The Clever Mill Horse an Entertaining Debut Historical Novel with Determined Female Lead

01_The Clever Mill Horse Cover

Review~

I first wanted to read The Clever Mill Horse because I love history of the 1800s and have some strange obsession with mills and grist mills (might be in my blood, my great x6 grandfather owned a mill). As well, I like weaving and textiles and all those old sorts of professions and inventions. I enjoyed Jodi’s foreword quite a bit about the flax vs. cotton mill and the history and I thought it was going to be a wonderful read about inventing the flax-mill and how it worked and changed society.

Though I don’t think that initial wish came true, there was still  much in the book to be enjoyed. I did hope that it would have an independent and incorrigible female protagonist that was determined and defied the odds. Check! It did. That was clear right from the start with Ella and carried on throughout the book, as she gave us a well-rounded, intelligent, and feisty female that the rest of us can all admire. That was her best formed character, followed by Aunt Lucille, the Native American from the Oneida tribe named Pete, and Jenny, Ella’s sister. I also enjoyed the antagonist, Emerston, as he was conniving, manipulative, and wholly dimensional. I felt those characters were the best done and those are the ones I’d remember as the stars of the book. At first I wasn’t sure that any of her characters would be memorable like Ella, and almost found them flat or surface in the beginning, but by halfway in, she proved me wrong as the other characters began to show themselves. I was glad to see so many strong female characters in this book.

I have to admit when I started the book I wondered where it was going and if it was reading like a middle reader more than a novel. It was slow to start and I wondered if I’d want to read it. However, eventually it picked up so if you read it and think this, don’t give up on it. I saw at least by chapter four that there was suspense, a mystery, clues, and much more just beyond the innovation of a flax-mill, which really took a back seat to the family and town drama as the story becomes more a journey of the soul of Ella as she discovers her worth and purpose.

Though I was unsure of the jilted English language she presented Pete to have as a Native American, I did admire her treatment of the Native Americans in the story, the historical background and tribe background, and how she presented him as loving, gentle, kind, and giving and had him incorporate into their lives. She was sympathetic to the Native American plight and their assimilation with white settlers who took their homes and land. I enjoyed the forbidden romance he was involved in and her gentle message to us that we shouldn’t discriminate, especially in love.

As an advocate for domestic violence, I hated that Ella’s mother did not leave Ella’s father, her abuser, and it was hard to read some of the sections for me, but I understood her character’s claim as in that time period life was hard for anyone, let alone a single woman. Those sections in the plot was very sad and emotional. Her characterization of the abuser and the abused was remarkable. She dealt with many other raw and human issues in her book too, but I don’t want to give all the surprises away.

Those are all underlying things though, as really Jodi spent a great deal of time on her plot and all the twists and turns she threw into the mix. The book was pretty long for its theme/genre, as though it was based on historical research and time period, she may have been trying to fit too much in all at once. It just felt a little unfocused, with too many things happening, and I bet it was due to the fact that she had so much she wanted to do she just couldn’t bear to cut any of it. As a content/copy editor, my eye naturally looks for this, and it isn’t to shame her as a writer, but to help her improve. I see places that could have been left out and the book would have propelled further forward all the same for the reader.

Also, with my editor cap on, in the prelude, an entire section toward the end of it in the e-book version was pasted twice. I don’t know if it was just pasted twice and I didn’t miss anything, or if it replaced something else? I would definitely check that out. Also, several times “than” used when meaning “then” and posh used instead of “pish” and small things like that which added up. Some of the vocabulary seemed forced and in other places, not strong enough.

Overall, I really liked the suspense, the journey/adventure they ended up going on during the second half of the novel, how several of the characters showed great growth and courage, the mysteries (that’s where the horse in the title comes in too), and the pioneer intrigue. There were plenty of surprises, secrets, reveals, and drama. It was clean enough (no sex, bad words, etc.) that I would be able to let my teenager read it and I like that about it too.

The novel’s plot and theme reminded me some of the writer Elizabeth Camden (that’s high praise, she is a wonderful author who writes these types of historical suspense, features strong female leads, and has hints of clean romance). Now what Jodi needs to do with her potential is to practice her craft and hone in on her sentences, her dialogue, and her focus. She is a great plot weaver and I look forward to seeing her grow her writing skills.

For her first novel, Jodi shows promise as a real storyteller that knows how to funnel the sensitivities of human emotions, the trials of life, the power of the female, and lessons learned messages. She was able to mix that with a plot full of suspense, drama, and mystery, in order to create an entertaining historical read that showed how one young girl could overcome any odds. I look forward to reading the next novel in the series!

Watch for my upcoming interview with Jodi!

