Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Ambush in the Alleghenies

Kevin Coolidge



Deep in the wilderness of western Pennsylvania, a young George Washington suffered his first military defeat, and rekindled a centuries-old feud between Great Britain and France. The battles that followed would be fought across virgin territories, from Nova Scotia to the forks of the Ohio River, and it would decide the fate of the entire North American continent. It is against this setting that William P. Robertson and David Rimer start their exciting new series Ambush in the Alleghenies, four daring trappers get snared in the conflict soon to be known as the French and Indian War.

Robertson and Rimer have spent fifteen years creating their series of seven novels about the famous Civil War rifle regiment, the Bucktails. Now the authors are back with a new adventure set in the wilderness of colonial Pennsylvania. Ambush in the Alleghenies details the exploits of Lightnin’ Jack Hawkins, Bearbite Bob Winslow, Will Big Cat Cutler, and Alexander MacDonald, four mountain men struggling to survive the savage land and fierce enemies.

The book begins with the opening phase of the French and Indian War. George Washington is sent on a spy mission to Pennsylvania. The protagonists, beaver trappers by trade, are dragged into the conflict when the French invade their trapping territory and interfere with their way of life. They meet a very young George Washington, who employs them as scouts. The book finishes two years later with the defeat of British General Edward Braddock near Fort Duquesne.

Robertson and Rimer realistically illustrate the everyday life of Eastern mountain men. The clothing, food, weapons, trapping techniques and even the rough humor are meticulously depicted. There are some great photos are fellow re-enactors which bring the book and time period to life. The book brings history to a younger generation of readers; though I know of more than one adult (other than myself) who is going to love this series.

I find the book to be well researched and a must read for anyone who enjoys historical fiction and action-oriented prose. When I asked William how he writes the novels, he answered, “ The way we write the books is this. First, we both do research to find out the time period. Using the history as the template, we come up with a creative plot. I then write the rough draft and give it to Dave for editing. He corrects the grammar, finds weak places in the plot, and checks for logic and possible historical errors. After that, I add in his corrections and find other mistakes, too. The book goes back and forth 5 or 6 times until we work the bugs out of it. I am the creative force behind the books, while Dave is the technical writing expert.” The authors have even included bibliography and a glossary so that interested readers can discover out more about this exciting period of history.

The novel also includes elements of tall tales and myth making, for which the American frontier is known. Each frontiersman possesses strong medicine* that enables him to thwart Bold Wolf, an evil Ottawa chief, and their archenemy. Lightnin’ Jack, uses his speed to beat the chief’s gauntlet, while Will Cutler has an amazing skill with weapons.

Danger lurks everywhere in the dense hemlocks of the Alleghenies, with ferocious cougars, scalp-stealing savages, and Frenchmen full of fight. I’m looking forward to the next thrilling book in the series, but in the meanwhile, I think I’ll grow my beard out and practice my shootin’, cause I ain’t planning on getting ambushed or missing the next one…

French? Indian? Or born to be a mountain man? Email me at frommyshelf@epix.net Miss a column? Don’t get mad, get caught up at www.frommyshelf.blogspot.com Don’t miss the exciting adventures of Hobo. He doesn’t wrassle cougars, or take any scalps, but he does venture into the wilds of Tioga County in “Hobo Finds A Home”, a children’s book for the kitten in all of us.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Just Bill Me

Kevin Coolidge

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

I’ve always loved books, and I don’t remember a time when I haven’t been able to read. I’ve read classics, pulp fiction, and books that raised the librarian’s eyebrows. I’ve even browsed through encyclopedias, just for fun. You never know when a stranger is going to ask you the major exports of Chile. I was one of those kids who wanted books for Easter. After all, you can only eat the ears of a chocolate bunny once, but you can read a book again and again. I guess it’s not really a surprise that I ended up working in a bookstore.

I also love the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Although in recent years it seems that the Bill of Rights itself is being challenged, I’m still an optimist, and hold fast to the belief that my rights to write and read what I want are still protected. There’s a deep, American sense of pride I feel when I order or have a book in stock that a big chain bookstore might not carry, because it doesn’t want to take time to listen to customers, or field complaints from an intolerant minority.

