This will be the first review of this book posted on Goodreads; if I was a responsible person I'd feel a responsibility...
This book is a historical novel set mainly in east Texas during the period of first settlement by people from the USA. Hence it is a frontier story, almost a Western. It is also a biographical tale of the author's great-great-grandmother, who is not a "historical figure" in the usual sense, which is unique in my experience. Thompson, a journalist and amateur historian, focusing on the lives of "ordinary" Texans, has pieced together the story of her family's arrival in Texas and subsequent lives and she tells the most dramatic story in this book, which is imperfect but takes an interesting perspective.
The defense of the Alamo and the war of Texan independence would be the obvious choice of story to tell, with its colourful, crazy characters such as Jim Bowie, its brash, dumb decision making and obvious conflict. Instead all of this is background to the personal dramas in the life of one Letty Bradley. One of the imperfections I mentioned above is that the book is too long; we are treated to a long introductory section dealing with the family decision to move to Texas and the journey there, when Letty is only twelve. We are also given a lengthy epilogue that covers Letty's late years once the central conflict has been resolved. Both of these should have been cut, reducing the book's length by at least 100p. There is also the problem of the protagonist switch from Letty's mother to Letty herself. Cutting the largely irrelevant early part would fix this, too. A more focused, intense book would have resulted.
For me, the most interesting aspect of the book was the treatment of life in frontier Texas and the contrast with other places settled much earlier, such as the swarmong metropolis of 50,000 people, New Orleans and the values these frontier folk espoused. Most of the characters could read and write but that was the extent of their education. Some characters had learned more and one, a lawyer, is Letty's antagonist. Thompson almost falls into the trap of making learning seem like a bad thing because of this, but not quite. The majority of the characters are tough-minded and independent to a fault, but they had to be to survive in a very sparsely populated land where early death was commonplace. Indeed, the book is full of scenes of tragedy and grief to the extent that they become repetitive and begin to lose their impact as the end approaches.
Thompson's family are given a relatively enlightened attitude towards slavery - one that seems not to be entirely upheld by the documentary evidence - but the fact is slaves were more or less ubiquitous and a well-treated slave is still not a free person. (See LeGuin's Powers for a discussion of this.)
Thompson's great strength as a writer is dialogue, which is a good thing because the book is heavily driven by it. The author not only captures the dialect of Texas but that of Louisiana Bayou folk, too and distinguishes the sounds and rhythms of black folk (slaves and free persons), white poorly educated settlers and their better educated
I'm not sure if Thompson will write any more novels, it may be that this was more driven by the process of learning her family history than the need to write stories. On the other hand she's a journalist and many of those turn to writing novels. If she does, she really needs to find an agent and get a paying publisher: there are an exraordinary number of typos in this book, which was self-published. This is annoying and a shame. A decent editor and proof-reader could have improved the novel greatly.