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May 2016

Memorial Day

The genesis of this post started many years ago, and I tend to edit and revise it each year.  Maybe one day it will do justice to the day and those I remember on Memorial Day. Crossposted at Laughing WolfPunchBowl1Showweb

Foster Powers USN, KIA 1945

Foster Powers USN, KIA 1945


To the God in Man displayed -- Where'er we see that Birth, Be love and understanding paid As never yet on earth!

To the Spirit that moves in Man, On Whom all worlds depend, Be Glory since our world began And service to the end!

Final stanzas, The Choice, Rudyard Kipling

Let me start with the end, instead of the beginning.  I am not asking that we make Memorial Day somber and solemn, a thing without levity or fun.  I know none who have served who would want that, particularly those who did not come home.  We should enjoy the day and the weekend in their honor, so that they and the reason for this day are not forgotten.

Continue reading "Memorial Day" »

Book Reviews - "Slow Burn" & "The Innocents" by Ace Atkins

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.

9780399170850_p0_v1_s192x300Ace Atkins will have two books coming out in the next few months.  Slow Burn brings back Robert B. Parker’s character, private investigator Spenser, and his Quinn Colson series, The Innocents.  Coincidentally each book cover and plot has elements of fire.

Slow Burn
, published the first week in May, begins with a church on fire.  Spenser is hired to find out who is behind a series of fires that appear to be set intentionally. With the help of his trusted ally Hawk, his apprentice, Sixkill, and his psychologist girlfriend Susan it becomes apparent the trail of fires leads to Boston’s underworld. They must find the firebug before he kills again and destroys more property.

The Innocents will be published in July.  Sherriff Lillie Virgil enlists the former Sherriff Quinn Colson to help find Milly Jones’ killer.  Someone set her on fire and had her walk on a highway. 

9780399173943_p0_v1_s192x300Atkins was asked to compare the Spenser and Quinn Colson series.  He commented to blackfive.net, “All the stories are hero driven with themes of honor, respect, and tolerance. They are written stylistically different.” The Spenser stories are told through his eyes and voice, while the Quinn stories are about everyone in the one county.  The Quinn series has a continuing storyline, much like a long-term arc in a TV show.”

Both these plots are based on true stories.  Atkins explained, “They are taken from the headlines. With Slow Burn I found a string of arsons dealing with insurance fraud, which occurred in Boston a few decades ago.  However, after meeting with those in the Boston arson unit I was told it would never happen like that today because property is so valuable.  There is no money to be made in burning down a building.  I refigured the plot and came up with the idea of guys banding together to start these fires. “

Regarding the plot for The Innocents Atkins commented, “The story was inspired by true facts.  A young girl over a year ago was found walking down a highway while completely on fire.  There was a mystery surrounding the circumstances of her death.  Another character was based on a long time well respected football coach accused of some nasty stuff.  Because he was a pillar of the community no one spoke up even though they knew what was happening.”

The difference between the two series characters is that Quinn is a former Army Ranger.  Atkins definitely does his homework getting military figures as fact checkers.  “My good friend, retired US Army Colonel George Reynolds, steers me in the right direction.  He put me in touch with a young Ranger so I was able to learn about his experiences and training.  It was George who suggested Quinn not become a contractor, but work for the Defense Department.  My network of those assisting me, people in the military, has quadrupled.”

Readers will also find a difference in the themes of the two series.  The Spenser books are more action packed and the emphasis is on his character.  The other series is more a book about community, family, and a Southern town with emphasis on social issues, corruption, and power.

Both books have very well developed characters and plots that will keep the reader turning the pages.

Book Review - "The Wages of Sin" by Nancy Allen

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 on the right side bar.

9780062438751_p0_v3_s192x300The Wages of Sin by Nancy Allen is the third book of the series that takes place in Southwest Missouri. It is not necessary to read the previous books to understand the plot and characters.  Readers will get a very good understanding of how personalities affect court proceedings.  The main issues explored are the death penalty, domestic violence, and child witnesses. 

The novel opens with a pregnant woman being beaten to death by her boyfriend who is high on drugs.  Because the eight-month-old baby also died the prosecution seeks the death penalty.  Readers will learn certain tidbits, such as the fact that Missouri’s State Constitution considers life beginning at conception.  Thus, the prosecution decided to seek justice for the eight-month-old baby rather than his drugged up mother.  Because of the horrific crime the death penalty is sought, making it evident that the testimony of the lone eyewitness, six-year-old Ivy, will be crucial.

