Thursday, 30 January 2014

Through Dust and Darkness Review

This is the third motorcycle travel book I’ve read.  Though I’ve only had one short ride on a motorized bike in my life, there’s something about bike books that I find liberating. 

Jeremy Kroeker’s first book, Motorcycle Therapy, was my first bike book.  I read it because he was my husband’s friend in high school.  I thought I’d just read a few chapters, but then I found myself laughing aloud at an airport while I read it.  I finished the book.

Through Dust and Darkness is more of a spiritual journey than Kroeker’s first book.  I was quite intrigued by Kroeker’s reference to his upbringing in reference to his trip through Europe and the Middle East.  Born and raised as a Mennonite in Canada, Kroeker seeks to see God through a different lens.  While I don’t always agree with his conclusions, and really, whom do we ever completely agree with in these matters, I was impressed with his willingness to share his doubts and discoveries with his reader.

As a fiction writer, I am always taken aback by how much nonfiction writers are willing to open themselves up to the world.  I imagine they make some adjustments the truth, but the courage to record my failings for anyone to see is beyond me. 

I was especially touched by Kroeker’s description of his self-loathing in high school, which he describes in Chapter 39.  I would have to agree that the Evangelical church has taught its children many outrageous things in regards to sexuality during my lifetime.  It reaffirmed my commitment to discuss such precious and sacred things with my children: to encourage them rather than frighten them to death, to be approachable when they have questions, and to discuss what they learn in church and at school.

I was also a bit misty over his conclusion where he describes meeting Amanda Lindhout.  Having only met her in crowds where she was speaking and reading her book, I am glad she has friends like Kroeker to help her as she deals with the torture she suffered. 

Having said this, Kroeker offered many funny moments.  Amongst my favourites was his attempt to fix a broken tire pump, his experience in an Iranian toilet and his run-in with an overly generous taxi driver.  Kroeker is a skilled writer and storyteller.  I hope his aging back doesn’t keep him from taking and writing many more adventures.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Northanger Abbey

I have just finished rereading Northanger Abbey as research for my most recent book project.  I rarely reread books and usually find it depressing for some reason, but Jane Austen is the exception to the rule.  There is always something new to appreciate and no matter how well I know the story, it still surprises and delights me.

The first time I read Northanger Abbey, I was quite put off by the character of Henry Tilney.  He is certainly not Mr. Darcy and I thought his knowledge of Muslin's indicated that he might be gay, but a better understanding of Austen and Tilney's character has changed my idea of him.  I found his dialogue was the most entertaining in the book.  Perhaps because I am quite a bit more advanced in years from Catherine Morland, I see more clearly why Tilney enjoys teasing her so much.

When I first read the book, I was also confused by the fun Austen takes with her main character.  In fact, I often thought this time around, that Tilney really was Austen's voice a lot of the time.  On this reading, I found it more the fun that one would take with a beloved younger family member.  It reminds me of my girlhood obsession with watching the Anne of Green Gables T.V. movies.  I loved to watch her struggle and strive through life and was quite alarmed when my Dad sat down to watch with my sister and I one day only to laugh heartily through the most tragic parts.  How could he laugh at poor Anne?  Only now, I laugh at the same parts and love it even more.

It also stood out to me this time around that Tilney sees how good Catherine is.  I never noticed the part where he says she thinks well of the Thorpes because she can't imagine anyone lying, bragging and conniving the way they do because she would never do it herself.  Tilney obviously finds this an excellent quality in Catherine, but tries to protect her from her naiveté,

I am very curious now to read The Mysteries of Udolpho.  I've bought it on my phone and hope to get through it in the next year.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

After The Fire Book Review

I read this book on the recommendation of a young writer I am mentoring.  Becky Citra is one of her favourite authors.  I can see why.

After The Fire is the story of Melissa, an 11-year-old girl, who takes a months holiday with her mom and 4-year-old brother Cody to a remote lake in B.C.  Melissa is worried at first that the vacation will be a boring flop.  Her mother, Sharlene, is a recovering alcoholic who has mostly neglected Melissa and her brother.  However, since a fire in their trailer 2 years ago, Sharlene has been working at being a better mother and provider.

During their time at the lake, Melissa meets a mysterious girl named Alice while exploring a nearby island.  Alice is writing a fantasy novel and wants to experience the fantasy as she writes it.  Melissa is grateful for a friend, but wary of Alice who seems to tell a lot of lies.

Lately, I have really been appreciating setting both in my own writing and in the books I read.  After The Fire has a strong sense of setting and time of year.  We have been experiencing a long, cold snow-covered winter and I was glad to escape to a long, hot August in British Columbia.

Melissa is a believable, unsure 11-year-old.  I could relate to her inner turmoil and insecurities.  I loved the layered relationships in her family -- the way she both admired and was embarrassed by her beautiful, outgoing mom.

The writing was simple, yet rich.  There was some overuse of the phrase "Melissa felt sick" and Melissa blushes an awful lot in the story, however it is believable that an 11-year-old would blush this much and feel sick this often.

In conclusion, I have to say how much I enjoyed the length of the story.  I am coming to love novella's more an more.  I could read the entire book in a day and still fell like there was time to develop the characters, story and plot sufficiently.  Maybe this just shows that I'm not the sophisticated reader I like to think I am.  Or maybe it is proof that young adult readers and writers are more sophisticated than they are given credit for.