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: War Animals

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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War Animalsby national bestselling author Robin Hutton recounts the experiences of the forgotten members of the Greatest Generation. Horses, mules, dogs, and pigeons were all a part of the Allied war machine. They were messengers, spies and sentinels. They carried supplies to the front, comforted wounded soldiers, became a POW, and were a vital part of the search/rescue effort during the German Blitz of London.

This is Hutton’s second book in the “War Animal series.”  In the first one she recounted the story of Reckless, a sorrel mare, small for her size, that joined the Marines during the Korean War. Employed to help move heavy recoilless rifles and ammunition across steep and treacherous terrain, she regularly proved her bravery and endurance, making precarious trips hauling ammunition to soldiers in need, often during heavy fire. Once home, news of her promotion to Staff Sergeant quickly spread, though that notoriety has since faded. Hutton's passion and admiration for Reckless is shown when she raised the money for not one but three monuments to this courageous horse, at Quantico, Camp Pendleton, and at the Kentucky Horse Park.

In this latest book, incredible and inspiring true stories are told of some animals who received the PDSA Dicken Medal during WWII and lesser-known stories of other military animals whose acts of heroism have until now been largely forgotten. Founded in 1943, the prestigious PDSA Dicken Medal is the highest award an animal can achieve for gallantry and bravery in the field of military conflict, a Victoria Cross of sorts for animals.

War dogs came about after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, because it was decided the US military needed a war dog program.  Instead of originating from within the military, it was founded by a New York Socialite, Arlene Erlanger.  She was a poodle breeder and wanted to help the allied effort.  Starting a grassroots movement, she created Dog for Defense Inc., a volunteer organization that recruited a canine army, known as the K-9 Corps. Owners of dogs donated their personal pets to the war effort.  The 40,000 animals were whittled down to about 19,000 after the first cut, but ultimately a little over 10,000 were chosen. The requirements included, dogs that were between 28 inches tall at the shoulder, and no more than five years old. Once trained they were put on assignment with strict secrecy imposed.

Each of these stories will leave readers spell bound, but the most heartfelt one was that of Judy, an English Pointer. Chosen as a mascot for a Royal Navy gunboat she provided a huge morale boost. After some of the crew was reassigned to another ship, Judy went with them.  In 1942, attacked by more than a hundred Japanese bombers, the ships sank, but luckily Judy survived the shipwreck with some crew members. On March 18th, 1942 Judy and the surviving sailors were captured by the Japanese and became prisoners of war in forced labor camps. A new arrival, RAF pilot Frank Williams, took pity on her and decided that she would be his companion. He taught her to obey signals and whispered speech, while she brought scraps of food she salvaged to him. Transferred to an even more brutal labor camp, Frank worked up to sixteen hours a day to build railroad tracks. Williams described her as “a skinny animal that kept herself alive through cunning and instinct…I do not exaggerate when I say that this dog, with her example of courage to live, saved many of us who would surely have died.” Liberated in August 1945 by the allied soldiers, she lived with Frank until her death on February 16th, 1950.

Hutton noted, “When I heard about Judy I knew she would be the heart and soul of this book.  Her story touched me and it would also touch readers.  She was resilient and became the heart of the POW camp.  The men would say ‘if Judy can make it so can I.’  They persevered because of her and never gave up. Today dogs are used to help with PTSD and back then Judy was no different.  She provided comfort and security.”

Another brave dog was Chips, a German Shepherd trained as a sentry who attacked an Italian machine gun team, sustaining powder burns and saving his handler's life. He actually received the Silver Star, but it was revoked in 1944 after a national commander complained.  Known as “Mr. Chips” he was honorably discharged on December 10th, 1945. Private John Rowell who served with the canine partner wrote, “We went through a lot together…he is really wonderful. He saved my life more than once when things were tough.”

Hutton decided “to nominate Chips for a Dickin’s Medal since he is America’s most decorated war dog.  He received it this January.”

The British also started up a war dog program in May 1941, and asked for citizens to volunteer their dogs. The War Dogs Training School officially opened for business on May 5, 1942 at a greyhound kennels in Northaw. Forty recruits were awaiting training. By the end of the war some 3,300 had been successfully dispatched to units across the globe.

But some of the most special dogs were those used for search/rescue.  As the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill said of the German blitz, “Hitler hopes by killing large numbers of civilians and women and children that the will terrorize and cow the people of this mighty imperial city and make them a burden of anxiety to the government…Little does he know the spirit of the British nation.” This includes the dogs who located buried air raid victims.

Irma is an example of how the dogs gallantly found survivors.  She is an Alsatian that was bred with exceptional intelligence and a strong devotion to duty.  Her owner wrote in 1945, “Irma gave the position of victims under a collapsed house and although there was some doubt in the minds of the men who were working on the ruins, excavations were made.  As a result, they discovered two girls, both alive. This rescue was especially impressive because Irma refused to give up on the location, and kept returning to it, even after two days.  Only because of her tenacity did the two girls survive.” Today there are dogs whose duties are to search/rescue and others that recover.  Irma was a pioneer since she was able to discern if a victim was alive or dead, and inform the human rescuers with different barks. 