Elsie Arnold, a prosecuting attorney in rural Barton City, McCown County, Missouri, wants to win the case to avenge the death of the mother and her unborn child. But as the trial nears, Elsie begins to harbor doubts about the death penalty itself. Allen explores how prosecutors must weigh the horrific crime versus the heavy burden of seeking someone’s death.

In addition, the author emphasizes how friendships can become detached over issues.  Elsie is “unfriended” by her fellow prosecutor Breeon over her view on the death penalty.  Instead of realizing people cannot agree on everything she becomes cold and distant, refusing to be there when needed by Elsie. 

Allen knows something about domestic abuse cases since she practiced law for fifteen years as Assistant Missouri Attorney General and Assistant Prosecutor in her native Ozarks. She's tried over thirty jury cases, including murder and sexual offenses. A quote from the book shows how women in the 1980s struggled to be accepted, “The necktie rule… they said no attorney could appear in court without a tie.”

Allen commented to blackfive.net, “After getting out of law school, I was the only woman prosecutor in Southwest Missouri.  I guess I was a little bit of a trailblazer in that day.  Women had to wear a uniform in court in the 1980s.  We wore floppy silk ties, kinda like the Girl Scout tie.  I had a little polka dot one and a little striped one.”

Regarding her female portrayals Allen feels there is a little of her in all the female characters.  “Elsie is a cross between that TV Show Beverly Hillbillies character Ellie May Clampett and Amy Schumer in the movie Train Wreck. She echoed who I was in my youth.  Being the only woman in the office I was thrown sex crime cases. Madeline, the County Prosecutor, Elsie’s boss, reflected my past experiences of having to confront, in the 1980s, the ‘good ol’ boys judicial club’ in Southwest Missouri.  Even Ivy, the six year old witness represented the child in all of us who tries to please authority figures.  Because I am a strong advocate of victim’s rights and have cut my teeth on child abuse cases I feel a bond with Ivy.  It is a fact that the Ozarks has the highest rate of sex crimes involving children in all of Missouri, and this state is one of the top in the nation.”

Allen also gave a heads up about her future book projects.  The next Elsie Arnold book has a standup member of a small town community charged with a crime.  Elsie must bring down a person who is at the top of the pinnacle in her community.  Allen is also co-authoring a legal thriller with James Patterson, entitled. Juror # 3.  It is a new series stated by Patterson that will be part of the Bookshots line. 

Anyone wanting to learn about legal issues and court procedures within a good story should read Allen’s books.  She brings her experience and knowledge to the page to make the plots and characters believable.

Book Review - "In the Arena" by Pete Hegseth

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 on the right side bar.

9781476749341_p0_v2_s192x300In the Arena by Pete Hegseth will make readers think about what values are important to them.  His motivation for writing this book is taken from Theodore Roosevelt’s speech, “Citizenship In A Republic,” specifically the quote “Man In The Arena.” The address is used as a roadmap for addressing the massive challenges facing America today. The author channels Teddy Roosevelt’s thoughts into a call for action: to actually win wars fought, that Patriotism is not a bad word, America must have leadership abroad, and civic responsibility is important. 

Hegseth explained to blackfive.net how he stumbled upon the quote in college.  “I printed out a copy, framed it, and took it with me where I served.  It is a reminder to me about fighting for worthy causes.  I found it very motivating.  I think it is ‘un-PC’ before there was PC. Roosevelt’s beliefs can be applied today, what people are craving for:  a strong leader, strength, competiveness, and belief in America. It is a reminder to people why they love this country and a reflection on our founding father’s ideals. It is no accident Roosevelt is on Mount Rushmore with Washington, the leader in the fight for our independence; Jefferson, the writer of the Declaration of Independence; and Lincoln, the leader in the fight during the Civil War.  I would argue Roosevelt got this country off to a good start, that the 20th Century was America’s century.”

Roosevelt talked about the dangers of division in a Republic.

“They fell, and the prime factor in their fall was the fact that the parties tended to divide. Wide differences of opinion in matters of religious, political, and social belief must exist if conscience and intellect alike are not to be stunted.  The citizens of a republic should beware, and that is of the man who appeals to them to support him on the ground that he is hostile to other citizens of the republic, that he will secure for those who elect him, in one shape or another, profit at the expense of other citizens of the republic.”

To that end, Hegseth points out that Obama in 2008 spoke about the US not being a collection of individuals or red states and blue states, but today “we are more divided that ever. He has pitted rich against poor, black against white, those that don’t agree with his policies as war mongers, as he attempts to advance his fundamental transformation of America.”

