The Last Kingdom: My Review

The Last Kingdom is the first book in a series by Bernard Cornwell on the reign of Alfred the Great, A.D. 871-899. The title refers to the Kingdom of Wessex which was the last to holdout against the Danes after they raided and captured the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Northumbria, Mercia, and East Anglia. The Danes sought to colonize what would eventually become England and replace its society with their own to include the worship of the pagan gods Odin and Thor.

 The story actually begins in 866 A.D. with the introduction of Uhtred of Bebbanburg who at age ten witnesses the death of his father at the hands of the Danes. The death will initiate a blood feud to regain his title and lands which in the course of time (Book One covers the next ten years) will see Uthred raised by the Danes but ultimately aligned with Alfred.

His allegiance will be tested repeatedly as he tries to reconcile his previous life and religious beliefs with the Viking warrior lifestyle and the promise of Valhalla.  It is a struggle of conscience between the piety of Christianity, belief in a loving God, and a place in heaven versus his predisposition toward the pagan gods, militarism, and the thrill of battle. Participation in Viking raids and fighting in a great shield wall earn prestige and status on earth while also promising an afterlife with endless merrymaking. The Church and priesthood, on the other hand, offer a life of quiet reflection and scholarly pursuits with the hope of saving one’s soul. 

Cornwell lets the reader know Uthred’s thoughts and inclinations by relating his tale from the perspective of an old man looking back on his life. The first person narrative combines humor and pathos to capture the significant historical events of the period, the people involved in them, and the savagery of the times. It also firmly establishes the series and subsequent books as must read experiences to know the outcome of Uthred’s story.

One final note, keeping up with the names of places will be a challenge to many readers. Refer to the listing of Anglo-Saxon place names at the beginning of the book for their spelling at the time of Alfred’s reign and their more modern versions. Similarly, character names and relationships can be confusing. Variations of the same name were common. As an example, “Ealdorman AEtheired, son of AEtheired, brother of AEthelwulf, father of AEtheired, and brother to another AEtheired who had been the father of AElswith who was married to Alfred.” Don’t let this dissuade you. It all sorts itself out, or will in the next ten books!

 

 

Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen: My Review

Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen Book CoverDaughter of a Daughter of a Queen by Sarah Bird is a remarkable story written by a gifted author. For anyone unfamiliar with the historical figure Cathy Williams, she was a former slave who hid her gender to enlist and serve as Private William Cathay in the 9th Cavalry (the famed Buffalo Soldiers) in the aftermath of the Civil War.

Little is known of her life so it took someone with a great imagination to fill in the gaps. She begins by establishing Cathy Williams’ pride in her African heritage. It will be her strength in all that she endures as a slave, as a contraband who follows the Union Army and serves as a cook for General Philip Sheridan until the war’s end, and as the only woman to have ever fought the Apache on the Texas frontier in an all male unit.

Were the character not plucked from the annals of history, the notion that a woman could hide her femininity over a two-year enlistment period from her fellow soldiers would be incredulous. We know that she in fact did, but pause to consider the lack of privacy she faced living in a barracks with nothing but men or while on patrol in an unforgiving terrain, all the while having to prove herself equal to her counterparts.  How did she do it?

It is a testament to Sarah Bird’s imagination that she is able to provide plausible explanations and even weave a credible love story into the mix. I absolutely loved her description of this period in history. The dialogue is spot on and her characters are flesh and blood people who actually lived or who seamlessly interact with those that did. This is historical fiction at its best.

Sarah Bird establishes Cathy Williams as a heroine that few will have known anything about before reading her novel, but who will resonate and remain with them long after the last sentence in the book has been read.

 

The Encouragement Letters: Excerpt

THE ENCOURAGEMENT
LETTERS
by
SHANNA SPENCE
Sub-genre: Middle Grade / Historical Fiction
Publisher: Book Liftoff
Date of Publication: November 22, 2017
Number of Pages: 180
Scroll down for the giveaway!
 
