What if the South won the Civil War: a review of The Jazz Cage

“A civilian job?”

“Uh-huh, but one with a bit more color.”

As the office echoed with unpleasant laughter again, Frank suddenly realized that, if the stuffed piranha assumed human form, it would no doubt look like Lucky Luciano.

The Jazz CageIf the South won the Civil War … That’s the premise for the “Roaring Twenties” thriller The Jazz Cage. Author Ray Smith sent me an e-copy for review (sorry about the wait, Ray!) and told me, “Think of it as Uncle Tom’s Cabin meets The Untouchables.

The description fits. On one hand, The Jazz Cage is about two runaway slaves trying to find freedom, but it’s got some booze, corruption, and gangster-style gunfighting, too. As I’ve said in previous posts, it’s not exactly a book I’d grab right off the shelf. History never wants to stick in my head, so I’m ashamed to say I wouldn’t know Famous General X from the guy who lives down the street. I’m a little fuzzy on battles and law, too. Smith’s book is peppered with dates, events, and names, and sometimes that information is distracting, like he wanted to cram as much in where he could — which isn’t necessary since the focus of the book is less on what would change if the South won the war and more about slavery and abolition.

Now, that’s coming from a reader who isn’t so concerned with accuracy or alternate histories. I’m sure if my best friend were here right now, she might have different comments to make, just like she did during Lincoln — Daniel Day-Lewis be damned. But when a book is set 60 years after the South won the Civil War — which didn’t happen — you expect its story to play out in a way you haven’t really seen before. The Jazz Cage basically follows two slaves who run away and the people who try to help or stop them.

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It’s Monday! What are you reading? #2

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It’s that time again, folks! Even if you don’t participate regularly or don’t intend to, feel free to talk about what books you’re reading in the comments.

I took a trip to Half-Price Books over the weekend and found Cherie Priest’s sci-fi novel Boneshaker. The girl at the register couldn’t stop raving over it, so here’s hoping it lives up to the hype.

What I’ve been reading

I finished and reviewed a book for Kirkus Indie (I can’t reveal the name of it because of confidentiality reasons, unfortunately), and that’s about it. This week has been crazy busy, and I’m way too addicted to my new iPad Mini. I need to settle down with a book this evening. :)

The numbers are in. How many books did you read in 2012? I read 46 total, surpassing my goal of 40. Some of them were for Kirkus, but 30 are viewable on my Goodreads page. In 2011, I read 16 fewer books. This year, I’m aiming for 55. Are you setting a goal?

What I’m reading now

The Jazz CageOh, yeah — The Jazz Cage by Ray Chen Smith! I almost forgot I had started that!

The story is a historical twist on the Civil War and Roaring Twenties, so while it’s not exactly the type of book I usually go for, it’s good so far. I still have a long way to go, though.

This is Smith’s second but first commercial book, and you can visit his website here.

What I plan to read next

Death and the PenguinUntil I receive another Kirkus book for review, and once I finish The Jazz Cage, I’ll be moving on to Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov (my first pick for the Eclectic Reader challenge’s translated fiction requirement) and The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling for my book club meeting in February.

What are your reading plans? What books have you discovered lately? Any good recommendations — or words of caution? ;)