Hutton hopes readers discover the heart of the animals and ‘how they will do anything for us.  They deserve to be honored because they answered the call of duty.  I have some projects that I hope will do just that. I am putting together an International War American Museum in Washington DC where people can learn about these wonderful animals.  I think there should be a medal of honor for dogs served.  Each branch should have a medal to bestow on these animals. I also would love to do a war animal TV series that would have two or three stories with re-enactments showing the role they had throughout history, especially during war time.”

In reading this book people are able to see how the animals served valiantly. An added bonus, through the animals’ eyes readers are informed about the events that occurred during World War II.


Book Review: Valley Forge

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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Valley Forge by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin allows readers to go back in time and journey with the American revolutionaries in their attempts to defeat the British. It delves into the Continental Army’s six-month stay at Valley Forge, which enabled them to transform fromundisciplined militia men to a professional army.

 “We wrote how our Founding Fathers sacrificed for future generations.  The spirit they had is in our DNA.  Washington showed that Americans have a steely backbone with a steely composure. After spending time with a Valley Forge historian, we realized there is so much we did not know about it, including that it was the turning point of the Revolution.”

 The authors delve into Baron von Steuben’s ability to use the knowledge he gained on the Prussian battlefields, drilling dedication, discipline, and proficiency into the Colonist army. While George Washington’s aides were fighting the British, disease, starvation, and the elements, he and Alexander Hamilton were combating those in the Continental Congress. His political enemies were calling for the General to be replaced.  They saw him as unqualified after the humiliating loss of Philadelphia.  Yet, Washington is able to hang on and after defeating the British at the Battle of Monmouth Court House, the momentum is never again with the Redcoats.

Drury explains, “Washington had to groom his generals and have them mature into their role, especially Pennsylvania’s Anthony Wayne, Boston’s Henry Knox, and Rhode Island’s Nathanel Greene. They basically learned on the job. He trusted them, but did not trust the colonists’ British born generals Charles Lee and Horatio Gates.  Both these men were extremely jealous of Washington and were inept.  As the war progressed it showed Washington’s instincts were correct.  

He was astonished that Lee wanted to retreat during the Battle of Monmouth Court House at the sound of gunfire.  Every time Lee was put in charge of something he showed his incompetence. The 10,000 elite British troops were driving hard for a counterattack, determined to crush the colonists’ rebellion here and now.  They thought the mere sight of an endless wall of British ‘cold steel’ would send the Continental rabble fleeing in disarray.  But Washington knew that having endured the mud and elements at Valley Forge he could use his presence to spur the troops to fight.  Because this was the critical juncture of the war, Washington knew he had to exude a sense of urgency and inspiration, which he did. As Lafayette said, ‘His presence seemed to arrest fate with a single glance.’ Washington dismissed Lee and took command of the troops himself, turning the tide to a victory.”

This book show how Washington emerged as fallible but indispensable; succeeding in the face of so many hardships. With extensive documents, they capture the iconic characters that instilled the energy needed to defeat the British empire leading to America’s independence.


Book Review: The Red Ribbon

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 Red Ribbon by H. B. Lyle blends fiction with historical reality. The essence of the story is the up and coming British Secret Service that must look for spies on the home front and abroad.

Lyle noted, “I was inspired by the 100thanniversary of the British secret service.  While in the film industry, I was working on some spy movies and also read an official book on the anniversary.  American readers need to understand that the UK secret service is different.  In the States, it is a protective service, while in Britain it is split in two halves, to find spies in the UK and in other countries. They were after a lot of anarchists who were also known as communists. The East end of London had a lot of European agitators.”

Captain Vernon Kell became the head of the recently established Secret Service Bureau, but had only one agent, Harry Wiggins. Instead of looking for Russian and German spies Wiggins is pre-occupied with his own cases. As someone who grew up on the streets of London, one of the urchins trained in surveillance by Sherlock Holmes and known as the Baker Street Irregulars, Wiggins has promised to avenge the death of his best friend, and to track down a missing girl from the East End. The investigation leads him to a mysterious embassy located in the affluent neighborhood of Belgravia, which is actually a high-class brothel frequented by the rich and powerful of London. The red ribbon hanging in the window of “The Embassy of Olifa,” represents red as the color of revolution.

Historical facts include the deaths of Edward VII, where monarchs from all over Europe arrive for the funeral, “the greatest coming together of royalty the world has ever known,” with the fear that a potential assassin could spark a worldwide conflict. At the same time, dockworkers threaten to strike, people rumble about unions and revolution, and women suffragettes are becoming increasingly militant. Home Secretary Winston Churchill takes a hard-nosed attitude against all domestic unrest, fearing anarchists are infiltrating these groups.

