Book Review: The Gate Keeper

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

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The Gate Keeper, by the mother/son team known as Charles Todd, is a mystery with a huge ending twist.  Fans of this series will see Scotland Yard Detective Ian Rutledge having to solve a case from a different point of view. He is not only the investigator, but is the first person on the scene so he has become a witness as well.

Because this is a different type of mystery, The Todds wanted to make sure readers understand that it is not a puzzle where “there is a race between the writer and the reader as to who figures it out first. This novel has Rutledge pursuing the truth and finding a solution.  He has a dogged determination to keep tracking the killer.”

Having left his sister’s wedding in a distraught mood Rutledge decides to take a car trip. He encounters on a deserted road a woman standing next to a murder victim.  She reports how a stranger stepped in front of the car and without warning fired a shot killing Stephen Wentworth immediately.  With a list of persons of interest piling up Rutledge must sort through the many different aspects of the case.  He is helped along by a voice in his head, Corporal Hamish MacLeod, the ghost of the Scottish officer he had executed for cowardice, who comments persistently inside this detective's weary ear. Rutledge always listens, and appears to have given Hamish a life that was taken away. Hamish is real to Rutledge, sometimes antagonistic, sometimes supportive, sometimes part of his unconscious perception, an inner-self.

An interesting piece to the storyline is the similarities between the victim, Stephen, and the detective, Rutledge.  They both had someone close to them killed in the war, although Rutledge played more of a role.  They were also both jilted by the woman they loved.”  The Todds noted, “Stephen is the ultra ego of Rutledge in some ways, and that is probably one of the reasons why he wanted to follow through and find the killer. They both developed levels of coping skills and were solitary people.  Neither became involved in a relationship after their engagement was broken.  Yet, Ian came from a loving family, and Stephen from a dysfunctional one.” 

One of the secondary characters can best be described as an early 20th Century “Mommy Dearest.”  The mother of Stephen is vicious, spoiled, and uncaring who tried to thwart any happiness her son might achieve.  “We wanted to write a character where the mother hated her son all his life. She sees him as a monster, an ugly duckling.  She has no redeeming qualities. She enjoys painting him in a dim light.  Basically, just a terrible person who is bitter and self-centered.”

Because World War I play such an important role in the storyline, readers get a glimpse into the emotional wounds of many of the men, including Rutledge. “We wanted to humanize those who have served.  Our goal as writers is to show how they were ordinary people and then were trained to be warriors.  When they come back they must learn to trust again and to relate to those outside of their unit, the band of brothers. They can talk amongst their peers because they know there is a sense of understanding. Having experienced horrors first hand they cannot just shut out what they saw on the battlefield.”

The Gate Keeper by Charles Todd is a ‘who done it’ type of mystery.  Readers will enjoy the investigative process Ian Rutledge must go through to find the culprit.


Book Review: Bright Young Dead

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

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Bright Young Dead by Jessica Fellowes brings to life the mid-1920s amid a strong who done it mystery.  Fellowes known for writing the companion books to the Downtown Abbey TV series has used those skills to write a riveting historical novel. This is the second novel that delves into the lives of the aristocratic Mitford household during the Golden Age.

Fellowes noted, “I have been writing a lot of non-fiction and the Downtown Abbeyseries of books. I love this era and wanted to write a novel in it.  I was approached by my editor who suggested I write a vintage crime series. My continuing characters Guy and Louisa were born.”

During a treasure hunt a murder is discovered.  Arrested is one of the servants, Dulcie, of a guest since she was overheard having an argument with the victim. She had previously been associated with a gang of criminals known as “The Forty Thieves.”  Lead by Alice Diamond this group shoplifts, robs the wealthy, and fences the stolen goods.

“I can’t remember exactly how I heard of Alice, but I was reading generally about the period, as I have done for some years now, and came across her story. It seemed to me immediately obvious that I had to use her in this book! Alice Diamond and the Forty Thieves were all the girlfriends of the Forty Elephants, a notoriously violent gang from South East London. Gang culture can be very pervasive when young people are looking for motivation and glamour to lift them out of their surroundings. Her story is a complicated one. She was born into a criminal very poor environment, where it was the norm for people to get what they needed in aggressive, illegal ways. That said, she was not frequently violent and her chosen method of getting what she wanted was shoplifting.”

Caught in the middle is Louisa Cannon, a servant in the Mitford household and a chaperone of the young adult daughters, Nancy and Pamela. She has become a good friend of Dulcie and believes she is innocent, determined to get to the truth of the matter. Intertwined is the relationship Louisa has with a young officer, Guy Sullivan, and his partner, Mary Moon.  They have been assigned to go undercover and arrest her and the gang. During her investigation Louisa seeks the help of Sullivan, since there is a definite connection with the Diamond gang. Together they connect the dots to find the true killer and end Diamond’s reign of crime.

Readers will also enjoy learning about the 1920s era. The young society aristocrats are determined to have fun, going to dance clubs, becoming flapper girls, experimenting with drugs, and showcasing the latest fashions.

“I wanted to write about the reality of life for the upper classes before the Second World War, was that they largely shared their houses with servants, the working class. In portraying the Mitford sisters, there would be servants in the house and I wanted very much to include them in the story. As a servant in the nursery, my fictional heroine, Louisa Cannon, would be both up and downstairs, as it were, spending time both in the servants’ quarters and closely with the family. This meant we could have an insight into the workings of the whole house and all its inhabitants.”

