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Jul 09, 2020 Noah Johnson 

Expertly researched, beautifully told, compelling to the last page.

I don’t quite know how to begin to describe my feelings after completing this book. During the course of reading it, I savored each page for the subtleties of the descriptions and the masterful capturing of emotions. I read slowly. I reflected. I let the descriptions and the nuanced thinking seep in slowly to my being and my understanding. Yes, I pondered my own meaning of culture and family in every sense-physical, spiritual and emotional. I appreciated the thoughts that this book generated. Interestingly, perhaps because of the methodical way I read, I eagerly returned to this book late each night not because of action, but rather because of the insights I might gain and the creative, new way of lyrical expression of some profound thoughts.

This book was extraordinarily well written. The prose was beautiful, not falling into the choppy, almost stream of consciousness that other first person narrative works seem to take. The characters were well developed, their flaws very real and understandable.

In sum, this was my first historical fiction book and I have to say I am now a fan of the genre. The author is great at fleshing out the characters and sucking you into the story. I heavily recommend this book if it even looks slightly appealing to you. 


Layla Jacobson
Jul 31, 2020 Layla Jacobson rated it 5 stars.

You can tell from the title and the cover that this is a special book. David Gross never fails to delve into what’s otherwise unknown in this supposedly modern world. It opens the past that is so raw in our present. I first discovered Gross through his historical fiction offering called The Defender of the Texas Frontier and have been magnetized by his way of writing. It is so creatively objective that it changes you in significant ways. 

In The Warrior Rabbi, I was even more impressed. The setting is more ancient and even more beautiful. The plot is action-packed, and the characters are enticingly relevant to the time period. The storyline makes you want to be in the story itself. I recommend it without a doubt.


Irish Travis
Jul 09, 2020 Irish Travis rated it 5 stars on Goodreads

This book was an amazing read. I learned so much – which is what I love about good historical fiction. There were so many times in this book that I thought to myself, “so that’s why we do that” (in terms of Jewish traditions). I did find myself wondering if a non-historical reader would have difficulty understanding it.

One thing that engaging historical fiction can do is challenge our perceptions and lead us to learn more. Due to my upbringing and the Jewish literature I read, I tend to always assume overt poverty and/or persecution of Jews, particularly in Medieval periods. I found myself wanting to learn more about this section of Jewish history. Too often I get so wrapped up in the trauma of the Inquisition that I miss a very rich and interesting history. It also made me want to read more of Gross’ work, though I think I’m going to need some help with that! I’m not a Torah scholar by any stretch of the imagination but I thought the discussion of the Talmud and Torah rang true and raised interesting points. When I think about other historical fictions that I’ve enjoyed, they’ve often been ones with well rounded characters who increase my desire to learn more about a time period.

Like all his books, this one takes a few pages before it draws you in, but once it does, it is a very interesting and moving read.

I highly recommend it.

 Between Covers These People of History Come To Life May 5, 2020
Looking for a book that emphasizes the story in history? A fascinating read that brings the personalities of the people who made history spring to life. Enjoy a novel about the American frontier in the state of Texas and learn about a larger than life leader named John Coffee Hays. This Defender of the Texas Frontier, and the brave men he led, played a major role in shaping the events of their times. This book is a description of these adventures. The historical details are intricately researched and presented in a very entertaining way. Almost all the characters in the book were real people and their true actions, sprinkled with an enjoyable and clever fictional literary license.

Readers are fortunate to witness the life and times of John Hays through the perspective of his fictional, close friend John Caperton. We begin with young John Hays as he fervently wishes to join the army in the state of Texas. He has to prove his value, as does his friend. It doesn’t take long for them to show their great capacity for learning and open minds to new ways. It’s fascinating to see the creative ways they learn how to survive in the elements and against their challenging combatants, first Native American tribes and later the Mexicans.

At the height of his effectiveness, John Hays commanded a skilled band of Texas Rangers. It was a group of men who remembered grievous, recent times at the Alamo, and the masacre at Goliad. They were determined to defend their families and homes. They trained continually together and became feared by those who opposed them and called them Los Diablos Tejanos – The Texas Devils. Their leader, John Hays’ reputation preceded him as he became known as Devil Jack.

In contrast to his disciplined army life and battles, there is also a tender description of his family life and wedding. This comprehensive story tells all of his life accomplishments, including a surprising turn after his time in the army.

Author David R. Gross is a retired Veterinarian, who also taught and did research at Texas A & M University; College of Veterinary Medicine for sixteen years. From his several, diverse books readers quickly realize his absolute love of telling a great story. You can find out more about the author and his other books and writings as well on his website.

KIRKUS REVIEW

Defender of the Texas Frontier

Gross’ (A Mexican Adventure, 2017, etc.) latest historical novel traces the formation and adventures of the Texas Rangers during the Mexican War, under the leadership of a bold young man from Tennessee.

