Finding AJ follows FBI Agent Jules as she searches for a serial killer through a zombie apocalypse. What were some themes you wanted to carry over from book 1 and what was a new direction you wanted to take in book 2?
The themes were quite different in Jacob’s Odyssey and Finding AJ. While the main theme in Jacob’s Odyssey was centered around Jake’s internal journey, the main theme in Finding AJ was Jules’ obsessive quest to find the serial killer known as the Calligrapher. However there is a common theme that runs through both novels, and that has to do with the incredible beauty of nature that surrounds us, yet the human race seems bent on self-destruction. At one point in Jacob’s Odyssey, Jake comments on how he’s always thought of the mountains surrounding the Salt Lake Valley as being as “eden-like” as any place on earth. There are beautiful descriptions of nature in both novels.
The town of Gideon is one of the last remaining towns in the apocalypse. How did you imagine a town would come together and survive in a time like this?
The only way the people of Gideon, or any other post-apocalyptic setting, could survive is by working together to solve any problems that came up. “Working together” is the key. Gideon had good leaders and the people there were willing to do their part in order to survive.
Jules is a determined FBI agent, but faces some tough decisions. What were some obstacles that you felt were important to her characters development?
The personal obstacles Jules needed to overcome had to do with her tendency toward being a self-reliant lone wolf. She generally doesn’t connect with or open herself up to others. She has difficulty giving her trust. She doesn’t let anyone in. It isn’t easy for her, but eventually she opens herself up and begins to connect with others. And she has to “trust” someone if she’s going to find the serial killer, and toward the end she finally does.
Will there be a book 3 in the Apocalypse Journeys series and where will that take readers?
There may be a 3rd novel. I’m not sure yet. It depends on how well Finding AJ does. Simple as that. If there is a third novel, it will combine characters from the first two novels. They will be at the underground government complex that is mentioned in Jacob’s Odyssey. This is the same complex where the virus was developed, and there are still experiments going on there. The conspiracy will be revealed, and virtually everyone (Jake, Sarah, Becky, Jules, Caleb, and others) will be in danger. Lukas Melzer will, of course, be there, as well as the new president of the United States. And deep in the complex are a host of grays (zombies), including the alpha called Eve. And don’t be terribly surprised if the Swimmer from Jacob’s Odyssey makes a return. He’s the baddest alpha around. Can’t leave him out.
Her search leads her to Gideon, Utah, a small town in the southern part of the state. There, amongst the 116 survivors, a serial killer hides in plain sight. There’s only one clue to his identity. Using a scalpel, he inscribes the letters AJ into the abdominal area of his victims–postmortem–in an ancient Chinese text called Tsao, the lettering precise and artistic.
Jules knows the key to finding the Calligrapher lies in discovering the identity of AJ. If she can find AJ, she can find the Calligrapher. But the Calligrapher knows who Jules is. Jules must survive the infected and find the Calligrapher before she becomes his latest victim.
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THE RIGEL AFFAIR is a novel based on real events and the life of Navy Seal Charlie Kincaid. Part Cherokee, born into Southern poverty, Charlie trained as a diver and became the leader of the war’s first underwater demolition team. His men experienced their first test, moments after the strike on Pearl Harbor, rescuing twenty-eight U. S. sailors trapped in the sinking USS California. Their missions sent them to New Zealand, Australia, and a dozen Pacific Islands, into the most dangerous combat areas on that side of the world. They dove and carried out clandestine missions under horrific weather and health conditions while constantly facing attacks by Japanese troops, bombers, and submarines.
But Charlie’s life was not all hardship. Even as the bloody war ground on in Europe and the Pacific, he fell in love. Her name was Mattie, and she lived in New Zealand. Their love story offers a tender counterpoint to gritty battle scenes throughout the novel. The book is framed around actual love letters sent by the couple, newspaper accounts from 1941-44, material from various archives, and documented events involving Charlie’s ship, the USS Rigel. We’ve also interviewed surviving shipmates.
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There is never a dull moment in Humphrey Hawksley’s Man on Ice: Russia vs the USA – In Alaska. Not only is there intense action, the gripping story will keep readers glued to the pages until the story is done. This novel is carefully planned and executed in spectacular fashion and it’s hard not to feel the intensity with each sentence. We follow Rake Ozenna as he returns to his home island in Alaska with his fiancé in tow. Rake us a brilliant military veteran and Carrie Walker is a passionate doctor. The story begins with a medical concern over Rake’s niece struggling in childbirth and then explodes into a frontal assault between Russia and the United States of America some 48 hours before the inauguration of a new president.
