El Paso: My Review

Winston Groom is perhaps best known for his 1986 novel Forrest Gump, which was later made into the Academy Award winning movie starring Tom Hanks. This blend of characters and events, both real and fictional, made for entertaining history in a whimsical and emotionally absorbing story. Groom uses that same blend of storytelling and period history in El Paso, a sweeping action adventure set during the turbulent Mexican Revolution.

Railroad magnate John Shauhnessy has squandered his fortune in an attempt to be befriended and accepted into Bostonian society. His lavish lifestyle, mansions, yachts, and investments in foreign enterprises have left him cash poor, with the only hope of salvaging his rapidly diminishing wealth and status residing in the livestock on his sprawling Villa del Sol Ranch in Chihuahua, Mexico.

Oblivious to the harsh realities of war, he endangers his family by embarking on an ill-advised scheme to herd his cattle north to the markets in the Southwest city of El Paso. He envisions a romanticized western cattle drive that will not only recoup his financial losses, but at the same time be a grand adventure for his whole family. What he does not realize is that the ranch has already been attacked by the Mexican Revolutionary Pancho Villa who wants to drive out all foreigners from Mexico, especially American capitalists who have cheated his people out of their land by purchasing vast tracts all along the border at pennies on the dollar.

Villa’s henchmen have brutally killed the ranch manager, stolen the cattle to feed their hungry army, and kidnapped the foreman’s wife. Outraged upon hearing of this, Shauhnessy entreats the President of the United States to take action. When Woodrow Wilson refuses, he mounts a search of his own for Villa over inhospitable terrain with no clear idea of what he’s doing or where he’s going, or what he’ll do if he indeed finds him. Along the way, the situation only worsens when Shauhnessy’s own grandchildren are taken prisoner by the revolutionaries under Villa’s command.

Legendary figures from the past – General “Black Jack” Pershing, a young Lieutenant by the name of George Patton, early western movie star Tom Mix, American journalist and communist activist John Reed, Henry O. Flipper (the first African-American to graduate West Point), Mexican revolutionaries Pancho Villa and his arch enemy General Venustiano Carranza, and so many more populate the book’s 474 pages.

This was Winston Groom’s final novel. He passed away from a heart attack September 16, 2020. El Paso is a lasting testament to a writer who mainly dealt in works of non-fiction, but whose novels gave us portraits of ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances interacting with larger than life personalities. Like Forrest Gump, El Paso not only provides readers with indelible impressions of crucial moments in our history, but also wraps them up in a darn good yarn.  

Mia and Nattie: One Great Team! – Lone Star Book Blog Tour (Excerpt)

Mia and Nattie:

One Great Team!

by
Marlene M. Bell
Genre: Children’s Picture Book (K-3rd Grade) / Farm Animals
Publisher: Ewephoric Publishing
Date of Publication: October 4, 2020
Number of Pages: 34 pages
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Nattie’s mouth was a little crooked. Her legs were a bit shorter than usual, and one horn was too straight, like a unicorn’s horn.

But Mia thought Nattie was perfect.

On a visit to her grandma’s farm, eight-year-old Mia discovers a newborn, orphaned lamb outside in the cold and takes her to the laundry room, naming her Nattie. As she tries to nurse the lamb back to health, Mia discovers that Nattie is different from the other lambs and struggles to fit in with them like Mia does with other kids her age.

When her grandmother says she will sell Nattie to a neighbor, Mia must come up with a plan to keep her friend around — one that will show the family just how special Nattie truly is.

Excerpt

EXCERPT FROM

MIA AND NATTIE: ONE GREAT TEAM!

by MARLENE M. BELL

Tiny Nattie studied the ways of older sheep.

She ate grass and tasty weeds.

She ate grain and hay and drank water instead of milk.

But Nattie would never be big enough to live with the rest of the flock.

She was too small to raise babies of her own.

“Your lamb needs a home,” Grandma said to Mia.

“She has one! Please let me keep her.” Mia hugged Nattie’s neck.

Mia squinted back tears before they fell on Nattie’s wool.

“A neighbor wants to buy her,” Grandma said, then spun around and walked to the barn in silence.

Mia had to find a way for Nattie to stay.

MARLENE M. BELL is an award-winning writer, artist, and crazy sheep lady who resides in beautiful East Texas. Her renown sheep photographs grace the covers of many livestock magazines where she also writes newsy articles about raising sheep from her hands-on experience.
Based on true events from the Bell’s ranch, Marlene offers the first of her children’s picture books, Mia and Nattie: One Great Team! It’s a touching story of compassion and love between a little girl and her lamb. Marlene is also the author of the award-winning Annalisse international mystery series, with the third book, Calico Raven to be released in 2021.

Marlene shares her life with her husband and dreadfully spoiled horned Dorset sheep: a large Maremma guard dog named Tia, and cats, Hollywood, Leo, and Squeaks. The cats believe they rule the household—and do.

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The Square Root of Texas: Lone Star Book Blog Tour – Review

THE SQUARE ROOT OF TEXAS:

The First Calamity of QED Morningwood

by
Rob Witherspoon
Genre: Satire / Humor / Absurdist Fiction
Publisher: Independently Published
Date of Publication: September 26, 2018
Number of Pages: 181 pages
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QED Morningwood is a liar, braggart and teller of tall tales. When he shows up at the domino parlor with a mysterious Russian crate in the back of his pick-up truck, he confides to the players he is a ‘Shadow’ member of the NRA, not on their official membership roll, and has a load of rocket propelled grenades – all lies. The news spreads to the real Shadow NRA, the FBI and Homeland Security. Meanwhile, the Russian Ministry of Cultural Preservation sends an agent to retrieve the crate, the actual contents known only to the Russians.

