Book Review: The Gate Keeper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Book Review: The Forgotten Hours

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 Forgotten Hours by Katrin Schumann delves into a timely subject. It is a thought-provoking story about a woman’s search for the haunting truth regarding her best friend and father. The main character Katie wanted to believe that her father was perfect, that he was the same person she knew and loved.  But once he was accused of statutory rape she had to reconcile if her father was being honest with her. As she searched for facts that would give her answers, Katie wondered does she forgive, ignore, or cut off ties.

Schumann noted, “A few years ago I had two friends, almost at the same time, involved in a really nasty and complicated law case about consent.  The cases were not related.  I had this front row seat about the experiences of the accused and accuser.  I felt pulled along in the emotional tide, and realized that people who love them are also victims. I did not want to commit to one side or the other or jump to conclusions.  There are so many grey areas.  At the time of writing this there was the Jerry Sandusky case. I saw on television, the harrowing look of his wife and a comment she made struck me, “This is not the man I know.”  It is disorienting to think we do not know who people really are.”

Ten years ago, when Katie was fifteen her teenage best friend Lulu accused her dad of rape.  Because there was an age difference of about thirty years he was sent off to prison for nine years. Katie was loyal to her father and never questioned his innocence.  Now, with her dad’s release date approaching she must come to grips with what really happened, after being hounded by reporters and knowing she could no longer keep her boyfriend in the dark. To make matters worse she must return to the Eagle Lake cabin where the incident occurred.  While there she discovers letters about the trial that provoke in her questions about her father’s innocence and her own memory of what happened.

This story is a page-turner that also speaks to broader questions of sexual abuse, family loyalty, and the uncertainty of memory. Interestingly, throughout the novel Schumann has readers questioning who is the predator, the accused or the accuser. The plot's themes are all the more powerful in today’s current environment.

 


Book Review: The Secret Of Clouds

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 Secret of Clouds by Alyson Richman brings to life the bond between a teacher and student.  In the current environment, it is a reminder of how precious a life is even for a fleeting moment.  It is a story of hope and the dreams of a young boy who readers will connect with immediately. 

Richman noted, “The title came from my son saying to me after my grandmother died, that he wishes there would be a family cloud.  I put a sentence in the book, “We have to hope every family has a family cloud that will unite everyone.” I tried to explain death to him. He wanted to know where she went, how is it she was here one day and gone the next.  He looked up to me and said, ‘mommy, I just have to hope there is a family cloud.’ I thought that was so beautiful. All my novels have a message of being kind to one another as the characters become knitted together.  In this book, light was brought into the household.  Within a community people could leave a lasting fingerprint on each other.”

The book opens with Sasha and Katya living in the Ukraine.  They move to America but discover their young son, Yuri, has a major heart defect caused by the exposure to nuclear radiation. Because of his condition he is not allowed to attend school with other students.  Assigned as a home school English teacher, Maggie Topper needs to find a way to connect with Yuri.  Realizing Yuri is passionate for baseball she uses it as a teaching tool, having him read the biography of Shoeless Joe.  Throughout the book are tidbits of baseball history as well as comparisons between baseball and Yuri’s life.

Readers can only imagine how stressed any mother would be, not knowing if they would outlive their child. Richman noted, “I could not imagine. Yuri’s mom, Katya, desperately wanted to protect her child.  Think how worrisome it is for a mother to think her child’s heart could stop beating and not to be able to see any signs.  There was this powerful scene in the book where Yuri is sleeping in his crib and she is hovering over him to make sure his chest goes up/down.  I interviewed people who had children with rare heart defects and they never wanted to leave their children for even a minute.  Another scene has Maggie staying with Yuri so Katya can get some rest. As a mother, I kept thinking Yuri was my child.”

Although Richman is known for her historical novels, she ventured into the contemporary genre.  But she makes sure to include the historical significance of the era by delving into such topics as the Chernobyl disaster, baseball, music, and a mention of the Holocaust.  Trying to show Yuri that people always need hope, Maggie has him write a letter to his future eighteen-year-old self.  She precedes it by explaining to him how children in the Terezin Concentration Camp wrote poetry and drawings even when starving and freezing.  Maggie came to realize that “a teacher’s job is to make children feel safe, to make them believe their ability is boundless…to use their minds-and their imagination-in their darkest hour.” Yuri’s letter and the drawings/poetry of the Holocaust children sparked a creative dialogue where they were able to imagine the possibility of a better life.

This is a heartening tale of the influence a teacher has on a student, but also how a student can impact a teacher. Richman makes people think about the importance of life and how a child born can make such an impression on those adults around him, even for a short time.

 


Book Review: Stroke Of Luck

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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Stroke of Luck by B.J. Daniels is the first of three in this new series.  Known for mixing romance and danger this one concentrates more on the relationship than the danger, a slight change from her past novels. 

“I wrote it as more of a romance than a mystery.  My editor suggested I do this.  I tried it but feel it is not what I really want to do.  I think people read me for the suspense.  If people want a true romance they can find it elsewhere.  In this novel, it worked well to have the relationship more up front and the hero/heroine not personally involved in the mystery.  For the other books in the series I went back to having the main focus on the danger that is intertwined with the relationship. The next book will focus on another brother of the dude ranch who rescues a woman physically threatened by a man.”

