In the Blood of the Greeks: My Review

In The Blood of The Greeks Book CoverAuthor Mary D. Brooks’ novel looks into the “katochi,” the occupation of Greece by the Nazis during World War II. It pays homage to the Greek Resistance movement as well as the efforts of local priests and citizens to save Greek Jews from the horrors of Hitler’s final solution, and it tells the story of two women, one Greek, one German, who not only survived the war, but found both love and hope in the process.

Zoe Lambros is fourteen, headstrong, outspoken, and openly defiant towards the Germans who have occupied Larissa, Greece. Eva Muller is eighteen, the daughter of the German commander whose troops now enslave the local Greek population, and reviled by Zoe. Crippled in a bombing of her home while her father was stationed in Paris, she is recovering not only from physical wounds, but emotional scars suffered during aversion therapy. Eva’s attraction to other women has been brutally repressed by shock treatment and chemical injections.

Unbeknownst to Zoe, Eva is secretly working with the Greek Resistance through the local priest, Father Haralambros, providing forged travel documents to Jewish families so they can escape imprisonment and almost certain death in Nazi concentration camps. Their relationship also goes well beyond priest and collaborator, but Zoe is unaware of their secret connection.

When the Resistance’s activities against their German oppressors result in the deaths of German soldiers, the attacks are met with swift and brutal retribution. Major Hans Muller not only orders the execution of captured Greek fighters but local villagers. Cruel and sadistic, he takes pleasure in personally selecting and shooting the victims.  When he kills Zoe’s beloved mother, she swears revenge.

Zoe’s plans focus on killing Eva Muller whom she mistakenly believes laughed while Zoe held her dying mother in her arms. She doesn’t care whether she dies in the attempt as long as Eva dies along with her. She struggles with her faith knowing that suicide and murder are wrong. She denies God’s existence and questions how He could possibly allow the German occupation of her country and the atrocities committed against her family and her people.

Divine intervention intercedes when Father Haralambros arranges for Zoe to actually work in the Muller household as a caretaker to Eva. At first she can’t believe the irony,  but her hatred will eventually transform as she discovers who Eva really is, the physical and psychological trauma she has also endured at the hands of the Nazis, the courage it takes for her to defy them, her true relationship with Father Haralambros, and the emerging affection they both feel toward one another!

The title of the book comes from the Greek national anthem: And we saw thee sad-eyed, The tears on thy cheeks, While thy raiment was dyed In the Blood of the Greeks. It is the first in a series by Mary Brooks on Eva Muller and Zoe Lambros.

Readers, who enjoy strong female protagonists and an unlikely romance set against the backdrop of WWII and a part of that monumental struggle that isn’t often the focus of historical books, will enjoy this opening novel while looking forward to the continuing adventures of Eva and Zoe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Redemption of Jessie James – Book Two of the Memoirs of H.H. Lomax: My Review

the redemption of jessie james book coverThere are few characters in the Old West as colorful as H.H. (Henry Harrison) Lomax. He claims in his memoirs to have been involved in most of the momentous events that occurred during westward expansion and settlement, interacting with the likes of Billy the Kid (see my review of Book One, The Demise of Billy the Kid, dated June 7, 2018) and now the infamous bank robber, Jessie James!

Author Preston Lewis uses his typical wit and humor to reintroduce us to H.H. Lomax as a young boy living in Arkansas with his family during the Civil War. Henry is twelve when the war begins, and sixteen when fate causes him to leave home and seek out Jessie and Frank James in Missouri.

Nearly two-thirds of the book is devoted to these five formative years and Henry’s memories as a boy. There are descriptions of the difficulties that were faced by families just trying to survive, boyhood pranks that have consequences far beyond that of just having fun at someone else’s expense, adolescent love, awakening desires, the loss of siblings and friends to the war, and the viciousness of unscrupulous individuals willing to use sex or any other means, including murder, to get their way.

What they want from Henry and his family is a hidden cache of gold from a Confederate payroll. Rumors of its existence result in constant harassment and threats by a former neighbor turned guerrilla leader, his promiscuous daughter, a Yankee deserter, and Jessie James!

