Woman’s Adventure in the Old West

Western Europeans made up a good many of immigration into the United States – and here we have Fiona, who has left Ireland after a very tough beginning. Forced to marry at a young age, she escapes a bad situation and learns a little more of the finer ways of life. She sets her sights on America and sails across the Atlantic, she finds herself useful to ailing passengers on the ship that end up bringing rewards. She hopes to succeed in her new country.

And how she does! She is aboard a steamship, spends some time as a servant, and suddenly, through a chance meeting, she becomes an actress of renown. Life, however, finds some sour cherries in the bowl – Fiona falls into a nasty situation that requires her to leave New York and head west. She encounters more acting opportunities that find her back on ship … this time, it is a brand-new Paddle Wheel boat on its virgin voyage down the Mississippi.

But again, the sour cherries appear. Her past – some of it from Ireland, some from New York, catches up with her. She finds herself in the midst of some dealings ‘under the table’ with gun runners and smugglers.

Fortunately, our pretty Fiona is clever and confident and smart. Her interactions with the characters of the book reveal all these traits, and more. Her natural acting skills impress the theatre impresarios and wow the audiences. Her conversations with her acting friends and those she meets along the way are witty and bright. She finds love. She finds hate, both at a personal level and at a cultural level. She finds traitors. In the end, she becomes part of the key that settles the book into its conclusion.

The settings vary so very much – a sod hut, old Irish villages, the glory of a thriving New York City. Chicago, just recovering from Mrs. O’Leary’s cow and its fire, is a source of culture for Fiona. The paddle wheeler is a shiny, brand-new river craft that for its day is state of the art, right down to its jewel box of a theatre and its calliope that announces its arrival in each town.

Characters abound as well – a disrespectful husband, nurses and teachers, crafty theatre producers, patrons of the arts who are secretly patrons of something other than the arts, ship captains (one who secrets that are quite interesting), fellow actors and actresses – all in a range from big-hearted people to self-centered divas that dwell only on their own value.

THE WIND AT HER BACK is a trek in the life of our Irish immigrant Fiona. But there is no mistake – she is headed for surprises, intrigue and even murder as she tries to build her fruitful life in America. 


A Call for Civility

She was one of the plain ones in third grade.  No, wait.  She was less than plain. Her clothes came from her older sister, who got her clothes from HER older sister.

Besides, she never seemed quite as clean or as groomed as the other girls in the room.  They would look at her and think, “Doesn’t she know? Doesn’t she care? How does she stand herself?”

And what did the boys think?  If there was any evidence of girl germs in the third grade, she was prime evidence.

No one asked her to work on a school project.  She was inevitably the last one picked for teams of any kind: whether it was spelling bees or baseball games during lunch time, it didn’t matter.

Invite her to a birthday party?  It was rare. It took someone’s mommy that insisted an invitation be given to everyone in the class to include her.

And yes, other girls and boys found themselves targeted in similar ways.  The snubs, the names, the teasing, getting pantsed in the bathroom.  The teasing, the judging, the shaming, the name calling – all heaped upon kids who didn’t deserve it.  And the whole time, we knew they didn’t deserve it.

And you’re going sit there and tell me we didn’t have someone like this in your class?  That’s pure blindness, because these kids were there in more numbers than any of us are willing to admit.  The way we treated them festered and erupted into the habits we employ even now as adults.  We pick on them, we label them, we literally and figuratively spit on them, just like we did to those kids in elementary school.

It is time to break this habit – and it takes strength.  Can we alter our behaviors enough to at least be able to make up for what we did to those boys and girls in the third grade?  Can we shut off the arrogance?  Can we dispel the hate, the anger, the meanness?      

Human society has vacillated between barbarism and high levels of culture over and over again.  Society can change, and so can we.

These human tendencies, so unproductive, so ill-applied, are strong, but can be overcome. Turning off the innate tendencies of arrogance, judgment, hate, fear and the like is difficult to do.

Just as we have physical muscles that we can strengthen, I believe there are spiritual muscles.  They are love, joy, peace, faithfulness, kindness, graciousness, goodness, patience and self-control.  And just like those physical muscles, we have to practice and train those spiritual muscles to become the tools we need to treat each other with more civility. 

So, perhaps we need to dig beyond such human nature, beyond biology, and into the possible world of divine direction.

Ultimately, it is our choice to turn off those elementary school habits and to gain use of those spiritual muscles, and it is not easy.

 It’s our call.

Another Great Women of the West by Morris


by Kathleen Morris   Published by Dunraven Press, April 2023

285 pages, plus author’s notes following


eBook: 979-1-7379866-9-0 paperback: 979-1-7379866-8-3 hardcover: 979-8-9874563-0-9

Kathleen Morris’s first four books feature real women of the American Old West; all of them filled with amazing drive and character who build their lives in what is now the southwestern region of the United States.  GOLDDIGGER goes even further with the story of Nellie Cashman, who makes her presence well known in such places, but also enthusiastically experiences adventures well into the northwestern states, Alaska and Canada.

The reader first meets Nellie as a young girl in Ireland.  From there, its off to Boston and points west.  She sails with her mother and sister to San Francisco.  Eventually, gold fever grabs the always-restless Nellie.  She takes off in search of gold, heading up her own mining endeavors.   She also seizes the opportunity to open general stores and restaurants in the towns she inhabits.  Her businesses are usually profitable – when they are not, she sells them to another and she moves on. And those sites?  There’s Tombstone and Bisbee, Cassiar, the Yukon, and a rather disastrous trek into Mexico.  There are more places that vary in success but such experiences enhance the make up the strong-willed woman that is Nellie Cashman.

She spends plenty of time at these various sites, but in a deep sense of family, she regularly returns to her mother and sister, assisting them in ways above and beyond the scope of so many.  When her widowed sister dies, Nellie takes in all five children, raising them as if they were her own.  Her faith in God via her connections with the Catholic church leads the reader to discover Nellie’s selfless, lifelong donations to the churches in her towns, and in raising money for new churches and hospitals.

Nellie is just as home on horseback and working her mining claims as she is sitting in her office spaces.  When confronted with adversaries who challenge her position, she is not shy in standing up for every inch she has earned.  Uncouth cowboys and the occasional mountain man become Nellie’s foes, as well as a certain gentlemanly sort who unsuccessfully tries to manipulate Nellie into a marriage that would serve only him.  That’s just not Nellie’s way.

Ms. Morris’ writing also gives the reader a good sense of the scenes in Nellie Cashman’s life. There is the civilized worlds of Boston and San Francisco and the lawless towns of the west.  There are the tough winter conditions, including getting caught out on the breaking ice of a frozen river in the far north range of her travels, and enduring tough desert conditions as she rides expertly across the land.

GOLDDIGGER offers the reader a look into the life of an extraordinarily strong and motivated Nellie Cashman, complete with adventures, challenged values, and a productive life that serves in more dimensions than are standard for many of us.  Take a read – and while you are at it, read Ms. Morris’ other books as well.



By Darrell Pedersen

236 pages

Published by River Place Press

ISBN: 979-8986268132

In CAMPFIRE IN THE BASEMENT, Darrell Pedersen proves you don’t have to be famous to write a successful and engaging memoir. Whether you’re a movie star, a professional athlete, a renowned international politician, or a retired pastor from northeastern Minnesota, you have a story to tell.

Darrell Pedersen’s book is filled with episodes of his life that give the reader insights to how he became the person he is.  There are the heartwarming tales of family events.  There are humorous situations that centered on young Darrell that led to his nickname as “Little Dickens”.  Darrell’s ancestors appear in several tales, revealing his deep respect and admiration for his past, which very well may be what inspired him to write his memoir.  There are milepost stories as the author crosses into new eras of his life that range from his early school years to finding his lifelong partner Jennifer.

Each story is a chapter are of a nice, readable length.  Pedersen’s tone is casual and conversational, as if the reader were sitting across the kitchen table listening to him over a cup of morning coffee.

The book spans the author’s lifetime to date – his childhood in the 1950s to into his adulthood, where the reader will meet his private life and his career as a pastor.  The pacing is fine – there is no dwelling on any specific event, whether tragic of enlightening.

Everyone has a story – yes, everyone.  Darrell Pedersen’s CAMPFIRE IN THE BASEMENT is a good one to bring home and enjoy.


Wally the black bear took his constitutional every morning, walking along the shore of Lake Wimoshee, seeking something to eat– perhaps a fish in the shallows or a bush of berries to pick.  Today, though, was going to be quite different.

Wally picked up an enticing, marine scent he had never detected before, so he raised his head and scanned the shore ahead of him. With his trained eye and hunting sense, he spotted something a hundred yards away.  His brought himself up to a quicker pace as he hurried to investigate.

As he got closer, he still couldn’t identify what it was, and the scent was stronger – a fishy, smelly, watery smell that was certainly not native to Minnesota lakes.  Closer yet, and he could see a large, lumpy creature, laying half in the water, half on the shore.  The creature was apparently unaware of Wally’s presence – it was humming to itself and slowly munching on something.  The creature made yummy sounds that displayed pleasure with its meal.  This puzzled Wally all the more.

Wally approached the creature.  “Hey, buddy!  Whatcha eatin’ there?”

The creature turned casually towards Wally.  It made a face that Wally interpreted as a smile.  It spoke to him in a voice that was half bubbles, half guttural.  “Oh hiya!  This stuff?  It’s what passes for seaweed here, I guess.  Ain’t nothin’ like I eat at home.”

“What do you mean, at home?”  Wally asked.  “Where ya from?” 

