Book Review: Blackmail

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.

Blackmail by Rick Campbell is an entertaining military thriller. The action is fast paced and the issues are relevant to today. But, don’t expect this to be typical of the genre where small Special Forces teams handle the issue at hand. This book as well as the previous one has America fighting a limited war with its adversaries, which makes the story even more interesting.

On the heels of defeating the Chinese, America is struggling to get its armed forces up to speed. Attempting to take advantage of this situation, Russia decides to invade Lithuania and the Eastern Ukraine. To test the waters, Russia attacked the U.S. aircraft carrier patrolling the Western Pacific Ocean, damaging it with a surprise salvo of cruise missiles. The Russian government officially apologizes, claiming it was the result of a fire control accident during a training exercise, although in actuality it is a calculated provocation. Because the US has not responded they become emboldened to take further action by moving their fleet into the Mediterranean Sea, mobilizing its Baltic and Black Sea fleets, making a pact with Iran, trying to influence China and India to become allies, and wiring every major oil and natural gas pipeline with explosives. But as so many adversaries have done in the past, they underestimate awakening America, the sleeping giant. In response to this blackmail, the U.S. attacks Russian naval forces. With the limited war waging readers feel they are fighting alongside the characters in the midst of the battle.

The best books are the ones where readers can learn something without being hit over the head. Campbell does this expertly. The questions explored include why is Russia so paranoid about the west; is NATO obsolete since it is fearful to make any commitments; and what will push the US to go it alone?

The characters are extremely well developed. Christine O’Connor, the National Security Adviser, is impulsive, beautiful, intelligent, and can stand her own against very powerful men. Not afraid to defend herself she has been known to kill a few enemies in the name of revenge. What gnaws at her is that she had to sacrifice a friend’s life to save her own and the mission. In this book she is coming to grips with her survivor’s guilt and her motivations.

Campbell is hoping that Christine can become involved in a relationship with her lover from afar, Jake Harrison. “The ultimate plan is to get her and Harrison together, but I have the problem that he is still married. I need to solve that problem and I will tell the readers it will not be a simple divorce.”

Interestingly females also run some of the other national security agencies. The Secretary of State is Dawn Cabral and the CIA Director is Jessica Cherry. What Campbell tries to do is “balance fairly the male and female advisors. Today, we do have strong women in leadership positions. Let’s not forget there were three female Secretary of States, and two female National Security Advisors. I was not the first to have a female CIA Director. I believe Vince Flynn did it with his iconic character Dr. Irene Kennedy. I don’t think I am ground breaking with my characters.”

Readers will have a hard time putting Blackmail down. By the end of the book they will be convinced on how America and Russia could actually fight a limited war. The plot is a realistic representation of how events can unfold with believable strategies and tactics. 518ILv5fUfL._SX328_BO1 204 203 200_


Book Review: The Room Of White Fire

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 Room of White Fire by T. Jefferson Parker introduces a new protagonist, private investigator Roland Ford. In some ways it is a departure from his usual writings in that this is more a conspiracy story than a crime mystery. At the heart of the plot are the secrets and lies.

Roland is a former Marine, who fought in Fallujah, and a former Sherriff Deputy. He is tall, strong, and a Patriot. Having made a reputation on being able to find people, he is hired to locate Air Force veteran Clay Hickman. The mental hospital where Hickman was staying wants Roland to find him and bring him back, because he is diagnosed with PTSD and schizophrenia. In the course of trying to track Hickman down Roland finds that he was being treated with electroshock and LSD therapy. He wonders why the patient’s physician, the institution’s Director, and the very wealthy psychologist who founded and still owns the institution insist that Hickman be returned to their care and not to the custody of his parents. To make matters worse, Roland also discovers that he is being drawn into something the government does not want to be made public; something called “White Fire.” Roland now sees it as his job to find out what is “White Fire” and what are the connections to those in the highest levels of government.

Parker has his hero a retired military figure “I feel we owe all those who served a lot. America can be a better place for our fighting men and women. The characters in the book are a nod of respect for anyone who had a military background. I hope readers like Roland and the story. He is very capable, principled, and clever.”

