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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 One Man and The Saboteur, the latest books of Andrew Gross, are a departure from his usual writing genre. Instead of writing thrillers with storylines of criminal activity he has ventured into the historical novel field. Yet, his writing style has not completely changed with these two plots in that they both are thrilling and gripping. The characters must find solutions to their dilemma, and the stories affect the readers’ heart. The One Man, released last year with the paperback version coming out soon,is a story about guilt, survival, and heroism. Yet, having the main setting in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp it is unavoidable to touch on the atrocities, the fatalistic feeling, and the helplessness of those interned. The title is taken right out of Jewish law, a passage from the Mishnah Sanhedrin, “It was for this reason that man was first created as one person, to teach you that anyone who destroys a life is considered by Scripture to have destroyed an entire world, and any who saves a life is as if he saved an entire world.” Gross explores how one man is worthy of being saved over others. But as the plot progresses readers will question who shall be saved and who shall die? Gross had the idea, from his father-in-law’s life. “He came here from Poland in April 1939. As it turned out, he was the only member of his family to survive the war. In fact, he never learned the fate of any of the family that was left behind. Like a lot of survivors, he never talked at all about his family or even about his life back in Poland before he left. It was just too painful. In 1941, after America entered the war, my father-in-law signed up to serve his new country, and because of his facility with languages, was placed in the Intelligence corps, never divulging a word of what his role was there. During his whole life he seemed to carry around a weight of guilt and regret, despite his successes here, and everyone pressed him to find out just what was behind it. In some ways, I set out to write the story I thought my father-in-law might tell.” The three main characters are extraordinarily written. Readers will feel the same emotions of fear, hatred, and a desire to be courageous. Dr. Alfred Mendl is the renowned electromagnetic physicist whose research and knowledge is the key to America’s secret efforts to build an atomic bomb. The problem is that he and his family are now trapped in Auschwitz. The OSS, the predecessor to the CIA, had devised a plan to get him out. A desk-bound Jewish intelligence officer, Nathan Blum, who escaped from Nazi-overrun Poland, is recruited for a near suicidal mission, to sneak into Auschwitz to rescue Mendl in 72 hours. Mendl is smart enough to realize his days are numbered and he wants to up the ante so that the allies will get this vital information. Possessing an astonishing memory, Leo, a sixteen-year-old boy, is recruited by Mendl, who hopes to preserve his work, by having him memorize the vast amount of scientific knowledge. The scenes with Greta Ackermann, the wife of the Assistant Gestapo are extremely powerful. She represents the conscience of the readers. She is isolated and imprisoned, unable to do anything or stop the brutality around her. A thought provoking quote by her shows how those suffering under the Nazis were not numbers, but individual human beings. “They were people. Your precious numbers… Not digits. They were mothers. Husbands. Little children. They had lives. Hopes. Just like we did once. People.” Not only readers, but the author also felt he was traveling back in time to the Holocaust. “As a writer we have life and death power over our characters’ survival. I am the one to choose the settings, the time and the place, what language they speak, the different variables. But when you write a book of this kind, it’s not like reading one. You’re not an observer. So to me it was like having to go through something I’d only read about, both a life affirming and an invigorating process.” The One Man was heartbreaking, inspiring, and realistic. But this was not the only first rate historical thriller novel Gross has written. The second of the World War II books, released this August, The Saboteur also has these qualities. Each story has daring missions, characters who were brave, and plots that showed how the Nazis must be stopped at any cost in obtaining a nuclear bomb first. The Saboteur is more historical than fiction, based strongly on actual raids during World War II in Vemork, Norway. A secret committee called the SOE (Special Operations Executive) was formed, in England, to deal with the threat at the Norsk plant, the Nazis production of “heavy water,” critical to making an atomic bomb. An earlier attempt resulted in the loss of forty elite men, but the allies knew this danger had to be eliminated. The critical mission depended on six resistance fighters parachuting into Norway, penetrating the plant, demolishing the heavy water supply, and destroying the means of its production. The plot is tension filled, as readers understand that the allies will stop at nothing to make sure the Germans do not have the means to make the bomb, even if it means a secondary raid is necessary. Gross knew of the story from “doing the research for The One Man. I came across information on this actual daring raid during WWII. I knew I had to write about it. The actual raids themselves were very realistic; the fiction came in when I wrote the time periods between them, inventing a background history for the characters.” The setting... Continue reading
Posted 3 days 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. Lisa Scottoline deserves a high five for her latest novels Damaged and Exposed. These back-to-back homeruns hit at reader’s heartstrings with her gripping and riveting storylines and characters. These stories will not disappoint fans having the traditional trademarks of fast-paced action combined with an emotional gravity. Within both books is an intense fight for justice where Scottoline clearly explains the legal and ethical issues, intertwining it throughout the story. The details are presented in a way that is clear to any non-lawyer, without making it seem like an info-dump. But the strength of the novels is the characters that the readers get engaged with early on in the story. Not only the main ones, law partners Mary DiNunzio and Bennie Rosato, but the supporting cast as well. Who would not want to be a part of Mary’s world, her loving and caring parents as well as the extended family, the Italian community? The antagonists in each story give lawyers a bad name. They are controlling, hollow, and want to win at all costs, not to mention their attempts to hit on their former classmates. Both plots are so gripping readers will not want to put the books down. In Damaged, released last year with the paperback version out August 1st,a ten-year-old child, Patrick, has fallen under the radar of the government agencies. His needs are not being met regarding dyslexia, abuse in a public school by a teacher’s aide, and having to endure classmates’ bullying. Making matters worse the teacher’s aide filed a lawsuit that alleges Patrick attacked him with a pair of scissors. Willing to defend him, Mary counter sues and through her investigative process finds that the public school district offers no support to him. Mary becomes his champion, willing to take on all, lobbying to get Patrick transferred to a more appropriate private special educational school. In her struggle to save Patrick, Mary finds herself fighting her associates, her fiancé, and social services, as well as the opposing counsel Nick Machiavelli (aka the Dark Prince), who is determined to win a settlement, despite the emotional cost to the 10-year-old boy. Scottoline enjoys writing about children. “I think sometimes in fiction children are not really differentiated; although, today we are more aware of children’s disabilities and illnesses. These children need to be given the spotlight with my job making sure that the issue is as real as possible. In essence blurring the line between fiction and non-fiction. Patrick became an introverted and inward little boy because the dyslexia became an important aspect to his development. I want readers to imagine what it is like for a child when he does not get the programming that he needs or is entitled to within a public school.” Exposed, the latest just released book, also has an engrossing storyline. Childhood friend, Simon Pensiera, who is more like family, requests Mary’s help. He wants to file a wrongful-termination case against his employer, OpenSpace, because his boss, Todd Eddington, fired him when his daughter Rachel’s medical expenses rose into the stratosphere. The problem, her partner, Bennie, represents Dumbarton Industries, OpenSpace’s parent company, so there’s an obvious conflict of interest. To make matters worse, Dumbarton’s CEO Nate Lence files a retaliatory defamation suit seeking $2 million from the newly unemployed Simon and a misconduct complaint against Mary. The suspense increases after a major plot twist that has both partners reevaluating their respective stances as the case heads off into an unexpected direction that includes a dangerous cover-up. Having been a lawyer herself Scottoline allows readers to get the nuances of the justice system. “I always ask the question, does law lead to justice? With both books I wanted to show if you really follow the law it might not lead to the result you want. In Exposed the two law partners, Mary DiNunzio and Bennie Rosato, had what appeared to be a conflict of interest. Bennie represented the parent company and Mary was suing the subsidiary. I thought there must be an easy straight ethical answer until I started doing the research. I called a lawyer friend of mine, Larry Fox, who teaches ethics at Yale. He allowed me to talk to the class and even made it their semester project to find out if a lawyer like Mary could actually defend someone if the client of the firm was the parent company. All of the nuances I learned were put in the book.” This series only gets better with each book. The characters and their relationships grow over time with Mary becoming stronger and more assertive and Bennie showing her soft spots. The plots are captivating and the twists and turns only add to the intensity. Continue reading
Posted 3 days 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 Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter bares no bones. This emotional crime mystery delves into family, grief, regret, and guilt. Known for not sugar coating the violence the story is dark and graphic, but this only adds to its intensity. A line from the book, “a never-ending sphere,” best describes the plot. The events of past and present are circular in motion, occurring twenty-eight years apart. During the course of the novel the horrific attack on the Quinn family is re-visited a number of times, with the two sisters, Charlie and Sam, alternating their views of the incident. The reason for the repetition, according to Slaughter, “That line from the book, “a never-ending sphere,” shows how circular life is. Charlie stops her story, because she is avoiding what happened to her. If you notice the first time she tells it the emphasis is on how others were impacted, not herself. I wanted to echo back with the point; you really cannot escape your past. You can learn to deal with it, but should not let it hold you hostage.” On that horrible day the sisters’ life changed forever. Charlie and Sam were at home with their mother, Gamma, when two masked men entered the house. They shot Gamma dead, pushed out Sam’s eyelids, shot her in the head, and buried her alive. As Charlie tried to escape she had to endure a horrific attack as well. These assaults occurred because their dad, Rusty, defended the most evil of characters. Slaughter used her own personal experiences to write the scenes about head injuries. “I toured military bases with the author Lisa Gardner and saw those kinds of injuries. Also, the husband of a friend of mine flipped head first over the bike handlebars. He became brain damaged. When I spoke with my friend, his wife, she talked about their struggles. This is why I put in the quote, ‘Sam often compared her first year of recovery to a record on an old turntable. She awoke at the hospital with everything playing at the wrong speed.’ Sam knew what she was and knew what her life would be like from that point onward. It can be even more psychologically scarring for people who are cognizant of what they’ve lost.” Fast-forward twenty-eight years later with the family torn apart. Sam has moved away to NYC, becoming a successful patent lawyer. Charlie has followed in her father’s footsteps, becoming a defense attorney; although she only takes clients she believes are innocent or being over-charged for a minor crime. Having stayed in the town where she grew up she is still struggling with her demons, which is the reason behind why her husband is now estranged. Trying to escape she decides to have a one-night-stand with Huck, a stranger, and while leaving mistakenly took his phone. During the process of exchanging phones at her old school, where Huck works, all hell lets loose. Charlie finds herself in a nightmarish situation. She is the first witness on the scene in the midst of a distressing double school shooting that includes a young child. She later discovers the shooter, Kelly, has learning issues. The incident also unleashes the terrible memories she's spent so long trying to suppress. The only one able to get her out of her fog is Sam, who returns to face her own anxieties. The sisters must work together to find the answers to the past and present events as they attempt to heal their relationship. Grieving can be very personal and Slaughter shows the many facets of it. “I do not think all people grieve in the same way. Charlie was in denial, while Sam deals with it head on. Every morning Sam wakes up and is faced with what happened, but has learned how to deal with it. Yet, Charlie looks back on her life and realizes she is not the person she hoped to be. This makes her miserable. She keeps doing the same thing and it is not working, but never self-reflects. Rusty on the other hand damages himself by taking on more dangerous cases, drinks too much, and smokes too much, despite having a major heart attack.” Readers will need to have their wits about them when reading this suspenseful mystery. It is a very much character driven plot where everyone will go through the heartache with the sisters. Beyond the violent crime, the story is about loss, love, survival, and forgiveness. Continue reading
