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.


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: The Things We Cannot Say

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


The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer delves into how loved ones are never forgotten within the backdrop of WWII.  At the drop of a hat someone’s life can change all of sudden, which is what happened to a family after the Nazis occupied Poland.

Based on her own family, Rimmer tells how “my grandparents were Polish Catholic.  They never spoke a lot about what happened to them before they immigrated to Australia. We did not know about how they lived.  They would not talk about the war and seemed to put it behind them.  I saw this picture of my grandparents in the sunshine and so relaxed.  This got me thinking about their story, how they had hope and despair.  I decided to travel to the village where they lived in Poland with my aunt and sister. I was able to capture what life was like including Auschwitz and Birkenau, which was such a shocking experience. It is impossible to get my head around the violence of that era, the utter brutality and cruelty.”

The story alternates between war-torn Poland in the 1930s and 1940s and modern-day Florida.  The main characters are Alina, having to endure the horrific Nazi occupation; Alice, and her grandmother Hanna, who has made a dying wish, find Tomasz, her soul mate in Poland.

Alice is living in Florida, juggling between being the mother of a six-year-old boy, Eddie, who has autism and her ten-year-old daughter, Callie, who is extremely gifted. Hanna, her grandmother, at the age ninety-five, has suffered a debilitating stroke where she can no longer speak. These present-day characters are somehow related to the past through Alina. 

Enduring the Nazis, Alina is struggling to survive and find hope that she and Tomasz can marry at the war’s conclusion. But as their situation gets worse hope begins to dwindle and they wonder, after being separated, will they ever see each other again. This story does not spare the reader all the horrors of the Nazis where they killed in cold blood and used the tools of starvation, rape, and disease.

What makes this story stand out are the relationships.  It is heartwarming to read how Eddie has connected with his grandmother and the love between them.  Alice and Hanna also have a special relationship since she was the one who gave her granddaughter unconditional love and support, while Alice’s mother became a career mom.  Alina and Tomasz also had a special love that was deep and touching.

“I wanted to write about autism and how Eddie is a real person who had the people around him benefit from his life. He and Hanna understood and accepted each other. I also wanted to show how technology helped both he and Hanna communicate through an App. I had some experience with not being able to communicate.  Just before I left for Poland I collapsed from a seizure of temporal lobe epilepsy, and was not able to speak for half an hour.  I realized how frustrating it is and how scary.” 

This emotional historical novel brings together the present and the past. It encompasses loyalty, love, and devotion.



BOOK REVIEW: Bones Behind The Wheel

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.


Bones Behind the Wheelby E. J. Copperman blends a mystery with plenty of humor. It is a ghostly tale that will keep readers smiling throughout the story.

Copperman noted, “Some people believe the dead continue to exist in some way and others believe it is silly.  Everyone wishes they could experience the presence of those who have passed away.  Those that do believe in ghosts think that they can communicate with their lost loved ones.”

In the first book of the series, Alison Kerby has purchased an inn on the New Jersey shore.  But she got more than she bargained for after finding out it came with some ghosts. This haunted guesthouse included Paul Harrison, her resident ghost detective and Maxine Malone, a twenty-eight-year-old budding interior designer until she was poisoned. The only ones that seem to be able to communicate with the pair are Alison, her mother, and her daughter.

“I based the ghosts on the old Topper series.  They essentially exist to irritate the main character and push her into areas she does not want to go. I think Maxine is a bit self-centered and not very mature.  She pushes Alison’s buttons more than anybody else. Paul is the complete opposite since he is cerebral, quiet, sensitive, and has a high regard for people’s feelings.”

Because Alison wants to devote herself to bringing guests to the Inn she has no time for detective investigations. Yet, she is thrown into it again after the exposure of a 1977 Lincoln Continental buried in the sand, behind Alison’s guesthouse, with a skeleton still belted in behind the steering wheel. The ghostly Paul is delighted he will have more investigative work. Insteadof Alison he pairs up with her new husband, Josh, who is most interested in the case. He might not be able to see or hear the ghosts, but he's found a way to communicate through texting. In probing, what happened with this Cold Case murder everyone in the Inn becomes endangered and the detectives must get to the bottom of it before someone else is murdered.

 “I love writing humor into the stories. This is why Iwanted to make sure I wrote Alison as a real Jersey girl who grew up at the Shore. She has a lot of attitude and will tell people the natural language of New Jersey is sarcasm.  She speaks it fluently. I had a conversation with an editor who wanted me to write something serious.  I do not have that muscle, nor am I capable of writing something serious.  This is partially due to my own reading habits. It does not work for me to read something completely sober. I think my stories are comedies with a mystery surrounding it.”

The author does a good job with the dialogue.  Alison’s sarcasm and quips will keep the readers spirits up. This character-driven story features amusing, quirky ghosts and a strong family connection. 


Book Review: Top Gun

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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Forget the movie “Top Gun.”  This book, Top Gun: An American Story, by Dan Pedersen soars into the readers’ minds. On the 50th anniversary of the creation of the "Top Gun" Navy Fighter Graduate School, its founder shares the remarkable inside story of how he and eight other risk-takers revolutionized the art of aerial combat. Pedersen, known as the “Godfather of Top Gun,” is credited with establishing the Navy Fighter Weapons School with the help of eight other passionate and talented officers known as the “Original Bros.” (For the purpose of consistency, the spelling will be Top Gun instead of “Topgun.”)

