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.  

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.


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OCTOBER 20-30, 2020
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The Diary of Asser Levy: Lone Star Book Blog Tour – Author Interview


First Jewish Citizen
of New York
Genre: Historical Fiction / Middle Grade / Jewish / Colonial America
Publisher: Pelican (Arcadia Publishing)
Date of Publication: March 9, 2020
Number of Pages: 128
  Scroll down for the giveaway!

For twenty-four years the Dutch colony of Pernambuco in northeastern Brazil was a safe haven for Jews who had escaped the Inquisition in Europe. Recife, its capital, was known as “Colonial Jerusalem,” and it was from this religiously tolerant town that Asser Levy tells his story. When the Portuguese recaptured the territory in 1654, they brought the Inquisition and its torments with them, forcing Asser and his family and friends to flee to Holland. About fifteen ships arrive safely in Holland; Asser’s ship does not. 
Through imagined diary entries based on real events, Asser tells the harrowing story of the Jewish refugees who arrived on the island of Manhattan and of some of the first court battles fought to allow religious freedom in America.
“The book breathes life into a little-known yet important Jewish figure of early New Amsterdam and New York. Through a series of diary entries based on fact and the author’s creation, the author brings out the emotion, drama, and conflicts of Asser Levy’s turbulent journey to a new land in search of religious freedom. … The book will add color to classroom lessons on early US history and on Jewish immigration.” —Paul Kaplan, author of Jewish New York: A History and Guide to Neighborhoods, Synagogues, and Eateries 

“What an extraordinary amount of research went into it! And what a creative way of combining historical fiction and contemporary pictures. Kudos!” —Cynthia Levinson, author of The Youngest Marcher

“What a fine job [Daniela] did with this story! … The diary-style keeps the pace moving, and the adventures make it exciting. Lots of setting details bring the scenes alive, and the dialogue engages the reader in the plot. I can see how it will be easy for a young reader to identify with Asser, worrying about how (and if) he’ll succeed in his quest.” —Gail Jarrow, author of Fatal Fever

Interview with Daniela Weil

 The Diary of Asser Levy: First Jewish Citizen of New York is a truly special book for your readers. I had a feeling that the “story behind the story” was going to be very interesting! I couldn’t wait to learn more about Daniel’s research and writing process. Tell me how you discovered the existence of Asser Levy and what drew you to write about him?

 I had not heard about Asser Levy, even though I was familiar with the story of the twenty-three Jews that arrived in New York from Brazil in 1654. I am Brazilian, and in Brazil, that history is so well known that it was even a theme of the carnaval parade in Rio a couple of years ago. It was only once I began more in-depth research that I learned about Asser Levy. He is perhaps our first Jewish-American “hero.”

In New York he is relatively well known, and there are several landmarks named after him. But outside of New York, most people, including Jews, have not really heard of him. He is a four-hundred-year-old version of the classic “American Dream” story. He arrived as an immigrant in a foreign land with nothing; faced hostility, religious persecution, and adversity; fought for his rights in court and won; worked hard; became a Jewish trailblazer (first Jewish citizen, first kosher butcher, first Jewish landowner), gathered substantial wealth; and made history.

Your story dates back to the 1600s. What were some of the challenges you faced doing research from so long ago? 

That is a great question. It is very hard to research primary sources from that long ago, especially if they are written in old Dutch. I read most, if not all, of the academic papers written by historians and went through their citations, always digging for the primary sources. Some sources I was able to find translated, but there is dispute among historians as to the accuracy of the translations, which leads to controversies in the story. Other documents I found with the help of a Dutch colleague in the online archives of the Dutch West India Company.

Some parts of the story are just not documented, and historians fill in the gaps with their best theories. I found that the most challenging part of my research was believing in a possible version of the story that differed from the current views of historians, based on the evidence I found. Since I am not a historian, I didn’t have much credibility amongst the scholars and was sometimes seen as a “historical heretic,” which is interesting because my heroes were all dealing with being heretics as well.

But I did ultimately find support from some people who are experts in New Netherland history, and they helped me to find confidence in my theory and move forward. Also, fictionalizing the story opens room for interpretation, but I’d love the readers to understand that much of what I wrote is based on history.

You do a lovely job of weaving historical facts with your story’s narrative. Can you share a bit about your writing process?

 I wrote many, many versions of the book before it became what it is. I started out writing a nonfiction picture book, which was well within my comfort area for writing. But I soon noticed that nonfiction was going to be hard to pull off while still being able to make the story appealing for youth.

