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April 2016

Book Review - "Poisonous" by Allison Brennan

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 in the right side bar.

9781250066848_p0_v3_s192x300Poisonous by Allison Brennan is a very powerful story.  The novel delves into very relevant issues from cyber bullying to social media’s role within people’s lives. The author makes a good point about how social media makes it easier for someone to say mean things without any repercussions. This intense plot also focuses on psychological issues involving a mentally challenged character and how family dynamics play into divorce.

The plot has a cyber bully, Ivy, falling off a cliff; was she pushed or was it accidental?  Maxine Revere, an investigative reporter that works on cold cases, is asked to find the truth about the fall. A mentally challenged eighteen year old, stepbrother to Ivy, is suspected by her mother of being the murderer.  Max sees immediately he is a gentle giant who loved his sister in spite of her cruelty that caused a peer to commit suicide.  With a huge list of suspects, Max must pursue the truth and allow justice to prevail. 

Being a mother of five, Brennan realized “I did not grow up with social media.  In the 1970s and 80s I could make mistakes and hopefully learn from them. I knew the stupid thing I did was not going to be around forever or go viral.  Today it is on the Internet for everybody to remember forever.  It comes down to our kids never being able to say or do anything they might regret, with the possibility their lives might be ruined forever.  Teenagers always make mistakes, which is why I love writing about them or young adults. My family has a rule now because of what happened a few years ago.  We had gone out to dinner and all my five kids were either on video games or texting on their phones.  ‘I said that’s it.’  I told them ‘keep it in your pocket or I will put it in my purse.’ After that when we went out to dinner once a month we were actually able to have a conversation.”

Brennan has a way of writing characters that readers care about. She allows people to feel certain emotions from the printed words.  What is done beautifully is how she has the readers rooting for Max to solve the case.  Not for the victim Ivy, but for Tommy. Ivy is seen as a “mean girl” that took joy in exposing her peers secrets and flaws through a gossip website. Tommy, a sweet and kind boy, is genuine, honest, and hoping to get his old life back.  

She noted to blackfive.net, “Parents also make inappropriate comments or are always texting.  One of my biggest pet peeves is when people “unfriend” you because of the way you think or the way you vote.  We can’t agree on every single issue.  With social media people can say things or be offensive because they can distance themselves.  Children emulate their parents.  I decided to write about bullying because of a local tragic case of a young boy killing himself after being bullied online.” 

While Max is still brash, outspoken, intelligent, independent, and tenacious, she is less impulsive, more sensitive, and is learning to not always say what she thinks.  Through her eyes, readers see Tommy as a heart-wrenching personality and cheer Max on for caring and wanting to protect him.  An interesting point made was the similarities in personalities between Max and two of the characters: Tommy and his stepbrother Austin.  Both Tommy and Max found lies devastating, wanting only to be told the truth, while Austin was protective, and unforgiving for the circumstances his parents placed him in. 

Poisonous has a fast paced plot. This fascinating story about dysfunctional families and relevant issues of today makes for a great read.


Book Review - "Tied Up In Knots" by Andrea Tantaros

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 in the right side bar.

9780062351869_p0_v2_s192x300Tied Up in Knots by Andrea Tantaros is the 21st Century’s version of Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. Both are about understanding the opposite sex.  Tantaros argues relations between men and women in America have never been more dysfunctional while discussing the issues of intimacy, authenticity, kindness, respect, discretion, and above all commitment. Readers should know her as one of Fox News most informative commentators and a co-host of the show Outnumbered.

Both men and women need to read this book to get a fast check on relationships, how the sexes treat each other, and the responsibilities of society.  While reading the chapters people can relate to the author’s comments with current issues.  Blackfive.net had the privilege of interviewing her about her book and her opinions about today’s world.

Regarding the provocative cover, Tantaros said there has been no criticism and jokingly hopes that will continue.  “It is inspired by the Wonder Woman pose.  I hope people see how it symbolizes the modern female who is very powerful, but tied up in her own lasso of truth.”

It is not a “chicks book,” because men’s eyes will be opened about what is going on in the mind of a woman.  She noted, “I interviewed a lot of men and they kept talking about their frustration and confusion.  They can read this book and they will get a better understanding about how women think and issues important to the sexes. Even women do not understand the rules.  Are we capable, high functioning, responsible, women who can take care of ourselves and do not need special treatment? Or are we really the weaker sex, something women have fought against for decades. I give the early feminists credit in this book when they called for rightful equality.”

