In the Shadow of the Hanging Tree, by Michael A. McLellan, takes place in the 1860s and revolves around the lives of three people trying desperately to find their way in post-Civil War America. Henry, a man freed from slavery but never free from the horrors he endured, finds himself assisting Clara Hanfield in her quest to reunite with Lieutenant John Elliott, the man she loves and her father loathes. All three are caught up in the government’s plot to push the Native Americans from their land once and for all. Fate has dealt quite the hand to Henry, and his introduction to Clara and her mission to find John poses yet another obstacle to Henry’s quest to find the freedom and peace he deserves.
McLellan’s writing is simply breathtaking. The richness of the language he gives his characters immediately reels in the reader. The exchanges between Henry and Eliza are tender, and her early attempts to refine his speaking habits are affectionate and determined. The trials the two endure to survive as slaves in the South and their attempt to escape the lynch mobs running rampant tore at my heart. McLellan’s words ring all too true. Henry and Eliza’s story is painful, tragic, and well-crafted to convey the horrific circumstances of the era.
Clara’s rescue by Henry is one of those moments in the book worth rereading. Henry, for all intents and purposes, is making amends in any way he can for the loss he has suffered and the guilt he feels for that loss. Sweeping in and pulling Clara from the hands of the enemy, Henry begins a friendship he never could have seen coming. Theirs is a touching relationship punctuated with fleeting moments of light-hearted banter and anchored with fear and a fierce desire on both their parts to find their way to the right side of things. Clara, described as being much like her father, uses it to her advantage as she faces insurmountable challenges on her journey with Henry. Hers is a character refreshingly unlike any other I have read in the genre of historical fiction.
Randall breaks my heart. He is one of those characters the reader will root for from his first appearance. Without giving away too much of Randall’s subplot, I will say that from those first moments of indecision with Clara at West Point. I wanted to see Randall come out on top. The backstory involving his own child and his love for Clara makes for a unique connection and offers the reader all the more reason to admire Randall.
I am giving In the Shadow of the Hanging Tree an enthusiastic 5 out of 5 stars. McLellan has written a piece of historical fiction incorporating elements for every reader. His plotlines involving a family divided and the tragedy surrounding Henry’s life as a slave intertwine to create a beautiful story of friendship, trust, and stand as a testament to the strength of the human spirit. I highly recommend this book to any fan of novels from the Civil War era. McLellan’s characters are truly unforgettable.
Pages: 268 | ASIN: B071YMXDQL
Posted in Five Stars
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The Prophet and The Witch continues the story of Israel Brewster who is now a disgraced outcast when King Philip’s War begins. This is an intriguing setup to a novel that is high in social commentary. What was your goal when writing this novel and do you feel you’ve achieved it?
Regarding my goal, I initially wanted to write an engaging, historically accurate novel that would highlight a fascinating era that the casual reader was not familiar with. I don’t think this era gets nearly the attention it deserves, and I hope that changes in the near future. Hopefully, the book educates its readers as well as entertains them. So, yes, I think I’ve achieved my goal.
Regarding the social commentary, I think different readers will derive different messages from the book, and that’s terrific. Ultimately, I hope the novel stands as a tale of courage, love, and friendship in the face of evil and violence.
Israel Brewster continues to be an exceptionally developed character. What was your inspiration for his emotional turmoil through the story?
Thank you for the compliment. I’m not sure there was any particular inspiration; I think there’s a little Israel Brewster in all of us. Whether it’s a question of religion, war, or alienation, I think everyone feels deeply conflicted at some point in their lives. What are the things, and who are the people that genuinely deserve our loyalty? More importantly, what makes us persevere in the face of unbearable pain, and what compels us to do the right thing? I guess, to paraphrase Faulkner, writers like to portray the human heart in conflict with itself.
As a reader, it is difficult to pick a side in this battle. How did you balance the story to offer a contrasting yet similar worldview for the characters?