Although this story was conspiratorial in nature, the next novel is more of a traditional mystery where Roland must protect an old friend from a death threat made against her. In the course of the investigation he uncovers a terrorist plot against the city of San Diego.

Since the Charlie Hood novels has ended, readers might want to get to know this new character Roland Ford who will be featured in a new series. This first book has cover-ups and greed at its core. 51VfrQOKzJL._SX329_BO1 204 203 200_


Book Review: Deep Black

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.

Deep Black by Sean McFate is the follow up to the first novel of the series, Shadow War. It brings back the protagonist Tom Locke, a missionary with a conscience. Shadow War was an intense action-packed story, while this one concentrates more on the global politics.

The different style between books is explained by McFate, “I hoped to write the series as a memoir when I was a mercenary in Africa. My agent told me that I could be sued so I should fictionalize it. Because I never wrote fiction, Bret Witter, who wrote The Monuments Men, was brought on board to teach me the craft. In Shadow War we shared the pen, while with Deep Black I did the majority of writing. Most of the book was me except the first chapters that he edited. The third book will be solo, just me.”

Locke is hired to find a missing Saudi prince who has ties to ISIS. The mission becomes increasingly delicate when it appears that the missing prince is part of a larger plot revolving around a faction of the Saudi royal family that's attempting to buy a nuclear weapon from Pakistan. The author takes readers inside the Saudi Royal Family showing how in the Middle East the Shite and Sunni factions are not loyal to the government, but have their own allegiance to their tribe.

The secondary plot continues where the first book left off, with Locke’s former boss Brad Winters searching for him as well as competing to find the Prince. McFate noted, “The confrontation with Brad gets resolved in the next book. Locke will return home to America and must track down those who plot to assassinate a high level political person.”

Terrorists, mercenaries, Special Forces, and an ancient war between the Shia and Sunni regimes are explored in this novel. Anyone wanting to understand the fight for the Saudi Royal throne along with the mind of a mercenary should read this story. 51tngb8XBoL._SX329_BO1 204 203 200_


Book Reviews: The One Man and The Saboteur

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 One Man and The Saboteur, the latest books of Andrew Gross, are a departure from his usual writing genre. Instead of writing thrillers with storylines of criminal activity he has ventured into the historical novel field. Yet, his writing style has not completely changed with these two plots in that they both are thrilling and gripping. The characters must find solutions to their dilemma, and the stories affect the readers’ heart.

The One Man, released last year with the paperback version coming out soon,is a story about guilt, survival, and heroism. Yet, having the main setting in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp it is unavoidable to touch on the atrocities, the fatalistic feeling, and the helplessness of those interned. The title is taken right out of Jewish law, a passage from the Mishnah Sanhedrin, “It was for this reason that man was first created as one person, to teach you that anyone who destroys a life is considered by Scripture to have destroyed an entire world, and any who saves a life is as if he saved an entire world.” Gross explores how one man is worthy of being saved over others. But as the plot progresses readers will question who shall be saved and who shall die?

Gross had the idea, from his father-in-law’s life. “He came here from Poland in April 1939. As it turned out, he was the only member of his family to survive the war. In fact, he never learned the fate of any of the family that was left behind. Like a lot of survivors, he never talked at all about his family or even about his life back in Poland before he left. It was just too painful. In 1941, after America entered the war, my father-in-law signed up to serve his new country, and because of his facility with languages, was placed in the Intelligence corps, never divulging a word of what his role was there. During his whole life he seemed to carry around a weight of guilt and regret, despite his successes here, and everyone pressed him to find out just what was behind it. In some ways, I set out to write the story I thought my father-in-law might tell.”

The three main characters are extraordinarily written. Readers will feel the same emotions of fear, hatred, and a desire to be courageous. Dr. Alfred Mendl is the renowned electromagnetic physicist whose research and knowledge is the key to America’s secret efforts to build an atomic bomb. The problem is that he and his family are now trapped in Auschwitz. The OSS, the predecessor to the CIA, had devised a plan to get him out. A desk-bound Jewish intelligence officer, Nathan Blum, who escaped from Nazi-overrun Poland, is recruited for a near suicidal mission, to sneak into Auschwitz to rescue Mendl in 72 hours. Mendl is smart enough to realize his days are numbered and he wants to up the ante so that the allies will get this vital information. Possessing an astonishing memory, Leo, a sixteen-year-old boy, is recruited by Mendl, who hopes to preserve his work, by having him memorize the vast amount of scientific knowledge.