Posted Aug 13, 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. Seeing Red by Sandra Brown is an intriguing story about redemption and second chances intertwined within a “who done it” mystery. The complexity of the plot originates with the lies and deceit. The saying that fate plays a role in everyday life where someone can be at the wrong place at the wrong time is the starting point for this novel. Twenty-five years ago a bombing at the Dallas Hotel, the Pegasus, leaves 98 dead and 197 wounded. An iconic photo was taken of Major Franklin Trapper rescuing a little five-year-old girl from the building’s ruins. Although he was never the reluctant hero and has played off his fame, the last few years he has gone into seclusion. Fast-forward to twenty-five years later, where that girl, Kerra Bailey, now a Dallas reporter, is trying to get an interview with the Major. She is hoping to gain national fame during the exclusive as she tells the world that she is the girl in the photo. Brown commented, “the iconic photo of the fireman carrying the child out was blazed into my mind. That iconic photo made an impact on everyone in the world who saw it. It was horrible and heartbreaking. It really resonated with me. And I got to thinking about other iconic photos of history. There was the raising-of-the-flag at Iwo Jima, the sailor kissing the nurse in Times Square on V-E Day, the Vietnamese girl running naked down the road, covered in napalm. Each of these photographs tells a story that affect people in a profound way. I thought about how the photos impact the people who are actually in the photographs? In the Major’s case, he has made a whole career out of that photo and the fame that ensued. It defines him for the remainder of his life. What must that be like? And what must it be like for someone to live in his shadow, such as his son Trapper?” Hitting roadblocks she contacts the Major’s son John Trapper, a former ATF agent, to help her get the exclusive. Persuaded to do the interview, the Major and Kerra re-live those horrific moments. But more chaos ensues afterward when two gunmen shoot him, with Kerra barely escaping. Looking to protect his father and Kerra, Trapper renews his interest in the case and hooks up with her literally and figuratively. There are some hot romantic scenes as they are joined at the hip trying to find out who is behind the original bombing and the shootings. The strength of the story lies with the characters. Kerra is not a typical journalist, putting her conscience ahead of her ambition. She is not insensitive and does not act “like vultures circling a wounded animal, waiting for it to die.” She is poised, smart, personable, and tenacious. She plays off well with Trapper who is at times rude, aggressive, intelligent, and proud. He is still haunted by the regrettable choice of his father who put fame over family. The Major is a very complex character who is at times likeable and at other times dislikeable. He cares about his family, but will sacrifice them to bask in the sun, becoming corrupted by fate and fame. The regrettable choice ruins any chance of a relationship with his son Trapper. Brown believes “The Major was ego-driven with his family becoming secondary. He stepped into the hero role easily and embraced it. Being former military he became a Patriot to admire and a champion that society needed. He had the courage to take the time to go back and get Kerra instead of just running out of the building. Kerra is a character I admire. She didn’t let her profession overcome her humanity. She knew where the line should not be crossed. I describe the media in the book, but it does not apply to her: They act ‘like vultures circling a wounded animal, waiting for it to die.’ She is ambitious, goal-driven, and a hard worker. Trapper is a flawed hero. His life was one long game of catch-up. A game he could not possibly win, since the expectations for him were so high and unrealistic. He did have a defining moment even if it was the worst thing he could fear. He self-sacrificed.” Seeing Red bleeds with tension. It is action-packed, suspenseful, and riveting involving secrets, murder, and Continue reading
Posted Aug 13, 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. On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service by Rhys Bowen is a delightful read. It combines an old fashioned who done it mystery with social commentary, humor, true 1930s historical content, and fun loving characters. The plot begins with Lady Georgiana (Georgie) Rannoch, 35th in line to the British throne, traveling to London to meet with Queen Mary. During this time period anyone in line to the British throne could not marry a Catholic. This presents a problem since her fiancé, Darcy, is Catholic. The only solution is for her to give up any claim to the throne, but she needs the support of the crown to ask permission from Parliament for this to happen. In the course of their discussion the Queen finds out Georgie will be traveling to Northern Italy to visit her good friend Belinda who is unwed and hiding out until she delivers her child. The Queen asks Georgie to attend a house party and spy on her son David, the Duke of Wales, who is heir to the throne. After arriving she finds also in attendance are Wallis Simpson; a Contessa, who was once Camilla Waddell-Walker, Georgie’s schoolmate; Count di Marola, Mussolini’s advisor; Baron Rudolf von Rosskopf; a German Nazi general and his aide; and Georgie’s mother, Claire, a former actress engaged to Max, a wealthy German industrialist. Much to Georgie’s surprise Darcy is also there camouflaging himself off as an English gardener. Besides the Queen, Darcy, who is believed to be part of English intelligence, asks her to spy on the guests, requesting her to become a fly on the wall, wanting her to be his eyes and ears. It is apparent Bowen does not like Mrs. Simpson very much, probably because she “does not have any redeeming qualities except she was considered glamorous. She spent a lot on clothes, manipulated David, the future King of England who was known as Edward, and was so cutting to people. He wanted a mother figure to hug him, make him feel safe, and tell him what to do. She bossed him around a lot. Because she is not the nicest person in the world I enjoyed having her battle wits with Georgie’s mother who does not take her guff.” The humorous and biting bickering between the houseguests occurs after the police sequester them. They are trying to find out the killer of one of the visitors, the Baron, who was flirtatious to the women and a blackmailer as well. The game of Clue comes to mind, who did it and with what weapon? Georgie now has her hands full as she tries to find the killer and the true purpose of why Mussolini’s assistant and the Nazi generals are in attendance. Down the line Bowen will have to decide how to handle Claire, Georgie’s mother, and where “her loyalties lie? In this story, Max is manufacturing guns at his factories. In a future book she will have to decide if she wants to be a part of Germany or go home. Max is quite willing to play along with the Nazis because he is making a load of money. As I say in this book his family made a fortune during WWI by supplying all the weapons. He is not bad like Goebbels, but is morally blind.” As with all her books, Bowen intertwines the culture, customs, and events of the time period. Readers learn about the life of the aristocracy, what is required of them, versus the common class. There is also the Conference in Stresa between England, France, and Italy to consider forming an alliance to stop the Nazi threat. Another conference, at the villa, hopes to convince the Prince of Wales that the threat of communism is much more worrisome than Hitler, who is painted as a leader helping Germany out of its dire economic situation. Bowen noted, “I always go through the historical details that occur at the same time as the plot of the book. I see if there was a blizzard, big fire, conference, or treaty. When I found out about the 1935 Stresa Conference held by England, France, and Germany I wondered how it was possible. Remember Hitler and Mussolini were as thick as thieves, where Mussolini goes up to Germany and fawns all over Hitler. Why would he outwardly try to show he wanted to participate in combating the Nazi threat? Then I thought, what if there are other conferences going on behind the scenes for the opposite purpose. I wanted to have Georgie be a lamp with a lampshade secretly hearing what was spoken, inadvertently hearing things she should not.” This novel has a very authentic spin. It is enjoyable, believable, and a very fun read within a great plot that has well-developed characters. Continue reading
Posted Aug 6, 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 Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor is literally a “fairy” tale. Do you remember the part in Peter Pan where Tinkerbell is dying and Peter says: “She’s going to die unless we do something. Clap your hands! Clap your hands and say ‘I believe in fairies.’ And then everyone – adults and children alike – does just that? Clapping and reciting that belief that fairies do exist. In her latest novel, Hazel Gaynor brings back all those fond memories and more. She takes readers back to a world of enchantment with this intriguing mystery questioning if fairies really do exist. Even the Yorkshire setting appears magical, the shallow Beck with the little waterfall, the willow bough seat, and the sunlight illuminating the leaves on the trees. Gaynor also believes in fairies, “100 %. They are like Santa Claus where you do not want to question that sense of another being. During World War I so many lives were lost. People latched on to this magical story and were primed to believe there was an after life. They chose to escape the horrors of WWI and hoped there was another realm, where life went on. If we believe in something then we can make it happen. I think they were symbolic for a sense of hope, faith, and belief.” Cottingley in Yorkshire became famous after two girls, in 1917, claimed they could see fairies. One, Frances Griffiths, believes she actually saw them, and the other, her cousin, Elsie Wright, thought it would make a great practical joke to play along with the observations of Frances. It’s easy to understand why Frances, a lonely young girl following her father’s going to war and her move from South Africa to England with her mother, would want to imagine magical figures. After telling her family and wanting very much to be believed she and her cousin Elsie take photographs of fairy cutouts, drawn by Elsie. It got out of hand when the famous British writer Arthur Conan Doyle, known for the Sherlock Holmes character, and photography experts heard about it, and in the course of investigating said that the photos were 100% authentic. Fast forward 100 years to 2017 when Olivia Kavanagh finds out that her great grandmother was Frances’ teacher and played a role in the fairy hoax. But, she finds more information after her grandfather dies while combing through the old bookshop left to her. After discovering a photograph and a manuscript about the Cottingley fairies, Olivia feels a connection to the past. She becomes almost obsessed to find the answers to the mysterious photo and manuscript, hoping to sort out what is real and what is imagined. Struggling