The Bookworm: Life is a highway and these journeys haves some twists, turns

Terri Schlichenmeyer

“The Sinners”

  • By Ace Atkins
  • c. 2018, Putnam
  • $27, $36 Canada; 365 pages

The appointment is on the books. It was made a long time ago, and you couldn’t get out of it if you wanted to. Cancellation is impossible, rescheduling is not an option. One way or the other, you’re booked and you will be there – even if, as in the new novel, “The Sinners” by Ace Atkins, somebody’s been murdered.

Half of Tibbehah County had the opinion that Maggie Powers and Quinn Colson were marrying too fast. It’d only been about a year, after all, since Sheriff Quinn arrested Maggie’s husband on a murder charge.

The other half of Tibbehah, however, was invited to the wedding, although Quinn hadn’t wanted it that way. He wanted a quiet little ceremony – her son, his nephew, close family, and his friend, Boom, as best man. That’s all Quinn needed.

“The Sinners” author Ace Atkins.

Boom, however, needed some peace of mind. After finally landing a job that paid good money, Boom was re-thinking his over-the-road dreams. Taking a truckload to Tupelo one night, he discovered that his “avocado” freight was actually stolen electronics, and it got worse: Boom soon realized that a lot of his cargo was illegal, and he wanted nothing to do with that.  

And then Ordeen Davis was found dead. Boom knew the boy; went to church with his mama. Ordeen was just a kid who’d gotten wrapped up with the wrong crowd and lately, he’d been working as Fannie Hathcock’s right-hand man. Fannie was Tibbehah County ’s local madam and Ordeen was the second young man who died while working for her but, much like last time, she told Quinn that she didn’t know anything.

“The Sinners” by Ace Atkins

As it turned out, though, maybe she didn’t. On the truckbox where Ordeen’s body was found was a fingerprint of someone familiar: Heath Pritchard, who’d been trouble all his sorry life and had spent 20-odd years in prison for drug dealing. Was he back living with his nephews and growing marijuana in Tibbeheh County for a cartel of powerful gangsters?

Was Pritchard the reason Quinn found himself thinking not of a wedding, but of a funeral?

There’s a lot going on in “The Sinners.” That’s the first thing to know – that there’s profanity, a lot of characters, and a lot of action.

But you didn’t come to a novel like this to sit nicely, did you?

Nope, so from the first few pages, a kind of Burt-Reynolds-ish caper, you won’t be one bit disappointed with what you get. Reading a novel by Ace Atkins is like that, like having a seat to one side of a drug deal, a murder, or a half-baked idea; like leaning over a redneck’s race car on a hot Saturday morning, cussing and spitting in the dirt; like a day of fishing in a bayou before someone dredges up a body.

Fans of the Quinn Colson novels will find familiar characters here but beware that it may take a minute to catch up. Same goes if you’re new to this series, too; either way, “The Sinners” is something you’ll want. Book it now.

“The Battle of Junk Mountain”

  • By Lauren Abbey Greenberg
  • c. 2018, Running Press Kids
  • $16.99, $22.49 Canada; 219 pages

Growing up is like a long journey. Sometimes, it’s smooth as a new highway, and everything feels like fun. Other times, it’s as though you’ve found caves to escape and gullies to cross. And then, there’s movement upward and it can be a challenge: as in the new book “The Battle of Junk Mountain” by Lauren Abbey Greenberg, the climb might be a steep one.

It should have been the best summer of her life.

That’s what 12-year-old Shayne was hoping, anyhow. Like every year since she was little, she was going to spend a few weeks with her grandmother, Bea, right on the coast of Maine. She’d see her “summer sister,” Poppy, and they’d make friendship bracelets and hunt for sea glass, just as they did every year. There’d be picnics, trips to the ice cream joint, it would be awesome.

“The Battle of Junk Mountain” by Lauren Abbey Greenberg

Except that it wasn’t. Shayne’s first clue was when Poppy said she had a job this summer, working in her family’s store. The second clue was when Bea’s neighbor, a guy Shayne and Poppy called “Cranky,” got even crankier. The third clue was when Cranky’s weird grandson showed up. The last clue that this summer was ruined before it even started was the state of Bea’s house.

After Shayne’s grandpa drowned just off the Maine coast, Bea began going to rummage sales and flea markets for escape, and things got out of hand: every flat surface of her home was covered with stuff and one table held what Bea called “Junk Mountain.”  The whole place smelled and Shayne had to do something about it. But first, she needed to deal with a BFF who’d suddenly gone boy-crazy, a Civil-War-obsessed visiting neighbor kid, and a boating job that Bea arranged but that Shayne didn’t want.

“The Battle of Junk Mountain” by Lauren Abbey Greenberg

Worst of all was that Junk Mountain was growing, despite everything Shayne did to clean up Bea’s house. Shopping bags of more junk appeared every day, and Shayne knew that Bea was hiding something in her bedroom.

Bea had a secret. A great big, shocking one.

Who wants to be 12 years old again?  Most adults would take a pass on that; the in-between ages are hard but “The Battle of Junk Mountain” shows your tween that things always turn out for the best.

It’s that upbeat sense in the midst of drama that makes this novel so appealing, and it doesn’t hurt that author Lauren Abbey Greenberg’s characters are all so charmingly likeable. Authenticity adds to the positive side, too, as Greenberg puts her people into real situations that aren’t forced and clichés don’t happen, which is a definite eye-roll inhibitor. This story also urges compassion on several levels, but it doesn’t preach to an audience that doesn’t always tolerate overt, in-her-face messages.

If you want to read this book before you give it, you’ll enjoy it – although it’s meant for kids ages 11-to-14. If your child’s summer wasn’t like she thought it’d be, “The Battle of Junk Mountain” is a book she’ll love climbing into.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.