The Big Inch: My Review

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Grand Duke from Boys Ranch: Lone Star Book Blog Tours Promo & Review

THE GRAND DUKE FROM BOYS RANCH
EUGENIA AND HUGH M. STEWART ’26 SERIES
by
BILL SARPALIUS
foreword by Bill Hobby
Genre: Memoir / Texana / Politics / Eastern European History
Publisher: Texas A&M University Press
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Date of Publication: April 16, 2018
Number of Pages: 336 pages w/50 B&W photos
As a boy in Houston, Bill Sarpalius, his brothers, and their mother lived an itinerant life. Bill dug food out of trashcans, and he and his brothers moved from one school to the next. They squatted in a vacant home while their mother, affectionately called “Honey,” battled alcoholism and suicidal tendencies. In an act of desperation, she handed her three sons over to Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch north of Amarillo.

At the time, Bill was thirteen years old and could not read. Life at Boys Ranch had its own set of harrowing challenges, however. He found himself living in fear of some staff and older boys. He became involved in Future Farmers of America and discovered a talent for public speaking. When he graduated, he had a hundred dollars and no place to go. He worked hard, earned a scholarship from the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, and obtained a college degree. After a brief career as a teacher and in agribusiness, he won a seat in the Texas Senate. Driven by the memory of his suffering mother, he launched the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse in an effort to help people struggling with addiction.

Sarpalius later served in the United States Congress. As a Lithuanian American, he took a special interest in that nation’s fight for independence from the Soviet Union. For his efforts, Sarpalius received the highest honor possible to a non-Lithuanian citizen and was named a “Grand Duke.”The Grand Duke from Boys Ranch is a unique political memoir—the story of a life full of unlikely paths that is at once heartbreaking and inspirational.

PRAISE FOR THE GRAND DUKE FROM BOYS RANCH: 

“The autobiography of Bill Sarpalius reads like a 20 -century version of the American dream – equal parts heartbreak and inspiration, culminating in an unlikely political career capped by three terms in the U.S. Congress.” — University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs
“The Grand Duke from Boys Ranch is an inspiring tale of perseverance and personal courage.” — Si Dunn, Lone Star Literary Life

 

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Texas A&M University Press

Amazon
Review

Former Congressman Bill Sarpalius’ memoir, The Grand Duke from Boys Ranch, chronicles a remarkable life that progresses from an illiterate child whose father abandoned him and whose mother battled depression, alcoholism, and suicidal tendencies, to Future Farmers of America President, to a brief career in agribusiness and teaching, to a position in the Texas Legislature, and ultimately to the U.S. Congress. It is at once compelling and inspirational, and should appeal to readers looking to overcome obstacles and accomplish their own dreams.

Each of the aforementioned touchstone events in Bill Sarpalius’ book is presented in one of five parts that correspond to the turning points in his life. Of these, the one that put him on the road to public service and convinced him that “God had a plan for him to help people” is Part I: Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch.

“It was at Boys Ranch where I learned how to dream and make those dreams come true.”

As a resident of Texas, I was certainly aware of the facility in West Texas. Each year about Christmas time I receive a mailing soliciting funding to support the ranch’s operational needs. However, I was unaware of the magnitude of its mission; one of the largest child care homes in the state, it has raised and educated thousands of boys who either had no family or whose families couldn’t provide for them, or who had committed violent crimes. I was also unfamiliar with the man responsible, Cal Farley, whose faith and compassion wouldn’t allow him to ever say “no to a boy in trouble.”

Of course, when Bill Sarpalius’ mother dropped him and his two brothers off at the Boys Ranch in 1960 in an act of desperation, it was at a time when childcare facilities in Texas were unregulated, licensed, or inspected (the Texas Child Care and Licensing Act wasn’t passed until 1975.) The volatile mix of boys and staff sometimes resulted in abuse, and Mr. Sarpalius candidly discusses corporal punishment, sexual assault, and the initial struggle to survive.

It is a testament to his character and determination that when he finally emerges from Boys Ranch he leaves with an education, self-confidence, profound faith, a work ethic, and lasting friendships. In fact he will attribute his time there as the reason for his later success.

“Everything I had ever accomplished, I owe to Cal Farley and his Boys Ranch.”