in love and life she tries to cope with her mother’s death during her formative years, the recent death of her beloved grandfather that leaves her more alone than ever, a grandmother who has Alzheimer’s, and the realization that her fiancé is not someone she wants to spend the rest of her life with. Gaynor’s scene about the loss of a loved one is very powerful, where her words express the feelings of anyone who also had someone they care for die. “The awful reality of his absence hit her… sending broken memories of happier times skittering across the creaky floorboards to hide in dark grief-stricken corners. He wasn’t there, and yet he was everywhere.” The author noted, “I lost my mother when I was in my twenties. It could be written from my raw experience. As I grow older I feel that sense of loss because I could not talk to my mom about becoming a woman, a wife, and a mother. I just write on my life experiences as I enter into this fictional world. I expressed some of my feelings through Olivia because I could not express it through myself. I hope that the way I describe it makes sense to readers as well.” It is said, that a mental photo is the representation in a person's mind of the physical world. Yet, family members of those suffering from Alzheimer’s understand that the mental photo becomes dim over time. This powerful book quote can be a simile for Olivia’s grandmother, “There is more to every photograph than what we see-more to the story than the one the camera captures on the plate. You have to look behind the picture to discover the truth.” Regarding Alzheimer’s, she commented, “my husband’s nana was suffering early stages of dementia before she passed. I wrote Martha’s story as her story. There is a sense of a fading away with the memories. For me, that is why a photograph is very important because it is a very permanent record of family. I also spoke with friends and how they felt the frustration of seeing their loved one slipping away.” This is a book for adults who never want to grow old, or those who have a speckle of childhood left in them, and for parents to read to their children as a bedtime story. It is a magical tale that is moving and relatable. Continue reading
Posted Aug 6, 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. Shadow Girl by Gerry Schmitt is the second installment in the Afton Tangler series. It features a family liaison officer who works for the Minneapolis police department. The beginning of each book starts out with an intense scene, setting the atmosphere for the rest of the story. Some may wonder how could a family liaison officer be the featured character for a thriller. Schmitt does a great job creating stories that are riveting, but also believable. Most everyone enjoys playing detective while reading or watching a TV show, and Afton is no different. The difference is that in the story she gets to actually play detective, using her instincts in real life situations. Schmitt noted, “Afton has all the promising signs of being a detective. In order to make her one I would need to check out the legality of how I could realistically change her profession. According to most police departments rules she would have to be a rookie first and do some time on the streets. Possibly there might be a special way she can jump the gun.” The saying if you do not have your health, you do not have anything springs true in the novel. Leland Odin made his fortune launching a home shopping network, but his millions can’t save his life. On the list for a heart transplant, the ailing businessman sees all hope lost when the helicopter carrying his donor heart is shot out of the sky, and the heart flies into a University dorm room. Enjoying the ability to write big opening scenes, Schmitt wants those to be “whiz bang acts. I was going to write this helicopter scene in the first Afton book, but decided to put it in this one instead. I even went to the University of Minnesota to scout out a location for where the heart could end up. What I put in about the donor heart is based on a woman I knew who had been waiting for a transplant, but never made it. I knew that a heart is only viable for a certain amount of hours and is only offered to someone close to the area of where the donor originated.” In close proximity to the attack Afton and her partner Max Montgomery realize that the attack has something to do with wanting Odin dead, and concentrate the investigation on who wanted him dead and why. Was it family, a business partner, or someone seeking revenge? As Afton and her partner get closer to discovering who is behind the horrific crime scenes, the violence turns personal as she, her family, and her dog are threatened and assaulted. In each book of this series her villains are very creepy. “I enjoy writing the villain, making them evil, conniving, greedy, and arrogant. If written well they should be interesting characters. I always put in some backstory on them for readers to understand how they become an antagonist. In this novel, the evildoer, Mom Chao Cherry, an American, not a Dragon Lady, was dragged to Asia by her missionary parents who were killed. She was then struck in an orphanage and became a child sex slave. After escaping she became a Kingpin in the drug world. I did a lot of research on Asian criminal organizations and have been to China, Japan, and Indonesia. I knew these gangs are brutal and make the Columbians look like Boy Scouts.” Schmitt leaves nothing to the readers’ imagination regarding the violence. People should make sure they have some time when reading this because they will not want to put the book down. Continue reading
Posted Aug 6, 2017 at BlackFive
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Paradise Valley by C. J. Box is the finale in the Highway Quartet Series. Each book is interconnected starting with Back Of Beyond that introduces former sheriff Cody Hoyt. In the next book of the series, The Highway, he becomes the mentor of his rookie partner Cassie Dewell as they battle the serial killer the Lizard King. Box has come full circle ending in the same setting that it all began in, Paradise Valley with Cassie driven by events that happened in The Highway. Box is “debating internally if I will bring Cassie and Company back. When I finished this book I thought how this series is over, but I am still deciding. I never intended to have two series running at the same time, and for this to be a long running series. In fact, my next book called The Disappeared, will be a Joe Pickett story. He is assigned by the Governor to find three English women who have vanished after leaving a dude ranch.” In this installment, Cassie is out to capture the Lizard King as she seeks restitution for the victims and revenge for what he did to her friend, Cody. For three years, she has been hunting for this serial killer whose stalking grounds are the highways and truck stops, going after runaways and prostitutes. Having a plan to trap him, it goes incredibly wrong where she loses her job as an investigator for the Bakken County, North Dakota sheriff's department. The decision to have truck stops as an important aspect to the plot came to Box, “after my youngest daughter was driving back and forth from college to home, and had to deal with all the trucks on the road. The nuts and bolts of the truck information are all realistic. I decided to go on a ride along with this married trucker couple. As we went across the US Northwest I saw what a fascinating, unique and individualistic lifestyle truckers have where the Interstate system is basically their home. This couple literally had two weeks a year, living in their actual ‘home.’” The scene where the Lizard King decided to want an actual home comes from Box’s trucker experiences. Yet, the serial killer wanting a makeshift family kidnaps two women and two boys. The boys are Cassie’s son’s friend Kyle Westergaard and his buddy Raheem Johnson, who ran away from home, seeking to imitate the adventures of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. After capturing them, this psychopath achieves complete control over his captives through violence by having them wear an electric dog collar. Having nothing else to do Cassie agrees to search for Kyle, which overlaps with her pursuit of the Lizard King. She is not the conventional heroine, being a bit overweight, a single mom devoted to her son Ben, who juggles motherhood and her career. Having Cassie’s husband, a soldier killed in Afghanistan, Box shows how complicated her life has become. Although this book answers the question about what happens to the Lizard King, her personal life is left open ended. The supporting cast of characters is very well written. Kyle, first introduced in Badlands, returns. Although suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome causing him to have a hard time pronouncing his words, he is sharp and connects the dots. Those helping Cassie in her search are the rough and tough old outfitter Bull Mitchell, while hindering her is the evil Bakken County attorney Avery Tibbs. Box wanted to write the County Attorney, “Tibbs as the typical political climber who will stop at nothing to get ahead. In my books those concerned more with their own self worth than the general good will get poetic justice. I countered him with Bull Mitchell who was based on a real person. He is a rugged frontier kind of guy who reads to his wife children books because she has Alzheimer’s. Yet, when he is asked to help out and is able to get back in the saddle he comes alive.” Everyone must contend with the Lizard King, named for kidnapping, raping, torturing and killing truck stop prostitutes, aka “lot lizards.” His Modus Operandi is to lure his victims into his truck, inject them with a syringe filled with Rohypnol, and stash them in the kill-room built into his trailer. He videotapes his rituals and tortures his victims for as long as a month before murdering and disposing of them. Cassie knowing some of his tactics is determined to find justice for so many lives lost at the hands of this killer. The previous books in this series were a bit over the top with the violence, but with this novel Box has found a balance in this gripping tale. Readers should find it mesmerizing. Continue reading
Posted Jul 30, 2017 at BlackFive
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Hank Greenberg in 1938, by Ron Kaplan, blends geo-politics and baseball. As Hitler was gaining power in Germany, Greenberg was a premiere power hitter for the Detroit Tigers. It shows how Hank Greenberg, represented by the Greatest Generation, made a decisive contribution to America’s society. The book explores two battles taking place simultaneously, Greenberg battling at the plate while his people, were battling to escape the atrocities of the Nazis. Readers learn how Greenberg, normally hesitant to speak about the anti-Semitism, said, “I came to feel that if I, as a Jew, hit a home run, I was hitting one against Hitler.” In a small sense Greenberg foiled Hitler’s attempt to portray the Jews as weak and was not the stereotypic Jew, considering “Hammerin Hank” was powerfully built, towering with a 6’4” frame and 200 pounds, a relative giant in those days. A quote in the book hammers the point home, “He was a legendary ballplayer to many, especially in Jewish households…He was the first truly great Jewish ballplayer, and ironically a power hitter in the 1930s when the position of Jews in the world-especially, of course, in Hitler’s Germany-grew weaker.” He was not someone who would sit on the sidelines and decided after America entered World War II he would enlist. Kaplan noted, “Not only was he one of the first Major Leaguers to enlist in the military, but he was discharged on December 5th, two days before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. He was driving back to his home when he heard the news and immediately re-enlisted. All told, Greenberg spent three full seasons and a part of two others during his prime playing years and was fully prepared never to play baseball again. Not to mention that for most of his time in the service he was doing active duty. Many celebrities and athletes spent their time going on morale-boosting tours, which was also important, but much less dangerous.” But it is also a baseball book, where Kaplan gives a play by play of Greenberg’s attempt to break the single season baseball home run record of Babe Ruth. Kaplan explained, “There was a lot of pressure on him and he just fell short. There's an appendix in the book that shows how the pitchers he faced over the last month or so pitched to him and the numbers are pretty close to what they did during the rest of the year. Unfortunately he fell three short of breaking the record of sixty home runs.” What sets Kaplan’s book apart from other baseball books is his ability to recap a very exciting season, comparing what was happening on the baseball field to what was happening in the world arena. Anyone who has never heard of Hank Greenberg should read this book, because, as Kaplan describes him, “Not only was he a great baseball player but “he was a leader, a gentleman, a mentor, but quietly, not in a ‘look at me’ kind of way. In all my research, I didn't find one negative comment about him.” Continue reading
