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August 2015

Book Review - "A Pattern of Lies" by Charles Todd

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

9780062393104_p0_v2_s192x300A Pattern of Lies by Charles Todd has the main character Bess Crawford deeply involved in solving a “who done it.” As with all the books this strong female nurse is put in a situation where she has to help solve a case that is always surrounded in mystery.  An added bonus is learning what it was like living during the World War I era.

In this book readers are immersed in the culture of 1918.  This includes how the medical profession began to use specialists, and how prisoners were not allowed to see their families, a decision determined by the police. 

The plot begins with Bess assigned to accompany a convoy of wounded soldiers to a hospital specializing in internal wounds. Nurse Bess Crawford is left stranded when her train is detained in the small town of Canterbury, Kent.  While strolling, she sees a former patient, Major Mark Ashton, who insists she stay with him and his family.  It is here she finds out two years earlier, the family business (a gunpowder factory), exploded, causing more than 100 deaths. Though the official investigation ruled out sabotage, rumor has it that Mark’s father, Philip, was responsible. Bess finds herself caught up in a malicious show of hostility, including how the family was terrorized and a whisper campaign blaming Philip, which leads to his arrest.  Bess risks her life to find out the truth of what happened behind the explosion.

This is a book about revenge. The most interesting part of the story is when the authors explore the mob mentality, as the townspeople attempt to create a believable truth.  The campaign of terror includes the police and ranges from subtle to outright viciousness.  The Todds told blackfive.net they wanted to convey how “people are eager to find someone to point a finger to, and wanted a scapegoat.  People wanted answers and someone to blame considering the explosion took away the town’s economic livelihood and many lives.”

A Pattern of Lies has a very interesting plot based upon the true event of the 1916 Oare Gunpowder Works explosion in Kent.  Readers will enjoy how the authors weave into the storyline historical insight of the time period. 

The Todds also gave a heads up about their future projects.  Coming out in September in print form will by a short anthology, Tales, which include two Bess Crawford and two Detective Ian Rutledge stories.  Their next Bess book will bring back the American, Captain Thomas Barclay.  Fans should look forward to this since the chemistry and interaction between the two characters makes for a lively plot.  The next Rutledge book, also based on a true story, will take place in Cornwall, England where the detective must sort out if four young women actually committed murder. 

The 2015 Hugo Awards: Some Thoughts

There a few things in this world that truly make me mad.  I'm not talking the things in life that can make us spark.  There are lots of things in this world that can make me spark, and there is a reason that my nickname in early high school was "Spark Plug" and "Sparky."  Those who truly knew me, however, knew that the problem was not when I sparked, which was soon over, but when I got very quiet and coldly precise.  

This morning, I awoke to very unsurprising news about the Hugo awards.  I am disappointed, but honestly expected nothing less from the Social Justice Bullies and related ilk.  Indeed, I'm more surprised that one or two categories more didn't get no award -- the equivalent of destroying the village to save it.  That was their plan almost from the start, since those labeled "Wrong Fan" dared to get more fans involved in a dying award that represented the thoughts of less than 600 "Right Fans" who bought supporting or full memberships to the World Science Fiction Conventions -- which is where and how the Hugo awards are decided.  For those truly interested, note the attendance figures for the WorldCon over the last 30 years, note the numbers of people who actually voted in the Hugo process, and then note the size of conventions like DragonCon, the various ComicCons, and such.  

As noted previously, I was in the past involved with some conventions and even had a small role in an Atlanta-based WorldCon (ConFederation).  I long ago left such, many of the so-called "Right Fans" and people who styled themselves as Secret Masters of Fandom (SMOFs, though I note there is a huge difference between the self-styled guardians of what they regard as right and proper and real SMOFS) leaving a bad taste in my mouth.  Frankly, I decided that my best interest was to focus on writing, which has been a large part of what I've done in real life.  Most of my work has been in non-fiction, and that which has gone to the public has even won a couple of awards.  To be very honest, one of the reasons I became active in Fandom, as it is known, was to meet editors, publishers, and other writers (particularly those of whom I was a fan).  Going in was calculated, what happened was simply fun. 