It’s certainly not my intent that anyone pick sides in the conflict. I think the story is balanced by presenting the common elements inherent among both the English and the Wampanoag. There are virtues among both sides like faith, love, loyalty, courage, and family. Conversely, some characters on each side are prone to violence, hatred, and ignorance. So, I hope it is really a tale of love and brotherhood versus evil and wickedness.
Ultimately, I can only hope to present a factual novel and let the reader draw their own conclusions. King Philip’s War was one of the most astounding and tragic chapters in American history, and it doesn’t deserve to be ignored and forgotten.
I understand this is the second book in a possible trilogy. Where do you see the story going in book three?
I can see us moving about fifteen years into the future. There was yet another fascinating war in New England during that time, and the remarkable Benjamin Church played a major role in that conflict as well. And evidently, in 1692, there was some kind of kerfuffle in Salem that got everyone all excited.
If you thought New England was dull in the 1670s, get ready for a history lesson.
In the critically acclaimed “My Father’s Kingdom,” debut author James W. George transported his readers to 1671 New England, and the world of Reverend Israel Brewster. It was a world of faith, virtue, and love, but it was also a world of treachery, hatred, and murder.
Four years later, Brewster is a disgraced outcast, residing in Providence and working as a humble cooper. Despite his best efforts, war could not be averted, and now, “King Philip’s War” has begun.
The rebellion is led by Metacomet, known as “King Philip” to the English colonists. He is the tormented son of the great Massasoit, and leader of the Wampanoag nation. Once the most reliable of Plymouth Colony’s allies, they are now the bitterest of enemies. Meanwhile, Metacomet’s mysterious counselor, Linto, despises this war and will do anything to end the bloodshed.
Meticulously researched, “The Prophet and the Witch” is a tale of hope and brotherhood in the face of evil and violence. It features the remarkable cast of fictional and historical characters from book one, including Josiah Winslow, Linto, Increase Mather, Constance Wilder, and Jeremiah Barron. Additionally, new characters such as America’s first ranger, Captain Benjamin Church, bring this chapter of history to life like never before.
Posted in Interviews
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As the first book in the Tomorrow’s Edge trilogy, Day Moon is an outstanding contribution to the world of futuristic creation. The author, Brett Armstrong, provides a novel which allows any reader to question the “what ifs” of the world.
The story is set in 2039, where a seventeen-year-old boy, Elliott, is assigned to work on a project instigated by his deceased grandfather. After all forms of print are destroyed, Elliott must let go of his beloved book of the complete works of Shakespeare.
Elliott soon realises that in the complete works of Shakespeare, something unusual occurs. For some reason, an extra sonnet “Day Moon” had been inserted. This unusual event is the start of the unravelling journey of Project Alexandria; a journey which has no intentions of using the project for its original purpose. Can Elliott unravel the mystery and prevent Project Alexandria being launched?
A fantastic attempt to draw upon the unknown possibilities of the world. Armstrong creates a strong, imaginative plot line, with relatable characters and emotions; this is a remarkable read which creates a vibrant and thought-provoking storyline.
Based on the originality of his ideas, and Brett’s noble attempt to write in a world of pure creation, I could look beyond our everyday lives, and recognise a possibility of how the world could look in years to come.
What I thoroughly enjoyed about Day Moon was a mixture of themes including passion, distrust, uncertainty and suspense. What also sets this book apart from others in this genre, is the small quotes inserted at the beginning of each chapter. Each quote has been taken from a work of Shakespeare; which ties in beautifully with the underlying concept of the narrative. In that respect, I think Brett Armstrong demonstrates a huge amount of commitment and passion in regards to his ideas for his trilogy in Tomorrow’s Edge.
Whilst reading through this book, I recognised that the author had put a tremendous amount of attention to detail in regards to his layout, consistency, flow in writing and grammar, which all adds to the book’s qualities. Not only does the book contain a strong narrative full of suspense, drive, and futurist qualities, but it also blends our world of reality with a world that could be.