This pride has become even more pronounced during my time at the bookstore. I recently had a man approach me with two books in his hand. He introduced himself as an off-duty Pennsylvania state police officer from Potter County. He was not pleased with the books, and expressed the opinion “surely there are better books that I could be selling.” Of course, when I asked if he had bothered to read either of the offending books, he hadn’t.

Why this man had to introduce himself as a police officer, and not just a concerned citizen, bothered me. Yes, I listened to him. People have the right to their opinion. You can have an opinion, but it should be an informed opinion. Thankfully, Americans have the freedom of information and the freedom to choose. Maybe not as much as what I’d like, but it’s still there. I don’t think every book is for every person, but I want to choose to read or not to read.

I don’t expect you to always agree with what I have to say. I won't always agree with what you have to say. In fact, there are some people that I simply cannot stand listening to. When I hear someone, or come across an article that truly disgusts me, I remind myself, that just as I have a right to express my opinions and ideas, so do you. If we expect to have certain freedoms, we must be willing to extend those freedoms to others. The last thing I want to do is start restricting those opinions. I may turn off the television, put down the newspaper, browse to another website, or turn down the radio. I may even just shake my head and walk away when someone is talking, but I will not, cannot, attempt to restrict what is being said.

First they came for the Harlequin™ romances
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a romantic.
Then they came for the GLBT
And I did not speak out
Because I was not gay
Then they came for Judaic literature
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was nothing
Left to read…

Choose for yourself? Or read only the mandated bulletins? Email me at frommyshelf@epix.net Miss a pass column? Read all about it at www.frommyshelf.blogspot.com Hobo wants to let his fans know that he has turned down vice president nominations from both Obama and McCain. He’s going to be running to the beat of his own heart. Remember, a vote for Hobo is a vote for you. Vote for someone who cares. Vote for yourself this election year.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Short & Sweet on the Finger Lakes

Kasey Cox


(this was first published as a little book review in a local magazine, Mountain Home, in their July edition)

If you’re looking for detailed histories for a small town, or an old neighborhood in a city, look no further than Arcadia Publishing. In their series such as “Images of America” and “Then & Now”, Arcadia brings the history of an area to life, showcasing historic images and photos, explaining the stories behind each one. The writers, historians, and photojournalists who publish for Arcadia are people who have spent many years in an area, and have a unique perspective and appreciation for their subject. Recently, a Wellsboro-born writer Eric Smith – who now lives and works in Lock Haven – was honored with the invitation to create an Arcadia book on “Clinton County”, published last September to warm reception.

Now, for those of us who love the Finger Lakes area, Arcadia has gifted us with a new book from their popular “Postcard History” series. The book, just released at the end of March, is simply titled “Finger Lakes”. Being co-authored by Kirk W. House and Charles R. Mitchell adds to the many accolades this volume will receive. Mr. House is the former director-curator of the Glenn Curtiss Museum in Hammondsport, NY, showplace of early aviation history. Mr. Mitchell is the current curator of the Yates County Genealogical and Historical Society (which encompasses much of the area around Keuka Lake).

Having been blessed with grandparents who owned a small cottage on Keuka Lake, and having many of my own fond memories of the area, I was immediately excited to open this book and dive into fascinating historic photos of Ithaca, gorges in Watkins Glen, vineyards near Canadaigua, Taughannock Falls, the World-Record 28 foot griddle that still hangs in Penn Yan. Just leafing through it, I smiled like a sentimental fool, and also learned a lot of new things about an area I thought I knew well. This book will be a wonderful gift to anyone you know who has loved the Finger Lakes.

Relay for Life, Seasons of Life

Kasey Cox

We are coming into the season where local Relay for Life teams start kicking it into high gear, raising money and getting ready for the big event. Mansfield’s Relay for Life is on June 28 this year, and Wellsboro’s follows soon after on July 11. I always keep tabs on the Relay activities, and try to donate as much as I can. I feel a real kinship to cancer patients and their families, although I have never had cancer myself, nor has anyone in my immediate family. Why would I feel so connected to this cause, this journey that people take when they or someone they love is diagnosed with cancer?

