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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. Crucible by James Rollins reunites the Sigma Force team in this thrilling story. Released just after the holidays, this plot is anything but merry. But readers of Rollins are used to a roller coaster ride where they get plenty of action blended with cutting edge science, historical mystery, and the latest technologies. “This has been on my mind for awhile, to write a story surrounding artificial intelligence. I made sure to read the contrary view that question if AI is a threat. There are certain hurdles that will need to be crossed to bring about a self-aware human-like AI. Their position is that this technology will happen. Of those two dozen experts I interviewed the consensus is that it will happen in five to ten years because of the rapid advances. Two of the researchers thought we have already gone there. It is not an if, but a when. I use as an example, the story of AlphaGo, the first computer program to defeat a human. It played the board game, Go. The next generation self-taught itself in three days and also beat his big brother, the original version of the program. I think this book is written for the non-believers.” It is Christmas Eve where the Sigma Force friends are gathering to have a joyous holiday. But Monk Kokkalis and Gray Pierce find their holiday spirits quickly dampened after returning to Monk’s house in Maryland. The Christmas Tree is toppled, Kat, the computer expert of the group, is lying unconscious on the kitchen floor, and Monk’s two young girls have been kidnapped, along with Gray’s pregnant wife, Seichan. This happened shortly after a massacre in Portugal where five women scientists have been brutally massacred. Also missing is Mara Silviera who was making advances in artificial intelligence research. She is on the run, protecting herself and her computer’s life. Gray, Monk, and company set out to find Mara after realizing that she is the key to finding their loved ones and also to saving humanity. Rollins noted, “Eve, the computer, matured from a narrow AI to AGI then eventually to ASI. I based her on the book Flowers for Algernon that was made into the movie “Charley.” Over the course of time his vocabulary increases multifold. He surpasses intellectually the average person’s language. There is math on one of the pages of my book to show how Eve goes beyond scientifically the human understanding, just as Charley had done in the movie. I gave her a double personality where she is split between dark and light. The one cared for by Mara nurtures and protects humans, while the other one, which was stolen, mirrors the torture done to her. Currently, we are in narrow AI such as Siri or self-driving cars. What everyone is pursuing is AGI that have computers self-aware of themselves with some human level of intelligence that can differentiate. ASI will advance far beyond our intelligence and accelerates rapidly. I wanted Eve to start with a cold and calculating intelligence and then mature as she is trained in different types of environments.” The action keeps moving at a brisk pace in this latest novel that is crafted around plausible scientific data. Rollins has a knack for weaving together new and old as well as warning readers what can happen in the not too distant future. Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at BlackFive
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The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. The First Conspiracy by Brad Meltzer brings to life a spy thriller that actually happened. This non-fiction historical mystery delves into a plot to assassinate General George Washington, exposing the spies, killers, counterfeiters, and traitorsand how those in the still forming government addressed the plot. “I wrote this story because it fascinated me and there is little knowledge about it. The myth says we were a ragtag army who held hands and came together to defeat the powerful English. But in fact, we were not unified, but acted just like today. For example, our Massachusetts regiment hated our Connecticut regiment who hated our Virginia regiment. They were all different with dissimilar beliefs and customs, including wearing different uniforms. I show this in an amazing scene in the book. Someone from the Virginia regiment meets someone from the Massachusetts regiment who starts to make fun of the Virginia uniform. A fight breaks out until George Washington rides on his horse and picks them up, emphasizing the need for a team. If ever there was a metaphor for where we are as a culture there it was. He helped build the United States by holding us together. The book delves into getting rid of the myth that we were all together and shows how hard fought it was to get us together.” This is Meltzer’s first non-fiction book, written with writer and documentary producer Josh Mensch. It tells of a hidden event that took place during the most critical period of America’s birth. The heart of the book takes place after Washington’s arrival into New York City in early 1776. After having to flee to a British ship docked in New York’s harbor, the Governor of New York, a Loyalist, William Tryon devises a treacherous plan to kill the US General. He enlists the help of the city’s mayor, David Mathews, and some in the civilian population that have divided loyalties and shifting allegiances. All are willing to sacrifice their devotion to the highest bidder. Shocked by these rumors Washington decides to assemble an elite band of soldiers, the Life Guards, to protect him. In addition, he along with another Founding Father John Jay, established the secret Committee of Intestine Enemies, designed to uncover the traitors, learn their plans, and stop them. The clandestine operations showed how Jay regarded the importance of counter-intelligence, and the Life Guards can be considered the precursor to the Secret Service. Meltzer noted, “He created a secret organization within our government that came out of the plot to kill Washington. He is an incredible investigator who did interrogations to collect information. He actually built a counter-intelligence operation by using civilians to ferret out information about the traitors. He built an entire system for the government to protect itself. I call him the original American bad ass. Both he and Washington displayed leadership, loyalty, and knew of the harm betrayal does. The final sentence of the book sums everything up, “In our lowest moments we always find our greatest strengths.” Although a non-fiction story it reads like a spy novel with a sense of immediacy and peril. Readers will be astonished that this “First Conspiracy,” was but a footnote in American history until now, when the authors bring it to the forefront. Continue reading
Posted Jan 4, 2019 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. In Dog We Trust by Beth Kendrick says it all with the title. This fun-loving book is a must read for all dog lovers and those that want smiles on their faces. In addition, readers get an interesting mystery where greed is the antagonist. The story is enjoyable, amusing, and entertaining. Kendrick noted, “The story cannot happen without the dogs, who are agents for change. People and pets have a very significant relationship. Dogs know who is kind and nurturing. It is that saying, ‘if my dog doesn’t like you neither do I.’ There is something about having another being to rely on us. There is a deeper level of nonverbal communication that is satisfying and profound. My vet once said to me, dogs want to be useful and serve. I think we have an obligation to give that back to our dogs.” The plot takes place in the Delaware seaside quirky quaint town of Black Dog Bay. It has become well-known for being the “best place in America to bounce back from your breakup.” Charming seaside diners, boutiques, bakeries, and a bed and breakfast capitalized by having names of “Home to Better Off Bed-and-Breakfast, the Eat Your Heart Out bakery, the Jilted Café, the Rebound Salon, and the Whinery bar.” The owner of “Black Dog Bay Books” created a legend about an apparition of a black dog as a harbinger of hope and change. The main character Jocelyn Hillier helps her mother run a laundry rental business in the beach town. A chance encounter leads to Jocelyn’s meeting Mr. Allardyce, the owner of several pedigreed Labrador retrievers and living in one of the fanciest shore-side mansions. He is gruff, a penny pincher, and a social outcast, but decides to hire Jocelyn as a dog walker and dog sitter. After Mr. Allardyce suddenly dies, he leaves all of his money to his three show dogs, appointing Jocelyn as their guardian. She has control of the money and is able to live in the mansion. An interesting premise that encircles the story, how an eccentric dog owner would appoint a trustee of the dogs who inherited the wealth. But life becomes troublesome when his estranged son, Liam, and the dog’s trainer, Lois, decide to sue her for the inheritance left to the dogs and her guardianship. “I came up with the idea after was reading with my eleven-year-old son a National Geographic story. It was how all these dogs are bequeathed millions and millions of dollars. There is plenty of legal precedent even though the dogs actually cannot spend money. All they want is food, water, and a human. Pet trusts are routinely now part of estates. I understand how we owners want them well cared for. I think dog people have a spiritual and creative streak that are mostly kind and helpful.” Besides having likeable characters and cuddly dogs this story delves into scandal and betrayal. The humorous banter allows for a ver Continue reading
