Nice Try, Jane Sinner

Nice Try, Jane Sinner

Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke (Young Adult)

I’m going to come right to the point on this one: it was a big disappointment.

Nice Try, Jane Sinner is an obscenity-filled book about a nasty teen with a filthy mouth and a rotten attitude. That she finally decided to do something decent for someone else at the end of the book did not make for a satisfying character arc nor did it turn this into a worthwhile tale. It simply made me wonder why I kept reading in the hope that there might be a point to this book.

I understand using language that a teen reader might use in order to make a book feel relevant, but it was not necessary to give Jane Sinner such a foul mouth. Unlike Jessie in This is Not a Love Letter, Jane is not a girl I would want for a friend. The constant vulgar language did not make her endearing or funny. In fact, her stabs at irony fell flat more often than not. That a nice guy like Robbie would find Jane Sinner attractive was hard to believe.

The blurb: “The only thing 17-year-old Jane Sinner hates more than failure is pity. After a personal crisis and her subsequent expulsion from high school, she’s going nowhere fast. Jane’s well-meaning parents push her to attend a high school completion program at the nearby Elbow River Community College, and she agrees, on one condition: she gets to move out.

“Jane tackles her housing problem by signing up for House of Orange, a student-run reality show that is basically Big Brother, but for Elbow River Students. Living away from home, the chance to win a car (used, but whatever), and a campus full of people who don’t know what she did in high school… what more could she want? Okay, maybe a family that understands why she’d rather turn to Freud than Jesus to make sense of her life, but she’ll settle for fifteen minutes in the proverbial spotlight.”

So much of the story required suspension of disbelief. Did her highly religious, highly responsible parents really not insist on knowing where their previously suicidal seventeen-year-old was living? Was the teacher/advisor who hung out with students, encouraging them to gorge themselves on Chicken McNuggets until they threw up, supposed to be for real? The whole “she-becomes-a-reality-TV-star” felt like a fantasy written by a wannabee YouTuber.

The writing itself was fine, and the formatting used for the various journal entries was interesting.

Bella gives Nice Try, Jane Sinner two stars. 2-stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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This is Not a Love Letter

This is Not a Love Letter

This is Not a Love Letter by Kim Purcell (Young Adult)

Jessie’s boyfriend, Chris, has gone missing shortly before high school graduation, and now she is documenting everything that is happening as she waits to find out where he is. The book is written as though she is speaking to him the entire time, so she is always saying things like “you would have liked …” or “your mom said …” or “it reminded me of when we …”. As a result, it wasn’t long before I felt like I knew both of them really well. The author did  an excellent job of describing Chris’s personality and attitudes through Jessie’s eyes and her anecdotes about their relationship.

Jessie herself is somewhat crude and tough. Her dad is out of the picture and her mom is a hoarder, making Jessie ashamed of her home and frustrated with her life. She shoots from the hip and doesn’t mince words. Chris is a gentle soul who recently moved into town – a straight-A student, a gifted baseball player, and a pacifist. He’s a good influence on Jessie, giving her a sense of worth and direction that she didn’t have before he came into her life. But he’s also a black kid from Brooklyn who doesn’t really fit into this all-white paper mill town in the Pacific Northwest, and he has already dealt with bullying from some of the locals. Many possibilities exist for why he has gone missing.

The book also has several strong peripheral characters who are well drawn and add to the story – both his friends and hers. I never knew for sure what was going to happen, and I really came to care about both Chris and Jessie. Being the same age as they are, I found myself thinking I would like to know them personally, which only happens when a writer does a great job of bringing characters alive. While the plot did not wow me as much, I really enjoyed the characters and the interesting way in which the story was told.

Bella gives This is Not a Love Letter four stars. 4 stars

Potty-mouth Index: Moderate use of the “f” word; realistic for the character depicted

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This is Not a Love Letter will be released on January 30, 2018 and is available for pre-order.

Right Handed Lefty

Right-Handed Lefty

Right Handed Lefty by Ryan Coughlin (Coming of Age, Young Adult)

This book has a strong sense of place, that place being southwestern Wisconsin in 1983. Locals talk like someone out of the movie Fargo, and small town life makes it hard to be different. Characters include a twelve-year-old Native American boy adopted by white parents; his two misfit friends, one of whom is Hmong; and adults haunted by the loss of a child, infidelity, and memories of combat in World War II. There is also a sexually abused girl and an elderly Native American man with his own history of persecution.

