“Kicker” by R. Grey Hoover: The Perfect Read to Celebrate #VeteransDay

Kicker Cover

#FREE on Amazon November 9 – 11! Get your copy today! Amazon Link

World War II is raging. A young father must choose between his family and duty to his country- a decision that could cost him everything.

Based on actual experiences of United States veterans and official military aviation history records from World War II, this is the thrilling story of a family’s journey into war. While his loved ones struggle with shortages and rationing at home, Sam endures relentless Japanese attacks against his unarmed aircraft over the treacherous mountains and torrid jungles of Asia. His job is to drop supplies to Merrill’s Marauders and over 750,000 allied soldiers fighting in the perilous jungles of Burma. If the enemy is not stopped, the American way of life will end.

If you like non-stop action with a touch of humor and romance and the chance to learn about the “forgotten front” of WWII, then this is the book for you. I dare you to read the excerpt below and not absolutely HAVE to read this story!

Amazon Link

EXCERPT

April 4, 1944 – Dinjan Airbase, India

                Sam and Bobby Joe were totally exhausted when they crawled into their charpoys. The harrowing events of the day had taken its toll on them physically and mentally. In spite of the heat and noise of the jungle, Sam felt the blessed relief of sleep approaching soon after his head hit the pillow. However, as he drifted off, a feeling of unease came over him. It was a feeling that something was wrong, not here in India, but at home. He didn’t know if he felt uneasy because he still hadn’t received mail from home or because of some unknown reason, but the feeling stayed with him until he finally succumbed to his exhaustion and slipped into a deep sleep.

Thankfully, his slumber was not disturbed by his recurring nightmare, and he slept soundly until the wee hours of the morning when he suddenly awoke not knowing what had disturbed him. A light rain was falling outside, and except for an occasional flash of distant lightning, the basha was in total darkness. He lay very still, listening to the sounds around him. He strained his hearing, but no sound came except for the steady breathing of the sleeping men around him. After several minutes, he relaxed, thinking his imagination was playing tricks on him. He was almost asleep again when he thought he detected a faint unfamiliar sound coming from somewhere in the basha. Once again, he listened intently, not sure he had heard anything; but then he heard the sound again—only this time it seemed closer, and he was sure it came from within the basha. He couldn’t quite place the sound, but it seemed like something soft brushing against an object. He listened closely, but all was silent. None of the other men in the basha stirred, and after an extended period of silence, he relaxed once again in anticipation of sleep.

He was in that dreamy state just before slumber when he felt the presence of something or someone nearby. Once again, his senses came to full alert, and he made a conscious effort not to move. He listened carefully, bringing all his senses to bear. He could see or hear nothing, and yet he was sure something was there. He was startled when someone at the other end of the room moved, but then all was silent once again. He was lying on his back, so he slowly moved his head to the right and scanned the darkness.

At first he saw nothing, but then attention was drawn to a slight movement at the foot of his bed. He couldn’t make out what it was. It appeared to be an undistinguishable shadow against the darker background of the room. As he watched, the shadow moved, and he held his breath as it silently glided along the side of his bed. There was no sound as it moved, and it slowly drew nearer and stopped near the head of his bed. He could tell that it was something large, but due to the extreme darkness, he was unable to see what it was. His instincts told him this was something dangerous and evil, and the hairs on the nape of his neck stood erect. At that moment, a distant flash of lightning faintly illuminated the scene, and in that instant of light, Sam could see the large form of a tiger standing beside him.

The animal’s head was enormous. Its eyes, momentarily reflecting light from the faraway lightning, gave the beast an evil, devil-like appearance. This was death incarnate staring directly at him.

Sam was frozen with fear, and his heart seemed to stop. His .45-caliber pistol hung on the wall not three feet away, and he cursed himself for not keeping it inside the mosquito netting with him. He knew the tiger could see that he was awake, and he feared any movement would cause it to attack. The animal stepped closer, and Sam could see its dim outline and smell its damp fur and the fetid odor of its breath. The tiger appeared to know its victim was helpless. The great beast took its time as it sniffed the mosquito netting as if testing its strength. Slowly it raised a huge paw and placed it against the puny impediment. The tiger’s claws caught in the netting, and with a mighty swipe, it ripped the flimsy material away from the bed.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

greyhooverR Grey Hoover is an Air Force veteran with a family tradition of military service that dates back to the American revolution. He wrote his book “Kicker the Forgotten Front” to honor his father and the other veterans of World War II who fought in the China-Burma-India (CBI) theatre.  During the war, the European and Pacific theatres got most of the supplies and media attention leaving the CBI theatre with the leftovers. Even in today’s media coverage of World War II the CBI theatre is never mentioned. The author’s book is an attempt to correct this gross oversight.

