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Last Build Date: Sat, 09 Dec 2017 12:07:59 PST

 



Book Review: The Demon Crown

Sat, 09 Dec 2017 12:07:59 PST

The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. The Demon Crown by James Rollins, a Sigma Force novel, blends action, adventure, science and history. Per usual, he takes a unique idea based on some truth and builds a narrative around it. Readers, in typical Rollins style, learn something, while being entertained at the same time. In this latest novel, the characters see creatures flying through the air wondering if it is a bird, a plane, and then realize they are gigantic wasps. It begins in 1903 when Alexander Graham Bell flies to Italy to retrieve the bones of James Smithson, the founder of the Smithsonian Institute. Within the grave is something that unleashes the “hordes of Hell.” The enemy organization, the Guild, releases a massive infestation of giant killer wasps, hoping to bring the world to its knees. On a beach in Hawaii, these indestructible wasps that reproduce at staggering rates attack Sigma operatives, Grayson Pierce and Seichan, who are there enjoying some R and R. Now he and the rest of Sigma Force must race to eradicate these massive insects to save not only the world, but also his true love. Rollins commented, “I grew up watching the B movie version of some biological horror. I wanted to capture this, put it into a story, and add a scientific spin. I try to find an event where I can connect history with science. This story came about after I read an article about homeland security concerns with invasive species. We already have these type of species accidentally introduced in the US whether it’s the Pythons in the Everglades or the various plants in other places. The national security concern is that some type of hostile power can weaponize the invasive species by making it toxic and difficult to get rid of. Once an insect is released in the environment they become hard to control like the Killer Bees or Fire Ants. I had this in my idea box for a number of years.” In this novel, more than in the other books, the author emphasizes the relationship between Seichen and Gray. As Seichen is put through the ringer in this story, having to endure wasp stings, a major blast, and lethal powder thrown at her, Commander Grayson Pierce will be forced to make an impossible choice. He is fighting to eradicate the invasive insects, and fighting against time to help Seichen. He must protect not only the world, but Seichen and his unborn child. Part of the realism comes from the similarities with those in the military. Both feel a responsibility to their families and to making the world safe. Rollins is “Supporting a new enterprise called Veterans Publications. US 4 Warriors and I want them to immortalize their stories and experiences regarding what they did on the battlefield and after it.” Another personal aspect of the story is Gray’s guilt over killing his father with an overdose of morphine. Rollins noted, “My mom and dad died of it. Watching them suffer and seeing they had no quality of life was very hard. Commander Gray Pierce also saw his dad suffering with no quality of life so I had him end the suffering. But it is never an easy decision and he is still plagued and haunted by his choice. He just knew that his dad would not want to live this way and felt enough is enough.” The Demon Crown blends technology, science, and history, the signature of Rollins. This might be the most disturbing and creepy book he has ever written. Readers will find these bugs can be deadly to one’s health and their mental state as they read the story. [...]



Book Review: Christmas Stories

Sat, 09 Dec 2017 12:01:34 PST

The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. With the holiday season here, readers can find novels that blend a good mystery within the Christmas atmosphere. A word of warning, these are not “sugar and spice and everything nice” holiday books. Yet, they are very realistic, believable, and leave readers with a good feeling at the end, a feeling of faith and redemption. The Christmas Room by Catherine Anderson is one of these special stories. Two holiday generational romances touch on grief, healing and redemption. Readers will go through a range of emotions with the characters from joy, to laughter, and sadness. Anderson leaves the reader wishing the story would never end, hoping she will consider making a series involving these great characters. She believes that one of the overwhelming aspects of the holidays is hope. “We should not forget about those people who came to the holidays with strife, stress, or financial troubles. Many people have lost loved ones and on Christmas there are empty places. They do feel sad. Because I did experience grief firsthand I wanted to write about it. I wanted to show how the death of the featured character’s husband impacted not only her but also her son and grandson. The message I really wanted to send is that if you put one foot in front of the other there is light on the other side of the darkness, and there can be a happy ending.” The Ghost of Christmas Past by Rhys Bowen has a sinister atmosphere of sorrow that is also a part of this story. With Christmas approaching the characters must overcome their own set of heartaches that revolve around losing a child. The main character, Molly, feels the despair of having recently miscarried because of her physical hardships. Deciding to spend the holiday with her mother-in-law and a family living in the countryside, she discovers that the hostess Winnie’s moodiness is based on the disappearance of her daughter ten years ago on Christmas Eve. Molly decides to investigate and find answers to this Cold Case. The spirit of Christmas will ring through. Bowen experienced first hand losing a loved one during the holidays. “I flew over to Australia to be with my mother who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I actually missed Christmas Day because of the date line. A part of me will always associate Christmas with that call that says you need to come right now. Yet, I do love the celebration of Christmas. Just think, during the time period of the plot, there were no TVs, no videogames, and no cell phones. I was able to create an ideal Christmas that we all long for. We all have this idea of the snow, a sleigh ride, the big roaring fire, playing games, and singing Carols around the tree. We do not have the simplicity of Christmas anymore. I fantasized and wrote the Christmas I would really like with all the warmth.” Last Christmas In Paris by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb is a reminder that not everyone has complete joy during the Christmas holiday and that some families have chairs left empty. It is a heartwarming and heartbreaking story of victory and loss during World War I. The love and romantic scenes are a great balance against the horrors of the Great War. What makes this book stand out is that the story of World War I is told predominantly in letters and telegrams. In the beginning the letters are full of excitement, a sense of adventure, pride and thoughts that the war won't last long, yet, as it becomes evident that it will not be over by Christmas, the correspondence becomes more serious and speaks of the atrocities and hardships. The authors told of the springboard for the story, wanting it to be a shout out to military families, “These friends who lead a comfortable life planned to meet up in Paris during the holiday. There was the continued sense of believing that it will be over by the next Christmas. But we wanted readers to unders[...]



