Thursday, June 28, 2012

Twice Upon a Time - Review

Review first published in July/August edition of West Georgia Living Magazine, a bi-monthly print publication of the Times-Georgian. ©2012 Times-Georgian.

Author: Frank Allan Rogers
Publisher: Solstice Publishing
Expected Release Date: Summer 2012
Words/Genre: 94,000/Fantasy

Bio: Frank Allan Rogers, the new F-word in Fiction, lives at Fairfield Plantation in Villa Rica, Georgia with his wife, Mary. 
His debut book, Upon a Crazy Horse, was published in 2009 and nominated for Georgia Author of the Year Award for Best First Novel.
 Frank is a current member of the Carrollton Creative Writer’s Club, Western Writers of America, and Southern Independent Bookstores Association. 
Please check out Frank’s website at  for announcements and appearances. He can also be found on Facebook.

Twenty-first century, philanderin’, womanizin’ and playboy millionaire August Myles is shot and killed during a senseless robbery on what was to be his fifty-seventh birthday.  At first, eternity seems quite pleasant.  He feels no more fear, fatigue, stress, or the aches and pains of aging, and as far as he is concerned, he looks damned good walking around in his favorite jacket and walking shoes.  That is, until he meets Socrates … Yes, that Socrates!  …and finds, though he never murdered, raped or stole from anybody, he doesn’t qualify for a ticket through the pearly gates. 

Socrates tightened the chord on his toga.  “Satan is demanding your soul.  You’ll have to take up your case with him.  I can do nothing, August.”
“Yes you can!  Go back to your precious Divine Council and ask them to take another look at my record,” August demanded, then requested, and then fell on his knees and prayed for another chance, one more time around.  “I can get it right next time, I know I can.”

That’s exactly what Socrates does, and the Divine Council, in a desire for a grand experiment, grants August his second chance by giving him a mission, but one that comes with a little twist and just a few restrictions.  

·         The Twist – August is sent back to the year 1847 to the Wild West, thirty years younger, but he will be almost as a mortal– complete with all weaknesses and desires, but no supernatural abilities. 
·         The Mission – August must escort and protect eleven-year old orphan, Emily Lewis, in a wagon train along the Oregon Trail. 
·         The Restrictions– August isn’t just wagering his soul against damnation, but that of a thousand other souls.  He cannot fail his mission, and he cannot have intercourse with a mortal.  

Trouble starts immediately for August as he arrives in Independence, Missouri with nothing more than the clothes on his back and a hundred dollars’ worth of gold coins in his pocket.  His first purchase – after a tough battle of hagglin’ with a black livery owner named Forrest (whom everyone else just calls, Trees), is an Appaloosa stallion named Aristotle for seventy-two-fifty, nearly three-fourths of all the money he carried.   It was still weeks away before the wagon train left for Oregon, and according to the Wagon Master, Clark Bonner, August will need a few more things to be in the train: basic supplies from Leeds, a rifle and ammo, a wagon that can haul a couple thousand pounds and can take a beating for six months, a team to pull the wagon, and a sixty-five dollar fee. Oh, and most importantly, he is not allowed to bring the whore Candy Valentine. The problem is, August already promised to take Ms. Valentine on the train with him as an escort for young Emily.  
As if August doesn’t have enough on his plate as it is, trying to earn enough coin working for the local saddle maker, Sam “Hoppy” Hopkins, to get everything he needs, and convince Bonner to make an exception for Ms. Valentine, he finds himself chasing down a thief he stumbles upon in the middle of the night who tries to steal a load of Mr. Bonner’s ‘shovels’. Come morning, after delivering the thief to Marshall Edenfield’s deputy, Jonas, August finds himself behind bars, accused of the very crime he tried to stop a few hours before, and the deputy nowhere to be found.   Gettin’ out of jail and proving his innocence becomes tricky for August, and is not without its complications – and let’s not forget there’s a real thief out there somewhere.  

As the train is set to roll out of Independence, Missouri, August has gained a wagon and a team of mules, a waiver of the sixty-five dollar fee to Mr. Bonner’s train, as well as a reprieve for Ms. Valentine.  Yet, it came with a strong warning that he would be held accountable for Candy’s behavior, and she was not to cause trouble, or else they’d both be kicked off the train. 

After a few days on the trail, August feels like he’ll be able to meet all his mission requirements, even the one about chastity – though Ms. Valentine makes that a bit difficult for him with her constant flirting and combined assumptions of the other wagoner’s, that is until fate steps in and he meets the most beautiful woman he has ever seen, Mrs. Diana Desmond. 
This young, beautiful, strong-willed widow confuses and befuddles August to the point of frustration.  He doesn’t understand how she can have such strong compassion one minute, and then cold treatment of his eleven-year old ward, Emily, the next.  She confides to August that her marriage had been one of convenience, and not of love, and she’s not shy about sharing her troubled past or how she feels about a particular cowboy.   He draws her in one minute, in moments of weakness and overwhelming desire, and then pushes her away the next, when he remembers his restrictions.  On top of that, he has to deal with Candy and her constant advances and the insufferable, egotistical Ian Callahan and his romantic notions toward Diana.   In his jealousy of Callahan, August finds himself in a high-noon showdown, facing death, and ultimately the failure of his mission – all for a woman.  How does he fare in the gun fight?  You’ll have to read and find out. But I can say this is not a ‘forbidden fruit’ moment and the undoing of August Myles.

“I’ll see you in Oregon City,” August said.
Diana stared at the ground. “Why should I believe that?”
“Because I love you.  I risked my life in a gunfight because I love you.”
“Gunfights don’t prove you love me.  They prove you’re stupid.”
“Love can make a man do stupid things.”
“Like getting himself killed?”
“Like kissing a woman who calls him stupid.”
“Then shut up and kiss me, stupid.”
…In that occasion of ultimate human intimacy, of life’s greatest pleasure that could have been created by none other than God – when time is suspended, when vision goes cloudy, when hearing is subdued, when all senses and desires surrender to passion in a perfect world and focus only on fleeting moments of pure ecstasy – August Myles and Diana Desmond …

Does August fulfill all parts of his mission?  Does he break his restrictions? Does he give in to his natural desires and temptations? Or does he have the strength to resist?

It seems every decision made by August bears an eternal consequence.    They cost him a best friend, his wagon to burn, and got the Devil scrambling to prepare a case against him at his trial with the Divine Council.
Before August is whisked away to face the battle for his soul, he finds a friend in an enemy, and trades his greatest treasure for a safe return.  

Does August Myles escape condemnation?
Is Socrates able to pull out a miracle?
What becomes of the women (Diana & Emily) August loves?
What happens to Candy Valentine?

I’d love to be able to tell you how this story ends, but you’ll just have to read it for yourself.  Frank Allan Rogers does an amazing job answering all those questions, and reading his words would be better than mine.  Rogers’ skill with novel writing is superb.  He grabs attention in the first paragraph and doesn’t let go until the last word.  I was ‘literarily’ pulled from my twenty-first century existence into a nineteenth-century adventure.  I fell in love with the wagon train lifestyle, as well as the cowboy, August Myles.  I know you will too.

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