R Grey Hoover’s social media links:

Website https://rgreyh.wordpress.com/

Twitter https://twitter.com/rgreyhoover

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/rgrey.hoover

Pinterest https://www.pinterest.com/rgreyhoover/

Blog https://rgreyh.wordpress.com/2018/11/09/2019-tribute-to-veterans/

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“Somewhere Between” by Patty Wiseman: Historical Novel with a Paranormal Twist

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This historical novel with a paranormal-whodunnit twist was well-written and had numerous fascinating plot entanglements. The characters were well-drawn and vivid with enough suspense in the story action to keep you turning the pages, wondering who did what and how it would turn out.  I loved the gutsy protagonist, Phebe, whose curiosity was insatiable and tended to get her into trouble as she tried to figure out the secrets behind the Powell family, by whom she’d been hired as a governess for their three lively children.

The “ghost in the attic” was great, eerie enough to be convincing as a ghost and duly mysterious as well. The other household staff members–the cook, butler, and ever the stable boy–were key to the story as some tried to protect the family’s many secrets and how Edmund’s ghost fit into it all. I don’t like creepy, scary type books, but this one was a comfortable bedtime read with it’s suspense directed more at the mystery of how the various characters were connected. All families have their share of secrets, and this one had a plethora of them, many of which were scandalous in the time in which the story takes place but less so, perhaps even considered normal, today.

This is a pleasant, easy read and glimpse of a different time. The cover is fabulous and fits the story perfectly.

Pick up your copy on Amazon here.

Meet Author Bette Stevens (2nd RRBC “Treat” Reads Blog Hop, Day 9) #RRBC #RRBCTreatReads

“Greetings!  Welcome to the 2nd RRBC “TREAT” Reads Blog Hop!  These members of RRBC have penned and published some really great reads and we’d like to honor and showcase their talent.  Oddly, all of the listed Winners are RWISA members!  Way to go RWISA!

We ask that you pick up a copy of the title listed, and after reading it, leave a review.  There will be other books on tour for the next few days, so please visit the “HOP’S” main page to follow along.

Also, for every comment that you leave along this tour, including on the “HOP’S” main page, your name will be entered into a drawing for a gift card to be awarded at the end of the tour!”

BETTE STEVENS PIC

Bette is a nature lover and former educator with a sweet outlook on life. As a “Baby Boomer” myself (whose family also missed out on living the “American Dream”) this sounds like a fascinating story I look forward to reading.

Follow Bette on Twitter @BetteAStevens

 

 

DOG BONE SOUP

BETTE STEVENS BOOKWhether or not You Grew Up in the 1950s and 60s, you’ll find DOG BONE SOUP (Historical Fiction) to be soup for the soul. In this coming-of-age novel, Shawn Daniels’s father is the town drunk. Shawn and his brother, Willie, are in charge of handling everything that needs to be done around the ramshackle place they call home—lugging in water for cooking and cleaning, splitting and stacking firewood…But when chores are done, these resourceful kids strike out on boundless adventures that don’t cost a dime. DOG BONE SOUP is the poignant tale of a dysfunctional family struggling to survive in America in the 50s and 60s, when others were living The American Dream.

Meet Another One of My Favorite Authors, Mary Adler!! (2nd RRBC “TREAT”Reads Blog Hop, Day #2) #RRBC #RRBCTreatReads

“Greetings!  Welcome to the 2nd RRBC “TREAT” Reads Blog Hop!  These members of RRBC have penned and published some really great reads and we’d like to honor and showcase their talent.  Oddly, all of the listed Winners are RWISA members!  Way to go RWISA!

 We ask that you pick up a copy of the title listed, and after reading it, leave a review.  There will be other books on tour for the next few days, so please visit the “HOP’S” main page to follow along.

Also, for every comment that you leave along this tour, including on the “HOP’S” main page, your name will be entered into a drawing for a gift card to be awarded at the end of the tour!”