The Redemption referenced in the book’s title hearkens back to Jessie’s hatred of all Yankees and Yankee sympathizers. When the war ends in 1865 the Drake Constitution grants amnesty to irregular units that fought for the Union while holding similar Confederate units and individuals accountable for their actions. Instead of uniting Missourians it further inflamed the biases, loyalties, convictions and prejudices that already existed and it will turn the James brothers into outlaws.

Henry Lomax gets inadvertently involved in the James’ first bank robbery… they threaten to kill him if he doesn’t help or if he ever turns them into the authorities.  He does, however, eventually escape and for the next sixteen years aimlessly wanders the American West in search of fame and fortune. Down on his luck and needing to finally return to his home in Arkansas, he once again runs into none other than Jessie James.

Fearing the worst, Henry is surprised when Jessie (now living under the name Thomas Howard) invites him to meet his wife and children and even buys him new clothes and gives him money to help him get back to Arkansas. Jessie admits to having looked for Lomax after his escape planning on killing him before he could identify Frank or himself, but when no authorities show up he figures Henry has kept his word to remain mum, and this is his way of thanking him. Of course, Jessie hasn’t totally changed his ways and is planning another heist with Charlie and Bob Ford. Fortuitously, Henry declines the invitation to join them. Jessie James will be shot in the back in his own home by Bob Ford for the $10,000 bounty on his head.

Henry’s Arkansas reunion is bittersweet. He visits with those family members still living in his old hometown, discovers that he is revered for killing the bushwhacker who tormented the countryside so many years ago, and apologizes to his childhood sweetheart for leaving her behind. All is forgiven and he is asked to stay. But there are adventures yet to live and stories yet to tell.

Preston Lewis has crafted another chapter in the H.H. Lomax saga that combines homespun humor with vivid historical detail. As to further adventures and recollections of the same, there’s a gunfight in Henry’s future at the O.K. Corral!

 

Rebel: My Review

rebel book coverBook One of the Nathaniel Starbuck Chronicles takes the reader to Manassas, Virginia. The year is 1861 and the first major battle of the Civil War is about to take place. The ferocity and carnage at Bull Run will shatter any illusions of a quick victory by either Union or Confederate forces and usher in the protracted four-year struggle that will literally tear the country apart.

Few authors can so vividly bring to life what that first battle between two untested armies must have been like. The horrors of actual combat had not yet registered with the men who would face each other that day. Both sides had drilled and played at warfare, but few had any concept of what it would be like when the artillery shells and minnie balls began to tear their ranks apart. Some fled in terror. Some found the courage to stand their ground even in the face of certain death. Most wept and invoked God or called on their mothers for consolation. Countless numbers cried out in pain or had their lives snuffed out suddenly. One moment they were alive, the next they lay dead or were blown to bits missing arms and legs, no longer even distinguishable as a human being. Bernard Cornwell puts the reader inside this chaos and makes you see, smell, and feel what war entails.

Of course, to be truly effective, his vivid account of battle would not have the desired  impact upon readers unless they identified with the people involved. Cornwell gives us flesh and blood characters, some historical, some fictional, that we care about. In particular, it is the story of Nate Starbuck, an impetuous young man who enlists to fight on behalf of the Confederate cause even though he comes from Boston, Massachusetts. Nate has been raised by an abolitionist father and educated to become a minister himself, but he rebels against his structured and scripted life. He falls in love with a young woman who jilts him for another man, finds himself at the mercy of a Yankee-hating mob, is rescued by a wealthy Southern aristocrat, and in gratitude volunteers to serve in the “Faulconer legion” against his own kind. Nate struggles with his decision to take up arms against the Stars & Stripes, is conflicted morally by the temptations of the flesh and his abandonment of the pulpit, the disgrace his actions have brought upon his family, and his allegiance to a vain power-hungry rescuer with visions of glory.

I often turn to Bernard Cornwell when I look to read good historical fiction, and Rebel fulfills that need. My reservation, however, when picking up one of his novels is that few are stand alone books. Rebel is the first in another series that includes The Saxon Tales, The Richard Sharpe Series, and The Grail Quest Series. All are compelling and from time to time I return to each. It’s just that there are so many books on my “to read” list.

It’s a nice problem to have!

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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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!