Sword Song: My Review

Sword Song Book CoverSet in the year 885, this is the continuing story of Uhtred of Bebbanburg and the Saxon Tales. Like its predecessors this fourth entry into the series offers vivid and dramatic battle scenes, but the violence (while true to this period in history) does not overshadow well drawn characters – both historical and fictional – that add depth and human interest to the origins of modern day England.

Following the defeat of the Viking Guthrum, Alfred the Great is looking to consolidate his rule over all the kingdoms (not just Wessex but Mercia, East Anglia, and Northumbria) and bring Christianity to the whole country. To do so he must protect his borders from further Viking raids and Uhtred is sworn to aid him in this effort.

When Sigefrid and Erik Thurgilson capture and occupy London, Alfred’s control of the Thames River is threatened. Now Uhtred must weigh his oath to Alfred against his own ambitions. A mixture of both Saxon and Dane, Uhtred has divided loyalties that will be tested by predictions that he will be king of Mercia if he allies himself with the Vikings.

Bernard Cornwell engages the reader in the narrative of shifting allegiances and power struggles. Alfred’s treacherous nephew, Aethelwold, covets the throne upon which Alfred sits and schemes with the Danes to lure Uhtred away from his oath to the king. News of a risen dead man foretells Uhtred’s kingship in the kingdom of Mercia. However, the vain and abusive Aethelred, married to Alfred’s eldest daughter, has already been promised the kingdom. His cruelty endangers his wife Ethelflaed, while his vanity and lack of leadership jeopardizes the campaign to recapture London. Uhtred must find a way to protect Ethelflaed from Aethelred, reveal Aetholwold’s treachery, and recapture London to fulfill his pledge to Alfred.

Sword Song is an apt title for the book as Uhtred again wields his sword Serpent-Breath in the battle for London. For anyone unfamiliar with Uhtred’s previous adventures please refer to my reviews of the three earlier books in the series: The Last Kingdom, Dec 7 2018; The Pale Horsemen, Jul 5, 2019; and The Lords of the North, Feb 26, 2020.  

A united England in the ninth century is still just a dream, and there are many more adventures yet to be told. In total, Bernard Cornwell has written twelve books in this ongoing series with more to come! Some readers may find this disconcerting, but whenever I’m in the mood for rousing descriptions of battle and a rich history of the northward expansion that resulted in the realization of Alfred the Great’s dream, I find myself returning to the Saxon Tales.

Next up for me, somewhere down the road… The Burning Land.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Mermaid and the Bear: My Review

In 1597 in Aberdeen, Scotland several individuals were executed for alleged witchcraft or sorcery. The majority of those accused were women, many of them midwives or healers whose abilities were thought to be satanic powers derived from devil worship. Confessions of said diabolical activity were obtained by various forms of torture or physical abuse, after which the “guilty” were usually burned at the stake. This is the historical background for Ailish Sinclair’s debut novel The Mermaid and the Bear.

The story focuses on a young woman named Isobel who flees to Scotland to avoid an arranged marriage to a cruel and wicked man. Although she is educated and comes from a well to do English family, she finds employment (as well as refuge, friendship, and love) working as a kitchen maid in the household of a Scottish laird. Her idyllic life is shattered, however, when envy and jealousy lead to accusations that she and two other women at the castle practice the dark arts.

The book is written in two parts each starkly different in tone and style:

The first part is the love story, the setting and dialogue evoking a land of ancient stones, fairytale castles, and misty lochs where a maiden is mistaken for a mermaid and the castle laird a bear. The descriptive passages in these chapters are so atmospheric and the language so lyrical that 16th century Scotland seems the perfect setting for this unlikely romance.

Then the narrative abruptly changes to the horrors of the Aberdeen witch trials. The author doesn’t spare the reader from the graphic and brutal treatment of the accused and some may find the transition jarring.

I read The Mermaid and the Bear precisely because of my interest in Scottish history and my curiosity about the Scottish Witchcraft Act of 1563 and specifically the Aberdeen witchcraft trials. In all, some 400 people were executed in Scotland during this period including Bessie Thom and Christen Michell, both of whom are actual historical figures featured within the novel. Ailish Sinclair does a wonderful job of fleshing out these two characters and making them an integral part of this fictional work.

I found the love story between Isobel and the Scottish laird Thomas Manteith less compelling and somewhat contrived, but since I don’t usually read romance novels, others can decide for themselves whether it’s typical of the genre.

On the whole this debut novel by Ailish Sinclair is an engaging read that can be enjoyed for its beautiful description of Scotland, its romantic story, and/or its historical portrayal of Aberdeen. I look forward to her upcoming book Fireflies and Chocolate inspired by the children kidnapped in Aberdeen in the 18th century.

