09 January 2009

Books Read Since November 16

No, I didn't read fewer books during this period. :-) It's just that during the holiday season I read Christmas books and magazines. The books were reviewed in Holiday Harbour.

• A Great and Godly Adventure: The Pilgrims and the Myth of the First Thanksgiving, Godfrey Hodgson
If you have read Nathaniel Philbrick's Mayflower, you will find this volume redundant; however, if you are looking for a readable narrative about the "Pilgrims," their beliefs, their sojourn in Holland, and then their voyage and survival in the New World, this one will fit the bill. Detractors complain that it doesn't tell as much as Mayflower, but it doesn't claim to.

• Stories to Live By, edited by Marjorie Vetter
What a cool find!—these are growing-up stories for girls published in the 1940s and 1950s in the Girl Scout magazine, American Girl. I had AG in the early 1970s, when the stories became funky and full of 60s twaddle; these go in the other direction and sometimes feel quaint because of the stereotypes about girls in them. On the other hand, subjects still of concern today, such as being overweight or peer pressure, are covered, and by well-known authors like Betty Cavanna. I really enjoyed reading this one and "traveling back in time."

• Crusader Nation: The United States in Peace and the Great War, David Traxel
This was one of my finds at the Book Warehouse in Pigeon Forge; since this is my sphere of American history interest, I found it enjoyable indeed. Traxel writes in an uncomplicated, but not simplistic style about the United States' efforts to be a peacekeeper and innovator, until the "Great War" changed the country's isolationism. To my pleasure, there was plenty of material about my favorite president, Theodore Roosevelt. Traxel covers not only political, but social innovations. Well worth your time if you are a United States history buff.

• The Mark of the Lion and Stalking Ivory, Suzanne Arruda
I found Stalking Ivory in the bargain bin at Borders, and therefore started the Jade del Cameron series from the middle. I loved the 1920s East Africa setting, but there was something about the prose that bothered me. Finally I went back and found a cheap copy of the first book, Mark of the Lion.

Jade del Cameron, a young American woman of part Spanish descent (she was raised on a ranch in New Mexico), is driving an ambulance during World War I when her fiancé David Worthy is shot down during a dogfight. With his dying breaths he gives her a ring and begs her to find his brother in Africa. But Jade remembers that David once told her he was an only child.

After kicking off the plot in the first chapter, the remainder of the book takes place in East Africa, where Jade searches for David's mysterious brother. In the course of the story, she meets an English couple working a coffee plantation, whose wife will immortalize Jade in a series of romance novels.

Jade, as in most of these mystery-adventure novels, is a woman before her time: independent, free thinking, not ready to be encumbered by marriage—and of course good-looking, with raven-dark hair. The first novel is a cracking good adventure story, but I think I had trouble with the sequel Stalking Ivory because it was straying into romance novel territory, especially with the appearance of the handsome young American former pilot Sam Featherstone. Jade seems to change in Ivory, too; she becomes more of a conservationist...not sure if this is a natural progression because of what she has seen in East Africa or because the author chose to make her more "environmentally friendly."

I have to admit that in the end I enjoyed both books, but I think Mark of the Lion was the stronger.

• No Rest for the Wiccan, Madelyn Alt
This is the fourth in a series of "bewitching mysteries" about Maggie O'Neill, who works at Enchantments, a New Age gift shop run by a witch. Maggie has been discovering her own empathic powers and is coming to terms with herself, if having trouble deciding between the two men in her life, the practical policeman and one of her employer's "witchy" cohorts, a free-spirit biker type. Then her "perfect" sister Mel becomes bedridden and in the course of caring for her, Maggie discovers an evil spirit in the home. But it's nothing to what happens after a local feed mill owner is threatened and then dies of an apparent suicide.

If you enjoy themed cozy mysteries, you might enjoy the Alt books. I like the characters, even if they often don't seem real—except for Maggie's sister. Little Miss Perfect I want to slap. :-)

• Foundation, Mercedes Lackey
Mercedes Lackey returns to her Valdemar universe after a five-year absences. While Foundation, set at the time that Herald's Collegium is being built (and being fussed about by older Heralds who think the old way of instructing novices one-on-one is fine), isn't terrible, it does read a bit like a young-adult novel rather than a tale for adults. And there is the usual plot: adolescent, badly treated (in this case, the boy protagonist Mags is a mine slave, so it's more serious than usual), is Chosen and finds happiness, but also finds challenges in the form of evil intentions by outsiders. In this case the "evil" comes late in the novel and is just a setup for the remainder of the trilogy, so nothing really earth-shaking happens. Still, it's another new Valdemar novel, and hopefully something a bit more exciting will occur in the sequels.

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