“I wanted to show how the Irish wanted independence and began to militarize, something I will explore in the next book.  Also, readers should understand that half of the Kings of Europe had as a grandmother Queen Victoria.  For example, King Edward is a first cousin to Czar Nicholas of Russia and Kaiser Wilhelm. Only four years later they were all fighting in the First World War.”

The book does not put Winston Churchill in a favorable light.  “I do feel in many cases he was the bad guy.  Although he had a heroic role in the Second World War, I myself do not see him as a heroic figure and feel he has placed a high value on his own destiny. He had crossed the floor twice, flip flopped during his career: first a Conservative, then a Liberal, and back to Conservative. His history is based entirely on 1940 to 1945, which is when his moment of destiny came.”

Readers can read this for a mystery and an understanding of events of the time.


Book Review: Bright Young Dead

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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Bright Young Dead by Jessica Fellowes brings to life the mid-1920s amid a strong who done it mystery.  Fellowes known for writing the companion books to the Downtown Abbey TV series has used those skills to write a riveting historical novel. This is the second novel that delves into the lives of the aristocratic Mitford household during the Golden Age.

Fellowes noted, “I have been writing a lot of non-fiction and the Downtown Abbeyseries of books. I love this era and wanted to write a novel in it.  I was approached by my editor who suggested I write a vintage crime series. My continuing characters Guy and Louisa were born.”

During a treasure hunt a murder is discovered.  Arrested is one of the servants, Dulcie, of a guest since she was overheard having an argument with the victim. She had previously been associated with a gang of criminals known as “The Forty Thieves.”  Lead by Alice Diamond this group shoplifts, robs the wealthy, and fences the stolen goods.

“I can’t remember exactly how I heard of Alice, but I was reading generally about the period, as I have done for some years now, and came across her story. It seemed to me immediately obvious that I had to use her in this book! Alice Diamond and the Forty Thieves were all the girlfriends of the Forty Elephants, a notoriously violent gang from South East London. Gang culture can be very pervasive when young people are looking for motivation and glamour to lift them out of their surroundings. Her story is a complicated one. She was born into a criminal very poor environment, where it was the norm for people to get what they needed in aggressive, illegal ways. That said, she was not frequently violent and her chosen method of getting what she wanted was shoplifting.”

Caught in the middle is Louisa Cannon, a servant in the Mitford household and a chaperone of the young adult daughters, Nancy and Pamela. She has become a good friend of Dulcie and believes she is innocent, determined to get to the truth of the matter. Intertwined is the relationship Louisa has with a young officer, Guy Sullivan, and his partner, Mary Moon.  They have been assigned to go undercover and arrest her and the gang. During her investigation Louisa seeks the help of Sullivan, since there is a definite connection with the Diamond gang. Together they connect the dots to find the true killer and end Diamond’s reign of crime.

Readers will also enjoy learning about the 1920s era. The young society aristocrats are determined to have fun, going to dance clubs, becoming flapper girls, experimenting with drugs, and showcasing the latest fashions.

“I wanted to write about the reality of life for the upper classes before the Second World War, was that they largely shared their houses with servants, the working class. In portraying the Mitford sisters, there would be servants in the house and I wanted very much to include them in the story. As a servant in the nursery, my fictional heroine, Louisa Cannon, would be both up and downstairs, as it were, spending time both in the servants’ quarters and closely with the family. This meant we could have an insight into the workings of the whole house and all its inhabitants.”

The mix of historical fiction adds authenticity to the novel. The murder investigation allows people to understand the tensions between the upper aristocratic class and their lower-class servants.  This story makes for a very interesting read.


Book Review: 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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Liesby T. M. Logan is his debut psychological thriller. From page one readers will be riveted to the storyline and it never lets up. The plot focuses on what can happen to someone’s normal life when, in one moment, it comes crashing down with the main culprit, lies and betrayals.

The plot begins with Joseph Lynch and his 4-year-old son, William, navigating North London traffic when William spots his mother’s car exiting the highway. A spur-of-the-moment detour leads to disaster. Mel, Joe’s wife and William’s mother, is spotted at the Premier Inn bar arguing with her best friend’s husband, tech millionaire Ben Delaney. After Mel leaves, Joe confronts Ben with a civil conversation, but it quickly develops into a confrontation. Words lead to shoving and Joe pushes Ben a little too hard where he falls and bangs his head. At the same time, he must help his son who is having a major asthma attack, leaving Ben unattended.  Unfortunately, when he goes back later Ben is missing and so is Joe’s phone.  Later that night Mel is confronted and delivers her first lie, saying it is only a business meeting.  Eventually she admits to an affair that begins a downward spiral for Joe’s life. The more he tries to unravel the lies, the more deception he discovers. As the lies gain momentum, he realizes he can trust no one, and must mount a personal investigation to find the truth. Accused of having something to do with Ben’s disappearance, Joe must find Ben to prove his innocence.

The storyline raises some valid and important issues about technology and social media. Joe realizes that someone is manipulating his text messages, the home PC, his Facebook account, photos, and anything else they can get their hands on. It becomes clear the crime and the technology were going hand-in-hand.