The scenes with Greta Ackermann, the wife of the Assistant Gestapo are extremely powerful. She represents the conscience of the readers. She is isolated and imprisoned, unable to do anything or stop the brutality around her. A thought provoking quote by her shows how those suffering under the Nazis were not numbers, but individual human beings. “They were people. Your precious numbers… Not digits. They were mothers. Husbands. Little children. They had lives. Hopes. Just like we did once. People.”

Not only readers, but the author also felt he was traveling back in time to the Holocaust. “As a writer we have life and death power over our characters’ survival. I am the one to choose the settings, the time and the place, what language they speak, the different variables. But when you write a book of this kind, it’s not like reading one. You’re not an observer. So to me it was like having to go through something I’d only read about, both a life affirming and an invigorating process.”

The One Man was heartbreaking, inspiring, and realistic. But this was not the only first rate historical thriller novel Gross has written. The second of the World War II books, released this August, The Saboteur also has these qualities. Each story has daring missions, characters who were brave, and plots that showed how the Nazis must be stopped at any cost in obtaining a nuclear bomb first.

The Saboteur is more historical than fiction, based strongly on actual raids during World War II in Vemork, Norway. A secret committee called the SOE (Special Operations Executive) was formed, in England, to deal with the threat at the Norsk plant, the Nazis production of “heavy water,” critical to making an atomic bomb. An earlier attempt resulted in the loss of forty elite men, but the allies knew this danger had to be eliminated. The critical mission depended on six resistance fighters parachuting into Norway, penetrating the plant, demolishing the heavy water supply, and destroying the means of its production. The plot is tension filled, as readers understand that the allies will stop at nothing to make sure the Germans do not have the means to make the bomb, even if it means a secondary raid is necessary.

Gross knew of the story from “doing the research for The One Man. I came across information on this actual daring raid during WWII. I knew I had to write about it. The actual raids themselves were very realistic; the fiction came in when I wrote the time periods between them, inventing a background history for the characters.”

The setting acts as a major supporting character, both antagonist and protagonist. The plant is set atop unscalable cliffs with an impenetrable gorge, connected by a single suspension bridge, and is under constant heavy guard. Both the surrounding terrain and the weather were unforgiving. Wind gusts could drag a man off his feet, cold and freezing snow with zero visibility, and a ridge drop of fifty feet covered by rocks and boulders. Yet, this terrain and weather would end up eliminating their tracks and provided cover from Nazi patrols.

With these books it is apparent that Gross has a knack for writing captivating quotes. In his latest there are two that stand out and show the courage of the allies and the depravity of the Nazis. The Saboteur has a quote that could apply to the books heroes, “A true man is a man who goes on till he can go no farther, and then goes twice as far.” The other quote from this latest shows how the Germans “just took things. Ground them up in its indifferent jaw, like a tank running over friend and foe alike, spitting them back out as memories.” The one aspect they could not take was someone’s memories of a life before the atrocities.

What link both books, according to Gross are “The humanity of man and the inhumanity of the Nazis. I wanted to maintain that balance, between brutality and death, as well as heroism. The stories tap into some universal quality of the human spirit. Both heroes were willing to put their life on the line for a nearly impossible mission with a ticking clock that is winding down, and wanted to measure up to their fathers expectations.”

Each book is tension filled with unexpected endings. The plots are awe-inspiring, action-packed, and gripping. A must read for anyone who wants to be captivated by these World War II stories. 51lBHw8-sKL._SX327_BO1 204 203 200_ 51uQE4z6wvL._SX328_BO1 204 203 200_


Book Reviews: Damaged and Exposed

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.

Lisa Scottoline deserves a high five for her latest novels Damaged and Exposed. These back-to-back homeruns hit at reader’s heartstrings with her gripping and riveting storylines and characters. These stories will not disappoint fans having the traditional trademarks of fast-paced action combined with an emotional gravity.

