Book Review: The Good Liar

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

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The Good Liar by Catherine McKenzie has a theme of betrayal with the backdrop of a horrific tragedy.  Readers will be reminded of 9/11 or the Oklahoma City bombing, and the victims, those that died and those that survived.  The story is told through the lives of the women affected, characters that present different faces, the public one and a masked one that they hope to keep secret.

The author noted, “There were a couple of threads coming together.  Years ago, after September 11thI remember seeing the chain link fence where the missing photos were posted.  I had a thought, could one of these people have used the tragedy as an opportunity to disappear.  I did not want to mimic the actual event, but it was in my thoughts. It was not set in New York, but in Chicago and I tried to move away from the rawness of September 11th. I had a lot of friends living in New York on that day.  One of my friends had been in the adjacent tower.  I do remember watching the events unfold and wondering if my friends were OK.My husband and his mother were in the Twin Towers a week before during that time of the day.”

When a gas explosion rips apart a Chicago building, the lives of the women are forever altered. Over 500 people killed and thousands more have been wounded. To honor the one year anniversary Teo Jackson films a documentary about the “Triple Ten Explosion,” which happened on the tenth month, the tenth day, and at 10 AM. The past and present perspectives of Cecily and Kate, are told, while Franny’s story is told in the documentaryinterview transcripts.  

“I wanted a writing challenge.  I know as a writer I have to create a three-dimensional world of rooms, smells, and sounds.  There was a tool taken away from me.  With a transcript, you don’t get to say how the person was feeling or have access to their internal thoughts.  As a lawyer, I read a lot of transcripts.  It is interesting to me what can get lost from actually being in the room to reading the transcripts.  It seemed at times it was not how I remembered it; yet, there it was on the page.  Even in a documentary people have a narrative and can manipulate the story.”

A year ago, Cecily was photographed in a timeless shot capturing a pure moment of shock as she stands there staring at the wreckage, fearing her husband, Tom, and best friend, Kaitlyn, have been killed. On the anniversary, she has survivor’s guilt, knowing she was supposed to be in the building that day, but per usual was late. Another victim, Kate ran from the scene of the explosion, deciding to leave behind her young children and husband. She escapes to Canada hoping to make a new life for herself and that her past secrets won’t catch up with her. The third person, Franny, resents her life after finding out she was adopted and that Kaitlyn was her mother, but fate ends any attempt with reconciliation.

This is a complex story that delves into the lives of the victims. It has a major twist towards the end of the story bringing the women together in an unexpected way. 


Book Review: Hard Rustler

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

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Hard Rustler by bestselling author B. J. Daniels brings to life the Montana countryside in her latest novel.  Readers will enjoy the characters, setting, and mystery. The plot is a modern-day version of past Westerns.

The setting is very important and Daniels based it when “I moved to Montana from Texas at the age of five. I write what I see and know about. The Western way of life is all I have ever known.  It is a much simpler way of life.  We now live in a small town where most people are rancher cowboys.  As in the story, it is isolated, with the closest Target Store three hours away.  Someone can be driving either sixty miles south or north and they will not see anybody all day.  In the book, there is a scene like that where Annabelle had run out of gas and she feels completely alone and secluded. This is all true to life.  I always have food and a blanket in the car in case it breaks down, because cell phones do not work here.” 

The story begins with a city gal, Annabelle (Annie) Clementine, traveling back to her home town of Whitehorse Montana.  After high school, she decided to escape the monotony to become a famous model, leaving her love interest behind.  Now, thirteen years later, she is back to sell her late grandmother’s house and to get out of town as soon as possible.  The one problem, she is destitute with no money and seems to depend on her ex-boyfriend, Dawson Rogers, to rescue her. He helps by bailing her out so her car is not repossessed, siphoning off gas, and saving her life. It seems someone wants to find something in her grandmother’s house that has been hidden for years, and is willing to kill for an answer.  Annie and Dawson must sort out the mystery and determine what her grandmother was hiding.