Roosevelt also speaks about what today would be called the rules of engagement.  He literally talks about those who refer to themselves as “citizens of the world.”

“I believe that a man must be a good patriot.  Experience teaches us that the average man who protests that his international feeling swamps his national feeling, that he does not care for his country because he cares so much for mankind, in actual practice proves himself the foe of mankind.”

An infantry officer in the Army National Guard, he is a veteran of Iraq, Afghani­stan, and Guantanamo Bay who holds two Bronze Stars and a Combat Infantryman’s Badge for his time overseas.  As someone who served their country, Hegseth saw first hand how the rules of engagement have “become so burdensome, cumbersome, and legalistic that they restrict our war fighters on the battlefield.  Are we willing to untie the hands of our war fighters so they can actually fight Islamic extremists?  We worry more about oil truck drivers of ISIS who are called innocent civilians. Our trigger pullers cannot engage the enemy pre-emptively.  We cannot bow down if we want to defeat an enemy that uses civilians.  We have to be willing to get our hands dirty because of the shady tactics of our enemy.  What we are seeing now are the seeds of the sixties generation who have never seen America as a force for good and saw America as not special. The ability to defend ourselves is important to maintain our sovereignty.”

In The Arena is a special book as it invokes the words of Teddy Roosevelt and makes them relevant to today.  Hegseth takes the speech of Roosevelt and applies them to his 21st century beliefs. The author hopes that readers who believe in strength, leadership, and a good family structure will find this book informative, inspiring, and educational.

Book Review - "The Outliers" by Kimberly McCreight

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 on the right side bar.

9780062359094_p0_v2_s192x300 (1)Outliers by Kimberly McCreight is the first in a series for young adults.  Having changed gears from writing mysteries for adults she still maintains, in the first part of the book, her ability to draw out the different relationships between characters, including the bond between a mother and daughter. The story went from a psychological thriller that focused on grief and friendship to a conspiracy theory mystery. 

McCreight noted to blackfive.net, “Writing a young adult mystery is not much different than writing an adult novel.  In my adult books I had killed teenagers so to be fair and balanced I killed an adult in this book.  I was a little more careful about putting in curse words although I did not make any compromises.”

The story follows, Wylie, a high school teenager who attempts to find her missing friend with the help of the friend’s boyfriend, Jasper. Cassie sends text clues that takes the pair into the wilds of Maine where they encounter unsavory cops, a seemingly harmless couple with an infant and Wylie’s dad’s former research assistant. When they finally reach Cassie, they realize nothing could have prepared them for the dangers ahead, and they learn that all of their problems are just beginning.

Wylie is sixteen and lives with her dad and twin brother Gideon in Boston, since her mother died in a supposed car accident four months earlier. She was broken up after her mother’s death. Her dad became over protective as Wylie’s anxiety progressed to the point she will not leave home. This anxiety disorder has Wylie panicking, and sometimes even passing out when too stressed.

Because McCreight also suffers from anxiety she wanted readers to understand the complexities that both the family and individual must face on a daily basis, and what triggers it.  The author commented, “I discovered that anxiety could draw out other emotions in people, such as making them more attuned. There are times when it can overtake someone’s life.”

Outliers is a story about the length someone will go for their friends. In the second half of the book, it takes a turn into a science fiction plot.  Although all the sub-plots had a conclusion, they lead into new questions that set up the next book in the series.

Book Review - "The Arm" by Jeff Passan

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.

9780062400369_p0_v4_s192x300The Arm by Jeff Passan, a lead writer for Yahoo Sports, is a must read for baseball fans, those interested in learning about pitchers, the Tommy John injury and surgery, as well as youth baseball coaches and parents. He explains how a tiny ligament in the elbow, the UCL, can snap, sending Little Leaguers and Major Leaguers to undergo surgery. In traveling the world he was able to interview with Sandy Koufax, Japanese pitchers, and Tommy John, the All-Star pitcher who underwent the surgery forty years ago to save his career. But the true heart of the book resides in the interwoven stories of Daniel Hudson and Todd Coffey, Major Leaguers whom Passan follows through UCL surgery and rehab.

Passan explains how in 1974 Dr. Frank Jobe rebuilt the left elbow of John, the Dodgers pitcher, in a revolutionary surgery that continues to give pitchers a second chance. He essentially made John a new ligament by taking a tendon from the wrist, drilling holes into the elbow. Readers will learn that about a quarter of pitchers at any given time on major league rosters have had Tommy John surgery. But a more frightening statistic is that more than half of Tommy John surgeries now occur with teenagers. He writes about a youth baseball tournament, where star 10-year-olds have their arms taxed in the name of victory, and in Japan where overuse of young pitchers also seems to be a chronic practice.

