In the Shadow of the Hanging Tree

In the Shadow of the Hanging Tree

In the Shadow of the Hanging Tree by Michael A. McLellan (Historical Fiction)

This engrossing novel immerses the reader in the reality of post-Civil War America, following the intertwining stories of a freed slave, a high-minded West Point cadet, and a strong-willed young woman, each struggling to live his or her life in an era of brutality and greed.

Nothing here is sugar-coated. We experience the terror of newly freed slaves pursued by angry white men filled with hatred. We see the power wielded by wealthy men intent on controlling everyone around them, including their daughters. We witness the mindless slaughter of indigenous people as mercenaries and military seek to incite Indian uprisings in order to justify taking their land. At the same time, we know what a band of renegade Indians has done to white settlers and how their leader treats a female captive. We see the good, the bad, and everything in between as we travel with these multi-sided characters on their quests for freedom from personal oppression.

The result is a book full of believable people who take you along on a journey with no guarantees that things will go well. As in real life, predictability is not an aspect here, and the outcome will keep you thinking about their stories long after the closing has been read.

Grandma gives In the Shadow of the Hanging Tree five stars. 5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.

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A Gleam of Light

A Gleam of Light

A Gleam of Light by T.J. and M.L. Wolf   (Science Fiction)

For fans of Native American culture, UFOs, and government secrecy about unexplained phenomena, this book provides a look at the possibilities linking ancient civilizations and the extraterrestrial.

After ten years in Washington, D.C., a young Hopi woman reluctantly returns to the Arizona reservation on which she grew up. She comes at the request of old friends who believe she can help them stop a military operation that threatens sacred lands. Even though she has lost her own way following the deaths of her activist parents, she is familiar with all the old teachings and old ways, giving her the background necessary to understand and respect what possibly lies beneath the area known as Sacred Peaks. In addition, she herself experienced a UFO sighting as a child, the effects of which still linger in her mind.

The story is full of Hopi lore, interesting archeology information, and insights into extraterrestrial sightings, and while at times the dialogue feels like recitation of a research text, the plot is intriguing enough to keep reader interest. The emphasis is more on action and lore than on character development, and so emotional connection with characters is somewhat limited. Some head- hopping occurs, but it’s minor. Like most stories of its kind, it leaves the reader pondering what’s possible in our universe, what’s hidden from ordinary citizens, and what the future may hold for mankind.

The authors are a married couple with an interest in ancient alien theories, and they’ve done a good job of putting together a story worth reading. More character development could widen its audience.

Grandma gives A Gleam of Light three stars. 3 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received a free copy from the authors in exchange for an honest review.

Oath of Honor

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Oath of Honor by Matthew Betley (Thriller)

This page-turner kept me reading into the night, and the action never stopped. Anyone who enjoys thrillers with lots of involvement by covert government agencies and special ops forces will find this a satisfying read full of all the requisite suspense, anti-American global conspirators, highly trained specialists, and a traitor somewhere in the upper echelons of the U.S. government.

The main characters, former Marines Logan West and John Quick, are wise-cracking, close-as-can-be brothers in arms who now work as members of an FBI special task force. They are likeable, far-from-perfect individuals whose skills and dedication are put to the test as they search for stolen technology that has the potential to start a war between the U.S. and China. In addition to following the action through them, we also enter the worlds and minds of the co-conspirators from Sudan and China who are racing to put their stolen technology to use. And we meet other highly skilled special ops personnel, including the amazing and enigmatic Amira, who adds her own female awesomeness to the action. We also get a glimpse of the good-natured competitiveness between agencies and branches of the armed forces while they cover each other’s backs without compromise.

Oath of Honor is the second book in The Logan West Thrillers series that began with Overwatch. Author Matthew Betley is a former Marine with a high level of experience in the areas about which he writes and is also a recovering alcoholic, a trait he has given Logan West as part of his personal struggles. The result is a book that grabs the reader from the action-packed first chapter and just keeps on going to the ready-for-more conclusion.

Grandma gives Oath of Honor five stars. 5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Patriots of Mars: The God That Failed


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The Patriots of Mars: The God That Failed by Jeff Faria (Science Fiction)

I don’t read a lot of books about sci-fi worlds, and, of course, if you’re reading about life on Mars, this is world-creation stuff. That part of this book was very impressive to me, although daunting at times. Simulated intelligence, bots for everything, aural and optic implants, artificial atmosphere, communication wonders, and an all-knowing technological presence called MOM that keeps everything going and everyone under observation. Lots of technical information about how things work and lots of detail that was mind-boggling but impressive. Lots of creativity and imagination.