The mix of historical fiction adds authenticity to the novel. The murder investigation allows people to understand the tensions between the upper aristocratic class and their lower-class servants.  This story makes for a very interesting read.


Book Review: Lies

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

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Liesby T. M. Logan is his debut psychological thriller. From page one readers will be riveted to the storyline and it never lets up. The plot focuses on what can happen to someone’s normal life when, in one moment, it comes crashing down with the main culprit, lies and betrayals.

The plot begins with Joseph Lynch and his 4-year-old son, William, navigating North London traffic when William spots his mother’s car exiting the highway. A spur-of-the-moment detour leads to disaster. Mel, Joe’s wife and William’s mother, is spotted at the Premier Inn bar arguing with her best friend’s husband, tech millionaire Ben Delaney. After Mel leaves, Joe confronts Ben with a civil conversation, but it quickly develops into a confrontation. Words lead to shoving and Joe pushes Ben a little too hard where he falls and bangs his head. At the same time, he must help his son who is having a major asthma attack, leaving Ben unattended.  Unfortunately, when he goes back later Ben is missing and so is Joe’s phone.  Later that night Mel is confronted and delivers her first lie, saying it is only a business meeting.  Eventually she admits to an affair that begins a downward spiral for Joe’s life. The more he tries to unravel the lies, the more deception he discovers. As the lies gain momentum, he realizes he can trust no one, and must mount a personal investigation to find the truth. Accused of having something to do with Ben’s disappearance, Joe must find Ben to prove his innocence.

The storyline raises some valid and important issues about technology and social media. Joe realizes that someone is manipulating his text messages, the home PC, his Facebook account, photos, and anything else they can get their hands on. It becomes clear the crime and the technology were going hand-in-hand.

Because social media is an antagonist “I wrote this quote, “I was struck by what a strange view you could get of someone’s life from looking at his or her Facebook profile.” I do not think Facebook reflects someone’s real life.  No one is as happy as they appear on Facebook nor as angry as they appear on Twitter.  I once read about an academic study by Birmingham City University that showed how Facebook was involved in 40 to 50 murders.  People had a dispute and became antagonistic, some pretended to be others, luring people into dangerous situations, or to make it appear someone was alive when they actually were not.”

It is interesting to have a story written from the male point of view. Joe is an average, contented, trusting man, happily married man, a daunting father, and a respected teacher with a wife he loves and a son he worships. But he is also very naïve, lying to himself as he tries to persuade himself that he was not betrayed. He is the kind of character a reader can root for.

“Joe is similar to me.  I am a father like Joe.  What he says about William, his four-year-old, is what I would say.  William is based on my son at that age, including his traits, games, and challenges. Both Joe and I are family oriented. Just like William, my son was obsessed with cars and one of his first words was the car company Audi. The scene in the book is true, where we would sit in traffic, calling out car names.  My son matched up the shapes of his toy cars with the real cars owned by myself, my wife, and my parents.He is righteous, every man, an average man, a good father and a loving husband. In the beginning of the book he is optimistic, kind, steady, and honest. It takes him a while to figure out bad things can happen to good people. He wants to see the best in someone, which leads them to take advantage of him. People manipulate him because they could predict what he would do and how he would react.”

This gripping psychological thriller is a twisted page-turner that will keep readers guessing with an unexpected turn. There are layers of lies, secrets, and betrayals.


Book Review: Seduced By A Scot

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.

Seduced by a Scot by Julia London is a book about survival and how someone can overcome extraordinary obstacles. The hero and heroine had to overcome their past and learn to move forward.

London recounted how this is “It is the sixth and final book in “The Highland Grooms” series.  I wanted to base it in the early eighteenth century when Scotland and England were unified and acted like bad cousins. I thought it was a great backdrop to set a series about a Scottish family where the women were English.  I thought it would be interesting to have the English women and the Scottish men struggling with the same problems the countries were going through.” 

A prominent Scottish family hires a fixer, Nicholas Bain, to help them weather the possible scandal. Calvin Garbett has arranged for his daughter, unassuming in personality and beauty, to be married to someone whose family will help his business dealings. Falsely accused of enticing the fiancé, the ward, Maura Darby, is taken by Bain to marry an aging bachelor. Having no other options, she agrees, but silently is plotting to return for her family heirloom necklace, taken from her by the mother and daughter. During their long journey, she vents to him about being hurt and disappointed by those who are supposed to care for her. Maura challenges Bain at every turn to see her as a person rather than a problem to be solved.  He realizes that she is entitled to her necklace and plots with her to get it back. As they spend time together they grow closer and sparks start to fly between them.  Bain realizes that they are kindred spirits since he was thrown out by his supposed father and the one possession, a pocket watch, he cherished was taken away. They find love and realize that they can trust one another.

Readers will enjoy the Cinderella element to the story.  She was given the servant’s quarters and hand me down clothes.  Mrs. Garbett took Maura’s beautiful clothes, belongings, pets and gave them all to her daughter Sorcha who was extremely spoiled.  Maura tried to stay out of her way, lurking in the shadows. Both women were petty, jealous, and cruel to Maura and would do anything to make her feel unwanted.  Only while traveling with Bain does she become someone determined, bold, and brash.