The First Emma: Lone Star Book Blog Tour – Author Video

THE FIRST EMMA
by
Camille Di Maio

Historical Fiction / Historical Romance / Women’s Fiction

Publisher: Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing
Date of Publication: May 5, 2020
Number of Pages: 315

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The First Emma is the true story of Emma Koehler. Whose tycoon husband Otto was killed in a crime-of-the-century murder by one of his two mistresses – both also named Emma – and her unlikely rise as CEO of a brewing empire during Prohibition. When a chance to tell her story to a young teetotaler arises, a tale unfolds of love, war, beer, and the power of women.

 

PRAISE for The First Emma

“Di Maio’s take on a shocking American drama pleasantly blends romantic and historical fiction . . . a sweet memorialization of a real-life female business pioneer in San Antonio.” —Kirkus

“A beautifully crafted portrait of an intriguing woman. Mystery and romance are set against the backdrop of fascinating pieces of twentieth-century history, and a richly drawn setting leaves the reader feeling wholly immersed. Historical fiction fans will love this one!” —Chanel Cleeton, NYT bestselling author of Next Year in Havana


“Di Maio does a brilliant job of weaving together all the threads—from past to present—while unearthing a tale of blossoming love, the power of our chosen family, and the losses that make us whole again.” —Rochelle B. Weinstein, USA Today bestselling author of This Is Not How It Ends

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Author Video

Camille Di Maio, author of bestselling historical fiction, loves to illuminate the stories of women from the past. From the challenges they overcome to the loves they embrace, her characters – both real and fictional – have something to teach us in the present.

Join Camille as she introduces her books and invites her readers to keep in touch.

The First Emma

CLICK TO VIEW VIDEO:

Camille Di Maio always dreamed of being a writer, though she took a winding path of waitressing, temping, politicking, and real estate to get there. It all came to fruition with the publication of her bestselling debut, The Memory of Us, followed by Before the Rain Falls, The Way of Beauty, and The Beautiful Strangers. In addition to writing, she loves farmers’ markets, unashamedly belts out Broadway tunes when the mood strikes, and regularly faces her fear of flying to indulge her passion for travel. Married for twenty-three years, she home-schools their four children. (Though the first two are off at college now!) She is happy to live in Virginia near a beach. 
 

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First Herd to Abilene: Lone Star Book Blog Tour – Review & Giveaway

FIRST HERD TO ABILENE

An H. H. Lomax Western, #5
by
PRESTON LEWIS
Genre: Historical Fiction / Western / Humor
Publisher: Wolfpack Publishing
Date of Publication: February 5, 2020
Number of Pages: 449

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HISTORICALLY SOUND AND HILARIOUSLY FUNNY! H.H. Lomax meets Wild Bill Hickok in Springfield, Missouri, and is responsible for Hickok’s legendary gunfight with Davis Tutt. Fearing Hickok will hold a grudge, Lomax escapes Springfield and agrees to promote Joseph G. McCoy’s dream of building Abilene, Kansas, into a cattle town, ultimately leading the first herd to Abilene from Texas.

Along the way, he encounters Indians, rabid skunks, flash floods, a stampede, and the animosities of some fellow cowboys trying to steal profits from the drive. Lomax is saved by the timely arrival of now U.S. Marshal Hickok, but Lomax uses counterfeit wanted posters to convince Hickok his assailants are wanted felons with rewards on their heads.

Lomax and Wild Bill go their separate ways until they run into each other a decade later in Deadwood, Dakota Territory, where Hickok vows to kill Lomax for getting him fired.

First Herd to Abilene is an entertaining mix of historical and hysterical fiction.

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Review

Four Stars

First Herd to Abilene is the fifth book in this series featuring the hilarious exploits of H.H. (Henry Harrison) Lomax, one of the most colorful characters to ever grace the pages of a western novel. If you’ve never read any of the previous entries into the outrageous circumstances and succession of adventures that puts H.H. at the confluence of every major event to ever be recorded about the Old West, don’t worry. Author Preston Lewis revisits those earlier escapades in Chapter One, while at the same time laying the groundwork for what is yet to come.

Lewis contends that he came across Lomax’s memoirs while conducting research at Texas Tech University, and though he “can’t vouch for their veracity,” these tales of encounters with the likes of Billy the Kid, Jessie James, Doc Holiday and Wyatt Earp, Buffalo Bill Cody, and George Armstrong Custer (to name just a few) are told with such insightful historical detail as well as wit and humor that readers will find themselves totally engaged. “While some may question his credentials as a credible chronicler of the occurrences Lomax claims to have witnessed, no one can doubt his abilities as a humorous story-teller of the first rank.”

First Herd to Abilene takes Henry Harrison Lomax from the end of the Civil War to three years past the turn of the century and, as in the earlier volumes, allows Lomax to weave another yarn about his encounters with some of the most memorable characters in the history of the Old West, folks such as James Butler ‘Wild Bill’ Hickok, Calamity Jane, Jessie Chisolm and Joseph G. McCoy.”

