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Book Review - "Secrets of State" by Matthew Palmer

The following book 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 on the right side bar.

9780399165719_p0_v2_s260x420Secrets of State by Matthew Palmer is a spy thriller that has diplomats instead of operatives.  With Matthew venturing into the thriller writer world, it became an all in the family affair since his late father, Michael Palmer, and his brother Daniel also are authors.  While Michael Palmer concentrated on hospitals and doctors to set the story, Matthew uses the world as a backdrop. 

He commented to blackfive.net, about his dad who was a best-selling author, “I learned how to write a novel from my dad as we sat around the dinner table.  He would explain how to tell a story, construct a character, shape a story arc, and keep readers engaged. My brother and I learned from pop to create tension by taking an ordinary person and putting them in extraordinary circumstances.  But it is hard to do that with the same guy twice, which is why my brother and I write stand-alones instead of a series.”

He went on to say, “My dad was tremendously helpful and supportive.  He got a huge kick from his kids writing.  One of the great tragedies is that he passed away before the publication date of my first book.  One of the most rewarding days of my life was the debut of my first book, American Mission. I walked into a Barnes & Noble and saw on the 'new-release' shelf, my father's final book, my book, and my brother's book, all lined up alphabetically alongside each other. This was a great moment.”

As a State Department employee for the last 24 years that included working in its think tank and at the National Security Council he is able to use his experiences to write interesting plots.  In this stand-alone Sam Trainor, the former top South Asia expert in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, has found a job in the private sector.  He now works as an analyst for the consulting firm of Argus Systems where he stumbles upon an intelligence anomaly.  He realizes that this transcript of a phone conversation about upending the political balance between India and Pakistan is misinformation that could cause an all out war between these nuclear countries.  Sam must race against a ticking clock and find the terrorists who have stolen a Pakistani nuclear warhead to detonate in Mumbai, India. 

Although fiction, readers learn about the complex Indian caste system between the elite and the slums.  They are also exposed to a modern day Machiavellian scenario: does the end justify the means. The book has a quote from Stalin, “the death of one person is a tragedy; the death of a hundred thousand is a statistic.” The protagonist, Sam must answer the question throughout the book, should one person be sacrificed to save many? 

The book also explores the affect of outsourcing America’s national security to private corporations.  The villains see themselves as Patriots willing to do anything to keep America safe.  Viewing the US President as misguided and not willing to make the hard choices they plan on stripping Pakistan of its nuclear weapons by setting one off in India and creating a new war.  Palmer brings to the forefront the issue of how secure are nuclear weapons in the hands of rogue nations.

What Palmer wants the reader to get out his books, “I hope people see this threat and to think of the morality and ethical issues including how far should we go to prevent terrorists from gaining access to Pakistan’s nuclear program.  I also want to change how diplomats are viewed.  Diplomats are frustrated for getting the short end of the stick in popular culture.  We are never heroes and are cast as unsympathetic bureaucrats.  I hope Americans see that diplomats have gotten a bum rap over the years.  It is a dangerous job for the most junior officer to the most senior.  If you walk into the State Department you will see on both sides of the wall engraved names of US diplomats who lost their lives in the line of duty. It is a long list.”

He also gave a heads up about his next book, The Wolf of Sarajevo Set in the Balkans, where Palmer spent many years as a diplomat, the hero must try to figure out who is pushing for a new conflict in the area and why.

His books do not have shootouts and the protagonist is not a super hero. The plot is moved along more by the characters words than their actions.  The intrigue of Secrets of State is the details of how diplomats must maneuver through international and domestic politics, sometimes risking their own life in doing so. 


Book Review - "Tiny Little Thing" by Beatriz Williams

The following book 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 on the right side bar.

9780399171307_p0_v2_s260x420Tiny Little Thing by Beatriz Williams is a superb read.  It combines politics, mystery and romance within a historical background. It is a character driven storyline driven by the issues of the mid-1960s, including political intrigue, the controversy of the Vietnam veterans, and the treatment of women. 

