The Saga of Biôrn

The Saga of Biôrn directed and written by Benjamin J. Kousholt

biorn2This clever animated short film, which I watched using the library’s free IndieFlix service, chronicles a Viking named Biorn determined to reach Valhalla, the desired debaucherous afterlife destination for brave Vikings that have died honorably in battle. While Biorn seeks out opportunities for battle and ultimately a brave death, he has a knack for finding situations where life doesn’t work out according to his plan. In addition to being beautifully animated and quite humorous, this short film has a clever ending you won’t see coming.

To learn more about the film and its making, check out this blog, http://biornanim.blogspot.com.

To watch other terrific short films using the library’s free IndieFlix service, follow this link!

Arabian Desert Setting for Hologram for the King

A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers (2012)

By Sherry Evans, Portsmouth Public Library

 Jeddeh, Saudi Arabia, 2010

Alan Clay has just travelled from his home in Boston to meet King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and convince him, through a high tech presentation, that he should purchase Reliant’s holographic software for the planned King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC). Just as Las Vegas was a vast expanse on the American desert before mega-money was invested in it, so is this area in the Arabian Desert. If this deal goes through Alan and Reliant will be mega-rich.

hologram.coverAlan is a dreamer, a visionary, formerly an astute businessman, who has fallen on hard economic and personal times. He owes thousands of dollars to friends, business associates and banks. If this deal doesn’t go through, well….Alan doesn’t want to think about that. Such is Alan’s downfall that holographic images of Willy Loman from Death of a Salesman might dance in your head. Thankfully, A Hologram for the King is not that dark.

He has a college-age daughter, Kit, who cannot go back to college due to Alan’s debt, an ex-wife to whom he owes half the proceeds of their former home and Alan has virtually no income. Since he lost his ‘big’ job he has done a dwindling amount of consulting work. Truly, he is banking everything on this deal with the King.

He says of himself,

“His decisions had been short-sighted.   The decisions of his peers had been short-sighted.  These decisions had been foolish and expedient.”

In A Hologram for the King, Dave Eggers offers up a cautionary tale for our times.   What happens when you reach too high, when you borrow too much, when you live above your means, when you promise too much or when greed rules your life? Many greedy businessmen are depicted in the news as thoroughly unlikeable. We hear of how much money they have craftily stolen from unsuspecting investors. How, for them, there is never enough. Are they psychopaths? Would we recognize one if we passed him on the street?

More like an everyman, Alan Clay is not a psychopath. We do not detest him. We can understand that he is driven, a workaholic perhaps, who thinks that just over there is the next best thing. And if he can get in on the ‘ground floor’, or find the right investors or be in the right place at the right time, network with the right connections, then he will make his fortune and be set for life.

 “This Abdullah deal seemed like a given. No one could compete with Reliant’s size, and now they had a goddamned hologram. Alan would close this up, get his cut, pay back everyone in Boston, then get going. Open a small factory, start with a thousand bikes a year, then ramp up from there. Pay Kit’s tuition with pocket change. Send away the realtors, pay what’s left on his house, stride the world, a colossus….”

At 54, Alan is embarrassed to be in this position. He used to be a king himself, king of Schwinn bicycles. Those were glorious, successful times. He made the business; he grew the business and then he destroyed it by taking manufacturing overseas. This bad decision will haunt him the rest of his days.

Alan is in Saudi Arabia with three bright tech-savvy young people. Alan is sales; Brad, Cayley and Rachel, are the tech team. Lots of surprises await them. For instance, the city, as depicted on the internet and in brochures, is not really built. From the Jeddeh Hilton they must take a 20 minute shuttle to get to the one office building in KAEC that exists. Once past the building the road abruptly ends, literally a road to nowhere. They are shown to a tent, known as the ‘Presentation Tent’ – no amenities, no wifi, no food and no AC – where they wait day after day for the King. Days turn to weeks and still they wait.

As a person might meander, lost in the desert, without food and water, so does Alan wander, make wrong turns and fall on his face. He’s a survivor, though, and despite his recent track record, a very good salesman. He needs a chance. He needs the King to come.

Egger’s narrative style is sparkling, the inner dialogue of his characters frank and thoughtful. He respects his characters and despite their shortcomings, he does want them to survive. But he has a story to tell and he lets his characters have free reign to tell it. They make mistakes, they show us their raw, fragile side, and they fall, stumble and then recover.

