Book Review - "Tag You're Dead" by J.C. Lane

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

9781464206313_p0_v2_s192x300Tag You’re Dead By J.C. Lane, a pen name for Judy Clemens, is a riveting thriller.  She takes the playground game and evolves it to fit into today’s technology-oriented society.  Readers might relate to this as a darker version of the very popular new game, Pokeman Go

This is a game where the stakes could not be any higher, considering the runners’ lives are at risk.  It will play into people’s worst fears since it seems very plausible how someone can be kidnapped and forced to run for their life by some mysterious person in the Internet age.  In this story there are three “runners” and three “its.”  Almost like a cat and mouse game where three are on the run as prey and three are the pursuers on the chase. 

When asked about the plot being open ended Lane commented to, “At this point it’s just a stand alone.  I wanted to write a book in the same mode as The Hunger Games with a life and death scenario.  My husband, a Physical Education teacher was telling me about the type of games his students play, including tag.  I thought how could that game happen in today’s technology world?”

The protagonists are likeable while the antagonists appear to be psychopaths of sort.  The “Its” are Brandy, obsessed with destroying a naturally beautiful girl; Robert, wanting to target his fellow teammate, a superstar of the high school basketball team; and Charles, a brainiac who wants a game with an intellectual equal.  They are vicious and rich people, unsatisfied with their own lives, who need something to feel better about themselves. 

On the other hand, the “runners” have a rich and satisfied life.  Laura, is a sweet, caring teenager who makes friends easily; Tyrese is an all star basketball player who has street smarts; Amanda is a geeky gamer extraordinaire.  With their lives on the line they use their skills to win the game, to reach home base first.  What makes the story interesting is how these three respond to the challenges placed upon them, each in their own way.

Chicago is the setting where the game takes place.  It becomes a secondary character of sorts.  Lane uses the cities landmarks to enhance the story.  The author noted, “I have always loved Chicago. I grew up in northern Indiana, so when our family went to “the city,” it was Chicago, where we visited. I also lived in Evanston for a year while my dad was getting his doctorate at Northwestern University, so I have good memories from that time. A few years ago my husband took me to Chicago to celebrate my birthday, and we stayed at The Palmer House, a National Historical Landmark hotel, went to a play, and attended a recording session of my favorite NPR show, ‘Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.’ The trip was a reminder of how much I love the city, and when the idea for this story came to me, Chicago was automatically the place I wanted it to be set. The characters end up in so many of my favorite places, including the Adler Planetarium, Wrigley Field, and the Art Institute, just to name a few.”

As the story progresses the old cliché applies, money can’t buy you happiness.  This story definitely puts a new spin on the old playground game of tag.  It is the race against time, which will make the reader frantically turn the pages, wanting to find out what happens at the finish line.

Book Reivew - "The Field of Fight" by LTG (ret) Michael Flynn

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

9781250106223Two recent books have highlighted the global terrorist dangers. Daniel Silva in his novel The Black Widow underlines the threat of ISIS and how some have underestimated it. Although the book is fictional the story is all too real. Another book, The Field Of Fight, by Lt. General Michael Flynn delves into the world of ISIS.

The Black Widow, besides being an intoxicating thriller, is also a warning for Americans. While reading the book it appears that real life events mesh with fiction.  The undercurrent of reality is front and center as evidenced by the author himself who wrote in the forward, “I take no pride in my prescience.  I only wish that the murderous, millenarian terrorism of the Islamic State lived solely on the pages of this story.”

In his non-fiction book Flynn points out that President Obama will never utter the words Islamic Extremist or Radical Islam.  Flynn comments about the hypocrisy, “The President should clearly and unambiguously define the enemy that we face and the threat to our way if life.  It is radical Islam.  We did it while fighting the enemy of Communism and Nazism.  ISIS is a very determined enemy who wants to establish a global Caliphate.  This political correctness of not naming our enemy is dangerous for the country.  I am confident Americans can take the truth.”

