Book Review: The Shadow List

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 Shadow List by Todd Moss is an international crime novel. Unlike other thrillers this takes place in the non-traditional place of Nigeria with the non-traditional hero, Judd Ryker, heading the State Department’s Crisis Reaction Unit.

As a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the African Bureau Moss is able to use his experiences to help with the story. “I am inspired by real people. When I worked at the State Department I knew of true heroes. One was an anti-corruption czar in Nigeria who had to endure many assassination attempts. This is the basis for this international thriller.”

Although this story can be read as a stand-alone there are some scenes that will be more understandable if the earlier books are read.   It might be more helpful to learning the backstory on the characters and their motivations.

The two main characters are married with one working for the diplomatic corps and the other for the CIA, both in specialized units. They try to keep their jobs separate but as the story progresses their paths cross in a deadly way.

Moss noted, “The issues the main characters face are very real including the bureaucratic nonsense that prevents things from getting done. A good example was Benghazi, a rapidly unfolding crisis that went very bad because the different parts of our government did not talk to each other very well. Regarding our intelligence agency there are different units. The Red Cell I describe in the book is a special analytical unit and is real. It is the inspiration for the Purple Cell that Jessica heads up, which is not real.”

The plot had Judd tasked to rescue a kidnapped Wall Street consultant and a pro basketball player. At the same time his wife Jessica is sent on a mission to discover who is the Russian mobster nicknamed “the Bear” and what are his intentions. Both he and his wife will end up in Nigeria together connected by a Nigerian Judge who is combating corruption in his country. There they realize how far each with go to save the good guys and thwart the bad guys.

An interesting part of the book examines the relationship between an operative and their spouse. Since Moss was a senior State Department official “I struggled with handling the classified information. I wanted to show in the book how Jessica had a hard time splitting in her mind what is classified and what is not. Eventually anyone who works with classified information comes to the realization it is better not to talk about anything for fear of saying something they should not.”

The main characters are smart and appealing. The plot is exciting, captivating, and intriguing. Readers will enjoy a change of pace where diplomacy intertwines with the action. 510Z7emfxkL._SX328_BO1 204 203 200_

Book Review: The Woman Who Couldn't Scream

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 Woman Who Couldn’t Scream is a classic Christina Dodd novel. Her heroines have some handicap yet are determined in spite of facing adversity. They fight to take control over their life. This installment of the Virtue Falls series brings back Kateri Kwinault, now the sheriff, who ignores her handicap of being physically disabled. The other heroine, a stand-alone character Merida Falcon is mute after a horrific accident. Dodd fabulously weaves together these two women within a thrilling plot and a “who done it” mystery.

The plot has Merry Byrd seriously injured in an explosion that meant to kill her. She had to undergo numerous facial surgeries that changed her appearance. To get the financing she had to make a pact with the devil, a possessive old geezer who wanted her for his trophy wife. Changing her name to Helen Brassard she endured nine long years of his abusive, controlling, and manipulative ways. After he died Helen reinvents herself yet again. She disappears and remerges as the beautiful, reclusive Merida Falcon in the coastal town of Virtue Falls, WA. This tourist town has its share of killers, which preoccupies Merida’s childhood friend, the current sheriff.

Dodd commented, “I had taken a two-week transatlantic cruise and was able to observe different personalities. I started thinking about different scenarios including what would make someone want to become a trophy wife, having to service an old and disgusting guy. YUK! I wondered if they sought revenge, money, were being blackmailed, or wanted to escape something in their past. Merida was a close childhood friend of Kateri so I also wanted to show how they both used their past association to gain strength from each other.”

Sheriff Kateri Kwinault is trying to find a serial killer who slashes their victims to death. Besides dealing with this she is recovering from a drive by shooting which left her needing to walk with a cane, her best friend hovering near death, a series of unexplained murders, a deranged local meth-head criminal, and a complicated love life. It is interesting how both heroines struggle to come to grips with their physical handicap, are unable to have parents that provided unconditional love, are subjected to emotional abuse, and fear that their boyfriends tried to kill them.

What Dodd does very well is allow readers to learn more about people who are mute. They enter Merida’s world and begin to understand that not only deaf people use sign language. But people also realize that technology has considerably helped those who lost these senses. Merida introduces herself via sign language or use of a computer tablet, signing or typing, “I am mute, unable to speak. I am not deaf. Please do not shout!” This never interrupts the flow nor detracts from the plot but adds a layer of complexity to the storyline. It might also spur someone to want to learn more about the different ways of communicating with someone deaf or mute.

Merida has some mental anguish, but will not let her muteness define her. Dodd feels “people with handicaps are not broken and do not need to be fixed. They are whole people. They were put in circumstances they never dreamed of, but were able to pick themselves up. I want people to consider what it is like for someone who loses one of their senses. Most people ridiculously talk to someone in the same manner they speak with a person who does not understand their language: either raising voices or speaking very slowly. I also wanted to show how someone communicates with sign language. They can hear us, but cannot respond so they sign. Did you know you could say someone is mute, but not ‘a mute?’”

This novel blends an understanding someone’s handicap within a plot involving murder, spousal abuse, and relationships. The story is fast paced and has high intensity with a variety of twists and turns. Readers will scream in disappointment that the story has ended. 51Kpq86wciL._SX304_BO1 204 203 200_

Book Review: Last Christmas In Paris

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.

Last Christmas In Paris by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb is a unique story. A word of warning, it is not a “sugar and spice and everything nice” novel. The story is very authentic as it covers the triumphs and tribulations that affected the civilian life and those on the battlefield. Yet, it leaves the reader with a good feeling as the book ends with a sentiment of hope. The love and romantic scenes are a great balance against the horrors of the Great War.

