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Adventures from Ireland to California - an Editorial Review of "Journey to Duncan Mills"

Book Blurb:

Journey to Duncans Mills is a work of historical fiction, following the adventures of Alexander Duncan from his birthplace in Strabane, Ireland to the rural environs of west Sonoma County, California. During the second half of the 19th century, he built a lumber industry with his brother while experiencing many pitfalls along the way. It was a time when Indigenous people were enslaved, when the area sided with Confederates, when the Anti-Chinese League ran wild. Alex Duncan rose up against the racist writings of Thomas Thompson, editor of Santa Rosa's Democrat, in an epic battle of good versus evil with guest appearances by mysterious men in white masks.

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Author Bio:

Inspired by his family’s imprint upon northern California folklore since 1870, John McCarty creates unique characters and sends them off on an adventure thru yesteryear over the beautiful landscape of San Francisco and Sonoma counties. His tales brim with local yarns and antiquity, reflecting his thirty-year career as history instructor and researcher on both the secondary and graduate levels. John is affiliated with the San Francisco-, Sonoma County- and Russian River Historical Societies. He is also a member in good standing with Redwood Writers and the Fulbright Association. With an abundance of city and country rascals at his disposal, our author’s single concern is to make sure that the ridiculous truth does not plow over fiction.

John is available for book signings and readings, classroom visits, book club appearances, rotary and chamber gatherings, local art and holiday festivals, and historical dedications. Please use the form found here: to make requests.

Editorial Review:

The old man circled the jaunty with a fine eye. The open sidecar appeared in superb condition. Both wheels boasted new metal bands while the wooden spokes were attached to refreshed felloes. The rear seats, set back-to-back, would allow his son to render a proper adieu as he paraded through the streets of Strabane on the following day. The event would bring out a handful of well-wishers who were mainly dirt farmers with a penchant for a pint of Guinness and a taste for the irreverent.

Samuel Duncan resembled your typical senior in this rural town of Northern Ireland—hard working with a rich brogue and harsh features. His hands thick and hardened. His posture bent from decades of farming. While two hectares of land would not promote advancement in life, it did furnish the family with enough sustenance on most days.

"Journey to Duncans Mills," a novel by John Michael McCarty, is a compelling historical fiction that transports readers to the second half of the 19th century, tracing the life and adventures of Alexander Duncan. We are pulled into the story from the very first chapter.

We are drawn in by the book's opening scene, a magnificent painting of rural Strabane, Ireland. An immersive experience is promised by McCarty's deft use of language and imagery in the opening line, which foreshadows a journey rich in emotional resonance and historical detail. We’re immediately taken back to the times of the Duncans and sidecars with wooden spokes. We’re introduced to farmers, their bodies changed from decades of working the land. And our main character, who will be making a bold trip to relocate and start a new kind of life.

No words, however, rose to elucidate the matter as wife and youngest continued to spade the furrows with their splintered hands.

Can’t be makin’ the rent if there be no product to sell,” the father persisted. “Ya understand this, don’t ya woman?”

Alex held a different slant on the invading silence. He was annoyed by the lack of a proper greeting since this was his last day with the family. He threw a glare to the back of his brother, thinking the lad deserved a double dose of the devil’s lip.

Nothing more disrespectful than a younger sibling’s noncompliance, Alex thought as the blunt of his finger found the spine of Sam.

The adolescent spun around on his knees. “Quit acting the maggot.”

As we follow Alexander Duncan from Ireland to West Sonoma County, California, McCarty creates a colorful tapestry of events. The story, which is based on actual historical occurrences, examines themes of perseverance, hardship, and survival in the context of the American West. Authenticity and depth are added to the plot by incorporating historical personalities and events such as the anti-Chinese movement and the struggle with Thomas Thompson.

As far as editing, dialogue and structure, the book excels. It has a clear structure and is well-edited, making it easier to navigate the intricate historical setting. You are guaranteed a seamless and captivating read by the reader-friendly layout, which strikes a solid balance between dialogue and descriptive sections. This style of writing keeps you immersed in the story, living the moments as the characters do.

Christ on a bike!

What be your name?”

Alex Duncan. From Strabane, Tyrone County. Of the United Kingdom of Great—”

I be well aware of where Strabane be situated,” the captain interrupted before requesting the passenger list from the first mate.

The second page of the catalogue showed the name DUNCAN, ALEXANDER. “Appears ya already boarded. At 7:34 a.m. to be precise,” and the captain lifted his vision from the clipboard to the face of the young man.

One of my favorite parts was the colorful dialogue, which really helps you get to know each character well, even the side characters.

"Journey to Duncans Mills" excels in character development, especially with regard to Alexander Duncan. His transformation from a teenage immigrant to a pivotal role in the history of Sonoma County is depicted with subtlety and complexity. In addition to being masterfully written, supporting characters enhance the narrative's complexity. Every little detail comes together perfectly to bring this story to life.

Character arcs and historical events are easily integrated into the tale, which keeps great continuity. The plot is logical and has well-paced advancement to keep the story moving along.

The novel has a strong, poignant finale that will not give away any major plot points. You are left with a lasting impression as it satisfactorily wraps up the narrative. It is admirable that McCarty was able to provide an emotionally and historically significant ending. It might even change the way you look at this time in history going forward.

The work is notable for offering a distinctive viewpoint on a little-known period and region in American history. The emphasis on the historical tensions and cultural dynamics of Sonoma County's Russian River region presents a novel and compelling perspective.

John McCarty strikes a mix of historical authenticity and narrative flare in his expressive and approachable writing. His ability to describe things realistically and his speech authentic to the era improve the reading experience overall.

Men hauled drums of fuel across the deck and fastened them to the wire cable. Provisions for the households followed. Wicks, glass chimneys, sacks of flour and chicory, barrels of molasses and whiskey, a cast-iron stove, lace curtains, pocket windows and clothing items. Upon reaching the bluff above, the products were loaded onto flatcars, which the four-horse teams pulled north to Duncansville. The seven Duncan children rushed to a pile of shoes. A tangle of arms ensued as the kids reached over one another to draw out a boot only to toss it back and search for another. Ann busied herself with the storage of foodstuffs after which she inspected the store-bought curtains with a close eye. Alex sat in his chair and lit a Philip Morris, waiting. In a matter of seconds his wife would engulf him with her dissatisfactions. He drew on his cigarette. The clock’s secondhand ticked, beats measured by the thickness of its nell. Another puff.

"Journey to Duncans Mills" has a well-developed plot arc with a distinct beginning, middle, and end. We see the story of one man, but it’s likely a story very similar to so many others. Alexander Duncan's struggles and victories are skillfully depicted, making for an engaging and unforgettable tale.

The storyline and history of "Journey to Duncans Mills" are expertly combined. The novel by John Michael McCarty takes the reader not only inside Alexander Duncan's life but also into a crucial and tumultuous period of American history. For lovers of historical fiction, this book is a must-read because it is both entertaining and educational. The book is a standout piece in its category because it excels in every important area of storytelling.


“Journey to Duncan Mills” by John Michael McCarty receives five stars and the “Highly Recommended” award of excellence from The Historical Fiction Company



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