I thought that I could focus on Asser Levy since he is such a classic protagonist and a named historical figure, and Stuyvesant is a fantastic antagonist (and so much more, really). So, I decided to write it from Asser Levy’s point of view, starting out with him as a young adult so that kids could identify with him, and have him narrate the history.

But I also did not want to lose all the nonfiction elements that I had so thoroughly gathered. In my mind’s eye, the book was a blend of nonfiction and fiction, a fusion. But this genre doesn’t really officially exist, and I struggled with its acceptance in the editorial world. I am very happy that Pelican allowed me to fulfill it in the vision that I had for it.

What are some interesting facts you learned about New York history that you didn’t include in your final draft?

Oh my God, I knew very little about the American Dutch Colonial period before my research, and I became a total New Amsterdam fanatic! There was really a lot more that I could have said about New Amsterdam. So many interesting stories there. Perhaps I will write them one day.

Did you know that it was through New Amsterdam that Santa Klaus arrived in the US? That Stuyvesant had a pear tree he planted which lived until relatively recently, and you can still visit that location? That a Black surgeon practiced medicine in New Amsterdam? The story of the slave Manuel de Gerrit the Reus and how he drew the short straw to be hung and was saved by divine intervention. The Flushing Remonstrance, the very first religious freedom uprising—I can go on and on!

The book design is very interesting—lots of graphic elements as well as the use of a font style that is helpful for readers with dyslexia. Did you have any input on the design? What was your reaction when you first saw the completed book?

Thank you for that compliment. I did have a vision for the design and offered to do the book layout myself, which Pelican accepted. I made the cover and collected and arranged all the visuals in the book. It was my editor (Nina Kooij’s) idea to have the book printed in OpenDyslexic; it would work well visually with the sort of diary-ish, handwritten look and accommodate a whole other reading audience who is often overlooked.

When I saw the book for the first time, I could not believe it actually existed. I spent the last six years working on it, and there were many more times that I believed it would never exist than that it would get printed one day. I was very pleased with how it looked. And yet, as a published author, you feel so vulnerable because now people will actually read it and you’re exposed to criticism and reviews and all of that. But so far, I think people are pleased with it, and I hope that many middle schoolers (and their parents) learn about this incredible story.

First posted at Jewish Books for Kids, May 3, 2020

Daniela Weil was born in Brazil. She attended the International School in São Paulo, where she was surrounded by people and cultures from around the world. It was also there that she developed a passion for nature, art, and writing. After earning a BA in biology from Brandeis University in Boston, Weil became a field research biologist. She participated in various whale projects, including illustrating the first field guide for whales and dolphins in Brazil.

Being a mother rekindled her desire to share her passion about the natural world. She joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and attended workshops on writing nonfiction and science for kids. After writing several articles on science and history, she ventured into books. Weil attended the Texas Library Association annual conference with her SCBWI group and met the folks from Pelican, who were intrigued by her middle-grade book idea. As the project developed, her research took her back to Brazil and across the world, chasing Asser’s experiences.

When not on the hunt for new experiences, Weil makes her home in Austin, Texas, with her husband, Erik, and daughter, Lucy.
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Enemies of Doves: Lone Star Book Blog Tour – Review

Shanessa Gluhm

Genre: Historical Fiction / Mystery
Publisher: TouchPoint Press
Publication Date: March 20, 2020
Number of Pages: 324 pages

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Told in alternating timelines from World War II to 1992, debut author Shanessa Gluhm’s Enemies of Doves is a tale of family secrets, jealousy, and deception perfect for fans of Kate Morton and Katherine Webb.

On a summer night in 1932, twelve-year-old Joel Fitchett wanders into an East Texas diner badly beaten and carrying his unconscious brother, Clancy. Though both boys claim they have no memory of what happened, the horrific details are etched into their minds as deep as the scar left across Joel’s face.

Thirteen years later, both men still struggle with the aftershocks of that long-ago night and the pact they made to hide the truth. When they find themselves at the center of a murder investigation, they make a decision that will change everything. A second lie, a second pact, and, for a time, a second chance. In 1991 college student Garrison Stark travels to Texas chasing a rumor that Clancy Fitchett is his biological grandfather. Clancy has been missing since 1946, and Garrison hopes to find him and, in doing so, find a family. What he doesn’t expect to discover is a tangle of secrets spanning sixty years involving Clancy, Joel, and the woman they both loved, Lorraine.

