Sunday, August 18, 2013

Featured Author: Frances Bonney Jenner

A life-changing journey across America

 Title: Prairie Journey
Author: Frances Bonney Jenner
Publisher: Irie Books
Genre: Historical
Price: $14.99

I’ve been on a journey. It hasn’t always been pleasant, nor has it been particularly fun, but it has been life changing for the Clarke family, sometimes tragic, often heroic, and every day a challenge. Frances Bonney Jenner has captured the story of young Savannah who is wrenched from her familiar surroundings and lifelong friends to embark on a harrowing trip across the continent in a wagon train.

Facing unknown obstacles 12-year-old Savannah and her family set out in search of better prospects, leaving their Missouri farm and the life she loves. It is a coming of age story set in a historical setting. Savannah considers herself less-than her smart and pretty sister, Faye. She is a sensitive child and as many children do, internalizes much of what happens and finds fault with herself, taking on worry and uncertainty like ill-fitting coats. Despite her misgivings, she proves to be self-reliant, courageous and daring.

Jenner’s careful research brings to life the perils of traveling across the country by wagon train, an endless line of lurching prairie schooners pulled by oxen, barely able to hold the essentials of life – food and water – and little room for carrying passengers, and then only when absolutely necessary.
The rhythm of wearisome days and nights of restless sleep are the heartbeat of trail life it seems, punctuated by conflicts and fears, obstacles to go over or around, and Savannah’s certainty that it will end in disaster for her family.

Through it all there is an underlying song that brings harmony and hope to the story. Savannah’s poetry peppers the narrative, which is told in her voice. Each milestone on the journey reveals her fears and her transformation.

At Ragtown in the Carson River Valley, Savannah and her mother rest by the river following the trip across a brutal and unforgiving desert. Her mother reads from a familiar book. Savannah’s mind wanders and she thinks…

I listened.
Saw herds of buffalo, the Kentucky salt
springs long ago,
the singsong rhythm
of Mother’s voice, the comfort
of words I knew so well, soothing the pain
of the desert crossing.

These bits of Savannah’s heart and mind shared throughout the narrative bring light to a story of pain and suffering, healing and hope.

Prairie Journey is told from the perspective of a young girl, but its appeal is in a story well told about a time in American history that is perhaps romanticized in movies, or at the least glossed over. Jenner’s research for the book was extensive. She learned that despite starvation, illness and death the pioneers also had exciting times and times of pure drudgery. The story conveys life on the trail with insightful attention to detail, and characters you hope will find their way safely to their new home.

The author lives in Evergreen, Colo., with her husband Doug. The couple traveled all 2000 miles of the California Trail and walked alongside a covered wagon and rattlesnakes to reach Chimney Rock, which is featured in the storyline of the book. “We slept there overnight, just like Savannah, my star character,” she writes on her blog. For more information about Frances and Prairie Journey go to

This article also appears in Happenstance Magazine, published by Happenstance Publishing. For more information go to

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Book Review

Title: Spider Woman’s Daughter
Author: Anne Hillerman
Publisher: Harper Collins
Genre: Crime Mystery
Publication Date: Oct. 1, 2013

Bernie Manuelito isn’t about to sit out the investigation into the shooting of her mentor and friend, Joe Leaphorn. When the retired lieutenant is shot point blank Bernie is the first to see him fall, and the only witness to the incident. Joe’s prognosis isn’t good. Bernie, and fellow officer on the job – and husband at home – Jim Chee, start looking into what Joe has been up to, and who might have wanted him dead. They are troubled by questions about his personal life, factors which lead other investigators to suspect someone close to Joe of the crime. Add to the mix a case he’s been working on as a private detective that delves into the history and provenance of Native American pots dating back centuries.

Missing data, incomplete reports and the mysterious activities surrounding the car used by the shooter all serve to complicate the investigation. Bernie has been ordered to stay away from direct involvement. After all, she is the only witness, and her boss doesn’t want her testimony to be tainted when the perpetrator comes to trial. And then there is Bernie’s relationship with Joe, rocky in the past, but rock solid as her respect for him has grown over time.

Spider Woman’s Daughter is a first class mystery filled with interesting detail about being a member of the Navajo police department, and part of an extended and sometimes complicated Native American family. While Bernie is coping with her concerns about the shooting, and trying to adhere to her boss’ order to take a few days leave, she is also dealing with an aging mother and an irresponsible sister whose troubles are escalating.

There is plenty in Spider Woman’s Daughter to hope author Anne Hillerman will continue in her famous father’s tradition of taking character to new depths with every outing. Bernie is a conscientious officer, a dedicated wife, daughter and sister, and a strong character whose future seems golden as a respected police officer, and as a strong protagonist in what we can only hope will become a new series. Hillerman’s research is evident, her love of New Mexico comes through in her clear description of southwest vistas, and her respect for Native American culture is an underlying melody that holds the novel together and gives it life.

This book is described as a Leaphorn and Chee Novel. In my view it stands on its own, a crime mystery in which a determined young woman becomes a police office to be reckoned with; someone who doesn’t wait to be rescued, but who takes an active role in her own survival, her own success.

About the author (From the Harper Collins website): Anne Hillerman is the author of six books and has been a journalist for 10 years. She has received awards for her work from the National Federation of Press Women and the New Mexico Press Association. She is the director of Wordharvest Writers Workshops and the Tony Hillerman Writers Conference: Focus on Mystery. She lives in Santa Fe, N.M.


This article also appears in Happenstance Magazine, published by Happenstance Publishing. For more information go to