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.

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?
“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.

August 7-17, 2019


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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!

The Pale Horseman: My Review

The Pale Horseman Book CoverThe Pale Horseman by Bernard Cornwell continues the story of Uhtred Ragnarson. He first appeared in Book One of the Saxon Tales, The Last Kingdom (see my previous blog post dated Dec 7, 2018.)

The story picks up ten years later. The year is 877 A.D. and the Saxons have ruled the lands that one day will become Britain since the fifth century, but now the kingdoms of Northumbria, Mercia, and East Anglia have all fallen to the Danes. Only the kingdom of Wessex, under the rule of King Alfred (later known to history as Alfred the Great), continues to hold out against the Danish onslaught. However, Alfred is a sickly ruler who has been forced into hiding in the swamps after his defeat at the Battle of Cippinham. Surrounded on all sides, his only hope of beating back the Vikings now rests with Uhtred of Bebbanburg.

Uhtred is only twenty years old with torn allegiances. He was born Saxon but raised by the Viking Ragnar. That upbringing has left him a pagan at heart. He worships the old gods and has contempt for both Alfred and Christianity; both are weak in his estimation. However, to reclaim his birthright and repossess his lands in Northumbria he must pledge his allegiance and his sword to Alfred and the Saxon cause.

Much of the book looks at the relationship between Alfred and Uhtred. Alfred is devout in his faith and abhors Uhtred’s pagan beliefs… his worship of Odin and Thor and his love of the Viking warrior lifestyle. Uhtred disdains weakness and cannot fathom a religion that preaches love of your enemies, a god that would willingly die on the cross, priests that would martyr themselves to spread his message, or a king determined to protect the faith. Yet, both men see something in the other and forge an alliance. The dynamics of that union play out in their efforts to defeat the Viking Guthrum.

The Pale Horseman doesn’t spare the reader from Britain’s violent past. Bernard Cornwell’s descriptions of battle are graphic yet necessary in capturing the reality of the times. He is a gifted writer of historical fiction and this second entry into the series takes us up to the Battle of Ethandum in 878 where Alfred met and defeated Guthrum’s Danes in spite of overwhelming odds.

The title of the book comes from The Book of Revelation 6:7-8.

I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat upon it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth. 

It is an apt metaphor for the Viking raids that threatened Britain in the ninth century.


Tarnished Brass: Cover Reveal & Update

Published Book CoverPart of the process of being a writer is to explore different formats and genres. To date, I’ve published a memoir, a novel, and my latest book, Tarnished Brass, is a novella.

While the scope of a novella is far less broad than a novel, it still entails a detailed exploration of subject matter with more fully developed characters and plot than a short story allows. Its concise nature definitely results in a quick read — individuals may find themselves completing this type of book in a single sitting — but it shouldn’t lessen the reader’s enjoyment or involvement in the story.

Tarnished Brass is historical fiction. It examines the civil war that was fought in El Salvador from 1980 to 1992, and the consequences of that conflict as seen through the perspectives of a US Army officer, a guerrilla leader, and a refugee turned gang member.

Though a work of fiction, I drew upon my experiences from 1984 to 1986, as well as more recent trips in-country to tell this story. Anyone looking to understand past US foreign policy as well as current events (the rise of MS-13 and the immigration crisis on our southern border) should find the story compelling.

Earlier projections for a June release have been revised. Final edits are ongoing and the book should be available late Summer. I’ll post the press release when the book becomes available for purchase, but if you happen to be in San Antonio on July 29th, come to the San Antonio A&M Club at Aggie Park for their Monday Luncheon. I’ll be the guest speaker for a pre-release discussion. Doors open at 11:00 a.m. and my talk begins at noon. Hope to see you there!




A King’s Ransom: My Review

A King's Ransom Book CoverA King’s Ransom, the final entry into Sharon Kay Penman’s Plantagenet series, is another masterpiece from a gifted writer. Meticulously researched, with an unparalleled grasp of the political complexities of medieval kingship, it goes beyond the exploits of the fearless crusader Richard the Lionheart to capture insights into the man behind the legend.

The novel picks up where the companion book Lionheart leaves off. Richard, betrayed by his brother John, his kingdom threatened by the French king Philippe, must abandon the Third Crusade in the Holy Land and return home to defend the Angevin dynasty. However, his adversaries have conspired against him accusing him of murder and conspiring with the great Muslim ruler Saladin, and he must first circumvent those bent on his capture and imprisonment.

History tells us that Richard was captured outside of Vienna on his way back to England, and the first half of A King’s Ransom is a comprehensive account of his capture by Leopold of Austria, his imprisonment by the Holy Roman Emperor, Heinrich, the negotiations by his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, to secure his release and keep him from falling into the hands of his arch enemy, Philippe, and his brilliant speech and defense before the Imperial Diet at Speyer.

It is during this prolonged captivity and negotiations that we see the human side of Richard. Fearless in battle, reckless with his own personal safety, he suffers physically from fevers, is haunted by his failure to recapture Jerusalem, has recurring nightmares resulting from the harsh treatment he experiences while held at Trifels, is tormented by Heinrich who threatens to turn him over to the French king, and ultimately is humiliated by having to pay homage to the Holy Roman Emperor as a condition of his release.

Finally obtaining his freedom, Richard will spend the next five years warring with Philippe, and Penman dedicates the second half of the book to these military campaigns. It is a compelling and comprehensive account of his efforts to regain the territory he lost while in captivity which ends with his death at Chalus.

Readers may be daunted by the sheer scope of Penman’s work (without the Afterword, Author’s Note, and Acknowledgements the book is 657 pages in length.) However, the novel never flags and there is no better account of this fascinating individual or period in history.

I highly recommend reading all five books in the series, though each one can be read by itself. However, to fully appreciate the many historical characters that populate the books and to really grasp the essence of Richard, both his magnanimity and ruthlessness, I would at least encourage readers to read Lionheart and A King’s Ransom. Your time will have been well spent!


Publication Update

In January I announced that my latest book Tarnished Brass would be published sometime in 2019. Though I still don’t have a firm release date from Page Publishing, we’re getting closer!

For anyone unfamiliar with the publishing process, the submitted manuscript goes through various stages including editing, page and cover design. My book is currently in the cover design phase. I hope to approve the artist’s concept in the next couple of weeks, after which the hard-copy, paperback, and e-book formats should be available in four-to-six weeks. So, we’re probably looking at the June time frame for the book launch.

The novella looks at America’s involvement in El Salvador during its civil war (1980-1992) and the consequences of that conflict some twenty-seven years later. Gang violence from MS-13 and Barrio-18 is widespread throughout the capitol city of San Salvador and extends to all regions of the Central American country (consistently ranking its homicide rate among the highest in the world), and MS-13’s influence has also spread here in the United States.

Tarnished Brass will be the third book that I’ve published. However, since many of you have only recently started to follow this blog, here is a brief synopsis of the two prior publications:

Completed Book CoverSilver Taps was written following the death of my father. The memoir looks at our relationship, the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease and its effects on a family, and also discusses faith in the context of coping with loss. The title is derived from the time honored tradition at Texas A&M University remembering the deceased during the academic year. I am a proud graduate of that institution.

Palo Duro CoverPalo Duro is a novel of westward expansion focusing on the Plains Indian Wars in the Southwest United States towards the end of the nineteenth century. It is an ode to the rugged individualism that made this country and pays homage to the western genre with depictions of the great cattle drives, the cowboys and gunslingers that would become icons of the “Old West,” as well as the struggles of Native Americans and white settlers over contested land.

Both of these books are available online at