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Pilgrim’s Wilderness by Tom Kizzia

pilgrims wilderness

A True Story of Innocence and Madness on the Alaska Frontier

This is narrative nonfiction at its finest and one man at his darkest.

In January of 2002 some strangers drove into McCarthy, Alaska and decided to call it home. Getting to that small town (pop. 42 according to the 2000 census)  in the middle of winter would have been difficult for all but the hearty, but Papa Pilgrim managed it with some of his boys and eventually, the rest of his family was able to join him as well, all fifteen kids and his lovely wife, Country Rose. That’s right, fifteen kids.

The residents were a might leery of strangers, but respected a man’s right to live his life and raise his family as he saw fit. It is the Alaskan way after all and besides Pilgrim told them, ““All we want is a place to live our old-time way and be left in peace.” It would be fine.

It wasn’t and would have repercussions for everyone that got involved, some even from the lower 48 states. I could tell you more, but that would be spoiling it.

Pilgrim’s Wilderness fascinated me for so many reasons.

  1. The picture of Alaska and Alaskans painted by Kizzia was beautiful and almost otherworldly in its last frontier-ness. Denali has always been on my mental list for climbing, but this made me want to see all of the state’s grandeur and people by hopping  on a plane right then and there.
  2. The Pilgrim Family’s faith made me uncomfortable and that made me keep reading in hope that I would learn that they had received some sort of comeuppance. Not that I have anything against faith per se, it’s just that anything that you believe so strongly that you have a great number of kids and move them all to the farthest reaches in isolation….I can’t grasp.
  3. Papa Pilgrim, AKA Bob Hale, had so many interesting connections in his life. They were all on the outskirts, but it shocked me that someone that had such an “alternative” lifestyle could have them. His dad was a high ranking FBI agent and Papa’s first wife was the daughter of John Connolly, the man that was also shot when JFK was assassinated, for example.
  4. Kizzia is a reporter and not only did his work seem utterly balanced, but his choice of the narrative style worked so well for me. Like Erik Larson, his work reminds me of a snowball rolling on down the hill, gathering scope and speed as it careens to a finish.

So engrossed in the book that I was gobsmacked to see it was 3 AM when I finished. I hadn’t been tired, hadn’t noticed the world around me go silent, I just lost time while reading. That hasn’t happened since I was oh…in high school, I think.


So, I gave you 4 great reasons and a bonus as to why you should pick up the book, what are you waiting for? Even better, anyone up for a road trip to Alaska?

Pilgrim’s Wilderness: A True Story of Innocence and Madness on the Alaska Frontier by Tom Kizzia

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Crown (July 16, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 0307587827
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307587824

Check out the interview with Tom Kizzia at the NYT


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The Nine Fold Heaven by Mingmei Yip

The Nine Fold Heaven

Last year, I was given the wonderful opportunity to travel back in time to Shanghai in the 1930’s thanks to Mingmei Yip’s Skeleton Women. Now my favorite Skeleton Women, Camilla, is back. She laid low in Hong Kong for a time and is ready to brave the dangerous streets of Shanghai to find her son and the other two important men in her life.

Although this could be read as a stand alone, I think that one would garner a much better understanding of how much Camilla has to overcome just to even care about others let alone go off on what could be a suicide mission to find those that she has grown to care about if Skeleton Women is consumed first.

Yip’s writing again makes the Chinese culture so approachable without over explaining or creating uncomfortable lags in the story to get her characters motivations across. I found myself not only invested in the Camilla, but respecting the boundaries in which she was forced to live.

So much of the historical fiction I see is based in Europe, but Mingmei Yip shows us the glamour, suspense, and mystery of a country that we seem to overlook as Westerners.

I’m grateful for that peek into China’s past that allows me to see that it hasn’t always been that big bad “red” wolf that we are taught to fear and despise from today’s news. It’s rather beautiful.

The Nine Fold Heaven by Mingmei Yip

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Kensington (June 25, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 0758273541
  • ISBN-13: 978-0758273543


Don’t forget to check out my review for Skeleton Women.

I received my copy from the author.


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The Doll by Taylor Stevens

the doll

The Doll by Taylor Stevens (Book 3 in the Vanessa Michael Monroe series)

I spend quite a bit of time on the Amazon Kindle forums helping people out with their issues and often that means looking at a book’s product page to see if there are compatibility issues, page numbers, etc. Nine times out of ten, I end up looking at really random books that I would never read and make me laugh. (Sometimes the titles give way more info than the poor Kindle user wants to, I’m sure)  Early last year, someone had a problem with borrowing the second book  book in this series, The Innocent, from the library. The synopsis grabbed me, so I grabbed the first book and never looked back.

Vanessa Michael Monroe, AKA Michael, is damaged and yet her strength and ability to carve a life out of her unique skills makes her a really strong female protagonist. She’s multi-lingual, an intimidating fighter and never fails to get the job done, no matter what the obstacle. She is the person you call when all normal channels are useless. She finds the information or the person gone missing in conditions that are unimaginable to us mere mortals. Yet, her past haunts her so much that you can see her fragility and desire for normal things that most of us take for granted. The juxtaposition is what draws me to the books again and again.

