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April 2018

Book Review: Shattered Mirror

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 in the right side bar.


Shattered Mirrorby Iris Johansen is a paranormal thriller with a tease of romance. What makes this book stand out is that the good guys/gals are actually good and the bad guys are pure evil, without any grey area. 

Eve Duncan, a forensic sculptor, has the job of reconstructing skulls for recognition.  At her Georgia home, left in Joe, her husband’s car, is a package with a skull burnt beyond recognition. Also, inside are two mirrors, one intact and one shattered. It is threat sent to Eve that her family is currently intact, but will be shattered as this killer goes after them one by one.  This villain has set up a complex plan to get revenge by first going to New York’s Carnegie Tech where Eve’s ward, 18-year-old violin prodigy Cara Delaney, and her roommate, former child actress Darcy Nichols, have residence. After Cara is attacked in their room Jock Gavin comes to her rescue. He is someone designated to be Cara’s protector, but also became her best-friend.  With danger looming, Cara and Darcy agree to visit with Eve, Jo, and Michael their six-year-old son.  After their arrival, it becomes apparent there is more than just a casual resemblance between Darcy and the skull, which turns out to be Darcy’s twin sister, Sylvie.  Eve and her team must work quickly to discover who is behind that murder and threats against her family before the killer destroys all she holds dear.

She had the profession as a forensic sculptor because “I think it is honorable what she does.  Most of the time the work is done when a person cannot be identified. After the restoration, it is used to circulate a picture for the public to possibly recognize who was that person. Another important aspect is the ability to give closure.  Their loved one can have a sense of who they were before the horrific act was committed. I think Cara’s roommate Darcy went through that process with her twin sister Sylvie.”

The paranormal plays a significant role in this novel. There are many characters who can communicate telepathically with each other or those who have died.  Eve is able to connect with two of her birth children, Bonnie who lost her life, and Michael who is the joy of Eve’s life. They can communicate their thoughts without any sensory perception.  The twins, Darcy and Sylvie were also able to do this before Sylvie’s death, and it appears they can do it in some form after her death.

Being fascinated with the paranormal the author feels “it reaches beyond the scope of what we know and what we dream of or can hope for. But my paranormal is never a horror story like what Stephen King writes. The family is trying to keep their young son Michael just a kid, but it is getting harder and harder because Michael is Michael.  I do like to keep his talents a surprise, both for me and my readers because it’s more fun that way.  Because he is different it presents a whole new world.”

As in all Johansen books family plays an important role. Eve and Joe have unconditional love for those children conceived at birth and those who became a part of the family formed by love not blood relations.

Johansen commented, “Most of my books involve family because I really believe in family.  Eve and those around her circle the wagons when one is threatened. Joe Quinn is now a detective with the Atlanta Police Department.  I made him a former SEAL because they are tough, smart, and have incredible endurance with a complicated lifestyle, especially after he becomes involved with Eve.  It is a very cold world out there but they all realize as a family they can get through anything.  In my family, we are making an effort to be like the one in the TV show Blue Bloods. At least once a week we get together and make sure we are not all scattered to the four winds.  It is important that we stay together.”

This story is highly suspenseful with interesting, witty, and intelligent characters. The killer is a psychopath who does not worry about collateral damage or the gruesome ways he goes about murdering people. Readers will be on edge as they take a journey with Eve and family to find to the killer before he catches them.

Book Review: Dead Girl Running

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 in the right side bar.


Dead Girl Runningby Christina Dodd is a sprint read, a fast-paced page-turner.  Those who liked her Virtue Fallsnovels will love this first book of a new series.  It does not have the paranormal element or much romance, but the mystery is action-packed.

The novella is an introduction to the book, explaining Kellen’s time in Afghanistan, how she sustained the injury for a medical discharge, and how she recovered.  In addition, the novella storyline introduces readers to the Monument Men that searched for artifacts taken by the Nazis.  Kellen works with General Lawrence Slater in trying to find some famous paintings hidden in a German cave.  This leads into the book plot and explains some of Kellen’s backstory.

