I Want You Gone by Miranda Rijks: The Reports of Her Death are Greatly Exaggerated.

I Want You GoneI Want You Gone

by Miranda Rijks


Kindle Edition, 299 pg.
Inkubator Books, 2019

Read: April 10 – 11, 2019


There is just so much about this book that I can’t say here without ruining it. I can talk about premise, but I can’t talk about the plot much beyond that. As for characters? There’s really only one I can talk about. I really can’t talk about the minor issues I had without ruining a lot. Really, Rijks went out of her way to make this book almost impossible to talk about. Let’s see if I can figure out a way to say a little something, shall we?

Estate agent Laura Swallow gets a phone call from her daughter interrupting a first date — Mel’s away for her first term of University and checks her mom’s Facebook and sees that she’s being reported as dead. So instead of the phone calls she’s been making bewailing her loneliness, how hard it is being at school, etc., she calls to make sure Mom’s okay. Obviously, this casts a pall over the date and they call it a night.

The next day, Laura comes into work and discovers that her death is being reported in the newspaper, too. The description of her life in the death notification is unfavorable to say the least. It’s about as far from the laudatory and hagiographic words usually used as you can imagine. Laura starts to expect that this isn’t a misunderstanding, but there’s something malicious to all this. It doesn’t take too long for things to get worse — there’s someone clearly out to ruin whatever’s left of Laura’s life while trying to convince the rest of the world that she’s dead. Before long, it gets dangerous enough to be Laura that no one could help but wonder if the stories about her death were just a little early.

Laura doesn’t know who to suspect — her ex-husband? her ex-husband’s new significant other? the doctor she just started dating? a creepy client? Someone else? Laura doesn’t know what to do to find out. The reader will be a bit more objective and will have a longer suspect list that’ll include some friends that Laura can’t bring herself to suspect. Now at various points I could make a good case for any of the suspects being the person behind it all. But it turns out that my first guess was right — although there were enough red herrings that I had to keep guessing.

The characters are pretty well drawn and developed — obviously Laura more than the rest. Some of the other characters we get to know nearly as well, but not all of them. Laura’s still recovering from her sister’s death and her divorce, the events of this novel both accelerate the recovery and set it back. All in all, half the fun of this book is getting into her mind. I can’t say that I understand every choice she makes (actually there’s a few I can’t begin to understand), but it’s fun watching her make them.

I’m not convinced I buy the reactions her boss had to the whole situation — and I can’t imagine anyone having the take on the vandalism on her car that her boss and others did have (that one in particular chafed). But that’s pretty much the only false notes as far as characters go, and it did propel the plot. As far as the other characters go are concerned, pretty much anything I say would risk giving something away — so I’ll leave it at that. Even if you guess who’s behind everything, getting their motive right will be trickier, and you’re apt to second guess yourself a few times.

Rijks draws you in pretty quickly by Laura’s likeability and the strangeness of her circumstances, and then she keeps drawing you in more and more as things get stranger and more dire. If you’re not leaning forward a little bit during the last couple of chapters, you’re made of sterner stuff than I.

A great, twisty story that’ll keep you guessing as it entertains. It’s just what you want in a psychological thriller — creepy, atmospheric, with a good story with a protagonist and antagonist that you can dig your teeth into. It’s the kind of book that’ll keep you gripped and may make you lose a little sleep right up until the end, well worth your time.

—–

3.5 Stars


My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided.

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Dispatches from a Tourist Trap by James Bailey: Jason’s Woes Follow (and Grow) in his new Small Town

Dispatches from a Tourist TrapDispatches from a Tourist Trap

by James Bailey

Series: The Jason Van Otterloo Trilogy, Book 2

Kindle Edition, 253 pg.
2019
Read: April 1, 2019

Sometimes lately I feel like life is a chess match, and no matter how hard I look at the board I can’t see the next move. Or maybe I think I see it, but really I don’t. Like my pawn is sitting there, all ready to put the other king in check, and somehow my queen gets swiped and two moves later I’ve lost the game and my pawn is still waiting there, impotent and useless.