It begins with Lomax grousing about his disdain for all Texans, “a breed whose stupidity, greed, and depravity was exceeded only by that of politicians and lawyers.” His bitterness is really the result of a later tragedy, but at the outset of the book he begrudges Texans for making a fortune in the cattle industry while he “received nary a cent for all the hard work I put in and all risks I took to chart the course to Kansas.” Additionally,  Lomax feels slighted by Joseph G. McCoy, the entrepreneur who had the vision of transporting cattle by rail to Easterners starving for beef, but fails to give Lomax recognition and historical credit for being the first to blaze a trail from Texas to the stockyards and railheads in Abilene. That credit went to Jessie Chisolm, “an old coot who never traversed the route from Kansas to South Texas and back.”

It’s this bitterness that sets the tone for probably the most serious storyline of all the books in the series, with much of its 449 pages describing what it was like to be a part of the great cattle drives that defined this era in history. The arduous challenge of herding longhorn cattle over 700 miles from Texas to Kansas required months of backbreaking monotonous work that pitted cattlemen against the elements, disease, wild animals, hostile terrain, Indian attacks, and rustlers. It meant months of breathing in trail dust as well as the foul odors of the livestock, going without much sleep, eating the same food day-in day-out, no gambling or drinking, and very little human contact except between fellow trail riders… all of which grated on nerves and frequently resulted in the deaths of both man and beast. Preston Lewis certainly intersperses Lomax’s typical humor into this portrayal of a cowhand’s life, but he does so in a manner that doesn’t negate or gloss over the difficulties faced along the way.

Besides Lomax and the iconic historical figures mentioned above, Lewis creates a cast of characters that brings these hardships to life. Madlyn Dillon, an artist who has been spoiled and pampered her entire life, but the first Texan, male or female, to take an interest in Lomax and Joseph G. McCoy’s vision. Colonel Saul Dillon, her father. The Texas cattleman puts his trust in Lomax to get his cattle to Kansas and save his ranch. Ruth, orphaned by the Comanche but taken in and employed by Colonel Dillon. She falls in love with Lomax in an ill-fated relationship. Sainty Spencer, the ranch foreman who is sweet on Madlyn, and as trail boss is trusted to bring back the cash from the sale of the cattle in Abilene. Charlie Bitters, the cook, second in importance only to the trail boss, but whose cooking for the Army of Tennessee during the Civil War is said to have led to its defeat. Jose Munoz and Pedro Ramirez, Mexican hands that will tend to the remuda during the trail drive. Martin Michaels, a sketch artist on the side and the first cowhand hired, and Tom Errun, an Englishman with no experience pared up with Michaels to lead the herd. Silas Banty, a former slave, who looks to the future with optimism and learns to read from Lomax. Toad Beeline, little understood by his fellow trailhands because he tends to mumble when he speaks. He and Silas are assigned to ride flank. Trent Parsons, a former Confederate soldier wounded at Shiloh who spends his spare time with the Good Book, and Jurdon Mark, an affable sort who excels at the game of marbles, will ride swing. Lastly, Harry Dire, a skilled roper but a malcontent, Chuck Muscher, a Yankee troublemaker, and Bartholomew Henry O’Henry, another former slave angry about his past with a mean streak in him, will all be assigned to ride drag which only adds to their alienation and seditious attitudes. Their actions bode ill for the success of the cattle drive.

Bookending this description of the cattle drive and the fate of these characters is the story of Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane told as only H.H. Lomax can, again putting himself right smack dab in the middle of the action over a span of years that begins in Springfield, Missouri and ends on that fateful day in Deadwood, Dakota Territory. But what does a “Rattle Jar,” head lice, an illicit game of poker at the library,  a stolen gold Waltham watch, cherry pie, an impromptu lynching, counterfeit wanted posters, and the “romance” between Wild Bill and Miss Martha Jane Canary and their final resting place  have to do with that narrative? For those insights, you really do need to read the book. In fact, once you do, I highly recommend that you go back and read the entire series. You won’t be disappointed!

Finally, to give a complete review of First Herd to Abilene, I need to mention errors in editing that I had not encountered in Lewis’ previous books. I seldom comment on SPAGs, but readers will undoubtedly come across them in the course of reading the novel. Preston Lewis is a great storyteller and a deserving winner of the Spur Award for western literature, but this book would have benefitted from a final edit before publication.

That said, as someone who once wrote that the “western genre no longer holds the public’s attention as it once did in cinema and published media,” I can definitely say that Preston Lewis’ books are the exception, helping keep western literature alive, vibrant, relevant and entertaining.

I received a free copy of First Herd to Abilene in exchange for my honest review.