Book Review and Q/A: Mindhunter Part II

Sun, 03 Dec 2017 10:39:17 PST

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. Mindhunter, a bestselling book and now a Netflix original series, take people behind the scenes of some of the most gruesome and challenging cases. FBI profilers gather up crime scene evidence to help predict the type of personality who commits serial murders. Through interviews with some of the most ghastly killers such as Charles Manson, Edmund Kemper, and the Son of Sam, to mention a few, Douglas determines their motives, attempting to figure out why they did what they did and why in such a particular manner. Elise Cooper: The Netflix show has Dr. Wendy Carr as a consultant, was she based on anyone? John Douglas: She did not exist, but was based upon Dr. Anne Burgess, who is more of an academic type. She came down to meet with another agent that was investigating rape. After she heard about what we were doing she wanted to learn more about how we looked at a crime scene and the way a victim was attacked. Unlike in the show, she was never a member of the Behavioral Science Unit. She had a completely different profession than the character in the show. She was actually a forensic nurse who did co-author some books with me. EC: Did you actually have trouble with the FBI accepting the unit as shown in the show where you were displaced to the basement? JD: Yes, it is correct. We had pull back on what we could possibly learn from interviewing serial killers. Even when we started to teach profiling we got resistance and there was an attitude of ‘what is this BS?’ EC: What about the ways the killers were portrayed in the show? JD: It is amazing how the casting had them look so much like the killers. Maybe the time line was different but the conversations were accurate. For example, Richard Speck who killed eight student nurses did throw a live bird into the fan, but it happened before we got to the prison. I did open the interview with him using street language, which had him open up because he thought I was as crazy as he was. EC: The show mentions Lawrence Bittaker. Can you tell us about him? JD: He met Roy Norris while serving time together and discovered their mutual interest in dominating and hunting young women. After being paroled in 1979 they kidnapped, raped, and tortured five girls. They bought a van, nicknamed it, ‘Murder Mac,’ insulated its interior, and then went on the hunt, videotaping what they did. Bittaker’s nickname became ‘Pliers Bittaker.’ After they were caught I interviewed Bittaker with a female agent, Mary Ellen O’Toole. Interestingly, he would never look at her when she asked a question. EC: You mention in the book that Charles Manson was also paroled? JD: In his young adult life he committed a series of robberies, forgeries, pimpings, and assaults. He was paroled in 1967 after serving for some of these offenses. I do not think of him as a routine serial killer. I was interested in finding out how someone could become this satanic messiah. He found lost souls and was able to institute a highly structured delusional system that left him in complete control of their minds and bodies by using sleep deprivation, sex, food, and drugs. People forget he was not even at the Sharon Tate murders because he was afraid it would violate his parole. He spoke of ‘Helter Skelter’ from the Beatles White Album, having a vision of the coming apocalypse and race war that would leave him in control. EC: He just died, but do you think he ever should have been paroled? JD: No. The biggest threat would have been from the misguided losers who would gravitate to him and proclaim him their G-d and leader. When I think of Manson and his flock of wandering inadequate followers I immediately visualize the violent crimes they perpetrated against innocent people. The crime scenes were horrific and it’s difficult to imagine what was going through the victims[...]



Book Review: The Ghost Of Christmas Past

Sun, 03 Dec 2017 10:35:16 PST

The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar The Ghost of Christmas Past by Rhys Bowen is not all fuzzy and happy. There is a sinister atmosphere of sorrow that is also a part of this story. As Christmas is approaching the characters must overcome their own set of heartaches that revolve around losing a child. But thankfully, the spirit of Christmas rings through and the ending is one that will put a smile on reader’s faces. Because of a disaster in the previous book, Time Of Fog And Fire, the main character, Molly Murphy, sacrifices her body to save her husband. This book begins in December 1906 where Molly feels the despair of having recently miscarried because of her physical hardships. Now, instead of spending Christmas in their home her husband, Daniel, accepts an invitation to spend the Christmas holiday at a mansion on the Hudson with his mother. Not long after they arrive, Molly discovers that the hostess Winnie’s moodiness is based on the disappearance of her daughter ten years ago on Christmas Eve. Molly is able to sympathize with Winnie and is spurred on to investigate the mystery behind the daughter disappearing. A quote summarizes the feelings, “Too lose a beloved daughter. It is an ache in the heart that never goes away.” As Molly and Daniel investigate this Cold Case they realize that the mansion occupants are not completely forthcoming. Bowen noted, “Holidays are stressful for people who lose a loved one. I can sympathize with that because my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I flew over to be with her in Australia on Christmas Eve and actually missed Christmas Day because of the date line. A part of me will always associate Christmas with that call that says you need to come right now. I can understand what Winnie goes through every Christmas as she has this grief while others celebrate.” But this story is also a celebration of Christmas. Readers will yearn for the Christmas of the past when they were surrounded by a big tree, candles, extravagant food, and the family sitting around the fireplace talking and playing games together. Comparing Christmas celebrated in 1906 with today, Bowen reminds people, “Just think there were no TVs, no videogames, and no cell phones. I was able to create an ideal Christmas that we all long for. We all have this idea of the snow, a sleigh ride, the big roaring fire, playing games, and singing Carols around the tree. We do not have the simplicity of Christmas anymore. I fantasized the Christmas I would really like with all the warmth.” The other issue explored is how women were treated in the early 20th Century. On the surface Molly’s husband Daniel appears to be a male chauvinist. He takes charge of the family and at times makes decisions without consulting Molly. People forget that this was a different time, different culture, and different values. There seems to be a tendency to put 21st Century values into different eras instead of trying to understand the times. Historical fiction writers, according to Bowen, need to “show people as they were in the time, but not repugnant to the modern reader. I put in this quote, ‘He could move so much more quickly with his trousers tucked into his boots than I could with all those layers of petticoats and skirts.’ A woman was expected not to work after marriage. Women could not vote and in New York State a woman could not own property. Since I am by nature a feminist I try to have all of my stories show what it was like during a particular time. I do get letters saying ‘I hate Daniel. He is such a chauvinist.’ But for this time period he is actually a good guy because he is very tolerant.” This is a mystery with many threads. It is realistic because it shows that on the holidays there are some who suffer, some who celebrate, and some who can reflect on the[...]



