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November 2015

Book Review - "Along the Infinite Sea" by Beatriz Williams

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 link on the right sidebar.

9780399171314_p0_v1_s192x300Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams is a riveting historical novel. Within the background of early Nazi Germany the book delves into how someone’s fame, fortune, and forbidden passion can influence relationships. The story alternates between the late 1930s and mid 1960s, with the flashback narration revealing a mystery of regret and intrigue.  The author manages to keep readers guessing until the very end of the book as to what actually happens.

Two women alternated narrating the story, Pepper in the 1960s and Annabelle in the 1930s. The plot of this novel begins as Pepper Schuyler is selling a restored Mercedes she found in her sister Tiny’s in-laws Cape Cod shed.  She decides to sell this Roadster to fund her impending new life as a single mother-to-be.  The buyer turns out to be the car’s original owner, Annabelle, who used it to escape Nazi Germany with her lover, husband, and children.  Because she sees a lot of herself in Pepper, Annabelle takes her under her wing, helping her survive.  Both are strong beautiful women whose lives are full of secrets.

Williams commented to blackfive.net she found the idea for the car in “an article I came across a few years ago about a vintage automobile, a rare 1936 Mercedes 540K Special Roadster.  It had been discovered in a shed at an inn.  A German baroness had driven this extraordinary car around Europe before WWII began.  She had various affairs including one with a Jewish gentleman. She eventually fled to America with her Mercedes.  After being fully restored the car was sold at auction in 2012 for nearly $12 million.  I decided to make up a story about the car and the third Schuyler sister, Pepper.  This 1936 German car was the perfect springboard into the world of the early Nazis. Remember the female protagonist Annabelle is the grand daughter of a Hardcastle so she spent a lot of time at the Cape Cod summer cottage, where the car was hidden. Since it was so distinctive the family wanted to make sure the Nazi regime did not know General Von Kleist escaped, because he knew a lot about the Third Reich plans.”

People will be swept away with the all too real events, issues, and characters. Three of the main characters represented the viewpoints of those living under the auspices of the Nazi Party that culminated in Kristallnacht, an organized government pogrom against the Jews. The Jewish protagonist Stefan Silverman understood what was happening and was conflicted about putting public duty ahead of his own desires.  His soul mate, Annabelle de’Creouville, recognized the bigotry of the Germans, as evidenced when she moved back to Paris, but was naïve regarding the brutality.  A very powerful quote hammers the point home as Stefan tells Annabelle; “You do not understand a thing, Annabelle. The Germans want to destroy us.  I mean obliterate.  I mean they want us blistered from the face of the earth.”

Williams loved writing about Stefan because she considered him a flawed hero whose family “represented the Jews who influenced the German culture at the turn of the century.  All of this wonderful creative production was coming out of the Jewish cultural legacy. The rest of the population in the 1930s betrayed Stefan’s family.  He understood this and was very clear sighted about what was happening in Germany to the Jews.”

But the most compelling and engaging storyline was the backstory of Annabelle during the 1930s. Williams sets her in a world that is rapidly falling apart.  She is faced with threats, struggles, and heartbreaks having to choose between the love of her life Stefan and the man she eventually marries for security, General Von Kleist.  This book emphasizes how people are presented with choices in their life.  Stefan must chose between public duty and his own inclinations towards Annabelle; she must choose between loyalty to her husband/children and her own innocence of wanting a perfect world where she and Stefan could live happily ever after; the General must chose between his loyalty to his country and his loyalty to his wife and children; and Pepper must make the choice of keeping the baby or giving it up for adoption.

Along the Infinite Sea is one of those special books where readers will not want the story to end.  Williams does an amazing job of developing the characters and dual timelines set in Paris, Germany, and America.  The human relationships are integrated into a riveting story that plays out in the backdrop of historical drama.


New Website Launches on Veterans Day for Veteran Authors

The outlook on life from the perspective of someone who’s comfortable with violence and death makes a book not just a book, but a seminar on what it means to be human.” -Kelly Crigger, President of Graybeard Books

BooksbyVeterans.com, powered by Graybeard Books, will go live today, on Veterans Day. The company is dedicated to giving U.S. military veterans and their spouses an outlet to share their stories and get their works seen by more people than they could have reached on their own.
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BooksbyVeterans.com will provide an website for readers who want to find a book by a veteran, an outlet for authors who want to write their book, and a blogging platform for veteran writers. But beyond providing these services to veterans and customers, BooksbyVeterans and its parent company, Graybeard Books, strive to help veterans navigate the publishing world, which can be daunting. Besides the traditional publishing houses, platforms like Createspace, Nook, Kindle, Lulu, iBooks, and Smashwords offer authors a self-publishing outlet that can be confusing. Every author has the difficult task of figuring out which platform is right for them and how to use it to their advantage...