The book is an autobiography as Pedersen reflects on his childhood, why and how he decided to be a flyer.  There are also bits of his love life and family life, his military career, and his post-military life. He stated why the book was written, as “a legacy for the Top Gun school and teachers and what they accomplished.”

His soul mate, Mary Beth, who Pedersen has been married to for twenty-seven years noted, “They are very opinionated guys.  Very, very intelligent.  Handsome with a certain swagger.  They are natural leaders.  Very disciplined, focused, confident, humble, self-assured with a good sense of humor. At the time of Vietnam, they did not get any recognition.  It was horrible that they could not even wear their uniforms when they came home because people would spit on them.” 

But the most interesting parts of the book is the discussion on how he became the man assigned to creating the school. Many today, can reflect on similar situations with the War on Terror.  The bureaucrats and many high-ranking Generals thought they knew best.

Pedersen gave as an example, “McNamara and Secretary of State Dean Rusk, on orders by LBJ, sent the next day’s targets to the Swiss Embassy in Hanoi to let them know where the US would be bombing. The rationale was that there will not be collateral damage and civilians killed. But the Vietnamese used the information for other purposes, instead of moving the civilians away from the targeting areas. But in reality, they moved the guns and missiles into those targeted areas to shoot at us.  The high command was rigid and inflexible. They cared more about the headlines than protecting American pilots.  At the time, we never knew we were being used like that.”

Some of the problems included pilots fighting in Vietnam receiving limited training, having faulty Sidewinder and Sparrow missiles, and not learning the skills they needed to outmaneuver the enemy. This became abundantly clear with the kill ratios: In World War II the kill ratio was approximately 14 to 1, during the Korean War about 10 to 1, but in Vietnam before the Top Gun program it was as low as 2 to 1. Captain Pedersen (then a lieutenant commander) was the first officer in charge of Top Gun. He was chosen because of his experiences in the air battles over Viet Nam where he received a first-hand knowledge of the shortcomings of American tactics and equipment. The "high tech" weapons failed about 90% of the time, and the latest fighter plane didn't even have a gun! American fighter pilots were being shot down by a third-world air force using Soviet aircraft, MiGs. The Navy moved toward radar-guided missiles and aircraft to fire them instead of dogfighting.

He wants Americans to understand, “Industry designs our weapons and planes.  This is still going on today, where no one ever goes into the cockpit and faces the enemy.  Those doing the actual fighting do not have a lot to say.  The planes did not even have guns because someone in the design industry decided they were not needed.  There was a reliance on the missiles, but they never worked. This is what we changed with the founding of the Top Gun graduate school. If a war is to be fought guys are asked to risk their lives flying an airplane, competing in real life combat, decisions should not be made by politicians, but by people on the ground. Robert McNamara, the Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War, and President LBJ mandated what went on.  World War II was fought completely different where the war in the Pacific was run by two 4 star admirals and carrier skippers. They had a lot to say in the daily operations and tactics.  The motto should be to never send an American into combat unless the intention is to win.”

The Top Gun School ended up being very successful.  The 2 to 1 ratio changed to a 24 to 1 ratio.  It became and still is run by people with combat experience.  It is obvious that Top Gun saved lives and turned the air war around. 

Book Review: Blood Echo

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.


Blood Echo, by Christopher Rice,is the second in a series about a sometimes-super human who pursues serial killers. These books are not the typical straightforward thrillers, but do have some traces of sci-fi aspects. As a victim herself, Charlotte “Charley” Rowe wants justice and vengeance against those who perpetuate violence by working closely with the CEO of a pharmaceutical company, Cole Graydon.

“I wrote Charley as Confidant and determined. I did not want to write her as the female Incredible Hulk. The drug she takes to give her superpowers only lasts for three hours, after that she returns to a sense of normalcy. She questions when should she take the drug, how to use the power it unleashes, and should she take it? I do embrace when people make the comic book comparison. I would compare it to the Avenger series that has deeply human relationships. There is also an organization that has no bounds.” 

The book opens with intense action.  Charley is pursuing a serial killer and after capturing her prey she returns to Altamira California to rest and meet up with her friends and lover. But her peaceful R & R is interrupted when it becomes obvious something sinister is happening. The girlfriend of one of the town’s richest developers is accused of criminal activity.A vast and explosive criminal conspiracy is developing in Altamira. As the fate of Charlotte’s hometown hangs in the balance, and everyone she cares about is in danger, she has no choice but to use her powers to go after the bad guys.

Anyone who has not read the first book might want to in order to understand the back story.  Charlotte was kidnapped and raised by serial killers until she was rescued. Known for being “The Burning Girl,” she has no peace and quiet. She has become an experiment, gaining superpower strength after taking the drugZypraxon.  This enables her to go after the evil doers, ending their violence. Knowing she can literally rip someone to pieces she tries to control it, preferring to capture and have them punished then to kill them. 

