Book Review: The Gate Keeper

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.

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The Gate Keeper, by the mother/son team known as Charles Todd, is a mystery with a huge ending twist.  Fans of this series will see Scotland Yard Detective Ian Rutledge having to solve a case from a different point of view. He is not only the investigator, but is the first person on the scene so he has become a witness as well.

Because this is a different type of mystery, The Todds wanted to make sure readers understand that it is not a puzzle where “there is a race between the writer and the reader as to who figures it out first. This novel has Rutledge pursuing the truth and finding a solution.  He has a dogged determination to keep tracking the killer.”

Having left his sister’s wedding in a distraught mood Rutledge decides to take a car trip. He encounters on a deserted road a woman standing next to a murder victim.  She reports how a stranger stepped in front of the car and without warning fired a shot killing Stephen Wentworth immediately.  With a list of persons of interest piling up Rutledge must sort through the many different aspects of the case.  He is helped along by a voice in his head, Corporal Hamish MacLeod, the ghost of the Scottish officer he had executed for cowardice, who comments persistently inside this detective's weary ear. Rutledge always listens, and appears to have given Hamish a life that was taken away. Hamish is real to Rutledge, sometimes antagonistic, sometimes supportive, sometimes part of his unconscious perception, an inner-self.

An interesting piece to the storyline is the similarities between the victim, Stephen, and the detective, Rutledge.  They both had someone close to them killed in the war, although Rutledge played more of a role.  They were also both jilted by the woman they loved.”  The Todds noted, “Stephen is the ultra ego of Rutledge in some ways, and that is probably one of the reasons why he wanted to follow through and find the killer. They both developed levels of coping skills and were solitary people.  Neither became involved in a relationship after their engagement was broken.  Yet, Ian came from a loving family, and Stephen from a dysfunctional one.” 

One of the secondary characters can best be described as an early 20th Century “Mommy Dearest.”  The mother of Stephen is vicious, spoiled, and uncaring who tried to thwart any happiness her son might achieve.  “We wanted to write a character where the mother hated her son all his life. She sees him as a monster, an ugly duckling.  She has no redeeming qualities. She enjoys painting him in a dim light.  Basically, just a terrible person who is bitter and self-centered.”

Because World War I play such an important role in the storyline, readers get a glimpse into the emotional wounds of many of the men, including Rutledge. “We wanted to humanize those who have served.  Our goal as writers is to show how they were ordinary people and then were trained to be warriors.  When they come back they must learn to trust again and to relate to those outside of their unit, the band of brothers. They can talk amongst their peers because they know there is a sense of understanding. Having experienced horrors first hand they cannot just shut out what they saw on the battlefield.”

The Gate Keeper by Charles Todd is a ‘who done it’ type of mystery.  Readers will enjoy the investigative process Ian Rutledge must go through to find the culprit.


Book Review: The Glass Ocean

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.

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The Glass Ocean by the three Amigos, aka Team W, Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White, is a captivating mystery that has as its backdrop the Lusitania and its sinking. As with all good teamwork they effectively created a story that blends their three styles into one.

The authors noted, “It was on our mind because of the 100thanniversary. We thought that it might be cool to write about it.  It is an interesting issue since there are so many questions that continue to this day surrounding the sinking by German U-boats. During those times, it was the convention to leave cruise ships alone. Back in the day there was this concept of honor regarding rules of war.  Let’s remember there was the Geneva Convention.The sinking of the Lusitania was a calculated act of war that targeted the ship. The Germans even published in the NY Times a warning that passengers would sail at their own risk.”

Readers take a journey with the characters as the suspense ratchets up to that fateful day when the Germans sank the Lusitania in 1915, leaving people to wonder who will live and who will die. Telling the story are three women narrators, two a century in the past, and one in the present time. The first character introduced is Sarah Blake who in 2013 is a struggling author, looking to replicate another number one bestseller.  After having all her ideas dry up she decides to open an oldchest that belonged to her great-grandfather, who died after the RMS Lusitania was torpedoed. She begins to wonder if these artifacts influenced the sinking in any way. She uncovers a connection between her great-grandfather and a passenger, Robert Langford. who were both on the Lusitania. Deciding to go to England, Sarah meets up with John Langford, a descendant of Robert, who finally decides to work with her to uncover some mysteries and a possible betrayal aboard the ship.

“We wanted to have Sarah supporting her mother who has Alzheimer’s Disease since many of us are at an age where children are taking care of their parents. It is the gate that made Sarah realize she needed to do something to help support her mother’s care. Since this story is about figuring out the past we wanted to show readers that family memories could be lost because of this disease.  It is losing the person we knew, which is very hard and cruel. Sarah was very nurtured by her mom.  They were always there for each other, but it caused her to have problems forming relationships with people.  Her mother leaned on her and she was her mother’s best friend.” 

Rewind to 1915, on the Lusitania. Through the interaction of the characters people learn about this ocean liner. Class played such an important role where lower-class passengers are taboo from moving around the ship, limited to their designated deck. Yet, some are able to sneak to first-class as was the case with Tess. She is actually there as part of a con team now led by her sister, who wants her to forge a Straus manuscript. She has promised herself that if they can pull off this one last job aboard the Lusitania, she will finally leave the game behind. Another passenger, Southern belle Caroline is traveling with her husband Gilbert who has become distant and secretive. Robert an old-time acquaintance of Caroline steps in, substituting for Gilbert during his long absences.  Robert becomes part of not one, but two love triangles. Will Caroline stay with Gilbert or leave him for Robert.  Will Robert choose to be with Tess or Caroline? Nothing appears straight-forward as the different mysteries unravel.