 
The Russian agent, an FBI team, a DHS undercover agent and a Shadow NRA hit team arrive in Heelstring, Texas looking for QED and his crate. Their convergence is followed by interrogations, seduction, lies, arrests, jailbreak, kidnapping and rescue – along with car chases and explosions. If not for Cotton Widdershins, an ancient black man with secrets of his own, who acts as QED’s mentor and savior, the Morningwood line would be doomed to end, or at best spend life in a federal penitentiary.

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Review

Four Stars

It is always gratifying to add a new book to my library, especially when it’s been signed by the author. In my copy of The Square Root of Texas: The First Calamity of QED Morningwood the author, Rob Witherspoon, wrote “Be Irrational!” So I knew, without opening the first page that I was in for an irreverent, outlandish, hysterical read.

In mathematics, the square root of a negative number “i” is used to balance an equation to make the result real and rational. In his first Disclaimer (they’re used throughout the book,) Witherspoon writes that in this story “i” is used to make his fictionalized Texas “real and rational – or at least as real and rational as can be expected of Texas.” After all, as he correctly points out, “reality, myth and mystique, to Texans, overlap with indistinct, indistinguishable boundaries,” and (paraphrasing here) since we’re known to be mighty touchy about state pride, he’s created “a mythical Texas” that sets the tone for this satirical romp.

Not only that, the framework for the story quickly throws out all conventions that readers would normally expect to find in a book. There are no chapters. Instead, the author (with tongue in cheek) suggests things for you to do whenever you need to take a break; get a cup of coffee, go to the bathroom, do the laundry, mow the yard… you get the idea! And, at about the halfway mark he introduces what he calls the MESOLOGUE, a means of moving the story forward. Witherspoon invents the device and, after acknowledging that readers won’t find the word in any dictionary, “wonders why nobody ever thought of it.”  After all, “there’s monologue, dialogue, prologue, and epilogue…. It just seems like someone would have put a prefix meaning ‘middle’ and a suffix meaning ‘speech’ together.”

The author also lampoons almost everything and everyone in his narrative and makes no apologies for doing so. Nothing is off limits. “This book contains material that may be offensive to: Cajuns, Scots, old people, Mexicans, swordsmen and boy scouts, but not in a mean or disparaging way. More like, ‘it’s a funny old world, isn’t it?’ way. You’ve been warned. I’m not going to insert a disclaimer every time I insult a group of people. From here on out, it’s on you.”

Witherspoon takes shots at the state capital (“Outsin” in his alternative universe,) the Texas judicial system (QED’s father had been acquitted of a capital offense by a jury of his peers, rich and white, and it certainly “didn’t hurt that he financed the reelection of the sheriff and the judge the previous year”), the Certainists, “The Certain Gospel Truth Church, a denomination of profound assuredness,” and the First, Second, and Third Southern Schismatic churches which split up over the issue of whether baptisms should involve full immersion, a sprinkling, or the use of a vaporizer,) “Shana Doo’s Pleasure Dome,” a house of vice offering “mediated affection”  to discriminating and well-paying customers, and even Texas AMU, “Texas Alchemical and Metaphysical University. Home of the Fightin’ Alkies.” As a graduate of Texas A&M University, Aggie jokes have always been around, so I took it stride while I was writing this review… really!

That’s the whole point of this book. Have fun with it! It is on the one hand absurd, while on the other quite descriptive and, dare I say, representative of this unique state. The characters and the plot are summarized quite well in the Synopsis, so I’ve deliberately not gone into them in any detail. Besides, the devil is in the details, and you’ll enjoy The Square Root of Texas that much more if you don’t know what’s coming next.

That said, if you’re a Native Texan or you’ve lived here as long as I have, or perhaps you’re just somebody who has visited or read about Texas, you’ll definitely recognize attributes easily recognizable in the people and places that make up the Lone Star State.

As the subtitle, The First Calamity of QED Morningwood suggests, this is the first book of a planned series by Rob Witherspoon. There are more “misadventures” to come and I, for one, look forward to new antics and laughs.  

 
 

Rob Witherspoon was born and raised in rural Texas. He earned a BA in Physical Education, UT Arlington 1985 and a BS in Aerospace Engineering, UT Arlington 1990. He worked in the aerospace industry for 30 years before retiring in 2018. He lives in north central Texas with his wife and youngest daughter and has spent much of his life in rural communities and on the ranch. He combines his love for Texas, lying, the outdoors, engineering, and his children in his writing.

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The Love Note: Lone Star Book Blog Tour – Guest Post

THE LOVE NOTE
by
Joanna Davidson Politano
Genre: Christian / Historical Fiction / Romance
Publisher: Revell
Publication Date: October 20, 2020
Number of Pages: 400
Scroll down for the giveaway!

Focused on a career in medicine and not on romance, Willa Duvall is thrown slightly off course during the summer of 1859 when she discovers a never-opened love letter in a crack of her old writing desk. Compelled to find the passionate soul who penned it and the person who never received it, she takes a job as a nurse at the seaside estate of Crestwicke Manor.

Everyone at Crestwicke has feelings—mostly negative ones—about the man who wrote the letter, but he seems to have disappeared. With plenty of enticing clues but few answers, Willa’s search becomes even more complicated when she misplaces the letter and it passes from person to person in the house, each finding a thrilling or disheartening message in its words.

Laced with mysteries large and small, this romantic Victorian-era tale of love lost, love deferred, and love found is sure to delight.

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GuestPost

Storytelling – for better or for worse

 Guest Post by Joanna Davidson Politano

When I was a kid, I wrote stories, and they got me in trouble. Storytelling has always been the way I’ve dealt with life, especially when I was the quiet kid in early grade-school years. I wrote kids in my class into the stories—specifically, the ones picked on by bullies—and made real superheroes out of them. They all had these amazing hidden talents (which often was true in real life too) and the bullies who made fun of them—well, their characters didn’t fare well. I made sure of it. I had a blast writing up these larger-than-life scenarios, and they were incredibly fun.