Posted Jan 4, 2019 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. Code Name: Lise by Larry Loftis brings to life the most highly decorated woman spy. The story delves into how Odette Sansom displayed courage and patriotism while having to endure endless torture by the Nazis. “After I read the SOE training evaluation of her I knew she was a force to be reckoned with. She was described as temperamental, a loose cannon, arrogant, relentless, fearless, and extremely patriotic. I think she was chosen because women carriers were needed since men were picked up by the Germans to be drafted or put in forced labor. There was also the need for people who spoke French without an English accent, which she did. She was captured because she was stubborn and did not follow directions. But she more than made up for that mistake by showing her bravery. She did not talk or give out any information even after being tortured that included pulling off all her toenails.” Born in France and living in England Odette decides she wants to help with the war cause. Because of her knowledge of the French language and customs she was recruited into Britain’s Special Operations Executive Program to conduct espionage on the Germans during WWII. Working closely with her commanding officer, Peter Churchill, they are able to complete dangerous missions. Peter became smitten with her and eventually they fell in love while playing a cat and mouse game with German secret police sergeant, Hugo Belicher. He takes advantage of a mistake Odette makes and captures them, sending them to Paris’s Fresnes prison, and from there to concentration camps in Germany where they are starved, beaten, and tortured. Put on a list to be executed she and Peter are kept alive by the Germans because of two lies she concocted. She pretended that she and Peter were married (they would be after the war) and that Peter was related to Winston Churchill, realizing the Gestapo hoped to use her and Peter as a bargaining chip. Loftis describes ascene in the book. “She is standing up to a German general while she was still a spy. Instead of being incognito and blending in she was visible, which showed her fearlessness, but also her recklessness. In another case she slipped handcuffs off, while confronting a German guard, which also showed her fearfulness and recklessness. I have a book quote where she tells the concentration commandant at the end of the war, ‘I want to know why you don’t open the gates of the camp. The war is over. It is useless murder to keep people here.’” This story delves into the details of what Odette had to endure. In the face of grave danger, she shows her courageousness and willingness to stand up to the Germans. Readers will not want to put this book down. Loftis has the ability to write it as a spy thriller instead of a dry biography. Continue reading
Posted Jan 4, 2019 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. Half of What You Hear by Kristyn Kusek Lewis highlights living in a small town. Moving to her husband’s place of birth Beth Warner must navigate the many scandals and secrets that make Washington DC look like an honorable place. Lewis noted, “My last two books were more internal stories where readers are able to get inside the characters’ heads. This is more dynamic, about a small town. I have some knowledge of the South since my mom is from North Carolina, my husband and I lived there for awhile, and I have a lot of family distributed throughout the region.” Bess was the social secretary for the First Lady who was unceremoniously fired. Wanting to get away from the grind and gossip she and her husband take over the running of his parent’s inn and move to Greyhill Virginia. She feels apart from her family and the community. Shunned as an outsider and having her daughters becoming more independent, Bess is feeling the effects of an empty nest and isolation. “I put in this quote at the beginning of the book, from A Bargain For Frances, ‘Being careful is not as much fun as being friends. Do you want to be careful, or do you want to be friends?’ I wanted to show that when someone has a relationship their choices are the need to be careful and watch their words, or to be truly authentic. Many times people are defined from one incident. It is about perception and how we judge people based on that one event.” Offered to write a puff piece on one of Greyhill’s most famous and secretive residents,Susannah Lane, Bess quickly accepts. Besides a Red Chevy truck Susannah loved and crashed she opens up about her high school sweetheart, Besses’ father-in-law, and her best friend who mysteriously died after falling off a cliff. Lewis describes her main characters, “Bess is driven and is now searching for a sense of identity after her career imploded. She is placed in a community that really does not want to embrace her and feels like a fish out of water. In small towns relationships are developed over years with a strong sense of community. She sees the town as having stagnant ideas, which comes out clearly during the interview with Susannah who is haunted by her past. She never felt love and is a broken person. From the outside Susannah appears to have a charmed life, including driving her red Chevy truck, but reality is very different.” On a fun note Lewis explained about her passion for red trucks. “I always wanted on old red pick up truck, especially since red is my favorite color. I have been taking pictures of them for years; although I drive the opposite, a grey Subaru Outback.” Readers will feel they are imported into this small town with its old money, mansions, and old-fashioned ideas where dirty laundry is not washed in public. Continue reading
Posted Dec 29, 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 Three Beths by Jeff Abbott is a psychological thriller that explores family dynamics. The story of missing loved ones grabs at the readers, sparking curiousity. Readers are drawn into the story, feeling empathy for the characters. Abbott noted, "There were these two separate ideas that came together. I thought about these cases where someone has gone missing and the police have a pretty good idea of who did it, but no evidence. Sometimes in that situation it is a family member. That brought me to the second idea, I kept thinking what would be like, for a daughter to be constantly defending an accused parent. The OJ Simpson case is a famous example. How did his children regard their father? What would it be like to live as a family member after their father was accused of murder? The characters of Mariah and Craig popped into my mind. It was a Lego block of an idea. Sometimes ideas lock together like Lego blocks and formulate a story." The plot unfolds with the touching thoughts of Mariah, “My mom would never leave me.” Beth Dunning, her mom has disappeared without a trace and has been missing for a year. The police chief, Dennis Broussard, who once had feelings for Beth, suspects Mariah’s dad, Craig. Broussard has tunnel vision since there is no body and no physical evidence linking Craig to the supposed murder. Mariah feels compelled to clear her father’s name and find her mom, considering the townspeople are trying to run the Dunnings out of town. Her feelings jump from guilt to anger to loneliness. Determined to investigate she takes the suggestion of a high school friend who is now a true-crime blogger. An estranged wife, Bethany Curtis, of a tech millionaire also went missing six months earlier. What links the two disappearances is the name, Beth. What Mariah finds out is that many of the answers seem to lie with a third Beth, Lizbeth, who seems very elusive. As the clues lead her closer to answers, she and her dad are threatened, with the truth more devastating than she could have imagined. "I explore grief. Mariah thought she saw her mom in the mall. Grief can play tricks on the mind. I want readers to look at this family and how they were grieving. Everyone builds their own memories of what happened and their roles in it. When lightning burned down my house I had some vivid memories of those four to five hours, but also stretches of time that got scrambled. We never know who another person is including ourselves. There is always another side we do not know about. We know the image we hold of a person, but can never know everything about them. Some days we do not even know everything about ourselves. We have these masks on concealing how we feel about things and will not say our thoughts out loud." Readers will get into the minds of all the characters. They follow the betrayals, lies, and deceits and realize that most of the characters are very flawed. People will not want to put this book down, until they also find answers and the truth regarding the disappearance of the three Beths. Continue reading
Posted Dec 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. Gown With The Wind by Stephanie Blackmoore is a parody of the classic movie Gone With The Wind. It has the famous line of “As G-d is my witness,” characters that have similar personalities, and names to match. Readers will have fun with the comparisons and might even be interested in viewing the timeless masterpiece movie. Blackmoore noted, "I respect and enjoy the movie but I do wonder about the historical accuracy and the political correctness. Of course it is a wonderful story that I enjoyed re-watching as I picked apart things to lay on the relationship structure of Keith, Mallory, and Becca. There were a lot of echoes that I totally plucked. As with the film, the book storyline has a murder, attempted murder, vandalism, and even arson. This is all happening during the planning of the wedding of Keith Pierce and Becca Cunningham. They have asked Keith’s ex-fiancé, Mallory Shepard to plan their wedding since she and her sister Rachel have turned a renovated Thistle Park, the home Mallory inherited from her ex-fiancé, Keith Pierce’s, grandmother in Port Quincy Pennsylvania, into a B&B and wedding/event venue. I do agree there are strong women characters that dominated the male characters. I chose to mirror them. For example, everyone was pushing Mallory to get married. Yet, she responded, ‘I don’t need to get married.’ I think both in the movie and my book the women characters don’t fit into roles people prescribe to them." After Becca’s grandmother Alma, a huge Gone With The Wind collector, is strangled, the theme of the wedding is changed to this classic film to honor her. The bride-to- be found the perfect wedding dress that is a Scarlett O’Hara lookalike. Unfortunately, her childhood rival, Felicity Fournier, also a huge fan of the movie, wants the dress. After Felicity is found murdered Mallory decides to become an amateur sleuth. Besides planning a wedding, trying to find the culprits, Mallory also takes over the arranging for the upcoming reception of The Duchess Theater’s reopening. This old-time movie theater will play classic films beginning with Gone With The Wind. But during the premiere someone sets fire to the theatre almost destroying it. Mallory and company have their hands filled finding those responsible for all the disastrous events. "I hope my characters mirrored the movie ones. I wrote this book quote that Alma says to Mallory, “Alma dismissed her daughter-in-law with a wave of her hand. ‘She can be helpful at times and is more of a Melanie Wilkes... All quiet strength and Goody Two-shoes affect. But for this project, we need more of a Scarlett-type woman. Someone like you, dear, or me.’” Mallory has some elements of Scarlett, but I think she is more like Melanie. As you mentioned earlier, Melanie is quiet, but strong in her own way, and is able to make decisions that change the course of everyone else’s life. Becca has the attitude, ‘Tomorrow is another day,’ similar to Scarlett’s. She forged ahead and made her own way. Becca woke up and muddled through with new plans because the old ones went up in flames. Keith and Ashley Wilkes are both wusses. I think he and Ashley from the movie are total doormats. Even the dog in story was named Wilkes." During this holiday season people might want to snuggle up while reading this fun book. It is full of quirky characters and the Gone With The Windsimilarities makes the story very enjoyable. Continue reading