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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Destiny’s Way: Lone Star Book Blog Tour – Guest Post

DESTINY’S WAY
A Novel of the Big Bend
by
Ben H. English
Historical Fiction / Suspense
Publisher: Creative Texts Publishers
Date of Publication: January 18, 2020
Number of Pages: 363
 

Kate Blanchard woke up one morning in a dream home she could no longer afford, with a young son who needed a man’s influence, and not a friend among those who had claimed to be prior to her husband’s mysterious disappearance.

About all she had left was a ramshackle ranch along Terlingua Creek, sitting forlornly in the desolate reaches of the lower Big Bend. It was the only place left she could go. There she finds a home and a presence of something strange yet comforting that she can’t put her finger on or fully understand.

With that ethereal presence comes Solomon Zacatecas, a loner with his own past and a knowledge of her land near uncanny in nature. He helps her when no one else can and is honest when no one else will be, but she suspicions that he is not always completely so.

Yet her quiet, unassuming neighbor proves to be more than capable in whatever situation arises. That includes when standing alone against those who would take everything else that Kate had, including her life as well as her son’s.



PRAISE FOR DESTINY’S WAY:

“This is one of those rare books that you simply can’t put down. Ben English ‘s writing style is pure magic. He really brings this historical fiction book to life. Immediately, you are drawn to the main characters Kate and Solomon and feel as though you are right there next to them, experiencing what they are experiencing. Destiny’s Way is one that would do well on the Silver Screen.”
Catherine Eaves, published author“Ben does a superb job with this book! Excellent characters, true-to-life environment that is part and parcel of the story, twists and turns enough to make you wonder what is going on, and a slice of life down in Big Bend that rings true. That area has historically been full of ‘characters’ throughout its history, and Ben brings those characters into the book, raising the hair on the back of your neck. Highly recommended!”
J. L. Curtis, author of the Grey Man series“Ben, I love how your words and your memories reach out and connect the past with the present and touch so many people along the way. You are the connector! Bravo Zulu, my friend.”
Matt Walter, Museum of the Big Bend Curator

 

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GuestPost

Dreamers and Castaways of the Big Bend

Guest Post by Ben English

image001

“Surrounded by the northern reaches of the Chihuahuan Desert, it also marked the end of the line for the ancient, crumbling remains of the Ouachitas. Even mountains die, given enough time, and the Ouachitas were slowly dissolving away, decaying relics mastered by other ranges that rose up and reached for the heavens hundreds of millions of years later.

This collision with far younger mountains, as well as those of the Sierra Madre Oriental from Old Mexico, made for geological strata and anomalies not found anywhere else on the North American continent. They say that when God finished making the world, He took everything left over and deposited it in the Big Bend. When one took inventory of what was there, that whimsical adage took on a dimensionally larger meaning. For here lay mysteries upon mysteries compounded by time, nature, and human imagination.

Different? Yes, almost in a forbidding way. But this sphinxlike, timeworn place had called out to her with the bewitching song of a desert siren. At first, she had very much been a stranger in a strange land. But here she had stayed and found a temporary home, providing solace for broken dreams and near-broken hearts.”

These are the lines that help introduce the main female character in Destiny’s Way. Kate is a strong-willed woman who has faced a great deal of tragedy and disappointment in her life and coming to the lower Big Bend was her instinct when the world seemed set against her. Or worse, could have cared less.

This country can mend a heart or just as easily break one, some would say the latter comes easier. I have seen it go both ways repeatedly, and often a person has no real idea of their fate until the moment they see sunshine or shipwreck.

It is the land of broken dreams, dotted by the remnants of those dreams going back through the centuries.

And those desert sirens keep singing out, bringing both hope and doom to the castaway dreamers who seek them.

My beautiful picture

“The more she went, the more that ranch and the old headquarters pulled at her heart and spoke to her innermost soul. The thick, stucco-covered adobe walls had seen a lot of days under the West Texas sky. They had sheltered past occupants from the blistering heat of summer, the cold winds of winter, and everything else in between. Now they protected Kate from the increasingly topsy-turvy world outside and gave respite to her loneliness and growing uncertainty.

The discolored tin roof covering those thick walls had done the same. It not only served to shield from the sun but also collected rainwater to supply the cistern out back. The dog-run, now screened in, provided a place for rest when the house itself was too warm for comfort. It was situated to catch the slightest summer breeze, and the wide porches with morning glories spiraling up goat-proof fencing further cooled the desert drafts.”

This excerpt is part of a discourse about an old adobe house that figures prominently in the plot for Destiny’s Way. People have started asking me about that place after reading the book, wanting to know more about it. Like most every other structure or terrain feature mentioned it exists even today, though in a substantially different form.

The photograph was taken by my mother circa 1967, my younger brother Lyndon and I are sitting on a couple of half-broke horses our grandfather gave us. Note the hackamores and the old Texas-style saddles that make up our gear.

This original headquarters, much like the ethereal presences that make up part of the novel, figures large into the background of both photograph and story. We lived in that house when we first came to the ranch and I got to know it well. Many of the incidents involving this place as described in the book actually occurred.

