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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 Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer delves into how loved ones are never forgotten within the backdrop of WWII. At the drop of a hat someone’s life can change all of sudden, which is what happened to a family after the Nazis occupied Poland. Based on her own family, Rimmer tells how “my grandparents were Polish Catholic. They never spoke a lot about what happened to them before they immigrated to Australia. We did not know about how they lived. They would not talk about the war and seemed to put it behind them. I saw this picture of my grandparents in the sunshine and so relaxed. This got me thinking about their story, how they had hope and despair. I decided to travel to the village where they lived in Poland with my aunt and sister. I was able to capture what life was like including Auschwitz and Birkenau, which was such a shocking experience. It is impossible to get my head around the violence of that era, the utter brutality and cruelty.” The story alternates between war-torn Poland in the 1930s and 1940s and modern-day Florida. The main characters are Alina, having to endure the horrific Nazi occupation; Alice, and her grandmother Hanna, who has made a dying wish, find Tomasz, her soul mate in Poland. Alice is living in Florida, juggling between being the mother of a six-year-old boy, Eddie, who has autism and her ten-year-old daughter, Callie, who is extremely gifted. Hanna, her grandmother, at the age ninety-five, has suffered a debilitating stroke where she can no longer speak. These present-day characters are somehow related to the past through Alina. Enduring the Nazis, Alina is struggling to survive and find hope that she and Tomasz can marry at the war’s conclusion. But as their situation gets worse hope begins to dwindle and they wonder, after being separated, will they ever see each other again. This story does not spare the reader all the horrors of the Nazis where they killed in cold blood and used the tools of starvation, rape, and disease. What makes this story stand out are the relationships. It is heartwarming to read how Eddie has connected with his grandmother and the love between them. Alice and Hanna also have a special relationship since she was the one who gave her granddaughter unconditional love and support, while Alice’s mother became a career mom. Alina and Tomasz also had a special love that was deep and touching. “I wanted to write about autism and how Eddie is a real person who had the people around him benefit from his life. He and Hanna understood and accepted each other. I also wanted to show how technology helped both he and Hanna communicate through an App. I had some experience with not being able to communicate. Just before I left for Poland I collapsed from a seizure of temporal lobe epilepsy, and was not able to speak for half an hour. I realized how frustrating it is and how scary.” This emotional historical novel brings together the present and the past. It encompasses loyalty, love, and devotion. Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at BlackFive
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The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. Bones Behind the Wheelby E. J. Copperman blends a mystery with plenty of humor. It is a ghostly tale that will keep readers smiling throughout the story. Copperman noted, “Some people believe the dead continue to exist in some way and others believe it is silly. Everyone wishes they could experience the presence of those who have passed away. Those that do believe in ghosts think that they can communicate with their lost loved ones.” In the first book of the series, Alison Kerby has purchased an inn on the New Jersey shore. But she got more than she bargained for after finding out it came with some ghosts. This haunted guesthouse included Paul Harrison, her resident ghost detective and Maxine Malone, a twenty-eight-year-old budding interior designer until she was poisoned. The only ones that seem to be able to communicate with the pair are Alison, her mother, and her daughter. “I based the ghosts on the old Topper series. They essentially exist to irritate the main character and push her into areas she does not want to go. I think Maxine is a bit self-centered and not very mature. She pushes Alison’s buttons more than anybody else. Paul is the complete opposite since he is cerebral, quiet, sensitive, and has a high regard for people’s feelings.” Because Alison wants to devote herself to bringing guests to the Inn she has no time for detective investigations. Yet, she is thrown into it again after the exposure of a 1977 Lincoln Continental buried in the sand, behind Alison’s guesthouse, with a skeleton still belted in behind the steering wheel. The ghostly Paul is delighted he will have more investigative work. Insteadof Alison he pairs up with her new husband, Josh, who is most interested in the case. He might not be able to see or hear the ghosts, but he's found a way to communicate through texting. In probing, what happened with this Cold Case murder everyone in the Inn becomes endangered and the detectives must get to the bottom of it before someone else is murdered. “I love writing humor into the stories. This is why Iwanted to make sure I wrote Alison as a real Jersey girl who grew up at the Shore. She has a lot of attitude and will tell people the natural language of New Jersey is sarcasm. She speaks it fluently. I had a conversation with an editor who wanted me to write something serious. I do not have that muscle, nor am I capable of writing something serious. This is partially due to my own reading habits. It does not work for me to read something completely sober. I think my stories are comedies with a mystery surrounding it.” The author does a good job with the dialogue. Alison’s sarcasm and quips will keep the readers spirits up. This character-driven story features amusing, quirky ghosts and a strong family connection. Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at BlackFive
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The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. Forget the movie “Top Gun.” This book, Top Gun: An American Story, by Dan Pedersen soars into the readers’ minds. On the 50th anniversary of the creation of the "Top Gun" Navy Fighter Graduate School, its founder shares the remarkable inside story of how he and eight other risk-takers revolutionized the art of aerial combat. Pedersen, known as the “Godfather of Top Gun,” is credited with establishing the Navy Fighter Weapons School with the help of eight other passionate and talented officers known as the “Original Bros.” (For the purpose of consistency, the spelling will be Top Gun instead of “Topgun.”) The book is an autobiography as Pedersen reflects on his childhood, why and how he decided to be a flyer. There are also bits of his love life and family life, his military career, and his post-military life. He stated why the book was written, as “a legacy for the Top Gun school and teachers and what they accomplished.” His soul mate, Mary Beth, who Pedersen has been married to for twenty-seven years noted, “They are very opinionated guys. Very, very intelligent. Handsome with a certain swagger. They are natural leaders. Very disciplined, focused, confident, humble, self-assured with a good sense of humor. At the time of Vietnam, they did not get any recognition. It was horrible that they could not even wear their uniforms when they came home because people would spit on them.” But the most interesting parts of the book is the discussion on how he became the man assigned to creating the school. Many today, can reflect on similar situations with the War on Terror. The bureaucrats and many high-ranking Generals thought they knew best. Pedersen gave as an example, “McNamara and Secretary of State Dean Rusk, on orders by LBJ, sent the next day’s targets to the Swiss Embassy in Hanoi to let them know where the US would be bombing. The rationale was that there will not be collateral damage and civilians killed. But the Vietnamese used the information for other purposes, instead of moving the civilians away from the targeting areas. But in reality, they moved the guns and missiles into those targeted