PRAISE for Enemies of Doves:
Enemies of Doves weaves a timeline of events that makes for compelling reading. It’s an ecological system of interlocking decisions, discoveries, and circumstances that spans some sixty years of love, danger, and revelations.” —D. Donovan, senior reviewer, Midwest Book Review

“I’ve read some amazing thriller and suspense stories this year, but Enemies of Doves takes the mid-year prize. I’m not one for dual timelines, but this one was perfection with the fifty-year time-span moving forward in tandem. Garrison’s search will cause time to collide, unlocking a lifetime of secrets, and THE PLOT TWIST OF 2020!” —author Felicia Denise

“Shanessa Gluhm is a brilliant writer. I very seldom read a book that I cannot figure out how it will end, but this one literally blew me away!” —Lori Thomas Harrington, author of The Point

Four Stars

That night brought more memories. And if memories weren’t enough, in came the ghosts.

It isn’t often that a mystery can keep readers guessing until its conclusion but Enemies of Doves, the debut novel by author Shanessa Gluhm, not only maintains the suspense but does so with intersecting narratives and timelines, unexpected twists and turns, and a well concealed ending.

The tangled web of family secrets and lies plays out over the span of fifty years. At the core of the story is the bond between two brothers, Joel and Clancy Fitchett, whose suppressed memory of a violent act has left both of them emotionally scarred and one with a physical reminder of the incident. Their relationship is complex, with feelings of resentment, anger, jealousy, regret, and self-sacrifice affecting how they perceive and interact with one another. The two brothers struggle to not only maintain their pact of secrecy about the incident but their need for love, acceptance, and belonging. Complicating matters is their attraction to the same woman, Lorraine Applewhite, and the murder of their domineering and abusive father. Tom Fitchett’s murder will lead to  Joel’s imprisonment and the disappearance of Clancy and Lorraine.

Fast forward fifty years later. College student Garrison Stark experiences the painful loss of family when a terrible car accident claims the lives of his parents and his grandmother succumbs to the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease. Before she passes away, however, she intimates that Clancy is his true biological grandfather. Longing for family, Garrison sets out to find him.

His search for the truth begins in the library archives where he is introduced to Molly Hamilton, another college student whose course curriculum has her researching the Fitchett murder. She is convinced that Joel is innocent of the crime. Due to their mutual interest in Joel and Clancy, the two agree to help one another.

To find Clancy Garrison will also interview Joel in prison. The initial meeting doesn’t end well, but Joel is just as interested in locating Lorraine as Garrison is in finding his brother, which leads to more meetings between the two and the disclosure that  someone has been putting money into Joel’s prison account over the years, and he is convinced that it is her.

Garrison’s obsession with unraveling the case and possibly locating the only remaining member of his family will destroy his engagement to his girlfriend Amber, ignite romantic feelings for Molly, and uncover hidden identities and familial relationships, the revelation of which could threaten her. Molly has no inkling of her linkage to the case beyond her academic pursuits and desire to free an innocent man, or the evil that exists within her own family.

Author Shanessa Gluhm, in her very first outing as a novelist, has written a multi-layered narrative of unrequited love, child abuse, dementia, murder, PTSD, secrets, lies, and regrets. Enemies of Doves not only seamlessly weaves all these elements together, but engages you from the very beginning, doesn’t come full circle until the very end, and leaves you thinking about it long after its completion.

I received an advanced copy of Enemies of Doves in exchange for my review.


Shanessa Gluhm works as a librarian at an elementary school in New Mexico, where she lives with her husband and children. It was during her own elementary days when a teacher encouraged Shanessa to write and share stories with the class. She hasn’t stopped writing since. Enemies of Doves is her debut novel. 




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ldren. It was during her own elementary days when a teacher encouraged Shanessa to write and share stories with the class. She hasn’t stopped writing since. Enemies of Doves is her debut novel. 








Mix-Up At The O.K. Corral: My Review

Mix-Up at the O.K. Corral Book CoverAsk anyone about the most famous shootout from the annals of the Old West, and invariably they will point to the “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.” The brief thirty second confrontation between the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday on one side and the Clantons and the McLaurys on the other is arguably the most famous exchange of gunfire and gunsmoke ever recorded, and continued public awareness of the event that took place in  Tombstone, Arizona Territory on October 26, 1881 has been assured by numerous literary interpretations and movie depictions of the simmering feud that led to this moment in history.

