Coincidentally Thematic Book Haul

Notice how about half of them are about mountain men and the American West? And the other half are about: Scotland, gnomes, language, and “The All-Beef Cookbook.” Seems like a haul tailor-made for me, no?

Guess where this came from.

A friend, who works at the library, showed up with a pipe-smoke-scented box of books that were being thrown out.

That’s right.

This haul was selected for my reference library by God Himself.

Also, the photograph of a nameless old shack was in the box too.

Searching for Color Inspiration

casting on the yarn

This is going to be kind of a rambling post. It’s going to start with knitting.

Yes, I knit stuff sometimes.

I wouldn’t say I’m part of the “knitting community,” at least not the online one, because I don’t think they’d have me. Yet, I knit.

Recently, I knit my very first pair of socks.

the finished product

They are not quite as comfortable as store-bought socks, since the yarn I used doesn’t have any elastic in it, but they are perfectly serviceable, nice and warm. And, most importantly, they are in colors that I don’t mind showing off in my Minnetonka moccasins.

and again …

I’m not a huge fan of the fancy, picot-style top edge, but that’s how the pattern that I used was written, and I decided to follow it exactly before I branched out. I also learned to use the “kitchener stitch” to close the toe of this pair of socks.

Anyone who knits (or does any of a number of other handicrafts) will tell you that they are always looking for inspiration for new color schemes. Sure, it’s fun to stroll through the fabric store and take your inspiration from the yarns that are there, but I’ve found that the most fun colors to knit aren’t always the colors that you will end up wanting to wear. (Example: pink shades are really fun to knit, but I don’t gravitate towards fluffy pink items of clothing. Whenever I wear one, my kids tell me that I remind them of Dolores Umbridge. Not a good look.) (Another example: black knits are the coolest, very sophisticated, and you can often gift them to people who don’t want to look like they’re wearing a knitted item. However, pure black yarn is harder to work with because it’s harder to see what you’re doing, and it doesn’t show the stitch pattern as well when you’re finished, which might be a disadvantage or possibly an advantage if the piece didn’t go real well.)

All that to say, I have found my latest inspiration in the colors that seem to be signature of the Shoshone/Bannock Tribes.

The Shoshone/Bannock reservation (Fort Hall Reservation) is located in my neck of the woods. In fact, I drive through the rez whenever I go to town to get groceries. Fort Hall was a stop on the Oregon Trail, and there is a replica of it in Pocatello. Shoshone-Bannock type beadwork comes in all different color schemes (such as floral on a white or light blue background), but one very commonly seen type uses the primary colors. The blue is a light blue, the red is very vibrant, and the yellow can be used with white. It’s a little hard to find links to examples of this beadwork, but try looking here.

Now, if I was going to use primary colors in a design, I would probably make at least two of them very dark. Light blue would not be my first instinct, and it certainly wouldn’t occur to me to turn all three colors up to 11. But this color combination looks fantastic in Fort Hall. The beadwork looks especially good against shiny brown or black hair. Also, it is what you might call organic. If you click here, you will see that the three vivid colors are echoed in every Idaho sunset. Grounding them with a little black just adds to the sunsety impression.

Color inspiration. No, I am not just going to steal these colors willy-nilly. I am not going to dress head to toe in them or something like that. But I don’t think it will cause offense if I incorporate them in one or two knitted items. The Shoshone-Bannock folks I’ve rubbed shoulders with (figuratively, of course; Covid!) seem pretty friendly and chill. And they have the coolest cloth masks!

P.S. Naya Nuki was Shoshone. Click here for my review of her biography.

Hooray for the Russians!

Photo by Julius Silver on Pexels.com

… Even though it really stank to be one during WWII.

The first time [Russia] betrayed [her soldiers] was on the battlefield, through ineptitude — when the government, so beloved by the Motherland, did everything it could to lose the war: destroyed the lines of fortifications, set up the whole air force for annihilation; dismantled the tanks and artillery; removed the effective generals; and forbade the armies to resist. And the war prisoners were the men whose bodies took the blow and stopped the Wehrmacht.

The second time they were heartlessly betrayed by the Motherland was when she abandoned them to die in captivity [as prisoners of war of the Germans].

And the third time they were unscrupulously betrayed was when, with motherly love, she coaxed them to return home, with such phrases as “The Motherland has forgiven you! The Motherland calls you!” and snared them the moment they reached the frontiers.