A fast-paced, diverse, intense piece of writing that falls under categories of Historical Fiction, Science Fiction and Futuristic genres. I highly recommend this book for anyone who shows an interest in the genres as mentioned. Although the narrative lagged at times, this does not detract from the quality of Brett Armstrong’s creative writing.
Packed full of inspiration, creation and innovation, this novel provides a great insight in to a world that is not real, but not impossible either. A fantastic read, and a great beginning to the Tomorrow’s Edge series.
Pages: 389 | ASIN: B06XWDM49Z
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Black Overalls by Tom Donaldson is an all-American tale of home-grown heroism, set in the struggling farms of Texas during the 1960’s. We follow Roy, failed football prospect turned journalist, as he digs into the history of his football idols – and discovers the tale of an unexpected hero. The story takes us from backwater Texas counties, to the State championships, to the horrors of Vietnam, and beyond. We find two seemingly separate lives are more intertwined than we think, and that there’s not much a small town with a big heart can’t do.
The comeback story has a universal appeal – you don’t have to know much about the game in question to appreciate the little guy standing up to the big team. And that’s exactly what this book is: a classic underdog story.
Black Overalls oozes with heart. Tom Donaldson clearly cares deeply about his subject, about the setting, about old-fashioned American values. The book touches on era-appropriate controversies, particularly around race, which culminates in war-torn Vietnam. I have to admit, it’s not where I expected the book to go. But it gives the story a touchingly human element and a feel-good ending. It’s nice to read a book where there’s no shocking twist, no depressing revelation; just a happy ever after. Occasionally that’s to a fault – scenes can lack conflict sometimes – but you certainly come out of it feeling okay about the human race.
This book is obviously a passion project for the author, but it struggles with a lack of proper grammar and punctuation. The pacing is sometimes confusing. The mixed perspective can occasionally jump between past and present without warning or context. And some chapters are often just technical descriptions of matches, venues, plays and lists of scores more comparable to Match of the Day.
Despite the flaws, a need for an editor, and dry sports commentary, I enjoyed Black Overalls immensely. If you’re a football fan or just looking for a short, light read then I think you might just enjoy it too.
Pages: 145 | ASIN: B01BNR347O
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Sam Moses, a man comfortable with the echoes of death created by the sounds of gunfire, is haunted by the terrible demons of his past. Bad luck seems to stalk the man as he tries to find his way past tragedies that changed his life forever. But Sam Moses is determined to become the man he believes he was meant to be and fights for a life that leaves death and violence behind. To have the life he wants Sam must learn the ins and outs of relationships, stability and how to build a life where he settles down for good.
Vengeance is Mine, written by Kwen D Griffeth, is the third installment in Sam and Laura’s Story. This novel takes you on a more personal adventure as Sam re-enters his life back in the town of Missouri. Old flames, new friends and a thirst to belong will set the tone for the final installment of the series.
Vengeance is Mine takes a step back from the gunfire and instead focuses on the foundations of who Sam truly is. Learning to settle into a life where he isn’t chasing death can be challenging at times and this is where we really get to see Sam’s character come to light. A group of people will begin to fulfil Sam’s life with a new meaning and acceptance that he has not experienced before. I appreciated seeing a side of Sam that was raw, emotional and at times surprisingly gentle.
Laura’s character progression throughout the novels shows us her growing from a girl to woman to finally someone who has dealt with great heartache. In Vengeance is Mine we see a woman who desperately wants to settle into a normal life but needs time to accept the pain and heartache she has been dealt. Her relationship with Sam is complicated as she feels resentment at the decisions that seemingly made her feel alone in the most difficult time of her life. A section of the novel talks about parts of life being heavy but also light, for example having a baby is a “light and happy” occasion but also can be seen as “heavy” as someone’s life is now consumed by responsibility and questions as to what the future may hold. I feel as though this accurately depicts the relationship of Laura and Sam as they wind through life towards a hopefully happy ending. Will they finally leave their old demons behind and begin a life together?