Until they were found. I’ll never forget the pure torture of knowing they were circulating around the classroom one day. No one had any idea who’d written them (I’d left them behind on the reading rug in the rush to get to lunch), and I was dying inside waiting for them to figure it out.

That’s the tension I brought to The Love Note as I began writing. What is this? Where did it come from? A potent love letter turns up in the midst of a turbulent family, and several people—from maids to newlywed mistresses—encounter the touching words and believe it’s for them. The heroine knows it’s an old letter found in a family desk, and she’s anxious to trace the story of lost lovers and reunite them with the letter that was never delivered—but it happens to be delivered to a few wrong people by accident before it reaches its final destination.

Just like my grade-school classroom, which encountered a subtle shift after the stories leaked, the letter impacts the house as a whole, a catalyst sweeping through all the broken, disastrous relationships and shaking them up. The letter does eventually find its way home, but not before shifting most relationships in the house—for better or worse.

I learned as a second grader that my words, when put together the right way, carried huge weight. Even though I was a quiet kid, my stories could carve their way into places that no lecture or argument could go and actually change someone’s mind. I loved bringing that shift to Crestwicke in my novel, too, and the many broken love stories there. Words have impacts we cannot imagine. Like a knife, they either perform surgery that leads to healing or cut a new wound.

The characters eventually do find out who wrote the letter—and who it was written for—but by then the story had grown so much larger that they almost couldn’t be mad at the trouble it had caused or the person behind it all. The kids in my class didn’t care who wrote the stories in the end, either. I don’t think most of them ever knew. They were mostly interested in how their character came out on the page, and if they were villain or hero. I still can’t believe my silly wide-ruled sheets of paper unsettled that classroom the way they did, but the words meant something, and, even as fiction, they communicated a great deal of truth about how things in that classroom were.

I think I was hooked on writing back then, and even more so when I grew older and found many books that impacted me. So now I still write, still harness words, and sometimes—when I make friends into characters—I still get myself into trouble.

Joanna Davidson Politano is the award-winning author of Lady Jayne Disappears and A Rumored Fortune. She loves tales that capture the colorful, exquisite details in ordinary lives and is eager to hear anyone’s story.
She lives with her husband and their two kids in a house in the woods near Lake Michigan. You can find her at www.jdpstories.com.
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10/27/20

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11/5/20

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Painted Horses: My Review

Painted Horses Book CoverPainted Horses by Malcolm Brooks is a beautifully written novel that is at once homage to the vanishing American West, a window into history, social commentary on the clash between big business and progress versus cultural heritage and land preservation, and an enduring love story.

“And so out of yearning and cunning sprang tales of their own dimly recalled beginning, songs musing of the struggle of existence and the gods of the land and whatever eternity owned the glittering stars, legends of children birthed during astral events, under tailing comets or while red-and-green mists glowed weirdly in the northern sky, and the tales and the songs would pass down and pass down again and inspire ceremonies and rituals to ensure the arrival of migrating animals, the arrival of offspring, or to predict the lengthening of days into summer, and the rites would in turn compel one of them gifted with an impulse not unlike his own to create with his hand, his magical hand, images of the world in which he dwelled, a world and the beasts that occupied it now utterly gone save a single remnant etched in stone, deep in the heart of a canyon.”

Set in 1950’s Montana, it is the story of a young idealistic female archaeologist given the task of surveying a future dam site to ensure that no historical artifacts are lost, the Crow Indians on the Reservation desperately in need of economic development but torn between progress and preservation of their sacred traditions and rituals, and a veteran of World War II’s last mounted campaign in Italy on the lam from the authorities after refusing orders to execute the horses when their utility to the Army has ended.

All the characters and their back stories are richly drawn:

Catherine Lemay finds her love of archaeology while studying abroad. Trained as a classical pianist, she abandons her music studies at Cambridge after becoming entranced with the excavation of ancient ruins in post-Blitz London. Recognized for her archaeological work, she is asked to take on a survey back in the United States in Montana. Catherine soon realizes, however, that she is out of her depth. She faces daunting challenges from the rugged terrain and corporate America’s ruthless pursuit of wealth and power.

John H is a former “mustanger” whose skill with horses is a lost art that is no longer required or appreciated. He’s a loner out of necessity, living off the land, avoiding the encroachment of civilization and the law while still pursuing and painting the wild horses that are descended from thoroughbred Spanish blood lines.

Miriam is a young Crow Indian girl hired to assist Catherine look for ancient artifacts on land sacred to her tribe. With one foot in the past and one in the future, coming of age, becoming a woman, and unsure of what she really wants for herself or her people, she’ll be mislead into betraying both.

Jack Allen is another horseman who now slaughters wild mustangs for the money. Hired by Harris Power and Light to be Catherine’s guide as she conducts her survey, he is crude, deceptive, and dangerous. He’s really in the employ of businessman Dub Harris, who will not allow anything or anyone to impede or stop plans for the dam’s construction.

There is a timeless feel to Painted Horses. The lyrical style in which the story unfolds recalls works by Cormac McCarthy. You can visualize the land. You can relate to the characters. You can understand the conflict between the need for social progress and the fight to preserve the past.

Western, historical novel, drama, romance, or social commentary? Painted Horses doesn’t easily fit into any one category or genre, but Malcolm Brooks has crafted a book that is at once unique, mesmerizing, and haunting.