What can you say about meeting classic Science Fiction writers from the Golden (and other) age(s)?  About meeting and talking with Gordon Dickson, who's Dorsai series spoke to me and made me think and explore?  About meeting and talking with the wonderful de Camps, Fred Pohl, the delightful Pournelle's, Fred Saberhagen, Harry Turtledove, Jack Williamson, the Zahn's, the Niven's, A.E. van Vogt, and others?  About hanging out with the delightfully irrascible Bob "Horseclans" Adams in his room parties, or "smoothing" with Tucker himself?  Of finding out that David Drake, who's combat SF was his way of dealing with his experiences in Viet Nam, was painfully shy -- and quite sharp with his wit.  Of being able to form friendships with some of them, and with the likes of the Webers?  Of course, you do meet a few who were and are assholes, and I shall not name them and have never bought anything by them after meeting them on panels or in private. 

Early on, I met a veteran named Jim Baen.  Jim and his (former) wife Toni Weisskopf became something more than just acquaintances, and they pushed me to begin writing fiction.  Honestly, they believed I could do it long before I thought I had a shot at writing good fiction (other than some AARs and such).  Jim, of course, is the founder of Baen Books, and is widely and properly credited with saving the field of military science fiction.  You can find video interviews done with Travis Taylor, Mark L. Van Name, David Drake, David Weber, Michael Z. Williamson, and Tom Kratman on that and other subjects on the Blackfive YouTube channel.  That he did so because he saw that money could be made in it does nothing to diminish the fact that he did save it.  Then again, Jim (and Toni) saw that publishing was changing on many levels, and found ways to embrace those changes, adapt, and be successful.  I would note that Baen Books, and it's Barflies, have donated a massive amount of print and electronic books to the troops, particularly the deployed.  Others play at it via token efforts.  Baen and it's readers live it in a huge way.  

Toni has been a true and wonderful friend to me.  In fact, if you look at my photo books done from my embeds for Blackfive, you will note the thanks to her for editing them.  Toni has encouraged me in many ways and levels, and done things to help me along.  She (and Jim) believed in me before I truly believed in myself.  

The Hugos have been gamed for years, and there are those very unhappy to have that exposed by Larry Correia with the original Sad Puppies campaign.  This year, the Sad Puppies and the independent Rabid Puppies effort, showed that gaming for all to see -- along with the truly rabid response of those who have gamed it.  The Hugos have been for some time about message and not about the best works of Science Fiction.  The Puppies were and are about making it about good stories well told (and not the right cisgender normative message no matter how horrible the writing and/or editing).  

As I said, the response and results were not unexpected.  I honestly thought No Award would take at least two more slots than it did.  

Where I'm not sparking is with how things were handled.  First, there was the biased and childish panel that preceded the Hugos.  Second, was the awards ceremony itself.  That one or more Hugo nominees walked out early (along with other professionals) says it all.  The deliberate and willful disrespect, and bias, shown says it all for me.  

So, for me, it's on.  For those of you ignorant enough to buy into the Social Justice Bullies lie that the Puppies were all angry white men, I simply point out that the Puppies were far more diverse than those that opposed them.  For a group of "neo-nazis" as an employee of Tor books called them (us, honestly), there sure are a lot of mutts in the group, and a lot females too.  In fact, one author attacked in this manner actually fought real neo-nazis and injustice, and has the wounds to show it.  Another author also schooled the idiots with the real deal.  I further note that only one, repeat ONE, reporter writing on the subject of the Puppies had the courage and integrity to actually interview the wonderful Sarah A. Hoyt, who is not a white male.  That Larry Correia is far more a mutt than I am, and hardly a lily-white male (unlike most of those attacking him).  That strawman Larry is not just a jerk, but an asshole and I want at least ten of the ribbons saying he is a jerk.  I could go on, but it is easy to pick apart the slanders, libels, and lies heaped upon them, Brad Torgersen, and others -- for those with interest in the truth that is.

The blatant disrespect and insult offered to Toni last night is the final straw.  You attacked a friend. 

