Today is my stop on the Blog Tour for The Road to Delano by John DeSimone.
Jack Duncan is a high school senior whose dream is to play baseball in college and beyond―as far away from Delano as possible. He longs to escape the political turmoil surrounding the labor struggles of the striking fieldworkers that infests his small ag town. Ever since his father, a grape grower, died under suspicious circumstances ten years earlier, he’s had to be the sole emotional support of his mother, who has kept secrets from him about his father’s involvement in the ongoing labor strife.
With their property on the verge of a tax sale, Jack drives an old combine into town to sell it so he and his mother don’t become homeless. On the road, an old friend of his father’s shows up and hands him the police report indicating Jack’s father was murdered. Jack is compelled to dig deep to discover the entire truth, which throws him into the heart of the corruption endemic in the Central Valley. Everything he has dreamed of is at stake if he can’t control his impulse for revenge.
While Jack’s girlfriend, the intelligent and articulate Ella, warns him not to so anything to jeopardize their plans of moving to L.A., after graduation, Jack turns to his best friend, Adrian, a star player on the team, to help to save his mother’s land. When Jack’s efforts to rescue a stolen piece of farm equipment leaves Adrian―the son of a boycotting fieldworker who works closely with Cesar Chavez―in a catastrophic situation, Jack must bail his friend out of his dilemma before it ruins his future prospects. Jack uses his wits, his acumen at card playing, and his boldness to raise the money to spring his friend, who has been transformed by his jail experience.
The Road to Delano is the path Jack, Ella, and Adrian must take to find their strength, their duty, their destiny.
Format: Kindle ARC
No. of Pages: 320
Date of Publication: February 2020
My Rating: 4 Stars
Jack Duncan grew up in one of those American cities where escape is pivotal. For Jack to have any type of future, he must win a baseball scholarship in order to create a promising future. Currently, Jack and his mother's property is in jeopardy of a tax sale. With hardly any equipment left in their family farm, John's mother has been promised a check big enough to cover the tax bill and to fulfill her dream to open her own shop.
As Jack takes the long drive on the combine, passing striking workers along the way, he is flagged off of the highway by a stranded motorist. Before he can do anything about it, he is stranded and the combine disappears. Just before his future disappears before his eyes, the motorist happens to be an old friend of his father who has shown him a police report that shakes Jack to the core. The report gave details of his father's death that he never knew.
Jack has another gift besides baseball. It is a gift his father had, and one that ultimately led to his death. Jack decides to capitalize on this talent in order to locate the combine and to reveal the truth of what actually happened to his father. This does not come easy for Jack. Yes he may be gifted when it comes to playing cards, but this doesn't clear an easy path for him. In fact, the experiences he falls into are hair-raising, leaving his mother, best friend Adrian and his wonderful girlfriend Ella to worry.
I honestly didn't know what to think when going into this story. As general fiction, it did not fall into the comfortable genres I have become accustomed to reading. I hesitate to branch out because I hope to be fair to authors when reviewing their work. Well, I found reading The Road to Delano to have surpassed my expectations. This was a nicely written story that flowed well and kept me tapping my Kindle for page after page.
The backdrop of vineyard work, card smarts, corruption and poverty all flowed seamlessly together in order to deliver a wonderful story, if not heartbreaking at times. I want to thank the blog tour organizer for putting this book on my horizon.
Many thanks to Rare Bird Books and to HFV Book Tours for this ARC for review. This is my honest opinion.
Please enjoy the following excerpt:
Sugar Duncan was known around Lamoille County as a gambler who could farm, but Sugar called himself a farmer who understood a sure bet. He grew up a plowboy on a hardscrabble patch of Vermont hill country and had calluses before he knew he had brains. It was in the seventh grade, in Pete Colburn’s barn, waiting out a driving rain that he found his power. While playing seven-card stud he could see the patterns, he understood the odds. He lived by the bluff, and he lived well as far as a child of the Depression could. Before he reached high school, they were calling him Sugar because he was sweet about taking their money.
While his college buddies baled hay and slopped pigs to pay their way through Ag school at Vermont U, Sugar found it more profitable to relieve the hooligans and rumrunners of their easy fortunes at the card table above Markham’s Grill over in Providence. After four years of playing cards and a new degree, he left town to farm where the land hadn’t been wiped clean of its strength.
Sugar rode west to California’s Central Valley in a Pullman with a new pair of tan and white brogues stuffed with cash packed in the bottom of his steamer. FDR had just signed the Cullen-Harrison Act ending Prohibition, and a fifth of whiskey was now as cheap as an acre of California farmland. He hadn’t any choice. Returning to Vermont would mean he’d starve. With gasoline a luxury, his father had resorted to using mules to plow his hundred acres. Milk and corn prices had fallen so sharply, a farmer could live better by killing his cows than by selling their milk. California was the place he could make a living. And he intended to make that living as a farmer— eventually.
A couple of weeks after arriving in Frisco, Sugar stood on the running board of a dusty Model T on the road leading into Delano and surveyed the flatlands of the valley planted in golden September wheat. He removed his hat, wiped his brow with the sleeve of his seersucker suit, and his instinct told him there was a sure bet.
He ensconced himself in the Freemont Hotel on Nob Hill. Each night around six, he made his way downstairs to a back room where he took up residence with a fresh deck of cards and a new bottle of Jim Beam, thankfully back in production, and waited. It didn’t take long for his table to fill. About a year later, he bought his first section of land.
On a mission to see an angel, Sugar debarked the Nob Hill trolley at Taylor and California on a foggy Sunday morning, after a long night of wagers and bluffs. Grace Cathedral’s carillon was in full melodic stride, pounding out a hymn he hadn’t heard in years. He paused midway up the ascending concrete steps, the tip of its campanile obscured in thick fog, trying to recollect its name. He’d not heard that song since he’d left the Methodist church as a teen. The Methodists didn’t have bells that could sing like this stone and stained glass beauty now emerging from the mist of the rising morning. Neither did Methodists take kindly to boys who gambled.
