Thank You For Your Service

Veteran’s Day is a time for Americans to step up and honor those who have served in the armed forces. From the days of the Founding Fathers to today, those in the military whether enlisted or drafted, made tremendous sacrifices for their fellow Americans. We should offer thanks, but the question is how do we go about doing it?

Today many people will tell a veteran “thank you for your service.” During the Vietnam War those who fought gallantly for this country would have welcomed that greeting instead of being spat upon and called baby killers. But for those who fought in the War On Terror is it enough? The recent book by David Finkel, and movie by Jason Hall, Thank You For Your Service, implies the sentiment is great, but more is needed.

The movie and book follow a group of US soldiers returning from Iraq and struggling to integrate back into family and civilian life. They live with the horrific memories of a war that threatens to destroy them here at home. Both film and book explore the reality of Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD) that affects both the warrior and their family.

David Finkel’s first book, For The Good Soldiers, told of his experiences while embedded with the men of the 2-16 Infantry Battalion in Iraq during the infamous "surge." His follow-up book, Thank You For Your Service, and the movie based on the book shows what happens to these men after their deployments have ended. He stated, “They came with various psychological and moral injuries, and some are broken. I think the movie found the true heart of my book, getting the big picture. The war affected these guys, and they came home different, many times unable to talk about it.”

Jason Hall the screenwriter and director concurs, “I hope the movie opens people’s eyes regarding the continued war that these guys are fighting, trying to find their way back home. This is very much their second war, as they come home changed and altered by the war. Since I wrote the screenplay for the movie about Chris Kyle, I am calling this film the spiritual sequel to American Sniper.”

Some have criticized the book and movie because they say it implies that all soldiers coming home are broken. Finkel responds to the criticism, “I just do not buy it. Of course not every vet is broken, but every vet is affected. When I embedded with these guys for about eight months I saw a lot of them injured and lost. I think it is fair to say that there was not a man of those 800 that was not affected in some way, but this does not mean they were all broken. After my first book, some who returned from deployment contacted me and told of having a hard time with divorces, DUIs, depression, anxiety, medication, and suicidal thoughts. They came home with various psychological and moral injuries, and some were broken. The fact is they were changed and it will take some time to recover, but it certainly does not mean they are broken forever. It is a shame for people to say don’t tell this story because it buys into the broken vet idea.”

Hall added, “I am by no means saying everyone who comes home suffers from PTSD. I think it is one in four or one in five. It is certainly the minority. Yet, we have to be aware of those who have the feelings that everything feels different and looks different, with a different texture and meaning.” The book and movie should not be criticized for pointing out that approximately 25% of the soldiers need help because the goal is to start a discussion and make Americans more aware of these veterans who need support.

The relatives are also affected. While at war the soldier’s peers became their family, and their family at home was left to fend for themselves. Both appear to be strangers to each other in some way. A scene in the book has one of the returning soldiers, Staff Sergeant Adam Schumann, now retired, cooking pancakes for his daughter, making a happy face with chocolate chips. The problem is that the child does not like chocolate. Another scene has his wife finding a questionnaire, which shows his distressed mental state. It becomes obvious that the soldier feels out of place within his own family and the family feels like an outsider, unaware of everything the soldier has experienced.

Hall describes this process as “having these guys stepping through a door as they go off to war. When it closes the veteran has extraordinary experiences, profound and meaningful relationships. Their families back home are waiting for the door to open up and for the veterans to step back in their lives. In some instances the veteran has changed with the family left to grapple with and unravel the mystery of who is this person.”

Finkel wants to make it clear that being broken is not a sign of weakness nor should someone be regarded as crazy. He is hoping that anyone who utters the words thank you for your service “realizes it is not a conversation opener but a conversation closer. I want people to take away from the book that these people are noble. I want Americans to understand there are many protocols and don’t stereotype anyone. Some people are helped by medication and others by cognitive therapy. We should ask them how they are doing? We should appreciate them every day, not just on holidays like Veteran’s Day.”

The movie and book need to be applauded for bringing to the forefront how profoundly those serving have been affected by war. After all PTSD has existed since World War I in the form of “shell shock.” Basically for one hundred years soldiers have come home with psychological issues and what people should be asking is how much have we learned to help them. Today only one percent of the population is connected to someone serving, but we cannot ignore or forget about those coming home. Americans should see the movie and read the book to understand what the families and those who put their life on the line are going through.


Book Review: Monticello: A Daughter And Her Father

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

Monticello by Sally Cabot Gunning is a fascinating historical novel about the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and his eldest daughter Martha. Because the author based this book on actual correspondence between father and daughter it is immersed in reality.

The book begins with a letter from Martha to her father at the age of fourteen, “I wish with all my soul that the poor Negroes were all freed. It grieves my heart when I think that these our fellow creatures should be treated so terribly as they are by many of our country men.” This sets the tone for the rest of the book where readers see the struggle throughout their life with family, relationships, and issues of the day, including being a good wife, a good mother, honoring her father, and shaping his legacy.