What makes this book stand out is that the story of World War I is told predominantly in letters and telegrams. The primary letter authors are Evie, Alice, Will, and Thomas. The latter three tell of the tragedies of war: Alice an ambulance driver, Will and Thomas on the front lines, while Evie, represents the civilian population. She if filled with worry, dread, depression, and fear for her loved ones. The writings also show how the attitudes changed through the course of the war. In the beginning the letters are full of excitement, a sense of adventure, pride and thoughts that the war won't last long, yet, as it becomes evident that it will not be over by Christmas, the correspondence becomes more serious and speaks of the atrocities and hardships. Because Evie was not content to sit idly she writes a newspaper column about the war effort and the feelings of those left behind, as well as those fighting on the frontlines.

Gaynor describes her as “ambitious, spunky, unconventional, and strong-willed. She had no intention to just marry someone, but wanted to play a pivotal role in the War. This is why we had her write a newspaper column like the famous American journalist Nellie Bly. WWI was the event that changed roles for women. She was trying to find her voice and was talking to the female readers, much like a wartime Dear Abby.”

Through the letters between Evie and Alice readers learn how the women took over the male-dominated jobs from delivering the mail, to driving ambulances, being a part of the Auxillary Corps, and even writing newspaper articles.

Webb noted, “There is a scene in the book where Thomas, Evie’s best friend who she is in love with, writes that she should not come to the frontlines. He says, ‘I don’t want you here amid the gloom and gore. It isn’t the place for someone like you and won’t be good for you.’ Of course she responds, ‘Your letter disappoints me. That you believe a woman has no place in this war…Do all men believe that women are incapable? Must I return to the knitting of comforts and bide my time like a good girl?’ We intentionally had her sign it as Evelyn, not Evie. She was furious with Tom with an attitude, ‘no sweet pet names for you, butthole.’ We also wanted to show that when not communicating directly and only in writing there can be misunderstandings. The reason he was so upset and angry with her had nothing to do with her being a woman. But, rather everything to do with her safety.”

But the exchanges also spoke of the horrific issues of the war. PTSD was either called shell shock or war neurosis and the men diagnosed were considered weak-minded. A powerful quote explains how many thought of these men as faking or frauds. “They walk on both legs without the use of crutches. They swing both arms by their sides. They have no need for facemasks to hide their injuries. These men suffer an entirely different way. They suffer in their minds. The horrors they have seen and the endless sounds they have endured night after night stay with them.”

But the war also penetrated those on the home front. The Scarborough raid by the Germans seemed to be a practice run for the blitzkrieg done in WWII. The Germans killed seventeen innocent civilians including women and children with ninety minutes of shelling.

Today snail mail is almost a forgotten form of communication, but if not for it people would not get a grasp of earlier historical events. This story shows how the letter writing was an emotional form of communication between the characters, showing the culture of the times, the romantic relationship, and how the characters used the letters as a release mechanism. But they mostly showed how letters and the written word are so very powerful.

More than anything this novel is a reminder that not everyone has complete joy during the Christmas holiday, that there are those who have lost loved ones, with war affecting every aspect of someone’s life, including on Christmas where some families have chairs left empty. Readers see World War I through the eyes of these four characters and exhibit the same emotions of enthusiasm, denial, despair, and eventually love. It is a heartwarming and heartbreaking story of victory and loss during World War I. 51qWXM77ktL._SX330_BO1 204 203 200_

Book Q/A With The Todds

The following  is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.

A Casualty Of War by Charles Todd is a winner. This Bess Crawford mystery has the war coming to a close. The story explores the impact World War I had on all who witnessed it: officers, soldiers, doctors, and battlefield nurses.

Fans of Bess will not be disappointed as she is still as independent, steadfast, intelligent, and resilient as ever. Per usual she seeks justice and works within societal norms where readers are able to absorb events that are researched and steeped in time and place.

In this novel Bess becomes the champion of Captain Alan Travis. She meets him near the front lines in France at a forward aid station after he suffered a head wound. He confides in her that he thinks his cousin, Lieutenant James Travis, shot him. To make matters worse after going back to the frontlines he is shot again, this time in the back. Because no one believes him and thinks his rage is due to shell shock, they incarcerate him in a ward for the mentally ill. Being from Barbados without any family support he begs Bess to help him. Although she is not sure his accusations are true, she is sure that the medical diagnosis of shell shock is wrong. With the help of her friend and her father’s former aide, Sergeant Major Simon Brandon, she journeys to James’ home in Suffolk to learn more about the cousins’ relationship and to hopefully enlist the support of the relatives. It is here that the mystery takes off.

Elise Cooper: Is seems shellshock is another word for PTSD, or as it is referred to during WWI, War Neurosis. Please explain


The Todds: We’ve had to learn quite a bit about wounds in the Great War for the Bess Crawford mysteries. And we’ve seen photos of some of them that were unbelievably horrific. You realize, doing this sort of research, what the cost of war really is. But we have to know what Bess has seen and dealt with. The problem was, doctors were often learning as they worked, especially with head wounds. Today we know more about brain injuries, most particularly concussions from shells exploding too close, and wounds to the head. Amazing surgeries save men who would have died in Bess’s day.

EC: But it was not just the soldiers that suffered, but Bess as a nurse as well?

The Todds: Bess, like many combat veterans, suffers from PTSD, even if it wasn’t called that then. Her experiences, many of them horrific, will be with her for the rest of her life. This is why we wrote the scene where Simon comes to Bess’s aid after she had a nightmare, explaining to her, ‘The wounded and dead, their faces will stay with you for a very long time. All those you tried to save. They’ll come back in dreams… The dead are gone, except in your memory. There they are still young and whole and safe.’

EC: You explore what happens when someone tells the truth and no one believes them?

The Todds: Bess realizes the Captain is a man in torment. She is not willing to just walk away. We wanted to have the readers understand the frustration and how it could lead to suicide. He felt so isolated, which is why we had him from Barbados where it was hard to get messages or send them. It is similar to a man or woman who is sent to prison even though they know they are innocent.

EC: You also show the atrocities of the Germans: I guess it is in their DNA?

