Book Review: “Flight of the Sparrow: A Novel of Early America” By Amy Belding Brown

51HBuaNAc3L._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_Flight of the Sparrow: A Novel of Early America is largely based on the historical published account of Mary Rowlandson’s experience as a captive of Native Americans in 1676 during King Phillip’s War. Amy Belding Brown has transformed historical documents into the mind and heart of this Puritan woman who suffers many trials during her 11 week captivity. Spoiler alert.

I chose to read this novel for its parallels to my historical fantasy work in progress. My WIP (which I plan to be the first volume in a series surrounding the American Revolution) takes place in the first half of 1775 in and around the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It follows the actions of the Sons of Liberty, in particular Dr. Joseph Warren, British General Thomas Gage, and a brotherhood of banished angels who ally with the patriots as the Revolutionary War dawns.

Those parallels are:

~~~Flight of the Sparrow takes place in 1670’s colonial America in and around the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The subject matter addresses Puritan values at that time. These Puritans were ancestors to men like John Adams, Samuel Adams, and Joseph Warren, and their beliefs remained an influence in late colonial America.

~~~Mary Rowlandson’s narrative A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson was first published in 1682. It was republished in 1771 and twice more in 1773. In his speech commemorating the second anniversary of the Boston Massacre in 1772 and the fifth anniversary in 1775, Dr. Joseph Warren invokes the image of the Indian as a devil, which was a familiar description in Puritan writings and may have been taken from Rowlandson’s narrative.

~~~The work is clearly historical fiction/fantasy which is my beloved genre.

Historical examination aside, Flight of the Sparrow is written to keep the reader immersed in the time period and the role of women in Puritan society.  Mary Rowlandson is depicted as a free-thinking woman who knows her place, but is constantly challenging that place in her heart and mind. The Puritan revulsion for the Indian savages is a mythological subject matter often discussed with perverse curiosity among the women as they work.

Mary, her three children, and friends and family are captured by Native Americans in January 1676, during a raid on the town of Lancaster where she lives with her husband, Joseph–a Puritan minister.  Joseph is in Boston to plead for protection from the Indians at the time of the raid.

Mary’s terrible struggle with her dying 6-year-old daughter, Sarah, is heartbreaking as she carries the body of her mortally wounded child through the wilderness for days until the child finally dies in an Indian wetu.  The suffering of some of the other captives, such as Ann Joslin who is heavy with child and subsequently clubbed to death by Indians when she begs to be released, is difficult to take.

Mary’s constant worry for her captive children, Joss and Marie, is not portrayed in my opinion, as being as much of a burden as her starvation, wavering faith in God, and sexual attraction to an Indian man named James.  Her enlightenment to the manner in which Indians raise their children with open love and tolerance, and the freedoms the native people enjoy, is a recurring theme even after her redemption.

Her husband, Joseph, is portrayed as unfeeling, even emotionally cruel, toward his wife as she struggles with her return and assimilation into society. He suspects her of being “violated” by the Indians although she assures him time and time again that she has not. Her husband’s sexual aloofness, in a manner, justifies her continuing longing for James and the realization that she is in love with this Indian man who was raised and educated among the English, participates in her redemption, and comes to her in the dark of night to taut her feelings for him.

The Puritan minister, Increase Mather, asks her to write a narrative of her experiences that he will transform into a lesson of God’s will. She hesitates to do so, but eventually gives in under a barrage of encouragement from Joseph, who tells her that this is a way for her to be socially accepted once again. It will allow those who gossip and look down on her, to see that God guided her during her captivity.

Mary doesn’t mourn Joseph’s sudden death in 1678. Instead, she sees his death as freedom from the chains that bind her.  Indeed, she later marries, Samuel Talcott for love and the opportunity to mother his 8 children.

Flight of the Sparrow is beautifully written and emotionally exhausting as Mary Rowlandson bravely follows her heart to a happy ending.


Book Review: “American Spring: Lexington, Concord, and the Road to Revolution” by Walter R. Borneman

images“The spring of 1775 was filled with a rush of decisive events that ultimately brought a war no one had planned to fight.

American Spring is a nonfiction account of the first six months of 1775, and the opening acts of the Revolutionary War. Borneman reveals the events leading up to the war, and those who participated in those events and the struggles between Great Britain and the American colonies. We are enlightened by the lives and faces of patriots that history has forsaken, such as the handsome charismatic Dr. Joseph Warren, as well as, those whose who are well-known, like the wealthy egotistical John Hancock. The author ventures into the backgrounds of the many British participants whose stake in the future of the American colonies was equally important, and the forgotten participants: women, Native Americans, and African Americans.

Borneman illustrates the alliances of the British and Americans soldiers during the French and Indian War, and their importance. He points out, as examples, campaigns shared by the future generals, George Washington and Thomas Gage; and the military tactics Gage learned from colonial frontiersman Robert Rogers.

He brings to light little commonly known information:

Did you know that the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, led by Warren at the time, financially backed Benedict Arnold’s mission to capture cannons from the wilderness outpost Ft. Ticonderoga? And the congress’ decision to send 200 pounds of gunpowder with Arnold may have led to the colonial defeat at the battle at Bunker’ Hill?

