A Big Sky Christmas

Friday, December 9, 2016

A Big Sky Christmas
William W. Johnstone* and J.A. Johnstone, 2013

(Note: Many of the Christmas books I am reading this year have one notable thing in common -- they were all cheap or free on Kindle some time in the last few years. No other qualifications.)

*As I discovered at the end of the book, this was one of many books written from notes/unfinished manuscripts by another after this author’s death.

Premise: Famous frontiersman Jamie McCallister hadn’t intended to get involved, but someone had to get the pilgrims to Montana by Christmas.

I told Erin I read a Western. I said it was boring. He said, “Yup, then it’s a western.”

This book wasn’t terribly written, I guess, but I found it quite dull. All the characters are either good or evil. All the evil characters end up dead, mostly after surprisingly short, not-very-tense action scenes. All the obvious plot hooks are followed up with almost no surprises.

It must be odd, to write a Western today. If someone’s just writing a straight Western, I wonder how many are caught in the weird space like this one -- the language and philosophy has to be somewhat dated or you’ll never make it through a plot with a bunch of characters going out to “settle” land where people live. But it can’t be too dated, you need a female character with spark (but she’s still a good girl, just an adventure-seeker) and some supporting characters who are Native American and Jewish, so that the white male main characters can prove how open-minded they are.

As I said, all the characters who are straight-up villains turn up one after another to be killed by the unstoppable skills of the main character. None of these characters seem to have any motive other than “be a one-note villain.” All the characters who are more just nasty (bigoted, sexist) end up dead as well, but by other hands. Technically we don’t know whether all the Native people who end up dead after fighting with the characters were villains, because unlike the white villains, they didn’t get any point-of-view passages.

I started reading faster and faster in the middle, as I realized that I didn’t really care whether any of the characters lived or died, or got where they were going. I did make it to the end, though, so I can report that the wagon train is saved from a fire by a Christmas Eve snowstorm. Also, earlier there’s a bit where a Jewish rabbi and a Cheyenne medicine man understand each other sort of because religion is magic.

Again, it’s not bad on a technical writing level, but it was really, REALLY not for me.

1 Star - Didn’t Like It.

NorthStars Volume 1: Welcome to Snowville

Friday, December 2, 2016

NorthStars Volume 1: Welcome to Snowville
Jim Shelley, Haigen Shelley, Anna Liisa Jones, 2016

Premise: Santa’s daughter and the princess of the yetis go on an afternoon adventure to save Christmas.

This sweet comic book from Action Lab Comics is a digital-first release this year, planned to be a gift-ready hardcover next year.

The story isn’t anything more than it appears to be, but it’s a cute, well-done tale. The art is clean and bright and the writing is clever. Some of the little details and tweaks on holiday lore were things I’d never seen before and quite liked.

Holly Claus meets Frostina under parental pressure, but they hit it off immediately. During a quick tour of Santa’s workshop, they run into a goblin who reports (in crayon-drawing speech bubbles representing a language barrier) that Krampus is interfering with the goblins who prepare the Christmas coal.

The girls travel under Snowville to investigate, facing harvest-themed straw men and a snow dragon on the way. The adventure never feels particularly dangerous, but that fits the story and the writing is charming and funny.

Good triumphs, of course, and the girls return to the workshop for a snack. I recommend this little holiday tale for fans of quality all ages media (while not quite as subversive as Action Lab’s most well-known title, Princeless, this is in a similar adventure/humor vein) and kids who like fantasy humor.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

Ho-Ho-Homicide

Monday, November 28, 2016

Ho-Ho-Homicide
Kaitlyn Dunnett, 2014

Christmas crossposting!

(Note: Many of the Christmas books I am reading this year have one notable thing in common -- they were all cheap or free on Kindle some time in the last few years. No other qualifications.)

Premise: When Liss’ old friend Gina blows into town with a request concerning an inherited Christmas tree farm, Liss thinks it’s a good opportunity for a casual vacation. It’s been years since she stumbled into a murder investigation, after all.

This is a perfectly serviceable mystery novel. The characters are fine, the writing is good, the plot is interesting even though the villains are too obvious.

The best part is the fact that it is set on a Christmas tree farm.

It actually takes place in late November, and Liss and her husband are tasked with figuring out whether Gina can turn a profit that year, and eventually with figuring out what happened to the previous owner and an unknown man killed on the property years ago. Some of the minutia of growing and selling trees is addressed. I enjoyed the minor character Andy, a young woman who used to work there as a teenager, who has been caring for the farm while no one lived there.

Everything else is just another cozy mystery - people who dislike the main character are villains, quirky small town characters are mostly who they appear to be, and the main characters all espouse the modern middle-class values of the author.

Liss’ husband even is modeled after the author’s husband, to the point of building the same kind of custom jigsaw puzzle tables. From the book, I thought these were inlaid with puzzle patterns, but they are actually tables specifically for doing puzzles on. Okay, I guess there’s a market for almost everything.

It’s an enjoyable way to spend a few hours, but not much more.

2 Stars - An Okay Book