Silva also shows the dangers of ISIS through a riveting plot. It begins with ISIS detonating a massive bomb in the Marais district of Paris. Gabriel Allon, the Israeli Mossad Agent poised to become the chief of Israel’s secret intelligence service, is asked by a desperate French government to eliminate the man responsible for the terrible attack. Gabriel and his team get to work and quickly learn that the man behind the attack is a terrorist mastermind who calls himself Saladin. With women all over the world, including the west, joining the ranks of ISIS, Gabriel exploits the terror group’s one weakness by inserting a recruit of his own to infiltrate Saladin’s operation.

Flynn also debunks Democrats and some Republican pundits who say ISIS is being defeated.  They point to the terrorist groups loss of land and that these recent attacks are acts of desperation.  He strongly disagrees with “those people because that is actually false.  We excised them from some village in Iraq like Fallujah, yet they are able to attack the international community in San Bernardino, Orlando, France, Germany, Bangladesh, and Turkey, all of these in recent months.  The reason for this is that the enemy has doubled in size and grown in a global geographic footprint in the last six or so years.”

The blame lies squarely in the hands of the Obama Administration, including Hillary Clinton.  In the book, Flynn gives high marks to President Bush while lambasting President Obama, “He (Bush) realized the war was going badly, that we were losing, and our entire strategy needed to change.  The mere fact that he recognized this and proceeded to make the difficult decisions he eventually made is a leadership characteristic our current president lacks.”

Directly commenting to, “There is no enemy that is unbeatable.  Even though President Bush was at the end of his administration he brought in the fresh leadership of General David Petraeus and Robert Gates.  We were able to reverse the strategy and come up with a new one to win.  Now we are at the end of President Obama’s term; yet, when 99% of President Obama’s advisors told him in to keep 10,000 troops in Iraq to stop the rise of radical terrorism he did not listen. He made a political decision rather than a decision for our national security.  This is a weakness in his leadership style.  His problem is that he refuses to recognize this strategy is not working and the enemy has grown in capacity.”

One of the problems is that the current President wants to be surrounded by yes men.  Flynn recounts in the book how he was fired in 2014 because he went before Congress and spoke of how to keep America safe.  When asked about this, he responded, “I was appointed by President Obama twice, as Assistant Director of National Intelligence and the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency.  I never met with the President once; imagine that.  Why not ask to speak with me about our differences of opinion and my suggestions?  To me, this is very disturbing.”

He suspects he was fired because “our agency was very brutally honest about our findings.  I am not, nor have I ever been the type of person that will state what the boss wants to hear.  I am always very blunt and say what I feel, including offering solutions.  I was fired partially due to my honesty about the enemy we are facing, radical Islam.  In complete contrast to the President who called ISIS the JV team, I told Congress they were dangerous and growing.  Intelligence is about truth to power.” 

Although he outlined in the book extensive solutions, he summarized it for, “In order to beat this enemy we need to discredit the ideology.  Muslims need to take a more public international stand.  To do it they will have to be helped, prompted, and pushed by the US, something we are not doing now.  We need to depend on Middle East allies like Israel, Jordan, and Egypt. Finally, something that I have been criticized for is to get Russia involved.  They should assume responsibility and pressure Iran to stop their proxy wars. As I show in the book the ties between the Iranian regime and al Qaeda have been a well-established fact.”

Americans should take solace in knowing that Lt. General Flynn is one of Donald Trump’s top foreign policy advisors.  Obviously, Mr. Trump is not surrounding himself with yes people, but those who would not sit quietly back if he believes a “President” Trump has the wrong strategy. The Flynn book is a warning of how the Obama Administration has not recognized this country is fighting a war, the field of flight. The same is true for the Silva novel, which is not just a fictional thriller, but a believable scenario of events happening today. Both books are incredible reads with brilliant themes.

Book Review - "Little Girl Gone" by Gerry Schmitt

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

9780425281765_p0_v2_s192x300Little Girl Gone by Gerry Schmitt is the first book in her new Afton Tangler series.  This mystery about a baby kidnapping is not a who-done-it since early on readers know who is the perpetrator.  This author is also known as “cozy mystery writer,” Laura Childs, but a warning: there is nothing cozy about this plot.   The mystery comes in as people try to figure out along with the protagonists how they are going to solve the case, given the clues the author provides.

