BookReview: Blacktop Wasteland

blacktopwastelandI don’t do a lot of reviews on this blog, but this reminds me that I really should do more.

I just finished reading Blacktop Wasteland by Shawn Cosby. I received a free electronic copy provided by the publisher (Flatiron Books) and this is my honest review.

I’ve known Shawn for only a short while. I first met him at a local “Noir At The Bar” event where we were both sharing readings for the crowd. I told my wife at the time I thought he was the best writer there. Now that I’ve finally read Blacktop Wasteland, I’m happy to report that my first impression was right on the money.

To say I liked Blacktop Wasteland would be an understatement. I loved it. The book is crime fiction and it is a gritty and realistic example of that genre. I write mostly mysteries. These two genres are cousins, and they both give the reader a peek at similar issues, but each uses a different focus. My experience with mysteries provided a good backdrop for enjoying this story because so many aspects of it were sub-mysteries of their own.

Cosby waltzes around plot structures in both standard and unique ways, the way Fred Astaire could dance an amazing solo, but then pull a mop into the mix and make you think the mop was dancing just as well as he was. Cosby makes effective use of flashbacks as well, and they weave in and out of the story the way Beauregard weaves in and out of the mess he has made for himself.

I am wary to share too many details because I in no way want to spoil this story for you, but in short, Beau has done his best to put a criminal past behind him and forge a family life on the straight and narrow. But the universal truth “life is hard” rears its ugly head and he figures just one more “job” might provide the easy money he needs to right his ship for clear sailing.

Then another more pertinent universal truth pops up: there is no such thing as “easy money.” It’s a deep well and Cosby effectively plumbs the depths of that well just until you think it can’t go any deeper, but you have to keep feeding the line because neither he nor Beau has reached the bottom yet.

Blacktop Wasteland is fast-paced and the plot employs a sinister intricacy that slides into your brain the way your feet can slide into a comfortable pair of old slippers. But don’t get too relaxed … you will need to strap on your reading comprehension hat real tight because even the tiniest of details may pop up to surprise you later. Cosby zinged me in this way several times and even made me laugh out loud more than once.

Be warned, the book is about lowlife individuals who lurk on the dark edges of society, so there is a bit a language, but I thought he used a measured amount that fit the dialogue. It’s a crime thriller so there’s violence too. If you are turned off by either of these I’d have to say, everything fits the story and this story is well worth reading on so many other levels. At the least, you should revel in experiencing this breakout novel of a gifted writer.

As a writer myself, I want to hate Shawn because I don’t need this kind of competition, but I can’t hate him, not at all, simply because I love his insight and skill so much. Look for Blacktop Wasteland in mid-July. If you can catch him reading at a bookstore or a local “Noir At The Bar” — catch him there, his readings are not to be missed. I’ll finish by just saying: WOW! Just WOW! A well-deserved Five Stars!

I’m sure it will be sold all over the place but an Amazon link is easiest right now … put this on your TBR list. Blacktop Wasteland.

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina. His most recent novel, THE HAG RIDER, is available at Amazon. Be on the lookout for his mystery thriller PENUMBRA, coming in August.

Let’s talk

If we were somehow having coffee today I’d probably be in a hurry to get back, so here is a truncated narrative on my views of all the current issues.

Masks. Wear them. It is NOT a political statement. It is NOT an action based on fear. If you are a conservative like me, yet think that means you are anti-mask, understand this, if it helps. I consider wearing a mask to be an extension of my second amendment rights. Period. I will arm myself however I wish to protect me and my family. Period.  If you don’t wear a mask on principle, I hope you at least wash your hands after going to the bathroom, but I don’t hold out much hope.

Black Lives Matter.  Of course they do. This choking stuff? Where did that come from? It’s obviously a bogus tactic. Here’s the deal: if someone is being choked to keep them from continuing to struggle, it is completely counter to human nature. Not being able to breathe is one of the strongest fear responses ingrained into every human being. Can’t breathe… must struggle.  It is a counter-productive tactic.