WILLIAM CROMWELL, at age eleven, knew what it was like living with new changes. In 1865, Manchester, England a new textile factory moved into town and after a tragedy that befell him and his mum, they struggled to live. With so many things going on in his young life he wanted to be the encouragement that his father was to him.
As everything changes along with terrible hardships, just maybe the hope he gives to the growing town will find its way to Will…
PRAISE FOR THE ENCOURAGEMENT LETTERS: 
This was such an uplifting wholesome book! It was so nice to read something positive about a time when people were so willing to step in and help someone in need without expecting anything in return! I couldn’t put it down!– 5 Stars, Kindle verified purchase reviewer

Excellent read!! This story speaks to people in all walks of life. It is encouraging, sweet, and funny at the same time. I would recommend this book to anyone needing to see what it means to “treat others as you want to be treated.” — 5 Stars, Kindle verified purchase reviewer

A very inspiring book from a great new author! — 5 Stars, Kindle verified purchase reviewer

A charming tale of a simpler time. Yet, the message is ageless. I congratulate Ms. Spence on this her first effort and look forward to more entertaining reads from her in the future.— 5 Stars, Kindle reviewer
Excerpt

EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER TWO

OF THE ENCOURAGEMENT LETTERS

BY SHANNA SPENCE

          Mrs. Cromwell was home cutting up a few vegetables that she managed to get that day. She had a couple of good days of work, repairing some work trousers for an older gentleman and made a few aprons that she sold. Work was getting harder to find. Most days, he thought she would skip eating just to make sure he could get enough to eat. After all, he was a growing boy!

          As she prepared a small meal, Will studied his mother for a moment. She had grown paler and thinner. She had dark circles under her eyes and hollowed cheeks.  Her dress hung from her thin shoulders. He felt a pang of desperation. I just don’t know what to do for her, he thought. Suddenly, a coughing spell hit his mother after she cleared her throat and had a sip of water.

          “Tell me what you are thinking, my son,” Mrs. Cromwell said.

          Will wasn’t good at hiding his emotions. Mrs. Cromwell looked at him and saw what she thought was fear. William’s father died with a cough; not his mother too!

          “Nothing at all, Mum. Why do you ask?”

          “Well, the look on your face is troublesome to me. I know you must be worrying again.”

          “I won’t lie, Mum, you look thinner to me. Have you been eating?”

          “Now, William, you know I do!”

          “You must not be eating much. You look like you have lost some weight.”

          “Tsk, stop worrying about me. I’m fine! Now, go wash up for dinner.”

          With that, he went to the wash basin and washed his hands, still feeling uncomfortable with his mother’s response. I will keep an eye on her.

          As the days passed, Will noticed that his mother took her tea and ate nothing for the mornings. He could not tell if she ate anything for lunch while he helped Uncle Henry. For the evening meal, she ate, but he was unsure if it was enough.

          He had to do something to get more food for them. He could not allow them to starve. It was one thing for his mother to have no work, but not to be able to eat was another thing.

          I know what I can do! I’m going to plant a garden! Will thought. At least we will have vegetables to eat. Let’s see, I have to figure out where to get some seeds.

          Will lay down after reading some of his father’s letters that evening. He knew he had to get another letter out and was wondering to whom he could write a letter. What I will do tomorrow is go to town to scout out some seeds for the new garden and I will look around for inspiration to write a letter. With that as his last thought, he fell fast asleep.

          The morning came early for Will. He jumped out of bed, dressed, and was out the door before the morning tea.

          “Have a good day, William. Don’t forget to pick up your school work for the day!”

          “I won’t, Mum. See you this afternoon!” Will said as the door was closing behind him. Will ran most of the way to town. Again, he stopped from time to time to get the pebbles out of his shoes. The holes in his shoes were getting bigger.

          I’m going to have to try and patch those holes soon.

Shanna Spence is a wife, mother, and registered nurse of over twenty years. She has written poetry since the age of thirteen and always dreamed of writing books. Raised in a small East Texas town, she pursued a career of nursing in Dallas, Texas but eventually went back to East Texas to settle down and raise a family.
Now she finally has found the time to fulfill her dream of writing stories that will hopefully bring out the imagination in others — as well as inspiration. She is currently living in Longview, Texas. 
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10/10/18
Notable Quotable
10/11/18
Review
10/12/18
Excerpt
10/13/18
Review
10/14/18
Author Video
10/15/18
Notable Quotable
10/16/18
Review
10/17/18
Author Interview
10/18/18
Character Interview
10/19/18
Review
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Texas Legends

Charles Goodnight, Cynthia Ann Parker, and Quanah Parker are legendary figures in the history of Texas and their stories have been the subject of numerous books and movies to include my own novel, Palo Duro.