The reason for her pen name of Childs is that “I owned an advertising agency at the time I started writing.  I was fairly well known in the Twin Cities.  I decided not to co-mingle my two careers.  Of course I was found out.  Advertising did help me write because I had to have creativity on demand.  When I start to write I never have a tight outline.  I can see a stage play happening as things just come into my mind.”

From the beginning the story is very ominous.  In a mall a mother meets a woman, Marjorie, who sells re-born dolls, which is a true creepy profession.  This antagonist is spooky in herself with a very disturbing personality.  She has her son follow the mother home and that night in an affluent neighborhood of Minneapolis, the baby is abducted from her house after her teenage babysitter is violently assaulted. The parents are frantic, the police are baffled, and, with the perpetrator already in the wind, the trail is getting colder by the second.

Schmitt noted to, “I was researching something else and ran into this topic.  Women take a doll, strip out the hair and eyeballs, completely breaking them down, put in a motor to have a heart beat, paint them, and then put in human hair.  They are adopted for lots of money.  I actually went into a chat room where this woman was talking about not bonding with the one she had.  How weird is that?  I wanted to make sure the antagonist who made these dolls was terrifying, cunning, evil, and bizarre.”

The main character, Afton, is a family liaison officer with the Minneapolis P.D. It is her job to be the go-between for the police and the victims of terrible crimes. Afton struggles to prove herself to the police force, juggle work and family life, as well as maintain her physical and mental strength. Because she is intuitive, smart, and desires to become a detective she wiggles her way into the investigation, working closely with the FBI and Detective Max Montgomery.  Able to connect the dots and find clues she becomes a valuable asset and more like a partner to law enforcement as they try to stay ahead of the criminals and find them before they kidnap and murder again.

Will Afton ever realize her dream of becoming a detective? Schmitt gave a heads up, “In my next book, Shadow Girls, she is still a ‘wannabe’ cop.  She pushes her way into the investigation.  In real life, crime liaisons get very involved with both the victim and the police.  I really don’t know yet what her profession will be.  Maybe she will become a cop or maybe she and Max will spin off to a private detective agency.  I really don’t know yet.  What I do know is there will not be a romantic relationship between Afton and Max, just a working relationship.”

This novel is very plot driven.  Readers will be at the edge of their seats as the spooky criminals take center stage.  Anyone wanting a riveting story that has elements of realism should read this book.

Book Review - "Crisis of Character" by Gary J. Byrne

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

9781455568871_p0_v2_s192x300Crisis Of Character is the perfect name for a book about Hillary Clinton.  Written by former Presidential Secret Service Officer Gary Byrne, he recounts how he was up close and personal with the then First Lady.  Anyone reading this book can relate his issues with the Clintons to show how she conducted herself while Secretary Of State. 

In the book Byrne describes her as “distant, cold, dishonest, and a habitual liar.” He commented, “Americans need to know that Mrs. Clinton is not a leader.  She displays a holier than thou attitude, ‘do as I say, not as I do.’  When I heard her say Bill Clinton would work with her on the economy my first thoughts, ‘what steps will she take to protect young women working at the White House from him?’  Her pattern is deflection, deception, and lies.”

A word Mr. Byrne forgot to mention regarding Hillary was incompetent.  Take for example the reset button given to Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2009.  Lavrov noted the translation said, “overcharge,” not reset. Also, the word was typed in Latin script, not in Cyrillic.  So wrong word.  Wrong alphabet.  It later came out that she and company had sidestepped traditional protocol by not asking State’s team of translators to help.

Interestingly everything he mentioned about her in the book can be applied to the email scandal.  He talked about the Clintons having the attitude they were above the law.  Just refer to the meeting between Bill Clinton and Attorney General Loretta Lynch on the runway in Arizona.  Then a few days later FBI Director James Comey said about the findings, “this is not to suggest that in similar circumstances, a person who engaged in this activity would face no consequences. To the contrary, those individuals are often subject to security or administrative sanctions. But that is not what we are deciding now.”

Byrne spoke of how Hillary liked to deflect blame, pleading not knowing.  Comey pointed out in his news conference how “None of these e-mails should have been on any kind of unclassified system, but their presence is especially concerning because all of these e-mails were housed on unclassified personal servers not even supported by full-time security staff, like those found at Departments and Agencies of the U.S. Government—or even with a commercial service like Gmail.”

