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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 Glass Ocean by the three Amigos, aka Team W, Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White, is a captivating mystery that has as its backdrop the Lusitania and its sinking. As with all good teamwork they effectively created a story that blends their three styles into one. The authors noted, “It was on our mind because of the 100thanniversary. We thought that it might be cool to write about it. It is an interesting issue since there are so many questions that continue to this day surrounding the sinking by German U-boats. During those times, it was the convention to leave cruise ships alone. Back in the day there was this concept of honor regarding rules of war. Let’s remember there was the Geneva Convention.The sinking of the Lusitania was a calculated act of war that targeted the ship. The Germans even published in the NY Times a warning that passengers would sail at their own risk.” Readers take a journey with the characters as the suspense ratchets up to that fateful day when the Germans sank the Lusitania in 1915, leaving people to wonder who will live and who will die. Telling the story are three women narrators, two a century in the past, and one in the present time. The first character introduced is Sarah Blake who in 2013 is a struggling author, looking to replicate another number one bestseller. After having all her ideas dry up she decides to open an oldchest that belonged to her great-grandfather, who died after the RMS Lusitania was torpedoed. She begins to wonder if these artifacts influenced the sinking in any way. She uncovers a connection between her great-grandfather and a passenger, Robert Langford. who were both on the Lusitania. Deciding to go to England, Sarah meets up with John Langford, a descendant of Robert, who finally decides to work with her to uncover some mysteries and a possible betrayal aboard the ship. “We wanted to have Sarah supporting her mother who has Alzheimer’s Disease since many of us are at an age where children are taking care of their parents. It is the gate that made Sarah realize she needed to do something to help support her mother’s care. Since this story is about figuring out the past we wanted to show readers that family memories could be lost because of this disease. It is losing the person we knew, which is very hard and cruel. Sarah was very nurtured by her mom. They were always there for each other, but it caused her to have problems forming relationships with people. Her mother leaned on her and she was her mother’s best friend.” Rewind to 1915, on the Lusitania. Through the interaction of the characters people learn about this ocean liner. Class played such an important role where lower-class passengers are taboo from moving around the ship, limited to their designated deck. Yet, some are able to sneak to first-class as was the case with Tess. She is actually there as part of a con team now led by her sister, who wants her to forge a Straus manuscript. She has promised herself that if they can pull off this one last job aboard the Lusitania, she will finally leave the game behind. Another passenger, Southern belle Caroline is traveling with her husband Gilbert who has become distant and secretive. Robert an old-time acquaintance of Caroline steps in, substituting for Gilbert during his long absences. Robert becomes part of not one, but two love triangles. Will Caroline stay with Gilbert or leave him for Robert. Will Robert choose to be with Tess or Caroline? Nothing appears straight-forward as the different mysteries unravel. Tess and Caroline are different in many ways but they both have commonalities. “We wanted to explore how they were strong women, and all survivors in their own way. They are not at great places in their life and tried to create something new out of something terrible. When something happens in life people can use it as an opportunity of despair or an opportunity for renewal. They were able to take stock regarding what was important to them, and were looking for a new direction in their life. Tess was influenced by her Irish American background while Caroline is a Southern belle.” This captivating mystery delves into secrets, betrayals, and what it means to love someone. The description of the ship is so detailed it will make readers feel they are taking the journey with the characters. Each of the women are strong-minded, and distinct from the other two making this story a spellbinding read. Continue reading
Posted 5 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. A Tall, Dark Cowboy Christmas, the second book in the series, by Maisey Yates, is an emotional story that blends grief, hope, love, and wanting to belong. The hero and heroine connect through their feelings of losing a loved one. The author noted, “We can all empathize with the core feelings of grief and loss. But those who get deep into their emotions can go through a process of healing. Many of my stories, including this one, have the characters search for belonging and to be loved for who they are. I guess I am a frustrated control freak that wants to fix the world, so I fix it in my fictional world instead.” McKenna Tate is homeless and decides to spend the night in an abandoned cabin on the Dodge dude ranch. One of the owners, Grant, discovers her and realizes she is destitute. Bringing her to his brother Wyatt, who runs the ranch, and his sister-in-law, Lindy, they decide to offer her a job under the direct supervision of Grant. McKenna lost her family at a young age when her mother left her, and was sent to live in foster homes. Wandering from relationship to relationship, now at the age of twenty-six she finds her birth certificate that names her real father. Grant also has a sense of loss after his mother and wife succumb to a terminal illness. The hero and heroine find they are able to confide in each other and both long for a sense of belonging. They look to Wyatt and Lindy as role models and seek their advice. Yates was influenced for this story because Oregon is a doctor assisted suicide state. “I wrote into the story that Grant married his wife knowing she was dying and stayed with her. Then everyone in the town remembered him as a man to be pitied and that is his claim to fame. I based it on someone who lived here and told me her husband died of cancer. She could not walk through a store without someone asking her about widowhood. She thought how people are fascinated with grief. I wrote the Grant quote in the book, “But they also love a tragedy that isn’t theirs. Because they’re not the ones that watched someone they loved suffer and struggle for years.” My friend said she thought people really do not have the time to listen. They express compassion, but just wanted her to say fine so they could move on. I reflected, when we ask how people are, do we mean it and care? I thought, how do I treat people when they are having emotional pain or is it shallow pity? Do I actually act with compassion and actually listen to people when they talk? Writing stories like this is how I work things out.” Both Wyatt and Lindy were the main characters in the first book of the series, Good Time Cowboy. As the owner of a winery she makes a business dealing with the dude ranch owner to attract vacationers, even though she sees him as an arrogant womanizer. Yet, there is also a sexual tension that she cannot deny, which puts this story into the hot and sexy category. But if readers overlook the intimate scenes they will also see a story of two people struggling to make a life for themselves. Lindy is recovering from being divorced after ten years of marriage, and Wyatt is struggling to overcome family problems. Lindy prefers order and structure, creating a persona of being cool, sophisticated, well-dressed, and in-control. She realizes that there is an attraction to Wyatt, an easy-going, sexy, charming, and a commitment-free cowboy. The intimacy starts out as casual, but eventually they fall head over heels in love. Rodeos play an important role since Wyatt was a bull rider. “The horse stuff makes it into my books because my best friend is a horse person. It is all what she experienced. But I did grow up going to rodeos and still try to go every year. I know a couple of rodeo cowboys. All my inspiration came from watching and listening. What motivates me is how they see the world. They are brash young guys like Lindy’s brother Dane who think they are bulletproof and untouchable with an innate cockiness. Wyatt is a player from his rodeo days, who is a bit shameless. He thinks he is better than anyone, but is very protective toward women. Lindy never feels victimized and enjoys the relationship with Wyatt. She is smart and knows her comfort level. Lindy likes the sexual place she is in with Wyatt. I would say she is strong, organized, determined, and an opportunist in a good way. McKenna and her are survivors.” Both of these novels will grab readers and will not let up until the final page. Yates’ plots delve into the character’s personality and how they compare/contrast with each other. Through the hero and heroine’s eyes people find a heart-wrenching story. Continue reading
Posted 5 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. Maybe For You by Nicole McLaughlin is a very emotional storyline. The theme allows readers to understand how to cope with loss and handle grief. It is also a friends to lover’s story. Many say that a guy and gal cannot be friends. This story seems to prove that point. The different dynamic relationships play a part in how people react to each other. Friends usually are able to be direct and let their guards down without having to build walls. Usually these relationships are based on honesty where each person can show their true selves. Some of the best intimate relationships start off as friends. The heroine, Alexis, and the hero, Jake began their friendship as pen pals while she was deployed in Italy. They did not literally converse with a writing object, but used the modern way, a phone text. McLaughlin wanted “it to be a safer way to share feelings without being face to face or voice to voice. These two are able to share only when they feel like sharing.” Alexis is not used to displaying her emotions, keeping everything close to the chest. Her parents died in an auto accident, she was raised by her older brother Dean, and now has lost her fiancé in a military helicopter accident. Anyone who has lost a loved one, especially when it is unexpected, can relate to this powerful quote, “Several times she had to talk herself out of just crawling back into bed… Moving on, healing, required putting one foot in front of the other. Even when it felt impossible.” The story poignantly shows how those grieving can move on, that time heals. Yet, there are also instances when something can spur someone’s memory about a loved one, and that feeling of being hit in the gut returns. “I wanted to write about this because I experience it. I put in the book how sometimes the weight of the pain feels brand new. I lost my father when I was ten. I watched my mother and how she dealt with losing a partner. I think I put my own feelings in these scenes. My dad has been dead almost twenty-five years and every once in awhile a thought pops up in my head and I cry instantly. I think the grieving process is a long journey.” But it is also a story of hope. After a year serving overseas Alexis returns to her home town in Kansas. Her brother offers her a job at the Stag Distillery he owns with two friends.But it also ended up becoming one of the most successful wedding and event venues in the Kansas City metro area. To promote their business one of the partners, Jake, travels on the road to find new clients. Realizing that Alex would be a good addition for making sells, it is decided that she will travel with him. Ready for a new challenge, Alexis agrees to accompany her new co-worker, Jake. Soon the casual relationship becomes intense where both realize they have strong feelings for each other. “I wrote how their relationship was grounded in respect and friendship. Both needed someone that they cared for. They were able to tease and joke with each other, feeling very comfortable, because they started out as friends. They appear as opposites since Alexis is a survivor, strong, broken, vulnerable, determined, desperate for a family, and is very guarded. Jake is a player, a playboy, who always feels second best. As Alexis opens up to him about her feelings he listens, doesn’t pry or lecture about what she should be feeling. Slowly he transitions from a playboy to a partner.” This is a very emotional story that will tug at the heart. There are many touching scenes with very likable characters. Continue reading
