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 Amazon.com

 

 

The Rainwater Secret: Author Interview

THE RAINWATER SECRET
by
Monica Shaw
Genre: Historical Fiction / Medical Missionaries
Publisher: Self-Published
Date of Publication: March 31, 2017
Number of Pages: 354

Scroll down for the giveaway!
 

The Rainwater Secret is a deeply moving, historical fiction novel about a woman who travels

to Africa to teach the leper children who were banished from their villages. Single and feeling there is nothing left for her in small-town England, Anna embarks on an adventure as a volunteer teacher with the Medical Missionaries of Mary. Life as Anna has known it is forever changed as she learns the culture that would banish its sick, disfigured, and crippled to the bush. Babies are left to die on roadsides, children are chased away to live by whatever means they can find. The aged are abandoned.

Anna’s daily life is an adventure as she travels from one village to another across a hostile land with few passable roads, rickety bridges threatening to fall apart and casting occupants on the jagged rocks far below, and weather that turns a calm river into a roiling death trap. In spite of the trials, Anna also manages to find love and family in this godforsaken land.

 
Follow this adventure through disease, weather, strife, death, and determination to turn a few acres of land into a loving home for the outcast lepers of Nigeria.

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AuthorInterview

Interview with Monica Shaw 

What did your great aunt do that inspired this book?

Well, back in 1950, my great aunt, Lily Murphy, heard that the Medical Missionaries of Mary were looking for a teacher to come to Africa to teach the leper children who were banned from their villages because of their disease.  It wasn’t just my aunt, it was the wonderful sisters with the Medical Missionaries of Mary who were able to take a few acres of land and make it into a home for the leprosy patients.  They gave each patient a plot of land to grow food, helped them build a thatched roof home, and gave them medical care and an education.

Also, I want to mention that a portion of the proceeds from the book goes to the Medical Missionaries of Mary who are still very humbly and quietly doing great work all over the world.

This adventure seemed like it would take a lot of courage.

Absolutely! It took them a month by boat to get to Nigeria and then at least another week by kitcar (which is a car built from spare parts) up to Ogoja where the first settlement was built.  One of the nuns I interviewed told me that she was nineteen when she made the trip and thought she was going to be a nurse’s aide and then get trained to be a nurse in a hospital.  She said when they drove up, there were no buildings, no housing – there was just a table under a tree where they were giving the leprosy patients inoculations.

How did you come across Lily’s story?

I was actually reading another book that was based in England, and it reminded me of Lily. I COULD NOT get her out of my head. I think there was a lot of divine intervention involved. I truly believe she was up in Heaven giving me a big nudge to get this story told.  I just started researching, and the more I found, the more fascinated I was. I contacted the MMMs in Drogheda, Ireland, outside Dublin, and planned a trip to research more in their archives. Once I met the sisters there and spent time with them and in the archives, I knew I had to figure out how to get this done.

It took you seven years to write, what was it like juggling being a mom and a first time author? 

Well the easiest answer is that it took me seven years, which should tell you something! It was a trick, but I LOVE this story.  I was so determined to make sure that I got the story told, I worked on it every moment I could.

What was so inspiring about Lily’s journey in life that you wanted to share it?

Lily and all the MMMs basically gave up many, many years of theirs lives to go to a foreign land, not knowing what they were getting into, to help others. Many gave their lives there.  Lily was interviewed in the Dallas Morning News a long time ago, and when they asked her about going on this adventure so far away and why, she just replied, “What’s the use of just working for oneself?”  which pretty much says it all.

What does your book say about the strength and spirit of women?

I think mainly that where there is a will, there is a way.  They went there not knowing what they would find and just had faith that they would be led in the right direction.  If that doesn’t describe inspirational women full of spirit and strength, I’m not sure what does.

 
Monica Shaw is a native of Dallas, Texas where she has been a successful entrepreneur. She attended St. Thomas Aquinas, graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School, and earned her Geology / Petroleum Engineering degree from UT Austin. Her debut novel, The Rainwater Secret, started off as a personal research project looking into the life of her great aunt who became a missionary teacher. Monica is married with 3 children.

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The Frozen Hours: My Review

The Frozen Hours Book CoverThe Frozen Hours by Jeff Shaara is not an exploration of the entire Korean War. It begins in September 1950 and follows the events taking place through mid-December of that year;  North Korea’s invasion of South Korea, the strategically brilliant amphibious landing at Inchon, and the 1st Marine Division’s heroic fight for survival at the Chosin Reservoir.

Like his other novels these historical events have been meticulously researched and faithfully documented. Where Shaara separates himself from other historical fiction writers is his ability to give voice to the people who actually lived them. The dialogue he creates articulates their hopes and fears, egos and ambitions, strengths and weaknesses. From the generals in charge to the “grunts” carrying out their orders emerges a very personal perspective on war that immerses the reader inside the hearts and minds of those who planned and fought in the campaigns and battles that set the stage for a brutal protracted war with no real victor.

The story that unfolds in The Frozen Hours reveals not only the horrors of combat and the terrible human costs involved, but the capacity of men to suffer and somehow survive not only a determined enemy but sub-zero weather with temperatures that often dipped to forty degrees below zero.

