Book Review - "Field Of Graves" by J.T. Ellison

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.

9780778318927_p0_v3_s192x300Field Of Graves, by J. T. Ellison, the first book in the Taylor Jackson series, is a great read.  Those who have never read this series will enjoy a gripping story with well-developed characters.  Fans of this series will learn about the characters’ backstories, sometimes seeing them in a different light.

The story has two characters facing their demons, Lieutenant Taylor Jackson and FBI profiler Dr. John Baldwin. They both must overcome the psychological scars of killing their co-workers, either directly or indirectly.  Forgiveness is a major theme where they have to forgive themselves to survive. They work together to help each other recover and to find a serial killer who is murdering Vanderbilt college students in Nashville. Part of the team is medical examiner Dr. Samantha Owens, a friend of Taylors.  Ellison takes readers on a journey with Taylor’s team, the Murder Squad, as they attempt to find who is responsible for the killings.  As the story notes, “The Murder Squad” is not based on the Scotland Yard detectives in the Victorian era, but high elite Nashville homicide detectives whose closure rate was 83%.

What makes the story so compelling is the interaction between the characters.  Anyone following the series will see how they have grown and changed over the past decade.  Samantha is still blunt and a sister-like best friend to Taylor, but they have seemed to change roles. While Samantha is happy and carefree, Taylor is tough, smart, likeable, and has a troubled edge.  Her kindred spirit is Dr. John Baldwin, someone she saved emotionally.  He is nothing like the person in the later novels, behaving tough as nails.  Together they have unconditional love and make each other whole. 

Ellison writes Taylor as being very black and white, without any grey. She came up with the character because she wanted a female homicide detective “with a moral compass who is half cop, half rock star, and someone who loves her town of Nashville.  I did not want her to be this tortured female who did not have the respect of her peers. But rather, someone good at what she does and is accepted for her intelligence and ability.  I wanted to make sure my heroine was not a victim. I would describe her as Athena, the warrior-goddess of Nashville.”

A loveable supporting character is Jade the cat that adds to the storyline.  Ellison noted to, “Jade is my muse.  She is real.  I had lost a cat and was unemployed when I found Jade.  I adopted her and after taking her to a vet I found a job there.  I actually hurt my back picking up a dog, and while recovering decided to become a crime writer like John Sandford.   I chose the Nashville setting because I wanted to learn more about my new town.  The world knows it as the home of country music, yet it’s a much more complex, dynamic city than it first appears, and has a cosmopolitan air. We have the old South rubbing elbows with newfound fame and fortune. We have a serious dichotomy between the upper and lower classes, and a lot of crime.”

She writes three series. Her latest is A Brit In the FBI, with legendary author Catherine Coulter.  The next book, out in March of next year, has the FBI delving into the history of the Ark of the Covenant.  Because of the popularity of her character Dr. Samantha Owens she started a spin off series. Yet, many times the Taylor and Samantha series overlap characters, which is the case with the next book, All Fall Down, a continuation of the stalker serial killer story in What Lies Behind. Those readers who want to understand more of these characters can read All The Pretty Girls, which is being re-published this July.

Field Of Graves is a compelling and captivating novel.  The characters are realistic and interesting.  Anyone who reads this book will want to read all the books in the series.

Book Review - "Duty And Honor" 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 and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link on the right side bar.

9780399176807_p0_v2_s192x300Duty And Honor by Grant Blackwood brings back the Tom Clancy character Jack Ryan Jr.  This story explores a murder centered around a German connection.

The plot has an organization whose major recruiting technique is to kidnap children and then release them to grateful parents who become part of a neo-warfare plan.  Those who do not freely go along have themselves or their family subjected to torture, drug addiction, and brain washing.  The philosophy is to have private armies answerable to no government, no laws, and no rules of engagement. 

Jack was suspended from The Campus, a covert agency in the government who combats US enemies.  Throughout the book Jack Jr. is seen as rusty from his time off.  Blackwood noted to, “Special operators always have a strong preference for the type of weapon they chose to use.  Knifes play a prevalent role in this book so Jack Jr. can follow clues.  The reason he makes mistakes is to make him more believable.  The mindset of those in Special Forces is that ‘something will always go wrong.’  I wanted to show how Jack responds to that scenario. I think he grew up a lot in this book. He did a lot of thinking of who he is and where he is going.”

A new character is Effrem Likkel, a freelance journalist.  Blackwood has the characters play a role reversal as Jack tries to become more mature.  With Effrem he sees himself looking into the mirror where Effrem is impulsive, undisciplined, and is single-mindedly focused instead of looking at the big picture.  They both must come to grips with being the son of a famous person since Effrem’s mother is a well renowned journalist, while Jack Jr.’s father is the US President. 

Duty And Honor has a fast-paced intriguing plot.  Both Mark Greaney and Grant Blackwood have enhanced the Tom Clancy characters and have created new absorbing and captivating roles.

Book Review - "House of Secrets" by Brad Meltzer with Tod Goldberg

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.

9781455559503_p0_v3_s192x300The House Of Secrets by Brad Meltzer with Tod Goldberg is the first book in a riveting new thriller series. Most authors are well known for their writing style and Meltzer is no different, as he has become the king of the conspiracy mystery.  Not only does this plot hold the reader’s attention, but it also keeps them off balance and navigating through the twists and turns. 

