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September 2018

Book Review: A Vince Flynn Novel Red War

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.


Mitch Rapp and Irene Kennedy are back, in the book Vince Flynn’s Red War. But this time they have a new adversary and a new setting, pivoting to the dangers Russia imposes. They race to prevent Russia’s gravely ill leader from starting a full-scale war with NATO.With this novel, it is obvious that Mills, who has taken over the writing of the Mitch Rapp/Irene Kennedy stories, has nailed the personalities and reactions of the characters.

He pivoted to Russia, “I am fascinated with Russia. I grew up reading the Cold War thrillers written by Frederick Forsyth, Tom Clancy, and Robert Ludlum.  With the book, Order to Kill, I moved Mitch to deal with the Russians. As they continue to take on the world stage, I liked the idea of this tension between the two countries. Then I had the idea that even dictators eventually get old and weak, so what will happen if someone tries to cling to power, showing signs of erratic behavior.”

This story has the Russian president determined to cling to power after hearing he has brain cancer. He consolidates his control by killing any who threatens him, and then creates a diversion by hoping to start a war with the West.General Andrei Sokolov, the former head of the Russian armed forces and a trusted adviser, is asked to invade three NATO nations, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, with a series of military actions that will allow Krupin to disappear for cancer treatment, without drawing attention. What these two psychopaths do not realize is that CIA Director Irene Kennedy is very suspicious, and to get actionable intelligence she sends Mitch Rapp and Scott Coleman into the Ukraine to be her eyes and ears.  At the same time, she sends in Grisha Azarov, a former Russian operative, now a contractor for the CIA, into Russia to find out Krupin’s whereabouts. As the action escalates, events appear to be going nuclear, literally and figuratively.

Irene Kennedy plays a pivotal role, but from behind the scenes. “I wrote her as the puppet master.  In this book, everything that happens is orchestrated by her.  For her, it is winning, but not letting anyone know we won.  Everything folds into place without people knowing she is involved.  She always has some way to get what she wants, yet, stays in the background. I see her playing a large role, but not like in the book Protect And Defendthat Vince Flynn wrote.  I never really liked that she was captured by the Iranians and always felt she would never have put herself in that situation.” 

Grisha Azarov returns, not as Rapp’s adversary, but as his ally. He is no longer Krupin’s deadly assassin, a job that once put him on a collision course with Mitch Rapp. Both decided on a truce after Grisha worked with Mitch on a past mission. Now, Irene Kennedy connects the dots and realizes Krupin has ordered Azarov to be assassinated. She sends in Rapp to rescue him and figure out why Krupin sent in a kill team. Bent on revenge after Azarov’s girlfriend was severely injured, he joins forces with Mitch and Irene to eliminate Krupin, who Irene understands has nothing to lose in this deadly game.

Comparing the two, Mills noted, “Grisha and Mitch had women they loved injured or killed because of who they are.  But Mitch became who he is because of his anger and sense of duty.  Grisha went into it because he was good at it and did not want to be a farmer.  He never fought because he believed in something, but did it because it paid good money.  I think they are motivated in different ways. Azarov will not be back.  He has traveled back to Costa Rica and will retire, but Scott Coleman will be prevalent.”

Another returning character is Scott Coleman. Mills highlights the close relationship between Rapp and Coleman. As with the early Rapp books they challenge each other and the banter between them is hilarious.

Readers will be hooked from the very beginning. It is one of those rare stories where people will be disappointed that they have finished the book.  Unfortunately, Mitch Rapp and Irene Kennedy fans will have to wait a year for another story, but fortunately they know with Mills at the helm the Vince Flynn characters will be around to protect and defend their fellow citizens.

Book Review: The Ancient Nine

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 Ancient Nine by Ian Smith is based on his time as a Harvard student in the 1980s.  Readers might think of a fraternity, where male students rush to join, in this case it is called “punched.” As with fraternities there is hazing, sexism, and underage drinking. But these “final clubs” are not fraternities but are really secret societies that have been in existence since the 1700s, with many of the rules of its members very archaic.