Rice noted, “I think many of the jail house interviews of them were based on lies.  Ted Bundy tried to blame pornography for his actions.  The term for this kind of argument is “mistaking correlation for cause ability.” As a writer, I like to speculate on what really makes a monster tick. I read a book about the Night Stalker, Richard Ramirez, who killed a lot of people in a short period of time. Right after his arrest he told how he waited until 2 AM because people were asleep.  He did not have the attitude ‘I am a victim,’ and did not commit these crimes because he thought of himself as a victim.  I think the reasons for killing are simplistic, like a Great White Shark. I am more interested in the survivors than the killers.  This includes Charley’s world.  She and the developer of the drug, Dylan aka Noah, now have a sense of rage.  They feel there will never be closure when someone close is taken away by a murderer. These survivors are working their way out of the darkness created by the killer.”

The author writes these cast of characters as very complex and unique. It is a fascinating read where people will not want to put the book down.


Book Review: Judgment

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.


Judgment by Joseph Finder takes an occurrence and uses it as a jumping off point.  He has a knack for having an incidental event magnify into a riveting conspiracy mystery. 

Finder noted, “I met a judge socially and spoke with her about the pressures she faces.  I started to think, what would happen if her children get into trouble, or what if she gets many speeding tickets?  I interviewed five women judges practicing in Boston for this book.  The sense I got was that they went through a lot to become a judge, having to go through interviews and making sure they do not step on toes as they climbed the ladder. Then I thought how vulnerable judges are in the courtroom.  Unexpected and explosive things could happen.  It is almost as if they are all alone and on their own.”

The plot begins with the protagonist, Judge Juliana Brody, in a rare error of judgment, having a one-night stand at a legal conference in Chicago with Matías Sanchez, who claims he’s a businessman from Buenos Aires. Because of this incident her life will swell out of control.  Sanchez is not who he made himself out to be, but is one of the lawyers for a defendant on a high-profile sex discrimination case Brody is presiding over. To make matters worse, he threatens to blackmail her with a video of their encounter unless she rules in the defendant’s favor. It becomes clear that personal humiliation, even the possible destruction of her career, are the least of her concerns, as her own life and the lives of her family are put in mortal jeopardy. She discovers her adversaries include powerful and ruthless criminals who will kill anyone who stands in their way. Brody decides to investigate her enemies and to play their game, becoming cunning and fearless.


“I wanted to write Juliana as a kickass.  As a former prosecutor, she is tough and persistent. At the beginning of the story Juliana is someone who always followed the rules, but now is willing to break the law to achieve a greater good. I like writing about ordinary people who are suddenly caught up in something extraordinary. There is a Russian word that bests describes this story, kompromat. It means compromising materials.  The Russians are very good at blackmailing people. This includes the oligarchs who are dangerous and should not be trusted.”

Brody is someone readers will connect to and root for, especially after it is revealed that she is fighting those in the Russian oligarchy. Finder has Brody wonder if the Russians are working on their own or puppets for Putin.  She is an admirable person who has always played by the rules and had no sympathy for those who donot. Yet, after her one lapse in judgment she realizes way too late that the attempt to cover up is often regarded as even more reprehensible than the original deed.

This briskly-paced story explores how those in positions of power can be susceptible to blackmail. At every turn, the reader takes a journey with Brody as she becomes involved in double crosses, espionage, financial impropriety, corporate corruption, and sexual harassment.



Book Review: Mission Critical

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.


Mission Critical by Mark Greaney is a suspenseful, action-packed thriller. Readers will be delighted with the return of Zoya Zakharova, a female Gray Manand a kindred spirit. Greaney has the knack of intertwining geopolitics with first-rate characters and non-stop action.

Greaney noted, “I went to a three-day stunt driving school at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. I wanted to write the car chase scene as realistic as possible.  I did the J-turns, the 180s, and the drifting.  I did almost everything Court did in the book except crawling in the back seat and shooting out of the back window.  I actually went into reverse at a pretty high speed. I looked over my shoulder and took my right hand to the 9 O’clock position.  Then I moved the steering wheel as hard to the right as possible, did a 180-degree turn and floored it.  I had to be careful because instinctively my foot always wanted to hit the brake as I was spinning out of control.  I literally had to kick my heels back so it touched the seat.  I had Court do something similar.”

This novel combines two plots in one. The CIA mustuncover a mole within their midst, while a special ops group, code named Poison Apple, must uncover who is behind a bioweapon attack and where will it take place. One of the CIA’s most important contractors is Court Gentry, known as The Gray Man, with the code name Violator.  He does off the books ops for Matt Hanley, Deputy Director of Operations, and Gentry's handler, the ambitious Suzanne Brewer.

The plot begins when he is asked to return to Langley on a CIA transport plane that first must make a stopover in London to drop off a prisoner. Unfortunately, they are comprised and many are killed, with the prisoner kidnapped.  Court assists in finding out what happened, which reunites him with his former lover, Zoya.