North To Alaska: Lone Star Book Blog Tour – Review & Giveaway

NORTH TO ALASKA

The Memoirs of H. H. Lomax, #6
by
PRESTON LEWIS
Genre: Historical Fiction / Western / Humor
Publisher: Wolfpack Publishing
Date of Publication: August 5, 2020
Number of Pages: 414

Scroll down for the giveaway!
WEALTH AND FAME IN THE WILD WEST ARE WHAT LOMAX SEEKS . . . HIS OWN BAD LUCK IS WHAT STANDS IN HIS WAY.
Swindled out of a mining fortune in Colorado and blamed for an ensuing murder, H. H. Lomax two decades later must finally face up to his past in Skagway, Alaska. Along the way, he encounters legendary madam Mattie Silks, suffragist Susan B. Anthony, novelist Jack London, and a talking dog.
To survive his previous missteps and avoid a prison sentence for theft, Lomax must outshoot infamous Western conman Soapy Smith, outwit an unrelenting Wells Fargo investigator, and outrun Shotgun Jake Townsend, the greatest frontier assassin who never was.
Four Stars

Many a tall tale and legend have their origin in stories of the Wild Wild West. Few, however, are as colorful, humorous, often outrageous, and thoroughly enjoyable as the adventures of H.H. (Henry Harrison) Lomax.

In the six novels by award winning author Preston Lewis, readers have followed the character’s journeys and escapades throughout the frontier from his origins in Northwest Arkansas to his latest efforts to find fame and fortune in Colorado and Alaska.

The recollection of his life and times are allegedly taken directly from Lomax’s memoirs found in the archives at Texas Tech University. Lewis admits that he “cannot vouch for their complete authenticity,” but also states that unlike many academic historians, rather than question Lomax’s credibility as an observer of historical events or his acquaintance with many famous icons of the Old West, he’s focused on Lomax’s ability as “a storyteller of the first rank… a chronicler of the historical and the hysterical West.”

North to Alaska picks up the saga in the year 1877. The previous year Lomax survived Custer’s ill-fated campaign against the Plains Indians at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, and settled for awhile in Deadwood in the Dakota Territory where he’s linked to Wild Bill Hickok who is gunned down in a saloon while playing poker. Since some observers believe that Lomax may have distracted the famed gunman allowing Jack McCall to shoot him from behind, he again hits the trail arriving in Denver, Colorado where he finds employment as a bodyguard to the famous Denver madam, Mattie Silks.

Certainly Henry Harrison is no shootist, but when he doesn’t discourage speculation that he was the one to teach Wild Bill Hickok the fast draw and how to shoot, he’s hired on to protect Mattie and her lover Cort Thomson from a rival madam, Kate Fulton, and a phantom assassin conjured from his own imagination, Shotgun Jake Townsend. With the help of Mattie’s cook and housekeeper, Lupe – Lomax describes her as having “the biggest heart of any woman he’d met in a brothel” – he devises an elaborate ruse that makes enough “protection money” to set her up for life and provide him with a grubstake for a mining venture in the town of Leadville.

It’s here that Lomax is introduced to Susan B. Anthony. “If ever a woman had been suckled on lemons and preserved in vinegar, she was it!” It’s only a brief encounter, but since rumors seem to spring up about anything or anybody Lomax is a party to, he’s forever romantically linked with the suffragist.

Lomax has never been good at holding onto money, and is soon scammed out of the mine and all his cash by an unscrupulous lawyer, Adam “Noose Neck” Scheisse, who, it turns out, works in cahoots with the notorious crime boss and conman, Jefferson Randolph “Soapy” Smith. Not only that, but after drowning his sorrows in a bottle of whiskey, Lomax wakes up to find himself accused of murdering the lawyer who bilked him out of his claim and money.

There’s an interlude at this point in the book that briefly describes Lomax wandering the West while constantly looking over his shoulder for anyone looking to collect the $500 bounty on his head. He then ends up in San Francisco where an unexpected windfall (courtesy of an unlocked Wells Fargo strongbox) is the money he needs to head to the Alaska gold fields. “Finders keepers is what I always heard, and I didn’t see any point in countering that adage.” Of course, now there’s a Wells Fargo Special Investigator on his tail, so Lomax assumes the alias Jessie Murphy.

It’s now the year 1897 and the Klondike Gold Rush is luring hundreds of travelers to the Chilkoot Mountains looking to strike it rich. Initially intent on trying his luck, he instead partners up with Roger Meredith, a thespian and ventriloquist, to open the Gold Dust Saloon and Grand Opera House in Skagway, Alaska. But with every honest citizen he meets, to include the writer Jack London who he remembers as “Jack Paris or Jack Madrid or something like that,” there are conmen, pickpockets, thieves, and scoundrels of every stripe. Organized crime and escalating violence aren’t far behind, which soon brings Lomax back in contact with Soapy Smith and his gang.

It also brings Mattie Silks to Skagway to scope out a location for her new brothel. Fortuitously, she overhears a conversation in which Soapy admits to framing Lomax back in Leadville, plans for his assassination, and plans to kill her as well. Mattie doesn’t stick around long enough for the plan to be carried out, but she does expose the corruption in Skagway on her return to Seattle which sets up the final confrontation and shootout on Juneau Wharf.

History records that Soapy Smith was killed on Juneau Wharf July 8, 1898. It doesn’t comment on the personal losses suffered by Jessie Murphy (his dog Buck and Ella Wilson, a “soiled dove” who plied her trade at the Gold Dust, were both victims of the violence.) Nor does it record the arrival of a Wells Fargo Special Investigator by the name of Dayle Lymoine, looking to recover the cash pilfered by H.H. Lomax.

Looking to get his name and reputation back, Lomax sells his stake in the Gold Dust and returns to San Francisco with the detective. Even after repaying the money, he fully expects Wells Fargo to press charges. Instead, he’s asked by the lawyers if the rumors are true that he had a relationship with the famed suffragist.  “As for pressing charges, we’ve decided courting Susan B. Anthony was punishment enough for a man’s lifetime.”

So ends this chapter in H.H. Lomax’s life.

