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Archive for the ‘Self-Help Study Guide’ Category


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.

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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.

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 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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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Two days ago, I was sitting on a slatted wood bench in the Santa Polomia train station in Lisbon waiting for the night train to Madrid. The well-worn often varnished oak slats were bolted on either end to two identical molded cast iron supports incorporating two feet and a back. It is a familiar design of unknown origin and age but found almost any place in the world.

I am convinced train passengers, at least here in Portugal and Spain, are less stressed and more acceptable to their situation than passengers in airports anywhere I have been. Airport passengers seem to wear worried frowns and obvious apprehension about the status of their fight, weather conditions, and a multitude of other potential problems that could have an effect on their flight being on time. Trains here seem to leave on time with little mystery or uncertainty for the passengers, who even running to catch their train before it pulls out are smiling, save those few dragging children.

While I sat people watching, one of my favorite pastimes as an octogenarian, at least 85% of those passing by had smiles. I can’t recall seeing that in any airport in recent years. Santa Polonia was a great place for people watching. I arrived about 6 hours early, tired of walking the neighborhood of my hotel. The building and facilities of the station are as worn as the bench I was on but there were several people cleaning so, although not spotless, the place was as clean as any of the airports I have been stuck in lately.

Another advantage is no standing in a long line to be X-rayed, or scanned, or groped. At the largest train station in Madrid, Atochoa, where I had to transfer on my way to Seville, my luggage did have to go through a machine, but I didn’t have to take my computer out of my backpack, or empty my pockets, or take off my belt. As an old guy I haven’t had to take off my shoes for the past 8 years. Eventually I tired of people watching in Lisbon, put my luggage in a locker, cost 6 Euros, left the station, wandered the neighborhood, found a nice little restaurant and had a nice meal and a couple of glasses of a very nice red wine. Then wandered back into the station to gather my luggage and board my train about 15 minutes before it left.

I word of caution. A first-class Euro rail ticket doesn’t provide a 1stclass seat or berth on any train. You have to make a reservation ahead of time. Something I tried to do from the states but was unable to navigate their computer system to get it done. There were no 1st class berths available for the night train and I still had to pay 29 euros for the required reservation in tourist class. Almost 12 hours in a lurching, often stopping, 6 X 5 cell with two bunks and 3 strangers. I was not able to stretch out in the bunk, my feet and head were jammed into the walls. I should have opted for a seat in tourist class since I didn’t get any sleep in the birth. I was assigned a top bunk, impossible for me, but the guy assigned the bottom bunk was a graduate student from Mozambique. He switched with me and I took him to the bar car for some beers. A very affable young man. The first class accommodations appeared significantly better, but the bunks were about the same size. In Madrid I paid another 29 euros for a 1st class seat. 

Tomorrow I embark on the bike tour I booked for 6 days and 5 nights riding from Seville to Granada. Should be a blast.

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Reviewed by K.C. Finn for Readers’ Favorite

Defender of the Texas Frontier is a work of historical fiction set in nineteenth-century America, which was penned by author David R. Gross. As the title suggests, this Texas-based novel focuses on the exploits of the Texas Rangers, who defended the ordinary people from raids by Comanches and bandits from the Mexican badlands. At the center of this group is real-life soldier John Coffey Hays, known as Jack, who joined the Rangers at a very young age and rose amongst the ranks until he became a fearless and admired captain. The novel follows Jack Hays’s exploits and supposes his psychological journey, and why he became such a pivotal figure in Texas history.

Mixing fact with fiction is done in such a skillful way by author David R. Gross that non-fiction fans are still sure to enjoy this retelling of Captain Hays and his rise to fame and reputation. I enjoyed the peppering of the text with authentic and well-researched history, but there are also moments when the author allows himself to play, especially with the younger Jack in his formative days amongst the Rangers. Military buffs are sure to enjoy the many defensive exploits which are recounted, and the camaraderie amongst Hays’s men, who would later go on to be reputable heroes and leaders in their own right. Overall, Gross has produced an immersive and interactive history novel which stays true to life but also heightens the action. Defender of the Texas Frontier is a recommended read for all history and western novel fans.

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David R. Gross

Defender of the Texas Frontier: A Historical Novel

iUniverse, 242 pages, (paperback) $13.99, 9781532071560(Reviewed: August, 2019)

Review by Blueink reviews:

John Coffey (“Jack”) Hays was the most famous and charismatic of the Texas Rangersduring his tenure in the mid-1800s. In this meticulously researched novel, David R.Gross brings Hays’s story to life as narrated by his best friend, John Caperton andvarious other friends and enemies of the heroic lawman.

At 19 years old, Jack and John leave their homes in Tennessee and arrive in Nacogdoches, where Jack begins to establish his reputation by killing the town bully in self-defense at the local saloon. The bully is the first of many to meet their maker shortlyafter making Jack’s acquaintance.

This is a violent time in Texas, as settlers advance on lands previously held by the Comanche and/or the Mexican government. After joining a group under the command of respected leader “Deaf” Smith, Jack quickly rises through the ranks to captain, thencolonel, of what became known as the Texas Rangers.

By copying the tactics and violent cruelty of the Indians and Mexican military, Jack and his men are successful in wiping out many threats to the encroaching settlers. One ofthe amazing facts the author discloses is how Jack’s troop kept being disbanded because of insufficient funding; yet, when they were needed, the same men who hadn’tbeen paid before came back repeatedly, just to serve with Hays.

Some of Hays’s and his Texas Rangers’ exploits in this episodic novel are so similar that they border on repetitious. However, such similarities merely emphasize Hays’s remarkable career and make one wonder how he possibly survived. Gross doesn’tmince words when describing the atrocities Jack and his men visited on their enemies,and some will be shocked that the “good guys” were every bit as sadistic and vicious asthe Comanche warriors and Mexican army.

In all, Defender of the Texas Frontier is a fascinating window into a little-understoodperiod in America’s past, as well as an absorbing story about one hero’s westward expansion.

Also available as an ebook.

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