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: 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.


Book Review: Tear Me Apart

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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Tear Me Apart by J.T. Ellison is a “why done it,” instead of a “who done it.” She explores how one lie can build upon another as the resulting betrayal rips two families apart.

Originally known for her two series she has now switched to writing stand-alones. One series main character is Lt. Taylor Jackson a Nashville homicide detective who hunts down serial killers. The other series featured Dr. Samantha Owen, a medical examiner who came into prominence as the conscience of the Taylor Jackson series, and eventually morphed into her own series. Ellison noted, “Currently I will continue writing the stand-alones because the publisher loves them and they are doing better.  With that said, I have already started the Samantha book and will eventually get to it. But for now, I will continue to write these psychological thrillers.”

While writing the series books, Ellison actually had an idea for this plot, back in 2011. “I had a guy at the funeral of his wife and baby. He dreamed of this little girl who became a professional ice skater.  I then added layers including to have a story about committing suicide. I also had the letters originally as AOL chats, but after my mom read it, I changed the correspondence to letters.  She did not know what an AOL chat was and I realized I would have a bunch of readers, both young and older, who would not know.  Another change I made was to have Mindy as a professional skier, not skater. I based her on Lindsey Vonn, someone who had made multiple comebacks from injuries. I think of her as an incredible hero.”


This story begins with an Olympic downhill skier, Mindy Wright, crashing and severely breaking her leg.  During the surgery, it’s discovered she has leukemia and will eventually need a stem cell transplant. In need of a bone marrow transplant both her parents are tested, where it is discovered that they are not a genetic match to Mindy. Questions arise as to what happened:  was she switched at birth, or was there something more sinister, such as a baby farm? Her mother Lauren is hiding secrets, while her aunt Juliet is determined to find answers and a match to save Mindy’s life. As the story unravels so does Lauren’s life and mental state.  She will go to almost any length to prevent people from knowing the truth about what happened.

Mindy is strong, determined, driven, and unemotional. “I wanted to write her as someone who takes control of every aspect of her life and mind. She is the 1% of the 1% of the 1%.  She will do anything to achieve her goal, training very hard.”

Her mother Lauren is someone who created a life for herself.  Once she became a mother she made a loving life for her daughter Mindy.  She is the direct opposite of her sister, Juliet. While growing up, Lauren was her mother’s favorite, Juliet was the outsider. These siblings are eleven years apart, but were thick as thieves. Although both are devastated by the diagnosis, Ellison explores how a parent would react in that situation, seeing a child suffer and unable to fix it.  “I wanted to write the essence of what a parent does, trying to make everything better.”

The plot examines the relationships between mothers and daughters as well as sisters. It sheds light on mental health problems and the terrible consequences that result when the emotional balance is neglected.


Book Review: Emma In The Night

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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Emma In The Night by Wendy Walker is a psychological thriller about two sisters. This dysfunctional family adds a whole new meaning to this word.

Judy Martin always used her beauty and charm to manipulate her family, requiring her daughters to flatter her to win her affection. Threatening her fragile ego are her daughters’ looks. Now the family’s life has been in limbo since the two daughters have been missing for three years. Cass, then 15, and her 17-year-old sister Emma disappeared in the night. Only one sister resurfaces randomly, with an outlandish story and a plea to help find her sister.According to Cass a couple took them from a Connecticut beach on Long Island Sound to a remote island off the coast of Maine. The couple kept the sisters’ captive and after finding out Emma was pregnant, took the baby away from her. Assigned to investigate the disappearance three years ago are FBI forensic psychologist Abby Winter, who also grew up with a narcissistic mother, and her partner Agent Leo Strauss.Upon Cass’ return, Winter and Strauss must try to coax out of her details necessary to find Emma. Abby Winter and her male partner are desperate to find out what happened and to find Emma before it’s too late.

This narcissistic personality disorder, the kinds of chronic behaviors exhibited by Judy (who Cass, tellingly, thinks of only as Mrs. Martin) damage relationships, pit sisters against one another, and result in nearly unimaginable levels of family dysfunction and betrayal.