North to Alaska contains many of the same elements that make Preston Lewis’ books both accurate in historical fact and fun to read for his reinterpretation of these events and the people involved. Was H.H. (Henry Harrison) Lomax an eye witness to history? Did he really live to write his memoirs or is he solely the construct of Lewis’ imagination? Readers might think it absurd to even ask these questions, but it’s a credit to a very talented author that the mere mention of Lomax’s name evokes statements from people like… “I’ve heard of him. Wasn’t he someone famous in the Old West?”

Each volume in this saga needs to be read and enjoyed, yet each stands alone. Preston Lewis does an excellent job of bringing new readers up to speed on Lomax’s past exploits, and he also summarizes his latest adventures and the people involved in the Introduction to each book. Knowing the plot before you open the first chapter may seem counterintuitive, but even my summation of North to Alaska doesn’t scratch the surface of what’s in store for readers. The joy is in the storytelling, not the historical facts. So, whether it’s H.H. Lomax or Preston Lewis that’s the master storyteller, the Old West is brought to life in a manner that makes you anxiously await the next release.

The archives tell us that H.H. Lomax passed away in 1933. This novel ends in 1898. I for one hope that there are many more adventures to come!

Preston Lewis is the Spur Award-winning author of thirty novels. In addition to his two Western Writers of America Spurs, he received the 2018 Will Rogers Gold Medallion for Western Humor for Bluster’s Last Stand, the fourth volume in his comic western series, The Memoirs of H. H. Lomax. Two other books in that series were Spur finalists. His comic western The Fleecing of Fort Griffin received the Elmer Kelton Award from the West Texas Historical Association for best creative work on the region.

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10/20/20

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10/25/20

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10/26/20

Review

Book
Bustle

10/27/20

Review

It’s Not All Gravy

10/28/20

Scrapbook Page

StoreyBook Reviews

10/29/20

Review

The Clueless Gent

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Low Water Crossing: Lone Star Book Blog Tour – Scrapbook Page

 
 
 
LOW WATER CROSSING
Book Two of the Sulfur Gap Series
by
DANA GLOSSBRENNER
 
Genre: Literary Fiction / Family Saga 
Independently published
Date of Publication: July 19, 2020
Number of Pages: 476
 
  Scroll down for the giveaway!

 
Low Water Crossing is a tribute to those who endure heartache and nevertheless celebrate, to those who wait—and live full lives while waiting.

A backhoe unearths a human skeleton buried on Wayne Cheadham’s West Texas ranch. The investigation points a grisly finger at Wayne’s first wife. And so begins the wild ride through twenty-five years of love and heartbreak. 
 
Wayne’s a highly eligible bachelor who runs into trouble, first because he’s naïve, and next because, well, life is unpredictable. He’s a loveable guy with a peaceful outlook. Just about anyone wants the best for him, dang it. To cope with sadness, he arranges for an old steel-girded bridge to be placed in the dry pasture in front of his house. Says it helps him adjust his perspective. Others say it’s the world’s largest yard ornament. He takes in stray emus and abandoned horses and becomes a mentor to a loveable little boy without much family. He sits and ponders his plight at a low-water crossing over the creek.

A cast of characters from the fictional small West Texas town of Sulfur Gap
the staff of a high school burger shop hangout on the Interstate, coffee groups at the Navaho Café, hair stylists from the Wild Hare, a local sheriff and his deputies, and the band at the local honky-tonkknits together the community surrounding Wayne, and all bring their own quirks. People you’d find anywhere, some with thicker Texas twangs than others. 

The town, the ranch, and familiar Texas cities such as San Angelo, Abilene, and Austin provide a backdrop for universal themes of love, grief, and loyalty.
                          
CLICK TO PURCHASE
 
 
Dana Glossbrenner’s Inspiration Scrapbook for Low Water Crossing

My husband, Jim, took all these shots in the last fifteen years or so. Each photo has been tucked into my memory bank and provided ideas for the story.

  1.  My aunt’s ranch is the site of an abandoned gravel pit mound, sprouting weeds. Production stopped for reasons unknown to me, but at the time I thought, “What a cool plot if a human skeleton were unearthed at a gravel pit.” The image fits with Wayne’s lament: “No oil wells. No wind turbines. Is it too much to ask to have a gravel pit without a skeleton?”
  2. My rancher cousin really did salvage an old bridge that was replaced on a county road. It became Wayne’s “World’s Largest Yard Ornament.” Ugly, but sentimental. In the book, it’s spruced up.
  3. My sweet Aunt Barbara inspired the character Katy Cheadham. Her ranch dogs became Rufus and Redneck in Low Water Crossing.
  4. A rescue horse like the ones Wayne adopted.
  5. The best dog I’ve ever known was Blue. I used his personality for Flo.
  6. An ordinary sight, a windmill, became a special place in both The Lark and Low Water Crossing. Long-recognized icons, over 80,000 windmills operate in Texas. San Angelo hosts the only windmill manufacturer and parts supplier in the United States. Aermotor, a company over a hundred years old, made all the windmills, some still operating.
  7. Big Bend vista. We fudged the geography a bit and used the image on the cover of The Lark.
  8. I kept my eyes peeled forever and finally found a suitable low-water crossing to use on the cover of the book. A bit of geographical cheating went on here, too, as this crossing is up the road from Fort McKavett State Historic Site, east of the desert vibe of West Texas.

 
Dana Glossbrenner has lived in West Texas all her life. She is the author of Women Behind Stained Glass: West Texas Pioneers (non-fiction) and The Lark: Book 1 of the Sulfur Gap Series.
 
