Book Review: Spirit of Steamboat

Title: Spirit of Steamboat: A Walt Longmire Story
Author: Craig Johnson
Published: 2013
Format: Hardback

Longtime followers of the blog may have noticed that I haven’t posted in a while. I’m a little ashamed to say that the reason I haven’t posted is that I haven’t *read* in a while. No, really. I haven’t read a book in something like nine months, and I haven’t written more than 3k since December.
And I’ve been itching to, I really have, but life has gotten in the way and I just haven’t managed a book that has held my interest into chapter two.
So, one Friday, I got off early from work (woot!) and decided to take myself on the best kind of date – the library. So I started in adult fiction and I walked the stacks slowly, running my hands down the books, touching the spines, picking stuff up and putting it back down. I took the aisles out of order, coming in in the middle, heading back and forth, dismayed at the fact that they were actually taking shelves out of my library because of a lack of books on them.
That has something to do with this book, I promise.
So anyway, the first row I went down was H-J, and this was one of the first books I touched. I liked that it was small, novella-ish. I had decided that if nothing could hold my attention that a smaller book had a better chance. The dark, teal green of the cover stood out amidst a sea of much more boring black and white and uninspiring.
Until I turned to the front cover, I hadn’t realized that it had anything to do with the TV show – a plethora (okay, two, but they’re big and the book is small) of library stickers covered up half the spine. And I haven’t watched the TV show, so I read the first paragraph of the flap and decided that I could read this without knowing that.
So in the story, Sherriff Longmire is reading Dickens on Christmas Eve (because that is the most overdone Christmas trope ever in books), and somebody shows up in his office that he’s sure he’s never seen before but is adamant that she needs to see the old sheriff and that she knows them all.
So Walt takes her to the old guy and she starts her tale of how they know her, which is pretty much the rest of the book.  [NOTE:  This story takes place at Christmas, but it is most certainly not a Christmas story.]

So, because this was the first piece of fiction that I have held attention to in *nine months* I really wanted to give this book a full five page rating, but I just can’t.
For starters, the book is shelved as a mystery – there’s a sticker from the library that says it and everything – and really the only mystery in the whole thing is who the chick is and we figure that out pretty quick. Even the acknowledgement page says that this is a “weird little book that was supposed to be a short story… and is not a mystery per say, but a thriller with mysterious elements.” And while I’m not necessarily taking off points for expecting a mystery, that’s mostly because the author told me that on the very first page.
Second of all, there was a bit of an issue with the present day/flash back thing. Like when the flashback was over, the story pretty much was, too…there was nothing at all to wrap it up at the end. So either he could have just told the story of the rescue and not flashed back or he could have put a little more meat on the story. I felt that *all* the present day stuff was rushed to get to the 1988 flight.
That said, the 1988 flight part was *fabulous* I could just about feel the snow and having come from somewhere that got blizzards, just reading about it made me cold. That’s a sign of a good author. There was the right amount of suspense and detail, the right balance of slang and explaining things for the reader, and I didn’t feel out of place trying to read about pilots and doctors and whatever else.
And the old Asian woman in the story isn’t a bad stereotype. She’s written as kind and sympathetic.

So, there are a few things that needed help, which I think are an unfortunate product of this starting as a really short story and ending up at this length, but with a little tweaking this story could be perfect.
I loved the author’s writing style, and as such have another book of his waiting for me to pick it up at the library as I type this.
I will give this book a very sold – and very happy – 4 out of 5 pages.

Book Review – Phoenix by A.J. Scudiere

Title: Phoenix
Author: AJ Scudiere
Format: Paperback
Written/Published: 2012

I met AJ several years ago at the Southern Festival of Books (if you’re in Nashville, check it out!), where I won a copy of a small short story collection, and accepted it in full zombie makeup (did I mention it was also World Zombie Day?).
So the last time I saw her, we were chit-chatting and catching up when the blog came into the conversation and she offered me a copy to review. Talk about a no-brainer.

She picked the book, and this is what she gave me; I promptly stuck it somewhere in the dredges of my TBR pile, behind current library books and blog tours. It was a little more mainstream than I usually read, anyway, and I’d get to it eventually. After finishing a pretty good fantasy novel, I needed something in a different vein, and this was sitting there – mocking me. I’d already had it for almost three months at this point.
The story is that of one Jason Mondy. A firefighter on a firecall, he quickly rose to hero when he pulled two kids out of a burning building, one under each arm, and went back in for their kitten. It didn’t hurt that he’s in his early thirties and fairly good looking. But something about this just wasn’t right to Jason. Even though he couldn’t explain it, something was unsettling about this one, and he quit sleeping and when he did, his dreams woke him up.
In the middle of a heart-to-heart with his captain, he listened while his captain told a few stories of bad days – an apartment fire where his partner died but they saved the kids – Chief Adler’s worst of the worst. Then he told Jason to go home to his mother, sleep in the safe bed of his childhood, and hoped he’d feel better.
And that’s when the real bombshell had been dropped. He’d been adopted – he knew that – but his brother hadn’t. Wait, what?

Now, Jason’s life, or what he knew from it, had unraveled faster than a sweater at the hands of a kitten.
Okay. As a writer, reading is a little different than it is to non-writers. For instance, I might read something and then spend a minute getting past the thought of how *I* would have done it. There are some writers who are forgettable. But there are some that I read, and I want to read again and again to learn from. These are the writers that I curse out of jealousy. Janine Spendlove is one, A.J. Scudiere is definitely another one.

There are side stories that I would never have thought about adding in. Bear Mountain and everything that comes with it was genious. And there were so many details that I didn’t expect when I read them and then said ‘duh’ because they were that obvious in hindsight.
There’s the “secret boys club” that his roommate teased him about – the group of guys he had brought into his secrecy about his past and the details they were unearthing.

Oh, and as an added bonus, the prologue of the book is written in second person, to put you in Jason’s head for a minute, so you do the actions that he does. And I love second person with every fiber of my being, so I can’t help but be excited about that.

Yeah, there are a few issues – even though the book itself is third person, the begining of each chapter gives you something to tell you the focus of that chapter: Jason’s name when it’s a chapter about him, the shift schedule complete with rank/title for the firehouse, whatever. The firehouse schedule, though, is way too small to read it well, and I found myself ignoring it after a bit. More of a “oh, look, the firehouse” sort of thing than carring who was where, even though there was a bit of information to be gained there.
A few things were also convenient. Jason’s new roommate, for instance, of course proved to be helpful. But he came by her naturally, so I was okay with it in the end.

Also, there were a few loose ends, but none with major story lines, so I was mostly okay with those, too, even though there were a couple spots where I wanted more.

I think the most telling though was that I was fighting sleep but wouldn’t put the book down. As soon as I was finished I rushed it straight to my mother. “This book, you must read it.”
Five out of five pages.


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