So Jason mother’s Janice continues her bad decisions when it comes to men — she leaves her husband for a new guy, who happens to be the dentist she’s started working for. We met him in The First World Problems of Jason Van Otterloo, and they clearly didn’t waste time resuming whatever it was they had back in high school. Janice has moved herself and Jason to her parents’ house, enrolled Jason in a school filled with very friendly people, and tried to move on with her life.

Jason realizes full-well that his choices are a life with his grandparents and a much smaller school, hours away from his friends and girlfriend; or life with Rob, near them. As much as he doesn’t want to be in Icicle Flats, he knows it’s the better choice available. But he complains the whole time about it — this is good for readers, Jason complaining makes for an entertaining read. This time, he’s not just complaining in emails, he’s set up a blog, too. I was wondering how the blog was going to work instead of the emails — it’s actually a really good move, allowing Jason to tell longer stories without the emails being too long.

Which is good — because he has long stories to tell this time. There’s a literature club he’s involved with at school that’s discussing books that ruffle the feathers of many, which leads to all sorts of trouble. There’s a flirtation with pirate radio. A camping trip that is fantastic to read about (and probably not a lot of fun to live through). A disastrous experiment with eBay. And basically, a bucket-load of culture shock. Also, after a few short weeks of dating, Jason’s first real relationship becomes a long-distance one. High school relationships are bad enough, throwing in a few hour bus-ride into things is just asking for trouble. So yeah, between emails and his blog — he’s got a lot to write about, and his friends have a lot to respond to. Somehow, they make it through the school year more or less intact.

Jason feels incredibly authentic — immature, self-centered, irresponsible, but he’s got his moments. He can put others before himself, do the right thing because it’s right — not to stay out of trouble; But man, he can be frustrating the rest of the time. There were a lot of opportunities along the way here for him to be a better friend, a much better boyfriend, son and grandson; and he missed almost all of them. He comes through when necessary, don’t get me wrong and he’s not a bad guy — I just wish he’d grow up a bit faster. Which again, means that Bailey has nailed his characterization, this his how people his age should be.

I’m less than thrilled with Bailey’s approach to religious characters in these two books. I’m not questioning that there are people like the characters he depicts running around everywhere and that the situations would’ve played out a lot like they did here (but some of it pushed believability). I just would like a small indication that there were some sincere people trying to do the right thing in the middle of all this.

Having talked about The First World Problems of Jason Van Otterloo just two weeks ago, it feels hard to talk about this book beyond some of the plot changes — this feels like the same book, just with new problems. Which is pretty much the point, right? I still like Jason (as frustrating as he can be), his girlfriend is fantastic, I want good things to happen to Drew. Jason’s already complicated life is about to get a lot worse, which should prove very entertaining for the rest of us. A strong follow-up in this series.

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3.5 Stars
LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

Crossline by Russ Colchamiro: Out along the edges, Always where they burn to be

CrosslineCrossline

by Russ Colchamiro


Kindle Edition, 336 pg.
Crazy 8 Press, 2013
Read: March 18 – 19, 2019

Marcus Powell is a test pilot — not something you think about much anymore, but SF and adventure tales have started with them long enough to strike a classic chord. You’re instantly put into a certain frame of mind — and then when you see he’s on the launching pad, well, it almost guarantees a good time. Since he hits space very early on in the book, you know things are going to get interesting right away.

Because the next thing you know, he’s zipping around the outer parts of our solar system and then he finds himself in a parallel universe on a world that’s remarkably like our own — yet is very different. Thankfully the language — and slang — is largely interchangeable so Powell can get along just fine. But the differences are very striking and could get him in serious trouble/danger.

Back on Earth — as Powell is bouncing around that other planet, we get to meet a pilot from the parallel world that came to Earth. As much as this is Powell’s book, I found this guy a lot more interesting — but we get his story told mostly in summary form, while Powell’s is told to us in much more detail. So you’d expect that he’d be the one that readers get into. Now, I do — Powell’s a great character, and if we didn’t get the other pilot’s story, I’d have been very content to read about him.

