You may also like to read:

You may also enjoy reading about the family stories in my novels and short stories at The Homeplace Series blog. You can sign up for e-mail reminders.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Book Review - The West Plains Dance Hall Explosion, by Lin Waterhouse

Book Review
The West Plains Dance Hall Explosion
by Lin Waterhouse

This is my first review of a book from The History Press. I received the book at no charge in exchange for a fair and honest review, from my point of view. Each book I review for The History Press will be a local history book. This book is set in the Missouri Ozarks, at West Plains, Missouri, a few hours drive east of where I live in a southern Missouri cabin. West Plains, today, is very active in promotion of the Ozarks and its cultural heritage.

The promotional information on the book is worth sharing, to set the stage for my review comments:

"The 1928 explosion that transformed a West Plains dance hall into a raging inferno sparked feverish national media attention and decades of bitterness in the Missouri town it tore apart. And while the story inspired a popular country song, the firestorm that claimed thirty-nine lives remains an unsolved mystery. In this first book on the notorious catastrophe, Lin Waterhouse presents a clear account of the event and its aftermath that judiciously weighs conflicting testimony and deeply respects the personal anguish experienced by parents forced to identify their children by their clothing and personal trinkets." [Bold added by the reviewer - see comments below]

First, I am impressed by the diligent research that Lin Waterhouse performed in order to accomplish what I have highlighted in bold type, above. Sometimes these descriptions from the publisher are largely fluff. This is an accurate portrayal of what you get as you read this book. As a family historian and genealogist I have spent countless hours reviewing microfilm of newspapers in libraries searching for information on a single family. How many hours must she have spend searching these four or more newspapers' microfilm from the 1920s to come up with the engrossing details of the lives of these people and this community that are included in the book. When I finished, I felt I knew each person fairly well, whether victim or survivor.

Second, her pacing is impressive, to me. My first novel had about half the number of characters she covers in this narrative. I know how hard it is (and I wish I had been as successful) to write in such a way that the reader can keep even reasonable track of them. I believe she did that very well. And, she comes back to key characters multiple times in ways that moves the powerful story along at a proper pace. I appreciated the background information, set in the time period, that she provides the reader without distracting from the ongoing story and the mystery of the explosion source which is at the heart of that story.

Third, I was raised in a small, rural, heartland community much like West Plains and still read the paper there regularly. As I read the book, her descriptions and narrative allowed me to identify very clearly with the impact this tragedy had across the fiber of the entire community. Many, if not most, of the victims were young people who, except for this tragedy, were expected to be the leaders of this community for years into the future. Their loss changed this community forever. Her interviews with a few key people provide some insight into that impact on the community.

Finally, I highly recommend this book to anyone with empathy for this type of mystery and/or setting in this time period. It reads easily, though you will find yourself wanting to re-read portions to be sure you really did read what you thought you did. I had trouble laying it down - I wanted to know what Lin Waterhouse was going to tell me next about this story. I believe you will want to know as well.


Lin Waterhouse will be holding a Meet the Author at the West Plains Public Library on Saturday, Jan. 22nd, at 2 p.m.


Happy Reading!  ;-)

Monday, December 26, 2011

It's Monday, What are You Reading? Almost President by Scott Farris

 It's Monday, What are You Reading?
Almost President: The men who lost the race but changed the nation
Scott Farris

This is the twenty-seventh entry for this meme suggested by Sheila@ One Persons Journey Through A World of Books. [Entries 22-25 in the series were posted at  the Dr. Bill Tells Ancestor Stories]

From - Almost President:

"In each election, voters make a choice between competing personalities, programs, and ideologies. In understanding our history, and in using history as a guide to understanding the present and forecasting the future, it is a illuminating to know who and what voters did not choose as to know who and what they did choose."

This is the first of several books I received for Christmas: this one on the Kindle. It seems especially timely as the opening of the 2012 Presidential Primaries is only about a week away. I actually gave a passing thought to this topic for a book, myself. I'm very happy to be reading it, rather than doing the research and writing it! 

Here is the Product Description of the book as presented on

As the 2012 presidential campaign begins, Almost President profiles a dozen men who have run for the American presidency and lost—but who, even in defeat, have had a greater impact on American history than many of those who have served as president. Scott Farris tells us the stories of legendary figures from Henry Clay to Stephen Douglas, William Jennings Bryan to Thomas Dewey. He also includes mini-profiles on every major candidate nominated for president who never reached the White House but who helped ensure the success of American democracy.

Farris explains how Barry Goldwater achieved the party realignment that had eluded FDR, how George McGovern paved the way for Barack Obama, and how Ross Perot changed the way all presidential candidates campaign. There is Al Smith, the first Catholic nominee for president; and Adlai Stevenson, the candidate of the “eggheads” who remains the beau ideal of a liberal statesman. Others covered by this book include Al Gore, John Kerry, and John McCain. The mini profiles also include evocative portraits of such men as John C. Fremont, the first Republican Party presidential candidate; and General Winfield Scott, whose loss helped guarantee the Union victory in the Civil War.

Happy Reading!  ;-)

Friday, December 23, 2011

The History Press and Tribute Books

The History Press and Tribute Books

This is a brief survey of my readers - please provide a very brief response, so I know you are there, whenever you read this.

For the year 2012, it is my hope and intention to get more activity going on this blog by affiliating with two (very different) organizations. One is Tribute Books, " independent publisher for independent writers..." - they seem to specialize in Young Adult books, including ebooks, and use Blog Tours as a major promotion activities. We will have host guest posts, do some author interviews, and post an occasional review.

The second is The History Press. I have agreed to write reviews of local history non-fiction works, most likely focused on the Ozarks region in the Heartland. I have the first two on hand, and am anxious to read these books and write the reviews. I've started by writing an article about the Civil War: Springfield book by Larry Wood:

So, please leave a comment on 'working with' either/or The History Press and Tribute Books - or, that you've worked with neither before. I look forward to your comments. THANKS!  ;-)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

On the Future of Books: Part of Presidential Campaign

On The Future of Books:
Part of Presidential Campaign

In our continuing discussion of the The Future of Books, the current political campaign has raised a closely related issue in a New York Times article: "Despite Front-Runner Status, Gingrich is Still Peddling Books."

Regardless of your position on the presidential political campaign, this article raises some additional issues as to how books are perceived, how they are being used, and their place in our everyday lives.

Do you agree or do you see this as something entirely different? I'd like to hear your thoughts. Please comment here, on Facebook, or on Google+.

Happy Reading!  ;-)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

On the Future of Books: Biff Barnes Responds

On the Future of Books: 
Biff Barnes Responds

Biff Barnes, at Stories to Tell, after reading our Nov 29 post, has responded to Seth Godin on the Future of Books in his post: "Seth Godin on Books: Is it All Marketing?" I commend this post to your serious consideration. While Seth makes good points, from his perspective, Biff points out significant book publishing opportunities that Seth seems to ignore.

Have you seriously considered the Future of Books? I think it is a very important conversation to have. We are each a part of that conversation, whether read read, review, write or are involved in the production or marketing end of "Books."

I look forward to your comments, here, on Facebook, or on Google+ - let's keep the conversation going.

Happy Reading! ;-)