Daniels wrote Annabelle as “someone who wants to do something with her life, a desire to succeed. This happens a lot with Montana children who leave to get a job but often come home to raise their children. In this story, she comes home with her tail between her legs.  I think at the beginning of the story she is a snob, arrogant, and determined.  Later those qualities come out as spunky, strong, and a risk-taker.  She and Dawson at first appear to be opposites. She has a driving ambition and he is satisfied with the simpler things in life.  After being high school lovers, he knew he had to let her go and sensed she had this restless streak.  This is why he did not fight more for her to stay.  When she came back she started to realize what was important in life.  She had sowed her oats.”

As with most westerns boy meets girl, boy loses girl, and boy gets girl.  This novel has that and more, inputting modern day issues into a suspenseful mystery.


Book Review: Still Water

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

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Still Water by Amy Stuart has a plot as riveting as the rushing river water. This psychological thriller has amateur private investigator, Clare, hunting for a missing mother and son.  But the town is putting up roadblocks with their deceptions.

Stuart noted, “I wanted High River based on how the encroachment of a city expands outward.  I can remember places as a child as we drove out to the country that are now sub-divisions of the urban areas.  I wanted to explore what happens when there is a rural property and the city expands, swallowing up all the rural land around it.  Much of this beautiful property is taken over by developers.  As in my book, each member of the community has different end goals regarding the land.” 

Because this is Clare’s second case she is still learning on the job. Sally and her young son, Matthew have vanished and Clare’s handler, Malcolm, assigned her the task to find out what happened. Luckily for her and the readers, she is a quick learner, able to keep the police and townsfolk at bay with her undercover story.  Pretending to be a friend of the missing woman, Clare ventures to a safe house for the abused. Women in distress and danger go there to hide in safety, and then hopefully move on with new identities.

Truth versus lies are explored. “This is the fundamental question I write about, over the course of the series.  I intentionally have readers wonder if what Clare has said about herself is true.  Truth can be so subjective.  Two people can experience the same thing and come out of it with completely different versions.  Does the absolute truth even exist or is it based on pre-conceptions?  I try to explore what is the truth through Clare’s eyes as she comes to terms with her own experiences.” 

Clare struggles with her own demons.  She has been running from an abusive husband, Jason, when Malcolm finds her. Instead of turning her in, he hires Clare to work with him to find other missing persons. Although Malcolm assures her that Jason is out of the picture, Clare knows that is not the case. Starting to question Malcolm’s credibility, because he is hiding something in his past, she fears there is something serious that he is not telling her. 

This story has many layers and the ending has a major twist.


Book Review: Sweet After Death

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

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Sweet After Death by Valentina Giambanco is a riveting police procedural with a fascinating look at small town life. The opening bone-chilling scene has a brutal murder that sets the stage for the rest of the novel. 

Seattle detectives Alice Madison and Kevin Brown along with crime scene investigator Amy Sorensen are sent to the town of Ludlow to help the very small police force investigate the killing of a well-respected doctor. The brutality of the cold winter weather matches the horrific way the doctor was killed. Ludlow is located a few hours from Seattle within the mountainous backdrop. But as the inquiry takes hold events seem to spiral out of the Seattle investigator’s control.  During the Memorial Service, the killer strikes again, murdering another town’s member and having the three Seattle police officers under siege. As they become targets, Madison and her team realize they must find the murderer before he or she strikes again.

The trick for the author was having the Seattle detectives travel to this small town and assist in the investigation. “I had them called in by the Police Chief for support. It was the county’s first murder and they needed their expertise. I made sure the conflict between the city and town law enforcement was superficial.  I wanted them to get along and help each other. Seattle and the surrounding areas have a perfect landscape for crime writing.  Washington State has cities, a wilderness, that are close by.  I had a huge range of options for what my characters can do.  I always think of the environment when writing a story.  For this book, I knew I wanted to have a remote isolated small town surrounded by the mountains. The actual town is a combination of Friday Harbor in Washington State and Banff, a Canadian national park town.”