In the most beautiful, poignant chapter in the book, Alan spends a day with the beautiful doctor, Zahra Hakem. Despite their differences and awkwardness (she removed a benign growth from his neck) they connect on a deeply emotional level.

 He glanced outside, at the sun-soaked sky, at the sea unknowable, and in their vastness he found strength. A million dead in that water, billions living under that sun, that sun a hard white light among billions more like it, and thus all of this was not so important, and thus not so difficult. No one was watching, and no one outside of he and Zahra cared about what would happen in this room – such strength born of insignificance! – so he might as well do as he wished, which was to kiss her.

Does Alan meet the King? Does his team get to give their presentation? Do they close the deal? Alan does strike a deal but not the expected one.

eggers.headshotNovelist, the online reader’s advisory database,  says. “Dave Eggers is a jack of all trades in the literary world. He is an editor and a publisher; he writes nonfiction, short stories, and novels; he works in genres from Humor to Memoir to Literary Fiction. It is difficult to make generalizations about the unpredictable Eggers, who can glide from silly to ironic to tragic in one book. It is safe to say, however, Eggers reliably delivers pathos and passion, whether his subject is serious, fanciful, or somewhere in between. Start with: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (Nonfiction); What Is the What (Fiction).”   

Dave Eggers is the bestselling author of Zeitoun, winner of the American Book Award and Dayton Literary Prize. His novel What is the What was a finalist for the National Book Critic’s Circle Award and won France’s Prix Medici.

In The Circle (2013), Eggers latest novel, the New York Times says, “Big Brother isn’t the government: it’s a Google-like, Facebook-like tech behemoth, called the Circle, that has a billion-odd users, controls 90 percent of the world’s searches and aspires to record and quantify everything that’s happening to everybody, everywhere in the world.” I cannot wait to read it!

New York Times Book Review of Hologram for the King.

sme.3.24.14

Fairy Tale meets Horror Story in Beautiful Darkness

Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoët (2014)

Review by Stacia Oparowski, Library Assistant

bdark

What begins as a classic Princess-meets-Prince fairytale quickly becomes a horrifying study of the human condition in the newly translated (from French) graphic novel Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoët.

Aurora is a princess. She has gained the attention of the handsome prince Hector who seems very interested in her. Things seem to be progressing like a classic fairy tale when something goes terribly wrong as they drink hot chocolate and confess their feelings: a pink, gel-like substance begins falling from above. Soon, they are being overtaken by what appears to be blood. Quickly they rush to find a way out when Aurora is separated from Hector and her friend Plim. She finally escapes the blood and finds herself in the forest. She also finds that she escaped by climbing out of a nostril of a corpse. Then we are presented with a title page. It’s almost as if the creators are saying, Not what you expected, is it? This isn’t going to be easy. Would you like to continue?

frenchbdarkUpon first inspection, the cover of Beautiful Darkness wasn’t particularly bothersome. There was a very small girl standing next to a very large hand. In a fairy tale, the hand could be a giant’s. The french cover is a bit more strange, but could still be interpreted as a slumbering giant, until you realize that unless they were in giant-land where clovers and grass were miles tall, the body is probably a normal-sized person (who could maybe possibly still be sleeping). Perhaps the graying of the hand was an indication of the truth, or sleeping outdoors by moonlight, but I remained blissfully ignorant until the final panel of the introduction. The blood didn’t quite look like blood ( it was pink!) but then it all became clear that I had deluded myself.

After Aurora emerges from the corpse, she finds that she is not alone. Hundreds more tiny people like her are now homeless and must fend for themselves in the wild. Some make their homes beneath or within the decaying corpse, but others leave and make nests or dwellings deeper in the forest. At first, Aurora takes charge, trying to help everyone adjust to their new situation. Eventually, though, resources become limited and everyone must fight to survive. Even if that means sacrificing their friends and families.

The light and colorful illustrations for the Spring and Summer seasons mask the deadly intentions of characters in the novel. With each page it seemed another character was destroyed, and yet I was happy to read on, enjoying the view. Later on, though, it gets harder to read. The colors change as do the seasons, and darkness sets in. As things become desperate, we see even Aurora grow more disturbed. And by the end, I wasn’t sure I knew her anymore.

