Book Review: A Fame Not Easily Forgotten

JuneWestphalBook

Eureka Springs, Arkansas is one of my favorite places to visit. It is quirky, beautiful, full of unique artists, craftspeople, writers, entertainment venues, and natural scenery. It is a town built seemingly overnight in July 1879 following the discovery of what was then and is believed to be now curative powers in the waters of the many natural springs in the area.

In “A Fame Not Easily Forgotten”, researchers, historians, and authors June Westphal and Catharine Osterhage spent four years culling newspaper articles, historical records, written accounts, and rare photographs to compile a reasonable and accurate description of what many call the “City That Water Built.”

In mid-December 2015, just prior to my departure on a thirty-day winter holiday, I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with June Westphal at her book signing at the Eureka Springs Historical Museum. I was impressed by her extensive knowledge of the town, its inhabitants, and the entire region.

Here’s an excerpt from the Preface of A Fame Not Easily Forgotten: An Autobiography of Eureka Springs:

Eureka Springs, Arkansas is a remarkable place—and utterly improbable. Why would anyone in the late 1800s, traveling on horseback or in wagons, traverse dirt paths through the steep Ozark Mountains to what must have seemed like the end of the earth? Why would they settle and build elaborate structures on sharp, rocky inclines?

The answer is, water. Pure, abundant spring water reported to have extraordinary curative properties—hope of healing was that powerful and that compelling. So, come they did. Build, they did. And while the water may not have reached expectations, the beauty and magic of the place captured the hearts of so many, they stayed, or kept returning. They still do…

The extensive research is well documented, includes many old pictures of the early days of expansion and growth of the town, and makes for interesting, informative, and entertaining reading. I would recommend this book for anyone interested in the area and its history. You can order your own signed copy of this book from the Eureka Springs Historical Museum.

Book Review: Gone to the Grave

GoneToTheGraveAbbyBurnett

The leaves cross over our graveyards

When the cold wind blows and raves

They whirl and scatter on the frozen ground

Then settle on the sunken graves

They put me to mind of the children of the earth

The mournful condition of us all

We are fresh and green in the spring of the year

And are blown in the grave in the fall.

–Florence Elizabeth Rutherford, 1873-1889

Rutherford Cemetery, Independence County, Arkansas

*

Abby Burnett’s Gone to the Grave: Burial Customs of the Arkansas Ozarks, 1850-1950 is an interesting, intriguing read exploring the traditions surrounding death, local customs and rituals concerning bereavement, and the burial practices in the Arkansas Ozarks. It is excellent in its research, narrative, and visual presentation. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in such subject matter.

I had the pleasure to meet author Abby Burnett, a former freelance newspaper reporter, at the Books In Bloom event in Eureka Springs, Arkansas May 2015 and again this past week during her presentation at the Fayetteville, Arkansas Public Library. Her speaking and presentation abilities are every bit as impressive as her knowledge and expertise on Arkansas burial history and customs.

*

 “This painstakingly researched and thoroughly engaging book is as much an anthropological and sociological study as it is a historical and folklorist account of death, dying, and burial in the Arkansas Ozarks…there is virtually no source of information that Burnett hasn’t explored—epitaphs, business ledgers, funeral home records, obituaries, WPA questionnaires, health department regulations, oral history interviews, ministers’ journals, censuses, mortality schedules, doctors’ notes, undertakers’ record books, historical photographs, museum collections, and newspaper accounts…”

–Allyn Lord, Director, Shiloh Museum of Ozark History, Springdale, Arkansas

*

I hear a voice you cannot hear

Which says I must not stay,

I see a hand you cannot see

Which beckons me away.

–S. N. Lyle, 1875-1932

Lowes Creek Cemetery, Franklin County, Arkansas

Book Review: Moriarty

Moriarty

It is not in my nature to publicly speak ill of another author. As a rule, when I read a book I find less than enjoyable, I tend to move on without comment and find something else to read. That’s been my rule up to this moment. What follows is a notable and necessary exception.

 

The plot of Moriarty by British author Anthony Horowitz takes place after Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective Sherlock Holmes and nemesis Professor Moriarty struggle over Reichenbach Falls and disappear into its depths as described on the book’s cover:

“Days after Holmes and Moriarty disappear into the waterfall’s churning depths, Fredrick Chase, a senior investigator at New York’s infamous Pinkerton Detective Agency, arrives in Switzerland. Chase brings with him a dire warning: Moriarty’s death has left a convenient vacancy in London’s criminal underworld. There is no shortage of candidates to take his place—including one particularly fiendish criminal mastermind.”

No spoilers intended but don’t believe a word of it. Not. One. Word.

This work drags the reader down the proverbial garden path where they are thrown into the deep well of disappointment and left drowning in a dark pool of unforgivable author deceit.

The attempt at constructing a clever plot fell woefully flat and unsatisfying, torturing this reader for some 300+ pages of a 362 page work as I struggled chapter after chapter to find something enjoyable. In the end, the reading experience left me exhausted, day after miserable page-turning day.

The entire work is overloaded with a multitude of pretentious and unnecessary descriptive elements and tedious dialogue both of which slowed the story down so much its equivalent wretched sluggish experience would be attempting to swim the Thames with an iron ball and chain on each leg.

Did I like the book? No. Would I recommend it? No.

I purchased Moriarty because of my familiarity with the televised work of Mr. Horowitz. Most notably, his screenplays on Midsomer Murders, Poirot, and Foyle’s War—three of my favorite television series and all are delights. He also authors the Alex Rider books for young adults. I have not read that series but after slogging through Moriarty, I won’t.