The investigation leads to a survivalist, Jeb Tanner, living in the woods with his twelve children.  He has his children taking turns between the hunter and the prey with the loser locked in a hut. They are terrified of him, fearful of his wrath.  One of the youngsters, Samuel, has a compelling story that seems very similar to what Madison went through as a child. He wonders what happened to his mother and older brother and puts his faith in Madison, hoping she will help out.  The comparisons and insights with her past are some of the most interesting aspects of the plot.

The author noted, “I am fascinated by people who lead this kind of life.  They barricade themselves on their land and bring up their children in an isolated environment.  They are inaccessible to others of their own age, the Internet, and television.  I always wondered what are their hopes, dreams, and fears. I think the child Sam and Madison are related because of her own experiences. Living in the wilderness makes it very important.  Alice as a girl was kidnapped by a hunter.  He blurred hunting for animals and people, something Sam’s father does as well.  The hunter Alice had to deal with roamed the mountains and national parks to find groups of people to pursue.” 

This story involving lies and deceptions fosters an intriguing mystery.  The author uses the environment to create a creepy atmosphere that includes the mountains and forests surrounding the town.


Book Review and Interview: Mike4

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

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Mike4  by J. R. Seeger brings to life the work of a CIA operative. Using his own experiences, he is able to tell a realistic story.  His accomplishments include, having served as platoon leader, company commander, and multiple staff assignments in the Airborne Infantry from 1981 to 1985, as well as Chief of Station, Chief of Base, and Unit Chief for the CIA from 1987 to 2004.

The fictional plot finds Sue O’ Connell deciding to follow in her parents’ footsteps and become an operative for the CIA. Her assignment is to find terrorists so that SOF assault teams can “finish” the target. Just as the author came from a military background, before joining the CIA, so has Sue. An injury forces O’Connell to leave the military and join other SOF operators training to become counterterrorism intelligence collectors. But as she continues her training, given the code name Mike4, and after joining the surveillance world, she finds her family held secrets. Beyond just the covert world of their profession, they have a history that includes both counterintelligence secrets and a 60-year old Russian vendetta. 

This riveting tale allows someone to take the journey with Sue as she goes from the CIA training at the Farm to a field operator.  Anyone wanting to understand the shadowy often hard-edged world of counter-terrorism within a mysterious plot should read this novel

EC: Russia is the adversary in your story?

JR Seeger:  The Russians’ purpose is to create sufficient chaos in the West, doing whatever they please in what they would call “the near abroad.” The Russians are taking active measures all across Europe, the UK, and the US.  The objective to have the Western world totally focused on the political chaos within their systems instead of Russian expansionism.  This geo-political perspective is very much consistent with what was going on during the Cold War in the 1950s, 1960s.The difference is they are using inexpensive yet sophisticated methods, doing it with the Internet instead of tanks.

EC:  Can you explain the quote about Russia, which is very timely today?

JRS:  You are referring to the book quote, ‘Americans believes in open-source intelligence and think tanks.  Russians understand the outside world is a created reality… and understand that the real world is a world of secrets, backroom deals, deceit, and theft.’ I wanted to explain that every Russian I ever met lived in a world where nothing could be trusted, and everything was manipulated at the Kremlin level.  Their two newspapers are described, one is supposed truth and the other is supposed news.  Yet, people would say there is no truth and no news. The complete and utter control is with the power.

EC:  When did you write the book?

JRS:  The story was written in 2013 and it takes about two years for the PRB to clear the book. The O’Connell family is a metaphor for the rest of the world. Sue thinks she knows everything that goes on within her family, but finds out all kinds of things she never knew. 

EC:  You give a shout out to amputees?

JRS:  When I did special ops training I met people who had amputations below the knee (BTK). They were previous special operators who were injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. Refusing to be victims, and wanting to stay in the game, they became human intelligence collectors.  The guys and gals I worked with did not reveal until after the fact that they were BTKs.  Just as with my character Sue, they did not want anyone to know and pity them.  They were as hard as a woodpeckers’ lips.