The story itself starts with a group of young people trapped in a mine on Mars, and we soon learn that they’re up against some real baddies in terms of transnational corporations that control everything. We don’t get a lot of time to know these characters, however, before the story starts jumping among lots of characters on Earth and in various locations on Mars until, frankly, I was exhausted from trying to keep track of them all. The Homesteaders and the New Australians and others on Mars are doing their best to change the balance of power — hence the “Patriots” reference — while on Earth, the U.S. military is sending a ship full of troops to maintain the status quo. The early group of young people, one of whom gets visions from something called The Guide, become critical members of the resistance who must stop the incoming ship. Meanwhile, the SIMs and bots and MOM seem to be doing their own thing, in a complicated scenario that made me glad I wasn’t there.

The book is fairly long (or at least it felt that way), but it doesn’t really contain that much action, and the characters are flat. I would have been more interested in a book about the Homesteaders and the folks in New Australia who lived outside of the colonies established by the transnats. They seemed to have some personality and depth, but they remained on the periphery in more ways than one.

Grandma gives The Patriots of Mars three stars. 3 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received a free copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Fifteen Words

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Fifteen Words by Monika Jephcott Thomas

At a time when World War II-era novels abound, this one is unusual in that it is set in Nazi Germany and follows the lives of a young German couple —Max and Erika – who fall in love, marry, and are then separated by war and its aftermath. Max is a religious man who hates Hitler and his regime, while Erika is a Nazi supporter, having grown up as an enthusiastic member of the Hitler Youth. They attend medical school together and after graduation, Max joins the army as a medic for the purpose of helping the soldiers, not furthering the Nazi cause. He is stationed in the city of Breslau, running a field hospital set up in a former monastery, when the Soviet army takes control of the city and sends him to a labor camp in Siberia.

Erika, meanwhile, is six months pregnant and is traveling with her father-in-law to the home of Max’s parents where she plans to live and give birth to their baby. She has no idea what has become of Max, but assumes he will be coming home soon, since the war is ending. Neither of them realizes that they will not see each other for four more years.

The title refers to the fact that letters sent home by Soviet prisoners were not allowed to contain more than fifteen words, thereby limiting their ability to tell their loved ones about their living conditions. As readers, however, we are privy to all of the deprivation, horrors, and mistreatment that Max and his fellow prisoners must endure at the hands of the Soviets. In alternate chapters, we observe Erika as she makes a life for herself and her daughter in occupied Germany while Max is gone.

After following their individual lives during four years of separation, it was clear that their reunion as a couple would not be an easy one, and I was particularly interested in how that reunion would ultimately play out. How long would it take them to get used to one another again? Was it even possible? Max isn’t the person he once was and no longer feels a bond with “home.” Erika has her misgivings and her secrets, and their daughter is less than welcoming to her father. Does he ever connect with his daughter, recapture a loving relationship with his wife, and at least come close to feeling as though he might fit in again? Unfortunately, the book stops abruptly upon his return home and leaves all of those questions unanswered.

Overall, this book is well written and well researched. While the story is fiction, the book is inspired by actual events in the lives of the author and her family (see our guest post from author Monika Jephcott Thomas). I just wish I knew more about Max’s fate, as I had become invested in his welfare (Erika’s not so much).

Grandma gives Fifteen Words four stars. 4 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews Books was given a free copy of the book by the author in return for an honest review and participation in the blog tour accompanying its release.

A Story of Hope, Love, and Faith: Guest Post by Author Monika Jephcott Thomas

It’s the eighth of May, 1945, and Word War Two has come to an end. The doorbell rings. Two American  army officers carrying riding crops step up to the door and one of them speaks, his manner and his tone both extremely commanding, ‘Within the next few hours, you must clear out your flat.’ Just like that. There is absolutely no opportunity for discussion or question. I am heavily pregnant and expecting the birth of my first child within a matter of days. I hurriedly gather up all of our possessions, and pack them into boxes, which we then stack at the front of the house. Now, I am literally sitting on the street with my in-laws.

This is an extract from my mother’s diary. I was born in Germany in 1945 a few days after this entry was written. My father was a POW in Siberia, so I didn’t meet him until I was four. The first years of my life were spent in occupied Germany. We lived in Mengede, Dortmund, in the North-West of the country. Allied troops wandering around the streets of my hometown were a familiar sight. The bitterness and resentment they had for the German people was palpable. The ransacking of homes and the rape of German women was rife. Germany in the months after the end of the war was a dangerous place. But it was all I knew. To me it was normality.