Harvard University conjures up images of a very prestigious and exclusive school whose acceptance rate is only 5.2% of its applicants. Within the surrounding million dollar mansions are privileged all male clubs.  Smith told how pressure is put on these clubs to integrate.  They have allowed token blacks, Jews, and Hispanics, but not women. Because these groups are not associated with the University it claims its hands are tied. What they have done is to prohibit any student who has participated in these clubs from holding leadership positions in student government, refusing them any recommendations for scholarships, and not permitting them to be a captain on any varsity team. Unfortunately, the faculty and alumni are pushing back saying it is a violation of free association rights.

The character Spenser Collins is actually the fictional personality of Smith, while his friend Dalton Winthrop is a compilation of people that he knew at Harvard. As in the book, he recounts how he received an invitation while a sophomore that was slipped under his door.  Only ten to twenty students are chosen out of an original invitation to 250 students. Founded in the nineteenth the Delphic Club has had titans of industry, Hollywood legends, heads of state, and power brokers among its members. It is a who’s who with members from the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, Roosevelts, and Kennedys.

Smith explained, “Spenser is me.  I was raised by a single mom, from a working-class family, pre-med, and played basketball.  I never heard of the Delphic Club, but found out that it was more of a microcosm of a country club.  Members are able to have lifelong interactions and engagements. Members get access to some of the most powerful people in this country, are a part of the inner circle, and are able to network.”

The fictional part comes into play after Spenser in researching the club’s past, learns that a Harvard student, Erasmus Abbott, vanished in 1927 after attempting to break into the Delphic Club. Spenser decides to investigate, and the path to the truth, of course, proves perilous. A club within a club is the Ancient Nine. It is even more secretive, this shadowy group of alums whose identities are unknown and whose power is absolute. The more the friends investigate, the more questions they unearth, tangling the story of the club, the disappearance, and the Ancient Nine, until they realize their own lives are in danger.

Considering that the book details graphic scenes of what should be considered sexual abuse it is a surprise that someone has not come out against these men who appear to have had a MeToo Movement moment.  A scene in the book, at the end of an offsite ritual, pledgers are presented with a group of beautiful women, wearing nothing but high heels, who stand waiting to “entertain” them. Smith noted, “I think the MeToo Movement focused on guys who used their power to suppress and manipulate women.  They abused their power and harassed women.  They should be taken down.  But what happened in the Clubs are just bad relationships and guys doing some bad things, which has happened for 1000’s of years.  I would not shut the door on a woman coming out and saying ‘I was at this party and this happened to me.’”

Harvard and Cambridge are characters in the book.  “I wanted to write how the location plays an important role. Harvard has its own brand and own assumptions people make about it.  There are images, visions, and beliefs.  I had the characters interact with the campus and its surroundings.  I purposely sprinkled some history of the University as readers get to know this character, Harvard.”

What Smith wants readers to get out of it, “These are independent clubs with their own land, own mansions, and is not part of the University. The problem is the University does not own these clubs so there is no official link with it.  I hope people think about what goes on behind closed doors. The time has come for these clubs to be open and the exclusion should be eradicated.”

Book Review: A Forgotten Place

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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A Forgotten Place by Charles Todd is a suspenseful story with engaging characters. Their best books are the ones that flesh out the hero and heroine, allowing readers to get to know more and more of the beloved characters, in this case Bess Crawford. The story delves into the very dark aftermath of WW1 that has left many embittered and broken men.

It is a story about amputees.  “We Wrote how German machine gunners took people out from their knees down, basically mowing them down.  They did this knowing an injured solider would take two fit men to take them off the battlefield.  A lot of men lost legs as a result of these machine gunners. We wanted to show the psychological burden these men had to go through, because back then many did not have a way to regain their place in society. These men did the physical work of mining and their injuries prevented them from being employed.  We wrote this book quote, “Their wounds had done what the Germans never could-broken their spirits.” A prayer of almost every man in the Great War, ‘I don’t mind dying, but please don’t maim me.’”

The plot compassionately relates how the war has ended, but the suffering and agony of the injured has not disappeared. Bess is tending to soldiers who lost limbs and are suicidal.  A group of Welsh soldiers, whose serious injuries make their future employment doubtful, feel they have no reason to live.Worried about being a financial drain upon their families, they often commit suicide in an effort to eliminate the problem. Coal miners by profession, they are now unable to perform the grueling, physical labor required. This includes Captain Hugh Williams, someone Bess has built a bond with. After being discharged, he writes Bess a letter detailing the suicides of some soldiers she nursed back to health, and asks for her help in preventing others from taking their life. Able to get a few days leave, Bess seeks out Williams, ending up in a desolate, secretive, and isolated town on the Welsh coast. When bodies wash ashore,it becomes clear, that the villagers have a secret, one that they are willing to kill for. Because she assumes it is her responsibility to investigate she puts her life in danger as the villagers’ hostility towards her increases.