Where does rightful equality play into a woman’s role in the Special Forces Units?  Should the expectations be lowered for women to become SEALs or should they be allowed to try while keeping the current rules?  She predicted, “Just like the Rangers this administration will get women into the SEALs training and right before President Obama leaves office they will reveal a female in the graduating class.  The narrative will be they could do it even though the rules were changed.  I know a number of SEALs that say they will quit the brotherhood because of it.  Many people do not know that there are already women serving in the Special Forces, although not in combat.  These women are really upset with women’s rights groups who say we need women as SEALs, even though they are there, but in different roles.  These women feel forced to say ‘we are here and you just blew our cover to the world.’”

The book goes into a lot of detail about how women are sending mixed messages to men.  She writes of Girls actress Zosia Mamet comments in Marie Claire about the loss of romance and old-time dating rituals.  Mamet wrote, “Not that long ago a guy spent the night with me.  We went to breakfast the next day.  The check came.  I went to the bathroom, came back.  It was still there… Seeing my confusion, he said he didn’t want to offend me by paying on ‘my side of town’-So he’s thinking I’d be offended, and I’m thinking, if you’ve already Lewis-and-Clarked my body, maybe buy my oatmeal.”

Tantaros insists the struggles between the sexes are based on misconceptions. She pointed out to blackfive.net, “Liberal women knock stay at home moms and perpetuate single moms by insisting women do not need men.  I heard Jennifer Aniston say women don’t need men to have babies.  Ugh, technically I think we do.  There was also an article in the Washington Post written by a woman who said she was so tired of her helpful husband.  I thought, ‘are you kidding me.  Do you know how many women would kill to have a man around the house.’  I agree with Sheryl Sandberg who said in her book, Lean In, the most important thing a woman could do is to choose the right husband. Patti Stranger, the famous matchmaker, also echoes this thought when she said, ‘women, you cannot have your penis and eat it too.” The media completely ignored those messages because it was traditional and destroyed the theory of feminism, men are unnecessary.”

A very relevant issue she discussed in the book was the phrase, “playing like a girl,” considering the manager of the Toronto Blue Jays faced a backlash recently after saying players might have to “wear dresses” because umpires in a game enforced a new slide rule designed to take deliberate contact out of baseball. When asked about it, Tantaros noted, “I did not get offended.  We women do the same thing about men.  We need to lighten up.  I think playing like a girl should be embraced, and not to consider it a negative connotation.”

Tied Up in Knots is a shocking, funny, and honest narrative about today’s gender gaps.  It is insightful, informative, and relevant to what is happening currently in the world.  Anyone wanting a new relationship guide for the 21st Century should read this book.


Book Review - "Allegiance" by Kermit Roosevelt

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 in the right side bar.

9781941393307_p0_v1_s192x300Allegiance by Kermit Roosevelt is part mystery and part historical fiction.  Best-selling author Jeffery Deaver once said, “A thriller asks what is going to happen and a mystery asks what happened.”

The plot begins with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Caswell “Cash” Harrison was all set to drop out of law school and join the army until he flunked the physical. Instead, he’s given the opportunity to serve as a clerk to Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black. He and another clerk stumble onto a potentially huge conspiracy aimed at guiding the court’s interests. Then Cash’s colleague dies under mysterious circumstances, and the young, idealistic lawyer is determined to get at the truth.

Although the front cover displays pictures of Japanese American interned during WWII that places a very secondary role to the murder mystery.  Anyone picking up this book to learn more details about the shameful period in American history might be a bit disappointed.

What Roosevelt (Teddy’s great-great-grandson) does brilliantly is to allow the reader to understand what are the duties, attributions, and tribulations of a Supreme Court Justice. Being a professor of constitutional law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, and having clerked for DC Circuit Judge Stephen F. Williams and Supreme Court Justice David Souter he allows these experiences to contribute to the storyline. The gathering of facts, writing of briefs and oral arguments before the court are described in meticulous detail. The author has included an extensive note at the end of the book pointing out where fact ends and fiction begins for each of the supporting characters mentioned in the story. This coupled with his use of actual transcripts, makes for informative reading.