Meltzer became intrigued “Eight years ago at the National Archives I was shown the Oath of Allegiance.  Those who signed it agreed not to betray the US.  One of those names was Benedict Arnold, who was a distinguished military man.  Before he became a traitor he had put his life on the line for our country. In that moment when I saw his signature the story all came together for me.  I could not get out of my head the story of the last moments between Benedict Arnold and George Washington.  It has been said that the portrayal was one of the few times Washington actually cried in public.  It is unbelievable that Arnold asked for his baggage and clothes with Washington delivering them immediately.  The conspiracy presents itself because no one knows what was in the baggage.”

Espionage, government corruption, family secrets, blackmail, betrayal, murder, and a historical conspiracy are all incorporated into the plot.  The main protagonist is Hazel Nash.  Meltzer has done with her what he previously did with another main character Beecher White, who makes a cameo appearance in this novel.  Both characters are realistic, believable, likeable, complex, and intelligent; although Hazel is more of a “badass.” 

The mystery begins on page one when the Nash family gets into a car accident.  The father, Jack Nash, host of a conspiracy investigation TV show is killed and his daughter Hazel has a traumatic brain injury.  She is intent on regaining her memory and discovering the real reason behind her father’s death.  Remembering her father’s words, that mysteries need to be solved, she wonders if the tale he told her about Benedict Arnold could be true.  Conspiracy theorists believe that Arnold was a not a traitor, but a double agent. 

Meltzer writes in the book why do we remember the name of Benedict Arnold and not other traitors?  He noted to, “I think there is something said for being the first traitor.  There are no absolutes in life so anyone who believes that all the conspiracies are true or none at all is silly.  I think sometimes the government is absolutely lying and sometimes not.  I don’t believe in all of them, but do believe is some.  I used the Nixon and Kennedy names for my characters because they were the best conspiracies of all.  The one that was solved and the one we still cannot answer:  Watergate and the JFK assassination.” 

Hazel is spurred on with her investigation when FBI agent Trevor Rabkin, aka known as Rabbit, reports that her father was poisoned to death along with Darren Nixon and Arthur Kennedy, the latter found dead wearing a Continental Army outfit.   Working as a team they must combat an assassin know as The Bear as they search for answers. 

House Of Secrets is an engrossing story with intrigue, mystery, history, and suspense.  All these ingredients are mixed together to form a fascinating conspiracy theory.  This fast paced narrative has well developed characters and a plot that will make readers question everything they were taught in the history books.

Book Review - "Lost and Gone Forever" by Alex Grecian

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.

9780399176104_p0_v1_s192x300Lost And Gone Forever by Alex Grecian concludes the Murder Squad series.  Set in Victorian England it brings to life Jack the Ripper and his ability to thwart capture.  Readers should be forewarned that this story will be more understandable if the other two books are read in order. 

Grecian noted to, “There was a real Murder Squad, similar to a homicide unit in America.  I wanted to write about the best and most famous detectives in London’s history.  I did this by changing names and dates.  The Commissioner of Police at the Yard was a real person.  Colonel Sir Edward Bradford was larger than life. He was an amazing man who led a remarkable life.”

Over the time span of the series many changes have occurred to the characters.  All of them were interesting and multi-layered, including the antagonists. Sergeant Nevil Hammersmith lost his job and now has a private detective agency, devoting all his time to finding his friend and peer Detective Walter Day who has been MIA for over a year.  His wife Claire has devoted her life to raising her children, finding Walter, and writing children’s stories; one of which is an outgrowth of the anxiety she feels about her missing husband.  The wealthy men of the Karstphanomen, a secret society that attempted to use vigilante methods towards criminals, hired ruthless bounty hunters, Mr. and Mrs. Parker, to find and kill Jack the Ripper. 

Although many readers may think Jack represents pure evil, Grecian does not see it that way and instead thinks he is “self-centered.  It’s all about Jack.  Anything that gets in his way he will get rid of without a second thought.  Yet, occasionally he will do something nice, like when he saved Hammersmith’s life. I think he is a very complicated figure.  He is not vulnerable in the least, because he never cares about anybody.”

This final installment has the devious, deranged, and deadly Jack the Ripper manipulating Day through torture and hypnosis.  As the story begins this broken detective, just released by Jack, is now in a dazed and amnesiac state.  Jack is attempting to use Day as his pawn as the Ripper finds retribution against those that caused him pain by killing the members off one by one. 

An interesting aspect of the book is how Grecian centered the plot in Plumm’s Emporium Department Store, a la Harrods in London.  He commented, “I wanted to make the coincidences realistic.  This enabled me to use coincidence to help weave all the characters’ different stories together.  I needed a place where lots of people would naturally congregate and cross paths.  It also enabled me to show how the world changed with having everything a person needed in one place.”

Grecian also gave a heads up about his next book.  It will be the first in a new contemporary series set in America.  The police are hunting for a Nazi that has hidden in the US for over half a century.  The series is based on a new character that hunts down war criminals, similar to Simon Wiesenthal.

Grecian has a knack for writing thrillers that are terrifying.  He has no qualms in putting in scenes that are extremely gory.  His plots always involve complicated characters that have fascinating backstories. Anyone wanting to sit on their edge of their seat should read the novel, Lost And Gone Forever.

Book Review - "The Wolf of Sarajevo" 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 link on the right side bar.