One of the more original and outlandish accounts of the gunfight and the circumstances that led to it comes by way of author Preston Lewis in book #3 of the H.H. (Henry Harrison) Lomax memoirs. If you love western literature and especially western humor, you’re probably already acquainted with the series, but if not, I refer you to my earlier blog posts: The Demise of Billy the Kid, Jun 7, 2018; The Redemption of Jessie James, Feb 1, 2019; Bluster’s Last Stand, Aug 9, 2019; and First Herd to Abilene, Apr 29, 2020.

Invariably you’ll note that I previously bypassed this third entry into the account of Lomax’s adventures (the above titles should highlight the fact that he claims to have known many of the icons of the Old West and been involved in just about every pivotal event that ever occurred during the period.) At the time I wanted to jump ahead and read his take on Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, and then I just naturally followed up that book with his telling of the first great cattle drive from Texas to Kansas. However, I knew that I would eventually return to the famous Tombstone shootout, and I was determined to have read all five books before the release of book #6, North to Alaska, due out August 5th.

Lomax’s braggadocio has always tempered historical accuracy with outrageous assertions of bravado, but he really lays it on thick in Mix-Up At The O.K. Corral. He claims to have spit into Doc Holliday’s drink and lived to tell the tale, to have fired the first shot in the faceoff at the corral, and to have killed the notorious gunman Johnny Ringo in the ongoing vendetta that occurred in the aftermath of the gunfight. In fact Lomax spreads so many rumors and tells so many lies in this entry into the series that you can fully understand why almost everyone in Tombstone is anticipating that not only will he be shot, but also openly betting on where the bullet will strike him… in the back, in the gut, in the head, etc. Even his own cat wants to scratch his eyes out, but somehow Lomax makes it out of Tombstone alive and hits the trail towards another misadventure, this time in Skagway, Alaska.

I’m obviously a big fan of Preston Lewis, and I’m always looking forward to the next chapter in the H.H. Lomax saga. His many exploits are told with humor, pathos, and a lot of historical detail (albeit stretched a good bit in keeping with Lewis’ ability to spin a good yarn.)  So, catch up if you haven’t yet read any of Henry Harrison’s memoirs and get ready for more action in the frozen North. You’ll be glad you did!



Sword Song: My Review

Sword Song Book CoverSet in the year 885, this is the continuing story of Uhtred of Bebbanburg and the Saxon Tales. Like its predecessors this fourth entry into the series offers vivid and dramatic battle scenes, but the violence (while true to this period in history) does not overshadow well drawn characters – both historical and fictional – that add depth and human interest to the origins of modern day England.

Following the defeat of the Viking Guthrum, Alfred the Great is looking to consolidate his rule over all the kingdoms (not just Wessex but Mercia, East Anglia, and Northumbria) and bring Christianity to the whole country. To do so he must protect his borders from further Viking raids and Uhtred is sworn to aid him in this effort.

When Sigefrid and Erik Thurgilson capture and occupy London, Alfred’s control of the Thames River is threatened. Now Uhtred must weigh his oath to Alfred against his own ambitions. A mixture of both Saxon and Dane, Uhtred has divided loyalties that will be tested by predictions that he will be king of Mercia if he allies himself with the Vikings.

Bernard Cornwell engages the reader in the narrative of shifting allegiances and power struggles. Alfred’s treacherous nephew, Aethelwold, covets the throne upon which Alfred sits and schemes with the Danes to lure Uhtred away from his oath to the king. News of a risen dead man foretells Uhtred’s kingship in the kingdom of Mercia. However, the vain and abusive Aethelred, married to Alfred’s eldest daughter, has already been promised the kingdom. His cruelty endangers his wife Ethelflaed, while his vanity and lack of leadership jeopardizes the campaign to recapture London. Uhtred must find a way to protect Ethelflaed from Aethelred, reveal Aetholwold’s treachery, and recapture London to fulfill his pledge to Alfred.

Sword Song is an apt title for the book as Uhtred again wields his sword Serpent-Breath in the battle for London. For anyone unfamiliar with Uhtred’s previous adventures please refer to my reviews of the three earlier books in the series: The Last Kingdom, Dec 7 2018; The Pale Horsemen, Jul 5, 2019; and The Lords of the North, Feb 26, 2020.  

A united England in the ninth century is still just a dream, and there are many more adventures yet to be told. In total, Bernard Cornwell has written twelve books in this ongoing series with more to come! Some readers may find this disconcerting, but whenever I’m in the mood for rousing descriptions of battle and a rich history of the northward expansion that resulted in the realization of Alfred the Great’s dream, I find myself returning to the Saxon Tales.

Next up for me, somewhere down the road… The Burning Land.








