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June 2016

Book Review of eco-thriller "Hell's Gate" by Bill Schutt and J.R. Finch

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.

9780062412522_p0_v3_s192x300Hell’s Gate by Bill Schutt with J. R. Finch is an eco-thriller.  Combining geo-politics with zoology Schutt uses his knowledge to create this plot involving creatures during World War II.  He is a University professor with a specialty in vertebrate zoology, and a research assistant to the American Museum of Natural History. 

Schutt commented to blackfive.net, “I went to this place in Brazil and thought how it would be a good setting.  Since I am a World War II buff I wanted to combine my profession, with my hobby, and this wonderful place.  At the time of the plot this place was very isolated, where I imagined the possibility of Germany moving its rocket scientists here, a place that could never be found and would be hard to attack. The creatures are based on my studies of vampire bats that lived in this region.  The creatures in the story actually existed.”

The plot has the US military parachuting into the Brazilian jungle Captain R. J. MacCready. He enters into Hell’s Gate, a huge plateau that is one of the most remote regions in the world.  Each character has a special skill to help solve the mysterious puzzle: MacCready is the expert on bats, a quick-witted, brilliant, scientific jack-of-all-trades zoologist, who is unexpectedly reunited with his friend and botanist, Bob Thorne, thought to be dead, and his wife, Yanni, who possesses cryptic skills.  Together they learn of a diabolical Axis plot to destroy America and its allies, and a creepy dark force that attacks at night. The plot has the protagonists trying to save humanity from the Nazis who are attempting to launch a major rocket and a creature, Desmodus draculae, similar to the vampire bats, that has migrated there.

Since the setting is almost a secondary character Schutt used his own experiences of spending nights “in the rain forest and living in caves.  I wanted to get across to the readers what it would be like to be there alone at night: what it would sound like, smell like, and able to crawl around the floor of a cave. I have been up all night in a tree with no one around.”

His next book will be about the natural history of cannibalism out on Valentine’s Day. The sequel to Hell’s Gate, out next year, will have MacCready wearing much warmer clothing and takes place two years later.

As with all of his books, Schutt wants to make sure he is able to include his zoologist background to enhance the plot. Hell’s Gate has vivid descriptions of the rain forest with the authors evoking the dangers of nature.  Combining that with the dangers of Nazi science development the plot has a very adventurous tone.

Book Review - "Jane Doe January" by Emily Winslow

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.

9780062434807_p0_v2_s192x300Jane Doe January by crime writer Emily Winslow is a personal memoir of a horrific tragedy, a rape she was forced to endure. While turning the pages people will get fresh insight into the world of the victim as Winslow confronts issues. Readers will begin to understand how there is no set stereotype for a victim, since not everyone is going to act and feel the same way. 

Winslow commented to blackfive.net, “I tried to understand and accept that the jury could only like me if I conformed to some very narrow range of emotion.  I could not be angry.  When on the stand I would have to show emotions of vulnerability and hurt; yet, hold back on other emotions.  I wondered how do you let sadness show but keep anger in, and be vulnerable but keep my dignity.” 

Through this book Winslow takes readers on a journey with her as she delves into her past, reconnects with the original detective on her case, and works with prosecutors as they prepare for a trial.  The story travels back in time to the morning in January 1992 when she was raped.  Over the course of the next two decades she marries, has two children, becomes an American expatriate living in Cambridge England, and becomes a crime writer. The story reveals how she had to become her own legal advocate to get possible retribution.  She would encounter a revolving door of detectives as she tried to keep her case alive through inquiries.  Only through pure luck, when a friend of another victim convinces a cold case detective to test the DNA, do they find the rapist, Arthur Fryar.  After matches were found to provide sufficient evidence he was prosecuted in 2013.  Although the ending would not be happily ever after Winslow did get the truth and some kind of justice.

The most interesting points are when Winslow displays her emotions.  She does not comply with the usual portrayals of rape victims as seen on the TV shows. Readers learn how she did not shy away from the rapist, but became obsessed with him, taking to social media to find as many facts as she could by delving into his family and past.  Beyond that she talks to the reader through her writings, letting them know that she is not going to forgive him and that she is not going to cower, instead showing feelings of anger and defiance.  Finally, people see how the judicial system can let down a victim as Winslow confronts extradition, statutory limits, and sentencing guidelines.