Throughout the interview Byrne mentioned how Hillary lies and deceives.  Remember in her March 15th news conference she claimed, “I did not email any classified material to anyone on my email. There is no classified material." Yet, Comey reported that the FBI identified 113 emails that passed through her server, containing materials that were classified at the time sent, including some that were Top Secret.

Finally, Byrne noted to, “she is arrogant, has disdain, and a desire to push her agenda regardless of the damages.  She does not care about any criticism.”  This is obvious in Comey’s conclusion, “There is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information… There is evidence to support a conclusion that any reasonable person in Secretary Clinton’s position, or in the position of those government employees with whom she was corresponding about these matters, should have known that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation.”

As a side note, Byrne noted, “Her attitude was so bad it got to a point that Secret Service Agents assigned to her detail would think of it as a punishment.  Part of our job hazard was having to deal with her anger management issues.”

Crisis Of Character offers insight into the personality of Hillary Clinton.  It confirms what people have seen regarding how she has conducted her professional life.  It becomes obvious that her temperament of ignorance, hypocrisy, and the poor choices she has made are reasons why she should never be elected President.

Book Review - "Ice Station Nautilus" by Rick Campbell

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

9781250072153_p0_v1_s192x300Ice Station Nautilus by Rick Campbell is a fast paced military thriller involving a cat and mouse game between Russian and American submarines.  Readers will likely make the inevitable comparison with Tom Clancy’s novel, The Hunt For Red October, but fear not, this story holds its own.

The plot revolves around a collision between the newest American and Russian submarines, the USS North Dakota and K-535 Yury Dolgoruky. The Russian sub is being deployed on its first patrol while America's newest fast attack submarine, North Dakota, is assigned to trail it and collect intelligence. Because of their close proximity the subs collide, stranding both underneath the polar ice cap. The Americans immediately set up a rescue mission, sending a new submarine and a SEAL team to establish an ice camp, Ice Station Nautilus. The Russians also send men and material, ostensibly to rescue their own men, but a rogue General orders a Russian Special Forces team to take over the American base camp and the American sub, leaving no survivors or traces of their actions.

Campbell balances well the military jargon and technology. Since the author is a retired Navy Commander, having served for twenty years on four nuclear powered submarines, the descriptions and technology are very believable without being overly detailed. Readers will get an up close and personal view of what it is like to be trapped on a submarine.

If readers were to do a fact check would they see the authenticity in the story? Campbell told, “Yes.  Submarines in this area cannot see each other.  They make educated guesses about range, course, and speed.  They will never get intentionally close on purpose.  I thought of the different parameters that can make something go wrong.  My editor once told me ‘true life does not have to make sense, but fiction does.’  I thought how could two subs collide?  Knowing it had to be accidental I put in the book that if one changes speed or direction a collision could occur. Additionally, I had to consider how the American sub would get trapped under the ice. Especially since submarines under the ice constantly track the depth of the ice they’re under, documenting the location of ice thin enough to break through, and also looking for leads and polynas, which are small open spaces between the ice floes.”

Furthermore, he stated, “I did my due diligence with the research.  In 2009 I had an opportunity to go to an ice camp so in writing the story I knew what it looked like and how it operated. I also flew out to San Diego to view all the rescue equipment and was able to speak with a rescue crew.” 

But even more interesting is how Campbell shows the political struggles between Russia and the US. Both sides realize that whoever reaches the sunken subs first will be able to board the other country’s submarine and get their latest weapon and tactical systems technology. The USS North Dakota is the first third flight Virginia class submarine, with lots of new technology, while the Russian sub, Yuriy Dolgorukiy, is their latest ballistic missile submarine.

Through his main character, National Security Advisor Christine O’Connor, the author is able to give readers a world’s eye view of the conflict.  She is a female version of the famous character Jack Ryan.  Although not a special forces operator nor “Superwoman,” she is intelligent, determined, gritty, not afraid to get her hands dirty, will engage in a battle, and has a get even type of mentality. 

This novel is a riveting read of how conflicts can arise.  It is fast-paced and suspenseful.  With four submarines, torpedo battles, undersea rescues, and SEAL shootouts with Spetznaz, readers will be on the edge of their seats.