On September 26th, Cowboys & Indians Magazine and Legacy of Texas the official store of the Texas State Historical Association both carried articles that once again showcased their amazing inter-related lives.

C&I Magazine focused its piece on an art exhibit by Lee Cable entitled “The Life and Times of Charles Goodnight” that is currently on display at the Bryan Museum in Galveston, Texas and runs through October 14th. The exhibit contains twelve historical paintings and twelve associated pencil sketches depicting important moments or achievements in Charles Goodnight’s life. “The paintings portray everything from Goodnight’s evolution into one of the most prosperous cattlemen in the West to his relationship to bison (first removing them from his land, then preserving them) to his close relationship with Quanah Parker.” The exhibit will also be on view November 16, 2018 – April 22, 2019 at the Cattle Raisers Museum in Fort Worth, Texas.

TSHA provided background information on Cynthia Ann Parker, one of five captives taken by the Comanche during a raid on Fort Parker May 19, 1836. She would remain with the tribe for almost twenty-five years during which she married a Comanche war chief, Peta Nocona, and gave birth to three children, boys Quanah and Pecos, and a daughter, Topsannah. “She never returned voluntarily to Anglo society.”

On December 18, 1860 a Texas Ranger Company under the command of Lawrence Sullivan Ross attacked a Comanche hunting camp capturing three Native American prisoners. They were subsequently surprised to find that one of the captives had blue eyes. Colonel Isaac Parker would later identify this person as his long-lost niece.

Among the Texas Rangers that day was Charles Goodnight. He and Quanah Parker would be bitter enemies following the raid but would eventually overcome  their enmity and forge a close and lasting friendship.

For earlier posts related to these three individuals refer to my blog entries A Fate Worse than Death, October 12, 2017; Historical Figures & Fictional Characters, July 4, 2017; The Last Comanche War Chief, June 27, 2017; and Saving the Buffalo, March 7, 2017. Better yet, pick up a copy of Palo Duro!

 

 

The Big Inch: My Review

The Big Inch Book CoverAuthor Kimberly Fish has written an engaging novel set in Longview, Texas in 1942. The Allied offensive in Europe, dependent on the supply of fuel for its tanks, trucks, and planes, is threatened by German U-boat attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Mexico. In response, the largest pipeline construction project in the history of the United States is launched.

Longview is at the center of the joint government-private industry undertaking that becomes known as “The Big Inch.” Conceived to overcome the U-boat threat and provide uninterrupted flow of gasoline, diesel, heating oil, and kerosene from Texas to the Midwest and East Coast, both the project and the small East Texas town become the focus of domestic and international intrigue. Is there a real threat? The Office of Strategic Services, a wartime intelligence agency and precursor to today’s CIA, intends to find out.

Enter Lane Mercer, an agent trying to overcome grief and guilt associated with her husband’s death and a botched undercover assignment in France. Is she up to the job? Posing as the executive secretary to the pipeline project manager, she must overcome her own doubts and insecurities while ensuring that the project isn’t sabotaged.

Well drawn characters (many of whom aren’t who they profess to be,) excellent descriptions of landmarks in and around Longview that evoke time and place, multiple subplots involving small town attitudes, racial injustice, love interests, and finding inner peace are the hallmarks of this first book in a planned series by Kimberly Fish on “Misfits and Millionaires.”

The only detractors in Book 1 are the grammatical errors that should have been corrected prior to the book’s publication. Hopefully,  these won’t be repeated  in the sequel, “Harmon General,”  because I very much look forward to reading the continuing story.

 

 

The Process

Page Publishing LogoIt’s begun! Last week I announced that I had once again signed with Page Publishing, Inc. of New York to publish my newest book, Tarnished Brass. This past Wednesday I was contacted by my Publishing Coordinator about the necessary steps to actually get the book printed and distributed. I’m aware of the process, but for those of you who wonder what is involved in getting a book from completion to a retail outlet, I thought I’d use this forum to comment on the road ahead.