Very few of the [Russian] war prisoners returned across the Soviet border as free men, and if one happened to get through by accident because of the prevailing chaos, he was seized later on, even as late as 1946 or 1947. Some were arrested at assembly points in Germany. Others weren’t arrested openly right away but were transported from the border in freight cars, under convoy, to one of the numerous Identification and Screening Camps scattered throughout the country. … As always, the interrogation [at these camps] began with the hypothesis that you were obviously guilty. And you, without going outside the barbed wire, had to prove that you were not guilty. Your only available means to this end was to rely on witnesses who were exactly the same kind of POWs as you. Obviously they might not have turned up in your screening camp; they might, in fact, be at the other end of the country; in that case, the Security Officers would send off inquiries, and you yourself would be questioned as a witness in some other case. True, it might take a year or two before your fate was resolved, but after all, the Motherland was losing nothing in the process. You were out mining coal every day.

“Oh, if only I had known!” That was the refrain in the prison cells that spring. If I had only known that this was how I would be greeted! That they would deceive me so! That this would be my fate! Would I have really returned to my Motherland? Not for anything!

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, abridged, from pp. 98 – 100

Contrast this to the famous photograph of an American sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square on V-J Day.

A Sci-Fi Romp Visits OutofBabel

That’s right, I am participating in the “How LJ and Rom Saved Heavy Metal” blog tour.

There’s a lot to say about this book, but I am not going to say it here. Just feast your eyes on that cover art (which drew in my 11-year-old, and sadly, I had to tell him he was not allowed to read it), and on the following excerpt:

[Rocker Dom] didn’t feel so well.

The increasing groan and churn of a speeding vehicle’s ratty exhaust and moaning tires came barreling through the air in the distance, and soon followed a chanting noise. It was approaching fast, coming from the direction of the road leading to the highway.

The chanted words became audibly coherent just before the older model Toyota Tacoma skidded down the pavement and into Dom’s gravel, circular driveway.

“Get back with the band! Get back with the band!”

The driver was flipping the bird out the window, hand above the truck’s cabin while the truck slung rocks into the air, aimed right at Dom and [his pet monkey,] Deevin.

“Bah! Look out, Deevin!” Dom blurted.

Deevin screeched and panicked. The front windows beside the door shattered into a thousand pieces. Dom instantly turned his head and shielded his pet monkey from the flying rocks and broken glass.

The truck continued around the driveway just as fast as it had entered. Drifting tires spinning in the gravel sent rocks into the air like mini missiles, pelting Dom’s old Buick LeBaron as the truck pulled out of the skid, screeching when the tires hit pavement again. The noises of the chanting, moaning off-road tires and ratty exhaust faded into the distance.

“Good God! I’m wondering why I even got out of bed at all today,” Dom said, muttering to himself and Deevin.

Things were progressively getting worse ever since he’d split with the band. Deevin’s hurt leg, the crappy birthday party, the poor sleep, and now this.

Dom lay back in bed, quickly fading back to la-la land as if it was the house telling him to go to sleep. He didn’t realize it yet, but it was obvious the universe was sending a warning message.

How LJ and Rom Saved Heavy Metal, by S.K. McKinley, pp. 80 – 81

Serial Reader Book Tag

Yes, I’m a serial reader. If nothing else, I am definitely that.

But this tag is about book series. A book tag is something that comes with a bunch of questions or prompts that the blogger answers. Normally, the blogger is also supposed to “tag” a bunch of other people, like one of those chain e-mails from back in the day, but I don’t usually do that part. I personally got this tag from Fran Laniado. It was most likely created by Dutch blogger, @Zwartraafje in this post.

From which series did you read the spinoff series?

First, I read a number of books in the Emberverse series. The premise of this series is that one day, inexplicably, in the middle of the 90s, a bunch of technology stops working: engines, electricity, and gunpowder. This event, which people begin to call “The Change,” throws the world back into preindustrial technology. Naturally, the first book (Dies the Fire, above) is post-apocalyptic with lots of starvation, hand to hand fighting, and horrendous die-offs in the cities especially. As the series develops, people rebuild a medieval-style world. (Because it turns out that in the absence of gunpowder, you need a warrior class and a peasant class to support them.) Eventually, the young hero goes on a quest to find the source of all the weirdness, which seems to be centered around Nantucket. It turns out that right when The Change happened, modern Nantucket was replaced by an ancient version, from well before Europe colonized the New World.

All of that is background to set up the spinoff series. This is called, not surprisingly, the Nantucket series. In the first book, Island in the Sea of Time, the modern island of Nantucket and a ship near it are suddenly transported back into the Bronze Age. The islanders have to learn how to survive without any mainland. Eventually, they make their way to England and meet the original builders (or at least users) of Stonehenge. I’ve read Island. I own the second book in the series, which opens with King Agamemnon realizing how much he loves artillery. I just needed a break from this spinoff series, but I’ll come back to it some day.