*I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. My opinions are my own. My content and editing critiques are for the author and will not be what is pasted to Amazon or GoodReads.*

The Clever Mill Horse, Synopsis~

01_The Clever Mill Horse CoverPublication Date: August 15, 2014
Caspian Press
Formats: eBook, Paperback
Pages: 424

Genre: Historical Fiction

A young woman’s gift could weave together the fabric of a nation…

1810, upstate New York. 21-year-old Ella Kenyon is happiest gliding through the thick woods around her small frontier town, knife in hand, her sharp eyes tracking game. A gift for engineering is in her blood, but she would gladly trade it for more time in the forest. If only her grandfather’s dying wish hadn’t trapped her into a fight she never wanted.

Six years ago, Ella’s grandfather made her vow to finish his life’s work: a flax-milling machine that has the potential to rescue her mother, brother, and sister from the brutality of life with her drunkard father. The copious linen it yields could save her struggling town, subjugate the growing grip of southern cotton. Or it could be Ella’s downfall. If she’s not quick enough, not clever enough to succeed, more than her own life rests in the balance…

Praise for The Clever Mill Horse

“Jodi Lew-Smith’s The Clever Mill Horse is that rarest of all contemporary novels: an authentically old-fashioned adventure story, in all the best senses. Full of drama, humor, plot surprises, and, best of all, memorable characters, The Clever Mill Horse had me hooked from page one. Best of all, there’s a sequel coming. I can’t wait.” – Howard Frank Mosher, author of Where the Rivers Flow North

“In this delightful debut novel set in the early 19th century, a young woman fights to patent her flax-milling machine. . .An assured, cleverly plotted piece of historical fiction with an irrepressible female protagonist.” – Kirkus Reviews

“. . .intricately plotted and exceedingly well paced. . . filled with danger, science, and suspense, the story rings true with historical and natural detail. . . a complete and finely polished first novel.” – Foreword Reviews

Buy the Book~

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Nook
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Author Jodi Lew-Smith~

02_Jodi Lew-Smith AuthorJodi Lew-Smith lives on a farm in northern Vermont with her patient husband, three wonderfully impatient children, a bevy of pets and farm animals, and 250 exceedingly patient apple trees which, if they could talk, would suggest that she stop writing and start pruning. Luckily they’re pretty quiet.

With a doctorate in plant genetics, she also lives a double life as a vegetable breeder at High Mowing Seeds. She is grateful for the chance to do so many things in one lifetime, and only wishes she could do them all better. Maybe in the next life she’ll be able to make up her mind.

For more about Jodi and about the lives and world of the characters in the novel, visit her website or blog. You can also connect with her on Facebook and Goodreads.

Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/theclevermillhorseblogtour/

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A Day of Fire: Pompeii Series: Kate Quinn Next Under Fire

In celebration of the release of the historical novel A Day of Fire: A Novel of Pompeii, and all the time this writing clan of six authors put into it, I’ve been doing a “Ring of Fire” series where I toss the fire torch to each of the authors every Wednesday or so for SIX WEEKS in order for them to answer a few quick questions about the book. All of the authors were given the same two questions! I thought it would be fun to see each of their respective answers. Now, I wish I would have put them in the hot seat a little longer and asked them some additional questions.

fire heart

Today, the amazing Kate Quinn is featured (a fellow Boston Red Sox fan!), but there are links to the three past micro-interviews too. Follow along and see what each has to say about their experience! I’m going in order based on where their part of the story falls within the book. My review will be posted during the six weeks as well, mostly likely within the next two weeks.

In case you haven’t heard, or read my past post, this book was written by six top historical novelists who joined forces to bring readers the stories of Pompeii’s residents—from patricians to prostitutes—as their world ended. It’s a combined novel by Stephanie Dray, Ben Kane, E. Knight, Sophie Perinot, Kate Quinn and Vicky Alvear Shecter, with an introduction by Michelle Moran, in which each takes on a character and intertwines them into the story.

Ready for the torch pass?……take it away Kate!

 Q1 : What did your character bring to the volcano gods for the book (i.e. what voice did they bring to the volume)?

Kate’s Answer: Pompeii is a story all about escape – as soon as Vesuvius goes up, everyone is fighting to leave. I had a chance with my narrator to flip that on its head: he is a senator battling serious depression (not that he would have a name for it at the time), and unlike the fleeing masses, he has no intention of trying to escape the disaster. He welcomes this chance for an honorable death, but a girl with a foul mouth and a fast horse is trying to drag him to safety whether he wants to go or not. I also had the chance to bring humor to this book (I’m not sure I know how to write a story without it!) Strange to say you can find humor in a tragedy like Pompeii, but my diacritically-opposed characters played off each other like a buddy cop movie, and hopefully provide some much-needed laughs before the big tragic finish!

