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The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. Oath Of Honor by Lynette Eason is the first in a new series. This thrilling story is a shout out to those in law enforcement who put their lives on the line each and every day to keep everyone safe. The action never ceases as the plot combines a mystery, criminal investigation, politics, gang wars, shootings, and bad cops. What makes this story stand out is that Eason also brings to life engaging and well-developed characters, including some who have a subtle romance. The plot begins with childhood friends who are now police partners, Izzy St. John and Kevin Marshall, surveilling an abandoned warehouse after they receive a tip that a high-level arms deal will take place. Kevin decides to go rogue, sprinting into the warehouse and dies in a spray of bullets. Izzy is determined to discover what exactly happened and agrees to work with Kevin’s brother, detective Ryan Marshall, as they unofficially work the case. This family affair book might remind readers of the TV show Blue Bloods. “I really enjoy it. One day I was sitting there watching it and thought it might be cool to create my own law enforcement family that will have their own adventures, dangers, and romantic situations. The Reagan family loves each other unconditionally and shows how law enforcement is in their blood, passed down from generation to generation. Since I married into a big extended family I thought how nice it is to have a large family and used my imagination to create one.” The hero and heroine are determined, hard-working, and have a sense of right versus wrong. Eason describes Izzy as someone who is “a go-getter. She is smart, inquisitive, loyal, seeks justice, and will always have her friends and family’s back. But she is also stubborn and has a pit bull type of mentality. Izzy believes anyone who does wrong should face consequences. The hero, Ryan, is tough, a protector, who wants to make everything right.” Izzy should be singing the song “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me” because in this story she is put through the ringer. She was shot, beaten, had her house set on fire, and thrown from a building. When writing Izzy’s hardships Eason thought of “the Charlie Brown character Pig Pen, having a dust cloud over their heads. She also had a traumatic past which has shaped her current thought process. She is determined to not let it define who she is and will not let it get the best of her. This is why I put in the book this quote, ‘I think sometimes we let our fears build to a point where they’re bigger in our minds than in reality.’ She will always face her fears.” This first in the series is a mystery that will keep readers guessing with the many twists and turns. Her details, descriptions, and characters have people yearning for more. Beyond the mystery it is a great story of love, family, and as Eason writes in the dedication, this series is “to the men and women in blue…who risk everything to keep us safe.” Continue reading
Posted 4 hours ago at BlackFive
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The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. The English Wife by Lauren Willig is full of intrigue and suspense. It is a refreshing change from all the recent Gone Girl look alikes, and instead is part mystery, part love story, and part family drama. This historical crime fiction novel involves murder, scandals, and secrets. The Gilded Age is highlighted between the years 1894 in England to 1899 in New York. Bayard, the son of a Knickerbocker prominent family returns after a three-year absence with his English wife, Annabelle aka Georgie. Their supposed whirlwind romance is shattered at the opening of their Twelfth Night Ball to highlight the new manor. Bayard is discovered with a dagger in his chest, while Annabelle appears to have drowned in the Hudson. The story should remind readers of the Clue Game with an abundance of suspects and motives. There is Bay’s cousin Anne, who could be having an affair, his sister Janie who found the body, his mother who is omnipresent, and his wife Georgie who has disappeared. As rumors swirl, Janie decides to work with a reporter, Burke, to save the reputation of her brother and sister-in-law to uncover the truth. Readers are taken back to stories of the past with the characters. Bayard reminds people of Noel Coward, enjoying music, the arts, and plays, while having another side to his life. The cousin Anne and Bay’s sister Janie are close to the Cinderella characters with the mother, Mrs. Van Duyvil a reminder of the stepmother. Willig noted, “Mrs. Van Duyvil was cold, controlling, impersonal, and distant. She was only concerned with the lineage, money, and power. She represented the old New York attitude. I put in the quote of her telling Annabelle that her heritage went back to Revolutionary times to prove how important her family was. Of course, Annabelle replies that her lineage goes back to the Magna Carta. I guess that was her in your face moment to her mother-in-law. The comparison fits well with the Cinderella story because Anne is told she has no place in this world. Like Cinderella Anne is beautiful and charming. Mrs. Van Duyvil treated Janie and Anne as her pawns.” The ball called the Twelfth Night is based on the Shakespearean play of the same name. Willig wanted to show that the play’s story “is all about misunderstanding. It has everyone thinking someone is someone else. This plays into the secrets the characters are keeping from each other. There are a lot of people masquerading as someone else. This is similar to this novel’s story where it delves into what the world has done to them. The real heart of my story is that all the characters are forced by the world they live in to try to be people they are not. This is especially true with Georgie and Bay who were full of secrets with each hiding something from the other. There were these implied lies based on the omission of information. Georgie first saw Bay as the Prince Charming and he thinks of her as the missing heiress.” Readers will enjoy this novel because Willig brings to the forefront the attitudes and issues of the period within the context of a riveting mystery. She shows through the characters how the Gilded Age was based on wealth and stature, and with it came scandal. This is where the murder mystery comes into play allowing Willig to combine everything into a very compelling story. Continue reading
Posted 4 hours ago at BlackFive
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The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. Promise Not To Tell by Jayne Ann Krentz is a breath-taking story. While the first in the series, When All the Girls Have Gone, was spell-binding, this book leaves the readers’ heart pounding as it is more of a thriller than a mystery. Krentz delivers an impactful series by focusing each novel on one of three brothers. Each book can be read as a stand-alone, but in not reading the first people will miss out on the engaging story of Max Sutter. The premise for the series has police chief Anson Salinas rescuing eight children trapped in a blazing barn, but unfortunately, he was unable to save their mothers. They were entrapped in a compound, part of a cult run by a manipulative, controlling psychopath Quinton Zane. Now, over twenty years later, Salinas has a private investigative service with two of the three boys he rescued and then adopted. Krentz noted, “Even though I do not know anyone in a cult, I wanted to write about that whole notion of getting sucked in and used. This was not a religious cult, but one based on technology and the desire to change the future of the world. It was more of a pyramid scheme cult based on money and power. I was very careful to show that the children were not sucked in, just the parents. The mothers were very smart and intelligent people who became entrapped as they feared for their lives as well as their child’s life.” One of the children, Virginia Troy, has tracked Anson down to uncover what happened to her good friend, Hannah Brewster, a reclusive artist, who died under suspicious circumstances. After agreeing to take the assignment he assigns his adoptive son, Cabot Cutler to the case. He and Virginia suspect that the death could be related to the cult since Hannah was one of a few adults who escaped. The intensity takes off from there and never lets up. On the surface, it appears Cabot and Virginia only have in common their past. What does the owner of an art gallery have in common with a former law enforcement officer? The hero and heroine share the inability to sustain a relationship, putting a wall between themselves and others. This is due in part to their suffering from PTSD, reliving the fire in their nightmares, panic attacks, and strange sleeping behaviors. Throughout the story they overcome their emotional scars and begin to connect with each other intimately, sharing a mutual understanding of respect, empathy, and tolerance of their differences. Comparing Cabot and Virginia, Krentz sees both similarities and differences. “Cabot appears aloof and unemotional. Very literal, serious, and curious. A complicated character. As with so many of my characters he is reinventing himself with a new job and a new life, starting over emotionally and professionally. In order to navigate his world, he needs a mission, which is why he became a part of the private investigative business, to help people find answers. All my characters are complicated and reserved emotionally because they have been burned in some way. With Cabot, the burn is literal and goes back to his childhood drama while in the cult. Virginia is in the same boat as Cabot. They both looked at the world in two ways, seeing the humor and the dark side. She is outwardly reserved, sharp, polished, and sophisticated. She likes to size up people.” This book is action-packed and fast-paced. It has everything a reader can desire: suspense, romance, and riveting characters. Readers will be left yearning for the concluding story of the series. Continue reading
Posted Jan 5, 2018 at BlackFive
The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. Many military books have been written by and about SEALs. The Power of A Seal by Anne Elizabeth is a suspense-romance novel that highlights the SEAL community. It blends a mysterious plot, some romance, and a realistic look at those serving. Readers gain an insight into the personality of a SEAL. They are truly the selfless warriors that do not require any accolades: humble, bold, strong, brave, with an inner calm during the missions. The Power of A Seal explores the mental anguish many who serve go through when their bodies, either emotionally or physically, tell them it is time to look for another line of work. The hero, Leaper Lefton, after undergoing a traumatic experience, is reassigned to the BUD training program as a SEAL instructor to teach, lead, assess, evaluate, and test the trainees, making sure they have the emotional and physical skills. While on a training mission in Coronado Leaper spots a woman in danger in the middle of the ocean. After rescuing her, he finds out that Kerry Hamilton is a marine veterinarian assigned to the Marine Mammal Program that works with the Navy. She is responsible for the health and well-being of the dolphins and sea lions. After discovering a disease among the dolphins, she enlists Leaper’s help to medicate the wild dolphins and test a cure. The love story takes off from here, but readers are also treated to details about the SEAL training and the Marine Mammal Program. Elise Cooper: Why did you want to write a series centered on the SEAL community? Anne Elizabeth: My husband Carl served in Vietnam in 1963 and 1964, part of the Underwater Demolition Team, as a swimmer scout, better known as a Navy Frogman. He then became part of SEAL Team 1 in 1965 and was deployed back to Vietnam in 1966 and 1969. He told me I could honor the community and country by writing about these dedicated men. I wanted to inform people about the challenges and to show their personal courage. There are basic facts that are true to all military life: struggles with marriage, family, relationships, money, health, and returning home. EC: Is your heroine as strong-willed as her male counterpart? AE: Anyone having a relationship with a SEAL needs to be their own person with their own self-expression. The woman has to be as alpha and strong as the man. Kerry is very comfortable with her dolphins. It is not that she is not sociable, but really involved with her career. EC: How would you describe the hero? AE: Leaper is very old-fashioned, protective, a workaholic, and very private. EC: You also do the walk by helping your community? AE: My husband and I strive to honor those serving 365 days a year. The public should be aware of the sacrifices made and understand that the SEALs are selfless warriors. Carl is still part of the Legacy Program that remembers those who served. We always send holiday packages to some families that have faced hardships to remember the sacrifices they make as well. We want to show them they are not alone and Americans are thinking of them. EC: You address the disease of dolphins? AE: They are really sick. Remember the book is a novel, but in reality, there is no solution. The Amazon is the only place they have not found the sick dolphins. These pink dolphins might be the clue to help the species. EC: You highlight the Marine Mammal Program? AE: It is pretty amazing. It upsets me that people think they are harming the mammals. I think these people do not understand the program. My husband and another family member have worked for the organization. I know the people who work for this program do not think of it as a job, but as a calling. Because it is part of the Navy we have found that they can help and teach us. For example, people with kidney stones eat the same diet, gelatin, as the dolphins. Both are hydrated by putting an IV right into their stomach. They were taught to identify mines and enemy swimmers. They also teach us how to communicate. EC: How do you handle the relationship aspect? AE: Anyone who has a relationship with a military member knows that when they meet a person it usually blows their mind. It is the concept I write about where they know there is something unique and special during that first moment. Basically, it is about knowing it right away, which is what happened when I met my husband; even though, we took our time. I can’t imagine my life without him. EC: How would you describe the relationship between Leaper and Kerry? AE: They want to move forward with a purpose. I think there has to be that spark that creates chemistry. Of course, a sense of humor helps, which is why the banter between them was special. I wanted them to be “swim buddies for life.” EC: They were a little older, it seemed Kerry was in her thirties and Leaper in his forties? AE: I do not want to reveal their ages but people can do the math considering he has been a SEAL for decades and she is a vet. This is just reality today. It used to be people married right out of college, in their twenties. But I do not see that at all anymore. I don’t remember the last time I went to a twenty something marriage. EC: This book is not as action-packed as the previous ones, and emphasizes the SEAL philosophy? AE: I did concentrate on the training. My husband Carl taught me something emphasized in the BUDs program. There is a lot to be afraid of in the... Continue reading
