Category Archives: Book Reviews

An Advance Review of Ivan Doig’s Sweet Thunder

This review is also posted on

I received this copy of Sweet Thunder as part of a First-Reads Giveaway.

Ivan Doig knows Montana. While this was my first adventure with the Western wordsmith, his reverence for the state that is fondly referred to as “The Last Best Place” comes through with every word. The novel captures the sense of rugged romanticism that has always characterized Montana. Living is tough out there and you’ve got to be strong to take it. But if you can survive, it’s all worthwhile.

The novel is set in Butte, one of the ugliest cities that I have ever stepped foot in (or, more often, driven straight through). So it is a testament to the power of Sweet Thunder that I came away from the story thinking of Butte in a kinder light. The Butte Public Library plays a prominent role in the story and I find myself wanting to visit Butte again just to see it.

The story itself is interesting and quick. The characters are just that. Characters. Slightly stock feeling and I kept waiting for someone to start bouncing around on their toes, fists up saying, “Why I oughta.” Luckily they stopped just shy of that. The progression of events is somewhat predictable but entertaining all the same. The ending is a little too clean for my liking but you know, sometimes that’s okay.


The Curse Of The Prolific Writer

Did you know that Stephen King has published over fifty books? Fifty full length novels or stories. And FIFTEEN of those have been turned into movies.

I had never read and of his works until last year when my best friend finally talked me into reading the Dark Tower series.

“It’s not really Stephen King-y,” she said. “It’s not really that scary (this was a lie) and it’s really well written.”

So I picked up the Gunslinger from the library and from the first brilliant line, I was hooked.

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”

This has to be one of the best first lines of all time. Who is the man in black? Who is the gunslinger? Is he chasing the man in black or just following his trail? And WHAT are they doing in the desert?

Come to that, what desert are they in?

That simple, twelve word sentence had me asking five separate questions, all of which desperately needed answering. One short month later, I was finished with the seventh book.

(Note: At the time I didn’t know about The Wind Through The Keyhole and as of yet, I still haven’t read it. It is on order though and should be here in a few days!)

I loved the series. Roland was such an amazing character and I fell in love with he and his little family of misfits. But after I finished the series, I still didn’t feel any need to seek out King’s other works.

Why not?

As you can see from my friend’s “not Stephen King-y” comment, we had some biases. And to be honest, these biases came from a pretty pretentious place. I was a creative writing major at the time and spending most of my time writing or reading about writing. I had developed the idea that in order for a book to be any good, it had to have taken years and a part of the writer’s soul in its creation.

So when I looked at the Stephen King shelf in the bookstore and saw his 50+ books, what did I see? A man worse than Voldemort who had split his soul into 50 pieces. I thought that anything he wrote must be cheap and poorly written because he had obviously whipped each book out in an afternoon.

And my love for the Dark Tower series did nothing to change that perception because it took King over twenty years to write those seven wonderful volumes. I assumed that all of his care and talent went into those works and the rest was just garbage.

Well, Mister King, I am sorry. I am so, so sorry. I am sorry that I skimmed over your section in the bookstore for twenty seven years. I am sorry that I never watched any of your movies besides The Shining. I am sorry for you but most of all I am sorry for myself. Because of my pretentious preconceived ideas, I robbed myself of years of wonderful reading.

You see, I just moved. And in the move i had to get rid of most of my books. So when I got to my new home in Arizona I happily accepted a couple boxes of books from my boyfriend’s parents. The told me to keep what I wanted and donate the rest.

Many of them were not my taste but I put them on my empty shelves as placeholders until I could get some that I really wanted (I just ordered about 35 books online, they should be here any day! I’ll keep you posted.). Among them were two Stephen King books, The Shining and The Running Man.

I should have known what was going to happen, but I didn’t see it coming. One day, I got bored. I sat and I stared at the books on my shelf waiting to feel the heart-to-book lightening bolt that I let guide all of my reading decisions. My eyes skimmed over the Shining and…I felt something. I gave it a second look. And there it was.

The lightening bolt was faint, but it was there. I pulled the dog-eared paperback off the shelf, plopped down on the couch and read the whole thing. The next day I read The Running Man. And now, here I am. A full blown Stephen King addict. Better late than never, right?