The narrative opens in 1836 with two adventure-seeking 19-year-olds, John Caperton and John Coffee “Jack” Hays, having drinks at a bar in Nacogdoches in the Republic of Texas. They’ve been friends since they were young boys learning how to “live rough” in Tennessee; now they’ve joined a volunteer force to fight the Mexican Army. Before they go, Big Al Cranston, the town bully, threatens to punch Jack for smiling, and Jack shoots the man dead before he can even throw a punch. Caperton acts as a narrator as Gross stitches together the events leading up to the Mexican War, highlighting Jack and an ensemble of real and imaginary characters. Readers tag along on a mission to Goliad to scout for enemy soldiers in advance of Gen. Thomas Jefferson Rusk’s army, and get an account of the Battle of Coleto, in which more than 400 Texan soldiers, after surrendering, are massacred by the Mexican army. Similar vignettes offer detailed descriptions of Comanche culture, military aggression, and diplomacy with other Native American nations. By 1845, when Texas applies for statehood, Jack’s regiment of scouts is known as Hays’ Texas Rangers and plays an important role in securing the Texas border during the battles at Painted Rock and Monterrey. Gross’ novel is loaded with intriguing period detail, such as how Comanche hunters use every part of a slain buffalo except the heart, which, as war chief Buffalo Hump explains, “is left to show the Creator of all things that our people are not greedy.” The plethora of names and locations detracts from the action and may occasionally leave readers confused about the time and place of particular events. Although the character development is minimal, except for Hays’, Gross’ descriptions consistently offer vivid imagery: “Our silent, measured, advance frustrated the war chief. He rode back and forth in front of his warriors, shouting at us.”

An engaging fictionalized review of the fight for Texas that should resonate with history buffs.

David R. Gross’s dramatic retelling of a historical legend, Defender of the Texas Frontier, captures an era as it follows a young man’s rise to hero status.

Nineteen-year-old John Coffey Hays missed fighting in the battle for Texas’s independence. Full of vim and vigor, Hays joins up with a ranging patrol to defend the Texas border. So begins his storied career, which spans close to two decades. Along the way, Hays leads a ragtag group of men and forges an elite squad known as Rangers. Hays and his Rangers defend the US while skirmishing with both Mexicans and local native tribes. As his exploits become legend, Hays continues to affect change in Texas that ripples outward.

Hays’s story is entwined with the Texas Rangers’s origins. Known as the toughest and most judicious lawmen in history, the Rangers are shown starting out as a rough group, but becoming a power to be reckoned with. With strong attention to historical detail, the narrative shows how Hays learns and evolves while helping his men do likewise.

The book’s tone blends textbook dryness with drama and reads like an embellished historical document. The story unfolds through two primary perspectives: Hays’s, and that of his childhood friend, John. The focus shifts back and forth between the two, with highlights given to other important characters, too. These character transitions round out the narrative, allowing each character to give it their own touch. Hays’s commander and the commander of the tribal army are two of these: Hays’s commander comments on tactics, military prowess, and his personal life, while the tribal army commander highlights the respect between the Texans and the tribe as both defend their lands. It’s an interesting dichotomy that enriches the narrative.

Frequent dialogue tags are almost unnecessary because of the distinctiveness of the characters’ voices, whose subtle vocal tics make their discussions engaging and individualized: one character, despite being able to converse in fluent Spanish, speaks Spanish with a southern drawl, and words like “Mexicans” come out as “mesicans.”

This fictionalized version of Jack Hays uses key events from his life to build up the legend, enjoyably following him from his youth into his established adulthood. It is an artful take on Texas history.

Defender of the Texas Frontier fleshes out a Texas legend with aplomb, setting him in the midst of an engaging historical adventure.

JOHN M. MURRAY

Reviewed By Ruffina Oserio for Readers’ Favorite

Defenders of the Southwest Frontier: A Historical Novel by David R. Gross is a fascinating, intriguing mix of fiction, fact, and heroism. This narrative plunges the reader back into an exciting historic moment to follow the life of one of the outstanding Rangers, John Coffey Hays and his role in defending Texas from raids by bands of Comanches and the Mexicans. He became a captain at the age of twenty-three and had some of the most powerful lieutenants, commanding great respect and following from other leaders in the stand to defend Texas. This is a story of inspiring leadership, spiced with romance and adventure. The narrative features historical figures like William Wallace “aka” Bigfoot, Ben McCulloch, and many others. 

David R. Gross does an impeccable job with the setting, allowing readers vivid glimpses of life in Texas in the first half of the 19th century. It was a period in which the revolver was just being discovered and it played a significant role in guerrilla warfare. The characters are well explored and written, ingeniously fleshed out with sufficient backstory to make them rock solid and compelling. The strength of this novel lies in the author’s gift for setting and his ability to allow history to speak through the narrative. There is a lot of telling and explanations that can be distracting to readers who are keen on the “show not tell” technique, but the narrative is confident and this author follows his unique narrative voice. Defenders of the Southwest Frontier: A Historical Novel is action-packed and intense, a tale of courage and bravery, a tale that isn’t lacking when it comes to surprises and unexpected turns.