Posted Jul 30, 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 Freedom Broker, K. J. Howe’s debut novel is an intriguing story. Readers get the feeling from page one that they are on this roller coaster ride with the characters as they attempt to rescue kidnapped victims. Thea Paris is a woman with a mission, using her personal experiences to be the best world-class freedom broker, an elite kidnap and ransom specialist. The author uses some of her personal experiences to write this story. “I grew up in various countries and knew I wanted to write a book with an international setting. After reading about kidnapping, I realized a novel or series of novels about that subject would allow me to do this. When I was a child, my father worked in telecommunications. When we were in Saudi Arabia one of my father’s colleagues was arrested and nobody knew where he was because they moved him from place to place. What I find fascinating from a psychological point of view is that someone kidnapped and held hostage, lives in a kind of purgatory. What I mean is you’re still alive, but have no quality of life. You’re in a cage, or a cabin, or in a jungle, being held against your will. You must ask the kidnappers for everything you need. The rest of the world goes on, but as a hostage, you’re stuck where you are.” Shortly after returning from saving a hostage Thea must face her most challenging rescue when her oil-magnate father, Carlos, is kidnapped on a yacht where very few clues are evident. To make matters worse the kidnappers won’t negotiate and only leave cryptic messages in Latin. In search of her father she travels to Africa, Greece, and Turkey and comes into contact with dubious players such as warlords and the Chinese. As the body count rises, the clock for rescuing is ticking down for Thea and company. Thea is confident, strong, and independent, but has a vulnerability both emotionally and physically. She is able to hold her own in a male-dominated world; yet, gets along well with others although she remains at arms length. Driven to make sure the tragedies that shattered her family never touch anyone else, she risks her life with a fierce determination to bring everyone home alive. Having Type 1 Diabetes might limit some people, but Thea makes sure that this illness will not define her. Family plays a huge role in this story. Thea is still haunted by her brother’s kidnapping. As a twelve-year old he was taken as she looked on and remained silent, letting her fear get the best of her. For nine months he was brutalized and turned into a child soldier, made to do unthinkable acts of violence. The dynamics in this rich and powerful family adds to the fascinating storyline to see how revenge, guilt, and regret play out. But, Thea has an extended family with those at Quantum International Security including the former Special Forces guys, especially her childhood friend Rif Hakan. Her attitude is that family is what you create, not necessarily what you are given. Howe believes a strong theme throughout is “family. They are the ones we love the most, but also those who can hurt us the most. Sadly children may judge their parents or vice-versa. Sometimes love is not unconditional. There are parents who see children as extensions of themselves in a narcissist way. I wanted to explore how children feel that they must live up to their parents expectations and demands. Is family only blood or broader? How will a family handle a kidnapping? I think the entire family would be held captive, and they have to make very complicated decisions. For example, should they get law enforcement or the media involved?” Different scenes in the book allow readers to absorb details about hostages and their rescuers. Throughout the novel the author sprinkles strategies about surviving. Because her father was an alpha personality she worried that he would have a hard time as a hostage since he needs to control his emotions, by being patient, disciplined, and yielding to the captor’s authority. There are many more fascinating facts about what to do when traveling to be safe. The Freedom Broker has nonstop action and suspense. Using exotic locales, the rich and powerful, manipulation, betrayal, family relationships, and the geo-political world this storyline becomes a page-turner. Continue reading
Posted Jul 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. Cynthia Eden is a unique suspense romance writer. All the books in the Killer Instinct trilogy, including the second installment, Before The Dawn have very creative titles that alert to the heroine; After the Dark is named after Samantha Dark and Before The Dawn is named after Dawn Alexander. There is also the premise that explores how someone in law enforcement through their special relationship, are able to see the killer in a way others cannot, allowing readers to be drawn into the dark minds of the psychopathic characters. Her next book, the conclusion to the Killer Instinct series, “will feature Macey Night and Bowen Murphy, the last book of the “Killer Instinct” series. As FBI Agents they will be working on a case together and then form a relationship. All of the characters will be back because this is the tie up book for the trilogy. In the future I would like to do a series that focuses on one character, the lead in every book of the series, where we can see how they would handle different cases presented and grow.” Eden does a great job of getting someone up to speed that has not read the first in the series. Early on Samantha Dark, the main character of After The Dark, returns, explaining her job is now the supervisor of an experimental unit of FBI Agents that have a personal connection to the serial killer through family, friendship, lovers, as well as their tormentors. This team moves throughout the US when murders start piling up with the suspect attributed to a serial killer. The author noted, “Samantha is smart; yet, has trust issues and because of that keeps secrets. She is a conflicted heroine because justice matters most to her and she does not always see the world as black and white. I explored with her how it is truly hard to know someone, especially those who do not fully open up. We only know what people show us, basically what is on the surface.” Unfortunately the Iceman with his diabolical ways possibly slipped under the radar, having committed his crimes before the unit was established. Seven years ago, Jason Frost, the Iceman, sliced Dawn Alexander up with a knife, and calmly explained how he planned to freeze her to death. This was personal to the killer, because he used his father’s meme, “blood always comes first and binds.” hoping his brother Tucker would join in the “fun,” since Dawn was his lover. At that moment his brother Tucker, also Dawn’s lover, recognized he had missed all the signs that Jason was a monster, and knew that in order to save Dawn he must shoot him. In the present day, a serial killer with Jason’s hallmarks, starts operating in New Orleans, also the place where Dawn currently resides and is now being terrorized. Although the sole survivor to the Iceman’s attacks, she still has scars, both emotional and physical where he maimed her. Samantha’s team, including Tucker Frost, hunts the predator, unsure if they have a copycat or Jason has returned. Although Dawn starts out as the victim she had developed an inner strength, making sure her life got back on track. Part of the reason she became a PI is to be seen as the protector, not a weak and scared person, but someone who uncovers secrets and lies to find the truth about people. Now having a sense of normalcy she is determined not to let this antagonist take it away from her. A quote from the book hammers the point when she told Tucker, “He didn’t break me... I am stronger than he was. I’m stronger than you give me credit for being… I’ve changed and could let the fear go. That the past wasn’t going to control my life.” Tucker must also realize that if he is to have the relationship re-emerge with Dawn he must also let the past go. He needs to compartmentalize between Jason the brother and Jason the serial killer. His brother was his support system, teaching him to ride a bike, holding his hand as they buried their mother, and his best friend, while the killer was evil, sadistic, and depraved. A warning: keep a light on while reading this “Dark” series. Before The Dawn gets readers hooked from page one. Eden does a wonderful job with the character development as she allows readers to get into the minds of the antagonists and protagonists. The tense atmosphere created with the brutality of the murders makes the plot very suspenseful. Continue reading
Posted Jul 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. Journalists today are elitists with their own agenda, never actually practicing journalism. Only a handful can be respected, trusted, and believed: Sharyl Attkisson falls into this category. She is an author and investigative reporter who hosts the syndicated TV news series Full Measure. (http://fullmeasure.news) Attkisson is a whistle blower of sorts in educating the public about the biased media. Her latest book The Smear reveals the tactics used to influence opinions in order to obscure the truth. In the beginning of this book she discusses the propaganda campaign used by the OSS, the predecessor to the CIA. They had asked the legendary Marlene Dietrich to sing “Lili Marlene” in German and English in order to make the Axis forces feel homesick and realize they were fighting for the wrong side. She contrasts this with Hitler’s chief propagandist Joseph Goebbels’ playbook, which calls for creating a big lie, the bigger the better to get more people to believe it; repeat it often enough so it becomes the truth; and persistence is the most important requirement for success. Today’s media and Leftists seem to take a page, not out of the OSS, but out of Goebbels strategy. Attkisson wants to inform Americans on the tactics used by political operatives on both sides as well as corporate operatives. These tactics fall into categories of “Astroturf, and Transactional Journalism,” all tools of the smear campaign. Her definition of a smear, “Taking a sprinkle of truth and perverting it into a weapon of mass destruction to advance an undisclosed larger goal, often political or financial. Smear campaigns take something that many times has a grain of truth and amplifies it to accomplish the annihilation of their target.” One of the worst smears of all is the comparison of Donald Trump and those in his administration to the Nazi regime. Take for example Ashley Judd who said at the Women’s March, “I feel Hitler in these streets. A mustache traded for a toupee. Nazis renamed the cabinet electric conversion therapy the new gas chamber shaming the gay out of America turning rainbows into suicide notes.” The press is no different. The Washington Post editorial board, during the heat of the Republican primary, wrote, "You don't have to go back to history's most famous example, Adolf Hitler to understand that authoritarian rulers can achieve power through the ballot box." It would be almost laughable if it were not so sad that these denouncers of Trump are themselves hypocrites. Even liberal commentator Piers Morgan has had enough. He sarcastically said in a FOX interview, "I find this Hitler stuff with Donald Trump unbelievably offensive... Donald Trump to my knowledge has not murdered anybody. If you are not prepared in the liberal world to now say he is the new Hitler, you yourself then become the Devil, and that is what happened to me." These smear artists need to understand they have crossed a line as they suspend their normal standards and practices, and should take a history lesson to learn about the Nazis’ crimes: political opponents being thrown into prisons, with many executed; the mass slaughter of Jews and gays along with other ethnicities; Russian prisoners of war killed; forced labor camps; the Nuremberg laws of 1935; children experimented on; and the Final Solution of the Jews. In reading this book people will become more aware about the world of opposition research and the dirty tricks those in power use to influence opinions. They have an agenda to prop up or destroy any narrative that goes against their beliefs by using the smear tactic to create an impression of widespread support or falsehoods when the opposite is true. Even movies are not out of the realm of these smear artists. One way the operatives do this is by Astroturf, an “idea to keep the public from ever knowing exactly who is behind a particular effort to sway opinion. I describe it in my book as a way to saturate our consciousness, where we are made to think everyone believes something. It’s similar to the bandwagon approach. If you do not agree with a narrative, you are made to believe you’re an outlier, afraid to say what you think because ‘no one’ agrees with you. The idea is to give the impression there’s widespread support for or against an issue when there may not be.” Attkisson noted, 13 Hours, the movie, about the attack in Benghazi, was not very flattering to the Obama Administration and Hillary Clinton. “They could not directly impeach those heroes that put their life on the line; instead, they sought to ‘controversialize the movie itself,’ in an attempt to keep people from seeing it. For example, Vox put up a review that pans the movie even though the writer only saw the trailer. Many others falsely pointed out that the movie was a box office flop; yet, the true narrative is that it was the number two-grossing new movie release in the US during its opening week.” If her book had come out earlier people might have recognized the tactics used against the movie about Chris Kyle, American Sniper. This Washington Post comment is a good example, “the movie also reveals a man remarkably unburdened by conscience.” Actually, this reviewer got it wrong because in the book, the movie, and in the interview Chris always pointed out how he was haunted by his sniping duties, "I definitely have my nightmares, but not for the people I killed, but for the people I could not save: my brothers who died next to me, on top of me, or in my arms. I don't worry about what other people think of me. My only regret is not being able to save more American lives. When I try to take someone out,... Continue reading