The Mermaid and the Bear: My Review

In 1597 in Aberdeen, Scotland several individuals were executed for alleged witchcraft or sorcery. The majority of those accused were women, many of them midwives or healers whose abilities were thought to be satanic powers derived from devil worship. Confessions of said diabolical activity were obtained by various forms of torture or physical abuse, after which the “guilty” were usually burned at the stake. This is the historical background for Ailish Sinclair’s debut novel The Mermaid and the Bear.

The story focuses on a young woman named Isobel who flees to Scotland to avoid an arranged marriage to a cruel and wicked man. Although she is educated and comes from a well to do English family, she finds employment (as well as refuge, friendship, and love) working as a kitchen maid in the household of a Scottish laird. Her idyllic life is shattered, however, when envy and jealousy lead to accusations that she and two other women at the castle practice the dark arts.

The book is written in two parts each starkly different in tone and style:

The first part is the love story, the setting and dialogue evoking a land of ancient stones, fairytale castles, and misty lochs where a maiden is mistaken for a mermaid and the castle laird a bear. The descriptive passages in these chapters are so atmospheric and the language so lyrical that 16th century Scotland seems the perfect setting for this unlikely romance.

Then the narrative abruptly changes to the horrors of the Aberdeen witch trials. The author doesn’t spare the reader from the graphic and brutal treatment of the accused and some may find the transition jarring.

I read The Mermaid and the Bear precisely because of my interest in Scottish history and my curiosity about the Scottish Witchcraft Act of 1563 and specifically the Aberdeen witchcraft trials. In all, some 400 people were executed in Scotland during this period including Bessie Thom and Christen Michell, both of whom are actual historical figures featured within the novel. Ailish Sinclair does a wonderful job of fleshing out these two characters and making them an integral part of this fictional work.

I found the love story between Isobel and the Scottish laird Thomas Manteith less compelling and somewhat contrived, but since I don’t usually read romance novels, others can decide for themselves whether it’s typical of the genre.

On the whole this debut novel by Ailish Sinclair is an engaging read that can be enjoyed for its beautiful description of Scotland, its romantic story, and/or its historical portrayal of Aberdeen. I look forward to her upcoming book Fireflies and Chocolate inspired by the children kidnapped in Aberdeen in the 18th century.

The First Emma: Lone Star Book Blog Tour – Author Video

Camille Di Maio

Historical Fiction / Historical Romance / Women’s Fiction

Publisher: Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing
Date of Publication: May 5, 2020
Number of Pages: 315

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The First Emma is the true story of Emma Koehler. Whose tycoon husband Otto was killed in a crime-of-the-century murder by one of his two mistresses – both also named Emma – and her unlikely rise as CEO of a brewing empire during Prohibition. When a chance to tell her story to a young teetotaler arises, a tale unfolds of love, war, beer, and the power of women.


PRAISE for The First Emma

“Di Maio’s take on a shocking American drama pleasantly blends romantic and historical fiction . . . a sweet memorialization of a real-life female business pioneer in San Antonio.” —Kirkus

“A beautifully crafted portrait of an intriguing woman. Mystery and romance are set against the backdrop of fascinating pieces of twentieth-century history, and a richly drawn setting leaves the reader feeling wholly immersed. Historical fiction fans will love this one!” —Chanel Cleeton, NYT bestselling author of Next Year in Havana

“Di Maio does a brilliant job of weaving together all the threads—from past to present—while unearthing a tale of blossoming love, the power of our chosen family, and the losses that make us whole again.” —Rochelle B. Weinstein, USA Today bestselling author of This Is Not How It Ends

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Author Video

Camille Di Maio, author of bestselling historical fiction, loves to illuminate the stories of women from the past. From the challenges they overcome to the loves they embrace, her characters – both real and fictional – have something to teach us in the present.

Join Camille as she introduces her books and invites her readers to keep in touch.

The First Emma


Camille Di Maio always dreamed of being a writer, though she took a winding path of waitressing, temping, politicking, and real estate to get there. It all came to fruition with the publication of her bestselling debut, The Memory of Us, followed by Before the Rain Falls, The Way of Beauty, and The Beautiful Strangers. In addition to writing, she loves farmers’ markets, unashamedly belts out Broadway tunes when the mood strikes, and regularly faces her fear of flying to indulge her passion for travel. Married for twenty-three years, she home-schools their four children. (Though the first two are off at college now!) She is happy to live in Virginia near a beach. 