areas to shoot at us. The high command was rigid and inflexible. They cared more about the headlines than protecting American pilots. At the time, we never knew we were being used like that.” Some of the problems included pilots fighting in Vietnam receiving limited training, having faulty Sidewinder and Sparrow missiles, and not learning the skills they needed to outmaneuver the enemy. This became abundantly clear with the kill ratios: In World War II the kill ratio was approximately 14 to 1, during the Korean War about 10 to 1, but in Vietnam before the Top Gun program it was as low as 2 to 1. Captain Pedersen (then a lieutenant commander) was the first officer in charge of Top Gun. He was chosen because of his experiences in the air battles over Viet Nam where he received a first-hand knowledge of the shortcomings of American tactics and equipment. The "high tech" weapons failed about 90% of the time, and the latest fighter plane didn't even have a gun! American fighter pilots were being shot down by a third-world air force using Soviet aircraft, MiGs. The Navy moved toward radar-guided missiles and aircraft to fire them instead of dogfighting. He wants Americans to understand, “Industry designs our weapons and planes. This is still going on today, where no one ever goes into the cockpit and faces the enemy. Those doing the actual fighting do not have a lot to say. The planes did not even have guns because someone in the design industry decided they were not needed. There was a reliance on the missiles, but they never worked. This is what we changed with the founding of the Top Gun graduate school. If a war is to be fought guys are asked to risk their lives flying an airplane, competing in real life combat, decisions should not be made by politicians, but by people on the ground. Robert McNamara, the Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War, and President LBJ mandated what went on. World War II was fought completely different where the war in the Pacific was run by two 4 star admirals and carrier skippers. They had a lot to say in the daily operations and tactics. The motto should be to never send an American into combat unless the intention is to win.” The Top Gun School ended up being very successful. The 2 to 1 ratio changed to a 24 to 1 ratio. It became and still is run by people with combat experience. It is obvious that Top Gun saved lives and turned the air war around. Continue reading
Posted Mar 8, 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. Blood Echo, by Christopher Rice,is the second in a series about a sometimes-super human who pursues serial killers. These books are not the typical straightforward thrillers, but do have some traces of sci-fi aspects. As a victim herself, Charlotte “Charley” Rowe wants justice and vengeance against those who perpetuate violence by working closely with the CEO of a pharmaceutical company, Cole Graydon. “I wrote Charley as Confidant and determined. I did not want to write her as the female Incredible Hulk. The drug she takes to give her superpowers only lasts for three hours, after that she returns to a sense of normalcy. She questions when should she take the drug, how to use the power it unleashes, and should she take it? I do embrace when people make the comic book comparison. I would compare it to the Avenger series that has deeply human relationships. There is also an organization that has no bounds.” The book opens with intense action. Charley is pursuing a serial killer and after capturing her prey she returns to Altamira California to rest and meet up with her friends and lover. But her peaceful R & R is interrupted when it becomes obvious something sinister is happening. The girlfriend of one of the town’s richest developers is accused of criminal activity.A vast and explosive criminal conspiracy is developing in Altamira. As the fate of Charlotte’s hometown hangs in the balance, and everyone she cares about is in danger, she has no choice but to use her powers to go after the bad guys. Anyone who has not read the first book might want to in order to understand the back story. Charlotte was kidnapped and raised by serial killers until she was rescued. Known for being “The Burning Girl,” she has no peace and quiet. She has become an experiment, gaining superpower strength after taking the drugZypraxon. This enables her to go after the evil doers, ending their violence. Knowing she can literally rip someone to pieces she tries to control it, preferring to capture and have them punished then to kill them. Rice noted, “I think many of the jail house interviews of them were based on lies. Ted Bundy tried to blame pornography for his actions. The term for this kind of argument is “mistaking correlation for cause ability.” As a writer, I like to speculate on what really makes a monster tick. I read a book about the Night Stalker, Richard Ramirez, who killed a lot of people in a short period of time. Right after his arrest he told how he waited until 2 AM because people were asleep. He did not have the attitude ‘I am a victim,’ and did not commit these crimes because he thought of himself as a victim. I think the reasons for killing are simplistic, like a Great White Shark. I am more interested in the survivors than the killers. This includes Charley’s world. She and the developer of the drug, Dylan aka Noah, now have a sense of rage. They feel there will never be closure when someone close is taken away by a murderer. These survivors are working their way out of the darkness created by the killer.” The author writes these cast of characters as very complex and unique. It is a fascinating read where people will not want to put the book down. Continue reading
Posted Mar 8, 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. Judgment by Joseph Finder takes an occurrence and uses it as a jumping off point. He has a knack for having an incidental event magnify into a riveting conspiracy mystery. Finder noted, “I met a judge socially and spoke with her about the pressures she faces. I started to think, what would happen if her children get into trouble, or what if she gets many speeding tickets? I interviewed five women judges practicing in Boston for this book. The sense I got was that they went through a lot to become a judge, having to go through interviews and making sure they do not step on toes as they climbed the ladder. Then I thought how vulnerable judges are in the courtroom. Unexpected and explosive things could happen. It is almost as if they are all alone and on their own.” The plot begins with the protagonist, Judge Juliana Brody, in a rare error of judgment, having a one-night stand at a legal conference in Chicago with Matías Sanchez, who claims he’s a businessman from Buenos Aires. Because of this incident her life will swell out of control. Sanchez is not who he made himself out to be, but is one of the lawyers for a defendant on a high-profile sex discrimination case Brody is presiding over. To make matters worse, he threatens to blackmail her with a video of their encounter unless she rules in the defendant’s favor. It becomes clear that personal humiliation, even the possible destruction of her career, are the least of her concerns, as her own life and the lives of her family are put in mortal jeopardy. She discovers her adversaries include powerful and ruthless criminals who will kill anyone who stands in their way. Brody decides to investigate her enemies and to play their game, becoming cunning and fearless. “I wanted to write Juliana as a kickass. As a former prosecutor, she is tough and persistent. At the beginning of the story Juliana is someone who always followed the rules, but now is willing to break the law to achieve a greater good. I like writing about ordinary people who are suddenly caught up in something extraordinary. There is a Russian word that bests describes this story, kompromat. It means compromising materials. The Russians are very good at blackmailing people. This includes the oligarchs who are dangerous and should not be trusted.” Brody is someone readers will connect to and root for, especially after it is revealed that she is fighting those in the Russian oligarchy. Finder has Brody wonder if the Russians are working on their own or puppets for Putin. She is an admirable person who has always played by the rules and had no sympathy for those who donot. Yet, after her one lapse in judgment she realizes way too late that the attempt to cover up is often regarded as even more reprehensible than the original deed. This briskly-paced story explores how those in positions of power can be susceptible to blackmail. At every turn, the reader takes a journey with Brody as she becomes involved in double crosses, espionage, financial impropriety, corporate corruption, and sexual harassment. Continue reading
