Book Review: Death of a Texas Ranger

Death of a Texas Ranger

 

Life was precarious on the Texas frontier in the late 1880’s. The Civil War had left chaos with political and cultural clashes. To help keep order and to protect early settlers, the Texas Rangers was formed as a state militia.

In 1873, Sergeant John Green was shot and killed by a Ranger under his command, Cesario Menchaca. Death of a Texas Ranger: A True Story of Murder and Vengeance on the Texas Frontier by Cynthia Leal Massey delves into this incident with meticulous research and an enjoyable style.

Justice is constantly thwarted as Sergeant Green’s killer is protected by Mexico’s refusal to extradite Cesario Menchaca.

In the meantime, Texas was drawing the attention of those interested in the natural sciences in the nineteenth century, an era referred to as the Age of Darwin. Gabriel Wilson Marnoch became a frontier naturalist who discovered new reptile and amphibian species. In addition to snake bags and specimen jars, Marnoch also carried a secret involving Sergeant John Green’s death.

Years later, John Green’s son, Will Green, now Chief of Detectives for the San Antonio Police Department, while seeking justice for his father’s death discovers missing records and contradictory accounts of the crime.

Author Massey, a Texan, does a remarkable job capturing the essence of post-Civil War Texas and of fitting together the many pieces of the mystery surrounding the death of Texas Ranger Sergeant John Green.

To learn more about this award-winning author, visit http://www.cynthialealmassey.com/

Book Review: Liberty’s Christmas

Libertys Christmas

Liberty’s Christmas by Randall Platt follows the unpredictable path of teen Liberty Justice Jones. An unusually bright girl, Liberty says of herself, “A brain like mine requires strict control.”

When Liberty gets even for a trick played on her, she finds herself in deep trouble, at school and at home. The Great Depression has hit Texas hard and the family struggles to make ends meet. In fact, they’re losing the battle. Their home and tree farm are being threatened with foreclosure.

Liberty has a plan, but like many of her plans, she hasn’t worked out all the details. If she could only win a Christmas tree contest being held in Austin, the prize would solve many of their problems.

When her prize tree is “accidently” cut down and hauled away with other trees, Liberty takes drastic action, getting herself and her companion in ever-deepening trouble.

Liberty’s Christmas shows the hardships of the Depression in vivid detail. It was a tough time for many, particularly those already on the edge of poverty. But through it all, a teenage dynamo is determined to make life better for her family. Humor, love, compassion, and resourcefulness bring this book to the forefront of excellence. The book’s glossary identifies regional expressions of the 1930’s.

Reviewer’s Note: I was present when Randall Platt received the coveted WILLA Award for Children’s/Young Adult Fiction & Nonfiction at the Women Writing the West conference in Kansas City, Missouri. When accepting the award, the Northwest author shared that Liberty’s Christmas originally took place in the Northwest, known for its Christmas trees. However, when Texas Tech University Press accepted the book for publication, they requested that she use a Texas setting, explaining that yes, Texas does indeed grow Christmas trees. The resulting regional research involved is a tribute to Platt’s creative talents and dedication to her craft.

 

Book Review: Forgiving Effie Beck

Forgiving Effie BeckKaren Casey Fitzjerrell has done it again, she’s written another outstanding novel. In her first book, The Dividing Season, the native Texan spins a story set in the early 1900s. In her latest work, Forgiving Effie Beck, Fitzjerrell takes us to the Great Depression years, the decade preceding World War II.

Mike Lemay had been one of those men standing in endless bread lines, hungry, without sustainable work. When he’d left the indignities and human misery in North Carolina, he felt beaten. Through President Roosevelt’s New Deal program, he managed to get a job with the Federal Writer’s Project (FWP) to work as an interviewer. The idea of FWP was to interview people from all over the country and compile the stories into a series of volumes. With the promised pay, Mike would send money home to his younger brother and his family, who were also taking care of their widowed mother.

He walks and hitches cross country to the tiny town of Cooperville, Texas. He manages to find a place to stay at Cora Mae Travis’s place in a separate little building they call the tank house. Cora’s daughter, Jodean, handles the rental business along with their home-based beauty parlor she and her mother operate.

Almost immediately upon Mike’s arrival, an old-time resident, eccentric Effie Beck disappears. Although a recluse with few friends, Effie’s disappearance is a matter of concern and the townspeople organize and begin a search. Mike is drawn into the mystery.