ONE WINNER receives a signed copy of The First Emma 
May 19-29, 2020
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First Herd to Abilene: Lone Star Book Blog Tour – Review & Giveaway


An H. H. Lomax Western, #5
Genre: Historical Fiction / Western / Humor
Publisher: Wolfpack Publishing
Date of Publication: February 5, 2020
Number of Pages: 449

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HISTORICALLY SOUND AND HILARIOUSLY FUNNY! H.H. Lomax meets Wild Bill Hickok in Springfield, Missouri, and is responsible for Hickok’s legendary gunfight with Davis Tutt. Fearing Hickok will hold a grudge, Lomax escapes Springfield and agrees to promote Joseph G. McCoy’s dream of building Abilene, Kansas, into a cattle town, ultimately leading the first herd to Abilene from Texas.

Along the way, he encounters Indians, rabid skunks, flash floods, a stampede, and the animosities of some fellow cowboys trying to steal profits from the drive. Lomax is saved by the timely arrival of now U.S. Marshal Hickok, but Lomax uses counterfeit wanted posters to convince Hickok his assailants are wanted felons with rewards on their heads.

Lomax and Wild Bill go their separate ways until they run into each other a decade later in Deadwood, Dakota Territory, where Hickok vows to kill Lomax for getting him fired.

First Herd to Abilene is an entertaining mix of historical and hysterical fiction.

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Four Stars

First Herd to Abilene is the fifth book in this series featuring the hilarious exploits of H.H. (Henry Harrison) Lomax, one of the most colorful characters to ever grace the pages of a western novel. If you’ve never read any of the previous entries into the outrageous circumstances and succession of adventures that puts H.H. at the confluence of every major event to ever be recorded about the Old West, don’t worry. Author Preston Lewis revisits those earlier escapades in Chapter One, while at the same time laying the groundwork for what is yet to come.

Lewis contends that he came across Lomax’s memoirs while conducting research at Texas Tech University, and though he “can’t vouch for their veracity,” these tales of encounters with the likes of Billy the Kid, Jessie James, Doc Holiday and Wyatt Earp, Buffalo Bill Cody, and George Armstrong Custer (to name just a few) are told with such insightful historical detail as well as wit and humor that readers will find themselves totally engaged. “While some may question his credentials as a credible chronicler of the occurrences Lomax claims to have witnessed, no one can doubt his abilities as a humorous story-teller of the first rank.”

First Herd to Abilene takes Henry Harrison Lomax from the end of the Civil War to three years past the turn of the century and, as in the earlier volumes, allows Lomax to weave another yarn about his encounters with some of the most memorable characters in the history of the Old West, folks such as James Butler ‘Wild Bill’ Hickok, Calamity Jane, Jessie Chisolm and Joseph G. McCoy.”

It begins with Lomax grousing about his disdain for all Texans, “a breed whose stupidity, greed, and depravity was exceeded only by that of politicians and lawyers.” His bitterness is really the result of a later tragedy, but at the outset of the book he begrudges Texans for making a fortune in the cattle industry while he “received nary a cent for all the hard work I put in and all risks I took to chart the course to Kansas.” Additionally,  Lomax feels slighted by Joseph G. McCoy, the entrepreneur who had the vision of transporting cattle by rail to Easterners starving for beef, but fails to give Lomax recognition and historical credit for being the first to blaze a trail from Texas to the stockyards and railheads in Abilene. That credit went to Jessie Chisolm, “an old coot who never traversed the route from Kansas to South Texas and back.”

It’s this bitterness that sets the tone for probably the most serious storyline of all the books in the series, with much of its 449 pages describing what it was like to be a part of the great cattle drives that defined this era in history. The arduous challenge of herding longhorn cattle over 700 miles from Texas to Kansas required months of backbreaking monotonous work that pitted cattlemen against the elements, disease, wild animals, hostile terrain, Indian attacks, and rustlers. It meant months of breathing in trail dust as well as the foul odors of the livestock, going without much sleep, eating the same food day-in day-out, no gambling or drinking, and very little human contact except between fellow trail riders… all of which grated on nerves and frequently resulted in the deaths of both man and beast. Preston Lewis certainly intersperses Lomax’s typical humor into this portrayal of a cowhand’s life, but he does so in a manner that doesn’t negate or gloss over the difficulties faced along the way.

