Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Bookish Thoughts: Smoke by Catherine McKenzie

Smoke. ~ Opening of Smoke

Smoke by Catherine McKenzie
Lake Union, 2015
Fiction; 370 pgs

Wildfires are a reality in California, especially in the height of drought. Homes, businesses, and a lot of land are at risk when they strike, and the fears and damage can be devastating. It was this that initially drew me to Catherine McKenzie's Smoke.

Elizabeth who had devoted her life to fighting wildfires has been trying to settle into life away from them in the hopes of starting a family with her husband. Only it hasn't been easy for them. Their marriage is on the rocks, and Elizabeth feels like she is at a crossroads, unsure of her marriage and the direction her life should take. Her former best friend, Mindy, is having her own problems. Mindy's teenage son is acting strangely, and she finds herself keeping secrets from the husband she has always trusted and confided in. She feels at loose ends.

When a fire destroys the house of a widower, and spreads rapidly through the Cooper Basin, Elizabeth is assigned to investigate for possible arson. Could the fire have been started on purpose or was it just an accident? If it is arson, was it the widower or teenagers who had been hanging out near the widower's home? Elizabeth's involvement with the investigation only adds more tension to her already broken marriage, while Mindy finds herself drawn to the widower's plight and wants to help him.

As the fire gets closer, both Mindy and Elizabeth find their own lives imploding. The two women haven't spoken in years and yet they are both struggling with similar and yet different issues. The fire really is more of a background story for the two women's relationship issues, as they struggle to regain their footing in life, which at one time seemed so certain. Life hasn't gone the way either one of them had hoped.

I felt for Mindy, the mother of two teen-aged children, one of whom (her daughter) had serious health issues as a young child. Her son has grown increasingly distant from the family, clearly hiding something. Mindy is not sure what to do. She is afraid to bother her busy husband with her concerns when really that's exactly what she probably should have done. Although, it's obvious he is struggling with his own issues too.

It took me a while to warm up to Elizabeth, although I did eventually. She and her husband, Ben, have been through a lot, and I wanted so much for the two of them to sit down and have a real heart to heart conversation. There seemed to be a lot of blame going on in their relationship, and not a lot of inward reflection--at least not in the right direction. It's easy to get started on that blame game, and not look more closely at our own behavior.

I was most interested in the story surrounding the fire, and found it interesting the route the author chose to go with it--both the investigation and the final outcome. In and around it, the author raised several relevant issues of today, including that of bullying and privilege.

There was much I liked about this book, and yet it wasn't quite what I hoped it would be. It took awhile for the story to get off the ground, and I would have liked some of the reveals to have come out earlier so that they could have been more fully explored. I also wouldn't have minded more about  Mindy's son Angus, given the significance he plays in the novel.

Communication and trust are strong themes that run through this novel. As are love and family. Life is full of hardships, marriage is sometimes something you have to work hard to maintain. How do you know when to let go? Whose fault is it really, if anyone's? Catherine McKenzie captures the reality of some of life's difficulties, the feelings and thought processes people can go through as they try to come to grips with disappointment and change.  Overall, I liked Smoke, and found it to be a compelling read. I hope to read more by Catherine McKenzie in the future.

To learn more about Catherine McKenzie and her books, please visit the author's website. You can also find the author on GoodreadsFacebook, and Twitter.

Source: E-Copy of book provided by publisher via NetGalley for honest review.

© 2015, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

14 comments:

  1. A shame this wasn't entirely what you'd hoped for. For me personally it sounds as if there were too many things going on and thus maybe your concern about some of the reveals that weren't perhaps as fully explored as they might have been.

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    1. Tracy - That could be. There was a lot going on. I did like it overall, fortunately.

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  2. I'm not sure about this one. Lack of communication drives me crazy in fiction even though I know that it's realistic at times. I do like all the bits and pieces and the fire being integral. I'll have to look for it at the library and give it a try.

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    1. Katherine - It does me too often times. But, yes, it is realistic. If you do read this one, I hope you like it!

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  3. The premise sounds interesting, given the subject matter and all. Onto the wishlist it goes!

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    1. Melody - I hope you like this one! I enjoyed it, even despite my complaints about it.

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  4. I'm not sure about this one, either. I have a tendency to avoid marriage-on-the-rocks tales unless I know they end with the couple working things out. But the suspense part of the plot sounds very interesting. My parents have twice had to evacuate their town due to wildfires, so it's something that I have secondhand experience with, so to speak.

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    1. Lark - I think you might be okay with this one then. :-) I've never had to evacuate, but we've known people who have had to and others who have come close. It's really frightening.

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  5. I like the sound of this one....it sounds completely different then everything that I have been reading which adds to the appeal :) I hadn't heard of it until now but I have heard good things about this author I believe so on to the TBR list it goes. Great review!

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    1. Samantha - It was a bit different from what I had been reading too. I hope you like it if you give it a try!

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  6. I am curious about this author and mean to check her books out soon. I have another one of hers on my Kindle and should probably bump it up soon.

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    1. Athira - I would be interested to try something else by her. Which book of hers do you have? I know she has one called Hidden out, but that's the only one I am familiar with.

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  7. This sounds like a very character-driven story and one I might like. Great review!

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    1. Stephanie - Yes, it is. I thought Catherine McKenzie did a good job in that regard. I hope you like this one if you do try it!

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