This book explores the heighten tensions of looming war, the strain a relationship can undergo under such trying times, and the bonds that tie us to those we call family. Each of these themes is expertly crafted as if reading a biography of someone’s life. Characters change, for better or worse, but continue to develop as the story progresses. At first, it might seem overwhelming when readers realize just how intense the topics are that Hawksley is going to address. However, the humanity he affords his characters is genuine. Readers will feel an emotional connection to their fictional lives.
From start to finish Man on Ice is, I think, about risk; what is risked and what is gained. It’s a complicated matter, writing about politics, especially in such a sensitive time. There are so many people, positions, relationships to carefully lay out. Hawksley doesn’t seem to have a problem with weaving a complex narrative that is easy for readers to follow, even for those who may not be politically savvy. This is part of what makes such a great novel and shows readers what a good writer Hawksley is. the fine attention to detail is what gives away the rich research that went into this novel, and Hawksley does his best to be respectful to Eskimo culture and portray the reality these people face in the far north. He takes a hard look at the struggles these people are facing and doesn’t shy away from harsh comments on the reasons why they are in the place they are.
The pace is fast and the energy is high in Humphrey Hawksley’s Man on Ice: Russia vs the USA – In Alaska. It’s a tense situation with Russia threatening invasion while America wrestles with its new president-elect and the delicate touch that politics requires. It’s a journey of one man who has returned home for tender reasons and who leaves his home slightly broken. This book takes a look at the human condition and dances with the delicate relationships formed within. It starts off with darkness and trepidation yet a small piece of hope, only to descend into a flurry of agony and tough decisions. This is more than just a political thriller.
Pages: 224 | ASIN: B079SG2VDG
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Florence Grende’s parents survived the Holocaust and managed to settle in New York City to provide a new life for their children. The horrors of their past, however, never leave them and infiltrate every aspect of their lives in the United States. Florence, their daughter, grows up watching her parents keep their demons at bay as she learns as much about her family’s haunting past as she learns about herself. Grende’s questions about her mother’s outbursts and her father’s deep, dark sadness lead her to answers she is afraid she already knows but is not willing to admit.
The Butcher’s Daughter is Florence Grende’s own recollection of her life in New York City and her struggle to come to terms with her parents’ own battle with the memories of their lives in Germany during the Holocaust. Grende’s memoir is written in a unique and gripping style. Her words flow from page to page in the most poetic fashion with emphasis placed on short, striking bits of text highlighting especially difficult memories.
Grende pulls her memoir together with short chapters, each focusing on specific situations, distinct memories, and her own analyses of events from her childhood and teenage years. I looked for the memoir style to follow a sequential order but, in Grende’s case, the random scattering of memories and the jumps she makes from one time period backwards and then forward again works well. Her own confusion and the turbulence dictating her life as a result of her family’s past is reflected effectively in the style of writing chosen by the author. Short bursts of memories are easy to read, engaging, and incite the reader’s curiosity.
It is not often readers are afforded a look into the author’s own experiences. Grende gives readers a particularly vivid picture of the trauma and the lasting impact the Holocaust had on the ensuing generations. Her father’s behavior and neediness are sad in a way I find it almost impossible to describe. She underscores the way he seems to emotionally cling to her in a markedly poetic chapter in the second of the book’s three sections. Never is her father’s tragic past more clearly defined than in his sadness and desperation at losing her to her new husband.
Closure being the goal for Florence Grende, I felt relief for her as she details her journey for answers and the meeting which brings her face to face with people on all sides of the Holocaust. Her writing experience begins with her trip to Berlin and the diary that starts it all. I felt the tension as I read of Grende’s meetings with fellow survivors and descendants of Nazis. The horror stories flow, and Grende, at last, shares her own with those who can, not only relate, but wish for the same closure as the author herself. Grende writes of these meetings with raw emotion and does more to help readers absorb the truth of history than is ever possible with any textbook.
Florence Grende has bared her soul and shown readers a perspective on history that most of us will never fully grasp. She walks readers eloquently through a minefield of emotions and tackles the savagery of the Holocaust with truth, directness, and poetic prose.
Pages: 148 | ASIN: B01M751TN4
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Forgotten Letters is a beautifully told story of family, love, faith, and war that focuses on Robert Campbell, an American and his love interest, Makiko Asakawa, who is of Japanese descent. The two meet as children when Robert’s family stay with Makiko’s family in Yokohama during the 1920s to 1930s. It’s during this time that a relationship is formed between the two. Robert’s family eventually moves back to the United States while he is still in school, but Robert and Makiko vow to see each other again and maintain their bond by writing letters to each other. It is not until the 1940s, with the attack on Pearl Harbor and the outbreak of World War II that the two are reunited. The novel delicately pieces together the story of these two individuals living through death and devastation as they fight to get back to each other.