The creature was as cordial as can be. “I’m Scooter.  I’m from Florida.  I’m what they call a manatee.”

Well, Wally was up on his geography and zoology, so he knew for sure where Florida was, and he had heard of manatees, but he was confused.  What was a manatee doing in Minnesota? 
“My name is Wally.  I’m a black bear.  Now what in the world . . . ”  Before he could say any more, Scooter stopped him with a wave of a flipper.

“I know, I know.  I can see it in your face.  Why am I here?  Simple, Wally.  Had to get away from it all.  I was tired of the boats, the mangroves, the hot sun – I needed a change, so I just started up one river to the next and the next and the next, and suddenly, I’m in this nice lake.  I flop myself in the water, I take in the sun here – which is so much gentler than what I get in Florida – and I eat.  Even brought my own duffel bag of kelp.  It is so much tastier than this goop you got here in your lakes.”

Wally blinked, trying to understand.  His anxiety for is new friend increased.  “But aren’t you far away from home?  Are you sure you can get back?  I mean, geez, Scooter, the winters here aren’t anything like Florida.”

“Don’t really care – at least for now, Wally.  I’ll get back there, but I’m in no hurry. I’ll know when it’s time to go home.  But for now, I don’t care.”  Scooter slurped another piece of his kelp.  He contemplated his next bite.  “Maybe the local vegetation will taste better if I mix it with my own.”

Wally’s concern rose another notch.  “Geez, Scooter – I gotta say, I don’t understand at all.  You’re so far from home, you’re not sure when or how to get there, and you seem totally apathetic about the whole situation.  You’re one strange kinda dude, Scooter, manatee or not!”

Scooter flapped a flipper in Wally’s direction.  “It’s like my Uncle Daniel used to say.  He had two morals about life, and they fit pretty well right now. Wally, maybe you should think about them, too.  It might lighten you up some.  You sure seem uptight for a bear that sleeps all winter.”

Wally shook his head.  There was no figuring out what this guy Scooter was all about.  “And what are those two morals, Scooter? 

Scooter took in a breath, mixed his kelp with the Minnesota seaweed, picked a bit of kelp from his teeth, and stood up as much as a manatee could stand up, and said, “That’s easy.  Wally.  But for now, I gotta go get more weed on the bottom of the lake.  Wait a sec, woncha?”  Scooter slipped into the water and disappeared into the depths.  In a moment, he surfaced fifty yards out, blinking water out of his eyes as he floated on his back.  “So here it is, Wally.  Uncle Daniel’s first moral is “No matter where you go, there you are.”  The second is just as good, “If you don’t care where you are, you ain’t lost.”.

He dove again and disappeared, leaving Wally to ponder the philosophy of manatees.


This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is risk.jpg

BOOK REVIEW: RISK (subtitle: A Thriller)
By Kathleen Morris
Published by Dunraven Press
258 Pages
Paperback ISBN 978-1-7379866-6-9
Protagonists Wilder and Grace (he plays guitar, she sings, comprising a third-rate opening act for a second-rate band that is touring the southwestern states in the U.S.) find themselves wrapped in a chase. They are the targets of said chase after they stumble upon and take possession of a secret stash left behind by some less-than-savory types, who would like nothing better than to reclaim their stash. These unsavories (also a man and a woman) will stop at nothing, including murder, to achieve their goal. Unfortunately, these unsavories have a boss who think his underlings have absconded with the stash, not realizing that Wilder and Grace are in the picture. Boss man and his sidekick chase the unsavories, who are chasing the musicians. It’s an exciting, whirling three-legged, three-dimensional thrill-chase of 258 pages.
Narrow escapes, discoveries of and changes in identities, unplanned difficulties, mistaken directions, false assumptions and even some overthinking get this thriller going and up to speed. With the momentum achieved quickly, the thrills and suspense are maintained consistently through the story – and kudos to author Morris for this pacing.
Solid character development is strong in each pair of our chase participants. There’s a cool head, there’s an artistic heart, there’s a hotblooded soul, to name a few. And yet, there are flaws with each character that lead to some circumstances affecting the degree of success of our three-legged race. A good dose of backstory for each character helps the reader understand what’s going on in the minds of our characters.
Kathleen Morris already has four books to her credit – each well-written book centers on a woman in the Old American West. In RISK, even though taken quite a wide step away from the genre of her first books, Ms. Morris maintains that same fine writing that is so rewarding for the reader.



By Barbara J. Mack

Self Published

98 pages

ISBN: 979835792295

The first chapter title says it all.  “WELCOME, I’M GLAD YOU’RE HERE”.

Reading this book is like stopping in for a cup of coffee with Barbara Mack for some friendly conversation.  You’ll be welcomed into her home, brought into the kitchen, provided with a nice cup of fresh coffee and cookies to go with it.  Barbara Mack will join you with her own cup, sit down at her own table in her own kitchen and start talking with a smile on her face.  You might start with some small talk, but eventually, you ask about her book.

And then, you will be listening to a lady who tells her story from the beginning, as she weaves her way through the years.  She is totally upfront about the bad times filled with multiple seizures, complicated by bouts of depression, and how she and her family face all of this.  You will find yourself listening intently as she describes the disease that has invaded her life. You’ll find out how epilepsy preyed upon our author in ways that you and I might never imagine. Epilepsy could have brought her down completely.  It could have destroyed her.  And if that weren’t enough, life threw other curves at our author – deaths in the family, accidents, financial crises – This could have been a book about tragedy and sorrow. But you’ll find no sour grapes, no pity seeking from Barbara Mack.  This is a story about rising and living and falling and rising again.

In your conversation with Barbara Mack, in words that are more often sunny than not, you learn how Ms. Mack has faced epilepsy over the years, and how she accepted the circumstances, and was the better person for them.  You will hear in her easy voice how the peaks triumphed over the valleys.  Time and again, Ms. Mack got back up on her feet as best she could after each valley.  She relates each episode in the book with a clarity that allows the reader to grasp the reality of epilepsy, even when she delves into the technical aspects of the disorder, into the various forms of epilepsy, and into the numerous treatments she endured.

THE HAND I’VE BEEN DEALT is short, less than 100 pages.  But Ms. Mack’s story is long on the reality of epilepsy, long on the issues she faced, and long on the hope and endurance and grace that helped Barbara Mack along the way.

When you finish your cup of coffee and it comes time to leave, you will know more about epilepsy, and you will know, thanks to Barbara J. Mack, that such issues as epilepsy can be dealt with in positive ways.

BOOK REVIEW by Charles Johnson



Book Three in the Zebadiah Creed series

Published by FIVE STAR, a part of Gale, A Cengage company

ISBN; 9781432868505   Genre: Western    268 pages

Reviewed by Charles Johnson

In the Western genre of books, there are gunfights, posses heading the bad guys off at the pass, hotly contested poker games in smoky saloons . . . and in BLUE RIVERS OF HEAVEN (as well as the first two books of the Zebadiah Creed trilogy) these trite situations are calm afternoon teas compared to the adventures Mark C. Jackson concocts for the reader to experience. There are no such cliches of this genre: Jackson sees to that with great effect. The author is deeply skilled in his descriptions of fights, chases, and even the tension created in the exchange of heated words before any physical action actually occurs.  To top it off, Jackson finds fresh new ways to bring action to the western genre that will wow the reader; sometimes with a level of brutality, sometimes with unexpected sensitivity.

Zebadiah Creed, the protagonist of the book, is not necessarily a moral man, but he certainly adheres to what he sees as the correct way to behave in different instances.  Give him a formal dinner and he will know what to do.  Face a surly crowd, and he will make choices of wisdom.  Present a young lady for him too woo, and Zebadiah can be smooth and suave as any cultured gentleman.  Yet, his flaws will betray him from time to time, and that makes for an interesting character.  And yes, even a man such as Creed has his love interests that he deserves.

The backdrop of this story is varied: there are dank prisons, fancy plantations, joyous riverboats, and cabins in the woods filled with a variety of circumstances that are unique and sparkling.  Every scene moves from one to the other with no delay.  This keeps the reader’s attention at a peak that rarely sags throughout the book.  As for characters, there are several of varying stature from the first two books – and it is also important to note that Jackson’s characters are none of your one-dimensional western characters – no dumb farm hands, no schoolmarms – characters are fully developed in every way – the good ones and the bad ones equally.  Even the horses have personalities

BLUE RIVERS OF HEAVEN continues the story of Zebadiah, tying in a good many portions of the first two books (AN EYE FOR AND EYE and THE GREAT TEXAS DANCE).   In this book, Zebadiah is manipulated into a position of being forced to assassinate a rather important person – but you’ll get no spoiler here as to who and how it all turns out – Zebadiah’s adversaries use every tool for force our hero into the unsavory task – just more of that great action that author Jackson so readily delivers.

Some technical thoughts: the chapters are short, which enhance the pace of the book.  There are no vocabulary challenges – the language is well handled, even in a few instances of profanity.  I wonder about the title as well … it is not as clearly connected to this book as the titles of the first two are connected to theirs.  HINT:  Read all three books close together – it will help keep track of the characters and situations as Zebadiah courses through his adventures.

Thanks to the writing and storytelling skills of author Mark C. Jackson, BLUE RIVERS OF HEAVEN delivers a great deal of action, setting and personality with vivid descriptions of all of that, and then more.  Perhaps that means book four isn’t far off…..