EC:  What is based on your experiences?

JRS:  The way the characters talked and thought is based entirely on my experiences.  The feedback of those in the game said this is how they talked and thought. I wanted to make sure this book is as realistic about this community as I know.  The people in the story are based on a compilation.

EC:  Can you explain the book quote, “Ginger Rogers had to do everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels”?

JRS:I wanted to write something that captured women in the Special Operations Forces and intelligence communities.  I know the current CIA Director, Gina Haspel, who is a good friend of mine.  I have known her since 1991. She is a fascinating person.  All the women from Gina’s era through the present-day focus on just doing the job.  Barbara O’ Connell, the mom, showed how spectacular women did the job.  The current generation are succeeding because the previous one had courageous women who paved the way. As Sue says, once you get through selection that is it.  It does not matter your sex, sexuality, race, color, or religion, because it becomes all about performance.  If the operator holds up their part of the bargain, they are a part of the team, and if someone does not, then it is RTU, return to unit.

EC:  Can you describe Sue?

JRS:  Aggressive, independent, and sometimes a rule breaker.  She is learning how to apply her skills.  BTW: I did not physically describe any of the characters on purpose, although I put in this book quote to show her feelings, ‘To survive life in an SOF unit she always had to be tougher, faster, and smarter than the guys if she was going to get any respect.’

EC:  So did she earn her team’s respect?

JRS:  Yes. As I said earlier, she finally realized she has nothing to prove, that she earned her place.  Anyone who tried to cause trouble for her because she is a woman would be gone. I describe it as all the different parts of the military: Army red, Airforce sky blue, Navy navy blue, and Marine green become purple when blended together.  Once someone proves themselves they are just one of the purple people.

EC:  You describe case officers in the novel?

JRS:  They are good at manipulation, understanding the different cultures, and recruiting assets. 

EC:  Readers learn of an agency rule: “Everything we say is true, just not truly complete?”

JRS:  In my first tour I heard it and have expressed it ever since.  I wanted to show how Intelligence collection is an art, not a science, because human beings are involved.  Operators had to find out what is in the assets head and if they will obey instructions.  Not everything we knew is told to headquarters because it is impossible to express everything known on paper.  But the direct boss is told everything. 

EC:  What do you want readers to get out of the story?

JRS:  First and foremost, wounded warriors should not be framed as victims.  There are a lot of people still in the fight that have catastrophic injuries and chose not to be pitied.  They just get fixed and go back into the fight.  The second point, special operators are right now in at least fifty countries.  Americans need to understand the personal cost of a very small group of men and women. They are in combat 120 to 180 days, home for 30, back in training for 30, and then returned to combat.  The vast majority of Americans today do not even realize we are still fighting Al Qaeda because less than 1% know someone in the fight. 

EC:  Can you give a heads up about your next books?

JRS:This book,MIKE4, begins a tale of the O’Connell family that will continue this fall with Friend or Foeand once cleared by the PRB will continue with The Executioner’s Blade.  The prequel for the story will be O’Connell’s Treasurewhich will remain inside the boundaries of 1943-1946 so that the PRB review is not required. I would very much like to continue the story of Peter O’Connell the elder with Rough Diamondsand even write about Sue O’Connell’s parents’ operation.

THANK YOU!!


Book Review: One on One

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

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One on One by Michael Brandman is the second installment in the new series.  The former original writer of the Jesse Stone series after Robert Parker’s death, decided last year to write a series about a small-town police deputy. Besides a good mystery the author intertwines some social issues as well as an ongoing discussion about assisted suicide.

Legendary Sheriff Burton Steel requested his son Buddy leave his job with LAPD Homicide and come home to become the deputy of Freedom, California, a privileged coastal community a hundred miles north of Los Angeles. Reluctantly, he honored the summons because of a sense of duty, and a willingness to make amends with his dying father. Burton Steel has Lou Gehrig’s disease, and has pressured his son to pull the plug when necessary in an assisted suicide.