To the ‘all lives matter’ people: yes, of course they do too, and I’ve seen a lot of videos of the same thing happening to all races (and the same thing above applies) but you have to understand that the highly disproportionate numbers of these cases involve blacks.  Period. And for what? a counterfeit bill?  Another guy in Texas didn’t dim his headlights? No one faults police for reacting with force when someone points a gun at them. The cases people are protesting weren’t like that. They were convictions, trials, and executions for infractions that should in no way involve execution. I think people have a right to be worked up. Enough is enough.

What about the rioting and looting? Wrong.  Never a justified response. There is a big difference between protest and riot. It doesn’t help the valid cause people are marching for … not at all.  Kudos to the brave souls who worked to stop it.  It could very well have escalated into something no one wants to experience.

Military bases named after Confederates, and Statues honoring them? I’m from the south, and I have a degree in history so I can add a little perspective. Grant has a great observation on this in his memoir (an awesome book), reflecting on the surrender of Lee:  “I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.”

We, in the south, were influenced by teachers themselves influenced by a flawed narrative known as “the lost cause.” It involved rationalizations that do not hold up to historical scrutiny, in my opinion. Most of the monuments are extensions of the lost cause mentality and were erected to displace shame. The fort namings are an extension of this … no doubt something to placate the suspicions of placing “US” forts on southern soil by naming them after southern “heroes.” Oddly, some of them were awful military leaders … Hood and Bragg?  People call Grant a butcher (part of the lost cause narrative) but Hood literally squandered his army in fruitless frontal attacks. Sigh.  People say “they” are taking away our heritage. No, our heritage was the enslavement of human beings. In realistic terms, by pushing the nation to the point of secession and war, the south ironically fast-tracked abolition. Slavery would have persisted for decades without the war. The south was never going to “win” … the best they could hope for was a stalemate and even if that had happened, they’d find out their expected European markets had sourced raw materials from other more stable sources and continued border conflicts would have bankrupted them pretty quickly.

In closing, understand that change takes time. I know, there has already been a lot of time wasted, but attitudes and habits need a lot of nudging to get them in the right place. Shoving them in place usually doesn’t work. Patience and persistence. We all have a long way to go. It doesn’t have to take a long time, it shouldn’t, but it will take time.

 

Indie Author Spotlight #9: Thomas Fenske Writes “With a Slice of Life” — The Edifying Word

Forwarding this awesome author interview!

Here in our ninth edition of the Indie Author Spotlight I am aiming to keep bringing positivity despite what’s going on in the world, which I’ve pretty much withdrawn from for a bit. Today I’m chatting with Thomas Fenske, who I’ve mentioned here at The Edifying Word many, many times over the years; most recently I reviewed his latest work, The Hag Rider, which released just this week. I’ve been a fan of Fenske since I read his first book, and I hope you will be, too.

via Indie Author Spotlight #9: Thomas Fenske Writes “With a Slice of Life” — The Edifying Word

New Release >> THE HAG RIDER

You've never read a Civil War tale like this! (1)I’ve just released my fourth novel, The Hag Rider. It is historical fiction set during the Civil War and because of that setting, it covers subject matter that can generate an emotional response in many people. In normal times I’d let it go at that and leave it to the reader to draw their own conclusions. But because of the nature of the book, I want to offer just a little more introduction.

It is written as a Civil War memoir from the viewpoint of a Confederate cavalryman, who was just fifteen-years-old when he enlisted.  Early in the book, we met Jack, a broken boy in Texas who runs away. He manages to discover parental love and wisdom through Moze, an enslaved man who in essence becomes his family.  Moze is anxious and reluctant when Jack is enticed by fiery secession fever and decides to enlist, to join the Civil War campaign. Concern for Jack leads his mentor to seek protection for his young friend through the only source available to him. A local witch,  Vanita, who is also a slave, embodies a source of mysterious power in spite of her life situation. Jack makes his way through the violent and confusing time of war, with her help, and through his reflection on lessons gleaned from Moze’s discourses about dignity, respect, and humanity.