Book Review: JOSIE AND VIC


Written by Debra Thomas

Published by She Writes Press

270 pages

ISBN: 978-1-64742-393-3

Book Review by Charles Johnson

My literary agent friend Krista asked me to read JOSIE AND VIC.  After reading the blurb on the back, I figured that I’d be reading a book that would be a future chick flick, soap opera, or a Hallmark TV Movie. I was wrong.

In JOSIE AND VIC by Debra Thomas, the reader will find a truthful human story where the people are real.  They feel.  They get angry.  They revel in the right moments.  They fear when they should fear.  Best of all, with all their faults and attitudes, they find ways to manage their own burdens and assist the others with theirs.

The author allows the readers to see and feel their own lives by summoning upon a common list of emotions with the characters in this novel.  This allows the readers to experience the sense of the pursuit of life and of healing of JOSIE AND VIC that arise from a blend of forgiveness, humility, and an ability to listen at new levels. 

The storylines are braided together in such a way as to appear nearly seamless; the strands of the braid include the sibling relationship between Josie and Vic: the edgy relationship between Josie and her daughter; the polar differences between Josie, Vic and their estranged father – and in a seemingly unrelated but yet a large part of the story, Josie’s relationship with a veterinarian and her horses.  Let’s not forget the social issues of immigration and beleaguered military veterans that are dappled throughout the braid.  There are very few flaws in the strands of the braid that make up JOSIE AND VIC.

It can be said that JOSIE AND VIC belongs on your shelf along with all the other books you’ve read that exceeded your expectations.

HARDLAND: A book review


By Ashley E. Sweeney

ISBN 978-1647422332

368 pages

Published by She Writes Press

Reviewed by Charles Johnson

The first chapter (both pages) gives it all:  Here’s Ruby Fortune in all her guts and verve, in her own version of style.  There’s a driving swagger to the heroine with no apologies to social norms or politically correct ways expected of women of the west.  She’s a survivor of a circus world of Wild West shows, abusive roustabouts at carnivals, and a particularly sleazy dude – I use the word ‘survivor’ for a reason that I won’t go into now.

Here’s Ruby, a loved but unguided young girl at first, with adventures that would consume any young lady.  Not Ruby.  She develops into an experienced, wise and controlled figure in her community.  Yet, she exudes flaws that may bring her downfall – notice: I said “may”.  Various characters in her life pull and push on Ruby’s options.  Travel with her great friend? Be the best mother she can be to her troupe of four boys, each flawed in ways that defy parenthood?  The miner who meanders through her life?  Those who abandon her?  The local law official, who seems to waver in so many ways? 

Ruby Fortune lives in a dusty, hot, sunburned desert world of a small-time mining town of Arizona in the 1890s.  Here she is, having bested previous trials, running a mildly successful business in the scrabbled territories of the mining crazes of the era.  Here she is, facing social pressures as she cannot (or refuses to) follow community expectations. It is hot, dusty, snake-bitten town that can’t seem to decide to accept or reject our Ruby.  After all, she carries her own firearms at will; she’s nowhere near shy with her opinions and actions.  Yet, she reserves moments for those quiet walks (sometimes alone, sometimes with that one special son) in the post-sunset walks in the desert where she reflects on life.

The author Sweeney, by the way, tells Ruby’s story all in present tense, which is an intense exercise for both writer and reader.  This review is an attempt at it – I could barely hang on for one page.  Ms. Sweeney did it for almost 400 pages.

In the end, the reader learns if Ruby Fortune complacently rides off into the sunset – or with some other distant goal in her sights.  The reader, as the first chapter says, is challenged to make the pick as to which occurs.


St. Olaf College Orchestra in concert

Brainerd High School Gichi-Ziibi Auditorium

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

So on the way to the concert hall, I was hoping they’d play FESTIVE OVERTURE by Shostakovich.

AND THEY DID!!!  What a great way to start a concert!  Crisp brass, precise rhythms, all done in the great acoustics that is the new GITCHI-ZIIBI auditorium in Brainerd, Minnesota.

The piece is as Olympic as they come – it requires virtuoso performances from the entire group.  Clarinet runs, brass blends, strings flying their bows with mastery, and a solid, controlled percussion section to bring it all there.  A fine start to the concert.

The St. Olaf Orchestra, under Steve Amundson, brought their A game and used it wisely and beautifully all night long.

VALSE TRISTE (Sibelius) was next, with Amundson leading the musicians in a wonderfully sensitive tour of the piece.  Clarinetist Elijah Schouten bounced his way through a very showy last movement of the Weber clarinet concerto, playing with great facility and range that is so necessary for the piece.  Steve Amundson’s own composition GRATIA VIVA was next, a piece he wrote to honor a retiring St. Olaf College friend.  The piece is tender and deep, full of emotion and thanks.  Amundson wrote it as a thanks to his career at St. Olaf – he is retiring after 40 years of leading the orchestra.  As a tribute to the Ukraine and all the strife in the world, the orchestra performed MELODY, by Ukrainian composer Myroslav Skoryk.  A beautiful melody wove its way around the orchestra, first very soft, and then filling the wonderful acoustics of every corner of the year-old auditorium.  St. Olaf alum Matt Peterson wrote a symphony for the orchestra (again to honor Amundson’s retirement) based on the writings of Minnesota Naturalist Sigurd Olson.  The symphony, entitled THE SINGING WILDERNESS, is based on various texts from Olson’s book of the same name.  Tonight, the orchestra played the portion “The Loons of Lac La Croix” – and sure enough, the program notes that cite Olson’s actual words, which describe hearing the loons in the spring as they cross the waters of Lac La Croix and how they and the canoeists would meet near Warrior Hill (personal note – I’ve been to that hill and seen that body of water …. Peterson’s music and the orchestra’s rendition caught it all!)  To end the concert, Amundson selected Arturo Marques’ piece DANZON No. 2 – a Latin rhythm filled piece of delicate dances and joys. This brought the audience to its feet, requiring the orchestra to play a traditional St. Olaf encore entitiled THE TURTLEDOVE, a sweet, short piece.

It was a nice evening of music.  I’m glad we went.



By Kathleen Morris

Published by Dunraven Press, January 2022

ISBN Numbers

E-book 978-17379866-2-1

Paperback 978-1-737866-3-8

278 pages

Reviewed by Charles Johnson

Strong, independent women fare well in the books written by Kathleen Morris, including Big Nose Kate (THE LILY OF THE WEST), Fiona (THE WIND AT HER BACK) and Chastity James (THE TRANSFORMATION OF CHASTITY JAMES).  In FALLEN CHILD, Morris adds another to that list, and her name is Josephina Fallon.

The reader first meets Josephina as a pre-teen in an orphanage in the Old West, somewhere in southeast Arizona.  Wise for her years, she realizes the operators of the facility are not necessarily all that benevolent when she discovers that some of her orphan friends and residents of the place are sent off and away from the orphanage – not to be adopted or to learn valuable trades under the tutelage of some merchant or skilled artisan.  Not at all.  The boys are sent to toil for hours and days and years on end in the dirty underground mines.  The girls find themselves offered for bawdy (and bodily) favors at the saloons throughout the area.  These kids have been Josie’s friends.  She fears the worst as she watches them transported off the grounds in carriages and wagons, headed for a fate they are not aware of.

Josie learns she is very soon to become one of those who has already left the orphanage.  She and her friend Colin formulate a plan.  They manage their escape just minutes before Josie is scheduled to shipped out.  They are chased down by the henchmen of the orphanage.  In the struggle as the henchmen catch up, Josie and Colin (and another who had managed to tag along) manage to disable and/or eliminate their pursuers, requiring them to seek a safe hiding place.

In a nearby ranch, they are taken in by a sympathetic man and his crew.  Under his supervision, Josie and Colin learn skills of staying alive in the deserts and nasty conditions of the southwest, include riding horses and handling pistols and rifles, to name a few.  The ranch is set upon by foes of the ranch owner, forcing Josie and Colin to flee yet again out into the wild and desolate square miles of Arizona.

They pick up a few friends along the way – Billy, for one, who becomes enamored with Josie.  The small rag-tag group learns that there are other orphanages that exist for the same purpose as Josie’s original home, so they decide that their mission is to travel to each orphanage.  Their goal; handle the managers of each site, and then make sure the kids are taken care of.  As a sidelight in the mix, they discover the mastermind behind the whole network is living in Prescott, Arizona, so they decide to make a visit to him as well.  At every site and in Prescott, the skills they learned back on that first ranch come in quite handy – the evildoers are dealt with in ways they deserve – bullets fly and knives flash, and our group escapes on their strong horses.  And all the time, it is Josie who makes the decisions, Josie who leads and inspires them along the trail and it is Josie who mediates when her group squabbles amongst each other.

Of course, their activities attract the attention of the law – wanted posters appear across the state.  Posses track and besiege Josie and her compadres.  More struggles – some violent, some battles of wits – keep the reader guessing as to what comes next.  Ultimately, Josie finds peace, but not without a cost that leaves her with scars to contend with for the rest of her life.

In FALLEN CHILD, author Morris paints the Old West gracefully when she needs to – and harshly, when she needs to.  That applies to her characters, her settings, and her descriptions of the action.  There is a good pace in changes from action scenes where gunfire is common, or nights spent around a campfire as Josie’s crew moves along their trail from orphanage to orphanage.  Some of her characters are highly likable, some absolutely polluted with vile personalities, and some are charming – either as royalty or as snakes in the grass.

Once more, here is another good yarn from the Old West of author Kathleen Morris.


. . . And so much to be thankful for. 