The author explained, “I had in the beginning of the book, a description of the Greek myth about Narcissus, a hunter who was exceptionally beautiful and proud.  He was so proud that he rejected anyone who tried to love him.  This eventually killed him after he fell madly in love with himself and stared at his reflection until he died. I then thought how narcissisticmothers build the façade of protection to protect themselves emotionally. I wanted to show how they lack empathy of others. They don’t care about meeting their child’s needs.  It is only about what they want to project to the outside world.  They give their children inconsistent messaging. The mother in this story did not have a moral conscience, but lies and manipulates.”

Walker noted, “Cass sees bits of pieces of her mother in Emma.  Emma deviated from being vulnerable and ruthless, to desperate and tortured. A narcissistic parent usually chooses one sibling as the target, withdrawing of affection from the other child. The other siblings must deal with neglect parenting. In fact, Cass relied on Emma for parenting, looking up to her and hiding behind her. She had to grow up pretty fast. I would classify her as a survivor. I wrote her as flat, having feelings but unable to express them. This story shows what huge influences parents have on their children.”

By exploring narcissism Wendy Walker delved into the intricacies of family and community and the secrets and lies that surround it. There are many twists and surprises, especially the ending that will spin readers’ head.


Book Review: A Vince Flynn Novel Red 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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Mitch Rapp and Irene Kennedy are back, in the book Vince Flynn’s Red War. But this time they have a new adversary and a new setting, pivoting to the dangers Russia imposes. They race to prevent Russia’s gravely ill leader from starting a full-scale war with NATO.With this novel, it is obvious that Mills, who has taken over the writing of the Mitch Rapp/Irene Kennedy stories, has nailed the personalities and reactions of the characters.

He pivoted to Russia, “I am fascinated with Russia. I grew up reading the Cold War thrillers written by Frederick Forsyth, Tom Clancy, and Robert Ludlum.  With the book, Order to Kill, I moved Mitch to deal with the Russians. As they continue to take on the world stage, I liked the idea of this tension between the two countries. Then I had the idea that even dictators eventually get old and weak, so what will happen if someone tries to cling to power, showing signs of erratic behavior.”

This story has the Russian president determined to cling to power after hearing he has brain cancer. He consolidates his control by killing any who threatens him, and then creates a diversion by hoping to start a war with the West.General Andrei Sokolov, the former head of the Russian armed forces and a trusted adviser, is asked to invade three NATO nations, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, with a series of military actions that will allow Krupin to disappear for cancer treatment, without drawing attention. What these two psychopaths do not realize is that CIA Director Irene Kennedy is very suspicious, and to get actionable intelligence she sends Mitch Rapp and Scott Coleman into the Ukraine to be her eyes and ears.  At the same time, she sends in Grisha Azarov, a former Russian operative, now a contractor for the CIA, into Russia to find out Krupin’s whereabouts. As the action escalates, events appear to be going nuclear, literally and figuratively.

Irene Kennedy plays a pivotal role, but from behind the scenes. “I wrote her as the puppet master.  In this book, everything that happens is orchestrated by her.  For her, it is winning, but not letting anyone know we won.  Everything folds into place without people knowing she is involved.  She always has some way to get what she wants, yet, stays in the background. I see her playing a large role, but not like in the book Protect And Defendthat Vince Flynn wrote.  I never really liked that she was captured by the Iranians and always felt she would never have put herself in that situation.” 

Grisha Azarov returns, not as Rapp’s adversary, but as his ally. He is no longer Krupin’s deadly assassin, a job that once put him on a collision course with Mitch Rapp. Both decided on a truce after Grisha worked with Mitch on a past mission. Now, Irene Kennedy connects the dots and realizes Krupin has ordered Azarov to be assassinated. She sends in Rapp to rescue him and figure out why Krupin sent in a kill team. Bent on revenge after Azarov’s girlfriend was severely injured, he joins forces with Mitch and Irene to eliminate Krupin, who Irene understands has nothing to lose in this deadly game.