Book Review and Q/A: Mindhunter

Mon, 27 Nov 2017 10:01:02 PST

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. Mindhunter by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker gives an insider’s view of FBI’s elite serial crime unit. Douglas was the youngest agent not just as a lecturer at Quantico, but also at FBI Headquarters. His resume is impressive having spent four years in the military, holds numerous graduate degrees, was a member of the SWAT team, a hostage negotiator, and the FBI’s criminal profiler pioneer. With the bestselling book and now a Netflix original series, people are taken behind the scenes of some of the most gruesome and challenging cases. FBI profilers gather up crime scene evidence to help predict the type of personality who commits serial murders. Through interviews with some of the most ghastly killers such as Charles Manson, Edmund Kemper, and the Son of Sam, to mention a few, Douglas determines their motives, attempting to figure out why they did what they did and why in such a particular manner. The following is an interview with one of the FBI’s most legendary Agents: Elise Cooper: You speak of the why + how = who? John Douglas: I wanted to interview these serial killers because I found the best indicator of future violence is past violence. To understand the ‘artist’ you must study the ‘art.’ I decided to go directly to the source to form an understanding. EC: You spoke on how a good profiler should also walk in the shoes of victims. Do you feel as Michael Connelly wrote, “I speak for the victims, for those who can no longer speak?” JD: I got very close with some of the families. My goal with the interviews is to give families closure and help law enforcement solve crimes. We must remember the victims, but unfortunately we do forget those ‘surviving victims.’ They suffer from losing a loved one forever and ever. We have seen these people break down, suffer from an illness, or get a divorce. I also broke down from the work I was doing, walking in the shoes of the antagonists to better understand them. But we also must reconstruct what the victims went through and why they took certain actions. EC: You discuss in the book how you had PTSD and because you were so worn down you contracted viral encephalitis, a fever, which doctors said ‘fried his brain,’ and that if you did recover you would likely be left in a vegetative stage? JD: Success meant more work, which meant more stress and learning how to cope. I was gone one-third of the year, traveling and talking to surviving victims and the killers. I would run myself to exhaustion. I had PTSD; psychologically it took its toll. A lot of people in my unit got ill and died early. We felt pulled in all different directions: personal family, FBI family, local law enforcement, the community, and victim’s families. EC: You had a powerful quote in the book, ‘I’m afraid too many of us in the Bureau, in the military, and in the Foreign Service give too little thought to the incredible burdens on the spouse left behind.’ JD: It does take a toll on the family. When I would come home I would need to decompress. Hearing about my family’s day, like one of my children scraping a knee, seemed so trivial to everything I had done. I needed to decompress before I could react. EC: You describe serial killers as controlling, manipulative, dominating, and egocentric? JD: They like to relive the excitement and stimulation of the kill. They mentally reassert domination and control. They picked vulnerable victims, such as runaways, street people, prostitutes, and drug addicts. We examined why did they pick a certain victim over another. For example, if they walked into a bar they could pick out those with a broken wing. Usually the victim has a certain posture or look. EC: What makes a good profiler? JD: You need to be able to re-create the crime scene[...]