Brandman noted, “I knew someone who pulled the plug on himself.  The guy was a physician and worked out a morphine overdose.  His future was so dim he did not want to experience the pain.  I wanted to explore in this series the issues of the father/son dynamic as well as what happens when someone faces mortality.  Burton is not afraid to tell Buddy he will one day ask him to pull the plug. Although Buddy is horrified it is a topic I wanted to delve into, the taking of a life versus ending a loved one’s suffering.”

Thankfully, for Buddy he becomes distracted while investigating a fatality.  A popular assistant principal, Hank Carson, who is also the assistant swimming coach, is brutally murdered with a steak knife. Further scrutiny reveals that there was another side to Carson. There are people who resent him and are suspicious that he and some football players could be involved in abuse of those on the swim team.

Readers will obviously be reminded of the Penn State football scandal along with Michigan State’s gymnastic scandal, both involving sexual abuse. “I wanted to write how a murder could have happened out of these stories of abuse. This violation of a sacred trust had people looking the other way. I like to explore some societal issues.  In my first book, Missing Persons, I explored how some preachers are con men that emerged as self-righteous. In this novel, I wanted to show how abuse can impact a victim and what is their recourse. In my next book, Buddy takes on the developers and Coastal Commission after a murder takes place.”

The sub-plot of the book has Buddy angry over a sudden outbreak of graffiti. He is forced to find new and challenging ways to thwart those responsible for defacing buildings with their so called “street art.” The author wants “to call attention to this blight and have Buddy find a way to end it.  I am tired of driving around Los Angeles seeing this horrifying graffiti. I put in a quote in the book to show these ‘artists’ will do it anywhere and do not care if it is public or private property.”

Buddy is a likeable character who uses self-deprecating humor, sometimes acting like an overgrown schoolboy. He is easygoing and can handle people poking fun at him. Being smart, caring, and understanding of people’s emotional pain, Buddy has a moral sense of right versus wrong.

Readers will enjoy this fast-paced mystery.  With well-developed characters and a plot that takes issues straight from the headlines, this is a good read.


Book Review: Black Chamber

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

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Black Chamberby S. M. Stirling is part alternate history and part thriller involving spies, secret identities, and daring acts. The historical timeline deviates after Taft dies, allowing Theodore Roosevelt to win the presidency instead of Woodrow Wilson. The difference of having Roosevelt at the helm can be felt throughout the book as America considers entering World War I in 1916.

It is obvious the author admires Theodore Roosevelt.  “I wrote much of who Roosevelt was through the main character’s eyes. Teddy was the first President to drive an automobile, fly in an aircraft, and to go down in a submarine. Teddy was very different than Taft, who he described as a ‘walrus on legs,’ and Wilson as a ‘prissy, sissy Princeton professor,’ a dry stick who is a man dominated by theories.  If the facts do not agree with the theories so much for the facts. He was really a ‘wus,’ and quite a contrast from Teddy who really knocked out a gunman with his fists, shot Grizzly Bears, and arrested bandits. His adversary, Kaiser Wilhelm, had Teddy envy.  He wanted to be everything Teddy was: a real soldier, reformer, and a great popular leader. The Kaiser imitates Teddy a lot. In my “BC” universe he believed in government scientific research and the development of a spy organization.”  

Black Chamber is a CIA-type organization, a secret spy agency to protect America.  Luz O'Malley Aróstegui, the cunning spy, is assigned to find how the Germans plan on preventing America from coming to the rescue of Allied nations.  She boards a flying vessel, a zeppelin airship, destined for Amsterdam. Her mission is to go deep undercover, portraying a Mexican revolutionary. She meets with the German contact,Imperial Sword, who turns out to be a, good-looking German by the name of Baron Horst von Dückler.Finding out that the Germans are planning something nasty, Luz uses all her skills to get the information and thwart the horrific danger to America.

