Book Two: Nice Try, Jane Sinner

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NICE TRY, JANE SINNER
By Lianne Oelke
420 pp. Clarion Books. $17.99
Published January 9, 2018
Young Adult – Contemporary

Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke is the story of a 17-year-old girl who has an existential crisis and is expelled from high school. To finish her diploma, she enrolls in a community college. There she decides to participate in a Big Brother-esque campus reality show called House of Orange.

For the first half of the book it is unclear why Jane is so notorious in her hometown and why she was expelled from high school. What we do know is that Jane was raised in the church but has lost her belief and feels alienated from her family because of her questions. This is a topic not often seen in young adult literature, so Nice Try, Jane Sinner feels original and profound.

While the thematic elements gave me something to think about, the House of Orange game show plot kept me turning the pages. I wanted to see what the next ridiculous challenge was, who would win, and how Jane would deal with living in a house with no doors and five other people.

I was surprised by how invested in Jane’s story I became because the book is written like a diary. This means we are getting recaps of everything that happened from Jane’s point of view. Most conversations are written like a transcript or screenplay. I’m not usually one for the diary entry story-telling, but Oelke does a good job of connecting the reader to the other characters besides Jane.

I feel like I’m downplaying how much I enjoyed Nice Try, Jane Sinner. I couldn’t stop reading it. I gasped aloud at a plot twist near the middle and laughed aloud at a couple other parts.

There is a subtle romantic storyline, but the Jane’s relationships with her family and friends take precedence.

Finally, because this is a diary, Jane’s voice is the strongest element. She is sarcastic, ironic, and hilarious.

Why I liked it: The hilarious sarcastic voice, original plot, and how Oelke dealt with issues of faith or lack thereof. There was also lots of diversity. Jane grew as a character and figured out what was important even if she didn’t believe in God or the church.

Why other people might like it: The foregrounding of family relationships. The romance, and high school/college age readers might identify with Jane’s struggle to transition into the college life.

For people who enjoy Big Brother, reality TV, and books about family relationships.

Overall, Nice Try, Jane Sinner is a funny, surprising, and profound story centered around a ridiculous college reality show.

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January Progress

7/10

7/100

Out of the 10 books I wanted to read, I managed to get 7 finished. The minimum goal is about 8 books per month, so I’ll have to kick it into gear in February. As reviews of these books go up, I’ll put links in this post.

Zeitoun – Dave Eggers – Nonfiction

Heartbreaking, interesting. I didn’t know much about Hurricane Katrina and the state of New Orleans in 2005. I’d heard about how mishandled the disaster and clean-up had been, but I never knew any details. This book made me sad and angry.

Nice Try, Jane Sinner – Lianne Oelke – YA Contemporary

Hilarious, surprising. Told as a series of diary entries, Oelke’s debut novel has a sarcastic and endearing voice. Jane Sinner is a character you root for. Has deep themes of dealing with depression and losing religious belief with a ridiculous great plot of a college reality tv show.

The Amber Spyglass – Philip Pullman – YA/MG Fantasy

Epic, breathtaking. The conclusion to the His Dark Materials trilogy. This book puts all the puzzle pieces of the previous books together. Characters find redemption or show their heartlessness. Deals with love and religion in interesting ways.

Last Psalm at Sea Level – Meg Day – Poetry

Moving, but underwhelming. Several of the poems in the collection said something important and made me feel moved by their message and beauty. But most of the poems left me with the feeling I usually get reading poetry, which is: What? I think I expected more from this collection because I heard Meg Day read some of the poems.

The Son of Neptune – Rick Riordan – YA/MG Fantasy

Insane, epic. The second book in the Heroes of Olympus series. I could not put this book down. The diversity is amazing, the plot is fast paced, funny, and twisty enough that you don’t know what’s coming next. The beginning was a smidge slow for me, but when it picked up it REALLY picked up. As fast as Hazel’s mystical horse.

Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy – Classic Literature

Detailed, annoying. Sometimes cited as Leo Tolstoy’s opus, the dual story of Anna and Vronksy’s love affair and Levin’s search for belief. The interesting thing about this book is that society seems to be positioned as the bad guy, but all of the characters (except for Kitty and Dolly) lose my empathy at some point. By the time I finally reached the end of this bloated book I was glad it was over.

Six of Crows – Leigh Bardugo – YA Fantasy

Dark, epic. The first in a duology, this fantasy story was darker than I expected, but was a bit underwhelming compared to the hype. The characters and their histories were interesting and engrossing, but by the end I didn’t have super strong squee feelings over any of the characters the way I expected to. It’s possible I read it too fast.