MARY ADLER PICToday’s featured author is Mary Adler, another one of my favorites. You can tell by that mischievous smile that she’s going to mess with your head in her book, “In the Shadow of Lies”. This well-written and beautifully crafted story is an intriguing murder mystery set in an historical setting, the San Francisco/Oakland Bay Area in the 1940s. Learn more about it in the book blurb below. You can read my review of this great story here. Follow Mary on Twitter @MAAdlerWrites

In The Shadow of Lies by Mary Adler

IN THE SHADOW OF LIES

Richmond, California. World War II.  Marine Lieutenant Oliver Wright comes home from the war in the Pacific injured and afraid his career as a homicide detective is over.  But when an Italian Prisoner of War is murdered the night the Port Chicago Mutiny verdicts are announced, and black soldiers are suspected of the crime, the Army asks Oliver to find out the truth.

 He and his canine partner, Harley, join forces with an Italian POW captain and with a black MP embittered by a segregated military. During their investigation, these unlikely allies expose layers of deceit and violence that stretch back to World War I and uncover a common thread that connects the murder to earlier crimes.

In the Shadow of Lies reveals the darkness and turmoil of the Bay Area during World War II, while celebrating the spirit of the everyday people who made up the home front. Its intriguing characters will resonate with the reader long after its deftly intertwined mysteries are solved.

You can pick up your copy on Amazon here.

#RRBC #RRBCTreatReads

Meet Award Winning Historical Novelist, Ronald E. Yates!! (2nd RRBC “TREAT” Reads Blog Hop Day #1) #RRBC #RRBCTreatReads

“Greetings!  Welcome to the 2nd RRBC “TREAT” Reads Blog Hop!  These members of RRBC have penned and published some really great reads and we’d like to honor and showcase their talent.  Oddly, all of the listed Winners are RWISA members!  Way to go RWISA!

We ask that you pick up a copy of the title listed, and after reading it, leave a review.  There will be other books on tour for the next few days, so please visit the “HOP’S” main page to follow along.

Also, for every comment that you leave along this tour, including on the “HOP’S” main page, your name will be entered into a drawing for a gift card to be awarded at the end of the tour!”


Ron at Southcoast WineryThe first author on this blog hop is one of my favorites, Ronald Yates. As a former journalist and foreign correspondent, he does impeccable research and creates unforgettable characters. I’ve interviewed Ron on a previous blog which you can find here. Ron’s Billy Battles trilogy is outstanding. The book featured below is the second in the series, “The Improbable Journeys of Billy Battles.” I was amazed how much I learned about history. You can read my review here. Follow Ron on Twitter @jhawker69.

THE IMPROBABLE JOURNEYS OF BILLY BATTLES

Book Blurb: The year is 1894 and Billy is aboard the S S China sailing to the inscrutable Far billybattlescoverEast. Trouble is not far behind. He has met a mysterious and possibly dangerous German Baroness. He has locked horns with malevolent agents of the German government and battled ferocious Chinese and Malay pirates in the South China Sea.

Later, he is embroiled in the bloody anti-French insurgency in Indochina–which quite possibly makes him the first American combatant in a country that eventually will become Vietnam. Then, in the Philippines, he is thrust into the Spanish-American War and the brutal anti-American insurgency that follows. But Billy’s troubles are only beginning.

As the 19th century ends and the 20th century begins, he finds himself entangled with political opportunists, spies, revolutionaries, and an assortment of vindictive and dubious characters of both sexes. How will Billy handle those people and the challenges they present? The answers are just ahead.

You can pick up your copy on Amazon.

Are you an author who would like to network and support other authors for your mutual benefit? Then check out Rave Reviews Book Club!

#RRBC #RRBCTreatReads

 

“In the Shadow of Lies” by M.A. Adler: Outstanding Depiction of California in the Early 1940s

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5stars

This book reminded me of butter, the writing style was so rich and smooth. It is one of the most skillfully written books I’ve read in a long time. The prose was like ambrosia, the imagery vivid and memorable. I always appreciate an author who can render emotions properly and thus draw the reader into the characters. Again, Adler did a stellar job.

This story is far more than a murder mystery. Its coverage of the early 1940s, i.e. the historical period during the early days of WWII, was outstanding. That was such a different time and so much has changed since then. I was particularly drawn in because I have personal connections to the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Area as well as that time period through family and in-laws.

For starters, my father was in the U.S. Navy during WWII. He had fond memories of his time on leave in the Bay Area, so much so that many years later, in 1960, our family moved from New York State to the East Bay. However, it did not turn out to be the Utopia he had imagined. He’d been a diesel mechanic for the New York Central Railroad in New York for a decade and assumed he’d be able to get a job, possibly with a trucking company. As it turned out, however, the labor unions at the time made this impossible. To get such a job you needed to be a union member, and to be a union member you had to have a job. The ultimate catch-22 supported by pure nepotism. As the cliche says, it’s not what you know but whom you know. My father had a few insignificant jobs, like working for a lawnmower repair shop, then eventually transitioned from unemployment to retirement. This had a devastating effect on our family.