The author’s research included, “I poured through her letters to her father and his to her and realized that she and I had embarked on a similar mission, to figure out her father. I read all the letters they wrote each other, letters to other people, and numerous biographies.  I searched through endless Jefferson documents online. I learned that as Martha matured she came to spend many evenings at her father’s dinner table in the company of Europe’s greatest men of arts, letters, politics, and science, enhancing her education still further.  I took many trips to Monticello and discovered something new with each trip, not just about the people who lived there, black and white, but also about the significance Monticello held for them.”

Martha idolized and admired her father and considered him a renaissance man with his greatest accomplishments as author of the Declaration of Independence, founder of the University of Virginia, and an advocate for religious freedom as well as an end to slavery. Telling the story from her point of view Gunning is able to have the characters come alive and takes readers back in time to the early days of America where Jefferson is viewed in a different light, that of father and grandfather. There is a scene in the book where he sends Martha and her children gifts, “books and toys for the children, chinaware, a Turkey carpet, and a pair of chairs...When Martha’s father realized she had no horse to ride, he lent her a gentle bay and paid the overdue mortgage bill.”

Monticello is also a character that played a significant role in their lives, the family's beloved Virginia plantation among lush mountains. It was a place where Jefferson escaped his political worries and thrived, and Martha sought security, as it became her haven. Both yearned for it when they are absent, and it became the soul of the family with its seasonal beauty, treasured gardens, walking and riding paths, as well as the Palladian house designed by Jefferson.

But it was also the family’s Achilles heel. Their increasing financial strain forced them to continue to own slaves, even as their conscience and beliefs told them slavery was wrong. It became a necessary evil where they needed to have slaves to manage the plantation. He did try to find a way to turn his slaves into tenant farmers, but the Virginian laws did not accept it.

Gunning noted, “It definitely was a character in the book. The place itself became so significant in their lives, especially if you think what they did to preserve it. They were hell bent on holding on to it. It was their sanctuary. She actually moved back during her troubled marriage. It explained many things including slavery, the relationship with each other, and the extreme debt of Jefferson. This is just my observation, but I believe had he not inherited slaves from his father and an enormous debt from his father-in-law he would not have been a slave owner. I also think had he not been in such financial trouble he would have freed his slaves after he died. Although he thought slavery was wrong, it became a necessary evil, a way to manage the plantation.”

Furthermore, she points out, “Jefferson did what he could to end slavery, but was stifled by others and the law. While in France, he had decided to set up tenant farming for those of his slaves who he felt were ready to take on the responsibility. He also believed legislation was needed to do away with slavery in its entirety. In 1769 he had someone file an emancipation bill because he was only a junior legislator. He had an elder respected legislator put it forth, but it was instantly tabled and not put up for a vote. He wrote this into the first draft of the Declaration of Independence, calling slavery ‘a cruel war against human nature itself,’ but others in the Congress had it deleted. He also said, ‘There is no G-d that would side with us in this conflict.’

This brings up the question of the relationship between Sally Hemings, his sixteen year old slave, and Thomas Jefferson. No one has a crystal ball and can only speculate on it. Beginning while he was the Minister to France, Hemings could have chosen to be free, but instead chose to come back to America with Jefferson. She was able to negotiate freedom for her children at the age of twenty-one and privileges for herself, including not doing the work of enslaved women. Her brothers were granted freedom of movement, paid for work, sometimes given spending money, and were taught to read and write. Whether the relationship was fondness or love between them cannot be determined, but regardless she was a slave and he was the master even though he never supposedly forced himself on her.

Gunning explained, “When she was fourteen she accompanied Jefferson, the American envoy to France, to take care of his youngest daughter Maria. I do think she had some agency in it although not total agency. She could have remained free if she stayed in France so she did have some decision making power in agreeing to return to America. Hemings negotiated freedom for her children and privileges: their children would be set free once they reached 21, and Hemings would never again do the work of the other enslaved women at Monticello.”

This book takes readers on a fantastic journey about one of America’s greatest Founding Fathers and his daughter. Through her life, starting with her return from France to a mother of eleven children people get a glimpse of the complicated and complex era. 51KYbmDXQmL._SX329_BO1 204 203 200_

Book Review: King Of Spies

King Of Spies: The Dark Reign and Ruin of an American Spymaster in Korea by Blaine Harden delves into the black-ops life of Donald Nichols during, before, and shortly after the Korean War. This biography allows readers to understand the current conflict with North Korea and the necessary steps taken to handle the Kim dynasties through the decades. The regime’s DNA has not changed, as it is still the same system of torture, rape, and murder.

Although Nichols did not have much of a formal education, and his training was limited to a short course on spy techniques, nevertheless, he rose in the ranks from Sergeant to Major. His expertise as a master spy came from immersing himself with knowledge of the inner-workings of the North Korean government and military. Harden describes Nichols, “He was an unbreakable war hero whose creativity and energy as a spymaster helped save countless lives in a confused and bloody war. He operated beyond the bounds of legality and morality. He was a superspy with a dark side.”