My dad has been gone for three decades.  My mom for a quarter of a century.  In addition, there have been at aunts and uncles and grandparents that have gone on before me who are part of every single cell in my body.  I miss them all.

My two sisters Jean and Cher and their husbands Tim and Ger and their families – a great start to a list of family that extends to cousins near and far, nephews, nieces, (and GRAND-versions of those relations) near and far from every branch of the family, including a great group of in-laws.  Aunt Shirley, my dad’s last remaining sibling, a 94-year-old sister, adds her energy to our family functions. There’s my wife Sue, who has been with me coming up on four decades, (through rain, or snow, or shine).  Our two kids Heidi (and her Hubby Jon) and Steven (and his fiancé Shea), who have been so wonderful and such sources of joy.  And two grandsons – Jonathan, who will be two years old on Christmas Day, and Henry, who just joined us two weeks ago.

There are so many more – and naming names is simply too voluminous, so I won’t try, but I give thanks to God that I am surrounded by so many fantastic people.

There are many from my early years who I still see online or in person that date back to kindergarten – and that was 1959, folks!  Great friends that have delivered so much to my soul and being … friends from Parkville, from Mt. Iron High School, from the youth groups at church, and then on to Gustavus Adolphus College, where lifelong friendships flourished and still abound. I am proud to include former teachers and professors as well.

I spent half of my life as a teacher for the Pillager School district – a career of 34 years with great people – fellow teachers and students alike.  Some have left this world; some are still a big part of my life.  There’s no end to the list of people who blessed my professional career in Pillager, and then overlapped into my everyday life.

My entire adult life has been spent in the Brainerd area, resulting in so many good friends beyond my work at Pillager.  They are in the church choir, they are from plays and musical performances I’ve been involved with around the area, they are folks I’ve met through a great many different engagements.  After retirement, I found even more people who helped me foster some other pursuits – mentors from writing groups, bowling league team members, photo club gurus, and all-around experiences that have defined these retirement years.

The Facebook way on birthdays is to send comments and likes – and I am so glad to have so many friends and family who will acknowledge me on my birthday – I am always amazed at who takes the time and the good will to send a like or to add a word or two in the comments.  You are all so very special to me.  I always feel so good reading such messages.  And here’s a thought . . .

Facebook will often give the birthday people a chance to designate a charity to honor a birthday – that’s all good, but I want to break out of that notion. Here’s something I’d like you to consider instead of leaving me a birthday comment (but go ahead and do that too.  I am enough of a ham to feed sumptuously on that . . .).  It is immediate, it is easy, and it is beneficial. 

Take that good will I mentioned a few paragraphs back and share it with another.  Allow me to make some suggestions:  ask your grocery store clerk if they’re having a good day. Greet someone at work that you usually don’t see often enough. Let someone go first at a four way stop.  Pet your dog a little longer.  Smile at that person who is on the other side of your political fence.  Call that person you haven’t heard from in a while. Don’t get mad at the news (that’s a gift to yourself, really.)  Give thanks to anyone for a beautiful day.  Have that extra treat with your lunch – and get one for someone else while you’re at it.  Listen a little longer to whoever you need to listen a little longer to.  Add your own ideas – each one of you has it in you to do so.

And if anyone asks you what you’re up to, you can tell them you’re just doing an old TV commercial thing.  (You have to be about my age to know which commercial it is . . .)

Just tell them, “Charlie sent you.”

Thank you all.  Deus nobis familia et amicis.

Book Review: OUR DIVIDE


Two Sides of Locked-in Syndrome

A Memoir

By LaDonna Harrison

Published by She Writes Press

ISBN-13: 978-1647421472

304 pages

Reviewed by Charles Johnson


LaDonna Harrison has pursued and earned several degrees – some at an advanced level.  She has taught at colleges of all levels on many campuses around the country.  She is retired now, having enjoyed a long career.  Yet, you would never know . . .

Her background is totally unrelated to what appears in the paragraph above.  She grew up in a rather indigent home in a very small town in an area of Minnesota swathed with more small towns just like hers.  After her high school years, she picked up jobs here and there, and she was, as the saying goes, picked up by guys who populated the taverns and bars in the area.  She floated along the waves of the social norms of the area and of the day.   It may be fair to say her horizons had no east or west, north or south, so she wandered quite aimlessly through these years.

Her only anchor was Cleve, who eventually became her husband.  They drank together, they rode snowmobiles together, they fished together.  They lived in a handful of houses and apartments that were not much better than her childhood home.  Their circle of friends and family was no different – same lifestyle, same desires and pursuits, same horizons.

And then Cleve, still in his twenties, suffered a bizarre and lengthy illness, leaving him totally unresponsive and in the care of a hospital staff – and later, a nursing home staff.  She came to know the  phrase  “Locked-In Syndrome” applied to her Cleve.  Ladonna visited often, but as time passed, the Cleve she knew was more than likely not going to return.

In OUR DIVIDE, the reader can certainly feel the post-teen angst LaDonna experiences as she goes through life.  Happiness appears in some ways, but then they are swallowed up.  She sometimes manages to shrug off the down times, and sometimes they consume her as they eat away at her emotions and her thoughts of Cleve. Questions abound of what has happened to her life, what will become of Cleve, and how it will all affect her and her expected child.

As it turns out, LaDonna finds herself taking a few college classes on a whim – and we get the lady of the first paragraph.  There is little in the pages of OUR DIVIDE that foreshadow her academic success – but that title alone reveals the separation between Ladonna and Cleve, as well as the separation between her early years and her later career as a college professor.   

OUR DIVIDE is a testament to the idea that horizons can indeed change – and life can indeed go on.  Ladonna Harrison has shared that with us.


by Phil Hunsicker

The Old Crocodile Man Theory

By Phil Hunsicker

331 Pages

ISBN: 978-1-7347600-6-4

Published by Riverplace Press

Reviewed by Charles Johnson

From the first page to the last, Phil Hunsicker’s THE OLD CROCODILE MAN THEORY engages the reader through a potent story that dances between murder, bribery, and reunions of old friends – all tied together with crackling humor and deeply clear descriptions.  And it works!

Author Phil Hunsicker offers the story of Kael, a former Peace Corps worker who leaves a fishing job in Alaska and returns to Central Africa after a ten-year absence to check into the mysterious death of a long-time friend who is found floating in a river in Africa.  Kael faces deeply imbedded bureaucracy, local legends, lost family relations and a string of corruption that betrays his belief in the intricate ecology of the African jungle.    

Author Phil Hunsicker makes the reader feel right at home in the exotic and definitely remote central Africa.  His descriptions are realistic (personal reviewer note: it allowed me to to feel as if I’m right there in their own “normal” world, despite my Minnesota “UFFDA” mentality).  The same goes for the inhabitants of his African villages – culturally so different in so many ways.   Yet, Phil leads the reader to feel comfortable around the difference in climate, in lifestyle, in food preference, in the people.  Along the way, you will meet a group of characters replete with their foibles and flaws.  You will like the ones you’re supposed to like – yet,  be wary of the sketchy ones; they may not be what you think they will be.

Hunsicker’s style brings a level of action involving suspenseful jungle forays.  Chases, madcap rides in ramshackle vehicles and even some hand to hand combats build the reader’s attention to a quick, high pitch.  To balance this, he employs a good dose of witty banter, repartee and interplay – and when I say witty, I mean like the dialogue heard in a good sit-com like M*A*S*H*.  There are puns, jokes, verbal sparrings, and banters that will find the reader chuckling at the good jokes and rolling eyes at the well-designed puns.

Take this list of Alaska, Africa, sudden death, old romantic flings, news reporters, parenthood, thievery, close friends, the black market, bribery, scientific research, jungle life, and bureaucracy.  Now, turn it into a story that is believable, humorous, and personable.  If you do that, you have Phil Hunsicker’s first novel – and what an entertaining and interesting novel you have!

Book Review: The Transformation of Chastity James by Kathleen Morris


By Kathleen Morris

285 Pages

Published by FIVE STAR

ISBN-13: 978-1432875312

Historical Fiction/Western

“It would seem I have a knack for killing.”

These are the first words in the prologue as stated by our protagonist Chastity James.  Here she is, folks, straight out of Vassar College for Women, claiming a straight-laced prominent horse farm near Boston as home, telling us about her desire to serve as a schoolteacher in the budding west of the United States during the 1870s and 1880s.  In first person, she fills us in on arriving in Dodge City, where she faces a few rude and crude school board members as she establishes herself in the role of school teacher to the children of the raucous and ribald cow town that is now her home.  She tells us about the people she meets; some less savory than others.    Her seemingly routine duties are crassly interrupted by one scandalous cowboy who has set his ten-gallon hat on Chastity’s womanhood, as it were.

From there, the adventure flies off the pages at the reader.  How does a refined lady of the east handle such doings?  She has learned to handle herself quite well, but then, when actual confrontation rears up like a bucking bronco, what is she to do?  The town turns on her, leaving her no choice but to flee.  In her flight, she is pressed into service as a nurse, a hunter, a lover, and even a Shakespearean actress in order to find justification in her actions.

Vivid descriptions set the mood well – from the clean, neat horse farm of her childhood to the barely sophisticated saloons of the west, to the broad range of weather conditions.  The characters, too, are strong in their morality, depth and culture (or lack of it) as the reader meets Chastity’s family, her friends and acquaintances in Dodge City, law enforcement figures (some famous, some not), a troupe of traveling performers who have surprising connections that may or may not open doors for Chastity – not to mention a good blend of thugs.  To top it off, somewhere there rises a love interest.