She wants people to understand there is no one fits all type of victim noting, “It’s like people want the victims to follow a script.  I write in the book, ‘What I feel is that I would like him to be sentenced long enough that he will surely die in prison.’ Yet, it seems so important to people that I forgive him.  I think they want it so I would go along with the perfect victim story.  Being a devout Christian, I tried to figure out what forgiveness was supposed to look like.  It was like they were trying to rationalize reasons for my attitude.  They wanted me to say I was testifying to save potential future victims.  I thought what happened to me is enough of a reason to testify.  People tried to see me as selfless, which I gently corrected.”

Jane Doe January is very powerful because it allows people to think how they would have reacted.  It is written in almost a diary form as Winslow recounts her quest to seek justice in a very open and honest way.  People should read this memoir to get invaluable insight into the mind and heart of a victim.

Book Review - "Wake Up America" by Eric Bolling

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.

9781250121905_p0_v1_s192x300Wake Up America should be the rallying cry for everyone who wants the United States to be great again.  It is also the name of The Five co-host Eric Bolling’s book.  He presents in it a clear vision for this nation, which has gone adrift over the last seven years.  The book starts off powerfully with a dedication to President Obama and takes off from there as he explains why there is a need to return to the nine virtues of America’s past. Bolling talks about his book with blackfive.net.

The qualities he writes about are grit, manliness, individualism, merit, profit and providence, dominion over our environment, thrift, and above all pride in this country. Bolling speaks of his background, raised in a struggling blue-collar family in Chicago, where he learned from his parents that hard work and firm values will allow someone to get ahead in life. Those values drove him as a young baseball player to being drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates, then success as a New York Mercantile Exchange trader, and now his daily role on Fox News Channel.

The book begins with a dedication to President Obama, “If it weren’t for your announced goal of ‘fundamentally transforming the United States of America,’ I wouldn’t have been to exceedingly motivated to write this book to stop you and your liberal pals from achieving that goal. America will survive your agenda.” 

He explained, “I did the dedication because this upcoming election is extremely important.  It is the last shot we have for at least eight years, maybe longer.  We need to push back against President Obama’s stated goal of not making America exceptional on the world stage. The President has done everything in his power to achieve the goal of undermining American exceptionalism.  We were built on having the strongest work ethic, the motivation to achieve, and the desire to have free market capitalism.”

One group that exemplifies these virtues is the US military. In the “Grit” chapter he wrote, “There are a few major exceptions to today’s ‘softness indoctrination.’ The biggest and by far most important is the US military.  Our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines are among the toughest, grittiest folks to ever walk the planet.” Bolling circles back to the Obama dedication as he blames this administration for “questioning the actions of our forces, which has allowed us to go from a winning strategy to a losing one.”

How many people have been frustrated with political correctness?  Bolling shows his exasperation calling it “defeatist crap…a huge number of Americans think trying to make everyone equal is the right thing to do. For example, a school board's decision in North Carolina to stop naming valedictorians over the ‘unhealthy competition’ is an example of liberalism run amok. What they are saying, ‘it is not ok to work hard and succeed.’ It is a ‘everyone gets a trophy culture.’  We need to emphasize winning, being in first place or the Asian countries like China will eat us for lunch.  The top ten countries in math, science, and reading are the Asian countries.  We're becoming a nation of wussies. Let's stop America's slide into the liberal abyss. People are fed up with political correctness and are tired of being told what to say, how to say it, and who to say it to.”

The “Manliness” chapter is not intended to offend women.  Bolling explains that he did not want it misinterpreted. “I did not mean it as some kind of sexist statement, man versus woman, but based it on the word ‘mankind.’ We need to be strong, forward, and to say what we think.  Margaret Thatcher epitomized manliness for standing by her values.”

