In Cutting the Net we meet Elizabeth (Izzie) Lawson, a teen girl who has just had her life upended with tragedy and has found herself moved to the Solomon Islands, along with her three younger brothers to become the only girl in a large family that now includes her aunt and uncle as well as two cousins. But that's only the start of her problems as in her struggle to get her head around her current situation, she changes it into something she couldn't even dream of, and her family can't even imagine. <-- Ha! How's that for no spoilers?
Cutting the Net and Talking to Trees are teen fantasy novels. So they are right in line with a lot of what I've been reading lately. Unlike most of the fiction I've been reading, Izzie is not spared the joys that are high school. Having been through some pretty traumatic stuff recently - and having spent the last 5 years raising her younger brothers, she is a lot smarter about most things than your average 17 year old. The world of teen drama doesn't avoid her though and a good bit of each book deals with her relationships with the other kids and in particular a high school senior named Belama, who just so happens to be the romantic interest and the key to the adventure and fantasy elements of the books.
The author combines local legends and a wonderful description of the Solomon Islands to give the reader not only a fantastical story to distract them, but a virtual tropical vacation. She includes pleasant descriptions of the mossy villages, busy city, the tropical flowers, and the unique wildlife. It is easy to see and smell all the sights that are experienced in the book.
It takes a good deal of time before the fantasy elements begin to play out in the first book, but the time is usefully spent learning about who the main characters are and exploring the relationships and feelings of the main characters. The main characters are well thought out and multifaceted. While the book has more romance than I typically go in for, it does play a role in the life and powers of the main characters. There are also tons of fun cultural elements and insights. Some characters speak primarily in pidgin, and while it can be difficult to understand some of their dialog, the author does a good job of providing a translation, without making it feel like she is translating what you just read.
Between the two books there were only a few times when I felt spatially disoriented with how the locations connected together. The characters remained consistent and grew in their complexity and I'm very interested to see what happens with the story antagonist. There is a bit of a feeling that everything will work out somehow, even if it is a bit miraculous, but it's not overly distracting. The fantastical laws remain constant throughout the story and makes the story very believable. The history of the world is as intriguing as what is currently taking place. Even as distracting as I personally felt the kissing scenes to be, I can't really see the story working without them as they do have a part to play in more than just the character interactions. Her descriptions of emotion and relationships are personal yet universal.
PROS: A quick, relaxing, read. A nice vacation and a fantastical story. Realistic compelling characters and fantasy physics. A fun diversion.
CONS: A bit too much teen drama and high school relationships going way too fast for my enjoyment. Ms. Bird is not a seasoned author and while her writing is very good and draws you in, she occasionally drops the reader from the story and doesn't have the refined writer feel.
VERDICT: I don't regret snagging these for my Kindle at all. I may even re-read them when the third book comes out. If your looking for a fun distraction or a relaxing read, these are great! Not a hard read at all.