One of the most interesting things about this graphic novel are the allusions to princess-type characters from movies and literature. Aurora and Jane, for example, reminded me of Hayao Miyazaki characters: San from Princess Mononoke and Arrietty from The Secret World of Arrietty, respectively.

bdarkmononoke

This graphic novel was not easy, it was not gentle, and it was genuinely frightening; I loved it. I wouldn’t recommend this to sensitive readers, but for those of you who enjoy the psychological horror genre I’d say give it a whirl. It only takes about 30 minutes to get through, but you are going to read it again. With every read through comes more understanding, and more horror. I am incredibly impressed by the watercolors and always enjoy a full-color graphic novel, so those of you with an appreciation for art should pick this one up as well.

Fabien Vehlmann has written numerous comic books and graphic novels. This one in particular is a collaboration between himself and Marie Pommepuy, one half of the artistic duo Kerascoët. The other half is Sébastien Cosset. They have illustrated a lot of things, but my favorite (besides this) is Miss Don’t Touch Me. Their websites are all in French, but Google translate does an okay job.

s.o. 03-28-2014

 

Yes, you can write a book review!

Insights into writing a book review:  (Sherry’s version)woman.writing1 

March 15, 2014

 I read a lot of book reviews from a variety of sources – New York Times, Washington Post, library journals, Goodreads, - as well as soliciting my friend’s and colleague’s opinions.  It has been my job to select fiction in public libraries for the last 15 years.  A few years ago I was asked to write reviews for the Portsmouth Herald (seacoastonline.com).  No professional experience,  so I just started writing.  Over the years, I’ve refined the process to the steps below and because I was asked by a colleague to describe the process, I wrote them down.  Not inclusive, not intellectually derived, not intended as a treatise or the last word on the topic, but merely guidelines.  Would love to hear from other reviewers…… 

  • Make notes while you read of poignant passages that stand out. (sticky notes are lovely for this purpose)
  • Begin to write – anything that comes into your head – as if you were telling a friend about the book.
  • Write until you run out of things to say.
  • Let it sit.
  • Revisit and edit.
    • Make sure you have included an outline of the basic plot.
    • Name names (characters).
    • Name places.
    • Setting – time.
    • Intersperse quotes from the book (2-4).
  •  Add author bio at the end and mention other books written by this author.  Provide a link to the author’s web site or blog.
  •  Most importantly let people know what *you* thought about the book– what other books does it remind you of.  Why did you love it?  Why did it come up short?
  • Be honest but don’t be over-negative.
  • Although I wouldn’t read reviews before you write yours (because you want original thoughts) I would add a link to the NYTimes or insert a quote from Booklist, Kirkus, etc.
  • Mine are usually between 750 and 900+ words.    A-woman-using-a-laptop-co-007
  • Again set aside the draft.
  • Read through for continuity, readability and finalize.
  • I don’t usually do this – but have a friend read it.
  • Hit  SEND or SUBMIT before you change your mind!
  • You can always revise on a blog.

HAPPY BOOK REVIEW WRITING!

Sherry Evans, Head of Public Services, 3.15.14

Civil War Love Story in I Shall Be Near You

BOOK REVIEW

I Shall Be Near You by Erin Lindsay McCabe (2014)

by Sherry Evans, Portsmouth Public Library, March 2014

ishallbenearyou.coverFeisty farm girl, Rosetta, is fighting mad at her new husband, Jeremiah Wakefield for going off to war.  Its early1862, ‘near Flat Creek’ New York,  and Jeremiah is consumed by a desire ‘to fight the Rebs’.  They are in their late teens and have been shyly in love with each other since childhood.  Rosetta insists they marry before he goes off, saying,

 “Marry me.  If you aim to go off and fight, well I don’t aim to be a spinster.  You make me a widow before you go off and die, that’s what.”

 So Rosetta and Jeremiah marry quickly, settling into their new home, Wakefield Farm, and in a few days he leaves for camp.  Rosetta cannot believe he actually left her.  She is miserable, alone and still fighting mad.  A visit from her new mother-in-law only heightens her anger. 

            “I brought along some mending, needs doing,” she says, and sets down her basket.  Inside are chambray shirts and trousers and woolen socks. 

            “I can do that”, I say, even though there is nothing I hate more. 

            She gives me a pointed look and then acts like I ain’t said one word.  “The men discussed it and Mr. Wakefield  thought you might be of help with the sugaring.” 