Tess and Caroline are different in many ways but they both have commonalities. “We wanted to explore how they were strong women, and all survivors in their own way.  They are not at great places in their life and tried to create something new out of something terrible.  When something happens in life people can use it as an opportunity of despair or an opportunity for renewal.  They were able to take stock regarding what was important to them, and were looking for a new direction in their life. Tess was influenced by her Irish American background while Caroline is a Southern belle.”

This captivating mystery delves into secrets, betrayals, and what it means to love someone. The description of the ship is so detailed it will make readers feel they are taking the journey with the characters. Each of the women are strong-minded, and distinct from the other two making this story a spellbinding read.


Book Review: A Tall, Dark Cowboy Christmas

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.

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A Tall, Dark Cowboy Christmas, the second book in the series, by Maisey Yates, is an emotional story that blends grief, hope, love, and wanting to belong.  The hero and heroine connect through their feelings of losing a loved one.

The author noted, “We can all empathize with the core feelings of grief and loss.  But those who get deep into their emotions can go through a process of healing.  Many of my stories, including this one, have the characters search for belonging and to be loved for who they are. I guess I am a frustrated control freak that wants to fix the world, so I fix it in my fictional world instead.”

McKenna Tate is homeless and decides to spend the night in an abandoned cabin on the Dodge dude ranch. One of the owners, Grant, discovers her and realizes she is destitute. Bringing her to his brother Wyatt, who runs the ranch, and his sister-in-law, Lindy, they decide to offer her a job under the direct supervision of Grant. McKenna lost her family at a young age when her mother left her, and was sent to live in foster homes. Wandering from relationship to relationship, now at the age of twenty-six she finds her birth certificate that names her real father.  Grant also has a sense of loss after his mother and wife succumb to a terminal illness. The hero and heroine find they are able to confide in each other and both long for a sense of belonging. They look to Wyatt and Lindy as role models and seek their advice.

Yates was influenced for this story because Oregon is a doctor assisted suicide state. “I wrote into the story that Grant married his wife knowing she was dying and stayed with her.  Then everyone in the town remembered him as a man to be pitied and that is his claim to fame.  I based it on someone who lived here and told me her husband died of cancer.  She could not walk through a store without someone asking her about widowhood.  She thought how people are fascinated with grief. I wrote the Grant quote in the book, “But they also love a tragedy that isn’t theirs. Because they’re not the ones that watched someone they loved suffer and struggle for years.” My friend said she thought people really do not have the time to listen.  They express compassion, but just wanted her to say fine so they could move on.  I reflected, when we ask how people are, do we mean it and care?  I thought, how do I treat people when they are having emotional pain or is it shallow pity?  Do I actually act with compassion and actually listen to people when they talk? Writing stories like this is how I work things out.”

Both Wyatt and Lindy were the main characters in the first book of the series, Good Time Cowboy. As the owner of a winery she makes a business dealing with the dude ranch owner to attract vacationers, even though she sees him as an arrogant womanizer. Yet, there is also a sexual tension that she cannot deny, which puts this story into the hot and sexy category. 

But if readers overlook the intimate scenes they will also see a story of two people struggling to make a life for themselves.  Lindy is recovering from being divorced after ten years of marriage, and Wyatt is struggling to overcome family problems. Lindy prefers order and structure, creating a persona of being cool, sophisticated, well-dressed, and in-control. She realizes that there is an attraction to Wyatt, an easy-going, sexy, charming, and a commitment-free cowboy. The intimacy starts out as casual, but eventually they fall head over heels in love.

Rodeos play an important role since Wyatt was a bull rider. “The horse stuff makes it into my books because my best friend is a horse person.  It is all what she experienced. But I did grow up going to rodeos and still try to go every year.  I know a couple of rodeo cowboys.  All my inspiration came from watching and listening.  What motivates me is how they see the world.  They are brash young guys like Lindy’s brother Dane who think they are bulletproof and untouchable with an innate cockiness. Wyatt is a player from his rodeo days, who is a bit shameless.  He thinks he is better than anyone, but is very protective toward women. Lindy never feels victimized and enjoys the relationship with Wyatt.  She is smart and knows her comfort level. Lindy likes the sexual place she is in with Wyatt. I would say she is strong, organized, determined, and an opportunist in a good way. McKenna and her are survivors.”

Both of these novels will grab readers and will not let up until the final page. Yates’ plots delve into the character’s personality and how they compare/contrast with each other. Through the hero and heroine’s eyes people find a heart-wrenching story.


Book Review: Maybe For You

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.

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Maybe For You by Nicole McLaughlin is a very emotional storyline. The theme allows readers to understand how to cope with loss and handle grief. It is also a friends to lover’s story. 

Many say that a guy and gal cannot be friends.  This story seems to prove that point.  The different dynamic relationships play a part in how people react to each other.  Friends usually are able to be direct and let their guards down without having to build walls.  Usually these relationships are based on honesty where each person can show their true selves. Some of the best intimate relationships start off as friends.  The heroine, Alexis, and the hero, Jake began their friendship as pen pals while she was deployed in Italy. They did not literally converse with a writing object, but used the modern way, a phone text. McLaughlin wanted “it to be a safer way to share feelings without being face to face or voice to voice. These two are able to share only when they feel like sharing.”

