You all will recall my reviews of The Fever and The Mossback Cafe Cookbook by Thomas Fenske. SO good! Well, I finally finished his latest, A Curse That Bites Deep, and now I can’t wait for book 3!!!
Much like when I read The Fever, I thought the beginning of the book was nice and steady – I was happy to read a chapter or two in a sitting and come back when I had more time. This, unfortunately, coincided with the birth of my now nine-month-old baby, and I took a looooooong break from reading it. So, in the mood for fiction, I picked it up again a week or so ago. Again, like The Fever, but better(!), the story picks up partway through. I binge-read the rest of the book over two nights, staying up way too late to finish. The kids get up at 6… I get up with the baby lots of times in the night…sleep is crucial. And I sacrificed sleep to read this book! I DON’T do that anymore.
I loved in The Fever how the characters and story were so real. That same authenticity carries through in A Curse That Bites Deep. The story is rounded out and made believable by the nuances of the characters, and the author presents so much life wisdom through them. In one scene, for instance, Sam reflects on his life as he washes dishes at The Mossback, noting that “his life was a tradeoff” in which he balanced pursuing the mine and his relationship with Smidgeon (15). Isn’t life full of tradeoffs for all of us? Life requires constant assessment and reassessment of priorities and how well our actions align with those priorities. Sometimes we do well, and sometimes we don’t. Sam experiences this same reality throughout the book.
Another “real” moment that I love, probably because I’m Catholic, is Fenske’s portrayal of Smidgeon’s relationship with the Catholic faith she was brought up in. Through Smidgeon and her respect for the Church and its sacraments, Fenske very powerfully conveys the loving reality the Church teaches. Due to life choices at odds with Church teaching, Smidgeon is unable to participate in the sacraments, particularly the reception of Holy Communion. She tells Sam, “I can’t fully participate but…well, you know, it doesn’t mean I can’t be a part of the church family” (45). This is so beautiful and powerful – it speaks a truth that is often misunderstood by those inside and outside the Church, and it felt nice to read it so simply put in an otherwise-nonreligious book.
So these are the kind of things I enjoyed in the “slower” part of the book.
And THEN. Oh my. The action starts! I don’t want to give away too much of the story, so I won’t get into details. I will say this, though – I was surprised a LOT, which was fun. I mean, I knew there had to be bad stuff going on — it’s about a curse, after all — but there was so much I didn’t see coming and I really enjoyed that. I’d have these moments of shock and just have to keep reading. Accidental deaths, murders, arson, ghosts! All revolving around a gold mine in west Texas, of course. I figured out the identity of the villain well in advance of when it was definitively revealed, but even that didn’t keep me from being surprised by the action.
All-in-all, it was a fun read – surprising and compelling and yet also reflective of so many realities.