Because social media is an antagonist “I wrote this quote, “I was struck by what a strange view you could get of someone’s life from looking at his or her Facebook profile.” I do not think Facebook reflects someone’s real life.  No one is as happy as they appear on Facebook nor as angry as they appear on Twitter.  I once read about an academic study by Birmingham City University that showed how Facebook was involved in 40 to 50 murders.  People had a dispute and became antagonistic, some pretended to be others, luring people into dangerous situations, or to make it appear someone was alive when they actually were not.”

It is interesting to have a story written from the male point of view. Joe is an average, contented, trusting man, happily married man, a daunting father, and a respected teacher with a wife he loves and a son he worships. But he is also very naïve, lying to himself as he tries to persuade himself that he was not betrayed. He is the kind of character a reader can root for.

“Joe is similar to me.  I am a father like Joe.  What he says about William, his four-year-old, is what I would say.  William is based on my son at that age, including his traits, games, and challenges. Both Joe and I are family oriented. Just like William, my son was obsessed with cars and one of his first words was the car company Audi. The scene in the book is true, where we would sit in traffic, calling out car names.  My son matched up the shapes of his toy cars with the real cars owned by myself, my wife, and my parents.He is righteous, every man, an average man, a good father and a loving husband. In the beginning of the book he is optimistic, kind, steady, and honest. It takes him a while to figure out bad things can happen to good people. He wants to see the best in someone, which leads them to take advantage of him. People manipulate him because they could predict what he would do and how he would react.”

This gripping psychological thriller is a twisted page-turner that will keep readers guessing with an unexpected turn. There are layers of lies, secrets, and betrayals.


Book Review: Seduced By A Scot

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

Seduced by a Scot by Julia London is a book about survival and how someone can overcome extraordinary obstacles. The hero and heroine had to overcome their past and learn to move forward.

London recounted how this is “It is the sixth and final book in “The Highland Grooms” series.  I wanted to base it in the early eighteenth century when Scotland and England were unified and acted like bad cousins. I thought it was a great backdrop to set a series about a Scottish family where the women were English.  I thought it would be interesting to have the English women and the Scottish men struggling with the same problems the countries were going through.” 

A prominent Scottish family hires a fixer, Nicholas Bain, to help them weather the possible scandal. Calvin Garbett has arranged for his daughter, unassuming in personality and beauty, to be married to someone whose family will help his business dealings. Falsely accused of enticing the fiancé, the ward, Maura Darby, is taken by Bain to marry an aging bachelor. Having no other options, she agrees, but silently is plotting to return for her family heirloom necklace, taken from her by the mother and daughter. During their long journey, she vents to him about being hurt and disappointed by those who are supposed to care for her. Maura challenges Bain at every turn to see her as a person rather than a problem to be solved.  He realizes that she is entitled to her necklace and plots with her to get it back. As they spend time together they grow closer and sparks start to fly between them.  Bain realizes that they are kindred spirits since he was thrown out by his supposed father and the one possession, a pocket watch, he cherished was taken away. They find love and realize that they can trust one another.

Readers will enjoy the Cinderella element to the story.  She was given the servant’s quarters and hand me down clothes.  Mrs. Garbett took Maura’s beautiful clothes, belongings, pets and gave them all to her daughter Sorcha who was extremely spoiled.  Maura tried to stay out of her way, lurking in the shadows. Both women were petty, jealous, and cruel to Maura and would do anything to make her feel unwanted.  Only while traveling with Bain does she become someone determined, bold, and brash.

“I wanted to write Bain and Maura as soul mates. Both never had anyone miss them, care for them, or love them.  Those who should have protected them betrayed them.  I think this created barriers.  Unlike most men of the time, Bain did not believe she was just property and under the thumb of every man, without the ability to make decisions for herself. He treated her as an equal.” 

Relationship stories are the best when the hero and heroine can share a similar background. They both had to face secrets, lies, cruelty, resentment, enviousness, and spite. Taking a journey with these two wounded souls allowed readers to share their emotions ranging from sadness to laughter.


20 lesser-known aircraft of the Vietnam War

While you surely know about iconic Vietnam-era planes like the F-4 Phantom II or the UH-1 Huey helicopter, you probably haven't heard much about aircraft like the Black Spot, Skyknight, or the Dragonfly. Although they aren't as well-known, these fascinating warplanes played crucial roles during operations in Southeast Asia.

Hiller OH-23 Raven

image from www.victoryinstitute.net

 The OH-23 was used as a scout helicopter during a time when the U.S. military was still figuring out how to best utilize helicopters on the battlefield. Ravens would scout ahead of friendly units, but were underpowered for Vietnam's terrain and their skid guns (when they worked) weren't adequate either. Nearly 100 of these lightweight helicopters were lost before the Army replaced them with the vastly improved OH-6 Cayuse in 1966.