In the “Profit” chapter there is the implication that words such as profit and successful are dirty words to the Liberals.  But isn’t it more than that, it is also the hypocrisy?  Hillary Clinton speaks of her gender; yet, is relying on her two male bookends, President Obama and Bill Clinton.  She also speaks of income inequality, but has made a fortune since being First Lady.  Bolling thinks “being a hypocrite is anonymous with being a liberal.  Hillary talks of income inequality, but gets hundreds of thousands of dollars to speak at a college. If she cares for college students’ welfare give the speeches for free. And she speaks of being the first female president at the same time she says her husband will run the economy.”

Bolling has made great points because Americans are asleep.  Just refer to what Jonathan Gruber said about Obamacare and what Ben Rhodes said about the Iran Deal, pulling the wool over people’s eyes.  The common theme in the book is the need to wake-up, to push back against this liberal culture, by returning to the values of what America is founded on.

Book Review - "A Certain Age" 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.

9780062404954_p0_v2_s192x300A Certain Age by Beatriz Williams is part mystery, part historical, and part romance that is based upon Richard Strauss’ opera, Der Rosenkavalier.  It has a gripping plot involving family secrets, an unsolved murder, intrigue, and scandal during the l920s. The title is a metaphor for the time period and the age of each character that is very relevant to the storyline. 

The narrative alternates between the perspective of Sophie Fortescue and Theresa  Marshall with each chapter beginning with a quote from the actual journalist and humorist Helen Rowland.  As the story unfolds readers understand that socialite Theresa, age 44, is having a love affair with Captain Octavian Rofrano, a handsome twenty-two year old aviator and hero of World War I.  She enlists him to act as her brother’s cavalier to present the family’s engagement ring.  After meeting Sophie Octavian becomes enthralled with her.  With the love triangle progressing the saga emphasizes divided loyalties, dangerous revelations, and surprising twists.

Williams once commented that she wants to make her characters interesting with a likeable and unlikeable side.  She has certainly achieved her goal in this book.

Octavian is honorable and loyal, yet appears to be somewhat of a “wus” in the relationship with Theresa.  He allows her to take complete control and while professing his love for her falls head over heals for Sophie. 

She wrote him as a hero who “sacrificed for his country and had to deal with the fact that many of his friends died in the war.  An aviator in WWI has a life span of about six weeks.  He had survivor’s guilt.  He understands he has the power to walk away, but would never do that because it would break his code of loyalty, obligation, and honor.  He loves Theresa because she needs him and has brought him back to life. Theresa’s hurt heals through the love of Octavian while his war wounds heal through her.  The challenge is making readers understand the dynamics of each relationship.” 

Theresa has had a hard time in her life, forced into a marriage at a young age, having her husband cheat on her from day one, has a still born daughter, and loses her favorite son during WWI.  But she is also very manipulative and controlling.  It seems that Octavian to her is no more than a plaything as she calls him Boyo, never by his name, and orders him around as if he is her servant. 

Williams wanted, “readers to sympathize with her.  She has iron around her heart because she has been hurt over and over again.  The shield she hides behind is to appear uncaring.  Her emotional intimacy is expressed through sexual intimacy with Octavian.  She needs to be in complete control of their complicated relationship.”

Sophie is an innocent, gutsy woman who strives for independence and symbolizes the women of that era who challenged the role society has pigeonholed for them.

An added bonus Williams has become known for are the descriptive and detailed happenings of the 1920s, which add depth to the story.  Through the characters people see the conflict between old and new money, the demeanor of Ty Cobb, the famous horse Man O’ War, as well as the growing importance of the new technologies, the automobile and airplane. 

Coming from a middle class life in suburban Seattle, Williams commented to blackfive.net, she went “on vacation with her family to Oregon for the Shakespeare festival.  It was a very absorbing experience with my parents always coaching us about the plays so we knew what is going on.  Since my parents had intellectual interests and were not into the pop culture it made it hard for me to relate to people growing up.  Now as an adult I look on it as my secret weapon.  I love Shakespeare and operas and I don’t care if that makes me a geek.  I feel very fortunate because it helped influence my writings.  Anyone who pays attention to Shakespeare sees the relationship conflict, which is the centerpiece for my books, when characters are placed into emotional jeopardy.” 

Those who read her books will never be disappointed.  She creates a suspenseful plot with characters that are three-dimensional.

Book Review - "Field Of Graves" by J.T. Ellison

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.

