Review: Smoke Bellew

Smoke Bellew Smoke Bellew by Jack London
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reader beware - those who open this tale will find their days outside the novel filled with dreams of the Yukon, sled racing, and gold. I promise, you will never look at an egg the same again.

Christopher "Kit" Bellew is a yuppy, lazy, jocular youth who inherited his wealth through a father of hard work and discipline. Pining away his days bored and restless in the city he is given the opportunity to help his cousins and uncle trek their way into the Alaskan Gold Rush. Each man requires a literal ton of food to last him the harsh winter of the north and each man is required to haul it in himself (or with the aid of natives who put the white men to shame.) Without such supplies no man was allowed to cross the barrier checkpoint from civilized life to the wild. Yet, Kit finds a way and in the process earns himself the nickname "Smoke" - a name which will stick with him forever. Once through the icy lakes, rapids, and unforgiving territory, Smoke becomes a big man in a big country whom everyone loves, envies, and strives to compete with. You won't want to miss this incredible ride through the Yukon.

I didn't fall in love with adventure stories until my twenties when I felt an undying need to explore the world around me yet was surviving on the budget of a twenty-something. Required to stay put in my living room, authors like London, Beach, and Grey became Godsends and frontier hawkers. The kind to inspire the impossible and breed confidence in any intimidated explorer. While my immediate desires were appeased by reading about long nights under the stars in the desert canyons of Arizona or the frost biting wilds of the Yukon, these novels served to whet my appetite for adventure, danger, and fresh air!

Smoke Bellew is a prime example of such a tease. London hugs the reader in tightly, never letting go until the very last page with the charmed life of Smoke who seems to have a topsy turvy relationship with Lady Luck. With perfect precision we, as readers, toil through the slush of mountains under the weight of 2000 pounds of food and supplies. We labor with every step Smoke takes in the beginning chapters to such a degree that once over that hill and into the true start of the adventure we believe we are Smoke; his exploits become our own and his success ours alone. Together we are transformed from a dandy tenderfoot to the hardened veteran only the Gold Rush could properly create. No other author or novel has taken me so wholly from the sidelines and into character such as this. And never has there been a character I've felt more invested in.

Ladies, do not fear being left behind as Smoke finds out fast and early that the women of the Yukon are no easy target for charm and wit, but, rather, can stand quite proudly, successfully, and wealthy without the aid of man.

Enjoy your romp through the crystalline escarpments of Alaska. Try to not be too disappointed when you realize you were born too late to head for the hills in search of gold. Our generation will have its marvels just the same.

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Review: Seeing Ione

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In a literary world filled with dystopian futures, wizards, vampires, and closet BDSM billionaires Jansen Curry's debut novel is a breath of fresh air. Seeing Ione is by far the most original story I have read in recent years.

Ione McCreery is a young woman with a mysterious past that even she can't remember. With it comes a special sight that only her late adoptive father knew about - her ability to read people's emotions like a world wide coloring book. McCreery is well guarded by a feisty friend named Jenny, who acts as a counterweight to McCreery's broody personality, and an ever vigilant companion wolf named Beo. But even they cannot protect her from the truth of her ancestry and the source of her gift.

I'd like to think I'm a rather clever individual who can spot plot twists a mile away whether it is in a book, movie, or television show. And I know I'm not the only one. So believe me when I tell you that even with hints about her novel, I still had no idea what was coming to me as a reader and what McCreery was about to face. A perfect mixture between lighthearted, genuine dialogue and gritty, gut squeezing tension, Curry sends you off on an adventure that will have you begging for a follow up of the series before the last page is turned.

I read this book in a matter of hours - not because it is easy reading or short, but because it reads so smoothly that you neglect time as the words lift off the page, seep into your mind, and take control of your imagination. It was a pleasure to read and an experience that left me thoroughly impressed at every chapter. In the end, I was gobsmacked - I felt utterly refreshed to know that good literature still exists.

This book will find its way to best sellers lists and nightstands across the world - and I won't be surprised if one day, in the near future, I am sitting in a movie theater waiting for the show to start.

Review: Soul Music

Soul Music by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Ok, I'm going to say this very quietly because I know that Terry Pratchett has a devoted following who loves and appreciates his writing style and creativity:

I hated it.

