The Whip: My Review

Karen Kondazian’s debut novel is a historically accurate and  emotionally compelling look at the life of Charley Parkhurst, a famous stagecoach driver (Whip) for Wells Fargo in the 1800s.

The Whip Book Cover“One-Eyed Charley” drove passengers and payloads overland in California for over thirty years covering rugged terrain and encountering dangerous highwaymen along the way. He was remembered for always being on time, for his understanding and deft handling of the horses, his colorful language, dirt crusted and sunburned visage, taste for whiskey, chewing tobacco and cigars, a friendly demeanor that earned him respect and friendship, and nerves of steel that kept him calm in all circumstances. Everyone in the territory from Sacramento to San Jose to San Francisco knew Charley Parkhurst… or thought they did. When he died in 1879 from tongue and throat cancer, Charley’s well kept secret was finally revealed. He was a woman!

This is a fascinating book that reveals a part of the Old West that is seldom written about; there were a lot of women who assumed male identities in order to survive. Although it re-imagines the details of Charley’s secret life, it unfolds with amazing sensitivity and authenticity. The characters have real depth, and Charley’s path from orphan, to wife and mother, to widow with nothing but revenge driving her onward, to stagecoach driver, equality and freedom in a male dominated world, makes for compelling reading.

Karen Kondazian has not only captured the historical period in rich detail, but more importantly she reveals Charley’s inner thoughts and emotions that bear witness to the secret longings and loneliness that living such a life must have had on this remarkable woman.

Fact is often stranger than fiction, yet in this case the imaginative mind of Karen Kondazian takes what little is known of this historical figure, fills in the blanks, and writes a novel that the reader will find hard to put down. The Whip is thoughtful, often heartbreaking, yet in the end… triumphant!

Whether you are a fan of the western genre or not, this is a must read. Don’t miss it.

Fatal Strike: Author Interview

FATAL STRIKE

by
DiANN MILLS

Genre: Romantic Suspense / Clean Romance / Christian
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
Date of Publication: September 3, 2019
Number of Pages: 400
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There’s a killer on the loose in Galveston, targeting law enforcement officials and using a fatal injection of snake venom to take them down. Authorities have reasons to believe the Veneno gang is behind the hits, and FBI Agents Leah Riesel and Jon Colbert team up to track down those responsible. Their best lead is an eyewitness who identifies a young man dumping the third body on a church doorstep. But their suspect has gone into hiding, and those closest to him are reluctant to reveal anything that might help investigators find him.
 
As Leah and Jon check connections among the victims and dig deeper into motives, they discover appearances may be deceiving. Someone is desperate to keep their secrets hidden, and Leah and Jon must face their greatest fears in order to stop the next fatal strike.

 

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AuthorInterview

INTERVIEW WITH DIANN MILLS

How do you come up with fresh ideas for your books? How do you beat writer’s block?

My ideas come from the media, dreams, watching TV or movies, and sometimes ideas just pop into my head. Writer’s block means I don’t know what happens next.  When I’m stuck, I do one of three things: (1) write a scene I know is coming, (2) go back to the beginning and read and edit, or (3) do something else creative like cook, garden, or shopping.

How do you come up with your ideas for plots, characters, and settings?

Through life experiences, media reports, conversations, dreams, observing people, and the belief people are impacted by story. My goal is for the plot to twist and turn in unpredictable but believable ways. I strive for characters who are three dimensional with realistic (messy) backgrounds. Settings are designed to be antagonistic, so the character is challenged deal with yet one more way to change and grow.

How do you develop your plots? Do you outline them, knowing the end before you start? Do you let the plot develop as you go? Or do you use some other technique?

I’m an organic writer, which means everything rises from character. No, I do not outline because that process ruins my creative adventure. If a plot sails into unexpected waters, I want the surprise to be as huge for me as the reader.

What matters most is characterization. Before writing chapter one, line one, I pose several pages of questions and exercises through an interview with my character. The psychological aspect is critical in establishing goals, fears, wants, and needs. This allows me to know my character as much as possible before beginning, but I learn more about the character as the story unfolds.