9780778318927_p0_v3_s192x300Field Of Graves, by J. T. Ellison, the first book in the Taylor Jackson series, is a great read.  Those who have never read this series will enjoy a gripping story with well-developed characters.  Fans of this series will learn about the characters’ backstories, sometimes seeing them in a different light.

The story has two characters facing their demons, Lieutenant Taylor Jackson and FBI profiler Dr. John Baldwin. They both must overcome the psychological scars of killing their co-workers, either directly or indirectly.  Forgiveness is a major theme where they have to forgive themselves to survive. They work together to help each other recover and to find a serial killer who is murdering Vanderbilt college students in Nashville. Part of the team is medical examiner Dr. Samantha Owens, a friend of Taylors.  Ellison takes readers on a journey with Taylor’s team, the Murder Squad, as they attempt to find who is responsible for the killings.  As the story notes, “The Murder Squad” is not based on the Scotland Yard detectives in the Victorian era, but high elite Nashville homicide detectives whose closure rate was 83%.

What makes the story so compelling is the interaction between the characters.  Anyone following the series will see how they have grown and changed over the past decade.  Samantha is still blunt and a sister-like best friend to Taylor, but they have seemed to change roles. While Samantha is happy and carefree, Taylor is tough, smart, likeable, and has a troubled edge.  Her kindred spirit is Dr. John Baldwin, someone she saved emotionally.  He is nothing like the person in the later novels, behaving tough as nails.  Together they have unconditional love and make each other whole. 

Ellison writes Taylor as being very black and white, without any grey. She came up with the character because she wanted a female homicide detective “with a moral compass who is half cop, half rock star, and someone who loves her town of Nashville.  I did not want her to be this tortured female who did not have the respect of her peers. But rather, someone good at what she does and is accepted for her intelligence and ability.  I wanted to make sure my heroine was not a victim. I would describe her as Athena, the warrior-goddess of Nashville.”

A loveable supporting character is Jade the cat that adds to the storyline.  Ellison noted to blackfive.net, “Jade is my muse.  She is real.  I had lost a cat and was unemployed when I found Jade.  I adopted her and after taking her to a vet I found a job there.  I actually hurt my back picking up a dog, and while recovering decided to become a crime writer like John Sandford.   I chose the Nashville setting because I wanted to learn more about my new town.  The world knows it as the home of country music, yet it’s a much more complex, dynamic city than it first appears, and has a cosmopolitan air. We have the old South rubbing elbows with newfound fame and fortune. We have a serious dichotomy between the upper and lower classes, and a lot of crime.”

She writes three series. Her latest is A Brit In the FBI, with legendary author Catherine Coulter.  The next book, out in March of next year, has the FBI delving into the history of the Ark of the Covenant.  Because of the popularity of her character Dr. Samantha Owens she started a spin off series. Yet, many times the Taylor and Samantha series overlap characters, which is the case with the next book, All Fall Down, a continuation of the stalker serial killer story in What Lies Behind. Those readers who want to understand more of these characters can read All The Pretty Girls, which is being re-published this July.

Field Of Graves is a compelling and captivating novel.  The characters are realistic and interesting.  Anyone who reads this book will want to read all the books in the series.

Book Review - "Duty And Honor" by Grant Blackwood

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.

9780399176807_p0_v2_s192x300Duty And Honor by Grant Blackwood brings back the Tom Clancy character Jack Ryan Jr.  This story explores a murder centered around a German connection.

The plot has an organization whose major recruiting technique is to kidnap children and then release them to grateful parents who become part of a neo-warfare plan.  Those who do not freely go along have themselves or their family subjected to torture, drug addiction, and brain washing.  The philosophy is to have private armies answerable to no government, no laws, and no rules of engagement. 

Jack was suspended from The Campus, a covert agency in the government who combats US enemies.  Throughout the book Jack Jr. is seen as rusty from his time off.  Blackwood noted to blackfive.net, “Special operators always have a strong preference for the type of weapon they chose to use.  Knifes play a prevalent role in this book so Jack Jr. can follow clues.  The reason he makes mistakes is to make him more believable.  The mindset of those in Special Forces is that ‘something will always go wrong.’  I wanted to show how Jack responds to that scenario. I think he grew up a lot in this book. He did a lot of thinking of who he is and where he is going.”

