Signing Off

2020 has been a consequential year for everyone, impacting our lives in unanticipated and unexpected ways. Suffice it to say that I am closing out the domain and I will not be actively blogging going forward into 2021. Before I do, however, I wanted to thank all of you who have followed me over the past four years and wish each of you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Just so you know, all my previous posts will still be available at

Again, thank you for your support. Take care and stay safe!

Songs of America: Patriotism, Protest, and the Music that Made a Nation – My Review

Throughout its history songs have always connected America in ways that transcend our individual differences, reminding us of our common struggles and triumphs as a people. In their remarkable book, Songs of America: Patriotism, Protest, and the Music that Made a Nation, Pulitzer Prize author and historian Jon Meacham and Country Music artist and Grammy Award winner Tim McGraw highlight the artists, music, and lyrics that have captivated audiences and captured what it is that defines the American Spirit.

American record producer Quincy Jones writes that “Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw have convened a concert in Songs of America… a glorious celebration of our diversity – and of the strength that comes from the myriad of voices of all races that makes us who we are.” And the book jacket expands upon Quincy’s statement, adding that it’s not just a reminder of who we are or where we’ve been, but what “we, at our best, can be.”

Jon Meacham provides the historical context that I’ve previously admired (see my post dated 12/9/20, The Soul of America: the Battle for Our Better Angels – My Review.) He brings to life the various eras in American history and the defining events and moments that caused these songs to be written. His prose is so well constructed and insightful that the reader is transported through time not just learning about our past, but connecting intimately and totally in the lifeblood and spirit of the nation.

Tim McGraw reflects on the artistry of the performers and provides a unique perspective on the importance of these songs as well as the impact they had in capturing the mood and tenor of the times through music. His contribution to the book is profound. For me, it elevates it from a history lesson to a “must read.” We are all familiar with the songs, everything from our national anthem “The Star-Spangled Banner,” to hymns and spirituals like “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” songs of protest like “This Land Is Your Land” to “Blowin’ in the Wind,” to patriotic songs like “Born in the U.S.A” and “God Bless the U.S.A.” We have heard them sung throughout our lives, but we haven’t always considered what those songs meant not only to us, but to those whose voices forever enshrined them in the lexicon of uniquely American compositions and engrained them into our hearts and minds.

The collaboration of Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw takes the reader on an emotional journey with a focus seldom explored in literature. Songs of America is a book for the ages and one that should be read by every American.

The Soul of America: the Battle for Our Better Angels – My Review

the-soul-of-america-book-coverIn The Soul of America: the Battle for Our Better Angels Pulitzer Prize winning author and historian Jon Meacham looks at the extreme partisan divisions that currently exist in our country asserting that, while our differences appear to be irreconcilable, we have overcome similar challenges before and can do so again.

Meacham examines bygone eras to reassure Americans that despite all appearances to the contrary, today’s seemingly intractable issues are not unique and that our struggles with extremism, racism, economic hardship, pandemics, and civil unrest have been mirrored throughout our history.

2020 will certainly go down as one of the most contentious years in the life of our fragile democracy. However, parallels can be found in our Civil War and its aftermath, in the Suffrage Movement, the two World Wars, the Great Depression, McCarthyism, Segregation, and the fight for Civil Rights and Equal Justice. In all these the fate of America was at stake. “Each of these dramatic hours in our national life has been shaped by the contest to lead the country to look forward rather than back, to assert hope over fear – a struggle that continues even now.”

President Lincoln referred to this struggle as the search for ‘the better angels of our nature.’ “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.”

Writing about the most combative periods in our history while showcasing the examples of previous Presidents, civic leaders, and influential citizens, Meacham gives us the reassurance that “we have come through such darkness before,” and that the country and our democracy can yet prevail if we come together by rebuilding faith in one another and working towards a common good – not a perfect Union, but a “more” perfect Union.

In How Democracies Die authors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt wrote “when societies divide into partisan camps with profoundly different worldviews, and when these differences are viewed as existential and irrevocable, political rivalry can devolve into partisan hatred. Parties come to view each other as enemies. Losing ceases to be an accepted part of the political process and instead becomes a catastrophe.” This is the unfortunate reality that we find ourselves in today. Intractability, our unwillingness to even listen to the other side much less reach across party lines to find a compromise or bipartisan solution, is undermining our democratic processes and institutions. Our inability to discern objective fact from fabrication is eroding the very foundation upon which our nation was built, and the demise of this experiment, “government by and for the people,” becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This is why Jon Meacham’s book The Soul of America: the Battle for Our Better Angels is so prescient. It is so easy to be cynical these days, but the author’s message of hope, so beautifully expressed through the prism of history, captures the resilient spirit of America that has resonated through the ages. To fulfill the promise of our Founding Fathers we need only heed the lessons of the past and “summon our own ‘better angels’ to meet the obvious challenges of today.”

