Wednesday, September 26, 2018

#GIVEAWAY Review The Heart of War Interview with author Kathleen McInnis

When Kathleen's publicist Claire McKinneyPR reached out to me about her debut novel, The Heart of War and the fact that Kathleen actually worked in the Pentagon I knew I had to read it. I'm glad I did and I'm pleased to announce that they are also sponsoring a #Giveaway. Details below!

ISBN-13: 978-1682616512
Publisher: Post Hill Press
Release Date: 9-25-2018
Length: 384 pp
Source: Author/publicist for review
Buy It: Amazon/B&N/Kobo/IndieBound



The Devil Wears Prada meets Catch-22; a novel about a young woman’s journey into the heart of Washington’s war machine.
Dr. Heather Reilly has been an anti-war activist since her brother died fighting the Taliban. But her crushing student loans drive her to take a job working on a peace plan for Afghanistan, in the last place on Earth she ever thought she'd be employed: the Pentagon. On her first day, however, her position is eliminated and she’s shuffled to a war-fighting office focused on combating Russian aggression. Unfortunately, she knows little about Russia and has deep moral reservations about war. Making matters worse, she’s also working for Ariane Fletcher—a woman so terrifying, she eats generals for breakfast. As Heather learns to navigate the Pentagon’s insane bureaucracy and petty power struggles, she finds that her successes come at the expense of her personal life... and that small mistakes can have major consequences in the Department of Defense.

From Washington D.C.'s corridors of power to the dusty streets of Kabul, Kathleen McInnis spins a smart, hilarious, and heartwarming tale that shines a light on the often frustrating but sometimes rewarding experience of a career in the Pentagon. Packed with insider knowledge about one of the least-known—yet most-powerful—organizations in U.S. national security, McInnis' debut novel establishes her as a major new literary voice with a point of view we've never seen before.

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The Heart of War by national policy veteran Kathleen McInnis is part office drama, part foible-filled romp through the US’s military bureaucracy. When Dr. Heather Reilly arrives at the Pentagon to work as an academic fellow, she already has misgivings. Along with her vegan, pacifist fiancé Ryan, she’s always seen herself as someone working toward peace, not preparing the country for war. 

However, from the moment she walks through the Pentagon’s doors, nothing goes as she expects. Sometimes, the work feels worth it (she’s there in part to honor the memory of her brother Jon, who died in combat), but at other times, it is simply bewildering. Reilly and her colleagues work across government departments to secure approvals for a major military deployment. It could stabilize relations with Russia—or, as many warn, it could “cause World War III.” Along the way, Reilly develops confidence, pushes against needless bureaucracy, and sees how her voice can be impactful in policy. 

Through the high stakes of Pentagon work, Reilly’s close colleague Voight provides endearing levity. He encourages her to “embrace the suck” when things go wrong. The tone remains irreverent throughout, providing an effective if gentle critique of the back-and-forth needed to accomplish anything in the Pentagon. Quick dialogue between complex characters keeps the plot moving forward even as the work of the coalitions team is stymied and set back. Details about the inside of Congress and the Pentagon ring true and give the text a behind-the scenes feel without taking away from the rollicking plot. Reilly and her colleagues can be counted on throughout the story to be clueless and brilliant by turns, keeping the plot fun through its many twists. Emotional moments tug on the heartstrings, and the romantic subplot concludes in a very satisfying way. Kathleen McInnis’s The Heart of War is an amusing contemporary romance. 

LAURA LEAVITT (Debut Fiction Special Section 2018).

"The Heart of War: Misadventures in the Pentagon is being compared to The Devil Wears Prada, and for good reason.  It is truly a fish out of water story, complete with a demanding female boss and a woman who learns to navigate her new world.  This book could have only been written by an insider, which Kathleen McInnis is.  Reading about the politics and the way this world works was fascinating, and the author writes it perfectly.  I felt like I was running around the Pentagon with her.


"What I think makes this book so successful is the vulnerability the character has.  Kathleen McInnis had no problem putting Dr. Heather Reilly in many embarrassing situations, and that humility keeps this war book feel almost light.  There was a lot of dialog, which at times felt distracting, but also kept you present.


"I am Really Into The Heart of War.  I love when a book surprises me, and this one certainly did.  There were many times I found myself laughing out loud while getting to know a world I knew existed, but had no idea about.  I was given this book due to my love of historical fiction, but I think this is one anyone can enjoy – what’s not to love?  There is war, romance, humor, and a lot of female empowerment.  Kathleen McInnis has a great voice and a unique background; I cannot wait to see what she writes next."

--Jessica Bierman

You can also check out some other early reviews on Goodreads.

My Conversation with Kathleen:

Kathleen hi welcome to The Reading Frenzy. I loved your debut novel, The Heart of War.
Tell my readers a little about it.
The novel follows Dr. Heather Reilly, who’s been an anti-war activist since her brother Jon died fighting the Taliban.  But crushing student loans lead her to take a job in the Pentagon to work on a peace plan for Afghanistan.  Unfortunately, on her very first day, she finds out that her position has been reshuffled and she’s working on a war desk… for none other than Ariane Fletcher, a woman so terrifying she eats generals for breakfast.  Heather has to quickly learn how to navigate petty power struggles and byzantine bureaucracy and find her own voice in one of the world’s most male-dominated institutions.
To me, The Heart of War is a book that explores public service and sacrifice, the challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated workplace, and why we seem to keep doing the same things over and over again with our military but expecting different results. But ultimately, it's about finding our hearts in the relationships we build, and the work that we do.