There are appearances by many historical characters including J. Edgar Hoover and his number two man, Clyde Tolson, Hugo Black and Felix Frankfurter of the Supreme Court, Attorney General Biddle, and various members of the Department of Justice and Department of War. Readers will feel as the story progresses that they can get a glimpse into the world of Supreme Court Justices, specifically those mentioned above.  Roosevelt commented to blackfive.net, “I learned as much as I could about Justice Black.  After doing the research I came to admire these men, but realized they also had flaws. For example, Black did have clerks over to his house, cooked dinner for them, and played tennis with them.  In fact, the tennis scene in the book is based on the time I played tennis with Justice Scalia.”

Allegiance is a good read for anyone who wants to understand the relationship between a Supreme Court Justice and his clerk.  Within that there is a mystery and resolution.


Book Review - "War Hawk" by James Rollins and 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 in the right side bar.

9780062135278_p0_v2_s192x300War Hawk by James Rollins and Grant Blackwood is a thrilling novel.  This series is different than Rollins’ others in that it is more in the realm of complete believability and realism, with nothing far fetched.  In creating a realistic relationship the beloved characters of working dog Kane and his handler Tucker Wayne are brought back to life.

The plot begins when a former flame and army colleague, Jane Sabatello, asks Tucker for his help in finding those who want to kill her and have murdered her former co-workers.  Through his investigation he finds that an evil corporate CEO, Pruitt, is behind these killings and a global conspiracy.  He is using the knowledge of Alan Turing, the English code-breaker of the Nazis, to change the way modern warfare is fought.

Rollins noted to blackfive.net, “There is currently an arms race underway to develop new and improved robotic warriors, even those that can operate autonomously.  Basically, drones can be sent out to kill with little or no human involvement.  Will this mean that they make us more likely to go to war?  In the book Rex represents a drone that learns and can be beneficial.  But, what happens if it is able to go beyond our ability to control?”

Jane, a former Intelligence Analyst with the 75th Rangers, is now working for the DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency).  She fits in perfectly with Tucker and Kane, where readers can regard them as “The Three Musketeers,” or as Jane refers to them, “the old gang is back together.”  She has a closeness to Kane and Tucker both personally and professionally.  They can be regarded as kindred spirits, all are tough, no nonsense, with a moral code; yet are also secretive and operate in the shadows. Through Jane and Tucker, Rollins explored the issue of “moral injury,” a new form of PTSD.  Both experienced serious inner conflicts because of a betrayal, which put them at odds with their ethical and moral beliefs. 

While working closely with USA Cares Rollins “first learned about ‘moral injury.’  It relates to the shattering of moral and ethical expectations.  Unfortunately, medication has no benefit and currently only therapy seems to work. It can manifest as shame, guilt, anxiety, and anger along with behavioral changes such as alienation, withdrawing, and possibly suicide.  I wanted the reader to have a better understanding of the causes and consequences of someone afflicted with this aspect of PTSD.”

Tucker’s betrayal, according to Rollins, is related to “his guilt about the war dog Abel.  He could have jumped off the helicopter and tried to rescue him, but did not.  He felt like he betrayed Able. He has been running away from these problems and has chosen not to face it.  Tucker has an old wound from losing his partner with the feeling that he had an arm cut off.  Both Jane and Tucker have been traumatized and these similar injuries help them find a way back to each other. I put more of this backstory in the book but cut it out.  I will probably put it in the next Tucker book.”

As with all Rollins’ books he explores the relationship between the partners, Kane, a Belgian Malinois, and Tucker.  It is evident that they are really best friends with a very special bond.  Both are willing to sacrifice their own life for each other.  Anyone who is a dog lover will relate to their relationship.  What makes it even more interesting is how Rollins writes what any dog owner does, putting thoughts of the canine into a humanistic form. 

The themes of the book are all centered around warfare. Using the springboard of Alan Turing’s work, the book explains how he laid the groundwork for the modern computer that led to drone warfare. Different aspects of warfare are examined, from insurrection to political coups, to the use of drones.  Will the new generation of battlefields be digital?  This information warfare, a digital house of cards, is three pronged: electronic jamming, infrastructure disruption through cyber attacks, and spreading misinformation by psychological operations. Beyond this is the consideration of who will control future drones, the military or corporations. 