And yes, my entire family considered the house haunted, and for good reason. Yet like the presence described in Destiny’s Way, we also knew it never meant us any real harm.

Destiny’s Way is a work of fiction, but there are many past remembrances captured within its pages.

Ben H. English is an eighth-generation Texan who grew up in the Big Bend. At seventeen he joined the Marines, ultimately becoming a chief scout-sniper as well as a platoon sergeant. Later he worked counterintelligence and traveled to over thirty countries. 
 
At Angelo State University he graduated Magna Cum Laude along with other honors. Afterwards Ben had a career in the Texas Highway Patrol, holding several instructor billets involving firearms, driving, and defensive tactics.
 
His intimate knowledge of what he writes about lends credence and authenticity to his work. Ben knows how it feels to get hit and hit back, or being thirsty, cold, wet, hungry, alone, or exhausted beyond imagination. Finally, he knows of not only being the hunter but also the hunted.
 
Ben and his wife have two sons who both graduated from Annapolis. He still likes nothing better than grabbing a pack and some canteens and heading out to where few others venture.

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Out of the Embers: Lone Star Book Blog Tour – Excerpt

OUT OF THE EMBERS
MESQUITE SPRINGS, BOOK ONE
by
Amanda Cabot
Historical Fiction / Christian Romance
Publisher: Revell
Date of Publication: March 3, 2020
Number of Pages: 336

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Ten years after her parents were killed, Evelyn Radcliffe is once more homeless. The orphanage that was her refuge and later her workplace has burned to the ground, and only she and a young orphan girl have escaped. Convinced this must be related to her parents’ murders, Evelyn flees with the girl to Mesquite Springs in the Texas Hill Country and finds refuge in the home of Wyatt Clark, a talented horse rancher whose plans don’t include a family of his own.


At first, Evelyn is a distraction. But when it becomes clear that trouble has followed her to Mesquite Springs, she becomes a full-blown disruption. Can Wyatt keep her safe from the man who wants her dead? And will his own plans become collateral damage?

Suspenseful and sweetly romantic, Out of the Embers is the first in a new series that invites you to the Texas Hill Country in the 1850s, when the West was wild, the men were noble, and the women were strong.

PRAISE FOR OUT OF THE EMBERS:

Out of the Embers is part prairie romance, part romantic suspense. I can’t remember when I’ve enjoyed a book more. Amanda Cabot has written an intriguing, chilling mystery and she winds it through the pages of a sweet romance in a way that made me keep turning the pages fast to see what was going to happen next. An absolutely excellent read. And now I’m hungry for oatmeal pecan pie!” 

Mary Connealy, author of Aiming for Love, book #1 in the Brides of Hope Mountain series
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Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE, PART THREE FROM

OUT OF THE EMBERS

BY AMANDA CABOT

Click to read part one, previously featured on Lone Star Book Blog Tours

Click to read part two, previously featured on Lone Star Book Blog Tours

One Friday, December 21, 1855

As they rounded the final bend in the road, the cause of the smoke was all too clear. The light from the almost full moon revealed the ashes and rubble that were all that was left of the building that had been Evelyn’s home for the past ten years. She stared at the blackened foundation, trying to make sense of something that made no sense. Well aware of the danger fire posed to a frame structure, Mrs. Folger was vigilant about safety. Yet, despite her caution, something had happened. The orphanage was gone.

So were its inhabitants. There should be close to two dozen children swarming around, yet Evelyn saw nothing more than a few men. Though her heart was pounding so violently that she feared it would break through her chest at the realization that she’d lost her home, she clung to the hope that Mrs. Folger and the children had escaped and had been taken in by some of the town’s residents. If not . . .

The possibility was too horrible to consider. Her mother had told her not to borrow trouble, and Evelyn wouldn’t. Instead, she’d ask the men what had happened. Surely everyone had been saved. But though she tried to convince herself that she would be reunited with the matron and the other orphans, in her heart she knew that was one prayer that would not be answered.

Evelyn bit the inside of her cheek, determined not to let Polly see her fears. But she failed, for the child began to tremble.

“What happened to the ’nage?” Though Polly’s diction was far better than one would have expected from the shabby clothing she’d worn when she was abandoned, whoever had taught her hadn’t included “orphanage” in her vocabulary.

Evelyn wrapped her arms around Polly and willed her voice to remain steady as she said, “It’s gone.” And, if what she feared was true, so were Mrs. Folger and the children who had been her family.

As she descended the small hill and approached the front drive, Evelyn saw that the men were wandering around the yard, their casual attitude belying the gravity of the situation.

“Ain’t no one left,” one called to the others, his voice carrying clearly through the still night air. “Smoke musta got ’em.”

