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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A Boy Made of Blocks

A Boy Made of Blocks

A Boy Made of Blocks by Keith Stuart (General Fiction)

Alex Rowe, the thirty-something narrator of this story, cannot stop dwelling on a tragedy that occurred during his childhood. As a result, his marriage is falling apart, he cannot relate to his autistic young son, and he barely communicates with his sister and widowed mom. When his frustrated wife kicks him out of the house and he loses his job, he realizes he needs to change his ways. In an effort to connect with his little boy, he learns to play Minecraft, a video game the boy loves, and little by little they literally build their own world together. In the process Alex comes to understand both himself and his child better and finally comes to terms with his past.

Although this may sound like a dire scenario, Alex is funny and likeable, and we grow to love his son, Sam. The book is populated with interesting characters who round out his life, and the entire story is uplifting and poignant. In real life, the author is the father of an autistic child, and while this is not his son’s story, his first-hand knowledge of autism and its challenges is apparent.

Unfortunately, the extensive descriptions of their Minecraft world were often too much for me, and I found myself skimming those passages. While it’s important to understand the game and how one creates with it, the details made my eyes glaze over. In general, however, I found the story and its characters enjoyable and the narrator a delight.

Grandma gives A Boy Made of Blocks four stars. 4 stars

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

As Bright as Heaven

As Bright As Heaven

As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner (Historical Fiction)

Susan Meissner is an accomplished writer of historical fiction (see A Bridge Across the Ocean). As Bright as Heaven, spanning the years 1918 to 1926, follows a Philadelphia family as it experiences the final months of World War I, the ravages of the wide-spread Spanish flu epidemic, and the long-lasting effects of both events.

We become a close observer of three teen-aged sisters – Evelyn, Maggie, and Willa – each of whom has a distinct personality and voice. Evie, the oldest, is the scholar, practical and level-headed. Maggie, in the middle, is caring and passionate. Willa is willful and possesses a temper; she is no stranger to smashing delicate objects when she doesn’t like the way things are going. Their mother, Pauline, is a quiet woman mourning the recent loss of her infant son from a defective heart, and their father, Thomas, is a hard-working man who is learning his uncle’s trade as a mortician. The unexpected flu deaths of family and friends and the aftermath of war touch them all, and each sister copes in her own way.

The story is narrated in alternating chapters by one of the girls or their mother. The chapters are fairly short, and I found the continuous change in point of view disconcerting at times. While first-person narration seems to be the thing nowadays, this story could easily have been told by an omniscient author in the third person, allowing the reader to feel less thrashed about.

The book starts out slow; nothing significant seems to happen for the first twenty-five percent. Once the flu hits, the pace picks up, and one gets a real sense of what life was like in that dreadful era. The ending is almost too tidy, but the story has enough tragedy that one can simply accept and appreciate the good.

Grandma gives As Bright as Heaven four stars. 4 stars

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

As Bright as Heaven will be released on February 6, 2018 and is available for pre-order.

The Wife Between Us

The Wife Between Us

The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen (Thriller)

The write-up for this psychological thriller warns that even when you think you have things all figured out, you’ll be wrong. This is true.

Lots of twists and unexpected turns make this a book that will keep you off-balance. What seems to be a somewhat unlikeable protagonist/narrator morphs into someone you begin to understand. Not everything she has said and done was reckless after all. She’s not as unreliable as she seems. There are good reasons why things happened the way they did. Things you don’t see coming suddenly make sense when you think back on how it all played out.

Hendricks and Pekkanen combine their respective careers as book editor and best-selling novelist to produce a work meant to make the most of what’s popular in today’s fiction. It’s full of familiar tropes: the rich, handsome, doting husband who’s too good to be true; the awestruck young wife blinded by her fairy-tale life; the vindictive former wife stalking the new wife. The authors cleverly tweak the familiar to keep it unpredictable and introduce new “aha!” moments that won’t let you put the book down until it’s finished.

A good read when you’re looking for something that holds your interest but then lets you move on without too much introspection… unless, of course, you’re married to someone who seems too good to be true.

Grandma gives The Wife Between Us four stars. 4 stars

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

The Wife Between Us will be released on January 9, 2018, and is available for pre-order.

The Murder of Manny Grimes

The Murder of Manny Grimes

The Murder of Manny Grimes by Angela Kay (Mystery/Thriller)

This book was a mixed bag for me. I was interested in the basic story: who killed Manny Grimes and why? The story bogged down once in a while, but it had its share of worthwhile developments and complex details. The characters were all a little too prickly for me; I didn’t find any that I truly cared about as individuals, which makes it harder to be invested in the outcome. Still, I wanted to know what happened and found the plot interesting.