The story alternates between the years 1964 and 1966.  The reader becomes engrossed in the family dynamics.  The narration switches between the main female character, Christina (Tiny) Hardcastle’s 1966 perspective and Major Caspian (Cap) Harrison’s 1964 outlook. The plot begins with Tiny’s husband, Frank, attending the Medal of Honor Ceremony for his cousin Caspian.  Frank sees this as a valued photo-op, which will help his run for Congress in Massachusetts.  Intertwined in the political plotline is a mystery involving a photograph sent to Tiny and a car found in the Cape Cod shed of her husband’s family.  Throughout the rest of the book readers become part of the character’s lives, being transported into the 1960’s era, as they try to solve the secrets along with the characters. 

Beatriz stated to blackfive.net, “I wanted to write a compelling story of a political dynasty with the patriarch pushing behind the scenes for this to happen.  I always loved history from childhood.  In college I majored in Anthropology that included the study of history and human nature.  I was able to incorporate my studies into my writings, where history becomes the scenery, weaved into the plot.  I think of myself as a historical novelist. The 1960s presented the friction between the traditional and the modern, which included intense social, political, economic, and artistic change.”

One of the most fascinating characters is Major Caspian, who is modeled after John Wayne: strong, silent, a hero, masculine, and honest.  He becomes Tiny’s savior who is trying to escape living the perfect façade.  Initially she has no say in her marriage, expected to be the perfect political wife.  Together with her husband they are seen as the ultimate power couple: intelligent, rich, and attractive.  They must both live-up to their parent’s expectations. But with the help of her sister Pepper Schuyler, she gains strength and fights for her independence. 

A supporting character, Tom, plays the antagonist to Caspian’s protagonist.  Explored in depth is the issue about how US soldiers were treated when they returned home from Vietnam. Tom is constantly putting Cap down for enlisting and fighting in Vietnam.  Throughout the book he makes disgusting references to the Major, “I can’t sit here and eat dinner with these people.  You fat, satisfied pigs who give medals to fucking murderers.” Yet, it is the major that grabs reader’s sympathies.

She noted to blackfive.net, “I did a crash course in the Vietnam War.  I want the readers who were against the war to recognize they were blaming the wrong people.  I deliberately portrayed one character, Tom, as obnoxious toward the Major.  He is someone who enjoys privilege without recognizing the sacrifice of those serving.  He would certainly never make that sacrifice himself.  My grandfather was a torpedo bomber in the Pacific during World War II.  I understand the sacrifices made by soldiers.  That is why I had Caspian lose a leg in the war.  I wanted to emphasize people change in a fundamental way either physically or mentally.”

There is also a shout out to wounded warriors in the dedication and through Caspian, a paraplegic who lost a leg during the war.  William’s writes, “To all those who return from war not quite whole and to the people who love them.” The story allows the reader to understand the sacrifices those serving have made for their country.  

Tiny Little Thing is a fascinating look at wealth, love, power, ambition, and to what length family members will go to protect each other.  The historical events in the book are intertwined perfectly within the lives of the characters that make for a realistic and gripping story.


Photo - Hornet Landing

Hires_150608-N-EH855-654Navy Capt. William Koyama, commander of Carrier Air Wing 5, prepares to make an arrested landing on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington in an F/A-18E Super Hornet after completing his 4000th flight hour near Guam, June 8, 2015. The Super Hornet is assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron. 
U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Bryan Mai 


Photo - Saber Strike

Hires_150608-F-QW945-313ATwo B-52H Stratofortress pilots maneuver behind the lead aircraft to complete a simulated air strike during exercise Saber Strike 15 in Europe, June 8, 2015. Bomber operations can respond to a variety of potential threats and situations. The exercise promotes regional stability and security while strengthening partner capabilities and trust. 
U.S. Air Force photos by Senior Airman Malia Jenkins 


Book Review - "Under Fire" A Tom Clancy Novel by Grant Blackwood

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

9780399175756_p0_v1_s260x420Under Fire a Tom Clancy novel by Grant Blackwood has the return of Jack Ryan Jr. as the protagonist.  Since Tom Clancy’s death his legacy is carried on with authors Mark Greaney and Grant Blackwood. Both continue the intense, thrilling, and realistic plots that Tom Clancy was known for.  Whereas Clancy included a lot of technology in his stories, in this book Blackwood emphasizes the intelligence world. 