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Book One: Zeitoun

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ZEITOUN
By Dave Eggers
337pp. Vintage. $16
Published June 15, 2010
Non-Fiction

Zeitoun tells the story of one family’s struggle during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. This non-fiction narrative is set in New Orleans and follows Kathy and Abdulrahman Zeitoun. Together they own a contracting business known for its hard workers and punctual completion of home renovation projects. They have three children and are basically living the American dream. Kathy is a white woman who converted to Islam and Zeitoun is a Syrian-American citizen. Eggers sketches the personalities and lives of the people in this novel by delving into their backgrounds: how Kathy converted to Islam, how Zeitoun made his way to America, and how they fell in love.

By the time the Hurricane hits their home, we are invested in this family that seems quintessentially American. Zeitoun stays in New Orleans to protect and oversee their multiple properties, while Kathy takes their children to a relative in a neighboring state.

The descriptions of New Orleans right after Katrina are haunting and powerful. Dogs left in homes that people have fled, water covering cars and homes, a woman floating in water and clinging to her bookshelf while her dress blooms out like a flower. Zeitoun spends the first few days paddling around New Orleans in an old canoe rescuing people trapped in their homes and feeding pets that have been left behind.

Things take a turn when Zeitoun and three friends are arrested and detained as terrorists. His imprisonment is shady, frightening, and releasing him becomes a bureaucratic nightmare.

This book is even more stunning because these people are real, and these events happened. Perhaps the more impressive thing is that this book is filled with hope. Even after his imprisonment, Zeitoun has hope for himself, for New Orleans, and for a system that unjustly held him captive.

Why I liked it: Zeitoun makes subtle political statements by the way it reports facts. Eggers says, “This is what happened, and it was not fair or good.” However, it doesn’t waste time in blaming people. None of the characters devolve into anger. There is a message of calm and hope, Zeitoun the man had faith in the system and in America to do the right thing. It was refreshing to see a story of overcoming hardship without cynicism.

Why other people might like it: Zeitoun takes the reader inside New Orleans while Hurricane Katrina raged and gives a new perspective on the tragedy that unfolded. The writing is clear and simple while packing an emotional punch.

For people who enjoy memoirs, political think-pieces, and inspiring stories.

Overall, Zeitoun is a hopeful, but illuminating story about one family’s struggle with both nature and society.

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The Year of 100 Books

So it’s been a while, I’m not very good at keeping a consistent blog.

However, I’m hoping 2018 will be different. For a couple reason: 1) I don’t have school anymore, which means all deadlines are ones I set for myself, and 2) I am planning to read 100 books this year.

To some people that’s not a crazy hard challenge, to others, it might seem insane. I’ve read about 80 books this year, so it’s only adding 20 more to that. We’ll see how it goes. I also plan to give reviews on the books and blog about the challenge. We’ll also see how that goes lol.

I’ve set a couple parameters within this challenge. I want to read 12 classics, 12 non-fiction books, 12 poetry collections, and 12 new releases of 2018.

Why am I doing this? Well, I own a lot of books and I want to read them. I want to cut down on my buying of books and read the books I already own. In high school I used to try to read all the Harry Potter books in a weekend, or I would set some other ridiculous challenges. It’s just fun and I miss the pressures of school a little. (Crazy, I know.)

The books I plan to read in January are:

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy – Classic

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers – Non-fiction

Last Psalm at Sea Level by Meg Day – Poetry

Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke – New Release

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Roseblood by A. G. Howard

The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan

The Power by Naomi Alderman

I might change my mind on some of these! I’m terrible at sticking to lists.

Hope everyone has a Happy New Year!

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A Brief Summer Reading List

I rarely stick to a reading list. I get distracted by other shiny books. I buy new books that I want to read right away because otherwise they might go into the pile and not be read for a year. Nonetheless, there are some books that are at the top of my list as summer reads.

This list also doesn’t include any books that are being released in late May or June. These are just the books that I already own that I want to read. These are ranked by how badly I want to read them, and therefore probably the order in which I’ll read them, but maybe not! I never know what I’ll be in the mood for.

  1. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor – YA Fantasy

Strange the Dreamer

I actually just started reading this the other day! Already getting on this list! I’ve heard a lot of hype about this book, I’ve heard good things about Laini Taylor’s writing, and the cover is beautiful. Those are the main reasons I wanted to read this. I haven’t read Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, but it’s been on my radar for a while. All I know about Strange the Dreamer is that the main character is Lazlo Strange and he’s obsessed with a city called Weep that may or may not be real. He works in a library. That is honestly all I need to know for me to pick this up. I’m a real easy sell.

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Anticipated May Releases

*rises from the dead, arms outstretched*

Why yes, I have come back. Now that school is done, I will have time to keep this updated. I’m not going to make a big fanfare just in case I fade into obscurity again.