With which series did the first book not sell you over from the start?

Sacred Clowns is one book in the “series,” but not the one I had the bad experience with.

Stretching the meaning of “first book” a bit, I’m going to go with Tony Hillerman’s Navajo police procedural series, starring Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee.

Unfortunately, these books are not labeled as a series, though the contents do have a chronological order. So when I say “first book,” it’s the first one I happened to pick up. I just got unlucky. Unlike most of the Chee/Leaphorn books, most of the action in the one I picked up does not take place in Dinetah (the Navajo homeland in the Four Corners area), but rather in Washington, DC. Also, in that particular book one of the major point-of-view characters was a stone-cold killer with a back story that was just so sad I wasn’t sure I could handle any more by that author. Luckily, later I caved and picked up another of Hillerman’s books.

Which series hooked you from the start?

Well, I mean all of them. If I read any distance into a series, it’s usually because it hooked me. But I am going to have to go with The Belgariad. It opens with the hero, Garion, growing up in a big farm kitchen on a hardworking, prosperous, devout farmstead similar to the one in Farmer Boy, but bigger and more medival. Garion’s Aunt Pol, who we later learn is a sorceress, is first introduced as an amazing cook whose dishes can make farmhands from other farms weep. I’m a sucker for this kind of simple, wholesome stuff.

Which series do you have completed on your shelves?

I have The Chronicles of Narnia, because somebody once gave me a nice, thick doorstop where all the books are together in one volume. Also, I just last week acquired a nice hardbound copy of Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea Trilogy. It was on the sales shelf at the library! I am very excited about this, because it’s a brilliant trilogy and I feel that finding it in hardback is like finding treasure.

Which series have you read completely?

*deep breath*

The Chronicles of Narnia, all the Brother Cadfael books (I think), The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, all The Three Investigators books (I think), all of Susan Howatch’s Church of England series except the last one, The Little House books, everything ever written by Agatha Christie (not really a series), the Belgariad & Mallorean (but not the spinoffs), the A Wrinkle in Time trilogy.

Which series do you not own completely but would like to?

Well, this is a tough one. In theory, I would like to own a complete set of every series I like. In practice, until recently I moved house every few years (sometimes much more often), and I have a limited budget. Both of these factors make it difficult to build up a dream library. Also, I have plenty of bookish friends and relatives, so if I want to re-read something, often I can borrow it. I guess if I had to name a series that I would like to own all of, it would all of Tony Hillerman’s Navajo cop books and also all of Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael mysteries. I’d also like to own all the Tintin albums and all the Asterix albums, because those are great for kids, table reading, and art inspiration. But that’s one where it’s possible to borrow.

Which series to do you not want to own completely but still read?

Andrew Klavan’s Homelander series. I convinced my librarian to order them and then I read them all.

Which series are you not continuing?

There are plenty of contenders here. Life is short.

The latest series that I started, enjoyed several of, and then broke off was Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas series. The later books aren’t bad, it was just that once I’d learned Odd’s tricks, it got so that I could take or leave further books.

Which series you haven’t started yet are you curious about?

Which series did others love and you did not?

The Legacy of Orisha series. I read the first book: Children of Blood and Bone.

Here’s a sample of an incident that drove me crazy: the romantic hero, who is also sort of the villain, is the son of a king who has oppressed magicians with harsh purges. He is just starting to discover that he himself has a magical power: he can directly sense others’ thoughts and feelings. He has a terrifying moment when he picks up on a memory of the heroine. It was the lynching of her mother. He is shocked and horrified by what he sees and feels. And then he concludes, “I will never understand her pain.” Even though he literally just did! He literally just lived through it! But that line is a clue that the author is not going to give him a redemption arc or let him out of the role of oppressor. Nor is the author going to let him and his sister off the hook for “not seeing sooner” that their father was an awful tyrant, even though they are about 18 years old and just came of age themselves. So, if you like merciless class war, you’ll love this series.

Sorry, that might not be the most cheerful note to end on, but that’s the way the tag crumbles. Have a great day, everyone!

A Special Valentine’s Day Excerpt from The Strange Land

If you are a father of daughters, and you are in a Mugrage novel, just be warned you might find yourself in this situation.

* * *

Hur grinned as he saw out of the corner of his eye his daughter Amal slipping away with some young man. Then he took a sharp second look at the man’s tall, lean silhouette. He darted into the dark and seized his daughter’s wrist.

She jerked back, pulled for a second between the two of them. The man realized what was happening and came to a halt. He approached, and Hur’s face fell.