It appears to be in the German DNA to gas people.  “During my research, I found out Germany invented chemistry and poison gas, and being better than Hitler’s Nazis is a pretty low bar.  The Germans started WWI and drove the brutalization and radicalization during the War.  They had no conception of how to deal with a beaten opponent except grab them by the throat and squeeze until their eyes popped out.  They shot hostages and deported people for slave labor. In this book, Germany developed nerve gas.  A pint of it could kill hundreds of thousands of people.  It is the DDT for people.” 

Luz is a great character that uses Sherlock Holmes traits of deduction and action type talents of James Bond.  Coming from an Irish-Cuban American heritage she speaks numerous languages that allow her to infiltrate the enemy’s circle.  She is tough, clever, charming, and has a thoroughly modern outlook.

Stirling noted, “She is an exceptional person who did extraordinary things.  Luz is an only child whose father was an Irish American engineer and her mother Cuban.Luzgoes deep undercover, portraying a Mexican revolutionary after her parents were brutally killed by radical Mexicans.  She wants revenge and decides to join the Black Chamber. She enjoys riding, shooting, and climbing, skills she uses as a spy.  Luz is an American nationalist, highly intelligent, adventurous, and frivolous. She is almost invincible as a spy because she is a woman, thus is underestimate.”

Readers learn about the culture, setting, and values of America during that time period.  For example, a scene on how Luz dresses, “There were situations where a woman could wear trousers without attracting too much attention.” Acceptability comes from Roosevelt, a Bull Moose Progressive Republican, having Congress pass the Equal Rights Amendment instead of "just" women's suffrage. Although Stirling takes author license with dates and issues of the day the way he infuses these historical events allows for a more interesting story.

The secondary characters are very well-developed. Ciara is a woman that understands mechanics and technology who becomes an ally of Luz. The German Horst is a very powerful man, strong, smart, and charming. Theodore Roosevelt is more of a background character and his views and insights are understood through Luz’s thoughts.

Stirling offers readers a carrot, the fabulous engaging protagonists, and a stick, the power of the plot.  He employs Theodore Roosevelt’s “Big stick diplomacy,” through the many intense action-filled scenes.After reading this first in a series of “Black Chamber” novels, people will look forward to reading the next novel involving these believable and gripping characters.


Book Review: 9 Rules Of Engagement

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

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9 Rules of Engagementby Harris Faulkner brings to the forefront the lessons she learned growing up in a military family, which can be applied today. She pays homage to the military ideals that shaped her, showing how everyone can benefit from their wisdom. Her father, a decorated career officer, a lieutenant colonel, served three tours of duty in Vietnam and raised his children with the values and ideals of the US military. The 9 rules include “Trusting your own potential, Overcoming the odds, Recruiting our own Special Forces, Dealing with your demons, Staying ready, Wearing camouflage, and Unleashing the power of integrity.”

The Emmy award-winning news anchor of Outnumbered Overtimewith Harris Faulknerand co-host of the talk show Outnumbered uses the skills she emphasizes in the chapter, “Staying Ready.” Anyone who has ever watched these shows quickly realizes that she asks the formative questions, never allowing a guest to spin false narratives.  “I try not to have people talk past each other and to do the one thing we all need to do, listen.  As a host, I try to give people an opportunity to speak. Yet, I watch to see if they try to filibuster, a sign to me that they are losing the argument.  I enjoy hearing all sides of a conversation and think that viewers can also learn from it.  I want to do the work of the viewer so that they don’t have to figure out what the truth actually is.  I ask questions to illuminate where people are coming from and to get to the truth. It is less about who is right and more of what is right.”

The chapter, “Recruiting Your Special Forces,” shows the importance of being surrounded by supporters.  “I married my best friend.  Today, people are dividing, firing, separating based on politics.  Instead, we should ‘fire’ someone if they do not show support for your dreams and victories.  In your personal life as you strive for your goals the inner circle must be tight and we should never tolerate someone who does not have our back.”