Vengeance is Mine also explores old characters and where they have come after the pains and challenges they have experienced. Opal has grown into a beautiful young woman, Pickles is catching the eye of ladies in town and Ellen is back after helping saving Sam’s life. The reader will be treated to the development of many favorite characters which will make you feel more connected than ever and invested in their fates!
I would recommend this to anyone looking for a heartwarming story line and a feel good finish to an excellent series. I thoroughly enjoyed all three installments to the series and highly recommend reading the three books as a whole.
Pages: 288 | ASIN: B00VFLO3DI
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The Slave Boy is the sixth installment of the Orfeo Saga and follows Cyrus as he lives his life in Kuragalu. Cyrus is feeling restless and bored as he lives his life without any foreboding danger lurking in the shadows. Even though there are thoughts of what life would be like married in a traditional Kassite way, he is eager to find an adventure and sets off to Babylon to find old friends and new lands. Here they land themselves in a familiar career path of merchants however a seemingly easy road into money is tarnished when they are captured and sold into slavery. Cyrus may escape but his new mission of protecting a member of the Royal family may prove to be his most difficult task yet. Meanwhile, Cyrus also has his eyes set on stopping a siege that could kill many innocent people. Life changing decisions will leave Cyrus in a position that will change his life forever.
The Slave Boy, written by Murray Lee Eiland, is a story of courage, passion and friendship. Prepared to be thrown into the world where slavery, Royal families and war mongering politicians will stop at nothing to take over power within their country and beyond.
Murray Lee Eiland has written this novel with a beautiful air of understanding and respect towards cultures within places such as Iran. I appreciated the context of history woven throughout the plot and how he easily fit the characters into the historical tones of the story. I also liked how the chapters were short and concise which left no room to ramble or over describe situations or people. Because of this, I found myself eagerly continuing the story and was always filled with excitement and anticipation at what may happen next.
The character progression of Balik was one that I thoroughly enjoyed. He begins the novel as a drunk- lost in the old time ways, desperately searching for a place in a world that no longer accepts the heroes of war. Cyrus saves him from himself and the cheap stench of wine and injects life and a sense of adventure into his old employer.
The Slave Boy explores both governments and Royal families which adds an element of politics throughout the deep throes of adventure. Further into the story, relationships with Royals offer benefits and power, however is this what the characters want or need? At times the novel almost felt like a James Bond style movie with spies, slaves and Kings mixing together to find out the deepest of secrets within the kingdoms.
I appreciated the historical note at the end of the novel, allowing the reader to have an understanding of what was real and what was made up. As it concludes the novel, it leaves the reader to consider and ponder on what life people may have had within these areas of the world.
I would recommend this to anybody who enjoys a novel loosely based on historical events, full of adventure and life changing lessons.
Pages: 238 | ASIN: B06WVFPGP3
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Angie Brown, A Jim Crow Romance was originally written by Lillian Jones Horace 68 years ago. What inspiration did you find in this book that made you want to publish an annotated scholarly edition?
I am certain that most of my admiration stems from my appreciation for Horace, the African American southern woman writer, who remained true to her commitment to write “creatively but constructively.” Before I began conducting research on Horace and her writings, she and the archival material treating her life and works were largely overlooked by scholars.
The protagonists she created all exemplify the kind of determination that Horace herself demonstrated throughout her life.
I wanted to create an annotated scholarly edition to help Angie Brown find its way into the literary canon, where students and scholars of African American literature could weigh in on its value.
Angie Brown is a strong women that is finding her path through troubled times. What are some things you admire about her character?
I admire Angie’s determination, practicality, openness to learning, friendly nature, and commitment to progress.
What kind of research did you do for this novel and Lillian Jones Horace?