“I wanted to write Bain and Maura as soul mates. Both never had anyone miss them, care for them, or love them.  Those who should have protected them betrayed them.  I think this created barriers.  Unlike most men of the time, Bain did not believe she was just property and under the thumb of every man, without the ability to make decisions for herself. He treated her as an equal.” 

Relationship stories are the best when the hero and heroine can share a similar background. They both had to face secrets, lies, cruelty, resentment, enviousness, and spite. Taking a journey with these two wounded souls allowed readers to share their emotions ranging from sadness to laughter.


20 lesser-known aircraft of the Vietnam War

While you surely know about iconic Vietnam-era planes like the F-4 Phantom II or the UH-1 Huey helicopter, you probably haven't heard much about aircraft like the Black Spot, Skyknight, or the Dragonfly. Although they aren't as well-known, these fascinating warplanes played crucial roles during operations in Southeast Asia.

Hiller OH-23 Raven

image from www.victoryinstitute.net

 The OH-23 was used as a scout helicopter during a time when the U.S. military was still figuring out how to best utilize helicopters on the battlefield. Ravens would scout ahead of friendly units, but were underpowered for Vietnam's terrain and their skid guns (when they worked) weren't adequate either. Nearly 100 of these lightweight helicopters were lost before the Army replaced them with the vastly improved OH-6 Cayuse in 1966.

Continue reading "20 lesser-known aircraft of the Vietnam War" »


Book Review: Vendetta

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

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Vendetta by Iris Johansen brings back characters introduced in the Eve Duncan books.  Although it is billed as an “Eve Duncan” she is only mentioned briefly. But, this does not take anything away from the plot and the main characters, RachelVenable and Jude Brandon. The story centers on these two and their attempts to bring down Max Huber, the head of Red Star, a terrorist organization with immense power.

The story begins with the shooting of a top CIA official, Carl Venable.  His dying breath to the operative, Jude Brandon, to save his daughter, Dr. Rachel Venable, and give her the choice of eliminating Huber to prevent him from wreaking further havoc on a global scale.Huber wants revenge on Rachel, believing that she killed his father by poisoning him. Enlisting the help of her good friend, CIA operative Catherine Ling and her on again, off again boyfriend, Richard Cameron, they work together to bring Huber down.

Johansen noted, “Every other chapter has a choice come into play.  It is all about making choices. Rachel had to decide if she would go after the bad guys. Brandon whether he would involve himself emotionally with Rachel.  Catherine made the choice not to hide from her desire for Cameron, as well as knowing she had to give Rachel space and control over her own destiny. The bad guy Huber is pure evil without redeeming qualities and his choice was to inflict as much collateral damage as possible. Even though I have a choice as a writer, I just wanted to kill Huber for doing terrible things to the people I love in my books.”

Both Rachel and Catherine had similar experiences of having to overcome rape.  At the age of fifteen Rachel was captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan, watched them kill her mother and brother, and was brutally raped as well as tortured.  What Johansen does wonderfully is to show how Rachel is determined to overcome her past experiences. One of the reasons she becomes a medical doctor is to heal people.Both Catherine and Rachel are intelligent, tough, strong, independent, and stubborn.

The book quote has Rachel determined to not be seen as a cripple. “I wrote that because I consider it the bravest thing she ever said.  She went through a terrible event, but she fought and conquered it. Catherine also had a tough life, growing up on the Hong Kong waterfronts.  She learned from it to become stronger. These two women are more similar than different. They had rough teenage years that they had to overcome.  I think they are more sisters than friends and will always go to bat for each other. I think Catherine is more like the older sister because she has a son, which makes a big difference.”

Johansen writes female characters that are something other than constant damsels in distress. They find a way to survive and have come out even stronger. This story shows how a character’s past and the decisions made influence the present and future, sometimes to the point of getting revenge by pursuing a vendetta.


Book Review: Every Wicked Man

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

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Every Wicked Man by Steven James is the last in the series.  This book is third in the prequel series and eleventh overall, in the Bowers Files novels. People should probably want to read the other books first to get a better idea of what is happening in this story.

After a Senator’s son takes his own life and posts the video on-line FBI Agent Patrick Bowers is drawn into a complex web of lies. Clues that might help solve the puzzle include a century old code.  At the funeral Bowers attempts to track down a woman visualizing it from a distance.  Out of nowhere Mannie, the bodyguard of Blake Neeson, comes to help, but the FBI is wary since he and his boss are on the top ten-wanted list.

“I wrote Patrick as someone who pursues the truth no matter what are the consequences.  He is quirky and never gives up. I would describe him as incredible, perseverant, and persistent.  He is also haunted by what he as seen.”

Added to the persons of interest is novelist Timothy Sabian who has Morgellon Disease. One of the symptoms is the feeling of bugs constantly crawling on his skin besides hearing voices telling him to kill people. Caught in the cross hairs are Bowers new wife, Christine, and his stepdaughter Tessa.  Bowers and his partner Ralph must find the culprit before more people die.

James commented, “I heard about this website that live streams murders and suicides.  Unfortunately, this is part of our world today and it is really troubling.  Then I decided to have a character in this book as a novelist with Morgellon’sSyndrome. I wanted a character who is losing all track of reality.  Readers are not sure if he is insane.  Sometimes people’s conditions are so severe they are beyond help. I hope readers identify and have sympathy for him; yet, are unsure and wary because of what he might be capable.”