“We incorporated how Bess had to solve the mystery by putting the clues together bit by bit.  The townspeople didn’t want strangers to come down and take everything away.  They were desperate to keep their secrets.  They live their lives by their own set of rules where everyone knows each other’s business. They resent newcomers coming in and spoiling their world. The mystery is centered around “The Worm,” the isolation of the small town, and a shipwreck during the Charles II era that we twisted to make a story.”

The vivid description of the Gower Peninsula in southern Wales creates the right atmosphere for a suspenseful story. Its stormy weather, harsh, unforgiving landscape, and unfriendly citizens adds a level of menace to the mystery.

Book Review: The Sound of Distant Thunder

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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The Sound of Distant Thunder by Jan Drexler presents a unique look at the Amish society.  This first in a series uses the backdrop of the Civil War as the characters struggle to reconcile their convictions and desires with the national interest.

Jan Drexler brings an understanding of Amish traditions and beliefs to her writing. Her ancestors were among the first Amish, Mennonite, and Brethren immigrants to Pennsylvania in the 1700s, and their experiences are the inspiration for her stories. She takes the saying, “write what you know,” to a whole new level.

She commented, “My ancestors were Amish.  Also, I lived in Indiana and they were part of the community so I grew up with them.  I think my experiences mostly came from the stories my family told.  I explored why we were not Amish anymore.  I took a journey into my heritage with the stories growing out of that.” 

The story explores two divisions, North versus South during America’s Civil War, and the Amish Church, Mennonite versus the Old Order Amish.  Through the hero Jonas’ eyes, readers see his struggles with his own principles, beliefs and how these affect his life. Twenty-year-old Jonas is taken in by the romance of soldiering, especially in defense of anti-slavery, even though he knows war is at odds with the teachings of the church. When his married brother's name comes up on the draft list, he volunteers to take his brother's place. But this means Jonas must put on hold his commitment to marry his long-time love, Katie Stuckey. 

“I wrote the Civil War as more of a background. In specific situations, the characters interact with the Civil War, but are not immersed in it, except for Jonas, who was stubborn, intelligent, stoic, and caring, with a softness of heart. I hoped I showed how men 18 to 22 years of age were looking for an adventure.  They really believed it would not last more than three months.  I read numerous diary entries from that era where boys told their parents, ‘I have to join up now because I do not want to miss out.’

The Amish would be considered conscientious objectors today. The story has the real-life Ohio Congressman who was able to get passed that the non-resistance religions could hire someone to take their place or pay a fee that would go to the war effort. Survivor’s guilt is emphasized with the book quote, ““If I pay the fee, I’m showing them that my life is more important to me than another man’s.”

Drexler noted, “While doing my research I actually read about a man who did hire someone to take his place.  Subsequently that person was killed and the man had a very hard time living with that guilt.  They struggled because of their views, since they were non-resistant.  As with the Quakers, they thought killing is wrong. But Jonas questions if there is a justification for war during certain circumstances. Most of the “English” world would say they have an equal allegiance to G-d and country, but the Amish feel their allegiance to G-d comes first. People could not conceive that someone would not support their country by fighting.  Even during the Revolutionary War the Amish had problems because people thought if they did not want to fight they must be Tories.” 

As readers turn the pages they seek answers to the questions, will the relationship survive the separation and how will Jonas be viewed in this pacifist Church? Amish traditions and beliefs are brought to the forefront with the Civil War as a backdrop.

Book Review: Field of Bones

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.


Field of Bones by J. A. Jance is an intriguing dark mystery.  Jance shows why she is a such a prolific writer, able to balance the gruesome case with the added personal life of Brady, that at times offers comic relief.

The book begins as Sheriff Joanna Brady is waiting election results.  Threatening to derail her re-election are personal tragedies and her pregnancy. This third time up for election, it appears the vote count will be close. But the baby had other plans and chose to come before all the votes have been counted. Luckily it became a night for celebration after Eleanor Sage was born and Joanna was re-elected.  The comic relief comes into play as she tries to juggle being a stay at home mom and finding information about the case. Joanna is not a happy camper when she finds out that those in the Sheriff’s office are taking bets as to when she will return to work, as she shows signs of restlessness from the maternity leave. Because of this premise Joanna becomes a secondary character in the story.