Dodd introduced this special organization in the short-story, but it plays a significant role in the book. “I wrote about this because what they did was fascinating. It was an organization that was actually part of the Army during WWII.  They were going around trying to save European art.  I believe they were de-commissioned in 1946. I just brought them back through the character Nils Brooks.  The terrorists are really looting and selling artifacts on the black market to fund their causes.  Maybe the government will get an idea from this story.”

In the novel, there are two mysteries the main character, Kellen, is trying to solve: what happened during an earlier year of her life, after she was shot in the head, losing her memory for that period of time, and in current time, trying to discover who killed a woman found buried without her hands. Hired as an assistant manager of a remote vacation resort, Yearning Sands, she uses her former military skills to find the culprits. The intenseness of the backstory is very well developed through Kellen’s nightmares and flashbacks.

This book definitely gives a shout out to veterans.  It shows how Cecilia Lykke a helpless and afraid abused wife uses her cousin’s name, Kellen Adams, to join the Army, becoming a tough and skilled military officer. Readers will understand through Cecilia’s eyes how she became a victim, frozen and unable to escape her predicament until her husband dies in a fire.  Searching for family and a home Cecilia, now Kellen, finds it with her comrade in arms. Never forgetting this new family, after accepting the position at the resort, she hires those she served with knowing they are capable, resourceful, and able to use the skills learnt.

The Washington setting becomes a character as the darkness spreads over the resort during the month of January. Located at the edges of the Pacific coast, it can be attractive in fair weather, but dangerous during the winter months with cold, windblown, and stormy foggy days/nights. It adds to the atmosphere of the story creating a dark and scary feeling.

It appears that coastal towns are fair game for this author. “:  I want to get to a point where I own the Washington coast and every little town is mine with murders going on all the time.  There are a lot of eccentric people who live here so I have a lot to go on. I wanted to make them tourist towns because it will be plausible for all these murders with people constantly wandering in and out.  What makes it more suspenseful is that everything here is affected by the weather, with extreme change from light to dark, during the winter months with cold, windblown, and stormy foggy days/nights. The weather is not an, ‘in passing conversation piece,’ but is actually an issue.  The geography also plays into the plot with the Pacific Ocean, the mountains, and the desert.  I have lived in many states including Texas, California, and Idaho.  For me, this is the most expressive state.”

This “who done it” has a list that can go on forever.  Kellen is unsure whom to trust.  This includes Nils Brooks who impersonates a mild-mannered author with black rimmed glasses that turns out to be a well-toned combat ready government official working for the MFAA, a revised agency that searches for smugglers who want to sell artifacts to fund terrorist organizations.  This appears to be a shout out to Superman considering it is the 80thAnniversary where he was first introduced in an action comic book.

Smugglers, murder, and loss of memory are intertwined to make this a gripping story.  With plenty of intriguing characters and twists and turns, including a major surprise twist at the book’s ending, readers will be left craving for more.

Book Review:vThe Saint of Wolves and Butchers

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 in the right side bar.


With his latest novel author Alex Grecian is moving in a new direction with a new series, a new era, and a new setting, Kansas. Another book that took place in that state, Wizard of Ozhas a famous line “Lions, Tigers, and Bears. Oh My.” Replace that with The Saint of Wolves and Butchers and readers havethe title of this new book.

This intriguing story involves Travis, a man who chases down evil-doers with help from his trusting companion, a dog named Bear, and a Kansas State Trooper, Skottie who join forces to track down a Nazi in hiding.

Grecian wanted to write more of a modern-day contemporary story than his past series, set in Victorian England.  “While driving through Western Kansas to visit my wife’s family I saw a lot of ranch/farm country.  Regardless of where I am I look for angles I can use to write a story. I found out that German POWs captured in Africa were sent to Kansas. After the war, most of these people were allowed to become farmers and stayed here as authorities turned a blind eye.  It occurred to me this would be a great place to hide if I ever committed a crime.  Since Travis and company will hunt for evil-doers, for the next book I would love to have Skottie, Bear, and Travis searching for the bad guy behind the funding of the Nazi in this book who runs a human trafficking ring.  I think I will set it in Alaska.”