I conducted extensive archival research to better understand Horace and the characters she created. A comprehensive list of the repositories I visited appears in my first book-length publication on Horace titled, Recovering Five Generations Hence: The Life and Writing of Lillian Jones Horace (2013). I have been researching and writing about Horace since 2003. Her papers are held in the Fort Worth Public Library, Fort Worth, TX.
I understand you contacted some of the Horace family for this book. What were their reactions to you pursuing this 100 year old story?
I contacted her niece and two of her great nieces. Her great niece, who remembered her well, knew that Lillian Horace was a respected educator, but she had no idea that Horace had written two historic novels. Most of what I shared with her and other family members about Lillian Horace was new to them.
Do you have any other books in the works?
Yes. I am working on an edited version of Lillian Horace’s diary, and a book project comparing and contracting the trajectory of Horace’s life and works to those of her younger and more popular southern African American contemporary, Zora Neale Hurston.
“Angie Brown is a romance migration novel set in the Jim Crow era. Angie, the protagonist, determines to embrace all life has to offer despite the social restrictions facing young black southern women like her. Angie holds fast to her desire to find financial success, personal fulfillment, and true love, but she does not achieve her dreams alone, nor do they unfold in the same place. From Belle, her confidant; to Betty Yates, the teacher; to Chester, the pool hall owner; women and men from various social stations in life and different places share nuggets of wisdom with Angie. With their love and support, she overcomes tragedy, welcomes fresh possibilities, climbs the social ladder, and opens her heart to love. Angie’s progressive journey reflects the migratory trek of many African American Southerners of the Jim Crow era, who left the South for greater educational and economic opportunity. Her quest leads her from a small segregated community to Hot Springs, Arkansas, and eventually to the Midwest, including St. Louis, Missouri, Chicago, and Southern Illinois. As Angie travels from place to place, she gradually comes into her own and learns key life lessons. Angie learns that struggle is universal. While doing domestic work, she discovers that whites, who live on “The Other Side,” also experience pain, suffering, and grave disappointment. Love eludes white women, too, and they, too, face gender discrimination. Having overcome her fair share of personal losses, Angie reaches across racial lines to console Gloria, a member of the Parker family, for whom Angie does domestic work. Her experience with the Parker’s is juxtaposed to her dealings with the Mungers, a rich, Northern white family she meets. Although the Mungers are kind to Angie, she learns that life beyond the South is not perfect. Yes, she and other blacks face less virulent forms of racism outside the South, but economic stability and educational opportunity are not easily achieved.”
Posted in Interviews
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Return to Babylon begins with Orfeo and Clarice returning from the New World and their battle with the Spartans to settle into a somewhat peaceful life. How did you decide where to start the fifth book in the Orfeo saga?
I think it is a central theme of my books that you never know who emerges as an enemy, and you cannot pick a good time to confront a problem. Book 5 starts out by Cyrus being bored, and he assumes he will make a business trip to Babylon and see old friends. The trip does not go as planned, and he ends up being held as a slave and carted off.
I realized that I had taken the series to the New World but I had not been further east. When I was a rug dealer I remember my time in Afghanistan, before the revolution. I really enjoyed every trip to Afghanistan I took. The people were friendly, the food was great, there were all kinds of wonderful cultural things there. When writing I did my best to forget what was going on in that country now, and tried to capture what it must have been like in the Bronze Age.
My favorite character was Cyrus, a young and eager apprentice who begins to learn the ins and outs of spy craft. Did you have a favorite character you liked to write for?
For book 5 Cyrus emerged as the main character. The name gives it away. I modeled him after Cyrus the Great (600-530 BC). Of course Cyrus was a character from a later age, but I know that history regards him as a pragmatic ruler and a peacemaker. That is just the kind of ruler the region needs today. My character, being younger, is not so constrained as Orfeo and Clarice. Cyrus is not a Wanderer, and he leaves less of a footprint than the other characters (after all he is a good spy). I liked this about Cyrus, in a way he is something like Zurga would have been as a young man. In another way Cyrus would find his place at the end of the book, and he would have no need to wander even if he wanted to.