Book Review - "And After the Fire" by Lauren Belfer

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

9780062428516_p0_v4_s192x300And After The Fire by Lauren Belfer has an historical component to the mystery. The settings alternate between Berlin in the late 1700s to mid-1800s, and 2010 in New York and Germany. Readers follow the dual storylines: the rape of the Jewish people by an anti-Semitic Bach composition and the literal rape of the main character Susana in the present day. 

Belfer formulated the idea after taking a course about Bach.  She commented to, “Some of his music had a lashing out against the Jews.  The idea came to me as I thought about the Nazis stealing masterpieces of art: ‘what if I had found a manuscript stolen during the war?’ As I did the research I was introduced to people I never heard of including the real-life Sara.  I knew I had to write about her and this propelled two narratives, one in the present with Susana, and the other in the past with Sara.”

The plot begins with Susana Kessler struggling to rebuild her life after she experiences a devastating act of violence on the streets of New York City. When her Uncle Henry dies soon after, she uncovers the long-hidden Bach manuscript. Determined to return it to its rightful owner she enlists the help of Dan, a Bach musical expert who is not Jewish.  Because his Lutheran faith is rocked by a personal loss he forms a kinship with Susana who is also questioning her beliefs about mankind in the wake of the Holocaust.

Readers will be taken on a journey with the characters as they try to solve the mystery behind this lost cantata of Bach that has unmistakable anti-Semitism in the recitatives. This is where Belfer introduces Sara Itzig Levy, a renowned musician in the 1800s, who receives an unsettling gift from her teacher, Bach’s son. This work’s disturbing message will haunt Sara and her family for generations to come. Both Susana and Sara face the same dilemma, what should be done with a music manuscript, which has been carefully concealed from the world since 1783.  If revealed it could bring danger upon the Jewish culture.

According to Belfer, “the context of the music is relevant.  Critics say that the aesthetic beauty is all that counts and composers’ personal thoughts should not be considered.  I don’t buy that.  I don’t think these anti-Jewish beliefs came out of nowhere.  I also touch in the book how the Lutheran religion has in its Bible that ‘Jews should go to hell,’ and there is Martin Luther’s book that is extremely anti-Semitic. These feelings were simmering for hundreds of years.  I was surprised when I learned through my research how Lutherans did not disavow these anti-Jewish thoughts until the 1990s.  Bach chose the lyrics from several poets that worked with him, and they lashed out at Jews in very contemptuous ways. He was an ordained Minister of Music responsible for choosing the Librettos for the Church pieces; although the piece in the book is fictional.”

Composers Felix and Fanny’s Mendelssohns’ great aunt is Sara. It is with these characters that the author explores the treatment of women during the 1800s. Felix Mendelssohn, during most of his sister Fanny’s lifetime, had the power to prohibit her from publishing her music and, in fact, took credit for some of her work.

Belfer noted, “The music of Fanny Mendelssohn was depressed for so many years.  People are now beginning to rediscover it.  To this day I just cannot figure out what was going through Fanny’s mind, refusing to publish her works.  Some have said that during the time period she lived society would have disavowed the family.  Yet, it seems to me because her husband, mother, and great aunt strongly encouraged her to publish her music those excuses could not be true.  I doubt they would have encouraged her if it were going to destroy their position in society.  Right before she died she did get the courage and finally published her works.”

But the core of the story has the manuscript seeming like a secondary character.  Through it readers learn historical facts about Germany, how music can affect people’s views, and what should be done with such a piece of work. 

And After The Fire is a brilliant novel. It intertwines history and music with likeable characters, both real-life and created.   It transports the reader to a world seldom visited, with a mystery that keeps the pages turning.


Book Review - "The Other Daughter" by Lauren Willig

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

9781250056429_p0_v1_s192x300The Other Daughter by Lauren Willig is part historical novel, part mystery, with a tinge of romance.  Throughout the novel World War I is the shadow that follows all the characters.  The plot encompasses the changing roles of society, how social structures are collapsing with the goal to escape by partying hard and living the fast life.