Biking in Andalusia, 2

The morning of day six we did a loop from the hotel to the center of Archidona and back, about 30 km, the last 300 meters or so down a steep slope, in morning traffic, on cobblestones. Not my favorite. The ride back, on different roads, seemed to be uphill the whole way. After the ride was finished, we had time for a shower and to pack for the bus ride to Granada. Had a big delayed breakfast (brunch) then everyone gathered to say goodbye to our leaders and climb into the bus that dropped us off in the center of town.

The photo is of our 3 team leaders giving us their interpretation of a bull fight before the last ride. This was a fun group. 

I caught a cab to the hotel I had reserved for 2 nights in Granada. They were full and had no record of my reservation. I pulled out my computer and showed the desk clerk (owner it turned out) my confirmation. He was very apologetic and got on the phone with Expedia (apparently they handle reservations for Hotels.com) to find me another room at the same price. I decided to leave my luggage with the guy and go to the train station to sort out train travel logistics.

Lots of drama about train reservations. It turns out that a first class Eurail pass does NOT get you a seat on a train. You must make a reservation for your seat and they charge extra for each train and reservation. That ignorance on my part led to the overnight tourist class ride from hell on the night train from Lisbon to Madrid. I made the reservation for the Madrid to Seville train, another 29 euros, but was unable to secure a reservation for the Granada to Barcelona leg. Backrounds.com says they are happy to assist with travel arrangements, so I asked our logistics guy, Gonzalo, to help me getting reservations for the Granada to Barcelona, Barcelona to Cordoba legs of the journey. Turns out nothing is simple. I sat next to him 2 days later while he was on the phone for a long time with Eurail trying to set everything up. The normal Granada to Barcelona route was not available, it was never clear why. He finally got me reservations, but I had to go to Madrid then transfer to Barcelona. They were supposed to e-mail me electronic tickets for these two trips and took my credit card info, but no e-tickets ever arrived. So off to the train station to get the tickets. I did have location numbers for the Granada-Madrid and Madrid-Barcelona trips (Good for Gonzalo). The first person I talked to at the Granada train station couldn’t find any record of my reservations. She finally told me to take a number and stand in a long line for her colleague to help me. Finally got to him and he was able to use the locator numbers Gonzalo got for me and print out separate tickets for Grenada-Madrid, Madrid-Barcelona and Barcelona-Cordoba. Each ticket was a separate transaction with the credit card and the long line behind me was getting very anxious. After the Barcelona-Cordoba transaction was finally completed I took pity on the line and decided to wait until I got to Barcelona to take care of my remaining travels. 

I returned to my hotel, where the owner was guarding my bag, to find he hadn’t found anything, mostly because he was trying to find a hotel that would only charge what I had reserved from Hotels.com. Plus, the town was full of tourists and most of the hotels were booked.  By this time, I was exhausted, not the least from my bike ride that morning. I went into my computer and found a place, the 4-star Hotel Washington Irving, across the street from the Alhambra, at twice the cost of the dump I was supposed to stay in, supposedly a 3-star. The owner insisted on calling the Washington Irving and did manage to get me a discount. He also paid the cab driver to bring me there. The Washington Irving is legitimate 4-star hotel. 

The next day I showed up at the time for my self-guided tour of the Alhambra, unable to accomplish on my previous visit to Granada. I spent the following 1 1/2 hours trying to dodge the masses of tour groups blocking the way. I managed to see all I wanted to see, but it required a lot of flagstone stairway climbing, up and down. After I was done with the Alhambra, I took a taxi to El Centro and walked around another 1 1/2 hours before sitting down at a sidewalk cafe to order a beer and some duck pate’. The waiter brought the beer along with a slice of bread with a tomato slice covered with a thin slice of duck breast fried but cold. “Well”, I thought, “This is a different duck pate.” The dish was listed on their menus for 8 1/2 euros. Disgusted, I was about to signal for the bill when he showed up again this time with my order, a basket of toasted bread, 2 thick slices of very tasty pate’, some fruit and nuts. The first offering was just a free appetizer to go with my beer. I had to order another beer to finish the pate, but I powered through.

There is more to the train saga. I decided I would not do another 11+ hour trip from Madrid to Lisbon, and certainly no more night trains. Not for this old man. I studied the maps and saw the distance from Huelva to Lisbon significantly shorter than going through Madrid again. But there is no train service. There was no train service to anyplace in Portugal from Huelva. However, I could get a bus from Huelva for an hour’s ride to Faro, a town in southern Portugal that has rail service to Lisbon. OK, that’s a deal. Not so fast, I couldn’t find a bus to get me to that train. So, I looked up buses from Huelva to Lisbon, a six-hour ride, with first class seats available. Reserved them for less than 20 euros, cheaper than getting another train reservation. 