Soul Music follows many characters of the Discworld through an independent collection of self awakening. While Susan, the granddaughter of Death (yes, THAT Death), takes over the family business when Death experiences a mid-life crisis, Imp the Bard and his band of misfits are playing for their lives when they create the new sound: Music with Rocks In. Imp catches Susan's eye and a youthful romance emerges as Susan fights the sands of time to save his life. All the while, the music rocks the academic world sending stuffy professors of all things occult into a frenzy over studded leather and rebellion.

I have had this book in my possession since January 2015. I have picked it up, read a little, and set it down over and over again. I have read over 10 books since this book came into my household and I have suffered through it. It has flown with me to and from Orlando, Florida. It has sat on bookshelves, night stands, end tables, coffee tables, desks, and swam in my giant purse. I have tried to commit to reading it and failed, repeatedly. It was out of sheer willpower that I finished it, and then, it was only out of the intentions of writing this review. Writing low scored reviews on books I didn't like is one of my least favorite things to do. The last thing I want to do is turn a reader away from a book that they could potentially love just because it didn't set well with me or connect on whatever level I needed it to connect on. So here is what I can appreciate about Pratchett's Soul Music.

Pratchett has a vivid imagination that is insurmountably clever. If you're paying attention you will catch on quickly to his ability to twist common bits of our world's culture and history and place it into the seemingly naive universe of the Discworld. His ability to create an entire world on the backs of elephants who are standing on the back of a turtle who is standing on something, but that's not important, is worthy of praise and I admire his creative genius. When he passed away it was brought to the world's attention that he was suffering from alzheimer's and still writing. That alone is an incredible feat and I respect him as an author.

Now here's why I didn't enjoy this novel - although the characters are rich and entertaining, we spend so little time with them in one sitting (merely a paragraph or two before jumping to another bit of the Discworld), that there is no opportunity to become invested in the character's success or demise. These exceedingly short blips of character storyline mingle with so many other character storylines that there really is no telling if a paragraph was actually going to go somewhere. I know I've been reading a good book when I'm sweating out the final pages, worried there aren't enough pages remaining in the book to satisfy a proper ending for the characters I have grown to love. Soul Music was the complete opposite - I chugged through, flipping the pages, eager for the finish with zero concern for whether or not the characters' plots were rounded out.

In the end, it felt I was reading the book for the sake of reading it with no entertainment value or appreciative experience. Now to tell me friend, who lent me his beloved book, the truth of my reading. Send your prayers.

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Review: Marred

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don't want to say this book is nightmare fuel, but this isn't the kind of book you want to read before going to bed. Especially as a woman. Even more so as a single woman living alone in a dark apartment with no one to hear you scream.


Excuse me.

It's the kind of book you read with all the lights on and the doors locked. It's the kind of book you have a light hearted chaser for; like watching a Disney movie after watching Friday the 13th. And why, after storming through the first third of it in my initial reading that I went to bed with a harmless western in my hands instead of my Kindle.

Sue Coletta isn't going to spare you the gory details or an honest look behind the crime scene tape. She's a well versed author in all things crime who indelicately dumps you into the middle of a life which has been disrupted, disturbed, and marred by the evil acts of a solitary man. When there is a serial killer on the loose targeting young women and seemingly no connection between them it's hard for a community to sleep at night. But when your twin sister suddenly goes missing and you answer the phone to an unfamiliar, sinister voice - that's when your life comes to a screeching halt. We are there when our heroine, Sage Quintano, comes to terms with her past, when she bursts out against those she loves, and when she decides to take back control.

You won't have to wait for the action to start in this novel, so buckle up and prepare yourself for a dark ride through a dark tunnel with only Coletta to guide you out!

Review: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Enter a world of Napoleonic rule, dark alleyways, and reclusive estates.
Enter a world of apprenticeship and fa(e)teful dealings.
Enter a world of practical magic; a world exclusive to Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

Allow me a moment of honesty - this book requires commitment to complete. Don't get me wrong. It is masterfully written in a beautiful, educated language filled with rich descriptions, enthralling subject matter, and perfectly timed dialogue. There is nothing I can say against this novel; it truly is a work of art. I admire Susanna Clarke for her talent, ability to organize such a large project, and knowledge of such a subject. But had I not been previously invested in the subject of faeries and old England prior to picking up the book I likely would have set it down one day, mid-read, and walked away forgetting it completely.