Go here to read the press release or just go here and visit the site - BooksbyVeterans.com


The Best Veterans Day Column By The Late, Great (and Vet) Mike Royko

"A man who is good enough to shed his blood for his country is good enough to be given a square deal afterwards." - Theodore Roosevelt

Again this year (sort of a Veterans Day tradition), I wanted to offer up my favorite Veterans Day article from the late, great Mike Royko (1932 - 1997) who penned it in 1993.  I don't care if you were a paratrooper, cook, medic, grunt, pilot, or ran the laundry and bath point, you have my thanks for serving our country.

I think Mike's got the right idea about how to celebrate Veterans Day, GI-Style:

I just phoned six friends and asked them what they will be doing on Monday.

They all said the same thing: working.

Me, too.

There is something else we share. We are all military veterans.

And there is a third thing we have in common. We are not employees of the federal government, state government, county government, municipal government, the Postal Service, the courts, banks, or S & Ls, and we don’t teach school.

If we did, we would be among the many millions of people who will spend Monday goofing off.

Which is why it is about time Congress revised the ridiculous terms of Veterans Day as a national holiday.

The purpose of Veterans Day is to honor all veterans.

So how does this country honor them?...

...By letting the veterans, the majority of whom work in the private sector, spend the day at their jobs so they can pay taxes that permit millions of non-veterans to get paid for doing nothing.

As my friend Harry put it:

"First I went through basic training. Then infantry school. Then I got on a crowded, stinking troop ship that took 23 days to get from San Francisco to Japan. We went through a storm that had 90 percent of the guys on the ship throwing up for a week.

"Then I rode a beat-up transport plane from Japan to Korea, and it almost went down in the drink. I think the pilot was drunk.

"When I got to Korea, I was lucky. The war ended seven months after I got there, and I didn’t kill anybody and nobody killed me.

"But it was still a miserable experience. Then when my tour was over, I got on another troop ship and it took 21 stinking days to cross the Pacific.

"When I got home on leave, one of the older guys at the neighborhood bar — he was a World War II vet — told me I was a ----head because we didn’t win, we only got a tie.

"So now on Veterans Day I get up in the morning and go down to the office and work.

"You know what my nephew does? He sleeps in. That’s because he works for the state.

"And do you know what he did during the Vietnam War? He ducked the draft by getting a job teaching at an inner-city school.

"Now, is that a raw deal or what?"

Of course that’s a raw deal. So I propose that the members of Congress revise Veterans Day to provide the following:

- All veterans — and only veterans — should have the day off from work. It doesn’t matter if they were combat heroes or stateside clerk-typists.

Anybody who went through basic training and was awakened before dawn by a red-neck drill sergeant who bellowed: "Drop your whatsis and grab your socks and fall out on the road," is entitled.

- Those veterans who wish to march in parades, make speeches or listen to speeches can do so. But for those who don’t, all local gambling laws should be suspended for the day to permit vets to gather in taverns, pull a couple of tables together and spend the day playing poker, blackjack, craps, drinking and telling lewd lies about lewd experiences with lewd women. All bar prices should be rolled back to enlisted men’s club prices, Officers can pay the going rate, the stiffs.

- All anti-smoking laws will be suspended for Veterans Day. The same hold for all misdemeanor laws pertaining to disorderly conduct, non-felonious brawling, leering, gawking and any other gross and disgusting public behavior that does not harm another individual.

- It will be a treasonable offense for any spouse or live-in girlfriend (or boyfriend, if it applies) to utter the dreaded words: "What time will you be home tonight?"

- Anyone caught posing as a veteran will be required to eat a triple portion of chipped beef on toast, with Spam on the side, and spend the day watching a chaplain present a color-slide presentation on the horrors of VD.

- Regardless of how high his office, no politician who had the opportunity to serve in the military, but didn’t, will be allowed to make a patriotic speech, appear on TV, or poke his nose out of his office for the entire day.

Any politician who defies this ban will be required to spend 12 hours wearing headphones and listening to tapes of President Clinton explaining his deferments.