Then he was coming home. My papa, the man I had heard about and had seen in photos but had never met, was coming home. Mum seemed to be very busy getting things ready, with banners for his welcome and decorating the house with flowers. The local press were informed that this war hero was coming back, and then the morning arrived. We all went together to Mengede Station – Oma and Opa, Tante Änne, my Mum and myself. We were not allowed to go on to the platform so we stayed at the entrance where we were expecting him to emerge. I stood beside my Mum, waiting for him to appear, holding the little bunch of flowers I was going to give him. And suddenly, there he was! This man in his army uniform, looking very pale and thin, walking towards us. He stopped in front of us and nobody quite seemed to know what to do. So my Mum whispered to me “Give him the flowers and say hello.” I did, and I expected him to scoop me up in his arms and hug me, kiss me and tell me how much he loved me and how he had missed me… but he didn’t. Instead, he took a round brown Bakelite container out of his rucksack and gave it to me, saying “This is for you.” I opened it and it was full of sweets, such as I had never had before and I was sure my Mum would not allow me to have. However, it made me forget that he had not done all the things I had expected him to do, including not hugging my Mum or his parents.

We all walked back to my grandparents’ house and I held hands with them while Dad and Mum walked together, arm in arm. Once we were inside, after he had been shown around and we all had some ‘Kaffee und Kuchen,’ my grandparents suggested I went out to play with my friends so I took the brown container with me. However, as soon as I was out of sight of our house, I opened the container and stuffed myself with sweets. Then I went to meet my friends and, because I felt guilty for having eaten so many, I handed the sweets round to everyone, obediently doing what I had been taught – to share – keeping the empty box to play with later and to take home as evidence of my generosity. When I got home for supper, my Papa asked me where the sweets were. I held the empty box and opened the lid, showing him proudly that I had none left because I had shared them with my friends. I thought he would praise me but, instead, he became very angry with me for giving them away.

Of course, there was no way I could possibly understand then how many sacrifices he had made in order to give me that present, for how long he had deprived himself of even the horrible food they had to eat in the labour camp, how many people he had bribed to give this ‘treasure’ to me.

This first meeting between me and my father inspired a central moment in the last chapter of my novel Fifteen Words. How two young lovers, such as my mother and father were during World War Two, can be ripped apart by war, separated for such long and debilitating times, and then how they begin to repair the inevitable rifts that have formed between them, is the subject of the novel – one which, despite the bleak backdrop of war, is a story about hope, love and faith in all its forms.

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Monika Jephcott Thomas grew up in Dortmund Mengede, northwest Germany. She moved to the UK in 1966, enjoying a thirty-year career in education before retraining as a therapist. Along with her partner, Jeff, she established the Academy of Play & child Psychotherapy in order to support the twenty percent of children who have emotional, behavioral, social, and mental health problems, by using play and the creative Arts. A founder member of Play Therapy UK, Jephcott Thomas was elected President of Play Therapy International in 2002.

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Two young doctors form a profound and loving bond in Nazi Germany; a bond that will stretch them to the very limits of human endurance. Catholic Max – whose religious and moral beliefs are in conflict, has been conscripted to join the war effort as a medic, despite his hatred of Hitler’s regime. His beloved Erika, a privileged young woman, is herself a product of the Hitler Youth. In spite of their stark differences, Max and Erika defy convention and marry.

But when Max is stationed at the fortress city of Breslau, their worst nightmares are realized; his hospital is bombed, he is captured by the Soviet Army and taken to a POW camp in Siberia. Max experiences untold horrors, his one comfort the letters he is allowed to send home: messages that can only contain fifteen words. Back in Germany, Erika is struggling to survive and protect their young daughter, finding comfort in the arms of a local carpenter. Worlds apart and with only sparse words for comfort, will they ever find their way back to one another, and will Germany ever find peace?

Fifteen Words is a vivid and intimate portrayal of human love and perseverance, one which illuminates the German experience of the war, which has often been overshadowed by history.

Available on Amazon.

For Grandma’s review of Fifteen Words, go here.

The Dawn’s Early Light

The Dawn's Early Light

The Dawn’s Early Light by Lee Duffy (Military Thriller)

This book is a fast read that held my attention from the get-go. The plot is somewhat familiar — terrorists have taken control of a plane full of Americans and are holding them hostage. A U.S. counter-terrorist team made up of the military’s best deploys to save them.

What neither side knows is that Major Mike Elliot is onboard. He is an ex-Special Forces operative haunted by past mistakes that cost him his first family, and now his second wife is in danger and he cannot fail again. Not knowing what’s happening in the outside world, he is determined to give it his all, even though he will be up against four desperate and brutal terrorists.

Various named characters in assorted branches of the military, CIA, foreign service, White House, and more are introduced, with what, to me, was an overload of names, positions, and duties that begged for an organizational chart for quick reference. The point of view is everyone’s, so that we know what’s going on in the head of each character mentioned above, plus the terrorists’ boss, the CIA’s local informer, and the informer’s girlfriend, to name a few. I admit to some skimming now and then during the planning discussions about the Delta Force rescue, but could not put the book down once the action began. It is well written, and one can tell that the author knows his stuff when it comes to the military, security, and international relations in the Middle East.

This book is the first in a series of Mike Elliot thrillers.

Grandma gives The Dawn’s Early Light four stars. 4 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy from the author in return for an honest review.

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