Thursday, August 21, 2014

Review: Black Duck


Black Duck
By Janet Taylor Lisle
Puffin, September 2007

About the Book

It is spring 1929, and Prohibition is in full swing. So when Ruben and Jeddy find a dead body washed up on the shore of their small coastal Rhode Island town, they are sure it has something to do with smuggling liquor. Soon the boys, along with Jeddy’s strong-willed sister, Marina, are drawn in, suspected by rival bootlegging gangs of taking something crucial off the dead man. Then Ruben meets the daring captain of the Black Duck, the most elusive smuggling craft of them all, and it isn’t long before he’s caught in a war between two of the most dangerous prohibition gangs.

My Review

Black Duck is a historical novel that I just LOVE!!! It is a novel with a framework structure.

Our young hero, David, wants to be a reporter or journalist. (He definitely does not want to limit himself to working for his father’s landscaping business.) He needs a good story, a BIG story. So he follows a lead and meets Ruben Hart, hoping to find out more about the Black Duck, a ship that was almost legendary—at least locally—during prohibition. It was one of many, many ships that carried bootleg liquor, landing and unloading secretly, of course.

Throughout the novel there are newspapers clippings telling the fate of the Black Duck, of the three crew members who died the night it was apprehended by the Coast Guard. There were so many—especially when it first happened—who thought it was murder, that it was a set-up. That someone informed the Coast Guard telling them exactly where to find the Black Duck. That the Coast Guard shot, without any warning, at a ship with an unarmed crew. David definitely feels there is a story to be uncovered. But will Ruben Hart share it with him?

Most of the novel is set in 1929 in a coastal Rhode Island town. Readers meet Ruben and his best friend, Jeddy McKenzie, on the day they discover a dead man on the beach, a well-dressed man who had been shot in the neck. They also discover a crate, among other things. They report the discovery to the police—Jeddy’s father is the chief—but the police seem hesitant to investigate the crime. The boys aren’t quite sure if this is the deputy’s fault or the chief’s fault. Or perhaps there is someone higher up who doesn’t want this murder, to become publicly known.

The two are told to keep silent about what they saw. But some things can’t be hushed up. The day becomes significant, at least in retrospect, because it was the day Ruben first started doubting Jeddy’s loyalty to him and began to keep secrets from his friend. Ruben starts to believe that Jeddy will report to his father, the police chief. So he chooses to keep what he’s learned and observed to himself.

Ruben also starts questioning what is right and what is wrong. If bootlegging is providing much-needed money to families, is it really that evil? These aren’t criminals. These are hardworking men of all ages who have lived in poverty for so long, who have always struggled just to provide basic necessities for their families, so is it really that wrong for these men to help unload these illegal shipments? Isn’t there a difference between murdering mobsters and the simple people caught up in this mess?

Black Duck is the coming-of-age story of Ruben Hart—and of David Peterson. It is a novel about families, of the struggles a father and son can go through. It is a novel about friendships and how tricky they can be. I loved seeing Ruben and David’s relationship develop through the interview.

Becky’s Book Reviews

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

An Interview with Sandra Merville Hart - Day 2


Sandra Merville Hart loves to discover unusual facts in her historical research to use in her stories. She serves as Assistant Editor for DevoKids.com where she contributes many articles about history and holidays. She has written for The Secret Place, Harpstring, Splickety Magazine, Pockets Magazine. Common Ground, Afictionado, and ChristianDevotions.us. Sandra and her husband live in the Midwest. Her inspirational Civil War romance, A Stranger on My Land, released on August 21, 2014.

Her new novella, Stranger on My Land, may be purchased at this link.


Sandra is giving away a copy of Stranger on My Land to someone in North America who can answer this question in their comment: My novella, A Stranger on My Land, is set during the Civil War. On the day after the Battle Above the Clouds on Lookout Mountain, where did the fighting occur?



Welcome back, Sandra. What are you working on now?

My next book will be another Civil War romance set in a place that captivates my imagination, Gettysburg. I'm planning another trip to Gettysburg to research it. A beautiful seamstress and a war-weary soldier would never meet if not for the battle that raged outside her Gettysburg home.
 
In the meantime, I had a story idea for a romantic suspense novel. Even though it's contemporary, history plays a part in this story, too. I'm having a lot of fun with it.

A reader once asked me this question, and I thought it was a good one. Is there ever a time when you feel like your work is truly finished and complete?

I don't think so. Whenever I submit something to an editor, I always think it's ready. Then within a few weeks, I think of ways to improve it. The truth is, as we continue writing we  constantly sharpen our skills. Our next work should always be better than the last.

Describe your workspace.

