Labor Day Weekend

Labor Day Blog

2019 marks the 125th anniversary of Labor Day as a national holiday. Although Oregon was the first state to recognize it as an official public holiday in 1887, it didn’t become a federal holiday until 1894.

Dedicated to the social and economic achievements of the American worker, two men have been credited with proposing the observance – Matthew Maguire, the Secretary of the Central Labor Union (CLU) of New York, and Peter J. McGuire, Vice President of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) in Columbus, Ohio. Both organizations would later merge to become the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the United States.

The manner of observance has changed over the years. The initial proposal did specify that the first Monday in September be set aside for the celebration, and recommended that it begin with a street parade to show the public “the strength and espirit de corps of the trade and labor organizations.” The parade was to be followed by a festival “for the recreation and amusement of workers and their families.”

Today, mass displays and parades have given way to emphasis on individual leisure time. The holiday marks the “unofficial end of summer.” School and sports activities begin at this time. Labor Day Weekend is the first three-day holiday of the school calendar year, and the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) typically plays their first games throughout the three-day weekend. In the world of fashion, Labor Day has long been considered the last acceptable day to wear white, beaches and barbecues are synonymous with the holiday, and shoppers flock to department stores or shop online for items (especially back-to-school supplies, clothing, and shoes for school age children) at discounted prices.

What we tend to forget or take for granted, however, are the advances in workers’ rights… eight hour workdays, two-day weekends, paid holidays, minimum wages, the elimination of child labor, and the duty of the state to regulate labor conditions.

None of these advances would have been possible without the efforts of those who organized and championed better working conditions beginning in the latter part of the 19th century and continuing into the present time.

Killing the SS – The Hunt for the Worst War Criminals in History: My Review

Killing the SS Book CoverThis is the eighth book in the Killing Series by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. Regardless of whether you are an avid history buff or simply interested in a particular era, circumstance, or individual from history, each entry into the series has been both educational and insightful. It also should not matter whether you are a fan of the famous journalist and cable news personality or agree with his political opinions, his historical perspective and writing style provide rare insights into each place, person, and event.

Most readers will be all too familiar with the Holocaust and the scale of man’s inhumanity to man; the barbarity of Hitler’s Final Solution is well documented. What the reader may not realize is the complicity of the U.S. Government, the International Red Cross, and the Catholic Church in spiriting known war criminals out of Germany after the war, hiding their atrocities, and settling them in the United States and South America. In 1947 alone, an estimated eight thousand members of the SS safely travel to Canada and the United States using false documents. Secret German support groups such as the Kamaradenwerk, ODESSA, and Die Spinne also smuggle eight-to-ten thousand Nazi fugitives into Brazil, Bolivia, Argentina and Paraguay.

Killing the SS focuses on the hunt for the four most wanted Nazis –  Adolf Eichmann, the mastermind behind the deportation of Jews to ghettos and concentration camps in Eastern Europe, Joseph Mengele, the “Angel of Death,” who carried out horrific experiments on detainees at Auschwitz, Klaus Barbie, the “Butcher of Lyon,” who tortured and killed countless victims in German-occupied France, and Martin Bormann, Hitler’s personal secretary, who signed the decree condemning all Jews to death.

It also looks at those dedicated to bringing these war criminals to justice – Zvi Aharoni, who led the Mossad team that kidnapped Adolf Eichmann, Serge and Beate Karsfeld, who relentlessly led the quest to bring Klaus Barbie to trial, and Simon Wiesenthal, the most famous of all the investigators who dedicated his life to solving the disappearance of Nazi fugitives, most notably Joseph Mengele and Martin Bormann.

Lesser known Nazis, Mossad intelligence agents, investigators and lawyers are woven into the narrative to illuminate the scope of the atrocities committed by the SS, the Gestapo, and the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) and just how difficult it was to hold these criminal organizations accountable. Of the 9,600,000 Jews who lived in Nazi-dominated Europe, 60 percent are authoritatively estimated to have perished. Five million seven hundred thousand Jews are missing from countries in which they formally lived, and over 4,500,000 cannot be accounted for by the normal death rate nor by immigration; nor are they included among displaced persons. 