Also different is the personality of the heroine.  Daniels noted that Poppy Carmichael “is strong, but not an in-your-face person who argues with the hero.  I tried to make her more poised with a quiet confidence.  On the other hand, my protagonist, Will Sterling, is typical of my heroes. He is laid back, cocky, sensitive, and caring.  He regrets how the friendship with Poppy ended.”

The setting is a dude ranch in Glacier Park Montana. A large corporation has rented it during the winter for a retreat. After the cook breaks his leg, the ranch owner, Will, is forced to call upon a childhood friend Poppy, now a caterer.  The problem is that twenty years ago, as a teenager, he broke her heart.

“The reason I wrote them on a dude ranch in Whitefish Montana was to have them isolated.  It is surrounded by mountains, pine trees, and lakes.  There is no television and no cell phone service.  The only way to communicate is with the one land line in the lodge. Everyone was back to nature.”

Set on revenge Poppy hopes to seduce him with food, using the old saying, “a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” She wanted to get him to want her, then she would walk away, and break his heart, as he did to her. Unfortunately, a major snowstorm turns the retreat into a cold atmosphere. Someone is killing people there without any escape. 

“I love to cook and wanted to write one of my characters as a great chef. The way I show love, which I passed on to Poppy, is through my cooking and baking.  At our house. we have a lot of guests come and go so my husband, who is also a great cook, and I make sure no one leaves hungry. The three recipes in the back of the book are ones I personally cook.”

Readers are left guessing who is the culprit and will Poppy and Will renew their relationship in this western-style romance-thriller.


Book review: Say You're Sorry

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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Say You’re Sorry by Karen Rose will keep readers guessing and thinking.  It has thrills, suspense, psychological analyses, and a bit of romance.  People are kept at the edge of their seats by a story that delves into intense subjects such as cults, pedophiles, torture, abuse, alcohol dependency, anxiety attacks, and PTSD.

“I enjoyed writing the scenes with the dogs.  Brutus is a therapy dog.  I got a lot of the ideas from one of my editors that trains therapy dogs. I wrote the scenes with Brutus because I want readers to understand what a true service dog does. Daisy has her dog to help her with anxiety and keep it under control so it doesn’t become a threat to her sobriety. We are even giving away some stuffed Brutus’ at the conferences. I am losing my hearing so I am looking for a service dog of my own.  Hopefully, one like Brutus. My younger daughter is deaf and her anxiety comes from her disability. Recently, she was followed, which scared her and me.  It is nerve racking that as a deaf person anyone can sneak up to her at any time.  We have been talking about getting her a service dog as well.”

Although the first novel in a new series, it draws on characters from the Baltimore series.  The heroine, Daisy Dawson, should be recognizable to those readers who have read Rose in the past.  She is a cross-over character whose story is told front and center in this debut. Having moved to Sacramento she is confronted by a disguised gunman who pulls her into an alley.  Instead of fleeing she uses the skills taught by her dad.  As the attacker bolts, Daisy pulls a locket off his neck. A good friend, Sacramento PD Detective Rafe Sokolov, comes to her rescue and brings his old friend, FBI Special Agent Gideon Reynolds. After doing some investigating it becomes clear this attacker is actually a serial killer who preys on young women.  Knowing she needs a defender, Reynolds is asked to be a part of her protection detail. For him it is personal, since he recognized the locket’s significance.  The cult forces teenage women to wear these lockets after marrying them young. Together Daisy and Gabriel are determined to stop this vicious killer and find the cult he escaped from.

“This is a serial killer who has been hanging around in my head for about five years. He is a person that is capable of monstrous deeds.  To make a villain believable they must not be cardboard cutouts like Snidely Whiplash who just twirls his mustache and goes wah-ha-ha. They have to have a vulnerability, something they care about.  This killer had a messed-up childhood.  I wanted to explore why others like the hero Gideon who has a horrific childhood do not become killers.  I am fascinated why some do and some do not. I have to tell you a funny story.  I met a man on an airplane who is a private pilot that combined charter services and corporation time shares.  As he talked about all these places he visited in such a short period of time I looked at him and said, ‘you would make a perfect serial killer because there is no pattern.’ He looked at me and became very upset.  I told him I write thriller novels, but he still did not speak with me the rest of the flight.”

Both the hero and heroine are mending from emotional problems.  She is a recovering alcoholic that has anxiety, while he wrestles with his memories of the cult’s abuse. Daisy was forced to live a sheltered and isolated life by her father who believed her sister, Taylor was being hunted. Daisy must come to grips with her father for uprooting their lives.  She gravitates towards Gideon because he too is trying to come to grips with his past. When he was a young child, his mother got involved with a cult that advocated forced marriages as soon as a young girl turned twelve and welded a locket around her neck which claimed ownership of her. Boys at thirteen were considered men and began apprenticeships which also included pedophilia. Gideon was nearly beaten to death after he objected and killed the man who was trying to rape him. He barely escaped with his life.