Posted Dec 28, 2017 at BlackFive
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The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. Death At Nuremberg by W.E.B. Griffin and William E. Butterworth IV is more than a thriller. These authors have a knack for telling a riveting story that is intertwined with historical facts. It is a reminder of past history and the plot supports how history in many ways is repeating itself. Some of the facts are so incredibly gripping they can make for a thriller in and of themselves. This plot covers the time period when the Nuremberg war trials began with covert intelligence agent Captain James Cronley Jr. having to handle many fronts: the Russians, Nazis, and a bureaucracy. He has been reassigned from the Chief, DCI-Europe to protecting the Nuremberg US Chief Prosecutor Robert Jackson and the American Judge Francis Biddle from a possible Soviet NKGB kidnapping. In addition to that he is still hunting down and dismantling Odessa, an organization dedicated to helping Nazi war criminals escape to South America. In trying to play nice he decides to work with the CIC, a counter agency to the DCI and enlists the help of Colonel Morty Cohen who also has another agenda. He asks for Cronley’s help in getting to the bottom of a religious cult organized by SS Commander Heinrich Himmler. Griffin’s signature writing style is very evident as he blends humor, espionage, danger, and great characters in his latest novel. Below is an interview with W.E.B. Griffin and his son William JR. Elise Cooper: This series delves into the beginnings of the Cold War? William E. Butterworth IV (JR): The Cold War is back. President Trump speaks of not surrendering our sovereignty to foreign bureaucrats and that there should be a new era of competition to protect our national interest. Now just as then we have rivals that are tough and tenacious, and we have to make sure we do not trust the Russians or Chinese. Dad put in the last few books how no one wanted to believe that at the end of WWII the Russians were not our “allies” after they were our “allies.” Behind the scenes they were working only for the Russians. We hoped to show through our plots that Russia was and still is a “revisionist power” seeking to change the global status quo, rejecting cooperation in favor of competition. EC: Can you explain what is meant by the 1000-year old reign? JR: The Nazis used the discontent of the German people who felt emasculated by the Treaty Of Versailles after losing WWI. They promised a 1000-year old Third Reich. They claimed the First Reich began with Charlemagne in 800 AD, ending in 1806 AD. The Second Reich started in the early 1870s and ended with the conclusion of WWI. The Third Reich was supposed to bring back Germanic power and pride. They removed political opponents, so called criminals, deviants, gypsies, Jews, Slavs, and the handicapped, those deemed to be sub-human. EC: Himmler started a religious cult, the Black Knights of the SS? W.E.B. Griffin: Himmler was obsessed with the Nordic/German past and thought himself as divine. He had the Wewelsburg Castle designated as his fortress that would display Nazi greatness and the ideological center of the SS. The German people were completely taken in by Hitler who gave them their pride back and convinced them they were superior to everyone else. It also became a collection place for what the Nazis stole from the occupied lands including famous paintings. I hope readers understand through the story that it was a holy place that justified mass murder. It was very real and very dangerous. They wanted to own the world. EC: Throughout the book you show the true identity of the SS? Griffin: I mention Operation Phoenix where the Germans were willing to ransom Jews out of Concentration Camps. FDR allowed it to continue to save some from the ovens. The SS were a bunch of gangsters as well as murderers, crooked to the core. President Truman was a genius for having the Nuremberg Trials because the Nazis were seen as criminals as well as killers. EC: A powerful quote in the books seems like it could have come from the German-born iconic actress Marlene Dietrich? Griffin: Marlene was a good person who supported our side against her own people. The quote, “Now when I think about my German blood, I’m a little ashamed about it. That people ‘of my blood’ could do what the Nazis did.” My mother’s maiden name is Gladys Schnable so I have some German blood. This is how I feel. When I was in Germany, in the US Army, shortly after the War, you couldn’t find anyone who was a Nazi even though about 90% of the population supported them. I went to the film vault to look at what happened in the Concentration Camps. My boss, General White, came in and told me I should never forget. EC: Here in America is a statute of the poster boy for German nationalism. Maybe that is a statue that should be destroyed? Griffin: The statue is in New York City and is of Hermann der Cheruskerfurst. It was put up around the turn of the century, and is called the Hermann Heights Monument. Many Germans are named after him including Hermann Goring. I am against taking statues down because they need to stay up for historical value to remind us what did happen. EC: This series describes the turf wars between agencies of the DIA and CIC? Griffin: There were turf wars all the time. Everyone wanted to protect their territory. I put in the quote, “You spend as much time in turf warfare as you do in fighting the Red Menace.” The beginning of the book explains how Truman disbanded the OSS. Everyone fought over wanting to take that agency... Continue reading
Posted Dec 23, 2017 at BlackFive
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The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. Countdown by Carey Baldwin is a story ripped from the headlines. Juggling two professions, psychologist and pediatrician, has helped her with formulating different storylines. This novel is a departure from her last one, and is much more of a fun read. The plot begins with what appears to be someone drowning on the beach of Tahiti. Forensic psychiatrist Caitlyn Cassidy and FBI Agent Atticus Spenser are enjoying some R and R while preparing for their upcoming wedding. Unfortunately their best-laid plans go awry when they attempt to rescue the couple. They then become embroiled in a case that involves a con, dirty secrets and murder. After agreeing to help local law enforcement that seems to be overwhelmed, Cassidy and Spenser find that each clue of the investigation is nothing, as it seems. The story takes off with many twists and turns. Although not a Christmas story, it is a light-hearted read with the emphasis on family. During the holiday times more often than not people gather around to spend quality time with their loved ones. This novel showcases both sides. The supporting character Rose, has a large sense of duty towards family with a highly advanced sense of right and wrong. She is willing to make sacrifices to do right by her family. Baldwin noted, “Rose’s driving force is an overdeveloped sense of conscience. All the motivations for the supporting characters is protecting someone in their family, including the police brothers. The twins were searching for the ideal family when in reality they had a dysfunctional one. Caity and Spenser had their moms and each other to contend with.” This story is fun and adventurous with a happy ending for Caity and Spenser. Readers will enjoy reading a book filled with action that is not always gloomy. Continue reading
Posted Dec 17, 2017 at BlackFive
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The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. Touch Of Red and Cover Of Night by Laura Griffin have a plot with intricate suspense, and well-developed characters. The intensity on the pages is prevalent in the story and with the character’s relationship. Touch Of Red is part of the Tracer series and Cover Of Night is part of the SEAL series, but each can by read as a stand-alone. Griffin noted, “The “Tracer Series” has the Delphi Crime Lab at the center, while the SEAL series has the Alpha Crew as the focal point. You will see some overlap of characters, but each book has its own plot and a different couple. Those highlighted in the past will come back for a cameo appearance where readers can see what they are doing now.” Cover Of Night starts off with a bang when journalist Karly Bonham witnesses a terrorist attack in Thailand. Sent on an assignment to interview the US Ambassador to Thailand she is packing up to leave and realizes Islamic Jihadists are taking the Ambassador and his daughter as hostages. After receiving an SOS message from Karly, four members of the elite SEAL Alpha Crew team arrive to attempt a rescue. Karly inadvertently finds herself at the team’s insertion point, and insists on helping them by providing vital intelligence. The action will come in waves, having the reader feel like it has a tsunami effect. The author first became “interested after reading some autobiographical books written by SEALs. I decided to have a SEAL character in the book, Beyond Limits, from my “Tracer Series.” I enjoyed writing about their missions, training, and teammates. I was lucky enough to view the training area in Coronado, touring the base and speaking with some retired SEALs. This allowed me to have a feel for the area of San Diego. This series is less about forensics and more of an action and adventure story. I hope this series showcases all the great things they do, since I have a ton of respect for them.” Touch Of Red also has non-stop action. It begins with the investigation of a violent, gruesome murder. Delphi Center crime scene forensics expert Brooke Porter is gathering evidence to help detective Sean Byrne find the culprit. Through her expertise she is able to determine that there was indeed an eyewitness, a child. Not only are Byrne and Porter brave, tough, and intelligent, they are heroic in their attempt to solve the crime. While working together they form a chemistry that becomes sizzling with Brooke the one who is independent and stubborn, while Sean is nurturing and sensitive. Besides the murder mystery, Griffin also tackles a very relevant subject, harassment. She wants readers to understand, “The person harassed does not necessarily have to be a ‘victim type,’ someone weak, helpless, and incapable. Many see the warning signs, but do not listen to them. It can happen to someone smart, opinionated, strong, and competent. This is exactly what happened with Brooke. At first, the signs are subtle such as someone trying to control their mate’s life with family and friends.” Living in Texas, she saw first hand the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. “My parents were impacted by the hurricane when they lost their house in the flood. Someone in a boat who they did not even know rescued my parents. A lot of my close friends had to relocate. The neighborhood where I grew up was flooded with water. It has been a hard time for the city of Houston so when the Astros won the World Series it gave all of us a boost and was pretty awesome. Some of the proceeds from Cover Of Night went to benefit Hurricane Harvey.” Griffin is known for her fast-paced plots that are spellbinding and full of twists and turns. She beautifully blends dry humor, a gripping mystery, and a sizzling romance, with plenty of action. Continue reading
Posted Dec 17, 2017 at BlackFive