The Todds: We wrote this book quote, ‘But now we were seeing what the German occupation had done to this part of France. Villages had been leveled, orchards cut down, garden walls turned to rubble, and the flowers that once had bloomed there had been churned into the earth. And often what couldn’t be taken away had been burned.’ The Germans had a scorched earth policy that was bloody vandalism. They even booby-trapped and poisoned wells. The example we put in the book is true where they booby-trapped an oven in a bakery knowing the allied soldiers were hungry and would open them.

EC: The book also explores the atrocities of those who enter the civilian life after fighting for their country?

The Todds: We talked about the burn cases, the amputees, and others that are released from the hospitals and sent back home. What happens to these men? Governments invest a great deal to train soldiers, but have not done a very good job in helping them transition to civilian life. We also explore this in our other series with Detective Ian Rutledge. In the first book people questioned if he is capable of functioning on his own.

EC: I found it very interesting that even after the armistice was declared soldiers died?

The Todds: The war did not end until the peace treaty. When the bells rung, it was not this magical hour where the pace let up. There were still patients and casualties. Peace is coming, but soldiers still must carry on and do their duty, even if it meant killing the enemy. The last combat casualty on record was an American Marine killed in battle after the famous 11th hour. In the middle of battle people don’t just throw down their guns and walk away.

EC: I am sure you are getting this question a lot, are you ending the Bess series now that the war is over?


The Todds: Unlike women of previous generations, Bess is used to serving, not just being useful, but also to having a profession, and the professional respect and recognition to go with it. It would be hard for her to go back and become the dutiful wife who was told what to do. Adjusting to peacetime is going to be difficult, but she will have many adventures. She will still be the amateur sleuth who solves crimes on a personal level. There will be all kinds of things we can explore with Bess. She will have a very interesting future where she might travel to Ireland or Australia.

EC: World War I marked societal transitions?

The Todds: Yes. It was a period where British society went from Victorian to modern day England. Because the men fought on the home front many women took over their roles. Also, the great amount of deaths had women filling in the vocational roles, as well as assuming responsibilities for families and households.

EC: The theme is Greed mixed with grief?

The Todds: Relatives had to face such losses. Since they were not there when their loved one died they always held out some hope. We used this to show how people prayed on them. They were considered easy pickings because many women were not able to manage their estates or handle any financial aspects. James’ mother was one of those who clung to the belief they might possibly be wrong. She never possessed compassion, which lead her to become a victim. Remember there were no grief counselors to help women cope.

EC: Can you give a shout out about your next book(s)?

The Todds: The next book is an Ian Rutledge story entitled The Gate Keeper. It has a murder happen almost in front of Inspector Ian. It is more of a thriller than a mystery. Next fall the next Bess book has the war end but not the suffering. Men are in hospitals and do not suddenly heal. Bess realizes she must have a personal investment in her career.

THANK YOU!! 51pN83mnKSL._SX330_BO1 204 203 200_

Book Review: The Christmas Room

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 Christmas Room by Catherine Anderson is one of these special stories. A word of warning, it is not a “sugar and spice and everything nice” holiday novel. Yet, it is very realistic, believable, and leaves the reader with a good feeling as the book ends, a feeling of hope and redemption.

The story presents different generations. The McClendon’s have come to Montana to fulfill a dream of making a life here in Rustlers Gulch. Three generations of a mother, son, and grandson must learn to battle the Montana wilderness. It plays such a big role that it is like a secondary character. Readers learn of the ranch life, how a Bull Moose can be dangerous to one’s health, and the weather’s unforgiving attitude with horrific winds and knee-high snow levels.

Having moved to Montana Anderson wants to incorporate what she was visualizing. “As I looked out my window I knew I had to put this setting into the story. I consider Montana a tremendous place, rich in scenery and with such friendly people. Here I was sitting in the middle of an alfalfa field in a trailer while my house was being built facing this brutal winter and a Christmas without a home. Lucky me, it was a record breaking winter where snow was up to the tops of my boots.”

Besides battling the inclement weather the McClendon’s must also deal with the unfriendly neighbor Sam Conacher. Embittered by the death of his wife six years ago has left him possessive of his twenty-six year old daughter, Kirstin. She goes along with his wishes because she has not found a man in her life that is worth fighting over. That is, until she meets Cam McClendon, her possible soulmate. After finding out about the relationship, Sam looks to confront Cameron and warn him off from his daughter. Instead, he meets Maddie, Cam’s mother, who becomes a pit bull, and shows him he has met his match. They totally get off on the wrong foot and become adversaries.

Until a horrible accident occurs, where Cam is badly injured saving Kirstin’s life. Sam realizes how wrong he has been and while Cam recuperates, he insists the McClendon’s move into his large ranch house. Maddie and Sam begin to rely on each other and enjoy their talks, realizing they can relate to each other about losing their spouses. A friendship is born as Maddie allows him to see the error of his ways. Very slowly, a sweet heartfelt romance also begins between Maddie and Sam, who have come to rely on each other.

A powerful quote is very relatable, “You don’t think of the person for a few hours. Then, bang, it blindsides you. She was my other half in every sense of the word, my guiding light, my advisor, and my comfort during the storms.” Because everything is not always joyful, there were heart-breaking scenes where both families share the devastating loss of a loved one from cancer, but readers also see the healing process and resilience of the human spirit. As the Christmas holiday approaches the story becomes uplifting showing how Maddie’s grandson, Caleb, is caring and considerate, giving his grandmother a gift that is overwhelming.

Anderson wants to bring realism to “the story. We should not forget about those people who came to the holidays with strife, stress, or financial troubles. Many people have lost loved ones and on Christmas there are empty places. They do feel sad. Because I did experience grief firsthand I wanted to write about it. I wanted to show how the death of Maddie’s husband impacted not only her but also her son and grandson.”

Anderson has done a wonderful job of creating well-developed characters. Her description of Sam might remind people of the actor Sam Elliott with his deep western slang voice. The book’s description, “He emanated strength, superiority, and arrogance… His weathered features looked as if they’d been carved from granite.” It went on to say he wore a tan Stetson, had white sideburns, sooty eyebrows and a mustache peppered with gray, with his hair color also white. In personality he appears to be overbearing, rude, angry, and lonely. But as the story progresses he is also seen as dependable, caring, and someone the families can lean on.