 The remaining four parts to the book were less compelling for me. The memories of his rise to political prominence and his accomplishments in office just didn’t resonate with me for reasons that I think had more to do with writing style than story. In many instances his stream of consciousness results in random thoughts and reflections that don’t seem to fit into the context or chronology of the situations being described. And, because the focus of any memoir is the author, all events, reactions, opinions, thoughts, feelings, and outcomes are filtered through that one viewpoint. There is always the danger that they may come across as less than objective, which is especially true in today’s political climate. The “I/me” perspective employed by Mr. Sarpalius definitely invites reader intimacy, but it also runs the risk of appearing self-aggrandizing.

Though not for everyone, The Grand Duke from Boys Ranch is a unique political memoir that many readers will enjoy.

I received a free copy of the book from Texas A&M University Press & the Texas Book Consortium in exchange for my honest opinion.

BILL SARPALIUS represented the Texas 13th Congressional District from 1989 to 1995, and from 1981 to 1989 he served in the Texas State Senate. He currently is a motivational speaker and serves as CEO of Advantage Associates International. He divides his time between Maryland and Houston, Texas.
MEET THE AUTHOR! 
BARNES & NOBLE, #2665
2:00 PM
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 1, 2018
2415 Soncy Road
Amarillo, TX 79124

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The Process

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

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

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

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

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

Tarnished Brass

Page Publishing LogoI’m pleased to announce that I have again signed with Page Publishing, Inc. of New York to publish and distribute my latest book, Tarnished Brass. A release date has yet to be determined, but I’m hoping everything will be completed either by the end of this year or the beginning of 2019. There is much yet to be done. In the days ahead I’ll be working closely with a Publication Coordinator regarding editing, page formatting, and cover design.

Tarnished Brass looks at America’s involvement in El Salvador’s ten-year civil war (1980-1992) and its consequences for both countries. Today, twenty-six years later, socio-economic conditions remain unchanged for the vast majority of Salvadoran citizens while gang violence has replaced and, in many ways, surpassed the brutality of both the Salvadoran military and the guerrilla factions during their prolonged conflict. Though a work of fiction, the book also speaks to the current divisions in our own country over immigration policy and the rise of gang violence (notably MS-13.) Tarnished Brass will definitely resonate with readers looking to understand current events in the context of history.

I want to thank Page Publishing for its continued support of me as an author. Writing is a craft that requires many things, not the least of which is someone willing to represent your efforts to potential readers. Name recognition greatly aids such consideration, and many books found at book stores, retail outlets and online are by writers or public figures whose fame ensures sales. But for the aspiring author, it is the willingness of those within the industry to take a chance on your book and go through the publication and marketing process with you.

 

The Smoke at Dawn: My Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cognitive Hope

Completed Book CoverAlmost 50 million people worldwide have dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form. My father succumbed to its insidious progression. He passed away July 31, 2006.

Following his death I wrote my book Silver Taps, an attempt to come to grips with his passing and a  reflection on our relationship and the disease. It’s important to recognize that Alzheimer’s affects not only the individual but family members and friends who provide support and also struggle to understand and cope with the loss of a loved one’s cognition (see my previous post Sixth Leading Cause of Death,  dated March 15, 2017.)

As of today there is no cure for the disease, and the number of cases is expected to triple by 2050. Drug trials have shown promise in the past, but up until recently that promise has failed to materialize. The individual affected by the loss of memory knows what is happening but is unable to do anything about it, while caretakers are also faced with the certainty that in spite of their efforts the individual will eventually be unable to do anything on their own and may even forget even their closest relations. Multiple health related complications are common and they almost always result in death.

However, a new discovery provides hope. The drug is not FDA approved and much more testing is required, however, the Center for Alzheimer’s Research and Treatment is encouraged by the initial study. 856 patients from the United States, Europe and Japan were involved in the clinical trial.

For the first time a drug has shown the ability to clear plaque from the brain and actually improve cognition. This is a potential milestone in the efforts to eventually find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.

Having experienced the pain of loss of someone who was a pillar of strength within my family before the onset of this disease, I continue to advocate for continued research leading to a cure. “Hope,” in this instance, is the expectation of success in finding a remedy that will impact anyone affected by Alzheimer’s. I can’t change my experience, but I continue to hold onto that hope and encourage others experiencing similar circumstances to be optimistic.