Why did you decide to become a writer in the romantic suspense genre specifically?

Romantic suspense is my favorite genre. We live in a dangerous and unpredictable world. My goal is to show real relational people who are trained to keep us safe. And along the way, they find the gift of love.

What’s the most challenging thing about being a Christian author in this genre?

Making violence a part of the story but keeping graphic scenes that glorify the violence out.

What role does faith play in the story?

My hero and heroine are snipers. Those who serve and defend us sometimes face situations where taking a life may be necessary. How does God view a sniper, soldier, law enforcement officer, or a person who protects himself or others? Where does God fit? The Scriptures show us many instances of God assisting His people in killing entire armies during times of war. If we are to live in a country without anarchy, we need police and soldiers. David, a man after God’s own heart, was a skilled warrior. While God despises the shedding of blood, He also knows what’s in the hearts of evil people. God is just. God is righteous. I believe a Christian involved in law enforcement is doing a good and godly thing to stop evil.

Do you have any unusual writing techniques or strategies?

I have a definite word count for each day and editing is done before moving on to the next scene or chapter. I’m most creative in the early mornings. I start my day in God’s word, then grab my laptop, and head to my treadmill. The laptop props nicely allowing me to exercise my body at the same time I’m writing.

 

DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She weaves memorable characters with unpredictable plots to create action-packed, suspense-filled novels. DiAnn believes every breath of life is someone’s story, so why not capture those moments and create a thrilling adventure?
Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne Du Maurier, Inspirational Readers’ Choice, and Carol Award contests.
DiAnn is a founding board member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. She is the director of the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference, Mountainside Marketing Retreat, and the Mountainside Novelist Retreat with social media specialist Edie Melson where she continues her passion of helping other writers be successful. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country.
DiAnn has been termed a coffee snob and roasts her own coffee beans. She’s an avid reader, loves to cook, and believes her grandchildren are the smartest kids in the universe. She and her husband live in sunny Houston, Texas. She’s very active online and loves to connect with readers.

 

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Broken Treaties

National Historic Trail

History records countless instances of broken treaties and forced relocation of Native Americans as the result of westward expansion. My novel of the Southern Plains Indian Wars, Palo Duro, begins with the negotiations at Medicine Lodge Creek whereat the U.S. government altered the terms of the Little Arkansas Treaty signed just two years prior.

Under the provisions of the new treaties (there would be three in all) the Kiowa, the Apache and the Comanche were required to give up more than 60,000 square miles of their land in the Texas Panhandle in exchange for a reservation in Indian Territory, and the parts of Kansas and Indian Territory previously set aside for the Southern Cheyenne and the Arapahoe were also cut in half. 

Earlier in the 1830s the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole, Creek, and Cherokee (known collectively as the Five Civilized Tribes) had also been forced from their ancestral lands in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina, and Florida, and relocated west of the Mississippi to Indian Territory. Thousands died along the way, and the journey became known as the Trail of Tears.

Although the sovereignty of the Indian nations would be affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in Worcester vs. Georgia (1832), the demand for more land by white settlers led to the “Indian Removal Act” of 1830. The Act required the U.S. government to negotiate with the tribes in good faith. However the spirit of the law was frequently ignored, and by the 1840s thousands of Native Americans had been driven off their land in the Southeastern United States and force marched to present-day Oklahoma. The Choctaw became the first nation to be forcibly expelled. This tribe was followed by the Creeks. The last to go were the Cherokee.

By 1838 only about 2,000 of the estimated 16,000 Cherokee had “voluntarily” left their homeland. The U.S. Army under General Winfield Scott was authorized to expedite the removal of the holdouts. It is estimated that somewhere between 5,000-8,000  perished from disease and starvation as they made their way westward.

The promises of an unmolested new home for those that survived also failed to materialize. Indian Territory shrank as more and more white settlers encroached on these lands, and when Oklahoma became a state in 1907 the guarantee of this new homeland was gone for good.