Alexis is not used to displaying her emotions, keeping everything close to the chest.  Her parents died in an auto accident, she was raised by her older brother Dean, and now has lost her fiancé in a military helicopter accident.  Anyone who has lost a loved one, especially when it is unexpected, can relate to this powerful quote, “Several times she had to talk herself out of just crawling back into bed… Moving on, healing, required putting one foot in front of the other.  Even when it felt impossible.”

The story poignantly shows how those grieving can move on, that time heals.  Yet, there are also instances when something can spur someone’s memory about a loved one, and that feeling of being hit in the gut returns.  “I wanted to write about this because I experience it.  I put in the book how sometimes the weight of the pain feels brand new.  I lost my father when I was ten.  I watched my mother and how she dealt with losing a partner.  I think I put my own feelings in these scenes.  My dad has been dead almost twenty-five years and every once in awhile a thought pops up in my head and I cry instantly.  I think the grieving process is a long journey.”

But it is also a story of hope.  After a year serving overseas Alexis returns to her home town in Kansas. Her brother offers her a job at the Stag Distillery he owns with two friends.But it also ended up becoming one of the most successful wedding and event venues in the Kansas City metro area. To promote their business one of the partners, Jake, travels on the road to find new clients. Realizing that Alex would be a good addition for making sells, it is decided that she will travel with him. Ready for a new challenge, Alexis agrees to accompany her new co-worker, Jake. Soon the casual relationship becomes intense where both realize they have strong feelings for each other.

“I wrote how their relationship was grounded in respect and friendship. Both needed someone that they cared for.  They were able to tease and joke with each other, feeling very comfortable, because they started out as friends.  They appear as opposites since Alexis is a survivor, strong, broken, vulnerable, determined, desperate for a family, and is very guarded. Jake is a player, a playboy, who always feels second best. As Alexis opens up to him about her feelings he listens, doesn’t pry or lecture about what she should be feeling.  Slowly he transitions from a playboy to a partner.”

This is a very emotional story that will tug at the heart. There are many touching scenes with very likable characters.


Book Review: Not Our Kind

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.

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Not Our Kind by Kitty Zeldis brings to life post World War II in New York City. 1947 was an enlightening year for two women and a child, brought together after a traffic accident. Eleanor, a young Jewish teacher and a WASPy married woman, Patricia, find an unexpected connection, after Eleanor is hired to home school Patricia’s daughter Margeaux, who sees herself as a polio cripple. This story delves into class issues, differences of religion, women’s roles, love, friendship, motherhood, and coming of age.Those who enjoy the popular made for TV show Mrs. Maisel will definitely enjoy this novel since both concentrate on Jewish life in New York City, post World War II.

The author wants readers to know she believes the book appeals to readers of all different religions “because it is really a book about outcasts, being different.  Whether it is religiously, as with Eleanor, or someone with a handicap, as with Margaux. The post war period had a lot of optimism and prosperity in this country.  But Jews still suffered the emotional and social hurts.  Both Patricia and Eleanor struggled against their roles and expectations. Eleanor went on a journey as she looked for where she might fit into this new world.”

Eleanor forms an instant bond with Margaux. Soon the idealistic young woman is filling the bright young girl’s mind with Shakespeare and Latin.  Patricia Bellamy is willing to overlook the fact Eleanor is Jewish because she sees her daughter thriving and willing to venture out in the world again.  But this perfect job has some catches.  Eleanor must disguise her name,changing it to Moss instead of Moskowitz, so other building residents won’t know she is Jewish. Patricia is worried about what her family and society friends will think because she hired a Jewish woman even though she is extremely happy with the effect she has on Margaux. More problems for Eleanor arises after she joins the Bellamy family in their Connecticut summer home to continue tutoring Margaux. Wynn, Patricia’s husband, is an Anti-Semite who sexually harassed and assaulted Eleanor decades before the Me-Too era. Patricia also realizes that a romance is brewing between her bohemianbrother, Tom, and Eleanor.After these lines are crossed, both Eleanor and Patricia will have to make important decisions that will resonate throughout their lives.

“I wanted to show how Margaux’s experience with polio redefined her.  She started out as a happy, pampered, beautiful child with high expectations. After this horrible disease, she is left with a defect that changes who she will be and how she will make a life for herself.  She became a candid survivor.  Eleanor refuses to see her as a cripple, which is part of the reason Margaux is so attracted to her.  Eleanor is smart, compassionate, kind, capable, resourceful, and honest.  She has partial role models in her mother, Patricia, and her publishing boss.  She does not accept what is conventionally out there for her.  Because of this she has courage to venture out. Patricia is more conventional than Eleanor.  Her life is more pre-ordained.  She is willing to see things in a different light.  For instance, she hired a Jewish tutor because she saw the effect Eleanor had on her daughter.  I think she is a very good mother and possibly her daughter was her conscience.”

The story delves into class differences, prejudice, and love. Zeldis brilliantly illuminates how two worlds collide, and the effect it had on these women as they contemplate how a Jew can find a place in a non-Jewish world. Readers will turn the pages wondering what path in life each character will take.


Book Review: Sold On A Monday

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.

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Sold on A Monday by Kristina McMorris brings to life a story anchored in reality, by an actual photograph. The saying “a picture is worth a 1000 words” springboards the plot. The mystery is jumpstarted by a photograph taken as readers wonder what happens to all those in the picture?McMorris noted, “I saw this photo circulating on-line.  It was of four children huddled together on a stoop in Chicago in 1948 with their mother in the background.  There was a sign next to them that read, ‘four children for sale inquire within.’ As a mother of two young boys I was haunted by that photo for months and months. After I understood there is a story to write I revisited it. They say ‘a picture is worth a 1000 words,’ but for me it ended up to be 90,000 words, a whole novel.  I think any strong and powerful art piece or photo after someone looks at it can tell a story that might even raise questions.”

