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: VERSES FOR THE DEAD

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

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Verses for the Dead by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child brings back the return of their beloved character FBI Special Agent AloysiusPendergast. There is a slightly new recipe for this famous crime solver with a new boss, partner, and medical examiner.

The authors describe Pendergast as “a person out of place and out of time.  A gentleman from the Old South, specifically New Orleans.  He is looked upon as a total freak. He does things off the books, unorthodox, wealthy, and an iconoclast. He is like a twisted, dark Sherlock Holmes. We have fun writing him.  He is an over the top character that is eccentric.  He enjoys his comforts.He has become legendary to go rogue and work on his own.”   

A welcome relief in this story has the authors moving away from anything supernatural and deciding to stick to crime-solving, understanding that the story and characters are riveting by themselves. In this old-fashioned mystery, a Florida woman while visiting her husband’s grave has her dog find a human heart with an apology note. The current victims are women whose throats have been slit and breastbones split open to remove their hearts, all in quick and expert fashion. The killer leaves notes at the graves of women who committed suicide and signed it “Mister Brokenhearts.”As other body counts mount up it becomes apparent that the notes left have a tinge of literary verses from T. S. Eliot to Romeo & Juliet.

The authors noted that this time they gave him a different type of partner. “One thread of previous Pendergast books is how we saddled him with lazy and incompetent law officials that he had to work with.  Coldmoon is not a boring person and we hope he made an impression on the reader.  He looks like a Native American with long black hair and piercing eyes.  Quietly he shows Pendergast he is an equal with the same intelligence and observations.  Pendergast as competent partner, He is one of the finest characters we have written.  Very iconic that keeps to himself. One scene we wrote in the book shows their different tastes.  Pendergast is a terrible coffee snob while Coldmoon likes camp coffee with that foul smell.  At a certain point Pendergast buys his partner a fine expresso coffee. Coldmoon takes one sip and pours it out.  This shows their differences, but they both end up respecting each other.”

Unlike his past supervisor Pendergast must now deal with Walter Pickett, an FBI assistant director recently assigned to the New York City field office, who is determined to keep this maverick agent under his control by assigning him a partner, Special Agent Coldmoon. The new partner is expected to report back on any of Pendergast’s deviations from the rules. Both Agents are a contrast of each other.  Coldmoon is part Lakota Indian and part Italian.  Pendergast dresses like an undertaker, and always seems to have more money than the average FBI agent preferring the luxuries of a fine hotel, private jet, and nice car. Soon Coldmoon realizes his partner is astute, smart, observant, and has a way of looking outside the box. They enlist the help of the medical examiner who is willing to go against her supervisor to find clues.

Throughout the story the partners get under each other’s skins, but realize they are more alike than different. “Pendergast only accepts one dollar a year because he is wealthy and is doing the job for the enjoyment of the work.  He thinks of it as solving a puzzle.  As the story progresses his new partner sees the reasons behind what Pendergast does. Regarding betrayal versus loyalty Coldmoon is assigned as Pendergast’s partner with a secret agenda.  As time passes he realizes it is wrong.  He must choose loyalty to his superiors or loyalty to his partner. Whoever he is loyal to the other will see it as betrayal.  He chose his partner.”

Sorting through betrayals, lies, and deceptions, readers are treated to a unique storyline that is highly volatile.  An added treat is the humorous banter between the characters that is both refreshing and amusing. 

 

 


Book Review: The Widows

The Widows by Jess Montgomery is inspired by the true story of Ohio’s first female sheriff.  The story delves into how two woman fought greed and violence while overcoming the loss of a loved one. 

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The author noted, “This is a darker and deeper style of writing, much more than my other stories.  For example, I examine the Pinkerton men and the violence they used. I read multiple books that talked about how these men would shoot up the striking camps. I put in the book a quote by one of the Pinkerton men, ‘A real war, and then, rule of law won’t matter. Those miners who resist, why, we’ll put ‘em down like rabid dogs.’”

The protagonists Lily and Marvena are based on the real-life historical figures of Maude Collins, the first female sheriff in Ohio, and Mother Jones, the famous activist and labor organizer. Sheriff Daniel Ross, the husband of Lily is murdered and no one knows by whom. Those powerful in the town want to pin it on a coal miner, Marvena’s brother. She has something in common with Lily since she lost her husband in a coal mining accident. Because the mine owners think she will be easy to control Lily is appointed sheriff pending the next election. But having a mind of her own and a sense of justice she partners with Marvena to find the elusive murderer and the missing daughter.

“I wrote both Lily and Marvena as tough.  Lily is sensitive but is also a protector who wants to support her community.  She keeps her emotions close to her heart.  Marvena is fierce and persistent, but also has a tender streak.  Although both women were wary of each other at first, they have a common goal to find out what happened. They end up with a strong friendship and recognize that each is balancing their own demons.”

Readers might be curious as to what is real and what is fiction. Montgomery commented, “In real life Collins had five children, and the person who killed her husband was known.  I decided it would be interesting to have Lily take the sheriff position to find out who killed her husband.  The similarity is that both women lost their husbands in the line of duty, both were appointed sheriff, and both were elected. The differences: Lily is eight years younger than Maude during that time period and she only had two children.”