During his clandestine eleven-year career he developed his own base, secret army, and rules. Within Korea there were three centers of intelligence: the emerging CIA, army intelligence, the largest outfit, and NICK, created by Nichols where he supervised up to fifty-eight American intelligence officers and airmen, two hundred South Korean intelligence officers, and more than seven hundred agents comprised of defectors and refugees from North Korea. The Air Force brass quickly recognized him as “the best intelligence agent in the Far East.” Nichols was given open-ended authority to gather intelligence and conduct sabotage, demolition, and guerrilla operations behind enemy lines.

Harden emphasized how “US Air Force generals depended on Nichols just before, during, and immediately after the Korean War. He broke codes, found weaknesses in enemy tanks and jets, and identified most of the targets destroyed by American bombs in North Korea. During the war he reported only to the General of the 5th Air Force, Earle Everard ‘Pat’ Partridge. For his accomplishments Air Force Generals gave him an abundance of praise, promotions, and medals.”

His accomplishments included helping to find weaknesses in the Soviet tank, earning him a Silver Star, salvaging a Soviet MIG 15, and then finding the electronic secrets on how it worked. This information was sent to the commanders who helped to redesign and modify the US F-86 to better equip them during an air fight. Hardin recounts in the book how in the early days of the conflict as the American GIs were retreating and being killed, Nichols’ “team of cryptographers broke the North Korean army codes, which helped the American forces hold the line, saving them from being pushed off the southern tip of the Korean Peninsula as well as helping in finding the targets for bombings of North Korea.”

Another achievement was his prediction of North Korea invading the South. This was much to the chagrin of General Douglas MacArthur’s chief of intelligence, army major General Charles A. Willoughby, who predicted just the opposite. Hardin recounts, “The American Ambassador in Seoul, John Muccio, wrote a response to Willoughby who tried to oust Nichols, ‘In my opinion, there is no other American intelligence unit or agency now operating in South Korea which produces a larger volume of useful intelligence material on Communist and subversive activities than does Mr. Nichols’ unit.’”

Harden also delves into the moral question, how far should covert operators go to save American lives, and does that include a legal license to murder? In his own words, Nichols described himself as a “thief, assassin, judge, jury, and executioner.” This master spy entered the dark side when he became a part of, the Republic of Korea Head Of State, Syngman Rhee’s world that included torturing, beheading, and killing tens of thousands of South Koreans. He was not a particularly nice guy. For example, there is a picture of him standing on the roof of the South Korean Army Headquarters next to a severed head in a bucket.

In reading this book, Americans also can get a better understanding of the current crisis. The present-day North Korean Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un, is the grandson of Kim II-sung, the leader during the Korean War. Back then, as today, there’s no U.S. Embassy in Pyongyang, few Western business travelers, and even fewer tourists flowing in and out. American intelligence officers are unable to blend in undetected or gain a foothold. Harden explained, “Nichols knew his agents were disposable. When he sent them inside North Korea, he expected most would be captured, tortured, or killed, with as many as eight out of ten never coming back. Yet, he did provide answers for his bosses. I detail in the book how he conceived, organized, and lead covert missions inside North Korea. General E. Stratemeyer, commander of Far East Air Forces, wrote in his diary during the first year of the Korean War that Nichols had ‘performed the impossible.’”

Fast-forward to today, where the North Korean regime is still repressive, with closed borders and secret police. They have a strangle hold on the people because they eliminate their enemies and have a narrative to explain their actions. During the Korean War, General Curtis E. LeMay, head of the Strategic Air Command guessed that American bombs killed about 20 percent of the North Korean population, roughly 1,900,000 people.

Harden feels, “The Kim family is able to stoke anti-American hatred and perpetuate its rule, all the while telling a terrifying, fact-based story. It is a warning to the North Korean people that Americans will once again come with bombs, fire, and death, and the only ones to protect them are the leaders. I spoke to more than twenty North Korean defectors who were taught to fear and hate the Americans. Even after they arrived in South Korea they were very reluctant to criticize ‘the Great Leader, the Dear Leader, or the current leader.’ With their cruel and unsavory tactics, they not only keep the people at bay, but countries as well. These leaders through the years have used extortion and repressive techniques, but now they have missiles threatening South Korea, Japan, and the US. It is harder today to infiltrate, because North Korea concentrates all its resources on the border and has new technology for detection. So Nichols’ 20% success rate of infiltration is a far better ratio than what is transpiring today.”

51bZfHtXnbL._SX329_BO1 204 203 200_This book delves into an engrossing hidden history of wartime espionage. Too bad, there is not someone like Nichols today. Although he was unsavory he was successful in gathering fact-filled intelligence. His superiors described him as brave, hard working, and creative as he gained knowledge about the inner-workings of the North Korean regime.