No. Oh, dear God, no. It couldn’t be true, and yet it was. Once again, she had lost everyone she loved, everyone except the girl who clung to her, her own fear palpable. Once again, it was night. Once again, she was powerless to change anything, but at least this time it had been an accident.

Evelyn shuddered and said a silent prayer that Polly wouldn’t realize the extent of the tragedy. Somehow, she would protect her. Somehow, she would help her recover from all that they had lost in this terrible accident.

“Can’t figger it out,” another man chimed in. “Who woulda wanted to do ’em in? No mistakin’ them kerosene cans, though. Somebody set the fire.”

Evelyn gasped, feeling as though she’d been bludgeoned, and for a second everything turned black. The fire wasn’t an accident. Someone had deliberately destroyed the orphanage, planning to kill everyone inside. Including her.

Where is she?” The memory of the voice that still haunted Evelyn’s dreams echoed through her brain, shattering the fragile peace Mrs. Folger’s assurances had created. Tonight proved that she wasn’t safe, not even here. Someone wanted to kill the last of the Radcliffes.

Why? That was the question no one had been able to answer ten years ago, the question that had kept Evelyn from leaving the sanctuary the orphanage had promised. Now that promise was shattered.

She closed her eyes as fear and sorrow threatened to overwhelm her. The life she had built was gone, destroyed along with the building that had been her refuge and the people who had become her family. Oh, God, what should I do?

The response was immediate. Leave.

It was the only answer. She could do nothing for Mrs. Folger and the others, but she could—and she would—do everything in her power to give Polly a safe future. The question was where they should go. Evelyn stared at the stars for a second, then nodded. Gilmorton, the one place she would not consider, was east. Resolutely, she headed west.

“What happened?” Polly asked again, her voice far calmer than Evelyn would have expected. Either the child was too young to understand the magnitude of what had happened, or she’d experienced so much tragedy in her life that she was numb.

“We need a new home.” For the first time, Evelyn gave thanks that Polly had formed no strong attachments to anyone other than her. That would make her transition to a new life easier. While grief had wrapped its tendrils around Evelyn’s heart, squeezing so tightly that she had trouble breathing, Polly seemed to be recovering from her initial shock.

“Okay.” Though the child tightened her grip on Evelyn’s arm, her trembling had stopped. “Where are we going?”

“It’ll be a surprise.” At this point, Evelyn had no idea where she and Polly would find their next home. All she knew was that it had to be far from here, far from whoever had set the fire, far from the Watcher.

Polly was silent for a moment before she said, “It’s okay, Evelyn. You’ll be my mama, and you’ll find me a new daddy.”

Amanda Cabot is the bestselling author of the Cimarron Creek trilogy, as well as the Texas Crossroads series, the Texas Dreams series, the Westward Winds series, and Christmas Roses. Her books have been finalists for the ACFW Carol Awards, the HOLT Medallion, and the Booksellers’ Best. She lives in Wyoming.
 

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The Lords of the North: My Review

Lords of the North Book CoverThe Lords of the North is book three of Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Tales, continuing the story of Uhtred Ragnarson and the founding of a United Britain under Alfred the Great. For the background on the first two entries in the series see my previous reviews for The Last Kingdom (Dec 7, 2018) and The Pale Horseman (Jul 5, 2019.)

The year is 878 A.D., and Alfred has just defeated the Viking Guthrum at the Battle of Ethandun with Uhtred’s assistance, thus allowing him to consolidate power in the Kingdom of Wessex. However, Alfred is a sickly king and has yet to strengthen sufficiently to take on the Danes in the northeastern half of England where three lords, all sworn enemies of Uhtred, rule:

In Northumbria there is Ivarr Ivarson, whose brother Ubba was slain at the hand of Uhtred. In the Valley of the River Wiire there is Kjartan the Cruel and his son Sven the One-Eyed. Kjartan is responsible for the murder of Uhtred’s adopted father Ragnar, and has imprisoned his stepsister Thyra in the formidable fortress at Dunholm and given her over to Sven to sexually abuse. And at Bebbanburg, Uhtred’s birthright, his uncle AElfric has usurped his heritage and seeks Uhtred’s death to ensure that he can hold onto his  lands and title.

Released from his pledge to Alfred, Uhtred sets out to confront his enemies and reclaim his heritage setting in motion a series of adventures that include betrayal, slavery, political intrigue, and monumental battles… all of which make for a thrilling and entertaining read. Bernard Cornwell is at his best in this third installment, writing vivid descriptions of life and death in ninth century England and the collision of two worlds and cultures – Saxon Christianity against Pagan beliefs and mythology.

This confrontation occurs not just on the battlefield. The internal struggle for men’s souls is a continuing theme in all the books, juxtaposing faith in God the Father and his only begotten Son Jesus and the concepts of sin and redemption, heaven and hell with the belief in multiple Norse gods, Valhalla, mythical beings and superstition. One the one hand there is Alfred the Great, a devout Christian and the pious ruler of what will become Great Britain, and on the other Uhtred, a Viking warrior who totally believes in fate and destiny.  Their ongoing relationship and need for one another will play out as Bernard Cornwell continues his history of England in his next entry in the series, Sword Song.