But I digress.

Back to the story. Even though I was a teenager in the 60s, I had no idea how bad racism was a few decades before, much less that the KKK had been so active there. I also had no idea how badly Italians were treated during the war, due to their assumed sympathy toward Mussolini. I had in-laws who were Hungarian and some married Italians. Now I understand why some of them were so resistant to providing information when I was doing genealogical research back in the 70s. It’s sad they didn’t share their stories, but they may have been too painful for them to recount. On top of it all, some were Jewish, and had fled Europe just in time; some left behind were exterminated by Hitler.

I’ve never been a history buff. The way it was taught when I was in high school was a horrible bore. Even as a child, I preferred to learn about history through historical novels and this one definitely provided a treasure trove of information for a period I didn’t know much about. For that I am most grateful to the author for her meticulous and comprehensive research. This made reading the book an actual experience that had a strong impact on my understanding of the world at that time.

There were a lot of different characters in the story. I mean LOTS. So many that they were a bit difficult to keep track of. Fortunately, the author included a dramatis personae in the beginning, but this was not that easy to access with an ebook; I wish I’d read this in a print book, where I could have flipped back to refer to it more easily. I know I would have been doing a lot of highlighting and dogeared many pages in an actual book. Since I don’t exactly have what you’d call a “steel trap” memory, I probably should have taken notes while I was reading. LOL. Okay, I’m weird like that, when I really get into a book. This one and some others I’ve read recently (more specifically the “Finding Billy Battles” series by Ronald E. Yates) have reminded me of why I should be reading more historical novels; usually I prefer science fiction.

The one thing about having so many characters with their own prejudices and agendas is that it does make the story seem very real. My familiarity with the East Bay Area added to this, especially when references were made to streets and other areas with which I was familiar. This made it very easy for me to connect to this book.

I’m grateful the author used multiple viewpoints in different sections to get into the characters’ heads as opposed to omniscient, which would have been entirely mind-boggling. She is a very skillful writer. The story did wander about somewhat, yet it added to its rich texture and sense of real-life as opposed to one with a classic, straight-line plot. She broke some rules, but did so in such as way that it worked, which is exactly how it should be done.

This book would not be for everyone, especially those that want to whip through a story and not wander about, really getting into the time, place, and people. However, if you appreciate a well-written, complex story with considerable historical significance, I highly recommend it.

Pick up your copy on Amazon here.

Historical Fiction at its Best: Review of “Finding Billy Battles: The Lost Years” by Ronald E. Yates

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5stars

This well-written conclusion to the Billy Battles trilogy is its crown jewel. This series’s characters are so vivid and compelling it’s hard to believe that this is a work of fiction. Their involvement in the events of the late 19th and early 20th century brings history alive as well. The author has outdone himself in researching that era and many of the events of which only true history buffs would be aware. In doing so, he has performed a great service bringing them to readers’ attention because these various international skirmishes laid the foundation for much of the contention seen in today’s world.

As they say, victors are the ones who write history. It’s also true that what you hear in history class is based on what higher powers want people to believe and incorporate into their view of the world. There is nothing more enlightening than to see familiar situations from the other side of the fence. Through these novels, Ron Yates has done a stellar job of placing the reader in the middle of various international situations and, in the true spirit of journalism, objectively presenting both sides. Sadly, today there is so much bias in the news media that true journalism has virtually disappeared. But even before they stooped to fake news and blatant lies, the stories presented by the media were designed to maintain a certain mindset that fueled nationalism at its worst.

When the U.S.A. entered World War II, they were definitely invited. Western European countries still appreciate us for the victory made possible by our intervention. For example, to this day Luxembourg places a wreath every Veterans Day on George S. Patton’s grave, which is in a U.S. Military Cemetery within that country. However, there have been times when our actions were nothing less than intrusive, albeit based on self-protection. That is justifiable to a point, but once that goal is achieved, hanging around terrorizing other country’s native populations is flat-out wrong. If you’ve ever wondered why Mexico hates us, this book will provide some answers.