Historical facts are intertwined in this novel that also has strong female characters and an intriguing mystery. Readers get a glimpse into the 1920s-coal mining town in Appalachian Ohio as the author examines women’s rights, prohibition, and the life of a coal miner.

 


Book Review: Crucible

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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Crucible by James Rollins reunites the Sigma Force team in this thrilling story.  Released just after the holidays, this plot is anything but merry.  But readers of Rollins are used to a roller coaster ride where they get plenty of action blended with cutting edge science, historical mystery, and the latest technologies.

“This has been on my mind for awhile, to write a story surrounding artificial intelligence. I made sure to read the contrary view that question if AI is a threat. There are certain hurdles that will need to be crossed to bring about a self-aware human-like AI. Their position is that this technology will happen. Of those two dozen experts I interviewed the consensus is that it will happen in five to ten years because of the rapid advances.  Two of the researchers thought we have already gone there.  It is not an if, but a when. I use as an example, the story of AlphaGo, the first computer program to defeat a human. It played the board game, Go. The next generation self-taught itself in three days and also beat his big brother, the original version of the program.  I think this book is written for the non-believers.”

It is Christmas Eve where the Sigma Force friends are gathering to have a joyous holiday.  But Monk Kokkalis and Gray Pierce find their holiday spirits quickly dampened after returning to Monk’s house in Maryland. The Christmas Tree is toppled, Kat, the computer expert of the group, is lying unconscious on the kitchen floor, and Monk’s two young girls have been kidnapped, along with Gray’s pregnant wife, Seichan. This happened shortly after a massacre in Portugal where five women scientists have been brutally massacred.  Also missing is Mara Silviera who was making advances in artificial intelligence research. She is on the run, protecting herself and her computer’s life. Gray, Monk, and company set out to find Mara after realizing that she is the key to finding their loved ones and also to saving humanity. 

Rollins noted, “Eve, the computer, matured from a narrow AI to AGI then eventually to ASI. I based her on the book Flowers for Algernon that was made into the movie “Charley.”  Over the course of time his vocabulary increases multifold. He surpasses intellectually the average person’s language. There is math on one of the pages of my book to show how Eve goes beyond scientifically the human understanding, just as Charley had done in the movie.  I gave her a double personality where she is split between dark and light.  The one cared for by Mara nurtures and protects humans, while the other one, which was stolen, mirrors the torture done to her. Currently, we are in narrow AI such as Siri or self-driving cars.  What everyone is pursuing is AGI that have computers self-aware of themselves with some human level of intelligence that can differentiate. ASI will advance far beyond our intelligence and accelerates rapidly.  I wanted Eve to start with a cold and calculating intelligence and then mature as she is trained in different types of environments.”

The action keeps moving at a brisk pace in this latest novel that is crafted around plausible scientific data.  Rollins has a knack for weaving together new and old as well as warning readers what can happen in the not too distant future.


Book Review: The First Conspiracy

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 First Conspiracy by Brad Meltzer brings to life a spy thriller that actually happened.  This non-fiction historical mystery delves into a plot to assassinate General George Washington, exposing the spies, killers, counterfeiters, and traitorsand how those in the still forming government addressed the plot.

“I wrote this story because it fascinated me and there is little knowledge about it. The myth says we were a ragtag army who held hands and came together to defeat the powerful English.  But in fact, we were not unified, but acted just like today. For example, our Massachusetts regiment hated our Connecticut regiment who hated our Virginia regiment.  They were all different with dissimilar beliefs and customs, including wearing different uniforms.  I show this in an amazing scene in the book.  Someone from the Virginia regiment meets someone from the Massachusetts regiment who starts to make fun of the Virginia uniform.  A fight breaks out until George Washington rides on his horse and picks them up, emphasizing the need for a team.  If ever there was a metaphor for where we are as a culture there it was.  He helped build the United States by holding us together. The book delves into getting rid of the myth that we were all together and shows how hard fought it was to get us together.”

This is Meltzer’s first non-fiction book, written with writer and documentary producer Josh Mensch.  It tells of a hidden event that took place during the most critical period of America’s birth.  The heart of the book takes place after Washington’s arrival into New York City in early 1776.  After having to flee to a British ship docked in New York’s harbor, the Governor of New York, a Loyalist, William Tryon devises a treacherous plan to kill the US General.  He enlists the help of the city’s mayor, David Mathews, and some in the civilian population that have divided loyalties and shifting allegiances.  All are willing to sacrifice their devotion to the highest bidder.

Shocked by these rumors Washington decides to assemble an elite band of soldiers, the Life Guards, to protect him. In addition, he along with another Founding Father John Jay, established the secret Committee of Intestine Enemies, designed to uncover the traitors, learn their plans, and stop them. The clandestine operations showed how Jay regarded the importance of counter-intelligence, and the Life Guards can be considered the precursor to the Secret Service.

