Monday, December 21, 2020

Book Review: Nickel's Luck by S.L. Matthews

Nickel's Luck is the debut novel by S.L. Matthews. I overlooked this book because westerns are not my preferred genre. However, I did eventually download it to my Kindle and devoured the story of Ryder Wheeler, a sailor named Old Joly, a cowboy named Bannack, and the beautiful gulf coast town of Indianola, Texas set in the late 1800s. This is a western slash historical fiction slash coming of age slash story that I hope to someday see as a television mini-series. I enjoyed getting lost in this story.

Book Review: Nickel's Luck by S.L. Matthews on ReviewThisReviews

Ten year old Ryder is an adventurous, charming child who cannot turn down any dare. He has rejected his family name and calls himself Ryder because he claims to be able to ride anything, and has proven this to be true until the day he could not ride the dolphins because the waves drug him out to sea before he could catch up to them. His best friend, Les, calls him "Nickel" because Ryder is lucky; unnervingly lucky at times. Nickel becomes the town's golden child and everyone adores him.

Everyone except his father and an older brother. Oren Wheeler is a drinking, smoking, angry man who produces many children that he isn't very concerned about providing for. He is a fisherman, like many residents of Indianola, but his family often goes hungry. Alastor, an older brother, seems to be following in Oren's footsteps. Ryder literally sleeps with his eyes open due to Alastor's malintent.

Part way into the book, and with tears streaming, I paused to do an internet search to see if Indianola, Texas was an entirely fictional place. Surely, this had to be a figment of the author's creative imagination. I was stunned to find that the town had indeed existed. Indianola was a gulf coast town in the 1800s. A bustling port where business was booming and life revolved around the sea and fishing. People like Old Joly, a sailor, lived life on and next to the water. That way of life is described; the myths, sea monsters, tattoos, fishing, and floods. I felt I was there with my toes in the sand and listening to the waves on the shore. 

Bannack is the type of cowboy I tend to imagine when I think about westerns. The lone, dark stranger and his horse. Complete with hat and jingling spurs, fists and gun. Bannack knows nothing of the sea life or those who live it. Les and Ryder loved dime store novels. Loved is probably not the correct word. They obsessed over dime store novel heros. And Mustang Grey, pony express rider, was their favorite. Les had re-read these books to Ryder repeatedly. They had all of the details of Mustang Grey's life or death ride memorized. Les and Ryder are quickly suspicious that Bannack is Mustang Grey. I am not adept at writing reviews and I am concerned that any more I say about Bannack will create spoilers. So I will stop here. 

Despite his luck, Ryder is in danger many times from age 10 into his adolescent years. Old Joly saves his life immediately and Bannack sets out to save him long term. The residents of Indianola are superstitious and love their lucky golden child. Girls line up, vying for his attention. Ryder's nickname sticks as the residents believe that if you give him a nickel, you can buy some of his luck. Through the book, and through the years of Ryder's life (experiencing abuse, love, trauma, and loss) I began to wonder if he had sold all of his luck.

Nickel's Luck is a wonderful peek into two very different worlds (sailor and cowboy, seaport and ranch). The superstitions and myths believed of those who live on the water was intriguing. The rootin', tootin' and shootin' of the wild, old west was intense. 

I thought I had guessed how the story would end. But I was wrong. While I raced to the ending (quite frankly, to see if anyone would survive) I was sad when I reached the last page. This was a gritty, sometimes violent and heart-breaking novel that kept me turning pages late into the night. 


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S.L Matthews is a multi-talented and interesting soul. She is a photographer and living history reenactor. Over the years I have enjoyed her photographs on social media. I completely relate to her statement that her favorite smells are "horse sweat, saddle leather, and campfire smoke. These are prioritized even over the aroma of chocolate." To learn more about her, visit her author page here. 

Author S.L. Matthews

For the purpose of transparency: I had met the author and family once when they lived in my area. Via social media and mutual internet friends, I was aware that the author was in the process of writing and publishing a book. Westerns are not my go-to reading genre (although, I do enjoy Westerns in the movie form) so I had no intention of reading this novel. But between the down time created by the current socially-distant environment and comments by mutual friends who enjoyed reading Nickel's Luck, I decided to give it a try. I feel this is an honest review and I did not receive a copy for review. Over time, I have seen how much the author enjoys all things related to the 18th and 19th centuries; especially the Old West and that love and familiarity clearly shines through in her writing.

*Images used with the permission of the author. 





Note: The author may receive a commission from purchases made using links found in this article. “As an Amazon Associate I (we) earn from qualifying purchases.”


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6 comments:

  1. The theme of this old west historical fiction story is a bit different. One usually thinks of stories of the old west as taking place in the Plains states, not along the Texas coast. Any story that features a child as one of the main characters always draws me in. Thanks much for your review of 'Nickel's Luck'.

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  2. What an awesome book review! You made me want to drop everything, even with it being the week of Christmas, to read this book. Like you, this would not be my normal genre, but the book sounds fascinating and one I must read. Thank you for the recommendation! I am always looking for a good book to read.

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  3. Dawn Rae it seems you have stumbled upon a winner. Westerns aren't my preferred genre of book either, but you have made me reconsider. Nickel's Luck sounds intriguing. I love a plot with twists and turns and great characters, so this is going on my "Must Read" list. Thank you for your review!

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  4. Westerns are not a literary genre that normally draws my interest, but based on your review and recommendation, I think this is one I would enjoy, although I don't have much stomach for violence. How wonderful that you met the author and her family, subsequently discovered that she was in the process of writing and publishing a book, and decided to read and review it once it came out!

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  5. If my husband read books, he would love this. He doesn't miss any western movies. Those are his favorites. Your review sure is gripping; the book sounds fantastic. In movie format, yep, the hubster would watch this.

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  6. What an interesting book review. This is not normally a book I would choose to read but it shows it is good to be open to a different type of book from usual interests. Amazing that you met the author. Thank you for a great review!

    ReplyDelete

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