Tag Archives: historical fiction

The Smoke, by Lars D. H. Hedbor

downloadI’m thrilled to announce the January release of the latest edition in Lars Hedbor’s Tales of a Revolution series. I’ve come to be pretty good friends with Lars, but it’s a friendship that began through a shared love of American history and mutual respect for each other’s work. In 2013, dissatisfied with a small press, Lars decided to take publishing into his own hands. I’m so glad he did! He’s proving himself quite prolific. And I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every single one of his books.

The Smoke is a thought provoking look at the clash of cultures that took place during one of the most world-changing events in history–the Revolutionary War. In a microcosm of the broader conflict, Hedbor focuses on the challenges facing the Iroquois Confederacy (an alliance of five Indian nations), and more specifically, the Tuscarora tribe within the alliance. Historically, this powerful force sided as a whole with the British, but when the British failed to keep old promises and the American army became a greater threat, some tribes within the Confederacy allied themselves with the Americans in an act of self-preservation, effectively splintering the long-held cohesion.

The Smoke very effectively illustrates the pressures facing the Turscarora people: the continuing encroachment of American settlers and loss of Indian land, the long arms of an American/European conflict that was not their own, the tough decision to choose against the larger Iroquois council, and the struggle to hold on to a culture doomed to extinction by a stronger invader. But Hedbor does more than just paint a picture, he makes the “savages” human. “They are but people, whose ways are strange to us, without a doubt, but they laugh, love and lose just as we do.”

Apart from an immaculate application of history, Hedbor demonstrates his ability to write artistic prose. I love his consistent use of animal word pictures to help readers get into the heads of the tribal people, my favorite being: “His speech sounds like a bear smacking a fish on a rock.” That quote also gives a taste of the humor speckling the tale. And as always, his particular gift for historical vernacular shines through.

I have two reasons for not awarding this one 4.5 stars instead of a solid five as I did for books one and two, and both reasons are very minor. First is an abundance of commas that I found a little disruptive to the flow of thought. And second, the main American character Joseph undergoes an all-encompassing change, an embracing of the tribe that is very appropriate to the story but happens too strongly, too quickly, in just one winter. I had a hard time believing that he could so soon forsake his own culture and even dream in the Indian speech.

Overall, I give The Smoke my highest recommendation. It’s a fascinating glimpse into one tiny corner of the world’s first global conflict and one of the best books I’ve picked up this year. If you enjoy American historical fiction as I do, this one is a must-read. All all Lars’ books are under five bucks!

(The Tales of a Revolution series is not necessarily kidlit, but they are totally appropriate for a 14+ audience, the high rating due mostly to vocabulary and some war-related context.)

The Prize
The Light
The Smoke

5-Q Interview with Lars Hedbor

I haven’t posted a 5-Q interview since last year. It’s time I ended that streak. Joining me today is historical fiction author and Revolutionary War buff, Lars Hedbor. If you missed it, on Monday I posted a review of his novel, The LIght, which is the second book in his Tales of a Revolution series and his first self-published title. I’m so glad he made the transition. I’ve been waiting a long time for this one!

Lars HedborHi, Lars. The Light is your second stand-alone book in a series that explores little-known corners of the American Revolution. What inspired the Tales of a Revolution series? And what do you hope your readers take away with them?

I have always loved history, but not as it’s taught in classrooms. The exigencies of grading dozens, even hundreds of tests cause most history instructors to resort to focusing on tidbits that can be reduced to multiple-choice questions–dates, names, casualty counts and the like.This approach to history is inherently boring–it’s no wonder that so many students hate history classes!

I find that I learn history best through spending some time in the shoes of those who lived through moments in time that turned out to be pivotal–and for that, the American Revolution is tough to beat, as it represents a shift in the entire relationship between government and society.

The main thing that I’d like my readers to take away from my stories is that, while there were great figures who shaped the Revolution, the real shift–from British subject to American citizen–took place in the kitchens and fields of everyday people, folks whose names are largely lost in the mists of history.

Too, I think it’s crucial for my readers to understand that great events in history can be deeply affected by the actions of just a few people. While The Prize‘s Caleb Clark and The Light‘s Robert Harris didn’t make it into the history books, actions of people like them were instrumental in the outcome of the American Revolution. We don’t have to have our names on monuments to leave a legacy.

Can you tell us how much time it takes to research a book in such a long-ago era? What are some of your favorite sources or methods?

I’ve done a great deal of general reading about the era, so I’ve got a solid grounding in the events surrounding the Revolution. I love it when I come across some aspect of the Revolution that I’d not previously encountered. My best story ideas tend to come from this general reading.

