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.

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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.

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.

 

Heartborn

heartborn

Heartborn by Terry Maggert (Young Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy)

I’d like to start by saying that I really enjoyed this book. I especially loved the fantasy world that Terry Maggert creates. The imagination and creativity of authors who write these types of books always fascinates me. He has brought to life a whole society living in the clouds, with Skywatchers, Scholars, Watershapers, Blightwings (my favorite), Flyers, and the Factors of the nasty Crescent Council, as well as Windbeasts, Airdancers, elementals, and, of course, Heartborn — the rarities born with a need to care for others.

The story fluctuates between the angels in House Windhook, a powerful family looking to overthrow the oppressive Crescent Council, and a seventeen-year-old on Earth named Livvy. Livvy is waiting for a heart transplant, but we know early on that she is very important to members of House Windhook. Keiron, the youngest son, has plunged to Earth in an effort to find her and save her, while the entire family prepares to do battle with the Crescent Council and its supporters in order to change the future of their society.

I enjoyed the style of writing. I was in the moment with the characters and felt like I knew them pretty well. Where it fell apart for me was the ending when I just became confused. I had to go back and reread parts to make sure I didn’t miss something, and when I finished I still wasn’t sure where Livvy was – on earth or up in the clouds? Were her parents really her parents after all, or was she adopted like she said? All of the people who seemed to exist in two worlds – were they watching and taking care of her the whole time? Were they really angels? There were too many unanswered questions for me.  I know it’s the first in a series, and that’s not the problem. I’m just not sure what happened in the last chapter or two. I will definitely be interested in reading the next book, but there are some things I felt should have been more clear in the closing to the first.

Bella gives Heartborn 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.

History of Wolves

history-of-wolves

History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (Literary Fiction)

History of Wolves is a beautifully written coming-of-age story that grabs hold of the reader on many levels and does not let go. Emily Fridlund’s descriptive prose carries one into the wooded reaches of northern Minnesota to experience first-hand the isolation and loneliness, not only of this remote area but also of fifteen-year-old Linda who lives there with her aging hippie parents. Born into a now-defunct commune and raised in a cabin in the woods, Linda is an outsider in her school and pretty much of a loner. When a married couple with a small boy moves into a summer home across the lake, she befriends the young wife and agrees to babysit their four-year-old. But something’s not quite right, and Linda, in her naïveté, doesn’t know how to respond.

The story is narrated by Linda as a twenty-six-year-old, and as she includes more details about her dysfunctional family and a questionable teacher-student relationship in her school, she also makes occasional reference to “the trial” and questions “they” would later ask her. Something bad is going to happen, and we are skillfully taken there while learning to care more and more about Linda and those around her. A sense of foreboding grows until we realize what’s going to happen, and then we wait anxiously to learn how the trial will play out.

The author poses questions that remain with the reader: What’s the difference between what we consider doing and what we end up doing? At what point, if any, are we obligated to take responsibility for the well-being of someone else? What do we owe our friends in terms of loyalty? Linda’s need for connection and acknowledgement from others colors her view of what’s happening around her, and her inexperience with life and desire to please leave her without the wherewithal to act appropriately. But what would we have done under the same circumstances?

Grandma gives History of Wolves five stars. 5 stars

History of Wolves is scheduled for release on January 3, 2017, and is available for pre-order.

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

Unfolding

Unfolding

Unfolding by Jonathan Friesen (Young Adult Fiction)

The cover of this book did not grab me, but the story sure did. It’s a well-written, gripping novel that kept me reading to find out how it all would, well, unfold.

Jonah is a high school senior who suffers from both a severe, body-twisting case of scoliosis and from epileptic seizures of ever-increasing intensity. His self-deprecating sense of humor helps him make it through life and also makes him a captivating narrator as he tells this tale of the secrets hidden in his hometown of Gullary, Oklahoma.

Much of what happens centers around Jonah’s eighteen-year-old next-door neighbor and love interest, Stormi, who was literally dropped into Gullary as an infant by a tornado. Stormi senses things before they happen, which makes her highly suspect in a small town that already considers her to be “unnatural,” and when a tragedy occurs, the townspeople blame her. Jonah’s love for Stormi — and his ability to protect her — are put to the test as things heat up.

I found it refreshing to read about a hero who wasn’t a paragon of physical perfection. His seizures occur at inopportune times, his twisted young body is an embarrassment, and yet he perseveres. His friend Arthur displays autistic tendencies that make it impossible for him to be dishonest, but also result in some creative problem-solving. The story has a few sinister characters, some mystery, some tragedy, and plenty of interesting plot twists that held me captive. I could feel the dry, gritty heat of summer in Oklahoma and feel the creepiness of the town’s abandoned maximum security prison that also plays a part in the story. At the same time, Jonah’s optimistic approach to life and his sense of humor kept the narration light enough to be enjoyable and full of hope.

Grandma gives Unfolding five stars. 5 stars

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

Unfolding is scheduled for release on January 1, 2017, and is available only on pre-order.

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