Throughout the story is the mystery of unraveling secrets, deceits, and drama.  The main character, Rachel Woodley, while working as a governess in France, receives news that her mother has died.  While cleaning out the cottage she finds a magazine photograph of her supposedly deceased father, and discovers he is the Earl of Ardmore, who is very much alive. Thus begins her shocking discovery that she is not who she thought she was and that her entire existence is a sham. She is humiliated by the thoughts of being his illegitimate daughter and that everything she thought she knew about her past is a lie, even her surname.  Shocked, hurt, and furious Rachel assumes a new identity to confront her father.  Originally seeking revenge she decides to enlist the help of a gossip columnist, Simon Montfort, to expose the Earl and ruin his reputation. Simon helps her gain entry to some of London’s most coveted social events while creating a new identity, an alter ego named Vera. 

Willig commented to, “I thought about the idea, what would it be like if someone finds their father is a different person than the one they knew.  How would it feel to suddenly have your underpinning taken away with all the memories turned into something false?  I am fascinated with the idea that we do not really know all about those close to us.  We think we know our parents, but that is based on a perception of our own interactions.  We make up our own myths of those around us based on our own needs, desires, and frustrations.  It is almost like turning a blind eye, accepting what we know on the surface. Rachel’s family was considered respectable because her late father was an Oxford man.  But when she found out her true identity, even though part of her blood was blue, she is no longer considered gentry.”

The characters are well developed.  One of the most powerful parts of the book is when the author addresses shell shock and how it affected those returning from the war, including emotional breakdowns and suicide. Readers must journey back in time to understand how plausible it would have been for someone to assume another identity without being found out. People will also go through many of the same emotions as the characters as they suffer loss, grief, and betrayal.

The plot also has many humorous moments.  Especially when Simon and Rachel debate the barrier that exists between the English aristocracy and someone in Rachel’s class, living a propriety life in a genteel household. The witty banter between them is very enjoyable. Readers see Rachel as funny, intelligent, bold, and genuine. 

Because she feels the period after World War I is the origins of the modern socialite, Willig told of her desire to “compare the lifestyle of the aristocracy to todays.  We shifted from them to celebrities.  People read and speculate about the affluent lifestyles.  The class barriers of the 1920s were permeable. I am always interested in the way class works and the subtle contradictions.  People wanted to know about the balls and what the upper class were doing.”

Willig’s next book also has a realistic heroine involved in a mystery.  The plot has her trying to find out what happened to her brother and his wife, was it a murder/suicide?  She enlists the help of a journalist to solve this crime that takes place in New York during the Gilded Age. Willig noted, “I grew up reading mysteries so my books have that component.  I believe you are whom you read. I like to construct my plots around an essential mystery that must be solved for the characters to move forward.”

As with all her books Willig allows the people to explore the era she writes about.  With The Other Daughter readers will enjoy an engaging and engrossing story surrounded by intriguing characters.

Book Review - "The Iron Major Survival Guide" by David W. Dunphy

This book is f#cking awesome.  

BLUF:  First off, this book should be read by every military officer and senior NCO.  Second, I wish I had one back when I was a Group S2/S3Air or the Brigade Training Officer in the 3 shop.  It is useful for all but I would strongly recommend that all 2nd LTs and ensigns have a copy.  This is what they DON'T teach you in ROTC or the Academies or OCS...


Penned with a wry wit, LTC Dunphy outlines the do's and, more importantly, the don'ts of leadership from a staff officer's perspective.  Politically incorrect as hell, Dunphy has items like "mouth breather" alerts and "bush league/amateur hour" statements.  As I read through the survival guide last night, I found myself nodding in agreement or outright laughing along with the author.  However, the book is not about entertaining Major B, it is about making Major B a far better officer than he thinks he is.

With chapters like "The Beer Math of Doctrinal Consumption", Dunphy usually opens up with some smart-ass remark that then evolves into the lesson to be learned. Por ejemplo, in the section about building a solid relationship with your commander, Dunphy starts with, "Fight the close fight and run the daily operations of the Battalion so your boss can look at the big picture, fight the deep fight, and make out with the good idea fairy." before outlining some common sense methods to accomplish that goal. 

While most of the information should be intuitive, with 15+ hour days, deployments and field work, leaders may miss some/most of the points made by Dunphy. The survival guide serves as reminders to us all on (1) what to focus on, (2) what not to step in, (3) how to be a better leader and (4) how not be f#cked up like polio.