 Q2: What is one of your favorite moments from the collaboration?

Kate’s Answer: Collaborative writing! For the scenes where the protagonist from one story made a cameo in another, we found it was most effective to crank up an interactive Google document, and for the two authors to write the scene together, each writing the dialogue of their own protagonist so that every character stayed true to their voice. It was like an improv acting exercise but with writing – huge fun.

We’ve already heard from Vicky, Sophie, Ben. Check out their answers by clicking on their name!

Kate Quinn, Biography~

kate quinnKate Quinn is a native of southern California. She attended Boston University, where she earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Classical Voice. A lifelong history buff, she has written three novels set in ancient Rome: “Mistress of Rome,” “Daughters of Rome,” and “Empress of the Seven Hills,” all of which have been translated into multiple languages.

Kate made the jump from ancient Rome to Renaissance Italy for her fourth and fifth novels, “The Serpent and the Pearl” and “The Lion and the Rose,” detailing the early years of the Borgia clan. She also has succumbed to the blogging bug, and keeps a blog filled with trivia, pet peeves, and interesting facts about historical fiction. She and her husband now live in Maryland with a small black dog named Caesar, and her interests include opera, action movies, cooking, and the Boston Red Sox.

A Day of Fire: A Novel of Pompeii released on November 4, 2014. Order now!

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00NI5CBXI</

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A Day of Fire: A Novel of Pompeii, Information~

by Stephanie Dray, Ben Kane, E. Knight, Sophie Perinot, Kate Quinn and Vicky Alvear Shecter,
with an introduction by Michelle Moran

Genre: Historical Fiction

Release Date: November 4, 2014

Six top historical novelists join forces to bring readers the stories of Pompeii’s residents—from patricians to prostitutes—as their world ended. You will meet:

Pompeii was a lively resort flourishing in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius at the height of the Roman Empire. When Vesuvius erupted in an explosion of flame and ash, the entire town would be destroyed. Some of its citizens died in the chaos, some escaped the mountain’s wrath . . .these are their stories:

A boy loses his innocence in Pompeii’s flourishing streets.

An heiress dreads her wedding day, not knowing it will be swallowed by fire.

An ex-legionary stakes his entire future on a gladiator bout destined never to be finished.

A crippled senator welcomes death, until a tomboy on horseback comes to his rescue.

A young mother faces an impossible choice for her unborn child as the ash falls.

A priestess and a whore seek redemption and resurrection as the town is buried.

Six top historical authors bring to life overlapping stories of patricians and slaves, warriors and politicians, villains and heroes who cross each others’ path during Pompeii’s fiery end. But who will escape, and who will be buried for eternity?

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Talking with Texas Author Mary Black about the First Peoples of the Lower Pecos

As many of you know, Native American /  First Peoples history is one of my fave subjects! I have a really interesting interview today with Mary S. Black, who has researched extensively the prehistoric peoples of the Lower Pecos, in Texas! They left behind those wonderful rock cave paintings you might have heard about. In the interview you can learn more about the art, the people, Shamanism, and Mary’s research. Enjoy!

The author in White Shaman

Mary Black at White Shaman Preserve, Texas

Hi, Mary, and welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book site! Prehistoric fiction is some of my favorite historical fiction to immerse myself in. Congratulations on the release of your new book, Peyote Fire: Shaman of the Canyons. What has been the best part about releasing your novel so far?

Mary: Hi Erin. Thanks so much for having me here today. I love talking to people about my book. I wrote it to hopefully bring more awareness of our ancient past. I really felt like I was listening to my characters talk at times, when the writing was most intense. I’m having fun now sharing this work with other people.

 Erin: Come in and have a seat in my dining room. I have comfy chairs high-back chairs where we can relax, basking in the sunlight rays without being chilly on the outdoor patio (I’m in Ohio and it’s chilly here now!). I’ll bring in some tea, do you have a favorite? Sugar and cream? I’ll be having a seasonal Chai (though often I opt for Earl Grey).

Mary: Earl Grey sounds great for a chilly afternoon. You have a beautiful dining room.

Erin: Wonderful! I’ll pour and bring out the homemade apple spice muffins. Let’s begin!

Q: Your background in writing started with being a reporter (mine too) and then lead to teaching. Where did your interest in archaeology and history come from?

A: Growing up I was always interested in history. I had never even heard of archaeology at that time. Eventually I became a social studies teacher and got to really delve into all aspects of history. I toyed with the idea of getting a master’s degree in archaeology, but I quickly realized I couldn’t do that with a child at home. Archaeologists have to travel a lot and often gone for long periods. I just couldn’t do that. So I married an archaeologist instead and let him travel.