Posted 5 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. Not Our Kind by Kitty Zeldis brings to life post World War II in New York City. 1947 was an enlightening year for two women and a child, brought together after a traffic accident. Eleanor, a young Jewish teacher and a WASPy married woman, Patricia, find an unexpected connection, after Eleanor is hired to home school Patricia’s daughter Margeaux, who sees herself as a polio cripple. This story delves into class issues, differences of religion, women’s roles, love, friendship, motherhood, and coming of age.Those who enjoy the popular made for TV show Mrs. Maisel will definitely enjoy this novel since both concentrate on Jewish life in New York City, post World War II. The author wants readers to know she believes the book appeals to readers of all different religions “because it is really a book about outcasts, being different. Whether it is religiously, as with Eleanor, or someone with a handicap, as with Margaux. The post war period had a lot of optimism and prosperity in this country. But Jews still suffered the emotional and social hurts. Both Patricia and Eleanor struggled against their roles and expectations. Eleanor went on a journey as she looked for where she might fit into this new world.” Eleanor forms an instant bond with Margaux. Soon the idealistic young woman is filling the bright young girl’s mind with Shakespeare and Latin. Patricia Bellamy is willing to overlook the fact Eleanor is Jewish because she sees her daughter thriving and willing to venture out in the world again. But this perfect job has some catches. Eleanor must disguise her name,changing it to Moss instead of Moskowitz, so other building residents won’t know she is Jewish. Patricia is worried about what her family and society friends will think because she hired a Jewish woman even though she is extremely happy with the effect she has on Margaux. More problems for Eleanor arises after she joins the Bellamy family in their Connecticut summer home to continue tutoring Margaux. Wynn, Patricia’s husband, is an Anti-Semite who sexually harassed and assaulted Eleanor decades before the Me-Too era. Patricia also realizes that a romance is brewing between her bohemianbrother, Tom, and Eleanor.After these lines are crossed, both Eleanor and Patricia will have to make important decisions that will resonate throughout their lives. “I wanted to show how Margaux’s experience with polio redefined her. She started out as a happy, pampered, beautiful child with high expectations. After this horrible disease, she is left with a defect that changes who she will be and how she will make a life for herself. She became a candid survivor. Eleanor refuses to see her as a cripple, which is part of the reason Margaux is so attracted to her. Eleanor is smart, compassionate, kind, capable, resourceful, and honest. She has partial role models in her mother, Patricia, and her publishing boss. She does not accept what is conventionally out there for her. Because of this she has courage to venture out. Patricia is more conventional than Eleanor. Her life is more pre-ordained. She is willing to see things in a different light. For instance, she hired a Jewish tutor because she saw the effect Eleanor had on her daughter. I think she is a very good mother and possibly her daughter was her conscience.” The story delves into class differences, prejudice, and love. Zeldis brilliantly illuminates how two worlds collide, and the effect it had on these women as they contemplate how a Jew can find a place in a non-Jewish world. Readers will turn the pages wondering what path in life each character will take. Continue reading
Posted Sep 7, 2018 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. Sold on A Monday by Kristina McMorris brings to life a story anchored in reality, by an actual photograph. The saying “a picture is worth a 1000 words” springboards the plot. The mystery is jumpstarted by a photograph taken as readers wonder what happens to all those in the picture?McMorris noted, “I saw this photo circulating on-line. It was of four children huddled together on a stoop in Chicago in 1948 with their mother in the background. There was a sign next to them that read, ‘four children for sale inquire within.’ As a mother of two young boys I was haunted by that photo for months and months. After I understood there is a story to write I revisited it. They say ‘a picture is worth a 1000 words,’ but for me it ended up to be 90,000 words, a whole novel. I think any strong and powerful art piece or photo after someone looks at it can tell a story that might even raise questions.” It all started with a picture that became the inspiration for an article by a struggling journalist, Ellis Reed, as it expressed the desperate days of the American Great Depression in 1931. He took a picture of two boys sitting under a sign that read, “2 children for sale.”After the picture is brought to the chief’s attention by his secretary, Lillian (Lily) Palmer, Ellis is offered his chance to write worthwhile stories that begins with this one about the boys. But his chance to advance seems to go up in ashes after the picture is accidentally destroyed just prior to publication. Knowing the article would be meaningless without a photo Ellis stages another one with a different family. Lily feels responsible for the aftermath because it was her idea to show the original picture to the newspaper editor in the first place. Ellis’s story launches his career, but it also creates a chain of devastating events.Now both Ellis and Lily, feeling responsible, are determined to make things right. “I wanted to write Lily as strong, vulnerable, and someone who carries a lot of guilt, shame, as well as secrets. I think her son Samuel helps to drive her decisions. She connects to the children in Ellis’ story, seeing parallels to her own life. Ellis is a good person who makes poor choices. He wants his father’s approval and to get it has the need for tangible accomplishments. Through his career achievements he gains self-confidence and self-esteem. All the characters in this story tried to forgive themselves for past deeds. They are searching for what they really want out of life.” Readers will take a journey with all the characters as they ponder what they would do if they could give their children a better life. Set in 1931 during the Depression, people were desperate to feed their families. This brings into focus the question of how far would a parent go to ensure their children survive? On a similar note, McMorris also explores the struggle Lily had with trying to succeed professionally and being a single mother who wanted the best for her son, Samuel. This novel takes readers back in time and allows them to have a vivid picture of the desperation. It is an engrossing story of love, family, ambition, and the struggle of each of the characters with their personal beliefs, how life’s circumstances can push people to do the unthinkable. Continue reading
Posted Aug 31, 2018 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. Sweet Little Lies by Caz Frear is a police procedural that overlaps with the psychological thriller genre. This story follows Met detective Cat Kinsella who is investigating why and how Alice’s body is found close to her father’s pub. Frear never had any police experience. “However, a friend put me in touch with a great police officer who has been invaluable. He keeps me on the straight and narrow when it comes to procedure. I wouldn’t say I’m an absolute slave to accuracy when it comes to procedure, but when writing a page-turner, I simply can’t wait a week to get a DNA test result back. But it does need to feel authentic.” Cat’s troubled past comes into play as it becomes obvious that Alice was murdered and it is related to another woman vanishing eighteen years earlier. She wonders if her dad had something to do with Maryanne’s disappearance? Memories flood Cat, as a child of eight on a vacation in Ireland, she had to deal with why Maryanne had gone missing and her dad’s denial of ever knowing the seventeen-year-old girl, creating tension between Cat and her father. She is wondering if her father could have murdered both Maryanne and Alice. Through her investigation she confronts secrets about the women, her father, and her family life. Cat is a tough but damaged female protagonist who has become very cynical. She is strong, smart, loyal, and brave, but also funny and kind. Readers can easily identify and relate with her. Because of her desire to over-empathize with the victims her supervising officer requires that she continue with her department-mandated therapy. But she finds that the discussion often leads to issues mostly connected to her father and past events. “I hope readers are invested in my character Cat. I know I am attached to her. Cat is flawed, a bit overweight, and down on herself. I do not consider her a Superhero, but just a detective trying to do her job. I’d describe Cat as an everywoman. She has some really big issues that she’s dealing with but she tries to get along with people and she wants to be liked as well as respected. There’s an element of her that is still that eight-year-old girl in Ireland who has just found out that the world isn't a safe place.” This debut novel delves into dark family secrets full of lies and revelations. It is interesting how Frear combines the two genres to write a gripping story. Continue reading
