I want to introduce y’all to one of my new favorite authors (and new friend to boot!), Michelle Smith. .
I found Michelle’s work by happy accident when we were paired together in a virtual cabin in April of this year for Camp Nanowrimo. Throughout the month, we chatted about this or that, drooled over certain tv boyfriends, and shared a lot of laughs. I thought her to be an intelligent, kind and determined woman, dedicated to her craft. Due to some short people run around her house calling her mom, Michelle sets the alarm super super super early each day to get in her writing time before those little people wake up and want to be fed and stuff (I’m told they expect to be fed everyday, which seems a bit needy and extreme. Do all kids do this?). Besides being a kickass motivator – her wordcount totals for Camp were more than I could hope to write in months – she has taken the experiences and lessons from her globe-trotting life and infused some of those into aspects of her fiction writing.
At this point, you’re thinking “well she’s friends with this women so she’s going to say her books are good just to be nice.” Oh dear reader, no. Not at all. If I don’t like something, I will tell you. Take a stroll through any of my past book reviews here and you’ll find that out. If I don’t like something that was written by a friend and I didn’t want to hurt their feelings, I wouldn’t post a review here at all. I’d send a nice email saying it was obvious that she loved her characters and story and kudos on that whole finishing a book thing. I wouldn’t be sitting here now encouraging you to run over to amazon and buy these books. And make no mistake about it, that’s what I’m doing.
Get over there right now and buy these books – What Happened That Day (free as of the date of this posting!) and Bringing Her Home, the second book in the Nakasee Lake series.
What Happened That Day (Nakasee Lake #1)
Headachy and hung-over, with a backpack of stolen money and not a single pair of underwear (though she did remember her lipstick), Terra arrives in Nakasee Lake on an early-morning bus, after an alcohol-fuelled fight with her (now ex-) boyfriend, Hugh.
Charmed by the mountains and intrigued by the locals, Terra buys the café on the main street. It’s a “ramshackle” place, full of broad-shouldered and silent mountain men who pour their own coffee and never meet anyone’s eye. She settles in to this small town where nobody asks questions, and where she is free to begin again – the right way, this time.
She’s in flight from more than a dead-end life back in Edmonton, however. A damaged child who has grown into a damaged woman, Terra drinks secretly at six o’clock in the morning, and cuts her arms when things get to be too much. But the looming purple Rocky Mountains and the daily routine of her life at the café soothe her, reassure her, make her feel safe and protected. Just as she begins to think that she has escaped the darkness of the basement, tragedy strikes Nakasee Lake. Suddenly, everyone is trying to make sense of the senseless thing that has happened: children lost, their grieving parents in flight, the remaining town residents in silent pain and deep denial.
Two years after what happened that day, a man comes to the town, a drifter who arrives with not much more than the bag on his back and a paint brush. Aaron has a gift to give the people of Nakasee Lake, and it’s one that they need desperately in order to heal – if only they can believe in what he is telling them. And if they will listen to their dead.
Guys. Read this book. From the start, I felt like I knew Terra. Smith has a commanding ability to write full well-rounded characters that make them feel very real. You know when you read a book and you’re left feeling a little haunted because the people become so real and the writer has written it so completely that you forget that it’s a book, that the emotions you’re feeling weren’t from a personal experience but ones drawn out of you at the hands of a skillful writer? Michelle does that. She does it so damn well.
She’s not afraid to make her characters unlikable. There were parts of this book when I found myself disgusted with Terra and her actions, then a chapter later all I wanted to do was hug this fictional woman because she’d been through hell and survived. If that doesn’t make her entirely human I don’t know what could.
The story is one of befores and afters, pasts and futures. There’s a tragedy in the middle that becomes that day we all have in our lives, when everything that came before it was one part of your life and everything that came after is a separate part, a separate life. My brother died suddenly three years ago and for me, that was that day. Everything has taken on ‘before Chuck’ and ‘after Chuck.’ For the town and its people in What Happened That Day, it’s the same. I don’t want to spoil too much about what happens so I’ll just say that there is no way that anyone could experience what these characters go through and not be forever and irrevocably changed. It could be dark and dreary, it could be depressing and you leave you feeling like hell when she’s through, but Michelle takes you, the reader, through that hell and out the other side with beautiful and moving relationships and growth and never once did I feel like my emotions were manipulated. These people – Terra, George, Wajiwa, the whole bunch – felt incredibly real and their actions felt entirely human.
There’s a supernatural element to this book that may turn some folks off if they only take that into consideration. I encourage you, even if those types of books aren’t typically your thing, to read this book anyway. It’s added so seamlessly throughout that some reviewers have said they were caught off guard. It’s there right in the beginning, Smith’s talent develops it so subtly and it’s so normal to the main character that it feels entirely natural.
Read this book, guys. There aren’t many authors that can pull off this type of thing, even fewer that are independent authors. Self-published authors usually scare me away, Michelle Smith is the reason that self-publishing may be the greatest thing to happen to readers in years. In the hands of a lesser writer, this book fails. In Michelle’s hands, it soars.
Bringing Her Home (Nakasee Lake #2)
Kathy George has lost something and she is desperate to get it back. But seeing as she is dead, she is limited in how much she can accomplish. Enter Nina Jameson, but don’t be fooled by her sweetness as she goes about her funeral home job of getting the dead ready for burial. Nina has an incredible gift: she can see and talk to the spirits of the people she is preparing.
Nina’s decision to help Kathy takes her to Nakasee Lake, the town of her mother Meredith and of her grandmother, whose name Nina has never known. Her search leads her to Terra and Nichena, to sweetgrass vigils and spirit animals, to a place where worlds and histories cross and collide. As Nina, Terra, Meredith and Nichena race against the setting sun to recover what has been lost, each woman finds parts of herself that she thought were gone forever: love, forgiveness, courage and strength. And maybe – just maybe – they will find their way back home.
The second book in the Nakasee Lake trilogy, ‘Bringing Her Home’ is a story of mothers and daughters, and of walking between the lands of the living and the dead. Provocative and poignant, it is a timely story about the very real plight of Canada’s missing and murdered Aboriginal girls and women.
Michelle continues the Nakasee Lake trilogy with Bringing Her Home, introducing us to Nina and stepping up the supernatural elements in this one. Nina can speak to the dead, only when she’s in the same room as their body and before they cross over to wherever it is souls go. Like What Happened That Day, the special abilities are so natural to the characters that you almost forget it’s not a normal thing. Nina ventures beyond her own personal borders when she agrees to care of the body of Kathy George, an Aboriginal girl originally from Nakasee Lake that was brutally abused and murdered. Through the Native rituals, we come to know Nina, Kathy and their friends and family while uncovering a killer and recovering something that Kathy can’t rest peacefully until she gets it back (that’s a bit vague, I realize, but I don’t want to spoil it.) It’s an engaging read that leads us back to Terra from What Happened That Day, her history and resolve. Such a good read, worth the price of admission and the ride it will take you on.
VERY IMPORTANT SNACK RELATED WARNING: Both of these books constantly mention baked goods and you will set them down with a need to bake EVERYTHING. Chocolate chip cookies, brownies from scratch, pie…they all found their way into my kitchen while reading the Nakasee Lake series.