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The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. The Demon Crown by James Rollins, a Sigma Force novel, blends action, adventure, science and history. Per usual, he takes a unique idea based on some truth and builds a narrative around it. Readers, in typical Rollins style, learn something, while being entertained at the same time. In this latest novel, the characters see creatures flying through the air wondering if it is a bird, a plane, and then realize they are gigantic wasps. It begins in 1903 when Alexander Graham Bell flies to Italy to retrieve the bones of James Smithson, the founder of the Smithsonian Institute. Within the grave is something that unleashes the “hordes of Hell.” The enemy organization, the Guild, releases a massive infestation of giant killer wasps, hoping to bring the world to its knees. On a beach in Hawaii, these indestructible wasps that reproduce at staggering rates attack Sigma operatives, Grayson Pierce and Seichan, who are there enjoying some R and R. Now he and the rest of Sigma Force must race to eradicate these massive insects to save not only the world, but also his true love. Rollins commented, “I grew up watching the B movie version of some biological horror. I wanted to capture this, put it into a story, and add a scientific spin. I try to find an event where I can connect history with science. This story came about after I read an article about homeland security concerns with invasive species. We already have these type of species accidentally introduced in the US whether it’s the Pythons in the Everglades or the various plants in other places. The national security concern is that some type of hostile power can weaponize the invasive species by making it toxic and difficult to get rid of. Once an insect is released in the environment they become hard to control like the Killer Bees or Fire Ants. I had this in my idea box for a number of years.” In this novel, more than in the other books, the author emphasizes the relationship between Seichen and Gray. As Seichen is put through the ringer in this story, having to endure wasp stings, a major blast, and lethal powder thrown at her, Commander Grayson Pierce will be forced to make an impossible choice. He is fighting to eradicate the invasive insects, and fighting against time to help Seichen. He must protect not only the world, but Seichen and his unborn child. Part of the realism comes from the similarities with those in the military. Both feel a responsibility to their families and to making the world safe. Rollins is “Supporting a new enterprise called Veterans Publications. US 4 Warriors and I want them to immortalize their stories and experiences regarding what they did on the battlefield and after it.” Another personal aspect of the story is Gray’s guilt over killing his father with an overdose of morphine. Rollins noted, “My mom and dad died of it. Watching them suffer and seeing they had no quality of life was very hard. Commander Gray Pierce also saw his dad suffering with no quality of life so I had him end the suffering. But it is never an easy decision and he is still plagued and haunted by his choice. He just knew that his dad would not want to live this way and felt enough is enough.” The Demon Crown blends technology, science, and history, the signature of Rollins. This might be the most disturbing and creepy book he has ever written. Readers will find these bugs can be deadly to one’s health and their mental state as they read the story. Continue reading
Posted Dec 9, 2017 at BlackFive
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The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. With the holiday season here, readers can find novels that blend a good mystery within the Christmas atmosphere. A word of warning, these are not “sugar and spice and everything nice” holiday books. Yet, they are very realistic, believable, and leave readers with a good feeling at the end, a feeling of faith and redemption. The Christmas Room by Catherine Anderson is one of these special stories. Two holiday generational romances touch on grief, healing and redemption. Readers will go through a range of emotions with the characters from joy, to laughter, and sadness. Anderson leaves the reader wishing the story would never end, hoping she will consider making a series involving these great characters. She believes that one of the overwhelming aspects of the holidays is hope. “We should not forget about those people who came to the holidays with strife, stress, or financial troubles. Many people have lost loved ones and on Christmas there are empty places. They do feel sad. Because I did experience grief firsthand I wanted to write about it. I wanted to show how the death of the featured character’s husband impacted not only her but also her son and grandson. The message I really wanted to send is that if you put one foot in front of the other there is light on the other side of the darkness, and there can be a happy ending.” The Ghost of Christmas Past by Rhys Bowen has a sinister atmosphere of sorrow that is also a part of this story. With Christmas approaching the characters must overcome their own set of heartaches that revolve around losing a child. The main character, Molly, feels the despair of having recently miscarried because of her physical hardships. Deciding to spend the holiday with her mother-in-law and a family living in the countryside, she discovers that the hostess Winnie’s moodiness is based on the disappearance of her daughter ten years ago on Christmas Eve. Molly decides to investigate and find answers to this Cold Case. The spirit of Christmas will ring through. Bowen experienced first hand losing a loved one during the holidays. “I flew over to Australia to be with my mother who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I actually missed Christmas Day because of the date line. A part of me will always associate Christmas with that call that says you need to come right now. Yet, I do love the celebration of Christmas. Just think, during the time period of the plot, there were no TVs, no videogames, and no cell phones. I was able to create an ideal Christmas that we all long for. We all have this idea of the snow, a sleigh ride, the big roaring fire, playing games, and singing Carols around the tree. We do not have the simplicity of Christmas anymore. I fantasized and wrote the Christmas I would really like with all the warmth.” Last Christmas In Paris by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb is a reminder that not everyone has complete joy during the Christmas holiday and that some families have chairs left empty. It is a heartwarming and heartbreaking story of victory and loss during World War I. The love and romantic scenes are a great balance against the horrors of the Great War. What makes this book stand out is that the story of World War I is told predominantly in letters and telegrams. In the beginning the letters are full of excitement, a sense of adventure, pride and thoughts that the war won't last long, yet, as it becomes evident that it will not be over by Christmas, the correspondence becomes more serious and speaks of the atrocities and hardships. The authors told of the springboard for the story, wanting it to be a shout out to military families, “These friends who lead a comfortable life planned to meet up in Paris during the holiday. There was the continued sense of believing that it will be over by the next Christmas. But we wanted readers to understand that it was disrupted by this horrific war. Today there is a disconnect between those fighting and the civilian population. We wanted to contrast those on the home front versus those actually fighting, and how the Christmas holiday affected them.” Pride And Prejudice And Mistletoe by Melissa De La Cruz modernizes Jane Austen’s classic Pride And Prejudice. She turns the characters on their heads, switching the roles of the male and female leads. The heroine, Darcy, flies back to Pemberley, Ohio to see to her mother and spend the holiday season with her family. She might remind readers of Scrooge from A Christmas Carol because she is rich and self absorbed, disdainful of others not like her. But it is Luke who covertly shows her how to be humble, and that there is more to life than her profession, leaving her to wonder if she could have a chance at love. This is definitely a modern day fairy tale. Melissa believes that part of the joy during Christmas is spending time with family and close friends. “Darcy gives everything up for her career and has an empty life. It is necessary to find a balance between career and those in your family. I wanted to show that during Christmas most everyone takes a little time off to spend time with friends and family.” These books are a reminder that during the holidays there are some who suffer, some who celebrate, and some who can reflect on their loss but joyously participate in the holiday cheer. The novels will evoke old-fashioned Christmas traditions with plots that will warm the heart, and allow readers a smile at the story ends. Continue reading
Posted Dec 9, 2017 at BlackFive
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The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. Mindhunter, a bestselling book and now a Netflix original series, take people behind the scenes of some of the most gruesome and challenging cases. FBI profilers gather up crime scene evidence to help predict the type of personality who commits serial murders. Through interviews with some of the most ghastly killers such as Charles Manson, Edmund Kemper, and the Son of Sam, to mention a few, Douglas determines their motives, attempting to figure out why they did what they did and why in such a particular manner. Elise Cooper: The Netflix show has Dr. Wendy Carr as a consultant, was she based on anyone? John Douglas: She did not exist, but was based upon Dr. Anne Burgess, who is more of an academic type. She came down to meet with another agent that was investigating rape. After she heard about what we were doing she wanted to learn more about how we looked at a crime scene and the way a victim was attacked. Unlike in the show, she was never a member of the Behavioral Science Unit. She had a completely different profession than the character in the show. She was actually a forensic nurse who did co-author some books with me. EC: Did you actually have trouble with the FBI accepting the unit as shown in the show where you were displaced to the basement? JD: Yes, it is correct. We had pull back on what we could possibly learn from interviewing serial killers. Even when we started to teach profiling we got resistance and there was an attitude of ‘what is this BS?’ EC: What about the ways the killers were portrayed in the show? JD: It is amazing how the casting had them look so much like the killers. Maybe the time line was different but the conversations were accurate. For example, Richard Speck who killed eight student nurses did throw a live bird into the fan, but it happened before we got to the prison. I did open the interview with him using street language, which had him open up because he thought I was as crazy as he was. EC: The show mentions Lawrence Bittaker. Can you tell us about him? JD: He met Roy Norris while serving time together and discovered their mutual interest in dominating and hunting young women. After being paroled in 1979 they kidnapped, raped, and tortured five girls. They bought a van, nicknamed it, ‘Murder Mac,’ insulated its interior, and then went on the hunt, videotaping what they did. Bittaker’s nickname became ‘Pliers Bittaker.’ After they were caught I interviewed Bittaker with a female agent, Mary Ellen O’Toole. Interestingly, he would never look at her when she asked a question. EC: You mention in the book that Charles Manson was also paroled? JD: In his young adult life he committed a series of robberies, forgeries, pimpings, and assaults. He was paroled in 1967 after serving for some of these offenses. I do not think of him as a routine serial killer. I was interested in finding out how someone could become this satanic messiah. He found lost souls and was able to institute a highly structured delusional system that left him in complete control of their minds and bodies by using sleep deprivation, sex, food, and drugs. People forget he was not even at the Sharon Tate murders because he was afraid it would violate his parole. He spoke of ‘Helter Skelter’ from the Beatles White Album, having a vision of the coming apocalypse and race war that would leave him in control. EC: He just died, but do you think he ever should have been paroled? JD: No. The biggest threat would have been from the misguided losers who would gravitate to him and proclaim him their G-d and leader. When I think of Manson and his flock of wandering inadequate followers I immediately visualize the violent crimes they perpetrated against innocent people. The crime scenes were horrific and it’s difficult to imagine what was going through the victims’ minds, as they each knew they were going to die a violent death. Imagine Sharon Tate, eight months pregnant and begging for her life and that of her unborn child. So why do any of them deserve parole when they initially received the death penalty but unfortunately a Supreme Court ruling changed their death sentence to life imprisonment. Therefore, life imprisonment means just that. No parole. No matter how much they conformed to prison rules and were considered model inmates and “found religion”. Manson and his followers will all again meet one day in hell. EC: Can you please explain the book quote, ‘I can speak for myself, I would much rather have on my conscience keeping a killer in jail who might or might not kill again if sprung, than the death of an innocent man, woman, or child as a result of the release of that killer?’ JD: Many thought that the rapist or killer would burn out and they would just stop. They ignored that these were actually crimes of power and manipulation. I remember a guy in California who chopped the arms off of a young girl and went to prison. After a number of years he was thought to have been rehabilitated and was released. He then goes to Florida where he brutally kills a woman. Eventually, I started to go before Parole Boards telling them ‘all you have done is incarcerated a body, but what you haven’t taken away from them is what is going on in their minds.’ They remember and fantasize about the crime. I tell them they have no business making decisions regarding probation or parole if they have not looked deeply at the crime scene photographs, the victim, circumstances of the case, police... Continue reading