Unfortunately, this book needs a good copy editing. Most annoying is improperly punctuated dialogue with random paragraph breaks that make it hard to know who is saying what. Odd phrasing (Claire unleashed her arms with a sighCalhoun took her lips to his) and misused words (…Walker replied, becoming irritant …a completely separate incidence to Grimes’ murderHis questionable eyes turned to shockThe furniture and decorum sent out an unwelcome sensation…) are distracting. Mixing of tenses in a single sentence and sloppy grammar occur too many times to be ignored.

The structure could also use some tightening, and the author gives away too much when she suddenly puts us inside the perpetrator’s head about two-thirds of the way through the novel. Until then, we know what the investigators know, which makes sense. Suddenly giving us the perp’s point of view doesn’t add anything that won’t come out eventually, and while it may be meant to add tension, it simply feels out of place and awkward. I believe the author has promise, but she needs guidance in order to do her best work and would benefit from working with a good editor.

Grandma gives The Murder of Manny Grimes three stars. 3 stars

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

Revenants: The Odyssey Home

Revenants

Revenants: The Odyssey Home by Scott Kauffman (Historical Fiction)

A revenant is a person who returns after a long absence. In this book, more than one revenant is making the long trip back.

In an Ohio hospital in 1973, an unknown veteran of World War I is secreted away in a hidden room. Meanwhile, a teen-aged candy striper working in that hospital has recently lost her brother in Viet Nam and is now making bad decisions that threaten to derail her future. When she accidentally discovers the hideously injured old soldier, she decides she will get him home to his family before he dies. But no one seems to know who he is or where he comes from, except for one person who has good reason to keep him hidden. In the process of unearthing the soldier’s life story, the girl comes to realize the significance of honoring her brother’s memory by living her own life to the fullest.

This absorbing book takes the reader into the trenches of WWI as well as into the hearts and minds of characters who have lost loved ones in Vietnam or WWI. We witness the pain experienced by siblings, the despair and heartbreak of parents, and the anguish of girlfriends and fiancés who still suffer decades later. We feel the meaningless waste of young people with everything to live for, and we can only try to imagine the hell of being trapped in what remains of a body after horrifying injuries that render one unable to hear, see, walk, or communicate. At the same time, we watch the human spirit fight back, overcome, and go on.

This is not a light or happy book, but it is a book worth reading. While generally well-written, it does have some dialogue without sufficient dialogue tags so that at times it is hard to know who’s speaking. There are several noticeable spots where the final period is missing, and occasionally, a wrong word is used, my favorite being copula (a real word) when the author meant cupola.

Grandma gives Revenants: The Odyssey Home four stars. 4 stars

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

How Speleology Restored My Sex Drive

How Speleology

How Speleology Restored My Sex Drive by Michael Bernhart (Action/Adventure)

Don’t judge this book by its title – it is a witty adventure story involving some hefty topics, including racism, kidnapping, and the aftereffects of serving in Vietnam, yet it kept me chuckling from beginning to end. The year is 1993, and the narrator, Max Brown, is the 52-year-old father of mischievous nine-year-old twins, Mary and Margaret (M&M), and husband to their “scrumptious” mom, Sally, who is much younger than he. As the title suggests, he worries about sexual performance, but that’s nowhere near what this novel is all about.

His precocious daughters disappear into the wilds of northern Georgia while visiting Sally’s crazy backwoods uncle, Skeeter. They and Skeeter hope to find Confederate gold rumored to be hidden in abandoned mines. Local Klan members don’t take well to outsiders messing around in their territory, but decide to see what the treasure hunters might discover before getting rid of them. Max and Sally don’t know which of the locals they can trust as too many negative things occur after they confide in seemingly friendly folks. They must rely on their own wiles and wits if they’re going to find their girls before it’s too late.

What makes this such an enjoyable read is the voice of Max Brown as he relates what’s going on with his kids, his wife, her wacky uncle, and the various people they run into on their quest. Max’s self-deprecating humor and his wry observations keep the narration light and funny even when the stakes are high and things are going poorly. None of it makes light of what the KKK stands for, however, nor are Klansmen portrayed as buffoons. The book depicts racism in all its ugliness and introduces us to people who must face it every day. As for the title and what it implies, think PG-13 when it comes to sex. Max is honest and funny but too much of a gentleman to go into detail.

Grandma gives How Speleology Restored My Sex Drive four stars. 4 stars

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