While Powell runs around that other planet, trying to figure out how to get home we get to see the societal turmoil that covers the North America-ish place. We meet a wise man who has visions, some dedicated warrior women (and men), an incredibly creative baker, and a disturbed killer. You know, the usual. As Powell aligns himself with one warring faction, he finds himself in a different kind of danger than he’s used to as he tries to find his way home. On Earth, the danger is largely off-screen and the battles take place in the boardroom and the weapons are money and influence. While Powell has to deal with explosives, bullets and knives. Both types of warfare can result in fatalities

On Earth, we also see what goes on with Powell’s wife and daughter as they deal with Powell’s absence. His wife was less than supportive before he launched, and that’s haunting her. His daughter, who shares something in common with the wiseman on that other world, never loses hope. It’s hard to know if that’s because she’s young and naive (5 or so) or if it’s because she knows more than you’d expect. I had more fun reading about Powell’s daughter than I have with pretty much any character this month, she’s simply a delight. The granddaughter of a Native American seer (of sorts), this little girl knows things she shouldn’t anf has a certainty about things she has no business knowing about. She’s the embodiment of precocious, basically. Her mother is a caring and very outspoken teacher, the two of them together make a formidable team.

Everywhere you turn, the motivation driving the characters is family — protecting, avenging, trying ot live a life worthy of them, trying to hold on to, trying to get back to, trying to provide for . . . This is at once an incredibly believable driving force for a character, and incredibly relatable one. It’s a great way to get your reader on the side of every major character. It’s easy to forget the human element in a SF adventure — the advanced science, the fantastic technology, the wormhole creation, etc. can easily become the focus. But Colchamiro doesn’t let that happen, what keeps his characters moving, what keeps them going on — it’s all realatably human.

I’ll admit, I don’t think I got all of the mystical/spiritual/supernatural aspects that Colchamiro brought to the table. I think that’s largely on me, and there are going to be readers who love that part (and I thought it an interesting approach to take_. Similarly, there’s a little plot element makes no sense to me at all. It’s brought up early on when Powell launches that is returned to a couple of times, and then comes back in a pretty serious fashion in the closing pages, and drives the last action scene. It could be cut entirely and make no difference to anything (except the aforementioned action scene would have no justification and would have to be cut — which would be an improvement). There’s no reason for it, it doesn’t help the characters or the plot at all. Maybe it played a decent role in an earlier draft, but not now. Here’s the nice thing about it — it’s so extraneous that you can just ignore it and the story doesn’t suffer at all. I’m being vague here, I know. My point is (or it was supposed to be) is that there are some problematic parts of the book — but there’s enough right going on here that it doesn’t matter.

That aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I had plenty of fun with it. Colchamiro kept things moving well, he surprised me a couple of times and got me grinning and cheering. I found myself very invested in what happened with both pilots and wanted them to find what they’re looking for. Strong action, strong characters, a compelling take on the multiple worlds idea — and a whole lotta fun throughout. I can’t point to every part of this book that makes it appealing — most of it is in the intangibles. As frustrating as that might be when writing about a book, while reading it? It’s hard to ask for more.


Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author and Lola’s Book Tours, which I appreciate. The opinions expressed are my own — especially the seventh paragraph.

—–

3.5 Stars

My thanks to Lola’s Blog Tours for the opportunity to participate in this tour and the materials (including the book) they provided.

Lola's Blog Tours

Pub Day Repost: Not Everyone is Special by Josh Denslow: A Short Story Collection that’ll Gobsmack You at Least Once

Not Everyone is SpecialNot Everyone is Special

by Josh Denslow

eARC, 160 pg.
7.13 Books, 2019
Read: February 2 – 24, 2019

I’m not sure what to say about this collection of 15 short stories. They’re all really well-written — there was one or two I didn’t care for, two that I really liked — but they all showed skill, craft, and achieved what I think Denslow intended to achieve. But I’m not sure that I can muster up any excitement over the collection.