Erin Comments: I felt the same way about getting a degree and having a career in archaeology! But you’re right, hard to raise children that way. At least you can live vicariously through your husband!

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Photo from Mary S. Black

Q: What was the motivation behind writing a novel and why did you decide to write fiction and not non-fiction? What makes your novel more fiction?

A: I was enchanted by the polychrome murals on the canyon walls in southwest Texas along the Rio Grande. These paintings are at least 4,000 years old. Like everyone else who sees them, I wanted to know who painted them, and why. What were these ancient people saying to us? I thought about writing Peyote Fire for at least ten years before I actually started it. The only way to really make the people come alive was in a novel.

Erin Comments: I think that is great. Many times books start by asking just those questions!

Q: Your book is highly based on factual times, how did you conduct all your research? Where did you begin?

A: It took me four years to do the research and write the book. Far too long, but I had a lot to learn. I wanted to capture as much truth about the ancient people and their culture as possible, and that turned out to be quite a challenge. My husband was the original editor of a great website called Texas Beyond History, which reports on archaeological research all over Texas. I studied articles on that site until I had them practically memorized. I made a number of trips to the canyons and had the good fortune to follow several archeologists around as they worked. I listened to the wind and felt the sun in that place. I learned about rock art from several experts and tromped around looking at many of these ancient paintings. And of course I read a lot and talked to lots of people who knew the area. What was hard was consolidating all this information in my brain. I had to be able to visualize daily life in detail in order to write about it.

Photo from Mary S. Black

Photo from Mary S. Black

Q: Why do you feel that archaeology in North America is important? What can the discoveries teach us, since we view ourselves as a relatively young country? What can be taught about who lived here before us?

A: Wow, that’s a big question. Have you got a couple of years? I actually used to teach a course on Archaeology for the Social Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. The course was aimed at teachers, and it was amazing what they didn’t know. Human beings have lived in North America at least 17,000 years, and they were pretty ingenious. Their brain capacity was as great as ours, and they had to solve complex problems every day. Mostly we don’t give our human ancestors enough credit. Learning about the people of the past teaches us about human invention and creativity, social organization and politics, tenderness and violence. These are not concepts we just recently thought up. They’ve been here all along.

The human history of North America is much shorter and quite different from that of Europe, for instance. A hundred and fifty years ago the U.S. government made a concerted effort to wipe out remaining native peoples, and they almost did it. It’s a genocide we don’t like to talk about in American history classes. Native people have been systematically dismissed from the history of America, and as a result, many people today don’t know much about this continent until the Pilgrims arrived in 1620. It’s been estimated that there were over 400 languages spoken by native people in America at that time, so the place wasn’t exactly empty. Personally I think we need to recognize this history and reflect on our place in it.

Erin Comments: I totally agree. I absolutely love their history and revere them. They were at one and at peace with nature. They were thankful in a way for things that most aren’t in our present society of throw away and don’t care. Fortunately, in receiving my history degree, I had a teacher that taught Native American history, and it was something I really admired. But there needs to be more done.

Photo from Mary S. Black

Photo from Mary S. Black

Q: Even though I live in the U.S. too, being in Ohio is like another world–the west, the places you have visited, and the history you are speaking of to be foreign to me. Can you tell us about the Canyonlands and the people who lived in there?

A: If you look on a map, find Del Rio, Texas, right on the Rio Grande. Then follow Highway 90 west about 50 miles. That’s the Lower Pecos Canyonlands I write about. You will come to the Pecos River, which forms an incredibly steep, stone canyon at that point. There are many canyons like that in the area that drain into the Rio Grande. The land is arid. It’s the northern edge of the Chihuahuan Desert that runs deep into Mexico. If you drive by fast on the highway, you might think it’s just a wasteland. But get down in the canyons and you find a remarkable world. There are over 300 currently known rock art murals in this area. Archaeologists know that people have lived here over 10,000 years. How? How did they live in such a harsh land? It’s fascinating.

Ohio has some pretty cool archaeology too, with the mound builders. Serpent Mound is amazing!

Erin Comments: Oh, yes, absolutely! There is a lot of Native American history here. It’s too bad that the whole of the Serpent Mound can’t be taken in from land view, and most people can’t easily go aerial, but just the premise of how and why they built those is fascinating.

Photo from Mary S. Black

Photo from Mary S. Black

Q: If you haven’t, can you tell us a little about the painted rock shelters of the Canyonlands?

A: There are many large rock shelters in these canyons that people used to live in. The rock overhangs gave protection from sun and rain, and are not uncomfortable. Some of these shelters are painted floor to ceiling in red, orange, gold, white, and black. The figures are very abstract and hard for modern minds to understand. I’m giving you some photos so you can see more what I mean.