Effie’s disappearance isn’t the only mystery. Mike senses that Jodean carries a secret. Cora Mae’s despicable attitude toward her daughter heightens the mystery. As Mike meets the townspeople, he must sort gossip from fact. There’s always plenty to talk about, but some people are close-lipped and Mike has to skillfully ferret out the truth.

Fitzgerrell draws her characters so clearly, I felt I’d known these people all my life. Each character is fine-tuned and as real as my next door neighbor. Rancher Red and Ada and their love for each other and their children is obvious, but then they, too, have a secret. Everyone knows that the sheriff’s wife has a secret, but really, they don’t have a clue as to the real story. As Mike delves into long-held secrets, all the while trying to solve Effie Beck’s disappearance, he learns about himself and faces his own needs.

For true reading pleasure, read this Depression-era novel. I couldn’t believe how fast the pages flew by. Dinner waited, bedtime waited, my own writing was put aside until I finished this compelling novel. I recommend reading this book straight through, then return to the Prologue for an intriguing full-circle.

Forgiving Effie Beck is available in trade paperback and ebook formats. For more information about the author, visit www.karencaseyfitzjerrell.com

Book Review: Loveland

loveland_w6692_3001Andrea Downing has crafted a masterpiece with Loveland. Her fast-paced romantic western keep readers wondering how the story can ever be resolved. The novel takes place in the mid-1880s, during the West’s glory days.

When ten-year old Lady Alexandra Calthorpe is wrenched from her uncle’s ranch during the night, she’s heart-broken. She screams for her best friend, Jesse, a ranch hand. But Jesse Makepeace and the others are powerless to help. The decision has been made: Lady Alex is returning to England.

Ten years later, Alex returns to Faringdon, the family ranch run by her uncle, near Loveland, Colorado. Now seventeen, she’s still the strong-willed girl she’s always been, but now she’s ready to resume the life she’s craved–to be a part of the ranch, make it her home. But, along with her fervor to become a rancher, she brings emotional baggage and scandalous history. Even though she comes from a high-society family, below the surface lurk dark secrets.

An emotional bond resumes between Alex and Jesse, but now Jesse, several years older than Alex, is dealing with a woman. As their romance blossoms, so do complications regarding the ranch and Alex’s past.

Downing is a strong writer who has written a worthy premiere novel. She handles romantic scenes with flair while showing the nitty-gritty of ranch life in the 1880s. Loveland is packed with action and emotion, leaving the reader wanting more. Loveland is one of those books I hated to have end. A hands-down five-star novel.

 

The Dividing Season

Rarely do I find a book as captivating as The Dividing Season by Karen Casey Fitzjerrell.

Nell Miggins is at a crossroads of her life. It’s 1910 and time to move on, to let go of Carrageen, the Texas cattle ranch she inherited from her father. Nell is no longer a young woman and life is passing her by. She’s done well, managing the ranch. She handles just about anything the ranch hands can and she’s tough. But there must be more to life and she’s determined to find it. Just what “it” is, she’s unsure.

Fitzjerrell spins a wonderful tale, a story that includes a dusty Texas ranch, the humid jungle of Mexico and a near-death experience at sea. Diverse personalities help spin this tale. Nell’s ranch hosts, in addition to the ranch hands already there, a windmiller, college professors, and a smelly cowhand with a bent for making wrong decisions. All the characters have a purpose, all add depth to the story.

The author, a life-long Texan, exhibits great passion for her state and her descriptions put me right there. I felt the dust creep under my collar, I gasped at the brilliant orange sunset, I shivered in the cold rain, I felt the weariness at the end of an exhaustive day. Fitzjerrell knows people and writes with compassion, heart and quiet humor. I loved this book. It has the earmarks of a classic and yet was only published in 2012. She speaks with authority on ranching and, surprisingly, on Mayan archaeology in Mexico’s steaming jungle.

The Dividing Season is a page-turner, but the reader doesn’t feel rushed. Fitzjerrell’s timing and pace are impeccable. We know her characters, we feel their pain, their joy, and, for some, their strength and determination borne of love for those who have become family.

I highly recommend The Dividing Season. The novel is available in trade paperback and e-book formats. To learn more about the author, visit www.karencaseyfitzjerrell.com