Book Review: Mind Game

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

Mind Game by Iris Johansen blends fast paced action involving “Super Heroes” with a bit of romance along with a touch of the supernatural. She is able to portray the characters as real-life people that possess some manipulative power.

Johansen feels she writes her characters having these powers “within all my books. I think they present more interesting characters. I enjoy exploring how we all have feelings and senses. I truly believe we all have something that is right below psychic powers, although, some have stronger powers than others. We titled the book Mind Game because it is about the mind within an adventurous and romantic plot. I want the characters to control it, understand it, and expand it.”

While sleeping Jane MacGuire has a dream where she connects with a young woman, Lisa Ridondo, who frantically asks for her help. She is being held captive and is being tortured. Through a series of drawings Jane connects the dots, determining that Lisa is somehow related to Seth Caleb, a man who both frightens and attracts her. After Seth confirms Lisa is his sister, both he and Jane venture out to rescue her. Taking the kidnappers by surprise they free Lisa who becomes Jane’s BFF.

Meanwhile Seth is determined to find who the kidnapper’s leaders are and why they used Lisa to find him. The captors are trying to leverage him into using his unique, dangerous gifts to kill a target in a way that wouldn’t cause suspicion. Believing Seth and Jane are lovers and knowing there is sexual attraction between them, she becomes the next target in a ploy to force Caleb to kill or see her killed.

Seth takes center stage in this story on purpose. “I wanted to develop Seth a bit more. I have always concentrated on Jane and her adopted mother Eve. I find Seth a fascinating character that is a force to be reckoned with. He is a work in progress and grows with each book. He can be wicked, cynical, smart, and sexy as hell. He probably would be the ‘bad boy’ of Superheroes. He is a turbulent Superhero. He wants acceptance, but does not know how to achieve it. Because of his terrible childhood, which I explore in this book, he automatically pulls away.”

There is also a sub-plot that involves the other featured characters of this series, Eve Duncan, Joe Quinn, and their son Michael. Jane is related to Eve and Joe after they adopted her and Michael is her stepbrother. Although Jane’s family is not the forefront of this story, surprises are in store for the trio. Eve is also prevalent in helping Jane understand how to connect with Lisa.

All these characters will remind readers of the X-Men Superheroes rather than the Marvel ones. Instead of strength being at the forefront it is the ability to manipulate. In the case of Jane, she can see actual events and people in her dreams. Seth has persuasive powers along with the ability to control a person’s blood flow. Michael has some psychic powers. Lisa is just finding out and developing her powers that will be determined in future books.

This book allows readers to see what it would be like for someone to have talents that are based on biology. The plot and characters are enthralling and likeable with explosive energy that jumps off the pages. 51QRN3qZwlL._SX328_BO1 204 203 200_

Book Review: The Shadow List

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

The Shadow List by Todd Moss is an international crime novel. Unlike other thrillers this takes place in the non-traditional place of Nigeria with the non-traditional hero, Judd Ryker, heading the State Department’s Crisis Reaction Unit.

As a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the African Bureau Moss is able to use his experiences to help with the story. “I am inspired by real people. When I worked at the State Department I knew of true heroes. One was an anti-corruption czar in Nigeria who had to endure many assassination attempts. This is the basis for this international thriller.”

Although this story can be read as a stand-alone there are some scenes that will be more understandable if the earlier books are read.   It might be more helpful to learning the backstory on the characters and their motivations.

The two main characters are married with one working for the diplomatic corps and the other for the CIA, both in specialized units. They try to keep their jobs separate but as the story progresses their paths cross in a deadly way.

Moss noted, “The issues the main characters face are very real including the bureaucratic nonsense that prevents things from getting done. A good example was Benghazi, a rapidly unfolding crisis that went very bad because the different parts of our government did not talk to each other very well. Regarding our intelligence agency there are different units. The Red Cell I describe in the book is a special analytical unit and is real. It is the inspiration for the Purple Cell that Jessica heads up, which is not real.”

The plot had Judd tasked to rescue a kidnapped Wall Street consultant and a pro basketball player. At the same time his wife Jessica is sent on a mission to discover who is the Russian mobster nicknamed “the Bear” and what are his intentions. Both he and his wife will end up in Nigeria together connected by a Nigerian Judge who is combating corruption in his country. There they realize how far each with go to save the good guys and thwart the bad guys.

An interesting part of the book examines the relationship between an operative and their spouse. Since Moss was a senior State Department official “I struggled with handling the classified information. I wanted to show in the book how Jessica had a hard time splitting in her mind what is classified and what is not. Eventually anyone who works with classified information comes to the realization it is better not to talk about anything for fear of saying something they should not.”

