Thursday, February 29, 2024

The Trail to Crooked Creek


Good morning, dear readers! Writing about James Alexander Hamilton has increased my interest in the years immediately before and after the American Civil War. If the same is true for you, keep reading this spotlight on MK McClintock's post-Civil War novel, The Trail to Crooked Creek.

~ Samantha


The Trail to Crooked Creek

Guest Post by MK McClintock

Everyday heroes who find the courage to believe in extraordinary love.

Two years after the devastations of war left their mark on a country torn apart, Wesley Davenport, a former soldier haunted by his experiences on the battlefield crosses paths with Leah Tennyson, a teacher who helps him heal his emotional wounds—and discovers unexpected love in the most unlikely place.

The Trail to Crooked Creek, a novella, is a tale of resilience, compassion, and the triumph of the human spirit set in the breathtaking and sometimes unforgiving landscape of post-Civil War Montana Territory.

"MK McClintock knows what readers want." ~ Readers' Favorite

Set in post-Civil War Montana Territory, in the small town of Crooked Creek, it all started with Emma. Her story was written for a contest, but I soon realized there were more women whose tales needed to be written. The war is over between the North and the South, but the battles at home are just beginning. If you love stories of bravery and courage with unforgettable women and the men they love, you'll enjoy the Crooked Creek series. 

MK McClintock is an award-winning author who writes historical romantic fiction about chivalrous men and strong women who appreciate chivalry. Her stories of romance, mystery, and adventure sweep across the American West to the Victorian British Isles with places and times between and beyond. 

Her works include the following series: Montana Gallaghers, Crooked Creek, British Agents, Whitcomb Springs, and the stand-alone collection, A Home for Christmas. She is also the co-author of the McKenzie Sisters Mysteries.

MK enjoys a quiet life in the northern Rocky Mountains. Visit her at, where you can learn more about her books, explore extras, view her blog, and subscribe to receive news. 

Friday, February 16, 2024

A Grave Every Mile

As my dear readers know, I have been delving into the early 19th century since I started research for my biography of James Alexander Hamilton. Last month, I reviewed Red Clay, Running Waters, which takes place during that era. Today, I welcome author David Fitz-Gerald with an excerpt from the same time frame. His novel, A Grave Every Mile, begins in 1850 when so many hopeful journeys west ended in heartache.

Welcome, David!

~ Samantha


A Grave Every Mile: An Excerpt

Guest Post from David Fitz-Gerald

Independence, Missouri, April 13, 1850

I hate it when men fight. After a man throws his first punch, he doesn’t remember why he’s fighting. Where’s the marshal? A town the size of Independence must have a lawman.

A crowd gathers in the rutty street as two men face each other, circling, waiting for an opportunity to swing. The blond combatant hollers in a high-pitched voice, “Take that back, Bobby.”

The dark-haired man, evidently Bobby, shouts, “No, I won’t. You can’t make me.”

The other man shouts, “You can’t talk about my wife like that. I’ll rip your head off.”

“She may be your wife, Wayne, but she’s also my sister. I’ll say what I want.”

Wayne lands a glancing blow on Bobby's cheek. As the punched man’s face turns, I realize these aren’t men. They’re practically boys.

The crowd cheers, encouraging them on. I’ve heard enough. If nobody is going to stop them, I will. My youngest daughter whines as I slide her from my hip, and wails when her feet reach the boardwalk in front of the dry goods store. My twelve-year-old daughter’s eyes reflect trepidation and I reassure her. “Don’t worry, Rose, honey. Hold Dahlia Jane’s hand. Stay right here until I return, and please don’t wander off, for Heaven’s sake.” I glance about to see where my husband and the boys are, but they're nowhere in sight. Not that Larkin would intervene. He would just shake his head and frown.