So, I'm in on Sad Puppies 4.  If you want to destroy WorldCon and the Hugo awards, you will have your chance and you will own the results.  My hope, faint though it is, remains to make the awards truly relevant again as a means of promoting good writing, editing, and other efforts regardless of the message. 

Meantime, my limited funds will be my vote and those funds will not be spent at Tor (or Forge), or probably with MacMillan as a whole.  Tom Doherty:  I doubt you remember me, but we have met and I found you to be a likable person who seemed to have integrity and honor.  I am sorry to do this, but your employees have engaged in what I believe to be slander, libel, and more -- and, yes, I use those terms advisedly and with full knowledge of the difference between them.  That they have also sought to harm some of your own writers...  WorldCon, your bias is showing.  For my author friends with Tor or MacMillan, sorry, but I will not support them as much as I want to support you. 

I plan to spend with publishers who put out good books/stories first, and message second.  I plan to buy from Baen; I plan to buy from other publishers and those who also publish independently, such as Sarah A. Hoyt, Kate PaulkCedar Sanderson, Amanda S. Green, Dave Freer, Jim Butcher, Tom Kratman, John Ringo, John C. Wright, and Michael Z. Williamson.  With traditional publishing tanking, voting with my money has a far larger effect.  

Now, I've wasted enough time on an award that most likely can't be saved.  This is time that could have seen a couple thousand words written on the new novel I'm frantically trying to write, revise, and submit.  It likely would be a far better use of my time, but I will not let stand the attacks on Toni, Sarah, and other friends.  Choose as you will, my money vote is cast. 


UPDATE:  Sarah A. Hoyt has a very good read on last night.  

Photo - Show of Force

Hires_150811-N-XX566-016cThe USS Chung Hoon, USS Moble Bay and USS Russel follow the USS John C. Stennis during a show of force as they transit in the Pacific Ocean, Aug. 11, 2015. Sailors from the John C. Stennis Strike Group are conducting composite training and joint task force exercises, the final step in certifying to deploy. 
U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Andre T. Richard

Book Review - "Deadline" by J.J. Livingston

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

51Giir4ktAL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Deadline by J. J. Livingston, a pen name for Jennifer Greer, is a fascinating read.  It explores many issues women face including their treatment in Middle Eastern countries, and the timely issue of stem cell research.  But it is also a book that everyone can relate with, through the action packed plot and the issues of trying to cope with PTSD, hold onto a job, being a single parent, and empty nest syndrome.

The author has experienced many of the issues her characters have gone through.  She commented, “My husband died when my two girls were nine months and two years old.  I have been a widow for fifteen years now.  My husband died instantly in a car accident.  Being a single parent was a tough transition for me. First you go into shock because you realize at this moment the finality of death.  Yet, you don’t feel it or process it then.  It’s only over time that you come to accept it.  I still remember being notified as if it were yesterday.  The Fresno coroner personally drove to my house even though it was an hour away.  He saw I was with my children and decided to wait for my two pastors to come over to inform me.” 

As a former police reporter she is able to use her past experiences to write a very realistic and believable plot.  The main protagonist is Whit McKenna, a tough and driven journalist who seeks out the truth.  She is a former war correspondent who had to overcome rape, torture, and her husband being killed in Afghanistan. Ending up going back to Medford, Oregon to raise her two children, she eventually finds a job at the local paper. Thinking that will be a safe environment for her two children, she finds out otherwise when a string of murders occur. While seeking out the truth about a certain clinic and attempting to connect the dots about the different killings, she must also cope with disturbing flashbacks about her time in Afghanistan. After writing a number of front-page articles McKenna receives the ire of the killer who will stop at nothing to silence her. 

Some of the most potent scenes are the descriptions of McKenna’s time in Afghanistan.  Livingston describes the rape, the beatings with kicks, punches, and tree branches at the hands of Al Qaeda insurgents.  But most powerful was this quote, “John (her husband) felt helpless and couldn’t stand watching me suffer…He shared my pain. I think he may have felt the same way about Afghanistan.” It brings into focus the real war on women and how hard it is for rape victims to cope.