This book explores power, greed, deception and retribution.  The antagonists use manipulation to coerce others.


Book Review: Down The Broken Road

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

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Down The Broken Road by J. R. Backlund brings back Rachel Carver. Readers are treated topuzzling murders to solve, with quite a few suspects to investigate, showing how Rachel is absolutely relentless in her quest for the truth.

He thought about, “ideas for the second book, I watched a Netflix documentary, “The Kill Team.” It is about a bunch of soldiers in Afghanistan who killed other soldiers.  One of the real-life guys feared for his life after telling the story of how a bunch of guys killed innocent civilians for fun.Anyone is capable of killing.  I wrote in this book quote, ‘He had seen the worst of what people could do to one another.  Men beheaded, women raped and stoned to death…reprisals and honor killings. His unit had discovered the body of a twelve-year-old girl with no face.” I wanted to write about the barbarism and brutality of life in this country. I know that those who fought there always used the word “savages.’ The locals are stuck in the Middle Ages. American soldiers wonder if they are conspiring with the Taliban.  I imagine that is what Vietnam was like.” 

The book opens when a police officer finds news reporter Bryce Parker, barely alive, and asking for Rachel Carver. After waking up and able to speak, he talks about Rachel’s previous case, the one where she was right and everyone else was wrong. She is now a private investigator after leaving the North Carolina Bureau of Investigation and thanks to Parker has a new set of clues to find out the truth about the previous case. Rachel puts herself in harm’s way as she begins to close in on the suspects of the murders, while trying to avoid being framed.

Rachel is sharp, smart, tough, methodical, courageous, and dedicated to a fault. She is obsessed with her job and solving the murders at the exclusion of her family, friends, health, and possible boyfriend, Danny Braddock. “She is based on my mom.  I started to think of my mom’s demeanor and thought her personality was perfect for Rachel.  They are both single-minded on solving problems and follow their own instincts. Rachel is driven and obsessed about her job.  I wrote a scene where she is afraid of what will happen as she goes down the investigative hole. She is traumatized from what happened to her, but became stronger and resilient.”

There are enough details in the story to make it suspenseful.  The characters are well developed with an interesting backstory.


Book Review: The Clementine Sisters

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

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Rogue Gunslinger and Rugged Defender, the second and third books of the Clementine Sisters series by B. J. Daniels blends a great plot, setting, and characters. People cannot imagine how this author can improve, but each book in this series just keeps getting better.

In Rogue Gunslinger, T.J. Clementine is a mystery author that is being stalked. Receiving mail from one particular fan escalates into threats because she is not following their writing advice. Hoping to escape from possible danger she travels to her childhood home to be with her other two sisters in Whitehorse Montana. Coincidentally she again meets in Montana, the man, Silas Walker, who either saved her or pushed her into an on-coming truck while in New York City. Deciding to investigate Silas, she realizes he protected her, and that as a former policeman he can actually help her find the culprit. This loner and mountain man becomes not only her savior, but they form a bond, while trying to keep each other safe.

For Daniels, T. J. is most like her. “There is some of us in our characters even if we do not like to believe it. In Rogue Gunslinger, I got into what it is like to be a writer, including all the demands.  I have often told my agent I just want to write books, but was told that is not possible. TJ and myself are not fond of social media.  I have said, ‘the day I quit it will be because of social media.’ If someone reads a book and likes it that is when readers go looking for the author. In high school I was a day dreamer as she is.  Sometimes the story feels real to life for me.  For example, I moved things around in a town to represent how I saw it. When I visit there, some things seem out of place. TJ and I had writing choose us with our characters taking on a life of their own.”

The next book of the series, Rugged Defender, focuses on the third sister, Chloe.  She lost her job as an investigative reporter.  Now in Montana for the holidays she decides that sitting around is not for her.  Realizing that a high school classmate, Justin Calhoun, left in disgrace with many unanswered questions about his brother’s death, she searches out the truth. Chloe and Justin decide to team up to find out what really happened to his brother, having their lives threatened in the process.

“I love writing about Montana. I live in the prairie and just as with the town of Whitehorse you can see the Little Rockies in the distance. I weave in the real life of the small town.  We don’t even have stop lights and the nearest Target is three hours away. People love to dance and often go to bars to do it.  It is also true that guys wear jeans almost any place including weddings, funerals, and churches. I once wrote ‘a guy wearing a suit is either an undertaker or a lawyer.’ I describe in the books as I see Montana with ‘the wild prairie, the endless sky, the wide-open places… The peace and quiet. Not one siren to be heard. No traffic. No honking taxis. No loud music from the apartment next door.’”

As a recap, the first book in the story, Hard Rustler, begins with a city gal, Annabelle (Annie) Clementine, traveling back to her home town of Whitehorse Montana. After high school, she decided to escape the monotony to become a famous model, leaving her love interest, Dawson, behind. Now, thirteen years later, she is back to sell her late grandmother’s house and to get out of town as soon as possible. Confronted by someone who wants to find something in that house she realizes her life is in danger. Annie and Dawson must sort out the mystery and determine what her grandmother was hiding.