Posted Mar 1, 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. Mission Critical by Mark Greaney is a suspenseful, action-packed thriller. Readers will be delighted with the return of Zoya Zakharova, a female Gray Manand a kindred spirit. Greaney has the knack of intertwining geopolitics with first-rate characters and non-stop action. Greaney noted, “I went to a three-day stunt driving school at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. I wanted to write the car chase scene as realistic as possible. I did the J-turns, the 180s, and the drifting. I did almost everything Court did in the book except crawling in the back seat and shooting out of the back window. I actually went into reverse at a pretty high speed. I looked over my shoulder and took my right hand to the 9 O’clock position. Then I moved the steering wheel as hard to the right as possible, did a 180-degree turn and floored it. I had to be careful because instinctively my foot always wanted to hit the brake as I was spinning out of control. I literally had to kick my heels back so it touched the seat. I had Court do something similar.” This novel combines two plots in one. The CIA mustuncover a mole within their midst, while a special ops group, code named Poison Apple, must uncover who is behind a bioweapon attack and where will it take place. One of the CIA’s most important contractors is Court Gentry, known as The Gray Man, with the code name Violator. He does off the books ops for Matt Hanley, Deputy Director of Operations, and Gentry's handler, the ambitious Suzanne Brewer. The plot begins when he is asked to return to Langley on a CIA transport plane that first must make a stopover in London to drop off a prisoner. Unfortunately, they are comprised and many are killed, with the prisoner kidnapped. Court assists in finding out what happened, which reunites him with his former lover, Zoya. Zoya, the female lead in a previous book, Gunmetal Gray, is Gentry’s equal. Now a CIA asset, part of the Poison Apple program, code named Anthem, this former SVR Russian intelligence agent, escapes from the safe house to find her father who she thought had been dead. Both her mother and father were valuable Russian spies. Dad was the GRU director, General Feodor Zakharov, while mom trained Russian operatives’ in language and proper dialect skills, grooming them to live in England or the United States as natives. After finding out her father’s mission she and Gentry, now joined by the third asset in Poison Apple, Zach Hightower, code named Romantic, must stop the terrorists at any cost. “I wrote her as a type of chameleon. Raised in different countries she was taught to blend in, to melt into the different fabrics. I see her as a force for good. Yet, I think she sees herself as a little less than that, which allows me to be able to move in different directions with her. I do not think she is as moralistic as Court and is more out for herself. She is not as altruistic as he is.” This book shows why Mark Greaney has a legitimate claim to be one of the top, if not the top thriller writers today. There are so many twists and turns readers will be kept on their toes throughout the story of betrayal between Brewer and her team, as well as with Zoya and her father. Continue reading
Posted Feb 22, 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. Never Tell by Lisa Gardner brings back some of her well-known characters. Detective D. D. Warren and CI Flora Dane must work together to find the truth behind a murder. It powerfully examines how someone’s past can come back to haunt them, especially when the police appear to have tunnel vision. The book opens with a pregnant wife, Evelyn “Evie” Carter, returning home to find her husband murdered. What she does next becomes very puzzling to the police: She empties the gun bullets into the computer. As the police rush in she is caught with the gun, leading the detectives, including, Warren, to think it is an open and shut case. Reinforced by the knowledge that Evie previously confessed to accidentally killing her father, the detective sees a pattern. Once the news of the husband Conrad’s murder goes public, kidnapping survivor-turned-vigilante and D.D.’s unofficial informant, Flora Dane, asserts that she recognizes Conrad as a man who was acquainted with her kidnapper, Jacob Ness. Flora has survived the emotional and physical abuse Ness inflicted on her and is now determined to find the truth behind different crime scenes. Feeling the police are jumping to conclusions, Flora goes rogue, and hooks up with computer crime analyst Keith Edgar and FBI Agent Kimberly Quincy, who previously tracked down Ness and freed Flora. Believing Conrad is tied to the serial killer Ness, she convinces the FBI and police to recognize that with this case nothing is as it seems to be. The many lies and secrets need to be deciphered before justice can be found. Gardner noted, “The relevance of Jacob is that he is the single most powerful relationship Flora ever had. DD says in the book that any investigation of Jacob will have Flora forever follow. Wherever Flora goes so goes the ghost of Jacob. There is not one without the other. He is a monster who never repented, but feels victimized because of it. Jacob is whiny, lonely, not empathetic, downright cruel, and obsessed with being all powerful. He sees himself victimized by society. Flora learned to survive by recognizing a loneliness in Jacob and becoming his confidant, his friend. Conversely, this is what she has a hard time reconciling and coming to terms with. The appeal of her story is her determination to find the light and not see herself always as a victim, but as a survivor.” The three female protagonists are nothing alike. According to Gardner, “Evie is sleep-walking through life, and refers to herself as a “dead woman walking.” She has not dealt with her father’s death, her marriage problems, and her poor relationship with her mother. She has avoided and hidden from real life since her adulthood is built on a pretty big lie. By definition she cannot trust. But now, because of what happened to her husband, she has to stop running.” “Flora is a character I wrote and am very fond of. She is a survivor who struggles with guilt. Having PTSD has manifested itself in her by making her more hypervigilant. I think she is a manic who has anxiety and copes by going to extremes. Flora is obsessed with self-defense. I think she realizes she has not healed and that she is in active recovery mode.” “Then there is D.D. She is a workaholic, possibly to the point of obsession. She doesn’t care if she is liked. I think having a child has softened her edges. Now she questions if she works too much. I think many readers like that she is unapologetically brash, abrupt, and often rude, with a take no prisoners attitude.” This is a story that will resonate with readers because of all the exciting elements. It also has a unique storyline that will force readers to change their minds about the likeability of the three female protagonists. Continue reading