9780399175015_p0_v1_s192x300The Wolf Of Sarajevo by Matthew Palmer is a thriller set in the Balkans.  It is the author’s way of reminding Americans about that part of the world.  Because of his close ties Palmer is able to use his experiences to create a good storyline. 

Palmer has spent a good amount of his life and career working in this area of the world.  His first post was with the Foreign Service at the US Embassy in Serbia.  He later served as desk officer in Washington and as a political counselor in Belgrade where he helped broker the ”April 19th Agreement” between Serbia and Kosovo.  This August he will be taking over as the director to the Balkans.  He also has personal connections since his wife is Serbian.

The complex make-up of the area makes this story very believable.  Palmer shows how this is a region where politics, ethnicity, and history blend together with century-old grievances.  The plot begins as Annika Sondergaard, a European Union diplomat, has a plan to unite the Balkans and stop the in fighting, enlisting the help of career US diplomat Eric Petrosian.  He is back in Sarajevo at the embassy, with the specter of war once again hanging over the Balkans. The Bosnian Serb leader, who had for a time been seeking a stable peace, has turned back to his nationalist roots and is threatening to pull Bosnia apart in a bloody struggle for control. Eric is dragged deeper into the political mayhem while uncovering a plot of blackmail and ruthless ambitions.

Understanding how the area can be confusing to outsiders Palmer struggled with the details from his personal experiences.  He commented to, “Just because something is complex doesn’t mean that it needs to be dull.  I hope to allow the readers through the story to see the human side of the diplomatic profession.  I wanted to highlight in the book the awfulness of man’s inhumanity to man.  I was able to write elements of truth regarding the cruelty of psychopaths, like Radovan Karabjic, who rose to positions of power. The title is based on the Balkan proverb, ‘The wolf changes its fur, but never its character.’”

He also compared the two female main characters, Annika and Sarah. “Annika is an idealist who is pragmatic, brave, and an experienced politician.  Sarah shares her vision of trying to make peace in the Balkans but as a CIA operative she does immoral things to achieve that objective.  I put the Nietzsche quote at the beginning of the book that best describes Sarah:  ‘He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster.’  Sarah is prepared to do whatever it takes to support her cause for the greater good.”

His next book will also be a stand alone involving a female diplomat who returns to her homeland of Kyrgystan.  He explained he likes stand-alones, “I learned from my father that in those types of books authors can create a sense of urgency and tension.  It is putting ordinary people, who are just doing their job, into extraordinary circumstances, where trouble seems to find them. I also wanted readers to understand that foreign-service diplomats are seen as positive and valuable people who do not cut deals with the devil.”

The Wolf Of Sarajevo is well written with personal touches from a career diplomat that knows the area well.  The story is believable and realistic.

Book Review - "The Girl from the Savoy" by Hazel Gaynor

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.

9780062403476_p0_v3_s192x300The Girl From The Savoy by Hazel Gaynor is a fascinating historical novel that touches on intense and compelling themes where dreams really do come true.  Readers will take the adventurous journey with the main characters as they struggle with love, hope, loss, and healing. 

This rags to riches story has Dorothy “Dolly” Lane struggling to overcome the low-life career of being a chambermaid, someone invisible to the upper class, while striving to become a renowned star of the London stage.  Many readers might be reminded of the musical My Fair Lady based on the play Pygmalion. The storyline has Dorothy taken in by Loretta May, a famous actress who has a rebellious streak and lives as she likes. She hopes to teach Dorothy how to fit into upper society and become her protégé. But the story also has Loretta, the daughter of an Earl, falling in love and marrying a soldier, a commoner without a title.

Set shortly after the end of WWI, this novel is told by three narrators in the first person, with each perspective offering some of the historical past. Through Dolly readers can explore the class system and the rise of women’s independence; Loretta and her brother Perry explore the Jazz Age; and Teddy Cooper, Dolly’s fiancé, is a solider whose life is changed by the war as he suffers from shell shock.  It is through Teddy that readers understand how WWI loomed large over everyone and everything. 

All the characters are fascinating, including many interesting secondary ones that also influenced the story including the Savoy Hotel. Through the descriptions and events within the hotel it becomes clear that it takes on a personality of its own, almost speaking to the characters.  For some it becomes a place of security, almost like returning to a long lost friend. 

Many times people speak of hearing cracks and creaks within houses.  Gaynor through her research found “people in the book and in the real world talk about it as a living, breathing character.  It is a place where things were happening, where people came and went, with lots of interesting drama.”

It appears that the hotel reacts to the issues the characters face including their sense of loss and how they are haunted by those memories.  Teddy has amnesia and lost the life he once knew.  Reflected in this quote by Dolly are her feelings, “My heart was broken, my dreams were shattered, my hopes were bruised.  Without ever stepping onto a battlefield, I too was wounded… In many ways Teddy did not come back at all.” Loretta lost her newlywed husband during the war, and Perry, the musical composer brother, lost his edge, preferring to be a follower than a leader, after being part of a firing squad that killed his best friend.