Yes, it is set in the south during the Civil War, but this book is far from a glorification of the antebellum era.  At its core, it is a soldier’s story told through young eyes. Jack is against slavery and he strives to overcome the prejudices of the time while at the same time knowing he is a product of those times.

The Hag Rider is available from Amazon, in Paperback, Kindle, and KindleUnlimited.
Buy it here>>>–>>https://www.amazon.com/Hag-Rider-Thomas-Fenske-ebook/dp/B088QX1LHW

WeekendCoffeeShare

If we were in some way able to meet for coffee today I’m sure we’d be drawn to the events of the past week. The overbearing question is, why are we still at this point? Frankly, it amazes me that we haven’t figured it out yet … Rodney King put it plainly:

“People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along? Can we get along?”

It was a profound statement from a guy whose suffering at the hands of heavy-handed police officers was broadcast far and wide. Yet this continues and continues and continues.

Frankly, I have only had good experiences with law enforcement, even when I was on the short end of their efforts. I have always found them polite and supportive. Frankly, I am white.

I grew up in the South. I grew up knowing two branches of racism. I did not grow up in a blatantly racist home, I grew up in a home that more practiced paternalistic racism. Many people don’t see any difference but understand, I did not grow up thinking poorly of people of color. Sure, we had a black maid. Believe me, I knew a LOT of kids whose families wouldn’t hire a black maid, they had white maids. My folks hired a black contractor too, to build an addition to our house. In many ways I think my mother wanted to provide jobs and opportunities where she could.

When I was about eight I was with some friends riding our bikes around a nearby shopping center (the early 60’s, right?). It was a hot day, and I was thirsty and I saw a water fountain so I stopped to get a drink. My friends were horrified.

“What are you doing? You can’t drink from there!” he said, pointing at a sign on the fountain. “Colored Only!”

I just shrugged and took a drink. “You can be arrested for that,” I was told. I look back now and can only say, “Yeah, right.”

I wasn’t raised to really care about such distinctions. Am I perfect? Nope. Bias is a deep wound that is not easily healed but you know what? I’ve always been aware of it and I try to keep myself on an even keel and rise above it.

A few years ago I worked in a convenience store and this cemented my overbearing current view of blacks: they are just folks, like anybody else. They work, they love, they hurt, they cry. Just like me. Just like you. When you look at someone in this country, you need to not see white or brown or any other color, you need to see a person who deep inside is pretty much just like you.

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in NC … his novel THE HAG RIDER will be published on June 1, 2020. More information: http://thefensk.com

WeekendCoffee Book News

If we were attempting to have coffee today, I’d be lapsing into book news again. Sorry. I know it gets tiresome but I try to not make it so. Ah, but with a new release coming out Monday, June 1 … it’s an exciting time. A new release always is.

But I know I’ve talked about The Hag Rider several times in recent weeks, so I’ll just say the kindle edition is now available for pre-purchase on Amazon. <—<< click there to check it out.

In other news, this is not my only new release this summer. August 1, I will be releasing the fourth book in the Traces of Treasure Series, Penumbra. I consider the first three books in the series a trilogy, but I’ve always thought the second and third books could stand on their own — but a reader gets more enjoyment if they’ve read the first and/or second books. With this fourth book, the story stands on its own … yes, you’ll want to know the characters better but they (and the reader) are so consumed with the evolving mystery, the past is soon rendered moot.

That said, I want to unveil the new cover’ I consider this one to be the most awesome cover of all my books.

I’ll reveal more about the book later, but I want you to know I think this is the best book of the series so far. Like I said, it is due out in August.