Continue reading "20 lesser-known aircraft of the Vietnam War" »


Book Review: Vendetta

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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Vendetta by Iris Johansen brings back characters introduced in the Eve Duncan books.  Although it is billed as an “Eve Duncan” she is only mentioned briefly. But, this does not take anything away from the plot and the main characters, RachelVenable and Jude Brandon. The story centers on these two and their attempts to bring down Max Huber, the head of Red Star, a terrorist organization with immense power.

The story begins with the shooting of a top CIA official, Carl Venable.  His dying breath to the operative, Jude Brandon, to save his daughter, Dr. Rachel Venable, and give her the choice of eliminating Huber to prevent him from wreaking further havoc on a global scale.Huber wants revenge on Rachel, believing that she killed his father by poisoning him. Enlisting the help of her good friend, CIA operative Catherine Ling and her on again, off again boyfriend, Richard Cameron, they work together to bring Huber down.

Johansen noted, “Every other chapter has a choice come into play.  It is all about making choices. Rachel had to decide if she would go after the bad guys. Brandon whether he would involve himself emotionally with Rachel.  Catherine made the choice not to hide from her desire for Cameron, as well as knowing she had to give Rachel space and control over her own destiny. The bad guy Huber is pure evil without redeeming qualities and his choice was to inflict as much collateral damage as possible. Even though I have a choice as a writer, I just wanted to kill Huber for doing terrible things to the people I love in my books.”

Both Rachel and Catherine had similar experiences of having to overcome rape.  At the age of fifteen Rachel was captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan, watched them kill her mother and brother, and was brutally raped as well as tortured.  What Johansen does wonderfully is to show how Rachel is determined to overcome her past experiences. One of the reasons she becomes a medical doctor is to heal people.Both Catherine and Rachel are intelligent, tough, strong, independent, and stubborn.

The book quote has Rachel determined to not be seen as a cripple. “I wrote that because I consider it the bravest thing she ever said.  She went through a terrible event, but she fought and conquered it. Catherine also had a tough life, growing up on the Hong Kong waterfronts.  She learned from it to become stronger. These two women are more similar than different. They had rough teenage years that they had to overcome.  I think they are more sisters than friends and will always go to bat for each other. I think Catherine is more like the older sister because she has a son, which makes a big difference.”

Johansen writes female characters that are something other than constant damsels in distress. They find a way to survive and have come out even stronger. This story shows how a character’s past and the decisions made influence the present and future, sometimes to the point of getting revenge by pursuing a vendetta.


Book Review: Every Wicked Man

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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Every Wicked Man by Steven James is the last in the series.  This book is third in the prequel series and eleventh overall, in the Bowers Files novels. People should probably want to read the other books first to get a better idea of what is happening in this story.

After a Senator’s son takes his own life and posts the video on-line FBI Agent Patrick Bowers is drawn into a complex web of lies. Clues that might help solve the puzzle include a century old code.  At the funeral Bowers attempts to track down a woman visualizing it from a distance.  Out of nowhere Mannie, the bodyguard of Blake Neeson, comes to help, but the FBI is wary since he and his boss are on the top ten-wanted list.

“I wrote Patrick as someone who pursues the truth no matter what are the consequences.  He is quirky and never gives up. I would describe him as incredible, perseverant, and persistent.  He is also haunted by what he as seen.”

Added to the persons of interest is novelist Timothy Sabian who has Morgellon Disease. One of the symptoms is the feeling of bugs constantly crawling on his skin besides hearing voices telling him to kill people. Caught in the cross hairs are Bowers new wife, Christine, and his stepdaughter Tessa.  Bowers and his partner Ralph must find the culprit before more people die.

James commented, “I heard about this website that live streams murders and suicides.  Unfortunately, this is part of our world today and it is really troubling.  Then I decided to have a character in this book as a novelist with Morgellon’sSyndrome. I wanted a character who is losing all track of reality.  Readers are not sure if he is insane.  Sometimes people’s conditions are so severe they are beyond help. I hope readers identify and have sympathy for him; yet, are unsure and wary because of what he might be capable.”

This book explores power, greed, deception and retribution.  The antagonists use manipulation to coerce others.


Book Review: Down The Broken Road

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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Down The Broken Road by J. R. Backlund brings back Rachel Carver. Readers are treated topuzzling murders to solve, with quite a few suspects to investigate, showing how Rachel is absolutely relentless in her quest for the truth.

He thought about, “ideas for the second book, I watched a Netflix documentary, “The Kill Team.” It is about a bunch of soldiers in Afghanistan who killed other soldiers.  One of the real-life guys feared for his life after telling the story of how a bunch of guys killed innocent civilians for fun.Anyone is capable of killing.  I wrote in this book quote, ‘He had seen the worst of what people could do to one another.  Men beheaded, women raped and stoned to death…reprisals and honor killings. His unit had discovered the body of a twelve-year-old girl with no face.” I wanted to write about the barbarism and brutality of life in this country. I know that those who fought there always used the word “savages.’ The locals are stuck in the Middle Ages. American soldiers wonder if they are conspiring with the Taliban.  I imagine that is what Vietnam was like.” 