Blackwood noted to blackfive.net, “I was proud to work with Tom on Dead Or Alive.  This very successful book kept the franchise moving forward.  I am keenly aware of the tradition I have been tasked with. Besides being a fan and reader, while writing Dead Or Alive I got steeped in the Clancy universe as a writer. Jack Ryan Junior’s drives and motivations was something I understood from working with Clancy earlier.  Greaney, our editor, and I talked a lot about what happened in the book written by Mark, and what I have Jack doing in this book.  We did not only dovetail but wanted to make sure there were no contradictions, that it was a seamless change. In the early stages of planning this book I told Mark, ‘here is what I have in mind,’ to make sure it did not mess him up with his next Clancy book. He read Under Fire as I was going along so he has a good segue going into the next book.  I know the plan is for two books a year going forward and we have not come to a decision if I will write another one.” 

The book centers on Jack Ryan Jr. who is coming into his own as an operative.  While on an intelligence mission in Tehran Jack meets with his old high school friend, Seth Gregory. Later Seth disappears and Jack is told he is a possible traitor.  It becomes imperative that he must choose between his loyalties to his friend, Seth, or to his county.  Pursuing the truth leads Jack across Iran, through war-torn Caucasus, and deep into territory controlled by the aggressive Russian Federation.  He is helped by an enigmatic Iranian woman, Ysabel, who becomes a loyal partner.  They race against the clock to determine who is friend and who is foe.

The book gives a shout out to the unsung heroes, US intelligence agents.  He commented, “I like to pay homage to those on the cutting edge of this world. There is this old saying in the intelligence business; things will go wrong.  It is how someone handles themselves when they go off track that is a good judge of character.  Jack Jr. realized he could not dwell on the guilt.  He is really good at adjusting his course and moving forward, the hallmark of an intelligence operative. The world of espionage is the “wilderness of mirrors,” in that nothing is as it seems to be. The motives, intentions, and methods are a minefield Jack must navigate.  This is often the case with real-world, high-stakes field operatives.” 

 The plotline has Jack Ryan Jr. delving deep into the geo-political world, bringing back memories of the Cold War. Russia’s turbulent relationship with that region, the home of many separatist groups is brought to the forefront.  This scenario has a Putin-like president of Russia forcefully trying to exert his influence over the nation of Dagestan, while Jack and others are attempting to assist in a successful coup.

A very compelling supporting cast of characters is introduced.  Ysabel Kashani has an American mother and an Iranian father.  She will become Jack’s new love interest and is described as beautiful, brave, smart, independent, witty, and resourceful.  Jack wonders what motivates her to become an agent.  Which piece of “MICE” is the reason for her cooperation: “money, ideology, compromise, or coercion?”  He realizes she is unlike any woman he has met before and that her reasons are based on being a principled and loyal person.  Throughout the book she steps up to the plate to help and rescue Jack, basically having his back. 

The other character, Seth Gregory, is seen as cold-blooded, driven, and at times reckless, a man on a mission. He is a very complicated character whose motivations are based upon a deep familial secret.  Emotional issues that are connected drive him to what he is attempting to accomplish.  This leaves Jack to wonder if Seth is the same person he knew in high school or has he changed over time.

The author also wanted to give a heads up about the re-release electronically of his original series.  It is a collection of three books whose main character is Briggs Tanner, an operative much like Jack Ryan Jr.  These books have a lot of political intrigue and action.

Under Fire has a very intriguing storyline.  As with any Tom Clancy novel it brings into focus current event issues.  Not only is it riveting and gripping but also has a very realistic plot.


Range 15 Final Update

For those of you following along, the independent movie being made by Ranger Up and Art 15 clothing has done extremely well in its fundraising cycle.  It easily made its initial goal, and with three days remaining has more than doubled it.  If they get to $700K, they promise to add CAS and rotary wing air support to the final product.