He told blackfive.net the book is a warning “for parents and coaches out there who don't quite understand that the amount of pitching you do as a child could significantly damage you for years to come. We should be stressing how to throw the ball properly, know how to place it, and to learn the mental side of pitching. Growth plates in children’s elbows don’t close until they are 15/16 years old. When they do reach this age they can take on more wear and tear. Dr. Jobe said not to throw a curve ball until you can shave. Remember when Dr. Frank Jobe did the surgery it was on a thirty year old pitcher to save his career. I cannot imagine he thought it would become the domain of children instead of adults. It is frightening how many parents push their children. I hope there is enough people out there that can shame these other parents and coaches. A parent’s job is to be realistic. A Japanese study that came out after the book was published said that 43% of 9 to 12 year olds had damage to their UCL and of those more than 60% were pitchers.”

But to humanize the story Passan followed two pitchers, Todd Coffey and Daniel Hudson. He spent time with them and their families as they went through the surgery, rehab, and their attempts to pitch again in the Major Leagues. It's a very good insight into the parts of baseball most people don't see, the personal lives of the players and how they cope with various setbacks in the course of their careers.

He commented to blackfive.net, “Todd Coffey, while a relief pitcher for the Dodgers in 2012, had a recurring elbow injury and underwent his second Tommy John surgery. He threw with a velocity about 95 to 96 mph. In 2015 he tried to play for the Mexican League and is currently in the Atlantic League. Because he was a reliever and does not throw now at 95 it became difficult to latch on with a team. They are afraid he would get hurt again and they would then be stuck with the medical expenses. Plus, they think it makes sense to go with a guy who has been in their own organization.”

Regarding Daniel Hudson, “He had Tommy John surgery in 2012 and another surgery in 2013. He is still pitching for the Diamondbacks and so far is having a great year. If he stays healthy he is setting himself up for a big payday. He looks good and says his arm feels great. I think Daniel is an inspirational story. I hope with him and Coffey readers will see what it is really like, that it is not easy and not fun with a lot of trials and tribulations.”

The Arm is a must read for all fans of baseball and parents who have children playing the sport. In tackling a massive and complicated subject, Passan finds ways to educate and warn about the UCL injury.

Book Review - "Blood Defense" by Marcia Clark

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.

9781503954007_p0_v1_s192x300Blood Defense by Marcia Clark is the first in a new series. While she is well known as the prosecutor of O. J. Simpson she has also become a bestselling author with the Rachel Knight series about a Los Angeles prosecutor. With Blood Defense she is changing gears, now writing about an ambitious and hard-charging criminal defense attorney. Although having each series main character polar opposites, readers will still enjoy the same writing style: sarcastic wit, believable characters, a great murder mystery, multi-layered plot twists, and an understanding of the nuances around a courtroom.

When asked if she would face the same obstacles today with the Simpson trial, Clark responded, “Racism, domestic violence, and sexism are still issues. They are still very much on the table. Would he get convicted today if tried? A lot would depend on the judge and the nature of the jury. There was a very bad ruling that allowed racial epithets to be introduced as evidence when there was no basis for it. Mark Fuhrman did not have any opportunity to plant the glove so it should not have mattered if he was a racist or not. If he could not have done it there is no relevance to bringing it in.”

Furthermore, she felt, “Race really skewed it. But the ultimate factors were a combination of race and celebrity. If he had not been famous and was just a regular guy who happened to be black he would have been convicted. If he had been a white guy who was famous he would have been convicted. This combination presented an unassailable obstacle that became clearer every day of the trial. We watched the jury fail to respond to anything we said, which was why the verdict was no surprise for us. The jury basically rejected us from day one. It was horrible.”

Although known as a prosecutor, Clark started her career in private practice as a defense attorney. She brings her past experience to the pages with an excellent insight. In describing the daily routine of a criminal lawyer she allows readers to understand how far someone could go in bending the rules. What is very interesting is the behind the scenes account of procedures, as well as the workings of the jail system, informants, and courtroom antics.

Her experiences helped her write about “the interesting moral and ethical wrinkles to riding the defense side because a defense attorney's goal is solely to defend the client. The prosecutor has to make sure that it's a fair trial; the defense has no obligation. I thought of what Fred Goldman told me about Ron being the second and forgotten victim, ‘what about Ron, it is not all about Nicole.’ I am sure this had something to do with me wanting to write the disparity and treatment between my characters Chloe and Paige. Yet, at the time I was writing this I was not thinking about Ron. My life experiences and case works creep into my books whether I am aware of the connection or not.”