Some of the stories fall into the SF/Speculative Fiction category, but by and large these are “General Fiction” (whatever exactly that is). Some are comic, some are very tragic (I think you could make the case for all of the stories containing elements of both).

“Proximity” a bittersweet story about a young man on the brink of maturity (but resisting stepping over it) who happens to be able to teleport is one of the best things I’ve read in months. A great combination of imagination and story, that sadly, I read the same day I read the best novel I’ve read so far this year, and completely forgot about until I started flipping through this book again while writing this. (but, man, am I glad I remember it now…)

Then there’s “Mousetrap,” which starts with the line,

I want to find a not scary way to tell my sister that I’m contemplating killing myself, but I don’t want her to think that it has to do with the fact that she asked me to start paying rent.

And openings don’t get much better than that (the story lives up to it).

There are a handful of other really high high points in this collection. I can’t talk about “Dorian Vandercleef” beyond encouraging you to read it — but you really should. “Blake Bishop Believes in Love” is sweet, grotesque and unpleasant (intentionally so). “Extra Ticket,” a story about a teenager dealing (and not well) with grieving over a friend’s death would serve as a handy example of the concept of “poignant,” if you ever find yourself in need of one.

I might not be over-the-moon with this book, but I did like it. I can even see me being in a situation where I’d re-read parts or all of it (I don’t normally re-read short story books, but I’m not opposed to the idea). I would absolutely read more by Denslow — long form or short form. Not Everyone is Special is a good book — some of the stories might even be more than good. I’d absolutely encourage you to get your hands on this to judge for yourself. I promise you’ll find at least one story that’ll knock your socks off.

—–

3.5 Stars
Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for this post and my honest opinion, which is what I provided.
LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

Ronan Boyle and the Bridge of Riddles by Thomas Lennon, John Hendrix: A Young Irish Police Officer Takes on Leprechauns and other sorts of faerie folk.

Ronan Boyle and the Bridge of RiddlesRonan Boyle and the Bridge of Riddles

by Thomas Lennon, John Hendrix (Illustrator)
Series: Ronan Boyle, #1

Hardcover, 286 pg.
Amulet Books, 2019
Read: March 20 – 22, 2019

I didn’t tell Captain Fearnly that I was joining the garda as part of a plot to exonerate my parents and find a four-thousand-year-old mummy — and there is no place to enter this type of thing in the online application, so I just kept it to myself.

Last year, when Thomas Lennon was a guest on Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show #371, they spent some time talking about this book. I knew I had to give it a shot almost immediately. When I got home and found it on Goodreads, I was a little disappointed to find out it was for the MG crowd — I didn’t get that impression at all from his description (I may have missed something while driving). Still, I put it on the “To Read” list and kept an eye out for its publication. It still sounded like a good time.

And boy, oh, boy it was.

Ronan Boyle is a young man who watched his parents get arrested (in the middle of a family game night) and put into prison. They’re academics, and were found guilty of selling antiquities that belonged to the Irish government. As noted above, Ronan joined the Irish police as an intern, primarily as a way to . Until one night when he was recruited to help dealing with a leprechaun (he was the only one the right size to get where the leprechaun was keeping something). He did well enough with that assignment that he was immediately recruited for Garda Special Unit of Tir Na Nog — the supernatural division.

We follow Ronan through his training — imagine Hogwarts summarized in a hundred pages or so (although this is a shorter course of training) — what he and his fellow cadets (including a girl who thought she was a log for most of her life, and a medium-sized bear that may or may not have been a fellow cadet) go through is unlike any training program you’ve seen or read about. Yet it’s familiar enough that it feels comfortable. Then we see Ronan and his compatriots begin their garda careers in earnest.