I write extremely quickly–I started my novels as part of the National Novel Writing Month–and I do much of my research just as quickly. The resources available online are incredible! Given that my focus is on Colonial and Revolution-era America, there are many primary sources available through Google’s book scanning projects, and a great many terrific histories, many of them written in collaboration with the still-living participants in the events being documented.

Because it’s a time period that fascinates a wide audience of reenactors and armchair historians, there are many terrific articles available, and no small amount of scholarly research. It helps that I’m a voracious reader, as well–as I was preparing to write about Captain Mallett’s experiences as a French privateer, I read an entire thesis about the economics of Caribbean piracy of the 1750s in a couple of hours!

Verisimilitude is of great importance to me, so as my characters move through their world, I am prone to stopping and chasing down details that they’d see as commonplace, but which would interest and inform my readers as to the flavor and texture of their lives. It may not fascinate everyone that the transition from charcoal to mineral coal-fired forges revolutionized the blacksmith’s life, but it’s of deep interest to a working blacksmith, so it gets a mention in Robert’s story.

I’ve also been very fortunate in finding folks who have personal knowledge of the details of my characters’ world. For example, this past summer, I had the opportunity to speak with a blacksmith doing demonstration work at an historical museum, and I was able to watch his work, and ask him directly about details that I wasn’t sure I’d gotten right from just reading about it. Subject matter experts are generally thrilled to find out that I’m not only writing about their area of interest, but that I’m determined to get it right for my readers.

the lightIn The Light, I was intrigued by the plight of the colonial Quakers. They were opposed to conflict, yet to do nothing might mean the loss of their freedom to worship as they desired, as in England. How did you come up with this unique scenario?

I decided to look at the experience of the Quakers primarily because my own family goes back to members of the Society of Friends who lived that challenging question personally. When I began my research, it didn’t take long for me to find references to the Free Quaker movement, and from that schism, the rest of the story coalesced.

The setting of Trenton came about almost by accident. I knew that my family had had a large house in Camden, New Jersey during that period–indeed, it’s still there!–but the research I did about New Jersey Quakers seemed to place more of them in Trenton. Given that there were some interesting events of the Revolution there, I settled on Trenton and let the rest of the story form on that basis.

I do tend to keep the well-known historical figures “off stage” in my writing, as their stories are, by definition, already thoroughly told, and I’m trying to tell new stories. So General Washington’s presence in Trenton is seen, but mostly in reference to the way that the residents would have experienced his passage through the area as he routed the Hessians.

I love the way your books bring the human story of the past to life. I’m curious how many more books are planned for the series? Can you give us any hints as to upcoming titles or subjects?

Thank you! I work hard to project the basic human needs and emotions that we have in common with every person who’s ever lived onto the tapestry of the society and events in which my characters found themselves. For most all of us, we’re motivated less by a sense of historical purpose than we are by what’s immediately before us, and I strive to write my characters in a way that reflects that.

My plan is to write a novel for each of the original thirteen states, plus a few bonus volumes, such as The Prize, which is located in the Republic of Vermont (which was disputed between the New Hampshire and New York colonies prior to declaring its own separate independence in 1777). I think that it’s important to remember that the Revolution didn’t take place just within the confines of Philadelphia, Boston and New York City. It was, in fact, the first global war, though I’ll probably content myself with just examining the events of the American colonies themselves.

I’ve already drafted The Declaration, which details the experience of an upland South Carolina tobacco farmer as the brutal British occupation of that colony began. I just finished the manuscript for The Wind, covering the amazing exploits of the Spanish forces in the Gulf of Mexico, leading to the British loss of East and West Florida to Spain. The next volume in the series to be published will be The Smoke, which looks at the experience of the Tuscarora tribe as the Iroquois Confederation in modern-day upstate New York splintered under the pressures of the Americans and British to take sides in the Revolution.

After that, I haven’t decided quite yet which of a couple of stories I’ll be writing next. I’m particularly intrigued by the experience of the Loyalists, who backed the Crown against their friends, neighbors and family members, and were ultimately on the losing side of the war. I’ve come across some really compelling incidents, which I think will make for terrific novels…

And finally, I always love to ask authors to list a few of their own favorite books and authors.

I grew up primarily reading science fiction, believe it or not, and Robert Heinlein remains one of my absolute favorites. He got his science as right as was possible when he was writing, but never lost sight of the fact that his characters needed to be fully human (even when they weren’t). His character-driven approach sets his work apart from the gadgeteers and the slobber-fest writers who have come to represent sci-fi today. In many ways, my own writing is informed by the same basic needs of getting the facts right, and then letting my characters experience them.

