Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Smokescreen by Nancy Hartry

Smokescreen ended up being a good book. However, there were definitely moments when I thought I wasn't going to get through the entire thing.

Kerry, the main character, didn't make much of an impression at first. She was passive and a little bit whiny, but not obnoxious enough to really bother me. Yvette, her French Canadian co-worker, was a little over the top, but still realistic (after all, what teenager isn't occasionally over the top?). The sprinkling of a couple French phrases through the book gave her a nice touch, though I'm not sure how I would have felt if I didn't speak French, as not all the translations were immediately obvious.

What did bother me was the grating "correct the foreign speaker's English" game Kerry played, especially at the beginning. Yes, it is perfectly reasonable for someone to occasionally struggle in a foreign language, and constant mistakes would be realistic but awful to read. But so many authors reconcile this by having their otherwise perfect speakers mess up a phrase so the native English speaking characters get to giggle and say, "I think you meant to say this." It's usually supposed to be a funny moment, but let's think about that for a minute - what's actually humorous about it? There's a tinge of "oh, look at the funny foreigner who can't speak our language!" and while I understand it is not meant to be mean, it wears on me quickly, especially when it happens as frequently as it does in the first part of this book.

Around page 85, I seriously considered putting the book down and walking away. I wasn't interested in the character or the story, and just wanted to be done. I kept reading largely because I didn't have anything else to do that day. Thankfully, after a few more chapters it started picking up and Part 4 was easily the best part of the entire book. I could have done without the reemergence of Kerry's mother issues, but that was small compared to the rest of the ending. Overall, it is a good story for those patient readers who can wade through the mess at the beginning for the strong end.

Many thanks to Tundra Books for providing me a copy of Smokescreen via NetGalley!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Thin Space by Jody Casella

This is one of those books, the ones that call to you even when you're supposed to be focusing on something else. I downloaded it around 2pm, planning on reading a chapter whenever I needed a break from work. At 10 that same night, I still had a little work left for the day - but I finished the book.

The story revolves around a high school student, Marsh, who is struggling to deal with his twin brother's death in a car accident just three months before. His elderly neighbor, Mrs. Hansel, told him about her plan to create a "thin space" in her house - a place where the veil between this world and the world of the dead would be thinner, and they could talk to those who had passed. But don't be fooled into thinking this is a paranormal story; the supernatural elements are a remarkably small part of the actual story, and while the spiritual aspect was what initially caught my eye, even readers who dislike ghosts and other such things will enjoy this book.

I spent a large part of the book confused about Marsh's "horrible secret". From what I'd read, it didn't seem that horrible, or even particularly something that needed to be kept secret. By the end, though, the plot twisted in such a way that it suddenly made perfect sense - though it left me with a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. It's always hard to end a good story unhappy with the main character. But I will give Casella credit for avoiding the happy-ever-after cliche ending I was afraid we were heading for, and my distaste for the twist is nowhere near strong enough to overpower the strength of the story as a whole.

As a middle school teacher, this is definitely a book I would feel good about recommending to a student. The plot is layered and compelling but not so complicated that less-than-perfect readers would get confused, and the similarly quick-but-managable pace helps maintain interest through the entire book. Thin Space will definitely be going on my suggestions list for next year's library purchases as well as our semester book reports.

Thanks to Beyond Words/Simon & Schuster for providing me a copy of Thin Space via NetGalley!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Browsing Nature's Aisles by Wendy and Eric Brown

A little bit outside of my normal reading, Browsing Nature's Aisles is a non-fiction book detailing the authors' experience foraging for wild food. However, the book is more than just a summary of their stories or a dry how-to guide; rather, it is the start of a conversation with would-be foragers.

The book is split into three parts: "What We Did", "Why We Decided to Start Foraging", and "Life Lessons We Learned from Foraging". Parts 1 and 3 were extremely interesting, but to be honest, I skipped almost all of part 2. They make some good points about food safety, security, and scarcity, but it came across a little preachy to me. Not to mention I (and probably many of their readers, if they're reading a book about foraging) am already familiar with many, if not all, of these arguments. If they were out to "convert" new readers to the foraging lifestyle, well, then why is the "why" not the first section, as an introduction?

No matter, parts 1 and 3 are sufficiently interesting and helpful to read even if one does choose to skip part 2. Though it is not a how-to guide, there is still plenty of useful advice and tidbits of information to be gleaned. For example, my mother taught me to recognize Queen Anne's Lace as a very small child; I (and probably my mother) had no idea it is actually wild carrot! The conversational tone of the book, along with the inclusion of common knowledge tips like Queen Anne's Lace, made foraging seem less like a practically dead art of pioneers and crazy survivalists and more like something that was actually possible in my own life, even a skill I could become comfortable with. As such, the book serves as a comfortable stepping stone between sitting on my couch and actually heading out for a first foraging trip. I'll be picking up a few more detailed guides to foraging on my next trip to the local library, and who knows what's possible from there? Maybe the Browns will help me put a dinner or two on my own table.

Thanks to New Society Publishers for providing me with a copy of Browsing Nature's Aisles via NetGalley!