In other news, in honor of this unveiling, I’ve put the kindle editions of second and third books of the series on sale for 99 cents. Sorry, I already had a special on the first book in April and it will be a while before Amazon lets me do it again. My hope is that if you have read The Fever, you will jump on this opportunity to experience A Curse That Bites Deep and Lucky Strike. They should both be on sale in the US and UK for 99c/99p starting sometime today through next Thursday. Update: I created a link to both books on my web page: http://thefensk.com/spec.html

As restrictions ease, please stay vigilant. I suspect this thing is not over. Just exercise common sense, please. Stay safe.

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in NC. More information on his books can be found at http://thefensk.com

Two-Week Countdown

You've never read a Civil War tale like this! (1)If we were having coffee today, somehow, somewhere, I’m sure I’d mention the upcoming release.  My latest novel, The Hag Rider, is due out in two weeks!  Once all the writing and revisions are done, the editing and resulting changes are in, the copyediting and final review of the galleys are done, and the cover art is approved and ready … then an author must wait.  And wait.

If you self-publish, you can go ahead and push it out.  If you have a publisher, you wait for them to work it into their schedule.  It’s good, it teaches patience. It allows you to get a few pre-release reviews too, and in some instances gives you the ability to put in a few last-minute corrections your sharp-eyed early reviewers spotted.

So here we are … two weeks to go.  I’m working on some promotions but it is still just a tad early … I need the buy links to be in place.  I think that will be soon.

It’s got five good reviews now … check the book blurb and the reviews for The Hag Rider here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/53125987-the-hag-rider.

Wait, what? What the heck is a hag rider?  Okay, we’re friends, so I’ll crack the door open a bit.  The entire story is loosely based on my great-great-grandfather, who enlisted in the 26th Texas Cavalry at the tender age of fifteen.  He listed his date of enlistment on his Confederate Pension application in the 1920s.  In fact, I think he flubbed his birth date (he was already in the initial stages of dementia at that time), but enlistment dates were checked against existing records (of which there were a surprising number).  If we took that date he would have been fourteen, but I prefer to use the birth date on his death certificate, which would make him fifteen.

I don’t know anything more about his service except his affirmation on his application that he never deserted.  There is, however, a very nice, if brief, sketch of the 26th Texas Cavalry written by its commander, Xavier DeBray, a French-trained military officer who relocated to Texas.  The 26th spent most of its time patrolling along the Texas coast and participated in the retaking of Galveston on January 1, 1863; it had been occupied by the Federal blockade fleet the previous October.  Later the 26th participated along with other forces trying to stop General Butler’s Red River campaign in 1864.

I read a lot of soldier biographies, where one gets a better sense of the war. So many people focus on the officers and the elites.  I then decided to scan for his name in an electronic version of The Official Records of the War of the Rebellion.  It is a huge work, comprising many volumes.  It usually takes up two or three shelves in the library stacks.  It has the records from both sides, action reports, orders, all sorts of stuff.  Officers from both sides participated in cataloging all of the information over a number of years.  Anyway, I searched for his name, John Benson, and got a single hit.  A John Benson, origin unknown, was released from Fort Lafayette in NYC in the Spring of 1863, for exchange at City Point VA, which was a common thing in 1863.

I knew it was almost certainly NOT my ancestor but still … I wondered to myself, “What if?”

As I did more research, I began to formulate a believable scenario … my problem: how to get young John from Texas to NYC so he could be repatriated to the South in the spring of 1863.  This was the spark that gave me the idea for the entire story.  I think my fiction works and is believable.

Anyone who has read my other books knows, I love to put a subtle bit of paranormal into all my stories and this one is no different. The Hag Rider is the person who helps John, who is usually known as Jack in the story. He is sometimes called Captain Jack — a nickname foisted upon him in jest by his mentor, an old man, a slave, who teaches him a lot about life in the early part of the story. The Hag Rider is an old woman, a mixed-blood with some Native American and white ancestry, but her black ancestry has kept her a slave. She’s a hoodoo trick doctor, and an aquaintance of the old man.