Two steps from the walkway, in front of the mercantile, my boots meet the muddy, uneven street. Even over the heads of observers, now three deep, I peg the fighters. At times like these, being a woman who is taller than most men is an advantage. As I push people aside, the two men growl at each other. Their arms lock as the evenly matched scrappers transition from fisticuffs to grappling. A trickle of blood dribbles from the corner of Bobby's mouth, and Wayne has a crimson eyebrow.

A tidy-looking young woman catches my attention. First, she addresses the dark-haired man, evidently her husband. “Stop it, Bobby." Then she reprimands her brother. "Knock it off, Wayne. You are creating a scene. Somebody will get hurt.” She glances up at me, her brow furrowed. It seems like a plea for help. I should know better than to interfere in the business of strangers. How many times have I been warned not to get involved? I can never help myself in such situations.

I step toward the snarling bruisers, grab each man by the back of his shirt, and separate them. The scrawny hooligans are surprisingly easy to lift. Maybe they seem so light because of all the years I spent chopping wood. The brown-haired man squirms more than his opponent, who implores, “What are you doing, lady? Have you gone mad?”

“My name ain’t Lady. It’s Dorcas, or Mrs. Moon, if you must.” Their dangling legs barely reach the ground. I clutch wads of fabric in my fists and their feet dance urgently beneath them, trying to find purchase within the muck. I feel like a schoolmarm interrupting a playground scuffle, but these are not children. I gaze into the dark eyes of one boy, then the bright eyes of the other. “What’s gotten into you? I’m sure you know better than to behave like this. What would your mothers think to see you now? You should be ashamed of yourselves.”

The people around us shuffle out of the way, and I’m surprised by an oncoming carriage. It’s too late to duck to the side of the street. A team of shiny black horses swiftly conveys a magnificent rig through a gloppy puddle a few feet from the boys and me, drenching my pink checked dress in pungent mud.

Embark on a harrowing trek across the rugged American frontier in 1850. Your wagon awaits, and the untamed wilderness calls. This epic western adventure will test the mettle of even the bravest souls.

Dorcas Moon and her family set forth in search of opportunity and a brighter future. Yet, what awaits them is a relentless gauntlet of life-threatening challenges: miserable weather, ravenous insects, scorching sunburns, and unforgiving terrain. It's not merely a battle for survival but a test of their unity and sanity.

Amidst the chaos, Dorcas faces ceaseless trials: her husband's unending bickering, her daughter's descent into madness, and the ever-present danger of lethal rattlesnakes, intensifying the peril with each step. The specter of death looms large, with diseases spreading and the eerie howls of rabid wolves piercing the night. Will the haunting image of wolves desecrating a grave push Dorcas over the edge?

With each mile, the migration poses a haunting question: Who will endure the relentless quest to cross the continent, and who will leave their bones to rest beside the trail? The pathway is bordered by graves, a chilling reminder of the steep cost of dreams.

A Grave Every Mile marks the commencement of an unforgettable saga. Start reading Ghosts Along the Oregon Trail now to immerse yourself in an expedition where every decision carries the weight of life, death, and the pursuit of a brighter future along the Oregon Trail.

Connect with David Fitz-Gerald

David Fitz-Gerald writes westerns and historical fiction. He is the author of twelve books, including the brand-new series, Ghosts Along the Oregon Trail set in 1850. Dave is a multiple Laramie Award, first place, best in category winner; a Blue Ribbon Chanticleerian; a member of Western Writers of America; and a member of the Historical Novel Society.

Alpine landscapes and flashy horses always catch Dave’s eye and turn his head. He is also an Adirondack 46-er, which means that he has hiked to the summit of the range’s highest peaks. As a mountaineer, he’s happiest at an elevation of over four thousand feet above sea level.

Dave is a lifelong fan of western fiction, landscapes, movies, and music. It should be no surprise that Dave delights in placing memorable characters on treacherous trails, mountain tops, and on the backs of wild horses.

Connect with him through his website, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Book Bub, Amazon Author Page, and Goodreads

Sunday, February 11, 2024

What I'm Reading: Black History Month


As I was trying to decide which of my recent reads to spotlight for Black History Month, I said, "Why pick just one?" So here are three titles I've finished this month that look at black life in the early 19th century.