The book opens when a police officer finds news reporter Bryce Parker, barely alive, and asking for Rachel Carver. After waking up and able to speak, he talks about Rachel’s previous case, the one where she was right and everyone else was wrong. She is now a private investigator after leaving the North Carolina Bureau of Investigation and thanks to Parker has a new set of clues to find out the truth about the previous case. Rachel puts herself in harm’s way as she begins to close in on the suspects of the murders, while trying to avoid being framed.

Rachel is sharp, smart, tough, methodical, courageous, and dedicated to a fault. She is obsessed with her job and solving the murders at the exclusion of her family, friends, health, and possible boyfriend, Danny Braddock. “She is based on my mom.  I started to think of my mom’s demeanor and thought her personality was perfect for Rachel.  They are both single-minded on solving problems and follow their own instincts. Rachel is driven and obsessed about her job.  I wrote a scene where she is afraid of what will happen as she goes down the investigative hole. She is traumatized from what happened to her, but became stronger and resilient.”

There are enough details in the story to make it suspenseful.  The characters are well developed with an interesting backstory.


Book Review: The Clementine Sisters

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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Rogue Gunslinger and Rugged Defender, the second and third books of the Clementine Sisters series by B. J. Daniels blends a great plot, setting, and characters. People cannot imagine how this author can improve, but each book in this series just keeps getting better.

In Rogue Gunslinger, T.J. Clementine is a mystery author that is being stalked. Receiving mail from one particular fan escalates into threats because she is not following their writing advice. Hoping to escape from possible danger she travels to her childhood home to be with her other two sisters in Whitehorse Montana. Coincidentally she again meets in Montana, the man, Silas Walker, who either saved her or pushed her into an on-coming truck while in New York City. Deciding to investigate Silas, she realizes he protected her, and that as a former policeman he can actually help her find the culprit. This loner and mountain man becomes not only her savior, but they form a bond, while trying to keep each other safe.

For Daniels, T. J. is most like her. “There is some of us in our characters even if we do not like to believe it. In Rogue Gunslinger, I got into what it is like to be a writer, including all the demands.  I have often told my agent I just want to write books, but was told that is not possible. TJ and myself are not fond of social media.  I have said, ‘the day I quit it will be because of social media.’ If someone reads a book and likes it that is when readers go looking for the author. In high school I was a day dreamer as she is.  Sometimes the story feels real to life for me.  For example, I moved things around in a town to represent how I saw it. When I visit there, some things seem out of place. TJ and I had writing choose us with our characters taking on a life of their own.”

The next book of the series, Rugged Defender, focuses on the third sister, Chloe.  She lost her job as an investigative reporter.  Now in Montana for the holidays she decides that sitting around is not for her.  Realizing that a high school classmate, Justin Calhoun, left in disgrace with many unanswered questions about his brother’s death, she searches out the truth. Chloe and Justin decide to team up to find out what really happened to his brother, having their lives threatened in the process.

“I love writing about Montana. I live in the prairie and just as with the town of Whitehorse you can see the Little Rockies in the distance. I weave in the real life of the small town.  We don’t even have stop lights and the nearest Target is three hours away. People love to dance and often go to bars to do it.  It is also true that guys wear jeans almost any place including weddings, funerals, and churches. I once wrote ‘a guy wearing a suit is either an undertaker or a lawyer.’ I describe in the books as I see Montana with ‘the wild prairie, the endless sky, the wide-open places… The peace and quiet. Not one siren to be heard. No traffic. No honking taxis. No loud music from the apartment next door.’”

As a recap, the first book in the story, Hard Rustler, 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, Dawson, 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. Confronted by someone who wants to find something in that house she realizes her life is in danger. Annie and Dawson must sort out the mystery and determine what her grandmother was hiding.

Daniels noted, “I understand how Annabelle 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.” 

These books are about estranged sisters coming to terms with the past and making amends. It’s a love story and a mystery, with a lot of suspense. Each sister in their own way are strong independent women who know themselves and end up knowing what they want out of life.


Book Review: Jefferson's Treasure

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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Jefferson’s Treasure, by Gregory May, details, “how Albert Gallatin saved the new nation from debt.” Appointed by President Thomas Jefferson to be his Treasury Secretary, Gallatin continued under President Madison, maintaining that position for twelve years.  During his tenure, he abolished internal revenue taxes in peacetime, slashed federal spending, and repaid half of the nationaldebt.   

So who was this man that undid Alexander Hamilton’s fiscal system, rejecting it along with Madison and Jefferson?  Because both Presidents did not understand the financial system, they depended on Gallatin to reform it.  Gallatin arrived in America in 1790 from Geneva and rose up to become a trusted advisor of the Republicans. Six years before Jefferson was elected President, Gallatin’s Pennsylvania neighbors rebelled against the tax on whiskey. He supported them in principle but opposed the violence that ensued, burning the local tax collector’s house, robbing the mail, and marching on Pittsburgh.

