visionary behind Woodyard and the current managing director was his husband, Jonathan Church. Just as shocking, Venn received an unexpected call from his mother. The murder and missing girl represented a tangle of secrets involving his past and present selves, and he wasn’t sure he wanted the answers.

The Long Call is the first book in a planned series featuring Matthew Venn who is unlike most detectives in literature. He is gay, which is refreshing, but also refreshing is that his sexual orientation is not an issue except vis-à-vis his family and their conservative religious community, the Barum Brethren. More than that, Venn generally follows the rules and is less a lone wolf than some of the other protagonists in my favorite detective series. He’s also quite insecure and vulnerable making him very relatable but at times maudlin. I enjoyed DS Rafferty because she is tough and outspoken though very empathetic, but at times (though not always) both she and Constable May seemed to be “off the shelf” characters—the brass female sidekick and the young Turk.

The mystery took some unexpected detours, sometimes making such a hairpin turn I was momentarily confused and had to reorient myself and one character felt more like a deus ex machina than an essential element of the narrative, but I found the art center setting interesting and thought Cleeves presented the members of the adult day center with sensitivity. As far as I can remember, I haven’t read books that take place in North Devon, and Cleeves gives vivid descriptions of the towns and landscape of the area. This is actually the first Ann Cleeves book I’ve read, though, so I’m unable to compare this book to her previous work.

The Long Call was engrossing, and I was overall invested both in Detective Venn and the secondary characters and plan to read subsequent volumes in the series. I think it is a good investment for mystery fans.

Thanks to NetGalley and Minotaur Books for providing an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

Women in Translation Month

August was Women in Translation Month which started as an annual observance in 2014. According to LitHub, founder book blogger Meytal Radzinski, in an interview with the American Literary Translators Association in 2016, “discussed how the relative dearth of translated literature by women in English-language markets is a problem rooted in the biases of both (predominantly male) translators and publishers” (30% vs. 70%). #WITmonth celebrates women writers in translation and encourages people to read, discuss, and recommend their books!⁣

If you don’t know where to start, Book Riot published an article with 50 suggestions for translated literature by women. My favorite on the list is So Long a Letter by Mariama Bâ.

Two Lines Press publishes translated work, many by women. I ordered three books and received this gorgeous tote which you can tell I’ve used because it’s already covered in pug glitter!⁣

Publishing ten books in translation each year, Open Letter Press also makes these titles more accessible to English readers. Be sure to sign up for their newsletters so you’ll be notified next year of their usually very generous #WITmonth sales!