Posted Jul 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. Blame by Jeff Abbott is a psychological thriller. The good news for fans is that he writes the plot with the same intensity as the Sam Capra novels. This stand-alone explores in a gripping fashion the “what if mystery” that happens after a car crash. Abbott noted Sam Capra is on a sabbatical and “is taking a well deserved time off. Before writing the Sam series I wrote stand-alones. In Blame I rewrote scenes because the body count was rising like in a Sam novel. I decided to make this story’s suspense driven by emotion rather than solely action. Wanting to write a book set in a similar place to where I live, I spoke with a personal injury lawyer I know. I then got the idea to write about someone that crashes, but never knew what happened. I wanted to explore the emotional and physical side of memory loss. What happens when someone has to rely on getting the facts about their life from others who could also edit what was told? In this story the unreliable narrators were all the people around the amnesia victim.” Two years ago Jane Norton and her lifelong friend and next-door neighbor David Hall were in a car crash. Plunging off a cliff Jane was blamed by those in the Austin, Texas suburb of Lakehaven for his death. Due to the crash, she cannot remember anything since her father’s death three years ago, having been in a coma and now with complete amnesia. Besides having to cope with David’s grief-stricken mother, Perri, Jane must now find out who is Liv Danger and why are they threatening her on the Internet. She does not know whom to trust since everyone seems to have their own motivations including her therapist, friends, even her mother. With her memory coming back in bits and pieces she becomes convinced the car crash was not an accident, that she didn’t intend to kill David, and that everyone around her has been keeping something from her. Abbott related to the characters Jane and Perri, considering them “one of my favorites. Jane starts off beaten down but makes a decision to find out the truth. Perri begins with anger, resentment, and feels powerless. There is nothing more awful than losing a child. Jane and Perri deal with a lot of adversity, but end up finding a way to move forward. I think throughout the book both had a personality reconstruction where they had to make new choices as they sought closure and some state of happiness.” The story is filled with action and surprises that people will not see coming. Readers will not want to put this novel down, until they have the answers to the mystery of what happened that night. Continue reading
Posted Jul 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. Down A Dark Road by Linda Castillo is an electrifying thriller. It seems with each book, this being the ninth, she gets better and better. Within a riveting mystery she is able to seamlessly blend the Amish culture, giving glimpses and insights to their way of life. The tidbits about the Amish help make the plot realistic. Family trumps all considering they are a strong and tightknit community. When something bad happens they circle the wagons and step in to help. Although Kate left the Amish she still misses this. They try to maintain their culture by keeping their children under their thumbs, which is something Kate did not conform with. A scene in this book shows Kate’s independent side as she played ice hockey after being encouraged by Joseph; yet, her parents tried to steer her away. Probably because they are a male dominated patriarchal society where the husband has the final say. The scenes show this when Amish women interviewed by Kate are told by their husbands to get inside the house. Also, the phrases from their language, Pennsylvania Dutch add to the authenticity. Once again small town Painters Mill police chief Kate Burkholder is forced to re-visit her childhood past. She is notified about the escape of Joseph King, convicted of killing his wife while his children slept in the same house. This is personal for her since he was her childhood friend and hero who she looked up to. Knowing that Joseph had always denied killing his wife Naomi, Kate begins to wonder if he is guilty or was he railroaded. Although never leaving the Amish community he has become a dark figure after losing his father in an accident. Castillo comments about Kate, “She can be stubborn at times and never gives up. I also think she can be imperfect and impulsive. People should be aware that in the first book, Sworn To Silence, her backstory was introduced. At that time she was a little rough around the edges and a damaged soul that drank way too much. In later books I speak about her relationship with her siblings who have remained Amish. I hope to present in future books more of her imperfect childhood. Although she had a big heart Kate did lash out. At some point I will examine her relationship with her mother and father who knew she was a rebel of sorts.” Regarding Joseph the author notes, “An imperfect and flawed man who went down a dark road. He lost control of his life. He was not a black and white person, but had a lot of gray. I am hoping that over the course of the book readers begin to care for and sympathize with him. I put in the scene where he defends his horse after someone threw an egg at the animal when he was only thirteen, and another time he comes to Kate and her sister’s defense. These scenes show how the English have participated in crimes against the Amish that also include throwing live firecrackers, bottles, and rocks into their buggies.” In this book characters that come to life have readers caring what happens to them. As the mystery unfolds it becomes obvious this is not a cut and dry story that weaves suspense, humor, and a gripping tension. Continue reading
Posted Jul 11, 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. Two Nights has writer Kathy Reichs venturing into new territory. This novel’s plot line and characters do not delve into forensic anthropology as with the Temperance Brennan series, the basis for the hit TV show Bones. What both have in common are main characters that bring justice to the families and the victims, whether dead or alive. Reichs noted the main character Sunnie Night “grew out of a story from an earlier book, Death du Jour. It is based on a true cult where seventy-five people were killed. Three of the victims were in Quebec, parents and a baby, who were assassinated. This actually happened and I was present when they came to our lab for autopsy. After thinking about the mentality of cults and why they kill themselves and others I did a lot of research on the psychology. This gave me rise to think, ‘what if someone grew up in the context of a cult where everyone they knew was either killed or killed themselves?’” She decided to write a non-Temperance book after “my publisher suggested it. At first I was not overly enthusiastic, but the more I thought about it the more I realized it could be quite fun. After nineteen Temperance Brennan books I am locked in with the facts, and I have to remember to keep everything straight. With a new character like Sunday I was able to once again make things up, starting from nothing. I found the process stimulating and fascinating. BTW: I like Tempe and am not done with her yet, but I was energized in writing this new character.” The featured character, Sunday Night, is the direct opposite of Temperance Brennan in many ways. She is not a scientist, but ex-military and an ex-cop who never wants to follow the rules. Physically and emotionally scarred from her troubled childhood she has developed a toughness and stubbornness, while withdrawing from the world, now living on Goat Island, off the South Carolina coast. What she has in common with Temperance is a dry sarcastic wit, resourcefulness, diligence, a never-ending persistence, and intelligence, although hers is more a street smarts. The book begins with Sunday (Sunnie) as a reclusive hermit being asked to investigate a missing girls’ case by her foster father, retired detective Beau Beaumonde. He feels that if she handles the investigation of a teenage girl possibly kidnapped by a cult he can draw her out of seclusion and have her face her own demons. Stella Bright vanished a year after a bombing at a Jewish day school where her mother and brother were killed. Her grandmother hires Sunnie to find out if Stella is alive or dead. Needing assistance she enlists the help of her twin brother August (Gus) Night. The backstory of these twins influences the plot in a riveting way. Both are impulsive, have a temper, with an attitude to shoot first and ask questions later in their attempts to find out the truth behind Stella’s disappearance. Although billed as a stand-alone it has all the features to be a series with intriguing characters and an action filled plot. The twists and turns keep the readers guessing as to what will happen next. Continue reading
Posted Jul 11, 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. Unsub by Meg Gardiner is the first in a series, introducing San Francisco detective Caitlin Hendrix. This clever plot will remind reminders of the 1990s serial executioner the Zodiac Killer. As with the real killer the murderer in this series, the Prophet, has readers looking over their shoulder, becoming more aware of their surroundings. As a young child the author remembers, “hearing about the Zodiac Killer who wreaked terror on the Bay area. The Zodiac sent dozens of messages to the police and media, including cryptograms that have never been broken. The terror wrought by the killings still lingers today. I grew up in California, spooked by the knowledge that the Zodiac could strike at any time. Today, I’m spooked by the thought that the killer hasn’t been caught. The Zodiac could still be out there. And, being a thriller writer, spooky thoughts lead me to spooky ideas. What if a terrifying cold case turned hot again? What if a killer who’d disappeared resumed killing decades later? And what was his motivation: killing for thrills, lusting for the publicity, and/or trying to gain power over people by fear.” It begins with narcotics detective Caitlin Hendrix asked to join the homicide unit because of who she knows. Twenty years ago the Prophet terrorized the city and haunted the detective trying to capture him who also happens to be Caitlin’s father. Wanting to pick Mack Hendrix’s brain those working the case feel his daughter would be the best person for the job. Unfortunately, this “unsub” has returned with a vengeance. As with her father, he is playing with Caitlin’s mind, teasing and taunting her. Mack still has regrets about the one who got away and she is motivated to find the Prophet and bring him to justice, righting a wrong done to her dad. Gardiner does a wonderful job exploring the father/daughter relationship. Although strained it is obvious that they love and respect one another. He was her role model and inspiration for becoming a detective. The book quote speaks to the Prophet’s effect on her family’s life, “The poison that had cored a hole in her life, marked her as an outsider as a kid, and driven her to become a police officer.” Emphasizing that she was not going to destroy her life as it had her dad’s. Describing the father/daughter relationship as strained, Gardiner wants to convey that Mack “was her hero growing up yet she found it very painful to watch him unable to come to grips with not solving this crime. Because she loved him she wants to right the things he could not. The Prophet forces them to reconnect and face their own demons. I put in the book this quote, ‘Job stays at the station,’ because she saw how this case broke her dad emotionally, consuming his life.” Bringing in astronomy, religion, and book literature made the story even more potent. It was very interesting how the author showed Mercury as an element, astrological sign, and a planet. Caitlin explains, “It depends on what mercury means to him. Mercury the planet closest to the sun? Or Mercury the winged messenger-Roman god, guide of souls to the underworld. Or maybe mercury the chemical element...The only metal that’s liquid at room temperature.” Readers will feel their heart beating as they follow the Prophet’s sadistic nature. Just when they think they have everything figured out Gardiner will throw in some twists that turn everything upside down. This plot will get into people’s head and under their skin so beware to read it during the daytime. Continue reading
