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January 2016

Book Review - "The Ex" by Alafair Burke

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.

9780062390486_p0_v3_s192x300The ex, a novel by Alafair Burke is a legal thriller. This murder mystery delves into what would happen if circumstances bring together an estranged couple where one becomes dependent upon the other. Burke, a former prosecutor, details well the legal and trial background within the complexity of relationships.

The plot has one of New York City's best criminal defense lawyers, Olivia Randall, representing her ex- fiancé, Jack Harris. He has been arrested for a triple homicide that includes a victim connected to his wife's murder three years earlier. Burke takes the reader on a journey with Randall as she goes from vehemently believing his innocence to questioning if he is indeed guilty. Part of the reason she agrees to represent Jack is to absolve herself of the guilt, feeling somewhat responsible for his state of mind. Her past regrets are based on the way she chose to end the relationship twenty years ago when she broke his heart in an unimaginable way.

Burke commented to blackfive.net, “People who were in your past life, did you ever wonder about them? How did someone in Olivia’s former life turn out? She was never able to close the book with Jack. Then he suddenly appears in her life in a very shocking way. She remembers the relationship in a certain way, making herself to be the bad person. Feeling guilty about the way she ended it her memories are that she was bad and he was good. But as the book progresses you see not everything is black and white.”

These characters are flawed and each has a dark side. Jack is seen as one of those people who act like a puppy dog in a relationship, always willing to acquiesce. In some ways he was very suffocating. Starting out as friends the relationship evolved because Jack was so dependent on Olivia.

The book also explores “Catfishing,” where Internet predators scam their way into romantic relationships with unsuspecting victims that seek love online. By creating fake profiles on social networking sites, these predators trick people into thinking that they are someone else entirely. Anyone who has ever heard of the Brad Paisley song “Online” will understand that the fabricated life stories and photographs allow people to be “so much cooler online,” creating an unrealistic world that they wish were their own. Readers may remember how this happened to Notre Dame football star Manti Te’o.

Burke noted, “The Room” is based on the “gothamist” website that is New York centrist. I also explore “Catfishing” where someone pretends to be a certain person. My friend is single and does online dating. Someone sent him a message and asked him if he was the person she was conversing with online, because she wanted to meet him in person. She thinks it was my friend because she Googled the image sent to her. Some guy had basically used my friend’s picture to give himself a different identity. The prosecutor in me was worried about the anonymity of the Internet. I told my friend to be very careful, trust but verify times ten.”

With the backdrop of a murder case that can be considered a mass killing the ex explores the guilt and betrayal of people in relationships, past and present. Beyond that readers will also be exposed to the criminal justice system. These are reasons enough to enjoy this legal mystery.

Book and Movie Review - "13 Hours"

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

9781455538447_p0_v1_s192x30013 Hours is a riveting movie and book.  What makes it special is the discussion by the six American heroes about the assault on September 11th, 2012.  As with most incidents the names are forgotten, but with these accounts people are able to put a humanistic touch on the terrorist attack of Americans.  Viewers and readers feel a part of the action, fighting alongside these operators who laid their lives on the line for one another, and for their country. As one of the men described, “Benghazi is essentially a 21st Century Alamo.”

This is the story of an Islamic terrorist attack on the US State Department Special Mission Compound and a nearby CIA station called the Annex in Benghazi, Libya on September 11th, 2012. Four Americans were killed: U.S. ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen “Bub” Doherty, and Tyrone “Rone” Woods. The five operators who provided the account were John “Tig” Tiegen, , Mark “Oz” Geist, (http://shadowwarriorsproject.org/index.html) Kris “Tanto” Paronto, and two others who are known by the pseudonyms Dave “D.B” Benton and Jack Silva.  Both the book and the movie tell the story of true heroism in the face of unbeatable odds. Even knowing how it ends, people find themselves rooting for the heroes and holding out hope they all survive. The account seems incredible and reads like a Nelson DeMille or Vince Flynn novel with good guys, bad guys, incompetent guys, sleazy government officials, and action packed scenarios.