It all started with a picture that became the inspiration for an article by a struggling journalist, Ellis Reed, as it expressed the desperate days of the American Great Depression in 1931. He took a picture of two boys sitting under a sign that read, “2 children for sale.”After the picture is brought to the chief’s attention by his secretary, Lillian (Lily) Palmer, Ellis is offered his chance to write worthwhile stories that begins with this one about the boys. But his chance to advance seems to go up in ashes after the picture is accidentally destroyed just prior to publication.  Knowing the article would be meaningless without a photo Ellis stages another one with a different family.  Lily feels responsible for the aftermath because it was her idea to show the original picture to the newspaper editor in the first place. Ellis’s story launches his career, but it also creates a chain of devastating events.Now both Ellis and Lily, feeling responsible, are determined to make things right.

“I wanted to write Lily as strong, vulnerable, and someone who carries a lot of guilt, shame, as well as secrets. I think her son Samuel helps to drive her decisions. She connects to the children in Ellis’ story, seeing parallels to her own life. Ellis is a good person who makes poor choices.  He wants his father’s approval and to get it has the need for tangible accomplishments.  Through his career achievements he gains self-confidence and self-esteem. All the characters in this story tried to forgive themselves for past deeds.  They are searching for what they really want out of life.”

Readers will take a journey with all the characters as they ponder what they would do if they could give their children a better life. Set in 1931 during the Depression, people were desperate to feed their families. This brings into focus the question of how far would a parent go to ensure their children survive? On a similar note, McMorris also explores the struggle Lily had with trying to succeed professionally and being a single mother who wanted the best for her son, Samuel.

This novel takes readers back in time and allows them to have a vivid picture of the desperation.  It is an engrossing story of love, family, ambition, and the struggle of each of the characters with their personal beliefs, how life’s circumstances can push people to do the unthinkable.


Book Review: Sweet Little Lies

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.

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Sweet Little Lies by Caz Frear is a police procedural that overlaps with the psychological thriller genre.  This story follows Met detective Cat Kinsella who is investigating why and how Alice’s body is found close to her father’s pub.

Frear never had any police experience. “However, a friend put me in touch with a great police officer who has been invaluable. He keeps me on the straight and narrow when it comes to procedure. I wouldn’t say I’m an absolute slave to accuracy when it comes to procedure, but when writing a page-turner, I simply can’t wait a week to get a DNA test result back. But it does need to feel authentic.”

Cat’s troubled past comes into play as it becomes obvious that Alice was murdered and it is related to another woman vanishing eighteen years earlier. She wonders if her dad had something to do with Maryanne’s disappearance? Memories flood Cat, as a child of eight on a vacation in Ireland, she had to deal with why Maryanne had gone missing and her dad’s denial of ever knowing the seventeen-year-old girl, creating tension between Cat and her father. She is wondering if her father could have murdered both Maryanne and Alice.  Through her investigation she confronts secrets about the women, her father, and her family life.

Cat is a tough but damaged female protagonist who has become very cynical. She is strong, smart, loyal, and brave, but also funny and kind. Readers can easily identify and relate with her. Because of her desire to over-empathize with the victims her supervising officer requires that she continue with her department-mandated therapy. But she finds that the discussion often leads to issues mostly connected to her father and past events.

“I hope readers are invested in my character Cat. I know I am attached to her.  Cat is flawed, a bit overweight, and down on herself. I do not consider her a Superhero, but just a detective trying to do her job. I’d describe Cat as an everywoman.  She has some really big issues that she’s dealing with but she tries to get along with people and she wants to be liked as well as respected.  There’s an element of her that is still that eight-year-old girl in Ireland who has just found out that the world isn't a safe place.”

This debut novel delves into dark family secrets full of lies and revelations. It is interesting how Frear combines the two genres to write a gripping story.


Book Review: The Hazards of Good Fortune

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.

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The Hazards of Good Fortune by Seth Greenland explores why society is less forgiving today than in the past and relies too much on the court of public opinion. He delves into the issues of race, religion, and how they are intertwined.

Greenland wanted to write a story centered around “a New York real estate mogul that takes some events of Donald Sterling’s life. I thought Sterling got everything he deserved, but it did make me think.  I actually had a character before I had a story, knowing that I wanted to write about someone tried and convicted before he had his day in court. In my book, people make up their minds before all the facts are.”

The main character, Jay Gladstone is a Jewish real estate tycoon and NBA basketball team owner who’s proud of his philanthropic efforts. His star player, Dag Maxwell, wants a contract renewal with a lot of zeroes at the end of his payment.  Things turn upside down when Jay finds him in bed with his wife, Nicole, and then accidentally runs over him as Maxwell runs out of the house. Jay is also contending with Nicole’s desire to have a child, which goes against the signed prenup, as well as his college aged daughter, from a previous marriage, that has very radical political ideas. But nothing compares to a statement he made that goes viral, “why does everyone in this family need to have sex with black people?"