In terms of non-fiction, I’ve lately been reading a lot of cookbooks–or, in the parlance of the time, “receipt books”– that document the cooking that would have been done to feed the people of the Revolutionary era. I’ve been writing a regular column for the Journal of the American Revolution derived from what I’ve learned about the foodways of the time, which have been both very rewarding to create, and popular with their readers. Hannah Glasse, Elizabeth Smith and Amelia Simmons are in pretty frequent rotation on my e-readers as a result.

In my own genre, I’ve long been a fan of Michener’s deep-roots approach, and I fairly recently discovered (and devoured) Patrick O’Brien’s Aubrey-Maturin series. O’Brien’s incredibly detailed and historically-correct writing is a great inspiration–and had me pretty intimidated about writing anything naval, although I wasn’t able to entirely avoid it in The Wind, and will probably have to touch upon it again in future volumes. As an “indie” writer, too, I make an effort to seek out new authors whose works I haven’t previously encountered. Some of the best new books out there are being self-published or released through small publishing houses, and it’s a treat to find a new and vibrant voice among our number.

Thanks, Lars! I’m looking forward to the release of more books in the Tales series!!


Grab a copy of The Light:
Kindle ebook

Visit Lars at…
Web: http://LarsDHHedbor.com
Twitter: @LarsDHHedbor
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Lars.D.H.Hedbor

Time Enough for Drums, by Ann Rinaldi, 1986, Book Review

Ann Rinaldi has become a household name in YA historical fiction, and this is one of her most acclaimed books. It’s been on my reading list for some time. The year is 1775, and fifteen-year-old Jemima Emerson is a headstrong young lady. She’s not a bad child; she simply doesn’t think before she acts, and Mr. John Reid, her tutor (and a hated Tory), is determined to turn her into a lady. She resists with everything she has.

But war has a way of making one grow up. Jem’s brother, Daniel, fulfills a commission under General Washington. Her merchant father sacrifices much to supply the army. Her mother writes essays under a pseudonym that appear all over the American colonies. And her boyfriend, younger brother, and servant all leave to fight. Her sister moves away and marries a British officer. All these events have consequences. Then the dangers of war come directly to Jem’s home town of Trenton along with the occupying British army. In the meantime, the tutor Jem so despises ends up being more than he seems.

This is a tremendous coming of age story that takes place during the American Revolution, one of my favorite historical time periods. There were so many forces at work, so many players, so many changes, and so much at stake. It’s fascinating! Ms. Rinaldi does a tremendous job boiling it all down and illustrating how all those factors came to affect one family. And the independence theme comes through loud and clear, both on a national level and a personal one.

Ms. Rinaldi’s greatest strength, however, is the strong characters she creates. Jem is a complex girl living in a complex time, and John Reid is the perfect counterpoint for her. Just like Jem, I couldn’t stand him at first. But the interaction between them kept me turning pages, even if the romance that develops between them was a bit predictable. Their strong bond serves to emphasize the horribleness of war.

I would rate Time Enough for Drums in the 12+ YA category because of that same horribleness. It’s not overwhelming, but it’s all-encompassing. War is always terrible, and in this case, the details are probably best left to an older audience. It also has a few mild profanities.

Highly, highly recommended historical fiction.

An Exciting New Launch!

Today I’m celebrating!

I’ve been at this self-publishing thing for less than two years, so I don’t have a long history with any of my related friends and contacts. And despite the large number of indie books that have crossed my path during this time, I’ve recommended very few of them. Timothy Davis, however, was one of the first to contact me. Would I read and review his book, Sea Cutter? Of course I would.

And I did.

And I loved it.

So I read it with my boys.

And they loved it too.

Tim and I have kept in contact ever since, so when he let me know that Sea Cutter was going to print, I was thrilled! Then I saw the book and my jaw dropped. It’s gorgeous!

This story is one of my favorites. I’ve championed it before (read my review), but when I saw the hard copy, I had to help spread the word. My boys, ages ten and seven and true fans of “Mr. Davis,” wanted to help. Great idea! Since they’re the intended audience, their opinions should weigh more heavily than mine. Here’s what they had to say:


I know Mr. Davis is one of your favorite authors. Can you explain why?


Because we’ve emailed him and he emailed us back. And I liked his characters. Wayland is my favorite character because he loves Nat so much, even though Nat tells him lies.


‘Cause he writes good books. He can do a long book!


We read the Kindle version of Sea Cutter together last spring. What did you think when you saw the real book?


Cool! I like it better than the Kindle version because you can actually see the cover and hold it in your hands. It looks really cool!