Although this book is 600+ pages, there are a lot of moving parts from start to finish. Yet, it's an amazingly fast read given the size of the book, since these pages are jam-packed with wall-to-wall action and heart-stopping, page-turning suspense. Say You’re Sorryis something Karen Rose will not have to do with this debut novel of her new series, because she has written a riveting and thrilling novel.

 


Book Review: The Sky Above Us

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 Sky Above Usby Sarah Sundin is a historical romance novel focusing more on the history than the romance.  Throughout this series she intertwines World War II military history with a developing relationship.

The series follows three brothers who are all fighting in Normandy. The first book highlighted Wyatt Paxton, the oldest, who joined the navy. This one is about Adler Paxton, the middle brother, who enlisted in the Air Force, and the next book will emphasize the youngest Paxton brother, Clay, who is an army Ranger.

This story highlights how Lt. Adler Paxton has been numbed by grief and is harboring shameful secrets, while shipping off to England on the Queen Elizabeth to fight with the US 357th Fighter Group in 1943. After arriving he battles the German Luftwaffe in treacherous dogfights in the skies over France as the Allies struggle for control of the air before the D-day invasion. These scenes are authentic, intense, and capture the struggles of the allied forces as they have dog-fights over the skies of Normandy to protect the bombers.

“I wrote Adler as having joined the 357thfighter group.  I enjoyed writing the fighter pilot mentality.  I read many stories by those and was able to understand what it was like when fighting on a mission.  Chuck Yeager, the pilot who broke the sound barrier, was in this group. He along with his peers had a very lively and colorful memoir. He is rough around the edges, very driven, ambitious, and competitive.  Chivalrous when he rescued Violet from this predatory type, Riggs who had no boundaries at all.  Adler’s attitude is that no one should have a right to just grab a strange woman and force a kiss on her. I think Adler is two different personalities, one gregarious and outgoing, and the other where he just shuts down.  Because of the tragedy he experienced he tries to keep a side of himself secret, which is a protective mechanism.”

On the Queen Elizabeth, he meets Violet Lindstrom who serves in the American Red Cross. Adler and Violet will reunite at the Air Base where she is assigned the duties of entertaining the troops at the Aeroclub and setting up programs for local children. As war rages and D-Day approaches, life has a way of drawing two people together.

Sundin noted, “Receiving and giving forgiveness.  What does forgiveness mean?  Adler wants a reconciliation, but is afraid it is not possible.  He grieves for how he lost the love of his family. Many times, people forgive to avoid the bitterness in our own souls.”

This story is about friendship, love, and life choices.  It delves into how a feeling of betrayal can lead to forgiveness and the need for people to look within to find peace and happiness.

 


Book Review: The Black Ascot

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 Black Ascotby Charles Todd ratchets up the mystery. Readers are able to get a deeper understanding of Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge, while getting a glimpse of the social and political trends of the 1920s.

Unlike many of the past plot-lines, this one focuses on a Cold Case. Ten years ago, a woman was murdered after attending the Black Ascot race, the famous 1910 royal horserace honoring the late King Edward VII.  The suspect, Alan Barrington, has eluded capture and the aggressive manhunt.  Now it appears that Barrington has returned to England, and Rutledge is chosen to conduct a quiet search under the cover of a routine review of a cold case. 

“We wanted to write as a starting off point, how a killing surrounded this event,called the killer, the Black Ascot Murderer. A woman was killed coming out of the races. After Edward VII died in 1910 there was a period of royal mourning. People thought the Ascot races should be cancelled.  Since the races were an integral part of society, it was decided to go through with it. Instead of wearing the glorious hats and gowns as in “My Fair Lady,” they decided everyone should wear black; thus, the Black Ascot.”

Determined to get into the mind of Barrington, Rutledge delves into all of his relationships and secrets, enlisting the help and advice of his alter-ego, Hamish.  But everything seems to be put on hold after the inspector is shot. Along with his supervisors and family, he questions whether it was attempted suicide, or was someone out to kill him.  The only way to save his career, and his sanity, is to find Alan Barrington and bring him to justice.

The Todds noted, “There were two societal stigmas in the story. Shell-shock was considered a moral failure that reflected on the individual and their family.  It was not only a shame on the veteran, but a shame on the family for producing a coward.  Families would disown sons who had lost their nerve. We talked with readers who came up to us and said thank you for allowing me to understand my grandfather or father now. Veterans also say thank you, which means so much to us. With suicide, at the time, people considered it a crime and would put a person in jail. If someone committed suicide they would not be allowed to be buried in consecrated Church grounds because it is considered a moral sin.  Many times, the family doctor would say the man who died was due to a gun going off while cleaning and declared it an accidental death.  This makes no sense since a man could take his gun apart in the dark during the war.  Those who did it had the feeling, ‘I have taken as much as I can take, and do not know what else to do.’  They could not talk about it, and did not know where to go to for help. They just could not cope.”

There are many twists and turns that keep readers on their toes.  Each character has strengths and flaws that have people questioning if they are good or bad, likeable, or not.

 


Book Review: The Girl From Berlin

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 Girl From Berlin by Ronald H. Balson has readers experiencing the emotional roller coaster ride of guilt, anger, fear, and redemption. Chapters alternate between the 1930s/1940s and 2017.  The connection between the time periods is a manuscript that Ada Baumgarten has written about her life under Nazi rule and the devastating effect it had on Jews, particularly Ada’s family.