The plot begins in 1951 when wanted war criminal Rudolph Bormann succeeds in making his way from South America to rural Kansas, where he begins a new life as Rudy Goodman. In the present, Travis Roan, the head of a family foundation devoted to bringing war criminals to justice, comes to Kansas after a report that the German was recognized by Ruth Elder, a concentration camp guard. Aided by his canine companion, Bear, a massive dog, and another ally, Kansas Highway Patrol trooper Skottie Foster, the search continues for this horrific figure who had performed medical research on unwilling victims. To make matters worse, Goodman decides to become a Church Pastor for a Nazi-type cult where he continues his cruel experimentation.

All the characters are either very likeable or very unlikable. The character that stole all the scenes was Bear, a Tibetan mastiff who understands Esperanto and became mute after poachers cut off his vocal cords. He is brave, smart, and loyal, where everyone except the antagonists have complete trust.  Surprisingly, Elder, was written as sympathetic considering she was forced into becoming a guard by the Nazi regime, after refusing to have sex with German military officers.  The main character, Travis is calm, intellectual, unfailingly polite, and very moralistic. 

Because Grecian wants this to be a series he plans on developing each character’s backstory as the books progress.  “Travis keeps to himself so we do not know where he has been in the world and where he has come from.  He is mysterious and I purposely did not say if he is Jewish.  I do hint at the terrible tragedy he has gone through.  As time goes on readers will find out more about him.”

An interesting aspect is that the Nazi was hit by lightning, not once, but twice, while in Kansas, and lived to talk about it.  After being struck people have their bodies affected in unexpected ways, such as a person’s hair and toenails will not grow back, and they can have hearing loss.  Goodman used it to claim he could heal people, because it gave him energy and insight. This for some could be the fantasy part of the book.    

Hopefully readers also understand that guns are tools. Grecian explained, “This is why I put in the book quote, ‘These chunks of metal that were largely useless without a hand to point them.’ The evil comes from the person who uses it to their advantage.  It is the person that needs to be blamed.”

Readers will yearn for the next book to see how Grecian flushes out the characters’ backstory, especially Travis Roan, whose mysteriousness is intriguing. Hopefully, this does become a series, because of the unique characters and storyline.

Book Review: Warning Light

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 in the right side bar.


Warning Lightby David Ricciardi creates a Jack Ryan type character that is on the run from Iranians.  Readers are reminded of a former TV series The Fugitive, with this novel being a 21stCentury re-make, foreign style. The protagonist, Zac Miller, has to become a survivalist in order to escape.

Ricciardi enjoys the outdoors and wanted to write about something “I know about and I am at home around nature.  I spend a lot of time in the woods and desert.  Once my family and I took a plane that dropped us off in Alaska.  We were alone, without any technology, put in the middle of nowhere, twenty-five miles from the nearest road.  This is something I wanted to share with readers, which is why I wrote this book quote, ‘In an age where there is a GPS in every car, and place, I (Zac) had to make my way navigating with the sun.’ The feeling of trying to survive is what I wanted to convey. What drove Zac can best be described by the Winston Churchill quote, ‘When you are going through hell, by all means keep going.’”

Zac Miller is a CIA analyst whonormally works behind a desk. He has some preparation because of the Agency requirement that all have to undergo basic hand-to-hand combat skills, Thanks to a month of training he underwent at the CIA’s clandestine operations training facility at Camp Perry, Virginia, Zac was somewhat equipped.He decided on impulse to volunteer to have his boss, Peter Clements send him on a quick mission, to take a few long-distance photos of a secret Iranian nuclear complex. Due to severe mechanical issues, created as a decoy, a commercial flight heading to Singapore is forced to make an emergency landing in the heart of Iran’s forbidden zone. Zac takes a few pictures of the mountain and the sunset but unfortunately for him, it caught the attention of the Iranian military. He was brought in for questioning because they believe his intentions are more than innocent. After being taken prisoner the Iranians drug, torture, threaten, beat and abuse him. Knowing if he does not escape he will die he finds a way to overwhelm his captives.  This is where the adventure begins.