Daniels noted, “I understand how Annabelle wants to do something with her life, a desire to succeed.  This happens a lot with Montana children who leave to get a job but often come home to raise their children.  In this story, she comes home with her tail between her legs.  I think at the beginning of the story she is a snob, arrogant, and determined.  Later those qualities come out as spunky, strong, and a risk-taker.” 

These books are about estranged sisters coming to terms with the past and making amends. It’s a love story and a mystery, with a lot of suspense. Each sister in their own way are strong independent women who know themselves and end up knowing what they want out of life.


Book Review: Jefferson's Treasure

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

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Jefferson’s Treasure, by Gregory May, details, “how Albert Gallatin saved the new nation from debt.” Appointed by President Thomas Jefferson to be his Treasury Secretary, Gallatin continued under President Madison, maintaining that position for twelve years.  During his tenure, he abolished internal revenue taxes in peacetime, slashed federal spending, and repaid half of the nationaldebt.   

So who was this man that undid Alexander Hamilton’s fiscal system, rejecting it along with Madison and Jefferson?  Because both Presidents did not understand the financial system, they depended on Gallatin to reform it.  Gallatin arrived in America in 1790 from Geneva and rose up to become a trusted advisor of the Republicans. Six years before Jefferson was elected President, Gallatin’s Pennsylvania neighbors rebelled against the tax on whiskey. He supported them in principle but opposed the violence that ensued, burning the local tax collector’s house, robbing the mail, and marching on Pittsburgh.

The play “Hamilton” uses revisionist history. The real Hamilton believed in big government and wanted to continue funding federal deficits.  He based his theories on the British who used the money to fund their large military conflicts, believing that the ability to borrow endless amounts of money would allow the new United States to become a great nation. Jefferson and Madison thought Hamilton’s system, straight from the British way, was tainted with tyranny. As May noted, “It made the people pay obnoxious taxes in order to fund interest payments on a mounting federal debt and the costs of an expensive military establishment. It shifted money from ordinary taxpayers to the relatively few rich men who held the government’s bonds. That was just the sort of thing that had led Americans to revolt against Britain in the first place.”

May believes, The hip-hop immigrant hero of the Broadway musical is a myth. The musical might be a great work of art, but is relies on misconceptions of Hamilton. He was not an immigrant, but a migrant within the British Empire.  Also, he was not a man of the people, as Gallatin was, but an elitist.”

While Hamilton committed to paying only the interest on the government’s debt, Gallatin committed the government to repaying fixed amounts of the principal each year. He also insisted that the government should never spend more than it earned except in times of war. By slashing federal expenses, Gallatin was able to get rid of the tax on whiskey and abolish the entire internal revenue service.

The Republicans, an agrarian society, distrusted these elitists where two-thirds of the government debt belonged to a few hundred very wealthy men residing mainly in Philadelphia, New York, and other mercantile cities.  They saw Hamilton’s plan of collecting taxes from ordinary citizens as a way for a few rich men to become even wealthier.  Implementing these excise taxes required government officials to inspect, quantify, and mark the items subject to tax.

The Hamilton system benefited the wealthy debt holders and spectators at the expense of the average taxpayer who had to pay the interest. The government would borrow more than the people could pay. Hamilton tried to hide how much money the government was actually spending and spiraled the debt higher and higher.

This was an important part of the British tax base, and “I wanted to show how unpopular it was.  Hamilton and company were resented because they created a tax collection network that affected the lives of ordinary citizens. The excise tax is a form of internal taxation, while tariffs are a form of external taxation that fell on the well to do. Remember mostly the well to do bought imports. The Republicans once they came to power relied on import duties rather than excise taxes.”

May further explained, “When Jefferson and his administration came to power it was Gallatin who got rid of Hamilton’s deficit finance system and cut taxes. By the time he has left office he has repaid half the federal debt and set up a program for repaying the rest.”

Anyone who wants to understand the early economic systems of the Founding Fathers will enjoy this book.  It shows how Gallatin, by killing Hamilton’s financial system, abolished internal revenue taxes in peacetime, slashed federal spending, and repaid half of the national debt.


Book Review: The Mystery of Three Quarters

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

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Agatha Christie’s The Mystery Of Three Quarters by Sophie Hannah brings to life the famous detective Hercule Poirot. Those who grew up on her novels will once again be treated to mysteries written in her style.  Anyone who has not read the famous novelist will enjoy the plot.

Hannah explains she took on this project, “because I was excited about the creative possibilities. I saw her style as eloquent, clear, and simple with challenging plots that are more like intellectual puzzles. This is my third and I will have a fourth one coming out. Since I am a massive fan of Christie, I wanted to make sure I got everything correct so I went back and did my homework. I re-read all the Poirot novels from a more analytical point of view.  I had read my first book at the age of twelve and had finished all her books at the age of fourteen.  Because he is such a legendary character I did not change him, loving him as he was. It is the same old character seen through new eyes. What I did change was the narrator.”