Balson noted, “I got the idea for Gavi when visiting my son who was studying abroad in Italy.  We drove around Italy and tried to visit as many wineries in Tuscany as we could because they are so quaint and beautiful.  We found out that German corporations own some of them.  I thought about the German occupation of Italy from 1943 to 1945 where they brutally seized Jewish property." 

"Ada came about from my long-time thoughts about Jewish artists and musicians during the Nazi regime. During the Weimar Republic, Germany's government, from 1919 to 1933, the period after World War I until the rise of Nazi Germany, there was a cultural explosion of art and science.”

Not only is this book a powerful historical novel but it also has a riveting mystery of murder, deception, and greed. The questions asked throughout the present-day chapters, how does the accounting of a young Jewish girl’s life in the 1930s and 1940s relate to a deed for an Italian farm, and what became of Ada?

It is almost like taking a time machine from present-day Italy back to the 1930’s during Hitler’s regime in Germany. The story opens with the recurring characters Catherine Lockhart and Liam Taggart being asked by an old friend to travel to Tuscany Italy to save the farm and priceless wine vineyards of his aunt, Gabi Vincenzo. A powerful corporation claims they own the deeds, even though she can produce her own set of deeds to her land.

Since Catherine is an attorney and her husband Liam is a private investigator they set forth to try to help the elderly woman.  Upon their arrival in Tuscany, Gabi tells Catherine and Liam to read a memoir by a woman named Ada Baumgarten, a German violinist forced to flee Berlin and settle in Bologna Italy after the Nazis took power.

The author also transplants readers back to the Nazi era where Jews were unaware of the horrors awaiting them: first deprived of careers/businesses, then property, basic rights, and ultimately, for many of them, their lives. Even more disturbing is the knowledge that while this was happening, many of the non-Jewish German population either does nothing or actively assists. Within these devastating events the author allows readers a reprise with the classical musical scenes and the various descriptions of certain musical works.

“I wrote this book quote by Ada, “Perhaps the most hurtful and inimical result of the campaign was the pervasive acceptance of Nazi policies by German society...it became apparent that they would no longer stand up for us.  Those who uttered hateful speech were sinful, but the greater sin was committed by those who did not speak at all.”  The Nazi policies were accepted.  Remember Germany had seen a serious depression.  With the Nazis, there started to be a booming economy.  Since this population was not Jewish they turned the other way.  A good lesson to take out of this book is that we as a society should not turn our backs to those in need. I wanted to explore the Jewish options open to escape from the Nazi barbarism.  Many did leave Germany and Austria before the war.  Yet, many could not just pick up and go someplace.  Where would they go since the surrounding countries of Poland, Austria, and Czechoslovakia were not options?  Anywhere someone went there were no job, no community, and no money. These are formidable barriers. They tried to convince themselves things were not so bad, especially since events happened in increments. First Jews had to wear armbands, then Jewish stores were painted, but the atrocities started later.”

This novel puts a personal touch on the Holocaust where the six million Jews who perished do not seem like numbers.  Starting with the first pages of the book, readers will be so mesmerized there will be no turning back. Balson does a great job of intertwining the music, the rise of the Nazi party to power during its early years, its effect on Jewish lives, and the comparison between Jewish treatment in Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy.  It is a story of courage, survival, and hope.

 


Book Review: Annelies

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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Annelies by David R. Gillham has Anne Frank surviving the Holocaust. As the “what if” comes true, the book presents a story of hope, survival, trauma and redemption. But it is also a reminder of what was lost during the Holocaust: how many of those lives taken away had such promise. Gillham gives Anne Frank’s life back to her, a life brutally cut short by the Nazi monsters.

The author commented on why he wrote this alternative history, a harrowing undertaking, “I was constantly aware that Anne Frank was a real person who wrote one of the most defining books of the twentieth century. I understand she is an icon and have tremendous respect for her legacy.   I had Anne survive the Holocaust to give her the life she was cheated of.  Through telling the story of one girl, I hope to tell the story of all the “Annes,” showing the lost potential of the millions who perished.  Anne Frank’s legacy is one of hope and I want to show what we are missing in our world today, because of their loss. After reading the diary of Anne Frank I became thunderstruck by her insight, perception, humor, and brilliance as a writer. I thought about writing a novel where she survives.  After numerous attempts, about 6.5 years ago the story finally emerges with Anne surviving the camps, returning to Amsterdam, and being reunited with her dad, Otto.”

Gillham skillfully transforms Anne from a bright-eyed girl with dreams and ambitions to a bitter, angry teenager who suffers from survivor’s guilt and PTSD. The author should be applauded as he realistically portrays what many Holocaust survivors suffered.  Because of enduring the atrocities and emotional/physical pain readers see Anne with a haunted tone that has different ideals. She is not the same person as she was when writing in her diary prior to, during, and immediately following the time her family and others were hiding in the space above her father’s workplace. In reading inserts from her diary at the beginning of each chapter people see an optimistic young girl who never gave up hope despite the cruel, unexplainable hatred and danger that threatened her daily.