Posted Dec 3, 2017 at BlackFive
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The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar The Ghost of Christmas Past by Rhys Bowen is not all fuzzy and happy. There is a sinister atmosphere of sorrow that is also a part of this story. As Christmas is approaching the characters must overcome their own set of heartaches that revolve around losing a child. But thankfully, the spirit of Christmas rings through and the ending is one that will put a smile on reader’s faces. Because of a disaster in the previous book, Time Of Fog And Fire, the main character, Molly Murphy, sacrifices her body to save her husband. This book begins in December 1906 where Molly feels the despair of having recently miscarried because of her physical hardships. Now, instead of spending Christmas in their home her husband, Daniel, accepts an invitation to spend the Christmas holiday at a mansion on the Hudson with his mother. Not long after they arrive, Molly discovers that the hostess Winnie’s moodiness is based on the disappearance of her daughter ten years ago on Christmas Eve. Molly is able to sympathize with Winnie and is spurred on to investigate the mystery behind the daughter disappearing. A quote summarizes the feelings, “Too lose a beloved daughter. It is an ache in the heart that never goes away.” As Molly and Daniel investigate this Cold Case they realize that the mansion occupants are not completely forthcoming. Bowen noted, “Holidays are stressful for people who lose a loved one. I can sympathize with that because my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I flew over to be with her in Australia on Christmas Eve and actually missed Christmas Day because of the date line. A part of me will always associate Christmas with that call that says you need to come right now. I can understand what Winnie goes through every Christmas as she has this grief while others celebrate.” But this story is also a celebration of Christmas. Readers will yearn for the Christmas of the past when they were surrounded by a big tree, candles, extravagant food, and the family sitting around the fireplace talking and playing games together. Comparing Christmas celebrated in 1906 with today, Bowen reminds people, “Just think there were no TVs, no videogames, and no cell phones. I was able to create an ideal Christmas that we all long for. We all have this idea of the snow, a sleigh ride, the big roaring fire, playing games, and singing Carols around the tree. We do not have the simplicity of Christmas anymore. I fantasized the Christmas I would really like with all the warmth.” The other issue explored is how women were treated in the early 20th Century. On the surface Molly’s husband Daniel appears to be a male chauvinist. He takes charge of the family and at times makes decisions without consulting Molly. People forget that this was a different time, different culture, and different values. There seems to be a tendency to put 21st Century values into different eras instead of trying to understand the times. Historical fiction writers, according to Bowen, need to “show people as they were in the time, but not repugnant to the modern reader. I put in this quote, ‘He could move so much more quickly with his trousers tucked into his boots than I could with all those layers of petticoats and skirts.’ A woman was expected not to work after marriage. Women could not vote and in New York State a woman could not own property. Since I am by nature a feminist I try to have all of my stories show what it was like during a particular time. I do get letters saying ‘I hate Daniel. He is such a chauvinist.’ But for this time period he is actually a good guy because he is very tolerant.” This is a mystery with many threads. It is realistic because it shows that on the holidays there are some who suffer, some who celebrate, and some who can reflect on their loss but joyously participate in the holiday cheer. This novel will evoke old-fashioned Christmas traditions with a resolution of the mystery that will warm the heart. Continue reading
Posted Dec 3, 2017 at BlackFive
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The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. Mindhunter by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker gives an insider’s view of FBI’s elite serial crime unit. Douglas was the youngest agent not just as a lecturer at Quantico, but also at FBI Headquarters. His resume is impressive having spent four years in the military, holds numerous graduate degrees, was a member of the SWAT team, a hostage negotiator, and the FBI’s criminal profiler pioneer. With the bestselling book and now a Netflix original series, people are taken behind the scenes of some of the most gruesome and challenging cases. FBI profilers gather up crime scene evidence to help predict the type of personality who commits serial murders. Through interviews with some of the most ghastly killers such as Charles Manson, Edmund Kemper, and the Son of Sam, to mention a few, Douglas determines their motives, attempting to figure out why they did what they did and why in such a particular manner. The following is an interview with one of the FBI’s most legendary Agents: Elise Cooper: You speak of the why + how = who? John Douglas: I wanted to interview these serial killers because I found the best indicator of future violence is past violence. To understand the ‘artist’ you must study the ‘art.’ I decided to go directly to the source to form an understanding. EC: You spoke on how a good profiler should also walk in the shoes of victims. Do you feel as Michael Connelly wrote, “I speak for the victims, for those who can no longer speak?” JD: I got very close with some of the families. My goal with the interviews is to give families closure and help law enforcement solve crimes. We must remember the victims, but unfortunately we do forget those ‘surviving victims.’ They suffer from losing a loved one forever and ever. We have seen these people break down, suffer from an illness, or get a divorce. I also broke down from the work I was doing, walking in the shoes of the antagonists to better understand them. But we also must reconstruct what the victims went through and why they took certain actions. EC: You discuss in the book how you had PTSD and because you were so worn down you contracted viral encephalitis, a fever, which doctors said ‘fried his brain,’ and that if you did recover you would likely be left in a vegetative stage? JD: Success meant more work, which meant more stress and learning how to cope. I was gone one-third of the year, traveling and talking to surviving victims and the killers. I would run myself to exhaustion. I had PTSD; psychologically it took its toll. A lot of people in my unit got ill and died early. We felt pulled in all different directions: personal family, FBI family, local law enforcement, the community, and victim’s families. EC: You had a powerful quote in the book, ‘I’m afraid too many of us in the Bureau, in the military, and in the Foreign Service give too little thought to the incredible burdens on the spouse left behind.’ JD: It does take a toll on the family. When I would come home I would need to decompress. Hearing about my family’s day, like one of my children scraping a knee, seemed so trivial to everything I had done. I needed to decompress before I could react. EC: You describe serial killers as controlling, manipulative, dominating, and egocentric? JD: They like to relive the excitement and stimulation of the kill. They mentally reassert domination and control. They picked vulnerable victims, such as runaways, street people, prostitutes, and drug addicts. We examined why did they pick a certain victim over another. For example, if they walked into a bar they could pick out those with a broken wing. Usually the victim has a certain posture or look. EC: What makes a good profiler? JD: You need to be able to re-create the crime scene in your head. You need to know as much as you can about the victim so you can imagine how they might have reacted, and put yourself in her place. You have to be able to feel her fear as he approaches, or her pain as she is being raped, beaten, or cut. You have to try to imagine what she was going through when she was tortured. EC: What are the traits of a serial killer and can you define the term? JD: Bed-wetting beyond a normal age, cruelty to small animals, and fire starting. The FBI now categorizes them if there were two or more kills. In the Netflix series we say three or more because that was the 80’s definition. EC: But you also interviewed people who did not fit into that description like Sirhan-Sirhan, the killer of Robert Kennedy? JD: If I were in a prison I would not pass up anyone including a skyjacker, kidnapper, extortionist, serial rapist, arsonist, or a bomber. I worked over 5000 cases. I also interviewed James Earl Ray, the Martin Luther King murderer. Perhaps we can see some of the other interviews if there is a season 2 or in the next book, Unmasking Evil. EC: Did you ever profile a mass killer? JD: While I was in Scotland I was asked about a mass murderer of an elementary school where dozens of children were killed. I thought the person targeted the school because they had some personal connection, and a middle age guy. The profile helped them find him. But someone like the Las Vegas killer is difficult to profile. We look for warning signs and should educate the public to be aware of any comments and strange actions. EC: Do you think it is an environmental influence, genetic, or both? JD: From my experience with... Continue reading
Posted Nov 27, 2017 at BlackFive
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The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. Her Last Day is the first novel of a new series by T.R. Ragan. She is known for writing riveting thrillers whose antagonist always seems to be a gruesome serial killer. The three sub-plots throughout the story are brilliantly weaved together. The plot has Sacramento California private investigator Jessie Cole drawn to detective work after her sister Sophie disappeared ten years ago. Reporter Ben Morrison who wants to write a series of articles on the still-missing Sophie approaches her. He feels somehow connected to Sophie after seeing her on a TV show about unsolved mysteries. He is hoping that finding her will help him regain his memory that was lost after a horrific car accident a decade ago. Besides finding out what happens to her sister, Jessie is raising her niece, facing charges for shooting a stalker, and is hired to find a mentally unstable girl who is somehow connected to the serial murderer, the Heartless Killer. This novel explores many different types of illnesses, another signature of the author. She noted, “In this book there is a character, Zee, who has schizophrenia. I wanted to explore the different levels, because after taking her medication she functions normally. I also delve into Retrograde Amnesia, which is what Ben was diagnosed with after the car accident. Retrograde Amnesia is when the person does not remember anything before the incident. With the other types of amnesia people are able to remember most of their past, but have a hard time with short term memory. What Ben has is almost the direct opposite.” The characters in the book are extremely well developed. People are able to sympathize with Ben, yet they also have some misgivings about him. Jessie is the poster child for the song in the Annie play, “It’s The Hard Knock Life.” She is impulsive, compassionate, caring, stubborn, and way too serious. Her mother left her when she was very young, her father is an alcoholic, her sister was always in and out of trouble, and then she disappeared leaving Jessie to bring up her niece. On the other hand, the antagonist, The Heartless Killer, is very creepy. He has the traits of being controlling, manipulative, and very dominating. What he does to his victims is extremely horrific and he gets off on making sure they suffer. He could sing the song, “Poor, Poor, Pitiful Me;” although he is about the only one who would. Ragan spends a lot of time writing these types of evildoers. “For some reason, the easiest scenes to write were the ones with the serial killer. For me, the creepiest scene in the book is when he threw apples at the injured girl who is practically crippled. Readers tell me they will never go to the setting of my books, Sacramento, because that is where all the serial killers live.” The plot of this novel takes off from the very beginning and never let’s up. There are so many twists and turns that readers could get whiplash. Ragan really knows to captivate her readers and keep their interest level high. Continue reading
Posted Nov 19, 2017 at BlackFive