Author Kathleen Morris effectively uses first-person voice. In adventure after adventure of Chastity James, the story flows with a satisfying rhythmic pace.  Those pages and chapters pass by in a nicely designed plot.

One might say that Kathleen Morris, it would seem, has a knack for writing.

A Study of Experience

Elected Federal Offices held by U.S. Presidents

*in my lifetime, born in 1953

Joe Biden – 36 years senator from Delaware, 8 years VP under Obama

Donald Trump – none

Barak Obama – 3 years as senator from Illinois

George H. Bush – none

Bill Clinton – none

George H.W. Bush –8 years VP under Reagan

Ronald Reagan – none

Jimmy Carter – none

Gerald Ford – 25 years Representative from Michigan, 2 years VP under Nixon

Richard Nixon- 4 years Representative from California, 2 years senator, 8 years VP under Eisenhower

Lyndon Johnson- 10 years Representative from Texas, 7 years as senator from Texas, 3 years VP under Kennedy

John Kennedy – 6 years Representative from Massachusetts, 6 years senator from Massachusetts

Dwight Eisenhower – none

For what its worth; many say Biden has been around too long … I understand that.  Yet, you have to go back to Gerald Ford to find close to as much experience in elective Federal office, and even Ford’s presidency was an unusual circumstance.  Maybe its time we see some of this Federal experience might just pay off.

Book Review: THE WIND AT HER BACK by Kathleen Morris


By Kathleen Morris

264 Pages

American Historical Novel

Published by Encircle Publications

ISBN: 978-1-64599-117-5

Western Europeans made up a good many of immigration into the United States – and here we have Fiona, who has left Ireland after a very tough beginning.  Forced to marry at a young age, she escapes a bad situation and learns a little more of the finer ways of life.  She sets her sights on America and sails across the Atlantic, she finds herself useful to ailing passengers on the ship that end up bringing rewards.  She hopes to succeed in her new country.

And how she does!  She is aboard a steamship, spends some time as a servant, and suddenly, through a chance meeting, she becomes an actress of renown.  Life, however, finds some sour cherries in the bowl – Fiona falls into a nasty situation that requires her to leave New York and head west.  She encounters more acting opportunities that find her back on ship … this time, it is a brand-new Paddle Wheel boat on its virgin voyage down the Mississippi. 

But again, the sour cherries appear.  Her past – some of it from Ireland, some from New York, catches up with her.  She finds herself in the midst of some dealings ‘under the table’ with gun runners and smugglers.

Fortunately, our pretty Fiona is clever and confident and smart.  Her interactions with the characters of the book reveal all these traits, and more.  Her natural acting skills impress the theatre impresarios and wow the audiences.  Her conversations with her acting friends and those she meets along the way are witty and bright.  She finds love.  She finds hate, both at a personal level and at a cultural level.  She finds traitors.  In the end, she becomes part of the key that settles the book into its conclusion.

The settings vary so very much – a sod hut, old Irish villages, the glory of a thriving New York City.  Chicago, just recovering from Mrs. O’Leary’s cow and its fire, is a source of culture for Fiona.  The paddle wheeler is a shiny, brand-new river craft that for its day is state of the art, right down to its jewel box of a theatre and its calliope that announces its arrival in each town.

Characters abound as well – a disrespectful husband, nurses and teachers, crafty theatre producers, patrons of the arts who are secretly patrons of something other than the arts, ship captains (one who secrets that are quite interesting), fellow actors and actresses – all in a range from big-hearted people to self-centered divas that dwell only on their own value.

THE WIND AT HER BACK is a trek in the life of our Irish immigrant Fiona.  But there is no mistake – she is headed for surprises, intrigue and even murder as she tries to build her fruitful life in America.

Book Review: TILL MY LAST BREATH by Deborah Swenson


By Deborah Swenson

Published in partnership with BookBaby

Of Pennsauken, NJ

337 Pages

ISBN: 978-1-09833-571-7

EISBN: 978-1-09833-572-4

Author Deborah Swenson takes on a fun idea: What if you mix science fiction (time travel AND Life after Death), stories of the old west, a portion of classical romance novels, and throw in a good cast of characters?  In TILL MY LAST BREATH, that’s what the reader will find – If you’re open to such genre-mixing, (and you should be) then TILL MY LAST BREATH is for you. 

Our hero Caleb Young and heroine Emily Sweeney are united after each suffer life-challenging injuries – but this review will not give away those particular conditions, because no one likes a spoiler.  The setting (mostly) takes place in a nondescript town in 1880 Arizona, no different than the towns made popular in most Old West novels, complete with minimalist hotel accommodations, a raucous saloon, dusty roads and canyons – and an abandoned mining cabin that would receive a -3 rating on any hotel rating system.

The characters, in addition to our leading pair, include a sheriff of very specific ethnic background (cleverly done), a few villains (in some instances vile, in some instances they appear as if Laurel and Hardy had gone bad), the wise and experienced town doctor, a few fancy ladies about town, and more.  Oh yes – add a few ghosts, too, who embellish the idea of genre mixing even deeper.

The plot spins around our two heroes as they bicker at first, and then learn that each of them has a background that is more than seems possible.  They are encouraged/threatened/assisted by the cast of those around them as adventure after adventure in the old west drives them together, then apart, and so on. As for the time travel, that element appears again and again as one of our characters wishes to return home, suffering disappointment after disappointment as efforts to ‘get home’ are thwarted by desire, by conditions, and by fate.

Each chapter, titled after one of the characters, is told from the viewpoint of that character – through this idea, the author does a nice job of mixing who is who as as this gives the reader an insight into the characters that might otherwise be unavailable.

Honestly, there are a few near-cliches here – but the story and the use of the genres hides them quite well.  In TILL MY LAST BREATH, expect lots of action, a few twists that come about because of the creative genre blending, and a chance to meet some interesting characters.


Soyala, Daughter of the Desert

By Cindy Burkart Maynard

173 pages, including a short glossary and timeline

ISBN: 978-1-54396-264-2

Self Published

Let’s go back almost a millennium to the American southwest and see what the people were like back then.  How did they make life work in the pueblos?  How did the family structure work?  How did they gather their food and prepare it?  Were there wars and disease to cope with? 

In Cindy Maynard’s book, we learn all of that, and more.  Through the life of Soyala, who we meet as a young girl, the reader joins Soyala as she faces everyday life in the time and place mentioned above.  The narrative involves four generations of her family, as well as other members of the community – some of whom come and go, affecting Soyala and her fellow inhabitants of the particular pueblo in which they live.  In time, conditions demand that Soyala and her group move on to a larger pueblo where they must fit in among a different clan.  There is love and loss along the way, and once established with the new clan, there is more.  A few twists of joy and tragedy cross Soyala’s path over the years, but there will certainly be no spoilers here.

Ms. Maynard does a brilliant job in illustrating conditions as Soyala experiences them.  The skies, the weather conditions, the personalities of the people, and even the strife-ridden situation are deftly described. As Soyala grows into womanhood and then into motherhood and beyond, the reader will meet shamans, hunters, potential suitors for Soyala’s hand, wise folks, and several relatives and village members.  Adventure after adventure form Soyala into the person she becomes.

There are some vividly described incidents in the life of Soyala that have me recommend this book for high school age readers and older.  The book reads easily, all within the 173 pages, which is a tribute to the author’s concise  and specific word choices.   

Charles Johnson

December 2020

That Kid

It’s the last day before the election.  Here’s my last take.  If you’ve read my thoughts before, this will be no surprise.

Go back to your childhood years and remember something for me.

You had a pile of kids in your neighborhood you played with. They were pretty much ordinary – a few nerds, a few jocks, and lots of them in the middle. I bet you can name at least a dozen who you played tag with, or some touch football, or riding bikes all around town. Really – recall some of those names for yourself.  Remember their faces, their parents.  Their nicknames.  They had pets you can still name, even after all these years.  Mostly nice kids who helped create a good community to grow up with.

And there were the times you ‘d break out the board games and you’d play.  Monopoly.  Mousetrap.  Aggravation.  Parcheesi.  What were your favorite things to do with your friends?  It was fun, wasn’t it?

Except for . . .

That one kid in the neighborhood who pushed things around.  Outside, this kid was the one who would ride by on his bike, grab your hat and throw it in the ditch.  This kid would hear his mother calling when it was his turn to be ‘it’.  At board game time, this was the kid who ‘accidentally’ bumped the table to throw off the pieces just as the game was ending.  The kid who managed to ‘misplace’ the marble for the Mousetrap game when his mouse was under the cage.  The kid who shifted houses and hotels around on Monopoly when no one was looking.  The kid who would then make these instances look like some other kid had been pulling a fast one.  The kid wasn’t smart or dumb – he wasn’t from either side of the tracks. He just had this way about him.

Sooner or later, you and your friends really hoped this kid would move away.    

And that is where I am with Donald Trump.  He’s “that kid” to me. I never hated that kid in our home town, and I don’t hate President Trump.  Just like that kid in our home town, I just wish he would move away.

Book Review: LYING CLOSE by Frank Weber

Reviewed by Charles Johnson

North Star Press of St. Cloud

ISBN: 1682011100336 pages

Crime Novel/Fiction/Mystery

If it is possible after only three novels to have the fourth serve as vintage work by the author, then LYING CLOSE by Frank Weber fits that ranking.  Weber has made himself known for his dysfunctional yet likable characters, his page-turning, suspenseful style, and details that include topical news of the day and the latest in forensic police work.