Zoya, the female lead in a previous book, Gunmetal Gray, is Gentry’s equal.  Now a CIA asset, part of the Poison Apple program, code named Anthem, this former SVR Russian intelligence agent, escapes from the safe house to find her father who she thought had been dead.  Both her mother and father were valuable Russian spies. Dad was the GRU director, General Feodor Zakharov, while mom trained Russian operatives’ in language and proper dialect skills, grooming them to live in England or the United States as natives. After finding out her father’s mission she and Gentry, now joined by the third asset in Poison Apple, Zach Hightower, code named Romantic, must stop the terrorists at any cost.

“I wrote her as a type of chameleon.  Raised in different countries she was taught to blend in, to melt into the different fabrics.  I see her as a force for good.  Yet, I think she sees herself as a little less than that, which allows me to be able to move in different directions with her.  I do not think she is as moralistic as Court and is more out for herself. She is not as altruistic as he is.”

This book shows why Mark Greaney has a legitimate claim to be one of the top, if not the top thriller writers today. There are so many twists and turns readers will be kept on their toes throughout the story of betrayal between Brewer and her team, as well as with Zoya and her father.


Book Review: Never Tell

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.


Never Tell by Lisa Gardner brings back some of her well-known characters. Detective D. D. Warren and CI Flora Dane must work together to find the truth behind a murder. It powerfully examines how someone’s past can come back to haunt them, especially when the police appear to have tunnel vision.

The book opens with a pregnant wife, Evelyn “Evie” Carter, returning home to find her husband murdered.  What she does next becomes very puzzling to the police:  She empties the gun bullets into the computer.  As the police rush in she is caught with the gun, leading the detectives, including, Warren, to think it is an open and shut case. Reinforced by the knowledge that Evie previously confessed to accidentally killing her father, the detective sees a pattern.

Once the news of the husband Conrad’s murder goes public, kidnapping survivor-turned-vigilante and D.D.’s unofficial informant, Flora Dane, asserts that she recognizes Conrad as a man who was acquainted with her kidnapper, Jacob Ness. Flora has survived the emotional and physical abuse Ness inflicted on her and is now determined to find the truth behind different crime scenes. Feeling the police are jumping to conclusions, Flora goes rogue, and hooks up with computer crime analyst Keith Edgar and FBI Agent Kimberly Quincy, who previously tracked down Ness and freed Flora. Believing Conrad is tied to the serial killer Ness, she convinces the FBI and police to recognize that with this case nothing is as it seems to be.  The many lies and secrets need to be deciphered before justice can be found.

Gardner noted, “The relevance of Jacob is that he is the single most powerful relationship Flora ever had.  DD says in the book that any investigation of Jacob will have Flora forever follow. Wherever Flora goes so goes the ghost of Jacob.  There is not one without the other. He is a monster who never repented, but feels victimized because of it.  Jacob is whiny, lonely, not empathetic, downright cruel, and obsessed with being all powerful.  He sees himself victimized by society.  Flora learned to survive by recognizing a loneliness in Jacob and becoming his confidant, his friend. Conversely, this is what she has a hard time reconciling and coming to terms with.  The appeal of her story is her determination to find the light and not see herself always as a victim, but as a survivor.”

The three female protagonists are nothing alike.  According to Gardner, “Evie is sleep-walking through life, and refers to herself as a “dead woman walking.” She has not dealt with her father’s death, her marriage problems, and her poor relationship with her mother.  She has avoided and hidden from real life since her adulthood is built on a pretty big lie. By definition she cannot trust.  But now, because of what happened to her husband, she has to stop running.”

“Flora is a character I wrote and am very fond of.  She is a survivor who struggles with guilt.  Having PTSD has manifested itself in her by making her more hypervigilant. I think she is a manic who has anxiety and copes by going to extremes.  Flora is obsessed with self-defense.  I think she realizes she has not healed and that she is in active recovery mode.”

“Then there is D.D.  She is a workaholic, possibly to the point of obsession.  She doesn’t care if she is liked.  I think having a child has softened her edges.  Now she questions if she works too much.  I think many readers like that she is unapologetically brash, abrupt, and often rude, with a take no prisoners attitude.”

This is a story that will resonate with readers because of all the exciting elements. It also has a unique storyline that will force readers to change their minds about the likeability of the three female protagonists.


Book Review: What Doesn't Kill Her

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.


What Doesn’t Kill Her by Christina Dodd brings back the fabulous characters of Cape Charade.  Dodd has outdone herself by creating this character driven story.  The previous book presented the heroine Kellen Adams as a victim, survivor, and warrior.  But in this novel, readers also see another aspect of her, as a mom.  People will take a journey with Kellen as she grows emotionally, while overcoming the trials and tribulations of having a seven-year-old daughter.

In the last book readers learn that Kellen escaped an abusive husband. Unfortunately, she could not escape his family and was shot in the head where she lied in a coma for thirteen months. Running away, she took her cousin’s identity, and joined the military, rising to the ranks of Captain. After getting a medical discharge she found a job at a Di Luca resort.  While there she was reunited with Max Di Luca, her former boyfriend and unbeknownst to her, the father of her child, Rae.

Kellen undergoes a transition from being frail to being tough. Dodd noted, “I wanted to write her as someone strong, determined, and brave. The year of unconsciousness had her go from Cecilia who needed someone to protect her to Kellen, a self-sufficient person.  In future books this character will have to come to grips with the split personality. In the beginning she was weak, but now she is able to take control over her life.”