Book Review - "Shadow War" by Sean McFate

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

Shadow War
is the debut novel by Sean McFate.  Unlike other thrillers involving geo-politics this does not have a covert organization sanctioned and working secretly with those in the US government.   This Tom Locke series involves an organization that hires private contractors/mercenaries to complete missions.  The many characters do not do it for love of country, but are “for-profit warriors.”

McFate hopes readers will learn more about contractors.  “I wanted to give them a real face.  They are human beings who are not stock villains and do have a warrior ethos.  I wanted to shed light on these new types of warriors. I think they will be used more and more because they allow for plausible deniability, are cheaper, and can provide manpower.  They are a way for administrations to have a lack of transparency, oversight, and accountability.  For example we have 3500 troops on the ground in Iraq, but 7000 contractors.  Remember Senator Obama proposed legislation against private military contractors that President Obama has not touched.  Those in the arena are doing their best given limited time and information and have to work under terrible circumstances.  General McChrystal understood this and was the best military commander I had the privilege to work with.  He is the real deal.  He will go to hell and back with his troops.”

The main character, Tom Locke, is based on McFate’s own experiences. Both served in the 82nd Airborne division of the United States Army as paratroopers, and later worked as a private military contractors.  This allows McFate to create stories with realism and authenticity that encompass deceit, corruption, and wars fought both by “soldiers” on the battlefield and by men wearing suits behind closed doors.

McFate drew all the characters from people he knew.  He stated to, “Locke is a lot like me although more damaged and bad assed. His best friend Miles was an actual person, modeled after my platoon sergeant and was like an older brother to me. Locke and I served in the 82nd Airborne division of the United States Army as paratroopers from 1992 - 2000, and later worked as private military contractors. Locke is still a contractor while I am now a professor at Georgetown University, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and associate professor at National Defense. The differences are I did not have the actual mission assigned to Locke in the Ukraine, but we both worked on stopping genocides, arms deals, and went after African warlords.  Locke’s boss Brad Winters is a composite of two to three people.  As he is portrayed in the book, the bosses are extremely smart, Machiavellian, shrewd, very ambitious, who work for their own interests without any scruples.” 

This captivating plot has terrifying power plays and treachery that can tip the balance of power towards Russia’s Putin. Apollo Outcomes, one of the world’s most successful private contracting firms, assigns Locke a dangerous mission.  He has one week to rescue a Ukraine wealthy businessman’s family, and lead an assault on Russian forces to place that rich oligarch in a position of influence and leadership.  With a team of highly trained mercenaries and careful planning it appears he will accomplish the mission.  Getting in the way of success is Alie Macfarlane, an old love who stumbles, unluckily, back into his life at the very worst time imaginable and his boss, Brad Winters, is engaged in a secretive, high-stakes geopolitical chess game with influential power brokers in capitals around the world.

The author sees Putin as a threat to the US and wrote this as a preview of what could happen.  “In future years the rise of nationalism will allow Putin to move into Eastern Europe through shadow wars. Remember he thought the worst event of the 20th Century was the dismantlement of the Soviet Union.  He has a Czarist ambition for Eastern Europe. This plot shows how he might do it.  In this Internet age someone like Putin will take over a country, not like the Soviets did, but through disruption and installing a puppet to rule.  It is done with massive propaganda, Internet trolls, proxy militia, mercenaries, and “Little Green Men,” Russian soldiers without Russian insignia on their fatigues. Putin understands America will probably not risk World War III over Article 5 of NATO.”

Shadow War is a gripping believable story filled with suspense and intrigue. Readers will learn about the shadowy covert world of private contractors/mercenaries and how wars might be fought in the future.  The grittiness of the main character, Tom Locke, adds to the plotline.  Anyone looking for a different type of thriller should put this book on their radar.  Readers will look forward to the future adventures of Locke.

Book Review - "Ghosts of War" by Brad Taylor

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

9780525954927_p0_v1_s192x300Ghosts Of War by Brad Taylor blends humor, action, and history.  Anyone who was a fan of the late legendary thriller author Vince Flynn should read Taylor, the heir apparent to the Mitch Rapp series with his Pike Logan books.  The realistic scenarios, technology, and military operations keep the plot moving and insightful.