The story takes place in central Minnesota, right in the middle of small towns and gravel roads – but then it will drive itself down the highway and the reader will be looking at seedy neighborhoods of Minneapolis.  This leads to the variety of a Frank Weber story.

The recurring characters in LYING CLOSE start with Jon Frederick, the resourceful investigator who knows all the procedures as well as how to circumvent them when it seems wise to do so.  His wife Serena is his devoted confidante who serves as a beacon and occasional conscience for Jon.  There’s Jon’s long-time friend Clay Roberts, who will make impulsive decisions that likely as not backfire, but in ways not expected by him or the reader.  There’s Jada, Jon’s one-time fling, who employs her news reporting skills that sometimes assist Jon in his cases, and in other times will thwart them.  The new characters – and there are going to be no spoilers here – are young, enthusiastic, decidedly bossy, totally and soulfully bankrupt of any emotion, completely dedicated to family – or a combination of any or all of these.

The suspense is paced well.  Weber has a nice way of cycling the tempo of the story so that the reader keeps interested.   At times there’s the quiet conversation over a drink in a bar, and the next thing you know, that bar isn’t so very quiet for so many other reasons, often nefarious and treacherous.

References to real-life crimes are a hallmark of Weber’s books – in this one you may be reminded by name (again, no spoilers – get the book to see what I mean) of kidnappings and murders of recent times in Minnesota.  And hey, some of these might actually intertwine with Jon Frederick’s mindset and work habits.

It’s not all police business in LYING CLOSE.  Weber, too, has a way with humor that’s witty to the point that the reader may have to stop and think as to why something is funny – or sometimes its just out and out chuckle time.

LYING CLOSE is an excellent fourth novel from forensic psychologist Frank Weber that serves as a fine page turner. It has just been released – look for it.

Where My Patriotism Roots

by Charles Johnson

Johnson; Chet in service gear    Johnson; Clifford Charles, died in WW 2

My patriotism comes from a range of people and experiences. My father (Chester, seen above left) spent 4 years in the army during WWII, on Okinawa. My uncle Clifford Charles Johnson, (seen above right) also in the army, was killed during the Battle of the Bulge. My uncle Don served in the peacetime navy in the late 50s and reenlisted later in the 60s and served on the USS TRIPOLI during the Viet Nam War, where he died at his own hand, a victim of what I believe was PTSD. (I have a letter from him written 2 months before he died. No, I won’t share it here.) Other brothers – Robert, Ken, Henry and Willie – also served. My uncle Dan (mom’s brother) served in the army in the peacetime 50s. His son Mike served. My son in law Jon flew army helicopters in Afghanistan. There are others, including more relatives, friends and former students who have served.
My family always respected the flag at sporting events and parades. We attended Memorial Day services. We stood, saluted, and sang as per tradition.
We saw our country succeed with space shots and moon landings. We saw a president assassinated and then watched all the news that went with it. We witnessed national tragedies that included riots and natural disasters and planes flown into buildings. We saw so many ways that our country was challenge, both nationally and internationally.
I can honestly say these people and experiences gave me a solid patriotism that has been with me all my life.

moon       september11th
It is on the basis of such a background and role models that I can say that my patriotism is not shaken by knee-bending athletes, questioning our leaders (of varying stripes of party affiliation) or burning flags. If anything, though I may not like such actions, the patriotism fostered in me over the years means I must recognize that such things are part of the American fabric that has made us the unique country that we are.

I suspect many of you feel the same way.

Book Review: The Notorious Life of Ned Buntline by Julia Bricklin

buntline book
(A Tale of Murder, Betrayal and the Creation of Buffalo Bill)
By Julia Bricklin
Reviewed by Charles Johnson
180 pages
ISBN 978-4930-4735-6
Published by TWODOT Books
Genre: Biographical, US HISTORY
Julia Bricklin takes us into the world behind the pen name of Ned Buntline, who is considered the creator of the dime novel. Our real person is Edward Zane Carroll Judson. Mr. Judson was a cad, a scoundrel, a womanizer, a storyteller, a walking contradiction. In the well written 180 pages, Ms. Bricklin introduces the reader to a man who takes his attitudes of life to ludicrous and warped dimensions. Did I say scoundrel? See also liar, cheat, charlatan and then add in manipulator. In short, Judson made P.T. Barnum look like a stuffy Wall Street banker. It makes a book reviewer want to write the review like a circus poster.
Ms. Bricklin has discovered that Judson’s life was one escapade after another – eight marriages, some at the same time. Military experience in the Seminole Wars in Florida and in the Civil War where the term AWOL was common for him. His womanizing started early and lasted all his life, including marrying in an instant the young lady in the bar – or the 18-year-old when he was 50 years old himself. Some of the ceremonies were suspect, so bigamy doubled back on itself for Judson, culminating in the form of a battle of several of his wives challenging his will. As good as he was with words on the page (having written hundreds of those dime novels) he became a powerful orator of burning rhetoric for the cause of temperance. No problem, you say? Wait. He’d finish his speeches and then go out and get totally soused in a drinking binge that you would think single-handedly kept the booze companies in business.
As if this wasn’t enough, Judson “discovered” Buffalo Bill Cody. Judson included Cody in some of his dime novels, but eventually the two connected, resulting in a play written by Judson all about the adventures of the buffalo slayer Cody. The play became wildly successful as it barnstormed its way across America.
And still within the framework of the theatrical arts, Mr. Judson caused a riot or two in his time – most notably at a theatre on Astor Place in New York, where Judson’s penchant against immigration provoked a riot because an Englishman, instead of an American, was playing a part in a Shakespearean play.
How did he make this all work? His writings earned him a good deal of money, so his travel expenses across the country were covered. He founded several newspapers of his own to foster his opinions (the horrors of Irish immigration, for one) and to bring about the “KNOW NOTHING” political party of the mid-1800s.
In all this, researching his life must have been difficult. Ms. Bricklin followed the trail all over the United States to find corroboration of the Judson tales. Those tales were so fluid, so slippery, that even she needed to concede at times that some of the issues in Judson’s life were so bizarre that it was hard to say with any concrete evidence that they occurred. Trying to track down the facts of his life was like being blindfolded, having your hands tied behind your back, and flying a kite during a hurricane while trying to keep a candle lit.
The good news is Ms. Bricklin’s research and writing reflect a spectacular, professional job in every way. THE NOTORIOUS LIFE OF NED BUNTLINE offers a concise, informative story that is a multi-dimensional thrill-ride through the middle of the nineteenth century of America.

BOOK REVIEW: THREE DAYS IN JANUARY by Bret Baier reviewed by Charles Johnson

three days
THREE DAYS IN JANUARY: Dwight Eisenhower’s Final Mission
By Bret Baier
368 pages
Published by William Morrow
ISBN-10: 006259031
ISBN-13: 978-006259035
Reviewed by Charles Johnson

President Dwight Eisenhower gave us a life of service to our country – namely, a distinguished military career followed by a fine two terms as our president. In the book THREE DAYS IN JANUARY, author Bret Baier focuses how the flow of Eisenhower’s life led to the transition of his presidency to that of a young John F. Kennedy, complete with the hopes and concerns that Ike (Eisenhower, that is) shared with the incoming man from Massachusetts.

The author Bret Baier, using a clear, informative style, fills the first part of the book with a biography of Ike – his family, his schooling, his military training – all of which shaped his philosophies in what became his style as he took over the White House in 1952. From there, the reader is surrounded effectively by the author’s explanation of how Ike’s past influenced decisions made as he served as president – and then as he prepared himself to hand over the presidency. There are organizational skills, there’s seeking the advice of the experts and those who were learned in the field in which Ike needed guidance, there’s the strong leadership that Ike brought to the White House that was so very perfect. To wrap up the book, Eisenhower’s thought processes of how to end his eight years in the White House come to bear upon the reader. Ike had seen the merger of the military world and the industrial world – and how those two entities had come to unite into a strong unit, capable of both great and horrible things that ranged from the obvious military and economic factors to the philosophical notion that the military-industrial complex might wield an influence on government that could be crucial to the future. Also, how was Ike to pass this concept onward to his successor while a world is dealing with a nuclear arms race, Castro in Cuba, Russian leadership wavering for a while and finally settling on Nikita Kruschev?

Bret Baier spells it out for us. The transition from Truman to Eisenhower was not necessarily a smooth, amicable time. Because of this, Eisenhower wanted ensure that JFK was fully informed, totally ready, and as comfortable as possible. If there were to be a successful passing of the torch, all this need to occur.

Baier concludes his book with the thought that it such transitions must the smooth. He concludes the book, noting that as he wrote the end, Donald Trump was about to receive the reins of government from Barak Obama – and would there indeed be as smooth a transition as there was from Ike to JFK.

Time will tell if Baier’s record of the switch in 1961 had any bearing on the switch in 2017.

Book Review: IF YOU LIVED HERE, YOU’D BE HOME NOW by Christopher Ingraham

lived here

By Christopher Ingraham
293 Pages
Published by Harper Collins
Genre: sociology, biographical
Reviewed by Charles Johnson

The author, a writer for a Washington DC organization, did some research on the worst counties in which to live. Based on piles of data, his conclusion: Red Lake County in northwestern Minnesota was the absolute worst county of all to live in. With his article published, he expected little attention. Well, dismiss that notion, Mr. Ingraham.

He heard from the people of Red Lake county. But much to his surprise, it wasn’t all that nasty or vituperative – he found himself invited to visit the county, where he would be shown the highlights therein. So, he flew from Washington DC to Minneapolis, and rented a car, driving the 7 hours north and west, where he met the townspeople, experienced the small-town atmosphere there, where he visited farms, ate the right kind of foods, and shook hands with a good many of the folks there.