In speaking with Faulkner, it became obvious that she values integrity in a person. “The military integrity and credo gives us that clutch.  I understand how difficult some things can be. But those serving know when things fall apart military brats show their resilience. For a little background, in the book I refer to it as an enduring term standing for Born Raised And Transferred. I think it is the military saying thank you to us kids for having grit too.  When one member of a family joins the military, the whole family bears the weight of the service.  We sacrifice time with that parent while they are deployed; we move wherever our loved one is needed; we uproot our lives; we leave our friends behind; and we start all over again with a supportive and positive attitude because it helps our loved one do his or her job effectively and return home to us safely. I want families to get more credit for helping America as much as the person serving. It is total family service. I always tease people, if you come up against a military offspring, you better come forward with a lot of integrity and intuitiveness, because we do not give up easily.”

This is a bi-partisan book that has a great quote about another form of integrity, showing an understanding for those who do not agree with you. General Jack Keane’s book quote on how Americans can use the military perspective is very powerful, especially in today’s culture.  “We are racially, religiously, culturally, economically, and geographically diverse, but for us to be effective, we have to build strong unit cohesion…Every single member of the team has to submit to something larger than self.  That’s the military’s key to success. Despite all the differences that we may have, the only way we can succeed as a military organization is to be bound to each other. Our concern for each other has to trump our concern for ourselves.” 

It would be nice if politicians put this quote up in their office where they must stare at it each and every day.  Faulkner noted, “One chamber can pass three hundred bills and the other chamber is so politically constipated they can’t work through them. In our lives, we can win by working together. A person’s integrity is measured by how you treat others. Besides the military, I would also put First Responders, and those defending us on the North and South Border, in this category of those with integrity.”

The “Camouflage” chapter has a personal anecdote.  She speaks of how she watched her dad polish his black boots. “It is more than just a fashion statement.  If you are in the Navy you need a blue set of clothes.  You are not going to fight in the desert with anything but a sandy uniform. I do the color wheel for the women on “Outnumbered,” because I want people to look at the screen and see each of those women as dynamic, strong, smart, quick, and an individual.”

She is very grateful to her dad for allowing her life to be molded by those in the military, “people who served this nation for the greater cause. My dad is loving, has a sense of humor, and is a fabulous storyteller.  My dad would sit someone down and no matter what the circumstance he would start with a story.  He would bring me to the Pentagon where I met fabulous leaders.  My mom used to tell me because of my dad the bar is high.  As a child of an officer we are expected to be positive components of our community and to give our lives meaning and purpose. I am very grateful for having grown up in a military family.”

Anyone who reads this book will understand how Faulkner has respect, gratitude, and pride in the military.  It is a story of courage, love, and duty. 

 


Book Review: Double Blind

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

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Double Blind by Iris and Roy Johansen is a heart stopping story.  This series has a very original premise and this novel, in particular, has a killer that is unique.  Blind from birth, the main character, Kendra Michaels, regained her sight at the age of twenty. Now she is able to use her extensively distinct senses and acute analytical skills to help the FBI thwart bad guys.

The Johansens created a classic detective “with powers of observation and deduction, seeing some things no one else could see. But we want to make sure Kendra does not have super powers.  She can see, hear, and smell things, which anyone else can if they were paying attention.  What makes her special is how she trained herself to pay attention.  There was a lot of time spent on making sure she was different; yet, maintains the classic detective traits. Like most blind people she grew up fine tuning her other senses to compensate. Now that she has her sight, thanks to a rare, successful stem cell surgery, she is able to pick up sounds and smells that most others do not even pay attention to.  She soaks up the world around her, including her sight.” 

As with many of those who cannot see, Kendra enhanced her other senses to compensate.  Although no longer blind, she still has a great power of deduction and incredible critical thinking abilities. The FBI has requested her on this case because of her capacity to quickly notice the smallest of details. Shrugging it off, she has been known to say that her powers were nothing any other person could deduce if they concentrated on listening, observing, and watching. 