Kirk Raeber does an excellent job of handling the intricate details of the novel. There are a lot of historical components to this piece, and the author weaves his fictional story into American and Japanese history among other components of the novel flawlessly. Firstly, Robert’s father is a preacher; therefore, a lot of his lessons for a young Robert are based on scripture and particular Bible verses. Robert often returns to these Bible verses during trying moments in his life. It’s clear that the author had some knowledge of the Bible and took great care in picking out the right verse during difficult moments in Robert’s life. Secondly, the author seems to be aware of American and Japanese culture during the time period that the novel spans. Also, even though this is a fictional story, there are historical elements weaved into it, such as the attack on Pearl Harbor and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Raeber does not skip over these aspects of history, but rather he weaves them into Robert and Makiko’s story, illustrating not only how these unfortunate events impacted these two fictional characters, but it can also be reasoned that his telling of their story resonates the mood and despair of those that actually lived through the experience. It’s clear that Raeber took care while writing these events to make sure that he handled them with accuracy.
A small note of criticism lies within the secondary characters of the novel, Robert and Makiko’s son and daughter. The whole story begins when the adult children are going through their deceased parents’ belongings and stumble upon the letters that the two lovers exchanged long ago. This then leads into Robert and Makiko’s storyline, and the reader isn’t returned to the characters of the adult children until the end of the novel. While Robert and Makiko’s story is obviously the focus of the novel, it would have been nice to be returned to the adult children periodically throughout the novel. The placing of these two characters at the very beginning and very end of the novel creates a disconnect with them, and it leaves one questioning their purpose overall. It’s very possible that Robert and Makiko’s story can be told without the mention and inclusion of their children as characters.
Overall, Raeber’s Forgotten Letters is a beautifully told story of love’s triumph over distance, death, and war. This novel is highly recommended to those that might have an interest in World War II, 1940s Japanese culture, or anyone who just enjoys a good love story.
Pages: 406 | ASIN: B01HQFFXYY
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The Civil War was filled with pain, suffering, and too much death for both the North and the South. The often-untold stories of suffering and valor are those of the slaves and former slaves. Out in Missouri and Kansas some of the most brutal fighting occurred, not from the armies, but from guerrilla warfare. Honor Among Outcasts continues the story of the Dark Horse inhabitants that have joined the Union Army as soldiers in the Missouri State Militia Ninth Calvary. This is a story of how a group of former slaves fight for their freedom along with their half Indian partner. They face war, racism, and the loss of family and friends, and a multilevel conspiracy; but through it all, their spirit and honor never waver.
Ed Protzel uses historical fiction to bring light to things that went on during the Civil War. While the story of Durk and Antoinette is fabricated there is truth underlying their situation. Generals in the war often didn’t agree with the side they were on; but cared more for their political status than the men they sent off to die. Colored soldiers were especially expendable and were not given adequate supplies and provisions to fulfill their missions, yet few cared. Protzel does an amazing job showing the fear for each decision and action that the soldiers in the Dark Horse regiment had to make. It was never a simple decision of what makes the most sense, it was always about, what will keep us alive the longest while maintain honor. Paralleling their story, is the one of the women from the Dark Horse plantation. These women could not join the army, so they had no protection when all their papers are lost. This was a common issue among freed slaves. You could not go anywhere without your documentation or you were at risk of being put in jail or hung. This fear is so prevalent in the writing.
Reading about the harsh conditions in Missouri that the soldiers lived in is hard, starvation, lack of medical care, equipment shortages in the way of horses and weapons. Soldiers being sent out with little more than their bare hands to fight off guerrilla attacks. I know growing up and learning history I never heard about the guerrilla warfare and the complete brutality of it all. It didn’t matter who you supported, they were merciless and only cared about collecting the spoils of war. Killing meant nothing to these mercenaries. Double agent spy’s playing to whatever side they could is not a far-fetched idea and I’m sure it happened more often than even Protzel makes mention of. Lives and families torn apart and those left alive must suffer from it all.
Reading Honor Among Outcasts, I can see where Ed Protzel got the title. Everything is stacked against the Dark Horse group, men and women, but through it all they retain their honor. They refuse to take the easy way out of things to save their own lives. As I read this book I wanted to see the happy ending, I wanted everything to be okay, but true to real life, that isn’t always the case, not everyone will live, not everyone has a happily ever after. There is still another book in this series and I look forward to reading it to see what happens with the remaining Dark Horse members’, just maybe they will find peace.
Pages: 269 | ASIN: B077YRFB9J
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A young American physician Dr. Scott Fitzgerald from Pennsylvania sets out on a journey to fulfill his fathers dream by returning to Afghanistan where his father Bryan had spent nearly twenty years as the first American in that remote kingdom. Bryan had befriended Prince Akbar, the hero of First Anglo-Afghan, and won the hearts and minds of Afghans receiving a golden sword and the title of the American Prince. Like his father, Scott wanted to take the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution to the farthest lands of the world. Following many adventures he joins Prince Ayoub, the hero of the Second Afghan War.
