Book Review by Massad Ayoob

“SUMMER OF THE EAGLES”
Friday, March 6th, 2015

I don’t read fiction often, and I review it even less frequently on this blog.  I’ll make an exception for something that touches the brain, the heart, or the gut, however…and Jackie Clay’s “Summer of the Eagles” scores a triple-tap of center hits on all three targets.

When people whose work you know and like create a book, it’s a safe bet you’ll know what you’ll find in that book, and like it.  I’ve never met face to face with either Jackie Clay or Oliver Del Signore, but I’ve been reading Jackie’s work for almost twenty years, and have been thankful for Oliver’s skills since I’ve been doing this blog.  You see, Jackie Clay wrote this novel, and there’s a reason she’s the most popular Backwoods Home writer. Oliver Del Signore published it, and he’s the webmaster for Backwoods Home, and has pulled my sorry Luddite butt out of the depths of cyber-confusion more than once.  They are both very good at what they do…but since you are here, you obviously read Backwoods Home and obviously know that already.

A Western, “Summer of the Eagles” is a book you actually can judge by its cover. A proud horse is carrying its human burden through a dark rainstorm, and you can just about feel the cold and the damp, and the need to keep going when there’s no safe place to stop.  Now, open the book. It gets better.

The protagonist has led a hard life, and it’s about to get harder. He’s in a dangerous place, his Winchester ’73 empty in its scabbard because the last five .44-40 cartridges he still has are in the Colt Frontier Six-Shooter on his hip.  (I found myself thinking of Cormac McCarthy’s classic novel of future post-apocalypse dystopia, “On the Road,” with its protagonist in dangerous places armed only with a revolver and two cartridges. As a gun guy, I can relate to that.)

When the hero breaks a rogue Morgan stallion and makes the animal his own with loving patience instead of a whip, it seems real because it is: Jackie based that part on a couple of her own Morgans.  When he helps a benefactor raise a building on his homestead, it rings true because it is: Jackie Clay has been there and done that, too, and BTDT authors write the best fiction.

Regular readers know that Jackie Clay is a damn good writer. I don’t know if anyone has compared her to Shakespeare or Mark Twain yet, but if they haven’t, allow me to be the first. The comparison lies in the fact that the Bard, and Samuel Clemens, and Jackie Clay all write on two levels. There’s one part that a teenage kid reading for a book report can “get.” But there’s another level, like sound frequencies that only dogs can hear, which only someone who has been kicked in the ass by life can hear and understand.  If you haven’t read “MacBeth” or “Huckleberry Finn” since high school, re-read them both again now and you’ll see what I mean.

When people do good for others, good comes back to them when it’s their turn to need it.  When the protagonist gains the fine new Morgan, he doesn’t send the broken-down sorrel that has been loyal to him to the glue factory; he finds a placement for the animal that has purpose and dignity.  “Summer of the Eagles” is a subtle celebration of the values the Backwoods Home extended family of writers and readers has shared from the beginning.

Go to www.backwoodshome.com/blogs/jackieclay, and you’ll find at the top of the page order info for hard copy or Kindle, and a free sample chapter. Start there. Get the book and finish.

I’m betting that you’ll see what I’m talking about, and that you’ll enjoy Jackie Clay’s new novel as much as I did.


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