JUNCTION ISBN: 9781512004458, Create Space Independent Publishing, an e-book by Cody Schlegel.
Plot/Characters: The tale opens with twenty-nine year old Nick Harman vomiting in a “piss-stinking lavatory after binge drinking” while his unaffected 23-year-old cousin Ryan remains at the 5 Span Bar, ancient and still favorite gathering place for Junction’s 3500 population. The story then continues in and around this small Iowa community while we follow Nick and his group of acquaintances as they meander through their gritty life endlessly drinking, using and delivering drugs. The acquaintances include his older seemingly successful brother Bruce, former school mates Zack, for whom he took a minor drug rap, cousins Cory and Dusty Sheeks; Joey, the most active drug dealer who is found dead early in the story; Adam, son of the only Black family in town who survives Iraqi combat, returns and moves to West Virginia where he becomes a top Narcotics agent following in the steps of his 56-year-old father Will who was Deputy Sheriff in Junction County; Sheriff Rick Helmsley who we also discover to be the real power behind the drug trade; Jimmy Baker, another deputy; Patricia, Nick and Bruce’s mother for whom both lovingly assume full responsibility; Toni, Nick’s ex-girlfriend who still lives with him because she presumably has had his daughter Hayden, whom he adores; a Priest who has a gambling problem and other assorted individuals. The course of the story winds through the interplay of these numerous characters as various destructive situations, mostly self-wrought, arise. Regrettably, a finale per se, is not provided. There is no closure, but rather an opening to further the story line.
Discussion: The volume opens with two interesting statements: “If you’re looking for a fairy tale, you won’t find it here”, and an Irish proverb; “When the chess game is over, the pawn and king are placed in the same box.” These simple quotes pretty much address the story ‘telling it like it is’ – an unvarnished tale of the seamier side of life experienced in a largely by-passed small rural American town with a hint that it may speak of possible implications that similar situations could exist on other levels. Interesting discussions are included with respect to life/death and race relations.
Conclusion: A story of mostly psychologically damaged people living lives with no apparent thought and or hope for future happiness. Rather depressing and offering no closure, but apropos the author’s opening statements, sufficiently well and interestingly written to hold the reader’s interest.

4* Somewhat sad but interestingly written story.

Hard Road to Freedom

Hard Road to Freedom ISBN: 9781614565123, Sarah Book Publishing, Book Three in the Saxton-Brown Adventure Series (Illustrated), Paper Back Edition by Stephen A. Carter.

In the first volume, the reader met John Saxton, son of the owner of a Boston shipping empire, his ‘mentor’ Marcus Brown, a trusted family retainer and giant former Masai (Massai, Massi) warrior as he shepherds him through a sailing introduction ‘before the mast’; John’s lovely negro wife Virginia and their collective escape while on the couple’s honeymoon aboard ship from Fort Sumter as it falls; their ensuing evasion of pursuit and ultimate arrival at home. In the second volume, John, now owner of the shipping empire upon his father’s death and Marcus, now wealthy and owner of a sizeable ship as reward for his outstanding activity, are persuaded by Alan Pinkerton to meet Lincoln who accepts their idea of building a new design ‘iron clad’ shallow draft ship and organizing an all-black group of rangers to infiltrate enemy lines to provide intelligence and commit havoc. They complete both projects and the story follows the subsequent activity with John also becoming involved with gaining intelligence through use of the hot air balloon. Virginia is importantly involved in the earlier portions of the book as is Marcus’ wife, Belle and the villainous Major Horatio Garrow and his hulking brute accomplice Hurley Blackstone continue in their roles of importance. In this third volume John is wounded and captured by the Confederates, imprisoned in the infamous Salisbury, NC prison, where he meets Lucas Garrow. He escapes, is recaptured and near death in Richmond, VA Castle Thunder, where through Pinkerton’s intercession he is saved by Union Spy Elizabeth van Lew and liberated by the fall of Richmond. Lucas Garrow, gradually becoming addicted to opiates and attaining near psychopathic status joins his father and his henchman to attempt to track down the hated John Saxton and Marcus Brown who have divested themselves of the shipping business and now are the principle owners of a rather idyllic 5000 acres on Raccoon Mountain in a settlement they call Harambee (a Massai word meaning ‘pulling together). Horatio and Hurley are hanged for past murderous deeds, but Lucas, now tremendously wealthy from finding his father’s hoarded wealth, continues his search as well as organizing an operation to eventually take over the country. Much of the story revolves around the inhuman conditions that existed not only within the Civil War prisons, but within the entire population as well with special emphasis upon the injustices and cruelties suffered especially within negro/white relations.

Discussion: This entire series to date exhibits the results of extensive and rather meticulously performed historical research that offers minutia that seldom surface; e.g., the number of Jews who not only served in the Civil War, but even in important positions; the use of opiates by both sides; etc. Interesting illustrations also are included. Such attendance to detail is readily appreciated and understood from an author who has spent years in teaching the subject. And he has interspersed his fictional and historical characters in a most commendable manner with historical fact and fiction and included thoughtful emphasis on the negro/white relationship. Regrettably however, this reader feels compelled to provide a caveat for the tendency that began in the latter part of Book II – the increased amount of historical detail, although fascinating and most appealing to many readers, does provide hiccups to the plot’s smooth flow of advancement. . Most regrettably, a further caveat must be provided for those (hopefully few) readers who cannot accept what today is termed ‘politically incorrect’ verbalization and activity, even though it is entirely correct historically.

4* Engrossing historical novel with unfortunate ‘hiccups’ to plot cohesiveness/advancement; caveat for parochial readers.