Seeing Sam with many emotional layers the author describes him as “very protective, ornery, overbearing; yet, regretful and sorry for these emotions. In the end he became caring and thoughtful. In looking back on how I describe Sam’s features, with the white hair, long mustache and sideburns, and granite face, I do think it resembles Elliott.”

These two holiday generational romances touch on grief, healing and redemption. Readers will go through a range of emotions with the characters from joy, to laughter, and sadness. Anderson leaves the reader wishing the story would never end, hoping she will consider making a series involving these great characters. 51h6Lgg4sgL._SX339_BO1 204 203 200_

Book Review: The Duke

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 Duke, part of the “Devil’s Duke” series by Katharine Ashe is part mystery, part historical, and part romance. She is one of those writers who allow readers to get swept up in the social, cultural, and political events of the 1800s.

Having the setting in Scotland and the West Indies allowed for the intertwining of issues involving equality. There is a definite connection between women of that era who became involved with the abolitionist movement as they fought for equality themselves. Through her main character, Lady Amarantha Vale, readers learn how she sought not only adventure, but also emancipation for those enslaved in Jamaica. Unfortunately, she realized too late that her husband did not have her sentiments as he explained, “They are incapable. Like children and women, they lack the full capacity for reason and therefore the ability to govern themselves rationally.”

Ashe commented, “My very first novel included details about the West Indies slave trade, and I’ve touched on it in other novels. In The Duke, it’s embedded in the core of the story. Since the fight for women’s rights in England, Scotland, and France was often intertwined with the abolitionist movement, that plays a part in the novel too. It was an era when women and men of all colors and strata of society fought to change the law so that all could be treated equally under the law.”

She made mistakes in her choices for a partner, not once, but twice. She originally thought her first husband Reverend Paul Garland was a libertine, someone like her father, who respected women and who encouraged them to be independent. The other man in her life, Duke Gabriel Hume, was seen as a “bad boy,” a flirt, someone who took advantage of women. Unfortunately, for her she misread their personalities, wrong in both cases.

After hearing that Amarantha decided to go through with the marriage to Garland, Gabriel returns to Scotland where he becomes a recluse. Years later, now widowed Amarantha sails to Scotland to look for her missing friend, Penelope Baker, whose trail leads to Castle Kallin, Gabriel Hume’s highland estate. He is known to society as the Devil’s Duke, because of rumors about his kidnapping of young girls. Still in love with Amarantha, he decides to allow her to be his guest. She accepts, intent on finding out the truth about him and her friend’s disappearance, knowing that only Gabriel has the answers. Because he is not willing to let her learn his darkest secret a game of wit and desire begins between them.

As with all Ashe characters, the heroine is strong-willed, not content to allow society to dictate her place in it, and is very willing to speak her mind. The hero is always confident, brave, and willing to treat the woman he loves as an equal.

Writing about the relationship, “I like my hero to respect women entirely, from the start. He doesn’t have to be convinced that a woman is a worthwhile partner and he doesn’t have to be taught how to love. This is the type of man I love in reality: men who actually believe women are equals. It’s what my husband is like. And in this book my hero, Gabriel, is already engaged in doing good in the world, even before he meets my heroine Amarantha; although she spurs him on to do even greater good. Of course there are intense emotions of desire and passion. But also the beauty of friendship is crucial for a couple in love, and the gentleness of understanding another person. I like my heroes and heroines to learn to see and love the whole other person. My heroes enjoy strong women.”

This book beautifully blends a riveting mystery within the historical content of the times. Ashe allows the relationship to grow into an intimate one of unbreakable love. Readers of her books can begin to understand how a woman can be feminine yet possess a feminist’s attitude.

Book Review: The Names Of Dead 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.

The Names Of Dead Girls by Eric Rickstad is the sequel to the 2015’s e-book original, The Silent Girls. These are part of the Canaan Crime series of psychological thrillers set in remote northern Vermont.

Rickstand noted that he became a writer due to, “My personal experiences that influenced my writings. When I was fourteen my seventeen year old cousin and I encountered two older guys with shotguns. They ended up shooting at us with a shot going off on either side of my head. This affected me deeply. Another influence was that a friend of mine ended up being a criminal. In high school he was charming, athletic, and just a good guy. Yet, when I was watching CNN I saw him die in a shoot out with the police after he ran over a police officer. I was totally stunned. But I was also spurred to be a writer from my love for reading. I noticed how a string of words could elicit a range of emotions from happy to sad to scared. I wanted to be able to do this, allow readers to escape into a different world.” 51QuYUQJMwL._SX330_BO1 204 203 200_

This plot begins with college student Rachel Rath, the adoptive daughter of former detective Frank Rath. Rachel’s parents died a horrific death at the hands of murderer and serial rapist Ned Preacher. Able to work the system he has been released from prison and has informed Rath he is going after Rachel. Although he gave up his badge to pursue justice as a private investigator, Rath has now been reinstated in the police force.

Another sub-plot has Detective Sonja Test investigating the apparent disappearance of Dana Clark, who has failed to materialize at her daughter’s house. Rath begins to connect the dots as he realizes Clark is the last victim of the Preacher before he went to jail. Their investigation escalates along with the body count.

The emotional tension ratchets up with each of the character’s motivations. Frank, desperate to protect his own family while seeking justice for the “dead girls,” works within the bounds of his conscience; Rachel, now aware of her identity and also the brutality her parents’ deaths, seeks revenge; and Sonja Test, torn between ambition and her home life, makes decisions that will profoundly impact her personal and professional life.

The author played off the title regarding the theme of the book. “I had some detectives try to avoid the mention of victims names when discussing a case, allowing them to remain objective and emotionally removed. This contrasted with Sonja Test who wants everyone to know who the girls were and how they lived their lives. She insists their names are mentioned because she wants to personalize the victims.”