Realistically, Dodd shows that not all women are suited to motherhood and the bond does not necessarily happen instantaneously. Wanting time to deal with all the new reality Kellen takes a side job to deliver an archeological piece to a recluse in the wilderness. Things do not go as planned because two teams of men are out to kill, one wanting revenge, and the other wanting the antique head.  While being ambushed Kellen realizes that her daughter Rae has been hiding, wanting to bond with her mother. To escape the killers, both are running for their lives through the wilderness. During these scenes, it becomes obvious the two are becoming close.

“I based Rae on my two daughters.  They had an extraordinary vocabulary, possibly because they are the children of an author. Rae is antsy, a typical seven-year-old. She is a chatterbox, very literal, curious, has a good imagination, and like her mother is a fighter. In the next book, she will be ten years old and a handful as she undergoes personality changes.”

The banter between mother and daughter is at times hilariously funny as they journey through this adventure together. This dialogue between Rae and Kellen stole the story.  Rae is a chatterbox, an intelligent and sassy girl. She looks on her mom as a Superhero, and she is the sidekick, naming them ThunderFlash and LightningBug.  Dodd portrays Rae as an innocent child who is still at the age where she feels her parents can do no wrong and looks up to them. Knowing her mom is a badass, she wants to emulate her and does so with the Superhero hidden identities. At the end of the book, Kellen described her daughter, “She’ll grow up to be a woman who allows no man to hurt her, to abuse her, verbally or physically.  She’s going to be strong. She’s got my back and I’ve got hers.”

Readers will have a smile on their face throughout this story.  Although there are intense scenes, the humor makes for a wonderful release.

Book Review: The Forgotten Hours

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


The Forgotten Hours by Katrin Schumann delves into a timely subject. It is a thought-provoking story about a woman’s search for the haunting truth regarding her best friend and father. The main character Katie wanted to believe that her father was perfect, that he was the same person she knew and loved.  But once he was accused of statutory rape she had to reconcile if her father was being honest with her. As she searched for facts that would give her answers, Katie wondered does she forgive, ignore, or cut off ties.

Schumann noted, “A few years ago I had two friends, almost at the same time, involved in a really nasty and complicated law case about consent.  The cases were not related.  I had this front row seat about the experiences of the accused and accuser.  I felt pulled along in the emotional tide, and realized that people who love them are also victims. I did not want to commit to one side or the other or jump to conclusions.  There are so many grey areas.  At the time of writing this there was the Jerry Sandusky case. I saw on television, the harrowing look of his wife and a comment she made struck me, “This is not the man I know.”  It is disorienting to think we do not know who people really are.”

Ten years ago, when Katie was fifteen her teenage best friend Lulu accused her dad of rape.  Because there was an age difference of about thirty years he was sent off to prison for nine years. Katie was loyal to her father and never questioned his innocence.  Now, with her dad’s release date approaching she must come to grips with what really happened, after being hounded by reporters and knowing she could no longer keep her boyfriend in the dark. To make matters worse she must return to the Eagle Lake cabin where the incident occurred.  While there she discovers letters about the trial that provoke in her questions about her father’s innocence and her own memory of what happened.

This story is a page-turner that also speaks to broader questions of sexual abuse, family loyalty, and the uncertainty of memory. Interestingly, throughout the novel Schumann has readers questioning who is the predator, the accused or the accuser. The plot's themes are all the more powerful in today’s current environment.


Book Review: The Secret Of Clouds

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


The Secret of Clouds by Alyson Richman brings to life the bond between a teacher and student.  In the current environment, it is a reminder of how precious a life is even for a fleeting moment.  It is a story of hope and the dreams of a young boy who readers will connect with immediately. 

Richman noted, “The title came from my son saying to me after my grandmother died, that he wishes there would be a family cloud.  I put a sentence in the book, “We have to hope every family has a family cloud that will unite everyone.” I tried to explain death to him. He wanted to know where she went, how is it she was here one day and gone the next.  He looked up to me and said, ‘mommy, I just have to hope there is a family cloud.’ I thought that was so beautiful. All my novels have a message of being kind to one another as the characters become knitted together.  In this book, light was brought into the household.  Within a community people could leave a lasting fingerprint on each other.”

The book opens with Sasha and Katya living in the Ukraine.  They move to America but discover their young son, Yuri, has a major heart defect caused by the exposure to nuclear radiation. Because of his condition he is not allowed to attend school with other students.  Assigned as a home school English teacher, Maggie Topper needs to find a way to connect with Yuri.  Realizing Yuri is passionate for baseball she uses it as a teaching tool, having him read the biography of Shoeless Joe.  Throughout the book are tidbits of baseball history as well as comparisons between baseball and Yuri’s life.

Readers can only imagine how stressed any mother would be, not knowing if they would outlive their child. Richman noted, “I could not imagine. Yuri’s mom, Katya, desperately wanted to protect her child.  Think how worrisome it is for a mother to think her child’s heart could stop beating and not to be able to see any signs.  There was this powerful scene in the book where Yuri is sleeping in his crib and she is hovering over him to make sure his chest goes up/down.  I interviewed people who had children with rare heart defects and they never wanted to leave their children for even a minute.  Another scene has Maggie staying with Yuri so Katya can get some rest. As a mother, I kept thinking Yuri was my child.”