I will write a long post about the many other disadvantages of a Eurail pass to travel in Spain and Portugal.

More Andalusia Biking

More Andalusia Biking
These are some cork oaks that have had the bark harvested. They remove all the bark from a little above the ground up about 5 feet. They are able to re-harvest about every 9 years, according to our leader Alejo. We rode through this forest.
David with some bike safety
This is our leader David with some bike safety tips before we set out in the am. The objects on the ground show the various elevations to be encountered that day. They do NOT represent how steep, long, or difficult the climbs are. That was probably best.
grant-kate.summit
Kate did not have an electric assist on her bike but her husband had a hand on her back pushing her up all the most difficult hills. Leader David is capturing the image.

I have to say that watching this husband and wife team interact with each other and with the other people in the group, especially me, made my eyes flow with tears thinking about Rosalie, my wife of almost 53 years. I don’t think she would have done the biking but she would have loved the people. This adventure, and it was that, ranks among the best so far.

Biking in Andalusia

I just completed a most interesting, challenging, and fun bike tour from Seville to Granada through the countryside of Southern Spain known as Andalusia. The trip was organized by the company Backroads.com and I can highly recommend their service. They supplied our group of four couples and myself with bikes (I wisely choose one with an electric assist motor to give me a boost up the many hills), helmets, and a GPS device that was loaded with our route each day.  To usher us through the experience we had two group leaders and a support person who managed the logistics for the trip. The group leaders made certain any need we had was taken care of. They also took turns riding with us each day making certain we were doing OK and helping with any mechanical problems. The leader not riding with us drove a van and the support person another. They took turns leapfrogging ahead to setup our rest stop or staying behind us with repair parts, spare wheels, etc. At each stop for the night we arrived pre-registered with our luggage waiting in our rooms. When we checked out the luggage was collected and taken to the next stop.

During each day’s rides, morning and afternoon, one of the vans was waiting every 10 km, or so, with ice water, soft drinks, electrolyte replacers, juice and a huge assortment of snacks including fresh fruit. When we arrived at the carefully chosen reserved spot for lunch the leaders knew everything about the owners of the place and were obviously welcomed guests. The same reception awaited us at each hotel we were booked into by the company, all first- class establishments. The lunches were uniformly spectacular, in spectacular locations, and with panoramic views of the country we had just traversed. It was impossible for me to eat even a taste of everything that was prepared for us even though it was uniformly delicious. Then we were off again for our afternoon ride, again with rest stops. 

Each day there were several choices that one could make about how far and how much elevation gain you felt you wanted to ride. I think the longest day I had was about 80 km, but with a couple of thousand feet of elevation gain. We usually finished the day of riding about 4 or 5 pm. Those of us who opted for a shorter day were given a ride in one of the vans to that night’s hotel. Others could extend their day with an extra loop and/or ride all the way to the hotel. After a nice hot shower and, for me, a generous slathering with topical analgesic pain relief cream, we had the choice of a dip in the swimming pool or a (paid separately) massage. We would gather again about 6:30 pm for drinks and then some sort of cultural/educational event. We had tours of an olive oil plant, another most interesting lecture with sampling of wines and highest quality extra virgin olive oils from the region we were in, and a walking tour of Rhonda with lots of history. There was also a nature walk through a national park on top of a mountain where we started our day of riding with a long descent. One of the choices for the more experienced (gung-ho) riders was to ride up that mountain in an attempt to break the existing speed record for participants in these tours. I did NOT participate but one of our two experts managed it in just a little over an hour. The record is 55 + minutes. On our last night we were treated to a rousing performance by an accomplished guitarist, two flamenco singers and an elegant and beautiful flamenco dancer. The performance was interrupted by two standing ovations from the 12 of us. 

Our dinners were, as well, uniformly well planned and of outstanding quality. Nobody could go hungry on one of these trips or complain about the chow. 

The routes we took were almost all on low traffic back roads, carefully managed to keep us off major roads except for short stretches needed to get us to another back road. My concerns about having to ride on narrow roads with heavy car, bus and truck traffic were unwarranted. Perhaps surprisingly my 83-year-old knees handled the bike riding just fine. The same cannot be said for managing up and down stairs particularly ones of flagstone with no handrails. There seem to be a lot of those in this part of the world.

Biking in Andalusia

On day 2 I was the first in to the rest stop at the top of this long hill, thanks to my electric assist motor. No way was that going to happen without that motor. That’s Rhonda in the distance, where we started. If you zoom in on that last curve you will see two of our group rounding the curve and heading up to us.