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The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. End Game by David Baldacci brings back two of his best characters, Will Robie and Jessica Reel. Baldacci has a knack for creating a male and female lead that act in a homogeneous manner whether it’s Sean King and Michelle Maxwell, or his most recent series Memory Man with Amos Decker and Alexandra (Alex) Jamison. But, probably the best pair is Robie and Reel, who feed off one another in a cohesive partnership. Reel and Robie are not the typical stereotyped characters. She is sarcastic and is not afraid to get into someone’s face. He is quiet, sensitive, and will hold back. Sometimes her abrasive behavior will cause an adverse reaction. For example, when she tells this to the leader of a neo-Nazi group, “I can see it probably gets you off.” It becomes obvious as the story unfolds, that Robie and Reel care greatly for each other. Robie told her how hard it was for him to figure her out. The conversation, “I don’t get you most of the time.” Her response, “What can I say, Robie. It’s a Mars-Venus thing.” She is a female sniper working for the US government. Is it realistic, to have that as Reel’s profession. Baldacci says, “Yes. They are finding females have better motor skills then men. This is a skill very much needed for snipers. They are also able to lie in one position for many hours a day. I have gone to military bases and fired the rifles so I have an idea what it requires. I put the descriptions in the book. Through Jessica people can understand it is not just falling on the ground, looking through a scope, and firing the rifle. It is actual a science that involves a lot of math and physics.” The first few chapters has Robie on a mission in London where he must single-handedly take out a Jihadist terrorist cell and Reel in Iraq providing sniper support for the military. After the completion of these missions they are asked to find their supervisor, The Blue Man, Roger Walton, who has gone missing in Grand Colorado. Traveling to Walton’s hometown in Colorado they must use their lethal skills under a guise of secrecy to find him. They have faced evil overseas with the Islamic extremists, but now face it on the home front with Nazi wannabes, motorcycle gangs, and a drug cartel. They enlist the help of Sherriff Valerie Malloy who knows the local community, many of whom enjoy the isolated and sparsely populated town. Unfortunately, the three find themselves up against adversaries with superior numbers and firepower and no lead on Blue Man’s whereabouts. Baldacci wants “people to realize wars could be fought in many different types of battlefields whether the desert in Iraq or the urban streets of London or America. These are two very different kinds of battlefields. Because many citizens have no direct engagement with the soldiers and their families they think they could not be harmed. We are never really safe wherever we are. It is an important cliché, ‘see something, say something.’ People should not be listening to their ear buds or staring at their phones oblivious to everyone around them.” The Colorado Tourist Bureau will definitely not use it. The story shows how the state is a magnet for violent groups. Being a large state with many isolationist and unpopulated areas it is popular by those who want to avoid mainstream laws. The geography and undermanned police forces allows for secretive groups. Also, in Colorado are hideaways for the super wealthy in case the world implodes. Reel responds to someone who is touring the facility, “Isn’t that why you bought your little insurance policy here? So they could protect you from the big, bad riffraff banging on the door to get in?” This story is well worth the two-year wait and readers should be delighted in Reel and Robie’s return. This novel has a fast-action story where people realize that there are terrorists on both the domestic and international front. These heroes must use all their senses to confront and defeat the bad guys to keep the good guys safe. Continue reading
Posted Nov 12, 2017 at BlackFive
Veteran’s Day is a time for Americans to step up and honor those who have served in the armed forces. From the days of the Founding Fathers to today, those in the military whether enlisted or drafted, made tremendous sacrifices for their fellow Americans. We should offer thanks, but the question is how do we go about doing it? Today many people will tell a veteran “thank you for your service.” During the Vietnam War those who fought gallantly for this country would have welcomed that greeting instead of being spat upon and called baby killers. But for those who fought in the War On Terror is it enough? The recent book by David Finkel, and movie by Jason Hall, Thank You For Your Service, implies the sentiment is great, but more is needed. The movie and book follow a group of US soldiers returning from Iraq and struggling to integrate back into family and civilian life. They live with the horrific memories of a war that threatens to destroy them here at home. Both film and book explore the reality of Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD) that affects both the warrior and their family. David Finkel’s first book, For The Good Soldiers, told of his experiences while embedded with the men of the 2-16 Infantry Battalion in Iraq during the infamous "surge." His follow-up book, Thank You For Your Service, and the movie based on the book shows what happens to these men after their deployments have ended. He stated, “They came with various psychological and moral injuries, and some are broken. I think the movie found the true heart of my book, getting the big picture. The war affected these guys, and they came home different, many times unable to talk about it.” Jason Hall the screenwriter and director concurs, “I hope the movie opens people’s eyes regarding the continued war that these guys are fighting, trying to find their way back home. This is very much their second war, as they come home changed and altered by the war. Since I wrote the screenplay for the movie about Chris Kyle, I am calling this film the spiritual sequel to American Sniper.” Some have criticized the book and movie because they say it implies that all soldiers coming home are broken. Finkel responds to the criticism, “I just do not buy it. Of course not every vet is broken, but every vet is affected. When I embedded with these guys for about eight months I saw a lot of them injured and lost. I think it is fair to say that there was not a man of those 800 that was not affected in some way, but this does not mean they were all broken. After my first book, some who returned from deployment contacted me and told of having a hard time with divorces, DUIs, depression, anxiety, medication, and suicidal thoughts. They came home with various psychological and moral injuries, and some were broken. The fact is they were changed and it will take some time to recover, but it certainly does not mean they are broken forever. It is a shame for people to say don’t tell this story because it buys into the broken vet idea.” Hall added, “I am by no means saying everyone who comes home suffers from PTSD. I think it is one in four or one in five. It is certainly the minority. Yet, we have to be aware of those who have the feelings that everything feels different and looks different, with a different texture and meaning.” The book and movie should not be criticized for pointing out that approximately 25% of the soldiers need help because the goal is to start a discussion and make Americans more aware of these veterans who need support. The relatives are also affected. While at war the soldier’s peers became their family, and their family at home was left to fend for themselves. Both appear to be strangers to each other in some way. A scene in the book has one of the returning soldiers, Staff Sergeant Adam Schumann, now retired, cooking pancakes for his daughter, making a happy face with chocolate chips. The problem is that the child does not like chocolate. Another scene has his wife finding a questionnaire, which shows his distressed mental state. It becomes obvious that the soldier feels out of place within his own family and the family feels like an outsider, unaware of everything the soldier has experienced. Hall describes this process as “having these guys stepping through a door as they go off to war. When it closes the veteran has extraordinary experiences, profound and meaningful relationships. Their families back home are waiting for the door to open up and for the veterans to step back in their lives. In some instances the veteran has changed with the family left to grapple with and unravel the mystery of who is this person.” Finkel wants to make it clear that being broken is not a sign of weakness nor should someone be regarded as crazy. He is hoping that anyone who utters the words thank you for your service “realizes it is not a conversation opener but a conversation closer. I want people to take away from the book that these people are noble. I want Americans to understand there are many protocols and don’t stereotype anyone. Some people are helped by medication and others by cognitive therapy. We should ask them how they are doing? We should appreciate them every day, not just on holidays like Veteran’s Day.” The movie and book need to be applauded for bringing to the forefront how profoundly those serving have been affected by war. After all PTSD has existed since World War I in the form of “shell shock.” Basically for one hundred years soldiers have come home with psychological issues and what people should be asking is how much have we learned to help them. Today only one percent... Continue reading
Posted Nov 12, 2017 at BlackFive
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The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. Monticello by Sally Cabot Gunning is a fascinating historical novel about the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and his eldest daughter Martha. Because the author based this book on actual correspondence between father and daughter it is immersed in reality. The book begins with a letter from Martha to her father at the age of fourteen, “I wish with all my soul that the poor Negroes were all freed. It grieves my heart when I think that these our fellow creatures should be treated so terribly as they are by many of our country men.” This sets the tone for the rest of the book where readers see the struggle throughout their life with family, relationships, and issues of the day, including being a good wife, a good mother, honoring her father, and shaping his legacy. The author’s research included, “I poured through her letters to her father and his to her and realized that she and I had embarked on a similar mission, to figure out her father. I read all the letters they wrote each other, letters to other people, and numerous biographies. I searched through endless Jefferson documents online. I learned that as Martha matured she came to spend many evenings at her father’s dinner table in the company of Europe’s greatest men of arts, letters, politics, and science, enhancing her education still further. I took many trips to Monticello and discovered something new with each trip, not just about the people who lived there, black and white, but also about the significance Monticello held for them.” Martha idolized and admired her father and considered him a renaissance man with his greatest accomplishments as author of the Declaration of Independence, founder of the University of Virginia, and an advocate for religious freedom as well as an end to slavery. Telling the story from her point of view Gunning is able to have the characters come alive and takes readers back in time to the early days of America where Jefferson is viewed in a different light, that of father and grandfather. There is a scene in the book where he sends Martha and her children gifts, “books and toys for the children, chinaware, a Turkey carpet, and a pair of chairs...When Martha’s father realized she had no horse to ride, he lent her a gentle bay and paid the overdue mortgage bill.” Monticello is also a character that played a significant role in their lives, the family's beloved Virginia plantation among lush mountains. It was a place where Jefferson escaped his political worries and thrived, and Martha sought security, as it became her haven. Both yearned for it when they are absent, and it became the soul of the family with its seasonal beauty, treasured gardens, walking and riding paths, as well as the Palladian house designed by Jefferson. But it was also the family’s Achilles heel. Their increasing financial strain forced them to continue to own slaves, even as their conscience and beliefs told them slavery was wrong. It became a necessary evil where they needed to have slaves to manage the plantation. He did try to find a way to turn his slaves into tenant farmers, but the Virginian laws did not accept it. Gunning noted, “It definitely was a character in the book. The place itself became so significant in their lives, especially if you think what they did to preserve it. They were hell bent on holding on to it. It was their sanctuary. She actually moved back during her troubled marriage. It explained many things including slavery, the relationship with each other, and the extreme debt of Jefferson. This is just my observation, but I believe had he not inherited slaves from his father and an enormous debt from his father-in-law he would not have been a slave owner. I also think had he not been in such financial trouble he would have freed his slaves after he died. Although he thought slavery was wrong, it became a necessary evil, a way to manage the plantation.” Furthermore, she points out, “Jefferson did what he could to end slavery, but was stifled by others and the law. While in France, he had decided to set up tenant farming for those of his slaves who he felt were ready to take on the responsibility. He also believed legislation was needed to do away with slavery in its entirety. In 1769 he had someone file an emancipation bill because he was only a junior legislator. He had an elder respected legislator put it forth, but it was instantly tabled and not put up for a vote. He wrote this into the first draft of the Declaration of Independence, calling slavery ‘a cruel war against human nature itself,’ but others in the Congress had it deleted. He also said, ‘There is no G-d that would side with us in this conflict.’ This brings up the question of the relationship between Sally Hemings, his sixteen year old slave, and Thomas Jefferson. No one has a crystal ball and can only speculate on it. Beginning while he was the Minister to France, Hemings could have chosen to be free, but instead chose to come back to America with Jefferson. She was able to negotiate freedom for her children at the age of twenty-one and privileges for herself, including not doing the work of enslaved women. Her brothers were granted freedom of movement, paid for work, sometimes given spending money, and were taught to read and write. Whether the relationship was fondness or love between them cannot be determined, but regardless she was a slave and he was the master even though he never supposedly forced himself on her. Gunning explained, “When she was fourteen she accompanied Jefferson, the American envoy to France, to... Continue reading