And a lot of them are damaged, so sometimes you can’t even see the whole thing. Even though we know of over 300 such sites, only two are actually open to the public. If you want to visit, go to Seminole Canyon State Park or visit the White Shaman Preserve on Saturday only. Contact the Rock Art Foundation for that at www.rockart.org. Many of the murals are on private ranches in very rough, inaccessible places. Protection of the murals is another reason visitation is limited. They are irreplaceable cultural treasures and are very fragile.

Q: Your story is based on the first shaman of North America and your protagonist is urged to be a shaman too. What was the importance of this shaman, and shamans as a whole? How did you present shamanism in your novel?

A: Shamans are like a medicine man or even like a priest. They are the intercessors with the gods on behalf of the people. Shamanistic cultures have been found all over the world and are indicative of early forms of religion. The shaman helps explain the world, helps ward off evil and bring prosperity to the people. Often a shaman goes into a trance or seeks a vision as part of the ceremony. In Peyote Fire, the people use three native plants to produce these visions. The plants are even depicted in the rock art. So one of my challenges was to figure out how the people might have used the plants and how that might have changed over time. In my book, peyote wins out, as you might guess. Peyote is a little hallucinogenic cactus that has a limited natural growth area in the region of the painted canyons. For sure the ancient people would have known about it and used it.

Photo by Mary S. Black

Photo by Mary S. Black

Q: Besides historical time and place, what themes did you choose to address or utilize in your book?

A: Unexpectedly, one of the themes is feminism. I didn’t start out to do this; it emerged as I was writing. The people honor four gods: Father Sun, Mother Rain, Grandmother Growth and Grandfather Fire. Well, if you honor Grandmother Growth, or the life force itself, then it seems to me you’d have to honor women. The reproductive cycle is very important to the people in my book, and that results in matrilineal families and great respect for women.  I notice you did a series on Celebrating Women. The female shaman in my book is one who protects the protagonist from the evil shaman and o-then shows him how to find peyote. She is very powerful and able to meet every challenge.

Erin Comments: Native Americans did have great respect for their women. Something else I admire. I am glad that you featured that in your book.

Q: Are you working on a sequel to Peyote Fire? How about other writing?

A: The next book is called Peyote Rain and is set five years after Peyote Fire. It concerns a huge flood in the canyons which wipes out many home sites. And yes, floods like that really have happened.

Erin Comments: I believe it! The elements have been so damaging over thousands of years of history, wiping out entire races or species even. Look at the floods we’ve just had in the United States over the last 10-2o years even!

Canyon Rock Art / from Mary S. Black

Canyon Rock Art / from Mary S. Black

Q: What other adventures do you hope pursue in order to find information for your books?

A: I’d love to visit the Huichol people of Mexico. They are a small ethnic group that has managed to keep much of their traditional culture intact. Some experts think they may be related to the people of the ancient Texas canyonlands because of some of their symbolism, which may correspond to that of the rock art.

 Q: What have you found you like most about writing now that you’ve been through the process of one?

A: I do like figuring out the puzzle even though sometimes it is very frustrating. My process for the second book is flowing much easier, at least so far.

Q: What is a favorite piece of art or artifact that you’ve seen or come across in your research?

A: Well, I’d love to know more about the rock art. That could be a life-long study in itself.

Lower Pecos style art in White Shaman shelter / Mary Black

Lower Pecos style art in White Shaman shelter / Mary Black

Q: What other interests do you have when you aren’t writing?

A: I swim and do yoga. Care for family. It’s a full-time job. I had to retire from working for money in order to have enough time to write. I love it!

Q: Who are some authors that you like to read now or enjoyed in the past?

A: Folks should read Kathleen and Michael Gear for the prehistory of North America. They have at least 20 novels about various Native American groups. The Gears are archaeologists themselves and the books are very well researched.

Erin comments: Oh yes, they’ve written actually like 50 books! They are amazing people, writers, and very nice too. I hope you enjoy their books as much as I do.

Q: Where can readers and writers connect with you?

A: You can find me at www.marysblack.com, and on Facebook and GoodReads.   Also, please join the group “Prehistoric Fiction Writers and Readers Campfire” on both those sites to interact with various folks.

Erin: Thank you, Mary, for discussing your work and writing with us here today! Native American/ First Peoples culture is a real interest to me and I enjoyed learning about the Pecos region. Best of luck to you with your writing (and researching)!

Mary: Thanks so much, Erin. I was great talking to you! And oh, these muffins are delicious.