Scott travels from Philadelphia across Europe, Russia, Afghanistan, India to the Far East. He returns with lessons learned and truths he discovered and writes them in this book to reach the present and future generations. He regards the American Republic as an indestructible fortress of freedom and democracy that all extremes of left and right factions are inevitably drawn back into the fortress of ‘Immortal Ideas”, built by their forefathers with their genius, their fortunes and their lives. Scott believes, as Americans we have never claimed to convert or to rule the world. We just want for others to have the same inalienable rights of life, liberty and pursuit of their own happinesss.
Scott quotes a great American, The Constitution of the United States is the impassioned and inspired vehicle by which we travel through history. It grew out of the deepest inspiration of our existence that we are here to serve Him by living free. That living free, releases in us the noble impulses and our best abilities so that we use these precious gifts for good and generous purposes and that we will secure them not just only for ourselves and our children but for all mankind.
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Cliven Bundy American Patriot is the shocking, yet true, story as told to the author, with twists and turns, highs and lows of intrigue and common sense of the life of one man, his devoted family, and fellow patriots that seem to only be matched by the lives of the Founding Fathers of this American Experiment known as the The United States Of America. It’s a story not yet finished in its telling. It’s a story every family should read and declare their own voice in! It’s a story you must decide for yourself: Is Cliven Bundy a American Terrorist or an American Patriot?
In the Shadow of the Hanging Tree takes place in the 1860s and follows the lives of three people trying to find their way in post-Civil War America. What was the inspiration for your characters; the Henry the ex-slave, Clara and lieutenant Elliot?
I have always been an omnivorous reader. From horror to historical and most genres in-between. The American western is genre that seems to have sort of faded into obscurity over the last thirty years or so. I suppose I can understand why. A lot (not all) of it had become dusty, formulaic, trope-worn, overly-romanticized, and historically inaccurate. I set out to write a story set somewhere between the gold rush and the turn-of-the-century. Something with a different kind of hero from the gunfighter or bank robber. Something that would dust off the genre, add some real humanity, and hopefully spark some renewed interest in this fascinating and sometimes troubling time period.
Henry as the main protagonist was an easy choice. I read a short once, about a man who was freed after the civil war and went on to become a well-known cowboy in Texas. The man had a remarkable way with horses. He was the inspiration for Henry. The challenges African Americans faced even after they were freed from slavery were monumental, and so many extraordinary men and women overcame this adversity and went on to live noteworthy lives.
With Clara I wanted to highlight challenges that women of the period faced. Their oppression can’t be compared equally to African American’s enslavement, but neither can it be marginalized. I also used her character to showcase the disconnect between wealthy easterners and the reality of what was going on in the rest of the country.
John Elliot’s inner conflict wasn’t that uncommon for soldiers both during the civil war and the years following. I have read truly heartbreaking letters sent home disillusioned soldiers from the period, particularly ones from soldier’s involved in what could arguably be called the Native American genocide.
This novel gave a good view of life in 1860s America for slaves and Native Americans. What were some themes you tried to highlight throughout this novel?
Henry and Clara’s relationship is touching but anchored with fear and a desire to find their way to the right side of things. What served as the basis for their relationship while you were writing?
Henry and Clara’s relationship is one of self-discovery for both of them. Henry begins to forgive himself, and finds that he is still capable of love. Clara discovers that her prejudices were misinformed. Her interactions with Henry, and his honesty, later affects how she later handles John’s disturbing revelations.
What is the next book that you are writing and when will it be available?
I have two novels in the works. One is a contemporary drama about a twelve-year-old whose parents both die tragically less than two years apart. He’s subsequently injected into the foster care system and eventually runs away hoping to find an estranged grandparent who lives off-the-grid in Montana. The second is about a man searching for his daughter years after a global catastrophe. Both novels should be released in 2019.
In 1865 a shadow hovers over the nation: the shadow lingers still…
Born into slavery, Henry’s young life is spent working in tobacco drying sheds on Missouri plantations. Freed at the onset of the Civil War, he’s alone, starving, and on the run from Confederate militiamen.
Five years later, Clara Hanfield, the daughter of a powerful New York shipping magnate, escapes her tyrannical father and travels west in pursuit of John Elliot, the man she loves. John, a U.S. Army lieutenant, was sent to the Dakota Territory where he discovers a government conspiracy to incite an all-out war with the Indians; a war meant to finally eliminate them as an obstacle to the westward expansion.
Henry finds himself caught in the middle.
Aided by Clara, John, and his native ally, Standing Elk, Henry must battle hatred, greed, and the ghosts of his past during this turbulent and troubling time in American history.
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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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