Bones of a Saint by Grant Farley #bookreview #YA #ComingofAge #TuesdayBookBlog

Set in Northern California in the late ’70s, this timeless coming-of-age story examines the nature of evil, the art of storytelling, and the possibility of redemption.

Fifteen-year-old RJ Armante has never known a life outside his dead-end hometown of Arcangel, CA. The Blackjacks still rule as they have for generations, luring the poorest kids into their monopoly on petty crime. For years, they’ve left RJ alone…until now.

When the Blackjacks come knocking, they want RJ to prey upon an old loner. But RJ is at his breaking point. It’s not just about the gang who rules the town. It’s about Charley, his younger brother, who is disabled. It’s about Roxanne, the girl he can’t reach. It’s about the kids in his crew who have nothing to live for. If RJ is to resist, he must fight to free Arcangel of its past.

It’s the cover that first caught my attention, then the blurb sealed the deal with its 70s setting in Northern California.

RJ hasn’t had the easiest life. His father committed suicide when RJ was just a child, his single mother works long hours leaving him to care for his five younger sibllings, and his family isn’t exactly rolling in cash. RJ also has a knack for getting in trouble with his actions and smart mouth. In some aspects he’s wise beyond his years, but still a mischievous teenager. Despite his antics, he manages to maintain a pretty strong moral compass. He’s also a storyteller. His tales reminded me of Gordie’s in the movie Stand By Me, and the overall tone of this book is similar to that movie.

Although the Blackjacks play a prominent role, don’t go into this novel expecting lots of action and gang wars – it’s not that kind of book. It’s very much a teenager’s journey to facing the realities of life and learning there’s more than one path into the future. The writing is vivid and descriptive, but also humorous – teen boys are absolutely funny and weird at times. RJ’s friendship with Manny and relationship with his family are among my favorite parts of this story. I also enjoyed the references to 70s songs and fashion (bell bottom jeans!).

It’s not exactly what I’d expected, but Bones of a Saint is an engaging read. A couple of twists pop up, but this is a leisurely paced story that’s more about the journey than the destination.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

A House at the Bottom of a Lake by Josh Malerman #bookreview #magicalrealism #TuesdayBookBlog

Both seventeen. Both afraid. But both saying yes.

It sounded like the perfect first date: canoeing across a chain of lakes, sandwiches and beer in the cooler. But teenagers Amelia and James discover something below the water’s surface that changes their lives forever.

It’s got two stories.

It’s got a garden.

And the front door is open.

It’s a house at the bottom of a lake.

For the teens, there is only one rule: no questions. And yet, how could a place so spectacular come with no price tag? While the duo plays house beneath the waves, one reality remains:

Just because a house is empty, doesn’t mean nobody’s home.

When I requested this from NetGalley, I didn’t realize it was originally released in 2016. Reading reviews from that time, it looks like this novella was categorized as horror – which is absolutely isn’t. On Amazon, it’s now listed as coming of age and magical realism, which are much more appropriate descriptions.

Can I just say how cool this cover is? The eerie colors and perspective of the boat above the house just draw you in, and it helped me visualize the house as James and Amelia explored it underwater.

I’ve read three other books by this author and enjoyed them all, especially Bird Box. While I liked both of these teen characters and was riveted by their growing obsession with the house and their discoveries, I had to shove my disbelief out of the way several times to continue on with the story. Their first exploration of the house is done by holding their breath, but they quickly realize that’s not possible if they want to get through all of it. Then they bring an old diving suit which requires an air compressor. With only one suit, each of them takes a turn and also helps the other change in and out of it. Keep in mind all of this happens in a canoe – which is apparently large enough to hold hundreds of feet of hose and a heavy air compressor and is miraculously stable enough to never capsize. James and Amelia then decide to become certified divers, something I’ve never done, but I’d think requires more than a handful of days.

Once I pushed all that aside, I enjoyed this tale, which at times is eerie, claustrophobic, and even heartwarming, but it’s not my favorite by Malerman. For me, the ending is a thing of beauty and not what I’d expected.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.