Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Literally the Best Reviews: The Separatists

The Separatists - Lis Wiehl & Sebastian Stuart
Thomas Nelson Publishing
351 Pages

Part of picking out books at the library includes reading the summary on the inside of the cover, but there is another part that is equally important. When it comes to authors I haven’t read before, I also read their bio snippets at the back of the book. I typically like to see brand new authors with a great summary, but sometimes, I look to see what life experiences the author can bring to the table. 

Lis Wiehl is a lawyer who has served as an adjunct professor at New York Law School and appeared on FOXNews as a legal analyst 2001-2017. Additionally, she contributed her legal advice to NPR and NBC News while delving into a journalistic role at All Things Considered. These contributing factors lead to her being in high demand for appearances on shows requiring legal advice. 

The Separatists is the third volume in the Newsmakers trilogy. Erica Sparks is the protagonist of the series, a damaged soul who is trying to make amends for her past transgressions. While overcoming the hurdles in her personal life, she finds herself at the height of her journalistic profession when she breaks a story at her new employer, Global News Network.

While this novel is not the genesis of the Erica Sparks narrative, it is able to stand alone as a peek into the world of network journalism. Amid her success, Sparks approaches her bosses with the idea of launching an investigative reporting program. Enlisting the aid of a glamorous author, Leslie Burke Wilson, she begins to piece together a show that can bring even greater rewards to her career. 

That first story that she dives into finds her flying to North Dakota to investigate a fringe secessionist group that appears poised to jump from the edges of the movement to the single greatest leader. As Sparks delves deeper into the splinter movement, she uncovers more and more questionable things -- things that could shatter the United States. As events steamroll into the next, Sparks finds it harder and harder to stay above the fray and not be pulled into the fray.

While she is concentrating on these events that are kicking off her new show, trouble at home rears its ugly head. She begins to doubt herself and second guess the decisions she has made. Is her new husband already tired of her constant absence, and is he looking for love in the arms of her supposed partner? And her teenage daughter is testing the boundaries of her parental rule. Sparks must balance her professional and home lives without becoming a headline in her own story.

Wiehl’s involvement in the world of network journalism offers her a chance to make her novels much more realistic than some other authors might have. She does show that most network news outlets are far more concerned with ratings and investors than reporting an unbiased news story. Sparks and the network, in this case, may have given the secessionist movement far more credence than they actually would have had if left to their own devices. It seemed like the movement gained a lot more momentum when Sparks started reporting on it. While it was news, did her added exposure make it more news than it actually was? Obviously, for the purposes of driving the idea of her novel, Wiehl utilized this strategy. It just makes one wonder how much of the outrage about various items of note around the country are manufactured just for filling space on a 24/7 news cycle. 

Lis Wiehl writes characters that are incredibly rich. To the people watching her each evening on television, she is poised and full of confidence. Behind the scenes, she is a fragile person, like most of us. She questions her decisions and worries that her new endeavors will not be accepted. At the same time, her partner, Leslie is portrayed as a shallow temptress. Her very swarminess oozes from the page, and the reader doesn’t really want to like her. Erica’s husband, Greg, tears at the reader. He is both simultaneously likeable and unlikeable. He is unapproachable, and lives at the edge of trust. His mysteriousness tends to make the reader go down one particular path. It’s like judging a book by its cover, so to speak. Each of the characters are so different and play off each other very well.

You do not have to read the other books in this series to enjoy this book. However, if you’re interested, The Newsmakers and The Candidate are the first books in the series. Each explores a specific aspect of news stories that make it to the air. The Separatists continues in that same manner.  The novel is high energy and fast paced. The reader will find themselves turning the pages as quickly as Erica Sparks follows her leads.

Craig Bacon hopes to read more adventures in the life of Erica Sparks. In the meantime, he hopes that reading great books will give him the inspiration to finally write one himself.