Anne before the Gestapo capture is written as, “vivacious, precocious, demanding, high energy, charming, fun, a dreamer who could be self-centered. She loved to be the center of attention, a chatter-box, and what you saw is what you get. But afterward, she is angry, guilty, and feels betrayed by everyone including her protectors, and feels like a dislocated soul. Anne is lonely and rebellious. I also had a hard time understanding the psychopathic attitude of the Nazis. At the beginning of Anne’s diary, she refers to the German language as uncivilized. Even at the end of the war they still tried to murder as many Jews as possible.  They tried to hide it by blowing up the crematoriums.  It is hard to get into the mindset of the Nazis.” 

But after being betrayed the family and their friends were found by the Nazi Gestapo Amsterdam branch.  First sent to a concentration camp in Holland with her sister and mother, she was then transferred to the Auschwitz death camp and ended up in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany. These scenes show how Anne and her family endured the packed train to the concentration camps, and the despicable conditions of dirt and disease throughout them. It is where the alternate history begins. Unlike the reality where Anne dies of Typhus she is rescued and reunited with her father Otto in Amsterdam. Now seventeen she grows from a person filled with frustration, rage, anger, and guilt to someone who finally understands she must live her life and honor the dead by using her diary to teach the world about her experiences. Although her father at first would not let go, he eventually allows her to move to America where the last pages show her with a happy ending, one the real-life Anne Frank never had, as she replies to readers notes about her best-selling book, The Secret Annex.

Anne and her dad Otto are at odds.  Gillham explains, “They had two different approaches to redemption and trauma. Otto refuses to dwell in the tragedies of the past and looks to a better future. He tells Anne in my book quote, “What is the point of having survived? What is the point of living if we are to be poisoned by our own sorrow?” He refers to their motto of work, love, courage, and hope. He feels that those loved ones who died can be kept alive with love in the survivor’s hearts. But Anne refuses to relinquish these tragedies and faces them with anger and guilt.  She believes the guilty deserve punishment and the dead deserve justice. I drew a book quote from survivors who wondered where was God at Bergen-Belsen?  Anne feels, “The only thing God has given us is death. God has given us the gas chambers.  God has given us the crematoria.  Those are God’s gifts to us and this:” She then exposes her forearm with the number A-25063.”

In reading portions of the real-life diary, people understand how Anne had hope amid the darkness of humanity. This novel transports readers as they take Anne’s journey with her to the hiding place, the concentration camps, and as she struggles to survive the aftermath of the Holocaust. Gillham should be given a shout-out for taking on this risky project, but he did it successfully with sensitivity and humility.


Book Review: Untouchable

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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Untouchable by Jayne Krentz is the finale in the Cutler, Sutter, and Salinas series. It intertwines a good mystery, suspense, and a little romance, while delving into the world of mind control through lucid dreams and hypnosis. 

Krentz noted, “This book delves into hypnosis and lucid dreams. It is a blending of not being quite awake and being in the world.  It means you are in a dream that can be controlled to some extent.  Regarding hypnosis, it has been around for hundreds of years, but always has that woo-woo factor. In my research, I found it impossible to conduct a double-blind test because some people are not hypnotizable, and others are susceptible to suggestions. In this story, I took both to extremes.  I also put in about sleepwalking, which is supposed to be a childhood thing that people outgrow.  I think it is more of a trance-like state.  I do know people who have done it and they are aware enough not to hurt themselves.  I am told they just wake up in another place.”

The hero of the story, Jack Lancaster, has his mother killed in the cult fire set by Quinton Zane when Jack was 12, and since then he has been on a quest to find the murderer. His profession is related to his obsession, becoming a professor, author, and consultant on Cold Cases that have the victims killed by fire. The lucid-dreams give him the ability to be partially awake and able to manipulate them. This allows him more clarity in solving the cases he’s working on. But when his fiery dreams begin to take a disturbing turn, Jack seeks the help of Winter Meadows, his neighbor in Eclipse Bay on the Oregon coast. She is a hypnotist billed as a mediation instructor who is helping him control the dreams.

Fire seems like a character in the book. “As a writer, it is a really exciting element to work with.  It can be destructive or useful.  I like writing stories that have elements that have a dark and light side.  Fire does this since we use it to heat our homes, cook our food, and chase away the monsters at night.  Yet, it can tear down our shelter and can kill us.  In my book, fire is the tool that is mishandled by the bad guy.  In his hands, it becomes a weapon to clean up his dark past.  For him, fire is a cleansing element.” 

The initial bond formed between Winter and Jack comes from the connection of losing their parents to tragedy. This escalates after he saves Winter from a stalker who wants to kill her. Convinced that this has something to do with Zane he enlists the help of his father and brothers who also lost loved ones to the fire. Jack and Winter’s ensuing investigation becomes a game of cat and mouse between themselves and a criminal who always assumes he is the smartest in the room.With Winter's assistance, Jack begins what he hopes will be his final quest to capture Zane.

“In my stories, the hero and heroine see the same virtues in each other.  This attracts them to each other at first.  I think before falling in love they admire each other. This is what their love is based upon. Winter and Jack understand and accept each other and never see each other as flakes.  Both are gutsy, and have honor, courage, and integrity.”