Over a hundred years later, on August 23rd 2019, the Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation announced that the tribe would appoint its first delegate to the House of Representatives. The prospect of a sitting congressional representative is historic. While the tribe’s delegate will lack a chamber vote, for the very first time a Cherokee will sit on House committees (e.g., Appropriations, Ways and Means, etc.) which will provide the Cherokee Nation with direct access to members of Congress who do possess voting power.

What remains uncertain is whether the United States government will honor long standing treaty rights. The provision authorizing representation is contained in the 1835 Treaty of New Echota. Only now has the Cherokee Nation obtained sufficient economic and political clout to move forward, but it remains to be seen whether the treaty will be contested. Treaties negotiated with sovereign nations do not expire, but if history is any indication, those applying to Native Americans can certainly be ignored.

The last chapter in the Southern Plains Indians’ struggle ended much as the first chapter began – in broken promises.

Hopefully the Cherokee Nation and its new delegate to the House of Representatives will write not just a new chapter in Native American history, but one that expresses hope for their future.

Labor Day Weekend

Labor Day Blog

2019 marks the 125th anniversary of Labor Day as a national holiday. Although Oregon was the first state to recognize it as an official public holiday in 1887, it didn’t become a federal holiday until 1894.

Dedicated to the social and economic achievements of the American worker, two men have been credited with proposing the observance – Matthew Maguire, the Secretary of the Central Labor Union (CLU) of New York, and Peter J. McGuire, Vice President of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) in Columbus, Ohio. Both organizations would later merge to become the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the United States.

The manner of observance has changed over the years. The initial proposal did specify that the first Monday in September be set aside for the celebration, and recommended that it begin with a street parade to show the public “the strength and espirit de corps of the trade and labor organizations.” The parade was to be followed by a festival “for the recreation and amusement of workers and their families.”

Today, mass displays and parades have given way to emphasis on individual leisure time. The holiday marks the “unofficial end of summer.” School and sports activities begin at this time. Labor Day Weekend is the first three-day holiday of the school calendar year, and the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) typically plays their first games throughout the three-day weekend. In the world of fashion, Labor Day has long been considered the last acceptable day to wear white, beaches and barbecues are synonymous with the holiday, and shoppers flock to department stores or shop online for items (especially back-to-school supplies, clothing, and shoes for school age children) at discounted prices.

What we tend to forget or take for granted, however, are the advances in workers’ rights… eight hour workdays, two-day weekends, paid holidays, minimum wages, the elimination of child labor, and the duty of the state to regulate labor conditions.

None of these advances would have been possible without the efforts of those who organized and championed better working conditions beginning in the latter part of the 19th century and continuing into the present time.

Killing the SS – The Hunt for the Worst War Criminals in History: My Review

Killing the SS Book CoverThis is the eighth book in the Killing Series by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. Regardless of whether you are an avid history buff or simply interested in a particular era, circumstance, or individual from history, each entry into the series has been both educational and insightful. It also should not matter whether you are a fan of the famous journalist and cable news personality or agree with his political opinions, his historical perspective and writing style provide rare insights into each place, person, and event.

Most readers will be all too familiar with the Holocaust and the scale of man’s inhumanity to man; the barbarity of Hitler’s Final Solution is well documented. What the reader may not realize is the complicity of the U.S. Government, the International Red Cross, and the Catholic Church in spiriting known war criminals out of Germany after the war, hiding their atrocities, and settling them in the United States and South America. In 1947 alone, an estimated eight thousand members of the SS safely travel to Canada and the United States using false documents. Secret German support groups such as the Kamaradenwerk, ODESSA, and Die Spinne also smuggle eight-to-ten thousand Nazi fugitives into Brazil, Bolivia, Argentina and Paraguay.

Killing the SS focuses on the hunt for the four most wanted Nazis –  Adolf Eichmann, the mastermind behind the deportation of Jews to ghettos and concentration camps in Eastern Europe, Joseph Mengele, the “Angel of Death,” who carried out horrific experiments on detainees at Auschwitz, Klaus Barbie, the “Butcher of Lyon,” who tortured and killed countless victims in German-occupied France, and Martin Bormann, Hitler’s personal secretary, who signed the decree condemning all Jews to death.