Within both books is an intense fight for justice where Scottoline clearly explains the legal and ethical issues, intertwining it throughout the story. The details are presented in a way that is clear to any non-lawyer, without making it seem like an info-dump. But the strength of the novels is the characters that the readers get engaged with early on in the story. Not only the main ones, law partners Mary DiNunzio and Bennie Rosato, but the supporting cast as well. Who would not want to be a part of Mary’s world, her loving and caring parents as well as the extended family, the Italian community? The antagonists in each story give lawyers a bad name. They are controlling, hollow, and want to win at all costs, not to mention their attempts to hit on their former classmates.

Both plots are so gripping readers will not want to put the books down. In Damaged, released last year with the paperback version out August 1st,a ten-year-old child, Patrick, has fallen under the radar of the government agencies. His needs are not being met regarding dyslexia, abuse in a public school by a teacher’s aide, and having to endure classmates’ bullying. Making matters worse the teacher’s aide filed a lawsuit that alleges Patrick attacked him with a pair of scissors. Willing to defend him, Mary counter sues and through her investigative process finds that the public school district offers no support to him. Mary becomes his champion, willing to take on all, lobbying to get Patrick transferred to a more appropriate private special educational school. In her struggle to save Patrick, Mary finds herself fighting her associates, her fiancé, and social services, as well as the opposing counsel Nick Machiavelli (aka the Dark Prince), who is determined to win a settlement, despite the emotional cost to the 10-year-old boy.

Scottoline enjoys writing about children. “I think sometimes in fiction children are not really differentiated; although, today we are more aware of children’s disabilities and illnesses. These children need to be given the spotlight with my job making sure that the issue is as real as possible. In essence blurring the line between fiction and non-fiction. Patrick became an introverted and inward little boy because the dyslexia became an important aspect to his development. I want readers to imagine what it is like for a child when he does not get the programming that he needs or is entitled to within a public school.”  

Exposed, the latest just released book, also has an engrossing storyline. Childhood friend, Simon Pensiera, who is more like family, requests Mary’s help. He wants to file a wrongful-termination case against his employer, OpenSpace, because his boss, Todd Eddington, fired him when his daughter Rachel’s medical expenses rose into the stratosphere. The problem, her partner, Bennie, represents Dumbarton Industries, OpenSpace’s parent company, so there’s an obvious conflict of interest. To make matters worse, Dumbarton’s CEO Nate Lence files a retaliatory defamation suit seeking $2 million from the newly unemployed Simon and a misconduct complaint against Mary. The suspense increases after a major plot twist that has both partners reevaluating their respective stances as the case heads off into an unexpected direction that includes a dangerous cover-up.

Having been a lawyer herself Scottoline allows readers to get the nuances of the justice system. “I always ask the question, does law lead to justice? With both books I wanted to show if you really follow the law it might not lead to the result you want. In Exposed the two law partners, Mary DiNunzio and Bennie Rosato, had what appeared to be a conflict of interest. Bennie represented the parent company and Mary was suing the subsidiary. I thought there must be an easy straight ethical answer until I started doing the research. I called a lawyer friend of mine, Larry Fox, who teaches ethics at Yale. He allowed me to talk to the class and even made it their semester project to find out if a lawyer like Mary could actually defend someone if the client of the firm was the parent company. All of the nuances I learned were put in the book.”

This series only gets better with each book. The characters and their relationships grow over time with Mary becoming stronger and more assertive and Bennie showing her soft spots. The plots are captivating and the twists and turns only add to the intensity. 51zPksEXQEL._SX328_BO1 204 203 200_ 51+IWszJZdL._SX326_BO1 204 203 200_


Book Review: The Good Daughter

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 Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter bares no bones. This emotional crime mystery delves into family, grief, regret, and guilt. Known for not sugar coating the violence the story is dark and graphic, but this only adds to its intensity.

A line from the book, “a never-ending sphere,” best describes the plot. The events of past and present are circular in motion, occurring twenty-eight years apart. During the course of the novel the horrific attack on the Quinn family is re-visited a number of times, with the two sisters, Charlie and Sam, alternating their views of the incident.