As in the previous novels Hannah created, Inspector Edward Catchpool from Scotland Yard, narrates the story. This allows the book to be in her voice instead of mimicking Christie’s narrator Hastings. Set in the 1930s, readers find Poirot confronted by Sylvia Rule who demands to know why he sent her a letter accusing of murdering Barnabas Pandy. Perplexed, he is trying to understand what she is talking about when he is confronted again by John McCrodden with the same accusation.  The next day, two others, Annabel Treadway and Hugo Dockerill also come forward with similar letters. It accuses each of killing Barnabas Pandy, a 94-year-old, found drowned in his bathtub in Combingham Hall three months earlier.  The reactions of each ranged from anger to contempt to sorrow to apologetic. Annabel Treadway is distraught at the accusation, since Pandy was her grandfather and tells Poirot that his death was ruled an accident. Deciding to get to the bottom of this mystery the famous detective decides to gather all to uncover who did what to whom and why, while observing their reactions.

Hannah noted, “I always thought of Poirot as brilliantly clever, kind, loyal, methodical, with a strong passion for justice.  He is fascinated by the human psyche and interested in how people behave.  Catchpool is clever, nice, faithful, and helpful.  He is being mentored by Poirot on how to solve the cases.  They contrast with the four accused of murder. Annabelle is obviously sad about something and that piques Poirot’s curiosity.  Sylvia is self-righteous and a know it all.  John has this adolescent attitude about his father, always blaming him for something.  Hugo is a bumbling, absent-minded type.”

This story delves into how people can harm one another.  How lies can take root in people’s heads as truths. The theme has characters stubbornly clinging to old grudges. Hannah will continue this theme with a self-help book, How To Hold A Grudge, out in January that allows people to hold on to their negative feelings as long as they forgive and find inner peace.


Book Review: Death Is Not Enough

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

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With Death Is Not Enough Karen Rose has out done herself. This story highlights love and friendship, romance and passion, gruesome murder, frustrating injustice, with an engaging hero/heroine.

Although Rose’s readers have seen Thomas Thorne and Gwyn Weaver in previous books this novel is their story.  Thorne actually gives defense attorneys a good name, always attempting to help those unfairly charged, as was the case when he was young. His backstory is very compelling, having been falsely accused while in high school. It seems Déjà vu when he once again becomes the main person of interest in a murder. He is found in bed, drugged senseless, next to a woman beaten and knifed to death, with his fingerprints on the weapon. His friends circle the wagon, standing by him and searching for details that will prove his innocence.  It becomes apparent that someone is setting him up, out for revenge, and wants to slowly destroy his life, piece by piece. The various attacks on his friends, his business and his reputation are intended to get at everything he holds dear and values.

The theme of the book is justice for all. “I wrote how Thorne was upset when he saw due process circumvented and abused.  This country is built upon being punished for what you actually do.  Defense attorneys are part of the check and balance systems. Justice is done in my books.  It can be a good thing, but if used improperly it can be turned into a weapon.  Thorne takes this very seriously making sure that the Constitution is enforced, and that the prosecutors do not get away with bullying the system.”

All the women characters could sing the Helen Reddy song, “I am woman hear me roar.”  Rose noted, “I am used to strong woman because my circle of friends are intelligent and strong women.  They have spines of steel and will not let anyone push them around. Lucy, Stevie, Paige, and Gwyn all rallied around Thorne because they created a family around the circle of friends. They took control over their own destiny and never cowered. Women need to stand up for themselves and to take matters in their own hands.  My men characters see women as equals and not as delicate flowers. I hope my characters are role models. Strong women should be thought of as cool and not the “b” word.”

Readers will not be disappointed with this suspenseful story.  They will be riveted hoping beyond hope that justice will prevail, and that the psychopath attempting to frame Thorne will get his due. Although the romance was not at the forefront, it added to the storyline.


Book Review" The Mystery Of Three Quarters

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

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Agatha Christie’s The Mystery Of Three Quarters by Sophie Hannah brings to life the famous detective Hercule Poirot. Those who grew up on her novels will once again be treated to mysteries written in her style.  Anyone who has not read the famous novelist will enjoy the plot.

Hannah explains she took on this project, “because I was excited about the creative possibilities. I saw her style as eloquent, clear, and simple with challenging plots that are more like intellectual puzzles. This is my third and I will have a fourth one coming out. Since I am a massive fan of Christie, I wanted to make sure I got everything correct so I went back and did my homework. I re-read all the Poirot novels from a more analytical point of view.  I had read my first book at the age of twelve and had finished all her books at the age of fourteen.  Because he is such a legendary character I did not change him, loving him as he was. It is the same old character seen through new eyes. What I did change was the narrator.”

As in the previous novels Hannah created, Inspector Edward Catchpool from Scotland Yard, narrates the story. This allows the book to be in her voice instead of mimicking Christie’s narrator Hastings. Set in the 1930s, readers find Poirot confronted by Sylvia Rule who demands to know why he sent her a letter accusing of murdering Barnabas Pandy. Perplexed, he is trying to understand what she is talking about when he is confronted again by John McCrodden with the same accusation.  The next day, two others, Annabel Treadway and Hugo Dockerill also come forward with similar letters. It accuses each of killing Barnabas Pandy, a 94-year-old, found drowned in his bathtub in Combingham Hall three months earlier.  The reactions of each ranged from anger to contempt to sorrow to apologetic. Annabel Treadway is distraught at the accusation, since Pandy was her grandfather and tells Poirot that his death was ruled an accident. Deciding to get to the bottom of this mystery the famous detective decides to gather all to uncover who did what to whom and why, while observing their reactions.