Now, deal the cards and pass the tequila.

- Mike Royko

Amen, Mike, Amen.

Now, where is that tequila?


Book Review - Veterans' Day Edition - "Extreme Ownership - How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win" by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

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 link on the right side bar.

9781250067050_p0_v2_s192x300Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, two retired Navy SEALs’ recently published book, Extreme Ownership, demonstrates how they used their leadership abilities in the battle of Ramadi, Iraq and then applied them to non-military situations.

Many veterans today share the same feelings as Babin regarding the current Commander-in-Chief. They are dismayed by his lack of leadership and how he has no coherent strategy on how to defeat America’s enemies. A quote from the book hammers this point home, “Some of the politicians and most senior military brass in Washington felt that killing bad guys only created more enemies. But they didn’t have a clue… Each enemy fighter killed meant more US Soldiers and Marines came home alive.”

Comparing President Obama to President Kennedy, Babin emphasized that Kennedy was leadership tested, having been a veteran, versus someone who never served. “Kennedy never backed down and was not pushed around. He understood what was needed to support those serving. I look back on the battle of Ramadi fought in 2006 and remember all the American blood spilled to take it back. It is now a travesty that the black flag of ISIS is flying over this city, which was because of the complete troop withdrawal. However, I am hopeful that by untying the troops hands and letting them fight can turn it around. ISIS is not twenty feet tall. If we were committed to eliminating them it would only be a four to six month problem.”

Because he feels the current administration makes decisions based on immediate political gain and not on long-term strategy Babin feels there is a lack of decentralized command, which he talks about in the book. He points to the first US solider killed in action in Iraq since 2011. “Why wouldn’t they use the words ‘killed in combat?’ Its clearly combat and by not referring to it as such is just a political argument of semantics. The reality is we have approximately 3400 boots on the ground right now.”

The book also explains how veterans can apply their combat strategy to their everyday life. Whether business, sports, or personal, those who served can use what they learned: The leader is always responsible. Basically, leaders must always "own" the mistakes and shortcomings of their teams, everyone on the team must believe in the mission, keep plans simple, clear, and concise, and act decisively, even when things are chaotic. 

Babin told blackfive.net, “Take for example a head coach. If he only makes the decisions himself he will not be very effective. Instead he needs to set the vision, give broad guidance to his position coaches, and allow them to execute. In someone’s personal life veterans can apply the concept of listening, probably the most important component in marriage. Finally in business, your company should have a clear set of defined characteristics for team members.”

Extreme Ownership is a riveting, page-turning narrative that not only details the combat leadership lessons learned but also demonstrates how to apply these principles to any area of life.


Book Review - "Drone Command" by Mike Maden

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 link on the right side bar.

9780399173981_p0_v1_s192x300Drone Command by Mike Maden draws readers into the main character’s world. Troy Pearce, a former CIA operative is now CEO of Pearce Security Systems, a firm that develops drone systems. This book explores the geo-political world between China and Japan, with the US positioning itself in the middle of the conflict.

The plot has China staking a dubious claim in the hotly disputed waters of the East China Sea, with the desire to dominate the region, while the prime minister of Japan threatens to dispatch the country’s naval assets and tear up its antiwar constitution unless the Americans forcefully intervene. Although war-weary, American treaty obligations would draw the US into a fight with the Chinese navy. President David Lane sends former US President Margaret Myers and Troy to decrease tensions and defuse the situation. But they are up against both Chinese and Japanese hawkish politicians, nationalistic fervor, special interests with their own hidden agendas, and a great military threat. The action increases as Myers and Pearce must discover China’s new weapon systems and to demonstrate the US drone capabilities to the Japanese as they hope to avoid war.

It is Maden’s opinion that “China wants to dominate the region and become a global naval power in a similar way we imposed the Monroe Doctrine. They spend three times as much as Russia on defense and have doubled the money spent since 2008 to build a blue water navy. They are attempting to do this through ‘centric missiles,’ which are a lot cheaper than building aircraft carriers and can upend US navy capabilities.”

Troy and Myers are characters that readers wish exist in the real world. These two heroes put country ahead of their career, having a sense of duty. They believed in the Inaugural words of JFK, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” The only part that distracts from the suspenseful plot is the backstory on Troy. It is a bit confusing regarding what is happening and readers long to return to the storyline and the technologies used from the WU-14 Chinese weapon to the various drones.