Long story short, he learned that statistics, accurate though they may be, often mislead, befuddle and totally confuse. Mr. Ingraham found himself appreciating the hum of the small-town life he found there.

Longer story shorter, Mr. Ingraham returned to the suburban life he led in the Baltimore area, where he had a small apartment with his wife and twin boys. After some discussion and talk, the family abandoned their big city life and moved to Red Lake Falls, Minnesota, (where, ironically enough, there is no falls . . .).

They quickly experienced the meaning of small town life – the shopping, the roads, the weather, the activities one can partake – and you can bet our author was treated to much of this – growing his own garden, keeping pet rabbits, deer hunting, ice fishing, winter festival celebrations, dog sled rides – none of which was the normal lifestyle back on the East Coast.

Mr. Ingraham writes with a humorous, personal voice in this book – it is, after all, his own story. His tales of the activities rollicks with humor and joyful discovery – and yet there art times when he writes with a sedate, reflective voice as he muses about the small town and its approach to the aspects of life – the pacing, the issues (schooling, medical care, and racism, to name a few).

New ideas, new emotions, and unexpected moments fill the book with a savory feel without getting sentimental. Here we have a good one. To read IF YOU LIVED HERE YOU’D BE HOME is to enter a world that dispels any thoughts that urban life is superior to rural life and that the stereotypes we have learned about both are not all that accurate.

Just like those lying statistics Mr. Ingraham initially started out writing about.

Ration Books and Masks – They’re the Same

ration book


Back in World War II, my parents (and yours – or your grandparents) found many items rationed to back the war effort. This included typewriters, gasoline, bicycles, footwear, silk, nylon, fuel oil, stoves, meat, lard, shortening and oils, cheese, butter, margarine, processed foods (canned, bottled, and frozen), dried fruits, canned milk, firewood and coal, jams, jellies and fruit butter. There were ration books that had to be used when some of these items were purchased – and you were allotted so much of different items. Such rationing lasted the entire run of the four-year war. This was all government mandated and administrated. Such a program brought a call of sacrifice from all the citizens, which meant a great deal in why the war ended up the way it did.
Really? Typewriters? Bikes? Nylons? Certainly, there were eyebrows raised and protests launched. You bet – there were seemingly goofy things in that list. In the end, it ALL ended up for the better.
Nonetheless, it was considered the patriotic thing to do – we had to support our boys overseas. It meant giving up some of the things so they could survive, so they could increase the chance that victory would be secured. And it worked.
It wasn’t a socialist plot or a conspiracy to screw the people. It was action deemed necessary to face the crisis at hand. It meant helping each other – it meant being united in the situation at hand – sharing a common purpose.
Let us learn this history lesson – times arise when it is necessary to take actions that require sacrifice in order to protect our own existence. In the 1940s, it was the war. Now, it’s the virus.
So remember those rationed days – there was a clear purpose and benefit then. And even with the questioning and protesting, I think there are enough similarities now to follow through with similar plans.
Let us unite in our efforts to defeat Covid-19. Mask up. Stay home. Shop wisely. Help out where you can. Just like back in WWII and the rationing, its being a good citizen.

(footnote: the list of rationed items comes up from several different sources including WIKIPEDIA and various historical websites.)

Book Review: FOOD:A LOVE STORY by Jim Gaffigan

By Jim Gaffigan
352 Pages
Published by Three Rivers Press
ISBN: 080414043X

Let it be said . . . Jim Gaffigan is one of the funniest stand-up guys out there right now. Witty, smart, self-deprecating in so many ways, a loving family man. A clever bit when he’s doing his gigs where he voices the thoughts of his critics in the audience. Hilarious.

So this is what you get in FOOD: A LOVE STORY. Some of it is from his monologues, some of it is short essays on various kinds of food, and some is just purely for fun. How many of you thought of lobster as insects of the sea but never said it out loud? Jim does, right here. How many of you realize how many kinds of barbecue there is? And that cauliflower is just bleached broccoli … and that bottled water is more watery than water …and that EVIAN backwards (as in EVIAN water) is NAIVE? Jim did.

The book is laid out in sections that follow a certain logic. We are taken on a ride through the United States by food style – sea insects on the East Coast, the joy of Pizza (thank you Chicago) Coffee in Seattle, the solid food of the Midwest (can a burger be more burgery?) And then onto different kinds of foods – the futility of fruit, the futility of vegetables, and so on … yes, a distinct pattern of clever observations about the ironic and silly world we call food.

And like a good meal, this book should be taken in useful portions. Its hard to sit and just read this cover to cover … too much humor can back up on you — so this is a great one for reading a chunk at a time – like maybe in the bathroom while you … no, you don’t need the description, but you get the idea.

Book Review: THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE by Steven Pressfield

the correct one.

By Steven Pressfield
Published by Avon Books4
272 pages
ISBN: 2286116318

In the world of fictional sports novels, we have the mysterious Roy Hobbs in THE NATURAL. In SHOELESS JOE (better known in the movie world as FIELD OF DREAMS) we have the mysterious voice. Both titles, whether considering the book or the film, are entertaining in their ethereal approach to the inner game of baseball.

And in golf, we have THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE. Instead of the voice, we have Bagger Vance himself – an oracle of the skills and mindset of golf who has always been, and will always be. Bagger holds the key to the ‘authentic swing’, to the heart and soul of the true reality of not only golf, but the reality of life as a whole.

THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE is told to us through they eyes of a young caddy named Hardy, who through circumstances of the economy and societal practices of 1920s Georgia, finds himself aligned with local golf hero Rannulph Junuh in a huge exhibition golf match against super-golfers Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen. Junuh has been approached by the town of Savannah to take on Jones and Hagen – and what Savannah gets in the deal is Junuh’s inseparable coach and mentor by the name of Bagger Vance.

Junuh at first wants nothing to do with the match, but through the persistence of young Hardy and through the philosophical words of Bagger, Junuh joins in. Hagen and Jones, the world-famous golfers, bring their celebrity to the event in huge doses; one with glamour and wit, the other with an almost professorial approach to the game. Junuh brings his past with him, which entails military experiences that would shatter many a man, and with an impressive golf pedigree.

As the story unfolds, the three tee off against each other over 36 holes of golf and head through storms, wayward golf shots, amazing putts, and a show of golf skill that had never been seen in Savannah. Bagger, with young Hardy at his side, brings his knowledge and influence to both Rannulph Junuh and Hardy throughout the duration of the event. The conflicts come in the personalities of the three golfers, and even more so in the intermingling of the mindset of Bagger and Junuh.

The story sometimes gets a bit thick in its philosophies of the inner game in the human mind – it can be hard to follow the thoughts as presented by Bagger Vance as he trains Junuh in the ways of the ‘authentic swing’. There are truly exciting moments as the match crosses the golf course with shots of deft control – or maybe total lack of any control.

And like FIELD OF DREAMS and THE NATURAL, the movies and the books don’t always match up in their story lines, but they make a good feast for those who like to read novels or watch movies about sports. THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE is another to add to that class.


killebrew book

By Steve Aschburner
Baseball Biography
256 pages
Published by Triumph Books
ISBN: 9781600787027

I came of age just as the Minnesota Twins came into being – 1961. One of the first names I ever learned in baseball was Harmon Killebrew. He was our hero, our slugger, or epitome of how a baseball player uses his skills and how his demeanor, on and off the field, matter. We had his baseball cards, we wanted bats and gloves with his signature on them. He was a role model for the young boys of the summers of the 60s.

Steve Aschburner brings a precise and clean story to the reader in his book HARMON KILLEBREW: ULTIMATE SLUGGER, even to the point of explaining how he selected the title. We meet Harmon as he grew up in Idaho, where he was a star in many sports. We see him advance through his early years in baseball (the 1950s) as a bonus baby for the Washington Senators – which served as on-the-job training for him, picking up skills that would serve him very well through his more than twenty years in the majors. We see him off the field as well; his wife, their children, a divorce, some financial problems, his charitable work, his post-playing career as a broadcaster.

And centered in all of this, the author Aschburner makes sure we see Harmon’s character; that of an inestimably warm gentleman, hardly one who would carry the nickname “Killer”. Harmon’s career exemplified what we want sportsmanship to be – accepting the umpire’s calls, honor in defeat, humility in victory, joy in a job well done. Aschburner brings this to the forefront at all times, even from Harmon’s high school years and right on through to his last years where he is feted as a Hall of Fame inductee and at many other functions designed to pay tribute to this wonderful baseball player and gentleman.

This one is for every baseball fan who prefers his basbeball heroes with honor and class, on and off the field.


ENDURING FREEDOMThe fleet we call our government – an image to consider

When we talk about government, look how many levels we have. Township, town, city, county, state, and federal.

I’m not a navy guy, but here is your image. The US Navy has all kinds of ships. Over the years, we’ve learned about the nimble PT boats of John F. Kennedy and in the Pacific Theatre of World War II. There are troop ships, destroyers, cruisers, submarines, etc etc etc, with the grand daddy of them all being those huge aircraft carriers that are truly cities on a keel.

We’ve also learned that those aircraft carriers aren’t quite as nimble as those PT boats. It takes a good long time to alter course with an aircraft carrier – heck, a PT boat can virtually run circles around one of those aircraft carriers – or so it would seem.