The reason for the repetition, according to Slaughter, “That line from the book, “a never-ending sphere,” shows how circular life is. Charlie stops her story, because she is avoiding what happened to her. If you notice the first time she tells it the emphasis is on how others were impacted, not herself. I wanted to echo back with the point; you really cannot escape your past. You can learn to deal with it, but should not let it hold you hostage.”

On that horrible day the sisters’ life changed forever. Charlie and Sam were at home with their mother, Gamma, when two masked men entered the house. They shot Gamma dead, pushed out Sam’s eyelids, shot her in the head, and buried her alive. As Charlie tried to escape she had to endure a horrific attack as well. These assaults occurred because their dad, Rusty, defended the most evil of characters.

Slaughter used her own personal experiences to write the scenes about head injuries. “I toured military bases with the author Lisa Gardner and saw those kinds of injuries. Also, the husband of a friend of mine flipped head first over the bike handlebars. He became brain damaged. When I spoke with my friend, his wife, she talked about their struggles. This is why I put in the quote, ‘Sam often compared her first year of recovery to a record on an old turntable. She awoke at the hospital with everything playing at the wrong speed.’ Sam knew what she was and knew what her life would be like from that point onward. It can be even more psychologically scarring for people who are cognizant of what they’ve lost.”

Fast-forward twenty-eight years later with the family torn apart. Sam has moved away to NYC, becoming a successful patent lawyer. Charlie has followed in her father’s footsteps, becoming a defense attorney; although she only takes clients she believes are innocent or being over-charged for a minor crime. Having stayed in the town where she grew up she is still struggling with her demons, which is the reason behind why her husband is now estranged.

Trying to escape she decides to have a one-night-stand with Huck, a stranger, and while leaving mistakenly took his phone. During the process of exchanging phones at her old school, where Huck works, all hell lets loose. Charlie finds herself in a nightmarish situation. She is the first witness on the scene in the midst of a distressing double school shooting that includes a young child. She later discovers the shooter, Kelly, has learning issues. The incident also unleashes the terrible memories she's spent so long trying to suppress. The only one able to get her out of her fog is Sam, who returns to face her own anxieties. The sisters must work together to find the answers to the past and present events as they attempt to heal their relationship.

Grieving can be very personal and Slaughter shows the many facets of it. “I do not think all people grieve in the same way. Charlie was in denial, while Sam deals with it head on. Every morning Sam wakes up and is faced with what happened, but has learned how to deal with it. Yet, Charlie looks back on her life and realizes she is not the person she hoped to be. This makes her miserable. She keeps doing the same thing and it is not working, but never self-reflects. Rusty on the other hand damages himself by taking on more dangerous cases, drinks too much, and smokes too much, despite having a major heart attack.”

Readers will need to have their wits about them when reading this suspenseful mystery. It is a very much character driven plot where everyone will go through the heartache with the sisters. Beyond the violent crime, the story is about loss, love, survival, and forgiveness. 41FfY6Q+8sL._SX329_BO1 204 203 200_


Book Review: Seeing Red

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.

Seeing Red by Sandra Brown is an intriguing story about redemption and second chances intertwined within a “who done it” mystery. The complexity of the plot originates with the lies and deceit.

The saying that fate plays a role in everyday life where someone can be at the wrong place at the wrong time is the starting point for this novel. Twenty-five years ago a bombing at the Dallas Hotel, the Pegasus, leaves 98 dead and 197 wounded. An iconic photo was taken of Major Franklin Trapper rescuing a little five-year-old girl from the building’s ruins. Although he was never the reluctant hero and has played off his fame, the last few years he has gone into seclusion. Fast-forward to twenty-five years later, where that girl, Kerra Bailey, now a Dallas reporter, is trying to get an interview with the Major. She is hoping to gain national fame during the exclusive as she tells the world that she is the girl in the photo.

Brown commented, “the iconic photo of the fireman carrying the child out was blazed into my mind. That iconic photo made an impact on everyone in the world who saw it. It was horrible and heartbreaking. It really resonated with me. And I got to thinking about other iconic photos of history. There was the raising-of-the-flag at Iwo Jima, the sailor kissing the nurse in Times Square on V-E Day, the Vietnamese girl running naked down the road, covered in napalm. Each of these photographs tells a story that affect people in a profound way. I thought about how the photos impact the people who are actually in the photographs? In the Major’s case, he has made a whole career out of that photo and the fame that ensued. It defines him for the remainder of his life. What must that be like? And what must it be like for someone to live in his shadow, such as his son Trapper?”

