Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Fiesta of Smoke - Suzan Still

Fiesta of Smoke
I can hardly believe it is already the end of October. Winter comes quickly here in the Midwest and the air is chily with anticipation. Perfect weather for curling up and reading. 

Winter, it has always seemed to me, is the perfect time to pick up the heavier tomes from your bookshelf and plow through them. They often carry a weight not only expressed in their girth but also on their pages. Books like these are best enjoyed by a fireplace with a blanket and a glass of something delicious.  

Thankfully for you, I picked up one such book this summer.  Now, I can fully recommend it to you for the winter months ahead.  I know; so thoughtful of me.

Actually, all thanks should go to TLC Book Tours. They recruited me for this blog tour, just as they did when I reviewed Visiting Tom. You all remember what a delightful surprised Michael Perry's book turned out to be.  I was definitely game for another selection from TLC.

Fiesta of Smoke first intrigued me with the mention of history.  Its promotional blurb includes the line "Encompassing time from the Conquest of the 1500s to the present...." You all know what a sucker I am for a good history novel. I kind of expected Fiesta of Smoke to be a bit DaVinci Code-esqe. While that's not the genre direction it ended up landing in, I knew from the first pages than Suzan Still could out-write Dan Brown any day.

The story jumps through time and space to tell the tale of Calypso Searcy, a novelist, and Javier Carteña, a Mexican insurgent.  Also along for the ride, Walter Hill, an investigative journalist.  The three are brought together as the indigenous peoples of Mexico rise up against the government in the mid-1990s.  Long before then, however, Calypso and Javier began a love affair in southern California.  Their story threads the whole book together, despite its tumultuous nature.  

It would be hard to condense the plot into a brief summary for you. Perhaps that is why the promotional blurb left me with an inaccurate expectation. Here's my best shot: Javier and Calypso love each other. Javier loves Mexico and wants to see political change there. Hill meets Calypso in Paris and falls for her instantly, prompting him to follow her halfway around the world. They all do their part to assist the burgeoning revolution. 

Still takes plenty of time to explore subplots and histories. For the most part, I found these tangents helpful to character growth and development. There were a few, however, that I thought could have been trimmed or eliminated without harm to the central story.  In fact, I really think that Still could have cut out the entire final chapter. It's meant to show the characters living in 2012, rather than the decade previous. It does serve that purpose, but it becomes a whole adventure of its own, mostly independent from the rest of the book.  I would have rather seen that chapter eliminated or condensed and joined with the epilogue. 

The characters themselves were fascinating. Not a single one served as a pristine protagonist. Javier is passionate but incorrigible; Calypso is vivacious but reckless; Hill is determined but hasty. Their flaws are numerous and prominent. At times, I found that frustrating. Part of me longed for more traditional heroes. The other part applauded and appreciated the traits that made them each more human. 

I struggled with the love story between Calypso and Javier. Their dysfunctional brand of fiery passion is not one I easily relate to. More than anything, it seems pure chemistry and fire holds them together. Still makes it clear that theirs is the great love story of the book. Still, I could not help but root for Hill at times. I just liked his character so much. 

Still writes beautifully. Her vocabulary is extensive, but not used ostentatiously. Her prose flows naturally.  Her descriptions of food, particularly the Mexican fare consumed throughout the novel, left me hungry for a trip south of the border. Of course, the blatant dissatisfaction with the Mexican government's actions and the descriptions of the dangers in that country have me thinking I should be satisfied with attempting the food in my own Midwestern kitchen.

One of my favorite aspects of the plot was the inclusion of the art world. Calypso befriends two aging owners of a gallery in Paris, the Grenelles, and the insurgent revolution is funded with ancient treasures. At one point, Mounsieur Grenelle and Calypso speak about a particular piece of art in his gallery.  He says, "You are young.  Beauty is what you are, and it is beauty to which you respond.  It takes time and a sound pummeling by life to appreciate such art." Not only does that line speak to more than the art community (if I could only get my Humanities students to understand this concept!) but ties in well with the remainder of the novel.

Fiesta of Smoke, like Visiting Tom, proved a literary adventure for me. I do not believe I have ever read anything quite like it - and I mean that as a compliment. I so appreciate how these book tours are pushing me away from my comfort zone and exposing me to worlds unknown.  Fiesta of Smoke will not be for everyone. If you are willing to jump in and follow Still and company around the world, I think you will find far more delight than disappointment.

Pages: 511
Date Completed: October 14, 2013

*to read others' thoughts on Fiesta of Smoke, check out the full tour schedule*

1 comment:

  1. I'm so glad to see that you're enjoyed the tour books! We love it when readers are pushed out of their reading comfort zones and find books they really love.

    Thanks so much for being a part of the tour. I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.