Perhaps the magic within the pages spilled out somehow and left me feeling an uneasiness about the life of it. Believe me when I tell you, the world changes a little with each page you turn.

The footnotes may have been my favorite part. They became something to look forward to - a further indulgence of folklore or historical occurrence that broadens the reality of the era in which this story is set without distracting from the narrative with facts and figures. (Some four pages long!) If you wanted to, you could pass the footnotes by without a second glance and not miss out on Jonathan or Mr. Norrell's doings, but you would be at a disadvantage to the mastery of this novel. It is obvious that Clarke was dedicated to this project and had a specific vision for it. I hope the TV show available through the BBC will do it justice. Clarke seems to have done all the research for producers anyway - it'll be hard for them to screw it up!

In all, the novel reads as a historical non-fiction, although it isn't, based on real and true people who lived, breathed, and spit fire. Before the story is through you will question reality and from the forgotten depths of your inner-child's heart you will believe in magic once more.

Susanna Clarke does such an amazing and thorough job in citing sources and connecting historical non-fiction with the lives of Jonathan and Mr. Norrell that the clouds of doubt begin to clear away and although it may seem impossible you begin to wonder why not. Stranger things have been proven to be true. In fact, the realm of the fae must exist; the folklore bred in a depth of truth. It's made me envious of the English for their rich history. And it's left me still wondering.

Review: Flowing Gold

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rex Beach is a favorite of mine. Long since passed, his life was filled with adventure, prospecting failure, writing success, and Olympic silver! Flowing Gold was not the first book of his that I picked up, but it is the one I seem to pick up repeatedly.

Calvin Gray is a conman who commands the reader's immediate championship. He is smooth, classy, intelligent, and full of life. The best part about him, though, is that he is genuine, noble, and always on the right side of the law. He knows how to play the game is all. Calvin finds himself in Dallas during the oil boom (thus, Flowing Gold), and is without a penny to his name. Yet, he stays in the Governor's suite in the nicest hotel in town. He walks around in the nicest suit and eats meals at the nicest restaurants. Perhaps he's floated a few checks along the way, but soon makes up for the financial deficit by making acquaintances in all the right places.

His first friend being a jeweler in need of a runner to a client who has too much money and not enough brains living out in the middle of no where. Calvin gladly takes on the errand, disguising it out of good will and nature from one business man to another, and even saves the jeweler from robbery in the process. His clients turn out to be the Clampetts of the era who are in desperate need of refinement for their drought stricken farm has struck a heavy oil deposit and Ma, Pa, daughter, and son just aren't sure what to make of it all. Calvin gladly takes them under his wing - connecting the daughter with an etiquette coach, the son with a college, and Ma and Pa with a mountainside resort where Ma comes into her own as a daydreaming pirate queen.

Calvin isn't without the pangs of love which strike hard and swift, a history of wrongfully accused inglorious military records, and successful business dealings which turn this conman into a noted, and beloved, citizen of Dallas and surrounding areas. There's a crescendo of adventure in a burning, flooded oil field that will have the reader flipping through the pages at an alarming rate.

This is a story about success, flippant money spending, confidence building, unwavering support, and revenge. You won't want to miss it!

Review: Rumo & His Miraculous Adventures

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rumo is a Wolperting, although he doesn't know it yet. His life begins lazily as a Hackonian farmer's pet pup; spoiled and loved. His only responsibilities to accept belly rubs, the cooing of admirers, and occasionally come to understand the world around him. All is disrupted, though, when he and his caretakers are kidnapped by a carnivorous band of Demoncles who traversed the world on a floating rock, only coming to shore when the rock landed and their stores were depleted. This is where Rumo meets Smyke, a shark grub, and his life begins to pursue his real potential as the intelligent, upright walking, battle ready Wolperting he is. And this is just the beginning.

Adventures (it's in the title, after all) ensue for Rumo which lead him to the mysteriously blockaded town of Wolperting - a town filled with his own species, all of varying breeds, and a dome no one knows anything about. He gains a roommate, goes to school, learns to fence and play chess, to read and write, and becomes a master carpenter. Oh, and he falls in love. But when he returns from a lover's mission outside the walls of town, he finds the bustling city vacant and an empty void where the dome once stood. Into the depths of Hell he wanders seeking his friends and teachers and the second half of Rumo's life begins. Will he arrive in time to save them? You'll have to read it to find out!