Besides Lomax and the iconic historical figures mentioned above, Lewis creates a cast of characters that brings these hardships to life. Madlyn Dillon, an artist who has been spoiled and pampered her entire life, but the first Texan, male or female, to take an interest in Lomax and Joseph G. McCoy’s vision. Colonel Saul Dillon, her father. The Texas cattleman puts his trust in Lomax to get his cattle to Kansas and save his ranch. Ruth, orphaned by the Comanche but taken in and employed by Colonel Dillon. She falls in love with Lomax in an ill-fated relationship. Sainty Spencer, the ranch foreman who is sweet on Madlyn, and as trail boss is trusted to bring back the cash from the sale of the cattle in Abilene. Charlie Bitters, the cook, second in importance only to the trail boss, but whose cooking for the Army of Tennessee during the Civil War is said to have led to its defeat. Jose Munoz and Pedro Ramirez, Mexican hands that will tend to the remuda during the trail drive. Martin Michaels, a sketch artist on the side and the first cowhand hired, and Tom Errun, an Englishman with no experience pared up with Michaels to lead the herd. Silas Banty, a former slave, who looks to the future with optimism and learns to read from Lomax. Toad Beeline, little understood by his fellow trailhands because he tends to mumble when he speaks. He and Silas are assigned to ride flank. Trent Parsons, a former Confederate soldier wounded at Shiloh who spends his spare time with the Good Book, and Jurdon Mark, an affable sort who excels at the game of marbles, will ride swing. Lastly, Harry Dire, a skilled roper but a malcontent, Chuck Muscher, a Yankee troublemaker, and Bartholomew Henry O’Henry, another former slave angry about his past with a mean streak in him, will all be assigned to ride drag which only adds to their alienation and seditious attitudes. Their actions bode ill for the success of the cattle drive.

Bookending this description of the cattle drive and the fate of these characters is the story of Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane told as only H.H. Lomax can, again putting himself right smack dab in the middle of the action over a span of years that begins in Springfield, Missouri and ends on that fateful day in Deadwood, Dakota Territory. But what does a “Rattle Jar,” head lice, an illicit game of poker at the library,  a stolen gold Waltham watch, cherry pie, an impromptu lynching, counterfeit wanted posters, and the “romance” between Wild Bill and Miss Martha Jane Canary and their final resting place  have to do with that narrative? For those insights, you really do need to read the book. In fact, once you do, I highly recommend that you go back and read the entire series. You won’t be disappointed!

Finally, to give a complete review of First Herd to Abilene, I need to mention errors in editing that I had not encountered in Lewis’ previous books. I seldom comment on SPAGs, but readers will undoubtedly come across them in the course of reading the novel. Preston Lewis is a great storyteller and a deserving winner of the Spur Award for western literature, but this book would have benefitted from a final edit before publication.

That said, as someone who once wrote that the “western genre no longer holds the public’s attention as it once did in cinema and published media,” I can definitely say that Preston Lewis’ books are the exception, helping keep western literature alive, vibrant, relevant and entertaining.

I received a free copy of First Herd to Abilene in exchange for my honest review.

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.


Signed Copies of First Herd to Abilene and Bluster’s Last Stand
Signed Copy of First Herd to Abilene
APRIL 28-MAY 8, 2020


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Destiny’s Way: Lone Star Book Blog Tour – Guest Post

A Novel of the Big Bend
Ben H. English
Historical Fiction / Suspense
Publisher: Creative Texts Publishers
Date of Publication: January 18, 2020
Number of Pages: 363

Kate Blanchard woke up one morning in a dream home she could no longer afford, with a young son who needed a man’s influence, and not a friend among those who had claimed to be prior to her husband’s mysterious disappearance.

About all she had left was a ramshackle ranch along Terlingua Creek, sitting forlornly in the desolate reaches of the lower Big Bend. It was the only place left she could go. There she finds a home and a presence of something strange yet comforting that she can’t put her finger on or fully understand.

With that ethereal presence comes Solomon Zacatecas, a loner with his own past and a knowledge of her land near uncanny in nature. He helps her when no one else can and is honest when no one else will be, but she suspicions that he is not always completely so.

Yet her quiet, unassuming neighbor proves to be more than capable in whatever situation arises. That includes when standing alone against those who would take everything else that Kate had, including her life as well as her son’s.