            “I’d like that better than mending”, I say, thinking of being outside, tapping the maple trees and collecting the syrup, “I can drill taps – you only need to tell me where the tools are kept—“ 

            Jeremiahs’ Ma frowns.  “That’s work for James and Jesse.  The mending needs doing.  And it’s the sugarhouse tending you’d be best suited for, since you don’t have anyone else to mind.”

 Oh boy, ‘women’s work’ is not what Rosetta had in mind.  She’s been milking cows, haying, planting and harvesting, shoveling out barns and doing ‘man’s work’ on the family farm with her father since she was a small child.  Rosetta is the older of two sisters and her father needed help.  She’s strong, determined and a plain speaker. 

Jeremiah is only gone a day or so before Rosetta can take no more.  In a dramatic gesture, she cuts off her hair, binds herself, changes her name to Ross Stone and begins to walk to the enlistment office, determined to join her husband.  She tells no one she is going; she simply walks away. 

 Her disguise fools everyone, including the enlistment officer, everyone that is except the boys from her village who have also enlisted with Jeremiah.  Grudgingly, these wild boys accept her, for Jeremiah’s sake, and learn to live with a ‘girl’ in their midst.  Rosetta adapts, ever thankful to be at her husband’s side.  She is determined to be a good soldier, not only so she can stay, but also to make the money she will earn as a soldier.  Rosetta and Jeremiah have dreams that include a farm in Nebraska.   

Only the Captain’s wife discovers Rosetta’s secret.  She tries to recruit Ross as her companion on hospital visits to the Judiciary Square Hospital in Washington, DC but it is not work that suits Rosetta and she is afraid that by being singled out, the soldiers will discover her true identity.  The descriptions of the hospital ward are grisly.  Rosetta is asked to write a letter home for one of the wounded soldiers.           

And then he shifts his shoulders to throw his covers back and he’s got nothing but bandaged stumps for arms, stopping halfway to where his hands should be.  Where the bandages ought to be white they are rustbrown and yellow.”

Antsy young soldiers are aching for battle.   It comes at Bull Run (August 1862): 

“Before I get to Jeremiah, to the fray, before the ground even starts rising there is a bugle call mixed in with the fighting and screaming and our flag moves off to my side, away from the embankment, back through the trees.  The flood of our blue boys comes back swirling Jeremiah up in it and coming all around me, elbows and hands and knees jabbing at me, pushing me around and then we are running.  There are bodies strewn under the trees and I don’t know how I get over or through without stepping on them or tripping and falling, or maybe I do and don’t know it, I am running so fast to get back through the trees, away from the embankment and the firing, hoping that Jeremiah is running too.”

 And then on to Antietam (September 1862):

 “Sully is still missing.  Jeremiah is buried in the ground.  But Captain leaves Sergeant to set up pickets and teams of men to go scavenging for rations and weapons scattered on the fields.  Sergeant calls out my name along with Ambrose and Will and Thomas.  My throat closes again thinking on working a detail without Jeremiah keeping between me and them.  But I’ve got to keep myself hidden, keep moving, acting like a man I am trying to be, until I find my own way, until I can see what is next for me.”author.mccabe.

 In this debut novel about one girl’s choice to become a soldier so she could be by her husband, author Erin Lindsay McCabe offers a detailed, sad look at war.  This novel is about the Civil War but it could be any war.

 McCabe based the novel on An Uncommon Soldier:  The Civil War Letters of Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, Alias Pvt. Lyons Wakeman, 153rd Regiment New York State Volunteers, 1862-1864 and other primary sources.  Yes, Rosetta actually existed, died in battle and was buried as a man.

 McCabe says  

“I discovered Rosetta Wakeman was not an anomaly. An estimated four hundred women fought on both sides of the Civil War, many of their names lost to history. Just like Rosetta’s almost was.  But even more, I mulled over questions Rosetta’s letters never answered. How did she conceal her identity? What did her family think of what she had done? What was she apologizing for in her letters home? What was it like, being a woman hidden among men? Did she tell anyone her real identity? Those questions fascinated me and I began imagining their answers.”

 Booklist, in a starred review says, “Author McCabe makes every sentence count, with a narrative full of authentic dialog, historical realism, and great feeling.”

 Other Civil War novels:

Erin Lindsay McCabe studied literature at the University of California, Santa Cruz and taught high school English before completing her MFA at St. Mary’s College of California in 2010.  I Shall Be Near You began as McCabe’s final paper for a U.S. Women’s History class and is her first novel.  Visit her web site for more information.