Comparing the two, Mills noted, “Grisha and Mitch had women they loved injured or killed because of who they are.  But Mitch became who he is because of his anger and sense of duty.  Grisha went into it because he was good at it and did not want to be a farmer.  He never fought because he believed in something, but did it because it paid good money.  I think they are motivated in different ways. Azarov will not be back.  He has traveled back to Costa Rica and will retire, but Scott Coleman will be prevalent.”

Another returning character is Scott Coleman. Mills highlights the close relationship between Rapp and Coleman. As with the early Rapp books they challenge each other and the banter between them is hilarious.

Readers will be hooked from the very beginning. It is one of those rare stories where people will be disappointed that they have finished the book.  Unfortunately, Mitch Rapp and Irene Kennedy fans will have to wait a year for another story, but fortunately they know with Mills at the helm the Vince Flynn characters will be around to protect and defend their fellow citizens.


Book Review: The Ancient Nine

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 Ancient Nine by Ian Smith is based on his time as a Harvard student in the 1980s.  Readers might think of a fraternity, where male students rush to join, in this case it is called “punched.” As with fraternities there is hazing, sexism, and underage drinking. But these “final clubs” are not fraternities but are really secret societies that have been in existence since the 1700s, with many of the rules of its members very archaic.

Harvard University conjures up images of a very prestigious and exclusive school whose acceptance rate is only 5.2% of its applicants. Within the surrounding million dollar mansions are privileged all male clubs.  Smith told how pressure is put on these clubs to integrate.  They have allowed token blacks, Jews, and Hispanics, but not women. Because these groups are not associated with the University it claims its hands are tied. What they have done is to prohibit any student who has participated in these clubs from holding leadership positions in student government, refusing them any recommendations for scholarships, and not permitting them to be a captain on any varsity team. Unfortunately, the faculty and alumni are pushing back saying it is a violation of free association rights.

The character Spenser Collins is actually the fictional personality of Smith, while his friend Dalton Winthrop is a compilation of people that he knew at Harvard. As in the book, he recounts how he received an invitation while a sophomore that was slipped under his door.  Only ten to twenty students are chosen out of an original invitation to 250 students. Founded in the nineteenth the Delphic Club has had titans of industry, Hollywood legends, heads of state, and power brokers among its members. It is a who’s who with members from the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, Roosevelts, and Kennedys.

Smith explained, “Spenser is me.  I was raised by a single mom, from a working-class family, pre-med, and played basketball.  I never heard of the Delphic Club, but found out that it was more of a microcosm of a country club.  Members are able to have lifelong interactions and engagements. Members get access to some of the most powerful people in this country, are a part of the inner circle, and are able to network.”

The fictional part comes into play after Spenser in researching the club’s past, learns that a Harvard student, Erasmus Abbott, vanished in 1927 after attempting to break into the Delphic Club. Spenser decides to investigate, and the path to the truth, of course, proves perilous. A club within a club is the Ancient Nine. It is even more secretive, this shadowy group of alums whose identities are unknown and whose power is absolute. The more the friends investigate, the more questions they unearth, tangling the story of the club, the disappearance, and the Ancient Nine, until they realize their own lives are in danger.

Considering that the book details graphic scenes of what should be considered sexual abuse it is a surprise that someone has not come out against these men who appear to have had a MeToo Movement moment.  A scene in the book, at the end of an offsite ritual, pledgers are presented with a group of beautiful women, wearing nothing but high heels, who stand waiting to “entertain” them. Smith noted, “I think the MeToo Movement focused on guys who used their power to suppress and manipulate women.  They abused their power and harassed women.  They should be taken down.  But what happened in the Clubs are just bad relationships and guys doing some bad things, which has happened for 1000’s of years.  I would not shut the door on a woman coming out and saying ‘I was at this party and this happened to me.’”