Posted Dec 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. Wrangler’s Rescue by B. J. Daniels is the last in the Montana Cahills series. It is filled with a little romance, tension, emotion, suspense, and a lot of mystery that involves betrayals, murder, and distrust. The readers try to put the pieces of the puzzle together along with the characters. This story has a new twist as AJ, a city gal turned cowgirl, battles Juliette, a seductive sociopath black widow, while the hero isan ‘aw shucks’ type of shy quiet man. AJ and Juliette are contrasting characters. “I wrote AJ as strong, determined, loyal, smart and independent. She will take matters into her own hands. She will not take no for an answer and follows her instincts. I am a lot like AJ, someone who relies on myself. Juliette is heartless, soulless, calculating and has the attitude it is always about her. She was poor and likes to blame others for her circumstances. Unfortunately, I have met people like that who have had a hard time in childhood and feels others should pick up the slack because life has not been fair to them. She believes in give me, give me, give me as she uses and abuses people. I loved writing her because she is so evil.” The plot has Cyrus Cahill traveling to Denver to buy a bull. Approximately a week later, his family receives a phone call that he married a total stranger, a woman he knew for only a very short time, while on a Caribbean cruise ship. This is so out of character for him since he is reserved and cautious. The bad news is that he has gone overboard and is suspected dead. His wife comes to town with a death certificate and to claim his estate including the ranch. Another contrast is Montana versus the Caribbean. “To me, the Montana setting is one of my characters. In this book I wrote, ‘it was one of those March days when the weather didn’t seem to know what it wanted to do. This time of year, in Montana it could snow two feet just as easily as it could be sunny and warm… Everywhere there were piles of snow.’ It could even snow on the Fourth of July. One minute it snows and the next minute the sun is out. I chose the Caribbean because I needed to leave the coldness of Montana for awhile and get to somewhere warm. I wanted to travel there, even if it was in my thoughts. I also loved throwing it in as a twist.” Only AJ won't believe he's dead. When the search is called off, she leaves for the Caribbean to find him. After searching from island to island she travels to Dominica and stays at a recovering resort that was hit by a hurricane. The man helping to rebuild the cottages, calls himself Joe, but she knows him as the man she loves, Cyrus. Realizing he has amnesia she takes things slowly. But the plot is not slow by any means and it takes off after Juliette tries numerous times to get both killed. Although both Cyrus and AJ are attracted to each other they both appear to be hiding their feelings. Until one beautiful January day, while traveling in the mountains he was about to kiss her until his horse decided differently. AJ is now determined to find Cyrus and get that first kiss. B.J. Daniels is a master writer who blends suspense and romance. Because of all the twists and turns readers are kept guessing about the ending. This story has a lot of intrigue and mystery with amazing characters including a tenacious villain. Continue reading
Posted Dec 14, 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. Let The DEAD Keep Their Secrets by Rosemary Simpson brings to life New York City during the 1880s in a historical mystery. It is rich in the culture of the time with a riveting Colombo type crime. Readers know who has done it and seek clues with the characters to find the proof. The plot opens with New York opera singer Claire Buchanan calling on the investigative services of Prudence MacKenzie and her partner, Geoffrey Hunter. Claire shows up at their door begging them to find out exactly how her twin sister, Catherine, and newborn daughter died, believing it was not from natural causes. Catherine’s husband, Aaron Sorenson, is a scoundrel and appears to be marrying women, getting them pregnant, and then having baby and mother die in childbirth. Prudence and Geoffrey find that childbirth can be dangerous to one’s health as they realize that Sorenson’s current wife may also be in danger. His motive, both the late wife and the current wife would inherit a substantial estate, which will go to him upon their death. Sorensen seems to always be in need of money to pay mounting gambling debts. As the tension mounts the investigative team is putting themselves at risk in attempting to expose the murder-for-inheritance scheme. The author noted, “Catherine was emotionally abused. Women during that time period did not have much choice. Inthe Gilded Age in New York women were still property of their husbands. They were very limited to what their husbands wanted.” One of the important clues is a photograph of the late mother and child. Simpson weaves into the story a Victorian Era custom, post-mortem photography. During these scenes readers learn of the spiritualists who believe “about the possibility of capturing an image of the soul leaving a body at the moment of death.” It was during this time that Claire senses something from her twin sister. The author commented, “During my research, I read how twins separated by birth and raised by different families still have the same likes and dislikes and can sense how each other feels.” Through the characters people learn of the Gilded Age era, with a fascinating description of the homes, the period clothing, and the city of New York. Unlike many women of the time, Prudence is very unconventional, desiring to take the bar exam and become a litigator. For now, she is content to be an amateur sleuth to her partner, ex-Pinkerton agent Geoffrey Hunter, as she learns on the job. “I wrote Prudence being raised by a widowed father who looked at her as a replacement for a son. He did not make an exception for her being a girl and made sure she had a very well developed sharp legal mind. She is determined to make her own way even though she inherited wealth. I read that the Pinkerton Agency hired a lady detective during the Civil War and knew I wanted to make my heroine an investigator who is constantly challenged by Geoffrey.” The hero and heroine also have flaws. The author uses events that happened during the Gilded Age paralleling them with what is happening today. Simpson explained, “Geoffrey has left his southern roots, abandoning his culture and family. He has a lot of contradictions. Prudence must struggle with her addiction to the drug laudanum. She was given it by her family doctor to help her cope with her father’s passing and then her fiancé’s death. She overcame the reliance on laudanum but not without a terrible struggle and the knowledge that she would never be entirely free of it. I parallel it with the opioid epidemic today. People became accidental addicts because they were given the drugs legally to cope with physical and emotional pain.” The antagonist, Simpson has no redeeming qualities. He is a cold and calculating thief, a swindler, and bigamist who victimizes rich women. “I wanted to write an absolute villain. He is unscrupulous, uncaring with no conscience. He had every vile habit known. I do not write cozy mysteries, but historical noirs. My bad guys are really, really bad who cause awful things to happen.” The author definitely had done her homework. “I want to feel I live in this world for awhile and to get the reader to feel that also. I read the New York Times Archives and fall into the rhythm of the language used, how they spoke, wrote and thought. It puts me in the mindset of the character I am writing about.” With her detailed descriptions and gripping story Simpson has also drawn the reader into the time period through an exciting and action-packed mystery. Continue reading