Book Review: Her Last Day

Sun, 19 Nov 2017 11:28:41 PST

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. Her Last Day is the first novel of a new series by T.R. Ragan. She is known for writing riveting thrillers whose antagonist always seems to be a gruesome serial killer. The three sub-plots throughout the story are brilliantly weaved together. The plot has Sacramento California private investigator Jessie Cole drawn to detective work after her sister Sophie disappeared ten years ago. Reporter Ben Morrison who wants to write a series of articles on the still-missing Sophie approaches her. He feels somehow connected to Sophie after seeing her on a TV show about unsolved mysteries. He is hoping that finding her will help him regain his memory that was lost after a horrific car accident a decade ago. Besides finding out what happens to her sister, Jessie is raising her niece, facing charges for shooting a stalker, and is hired to find a mentally unstable girl who is somehow connected to the serial murderer, the Heartless Killer. This novel explores many different types of illnesses, another signature of the author. She noted, “In this book there is a character, Zee, who has schizophrenia. I wanted to explore the different levels, because after taking her medication she functions normally. I also delve into Retrograde Amnesia, which is what Ben was diagnosed with after the car accident. Retrograde Amnesia is when the person does not remember anything before the incident. With the other types of amnesia people are able to remember most of their past, but have a hard time with short term memory. What Ben has is almost the direct opposite.” The characters in the book are extremely well developed. People are able to sympathize with Ben, yet they also have some misgivings about him. Jessie is the poster child for the song in the Annie play, “It’s The Hard Knock Life.” She is impulsive, compassionate, caring, stubborn, and way too serious. Her mother left her when she was very young, her father is an alcoholic, her sister was always in and out of trouble, and then she disappeared leaving Jessie to bring up her niece. On the other hand, the antagonist, The Heartless Killer, is very creepy. He has the traits of being controlling, manipulative, and very dominating. What he does to his victims is extremely horrific and he gets off on making sure they suffer. He could sing the song, “Poor, Poor, Pitiful Me;” although he is about the only one who would. Ragan spends a lot of time writing these types of evildoers. “For some reason, the easiest scenes to write were the ones with the serial killer. For me, the creepiest scene in the book is when he threw apples at the injured girl who is practically crippled. Readers tell me they will never go to the setting of my books, Sacramento, because that is where all the serial killers live.” The plot of this novel takes off from the very beginning and never let’s up. There are so many twists and turns that readers could get whiplash. Ragan really knows to captivate her readers and keep their interest level high. [...]



Book Review: End Game

Sun, 12 Nov 2017 11:14:25 PST

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. End Game by David Baldacci brings back two of his best characters, Will Robie and Jessica Reel. Baldacci has a knack for creating a male and female lead that act in a homogeneous manner whether it’s Sean King and Michelle Maxwell, or his most recent series Memory Man with Amos Decker and Alexandra (Alex) Jamison. But, probably the best pair is Robie and Reel, who feed off one another in a cohesive partnership. Reel and Robie are not the typical stereotyped characters. She is sarcastic and is not afraid to get into someone’s face. He is quiet, sensitive, and will hold back. Sometimes her abrasive behavior will cause an adverse reaction. For example, when she tells this to the leader of a neo-Nazi group, “I can see it probably gets you off.” It becomes obvious as the story unfolds, that Robie and Reel care greatly for each other. Robie told her how hard it was for him to figure her out. The conversation, “I don’t get you most of the time.” Her response, “What can I say, Robie. It’s a Mars-Venus thing.” She is a female sniper working for the US government. Is it realistic, to have that as Reel’s profession. Baldacci says, “Yes. They are finding females have better motor skills then men. This is a skill very much needed for snipers. They are also able to lie in one position for many hours a day. I have gone to military bases and fired the rifles so I have an idea what it requires. I put the descriptions in the book. Through Jessica people can understand it is not just falling on the ground, looking through a scope, and firing the rifle. It is actual a science that involves a lot of math and physics.” The first few chapters has Robie on a mission in London where he must single-handedly take out a Jihadist terrorist cell and Reel in Iraq providing sniper support for the military. After the completion of these missions they are asked to find their supervisor, The Blue Man, Roger Walton, who has gone missing in Grand Colorado. Traveling to Walton’s hometown in Colorado they must use their lethal skills under a guise of secrecy to find him. They have faced evil overseas with the Islamic extremists, but now face it on the home front with Nazi wannabes, motorcycle gangs, and a drug cartel. They enlist the help of Sherriff Valerie Malloy who knows the local community, many of whom enjoy the isolated and sparsely populated town. Unfortunately, the three find themselves up against adversaries with superior numbers and firepower and no lead on Blue Man’s whereabouts. Baldacci wants “people to realize wars could be fought in many different types of battlefields whether the desert in Iraq or the urban streets of London or America. These are two very different kinds of battlefields. Because many citizens have no direct engagement with the soldiers and their families they think they could not be harmed. We are never really safe wherever we are. It is an important cliché, ‘see something, say something.’ People should not be listening to their ear buds or staring at their phones oblivious to everyone around them.” The Colorado Tourist Bureau will definitely not use it. The story shows how the state is a magnet for violent groups. Being a large state with many isolationist and unpopulated areas it is popular by those who want to avoid mainstream laws. The geography and undermanned police forces allows for secretive groups. Also, in Colorado are hideaways for the super wealthy in case the world implodes. Reel responds to someone who is touring the facility, “Isn’t that why you bought your little insurance policy here? So they could protect you from the big, bad riffraff banging on the door to get in?” This story is well worth the two-year [...]