Posted Jul 6, 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. Wired by Julie Garwood has the relationship dominant to the story. This novel has much more romance than suspense along with humorous scenes, a welcome relief from the tension of thrillers. The book features a computer nerd, Allison Trent who gives geeks a good name. She is beautiful, painfully shy, models on the side, and is not a phony; yet, relaxes by writing computer codes and working out puzzles. Determined to make a name for herself in a male dominated field she uses her intellectual ability to see patterns that no one else can decipher. Her dream is to create a program that could revolutionize the tech industry. Garwood’s writing process begins with “the visualization of a scene and then I am able to write the rest of the story. In Wired I had a vision of this young girl watching TV and saw that hackers had stolen the money of nursing home patients. Allison can relate because she grew up totally powerless and now wants to become their champion. I want her to be in more books since I like how her mind works. What I enjoy doing is bringing back my characters in future books in a reunion of sort.” While contemplating her options after she graduates college Allison is offered a position in the FBI to track down a leaker, a traitor. Able to focus and believing in her own capability she accepts the job on one condition, receiving immunity. Never keeping a penny for herself Allison has hacked into accounts of bad guys who steal money and she returns it to the victims anonymously. In a sense she has become a modern day Robin Hood. Having been a history major the author sees similarities between that and computer coding. “I loved the medieval period because it was so disciplined just like computers where progression is important. I came to this technology late because I was not computer savvy. In fact, I still use a typewriter for my books, but now use a computer for everything else. I think all young girls should be exposed to computer codes and I find it fascinating myself.” A sub-plot will remind readers of the Cinderella story. Allison seems unable to stand up to her Aunt Jane and Uncle Russell. If she did not follow their demands they would go into an angry rage. To avoid confrontation she would agree to do what was asked of her. A quote from the book hammers this point home, “It was so much easier to get along and do what was demanded than to argue.” The male lead is FBI Agent Liam Scott, first introduced in Fast Track. Working closely with Allison he becomes attracted to her, but understands he has the power to crush her. Liam is sophisticated and worldly, the ultimate alpha-male, while she is inexperienced and naive. Wired is an excellent escape novel. This story blends humor, romance, and likeable characters that are wired in their passions, interests, and fondness for each other. Continue reading
Posted Jul 6, 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. MatchUp edited by Lee Child is the sequel to the first anthology, FaceOff, published three years ago. In both cases twenty-two bestselling authors collaborated to write eleven riveting tales. All are members of the International Thriller Writers who donated their stories and time with all the proceeds from the books going to support the dues of the ITW membership. In this latest edition, the stories flowed and the characters worked seamlessly together to solve the case, in part because each author read at least one of the other’s novels. Below is an interview with the authors, and the order is the same as presented in MatchUp. For fans and new readers alike there is also a shout out about the authors’ most recent books. Steve Berry is the managing editor, but he also worked with Diana Gabladon to write the short story chapter, Past Prologue. He explained, “Lee Child, the editor, and myself looked for unique pairs, either people who would not naturally write together, or characters that would not naturally be in the same setting. Basically characters that live in different worlds but come together for the short story. Because FaceOff was so successful, a bestseller, Lee and I wanted to stay with the same formula. We took that idea and adjusted it to have a male/female team. Each writer picked the character they wanted to include, an iconic one, not a supporting one. The setting could range from a neutral place to a world of one of the characters.” Sandra Brown and C. J. Box are two top western writers paired together. In Honor & … Lee Coburn and Joe Pickett joined forces to defeat a white supremacist group. What worked best for these authors was to have C. J. write the first draft because Sandra had not previously written a short story. Since Brown’s book Lethal ends with Coburn touching down in Jackson Hole, Wyoming the setting was a no-brainer. Kathy Reichs and Lee Child wrote Faking a Murder, bringing together the famous characters Jack Reacher and Temperance Brennan. She was a consultant on the cause of death of an Air Force colonel; did he commit suicide or was murdered. Fast forward to today where a journalist supposedly uncovered evidence that questions her findings. After he is found dead she is a person of interest in his murder, accused of planning it to save her reputation. In enters Reacher who knows the facts and uses his street smart to help clear her name. Gayle Lynds and David Morrell write stand-alones whose realistic characters make readers yearn for more, but alas these featured characters very rarely reappear. Rambo On Their Minds brings back Liz Sansborough, Simon Childs, and the spirit of Rambo. These original co-founders of the International Thriller Writers put their minds together to come up with a story mixing in Lynds espionage and Morrell’s action when Liz, a former CIA operative is captured by the Russian Mafia and Simon, an MI6 agent, temporarily assigned to the FBI, must rescue her. Because Rambo was killed in the novel First Blood, Rambo’s essence had to be used without having him physically appear. Karin Slaughter and Michael Koryta paired together to write Short Story. It takes place in the 1990s since Karin’s character Jeffrey Tolliver was killed in a one of her previous novels. Someone steals a 1968 Mustang and ends up getting murdered, with Tolliver a person of interest. Eventually he teams up with DEA agents Joe Pritchard and Lincoln Perry to find the real killer. Charlaine Harris and Andrew Gross both told of how hard it was to find a story that could involve their main characters Harper Connelly and Ty Hauck. Being different as day and night, Harper locates dead bodies, while Ty is a gritty detective. Together they have to find Stephanie Winters who disappeared. Lisa Scottoline and Nelson DeMille, two legendary thriller authors, combined action, mystery, and humor in the Getaway. Spearheaded by the loss of a dog, Max, John Corey and Bennie Rosato end up meeting in the wilderness where they find a possible terrorist cell operation. J. A. Jance and Eric Van Lustbader combined in Taking The Veil. This was a true collaboration since the characters, Ali Reynolds and Bravo Shaw, were placed in Jance’s setting in Arizona, and the plotline was his, a medieval type of story with religious connotations. MatchUp is the perfect anthology for thriller fans allowing them to match wits with the bestselling authors as they try to solve the cases. The stories were entertaining and brilliantly written. Anyone enjoying thrillers will relish these stories. Continue reading
Posted Jun 20, 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. Joseph Finder is the king of the conspirator authors. In The Switch he explores the issues of national security and privacy, where they overlap, and how they affect each other. This plot comes straight out of the headlines, but unlike real life it comes to conclusions and solutions. One bad decision has a consequence on future events, as in a domino effect. Finder noted, “While I was writing this book, all this information was being discussed about Hillary Clinton. I made my senator reminiscent of her, and decided to have a stash of top-secret documents downloaded on the computer, a mishandling of classified information. It always seems that the cover-up is worse than the crime. But beyond that I wanted the story to be about a regular businessman. I am fascinated by entrepreneurship because as a writer I consider myself one. Authors’ income is generated exclusively from their writing. In a sense every writer is running a small business.” The story begins with Michael Tanner picking up a wrong laptop at the airport. Unfortunately for both parties involved neither notices it till they get home. Having curiosity get the better of him Tanner opens the computer and finagles with the password until he finds the correct one. It is then that he realizes the computer belongs to Senator Susan Robbins, which has classified information on it. If this sounds familiar it should, reminding readers of what Hillary Clinton did while Secretary of State. Knowing she broke the law and not wanting it to ruin her future political career she enlists her Chief of Staff, Will Abbott, to recover the computer. But unfortunately, Tanner decides he will not give it up and believes the American public has a right to know what is in the classified files. This is when the action ratchets up with the NSA, the unscrupulous thugs hired by Will, and the FBI all going after Tanner. The only ones he is able to solicit help from are a few friends and his wife who has separated from him. Readers will waffle in their feelings for Will and Michael, sometimes feeling sorry, while other times feeling they are not someone to befriend. Both have only themselves to blame, because of their own actions. How many people would search through someone else’s computer as Michael had done? Yet, when he becomes the object of an intensive manhunt he becomes a sympathetic character. He is viewed as an ordinary person who became involved in extraordinary events, all because he made an unknowing mistake of picking up the wrong laptop. He starts out as a mild-mannered businessman, but as the story progresses becomes more aggressive in his actions both in business and with those chasing after him. Will also begins the book as a likeable character with his backstory as a devoted father and husband. But he too becomes more aggressive as his loyalty to his boss turns him ruthless. A quote in the book hammers the point home about privacy, “No such thing anymore. Fitbit knows how much you exercise and how long you sleep, and Netflix knows when you stopped watching.” Finder commented, “There are so many examples I could have drawn from. How many times have you bought something on Amazon and then you see ads for that item? I wanted to show how there is very little privacy today. If only government officials would be honest, Americans might accept policy more. They should just come clean then we might understand their motivations. As a reader I just don’t want cotton candy and fluff. I want to be entertained, but also be made to think along the way, which is what I hope my books are about.” This plot is extremely suspenseful with many twists and turns. Finder engages readers with issues that are relevant today. This book feeds right into people’s views of government where it appears public servants are more concerned about themselves than the country. Continue reading