The reader is presented with hundreds of vital questions that to this day have gone unanswered, and the author provides a variety of ways to ponder what may have actually happened:

Did Margaret Gage, the American born wife of British General Thomas Gage, slip the patriot, Dr. Joseph Warren, the information that led him to order the midnight ride of William Dawes and Paul Revere?

What of British General William Howe’s mentally instability after he led over a thousand soldiers to their death during the Battle of Bunker Hill?

American Spring is a splendidly vivid and detailed account of the choices, the blunders, the victories, the fears, and the boldness that shaped the events that led to the battles of Lexington and Concord, the ensuing calm that followed, and one of the bloodiest battles of the American Revolution: the Battle of Bunker Hill.

This book was my first resource for my research into the Revolutionary War for my WIP. I recommend this wonderful well-rounded book.

Book Review: “The Bazaar of Bad Dreams” by Stephen King

51xcUEzbz7L._AC_US160_The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King is a collection of 20 short stories, each prefaced with an explanation of King’s inspiration for that story. I will not cover all 20 stories in this review. Spoiler alert.

The book begins with a delightful Author’s Note of which the last sentence is: “Something else I want you to know: how glad I am, Constant Reader, that we’re both still here. Cool, isn’t it?”

Indeed it is cool.


Mile 81

I read this previously as a standalone short story. King says this is one of his favorites. It certainly has all the markings of his work—pure creepy gore.

A monster disguised as a broken down station wagon in a deserted rest stop, lures drivers off the turnpike and into its human munching clutches. Two small children, Rachel and her little brother Blakie, see the monster car eat their parents and several other adults who stop to “help” the driver of the broken down car. Ten-year-old Pete Simmons, who rode to the rest stop out of boredom earlier in the day on his Huffy bicycle, rides to the kids’ rescue and vanquishes the monster.  

Premium Harmony

King mimicked author Raymond Carver’s writing style when he wrote this strange story. This one left me feeling grimy.

Ray, whose fat wife, Mary, constantly nags him about smoking, waits in the car with their dog while she goes into a convenience to purchase a purple kickball. Mary drops dead while inside. A store employee comes out to the car to ask if Ray is the woman’s husband. Ray leaves the dog in the car and goes into the store where he finds Mary lying dead on the floor.

The interaction between Ray, the customers, the convenience store owner, and the paramedics is morbidly unsympathetic. The fat gawking customers and store employees eat junk food while they wait for the ambulance to arrive. The dog dies in the hot car. Ray smokes Premium Harmony cigarettes while he drives to the hospital with the car windows rolled up and the dead dog in the backseat.

 A Death

This was King’s attempt at writing in a dry laconic language unlike his usual style. The setting— South Dakota around the turn of the 20th century—is not King’s usual style, either. I found myself wondering who the real victim was in this story.

Jim Trusdale is a simpleminded man. He is accused of murdering ten-year-old Rebecca Cline, for her birthday present—a silver dollar. The sheriff arrests Jim then unsuccessfully searches his clothing and body cavities for the silver dollar. In the face of angry townspeople, Jim maintains his innocence. The sheriff begins to believe Jim is indeed innocent because of lack of evidence.

 Jim’s missing hat is a point of contention because it was found under the dead girl’s skirt. The sound of a carpenter carefully building the gallows, during Jim’s trial, is an indication of what will be the outcome of the trial. Jim is found guilty and is hung. His bowels release at the time of death. The mortician preparing Jim’s body for burial finds the silver dollar in Jim’s pants and calls the sheriff.

This turn of evidence leads the sheriff to wonder why he held steadfast to the belief that Jim was innocent as the haunting sound of The Doxology is heard coming from the church.           


This story reminded me of an old episode of The Twilight Zone. It is a compelling take on our need to hold on hard to life.

William Andrews dies of colon cancer after ignoring his doctor’s advice on getting a colonoscopy. Immediately after he dies, he is given two choices. Choose Door #1 and he can live the same life, with the same decisions, over again. Choose Door #2 and his existence is over. Andrews chooses Door #1, which he has done over and over only to be reborn, die of colon cancer, and make the same choice again.      

Summer Thunder

The final story in the book was my favorite because it was post-apocalypse with shades of The Stand. It also reminded me of a Jethro Tull album about an old rocker who kills himself while riding his Triumph motorcycle.    

 The nukes were fired and the world is dead and dying. Peter Robinson’s wife and daughter are dead. He’s alone except for a neighbor two miles down the road, Howard Timlin. A stray dog shows up at Robinson’s front door. He takes in the dog and names him Gandalf. At least now, Robinson has another living being in his home, and it helps ease his grief.

 Robinson and Gandalf visit Timlin often, but the dog and Timlin succumb to radiation fall out leaving Robinson completely alone in a part of Vermont where even the wildlife is almost all dead. Robinson dusts off his Fat Bob Harley motorcycle, fires it up, gets on, and as he shifts the Harley into fifth gear, he takes the dreaded Dead Man’s Curve.  

