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Review – Showdown on the River

J.L. Curtis has started what I hope is a new western series. It’s a great beginning that starts fast and never stops.

Rio Bell is leading a cattle drive up the Goodnight Loving Trail to Fort Laramie. It’s his first time as trail boss, but with trusted hands and hard work, he expects to be back in Texas by late September though fire, flood, or rustlers bar the way!

He didn’t count on a range war.

They didn’t account for the Rio Kid…

And he sure as hell didn’t count on the girl showing up!

Curtis is one of his generation’s best storytellers, and his talent really shows in Showdown on the River.  The author fills the wide open spaces of the American West with bigger-than-life characters.  We have cowboys, mountain men, bad men, and a fiery frontier woman who isn’t afraid of anything. If you enjoyed the glory days of Western dime novels, you’ve met all of these people before, but Curtis puts his own twist on them and makes them even more human.

Showdown on the River follows a cattle drive from Texas to the Mountain West, then follows Rio, the main character, as he stumbles into a range war.  Rio has a dark past, and Curtis does a great job of showing the bad things that can happen when a good man is pushed to violence.  The plot starts at a brisk pace and gradually picks up steam before going full tilt through the final act.  Along the way, we meet and get to know Rio and his cowboys, along with a bunch of cantankerous mountain men.  Curtis throws in a strong-willed, beautiful woman, giving Rio one more thing on his mind as he tries to survive doing the right thing.

Showdown on the River is a quick read, especially after the book’s midpoint.  Once the table is set, Curtis treats us to one great plot sequence after another.  He keeps the reader’s attention throughout by including enough historical detail to be interesting, but without delving too deeply.

I’d definitely recommend Showdown on the River if you’re a fan of old-fashioned spurs-and-six-guns Westerns.  If you’ve never tried the genre before, this would be a great place to start.

Today’s Earworm

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Audiobook Review – The Vikings and Their Enemies

If you’re looking for an excellent overview of European culture and warfare during the Viking era, The Vikings and Their Enemies – Warfare in Northern Europe, 750-1100 by Philip Line is an excellent resource.

A fresh account of some of history’s greatest warriors. The Vikings had an extraordinary and far-reaching historical impact. From the eighth to the 11th centuries, they ranged across Europe – raiding, exploring, and colonizing – and their presence was felt as far away as Russia and Byzantium. They are most famous as warriors, yet perhaps their talent for warfare is too little understood.

Philip Line, in this scholarly and highly interesting study of the Viking age, uses original documentary sources – the chronicles, sagas, and poetry – and the latest archaeological evidence to describe how the Vikings and their enemies in northern Europe organized for war. His graphic examination gives an up-to-date interpretation of the Vikings’ approach to violence and their fighting methods that will be fascinating listening for anyone who is keen to understand how they operated and achieved so much in medieval Europe. He explores the practicalities of waging war in the Viking age, including compelling accounts of the nature of campaigns and raids and detailed accounts of Viking-age battles on land and sea, using all the available evidence to give an insight into the experience of combat. Throughout this fascinating book, Philip Line seeks to dispel common myths about the Vikings and misconceptions about their approach to warfare.

The Vikings and Their Enemies is a well-organized, thorough treatise on the culture, technology, and military art of the Viking era.  A good general knowledge of the history and geography of the 9th and 10th Century is probably necessary for the reader to be able to follow both the narrative history and the discussions of the Frankish, Anglo-Saxon, and Scandinavian cultures of that time.  Even with that, I found myself occasionally having to check the map file included with the audiobook and looking at other information sources to fill holes in my knowledge.

Robert Fass’ reading was clear and easy to follow.  He was able to keep my attention throughout the book, even when the material became rather dry and detailed.

For someone who has had a life-long interest in the Vikings and European history in general, this was a key addition to my bookshelf.

Review – The East Witch

Cedar Sanderson returns to Underhill in The East Witch:

Anna’s rescue training kicked in when she tripped over the injured elf. Getting him home? No problem. Getting herself home again? That’s going to be a little more complicated.

Trapped Underhill, in the land of the fae, Anna has to remember everything she knows about fairy tales. Not the sweet happy ones: the stories where Baba Yaga boils you alive and giants grind your bones for bread. Her skills as a hunter and her good manners might be all that keep her alive. At least, if she can keep the Wild Hunt at bay!

Fans of the other books in this series are in for a treat, and so are new readers. 

Mrs. Sanderson uses her exquisite talent for painting settings and characters to good work when she introduces us to Anna and her companions as she tries to find her way home.  I quickly became entranced by the adventures, paced just right, that she and Ivan, the elf, go through as they try to navigate the treacherous and twisty byways of Underhill.