I bought Walter Moers' Rumo in 2007 for $3.00 at Half Priced Books (my absolute favorite store on this planet.) The cover intrigued me and when I flipped through the pages which included character attributed fonts and original artwork by the author I was sold. I had never read fantasy fiction before, but I couldn't resist. The presentation of the 689 page tomb was too creative to pass up. It's a refreshing publication as it didn't just tell a story from front cover to back, but rather it included the reader in the journey by playing with the traditions of published work. Art, font, black pages, text layout, and maps were constantly shifting so the eyes never grew tired or bored. The design of the book is just beautiful.

Eight years later and I can still remember the moments I spent reading it. If I close my eyes I can see myself there laying on my stomach in our guest bedroom the door shut and the light filtering in through the closed blinds; sprawled out in the Arizona summer heat, lost in the world of Zamonia. Looking at my dogs with a sideways glance wondering when they would challenge me to a game of chess. My entire world came to a halt when I first started reading Rumo. I became useless to those around me and cared little for anything else - who needs food, right? 

It took me three days and two sleepless nights to finish. And then I was on the hunt for more. I purchased every English translated book he had and devoured them like a starving Demoncles. Although he has many books published in his native tongue, German, the English translations slowly trickle our way. I've even considered learning the language so I can have greater access to his work. In the meantime, I'll continue to stalk Moers' website and Amazon page for new releases and pre-release purchases.

If I could give a six or seven or eight star review, I would. To see a strong sampling of Moers' artwork, click here.

Other great, English translated works by Moers include:

Review: To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As a writer I was determined to find out why this book was so highly praised to the point that within a year of printing it had landed the most coveted of writer's awards: the Pulitzer Prize.

Was it because it spoke boldly about the civil rights of all men?
Was it because Harper Lee emphatically decried the injustice of racism in our courts?
Was it because she demanded to be heard on a grand platform?

No. I don't believe so.

Rather, her writing is subtle. Beautifully subtle. We are told a story, quietly and innocent. The truths which come out are that which come from the mouths of babes; the wisdom of children.

I see it now, the simplicity of her work yet the enormity of its message no matter how gently it was delivered. As a writer I can see how she did not over complicate things, but instead allowed her readers to make intelligent connections and assumptions.

As a reader I was invested - oh boy was I invested in the man known as Atticus Finch! I instantly took a liking to him and may even place him as my newly crowned favorite leading male character of all who have paraded before me. He was noble in a time of duress, he was honest and steadfast, and, most importantly, he listened to his children.

If you haven't read it, I recommend it. If you were forced to read it as a teenager for school and didn't like it, I recommend you revisit it. In a world where messages are loudly thrust at us from every angle covering every agenda; in a world where literature has become watered down and blatantly in your face this piece of history is not only refreshing, but endearing.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

"Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved reading. One does not love breathing."
- Scout, To Kill a Mockingbird

"Of course he shouldn't, but he'll never change his ways. Are you going to take out your disapproval on his children?"
- Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird

“… You’re not gonna change any of them by talkin’ right, they’ve got to want to learn themselves, and when they don’t want to learn there’s nothing you can do but keep your mouth shut or talk their language.”
– Calpurnia, To Kill a Mockingbird

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Review: The Golden Isle

The Golden Isle, pub. 1947

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dr. Michael Stone has refused a lucrative offer as a slave ship doctor only to find himself kidnapped and floating across the Atlantic Ocean like the stock in the hold beneath him. Although paid for his work, he is made aware that his presence there is negligible to the crew and one wrong step could send him overboard with a bullet in his chest. Dr. Stone makes the best of his situation by realizing he may be the only hope the poor, confined souls below deck might have. In his efforts to create as comfortable and healthy a living environment for the voyage as possible, he, in turn, ensures more slaves survive it; much to the delight of his boss.

After a few years at sea, Dr. Stone finally takes measures into his own hands and releases himself from the bondage of his contract with the slave company - a night which ends with a bang! But it isn't until he reaches the shores of Florida that things begin to really heat up.

As a lover of all things history and adventure, this second-hand-store-find was a lucky strike! Frank G. Slaughter spares no details on the nitty gritty of the slave trade and its consequences. His leading character is noble in nature and progressive in his methods, the author himself being a physician and well versed in the medical world.