Posted Jun 11, 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. Tom Clancy’s Point of Contact by Mike Maden brings back the return of Jack Ryan Jr. He has taken over the writings for the Clancy estate, replacing Grant Blackwood. Maden has put his own imprint on Jack Ryan Jr. by making him a solo main character instead of one of many secondary characters. Maden noted, “I received a call from my editor, Tom Colgan, of my paperback Drone series who is also the Tom Clancy editor. Although it was a thrilling day it was also the most terrifying day. I was asked to write the summer book and Marc Cameron will write the fall series. Tom is the one conducting the symphony story making sure there are no conflicts between the plots and that the whole series is on a certain guide path.” He also wants Tom Clancy fans to understand, “I would never think of imitating Clancy who I consider a complete original. I consider him the one who practically invented the genre. I hope to honor his spirit, memory, and imagination by keeping alive the characters and universe. I feel it is a great responsibility to be a part of the tradition in which Clancy emphasizes America is good and the people who serve this country deserve both honor and respect.” This plot has US Senator Weston Rhodes hiring Hendley Associates to view the books of Dalfan Technologies. It is a Singapore company that will be taken over by a large conglomerate. Hendley Associates is one of the best financial analysis firms in the country and the cover for The Campus, a top-secret American intelligence agency. Rhodes asks for two specific analysts, Jack Ryan Jr., and Paul Brown, a mild-mannered forensic accountant. The Senator wants someone to crunch the numbers to make sure there are no surprises that will turn up down the road. What starts out as a routine audit soon turns into something far more dangerous when Ryan uncovers a potential sinister motive behind the merger, with the help of Brown. Ryan and Brown race to escape a team of trained assassins to prevent a global catastrophe, even at the cost of their own lives. Because the rest of the Campus team was basically missing in action, Jack Jr. was completely on his own, needing to use resources and grit. He needs to prove that although there is admiration for his dad, President Jack Ryan Sr., he is his own man. This story shows how Junior goes on a journey, a test to prove he can be self-reliant. Those who have read Maden in the past know he is immune to political correctness. In this book it is no different. He has a few scenes that involve knife fighting, describing how it “will slice through skin, muscle, tendons, cartilage, and even bone…. Second, the knife extends your reach.” When asked, Maden noted, “I wanted the knife to be the weapon of choice in this book. I put in the quote how it is not the knife or gun that kills, but the person having the weapon. If someone does not have access to a gun they find a knife. If they don’t have access to those they get a van to kill people. So are we going to ban vans next?” Throughout the book readers realize the clear distinction between the good guys and bad guys. The antagonists are described as “cold-blooded fanatics who butchered innocent civilians. They lost the right to be treated with respect, either in life or in death.” Maden hoped to show “you cannot negotiate with evil. We are in an era where we are waking up to the fact it must be destroyed.” No stranger to thrillers Maden has previous experience as the writer of the Drone series featuring Troy Pearce. He uses new technology, incorporated it into a plot, which emphasizes how the global economic situation could threaten world peace Continue reading
Posted Jun 11, 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. One of the greatest crimes against a country is treason, spying for the enemy. A recent brilliantly written espionage book, Defectors, by Joseph Kanon, is both fast paced and realistic. This Cold War thriller shows the moves and plays as if the characters are in a chess game. Beyond that it emphasizes the human side, what it is like for family members of a traitor, as well as the motivations of someone who is willing to betray and lie to everyone. He noted, “I read about Kim Philby, a high-ranking member of British intelligence who was a Soviet agent. He defected in 1963 after working for the KGB. I had the book take place before his defection because later he became disillusioned and I did not want him to be a factor. Although I made the main character Frank’s apartment right around the corner from where Philby lived. I wanted the defectors I wrote to be ideological, those that converted to Communism in the 1930s as an act of faith. They thought they were changing the world for the better, now in the frontal lobe, Moscow. This was the high summer for the Soviet experiment, before the admittance that it was a big mistake. Soviet prestige was at an all time high with Sputnik and the consumer level improving along with the US embarrassments of Gary Powers, the U-2 pilot captured, and the Bay of Pigs fiasco.” Taking place in 1961 Moscow, during the height of the Cold War, readers learn about the history within a fascinating plot. It becomes obvious very early on that within Russian society is a community of western defectors. While having privileges they are never trusted, living a life sentence in protective custody. Scenes are very authentic, giving a glimpse of Russian society, showing how the KGB has a city within a city including its own apartment complex and hospital. It is also the story of two brothers, Frank and Simon Weeks. In the late 1940s Frank was exposed as a Soviet Union spy while working for the OSS, the predecessor to the CIA. This notorious high-profile American defector escaped to Russia, now working for the KGB. Fast-forward twelve years where he has decided to write a memoir approved by the Soviet Spy agency. He has sold the rights to M. Keating & Sons, a prominent publishing company currently run by his brother Simon. In order to edit the manuscript he decides to visit Frank and his sister-in-law, Joanna, a former flame. After an awkward reunion the three settle into reliving old times until Frank delivers a bombshell, he wants to defect back to the US, using his wife as bait. The suspense ratchets up and never stops as both brothers play a cat and mouse game. Nothing is, as it appears to be on the surface. Kanon does a great job of having the tension come through in the thoughts, motives, and minds of Frank and Simon, leaving the reader to wonder who can and cannot be trusted. Frank is still the charmer who makes those around him relaxed and comfortable. He appears to be the protective older brother Simon had lost twelve years earlier after the defection. But he is also seen as the leopard who has not changed his spots and still capable of treachery. Simon begins to wonder if Frank is betraying him again, only this time the stakes could be higher. Kanon did not “want to make Frank a sympathetic character. He was someone perfectly willing to betray his country and family. He is a narcissist. I wrote him as someone having a loyalty to Communism and the KGB. He totally has bought into the myth that they are efficient, knowledgeable, successful, and a superior elite group. Yet, he loves his brother Simon and vice versa. Simon adored his older brother Frank even though he always seemed to involve him in schemes and persuaded him to do things against Simon’s better interest. This is why their parents sent Simon to a different school, to get away from Frank’s influence. It appears to be about the good brother versus the bad brother. Simon had a conscience, while Frank appears to be amoral.” This gripping story tells of a family divided over Cold War loyalties. Kanon weaves a masterful theme of betrayal, treachery, and lies. With Russia once again in the headlines it is the perfect book to understand the motivations of the different players, including a KGB that nurtured Putin. Continue reading
Posted Jun 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. Target Omega by Peter Kirsanow fills in the gap left behind by the late Vince Flynn regarding stories of political correctness. As with Mitch Rapp, this latest character, Mike Garin leaves no prisoners behind. This action packed tale will be enjoyable for those who want America to win and not succumb to caring about the bad guys feelings. The author wrote the book out of frustration, wanting to return to the days when leaders put America first, “which will also favor the world. Many American politicians believe today that they were elected by the world. We need to be more concerned about keeping our children safe than for concern about radical elements. I wrote the quote in the book to reflect this, ‘How many terrorists he’s killed, captured, or defeated. Legal subpoenas could be deadly, but not to the terrorists.’ I wish our politicians had the sensibilities of the Israelis. Israel has actually kept the world safe when it destroyed the Iraq and Syria reactors. In the past America has its hands over its ears and hopes things work out.” This first in a series opens in Pakistan where a quick reaction force is sent in to destroy a weapon of mass destruction. The sole purpose of Omega, an elite force, is to interdict, recover, or eliminate rogue weapons that can abolish mankind. But, after they return home someone is methodically finding and executing team members, including an attempt on Garin. He seeks to find out who is murdering his team and why, enlisting the help of his former business partner, a retired SEAL, Dan Dwyer, and an assistant to the National Security Advisor, Olivia Perry. This plot might remind readers of Nelson DeMille’s The Lion’s Game where a Libyan terrorist also killed members of a team that bombed Muammar Gaddafis’ palace. Readers learn that Garin was a sickly child, born with a heart defect that he eventually overcame to become a Special Forces living legend for his heroic missions. He can best be described as a 1950s western cowboy who believes in right over wrong, and will stop at nothing to win on behalf of justice. His determination and skills are put to the test when he finds that two of America’s adversaries, Russia and Iran, are part of a horrific plot. Realizing he must destroy these conspirators before they murder him and millions of Americans, Garin leaves a path of bodies in his wake, landing him on the FBI’s radar and pursued by multiple countries, local law enforcement, and one of the world’s most elite snipers, Congo Knox. Kirsanow noted, “I wanted this book to be a warning of sorts, for Americans to understand we never left the Cold War. Putin thinks it was a catastrophe that the Soviet Union collapsed and he now wants a greater Russia with most of the Soviet satellites. The Russian President in the book and Putin’s outlooks are identical. This is why I put in the quote, ‘Not everything wrong in the world is America’s fault. There are some real bad guys out there and we can’t pretend they don’t exist.’” Although this plot is foiled the wide-open ending will be the beginning of the next book where Garin must match wits with his Russian counterpart, Taras Bor. For a debut thriller, Kirsanow delivers a very suspenseful story with hard-hitting action and larger-than-life characters. The ending and twist will leave readers wishing the next book would come out sooner than later. Continue reading
Posted Jun 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. MacArthur’s Spies by Peter Eisner recounts how three individuals played a significant role in the resistance against the Japanese occupation in the Philippines during World War II. The book shows how heroes come from many backgrounds: A singer, soldier, and spymaster. As the greatest generation is dying off written accounts such as this is a reminder of how ordinary people can become extraordinary by putting themselves in danger to help others survive and achieve victory. The emphasis of the book is on the American singer, Claire Phillips, who opened a nightclub in Manila catering to Japanese officials and officers. She and those who worked for her gathered information that was passed on to the allies. In addition she provided food, supplies, and medicine to many of the allied POWs and citizens interned in the camps. Given the code name “High Pockets,” she met with guerrilla fighters to inform them of Japanese military plans, and by all accounts gave credible intelligence reports. Another contributor was US Army Corporal, John Boone, one of the first to start a guerrilla organization against the Japanese. He not only had to evade the Japanese who would kill him on the spot, but also homegrown Communist Filipinos, and turncoats. After the Japanese overran the forces in Bataan, they demanded the Americans surrender. Although the majority did, Boone was one of the few who disobeyed orders by refusing to surrender, and fled into the jungles where he aided in foiling the Japanese. Through sabotage and disruption he and his men helped to pave the way for General MacArthur’s return. Readers will enjoy how Eisner intertwines the resistance with the battles fought in and around the Philippines. Charles “Chick” Parsons was called MacArthur’s spymaster. An American businessman who was in Manila during the Japanese advance, he convinced them he was a Panamanian diplomat. They never found out he actually was a US Navy intelligence officer, and allowed him to depart the Philippines. Having convinced MacArthur to have him return, in March 1943, he arrived back via submarine. He eluded detection by operating off the grid and became the chief aid in organizing and supplying the guerrillas including making sure the intelligence network was successful. The book also discusses the faceless American heroes, those captured by the