The term coined for these atrocities is genocide. Yet few receive justice and none ever express remorse for their actions. Benjamin Ferencz, chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, best sums up the frustration felt by both the survivors and their advocates. I had 3,000 Einsatzgruppen members who everyday went out and shot as many Jews as they could and Gypsies as well. I tried twenty-two, I convicted twenty-two, thirteen were sentenced to death, four were actually executed, the rest of them got out after a few years. The other 3,000 – nothing ever happened to them.

Killing the SS is an important addition to the volume of work documenting the Holocaust and a chilling reminder of the consequences of  anti-Semitism and extreme right-wing ideology, both of which are once again on the ascendancy today. It is also one of the more readable accounts of this horrific period in history.

 

 

 

 

Dragonfly: Lone Star Book Blog Tour and Review

 
Genre: Historical / WWII / Espionage
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing 
Date of Publication: July 9, 2019
Number of Pages: 576
 
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From the New York Times bestselling author of Roses comes a gripping new novel about five young spies embedded among the highest Nazi ranks in occupied Paris
At the height of World War II, a handful of idealistic young Americans receive a mysterious letter from the government, asking them if they are willing to fight for their country. The men and women from very different backgrounds-a Texan athlete with German roots, an upper-crust son of a French mother and a wealthy businessman, a dirt-poor Midwestern fly fisherman, an orphaned fashion designer, and a ravishingly beautiful female fencer-all answer the call of duty, but each for a secret reason of her or his own. They bond immediately, in a group code-named Dragonfly. 
Thus begins a dramatic cat-and-mouse game, as the group seeks to stay under the radar until a fatal misstep leads to the capture and the firing-squad execution of one of their team. But…is everything as it seems, or is this one more elaborate act of spycraft?
 
PRAISE FOR DRAGONFLY:
 
“Meacham’s impeccable pacing and razor-wire tension evoke the daily drama of life under a Reich whose French reign might have lasted little more than four years but felt like the thousand years that it threatened to endure.” ―Bookpage
“Meacham’s nail-biting tale will please fans looking for an intricate story of spycraft and deception.” ―Publishers Weekly
“Meacham ratchets the suspense ever tighter, while providing fascinating backstory on the intrepid five [American spies] as well as delivering a detail-rich portrait of Paris during the Occupation.” ―Booklist
“Complex, epic, and rich in historical detail-an uplifting story of finding friendship behind enemy lines.” ― Kirkus
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To go forward… sometimes you have to go back.
 
     In 1962 a former OSS (Office of Strategic Services – the precursor to the CIA) officer reads an anthology entitled The Greatest Ruses of World War II. Included in the last chapter is an account of the clandestine activities by a five-agent team, code-name Dragonfly. Though some of the details of the mission inside German occupied Paris are incorrect, he is more than just a little curious about its inclusion in the anthology. As the real life mission coordinator, he not only recruited, trained, and supervised the team members, but developed a bond with each person that transcended his role as mentor and supervisor. He genuinely cared about their safety and well being.
 
     Haunted by the memory of one of the team members captured and executed by the Nazis, he’s intrigued by the author’s claim that the individual is alive and well! Could this be true?  The Nazis shot spies. They did not send them off to concentration facilities or labor camps; they lined them up against a wall and shot them. Three of the five team members actually witnessed the execution, and there has been no contact from the individual in almost eighteen years. Is there any reason to believe or hope that this person somehow survived?
 
     So begins Leila Meacham’s totally engaging and beautifully written story of bravery, sacrifice, friendship and love; the best historical fiction novel of 2019.
 