Although Richman is known for her historical novels, she ventured into the contemporary genre.  But she makes sure to include the historical significance of the era by delving into such topics as the Chernobyl disaster, baseball, music, and a mention of the Holocaust.  Trying to show Yuri that people always need hope, Maggie has him write a letter to his future eighteen-year-old self.  She precedes it by explaining to him how children in the Terezin Concentration Camp wrote poetry and drawings even when starving and freezing.  Maggie came to realize that “a teacher’s job is to make children feel safe, to make them believe their ability is boundless…to use their minds-and their imagination-in their darkest hour.” Yuri’s letter and the drawings/poetry of the Holocaust children sparked a creative dialogue where they were able to imagine the possibility of a better life.

This is a heartening tale of the influence a teacher has on a student, but also how a student can impact a teacher. Richman makes people think about the importance of life and how a child born can make such an impression on those adults around him, even for a short time.


Book Review: Stroke Of Luck

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.


Stroke of Luck by B.J. Daniels is the first of three in this new series.  Known for mixing romance and danger this one concentrates more on the relationship than the danger, a slight change from her past novels. 

“I wrote it as more of a romance than a mystery.  My editor suggested I do this.  I tried it but feel it is not what I really want to do.  I think people read me for the suspense.  If people want a true romance they can find it elsewhere.  In this novel, it worked well to have the relationship more up front and the hero/heroine not personally involved in the mystery.  For the other books in the series I went back to having the main focus on the danger that is intertwined with the relationship. The next book will focus on another brother of the dude ranch who rescues a woman physically threatened by a man.”

Also different is the personality of the heroine.  Daniels noted that Poppy Carmichael “is strong, but not an in-your-face person who argues with the hero.  I tried to make her more poised with a quiet confidence.  On the other hand, my protagonist, Will Sterling, is typical of my heroes. He is laid back, cocky, sensitive, and caring.  He regrets how the friendship with Poppy ended.”

The setting is a dude ranch in Glacier Park Montana. A large corporation has rented it during the winter for a retreat. After the cook breaks his leg, the ranch owner, Will, is forced to call upon a childhood friend Poppy, now a caterer.  The problem is that twenty years ago, as a teenager, he broke her heart.

“The reason I wrote them on a dude ranch in Whitefish Montana was to have them isolated.  It is surrounded by mountains, pine trees, and lakes.  There is no television and no cell phone service.  The only way to communicate is with the one land line in the lodge. Everyone was back to nature.”

Set on revenge Poppy hopes to seduce him with food, using the old saying, “a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” She wanted to get him to want her, then she would walk away, and break his heart, as he did to her. Unfortunately, a major snowstorm turns the retreat into a cold atmosphere. Someone is killing people there without any escape. 

“I love to cook and wanted to write one of my characters as a great chef. The way I show love, which I passed on to Poppy, is through my cooking and baking.  At our house. we have a lot of guests come and go so my husband, who is also a great cook, and I make sure no one leaves hungry. The three recipes in the back of the book are ones I personally cook.”

Readers are left guessing who is the culprit and will Poppy and Will renew their relationship in this western-style romance-thriller.

Book review: Say You're Sorry

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.


Say You’re Sorry by Karen Rose will keep readers guessing and thinking.  It has thrills, suspense, psychological analyses, and a bit of romance.  People are kept at the edge of their seats by a story that delves into intense subjects such as cults, pedophiles, torture, abuse, alcohol dependency, anxiety attacks, and PTSD.

“I enjoyed writing the scenes with the dogs.  Brutus is a therapy dog.  I got a lot of the ideas from one of my editors that trains therapy dogs. I wrote the scenes with Brutus because I want readers to understand what a true service dog does. Daisy has her dog to help her with anxiety and keep it under control so it doesn’t become a threat to her sobriety. We are even giving away some stuffed Brutus’ at the conferences. I am losing my hearing so I am looking for a service dog of my own.  Hopefully, one like Brutus. My younger daughter is deaf and her anxiety comes from her disability. Recently, she was followed, which scared her and me.  It is nerve racking that as a deaf person anyone can sneak up to her at any time.  We have been talking about getting her a service dog as well.”

Although the first novel in a new series, it draws on characters from the Baltimore series.  The heroine, Daisy Dawson, should be recognizable to those readers who have read Rose in the past.  She is a cross-over character whose story is told front and center in this debut. Having moved to Sacramento she is confronted by a disguised gunman who pulls her into an alley.  Instead of fleeing she uses the skills taught by her dad.  As the attacker bolts, Daisy pulls a locket off his neck. A good friend, Sacramento PD Detective Rafe Sokolov, comes to her rescue and brings his old friend, FBI Special Agent Gideon Reynolds. After doing some investigating it becomes clear this attacker is actually a serial killer who preys on young women.  Knowing she needs a defender, Reynolds is asked to be a part of her protection detail. For him it is personal, since he recognized the locket’s significance.  The cult forces teenage women to wear these lockets after marrying them young. Together Daisy and Gabriel are determined to stop this vicious killer and find the cult he escaped from.