This story has a unique plot and likeable main characters. The investigation is fast-paced and compelling as the foster family, assisted by the women they become romantically involved with, attempt to find and bring down the cult leader before he brings them down.

 


BOOK REVIEW: VERSES FOR THE 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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Verses for the Dead by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child brings back the return of their beloved character FBI Special Agent AloysiusPendergast. There is a slightly new recipe for this famous crime solver with a new boss, partner, and medical examiner.

The authors describe Pendergast as “a person out of place and out of time.  A gentleman from the Old South, specifically New Orleans.  He is looked upon as a total freak. He does things off the books, unorthodox, wealthy, and an iconoclast. He is like a twisted, dark Sherlock Holmes. We have fun writing him.  He is an over the top character that is eccentric.  He enjoys his comforts.He has become legendary to go rogue and work on his own.”   

A welcome relief in this story has the authors moving away from anything supernatural and deciding to stick to crime-solving, understanding that the story and characters are riveting by themselves. In this old-fashioned mystery, a Florida woman while visiting her husband’s grave has her dog find a human heart with an apology note. The current victims are women whose throats have been slit and breastbones split open to remove their hearts, all in quick and expert fashion. The killer leaves notes at the graves of women who committed suicide and signed it “Mister Brokenhearts.”As other body counts mount up it becomes apparent that the notes left have a tinge of literary verses from T. S. Eliot to Romeo & Juliet.

The authors noted that this time they gave him a different type of partner. “One thread of previous Pendergast books is how we saddled him with lazy and incompetent law officials that he had to work with.  Coldmoon is not a boring person and we hope he made an impression on the reader.  He looks like a Native American with long black hair and piercing eyes.  Quietly he shows Pendergast he is an equal with the same intelligence and observations.  Pendergast as competent partner, He is one of the finest characters we have written.  Very iconic that keeps to himself. One scene we wrote in the book shows their different tastes.  Pendergast is a terrible coffee snob while Coldmoon likes camp coffee with that foul smell.  At a certain point Pendergast buys his partner a fine expresso coffee. Coldmoon takes one sip and pours it out.  This shows their differences, but they both end up respecting each other.”

Unlike his past supervisor Pendergast must now deal with Walter Pickett, an FBI assistant director recently assigned to the New York City field office, who is determined to keep this maverick agent under his control by assigning him a partner, Special Agent Coldmoon. The new partner is expected to report back on any of Pendergast’s deviations from the rules. Both Agents are a contrast of each other.  Coldmoon is part Lakota Indian and part Italian.  Pendergast dresses like an undertaker, and always seems to have more money than the average FBI agent preferring the luxuries of a fine hotel, private jet, and nice car. Soon Coldmoon realizes his partner is astute, smart, observant, and has a way of looking outside the box. They enlist the help of the medical examiner who is willing to go against her supervisor to find clues.

Throughout the story the partners get under each other’s skins, but realize they are more alike than different. “Pendergast only accepts one dollar a year because he is wealthy and is doing the job for the enjoyment of the work.  He thinks of it as solving a puzzle.  As the story progresses his new partner sees the reasons behind what Pendergast does. Regarding betrayal versus loyalty Coldmoon is assigned as Pendergast’s partner with a secret agenda.  As time passes he realizes it is wrong.  He must choose loyalty to his superiors or loyalty to his partner. Whoever he is loyal to the other will see it as betrayal.  He chose his partner.”

Sorting through betrayals, lies, and deceptions, readers are treated to a unique storyline that is highly volatile.  An added treat is the humorous banter between the characters that is both refreshing and amusing. 

 

 


Book Review: The Widows

The Widows by Jess Montgomery is inspired by the true story of Ohio’s first female sheriff.  The story delves into how two woman fought greed and violence while overcoming the loss of a loved one. 

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The author noted, “This is a darker and deeper style of writing, much more than my other stories.  For example, I examine the Pinkerton men and the violence they used. I read multiple books that talked about how these men would shoot up the striking camps. I put in the book a quote by one of the Pinkerton men, ‘A real war, and then, rule of law won’t matter. Those miners who resist, why, we’ll put ‘em down like rabid dogs.’”

The protagonists Lily and Marvena are based on the real-life historical figures of Maude Collins, the first female sheriff in Ohio, and Mother Jones, the famous activist and labor organizer. Sheriff Daniel Ross, the husband of Lily is murdered and no one knows by whom. Those powerful in the town want to pin it on a coal miner, Marvena’s brother. She has something in common with Lily since she lost her husband in a coal mining accident. Because the mine owners think she will be easy to control Lily is appointed sheriff pending the next election. But having a mind of her own and a sense of justice she partners with Marvena to find the elusive murderer and the missing daughter.

“I wrote both Lily and Marvena as tough.  Lily is sensitive but is also a protector who wants to support her community.  She keeps her emotions close to her heart.  Marvena is fierce and persistent, but also has a tender streak.  Although both women were wary of each other at first, they have a common goal to find out what happened. They end up with a strong friendship and recognize that each is balancing their own demons.”

Readers might be curious as to what is real and what is fiction. Montgomery commented, “In real life Collins had five children, and the person who killed her husband was known.  I decided it would be interesting to have Lily take the sheriff position to find out who killed her husband.  The similarity is that both women lost their husbands in the line of duty, both were appointed sheriff, and both were elected. The differences: Lily is eight years younger than Maude during that time period and she only had two children.”