Gaynor noted to, “There was this loss of innocence.  Remember the famous line as soldiers went off to war, ‘It will be over by Christmas.’  The families left behind the lost years together.  Many waited for four years for loved ones to come home, and physically they might have, but the person once known, no longer existed.  The lost years created a period of separation that placed an emotional strain on the loved ones.  Typically history does not write about the women left behind on the home front, which is why I wrote the backstory of Dolly.  Many were haunted by the loss of the life they had hoped to have.  Unfortunately, people did not talk about how they felt.  Instead, having to endure a stiff upper lip and a get on with it attitude.” 

If The Girl From The Savoy is the first book read by Gaynor it will not be the last.  She uses the backdrop of World War I to create a riveting and gripping plot with characters that will pull the reader immediately into the story.  Not only will people learn about the history of the 1920s, but will feel they are along for the ride with the very well developed characters.

Book Review - "Legend" by Eric Blehm

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.

9780804139519_p0_v3_s192x300In a just released book, Legend, (WWW.ERICBLEHM.COM) author Eric Blehm recounts the heroism of Green Beret Staff Sergeant Roy Benavidez, of the U.S. Army’s 240th Assault Helicopter Company. 

The first part of the book details Roy’s early life from birth until marriage, enlistment, and examples of the his tenacious spirit. In 1966, Roy suffered a serious injury from his first tour in Vietnam, having been told he would never walk again. Yet, a year later after much therapy and willpower, Roy not only regained his ability to walk, but qualified to become an elite Army Green Beret. The 2nd part of the book gives a lot of background into the special operations out of Vietnam and the 240th Assault Helicopter Company, including how the US covertly inserted and removed 12-Man Special Forces A Teams. The last part of the book details the events of May 2nd, 1968.

Benavidez went into the firefight to bring out the wounded soldiers, part of a team sent into Cambodia.  Upon arrival he jumped out and into the withering enemy fire. Despite being immediately and severely wounded, Benavidez reached the perimeter of the decimated team, provided medical care, and proceeded to organize an extraordinary defense and rescue. During the hours-long battle, he was bayoneted, shot, and hit by grenade shrapnel more than thirty times, yet he refused to abandon his efforts until every survivor was out of harm’s way.

Ingrained into his thinking by his grandfather, Benavidez had the attitude ‘if someone needs help, you help them.’  Blehm told, “He knowingly went into a place of chaos.  It is obvious it is not the size of the man, but the size of his heart.  The story is surreal considering after putting the wounded on the helicopter, he went back to rescue the interpreter, while holding his own intestines.  As I recount in the book, he crawled around the seriously wounded, giving tactical orders, took charge of air support, medical aid, ammunition, and boosted the wounded morale.” He saved the lives of eight men and eventually recovered, receiving the Medal of Honor thirteen years later. He dedicated his life to inspire those in his situation, from humble and difficult beginnings.

A powerful part of the book is when Blehm discusses the treatment of those who fought in Vietnam.  The Army told them to be proud of their service and go home to rejoin their family and friends.  Telling them, “They are proud of you and are anxiously awaiting your return.”  Yet, in direct contradiction Roy was told not to wear his uniform in public.  However, Blehm recounts how Roy disobeyed those orders.  It was not the veterans who were the “baby killers,” but the North Vietnamese who crucified children to walls and used them as target practice. 

Legend is a moving story.  Through extensive research readers get to know Roy personally and understand that the American soldier had their hands tied by politicians.  After reading this book people should realize that there is a great debt owed to those that fought in Vietnam, soldiers who were doing their patriotic duty.

Book Review - "Five Presidents" by Clint Hill and Lisa McCubbin

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 sidebar.

9781476794136_p0_v2_s192x300Five Presidents by Clint Hill with Lisa McCubbin is a non-fiction book written as a page turning historical novel.   People might not recognize the author, but the photo of him jumping on the Presidential car is engrained in most everyone’s mind.  He is the Secret Service Agent that heroically leaped onto the Kennedy car in Dallas after the President was shot.

Knowing people have played Monday morning quarterback for decades about the JFK assassination, Hill dispelled to some of the rumors: “I don’t think what the FBI knew would have made a difference. Nothing indicated Lee Harvey Oswald had a grievance against President Kennedy.  There was no conspiracy because no one would have utilized a guy like Oswald, who was not intelligent or capable enough for anyone to put trust in him.  He was a failure: his wife split up with him, unable to become a Marine, and could not hold down a job. Even his defection to the Soviet Union did not work out.  He came back to the US and was extremely upset because no one honored him.  He did the assassination in an attempt to seek recognition.”

The reason the car did not initially speed up was “the driver apparently heard and thought perhaps the noise was a blown tire.  I know he tapped the break pedal ever so briefly because I saw the brake lights come on momentarily.  After that he did begin to accelerate, which was about the time I reached the car.  Understand, this is a big heavy car so acceleration did not happen instantaneously.”

Hill succeeds in allowing readers to have a rare glimpse into the personalities and characters of the five uniquely different Presidents, from Eisenhower to Ford.  As a secret service agent assigned to protect them he was able to view their strengths and weaknesses, a witness to the historical decisions made by these men. He reflects on the tumultuous times involving the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassination of JFK, the Vietnam War and Watergate. However, it is more a book about personalities and their human side; how the Presidents spent their private time, treated people around them, and interacted with their families.