Hannah noted, “I always thought of Poirot as brilliantly clever, kind, loyal, methodical, with a strong passion for justice.  He is fascinated by the human psyche and interested in how people behave.  Catchpool is clever, nice, faithful, and helpful.  He is being mentored by Poirot on how to solve the cases.  They contrast with the four accused of murder. Annabelle is obviously sad about something and that piques Poirot’s curiosity.  Sylvia is self-righteous and a know it all.  John has this adolescent attitude about his father, always blaming him for something.  Hugo is a bumbling, absent-minded type.”

This story delves into how people can harm one another.  How lies can take root in people’s heads as truths. The theme has characters stubbornly clinging to old grudges. Hannah will continue this theme with a self-help book, How To Hold A Grudge, out in January  that allows people to hold on to their negative feelings as long as they forgive and find inner peace.


Book Review: Forever Fudge

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

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Forever Fudge by Nancy Coco is a sweet cozy mystery.  Readers will salivate with the fudge recipes, be charmed on the Mackinac Island, and attempt to crack the murder mystery along with the main character Allie McMurphy.

Coco is a great pseudonym for the Fudge series. “I really enjoy writing these cozy mysteries with the humor and solving the puzzle. While writing my first series, I would put recipes on my blog.  Then a friend of mine suggested I should write in this genre with a gluten free bakery. My last name was specifically chosen for this series.  I love fudge, actually anything chocolate. The person in the apartment next to us said it always smells like chocolate in my house.  Not only does it smell good but tastes good as well.”

Allie is an amateur sleuth. She and her dog Mal have an uncanny ability to find dead bodies. In the past, she has helped the police solve cases. As the owner of a delightful hotel and fudge shop on Mackinac Island, Allie’s excitement has grown after a television crew arrives on the island to film a television pilot for a mystery series. Throwing a wrench into the enthusiasm is the dead body found by Allie’sadorable Bichon-Poo puppy, Mal. Shot in the head, the body discovered has a letter with clues from chess moves. As the killings mount up, the murderer continues to taunt Allie, trying to get her to play his game.

The island plays a role in the story. “I have a huge family living in Michigan, which is where the island is located.  If you ever saw the movie, “Somewhere in Time” starring Christopher Reeve, you can picture the setting. The island does not allow cars so people travel by foot, horse and carriage, or bicycle. It is a cool touristy place.”

There is also a love triangle.  Allie is being wooed by two courters. She broke up with Trent Jessup because a long-distance relationship is not working, with him spending a lot of time in Chicago. The other beau is police chief Rex Manning who is being persistent in pursuing her, yet, willing to give her time and space.

 “I thought it is interesting to compare ‘in love versus loving someone.’ I love my male friends but being ‘in love’ has excitement, a commitment, and intimacy. Allie is starting to build connections but some old timers see her as an outsider. One of those who accept her as part of the community is Rex who sees it as his responsibility to protect her and the community.”

Actual recipes are dispersed throughout the story.  “I purposely did it this way to show what Allie is working on.  I sprinkle it throughout to give the feel and flavor to what she is actually making.  I try to relate it to the story when possible. I remember my first contract with Kensington Books required me to write ten recipes per book. Luckily, they downsized that amount.  Since they had to be originals it was a relief.”

This story has an intriguing mystery, some romance, and humor. It is a fun who done it plot that has no shortage of suspects. Readers will be looking forward to the next installment, Fudge Bits, out next fall, a Halloween plot. It will highlight her cat instead of her dog that finds a Zombie body.


Book Review: The Heart Of War

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

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The Heart of War by Kathleen McInnis combines political drama with political satire.  Using her extensive inside knowledge she is able to create a realistic look on how the military machinery works while at the same time having well-developed characters.

There are many tidbits about the Pentagon. In the beginning of the book, it was if the reader was taking a journey through the halls of the building, including the “Flag of Faces,” an off-kilter American flag that is actually a quilt where each square has a picture of those who died there on September 11th.   

“I wanted to allow the readers to understand what it is like, the little details that provide a sense of awe. The Pentagon is full of people who are doing their damnedest to ensure that the President is given the best options. It is actually a very human place, filled with people that work every day with imperfect information, each with their own personal and professional struggles.”

McInnis has worked in the Pentagon and think tanks on both sides of the Atlantic. With a PhD in War Studies she now works for the US Congress, helping to analyze international security and defense issues. But she is also a self-imposed “base brat” whose father worked extensively with national security issues.

What the main character, Dr. Heather Riley, and the author have in common is their PhD’s and their professional experience of working at the Pentagon. McInnis stated, “All the characters reflect some part of the writer. Heather’s wide-eyed experience getting into the Pentagon and observing the obscurities are very real. We also have the same motivations, supporting the men and women serving and their families. Sometimes military force is necessary and Heather and I want to make sure we give those in the military what they need for the best chance of success including the right strategy. As a woman, you need an air of authority and confidence.”

However, the rest of the story deviates from the real-life of McInnis since Heather had a brother, Jon, killed in Afghanistan by the Taliban. She goes to Washington hoping to save those serving with a plan to make sure the Warlords and terrorists did not gain the upper hand, and to have someone like her as the guardian angel to those fighting terrorists overseas.  A powerful quote, “What if a Pentagon bureaucrat was more concerned with buying multibillion-dollar aircraft than finding ways to make Jon’s body armor grenade-proof.”