Lest anyone think otherwise, however, each of these books can be read by itself as a stand-alone fantasy adventure that mixes sword and sorcery with accurate depictions of this historical period. The continuity lies in Uhtred.  The point of view is his and the first person narrative is that of an old man looking back on his life, retelling his tale with both humor and heartbreaking honesty. The dialogue can be crude, the descriptions of battle graphic, but the story is one that draws you in… you actually care about the characters, particularly Uhtred, and you want to know what happens next.

It is also a tale which  immerses readers in Norse mythology where the three spinners weave tapestries of everyone’s life before they are even born, predetermining their destiny and even the timing and place of their death. “It is the three spinners who make our lives. They sit at the foot of Yggdrasil [the tree of life] and there they have their jests… because fate cannot be cheated, it governs us, and we are all its slaves.”

Uhtred’s fate is tied to the conquest and unification of England, while mine is linked to finishing this engrossing, educational, and highly satisfying saga by Bernard Cornwell.

 

 

Rio Ruidoso: Lone Star Book Blog Tour – Excerpt

RIO RUIDOSO
Three Rivers Trilogy, 1
by
PRESTON LEWIS
Genre: Historical Western
Publisher: Five Star Publishing
Date of Publication: February 19, 2020
Number of Pages: 299

2017 Elmer Kelton Award from the West Texas Historical Association:
Best Creative Work on West Texas

 

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Rio Ruidoso offers a gripping blend of history and story as two-time Spur Award-winner Preston Lewis explores the violent years before the famed Lincoln County War in New Mexico Territory. Seamlessly weaving fact with fiction, the author details the county’s corruption, racism, and violence through the eyes of protagonist Wes Bracken, newly arrived in the region to start a horse ranch with his alcoholic brother.

 

Bracken’s dreams for the Mirror B Ranch are threatened by his brother’s drunkenness, the corruption of economic kingpin Lawrence G. Murphy, and the murderous rampages of the racist Horrell Brothers. To bring tranquility to Lincoln County, Bracken must defeat those threats and stand his ground against the ever-changing alliances that complicate life and prosperity in multi-racial Lincoln County.

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Excerpt

EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER ONE OF

RIO RUIDOSO

BY PRESTON LEWIS

As he neared the bend in the stream, a woman’s screams and sobs grew discernible and louder. Then Wes heard the mocking laugh of amused men. Rounding the bend, Wes saw a small adobe dwelling with a small cultivated field between it and the Ruidoso. And in front of the house, he spied a circle of four men around a Hispanic woman. A fifth man sat horseback, holding the others’ mounts. All five were hurrahing the woman and someone else within their circle.

Wes held the stallion back while he studied the five men, all so intent on their mischief that not one had noticed their visitor less than a hundred yards away. Wes knew neither the dispute nor its cause, but he could see the odds were less than fair. He levered a cartridge into the Winchester, then shook the reins. The sorrel stepped forward, the gap between Wes and the men narrowing to eighty yards, sixty yards, then forty yards. Still the men remained oblivious to all but the prey within their small circle.

Wes watched a frail man stand up among them, only to be shoved back to the ground by a bigger assailant. The woman screamed and tried to help the victim, but another attacker grabbed her arm and jerked her away. She fell to the ground, then clambered toward the frail man. Everyone laughed, except Wes! He had seen enough.

“Get up, greaser, so I can plant you in the ground again,” taunted one attacker.

At twenty yards, Wes eased back on the sorrel’s reins. Swinging the barrel of his carbine toward the assailants, he shouted, “Afternoon.”

Five men flinched at the greeting, then stiffened. They slowly turned around, facing Wes, their hands frozen near the revolvers at their sides.

“What seems to be the trouble?” Wes called out.

The woman burst through the circle of men and rushed toward Wes. “Gracias, señor, muy gracias!

Her cry and the flash of her skirt spooked Charlie. The sorrel nervously backtracked a half-dozen steps. One man reached toward his pistol, his hand wrapping around the gun butt.

The Hispanic woman stopped dead still.

Wes jerked the carbine to his shoulder and fired over the foolhardy man. The fellow’s fingers widened and his arm went limp, releasing the pistol that slid back into its holster. His companions raised their hands away from their own sidearms.

The young woman’s hand flew to her throat. “Please, señor, stop them from hurting us.”

Wes nodded. “What’s the trouble?”

One troublemaker stepped ahead of the others. He had a stiff neck, his whole body turning with his head. “No trouble. Until you showed up, fellow!”

“The young lady wouldn’t agree, now would she?”

“She’s Mexican. What’s she know?”

“Enough to expect decent treatment from folks.”