Book Review - "The President's Shadow" by Brad Meltzer

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

9780446553933_p0_v2_s260x420The President’s Shadow by Brad Meltzer is the final book in the Beecher series. As with all his books he intertwines history with an action packed plot.  In addition, Meltzer puts in some tidbits of information that have become a part of everyone’s daily life. For example, ever wonder why a wedding ring is worn on the ring finger of the left hand, or how a pressed penny becomes a symbol for those in the military.

He explained to blackfive.net, “I have a curious mind.  I am obsessed with finding these ideas and have a collection of odd facts.  Regarding the pressed penny I got that idea from a friend in the Army.  He wears it around his neck with his dog tags and told me that it is a military tradition to imprint either the Lord’s Prayer or their unit’s logo. It is used for good luck and a form of ID. I love working this stuff into the storyline.” 

There is not just one theme to this book.  It powerfully delves into the treatment of those enlisted in the military, the relationship between a father and child, and how ordinary people can make a difference.  This complex novel explores the power of government and the military over an individual’s life, the intrigue of having a supposed history nerd, Beecher, able to save the Presidency, and the emotional pull of family relationships. 

The book opens with the intense scene of First Lady Shona Wallace finding a severed arm in the White House Garden.  This grim discovery leads the President to ask for Beecher White’s assistance to unravel the clues. Readers might wonder why the President would need the help of this nerdy archivist when he has the Secret Service at his disposal. But people should consider the recent mishaps and exploits of that protective service, and the fact that secrecy prevails over Washington DC. Also, Beecher has another role, the main member of the Culper Ring, a 200-year-old secret society founded by George Washington and charged with protecting the Presidency. Through his investigation Beecher will find secrets, including the importance of the number four, as well as what happened to his father.

Meltzer noted, “This all got started because I got a call from homeland security asking me to brainstorm on how terrorists could attack this country.  I did some research and traced the Culper Ring back to George Washington.  He had his own secret spy ring made up of ordinary people because no one looks twice at an ordinary person.  I love that.  Washington is 100% a hero.  He was one of my favorite Presidents.  Even the children’s book I have written includes George Washington because he is one of the most extraordinary men in history.  Think about it, he could have been the King of America; yet, walked away from all that power.” 

The President’s Shadow mixes history, politics, and drama, creating a fast-paced storyline.  This page-turner includes treachery, political conspiracy, questionable ethics, and secret societies.


Photo - Spirit Guide

Hires_150607-F-QW945-765BA U.S. airman guides a B-2 Spirit, known as the stealth bomber, for refueling during Saber Strike 15 on Royal Air Force Fairford, England, June 7, 2015. The exercise demonstrates the aircraft's capabilities to forward-deploy and deliver conventional and nuclear deterrence. 
U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Malia Jenkins 


Photo - Definitely Not Airborne

Hires_150609-A-BS310-411BU.S. soldiers rappel from a UH-60 Black Hawk during an air assault course at the 7th Army Joint Multinational Training Command's Grafenwoehr Training Area in Bavaria, Germany, June 9, 2015. 
U.S. Army photo by Markus Rauchenberger

 

Hires_150608-A-BS310-049BU.S. Army Sgt. Samantha Melanson rappels from a 55-foot tower during an air assault course at the 7th Army Joint Multinational Training Command's Grafenwoehr Training Area in Bavaria, Germany, June 8, 2015. Melanson is assigned to the 15th Engineer Battalion. 
U.S. Army photo by Markus Rauchenberger 


Photo - NASA Recovery Mission

Hires_150608-N-DT805-391cSailors recover the test vehicle for NASA's low-density supersonic decelerator off the coast of the Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, Hawaii, June 8, 2015. The vehicle is part of a project to investigate and test technologies to land future robotics and humans on Mars, and safely return large payloads to Earth. The sailors are assigned to Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 1. 
U.S. Navy photo by Chief Petty Officer John M. Hageman 


Photo - Help on the High Seas

Hires_150610-M-ST621-321cA U.S sailor helps a distressed mariner get to the medical staff aboard the USS Rushmore in the Makassar Strait, June 10, 2015. The Rushmore offered assistance to distressed mariners in the waters between the Indonesian islands of Kalimantan and Sulawesi. Once on board, the mariners received food and medical attention by Marines and sailors assigned to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit and Essex Amphibious Ready Group. 
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Emmanuel Ramos