The first step is a thorough review of content by an editor to identify and correct typographical, spelling, and grammatical errors. “SPAGs,” as these common mistakes are referred to in the industry, diminish the reading experience. I go over my draft multiple times to ensure there are none but, no matter how many times I look over my own material, a professional edit invariably catches deficiencies that I’ve somehow missed. Often an author reads what he intended to write, not what is actually put on paper.

Once the edit is completed and approved, the book moves into the interior layout and cover design phase. A Page Designer looks at the visual appearance of the written word to include font choice and size, page margins, and sentence and paragraph structure to ensure readability prior to hard copy printing. Similarly a Cover Artist designs the book jacket with a visual representation of the subject matter, a written synopsis, and a brief blurb about the author usually accompanied by a photo. Both steps require approval and modification to ensure that the finished book meets the author’s intent and, while there are no guarantees regarding sales, that it also attracts notice in a market already saturated by new releases.

Depending on author preference, finished books are released in any number of formats; hard-copy, paperback, eBook, and audio. Once published, the focus shifts to creating “buzz” about the book through press releases, reviews, and marketing strategies.

There’s a lot of work yet to be accomplished, but Tarnished Brass should be available by year’s end or early 2019. I’ll post future updates to keep you abreast of progress and the actual release date. Thanks for the support!

The Smoke at Dawn: My Review

The Smoke at Dawn Book Cover“The Smoke at Dawn” is the third novel by Jeff Shaara focusing on the campaigns fought in the Western Theater of operations during America’s Civil War. It picks up in the summer of 1863. The fall of Vicksburg, the Gibraltar of the South, has given the Union Army complete control of the Mississippi River, setting the stage for the Army of the Cumberland under the leadership of William Rosecrans to capture the crucial railroad hub in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Temporarily victorious, Rosecrans over extends the Federal forces under his command and suffers a disastrous defeat at Chickamauga Creek. He is relieved by President Lincoln and replaced by Ulysses Simpson Grant who must now come to the relief of Rosecrans’ forces besieged at Chattanooga by Confederate General Braxton Bragg.

Much of Shaara’s book focuses on the battles at Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge, and the commanders and common soldiers who fought there. In addition to generals Grant and Sherman, George Thomas emerges as the primary force behind the eventual Union victory. Self-effacing, deliberate in his preparations and actions, he will be criticized by his more famous contemporaries for his attention to detail that, while successful, doesn’t allow for a rapid advance against the enemy.

The dynamics of strategies, tactics, and leadership are also central to understanding the Confederate defeat at Chattanooga. Braxton Bragg sees no failing in himself, yet his subordinate commanders have little respect for their leader and even less loyalty. They petition Jefferson Davis for his removal. Bragg, of course, sees everything through the lens of a conspiracy against him and places blame for every failure on someone else, notably General James Longstreet who he believes is responsible for the criticisms against him. He will order Longstreet to Knoxville, removing a thorn in his side but significantly weakening his own army.

In contrast to the disastrous lack of leadership by Bragg, Patrick Cleburne will be recognized for his extraordinary defense against Sherman’s troops. He will be blindsided by Bragg’s capitulation and by his orders to abandon the ground that his soldiers have so tenaciously defended. Instructed to cover the Confederates’ withdrawal, his men will act as the army’s rear guard tasked with holding off any pursuit by the victorious Yankees.

“The Smoke at Dawn” was meant to be the cornerstone of a three part series by Jeff Shaara. But like the war, another chapter was yet to be written in Atlanta, Georgia. That story is told in his companion book, “The Fateful Lightening.”

I’ve previously expressed my admiration for Jeff Shaara’s work; he is my favorite Civil War author. If this four-star review reflects a somewhat less glowing critique, it is probably because I’ve tried to accomplish a re-reading of this tetralogy in too short a time frame. Just as the war would extend over four bloody years, Shaara released each of his four books a year apart. That spacing allows the reader a fuller understanding of the momentous historical events that transpired as well as a better appreciation of the detailed research that went into each installment.