European colonialism, which we supported, is another thorn in the side of many countries, especially in Far East countries like Korea and Vietnam. Bringing our version of civilization to these foreign shores, which we were convinced to consider a favor, in many cases wasn’t. How we’ve treated indigenous populations in other lands is shameful and even persists to this day with regard to Native Americans.

Of course America did not start this practice, which originated millennia ago. Not that long ago, we were a colony ourselves, who were being oppressed, which ultimately resulted in the American Revolutionary War. So what did we do, but turn around and support colonization by those who had once been our enemy. When our borders or way of life are threatened, that’s one thing. If someone attacks us, we have the right to defend ourselves, but our intrusion into these other battles has often made us the invader. It’s no wonder that other countries fear us, and it spirals down from there. However, the world is now entangled in the unfortunate consequences of thousands of years’ worth of conquests. Cliché though it may be, it’s true that those who fail to learn from history are indeed doomed to repeat it.

I didn’t intend for this review to turn into a political essay. However, it demonstrates how effective this novel and its predecessor, “The Improbable Journeys of Billy Battles”, have been in enlightening me to some of the less than savory facts embedded in U.S. history, thanks to the exploits of Yates’s amazing characters. Their interaction with actual historical figures makes it all the more interesting and convincing. Astounding imagery puts you right in the thick of things, whether geographically or via the use of the conversational vernacular of the time. In more ways than I can count, this book is a masterpiece. Do yourself a favor and get started on this series today. You’ll not only be entertained, but see the world in an entirely different way. Isn’t that what great fiction is all about?


You can pick up your copy on Amazon of “Finding Billy Battles: The Lost Years” here.

You’ll also want to read “Finding Billy Battles: An Account of Peril, Transgression, and Redemption”, Book 1 of the series, which you can find here.

Book 2, “The Improbable Journeys of Billy Battles”, can be found here. My 5* review of this one is here.

Ron at Southcoast WineryLearn more about the fascinating background of author, Ronald E. Yates, and how it prepared him to write such outstanding stories from our interview here.

 

Ronald E. Yates: Premier Journalist in Fact…and Fiction!

Ron at Southcoast Winery

Today I have the pleasure of introducing you to Ronald E. Yates, former foreign correspondent, professor emeritus, and author of the highly acclaimed Finding Billy Battles series.  If you haven’t experienced his work, you are missing out on some of the finest novels I’ve had the pleasure of reading.  Not only do his characters jump off the page, but you’ll find yourself transported back in time to historical events of which I, for one, had little knowledge or understanding. His stories brought me to an entirely new comprehension of the Spanish-American and Vietnam Wars, as well as how and why the USA is often viewed in a negative light. You can find more regarding my thoughts on “The Improbable Journeys of Billy Battles”, second volume in his series, in my review HERE. I am now an avid fan and hooked on properly researched and objective historical fiction.

Meanwhile, here’s a glimpse of the person behind these landmark works, demonstrating that personal experience contributes greatly to the stuff of which an outstanding writer is made.


MF: You had a long and interesting career as a journalist, not unlike your protagonist, Billy Battles. Does any one particular correspondent assignment stand out above the others? If so, why?

RY: Hmmm. Let me count the assignments. There are several but I would say covering the end of the war in Vietnam between Jan 1974 and April 30 1975. The last day was chaos incarnate. Russian made 122mm rockets were slamming into buildings, 130mm mortars were hitting Tan Son Nhut airport, and the U.S. Embassy was surrounded by frantic South  Vietnamese desperate to get out of the country because they had worked for the American military or some U.S. agency. The city was in full panic mode. Several of us made our way to the sprawling Defense Attaché Office building at Tan Son Nhut and we were finally evacuated by a U.S. Marine CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopter. It was a relief until the door gunner told me later aboard the U.S.S. Okinawa that the pilot apparently had to drop flares to misdirect a SAM-7 (surface to air missile) that had been fired at our chopper.

Every year I post a story detailing the last 24 hours in the fall of Saigon. People can find it on my blog. I could add a few more such as the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 and the time I was taken prisoner in El Salvador by anti-government guerillas, but that would take up the entire interview.

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MF: One thing that impressed me the most about the Billy Battles stories is how well you maintained his objectivity. I learned so much about historical events that have colored other country’s opinion of America. It seems the old standards of journalistic objectivity have gone the way of landlines and 20 megabyte hard drives. How do you feel about today’s highly biased reporting?