So what does that have to do with our government? Those various levels of government I mentioned have the same agility in comparison. You want a road plowed in a township? Go to a meeting, you’ll get your yes or no pretty much right now. At the county or city level, that question might get through but would need some study first, the state level would take it under advisement and the feds? You’ll have to fill things out in triplicate, winnow them through 800 different agencies, and then maybe you’ll get on an agenda. In a year. Or so.

So, is it safe to say that the Federal level is an aircraft carrier — terribly potent, but by nature so very slow to maneuver?

Unfortunately, yes, it is. Though we look to the Federal government for its big guns, we can’t be too terribly surprised when it takes a seemingly inordinate amount of time to function. That’s what we’re seeing with the way things are going on that level when it comes to the pandemic.

So, no matter who is in charge of that aircraft carrier – a commander, an admiral, a team of workers, don’t be so gawdawful surprised that things are moving slowly at that level. Its inherent — but once they get it working, watch out.

In the meantime, our other levels are at it, doing their necessary work as well. Let them do their work, too.

Getting Back Between the Pages with an Old Friend: Part II



Getting Back Between the Pages with an Old Friend: Part II
By Charles Johnson

Over Christmas 2019, I dug out a book I hadn’t read for a long time and wrote about it here. That book was TOM SAWYER by Mark Twain, and I mentioned that next it would be HUCKLEBERRY FINN.

. . . And it came to pass that in February 2020 I started reading. I was expecting the same tone, the same boyish misadventures magnified by the literary mind of Mark Twain. Wrong.

TOM SAWYER pretty much stayed around his home town and in one summer. Geographically static and chronologically short. Small-town flings of puppy love, cave explorations and camping on the river, misguided decision making like attending one’s own funeral, and yes, a more adult circumstance like a murder to make it interesting.

However, in HUCKLEBERRY FINN, this is not the case. So much for small towns and adolescent concerns with a few adult issues.

The reader is fed a raft trip running over a couple hundred miles at least and for a good several months with several different settings. There is an alcoholic, abusive parent who is as villainous as any other literary figure. Con artists appear who bilk entire towns of their riches via fraudulent schemes. People pose as others to gain advantage. Houses are knocked off their foundations float down the river with some grizzly cargo. And while we’re at it, how do you help a runaway slave gain his freedom without being found out?

Read that last paragraph again and tell me it makes you think of TOM SAWYER.

There’s the Twain humor. There’s wit, desperation, ignorance and so many other traits that comes out of the wonderful characterizations that spin out of Mark Twain’s imagination – and yet, I can’t help but think he based some of his characters on people he actually knew. For those of you who write, you probably do the same thing.

As for the time period, by the way, we’re in the mid-1800s – the mighty southern plantations were losing their grip on their system of labor through slavery. One of the central plots in HUCKLEBERRY FINN is the relationship of Huck with the slave Jim. They travel together, getting to know one another better as they float down the river. Huck is revealed often as thinking “what a nice guy Jim is . . . for a N.” (Clue: politically incorrect term that starts with N and ends with IGGER). But by the time we reach the conclusion of the book, that last part seems to disappear from Huck’s thought patterns as he realizes Jim is a person who need not be categorized in any way at all – and that’s perhaps the lesson we need to derive from this Mark Twain work. The more we get to know people the less we categorize them with “for a ____.” You can fill in that blank with your own personal prejudice, don’t you think?

I had considered HUCKELBERRY FINN as a sequel to TOM SAWYER. Let it be said here and now – that’s like thinking it was a mere step between Wilbur and Orville Wright at Kitty Hawk in 1903 to the Apollo 11 Moon Landing in 1969.

Read them both – I’m curious to know if you agree.

Book Review: THE SONS OF PHILO GAINES by Michael R. Ritt

The Sons of Philo Gaines Cover

By Michael R. Ritt
reviewed by Charles Johnson
Western Genre
324 pages
Published by Cengage/Five Star
ISBN #: 9781432871031

What happens when you have three sons of three different personalities and careers, who join together in a common cause, all of them the offspring of a well-known lawman? The answer is in THE SONS OF PHILO GAINES.

This novel comes in four parts; each son’s lifestyle and demeanor get a part of the book: the sedate schoolteacher, the footloose gunfighter, and the cagey gambler. Each son carries a past with him – a lost love, a cursed trial, a name that denies family in some ways. The fourth part addresses the uniting of these three sons as they face a family foe, motivated by theme of revenge and comeuppance.

And as in any good novel, there must be the notorious villain – in this case, a rancher who has his eye on the local beauty – but even more so on the local financial dealings. His past, too, drives him as the reader learns what that history holds for him. He is surrounded, as would be expected, by the usual – and not so usual – gang of thugs who follow the villain’s bidding, regardless of the reason or moral correctness.

The love interest, too, is there, as the reader sees the school teacher’s love stir for one who is seemingly forbidden, another for a saloon girl, another for a passenger on a stage run . . . oh, and yes, others that seep up from the past of our three lads of the west.

The story centers around Mustang Flats, Texas, but we hear mention of so many other localities and sites – Denver, Las Cruces, stage coach routes, various mountain ranges that our heroes ride through – I always wish there were a map somewhere in the books like this for the reader to find some visual ground as the action occurs. There are extended overnight horse rides that find some decent descriptions of the southwest geography and night and in the heat of the day. In a kudo to the author Michael Ritt, characters vary, male and female alike, leading to some truly interesting personalities. No one-dimensional typical western folk here. There is humor, too, especially featuring a certain kind of contest between a loner and his mule – I wish there had been more humor like that throughout the book.

THE SONS OF PHILO GAINES is quite a good read. The novel would have benefitted from some tighter editing to polish some sections of the book, but nonetheless, this is a good first entry into the western genre for Mr. Ritt. I do indeed hear and see our three brothers appearing again in future adventures.

BOOK REVIEW: WAKE OF THE PERDIDO STAR by Gene Hackman and Daniel Lenihan

Perdido Star

A Seafaring Novel By Gene Hackman and Daniel Lenihan
Reviewed by Charles Johnson
February 25, 2020

Published by William Morrow Publishing
384 pages
ISBN 1-55704-398-1
Copyright 1999

As a young lad of 16 in the year 1805, Jack O’Reilly experiences his family being forced out of one country, only to settle in another where he watches the murder of his parents. He stows away aboard the ship that brought him to the new country and finds himself a member of a crew that is sailing around the world. His hunger for revenge against his parent’s killer is fertilized over time, and opportunities arise during his seafaring time to develop a plan that satisfies that deep hunger for revenge.

In addition to witnessing those horrible murders, Jack sails on the PERDIDO STAR, where he meets his seaworthy crewmen, including a man who was to become a lifelong friend, a blustery bloke, headstrong characters, and a captain who makes the work “inept” seem an easy title to earn. There are storms at sea, battles among the crewmen and between other sailing vessels, hand-to-hand combat, and struggles of varying degrees of life-threatening depth. There are also the islanders and their chief who become allies when the PERDIDO STAR is run aground. As the nemesis, in addition to the murder of Jack’s parents, there are the other marauding pirates who wish to see the end of Jack and his entourage.

Hackman and Lenihan offer great detail in sailing ships of the day. The nomenclature of all the rigs and sails abound throughout the book, especially when an engineering feat that defies the landlubber’s sense of logic (but nonetheless works out) must come to pass. So much of this engineering feat requires some aquatic skills that aren’t standard knowledge back then – but our innovative characters figure out how to bring about such endeavors – and more than once these skills come in handy.

It is up to the reader to discover the answer to Jack’s revenge – but it can be said that the answer comes in a book of great description and character, with rousing action in a theatre of the oceangoing sailing ships of the time.

Getting Back Between the Pages With an Old Friend

Free retro clipart illustrations at http://www.ClipartOf.com/
During a recent trip, I brought a book with me that I hadn’t read in a long, long time. I figured it would be a good time to reacquaint myself with this old friend. I’ll tell you the well-known title a bit later – see if you can figure it out.

Almost immediately, I found the kind of humor I expected, but it came so quickly at me in the image of a lady wearing glasses more for style than need. As the author said, she could just as well as used oven lids as lenses on her glasses to satisfy her need for style. Funny!

And descriptions? The murder and the battle leading up to it were detailed in every way, pulling at every sense. It was dark, it was creepy, it was lethal – and all while our hero watched it come to pass. In other places, I could feel the weather as it happened because the descriptions were so vivid, and yet so concise.

Dialogue? I could hear the voices of the characters – some innocent, some craggy, some illiterate but heartfelt in the wisdom of their years. Idioms, literary references from Bible verses to Robin Hood and back again appeared throughout the book as the characters discussed matters at hand.

And there was love – pure, doting love. I read of total commitment from one character to the other, only to see it unravel, rebuild as one of lovers was absent for a time – and then joyous reunion. Hate, too, boiled out of other characters, finely tuned to a revengeful level. Joy, industriousness, and even trickery and tomfoolery appear in the pages.

The story line engages the reader – it is everyday life for its time, and rather universal, so the time period isn’t all that crucial. A little knowledge of history helps, but the story of our hero might as well have been you or me or someone else. Adventures abound – some swashbuckling, some truly dangerous – but adventurous nonetheless.

I finished the book and decided I’ll need to read more of this author. So, I have the next logical book ready to go on my bedstand. My next book? HUCKLEBERRY FINN by Mark Twain.

And yes, this one was TOM SAWYER. Never mind that its reputation is that of a boy’s tale – I enjoyed it as a sixty-six-year-old kid. I hope you have a book that you’ll dig out and find your joy in spending time with an old friend like I did.