The play “Hamilton” uses revisionist history. The real Hamilton believed in big government and wanted to continue funding federal deficits.  He based his theories on the British who used the money to fund their large military conflicts, believing that the ability to borrow endless amounts of money would allow the new United States to become a great nation. Jefferson and Madison thought Hamilton’s system, straight from the British way, was tainted with tyranny. As May noted, “It made the people pay obnoxious taxes in order to fund interest payments on a mounting federal debt and the costs of an expensive military establishment. It shifted money from ordinary taxpayers to the relatively few rich men who held the government’s bonds. That was just the sort of thing that had led Americans to revolt against Britain in the first place.”

May believes, The hip-hop immigrant hero of the Broadway musical is a myth. The musical might be a great work of art, but is relies on misconceptions of Hamilton. He was not an immigrant, but a migrant within the British Empire.  Also, he was not a man of the people, as Gallatin was, but an elitist.”

While Hamilton committed to paying only the interest on the government’s debt, Gallatin committed the government to repaying fixed amounts of the principal each year. He also insisted that the government should never spend more than it earned except in times of war. By slashing federal expenses, Gallatin was able to get rid of the tax on whiskey and abolish the entire internal revenue service.

The Republicans, an agrarian society, distrusted these elitists where two-thirds of the government debt belonged to a few hundred very wealthy men residing mainly in Philadelphia, New York, and other mercantile cities.  They saw Hamilton’s plan of collecting taxes from ordinary citizens as a way for a few rich men to become even wealthier.  Implementing these excise taxes required government officials to inspect, quantify, and mark the items subject to tax.

The Hamilton system benefited the wealthy debt holders and spectators at the expense of the average taxpayer who had to pay the interest. The government would borrow more than the people could pay. Hamilton tried to hide how much money the government was actually spending and spiraled the debt higher and higher.

This was an important part of the British tax base, and “I wanted to show how unpopular it was.  Hamilton and company were resented because they created a tax collection network that affected the lives of ordinary citizens. The excise tax is a form of internal taxation, while tariffs are a form of external taxation that fell on the well to do. Remember mostly the well to do bought imports. The Republicans once they came to power relied on import duties rather than excise taxes.”

May further explained, “When Jefferson and his administration came to power it was Gallatin who got rid of Hamilton’s deficit finance system and cut taxes. By the time he has left office he has repaid half the federal debt and set up a program for repaying the rest.”

Anyone who wants to understand the early economic systems of the Founding Fathers will enjoy this book.  It shows how Gallatin, by killing Hamilton’s financial system, abolished internal revenue taxes in peacetime, slashed federal spending, and repaid half of the national debt.


Book Review: The Mystery of Three Quarters

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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Agatha Christie’s The Mystery Of Three Quarters by Sophie Hannah brings to life the famous detective Hercule Poirot. Those who grew up on her novels will once again be treated to mysteries written in her style.  Anyone who has not read the famous novelist will enjoy the plot.

Hannah explains she took on this project, “because I was excited about the creative possibilities. I saw her style as eloquent, clear, and simple with challenging plots that are more like intellectual puzzles. This is my third and I will have a fourth one coming out. Since I am a massive fan of Christie, I wanted to make sure I got everything correct so I went back and did my homework. I re-read all the Poirot novels from a more analytical point of view.  I had read my first book at the age of twelve and had finished all her books at the age of fourteen.  Because he is such a legendary character I did not change him, loving him as he was. It is the same old character seen through new eyes. What I did change was the narrator.”

As in the previous novels Hannah created, Inspector Edward Catchpool from Scotland Yard, narrates the story. This allows the book to be in her voice instead of mimicking Christie’s narrator Hastings. Set in the 1930s, readers find Poirot confronted by Sylvia Rule who demands to know why he sent her a letter accusing of murdering Barnabas Pandy. Perplexed, he is trying to understand what she is talking about when he is confronted again by John McCrodden with the same accusation.  The next day, two others, Annabel Treadway and Hugo Dockerill also come forward with similar letters. It accuses each of killing Barnabas Pandy, a 94-year-old, found drowned in his bathtub in Combingham Hall three months earlier.  The reactions of each ranged from anger to contempt to sorrow to apologetic. Annabel Treadway is distraught at the accusation, since Pandy was her grandfather and tells Poirot that his death was ruled an accident. Deciding to get to the bottom of this mystery the famous detective decides to gather all to uncover who did what to whom and why, while observing their reactions.

Hannah noted, “I always thought of Poirot as brilliantly clever, kind, loyal, methodical, with a strong passion for justice.  He is fascinated by the human psyche and interested in how people behave.  Catchpool is clever, nice, faithful, and helpful.  He is being mentored by Poirot on how to solve the cases.  They contrast with the four accused of murder. Annabelle is obviously sad about something and that piques Poirot’s curiosity.  Sylvia is self-righteous and a know it all.  John has this adolescent attitude about his father, always blaming him for something.  Hugo is a bumbling, absent-minded type.”