RY: As someone who spent 25 years as a journalist practicing it at the highest levels and then another 13 years as a professor and Dean at the University of Illinois where I taught journalism, I am terribly disappointed and disgusted by the lack of fairness and accuracy I am seeing—especially in Washington. It seems to me that too many journalists today see themselves as subjective opinion leaders rather than impartial purveyors of information that is fair and accurate. Coming as I did as a neophyte into the cavernous news room of the Chicago Tribune back in 1969 right out of college, I had editors who made sure that I didn’t stray from accurate, evenhanded and unbiased reporting into opinion and rumor. When I did, I heard about it from some crabby City Editor.

An even worse sin at the Tribune was the sin of omission. That occurred if you took it upon yourself NOT to report something because doing so might not coincide with YOUR interpretation of the event or your political predilection. Good journalism, somebody once said, is a nation talking to itself. Sadly, it is the public that suffers when journalists become advocates for one party or cause at the expense of providing unbiased news. Some say journalism in America is dead. I won’t go that far. But I believe it is in a coma.  

Ron Yates in Bangkok with title 2 (2016_01_14 15_27_28 UTC)MF: Billy is one of the most memorable and realistic characters I’ve encountered in fiction. Did he just spring to life or is he mostly you time-traveling to historical settings?

RY: That is very perceptive of you, Marcha. Aren’t all novels (or trilogies in my case) supposed to be autobiographical in some way? I guess if I’m honest I would agree that Billy is me time-traveling to the past. There are parallels in Billy’s life and mine. For example, both of us grew up in Kansas and we both attended the University of Kansas. Of course I graduated and Billy didn’t. We both spent a lot of time in Asia and Latin America in places like Saigon, Manila, Hong Kong, Mexico City, Veracruz, etc. We both lived in Chicago and we both worked for newspapers there. Even though my wife is German she is not a baroness as Billy’s second wife was. I only had two daughters, not three like Billy. We both owned guns. That’s where the similarities end. Unlike Billy, as far as I know, I never killed anybody.

MF: If you had access to a time machine, which period of history would you go to first?

RY: There are two periods that I have always been fascinated with. One is the 19th Century during the period my trilogy begins. I grew up in Kansas and I was always fascinated by what life was like there in the 19th Century when the state was still quite wild. One of my passions during my time in Kansas was the state’s past, with its cow towns, gun slingers, law dogs, and other assorted characters. I spent a lot of time learning about some of the people whose reputations were made in Kansas—Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday, Bat Masterson, Wild Bill Hickok, etc.

One of my forefathers from that time knew some of these people and I used that fact in having Billy rub shoulders with them. The other is the period between 100 BC and 200 AD during the height of the Roman Empire. I would love to be able to walk through ancient Rome now that I have walked through it in the 21st Century.

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MF: How much harder would it have been to write your Billy Battles stories without the research capabilities of the internet?

RY: Let me see, how much more difficult? How about 10 times more difficult. The internet has opened up myriad avenues for conducting research. I have a fairly substantial library containing lots of reference books countless subjects, as well as books on Asia and Latin America, etc. because of my time as a foreign correspondent. I use those a lot—especially if I need to double check something I find on the internet that seems a bit off. Believe me, there is plenty of misinformation on the internet—even in Wikipedia, which I support annually with a modest contribution. I had a lot of books on Asia’s colonial period and those were invaluable. Same with books about 19th century and early 20th century Mexico, but I still found myself surfing the internet almost every day. For a writer the internet is an invaluable tool.

MF: Do you (or have you) physically travel to the locations where your stories take place or do you do so vicariously? If the former, what new insights and inspiration came from any of them that made a significant difference in the story?  Did any new plot twists come as a result?

RY: Because I was a foreign correspondent posted to Asia and Latin America I spent years in the places I write about in the Finding Billy Battles Trilogy. I actually lived in the same hotel (The Continental Palace) in Saigon that Billy lives in when he is there in 1894-96. In fact, I had him stay in the same room I lived in, so I could describe the scene outside his window quite accurately. I think it is really important for any author to have visited, if not lived for a while, in the places he or she writes about. There is a ring of truth that you simply cannot achieve by visiting these places virtually on the internet or in travel books, etc. For one thing, you can’t effectively describe the heat, the smells, the way a place can envelope you unless you have been there.

As for plot twists, there are a few in each of the three books. Probably the most significant one in Book 1 is when Billy encounters the Bledsoe clan for the first time and winds up accidentally shooting the matriarch of that family of outlaws. It changes his life and sets him on a path that borders on criminality. In Book 2, it has to be the way Billy and Katharina grow together despite their many differences. I hadn’t originally planned to have the two of them fall in love, but somehow they forced me to do it! In Book 3, I would have to say it is tragedy that sends Billy very definitely on a lawless path along with his cousin Charley Higgins. I won’t say any more. I don’t want to spoil the book for those who haven’t read it yet.

