A Curse That Bites Deep

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.

Five stars!

Book Review: The Fever by Thomas Fenske

Make no mistake, this is not just another “Lost Gold Mine” story!
Sam Milton’s life revolves around two things, a cryptic riddle and the mystery of a lost gold mine and so far, his search for the truth has only led to frustrating dead ends. 
In his mind, he has only one choice: keep looking! 
His dangerous trespassing trips into the unknown have alienated his family and friends, and even cost him the woman he loved but “the fever” continues to push him.  Just how far will his lust for gold take him?

The Fever by Thomas Fenske

I read Thomas Fenske’s The Fever several months ago, but life interrupted my plans to write a speedy review. Since it has been awhile since I read the book, I wanted to make sure my recollections are accurate and I took a look back through my Kindle highlights and notes (I actually always do this, but not always as a first step in writing a review). The handful of highlights and notes basically confirmed what I’ve been thinking – what drew me in to The Fever and has remained with me after reading it is its uncanny relation to reality. The events of the story are engaging and memorable, but the most lasting impression for me is that this book truly captures life, from the simplicity of a donut store, well-known and praised despite its run-down appearance, to the messiness of a life structured around a seemingly unrealistic obsession. I think few readers who are looking for an honest, enjoyable read will be disappointed with Fenske’s work.

The story follows Sam as he pursues a passion/quest/obsession with finding a long-hidden gold mine in Texas. We hear how Sam learned of the mine from a dying drunk through an unfortunate but very realistic series of ill-advised adolescent decisions that land him in jail for a night, and then how, for a time, he dismissed the idea and (tried to) put it out of his mind. Years later, he still can’t forget the drunk’s story and accompanying riddle designed to lead searchers to the mine and he decides to devote himself to finding it. We see how Sam’s life quickly becomes centered around this quest, how “he knew he was being guided by that relentless gnawing urge” (Kindle location 1125): he takes jobs that allow him the time off to have an opportunity to travel out to where he believes he will find the mine; he skimps on groceries so he can afford his searching trips; even his friendships and romantic relationships revolve around who understands or supports his endeavors. You’ll have to read the book to find out how he searches and whether he is ultimately successful!

As I mentioned above, what I loved about the book is how realistically life is portrayed, in everything from Sam’s relationship with his parents to how he goes about planning his hiking routes. Some of my favorites:

  • Sam’s vow not to leave a pile of dirty dishes in the sink when he leaves town and subsequent admission to himself that it’s a hopeless expectation (Kindle location 1392). This sounds a lot like me… until my recent trouble with ants, anyway. Now I usually can’t leave things in the sink overnight without finding ants in the sink the next morning.
  • The image of Sam with maps of his search area spread out across the floor as he “crawled over them with a gooseneck lamp and a magnifying glass” (Kindle location 1601). My comment here was: “Adam!” because it reminded me of my husband planning his climbing trips.
  • The frequent mention of an “unwritten rule” that “parents were better off not knowing about some of the things their kids did” (Kindle location 1956). I have to say – this last one did not sit well with me for a good long time – I commented that this is true from a child’s perspective but not a parent’s – though I am trying to come to terms with the reality of this statement, particularly as my children grow; I may need to know everything they do at age four, but I won’t—and shouldn’t—as they get older. It takes A LOT for me to let go of this control.

I’ve just realized I have said a lot about more obscure parts of the book that have stuck with me than about the story line in general, and I think this actually speaks to the quality of the book. It’s true that I read for entertainment, but I feel a lot more satisfied when I have something to take away with me when I finish a book. Ultimately for me, the worth of a book often comes down to how it sticks with me after I’m done with it, and The Fever has definitely stuck around in my mind. I think a lot about Sam when I come across things in spiritual reading that refer to the troubles caused when we put things—anything—ahead of our journey for union with God’s will. He’s sort of a reminder to me, at times, not to let some temporary (or, in his case, very long-lasting) interest too high on my priority list in life, and, in a way, helps me stay focused on what’s important.

I think it takes a lot of talent and skill to write a book that both entertains in itself and impacts the reader, and in my opinion, Thomas Fenske has succeeded with The Fever. I honestly can’t wait to read the sequel, A Curse that Bites Deep!

Four stars!!!

Check out www.thefenske.com for more about The Fever, author Thomas Fenske, and The Curse that Bites Deep (now in editing with the publisher – Wings ePress.

You can buy The Fever at the following places:

Kindle (Amazon) $3.99
Nook (Barnes&Noble) $3.99
iBOOK (Apple iPad/iPhone) $3.99
Other ebook formats are also available at smashwords.com
Buy the Paperback at Amazon —  $13.95

Also check out Thomas Fenske’s blogs: Author’s Blog & That Crazy Cookbook Guy!


**Many thanks to author Thomas Fenske for providing a free copy of The Fever in exchange for an honest review!