TCM: the Essentials (Volumes I&II) – My Review

My youngest son and I have always talked about one day going to the Turner Classic Film Festival. As yet we haven’t been able to fulfill that dream (we are both avid movie enthusiasts and students of cinema from its very beginnings to its modern incarnation) so for my birthday he sent me author and film historian Jeremy Arnold’s two volumes on TCM: the Essentials – Must See Movies and Why They Matter.

Launched in 2001, Turner Classic Movies has broadcast 318 movies over eighteen seasons “that define what it means to be a film classic.” There have been a myriad of hosts, but most readers and television viewers will associate the Saturday night 8:00 p.m. time slot with either Robert Osborne who passed away in 2017, or with the current host Ben Mankiewicz. Both contributed commentary on the selection of films included in these two books; there are 52 entries in each.

It’s important to note that this is not a ranking of films but a sampling by the author. “Every film may not be to everyone’s taste, but each is important to the history of Hollywood or world cinema, whether for content, visual technique, acting, directing, cultural impact, or myriad other reasons.”

The structure in both volumes is the same. Arnold writes about why he considers the film to be essential viewing and what to especially look for in each movie. The narrative is accompanied by original marquees, film posters and photos, as well as commentary by actors, directors and producers that are “critical to a full understanding of the power of cinematic storytelling.”

Movies provide entertainment like no other medium and they are also a window into history. That is why I chose to include a review of these two books on my blog. The site was always intended as a forum to look at life in previous eras and learn from it either through the books that I’ve written or the works of countless authors and their thoughts on history.

For the movie enthusiast, the Essentials (Volumes I&II) are a necessary and welcome addition to your library. You’ll note that I’ve not listed the specific movies included in this compilation. That decision was deliberate. Discovering those titles is something each reader needs experience and only by doing so will you discover the answer to the question –

“What Constitutes an Essential Film?”

El Paso: My Review

Winston Groom is perhaps best known for his 1986 novel Forrest Gump, which was later made into the Academy Award winning movie starring Tom Hanks. This blend of characters and events, both real and fictional, made for entertaining history in a whimsical and emotionally absorbing story. Groom uses that same blend of storytelling and period history in El Paso, a sweeping action adventure set during the turbulent Mexican Revolution.

Railroad magnate John Shauhnessy has squandered his fortune in an attempt to be befriended and accepted into Bostonian society. His lavish lifestyle, mansions, yachts, and investments in foreign enterprises have left him cash poor, with the only hope of salvaging his rapidly diminishing wealth and status residing in the livestock on his sprawling Villa del Sol Ranch in Chihuahua, Mexico.

Oblivious to the harsh realities of war, he endangers his family by embarking on an ill-advised scheme to herd his cattle north to the markets in the Southwest city of El Paso. He envisions a romanticized western cattle drive that will not only recoup his financial losses, but at the same time be a grand adventure for his whole family. What he does not realize is that the ranch has already been attacked by the Mexican Revolutionary Pancho Villa who wants to drive out all foreigners from Mexico, especially American capitalists who have cheated his people out of their land by purchasing vast tracts all along the border at pennies on the dollar.

Villa’s henchmen have brutally killed the ranch manager, stolen the cattle to feed their hungry army, and kidnapped the foreman’s wife. Outraged upon hearing of this, Shauhnessy entreats the President of the United States to take action. When Woodrow Wilson refuses, he mounts a search of his own for Villa over inhospitable terrain with no clear idea of what he’s doing or where he’s going, or what he’ll do if he indeed finds him. Along the way, the situation only worsens when Shauhnessy’s own grandchildren are taken prisoner by the revolutionaries under Villa’s command.

Legendary figures from the past – General “Black Jack” Pershing, a young Lieutenant by the name of George Patton, early western movie star Tom Mix, American journalist and communist activist John Reed, Henry O. Flipper (the first African-American to graduate West Point), Mexican revolutionaries Pancho Villa and his arch enemy General Venustiano Carranza, and so many more populate the book’s 474 pages.