I can't put anything away until I'm done with it or I forget about it. Unfortunately, the only time I have a clean desk is between projects. Right now there's a book of synonyms on the left side of my desk to help locate that elusive "just right" word. I have a stack of folders and lists in the middle of my desk to remind me of my next task, and my Bible on top of another haphazard stack of papers and folders on the right. It's an organized mess.

Describe your dream workspace.

More organized and definitely neater. I'd love to own a large bookcase or open storage shelves dedicated solely to store my supporting research for each novel I've written.

If you could be a character from your favorite historical novel, who would you be?

I suppose we are transported back in time with every well-written novel so I don't think I can pick a particular novel. I'd rather choose a time-period and a place. I think I'd choose Tennessee during the Civil War, for that's where my ancestors lived. What was it really like? I'd love to know.

What is the biggest misconception the general public has about authors?

That we're famous! I've had a few people find out I'm an author and say, "Now I know someone famous." I have to laugh and reply, "No, you still don't."

What is the biggest misconception beginning writers have about being published?

The biggest misconception may be that it's easy to become a writer. The truth is that it takes a lot of long hours and years of writing for most people before they capture an editor's eye. We must improve our skills by taking writing classes at colleges, correspondence courses, and at writers' conferences. There's a lot of hard work and rejection along the way.

What would you like readers to gain from reading your novella?
 
I'd like to take them back in time to the American Civil War when wounded soldiers were sometimes left behind after the battle and to the single young ladies who found them.
 
Thanks for joining us here on Favorite PASTimes. Any final words for readers or writers?
 
To all the readers -- for all writers are readers, too! -- I've enjoyed the opportunity to talk about writing with you. It's definitely one of my favorite topics!
 
Thank you, Tamera, for inviting me to join you today. You've been a wonderful hostess and I've had a blast!
 
Thank you, Sandra. For those of you in North America, you can enter to win a free copy of her novella, Stranger in My Land, by leaving a comment with the answer to this question: My novella, A Stranger on My Land, is set during the Civil War. On the day after the Battle Above the Clouds on Lookout Mountain, where did the fighting occur?



Tuesday, August 19, 2014

An Interview with Sandra Merville Hart - Day 1


Sandra Merville Hart loves to discover unusual facts in her historical research to use in her stories. She serves as Assistant Editor for DevoKids.com where she contributes many articles about history and holidays. She has written for The Secret Place, Harpstring, Splickety Magazine, Pockets Magazine. Common Ground, Afictionado, and ChristianDevotions.us. Sandra and her husband live in the Midwest. Her inspirational Civil War romance, A Stranger on My Land, released on August 21, 2014.

Her new novella, Stranger on My Land, may be purchased at this link.


Sandra is giving away a copy of Stranger on My Land to someone in North America who can answer this question in their comment: My novella, A Stranger on My Land, is set during the Civil War. On the day after the Battle Above the Clouds on Lookout Mountain, where did the fighting occur?

Welcome to PASTimes. Tell us a little about what you write.


I write about fictional characters from American History. As I research about periods of our history, I imagined the people who lived here and the story is born.

 
Are you a full-time writer or do you hold a day job? What is the biggest challenge/obstacle you face in protecting your writing time?
 
I write full-time. The biggest obstacle is having others respect that you're working from home. It's easy for them to think you can run errands or make commitments during the day because "you're not doing anything anyway." I try to protect my time for writing. If I respect it, usually others do, too.
 
What historical time periods interest you the most and how have you immersed yourself in a particular time period?
 
The Civil War fascinates me. It was a time of great turmoil and loss. Yet it also brought out the best in some people. The times called for courage and sacrifice; many found strength they didn't know they possessed to face it.
 
Introduce us briefly to the main characters in your most recent book.
 
Carrie recently moved her younger brother, Jay, and their ailing aunt into a cave to hide their livestock from both armies while her father fights for the Confederacy. Carrie finds Adam, a wounded Union soldier, on her Lookout Mountain property. She can't turn her back on him, and soon the handsome, teasing soldier captures her heart.
 
What are you working on now?
 
My next book will be another Civil War romance set in a place that captivates my imagination, Gettysburg. I'm planning another trip to Gettysburg to research it. A beautiful seamstress and a war-weary soldier would never meet if not for the battle that raged outside her Gettysburg home.
 
In the meantime, I had a story idea for a romantic suspense novel. Even though it's contemporary, history plays a part in this story, too. I'm having a lot of fun with it.
Thanks for allowing me to interview you Sandra. I look forward to tomorrow's interview.

To enter the contest to win a copy of Sandra's novella, leave a comment answering this question: My novella, A Stranger on My Land, is set during the Civil War. On the day after the Battle Above the Clouds on Lookout Mountain, where did the fighting occur?