Meanwhile, Ronan makes a little progress with the investigation to clear his parents. He also makes friends — from multiple species — and decides that he really likes berets. He’s a very unlikely hero — not terribly coordinated, skinny, as physically un-intimidating as you can possibly imagine with poor eyesight. He also has a strange obsession with Dame Judi Dench (not that Dench isn’t worth obsessing over, it’s just not someone many teen boys fixate on)

All in all, an entertaining story steeped in Irish lore, myth and culture — all very well-researched and lovingly told. I’d probably recommend it just on these grounds.
But it’s the way that Lennon tells this story that seals the deal. His voice is chatty, whimsical and infectious. The imagery, language, and overall feel is hilarious. Yes, I’d recommend the book just on the characters/plot. But I’d also recommend it for voice and style alone. For example:

It was a mysterious garda officer named Pat Finch, whose ghoulish face is so crisscrossed with bright red veins that it looks like a map of hell drawn by a monk in a medieval lunatic asylum. Pat Finch looks like what a heart attack would look like if it could walk around eating fish-and-chips and saying terrible things about Roscommon Football Club’s starting lineup.

“There’s a leprechaun navy?”

“Yes. Probably the least reliable fighting force in the known world,” replied the captain. “The leprechaun navy is basically a heavily armed musical-theater troupe with two boats.”

If you know Thomas Lennon as a performer, you’ll be able to “hear” significant portions in his voice. I think I saw that he does the audiobook,which is good — because otherwise you’d have to find someone who can do a decent impression of him to really pull of the cadence and rhythms of the text.

Oh, you must read the footnotes. All of them. They’re the best use of fictional footnotes since Lutz’ The Spellman Files or Bazell’s Beat the Reaper — except these are MG appropriate.

Hendrix’ illustrations fit the mood perfectly. Intricate, goofy, and skillful. They’re not essential, but they add a very welcome touch to the text.

This is ideal for MG readers who like early Riordan, but wouldn’t mind a bit more silliness and an Irish focus. Or for those who liked Derek Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasant books. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, ignore that (or go read them after you read this). It’s just a fun, goofy read with a touch of adventure. Perfect for MG readers or adults who don’t mind reading MG if it’s well-done. This is. At the end of the day, you need to pick up a copy just so you can read the back cover blurbs by Weird Al and Patton Oswalt, really. Of course, then you’ll want to read the thing based on what they say. So just save yourself the effort and get it.

The ending sets up at least one sequel and you can bet that I’ll be waiting for it.

—–

3.5 Stars
2019 Library Love Challenge

Pub Day Repost: My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing: I don’t think John Gray’s books cover marriages like this one

My Lovely WifeMy Lovely Wife

by Samantha Downing

eARC, 359 pg.
Berkley Books, 2019

Read: February 28 – March 2, 2019

You’ve been married for a decade and a half, the kids are in high school, you’re pretty established in your careers, middle age is around the corner — how do you keep the spark in your marriage alive (or reignite it)? There are dozens — probably hundreds — of suggestions out there, but probably none quite so . . . homicidal? The couple at the center of My Lovely Wife murders women — an idea so out there, I can’t imagine there’s enough wine in the world to get Kathy Lee and Hoda to promote.

They pick the victims together, he goes out and gets the women into a vulnerable situation and then she takes over while he spends time with the kids. This is an over-simplification, but not by much. This joint-project does seem to bring them together, giving them a common goal, something to talk about — it even seems to rekindle the romance. Sometimes their interaction is pretty sweet — sometimes, it’s a little sad. But at the core, you can see these two featuring in a very different kind of novel if only they had a different . . . activity to bond over.

Meanwhile, their son is acting defiant toward his father’s authority and is sneaking around with a girl. Their daughter is becoming more and more anxious — a media-induced anxiety disorder of some sort. While they’re dealing with the difficulties of parenting adolescents, they’re focused on their next target and evading the police. You have to feel for them as parents, really. They’re doing everything they should and you just can’t tell if the children will respond the way they hope. It’s a clear sign of their dedication to each other that they keep going.

