Guest Reviews

The Sound of Distant Thunder (The Amish of Weaver's Creek Book 1)

Jan Drexler

Revell Pub

Sept 18th, 2018

 

The Sound of Distant Thunder by Jan Drexler presents a unique look at the Amish society.  This first in a series uses the backdrop of the Civil War as the characters struggle to reconcile their convictions and desires with the national interest.

 

Jan Drexler brings an understanding of Amish traditions and beliefs to her writing. Her ancestors were among the first Amish, Mennonite, and Brethren immigrants to Pennsylvania in the 1700s, and their experiences are the inspiration for her stories. She takes the saying, “write what you know,” to a whole new level.

 

She commented, “My ancestors were Amish.  Also, I lived in Indiana and they were part of the community so I grew up with them.  I think my experiences mostly came from the stories my family told.  I explored why we were not Amish anymore.  I took a journey into my heritage with the stories growing out of that.”  

 

The story explores two divisions, North versus South during America’s Civil War, and the Amish Church, Mennonite versus the Old Order Amish.  Through the hero Jonas’ eyes, readers see his struggles with his own principles, beliefs and how these affect his life. Twenty-year-old Jonas is taken in by the romance of soldiering, especially in defense of anti-slavery, even though he knows war is at odds with the teachings of the church. When his married brother's name comes up on the draft list, he volunteers to take his brother's place. But this means Jonas must put on hold his commitment to marry his long-time love, Katie Stuckey.  

 

“I wrote the Civil War as more of a background. In specific situations, the characters interact with the Civil War, but are not immersed in it, except for Jonas, who was stubborn, intelligent, stoic, and caring, with a softness of heart. I hoped I showed how men 18 to 22 years of age were looking for an adventure.  They really believed it would not last more than three months.  I read numerous diary entries from that era where boys told their parents, ‘I have to join up now because I do not want to miss out.’

 

The Amish would be considered conscientious objectors today. The story has the real-life Ohio Congressman who was able to get passed that the non-resistance religions could hire someone to take their place or pay a fee that would go to the war effort. Survivor’s guilt is emphasized with the book quote, ““If I pay the fee, I’m showing them that my life is more important to me than another man’s.”

 

Drexler noted, “While doing my research I actually read about a man who did hire someone to take his place.  Subsequently that person was killed and the man had a very hard time living with that guilt.  They struggled because of their views, since they were non-resistant.  As with the Quakers, they thought killing is wrong.  But Jonas questions if there is a justification for war during certain circumstances. Most of the “English” world would say they have an equal allegiance to G-d and country, but the Amish feel their allegiance to G-d comes first. People could not conceive that someone would not support their country by fighting.  Even during the Revolutionary War the Amish had problems because people thought if they did not want to fight they must be Tories.”  

 

As readers turn the pages they seek answers to the questions, will the relationship survive the separation and how will Jonas be viewed in this pacifist Church? Amish traditions and beliefs are brought to the forefront with the Civil War as a backdrop

Burning Ridge by Margaret Mizuchima:  Review by Elise Cooper

Burning Ridge by Margaret Mizushima is a fast-paced and engrossing police procedural.  It features Matti Cobb and her K-9 German Shepherd partner Robo, which makes these stories appealing to not only those who enjoy mysteries, but also to animal lovers. 

 

Having done her homework, the author spoke with and shadowed those that train dogs.  “I have a friend who retired from training tracking dogs.  She allowed me to watch her train for tracking and evidence detection.  I was inspired by her to write about a female canine handler.  In fact, she had a dog named Robo, which I based the story dog Robo on. He could do so many things: Patrol, apprehend, track, and even pick up on gun powder to find hidden shells and casings.”

 

The plot has veterinarian Cole Walker and his two young daughters enjoying their trail ride in the Colorado mountains until they find a man’s charred boot with a decomposing foot in it.  Called in to search for the rest of the body Matti and Robo find him. It is then Mattie realizes there is a personal link to her own troubled past. 

 

This book explores her disturbed childhood, having been placed in foster homes since the age of six.  Her father was convicted of abusing her mother who later abandoned her and her brother. This is why she and Cole are taking the relationship slow although it is obvious they love each other. 

 

Because her husband is a vet, Mizushima knows something about the profession. “I always wanted to write a vet as a protagonist. Similar to my husband, Cole is a mixed practice vet, which means he treats large and small animals.  He has to overcome some personal problems after his wife left him and his daughters. Both he and Mattie are hesitant to connect because of their baggage with abandonment issues. This is why I wrote, ‘And as much as she wanted to, she had trouble allowing him past the wall she built to protect her feelings.’ He is a work driven, a type-A personality, but soft-hearted.  She is kind, athletic, spunky, a loner, independent, and vulnerable.”