     Dragonfly’s plot is complex with multiple and overlapping stories, yet the author carefully crafts a rich emotional journey that will have readers spellbound. Concise prose, superb imagery, and richly drawn characters accurately evoke a time and place (1942-1944 Paris, France) and the dangerous world of espionage. The training and tradecraft ring true, and the friendships are exactly the type that would be formed under such circumstances. These are ordinary individuals asked to do extraordinary things to assist in the Allied war effort. Their backgrounds, motivations and secret agendas add to the nerve wracking suspense and make the book’s length immaterial. The pages simply fly by!
 
     And it isn’t just the team that must use cunning and wits to survive. Nothing and no one is what or whom it appears to be. French citizens resisting the German occupation of their homeland live under the constant threat of exposure, while Parisians aligned with the Vichy government or simply desperate and hungry are willing to expose their neighbors for a crust of bread or a slice of cheese.  No place and no one was safe. The most innocent actions could be reported to the Gestapo and French police. 
 
     Neither are all Germans the heinous monsters that willingly carry out the Fuhrer’s orders and commit atrocities to achieve Nazi domination of Europe and the world. Some high ranking officers within the SSchutzstaffel (the dreaded SS) and Abwehr (the German Intelligence Agency in Paris) secretly work to undermine Hitler’s Final Solution.
 
     Tension, fear, suspicion, subterfuge… all these elements are woven together so skillfully that Dragonfly transcends the historical fiction genre, and for me became the best novel I’ve read in a very long time. There are simply not enough superlatives to describe it. If you read just one book this year, make it Leila Meacham’s Dragonfly.
 


Leila Meacham is a writer and former teacher who lives in San Antonio, Texas. She is the author of the bestselling novels Roses, Tumbleweeds, Somerset, and Titans.

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Bluster’s Last Stand: My Review

Bluster's Last Stand Book CoverAuthor Preston Lewis returns to the exploits of one Henry Harrison “Leadeye” Lomax in this fourth installment into the series about his adventures in the Old West.

For anyone unfamiliar with the literary character, Lewis claims to have found his memoirs while conducting research at Texas Tech University. The assertion is definitely tongue in cheek, with Lewis presenting H.H. Lomax’s exploits with a lot of wit and humor in addition to historical detail.

As it has been some time since his last entry into the series, Lewis returns to this origination story before beginning the tale of how Lomax came to be at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. The explanation accounts for the break between novels featuring the colorful character and once again, with a wink and a nod, asserts the veracity of his eye witness account.

I must admit at this point that I somehow skipped Book Three, Mix Up at the O.K. Corral, as I was anxious to read this Spur Award Winner, but I’ll definitely be filling in the gap because each read has been an absolute hoot! (Be sure to check out my earlier blog posts… Book One, June 7, 2018 The Demise of Billy the Kid, and Book Two, February 1, 2019,The Redemption of Jessie James.)

In Bluster’s Last Stand H.H. Lomax brings levity to one of the most tragic events in military history, while also recounting the 2nd Battle of Adobe Walls and shedding light on the fame of such noted historical persons as Buffalo Bill Cody, Wild Bill Hickok, and General George Armstrong Custer. His wit and humor add context as well as nuance to such subjects as frontier prostitution, the discovery of gold in the Black Hills, the treatment of Native Americans, and the myth surrounding Yellow Hair.

The harsh realities of life aren’t glossed over, but the hilarity that Preston Lewis brings to these situations and characters makes them all the more human and entertaining.

I highly recommend the book and the series!

Riders of the Purple Sage: My Review

Every so often I like to pick up a book that I read as a young boy growing up. In this instance it was Zane Grey’s classic western Riders of the Purple Sage.Riders of the Purple Sage Book Cover

I remembered very little about the story other than the character known as Lassiter. His iconic image, a dreaded gunman dressed completely in black with two guns holstered at his side, is what stuck in my memory.

I’d totally forgotten that this was a western romance novel set in Utah telling the story of Jane Withersteen, a Mormon landowner who refuses to shun gentiles (non-Mormons) or enter into a loveless marriage with Elder Tull.

Written in 1912, the romantic characterizations and dialogue appear awkward and dated by today’s standards. But there is no denying that Grey’s descriptions of the landscape are stunning. He also captures the majesty, beauty, and might of horses. Some of his more enthralling passages describe them galloping the open range and the horsemanship of their riders.