Current events are used to alert readers to the economic situation. A powerful quote, “China’s trade surplus with the US was on the order of hundreds of billions of dollars annually. China used those billions to buy American CEOs. Nothing mattered more to American executives than profits. They were more than happy to sacrifice American national interests.” Throughout the book he shows how the characters want to wake up Americans to the Chinese practices of unfair regulations, manipulating the Yuan-dollar relationship, cheap Chinese labor, and bad American tax laws.

Maden commented to blackfive.net, “I wonder if Washington DC is acting in the best interests of Americans as a whole. US corporations show no loyalty to American workers because their profits are at the expense of American society and the workers. I hope that with all my books readers question how the US can find security in a highly insecure world, and what role should America play? I discuss this more in my next book where drone terror comes to the US and anti-drone technology comes into play.”

 

With Drone Command Maden is able to demonstrate that he has done the research regarding drones, and has a clear understanding of the delicate political balance that exists between Japan, China, and the US.


Book Review - "The British Lion" by Tony Schumacher

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 link on the right side bar.

9780062394590_p0_v2_s192x300The British Lion by Tony Schumacher is the sequel to his first novel, an alternate history where the Nazis actually win World War II, occupy England, and are supported by the US government.

The hero of The Darkest Hour, John Rossett, returns as he helps his Nazi boss save his daughter, who has been kidnapped by American spies. He must find Ruth Hartz, a Jewish scientist imprisoned by the Germans and forced to work on developing an atom bomb, so she can be swapped for the daughter. Rossett battles not only the Nazi occupiers, but also the British Resistance who are from the criminal underworld, as well as some rogue American spies led by Allen Dulles who covertly works to defeat Hitler.

Besides the real-life figure of Dulles, Schumacher incorporates into the story Ambassador to the United Kingdom Joe Kennedy and US President Charles Lindbergh. Both men desire to have a good relationship with Hitler and to start a trade agreement. Although many historical books ignore Kennedy’s and Lindbergh’s anti-Semitism, Schumacher uses it to enhance the plot. Readers will learn the true facts of Lindbergh’s views regarding the Jews, considering them sinister, corrupt, and committed to destroying Christian morality. They also learn that Kennedy looked upon appeasement with Hitler as something positive, especially the economic ties between the two sides.

But the most powerful part of the novel is its theme, what will people morally sacrifice to pay the price for their life? This is brought home by the quote, “We’re part of a machine, John…whatever I think about the machine, how I feel about what it does, it doesn’t matter. If I don’t do what I’m supposed to do…I die.” The author also takes the theme one step further by having readers decide if the person with the clipboard is as responsible or more responsible for the Jewish deaths than the ones who actually did the killings.

The author noted to blackfive.net, “I read about this incident where a sixteen year old shot a policeman in the 1950s. There were these two guys on the rooftop, one pulled the trigger and the other told him to do it. I thought about my book story and wondered about those who ordered people on trains: are they just as guilty as those who actually killed. I think the minute anyone knows what they are doing they are just as responsible. Without the bureaucrat you could not have had the actual killer. I want readers to ask questions and think about the issues.”

Through his brilliant character development readers begin to sympathize with not only Ruth, the Jewish scientist, but with her Nazi collaborator rescuer, John Rossett. Ruth is the only one in the story with complete moralistic integrity, willing to kill herself to make sure the Nazis never get the bomb. Rossett comes across as someone wanting to make amends, to become a better person, since his original job was to displace Jews. Although people will not give this complex and flawed character a full pardon, they find themselves rooting for him as he tries to overcome his sins by fighting subversively against the Nazi regime.

The British Lion reminds readers in many different ways about man’s inhumanity to man. It becomes obvious Schumacher has done his historical research about Nazis, their sympathizers, and the Holocaust, He mixes those facts into a riveting story, creating an alternate history that has readers tremble with the realistic possibilities. This is a must read considering what is happening in the world today.


Chopped Veterans

My friend, AF veteran Ellen Adams, will be on a special episode of Chopped tonight.  Please tune in to cheer her, and the other veteran participants, on what looks to be quite a challenge! 

Premiering Tuesday, November 10th at 10pm – “Military Vets”
Veterans of the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard and Navy face off in the Chopped kitchen. In the first round, one of the chefs stumbles upon a brilliant way to treat scalloped potatoes. Precooked meatloaf is the big challenge in the second round. The two final chefs go all out in the dessert round, making very clever sweet treats from a crispy snack and a sweet and tart drink.
Host: Ted Allen Judges: Maneet Chauhan, Marc Murphy, Chris Santos


Metrojet Flight 9268, Daesh, & Russia, Oh My

There is a lot of speculation that Daesh brought down Metrojet Flight 9268, a Russian civilian airliner, over Egypt.  This is both behind the scenes and in the media, and it brings up some interesting points for consideration. 