To show the corruptness of the Iranian regime, “I wrote how they want to undermine these societies that don’t agree with their belief system.  They are the biggest sponsor of state terrorism as the military and religious leaders run the place.  They have starved their own people so they can build nuclear weapons. Anyone who voices disagreement gets arrested and locked up.”

The story is very believable since many Americans including tourists, hikers, and businessmen have been captured and tortured by the Iranians as they accuse them of being spies.  There is also a scene in the book that should remind people of the Lone Survivor, Marcus Luttrell, where Zac confronts a herder and must decide to allow him to live or kill him.  As a survivalist, Zac must make the ultimate decision of who shall live and who shall die.

The author compares his story to Homer’sThe Odyssey. “I would read this to my children all the time.  The struggle to return back home from the Battle of Troy, having to travel through all these different lands with the many different struggles influenced me. Every turn he made he encountered a new obstacle that he had to get around.”

Warning Lighthas many aspects to the story including technological, political-geographical and multi-cultural information.  It is not only entertaining, but informative as well. Readers will root for Zac to use his knowledge, resourcefulness, and training to complete his mission.


Book Review: Skyjack

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 in the right side bar.


Skyjackwill elevate author K. J. Howe to a level close to Tom Clancy.  She follows up her riveting debut novel, The Freedom Broker, with another gripping thriller featuring kidnap and ransom expert Thea Paris. 

Her assignment is to escort two orphaned African brothers, Jabari, 12, and Ayan, 9, to their new adoptive parents in London. The children had been forced into soldiering after seeing their parents murdered by Boko Haram. Now they will finally have a chance at a better life, a real childhood and education.In route, the chartered plane carrying Thea, the boys, and 12 other passengers is hijacked and lands in the Libyan Desert. Her long-time nemesis, Prospero Salvatore, the head of the Sicilian Mafia, forces herto intercept a truck full of Syrian refugees who are headed towards Budapest and supposedly exchange them for the plane hostages, including the boys.

Howe noted, “Since I am an avid flyer, although not a pilot, I started to think about the new security measures on planes including reinforced cockpit doors.  I wanted to create a real buzz in the air so I thought how passengers surrender control to the pilot every time they step on a plane.  Everyone must trust that the pilots have our best interests at heart, but what if they do not.  Think of the German pilot that plowed the plane intentionally into a mountain or the Egyptian pilot that intentionally crashed the plane.  I thought how different it is than getting into an Uber or bus where if something happens there is the possibility someone can take over.”

From the very first page readers are swept into the action as they are placed in the middle of a skyjacking, horrific weather conditions, and passengers whose medical conditions create a dangerous situation. As the story progresses it becomes apparent that things are not what they seem to be considering those involved are a part of an organization who intends to reduce the world’s population by releasing a virus killing those of Middle-Eastern origin.  They will stop at nothing including brutal attacks and killings of innocents.

Thea’s backstory is also being further drawn out. It is heart-warming to have a female protagonist who can be an alpha.  She is strong minded who can stand on her own with any male antagonist. Having the medical condition of diabetes does not slow her down.

Howe wanted to make sure Thea is “Smart, fearless, and vulnerable.  It is incredibly important for me that girls have strong female protagonists to look up to.  We have all these males:  James Bond, Jack Reacher, and Jason Bourne.  Where is the strong female?  But, males are not turned off by her.  In fact, a lot of my Special Forces guys enjoy reading her exploits.  I think through her I am able to weed into the story both action and emotion.”