Livingstone noted to blackfive.net, “I was a journalist in Bosnia. We were at the war zone, five miles from the front lines.  Periodically we were stopped and frisked at gunpoint.  While there I covered a story about women and children refugees.  A lot of people never made it into the camps before they were raped. My whole point of writing, whether journalism or a novel, is to touch the hearts and minds of my readers.  When I pick up a book I like learning something new.  It is like reading a news article in a different format.  I like to take on social issues and incorporate them into a fictional story.” 

Deadline is a riveting and informative thriller.  In addition to a fast paced and suspenseful plot it has well developed characters.  Anyone that enjoys a story with a lot of twists and turns should read this book.

Photo - Seahawk at Sea

Hires_150811-N-XX566-010cAn MH-60R Seahawk helicopter prepares to land aboard the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis as the guided-missile destroyer USS Chung Hoon follows behind during a show of force as they transit in the Pacific Ocean, Aug. 11, 2015. The John C. Stennis Strike Group is undergoing composite training and joint task force exercises, the final step in certifying to deploy. The Seahawk is assigned to Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 71. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Andre T. Richard

Book Review - "Devil's Bridge" by Linda Fairstein

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

9780525953890_p0_v2_s192x300Devil’s Bridge by Linda Fairstein is a compelling read.  Anyone who likes the SVU TV show should love these plots.  This is the seventeenth book in this series, which follows sex crimes prosecutor Alexandra (Alex) Cooper and two detectives Mike Chapman and Mercer Wallace.  This story is unique in that it is the first one told from Mike's point of view; where as all of the previous books in the series have had Alexandra as the storyteller.

The author noted to blackfive.net, “There is a lot of skill involved and a reliance on science.  I worry that sometimes young cops go straight to the science without using their investigative skills.  The third element unquestionably is luck.  One of my first cases after DNA became prominent included a bit of luck.  The criminal used Clorox to scrub down the apartment.  Then he stole jewelry so we got him when finding those fingerprints.  Detective Mike is a pretty special guy since he is a composite of the great men I worked with over the years. As a prosecutor, I had the pleasure and honor of working shoulder-to-shoulder with the best detectives in the NYPD, and I just channeled them whenever I had Mike speak.”

This plot is based on a real case in the NY City DA’s office.  As with all of her books, the issue involves female victims.  In this novel there were two events, one of which has Alex prosecuting a deviant person, and the second involved Alex herself.  The story begins with Alex in court trying to indict a defendant for sex trafficking crimes.  But she must also contend with an escaped convicted rapist who is stalking her and a hacker who has accessed her most secure information.  But, these become the least of her worries when she is suddenly kidnapped.  For the rest of the book she becomes MIA, allowing the reader to have the NYPD detective, and Alex’s recent lover, as their eyes and ears.  As it becomes obvious she is a victim of foul play detectives Mike Chapman and Mercer Wallace pull out all the stops to get her back alive.

Fairstein has become well known for having the setting of New York City as almost a secondary character.  A history of the city is incorporated throughout the book, specifically the New York Waterfront that includes the George Washington Bridge, the Hudson River, and The Statue of Liberty.  She highlights the nooks and crannies of the area, making it feel as if the reader is actually a part of the location.

The author’s vast prosecutorial experience has allowed her to write believable and realistic plots.  She is able to draw upon interesting facts having been chief of the Sex Crimes Unit of the district attorney’s office in Manhattan, the first in the country, for more than two decades and America’s foremost legal expert on sexual assault and domestic violence. In fact, people will wonder how much of Linda is Alex.

She hopes readers will be entertained and “educated about the issues of domestic violence, sexual predators, and date rape. My passion is working with victims of violence. I keep my legal credentials current so that I can work on cases or help survivors get access to the system. Two of my nonprofit boards are “Safe Horizon,” the country’s largest victim-advocacy organization, and the “Joyful Heart Foundation”, founded by Law and Order: SVU star Mariska Hargitay, where our current emphasis is ending the backlog of rape evidence kits across the nation. It’s work that makes you feel great.”