It also looks at those dedicated to bringing these war criminals to justice – Zvi Aharoni, who led the Mossad team that kidnapped Adolf Eichmann, Serge and Beate Karsfeld, who relentlessly led the quest to bring Klaus Barbie to trial, and Simon Wiesenthal, the most famous of all the investigators who dedicated his life to solving the disappearance of Nazi fugitives, most notably Joseph Mengele and Martin Bormann.

Lesser known Nazis, Mossad intelligence agents, investigators and lawyers are woven into the narrative to illuminate the scope of the atrocities committed by the SS, the Gestapo, and the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) and just how difficult it was to hold these criminal organizations accountable. Of the 9,600,000 Jews who lived in Nazi-dominated Europe, 60 percent are authoritatively estimated to have perished. Five million seven hundred thousand Jews are missing from countries in which they formally lived, and over 4,500,000 cannot be accounted for by the normal death rate nor by immigration; nor are they included among displaced persons. 

The term coined for these atrocities is genocide. Yet few receive justice and none ever express remorse for their actions. Benjamin Ferencz, chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, best sums up the frustration felt by both the survivors and their advocates. I had 3,000 Einsatzgruppen members who everyday went out and shot as many Jews as they could and Gypsies as well. I tried twenty-two, I convicted twenty-two, thirteen were sentenced to death, four were actually executed, the rest of them got out after a few years. The other 3,000 – nothing ever happened to them.

Killing the SS is an important addition to the volume of work documenting the Holocaust and a chilling reminder of the consequences of  anti-Semitism and extreme right-wing ideology, both of which are once again on the ascendancy today. It is also one of the more readable accounts of this horrific period in history.

 

 

 

 

Dragonfly: Lone Star Book Blog Tour and Review

 
Genre: Historical / WWII / Espionage
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing 
Date of Publication: July 9, 2019
Number of Pages: 576
 
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From the New York Times bestselling author of Roses comes a gripping new novel about five young spies embedded among the highest Nazi ranks in occupied Paris
At the height of World War II, a handful of idealistic young Americans receive a mysterious letter from the government, asking them if they are willing to fight for their country. The men and women from very different backgrounds-a Texan athlete with German roots, an upper-crust son of a French mother and a wealthy businessman, a dirt-poor Midwestern fly fisherman, an orphaned fashion designer, and a ravishingly beautiful female fencer-all answer the call of duty, but each for a secret reason of her or his own. They bond immediately, in a group code-named Dragonfly. 
Thus begins a dramatic cat-and-mouse game, as the group seeks to stay under the radar until a fatal misstep leads to the capture and the firing-squad execution of one of their team. But…is everything as it seems, or is this one more elaborate act of spycraft?
 
PRAISE FOR DRAGONFLY:
 
“Meacham’s impeccable pacing and razor-wire tension evoke the daily drama of life under a Reich whose French reign might have lasted little more than four years but felt like the thousand years that it threatened to endure.” ―Bookpage
“Meacham’s nail-biting tale will please fans looking for an intricate story of spycraft and deception.” ―Publishers Weekly
“Meacham ratchets the suspense ever tighter, while providing fascinating backstory on the intrepid five [American spies] as well as delivering a detail-rich portrait of Paris during the Occupation.” ―Booklist
“Complex, epic, and rich in historical detail-an uplifting story of finding friendship behind enemy lines.” ― Kirkus
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To go forward… sometimes you have to go back.
 
     In 1962 a former OSS (Office of Strategic Services – the precursor to the CIA) officer reads an anthology entitled The Greatest Ruses of World War II. Included in the last chapter is an account of the clandestine activities by a five-agent team, code-name Dragonfly. Though some of the details of the mission inside German occupied Paris are incorrect, he is more than just a little curious about its inclusion in the anthology. As the real life mission coordinator, he not only recruited, trained, and supervised the team members, but developed a bond with each person that transcended his role as mentor and supervisor. He genuinely cared about their safety and well being.
 