I feel like I need to talk about Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl first, because it is a first-hand account that is mentioned in both other works. The memoir of Harriet Jacobs exposes the struggles of the enslaved, even those who may not have seemed at first glance to be in a harsh situation. She did not work in fields, was not beaten, and had much of her family around her. However, she was also pursued by her enslaver and manipulated to the extent that, at fifteen, she selected another white man to become her lover and serve as something of a protector. She goes on to tell how she hid in a sparse attic space for YEARS in order to avoid the man who owned her and his amorous advances. It is unfathomable. I think of the discomforts I complain about - the middle seat on an airplane and other minor inconveniences - and I struggle to comprehend what Jacobs endured before finally securing her freedom.

It is much easier to understand why the other two authors mention Harriet Jacobs in their books. Her testimony is powerful and sweeps away some of the comforting lies about slavery told in both the north and the south.

(I listened to Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl free with Audible Plus.)

One of the most important people in Harriet's life was her grandmother, who was a free woman but was helpless to help Harriet escape beyond hiding her in the attic. In Black Elders, Frederick Knight uses this example and many others to emphasize the value of aged black people in their forced labor communities. Another example is Frederick Douglass, whose grandmother served as substitute for the mother who had been sold away when he was a child. The author provides an astonishing number of individual examples of black elders from the American Revolution through the Civil War and their impact on family, the work force, the church, and politics. While it sometimes feels a little disjointed and repetitive, the sheer number of personal quotes and stories the author has compiled is an impressive accomplishment.

I had hoped for a more in-depth look at the black family in this book and how the situations they were placed in caused the creation of non-biological family units. There are some individual examples of this taking place, but not the broader look at how it impacted (and still impacts) black culture that I was looking for. The author does include many examples of hardship and injustice endured by black elders and their perseverance to serve as honored members of their communities.

One thing that will stay with me from this book was the author's habit of calling plantations forced labor camps. While this is accurate, it is not a term I had applied in this situation. It was a powerful way to strip away any romanticism of the southern plantation lifestyle. This and some of the little-known people Knight mentions were thought provoking and effective in helping readers consider our history from a point-of-view perhaps not previously considered.

(I received my copy of Black Elders: The Meaning of Age in American Slavery and Freedom free through the publisher and NetGalley. Opinions are my own.)

Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America was my favorite of these books, partly because it was most useful for a writing project I am considering. I started out with a library copy and ended up purchasing my own so that I could mark it up and use it for future reference. If you are interested in the Underground Railroad beyond the vague mention that it received in high school history, pick up this book. I was constantly amazed by the testimonies and statistics compiled. It's one of those books that make you realize just how much you don't know.

Some of these facts seemed obvious after reading them, such as the fact that 80% of freedom seekers to the north came from border states. The enslaved in the deep south had little hope and were unlikely to possess any knowledge of where to go if they could escape and travel the many miles to a free state. It's sad and awful and I had never thought about it, but it also makes sense. It added a dimension to the terrible fear of being sold to the deep south.

There's a lot of information here and a lot of people to keep track of, which seems to frustrate some readers, but this book is worth the effort. It tells the story of the Underground Railroad in a comprehensive way, going into great detail about freedom seekers and those who helped them where such historical information is available while stripping away any romantic ideas readers may have of how easy or common escape really was. It was humbling to read about so many people - men and women, black and white - who sacrificed so much to stand up to the horrific slaveholding power. The testimonies are stirring enough to make one wonder, "Would I have the courage to do the same?" I see this book becoming a much-used resource in my research library.

I have a few more books related to the Underground Railroad and America's Civil War on my TBR, so let me know if those are something you'd like to see featured more here. What are you reading for Black History Month?

See more of what I'm reading on Goodreads or what I have reviewed here. I love to talk about books! Let me know what you're reading too.