Meltzer noted, “He created a secret organization within our government that came out of the plot to kill Washington.  He is an incredible investigator who did interrogations to collect information.  He actually built a counter-intelligence operation by using civilians to ferret out information about the traitors.  He built an entire system for the government to protect itself.  I call him the original American bad ass. Both he and Washington displayed leadership, loyalty, and knew of the harm betrayal does. The final sentence of the book sums everything up, “In our lowest moments we always find our greatest strengths.”

Although a non-fiction story it reads like a spy novel with a sense of immediacy and peril.  Readers will be astonished that this “First Conspiracy,” was but a footnote in American history until now, when the authors bring it to the forefront.

 


Book Review: In Dog We Trust

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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In Dog We Trust by Beth Kendrick says it all with the title. This fun-loving book is a must read for all dog lovers and those that want smiles on their faces.  In addition, readers get an interesting mystery where greed is the antagonist. The story is enjoyable, amusing, and entertaining.

Kendrick noted, “The story cannot happen without the dogs, who are agents for change.  People and pets have a very significant relationship. Dogs know who is kind and nurturing.  It is that saying, ‘if my dog doesn’t like you neither do I.’  There is something about having another being to rely on us. There is a deeper level of nonverbal communication that is satisfying and profound.  My vet once said to me, dogs want to be useful and serve.  I think we have an obligation to give that back to our dogs.”

The plot takes place in the Delaware seaside quirky quaint town of Black Dog Bay. It has become well-known for being the “best place in America to bounce back from your breakup.” Charming seaside diners, boutiques, bakeries, and a bed and breakfast capitalized by having names of “Home to Better Off Bed-and-Breakfast, the Eat Your Heart Out bakery, the Jilted Café, the Rebound Salon, and the Whinery bar.” The owner of “Black Dog Bay Books” created a legend about an apparition of a black dog as a harbinger of hope and change.

The main character Jocelyn Hillier helps her mother run a laundry rental business in the beach town. A chance encounter leads to Jocelyn’s meeting Mr. Allardyce, the owner of several pedigreed Labrador retrievers and living in one of the fanciest shore-side mansions. He is gruff, a penny pincher, and a social outcast, but decides to hire Jocelyn as a dog walker and dog sitter.  After Mr. Allardyce suddenly dies, he leaves all of his money to his three show dogs, appointing Jocelyn as their guardian. She has control of the money and is able to live in the mansion. An interesting premise that encircles the story, how an eccentric dog owner would appoint a trustee of the dogs who inherited the wealth. But life becomes troublesome when his estranged son, Liam, and the dog’s trainer, Lois, decide to sue her for the inheritance left to the dogs and her guardianship.

“I came up with the idea after was reading with my eleven-year-old son a National Geographic story.  It was how all these dogs are bequeathed millions and millions of dollars. There is plenty of legal precedent even though the dogs actually cannot spend money.  All they want is food, water, and a human.  Pet trusts are routinely now part of estates.  I understand how we owners want them well cared for. I think dog people have a spiritual and creative streak that are mostly kind and helpful.”

Besides having likeable characters and cuddly dogs this story delves into scandal and betrayal. The humorous banter allows for a ver


Book Review: Code Name: Lise

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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Code Name: Lise by Larry Loftis brings to life the most highly decorated woman spy. The story delves into how Odette Sansom displayed courage and patriotism while having to endure endless torture by the Nazis.

“After I read the SOE training evaluation of her I knew she was a force to be reckoned with.  She was described as temperamental, a loose cannon, arrogant, relentless, fearless, and extremely patriotic.  I think she was chosen because women carriers were needed since men were picked up by the Germans to be drafted or put in forced labor.  There was also the need for people who spoke French without an English accent, which she did. She was captured because she was stubborn and did not follow directions.  But she more than made up for that mistake by showing her bravery. She did not talk or give out any information even after being tortured that included pulling off all her toenails.” 

Born in France and living in England Odette decides she wants to help with the war cause.  Because of her knowledge of the French language and customs she was recruited into Britain’s Special Operations Executive Program to conduct espionage on the Germans during WWII.  Working closely with her commanding officer, Peter Churchill, they are able to complete dangerous missions. Peter became smitten with her and eventually they fell in love while playing a cat and mouse game with German secret police sergeant, Hugo Belicher. He takes advantage of a mistake Odette makes and captures them, sending them to Paris’s Fresnes prison, and from there to concentration camps in Germany where they are starved, beaten, and tortured. Put on a list to be executed she and Peter are kept alive by the Germans because of two lies she concocted. She pretended that she and Peter were married (they would be after the war) and that Peter was related to Winston Churchill, realizing the Gestapo hoped to use her and Peter as a bargaining chip.

Loftis describes ascene in the book. “She is standing up to a German general while she was still a spy. Instead of being incognito and blending in she was visible, which showed her fearlessness, but also her recklessness. In another case she slipped handcuffs off, while confronting a German guard, which also showed her fearfulness and recklessness. I have a book quote where she tells the concentration commandant at the end of the war, ‘I want to know why you don’t open the gates of the camp. The war is over.  It is useless murder to keep people here.’”