Able to sympathize with those in the military who suffer from PTSD, Hill admitted to that he had PTSD from the assassination, “You never completely overcome it.  I am better off today than I was.  Talking about it with my co-author Lisa, writing about it, and talking to the public about it was very therapeutic.  What also helped was going back to Dealey Plaza in Dallas and spending time there, examining the situation.  I looked at everything, the angles, location of the shooter, the motorcade, weather conditions, and the type of transportation we were using.  I realize now I had done everything I could have done that day.  All the advantages went to the shooter and we did not have any.”

The best parts of the book are the well-written stories and anecdotes.  Anyone wondering if there is anything new to be said, the answer is an unequivocal yes!

These include President Eisenhower traveling to Pakistan and Afghanistan to adoring crowds, allowing readers to understand how times have changed; how Eisenhower was also revered for his trustworthiness, yet during the U2 Spy incident with Francis Gary Powers he hedged the truth to the American people; Hill having personal demons as he struggled with PTSD over the Kennedy assassination; the auspicious humiliating first greeting with President Johnson in October 1964 as the President ignored Hill’s handshake, and instead blew his nose in a handkerchief; Hill’s decision to place the White House files under protection after a midnight phone call about Watergate; how Nixon attempted to put an informant on the Secret Service detail of Senator Ted Kennedy; and President Ford’s willingness to travel to five different countries even though there was no sitting Vice-President.

There is also a reminder to Americans how secret service agents are a lot like those in the military and intelligence, where their personal life must be sacrificed for the good of the nation.  Hill witnessed the joy, triumphs, agony, disappointments, egos, and frailties of these five Presidents; yet missed many of his own.

Hill gave the example of the Cuban Missile Crisis, “I write in my book that the worst part for all the agents was knowing in the case of a nuclear attack or a possible missile launch from Cuba we would go with the President and his family to a relocation site while our families would most likely perish.  If someone tried to get aboard the helicopter that was not authorized it may come to the point of causing bodily harm to protect those we were guarding. Our obligation is to complete the mission and perform our job, which ultimately means we would have to leave our families to fend for themselves. Anyone wanting to be an agent has to be extremely devoted, dedicated, and willing to sacrifice.”

Five Presidents illuminates the lives of each leader in an insightful way.  Hill has allowed readers to take the memory journey with him as he opens up about the private world he observed. This book is an incredible inside account.

Memorial Day

The genesis of this post started many years ago, and I tend to edit and revise it each year.  Maybe one day it will do justice to the day and those I remember on Memorial Day. Crossposted at Laughing WolfPunchBowl1Showweb

Foster Powers USN, KIA 1945

Foster Powers USN, KIA 1945


To the God in Man displayed -- Where'er we see that Birth, Be love and understanding paid As never yet on earth!

To the Spirit that moves in Man, On Whom all worlds depend, Be Glory since our world began And service to the end!

Final stanzas, The Choice, Rudyard Kipling

Let me start with the end, instead of the beginning.  I am not asking that we make Memorial Day somber and solemn, a thing without levity or fun.  I know none who have served who would want that, particularly those who did not come home.  We should enjoy the day and the weekend in their honor, so that they and the reason for this day are not forgotten.

Continue reading "Memorial Day" »

Book Reviews - "Slow Burn" & "The Innocents" by Ace Atkins

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.

9780399170850_p0_v1_s192x300Ace Atkins will have two books coming out in the next few months.  Slow Burn brings back Robert B. Parker’s character, private investigator Spenser, and his Quinn Colson series, The Innocents.  Coincidentally each book cover and plot has elements of fire.

Slow Burn
, published the first week in May, begins with a church on fire.  Spenser is hired to find out who is behind a series of fires that appear to be set intentionally. With the help of his trusted ally Hawk, his apprentice, Sixkill, and his psychologist girlfriend Susan it becomes apparent the trail of fires leads to Boston’s underworld. They must find the firebug before he kills again and destroys more property.

The Innocents will be published in July.  Sherriff Lillie Virgil enlists the former Sherriff Quinn Colson to help find Milly Jones’ killer.  Someone set her on fire and had her walk on a highway. 

9780399173943_p0_v1_s192x300Atkins was asked to compare the Spenser and Quinn Colson series.  He commented to, “All the stories are hero driven with themes of honor, respect, and tolerance. They are written stylistically different.” The Spenser stories are told through his eyes and voice, while the Quinn stories are about everyone in the one county.  The Quinn series has a continuing storyline, much like a long-term arc in a TV show.”

Both these plots are based on true stories.  Atkins explained, “They are taken from the headlines. With Slow Burn I found a string of arsons dealing with insurance fraud, which occurred in Boston a few decades ago.  However, after meeting with those in the Boston arson unit I was told it would never happen like that today because property is so valuable.  There is no money to be made in burning down a building.  I refigured the plot and came up with the idea of guys banding together to start these fires. “

Regarding the plot for The Innocents Atkins commented, “The story was inspired by true facts.  A young girl over a year ago was found walking down a highway while completely on fire.  There was a mystery surrounding the circumstances of her death.  Another character was based on a long time well respected football coach accused of some nasty stuff.  Because he was a pillar of the community no one spoke up even though they knew what was happening.”

The difference between the two series characters is that Quinn is a former Army Ranger.  Atkins definitely does his homework getting military figures as fact checkers.  “My good friend, retired US Army Colonel George Reynolds, steers me in the right direction.  He put me in touch with a young Ranger so I was able to learn about his experiences and training.  It was George who suggested Quinn not become a contractor, but work for the Defense Department.  My network of those assisting me, people in the military, has quadrupled.”