 
 
 
 Facebook ║ Website   
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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TWO WINNERS: 1st winner gets signed copies of both books in the Sulfur Gap Series; 2nd winner gets a signed copy of Low Water Crossing. 
 October 6-16 , 2020
(U.S. Only)
 
FOR DIRECT LINKS TO EACH POST ON THIS TOUR, UPDATED DAILY. 
Or, visit the blogs directly:
 

10/6/20

Review

Reading by Moonlight

10/7/20

Excerpt

Texas Book Lover

10/7/20

BONUS Post

Hall Ways Blog

10/8/20

Playlist

The Adventures of a Travelers Wife

10/9/20

Review

Bibliotica

10/10/20

Deleted Scene

All the Ups and Downs

10/11/20

Author Interview

The Page Unbound

10/12/20

Review

Chapter Break Book Blog

10/13/20

Scrapbook Page

Max Knight

10/14/20

Review

StoreyBook Reviews

10/15/20

Review

The Clueless Gent

 
  
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6 Feet Under Texas: Lone Star Book Blog Tour – Review

 

 
SIX FEET UNDER TEXAS:
 Unique, Famous, & Historic Graves in the Lone Star State
(Cemetery Tales Book 1)
by
TUI SNIDER
  
Genre: Nonfiction / Texana / History / Texas Travel
Publisher: Castle Azle Press
Date of Publication: August 15, 2020
Number of Pages: 250 pages 
 
Scroll down for Giveaway!
 
 
 
 
Explore the cemeteries of Texas with Tui Snider as she reveals overlooked history in these fascinating open-air museums. 
 
Along the way, you’ll meet fascinating characters, including a whistleblower who died in suspicious circumstances, an oilman who added a phone line to his mausoleum, and the events that caused two “frenemies” to be chained together in death.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

I have to admit that when I read Tui Snider’s latest book, 6 Feet Under Texas, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. When I received my advanced copy I devoured it in one sitting, which should definitely let loyal followers and prospective readers know that it takes no time to exhaust its 250 pages. It’s a quick, easy, and enjoyable read. That said, however, when I was done reading it, it really didn’t stay with me nor did it prompt me to want to necessarily travel to these cemeteries and gravesites.

OK… I’m admittedly the odd man out. Having grown up in Texas and calling San Antonio home for almost fifty-four years, I’m certainly aware that there are countless cemeteries scattered all across the Lone Star State containing the remains of the famous and the obscure, and that Tui has specialized in writing about these well-known and offbeat locations, the people buried there and their stories, building a readership through this release and similar publications like Paranormal Texas, Understanding Cemetery Symbols, and Graveyard Journal. There’s a quirky weirdness to these books that draws in the curious and those pursuing serious historical research, but it’s just not something that keeps my attention for long.

We all tend to read and react to books based on our own personal tastes, but when reviewing any book I try to put those prejudices and preferences aside. So, my first thought (upon reflection) was to just have fun with the book and enjoy it. It’s refreshing to read something informative and Tui’s storytelling style is like having a conversation with her, or perhaps more like listening to her actually narrate tidbits of information or anecdotal facts based on her personal travels.

She should definitely be credited for actually visiting these 28 cemeteries in North and East Texas and including their physical locations, directions to specific gravesites, and websites at the end of each chapter, but it’s her photos that truly bring these places and individuals to life, not just with words but with visual references.

With Halloween just around the corner, one might think the book’s release is timed to take advantage of All Hallows Eve. However, there is nothing ghoulish, spooky, or morbid about any of the entries in the book’s 50 chapters.

A second volume to 6 Feet Under Texas is apparently in the works, and there are certainly many more cemeteries and stories to be told. Thinking back on my opening comments, I think part of the reason that I wasn’t sure of my reaction is that the book ended very abruptly. That’s because each entry is self-contained, and there is no connection between them other than the occasional person or persons interred in the same Texas Town. In her introduction to the book where she mentions that she’ll be traveling and writing about cemeteries in South Texas, the author asks for suggestions about Volume II. Mine would simply be to tie it all together somehow to give the volumes context and closure.  

 
Tui Snider is an author, speaker, photographer, YouTuber, podcast host, and musician who researches historic cemeteries and symbolism, offbeat Texas travel, overlooked history, and haunted lore. As she puts it, “I used to write fiction–but then I moved to Texas!” 
 
Snider’s best-selling books include Understanding Cemetery Symbols, 100 Things to Do in Dallas-Fort Worth Before You Die, Paranormal Texas, and many more. Snider has several books in progress and enjoys connecting with readers all over the globe through social media, her weekly newsletter, and website: TuiSnider.com.
 
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 THREE WINNERS 
GRAND PRIZE (US only):
Paperback + $10 Amazon Gift Card + Thank You Postcard
2ND PRIZE (US only): Paperback & Thank You Postcard
3RD PRIZE  (worldwide): e-book
  September 29-October 9, 2020
 
 
 

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FOR DIRECT LINKS TO EACH POST ON THIS TOUR, UPDATED DAILY, 
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9/29/20

Review

StoreyBook Reviews

9/29/20

Review

Rainy Days with Amanda

9/30/20

Review

Momma on the Rocks

10/1/20

Review

Missus Gonzo

10/1/20

Review

The Clueless Gent

10/2/20

Review

Reading by Moonlight

10/2/20

Review

The Adventures of a Travelers Wife

10/3/20

Review

Forgotten Winds

10/4/20

Review

That’s What She’s Reading

10/5/20

Review

Chapter Break Book Blog

10/6/20

Review

Hall Ways Blog

10/7/20

Review

Max Knight

10/7/20

Review

All the Ups and Downs

10/8/20

Review

It’s Not All Gravy

10/8/20

Review

Book Fidelity

 
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Grant: My Review

Soldier, Statesman, and the 18th President of the United States.

Recently the History Channel aired a three part mini-series on the 18th President of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant. One of the historians and commentators on that program was author Ron Chernow, whose biography of this American soldier and statesman was published in 2017. When I recommended the show to my son, Sean, I happened to comment that I would probably have to break down and get the book at some point even though the genre is not one that I normally read. In the fact, the only other ones that I’ve read in the past two years are Print the Legend – The Life and Times of John Ford and Alexander Hamilton, both of which were gifted to me by my son. Well, he did it again, sending Grant to me for Father’s Day! As you can see, it’s taken me some time to get through 1,074 pages, but Chernow has written yet another meticulously researched and definitive portrait of the man, his legacy, and period in which he lived.