Lassiter has come to Cottonwoods, Utah in search of his beloved sister’s grave when he happens upon a vigilante gathering of Mormons about to whip Bern Venters, the foreman at Withersteen ranch. Lassiter’s reputation as a deadly gunslinger drives them away, but sets in motion a series of events intended to ruin Jane Withersteen or force her into obeying the Mormon elders and bishop.

When Jane’s cattle herds are rustled, Bern Venters sets out to track down Rustler Oldring and the infamous “masked rider.” The pursuit results in the discovery of a hidden valley and a shootout with some of the rustlers. Bern wounds the masked rider only to discover that she’s only a teenage girl with a mysterious past. While nursing her back to health, the two fall in love.

Over time Lassiter also falls in love with Jane Withersteen, becoming her protector. He almost forswears the vengeance that brought him to Cottonwood, but the kidnapping of a young orphan girl whom both he and Jane have come to love reignites his hatred.

There are unforeseen plot twists before a final resolution of these two story lines, and the climatic ending is the reason why Riders of the Purple Sage remains one of the early westerns that excited a young boy’s imagination.

Does it hold up today? I admit skipping over passages that now seem quaint, but the book is over one hundred years old. My tastes in literature have changed as have those of most readers. Nonetheless, Riders of the Purple Sage is a timeless ode to the western  and to an author that brought the Old West to life.

 

 

 

Iberian Ties: Lone Star Book Blog Tour Guest Post

IBERIAN TIES
by
Quintin Vargas


Genre: Crime Fiction / Mystery / Suspense
International Thriller 

Publisher: Vanguard Publishers
Date of Publication: May 13, 2019
Number of Pages: 405
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Without a motive, how do you catch a killer? A gripping thriller in the vein of Harlan Coben, Paula Hawkins, and Lee Child.

A rising star psychiatrist, American Nate Shelley is in Spain’s Canary Islands, making his world debut at a convention. But after delivering his keynote address, he and his fiancée Miro are arrested for murder.

Nate knows he’s not guilty, but is his future wife involved in some way in the crime? Miro’s directly implicated when the murder victim is identified as her stalker.

Is Nate’s career ruined? Is he facing life imprisonment? Does the American couple stand a chance of convincing the Spanish authorities—and Interpol—that they’re innocent? Not in a post-Brexit, anti-Trump European environment.

Racing to clear their names, Nate and Miro will soon be embroiled in sham investigations, powerful cartels, and family secrets finally coming to light.

Full of intrigue, this gritty international crime novel is a thrilling ride.

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PRAISE FOR IBERIAN TIES:
“Brilliant thriller! I totally loved and enjoyed this book!! Interesting twists and turns, well-developed characters and suspense all along the way. Definitely kept me on the edge of my seat. Can’t wait for the next book!” –Gaby M., Goodreads Review
“This was an education about cultures and history as well as an unpredictable mystery.” –Robert R., Amazon Review

GuestPost

The Personal Connections in Iberian Ties

Guest Post

By Quintin Vargas

My first international thriller, IBERIAN TIES, has several personal elements interspersed throughout. When I set out to write this book, I definitely conducted additional research on the Canary Islands, the main setting for the book, although I knew the archipelago from my travels and visits there. I also researched police practices and the Spanish legal system. I examined the inner workings of cartels, with attention paid to international crime. (However, I’ve not visited Lisbon and Marrakesh, which also play into the plot.)

There are several names throughout the book with personal significance as well. While I was developing one of the book’s early chapters, one of our grandchildren was born, and he was named “Scheffler,” a name which made it into the book. Although early on in my drafts of the manuscript, numerous characters were named after friends and family, most of those were eliminated for fear that some unintended associations would be made concerning the characters’ moral failings or misdeeds. However, the name of one of my best friends remained and is attached to a main character, although the name has been slightly veiled and translated into English. Another interesting tidbit is that I could not refrain from using my birth place to name my main heroine’s birthplace. However, to avoid complications, I kept all the letters of the original name and changed it to Dearlo Heights.