Other glowing reviews.   

 

sme.3.6.14

March is (Unofficially) NaNoEdMo

Hello again! Just checking in on post-NaNoWriMo progress. In my last post I mentioned NaNoEdMo or National Novel Editing Month. Unfortunately, NaNoEdMo had some staffing issues this year and is on hiatus for 2014. While this is sad, it doesn’t have to stop you from unofficially making March your novel editing month. The goal is to complete 50 hours of editing in one month. We aren’t having any NaNoEdMo events at the library, however (I’m sure you know what I’m going to say), come to the LIBRARY to edit this month. Bring a snack and your headphones and park yourself in the cafe, or spread out at a table upstairs. We’d love to have you! Good luck!

-Stacia

Nicole J. Georges Searches for Truth in Calling Dr. Laura: A Graphic Memoir

Calling Dr. Laura: A Graphic Memoir by Nicole J. Georges (2013)callingdrlaura

Review by Stacia Oparowski, Library Assistant.

When her friend takes her on a surprise visit to a psychic, Nicole Georges receives a prediction that changes everything she thought she knew about her life. The psychic tells her that the man she knew as her father was actually not her “real” father, and perhaps her “real” father is still alive waiting to be found. At that moment, everything clicks into place with Nicole. She had never really felt 100% blood-related to her two older sisters, since they both looked alike and exactly like their mother. Nicole, on the other hand, looked nothing like them or her mother. Having a different father than her sisters seemed like a distinct possibility. So, the search begins.

Unfortunately, just asking her mother who her real father is isn’t an option. Nicole doesn’t ask her mother things, and certainly doesn’t tell her things. Especially important things. Though she has been out for years about her sexuality in her community, her mother still doesn’t know she is gay nor that she is living with her girlfriend, Radar.nicole

Beneath the family drama is another conflict: Radar isn’t happy about being kept a secret from her mother. She doesn’t understand why Nicole won’t set the record straight. Eventually things grow distant between them, as Nicole holds her emotions inside herself. Holding things inside is routine for her.

In an interwoven series of flashbacks to her childhood, Nicole lets us in on her hidden personal memories. Drawn in a simpler style than the rest of the novel, these bits are where we truly begin to understand why Nicole is the way she is. As a child, she held in more than emotions. She held in her bowels, which became something she had to fight with for years later as she developed a condition known as Encopresis.

Eventually, Nicole confronts her sister about the identity of her real father. Her sister tells her another lie told to her by their mother that Nicole’s real father was a dangerous convict.  At least this gives Nicole the name of her father. This leads her to call him on the phone. She doesn’t reach him, but she does reach his son, her half-brother. They begin a correspondence that lasts. She discovers that her real father had actually died too, but he was just a normal guy. He wasn’t a convict, or a mean person. This leads her to finally confront her mother.

The memoir really isn’t about her search for her father, or her relationship with her girlfriend, or her sexuality, or her bowels. It isn’t about Dr. Laura, who plays an incredibly small part in the book but acts as a piece of connective tissue in the story of Nicole’s relationship with her mother. The ending wasn’t as complete as I had hoped, but it was more real that way. It was true. Nicole and her mother come to understand one another, and love each other in a way that they hadn’t been able to before. Nicole’s search for a father had been a search for her mother all along.turnipmom

Told through black and white ink drawings, Georges manages to color the novel with her experiences, with her story. Miss Georges is a skilled graphic novelist who has published a zine called Invincible SummerShe lives in Portland, Oregon with her dog. This is her first full-length graphic novel.

s.o. 02.27.14

Russian Summer Camp Secrets in Scent of Pine

BOOK REVIEW

The Scent of Pine by Lara Vapnyar (2014)

By Sherry Evans, Head of Public Services

Author Lara Vapnyar

Author Lara Vapnyar

February 11, 2014

 At a professional conference in Saratoga Springs (NY), The Aesthetics of Oppression, two academics meet.  Instant attraction.  Lena, of Russian descent, married and the mother of two, is miserable generally and especially after not a soul attended her presentation.  Husband, Vadim, also Russian, has become distant; they have nothing to say to each other that does not involve the children.  Does she still love him?   Enter Ben, older and charming, divorced with a long-time girlfriend.  Lena is thrilled to receive male attention; any attention.  Ben is kind of bumbling along, possibly as lost in life as Lena. 

