Monday, September 23, 2013

Review: Esperanza

If there is one thing I've discovered in producing four novels in two years, it's that writing leaves precious little time for reading. It leaves even less time for reading works outside my favorite genres, such as historical fiction and thrillers. As I learned last week, however, it's sometimes wise to make that time and wander out of literary comfort zones.

Sandra C. Lopez's delightfully written debut novel, Esperanza: A Latina Story, follows a Mexican-American girl through four turbulent years of high school in east Los Angeles in the late 1990s.

From the beginning, Esperanza Ignacio commands admiration and respect. She stays true to herself despite the demands imposed on her by a controlling single mother, two needy younger siblings, and several not-so-admirable friends, relatives, and classmates, who try to badger and bully her in unproductive directions.

As a reader, I had no difficulty imagining the obstacles the girl faced. Esperanza's world is a mostly bleak place, filled with bullying, broken families, alcoholism, poverty, and the myriad temptations of youth. Lopez does a masterful job in describing them all.

What makes this story compelling, however, is not the description but rather the uplifting tone. The author gives readers a protagonist we can root for from start to finish. She reminds us that even those living in challenging environments can succeed by remaining focused, optimistic, and compassionate.

I received a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Rating: 4/5.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Back to the Bitterroots

The mountains are calling and I must go. -- John Muir

As one who has spent nearly his entire life in the Pacific Northwest, I am no stranger to mountains. I've lived in the shadow of the Cascades, the Olympics, the Big Belts, and the Blues. But I don't think I've ever been as impressed by a mountain range as I was last weekend when I got a birds-eye view of the Bitterroots.

I returned to Wallace, Idaho, on Friday -- officially -- to celebrate my wife's 50th birthday and cheer her on as she rode 150 miles in Bike MS, a fundraising event for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Unofficially, I returned to enjoy the mountain range that served as a backdrop for The Fire -- the recently-released fourth novel of my Northwest Passage time-travel series.

No matter where I went, I couldn't escape the majesty of the Bitterroots, which divide the states of Idaho and Montana and nourish numerous communities mentioned in the book: Wallace, Mullan, Osburn, Mace, and Burke. The mountains that once gave up their silver and gold so that these towns could thrive now provide unlimited opportunities for sportsmen, hikers, bikers, photographers, and history buffs.

Nothing, however, compared to the views from the Route of the Hiawatha, a 17-mile rails-to-trails bike path I experienced for the first time on Friday. When I emerged from the sheer darkness of the 1.7-mile St. Paul Pass Tunnel at the start of the trail, I saw the mountains and lush forests that had been devastated by the Great Fire of 1910, the climactic event of the novel.

I was able to see firsthand what drew so many to this corner of the United States a century ago and continues to draw them today. When I will have the opportunity to return to this magnificent setting, I don't know. But after weekend of taking in the mountains named for the Lewisia rediviva, Montana's state flower, I do know one thing: I will be back.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The series continues

More than five months of work come to fruition today with the release of The Fire, the sequel to The Journey and the fourth book in the Northwest Passage series. At 367 pages, this is my biggest work to date and, I believe, my best.

The Fire continues the story of the Johnson clan, who we left in the recovering hills around Mount St. Helens in August 1999. Kevin Johnson, 8 at the end of The Journey, is now a 22-year-old college graduate poised for an adventure of his own. He finds it in Wallace, Idaho, where he stumbles upon a time portal that takes him back to 1910, the year of Halley's comet and the largest wildfire in U.S. history.

While in the age of nickelodeons, high-wheel bicycles, telegraph offices, and tea dresses, the science major meets his great-great-grandfather, finds his calling as an educator, and becomes invested in two beautiful young women: Sarah, a first-year English teacher, and Sadie, the orphaned daughter of a bankrupt merchant.

Filled with humor, heartbreak, romance, and fantasy, The Fire chronicles one man's journey through an eventful but often overlooked year in American history.

The novel is available as an ebook on