“I wanted to explore the idea of intersectionality and question if it excludes Jews.  They are not considered a persecuted minority.  There seems to be a ladder of grievance.  In the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s being Jewish was considered a cool thing, but it no longer is.  I write about this in the book and how that nuance got lost. Power structures are now being challenged.  Our society is at an inflection point, and I thought this the right time to wade into the national conversation. Jay is a good man that makes a terrible mistake and he has his life destroyed because of it.  I think he is a flawed individual who is intelligent, big-hearted, wealthy, and is clueless about what happens to him societally after he let his emotions get the better of him.”

Through the plot and characters, Greenland makes a statement about today’s divisive society.  A book quote hammers the point home, “Nowadays personal destruction is a sport.” Because of life’s circumstances Jay sees that he has become public enemy number one, with everything spiraling out of control.  “I wrote this scene in the NBA offices where Jay uses the phrase ‘sold down the river.’ Someone tells him that he should not say it because it refers to slavery.  It is so obvious that Jay meant it as the current day reference and did not even think about the latter day meaning.  We are in an environment where people are just looking for things. The extremists on the left and right have hijacked the dialogue with the media amplifying everything and the Internet is the accelerant.”

This book shows through each of the characters how good people can do bad things and the result is having their life blown up.  Through Nicole, Jay, and Dag the issues of race, religion, class, money, sports, and politics, are explored.  It is a tragedy with some humorous scenes that at times are witty and at other times biting.


Book Review: Pieces of Her

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.

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Pieces of Herby Karin Slaughter is a spell binding psychological thriller.  The suspense keeps ratcheting up as she throws curve ball after curve ball to the readers.  At the heart of the story is the mother-daughter relationship and the hidden secrets. How well does someone know their parents?

Slaughter told of how “I think a lot about this. How many of us realize that our mom/dad had a life before us?  No matter how old you are you do not want to realize your parents had this life and have secrets.  For example, I had no idea my dad was an electrician.  Sometimes we do not think to ask our parents about their life before we were born. Andy realizes that Laura had a secret life she knows nothing about, where her mother had a whole new backstory.”

Andrea (Andy) Cooper thought she knew her mild mannered mother.  But that changes after a spree shooting in a mall restaurant where Andy and Laura are celebrating her 31stbirthday. Laura shows a completely different side, a courageous woman willing to stand up to this killer to save her daughter. She dispassionately confronts the killer, first disarming him, and then knifing him with his own weapon, making it appear that she was somehow trained to kill. The police and media attention to Laura's actions unleashes attention of a life-threatening sort. For nearly thirty years she’s been hiding from her previous identity, lying low in the hope that no one would ever find her. But now she’s been exposed forcing Andy to go on the run, where she becomes determined to unravel the mystery of her mother's past, in hopes of saving them both.In her quest, Andrea realizes that she only knows what her mother, Laura, chose to reveal.

Slaughter chose to explore self-defense versus murder. “When I was writing this, I realized it is very subjective.  How do you quantify that you did it because you are scared?  Because everyone has cell phones and videos, there was something to look at and see how each were standing and what they were saying.  I think the police and prosecutors have a lot of leeway on determining if someone should be charged.  I also think public reaction plays a great influence.  I wanted to talk about the idea of perception. Do we really know what is in Laura’s mind when she does that action? Did she do it out of self-preservation or anger? I think she would probably get the benefit of the doubt.”

With alternating chapters between the present, 2018, and Laura’s past in 1986, Slaughter writes flawed but sympathetic characters with hidden motivations driving their choices. After returning home to help her mother recover from breast cancer, Andy is still a millennial struggling to find herself with no obvious career goals. She has always felt inferior to her parents. Her father, Gordon Oliver, is a trusts and estates attorney; her mother, Dr. Laura Oliver, is a speech therapist, a pillar of the community. Gordon is the only character in the story that is a solid figure who is responsible, caring, and patient. 

Interestingly, “I wrote about the generational gap. Millennials want to rise to the top.  They have to realize they must start at the bottom before trying to run the entire company. I did enjoy playing with the generational differences of Laura and her daughter. The book is published overseas already and I can see the different generational reactions. The millennials are keyed in to Andy, where those in their late thirties or older gravitate toward Laura.   Andy is someone that at her age of thirty-one is way too dependent on her parents.  At a very early age it was made very clear to me that I had to find a job. In the beginning of the book she is like that guy we heard about on the news who is forty and still living at home.” 

Slaughter is one of those special authors that take readers on a journey with the characters.  Throughout the novel the timely subjects of cancer, abuse, cults, injustice, obsession, and violence are explored. Those who have read her in the past know that Slaughter has set the bar high and with this intense story she does not disappoint.


Book Review: Desperate Girls

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.

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Desperate Girls by Laura Griffin is a captivating novel, combining a suspenseful murder mystery, police procedural, with a touch of romance. She has the unique ability to write compelling plots that highlight caring and realistic characters.

Griffin was able to pull off making a defense attorney someone readers will root for.  She noted, “My dad is an attorney and I tease him about the stereotype.  Also, a good friend of mine from childhood has a similar background to Brynn.  She started as an Assistant District Attorney, working for the prosecution’s side, and switched over to criminal defense work.  I thought she has a fascinating career path, starting on one side and then moving to the ‘dark side.’  I interviewed her as a resource because I wanted the insights of someone who worked on both sides of the aisle.  No matter what the profession, I try to weave the details of the job and the jargon into the story to bring it to life.  Hopefully, it makes the plot and characters more realistic. Brynn’s character is the checks and balance within the system. There is a need for good lawyers on both sides to have a fair system.”