Hitting roadblocks she contacts the Major’s son John Trapper, a former ATF agent, to help her get the exclusive. Persuaded to do the interview, the Major and Kerra re-live those horrific moments. But more chaos ensues afterward when two gunmen shoot him, with Kerra barely escaping. Looking to protect his father and Kerra, Trapper renews his interest in the case and hooks up with her literally and figuratively. There are some hot romantic scenes as they are joined at the hip trying to find out who is behind the original bombing and the shootings.

The strength of the story lies with the characters. Kerra is not a typical journalist, putting her conscience ahead of her ambition. She is not insensitive and does not act “like vultures circling a wounded animal, waiting for it to die.” She is poised, smart, personable, and tenacious. She plays off well with Trapper who is at times rude, aggressive, intelligent, and proud. He is still haunted by the regrettable choice of his father who put fame over family. The Major is a very complex character who is at times likeable and at other times dislikeable. He cares about his family, but will sacrifice them to bask in the sun, becoming corrupted by fate and fame. The regrettable choice ruins any chance of a relationship with his son Trapper.

Brown believes “The Major was ego-driven with his family becoming secondary. He stepped into the hero role easily and embraced it. Being former military he became a Patriot to admire and a champion that society needed. He had the courage to take the time to go back and get Kerra instead of just running out of the building. Kerra is a character I admire. She didn’t let her profession overcome her humanity. She knew where the line should not be crossed. I describe the media in the book, but it does not apply to her: They act ‘like vultures circling a wounded animal, waiting for it to die.’ She is ambitious, goal-driven, and a hard worker. Trapper is a flawed hero. His life was one long game of catch-up. A game he could not possibly win, since the expectations for him were so high and unrealistic. He did have a defining moment even if it was the worst thing he could fear. He self-sacrificed.”

Seeing Red bleeds with tension. It is action-packed, suspenseful, and riveting involving secrets, murder, and 41YOr5nw-QL._SX327_BO1 204 203 200_


Book Review: On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service

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.

On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service by Rhys Bowen is a delightful read. It combines an old fashioned who done it mystery with social commentary, humor, true 1930s historical content, and fun loving characters.

The plot begins with Lady Georgiana (Georgie) Rannoch, 35th in line to the British throne, traveling to London to meet with Queen Mary. During this time period anyone in line to the British throne could not marry a Catholic. This presents a problem since her fiancé, Darcy, is Catholic. The only solution is for her to give up any claim to the throne, but she needs the support of the crown to ask permission from Parliament for this to happen. In the course of their discussion the Queen finds out Georgie will be traveling to Northern Italy to visit her good friend Belinda who is unwed and hiding out until she delivers her child. The Queen asks Georgie to attend a house party and spy on her son David, the Duke of Wales, who is heir to the throne. After arriving she finds also in attendance are Wallis Simpson; a Contessa, who was once Camilla Waddell-Walker, Georgie’s schoolmate; Count di Marola, Mussolini’s advisor; Baron Rudolf von Rosskopf; a German Nazi general and his aide; and Georgie’s mother, Claire, a former actress engaged to Max, a wealthy German industrialist. Much to Georgie’s surprise Darcy is also there camouflaging himself off as an English gardener. Besides the Queen, Darcy, who is believed to be part of English intelligence, asks her to spy on the guests, requesting her to become a fly on the wall, wanting her to be his eyes and ears.

It is apparent Bowen does not like Mrs. Simpson very much, probably because she “does not have any redeeming qualities except she was considered glamorous. She spent a lot on clothes, manipulated David, the future King of England who was known as Edward, and was so cutting to people. He wanted a mother figure to hug him, make him feel safe, and tell him what to do. She bossed him around a lot. Because she is not the nicest person in the world I enjoyed having her battle wits with Georgie’s mother who does not take her guff.”

The humorous and biting bickering between the houseguests occurs after the police sequester them. They are trying to find out the killer of one of the visitors, the Baron, who was flirtatious to the women and a blackmailer as well.   The game of Clue comes to mind, who did it and with what weapon? Georgie now has her hands full as she tries to find the killer and the true purpose of why Mussolini’s assistant and the Nazi generals are in attendance.