Posted Aug 31, 2018 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 Hazards of Good Fortune by Seth Greenland explores why society is less forgiving today than in the past and relies too much on the court of public opinion. He delves into the issues of race, religion, and how they are intertwined. Greenland wanted to write a story centered around “a New York real estate mogul that takes some events of Donald Sterling’s life. I thought Sterling got everything he deserved, but it did make me think. I actually had a character before I had a story, knowing that I wanted to write about someone tried and convicted before he had his day in court. In my book, people make up their minds before all the facts are.” The main character, Jay Gladstone is a Jewish real estate tycoon and NBA basketball team owner who’s proud of his philanthropic efforts. His star player, Dag Maxwell, wants a contract renewal with a lot of zeroes at the end of his payment. Things turn upside down when Jay finds him in bed with his wife, Nicole, and then accidentally runs over him as Maxwell runs out of the house. Jay is also contending with Nicole’s desire to have a child, which goes against the signed prenup, as well as his college aged daughter, from a previous marriage, that has very radical political ideas. But nothing compares to a statement he made that goes viral, “why does everyone in this family need to have sex with black people?" “I wanted to explore the idea of intersectionality and question if it excludes Jews. They are not considered a persecuted minority. There seems to be a ladder of grievance. In the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s being Jewish was considered a cool thing, but it no longer is. I write about this in the book and how that nuance got lost. Power structures are now being challenged. Our society is at an inflection point, and I thought this the right time to wade into the national conversation. Jay is a good man that makes a terrible mistake and he has his life destroyed because of it. I think he is a flawed individual who is intelligent, big-hearted, wealthy, and is clueless about what happens to him societally after he let his emotions get the better of him.” Through the plot and characters, Greenland makes a statement about today’s divisive society. A book quote hammers the point home, “Nowadays personal destruction is a sport.” Because of life’s circumstances Jay sees that he has become public enemy number one, with everything spiraling out of control. “I wrote this scene in the NBA offices where Jay uses the phrase ‘sold down the river.’ Someone tells him that he should not say it because it refers to slavery. It is so obvious that Jay meant it as the current day reference and did not even think about the latter day meaning. We are in an environment where people are just looking for things. The extremists on the left and right have hijacked the dialogue with the media amplifying everything and the Internet is the accelerant.” This book shows through each of the characters how good people can do bad things and the result is having their life blown up. Through Nicole, Jay, and Dag the issues of race, religion, class, money, sports, and politics, are explored. It is a tragedy with some humorous scenes that at times are witty and at other times biting. Continue reading
Posted Aug 31, 2018 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. Pieces of Herby Karin Slaughter is a spell binding psychological thriller. The suspense keeps ratcheting up as she throws curve ball after curve ball to the readers. At the heart of the story is the mother-daughter relationship and the hidden secrets. How well does someone know their parents? Slaughter told of how “I think a lot about this. How many of us realize that our mom/dad had a life before us? No matter how old you are you do not want to realize your parents had this life and have secrets. For example, I had no idea my dad was an electrician. Sometimes we do not think to ask our parents about their life before we were born. Andy realizes that Laura had a secret life she knows nothing about, where her mother had a whole new backstory.” Andrea (Andy) Cooper thought she knew her mild mannered mother. But that changes after a spree shooting in a mall restaurant where Andy and Laura are celebrating her 31stbirthday. Laura shows a completely different side, a courageous woman willing to stand up to this killer to save her daughter. She dispassionately confronts the killer, first disarming him, and then knifing him with his own weapon, making it appear that she was somehow trained to kill. The police and media attention to Laura's actions unleashes attention of a life-threatening sort. For nearly thirty years she’s been hiding from her previous identity, lying low in the hope that no one would ever find her. But now she’s been exposed forcing Andy to go on the run, where she becomes determined to unravel the mystery of her mother's past, in hopes of saving them both.In her quest, Andrea realizes that she only knows what her mother, Laura, chose to reveal. Slaughter chose to explore self-defense versus murder. “When I was writing this, I realized it is very subjective. How do you quantify that you did it because you are scared? Because everyone has cell phones and videos, there was something to look at and see how each were standing and what they were saying. I think the police and prosecutors have a lot of leeway on determining if someone should be charged. I also think public reaction plays a great influence. I wanted to talk about the idea of perception. Do we really know what is in Laura’s mind when she does that action? Did she do it out of self-preservation or anger? I think she would probably get the benefit of the doubt.” With alternating chapters between the present, 2018, and Laura’s past in 1986, Slaughter writes flawed but sympathetic characters with hidden motivations driving their choices. After returning home to help her mother recover from breast cancer, Andy is still a millennial struggling to find herself with no obvious career goals. She has always felt inferior to her parents. Her father, Gordon Oliver, is a trusts and estates attorney; her mother, Dr. Laura Oliver, is a speech therapist, a pillar of the community. Gordon is the only character in the story that is a solid figure who is responsible, caring, and patient. Interestingly, “I wrote about the generational gap. Millennials want to rise to the top. They have to realize they must start at the bottom before trying to run the entire company. I did enjoy playing with the generational differences of Laura and her daughter. The book is published overseas already and I can see the different generational reactions. The millennials are keyed in to Andy, where those in their late thirties or older gravitate toward Laura. Andy is someone that at her age of thirty-one is way too dependent on her parents. At a very early age it was made very clear to me that I had to find a job. In the beginning of the book she is like that guy we heard about on the news who is forty and still living at home.” Slaughter is one of those special authors that take readers on a journey with the characters. Throughout the novel the timely subjects of cancer, abuse, cults, injustice, obsession, and violence are explored. Those who have read her in the past know that Slaughter has set the bar high and with this intense story she does not disappoint. Continue reading
Posted Aug 22, 2018 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. Desperate Girls by Laura Griffin is a captivating novel, combining a suspenseful murder mystery, police procedural, with a touch of romance. She has the unique ability to write compelling plots that highlight caring and realistic characters. Griffin was able to pull off making a defense attorney someone readers will root for. She noted, “My dad is an attorney and I tease him about the stereotype. Also, a good friend of mine from childhood has a similar background to Brynn. She started as an Assistant District Attorney, working for the prosecution’s side, and switched over to criminal defense work. I thought she has a fascinating career path, starting on one side and then moving to the ‘dark side.’ I interviewed her as a resource because I wanted the insights of someone who worked on both sides of the aisle. No matter what the profession, I try to weave the details of the job and the jargon into the story to bring it to life. Hopefully, it makes the plot and characters more realistic. Brynn’s character is the checks and balance within the system. There is a need for good lawyers on both sides to have a fair system.” Former prosecutor Brynn Holloran has turned to the dark side, becoming a defense attorney. Everyone knows she is a superstar in the courtroom, although a failure in her personal life. She now must contend with a vicious murderer, James Corby, she once helped prosecute. His escape from jail has put her life in jeopardy. He seeks revenge against all those who helped put him away. Corby has already brutally killed the former lead prosecutor Jen Ballard, and the lead detective who worked the case. To protect her, Byrnn’s boss hires a private security firm that will also guard Ross, her co-counsel, who also worked for the District Attorney’s office. Erik Morgan, a marine and former secret service Agent is put in charge of her detail. Unfortunately, he soon realizes his client has trouble following orders and refuses to be dictated to. Sparks fly not only when they butt heads, each an alpha with their share of strengths and vulnerabilities, but also as it becomes clear there is an obvious attraction. A sub-plot allows readers to get behind the scenes of an intriguing court case. Both the search for the escapee and the court room scenes make for a riveting read. The personalities of Brynn and Eric are well written. They are likeable believable characters. Griffin is able to balance the tension of the manhunt while allowing people to get to know the characters. Brynn is confident, self-assured, pretty, feisty, with a sharp wit that at times tends to intimidate others. Eric is loyal, protective, professional, smart, and commanding which presents a problem since both he and Brynn want to be in control. The banter between these two makes for a welcome relief from the intense plot. “I wanted to write two very strong personalities. Eric is intensely focused, while she is assertive, flashy, extroverted, and smart. He is the strong, silent type that has a hard exterior but inside has vulnerabilities that he eventually shows to Brynn. He started out in the protective detail for dignitaries, while in the Marines, and moved over to the Secret Service. I interviewed someone on then Vice-President Biden’s detail and tried to weave the details he told me into the story, including the long hours and travel. I also wanted to give a shout out to those in the military. Many at the Wolfe Security firm are ex-Marines. They have traits of being loyal, believing in a brotherhood, and have integrity. I wanted to show the commitment and discipline they can bring to any non-military job. I have the upmost respect for the men and women who are serving and have served.” Anyone picking up a Laura Griffin book will not be disappointed as she brings together action, romance, mystery and suspense. This first of a new series builds a tension that ends with an intriguing twist, leaving readers spellbound. Continue reading