“This is one of those rare books that you simply can’t put down. Ben English ‘s writing style is pure magic. He really brings this historical fiction book to life. Immediately, you are drawn to the main characters Kate and Solomon and feel as though you are right there next to them, experiencing what they are experiencing. Destiny’s Way is one that would do well on the Silver Screen.”
Catherine Eaves, published author“Ben does a superb job with this book! Excellent characters, true-to-life environment that is part and parcel of the story, twists and turns enough to make you wonder what is going on, and a slice of life down in Big Bend that rings true. That area has historically been full of ‘characters’ throughout its history, and Ben brings those characters into the book, raising the hair on the back of your neck. Highly recommended!”
J. L. Curtis, author of the Grey Man series“Ben, I love how your words and your memories reach out and connect the past with the present and touch so many people along the way. You are the connector! Bravo Zulu, my friend.”
Matt Walter, Museum of the Big Bend Curator


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Dreamers and Castaways of the Big Bend

Guest Post by Ben English


“Surrounded by the northern reaches of the Chihuahuan Desert, it also marked the end of the line for the ancient, crumbling remains of the Ouachitas. Even mountains die, given enough time, and the Ouachitas were slowly dissolving away, decaying relics mastered by other ranges that rose up and reached for the heavens hundreds of millions of years later.

This collision with far younger mountains, as well as those of the Sierra Madre Oriental from Old Mexico, made for geological strata and anomalies not found anywhere else on the North American continent. They say that when God finished making the world, He took everything left over and deposited it in the Big Bend. When one took inventory of what was there, that whimsical adage took on a dimensionally larger meaning. For here lay mysteries upon mysteries compounded by time, nature, and human imagination.

Different? Yes, almost in a forbidding way. But this sphinxlike, timeworn place had called out to her with the bewitching song of a desert siren. At first, she had very much been a stranger in a strange land. But here she had stayed and found a temporary home, providing solace for broken dreams and near-broken hearts.”

These are the lines that help introduce the main female character in Destiny’s Way. Kate is a strong-willed woman who has faced a great deal of tragedy and disappointment in her life and coming to the lower Big Bend was her instinct when the world seemed set against her. Or worse, could have cared less.

This country can mend a heart or just as easily break one, some would say the latter comes easier. I have seen it go both ways repeatedly, and often a person has no real idea of their fate until the moment they see sunshine or shipwreck.

It is the land of broken dreams, dotted by the remnants of those dreams going back through the centuries.

And those desert sirens keep singing out, bringing both hope and doom to the castaway dreamers who seek them.

My beautiful picture

“The more she went, the more that ranch and the old headquarters pulled at her heart and spoke to her innermost soul. The thick, stucco-covered adobe walls had seen a lot of days under the West Texas sky. They had sheltered past occupants from the blistering heat of summer, the cold winds of winter, and everything else in between. Now they protected Kate from the increasingly topsy-turvy world outside and gave respite to her loneliness and growing uncertainty.

The discolored tin roof covering those thick walls had done the same. It not only served to shield from the sun but also collected rainwater to supply the cistern out back. The dog-run, now screened in, provided a place for rest when the house itself was too warm for comfort. It was situated to catch the slightest summer breeze, and the wide porches with morning glories spiraling up goat-proof fencing further cooled the desert drafts.”

This excerpt is part of a discourse about an old adobe house that figures prominently in the plot for Destiny’s Way. People have started asking me about that place after reading the book, wanting to know more about it. Like most every other structure or terrain feature mentioned it exists even today, though in a substantially different form.

The photograph was taken by my mother circa 1967, my younger brother Lyndon and I are sitting on a couple of half-broke horses our grandfather gave us. Note the hackamores and the old Texas-style saddles that make up our gear.

This original headquarters, much like the ethereal presences that make up part of the novel, figures large into the background of both photograph and story. We lived in that house when we first came to the ranch and I got to know it well. Many of the incidents involving this place as described in the book actually occurred.

And yes, my entire family considered the house haunted, and for good reason. Yet like the presence described in Destiny’s Way, we also knew it never meant us any real harm.

Destiny’s Way is a work of fiction, but there are many past remembrances captured within its pages.

Ben H. English is an eighth-generation Texan who grew up in the Big Bend. At seventeen he joined the Marines, ultimately becoming a chief scout-sniper as well as a platoon sergeant. Later he worked counterintelligence and traveled to over thirty countries. 
At Angelo State University he graduated Magna Cum Laude along with other honors. Afterwards Ben had a career in the Texas Highway Patrol, holding several instructor billets involving firearms, driving, and defensive tactics.
His intimate knowledge of what he writes about lends credence and authenticity to his work. Ben knows how it feels to get hit and hit back, or being thirsty, cold, wet, hungry, alone, or exhausted beyond imagination. Finally, he knows of not only being the hunter but also the hunted.
Ben and his wife have two sons who both graduated from Annapolis. He still likes nothing better than grabbing a pack and some canteens and heading out to where few others venture.

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