Thank You For Your Service

Sun, 12 Nov 2017 07:19:02 PST

Veteran’s Day is a time for Americans to step up and honor those who have served in the armed forces. From the days of the Founding Fathers to today, those in the military whether enlisted or drafted, made tremendous sacrifices for their fellow Americans. We should offer thanks, but the question is how do we go about doing it? Today many people will tell a veteran “thank you for your service.” During the Vietnam War those who fought gallantly for this country would have welcomed that greeting instead of being spat upon and called baby killers. But for those who fought in the War On Terror is it enough? The recent book by David Finkel, and movie by Jason Hall, Thank You For Your Service, implies the sentiment is great, but more is needed. The movie and book follow a group of US soldiers returning from Iraq and struggling to integrate back into family and civilian life. They live with the horrific memories of a war that threatens to destroy them here at home. Both film and book explore the reality of Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD) that affects both the warrior and their family. David Finkel’s first book, For The Good Soldiers, told of his experiences while embedded with the men of the 2-16 Infantry Battalion in Iraq during the infamous "surge." His follow-up book, Thank You For Your Service, and the movie based on the book shows what happens to these men after their deployments have ended. He stated, “They came with various psychological and moral injuries, and some are broken. I think the movie found the true heart of my book, getting the big picture. The war affected these guys, and they came home different, many times unable to talk about it.” Jason Hall the screenwriter and director concurs, “I hope the movie opens people’s eyes regarding the continued war that these guys are fighting, trying to find their way back home. This is very much their second war, as they come home changed and altered by the war. Since I wrote the screenplay for the movie about Chris Kyle, I am calling this film the spiritual sequel to American Sniper.” Some have criticized the book and movie because they say it implies that all soldiers coming home are broken. Finkel responds to the criticism, “I just do not buy it. Of course not every vet is broken, but every vet is affected. When I embedded with these guys for about eight months I saw a lot of them injured and lost. I think it is fair to say that there was not a man of those 800 that was not affected in some way, but this does not mean they were all broken. After my first book, some who returned from deployment contacted me and told of having a hard time with divorces, DUIs, depression, anxiety, medication, and suicidal thoughts. They came home with various psychological and moral injuries, and some were broken. The fact is they were changed and it will take some time to recover, but it certainly does not mean they are broken forever. It is a shame for people to say don’t tell this story because it buys into the broken vet idea.” Hall added, “I am by no means saying everyone who comes home suffers from PTSD. I think it is one in four or one in five. It is certainly the minority. Yet, we have to be aware of those who have the feelings that everything feels different and looks different, with a different texture and meaning.” The book and movie should not be criticized for pointing out that approximately 25% of the soldiers need help because the goal is to start a discussion and make Americans more aware of these veterans who need support. The relatives are also affected. While at war the soldier’s peers became their family, and their family at home was left to fend for themselves. Both appear to be strangers to each other in some way. A scene in the book has one of the returning soldiers, Staff Sergeant Adam Schumann, now retired, cooking pancakes for his daughter, making a h[...]



Book Review: Monticello: A Daughter And Her Father

Sun, 05 Nov 2017 14:08:59 PST

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. Monticello by Sally Cabot Gunning is a fascinating historical novel about the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and his eldest daughter Martha. Because the author based this book on actual correspondence between father and daughter it is immersed in reality. The book begins with a letter from Martha to her father at the age of fourteen, “I wish with all my soul that the poor Negroes were all freed. It grieves my heart when I think that these our fellow creatures should be treated so terribly as they are by many of our country men.” This sets the tone for the rest of the book where readers see the struggle throughout their life with family, relationships, and issues of the day, including being a good wife, a good mother, honoring her father, and shaping his legacy. The author’s research included, “I poured through her letters to her father and his to her and realized that she and I had embarked on a similar mission, to figure out her father. I read all the letters they wrote each other, letters to other people, and numerous biographies. I searched through endless Jefferson documents online. I learned that as Martha matured she came to spend many evenings at her father’s dinner table in the company of Europe’s greatest men of arts, letters, politics, and science, enhancing her education still further. I took many trips to Monticello and discovered something new with each trip, not just about the people who lived there, black and white, but also about the significance Monticello held for them.” Martha idolized and admired her father and considered him a renaissance man with his greatest accomplishments as author of the Declaration of Independence, founder of the University of Virginia, and an advocate for religious freedom as well as an end to slavery. Telling the story from her point of view Gunning is able to have the characters come alive and takes readers back in time to the early days of America where Jefferson is viewed in a different light, that of father and grandfather. There is a scene in the book where he sends Martha and her children gifts, “books and toys for the children, chinaware, a Turkey carpet, and a pair of chairs...When Martha’s father realized she had no horse to ride, he lent her a gentle bay and paid the overdue mortgage bill.” Monticello is also a character that played a significant role in their lives, the family's beloved Virginia plantation among lush mountains. It was a place where Jefferson escaped his political worries and thrived, and Martha sought security, as it became her haven. Both yearned for it when they are absent, and it became the soul of the family with its seasonal beauty, treasured gardens, walking and riding paths, as well as the Palladian house designed by Jefferson. But it was also the family’s Achilles heel. Their increasing financial strain forced them to continue to own slaves, even as their conscience and beliefs told them slavery was wrong. It became a necessary evil where they needed to have slaves to manage the plantation. He did try to find a way to turn his slaves into tenant farmers, but the Virginian laws did not accept it. Gunning noted, “It definitely was a character in the book. The place itself became so significant in their lives, especially if you think what they did to preserve it. They were hell bent on holding on to it. It was their sanctuary. She actually moved back during her troubled marriage. It explained many things including slavery, the relationship with each other, and the extreme debt of Jefferson. This is just my observation, but I believe had he not inherited slaves from his father and an enormous debt fr[...]