Along the way, they meet and befriend everything from giants to magical carp to Baba Yaga herself.  All of the main characters are well fleshed out, and the author has me hooked enough to hope that they reappear in future stories so I can learn more about them.

Like I said, the story is well paced.  Where necessary, the author slows down to let us get to know the characters and the world they live in, but when the story calls for action, I found myself reading as fast as I could to find out what happens next.

While The East Witch is part of a series, it is enough of a stand-alone story that a new reader could pick it up and be able to enjoy it just as it is. Readers who enjoyed the other Underhill stories will find this one as easy to slip into as a warm sleeping bag on a cold night.

If you’re looking for a good book to curl up with in front of the fire, The East Witch should be on your short list.

Political Rumblings

Looking back at the Trump presidency, I’d say that overall, he was a qualified success.

Love them or hate them, Mr. Trump and Mitch McConnell were able to fill a huge number of vacancies in the federal judiciary, including moderating the liberal leanings of the 9th Circuit and replacing 1/3 of the Supreme Court.  Did that mean much when Trump was disputing the election?  No.  Will it mean anything when constitutional questions make their way through the courts?  Probably.  Will it mean anything when the Right starts to practice lawfare at the same tempo as the Left has been doing my entire life?  I hope we find out in the next few years.

His get-tough stance with China and Iran, coupled with a charm offensive against North Korea and the Arab states of the Middle East, appear to have been effective at containing the latter, while improving conditions with the former.  The work he has done to normalize relations between Israel and Muslim countries may have long-term positive ramifications for the entire region.  Whether Mr. Biden preserves and continues these accomplishments remains to be seen.

Putting the Europeans on notice that Uncle Sugar was no longer willing to expend the vast majority of the money and blood to defend Europe against a foe that went home a generation ago was a good first step, but I fear that it will do little long-term good.  Without a withdrawal from Europe or at least a wholesale redeployment of every servicemember, plane, tank, and supply depot to places like Poland and Hungary, the Europeans will never take us seriously or shoulder their own burdens.  I expect that Mr. Biden will put America back on the hook for keeping Europe feeling secure and not paying a fair share of their own defense budgets.

When it comes to gun policy, I’d give him a C or maybe a B-.  We saw few new federal gun control measures, but I saw no rolling back of anything of significance either.  I credit the former to the Republicans controlling the Senate for the duration of the Trump administration, and I credit the latter to President Trump not seeming to have much interest in gun rights.  He talked a good game, but I saw no enthusiasm or commitment to that cause.  That being said, he was not openly hostile to gun rights.  I expect the next four years are going to make up for that with a vengeance.

Efforts to ‘drain the swamp’ were, to be honest, almost wholly unsuccessful.  Without changing the laws governing federal employment, any measures Mr. Trump put into place via executive fiat will just as easily be swept away by Mr. Biden’s pen.  For that to have happened, the Republicans needed to have a majority in both the House and Senate, and the backbone to follow through on their rhetoric.  They lost their House majority in 2018, and never really had the backbone.

Not completing the Keystone XL Pipeline and border wall projects prior to the election gave Biden easy propaganda wins to throw to his supporters after the inauguration.  All the stops, including legislative action while his party controlled Congress, should have been pulled out on these, even if only to present them to his successor as a fait accompli.

Abrogating the Iran Nuclear Deal and pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord were a step in the right direction.  But instead of just announcing that we weren’t going to play anymore, I believe that Mr. Trump should have submitted both these and all of the other pending treaties/international agreements/John Kerry pinky swears to the Senate for ratification.  Having a Republican Senate vote these agreements down would have made it much harder for the next Democrat to just renegotiate their way back into them.  The court fight the Democrats likely would have put up to keep them out of the Senate, with claims that they aren’t really treaties, would have also given us an opportunity to prune the self-claimed power of future presidents to sign and enact treaties, but not call them treaties.

Speaking of treaties, Mr. Trump’s renegotiation of NAFTA will likely have almost as much impact on our nation’s future as his appointments to the federal bench.  Adjusting our rights and obligations when it comes to trade with Canada and Mexico to a more advantageous tilt might help American industry weather the coming storm.

I believe that once the emotional side of all this settles down, historians will see the Trump presidency as a success.  Yes, he didn’t accomplish everything he set out to do, and a lot of what he did do will be reversed or at least degraded.  But the long-term benefits of his foreign policy and judicial nominations will have a lasting impact on our nation’s future.

Today’s Earworm

Today’s Earworm

Congratulations to our British Cousins

And for our French cousins, cough cough

Today’s Earworm

If I cannot bring you comfort,

Then, at least, I bring you hope

Today’s Earworm

It’s a day late for the feast of Saint Stephen, but this hit my brain for some reason.

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