Posted Dec 14, 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. Summoned to Thirteenth Grave by Darynda Jones is number thirteen and the last in the series. But thirteen is a lucky number for her and those that have followed the Grim Reaper Charley Davidson. There is some element of Christianity in the book with saten, devils, and angels. Jones noted, “I do believe in the afterlife and think we do go on to something bigger and better. Having grown up in a religious home, I never believed when we die that is just the end. I don’t think ghosts are real even though I had a couple of experiences that are difficult to explain. Yet, I heard from readers who told me about their experiences, and my good friend told of something that happened to her. There is no way explaining what happened without bringing in some spirituality. I am not closing any doors and remain open-minded.” This book opens with Charley returning to earth after being exiled for a hundred years in another realm. But like dog years having a one to seven ratio, there is a one to ten ratio since 100 actually is ten days on earth. After returning the first thing she does is rekindle the desire and love she has for everyone in her family including her daughter, husband, and Uncle. She then combats with her husband Reyes those trying to take over Albuquerque New Mexico and find ways to keep her daughter Beep safe.It all comes to a head in an epic showdown between good and evil. Jones has had challenges in her life. “I have ADHD. My imagination goes on forever and never stops. On the other hand, sitting down to write is sometimes difficult. I have learned little tricks, like if I eat a low carb diet I can focus better. I think overall it has helped me more than it has hurt me.” “Also, after I found out my son was deaf I decided to become a sign interpreter. It has helped me respect different cultures and see things from their point of view. My mind has to work in a certain way to connect the word to the sign. Because I have a deaf son I went to school to communicate better with him. I wanted to have conversations with him about anything. I also think it has helped me write because it has opened my mind. My deaf son is now 29, and I can talk about anything, while my hearing son holds stuff back.” Unlike many paranormals Jones is able to balance successfully humor and suspense. Fans of this series will not be disappointed with the ending. Continue reading
Posted Dec 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. River Bodies by Karen Katchur is part mystery and part police procedural. It is not a “who done it,” but a “why done it” as the characters must come to grips with two brutal murders that occurred two decades apart. There are no solid lines, with a blurring between the good and evil side of each character. But the author successfully weaves in relationships, family dynamics, and loyalty that only enhance the story. The book examines how loyal should someone be and whether the choices people make are to protect others. Each character looks inward reflecting on what they did to survive. The heroine is Becca Kingsley, a veterinarian, who lives across the river from the Portland, Pennsylvania town she grew up in. She decides to return to spend time with her dying father, who was once Portland’s police chief. Because of his infidelity to her mom she became estranged from him. Now she wants to make amends and to get answers to the memories and long buried secrets. Everything seems to be coming to the surface after the discovery of a man brutally murdered that is tied into a previous murder.The author explores with flashbacks Becca’s teen years that include her relationship with her parents, their separation, and her friendship with Parker Reed, now the present State Homicide Investigative Detective handling the case of the murdered victim found in the river. She realizes the two murders are connected and that she is somehow involved. Becca starts questioning all her past relationships: the man she is living with has infidelities, her father who sent her away to boarding school, Parker whom she wants to renew her romantic feelings with, and a man who’s watched over her for years, that could be more predator than protector. Becca realizes that there are times when her brain and heart compete. The author noted, “Her head told her what he did was absolutely wrong, but in her heart, she had an emotional kinship with him and saw him as her protector. Regarding her current boyfriend Matt, her Her head told her what he did was absolutely wrong, but in her heart, she had an emotional kinship with him and saw him as her protector.” Becca’s dog Romy steals the scenes she is in. “I based her on my good friend’s dog who is so cool. She and I run with her dog. I would describe her as a German Shepherd that is a guard dog who is not aggressive, but protective. I also have a dog, but since she is a retriever, she is very submissive. I always grew up with pets so animals are a part of my life. Becca gets solace from Romy. I think when someone has a bad day pets are there to cuddle and hug. This is why I put the book quote, “Romy pushed her warm body against Becca’s leg. She bent down, buried her face in Romy’s face, having turned to animals for comfort ever since that day John had given her that scruffy old barn cat.” Even though my dog is 75 pounds she is still a lap dog.” Readers will experience a wild ride with the river’s currents, both metaphorically and physically. This is a tension-filled, fast-paced novel that effectively blends together a horrific murder, a mysterious backstory, and vivid characters. Continue reading
Posted Dec 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. Into The Night by Sarah Bailey has Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock returning in this follow up to The Dark Lake. A very interesting aspect to the plot is how a celebrity gets all the attention in today’s society, while someone who is not famous is quickly dismissed. Bailey noted, “I read about accidental deaths that are eventually ruled as homicides. I imagined what if there were hundred people present, but no one knew what actually happened. I wanted to have the two deaths in the book really contrasted, a wealthy man versus someone homeless. When I was in Los Angeles, I noticed that there were many homeless people, almost one on every block.” Because LA is an entertainment town and now has a homeless problem, readers can relate to this story. The story opens with a homeless man brutally murdered. Assigned to the case Woodstock must battle the seemingly complacent attitude of those in the press and her own police colleagues. She becomes especially infuriated when a second victim is found, murdered in a similar fashion: Sterling Wade, the good-looking, up-and-coming actor who was killed in the middle of shooting his latest Zombie movie. She and her partner investigate everyone who knew him including his fiancé, his secret lover, and even his parents, who are having serious financial issues. A powerful book quote, “Those in the orbit of the recently murdered. Out of nowhere, bam, not only is their loved one gone but their own carefully kept secrets are suddenly everyone’s business…I feel sorry for the ones who are unwillingly along for the ride. It’s a brutal journey.” Bailey noted, “If the person who dies becomes a big story, family and friends get dragged into it. In Australia, there was a story about a married man who died and was known as a big swinger. His family had no idea about his second life. The press went into details about the family’s personal life. I hoped I showed in this story how the media reports about gossiping stories. They should have a clear responsibility to not fan the fire.” Besides having to deal with her partner’s extreme moodiness, a boss who keeps his staff at arm’s length, and a whole new city with a whole new team, she also has to face her demons. She moved from Smithson, to the city of Melbourne, leaving her young son behind to be raised by his father. Woodstock is not a very sympathetic character since she drinks too much, smokes, and indulges in risky one night stands with men picked up in bars. She is a very damaged and flawed character. “I wrote Gemma as polarizing. I get a lot of emails from people who tell me they find her frustrating. People who like the book have the same comments as those who don’t like it. They say she is maddening, difficult, and makes wrong decisions. I think she stirs up people to be judgmental because she is ambitious and selfish. Also, what many find challenging is that she is a mother who is not looking out for her son. I spoke with a couple of women who loved their children, but felt they could not be the primary caregiver. I have two children myself and would not personally leave them.” The final act is full of surprises as Woodstock races to bring down a murderer who’s already claimed two lives and might not be done killing. Continue reading
Posted Dec 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. Let The DEAD Keep Their Secrets by Rosemary Simpson brings to life New York City during the 1880s in a historical mystery. It is rich in the culture of the time with a riveting Colombo type crime. Readers know who has done it and seek clues with the characters to find the proof. The plot opens with New York opera singer Claire Buchanan calling on the investigative services of Prudence MacKenzie and her partner, Geoffrey Hunter. Claire shows up at their door begging them to find out exactly how her twin sister, Catherine, and newborn daughter died, believing it was not from natural causes. Catherine’s husband, Aaron Sorenson, is a scoundrel and appears to be marrying women, getting them pregnant, and then having baby and mother die in childbirth. Prudence and Geoffrey find that childbirth can be dangerous to one’s health as they realize that Sorenson’s current wife may also be in danger. His motive, both the late wife and the current wife would inherit a substantial estate, which will go to him upon their death. Sorensen seems to always be in need of money to pay mounting gambling debts. As the tension mounts the investigative team is putting themselves at risk in attempting to expose the murder-for-inheritance scheme. The author noted, “Catherine was emotionally abused. Women during that time period did not have much choice. Inthe Gilded Age in New York women were still property of their husbands. They were very limited to what their husbands wanted.” One of the important clues is a photograph of the late mother and child. Simpson weaves into the story a Victorian Era custom, post-mortem photography. During these scenes readers learn of the spiritualists who believe “about the possibility of capturing an image of the soul leaving a body at the moment of death.” It was during this time that Claire senses something from her twin sister. The author commented, “During my research, I read how twins separated by birth and raised by different families still have the same likes and dislikes and can sense how each other feels.” Through the characters people learn of the Gilded Age era, with a fascinating description of the homes, the period clothing, and the city of New York. Unlike many