Historical facts are intertwined in this novel that also has strong female characters and an intriguing mystery. Readers get a glimpse into the 1920s-coal mining town in Appalachian Ohio as the author examines women’s rights, prohibition, and the life of a coal miner.

 


Book Review: Crucible

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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Crucible by James Rollins reunites the Sigma Force team in this thrilling story.  Released just after the holidays, this plot is anything but merry.  But readers of Rollins are used to a roller coaster ride where they get plenty of action blended with cutting edge science, historical mystery, and the latest technologies.

“This has been on my mind for awhile, to write a story surrounding artificial intelligence. I made sure to read the contrary view that question if AI is a threat. There are certain hurdles that will need to be crossed to bring about a self-aware human-like AI. Their position is that this technology will happen. Of those two dozen experts I interviewed the consensus is that it will happen in five to ten years because of the rapid advances.  Two of the researchers thought we have already gone there.  It is not an if, but a when. I use as an example, the story of AlphaGo, the first computer program to defeat a human. It played the board game, Go. The next generation self-taught itself in three days and also beat his big brother, the original version of the program.  I think this book is written for the non-believers.”

It is Christmas Eve where the Sigma Force friends are gathering to have a joyous holiday.  But Monk Kokkalis and Gray Pierce find their holiday spirits quickly dampened after returning to Monk’s house in Maryland. The Christmas Tree is toppled, Kat, the computer expert of the group, is lying unconscious on the kitchen floor, and Monk’s two young girls have been kidnapped, along with Gray’s pregnant wife, Seichan. This happened shortly after a massacre in Portugal where five women scientists have been brutally massacred.  Also missing is Mara Silviera who was making advances in artificial intelligence research. She is on the run, protecting herself and her computer’s life. Gray, Monk, and company set out to find Mara after realizing that she is the key to finding their loved ones and also to saving humanity. 

Rollins noted, “Eve, the computer, matured from a narrow AI to AGI then eventually to ASI. I based her on the book Flowers for Algernon that was made into the movie “Charley.”  Over the course of time his vocabulary increases multifold. He surpasses intellectually the average person’s language. There is math on one of the pages of my book to show how Eve goes beyond scientifically the human understanding, just as Charley had done in the movie.  I gave her a double personality where she is split between dark and light.  The one cared for by Mara nurtures and protects humans, while the other one, which was stolen, mirrors the torture done to her. Currently, we are in narrow AI such as Siri or self-driving cars.  What everyone is pursuing is AGI that have computers self-aware of themselves with some human level of intelligence that can differentiate. ASI will advance far beyond our intelligence and accelerates rapidly.  I wanted Eve to start with a cold and calculating intelligence and then mature as she is trained in different types of environments.”

The action keeps moving at a brisk pace in this latest novel that is crafted around plausible scientific data.  Rollins has a knack for weaving together new and old as well as warning readers what can happen in the not too distant future.


Book Review: The First Conspiracy

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 First Conspiracy by Brad Meltzer brings to life a spy thriller that actually happened.  This non-fiction historical mystery delves into a plot to assassinate General George Washington, exposing the spies, killers, counterfeiters, and traitorsand how those in the still forming government addressed the plot.

“I wrote this story because it fascinated me and there is little knowledge about it. The myth says we were a ragtag army who held hands and came together to defeat the powerful English.  But in fact, we were not unified, but acted just like today. For example, our Massachusetts regiment hated our Connecticut regiment who hated our Virginia regiment.  They were all different with dissimilar beliefs and customs, including wearing different uniforms.  I show this in an amazing scene in the book.  Someone from the Virginia regiment meets someone from the Massachusetts regiment who starts to make fun of the Virginia uniform.  A fight breaks out until George Washington rides on his horse and picks them up, emphasizing the need for a team.  If ever there was a metaphor for where we are as a culture there it was.  He helped build the United States by holding us together. The book delves into getting rid of the myth that we were all together and shows how hard fought it was to get us together.”

This is Meltzer’s first non-fiction book, written with writer and documentary producer Josh Mensch.  It tells of a hidden event that took place during the most critical period of America’s birth.  The heart of the book takes place after Washington’s arrival into New York City in early 1776.  After having to flee to a British ship docked in New York’s harbor, the Governor of New York, a Loyalist, William Tryon devises a treacherous plan to kill the US General.  He enlists the help of the city’s mayor, David Mathews, and some in the civilian population that have divided loyalties and shifting allegiances.  All are willing to sacrifice their devotion to the highest bidder.

Shocked by these rumors Washington decides to assemble an elite band of soldiers, the Life Guards, to protect him. In addition, he along with another Founding Father John Jay, established the secret Committee of Intestine Enemies, designed to uncover the traitors, learn their plans, and stop them. The clandestine operations showed how Jay regarded the importance of counter-intelligence, and the Life Guards can be considered the precursor to the Secret Service.