Professor, popular lecturer, and recent author Randy Pausch provides an answer. Like the Lance Armstrong yellow plastic bracelets reminding people to “Live Strong”, Pausch’s book “The Last Lecture” focuses his message on LIVING. This most recent of inspirational books to top the bestseller lists, “The Last Lecture” is a true story, unfolding even as you read it, of a young professor, husband, and father, who has written this book as a lasting legacy to those he leaves behind. Pausch has stage four, terminal, pancreatic cancer that has significantly metastasized into his liver. Most likely, by the time most of us are getting out our winter coats again, he will be gone. Unfortunately, as many people involved with the Relay for Life will tell you, Pausch’s story is not unusual. We could read many books that would be variations of what is happening to Randy Pausch and his family. What’s different about “The Last Lecture” is the framework of the book and what Pausch has chosen to say.

The premise for his book, as well as the title, comes from a hypothetical question posed to many professors to be the basis of a lecture: what would you say to this audience if you knew this were your last chance to share your wisdom? For Pausch, this question is no longer an academic exercise, no longer in the realm of “what-if”. The fact that there are many “last lecture” series given on campuses intrigued Pausch, even as he began to plan for the unthinkable – that his youngest child may not remember spending time with her father.

So, the last lecture that Pausch delivered on September 18, 2007, focused on “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams”. A lot of the advice he shared – keeping a childlike wonder in looking at the world, thinking outside the box, accepting constructive criticism, accepting help, being the kind of person people want to help, the importance of persistence – is not new, but boy, does it sound different coming from someone who has achieved as much as Pausch, and who is facing death sooner than he ever thought.

Books like this run the high risk of being too maudlin, or overly trite, coming across like a melodramatic country song or a bad Lifetime Channel movie. I began reading “The Last Lecture” hesitantly, fearing I’d be pulling out the waders or the Kleenex too soon. I was pleasantly surprised at how upbeat Randy Pausch’s perspective is, and how practical his advice. The book itself is a quick read: after the first few chapters which set the stage and give the background to this story, the chapters are short, each one summarizing a lesson he wants to share. It would easy to zip through this book and think, “oh, that’s a sad story, with some good advice from a nice, intelligent man.” I think it’s actually best to let Randy Pausch pull you quickly through the first time you read his last lecture. But then make certain you go back through with the proverbial fine-tooth comb. Read one chapter, ruminate, talk with your family and friends about it, journal about it, apply it to working with your colleagues for a week and see what happens. Then bite into a little more. You’ll find that Pausch’s honed abilities as a professor have allowed him to organize and synthesis a lot of information into small packages, but each package, when opened, has a huge gift inside. Ultimately, there are a ton of gifts packed into this little book.

Why do we cheer for folks with cancer? For that matter, why are those country songs and Lifetime movies so popular, why do the stories about people who are struggling with a terminal illness touch us so much? For me, it’s not to sit down and have a good cry, although that sometimes happens. What’s most important is the reminder to live well, as Pausch says, “with the cards you’ve been dealt.”

Relay for Life, Seasons of Life

Kasey Cox

We are coming into the season where local Relay for Life teams start kicking it into high gear, raising money and getting ready for the big event. Mansfield’s Relay for Life is on June 28 this year, and Wellsboro’s follows soon after on July 11. I always keep tabs on the Relay activities, and try to donate as much as I can. I feel a real kinship to cancer patients and their families, although I have never had cancer myself, nor has anyone in my immediate family. Why would I feel so connected to this cause, this journey that people take when they or someone they love is diagnosed with cancer?

Professor, popular lecturer, and recent author Randy Pausch provides an answer. Like the Lance Armstrong yellow plastic bracelets reminding people to “Live Strong”, Pausch’s book “The Last Lecture” focuses his message on LIVING. This most recent of inspirational books to top the bestseller lists, “The Last Lecture” is a true story, unfolding even as you read it, of a young professor, husband, and father, who has written this book as a lasting legacy to those he leaves behind. Pausch has stage four, terminal, pancreatic cancer that has significantly metastasized into his liver. Most likely, by the time most of us are getting out our winter coats again, he will be gone. Unfortunately, as many people involved with the Relay for Life will tell you, Pausch’s story is not unusual. We could read many books that would be variations of what is happening to Randy Pausch and his family. What’s different about “The Last Lecture” is the framework of the book and what Pausch has chosen to say.

The premise for his book, as well as the title, comes from a hypothetical question posed to many professors to be the basis of a lecture: what would you say to this audience if you knew this were your last chance to share your wisdom? For Pausch, this question is no longer an academic exercise, no longer in the realm of “what-if”. The fact that there are many “last lecture” series given on campuses intrigued Pausch, even as he began to plan for the unthinkable – that his youngest child may not remember spending time with her father.