women of the time, Prudence is very unconventional, desiring to take the bar exam and become a litigator. For now, she is content to be an amateur sleuth to her partner, ex-Pinkerton agent Geoffrey Hunter, as she learns on the job. “I wrote Prudence being raised by a widowed father who looked at her as a replacement for a son. He did not make an exception for her being a girl and made sure she had a very well developed sharp legal mind. She is determined to make her own way even though she inherited wealth. I read that the Pinkerton Agency hired a lady detective during the Civil War and knew I wanted to make my heroine an investigator who is constantly challenged by Geoffrey.” The hero and heroine also have flaws. The author uses events that happened during the Gilded Age paralleling them with what is happening today. Simpson explained, “Geoffrey has left his southern roots, abandoning his culture and family. He has a lot of contradictions. Prudence must struggle with her addiction to the drug laudanum. She was given it by her family doctor to help her cope with her father’s passing and then her fiancé’s death. She overcame the reliance on laudanum but not without a terrible struggle and the knowledge that she would never be entirely free of it. I parallel it with the opioid epidemic today. People became accidental addicts because they were given the drugs legally to cope with physical and emotional pain.” The antagonist, Simpson has no redeeming qualities. He is a cold and calculating thief, a swindler, and bigamist who victimizes rich women. “I wanted to write an absolute villain. He is unscrupulous, uncaring with no conscience. He had every vile habit known. I do not write cozy mysteries, but historical noirs. My bad guys are really, really bad who cause awful things to happen.” The author definitely had done her homework. “I want to feel I live in this world for awhile and to get the reader to feel that also. I read the New York Times Archives and fall into the rhythm of the language used, how they spoke, wrote and thought. It puts me in the mindset of the character I am writing about.” With her detailed descriptions and gripping story Simpson has also drawn the reader into the time period through an exciting and action-packed mystery. Continue reading
Posted Nov 30, 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. Trust But Verify by Karna Small Bodman brings to life the inner workings of the White House in a financial thriller. Realistic political intrigue and suspense mirrors the current issues. The story is propelled by her past experiences as deputy press secretary and senior director/spokesperson for the National Security Council, in the Reagan Administration. The idea for the story came from “My having a summer home in Jacksonville Wyoming and knew of the annual summer conference hosted by the Federal Reserve Board attended by financial leaders from all over the world.I also attended arms control talks with the Soviets and thought of one of President Reagan’s famous phrases. I used it for the title and for the plot ideas. After the fall of the Soviet Union there was the rise of the Russian mafia and oligarchs and it is estimated they are now involved in four out of ten businesses there. By putting these two ideas together I came up with the “what if:” a pair of Russian oligarchs who have lost a lot of money from sanctions devise a heinous plot to target that conference. Then the stock markets would take a dive.” The plot has Russian oligarchs with the help of the Russian mafia attempting to create havoc within the United States. First, they attempt to kill Samantha Reid, the Director of the White House Office of Homeland Security, not to be confused with the Homeland Secretary. She works within the White House, reporting to the head of the National Security on possible threats. Having been foiled in their first attempt the Russians decide to wipe out an entire group of the world's bankers and other prominent money people by blowing up the Federal Reserve’s annual economic symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where Samantha is speaking. FBI agent Brett Keating, who’s investigating the attempts on Samantha’s life realizes something is going to happen at the conference and with some luck and high-tech gadgetry he saves the day. “I have a source that worked at the DOD. I call him my “Q” from the James Bond series. He tells me of products that he wishes the government would develop. I have in the back of my mind the quote by George Bernard Shaw, “The best way to get your point across is to entertain.” I hope to call attention to different things. I remember a reviewer once said of my books, ‘Instead of calling it fiction why don’t we call it faction.’” This story is realistic, harrowing, and compelling. Combining real facts with a riveting page-turner makes it a fun read. Continue reading
Posted Nov 30, 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. In Too Deep by Lynn Blackburn blends romance, suspense, and a riveting subject matter, labor human trafficking. The first book of the series was good but this book is excellent. Blackburn noted, “When people hear about this subject matter they think about sex trafficking. I did not realize that labor trafficking also exists. A lot of people that have to endure this have either entered the country legally or thought they entered legally, doing it the right way. Many times, they had their papers taken, threatened physically, or had their families threated physically. There is the underlying fear of law enforcement since they usually do not speak the language and have a hard time communicating. It is a horribly abusive system. Restaurants and hotels, many in the hospitality industry, are able to “hire” these people without facing consequences.” The novel begins with a partially submerged car that drives off a bridge, killing the woman occupant, where readers might think of Chappaquiddick. After recovering the body, the Carrington North Carolina dive team finds an encrypted laptop, and an unsettling connection with investigator Adam Campbell concerning a message written on the woman’s tummy in permanent marker. They enlist Dr. Sabrina Fleming, a professor at the local university with unparalleled computer security and forensics skills, to recover the files from the laptop. “I wrote her as brilliant, cautious, and leery with trust issues. She is also resilient, analytical, and blunt. I think she acts like Bones from the TV series because she is not materialistic and can by nerdy, always focused on her work. Her looks were based on a few pictures I saw of Evangeline Lilly, one with her hair messed up in a bun, and the other beautiful in a drop-dead gown.” Through their investigation it is found that human traffickers are threatening people, forcing them to become employees with slave labor wages. The way the author tackled this tough question was done very well and extremely informative. “With this genre, when tackling a heavy subject like trafficking, there is only so much I can write about because I also need to put in the romance and suspense. This was some of the hardest writing I have ever done. Those of us that live a comfortable suburban life tend to think it would never happen here, but somewhere else. It is not happening in a faraway place, but in our communities.” As intense as the human trafficker subject issue is, Blackburn does a great job with the dialogue and banter between the characters. The series does not delegate the previous book’s main characters, Leigh and Ryan, to a cameo appearance, but gives them a prominent role in this book. All the characters’ interaction has the reader feel as if they were also a part of the sarcastic conversation. This camaraderie brings the story and the personalities to life. The relationship between Adam and Sabrina is also intense. It develops slowly, since she is clueless when it comes to reading his social signals. Although brilliant, she has a hard time determining people’s body language and verbal hints. “It was fun to explore the relationship between Adam and Sabrina. She analyzes it too much. When she grew up she was wealthy, but now lives an astute life with very few possessions. Yet, she has fallen for the wealthiest guy in town. She considers money a negative. But now she has to take a leap of faith and hopes to get her heart to override her brain. Adam sees in herself what she cannot. He is a protector, peacemaker, loyal, and family minded. He is not a daredevil like Ryan. I projected myself in the scene where his mom comes home and rushes to him.” The story has a lot of suspense, family drama, and romance. Although each book revolves around four members of an investigative dive team, plus a computer expert, and a nurse, readers will enjoy that each gets their share of page time with the concentration on a different hero and heroine. Continue reading
Posted Nov 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. Lies Come Easy by Steven Havill brings back Undersheriff Estelle Reyes-Guzman. This is the 23rdbook in the Posadas County, New Mexico mystery series. “I wrote Estelle as a savvy investigator. She started out in the Sheriff’s Department at the age of twenty-one. I think of her as tough, protective, and self-contained. She is a hands-on officer who is very brave. But she is a very private person who loves her family and has a good relationship with her husband. I think people should read all the books if they really want to get to know her.” The story starts out with a gripping scene of a toddler wandering down the highway on his Scamper. This type of scooter did not protect him from exposure from the blizzardly elements. His father had kicked him out of his truck because he did not like the way the two-and-a-half year-old was behaving. Found dead the sheriff’s office has its hands full as it tries to determine if the father’s death was a suicide or murder. Unfortunately, joy is not brought to the world this Noel because others also turn up dead, with possible murders piling up: a missing Forest Service tech, and his girlfriend’s body. All these unrelated events come together at the plot’s end. Havill noted, “Firearms have been a part of my life since I was four years old. I used to write westerns years ago. After writing four of them the market collapsed. In 2006, I enrolled in the famous gunsmithing school at Trinidad Sate in Colorado when I was in my sixties and enjoyed it immensely. Guns are fun to shoot, repair, and admire as works of art. When a jerk uses a firearm for nefarious purposes they must be dealt with, not the gun itself. I guess you can say I am an ‘unpracticing’ gunsmith.” This story combines a police procedural, a Christmas setting, and a murder investigation. A dysfunctional family and community problems, lies, and murder all play a huge role in finding out what really happened. Continue reading