This case literally came to her after a woman is found dead with an envelope having Kendra’s name on it.  It contains a memory stick of a wedding video.  What soon becomes apparent is that the wedding party has been targeted by a serial killer who strives to get the maximum number of victims by inflicting emotional and physical pain.  Through the investigative process Kendra and company realize that the killer is connected to a mercenary organization.

The supporting cast includes former FBI agent Adam Lynch, now a contractor who works by himself; Olivia, a friend of Kendra’s from childhood who became blind in an accident; Jessie, a private investigator after retiring from the army, and a group of FBI agents.  Lynch is almost always at Kendra’s side and has her back. This new case brings Lynch and Kendra closer, but there is still the tug of war between them.   Each are strong, smart, brave, and honest; although in their private lives Kendra and her peers have many secrets.

The authors wrote Kendra “as complicated, brisk, cautious, loyal, and impatient.  She has difficulty with those who she considers lazy in doing their job. She has a colorful history from those wild days after she was given her sight.  Kendra always speaks her mind, especially with her FBI counterparts. Her counterpart, Lynch,is learning to work and play well with others through Kendra.  He is very much his own man with a steely confidence.  His hated nickname is ‘Puppetmaster,’ because one of his talents is having people bend to his will.  He can be very persuasive, a master of manipulation.”

This mother/son collaboration make a great team, able to write edge-of-your seat suspenseful stories with compelling characters. The twists in Double Blind can lead readers to be blind-sided so be forewarned.


Book Review: A Gathering Of Secrets

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

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A Gathering of Secrets by Linda Castillo is a powerful story. From the very first page, when a young Amish woman commits suicide, the plot takes on a dark and gripping tone, a very thought-provoking novel.  Bur readers should not be surprised considering Castillo books are always insightful and riveting.

The author explained, “The book opens with a young Amish woman committing suicide.  Readers do not know why, but as they turn the pages they begin to understand what happened to her.  There is also this young man who was burned to death, a very sad situation.  As the investigation takes on an ominous tone, I chose to explore the question, is murder justified?” 

The story begins with Amish teenager Emma Miller hanging herself and then fast forwards six months where Painter Mills police chief Kate Buckholder is called to investigate a body found in a burned barn.  The initial reaction is that it was a freak accident, but as the evidence builds up Kate suspects murder.  This eighteen-year-old Amish boy, Daniel Gingerich, is found inside, burned alive,and barricaded in the tack room with no way to escape.  She is baffled since it appears Daniel has no enemies in the world, yet, he dies a harsh and cruel death.  The investigation takes on twists and turns since Daniel has a secret life.  Secrets are the heart of the story as the Amish community stays silent, basically attempting to stonewall the case. Kate begins to wonder if this peaceful and deeply religious community is conspiring to hide a truth no one wants to talk about.

As she wades through a sea of suspects, she’s confronted by her own violent past, which made her leave the Amish community. She finds that there are many parallels to her past as the rape of Amish girls are hidden, and not talked about or reported. This part of the story is very relevant to issues of today.  It is an Amish MeToo Moment.  What also makes the plot authentic is Kate’s reflection on the Amish sects, their principles, rules, and her ability to speak the Dutch language.

I never want to generalize, and remember this is a fictional story. I think that we should never generalize the entire community.  But in this story, the community did try to sweep things under the rug.  The mother of the girl who committed suicide was first seen as uncaring and not supportive of her daughter.  The parent reactions depend on how they were raised and which sect they were from. Another girl, Ruth, who became pregnant from a rape, had her mother decide to find her a husband to pass the baby off as her husbands.  Each mother tried to sweep the secret under the rug.  In my research, I read that an Amish boy who does something terribly wrong, even raping someone, can get off.  If he confesses before the Church congregation, he is forgiven.  This is why I wrote the girls not speaking up, some committing suicide, because they knew the boy would have been forgiven and they would be caught up in the stigma.” 

Castillo is a master at building suspense with intense and dark secret undertones. This harrowing thriller, with so many interesting characters, emphasizes how religious beliefs influence the communities’ morality and the desire to obtain justice.