Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category

Smashwords kicked off its 8th Annual Read an Ebook Week yesterday. It’s a giant promotion of ebooks published on its platform. Thousands, maybe even tens of thousands of ebooks are discounted anywhere from 25 to 100 percent from March 5-11.

It’s a great opportunity to get a great deal on ebooks from new authors. Because Smashwords is an aggregator, meaning they distribute their books to around two dozen ebookstores, you can find an ebook that fits your ebook readers.

I checked the promotion and saw that 10 of my books have been included. I’ve got history, historical fiction, biography, young adult, and horror titles that are part of the promotion. So if you are looking to stock up on some of my titles, here’s your chance.

50% Off Books

Saving Shallmar: Christmas Spirit in a Coal Town ($4.00 promotional price)

9f2a936d3ba79285caad2a928ffd477705b98828-thumbIn fall turned to winter in 1949, the residents of Shallmar, Maryland, were starving. The town’s only business, the Wolf Den Coal Corp. had closed down, unemployment benefits had ended and few coal miners had cars to drive to other jobs. When children started fainting in school, Principal J. Paul Andrick realized the dire situation the town was in and set out to help.



October Mourning: A Novel of the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic ($3.00 promotional price)

cabd7e2edf73bcd3295d24eba5d467e89829e78c-thumbIn October 1918, Spanish Flu left behind 40 million dead. In Cumberland, Md., Dr. Alan Keener wants to take steps to prevent its spread, but he is met with resistance from old-school doctors who believe that the flu’s deadliness is overblown and easily treated. His work is complicated as a street preacher named Kolas aids the flu’s spread.



Beyond the Battlefield: Stories from Gettysburg’s Rich History ($4.00 promotional price)

58bc7189378b3328a38ab711142c5868a7e9cef2-thumbBeyond the Battlefield is a collection of 47 true stories and 56 photos that tell the history of Gettysburg and vicinity beyond the famous Civil War battle.





A Byte-Sized Friend (Hackers #1) ($3.50 promotional price)

e0da6fbdc837e571342e9880a63a6abed1279ea2-thumbChris Alten’s world is limited to the wheelchair that an accident has confined him to. He is lucky, though. The same accident killed his father. Chris also has a mysterious new friend whom he meets online and shows him a brand-new world where he can once again walk. This new world comes with its own dangers when it is discovered that Chris’s new friend is an artificial intelligence program.

25% Off Books

Clay Soldiers: One Marine’s Story of War, Art, & Atomic Energy ($5.99 promotional price)

096b0d8946bc2b824034ba68d473b09b647f2bb2-thumbChuck Caldwell is a WWII vet and Purple Heart winner who has met Civil War soldiers, fought at Guadalcanal and Tarawa, and studied atomic bomb explosions in Nevada. Through it all, he painted and sculpted miniature figures that have become sought after by collectors around the country. Clay Soldiers is the story of a man who became part of the history of America and chronicled it through his art.


FREE Books

My Little Angel

e64185333e93433b9b7be9da00c1e7585bd02946-thumbJanet Sinclair is not looking forward to her first Christmas without her daughter. Janet still doesn’t know how she will go on without Danielle. Then Janet receives a beautiful porcelain angel that looks so much like Danielle that she can’t bear to look at it. As Janet tries to deal with Christmas, she finds out that the angel is more than just an ornament.




When the Babe Came to Town: Stories of George Herman Ruth’s Small-Town Baseball Games

85d5ff6c190421c86439ef06e7dfef0c142737f0-thumb“Babe” Ruth was a baseball legend. You can find out why in “When the Babe Came to Town.” This book shows how the Babe connected with the fans through his many exhibition and barnstorming games.”When the Babe Came to Town” is a collection of some of these stories highlighting games that Babe Ruth played in Emmitsburg, Maryland; York, Pennsylvania; Oakland, California and Cumberland, Maryland.