 

 

The Edge of Over There: Author Interview

 

THE EDGE
OF OVER THERE

The Day the Angels Fell, Book 2
by
SHAWN SMUCKER
  Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Publisher: Revell
Date of Publication: July 3, 2018
Number of Pages: 384
 
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The captivating sequel to the award-winning The Day the Angels Fell
 
Abra Miller carries a secret and a responsibility she never expected. 
 
Before the Tree of Life, everything in Abra Miller’s life had been predictable. Safe. Normal. But after the Tree, everything has felt fragile . . . like holding a soap bubble in the palm of her hand. After years of fruitless searching for the next Tree, she begins to wonder if it was nothing more than a vivid dream.
 
Now sixteen, Abra finds a clue to the whereabouts of the next Tree of Life when an ominous woman—who looks exactly like a ghost from her past—compels her to travel to New Orleans where she’ll find one of seven gateways between this world and Over There. But she’s not the only one interested in finding the gateway. There’s also a young man searching for his father and sister, who escaped through it years before. As Abra enters the Edge of Over There and begins her pursuit of the Tree once more, she doesn’t know whom to fear or whom to trust.
She’s also starting to think that some doorways should never be opened.
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Praise for The Edge of Over There:
“Blending Biblical elements and urban myths, Smucker creates an enthralling story of supernatural battles between the forces of good and evil.” — Publishers Weekly


“The Edge of Over There is a mesmerizing, menacing fantasy. Shawn Smucker fuses New Orleans lore, Christian themes, and dystopian landscapes in a thorough exploration of love and its unintended results.” — Foreword Reviews (Starred Review) 

AuthorInterview

INTERVIEW WITH SHAWN SMUCKER

Why did you choose to write in your particular sub-genre?

I love how imaginative kids and young people can be. It’s inspiring to me, and I think someone with a well-developed imagination is better at critical thinking. We are all hardwired with these amazing imaginations, but in most people, they go untapped and eventually fade. So, writing mystical realism feels to me like partnering with other people who also have imaginations they haven’t forgotten about.

 Which character from The Edge of Over There is least like you?

Abra is definitely least like me – she is adventurous, spontaneous, sometimes reckless, and she doesn’t let her fear become a barricade. I am the opposite of most of those things.

Did you first experience rejections when submitting this manuscript for publication?

For the first book in the series, yeah, there were a lot of rejections. I couldn’t get an agent for years, and then when I did, and we submitted The Day the Angels Fell, we got 15 – 20 rejections, mostly from acquisitions editors who loved it but didn’t know where to place it. Is it religious? Is it secular? Is it for adults? Is it for kids? It’s hard when you write a book that doesn’t check all the boxes. But eventually we got there.

Are you a full-time or part-time writer?  How does that affect your writing?

I’m a full-time writer. Most of my income is derived from co-writing books for other people. I’ve been doing that for about ten years and have found it very rewarding. But it does sometimes wear down my writing muscle. I find I only have a certain number of words per day, so when I’m busy with co-writing, I have to find other times (evenings, weekends) to work on my own things.

What are some day jobs that you have held?  Have any of them impacted your writing?

Well, the writing doesn’t always pay the bills. I’ve painted houses, worked at farmers’ markets, sold baked goods, worked at fairs, and most recently driven for rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft. You can read more about those adventures by searching the #RideshareConfessional hashtag on Twitter or Facebook. But I think it’s good to be involved in other things. Writing can be a lonely endeavor.

 

Shawn Smucker is the author of The Day the Angels Fell and The Edge of Over There. He lives with his wife and six children in the city of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. You can find him on his website, where you can also sign up for his newsletter in order to find out when and where the Tree of Life will turn up next.

WEBSITE   FACEBOOK

 ————————————— 
GIVEAWAY!  GIVEAWAY!  GIVEAWAY!
GRAND PRIZE: Both Books in the The Day the Angels Fell series + Color Changing Tree Mug + $25 Barnes & Noble Gift Card
2ND PRIZE: Both Books + Tree of Life Journal
3RD PRIZE: Both Books + $10 Starbucks Gift Card
(US ONLY)
  July 17-26, 2018
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