Author PicIberian Ties is the first work of fiction published by Quintin Vargas. In addition to being an author, he combined a career as professor and dean in various American universities with becoming owner of a firm that prepared new immigrants to enter the marketplace and international workforce. His work impacted leadership development for various domestic and international private industries, non-profit organizations, and higher education.

As an academic, he served as dean and provost at various universities, including DePaul University in Chicago, the University of Texas, San Antonio, and St. Edward’s University. His academic writings have been highlighted in various publications, including the Journal of Research and Development in Education, the National Commission on Testing and Public Policy, and the Journal of Thought.

He and his wife, Marty, have five children and thirteen grandchildren. They reside in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

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LIGHT from DISTANT STARS: Lone Star Book Blog Tour and Review

LIGHT from DISTANT STARS
by
SHAWN SMUCKER
Genre: Christian Fiction / Magical Realism / Rural Fiction
Publisher: Revell
Date of Publication: July 16, 2019
Number of Pages: 400
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When Cohen Marah steps over his father’s body in the basement embalming room of the family’s funeral home, he has no idea that he is stepping into a labyrinth of memory.

Over the next week, Cohen’s childhood comes back in living color. The dramatic events that led to his parents’ separation. The accident Cohen witnessed and the traumatic images he couldn’t unsee. And the two children in the forest who became his friends–and enlisted him in a dark and dangerous undertaking. As the lines blur between what was real and what was imaginary, Cohen is faced with the question he’s been avoiding:

Is he responsible for his father’s death?

Master story weaver Shawn Smucker relays a tale both eerie and enchanting, one that will have you questioning reality and reaching out for what is true, good, and genuine.

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Four Stars
     Have you ever finished reading a book and not known how to react to it because it is so different from anything you’ve ever read? LIGHT from DISTANT STARS is that kind of book.
     The story is dark, often foreboding, definitely intense, and the reader is challenged to discern the imaginary from reality. It is a different kind of reading experience that results in a very visceral reaction. You’re not so much reading about something or someone, but intimately experiencing events and emotions. It is not only an eerie sensation but at times it can be deeply disturbing.
     The narrative is driven by the protagonist’s childhood memories.  Cohen Marah’s flashbacks recall his love for the game of baseball, youthful infatuation with a Sunday school teacher, disillusionment, jealousy, and betrayal after finding out that she is having an affair with the church minister (his own father), the breakup of his family, a car crash, arson, murder, and a dramatic confrontation with “the Beast.”
     Guilt, regret, confession, and absolution are central Christian themes that weave in and out of Shawn Smucker’s story. After Cohen finds his father’s body in a pool of blood at the family’s funeral home, he wonders whether he could be responsible. Was this an accident or attempted suicide? If the latter, did he push his father into taking his own life?
     As the investigation into what happened proceeds, and as his father lies dying in the hospital, Cohen also must try to help a young boy dealing with the disappearance of his mother, the death of his grandfather, and his abusive father’s reaction. It becomes a struggle between the forces of good and evil, darkness and light.
     We are all reeling from things done to us in the past or from things we have done. But  through reflection and acknowledgement of the truth Cohen comes full circle, renewing his faith in God and love for his family.
     Light from Distant Stars is an apt metaphor that draws comparisons between a star’s creation in the heavens, the hundreds of light years its energy must travel for us to perceive it today, and the amount of time that it takes to look back on the events and people that have had an impact on our lives and put them into perspective. It is often difficult to discern what is true, good, or genuine in life. Only the passage of time provides the context that allows us to make sense of things that in the moment we did not understand.
     Without a doubt Shawn Smucker has written a very thought provoking book. I was provided an advanced copy in exchange for my honest reaction to it.

 

Shawn Smucker is the author of the young adult novels The Day the Angels Fell and The Edge of Over There, as well as the memoir Once We Were Strangers. He lives with his wife and six children in the city of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

 


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