Monday, August 18, 2014

Exploring History in Late Summer


Reading about historical events can bring you into the experience, especially when you read the words of those who lived it. But when the weather is pleasant, who wants to be inside all day? Fall is a wonderful time to get outside and, as one fellow once said to me, "get your learning on!"

My husband and I did that recently on our visit to Gettysburg. I thought I'd share a few pictures. We followed the auto tour with a CD we purchased at the gift shop, but we could have easily spent much more time exploring the area and the museum.

Gettysburg is a popular tourist attraction and the NPS has done a wonderful job educating people about the tragic events that took place there and about why Gettysburg was the turning point in the Civil War, which did none the less continue for almost two years.

This part of Pennsylvania is a gorgeous part of the country, and it was an absolutely gorgeous day the day we visited, as you can tell from the photographs. I took many more than this sample.



I had no idea there were so many monuments at the battlefield. Having been to Valley Forge, I suppose I should have expected it. I was--no surprise--keenly interested in the Irish brigade and the monuments erected to memorialize them.  The landscape already reminded me of Ireland. I could well imagine the Scots-Irish who settled here in the 18th century thinking the same thing.
An Irish wolfhound mourns at the base of a Celtic cross erected to honor the Irish Brigade.

When we came across the Celtic cross monument (you can see it in its entirety here: http://www.gettysburg.stonesentinels.com/NY/IrishBde.php) I thought it might be modern. Maybe that's because of the time I spent in Ireland where it would be completely modern in comparison. But it was in fact sculpted by a former Confederate soldier and was dedicated in 1888. Father Corby himself blessed the monument. And speaking of Father Corby, there is a monument to him in the park. From my guidebook:
"Father William Corby was a holy cross father, chaplain of the 88th NY, one of the regiments of the famed Irish Brigade."
He apparently gave an inspirational speech to his men. I cannot imagine how difficult it would have been to be a chaplain at Gettysburg.


 


Below is a photo from Wikipedia of some Gettysburg chaplains. Father Corby is in the front row on the right.
"Irish Brigade Chaplains, c. 1862(corrected)" by Unknown - Wikimedia Commons-copy of File:Irish Brigade Chaplains c. 1862(cropped, exposure corrected). Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - 

The question that kept springing to mind for me was what about the town? We were told it was a town of only a couple thousand people who, after the three day battle, were tasked for caring for over two hundred thousand injured soldiers! Here are couple of photos I snapped out the car window, one of a statue of President Lincoln whose address occurred four months after the battle.









 Yesterday I happened to be browsing through novels I had previously downloaded on my Kindle and not yet read. I came across this one, which explores my question. I'm reading it now.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Cindy Thomson is a writer and an avid genealogy enthusiast. Her love of history and her Scots-Irish heritage have inspired much of her writing, including her new Ellis Island series: Grace's Pictures and Annie's Stories. Cindy is also the author of Brigid of Ireland and Celtic Wisdom: Treasures from Ireland. She combined her love of history and baseball to co-author the biography Three Finger: The Mordecai Brown Story, which was a finalist for the Society for American Baseball Research's Larry Ritter Book Award. In addition to books, Cindy has written on a regular basis for numerous online and print publications and is a mentor for the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild. She is also a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and the Historical Novel Society. Cindy and her husband have three grown sons and live in central Ohio. Visit her online at www.cindyswriting.com.

Friday, August 15, 2014

This Week's Winner

The winner of Dawn Crandall's The Hesitant Heiress is Kay M! Congrats! I have already sent Kay an email.

Have a wonderful reading weekend, everyone!

Cindy

Now available from Tyndale House Publishers: Annie's Stories

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Review: Reckless: The Racehorse Who Became a Marine Corps Hero



Reckless: The Racehorse Who Became a Marine Corps Hero
By Tom Clavin
NAL, August 2014

About the Book

Her Korean name was Ah-Chim-Hai—Flame-of-the-Morning. A four-year-old chestnut-colored Mongolian racehorse with a white blaze down her face and three white stockings, she once amazed the crowds in Seoul with her remarkable speed. But when war shut down the tracks, the star racer was soon sold to an American Marine and trained to carry heavy loads of artillery shells up and down steep hills under a barrage of bullets and bombs. The Marines renamed her Reckless.

Reckless soon proved fearless under fire, boldly marching alone through the fiery gauntlet, exposed to explosions and shrapnel. For months, her drive and determination kept the Marines’ guns blazing, while inspiring them with her singular charm. During one day of battle alone, she made fifty-one trips up and down a crucial hill, covering at least thirty-five miles in the heat of combat. On some of her uphill treks, Reckless shielded human reinforcements. The Chinese, soon discovering the unique bravery of this magnificent animal, made a special effort to kill her. But Reckless never slowed. As months passed and the enemy grew bolder, the men came to appreciate her not just as a horse but as a weapon, and eventually, as a fellow Marine.