Down the line Bowen will have to decide how to handle Claire, Georgie’s mother, and where “her loyalties lie? In this story, Max is manufacturing guns at his factories. In a future book she will have to decide if she wants to be a part of Germany or go home. Max is quite willing to play along with the Nazis because he is making a load of money.   As I say in this book his family made a fortune during WWI by supplying all the weapons. He is not bad like Goebbels, but is morally blind.”

As with all her books, Bowen intertwines the culture, customs, and events of the time period. Readers learn about the life of the aristocracy, what is required of them, versus the common class. There is also the Conference in Stresa between England, France, and Italy to consider forming an alliance to stop the Nazi threat. Another conference, at the villa, hopes to convince the Prince of Wales that the threat of communism is much more worrisome than Hitler, who is painted as a leader helping Germany out of its dire economic situation.

Bowen noted, “I always go through the historical details that occur at the same time as the plot of the book. I see if there was a blizzard, big fire, conference, or treaty.   When I found out about the 1935 Stresa Conference held by England, France, and Germany I wondered how it was possible. Remember Hitler and Mussolini were as thick as thieves, where Mussolini goes up to Germany and fawns all over Hitler. Why would he outwardly try to show he wanted to participate in combating the Nazi threat? Then I thought, what if there are other conferences going on behind the scenes for the opposite purpose. I wanted to have Georgie be a lamp with a lampshade secretly hearing what was spoken, inadvertently hearing things she should not.”

This novel has a very authentic spin. It is enjoyable, believable, and a very fun read within a great plot that has well-developed characters. 61E5cM1L9cL._SX329_BO1 204 203 200_


Book Review: The Cuttingly Secret

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 Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor is literally a “fairy” tale. Do you remember the part in Peter Pan where Tinkerbell is dying and Peter says: “She’s going to die unless we do something. Clap your hands! Clap your hands and say ‘I believe in fairies.’ And then everyone – adults and children alike – does just that? Clapping and reciting that belief that fairies do exist.

In her latest novel, Hazel Gaynor brings back all those fond memories and more. She takes readers back to a world of enchantment with this intriguing mystery questioning if fairies really do exist. Even the Yorkshire setting appears magical, the shallow Beck with the little waterfall, the willow bough seat, and the sunlight illuminating the leaves on the trees.

Gaynor also believes in fairies, “100 %. They are like Santa Claus where you do not want to question that sense of another being. During World War I so many lives were lost. People latched on to this magical story and were primed to believe there was an after life. They chose to escape the horrors of WWI and hoped there was another realm, where life went on. If we believe in something then we can make it happen. I think they were symbolic for a sense of hope, faith, and belief.”

Cottingley in Yorkshire became famous after two girls, in 1917, claimed they could see fairies. One, Frances Griffiths, believes she actually saw them, and the other, her cousin, Elsie Wright, thought it would make a great practical joke to play along with the observations of Frances. It’s easy to understand why Frances, a lonely young girl following her father’s going to war and her move from South Africa to England with her mother, would want to imagine magical figures. After telling her family and wanting very much to be believed she and her cousin Elsie take photographs of fairy cutouts, drawn by Elsie. It got out of hand when the famous British writer Arthur Conan Doyle, known for the Sherlock Holmes character, and photography experts heard about it, and in the course of investigating said that the photos were 100% authentic.

Fast forward 100 years to 2017 when Olivia Kavanagh finds out that her great grandmother was Frances’ teacher and played a role in the fairy hoax. But, she finds more information after her grandfather dies while combing through the old bookshop left to her. After discovering a photograph and a manuscript about the Cottingley fairies, Olivia feels a connection to the past. She becomes almost obsessed to find the answers to the mysterious photo and manuscript, hoping to sort out what is real and what is imagined.

Struggling in love and life she tries to cope with her mother’s death during her formative years, the recent death of her beloved grandfather that leaves her more alone than ever, a grandmother who has Alzheimer’s, and the realization that her fiancé is not someone she wants to spend the rest of her life with.