So, the last lecture that Pausch delivered on September 18, 2007, focused on “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams”. A lot of the advice he shared – keeping a childlike wonder in looking at the world, thinking outside the box, accepting constructive criticism, accepting help, being the kind of person people want to help, the importance of persistence – is not new, but boy, does it sound different coming from someone who has achieved as much as Pausch, and who is facing death sooner than he ever thought.

Books like this run the high risk of being too maudlin, or overly trite, coming across like a melodramatic country song or a bad Lifetime Channel movie. I began reading “The Last Lecture” hesitantly, fearing I’d be pulling out the waders or the Kleenex too soon. I was pleasantly surprised at how upbeat Randy Pausch’s perspective is, and how practical his advice. The book itself is a quick read: after the first few chapters which set the stage and give the background to this story, the chapters are short, each one summarizing a lesson he wants to share. It would easy to zip through this book and think, “oh, that’s a sad story, with some good advice from a nice, intelligent man.” I think it’s actually best to let Randy Pausch pull you quickly through the first time you read his last lecture. But then make certain you go back through with the proverbial fine-tooth comb. Read one chapter, ruminate, talk with your family and friends about it, journal about it, apply it to working with your colleagues for a week and see what happens. Then bite into a little more. You’ll find that Pausch’s honed abilities as a professor have allowed him to organize and synthesis a lot of information into small packages, but each package, when opened, has a huge gift inside. Ultimately, there are a ton of gifts packed into this little book.

Why do we cheer for folks with cancer? For that matter, why are those country songs and Lifetime movies so popular, why do the stories about people who are struggling with a terminal illness touch us so much? For me, it’s not to sit down and have a good cry, although that sometimes happens. What’s most important is the reminder to live well, as Pausch says, “with the cards you’ve been dealt.”

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Name of the Wind

Kasey Cox

Sometimes, the superlatives aren’t enough.

I have been accused of tending towards hyberbole. I have a hard time holding myself back, though: I say “H-U-G-E!”, drawing out the letters for emphasis; I say “awesome” and “amazing” quite a bit; I also like “fantastic” and “fabulous”. As a person who loves life and feels things deeply, it’s not unusual that my descriptions would be on the dramatic end of the spectrum.

This presents a bit of a problem, on occasion, when reviewing books. I love books. It’s easy to give all kinds of books an enthusiastic thumbs-up, employing any one of my favorite words noted above. But then what to do when a truly special book comes along? How to explain that this book, this author, the writing here, set themselves apart from anything else you’ve read in a long time?

Well, is that enough build-up, or have I exceeded my exaggeration threshold once again? If you can’t hear me on this, then look at what authors Ursula LeGuin, Terry Brooks, Anne McCaffrey, and Orson Scott Card – to name just a few – have to say about Patrick Rothfuss’s debut fantasy novel, “The Name of the Wind.” In just the short time since the first printing in hardcover in April 2007, Rothfuss has garnered praise from major newspapers all across the U.S. and Europe, Amazon’s “Best Pick of the Year 2007 … So Far” summer award, as well as earning starred reviews in The New York Times, the Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and The Onion A.V. Club. Reviewers didn’t just intimate that this was the next Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings series, they crowed it from the rooftops.

If you’re not a huge fantasy reader, you may still enjoy “The Name of the Wind” and the books to follow in ‘The Kingkiller Chronicles.’ Rothfuss’s writing is so mature, so capable, so smooth, that it transcends genre. In the same way that Tolkien wrote his Middle Earth books inspired by the legends of Classic Literature that he taught, so too, Rothfuss’s story reads like a modern telling of the heroes of old, the story of a man who became a legend in his own time. Rothfuss’s protagonist Kvothe reminds me of a Ulysses or Achilles, or more recently of Tolkien’s Aragorn. His story is by turns sentimental and sweet, intriguing, sad and desperate, triumphant, exciting, frightening. Both plot and the telling kept me turning pages well into the night.