Rickstad decided to explore the issues of moral versus legal. “I liked having Frank Roth in the situation where he has to protect his adopted daughter. He is not sure how to seek justice and if he is going to go out of the bounds of the law. I did not want to make him a vigilante, but have him figure out how to capture this guy and prevent more victims. He must cope with a killer who is evil, slippery, and cunning.”

He will continue this exploration in his next book, What Remains Of Her. It is a stand-alone psychological thriller also set in Vermont with a whole set of new characters. The plot has a man turned recluse after the disappearance of his wife and daughter twenty years ago. While living in the mountains he finds a girl in the woods the same age as his daughter. He wonders if she is the reincarnation of his daughter.

Rickstad’s writes dark, gritty and disturbing plots where the setting plays a huge role. Readers get a sense of evil lurking at every corner and will want to read this with a light on at all times.

Book Review: The Way To London

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 Way To London by Alix Rickloff is very much a relationship story with the backdrop of World War II. Instead of having the military aspect the author concentrates on how the civilian population endured the war. It is the flip-flop Cinderella story about a rich girl and poor boy.

The book starts out in Singapore in 1941, just three months before Pearl Harbor, where the population is still free of any concerns. Lucy Stanhope, the granddaughter of an earl, is living a life of pampered luxury in Singapore until one reckless act will change her life forever. Exiled to England to stay with an aunt she barely remembers she sees the devastation first-hand as the Nazis blitzkrieg London. Her companion, Bill, a twelve-year-old boy, journeys with her as both escape the English countryside heading for the city. She hopes to meet up with a Hollywood producer as she seeks fame and fortune, while at the same time helping Bill to find his mother. In the course of their journey they encounter a soldier, Michael, whom Lucy originally met in Singapore, He takes on the responsibility of getting Lucy and Bill safely to London.

What stands out in this story is the stark difference between the social classes. The have-nots are unable to enjoy a normal meal and cannot escape the ravages of war. On the other side are the haves that are able through their privilege and money to still experience some comforts. A powerful quote hammers the point home, “I suppose I felt almost criminal eating in one meal enough ration points to serve a family of four for a month…You know just this afternoon, I was watching them pull bodies out of a collapsed building. Now, hours later, I’m in a world of caviar and cocktails.”

But the author also makes the point that regardless of class the English people had a determination and grit to defeat the Germans. Whether it is sending their children off to the countryside to live with total strangers, or to endure the constant bombing, while trying to live as normal a life as possible, readers understand why this was called the “Greatest Generation.”

She noted, “They had a quiet resolve with an all out effort to win the war. I am not sure this could ever be replicated. Everybody felt honor bound to do their part and pull their weight and make the necessary sacrifices. WWII is the catalyst that sets all three characters on their respective journeys. I wanted to explore how they had to get through the every day indignities of war, what the citizens had to go through. Despite all the violence and sorrow, what gave them the ability to cope?”

Yet, Lucy is not seen as part of that group until the middle of the book. In the beginning she is a self-indulgent young woman desperate for attention, a spoiled brat who is an outsider always looking in. But as the story unfolds she grows and becomes a caring and responsible person.

The Way To London is a journey taken by Lucy to find her way and place in the world. Bill and Michael show her that there is more to life than being a prickly uncaring individual, and help her along the way. Through them she finds her happily ever after. 51oXcTCwJTL._SX329_BO1 204 203 200_

Book Review: Shattered

Shattered by Allison Brennan combines her two series together in a powerful read. Although billed as a Max Revere book, Lucy Kincaid takes over the crime scenes. As Max, an investigative journalist, utters a number of times in the book, FBI Agent Lucy has taken control.

Brennan does consider it a Max book. “I started and ended with her. Lucy took it over when the case was center stage. But remember Max ends up solving the original case. Since they each have their own world I will only bring them back together if it fits into the story. I enjoy writing a Lucy and Max book every year so I do not get bored. I am not going to go out of my way to put them together unless it flows within the story. The next Max book uses the clues from this book given to her by Sean, Lucy’s husband. If Lucy and Sean do appear in it, they will be off page.”

These two alpha women attempt to work together to solve the case of a serial killer. When first brought together Max was very hesitant and not very happy to have to work directly with a partner since she is used to calling the shots on her own. Now, at times, she must follow Lucy’s direction, lead, and suggestions. The FBI Agent has agreed to work the case after Max shows her the pile of evidence connecting Lucy’s nephew’s killing, which happened twenty years ago, to other cases. Her research along with Lucy’s connections, training, and experience, allow the investigation to move forward at a rapid pace.

The other sub-plot is directly connected to the investigation. Max first heard about all these cases from her one-time college lover, John Caldwell. The police suspect that John’s wife, Blair, murdered the couple’s eight-year-old son, but John believes that a serial killer is to blame and wants Max to solve a trio of similar cold cases in the hope that it will exonerate Blair. Because this is what Max does for a living she agrees to reach out to the family of the possible first victim, Justin Stanton. Andrew, Justin’s father, agrees to cooperate with Max’s investigation, but only if Max partners with his sister-in-law, FBI agent Lucy Kincaid.

As the two featured characters are paired together readers cannot help but compare the two personalities. Max is a loner, a ‘know it all,’ straightforward, and a control freak. Lucy is polite, quieter, a thinker, and is used to working within a team. But the one thing they both have in common is the drive to seek justice for the victims and their families. But over the course of the book Lucy seems to influence Max. Suppressing her desires, Max decides to respect her wishes and resists her natural temptation to dig into Lucy’s past.

An indirect influence is how Lucy and her husband, Sean, treat each other with an intimate understanding between them. Max sees their unconditional love and knows that she wants a similar relationship. Brought into the case for his expert opinion as a forensic psychologist, Lucy’s brother Dillon hit it off perfectly with Max. Too bad he is hitched because he seems like someone Max could have fallen head over heels with.