A new character is Effrem Likkel, a freelance journalist.  Blackwood has the characters play a role reversal as Jack tries to become more mature.  With Effrem he sees himself looking into the mirror where Effrem is impulsive, undisciplined, and is single-mindedly focused instead of looking at the big picture.  They both must come to grips with being the son of a famous person since Effrem’s mother is a well renowned journalist, while Jack Jr.’s father is the US President. 

Duty And Honor has a fast-paced intriguing plot.  Both Mark Greaney and Grant Blackwood have enhanced the Tom Clancy characters and have created new absorbing and captivating roles.

Book Review - "House of Secrets" by Brad Meltzer with Tod Goldberg

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.

9781455559503_p0_v3_s192x300The House Of Secrets by Brad Meltzer with Tod Goldberg is the first book in a riveting new thriller series. Most authors are well known for their writing style and Meltzer is no different, as he has become the king of the conspiracy mystery.  Not only does this plot hold the reader’s attention, but it also keeps them off balance and navigating through the twists and turns. 

Meltzer became intrigued “Eight years ago at the National Archives I was shown the Oath of Allegiance.  Those who signed it agreed not to betray the US.  One of those names was Benedict Arnold, who was a distinguished military man.  Before he became a traitor he had put his life on the line for our country. In that moment when I saw his signature the story all came together for me.  I could not get out of my head the story of the last moments between Benedict Arnold and George Washington.  It has been said that the portrayal was one of the few times Washington actually cried in public.  It is unbelievable that Arnold asked for his baggage and clothes with Washington delivering them immediately.  The conspiracy presents itself because no one knows what was in the baggage.”

Espionage, government corruption, family secrets, blackmail, betrayal, murder, and a historical conspiracy are all incorporated into the plot.  The main protagonist is Hazel Nash.  Meltzer has done with her what he previously did with another main character Beecher White, who makes a cameo appearance in this novel.  Both characters are realistic, believable, likeable, complex, and intelligent; although Hazel is more of a “badass.” 

The mystery begins on page one when the Nash family gets into a car accident.  The father, Jack Nash, host of a conspiracy investigation TV show is killed and his daughter Hazel has a traumatic brain injury.  She is intent on regaining her memory and discovering the real reason behind her father’s death.  Remembering her father’s words, that mysteries need to be solved, she wonders if the tale he told her about Benedict Arnold could be true.  Conspiracy theorists believe that Arnold was a not a traitor, but a double agent. 

Meltzer writes in the book why do we remember the name of Benedict Arnold and not other traitors?  He noted to blackfive.net, “I think there is something said for being the first traitor.  There are no absolutes in life so anyone who believes that all the conspiracies are true or none at all is silly.  I think sometimes the government is absolutely lying and sometimes not.  I don’t believe in all of them, but do believe is some.  I used the Nixon and Kennedy names for my characters because they were the best conspiracies of all.  The one that was solved and the one we still cannot answer:  Watergate and the JFK assassination.” 

Hazel is spurred on with her investigation when FBI agent Trevor Rabkin, aka known as Rabbit, reports that her father was poisoned to death along with Darren Nixon and Arthur Kennedy, the latter found dead wearing a Continental Army outfit.   Working as a team they must combat an assassin know as The Bear as they search for answers. 

House Of Secrets is an engrossing story with intrigue, mystery, history, and suspense.  All these ingredients are mixed together to form a fascinating conspiracy theory.  This fast paced narrative has well developed characters and a plot that will make readers question everything they were taught in the history books.

Book Review - "Lost and Gone Forever" by Alex Grecian

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.

9780399176104_p0_v1_s192x300Lost And Gone Forever by Alex Grecian concludes the Murder Squad series.  Set in Victorian England it brings to life Jack the Ripper and his ability to thwart capture.  Readers should be forewarned that this story will be more understandable if the other two books are read in order. 

Grecian noted to blackfive.net, “There was a real Murder Squad, similar to a homicide unit in America.  I wanted to write about the best and most famous detectives in London’s history.  I did this by changing names and dates.  The Commissioner of Police at the Yard was a real person.  Colonel Sir Edward Bradford was larger than life. He was an amazing man who led a remarkable life.”