Posted Nov 5, 2017 at BlackFive
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King Of Spies: The Dark Reign and Ruin of an American Spymaster in Korea by Blaine Harden delves into the black-ops life of Donald Nichols during, before, and shortly after the Korean War. This biography allows readers to understand the current conflict with North Korea and the necessary steps taken to handle the Kim dynasties through the decades. The regime’s DNA has not changed, as it is still the same system of torture, rape, and murder. Although Nichols did not have much of a formal education, and his training was limited to a short course on spy techniques, nevertheless, he rose in the ranks from Sergeant to Major. His expertise as a master spy came from immersing himself with knowledge of the inner-workings of the North Korean government and military. Harden describes Nichols, “He was an unbreakable war hero whose creativity and energy as a spymaster helped save countless lives in a confused and bloody war. He operated beyond the bounds of legality and morality. He was a superspy with a dark side.” During his clandestine eleven-year career he developed his own base, secret army, and rules. Within Korea there were three centers of intelligence: the emerging CIA, army intelligence, the largest outfit, and NICK, created by Nichols where he supervised up to fifty-eight American intelligence officers and airmen, two hundred South Korean intelligence officers, and more than seven hundred agents comprised of defectors and refugees from North Korea. The Air Force brass quickly recognized him as “the best intelligence agent in the Far East.” Nichols was given open-ended authority to gather intelligence and conduct sabotage, demolition, and guerrilla operations behind enemy lines. Harden emphasized how “US Air Force generals depended on Nichols just before, during, and immediately after the Korean War. He broke codes, found weaknesses in enemy tanks and jets, and identified most of the targets destroyed by American bombs in North Korea. During the war he reported only to the General of the 5th Air Force, Earle Everard ‘Pat’ Partridge. For his accomplishments Air Force Generals gave him an abundance of praise, promotions, and medals.” His accomplishments included helping to find weaknesses in the Soviet tank, earning him a Silver Star, salvaging a Soviet MIG 15, and then finding the electronic secrets on how it worked. This information was sent to the commanders who helped to redesign and modify the US F-86 to better equip them during an air fight. Hardin recounts in the book how in the early days of the conflict as the American GIs were retreating and being killed, Nichols’ “team of cryptographers broke the North Korean army codes, which helped the American forces hold the line, saving them from being pushed off the southern tip of the Korean Peninsula as well as helping in finding the targets for bombings of North Korea.” Another achievement was his prediction of North Korea invading the South. This was much to the chagrin of General Douglas MacArthur’s chief of intelligence, army major General Charles A. Willoughby, who predicted just the opposite. Hardin recounts, “The American Ambassador in Seoul, John Muccio, wrote a response to Willoughby who tried to oust Nichols, ‘In my opinion, there is no other American intelligence unit or agency now operating in South Korea which produces a larger volume of useful intelligence material on Communist and subversive activities than does Mr. Nichols’ unit.’” Harden also delves into the moral question, how far should covert operators go to save American lives, and does that include a legal license to murder? In his own words, Nichols described himself as a “thief, assassin, judge, jury, and executioner.” This master spy entered the dark side when he became a part of, the Republic of Korea Head Of State, Syngman Rhee’s world that included torturing, beheading, and killing tens of thousands of South Koreans. He was not a particularly nice guy. For example, there is a picture of him standing on the roof of the South Korean Army Headquarters next to a severed head in a bucket. In reading this book, Americans also can get a better understanding of the current crisis. The present-day North Korean Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un, is the grandson of Kim II-sung, the leader during the Korean War. Back then, as today, there’s no U.S. Embassy in Pyongyang, few Western business travelers, and even fewer tourists flowing in and out. American intelligence officers are unable to blend in undetected or gain a foothold. Harden explained, “Nichols knew his agents were disposable. When he sent them inside North Korea, he expected most would be captured, tortured, or killed, with as many as eight out of ten never coming back. Yet, he did provide answers for his bosses. I detail in the book how he conceived, organized, and lead covert missions inside North Korea. General E. Stratemeyer, commander of Far East Air Forces, wrote in his diary during the first year of the Korean War that Nichols had ‘performed the impossible.’” Fast-forward to today, where the North Korean regime is still repressive, with closed borders and secret police. They have a strangle hold on the people because they eliminate their enemies and have a narrative to explain their actions. During the Korean War, General Curtis E. LeMay, head of the Strategic Air Command guessed that American bombs killed about 20 percent of the North Korean population, roughly 1,900,000 people. Harden feels, “The Kim family is able to stoke anti-American hatred and perpetuate its rule, all the while telling a terrifying, fact-based story. It is a warning to the North Korean people that Americans will once again come with bombs, fire, and death, and the only ones to protect them are the leaders. I spoke to more than twenty North Korean defectors who were taught to fear and hate the Americans. Even after they arrived in South Korea they were very reluctant to criticize ‘the Great Leader, the Dear Leader, or the current leader.’ With their cruel and unsavory tactics, they not only keep the people at bay,... Continue reading
Posted Nov 5, 2017 at BlackFive
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The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. Mind Game by Iris Johansen blends fast paced action involving “Super Heroes” with a bit of romance along with a touch of the supernatural. She is able to portray the characters as real-life people that possess some manipulative power. Johansen feels she writes her characters having these powers “within all my books. I think they present more interesting characters. I enjoy exploring how we all have feelings and senses. I truly believe we all have something that is right below psychic powers, although, some have stronger powers than others. We titled the book Mind Game because it is about the mind within an adventurous and romantic plot. I want the characters to control it, understand it, and expand it.” While sleeping Jane MacGuire has a dream where she connects with a young woman, Lisa Ridondo, who frantically asks for her help. She is being held captive and is being tortured. Through a series of drawings Jane connects the dots, determining that Lisa is somehow related to Seth Caleb, a man who both frightens and attracts her. After Seth confirms Lisa is his sister, both he and Jane venture out to rescue her. Taking the kidnappers by surprise they free Lisa who becomes Jane’s BFF. Meanwhile Seth is determined to find who the kidnapper’s leaders are and why they used Lisa to find him. The captors are trying to leverage him into using his unique, dangerous gifts to kill a target in a way that wouldn’t cause suspicion. Believing Seth and Jane are lovers and knowing there is sexual attraction between them, she becomes the next target in a ploy to force Caleb to kill or see her killed. Seth takes center stage in this story on purpose. “I wanted to develop Seth a bit more. I have always concentrated on Jane and her adopted mother Eve. I find Seth a fascinating character that is a force to be reckoned with. He is a work in progress and grows with each book. He can be wicked, cynical, smart, and sexy as hell. He probably would be the ‘bad boy’ of Superheroes. He is a turbulent Superhero. He wants acceptance, but does not know how to achieve it. Because of his terrible childhood, which I explore in this book, he automatically pulls away.” There is also a sub-plot that involves the other featured characters of this series, Eve Duncan, Joe Quinn, and their son Michael. Jane is related to Eve and Joe after they adopted her and Michael is her stepbrother. Although Jane’s family is not the forefront of this story, surprises are in store for the trio. Eve is also prevalent in helping Jane understand how to connect with Lisa. All these characters will remind readers of the X-Men Superheroes rather than the Marvel ones. Instead of strength being at the forefront it is the ability to manipulate. In the case of Jane, she can see actual events and people in her dreams. Seth has persuasive powers along with the ability to control a person’s blood flow. Michael has some psychic powers. Lisa is just finding out and developing her powers that will be determined in future books. This book allows readers to see what it would be like for someone to have talents that are based on biology. The plot and characters are enthralling and likeable with explosive energy that jumps off the pages. Continue reading
Posted Oct 29, 2017 at BlackFive
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The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. The Shadow List by Todd Moss is an international crime novel. Unlike other thrillers this takes place in the non-traditional place of Nigeria with the non-traditional hero, Judd Ryker, heading the State Department’s Crisis Reaction Unit. As a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the African Bureau Moss is able to use his experiences to help with the story. “I am inspired by real people. When I worked at the State Department I knew of true heroes. One was an anti-corruption czar in Nigeria who had to endure many assassination attempts. This is the basis for this international thriller.” Although this story can be read as a stand-alone there are some scenes that will be more understandable if the earlier books are read. It might be more helpful to learning the backstory on the characters and their motivations. The two main characters are married with one working for the diplomatic corps and the other for the CIA, both in specialized units. They try to keep their jobs separate but as the story progresses their paths cross in a deadly way. Moss noted, “The issues the main characters face are very real including the bureaucratic nonsense that prevents things from getting done. A good example was Benghazi, a rapidly unfolding crisis that went very bad because the different parts of our government did not talk to each other very well. Regarding our intelligence agency there are different units. The Red Cell I describe in the book is a special analytical unit and is real. It is the inspiration for the Purple Cell that Jessica heads up, which is not real.” The plot had Judd tasked to rescue a kidnapped Wall Street consultant and a pro basketball player. At the same time his wife Jessica is sent on a mission to discover who is the Russian mobster nicknamed “the Bear” and what are his intentions. Both he and his wife will end up in Nigeria together connected by a Nigerian Judge who is combating corruption in his country. There they realize how far each with go to save the good guys and thwart the bad guys. An interesting part of the book examines the relationship between an operative and their spouse. Since Moss was a senior State Department official “I struggled with handling the classified information. I wanted to show in the book how Jessica had a hard time splitting in her mind what is classified and what is not. Eventually anyone who works with classified information comes to the realization it is better not to talk about anything for fear of saying something they should not.” The main characters are smart and appealing. The plot is exciting, captivating, and intriguing. Readers will enjoy a change of pace where diplomacy intertwines with the action. Continue reading