Jance explains, “She had to be one because she was on maternity leave.  What tickled me is that everyone was placing bets how long she would last. Normally Butch, her husband, is a stay at home dad but he was on a book tour. When I started writing about Johanna she had children and worked such ungodly hours. There needed to be somebody at home to help with the children.  I made the decision to bring Butch into the story so, for most of the time, he could be a stay at home dad.”

This is contrasted with the case itself.  A serial killer kidnaps women, rapes them, violently brutalizes them, and then kills them. The police find out about someone known as “the Boss” after a mother brings her son into the Sheriff’s office with a human skull shot in the head. He leads the police to where he found it. They discover several corpses including one that has been dumped recently. Realizing that “the Boss” could be holding more victims there is a race with the clock to find them before they are killed.

Jance noted, “I really liked Latisha. She was one of the women being held by the killer and a very sympathetic character. In the beginning she was naïve, but through the process of this horrible ordeal became very determined, mature, and responsible. Another character I really like is the new deputy, Garth. I think he will be back in future stories. I based him on those in law enforcement who told me over and over that people go into law enforcement for a reason. This is a decision they make with their hearts and their souls.  He was influenced by Joanna’s kindness.  She came to his grandfather’s funeral and personally gave the information to his grandmother about what happened.” 

As with any Jance book, readers are treated to beloved characters, small town charm, vibrant history, a captivating mystery, and the scenic Arizona desert backdrop. Luckily, Brady was re-elected so there will be more adventures and cases for her in the future.

Book Review: Abandoned

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.


Abandonedby Allison Brennan takes the Maxine (Max) Revere stories to a whole new level.  She is able to create a suspenseful and exciting plot centered around this fascinating character’s background. In this latest she explores why her mother deserted her shortly before her tenth birthday.

The disappearance of her mother, Martha, has haunted Max for years.  It has been seven years since she last heard from her and this has left her in a state of limbo.  Getting information from another investigator, Sean Rogan, Max feels this clue, a discarded car found in Cape Haven, Virginia sixteen years ago, might provide answers. Knowing Martha left her to be raised by her grandparents, choosing to be with her con artist boyfriend, Jimmy, Max begins to unravel the pieces. She finds out Martha had been living off her trust-fund money and resorting to scams, irresponsibly traveling all over the world having fun. But did the twosome get more than they could handle after becoming involved with art thief Phillip Colter. Max also must contend with the locals who are less than forthright about answering her questions. This includes Jimmy’s brother Gabriel and his sixteen-year-old daughter Eve. Through her research she discovers the FBI has an open investigation into Jimmy about stolen artwork.  Knowing she needs help, Max decides to team up with FBI Agent Ryan Maguire. Their quests for answers, sets in motion a chain of events that puts Max and several townspeople in grave danger. As Max sorts through all the secrets and betrayals her world turns upside down. 

The hero and heroine complement each other.  “I wrote Max as independent, strong, curious, determined, courageous, and a straight-talker.  She calls them as she sees them. I totally did not expect Ryan to be her love interest. He walked onto the page and he just took over.  He is unique, cute, down to earth, and really smart.  What you see is what you get with him, as he is so matter of fact.  He does a better job than Max compartmentalizing and is more even-tempered.  I think he will be really good for her, because he knows how to have fun and how to turn off the job.”

Brennan uses some details of her own life and inserted her into the story. “People always say write what you know. But taking it literally, I do not think it applies to me as a fiction writer since I have never been a cop, an investigative reporter, a bad guy, or committed a felony.  Maybe it applies to the minor details in the story that sometimes evolve around my personal experiences.  For example, the Louis L’ Amour books.  When I write my observations of people come out in the story. I read a couple of books by him. He was a famous writer of westerns.  My grandfather actually had the entire collection.  He just loved those books.  After he died my grandmother gave them to me, something I put into Max’s story. When my husband saw them on the bookshelf he read them also.”

Brennan does not disappoint in this latest Max novel.  Once readers turn the first page they will be hooked. The story is as powerful and electrifying as Max’s personality.

Book Review: Burning Ridge

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.