 

What makes this novel special is the relationship between the partners. Robo is not written as some Superdog, but with realistic traits.  Mattie and Robo are a dedicated team who have a strong bond professionally and personally. He is truly her best friend, and when she goes missing Robo uses his search and rescue skills to find her. 

 

Having lived in Colorado all her life, Mizushima is able to create a realistic setting.  She seems to draw from current events since there have been so many wildfires this season.  In the novel, she uses it to enhance the action where the fire becomes an antagonist.  “I grew in a small town on a ranch.  I used the mountains because there is a sense of suspense and danger. This is why I wrote in the book quote, ‘Blazing orang lit the ridge above her, rapidly feeding on timber and eating its way downward.  Balls of fire leapt from tree to tree, the dry needles wicking flames into branches and sap, setting off booming explosions in the treetops.’”

 

This is a gripping tale that has a message of hope.  With Robo at her side Mattie is trying to overcome her childhood demons and learn to tear down the wall she has built, allowing Cole and his daughters into her life.

Sold on A Monday By Kristina McMorris brings to life a story anchored in reality, by an actual photograph. The saying “a picture is worth a 1000 words” springboards the plot. The mystery is jumpstarted by a photograph taken as readers wonder what happens to all those in the picture? 

 

McMorris noted, “I saw this photo circulating on-line.  It was of four children huddled together on a stoop in Chicago in 1948 with their mother in the background.  There was a sign next to them that read, ‘four children for sale inquire within.’ As a mother of two young boys I was haunted by that photo for months and months.  After I understood there is a story to write I revisited it. They say ‘a picture is worth a 1000 words,’ but for me it ended up to be 90,000 words, a whole novel.  I think any strong and powerful art piece or photo after someone looks at it can tell a story that might even raise questions.”

 

It all started with a picture that became the inspiration for an article by a struggling journalist, Ellis Reed, as it expressed the desperate days of the American Great Depression in 1931. He took a picture of two boys sitting under a sign that read, “2 children for sale.” After the picture is brought to the chief’s attention by his secretary, Lillian (Lily) Palmer, Ellis is offered his chance to write worthwhile stories that begins with this one about the boys. But his chance to advance seems to go up in ashes after the picture is accidentally destroyed just prior to publication.  Knowing the article would be meaningless without a photo Ellis stages another one with a different family.  Lily feels responsible for the aftermath because it was her idea to show the original picture to the newspaper editor in the first place. Ellis’s story launches his career, but it also creates a chain of devastating events. Now both Ellis and Lily, feeling responsible, are determined to make things right.

 

“I wanted to write Lily as strong, vulnerable, and someone who carries a lot of guilt, shame, as well as secrets. I think her son Samuel helps to drive her decisions. She connects to the children in Ellis’ story, seeing parallels to her own life. Ellis is a good person who makes poor choices.  He wants his father’s approval and to get it has the need for tangible accomplishments.  Through his career achievements he gains self-confidence and self-esteem. All the characters in this story tried to forgive themselves for past deeds.  They are searching for what they really want out of life.” 

 

Readers will take a journey with all the characters as they ponder what they would do if they could give their children a better life. Set in 1931 during the Depression, people were desperate to feed their families. This brings into focus the question of how far would a parent go to ensure their children survive? On a similar note, McMorris also explores the struggle Lily had with trying to succeed professionally and being a single mother who wanted the best for her son, Samuel. 

 

This novel takes readers back in time and allows them to have a vivid picture of the desperation.  It is an engrossing story of love, family, ambition, and the struggle of each of the characters with their personal beliefs, how life’s circumstances can push people to do the unthinkable.

The Saint of Wolves and Butchers

Alex Grecian

G.P. Putnam’s Sons

April 17, 2018

With his latest novel author Alex Grecian is moving in a new direction with a new series, a new era, and a new setting, Kansas. Another book that took place in that state, Wizard of Oz has a famous line “Lions, Tigers, and Bears. Oh My.” Replace that with The Saint of Wolves and Butchers and readers havethe title of this new book.

 

This intriguing story involves Travis, a man who chases down evil-doers with help from his trusting companion, a dog named Bear, and a Kansas State Trooper, Skottie who join forces to track down a Nazi in hiding.

 

Grecian wanted to write more of a modern-day contemporary story than his past series, set in Victorian England.  “While driving through Western Kansas to visit my wife’s family I saw a lot of ranch/farm country.  Regardless of where I am I look for angles I can use to write a story. I found out that German POWs captured in Africa were sent to Kansas. After the war, most of these people were allowed to become farmers and stayed here as authorities turned a blind eye.  It occurred to me this would be a great place to hide if I ever committed a crime.  Since Travis and company will hunt for evil-doers, for the next book I would love to have Skottie, Bear, and Travis searching for the bad guy behind the funding of the Nazi in this book who runs a human trafficking ring.  I think I will set it in Alaska.”