This was Winston Groom’s final novel. He passed away from a heart attack September 16, 2020. El Paso is a lasting testament to a writer who mainly dealt in works of non-fiction, but whose novels gave us portraits of ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances interacting with larger than life personalities. Like Forrest Gump, El Paso not only provides readers with indelible impressions of crucial moments in our history, but also wraps them up in a darn good yarn.  

Mia and Nattie: One Great Team! – Lone Star Book Blog Tour (Excerpt)

Mia and Nattie:

One Great Team!

Marlene M. Bell
Genre: Children’s Picture Book (K-3rd Grade) / Farm Animals
Publisher: Ewephoric Publishing
Date of Publication: October 4, 2020
Number of Pages: 34 pages
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Nattie’s mouth was a little crooked. Her legs were a bit shorter than usual, and one horn was too straight, like a unicorn’s horn.

But Mia thought Nattie was perfect.

On a visit to her grandma’s farm, eight-year-old Mia discovers a newborn, orphaned lamb outside in the cold and takes her to the laundry room, naming her Nattie. As she tries to nurse the lamb back to health, Mia discovers that Nattie is different from the other lambs and struggles to fit in with them like Mia does with other kids her age.

When her grandmother says she will sell Nattie to a neighbor, Mia must come up with a plan to keep her friend around — one that will show the family just how special Nattie truly is.





Tiny Nattie studied the ways of older sheep.

She ate grass and tasty weeds.

She ate grain and hay and drank water instead of milk.

But Nattie would never be big enough to live with the rest of the flock.

She was too small to raise babies of her own.

“Your lamb needs a home,” Grandma said to Mia.

“She has one! Please let me keep her.” Mia hugged Nattie’s neck.

Mia squinted back tears before they fell on Nattie’s wool.

“A neighbor wants to buy her,” Grandma said, then spun around and walked to the barn in silence.

Mia had to find a way for Nattie to stay.

MARLENE M. BELL is an award-winning writer, artist, and crazy sheep lady who resides in beautiful East Texas. Her renown sheep photographs grace the covers of many livestock magazines where she also writes newsy articles about raising sheep from her hands-on experience.
Based on true events from the Bell’s ranch, Marlene offers the first of her children’s picture books, Mia and Nattie: One Great Team! It’s a touching story of compassion and love between a little girl and her lamb. Marlene is also the author of the award-winning Annalisse international mystery series, with the third book, Calico Raven to be released in 2021.

Marlene shares her life with her husband and dreadfully spoiled horned Dorset sheep: a large Maremma guard dog named Tia, and cats, Hollywood, Leo, and Squeaks. The cats believe they rule the household—and do.

Signed copy of Mia and Nattie, Nattie Plush, Nattie Mousepad, and a Nattie pendant
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The Square Root of Texas: Lone Star Book Blog Tour – Review


The First Calamity of QED Morningwood

Rob Witherspoon
Genre: Satire / Humor / Absurdist Fiction
Publisher: Independently Published
Date of Publication: September 26, 2018
Number of Pages: 181 pages
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QED Morningwood is a liar, braggart and teller of tall tales. When he shows up at the domino parlor with a mysterious Russian crate in the back of his pick-up truck, he confides to the players he is a ‘Shadow’ member of the NRA, not on their official membership roll, and has a load of rocket propelled grenades – all lies. The news spreads to the real Shadow NRA, the FBI and Homeland Security. Meanwhile, the Russian Ministry of Cultural Preservation sends an agent to retrieve the crate, the actual contents known only to the Russians.

The Russian agent, an FBI team, a DHS undercover agent and a Shadow NRA hit team arrive in Heelstring, Texas looking for QED and his crate. Their convergence is followed by interrogations, seduction, lies, arrests, jailbreak, kidnapping and rescue – along with car chases and explosions. If not for Cotton Widdershins, an ancient black man with secrets of his own, who acts as QED’s mentor and savior, the Morningwood line would be doomed to end, or at best spend life in a federal penitentiary.



Four Stars

It is always gratifying to add a new book to my library, especially when it’s been signed by the author. In my copy of The Square Root of Texas: The First Calamity of QED Morningwood the author, Rob Witherspoon, wrote “Be Irrational!” So I knew, without opening the first page that I was in for an irreverent, outlandish, hysterical read.