Posted Aug 22, 2018 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. Swift Vengeance by T. J. Parker starts out with a sharp cut, when someone is threatened with decapitation. Drones play an important role as readers wonder how they are used in today’s society, able to enter someone’s private premises, used for business purposes, or in warfare to kill the terrorists before they behead someone. Parker noted, “Drones are in the news a lot. The government had to pass who could fly a drone and where. It is scary where we are going with them. The drone teams are put in an air-conditioned trailer outside of Las Vegas and fly live missions over countries in the Middle East. The logistics of how it works is mind boggling. This book goes into how Lindsey’s actions in the military and the resulting consequences of those actions come back to haunt her. Drone pilots seem to have to face ethical issues over the course of their career. Their nerves are shot, and many have trouble handling the long confinement. The duties are far different psychologically than being a physical pilot.” Lindsey Rakes was part of a team of U.S.-based drone operators attacking terrorists. The psychological toll of the work eventually led her into a downward spiral of drinking and gambling. Trying to regain her family, she’s now in recovery. But her life is thrown into a tail-spin after someone threatens to behead her. After going on a date with Saudi born Rasha Samara, a collector of Arabian horses, she receives a written death threat, “Vengeance is justice,” signed “Caliphornia,” The handwriting looks very similar to the Rasha’s signature found on a note. She asks her old friend, private detective Roland Ford to investigate. Knowing he needs more resources he consults with FBI Agent Joan Taucher. The violence increases when Kenny Bryce, a former Air Force colleague of Lindsey’s is beheaded. Taucher and Ford know time is running out and must quickly find who is “Caliphornia” before more decapitations occur. “I tend to write characters in pairs. Joan and Lindsey are both duty bound. Neither are proud or ashamed for the work they have done. They are tough and pragmatic. I think those in the military and law enforcement have more than a little in common.” This realistic page-turner has readers taking a journey with the characters. Continue reading
Posted Aug 22, 2018 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. Shattered Silence by Marta Perry flawlessly intertwines a mystery with contemporary themes, while giving a sprinkling of the Amish culture. She illuminates the differences between the Amish community and the larger urban society. The author noted, “I wanted to write something that would dramatize the modern life of the character against the quiet secluded farm life. I have always lived in areas where there are Amish. Readers enjoy it because they can react to the complexity of their modern life. They enjoy reading about those who live in the contemporary world but have a much simpler life. I have spoken with some Amish who say, ‘if you like our reliance on family, rely on yours or build one; if you like the fact we are interconnected within our community, do it in your community.’ I think many wish they had the simpler existence, similar to when they were growing up.” The plot begins with new divorcee Rachel Hartline attempting to touch base with her ex-husband, Paul, to discuss putting their home up for sale. After catching him trying to download some sensitive company information things go very awry for her. First, she must deal with Paul’s disappearance, and then a private investigator, Clint Mordan,hired by the CEO to locate the flash drive, suspects her of being a likely participant in her husband’s scheme. After having her house broken into, turned upside down, and having her life threatened she decides to seek the haven of her grandparents. They are Amish and Rachel knows she will be safe with them. As Clint follows Rachel from Philadelphia to the tiny Amish community of Echo Falls, Pennsylvania, he figures out that whatever loyalty Rachel might still feel, it doesn’t include lying or covering up for her ex-husband. As he and his partner hit dead ends he wonders why their client is keeping them in the dark, and becomes more protective of Rachel. As they begin to trust each other, both realize that there are few people they can trust to ensure Rachel does not become a murder victim. Because of her past experiences Rachel has trust issues. Outwardly she tries to give an air of independence, but deep down she is very vulnerable. She has been let down by the ones who should love and care for her the most. Rachel is loyal, resilient, considerate, and a generous person. These traits she learned during her summers at the Amish farm with her grandparents, where her former Amish mother would send her. “I wrote Rachel’s profession as a Kindergarten teacher and I based her on some of the wonderful, kind ones I knew. As a traditionalist, she is devastated by the fact that she couldn’t make her marriage work, always thinking she would marry for life. Those people in her life that are close to her let her down, a big element in the formation of her personality. Although conscientious she has trust issues, including trusting her own instincts. I do not think she is as independent as she assumes. For instance, when she realizes she is in trouble and needs help she doesn’t flee to the nearest big city where she can disappear, but goes back to what represents home to her, the Amish community, seeking security and safety.” Clint compliments Rachel. At first, he seemed like a cold, calculated, and tough man, someone goal oriented with no sympathy. Yet, Rachel’s Amish family recognizes that beneath that hard exterior is a considerate, kind, gentle, and fiercely protective hero. Perry commented, “He is motivated by a sense of duty. He is a very righteous person who believes in duty first and honor above all. Unlike Rachel he was raised in a very secure and stable environment. Clint is haunted by the fact he felt he let his police partner down and is determined that now as a private investigator it will not happen again to Rachel. He would not talk about this issue because he is uncomfortable talking about his feelings, forcing Rachel to develop a short hand to figure out what is going on with his emotions.” Perry does a great job of balancing the family element within a suspenseful plot,which have moments of fear, dread, and tension. Once the first page is turned readers will be hooked, as they must navigate all the different twists thrown at them. Continue reading
Posted Aug 17, 2018 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 Liar by Catherine McKenzie has a theme of betrayal with the backdrop of a horrific tragedy. Readers will be reminded of 9/11 or the Oklahoma City bombing, and the victims, those that died and those that survived. The story is told through the lives of the women affected, characters that present different faces, the public one and a masked one that they hope to keep secret. The author noted, “There were a couple of threads coming together. Years ago, after September 11thI remember seeing the chain link fence where the missing photos were posted. I had a thought, could one of these people have used the tragedy as an opportunity to disappear. I did not want to mimic the actual event, but it was in my thoughts. It was not set in New York, but in Chicago and I tried to move away from the rawness of September 11th. I had a lot of friends living in New York on that day. One of my friends had been in the adjacent tower. I do remember watching the events unfold and wondering if my friends were OK.My husband and his mother were in the Twin Towers a week before during that time of the day.” When a gas explosion rips apart a Chicago building, the lives of the women are forever altered. Over 500 people killed and thousands more have been wounded. To honor the one year anniversary Teo Jackson films a documentary about the “Triple Ten Explosion,” which happened on the tenth month, the tenth day, and at 10 AM. The past and present perspectives of Cecily and Kate, are told, while Franny’s story is told in the documentaryinterview transcripts. “I wanted a writing challenge. I know as a writer I have to create a three-dimensional world of rooms, smells, and sounds. There was a tool taken away from me. With a transcript, you don’t get to say how the person was feeling or have access to their internal thoughts. As a lawyer, I read a lot of transcripts. It is interesting to me what can get lost from actually being in the room to reading the transcripts. It seemed at times it was not how I remembered it; yet, there it was on the page. Even in a documentary people have a narrative and can manipulate the story.” A year ago, Cecily was photographed in a timeless shot capturing a pure moment of shock as she stands there staring at the wreckage, fearing her husband, Tom, and best friend, Kaitlyn, have been killed. On the anniversary, she has survivor’s guilt, knowing she was supposed to be in the building that day, but per usual was late. Another victim, Kate ran from the scene of the explosion, deciding to leave behind her young children and husband. She escapes to Canada hoping to make a new life for herself and that her past secrets won’t catch up with her. The third person, Franny, resents her life after finding out she was adopted and that Kaitlyn was her mother, but fate ends any attempt with reconciliation. This is a complex story that delves into the lives of the victims. It has a major twist towards the end of the story bringing the women together in an unexpected way. Continue reading
Posted Aug 17, 2018 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. Hard Rustler by bestselling author B. J. Daniels brings to life the Montana countryside in her latest novel. Readers will enjoy the characters, setting, and mystery. The plot is a modern-day version of past Westerns. The setting is very important and Daniels based it when “I moved to Montana from Texas at the age of five. I write what I see and know about. The Western way of life is all I have ever known. It is a much simpler way of life. We now live in a small town where most people are rancher cowboys. As in the story, it is isolated, with the closest Target Store three hours away. Someone can be driving either sixty miles south or north and they will not see anybody all day. In the book, there is a scene like that where Annabelle had run out of gas and she feels completely alone and secluded. This is all true to life. I always have food and a blanket in the car in case it breaks down, because cell phones do not work here.” The story begins with a city gal, Annabelle (Annie) Clementine, traveling back to her home town of Whitehorse Montana. After high school, she decided to escape the monotony to become a famous model, leaving her love interest behind. Now, thirteen years later, she is back to sell her late grandmother’s house and to get out of town as soon as possible. The one problem, she is destitute with no money and seems to depend on her ex-boyfriend, Dawson Rogers, to rescue her. He helps by bailing her out so her car is not repossessed, siphoning off gas, and saving her life. It seems someone wants to find something in her grandmother’s house that has been hidden for years, and is willing to kill for an answer. Annie and Dawson must sort out the mystery and determine what her grandmother was hiding. Daniels wrote Annabelle as “someone who wants to do something with her life, a desire to succeed. This happens a lot with Montana children who leave to get a job but often come home to raise their children. In this story, she comes home with her tail between her legs. I think at the beginning of the story she is a snob, arrogant, and determined. Later those qualities come out as spunky, strong, and a risk-taker. She and Dawson at first appear to be opposites. She has a driving ambition and he is satisfied with the simpler things in life. After being high school lovers, he knew he had to let her go and sensed she had this restless streak. This is why he did not fight more for her to stay. When she came back she started to realize what was important in life. She had sowed her oats.” As with most westerns boy meets girl, boy loses girl, and boy gets girl. This novel has that and more, inputting modern day issues into a suspenseful mystery. Continue reading