Posted Feb 22, 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. What Doesn’t Kill Her by Christina Dodd brings back the fabulous characters of Cape Charade. Dodd has outdone herself by creating this character driven story. The previous book presented the heroine Kellen Adams as a victim, survivor, and warrior. But in this novel, readers also see another aspect of her, as a mom. People will take a journey with Kellen as she grows emotionally, while overcoming the trials and tribulations of having a seven-year-old daughter. In the last book readers learn that Kellen escaped an abusive husband. Unfortunately, she could not escape his family and was shot in the head where she lied in a coma for thirteen months. Running away, she took her cousin’s identity, and joined the military, rising to the ranks of Captain. After getting a medical discharge she found a job at a Di Luca resort. While there she was reunited with Max Di Luca, her former boyfriend and unbeknownst to her, the father of her child, Rae. Kellen undergoes a transition from being frail to being tough. Dodd noted, “I wanted to write her as someone strong, determined, and brave. The year of unconsciousness had her go from Cecilia who needed someone to protect her to Kellen, a self-sufficient person. In future books this character will have to come to grips with the split personality. In the beginning she was weak, but now she is able to take control over her life.” Realistically, Dodd shows that not all women are suited to motherhood and the bond does not necessarily happen instantaneously. Wanting time to deal with all the new reality Kellen takes a side job to deliver an archeological piece to a recluse in the wilderness. Things do not go as planned because two teams of men are out to kill, one wanting revenge, and the other wanting the antique head. While being ambushed Kellen realizes that her daughter Rae has been hiding, wanting to bond with her mother. To escape the killers, both are running for their lives through the wilderness. During these scenes, it becomes obvious the two are becoming close. “I based Rae on my two daughters. They had an extraordinary vocabulary, possibly because they are the children of an author. Rae is antsy, a typical seven-year-old. She is a chatterbox, very literal, curious, has a good imagination, and like her mother is a fighter. In the next book, she will be ten years old and a handful as she undergoes personality changes.” The banter between mother and daughter is at times hilariously funny as they journey through this adventure together. This dialogue between Rae and Kellen stole the story. Rae is a chatterbox, an intelligent and sassy girl. She looks on her mom as a Superhero, and she is the sidekick, naming them ThunderFlash and LightningBug. Dodd portrays Rae as an innocent child who is still at the age where she feels her parents can do no wrong and looks up to them. Knowing her mom is a badass, she wants to emulate her and does so with the Superhero hidden identities. At the end of the book, Kellen described her daughter, “She’ll grow up to be a woman who allows no man to hurt her, to abuse her, verbally or physically. She’s going to be strong. She’s got my back and I’ve got hers.” Readers will have a smile on their face throughout this story. Although there are intense scenes, the humor makes for a wonderful release. Continue reading
Posted Feb 22, 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. The Forgotten Hours by Katrin Schumann delves into a timely subject. It is a thought-provoking story about a woman’s search for the haunting truth regarding her best friend and father. The main character Katie wanted to believe that her father was perfect, that he was the same person she knew and loved. But once he was accused of statutory rape she had to reconcile if her father was being honest with her. As she searched for facts that would give her answers, Katie wondered does she forgive, ignore, or cut off ties. Schumann noted, “A few years ago I had two friends, almost at the same time, involved in a really nasty and complicated law case about consent. The cases were not related. I had this front row seat about the experiences of the accused and accuser. I felt pulled along in the emotional tide, and realized that people who love them are also victims. I did not want to commit to one side or the other or jump to conclusions. There are so many grey areas. At the time of writing this there was the Jerry Sandusky case. I saw on television, the harrowing look of his wife and a comment she made struck me, “This is not the man I know.” It is disorienting to think we do not know who people really are.” Ten years ago, when Katie was fifteen her teenage best friend Lulu accused her dad of rape. Because there was an age difference of about thirty years he was sent off to prison for nine years. Katie was loyal to her father and never questioned his innocence. Now, with her dad’s release date approaching she must come to grips with what really happened, after being hounded by reporters and knowing she could no longer keep her boyfriend in the dark. To make matters worse she must return to the Eagle Lake cabin where the incident occurred. While there she discovers letters about the trial that provoke in her questions about her father’s innocence and her own memory of what happened. This story is a page-turner that also speaks to broader questions of sexual abuse, family loyalty, and the uncertainty of memory. Interestingly, throughout the novel Schumann has readers questioning who is the predator, the accused or the accuser. The plot's themes are all the more powerful in today’s current environment. Continue reading
Posted Feb 15, 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. The Secret of Clouds by Alyson Richman brings to life the bond between a teacher and student. In the current environment, it is a reminder of how precious a life is even for a fleeting moment. It is a story of hope and the dreams of a young boy who readers will connect with immediately. Richman noted, “The title came from my son saying to me after my grandmother died, that he wishes there would be a family cloud. I put a sentence in the book, “We have to hope every family has a family cloud that will unite everyone.” I tried to explain death to him. He wanted to know where she went, how is it she was here one day and gone the next. He looked up to me and said, ‘mommy, I just have to hope there is a family cloud.’ I thought that was so beautiful. All my novels have a message of being kind to one another as the characters become knitted together. In this book, light was brought into the household. Within a community people could leave a lasting fingerprint on each other.” The book opens with Sasha and Katya living in the Ukraine. They move to America but discover their young son, Yuri, has a major heart defect caused by the exposure to nuclear radiation. Because of his condition he is not allowed to attend school with other students. Assigned as a home school English teacher, Maggie Topper needs to find a way to connect with Yuri. Realizing Yuri is passionate for baseball she uses it as a teaching tool, having him read the biography of Shoeless Joe. Throughout the book are tidbits of baseball history as well as comparisons between baseball and Yuri’s life. Readers can only imagine how stressed any mother would be, not knowing if they would outlive their child. Richman noted, “I could not imagine. Yuri’s mom, Katya, desperately wanted to protect her child. Think how worrisome it is for a mother to think her child’s heart could stop beating and not to be able to see any signs. There was this powerful scene in the book where Yuri is sleeping in his crib and she is hovering over him to make sure his chest goes up/down. I interviewed people who had children with rare heart defects and they never wanted to leave their children for even a minute. Another scene has Maggie staying with Yuri so Katya can get some rest. As a mother, I kept thinking Yuri was my child.” Although Richman is known for her historical novels, she ventured into the contemporary genre. But she makes sure to include the historical significance of the era by delving into such topics as the Chernobyl disaster, baseball, music, and a mention of the Holocaust. Trying to show Yuri that people always need hope, Maggie has him write a letter to his future eighteen-year-old self. She precedes it by explaining to him how children in the Terezin Concentration Camp wrote poetry and drawings even when starving and freezing. Maggie came to realize that “a teacher’s job is to make children feel safe, to make them believe their ability is boundless…to use their minds-and their imagination-in their darkest hour.” Yuri’s letter and the drawings/poetry of the Holocaust children sparked a creative dialogue where they were able to imagine the possibility of a better life. This is a heartening tale of the influence a teacher has on a student, but also how a student can impact a teacher. Richman makes people think about the importance of life and how a child born can make such an impression on those adults around him, even for a short time. Continue reading