When young Jack is attracted to the hoopla surrounding secession and aspires to enlist, the old man falls ill with grief.  He hires Vanita, the trick doctor, to protect Jack throughout the war.  Her weapon of choice is called hag riding.  It was a folkloric explanation of the time for night terrors; people would assume they’d been hag-ridden by a paranormal entity sitting on their chest. In Vanita’s case, she uses it as a way to instill something akin to a post-hypnotic suggestion in an effort to aid young Jack.

It is written as a Civil War memoir.  Yes, Jack serves for the confederacy but he is no fan of slavery and is quite confused by the many issues bandied about. Once in the cavalry, he feels honor-bound by his duty to his fellow soldiers and his unit.  He is captured and transported to that prison in NYC (the details work themselves out logically), then makes his way back across the south to his unit. Along the way … he finds that Vanita is following him every step and coercing help as needed through her tremendous power.

All initial reviews are very positive.  People seem to really engage with the story. It is not pro-Confederate; if anything it is anti-slavery, although, in the context of the story, Jack admits there is nothing much he can do about that institution except treat everyone he comes across decently, as his mentor always taught him.

I tried to write through him and show the war as a product of the times, in a matter-of-fact style, just like many of the other memoirs I read during research.  As Vanita tells him, she’s looked ahead and seen the outcome and knows the South is going to lose and understands that this war is a necessary thing to get rid of slavery once and for all.  She tells him she’s helping because he is going to be fighting to lose. Word of caution: don’t mess with Vanita Valine.  Seriously. Just don’t.

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina. Keep checking his web page for information about The Hag Rider … this is a book everybody will want to read, it’s not quite like any other Civil War story you’ve ever read and is suitable for YA as well as anyone else.  http://thefensk.com

WeekendCoffee Cover Reveal

If we were having coffee, we’d still be sipping in our cars in a parking lot like two police cruisers comparing notes.

Seriously, the social distancing thing is not too far off from my normal routine although in more normal times I tend to grocery shop for a few things every few days.  And to think that in the 1970s and 1980s we used to make fun of the Soviet citizens standing in lines in the hopes of toilet paper.  I used to wonder, what did they do?  Now the reality is clear, everyone had a stash and simply added to it every chance they got.

Oh, wait. News.  I’ve been sitting on this for a while, but now it is time to reveal the cover of my upcoming historical novel, THE HAG RIDER.  Trust me, you don’t want to miss this one.  It can and should be enjoyed by just about everyone, from YA on up.

TheHagRider-WEB-NEW (2)This Civil War memoir explores fifteen-year-old Jack Benson’s transition to manhood as he presents his soldier’s account of life in the Confederate cavalry, a life convoluted by the spectral manipulations of Vanita, an old witch-woman who is sworn to safeguard him. Her hidden presence seems to protect Jack throughout the war in amazing ways, across countless miles, through patrols, battle, and capture.

This is unlike any other Civil War tale you’ve ever read and the first-person perspective on the realities of the war may surprise you.

Look for it in June 2020!

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina.  You can find more information about his books at http://thefensk.com

 

STAY HOME & READ

 

Stay home &amp; read (1)

I know a lot of people are stuck at home right now.  What a great time to catch up on your reading! The safest way right now to get new books to read is to embrace eBooks; they provide a wonderful combination of low price, easy online shopping, and immediate delivery.

Wait, you don’t own a kindle?  Amazon has you covered: https://amzn.to/39U6Rno
All you need is a tablet, iPad, computer, or even a phone.

To help get you started, I am offering the first novel of my adventure-mystery series on sale for 99 cents, from March 31 through April 6.
Get it here: https://www.amazon.com/Fever-Thomas-Fenske-ebook/dp/B010U5K1PI/

Be safe. Stay home and read!