Gaynor’s scene about the loss of a loved one is very powerful, where her words express the feelings of anyone who also had someone they care for die. “The awful reality of his absence hit her… sending broken memories of happier times skittering across the creaky floorboards to hide in dark grief-stricken corners. He wasn’t there, and yet he was everywhere.”

The author noted, “I lost my mother when I was in my twenties. It could be written from my raw experience. As I grow older I feel that sense of loss because I could not talk to my mom about becoming a woman, a wife, and a mother. I just write on my life experiences as I enter into this fictional world. I expressed some of my feelings through Olivia because I could not express it through myself. I hope that the way I describe it makes sense to readers as well.”

It is said, that a mental photo is the representation in a person's mind of the physical world. Yet, family members of those suffering from Alzheimer’s understand that the mental photo becomes dim over time. This powerful book quote can be a simile for Olivia’s grandmother, “There is more to every photograph than what we see-more to the story than the one the camera captures on the plate. You have to look behind the picture to discover the truth.”

Regarding Alzheimer’s, she commented, “my husband’s nana was suffering early stages of dementia before she passed. I wrote Martha’s story as her story. There is a sense of a fading away with the memories. For me, that is why a photograph is very important because it is a very permanent record of family. I also spoke with friends and how they felt the frustration of seeing their loved one slipping away.”

This is a book for adults who never want to grow old, or those who have a speckle of childhood left in them, and for parents to read to their children as a bedtime story. It is a magical tale that is moving and relatable. 511HbXx58rL._SX329_BO1 204 203 200_


Book Review: The Shadow Girl

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.

Shadow Girl by Gerry Schmitt is the second installment in the Afton Tangler series. It features a family liaison officer who works for the Minneapolis police department. The beginning of each book starts out with an intense scene, setting the atmosphere for the rest of the story.

Some may wonder how could a family liaison officer be the featured character for a thriller. Schmitt does a great job creating stories that are riveting, but also believable. Most everyone enjoys playing detective while reading or watching a TV show, and Afton is no different. The difference is that in the story she gets to actually play detective, using her instincts in real life situations.

Schmitt noted, “Afton has all the promising signs of being a detective. In order to make her one I would need to check out the legality of how I could realistically change her profession. According to most police departments rules she would have to be a rookie first and do some time on the streets. Possibly there might be a special way she can jump the gun.”

The saying if you do not have your health, you do not have anything springs true in the novel. Leland Odin made his fortune launching a home shopping network, but his millions can’t save his life. On the list for a heart transplant, the ailing businessman sees all hope lost when the helicopter carrying his donor heart is shot out of the sky, and the heart flies into a University dorm room.

Enjoying the ability to write big opening scenes, Schmitt wants those to be “whiz bang acts. I was going to write this helicopter scene in the first Afton book, but decided to put it in this one instead. I even went to the University of Minnesota to scout out a location for where the heart could end up. What I put in about the donor heart is based on a woman I knew who had been waiting for a transplant, but never made it. I knew that a heart is only viable for a certain amount of hours and is only offered to someone close to the area of where the donor originated.”

In close proximity to the attack Afton and her partner Max Montgomery realize that the attack has something to do with wanting Odin dead, and concentrate the investigation on who wanted him dead and why. Was it family, a business partner, or someone seeking revenge? As Afton and her partner get closer to discovering who is behind the horrific crime scenes, the violence turns personal as she, her family, and her dog are threatened and assaulted.

In each book of this series her villains are very creepy. “I enjoy writing the villain, making them evil, conniving, greedy, and arrogant. If written well they should be interesting characters. I always put in some backstory on them for readers to understand how they become an antagonist. In this novel, the evildoer, Mom Chao Cherry, an American, not a Dragon Lady, was dragged to Asia by her missionary parents who were killed. She was then struck in an orphanage and became a child sex slave. After escaping she became a Kingpin in the drug world. I did a lot of research on Asian criminal organizations and have been to China, Japan, and Indonesia. I knew these gangs are brutal and make the Columbians look like Boy Scouts.”

Schmitt leaves nothing to the readers’ imagination regarding the violence. People should make sure they have some time when reading this because they will not want to put the book down. 517fify1hZL._SX329_BO1 204 203 200_