This story delves into the details of what Odette had to endure.  In the face of grave danger, she shows her courageousness and willingness to stand up to the Germans. Readers will not want to put this book down. Loftis has the ability to write it as a spy thriller instead of a dry biography.

 


Book Review:

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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Half of What You Hear by Kristyn Kusek Lewis highlights living in a small town. Moving to her husband’s place of birth Beth Warner must navigate the many scandals and secrets that make Washington DC look like an honorable place.

Lewis noted, “My last two books were more internal stories where readers are able to get inside the characters’ heads.  This is more dynamic, about a small town. I have some knowledge of the South since my mom is from North Carolina, my husband and I lived there for awhile, and I have a lot of family distributed throughout the region.”

Bess was the social secretary for the First Lady who was unceremoniously fired.  Wanting to get away from the grind and gossip she and her husband take over the running of his parent’s inn and move to Greyhill Virginia. She feels apart from her family and the community.  Shunned as an outsider and having her daughters becoming more independent, Bess is feeling the effects of an empty nest and isolation.

“I put in this quote at the beginning of the book, from A Bargain For Frances, ‘Being careful is not as much fun as being friends.  Do you want to be careful, or do you want to be friends?’ I wanted to show that when someone has a relationship their choices are the need to be careful and watch their words, or to be truly authentic.  Many times people are defined from one incident.  It is about perception and how we judge people based on that one event.”

Offered to write a puff piece on one of Greyhill’s most famous and secretive residents,Susannah Lane, Bess quickly accepts.  Besides a Red Chevy truck Susannah loved and crashed she opens up about her high school sweetheart, Besses’ father-in-law, and her best friend who mysteriously died after falling off a cliff.

Lewis describes her main characters, “Bess is driven and is now searching for a sense of identity after her career imploded.  She is placed in a community that really does not want to embrace her and feels like a fish out of water.  In small towns relationships are developed over years with a strong sense of community.  She sees the town as having stagnant ideas, which comes out clearly during the interview with Susannah who is haunted by her past.  She never felt love and is a broken person.  From the outside Susannah appears to have a charmed life, including driving her red Chevy truck, but reality is very different.”

On a fun note Lewis explained about her passion for red trucks. “I always wanted on old red pick up truck, especially since red is my favorite color.  I have been taking pictures of them for years; although I drive the opposite, a grey Subaru Outback.” 

Readers will feel they are imported into this small town with its old money, mansions, and old-fashioned ideas where dirty laundry is not washed in public. 


Book Review: The Three Beths

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 Three Beths by Jeff Abbott is a psychological thriller that explores family dynamics. The story of missing loved ones grabs at the readers, sparking curiousity. Readers are drawn into the story, feeling empathy for the characters.

Abbott noted, "There were these two separate ideas that came together.  I thought about these cases where someone has gone missing and the police have a pretty good idea of who did it, but no evidence.  Sometimes in that situation it is a family member.  That brought me to the second idea, I kept thinking what would be like, for a daughter to be constantly defending an accused parent. The OJ Simpson case is a famous example.  How did his children regard their father? What would it be like to live as a family member after their father was accused of murder?  The characters of Mariah and Craig popped into my mind.  It was a Lego block of an idea.  Sometimes ideas lock together like Lego blocks and formulate a story."

The plot unfolds with the touching thoughts of Mariah, “My mom would never leave me.” Beth Dunning, her mom has disappeared without a trace and has been missing for a year.  The police chief, Dennis Broussard, who once had feelings for Beth, suspects Mariah’s dad, Craig.  Broussard has tunnel vision since there is no body and no physical evidence linking Craig to the supposed murder. Mariah feels compelled to clear her father’s name and find her mom, considering the townspeople are trying to run the Dunnings out of town.  Her feelings jump from guilt to anger to loneliness.  Determined to investigate she takes the suggestion of a high school friend who is now a true-crime blogger. An estranged wife, Bethany Curtis, of a tech millionaire also went missing six months earlier. What links the two disappearances is the name, Beth. What Mariah finds out is that many of the answers seem to lie with a third Beth, Lizbeth, who seems very elusive. As the clues lead her closer to answers, she and her dad are threatened, with the truth more devastating than she could have imagined.

"I explore grief. Mariah thought she saw her mom in the mall.  Grief can play tricks on the mind.  I want readers to look at this family and how they were grieving. Everyone builds their own memories of what happened and their roles in it.  When lightning burned down my house I had some vivid memories of those four to five hours, but also stretches of time that got scrambled.  We never know who another person is including ourselves. There is always another side we do not know about.  We know the image we hold of a person, but can never know everything about them. Some days we do not even know everything about ourselves. We have these masks on concealing how we feel about things and will not say our thoughts out loud."

Readers will get into the minds of all the characters. They follow the betrayals, lies, and deceits and realize that most of the characters are very flawed. People will not want to put this book down, until they also find answers and the truth regarding the disappearance of the three Beths.