It’s a great premise, really — and that alone is going to earn it some accolades. Downing does a pretty good job delivering on the promise of it, too. But after the original “What??” moment (which wasn’t that much of a surprise if you’ve read the blurb, but was still skillfully executed), I waited a long time to truly get hooked by this story. I kept feeling like I was alllllllllmost hooked, but I never got past the mildly curious level. I kept waiting for the hook, expecting it, wanting it — but it just didn’t come. Until some time in the last fifth of the book — and then even though I’d seen two of the big reveals coming, I hadn’t seen the reasoning behind the most important one. Also, Downing absolutely nailed the climactic portions of this book — all the dominoes she’d spent the whole novel setting up came down just as designed and were absolutely riveting to watch.

I want to complain about how long it took for me to really get hooked, to get invested in the outcome of the book — and I guess I am — but it was all worth it. I do think it’s dangerous to hope that an audience will stick without you that long — but seeing the design and how she set it all up, I just don’t know how to quibble that much. Because the pay off was just that well done.

This isn’t your typical story about killers — it’s not over the top and funny, it’s not dark and moody, it feels like a book about a fairly stable couple living in the nice part of Atlanta. Which is what the book is, but this couple has some pretty horrible secrets to explore. While it didn’t click for me until the very end, I can easily see where many people are going to love this book. Downing is a writer to watch, and I know I’ll be eagerly waiting for whatever comes next.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Berkley Publishing Group via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this, but it did not affect the substance of this post beyond giving me something upon which to opine.

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3.5 Stars

The First World Problems of Jason Van Otterloo by James Bailey: This Kid’s Struggles will Bring A Smile to Your Face

The First World Problems of Jason Van OtterlooThe First World Problems of Jason Van Otterloo

by James Bailey
Series: The Jason Van Otterloo Trilogy, Book 1

Kindle Edition, 193 pg.
2018
Read: March 15, 2019

Subject: New worst day of my life

If you have stock in me, sell it now. Or is it buy? Buy low, right? Then buy, buy, buy, because if JVO shares go any lower it can only mean I’m dead. Nothing is going right and everything is going wrong. Very wrong.

It’s been awhile since I read an epistolary novel (maybe Where’d You Go, Bernadette? — oh, and The Summer Holidays Survival Guide from last year — duh — I should stop thinking before I have to rewrite this whole paragraph), but I’ve always enjoyed them. There’s something about the structure, the conceit, the immediacy of it all that really appeals to me, and has since the day I first cracked the cover of Dear Mr. Henshaw 35 years ago or so.

This particular novel is a collection of e-mails from fifteen year-old Jason Van Otterloo (known by some as Otterpop, others just call him Jason) and his friends over the summer of 2003 in Seattle. This is a good setting for the book — it’s before the ubiquity of cell-phones/texting among teens, but at a time they could be emailing several times a day and it not seem strange (like it would in the mid-90s). I don’t know if that was Bailey’s thought process, but it’s what occurred to me. The emails are primarily Jason’s — not just because he’s prolific, but that’s a lot of it. Incidentally, I only caught one thing that jumped out at me as an anachronism — which is about the best that I can think of in an indie book set in the past (I don’t go looking for them, but they jump out at me. Binge-watching wasn’t a thing in 2003. At least not by that name)

Jason’s a pretty bookish kid who loves classic movies — not just AMC (back when that’s what the station was about), but there’s a theater near his home that shows old movies. His best friend, Drew (the recipient of most of his emails), frequently goes to those with him — they also play video games together, generally at Drew’s. Jason’s parents, Janice and Rob, aren’t in the running for Parents of the Year, to say the least. I’m not sure at what point Jason lost enough respect for the that he started calling them by their first name, but it could have been when he was pretty young. On the other hand, there’s enough venom in it (at least the way it reads to me) that it might be a recent development.