Posted Oct 15, 2017 at BlackFive
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The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. The Woman Who Couldn’t Scream is a classic Christina Dodd novel. Her heroines have some handicap yet are determined in spite of facing adversity. They fight to take control over their life. This installment of the Virtue Falls series brings back Kateri Kwinault, now the sheriff, who ignores her handicap of being physically disabled. The other heroine, a stand-alone character Merida Falcon is mute after a horrific accident. Dodd fabulously weaves together these two women within a thrilling plot and a “who done it” mystery. The plot has Merry Byrd seriously injured in an explosion that meant to kill her. She had to undergo numerous facial surgeries that changed her appearance. To get the financing she had to make a pact with the devil, a possessive old geezer who wanted her for his trophy wife. Changing her name to Helen Brassard she endured nine long years of his abusive, controlling, and manipulative ways. After he died Helen reinvents herself yet again. She disappears and remerges as the beautiful, reclusive Merida Falcon in the coastal town of Virtue Falls, WA. This tourist town has its share of killers, which preoccupies Merida’s childhood friend, the current sheriff. Dodd commented, “I had taken a two-week transatlantic cruise and was able to observe different personalities. I started thinking about different scenarios including what would make someone want to become a trophy wife, having to service an old and disgusting guy. YUK! I wondered if they sought revenge, money, were being blackmailed, or wanted to escape something in their past. Merida was a close childhood friend of Kateri so I also wanted to show how they both used their past association to gain strength from each other.” Sheriff Kateri Kwinault is trying to find a serial killer who slashes their victims to death. Besides dealing with this she is recovering from a drive by shooting which left her needing to walk with a cane, her best friend hovering near death, a series of unexplained murders, a deranged local meth-head criminal, and a complicated love life. It is interesting how both heroines struggle to come to grips with their physical handicap, are unable to have parents that provided unconditional love, are subjected to emotional abuse, and fear that their boyfriends tried to kill them. What Dodd does very well is allow readers to learn more about people who are mute. They enter Merida’s world and begin to understand that not only deaf people use sign language. But people also realize that technology has considerably helped those who lost these senses. Merida introduces herself via sign language or use of a computer tablet, signing or typing, “I am mute, unable to speak. I am not deaf. Please do not shout!” This never interrupts the flow nor detracts from the plot but adds a layer of complexity to the storyline. It might also spur someone to want to learn more about the different ways of communicating with someone deaf or mute. Merida has some mental anguish, but will not let her muteness define her. Dodd feels “people with handicaps are not broken and do not need to be fixed. They are whole people. They were put in circumstances they never dreamed of, but were able to pick themselves up. I want people to consider what it is like for someone who loses one of their senses. Most people ridiculously talk to someone in the same manner they speak with a person who does not understand their language: either raising voices or speaking very slowly. I also wanted to show how someone communicates with sign language. They can hear us, but cannot respond so they sign. Did you know you could say someone is mute, but not ‘a mute?’” This novel blends an understanding someone’s handicap within a plot involving murder, spousal abuse, and relationships. The story is fast paced and has high intensity with a variety of twists and turns. Readers will scream in disappointment that the story has ended. Continue reading
Posted Oct 15, 2017 at BlackFive
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The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. Last Christmas In Paris by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb is a unique story. A word of warning, it is not a “sugar and spice and everything nice” novel. The story is very authentic as it covers the triumphs and tribulations that affected the civilian life and those on the battlefield. Yet, it leaves the reader with a good feeling as the book ends with a sentiment of hope. The love and romantic scenes are a great balance against the horrors of the Great War. What makes this book stand out is that the story of World War I is told predominantly in letters and telegrams. The primary letter authors are Evie, Alice, Will, and Thomas. The latter three tell of the tragedies of war: Alice an ambulance driver, Will and Thomas on the front lines, while Evie, represents the civilian population. She if filled with worry, dread, depression, and fear for her loved ones. The writings also show how the attitudes changed through the course of the war. In the beginning the letters are full of excitement, a sense of adventure, pride and thoughts that the war won't last long, yet, as it becomes evident that it will not be over by Christmas, the correspondence becomes more serious and speaks of the atrocities and hardships. Because Evie was not content to sit idly she writes a newspaper column about the war effort and the feelings of those left behind, as well as those fighting on the frontlines. Gaynor describes her as “ambitious, spunky, unconventional, and strong-willed. She had no intention to just marry someone, but wanted to play a pivotal role in the War. This is why we had her write a newspaper column like the famous American journalist Nellie Bly. WWI was the event that changed roles for women. She was trying to find her voice and was talking to the female readers, much like a wartime Dear Abby.” Through the letters between Evie and Alice readers learn how the women took over the male-dominated jobs from delivering the mail, to driving ambulances, being a part of the Auxillary Corps, and even writing newspaper articles. Webb noted, “There is a scene in the book where Thomas, Evie’s best friend who she is in love with, writes that she should not come to the frontlines. He says, ‘I don’t want you here amid the gloom and gore. It isn’t the place for someone like you and won’t be good for you.’ Of course she responds, ‘Your letter disappoints me. That you believe a woman has no place in this war…Do all men believe that women are incapable? Must I return to the knitting of comforts and bide my time like a good girl?’ We intentionally had her sign it as Evelyn, not Evie. She was furious with Tom with an attitude, ‘no sweet pet names for you, butthole.’ We also wanted to show that when not communicating directly and only in writing there can be misunderstandings. The reason he was so upset and angry with her had nothing to do with her being a woman. But, rather everything to do with her safety.” But the exchanges also spoke of the horrific issues of the war. PTSD was either called shell shock or war neurosis and the men diagnosed were considered weak-minded. A powerful quote explains how many thought of these men as faking or frauds. “They walk on both legs without the use of crutches. They swing both arms by their sides. They have no need for facemasks to hide their injuries. These men suffer an entirely different way. They suffer in their minds. The horrors they have seen and the endless sounds they have endured night after night stay with them.” But the war also penetrated those on the home front. The Scarborough raid by the Germans seemed to be a practice run for the blitzkrieg done in WWII. The Germans killed seventeen innocent civilians including women and children with ninety minutes of shelling. Today snail mail is almost a forgotten form of communication, but if not for it people would not get a grasp of earlier historical events. This story shows how the letter writing was an emotional form of communication between the characters, showing the culture of the times, the romantic relationship, and how the characters used the letters as a release mechanism. But they mostly showed how letters and the written word are so very powerful. More than anything this novel is a reminder that not everyone has complete joy during the Christmas holiday, that there are those who have lost loved ones, with war affecting every aspect of someone’s life, including on Christmas where some families have chairs left empty. Readers see World War I through the eyes of these four characters and exhibit the same emotions of enthusiasm, denial, despair, and eventually love. It is a heartwarming and heartbreaking story of victory and loss during World War I. Continue reading
Posted Oct 8, 2017 at BlackFive
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The following is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. A Casualty Of War by Charles Todd is a winner. This Bess Crawford mystery has the war coming to a close. The story explores the impact World War I had on all who witnessed it: officers, soldiers, doctors, and battlefield nurses. Fans of Bess will not be disappointed as she is still as independent, steadfast, intelligent, and resilient as ever. Per usual she seeks justice and works within societal norms where readers are able to absorb events that are researched and steeped in time and place. In this novel Bess becomes the champion of Captain Alan Travis. She meets him near the front lines in France at a forward aid station after he suffered a head wound. He confides in her that he thinks his cousin, Lieutenant James Travis, shot him. To make matters worse after going back to the frontlines he is shot again, this time in the back. Because no one believes him and thinks his rage is due to shell shock, they incarcerate him in a ward for the mentally ill. Being from Barbados without any family support he begs Bess to help him. Although she is not sure his accusations are true, she is sure that the medical diagnosis of shell shock is wrong. With the help of her friend and her father’s former aide, Sergeant Major Simon Brandon, she journeys to James’ home in Suffolk to learn more about the cousins’ relationship and to hopefully enlist the support of the relatives. It is here that the mystery takes off. Elise Cooper: Is seems shellshock is another word for PTSD, or as it is referred to during WWI, War Neurosis. Please explain The Todds: We’ve had to learn quite a bit about wounds in the Great War for the Bess Crawford mysteries. And we’ve seen photos of some of them that were unbelievably horrific. You realize, doing this sort of research, what the cost of war really is. But we have to know what Bess has seen and dealt with. The problem was, doctors were often learning as they worked, especially with head wounds. Today we know more about brain injuries, most particularly concussions from shells exploding too close, and wounds to the head. Amazing surgeries save men who would have died in Bess’s day. EC: But it was not just the soldiers that suffered, but Bess as a nurse as well? The Todds: Bess, like many combat veterans, suffers from PTSD, even if it wasn’t called that then. Her experiences, many of them horrific, will be with her for the rest of her life. This is why we wrote the scene where Simon comes to Bess’s aid after she had a nightmare, explaining to her, ‘The wounded and dead, their faces will stay with you for a very long time. All those you tried to save. They’ll come back in dreams… The dead are gone, except in your memory. There they are still young and whole and safe.’ EC: You explore what happens when someone tells the truth and no one believes them? The Todds: Bess realizes the Captain is a man in torment. She is not willing to just walk away. We wanted to have the readers understand the frustration and how it could lead to suicide. He felt so isolated, which is why we had him from Barbados where it was hard to get messages or send them. It is similar to a man or woman who is sent to prison even though they know they are innocent. EC: You also show the atrocities of the Germans: I guess it is in their DNA? The Todds: We wrote this book quote, ‘But now we were seeing what the German occupation had done to this part of France. Villages had been leveled, orchards cut down, garden walls turned to rubble, and the flowers that once had bloomed there had been churned into the earth. And often what couldn’t be taken away had been burned.’ The Germans had a scorched earth policy that was bloody vandalism. They even booby-trapped and poisoned wells. The example we put in the book is true where they booby-trapped an oven in a bakery knowing the allied soldiers were hungry and would open them. EC: The book also explores the atrocities of those who enter the civilian life after fighting for their country? The Todds: We talked about the burn cases, the amputees, and others that are released from the hospitals and sent back home. What happens to these men? Governments invest a great deal to train soldiers, but have not done a very good job in helping them transition to civilian life. We also explore this in our other series with Detective Ian Rutledge. In the first book people questioned if he is capable of functioning on his own. EC: I found it very interesting that even after the armistice was declared soldiers died? The Todds: The war did not end until the peace treaty. When the bells rung, it was not this magical hour where the pace let up. There were still patients and casualties. Peace is coming, but soldiers still must carry on and do their duty, even if it meant killing the enemy. The last combat casualty on record was an American Marine killed in battle after the famous 11th hour. In the middle of battle people don’t just throw down their guns and walk away. EC: I am sure you are getting this question a lot, are you ending the Bess series now that the war is over? The Todds: Unlike women of previous generations, Bess is used to serving, not just being useful, but also to having a profession, and the professional respect and recognition to go with it. It would be hard for her to go back and... Continue reading