Book Review: Gown With The Wind

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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Gown With The Wind by Stephanie Blackmoore is a parody of the classic movie Gone With The Wind.  It has the famous line of  “As G-d is my witness,” characters that have similar personalities, and names to match.  Readers will have fun with the comparisons and might even be interested in viewing the timeless masterpiece movie.

Blackmoore noted, "I respect and enjoy the movie but I do wonder about the historical accuracy and the political correctness.  Of course it is a wonderful story that I enjoyed re-watching as I picked apart things to lay on the relationship structure of Keith, Mallory, and Becca. There were a lot of echoes that I totally plucked.

As with the film, the book storyline has a murder, attempted murder, vandalism, and even arson.  This is all happening during the planning of the wedding of Keith Pierce and Becca Cunningham.  They have asked Keith’s ex-fiancé, Mallory Shepard to plan their wedding since she and her sister Rachel have turned a renovated Thistle Park, the home Mallory inherited from her ex-fiancé, Keith Pierce’s, grandmother in Port Quincy Pennsylvania, into a B&B and wedding/event venue. I do agree there are strong women characters that dominated the male characters. I chose to mirror them. For example, everyone was pushing Mallory to get married.  Yet, she responded, ‘I don’t need to get married.’  I think both in the movie and my book the women characters don’t fit into roles people prescribe to them."

After Becca’s grandmother Alma, a huge Gone With The Wind collector, is strangled, the theme of the wedding is changed to this classic film to honor her.  The bride-to- be found the perfect wedding dress that is a Scarlett O’Hara lookalike. Unfortunately, her childhood rival, Felicity Fournier, also a huge fan of the movie, wants the dress.  After Felicity is found murdered Mallory decides to become an amateur sleuth.  Besides planning a wedding, trying to find the culprits, Mallory also takes over the arranging for the upcoming reception of The Duchess Theater’s reopening. This old-time movie theater will play classic films beginning with Gone With The Wind.  But during the premiere someone sets fire to the theatre almost destroying it.  Mallory and company have their hands filled finding those responsible for all the disastrous events.

"I hope my characters mirrored the movie ones. I wrote this book quote that Alma says to Mallory, “Alma dismissed her daughter-in-law with a wave of her hand.  ‘She can be helpful at times and is more of a Melanie Wilkes... All quiet strength and Goody Two-shoes affect.  But for this project, we need more of a Scarlett-type woman.  Someone like you, dear, or me.’” Mallory has some elements of Scarlett, but I think she is more like Melanie. As you mentioned earlier, Melanie is quiet, but strong in her own way, and is able to make decisions that change the course of everyone else’s life. Becca has the attitude, ‘Tomorrow is another day,’ similar to Scarlett’s.  She forged ahead and made her own way.  Becca woke up and muddled through with new plans because the old ones went up in flames. Keith and Ashley Wilkes are both wusses. I think he and Ashley from the movie are total doormats. Even the dog in story was named Wilkes."

During this holiday season people might want to snuggle up while reading this fun book. It is full of quirky characters and the Gone With The Windsimilarities makes the story very enjoyable.


Book Review: Wrangler's Rescue

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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Wrangler’s Rescue by B. J. Daniels is the last in the Montana Cahills series.  It is filled with a little romance, tension, emotion, suspense, and a lot of mystery that involves betrayals, murder, and distrust. The readers try to put the pieces of the puzzle together along with the characters.

This story has a new twist as AJ, a city gal turned cowgirl, battles Juliette, a seductive sociopath black widow, while the hero isan ‘aw shucks’ type of shy quiet man. 

AJ and Juliette are contrasting characters.  “I wrote AJ as strong, determined, loyal, smart and independent.  She will take matters into her own hands. She will not take no for an answer and follows her instincts. I am a lot like AJ, someone who relies on myself. Juliette is heartless, soulless, calculating and has the attitude it is always about her.  She was poor and likes to blame others for her circumstances.  Unfortunately, I have met people like that who have had a hard time in childhood and feels others should pick up the slack because life has not been fair to them. She believes in give me, give me, give me as she uses and abuses people.  I loved writing her because she is so evil.”

The plot has Cyrus Cahill traveling to Denver to buy a bull.  Approximately a week later, his family receives a phone call that he married a total stranger, a woman he knew for only a very short time, while on a Caribbean cruise ship. This is so out of character for him since he is reserved and cautious.  The bad news is that he has gone overboard and is suspected dead. His wife comes to town with a death certificate and to claim his estate including the ranch.

Another contrast is Montana versus the Caribbean. “To me, the Montana setting is one of my characters.  In this book I wrote, ‘it was one of those March days when the weather didn’t seem to know what it wanted to do.  This time of year, in Montana it could snow two feet just as easily as it could be sunny and warm… Everywhere there were piles of snow.’ It could even snow on the Fourth of July.  One minute it snows and the next minute the sun is out. I chose the Caribbean because I needed to leave the coldness of Montana for awhile and get to somewhere warm.  I wanted to travel there, even if it was in my thoughts.  I also loved throwing it in as a twist.”