The Race (Canawlers, Book 4)

295dc0e85e623c2c13f705aa78fdc5168b1c4bc3-thumbFollow the lives of the Fitzgerald family on the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal as Tony and Thomas Fitzgerald race their canal barge against a train. If you enjoyed “Canawlers” and “Between Rail and River” by James Rada, you’ll want to follow this adventure set a few years after the Civil War during the canal’s heyday. Originally published as a limited-edition chapbook for CanalFest 2003.



Welcome to Peaceful Journey

8c8a7ab5d44d5d8a40c59c4f008be84ed971912b-thumbA collection of short stories featuring the most-unusual funeral home you will ever see. Welcome to Peaceful Journey Funeral where the journey from life to death can be anything but peaceful.






ae894698c3f44c84c60a38c4864370d5cea5158c-thumbDavid Purcell was on his way to meet his girlfriend when he fell into a cave. Now he can’t remember the five weeks he spent in the cave. With the help of Adam Maho, a Hopi, David discovers that he must remember that lost time if he if he going to stop the ancient Hopi evil, the dark kachinas, from being released into the world again. To do so, David will have to find his way back to Kuskurza.


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charlatan-9781400136070-lgI wasn’t quite sure what I was expecting when I bought Charlatan: America’s Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam, but the topic caught my attention. I have to say that I loved it. It was a narrative type of non-fiction that I like to read and Pope Brock can tell an intriguing story.

Of course, he also found a great subject to write about, which is half of the battle.

In the early 20th century, confidence man John Brinkley came up with his ultimate money-making scheme. He would use surgery and goat testicles to restore male virility. It makes most men cringe nowadays, but think about some of the odd things we still do to maintain our youth that involved surgery.

Brinkley also developed a sideline of selling potions and pills that turned out not to contain what they claimed to contain. This sort of thing was going on before Brinkley with snake oil salesmen and still continues today.

I found myself reading the book and thinking how could people fall for this, but then I thought about the modern equivalents and wondered how many times I’ve been taken in without knowing it.

Brinkley made a fortune off his quack theories and inspired a lot of copycat “doctors.” He also left behind dozens of dead and maimed people, all the while claiming success.

So, if Brinkley was the antagonist, the protagonist would be Morris Fishbein, the editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association. I’m not sure about other readers, but I just didn’t like Fishbein. I actually found myself hoping that he would fail in his efforts to destroy Brinkley. On the other hand, I found myself cheering for Brinkley at times because he wouldn’t be stopped. He kept reinventing himself to work around the restrictions that were thrown at him. I admired that even though I hated what he was doing.


“Dr.” John Brinkley looking like a medical professional.


I’ve seen a few movies and read some books lately where I didn’t like either the protagonist or antagonist. Who do you root for then?

Besides his gross medical malpractice, Brinkley also had an impact on politics, radio, and country music.

One reason why Brinkley was successful with his scams was because he was a master marketer. His initial marketing efforts dealt with newspaper advertising and direct mail. He recognized the marketing potential of the new media of the day, radio, and made the most of it.

When the government started to crack down on how the airwaves were used, Brinkley moved south of the border and opened a radio station in Mexico that eventually broadcast more than a million watts. Not only was this more powerful than his Oklahoma radio station had been, it was more powerful than all of the U.S. radio stations combined.

Besides pitches for his products and surgeries, Brinkley also presented entertainment. Many of the performers he chose went on to become pioneers in country music.

When Fishbein started to have an impact on Brinkley’s goat gland empire, he used his radio popularity to move into politics and very nearly became elected governor of Oklahoma as a third-party candidate.

I found Charlatan to be a fascinating story. I kept guessing at what Brinkley would do next to outwit Fishbein and his other detractors.

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18679391Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War caught my attention because I like to read about topics that are somewhat off the beaten path. Karen Abbott writes about four women who served their country, whether it was the Union or Confederacy, as spies and in other functions.

