Friday, March 28, 2014

The Lost Sisterhood by Anne Fortier

The Lost Sisterhood by Anne Fortier is a literary mystery-romance set in present day Oxford, England.  Diana Morgan is a lecturer on Greek mythology, but her real interest lies in the mythological Amazon women. Her grandmother, deemed crazy by her parents and subject to medical procedures to “help” her, claimed to be an Amazon. Although she disappeared when Diana was a child, she left behind enigmatic clues to a secret past and identity.

Diana’s obsession with Amazons has not made her popular with the other faculty at Oxford. When a stranger approaches her and invites her to an archaeological dig that will prove the existence of the Amazons, Diana can’t resist, even if going on the trip jeopardizes her position at Oxford.

Leaving behind not only Oxford but her secret crush, the rich and handsome James Moselane, Diana embarks on an adventure that takes her to Africa, Greece, Turkey, and Finland. Along the way, she finds more clues to her grandmother’s past and meets a mysterious man whose identity keeps changing and who keeps popping up in unexpected places.

Alternating with Diana’s story is the author’s vision of a timeline of the Amazons beginning in the Bronze Age, intertwining with Greek history and the Trojan War. A number of characters familiar to us from The Iliad make appearances in these chapters.

 The Lost Sisterhood is imaginative, and I enjoyed the Oxford location. It is action-filled in the manner of the Indiana Jones movies; characterization is not its strong suit. It engaged me at the beginning although I thought it ran a little long and I found the ending very far-fetched. Still, if you enjoyed A.S. Byatt’s Possession or are fascinated by Greek, Trojan, and Amazon mythology, you may enjoy The Lost Sisters.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Night of the Hunter by R.A. Salvatore

The early Drizzt novels by R.A. Salvatore are a great fantasy read. The drow (dark elves) in the Dungeons and Dragons Forgotten Realms are clever and evil, but Drizzt somehow escaped the darkness of his people and has chosen the way of good. He is thoughtful, troubled, and lonely. I'm not a Dungeons and Dragons player; I read the Salvatore novels for Drizzt, because he is an intriguing character.

However, the books are in some way directed by Dungeons and Dragons, and in 2010, the world of Drizzt was "reset" with a book called Gauntlgrym. I was so unimpressed with Gauntlgrym I haven't read a Drizzt book since. (I believe there have been four.) But I knew some beloved companions from previous books were back for Night of the Hunter so I read a Netgalley advance reader copy.

Night of the Hunter is better than Gauntlgrym, by about half a star. There were places that seemed very disjointed; maybe that was a problem with the advance reader copy, but if so it wasn't obvious. I found the presence of vampires extremely odd. I was never a fan of Catti-Bri and Drizzt as a couple and am uninterested in hearing about their state of undress and amorous activities. (Fortunately, there was not much of that.) We saw very little of Drizzt's magical panther Guenhwyvar, my second favorite character in the Drizzt books. I did find the way in which the companions were killed and then brought back interesting, but I grew tired of the drow politics.

 My favorite parts of the early Drizzt novels were his contemplative musings on life and his situation, and there weren't enough of these passages in Night of the Hunter for my liking.  Salvatore has been quoted as calling Drizzt "the classic romantic hero — misunderstood, holding to a code of ideals even when the going gets tough, and getting no appreciation for it most of the time." I hope we see more of that Drizzt in future novels. Still, I enjoyed reading Night of the Hunter and found it easier to follow than Gauntlygrym, especially toward the end. 

If you are a fantasy fan who has not yet discovered Drizzt, start with The Crystal Shard or Homeland.

The Small Hand and Dolly by Susan Hill

I thoroughly enjoyed Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black and I love dolls, so I was easily tempted by The Small Hand and Dolly. It contains two short novels by Hill.

Both novels had some genuinely eerie moments that raised the hair on the back of my neck, but The Small Hand is the stronger of the two. It has a more original plot (and a Shakespeare First Folio comes into play). A bookseller takes a wrong turn and comes across The White House, an abandoned, derelict home that was clearly once a showpiece. It appeals to him somehow, and he takes a short walk in the grounds. As he stands in a clearing, the evening falls silent, and he feels a small hand creep into his own. But the owner of the small hand is invisible, and the bookseller has trouble shaking The White House and the small hand. I was sucked right into the story, and the resolution surprised me.

Dolly was less surprising and less satisfactory. It involves two creepy dolls and a spoiled little girl. I had no trouble finishing it, but the ending resolved in a way I didn’t wholly buy.

Still, if you enjoy creepy stories of atmosphere, not action, I recommend The Small Hand and Dolly.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Code Talker by Chester Nez with Judith Schiess Avila

Code Talker is a memoir of one of the men who devised the Navajo code used to communicate during World War II. The code is described as the only unbroken code in modern warfare and is credited for helping assure victory in the South Pacific for the United States and its allies.
Although most of the book is devoted to the time spent by Chester Nez in the Marines and the South Pacific, it also covers his childhood and the years after he left the service. It includes some information on Navajo customs, revealed as they apply to the anecdotes told by Nez. Although the narrative touches on the horrors of the South Pacific battles during World War II, the descriptions are not graphic.
I enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about the code talkers. My father was a Marine in the South Pacific during World War II, and the efforts of the code talkers may have helped him survive. I was interested to read that Nez spent much of his time in the 3d Marine Division, the same as my father.
The descriptions of life as a Marine in the South Pacific are detailed and evocative. I really felt like I was on the beach, in the foxhole, or dodging enemy fire. Nez seems to be a positive, upbeat person. He touches on the racism Native Americans faced in the 1940s but doesn’t dwell on the matter or show any bitterness. One of the most interesting anecdotes was when he and a fellow code talker were loaned to the Army and two soldiers mistook them for Japanese soldiers (despite their Marine uniforms).
In an early chapter Nez discusses how the code was formed. The code was not simply normal spoken Navajo. Code words were used for letters of the alphabet and for military terms and equipment. I’ve never seen the movie Windtalkers but have read that it was not historically accurate and focused on white soldiers instead of the Navajo code talkers. The creation and use of the code is a topic that would make a great movie in the hands of the right people.
Code Talker was an easy book to read, and it moved along quickly. If you like reading about World War II or would like to learn more about this fascinating episode from Native American history, I definitely recommend Code Talker.

Note: The Galesburg Public Library book clubs will discuss Code Talker as part of this year’s Big Read. The Big Read title for 2014 is Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich. Discussions of Love Medicine will take place in April, and free copies of the book are available the library while supplies last. Stop by the library to pick one up and to learn more.