Flashback Friday: Snow Mountain Passage by James D. Houston

It’s time, once again, for Flashback Friday…

Flashback Friday is a chance to dig deep in the darkest nooks of our bookshelves and pull out the good stuff from way back. As a reader, a blogger, and a consumer, I tend to focus on new, new, new… but what about the old favorites, the hidden gems? On Flashback Fridays, I want to hit the pause button for a moment and concentrate on older books that are deserving of attention.

My rules — since I’m making this up:

  1. Has to be something I’ve (you’ve) read myself (yourself) — oh, you know what I mean!
  2. Has to still be available, preferably still in print
  3. Must have been originally published 5 or more years ago

Other than that, the sky’s the limit! Join me, please, and let us all know: what are the books you’ve read that you always rave about? What books from your past do you wish EVERYONE would read? Pick something from five years ago, or go all the way back to the Canterbury Tales if you want. It’s Flashback Friday time!

My pick for this week’s Flashback Friday:

Snow Mountain Passage by James D. Houston

(published 2002)

This week’s pick for Flashback Friday was published in 2002, but as historical fiction, tells a tale that goes back to 1846. Snow Mountain Passage is a fictional retelling of one of the most infamous chapters in American history, the story of the Donner Party.

When you hear the words “The Donner Party”, if you’re like most people, you immediately think of cannibalism. For many, that’s where their knowledge of the Donner Party starts and ends. But what really happened during that awful winter? Who were these people, stranded in the mountains and struggling to survive? How did they end up in this terrible predicament?

From Goodreads:

Snow Mountain Passage is a powerful retelling of our most dramatic pioneer story–the ordeal of the Donner Party. Through the eyes of James Frazier Reed, one of the group’s leaders, and the imagined “Trail Notes” of his daughter Patty, we journey along with the ill-fated group determined, at all costs, to make it to the California territory.

James Reed is a proud, headstrong, yet devoted husband and father. As he and his family travel in the “Palace Car,” a huge, specially built–and ultimately cumbersome–covered wagon, they thrill to new sights and cope with conflict and constant danger. Yet when a fight between Reed and another driver ends in death, Reed is exiled from the group and heads over the mountains alone. The fate of the other families, including Reed’s wife and four children, is sealed when they set out across a new, untested route through the Sierra–their final mountain pass. Arriving at the foothills just as the snows start to fall, they are left stranded for months–starving, freezing, and battling to survive–while Reed journeys across northern California, trying desperately to find means and men for a rescue party.

An extraordinary tale of pride and redemption, Snow Mountain Passage is a brilliantly imagined and grippingly told story straight from American history.

I was fascinated by the story and the characters, and amazed by how much I didn’t know about the Donner Party. The author invests the historical figures with life and personality, and does a thorough yet never boring job of laying out, step by step, all the choices and mistakes that led inevitably to tragedy.

If you enjoy historical fiction, or if you think you already know all there is to know about the Donner Party, check out Snow Mountain Passage. You may be surprised by how moving the story is. I certainly enjoyed this glimpse into California’s past… and now every time I drive over Donner Pass in the Sierras, I can’t help thinking about this book — and shivering, just a bit.

So, what’s your favorite blast from the past? Leave a tip for your fellow booklovers, and share the wealth. It’s time to dust off our old favorites and get them back into circulation! 

Note from your friendly Bookshelf Fantasies host: To join in the Flashback Friday bloghop, post about a book you love on your blog, and share your link below. Don’t have a blog post to share? Then share your favorite oldie-but-goodie in the comments section. Jump in!



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