I had known some of what Belle Boyd did during the war, but the other women were new names to me. Honestly, Boyd had never impressed me. True, she was an effective spy, but it seemed like what she was doing was just as much about making herself important as it was to help the Confederacy.

Rose O’Neal Greenhow was a member of Washington society who was able to seduce politicians and military men into divulging secrets. I found her time in prison very interesting in how she refused to let it break her, but then she feared going back so it definitely had an effect on her.


Belle Boyd

Elizabeth Van Lew was part of Richmond society who helped hide Union soldiers in her home and pass on information to the North. I actually found the story of Mary Bowser, one of Van Lew’s servants, more interesting. Bowser was hired in the Confederate White House and collected information right from Confederate President Jefferson Davis’s home and passed it on to Van Lew.

Emma Edmonds’ story was the one that truly caught my attention. She took on a male persona and became a soldier in the Union army where she fought, nursed soldiers, and served as a postmaster. She also went undercover as a female slave to collect information.


Emma Edmonds

The epilogue that explains what happened to these women after the war I found particularly interesting. Although I am pleased that the country recognized the contributions these ladies made to the war effort, not all of them led happy lives after the war.

Abbott does a great job of telling the stories in a compelling way, but sometimes the transitions between the stories was muddled. I found that I was quite fascinated to find out what would happen to these ladies.

I am surprised that Abbott included the stories of all four of these women in one book. I would think that any of them deserve their own book.

I was worried when I started reading that Abbott would write a feminist, politically correct book. I am pleased to say that is not the case. At times, I saw some things that might be construed that way, but that could have been because I was looking for it. By and large, it was a straightforward and compelling story.

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy serves as a good introduction to these ladies, but you should look for additional books to flesh out the stories. Some reviewers have pointed out problems in some of the details that Abbott included. Many of these are minor problems, but some are distracting. One that caught my attention was her description of what the Confederate soldiers did to the Union dead after a battle. I have never read anything like that before and it seems so outrageous that she would have wanted to make sure that it was verified.

In other sections, I found myself thinking, “I wish I had written a passage like that in my books.” Abbott definitely made me appreciate the efforts of the women more than I had when started reading.



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517VtRXzarL._SX335_BO1,204,203,200_Six Frigates is the story of the creation of the U.S. Navy and it’s a great read. I picked up a copy when I was in Mystic Seaport. It took some time for me to get around to reading it, but once I did, I was fascinated.

The Navy was created to defend the young United States from threatening foreign powers. This had been a definite weakness during the Revolutionary War.

Unlike a biography, which you can find for many of the major players in Six Frigates, this is a history of the Navy rather than the people who created it. I thought that this would be a big drawback to the book, but author Ian W. Toll does a good job of balancing personal details with history. You read about political motivations and economic considerations to creating a national fleet.

Six Frigates refers to the first six ships that formed the basis of the Navy. Built by a man who had never designed a warship before, the book begins by addressing the problems the United States faced in actually building the ships.

The story then moves to the sailors and their rocky performance. The book gets really interesting with the tales of the Barbary pirates and the Navy’s battles against them.

It is almost like a coming-of-age story with the Navy playing the part of a teenager. The War of 1812 shows the Navy with its ships built and sailors trained as they set about to defend the country.

This was Toll’s first book. He has since written two more books that are centered around the Navy during WWII. I haven’t read them, though given how much I enjoyed Six Frigates, I will probably buy them at some point.

USS Constitution 4

The U.S.S. Constitution

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Last To Fall CoverHere is the preface from my upcoming book, “The Last to Fall: The 1922 Marine March, Battles, & Deaths at Gettysburg.” It is due out in early April.

Confederate M1917 tanks lumber across the fields, moving on the Union position behind a stone wall on Cemetery Ridge in Gettysburg, Pa. The Union soldiers fire machine guns not so much at the massive metal vehicles approaching them, but at the Confederate soldiers using the tanks as cover in order to make their way across the open ground. In the face of an unstoppable weapon, the Union soldiers begin falling back.