The story centers on the three boys but also delves into the minds and backstories of the adults, making this a multi-layered work that eventually all comes together. The one superfluous character is the girl, who has no real influence on the plot except to be a first love for Ellis, the Native American boy. It takes a while for the action to get going, but once it does, things move along pretty well. I admit to sliding over some of the description, and I really don’t like dream sequences since they don’t show what’s really happening and just bog things down.

The writing style is clunky at times, and the book needs a good editor. It has misspelled, extra, or missing words, and words that are just plain wrong, like “illicit” where the author meant “elicit.” I think the author has promise and his characters were interesting, but this book needs refining to be as good as it could be.

Bella gives Right-Handed Lefty three stars. 3 stars

POTTY-MOUTH INDEX: MINOR

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received a free copy of the book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Mentalist Series

The Mentalist Series

The Mentalist Series by Kenechi Udogu (Young Adult Paranormal/Fantasy)

When I was contacted by author Kenechi Udogu, I agreed to read Book One of this series, Aversion. Ms. Udogu sent me the box set, and I’m glad she did, for when I finished Aversion, I needed to know what was going to happen next and ended up reading all four books. Since each book is more of a novella, reading the foursome was a reasonable undertaking and, in reality, the first three should have been a single book. (The fourth is a prequel.) Neither of the sequels to Book One is a stand-alone novel; they both require knowledge of the preceding book(s) in order to make sense.

Aversion and Sentient are told from the point of view of the protagonist, Gemma, who has always known she was different, but at the age of fifteen, going on sixteen, is still learning just how different she is. What I liked about her is that she’s basically a normal teen in a normal world but has inherited special gifts and responsibilities as an “Averter” — one who can step in and avert tragedy by telepathically convincing a potential victim to avoid the risky situation. Her gifts require her to keep her distance from peers and follow rules laid out for her kind, but when she becomes involved with classmate Russ, everything in her life changes and keeps on changing, not always for the good.

Keepers (Book Three) is told in chapters alternating between her point of view and Russ’s. After two books told only from Gemma’s POV, this was a surprise and took some getting used to. Constantly going back and forth allowed the author to build tension by ending the chapters at critical points, but as the reader, I found it frustrating to have the POV change just when I was getting used to the current one. This book wraps up the three-part story sufficiently but does not resolve everything, leaving room for future books, should the author wish to write more.

Broken Ties is the prequel to the other three books, relating the story of how Gemma’s parents came together. Again, it is told alternately by her father and mother, but this time the approach works well, since it’s fun to see how each perceives the other. Without prior knowledge of why this story is significant, however, I’m not sure a reader would find the ending sufficient to make this a stand-alone novella.

I enjoyed the author’s writing style very much. She had my interest from the first sentence and kept it all the way through. I can’t say enough about how much I liked the characters and the story. Unfortunately, the reading experience was lessened by annoyances like a constant lack of commas around the names of people when they were being addressed (“Let’s eat Grandma” vs. “Let’s eat, Grandma”) which could have been avoided by a good editor (or a knowledgeable Averter). Run-on sentences and improper use of semi-colons also would have benefited from intervention. That said, I believe Kenechi Udogu has a real storytelling talent and her books are worth reading.

Bella gives The Mentalist Series four stars. 4 stars

Potty-mouth Index: CLEAN

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received a free copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Dark Designs

Dark Designs

Dark Designs by Stefanie Spangler (Urban Fantasy)

I have to admit, the first thing that drew me to this book was the cover. The second was the description – being a twin is always fun to think about when you’re not a twin, and I’d be okay with having some magic powers now and then.

Being urban fantasy, the story veers away from reality, which is what I expected, and that part was fine. The girls being twins, however, was never explored. They’re fraternal, not identical, which we don’t know early on because no description is given, even though the simple fact that Ivy is a redhead and Violet a brunette would have sufficed. We know Ivy is more reserved than Violet, but I never felt that I got to know either one very well, and there was no indication that their psychological connection was any different than my connection with either of my sisters. So much for the significance of twinness.

Each has magical powers to some degree, but they learn about their powers off-stage. We don’t know how they react to finding out they are different from their peers or how (or if) they hone their skills. Instead, the story abruptly jumps from the girls being clueless eight-year-olds to the day that Ivy comes home from college, back to the family farm that Violet now manages. We’ve had no opportunity to get to know them, to watch them grow in any way, and now they are adults about to be thrown into a magical dilemma.

Considering that this is a short novel, some fleshing out of the characters could have been done. Instead, we have the immediate jump into action with danger entering their lives, but since I hadn’t really become invested in the girls as people, it left me feeling detached. The author is in everyone’s head – both the good guys and the bad guys – so there is little opportunity to experience a whole lot of emotion with any one character or to learn more about someone through the eyes of a single person.