Mitch Zuckoff, the author, describes the men as “John Wayne heroes.  They did not seek aggrandizement or medals and threw themselves in harms way in order to save American lives.  I hoped to show that this is a historical record of what happened, what they did, and what they saw during the Battle of Benghazi. After speaking with them I realized what genuine decent guys they are.  I felt it was part of my responsibility to write this book.”

The book and film are extremely informative and people will learn the truth about certain facts surrounding Benghazi.  Questions were answered either subtly or directly regarding the attacks being pre-mediated versus spontaneous, if those in charge were unprepared, was a “stand down order” given, and what happened with reinforcements.  A powerful quote emphasized “the abundance of weapons, the absence of a working Libyan government, and the lingering anti-Western sentiments” in addition of the Ambassador’s constant request for additional security. 

Zuckoff told blackfive.net, “There were a combination of motivations.  Yes, they were highly paid but faced constant danger in their daily lives.  Because the current military does not have enough personnel for all the missions around the world contractors needed to be hired.  But these men were retired Special Forces/Marines so they had the experience.  They repeatedly felt that this attack could have happened at any time.  Jack had talked about this at some length, explaining that they always had to be prepared and that their job was to protect American lives.”

To offer readers some context Zuckoff began the book with a history of Libya that included a terrorist attack of the Benghazi American outpost in 1967.  He noted to blackfive.net, “I put that in so people will get a sense that history repeats itself.  If you do not recognize history you are doomed to repeat it. I wanted to show people the world of these men.”

The heroes and the author hope after reading the book and seeing the movie Americans will understand “it is about what happened in Benghazi where American lives were saved, lost, and changed, as bullets flew, buildings burned, and mortars fired.”

People should read the book and see the movie because they will experience as the heroes did the intense, shocking, and horrific 13 Hours, and will be moved emotionally.

Exclusive Interview with former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich about his latest novel "Duplicity"

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


9781455530427_p0_v3_s192x300Duplicity, the newest novel by former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and Pete Earley, has a highly plausible plot that mixes domestic and global action.  Readers will be reminded of the Benghazi-style attack on the US embassy along with political deception, radical Islamic terrorists, and ruthless DC staffers who scheme to manipulate the electorate during the Presidential election. Blackfive.net interviewed the former Speaker about how his book mirrors today’s events.

Elise Cooper:  How did you get the idea for the story?

Newt Gingrich:  This worldwide phenomenon is much more purposeful and technologically advanced than we give it credit for. One of the key terrorists in our novel is an American who has rejected Western civilization in favor of the radical Islamist effort to impose an alternative system of belief by force and terror tactics. One of the reasons I agreed to do contemporary modern history is to show the gap between the elite denial of reality and what is happening in the worldwide war with Islamic supremacists.  I used the genre of a novel because it is the most effective way to tell a story.

EC:  Why Somalia?

NG:  We could have done it in Yemen, Libya, or other places.  We chose Somalia because there are 125,000 Somalis in Minnesota, an on going problem with Al-Shabah in that country, and it just seemed like the place for a perfect storm.  Go to the Australian Foreign Ministry website and you will see they post that people should not go there because it is too dangerous. The focus of the terrorist group is on Westerners.  There is a wonderful sense that this place is the Wild, Wild West. 

EC:  Did you want to contrast Somalis who have assimilated and those who have gone to the dark side?

NG:  The number of Somalis in Minnesota who have gone to ISIS is about twenty. 80 to 90% of Minnesota Somalis have become true Americans.  There are millions of American Muslims who embrace our values, are deeply patriotic, and loyal. One character in Duplicity is a Somali American who is running for Congress in Minneapolis while his brother is the No. 2 leader in Al Shabaab in Mogadishu. The tension between the two is like a civil war in a single family. We must be aware, as Paris and California reminds us, it does not take a large number of terrorists to cause a great amount of danger. 

EC:  You write how incidents can manipulate elections.  What did you want to get across?

NG:  How politicians are at their most difficult position sixty days before an election.  In an election there is enormous pressure to survive because if you do not you die figuratively.  The immediacy of the election puts enormous pressure on whoever is in the White House.  As with the 2012 election there is the effort to try to break down an administration’s mythology that everything is working.