Former prosecutor Brynn Holloran has turned to the dark side, becoming a defense attorney. Everyone knows she is a superstar in the courtroom, although a failure in her personal life. She now must contend with a vicious murderer, James Corby, she once helped prosecute. His escape from jail has put her life in jeopardy. He seeks revenge against all those who helped put him away. Corby has already brutally killed the former lead prosecutor Jen Ballard, and the lead detective who worked the case. To protect her, Byrnn’s boss hires a private security firm that will also guard Ross, her co-counsel, who also worked for the District Attorney’s office. Erik Morgan, a marine and former secret service Agent is put in charge of her detail. Unfortunately, he soon realizes his client has trouble following orders and refuses to be dictated to.  Sparks fly not only when they butt heads, each an alpha with their share of strengths and vulnerabilities, but also as it becomes clear there is an obvious attraction. A sub-plot allows readers to get behind the scenes of an intriguing court case.  Both the search for the escapee and the court room scenes make for a riveting read.

The personalities of Brynn and Eric are well written. They are likeable believable characters.  Griffin is able to balance the tension of the manhunt while allowing people to get to know the characters. Brynn is confident, self-assured, pretty, feisty, with a sharp wit that at times tends to intimidate others. Eric is loyal, protective, professional, smart, and commanding which presents a problem since both he and Brynn want to be in control. The banter between these two makes for a welcome relief from the intense plot.

“I wanted to write two very strong personalities. Eric is intensely focused, while she is assertive, flashy, extroverted, and smart.  He is the strong, silent type that has a hard exterior but inside has vulnerabilities that he eventually shows to Brynn.  He started out in the protective detail for dignitaries, while in the Marines, and moved over to the Secret Service.  I interviewed someone on then Vice-President Biden’s detail and tried to weave the details he told me into the story, including the long hours and travel. I also wanted to give a shout out to those in the military. Many at the Wolfe Security firm are ex-Marines. They have traits of being loyal, believing in a brotherhood, and have integrity.  I wanted to show the commitment and discipline they can bring to any non-military job.  I have the upmost respect for the men and women who are serving and have served.”

Anyone picking up a Laura Griffin book will not be disappointed as she brings together action, romance, mystery and suspense. This first of a new series builds a tension that ends with an intriguing twist, leaving readers spellbound.


Book Review: Swift Vengeance

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.

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Swift Vengeance by T. J. Parker starts out with a sharp cut, when someone is threatened with decapitation.  Drones play an important role as readers wonder how they are used in today’s society, able to enter someone’s private premises, used for business purposes, or in warfare to kill the terrorists before they behead someone.

Parker noted, “Drones are in the news a lot.  The government had to pass who could fly a drone and where.  It is scary where we are going with them. The drone teams are put in an air-conditioned trailer outside of Las Vegas and fly live missions over countries in the Middle East.  The logistics of how it works is mind boggling. This book goes into how Lindsey’s actions in the military and the resulting consequences of those actions come back to haunt her.  Drone pilots seem to have to face ethical issues over the course of their career. Their nerves are shot, and many have trouble handling the long confinement.  The duties are far different psychologically than being a physical pilot.” 

Lindsey Rakes was part of a team of U.S.-based drone operators attacking terrorists. The psychological toll of the work eventually led her into a downward spiral of drinking and gambling. Trying to regain her family, she’s now in recovery. But her life is thrown into a tail-spin after someone threatens to behead her. After going on a date with Saudi born Rasha Samara, a collector of Arabian horses, she receives a written death threat, “Vengeance is justice,” signed “Caliphornia,” The handwriting looks very similar to the Rasha’s signature found on a note. She asks her old friend, private detective Roland Ford to investigate. Knowing he needs more resources he consults with FBI Agent Joan Taucher. The violence increases when Kenny Bryce, a former Air Force colleague of Lindsey’s is beheaded. Taucher and Ford know time is running out and must quickly find who is “Caliphornia” before more decapitations occur.

“I tend to write characters in pairs.  Joan and Lindsey are both duty bound. Neither are proud or ashamed for the work they have done.  They are tough and pragmatic.  I think those in the military and law enforcement have more than a little in common.”

This realistic page-turner has readers taking a journey with the characters.


Book review: Shattered Silence

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.

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Shattered Silence by Marta Perry flawlessly intertwines a mystery with contemporary themes, while giving a sprinkling of the Amish culture.  She illuminates the differences between the Amish community and the larger urban society.

The author noted, “I wanted to write something that would dramatize the modern life of the character against the quiet secluded farm life.  I have always lived in areas where there are Amish. Readers enjoy it because they can react to the complexity of their modern life.  They enjoy reading about those who live in the contemporary world but have a much simpler life.  I have spoken with some Amish who say, ‘if you like our reliance on family, rely on yours or build one; if you like the fact we are interconnected within our community, do it in your community.’ I think many wish they had the simpler existence, similar to when they were growing up.” 

The plot begins with new divorcee Rachel Hartline attempting to touch base with her ex-husband, Paul, to discuss putting their home up for sale. After catching him trying to download some sensitive company information things go very awry for her. First, she must deal with Paul’s disappearance, and then a private investigator, Clint Mordan,hired by the CEO to locate the flash drive, suspects her of being a likely participant in her husband’s scheme.  After having her house broken into, turned upside down, and having her life threatened she decides to seek the haven of her grandparents.  They are Amish and Rachel knows she will be safe with them. As Clint follows Rachel from Philadelphia to the tiny Amish community of Echo Falls, Pennsylvania, he figures out that whatever loyalty Rachel might still feel, it doesn’t include lying or covering up for her ex-husband. As he and his partner hit dead ends he wonders why their client is keeping them in the dark, and becomes more protective of Rachel. As they begin to trust each other, both realize that there are few people they can trust to ensure Rachel does not become a murder victim.