Over the time span of the series many changes have occurred to the characters.  All of them were interesting and multi-layered, including the antagonists. Sergeant Nevil Hammersmith lost his job and now has a private detective agency, devoting all his time to finding his friend and peer Detective Walter Day who has been MIA for over a year.  His wife Claire has devoted her life to raising her children, finding Walter, and writing children’s stories; one of which is an outgrowth of the anxiety she feels about her missing husband.  The wealthy men of the Karstphanomen, a secret society that attempted to use vigilante methods towards criminals, hired ruthless bounty hunters, Mr. and Mrs. Parker, to find and kill Jack the Ripper. 

Although many readers may think Jack represents pure evil, Grecian does not see it that way and instead thinks he is “self-centered.  It’s all about Jack.  Anything that gets in his way he will get rid of without a second thought.  Yet, occasionally he will do something nice, like when he saved Hammersmith’s life. I think he is a very complicated figure.  He is not vulnerable in the least, because he never cares about anybody.”

This final installment has the devious, deranged, and deadly Jack the Ripper manipulating Day through torture and hypnosis.  As the story begins this broken detective, just released by Jack, is now in a dazed and amnesiac state.  Jack is attempting to use Day as his pawn as the Ripper finds retribution against those that caused him pain by killing the members off one by one. 

An interesting aspect of the book is how Grecian centered the plot in Plumm’s Emporium Department Store, a la Harrods in London.  He commented, “I wanted to make the coincidences realistic.  This enabled me to use coincidence to help weave all the characters’ different stories together.  I needed a place where lots of people would naturally congregate and cross paths.  It also enabled me to show how the world changed with having everything a person needed in one place.”

Grecian also gave a heads up about his next book.  It will be the first in a new contemporary series set in America.  The police are hunting for a Nazi that has hidden in the US for over half a century.  The series is based on a new character that hunts down war criminals, similar to Simon Wiesenthal.

Grecian has a knack for writing thrillers that are terrifying.  He has no qualms in putting in scenes that are extremely gory.  His plots always involve complicated characters that have fascinating backstories. Anyone wanting to sit on their edge of their seat should read the novel, Lost And Gone Forever.

Book Review - "The Wolf of Sarajevo" by Matthew Palmer

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.

9780399175015_p0_v1_s192x300The Wolf Of Sarajevo by Matthew Palmer is a thriller set in the Balkans.  It is the author’s way of reminding Americans about that part of the world.  Because of his close ties Palmer is able to use his experiences to create a good storyline. 

Palmer has spent a good amount of his life and career working in this area of the world.  His first post was with the Foreign Service at the US Embassy in Serbia.  He later served as desk officer in Washington and as a political counselor in Belgrade where he helped broker the ”April 19th Agreement” between Serbia and Kosovo.  This August he will be taking over as the director to the Balkans.  He also has personal connections since his wife is Serbian.

The complex make-up of the area makes this story very believable.  Palmer shows how this is a region where politics, ethnicity, and history blend together with century-old grievances.  The plot begins as Annika Sondergaard, a European Union diplomat, has a plan to unite the Balkans and stop the in fighting, enlisting the help of career US diplomat Eric Petrosian.  He is back in Sarajevo at the embassy, with the specter of war once again hanging over the Balkans. The Bosnian Serb leader, who had for a time been seeking a stable peace, has turned back to his nationalist roots and is threatening to pull Bosnia apart in a bloody struggle for control. Eric is dragged deeper into the political mayhem while uncovering a plot of blackmail and ruthless ambitions.

Understanding how the area can be confusing to outsiders Palmer struggled with the details from his personal experiences.  He commented to blackfive.net, “Just because something is complex doesn’t mean that it needs to be dull.  I hope to allow the readers through the story to see the human side of the diplomatic profession.  I wanted to highlight in the book the awfulness of man’s inhumanity to man.  I was able to write elements of truth regarding the cruelty of psychopaths, like Radovan Karabjic, who rose to positions of power. The title is based on the Balkan proverb, ‘The wolf changes its fur, but never its character.’”