 

The plot begins in 1951 when wanted war criminal Rudolph Bormann succeeds in making his way from South America to rural Kansas, where he begins a new life as Rudy Goodman. In the present, Travis Roan, the head of a family foundation devoted to bringing war criminals to justice, comes to Kansas after a report that the German was recognized by Ruth Elder, a concentration camp guard. Aided by his canine companion, Bear, a massive dog, and another ally, Kansas Highway Patrol trooper Skottie Foster, the search continues for this horrific figure who had performed medical research on unwilling victims. To make matters worse, Goodman decides to become a Church Pastor for a Nazi-type cult where he continues his cruel experimentation.

 

All the characters are either very likeable or very unlikable. The character that stole all the scenes was Bear, a Tibetan mastiff who understands Esperanto and became mute after poachers cut off his vocal cords. He is brave, smart, and loyal, where everyone except the antagonists have complete trust.  Surprisingly, Elder, was written as sympathetic considering she was forced into becoming a guard by the Nazi regime, after refusing to have sex with German military officers.  The main character, Travis is calm, intellectual, unfailingly polite, and very moralistic.  

 

Because Grecian wants this to be a series he plans on developing each character’s backstory as the books progress.  “Travis keeps to himself so we do not know where he has been in the world and where he has come from.  He is mysterious and I purposely did not say if he is Jewish.  I do hint at the terrible tragedy he has gone through.  As time goes on readers will find out more about him.”

 

An interesting aspect is that the Nazi was hit by lightning, not once, but twice, while in Kansas, and lived to talk about it.  After being struck people have their bodies affected in unexpected ways, such as a person’s hair and toenails will not grow back, and they can have hearing loss.  Goodman used it to claim he could heal people, because it gave him energy and insight. This for some could be the fantasy part of the book.    

 

Hopefully readers also understand that guns are tools. Grecian explained, “This is why I put in the book quote, ‘These chunks of metal that were largely useless without a hand to point them.’ The evil comes from the person who uses it to their advantage.  It is the person that needs to be blamed.”

 

Readers will yearn for the next book to see how Grecian flushes out the characters’ backstory, especially Travis Roan, whose mysteriousness is intriguing. Hopefully, this does become a series, because of the unique characters and storyline.

Beneath The Surface by Lynn H. Blackburn has both suspense and romance although it has more of an emphasis on the relationship between the two main characters, Leigh Weston and Ryan Parker.  

It is interesting how she weaves everything in the plot around the Dive Team, including relationships between the team members, the victim, and the outside experts.  The sarcastic banter between the characters allows for a humorous interlude.

Because she wants to emphasize the character interaction, she noted, “When we pitched the series my editors asked how much of this is going to be underwater, because it is difficult to develop relationships there. Any law enforcement dive team knows the dive is very intense, mainly because of the horrible conditions.  I want readers to understand I am writing about the team, not necessarily the dive. The unifying factor for the story is that they are all on this dive team. Besides, I wanted to make this realistic. Most of the time they cannot see anything underwater. It is like someone driving in a fog. I talked to a professional who said ‘you cannot see anything and must feel around since it is so very dark.’”

There are actually two mysteries to the story, dismembered bodies found at the bottom of the lake by the dive team, and someone stalking Leigh with the intent of doing bodily harm.  They come together when Ryan and his colleagues ask Leigh if they can use her boat deck as they work the investigation. Soon after, Leigh’s life is threatened having law enforcement wonder about a possible connection.  Ryan knows his team must solve the murder case quickly, especially when Leigh may be the next target on the list.

Sprinkled throughout the story are images of the Carolina community that includes their culture. “I wanted to show how Leigh connects to her mom through cooking. After all, Carolina girls love to cook.  In the South, we cook for the people we love. No one gets together without having lots of food around. Through her baking and cooking she is able to initially get close to people.  If she likes you she will try to feed you. One of her love languages is cooking and baking cookies. I actually developed a little recipe book for my newsletters’ subscribers, a dive team recipe book.”  

This first in the series will leave readers wanting for more.  Fortunately, the next book will be coming out at the end of this year, but it is also unfortunate that people will have to wait months for the next installment.

 

Latest comments

23.10 | 11:23

Awesome interview! B.J. Daniels books are just GREAT!! Always anticipating the next one! Appreciate her talent, and bringing us wonderful hours of reading!

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22.10 | 18:12

For one, I’m glad you can come up with ideas and that the characters talk to you. Keep them talking and thank you and your characters.

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22.10 | 17:30

I adore B J Daniels’ books. She grabs me from the first sentence and doesn’t let go until the last sentence. I loved this interview.

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01.10 | 16:20

Happy Birthday! I remember when book club started when you turned 50. OMG! 100% agree with political status. So disappointing. Happy Foliage!

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