Hearing loud buzzing sounds from above, the Confederates stare upward as Union DeHavilland DH-4B biplanes fly out of the clouds. The airplanes level off safely out of range of the Confederate rifle fire. Then the explosions commence as the bombs rain down around the tanks and troops turning General Pickett’s Charge into a bloodbath.

If only…

Yes, the Battle of Gettysburg had been fought in 1863, but after the Allied victory in World War I in 1918, some people began to wonder, “What if?”

What if some of the modern technology that had won the war had existed in 1863?

What if the Battle of Gettysburg had been fought with the military equipment used in World War I?

The answer was not to write a science fiction novel that dealt with alternative history. The U.S. Marine officers who were debating these questions after the end of the Great War had the capability to test out their theories. The answer to the questions was supposed to be safe. It was only supposed to be a training exercise, a war game.

Something else happened, and because it did, two marines became the only aviators to die fighting the Battle of Gettysburg.

It wasn’t a game.

It was all too real.

So what do you think? 

If you are interested in learning more about the book or taking advantage of the pre-order offer, visit my web site at: jamesrada.com.

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9780770436209_custom-91ae188bedae87f8b4facaf730d081f9dd842434-s6-c30I remember picking up paperback books when I was a kid that were filled with Ripley’s Believe It or Not! cartoons. I loved them! Those little snippets of information peaked my interest about the world around me and instilled in me a fascination for the odd and unusual. This summer, one of the stops on my family’s Great Smokey Mountains vacation was to visit the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium. I had hoped that it might spark curiosity in them as well.

So when I saw, A Curious Man by Neal Thompson, my curiosity kicked in. Why hadn’t someone written about Robert Ripley before? I purchased the book and enjoyed it immensely.

It is the story of Robert Ripley’s journey from struggling newspaper cartoonist to cultural icon. He came from a poor family and was teased for his buckteeth and stutter. It is a true rags to riches story because Ripley also had talent, determination, and a strong work ethic.

A Curious Man also paints a picture of a talented man whose passion for travel and oddities gave way to a life of excess and then obsession.

Ripley conquered newspapers, books, radio, television, the speaking circuit and museum circuit. Even with the help of the staff that he eventually had, I am still amazed that he could do as much as he did and still travel for months at a time.

Along the way, readers get a good picture of life during an interesting time of American history—the Roaring 20s, the Great Depression, and WWII. They watch the rise and beginning decline of the newspaper industry.

I found the book easy to read and enjoy. I also liked the Ripley-style callouts of interesting factoids throughout the book that Thompson called “Believe It.”

If I have one complaint about the book, it’s that it continued too long for me after Ripley’s death. The battling over the Ripley empire after his death held little interest for me.

A Curious Man made me start looking around for those old paperbacks again so that I could read more about the wonder of the world.

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I didn’t know much about Harry Houdini before reading The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America’s First Superhero. I remember seeing an old TV movie about the escape artist, but I really didn’t remember much about it. I also liked the fact that William Kalush, one of the authors, was a magician himself.

He and co-author Larry Sloman do a wonderful job of bringing Houdini to life on the pages of the book. They explore all aspects of his life from his childhood to his rise to fame to work debunking spiritualists. It also gives non-magicians like me a unique peek behind the curtain to see how magic is made.

I have to give Sloman and Kalush credit. They have written an exciting biography. Although Houdini led an interesting life, they still could have written a boring book. I am reading another biography now about an exciting man and yet, I find this particular book boring. So they deserve credit for making a larger-than-life character very alive.

Though Houdini made a career manipulating people, he was actually a very nice person who mentored other magicians. He was a strong family man. He also wore a lot of hats in his life: magician, escape artist, husband, son, brother, spy, actor and debunker of spiritualists. You get an excellent perspective of all these roles in the book.

So do yourself a favor. Read an exciting, true book about one of the most-interesting people you will ever get a chance to know.

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