01_Peyote Fire CoverPeyote Fire, Synopsis~

Publication Date: October 25, 2014
Writers Press
Formats: Ebook, Trade Paperback
Pages: 350

Genre: Historical Fiction

Deer Cloud is painting the stories of the gods when tragedy changes his life. He is called to walk the shaman path and bring the buffalo through his visionary power. The evil Stone Face will do anything to thwart Deer Cloud’s growing strength. Jumping Rabbit, a lusty female shaman, decides to mentor him and ends up taking him to bed. She introduces him to a powerful spirit plant to counter the effects of the dangerous wolf flower. When buffalo are spotted, Stone Face challenges Deer Cloud to call the beasts with his new power. With Jumping Rabbit’s help, Deer Cloud changes Rain Bringer society forever.

This book brings to life people who lived over 4,000 years ago in the southwest Texas canyonlands known as the Lower Pecos, near the confluence of the Devils and Pecos rivers with the Rio Grande. These ancient people painted over 300 currently known rock art murals, some of which can be viewed today. Archaeologists have also found evidence of a huge bison jump in a small canyon in that region that points to a catastrophic event in the lives of these people so long ago. This book is based on extensive research and is the first novel to examine these events.

Author Mary S. Black, Biography~

02_Mary S. Black AuthorMary S. Black fell in love with the Lower Pecos more than twenty years ago. Since then she has studied the archaeology and related ethnography of the area with numerous scholars.

She has an Ed.D. from Harvard University in Human Development and Psychology and lives in Austin with her husband, an archaeologist, and two cats.

For more information please visit Mary’s website. You can also connect with her on Facebook and Goodreads.

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Past Encounters is a Beautifully Written Novel of Relationships and Secrets Post-WWII

02_Past Encounters

Oh, what a beautiful story that Davina Blake has written in her novel, Past Encounters! I like so many genres of historical fiction, but I am always drawn to the books that feature flashbacking to WWII, with characters either telling their wartime story, or characters that tell their story while the reader gets to view how their lives unfolded after the war (whether 10 years or 40). I’m always interested in exploring the secrets someone left behind or how the psychology behind how war affected their personalities. If someone pulls out a long lost letter or photo or letters from their love who was away at war or abroad…..I’m hooked. I don’t read a lot of romance, but if I do, this is the type for me. I have a penchant for letters, long lost loves, and secrets.

Past Encounters was written after Davina was inspired by the movie “Brief Encounters” (circa 1945), which critics say is considered one of the great romances made by British film industry. It takes place surrounding a railway station, which before, during, and after the war was certainly a place of hustle and bustle during the war time era. Davina also sets part of her book here, during the flashback of her main female protagonist, and brings the filming of “Brief Encounters” into her novel. I loved how she intertwined the two, as I love old cinema too.

The secrets explored and discovered in this book are heart-wrenching and emotional, as most things are when they come down to love in a time full of turmoil. Hasty romances, marriages, loved ones gone due to war for extended periods, chance meetings, and the constant unknown of the WWII era, always allows for stories ripe with sorrow, loss, betrayal, and secrets.

From the moment I read the first part of the book, which takes us from a confused housewife in 1955 in Rhoda, then back to before and during the war with her husband Peter, his friend Archie, and his wife Helen, I was emotionally invested in finding out what happened to each of these characters between 1939 and when Peter returned from the war up to their present time of 1955. The way that she lays out the chapters and constructs the story makes it all flow together seamlessly. She was able to keep the story moving and on track, even with the use of flashbacks, making it all clear but while also able to hide her twists, turns, and secrets until the right time to unveil them. Just from the first few pages I was immediately captivated by Rhoda’s marriage plight and questions, became intrigued, and burned through the pages.

I did notice the change from Rhoda’s first person, to Peter’s part being third person, and later Helen’s; however, to me it worked, but it was a way to tell Peter and Helen’s side (a side that Rhoda couldn’t tell in present) without making him/her the star protagonist. I believe that was always Rhoda, and that ultimately, it was Rhoda’s story. I liked how she constructed it this way. It was unique, and for me, it worked.

I always enjoy Davina’s other novels, as Deborah Swift, which are more historical, but I truly loved her writing style even more in this book. She has a way with writing hauntingly beautiful prose that at first you might deem simple, but in reality, her character development and imagery are fine tuned. In this book, in this era with all its dark emotional drama, she writes as if she is penning a 1950s film. I felt as if her characters were so real, especially Rhoda, and that I knew them personally. My heart was really touched by their story, almost as if they were long lost loved grandparents. She brings an authenticity to her characters, bringing true thoughts and feelings to the surface, and even if some might not always think the choices right, they are certainly real and create depth in her characters.

I especially like lines such as:

“I could not help staring. It was as if they were from a different England altogether, one where young men didn’t die, where clothes were always new and well pressed. It was like two parakeets arriving in a world of sparrows.”