Readers will also find a difference in the themes of the two series.  The Spenser books are more action packed and the emphasis is on his character.  The other series is more a book about community, family, and a Southern town with emphasis on social issues, corruption, and power.

Both books have very well developed characters and plots that will keep the reader turning the pages.

Book Review - "The Wages of Sin" by Nancy Allen

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 link on the right side bar.

9780062438751_p0_v3_s192x300The Wages of Sin by Nancy Allen is the third book of the series that takes place in Southwest Missouri. It is not necessary to read the previous books to understand the plot and characters.  Readers will get a very good understanding of how personalities affect court proceedings.  The main issues explored are the death penalty, domestic violence, and child witnesses. 

The novel opens with a pregnant woman being beaten to death by her boyfriend who is high on drugs.  Because the eight-month-old baby also died the prosecution seeks the death penalty.  Readers will learn certain tidbits, such as the fact that Missouri’s State Constitution considers life beginning at conception.  Thus, the prosecution decided to seek justice for the eight-month-old baby rather than his drugged up mother.  Because of the horrific crime the death penalty is sought, making it evident that the testimony of the lone eyewitness, six-year-old Ivy, will be crucial.

Elsie Arnold, a prosecuting attorney in rural Barton City, McCown County, Missouri, wants to win the case to avenge the death of the mother and her unborn child. But as the trial nears, Elsie begins to harbor doubts about the death penalty itself. Allen explores how prosecutors must weigh the horrific crime versus the heavy burden of seeking someone’s death.

In addition, the author emphasizes how friendships can become detached over issues.  Elsie is “unfriended” by her fellow prosecutor Breeon over her view on the death penalty.  Instead of realizing people cannot agree on everything she becomes cold and distant, refusing to be there when needed by Elsie. 

Allen knows something about domestic abuse cases since she practiced law for fifteen years as Assistant Missouri Attorney General and Assistant Prosecutor in her native Ozarks. She's tried over thirty jury cases, including murder and sexual offenses. A quote from the book shows how women in the 1980s struggled to be accepted, “The necktie rule… they said no attorney could appear in court without a tie.”

Allen commented to, “After getting out of law school, I was the only woman prosecutor in Southwest Missouri.  I guess I was a little bit of a trailblazer in that day.  Women had to wear a uniform in court in the 1980s.  We wore floppy silk ties, kinda like the Girl Scout tie.  I had a little polka dot one and a little striped one.”

Regarding her female portrayals Allen feels there is a little of her in all the female characters.  “Elsie is a cross between that TV Show Beverly Hillbillies character Ellie May Clampett and Amy Schumer in the movie Train Wreck. She echoed who I was in my youth.  Being the only woman in the office I was thrown sex crime cases. Madeline, the County Prosecutor, Elsie’s boss, reflected my past experiences of having to confront, in the 1980s, the ‘good ol’ boys judicial club’ in Southwest Missouri.  Even Ivy, the six year old witness represented the child in all of us who tries to please authority figures.  Because I am a strong advocate of victim’s rights and have cut my teeth on child abuse cases I feel a bond with Ivy.  It is a fact that the Ozarks has the highest rate of sex crimes involving children in all of Missouri, and this state is one of the top in the nation.”

Allen also gave a heads up about her future book projects.  The next Elsie Arnold book has a standup member of a small town community charged with a crime.  Elsie must bring down a person who is at the top of the pinnacle in her community.  Allen is also co-authoring a legal thriller with James Patterson, entitled. Juror # 3.  It is a new series stated by Patterson that will be part of the Bookshots line. 

Anyone wanting to learn about legal issues and court procedures within a good story should read Allen’s books.  She brings her experience and knowledge to the page to make the plots and characters believable.

Book Review - "In the Arena" by Pete Hegseth

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 link on the right side bar.

9781476749341_p0_v2_s192x300In the Arena by Pete Hegseth will make readers think about what values are important to them.  His motivation for writing this book is taken from Theodore Roosevelt’s speech, “Citizenship In A Republic,” specifically the quote “Man In The Arena.” The address is used as a roadmap for addressing the massive challenges facing America today. The author channels Teddy Roosevelt’s thoughts into a call for action: to actually win wars fought, that Patriotism is not a bad word, America must have leadership abroad, and civic responsibility is important. 

Hegseth explained to how he stumbled upon the quote in college.  “I printed out a copy, framed it, and took it with me where I served.  It is a reminder to me about fighting for worthy causes.  I found it very motivating.  I think it is ‘un-PC’ before there was PC. Roosevelt’s beliefs can be applied today, what people are craving for:  a strong leader, strength, competiveness, and belief in America. It is a reminder to people why they love this country and a reflection on our founding father’s ideals. It is no accident Roosevelt is on Mount Rushmore with Washington, the leader in the fight for our independence; Jefferson, the writer of the Declaration of Independence; and Lincoln, the leader in the fight during the Civil War.  I would argue Roosevelt got this country off to a good start, that the 20th Century was America’s century.”

Roosevelt talked about the dangers of division in a Republic.

“They fell, and the prime factor in their fall was the fact that the parties tended to divide. Wide differences of opinion in matters of religious, political, and social belief must exist if conscience and intellect alike are not to be stunted.  The citizens of a republic should beware, and that is of the man who appeals to them to support him on the ground that he is hostile to other citizens of the republic, that he will secure for those who elect him, in one shape or another, profit at the expense of other citizens of the republic.”