Posted Nov 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. Premediated Peppermint by Amanda Flower is a delectable read. People are treated to an intriguing mystery with likeable characters, some kooky, a charming setting, and humorous dialogue that will put a smile on reader’s faces. A book quote describes it as a “Norman Rockwell postcard.” Flower feels, “It is typical rural Ohio. A small town with a gazebo and festivals associated with the different seasons. This is how I wanted my readers to imagine the town. I based it on Berlin, Ohio.Currently, I live an hour from Amish country. I was a librarian and lived in Holmes County for three years. I always wanted to write in a book the scene where the nativity parade marches down the street with both the English and Amish watching. There is a Christmas market where all the shops in the village are represented.” The main character, Bailey King, returns to Harvest Ohio in Holmes County to help take care of her Amish grandmother after the death of her grandfather. She takes over the running of the family shop, Swissmen Sweets. In this story, Bailey is preparing peppermint treats for their booth at the Yuletide in Harvest Festival when she gets an unexpected and unwanted visit. Eric Sharp, her ex- boyfriend and a celebrity chef, has brought a film crew to Harvest to produce an episode for his new reality cooking show. His plan is to include Bailey and her Amish ties and possibly rekindle their romance. But a wrench is thrown into the community when the crew’s producer is found murdered and Eric is the prime suspect. Complicating matters is Bailey’s current boyfriend, the deputy sheriff, Aiden, who thinks Eric is guilty. Bailey only wants justice to be served and proves that there are a number of people of interest. She must juggle finding the killer, running the sweet shop, and dealing with townspeople such as Juliet and her service animal, pot belly pig, Jethro, a live nativity which includes a camel, and a Christmas parade. "Bailey is one of my favorite characters since she is smart, successful, dedicated, empathetic, and motivated, which is why she makes such a great amateur sleuth. She runs into danger, not away from it. At the age of eighteen she moved out of her parent’s house and supported herself through culinary school. She knows what she wants in her life. I think she is a tough cookie because she is so spunky. She has chosen herself as the go between concerning the Amish and the police since her relatives are Amish. She is able to help Aiden solve crimes.” This story gives a sense of a small-town community and the differences between the Amish and “English” cultures. People will feel they are taking the horse and buggy ride with the Amish. The plot gives off an old-fashioned feeling without the present-day technologies. Readers will eat up the delightful cozy mystery with fascinating characters and a pleasant setting. Continue reading
Posted Nov 21, 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. War Animalsby national bestselling author Robin Hutton recounts the experiences of the forgotten members of the Greatest Generation. Horses, mules, dogs, and pigeons were all a part of the Allied war machine. They were messengers, spies and sentinels. They carried supplies to the front, comforted wounded soldiers, became a POW, and were a vital part of the search/rescue effort during the German Blitz of London. This is Hutton’s second book in the “War Animal series.” In the first one she recounted the story of Reckless, a sorrel mare, small for her size, that joined the Marines during the Korean War. Employed to help move heavy recoilless rifles and ammunition across steep and treacherous terrain, she regularly proved her bravery and endurance, making precarious trips hauling ammunition to soldiers in need, often during heavy fire. Once home, news of her promotion to Staff Sergeant quickly spread, though that notoriety has since faded. Hutton's passion and admiration for Reckless is shown when she raised the money for not one but three monuments to this courageous horse, at Quantico, Camp Pendleton, and at the Kentucky Horse Park. In this latest book, incredible and inspiring true stories are told of some animals who received the PDSA Dicken Medal during WWII and lesser-known stories of other military animals whose acts of heroism have until now been largely forgotten. Founded in 1943, the prestigious PDSA Dicken Medal is the highest award an animal can achieve for gallantry and bravery in the field of military conflict, a Victoria Cross of sorts for animals. War dogs came about after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, because it was decided the US military needed a war dog program. Instead of originating from within the military, it was founded by a New York Socialite, Arlene Erlanger. She was a poodle breeder and wanted to help the allied effort. Starting a grassroots movement, she created Dog for Defense Inc., a volunteer organization that recruited a canine army, known as the K-9 Corps. Owners of dogs donated their personal pets to the war effort. The 40,000 animals were whittled down to about 19,000 after the first cut, but ultimately a little over 10,000 were chosen. The requirements included, dogs that were between 28 inches tall at the shoulder, and no more than five years old. Once trained they were put on assignment with strict secrecy imposed. Each of these stories will leave readers spell bound, but the most heartfelt one was that of Judy, an English Pointer. Chosen as a mascot for a Royal Navy gunboat she provided a huge morale boost. After some of the crew was reassigned to another ship, Judy went with them. In 1942, attacked by more than a hundred Japanese bombers, the ships sank, but luckily Judy survived the shipwreck with some crew members. On March 18th, 1942 Judy and the surviving sailors were captured by the Japanese and became prisoners of war in forced labor camps. A new arrival, RAF pilot Frank Williams, took pity on her and decided that she would be his companion. He taught her to obey signals and whispered speech, while she brought scraps of food she salvaged to him. Transferred to an even more brutal labor camp, Frank worked up to sixteen hours a day to build railroad tracks. Williams described her as “a skinny animal that kept herself alive through cunning and instinct…I do not exaggerate when I say that this dog, with her example of courage to live, saved many of us who would surely have died.” Liberated in August 1945 by the allied soldiers, she lived with Frank until her death on February 16th, 1950. Hutton noted, “When I heard about Judy I knew she would be the heart and soul of this book. Her story touched me and it would also touch readers. She was resilient and became the heart of the POW camp. The men would say ‘if Judy can make it so can I.’ They persevered because of her and never gave up. Today dogs are used to help with PTSD and back then Judy was no different. She provided comfort and security.” Another brave dog was Chips, a German Shepherd trained as a sentry who attacked an Italian machine gun team, sustaining powder burns and saving his handler's life. He actually received the Silver Star, but it was revoked in 1944 after a national commander complained. Known as “Mr. Chips” he was honorably discharged on December 10th, 1945. Private John Rowell who served with the canine partner wrote, “We went through a lot together…he is really wonderful. He saved my life more than once when things were tough.” Hutton decided “to nominate Chips for a Dickin’s Medal since he is America’s most decorated war dog. He received it this January.” The British also started up a war dog program in May 1941, and asked for citizens to volunteer their dogs. The War Dogs Training School officially opened for business on May 5, 1942 at a greyhound kennels in Northaw. Forty recruits were awaiting training. By the end of the war some 3,300 had been successfully dispatched to units across the globe. But some of the most special dogs were those used for search/rescue. As the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill said of the German blitz, “Hitler hopes by killing large numbers of civilians and women and children that the will terrorize and cow the people of this mighty imperial city and make them a burden of anxiety to the government…Little does he know the spirit of the British nation.” This includes the dogs who located buried air raid victims. Irma is an example of how the dogs gallantly found survivors. She is an Alsatian that was bred with exceptional intelligence and a strong devotion to duty. Her owner... Continue reading