Posted Feb 15, 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. Stroke of Luck by B.J. Daniels is the first of three in this new series. Known for mixing romance and danger this one concentrates more on the relationship than the danger, a slight change from her past novels. “I wrote it as more of a romance than a mystery. My editor suggested I do this. I tried it but feel it is not what I really want to do. I think people read me for the suspense. If people want a true romance they can find it elsewhere. In this novel, it worked well to have the relationship more up front and the hero/heroine not personally involved in the mystery. For the other books in the series I went back to having the main focus on the danger that is intertwined with the relationship. The next book will focus on another brother of the dude ranch who rescues a woman physically threatened by a man.” Also different is the personality of the heroine. Daniels noted that Poppy Carmichael “is strong, but not an in-your-face person who argues with the hero. I tried to make her more poised with a quiet confidence. On the other hand, my protagonist, Will Sterling, is typical of my heroes. He is laid back, cocky, sensitive, and caring. He regrets how the friendship with Poppy ended.” The setting is a dude ranch in Glacier Park Montana. A large corporation has rented it during the winter for a retreat. After the cook breaks his leg, the ranch owner, Will, is forced to call upon a childhood friend Poppy, now a caterer. The problem is that twenty years ago, as a teenager, he broke her heart. “The reason I wrote them on a dude ranch in Whitefish Montana was to have them isolated. It is surrounded by mountains, pine trees, and lakes. There is no television and no cell phone service. The only way to communicate is with the one land line in the lodge. Everyone was back to nature.” Set on revenge Poppy hopes to seduce him with food, using the old saying, “a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” She wanted to get him to want her, then she would walk away, and break his heart, as he did to her. Unfortunately, a major snowstorm turns the retreat into a cold atmosphere. Someone is killing people there without any escape. “I love to cook and wanted to write one of my characters as a great chef. The way I show love, which I passed on to Poppy, is through my cooking and baking. At our house. we have a lot of guests come and go so my husband, who is also a great cook, and I make sure no one leaves hungry. The three recipes in the back of the book are ones I personally cook.” Readers are left guessing who is the culprit and will Poppy and Will renew their relationship in this western-style romance-thriller. Continue reading
Posted Feb 15, 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. Say You’re Sorry by Karen Rose will keep readers guessing and thinking. It has thrills, suspense, psychological analyses, and a bit of romance. People are kept at the edge of their seats by a story that delves into intense subjects such as cults, pedophiles, torture, abuse, alcohol dependency, anxiety attacks, and PTSD. “I enjoyed writing the scenes with the dogs. Brutus is a therapy dog. I got a lot of the ideas from one of my editors that trains therapy dogs. I wrote the scenes with Brutus because I want readers to understand what a true service dog does. Daisy has her dog to help her with anxiety and keep it under control so it doesn’t become a threat to her sobriety. We are even giving away some stuffed Brutus’ at the conferences. I am losing my hearing so I am looking for a service dog of my own. Hopefully, one like Brutus. My younger daughter is deaf and her anxiety comes from her disability. Recently, she was followed, which scared her and me. It is nerve racking that as a deaf person anyone can sneak up to her at any time. We have been talking about getting her a service dog as well.” Although the first novel in a new series, it draws on characters from the Baltimore series. The heroine, Daisy Dawson, should be recognizable to those readers who have read Rose in the past. She is a cross-over character whose story is told front and center in this debut. Having moved to Sacramento she is confronted by a disguised gunman who pulls her into an alley. Instead of fleeing she uses the skills taught by her dad. As the attacker bolts, Daisy pulls a locket off his neck. A good friend, Sacramento PD Detective Rafe Sokolov, comes to her rescue and brings his old friend, FBI Special Agent Gideon Reynolds. After doing some investigating it becomes clear this attacker is actually a serial killer who preys on young women. Knowing she needs a defender, Reynolds is asked to be a part of her protection detail. For him it is personal, since he recognized the locket’s significance. The cult forces teenage women to wear these lockets after marrying them young. Together Daisy and Gabriel are determined to stop this vicious killer and find the cult he escaped from. “This is a serial killer who has been hanging around in my head for about five years. He is a person that is capable of monstrous deeds. To make a villain believable they must not be cardboard cutouts like Snidely Whiplash who just twirls his mustache and goes wah-ha-ha. They have to have a vulnerability, something they care about. This killer had a messed-up childhood. I wanted to explore why others like the hero Gideon who has a horrific childhood do not become killers. I am fascinated why some do and some do not. I have to tell you a funny story. I met a man on an airplane who is a private pilot that combined charter services and corporation time shares. As he talked about all these places he visited in such a short period of time I looked at him and said, ‘you would make a perfect serial killer because there is no pattern.’ He looked at me and became very upset. I told him I write thriller novels, but he still did not speak with me the rest of the flight.” Both the hero and heroine are mending from emotional problems. She is a recovering alcoholic that has anxiety, while he wrestles with his memories of the cult’s abuse. Daisy was forced to live a sheltered and isolated life by her father who believed her sister, Taylor was being hunted. Daisy must come to grips with her father for uprooting their lives. She gravitates towards Gideon because he too is trying to come to grips with his past. When he was a young child, his mother got involved with a cult that advocated forced marriages as soon as a young girl turned twelve and welded a locket around her neck which claimed ownership of her. Boys at thirteen were considered men and began apprenticeships which also included pedophilia. Gideon was nearly beaten to death after he objected and killed the man who was trying to rape him. He barely escaped with his life. Although this book is 600+ pages, there are a lot of moving parts from start to finish. Yet, it's an amazingly fast read given the size of the book, since these pages are jam-packed with wall-to-wall action and heart-stopping, page-turning suspense. Say You’re Sorryis something Karen Rose will not have to do with this debut novel of her new series, because she has written a riveting and thrilling novel. Continue reading