In my opinion Mr. Horowitz may be best suited to screenplays.

Book Review: Pit of Vipers

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Pit of Vipers is the second book in Millie Thom’s wonderfully detailed and enthralling Sons of Kings trilogy set in the 9th Century. Here the epic, heroic adventure continues as we follow historical Alfred, fictional Eadwulf, and hordes of invading Danish Vikings.

Young Alfred, brother of kings, learns to hone his leadership skills and navigate the complexities of the royal court he is destined to rule. Eadwulf is back in Mercia four years now after being held slave of the Danes and is dead set on seeking revenge against his scheming, traitorous, cold-blooded uncle, Burgred.

This story has everything historical fiction fans could hope for: strong, believable characters, meticulously rendered historical settings, love and heartache, scheming intrigue, vicious deceptions, revenge, and epic conflict.

The author’s research into and knowledge of the time period provides an in-depth, fascinating look into the trials, tribulations, and challenges of those who lived in this historic period. We are drawn into their lives, suffering with them through their heartaches, rejoicing with them during moments of joy, and we are provided a front-row seat to witness the battles—both victories and defeats, private and epic—against the Anglo-Saxon’s nemesis, the great heathen armies of the Danes of the 9th Century.

No spoilers here but Pit of Vipers ends on an unexpected cliff-hanger that provides what I hope is a tantalizing transition to the third book of Millie Thom’s Sons of Kings trilogy.

I look forward to reading the final installment of this classic adventure.

Book Review: Silent Faces, Painted Ghosts

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“Silent Faces, Painted Ghosts” by author Kathy Shuker is her second novel (mystery suspense genre) and a wonderful read!

The protagonist is Terri, an art curator who leaves London and an old boyfriend-turned-stalker.

She takes a live-in job with a famous, difficult to work with portrait painter and his family in Provence, France. As she digs through paintings and journals to prepare for the retrospective art exhibit of her employer, she discovers there may be more to her current job, the portrait artist and his family than first thought. That’s an understatement! Secrets and rumors of secrets abound.

The setting is gorgeous, the descriptions vivid and memorable.

Shuker’s writing style is strong and the story is well constructed. She methodically weaves the intricate suspense slowly and deliciously, tantalizing the reader as the story unfolds, revealing clue after clue, mystery after mystery right up until the surprising, unexpected end.

I highly recommend “Silent Faces, Painted Ghosts” and am eager to read the rest of Kathy Shuker’s work.

You may learn more about Kathy and her writing by visiting her website at http://www.kathyshuker.co.uk/

Books In Bloom 2015

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My home state of Arkansas boasts many wonderful events for authors and artists. Among all, one of my favorites is Books In Bloom Literary Festival held on the grounds of the historic 1886 Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs.

I’m pleased that my friend and fellow author, Nancy Hartney, is among those selected to attend the prestigious event.  

Books in Bloom, an event for writers and readers, was established in 2005 by the Carroll and Madison Public Library Foundation to promote the value of books and reading. The Festival provides an opportunity for the public to meet authors and to hear them speak about their work and various aspects of writing and publishing.

For a complete list of events and all invited authors please visit the Books In Bloom web page.

More information about Nancy Hartney can be found here at http://nancyhartney.com/

My review of Nancy’s book “Washed In The Water: Tales from the South” is here.

Congratulations, Nancy!

Book Review: Coronado’s Children

J Frank Dobie

I finished my first read-through of storyteller and folklorist J. Frank Dobie’s Coronado’s Children around mid-February and enjoyed it. I posted a review on another site but began a re-read of the first fourteen stories covering the Lost San Saba Mine to facilitate an on-going discussion relating to the historical James ‘Jim’ Bowie, his search for the San Saba, and the subsequent, and some say same find that came to also be known as the Bowie treasure mine.

Bowie, it seems, was quite the character and consummate adventurer.

Of Bowie, Dobie writes, “Flaming above all the other searchers {for treasure} is the figure of James Bowie. It is a great pity that we have no biography of him such as we have of Davy Crockett. This biography would tell—often with only legend for authority—how he rode alligators in Louisiana; how, like Plains Indians chasing buffalo, he speared wild cattle; how, with the deadly bowie knife, he fought fearful duels in dark rooms; how he trafficked for black ivory with the pirate Laffite on Galveston Island; and then how he came to San Antonio and married the lovely Ursula de Veramendi, daughter of the vice-governor of Texas. Bowie was a master of men and slave to fortune. He was willing to pawn his life for a chance at a chimerical mine, and he asked no odds. Out on the Nueces and Frio rivers, far beyond the last outpost of settlement, he prospected for gold and silver. In his burning quest for the fabled Spanish mines on the San Saba he engaged in one of the most sanguinary and brilliant fights of frontier history.”

The book, published in 1930, does a wonderful job of capturing old tales and legends of lost mines and undiscovered treasures in a style and voice of those who lived and died in and before Dobie’s time. Many, it seems, perished in vain searches for wealth in the deserts, mountains, and vast terrain of the American Southwest. Many more of these reputed treasures, legend and folklore claim, are guarded by spirits and ghosts. The book includes some treasure maps and extensive, colorful, and sometimes humorous narrative relating stories of treasure hunters, suspected lost mine locations and clues to other valuable, lost treasure. I have no doubt it is a must-have reference for anyone interested in writing historical fiction related to Texas history, treasure hunting in Texas, and the legends and stories of treasure and treasure hunting in the American Southwest.