Burning Ridge by Margaret Mizushima is a fast-paced and engrossing police procedural. It features Matti Cobb and her K-9 German Shepherd partner Robo, which makes these stories appealing to not only those who enjoy mysteries, but also to animal lovers.

Having done her homework, the author spoke with and shadowed those that train dogs.  “I have a friend who retired from training tracking dogs.  She allowed me to watch her train for tracking and evidence detection.  I was inspired by her to write about a female canine handler.  In fact, she had a dog named Robo, which I based the story dog Robo on. He could do so many things: Patrol, apprehend, track, and even pick up on gun powder to find hidden shells and casings.”

The plot has veterinarian Cole Walker and his two young daughters enjoying their trail ride in the Colorado mountains until they find a man’s charred boot with a decomposing foot in it.  Called in to search for the rest of the body Matti and Robo find him. It is then Mattie realizes there is a personal link to her own troubled past.

This book explores her disturbed childhood, having been placed in foster homes since the age of six.  Her father was convicted of abusing her mother who later abandoned her and her brother. This is why she and Cole are taking the relationship slow although it is obvious they love each other.

Because her husband is a vet, Mizushima knows something about the profession. “I always wanted to write a vet as a protagonist. Similar to my husband, Cole is a mixed practice vet, which means he treats large and small animals.  He has to overcome some personal problems after his wife left him and his daughters. Both he and Mattie are hesitant to connect because of their baggage with abandonment issues. This is why I wrote, ‘And as much as she wanted to, she had trouble allowing him past the wall she built to protect her feelings.’ He is a work driven, a type-A personality, but soft-hearted.  She is kind, athletic, spunky, a loner, independent, and vulnerable.”

What makes this novel special is the relationship between the partners. Robo is not written as some Superdog, but with realistic traits.  Mattie and Robo are a dedicated team who have a strong bond professionally and personally. He is truly her best friend, and when she goes missing Robo uses his search and rescue skills to find her.

Having lived in Colorado all her life, Mizushima is able to create a realistic setting.  She seems to draw from current events since there have been so many wildfires this season.  In the novel, she uses it to enhance the action where the fire becomes an antagonist. “I grew in a small town on a ranch. I used the mountains because there is a sense of suspense and danger. This is why I wrote in the book quote, ‘Blazing orang lit the ridge above her, rapidly feeding on timber and eating its way downward.  Balls of fire leapt from tree to tree, the dry needles wicking flames into branches and sap, setting off booming explosions in the treetops.’”

This is a gripping tale that has a message of hope. With Robo at her side Mattie is trying to overcome her childhood demons and learn to tear down the wall she has built, allowing Cole and his daughters into her life.

Book Review: Man Of War


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.

Man of War by Sean Parnell is an exciting and action-packed thriller.  He is able to draw upon his past experiences as a combat veteran to create a realistic storyline. It is a warning of sorts on what could happen if a terrorist is able to get their hands on a nuclear bomb. 

Parnell is a retired Army Infantry officer who served in Afghanistan. After receiving a medical retirement, he wrote his memoir, Outlaw Platoon, recounting the battles he and his troops participated in. Now, Parnell has turned to fiction and has done a very good job with this first novel. A book quote, “In combat there is no prize for second place,” and with this debut it appears he will take on all comers with a gripping plot.

He came up with the idea, “The inspiration came from my time in the army.  We felt like we had our hands tied.  For example, we knew the location of a high value target, but could not go out and capture him.  It took three days to get approval from someone 3000 miles away in Washington DC. By that time, he was tipped off and escaped.  I thought if only there was a Special Forces unit that is clandestine, without bureaucratic red tape that could go after the enemy without any rules to tie their hands. Thus, The Program was born.”

He also uses military terminology and acronyms. It is obvious Parnell is able to use his own experiences when it comes to the military and how Special Forces operators walk, talk, and handle themselves on and off the battlefield. The battle scenes are intense and authentic.

Readers are introduced to Eric Steele, a tough as nails combat veteran who becomes part of a clandestine organization, known as “The Program” that answers only to the President of the US. Operators combine their combat experiences with actionable intelligence to root out and neutralize the enemy. This allows the commander-in-chief a third option instead of diplomacy and a lengthy war. Steele’s former mentor, Nathaniel West, has become his adversary, after going rogue and stealing a suitcase nuke to get revenge on the United States. His journey takes him all over the world, from Algiers to Europe to America.  Steele is assisted with thwarting this deadly threat by Meg Harden, a CIA analyst, his co-worker/buddy, Demo, and the Vice-President.  But he is also thwarted by a President dying of cancer and a traitor within the national security apparatus.