Meltzer noted, “He created a secret organization within our government that came out of the plot to kill Washington.  He is an incredible investigator who did interrogations to collect information.  He actually built a counter-intelligence operation by using civilians to ferret out information about the traitors.  He built an entire system for the government to protect itself.  I call him the original American bad ass. Both he and Washington displayed leadership, loyalty, and knew of the harm betrayal does. The final sentence of the book sums everything up, “In our lowest moments we always find our greatest strengths.”

Although a non-fiction story it reads like a spy novel with a sense of immediacy and peril.  Readers will be astonished that this “First Conspiracy,” was but a footnote in American history until now, when the authors bring it to the forefront.

 


Book Review: In Dog We Trust

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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In Dog We Trust by Beth Kendrick says it all with the title. This fun-loving book is a must read for all dog lovers and those that want smiles on their faces.  In addition, readers get an interesting mystery where greed is the antagonist. The story is enjoyable, amusing, and entertaining.

Kendrick noted, “The story cannot happen without the dogs, who are agents for change.  People and pets have a very significant relationship. Dogs know who is kind and nurturing.  It is that saying, ‘if my dog doesn’t like you neither do I.’  There is something about having another being to rely on us. There is a deeper level of nonverbal communication that is satisfying and profound.  My vet once said to me, dogs want to be useful and serve.  I think we have an obligation to give that back to our dogs.”

The plot takes place in the Delaware seaside quirky quaint town of Black Dog Bay. It has become well-known for being the “best place in America to bounce back from your breakup.” Charming seaside diners, boutiques, bakeries, and a bed and breakfast capitalized by having names of “Home to Better Off Bed-and-Breakfast, the Eat Your Heart Out bakery, the Jilted Café, the Rebound Salon, and the Whinery bar.” The owner of “Black Dog Bay Books” created a legend about an apparition of a black dog as a harbinger of hope and change.

The main character Jocelyn Hillier helps her mother run a laundry rental business in the beach town. A chance encounter leads to Jocelyn’s meeting Mr. Allardyce, the owner of several pedigreed Labrador retrievers and living in one of the fanciest shore-side mansions. He is gruff, a penny pincher, and a social outcast, but decides to hire Jocelyn as a dog walker and dog sitter.  After Mr. Allardyce suddenly dies, he leaves all of his money to his three show dogs, appointing Jocelyn as their guardian. She has control of the money and is able to live in the mansion. An interesting premise that encircles the story, how an eccentric dog owner would appoint a trustee of the dogs who inherited the wealth. But life becomes troublesome when his estranged son, Liam, and the dog’s trainer, Lois, decide to sue her for the inheritance left to the dogs and her guardianship.

“I came up with the idea after was reading with my eleven-year-old son a National Geographic story.  It was how all these dogs are bequeathed millions and millions of dollars. There is plenty of legal precedent even though the dogs actually cannot spend money.  All they want is food, water, and a human.  Pet trusts are routinely now part of estates.  I understand how we owners want them well cared for. I think dog people have a spiritual and creative streak that are mostly kind and helpful.”

Besides having likeable characters and cuddly dogs this story delves into scandal and betrayal. The humorous banter allows for a ver


Book Review: Code Name: Lise

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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Code Name: Lise by Larry Loftis brings to life the most highly decorated woman spy. The story delves into how Odette Sansom displayed courage and patriotism while having to endure endless torture by the Nazis.

“After I read the SOE training evaluation of her I knew she was a force to be reckoned with.  She was described as temperamental, a loose cannon, arrogant, relentless, fearless, and extremely patriotic.  I think she was chosen because women carriers were needed since men were picked up by the Germans to be drafted or put in forced labor.  There was also the need for people who spoke French without an English accent, which she did. She was captured because she was stubborn and did not follow directions.  But she more than made up for that mistake by showing her bravery. She did not talk or give out any information even after being tortured that included pulling off all her toenails.” 

Born in France and living in England Odette decides she wants to help with the war cause.  Because of her knowledge of the French language and customs she was recruited into Britain’s Special Operations Executive Program to conduct espionage on the Germans during WWII.  Working closely with her commanding officer, Peter Churchill, they are able to complete dangerous missions. Peter became smitten with her and eventually they fell in love while playing a cat and mouse game with German secret police sergeant, Hugo Belicher. He takes advantage of a mistake Odette makes and captures them, sending them to Paris’s Fresnes prison, and from there to concentration camps in Germany where they are starved, beaten, and tortured. Put on a list to be executed she and Peter are kept alive by the Germans because of two lies she concocted. She pretended that she and Peter were married (they would be after the war) and that Peter was related to Winston Churchill, realizing the Gestapo hoped to use her and Peter as a bargaining chip.

Loftis describes ascene in the book. “She is standing up to a German general while she was still a spy. Instead of being incognito and blending in she was visible, which showed her fearlessness, but also her recklessness. In another case she slipped handcuffs off, while confronting a German guard, which also showed her fearfulness and recklessness. I have a book quote where she tells the concentration commandant at the end of the war, ‘I want to know why you don’t open the gates of the camp. The war is over.  It is useless murder to keep people here.’”

This story delves into the details of what Odette had to endure.  In the face of grave danger, she shows her courageousness and willingness to stand up to the Germans. Readers will not want to put this book down. Loftis has the ability to write it as a spy thriller instead of a dry biography.