Historians have sometimes overlooked Grant’s military genius arguing that the North won the Civil War because of its industrial base and manpower advantages versus the Confederate South, and they have also expressed mixed views on his presidency because of the rampant corruption within his administration during his two terms in office (1869-1877). Chernow disputes both, articulating Grant’s tactical and strategic brilliance as the commander of the Union forces and his accomplishments as President that, in his opinion, elevate him to the stature of Washington and Lincoln.

Chernow doesn’t skip or smooth over his faults and failures. He examines in great detail his battle with alcoholism, a disease that came very close to relegating Grant to obscurity as a disgraced military officer; he resigned his commission in 1854 rather than face a potential court martial over allegations of drunkenness while on duty. He was a failure as a businessman. His naivety, misguided loyalty, and ill-advised faith in many of the people he appointed to government positions certainly led to the scandals that tainted his tenure as President. However, Chernow lays out a clear picture of how Grant’s character and leadership overcame these deficiencies to accomplish not only the defeat of the Confederacy but the lifelong crusade for equality and civil rights of Native, African, and Jewish Americans.

For the Civil War buffs out there, Chernow goes into great deal about Grant’s success as a field commander on the Western front which would eventually elevate him to command of the Union Armies, the special trust and confidence bestowed upon him by President Lincoln, his relentless pursuit of Confederate forces wherever he encountered them (vice capturing cities or territory), his endorsement of a scorched earth/total war strategy in Sheridan’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign and Sherman’s March to the Sea/Burning of Atlanta to bring home the realities of war to Southern civilians as well as soldiers, his incorporation of freed slaves into the military, and his knowledge/familiarity with Confederate officers, including Robert E. Lee, in his war planning and military campaigns. Chernow credits Grant with the ability to clearly see, coordinate, and employ forces across the entire spectrum of war, and in so doing forcing Lee to surrender at Appomattox Courthouse.

For those more interested in Grant’s presidency, Chernow tells us that he was a reluctant politician, never encouraging his nomination to the highest office in the land. Once elected, however, he did everything in his power to bring about Reconstruction and negate the rise of white supremist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan. He stabilized the post-war economy, settled diplomatic disputes with Britain over their support for the Confederacy, while also creating the Department of Justice, the first Civil Service Commission, and the National Parks system. He failed in his efforts to annex the Dominican Republic, had mixed results in his Native American policy, and was denied a third term principally due to federal corruption scandals, of which he had no complicity besides poor judgment and loyalty to friends.

Grant died of throat and tongue cancer in 1885, and Chernow gives us an agonizing look at his final days in which he struggled to complete his biography before his death. Grant suffered severe financial reversals after he left office, and was determined to provide for his family before he died. Fortunately with Mark Twain’s help, his memoirs proved to be both a critical and financial success.

There is so much detail in the book that it probably isn’t for everyone. I confess that I read several other novels while completing the biography, which is why it took me so long to finish. It is, however, a scholarly achievement that cannot and should not be overlooked. Historians will not find a more definitive biography on Ulysses S. Grant, and Ron Chernow deserves immense credit for giving us a better understanding of the man and his place in history.

The Diary of Asser Levy: Lone Star Book Blog Tour – Author Interview

 
 

THE DIARY OF ASSER LEVY
First Jewish Citizen
of New York
by
DANIELA WEIL
 
Genre: Historical Fiction / Middle Grade / Jewish / Colonial America
Publisher: Pelican (Arcadia Publishing)
Date of Publication: March 9, 2020
Number of Pages: 128
 
  Scroll down for the giveaway!

 
For twenty-four years the Dutch colony of Pernambuco in northeastern Brazil was a safe haven for Jews who had escaped the Inquisition in Europe. Recife, its capital, was known as “Colonial Jerusalem,” and it was from this religiously tolerant town that Asser Levy tells his story. When the Portuguese recaptured the territory in 1654, they brought the Inquisition and its torments with them, forcing Asser and his family and friends to flee to Holland. About fifteen ships arrive safely in Holland; Asser’s ship does not. 
 
Through imagined diary entries based on real events, Asser tells the harrowing story of the Jewish refugees who arrived on the island of Manhattan and of some of the first court battles fought to allow religious freedom in America.
                          
PRAISE FOR THE DIARY OF ASSER LEVY: 
“The book breathes life into a little-known yet important Jewish figure of early New Amsterdam and New York. Through a series of diary entries based on fact and the author’s creation, the author brings out the emotion, drama, and conflicts of Asser Levy’s turbulent journey to a new land in search of religious freedom. … The book will add color to classroom lessons on early US history and on Jewish immigration.” —Paul Kaplan, author of Jewish New York: A History and Guide to Neighborhoods, Synagogues, and Eateries 

“What an extraordinary amount of research went into it! And what a creative way of combining historical fiction and contemporary pictures. Kudos!” —Cynthia Levinson, author of The Youngest Marcher

“What a fine job [Daniela] did with this story! … The diary-style keeps the pace moving, and the adventures make it exciting. Lots of setting details bring the scenes alive, and the dialogue engages the reader in the plot. I can see how it will be easy for a young reader to identify with Asser, worrying about how (and if) he’ll succeed in his quest.” —Gail Jarrow, author of Fatal Fever
 
CLICK TO PURCHASE
 
 

Interview with Daniela Weil

 The Diary of Asser Levy: First Jewish Citizen of New York is a truly special book for your readers. I had a feeling that the “story behind the story” was going to be very interesting! I couldn’t wait to learn more about Daniel’s research and writing process. Tell me how you discovered the existence of Asser Levy and what drew you to write about him?