I always knew DC was the dysfunction capitol but wow some of the happenings in the book is really messed up.
How much of the book is fact and how much is fiction?
I’d say that the characters are definitely their own people, but the backdrop of the Pentagon and all the wacky things that happen to the characters are informed by either my experiences or the experiences of friends of mine. 

The blurb calls this novel humorous, but there are some heavy and somber parts too.
Did you know the whole story before you wrote it or did it change as you went along?
The book started off as a series of nonfiction snippets about what Pentagon life is like.  And part of that experience is often painful in some pretty profound ways.  You’re working on national security and defense; at some point, a decision you help advance is going to have downstream effects on other people’s lives.  Some of those people – Afghans, Iraqis, or American service members, for example - may even lose their lives as a result of those decisions. As the character Voight observes, people tend to either cope through drinking, anger, or laughter.  Sometimes all three.  So as I started writing, it seemed like it would be disingenuous to write about that experience without reflecting some of those painful, heavy moments.    

Tell us the story behind the story. Was there a certain event or reason you wrote the book?
I used to travel with former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to Afghanistan, among other places, when I worked in the Pentagon.  We were flying over Kabul in a Chinook helicopter with the back ramp down, and I was invited to sit on the edge of the ramp.  I’d seen pictures of service members doing that, so I thought, what the hell?  Why not?  Bonus: I’d get some great pictures from that vantage point.  I strapped on a thin canvas harness and plopped myself on the edge… and was terrified.  As I contemplated my life choices, it occurred to me at that moment that it would be interesting to write a piece about how a young woman like myself could end up in such a wacky situation.

Did you always want to write or are you an accidental author?
I’ve always loved writing and story, but I never thought I’d actually write a fiction.  I thought I’d just do my analytic writing and reports, and that would be that. But as the project progressed, it became clear that really telling the story of what it’s like in the Pentagon, in a way that had the kind of meaning I wanted to express, that it would have to be done through fiction.  And doing so opened my eyes

 Your star Heather is a complex character and goes through some personal issues. Are there a lot of women working in the Pentagon and are they the norm or a rarity?
There are definitely more women working in the Pentagon than there were when I was there… so these days it’s less of a rarity, but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy for women.  The real challenge is getting women to stay in the Pentagon.  “Traditional” gender roles in terms of raising families, etc. mean that a fair number of women choose to leave their national security careers in order to prioritize their personal lives.  One prominent woman in our field argued that women can’t in fact, have it all.  Heather Reilly experiences her own version of these dynamics as her personal life implodes upon joining the Pentagon.

Was writing this book cathartic for you?
Definitely, definitely cathartic.  Writing it was also way to reflect on all kinds of different aspects of working in the Pentagon and the national security community more broadly. And interestingly, much as Heather Reilly finds her voice throughout the book, writing The Heart of War allowed me to find my own voice.  I’m really grateful for that experience.

Kathleen thank you for answering my questions and good luck with the book.
Is there another book in your future?
Thanks!  Yes, Heather’s got a lot more stories to tell, so I think we’ll be seeing more and more of her in the future!

My Review:

Heart of War
Kathleen McInnis

They say write what you know and that’s just exactly what DC insider Kathleen McInnis has done with her debut novel, The Heart of War, a mix of realistic bureaucratic drama and political satire. With a bright, fresh protagonist, some spectacular spin-doctor costars and an in your face first person dialogue filled wry humor and some serious histrionics she delivers an engaging read that except for a slightly slow start is quite the page turner. The novel’s star Heather is a real stand out and the nonstop actions of the DC movers and shakers, government dysfunction at it’s finest and global backdrops paint an authentic albeit sobering picture of the tumultuous goings on. Fans of military or political dramas will really enjoy this story.
Armed with a PhD in conflict resolution and to honor her fallen brother’s memory Dr. Heather Reilly goes to Washington on an academic fellowship to work on a peacekeeping plan for Afghanistan. When she arrives she gets a crash course in DC politics when instead of peacekeeping she finds herself working for the Assistant Secretary of Defense also known as, the wicked witch of the pentagon who’s in the business of making war not avoiding it. And so this former peacenik is suddenly thrust in the middle of a high stakes game of Washington political warfare where if the red tape doesn’t kill you your backstabbing boss just might.

Connect with Kathleen - Website - Facebook - Twitter - Instagram
Meet Kathleen:
Kathleen J. McInnis is a national security policy specialist who has worked in the Pentagon, the UK Parliament, and think tanks on both sides of theAtlantic. Having earned her doctorate at King’s College London, she currently analyzes international security and defense issues for the United States Congress. Kathleen lives in Annapolis, Maryland.

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  1. This sounds like a really interesting story. I'm sure there are a lot of people who go to Washington to actually do some good and in up in politics.

    Melanie @ Hot Listens & Books of My Heart

  2. I am intrigued by the summary and author's background to be able to write in the setting. It sounds like a fun read to me!

    1. I don't know if I'd say fun Lil but it was very interesting and intense :)

  3. This book sounds fascinating and interests me greatly.

  4. I like it - and your review is really encouraging me to try this one. Will put it in my TBR!