     Haunted by the memory of one of the team members captured and executed by the Nazis, he’s intrigued by the author’s claim that the individual is alive and well! Could this be true?  The Nazis shot spies. They did not send them off to concentration facilities or labor camps; they lined them up against a wall and shot them. Three of the five team members actually witnessed the execution, and there has been no contact from the individual in almost eighteen years. Is there any reason to believe or hope that this person somehow survived?
 
     So begins Leila Meacham’s totally engaging and beautifully written story of bravery, sacrifice, friendship and love; the best historical fiction novel of 2019.
 
     Dragonfly’s plot is complex with multiple and overlapping stories, yet the author carefully crafts a rich emotional journey that will have readers spellbound. Concise prose, superb imagery, and richly drawn characters accurately evoke a time and place (1942-1944 Paris, France) and the dangerous world of espionage. The training and tradecraft ring true, and the friendships are exactly the type that would be formed under such circumstances. These are ordinary individuals asked to do extraordinary things to assist in the Allied war effort. Their backgrounds, motivations and secret agendas add to the nerve wracking suspense and make the book’s length immaterial. The pages simply fly by!
 
     And it isn’t just the team that must use cunning and wits to survive. Nothing and no one is what or whom it appears to be. French citizens resisting the German occupation of their homeland live under the constant threat of exposure, while Parisians aligned with the Vichy government or simply desperate and hungry are willing to expose their neighbors for a crust of bread or a slice of cheese.  No place and no one was safe. The most innocent actions could be reported to the Gestapo and French police. 
 
     Neither are all Germans the heinous monsters that willingly carry out the Fuhrer’s orders and commit atrocities to achieve Nazi domination of Europe and the world. Some high ranking officers within the SSchutzstaffel (the dreaded SS) and Abwehr (the German Intelligence Agency in Paris) secretly work to undermine Hitler’s Final Solution.
 
     Tension, fear, suspicion, subterfuge… all these elements are woven together so skillfully that Dragonfly transcends the historical fiction genre, and for me became the best novel I’ve read in a very long time. There are simply not enough superlatives to describe it. If you read just one book this year, make it Leila Meacham’s Dragonfly.
 


Leila Meacham is a writer and former teacher who lives in San Antonio, Texas. She is the author of the bestselling novels Roses, Tumbleweeds, Somerset, and Titans.

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Bluster’s Last Stand: My Review

Bluster's Last Stand Book CoverAuthor Preston Lewis returns to the exploits of one Henry Harrison “Leadeye” Lomax in this fourth installment into the series about his adventures in the Old West.

For anyone unfamiliar with the literary character, Lewis claims to have found his memoirs while conducting research at Texas Tech University. The assertion is definitely tongue in cheek, with Lewis presenting H.H. Lomax’s exploits with a lot of wit and humor in addition to historical detail.

As it has been some time since his last entry into the series, Lewis returns to this origination story before beginning the tale of how Lomax came to be at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. The explanation accounts for the break between novels featuring the colorful character and once again, with a wink and a nod, asserts the veracity of his eye witness account.

I must admit at this point that I somehow skipped Book Three, Mix Up at the O.K. Corral, as I was anxious to read this Spur Award Winner, but I’ll definitely be filling in the gap because each read has been an absolute hoot! (Be sure to check out my earlier blog posts… Book One, June 7, 2018 The Demise of Billy the Kid, and Book Two, February 1, 2019,The Redemption of Jessie James.)

In Bluster’s Last Stand H.H. Lomax brings levity to one of the most tragic events in military history, while also recounting the 2nd Battle of Adobe Walls and shedding light on the fame of such noted historical persons as Buffalo Bill Cody, Wild Bill Hickok, and General George Armstrong Custer. His wit and humor add context as well as nuance to such subjects as frontier prostitution, the discovery of gold in the Black Hills, the treatment of Native Americans, and the myth surrounding Yellow Hair.

The harsh realities of life aren’t glossed over, but the hilarity that Preston Lewis brings to these situations and characters makes them all the more human and entertaining.

I highly recommend the book and the series!