 I had not heard about Asser Levy, even though I was familiar with the story of the twenty-three Jews that arrived in New York from Brazil in 1654. I am Brazilian, and in Brazil, that history is so well known that it was even a theme of the carnaval parade in Rio a couple of years ago. It was only once I began more in-depth research that I learned about Asser Levy. He is perhaps our first Jewish-American “hero.”

In New York he is relatively well known, and there are several landmarks named after him. But outside of New York, most people, including Jews, have not really heard of him. He is a four-hundred-year-old version of the classic “American Dream” story. He arrived as an immigrant in a foreign land with nothing; faced hostility, religious persecution, and adversity; fought for his rights in court and won; worked hard; became a Jewish trailblazer (first Jewish citizen, first kosher butcher, first Jewish landowner), gathered substantial wealth; and made history.

Your story dates back to the 1600s. What were some of the challenges you faced doing research from so long ago? 

That is a great question. It is very hard to research primary sources from that long ago, especially if they are written in old Dutch. I read most, if not all, of the academic papers written by historians and went through their citations, always digging for the primary sources. Some sources I was able to find translated, but there is dispute among historians as to the accuracy of the translations, which leads to controversies in the story. Other documents I found with the help of a Dutch colleague in the online archives of the Dutch West India Company.

Some parts of the story are just not documented, and historians fill in the gaps with their best theories. I found that the most challenging part of my research was believing in a possible version of the story that differed from the current views of historians, based on the evidence I found. Since I am not a historian, I didn’t have much credibility amongst the scholars and was sometimes seen as a “historical heretic,” which is interesting because my heroes were all dealing with being heretics as well.

But I did ultimately find support from some people who are experts in New Netherland history, and they helped me to find confidence in my theory and move forward. Also, fictionalizing the story opens room for interpretation, but I’d love the readers to understand that much of what I wrote is based on history.

You do a lovely job of weaving historical facts with your story’s narrative. Can you share a bit about your writing process?

 I wrote many, many versions of the book before it became what it is. I started out writing a nonfiction picture book, which was well within my comfort area for writing. But I soon noticed that nonfiction was going to be hard to pull off while still being able to make the story appealing for youth.

I thought that I could focus on Asser Levy since he is such a classic protagonist and a named historical figure, and Stuyvesant is a fantastic antagonist (and so much more, really). So, I decided to write it from Asser Levy’s point of view, starting out with him as a young adult so that kids could identify with him, and have him narrate the history.

But I also did not want to lose all the nonfiction elements that I had so thoroughly gathered. In my mind’s eye, the book was a blend of nonfiction and fiction, a fusion. But this genre doesn’t really officially exist, and I struggled with its acceptance in the editorial world. I am very happy that Pelican allowed me to fulfill it in the vision that I had for it.

What are some interesting facts you learned about New York history that you didn’t include in your final draft?

Oh my God, I knew very little about the American Dutch Colonial period before my research, and I became a total New Amsterdam fanatic! There was really a lot more that I could have said about New Amsterdam. So many interesting stories there. Perhaps I will write them one day.

Did you know that it was through New Amsterdam that Santa Klaus arrived in the US? That Stuyvesant had a pear tree he planted which lived until relatively recently, and you can still visit that location? That a Black surgeon practiced medicine in New Amsterdam? The story of the slave Manuel de Gerrit the Reus and how he drew the short straw to be hung and was saved by divine intervention. The Flushing Remonstrance, the very first religious freedom uprising—I can go on and on!

The book design is very interesting—lots of graphic elements as well as the use of a font style that is helpful for readers with dyslexia. Did you have any input on the design? What was your reaction when you first saw the completed book?

Thank you for that compliment. I did have a vision for the design and offered to do the book layout myself, which Pelican accepted. I made the cover and collected and arranged all the visuals in the book. It was my editor (Nina Kooij’s) idea to have the book printed in OpenDyslexic; it would work well visually with the sort of diary-ish, handwritten look and accommodate a whole other reading audience who is often overlooked.

When I saw the book for the first time, I could not believe it actually existed. I spent the last six years working on it, and there were many more times that I believed it would never exist than that it would get printed one day. I was very pleased with how it looked. And yet, as a published author, you feel so vulnerable because now people will actually read it and you’re exposed to criticism and reviews and all of that. But so far, I think people are pleased with it, and I hope that many middle schoolers (and their parents) learn about this incredible story.

First posted at Jewish Books for Kids, May 3, 2020

Daniela Weil was born in Brazil. She attended the International School in São Paulo, where she was surrounded by people and cultures from around the world. It was also there that she developed a passion for nature, art, and writing. After earning a BA in biology from Brandeis University in Boston, Weil became a field research biologist. She participated in various whale projects, including illustrating the first field guide for whales and dolphins in Brazil.

Being a mother rekindled her desire to share her passion about the natural world. She joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and attended workshops on writing nonfiction and science for kids. After writing several articles on science and history, she ventured into books. Weil attended the Texas Library Association annual conference with her SCBWI group and met the folks from Pelican, who were intrigued by her middle-grade book idea. As the project developed, her research took her back to Brazil and across the world, chasing Asser’s experiences.

When not on the hunt for new experiences, Weil makes her home in Austin, Texas, with her husband, Erik, and daughter, Lucy.
 
 
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 September 22-October 2, 2020
(U.S. Only)
 
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9/22/20

Book Trailer

Chapter Break Book Blog

9/22/20

BONUS Post

Hall Ways Blog

9/23/20

Author Interview

Max Knight

9/24/20

Review

StoreyBook Reviews

9/25/20

Sneak Peek

Texas Book Lover

9/26/20

Review

Reading by Moonlight

9/27/20

Author Interview

Story Schmoozing Book Reviews

9/28/20

Top Ten

All the Ups and Downs

9/29/20

Review

Librariel Book Adventures

9/30/20

Scrapbook Page

The Adventures of a Travelers Wife

10/1/20

Review

Book Bustle

 
 
   
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