The main characters are smart and appealing. The plot is exciting, captivating, and intriguing. Readers will enjoy a change of pace where diplomacy intertwines with the action. 510Z7emfxkL._SX328_BO1 204 203 200_

Book Review: The Woman Who Couldn't Scream

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

The Woman Who Couldn’t Scream is a classic Christina Dodd novel. Her heroines have some handicap yet are determined in spite of facing adversity. They fight to take control over their life. This installment of the Virtue Falls series brings back Kateri Kwinault, now the sheriff, who ignores her handicap of being physically disabled. The other heroine, a stand-alone character Merida Falcon is mute after a horrific accident. Dodd fabulously weaves together these two women within a thrilling plot and a “who done it” mystery.

The plot has Merry Byrd seriously injured in an explosion that meant to kill her. She had to undergo numerous facial surgeries that changed her appearance. To get the financing she had to make a pact with the devil, a possessive old geezer who wanted her for his trophy wife. Changing her name to Helen Brassard she endured nine long years of his abusive, controlling, and manipulative ways. After he died Helen reinvents herself yet again. She disappears and remerges as the beautiful, reclusive Merida Falcon in the coastal town of Virtue Falls, WA. This tourist town has its share of killers, which preoccupies Merida’s childhood friend, the current sheriff.

Dodd commented, “I had taken a two-week transatlantic cruise and was able to observe different personalities. I started thinking about different scenarios including what would make someone want to become a trophy wife, having to service an old and disgusting guy. YUK! I wondered if they sought revenge, money, were being blackmailed, or wanted to escape something in their past. Merida was a close childhood friend of Kateri so I also wanted to show how they both used their past association to gain strength from each other.”

Sheriff Kateri Kwinault is trying to find a serial killer who slashes their victims to death. Besides dealing with this she is recovering from a drive by shooting which left her needing to walk with a cane, her best friend hovering near death, a series of unexplained murders, a deranged local meth-head criminal, and a complicated love life. It is interesting how both heroines struggle to come to grips with their physical handicap, are unable to have parents that provided unconditional love, are subjected to emotional abuse, and fear that their boyfriends tried to kill them.

What Dodd does very well is allow readers to learn more about people who are mute. They enter Merida’s world and begin to understand that not only deaf people use sign language. But people also realize that technology has considerably helped those who lost these senses. Merida introduces herself via sign language or use of a computer tablet, signing or typing, “I am mute, unable to speak. I am not deaf. Please do not shout!” This never interrupts the flow nor detracts from the plot but adds a layer of complexity to the storyline. It might also spur someone to want to learn more about the different ways of communicating with someone deaf or mute.

Merida has some mental anguish, but will not let her muteness define her. Dodd feels “people with handicaps are not broken and do not need to be fixed. They are whole people. They were put in circumstances they never dreamed of, but were able to pick themselves up. I want people to consider what it is like for someone who loses one of their senses. Most people ridiculously talk to someone in the same manner they speak with a person who does not understand their language: either raising voices or speaking very slowly. I also wanted to show how someone communicates with sign language. They can hear us, but cannot respond so they sign. Did you know you could say someone is mute, but not ‘a mute?’”

This novel blends an understanding someone’s handicap within a plot involving murder, spousal abuse, and relationships. The story is fast paced and has high intensity with a variety of twists and turns. Readers will scream in disappointment that the story has ended. 51Kpq86wciL._SX304_BO1 204 203 200_

Book Review: Last Christmas In Paris

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

Last Christmas In Paris by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb is a unique story. A word of warning, it is not a “sugar and spice and everything nice” novel. The story is very authentic as it covers the triumphs and tribulations that affected the civilian life and those on the battlefield. Yet, it leaves the reader with a good feeling as the book ends with a sentiment of hope. The love and romantic scenes are a great balance against the horrors of the Great War.

What makes this book stand out is that the story of World War I is told predominantly in letters and telegrams. The primary letter authors are Evie, Alice, Will, and Thomas. The latter three tell of the tragedies of war: Alice an ambulance driver, Will and Thomas on the front lines, while Evie, represents the civilian population. She if filled with worry, dread, depression, and fear for her loved ones. The writings also show how the attitudes changed through the course of the war. In the beginning the letters are full of excitement, a sense of adventure, pride and thoughts that the war won't last long, yet, as it becomes evident that it will not be over by Christmas, the correspondence becomes more serious and speaks of the atrocities and hardships. Because Evie was not content to sit idly she writes a newspaper column about the war effort and the feelings of those left behind, as well as those fighting on the frontlines.

Gaynor describes her as “ambitious, spunky, unconventional, and strong-willed. She had no intention to just marry someone, but wanted to play a pivotal role in the War. This is why we had her write a newspaper column like the famous American journalist Nellie Bly. WWI was the event that changed roles for women. She was trying to find her voice and was talking to the female readers, much like a wartime Dear Abby.”

Through the letters between Evie and Alice readers learn how the women took over the male-dominated jobs from delivering the mail, to driving ambulances, being a part of the Auxillary Corps, and even writing newspaper articles.