Posted Feb 8, 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. The Sky Above Usby Sarah Sundin is a historical romance novel focusing more on the history than the romance. Throughout this series she intertwines World War II military history with a developing relationship. The series follows three brothers who are all fighting in Normandy. The first book highlighted Wyatt Paxton, the oldest, who joined the navy. This one is about Adler Paxton, the middle brother, who enlisted in the Air Force, and the next book will emphasize the youngest Paxton brother, Clay, who is an army Ranger. This story highlights how Lt. Adler Paxton has been numbed by grief and is harboring shameful secrets, while shipping off to England on the Queen Elizabeth to fight with the US 357th Fighter Group in 1943. After arriving he battles the German Luftwaffe in treacherous dogfights in the skies over France as the Allies struggle for control of the air before the D-day invasion. These scenes are authentic, intense, and capture the struggles of the allied forces as they have dog-fights over the skies of Normandy to protect the bombers. “I wrote Adler as having joined the 357thfighter group. I enjoyed writing the fighter pilot mentality. I read many stories by those and was able to understand what it was like when fighting on a mission. Chuck Yeager, the pilot who broke the sound barrier, was in this group. He along with his peers had a very lively and colorful memoir. He is rough around the edges, very driven, ambitious, and competitive. Chivalrous when he rescued Violet from this predatory type, Riggs who had no boundaries at all. Adler’s attitude is that no one should have a right to just grab a strange woman and force a kiss on her. I think Adler is two different personalities, one gregarious and outgoing, and the other where he just shuts down. Because of the tragedy he experienced he tries to keep a side of himself secret, which is a protective mechanism.” On the Queen Elizabeth, he meets Violet Lindstrom who serves in the American Red Cross. Adler and Violet will reunite at the Air Base where she is assigned the duties of entertaining the troops at the Aeroclub and setting up programs for local children. As war rages and D-Day approaches, life has a way of drawing two people together. Sundin noted, “Receiving and giving forgiveness. What does forgiveness mean? Adler wants a reconciliation, but is afraid it is not possible. He grieves for how he lost the love of his family. Many times, people forgive to avoid the bitterness in our own souls.” This story is about friendship, love, and life choices. It delves into how a feeling of betrayal can lead to forgiveness and the need for people to look within to find peace and happiness. Continue reading
Posted Feb 8, 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. The Black Ascotby Charles Todd ratchets up the mystery. Readers are able to get a deeper understanding of Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge, while getting a glimpse of the social and political trends of the 1920s. Unlike many of the past plot-lines, this one focuses on a Cold Case. Ten years ago, a woman was murdered after attending the Black Ascot race, the famous 1910 royal horserace honoring the late King Edward VII. The suspect, Alan Barrington, has eluded capture and the aggressive manhunt. Now it appears that Barrington has returned to England, and Rutledge is chosen to conduct a quiet search under the cover of a routine review of a cold case. “We wanted to write as a starting off point, how a killing surrounded this event,called the killer, the Black Ascot Murderer. A woman was killed coming out of the races. After Edward VII died in 1910 there was a period of royal mourning. People thought the Ascot races should be cancelled. Since the races were an integral part of society, it was decided to go through with it. Instead of wearing the glorious hats and gowns as in “My Fair Lady,” they decided everyone should wear black; thus, the Black Ascot.” Determined to get into the mind of Barrington, Rutledge delves into all of his relationships and secrets, enlisting the help and advice of his alter-ego, Hamish. But everything seems to be put on hold after the inspector is shot. Along with his supervisors and family, he questions whether it was attempted suicide, or was someone out to kill him. The only way to save his career, and his sanity, is to find Alan Barrington and bring him to justice. The Todds noted, “There were two societal stigmas in the story. Shell-shock was considered a moral failure that reflected on the individual and their family. It was not only a shame on the veteran, but a shame on the family for producing a coward. Families would disown sons who had lost their nerve. We talked with readers who came up to us and said thank you for allowing me to understand my grandfather or father now. Veterans also say thank you, which means so much to us. With suicide, at the time, people considered it a crime and would put a person in jail. If someone committed suicide they would not be allowed to be buried in consecrated Church grounds because it is considered a moral sin. Many times, the family doctor would say the man who died was due to a gun going off while cleaning and declared it an accidental death. This makes no sense since a man could take his gun apart in the dark during the war. Those who did it had the feeling, ‘I have taken as much as I can take, and do not know what else to do.’ They could not talk about it, and did not know where to go to for help. They just could not cope.” There are many twists and turns that keep readers on their toes. Each character has strengths and flaws that have people questioning if they are good or bad, likeable, or not. Continue reading
Posted Feb 1, 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. The Girl From Berlin by Ronald H. Balson has readers experiencing the emotional roller coaster ride of guilt, anger, fear, and redemption. Chapters alternate between the 1930s/1940s and 2017. The connection between the time periods is a manuscript that Ada Baumgarten has written about her life under Nazi rule and the devastating effect it had on Jews, particularly Ada’s family. Balson noted, “I got the idea for Gavi when visiting my son who was studying abroad in Italy. We drove around Italy and tried to visit as many wineries in Tuscany as we could because they are so quaint and beautiful. We found out that German corporations own some of them. I thought about the German occupation of Italy from 1943 to 1945 where they brutally seized Jewish property." "Ada came about from my long-time thoughts about Jewish artists and musicians during the Nazi regime. During the Weimar Republic, Germany's government, from 1919 to 1933, the period after World War I until the rise of Nazi Germany, there was a cultural explosion of art and science.” Not only is this book a powerful historical novel but it also has a riveting mystery of murder, deception, and greed. The questions asked throughout the present-day chapters, how does the accounting of a young Jewish girl’s life in the 1930s and 1940s relate to a deed for an Italian farm, and what became of Ada? It is almost like taking a time machine from present-day Italy back to the 1930’s during Hitler’s regime in Germany. The story opens with the recurring characters Catherine Lockhart and Liam Taggart being asked by an old friend to travel to Tuscany Italy to save the farm and priceless wine vineyards of his aunt, Gabi Vincenzo. A powerful corporation claims they own the deeds, even though she can produce her own set of deeds to her land. Since Catherine is an attorney and her husband Liam is a private investigator they set forth to try to help the elderly woman. Upon their arrival in Tuscany, Gabi tells Catherine and Liam to read a memoir by a woman named Ada Baumgarten, a German violinist forced to flee Berlin and settle in Bologna Italy after the Nazis took power. The author also transplants readers back to the Nazi era where Jews were unaware of the horrors awaiting them: first deprived of careers/businesses, then property, basic rights, and ultimately, for many of them, their lives. Even more disturbing is the knowledge that while this was happening, many of the non-Jewish German population either does nothing or actively assists. Within these devastating events the author allows readers a reprise with the classical musical scenes and the various descriptions of certain musical works. “I wrote this book quote by Ada, “Perhaps the most hurtful and inimical result of the campaign was the pervasive acceptance of Nazi policies by German society...it became apparent that they would no longer stand up for us. Those who uttered hateful speech were sinful, but the greater sin was committed by those who did not speak at all.” The Nazi policies were accepted. Remember Germany had seen a serious depression. With the Nazis, there started to be a booming economy. Since this population was not Jewish they turned the other way. A good lesson to take out of this book is that we as a society should not turn our backs to those in need. I wanted to explore the Jewish options open to escape from the Nazi barbarism. Many did leave Germany and Austria before the war. Yet, many could not just pick up and go someplace. Where would they go since the surrounding countries of Poland, Austria, and Czechoslovakia were not options? Anywhere someone went there were no job, no community, and no money. These are formidable barriers. They tried to convince themselves things were not so bad, especially since events happened in increments. First Jews had to wear armbands, then Jewish stores were painted, but the atrocities started later.” This novel puts a personal touch on the Holocaust where the six million Jews who perished do not seem like numbers. Starting with the first pages of the book, readers will be so mesmerized there will be no turning back. Balson does a great job of intertwining the music, the rise of the Nazi party to power during its early years, its effect on Jewish lives, and the comparison between Jewish treatment in Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy. It is a story of courage, survival, and hope. Continue reading
