Monthly Archives: December 2020

The Christmas Light

Sometimes, you’ve just gotta read a thoroughly predictable Christmas story because Christmas. Just because it’s predictable doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyable, though (this is probably the only area where I don’t mind predictable). Donna VanLiere is a good author for the heartwarming (or wrenching), Hallmark-y holiday stories about discovering family and love.

The Christmas Light is set in a small town preparing for its Christmas nativity play. Jennifer and her daughter are still trying to come to terms with life without a husband and father. Ryan and his daughter, visiting family for Christmas and choosing where to move, are in a similar boat, trying to find normal after the divorce. Lily and Stephen desperately want a family but have to wait for things to fall into place. All their stories are woven together through the Nativity play, reminding them that there’s more out there than just this moment, and patience pays off when you’re waiting for the light.

The Christmas Light is a much lighter book than The Christmas Shoes, another of VanLiere’s books that I read almost every year. Though, as I said, you generally know how everything is going to play out right from the start, somehow the story still grabs you and draws you in.

The characters feel like individuals, the writing is clear enjoyable to read. And, let’s be honest, sometimes it’s nice to have a story play out exactly how you want it to or think it will. It’s nice to have everything right in the world, even if it isn’t our world.

One Thousand White Women

Sometimes you can come up with really interesting story ideas simply by asking, what if things happened differently? This is what Jim Fergus did with One Thousand White Women. Taking the general history and changing one pivotal detail, he created almost a side trail of a story, where the end is the same but the journey there looked a little different.

One Thousand White Women is based on a real event– a Northern Cheyenne chief requested U.S. Army authorities arrange for 1,000 white women to be brides for Cheyenne warriors as a means to integrate the tribe with white society. Though in reality the U.S. authorities refused the request, Fergus’ book is birthed by the authorities saying yes.

May Dodd is living in an asylum, locked away by her family who believe she is promiscuous. When the opportunity to gain freedom is presented, May does whatever it takes to claim it, even though it means taking a long journey to become the wife of a savage she’s never met. Told through fictional diaries, May’s experience, as well as the other women who went with her, paint a picture of love, adventure, terror, and racism. Though May comes to love the Cheyenne people, it becomes clear that even though she doesn’t belong in white society anymore, she isn’t able to completely lose herself within Cheyenne culture, either.

I wasn’t quite aware that this book is alternate history when I first grabbed it, but it appears that Fergus did his research and paints a compelling picture of what could have happened, had the U.S. sent white women to marry Cheyenne warriors.

May Dodd represents a strong, independent woman, exactly the kind of woman who would have gone to the Cheyenne of her own free will, seeking freedom and adventure. The journal style makes the reading go by quickly and gives an interesting look into the minds of May and her friends. I think this story in particular benefited from being told in journal format.

Though a little cliche in the romance and love aspects, overall One Thousand White Women was an enjoyable read. However, it could warrant several trigger warnings, including sexual violence, violence, and genocide. Some scenes, though not explicit, certainly were enough to allow the imagination to fill in the gaps, and could be hard to read for some readers.

Beauty and the Werewolf

When I first read one of Mercedes Lackey’s books, I thought it was really cool how she took classic fairy tale stories and went in a new direction (I was also completely unprepared for the amount of sex in the book, but that’s not applicable to this book). I can’t recall if I knew this book was by Lackey when I snagged it or if I grabbed it because it sounded interesting and noticed the author after, as I’m wont to do, but it turned out to be a completely different experience than my first time with Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms series.

In Beauty and the Werewolf, Bella is unconcerned with the frivolities that come with her social station and seems to be well on her way to being a spinster and hopes she can at least have a similar degree of freedom as the local Granny. But on her way home from visiting Granny in the forest, she’s attacked by a lone wolf. Suddenly, Bella is thrown into the magical world as she is spirited away to the castle of a local duke–who happens to be the werewolf that attacked her! While waiting to see if she’s been infected by the bite, Bella discovers that Duke Sebastian is living under the werewolf curse, but not even the kingdom’s Fairy Godmother seems to know who cursed Sebastian or why. But working together, Bella and Sebastian just might be able to find a way to break the curse before it consumes him entirely.

As I said, Lackey takes classic fairy tales and uses them in different ways so that she can keep the sort of cliche stories without being identical stories. In the series, the Tradition pushes people toward the fairy tale or story that most matches their circumstances. Characters then can choose, do they like the story or do they want to fight for something different? While the stories play out in typical fairy tale fashion, it gives Lackey the freedom to hang on to fairy tale elements while also blazing whatever trail she wants. It’s a fun way to experience fairy tales as an adult.

I must say, however, I didn’t really care for the characters in Beauty and the Werewolf. Bella, for all that she was not the traditional female society expected, still fit in with the snobbery and pettiness common to wealthy families. And though she seemed to change some, it wasn’t really a process. It just sort of vanished as the romance began to take center stage. The one other issue I took with the book was how no one suspected the culprit, even though the culprit was obvious and had clear motive–even down to the altruistic-seeming behaviors.

Only because I mentioned it in the beginning, this book does not have quite the sexual content as the first book in this series that I read. In fact, other than a kissing scene or two and a couple references to scurrilous behavior, the book was clean, which makes it good for advanced but maybe not quite mature readers.

All in all, it’s a fun and quick fairy tale read that combines elements from several stories to creating something new. You don’t have to work through the book, it’s just a fun read.

Deception Point

Dan Brown is most known for his series about Robert Langdon, an art history professor who embarks on Indiana Jones-type adventures. I’ve read several of those books and enjoyed them, so when I saw Deception Point, I decided to see what kind of a writer Brown is outside of his most popular series.

Deception Point opens with death, pretty par for Brown’s style. And though it’s not immediately clear, the death is the tip of the iceberg for the political intrigue that fills the book. Rachel Sexton is an intelligence analyst trying her best to avoid the toxic political campaign of her father, who is on track to become the next president of the United States. When she’s sent on an unconventional mission to analyze NASA data, it’s not long before thing start to fall apart. Rachel suddenly finds herself in the midst of a very dangerous political game, and it doesn’t seem like there is anyone she can trust. But if she doesn’t find someone trustworthy to help her, she’ll quickly be beyond any help at all.

This book is a fast-paced read that gets going from the very first page. Filled with political intrigue and scientific explanations, it could easily have become predictable and pedantic. But Brown weaves it all together in understandable terms, and keeps his readers guessing as they try to unravel the mystery. Everyone is playing everyone else, the question is, how deep does the conspiracy run?

Brown’s short chapters fly by, making it really easy to read just one more and very difficult to stop. His characters are interesting and realistic, and he engages the reader in a way that makes you keep questioning the motives behind their actions and responses.

All in all, an excellent book for thriller lovers, as well as readers who enjoy science and adventure. One word of warning, if profanity is make-it or break-it for you, it might be difficult to sink into the story.