“This is a serial killer who has been hanging around in my head for about five years. He is a person that is capable of monstrous deeds.  To make a villain believable they must not be cardboard cutouts like Snidely Whiplash who just twirls his mustache and goes wah-ha-ha. They have to have a vulnerability, something they care about.  This killer had a messed-up childhood.  I wanted to explore why others like the hero Gideon who has a horrific childhood do not become killers.  I am fascinated why some do and some do not. I have to tell you a funny story.  I met a man on an airplane who is a private pilot that combined charter services and corporation time shares.  As he talked about all these places he visited in such a short period of time I looked at him and said, ‘you would make a perfect serial killer because there is no pattern.’ He looked at me and became very upset.  I told him I write thriller novels, but he still did not speak with me the rest of the flight.”

Both the hero and heroine are mending from emotional problems.  She is a recovering alcoholic that has anxiety, while he wrestles with his memories of the cult’s abuse. Daisy was forced to live a sheltered and isolated life by her father who believed her sister, Taylor was being hunted. Daisy must come to grips with her father for uprooting their lives.  She gravitates towards Gideon because he too is trying to come to grips with his past. When he was a young child, his mother got involved with a cult that advocated forced marriages as soon as a young girl turned twelve and welded a locket around her neck which claimed ownership of her. Boys at thirteen were considered men and began apprenticeships which also included pedophilia. Gideon was nearly beaten to death after he objected and killed the man who was trying to rape him. He barely escaped with his life.

Although this book is 600+ pages, there are a lot of moving parts from start to finish. Yet, it's an amazingly fast read given the size of the book, since these pages are jam-packed with wall-to-wall action and heart-stopping, page-turning suspense. Say You’re Sorryis something Karen Rose will not have to do with this debut novel of her new series, because she has written a riveting and thrilling novel.


Book Review: The Sky Above Us

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 Sky Above Usby Sarah Sundin is a historical romance novel focusing more on the history than the romance.  Throughout this series she intertwines World War II military history with a developing relationship.

The series follows three brothers who are all fighting in Normandy. The first book highlighted Wyatt Paxton, the oldest, who joined the navy. This one is about Adler Paxton, the middle brother, who enlisted in the Air Force, and the next book will emphasize the youngest Paxton brother, Clay, who is an army Ranger.

This story highlights how Lt. Adler Paxton has been numbed by grief and is harboring shameful secrets, while shipping off to England on the Queen Elizabeth to fight with the US 357th Fighter Group in 1943. After arriving he battles the German Luftwaffe in treacherous dogfights in the skies over France as the Allies struggle for control of the air before the D-day invasion. These scenes are authentic, intense, and capture the struggles of the allied forces as they have dog-fights over the skies of Normandy to protect the bombers.

“I wrote Adler as having joined the 357thfighter group.  I enjoyed writing the fighter pilot mentality.  I read many stories by those and was able to understand what it was like when fighting on a mission.  Chuck Yeager, the pilot who broke the sound barrier, was in this group. He along with his peers had a very lively and colorful memoir. He is rough around the edges, very driven, ambitious, and competitive.  Chivalrous when he rescued Violet from this predatory type, Riggs who had no boundaries at all.  Adler’s attitude is that no one should have a right to just grab a strange woman and force a kiss on her. I think Adler is two different personalities, one gregarious and outgoing, and the other where he just shuts down.  Because of the tragedy he experienced he tries to keep a side of himself secret, which is a protective mechanism.”

On the Queen Elizabeth, he meets Violet Lindstrom who serves in the American Red Cross. Adler and Violet will reunite at the Air Base where she is assigned the duties of entertaining the troops at the Aeroclub and setting up programs for local children. As war rages and D-Day approaches, life has a way of drawing two people together.

Sundin noted, “Receiving and giving forgiveness.  What does forgiveness mean?  Adler wants a reconciliation, but is afraid it is not possible.  He grieves for how he lost the love of his family. Many times, people forgive to avoid the bitterness in our own souls.”

This story is about friendship, love, and life choices.  It delves into how a feeling of betrayal can lead to forgiveness and the need for people to look within to find peace and happiness.


Book Review: The Black Ascot

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


The Black Ascotby Charles Todd ratchets up the mystery. Readers are able to get a deeper understanding of Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge, while getting a glimpse of the social and political trends of the 1920s.

Unlike many of the past plot-lines, this one focuses on a Cold Case. Ten years ago, a woman was murdered after attending the Black Ascot race, the famous 1910 royal horserace honoring the late King Edward VII.  The suspect, Alan Barrington, has eluded capture and the aggressive manhunt.  Now it appears that Barrington has returned to England, and Rutledge is chosen to conduct a quiet search under the cover of a routine review of a cold case. 

“We wanted to write as a starting off point, how a killing surrounded this event,called the killer, the Black Ascot Murderer. A woman was killed coming out of the races. After Edward VII died in 1910 there was a period of royal mourning. People thought the Ascot races should be cancelled.  Since the races were an integral part of society, it was decided to go through with it. Instead of wearing the glorious hats and gowns as in “My Fair Lady,” they decided everyone should wear black; thus, the Black Ascot.”