Asked about the humorous scenes the author responded, “Maybe because I am a smart aleck.  While writing something might strike me as funny so I put it in the book. Regarding the believability, I make sure I always go back and answer every question. For example, when writing scene x I think why wouldn’t they just call the police? Another example, I can have Pike driving a car, reach for something and swerve into another lane.  But, if I put that scene into the story people will say ‘how convenient.’ I always think of a good explanation for why the characters do what they do.  I actually become a reader since every 100 pages I go back and reread the story to make sure nothing jumps out.”

He is also able to use his experiences to enhance the story.  Commissioned as a second lieutenant in the US Army infantry, he served for twenty-one years, retiring as a Special Forces Lt. Colonel.  While in the Delta unit he conducted operations in support of US national interests in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other classified locations.

This story begins with Pike and Company sidelined because the Taskforce, an illegal off the books group, has been put on hold.  While on stand down, two Israeli contractors, Shoshana and Aaron, hire Pike Logan and Jennifer Cahill to help find hidden items stolen by the Nazis. This part of the book uses history to formulate the fictional scenes as the heroes struggle to attain an ancient Torah.  The backstory about the Nazi gold trains explained how the Jewish people were stripped of everything valuable: gold, paintings, wedding rings, and ancient artifacts while they were loaded into cattle cars.

Meanwhile Russia is trying to expand its influence under the guise of fighting terrorism by moving into Belaurs, a country in Eastern Europe on its border. Russian President Putin uses oligarchs and thugs, the Night Wolves, to create a diversion. Having an agenda of their own, they attempt to create a scenario that will cause World War III between the US and Russia that includes shooting down an American aircraft.   With time running out, and America demanding vengeance, Pike and his partner Jennifer enlist the Israelis to help them race to unravel who is involved before a point of no return is reached.

Fast checking this story: the Night Wolves are an actual motorcycle organization, thugs who work for Putin to stop any protests. Putin is trying to leverage countries for their natural resources. Unfortunately, many of the countries in Russia’s sphere of influence can by taken over without any risk of war, since NATO troops have been depleted.  The main antagonist Simon Migonuv is based on a Russian oligarch, the head of a crime syndicate, influential in running the gas pipelines, who is on the FBI’s most wanted list, and has a passport from Israel. Regarding the Nazi gold trains, Taylor noted when he was in Poland doing the research he actually saw these tunnels that he speculates could have possibly been used to build super weapons.

All of Taylor’s books have a reoccurring realistic theme of how US policy is determined by politics while citizens’ lives sometimes take a back seat.  Quotes reflect this opinion such as when the taskforce commander, Kurt Hale states, “Politics trumps security every time,” and “Ignore what the damn politicians say.  You’re the president now.  Not a member of a political party.”

He explained to, “The world is not black and white. During the crisis with Apollo 13 the effort was made to save three lives.  Yet, if an individual hostage is taken as in the case in Syria there might be no effort to get them back, especially if it means risking war.”

As the series progresses so does Taylor’s character development.  He explores the relationship between Jennifer and Pike, as well as between Shoshana and Aaron.  Beyond that readers begin to understand that Jennifer is more comfortable in her Taskforce role and that Shoshana’s backstory has created the person she is today.  These scenes are interesting, emotional, and sometimes funny as the characters banter lightens the intensity.

Taylor commented, “I was going to kill Shoshana and Aaron in the first book they appeared in, but I liked them so much I decided to keep them alive.  In this book we understand why Shoshana was broken from day one.  She looks up to Pike and Jennifer and in many ways wants to emulate them as she searches to find her way.  She admires Jennifer for her moral compass and feels that Pike is a brother to her.  Although Shoshana and Aaron will not be in my next book, Ring of Fire, out in January, they will be the subjects of the short story, The Target, out next year.”

Ghosts Of War is action packed, fast-paced, and gripping.  With each book readers get to know more of the characters’ personalities, making the story more enjoyable to read. Not only will people have a riveting story, well-developed characters, some historical background, but will also enjoy Taylor’s pop culture references.