My Review

The story itself is intriguing: a courageous mare plucked from a racetrack becomes one of the Marine Corps’ most valuable assets during the Korean War, but to view this as another version of War Horse would be a mistake. The dialogue is stilted and Reckless herself is often treated as an afterthought, making occasional appearances in between long descriptions of military formations and battles. The book is much more about the hardships and experiences of individual Marines serving during the war, which is fine, but is not what one would expect from the book’s title. It seems that there wasn’t enough to uncover about Reckless’ life, and therefore a substantial amount of filler was needed to create the book. Sentences such as “He wasn’t thinking of Reckless’s feelings, though they were very important to him” weaken the story.

Furthermore, it’s apparent from the writing that Clavin knows little about horses as he describes Reckless as “sired by a stallion . . . and therefore half stallion but would always be described as a Mongolian mare”. As every horse on earth is “sired by a stallion” (a stallion being an uncastrated male horse), it would be like saying I’m described as a woman, but I am technically half male because my father is a male. Errors like that undermine the author’s authority on the subject and should have been caught by an editor. Clavin also tends to anthropomorphize the horse, as if to put the reader inside the horse’s head, and that gives the impression that the subject is a little girl, not an animal.

Reckless lived out her retirement at Camp Pendleton, where she remained until her death in 1968. It is undeniable that this mare’s story deserves an audience, but unfortunately, Reckless deserves a story better than the one written in this book’s pages. For those interested in hearing more about the story of Reckless, you can find her story on YouTube and Facebook.

Rebecca Henderson Palmer

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Dawn Crandall - Blessings Abound and Dreams Come True - Day Two


Dawn Crandall writes long inspirational historical romantic suspense from first person point of view. She has a BA in Christian Education from Taylor University and lives in northeast Indiana with her ever-supportive husband, her three cats [Lilly, Pumpkin and Clover] and their newest addition, a little baby boy.

Welcome back today, Dawn. What do you consider the best resources for historical research?

I've done most of my research using Google and reading books. 

What or who inspired you to write inspirational fiction? How does that keep you plodding ahead with your writing each day?

When I really got serious about writing a book I knew it would definitely be a Christian book. There was no doubt. Writing for the inspirational market is such an honor, because I know that God has me here for a reason. He's made this dream come true so (relatively) quickly that some days I'm still trying to convince myself that this is really happening!

What helps you maintain productivity as a writer? And what do you find most challenging about the business of being an author?



When I'm in the middle of writing a novel, I make sure I pre-write, write and edit at least one chapter a week. Sometimes it's a block of two or three chapters which will end up taking two to three weeks to get through. I have ADD, and I usually have to have one 8-10 hour block of time to actually write one 4,000 word chapter. Another challenging part for me is diving into social media with just the right amount of "presence" in the marketing phase. However, on top of all of those challenges is my biggest challenge EVER… the fact that I just had my first baby in March! I used to have all the time in the world to do whatever I wanted! And now I seem to have none.  

Do you feel you are more of a character driven or plot driven writer? How do you think it comes across in your writing?

Oh, I am definitely a character driven writer, and I think it comes through quite obviously. Part of the reason is that it's written in first person POV.

Would you like to share about what you are working on now?

I have lots of series and book ideas to go with, and I even have an idea for a fourth book that goes along with The Everstone Chronicles. I could actually keep writing about different characters in this series forever. :) I do also have a Contemporary Romance started, which I began writing just to see what it was like. It was fun, and much easier than writing historicals, but I don't think I'll ever switch over permanently. I love history too much. Maybe it'll be published someday under my maiden name so I don't go and confuse my readers. :)
The Captive Imposter, to be released
in February, 2015.

 Do you have any last words of wisdom to share with aspiring authors?

Write what you love to read, no matter how it has to come out. Don't dwell for too long on all of the "rules". Personally, I like to read—and usually, end up enjoying immensely—the books that come out of nowhere and take me on a journey so opposite of "what's done" and what is supposed to work to get a book contract. Write an amazing book. Readers want books that make them forget there are rules.

Thank you, Dawn, for joining us at Novel PASTimes. It has been a privilege 
to interview you.

Please leave a comment by answering the question Dawn is asking below for a chance to win an e-book copy of her debut novel, The Hesitant Heiress. Don't forget to include your email address in the form of name[at]domain[dot]com before 8:30 a.m. ET this Friday morning to qualify for the drawing.

QUESTION: Part of the setting for The Hesitant Heiress is along the rocky coast of Maine on Mount Desert Island—which is where Acadia National Park is located. Have you ever been to Acadia National Park?—and which National Park is your favorite?