Book Review: King Of Spies

Sun, 05 Nov 2017 09:44:07 PST

King Of Spies: The Dark Reign and Ruin of an American Spymaster in Korea by Blaine Harden delves into the black-ops life of Donald Nichols during, before, and shortly after the Korean War. This biography allows readers to understand the current conflict with North Korea and the necessary steps taken to handle the Kim dynasties through the decades. The regime’s DNA has not changed, as it is still the same system of torture, rape, and murder. Although Nichols did not have much of a formal education, and his training was limited to a short course on spy techniques, nevertheless, he rose in the ranks from Sergeant to Major. His expertise as a master spy came from immersing himself with knowledge of the inner-workings of the North Korean government and military. Harden describes Nichols, “He was an unbreakable war hero whose creativity and energy as a spymaster helped save countless lives in a confused and bloody war. He operated beyond the bounds of legality and morality. He was a superspy with a dark side.” During his clandestine eleven-year career he developed his own base, secret army, and rules. Within Korea there were three centers of intelligence: the emerging CIA, army intelligence, the largest outfit, and NICK, created by Nichols where he supervised up to fifty-eight American intelligence officers and airmen, two hundred South Korean intelligence officers, and more than seven hundred agents comprised of defectors and refugees from North Korea. The Air Force brass quickly recognized him as “the best intelligence agent in the Far East.” Nichols was given open-ended authority to gather intelligence and conduct sabotage, demolition, and guerrilla operations behind enemy lines. Harden emphasized how “US Air Force generals depended on Nichols just before, during, and immediately after the Korean War. He broke codes, found weaknesses in enemy tanks and jets, and identified most of the targets destroyed by American bombs in North Korea. During the war he reported only to the General of the 5th Air Force, Earle Everard ‘Pat’ Partridge. For his accomplishments Air Force Generals gave him an abundance of praise, promotions, and medals.” His accomplishments included helping to find weaknesses in the Soviet tank, earning him a Silver Star, salvaging a Soviet MIG 15, and then finding the electronic secrets on how it worked. This information was sent to the commanders who helped to redesign and modify the US F-86 to better equip them during an air fight. Hardin recounts in the book how in the early days of the conflict as the American GIs were retreating and being killed, Nichols’ “team of cryptographers broke the North Korean army codes, which helped the American forces hold the line, saving them from being pushed off the southern tip of the Korean Peninsula as well as helping in finding the targets for bombings of North Korea.” Another achievement was his prediction of North Korea invading the South. This was much to the chagrin of General Douglas MacArthur’s chief of intelligence, army major General Charles A. Willoughby, who predicted just the opposite. Hardin recounts, “The American Ambassador in Seoul, John Muccio, wrote a response to Willoughby who tried to oust Nichols, ‘In my opinion, there is no other American intelligence unit or agency now operating in South Korea which produces a larger volume of useful intelligence material on Communist and subversive activities than does Mr. Nichols’ unit.’” Harden also delves into the moral question, how far should covert operators go to save American lives, and does that include a legal license to murder? In his own words, Nichols described himself as a “thief, assassin, judge, jury, and executioner.” This master spy entered the dark side when he became a part of, the Republic of Korea Head Of State, [...]



Book Review: Mind Game

Sun, 29 Oct 2017 17:19:48 PDT

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. Mind Game by Iris Johansen blends fast paced action involving “Super Heroes” with a bit of romance along with a touch of the supernatural. She is able to portray the characters as real-life people that possess some manipulative power. Johansen feels she writes her characters having these powers “within all my books. I think they present more interesting characters. I enjoy exploring how we all have feelings and senses. I truly believe we all have something that is right below psychic powers, although, some have stronger powers than others. We titled the book Mind Game because it is about the mind within an adventurous and romantic plot. I want the characters to control it, understand it, and expand it.” While sleeping Jane MacGuire has a dream where she connects with a young woman, Lisa Ridondo, who frantically asks for her help. She is being held captive and is being tortured. Through a series of drawings Jane connects the dots, determining that Lisa is somehow related to Seth Caleb, a man who both frightens and attracts her. After Seth confirms Lisa is his sister, both he and Jane venture out to rescue her. Taking the kidnappers by surprise they free Lisa who becomes Jane’s BFF. Meanwhile Seth is determined to find who the kidnapper’s leaders are and why they used Lisa to find him. The captors are trying to leverage him into using his unique, dangerous gifts to kill a target in a way that wouldn’t cause suspicion. Believing Seth and Jane are lovers and knowing there is sexual attraction between them, she becomes the next target in a ploy to force Caleb to kill or see her killed. Seth takes center stage in this story on purpose. “I wanted to develop Seth a bit more. I have always concentrated on Jane and her adopted mother Eve. I find Seth a fascinating character that is a force to be reckoned with. He is a work in progress and grows with each book. He can be wicked, cynical, smart, and sexy as hell. He probably would be the ‘bad boy’ of Superheroes. He is a turbulent Superhero. He wants acceptance, but does not know how to achieve it. Because of his terrible childhood, which I explore in this book, he automatically pulls away.” There is also a sub-plot that involves the other featured characters of this series, Eve Duncan, Joe Quinn, and their son Michael. Jane is related to Eve and Joe after they adopted her and Michael is her stepbrother. Although Jane’s family is not the forefront of this story, surprises are in store for the trio. Eve is also prevalent in helping Jane understand how to connect with Lisa. All these characters will remind readers of the X-Men Superheroes rather than the Marvel ones. Instead of strength being at the forefront it is the ability to manipulate. In the case of Jane, she can see actual events and people in her dreams. Seth has persuasive powers along with the ability to control a person’s blood flow. Michael has some psychic powers. Lisa is just finding out and developing her powers that will be determined in future books. This book allows readers to see what it would be like for someone to have talents that are based on biology. The plot and characters are enthralling and likeable with explosive energy that jumps off the pages. [...]