The story itself is entertaining; one always wants to know how the main characters are going to get out of a predicament. For the YA urban fantasy reader, this book delivers the good guys and the very scary bad guy, some magic, and a little budding romance. There are the young witches embarrassed by their unusual skills, the suspicious neighbors, and the disbelieving cops. There is some tension, some danger, and a creepy monster to give the reader the willies. And, for some reason, there is the angst of the missing mother who abandoned her twins in infancy without explanation. It does little to move the story along, however, and I have to wonder why it’s even in there, since no one actually makes any attempts to find out more and nothing changes regarding Mom.

One final point: the time jump from eight years old to college graduate would have made more immediate sense to the reader if Chapter One had been called a prologue. It sets the stage for the rest of the book and occurred more than a decade before the rest of the story. Ironically, the book does have an epilogue which didn’t feel significantly different enough to be an epilogue and could have simply been the final chapter. Unless, of course, it’s meant to portend Book Two.

Bella gives Dark Designs three stars. 3 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Give Me a K-I-L-L

Give Me a KILL

Give Me a K-I-L-L by R.L. Stine (YA Thriller)

This latest addition to R.L. Stine’s Fear Street series incorporates the usual mean girls, snotty cheerleaders, school officials with no backbone, and annoying, clueless parents. A highly talented, but troubled, cheerleader from another school moves into town, threatening the makeup of the entrenched cheerleading squad, with murder and mayhem as a result.

Young adult readers, including those reading teen horror, deserve better from R.L. Stine. Besides stunted, uninteresting sentences that seem to assume the reader is incapable of reading anything more complex, the characters in this book are hard to care about, the ending wraps up problems the reader never knew were problems, and there are very basic errors, like saying the aorta in a victim’s neck was eaten away by acid. The aorta is not in the neck.

To make things worse, we have to believe the perp is using acid that’s strong enough to eat through skin, muscle, windpipe, and esophagus to get to the aorta — which, if it were there, would most likely be against the vertebrae — but somehow the acid has no effect on the vulnerable parts of the item it coats. Not to mention that any high-schooler who has taken basic chemistry knows that concentrated sulfuric acid fumes would be a dead (pun intended) giveaway, and the victim would have to be severely distracted (think comatose) not to notice before picking up said item and putting it to her throat.

Other than a scene involving cockroaches, there’s not much here that rates as creepy. There’s nothing deep and psychological and no real build-up to a total freak-out moment. The closest we come is a fairly glossed-over minor scene with the big question: will one cheerleader catch another or let her fall on her head?

I expected a whole lot more from R.L. Stine.

Bella gives Give Me a K-I-L-L two stars (Not enthusiastic, but you may be.). 2-stars

Potty-mouth Index: CLEAN

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Impossible Fortress

the-impossible-fortress

The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak (General Fiction)

Although this is classified as Adult General Fiction by the publisher, it is a coming-of-age story that could easily be Young Adult. The narrator is a fourteen-year-old boy in 1987, and his “impossible fortress” is both his homemade computer game and a fourteen-year-old girl.

Billy loves computer programming and he also loves TV’s Vanna White. When the latter appears on the cover of a Playboy magazine, Billy and his fellow underage buddies will go to extremes to get their own copies.Their elaborate plan is to break into the local typewriter repair shop that also sells magazines and newfangled home computers, which means they will need the security code. Billy makes friends with the owner’s daughter, Mary, in order to learn the code, not realizing that she’s a whiz at computer programming and a kindred spirit. As the attraction between them grows, he’s faced with a moral dilemma amidst increasing pressure from his friends to deliver the code. However, the story is more than the question of will he risk his budding romance for a magazine, and that makes it hard to discuss here without giving away too much.

For those who remember the 80s, Commodore 64s, or the “olden days” of early computer games, the author provides lots of authentic forays into popular music of the time and the awkwardness of early home computer technology. I thought it was over the top that the boys would undertake such a complicated plan to break and enter just for a magazine, but maybe fourteen-year-old boys are that desperate and that dumb or maybe it was more about the challenge of pulling it off. I also thought that Mary’s flirty programming notes to Billy seemed out of character once we learned her real situation. And, by telling us early on that Billy’s Impossible Fortress game didn’t win the competition, the author took away the tension of waiting to find out. Still, the book was enjoyable because Billy is a fun and believable narrator who made me laugh and the information about old-time computers was interesting.

Bella gives The Impossible Fortress four stars. 4 stars

Potty-mouth index: Clean

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received a free ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Impossible Fortress will be released on February 7, 2017, and is available for pre-order.