The Twisted Crown, the newest historical fiction novel by Anita Bunkley is a fascinating look into the post-Civil War South. Focused on the story of a free black woman from the North, Eva Phillips takes advantage of the abolition of slavery in the South to embark on a treacherous journey to South Carolina to try to find the mother who gave her a chance at freedom as a child. Along her way, readers meet a captivating cast of characters ranging from cunning professional gamblers to complex carpetbaggers to innocents turned corrupt by hardship. Eva has to navigate a part of the country decimated by the bitterest of fighting as it struggles to regain its footing. And like Eva, readers will never know if the character with the checkered past they just met will be someone who can be trusted or or who will surprise them with an unexpected betrayal.
Along the way she meets up with Chicago lawyer and profiteer Trent Hartwell who, against the recommendations of his new Charleston acquaintances, offers to help Eva in her quest. Although he came to the South to benefit from the financial opportunities blossoming in the wake of so many people’s misfortunes, he can’t quite understand the unwritten rules governing the South about the proper roles of white people and black people and why there should be any difference.
This book also sheds light on the important and dangerous work that took place during this time by black activists to promote equal participation in government for all races. This work made many who benefited from the pre-war social structure very angry and prone to violence, so the lobbying had to be done secretively.
While the story is solid and flows well, I thought that the characters and dialogue lacked some depth. This book kept me very engaged, however. The quick pace, many edge-of-your-seat situations, and several sultry moments kept me reading along without any lulls.
I also came away with a much clearer understanding of what life in the South was like after the Civil War for both whites and blacks. I didn’t know the depth of poverty freed slaves were faced with and this book provided a very interesting example of the creative and sometimes unfortunate ways that people used to survive and start a new life. Anita Bunkley is famous for writing stories that show what a famous period in history was like from the perspective of black women, and I really appreciated having the opportunity to experience this after so many other Reconstruction books (Gone With the Wind, That Bright Land, ect.) only focus on the white experience. This is important because, clearly, this was a period where the African-American experience is integral to understanding the situation appropriately.
I highly recommend joining Eva on her exciting voyage to the land of her birth and learning more about the United State’s most interesting periods of history in The Twisted Crown by Anita Bunkley.
Pages: 336 | ASIN: B07G7GPX2F
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A Fire in the West is a Christian fantasy novel that is the third installment in the Stonegate Series. The third book takes place a hundred years after the first two, in the west of the Rocky Mountains. Even though the book takes place in the future, it seems that civilization has taken a back step. The novel takes place in the United States, and even though some locations are easily recognizable to the reader, it’s evident that they have changed in many ways. The one thing that has completely changed are the characters within the novel. They are left without the technological advances needed or wanted to face life’s challenges. They’re faced with evil and have to work together to battle it while keeping their basic values intact.
One of the big things that I appreciated within this novel was the authenticity of the main characters. I found there to be a good mix of characters and all were believable. Harry James Fox and Lucia Mudgway do a great job at giving each character a level of complexity that makes them more interesting. The authors also do a good job at setting up the dystopian future that the characters are living in, so these aspects of the novel are believable to the reader as well. I can see how the break from the social norm and downfall of technology came about.
Even though this was the last book in trilogy, the reader can still follow along with the story line without having to read the first to books. It’s a good enough story to want to go back and read the first two however.
I thought that the theme of Christianity within the story was a bit off from what I was expecting. We understand from the beginning of the novel that Christianity has remained with the characters despite the collapse of just about everything else. This story line provides the argument that once everything else is gone, our faith in God remains. But the characters don’t discuss or display an intimate relationship with him throughout the novel. I felt that there was no specific relationship with God illustrated throughout the novel, and I thought that the characters also don’t seem to give a second thought to the devil or the idea of hell. He’s present within the novel, but I never got the feeling that the characters actually feared him, it was more of a loathing towards him. These missing pieces aren’t necessarily a bad thing, just something that I thought might have been incorporated into the tale.
This book can be read and enjoyed by adults and young adults. Fox and Mudgway work together to create an interesting story that keep the reader’s attention and harkens back to an important aspect of any society, culture, or religion – morality.
Pages: 343 | ASIN: B07DRRMZLF
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A poem by Jeffrey Cooper.
Life is more difficult now than it was a few years ago. More and more people have to work multiple jobs just to stay above water. Utilities cost more than they used to and money is losing value. By the time one receives their salary, it’s already spent. With high trade deficits and national debts, people have much less purchasing power. What is happening now that was not happening before? How have we gotten to this point? What conversations do we need to have to change things? How can there be more employment opportunities? How can the citizens live to work as opposed to working to live?
Alex Gall has produced a well-written account of everything people should be saying but will not. The language used in the book is strong but not abrasive and drives the point home effectively and firmly. The authors passion and commitment to the subject matter is commendable and infectious. I consider myself to be an average citizen, I read the occasional hot headline. But this book made me look a little further, and a little deeper, and find something that was shocking and appealed to the citizen in me. This book is delivered from the point of view of a concerned citizen painting a picture, a person who is inviting others to a well thought out and open conversation.
I would appreciated more references of source material because, as stated previously, this book will leave you digging for more information and getting more involved in politics. Some statistics or studies to back up the subject matter would have been appreciated. This book is well researched and is laid out in an easy to follow manner in a compact and readily available format. At times I felt the content a bit dense, or maybe the topics overwhelming. I had to put the book down and think about what I just read. This book certainly causes one to reflect. But once you come out of your reflection, once you put the book down, you will come away with an overriding need to do something.
There are some sensitive topics covered but the author uses a neutral approach which is inviting. His approach to the subjects is completely ‘take it or leave it’. This is one of the best qualities of this book. The fact that the author lays out his position without dragging people with him. The intensity of the book and the truth in the subject matter will carry you effortlessly.
This book does a fantastic job of starting a serious and necessary conversation. This is necessary for anyone who wants to be an informed citizen.
Pages: 260 | ASIN: B079YP7LGM
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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.
Posted in Interviews
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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.
Posted in book trailer
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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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