Posted Aug 17, 2018 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. Still Water by Amy Stuart has a plot as riveting as the rushing river water. This psychological thriller has amateur private investigator, Clare, hunting for a missing mother and son. But the town is putting up roadblocks with their deceptions. Stuart noted, “I wanted High River based on how the encroachment of a city expands outward. I can remember places as a child as we drove out to the country that are now sub-divisions of the urban areas. I wanted to explore what happens when there is a rural property and the city expands, swallowing up all the rural land around it. Much of this beautiful property is taken over by developers. As in my book, each member of the community has different end goals regarding the land.” Because this is Clare’s second case she is still learning on the job. Sally and her young son, Matthew have vanished and Clare’s handler, Malcolm, assigned her the task to find out what happened. Luckily for her and the readers, she is a quick learner, able to keep the police and townsfolk at bay with her undercover story. Pretending to be a friend of the missing woman, Clare ventures to a safe house for the abused. Women in distress and danger go there to hide in safety, and then hopefully move on with new identities. Truth versus lies are explored. “This is the fundamental question I write about, over the course of the series. I intentionally have readers wonder if what Clare has said about herself is true. Truth can be so subjective. Two people can experience the same thing and come out of it with completely different versions. Does the absolute truth even exist or is it based on pre-conceptions? I try to explore what is the truth through Clare’s eyes as she comes to terms with her own experiences.” Clare struggles with her own demons. She has been running from an abusive husband, Jason, when Malcolm finds her. Instead of turning her in, he hires Clare to work with him to find other missing persons. Although Malcolm assures her that Jason is out of the picture, Clare knows that is not the case. Starting to question Malcolm’s credibility, because he is hiding something in his past, she fears there is something serious that he is not telling her. This story has many layers and the ending has a major twist. Continue reading
Posted Aug 10, 2018 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. Sweet After Death by Valentina Giambanco is a riveting police procedural with a fascinating look at small town life. The opening bone-chilling scene has a brutal murder that sets the stage for the rest of the novel. Seattle detectives Alice Madison and Kevin Brown along with crime scene investigator Amy Sorensen are sent to the town of Ludlow to help the very small police force investigate the killing of a well-respected doctor. The brutality of the cold winter weather matches the horrific way the doctor was killed. Ludlow is located a few hours from Seattle within the mountainous backdrop. But as the inquiry takes hold events seem to spiral out of the Seattle investigator’s control. During the Memorial Service, the killer strikes again, murdering another town’s member and having the three Seattle police officers under siege. As they become targets, Madison and her team realize they must find the murderer before he or she strikes again. The trick for the author was having the Seattle detectives travel to this small town and assist in the investigation. “I had them called in by the Police Chief for support. It was the county’s first murder and they needed their expertise. I made sure the conflict between the city and town law enforcement was superficial. I wanted them to get along and help each other. Seattle and the surrounding areas have a perfect landscape for crime writing. Washington State has cities, a wilderness, that are close by. I had a huge range of options for what my characters can do. I always think of the environment when writing a story. For this book, I knew I wanted to have a remote isolated small town surrounded by the mountains. The actual town is a combination of Friday Harbor in Washington State and Banff, a Canadian national park town.” The investigation leads to a survivalist, Jeb Tanner, living in the woods with his twelve children. He has his children taking turns between the hunter and the prey with the loser locked in a hut. They are terrified of him, fearful of his wrath. One of the youngsters, Samuel, has a compelling story that seems very similar to what Madison went through as a child. He wonders what happened to his mother and older brother and puts his faith in Madison, hoping she will help out. The comparisons and insights with her past are some of the most interesting aspects of the plot. The author noted, “I am fascinated by people who lead this kind of life. They barricade themselves on their land and bring up their children in an isolated environment. They are inaccessible to others of their own age, the Internet, and television. I always wondered what are their hopes, dreams, and fears. I think the child Sam and Madison are related because of her own experiences. Living in the wilderness makes it very important. Alice as a girl was kidnapped by a hunter. He blurred hunting for animals and people, something Sam’s father does as well. The hunter Alice had to deal with roamed the mountains and national parks to find groups of people to pursue.” This story involving lies and deceptions fosters an intriguing mystery. The author uses the environment to create a creepy atmosphere that includes the mountains and forests surrounding the town. Continue reading
Posted Aug 10, 2018 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. Mike4 by J. R. Seeger brings to life the work of a CIA operative. Using his own experiences, he is able to tell a realistic story. His accomplishments include, having served as platoon leader, company commander, and multiple staff assignments in the Airborne Infantry from 1981 to 1985, as well as Chief of Station, Chief of Base, and Unit Chief for the CIA from 1987 to 2004. The fictional plot finds Sue O’ Connell deciding to follow in her parents’ footsteps and become an operative for the CIA. Her assignment is to find terrorists so that SOF assault teams can “finish” the target. Just as the author came from a military background, before joining the CIA, so has Sue. An injury forces O’Connell to leave the military and join other SOF operators training to become counterterrorism intelligence collectors. But as she continues her training, given the code name Mike4, and after joining the surveillance world, she finds her family held secrets. Beyond just the covert world of their profession, they have a history that includes both counterintelligence secrets and a 60-year old Russian vendetta. This riveting tale allows someone to take the journey with Sue as she goes from the CIA training at the Farm to a field operator. Anyone wanting to understand the shadowy often hard-edged world of counter-terrorism within a mysterious plot should read this novel EC: Russia is the adversary in your story? JR Seeger: The Russians’ purpose is to create sufficient chaos in the West, doing whatever they please in what they would call “the near abroad.” The Russians are taking active measures all across Europe, the UK, and the US. The objective to have the Western world totally focused on the political chaos within their systems instead of Russian expansionism. This geo-political perspective is very much consistent with what was going on during the Cold War in the 1950s, 1960s.The difference is they are using inexpensive yet sophisticated methods, doing it with the Internet instead of tanks. EC: Can you explain the quote about Russia, which is very timely today? JRS: You are referring to the book quote, ‘Americans believes in open-source intelligence and think tanks. Russians understand the outside world is a created reality… and understand that the real world is a world of secrets, backroom deals, deceit, and theft.’ I wanted to explain that every Russian I ever met lived in a world where nothing could be trusted, and everything was manipulated at the Kremlin level. Their two newspapers are described, one is supposed truth and the other is supposed news. Yet, people would say there is no truth and no news. The complete and utter control is with the power. EC: When did you write the book? JRS: The story was written in 2013 and it takes about two years for the PRB to clear the book. The O’Connell family is a metaphor for the rest of the world. Sue thinks she knows everything that goes on within her family, but finds out all kinds of things she never knew. EC: You give a shout out to amputees? JRS: When I did special ops training I met people who had amputations below the knee (BTK). They were previous special operators who were injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. Refusing to be victims, and wanting to stay in the game, they became human intelligence collectors. The guys and gals I worked with did not reveal until after the fact that they were BTKs. Just as with my character Sue, they did not want anyone to know and pity them. They were as hard as a woodpeckers’ lips. EC: What is based on your experiences? JRS: The way the characters talked and thought is based entirely on my experiences. The feedback of those in the game said this is how they talked and thought. I wanted to make sure this book is as realistic about this community as I know. The people in the story are based on a compilation. EC: Can you explain the book quote, “Ginger Rogers had to do everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels”? JRS:I wanted to write something that captured women in the Special Operations Forces and intelligence communities. I know the current CIA Director, Gina Haspel, who is a good friend of mine. I have known her since 1991. She is a fascinating person. All the women from Gina’s era through the present-day focus on just doing the job. Barbara O’ Connell, the mom, showed how spectacular women did the job. The current generation are succeeding because the previous one had courageous women who paved the way. As Sue says, once you get through selection that is it. It does not matter your sex, sexuality, race, color, or religion, because it becomes all about performance. If the operator holds up their part of the bargain, they are a part of the team, and if someone does not, then it is RTU, return to unit. EC: Can you describe Sue? JRS: Aggressive, independent, and sometimes a rule breaker. She is learning how to apply her skills. BTW: I did not physically describe any of the characters on purpose, although I put in this book quote to show her feelings, ‘To survive life in an SOF unit she always had to be tougher, faster, and smarter than the guys if she was going to get any respect.’ EC: So did she earn her team’s respect? JRS: Yes. As I said earlier, she finally realized she has nothing to prove, that she earned her place. Anyone who tried to cause trouble for her because she is a woman would be gone. I describe it as all the different parts of the military: Army red, Airforce sky blue, Navy navy blue, and Marine... Continue reading