Harvard and Cambridge are characters in the book.  “I wanted to write how the location plays an important role. Harvard has its own brand and own assumptions people make about it.  There are images, visions, and beliefs.  I had the characters interact with the campus and its surroundings.  I purposely sprinkled some history of the University as readers get to know this character, Harvard.”

What Smith wants readers to get out of it, “These are independent clubs with their own land, own mansions, and is not part of the University. The problem is the University does not own these clubs so there is no official link with it.  I hope people think about what goes on behind closed doors. The time has come for these clubs to be open and the exclusion should be eradicated.”


Book Review: A Forgotten Place

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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A Forgotten Place by Charles Todd is a suspenseful story with engaging characters. Their best books are the ones that flesh out the hero and heroine, allowing readers to get to know more and more of the beloved characters, in this case Bess Crawford. The story delves into the very dark aftermath of WW1 that has left many embittered and broken men.

It is a story about amputees.  “We Wrote how German machine gunners took people out from their knees down, basically mowing them down.  They did this knowing an injured solider would take two fit men to take them off the battlefield.  A lot of men lost legs as a result of these machine gunners. We wanted to show the psychological burden these men had to go through, because back then many did not have a way to regain their place in society. These men did the physical work of mining and their injuries prevented them from being employed.  We wrote this book quote, “Their wounds had done what the Germans never could-broken their spirits.” A prayer of almost every man in the Great War, ‘I don’t mind dying, but please don’t maim me.’”

The plot compassionately relates how the war has ended, but the suffering and agony of the injured has not disappeared. Bess is tending to soldiers who lost limbs and are suicidal.  A group of Welsh soldiers, whose serious injuries make their future employment doubtful, feel they have no reason to live.Worried about being a financial drain upon their families, they often commit suicide in an effort to eliminate the problem. Coal miners by profession, they are now unable to perform the grueling, physical labor required. This includes Captain Hugh Williams, someone Bess has built a bond with. After being discharged, he writes Bess a letter detailing the suicides of some soldiers she nursed back to health, and asks for her help in preventing others from taking their life. Able to get a few days leave, Bess seeks out Williams, ending up in a desolate, secretive, and isolated town on the Welsh coast. When bodies wash ashore,it becomes clear, that the villagers have a secret, one that they are willing to kill for. Because she assumes it is her responsibility to investigate she puts her life in danger as the villagers’ hostility towards her increases.

“We incorporated how Bess had to solve the mystery by putting the clues together bit by bit.  The townspeople didn’t want strangers to come down and take everything away.  They were desperate to keep their secrets.  They live their lives by their own set of rules where everyone knows each other’s business. They resent newcomers coming in and spoiling their world. The mystery is centered around “The Worm,” the isolation of the small town, and a shipwreck during the Charles II era that we twisted to make a story.”

The vivid description of the Gower Peninsula in southern Wales creates the right atmosphere for a suspenseful story. Its stormy weather, harsh, unforgiving landscape, and unfriendly citizens adds a level of menace to the mystery.


Book Review: The Sound of Distant Thunder

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 Sound of Distant Thunder by Jan Drexler presents a unique look at the Amish society.  This first in a series uses the backdrop of the Civil War as the characters struggle to reconcile their convictions and desires with the national interest.

Jan Drexler brings an understanding of Amish traditions and beliefs to her writing. Her ancestors were among the first Amish, Mennonite, and Brethren immigrants to Pennsylvania in the 1700s, and their experiences are the inspiration for her stories. She takes the saying, “write what you know,” to a whole new level.

She commented, “My ancestors were Amish.  Also, I lived in Indiana and they were part of the community so I grew up with them.  I think my experiences mostly came from the stories my family told.  I explored why we were not Amish anymore.  I took a journey into my heritage with the stories growing out of that.” 

The story explores two divisions, North versus South during America’s Civil War, and the Amish Church, Mennonite versus the Old Order Amish.  Through the hero Jonas’ eyes, readers see his struggles with his own principles, beliefs and how these affect his life. Twenty-year-old Jonas is taken in by the romance of soldiering, especially in defense of anti-slavery, even though he knows war is at odds with the teachings of the church. When his married brother's name comes up on the draft list, he volunteers to take his brother's place. But this means Jonas must put on hold his commitment to marry his long-time love, Katie Stuckey. 