Only AJ won't believe he's dead. When the search is called off, she leaves for the Caribbean to find him. After searching from island to island she travels to Dominica and stays at a recovering resort that was hit by a hurricane. The man helping to rebuild the cottages, calls himself Joe, but she knows him as the man she loves, Cyrus. Realizing he has amnesia she takes things slowly.  But the plot is not slow by any means and it takes off after Juliette tries numerous times to get both killed.

Although both Cyrus and AJ are attracted to each other they both appear to be hiding their feelings. Until one beautiful January day, while traveling in the mountains he was about to kiss her until his horse decided differently. AJ is now determined to find Cyrus and get that first kiss.

B.J. Daniels is a master writer who blends suspense and romance. Because of all the twists and turns readers are kept guessing about the ending. This story has a lot of intrigue and mystery with amazing characters including a tenacious villain.


Book Review: Let the Dead Keep Their Secrets

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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Let The DEAD Keep Their Secrets by Rosemary Simpson brings to life New York City during the 1880s in a historical mystery. It is rich in the culture of the time with a riveting Colombo type crime.  Readers know who has done it and seek clues with the characters to find the proof.

The plot opens with New York opera singer Claire Buchanan calling on the investigative services of Prudence MacKenzie and her partner, Geoffrey Hunter. Claire shows up at their door begging them to find out exactly how her twin sister, Catherine, and newborn daughter died, believing it was not from natural causes. Catherine’s husband, Aaron Sorenson, is a scoundrel and appears to be marrying women, getting them pregnant, and then having baby and mother die in childbirth.  Prudence and Geoffrey find that childbirth can be dangerous to one’s health as they realize that Sorenson’s current wife may also be in danger. His motive, both the late wife and the current wife would inherit a substantial estate, which will go to him upon their death. Sorensen seems to always be in need of money to pay mounting gambling debts. As the tension mounts the investigative team is putting themselves at risk in attempting to expose the murder-for-inheritance scheme.

The author noted, “Catherine was emotionally abused.  Women during that time period did not have much choice. Inthe Gilded Age in New York women were still property of their husbands.  They were very limited to what their husbands wanted.”

One of the important clues is a photograph of the late mother and child. Simpson weaves into the story a Victorian Era custom, post-mortem photography. During these scenes readers learn of the spiritualists who believe “about the possibility of capturing an image of the soul leaving a body at the moment of death.” It was during this time that Claire senses something from her twin sister. The author commented, “During my research, I read how twins separated by birth and raised by different families still have the same likes and dislikes and can sense how each other feels.”

Through the characters people learn of the Gilded Age era, with a fascinating description of the homes, the period clothing, and the city of New York. Unlike many women of the time, Prudence is very unconventional, desiring to take the bar exam and become a litigator. For now, she is content to be an amateur sleuth to her partner, ex-Pinkerton agent Geoffrey Hunter, as she learns on the job. “I wrote Prudence being raised by a widowed father who looked at her as a replacement for a son.  He did not make an exception for her being a girl and made sure she had a very well developed sharp legal mind.  She is determined to make her own way even though she inherited wealth. I read that the Pinkerton Agency hired a lady detective during the Civil War and knew I wanted to make my heroine an investigator who is constantly challenged by Geoffrey.”

The hero and heroine also have flaws.  The author uses events that happened during the Gilded Age paralleling them with what is happening today. Simpson explained, “Geoffrey has left his southern roots, abandoning his culture and family.  He has a lot of contradictions.  Prudence must struggle with her addiction to the drug laudanum.  She was given it by her family doctor to help her cope with her father’s passing and then her fiancé’s death. She overcame the reliance on laudanum but not without a terrible struggle and the knowledge that she would never be entirely free of it.  I parallel it with the opioid epidemic today.  People became accidental addicts because they were given the drugs legally to cope with physical and emotional pain.”

The antagonist, Simpson has no redeeming qualities.  He is a cold and calculating thief, a swindler, and bigamist who victimizes rich women. “I wanted to write an absolute villain.  He is unscrupulous, uncaring with no conscience.  He had every vile habit known.  I do not write cozy mysteries, but historical noirs.  My bad guys are really, really bad who cause awful things to happen.”

The author definitely had done her homework. “I want to feel I live in this world for awhile and to get the reader to feel that also.  I read the New York Times Archives and fall into the rhythm of the language used, how they spoke, wrote and thought.  It puts me in the mindset of the character I am writing about.”  With her detailed descriptions and gripping story Simpson has also drawn the reader into the time period through an exciting and action-packed mystery.

 


Book Review: Summoned to Thirteenth Grave

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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Summoned to Thirteenth Grave by Darynda Jones is number thirteen and the last in the series.  But thirteen is a lucky number for her and those that have followed the Grim Reaper Charley Davidson. 

There is some element of Christianity in the book with saten, devils, and angels.  Jones noted, “I do believe in the afterlife and think we do go on to something bigger and better.  Having grown up in a religious home, I never believed when we die that is just the end. I don’t think ghosts are real even though I had a couple of experiences that are difficult to explain.  Yet, I heard from readers who told me about their experiences, and my good friend told of something that happened to her.  There is no way explaining what happened without bringing in some spirituality.  I am not closing any doors and remain open-minded.”