I like the broken up ship on the cover.


Can you remember what happens in the story?


Nat wants to go to this one island [Perlas Grandes] because he thinks his dad is there, and his friend Wayland brings him. Wayland is an adult. But Nat lies a lot. And Wayland goes overboard in a storm.

He makes a nice friend named Paulo. And Snake is the bad guy.


What was your favorite part?


When they got thrown into the whirlpool of death!


The whirlpool of death!


Would you recommend this story to other kids your age?


Yes, because it’s full of adventure. You never know what’s going to happen next. And the ending has a great surprise.


Me too, because it’s a good story.



So there you have it, straight from the experts. If you want to hear more, M-Man also reviewed the book on his blog. And now, in a nutshell, the reasons I like Sea Cutter:

The instinctive good story-telling, the cliffhangers, the positive values and clean language, the adventure, the historical setting, the way it made my boys excited to read, the beautiful new look, and the excellent editing. This is one indie that matches the quality of the Big Six publishing companies.

And finally, the crucial question: Where can you get a copy? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered!

Paperback – $8.98 US Amazon UK Amazon

Ebook – $2.99 Amazon Smashwords Barnes & Noble Apple KoboSony

The Time Pirate: A Nick McIver Time Adventure (Book Two), by Ted Bell, 2010

Nick’s adventures continue. The Nazis have invaded France, Poland, Belgium, and Holland. England has declared war on Germany. Winston Churchill is the new Prime Minister of England. America has promised aid to England. And the first of four tiny Channel Islands has fallen to the Nazi invasion. Will Nick’s island be next? Not if he can help it!

With is friend Gunner’s help, Nick rebuilds the old Sopwith Camel biplane that his father flew in the first World War and learns to fly it—then stages a one-man, uh, one-boy bombing raid on the Nazi airbase on the neighboring island. He blows it sky-high.

Isn’t a twelve-year-old boy a little young for such an accomplishment? Don’t his parents know what he’s up to? Would the adults Gunner, Hobbes, and Lt. Hawke really condone, even aid, his involvement? Not where I come from! And perhaps not then, either, but sometimes we forget in our modern society that very, very young boys used to hunt, used to enlist as drummer boys, used to strike out on their own. And every war, it seems, draws boys as young as fifteen and sixteen who lie about their age and sneak into the ranks. Perhaps this isn’t quite as unrealistic as it seems at first glance. Either way, it’s fiction, and rousing good fiction. Quite appealing to today’s boys who don’t have such opportunities.

Not only is danger pouring in fast and strong in 1940, the pirate Billy Blood makes another appearance, and the action shifts to 1781. If you know your history at all, you realize what an extremely important year that was for the American colonies, for it brought about the surrender of General Cornwallis at the Battle of Yorktown and ended the Revolution. But Washington could not have led his troops to victory if the French Admiral Francois de Grasse had not cut off Cornwallis’s retreat. And wouldn’t you know it? Billy Blood has it in for de Grasse. He’s amassed a huge pirate armada to ambush the Admiral on his way to the Chesapeake Bay to assist Washington. When Nick finds out, he realizes that if Washington doesn’t win at Yorktown, there will be no America to come to England’s rescue in 1940. He aims to make sure that happens.

I really enjoy all the history in these books. They’re very unique in that Nick finds himself in the thick of action in World War Two as well as at some important points in the past. In this case, readers gets a first-hand look at the Battle of Yorktown and many of its key players. Shucks, Nick is running messages for them! That is, when he’s done blowing up pirate ships.

I must issue a word of caution. There are a lot of mild profanities. Billy Blood has a foul mouth. Of course it’s much tamer than reality, but he’s quite consistent. And book two seemed to me a little more graphically violent than the first–violence Nick is actively participating in. He strafes Nazi officers who “slump over.” He guns down an Indian who is attacking him. Gunner shoots a pirate in the temple. There are several scenes where “blood pools around his boots,” or something similar. And there are also many third person descriptions of the violence of war: the Nazi bombing of a port city, the shooting of 400 starving horses, the dismembered and unburied dead lying about Yorktown.

The Time Pirate is not for the young or squeamish. It’s right on the edge, but I would let it slide for my own kids once they reached twelve-years-old. It’s certain to please today’s boys who still dream of becoming heroes.