“I wrote the Civil War as more of a background. In specific situations, the characters interact with the Civil War, but are not immersed in it, except for Jonas, who was stubborn, intelligent, stoic, and caring, with a softness of heart. I hoped I showed how men 18 to 22 years of age were looking for an adventure.  They really believed it would not last more than three months.  I read numerous diary entries from that era where boys told their parents, ‘I have to join up now because I do not want to miss out.’

The Amish would be considered conscientious objectors today. The story has the real-life Ohio Congressman who was able to get passed that the non-resistance religions could hire someone to take their place or pay a fee that would go to the war effort. Survivor’s guilt is emphasized with the book quote, ““If I pay the fee, I’m showing them that my life is more important to me than another man’s.”

Drexler noted, “While doing my research I actually read about a man who did hire someone to take his place.  Subsequently that person was killed and the man had a very hard time living with that guilt.  They struggled because of their views, since they were non-resistant.  As with the Quakers, they thought killing is wrong. But Jonas questions if there is a justification for war during certain circumstances. Most of the “English” world would say they have an equal allegiance to G-d and country, but the Amish feel their allegiance to G-d comes first. People could not conceive that someone would not support their country by fighting.  Even during the Revolutionary War the Amish had problems because people thought if they did not want to fight they must be Tories.” 

As readers turn the pages they seek answers to the questions, will the relationship survive the separation and how will Jonas be viewed in this pacifist Church? Amish traditions and beliefs are brought to the forefront with the Civil War as a backdrop.


Book Review: Field of Bones


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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Field of Bones by J. A. Jance is an intriguing dark mystery.  Jance shows why she is a such a prolific writer, able to balance the gruesome case with the added personal life of Brady, that at times offers comic relief.

The book begins as Sheriff Joanna Brady is waiting election results.  Threatening to derail her re-election are personal tragedies and her pregnancy. This third time up for election, it appears the vote count will be close. But the baby had other plans and chose to come before all the votes have been counted. Luckily it became a night for celebration after Eleanor Sage was born and Joanna was re-elected.  The comic relief comes into play as she tries to juggle being a stay at home mom and finding information about the case. Joanna is not a happy camper when she finds out that those in the Sheriff’s office are taking bets as to when she will return to work, as she shows signs of restlessness from the maternity leave. Because of this premise Joanna becomes a secondary character in the story.

Jance explains, “She had to be one because she was on maternity leave.  What tickled me is that everyone was placing bets how long she would last. Normally Butch, her husband, is a stay at home dad but he was on a book tour. When I started writing about Johanna she had children and worked such ungodly hours. There needed to be somebody at home to help with the children.  I made the decision to bring Butch into the story so, for most of the time, he could be a stay at home dad.”

This is contrasted with the case itself.  A serial killer kidnaps women, rapes them, violently brutalizes them, and then kills them. The police find out about someone known as “the Boss” after a mother brings her son into the Sheriff’s office with a human skull shot in the head. He leads the police to where he found it. They discover several corpses including one that has been dumped recently. Realizing that “the Boss” could be holding more victims there is a race with the clock to find them before they are killed.

Jance noted, “I really liked Latisha. She was one of the women being held by the killer and a very sympathetic character. In the beginning she was naïve, but through the process of this horrible ordeal became very determined, mature, and responsible. Another character I really like is the new deputy, Garth. I think he will be back in future stories. I based him on those in law enforcement who told me over and over that people go into law enforcement for a reason. This is a decision they make with their hearts and their souls.  He was influenced by Joanna’s kindness.  She came to his grandfather’s funeral and personally gave the information to his grandmother about what happened.” 

As with any Jance book, readers are treated to beloved characters, small town charm, vibrant history, a captivating mystery, and the scenic Arizona desert backdrop. Luckily, Brady was re-elected so there will be more adventures and cases for her in the future.