To that end, Hegseth points out that Obama in 2008 spoke about the US not being a collection of individuals or red states and blue states, but today “we are more divided that ever. He has pitted rich against poor, black against white, those that don’t agree with his policies as war mongers, as he attempts to advance his fundamental transformation of America.”

Roosevelt also speaks about what today would be called the rules of engagement.  He literally talks about those who refer to themselves as “citizens of the world.”

“I believe that a man must be a good patriot.  Experience teaches us that the average man who protests that his international feeling swamps his national feeling, that he does not care for his country because he cares so much for mankind, in actual practice proves himself the foe of mankind.”

An infantry officer in the Army National Guard, he is a veteran of Iraq, Afghani­stan, and Guantanamo Bay who holds two Bronze Stars and a Combat Infantryman’s Badge for his time overseas.  As someone who served their country, Hegseth saw first hand how the rules of engagement have “become so burdensome, cumbersome, and legalistic that they restrict our war fighters on the battlefield.  Are we willing to untie the hands of our war fighters so they can actually fight Islamic extremists?  We worry more about oil truck drivers of ISIS who are called innocent civilians. Our trigger pullers cannot engage the enemy pre-emptively.  We cannot bow down if we want to defeat an enemy that uses civilians.  We have to be willing to get our hands dirty because of the shady tactics of our enemy.  What we are seeing now are the seeds of the sixties generation who have never seen America as a force for good and saw America as not special. The ability to defend ourselves is important to maintain our sovereignty.”

In The Arena is a special book as it invokes the words of Teddy Roosevelt and makes them relevant to today.  Hegseth takes the speech of Roosevelt and applies them to his 21st century beliefs. The author hopes that readers who believe in strength, leadership, and a good family structure will find this book informative, inspiring, and educational.

Book Review - "The Outliers" by Kimberly McCreight

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 link on the right side bar.

9780062359094_p0_v2_s192x300 (1)Outliers by Kimberly McCreight is the first in a series for young adults.  Having changed gears from writing mysteries for adults she still maintains, in the first part of the book, her ability to draw out the different relationships between characters, including the bond between a mother and daughter. The story went from a psychological thriller that focused on grief and friendship to a conspiracy theory mystery. 

McCreight noted to, “Writing a young adult mystery is not much different than writing an adult novel.  In my adult books I had killed teenagers so to be fair and balanced I killed an adult in this book.  I was a little more careful about putting in curse words although I did not make any compromises.”

The story follows, Wylie, a high school teenager who attempts to find her missing friend with the help of the friend’s boyfriend, Jasper. Cassie sends text clues that takes the pair into the wilds of Maine where they encounter unsavory cops, a seemingly harmless couple with an infant and Wylie’s dad’s former research assistant. When they finally reach Cassie, they realize nothing could have prepared them for the dangers ahead, and they learn that all of their problems are just beginning.

Wylie is sixteen and lives with her dad and twin brother Gideon in Boston, since her mother died in a supposed car accident four months earlier. She was broken up after her mother’s death. Her dad became over protective as Wylie’s anxiety progressed to the point she will not leave home. This anxiety disorder has Wylie panicking, and sometimes even passing out when too stressed.

Because McCreight also suffers from anxiety she wanted readers to understand the complexities that both the family and individual must face on a daily basis, and what triggers it.  The author commented, “I discovered that anxiety could draw out other emotions in people, such as making them more attuned. There are times when it can overtake someone’s life.”

Outliers is a story about the length someone will go for their friends. In the second half of the book, it takes a turn into a science fiction plot.  Although all the sub-plots had a conclusion, they lead into new questions that set up the next book in the series.

Book Review - "The Arm" by Jeff Passan

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.

9780062400369_p0_v4_s192x300The Arm by Jeff Passan, a lead writer for Yahoo Sports, is a must read for baseball fans, those interested in learning about pitchers, the Tommy John injury and surgery, as well as youth baseball coaches and parents. He explains how a tiny ligament in the elbow, the UCL, can snap, sending Little Leaguers and Major Leaguers to undergo surgery. In traveling the world he was able to interview with Sandy Koufax, Japanese pitchers, and Tommy John, the All-Star pitcher who underwent the surgery forty years ago to save his career. But the true heart of the book resides in the interwoven stories of Daniel Hudson and Todd Coffey, Major Leaguers whom Passan follows through UCL surgery and rehab.

Passan explains how in 1974 Dr. Frank Jobe rebuilt the left elbow of John, the Dodgers pitcher, in a revolutionary surgery that continues to give pitchers a second chance. He essentially made John a new ligament by taking a tendon from the wrist, drilling holes into the elbow. Readers will learn that about a quarter of pitchers at any given time on major league rosters have had Tommy John surgery. But a more frightening statistic is that more than half of Tommy John surgeries now occur with teenagers. He writes about a youth baseball tournament, where star 10-year-olds have their arms taxed in the name of victory, and in Japan where overuse of young pitchers also seems to be a chronic practice.