Brennan feels, “Nick blew it and I was not happy with him after the previous Max book. She did not want to break up with him, but refuses to be treated as a doormat. She will never compromise to have her ‘happily ever after.’ I know a lot of readers liked the chemistry between Max and Lucy’s brother, Dillon. But he is married so this will not happen. If he were single he and Max would be great together.”

Brennan does a wonderful job of creating an intricate dynamic between her two main characters, Max and Lucy. This engrossing story will keep readers on the edge of their seats. 512zj0Uk+KL._SX329_BO1 204 203 200_

Book Review: The Cuban Affair

It has been over two years between Nelson DeMille books, which is way too long. His latest, The Cuban Affair, is classic DeMille with its action packed story, fact based plot, witty characters, and humorous dialogue.

In this, DeMille’s twentieth novel, he has Daniel (Mac) MacCormick adjusting to civilian life. After serving two tours in Afghanistan he has sought out a more peaceful lifestyle in Key West Florida. He is now a charter boat captain of a 42 feet deep-sea fishing vessel, The Maine, which takes tourists and fisherman on excursions. Having made a name for himself and needing his military skills, three Cuban-Americans make him an offer to have the Maine participate in a ten-day fishing tournament to Cuba. But the real reason they need him is to help find and return sixty million dollars left behind by the refugees. The covert plan is to embed Mac and one of the Cuban-Americans, Sara Ortega, into Cuba as part of an educational tour under the auspices of Yale University. The action ratchets up as Mac and Sara are on the run from the Cuban authorities and need his first mate, gruff seventy-year-old Vietnam veteran, Jack Colby, to help in the rescue.

Although not a John Corey novel fans will enjoy the new set of characters created by DeMille. Throughout the years, the male and female leads are smart, brave, self-confident, loyal, smart alecky, and the sarcastic banter between them is classic. His one-liners are the perfect zingers to a conversation that will make readers chuckle. For example, “you are an officer and a gentleman by an act of Congress, but an a—hole by choice,” or “why do you want to go to Cuba. North Korea was sold out.”

The author commented, “Corey is not a kid anymore. Mac is much younger. He is also an Afghanistan veteran while many of the main characters in earlier books were Vietnam vets. Mac is more educated and from a different class than Corey. I did not want to create the same character; although in some ways they have the same personality and dry wit. Another difference is that John Corey lives in law enforcement while Mac lives in the civilian world. John fought terrorists while Mac is apolitical and more cautious.”

Readers of DeMille expect historical facts and details intertwined within the story. In this book it is no different. Having gone to Cuba himself as part of the Yale University-affiliated educational tour he was able to get a personal eye view of what Cuba is really like. He wants readers to be entertained, but also to learn something, especially since many have forgotten about the Castro Brothers’ actions.

He noted, “The system they created does not guarantee property rights. The Cuban regime seized private property and is saying they have no intention of returning Cuban citizens’ property, and we are not pushing them. Most of the people who came to Miami when the Communists seized power left houses, factories, and huge businesses. They want their property back, and that’s going to be a big issue as normalization moves forward. It is a repressive regime with a subjugated population that isolates the people.”

The Cuban Affair is a gripping novel that has relatable and likeable characters. As with all his novels, people will be immersed in the setting, culture, and history. Hopefully this will be the first in a series of books involving these characters that will include plenty of action, political intrigue, romance and dry wit. 81gFWg3HZXL._AC_UL115_

Book Review: Robert B. Parker’s The Hangman's Sonnet

Robert B. Parker’s The Hangman's Sonnet by Reed Coleman brilliantly intertwines the personal and professional life of Paradise police chief Jesse Stone. Having put Jesse through the ringer in the previous book, Debt To Pay, Coleman explores the emotions of guilt and grief in this novel.

Jesse is still trying to come to grips after seeing his fiancée, Diana, murdered by the crazed assassin Mr. Peepers. Unfortunately, he turns to the only friend that can drown out his sorrows, drinking. An interesting question put forth to the readers, “Did Jesse use alcohol to help control who he really was, or to free himself from who he wasn’t?”

Reed noted, “Jesse does not know the answer. This is one of the great mysteries of alcoholism, what role does the alcohol actually play? He would probably say it frees him as well as constrains him. After Diana was killed he takes a stark look at his life and takes a journey. He will need to decide if he will go down the abyss or change his life.”

To complicate matters Jesse has lost much of his support. Healy, the former head of the state homicide bureau has retired so his role has diminished in helping Jesse solve crimes. Dr. Tamara Elkin, the medical examiner, is determining if she should take a position offered to her in Texas. Jesse has also decided to sell the house overlooking the bay and move into the town of Paradise, instead of living on the outskirts of town. Not to mention the death of Diana and the organized crime boss, Gino Fish, who offered Jesse support and information.

The reason Coleman is turning the series upside down regarding the supporting cast, “I think to keep a series alive and interesting you have to kill off or get rid of characters. This was one of the things people liked about the Game Of Thrones. It keeps the story dynamic and stimulating. Because the deck of characters has grown to have them in the story clutters it, especially since I always have to write in everybody’s backstory.”

Regarding Jesse’s professional side, he is investigating the murder of an elderly woman. As Jesse is trying to find the culprits he also must deal with the mega-star-studded 75th birthday party for folk singer Terry Jester, who tore up the charts when Bob Dylan was popular. Jester has spent the last forty years in seclusion after the mysterious disappearance of the master recording tape of his magnum opus, The Hangman's Sonnet. But now he is coming out of hiding for his birthday bash in Paradise. Both sub-plots come together when Jesse suspects that the old woman's murder may be connected to the missing tape. Jesse follows clues all the way to Boston, where he gets a little help from a private eye named Spenser, who also tried to find the missing tape many years ago.

Reed said, “I actually wrote those scenes with Spenser, but had Ace Atkins and my editor look it over. I love the overlap. Ace and I have always talked about writing a book together where Spenser and Jesse work on the same case. We would seriously love to do it.”