Posted Aug 1, 2018 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 on One by Michael Brandman is the second installment in the new series. The former original writer of the Jesse Stone series after Robert Parker’s death, decided last year to write a series about a small-town police deputy. Besides a good mystery the author intertwines some social issues as well as an ongoing discussion about assisted suicide. Legendary Sheriff Burton Steel requested his son Buddy leave his job with LAPD Homicide and come home to become the deputy of Freedom, California, a privileged coastal community a hundred miles north of Los Angeles. Reluctantly, he honored the summons because of a sense of duty, and a willingness to make amends with his dying father. Burton Steel has Lou Gehrig’s disease, and has pressured his son to pull the plug when necessary in an assisted suicide. Brandman noted, “I knew someone who pulled the plug on himself. The guy was a physician and worked out a morphine overdose. His future was so dim he did not want to experience the pain. I wanted to explore in this series the issues of the father/son dynamic as well as what happens when someone faces mortality. Burton is not afraid to tell Buddy he will one day ask him to pull the plug. Although Buddy is horrified it is a topic I wanted to delve into, the taking of a life versus ending a loved one’s suffering.” Thankfully, for Buddy he becomes distracted while investigating a fatality. A popular assistant principal, Hank Carson, who is also the assistant swimming coach, is brutally murdered with a steak knife. Further scrutiny reveals that there was another side to Carson. There are people who resent him and are suspicious that he and some football players could be involved in abuse of those on the swim team. Readers will obviously be reminded of the Penn State football scandal along with Michigan State’s gymnastic scandal, both involving sexual abuse. “I wanted to write how a murder could have happened out of these stories of abuse. This violation of a sacred trust had people looking the other way. I like to explore some societal issues. In my first book, Missing Persons, I explored how some preachers are con men that emerged as self-righteous. In this novel, I wanted to show how abuse can impact a victim and what is their recourse. In my next book, Buddy takes on the developers and Coastal Commission after a murder takes place.” The sub-plot of the book has Buddy angry over a sudden outbreak of graffiti. He is forced to find new and challenging ways to thwart those responsible for defacing buildings with their so called “street art.” The author wants “to call attention to this blight and have Buddy find a way to end it. I am tired of driving around Los Angeles seeing this horrifying graffiti. I put in a quote in the book to show these ‘artists’ will do it anywhere and do not care if it is public or private property.” Buddy is a likeable character who uses self-deprecating humor, sometimes acting like an overgrown schoolboy. He is easygoing and can handle people poking fun at him. Being smart, caring, and understanding of people’s emotional pain, Buddy has a moral sense of right versus wrong. Readers will enjoy this fast-paced mystery. With well-developed characters and a plot that takes issues straight from the headlines, this is a good read. Continue reading
Posted Aug 1, 2018 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. Black Chamberby S. M. Stirling is part alternate history and part thriller involving spies, secret identities, and daring acts. The historical timeline deviates after Taft dies, allowing Theodore Roosevelt to win the presidency instead of Woodrow Wilson. The difference of having Roosevelt at the helm can be felt throughout the book as America considers entering World War I in 1916. It is obvious the author admires Theodore Roosevelt. “I wrote much of who Roosevelt was through the main character’s eyes. Teddy was the first President to drive an automobile, fly in an aircraft, and to go down in a submarine. Teddy was very different than Taft, who he described as a ‘walrus on legs,’ and Wilson as a ‘prissy, sissy Princeton professor,’ a dry stick who is a man dominated by theories. If the facts do not agree with the theories so much for the facts. He was really a ‘wus,’ and quite a contrast from Teddy who really knocked out a gunman with his fists, shot Grizzly Bears, and arrested bandits. His adversary, Kaiser Wilhelm, had Teddy envy. He wanted to be everything Teddy was: a real soldier, reformer, and a great popular leader. The Kaiser imitates Teddy a lot. In my “BC” universe he believed in government scientific research and the development of a spy organization.” Black Chamber is a CIA-type organization, a secret spy agency to protect America. Luz O'Malley Aróstegui, the cunning spy, is assigned to find how the Germans plan on preventing America from coming to the rescue of Allied nations. She boards a flying vessel, a zeppelin airship, destined for Amsterdam. Her mission is to go deep undercover, portraying a Mexican revolutionary. She meets with the German contact,Imperial Sword, who turns out to be a, good-looking German by the name of Baron Horst von Dückler.Finding out that the Germans are planning something nasty, Luz uses all her skills to get the information and thwart the horrific danger to America. It appears to be in the German DNA to gas people. “During my research, I found out Germany invented chemistry and poison gas, and being better than Hitler’s Nazis is a pretty low bar. The Germans started WWI and drove the brutalization and radicalization during the War. They had no conception of how to deal with a beaten opponent except grab them by the throat and squeeze until their eyes popped out. They shot hostages and deported people for slave labor. In this book, Germany developed nerve gas. A pint of it could kill hundreds of thousands of people. It is the DDT for people.” Luz is a great character that uses Sherlock Holmes traits of deduction and action type talents of James Bond. Coming from an Irish-Cuban American heritage she speaks numerous languages that allow her to infiltrate the enemy’s circle. She is tough, clever, charming, and has a thoroughly modern outlook. Stirling noted, “She is an exceptional person who did extraordinary things. Luz is an only child whose father was an Irish American engineer and her mother Cuban.Luzgoes deep undercover, portraying a Mexican revolutionary after her parents were brutally killed by radical Mexicans. She wants revenge and decides to join the Black Chamber. She enjoys riding, shooting, and climbing, skills she uses as a spy. Luz is an American nationalist, highly intelligent, adventurous, and frivolous. She is almost invincible as a spy because she is a woman, thus is underestimate.” Readers learn about the culture, setting, and values of America during that time period. For example, a scene on how Luz dresses, “There were situations where a woman could wear trousers without attracting too much attention.” Acceptability comes from Roosevelt, a Bull Moose Progressive Republican, having Congress pass the Equal Rights Amendment instead of "just" women's suffrage. Although Stirling takes author license with dates and issues of the day the way he infuses these historical events allows for a more interesting story. The secondary characters are very well-developed. Ciara is a woman that understands mechanics and technology who becomes an ally of Luz. The German Horst is a very powerful man, strong, smart, and charming. Theodore Roosevelt is more of a background character and his views and insights are understood through Luz’s thoughts. Stirling offers readers a carrot, the fabulous engaging protagonists, and a stick, the power of the plot. He employs Theodore Roosevelt’s “Big stick diplomacy,” through the many intense action-filled scenes.After reading this first in a series of “Black Chamber” novels, people will look forward to reading the next novel involving these believable and gripping characters. Continue reading
Posted Jul 27, 2018 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. 9 Rules of Engagementby Harris Faulkner brings to the forefront the lessons she learned growing up in a military family, which can be applied today. She pays homage to the military ideals that shaped her, showing how everyone can benefit from their wisdom. Her father, a decorated career officer, a lieutenant colonel, served three tours of duty in Vietnam and raised his children with the values and ideals of the US military. The 9 rules include “Trusting your own potential, Overcoming the odds, Recruiting our own Special Forces, Dealing with your demons, Staying ready, Wearing camouflage, and Unleashing the power of integrity.” The Emmy award-winning news anchor of Outnumbered Overtimewith Harris Faulknerand co-host of the talk show Outnumbered uses the skills she emphasizes in the chapter, “Staying Ready.” Anyone who has ever watched these shows quickly realizes that she asks the formative questions, never allowing a guest to spin false narratives. “I try not to have people talk past each other and to do the one thing we all need to do, listen. As a host, I try to give people an opportunity to speak. Yet, I watch to see if they try to filibuster, a sign to me that they are losing the argument. I enjoy hearing all sides of a conversation and think that viewers can also learn from it. I want to do the work of the viewer so that they don’t have to figure out what the truth actually is. I ask questions to illuminate where people are coming from and to get to the truth. It is less about who is right and more of what is right.” The chapter, “Recruiting Your Special Forces,” shows the importance of being surrounded by supporters. “I married my best friend. Today, people are dividing, firing, separating based on politics. Instead, we should ‘fire’ someone if they do not show support for your dreams and victories. In your personal life as you strive for your goals the inner circle must be tight and we should never tolerate someone who does not have our back.” In speaking with Faulkner, it became obvious that she values integrity in a person. “The military integrity and credo gives us that clutch. I understand how difficult some things can be. But those serving know when things fall apart military brats show their resilience. For a little background, in the book I refer to it as an enduring term standing for Born Raised And Transferred. I think it is the military saying thank you to us kids for having grit too. When one member of a family joins the military, the whole family bears the weight of the service. We sacrifice time with that parent while they are deployed; we move wherever our loved one is needed; we uproot our lives; we leave our friends behind; and we start all over again with a supportive and positive attitude because it helps our loved one do his or her job effectively and return home to us safely. I want families to get more credit for helping America as much as the person serving. It is total family service. I always tease people, if you come up against a military offspring, you better come forward with a lot of integrity and intuitiveness, because we do not give up easily.” This is a bi-partisan book that has a great quote about another form of integrity, showing an understanding for those who do not agree with you. General Jack Keane’s book quote on how Americans can use the military perspective is very powerful, especially in today’s culture. “We are racially, religiously, culturally, economically, and geographically diverse, but for us to be effective, we have to build strong unit cohesion…Every single member of the team has to submit to something larger than self. That’s the military’s key to success. Despite all the differences that we may have, the only way we can succeed as a military organization is to be bound to each other. Our concern for each other has to trump our concern for ourselves.” It would be nice if politicians put this quote up in their office where they must stare at it each and every day. Faulkner noted, “One chamber can pass three hundred bills and the other chamber is so politically constipated they can’t work through them. In our lives, we can win by working together. A person’s integrity is measured by how you treat others. Besides the military, I would also put First Responders, and those defending us on the North and South Border, in this category of those with integrity.” The “Camouflage” chapter has a personal anecdote. She speaks of how she watched her dad polish his black boots. “It is more than just a fashion statement. If you are in the Navy you need a blue set of clothes. You are not going to fight in the desert with anything but a sandy uniform. I do the color wheel for the women on “Outnumbered,” because I want people to look at the screen and see each of those women as dynamic, strong, smart, quick, and an individual.” She is very grateful to her dad for allowing her life to be molded by those in the military, “people who served this nation for the greater cause. My dad is loving, has a sense of humor, and is a fabulous storyteller. My dad would sit someone down and no matter what the circumstance he would start with a story. He would bring me to the Pentagon where I met fabulous leaders. My mom used to tell me because of my dad the bar is high. As a child of an officer we are expected to be positive components of our community and to give our lives meaning and purpose.... Continue reading