 The Bone Church

This was written in poetry form and to be frank, it put me off and I didn’t get through it.

Blockade Billy

This was another story I couldn’t get through. It’s written around the way baseball used to be played and in the language of baseball back in the 1950’s. It was not exactly The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon.

Overall, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams is a must read if you are Constant Reader—which I am.

Stephen King says, “The reason fantasy fiction remains such a vital and necessary genre is that it lets us talk about such things in a way realistic fiction cannot.” Read Angels & Patriots, a historical fantasy novella by Salina B Baker for only 99 cents. 

Book Review – DR. JOSEPH WARREN: The Boston Tea Party, Bunker Hill, and the Birth of American Liberty by Samuel Forman

DR. JOSEPH WARREN: The Boston Tea Party, Bunker Hill, and the Birth of American LibertyDR. JOSEPH WARREN: The Boston Tea Party, Bunker Hill, and the Birth of American Liberty by Samuel Forman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I saw Dr. Joseph Warren’s name the first time, in October 2013, while taking a picture of the Massachusetts Gate at Bunker Hill. That initial meeting didn’t stick. In my defense there was a government shutdown at the time, and the monument was closed.

My second meeting took place in July 2016 when I began historical research for the novel I’m currently writing, which is set in and around Boston over the period January – June 1775. I fell in love with Joseph the moment I read his name and immediately elevated his character above all the others in the book, except the protagonist.

Among the hundreds of people and events of the period that I had to untangle and portray with accuracy, I began to research Joseph Warren outside of the writings of other nonfiction authors.

That’s how I found Dr. Samuel Forman on YouTube. The first video was Ronald Reagan inspired by Joseph Warren. Then, I watched Dr. Forman’s lectures, videos, and interviews on the subject many times. I understood that his interest in Warren came from a physician’s point of view as much as a scholarly one. I mention this to illustrate the very serious effort I made to determine where my definitive fictional portrayal of Joseph Warren would reside. I decided it would reside with Dr. Forman, so I bought this book. My husband commandeered it as soon as it arrived. I allowed it because I was entering my initial research on the Battle of Bunker Hill.

I finished reading the book on January 3, 2017. I cried through the foreword more than once. In Acknowledgements, Dr. Forman thanked his wife for accommodating his endeavor and living with a long-dead patriot as an ex officio member of his household for 6 years. Chapter 15 was especially fun!

I reached out to Dr. Forman because he wrote about reversing Warren’s obscurity through realistically fictionalized works. That’s what I’m striving to do.

Thank you, Dr. Forman, for writing a scientific, fair, and passionate book about Dr. Joseph Warren, a wonderful man who did so much good in his short life. Without it, I would not have “heard” his words as clearly. I promise I will be worthy of Joseph Warren in my own writings of him.

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BOOK REVIEW, End of Watch: A Novel by Stephen King

51w8nud71fl-_sx327_bo1204203200_Stephen King’s End of Watch: A Novel (The Bill Hodges Trilogy) wrapped up the continuing saga of the unlikely detective trio of Bill Hodges, Holly Gibney, and Jerome Robinson, as well as the murderous villain, Brady Hartsfield. In the beginning of the book, King hints at the eventual fate of retired Detective Bill Hodges, which drew me into Hodges’ character much more than I expected. Previous to this third installment, I was not that enamored with the characters or the depth of their personas—except, perhaps, Brady Hartsfield because King keeps us abreast of Brady’s crazy thoughts and actions. By revealing Hodges’ inner struggles and suffering, King has given us a window through which we can see the man Bill Hodges clearly. We see how Hodges’ respect for his socially deficient business partner, Holly Gibney, changes her view of herself, and the inner strength she truly possesses.

Suicide is a thick thread in the fabric of this book. King writes: Suicide may not be painless, but it is catching. This is a clear acceptable play on the lyrics from the song Suicide is Painless (The Theme from M.A.S.H). At the conclusion of End of Watch, King reaches out with a kind hand to those who may be contemplating suicide. As a Constant Reader, I was pleased that Stephen King made me dig a little deeper into my psyche before I was able to find his messages that were hidden in plain sight.

BOOK REVIEW, Finders Keepers by Stephen King

finderskeepsFinders Keepers, Stephen King’s continuing saga of the unlikely detective trio we were introduced to in his previous novel Mr. Mercedes, is typical of King’s strong character building and fast-paced plot that pulls the characters together to neatly wrap up the climax. Delightfully, we are left with a teaser, when one of the detectives, Bill Hodges, visits the villain we were introduced to in Mr. Mercedes, Brady Hartsfield, in a brain trauma center. Some of the characteristics King described pertaining to teenagers were out of date for the year 2015, such as a thirteen-year-old girl carrying a picture in her wallet or a sixteen-year-old boy thinking a man had soap opera villain’s hair. However, as a Constant Reader, I was able to get past those flaws and understand King’s message that literature can change a heart.

I’ve been reading Stephen King since 1978. The first book I read was Salem’s Lot. It scared me enough to make sure the curtains were closed over all the windows in my house. From that time on, horror became one of my favorite genres, and thus I passed that fondness on to my own writing.