Janice shows the occasional burst of maternal activity or instinct, but it’s rare. Rather than a father, Rob seems like the bullying older brother character in most books I read as a kid. But in general, the two of them act like they’re stuck in their early 20’s — coming home from work long enough to greet each other and Jason, then they leave (not together) to meet up with friends and get drunk. Occasionally, they’ll get into a fight with each other, but nothing too serious. It doesn’t appear there’s any intentional abuse — physical or mental. It’s primarily neglect that they’re guilty of. Over the course of the summer, Rob does say a few things that will likely cause emotional scars when Jason has a few years to think about them, but they’re unintentionally mean (one was said when Rob was attempting to be nice and fatherly).

Generally, Jason’s e-mails are about whatever antics his parents are up to, arranging to meet Drew or whoever else, Jason’s soliciting Drew for advice about a girl he meets (he ignores almost everything Drew says, to the reader’s amusement and Drew’s frustration), and Jason recruiting Drew or someone to get summer jobs together. There’s an ongoing thread about a new neighbor who enjoys sunbathing, and Jason enjoys (hopefully surreptitiously) watching her. Rob enjoys watching her, too, but doesn’t bother trying to be surreptitious.

Jason’s emails are largely self-centered. Most of the stories told are his, not Drew’s. He does seem to care about Drew and is interested when Drew unloads a little. But largely, the relationship seems to be about Drew listening to Jason. Drew gets something out of it, however — maybe offline — because he seems emotionally-centered enough (for a fifteen year-old) to not put up with Jason as much as he does, if Jason just didn’t contribute anything to the friendship. Just don’t ask me what it is. His self-centeredness seems typical for his age, and it doesn’t make him a bad kid — just a selfish one, and a lot of that is because he’s never been parented by anyone who has a clue. Although, really, I’m not sure how many kids who have been well-parented who don’t act like that.

His parent’s (individually and corporately) show a signs of self-improvement — AA, marriage counseling, and others. Jason is openly skeptical about these efforts — perhaps because he’s seen similar things before. Not only is he skeptical, but he seems to actively subvert these efforts. It seems odd for a kid who spends so much time complaining about his parents to complain about them trying to be better — but it’s honest. He doesn’t believe in them, so why get his hopes up that this time will be any different? Sure, from the reader’s perspective it’s easy to say that these reforms might be longer-lived if he supported them. But from Jason’s? Nah.

There is a little character development over the course of the novel — but not a lot, But it’s just a few months, so there shouldn’t be a lot, right? What’s there seems genuine and true to the character — which is great. At the end of the day, you’ll have enjoyed watching Jason struggle and survive — learning enough to keep going.

Jason’s optimistic and amusing — which is says a lot about him. The whole book is told with a light touch –it’s not overly comic, but you grin as Jason recounts his latest embarrassment with Gina, or Rob’s most recent humiliating escapades — or even as he and Drew talk about their mutual astonishment when another friend has some romantic success. Things are bad, but they’re not bleak. They’re even kind of fun.

The cover, by the way, is perfect. It not only reflects a plot point, but it encapsulates the feel of the book. In a figurative sense the world pees on Jason the way this dog literally does. Yet, it’s kinda cute and amusing while it’s happening. Several good things happen to the boy, but overall, the book is about his problems (right?) and his reactions to them.

I don’t know what a YA reader would think of this — I imagine they’d find Jason relatable and likeable, but I’m not sure. But for those of us with enough distance from their YA days, it’s something that can be read with an air of “I remember when life was like that.” Even if it’s set over a decade later than my own teen years, I know people like Jason, I had friends who had a Gina in their life, and I dreamed of a girl like Sian. I’m probably not alone in this. This is a comfort-food kind of read — it’s entertaining and makes you feel good. I get kind of a Thomas Rockwell or 80’s version of Todd Strasser feel from this, very much a Lad Lit starter kit kind of thing, now that I think about it — which is good. Young Adults need something that’s not dystopian. There’s a sequel coming out in a week or two, and I’m really looking forward to it.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for this post and my honest opinion, which is what I provided.

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3.5 Stars
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