He told the book is a warning “for parents and coaches out there who don't quite understand that the amount of pitching you do as a child could significantly damage you for years to come. We should be stressing how to throw the ball properly, know how to place it, and to learn the mental side of pitching. Growth plates in children’s elbows don’t close until they are 15/16 years old. When they do reach this age they can take on more wear and tear. Dr. Jobe said not to throw a curve ball until you can shave. Remember when Dr. Frank Jobe did the surgery it was on a thirty year old pitcher to save his career. I cannot imagine he thought it would become the domain of children instead of adults. It is frightening how many parents push their children. I hope there is enough people out there that can shame these other parents and coaches. A parent’s job is to be realistic. A Japanese study that came out after the book was published said that 43% of 9 to 12 year olds had damage to their UCL and of those more than 60% were pitchers.”

But to humanize the story Passan followed two pitchers, Todd Coffey and Daniel Hudson. He spent time with them and their families as they went through the surgery, rehab, and their attempts to pitch again in the Major Leagues. It's a very good insight into the parts of baseball most people don't see, the personal lives of the players and how they cope with various setbacks in the course of their careers.

He commented to, “Todd Coffey, while a relief pitcher for the Dodgers in 2012, had a recurring elbow injury and underwent his second Tommy John surgery. He threw with a velocity about 95 to 96 mph. In 2015 he tried to play for the Mexican League and is currently in the Atlantic League. Because he was a reliever and does not throw now at 95 it became difficult to latch on with a team. They are afraid he would get hurt again and they would then be stuck with the medical expenses. Plus, they think it makes sense to go with a guy who has been in their own organization.”

Regarding Daniel Hudson, “He had Tommy John surgery in 2012 and another surgery in 2013. He is still pitching for the Diamondbacks and so far is having a great year. If he stays healthy he is setting himself up for a big payday. He looks good and says his arm feels great. I think Daniel is an inspirational story. I hope with him and Coffey readers will see what it is really like, that it is not easy and not fun with a lot of trials and tribulations.”

The Arm is a must read for all fans of baseball and parents who have children playing the sport. In tackling a massive and complicated subject, Passan finds ways to educate and warn about the UCL injury.

Book Review - "Blood Defense" by Marcia Clark

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.

9781503954007_p0_v1_s192x300Blood Defense by Marcia Clark is the first in a new series. While she is well known as the prosecutor of O. J. Simpson she has also become a bestselling author with the Rachel Knight series about a Los Angeles prosecutor. With Blood Defense she is changing gears, now writing about an ambitious and hard-charging criminal defense attorney. Although having each series main character polar opposites, readers will still enjoy the same writing style: sarcastic wit, believable characters, a great murder mystery, multi-layered plot twists, and an understanding of the nuances around a courtroom.

When asked if she would face the same obstacles today with the Simpson trial, Clark responded, “Racism, domestic violence, and sexism are still issues. They are still very much on the table. Would he get convicted today if tried? A lot would depend on the judge and the nature of the jury. There was a very bad ruling that allowed racial epithets to be introduced as evidence when there was no basis for it. Mark Fuhrman did not have any opportunity to plant the glove so it should not have mattered if he was a racist or not. If he could not have done it there is no relevance to bringing it in.”

Furthermore, she felt, “Race really skewed it. But the ultimate factors were a combination of race and celebrity. If he had not been famous and was just a regular guy who happened to be black he would have been convicted. If he had been a white guy who was famous he would have been convicted. This combination presented an unassailable obstacle that became clearer every day of the trial. We watched the jury fail to respond to anything we said, which was why the verdict was no surprise for us. The jury basically rejected us from day one. It was horrible.”

Although known as a prosecutor, Clark started her career in private practice as a defense attorney. She brings her past experience to the pages with an excellent insight. In describing the daily routine of a criminal lawyer she allows readers to understand how far someone could go in bending the rules. What is very interesting is the behind the scenes account of procedures, as well as the workings of the jail system, informants, and courtroom antics.

Her experiences helped her write about “the interesting moral and ethical wrinkles to riding the defense side because a defense attorney's goal is solely to defend the client. The prosecutor has to make sure that it's a fair trial; the defense has no obligation. I thought of what Fred Goldman told me about Ron being the second and forgotten victim, ‘what about Ron, it is not all about Nicole.’ I am sure this had something to do with me wanting to write the disparity and treatment between my characters Chloe and Paige. Yet, at the time I was writing this I was not thinking about Ron. My life experiences and case works creep into my books whether I am aware of the connection or not.”

The plot begins with criminal defense attorney, Samantha Brinkman, struggling to make a name for herself until she lands a “dream” case. It is a high profile double-murder case in which one of the victims is a beloved TV star, and the defendant is a decorated veteran LAPD detective. With the aid of her office manager, Michelle, and investigator Alex, Brinkman must use everything she has to spin the publicity. Already facing an uphill battle, she pulls out all the stops in her quest to uncover evidence that will clear the detective and his name.

Samantha and police detective Dale Pearson are very well developed characters. Readers will root for her to win the case and prove Dale’s innocence. As with Rachel Knight, Samantha is portrayed as a tough, spunky, and intelligent woman. But unlike Rachel, Samantha has a dark past that makes her vulnerable at times, and she will go to any lengths, including breaking rules she does not agree with, to win the case.

Blood Defense is a great suspense novel with a fun dose of humor and a lot of twists. Readers will enjoy learning more about Samantha as the series progresses. Anyone wanting a riveting murder mystery with realistic characters and an understanding of the routines of a defense attorney should read this book.