Book Review: The Shadow List

Sun, 15 Oct 2017 10:23:00 PDT

The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. The Shadow List by Todd Moss is an international crime novel. Unlike other thrillers this takes place in the non-traditional place of Nigeria with the non-traditional hero, Judd Ryker, heading the State Department’s Crisis Reaction Unit. As a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the African Bureau Moss is able to use his experiences to help with the story. “I am inspired by real people. When I worked at the State Department I knew of true heroes. One was an anti-corruption czar in Nigeria who had to endure many assassination attempts. This is the basis for this international thriller.” Although this story can be read as a stand-alone there are some scenes that will be more understandable if the earlier books are read. It might be more helpful to learning the backstory on the characters and their motivations. The two main characters are married with one working for the diplomatic corps and the other for the CIA, both in specialized units. They try to keep their jobs separate but as the story progresses their paths cross in a deadly way. Moss noted, “The issues the main characters face are very real including the bureaucratic nonsense that prevents things from getting done. A good example was Benghazi, a rapidly unfolding crisis that went very bad because the different parts of our government did not talk to each other very well. Regarding our intelligence agency there are different units. The Red Cell I describe in the book is a special analytical unit and is real. It is the inspiration for the Purple Cell that Jessica heads up, which is not real.” The plot had Judd tasked to rescue a kidnapped Wall Street consultant and a pro basketball player. At the same time his wife Jessica is sent on a mission to discover who is the Russian mobster nicknamed “the Bear” and what are his intentions. Both he and his wife will end up in Nigeria together connected by a Nigerian Judge who is combating corruption in his country. There they realize how far each with go to save the good guys and thwart the bad guys. An interesting part of the book examines the relationship between an operative and their spouse. Since Moss was a senior State Department official “I struggled with handling the classified information. I wanted to show in the book how Jessica had a hard time splitting in her mind what is classified and what is not. Eventually anyone who works with classified information comes to the realization it is better not to talk about anything for fear of saying something they should not.” The main characters are smart and appealing. The plot is exciting, captivating, and intriguing. Readers will enjoy a change of pace where diplomacy intertwines with the action. [...]



Book Review: The Woman Who Couldn't Scream

Sun, 15 Oct 2017 10:17:34 PDT

The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. The Woman Who Couldn’t Scream is a classic Christina Dodd novel. Her heroines have some handicap yet are determined in spite of facing adversity. They fight to take control over their life. This installment of the Virtue Falls series brings back Kateri Kwinault, now the sheriff, who ignores her handicap of being physically disabled. The other heroine, a stand-alone character Merida Falcon is mute after a horrific accident. Dodd fabulously weaves together these two women within a thrilling plot and a “who done it” mystery. The plot has Merry Byrd seriously injured in an explosion that meant to kill her. She had to undergo numerous facial surgeries that changed her appearance. To get the financing she had to make a pact with the devil, a possessive old geezer who wanted her for his trophy wife. Changing her name to Helen Brassard she endured nine long years of his abusive, controlling, and manipulative ways. After he died Helen reinvents herself yet again. She disappears and remerges as the beautiful, reclusive Merida Falcon in the coastal town of Virtue Falls, WA. This tourist town has its share of killers, which preoccupies Merida’s childhood friend, the current sheriff. Dodd commented, “I had taken a two-week transatlantic cruise and was able to observe different personalities. I started thinking about different scenarios including what would make someone want to become a trophy wife, having to service an old and disgusting guy. YUK! I wondered if they sought revenge, money, were being blackmailed, or wanted to escape something in their past. Merida was a close childhood friend of Kateri so I also wanted to show how they both used their past association to gain strength from each other.” Sheriff Kateri Kwinault is trying to find a serial killer who slashes their victims to death. Besides dealing with this she is recovering from a drive by shooting which left her needing to walk with a cane, her best friend hovering near death, a series of unexplained murders, a deranged local meth-head criminal, and a complicated love life. It is interesting how both heroines struggle to come to grips with their physical handicap, are unable to have parents that provided unconditional love, are subjected to emotional abuse, and fear that their boyfriends tried to kill them. What Dodd does very well is allow readers to learn more about people who are mute. They enter Merida’s world and begin to understand that not only deaf people use sign language. But people also realize that technology has considerably helped those who lost these senses. Merida introduces herself via sign language or use of a computer tablet, signing or typing, “I am mute, unable to speak. I am not deaf. Please do not shout!” This never interrupts the flow nor detracts from the plot but adds a layer of complexity to the storyline. It might also spur someone to want to learn more about the different ways of communicating with someone deaf or mute. Merida has some mental anguish, but will not let her muteness define her. Dodd feels “people with handicaps are not broken and do not need to be fixed. They are whole people. They were put in circumstances they never dreamed of, but were able to pick themselves up. I want people to consider what it is like for someone who loses one of their senses. Most people ridiculously talk to someone in the same manner they speak with a person who does not understand their language: either raising voices or speaking very slowly. I also wanted to show how someone communicates with sign language. Th[...]