The intricate plot has action, manipulation, betrayal, murder, and political intrigue intertwined within family relationships. Anyone looking for a new series should read Howe’s books.

Book Review: The Cutting Edge

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 in the right side bar.


The Cutting Edgeby Jeffery Deaver has many twists and turns.  It brings into focus how diamonds are not people’s best friends and can actually be dangerous to one’s health.  It appears there is a serial killer terrorizing couples for the rings on their fingers.

Deaver noted, “I like writing in the little esoteric pieces into the story.  For example, the Italian culture in The Burial Houror electricity for the grid inTheBurning Wire.  I saw the movie Blood Diamondand thought about writing something with the diamond industry.  I wanted to make a character obsessed with diamonds in a twisted and psychological way. I knew this industry would be a perfect foil for an overarching story.”

The plot opens with the horrific murders of a couple, William Sloane and Anna Markam, and a master diamond cutter, Jatin Patel, who works in Manhattan’s diamond district. As they enter to pick up their engagement ring, a gunman wearing a ski mask goes in right behind them. After the intruder shoots William and Anna dead, he tortures and kills Jatin with a box-cutter. Shortly thereafter, an employee, Vimal Lahori, arrives, but manages to escape the killer. The tension ratchets up as the killer, now dubbed The Promiser, hunts Vimal and more engaged couples.Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs are hired on a consulting basis to analyze the evidence and assist the police in catching the murderer. Simultaneously an additional story unfolds in Brooklyn where a drilling construction site is home to numerous and extremely rare earthquakes that set off gas leaks and explosions. In addition, Lincoln is hired as a consultant by the defense team of a known Mexican cartel leader.

He is very careful not to get too graphic while addressing violence, “I do not like sexual sadism or sexual violence, and will not kill a child or animal. A death should create huge and rippling consequences for many people.  Before a writer kills someone, they must think it through because it is a horrific incident.  To have more of an impact there should be fewer scenes.  I guess I follow the Alfred Hitchcock approach of suspense, not gore.” 

In this book, Deaver does not give much page time to the main characters, Rhyme and Sachs. The focus is more on Vimal and his girlfriend.  He is a young and passionate sculptor and apprentice diamond cutter. Through him readers learn numerous details about diamonds and the industry.  It almost appears that diamonds become a character in the story. 

The author commented, “I do think in the novel the other characters were looked at more than Rhyme and Sachs. In the book, there is this attitude between Muslims and Hindus. I like including these personal conflicts, and hoped to pull off a Romeo and Juliet. This is why I spent a lot of time with Vimal and his girlfriend.  I also wanted to write him as someone who wanted to escape his father and the killer. But he was drawn to the diamond, similar to that of Michelangelo.  Both feel the objects are souls needed to be brought out.”

The multiple plots become connected at the story’s end. Deaver once again uses his magical ways to show nothing is as clear-cut as it seems.

Book Review: Redsky

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 in the right side bar.


Red Skyby Chris Goff is a fast-paced thriller that has action, intrigue, sprinkled with some technology. 

In this second installment of the series, the featured character, Raisa Jordan, a U.S. Diplomatic Security Service agent, heads to Ukraine to investigate her father’s death.  While there she is side-tracked when People’s Republic Flight 91 crashes, killing everyone on board. Notably, among the two-hundred dead passengers and flight crew, is George McClasky, a veteran DSS agent who was escorting a Chinese-American prisoner, accused of treason, home from China. She is assigned to investigate the cause of the crash, and quickly realizes that the downing was no accident. The technology used to down the plane was part of a top-secret weapon being developed by several countries, including the United States. The Russians successfully tested the “railgun” on the plane and intend to use it against others in an attempt to take over the Ukraine. Her investigation draws the attention of Nye Davis of Reuters news agency, who agrees to help her uncover who is behind the crash and what are their motives.