The beauty of this short novel is in its honesty and pure story telling genius.  A story within a story as throughout the novel Lena relays in fits and starts a life-changing summer she spent in Russia as a counselor at a children’s camp.  There she is sexually awakened, pursued and rejected, and sees the seedier side of human nature. 

The conference ends and impulsively the pair decide to drive to Ben’s remote, sparse cabin in Maine. In close proximity and propelled by Lena’s story, a comfortable intimacy is created quickly along with a dynamic sexual attraction. They also genuinely enjoy each other’s company and Lena has not felt this happy or free for many years.   

The summer camp, located three hours from Moscow, although for children of wealthy Russians, is grimy, sparse, and bleak. And, at first, she is very frightened of the children: 

            “Still, the worst one was Sasha Simonov.  Most of the time, he seemed to be pretty harmless, a scrawny, quiet kid who loved to draw.  He usually sat peacefully in a corner somewhere with his notebook and crayons, until his inner demon took hold of him and he would start crying and sobbing, and eventually have a vomiting fit.” 

Encouraged by Ben’s curiosity, Lena reveals details of that summer that she has never told anyone – the disappearances of three of her suitors, the soldier boys stationed at the camp, the torrid affair between camp administrators Yanina and Vedenej, the mosquitos, the sweat, the frog-invested pool, the heat wave that nearly killed them all.  Overarching themes drive the narrative – coming-of-age, oppression, love, loneliness, sexual awakening, female friendship, poverty, children, art and literature.   Camp horror stories abscentofpine.coveround, UFO’s are sighted, a coveted black sausage disappears and children run away.

 The Scent of Pine could be taken as a sweet, delightful easy read at only 180 pages but do not be deceived.  There is a kick at the end that connects all the camp intrigue that Lena has laid out for us.  The past really can catch up with you! 

 As for Ben and Lena in present time….the week-end ends, they pack up and begin to drive home.  Vapnyar is too clever a writer to tie up all the loose ends for us.  As the car drives forward we know this story is not over.

 Lara Vapnyar came to the United States from Russia in 1994 and started writing fiction in English in 2002.  She is the author of the acclaimed novel Memoirs of a Muse and two collections of short stories.  Her stories and essays have appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times, Harpers and the New Republic.

Her collection of stories, “There are Jews in My House,” was published (Pantheon Books) in 2003. “Memoirs of a Muse,” her first novel, was published in 2006, and a 2008 collection is called “Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love.” (Russia:  Beyond the Headlines)

Vapnyar was interviewed in 2012 by the New Yorker.

New York Times review of Scent of Pine.

sme.2.10.14

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas past reveals secrets in Spirit of Steamboat

BOOK REVIEW       

SPIRIT OF STEAMBOAT:  a Walt Longmire Story (2013)  by Craig Johnson

       Review by Sherry Evans,  Portsmouth Public Library

_________________________________________________________________________

SPIRIT OF STEAMBOAT:  A dandy of a Western, holiday yarn….

Spirit of Steamboat, a novella, begins in present day, but the majority of the book describes a Christmas Eve long past, 1988, when Sheriff Walt Longmire, former sheriff Lucian Connally, Julie Luerhrman and Doctor Isaac Bloomfield, otherwise known as Doc, undertake a dangerous flight through a Western storm to save a little girl’s life.

Steamboat Springs by Craig Johnson

Steamboat Springs by Craig Johnson

Craig Johnson has created a likeable character in Sheriff Walt Longmire of Absaroka County, Wyoming; a man, who transcends the stereotype of Western officers of the law.  He is personable, compassionate, smart, ruminative, honest and well-read.

Walt, a widower, is alone in his office on a present-day Christmas Eve and we find him reading Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, upholding a personal long-time tradition.   His daughter, Cady, lives in Philadelphia and is expecting her first child.  She is too close to giving birth to travel.  His under-sheriff, Victoria Moretti, is in Belize for the holidays.  All is quiet; folks have settled in for a long winter’s night in Absaroka County and Walt is content.

Into the peaceful solitude walks a Japanese woman from San Francisco who asks, ‘Don’t you remember me?’