Rollins noted, “We are now seeing the lines blurring between military forces and those armies being controlled by corporations. To save money and balance budgets, governments, are handing more and more military powers over to corporate boardrooms. I think this year as we see with Presidential candidates; we are seeing some pushback against that, which will hopefully continue.  If we shift our military responsibility to corporations there could be no interest to protect human life and their only concern is the bottom line of profitability.” 

War Hawk has a very intriguing story, including everything someone wants to know about drones, but was afraid to ask.  The relationships between characters are very well developed.  This is one of those novels that not only has a riveting plot, but is also informative and insightful with many different subject matters explored.


Book Review - "Lost Among the Living" by Simone St. James

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.

9780451476197_p0_v1_s192x300Lost Among The Living by Simone St. James is a haunting story.  As with her previous books the plot takes place in England during the 1920s and examines the challenges brought upon to those living in the post World War I era.  The novel is a great combination of many genres, a riveting historical fiction intertwined with a murder mystery and a touch of the paranormal. 

Both fans of gothic stories and non-fans can enjoy this book.  The plot has several factors that the gothic genre is known for, including a haunted house, a ghost with something to say, an independent, isolated heroine, and family secrets.  Yet, the gothic portion does not dominate, allowing the reader to delve into the mystery and characters without being hit over the head by the ghostly presence.  From the very first chapter people will be engaged with the characters and storyline.

The plot begins with Jo and Alex knowing from their first date it was love at first sight.  They had a blissful marriage until the outbreak of World War I.  Jo is notified that Alex is missing in action, leaving her status in limbo.  She is neither a married woman nor a widow and is not entitled to any benefits.  Her grief is compounded by having to put her insane mother in a private mental institution. In need of money she accepts Alex aunt’s proposal to be a traveling companion and later a secretary at Dottie’s Wych Elm House.  It is there that Jo feels the presence of Dotti’s daughter Fran who supposedly committed suicide.  Jo starts to believe that Fran might have been murdered as she unravels clues provided by an unknown force. 

Because World War I had such an impact, even with its aftermath, St. James commented to blackfive.net, “We have the image of the 1920s as everything being fun and everyone was partying, yet World War I was devastating to that generation.  I touch on the concept of mental illness in most of my books as a recurring theme.  This ties back to the gothic novel. Back then there were harsh reactions with no understanding of what people have gone through.  There was no desire to help them.  In my third book I wrote about an insane asylum where men who fought in World War I and had PTSD were put away.”

She also wants the reader to feel for those who have someone missing in action, noting, “I liked the quote, ‘trapped in amber,’ because she was not a widow or a married woman.  I also put in the quote, ‘Women don’t have a great many choices in such a situation.’  In those days a woman had very limited options.” 

The characters are well developed.  Jo’s situation as the wife of an MIA is explored brilliantly, reminding the reader how the family is affected by having someone disappear during combat.  Although living a hard life Jo never gives up.  She is courageous, brave, intelligent, and resourceful. Aunt Dottie, although grim, demanding and materialistic, is also practical, compassionate, and helpful.  Through flashbacks and memories Alex is seen as caring, smart, and heroic. 

Readers will not only enjoy the suspense of the story but will learn some facts of the times including how women were treated, the creation of of MI5, and society’s view of those who have gone “mad.”

If readers wonder about the British spy details, St. James told blackfive.net, “All true.  The MI5 archives were opened up in the last twenty years or so.  Since then, there have been several histories.  I read some books about the British spy agency and put that information into this book.  Before World War I there was a worry that the Germans would invade England.  They needed people to help spy for them and report back.  Since there was no training they were on their own and reported back by writing letters.” 

Lost Among The Living is a very interesting read that has the reader glued to the pages.  The blending of different genres makes the story even more interesting.

 


Book Review - "The Girl in the Glass" by James Hayman

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 in the right sidebar.

9780062435163_p0_v3_s192x300The Girl In The Glass by James Hayman is a mystery based on two time periods. These copycat murders take place in 1904 and 2012, creating an intriguing premise. The crimes are identical in every way with a time span of 108 years.

Because the book delves into the rich society, Hayman hopes the readers “understand this sense of privilege.  The attitude being, ‘whatever I want I can have, no matter who it hurts.’ Fitzgerald said, ‘The very rich is very different than you and I,’ and Hemingway joked about that statement, ‘yeah, they have more money.’ My modern day character is the ultimate bad rich girl who uses brains and beauty to get what she wants.”