Posted Oct 8, 2017 at BlackFive
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The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. The Christmas Room by Catherine Anderson is one of these special stories. A word of warning, it is not a “sugar and spice and everything nice” holiday novel. Yet, it is very realistic, believable, and leaves the reader with a good feeling as the book ends, a feeling of hope and redemption. The story presents different generations. The McClendon’s have come to Montana to fulfill a dream of making a life here in Rustlers Gulch. Three generations of a mother, son, and grandson must learn to battle the Montana wilderness. It plays such a big role that it is like a secondary character. Readers learn of the ranch life, how a Bull Moose can be dangerous to one’s health, and the weather’s unforgiving attitude with horrific winds and knee-high snow levels. Having moved to Montana Anderson wants to incorporate what she was visualizing. “As I looked out my window I knew I had to put this setting into the story. I consider Montana a tremendous place, rich in scenery and with such friendly people. Here I was sitting in the middle of an alfalfa field in a trailer while my house was being built facing this brutal winter and a Christmas without a home. Lucky me, it was a record breaking winter where snow was up to the tops of my boots.” Besides battling the inclement weather the McClendon’s must also deal with the unfriendly neighbor Sam Conacher. Embittered by the death of his wife six years ago has left him possessive of his twenty-six year old daughter, Kirstin. She goes along with his wishes because she has not found a man in her life that is worth fighting over. That is, until she meets Cam McClendon, her possible soulmate. After finding out about the relationship, Sam looks to confront Cameron and warn him off from his daughter. Instead, he meets Maddie, Cam’s mother, who becomes a pit bull, and shows him he has met his match. They totally get off on the wrong foot and become adversaries. Until a horrible accident occurs, where Cam is badly injured saving Kirstin’s life. Sam realizes how wrong he has been and while Cam recuperates, he insists the McClendon’s move into his large ranch house. Maddie and Sam begin to rely on each other and enjoy their talks, realizing they can relate to each other about losing their spouses. A friendship is born as Maddie allows him to see the error of his ways. Very slowly, a sweet heartfelt romance also begins between Maddie and Sam, who have come to rely on each other. A powerful quote is very relatable, “You don’t think of the person for a few hours. Then, bang, it blindsides you. She was my other half in every sense of the word, my guiding light, my advisor, and my comfort during the storms.” Because everything is not always joyful, there were heart-breaking scenes where both families share the devastating loss of a loved one from cancer, but readers also see the healing process and resilience of the human spirit. As the Christmas holiday approaches the story becomes uplifting showing how Maddie’s grandson, Caleb, is caring and considerate, giving his grandmother a gift that is overwhelming. Anderson wants to bring realism to “the story. We should not forget about those people who came to the holidays with strife, stress, or financial troubles. Many people have lost loved ones and on Christmas there are empty places. They do feel sad. Because I did experience grief firsthand I wanted to write about it. I wanted to show how the death of Maddie’s husband impacted not only her but also her son and grandson.” Anderson has done a wonderful job of creating well-developed characters. Her description of Sam might remind people of the actor Sam Elliott with his deep western slang voice. The book’s description, “He emanated strength, superiority, and arrogance… His weathered features looked as if they’d been carved from granite.” It went on to say he wore a tan Stetson, had white sideburns, sooty eyebrows and a mustache peppered with gray, with his hair color also white. In personality he appears to be overbearing, rude, angry, and lonely. But as the story progresses he is also seen as dependable, caring, and someone the families can lean on. Seeing Sam with many emotional layers the author describes him as “very protective, ornery, overbearing; yet, regretful and sorry for these emotions. In the end he became caring and thoughtful. In looking back on how I describe Sam’s features, with the white hair, long mustache and sideburns, and granite face, I do think it resembles Elliott.” These two holiday generational romances touch on grief, healing and redemption. Readers will go through a range of emotions with the characters from joy, to laughter, and sadness. Anderson leaves the reader wishing the story would never end, hoping she will consider making a series involving these great characters. Continue reading
Posted Oct 8, 2017 at BlackFive
The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. The Duke, part of the “Devil’s Duke” series by Katharine Ashe is part mystery, part historical, and part romance. She is one of those writers who allow readers to get swept up in the social, cultural, and political events of the 1800s. Having the setting in Scotland and the West Indies allowed for the intertwining of issues involving equality. There is a definite connection between women of that era who became involved with the abolitionist movement as they fought for equality themselves. Through her main character, Lady Amarantha Vale, readers learn how she sought not only adventure, but also emancipation for those enslaved in Jamaica. Unfortunately, she realized too late that her husband did not have her sentiments as he explained, “They are incapable. Like children and women, they lack the full capacity for reason and therefore the ability to govern themselves rationally.” Ashe commented, “My very first novel included details about the West Indies slave trade, and I’ve touched on it in other novels. In The Duke, it’s embedded in the core of the story. Since the fight for women’s rights in England, Scotland, and France was often intertwined with the abolitionist movement, that plays a part in the novel too. It was an era when women and men of all colors and strata of society fought to change the law so that all could be treated equally under the law.” She made mistakes in her choices for a partner, not once, but twice. She originally thought her first husband Reverend Paul Garland was a libertine, someone like her father, who respected women and who encouraged them to be independent. The other man in her life, Duke Gabriel Hume, was seen as a “bad boy,” a flirt, someone who took advantage of women. Unfortunately, for her she misread their personalities, wrong in both cases. After hearing that Amarantha decided to go through with the marriage to Garland, Gabriel returns to Scotland where he becomes a recluse. Years later, now widowed Amarantha sails to Scotland to look for her missing friend, Penelope Baker, whose trail leads to Castle Kallin, Gabriel Hume’s highland estate. He is known to society as the Devil’s Duke, because of rumors about his kidnapping of young girls. Still in love with Amarantha, he decides to allow her to be his guest. She accepts, intent on finding out the truth about him and her friend’s disappearance, knowing that only Gabriel has the answers. Because he is not willing to let her learn his darkest secret a game of wit and desire begins between them. As with all Ashe characters, the heroine is strong-willed, not content to allow society to dictate her place in it, and is very willing to speak her mind. The hero is always confident, brave, and willing to treat the woman he loves as an equal. Writing about the relationship, “I like my hero to respect women entirely, from the start. He doesn’t have to be convinced that a woman is a worthwhile partner and he doesn’t have to be taught how to love. This is the type of man I love in reality: men who actually believe women are equals. It’s what my husband is like. And in this book my hero, Gabriel, is already engaged in doing good in the world, even before he meets my heroine Amarantha; although she spurs him on to do even greater good. Of course there are intense emotions of desire and passion. But also the beauty of friendship is crucial for a couple in love, and the gentleness of understanding another person. I like my heroes and heroines to learn to see and love the whole other person. My heroes enjoy strong women.” This book beautifully blends a riveting mystery within the historical content of the times. Ashe allows the relationship to grow into an intimate one of unbreakable love. Readers of her books can begin to understand how a woman can be feminine yet possess a feminist’s attitude. Continue reading
Posted Oct 1, 2017 at BlackFive
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The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. The Names Of Dead Girls by Eric Rickstad is the sequel to the 2015’s e-book original, The Silent Girls. These are part of the Canaan Crime series of psychological thrillers set in remote northern Vermont. Rickstand noted that he became a writer due to, “My personal experiences that influenced my writings. When I was fourteen my seventeen year old cousin and I encountered two older guys with shotguns. They ended up shooting at us with a shot going off on either side of my head. This affected me deeply. Another influence was that a friend of mine ended up being a criminal. In high school he was charming, athletic, and just a good guy. Yet, when I was watching CNN I saw him die in a shoot out with the police after he ran over a police officer. I was totally stunned. But I was also spurred to be a writer from my love for reading. I noticed how a string of words could elicit a range of emotions from happy to sad to scared. I wanted to be able to do this, allow readers to escape into a different world.” This plot begins with college student Rachel Rath, the adoptive daughter of former detective Frank Rath. Rachel’s parents died a horrific death at the hands of murderer and serial rapist Ned Preacher. Able to work the system he has been released from prison and has informed Rath he is going after Rachel. Although he gave up his badge to pursue justice as a private investigator, Rath has now been reinstated in the police force. Another sub-plot has Detective Sonja Test investigating the apparent disappearance of Dana Clark, who has failed to materialize at her daughter’s house. Rath begins to connect the dots as he realizes Clark is the last victim of the Preacher before he went to jail. Their investigation escalates along with the body count. The emotional tension ratchets up with each of the character’s motivations. Frank, desperate to protect his own family while seeking justice for the “dead girls,” works within the bounds of his conscience; Rachel, now aware of her identity and also the brutality her parents’ deaths, seeks revenge; and Sonja Test, torn between ambition and her home life, makes decisions that will profoundly impact her personal and professional life. The author played off the title regarding the theme of the book. “I had some detectives try to avoid the mention of victims names when discussing a case, allowing them to remain objective and emotionally removed. This contrasted with Sonja Test who wants everyone to know who the girls were and how they lived their lives. She insists their names are mentioned because she wants to personalize the victims.” Rickstad decided to explore the issues of moral versus legal. “I liked having Frank Roth in the situation where he has to protect his adopted daughter. He is not sure how to seek justice and if he is going to go out of the bounds of the law. I did not want to make him a vigilante, but have him figure out how to capture this guy and prevent more victims. He must cope with a killer who is evil, slippery, and cunning.” He will continue this exploration in his next book, What Remains Of Her. It is a stand-alone psychological thriller also set in Vermont with a whole set of new characters. The plot has a man turned recluse after the disappearance of his wife and daughter twenty years ago. While living in the mountains he finds a girl in the woods the same age as his daughter. He wonders if she is the reincarnation of his daughter. Rickstad’s writes dark, gritty and disturbing plots where the setting plays a huge role. Readers get a sense of evil lurking at every corner and will want to read this with a light on at all times. Continue reading
Posted Sep 24, 2017 at BlackFive