Music plays a great part of the stories’ mystery. Reed is a music lover and wanted to explore “the surrounding myths. A lot of my life was in the sixties where people were much less cynical and more believable. For example, people really believed Paul McCartney died. The cover of a Beatle album, Abbey Road, has Paul walking across the street barefoot, John looking like a priest, and George looks like a gravedigger. The end of the song ‘Strawberry Fields’ has Ringo shouting out ‘I buried Paul.’ I liked the notion of creating my own myth. I even wrote the poem in the book. Because I started my career as a poet I decided to flex my muscles and write a Sonnet specifically for the book.”

When asked where he will go with Jesse, Reed responded that readers will find out in the next book. Jesse’s life will change, but for the good or the bad? The plot of Robert B. Parker’s Colorblind addresses a situation just like the one that happened in Charlottesville.

This book perfectly balances a riveting plot and an exploration of the characters. Although readers will have to stay tuned to find out what happens to Jesse, they did get a captivating story surrounding a musical myth. 51cok83-cCL._SX329_BO1 204 203 200_

Book Review: Missing Persons

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.

Michael Brandman has returned to writing with his book Missing Persons. His resume is extensive having co-written nine Jesse Stone movies and three westerns with the legendary actor Tom Selleck, and producing over forty films with screenwriters such as Arthur Miller and Neil Simon. But he is also known for being the original writer of the Robert B. Parker novels after Parker’s death.

Besides working on this book Brandman is also in the early stage of a tenth Jesse Stone movie with Tom Selleck. “It is more of a murder mystery than the psychologically brooding Jesse, more in the line of Stone Cold. This Jesse is based upon the original one written by Parker. Even though Reed Coleman, the current writer of the Jesse Stone series, killed off the crime boss Gino Fish, Tom and I consider him an amazing and essential character. We worked closely with Bob on the first few movies and that is going to be the guideline we follow.”

Readers of Missing Persons will make the inevitable comparisons to the Jesse Stone series. The setting is a small town with the lead character, Buddy Steel, a chief deputy sheriff. The town, Freedom in California, is by a seaside just like Paradise. Buddy is similar in personality to Jesse in that he is tall, good looking, does not like dealing with the politics, will not play the political game, will not hesitate to ruffle feathers, and is not a fan of authority. The difference is Jesse played baseball, while Buddy plays basketball.  

The other stark difference is that Buddy does not drink as much as Jesse and he returned to the town where he grew up because of his father’s illness. Having grown up in the shadow of his autocratic father he was hesitant to come back, but did so out of a sense of duty. His father, the current sheriff, has Lou Gehrig’s disease, and has pressured his son to come home and pull the plug when necessary in an assisted suicide.

The rest of the plot involves the disappearance of an evangelistic preacher’s wife. As the quote in the book reflects, “Cameras don’t lie. There was something disingenuous about him.” People have to think no farther than what Joel Osteen said and did during the floods in Texas. The book plot tried to show how many of these preachers are con men that emerged as self-righteous.

This is the first in a possible series. Although he is somewhat cynical Buddy Steel is a likeable character. Readers are rooting for him to succeed and grow out of his father’s shadow. 51fZiIBVXnL._SX322_BO1 204 203 200_

Book Review: Snap Judgment

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.

Snap Judgment by Marcia Clark is another winner. With each installment her books get better and better as she blends a riveting story with legal nuances. In this book she manages to cover a multitude of subjects from revenge porn to child sexual abuse to human trafficking.

Clark spoke about the increase in revenge porn and how it “is becoming a common way for “exes” to smack the people who reject them. When I was working I dealt with people like that. The boyfriend is seen as the knight in shining armor who gives complete devotion. It is an ego and security boost, but then turns sour. Because they are naïve and are now sucked in the victim does not know how to get out of it. In this case Alicia had no street experience and falls down the rabbit hole when that devotion turns to obsession. People are getting abused and violated on a daily basis because technology permits it. It should be for that person’s eyes only. This is just another way where someone can have enormous power over someone else. People are not wrong to expect it limited to the one person it was sent to.”

Although billed as a legal thriller the concentration is on the prep work done by a defense attorney and not on the courtroom battles. Through the main character Samantha (Sam) Brinkman’s eyes readers see that the focus of a defense attorney is on the investigation, what needs to be done to get her client off: should she poke holes in the prosecutor’s case, look for inconsistent statements by witnesses, find another suspect, or do all of the above? Of course, to make the story interesting Sam goes a little farther than most defense attorneys.

Clark wrote the character Samantha as being “complicated, twisted, less bound by ethics/rules, and someone I could push the boundaries with. Sam does have a dark side with emotional scars from her childhood. She is impulsive, reckless, has trust issues, and loves to push the envelope. At the end of the day Sam is achieving justice in her own way and many times it is not legal.”

The plot begins with a letter written to herself by USC freshman Alicia Hutchins. She is proud of herself for getting out of an abusive relationship. Her boyfriend, Roan Sutton, used to boost her ego by being completely devoted to her until he started to get more and more possessive to a point where it became creepy. Unfortunately, soon after she broke it up it appears that he humiliated her through revenge porn, posting nude selfies she sent to him on-line along with her address and an invitation for site visitors to help Alicia realize her rape fantasies.

Clark explores how someone’s privacy is affected by the posting of these personal photos taken for his eyes only. Nothing screams payback more than this until Alicia is found with her throat slashed. But, after Roan, the prime suspect, is found dead Alisha’s father becomes a person of interest, accused of avenging his daughter’s death. He hires Sam to prove his innocence. The deeper she digs on his behalf, the more entangled she becomes in a thicket of family secrets, past betrayals, and multiple motives for murder.

The sub-plot is a continuation of a storyline from the previous two novels in the series. She is in debt to a crime boss, Cabazon, who wants Sam, with help from her police officer father Dale, to locate the only witness to a murder committed by his nephew, It becomes clear he wants to make sure the witness, Tracy Gopeck will never testify. Sam is forced to cooperate to ensure that her life, her dad’s life, and her office staff lives are not endangered. In the course of the investigation she finds out that Tracy was actually rescued by the murder suspect from a human trafficking ring. Although this plotline has nothing to do with the main one, Clark is able to weave it into the story in a very natural way that is not distracting.  