Because of her past experiences Rachel has trust issues.  Outwardly she tries to give an air of independence, but deep down she is very vulnerable. She has been let down by the ones who should love and care for her the most. Rachel is loyal, resilient, considerate, and a generous person. These traits she learned during her summers at the Amish farm with her grandparents, where her former Amish mother would send her.

“I wrote Rachel’s profession as a Kindergarten teacher and I based her on some of the wonderful, kind ones I knew.  As a traditionalist, she is devastated by the fact that she couldn’t make her marriage work, always thinking she would marry for life. Those people in her life that are close to her let her down, a big element in the formation of her personality. Although conscientious she has trust issues, including trusting her own instincts. I do not think she is as independent as she assumes.  For instance, when she realizes she is in trouble and needs help she doesn’t flee to the nearest big city where she can disappear, but goes back to what represents home to her, the Amish community, seeking security and safety.”

Clint compliments Rachel. At first, he seemed like a cold, calculated, and tough man, someone goal oriented with no sympathy. Yet, Rachel’s Amish family recognizes that beneath that hard exterior is a considerate, kind, gentle, and fiercely protective hero.

Perry commented, “He is motivated by a sense of duty.  He is a very righteous person who believes in duty first and honor above all. Unlike Rachel he was raised in a very secure and stable environment.  Clint is haunted by the fact he felt he let his police partner down and is determined that now as a private investigator it will not happen again to Rachel. He would not talk about this issue because he is uncomfortable talking about his feelings, forcing Rachel to develop a short hand to figure out what is going on with his emotions.”

Perry does a great job of balancing the family element within a suspenseful plot,which have moments of fear, dread, and tension. Once the first page is turned readers will be hooked, as they must navigate all the different twists thrown at them.


Book Review: The Good Liar

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.

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The Good Liar by Catherine McKenzie has a theme of betrayal with the backdrop of a horrific tragedy.  Readers will be reminded of 9/11 or the Oklahoma City bombing, and the victims, those that died and those that survived.  The story is told through the lives of the women affected, characters that present different faces, the public one and a masked one that they hope to keep secret.

The author noted, “There were a couple of threads coming together.  Years ago, after September 11thI remember seeing the chain link fence where the missing photos were posted.  I had a thought, could one of these people have used the tragedy as an opportunity to disappear.  I did not want to mimic the actual event, but it was in my thoughts. It was not set in New York, but in Chicago and I tried to move away from the rawness of September 11th. I had a lot of friends living in New York on that day.  One of my friends had been in the adjacent tower.  I do remember watching the events unfold and wondering if my friends were OK.My husband and his mother were in the Twin Towers a week before during that time of the day.”

When a gas explosion rips apart a Chicago building, the lives of the women are forever altered. Over 500 people killed and thousands more have been wounded. To honor the one year anniversary Teo Jackson films a documentary about the “Triple Ten Explosion,” which happened on the tenth month, the tenth day, and at 10 AM. The past and present perspectives of Cecily and Kate, are told, while Franny’s story is told in the documentaryinterview transcripts.  

“I wanted a writing challenge.  I know as a writer I have to create a three-dimensional world of rooms, smells, and sounds.  There was a tool taken away from me.  With a transcript, you don’t get to say how the person was feeling or have access to their internal thoughts.  As a lawyer, I read a lot of transcripts.  It is interesting to me what can get lost from actually being in the room to reading the transcripts.  It seemed at times it was not how I remembered it; yet, there it was on the page.  Even in a documentary people have a narrative and can manipulate the story.”

A year ago, Cecily was photographed in a timeless shot capturing a pure moment of shock as she stands there staring at the wreckage, fearing her husband, Tom, and best friend, Kaitlyn, have been killed. On the anniversary, she has survivor’s guilt, knowing she was supposed to be in the building that day, but per usual was late. Another victim, Kate ran from the scene of the explosion, deciding to leave behind her young children and husband. She escapes to Canada hoping to make a new life for herself and that her past secrets won’t catch up with her. The third person, Franny, resents her life after finding out she was adopted and that Kaitlyn was her mother, but fate ends any attempt with reconciliation.

This is a complex story that delves into the lives of the victims. It has a major twist towards the end of the story bringing the women together in an unexpected way. 


Book Review: Hard Rustler

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.

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Hard Rustler by bestselling author B. J. Daniels brings to life the Montana countryside in her latest novel.  Readers will enjoy the characters, setting, and mystery. The plot is a modern-day version of past Westerns.

The setting is very important and Daniels based it when “I moved to Montana from Texas at the age of five. I write what I see and know about. The Western way of life is all I have ever known.  It is a much simpler way of life.  We now live in a small town where most people are rancher cowboys.  As in the story, it is isolated, with the closest Target Store three hours away.  Someone can be driving either sixty miles south or north and they will not see anybody all day.  In the book, there is a scene like that where Annabelle had run out of gas and she feels completely alone and secluded. This is all true to life.  I always have food and a blanket in the car in case it breaks down, because cell phones do not work here.” 

