Reading the West 8-3-09
August 3, 2009
I was on the trail when the deadline came and went for my last column, thus I missed getting it in. As a result I will take this opportunity to catch up on some recent books that have arrived at my house.
The most recent book I read is also one that is not yet available on the bookstands, but it will be out there in just a few weeks. (I get advance copies of many books). “The Rattlesnake Season” by Larry D. Sweazy is the author’s first novel, although he is a Spur Award winning author of short fiction. For his debut novel, he has turned to the very real story of the Texas Rangers in the 1870s, taking you on a mission with one of those men, Josiah Wolfe, who heads out with the reformed Frontier Battalion on a mission to return a known killer, Charlie Langdon, to trial.
Riding with Captain Hiram Fikes and several other Rangers Wolfe does not yet know well, the trail quickly becomes deadly and Wolfe must recall his survival instincts learned in early Texas and during the Civil War.
“The Rattlesnake Season” is a traditional Western with a surprising “good guy” who takes down Langdon in the end. The novel is the first in what seems to be a series about Josiah Wolfe and is solid reading if you overlook the occasional repetition. For example, the reader learns more than once that Rangers did not wear uniforms or badges, and in one section late in the book the author provides a complete synopsis of the story … a technique that could be helpful in a sequel but that is merely irritating when you’ve just read the events being re-described. Even so, watch for this book in bookstores in late September or early October.
I also recently read the first children’s novel written by my good friends W. Michael and Kathleen O’Neal Gear, “Children of the Dawnland.” Best known for their series of prehistory novels for adults, the Thermopolis authors have not strayed far from their known subject matter in this book. They return to a time roughly 13,000 years ago, a period at the end of the Ice Age, when glaciers melted and a comet slammed into the Earth and superheated the atmosphere.
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This meteoric explosion, according to scientists, occurred in the region around the Great Lakes and eastern Canada, and caused mass extinctions among animals such as mammoths, mastodons, horses, camels and lions. It also led to demise of the Clovis Culture. For their story the Gears have chosen two pre-teen children, Twig, a young girl who can see or dream the future, and her best friend, Greyhawk, who is learning how to be a warrior. The skills each child has compliment those of the other as they must face their fears, the future, and try to save their families in a period that promises cataclysmic change to the land.
The literature suggests the book is appropriate for children as young as age nine, but as a reader I would disagree and recommend this book for older teens, and even adults. Although the main characters are 12 years old, the world they live in is violent with murder, beatings, and other rough situations vividly described. As with all Gear novels, this book also has a large degree of mysticism, which may be difficult for younger readers to grasp.
The authors have included a study guide that will encourage readers to explore more into the literature, science, natural history, and prehistoric periods. The sequel, “Children of the Duskland,” is now in production and will be available next year.
“The Stampede” by Barbara Knight is the newest in the children’s series featuring Penny the Mustang Pony. I’ve written about earlier books in this series and highly recommend them for their solid story and equally well-done artwork. In this title, Penny wanders away from the herd to play with some bear cubs and when trying to return to her horse family finds herself in the way of a herd of stampeding buffalo.
This story, like others in the series, has a message for young readers (or listeners): Don’t wander away from your parents! This book is suitable for preschool listeners or early readers.
TCU Press has launched a series called Texas Small Books which are pocket sized titles that focus on varied aspects of Texas legend, lore, and history. One of the newest in the series is “Braggin’ on Texas” by Sherrie S. McLeRoy, which provides answers to such weighty questions as which college awarded the first degree in jazz, who first pushed a peanut up Pike’s Peak with his nose, who invented Frito Pie, and the location of the country’s largest working wildflower farm. It probably doesn’t take much of a hint to know from the title, that the answers to all those questions relates in one manner or another to Texas.
Also new out in the series is “Lone Star Lost: Buried Treasures in Texas” by Patrick Dearen, a book that is not about lost gold and silver deposits, but rather such treasures as a buried wagon, Comanche spoils, and hundreds of silver coins.
John L. Kissell has written a solidly researched history of early Spanish settlement in New Mexico in “Pueblos, Spaniards, and the Kingdom of New Mexico.” While this book may not appeal to all readers, it certainly will interested anyone who wants to know more about when, why, and how the Spaniards moved into New Mexico, of their relations with the Pueblos, of the 1680 Pueblo Revolt, and the legacy left behind. Kessell has carefully constructed the period, bringing to life stories of individuals and their families and how the Spanish incursion changed the course of history in present New Mexico. If you are looking for detailed history, this is it.