Japanese. Although much is known about the Nazi atrocities, the Japanese also had their share of brutality. Citizens in Manila would have to bow and show their subservience to the Japanese or risk being slapped, kicked, and beaten. One of the worst was the Bataan Death March where starving and thirsty American prisoners were forced to trek for miles in the wilting sun. Eisner noted, “This march was a horror show of inhumanity. The Americans and Filipinos who fought with them were brutalized and slaughtered. When some stopped because of exhaustion they were bayoneted on the spot. Another example occurred just after the surrender where the Japanese mowed down the allied forces with rifle and machine gun fire. This continued throughout the war and came to a head when in August 1944 the Tokyo High Command issued a secret kill order. At the Palawan POW camp prisoners became slave laborers and were forced to build an airfield. In December under the guise of a supposed air raid the POWs were told to go into the trenches for shelter. Suddenly the Japanese guards dumped gallons of gasoline into the trenches and torched them. Statistics show how brutal the Japanese were: the death rate for American POWs was 33%, non-American 27.1%. Compare that to the allied prisoner death rate in German and Italian camps, 4%. In case you are curious the prisoner death rate held in allied camps, .001%.” Claire was also not immune from the Japanese brutality. Arrested for being a collaborator she was tortured to get a confession and to give a list of her fellow conspirators. She only told the names of those already arrested. While tied to a bench a garden hose was put in her mouth and after she had passed out they would put lighted cigarettes on her legs to revive her. She was sentenced in November 1944 to death and then the sentence was commuted to twelve years hard labor. Luckily she was saved by the American invasion. Sadly, her own government, refused to compensate her for out of pocket expenses. Eisner wants Americans to understand, “Claire did not fit the easy mold of a noble hero, a patriot who marches off to war, triumphs, and is acclaimed. But between Claire, Boone, and Parsons, Japan’s war machine failed in the Philippines. Eventually the American government recognized each of their contributions. In 1948 Claire received the Presidential Medal of Freedom recommended by General MacArthur and signed by President Truman. John Boone received the Distinguished Service Cross, and Chick Parsons received multiple awards including the Distinguished Service Cross, two Navy crosses, and the Bronze Star.” Authors, such as Peter Eisner, bring history alive and hopefully allow for future generations to never forget. The story actually reads like a spy thriller even though these are actual events and people. Anyone who wants to delve into this in more detail should refer to the author’s notes, index, and footnotes at the back of this riveting book. As the 70th anniversary has recently passed Americans can reflect on those heroes who risked their lives for their country and fellow citizens. Continue reading
Posted May 21, 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. One of the biggest crimes perpetrated on Americans was the horrific terrorist attack on September 11th, 2001. It is said, “real heroes are born in the face of danger.” This is no more evident than when Navy SEAL Robert O’Neill took the three shots that killed Osama Bin Laden. In the just published book The Operator, O’Neill recounts his years as a SEAL Team Warrior. Joining the SEALs on a whim, after growing up in Butte, Montana, he participated in many high profile missions. These include being a part of the team that rescued the “Lone Survivor” Marcus Luttrell, Captain Richard Phillips from the Somali pirates, and searching for the deserter Bowe Bergdahl. The book is a story of his adventures and missions that captured the human side of those in the Special Forces. The Bin Laden mission was extremely dangerous, because of the different variables: not knowing the defense systems inside the compound, if there would be suicide bombers or improvised explosive devices inside the house, and the fear of being stuck inside Pakistan. Yet, on the helicopter ride he thought of “the single mom who jumped to her death, the realization of the last time I saw my family, and President Bush’s quote, ‘Freedom itself was attacked this morning by a faceless coward, and freedom will be defended.’” It is obvious when a SEAL unit is deployed that individual heroes arise within the team effort. O’Neill explained that Americans should think of the player who made the last shot to win an important game. Although he received much of the acclaim it was very much a team effort where each player made some impact. In the Bin Laden kill it was his teammate who shot the son Khalid that allowed O’Neill to make the ascent up the stairs to the room where Bin Laden was found. The book describes how “The point man lunged at the two women, assuming they had suicide vests...If they blew up, his body would absorb most of the blast, and I’d have a better chance of surviving...In less than a second, I aimed and pulled the trigger twice. Bin Laden’s head split open, and he dropped. I put another bullet in his head. Insurance.” Similarly the book describes how a teammate, Johnny, rescued Captain Phillips by shooting a “pepper popper,” a target that pops up randomly and briefly requiring an immediate reaction with a perfect shot. But unfortunately, afterward, some of the team displayed envy and distrust. These emotions would also come into play after O’Neill shot Bin Laden. He stated, “Johnny took this incredible heroic shot, and those people who did not shoot, got upset with him. I did tell him he was a hero and he should ignore them. I understand that these are Tier 1, alpha personalities and were jealous. I am also assuming there will be more ill will now that the book has come out. Guys were talking about me, saying ‘with all the extra attention, why is he bragging about it?’ I know that anyone on the team could have done what I did just as effectively. Even though I intended to stay in the Navy for thirty years, I now decided to retire after fifteen because people were bashing me for ‘trying to cash in.’ I should not have to prove myself to anyone, but had the feeling that I needed to. I did stay in a year and a half more after those died in the helicopter crash in Afghanistan. The crash was the worst loss in Naval Special Warfare history, thirty-one Americans killed. I think the terrorists were given too much credit. It came down to a mission that should not have happened and just a lucky shot.” Does he feel he broke the SEAL code of silence? What he first wants to make clear is that he was not the person who wrote the book published in 2014, No Easy Way: The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama Bin Laden. It was Mark Owen, the pen name for Matt Bissonnette. O’Neill thinks that being a Silent Warrior has been overplayed since before his own book there are “like ninety books out there by SEALs.” Ernest Hemingway once said, “Courage is grace under pressure.” It is obvious that O’Neill and others in the Special Forces community have that as well as bravery and a patriotic spirit. He told of having a beer and pointing to the sky. This is something that should be done by every person on a regular basis because these people are the shields that keep Americans safe. Continue reading
Posted May 21, 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. A recent novel is based on the factual story of one hero who did change the course of history, fighting against the tyranny of the Nazis. In Beneath A Scarlett Sky, Mark Sullivan chronicles the life of Pino Lella, a seventeen-year-old boy who grew into a man during the last years of World War II. Although all the facts could not be verified, the story is still extraordinary, and Sullivan stated that the following details are all true. He stated, “I contacted the daughter of the Nazi General who brutally used slave labors as well as his spiritual advisor. Regarding Pino, he is still living today and I was able to verify that he did indeed work as a spy and save Jewish refuges. I did the research and verification over the course of ten years and lived in Italy spending three weeks with Pino and finding other witnesses to what he told me. His name was given to a researcher by the Israeli Holocaust Remembrance Center, Yad Vashem.” This inspiring story is a lesson on courage. Those in America today should read it to realize that their current life is nothing compared to what those who suffered through the Nazi regime had to endure. Sullivan tells Lella’s story, showing man’s inhumanity to man in Italy, the forgotten front, where the Nazi war machine made the citizenship suffer and struggle. The book begins in the summer of 1943, as the allies started bombing Milan. As in England, Italian families sent their children to the countryside to save them from possible death. But Pino was not content to lead a normal teenage life; instead, deciding to join the underground railroad of the Catholic Church and the Italian resistance to save Jewish lives. Unfortunately, despite heroic efforts nearly 20% of the Italian Jewish population was killed in the Holocaust. Readers will learn how the German SS found a list of Jews, rounded them up, put them on trains, and transported them to the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Many others were machine gunned down or thrown into the lake, forced to freeze to death. Yet, throughout the last years of World War II Pino risked his own life to save Jews. A very compelling scene tells how he led Jewish refugees across the dangerously snowy Alps to the Swiss border, having endured an avalanche that almost buried him and his rescues alive. Many of those trying to escape the grips of the Nazis did not have the physical strength; yet some how found the perseverance. They made the demanding climb up the mountain near Casa Alpina, many times with the refugees on his back, as he skied them to safety in icy weather. The author noted, “I read accounts of what the Nazis actually did and confirmed a lot of what Pino told me. We cannot forget they had a long-range vision of genocide and atrocities, including hanging young boys’ head on barbed wire posts. I actually did the climb he did and made a video. After getting to the top, you cannot believe what these people went through to escape. It was a very dangerous and unforgiving setting.” In addition to helping Jews escape, he also became a spy while the driver for General Hans Leyers, a commander in the Nazi engineering and construction group, Organization Todt. Pino’s parents, who insisted he sign up with Todt to avoid being conscripted by the Germans to fight on the Russian front, put him in this situation. Unfortunately, very little is known about the General, until Pino came forward, because Leyers destroyed many of the documents. When reading about Leyers, people might compare him to Wernher von Braun, dubbed “the father of the space age.” During World War II he was the technical director of the V-weapons development and head of the Mittelbau-Dora Planning Office, a division within the SS. He rose to become a major in the SS and used slave laborers from the Buchenwald concentration camp to build the V-2 rockets. Leyers also used slave labor to keep the German war machine going. They were beaten, starved, and killed if they did not perform to the efficiency that was required. Sullivan is glad Pino stands as a witness to history, “He saw the German policy of intentional mistreatment of people. Over eleven million people were taken as slaves to build the fortification just at Pharaoh did in Egypt. The slaves would collapse from lack of nutrition. Leyers knew that the army functions on its supply lines and he made sure to keep the war machine going. He became a very powerful person; yet, stayed in the shadows. I used this quote, ‘In the game of life, it is always preferable to be a man of shadows, even in the darkness if necessary.’ Pino also stayed in the shadows to learn the locations of tanks, mines, fortifications, and factories that he passed on to the allied resistance.” Pino was a witness to history, but unfortunately also saw his fellow Italians seek their own form of justice. The vigilantes rounded up people who they suspected of being collaborators and actual Nazis and shot them on the spot. According to Sullivan, “25,000 people were killed in Northern Italy by those in the resistance the 3 to 4 days after the war ended. There was absolute anarchy and chaos. Pino was the perfect example of mistaken identity. He wore a Nazi uniform and few people knew he was actually an allied spy, a seventeen year old who rose up and became a hero in the face of true evil.” Beneath A Scarlet Sky is a very informative story. As people remember the Holocaust they should think about Pino who risked his own life to save others. Doris Wise, President of Children of... Continue reading
Posted May 15, 2017 at BlackFive