Smoke by Catherine McKenzie

“Smoke. Everything about it had always meant being away to her, so now that she was safe at home, it was a smell that didn’t track.”


by Catherine McKenzie

Release Date: 20 October 2015

Available on Amazon Kindle

Amazon Description:

After a decades-long career combating wildfires, Elizabeth has traded in her former life for a quieter one with her husband. Now she works as the local arson investigator in a beautiful, quaint town in the Rockies. But that tranquil life vanishes when she and her husband agree to divorce and a fire in nearby Cooper Basin begins to spread rapidly. For Elizabeth, containing a raging wildfire is easier than accepting that her marriage has failed.

For Elizabeth’s ex-friend Mindy, who feels disconnected from her husband and teenage children, the fire represents a chance to find a new purpose: helping a man who has lost his home to the blaze. But her faith is shattered by a shocking accusation.

As the encroaching inferno threatens the town’s residents, Elizabeth and Mindy must discover what will be lost in the fire, and what will be saved.

My Take:

Smoke starts off somewhat slow.  The author spent the first third or so of the book developing the characters and setting the stage for the investigation into the origins of the fire threatening the town of Nelson.  It took a while to get into the story, but once it picked up it was hard to put down.  What will keep you engaged is the relationship between Elizabeth and Ben as they deal with the not-yet-accepted failure of their marriage –  still in love, but riding that fine edge between loving someone and giving up.

While the characters were well developed, I felt as if there was something lacking in Elizabeth – an element of strength I kept expecting that never appeared.  In one scene, her husband accuses her of something terrible.  I expected Elizabeth to be angry, outraged, or defensive; something other than apologetic. This may have been by the author’s design and, if so, well done.  Additionally, the small town sheriff and District Attorney were just a little too cliche for me to really see them as more than caricatures.

“The fire is already retreating, whipping around the base of the trees it destroyed, creating its own atmosphere, making sure it eats everything there is before it moves on.”

The fire though…the fire came to life in this book like it was a character in and of itself.  It breathed and fed and destroyed; not just the forest around the town, but the lives of those closely tied to its origins.  It was a physical manifestation of the turmoil devastating Elizabeth and Mindy’s lives.  In the same way fire can bring new life by burning through brush and deadfall, this fire burns through the lies and mistakes Elizabeth, Ben, Mindy, and Mindy’s son have buried and acts as a catalyst for renewal within their own lives.

Ultimately, Smoke will pull you in and keep you guessing until the final reveal.

*** ARC received via Netgalley and Lake Union Publishing in return for an honest review***

Counting Stars by Steve Salter

***Free copy received from Online Book Club in return for an honest review***

Counting Stars by Steve Salter is a modern fiction thriller set in the prestigious world of Irish horse racing and follows Frank Rooney, a recovering compulsive gambler and equine veterinarian. Frank, along with three of his friends, hatches a scheme to secretly breed a star racer. Frank struggles to fight his addiction while he uncovers deception, intrigue, and corruption within the same institution he and his friends are attempting to undermine. Using mindfulness and meditation to overcome his addiction, Frank may just pull off one of the biggest coups of the Irish racing world.

Due to an exclusivity agreement with Online Book Club, I am unable to provide the full review here.  You can read the full review on my Online Book Club reviewer page.

After Alice by Gregory Maguire

After Alice by Gregory Maguire

After Alice by Gregory Maguire

*** ARC received from San Francisco Book Review for honest review***

What if Alice was not the only one to wander into Wonderland? Not only that, but what did everyone else experience when Alice fell down the rabbit hole? After Alice, by Gregory Maguire, explores the goings on of the people close to Alice while cleverly incorporating events and characters from Lewis Carroll’s classic tale (who ate the marmalade?).

Gregory Maguire, of Wicked fame, tells the ‘other’ story.  Usually told from the perspective of the peripheral characters in classic fairytales – the wicked witch, the ugly stepsister – Maguire puts a twist on the classic story. His style of writing – use of obscure words, garrulous descriptions, and almost archaic prose – can be challenging to follow at times. As a reader, you either enjoy his books or you don’t.  However, if you’re able to settle into the story, Maguire’s style takes on an almost lyrical quality.

In After Alice Gregory Maguire masterfully mimics the quick, witty, and often nonsensical dialogue of Carroll’s original story.  After Alice follows Ada, Alice’s friend she briefly mentions in Carroll’s story, as she falls down the rabbit hole and searches for Alice in Wonderland; Alice’s sister Lydia, who is charged with watching over distractible, wayward Alice; and Ada’s harried governess as she and Lydia search for the missing girls.

Maguire revisits Carroll’s cast of characters as Ada encounters them providing their perspective of their encounters with Alice.  Once again, Maguire focuses on the peripheral characters of a classic story, providing insight, perspective, and depth to characters that are often shiny and superficial; not by retelling the classic, but by creating a companion story told from a different point of view.