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.

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The Sacred Flame

the-sacred-flame

The Sacred Flame by Nanette Littlestone (Historical Fiction)

This well-written love story takes place in ancient Rome during the days of Vestal Virgins. Livia has given thirty years in service to the goddess Vesta, living only with her fellow Vestals, and her commitment is almost up. Now she’s looking forward to marrying her childhood friend, Kaeso, with whom she sees herself having a chance at happiness, even though she doesn’t love him as anything more than a friend.

But the Fates intervene, and suddenly Livia’s life becomes complicated in ways that not only threaten her ability to leave the Vestals, but also put her life in danger. She incurs the wrath of a fellow Vestal, as well as that of a woman of social prominence, and defies Roman society when she falls in love with a married man. Throughout, we watch her struggle with duty, passion, commitment, fidelity, love, friendship, and the terrible weight of responsibility and expectations thrust upon her by others against her will.

We see the action through the eyes of several different characters, in addition to Livia herself, a technique that limits how deeply we can get to know her as a person. We’re often observing her from the outside, which builds tension as we become privy to the motives and plans of others, but also keeps her at a distance. Still it is a rich story with interesting characters in a fascinating time and place. The writing style fits the period, and it’s clear that the author has researched the subject well and writes with confidence. The ending took me completely by surprise, adding to the pleasure of reading this ambitious novel. Anyone who enjoys stories set in ancient Rome will be completely satisfied with The Sacred Flame.

Grandma gives The Sacred Flame five stars. 5 stars

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