Parnell noted, “Steele is a selfless American warrior with of a code of honor.  He understands we are still in the fight against the terrorists. I wanted him to have the ethos of our nation’s warfighters, lethal but also compassionate. Those two traits make Eric Steele who he is. Yes, he destroys America’s enemies with extreme prejudice, but he will deviate from the mission if he thinks he can save even one innocent life. He sees America as a shining city on the hill.  A true believer who wants to protect, save, and defend his fellow citizens.”

“I wrote Nathaniel West, the antagonist, as a former Alpha who everyone thought was killed in an explosion.  He is taking the fight to America because he felt let down by his superiors and those in Washington since no one came to rescue him or his family. West is hell bent on revenge on those who left him there.  He is a guy wronged by his country.  He was betrayed and lost everything while fighting for his country.” 

This novel has it all:  conspiracies, larger than life characters, with a good dose of intrigue, deceit, power, and treason.  Anyone who wants a book where patriotism looms large will enjoy this story.

Book Review: The Glass Ocean

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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The Glass Ocean by the three Amigos, aka Team W, Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White, is a captivating mystery that has as its backdrop the Lusitania and its sinking. As with all good teamwork they effectively created a story that blends their three styles into one.

The authors noted, “It was on our mind because of the 100thanniversary. We thought that it might be cool to write about it.  It is an interesting issue since there are so many questions that continue to this day surrounding the sinking by German U-boats. During those times, it was the convention to leave cruise ships alone. Back in the day there was this concept of honor regarding rules of war.  Let’s remember there was the Geneva Convention.The sinking of the Lusitania was a calculated act of war that targeted the ship. The Germans even published in the NY Times a warning that passengers would sail at their own risk.”

Readers take a journey with the characters as the suspense ratchets up to that fateful day when the Germans sank the Lusitania in 1915, leaving people to wonder who will live and who will die. Telling the story are three women narrators, two a century in the past, and one in the present time. The first character introduced is Sarah Blake who in 2013 is a struggling author, looking to replicate another number one bestseller.  After having all her ideas dry up she decides to open an oldchest that belonged to her great-grandfather, who died after the RMS Lusitania was torpedoed. She begins to wonder if these artifacts influenced the sinking in any way. She uncovers a connection between her great-grandfather and a passenger, Robert Langford. who were both on the Lusitania. Deciding to go to England, Sarah meets up with John Langford, a descendant of Robert, who finally decides to work with her to uncover some mysteries and a possible betrayal aboard the ship.

“We wanted to have Sarah supporting her mother who has Alzheimer’s Disease since many of us are at an age where children are taking care of their parents. It is the gate that made Sarah realize she needed to do something to help support her mother’s care. Since this story is about figuring out the past we wanted to show readers that family memories could be lost because of this disease.  It is losing the person we knew, which is very hard and cruel. Sarah was very nurtured by her mom.  They were always there for each other, but it caused her to have problems forming relationships with people.  Her mother leaned on her and she was her mother’s best friend.” 

Rewind to 1915, on the Lusitania. Through the interaction of the characters people learn about this ocean liner. Class played such an important role where lower-class passengers are taboo from moving around the ship, limited to their designated deck. Yet, some are able to sneak to first-class as was the case with Tess. She is actually there as part of a con team now led by her sister, who wants her to forge a Straus manuscript. She has promised herself that if they can pull off this one last job aboard the Lusitania, she will finally leave the game behind. Another passenger, Southern belle Caroline is traveling with her husband Gilbert who has become distant and secretive. Robert an old-time acquaintance of Caroline steps in, substituting for Gilbert during his long absences.  Robert becomes part of not one, but two love triangles. Will Caroline stay with Gilbert or leave him for Robert.  Will Robert choose to be with Tess or Caroline? Nothing appears straight-forward as the different mysteries unravel.