“My story is very different because I was not a “peace-nik,” as Heather was originally. I’ve never had the kind of visceral discomfort with the military or the broader national security community, probably because I was raised around military bases.  These aren’t evil warmongers.  They are just people trying to protect our country.  They are the people least likely to recommend going to war because they don’t want to see their friends and colleagues suffer.”

On Heather’s first day her position is eliminated and she’s shuffled to a war-fighting office focused on combating Russian aggression. Unfortunately, she knows little about Russia and has deep moral reservations about war. Making matters worse, she’s also working for Ariane Fletcher, someone who loves to deflect the blame and wants constant perfection. Yet, Heather learns to navigate the Pentagon’s insane bureaucracy and petty power struggles to become a “go to analyst,” someone who can be depended on for well thought out opinions.

Fletcher is called the “Wicked Witch of the Pentagon.” She is considered a terror, “someone I wrote who had to swim through a sea of the male dominated military. The DOD has masculine traits to it. She is inspired by a composite of several different female leaders in the national security community that either I or friends have been exposed to.  Although I found some amazing sisters who believed in mentoring other women, there are some women I interacted with who were vicious to each other. In the book Colonel Voight refers to Fletcher as ‘pink on pink violence.’ She adopted a more aggressive, cut-throat behavior.”

This is a smart, funny, and an informative story. Anyone who wants to understand the workings of the Pentagon should read this novel.


Book Review: September 1918 War, Plague, And The World Series 

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

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September 1918 War, Plague, And The World Series by Skip Desjardin links together WWI, the Spanish flu epidemic, and the 1918 World Series by using Boston as an common thread. He also references politics, economics, science and their impact on the three important events of 1918.

Desjardin noted, “I happened to read a novel, The Given Day, by Dennis Lehane that was set in Boston in 1919. In that novel Lehane refers to the events of the previous year: The Spanish Flu and the World Series.  I came up with a lot of questions.  The more I researched these connections the more I thought there is a story here.  I wanted to finish the book before the 100thAnniversary of WWI’s end.”

Leading the first American fighting force in France was a division of Massachusetts militia volunteers.  At precisely the same time the Spanish Flu erupted in Boston and its suburbs, bringing death first to military facilities and then to the civilian population. Amidst the surrounding ravages of death at home and overseas, a young pitcher named Babe Ruth rallied the sport’s most dominant team, the Boston Red Sox, to a World Series victory.

During the month of September, the flu became rampant. Naval personnel became ill less than ten days after the first influenza cases appeared on the receiving ship. Camp Devens served as a training camp for the 76th National Army Division. The camp was overwhelmed as the influenza attacked approximately 10,000 soldiers. The deadly virus symptoms included severe headache, weakness, general malaise and pains of varying severity in the muscles and joints, especially in the back. The author put everything in perspective, “700,000 people were killed from that epidemic, while last year 80,000 died from the flu. In 1918 our population was only a fraction of the size it is now.”

Overseas the American forces faced devastating attacks by the Germans.  Having to contend with the constant shelling, they also dealt with the fumes from the shells that rendered many sick, vomiting, and gasping.  But worst of all were the chemical weapons used against the allied forces.  Men came home with respiratory problems, loss of eyesight, and blistering skin. 

“I wrote about the veterans who became disfigured and had emotional problems. The effects were horrendous and lifelong for those who survived. It was horrible. For many it was confusing and devastating because they did not understand how to handle chemical weapons.  This led the world to ban chemical weapons.”

Desjardin writes how the baseball team rosters were decimated after America entered WWI. One-Third of all the players from the previous season of 1917 was serving in the military. During the 1918 World Series attendance was down and those spectators that were in the stands gave an unenthusiastic response to the Red Sox winning the World Series, possibly because everyone was facing the stark reality of war.  One such example written about in the book was Cubs’ President Charlie Weeghman who registered at the Boston draft board.

“I wanted to show how the war pervaded every aspect of the American life. The government had issued a work or fight edict, which caused the World Series to be played in September instead of October.  Every man in America between the ages of 21 to 30 had three choices: enlist, register for the draft, or get a job in a war related industry.  The job had to be connected to directly supporting the war effort. Since all the games played were day games only those outside of that age group had the time and money to buy tickets.”

Even more compelling was the anger at the obvious greed of the players. While men were being sent overseas to fight, those playing in the World Series, the Cubs versus the Red Sox, argued about receiving the same share regardless of how long they had played with the team during the season.

Desjardin explained, “There were bad feelings that these perfectly healthy young men playing baseball were paid three, four, and five times the average salary of most Americans, while other young healthy men were dying or wounded in the French trenches.”

Patriotism was at a high point.  As Desjardin recounts, Karl Muck, a conductor of the Boston Symphony was born in Germany and became a Swiss citizen. Although he was willing to play the “Star-Spangled Banner,” it was decided that it would not be played.  Theodore Roosevelt responded, “Any man who refuses to play ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ in this time of national crisis should be forced to pack up and return to the country he came from.” It was during this time, the National Anthem became a symbol for supporting veterans and those attempting to keep Americans safe.

This book is an interesting look how sports connected with those fighting in the Great War.  By intertwining stories Desjardin shows how September 1918 was an important moment in history, weaving together politics, sports, and science.