In retrospect of the times, I am delighted to see that the author was able to walk the fine line of staying true to the mentality of the slave trade and the era it occupied and the slowly declining racism of 1947 when the book was published. This is a poignant piece of this story - the language, hostility, and honesty shows us just how the African-American race was described through the eyes of a white male in the late 1700's as well as a more modern scope without apology. I will admit that while reading some descriptions and brutal depictions of rape or abuse I felt pangs of the heart. Fiction is best when you realize it must not be far off the mark to what the world truly was like a short few hundred years ago.

The storyline as a whole is enthralling. As a reader you find yourself invested in the happiness and success of Dr. Stone and the characters around him while at the same time rooting for power to be given back to a people.

I highly recommend this sharp glance into a dark time of the modern world. Not only will the story stay with you long after you read it, but the content itself will touch the reality of slavery deeper than any history book ever could.

Review: The Big Over Easy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall...

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall...
But was it an accident? Suicide? Or was it murder?

Jasper Fforde takes us into the extraordinary town of Reading where Nursery Crimes are prevalent, but irrelevant to the upper bosses of the police force. Saddled with a new partner, Sergeant Mary Mary (who can be quite contrary), DCI Jack Spratt must navigate the murky waters of political diplomacy, investigating the crime of a giant playboy egg, and fatherhood all while struggling to make it into the Detectives Guild - a high ranking honor which would nab him some of the best cases and some much needed good publicity! That is, if he could stop killing giants long enough to balance it all. Oh, did I mention there is an alien named Ashley who works for the Nursery Crime Division? His native tongue is binary.

As a writer, I am blown away by Fforde's creativity and ability to lace together such a thick, entertaining plot involving nursery rhymes most commonly remembered in Great Britain. Perhaps, as an American, I was at a disadvantage for this fact, but I was readily willing to trust that what I didn't understand, the references which didn't connect with me, were regional for his neck of the woods and so fit along with the story.

It's a hard book to put down and a series (The Fourth Bear is the follow up) which I am eagerly awaiting the third installment. Fforde has much on his plate, though, with the Thursday Next series, Shades of Grey, and the Last Dragonslayer so I won't be holding my breath too long for a novel about the Tortoise and the Hare - the rigged race! However, I'm a loyal reader, hook - line - and sinker - so I imagine I'll be picking up another series of his soon. With titles such as: The Woman Who Died A lot, First Among Sequels, and The Well of Lost Plots, how can you not be intrigued?!

Perhaps I'll start with The Eyre Affair.

Review: Jane Eyre

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I only recently discovered Jane Eyre and by recently I mean within the last few years. I acquired my edition (not the one pictured) of the novel printed "under wartime conditions" as a third edition from a used book store for a few dollars. The binding is blue cloth, the pages aged yellow and thick and it sat on my bookshelf for about a year. It wasn't that I was avoiding it so much as I had an overall disinterest in the "classics" which I considered Jane Eyre to be. There came a day, though, when I had nothing else to read and so the book made its way into my hands. Once the cover was opened I was trapped; sucked into a world unknown to me. Enthralled by the opening chapter of child abuse and neglect, curiosity, and fear, a defiant child already self-affirmed in who she was I lamented in having to put the book aside for our present day reality.

I have since read it three times yet it is never far from my nightstand. It gets better with age and with each reading your appreciation will grow for characters and author. It didn't take long for me to become completely obsessed in finding a movie adaptation which would satisfy and honor it adequately. The 2011 version comes mighty close and who can complain of Michael Fassbender's Mr. Rochester? No one.

While this may strike you as a love story at first, I encourage you to look deeper into the character of Jane. Charlotte Bronte has done a magnificent job at portraying a life of sharp corners and hard tongues in which a young woman is created as one of the strongest, most thought provoking heroines I have ever read. With exacting self-control and unwavering connection with her inner self Jane inspires me almost on the daily to be strong and true to who I am. If such a character can endure so much compared to my so little; who am I to waver? THAT is what this novel can do.

I won't ruin it for you, but her speech to Mr. Rochester in a moment of truth is just stunning. They are words I wish I had written. This level of writing is that which I strive to be able to mimic. It's absolutely brilliant.