This book opens with Charley returning to earth after being exiled for a hundred years in another realm.  But like dog years having a one to seven ratio, there is a one to ten ratio since 100 actually is ten days on earth. After returning the first thing she does is rekindle the desire and love she has for everyone in her family including her daughter, husband, and Uncle. She then combats with her husband Reyes those trying to take over Albuquerque New Mexico and find ways to keep her daughter Beep safe.It all comes to a head in an epic showdown between good and evil.

Jones has had challenges in her life.  “I have ADHD.  My imagination goes on forever and never stops.  On the other hand, sitting down to write is sometimes difficult.  I have learned little tricks, like if I eat a low carb diet I can focus better.  I think overall it has helped me more than it has hurt me.”

“Also, after I found out my son was deaf I decided to become a sign interpreter. It has helped me respect different cultures and see things from their point of view.  My mind has to work in a certain way to connect the word to the sign. Because I have a deaf son I went to school to communicate better with him.  I wanted to have conversations with him about anything.  I also think it has helped me write because it has opened my mind. My deaf son is now 29, and I can talk about anything, while my hearing son holds stuff back.”

Unlike many paranormals Jones is able to balance successfully humor and suspense.  Fans of this series will not be disappointed with the ending.


Book Review: River Bodies

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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River Bodies by Karen Katchur is part mystery and part police procedural. It is not a “who done it,” but a “why done it” as the characters must come to grips with two brutal murders that occurred two decades apart. There are no solid lines, with a blurring between the good and evil side of each character. But the author successfully weaves in relationships, family dynamics, and loyalty that only enhance the story.

The book examines how loyal should someone be and whether the choices people make are to protect others. Each character looks inward reflecting on what they did to survive. The heroine is Becca Kingsley, a veterinarian, who lives across the river from the Portland, Pennsylvania town she grew up in. She decides to return to spend time with her dying father, who was once Portland’s police chief. Because of his infidelity to her mom she became estranged from him. Now she wants to make amends and to get answers to the memories and long buried secrets. Everything seems to be coming to the surface after the discovery of a man brutally murdered that is tied into a previous murder.The author explores with flashbacks Becca’s teen years that include her relationship with her parents, their separation, and her friendship with Parker Reed, now the present State Homicide Investigative Detective handling the case of the murdered victim found in the river. She realizes the two murders are connected and that she is somehow involved. Becca starts questioning all her past relationships: the man she is living with has infidelities, her father who sent her away to boarding school, Parker whom she wants to renew her romantic feelings with, and a man who’s watched over her for years, that could be more predator than protector.

Becca realizes that there are times when her brain and heart compete. The author noted, “Her head told her what he did was absolutely wrong, but in her heart, she had an emotional kinship with him and saw him as her protector. Regarding her current boyfriend Matt, her Her head told her what he did was absolutely wrong, but in her heart, she had an emotional kinship with him and saw him as her protector.”

Becca’s dog Romy steals the scenes she is in. “I based her on my good friend’s dog who is so cool.  She and I run with her dog.  I would describe her as a German Shepherd that is a guard dog who is not aggressive, but protective. I also have a dog, but since she is a retriever, she is very submissive. I always grew up with pets so animals are a part of my life.  Becca gets solace from Romy.  I think when someone has a bad day pets are there to cuddle and hug.  This is why I put the book quote, “Romy pushed her warm body against Becca’s leg.  She bent down, buried her face in Romy’s face, having turned to animals for comfort ever since that day John had given her that scruffy old barn cat.” Even though my dog is 75 pounds she is still a lap dog.”

Readers will experience a wild ride with the river’s currents, both metaphorically and physically. This is a tension-filled, fast-paced novel that effectively blends together a horrific murder, a mysterious backstory, and vivid characters.


Book Review: Into 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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Into The Night by Sarah Bailey has Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock returning in this follow up to The Dark Lake.  A very interesting aspect to the plot is how a celebrity gets all the attention in today’s society, while someone who is not famous is quickly dismissed.

Bailey noted, “I read about accidental deaths that are eventually ruled as homicides.  I imagined what if there were hundred people present, but no one knew what actually happened.  I wanted to have the two deaths in the book really contrasted, a wealthy man versus someone homeless.  When I was in Los Angeles, I noticed that there were many homeless people, almost one on every block.”  Because LA is an entertainment town and now has a homeless problem, readers can relate to this story.

The story opens with a homeless man brutally murdered.  Assigned to the case Woodstock must battle the seemingly complacent attitude of those in the press and her own police colleagues. She becomes especially infuriated when a second victim is found, murdered in a similar fashion: Sterling Wade, the good-looking, up-and-coming actor who was killed in the middle of shooting his latest Zombie movie. She and her partner investigate everyone who knew him including his fiancé, his secret lover, and even his parents, who are having serious financial issues. 

A powerful book quote, “Those in the orbit of the recently murdered.  Out of nowhere, bam, not only is their loved one gone but their own carefully kept secrets are suddenly everyone’s business…I feel sorry for the ones who are unwillingly along for the ride.  It’s a brutal journey.” 

