Posts from the ‘book review’ Category

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. 


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.


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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.