A curious man and a sheriff, he sets out to find the answer to that stark question and to find out why she is here on Christmas Eve.  Former sheriff Lucian Connally, now retired to a nursing home, spends his time reliving his World War II memories, playing poker and enjoying high-octane spirits whenever he can but he may have the answer.

Flashback to December 24, 1988:

Steamboat is a place; Steamboat is a horse; Steamboat is a Mitchell VB-25J World War II bomber plane.  Walt is a newly minted sheriff, having just won the election from Lucian, an amicable win.  On this Christmas Eve, a big car accident and fire on I-94 has killed 3 people; the survivors are a nine year old girl and her grandmother.  Young Amaterasu, however, has life threatening injuries and will not live unless she reaches Children’s Medical Hospital in Denver.

Walt, ever resourceful and caring, determines that they will get her to the hospital no matter what it takes.   And what it takes a slightly drunk ex-bomber pilot, Lucian, manning the controls of Steamboat, airline flight instructor, Julie, as co-pilot and Walt doing everything else, including sobering up Lucian.  In the back of the ancient plane is Doc, Amaterasu, precariously hooked up to a breathing machine, and her grandmother, Mrs. Oda.

A plane technician in the hangar offers ominous words before take-off:

            His eyes studied the padded surface of the plane’s interior.  “… because you’re not even going to be able to save the girl.  You’re all going to die up there.”  His eyes came back to mine.  “You’re sacrificing five people’s lives for the possibility of saving one girl…”

This is a Western, Walt is a man’s man and a Vietnam vet, and gosh darn it he is going to save young Amaterasu or die trying.  And everyone on board the old bomber feels the same.

The flight plan call numbers are N4030 Raider LC, the LC for Lucian Connally.   Over the intercom it translates to November 4030 Lima Charlie.  The flight appears doomed right from the take-off.  The runway is blocked by huge snow banks the plows have left, thereby shortening the runway.  The radio tower commands Lucian to stop the plane.   Lucian is a crusty character, flying the plane with only one good leg, the other lost in the war and replaced by a wooden one

“I rose up a little in my seat and could see the lights of the terminal growing rapidly closer, Rick’s voice still coming through my headset” [said Walt].  Static.  “Raider Lima Charlie, you need to shut the engines down on that thing right away!”

A minute later:

Static.  “Raider LC, you need to abort!”

Static.  “Lucian!”

Lucian miraculously gets the plane in the air safely, but in flight every possible problem occurs.  And even though we know this story ‘turns out alright’, it is still riveting.   Repeated snow and ice on the plane, pressure loss, low gasoline levels, wind and snow gusts, engine failure, lost radio contact and eventual warnings that landing will not be possible.  And that’s only with the front of the plane.  In the back Doc and Mrs. Oda are being thrown all over by turbulence.  Amaterasu’s artificial life support systems are failing.

As Walt says to Doc,

“Well, we’re going to have to get all western on this, aren’t we?”

Johnson inserts just the right amount of humor and saltiness.  Spirit of Steamboat is a great Western adventure, lacking the schmaltz of many holiday novels.  Spirit of Steamboat is one of Johnson’s shorter Walt Longmire mysteries.  Walt has been brought to life in the successful A&E series, Longmire, starring Robert Taylor and Lou Diamond Phillips.  (Season 2 ended in August 2013 and fans hope for a third season).

This novella reads easily.  Johnson clearly loves his characters and treats them with kindness and compassion.   Prepare for tears and laughter and some holiday miracles.

Craig Allen Johnson is an American novelist and playwright. He lives in Ucross, near Sheridan, Wyoming, population 25. Johnson has written ten novels and a number of short stories.

To see a list of all the Walt Longmire mysteries visit his website:  http://www.craigallenjohnson.com/

SENIOR TIMES,  Portsmouth Herald, December 2013

SME.12.19.13

NaNoWriMo: It’s December, Now What?

Congratulations to everyone who took part in NaNoWriMo this November! You should be proud of your 1 to 50,000 words! The first step to writing is writing, after all. Whether or not you finished the 50K, December is PlotWriMo, when you refine the plot arc of your novel. If you like to sit back and wait awhile (say, until March) you might want to sign up for NaNoEdMo! Fantasy Faction has a helpful post-NaNoWriMo blog entry, After NaNoWriMo, that encourages you to keep writing!

In the meantime, keep coming to the Portsmouth Library to write! While we are more forward about it during November, we LOVE to have you all year!

- Stacia

12.05.13 so

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