I think Davina truly is a masterful storyteller. In Past Encounters, she’s created a character-driven story that will linger on past the time when you think you’ve finished with the novel. The characters won’t leave you behind, but will haunt you. They’ll leave you wondering about all the possible true stories of this era, a time where it seemed everyone held secrets, whether from the war or in the heart.

I highly recommend this book for readers who enjoy whirlwind or intriguing romances as featured in 1950s films, emotional and gripping dramas from WWII era, and heart-wrenching tales of women and men whose past won’t stay in the past and who are tortured by love or some other emotion or secret. Davina has penned a beautifully executed novel that is a perfect read for Holiday vacation time, when you can snuggle up with a blanket and a book, becoming lost between the pages without a care for the clock.

As for me, I love railway stations. I’d like to take a trip to England, sit in the railway station with a hat and cup of tea, and read this book a second time. By chance, maybe I’d find a secret letter or hear a story or two from a passer-by. If I wasn’t already in a relationship, perhaps I’d even sit waiting for my own chance encounter.

Brief Encounters, Synopsis~

02_Past EncountersPublication Date: November 22, 2014
CreateSpace
Paperback; 442p

Genre: Historical Fiction/Literary Fiction

GoodReads Link

England 1955

The day Rhoda Middleton opens a letter from another woman, she becomes convinced her husband, Peter, is having an affair. But when Rhoda tracks the mysterious woman down, she discovers she is not Peter’s lover after all, but the wife of his best friend, Archie Foster. There is only one problem – Rhoda has never even heard of Archie Foster.

Devastated by this betrayal of trust, Rhoda tries to find out why Peter has kept this friendship a secret for so long. Her search leads her back to 1945, but as she gradually uncovers Peter’s wartime experiences she must wrestle with painful memories of her own. For Rhoda too cannot escape the ghosts of the past.

Taking us on a journey from the atmospheric filming of Brief Encounter, to the extraordinary Great March of prisoners of war through snow-bound Germany, PAST ENCOUNTERS explores themes of friendship, hope, and how in the end, it is the small things that enable love to survive.

Includes bonus material for reading groups.

Praise for Past Encounters~

“Her characters are so real that they linger in the mind long after the book is back on the shelf. Highly Recommended!” – The Historical Novels Review

Praise for Deborah Swift~!

“stellar historical fiction” -Orange Prize Nominee Ann Weisgarber

“compelling’” -Westmorland Gazette

“The past comes alive through impeccable research…and the sheer power of descriptive prose” -Lancashire Evening Post

Buy the Book~

Amazon US
Amazon UK

Author Davina Blake, Biography~

02_Deborah SiwftDavina Blake used to be a set and costume designer for theatre and TV, during which time she developed a love of research which fueled her passion for the past. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University and also writes successful seventeenth century historicals under the pen name Deborah Swift. ‘Her characters are so real that they linger in the mind long after the book is back on the shelf. Highly recommended.’ The Historical Novels Review

From Davina: ‘I was inspired to write Past Encounters because I live close to the railway station where the iconic “Brief Encounter” was filmed in 1945. I have often used the refreshment room that featured in the film when waiting for a train. I love a good cup of tea, preferably accompanied by a chocolate brownie!’

For more information visit Davina Blake’s website and blog. You can also find her on Twitter.

Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/pastencountersblogtour/

Hashtags: #PastEncountersBlogTour #HistoricalFiction

Twitter Tags: @hfvbt @davina_blake

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Peyote Fire, by Mary S. Black, Features the Native Peoples of the Lower Pecos

01_Peyote Fire CoverI’m going to hold Peyote Fire: Shaman of the Canyons, by Mary S. Black to very high standards due to this being a historical sub-genre that is one of my favorites. It’s probably not going to be easy for any author to compare to Jane Auel and Sue Harrison, best-selling authors of the prehistoric genre, or Kathleen O’Neal Gear and her husband W. Michael Gear, with their numerous First Peoples/Native American novels. They are some of my favorite authors and my expectations are high.

Peyote Fire isn’t a long or lengthy epic, which is good for readers of today, who want to pick up a book from this genre without making a huge commitment. However, Mary does pack a great amount of historical and archaeological detail into her book. I think that is the book’s strongest suit. Mary did an extensive amount of research of the Lower Pecos and the Native Americans who lived there. It was apparent that her research was the driving force behind her writing of the novel. For scholars or major readers of non-fiction, this book would fill their need for information and was presented in a way that made the absorption of the information more pleasurable.

On her website, Mary states:

The book is set about 4000 years ago in the area of the confluence of the Pecos River and the Rio Grande, bounded on the east by the Devil’s River. This region is known for more 300  painted rock shelters and a famous bison jump site.  Some of these places can be visited by the public today.