Photo on 2013-05-31 at 12.16

The Best Book On Writing That You Will Ever Read

This book is fourteen years old. It isn’t the next big thing or a surefire way to make truck loads of money on the internet. It is a simply written, engaging conversation on the subjects of writing and creativity. Ray Bradbury’s Zen In The Art Of Writing is, hands down, the most beautifully written book about writing that I have ever had the pleasure of reading.

I studied creative writing for a couple of years (I didn’t graduate so I won’t tell you which school it was) and read six or seven craft books on various styles of writing. I learned a lot while in school, and first started to get my writing legs but the craft books were a responsible for a very small percentage of that.

In January of 2011 I went on vacation for two weeks to the smallest of the US Virgin Islands, St. John. If you ever get a chance to go, do it. We stayed in a run down hostel that turned out to be our personal heaven. Sadly, Botanical Villas went out of business about a year later, but we don’t need to get into that here.

I read a lot while we were there and ran through all six of the books I brought with me in the first week. Every day we hitchhiked into town for groceries, and we often stopped at the used book store that was inside the same mall area. I can’t remember the name of the place but it was tiny and crammed from floor to ceiling with paperbacks. At least half of the books in the store were either romance novels or travel guides, most of them with puffy, sand filled spines.

My lovely boyfriend found Zen In The Art Of Writing crammed in with the science fiction and fantasy; a set of three bulging shelves in the back corner next to the espresso bar. Knowing me like he does, he gave it to me. You may have noticed my fondness for Mister Bradbury is previous posts ( ) but let me impress upon you the extremity of my fondness for his work. It’s serious. My dad first read me The MArtian Chronicles when I was really young, probably six or seven. He probably read it to me three times and I’ve read it at least once every year or two since. So I’m a fan.

I read Zen In The Art Of Writing for the first time slowly, devouring every word. It took me about three days, even though it’s only 152 pages. I finished on the plane. And then I read it again, in just a few hours before the plane touched down in the snow. On the first read I took in every minute detail of what Bradbury had to say, letting each word marinate and unravel in my mind. On the second read, it was poetry. I read for the flow and the musical words and the sparkling pinnacles of inspiration.

Bradbury shares his personal journey to respected author-hood, weaving the tale of his childhood with the same twisted shimmer of his published stories. It is beautiful writing that inspires the passion to write beautifully. Bradbury takes money out of the equation. He writes because it is who he is, he simply must write. This book helped me to remember that I was one of those people too. It is so easy to get distracted, to get caught up in building a career and forget that we used to enjoy what we are doing.

It helped that I read Zen In The Art Of Writing fresh off of two weeks in the sun; I was already in a very free, creative place. But that first time and every time I have read it since, Zen has felt not so much like a book to me, but like a detox for my creativity. I read it whenever I need to remember how to clear out all the crap and just write.

A review that I wish was about The Ocean at the End of the Lane but instead is about Mister Gaiman in general.

I’ve been a Neil Gaiman fan since I first picked up a battered copy of Stardust for twenty five cents at a garage sale in 2001. I read it over and over again for years before I met anyone who had ever heard of him. I didn’t even think to look for any other books by him, although I’m not sure why. Maybe I thought that since no one knew about Mister Gaiman, the rest of his books couldn’t be any good. This idea really doesn’t stand up because I knew from the first magical sentence that Stardust was brilliant.  Honestly, I think I imagined that the book was written a long time ago, and that I had the last remaining copy. My love for that book was so personal that it became difficult to imagine anyone else reading it.

Of course that’s ridiculous and I eventually met a wonderful girl who came to be my best friend and she had read all of Mister Gaiman’s books. She loaned me one, (I think it was Anansi Boys) and I devoured it. I read American Gods and Fragile Things and Good Omens. Then I took a break to try out Terry Pratchett and read The Colour of Magic. That was a mistake.

I read Neverwhere and watched the television show series. I read Coraline and Smoke and Mirrors and The Graveyard Book. Every book of his that I could find. I watched the video version of The Blueberry Girl, and found myself beautifully inspired by the gentle poem read in Neil’s encouaging voice. Brilliant.

And then last year he and his lovely wife Amanda Palmer (of the Dresden Dolls, a personal obsession in high school) came to Portland on their tour, An Evening with Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer. I didn’t find out about the show until a week or so before-hand, but I managed to score tickets from a nice girl on craigslist. It was a magical evening.