Determined to get into the mind of Barrington, Rutledge delves into all of his relationships and secrets, enlisting the help and advice of his alter-ego, Hamish.  But everything seems to be put on hold after the inspector is shot. Along with his supervisors and family, he questions whether it was attempted suicide, or was someone out to kill him.  The only way to save his career, and his sanity, is to find Alan Barrington and bring him to justice.

The Todds noted, “There were two societal stigmas in the story. Shell-shock was considered a moral failure that reflected on the individual and their family.  It was not only a shame on the veteran, but a shame on the family for producing a coward.  Families would disown sons who had lost their nerve. We talked with readers who came up to us and said thank you for allowing me to understand my grandfather or father now. Veterans also say thank you, which means so much to us. With suicide, at the time, people considered it a crime and would put a person in jail. If someone committed suicide they would not be allowed to be buried in consecrated Church grounds because it is considered a moral sin.  Many times, the family doctor would say the man who died was due to a gun going off while cleaning and declared it an accidental death.  This makes no sense since a man could take his gun apart in the dark during the war.  Those who did it had the feeling, ‘I have taken as much as I can take, and do not know what else to do.’  They could not talk about it, and did not know where to go to for help. They just could not cope.”

There are many twists and turns that keep readers on their toes.  Each character has strengths and flaws that have people questioning if they are good or bad, likeable, or not.


Book Review: The Girl From Berlin

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


The Girl From Berlin by Ronald H. Balson has readers experiencing the emotional roller coaster ride of guilt, anger, fear, and redemption. Chapters alternate between the 1930s/1940s and 2017.  The connection between the time periods is a manuscript that Ada Baumgarten has written about her life under Nazi rule and the devastating effect it had on Jews, particularly Ada’s family.

Balson noted, “I got the idea for Gavi when visiting my son who was studying abroad in Italy.  We drove around Italy and tried to visit as many wineries in Tuscany as we could because they are so quaint and beautiful.  We found out that German corporations own some of them.  I thought about the German occupation of Italy from 1943 to 1945 where they brutally seized Jewish property." 

"Ada came about from my long-time thoughts about Jewish artists and musicians during the Nazi regime. During the Weimar Republic, Germany's government, from 1919 to 1933, the period after World War I until the rise of Nazi Germany, there was a cultural explosion of art and science.”

Not only is this book a powerful historical novel but it also has a riveting mystery of murder, deception, and greed. The questions asked throughout the present-day chapters, how does the accounting of a young Jewish girl’s life in the 1930s and 1940s relate to a deed for an Italian farm, and what became of Ada?

It is almost like taking a time machine from present-day Italy back to the 1930’s during Hitler’s regime in Germany. The story opens with the recurring characters Catherine Lockhart and Liam Taggart being asked by an old friend to travel to Tuscany Italy to save the farm and priceless wine vineyards of his aunt, Gabi Vincenzo. A powerful corporation claims they own the deeds, even though she can produce her own set of deeds to her land.

Since Catherine is an attorney and her husband Liam is a private investigator they set forth to try to help the elderly woman.  Upon their arrival in Tuscany, Gabi tells Catherine and Liam to read a memoir by a woman named Ada Baumgarten, a German violinist forced to flee Berlin and settle in Bologna Italy after the Nazis took power.

The author also transplants readers back to the Nazi era where Jews were unaware of the horrors awaiting them: first deprived of careers/businesses, then property, basic rights, and ultimately, for many of them, their lives. Even more disturbing is the knowledge that while this was happening, many of the non-Jewish German population either does nothing or actively assists. Within these devastating events the author allows readers a reprise with the classical musical scenes and the various descriptions of certain musical works.

“I wrote this book quote by Ada, “Perhaps the most hurtful and inimical result of the campaign was the pervasive acceptance of Nazi policies by German became apparent that they would no longer stand up for us.  Those who uttered hateful speech were sinful, but the greater sin was committed by those who did not speak at all.”  The Nazi policies were accepted.  Remember Germany had seen a serious depression.  With the Nazis, there started to be a booming economy.  Since this population was not Jewish they turned the other way.  A good lesson to take out of this book is that we as a society should not turn our backs to those in need. I wanted to explore the Jewish options open to escape from the Nazi barbarism.  Many did leave Germany and Austria before the war.  Yet, many could not just pick up and go someplace.  Where would they go since the surrounding countries of Poland, Austria, and Czechoslovakia were not options?  Anywhere someone went there were no job, no community, and no money. These are formidable barriers. They tried to convince themselves things were not so bad, especially since events happened in increments. First Jews had to wear armbands, then Jewish stores were painted, but the atrocities started later.”

This novel puts a personal touch on the Holocaust where the six million Jews who perished do not seem like numbers.  Starting with the first pages of the book, readers will be so mesmerized there will be no turning back. Balson does a great job of intertwining the music, the rise of the Nazi party to power during its early years, its effect on Jewish lives, and the comparison between Jewish treatment in Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy.  It is a story of courage, survival, and hope.