As with all her novels, Clark is able to combine an intense plot with facts about the justice system while sprinkling some very funny and witty dialogue. Readers will enjoy going along for the ride with Sam and Company. 61thyLVqNBL._SX331_BO1 204 203 200_

Book Review: An Army Of One

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.

An Army Of One by Tony Schumacher is a lot more mystery than thriller. It brings back the character John Rossett, but this time around instead of rescuing someone from the Nazi’s grip he is investigating a murder.

It is interesting in this third installment John is still seen as a sympathetic character that fluctuates from collaborating with the Nazis to undermining them. The series began with Germany controlling Western Europe after a pact is signed in 1946. The Germans are occupying Great Britain using brutality, fear, and consensus to control the English. The main character John Rossett, won the Victoria Cross for rescuing his fellow soldiers from Dunkirk. After the war he returns home to find his wife and son killed by a bomb that was meant for the German authorities. It can be considered an alternate history of sorts that questions morality. Through the character’s eyes readers examine if it is even possible to redeem oneself after committing terrible acts. What makes this novel very interesting is how the author creates an action-packed plot while still exploring the questions: Could the British people become like the Nazis, and what doors should someone open to survive?

Schumacher sees this series as a warning where “some people might think of these Nazi monsters as average people. If they saw them in a pub and did not know what they believed, they might view them as an average person, much like the serial killer who is considered by his neighbors to be a nice person. I hope this book entertains the reader, but also is an exchange of information that makes people think. I want the story to get into their heads after they are done with the book and have put it on the shelf.”

The German atrocities are still discussed, although not as much as in the previous books. In one scene Rossett is witnessing the execution of innocent civilians including a child, and unable to stop it, feels a range of emotions including guilt, anger, and shame. However, this scene transitions once again into to the cat and mouse game of Rossett trying to entrap the German sniper killer, known as The Bear to prevent more deaths. But in the course of the police investigation he uncovers that The Bear hid a huge amount of gold. Now Rossett must capture the killer and solve the diabolical conspiracy that has Nazi officers and the British resistance competing to find the gold and use it for their own purposes.

An Army Of One has a captivating plot with engaging characters. This alternate history will have readers trembling at the thought of what could have been had the Nazis won World War II. 51Ocf0sJaVL._SX331_BO1 204 203 200_

Book Review: Vince Flynn's Enemy Of The State by Kyle Mills

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.

With Enemy Of The State Kyle Mills has found his groove as he nailed down the characters created by Vince Flynn. As other thriller authors pivoted away from terrorism, Mitch Rapp, Dr. Irene Kennedy, and company continue to keep America safe by thwarting Islamic jihadists.

As in The Third Option, this plot has Mitch Rapp going somewhat rogue after being asked by the President to perform a mission that is completely off the books. He must track down, interrogate, and kill members of the Saudi royal family who appear to be working with ISIS. Although Irene knows about it she and Mitch realize this must be a completely black ops mission; thus, his resignation from the CIA. The investigation discovered Aali Nassar, Irene’s Saudi counterpart, promising to support America, while secretly in charge of the ISIS financing and eyeing the chance to overtake the country’s government once King Faisal dies. Nassar frames Mitch giving him an excuse to hunt down the one man who might foil his plan to fund ISIS and bring about a Middle East superpower to threaten the US. He gets the US President to agree to have FBI Agent Joel Wilson work with him to find Mitch.

The action never stops as Mitch tries to keep one step ahead of his pursuers and to expose Nassar for what he truly is, a covert terrorist. To help Mitch, Mills has brought back some old familiar faces, while giving others a backseat. The character Dr. Irene Kennedy is central to any book. Mills realizes no Mitch Rapp book can succeed without her dominant presence. The scenes with her are a pivotal piece of the plot. Even a few pages speak of Irene’s son Tommy.

Mills describes her as “a realist, a philosopher of sorts, someone clear eyed and a student of human nature. She is always in the book, just off the pages. I always think of her as the puppet master. By her own admission she is not involved but watches and waits until it becomes necessary for her to be involved. She is seen as an intellectual who makes decisions based not on her gut, but her head.”

Readers might remember Joel Wilson from The Last Man where he became Mitch’s nemesis. As the deputy director of counterintelligence he accused Mitch of stealing. After being proved wrong Wilson lost that position, and he is now all too happy to work with Nassar while seeking revenge. Because Mitch needs a team to work with and help him confront the bad guys, he enlists the help of Donatella Rahn, his onetime lover, Grisha Azarov, his adversary now a peer, and Kent Black, a former Ranger sniper.

The logistics leader of the team is Claudia Gould who has both a professional and intimate relationship with Mitch. Because she has a six-year-old child, Anna, when at home Mitch gets to play dad. These scenes are a welcome relief and venture back to the first books when Vince Flynn would include some of the character’s personal life. What Mills has brilliantly accomplished is the humanizing of Mitch. It is interesting to see the two sides of Rapp, a take charge, non-nonsense patriot, a take no prisoners guy, while acquiescing to Claudia at home.

Mills hopes to continue to have Claudia as a major character. “She is not the goody character like Anna. Plus she could be a part of some operations because of her experience. Mitch needs a companion. She can be involved in both his professional and personal life. Since Mitch is consumed with his work life anybody he becomes involved with must be a part of it. She is brilliant, beautiful, mysterious, pragmatic, adaptable, and not naïve. I want to humanize Mitch. I think he is fighting for normalcy, peace, and security so while at home he does not want to argue or fight. I do think she takes the initiative at home. When they work together he is in charge, but at home she is in charge.”

This novel perfectly combines geo-politics, covert operations, and the backstory of the characters. Readers can close their eyes and remember past books written by Vince Flynn and will not skip a beat with Kyle Mills at the helm. 61xuhaN5-2L._SX323_BO1 204 203 200_