Book Review: Last Christmas In Paris

Sun, 08 Oct 2017 10:11:25 PDT

The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. Last Christmas In Paris by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb is a unique story. A word of warning, it is not a “sugar and spice and everything nice” novel. The story is very authentic as it covers the triumphs and tribulations that affected the civilian life and those on the battlefield. Yet, it leaves the reader with a good feeling as the book ends with a sentiment of hope. The love and romantic scenes are a great balance against the horrors of the Great War. What makes this book stand out is that the story of World War I is told predominantly in letters and telegrams. The primary letter authors are Evie, Alice, Will, and Thomas. The latter three tell of the tragedies of war: Alice an ambulance driver, Will and Thomas on the front lines, while Evie, represents the civilian population. She if filled with worry, dread, depression, and fear for her loved ones. The writings also show how the attitudes changed through the course of the war. In the beginning the letters are full of excitement, a sense of adventure, pride and thoughts that the war won't last long, yet, as it becomes evident that it will not be over by Christmas, the correspondence becomes more serious and speaks of the atrocities and hardships. Because Evie was not content to sit idly she writes a newspaper column about the war effort and the feelings of those left behind, as well as those fighting on the frontlines. Gaynor describes her as “ambitious, spunky, unconventional, and strong-willed. She had no intention to just marry someone, but wanted to play a pivotal role in the War. This is why we had her write a newspaper column like the famous American journalist Nellie Bly. WWI was the event that changed roles for women. She was trying to find her voice and was talking to the female readers, much like a wartime Dear Abby.” Through the letters between Evie and Alice readers learn how the women took over the male-dominated jobs from delivering the mail, to driving ambulances, being a part of the Auxillary Corps, and even writing newspaper articles. Webb noted, “There is a scene in the book where Thomas, Evie’s best friend who she is in love with, writes that she should not come to the frontlines. He says, ‘I don’t want you here amid the gloom and gore. It isn’t the place for someone like you and won’t be good for you.’ Of course she responds, ‘Your letter disappoints me. That you believe a woman has no place in this war…Do all men believe that women are incapable? Must I return to the knitting of comforts and bide my time like a good girl?’ We intentionally had her sign it as Evelyn, not Evie. She was furious with Tom with an attitude, ‘no sweet pet names for you, butthole.’ We also wanted to show that when not communicating directly and only in writing there can be misunderstandings. The reason he was so upset and angry with her had nothing to do with her being a woman. But, rather everything to do with her safety.” But the exchanges also spoke of the horrific issues of the war. PTSD was either called shell shock or war neurosis and the men diagnosed were considered weak-minded. A powerful quote explains how many thought of these men as faking or frauds. “They walk on both legs without the use of crutches. They swing both arms by their sides. They have no need for facemasks to hide their injuries. These men suffer an entirely different way. They suffer in their minds. The horrors they have seen and the endless sounds they have endured night after night stay with them.” But the [...]



Book Q/A With The Todds

Sun, 08 Oct 2017 09:58:03 PDT

The following is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. A Casualty Of War by Charles Todd is a winner. This Bess Crawford mystery has the war coming to a close. The story explores the impact World War I had on all who witnessed it: officers, soldiers, doctors, and battlefield nurses. Fans of Bess will not be disappointed as she is still as independent, steadfast, intelligent, and resilient as ever. Per usual she seeks justice and works within societal norms where readers are able to absorb events that are researched and steeped in time and place. In this novel Bess becomes the champion of Captain Alan Travis. She meets him near the front lines in France at a forward aid station after he suffered a head wound. He confides in her that he thinks his cousin, Lieutenant James Travis, shot him. To make matters worse after going back to the frontlines he is shot again, this time in the back. Because no one believes him and thinks his rage is due to shell shock, they incarcerate him in a ward for the mentally ill. Being from Barbados without any family support he begs Bess to help him. Although she is not sure his accusations are true, she is sure that the medical diagnosis of shell shock is wrong. With the help of her friend and her father’s former aide, Sergeant Major Simon Brandon, she journeys to James’ home in Suffolk to learn more about the cousins’ relationship and to hopefully enlist the support of the relatives. It is here that the mystery takes off. Elise Cooper: Is seems shellshock is another word for PTSD, or as it is referred to during WWI, War Neurosis. Please explain The Todds: We’ve had to learn quite a bit about wounds in the Great War for the Bess Crawford mysteries. And we’ve seen photos of some of them that were unbelievably horrific. You realize, doing this sort of research, what the cost of war really is. But we have to know what Bess has seen and dealt with. The problem was, doctors were often learning as they worked, especially with head wounds. Today we know more about brain injuries, most particularly concussions from shells exploding too close, and wounds to the head. Amazing surgeries save men who would have died in Bess’s day. EC: But it was not just the soldiers that suffered, but Bess as a nurse as well? The Todds: Bess, like many combat veterans, suffers from PTSD, even if it wasn’t called that then. Her experiences, many of them horrific, will be with her for the rest of her life. This is why we wrote the scene where Simon comes to Bess’s aid after she had a nightmare, explaining to her, ‘The wounded and dead, their faces will stay with you for a very long time. All those you tried to save. They’ll come back in dreams… The dead are gone, except in your memory. There they are still young and whole and safe.’ EC: You explore what happens when someone tells the truth and no one believes them? The Todds: Bess realizes the Captain is a man in torment. She is not willing to just walk away. We wanted to have the readers understand the frustration and how it could lead to suicide. He felt so isolated, which is why we had him from Barbados where it was hard to get messages or send them. It is similar to a man or woman who is sent to prison even though they know they are innocent. EC: You also show the atrocities of the Germans: I guess it is in their DNA? The Todds: We wrote this book quote, ‘But now we were seeing what the German occupation had done to this part of France. Villages had been leveled, orchards cut down, garden walls turned to rubble, and the flowers t[...]