Posted Jul 27, 2018 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. Double Blind by Iris and Roy Johansen is a heart stopping story. This series has a very original premise and this novel, in particular, has a killer that is unique. Blind from birth, the main character, Kendra Michaels, regained her sight at the age of twenty. Now she is able to use her extensively distinct senses and acute analytical skills to help the FBI thwart bad guys. The Johansens created a classic detective “with powers of observation and deduction, seeing some things no one else could see. But we want to make sure Kendra does not have super powers. She can see, hear, and smell things, which anyone else can if they were paying attention. What makes her special is how she trained herself to pay attention. There was a lot of time spent on making sure she was different; yet, maintains the classic detective traits. Like most blind people she grew up fine tuning her other senses to compensate. Now that she has her sight, thanks to a rare, successful stem cell surgery, she is able to pick up sounds and smells that most others do not even pay attention to. She soaks up the world around her, including her sight.” As with many of those who cannot see, Kendra enhanced her other senses to compensate. Although no longer blind, she still has a great power of deduction and incredible critical thinking abilities. The FBI has requested her on this case because of her capacity to quickly notice the smallest of details. Shrugging it off, she has been known to say that her powers were nothing any other person could deduce if they concentrated on listening, observing, and watching. This case literally came to her after a woman is found dead with an envelope having Kendra’s name on it. It contains a memory stick of a wedding video. What soon becomes apparent is that the wedding party has been targeted by a serial killer who strives to get the maximum number of victims by inflicting emotional and physical pain. Through the investigative process Kendra and company realize that the killer is connected to a mercenary organization. The supporting cast includes former FBI agent Adam Lynch, now a contractor who works by himself; Olivia, a friend of Kendra’s from childhood who became blind in an accident; Jessie, a private investigator after retiring from the army, and a group of FBI agents. Lynch is almost always at Kendra’s side and has her back. This new case brings Lynch and Kendra closer, but there is still the tug of war between them. Each are strong, smart, brave, and honest; although in their private lives Kendra and her peers have many secrets. The authors wrote Kendra “as complicated, brisk, cautious, loyal, and impatient. She has difficulty with those who she considers lazy in doing their job. She has a colorful history from those wild days after she was given her sight. Kendra always speaks her mind, especially with her FBI counterparts. Her counterpart, Lynch,is learning to work and play well with others through Kendra. He is very much his own man with a steely confidence. His hated nickname is ‘Puppetmaster,’ because one of his talents is having people bend to his will. He can be very persuasive, a master of manipulation.” This mother/son collaboration make a great team, able to write edge-of-your seat suspenseful stories with compelling characters. The twists in Double Blind can lead readers to be blind-sided so be forewarned. Continue reading
Posted Jul 20, 2018 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 Gathering of Secrets by Linda Castillo is a powerful story. From the very first page, when a young Amish woman commits suicide, the plot takes on a dark and gripping tone, a very thought-provoking novel. Bur readers should not be surprised considering Castillo books are always insightful and riveting. The author explained, “The book opens with a young Amish woman committing suicide. Readers do not know why, but as they turn the pages they begin to understand what happened to her. There is also this young man who was burned to death, a very sad situation. As the investigation takes on an ominous tone, I chose to explore the question, is murder justified?” The story begins with Amish teenager Emma Miller hanging herself and then fast forwards six months where Painter Mills police chief Kate Buckholder is called to investigate a body found in a burned barn. The initial reaction is that it was a freak accident, but as the evidence builds up Kate suspects murder. This eighteen-year-old Amish boy, Daniel Gingerich, is found inside, burned alive,and barricaded in the tack room with no way to escape. She is baffled since it appears Daniel has no enemies in the world, yet, he dies a harsh and cruel death. The investigation takes on twists and turns since Daniel has a secret life. Secrets are the heart of the story as the Amish community stays silent, basically attempting to stonewall the case. Kate begins to wonder if this peaceful and deeply religious community is conspiring to hide a truth no one wants to talk about. As she wades through a sea of suspects, she’s confronted by her own violent past, which made her leave the Amish community. She finds that there are many parallels to her past as the rape of Amish girls are hidden, and not talked about or reported. This part of the story is very relevant to issues of today. It is an Amish MeToo Moment. What also makes the plot authentic is Kate’s reflection on the Amish sects, their principles, rules, and her ability to speak the Dutch language. I never want to generalize, and remember this is a fictional story. I think that we should never generalize the entire community. But in this story, the community did try to sweep things under the rug. The mother of the girl who committed suicide was first seen as uncaring and not supportive of her daughter. The parent reactions depend on how they were raised and which sect they were from. Another girl, Ruth, who became pregnant from a rape, had her mother decide to find her a husband to pass the baby off as her husbands. Each mother tried to sweep the secret under the rug. In my research, I read that an Amish boy who does something terribly wrong, even raping someone, can get off. If he confesses before the Church congregation, he is forgiven. This is why I wrote the girls not speaking up, some committing suicide, because they knew the boy would have been forgiven and they would be caught up in the stigma.” Castillo is a master at building suspense with intense and dark secret undertones. This harrowing thriller, with so many interesting characters, emphasizes how religious beliefs influence the communities’ morality and the desire to obtain justice. Continue reading
Posted Jul 20, 2018 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 Bookshop of Yesterdaysby Amy Meyerson is part mystery and part drama involving family dynamics. It is a shout out to those who love books and bookstores since the main mystery is centered around both, and comes about with riddles from book quotes. Clues to the scavengers’ hunt are found in the classics of the past, The Tempest, Jane Eyre, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Frankenstein, Fear of Flying, Persuasion, The Grapes of Wrath, andBridge to Terabithia. The story begins with Miranda Brooks’ twelfth birthday party. Her beloved Uncle Billy is a no-show and to make matters worse that night she overhears a fight between him and her mother. She sees Billy only once more and then he cuts himself off from her life. Similar to someone who has lost a loved one she experiences grief, loss. and anger. He left her with no explanation.Fast-forward sixteen years later where Miranda attempts to make a life for herself in Philadelphia teaching history in a middle school. She finds out Billy has died and the fond memories of their times together sweeps over her. He took her to his Los Angeles bookstore Prospero Books, where they would read, solve riddles, and have elaborate scavenger hunts full of surprises. After the funeral Miranda learns she inherited the financially challenged bookstore and Billy has left her one more scavenger hunt: a quest to provide answers about the mysterious family’s rift that no one wants to speak about. Myerson explains, “My bookstore visually looks a lot like one in Echo Park. I borrowed a lot physically from it, but not any of the actual character struggles. I also spoke with some managers of bookstores that helped me to understand how they work. Silverlake, the community in Echo Park, has changed a lot. I wanted to make Prospero Books an earlier relic of the neighborhood that is disappearing.” Furthermore, “I love books about books. I wanted to set a story in a bookstore. The reason for the bookstores’ name, “Prospero Books,” is because “The Tempest” has a scene where he gains magical powers through books. Also, Billy would take Miranda there as a way to connect with her. Since it was originally his late wife’s he thought Miranda might also connect to her. I think it was a way for Billy to share his late wife, Evelyn, with Miranda and keep the memory of her alive. I think he tried to explain his life to Miranda through the books in his bookstore and not directly as in a letter. Scavenger hunts were a way Billy communicated. It enabled him to explain his emotions and through the riddles he was able to talk to Miranda.” Early on many readers will realize the big family secret. Yet, they will turn the pages to take the journey of the scavenger hunt with Miranda to find out find out how the past family secrets would be revealed. A scene from the book would forewarn readers that the quest is more important than the mystery: “he left her clues meant to impart wisdom and knowledge as well as lead to the reward: Even though I always figured out where the quest was going before we got there, he refused to let me rush through the lesson.” The author explained, “I wrote how Suze, Miranda’s mother, realized holding back secrets makes it progressively more difficult to tell the truth. I wrote in this book quote, ‘It’s difficult seeing parents for who they are, rather than who we want them to be.’ I wanted to explore the way we can and cannot know our parents. I know I feel this way and I think others do as well. It is hard to fully understand who they were before they became parents. We only know what they chose to tell us and how they chose to tell us.” This heartfelt debut novel explores loss, healing, and family with all the tensions, misunderstandings, and estrangements that are sometimes part of it. Books and the bookstore are an added bonus allowing readers to understand the importance of forgiveness. Continue reading