In mathematics, the square root of a negative number “i” is used to balance an equation to make the result real and rational. In his first Disclaimer (they’re used throughout the book,) Witherspoon writes that in this story “i” is used to make his fictionalized Texas “real and rational – or at least as real and rational as can be expected of Texas.” After all, as he correctly points out, “reality, myth and mystique, to Texans, overlap with indistinct, indistinguishable boundaries,” and (paraphrasing here) since we’re known to be mighty touchy about state pride, he’s created “a mythical Texas” that sets the tone for this satirical romp.

Not only that, the framework for the story quickly throws out all conventions that readers would normally expect to find in a book. There are no chapters. Instead, the author (with tongue in cheek) suggests things for you to do whenever you need to take a break; get a cup of coffee, go to the bathroom, do the laundry, mow the yard… you get the idea! And, at about the halfway mark he introduces what he calls the MESOLOGUE, a means of moving the story forward. Witherspoon invents the device and, after acknowledging that readers won’t find the word in any dictionary, “wonders why nobody ever thought of it.”  After all, “there’s monologue, dialogue, prologue, and epilogue…. It just seems like someone would have put a prefix meaning ‘middle’ and a suffix meaning ‘speech’ together.”

The author also lampoons almost everything and everyone in his narrative and makes no apologies for doing so. Nothing is off limits. “This book contains material that may be offensive to: Cajuns, Scots, old people, Mexicans, swordsmen and boy scouts, but not in a mean or disparaging way. More like, ‘it’s a funny old world, isn’t it?’ way. You’ve been warned. I’m not going to insert a disclaimer every time I insult a group of people. From here on out, it’s on you.”

Witherspoon takes shots at the state capital (“Outsin” in his alternative universe,) the Texas judicial system (QED’s father had been acquitted of a capital offense by a jury of his peers, rich and white, and it certainly “didn’t hurt that he financed the reelection of the sheriff and the judge the previous year”), the Certainists, “The Certain Gospel Truth Church, a denomination of profound assuredness,” and the First, Second, and Third Southern Schismatic churches which split up over the issue of whether baptisms should involve full immersion, a sprinkling, or the use of a vaporizer,) “Shana Doo’s Pleasure Dome,” a house of vice offering “mediated affection”  to discriminating and well-paying customers, and even Texas AMU, “Texas Alchemical and Metaphysical University. Home of the Fightin’ Alkies.” As a graduate of Texas A&M University, Aggie jokes have always been around, so I took it stride while I was writing this review… really!

That’s the whole point of this book. Have fun with it! It is on the one hand absurd, while on the other quite descriptive and, dare I say, representative of this unique state. The characters and the plot are summarized quite well in the Synopsis, so I’ve deliberately not gone into them in any detail. Besides, the devil is in the details, and you’ll enjoy The Square Root of Texas that much more if you don’t know what’s coming next.

That said, if you’re a Native Texan or you’ve lived here as long as I have, or perhaps you’re just somebody who has visited or read about Texas, you’ll definitely recognize attributes easily recognizable in the people and places that make up the Lone Star State.

As the subtitle, The First Calamity of QED Morningwood suggests, this is the first book of a planned series by Rob Witherspoon. There are more “misadventures” to come and I, for one, look forward to new antics and laughs.  


Rob Witherspoon was born and raised in rural Texas. He earned a BA in Physical Education, UT Arlington 1985 and a BS in Aerospace Engineering, UT Arlington 1990. He worked in the aerospace industry for 30 years before retiring in 2018. He lives in north central Texas with his wife and youngest daughter and has spent much of his life in rural communities and on the ranch. He combines his love for Texas, lying, the outdoors, engineering, and his children in his writing.



Signed Copies of The Square Root of Texas and Deus Tex Machina
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The Love Note: Lone Star Book Blog Tour – Guest Post

Joanna Davidson Politano
Genre: Christian / Historical Fiction / Romance
Publisher: Revell
Publication Date: October 20, 2020
Number of Pages: 400
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Focused on a career in medicine and not on romance, Willa Duvall is thrown slightly off course during the summer of 1859 when she discovers a never-opened love letter in a crack of her old writing desk. Compelled to find the passionate soul who penned it and the person who never received it, she takes a job as a nurse at the seaside estate of Crestwicke Manor.

Everyone at Crestwicke has feelings—mostly negative ones—about the man who wrote the letter, but he seems to have disappeared. With plenty of enticing clues but few answers, Willa’s search becomes even more complicated when she misplaces the letter and it passes from person to person in the house, each finding a thrilling or disheartening message in its words.