The story begins with a city gal, Annabelle (Annie) Clementine, traveling back to her home town of Whitehorse Montana.  After high school, she decided to escape the monotony to become a famous model, leaving her love interest behind.  Now, thirteen years later, she is back to sell her late grandmother’s house and to get out of town as soon as possible.  The one problem, she is destitute with no money and seems to depend on her ex-boyfriend, Dawson Rogers, to rescue her. He helps by bailing her out so her car is not repossessed, siphoning off gas, and saving her life. It seems someone wants to find something in her grandmother’s house that has been hidden for years, and is willing to kill for an answer.  Annie and Dawson must sort out the mystery and determine what her grandmother was hiding.

Daniels wrote Annabelle as “someone who wants to do something with her life, a desire to succeed. This happens a lot with Montana children who leave to get a job but often come home to raise their children. In this story, she comes home with her tail between her legs.  I think at the beginning of the story she is a snob, arrogant, and determined.  Later those qualities come out as spunky, strong, and a risk-taker.  She and Dawson at first appear to be opposites. She has a driving ambition and he is satisfied with the simpler things in life.  After being high school lovers, he knew he had to let her go and sensed she had this restless streak.  This is why he did not fight more for her to stay.  When she came back she started to realize what was important in life.  She had sowed her oats.”

As with most westerns boy meets girl, boy loses girl, and boy gets girl.  This novel has that and more, inputting modern day issues into a suspenseful mystery.


Book Review: Still Water

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.

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Still Water by Amy Stuart has a plot as riveting as the rushing river water. This psychological thriller has amateur private investigator, Clare, hunting for a missing mother and son.  But the town is putting up roadblocks with their deceptions.

Stuart noted, “I wanted High River based on how the encroachment of a city expands outward.  I can remember places as a child as we drove out to the country that are now sub-divisions of the urban areas.  I wanted to explore what happens when there is a rural property and the city expands, swallowing up all the rural land around it.  Much of this beautiful property is taken over by developers.  As in my book, each member of the community has different end goals regarding the land.” 

Because this is Clare’s second case she is still learning on the job. Sally and her young son, Matthew have vanished and Clare’s handler, Malcolm, assigned her the task to find out what happened. Luckily for her and the readers, she is a quick learner, able to keep the police and townsfolk at bay with her undercover story.  Pretending to be a friend of the missing woman, Clare ventures to a safe house for the abused. Women in distress and danger go there to hide in safety, and then hopefully move on with new identities.

Truth versus lies are explored. “This is the fundamental question I write about, over the course of the series.  I intentionally have readers wonder if what Clare has said about herself is true.  Truth can be so subjective.  Two people can experience the same thing and come out of it with completely different versions.  Does the absolute truth even exist or is it based on pre-conceptions?  I try to explore what is the truth through Clare’s eyes as she comes to terms with her own experiences.” 

Clare struggles with her own demons.  She has been running from an abusive husband, Jason, when Malcolm finds her. Instead of turning her in, he hires Clare to work with him to find other missing persons. Although Malcolm assures her that Jason is out of the picture, Clare knows that is not the case. Starting to question Malcolm’s credibility, because he is hiding something in his past, she fears there is something serious that he is not telling her. 

This story has many layers and the ending has a major twist.


Book Review: Sweet After Death

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.

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Sweet After Death by Valentina Giambanco is a riveting police procedural with a fascinating look at small town life. The opening bone-chilling scene has a brutal murder that sets the stage for the rest of the novel. 

Seattle detectives Alice Madison and Kevin Brown along with crime scene investigator Amy Sorensen are sent to the town of Ludlow to help the very small police force investigate the killing of a well-respected doctor. The brutality of the cold winter weather matches the horrific way the doctor was killed. Ludlow is located a few hours from Seattle within the mountainous backdrop. But as the inquiry takes hold events seem to spiral out of the Seattle investigator’s control.  During the Memorial Service, the killer strikes again, murdering another town’s member and having the three Seattle police officers under siege. As they become targets, Madison and her team realize they must find the murderer before he or she strikes again.

The trick for the author was having the Seattle detectives travel to this small town and assist in the investigation. “I had them called in by the Police Chief for support. It was the county’s first murder and they needed their expertise. I made sure the conflict between the city and town law enforcement was superficial.  I wanted them to get along and help each other. Seattle and the surrounding areas have a perfect landscape for crime writing.  Washington State has cities, a wilderness, that are close by.  I had a huge range of options for what my characters can do.  I always think of the environment when writing a story.  For this book, I knew I wanted to have a remote isolated small town surrounded by the mountains. The actual town is a combination of Friday Harbor in Washington State and Banff, a Canadian national park town.”

The investigation leads to a survivalist, Jeb Tanner, living in the woods with his twelve children.  He has his children taking turns between the hunter and the prey with the loser locked in a hut. They are terrified of him, fearful of his wrath.  One of the youngsters, Samuel, has a compelling story that seems very similar to what Madison went through as a child. He wonders what happened to his mother and older brother and puts his faith in Madison, hoping she will help out.  The comparisons and insights with her past are some of the most interesting aspects of the plot.

The author noted, “I am fascinated by people who lead this kind of life.  They barricade themselves on their land and bring up their children in an isolated environment.  They are inaccessible to others of their own age, the Internet, and television.  I always wondered what are their hopes, dreams, and fears. I think the child Sam and Madison are related because of her own experiences. Living in the wilderness makes it very important.  Alice as a girl was kidnapped by a hunter.  He blurred hunting for animals and people, something Sam’s father does as well.  The hunter Alice had to deal with roamed the mountains and national parks to find groups of people to pursue.” 

This story involving lies and deceptions fosters an intriguing mystery.  The author uses the environment to create a creepy atmosphere that includes the mountains and forests surrounding the town.