The Mighty Miss Malone, by Christopher Paul Curtis, 2012, Book Review

I loved this one! The Mighty Miss Malone has everything in it that I appreciate about children’s literature: style, humor, beauty, depth—even history! I have absolutely no complaints about the story. It does have some incorrect grammar and spellings, but that’s because it’s written from the firsthand perspective of twelve-year-old Deza Malone. I don’t like such inaccuracies in books written for young children (like Junie B. Jones, by Barbara Park), but by fifth grade, the approximate reading level I’d give this one, most students have mastered these skills to the point that they will recognize and laugh at the imperfections. In this case, it adds richness.  And is the cover not adorable?

A 1930’s Hooverville.

Deza lives in Gary, Indiana with her parents and older brother, Jimmy, right smack in the middle of the Great Depression. Times are tough. Mrs. Malone has a steady job cleaning the house of a wealthy white family, but Mr. Malone’s employment is intermittent at best. They can’t affort to bring Jimmy to the doctor to find out why he stopped growing, Deza’s cavities are so bad her breath reeks and she stuffs camphor-soaked cotton balls in her back molars to numb some of the pain, and the family is reduced to eating buggy oatmeal. Then tragedy strikes. Eventually, Mr. Malone goes off in search of work.  Then Mrs. Malone looses her job. She and the children “ride the rails” to Flint, MI in an attempt to find Mr. Malone and end up living in a “Hooverville,” a shack village at the edge of town.

A great Depression bread line.

This is a startling look at the Great Depression and a great way for today’s kids to gain insight into that period of history. It’s told from a Black perspective in a day and age when Blacks were basically considered sub-standard citizens and contains many moments or racial prejudice. When Jimmy steals an apple pie, Mrs. Malone is hugely relieved that it wasn’t from a White windowsill, a resulting lynching being implied. The snobby White woman Mrs. Malone works for holds Negroes in contempt and the “letter of recommendation” she writes shows it. There are also multiple references to the derogatory phrase being a “credit to your race.” But in a great cultural irony, it also features the historical boxing match between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling (One could write a book about the implications of that match!) and shows the tremendous affect it had on both black and white Americans.

Joe Louis and Max Schmeling

Overall, the book is clean, historically accurate and beautifully written. Mr. Curtis includes an afterward that sheds some additional light of the boxing match and the history of the time. Then he claims “we haven’t come very far” and compares the plight of today’s “15 million poor Americans” to the Great Depression, calling welfare reform “immoral” and “selfish.” Such political posturing marred this tremendous book for me. Granted, we are in an extended recession, but unemployment today hovers just under the 10% mark. In the GD, it touched 25%! Another 25% could only get part-time work, and pay cuts crossed the board. People were starving to death. Today, we have a welfare subculture, including third generation recipients, and when I walk through the government-subsidized housing in my town, the “poor” have cell phones, pricey exercise equipment, cable, and plasma tvs–luxury items I’ve gone without for years to get ahead on bills (while funding them for others). Can I submit that personal choices and family structure have much to do with economic station? I, for one, still loudly call for reform.

Sorry for ranting like that, but that afterward really rubbed me the wrong way. But I can give my 100% support to a fabulously told story.

Orphan of Destiny (The Youngest Templar), by Michael P. Spradlin, 2010, Book Review

Of the three books in The Youngest Templar series, Orphan of Destiny was my favorite. At long last, Tristin reaches England. Pursued by Sir Hugh, he hides out for a time—in Sherwood Forest! Robard takes on his full role as Robin Hood (Robard Hode), the Thane of Sherwood, complete with a cast of thinly-veiled characters that have been building the entire series: Friar Tuck, the maiden Maryam, Will Scarlet and Little John. Tristin and Robard even have a standoff with the evil Sheriff of Nottingham. It’s a fun little aside built right into the series that actually makes sense. At the end of the book, it is suggested that the story of Robard and the Sheriff may not work out quite as simply as Robard thinks it will.

But of course Tristin can’t stay in Sherwood. After a brief stay, he continues on to Scotland in search of Father William, the priest to whom the grail must be delivered. And of course you can guess who waits for him. Sir Hugh. But the end isn’t completely predictable. Well, mostly it is, but it’s a good ending. A satisfying one that concludes an exciting, sword-swinging adventure series.

This book isn’t completely squeaky. After flirting with profanity for two books, this one contains a couple OMGs and a few colorful words that toe right up to the line without quite stepping over. The content, like the rest of the series, is completely clean, with the exception of some mild violence. And again it has moments here and there that make me roll my eyes, like when Tristin is handed the mantle of leadership by much more qualified men, or when something is hugely predictable, or when I can totally see through a writing gimmick. But overall I’d rate these as decent and engaging for high middle grade/low YA readers, especially for boys or lovers of Robin Hood lore or medieval history. I’d probably enforce a fifth grade+ limit in my own house.