It was as he had feared. Amal had her eye on Jai, Endu’s eldest son.

“Absolutely not,” said Hur.

Now it was Amal’s face that fell. “But, Papa!” She looked at him in dismay. Her face was round and pale in the twilight; her black hair was falling loose around it. She looked on the verge of tears.

Jai was not on the verge of tears. He was, as always, master of the situation. He took a step closer, looming over Hur without letting go of Hur’s daughter’s hand.

“Do you have something to say to me, Uncle?”

“I do,” said Hur. “No daughter of mine is going to marry a son of Endu. That is final.”

“Oh, Papa!

“It has happened before,” said Jai.

“I am ending it now,” said Hur.

Jai shrugged as if to say that his heart was not broken. “I will take this up with the chief,” he said. He let go of Amal’s hand. Then he walked away, trying to appear nonchalant, off into the darkness.

He stood head and shoulders taller than Hur. Hur could remember when Jai was born.

He could remember when Amal was born, very vividly at this moment.

“I am nineteen years old, Papa,” she snapped.

“I held you nineteen years ago,” he replied, dragging her back towards their hut. “I made a covenant then to protect you. And I still intend to.”

There was no further confrontation when they reached home. Amal hid herself in her bunk, white-faced and crying.

Hur’s wife looked at him with a question in her eyes. Hur cast up his hands and sank to a seat, elbows on knees. He felt weak and dismayed.

He did not say to himself, What was my daughter thinking? She was a nineteen-year-old girl; he did not expect her to think clearly. It was his job to think for her.

And he had failed, or at least left it a bit too late. “It has happened before.” Had Jai been lying, trying to rattle him, or had he told the truth? Hur thought it was the truth. He could think of a few times recently when Amal had been unaccounted for. Well, now she would hate Hur when he forbade the match. She would just have to hate him. Better that she should hate her father for a little while than that she should suffer an abusive fate.

* * *

Let’s Go Way Back

Today, because yesterday was Valentine’s Day, I am posting a poem that I … ahem … love. No, it’s not by me, nor is it by G.K. Chesterton. (Though he did write some great poetry.) It’s by a rising star who happens to be a friend of mine … Benjamin Ledford.

The Normans came to England and they found the Saxons there.

The Saxons said “Go back to France! We’re first! This isn’t fair!”

But the Saxons came from Germany where they had lived before,

And came and found the Angles living on the English shores.

The Angles were from Denmark whence they came in viking raids,

And they conquered tidy towns and forts that Roman troops had made.

The Romans came from Rome, of course, that goes without much saying,

And when they invaded England it was Celts that they were slaying.

Some Celts had fled to Scotland as they hurried to escape,

But others were already there — the Picts for goodness’ sake!

And before the Picts or Celts or Brits or any of these others,

There was someone building Stonehenge in the south with giant boulders.

And those Stonehenge folks, well surely, they’re the oldest Englishmen.

But could it be, or do you wonder,

Was there someone there before them?

Ben Ledford, 2021

Now, go forth and read this to your history students!

I Like Bears … But Not as Much as Ethan Nicolle Does

I mean, look at him!

It’s no secret that I like bears.

My upcoming book, The Strange Land, even features … a bear. (Spoiler alert.) (Pray for the book, by the way, if you are interested in reading it. Let’s not allow some petty formatting issues to stand between you and any literary bear.)

But I will never be on about bears as much as author, graphic artist, and funnyman Ethan Nicolle.

Here he is again.

He works for the Babylon Bee. But that is only the beginning of his ursine depths.

His first bear-related book was Bears Want to Kill You.

This is a reminder we all need. But I haven’t read it.

He also has to his credit the following typology:

I was given this for Christmas. Actually, my kids were. And boy, am I glad that someone cared enough to warn us about the existence of the Beaardvark, Bearilla, Bear Crab, and of course the Abearican Eagle.

But I am mainly here to talk about this:

Brave Ollie Possum is the awesomest chapter book/family read-along that I have encountered in a long time. It just so poignant, twisty, tense, funny, and gross. The early chapters gave us nightmares. In the later chapters, some passages were so disgusting that as I read them out loud, I had to suppress a gag reflex. (Perfect for school-aged boys!) Other passages were so funny that we had to stop and laugh it out before we could recover. This is the book for you if you never knew how much you needed to watch a possum use the kitchen of an Italian restaurant to cook a late-night pan of lasagna for his forest friends. Other than that, I won’t spoil the plot except to say, What better animal than a possum for an author to explore themes of cowardice and courage?

Also, of course … bears.