Posted in books

Fireflies. Just Fireflies. + Dan Vyelta’s “Smoke”

Growing up in Colorado there were a lot of pluses. The Rockies were RIGHT. THERE. (Well, about 40 minutes away from my house, but still . . .). We did everything at altitude (about a mile, give or take where exactly you were on the plains, above sea level). If it got too hot in the summer, you could drive 45 minutes and the temperature would drop about 20 degrees, and keep dropping the further you got into the mountains. We grew up watching concerts at Red Rocks (seriously awesome). Skiing. Real mountain biking. 14-teeners. Going from the beauty of the plains to the awe-inspiring magic of the mountains.

And bugs. In some ways, I grew up with mutants bugs. HUGE moths. Horseflies that could kill. But also, no fleas (at least where I lived, both on the Eastern Slope and in the mountains). Seriously, fleas were not something we had to worry about. Less bugs, but bigger, hardier bugs.

And no fireflies.

That’s right. There are no fireflies in Colorado.

I didn’t get to chase fireflies growing up (at least not on a regular basis), or catch them and put them in a jar. We caught other bugs, sure, but lightning bugs were out of the question, because they weren’t around.

We did head into the heart of the mid-west every once and awhile to visit my grandma along with aunts and uncles and cousins, so I did know the joy of chasing those most magical of all bugs. But it wasn’t synonymous with summer nights for me. I mean, we had great summer nights, they just weren’t punctuated with fireflies.

Now that we do live in the Midwest (Ohio, to be specific), we do have fireflies, and they are pure, natural magic. There is something about these bugs buzzing around, lighting up their little butts in order to attract fireflies of the opposite sex that just takes summer to another level.

Every night it’s nice enough to sit outside I do. I love watching those lightning bugs dive bomb each other, lighting up the grass and the bushes, the trees and the sky.  I love seeing my girls capture them in a jar, letting them go before bed.

There’s something mesmerizing about fireflies. Watching them hypnotizes, doing to me what all the yoga classes in the world can’t accomplish. Clearing my mind of all the debris and nonsense, making me remember what a beautiful place the world can be, if we let it. If we look for the beauty and love instead of the anger and hate, if we keep our eyes on the magic instead of getting caught up in the humdrum.

Fireflies do that for me. They take me out of the everyday and into a freer place. Away from the news and sadness that make everyday heavier, away from the to-do and must-do lists that only add to the weight.

I know that there will be a moment when I have to go inside and I know summer will end, but for now I’ll let the fireflies work their enchantments.

It’s what summer is all about. And I’ll take it.


Okay, let’s get onto my review of Smoke by Dan Vyelta.

 If your sins showed in Smoke that poured from your body, would you restrain your sins or inhibit the Smoke?

The Premise

In an alternate England, about a century ago, people with wicked thoughts or who commit nefarious deeds emit Smoke, which leaves Soot on their clothes and bodies.

Any baser emotion produces Smoke. Anger, lust, hatred, malice, loathing, greed produce a dark, fetid Smoke that leaves a mark of Soot on the body, and clothes, of that person.

The higher classes send their children to elite boarding schools to force them to stop Smoking. The lower classes continue to Smoke, clearing marking the difference between the classes. In large cities, such as London, the air is filled with Smoke, infecting all who visit.

Thomas is a student at one such boarding school. The son of a murderer, he came to the school later than most of the boys, after his mother died. Prior to school he and his mother had lived in a remote area, where she renounced formal school for some sort of home schooling.

At the school, Thomas becomes friends with Charlie, a kind boy from a rich family. Thomas still Smokes regularly, and the school takes him on as a sort of experiment (that his uncle is part of the ruling class doesn’t hurt). Because of his Smoke, the self appointed king of the school makes it a personal mission to draw him out.

When Thomas is invited to the manor of his rich uncle, he goes, taking Charlie with him. At the beautiful and large Naylor Estate, the boys get to know Lady Naylor (his aunt) and her daughter Livia. When the the boys and Livia’s lives are threatened, the three are forced to run to London, discovering the intricacies of Smoke and the part it plays in the division of society. What they learn during the flight for their lives may change the fate of England, and Smoke, forever.

My Thoughts

Dark and Victorian, Smoke is as if Dickens wrote a sci-fi/mystery book with a little bit of horror thrown in. As allegorical as Dickens, Dyleta’s story takes on class structure in an interesting way.

All three protagonists hint to a new generation, a new way of thinking and living. All three are perfectly flawed heroes, ready and willing to look at the world in a different way. They take on the old guard with the brashness of youth, willing to look at all sides of a story before jumping in with both feet. Thomas is the most flawed, and thus the catalyst for change, the force that makes Livia and Charlie examine their privileged lives, arriving at conclusions that are contrary to others around them.

I wanted Smoke  to be interesting and engrossing,  because its melding of genres incredibly original. I liked it, and I didn’t. Maybe its that I didn’t want to be taught a lesson at that point in my life, maybe it was just too dark. I’m not sure. It was really hard for me to get through this book.

This was just one of those times where the reader (me) and the book weren’t in sync. I think it was just too bleak for me at the time. It was just starting to get warm, and the dark, slightly preachy tones of this book didn’t gel well with my mood.

I give Smoke 3.5 stars, but there is no reason why I shouldn’t have loved it. Beautifully written, interesting, and deep. I think if I read this again, or had read it at a different time of the year, it might get more stars.

There are times my tastes are just fickle, though. Still and all, 3.5 stars!!!



I love to read; writing is my outlet. My blog is my way to combine the two, with a some life stories thrown in for good measure.

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