EC:  Your character running against the president is Governor Timothy Coolidge, who is an isolationist.  Did you mirror him on the former President Calvin Coolidge?

NG:  No.  I admire Calvin Coolidge since I consider him one of the most interesting guys in American history.  In the 1920s isolationism did not mean the same thing as today.  During that period Republicans were very engaged in foreign diplomacy.  For example, they were involved in the German financial problem, in Latin America, and had US Marines in Nicaragua.  They did not believe in entangling alliances because they did not trust anyone.  Just because they were opposed to the League of Nations the Left summarized them as isolationists. 

EC:  Gunter Conner, the CIA Station Chief in Somalia, represents someone who warns Americans not to be complacent with the Islamic terrorists.  Agreed?

NG:  Yes. Throughout history there has been the existence of people willing to do evil to impose their values whether Adolf Hitler or ISIS.  These people have to be stopped and cannot be talked with.  Neville Chamberlain was not a traitor in appeasing Hitler, he was just wrong.  I have written about the premise that some think the world is dangerous yet it is better to survive the danger than eliminate it. This it the attitude with gun free zones, which by definition is irrational.  It says to the evil why come here we are defenseless.  Yet, it ignores that in a world of evil, there is no way to block it just by putting up a yard sign.

EC:  What do you want the readers to get out of Duplicity?

NG:  The world is genuinely dangerous.  This danger is coming here and we need to hold our public officials accountable.  Just as in the book, world events will have an impact on the 2016 Presidential election in a way we cannot anticipate right now.

EC:  Can you give a heads up about the next book?

NG:  It will be called Treason. It is about what could happen in the US if there are very senior people who are secretly loyal to the Islamic supremacists. It is based on the book by Diana West, American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation’s Character that accounts the massive Moscow-directed penetration of American society. West shows that the system of spies designed to denigrate the American way of life was deep and extensive during the 1940s. My book has a similar premise brought up to date: why couldn’t there be someone in support of radical Islam that is able to keep it secret as they rise in power. It will also have terrorism coming to the US.


Book Review - "Where It Hurts" by Reed Coleman

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 in the right side bar.

9780399173035_p0_v1_s192x300Where It Hurts is the first book of a new series written by Reed Coleman, the contracted writer of the Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone books. He introduces the character, Gus Murphy, who becomes a grieving father after unexpectedly losing his son, while at the same time attempting to solve a murder mystery.

The plot goes into great detail about how Gus’ world changes on the day his son dies from an unknown heart defect.  He is a broken and wounded man, losing everything he loved in his life: his son dying, his wife having an affair with his partner, his job, while his daughter is arrested for a DUI and drugs. Ironically he is brought back to life after being approached by a small time criminal, Tommy Delcamino, who also lost a son without any warning.  While Gus lost his son to a disease Tommy’s son is murdered.  As Gus reluctantly agrees to pursue an investigation, he uncovers a major conspiracy to thwart the investigation.  Plugging away to find the truth allows Gus to come out of his grieving world. Coleman takes the readers on a journey with Gus as he attempts to find the murderers as well as recover from his walking trance and bitterness.

The most powerful theme in the book is how someone reacts to losing a loved one.  Being a policeman forced Gus for over twenty years to have a distant view of life and death until it became very personal for him. Through Coleman’s descriptions and relatable dialogue, Readers will understand Gus’ pain and the nightmare he must face each and every day.  It becomes obvious that grief is a very personal issue, as the author shows how someone encompassed with their own sorrow never realizes how others have also been affected.  Gus and his family are consumed by their own anguish and in doing so have completely lost perspective of each other. 

Coleman told blackfive.net, “I wanted readers to understand how hard it is to put the emotional pain behind you, which is why I put the quote in the book, ‘To heal I suppose there has to be forgetting. There’s no healing if the scab is always peeled away.’ Gus is not sure who he is or where he is going.  He knows what he no longer believes, but does not know what he actually believes anymore. I know one of the biggest clichés is ‘time heals all wounds.’ Gus will always remember, but eventually it will not be at the forefront of his thinking.  It will not be as constant and painful. The character’s emotions are a reflection of my own as I tried to put myself in their situation. I hope those who had tragedy in their life contact me, and let me know their reaction.”