The plot begins with criminal defense attorney, Samantha Brinkman, struggling to make a name for herself until she lands a “dream” case. It is a high profile double-murder case in which one of the victims is a beloved TV star, and the defendant is a decorated veteran LAPD detective. With the aid of her office manager, Michelle, and investigator Alex, Brinkman must use everything she has to spin the publicity. Already facing an uphill battle, she pulls out all the stops in her quest to uncover evidence that will clear the detective and his name.

Samantha and police detective Dale Pearson are very well developed characters. Readers will root for her to win the case and prove Dale’s innocence. As with Rachel Knight, Samantha is portrayed as a tough, spunky, and intelligent woman. But unlike Rachel, Samantha has a dark past that makes her vulnerable at times, and she will go to any lengths, including breaking rules she does not agree with, to win the case.

Blood Defense is a great suspense novel with a fun dose of humor and a lot of twists. Readers will enjoy learning more about Samantha as the series progresses. Anyone wanting a riveting murder mystery with realistic characters and an understanding of the routines of a defense attorney should read this book.

Book Review - "I Let You Go" by Clare Mackintosh

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.

9781101987490_p0_v2_s192x300I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh is a very powerful debut novel. She grabs the reader with an intense and sensitive storyline and never lets go. The themes of emotional and physical abuse, atonement and forgiveness are explored in a gripping way. Added to that very human story is a terrific mystery element.

The plot is presented with an alternate narrative between Jenna Gray and the police investigators of a hit and run accident where a five-year-old boy, Jacob, is killed. The two detectives are attempting to find out who was responsible for the boy’s death. They're determined to do right by Jacob's mother and honor his memory by leaving no stone unturned. But this is a difficult case to solve: it was rainy and dark, and no one was able to figure out what kind of car hit him or see any noteworthy characteristics of the driver, basically leaving the detectives without any clues to follow. The main character, Jenna, disappears, attempting to make a fresh start in a small town on the Welsh coast. But she is haunted by her fears, her grief, and her memories of a cruel November night that changed her life forever.

As a former British police officer she was able to use her experiences to create the plot. She stated to blackfive.net, “Shortly after I joined the police there was the investigation of a real life hit and run accident. It stayed in my mind for years afterward. I found it very hard to understand how anyone could drive away from a dead child. That got me thinking, what were their reasons? Then about nine years ago one of my sons died of meningitis. He was a twin who was only five weeks old. I thought a lot about grief and the affect it has on someone’s life. It changes us and defines the choices we make within a relationship. Yet, I was very careful to make sure the story remained fictional.”

As Jenna attempts to move forward there is an abusive past pulling her back. Mackintosh writes these heart-wrenching scenes, allowing the reader to go through the same emotions as Jenna. What the author does beautifully during the first third of the book is to keep people guessing who Jenna is: the mother or the driver. She teases the reader with quotes, such as these:In a split second, Jenna Gray's world descends into a nightmare;” and “About running away because I couldn’t see any other way of surviving except starting over…screaming every night because I can never be free from what happened.”

The abuser, Ian, is pure evil and based on the many offenders Mackintosh dealt with while in the police force, “When I was in the police I was really affected by the many women who suffered abuse. The offenders had these alternate realities built for themselves. There are very few perpetrators who attempt to justify their behavior; yet, this odd behavior in abusers I found intriguing. What is frightening about domestic abuse is how slowly it builds. If you said to my character in hindsight, ‘you will be ostracized from your friends and family, will not be able to control your own money, and will be told what to wear,’ I don’t think she would go willingly into that relationship. What happens is that it creeps up so gradually and someone’s self esteem is broken down.”

It should come as no surprise that the story is very realistic with scenes about police activities. Mackintosh spent twelve years in the police force, including time on CID, and as a public order commander. She has investigated serious assault cases, worked with towns about crime prevention, and managed large public demonstrations. Her inside knowledge helps to create a believable, informative, and gripping story.

She noted, “My work experience helped in creating an authentic world. I had much less research to do in relation to investigations and how to authenticate the work police environment. It is a familiar world to me. The sound of feet on concrete and metal doors being shut is so familiar. I hope it added atmosphere.”

I Let You Go is a psychological thriller that the reader will not want to put down. The compelling characters and many twists will hook people from the very first page.