Laced with mysteries large and small, this romantic Victorian-era tale of love lost, love deferred, and love found is sure to delight.



Storytelling – for better or for worse

 Guest Post by Joanna Davidson Politano

When I was a kid, I wrote stories, and they got me in trouble. Storytelling has always been the way I’ve dealt with life, especially when I was the quiet kid in early grade-school years. I wrote kids in my class into the stories—specifically, the ones picked on by bullies—and made real superheroes out of them. They all had these amazing hidden talents (which often was true in real life too) and the bullies who made fun of them—well, their characters didn’t fare well. I made sure of it. I had a blast writing up these larger-than-life scenarios, and they were incredibly fun.

Until they were found. I’ll never forget the pure torture of knowing they were circulating around the classroom one day. No one had any idea who’d written them (I’d left them behind on the reading rug in the rush to get to lunch), and I was dying inside waiting for them to figure it out.

That’s the tension I brought to The Love Note as I began writing. What is this? Where did it come from? A potent love letter turns up in the midst of a turbulent family, and several people—from maids to newlywed mistresses—encounter the touching words and believe it’s for them. The heroine knows it’s an old letter found in a family desk, and she’s anxious to trace the story of lost lovers and reunite them with the letter that was never delivered—but it happens to be delivered to a few wrong people by accident before it reaches its final destination.

Just like my grade-school classroom, which encountered a subtle shift after the stories leaked, the letter impacts the house as a whole, a catalyst sweeping through all the broken, disastrous relationships and shaking them up. The letter does eventually find its way home, but not before shifting most relationships in the house—for better or worse.

I learned as a second grader that my words, when put together the right way, carried huge weight. Even though I was a quiet kid, my stories could carve their way into places that no lecture or argument could go and actually change someone’s mind. I loved bringing that shift to Crestwicke in my novel, too, and the many broken love stories there. Words have impacts we cannot imagine. Like a knife, they either perform surgery that leads to healing or cut a new wound.

The characters eventually do find out who wrote the letter—and who it was written for—but by then the story had grown so much larger that they almost couldn’t be mad at the trouble it had caused or the person behind it all. The kids in my class didn’t care who wrote the stories in the end, either. I don’t think most of them ever knew. They were mostly interested in how their character came out on the page, and if they were villain or hero. I still can’t believe my silly wide-ruled sheets of paper unsettled that classroom the way they did, but the words meant something, and, even as fiction, they communicated a great deal of truth about how things in that classroom were.

I think I was hooked on writing back then, and even more so when I grew older and found many books that impacted me. So now I still write, still harness words, and sometimes—when I make friends into characters—I still get myself into trouble.

Joanna Davidson Politano is the award-winning author of Lady Jayne Disappears and A Rumored Fortune. She loves tales that capture the colorful, exquisite details in ordinary lives and is eager to hear anyone’s story.
She lives with her husband and their two kids in a house in the woods near Lake Michigan. You can find her at
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Painted Horses: My Review

Painted Horses Book CoverPainted Horses by Malcolm Brooks is a beautifully written novel that is at once homage to the vanishing American West, a window into history, social commentary on the clash between big business and progress versus cultural heritage and land preservation, and an enduring love story.

“And so out of yearning and cunning sprang tales of their own dimly recalled beginning, songs musing of the struggle of existence and the gods of the land and whatever eternity owned the glittering stars, legends of children birthed during astral events, under tailing comets or while red-and-green mists glowed weirdly in the northern sky, and the tales and the songs would pass down and pass down again and inspire ceremonies and rituals to ensure the arrival of migrating animals, the arrival of offspring, or to predict the lengthening of days into summer, and the rites would in turn compel one of them gifted with an impulse not unlike his own to create with his hand, his magical hand, images of the world in which he dwelled, a world and the beasts that occupied it now utterly gone save a single remnant etched in stone, deep in the heart of a canyon.”

Set in 1950’s Montana, it is the story of a young idealistic female archaeologist given the task of surveying a future dam site to ensure that no historical artifacts are lost, the Crow Indians on the Reservation desperately in need of economic development but torn between progress and preservation of their sacred traditions and rituals, and a veteran of World War II’s last mounted campaign in Italy on the lam from the authorities after refusing orders to execute the horses when their utility to the Army has ended.