In fact, it was this aspect of the story, the conditions on the ground, that best reflects the human will to survive. My father served in Korea and, though he never talked about his combat experiences, did say on numerous occasions that it was the coldest he had ever been in his life. However, it was not until I read Shaara’s novel that I appreciated this simple reflection. Men’s hands froze to their weapons, heavy equipment malfunctioned because oil and gasoline couldn’t flow, boots and layers of clothing meant to keep men warm actually increased perspiration resulting in frostbite and the amputation of fingers and toes, widespread malnutrition and dehydration occurred not because of any lack of food or water, but because they both froze solid with no way to consume either. The dead were even used as defensive barriers because bullets couldn’t penetrate the frozen bodies.

While American and NATO forces had the tactical advantage of artillery and air support, and the Chinese possessed overwhelming manpower and the willingness to absorb huge losses, their common liability was the weather. It pushed human endurance well beyond its limits.

Shaara tells this harrowing tale of courage through the eyes of a select group of men – General Oliver P. Smith, the commander of the 1st Marine Division, Chinese General Sung Shi-Lun, and PFC Pete Riley, Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment. It is a memorable account of real people crafted by a gifted writer and testament to the memory of those who fought in what has often been called “The Forgotten War.”

 

 

The Stamp of Heaven: Lone Star Book Blog Tour Promo and Review

THE STAMP OF HEAVEN
by
JULIA ROBB
Genre: Historical Fiction / Civil War
Publisher: self-published
Date of Publication: February 19, 2019
Number of Pages: 196
Scroll down for Giveaway!

The Union Army wants former Confederate Army general Beau Kerry for alleged war crimes, but he’s hiding out where the Yankees least expect to find him: in the United States Cavalry. Beau is fighting Apaches out West and praying nobody recognizes his famous face.But Lieutenant Kerry’s luck changes when he runs into Sergeant Ike Jefferson and says, “The last time I saw you, I had you bent over a barrel and I was whipping you.” Ike is not only Beau’s best friend (or worst enemy, depending on the day), he’s Beau’s former slave — and Ike knows there’s a $5000 price on Beau’s head.

Caroline Dietrich has vengeance on her mind. Married to Colonel Wesley Dietrich, the Union fort commander, Caroline believes the best path to getting revenge against the Yankees, her husband included, is seducing her husband’s officers. Especially Beau.

From the killing fields of the Civil War, to the savagery of the Indian wars, the characters are also battling each other and searching for what it means to be human.

5-STAR PRAISE FOR THE STAMP OF HEAVEN:
“Her characters are vivid, relatable, and endearing. She brings to life the rigors of frontier duty, the harsh beauty of west Texas, and the complexity of war and reconciliation. A must read!” 
“Julia Robb creates a masterful tale of friendship, loyalty, cowardice, deceit, and redemption in this fascinating story set in the aftermath of the War Between the States…Not a simple western yarn, this novel will keep you thinking and asking the Big Questions long after you finish reading it.”

CLICK TO ORDER ON AMAZON

Review
Five-Stars
     In the aftermath of the Civil War it was not all that uncommon for former adversaries to serve side-by-side on America’s frontier. With Lee’s surrender at Appomattox the Confederate Army had been disbanded. The war’s end also saw the Union Army downsized and reorganized. However, resistance from Native Americans as the country expanded westward required the organization of new units to confront the threat.
     In the Trans-Pecos portion of Texas an all-black unit, the 9th Cavalry, is garrisoned at Fort Davis to stop attacks from the Apache. They are led by white officers, some of whom still view their race as inferior. Faced with the same bias and prejudice they experienced as slaves, the Buffalo Soldiers struggle to gain acceptance, respect, and equality while also facing a cruel and implacable foe.
     Envy and hatred also affect their leadership. Though President Lincoln had called upon the nation to heal its wounds “with malice towards none” the animosity that led to four years of internecine conflict still existed. “Yankee bastard” and “Confederate trash” were lingering sentiments that kept military commands divided. For the North, the scourge of slavery had almost succeeded in tearing the nation apart. For the South, the invasion of their homeland had destroyed a beloved way of life. These wounds simply would not heal.
     This is the setting for Julia Robb’s latest novel, The Stamp of Heaven. The fight against the Apache is a fight for survival in a harsh and unforgiving land. Yet it is only the backdrop to a far greater conflict, the fight for men’s souls.
     Robb writes vivid descriptions of military life on the frontier that capture the isolation and loneliness, the drudgery of garrison duty, the difficulties of campaigns against an elusive enemy, the violence of sudden confrontations. She also reminds readers of the horrors of human bondage and the magnitude of titanic battles fought during the Civil War, particularly recalling the Battle of the Crater at Petersburg, Virginia in 1864.
     This is not a western or war novel in the conventional sense. It is an exploration of themes involving courage and cowardice, deceit and betrayal, love and regret, sin and redemption. It looks at personal relationships and both physical and psychological wounds, and asks deep questions about our humanity. What makes someone a good person? Is such a judgment based on an individual’s perception of themselves, or is it the perception of others that matters? Can past transgressions be overcome? What gives meaning to someone’s life? While each of us attempts to answer these questions, we don’t really know… “Maybe God does.”
Julia Robb is a former journalist who writes novels set in Texas. She’s written Saint of the Burning Heart, Scalp Mountain, Del Norte, The Captive Boy, and The Stamp of Heaven. 
 
Julia grew up on the lower Great Plains of Texas, eventually and lived in every corner of the Lone Star State, from the Rio Grande to the East Texas swamps. 

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