Webb noted, “There is a scene in the book where Thomas, Evie’s best friend who she is in love with, writes that she should not come to the frontlines. He says, ‘I don’t want you here amid the gloom and gore. It isn’t the place for someone like you and won’t be good for you.’ Of course she responds, ‘Your letter disappoints me. That you believe a woman has no place in this war…Do all men believe that women are incapable? Must I return to the knitting of comforts and bide my time like a good girl?’ We intentionally had her sign it as Evelyn, not Evie. She was furious with Tom with an attitude, ‘no sweet pet names for you, butthole.’ We also wanted to show that when not communicating directly and only in writing there can be misunderstandings. The reason he was so upset and angry with her had nothing to do with her being a woman. But, rather everything to do with her safety.”

But the exchanges also spoke of the horrific issues of the war. PTSD was either called shell shock or war neurosis and the men diagnosed were considered weak-minded. A powerful quote explains how many thought of these men as faking or frauds. “They walk on both legs without the use of crutches. They swing both arms by their sides. They have no need for facemasks to hide their injuries. These men suffer an entirely different way. They suffer in their minds. The horrors they have seen and the endless sounds they have endured night after night stay with them.”

But the war also penetrated those on the home front. The Scarborough raid by the Germans seemed to be a practice run for the blitzkrieg done in WWII. The Germans killed seventeen innocent civilians including women and children with ninety minutes of shelling.

Today snail mail is almost a forgotten form of communication, but if not for it people would not get a grasp of earlier historical events. This story shows how the letter writing was an emotional form of communication between the characters, showing the culture of the times, the romantic relationship, and how the characters used the letters as a release mechanism. But they mostly showed how letters and the written word are so very powerful.

More than anything this novel is a reminder that not everyone has complete joy during the Christmas holiday, that there are those who have lost loved ones, with war affecting every aspect of someone’s life, including on Christmas where some families have chairs left empty. Readers see World War I through the eyes of these four characters and exhibit the same emotions of enthusiasm, denial, despair, and eventually love. It is a heartwarming and heartbreaking story of victory and loss during World War I. 51qWXM77ktL._SX330_BO1 204 203 200_

Book Q/A With The Todds

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

A Casualty Of War by Charles Todd is a winner. This Bess Crawford mystery has the war coming to a close. The story explores the impact World War I had on all who witnessed it: officers, soldiers, doctors, and battlefield nurses.

Fans of Bess will not be disappointed as she is still as independent, steadfast, intelligent, and resilient as ever. Per usual she seeks justice and works within societal norms where readers are able to absorb events that are researched and steeped in time and place.

In this novel Bess becomes the champion of Captain Alan Travis. She meets him near the front lines in France at a forward aid station after he suffered a head wound. He confides in her that he thinks his cousin, Lieutenant James Travis, shot him. To make matters worse after going back to the frontlines he is shot again, this time in the back. Because no one believes him and thinks his rage is due to shell shock, they incarcerate him in a ward for the mentally ill. Being from Barbados without any family support he begs Bess to help him. Although she is not sure his accusations are true, she is sure that the medical diagnosis of shell shock is wrong. With the help of her friend and her father’s former aide, Sergeant Major Simon Brandon, she journeys to James’ home in Suffolk to learn more about the cousins’ relationship and to hopefully enlist the support of the relatives. It is here that the mystery takes off.

Elise Cooper: Is seems shellshock is another word for PTSD, or as it is referred to during WWI, War Neurosis. Please explain


The Todds: We’ve had to learn quite a bit about wounds in the Great War for the Bess Crawford mysteries. And we’ve seen photos of some of them that were unbelievably horrific. You realize, doing this sort of research, what the cost of war really is. But we have to know what Bess has seen and dealt with. The problem was, doctors were often learning as they worked, especially with head wounds. Today we know more about brain injuries, most particularly concussions from shells exploding too close, and wounds to the head. Amazing surgeries save men who would have died in Bess’s day.

EC: But it was not just the soldiers that suffered, but Bess as a nurse as well?

The Todds: Bess, like many combat veterans, suffers from PTSD, even if it wasn’t called that then. Her experiences, many of them horrific, will be with her for the rest of her life. This is why we wrote the scene where Simon comes to Bess’s aid after she had a nightmare, explaining to her, ‘The wounded and dead, their faces will stay with you for a very long time. All those you tried to save. They’ll come back in dreams… The dead are gone, except in your memory. There they are still young and whole and safe.’

EC: You explore what happens when someone tells the truth and no one believes them?

The Todds: Bess realizes the Captain is a man in torment. She is not willing to just walk away. We wanted to have the readers understand the frustration and how it could lead to suicide. He felt so isolated, which is why we had him from Barbados where it was hard to get messages or send them. It is similar to a man or woman who is sent to prison even though they know they are innocent.

EC: You also show the atrocities of the Germans: I guess it is in their DNA?