The Doll made my skin crawl a bit. The bad guy isn’t your everyday flesh peddler, he makes his captives to order…into living dolls which seemed so much more grotesque in my mind than a normal kidnapping. The Doll Maker may have bitten off more than he could chew when his henchmen grabbed Michael.

Even faster paced than the first two in the series, The Doll kept me at the edge of my seat with the twists and turns. It was one of those “Just let me finish this chapter and I’ll go do the dishes” books. Problem was…I couldn’t hold myself to just one more chapter.

Taylor Stevens herself has one of the most interesting backstory, check it out at Taylor Stevens Books.


The Doll by Taylor Stevens

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; First Edition edition (June 4, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 0307888789
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307888785

This book was given to me by the great folks at Read it Forward.




The Resurrectionist

  • Feeling a bit Gothic?
  • Does fantastic artwork make you swoon?
  • Does Mythology get you out of bed in the morning?
  • Do you find yourself wondering what makes the fascinating creatures of your nightmares move?
  • Does a tale of genius gone bonkers keep you warm on a cold night?

If you answered Yes to any of the above questions, get yourself a copy of The Resurrectionist.

I am a fan of beautiful books. When I say beautiful, I don’t mean just the covers; I mean wonderful packages of words and creativity that make you see and think about those old dusty tomes in a new way. They can spark wonder, conversation, awe, and yes, even horror. This is one beautiful book for those with a slightly dark bent.

Dr. Spencer Black, rising from his resurrectionist (AKA Body Snatcher) father, showed an amazing amount of potential. In an age where deformities were fodder for traveling side shows, he wanted to go deeper to find their cause and possibly “cure” them. His studies led him to a dark conclusion however. What if what we call deformities were not something gone wrong, but more a sign of what we used to be, should me, and (shudder) were meant to be?

The first 65 pages tell the story of Dr. Spencer Black and his descent into either madness or genius, you’ll have to decide on your own. The rest of the 191 pages is his opus, thought lost, The Codex Extinct Animalia.    Billed as a Study of the Lesser Known Species of the Animal Kingdom, the sort-of Gray’s anatomy look at the creatures of legend and often, our nightmares and superstitions. Here you will find the muscular structure of the Minotaur, the bone structure of Ganesha, and just how the Cereberus was able to support it’s three heads.


E.B. Hudspeth’s talent lay in these masterpieces.  Drawing the fearsome mythological creatures is a talent, but being able to look beneath the skin and create their inner structures is, well, a sphinx of another color. They are gorgeous.

The tale of Dr. Spencer Black is dark, very dark and may be hard to read for dog lovers, consider that a big warning, but the sheer wonder of Hudspeth’s plates has earned The Resurrectionist a place on my coffee table for it’s ability to spark conversation, horror, and even reverence at the artist’s skill.


The Resurrectionst:The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black by E.B. Hudspeth


  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Quirk Books (May 21, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 1594746168
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594746161



Note: This is also available as an ebook, but for the best results, it really needs to be seen in hardcover.

2nd Note: I thank Quirk Books for my copy and for continuing to challenge our idea of what a “book” really is.




This is the second book in the wonderfully fun trilogy so be sure to check out my review for A New Birth of Freedom: The Visitor.

Time travel is messy when you really start to ponder it. You can’t change the past so much that you end up not being born because then you wouldn’t be there to travel back and make that change. Then there is the scary possibility that you change something bad and end up creating a whole new (and bigger) problem.

Time travel is also incredibly hard to write. The author has to explain those possible paradoxes and pitfalls without confusing the reader and getting so muddled that the prose ends up like a dog chasing his tail.

Big Note Here: You really must read the first book, The Visitor, before reading this one or you will be dazed and confused. Some books in a series stand alone, not this alternate history/sci-fi baby.

The Translator- When we last left, our somewhat fearless time traveler, Edwin Blair, had managed to bring Lee and Lincoln together to capture the Pests instead of fighting the battle at Gettysburg that we all know. Problem is Blair doesn’t know what to do from here.  He knows that some of the nasty Pests have to be left alive, but how? And just how are he and Lincoln supposed to calm the outrage, fear, and newly invigorated rebellion of the South? Blair is also dealing with a fading memory because of all of the changes he has caused and the headaches are nightmares.

Pielke does a great job of steering both his characters and the reader through the perils of time travel and once again leaves me dying to read the next book.

If you love the Civil War, enjoy alternate history, and are open to a quirky dash of time travel, The New Birth of Freedom is definitely  worth checking out.

A New Birth of Freedom: The Translator by Robert G. Pielke

  • Paperback: 394 pages
  • Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press (2012)
  • ISBN-10: 1611605423
  • ISBN-13: 978-1611605426


I was thrilled to get this book by being part of the Tribute Books Tour.


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