The author gave a heads up about his next books.  Out in the fall will be another Jesse Stone book, entitled, Death To Pay.  Coleman said readers should expect changes in the Spenser and Stone universe after his ex-wife Jen and someone else from Jesse’s past reappears.  Also preeminently featured will be former FBI Agent Diana Evens, first introduced in the book Blind Spot. Then a year from now, the next Gus Murphy book will be published, a continuation of his journey.  The plot includes the exploration of good versus evil: what would happen if you really love somebody and find out they have done some horrible things?

Regardless of which series he is writing, Coleman always has characters with flaws that eventually the reader will root for.  Where It Hurts main focus is how a person handles grief within a mystery of police corruption, drug lords, and murder.

Book Review - "The Cyclops Initiative" by David Wellington

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.

9780062248831_p0_v4_s192x300The Cyclops Initiative by David Wellington is a fast moving political thriller.  It has a lot of the action of other thrillers but also emphasizes the dilemma of veterans returning home. This third book of the series is the best to date.

The author commented to blackfive.net, “My contract is up.  I am hoping the series will be renewed since I enjoy writing about these characters.  They have a lot more stories to be told.”

The plot has a Predator drone destroying a cargo ship carrying radioactive materials at an inspection station in the Port of New Orleans. After another take down of power grids in California, intelligence strategists suspect a hacker somehow managed to commandeer the drones to carry out the attacks. Jim Chapel, a military intelligence officer, once a Special Forces commando, disagrees with his bosses’ conclusion that the culprit is a brilliant hacker known as Angel, someone he has worked closely with on past missions. She is the one person he trusts more than anybody and will do anything to clear her name. With the help of Angel, his ex-girlfriend Julia, and some other veterans who also lost limbs in war, Chapel tries to find who is behind this conspiracy that threatens his life, his friends lives, and the security of the US.

Intertwined in this action packed story is the contrast between characters.  Readers of Wellington’s previous books might remember Angel as being confident, secure, with a take no prisoners personality whose shoulder Jim could lean on.  Yet, now on the run and away from her computers she is portrayed as pitiful, someone who does not know how to handle herself publicly.  Taken out of her element she is seen as a person with real flaws and problems.  Wellington wants the readers to wonder, “Is she a healthy person who found her place in the world or someone who needs help?”

Wellington also contrasts the two sides of a warrior with the newly introduced character of Brent Wilkes versus Jim Chapel.  Wilkes has the philosophy of “find, fix, and finish,” where he never worries about killing, does not talk about it, and just does it.  On the other hand, Chapel uses his wit instead of his sniper skills, only killing someone as the last option. 

There is also the intriguing contrast of past and present generations.  Angel represents the new generation who enjoys interpersonal relationships while on the computer. A powerful quote explains her philosophy; “I was never alone after I got my computer.  Any time, day or night, somebody was out there, wanting to talk or share files or whatever.”  Yet, Julia, Jim’s girlfriend and Angel’s older friend, cannot understand Angel’s lack of live communication, and how she is satisfied in being a social hermit. 

The story also points out the hypocrisy of politicians. Wellington does a great job of creating an action packed story centered around a major political conspiracy.  He noted that the plot incorporates his own feelings, “Many politicians don’t see their constituencies as human beings, but rather as numbers on a page.  I think they have disdain for the American people.  For career politicians, on both sides of the aisle, it’s about how much power they can gain and not about how to help people.  Politicians seem to forget that they are supposed to represent the people.”

The book has a shout out to all those in the armed forces who fought in the different wars and lost limbs, being kept alive because of medical technology advances.  Wellington commented to blackfive.net, “I wanted to write about how those veterans who lost limbs still have a meaningful life.  I hoped I showed how they cope differently, that their life will never be easy, and now it is much more complicated.  For me, the struggle they are going through is just as heroic as anything they did on the battlefield. We as Americans should understand that war is so complicated, dangerous, and serious.  It is not as depicted in the video games that turn it into a cartoon.”

The Cyclops Initiative is a captivating political thriller that is a page-turner.  It explores many different issues through a riveting plot.