All the characters and their back stories are richly drawn:

Catherine Lemay finds her love of archaeology while studying abroad. Trained as a classical pianist, she abandons her music studies at Cambridge after becoming entranced with the excavation of ancient ruins in post-Blitz London. Recognized for her archaeological work, she is asked to take on a survey back in the United States in Montana. Catherine soon realizes, however, that she is out of her depth. She faces daunting challenges from the rugged terrain and corporate America’s ruthless pursuit of wealth and power.

John H is a former “mustanger” whose skill with horses is a lost art that is no longer required or appreciated. He’s a loner out of necessity, living off the land, avoiding the encroachment of civilization and the law while still pursuing and painting the wild horses that are descended from thoroughbred Spanish blood lines.

Miriam is a young Crow Indian girl hired to assist Catherine look for ancient artifacts on land sacred to her tribe. With one foot in the past and one in the future, coming of age, becoming a woman, and unsure of what she really wants for herself or her people, she’ll be mislead into betraying both.

Jack Allen is another horseman who now slaughters wild mustangs for the money. Hired by Harris Power and Light to be Catherine’s guide as she conducts her survey, he is crude, deceptive, and dangerous. He’s really in the employ of businessman Dub Harris, who will not allow anything or anyone to impede or stop plans for the dam’s construction.

There is a timeless feel to Painted Horses. The lyrical style in which the story unfolds recalls works by Cormac McCarthy. You can visualize the land. You can relate to the characters. You can understand the conflict between the need for social progress and the fight to preserve the past.

Western, historical novel, drama, romance, or social commentary? Painted Horses doesn’t easily fit into any one category or genre, but Malcolm Brooks has crafted a book that is at once unique, mesmerizing, and haunting.

North To Alaska: Lone Star Book Blog Tour – Review & Giveaway


The Memoirs of H. H. Lomax, #6
Genre: Historical Fiction / Western / Humor
Publisher: Wolfpack Publishing
Date of Publication: August 5, 2020
Number of Pages: 414

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Swindled out of a mining fortune in Colorado and blamed for an ensuing murder, H. H. Lomax two decades later must finally face up to his past in Skagway, Alaska. Along the way, he encounters legendary madam Mattie Silks, suffragist Susan B. Anthony, novelist Jack London, and a talking dog.
To survive his previous missteps and avoid a prison sentence for theft, Lomax must outshoot infamous Western conman Soapy Smith, outwit an unrelenting Wells Fargo investigator, and outrun Shotgun Jake Townsend, the greatest frontier assassin who never was.
Four Stars

Many a tall tale and legend have their origin in stories of the Wild Wild West. Few, however, are as colorful, humorous, often outrageous, and thoroughly enjoyable as the adventures of H.H. (Henry Harrison) Lomax.

In the six novels by award winning author Preston Lewis, readers have followed the character’s journeys and escapades throughout the frontier from his origins in Northwest Arkansas to his latest efforts to find fame and fortune in Colorado and Alaska.

The recollection of his life and times are allegedly taken directly from Lomax’s memoirs found in the archives at Texas Tech University. Lewis admits that he “cannot vouch for their complete authenticity,” but also states that unlike many academic historians, rather than question Lomax’s credibility as an observer of historical events or his acquaintance with many famous icons of the Old West, he’s focused on Lomax’s ability as “a storyteller of the first rank… a chronicler of the historical and the hysterical West.”

North to Alaska picks up the saga in the year 1877. The previous year Lomax survived Custer’s ill-fated campaign against the Plains Indians at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, and settled for awhile in Deadwood in the Dakota Territory where he’s linked to Wild Bill Hickok who is gunned down in a saloon while playing poker. Since some observers believe that Lomax may have distracted the famed gunman allowing Jack McCall to shoot him from behind, he again hits the trail arriving in Denver, Colorado where he finds employment as a bodyguard to the famous Denver madam, Mattie Silks.

Certainly Henry Harrison is no shootist, but when he doesn’t discourage speculation that he was the one to teach Wild Bill Hickok the fast draw and how to shoot, he’s hired on to protect Mattie and her lover Cort Thomson from a rival madam, Kate Fulton, and a phantom assassin conjured from his own imagination, Shotgun Jake Townsend. With the help of Mattie’s cook and housekeeper, Lupe – Lomax describes her as having “the biggest heart of any woman he’d met in a brothel” – he devises an elaborate ruse that makes enough “protection money” to set her up for life and provide him with a grubstake for a mining venture in the town of Leadville.