Bailey noted, “If the person who dies becomes a big story, family and friends get dragged into it. In Australia, there was a story about a married man who died and was known as a big swinger.  His family had no idea about his second life.  The press went into details about the family’s personal life. I hoped I showed in this story how the media reports about gossiping stories.  They should have a clear responsibility to not fan the fire.”

Besides having to deal with her partner’s extreme moodiness, a boss who keeps his staff at arm’s length, and a whole new city with a whole new team, she also has to face her demons.  She moved from Smithson, to the city of Melbourne, leaving her young son behind to be raised by his father. Woodstock is not a very sympathetic character since she drinks too much, smokes, and indulges in risky one night stands with men picked up in bars. She is a very damaged and flawed character.

“I wrote Gemma as polarizing.  I get a lot of emails from people who tell me they find her frustrating.  People who like the book have the same comments as those who don’t like it.  They say she is maddening, difficult, and makes wrong decisions.  I think she stirs up people to be judgmental because she is ambitious and selfish.  Also, what many find challenging is that she is a mother who is not looking out for her son. I spoke with a couple of women who loved their children, but felt they could not be the primary caregiver.  I have two children myself and would not personally leave them.” 

The final act is full of surprises as Woodstock races to bring down a murderer who’s already claimed two lives and might not be done killing. 

 


Book Review: Let The Dead Keep Their Secrets

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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Let The DEAD Keep Their Secrets by Rosemary Simpson brings to life New York City during the 1880s in a historical mystery. It is rich in the culture of the time with a riveting Colombo type crime.  Readers know who has done it and seek clues with the characters to find the proof.

The plot opens with New York opera singer Claire Buchanan calling on the investigative services of Prudence MacKenzie and her partner, Geoffrey Hunter. Claire shows up at their door begging them to find out exactly how her twin sister, Catherine, and newborn daughter died, believing it was not from natural causes. Catherine’s husband, Aaron Sorenson, is a scoundrel and appears to be marrying women, getting them pregnant, and then having baby and mother die in childbirth.  Prudence and Geoffrey find that childbirth can be dangerous to one’s health as they realize that Sorenson’s current wife may also be in danger. His motive, both the late wife and the current wife would inherit a substantial estate, which will go to him upon their death. Sorensen seems to always be in need of money to pay mounting gambling debts. As the tension mounts the investigative team is putting themselves at risk in attempting to expose the murder-for-inheritance scheme.

The author noted, “Catherine was emotionally abused.  Women during that time period did not have much choice. Inthe Gilded Age in New York women were still property of their husbands.  They were very limited to what their husbands wanted.”

One of the important clues is a photograph of the late mother and child. Simpson weaves into the story a Victorian Era custom, post-mortem photography. During these scenes readers learn of the spiritualists who believe “about the possibility of capturing an image of the soul leaving a body at the moment of death.” It was during this time that Claire senses something from her twin sister. The author commented, “During my research, I read how twins separated by birth and raised by different families still have the same likes and dislikes and can sense how each other feels.”

Through the characters people learn of the Gilded Age era, with a fascinating description of the homes, the period clothing, and the city of New York. Unlike many women of the time, Prudence is very unconventional, desiring to take the bar exam and become a litigator. For now, she is content to be an amateur sleuth to her partner, ex-Pinkerton agent Geoffrey Hunter, as she learns on the job. “I wrote Prudence being raised by a widowed father who looked at her as a replacement for a son.  He did not make an exception for her being a girl and made sure she had a very well developed sharp legal mind.  She is determined to make her own way even though she inherited wealth. I read that the Pinkerton Agency hired a lady detective during the Civil War and knew I wanted to make my heroine an investigator who is constantly challenged by Geoffrey.”

The hero and heroine also have flaws.  The author uses events that happened during the Gilded Age paralleling them with what is happening today. Simpson explained, “Geoffrey has left his southern roots, abandoning his culture and family.  He has a lot of contradictions.  Prudence must struggle with her addiction to the drug laudanum.  She was given it by her family doctor to help her cope with her father’s passing and then her fiancé’s death. She overcame the reliance on laudanum but not without a terrible struggle and the knowledge that she would never be entirely free of it.  I parallel it with the opioid epidemic today.  People became accidental addicts because they were given the drugs legally to cope with physical and emotional pain.”

The antagonist, Simpson has no redeeming qualities.  He is a cold and calculating thief, a swindler, and bigamist who victimizes rich women. “I wanted to write an absolute villain.  He is unscrupulous, uncaring with no conscience.  He had every vile habit known.  I do not write cozy mysteries, but historical noirs.  My bad guys are really, really bad who cause awful things to happen.”

The author definitely had done her homework. “I want to feel I live in this world for awhile and to get the reader to feel that also.  I read the New York Times Archives and fall into the rhythm of the language used, how they spoke, wrote and thought.  It puts me in the mindset of the character I am writing about.”  With her detailed descriptions and gripping story Simpson has also drawn the reader into the time period through an exciting and action-packed mystery.