Posted Feb 1, 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. Annelies by David R. Gillham has Anne Frank surviving the Holocaust. As the “what if” comes true, the book presents a story of hope, survival, trauma and redemption. But it is also a reminder of what was lost during the Holocaust: how many of those lives taken away had such promise. Gillham gives Anne Frank’s life back to her, a life brutally cut short by the Nazi monsters. The author commented on why he wrote this alternative history, a harrowing undertaking, “I was constantly aware that Anne Frank was a real person who wrote one of the most defining books of the twentieth century. I understand she is an icon and have tremendous respect for her legacy. I had Anne survive the Holocaust to give her the life she was cheated of. Through telling the story of one girl, I hope to tell the story of all the “Annes,” showing the lost potential of the millions who perished. Anne Frank’s legacy is one of hope and I want to show what we are missing in our world today, because of their loss. After reading the diary of Anne Frank I became thunderstruck by her insight, perception, humor, and brilliance as a writer. I thought about writing a novel where she survives. After numerous attempts, about 6.5 years ago the story finally emerges with Anne surviving the camps, returning to Amsterdam, and being reunited with her dad, Otto.” Gillham skillfully transforms Anne from a bright-eyed girl with dreams and ambitions to a bitter, angry teenager who suffers from survivor’s guilt and PTSD. The author should be applauded as he realistically portrays what many Holocaust survivors suffered. Because of enduring the atrocities and emotional/physical pain readers see Anne with a haunted tone that has different ideals. She is not the same person as she was when writing in her diary prior to, during, and immediately following the time her family and others were hiding in the space above her father’s workplace. In reading inserts from her diary at the beginning of each chapter people see an optimistic young girl who never gave up hope despite the cruel, unexplainable hatred and danger that threatened her daily. Anne before the Gestapo capture is written as, “vivacious, precocious, demanding, high energy, charming, fun, a dreamer who could be self-centered. She loved to be the center of attention, a chatter-box, and what you saw is what you get. But afterward, she is angry, guilty, and feels betrayed by everyone including her protectors, and feels like a dislocated soul. Anne is lonely and rebellious. I also had a hard time understanding the psychopathic attitude of the Nazis. At the beginning of Anne’s diary, she refers to the German language as uncivilized. Even at the end of the war they still tried to murder as many Jews as possible. They tried to hide it by blowing up the crematoriums. It is hard to get into the mindset of the Nazis.” But after being betrayed the family and their friends were found by the Nazi Gestapo Amsterdam branch. First sent to a concentration camp in Holland with her sister and mother, she was then transferred to the Auschwitz death camp and ended up in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany. These scenes show how Anne and her family endured the packed train to the concentration camps, and the despicable conditions of dirt and disease throughout them. It is where the alternate history begins. Unlike the reality where Anne dies of Typhus she is rescued and reunited with her father Otto in Amsterdam. Now seventeen she grows from a person filled with frustration, rage, anger, and guilt to someone who finally understands she must live her life and honor the dead by using her diary to teach the world about her experiences. Although her father at first would not let go, he eventually allows her to move to America where the last pages show her with a happy ending, one the real-life Anne Frank never had, as she replies to readers notes about her best-selling book, The Secret Annex. Anne and her dad Otto are at odds. Gillham explains, “They had two different approaches to redemption and trauma. Otto refuses to dwell in the tragedies of the past and looks to a better future. He tells Anne in my book quote, “What is the point of having survived? What is the point of living if we are to be poisoned by our own sorrow?” He refers to their motto of work, love, courage, and hope. He feels that those loved ones who died can be kept alive with love in the survivor’s hearts. But Anne refuses to relinquish these tragedies and faces them with anger and guilt. She believes the guilty deserve punishment and the dead deserve justice. I drew a book quote from survivors who wondered where was God at Bergen-Belsen? Anne feels, “The only thing God has given us is death. God has given us the gas chambers. God has given us the crematoria. Those are God’s gifts to us and this:” She then exposes her forearm with the number A-25063.” In reading portions of the real-life diary, people understand how Anne had hope amid the darkness of humanity. This novel transports readers as they take Anne’s journey with her to the hiding place, the concentration camps, and as she struggles to survive the aftermath of the Holocaust. Gillham should be given a shout-out for taking on this risky project, but he did it successfully with sensitivity and humility. Continue reading
Posted Jan 24, 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. Untouchable by Jayne Krentz is the finale in the Cutler, Sutter, and Salinas series. It intertwines a good mystery, suspense, and a little romance, while delving into the world of mind control through lucid dreams and hypnosis. Krentz noted, “This book delves into hypnosis and lucid dreams. It is a blending of not being quite awake and being in the world. It means you are in a dream that can be controlled to some extent. Regarding hypnosis, it has been around for hundreds of years, but always has that woo-woo factor. In my research, I found it impossible to conduct a double-blind test because some people are not hypnotizable, and others are susceptible to suggestions. In this story, I took both to extremes. I also put in about sleepwalking, which is supposed to be a childhood thing that people outgrow. I think it is more of a trance-like state. I do know people who have done it and they are aware enough not to hurt themselves. I am told they just wake up in another place.” The hero of the story, Jack Lancaster, has his mother killed in the cult fire set by Quinton Zane when Jack was 12, and since then he has been on a quest to find the murderer. His profession is related to his obsession, becoming a professor, author, and consultant on Cold Cases that have the victims killed by fire. The lucid-dreams give him the ability to be partially awake and able to manipulate them. This allows him more clarity in solving the cases he’s working on. But when his fiery dreams begin to take a disturbing turn, Jack seeks the help of Winter Meadows, his neighbor in Eclipse Bay on the Oregon coast. She is a hypnotist billed as a mediation instructor who is helping him control the dreams. Fire seems like a character in the book. “As a writer, it is a really exciting element to work with. It can be destructive or useful. I like writing stories that have elements that have a dark and light side. Fire does this since we use it to heat our homes, cook our food, and chase away the monsters at night. Yet, it can tear