MF: Did you always aspire to become a novelist some day or did it simply evolve over time?

RY: I knew when I went into journalism that I wanted to write novels. But I also knew, that like Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell, Edna Buchanan, Graham Greene, and the late Tom Wolfe who started as journalists, I needed to learn the craft of writing. I needed to develop a style and I needed to develop confidence in my writing. I didn’t want to write fiction while I was still working as a foreign correspondent, but doing that job allowed me to collect scores of characters for the books I knew I would write someday. My experiences as a journalist have been priceless and vital as I transitioned from journalism to fiction. I think any author who started as a journalist will tell you that. Hemingway once said, “everything I ever learned about writing I learned from the Kansas City Star style sheet and covering the streets of Kansas City.” I could say the same about my 25 years with the Chicago Tribune.

MF: What’s your favorite part of being an author? Your least favorite?

RY: I really enjoy telling stories. It’s what I have done all my life. Journalism is essentially storytelling, but in a different format. Of course, writing fiction is quite different. In fact, I think being an author is both a curse and a gift. It is a wonderful gift if you allow the process to come to you and don’t force it. However, don’t let anybody tell you it is not damned hard work. It is. As I said, the joy of writing for me is telling a good story. I don’t care about imparting a “message.” Nor do I care about creating any hidden “meanings” that some literature professor will hold forth about in a writing class when I am no longer around to rebut him/her. I just want to tell a good story. That, to me, is the ultimate goal of writing.

The curse is that writing can take over your life, isolate you from family and friends, and turn you into a kind of inscrutable recluse if you are not careful. Writers need to take breaks from working. If they don’t I believe they run the risk of becoming stale, self-absorbed, and misanthropic.

MF: Besides Billy, who’s your favorite character in the series and why?

RY: There are a few, but if I had to single out two they would be Charley Higgins, Billy’s shadow rider cousin who has spent part of his life south of the law. Charley is a tough hombre who never shrinks from a good scrap. He is a man-killer and were it not for him, Billy might not have lived to reach old age. Then there is the Baroness Katharina von Schreiber whom Billy meets on the SS China in 1894 on the way to Asia. At first Billy is not attracted to Katharina. She seems aloof and caustic and Billy avoids her until one night she knocks on his cabin door and his life is forever changed.

MF: What’s the most fascinating historical fact you uncovered doing your research?

RY: French Indochina was home to lots of rubber plantations and I was planning on having Billy become involved with them in some way. Then I learned that there were no rubber plantations in French Indochina until after the turn of the century. So between 1894-96, when Billy is there I discovered that coffee and black pepper plantations were the main crops. I was fascinated by the black pepper plantations, how pepper is grown and harvested, etc. so I had him involved in those. I learned a lot.

MF: What are you working on now?

RY: I am beginning a book on a woman named Iva Toguri, AKA “Tokyo Rose.” I wrote a series of stories back in the late 1970s that resulted in President Ford giving her an unconditional pardon. Iva was convicted in 1949 on one of eight counts of treason—one of only 11 Americans ever convicted of treason in American history. However, that one count was based on the testimony of two men who confessed to me that they had been forced to lie at her trial. “Iva never did anything treasonous,” one of the men told me. “Just the opposite. She was fiercely pro-American.” The two men asked for Iva’s forgiveness. They never got it. And with good reason. As a result of their lies Iva spent 6-1/2 years in Alderson Federal Women’s Prison, was fined $10,000 and essentially lost the rights of American citizenship. Those convicted of treason can never vote, never be certified for any profession, never get a passport. My stories went all over the world and, as his last act as president, Ford pardoned her. Iva and I got to be good friends. She lived on the North side of Chicago while I was with the Tribune. We had planned a book together, but in 2002 she suffered a minor stroke and we never got the book off the ground. She died in 2006, but she always told me she wanted to tell her story in her own words. That’s what I plan to do in this book.


9781545632819_cov2.inddBilly Battles: The Lost Years, third and final volume of the trilogy, is now available as an ebook; the print version will take a few more days. If you haven’t already enjoyed the other books in the series, you probably should start with them so you can travel alongside Billy, witness his progression as a character, and chronologically experience history through his eyes.