He also compared the two female main characters, Annika and Sarah. “Annika is an idealist who is pragmatic, brave, and an experienced politician.  Sarah shares her vision of trying to make peace in the Balkans but as a CIA operative she does immoral things to achieve that objective.  I put the Nietzsche quote at the beginning of the book that best describes Sarah:  ‘He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster.’  Sarah is prepared to do whatever it takes to support her cause for the greater good.”

His next book will also be a stand alone involving a female diplomat who returns to her homeland of Kyrgystan.  He explained he likes stand-alones, “I learned from my father that in those types of books authors can create a sense of urgency and tension.  It is putting ordinary people, who are just doing their job, into extraordinary circumstances, where trouble seems to find them. I also wanted readers to understand that foreign-service diplomats are seen as positive and valuable people who do not cut deals with the devil.”

The Wolf Of Sarajevo is well written with personal touches from a career diplomat that knows the area well.  The story is believable and realistic.

Book Review - "The Girl from the Savoy" by Hazel Gaynor

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.

9780062403476_p0_v3_s192x300The Girl From The Savoy by Hazel Gaynor is a fascinating historical novel that touches on intense and compelling themes where dreams really do come true.  Readers will take the adventurous journey with the main characters as they struggle with love, hope, loss, and healing. 

This rags to riches story has Dorothy “Dolly” Lane struggling to overcome the low-life career of being a chambermaid, someone invisible to the upper class, while striving to become a renowned star of the London stage.  Many readers might be reminded of the musical My Fair Lady based on the play Pygmalion. The storyline has Dorothy taken in by Loretta May, a famous actress who has a rebellious streak and lives as she likes. She hopes to teach Dorothy how to fit into upper society and become her protégé. But the story also has Loretta, the daughter of an Earl, falling in love and marrying a soldier, a commoner without a title.

Set shortly after the end of WWI, this novel is told by three narrators in the first person, with each perspective offering some of the historical past. Through Dolly readers can explore the class system and the rise of women’s independence; Loretta and her brother Perry explore the Jazz Age; and Teddy Cooper, Dolly’s fiancé, is a solider whose life is changed by the war as he suffers from shell shock.  It is through Teddy that readers understand how WWI loomed large over everyone and everything. 

All the characters are fascinating, including many interesting secondary ones that also influenced the story including the Savoy Hotel. Through the descriptions and events within the hotel it becomes clear that it takes on a personality of its own, almost speaking to the characters.  For some it becomes a place of security, almost like returning to a long lost friend. 

Many times people speak of hearing cracks and creaks within houses.  Gaynor through her research found “people in the book and in the real world talk about it as a living, breathing character.  It is a place where things were happening, where people came and went, with lots of interesting drama.”

It appears that the hotel reacts to the issues the characters face including their sense of loss and how they are haunted by those memories.  Teddy has amnesia and lost the life he once knew.  Reflected in this quote by Dolly are her feelings, “My heart was broken, my dreams were shattered, my hopes were bruised.  Without ever stepping onto a battlefield, I too was wounded… In many ways Teddy did not come back at all.” Loretta lost her newlywed husband during the war, and Perry, the musical composer brother, lost his edge, preferring to be a follower than a leader, after being part of a firing squad that killed his best friend.

Gaynor noted to blackfive.net, “There was this loss of innocence.  Remember the famous line as soldiers went off to war, ‘It will be over by Christmas.’  The families left behind the lost years together.  Many waited for four years for loved ones to come home, and physically they might have, but the person once known, no longer existed.  The lost years created a period of separation that placed an emotional strain on the loved ones.  Typically history does not write about the women left behind on the home front, which is why I wrote the backstory of Dolly.  Many were haunted by the loss of the life they had hoped to have.  Unfortunately, people did not talk about how they felt.  Instead, having to endure a stiff upper lip and a get on with it attitude.” 

If The Girl From The Savoy is the first book read by Gaynor it will not be the last.  She uses the backdrop of World War I to create a riveting and gripping plot with characters that will pull the reader immediately into the story.  Not only will people learn about the history of the 1920s, but will feel they are along for the ride with the very well developed characters.