Posted Nov 16, 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. Valley Forge by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin allows readers to go back in time and journey with the American revolutionaries in their attempts to defeat the British. It delves into the Continental Army’s six-month stay at Valley Forge, which enabled them to transform fromundisciplined militia men to a professional army. “We wrote how our Founding Fathers sacrificed for future generations. The spirit they had is in our DNA. Washington showed that Americans have a steely backbone with a steely composure. After spending time with a Valley Forge historian, we realized there is so much we did not know about it, including that it was the turning point of the Revolution.” The authors delve into Baron von Steuben’s ability to use the knowledge he gained on the Prussian battlefields, drilling dedication, discipline, and proficiency into the Colonist army. While George Washington’s aides were fighting the British, disease, starvation, and the elements, he and Alexander Hamilton were combating those in the Continental Congress. His political enemies were calling for the General to be replaced. They saw him as unqualified after the humiliating loss of Philadelphia. Yet, Washington is able to hang on and after defeating the British at the Battle of Monmouth Court House, the momentum is never again with the Redcoats. Drury explains, “Washington had to groom his generals and have them mature into their role, especially Pennsylvania’s Anthony Wayne, Boston’s Henry Knox, and Rhode Island’s Nathanel Greene. They basically learned on the job. He trusted them, but did not trust the colonists’ British born generals Charles Lee and Horatio Gates. Both these men were extremely jealous of Washington and were inept. As the war progressed it showed Washington’s instincts were correct. He was astonished that Lee wanted to retreat during the Battle of Monmouth Court House at the sound of gunfire. Every time Lee was put in charge of something he showed his incompetence. The 10,000 elite British troops were driving hard for a counterattack, determined to crush the colonists’ rebellion here and now. They thought the mere sight of an endless wall of British ‘cold steel’ would send the Continental rabble fleeing in disarray. But Washington knew that having endured the mud and elements at Valley Forge he could use his presence to spur the troops to fight. Because this was the critical juncture of the war, Washington knew he had to exude a sense of urgency and inspiration, which he did. As Lafayette said, ‘His presence seemed to arrest fate with a single glance.’ Washington dismissed Lee and took command of the troops himself, turning the tide to a victory.” This book show how Washington emerged as fallible but indispensable; succeeding in the face of so many hardships. With extensive documents, they capture the iconic characters that instilled the energy needed to defeat the British empire leading to America’s independence. Continue reading
Posted Nov 16, 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 Red Ribbon by H. B. Lyle blends fiction with historical reality. The essence of the story is the up and coming British Secret Service that must look for spies on the home front and abroad. Lyle noted, “I was inspired by the 100thanniversary of the British secret service. While in the film industry, I was working on some spy movies and also read an official book on the anniversary. American readers need to understand that the UK secret service is different. In the States, it is a protective service, while in Britain it is split in two halves, to find spies in the UK and in other countries. They were after a lot of anarchists who were also known as communists. The East end of London had a lot of European agitators.” Captain Vernon Kell became the head of the recently established Secret Service Bureau, but had only one agent, Harry Wiggins. Instead of looking for Russian and German spies Wiggins is pre-occupied with his own cases. As someone who grew up on the streets of London, one of the urchins trained in surveillance by Sherlock Holmes and known as the Baker Street Irregulars, Wiggins has promised to avenge the death of his best friend, and to track down a missing girl from the East End. The investigation leads him to a mysterious embassy located in the affluent neighborhood of Belgravia, which is actually a high-class brothel frequented by the rich and powerful of London. The red ribbon hanging in the window of “The Embassy of Olifa,” represents red as the color of revolution. Historical facts include the deaths of Edward VII, where monarchs from all over Europe arrive for the funeral, “the greatest coming together of royalty the world has ever known,” with the fear that a potential assassin could spark a worldwide conflict. At the same time, dockworkers threaten to strike, people rumble about unions and revolution, and women suffragettes are becoming increasingly militant. Home Secretary Winston Churchill takes a hard-nosed attitude against all domestic unrest, fearing anarchists are infiltrating these groups. “I wanted to show how the Irish wanted independence and began to militarize, something I will explore in the next book. Also, readers should understand that half of the Kings of Europe had as a grandmother Queen Victoria. For example, King Edward is a first cousin to Czar Nicholas of Russia and Kaiser Wilhelm. Only four years later they were all fighting in the First World War.” The book does not put Winston Churchill in a favorable light. “I do feel in many cases he was the bad guy. Although he had a heroic role in the Second World War, I myself do not see him as a heroic figure and feel he has placed a high value on his own destiny. He had crossed the floor twice, flip flopped during his career: first a Conservative, then a Liberal, and back to Conservative. His history is based entirely on 1940 to 1945, which is when his moment of destiny came.” Readers can read this for a mystery and an understanding of events of the time. Continue reading
Posted Nov 16, 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. Bright Young Dead by Jessica Fellowes brings to life the mid-1920s amid a strong who done it mystery. Fellowes known for writing the companion books to the Downtown Abbey TV series has used those skills to write a riveting historical novel. This is the second novel that delves into the lives of the aristocratic Mitford household during the Golden Age. Fellowes noted, “I have been writing a lot of non-fiction and the Downtown Abbeyseries of books. I love this era and wanted to write a novel in it. I was approached by my editor who suggested I write a vintage crime series. My continuing characters Guy and Louisa were born.” During a treasure hunt a murder is discovered. Arrested is one of the servants, Dulcie, of a guest since she was overheard having an argument with the victim. She had previously been associated with a gang of criminals known as “The Forty Thieves.” Lead by Alice Diamond this group shoplifts, robs the wealthy, and fences the stolen goods. “I can’t remember exactly how I heard of Alice, but I was reading generally about the period, as I have done for some years now, and came across her story. It seemed to me immediately obvious that I had to use her in this book! Alice Diamond and the Forty Thieves were all the girlfriends of the Forty Elephants, a notoriously violent gang from South East London. Gang culture can be very pervasive when young people are looking for motivation and glamour to lift them out of their surroundings. Her story is a complicated one. She was born into a criminal very poor environment, where it was the norm for people to get what they needed in aggressive, illegal ways. That said, she was not frequently violent and her chosen method of getting what she wanted was shoplifting.” Caught in the middle is Louisa Cannon, a servant in the Mitford household and a chaperone of the young adult daughters, Nancy and Pamela. She has become a good friend of Dulcie and believes she is innocent, determined to get to the truth of the matter. Intertwined is the relationship Louisa has with a young officer, Guy Sullivan, and his partner, Mary Moon. They have been assigned to go undercover and arrest her and the gang. During her investigation Louisa seeks the help of Sullivan, since there is a definite connection with the Diamond gang. Together they connect the dots to find the true killer and end Diamond’s reign of crime. Readers will also enjoy learning about the 1920s era. The young society aristocrats are determined to have fun, going to dance clubs, becoming flapper girls, experimenting with drugs, and showcasing the latest fashions. “I wanted to write about the reality of life for the upper classes before the Second World War, was that they largely shared their houses with servants, the working class. In portraying the Mitford sisters, there would be servants in the house and I wanted very much to include them in the story. As a servant in the nursery, my fictional heroine, Louisa Cannon, would be both up and downstairs, as it were, spending time both in the servants’ quarters and closely with the family. This meant we could have an insight into the workings of the whole house and all its inhabitants.” The mix of historical fiction adds authenticity to the novel. The murder investigation allows people to understand the tensions between the upper aristocratic class and their lower-class servants. This story makes for a very interesting read. Continue reading
Posted Nov 9, 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. Liesby T. M. Logan is his debut psychological thriller. From page one readers will be riveted to the storyline and it never lets up. The plot focuses on what can happen to someone’s normal life when, in one moment, it comes crashing down with the main culprit, lies and betrayals. The plot begins with Joseph Lynch and his 4-year-old son, William, navigating North London traffic when William spots his mother’s car exiting the highway. A spur-of-the-moment detour leads to disaster. Mel, Joe’s wife and William’s mother, is spotted at the Premier Inn bar arguing with her best friend’s husband, tech millionaire Ben Delaney. After Mel leaves, Joe confronts Ben with a civil conversation, but it quickly develops into a confrontation. Words lead to shoving and Joe pushes Ben a little too hard where he falls and bangs his head. At the same time, he must help his son who is having a major asthma attack, leaving Ben unattended. Unfortunately, when he goes back later Ben is missing and so is Joe’s phone. Later that night Mel is confronted and delivers her first lie, saying it is only a business meeting. Eventually she admits to an affair that begins a downward spiral for Joe’s life. The more he tries to unravel the lies, the more deception he discovers. As the lies gain momentum, he realizes he can trust no one, and must mount a personal investigation to find the truth. Accused of having something to do with Ben’s disappearance, Joe must find Ben to prove his innocence. The storyline raises some valid and important issues about technology and social media. Joe realizes that someone is manipulating his text messages, the home PC, his Facebook account, photos, and anything else they can get