This story delves into how people can harm one another.  How lies can take root in people’s heads as truths. The theme has characters stubbornly clinging to old grudges. Hannah will continue this theme with a self-help book, How To Hold A Grudge, out in January that allows people to hold on to their negative feelings as long as they forgive and find inner peace.


Book Review: Death Is Not Enough

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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With Death Is Not Enough Karen Rose has out done herself. This story highlights love and friendship, romance and passion, gruesome murder, frustrating injustice, with an engaging hero/heroine.

Although Rose’s readers have seen Thomas Thorne and Gwyn Weaver in previous books this novel is their story.  Thorne actually gives defense attorneys a good name, always attempting to help those unfairly charged, as was the case when he was young. His backstory is very compelling, having been falsely accused while in high school. It seems Déjà vu when he once again becomes the main person of interest in a murder. He is found in bed, drugged senseless, next to a woman beaten and knifed to death, with his fingerprints on the weapon. His friends circle the wagon, standing by him and searching for details that will prove his innocence.  It becomes apparent that someone is setting him up, out for revenge, and wants to slowly destroy his life, piece by piece. The various attacks on his friends, his business and his reputation are intended to get at everything he holds dear and values.

The theme of the book is justice for all. “I wrote how Thorne was upset when he saw due process circumvented and abused.  This country is built upon being punished for what you actually do.  Defense attorneys are part of the check and balance systems. Justice is done in my books.  It can be a good thing, but if used improperly it can be turned into a weapon.  Thorne takes this very seriously making sure that the Constitution is enforced, and that the prosecutors do not get away with bullying the system.”

All the women characters could sing the Helen Reddy song, “I am woman hear me roar.”  Rose noted, “I am used to strong woman because my circle of friends are intelligent and strong women.  They have spines of steel and will not let anyone push them around. Lucy, Stevie, Paige, and Gwyn all rallied around Thorne because they created a family around the circle of friends. They took control over their own destiny and never cowered. Women need to stand up for themselves and to take matters in their own hands.  My men characters see women as equals and not as delicate flowers. I hope my characters are role models. Strong women should be thought of as cool and not the “b” word.”

Readers will not be disappointed with this suspenseful story.  They will be riveted hoping beyond hope that justice will prevail, and that the psychopath attempting to frame Thorne will get his due. Although the romance was not at the forefront, it added to the storyline.


Book Review" The Mystery Of Three Quarters

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.

91EfyoJLFtL._AC_UL115_Hannah

Agatha Christie’s The Mystery Of Three Quarters by Sophie Hannah brings to life the famous detective Hercule Poirot. Those who grew up on her novels will once again be treated to mysteries written in her style.  Anyone who has not read the famous novelist will enjoy the plot.

Hannah explains she took on this project, “because I was excited about the creative possibilities. I saw her style as eloquent, clear, and simple with challenging plots that are more like intellectual puzzles. This is my third and I will have a fourth one coming out. Since I am a massive fan of Christie, I wanted to make sure I got everything correct so I went back and did my homework. I re-read all the Poirot novels from a more analytical point of view.  I had read my first book at the age of twelve and had finished all her books at the age of fourteen.  Because he is such a legendary character I did not change him, loving him as he was. It is the same old character seen through new eyes. What I did change was the narrator.”

As in the previous novels Hannah created, Inspector Edward Catchpool from Scotland Yard, narrates the story. This allows the book to be in her voice instead of mimicking Christie’s narrator Hastings. Set in the 1930s, readers find Poirot confronted by Sylvia Rule who demands to know why he sent her a letter accusing of murdering Barnabas Pandy. Perplexed, he is trying to understand what she is talking about when he is confronted again by John McCrodden with the same accusation.  The next day, two others, Annabel Treadway and Hugo Dockerill also come forward with similar letters. It accuses each of killing Barnabas Pandy, a 94-year-old, found drowned in his bathtub in Combingham Hall three months earlier.  The reactions of each ranged from anger to contempt to sorrow to apologetic. Annabel Treadway is distraught at the accusation, since Pandy was her grandfather and tells Poirot that his death was ruled an accident. Deciding to get to the bottom of this mystery the famous detective decides to gather all to uncover who did what to whom and why, while observing their reactions.

Hannah noted, “I always thought of Poirot as brilliantly clever, kind, loyal, methodical, with a strong passion for justice.  He is fascinated by the human psyche and interested in how people behave.  Catchpool is clever, nice, faithful, and helpful.  He is being mentored by Poirot on how to solve the cases.  They contrast with the four accused of murder. Annabelle is obviously sad about something and that piques Poirot’s curiosity.  Sylvia is self-righteous and a know it all.  John has this adolescent attitude about his father, always blaming him for something.  Hugo is a bumbling, absent-minded type.”

This story delves into how people can harm one another.  How lies can take root in people’s heads as truths. The theme has characters stubbornly clinging to old grudges. Hannah will continue this theme with a self-help book, How To Hold A Grudge, out in January  that allows people to hold on to their negative feelings as long as they forgive and find inner peace.