The Todds: We wrote this book quote, ‘But now we were seeing what the German occupation had done to this part of France. Villages had been leveled, orchards cut down, garden walls turned to rubble, and the flowers that once had bloomed there had been churned into the earth. And often what couldn’t be taken away had been burned.’ The Germans had a scorched earth policy that was bloody vandalism. They even booby-trapped and poisoned wells. The example we put in the book is true where they booby-trapped an oven in a bakery knowing the allied soldiers were hungry and would open them.

EC: The book also explores the atrocities of those who enter the civilian life after fighting for their country?

The Todds: We talked about the burn cases, the amputees, and others that are released from the hospitals and sent back home. What happens to these men? Governments invest a great deal to train soldiers, but have not done a very good job in helping them transition to civilian life. We also explore this in our other series with Detective Ian Rutledge. In the first book people questioned if he is capable of functioning on his own.

EC: I found it very interesting that even after the armistice was declared soldiers died?

The Todds: The war did not end until the peace treaty. When the bells rung, it was not this magical hour where the pace let up. There were still patients and casualties. Peace is coming, but soldiers still must carry on and do their duty, even if it meant killing the enemy. The last combat casualty on record was an American Marine killed in battle after the famous 11th hour. In the middle of battle people don’t just throw down their guns and walk away.

EC: I am sure you are getting this question a lot, are you ending the Bess series now that the war is over?


The Todds: Unlike women of previous generations, Bess is used to serving, not just being useful, but also to having a profession, and the professional respect and recognition to go with it. It would be hard for her to go back and become the dutiful wife who was told what to do. Adjusting to peacetime is going to be difficult, but she will have many adventures. She will still be the amateur sleuth who solves crimes on a personal level. There will be all kinds of things we can explore with Bess. She will have a very interesting future where she might travel to Ireland or Australia.

EC: World War I marked societal transitions?

The Todds: Yes. It was a period where British society went from Victorian to modern day England. Because the men fought on the home front many women took over their roles. Also, the great amount of deaths had women filling in the vocational roles, as well as assuming responsibilities for families and households.

EC: The theme is Greed mixed with grief?

The Todds: Relatives had to face such losses. Since they were not there when their loved one died they always held out some hope. We used this to show how people prayed on them. They were considered easy pickings because many women were not able to manage their estates or handle any financial aspects. James’ mother was one of those who clung to the belief they might possibly be wrong. She never possessed compassion, which lead her to become a victim. Remember there were no grief counselors to help women cope.

EC: Can you give a shout out about your next book(s)?

The Todds: The next book is an Ian Rutledge story entitled The Gate Keeper. It has a murder happen almost in front of Inspector Ian. It is more of a thriller than a mystery. Next fall the next Bess book has the war end but not the suffering. Men are in hospitals and do not suddenly heal. Bess realizes she must have a personal investment in her career.

THANK YOU!! 51pN83mnKSL._SX330_BO1 204 203 200_

Book Review: The Christmas Room

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

The Christmas Room by Catherine Anderson is one of these special stories. A word of warning, it is not a “sugar and spice and everything nice” holiday novel. Yet, it is very realistic, believable, and leaves the reader with a good feeling as the book ends, a feeling of hope and redemption.

The story presents different generations. The McClendon’s have come to Montana to fulfill a dream of making a life here in Rustlers Gulch. Three generations of a mother, son, and grandson must learn to battle the Montana wilderness. It plays such a big role that it is like a secondary character. Readers learn of the ranch life, how a Bull Moose can be dangerous to one’s health, and the weather’s unforgiving attitude with horrific winds and knee-high snow levels.

Having moved to Montana Anderson wants to incorporate what she was visualizing. “As I looked out my window I knew I had to put this setting into the story. I consider Montana a tremendous place, rich in scenery and with such friendly people. Here I was sitting in the middle of an alfalfa field in a trailer while my house was being built facing this brutal winter and a Christmas without a home. Lucky me, it was a record breaking winter where snow was up to the tops of my boots.”

Besides battling the inclement weather the McClendon’s must also deal with the unfriendly neighbor Sam Conacher. Embittered by the death of his wife six years ago has left him possessive of his twenty-six year old daughter, Kirstin. She goes along with his wishes because she has not found a man in her life that is worth fighting over. That is, until she meets Cam McClendon, her possible soulmate. After finding out about the relationship, Sam looks to confront Cameron and warn him off from his daughter. Instead, he meets Maddie, Cam’s mother, who becomes a pit bull, and shows him he has met his match. They totally get off on the wrong foot and become adversaries.

Until a horrible accident occurs, where Cam is badly injured saving Kirstin’s life. Sam realizes how wrong he has been and while Cam recuperates, he insists the McClendon’s move into his large ranch house. Maddie and Sam begin to rely on each other and enjoy their talks, realizing they can relate to each other about losing their spouses. A friendship is born as Maddie allows him to see the error of his ways. Very slowly, a sweet heartfelt romance also begins between Maddie and Sam, who have come to rely on each other.