First, it brings up the point of what did happen and how that is handled.  In the US, airline, railroad, and other similar accidents fall under the National Transportation Safety Board.  Yes, they can and have investigated more than airline incidents.  One of the best legacy products of the now defunct Aviation/Space Writers association is a booklet called Air Accidents and the News Media.  If you can find a copy, it gives a good breakdown of what happens, when, why, and who is authorized to talk at any given point.  The actual process used is designed to allow a complete and impartial investigation and to avoid political interference in same.  

Sadly, the latter is needed as politics do come into play.  It has since the early days of the railroads and continues today, and my thoughts on current and recent administrations eagerly coming out with immediate denials of terrorism should be easy to guess.  The early, and often completely unfounded, speculation about any accident/incident is not helpful, and flat out wrong.  It does, however, give the media and politicians ratings and a chance to grandstand.  

Getting real data is time consuming, and involves a lot of engineering and non-engineering forensics.  It means testing each piece of debris, and often requires that the pieces be, in effect, re-assembled so that a full and accurate reconstruction of events can be developed.  These days, it also involves a lot of computer modeling, which is a time-consuming process in and of itself -- and GIGO is very much on the minds of those involved.  Those involved via the NTSB and similar agencies around the world tend not to talk or leak, knowing that while pieces may be sensational, how they fit together can provide a very different story.  

In my personal opinion and experience, the first speculations are often wildly wrong.  The mid-phase speculation is more on target.  The final report is (at least here with the NTSB) is accurate, fairly complete, and somewhat boring to read even when the results are significant or even spectacular.  I will also note, for the conspiracy theorists out there, that I have never seen a final report that was clearly changed or whitewashed -- and trust me, given the hundreds of people that end up involved it would be very hard to keep such an event secret.  I will also note that not every country follows our model.  

We are into that middle period of public speculation, and it is interesting to say the least.  While there were early reports of the co-pilot being unhappy with the condition of the aircraft, there is a lot of back channel discussion of involvement by Daesh.  This is now coming out in public announcements, and I do find it telling that the UK has stopped direct flights to the UK from the Sinai.  This is not, however, definitive by any means.  

Which leads to a second major bit of food for thought.  The Russians (and the Soviet Union before them) tend towards direct action when terrorism is involved.  For our older readers, I simply will say Beirut, though there are many other examples.  

If this was indeed an act of terrorism, I suspect that the apocalpytic cult that is Daesh may well get some of what they seek.  Speaking strictly for myself, I will simply say Владимир: Добрый Охота!  Your mileage may vary, and if so sound off in the comments.  


Book Review - "Blood Red" by Wendy Staub

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

9780062349736_p0_v2_s192x300Blood Red by Wendy Staub focuses on a small town in the USA, which must come to grips with a serial killer. The book’s setting, Mundy’s Landing, in New York’s Hudson Valley, is presented as a character, the focal point of the story.

The Historical Society memorializes the Sleeping Beauty murders of 1916, and has become legendary throughout the celebrations held every year. The newspaper clippings in each chapter add to the authenticity and offer some background on the town.

Known as a domestic thriller author, Staub skillfully keeps the reader in suspense concerning the identity of the real serial killer. The story takes people into the mind of the murderer and the woman is he stalking that has a sinister secret. By having the killer’s name as Casey and having numerous viable suspects she is able to keep the readers guessing until the very end of the story.

As cleverly as the author sets up the serial killer, some may have problems relating to the main character Rowan, a bad girl turned good. She was not very sympathetic and definitely is irritating.

Staub noted to blackfive.net that she based the town on what happened in Massachusetts where Lizzie Borden murdered her family with an axe.   She was hoping to convey, “How family dynamics can affect an ordinary heroine. The stakes become much higher when a loved one is involved. I wanted to make sure the town’s industry is based on brutal murders. I liked the idea of a town that is popular because something horrible happened where no one knows the truth.”

Blood Red captures the essence of a small town fabric. People will find the action takes place off the page because it is more of a “who done it” type of story. Anyone wanting to get in the mind of a serial killer will enjoy this book.