down our shelter and can kill us. In my book, fire is the tool that is mishandled by the bad guy. In his hands, it becomes a weapon to clean up his dark past. For him, fire is a cleansing element.” The initial bond formed between Winter and Jack comes from the connection of losing their parents to tragedy. This escalates after he saves Winter from a stalker who wants to kill her. Convinced that this has something to do with Zane he enlists the help of his father and brothers who also lost loved ones to the fire. Jack and Winter’s ensuing investigation becomes a game of cat and mouse between themselves and a criminal who always assumes he is the smartest in the room.With Winter's assistance, Jack begins what he hopes will be his final quest to capture Zane. “In my stories, the hero and heroine see the same virtues in each other. This attracts them to each other at first. I think before falling in love they admire each other. This is what their love is based upon. Winter and Jack understand and accept each other and never see each other as flakes. Both are gutsy, and have honor, courage, and integrity.” This story has a unique plot and likeable main characters. The investigation is fast-paced and compelling as the foster family, assisted by the women they become romantically involved with, attempt to find and bring down the cult leader before he brings them down. Continue reading
Posted Jan 24, 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. Verses for the Dead by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child brings back the return of their beloved character FBI Special Agent AloysiusPendergast. There is a slightly new recipe for this famous crime solver with a new boss, partner, and medical examiner. The authors describe Pendergast as “a person out of place and out of time. A gentleman from the Old South, specifically New Orleans. He is looked upon as a total freak. He does things off the books, unorthodox, wealthy, and an iconoclast. He is like a twisted, dark Sherlock Holmes. We have fun writing him. He is an over the top character that is eccentric. He enjoys his comforts.He has become legendary to go rogue and work on his own.” A welcome relief in this story has the authors moving away from anything supernatural and deciding to stick to crime-solving, understanding that the story and characters are riveting by themselves. In this old-fashioned mystery, a Florida woman while visiting her husband’s grave has her dog find a human heart with an apology note. The current victims are women whose throats have been slit and breastbones split open to remove their hearts, all in quick and expert fashion. The killer leaves notes at the graves of women who committed suicide and signed it “Mister Brokenhearts.”As other body counts mount up it becomes apparent that the notes left have a tinge of literary verses from T. S. Eliot to Romeo & Juliet. The authors noted that this time they gave him a different type of partner. “One thread of previous Pendergast books is how we saddled him with lazy and incompetent law officials that he had to work with. Coldmoon is not a boring person and we hope he made an impression on the reader. He looks like a Native American with long black hair and piercing eyes. Quietly he shows Pendergast he is an equal with the same intelligence and observations. Pendergast as competent partner, He is one of the finest characters we have written. Very iconic that keeps to himself. One scene we wrote in the book shows their different tastes. Pendergast is a terrible coffee snob while Coldmoon likes camp coffee with that foul smell. At a certain point Pendergast buys his partner a fine expresso coffee. Coldmoon takes one sip and pours it out. This shows their differences, but they both end up respecting each other.” Unlike his past supervisor Pendergast must now deal with Walter Pickett, an FBI assistant director recently assigned to the New York City field office, who is determined to keep this maverick agent under his control by assigning him a partner, Special Agent Coldmoon. The new partner is expected to report back on any of Pendergast’s deviations from the rules. Both Agents are a contrast of each other. Coldmoon is part Lakota Indian and part Italian. Pendergast dresses like an undertaker, and always seems to have more money than the average FBI agent preferring the luxuries of a fine hotel, private jet, and nice car. Soon Coldmoon realizes his partner is astute, smart, observant, and has a way of looking outside the box. They enlist the help of the medical examiner who is willing to go against her supervisor to find clues. Throughout the story the partners get under each other’s skins, but realize they are more alike than different. “Pendergast only accepts one dollar a year because he is wealthy and is doing the job for the enjoyment of the work. He thinks of it as solving a puzzle. As the story progresses his new partner sees the reasons behind what Pendergast does. Regarding betrayal versus loyalty Coldmoon is assigned as Pendergast’s partner with a secret agenda. As time passes he realizes it is wrong. He must choose loyalty to his superiors or loyalty to his partner. Whoever he is loyal to the other will see it as betrayal. He chose his partner.” Sorting through betrayals, lies, and deceptions, readers are treated to a unique storyline that is highly volatile. An added treat is the humorous banter between the characters that is both refreshing and amusing. Continue reading
Posted Jan 18, 2019 at BlackFive
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The Widows by Jess Montgomery is inspired by the true story of Ohio’s first female sheriff. The story delves into how two woman fought greed and violence while overcoming the loss of a loved one. The author noted, “This is a darker and deeper style of writing, much more than my other stories. For example, I examine the Pinkerton men and the violence they used. I read multiple books that talked about how these men would shoot up the striking camps. I put in the book a quote by one of the Pinkerton men, ‘A real war, and then, rule of law won’t matter. Those miners who resist, why, we’ll put ‘em down like rabid dogs.’” The protagonists Lily and Marvena are based on the real-life historical figures of Maude Collins, the first female sheriff in Ohio, and Mother Jones, the famous activist and labor organizer. Sheriff Daniel Ross, the husband of Lily is murdered and no one knows by whom. Those powerful in the town want to pin it on a coal miner, Marvena’s brother. She has something in common with Lily since she lost her husband in a coal mining accident. Because the mine owners think she will be easy to control Lily is appointed sheriff pending the next election. But having a mind of her own and a sense of justice she partners with Marvena to find the elusive murderer and the missing daughter. “I wrote both Lily and Marvena as tough. Lily is sensitive but is also a protector who wants to support her community. She keeps her emotions close to her heart. Marvena is fierce and persistent, but also has a tender streak. Although both women were wary of each other at first, they have a common goal to find out what happened. They end up with a strong friendship and recognize that each is balancing their own demons.” Readers might be curious as to what is real and what is fiction. Montgomery commented, “In real life Collins had five children, and the person who killed her husband was known. I decided it would be interesting to have Lily take the sheriff position to find out who killed her husband. The similarity is that both women lost their husbands in the line of duty, both were appointed sheriff, and both were elected. The differences: Lily is eight years younger than Maude during that time period and she only had two children.” Historical facts are intertwined in this novel that also has strong female characters and an intriguing mystery. Readers get a glimpse into the 1920s-coal mining town in Appalachian Ohio as the author examines women’s rights, prohibition, and the life of a coal miner. Continue reading
Posted Jan 18, 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. 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 Jan 11, 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. 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