Stiff neck turned his whole body toward the others. “He damn sure ain’t from Texas, now is he?” As they laughed, stiff neck twisted back to face Wes. “Hell, fellow, you remember the Alamo? This greaser’s kin likely killed good white folks there. We’re just paying them back.”

Wes shrugged. “That was near forty years ago, and this isn’t Texas. You best forget the Alamo, ride on and leave these folks alone.”

Raising his fist, stiff neck advanced a step. “Fellow, I don’t know who you are, but you got no business interfering in what my bunch does. The name’s Horrell, I’m Mart, and these are my brothers Tom, Merritt, Ben, and Sam. We’ll ride out, but you remember the Horrell name if you’re planning on staying in Lincoln County because we’ll meet again when we ain’t in such a good mood.” 

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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Gone to Soldiers: My Review

Gone to Soldiers Book CoverI have read many novels of World War II, but none like Gone to Soldiers by Marge Piercy. Ambitious in scope, this sweeping epic not only immerses the reader into the events that took place during these tumultuous years, but connects them emotionally with the pain, suffering, tragedies and triumphs of ordinary people. Her lens into the horrors of this monumental conflict is unique. Told from a woman’s perspective, it emphasizes the struggles of the Jewish people and their resilience. In passages that are heartbreaking, compelling, and unsparing in their detail, she describes the horrors of the concentration camps… Hitler’s Final Solution. With the rise of antisemitism some seventy-five years after Germany’s surrender to Allied forces, it is both a somber reflection on the Holocaust and the survival of the human spirit in spite of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man, as well as a sobering reminder that such discrimination and persecution continue today.

But Piercy goes way beyond the stories of those who perished or inexplicably survived the death camps, to give voice to those who waited for word of their loved ones. It took resilience to continue living without any information about fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, friends and lovers who were either fighting the Nazis across Europe or the Japanese in the South Pacific, or who found themselves caught in the middle between opposing armies. Piercy gives us flesh and blood characters whose strengths and flaws are given equal shrift, and whose hopes and dreams and daily realities mirror our own.

Just as life is not straight forward, Piercy’s story involves multiple characters whose different stories and experiences all converge or overlap in a sprawling 769 page narrative. It definitely took me awhile to wade through this voluminous novel, but I was engaged throughout and totally engrossed in the fate of each and every person regardless of how vile or good, their occupation or social status, wealth or impoverishment, ambitions or insecurities, race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.  I was emotionally involved and genuinely cared about them.

Such a response to the written word is a testament to Marge Piercy’s ability as an author. Her strong female characters challenge traditional gender roles yet Gone to Soldiers is not just geared towards a female audience. The women give voice and unique perspective to World War II that isn’t found in other literary works.

These were extraordinary times experienced by extraordinary people, many of them women. Their stories are just as relevant as the men’s, and Piercy captures both.

 

 

 

Femme Fatale

The origins of the sexually attractive woman who sets out to seduce men for her own purposes can be found in ancient biblical and historical texts as well as in classical literature. The temptress Delilah is cited in the 16th chapter of the Book of Judges in the Old Testament as the means by which the Philistines discovered the source of the Israelite Sampson’s strength. The first century historian Josephus writes of Salome, the stepdaughter of Herod Antipas, who demanded the head of John the Baptist on a silver platter in exchange for an erotic dance on Herod’s birthday. Even Greek mythology speaks of half-birds, half-maidens whose “siren song” lured sailors to a rocky shore and certain death. In Homer’s “The Odyssey,” Odysseus has his men tie him to the mast of his ship so that he can experience the allure of the Sirens without succumbing to their temptations.

However, that sultry allure, sex or the promise of sex, characteristically results in either a lifetime of regret or self-destruction. Deliberate seduction is a weapon that draws some men into compromising and even dangerous situations leading to their downfall or death. There’s a price to pay for the pleasures of the flesh – loss of one’s manhood,  manipulation and commission of acts on the woman’s behalf that can result in blackmail or even murder, and choices that compromise or even endanger the lives of others.

The seductress has existed throughout history and has often been used as a plot device in literature. In my latest book, a novella of the Salvadoran civil war, the fictional character Diana Montego (an urban guerrilla) serves that purpose.

She was exposed to training like any other recruit, learning weaponry, explosives, tactics, and strategic objectives under Nidia’s tutelage. These were all secondary, however, to her sexuality, and she was soon given her mission. Use her looks and wiles to find and seduce an American staying at the Hotel Presidente. The endgame, of course, would not be this one individual. Her task was to get inside, become totally familiar with the layout of the hotel, and specifically identify the rooms where the American advisers were lodged. To be successful, she would need to use all her womanly skills. That it proved so easy was a surprise both to Diana and the FMLN leadership. — Excerpt from Tarnished Brass.

Follow Diana’s story and learn more about American involvement in the war and the repercussions that continue to affect the United States and this small Central American country.