Posted Jul 13, 2018 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 Summer Wivesby Beatriz Williams combines romance, secrecy, and suspense. As with all her books she concentrates on a mystery, the murder of a rich playboy, and social issues, class conflicts. Intertwined within the plot are complex relationships that connect all the characters. The setting plays an important role in this novel, just as it had in William’s blockbuster novel, A Hundred Summers. Both take place on an island with an obvious clash between the haves and have nots, where all are determined to keep the outside world from its shores. In this book, Winthrop Island, off the New England coast, is the summer retreat for the old wealth and elite and the yearly home of the working class of Portuguese fishermen and domestic workers as well as their families. Williams noted, “Winthrop Island is inspired by Fisher’s Island, which is off the coast of Connecticut. Until the early 1920s it was purely farm land. It was then developed where half of the island has beautiful homes and a golf course. It was very difficult to research because people don’t like to talk about Fisher’s Island. Most of the Island is behind a guard’s booth and it is isolated since the only way to get there is by ferry. Older money came there to escape and use it as a retreat. Families came there year after year during the summer, mingling only with themselves. They went to the Island to build silos around themselves.” The story is centered around Miranda Schulyer, told in different time frames. In 1951, she was an eighteen-year-old just graduating high school, and then it fast forwards to 1969 where she is a thirty-six-year-old actress. All the incidents in the book go back to how Miranda was affected by them, whether the death of her father, the murder of her step-father, the relationships between Joseph and Isobel, also Miranda’s sister by marriage, and her true love, Joseph. Coming from a modest family Miranda is thrown into a world of wealth and elitism, after her mother marries Hugh Fisher. His great-grandfather made the family rich by taking advantage of the Victorian hygiene craze. She is drawn to Joseph, the son of the lighthouse keeper and a lobster fisherman, who is on summer break from Brown University. Realizing she is falling in love with Joseph her dreams are shattered after he is accused of murdering her step-father and she is banished from the island for defending him. “I wanted to explore the relationship between the summer residents and the year-round residents, made up of the working class. The differences included religion: Catholicism of the ordinary folks, and the Episcopal Church of the WASP culture that was only opened during the summer. In addition, there was a class and wealth difference. I wanted to explore all these disparities.” Fast-forward to 1969 after Miranda returns, now a famous actress. Both Joseph and Miranda are escaping. She tries to renew her relationship with her step-sister, Isobel, and her mother, while Joseph is trying to survive as a fugitive. She wants to reignite the love she had for Joseph and prove his innocence. But in doing so, the Island's secrets begin to unravel. “I wanted to show how those who fought in World War II were from the elite class of leaders in the military, political, and industrial world. But during the years the story takes place in they chose to exist on the money their grandparents made. They essentially became spectators instead of participants. This generation prized itself on preservation rather than innovation, so they became static. The future does not belong to people who don’t want to change. They never questioned the values of society. I chose 1969 because of the moon landing. It has the symbolism of showing that this generation were just deep spectators. Once they went into preservation mode they wrote off their own relevance.” The book delves into the themes of heroism, sacrifice, and redemption within the self-contained society. In some ways, it will remind people of those 1930 movies where love conflicts with power. Continue reading
Posted Jul 13, 2018 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 Trial and Execution of the Traitor George Washingtonby Charles Rosenberg is a great Fourth of July novel. Anyone who feels a sense of patriotism will want to read this gripping story about America’s General George Washington. The suspense ratchets up as readers wonder what will happen to one of America’s greatest heroes. This thought-provoking alternative history book takes place in the midst of the American Revolution. An English plot to kidnap General George Washington, brings him overseas to England, and puts him on trial as a traitor. But some like British Prime Minister Frederick North want to use him as a bargaining chip to put an end to a very costly war. British special agent Colonel Jeremiah Black, an officer of the King’s Guard, is assigned the task of landing on a deserted beach in late November 1780. Aided by “Loyalist” Americans he is able to sprint Washington aboard the HMS Peregrine. Upon their arrival, Washington is imprisoned in the Tower of London to await trial on charges of high treason. An interesting controversy explored, are the US colonies in rebellion and therefore subject to charges of treason, or are they a separate country; thus, Washington should be treated as a prisoner of war? “I found out these were actual arguments at the time. Washington would argue he was a prisoner of war, and that under the laws of war, he must be released at the end of hostilities or exchanged for another prisoner. The debate: were the colonists a legitimate authority or rebels, as the King proclaimed in 1775, in a state of rebellion? Although, there were actually exchanges of prisoners. In 1781 Henry Laurens was swapped for the British General Lord Cornwallis who was famous for losing the Battle of Yorktown. I think given the chance George III would have wanted Washington executed.” Although Washington is more of a secondary character, throughout the novel his presence looms significantly. Key characters include the American ambassador, Ethan Abbott, sent to negotiate Washington’s release, the British Prime Minister Lord North, and the defense attorney chosen to defend Washington, Abraham Hobhouse, an American-born barrister with an English wife. An added highlight has all the characters’ debating key issues of the time. Rosenberg does this with a great writing style where readers do not feel as if they are being hit over the head with a history lesson. Rosenberg noted, “He is definitely not the protagonist of the novel, but is more of a topic in it. I realized that the first third of the book, where the planning and capture of the General happens, would have him not commenting at all. For the second part, where he is on the ship, he is a prisoner, who is basically helpless. This means that he would not have a lot to say. Because various people would have objected and commented that Washington would not have thought that or done this. I tried to present him as his contemporaries described him. There were not a lot of personal writings since Martha Washington burned his letters after he died. This made it hard to get a lot of material. However, I did read his speeches and hope that I came close to the way he would have said things when I did quote him.” This alternative history is informative and interesting, within a gripping novel. Part adventure story, part spy novel, and part courtroom drama it has many twists. This what-if plot has an intriguing storyline. Continue reading
Posted Jul 5, 2018 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. Dark Side of the Moonby Alan Jacobson is another “OPSIG Team Black” adventure. This story will literally take people to a new dimension. Readers will feel they are on a journey on F-18 fighter planes and a trip to the moon while combating espionage, the dark secrets of the moon, and kidnapping. Jacobson commented, “After reading this article about Apollo 17 bringing back moon rocks I had an idea that maybe they could be used for military purposes. Since I do not write science fiction I needed to do a lot of research and worked with some awesome people. I talked with an engineer who worked on the Space Shuttle and is currently working on a NASA project. The different organizations that cooperated were NASA, JPL, Lockheed, and SPACEX. People helped me work out the logistics of how the mission should be carried out. Even though it was quite an endeavor, given the opportunity I would do it again. Mainly, because I have been fascinated with space, growing up with Star Trek and the Apollo missions.” Readers find out that after returning to the earth in 1972 Apollo 17 brought back some classified items. Discovering its importance, a NASA engineer leaks the information to foreign governments. Now there is a race to the moon to find an element called Caesarium. If found it can be used to produce a weapon with an ultimate magnitude of destruction, that has important military applications. In order to stop China and Russia Hector DeSantos and Aaron Uziel (Uzi) join with two astronauts on a mission called Operation Containment. They must prevent Caesarium from being brought back. Meanwhile back on earth, Karen Vail and company have determined that the mission has been sabotaged and they must find out the mole who did it. Karen Vail and her colleague Alexandra Rusakov will have to find the mole and destroy the spy ring that planted malware on the ships that are now headed for the Moon. To complicate matters Hector’s father is kidnapped and will be used as leverage. The author likes to venture out and write new stories. His last book, Darkness of Evil, and his next book will delve into serial killers. “As a writer, I want to keep fresh and different. I want to challenge my characters and myself to acclimate to new environments. Karen Vail has been to Paris, England, and Spain maneuvering through the different cultures, places, laws, and law enforcement. I think this current book about moon elements is extremely relevant. Space can help with our military readiness that includes determining logistics. We need to maintain our superiority in space and should applaud our President’s efforts to reinvigorate our space program. We need a moon base to collect natural resources and use it as a spring board to get to another planet.” Space is coming to the forefront once again. This believable story shows the importance of America keeping its space superiority. It also highlights how Karen Vail must maneuver through lies, betrayals, and disloyalties to find the culprits. Continue reading
Posted Jul 5, 2018 at BlackFive