But she also wants to issue a word of warning, “Alex and I understand that a prosecutor’s job is not necessarily to get convictions but rather to do justice to the system.  A good prosecutor makes sure you get the right guy.  I saw my job as convicting the guilty, with emphasis on the guilty as charged. Take for example the Rolling Stone article where the accuser outright lied.  One of the things that saddened me the most was that smart young women said it did not matter she lied, because important issues were brought to light.  Of course it should matter that she lied, truth seeking is a key role.”

Although never a paid consultant she did work with the SVU TV team.  She watches the show because she has not given up her passion of advocating for victims of violence.  She worked with the original prosecutor on the show and the main detective, Olivia Benson, allowing them to pick her brain. It appears that the producer Dick Wolf gave a shout out to Fairstein by using the first name and last name initial for the show’s first prosecutor, Alex Cabot versus Fairstein’s main character, Alex Cooper.

Devil’s Bridge keeps the reader on the edge of their seat.  This novel has an action packed plot that allows readers to learn a little something about sex crimes; yet, also weaves in some history and trivia.  Anyone looking for a suspenseful thriller should read this book.

Book Review - "X" by Sue Grafton

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

9780399163845_p0_v3_s192x300X by prolific novelist Sue Grafton has three stories rolled into one book.  Starting with the letter A, the author, has certain elements that can be identified with all of her books.  The main protagonist is private investigator Kinsey Millhone. The plot takes place in the 1980’s, and the title of all of her books is an alphabetical letter.  In this book Grafton broke slightly with tradition in that she still uses alphabetical titles, but did not indicate what it stood for. 

She did this because “I used the alphabet but did not put what it stood for.  Because I made the rules I figured I could be the one to break them.  I thought I would write about xenophobia, a hatred of foreigners.  After I stated writing the story there was not a foreigner to be had.  I did not want to just stick one in there so I could get a title out of it since it seemed like cheating.  I never figured out how I could get out of this dilemma so I just called it X and weaved X traits into the story.”

Grafton was able to include many “X” traits in this plot considering she named one of her characters, Xanakis. Another interesting way she intertwined the letter in the plot was having codes as clues to a crime.  These codes are based on both numbers and letters that have the commonality with “X” since it is both a Roman numeral and a letter. They were used as a jumping off point for this part of the story, with the encryption proving that Millhone was wrong about her late partner’s morals and ethics. She is alerted that he was on the track of a serial killer. Millhone must find the killer before this sociopath causes more chaos that includes making her his next victim. 

Another storyline has Teddy Xanakis, wanting revenge on her divorced husband by attempting to steal a priceless painting from him.  She hires Millhone to locate someone she put up for adoption many years ago that will help in the theft, but much to the private investigator’s chagrin she was paid with marked bills.  Now riled up Millhone will not stop until she finds Xanakis and gets answers. 

Californians can relate to the third storyline, as Millhone attempts to help her neighbors.  This includes the landlord, Henry Pitts, who takes drastic action to lower his water use during the 1989 California drought.  A quote from the book is exactly what many Californians have felt abut this recent drought, “Then the government came along and proposed moving water from up yonder to down here and then on. They called it the State Water Project.  More like Steal Water, if you want my opinion.”

What makes the story even more interesting is the time period in which it takes place.  An era where private investigators had to solve cases the old fashioned way using their mind, legwork, and ingenuity.  There were no cell phones, very few Internet servers, and many did not even have a computer. 

She explained to blackfive.net, “A is for Alibi, my first book, was published in 1982.  As it happened the next couple of books took place in June and August of that year.  Without meaning to I painted myself into a corner.  The other issue was the aging process.  I did not want my main character to age one year for every book so I slowed the whole process down.  This way I could get through all 26 letters of the alphabet without making her 109 years old in 2015. I might end the series in either 1990 or on New Years Eve 1989.” 

X has so many twists and turns it could be a rival to Lombard Street in San Francisco. Grafton keeps readers on their toes since what appears to be a minor event turns out to be something of importance.  This is a riveting mystery.