Return to Babylon is an action-packed story that explores the dynamics between different kingdoms. How did you set out creating the dynamic between the kingdoms? Did you outline it or was it organic?
I had to outline book 5 more than the other books. The difference is that for ancient Greece and Mesopotamia relatively more is known about their history. The area of Afghanistan is less known, and in a way this made the plot more difficult. I did not have names dates and events to hang my story on. I had to rely on the histories of the later empires that existed in Afghanistan. The rugged country made it hard to control. There were many petty kings, and bandits could be a problem.
Where does book six in the series, The Slave Boy, take readers?
I have a story arc planned around Orfeo and Clarice. I will use Cyrus in later books, but in some ways this book was a one off. I am really interested in the transfer of power. It is not so much that the older generation trains the next generation. It is more that the older generation is there after the adventure is over to help point out what lessons were learned.
After the conquest of Babylon the victors installed the daughter of the former king as ruler of that city state. Zinaida is now beginning to feel stirrings of divinity, and seeks vengeance upon the coalition who put her on the throne. One by one surrounding kings are removed. This time there will be no grand coalition to challenge the might of Babylon. The battle will be in the shadows. Zinaida has sent spies to locate Zurga, and she is greatly concerned that he cannot be found. After an attempt on his life, Orfeo and Clarice decide to go directly to Mesopotamia in an attempt to prevent harm coming to their adopted city of Pylos.
The wild card in the equation is a small city not one hundredth the size of Babylon which is located in the lower Tigris. Can the ruler of Araka be persuaded to take on the might of Babylon? Daryush, now ruler of a small kingdom, also decides to meet the threat in an unconventional way. He trains a young apprentice named Cyrus in spycraft. Can smoke and mirrors overcome raw power?”
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Defiance on Indian Creek is a quiet, but enthralling read by Phyllis A. Still. We follow a smart, courageous thirteen-year-old girl, Mary on the frontier in West Virginia on the eve of the Revolutionary war. Her father comes home with news that disrupts Mary’s world; talk of loyalty to the unfair King and moving to far off Kentucky. The relationship with her father is stretched as she finds him mired in plots and implications of possibly being a traitor or even a spy. Mary is forced of her own loyalties to her father, family and country as the weeks go on until she is asked to make an impossible choice.
Overall, Still has clearly done her research in this fine YA novel. In the tradition of historical fiction before it, Defiance on Indian Creek takes a quiet frontier family and throws them in the forefront against an increasingly dangerous time. Reading these pages gave me the feeling I was actually there in the reeds of Indian Creek alongside Mary and her Papa. The maps included at the front of the book were helpful in understanding the setting and getting even more of a feel of what this era felt to those early colonists.
It isn’t often such a tale is spun on the frontier, but also invokes the greater happenings on the east coast. Mary is a fun protagonist to follow as the story progresses, because Still is able to give the reader the feeling of anguish from the girl and her struggles over choosing to place trust in her father and the lack thereof.
Being a YA novel the story itself is pretty straightforward and does not beat around the bush when it comes to finding out certain things. Mary herself seems to grasp things beyond her years, but her parents are not the usual inept adults that are so often present in YA novels. And being a young girl, who genuinely wants her father to be okay and her family to be safe, the reader can only root for her.
There are few books that I could remember for the relationships it creates between characters, but Still has managed to make the daughter-father relationship in this book a special one. Especially, since the tension between them is so palpable as the book goes on.
If there is any criticism for the book that can be offered it would be for something that is almost uncontrollable. It concerns the background conflict between the Colonies and the Crown. This is what gives historical fiction its flavor, but it does overshadow the very personal, family struggle between Mary and her father. This is the only real issue with the storyline, beyond this Defiance on Indian Creek will be a pleasurable read to any person who enjoys YA and a painstakingly researched historical fiction.
Pages: 212 | ASIN: B01HBV3VOW
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