their hands on. It becomes clear the crime and the technology were going hand-in-hand. Because social media is an antagonist “I wrote this quote, “I was struck by what a strange view you could get of someone’s life from looking at his or her Facebook profile.” I do not think Facebook reflects someone’s real life. No one is as happy as they appear on Facebook nor as angry as they appear on Twitter. I once read about an academic study by Birmingham City University that showed how Facebook was involved in 40 to 50 murders. People had a dispute and became antagonistic, some pretended to be others, luring people into dangerous situations, or to make it appear someone was alive when they actually were not.” It is interesting to have a story written from the male point of view. Joe is an average, contented, trusting man, happily married man, a daunting father, and a respected teacher with a wife he loves and a son he worships. But he is also very naïve, lying to himself as he tries to persuade himself that he was not betrayed. He is the kind of character a reader can root for. “Joe is similar to me. I am a father like Joe. What he says about William, his four-year-old, is what I would say. William is based on my son at that age, including his traits, games, and challenges. Both Joe and I are family oriented. Just like William, my son was obsessed with cars and one of his first words was the car company Audi. The scene in the book is true, where we would sit in traffic, calling out car names. My son matched up the shapes of his toy cars with the real cars owned by myself, my wife, and my parents.He is righteous, every man, an average man, a good father and a loving husband. In the beginning of the book he is optimistic, kind, steady, and honest. It takes him a while to figure out bad things can happen to good people. He wants to see the best in someone, which leads them to take advantage of him. People manipulate him because they could predict what he would do and how he would react.” This gripping psychological thriller is a twisted page-turner that will keep readers guessing with an unexpected turn. There are layers of lies, secrets, and betrayals. Continue reading
Posted Nov 2, 2018 at BlackFive
The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. Seduced by a Scot by Julia London is a book about survival and how someone can overcome extraordinary obstacles. The hero and heroine had to overcome their past and learn to move forward. London recounted how this is “It is the sixth and final book in “The Highland Grooms” series. I wanted to base it in the early eighteenth century when Scotland and England were unified and acted like bad cousins. I thought it was a great backdrop to set a series about a Scottish family where the women were English. I thought it would be interesting to have the English women and the Scottish men struggling with the same problems the countries were going through.” A prominent Scottish family hires a fixer, Nicholas Bain, to help them weather the possible scandal. Calvin Garbett has arranged for his daughter, unassuming in personality and beauty, to be married to someone whose family will help his business dealings. Falsely accused of enticing the fiancé, the ward, Maura Darby, is taken by Bain to marry an aging bachelor. Having no other options, she agrees, but silently is plotting to return for her family heirloom necklace, taken from her by the mother and daughter. During their long journey, she vents to him about being hurt and disappointed by those who are supposed to care for her. Maura challenges Bain at every turn to see her as a person rather than a problem to be solved. He realizes that she is entitled to her necklace and plots with her to get it back. As they spend time together they grow closer and sparks start to fly between them. Bain realizes that they are kindred spirits since he was thrown out by his supposed father and the one possession, a pocket watch, he cherished was taken away. They find love and realize that they can trust one another. Readers will enjoy the Cinderella element to the story. She was given the servant’s quarters and hand me down clothes. Mrs. Garbett took Maura’s beautiful clothes, belongings, pets and gave them all to her daughter Sorcha who was extremely spoiled. Maura tried to stay out of her way, lurking in the shadows. Both women were petty, jealous, and cruel to Maura and would do anything to make her feel unwanted. Only while traveling with Bain does she become someone determined, bold, and brash. “I wanted to write Bain and Maura as soul mates. Both never had anyone miss them, care for them, or love them. Those who should have protected them betrayed them. I think this created barriers. Unlike most men of the time, Bain did not believe she was just property and under the thumb of every man, without the ability to make decisions for herself. He treated her as an equal.” Relationship stories are the best when the hero and heroine can share a similar background. They both had to face secrets, lies, cruelty, resentment, enviousness, and spite. Taking a journey with these two wounded souls allowed readers to share their emotions ranging from sadness to laughter. Continue reading
Posted Nov 2, 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. Vendetta by Iris Johansen brings back characters introduced in the Eve Duncan books. Although it is billed as an “Eve Duncan” she is only mentioned briefly. But, this does not take anything away from the plot and the main characters, RachelVenable and Jude Brandon. The story centers on these two and their attempts to bring down Max Huber, the head of Red Star, a terrorist organization with immense power. The story begins with the shooting of a top CIA official, Carl Venable. His dying breath to the operative, Jude Brandon, to save his daughter, Dr. Rachel Venable, and give her the choice of eliminating Huber to prevent him from wreaking further havoc on a global scale.Huber wants revenge on Rachel, believing that she killed his father by poisoning him. Enlisting the help of her good friend, CIA operative Catherine Ling and her on again, off again boyfriend, Richard Cameron, they work together to bring Huber down. Johansen noted, “Every other chapter has a choice come into play. It is all about making choices. Rachel had to decide if she would go after the bad guys. Brandon whether he would involve himself emotionally with Rachel. Catherine made the choice not to hide from her desire for Cameron, as well as knowing she had to give Rachel space and control over her own destiny. The bad guy Huber is pure evil without redeeming qualities and his choice was to inflict as much collateral damage as possible. Even though I have a choice as a writer, I just wanted to kill Huber for doing terrible things to the people I love in my books.” Both Rachel and Catherine had similar experiences of having to overcome rape. At the age of fifteen Rachel was captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan, watched them kill her mother and brother, and was brutally raped as well as tortured. What Johansen does wonderfully is to show how Rachel is determined to overcome her past experiences. One of the reasons she becomes a medical doctor is to heal people.Both Catherine and Rachel are intelligent, tough, strong, independent, and stubborn. The book quote has Rachel determined to not be seen as a cripple. “I wrote that because I consider it the bravest thing she ever said. She went through a terrible event, but she fought and conquered it. Catherine also had a tough life, growing up on the Hong Kong waterfronts. She learned from it to become stronger. These two women are more similar than different. They had rough teenage years that they had to overcome. I think they are more sisters than friends and will always go to bat for each other. I think Catherine is more like the older sister because she has a son, which makes a big difference.” Johansen writes female characters that are something other than constant damsels in distress. They find a way to survive and have come out even stronger. This story shows how a character’s past and the decisions made influence the present and future, sometimes to the point of getting revenge by pursuing a vendetta. Continue reading
Posted Oct 25, 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. Every Wicked Man by Steven James is the last in the series. This book is third in the prequel series and eleventh overall, in the Bowers Files novels. People should probably want to read the other books first to get a better idea of what is happening in this story. After a Senator’s son takes his own life and posts the video on-line FBI Agent Patrick Bowers is drawn into a complex web of lies. Clues that might help solve the puzzle include a century old code. At the funeral Bowers attempts to track down a woman visualizing it from a distance. Out of nowhere Mannie, the bodyguard of Blake Neeson, comes to help, but the FBI is wary since he and his boss are on the top ten-wanted list. “I wrote Patrick as someone who pursues the truth no matter what are the consequences. He is quirky and never gives up. I would describe him as incredible, perseverant, and persistent. He is also haunted by what he as seen.” Added to the persons of interest is novelist Timothy Sabian who has Morgellon Disease. One of the symptoms is the feeling of bugs constantly crawling on his skin besides hearing voices telling him to kill people. Caught in the cross hairs are Bowers new wife, Christine, and his stepdaughter Tessa. Bowers and his partner Ralph must find the culprit before more people die. James commented, “I heard about this website that live streams murders and suicides. Unfortunately, this is part of our world today and it is really troubling. Then I decided to have a character in this book as a novelist with Morgellon’sSyndrome. I wanted a character who is losing all track of reality. Readers are not sure if he is insane. Sometimes people’s conditions are so severe they are beyond help. I hope readers identify and have sympathy for him; yet, are unsure and wary because of what he might be capable.” This book explores power, greed, deception and retribution. The antagonists use manipulation to coerce others. Continue reading
Posted Oct 25, 2018 at BlackFive