It’s here that Lomax is introduced to Susan B. Anthony. “If ever a woman had been suckled on lemons and preserved in vinegar, she was it!” It’s only a brief encounter, but since rumors seem to spring up about anything or anybody Lomax is a party to, he’s forever romantically linked with the suffragist.

Lomax has never been good at holding onto money, and is soon scammed out of the mine and all his cash by an unscrupulous lawyer, Adam “Noose Neck” Scheisse, who, it turns out, works in cahoots with the notorious crime boss and conman, Jefferson Randolph “Soapy” Smith. Not only that, but after drowning his sorrows in a bottle of whiskey, Lomax wakes up to find himself accused of murdering the lawyer who bilked him out of his claim and money.

There’s an interlude at this point in the book that briefly describes Lomax wandering the West while constantly looking over his shoulder for anyone looking to collect the $500 bounty on his head. He then ends up in San Francisco where an unexpected windfall (courtesy of an unlocked Wells Fargo strongbox) is the money he needs to head to the Alaska gold fields. “Finders keepers is what I always heard, and I didn’t see any point in countering that adage.” Of course, now there’s a Wells Fargo Special Investigator on his tail, so Lomax assumes the alias Jessie Murphy.

It’s now the year 1897 and the Klondike Gold Rush is luring hundreds of travelers to the Chilkoot Mountains looking to strike it rich. Initially intent on trying his luck, he instead partners up with Roger Meredith, a thespian and ventriloquist, to open the Gold Dust Saloon and Grand Opera House in Skagway, Alaska. But with every honest citizen he meets, to include the writer Jack London who he remembers as “Jack Paris or Jack Madrid or something like that,” there are conmen, pickpockets, thieves, and scoundrels of every stripe. Organized crime and escalating violence aren’t far behind, which soon brings Lomax back in contact with Soapy Smith and his gang.

It also brings Mattie Silks to Skagway to scope out a location for her new brothel. Fortuitously, she overhears a conversation in which Soapy admits to framing Lomax back in Leadville, plans for his assassination, and plans to kill her as well. Mattie doesn’t stick around long enough for the plan to be carried out, but she does expose the corruption in Skagway on her return to Seattle which sets up the final confrontation and shootout on Juneau Wharf.

History records that Soapy Smith was killed on Juneau Wharf July 8, 1898. It doesn’t comment on the personal losses suffered by Jessie Murphy (his dog Buck and Ella Wilson, a “soiled dove” who plied her trade at the Gold Dust, were both victims of the violence.) Nor does it record the arrival of a Wells Fargo Special Investigator by the name of Dayle Lymoine, looking to recover the cash pilfered by H.H. Lomax.

Looking to get his name and reputation back, Lomax sells his stake in the Gold Dust and returns to San Francisco with the detective. Even after repaying the money, he fully expects Wells Fargo to press charges. Instead, he’s asked by the lawyers if the rumors are true that he had a relationship with the famed suffragist.  “As for pressing charges, we’ve decided courting Susan B. Anthony was punishment enough for a man’s lifetime.”

So ends this chapter in H.H. Lomax’s life.

North to Alaska contains many of the same elements that make Preston Lewis’ books both accurate in historical fact and fun to read for his reinterpretation of these events and the people involved. Was H.H. (Henry Harrison) Lomax an eye witness to history? Did he really live to write his memoirs or is he solely the construct of Lewis’ imagination? Readers might think it absurd to even ask these questions, but it’s a credit to a very talented author that the mere mention of Lomax’s name evokes statements from people like… “I’ve heard of him. Wasn’t he someone famous in the Old West?”

Each volume in this saga needs to be read and enjoyed, yet each stands alone. Preston Lewis does an excellent job of bringing new readers up to speed on Lomax’s past exploits, and he also summarizes his latest adventures and the people involved in the Introduction to each book. Knowing the plot before you open the first chapter may seem counterintuitive, but even my summation of North to Alaska doesn’t scratch the surface of what’s in store for readers. The joy is in the storytelling, not the historical facts. So, whether it’s H.H. Lomax or Preston Lewis that’s the master storyteller, the Old West is brought to life in a manner that makes you anxiously await the next release.

The archives tell us that H.H. Lomax passed away in 1933. This novel ends in 1898. I for one hope that there are many more adventures to come!

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.


TWO WINNERS: 1ST PRIZE: Signed copies of North to Alaska and First Herd to
2ND PRIZE: Signed Copy of North to Alaska.
OCTOBER 20-30, 2020
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