Link to Finding Billy Battles (Volume I)

The Improbable Journeys of Billy Battles (Volume II)

Billy Battles: The Lost Years (Volume III)

 

5-Stars for “Finding Billy Battles – Book II” by Ronald E. Yates

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I learned so much from this well-written and meticulously researched book. I’m not usually that much of a fan of historical fiction, but in this case it was a welcome educational experience. As Billy’s journeys take him to Saigon, the Philippines, and even turn-of-the-20th-century Germany, this story is richly imbued with cultural and historical facts I previously did not know. This included something as simple as where white pepper comes from, but most especially the dark history of colonialism. I had heard of the Spanish-American War, but had no idea it was fought in the Philippines, much less why.

I have grown up simply accepting the fact that the British, French, and Spanish did a considerable amount of exploring, which also constituted conquests for more land and resources. This is apparent by the languages spoken in diverse parts of the world, far from where they originated. Getting a glimpse into the climate and attitudes of the 19th century, especially how indigenous people were trampled and exploited, brought up multiple considerations that had previously been entirely off my radar.

While colonialism’s defenders note that it brings a higher standard of living to these areas, it is also at a high price to the cultural norms and freedom of those unfortunate enough to live in such a place. Insights into Saigon in the late 1800s provided a new understanding into the Vietnam War and guerilla warfare. While in some cases, America has helped defend these countries, in others it has been just as guilty as the European conquests. Ironically, American is the prime example of a country that rebelled successfully against colonialism, yet then went on to force it on others, for example Native Americans. We are no better than anyone else and it’s easy for me to understand why other countries hate us.

The best part of this story is that all these fascinating details were woven into the plot of a story with believable characters caught up in this historical drama, from the Old West, to pre-WWI Europe, and overseas in the Far East.  I recommend it highly to anyone who enjoys a meaty, well-researched read that serves up more than an interesting story. History buffs will love it. While it is the second book in a trilogy, I thoroughly enjoyed it and had no trouble following it without the benefit of reading the first.

Pick up your copy on Amazon here.

Review of “The Wake (and What Jeremiah did Next) by Colm Herron

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This story is nothing short of brilliant. If you have any connection to Ireland, you’ll recognize the intimate depiction of its people and culture. If you don’t, you’ll get a crash course. The saying that fiction is best for depicting truth definitely applies. In this case, it’s like being fully immersed, perhaps even like being baptized in Irish whiskey, through the eyes of the main character, Jeremiah.

The book is so loaded with truth I hardly know where to start. It starts out at a wake, an event that is typically associated with Irish culture. If you’ve never been to one like myself, this will give you a glimpse of what they’re all about. If you’ve ever lived in a small town, it will make even more sense. Here you have someone who has passed away and has no relatives, so a neighbor holds the wake because it’s the thing to do. The conversations during this event reveal a boatload. It’s more of a social event where refreshments are served than a time to remember the deceased, who was not particularly liked. Jeremiah, whose mother is the hostess, is stuck attending and, to make it more tolerable, has a bit too much to drink. Well, okay, maybe more than a bit. This results in some absolutely hilarious situations that had me laughing ’til I cried, but I won’t give away because I hate spoilers.

So what did Jeremiah do next? Well, he got on with his life. A rather weird, somewhat dysfunctional, crazy one that wasn’t particularly unexpected for a young man in his twenties discovering life in that time and place. As is the case with most that age and gender, he’s obsessed with sex. He’s in love with a woman who’s not only bisexual, but a rebel. This is where all the social issues regarding the Catholics and Protestants come into play. After all, it’s the 60s when protesting was in vogue. So, Jeremiah hooks up with Aisling and her partner, Frances, whom he describes as “Stalin in drag.” The adventures they encounter, including in the bedroom (which are tastefully done, considering it’s a menage a trois) take off from there, and provide a glimpse into the religion-related issues and what the protests are all about.

I consider this story a literary masterpiece. I could hardly put it down, which was exacerbated by the fact it doesn’t have chapter breaks. It reads partly like a journal and partly like following Jeremiah around, perhaps as his guardian angel sees him. Few books have the ability this one has to draw you into a world so effectively. It’s like a very personal trip to the Emerald Isle.

As a bonus, and to assist those who may not “get” what this book is all about, the author includes some discussion questions at the end which would be particularly helpful for book clubs or even English teachers. All great literature is unique and stands out from everything else and this is in that category. You’ll either love it or hate it. I loved it.

Pick up your copy on Amazon here.