Tess and Caroline are different in many ways but they both have commonalities. “We wanted to explore how they were strong women, and all survivors in their own way.  They are not at great places in their life and tried to create something new out of something terrible.  When something happens in life people can use it as an opportunity of despair or an opportunity for renewal.  They were able to take stock regarding what was important to them, and were looking for a new direction in their life. Tess was influenced by her Irish American background while Caroline is a Southern belle.”

This captivating mystery delves into secrets, betrayals, and what it means to love someone. The description of the ship is so detailed it will make readers feel they are taking the journey with the characters. Each of the women are strong-minded, and distinct from the other two making this story a spellbinding read.

Book Review: A Tall, Dark Cowboy Christmas

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.


A Tall, Dark Cowboy Christmas, the second book in the series, by Maisey Yates, is an emotional story that blends grief, hope, love, and wanting to belong.  The hero and heroine connect through their feelings of losing a loved one.

The author noted, “We can all empathize with the core feelings of grief and loss.  But those who get deep into their emotions can go through a process of healing.  Many of my stories, including this one, have the characters search for belonging and to be loved for who they are. I guess I am a frustrated control freak that wants to fix the world, so I fix it in my fictional world instead.”

McKenna Tate is homeless and decides to spend the night in an abandoned cabin on the Dodge dude ranch. One of the owners, Grant, discovers her and realizes she is destitute. Bringing her to his brother Wyatt, who runs the ranch, and his sister-in-law, Lindy, they decide to offer her a job under the direct supervision of Grant. McKenna lost her family at a young age when her mother left her, and was sent to live in foster homes. Wandering from relationship to relationship, now at the age of twenty-six she finds her birth certificate that names her real father.  Grant also has a sense of loss after his mother and wife succumb to a terminal illness. The hero and heroine find they are able to confide in each other and both long for a sense of belonging. They look to Wyatt and Lindy as role models and seek their advice.

Yates was influenced for this story because Oregon is a doctor assisted suicide state. “I wrote into the story that Grant married his wife knowing she was dying and stayed with her.  Then everyone in the town remembered him as a man to be pitied and that is his claim to fame.  I based it on someone who lived here and told me her husband died of cancer.  She could not walk through a store without someone asking her about widowhood.  She thought how people are fascinated with grief. I wrote the Grant quote in the book, “But they also love a tragedy that isn’t theirs. Because they’re not the ones that watched someone they loved suffer and struggle for years.” My friend said she thought people really do not have the time to listen.  They express compassion, but just wanted her to say fine so they could move on.  I reflected, when we ask how people are, do we mean it and care?  I thought, how do I treat people when they are having emotional pain or is it shallow pity?  Do I actually act with compassion and actually listen to people when they talk? Writing stories like this is how I work things out.”

Both Wyatt and Lindy were the main characters in the first book of the series, Good Time Cowboy. As the owner of a winery she makes a business dealing with the dude ranch owner to attract vacationers, even though she sees him as an arrogant womanizer. Yet, there is also a sexual tension that she cannot deny, which puts this story into the hot and sexy category. 

But if readers overlook the intimate scenes they will also see a story of two people struggling to make a life for themselves.  Lindy is recovering from being divorced after ten years of marriage, and Wyatt is struggling to overcome family problems. Lindy prefers order and structure, creating a persona of being cool, sophisticated, well-dressed, and in-control. She realizes that there is an attraction to Wyatt, an easy-going, sexy, charming, and a commitment-free cowboy. The intimacy starts out as casual, but eventually they fall head over heels in love.

Rodeos play an important role since Wyatt was a bull rider. “The horse stuff makes it into my books because my best friend is a horse person.  It is all what she experienced. But I did grow up going to rodeos and still try to go every year.  I know a couple of rodeo cowboys.  All my inspiration came from watching and listening.  What motivates me is how they see the world.  They are brash young guys like Lindy’s brother Dane who think they are bulletproof and untouchable with an innate cockiness. Wyatt is a player from his rodeo days, who is a bit shameless.  He thinks he is better than anyone, but is very protective toward women. Lindy never feels victimized and enjoys the relationship with Wyatt.  She is smart and knows her comfort level. Lindy likes the sexual place she is in with Wyatt. I would say she is strong, organized, determined, and an opportunist in a good way. McKenna and her are survivors.”

Both of these novels will grab readers and will not let up until the final page. Yates’ plots delve into the character’s personality and how they compare/contrast with each other. Through the hero and heroine’s eyes people find a heart-wrenching story.