By using archeological reports and treatises written about the people of the Archaic Lower Pecos as a factual base for the story,  I have tried to make descriptions of everyday life as accurate as possible, given what we know.

Mary truly delivered on her goals of discovering the area, bringing to life the rock shelters, the cliffs and topography of the area, and shamanism rituals. Her descriptions and details of the area seemed authentic. She brought to life for the reader a time and place that might otherwise be forgotten. Travelers to the area, or Texans, will love how this history has been brought to life. It was interesting to read of their group, or clan, structure since is was quite different than those here on the East Coast. Land was more harsh and life didn’t thrive as much, so it was a struggle to survive.

The mystery of these people and their rock shelter paintings, like the one featured below from Seminole Canyon State Park, is still being researched. Mary really gives us a view into how these people possibly lived, and worshiped. Watch the video taken from the State Park website for an idea about them; it’s an enthralling video!

In the reading the paperback of this book, and in being a history major/historian myself, I did enjoy her research and her details. However, as a read for entertainment, if that is what you seek, I wouldn’t sell it to you on that notion. It was formatted a little like a research paper, more than a book, and though she tried to make it a fiction read (based on the fact that her story was based on assumptions it had to be), her chapters started with numbers, the dialogue was too jilted, and the writing style too structured, to bring momentum and excitement for the every day reader that they might get within the pages of an epic or a saga like those of the aforementioned best-selling authors. I think as a writer she tried to “tell” us the story instead of “show” us in some places.

I didn’t personally care for the carefree sex in the book at all and I was shocked when it appeared in the way it did. To me, it just seemed overdone, for their ages, and especially in relation to what I know of other Native American tribes or prior stories I’ve read. I also didn’t like the overuse of the drugs and details of it, even in spirituality, and all the hallucinogens. Again, that might not be anything against her or her novel if this was authentic to their nature in that area, but I didn’t really like the portrayal. Possibly, she was trying too hard to make it entertaining, but for me, it didn’t work well and it didn’t adhere me to the characters. I wanted to read more about their struggles with the land and nature and their art and paintings.

I love that Mary took time to research these people and their area, especially since it’s the first novel to do so, and I really like reading novels of Native American culture, even mysteries. If you are interested in reading about First Peoples and their culture from the Lower Pecos, then you can give this a try in that regard. There aren’t many prehistoric novels on the market, so you can enjoy gleaning some of the history from this novel to get an idea in your mind of what their life might have been like, but it isn’t a sweeping epic. It’s an epic with a conflict driven plot that lacks depth, in my opinion.

I hope that with her next novel, Mary works with and grows her writing style in a way that will allow her readers a deeper connection with this amazing culture through more stabilized characters, because she has a great foundation of facts to work with and a good handle on description and details that allow for visuals, I just didn’t really care for the plot or the characters this time around.

*I was given a copy of this book in exchange for my honest views and opinions, which I’ve given.

Peyote Fire: Shaman of the Canyons, Synopsis~

01_Peyote Fire CoverPublication Date: October 25, 2014
Writers Press
Formats: Ebook, Trade Paperback

Genre: Historical Fiction

Deer Cloud is painting the stories of the gods when tragedy changes his life. He is called to walk the shaman path and bring the buffalo through his visionary power. The evil Stone Face will do anything to thwart Deer Cloud’s growing strength. Jumping Rabbit, a lusty female shaman, decides to mentor him and ends up taking him to bed. She introduces him to a powerful spirit plant to counter the effects of the dangerous wolf flower. When buffalo are spotted, Stone Face challenges Deer Cloud to call the beasts with his new power. With Jumping Rabbit’s help, Deer Cloud changes Rain Bringer society forever.

This book brings to life people who lived over 4,000 years ago in the southwest Texas canyonlands known as the Lower Pecos, near the confluence of the Devils and Pecos rivers with the Rio Grande. These ancient people painted over 300 currently known rock art murals, some of which can be viewed today. Archaeologists have also found evidence of a huge bison jump in a small canyon in that region that points to a catastrophic event in the lives of these people so long ago. This book is based on extensive research and is the first novel to examine these events.

Author Mary S. Black, Biography~

02_Mary S. Black AuthorMary S. Black fell in love with the Lower Pecos more than twenty years ago. Since then, she has studied the archaeology and related ethnography of the area with numerous scholars.

She has an Ed.D. from Harvard University in Human Development and Psychology and lives in Austin with her husband, an archaeologist, and two cats.

For more information please visit Mary’s website. You can also connect with her on Facebook and Goodreads.

Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/peyotefireblogtour/

Hashtags: #PeyoteFireBlogTour #HistoricalFiction

Twitter Tags: @hfvbt

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