He strode onstage with wild black hair, looking not just a little like Professor Snape. He was funny and charming from the start. Ms. Palmer and Mister Gaiman alternated, with he reading a couple of stories or poems and then Ms. Palmer singing a song or two. The stage was arranged like a living room; a tumble of instruments around plush armchairs and mannequins and microphones adorned with bicycle gears. As one of them performed, the other sat and watched adoringly. The love between these two was apparent and equal parts heartwarming and disgusting. Seriously, just look at this guy’s face.


Nothing proved this more than Neil’s willingness to sing with Ms. Palmer. Now, I adore this man and hold his work in high esteem. But he cannot sing. Not a bit. But that didn’t even matter because he belted it out, head held high, eyes glowing with love as Amanda plucked away on her ukulele. It was terrible and beautiful and I felt honored to be a part of it.

That tour was perfect for a fan like me because of all of Mister Gaiman’s magnificent works, I love the short stories and poems best. His short stories crash over you like a bucket of ice water, immersing you briefly but intensely in a world that is more real than your own. Not only that but in the print version of the short story books (at least Smoke and Mirrors and Fragile Things), the front of the book is dedicated to a brief description of how and why each piece within the book was written. It feels, like the evening I spent “with” the dear Mister Gaiman, personal. Intimate. Neil Gaiman is a man with a mad, magical mind, and it thrills me that he invites us in at every opportunity.

This post exists because Neil Gaiman has written a new book. It comes out in June of this year and is titled The Ocean at the End of the Lane. I cannot wait. I am so impatient that despite what I had hoped, writing this has made me feel worse instead of better. But thank you for listening just the same.

Book Review: The Age of Miracles

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker is the kind of book that makes the real world seem false; as though the only true reality is the one on the page. It is sharper and more laden with feeling than the real world.

The events of the story are laid out in such a way that it forces the reader to come to terms with the fragility of our version of Earth. I am reminded of Melancholia, the 2011 Lars von Trier movie. It gives me the same feeling of instability; like humanity is about to have the rug pulled from under us, just when we thought we had it all figured out.

The book begins on the day that the Earth’s rotation changes. The first day after the “slowing” is 25 hours long instead of 24. The next day is longer and the day after that, longer still. Eventually, the days are so long that time bears no relation to what it looks like outside, and a choice must be made. Some people choose to live on “real” time, waking with the sun and only sleeping when it is dark, sometimes for 20 or more hours at a time. Others stay on clock time, ignoring the comings and goings of the sun and going about their lives on a 24 hour schedule. This leads to some really interesting problems between the real timers and the clock timers.

Overall, this is an amazing book. From page one I was hooked. How hooked , you ask? Well I started The Age of Miracles the day before my birthday and, in spite of the really fun day I had planned, spent half of it curled up on the couch reading. Luckily, the book is a fast read so I had plenty of time left for birthday shenanigans after I finished. But I really couldn’t put it down.

Walker is incredibly successful in blending realistic literary writing with speculative themes. She explores ideas that would normally by found in a hard science fiction novel but her wonderful characterization of Julia makes it more than sci-fi. The story becomes real;  the slowing of the Earth becomes a possibility and the book will be taken more seriously as a result.

But I do have one problem with the book. It’s not huge, but it’s been rankling me ever since I finished reading the final chapter. If you haven’t read the book yet, just know that it is definitely worth reading, and stop reading here. Thanks for reading but I don’t want to ruin it for you. Seriously.

Ok, the final chapter. Julia is twenty three, and humanity sending out a spacecraft, a sort of time capsule full of human memorabilia. The hope is that some other species will find it and know that humans existed. This part, I loved. The uncertainty and the sadness was very real and it is not hard to imagine humanity coming to this point. This isn’t where I have the problem. The trouble arises because Julia is twenty three. Throughout the rest of the book, the world is rapidly disintegrating and populated by humans who are stumbling through the remains of a crumbling civilization. At the end of the previous chapter, I wouldn’t have given the Earth another year of survival based on Walker’s descriptions. And then suddenly, more than ten years have passed. It’s unfortunate, because this small detail was the only thing I didn’t like, but it kind of ruined the ending for me.

That being said, 99.99% of the book was amazing and I highly recommend it.