On my computer, I have these little sticky notes where I keep track of the new books being released each month that I’m looking forward to. Most of these are Young Adult because that’s where exciting things are happening. Also, some of these are so that I can keep track of when the paperback is being released because hardcovers are expensive and sometimes not as much fun to read.

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Infographic: When Did Famous Authors Publish Their Breakthrough Novels?

These are some super cool facts that link to a chart that is pretty inspiring for aspiring authors!

101 Books

This is a fascinating infographic that was sent my way.

The graphic shows the age at which dozens of famous authors wrote their first book, their first breakthrough book, in which years of life they published other books, and when they died.

It gives you a good idea of how prolific some writers are—to a fault, in some cases, I would say.

You can view the full infographic at BlinkBox Books by clicking on the image below.


Explore the careers of some of the world’s most successful authors. Click image to open interactive version (via Blinkbox Books).

Some thoughts:

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Triumphant Return!

Wow, lots of traffic on my blog lately! It’s that post about Fifty Shades of Grey, but I’m totally cool with that. Some of you may have noticed that around May of each year I suddenly put a few posts up and then disappear for six months or more. Yeah.

That’s because every summer I think “oh I’ll have so much more time to devote to my blog!” Then I start work at my summer job and I lose all motivation. Such is the circle of life.

However, I have a bunch of good news!

I’m in graduate school for an MFA in Creative Writing! I’m living in Minnesota and it’s a surprisingly mild winter so far, no worse than Michigan at least. I have a lot of time this semester, so hopefully, if I can stay motivated I’ll be able to blog more. Not that many people care, but I’m going to keep posting about books on my original list, but I might talk about my writing a little because writing is hard, maybe some support would keep me going!

In keeping with the good news, I’ve been published! I had a novella published and was included in a superhero romance anthology.

Powerless Against You

Strangers in a Movie Theater at Barnes&Noble or AllRomance

Just putting those links out there, I’ll probably post something more in depth later.

So, again, I will set a goal for myself, but it won’t be as ridiculous as two posts a week. I’ll try to do one post a week.

Hope you’re all having a great week!

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The Yellow Birds – A Modern Classic?

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Just a quick post today with no spoilers.

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers is a slim novel about the war in Iraq. Two young men meet during basic training and become quick friends. They watch each others backs and the main character Private Bartle makes a promise to the mother of his friend Private Murphy to bring him home safely.

Personally, I found this book slow and heavy. It’s certainly a close look at the effect of war on today’s soldiers and their families, however, I found there was a certain amount of disconnect. I felt sorry for the characters and the heaviness of the topic stayed with me for a few days after I finished, but I didn’t feel an emotional connection to anyone in the story. I felt there was very little emotion in the book.

This could be one of two things. There’s always the chance the author Kevin Powers, meant for there to be a disconnect, especially in the parts where Bartle is back home and trying to reconcile the things he’s seen with his old life. I believe that disconnect really fit in with the obvious PTSD and problems Bartle was having. However, I felt that same disconnect in the parts where he was in basic training and didn’t know what was coming.

I would have liked more insight into Murphy’s breakdown, but the narrative was about Bartle and from his point of view.

In summation, I think The Yellow Birds will be an important book, but I didn’t care for it. I don’t think it fully explored the characters or the situation. Will this be something we study to learn about the Iraqi war from an artist’s perspective? I think only time will tell. It has already won several awards throughout 2012 and 2013. It’s one of the first fiction narratives to come out of the Iraqi war to gain such critical accolades, so I feel like we’ll see more narratives detailing this war in the near future.

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God’s Not Dead is the Worst Kind of Propaganda

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Major Spoilers

I want to preface this post by saying that I don’t believe Christians are evil. You believe what you want and I’ll believe what I want. I’m agnostic, which means that I’m on the fence. There might be a God, there might not, I don’t really know and I don’t claim to know. My point is that I don’t want to hate on people’s beliefs. What I’m hating on is this movie. It was propaganda, pure and simple.

This film, God’s Not Dead propagates ignorance and misinformation. It makes out Atheists as evil and bitter. Technically, the professor Mr. Radisson (played by Kevin Sorbo, TV’s Hercules) wasn’t even an Atheist. He was a bitter, disappointed Christian. His mother died when he was twelve and so he decided that God was dead. But someone can’t be dead if you don’t believe they exist in the first place. This is what I like to call extremist logic.

I warned my mom against seeing this movie. I knew we weren’t going to like it. She insisted that it looked like it could be good. At the very least we could root for the Atheist. My mom believed the movie was going to be like a docu-drama, merely presenting ideas and letting the audience decide. It was practically the opposite, forcing viewers to look at characters as worse or better depending on what they believed.

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