A powerful quote is very relatable, “You don’t think of the person for a few hours. Then, bang, it blindsides you. She was my other half in every sense of the word, my guiding light, my advisor, and my comfort during the storms.” Because everything is not always joyful, there were heart-breaking scenes where both families share the devastating loss of a loved one from cancer, but readers also see the healing process and resilience of the human spirit. As the Christmas holiday approaches the story becomes uplifting showing how Maddie’s grandson, Caleb, is caring and considerate, giving his grandmother a gift that is overwhelming.

Anderson wants to bring realism to “the story. We should not forget about those people who came to the holidays with strife, stress, or financial troubles. Many people have lost loved ones and on Christmas there are empty places. They do feel sad. Because I did experience grief firsthand I wanted to write about it. I wanted to show how the death of Maddie’s husband impacted not only her but also her son and grandson.”

Anderson has done a wonderful job of creating well-developed characters. Her description of Sam might remind people of the actor Sam Elliott with his deep western slang voice. The book’s description, “He emanated strength, superiority, and arrogance… His weathered features looked as if they’d been carved from granite.” It went on to say he wore a tan Stetson, had white sideburns, sooty eyebrows and a mustache peppered with gray, with his hair color also white. In personality he appears to be overbearing, rude, angry, and lonely. But as the story progresses he is also seen as dependable, caring, and someone the families can lean on.

Seeing Sam with many emotional layers the author describes him as “very protective, ornery, overbearing; yet, regretful and sorry for these emotions. In the end he became caring and thoughtful. In looking back on how I describe Sam’s features, with the white hair, long mustache and sideburns, and granite face, I do think it resembles Elliott.”

These two holiday generational romances touch on grief, healing and redemption. Readers will go through a range of emotions with the characters from joy, to laughter, and sadness. Anderson leaves the reader wishing the story would never end, hoping she will consider making a series involving these great characters. 51h6Lgg4sgL._SX339_BO1 204 203 200_

Book Review: The Duke

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

The Duke, part of the “Devil’s Duke” series by Katharine Ashe is part mystery, part historical, and part romance. She is one of those writers who allow readers to get swept up in the social, cultural, and political events of the 1800s.

Having the setting in Scotland and the West Indies allowed for the intertwining of issues involving equality. There is a definite connection between women of that era who became involved with the abolitionist movement as they fought for equality themselves. Through her main character, Lady Amarantha Vale, readers learn how she sought not only adventure, but also emancipation for those enslaved in Jamaica. Unfortunately, she realized too late that her husband did not have her sentiments as he explained, “They are incapable. Like children and women, they lack the full capacity for reason and therefore the ability to govern themselves rationally.”

Ashe commented, “My very first novel included details about the West Indies slave trade, and I’ve touched on it in other novels. In The Duke, it’s embedded in the core of the story. Since the fight for women’s rights in England, Scotland, and France was often intertwined with the abolitionist movement, that plays a part in the novel too. It was an era when women and men of all colors and strata of society fought to change the law so that all could be treated equally under the law.”

She made mistakes in her choices for a partner, not once, but twice. She originally thought her first husband Reverend Paul Garland was a libertine, someone like her father, who respected women and who encouraged them to be independent. The other man in her life, Duke Gabriel Hume, was seen as a “bad boy,” a flirt, someone who took advantage of women. Unfortunately, for her she misread their personalities, wrong in both cases.

After hearing that Amarantha decided to go through with the marriage to Garland, Gabriel returns to Scotland where he becomes a recluse. Years later, now widowed Amarantha sails to Scotland to look for her missing friend, Penelope Baker, whose trail leads to Castle Kallin, Gabriel Hume’s highland estate. He is known to society as the Devil’s Duke, because of rumors about his kidnapping of young girls. Still in love with Amarantha, he decides to allow her to be his guest. She accepts, intent on finding out the truth about him and her friend’s disappearance, knowing that only Gabriel has the answers. Because he is not willing to let her learn his darkest secret a game of wit and desire begins between them.

As with all Ashe characters, the heroine is strong-willed, not content to allow society to dictate her place in it, and is very willing to speak her mind. The hero is always confident, brave, and willing to treat the woman he loves as an equal.

Writing about the relationship, “I like my hero to respect women entirely, from the start. He doesn’t have to be convinced that a woman is a worthwhile partner and he doesn’t have to be taught how to love. This is the type of man I love in reality: men who actually believe women are equals. It’s what my husband is like. And in this book my hero, Gabriel, is already engaged in doing good in the world, even before he meets my heroine Amarantha; although she spurs him on to do even greater good. Of course there are intense emotions of desire and passion. But also the beauty of friendship is crucial for a couple in love, and the gentleness of understanding another person. I like my heroes and heroines to learn to see and love the whole other person. My heroes enjoy strong women.”

This book beautifully blends a riveting mystery within the historical content of the times. Ashe allows the relationship to grow into an intimate one of unbreakable love. Readers of her books can begin to understand how a woman can be feminine yet possess a feminist’s attitude.