The author found DSS agents to be “be cowboys. They are trained at the Federal Law Enforcement Academy (FLECT). A true story was told to me about one agent who went to a Sheik’s palace, banged on the door, and even though he and the two Marines he brought with him were extremely outnumbered, demanded that the person he sought after come with him.  Another time, one decided to spy on terrorists in the middle of the night.”

Since settings play an important part in most thrillers, Goff traveled to the Ukraine, “I went there to get a feel for the setting with my youngest daughter who is a school teacher. As soon as we got off the plane someone asked if we want to go to the front lines?  We could do it for $50 and the driver will have a gun, as well as a flak jacket and helmet for us. I said ‘ok,’ but my daughter put her foot down so we did not go. When in Kiev, at least half of the people are tied to Russia and are pro-Russian.  Whereas, in Lviv, on the western side of the country, they identify with the Polish people. They would not acknowledge anyone who spoke Russian.  They actually had in the markets Putin toilet paper.”

A very relevant book quote, “She viewed journalists like hyenas-offensive and sneaky predators feasting on the sensationalism of a moment…Too many times the real story was lost or ignored, usurped by moments taken out of context and distorted by the reporter’s own bias.” Today it would be called fake news.  Since Raisa is a law enforcement agent she expresses the feeling of a lot of others who shy away from the media.  They feel journalists always put them under a microscope and they never worry about who gets hurt in the process.

Red Skyis a very riveting and believable thriller.  Goff allows readers to learn about an agency that gets very little recognition.

Book Review: Necessary Ends

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 in the right side bar.

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Necessary Ends by Tina Whittle highlights Tai Randolph and Trey Seaver, detective partners and partners in life.  Whittle’s writing style pulls readers into the story from page one.  This novel combines an action-packed plot with great banter dialogue and a psychological aspect.

Whittle noted, “My very close friend has TBI.  Watching him negotiate his life afterwards was profoundly inspiring.  Every day he requires a dose of courage.  Another friend of mine, after reading the first book, told me she had it.  She explained that when she returned to her house the first time she felt it belonged to someone else.  I saw how it is really challenging for the loved ones.  One of the questions I try to explore is, what makes us who we are? The brain is the great unchartered world of science.  We can explain more about the universe than what goes on in our own skulls. I think the psychological aspect in my books runs hand in hand with the mystery.”

Trey Seaver is haunted by the one that got away, a murder of a Hollywood producer’s wife in Atlanta during a filming.  Now, about four years later it appears someone wants the producer, Nick Talbot dead. Trey is asked to investigate since he was one of the officers at the crime scene and now is working for a corporate security firm.  He tries to use all the skills learned as a former SWAT officer with the Atlanta Police Department.  Forced into retirement by a horrific car crash that gave him TBI he now has a new skill, being able to detect someone lying with a high degree of accuracy. His girlfriend, Tai, an amateur sleuth and a gun shop owner is helping him solve the mystery.

Believing in a pragmatic approach to guns, “I wrote how one of my characters, Tai, considers guns to be tools, yet she also says, ‘Some people poured all their crazy into whatever they touched, and a gun sopped up crazy like a sponge.’  I show Tai training regularly because I see what happens to those who do not. I am personally a gun owner and I do support the Second Amendment.  I hope to show in this series what responsible guns owners look like versus those who are not. In a scene from this book, Tai knew the woman was buying it for her boyfriend who was waiting in the car outside.  She emphasizes that as a responsible person who follows the law, she is not going to sell a gun to that person.”

This series explores what happens to someone with TBI.  Since Trey has frontal lobe damage his cognitive impairments include language processing and executive function, the control center of the personality. There is also an exploration of PTSD which Tai has after being kidnapped and almost killed.  At night she experiences nightmares, an increase in her heart rate, and becomes delirious.  Readers will learn about re-enactment therapy, dissociation, a psychological reaction to overwhelming stress, and decompensation. 

All of this plays out in the Southern setting.  The characters must navigate lies, lust, and betrayals to find who is behind the original killing and the attempted murder. The powerful theme of vengeance, justice, and playing by the rules keeps the intensity of the plot.