The plot has two women stabbed to death, about a century apart, on the same remote island near Maine’s coastline, left for dead with the letter “A” carved into their chest.  Detectives Mike McCabe and Maggie Savage are assigned to bring the modern day killer quickly to justice. But the key to solving the murder appears to have been buried with her ancestor who was killed in a similar manner. Readers might think of the legendary novel, The Scarlett Letter, where a woman found guilty of adultery had an “A” pinned to her clothing.  However, that is where the similarities stop.  With this book, the cases have a number of suspects, each with their own motives. These two stories include a lot of broken marriages, complex families, and parental love where jealousy and sibling rivalry are the norm.

Hayman commented to blackfive.net, “McCabe is my alter ego.  We are both New Yorkers, city guys with our women talented artists.  We both have daughters who we love. We share the same values.  When I write him it is as if I am putting myself into whatever position he is in.  Anyone who has read all the books would know me very well if they understand the McCabe character. The people I spend the most time with are my imaginary friends.”

As with most of Hayman’s books he is able to masterfully portray the misty, coastal atmosphere of Maine.  The islands are described in such a way the readers can close their eyes and feel they are transported there with the rocky high cliffs surrounded by rough seas that have dangerous shorelines.  The Maine coast and Portland in particular with its maritime history provide a unique backdrop for a book like The Girl in the Glass. Hayman regards Portland Maine as “the perfect setting for a suspense thriller series.  It is a hip little city with a police department big enough to have specialties; yet, small enough so they know each other and can interact together.”

This latest McCabe/Savage thriller has a great setting and characters.  The setting blends into the mystery perfectly.


Book Review - "Time of Fog and Fire"

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.

9781250052049_p0_v1_s192x300Time Of Fog and Fire by Rhys Bowen is a mystery that blends crime suspense within a very potent historical setting.  By using historical events and people in her books the plots become both believable and relatable.  In this novel the 1906 San Francisco earthquake almost becomes a secondary character, where it is featured prominently.  

Bowen commented to blackfive.net, “When I write a story I always look at what has happened during that time period.  For example, this book takes place in 1906.  When I write about that era I don’t want to tell people about it, but want to take people to 1906.  I consider myself a tour guide that has people feeling what is happening as well as being told what it was like.” 

As with all her books, Bowen allows the reader to feel that they have gone back in time.  In this book she gives a flavor for what it is like to be an Irish American, how corruptness was widespread, the ability to travel across country, and the effect of natural disasters upon the population.  Intertwined within that is a crime that must be solved. 

The two main characters, Molly Murphy Sullivan and her husband Daniel are struggling to maintain respectability while dark forces attempt to besmirch their name.  As a New York police captain who believes in honesty and integrity he is contemplating resigning from a corrupt force.  But an unexpected twist of fate allows him to take an assignment offered by the head of the secret service, to weed out corrupt officials in San Francisco.  Molly, a former private detective, feels completely in the dark until she receives a cryptic letter from him asking her to join him in California.  Embarking on a cross-country journey by train she is apprehensive of the dangers in store for her family.  It is there that she must use her detective skills to find out who is responsible for the attempt on her husband’s life and their ulterior motives. 

It is while doing the investigation that the earthquake hits, plummeting the city into chaos and despair. The earthquake adds to the suspense of the story as readers see the human side of natural disasters where there is a fine line between the good guys and the bad ones.  Daniel and Molly not only face danger from the earthquake and subsequent fire but from corrupted officials and unsavory people who have come out of the woodworks to take advantage of the vulnerable.  It becomes clear that Molly and Daniel’s personalities are very similar. Both are smart, savvy, self-sufficient, resourceful, and fearless with a sense of justice.

The author noted, “When I was doing the research I found there to be so many first hand accounts.  The one that struck me the most was the army’s instruction to shoot looters on site.  Here you had so many people escape from the earthquake only to be shot as they tried to retrieve some valuable heirloom of theirs.  I was also touched by the fact that those who were there had no way of getting in touch with anybody.  There were families disrupted.  This was one of the reasons I put in the scenes of Molly and Daniel’s young son, Liam, disappearing.”

What makes this novel a stand out is how the mystery is intertwined with the historical events.  The setting, dialogue, and characters, help to create an informative, suspenseful, and insightful plot.