The crowd swelled up and carried him along in a cavalcade of San Francisco’s best citizens in their finest clothes. The building itself was a monument to European Gothic, with soaring stained glass windows, buttresses, candelabras of beaten silver, and hard oak pews. Striding down the wide center aisle, he nodded at several men he’d become acquainted with in the back room of the Freemont. The altar was a majestic slab of marble, adorned with satin cloth and golden candlesticks. Three stained glass Palladian windows rose four stories behind it.
In the warm umbra of the early light, he waited to see for himself what Mr. Dalton, a colleague in cards, had meant by angels appearing during the service. Not that he disbelieved in the possibility of divine intervention, he just wanted to witness it for himself. The choir assembled in a rustle of white robes trimmed with red satin stoles.
According to the Order of Service, they began with Jesu, Meine Freude and while it wasn’t ordinary, it wasn’t angelic to Sugar’s tastes. At least not in the way Dalton had described a divine manifestation. At the refrain, a raven-haired singer stepped forward, a few light steps and she settled in a sliver of light from above. The choir hushed. The congregation quit their fidgeting. She lifted her voice, and something inside him ascended along with her, sweeping him up, so even the German lyrics took on a secret meaning. The importance of the lyrics magnified by her conviction, a message from God, undecipherable, but absolutely true. Her music expanded to fill every cubit of the vault. When she finished the quietness of the miraculous settled over the congregation, a hushed moment of wonder. She melded back into the white-clad choir. A part of Sugar refused to return, still soaring high, shiny and lit by the sun. He perused the Order of Service again: Soloist Miss Shirley Gray. Now here was a dark-haired angel he had to meet.
Shortly after purchasing his fourth section, Sugar drove his shiny black Model A back along the road to Delano, with a lovely and satisfied Miss Shirley Gray bundled in the seat next to him. She wore a white cotton dress in the new style almost to her knees and a silk scarf to tamp her beautiful black hair down against the sweep of dry valley air rushing across the flatlands. And she had the long slender fingers of a pianist, the daintiest of hands that Sugar wanted desperately to hold in his.
Sugar parked along the shoulder of the dusty county road. He helped her out, then led her through the scrub and mesquite. Not a tall man, but neither was he short, he had the build and stride of a man who had worked the land, though his hands had gone soft from playing cards. His black hair was swept back under a new fedora, and he was dressed in a new Brooks Brothers suit, with a pleat cut to the pants and two-tone white and tan oxfords. Shirley picked her way, slipping her slender legs through gaps in the brush, with dainty steps she skirted the holes and dips.
Not far off the road, they stopped on a gentle rise to survey the sparse landscape in silent awe. His suit jacket flapped in the breeze. Water in Spring Gulch that cut across the southwest corner glistened blue in the brightness. The sky appeared so translucent he considered the possibility of seeing straight through to heaven. She pushed her hair under her scarf and had to work to keep her skirt from flying up. Her hand shielding her dazzled eyes, she turned full around taking in the flat expanse and let out a low sigh.
“This would be a nice place to build a house,” Sugar said. “A farmhouse?”
He turned to her. “Why a farmhouse?”
She couldn’t conceal her smile. “I always wanted to marry a farmer and live on a farm.” Her cheeks now blushed. He took up her hand in his, fresh and light, the skin of her palm as smooth as a baby’s face.
“What about marrying a gambler?”
“Never.” She stepped away, letting his hand go before he could read her eyes. For all of his acumen in divining the facial expressions of card players, he was at a loss to understand the game she was playing. Driving home, he thought of explaining his view of gambling and farming, how they both entailed managing risks, calculating odds, and the subtle art of placing a bet. But she’d already revealed her hand. She would marry a farmer. He realized then that if she had said she dreamed of marrying a gambler, he would have no use for her. He had every intention of playing his last game—soon. He just needed a better stake.
BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE:
Tuesday, March 3
Review at Passages to the Past
Feature at Books In Their Natural Habitat
Wednesday, March 4
Feature at I’m All About Books
Thursday, March 5
Thursday, March 5
Review at Tales from the Book Dragon
Sunday, March 8
Sunday, March 8
Review at Carole Rae’s Random Ramblings
Monday, March 9
Feature at Donna’s Book Blog
Wednesday, March 11
Review & Interview at Nursebookie
Thursday, March 12
Review at Books and Zebras
Friday, March 13
Review at YA, It’s Lit
Saturday, March 14
Review at Reading is My Remedy
Monday, March 16
Review at Chronicles of The Boozy Reader
Tuesday, March 17
Interview at Jathan & Heather
Friday, March 20
Friday, March 20
Guest Post at Gwendalyn’s Books
Tuesday, March 24
Tuesday, March 24
Review & Excerpt at Robin Loves Reading
Wednesday, March 25
Feature at What Is That Book About
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
John DeSimone is a published writer, novelist, and teacher. He’s been an adjunct professor and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Spalding University. His recent co-authored books include Broken Circle: A Memoir of Escaping Afghanistan (Little A Publishers), and Courage to Say No by Dr. Raana Mahmood, about her struggles against sexual exploitation as a female physician in Karachi. His published novel Leonardo’s Chair published in 2005.
In 2012, he won a prestigious Norman Mailer Fellowship to complete his most recent historical novel, Road to Delano. His novels Leonardo’s Chair and No Ordinary Man have received critical recognition.
He works with select clients to write stories of inspiration and determination and with those who have a vital message to bring to the marketplace of ideas in well-written books.