If you are a fantasy reader, one who is still grieving the end of Harry Potter, or author Robert Jordan’s death before finishing his series … one who has been impatiently waiting the third installment in Christopher Paolini’s “Eragon (Inheritance)” series … one who re-watches the Lord of the Rings movies every year, and can provide a direct translation of all the Elvish phrases in Tolkien’s books … wait no longer. “The Name of the Wind” is just the book to sink your teeth into this summer. The only problem then: waiting for Rothfuss’s second installment, “The Wise Man’s Fear.”

Hobo, too, is hard at work on the second installment in his ongoing tales of a hero’s journey. In his first book, “Hobo Finds A Home”, the hero leaves his birthplace and begins his wandering and his adventures in the wider world. He just feels lucky he didn’t see any cottonmouth snakes! Who knows what he’ll see on his Summer Book Tour 2008? Check out his website for updates! http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Twilight Series

Kevin Coolidge

This morning I woke up tired and naked on the kitchen floor with mud underneath my nails. Last night had to be another full moon. Being a werewolf may seem grand, but it’s just who I am. It’s not like Hollywood. Silver won’t kill me, and who can afford silver bullets anyway? Wolfs bane only makes me itch. I don’t run with a pack. I’m solitary by nature, and I don’t hang with vampires. Those are just the imagination of sexually repressed humans, but with a life span ranging into the centuries, I do have time to work on my stock portfolio and catch up on my reading.

I decided to delve into the young adult series, Twilight, by Stephanie Myer. She is the author of the books Twilight, along with the sequels New Moon, and Eclipse. The fourth book in the series, Breaking Dawn, will be released Aug 2, 2008. The Twilight saga follows the adventures of Isabella Swan (nicknamed Bella), a teenager who moves to Forks, Washington and finds her life turned upside down when she falls in love with a vampire named Edward Cullen.

The series has gained a cult following among young adult readers. Fans have been offically dubbed “Twilighters”. Many dress up like the characters. They write their own fan fiction about them, post their tales on the Internet. When Stephanie Meyer appears at a bookstore, 3,000 people go to meet her. There are Twilight-themed rock bands. The small town of Forks on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State is a real town, and has thus received am unusual amount of attention, and now celebrates “Stephenie Meyer Day” on September 13, the date of character Bella Swan’s birthday, in honor of the author.

So, just why has this series become so immensley popular? As Shakespeare knew, love burns hotter when love is forbidden, and this pair of lovers is extremley star-crossed. Bella falls in love with beautiful Edward, and he returns her love. But Edward is having a difficult time controlling the blood lust in him, because well he’s a vampire. At any moment, his passion could drive him to kill her, and he agonizes over the mortal danger. Bella would rather risk death than be apart from Edward, and so she risks her life to be near him, and thus the novel smolders with an erotic tension from their dangerous, yet chaste relationship. Throw in a rival clan of vampires who want to drain Bella dry, and you have a book that will suck you in.

I did find the series something I could sink my teeth into, though there’s a little too much romance and overuse of adjectives for my taste. This book will have a strong appeal for the young adult, especially the female reader. Though, I feel that the writing and storytelling is strong enough to escape the genre. I personally enjoyed the sequels better and found the introduction of the love triangle with werewolf, Jacob Black and his pack of werewolves bent on protecting Bella from a vindictive vampire to be more suspenseful. The writing can be a bit melodramatic, but few readers will care. There’s a nice mix of romance, suspense with a paranormal twist that will leave you hungry for more.

So, where does a real life werewolf find love? There are few of us. I live among humanity, but our territory is so geographically vast that I seldom catch scent or scat of my kind. As we tend to be rather solitary, it makes dating pretty difficult. I mean. It’s not like I can just meet a nice bitch at the bar, or place a personal ad. Hmm, why not?

“LONE WOLF SEEKS PLAYMATE”
Single, professional, alpha male seeking a soulful, sultry female for continuing bloodline. I am long and lean with a dark, shiny coat and all my canines. I like to run through the woods, pay homage to Luna, and Wolf’s Bane and silver make me itch. You are sexy, playful and willing to learn a few new tricks…

Werewolves? Vampires? Or Both? Drop me an email at frommyshelf@epix.net. Seeking past columns? Pickup the trail at www.frommyshelf.blogspot.com Hobo wants his readers to know that he’s innocent. He’s wanted by the Pennsylvania Game Commission for a crime he didn’t commit. He was framed by a three-legged polecat. He will see justice served, hopefully with a side of caviar.