Enjoy a Trip to the Western United States

I’m a born and bred southerner, being a fifth generation Atlantan with roots so deep research indicates my ancestors moved from Scotland to North Carolina, migrated to Georgia and stopped. In 1981 my husband and I moved to Colorado, but before that no one in my family had done more than vacation west of the Mississippi. With our move, my husband became the first member of his family to even travel west of the Mississippi unless you count flights from Atlanta to Hawaii.

We spent twelve glorious years in Colorado. Our children were born there and we enjoyed numerous adventures, including learning how to drive on snow. We toured much of the west, and had a wonderful time exploring the Rockies, visiting old mining towns that had become ghost towns, watching the beautiful sunsets that lit up Pike’s Peak and so much more. That said, after twelve years of wonderful experiences, the pull to move back to the south became so strong we returned to our roots. By way of explanation, I tell people we missed the azaleas and dogwoods in the spring, and it’s hard to grow a decent tomato in Colorado, or at least at the base of Pikes Peak.

There is something about the south that calls to us from deep inside, no matter where we are. However, we will always be grateful for our time in the west and it will evermore have a piece of our hearts. We had the opportunity to visit again a few years ago and take a driving trip through Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona and a host of other states. It still ranks up there as one of the best trips we’ve ever taken and we loved not only visiting some of the National Parks but touring through the Navajo Nation in New Mexico.

The most recent book I’ve had the opportunity to read allowed me to revisit some of the time we spend out west. Below is my review of the novel.

I love it when I have the opportunity to visit or revisit an area through a book, and that is what  Hearts of the Missing by Carol Potenza offered. The story takes place on the Pueblo of the Fire-Sky Native Americans  and is a rich combination of themes woven together in a way that leaves you hoping there will be more books featuring these people and this beautiful setting. The novel combines multiple elements, weaving them in and out to create a beautiful tapestry.

There is Nicky, the federal law enforcement officer who takes her oath to protect and serve to heart. For her, it’s as simple as that. The people on the fire-sky pueblo are her responsibility and she must protect them, even if it means going against orders, even if it means putting herself at great risk, even if it means revisiting elements of her own past that are better left in her past. This isn’t easy to accomplish when she is the only woman in a male dominated field, resented by some, hated by others. It’s hard to find and know for sure who exactly has her back.

There is the spirituality of the Fire-Sky people. Their belief that unless a body can be buried in its entirety, the soul will wander, lost, for eternity. Combine that with the spirits who guide the people and make themselves visible to Nicky, add white rabbits to lead the way. The character who knows the most about how these spirits interact is Howard, an alcoholic whose efforts to contact Nicky and tell her what he knows are both courageous and confusing.

Then there are the remaining characters of the novel. There are the men who make up Nicky’s police unit, including those who resent Nicky, especially her Captain, who would like to see her fired and removed from the pueblo. There are other law enforcement officers, some good, some not, and the reader has to figure out, along with Nicky, who is on the side of good and who is truly on the side of evil. Potenza does an excellent job of leading you one way, only to shift and cause you to wonder if you’ve been wrong all this time, then shift again.

Then there is the beautiful setting of the state of New Mexico providing it’s breathtaking wide open spaces. If the reader has spent any time in the west, the writing will evoke memories of Native American territory; the beauty of it, the poverty of it, the evidence of a different culture and lifestyle than the Europeans who settled across the United States. If the reader hasn’t spent time in the area, the novel may spark a compelling desire to see it for themselves and experience a foreign land that exists within their own country.

As for writing style and pacing, Potenza has done a superb job. The novel moves at a steady pace, one that calls the reader back if they have been forced to put it down for any reason. It is a book that most readers will want to read if not in one sitting at least in large parts at a time. At the same time, if circumstances require it, the reader can read a few pages here and there, in between accomplishing whatever has called them away from their reading.

This was a thoroughly satisfying read, with Potenza crafting a novel that is successful on a number of levels. The mystery is altogether satisfying, with good clues and red herrings that allow the reader to work through to the solution along with Nicky. The characters morphing from good to bad and then back again in some cases, was well done. Descriptions of the spiritualism and beliefs of the Fire-Sky people allowed a view into a culture and belief system that, for some, will be totally different from anything they have ever known. In short, it is a complex novel that provides the reader with multiple paths to involvement in the story, and I highly recommend it.

My thanks to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books for providing me an advanced digital copy in exchange for an unbiased review. The opinions expressed here are entirely my own.

Hopefully this inspires you to take a trip, either in person or through the magic of a book, to a place you want to see, whether it’s for the first time or for a return visit.  If you have an interest in the west or Native American culture and spiritualism, I highly recommend Hearts of the Missing. Happy Reading.